Breathe!

Every day you take somewhere around 20,000 breaths, though you don’t think much about it until you cannot! Breathing seems simple but it is actually a complex function that is part of the respiratory system. This system takes in oxygen and expels carbon dioxide, providing your body with the ability to create the energy in your cells that keep you alive.

On this last day of 2020, let’s take a few moments to think about the breath of the soul – prayer.  In the opening days of the New Year, Lord-willing, I will be focusing our attention on prayer, encouraging us to pray, helping us to understand our prayers, and strengthening our commitment to the vital work of prayer.

Are you intimidated by prayer?  Do you pray in any meaningful way?  

People do many things that while claiming to ‘pray.’ Prayer, in my Pentecostal heritage, is often a deeply emotional thing, that includes unintelligible speech, “speaking in tongues.” Some pray like a lawyer, presenting a case to God in an attempt to convince Him to act.  Others pray in liturgical form, using beautifully written words, often ancient. Many pray without realizing it calling out, “Oh, God help me,” in a time of distress.  

I love to listen to the prayer of child who has been schooled in faith. They will talk to the Lord Jesus out of an open heart!  For me, some prayers are sighs and the name of Jesus softly repeated. Some pray standing, others kneeling. Some raise their hands toward the heavens, others lie face down in humility. Some speak aloud, others remain quiet.

So what is the ‘right way’ to pray? All of the above.

Prayer is communicating with God. Communication takes many forms.  I do not converse with a friend over coffee in the same manner that I speak to the congregation from the pulpit!  My tone and words are much different when I am delighted and when I am angered!  Some communication is wordless; think a reassuring hug from a friend, a kiss from a lover.  A rich life of prayer will include times when we speak at length with God and times when we wait silently before Him. Paul says “I should be spiritually free and expressive as I pray, but I should also be thoughtful and mindful as I pray.” (1 Corinthians 14:15, Message)

Most basically we are taught as Christians to “pray continually.” (1 Thess. 5:17)  
If we stop breathing we die.
If we stop praying, the same happens to us spiritually.

For Jesus, prayer was like His very breath.

Prayer invites us to live with an awareness of the Presence of God.  If we are connected with Him, we ‘breathe’ the Spirit and find power over temptation, security to checks our fear, wisdom to meet each day’s challenges, and joy for the journey. 

I do not mean to imply that our best praying is easy, simple, or without cost. Prayer will take us away from the activities and noise that would hinder our hearing of the Spirit’s whisper.  People who pray will create times of silence, meditating on the Word of God, realigning their hearts with His purposes. Praying people will discover a kind of dedication in their worship that allows them to live near to God’s heart;  a place of ‘comfort sweet!’

So, let us pray!

Rejoice in prayers of praise.
Sing your prayers of worship.
Pray alone, pray with others.
Let tears become prayers of petition.
Pray the Psalms.
Pray with simple sighs.

But, make sure that you pray!

Remember, those who pray often, learn to pray best.

Here’s a word from the Word –
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7, NLT)

_______

”Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.” Amen
(Matthew 6:9-13, NIV)

Happy New Year!
May God fill us with His joy,
surround us with His love, and
deepen our appreciation of His grace.

Stand in the Light

I am sitting here at my dining room table this morning, prayerful, thoughtful, looking out my window at a sky that is a reflection of the world: dark, threatening, ominous.  We have bravely faced many storms this year. We have tried in many way to deal with the chaos. Have you, like me, arrived at this Eve of Christmas, emotionally spent? Last night, I laughed, more from frustration than amusement, when I checked the delivery date of a gift ordered two weeks ago, now scheduled for December 29. Even the post office which once boasted that “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” can get it right these days.  

We pastors have valiantly tried to minister through the gloom with cameras and webcasts, but who’s kidding us?  A flickering screen is a poor substitute for a room full of worshippers. The weird, the hard, the disappointing is part of all of our lives in ways big and small.

And yet …

There is a Light in the darkness, a Reason for Hope.
God sent His Son and John says of Him – “Life itself was in him, and this life gives light to everyone. The light shines through the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” (John 1:4-5, NLT)

By faith we can encounter the Holy, find renewal in the Promise, know the goodness of God’s love. We choose to stand in the Light. Some will surrender to the darkness, giving in to despair. I will not!

I read an essay in the NY Times written about the inadequacy of virtual worship, the difficulty of finding God’s Presence while staring at the screen in the living room. The author talked about his family’s choice to dress as if they were going to church, that they put their chairs in rows like pews, that they followed along with the responses … and eventually found it tiresome, attention lagging. But, I loved his conclusion.

“One recent weekend we gathered once more for Zoom church. My wife logged on from her military outpost and I logged on with the kids. I settled into my role at tech support. Two of the younger kids lingered on the couch happily coloring. As I followed along in the service, something surprised me. I looked up from the computer and saw my daughter standing in the middle of the living room. Her tender, beautiful voice resounding throughout the space. She was singing. I found myself ushered into the presence of something that defies description.”  (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/24/opinion/zoom-church-christmas-covid-loss.html)

In this line, he expresses one way that his family has chosen to stand in the Light.
“We stay because attendance is not about what the church gives us; it is our way of offering something to God. It is a small rebellion, a way of saying that there is more to life than simply the acquisition of more.

This Christmas let’s choose to look up, to confess our faith in Jesus, to simply accept His promise, even if we are feeling only soul fatigue.

Let’s choose to stand in the Light that the darkness of sin, COVID, political strife, racial strife, and personal pain cannot extinguish. 

Regardless of our circumstances, this is the TRUTH of day. 

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, (radiance, light, splendor) the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, NIV)

Tonight when we come to the quiet of Christmas Eve, be it in a church sanctuary for some, in the living room for others, or even somewhere alone – bring this declaration to mind.  
Confess aloud, “I choose to stand in the Light.” And He will dispel the darkness. 
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12, NIV)  

I look forward to ending our Christmas eve service, no matter how few are in the building, with our traditional passed of the light, candle to candle, a symbol of our calling to be people of the Light, who share Him with our world.

My prayer is that God will give you Hope, Joy, Peace, and Love by His Spirit this Christmas, that you will know the sweet comfort of Jesus in your life.

Merry Christmas!

__________________

Silent Night

Silent night holy night
All is calm all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

Silent night holy night
Shepherds quake at the sight
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heav’nly hosts sing alleluia
Christ the Savior is born
Christ the Savior is born

Silent night holy night
Son of God love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus Lord at Thy birth|
Jesus Lord at Thy birth

Silent night holy night
Wondrous star lend thy light
With the angels let us sing
Alleluia to our King
Christ the Savior is born
Christ the Savior is born

Franz Xaver Gruber | John Freeman Young | Joseph Mohr © Words: Public Domain

That Name!

I’ve had three names.  As a child I was called “Dane.”  Allegedly, my maternal grandmother saw me in the hospital nursery with red hair and fair skin and said, “He looks like a little Dane.”  She was referring to the obvious DNA of my paternal grandfather who was an immigrant from Denmark. The handle stuck until I started high school in a new location and decided the childhood nickname needed to go, and so I became “Jerry” which is drawn from my given name, Jerald, which I never much liked. 

For much of my adult life I have been addressed by a majority of people as “Pastor Jerry,” or the shortened version, “PJ.”  Pastor is a Latin word for ‘shepherd,’ which is both a title and descriptive of my vocation. Even after 4 decades of pastoral ministry, I treasure that honor of serving as a shepherd for the people of God and I am reminded of His grace each time I hear someone say, “Pastor” to me.

There is a Name that I speak more than any another, Jesus.  His Name is often on my lips in the dark of the night, shapes my private worship, and is spoken in times of great joy in praise and in times of sorrow as a one-word prayer. “Oh, Jesus,” is never a curse or an oath on my lips, but it is frequently a simple statement of faith.

So why that Name? 

It is a God-given Name for His Son. Matthew tells us that “after he (Joseph) had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21, NIV)   Luke includes this note – “On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.” (Luke 2:21, NIV)

“Jesus” is a New Testament form of the Hebrew word, “Joshua,” which means “God is salvation.”  It was a name that was commonly used in that era. But, when made a compound, “Jesus Christ,”  that Name is a statement of the unique identity of the Man who was God Incarnate. The Name tells us why He came – “to save His people!”

“Jesus” brings God close to us. I seldom pray using the word “God” though I may address my prayers to the One who is ‘my Father,’ but I close those more formal prayers saying “in Jesus’ name.”  Why? Because Jesus is our Intercessor, the One who has made it possible for us to enter God’s presence confidently.  He has given God a face and revealed His heart.

“Jesus” is a powerful Name, for He defeated sin, death, and Hell in His death and Resurrection. When I invoke His Name in prayer I speak with a borrowed authority to the demons of darkness and they must yield to Him. When we receive Him by faith, His Name is written on our hearts and there is an eternal transformation. John says it this way – “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31, NIV)

Eternal life comes when we come to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Christians are invited to go beyond a creed to know a Person on an intimate level.  Oh yes, He is the Lord of Glory and when we see Him in His majesty, we will find ourselves in joyful, heart-deep worship.  Come and see Him, experience the joy that comes to those who know Him! Jesus is inviting you by name to come to Him – the Baby in the manger, the Man who walked the roads of Galilee, the One who healed the sick, the Teacher who revealed God’s plans, the Savior on the cross, and the Lord of Eternity who opened Heaven’s gate to us when He emerged alive and victorious from the tomb.

If we will come to Him with faith, if we will let our minds yield to Him with humble obedience, when we surrender to His love – we come to know “Jesus,” who saves His people from their sins.

Jesus is my Friend, my Savior, my Lord.  Is He yours? Do you know Him?
When you say His Name is it like saying the name of someone you know, a name wrapped up with images, memories, emotions, and affection?

The word from the Word comes from Peter’s spirited defense of his Lord when he was first arrested and called to account for a man’s healing.  “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. He is ”‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.’

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:8-12, NIV)

This Christmas, give yourself to Jesus, and you will join Peter in the declaration – Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.
_________

There’s Something About That Name
( a simple song of adoration )

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,
There’s just something about that name!
Master, Savior, Jesus,
Like a fragrance after the rain!

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,
Let all heaven and earth proclaim!
Kings and kingdoms may all pass away
But there’s something about that name.

Gloria Gaither | William J. Gaither© 1970 William J. Gaither, Inc. (Admin. by Gaither Copyright Management)

CCLI License # 810055

He knows how you feel

Physically it is reality that at age 65 I cannot do what I did 20 years ago. Sometimes pride overcomes good sense and I attempt same kind of work at the same pace. When evening comes my sore shoulders and aching remind me of my foolish denial of my age. I see some of the same kind of pride at work in me in this pandemic when I convince myself that I need not wear a mask or push back against the directives of health authorities because “I am capable of taking care of myself, too strong to be subject to this.” Granted, the messages we have received have been confusing and sometimes the directions seem baseless.

But there is a real struggle in the acknowledgement of our fragile humanity; that we are “frail children of dust and feeble as frail.”  Ultimately, we break down, our body’s part of a world of decay, and death comes to all.  Don’t leave me now. It will get more hopeful in a moment.

Against that dark backdrop there is the amazing message of Christmas!
Our God shared in our humanity. This is the mystery and wonder of the Incarnation. 

John says “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, NIV)  Paul tells us that Jesus, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8, NIV)

The ’how’ of all that is beyond my capacity to reason. How did the God of the universe confine Himself to a body born of Mary? I believe and accept this declaration by faith. I do know the ‘why.’ It was because of LOVE. He came to be with us, to share life with us, to offer Himself the final sacrifice for a sinful world that we could be, once again, the children of God.  “Although the world was made through him, the world didn’t recognize him when he came.” (John 1:10, NLT) “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12, NLT)

Jesus knows our HUMANITY fully. The Baby needed His mother’s milk. As He grew, He took direction from Joseph and Mary. He felt aching muscles after a long day of labor. When He worked in the hot sun, sweat poured down His face, just like yours. And yes, as He faced death, He cried.  His body was not different from ours.  If He lived in 2020, He would be subject to the virus that stalks us all, within the permission of the Father’s will, just as we are.

In our worship at Christmas, let’s not gloss over the amazing truth of the Incarnation. Yes, that Jesus became fully Man is important in the plan of God for the salvation of the world, but that is not my focus today. It is also important to us personally, strengthening our faith to trust our Savior, our Friend, our Heavenly Priest.

We are foolish to deny the weakness of the ‘flesh,’ to think that somehow we are stronger than the temptations that come to us through the appetites of our body, that we will somehow elude the eventual decline that comes with age, that we are above sickness. If we think we are facing these things alone or only in our own strength, we will be fearful or we will vainly attempt to overcome the inevitable, leading to a kind of despair too common among the elderly and infirm.

We can confidently face life and death because we have a
Savior and Lord who walks with us,
One who knows the fragile state of our physical state.
Christmas celebrates God’s participation in His own creation,
not from a distance, but as one of us! 

Meditate on the weighty words from Hebrews about the nature of our Great High Priest in Heaven, Jesus. Find comfort and strength in Him, hope that because He lives, we will live eternally, too.  

“Christ also did not take upon himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” And he says in another place, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” (Hebrews 5:5-7, NIV)

 “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16, NIV)

Are you fearful of the weakness of your body? Tell Him.
Are you struggling with acceptance of aging? Let Him help you.
Do temptations of the ‘flesh’ come over you?  Carry them to Him, He knows.

In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”
(Romans 8:36-37, NIV)
___________

What Child Is This

What Child is this who laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet
While shepherds watch are keeping
This this is Christ the King
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing
Haste haste to bring Him laud
The Babe the Son of Mary

Why lies He in such mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding
Good Christian fear for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading
Nails spear shall pierce Him through
The cross be borne for me for you
Hail hail the Word made flesh
The Babe the Son of Mary

So bring Him incense gold and myrrh
Come peasant king to own Him
The King of kings salvation brings
Let loving hearts enthrone Him
Raise raise the song on high
The Virgin sings her lullaby
Joy joy for Christ is born
The Babe the Son of Mary

William Chatterton Dix © Words: Public Domain

Like an angel!

Joy. It isn’t exactly in abundant supply this season of 2020.  Most of us are dealing with both the truly awful and difficult that comes from the pandemic and as well as the inconvenient, like delayed packages before Christmas.  Last night, at our church, our children’s ministry met for our Christmas party. The joy of those kids was infectious. At the end of the evening my spirits were lightened by the laughter, the hopefulness, the smiles of children who found delight in the simplest things.

Our God invites us to find His JOY.  In the fields outside of ancient Bethlehem an angel announced the birth of Jesus which was an event of JOY “for all the people!”   The words came to a rough lot of men, shepherds. They were, to our way of thought, an odd lot to tell of the Messiah’s birth. They probably were not well versed in the prophetic texts, nor were men careful to attend to Temple rituals. And still God choose to make His announcement to them. The message wrapped in that is this – God’s desire was to bring all people – even shepherds – to worship the Savior.  In that worship, they found joy. Luke says “The shepherds went back to their fields and flocks, glorifying and praising God for what the angels had told them, and because they had seen the child, just as the angel had said.” (Luke 2:20, NLT)

Want to find joy, in the middle of this mess we call life? 

Finding God’s joy starts with worship, looking beyond our trouble, setting aside the pre-occupation with the ‘stuff’ that clutters up our lives, to offer ourselves to the Lord. Worship does not have to be noisy, or in a special building, or accompanied by some sort of spiritual ecstasy. We can pause, wherever we are, to acknowledge Him, to praise Him. True joy this Christmas will be found in less “Santa” and more “Savior.”  There is a choice for JOY that each of us can make. It is a mistake to wait for JOY to arrive. We find it when we go to Him.

Joy is also found in serving others. There are a hundred ways to do this. A simple pause in the rush to acknowledge another human being with a sincere “Merry Christmas” can be a gift. Making a phone call to a friend to remind them of how much they mean to you is another.  Put yourself at God’s disposal, inviting Him to make you a messenger of joy. In giving we can find joy.

Take charge of your schedule these days leading up to Christmas. Make time for personal worship, time to pray, time to be in God’s Presence. This will allow you to at the holy day refreshed by Him, rather than exhausted. And you will share in the mission of bringing “joy to the world.”   Christian, we are ambassadors of the Heavenly Kingdom.  We have the awesome privilege of leading others to Him, sharing with them the Hope we have found.  I pray that we will be like the angel, able to sincerely announce God’s message of “great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11, NIV)

A word from the Word, urges us to this high calling.  On this Monday that starts the holiday week  remember that “God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you. How? you say. In Christ. God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God. ” (2 Corinthians 5:18-21, The Message)

___________________________

Angels we have heard on high

(sung by one of those virtual choirs so common in COVID era!)

Angels we have heard on high,
Sweetly singing o’er the plains;
And the mountains in reply,
Echoing their joyous strains.

Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

Shepherds, why this jubilee?
Why your joyous strains prolong?
Say what may the tidings be;
Which inspire your heav’nly song?

Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

Come to Bethlehem and see,
Him whose birth the angels sing;
Come adore on bended knee,
Christ the Lord, the newborn King.

Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

Angels We Have Heard On High Chadwick, James / Barnes, Edward Shippen

© Public Domain CCLI License No. 810055

Does it own YOU?

MacKenzie Scott, once married to Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, gave away $4 billion to various groups that are working to help people who are economically disadvantaged. She wrote that she was responding to the fact that “This pandemic has been a wrecking ball in the lives of Americans already struggling.”  Among the beneficiaries are 36 colleges that primarily educate students from lower-income families. Ms.Scott is the number 60 on the list of wealth in the world with a fortune that grew by over $23billion this year alone! 

Reading of this in the New York Times today, there were two thoughts that immediately came to mind –  First, good for her! Second, what would I do with that kind of wealth?  Then I realized that God asks ME to be faithful with what He has given to me!

So, what’s your treasure?  Those of us accustomed to a life that includes internet, cars, cell phones, abundant food, and plenty of clean water hold fairly tightly to our material goods. We treasure the good life. Most of us are convinced that IF we had wealth like Ms. Scott we would certainly be generous but how can we give away our treasure if we have less? Or, we are convinced if we had more stuff we would find greater happiness.

Luke records a story of a wealthy man who came to Jesus inquiring about gaining eternal life.  The meaning of that story eludes many people who wrongly conclude that Jesus was condemning wealth and demanding poverty of us all.  But, was He? ” A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’” “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” (Luke 18:18-27, NIV)

The thing that stood between that earnest young man and God was not the wealth with which he was privileged. It was the illusion of self-sufficiency that the wealth created! When asked about his moral choices, he was able to point to a record of stellar accomplishment, honesty, and honoring his parents.  The fact that Jesus let his answer stand without challenge tells me that the young man was truthful about these things. 

So, if it was not a lack of morality that stood in the way of a relationship with God, what was it?  It was his desire to own his life. Jesus went to the heart of the matter when He told that man, “Go sell everything, then come and follow me!”  That rich young man would not do it.  His wealth was his security.

Jesus reveals an issue for every person who has enough money to feel in control of life:  “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

Why? Does God hate wealth? Not at all.  

Money can give the ability to temporarily satisfy the soul hunger with things, creating personal comfort, and even gaining admiration numbing our soul hunger, hindering our desire for the life of the Spirit.  Money can trick us into thinking that we can ‘buy our way’ through life even our reconciliation to our Father.  In these choices wealth turns into a god to us.  That is why Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters … he will hate the one and love the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Luke 6:24)

So, Christian, where is YOUR treasure?
Do the things you claim to own in reality own YOU?
Does the status that comes along with your stuff give your life its purpose?

By the way, if you’re reading this and thinking that His words are only for those with $billions, think again! Yes, there is surely hardship in America, but the fact is that the vast majority of us enjoy a standard of life that is far better than much of the rest of the world’s population. Do NOT feel guilty about having resources. Rather see them for what they are, a sacred trust that God has given you. Instead of serving your stuff, let your ‘stuff’ work for Him. The Word says “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” (1 Corinthians 4:2, NIV)

The word from the Word is a familiar passage. As we near the end of 2020, it is a good time to consider what we are holding onto and what we are willing to give way.

Allow the Holy Spirit to help you to see beyond Jesus’ words, that He would turn them into living truth.
“Don’t store up treasures on earth! Moths and rust can destroy them, and thieves can break in and steal them. Instead, store up your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy them, and thieves cannot break in and steal them.
Your heart will always be where your treasure is. …
I tell you not to worry about your life. Don’t worry about having something to eat, drink, or wear. Isn’t life more than food or clothing? …
Don’t worry and ask yourselves, “Will we have anything to eat? Will we have anything to drink? Will we have any clothes to wear?” Only people who don’t know God are always worrying about such things. Your Father in heaven knows that you need all of these. But more than anything else, put God’s work first and do what he wants. Then the other things will be yours as well
.” (Matthew 6, CEV)

____________

Build My Life a song about true worship)

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

CCLI License # 810055

God’s Timing

Time matters to me.  I keep a schedule, show up for appointments, and finish projects on time. Knowing how to meet deadlines, keep appointments, and pay bills on time are important IF a person wants a life that works. We are a ‘time conscious’ culture.  

An article in Discover, described some of the habits of timely people.
1. When it’s time to get up, they get up. 
2. They plan breakfast at dinner.
3. They end tasks on time.
4. They recognize patterns, and correct them.
5. They embrace downtime.
6. They’re immune to “Just One More Thing” syndrome.
7. They schedule built-in overflow time.
8.  They’ve mastered the skill of calculation.
9. They know when they do their best work.

By that list, I must be a clock. How did you do?   
Let’s get to my spiritual thought today.

A phrase in Galatians fascinates me. Paul speaks of Jesus coming and connects timeliness with our eternal (timeless) God!  “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” (Galatians 4:5, KJV)   In another passage, he says it this way: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6, NIV)

God was/is ‘on time.’  After eons of time, a blink of an eye in His eternal existence, so to speak, He sent His Son. Why then, why not earlier or later?

That answer is hidden in the mind of God. Only He knows why He chose to send the Savior to this world about 2,000 years ago, but it was, the ‘fullness,’ the complete and perfect, time. It was the ‘right time.’

And today is our time to receive His gift!  Not tomorrow, but now.  “As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:1-2, NIV)  

Why would you wait to accept the Lord as your Savior?  Think He’ll cramp your style? Yes, He will change your life, but for the better. The guilt of the past will be gone, replaced by the acceptance known by those who let Jesus take away the shame! The hopelessness of yesterday is replaced with His promises that extend into ‘forever!’ The sense of futility, life’s emptiness, is erased with an invitation to a life of purpose in serving God. Why wait?

Oh yes, there will be things that happen to you, as they have to me, and you will question His timing. Five years ago, He decided that Bev’s earthly life was complete and took her home on December 29.  I chose to trust His wisdom, though it was a struggle. Faith tells me He knows ‘the right time.’ Though I am convinced of this, I still feel grief, but not despair.  

You may be wondering about some ‘why’ in your life, something that seems untimely.  He reminds us that “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9, NIV)  

Will you trust His timing?
Will you humble yourself before Him and let God, be God
There’s peace to be found in that acceptance.

Here is a word from the Word.
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”

“Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Celebrate this with worship – when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son.
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Go Tell It On The Mountain

(Zac Williams- Enjoy!)

Go tell it on the mountain
Over the hills and ev’rywhere
Go tell it on the mountain
That Jesus Christ is born

The shepherds feared and trembled
When lo above the earth
Rang out the angel chorus
That hailed the Savior’s birth

Down in a lowly manger
The humble Christ was born
And God sent us salvation
That blessed Christmas morn

When I was a seeker
I sought both night and day
I asked the LORD to help me
He showed me the way

He made me a watchman
Upon the city wall
And if I am a Christian
I am the least of all

John W. Work Jr.© Words: Public Domain 

What are you chasing?

She is a woman who pursues her work diligently. Her goals are clear and she is undeterred by the obstacles, unwilling to let other things distract her. I admire her focus that has brought her some amazing success in life. In contrast, I know another person of talent and intelligence who has left those gifts undeveloped, drifting from place to place, professing to be happy but living a difficult life. Both people are of similar backgrounds, spiritual heritage, and ability. Both have known opportunity and hardship in similar ways. One tenaciously works to shape the life she desires; the other is letting the currents carry her.

Do you know that the best Christian life demands much of you? 
Salvation, being right with God, is a gift, beyond our ability to earn.
Discipleship is our choice, requiring focus, purpose, and commitment.

After warning Timothy about the distractions of material things, the lure of the ‘love of money,’  Paul speaks of a different set of priorities.  “But you, Timothy, belong to God; so run from all these evil things, and follow what is right and good. Pursue a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight for what we believe. Hold tightly to the eternal life that God has given you, which you have confessed so well before many witnesses.” (1 Timothy 6:11-12, NLT)   In that short passage there are principles for us.

Some things must be left behind.

Life offers us many distractions and/or temporary comforts.  The television screen will fill endless hours with images and conversations of little consequence. Alcohol will ease the anxiety. A bowl of ice cream can soothe a soul. Pornography will provide false intimacy, for a moment.  Not all of those choices have equal consequence, but each one can become a substitute for living an engaged life.  Will we listen to our desires or will we turn our back?

The Way must be pursued.

No one drifts into a beautiful Christian life, filled with the fruit of the Spirit.  We must actively choose to love Christ, beyond our words, in more than a song on Sunday.  We gain sight of what it means to belong to Him, then with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness we follow Him, day by day.  ‘Easy Believism’ is a captivating lie that teaches us that we are loved by God and need not strive to become who He wants us to be. Like most half-truths it goes down well. But, there is no real spiritual growth without discipline.

The struggle is real.

The call of Christ sets us at odds with the world in which we live, creates a tension with our old sinful nature, and is opposed by the Evil One.  We are not ‘bad Christians’ if we are tempted. Godly people are tempted to hate, to lust, to crave pleasure!  If we are dedicated to Christ Jesus, He said we should expect to be rejected, perhaps even persecuted.  The world hated Him and if we are His followers we too will be hated.  We do not go looking for trouble. We do not seek to be offensive. But, we accept that we are aliens in a foreign land, citizens of the Heavenly Kingdom.

Hang onto Eternity.

The life of the disciple makes no sense apart from the promise of Heaven. Paul is blunt – “If for this life alone we have hope, we are of all people most miserable.”  The full realization of what we hope for will be found when we enter God’s presence, when we hear His commendation, when we finally know Him without the limitations of this present existence.  Hold onto eternal life now with faith!

Are you trying to walk the fence, so to speak, a creature of this present world while attempting to know the life of the Spirit?  Answer the invitation of discipleship, following Jesus … leaving behind those things that distract, pursuing Him with clear focus, fighting the good fight, with eternity in sight on time’s horizon.

Here is a word from the Word. “How we thank God, who gives us victory over sin and death through Jesus Christ our Lord! So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and steady, always enthusiastic about the Lord’s work, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” (1 Corinthians 15:57-58, NLT)

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O Come All Ye Faithful

O come all ye faithful
Joyful and triumphant
O come ye O come ye to Bethlehem
Come and behold Him
Born the King of angels

O come let us adore Him
O come let us adore Him
O come let us adore Him
Christ the Lord

Sing choirs of angels
Sing in exultation
O sing all ye bright
Hosts of heav’n above
Glory to God all
Glory in the highest

Yea Lord we greet Thee
Born this happy morning
Jesus to Thee be all glory giv’n
Word of the Father
Now in flesh appearing

C. Frederick Oakeley | John Francis Wade

© Words: Public Domain

I’ve got this! – God

One phrase makes several appearances in the Christmas story –  “Fear not!”  Whenever one of God’s messengers shows up with news, they say, “Don’t be afraid!”  God is speaking to us today and HE tells us not to fear. Some Christians are acting in very strange ways these days because of fear. Conspiracy theories abound. Irrational statements are made as if they were revealed dogma. Why? In part I believe it is because we tend to forget the end of the Story! 

Ah friend, we need to remember He reigns.  (I played the Hallelujah Chorus  during my morning worship and found myself overwhelmed with joy, moved to tears!)

Spoiler alert! You see this warning in a review of a movie when there is about to be a revelation of a critical turn in the plot. If you don’t want to ruin the story for yourself, you stop reading, right?  My destiny, because of Christ Jesus, is no mystery. God told us the end of the story.  We know the assurance of eternal life. We live confidently knowing that evil will be defeated.

Our hope is secure in the house of our Father, a home in Heaven.  He reveals the End in His Book. I am so glad He did! Why? Because sometimes, in the middle of this thing we call life, everything can get really overwhelming. Whether we are talking about world problems – and there are plenty of those- or our personal struggles, we are encouraged to remain faithful to Him because we have divine assurance.  Jesus said – “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV)

Have you read the final lines of Romans chapter 8 recently? It’s a sort of spoiler alert for our lives, but in the best sense. Because we are called and justified in Christ, “we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good. …After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun. So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? … Who would dare even to point a finger?

The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. … None of this (death, demons, etc.) fazes us because Jesus loves us.” (Romans 8:37, The Message)

My heart has been full of concern this Advent season for the people in my pastoral care. There are broken hearts. Some struggle with unrelenting pain. Some face a financial need. COVID has made depression as common as a cold as many try to make sense of what seems senseless. I pray with hope because I have the promise that the “Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” (Romans 8:26, NIV) 

I pray with faith in the promise that He has made us ‘more than conquerors’ through Christ Who loves us.  I know the end of the story, because I have read Word of the Eternal One .

Fearful?  God is saying, “Fear not.”  In a sense HE tells us, “I’ve got this. Let me guide you through.”

Here is a word from the Word.  It is from the End of the Bible, a kind of last word.  May this Truth overcome our fear, fill us with faith, and give us vision to live for the Glory of God, now and forever.

And the angel showed me a pure river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, coursing down the center of the main street. On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations. No longer will anything be cursed. For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and his servants will worship him. And they will see his face, and his name will be written on their foreheads. And there will be no night there—no need for lamps or sun—for the Lord God will shine on them. And they will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 22:1-5, NLT)

Jesus says, “See, I am coming soon, and my reward is with me, to repay all according to their deeds. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” (Revelation 22:12-13, NLT)
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Hallelujah Chorus

Hallelujah (10X)

For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth

Hallelujah hallelujah

Hallelujah hallelujah

For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth

Hallelujah hallelujah

Hallelujah hallelujah

The kingdom of this world is become

The kingdom of our Lord

And of His Christ

And of His Christ

And He shall reign forever and ever

And He shall reign forever and ever

And He shall reign forever and ever

King of kings forever and ever

And Lord of lords

Hallelujah hallelujah

Hallelujah hallelujah

Hallelujah

George Frideric Handel – Public Domain

Beyond Warm Fuzzies

Our celebration of Christmas has the potential of getting swallowed up by “warm fuzzies” or being ruined by the lack of them. Warm fuzzies? In case you do not know, Merriam Webster definition says that ‘warm fuzzies’ are those feelings of happiness, contentment, or sentimentality that we get when there is good news, when we are loved.  Silent Night sung on Christmas Eve in a darkened church sanctuary while we pass the light from candle to candle is a warm fuzzy moment for this pastor. Yep, the warm fuzzies overwhelm me when I talk about Christmas’s of 30 years ago when four excited kids filled our house with noise.

Relax! I am not a Grinch out to rob you of those sentimental feelings. They are wonderful. Enjoy them, savor them, let them make your life richer.

Christianity does include some warm fuzzies for most of us. I cannot tell the story of the Lost Son who found his father’s arms open wide to him when he finally decided to go home without getting teary! It is such a powerful story of restoration.  In my personal worship there are moments when the Spirit of God comes close and I feel a kind of love that breaks my heart wide open, too. But, our Christian life cannot survive on warm fuzzies. We need to engage both heart and mind with our faith to keep it alive!

James tells us to keep our faith connected to real life.  What we believe, he says, must have a discernable effect on the way we live. “What’s the use of saying you have faith if you don’t prove it by your actions? That kind of faith can’t save anyone. Suppose you see a brother or sister who needs food or clothing, and you say, “Well, good-bye and God bless you; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, it isn’t enough just to have faith. Faith that doesn’t show itself by good deeds is no faith at all—it is dead and useless. Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.”

I say, “I can’t see your faith if you don’t have good deeds, but I will show you my faith through my good deeds.” (James 2:14-18, NLT)

Yesterday I found myself angry over the politics of COVID, deeply annoyed by what I perceive as a terrible over-reach of government authority. We may well differ in our opinions, but what disturbed me, as I reflected on my words, was the way that my response was out of sync with the heart of Jesus.  My anger led me to sinful wrath, to conclusions that my faith would never support.  

A Christian faith based only on feelings would have been incapable of correcting me, but the Truth that I knew in my mind, forced me to adjust my emotions and hopefully will help me adjust my rhetoric as well.  Is your faith in Christ Jesus powerful enough to challenge your thoughts, your words, your actions? Or, is Jesus just a warm fuzzy for you?  That is a pointed question worthy of an answer.  

Love is the core of Jesus’ teaching, and yet many who claim to be His followers are full of rage these days. It is not an over-statement to say that many of us ‘hate’ the ‘other guy.’ Can we actually lay claim to loving God and  hang to bitterness against a neighbor?  Can we really have experienced the reality of God’s love and desire harm to come to another?  Read God’s Word and come to your own conclusion. “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. Anyone who hates another Christian is really a murderer at heart. And you know that murderers don’t have eternal life within them.” (1 John 3:14-15, NLT)

We are not Christians simply because we once said a prayer with Billy Graham at the end of a televised service, or because we affirmed some doctrinal statement, or because we are in possession of a certificate of baptism.  We are not a Christian if we shed an occasional tear when we hear our favorite worship chorus in church. When faith is real we will be engaged in living the Gospel of Christ in the real world, with the Spirit’s help, on a daily basis .  John says, “My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality.” (1 John 3:18-19, The Message)    

So, it’s Christmas.   There’s a ton of sentimentality attached to this holiday.   Let me encourage you to go beyond that little tear in the corner of your eye, that catch in your throat, to do the tough work of applying the Story to life.   If you believe that Jesus is really “Emmanuel, God with us,” then invite Him to live in you.    Embrace Him as both Savior and Lord – in your heart and with your mind – then let it show in how you live for the glory of God.

The word from the Word is a favorite passage for me. I pray this blessing for you this Monday morning.

“And I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts as you trust in him. May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love really is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is so great you will never fully understand it. Then you will be filled with the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19, NLT)  

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O come, O come Emmanuel

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

O come,  thou Rod of Jesse free,
Thine own from  Satan’s tyranny
From depths of hell  thy people save
And give them victory  o’er the grave

O come,  thou Dayspring,  come and cheer
Our spirits by  Thine advent here;
And drive away the  shades of night,

And pierce the  clouds and bring us light.

O come,  thou Key of David, come,
And open wide  our heavenly home.
Make safe the way  that leads on high,
And close the path  to misery.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel, Shall come to thee,  O Israel!

O Come O Come Emmanuel –
Neale, John M. / Coffin, Henry S. / Helmore, Thomas © Public Domain