Confident of the Catch

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Remember going to the circus and watching those amazing performers who did their work near the top of the tent?  They stepped out onto a wire, walking high overhead with skill from one tiny platform to another. Then came the trapeze act – that breath-taking moment when a person swung out overhead, sitting on a small bar. Suddenly she slipped down and hung by her hands from that bar, swinging back and forth overhead. Another, stood waiting and watching, holding his own bar. In a practiced moment he slips from his platform, locking his bar behind his knees, to begin his own timed swing.

Then, she is flying through the air, looking like she will crash to the ground below … until he swings towards her, hands extended, and catches her hands in his. There is only one reason the person would let go of the relative safety of the trapeze bar. She must be confident of the catch, sure that he will be there at the second she flies, that his grip will be secure.  (If you want a visual image, click on this link. Flying Trapeze.)

Call me sentimental, if you want, but I found myself choked with emotion as I watched that video clip and sensed the Holy Spirit inviting me to let go and trust Him to catch me!

In this time, unprecedented in my lifetime, we are watching leaders making it up as they go because they are responding to new information, trying to keep people alive and well, health systems functioning, the national economy from crashing under the stress of the pandemic. In various ways, we all feel the uncertainty – some about our own health, some with job and income loss, some with general concern about an unknown future. If you are having trouble sleeping, you are not alone. If you are over-eating because of stress, you are among many. If you are finding yourself trying to pray and your prayers turn into tears, know that many of us are there with you.

(A note here –  be wise. Gaining 20 lbs from eating junk, drinking too much and doing foolish things, overspending and creating debt – are ultimately self-defeating attempts to find comfort. You know that, but I had to say it.)

May I invite you to renew your faith, to become confident of His ability to catch us as we let go?

When the future of Judah was hidden, God spoke with a promise that we can hold onto today. “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10, NLT)  In the Psalm of the desperate, a lament for times of trouble, the writer goes to worship and finds himself caught by God, renewed. He declares – “I’m still in your presence, but you’ve taken my hand. You wisely and tenderly lead me, and then you bless me.” (Psalm 73:23-24, The Message)

What are you clinging to, where are you attempting to find security?
Reality check time!

Government can help but it cannot save.
Friends and family are an amazing resource, but ultimately they cannot save us.
Our money cannot save us, something that ought to be clear as we watch the wild swings on Wall Street.

But God is there, inviting us to let go of those things.  We cannot find His unfathomable peace unless we are willing to let go and fly into the unknown. Yes  it hard to let go of what we know to grasp what is, as yet, unseen. But, He is trustworthy, the One who secures us for this life and the next, as well.

If you are troubled, you may wish to find a place alone for prayer. There, with pen and paper, write down what troubles you. Then, hold it up and ‘let go.’  Fold that paper and tuck it into your Bible at the 73rd Psalm as a symbolic way of saying, “I’m letting go and reaching out to YOU, confident of Your catch!”

Here is a word from the Word for your meditation today. “Powerful is your arm! Strong is your hand! Your right hand is lifted high in glorious strength. Your throne is founded on two strong pillars—righteousness and justice. Unfailing love and truth walk before you as attendants. Happy are those who hear the joyful call to worship, for they will walk in the light of your presence, Lord. They rejoice all day long in your wonderful reputation. They exult in your righteousness.” (Psalm 89:13-16, NLT)

___________

Trust In You

Letting go of every single dream
I lay each one down at Your feet
Every moment of my wondering
Never changes what You see

I’ve tried to win this war I confess
My hands are weary I need Your rest
Mighty warrior King of the fight
No matter what I face You’re by my side

When You don’t move the mountains
I’m needing You to move
When You don’t part the waters
I wish I could walk through
When You don’t give the answers
As I cry out to You
I will trust I will trust
I will trust in You

Truth is You know what tomorrow brings
There’s not a day ahead You have not seen
So in all things be my life and breath
I want what You want Lord and nothing less

You are my strength and comfort
You are my steady hand
You are my firm foundation
The Rock on which I stand
Your ways are always higher
Your plans are always good
There’s not a place where I’ll go
You’ve not already stood

Lauren Daigle | Michael Farren | Paul Mabury

© 2014 CentricSongs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)
See You At The Pub (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)
Farren Love And War Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing (Integrity Music [DC Cook])) Integrity’s Alleluia! Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing (Integrity Music [DC Cook]))

CCLI License # 810055

Opportunity

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An up-front disclaimer – sometimes the things I write in these daily blogs are still truths ‘in process’ for me. If my words come across in a way that implies that “Jerry has it all together and is living in completely perfect serenity,” please know that I am often teaching myself, listening to the Spirit, learning from the Word of God. Today is one of those days. I know what I am writing is true but I am also doing the hard work of applying this to my life. Some days I do better than others, as you do, I know.  So, remember we are on a journey where we walk together, ‘keeping in step with the Spirit’ as He leads us to life.

The statistics that were reported in yesterday’s press briefing (4/1/2020) made me catch my breath, the implications sinking in. I am not all that alarmed for myself, having reconciled myself to my own mortality a long time. I love being healthy and hope that God allows me to live a long, productive life before I find my home in Heaven. But, there are many questions about the long-term effect of this crisis. What kind of world will be formed for my children out of all of this? How will Christ’s Church emerge from this?  In my prayerful musings that followed, and into my prayer in the evening, the Spirit whispered but one word –

Opportunity.

The words of Joseph, spoken to his brothers as they stood in his royal palace, echoed in my mind. Remember him?

God gave him a promise of great leadership when he was a teen. For the next 20 or so years, his life went from bad to worse; sold by jealous brothers into slavery, jailed on false charges of sexual assault, and forgotten by people for whom he did good things. But God never forgot him and he miraculously became the Prime Minister of Egypt, God’s man in the right place at the right time. When his starving family showed up for supplies, he eventually revealed his true identity to them. With an astonishing grace, born of profound faith, he said: “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, to judge and punish you? As far as I am concerned, God turned into good what you meant for evil. He brought me to the high position I have today so I could save the lives of many people.” (Genesis 50:19-20, NLT)

This viral crisis that grips our world is an opportunity.  Some say it is God’s judgment on a world of violence, greed, and injustice. It is not for me to say. Others suggest that it is the beginning of the Last Days before the Return of Christ. Perhaps, but Jesus did remind us that “when reports come in of wars and rumored wars, keep your head and don’t panic. This is routine history; this is no sign of the end. Nation will fight nation and ruler fight ruler, over and over. Famines and earthquakes will occur in various places.” (Matthew 24:6-8) What I do KNOW, most certainly, is that good and evil will compete for the hearts of people.

That struggle is one where Christians can shine with the bright light of Jesus, where opportunities are found! So I am praying for revival of faith among apathetic believers and new faith to be born in the minds and hearts of those who do not yet know the love of God.  Honestly, we face a big challenge of faith that invites us to be open to ways to love Him and others. Let’s step up to the challenge with confidence in the promise of Jesus.  He says, “I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20, The Message)

It is a mistake to think that representing Him well requires a complete knowledge of the future. The Lord seldom reveals the plan for tomorrow until we are walking faithfully with Him – today.  We will not experience His provision for Wednesday’s need unless we have lived for Him faithfully on Monday and Tuesday.

Here’s the word from the Word for those who are ready to ‘make the most of every opportunity.’

“What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see .. So, you see, it is impossible to please God without faith.  Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that there is a God  and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.” (Hebrews 11:1,6 NLT)
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Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)
(this song speaks of the faith that leads us into deep water,
where we find His opportunities)

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep my faith will stand

 And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

 Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sov’reign hand will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now

 Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

I will call upon Your name
Keep my eyes above the waves
My soul will rest in Your embrace
I am Yours and You are mine

Joel Houston | Matt Crocker | Salomon Ligthelm
© 2012 Hillsong Music Publishing (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)
CCLI License # 810055

 

Better Together

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How are you doing with ‘social distancing?’ I, for one, am so grateful for social media, that once reviled part of our world. The internet is helping us to stay connected, ‘talking’ to one another, sharing life, love, laughter … well, yes, it’s not all good. But on the whole I am thankful for it. Human beings are wired for connection and in its absence we become depressed.

Christians are called into a holy community.  Jesus said “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” (John 15:5-6, NIV)

Some only focus His words about our mystical connection about the spiritual life received from Him through faith. Let’s not miss an important sub-text.  “You are the branches!”  Christians are not only alive through Christ they are part of a Living Tree. That connection is VITAL for health and effectiveness as a follower of Jesus.

The book of Acts, which tells us the stories of the first generation of disciples is all about church planting, the experience of knowing Jesus inseparable from being part of the Church. They did not use that word to describe an organization or a building. The ‘church’ was a living thing, people who became intimately connected to Christ and one another.

As I read about the formation of the first church I noted a key line for this moment in time.  “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2, NIV)  Their lives were changed by connections, relationships, and shared experience. AND it wasn’t all centered in a building, around a program. It was practiced in everyday life.

Social distancing may keep us from the building but it does not need to keep us from the Body!

Our worship together at church is surely a part of being in the Vine and in fellowship, and I am eager for the day when we can raise our voices together in the church house, but we remain His Church. Let’s be intentional about making life together, about getting involved in the work of the Kingdom in a way that demands a second set of hands, that makes us love the prayers of the saints.

Reach out to a friend today and see how they are doing.
Send someone a text, email, or (really be old fashioned) send a written note.
Make a phone call or Facetime with someone.
Talk about more than the weather, the trivia of life. Inquire about their heart and soul.
Pray with someone. *Yes, you can! 

Our word from the Word is a call to connection.
Do you hear it? Will you listen and obey?

“You can easily enough see how this kind of thing works by looking no further than your own body. Your body has many parts-limbs, organs, cells-but no matter how many parts you can name, you’re still one body. It’s exactly the same with Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12, The Message) “What we have is one body with many parts, each its proper size and in its proper place. No part is important on its own. Can you imagine Eye telling Hand, “Get lost; I don’t need you”? Or, Head telling Foot, “You’re fired; your job has been phased out”? As a matter of fact, in practice it works the other way-the “lower” the part, the more basic, and therefore necessary. You can live without an eye, for instance, but not without a stomach. When it’s a part of your own body you are concerned with, it makes no difference whether the part is visible or clothed, higher or lower. You give it dignity and honor just as it is, without comparisons.” (1 Corinthians 12:20-23, The Message)
________

We Will Stand
(Russ Taff sings a great song about being together!)

Sometimes it’s hard for me to understand
Why we pull away from each other so easily
Even though we’re all walking the same road?
Yet we build dividing walls
Between our brothers and ourselves.

 But, I don’t care what label you may wear,
If you believe in Jesus you belong with me!
The bond we share is all I care to see,
And we’ll change the world forever,
If you will join with me,
Join and sing, sing.

 You’re my brother, you’re my sister,
So take me by the hand.
Together we will work until He comes.
There’s no foe that can defeat us,
When we’re walking side by side,
As long as there is love,
We will stand!

 The day will come when we will be as one
And with a mighty voice
Together we will proclaim that
Jesus, Jesus is King.
It will echo through the earth.
It will shake the nations.
And the world will see, see that;

 You’re my brother, you’re my sister,
So take me by the hand.
Together we will work until He comes.
There’s no foe that can defeat us,
When we’re walking side by side,
As long as there is love,
We will stand!

James Hollihan | Russ Taff | Tori Taff

© 1983 Word Music, LLC (a div. of Word Music Group, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055

Prayer of Peace

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Everyone I talk to says something like  “I just do not know what to think.” No one does. The phrase ‘uncharted waters’ finds its way into the various press briefings when officials are pressed for details. This is an unnatural state for me, a do-er, a man who looks for solutions, who likes to fix things and people. I have struggled through anxiety, wrestled with anger, beat back the desire to just do something, anything.

Yesterday, I sat in silence, letting myself feel my powerlessness, willing to enter into brokenness, until I came to a place of repentance – for pride, for self-will, for failing to desire God wholeheartedly. I confessed my lack of trust, my desire to control my life to God, and relaxed into His grace.  Once and done? I think not!

This is a kind of praying that is called centering.’ In this prayer, Christ Jesus is made the focus. It is not a time for petitions or beautiful praise. It is a heart-cry, an act of adoration, a time to receive a gift of His peace. It’s like those moments when you see someone you love and you reach out in embrace, holding each other close, wordlessly, just being together.

Ah, my friend, this is a time for being with Jesus. Trying to figure out the ‘why,’ may come, but not today. Trying to find some silver lining may help at some moment, but maybe today we must be content with just being His, centered in our confession of faith, knowing that HE is present. That can be enough.

The key to this is something Americans particularly struggle to do – being submitted to the Spirit and entering into silence of the soul. Paul urges us to dismantle “every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and (to) take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5, NIV)  In the story of Job, when his suffering drives him to angrily demand a confrontation with the Lord, God comes, not with explanations, but to reveal Himself in greater majesty. Job’s response is humility. He says, “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth.” (Job 40:4, NIV)

Centering prayer helps us to re-enthrone Christ Jesus as Lord of life, our hope, our God. I return often to the words of Isaiah inviting us to holy submission. When Assyria threatened them, the people of God wanted to run off and try to find help from the armies of Egypt.  The Lord called them to re-center their hope on Him! “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15, NIV)  He invites us to the same kind of faith that is actively focused on Him rather than on a solution of our own making.

Waiting can be much more difficult than working!

The angst is real. The threat is not imaginary. The crisis is unlike any we have ever known. Now, there is a choice about how to live. We can attempt to control it all and find ourselves full of frustration. We can look endlessly at the challenges trying to rationally explain them and find ourselves battered by doubts. We can trust someone official and when their response proves inadequate will be overcome with panic and/or anger. Or, we can enter into His Presence – centered on Christ! The Spirit is inviting us to a new and deeper spirituality, beyond the comfort of our religion.

  • Engage your whole person in this kind of praying.
  • Sit quietly.
  • Place your hands open, palms up, in front of you.
  • Draw your breath in slowly.
  • Pause, then then breath out as you say the name of Jesus.
  • Tell Him simply, “I receive your peace.”
  • Stay there!

For most of us such praying, entering into His Presence, is so unnatural that we will feel foolish, or nothing at all – at first. But, He is there.  It is likely that your mind will initially reject this ‘quiet’ and you will want to reach for your phone, turn on some music, just ‘do something.’ Choose Jesus! It’s simple, but it is not easy! Keep handing yourself to Him, giving the Spirit mastery as you meditate on His Word and Promise.

Here’s the word from the Word.
“O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. …
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.”
(Psalm 130:2-6, NIV)
_________________

Be The Centre

Jesus, be the centre.
Be my source, be my light,
Jesus.

 Jesus, be the centre.
Be my hope, be my song,
Jesus.

 Be the fire in my heart,
Be the wind in these sails,
Be the reason that I live,
Jesus, Jesus.

© 1999 Vineyard Songs (UK/Eire) (Admin. by Vineyard Music UK) Michael Frye

CCLI License No. 810055

Paradigm Crash

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Many of us are disoriented, as if we are actually living in one of those wacky dreams where nothing seems to work, where every attempt at a remedy creates yet another problem. We cannot help but wonder how the world will look when this crisis is over.  We are experiencing a paradigm crash, a phrase I borrowed from Dr. Earl Creps. “A paradigm expresses my basic orientation toward how life works; it is my ‘operating system’ of unspoken premises that runs in the background unattended. … A crash happens when pain makes the frailty of those assumptions impossible to ignore… sometimes violent, sometimes gradual.”  (Off Road Disciplines) Sounds bad doesn’t it?

Consider this – Paradigm crashes create an opportunity for God to take us off road, awakening us to mission by crucifying aspects of our culture and spirituality that need to die.

This Monday morning when I look out over the coming weeks, my prayer is for new vision to emerge from the wreckage. I want to remain open to the possibilities that are created by this interruption of ‘normal.’ Will you join me in that quest?

Let’s ask ourselves some tough questions about our relationship with God.
Were we content to be ‘religious’ thinking that we had a deal with God?  Was this unspoken assumption underlying our choices: “I’m good, moral, kind, and say my prayers. You bless me!”?  As the assurances of the life we hoped for are much less certain today, are we leaning into knowing Him, our hearts and mind open before Him?

My desire is to pray, with faith,  “Lord, I want to know YOU” even more fervently than “Lord, fix this mess so I can be comfortable again.”

When we experience a ‘paradigm crash’ our assumptions about Him, ourselves, and the way that life should work disintegrate. It is a dangerous time and we must not try to navigate a renewal alone.

  • Build strong friendships with people who are passionate about Him, too.
  • Go back to the core Truths about God’s grace and goodness.
  • Let key Scriptures remind you that HE knows you, your weaknesses, your strengths, your failures and successes- and loves you with a love that no human love can equal.

At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus went through something like a paradigm crash. “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.” (Luke 4:1-2, NIV) Led by the Spirit into the desert! The phrase shouts with meaning for me this Monday morning. God had a purpose for His Son’s encounter with the Devil, with temptation. Jesus emerged in the Power of the Spirit to be our Savior.

You will emerge from this time a different person. We all will!
What kind of difference will it be?

Is Jesus the King of your life or is He King in name only?  Who is really determining how you live – Self or Jesus Christ? That is a tough question, perhaps one you cannot honestly answer today.  Is confusion lurking in the darkness at the edges of your mind? Ask God to show you the truth about your self, your assumptions about the world, even your expectations of Him.

Perhaps you believed on Him a long time ago as Savior, but only now are coming to grips with making Him Lord and King of your life. Trust Him! He will not write you off, throw you away, or forget you. There is a new grace to be discovered at the end of the life you have planned, when He is allowed to bring into existence the eternal life He has planned.

The word from the Word informs us about our foundation. When we are living through a paradigm crash we need a solid Rock.

I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then obeys me. It is like a person who builds a house on a strong foundation laid upon the underlying rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against the house, it stands firm because it is well built. But anyone who listens and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will crumble into a heap of ruins.” (Luke 6:46-49, NLT)
_______________________________

If there ever were dreams
That were lofty and noble,
They were my dreams at the start.
And the hopes for life’s best,
Were the hopes that I harbored,
Down deep in my heart.
But my dreams turned to ashes,
My castles all crumbled,
My fortune turned to loss.
So I wrapped it all in the rags of my life,
And laid it at the cross.

Something beautiful, something good;
All my confusion He understood.
All I had to offer Him
Was brokenness and strife,
But He made something beautiful of my life.

Something Beautiful –
Gaither, William J. / Gaither, Gloria
© 1971 William J. Gaither, Inc. ARR UBP of Gaither Copyright Management CCLI License No. 810055

Walking by faith isn’t easy!

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Keep the Faith! It’s a great line and an even better choice for life.  We have all heard enough bad news in the last couple of weeks to last a lifetime. Are you going to just camp in the awful, hang onto the dread, rehearse the losses? Don’t do it. Christ Jesus invites us to be led by our Great Shepherd giving us reason for hope no matter what is happening around us, to us, or inside of us.

Yesterday, at Faith Discovery Church, I joined 5 other people, average age about 65, who spent the afternoon distributing food from our church pantry. (We were wise, practicing good social distancing.) I discovered joy in giving supplies and a hearty “God bless and keep you” to those 45 families that showed up. I found further joy in remembering that effort was possible because of dozens of others who give, support, serve, and pray to keep hope alive and faith evident in our church.

I want to urge you to FOCUS upwards and outwards today– with hope formed in FAITH. Habakkuk, the preacher who was a contemporary of Jeremiah, living in Jerusalem about 600 years before the time of Jesus, wrote about living by faith. He pondered the question of fairness and God’s will. He was inspired to leave us a little book that shines bright for us with a message capsulated in this passage –  “the righteous will live by his faiththe Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” (Habakkuk 2:4,20, NIV)

Listen to his aching heart and let the words become your cry in this season. “How long, O Lord, must I call for help? But you do not listen! “Violence is everywhere!” I cry, but you do not come to save.” (Habakkuk 1:2, NLT)  Living in faith is not easy and it never has been!

He continues his prayer for understanding this way. “God, you’re from eternity, aren’t you? Holy God, we aren’t going to die, are we? God, you chose Babylonians for your judgment work? Rock-Solid God, you gave them the job of discipline? But you can’t be serious! You can’t condone evil! So why don’t you do something about this? Why are you silent now? This outrage! Evil men swallow up the righteous and you stand around and watch!” (Habakkuk 1:12-13, The Message)  I feel his emotions, don’t you?

But, Habakkuk moved beyond that place to rest in FAITH and to LOOK UP.  He surrendered himself to God.  Don’t read that to mean that we should throw in the towel and walk away from the fight! Faith leads us to acceptance of God’s will and to hope that is anchored securely on His assurance that justice will be done.

This is the declaration that is the anchor of our faith. “Do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord, no matter what happens. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised. “For in just a little while, the Coming One will come and not delay. And a righteous person will live by faith. . . . we are not like those who turn their backs on God and seal their fate. We have faith that assures our salvation.” (Hebrews 10:35-39, NLT)

My late father often reminded me of the importance of faithfulness with this homely little phrase – “Remember, son, God’s payday is not necessarily this Friday.”
Both reward and judgment are sometimes out of sight in our limited line of vision, but they are assured by the eternal purpose and promise of our Father!

Habakkuk sums up his faith walk in the words that reflect our earnest hope to see things made right and our determination to wait on the Lord.

Take this word from the Word today to heart and pray for faith to grow strong, faith that stabilizes you, that keeps you serving, loving, and looking for the Kingdom to come.

O Lord, I have heard Your speech and was afraid;
O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years!
In the midst of the years make it known;
In wrath remember mercy.

Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls—  

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
The Lord God is my strength;
He will make my feet like deer’s feet,
And He will make me walk on my high hills.

Habakkuk 3:2; 17-19 (NKJV)

_______________

Blessed Assurance

(actual song begins 2 minutes in
CeCe Winans will blow you away)

Blessed assurance Jesus is mine
O what a foretaste of glory divine
Heir of salvation purchase of God
Born of His Spirit washed in His blood

 Perfect submission perfect delight
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight
Angels descending bring from above
Echoes of mercy whispers of love

 Perfect submission all is at rest
I in my Savior am happy and blest
Watching and waiting looking above
Filled with His goodness lost in His love

 This is my story this is my song
Praising my Savior all the day long
This is my story this is my song
Praising my Savior all the day long

Fanny Jane Crosby | Phoebe Palmer Knapp © Words: Public Domain

 

A Message Nobody Wants To Hear

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In the predawn hours, I was in prayer for friends, for the nation, for restoration of our land. In the darkness, when the whisper of the Spirit came to me. “Jerry, I am offering an opportunity for change, holding open my heart to My church. Return to Me.” I paused in my prayer, just to listen, to reflect.

Then the words of Isaiah, spoken to the broken nation of his time, filled my mind. “This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” (Isaiah 30:15, NIV)

God’s amazing love and grace is my life song.  One nationally known pastor that I was listening to this week made a startling statement. “I won’t trust any spiritual leader who has not been terribly hurt, who has not experienced the restoration of God.” He went on to explain that those who are unbroken often turn into harsh critics, judges of the weak, the fallen, the sinful; not really knowing the depth of God’s grace for themselves.

The word of the Lord that I speak today does not come from a lofty place of superiority but rather from a man who has known failure and restoration, found in true repentance.

Let me hasten to say that I am NOT saying that God sent the coronavirus to punish the world. He is not a vengeful God, nor is He cruel. This virus, and all the accompanying suffering, is part of life in a fallen world where evil and sin are still very much in evidence.  I am saying that our healing is found when we abandon our self-sufficiency, submit our hearts and will to God, and turn back (repent) to Him. He is allowing this time to invite us to hear His Voice clearly. Will we?

Paul, the spiritual father of the Christians in the city of Corinth, sent a letter of correction that made them sad! He rebuked them for abusing spiritual gifts, pointed out their immaturity that showed in their divisions, and reminded them that they were failing to represent Christ well before the city.  Titus brought news of their response to Paul. “They are,” he said,  “experiencing true sorrow and repentance.”

Paul wrote a second letter in which he said – “I am glad that you were sad.”  Is he gloating?  Not at all!  “Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.(2 Corinthians 7:8-10, NIV)

When we act like willful children, as a good Father the Lord will allow us to feel the consequences of our choices. Sometimes we hurt so badly, don’t we?  But, HE does not reject us or say, “Good enough for you. Now suffer!”  He loves us too much to let us to destroy ourselves without offering corrective discipline, without asking us to turn. Paul tells the church that failing to recognize Jesus as Lord will cause us to lose our joy. Ignoring His ways, or rebelling against His will is a sure way to find ourselves in terrible difficulties. In times like these, even as we pray for healing and renewal,  we are wise to ask the Father to change our hearts, too!

When the Spirit points out our empty worship, our rebellious thoughts, our Self-centered ways – there is only one thing to do:  repent! “The sacrifice you want is a broken spirit. A broken and repentant heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17, NLT)  Paul calls this “godly sorrow.”

Let me say it again!  God is not petty nor petulant. He is good and kind. The Scripture is clear that not all of the outcomes of life are direct cause and effect, at least from our limited perspective.  Godly people often suffer and sometimes the wicked prosper.  But, we cannot ignore the fact that God, our Father, desires obedience and corrects us for our own good.  He is glad when we are sad if that sorrow leads us to deeper devotion and sincere change of heart.

This time of sickness, of economic chaos, of isolation, when all the ‘normal’ is set aside, we who claim to know Christ would do well to pause and reflect, to listen carefully for the Spirit. Then we can embrace the promise as we turn: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.”

Here’s the word from the Word. “My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline, but don’t be crushed by it either. It’s the child he loves that he disciplines; the child he embraces, he also corrects. God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children. Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves. Would you prefer an irresponsible God? We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God’s training so we can truly live? While we were children, our parents did what seemed best to them.

But God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God’s holy best.”

-The Message, Hebrews 12:5-10

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Abba, renew my faith.
Help me to be ready to say “yes,”
to respond to correction with real repentance.

These are days of difficulty, Lord, making us deeply uncertain.
Settle us on You, like a Rock of Refuge.
Help us to go beyond singing loud songs to drown out
the voice of the Spirit and conscience,
having a listening heart and a discerning mind to understand
what You desire, to accept Your invitation to become more like Jesus.

Draw me close to Your heart.
Keep me in Your grace.
Let me know joy in a new day of mature godliness.
In Jesus’ Name. Amen

Staying Connected

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A long time ago, in our small church office, a friend brought some strange looking computer hardware and cables. That day we built a network! It connected my PC, the secretary’s PC, and a printer. Those same tasks are now accomplished easily over wi-fi, with automated installations. Back then it was a real job that required technical knowledge. This morning, sitting here in my kitchen my computer is part of the Internet, networked to millions of computers, worldwide, where I can find information, chat with friends, watch podcasts, and exchange messages.

Networking is for more than computers. The last few days when the corona virus has kept most of us at home, the virtual connections became a great source of joy. Even as I was preparing to write this blog, Charlie posted a beautiful violin solo of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” on my Facebook page, which I really enjoyed!

Solomon told us that “A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12, NLT)

If get too focused on the task at hand we may fail to appreciate the people involved in the process. It’s a weakness I know well. But, when we slow down, love people, create opportunities for others to ‘join’ us in life, we find real joy.  And, yes, that product we are working at, it will be better for the sharing. Teams make us more creative, give our work more longevity, and enjoy broader acceptance. That is true no matter what social structure we are thinking of – family, neighborhood, church, corporation, or government.

So, if the advantages of networking are so obvious, why don’t more of us get connected?

By definition, networks limit our autonomy! When we become part of a network, we give up some of our rights. We must think of ‘we’ as a higher value than ‘me.’  Self is strong and our human nature resists letting go of some of our ‘freedom.’

The devil’s lie is – “Express yourself. Do your own thing. It’s the only way to be happy.” God’s truth is – “Give yourself away. Serve and love, and you will discover joy!”

One of my prayers is that this corona virus with the ‘social distancing’ requirements will actually serve to get us reconnected. You and me, in Christ, being His Body.  Let’s make Him beautiful in our world – caring, sharing, serving, loving.

Here’s a word from the Word about becoming part of the Spirit’s network.
Make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one heart and purpose.” (Philippians 2:2, NLT) “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,… taking the nature of a servant.” (Philippians 2:3-7, NIV)

Now, that’s REAL networking.

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Old Church Choir

There’s revival and it’s spreading
Like a wildfire in my heart
A Sunday morning hallelujah
And it’s lasting all week long
Can you hear it
Can you feel it
It’s the rhythm of a gospel song
Oh once you choose it you can’t lose it

(Oh ’cause) There ain’t nothing
There ain’t nothing gonna steal my joy

I’ve got an old church choir singing in my soul
I’ve got a sweet salvation and it’s beautiful
I’ve got a heart overflowing
‘Cause I’ve been restored
(No) there ain’t nothing gonna steal my joy
No there ain’t nothing gonna steal my joy

When the valleys that I wander
Turn to mountains that I can’t climb
Oh You are with me You never leave me

Clap your hands and stomp your feet
‘Til you find that gospel beat
‘Cause He’s all you’ll ever need
All you’ll ever need
Clap your hands and stomp your feet
‘Til you find that gospel beat
‘Cause He’s all you’ll ever need
All you’ll ever need

I’ve got an old church choir singing in my soul
I’ve got a sweet salvation and it’s beautiful
Oh there ain’t nothing gonna steal my joy

Colby Wedgeworth | Ethan Hulse | Zach Williams

© 2016 Anthems of Hope (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)

Be Essential Songs (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)

EGH Music Publishing (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)

CCLI License # 810055

Uncertain Faith?

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The one common factor of this virus crisis is the uncertainty of it all. The guidelines change each week about who can gather, where we can go. We do not know if our children will be able to finish the school year, if we will get back to work anytime soon. I did an interview yesterday in which I was asked, “What does an extended shutdown mean for the future of your church?”  Honestly, I don’t know. Nobody does.

If you are feeling unsure, unsettled, uncertain – please do not think that your faith is faulty. Uncertainty can be a gift to us! How so, you ask?  As unpleasant as it may be to live with, uncertainty is a kind of suffering that reminds us of a simple truth- “I am not God!”  Recent events have shaken many of us to the core.  Our robust economy hit a brick wall and is crumbling before our eyes. Millions of us are staring into a thick fog that obscures the future. My prayer is that we will respond by looking to the Father, humbly willing to wait with trust.

Some of the most obnoxious Christians are those who claim to know every detail about what God is doing, about why things happen, and about just exactly how we can get Him to do what we want Him to do. I do believe that God speaks to us but I am deeply skeptical of that person who loudly announces, “I have a word from the Lord for you” without admitting that they are fallible, without allowing for the fact that they could be confusing their will with His.  A little modesty about our limits of knowledge goes a long way to creating credibility for our faith.

In reading the book of Job, a difficult book of the Bible, among the many lessons I find there is one about uncertainty. In case you’re not familiar with the outline of the story. Job was a great guy who really loved God. Satan appears before the Lord and says that Job only loves God because he is so blessed and prosperous. God knows Job’s heart and allows Satan to test the man to limits, taking everything but his life. In the middle of his suffering, three friends show up to offer comfort. They are absolutely certain about God’s ways, so they think,  and they tell Job that all of his pain and suffering must be the result of some hidden sin. “If you would just confess it, God will restore you,” they insist. They are full of certainty, and they are wrong!

Job, on the other hand, is full of uncertainty. He complains about the injustice, cries out to God about why He has hidden Himself, wonders why God has done him wrong.  When God finally speaks, He does NOT commend the absolute certainty of Job’s friends. In fact, He is angry with them for saying things about Him that are not true. It is Job’s faith, in the middle of his doubts, his willingness to keep on talking with God, that the Lord commends. God sees more faith in Job’s honest doubt than he does in the other men’s declarations of which they are so certain.

If you are struggling with uncertainty today, let it do the work of building character. Frederick Buechner offers this picture – “Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don’t have any doubts you are either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.”

grieveWe trust God even when we are confused by the things happening around us. Even when I am unable to see what He is up to, I am willing to commit myself, without any reservation, to His care.

John Ortberg writes “There are times when a decision will require a commitment when we don’t have total certainty. For the most important decisions in life, this is almost always the case.”  (Faith and Doubt) How true. We fall in love and marry a person – making unequivocal promises – “for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness, in health; until death do us part.”  We pledge lifetime love having no idea what they may do, who we may become. Why do we do it? Because we love a person and our love inspires a faith for the future. (Another subject, but if we took those vows more seriously, understanding the real nature of love, we might slow down the trip to the altar, right?)

Knowing, serving, and loving God does not require us to have complete certainty about everything. Faith invites us to love a Person who has shown Himself trustworthy. Will we?

Here is a word from the Word.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do, and he will direct your paths.

Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom.
Instead, fear the Lord and turn your back on evil.
Then you will gain renewed health and vitality.” (Proverbs 3:5-8, NLT)

________

One of my favorite worship songs from recent times. Enjoy.

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

Celebrating a beautiful woman

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Good Monday morning!  This CoffeeBreak blog is a personal reflection, more so than most, as I celebrate a person today. Today, Bev would have been 66! Happy Birthday in Heaven.

She’s been gone a little over 4 years now and today I am remembering her, not sadly, but with joy.  Dr. Suess allegedly wrote “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened!”  I had 41 years of joy with a woman that God gave to me. We were a team, inseparable, and so much stronger because of each other.

How I thank God for her legacy. She left me with four beautiful children, with memories of godliness. Was she a saint? Yes and no. She was a real human being, who had something of a stubborn streak, and whose Sicilian heritage could find its way to the surface when she was provoked. But, she also loved God. From the first day of our relationship to the last, her highest priority was serving Him.

One of my great joys in life was watching her in her work as a teacher. She loved those first graders – giving them discipline and love in equal measures. Every class learned her philosophy early in the school years – “Obedience equals fun.” She was great with kid’s ministries whether leading a chapel worship session or on the stage at Vacation Bible School. Seeing her standing on the church’s platform during worship or watching her leading a woman’s Bible study was to see grace in action. She claimed not to be a ‘counselor’ yet over our pastoral life together, she mentored many, quietly, as much be example as by word.

She was incredibly disciplined, taking care of herself, her home, her family, her work – without slacking off or excuse. She loved me quietly with steady affection. My overt affection in public was a constant irritation to her. She wouldn’t hang all over me in a crowd, but she would, when she thought it needed, rise to my defense like a lioness. She prayed for her family and was my daily advocate before the Lord.

My Bev was tough and tender.  She could fall apart when she felt overwhelmed by life’s sorrows. She did not quit, ever, in the face of critics and the stormy times that come to us all. Tiny in stature, some thought she was fragile, but she was not. She knew the importance of relying on the Lord, on gathering her resources, and putting first things first.

So, today, I celebrate her memory – thankful that the Lord gave this gift to our world. Remembering her I say, “Happy Birthday. The world was blessed when you were born!”  And, yes, of course, Babe, you are missed still.

This morning her oldest son posted this Scripture on Facebook in tribute to his Mom, words that say it best. “She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future. When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness. She carefully watches everything in her household and suffers nothing from laziness. Her children stand and bless her. Her husband praises her: “There are many virtuous and capable women in the world, but you surpass them all!” Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised. Reward her for all she has done. Let her deeds publicly declare her praise.” (Proverbs 31:25-32, NLT)

Thanks for letting me remember. My prayer is that we all live in a way that when we are called home, we leave a memory that is a benediction, that inspires others to reach higher.

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