I’ve Got Better Things To Do?

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This Sunday, I will be in church as I have been on 99.9% of Sundays for my 64 years of life.  I have attended mega-churches with thousands, little country churches with dozens, churches with organs and choirs and those with a single guitar providing the music. I have been blessed in ornate churches with incense and bells and in little unadorned halls with simple, unstructured worship. I have endured terrible services and enjoyed wonderful ones. I’ve been bored out of my mind and engaged to the very core of my being. And, I remain a person who loves Christ’s Church.

I am now part of a minority in America. The percentage of Americans that ‘go to church’ is falling rapidly and a small percentage of those who do go to church attend regularly each week. There are numerous reasons for this decline. About a third of those born after 1990 in the US no longer identify themselves with any religion. Scandals have rocked the confidence of people in pastors and diminished the value of organized religion. Many other activities compete with church for attention.

But, I believe that many do not make church attendance a high priority because they do not really understand the reason for it. Church has become something of an entertainment venue, though many would not consciously think of it that way. A prime question that shapes the choice of many concerning where, when, and how often they attend church is ‘how does it make me feel?’  The focus has turned completely around from “I go to worship and honor God” to “I go to find something of value for me.”  We should hope to find some benefit, some joy, some inspiration when we gather to worship the Lord BUT that is secondary to making the choice to present ourselves to Him intentionally, in a place of worship, in devotion. Any emotional lift we may find is a bonus!

While people think they go to church for a program, in reality we go for a Person!

Eugene Peterson describes three reasons that being ‘in church’ for worship is important.

  1. Worship gives life a working structure.
  2. Worship nurtures our need for a relationship with God.
  3. Worship centers our attention on the wisdom of God. – Life at Its Best, Zondervan, 2006

When we take a break from the things that consume our attention in daily life, there is an opportunity to regain our perspective- a kind of weekly reset of our understanding about what/who we were created to be. Regardless of the style of our church’s liturgy – from rigidly formal to charismatically chaotic – behind it all is the Spirit reminding us that we are finite and He is infinite, the illusions of our Self set stripped away by an encounter with the Divine!

Worship gives us a language for loving God. The choice to go ‘someplace’ and to gather with others for the purpose of worship says, “I’m reaching out to You.” Worship includes an encounter with mystery – as we take the Cup and Bread in hand – and hear “This is the blood of the Covenant, this is my Body broken for you.”  And, hopefully, there is the renewal of wisdom that comes from hearing the Word of God. One of the tragedies of some churches is the scarcity of the Word, replaced with philosophy, poems, and preacher’s opinions. It is the Word, infused with the revelation of the Holy Spirit, that shapes us into the people of God who live for the purposes of God.

I am told, too often these days, “I have better things to do, Pastor,” by those who see little value in making worship a priority over family gatherings, sports, and sleeping in on Sunday morning.  Let’s hear the invitation of the Spirit to come into God’s Presence.  I know He does not live in church building, but those places give us a place to focus, to be with others who are seeking Him.  The reality is that ‘going to church’ and entering into the worship is an investment of time!  One Sunday will do little to change us. Week by week, engaging in worship, will transform us!

Let me pointedly say this.  We must rid ourselves of the consumer expectations that poison our worship experience. Discard any attention to how you feel, what you think you need, or who spoke kindly to you. Show up and present yourself to God!  Here’s a bit of practical advice – go a few minutes early to sit quietly which will allow your soul catch up with your body. Attend with your heart and mind as well as your body! In other words, pay attention and participate. Sing! Pray! Listen! Respond!

Here is a word from the Word – “And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s people, let us go right into the presence of God, with true hearts fully trusting him. For our evil consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:21-25, NLT)
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Here I Am To Worship

Light of the world You stepped down into darkness,
opened my eyes, let me see;
Beauty that made this heart adore You,
Hope of a life spent with You.

 Here I am to worship! Here I am to bow down!
Here I am to say that You’re my God.
You’re altogether lovely, altogether worthy,
Altogether wonderful to me.

 King of all days, oh so highly exalted.
glorious in Heaven above!
Humbly You came to earth You created,
All for love’s sake became poor.

Tim Hughes © 2000 Kingsway Music CCLI License No. 810055

Enter the blessing

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Are you limiting yourself, dragged down by thoughts that say “I’m not good enough” to apply for that next level job or ask for the promotion?  Are you afraid to approach God openly? Do His promises seem like they only belong to some super-spiritual elite group of Christians?

Perhaps that is because you have received just half of the gospel message, the part that teaches us “all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.”  I know many believers who only live that part, failing to remember a critical conjunction that finishes the thought. Take a look. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-24, NIV)

God has made you right with Him, settled whatever debt hung over you, and written ‘paid in full’ for your sinfulness, through Christ Jesus and you can accept that new status by faith.

In the 4th chapter of Romans, Paul was inspired by the Spirit to take on the mistaken idea that we somehow gain the favor of God after or if we manage to perform enough good deeds or go through enough religious ritual.  He points to the example of Abraham, the father of the faithful, and explains that Abe was made right with God when he trusted the Lord in faith. “If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:2-3, NIV)

That is not just some dusty theology! Knowing that we are ‘credited’ with righteousness by God as a gift opens up great possibilities for us as disciples, just as it did for Abraham.

As Paul develops the thought, he goes to the promise that Abraham received because of the gift of righteousness. “It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. … Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.” (Romans 4:16, NIV)  God promised Abraham that he would be blessed, that he would bear God’s glory before his world, and that all the world would be blessed through him.  How did he gain this status? Through faith that accepted the gift of being made right with God and entering into the covenant by faith!

And, we can enter into it, too!  By faith, you and I are heirs of Abraham’s promise. We have a glorious destiny of being God’s own people, fully accepted before Heaven’s Throne, with eternal life secured for us, and the blessings of living under the hand of His blessings here and now. You can look at yourself, your failures, your sense of inadequacy and live far below what God intends OR you can, by faith, know that you are fully accepted as His child. That righteousness received by faith lays the foundation for a whole new way of life that is formed in us, progressively, by the work of the Holy Spirit.

The key to a joyful, rich Christian experience is to look higher than our own efforts, to trust Jesus fully for grace and mercy. Let’s do it! Are you living up to the potential that God plans for you, a bright light for Him, a living example of someone who has entered into the ‘abundant’ life Jesus promised?  The promise is not just for somebody you perceive to be better, someone you think has a spiritual heritage, or someone without the baggage you’re carrying from the past.  You can be declared ‘not guilty’ and freed to enter the promisesola gratia (by grace) – sola fide (by faith)!

Here is a word from the Word. “Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise. In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God. He was absolutely convinced that God was able to do anything he promised. And because of Abraham’s faith, God declared him to be righteous. Now this wonderful truth—that God declared him to be righteous—wasn’t just for Abraham’s benefit. It was for us, too, assuring us that God will also declare us to be righteous if we believe in God, who brought Jesus our Lord back from the dead. He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised from the dead to make us right with God.” (Romans 4:20-25, NLT)

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No Longer Slaves

You unravel me with a melody
You surround me with a song
Of deliverance from my enemies
Till all my fears are gone

 I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God
I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God

 From my Mother’s womb
You have chosen me
Love has called my name
I’ve been born again into Your family
Your blood flows through my veins

 You split the sea so I could walk right through it
My fears were drowned in perfect love
You rescued me so I could stand and sing
I am a child of God

Brian Johnson | Joel Case | Jonathan David Helser © 2014 Bethel Music Publishing

CCLI License # 810055

Too Far Gone?

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The incredible talent of Russ Taff brought him 6 Grammy’s, countless Dove awards, and the praise of thousands. I loved his music. Walls of Glass, Trumpet of Jesus, and We Will Stand are embedded in my memories. Who knew that the man standing there on the stage, looking like a champion, was full of misery? Who knew of the shame he carried from a childhood of an impossible religion preached to him by a dad who finished up Sunday nights by turning into a mean drunk? Who knew of Russ’ own struggle with alcohol that tore him away from his wife and kids, amplifying the emptiness he felt at the core of his being?

In Russ Taff, I Still Believe, he tells the story – without holding back. It’s gritty, painful, and gripping.  (available on Amazon Prime Video) The turning point was when Russ finally surrendered himself to get the help he needed, when he took the hand of the Jesus he had sung about to millions and let Him heal the wounds of shame, replacing it with grace and love that stilled the voices that insisted he was not enough. He found the love of God. Sound like a cliché? It is an old, old story – told millions of times. Yet, I love to hear it again, not for the awful but for the glory!

In this morning’s email, a friend who I watched spiral down into alcoholism and despair wrote to me about his own healing. Adopted at birth, he always felt a sense of loss. An educated, intelligent man he had what seemed to be all the right stuff. But, his professional life fell apart and his health broke. But, Jesus never forgot him! “I just celebrated a year of sobriety on October 10, 2019.  My Lord has done an amazing work in my life over the past year.  I was alone … much of the time and had few distractions, forcing me to face what I had become, how I got there and to whom I needed to turn.  As I submitted myself to the living Jesus (as opposed to the one I had envisioned through my finite prism), I started praying.”  He went to tell me how he had connected with his birth mother and found out so many things that put the missing pieces in place.

I do not know why I feel so compelled to write this blog this morning, but I know the Spirit is speaking to somebody out there who thinks they are too far gone, who has reached the conclusion that dying is better than life. God has not forgotten your name. The One who knows you best, loves you most.  He is the waiting Father of Jesus’ story (Luke 15) about the Prodigal son. That man who had treated his father terribly and wasted his life thought he could no longer be a son. He tried to go home to make a deal to live with the hired hands.  “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20, NIV)  Your Father in heaven is looking for you!

It’s not easy to turn around. Old habits can die hard. Old ways of coping, through destruction, wrap themselves around us like a tattered old blanket that we resist giving up. But, the Spirit of God is ready to meet us when we are at the end of our rope. Are you ready to come home?

In my favorite book of the Bible, the letter to the Ephesians, in which Paul celebrates the grace of God, there is this passage, our word from the Word. I pray as you read it, it becomes a living Word for you, a moment of hope and transformation through the grace of God.

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so very much, that even while we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s special favor that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ, and we are seated with him in the heavenly realms—all because we are one with Christ Jesus.

And so God can always point to us as examples of the incredible wealth of his favor and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us through Christ Jesus. God saved you by his special favor when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:4-10, NLT)

Surrender! Believe! Receive! Live again!

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Hold To God’s Unchanging Hand

(Russ Taff sings it like nobody can)

Time is filled with swift transition
Naught of earth unmoved can stand
Build your hopes on things eternal
Hold to God’s unchanging hand

 Hold to God’s unchanging hand
Hold to God’s unchanging hand
Build your hopes on things eternal
Hold to God’s unchanging hand

 When your journey is completed
If to God you have been true
Fair and bright the home in glory
Your enraptured soul will view

Franklin Lycurgus Eiland | Jennie Wilson © Words: Public Domain

 

Loved!

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In a conversation with a friend I wondered aloud at the way I have changed over the years in my relationship with those in my pastoral care. Often, when I was a young pastor,  my first inclination was to ‘efficiency’ and I focused on the organization and the programs of the church. I still care that we do our work in the best way possible, but it is the people that I care most deeply about.  I admit that tears readily fill my eyes when I pray for those who are struggling or hurting. My heart is elated at the report of a victory. And, this is right because God’s desire for His Church is, first and foremost, about creating and strengthening relationships- with Himself and with one another.

Paul, in his first letter to the disciples in Thessalonica, writes at length about his concern for the people there that he had introduced to Christ Jesus. He apologizes for not getting back to visit them writing that “out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you” but Satan hindered those attempts repeatedly. He remembers his time among them with these words of deep love. “We were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.” (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8, NIV)  The people of God were the reason for Paul’s existence, the source of his joy.  He says, “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy.” (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20, NIV)

Are you loved and loving in the family of God?

Let me speak honestly to this. I am concerned that we (Christians) spend so little together that it is all but impossible to form and sustain the kind of loving connection that God wants for us. We know that love is to be the singular mark of the disciple, but we frequently confuse the real affection of the brotherhood (sisters, too) with something more like an association or social club.

The best experience of Christianity has a context of a ‘family,’ when people get together regularly, rubbing elbows, sharing life, learning one another’s stories. Does that sound like a lot of work? It is! Will it always be a warm, wonderful, fulfilling experience?  Answer that by thinking about your own family. Families have conflicts. There is always that one who makes things tense, who tells the wrong story, who demands attention … but that’s family and we love each other, sometimes because of our personalities and sometimes in spite of them.  Part of maturity is learning how to love those who are difficult. But, we all recognize that we are richer for the connections.

God’s plan for us is to call us INTO His Body, the Church.  We will come to love those in His family at least as deeply as our own flesh and blood. That well-known passage about the Church teaches us that “God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” (1 Corinthians 12:18-21, NIV) That is not just some ideal, far removed from reality.

Our word from the Word is about the key thing that keeps us connected, that overcomes our disappointments, that feels us with the kind of joy of which Paul wrote to the Thessalonians. As you read it, my prayer is that God will call you to raise your commitment to His family, the Church, so that together we can become the remarkable people that He desires.

 “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Love will last forever, but prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will all disappear.

 Now we know only a little, and even the gift of prophecy reveals little! But when the end comes, these special gifts will all disappear. It’s like this: When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child does. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly as in a poor mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God knows me now. There are three things that will endure—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-13, NLT)

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Father, I am so grateful for Your family.
Teach me to value my relationships in Your church,
To assign a priority to time together.

As You teach me of my spiritual gifts, help me to connect
With others, in a mutually beneficial way that makes
Your love and life visible to our world.

Jesus, thank you for showing me how to love, selflessly and sacrificially.
Give me courage to go beyond my fears,  to forgive those who fail,
To lift up others.

Amen

Truth Works!

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At church yesterday, our guests were women currently living at the Hoving Home in Oxford, NJ. They are there because their lives had fallen apart. Most of them once believed they were broken beyond repair, without worth, beyond love – often as a consequence of abuse and/or rejection. They looked for relief in alcohol or drugs and the pit grew deeper.  Now they are learning God’s truth that they are, no matter their past choices, beloved daughters of the Heavenly Father, women of great worth.

 The truth can be hard when it reveals a need for a change that will require confronting ourselves. The truth can be comforting when we find a foundation of hope beyond our present set of circumstances. What do you believe about the world in which you live, about yourself, about God?  We all live out of our basic structure of beliefs about who we are, why we exist, what gives meaning.  If we are living a lie there will be tragic results!

So where do we find the Truth?  God, the Holy Spirit, speaks to us through the Word. “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) With diligent study, with prayerfulness that opens our minds, with humility to trust Him with the hard things – we find a foundation for life in the Word.  Jesus is our Living Word, bringing us the revelation of the Father.  Have you received the word of God?

James describes a common issue with the Truth – refusing to let it work to bring about transformation. “Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like. But whoever catches a glimpse of the revealed counsel of God—the free life!—even out of the corner of his eye, and sticks with it, is no distracted scatterbrain but a man or woman of action. That person will find delight and affirmation in the action.” (James 1:23-25, The Message)

The key to finding the freedom of Truth is OBEDIENCE. People who hear the Word of God but don’t obey it, live in denial.  James says they become people who have no idea who they are.  But, the promise of God is that when we see our true self in God’s mirror and respond to the Truth we find there, are liberated by the Spirit, able to grapple with reality and find God’s sufficiency.

What is God saying to you today?
Is He affirming your worth, your calling, your salvation; asking you to live in His potential?
Is He confronting you with something that needs to be surrendered to Him?

Our word from the Word today is spoken by Jesus. Though you may find it familiar, soak your mind in the passage, prayerfully. “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32, NIV) Let’s be compelled by the Truth. As we hear and see it, let’s believe it and receive it. Then, we will do the Father’s will, and find the joy of freedom.

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Flawless

(The Truth about how God sees you!)

There’s got to be more
Than going back and forth
From doing right to doing wrong
‘Cause we were taught that’s who we are
Come on get in line right behind me
You along with everybody
Thinking there’s worth in what you do

 Then like a hero who takes the stage when
We’re on the edge of our seats saying it’s too late
Let me introduce you to amazing grace 

No matter the bumps no matter the bruises
No matter the scars still the truth is
The cross has made
The cross has made you flawless

No matter the hurt or how deep the wound is
No matter the pain still the truth is
The cross has made
The cross has made you flawless

 Could it possibly be
That we simply can’t believe
That this unconditional
Kind of love would be enough
To take a filthy wretch like this
And wrap him up in righteousness
But that’s exactly what He did

 Take a breath smile and say
Right here right now I’m ok because
The cross was enough

 Then like a hero who takes the stage when
We’re on the edge of our seats saying it’s too late
Well let me introduce you to grace grace
God’s grace

 No matter what they say
Or what you think you are
The day you called His name
He made you flawless
He made you flawless

 Barry Graul | Bart Millard | Ben Glover | David Garcia | Mike Scheuchzer | Nathan Cochran | Robby Shaffer | Solomon Olds © 2014 D Soul Music (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.)

Universal Music – Brentwood Benson Publishing (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.)

9t One Songs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

Ariose Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

 

Stuck?

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Have you heard of the Sargasso Sea? In the mid-Atlantic, it an area of becalmed waters about 700 miles across and 2000 miles long! The area is bounded by strong currents and much of it is covered with seaweed. Even the salinity of the water is higher than the ocean that surrounds it. In the days of sailing ships, this area of the ocean was dreaded, a place where a ship could get stalled, in the Doldrums, windless and making little or no progress. What a metaphor for a life becalmed!  Without the energy to engage, without the wind our sails; we just sit, waiting for tomorrow.

Seasons come when we get stuck, stale, and stalled – feeling like the wind of the Spirit has stopped blowing. Alan Jamieson wrote that in such times, “the old ways of prayer, worship, Bible reading become dry and stale. The church worship and preaching that used to encourage us, teach us, and inspire us becomes barren ground. God seems to extinguish one means of feeding our faith in order to make us hungry, even starving, for new ways. … Now that the way is void and empty, God comes to us in new ways, if only we can perceive them. When we are becalmed, we learn to wait.” –Perfect Storm, Abingdon, 2008

There are many reasons we can feel the spiritual doldrums falling over us.

-If we are resistant to the will of our Father, persisting in behaviors that we know grieve the Spirit, we should not be surprised when we cannot perceive His Presence.

-Sometimes when we are weary from a time of high stress or endless demands, our ability to worship takes a hit. The remedy is to rest, not just in diversion or pleasure, but to lean hard on the Promises of God.

-And, there are times when we just do not perceive His moving in life for reasons unknown to us. These are times when we ‘live by faith’ – trusting a silent God!

There is a great danger that tempt those who have known God’s powerful Presence in the past.  We may try to stir up something of God in our own strength.  Our motive may be to do “God work.” But, human effort or emotion cannot replace the powerful Presence of God. In attempting to do ourselves what only God can do, we risk even greater discouragement, perhaps even burnout. When we feel becalmed, stuck, like nothing is happening, the best counsel is “WAIT on the Lord.” This is not a passive resignation to fate. It is a choice to turn our focus on Him, to discipline our heart to be still, to actively listen for the ‘still, small voice.’

The Psalmist’s prayer is one for those who are becalmed. “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. O Israel (people of God), put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.” (Psalm 130:5-7, NIV)

Jesus taught us the importance of waiting for the Spirit. He told those first disciples that they must not rush off to just do something. Instead, they were to wait.  He said, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.” (Acts 1:4, NIV)

Wait; don’t fret, fuss, or fume! And wait they did; prayerfully, expectantly, patiently. In God’s time, the Spirit moved on them. “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.” (Acts 2:2, NIV) “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (Acts 2:4, NIV) Those men and women set sail to change the world!

Feeling stuck? God is moving. Love Him. Wait on Him. Turn your heart towards Heaven.

_________________________

Sweet Wind

(a song of the Spirit, listen at this link)

There’s a wind a-blowin’
All across the land
A fragrant breeze of heaven
Blowin’ once again
Don’t know where it comes from
Don’t know where it goes
But let it blow over me
Oh sweet wind
Come and blow over me

There’s a rain a-pourin’
Showers from above
Mercy drops are comin’
Mercy drops of love
Turn your face to heaven
Let the water pour
Well let it pour over me
Oh sweet rain
Come and pour over me

There’s a fire burnin’
Fallin’ from the sky
Awesome tongues of fire
Consuming you and I
Can you feel it burnin’
Burn the sacrifice
Well let it burn over me
Oh sweet fire
Come and burn over me

David Ruis © 1994 Mercy / Vineyard Publishing (Admin. by Vineyard Music USA)Vineyard Songs Canada (Admin. by Vineyard Music USA)

CCLI License # 810055

SAVED!

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I love conversion stories!  I subscribe to Christianity Today. One of my first stops in each issue is the back page, a feature called Testimony. On two pages the story of a person who has experienced the grace of God is told.  Last month a man raised as a racist, a Klansman, told his dramatic story of change. (I Was a Violent Klansman) When God’s Spirit touches the human heart and there is a response of faith, something real and wonderful happens. A whole new way of life becomes possible. The assurance of eternity with God in Heaven is written on the heart of that one who comes to Christ Jesus.

Have you been ‘saved?’  Paul, in his letter to the Romans, writes of the predicament of humanity in chapters 1 to 3. Sin came into the world, bringing alienation from God, death, obscuring the image of God. The famed verse says that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23, NIV)  The splendor of being God’s image bearers was lost until Christ Jesus came to save us.

He urges us to faith, presenting our salvation in three analogies that deepen our assurance.

We are justified. (Romans 3:24)  In the court of Heaven we were indicted and bound to be condemned at the Judgment. But, when we believe and receive Christ, God declares us ‘not guilty,’ not because we are deserving, but because Jesus extends grace to us. It’s more than a pardon. We are free of guilt!

We are redeemed. (Romans 3:24)  In the world in which Paul lived slavery was common. Your neighbor could become a slave if he fell into debt. Sold into servitude to satisfy that debt was a terrible thing. However, there could be redemption! If family and/or friends put together enough resources to pay off the debt, the person enslaved was redeemed, set free.  You and I, in our natural state, are slaves of sin, but there is a Redeemer, Jesus, God’s own Son. Jesus tells us of His mission to pay the ransom for our freedom. (Mark 10:45)  “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Our love for Him is such that we become servants of God, living to please Him. As Paul says “You were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:20)

We are given the gift of righteousness.  “Now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known,God presented him (Jesus) as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.” (Romans 3:25, NIV)  The sacrifice of atonement is an analogy based in the temple sacrifice for sin. Paul has in mind here the mercy seat that was the lid of the ark of covenant.  There, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest carried blood for an offering on behalf of the people that satisfied the holy demands of God.

A system of sacrifices turned away God’s wrath from the sinner. Shocked at that language?  Perhaps that is because our concept of God is so impoverished. He is a loving Father, the glorious Creator, and the Judge of all the earth.  We are, “by nature objects of wrath,’ except that God, mysteriously and wondrously, offered His own Son as the final sacrifice for sin, once for all time.

That sacrifice of Jesus is viewed from three perspectives, each adding to our faith!
Substitutionary– He suffered the penalty of sin ‘in our place.’
Propitiatory – He satisfied the demands of a holy God ‘on our behalf.’
Expiatory – He annulled the guilt by removing the consequence of sin ‘for us.’

Yes, those are hard concepts for us but we must go beyond a superficial and emotion-based grasp of the amazing gift of God. When our minds are filled with the wonder of salvation – that we are justified, that we are redeemed, that God has made us right at great cost – there is an unshakeable assurance that fills our mind and heart, compelling us to joy and faithful love.

Have you been ‘saved?’

Here is a word from the Word. Oh, may the promise of God that saves us from the human predicament cause us to sing today.

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” (Ephesians 1:13-17, NIV)  Amen

___________

This Is Amazing Grace

(sing with Phil Wickman)

Who breaks the power of sin and darkness
Whose love is mighty and so much stronger
The King of Glory the King above all kings
Who shakes the whole earth with holy thunder
And leaves us breathless in awe and wonder
The King of Glory the King above all kings

  (Yeah) (Oh) This is amazing grace
This is unfailing love
That You would take my place
That You would bear my cross
You laid down Your life
That I would be set free
Oh Jesus I sing for all that You’ve done for me

 Who brings our chaos back into order
Who makes the orphan a son and daughter
The King of Glory the King of Glory
Who rules the nations with truth and justice
Shines like the sun in all of its brilliance
The King of Glory the King above all kings

 Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
Worthy is the King who conquered the grave
Worthy worthy worthy

Jeremy Riddle | Josh Farro | Phil Wickham © 2012 Phil Wickham Music (Admin. by BMG Rights Management [c/o Music Services, Inc.]) Seems Like Music (Admin. by BMG Rights Management [c/o Music Services, Inc.]) Sing My Songs (Admin. by BMG Rights Management [c/o Music Services, Inc.]) WC Music Corp. (Admin. by Word Entertainment, LLC) Bethel Music Publishing

CCLI License # 810055

Angry Christians?

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Are you an angry Christian? In our polarized, quickly changing world it is easy to feel besieged, confused, threatened. Some Christians respond with tirades and rants, bitterly lashing out at political leaders, entertainers, preachers with whom they disagree, former friends … anyone that is available to blame for the state of the world ‘as they see it.’  Am I describing any emotions you can relate to?

The wisdom of God, spoken by Pastor James of Jerusalem, says this to us – “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (James 1:19-20, NIV)

Anger cannot be the foundation for God’s work!  Anger, left to smolder, consumes a person from the inside out. It’s like that overheated wire inside of a wall that smolders imperceptibly until it reaches the surface and then, finding oxygen, the embers burst into flame and consume the house.

If you are angry, about the direction of our nation, about the spiritual drift in your church, about … whatever … admit it. Anger is often denied. People paste a label over their anger, calling it by many names but it is still anger.  They might make excuses for it, rationalize it, do anything but face it. “I’m not angry, just upset,” I have been told by people while they alternate between tears of frustration and rage. Because anger is a frightening emotion, and usually regarded as ‘bad,’ we often cannot admit to ourselves that we are just ‘mad at the world.’

Anger is a legitimate human emotion. A person who is incapable of anger is a potential victim for everybody that comes along life’s road. Anger can help us gather the courage to start to make a change, to seek justice. Anger is a sibling of love.  Think about it. We get angry about situations that involve things or people we care about. Apathy is a compound word- ‘a’ meaning without and ‘pathos’ meaning feelings. To be apathetic means to be uncaring because we are ‘unfeeling.’  But, when our caring gets trampled, ignored, or disappointed – look out. Anger lurks in those shadows. Ungodly anger is a destructive explosion that usually comes after we have been inconvenienced or frustrated.

Deeply godly men and women will become passionately angry when the weak are abused, when others are oppressed or robbed of their dignity. Actions that diminish God’s honor or that potentially harm those He loves will cause His people to rise up with anger to take corrective action– and rightly so! However, the Bible warns us of the potential for danger that accompanies anger.

The Scripture says, …“don’t sin by letting anger gain control over you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry.” (Ephesians 4:26, NLT) Two things are emphasized – we must not lose rational control over anger, for then it flows into rage which is always destructive! And anger must have limits. We can’t just ‘stay mad’ for days on end for that kind of unresolved anger eats away at us – body and soul.

Is life a mess for you, making you smolder with anger?
Does the state of the world make you angry?
Are the choices of those you love making you angry?

Don’t just rage, blame, and threaten.  Remember James’ word, “man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life God desires.”

Admit that you’re angry, then let that emotion take you to the Lord in prayer – where you can pour out all those tumbling emotions. He will hear you and minister to you best – because He knows you inside out! As the stormy emotions find release in His Presence, there will be change in you. As the Lord’s love renews you, you will find a new foundation for your caring. In Him, you will find security so that you can respond with proactive desires to change things instead of destructive reactions.

Here’s a word from the Word to think on today: “Slowness to anger makes for deep understanding; a quick-tempered person stockpiles stupidity.” (Proverbs 14:29, The Message)  Wow, that speaks to me. How about you?

_________________

Listen to this new song by Zack Williams.
It’s a powerful reminder of our secure hope in Jesus.

Rescue Story

There I was empty handed
Crying out from the pit of my despair
There you were in the shadows
Holding out Your hand You met me there
And now where would I be without You
Where would I be Jesus

You were the voice in the desert
Calling me out in the dead of night
Fighting my battles for me
You are my rescue story
Lifted me up from the ashes
You carried my soul from death to life
Bringing me from glory to glory
You are my rescue story

You are You are
You are my rescue story
You are You are

You were writing the pages
Before I had a name
Before I needed grace oh
Singing songs of redemption
‘Cause every time I ran away
You were louder than my shame

You never gave up on me
You never gave up on me
You are my testimony oh

You never give up on me
Oh You never give up on me
Oh this is my testimony oh

You are You are
Oh You never gave up on me
Never gave up on me
You are You are
Yeah You are my rescue story

Andrew Ripp | Ethan Hulse | Jonathan Smith | Zach Williams © 2019 Anthems of Hope (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC) Be Essential Songs (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC) Cashagamble Jet Music (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)

CCLI License # 810055

Gnats

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Do you ever find yourself running a through a checklist of things you do, to try to quell that sense in your heart that your true desire for God is not quite right?
-Attended church every Sunday this month. Check.
-Gave generous offerings to the church. Check.
-Said some kind words to my neighbor. Check.
-Avoided using curse words when angry. Check.

And yet the nagging sense that your heart is not full to overflowing with the Spirit, that your true devotion is not set on Christ Jesus, remains.

Jesus spoke to some people who were very religious but who did not actually love God with some harsh words. In part, He said,  “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” (Matthew 23:23-24, NIV)

I think when He said that last line, the crowds probably laughed at it. “You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!” They were careful not to let a little bug contaminate their beverage, but missed the large beast in it. Absurd? Yes, but meant to drive home the point!

Let’s not take away the wrong message. The Lord was not saying that things like church attendance, generous giving, clean language, or human kindness were unimportant to God. They are, but they cannot replace true devotion, genuine love for Him and others, concern for justice, and faithfulness in our relationships.

Religion can be used like an air freshener in a stinking room. Even if the garbage can is full of spoiled food, the kitchen can smell better temporarily when you spray a chemical mask over the odor but the best way to make the stink go away is to get rid of the garbage.

We cannot confuse the choice to look good on the outside with the decision to surrender ourselves to Christ Jesus and be transformed from the inside!

Jesus described this to a religious scholar named Nicodemus as being ‘born again.’ (John 3) A tragedy of our time is the way we abuse that wonderful concept. One is not ‘born again’ because they say a few words at the end of a church service as the preacher leads them, or pray the ‘sinner’s prayer’ with someone.  Yes, those things can be meaningful and often are, but new birth is the work of the Spirit Who comes to live in us, conceiving a completely new way of life in us – one that is God-centered, not self-centered.

Are there parts of your life that remain fully in your possession, where you have posted a ‘keep out’ sign to the Holy Spirit? Do you refuse His call to come near, to deal with that issue of unforgiveness, impurity, greed, racism – whatever it may be – and try to cover up your guilty conscience?

God loves us and wants our deepest devotion in response. There is wonderful peace to be found in a whole-hearted ‘yes’ to Him. There is joy and assurance in the center of His will. Do you know those things?

Here is a word from the Word. Jesus quoted from Isaiah, challenging us to change. “And so, by your own tradition, you nullify the direct commandment of God. You hypocrites! Isaiah was prophesying about you when he said, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far away. Their worship is a farce, for they replace God’s commands with their own man-made teachings.’ ” (Matthew 15:6-9, NLT)  “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:7-10, NIV)

__________

Build My Life

(A great song that points us to real faith in the Builder)

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

Insider Trading

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In the financial world, insider trading is illegal. Those who have access information that will increase or diminish the worth of a stock are forbidden from using that information to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else.  But, in other areas, who doesn’t enjoy having the inside track, gaining privileged information?  Sometimes being an ‘insider’ causes us to feel some pride, even superiority.  I hope this is NOT true of your Christianity.  In Christ, we are made ‘insiders’ but we are in on an open secret (can you say oxymoron?) that we need to share!

Paul says, “You’re not in this alone. I want you woven into a tapestry of love, in touch with everything there is to know of God. Then you will have minds confident and at rest, focused on Christ, God’s great mystery. All the richest treasures of wisdom and knowledge are embedded in that mystery and nowhere else. And we’ve been shown the mystery! I’m telling you this because I don’t want anyone leading you off on some wild-goose chase, after other so-called mysteries, or “the Secret.”  (Colossians 2:1-4, The Message)  In Christ, we are given the key to understanding life.  He is the open secret that we know because God has chosen to reveal Him to us!

Thousands of competing ideas offer us that promise of a better life.  Often, for a price, there will be preachers or philosophers, gurus or shamans, who will claim to know the secret that we can know. The ‘open secret’ of eternal life through Christ is not available for any price, fully paid for by Him. It is not reserved for a special group, a certain race, only those who meet some social litmus test.

That we can be restored to the image of our Creator, that we can gain access to the court of Heaven, that we can be fully alive now and for eternity, is His promise to those who will believe, receive by faith this profound truth –

Christ entered the world.
Christ died to save this world enslaved to evil.
Christ rose again to make it clear HE defeated sin and death.
Christ will come again to announce the full revelation of His kingdom.

There it is, God’s open secret, entrusted to His Church, to you and me, called out of the world and into His Body.

Are you a messenger of that great news, sharing it both in your life and your words?

Here is the word from the Word.  It’s the secret that is open to all, that Jesus Christ is our Savior, that He is our hope, that He has given us the promise of more and better and eternal life. “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20, NIV)

__________

Father, I am so very thankful that You chose to make
the secret known to children, to the simple,
to those regarded as being of ‘no account.’

 Thank you for the good news of Jesus, Your Son,
Who came to show us Who You are,
to open us the Way to Heaven to us, and
to secure us in hope.
 

When I am struggling, confused, or afraid,
keep me, by the work of the Holy Spirit, centered on Christ Jesus.
Strip away the pretensions of religiosity.
Make plain, again, to me the emptiness of so-called “higher truth.”
Rather may I stand, by faith, in Christ alone;
full of the assurance that comes from knowing Him.

 Amen.

____________

 Knowing You

All I once held dear, built my life upon,
All this world reveres and wars to own;
All I once thought gain, I have counted loss,
Spent and worthless now compared to this…

 Now my heart’s desire is to know You more,
To be found in You and known as Yours;
To possess by faith what I could not earn,
All surpassing gift of righteousness…

 Oh to know the pow’r of Your risen life,
And to know You in Your sufferings;
To become like You in Your death, my Lord,
So with You to live and never die.

 Knowing You, Jesus, knowing You;
There is no greater thing!
You’re my all, You’re the best,
You’re my joy, my righteousness,
And I love You, Lord, love You, Lord!

Graham Kendrick © 1993 Make Way Music (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055