The Ump

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A couple of weeks ago I attended a Little League game and it was fun until the inning where the umpire made a controversial call. I think he made a mistake, but his call stood because he is the umpire. The game would be chaos if somebody was not empowered to decide those close ones. Sure, it’s only baseball, but we recognize that the game requires someone to be charge, somebody with the authority to say – “you’re safe” or “you’re out!”

It seems to me that many of us have thrown the Umpire out of the game of Life. The result is growing chaos – factions of people insisting that their point of view is the right one, interpreting the rules to fit their personal interests. One of the sillier ideas that has emerged is that ‘we all have our own truth.’  That sounds good, but it is illogical. Black cannot be white, two and two cannot equal 5. Truth is not determined by a majority vote or by what ‘feels right.’

‘Truth’ is more easily determined in some ways that others. The law of gravity reveals the truth to anyone foolish enough to jump out of a window. Sane people do not stand around debating the merits of jumping off of cliffs, do they?  Other issues are so much more complex. The tragedy, in my opinion, is that the more complex the issue, the louder we shout about it in the streets, replacing honest dialogue with simple slogans.

Our country is sharply divided around issues like same sex marriage and abortion which are really symptoms of a far deeper division. On one side are those who believe that they are self-determinate, that there is no Umpire to whom they are accountable.  On the other are those who believe that God is Personal, with a plan and purpose for each one of us, to Whom we will give account when the game is over for us. If you’re reading this, the likelihood is that you are somewhere in that second group as I am.

This is truth – “Remember, each of us will stand personally before the judgment seat of God. For the Scriptures say, “ ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow to me and every tongue will confess allegiance to God.’ ” Yes, each of us will have to give a personal account to God.” (Romans 14:10-12, NLT)

In same passage, Paul urges us to learn to live compassionately, to refrain from judging others. Let’s learn that, my brothers and sisters.  For example, if you believe that the sacredness of life makes abortion an offense to God, as I do, the place to put your convictions into practice is not with a sign on the street, screaming at a woman who finds herself in crisis. Nor is it effective, wise, or winsome to put the most ‘in your face’ post on Facebook or Instagram!  Instead, we must go deeper, to actually love others in a way that demonstrates our conviction about the sacredness of life in a way that is authentic and sacrificial.  Some of us may adopt a child. All of us will extend our love of life to resist the violence of war, the abuse of power that creates victims.  We will teach our young men that women are their equal. We will esteem all as made in the image of God.

Ah yes, as a society a call will still have to be made about what’s right, how we protect all of life, but hopefully laws will be made not from fear, nor to win a political point, but nobly. And, yes, when the call is made, some will not like it but those who are ‘in Christ’ will be graceful equally– in defeat or victory.

Let’s examine ourselves, my Christian family, for consistency between our profession and our practice.  If we say Jesus is Lord, let’s let Him rule – every part of our lives.  If we are humble, if we are yielded to the Spirit’s leading, if we are “grace – full,” when our daily choices match our rhetoric, we will have the ‘salt and light’ influence of which Jesus spoke.

Here is a word from the Word, from the prophet Micah. “With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:6-8, NIV)  For “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.”  (1 Samuel 15:22)

Who’s ‘in charge’ of your life? Really, think about it.

__________

Build My Life (As you listen, give your life to Him, 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

 

Smoking mountain and our Abba

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Mostly, I am glad for the informality of the society in which I live.  30 years ago, a white shirt, jacket, and tie were ‘the rule’ for office and pulpit. I now wear my blue jeans and cowboy boots even on Sunday mornings. Mostly titles and honorifics are a thing of the past. I like being more approachable, the first name basis, that we now enjoy. There is, however, an area of concern. Our casual interaction with one another spills over into our relationship with God and the fear of the LORD is too often lost on us when we rob God of His majesty, imagining Him to be tame and safe. Is He?

When the people of God were on their way to the Promised Land, they made a stop at Mt. Sinai, where God met Moses to give the Law. It was a terrifying encounter with the Holy One. “On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.” (Exodus 19:16-19, NIV)

If you are ready to remind me that we don’t live at Mt. Sinai any longer, that we are brought,  by Jesus, into the Presence of God, I will not argue. Jesus has opened the way to knowing God, beyond the old ways, by presenting Himself as our sacrifice and tearing down the curtain between ordinary people and the Holy of Holies.  Yet, He remains the Holy God of Glory and we approach Him in confidence, with reverence. The inspired Word teaches us that we are not cowering under the dread that came with the Law, but we are worshipping a God Who remains ‘the great I AM.’

Read this text prayerfully. You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. …  At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12)

We make a costly mistake when we decide that our God is “the Big Guy in the sky.”  Jesus is our Brother, He offers us love, and there is ‘no more condemnation.’  Yet,  He remains the Almighty.  Let’s not confuse true reverence with politeness or religious form. God reveals Himself as our Father so we will come to Him in conversational prayer with love. We need not use the “Thee’s and Thou’s” of another era as we address Him. That is not what He desires. The true fear of the Lord is shown in our deep humility, in our unquestioning faith, in our quick obedience. For all of our love of the informal, there is a need to ponder His majesty so that we will offer adoration, open our hearts in honest confession, and make petitions that rest on His amazing power to act in ways that are beyond our imagination.

This holy, majestic God comes to live in you and me, the Spirit making us His holy temples. Are you living in ways that are worthy of Him?  “Or don’t you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, NLT)

When was the last time you sat in the Presence of the Lord and sensed His awesomeness, falling silent, or even moved to tears?  I make no argument for turning God into a remote, unapproachable Person. Jesus Christ loves us. He walks with us. The Holy Spirit comforts us. Yet, we need a real awe which Proverbs reminds us is the fountainhead of wisdom! “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” Let us not forget that the same Jesus who held children in his arms, who extended forgiveness to an adulterous woman, and who fed hungry crowds, is also revealed in this fearsome imagery – “in a robe and gold breastplate, hair a blizzard of white, Eyes pouring fire-blaze, both feet furnace-fired bronze, His voice a cataract, right hand holding the Seven Stars, His mouth a sharp-biting sword, his face a perigee sun.” (Revelation 1:13-16, The Message) When John saw this vision he reports “I fell at his feet as dead.” (Revelation 1:17, NLT) Jesus touched John and told him not to be overcome with terror!

Here is a word from the Word. “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. … what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:4, NIV)

Abba, (Heavenly Father) how I thank You that You tell me of Your love.
I am overwhelmed with the thought that You choose to bring me near.
Teach me to love You acceptably, to revere You even as I know You as my Father.

 Move me, with the knowledge of Your Holy Majesty, to trust You fully,
To obey You readily, to live with deep assurance in days of uncertainty. 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Looking for that $1,000,000 check!

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I checked my mailbox and there was just one lonely envelope, a form letter. I joked, “Guess I’m still waiting for that $1,000,000 check!” My friend remarked, “I think you’re doing just fine without it.” It was a moment of realization of gratitude for the many blessings that I do enjoy. It’s hard to know how much is ‘enough.’ How much food should we eat? How much money do we really need? How big does our house need to be?

For a long time the America ideal seemed to be built around the idea that ‘bigger is better’ and that ‘more is good.’  During clean-up week in our town, I took a load of trash to the landfill and waited in a long line of trucks overflowing with stuff no longer wanted or needed, things once treasured, now junk.  Thankfully, we are beginning to understand, once again, the value of renewing things, of buying for value not quantity, of treating the resources of the earth in a sustainable way, which lines up with the Scripture’s call to good management of what God has given to us.

There is another word in the Bible that I need to hear often – ‘contentment.‘  Paul teaches us that “godliness with contentment is great gain.” He says “A devout life does bring wealth, but it’s the rich simplicity of being yourself before God. Since we entered the world penniless and will leave it penniless, if we have bread on the table and shoes on our feet, that’s enough.” (1 Timothy 6:6-8) Part of maturing spiritually requires us to learn to be content and know what enough means.

When God took the Israelites out of Egypt and was leading them to the Promised Land, He promised to be their complete resource. When they had a need, all they had to do was ask! For their daily food He gave them “manna” – bread from His hand. He trained them to understand what enough meant when it came to manna. Each morning they found white flakes on the ground, which they prepared as their food. They were told only to gather what they needed for that day. He told them  “No one is to keep any of it until the next morning.”  Being human, some of them ignored what Moses said and learned the hard way. They found their storage full of maggots and stinking except for the Day before Sabbath, when they could gather 2 days provision and it did not spoil.

The story of manna has a sad side note.  We might think that living on free heaven-sent food would be reason for gratitude. But, those people soon grew unhappy and complained that manna was boring.  “The Israelites began to crave the good things of Egypt, and the people of Israel also began to complain. “Oh, for some meat!” they exclaimed. “We remember all the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic that we wanted. But now our appetites are gone, and day after day we have nothing to eat but this manna!” (Numbers 11:4-6, NLT) It was never enough! 

There is great wisdom in this passage from Proverbs. “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.” (Proverbs 30:8-9, NIV)  I want to humbly receive God’s provision for this day, don’t you? I pray to know real and deep gratitude for my daily bread.

When the Lord provides for all of our needs (what discernment is required to know what we really need and what we simply think we need), our prayers should be more than perfunctory thanks, like that polite card you used to send your Grandma after Christmas! Real thankfulness recognizes that He is good and that what He provides is best.  Oh, yes, He is a generous Father who promises His children the desires of their hearts. Key to understanding that is knowing the changed desires of a Spirit-filled heart. The baubles of this world lose their luster in the eyes of those who are loving God, full of the Spirit, and joyfully seeking His kingdom first.

Are you contented with what He provides and where He leads?
We honor Him before our world when we readily and joyfully say: “Yes, Lord, I joyfully receive what You’ve  provided.”

Here’s a word from the Word for us today.
“At the moment I have all I need—more than I need!
I am generously supplied ….And this same God who takes care of me
will supply all your needs from his glorious riches,
which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.
Now glory be to God our Father forever and ever. Amen.”  (Philippians 4:18-20, NLT)

___________

Enough
(Chris Tomlin leads us to declare He is enough)

All of You is more than enough for all of me
For ev’ry thirst and ev’ry need
You satisfy me with Your love
And all I have in You is more than enough

 You’re my supply my breath of life
Still more awesome than I know
You’re my reward worth living forStill more awesome than I know

And

 You’re my sacrifice of greatest price
Still more awesome than I know
You’re my coming King You are ev’rything
Still more awesome than I know

 More than all I want more than all I need
You are more than enough for me
More than all I know more than all I can say
You are more than enough

Chris Tomlin | Louie Giglio
© 2002 sixsteps Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)
worshiptogether.com songs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)
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Divine Healing?

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Each Sunday, as part of our gathering, we invite people to prayer where the Elders of our fellowship anoint them with oil, trusting God to bring wholeness, provision, and restoration. James directed those in need of healing to ask for this anointing.  That oil is a symbol of the Spirit. Receiving that anointing is an act of faith. It is a sacred moment in our liturgy for which I am thankful. But, what about that healing? What are we really seeking?

In my ongoing readings in Exodus, I came today to this text – God made a great promise to His people: “If you listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you.” (Exodus 15)  He revealed Himself as “Yahweh Rapha“- Hebrew that we translate as “the Lord, our Healer.”

Of particular note to me is the importance of our choices; that we have a responsibility to live in a way that facilitates wholeness.  Go back and read that verse again. If we abuse our physical frame with poor diet, lack of rest, unrelenting stress, drugs, alcohol, tobacco or other toxic things – are we right to blame God when health fails? The Lord made these bodies we enjoy with amazing recuperative abilities. Our immune systems are something of wonder. But, with neglect, we can destroy our health and God will allow us to reject wholeness.

Let’s not forget that warning that is part of Paul’s instructions for the Holy Meal of Communion: “For if you eat the bread or drink the cup unworthily, not honoring the body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God’s judgment upon yourself. That is why many of you are weak and sick and some have even died.” (1 Cor. 11:29-30, NLT)  When we take the Bread and Cup as God’s people, we accept a responsibility to live God-honoring lives. If we don’t, we invite God’s discipline, which is not punitive, but lovingly corrective.

Let me hasten to add this! It is both cruel and wrong to jump to a quick judgment of those who are suffering from some terrible sickness.  To conclude that every Christian who is sick or suffering is a sinner under God’s hand is to take the place of God on the Throne! Snap conclusions based on the observable ‘facts,’ can make us cruel judges.

Jesus’ disciples saw a blind man.  Making a common assumption of their time, they asked “Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?” (John 9:2)  There had to be some moral failure, except that there wasn’t! Jesus’ told his disciples to reconsider their judgment! “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins, he was born blind so the power of God could be seen in him.” (John 9:3) This is one of those texts that really stretches our faith, isn’t it?  Sometimes suffering serves to bring about the glory of God!  “Lord, I believe. Help me overcome my doubt,” I cry.

It is true that God can use sickness like a chisel that shapes us into the image of Christ. He may use suffering to call the whole to compassion and unselfish service. And, yes – the pain of the present pries our fingers from their tight grip on the things of earth and causes us to reach for the Hand of our Father in Heaven.

Healing is His promise and we will receive wholeness, if not today, it will be ours when our salvation is fully realized in His Kingdom. When His Kingdom comes, every trace of the Curse will be erased. John writes in the Revelation – “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.” (Revelation 22:1-2, NIV)

So, as we preach of Yahweh Rapha (The Lord, Our Healer) we do so with humility. As with all good gifts that accompany our ‘graced’ status as sons and daughter of the King, we receive healing with gratitude, rightly amazed that God would care for us with such tenderness.

Live holy, that you might live wholly.

_______

Healing Rain
(Michael W. Smith sings this praise)

Healing rain is falling down
Healing rain is falling down
I’m not afraid I’m not afraid
(REPEAT)

Healing rain is coming down
It’s coming nearer to this old town
Rich and poor the weak and strong
It’s bringing mercy it won’t be long

Healing rain it comes with fire
So let it fall and take us higher
Healing rain I’m not afraid
To be washed in heaven’s rain

Healing rain is coming down
It’s coming closer to the lost and found
Tears of joy and tears of shame
Are washed forever in Jesus’ name

Lift your heads let us return
To the mercy seat where time began
And in your eyes I see the pain
Come soak this dry heart with healing rain

And only You the Son of man
Could take a leper and let him stand
So lift your hands they can be held
By someone greater the Great I Am

Healing rain is falling down
Healing rain is falling down
I’m not afraid I’m not afraid (REPEAT)

Martin Smith | Matt Bronleewe | Michael W. Smith © 2004 Curious? Music UK (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) Smittyfly Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) Songs From The Farm (Admin. by Net More, Inc.) CCLI License # 810055

 

Foolish leader, tragic result

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When a selfish or foolish person gains a place of leadership, many suffer tragic results. It should be a self-evident truth. It is common sense, isn’t it? I have lived long enough to see organizations flourish when led by those who are willing to invest in long-term goals, when decisions are made with integrity; and I have seen organizations go to chaos and failure when bad choices pile up, one after another. Proverbs says “When good people run things, everyone is glad, but when the ruler is bad, everyone groans. ” (Proverbs 29:2, The Message)

My reading Exodus today took me to the familiar story of the Israelites crossing of the Red Sea. (14)  Most of the time we read it for the obvious lesson about trusting God in impossible situations, waiting for Him to open a way forward for us when we are caught between the devil and the sea! And, that is certainly a powerful truth in that chapter. But, today I saw the plight of the Egyptian army that ended up dead because of the folly of the Pharaoh.

Moses responded to God’s instructions and, when he exercised faith, the Red Sea parted. “So the people of Israel walked through the sea on dry ground, with walls of water on each side!”   After all that had happened, one might think that Pharaoh would say to himself, “Enough. It’s time to go home.”  But, he was foolish, in the grip of his pride.

The story goes on to say,  “Then the Egyptians—all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and charioteers—followed them across the bottom of the sea. But early in the morning, the Lord looked down on the Egyptian army from the pillar of fire and cloud, and he threw them into confusion. Their chariot wheels began to come off, making their chariots impossible to drive.”  The tragic result of that leader’s folly is recorded thus-  “The water roared back into its usual place, and the Lord swept the terrified Egyptians into the surging currents. The waters covered all the chariots and charioteers—the entire army of Pharaoh. Of all the Egyptians who had chased the Israelites into the sea, not a single one survived.” … And the Israelites could see the bodies of the Egyptians washed up on the shore.” (Exodus 14:22-31, NLT)

Here is a sobering question – how are you leading? Before you tell me you’re not a leader, think again. Not all of us have an official position of leadership. All of us are influencing others, all of the time.  Are we pointing people in the direction of the Lord, living in faith, with integrity? Are we selfless or selfish? Are we consumed with protecting our own interest or promoting the well-being of others?

The standard is not perfection. Were that true none could lead. God looks for a heart that leans into Him, that loves His ways, that is faithful. When we fail, and we will, if we are godly we will not try to make ourselves look good, we will authentically accept responsibility and work to turn it around for God’s glory.

Leadership in Christ’s kingdom is different. James and John, in youthful enthusiasm, anticipating an earthly Kingdom, went to Jesus to look for a position of authority and honor. His answer is the word from the Word today. Think about it. Pray, with me, for a heart that is yielded to God so that we will lead others to LIFE, not death. “So Jesus called them together and said, “You know that in this world kings are tyrants, and officials lord it over the people beneath them. But among you it should be quite different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all. For even I, the Son of Man, came here not to be served but to serve others, and to give my life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45, NLT)

_________

 Only King Forever

(Is He King of your life?)

 Our God and firm foundation
Our Rock the only solid ground
The nations rise and fall
Kingdoms once strong now shaken
We trust forever in Your name
The name of Jesus
We trust in the name of Jesus

 You are the only King forever
Almighty God we lift You higher
You are the only King forever
Forevermore You are victorious

 Unmatched in all Your wisdom
In love and justice You will reign
And ev’ry knee will bow
We bring our expectations
Our hope is anchored in Your name
The name of Jesus

Oh we trust the name of Jesus

 We lift our banner high
We lift the name of Jesus
From age to age You reign
Your kingdom has no end

Chris Brown | Mack Brock | Steven Furtick | Wade Joye
© 2013 Be Essential Songs (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)
Elevation Worship Publishing (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)

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Contentment today!

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Do you buy into the myth that somehow all of your present struggles will disappear ‘tomorrow’?  Without being overly cynical, let me tell you that you may find solutions for today’s issues but tomorrow will have new ones for you. But, we need not give in to despair, for there is a way to live in joy and contentment.

The Israelites finally were free to leave Egypt, to start the journey for the Promised Land. It isn’t hard to imagine the songs of celebration they sang as they left the borders of the land of their slavery. The name of Moses was revered, the amazing events of previous months filling their conversations, for a few days until the reality of the situation sank in.  Now they were without homes, a people living on the march in a wilderness. It was hard.  And, then on top of the new challenges of refugee living, they saw the clouds of dust raised by Pharaoh’s chariots coming to take them back. The songs turned into complaints, fed by fear.

“As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the LORD. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” (Exodus 14:10-12, NIV)   In their fear, they forgot their past experiences of God’s provisions for their needs as well as the continuing reminders of His Presence, the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night that went before them.

On this Monday morning, I surely pray that your life is one of smooth paths and bliss, but if not, if you have left one set of difficulties behind only to be faced by some new challenge, learn from those ancient people of the Lord. Instead of giving in to fear, trying to find someone to blame, bitterly complaining, remember the faithfulness of God and the promise of His Presence. He has led us in the past. He will lead us in the future, even when we stand on the edge of time, ready to step into eternity.

You need not pretend that all is perfect today. Those Israelites truly were facing what appeared to be an impossible situation – Pharaoh’s army to the rear, the sea before them. But for God, they were doomed.  Minimizing our troubles is not what God asks of us.  Instead He asks us for faith, that is built on the solid foundation of His unchanging nature, His power to do the impossible. And, He is with us.

Christians do not need a pillar of cloud or fire. The Holy Spirit lives in us: God, here, now! His counsel is that we should “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10-11, NIV)

Beyond relief of our fears, when we choose to live in faith that rests on His faithfulness and His Presence, a transformation is born in us. We find contentment and joy. These are God’s gifts to us in the middle of the messes of life. Like Paul, we can say, “I know in Whom I have believed and that He is able!”

Here is the invitation of a word from the Word. Do this and your challenges will not seem so overwhelming for God, our Abba, will be near. “Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.” (Philippians 4:6-7, The Message)

_______

Fear Is A Liar

(Zach Williams sings of our assurance, enjoy.)

When he told you you’re not good enough
When he told you you’re not right
When he told you you’re not strong enough
To put up a good fight
When he told you you’re not worthy
When he told you you’re not loved
When he told you you’re not beautiful
That you’ll never be enough

 (Oh) Fear he is a liar
He will take your breath stop you in your steps
Fear he is a liar
He will rob your rest steal your happiness
Cast your fear in the fire
‘Cause fear he is a liar

 When he told you were troubled
You’ll forever be alone
When he told you you should run away
You’ll never find a home
When he told you you were dirty
And you should be ashamed
When he told you you could be the one
That grace could never change

 Let Your fire fall and cast out all my fears
Let Your fire fall Your love is all I feel
Let Your fire fall and cast out all my fears
Let Your fire fall Your love is all I feel

 ‘Cause fear he is a liar

Jason Ingram | Jonathan Smith | Zach Williams
© Anthems of Hope (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)
Be Essential Songs (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)
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Is your heart a stone?

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There is a fine line between dedication to one’s cause and plain old mule-headed stubbornness. I applaud that person who sticks with their plan, who gets back up and keeps fighting even when they get knocked down. There is something to admire in that one who gives himself to God’s Spirit, dying to Self in humble surrender.  How do we respond when the Lord is trying to change us, asking us to adjust our attitude? Do we dig in our heels even when it is in our best interest to adjust, accept, and adapt;  or do we humbly yield to Him?

Moses and Aaron appeared in Pharaoh’s court to request that he let the Israelites go. They said,  The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to say to you: Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the desert. But until now you have not listened. This is what the LORD says: By this you will know that I am the LORD.” (Exodus 7:16-17, NIV)  It’s a crazy request with which Pharaoh will not agree. After all, these people are his labor force, critically important to the Egyptian economy.  He says, “No,” and subsequently the plagues were introduced to Egypt, starting with inconvenience and escalating in their misery and impact. The story of the ten plagues (Exodus 7-12) is a familiar one.  After each episode we read this – “But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said.” (Exodus 8:15 NIV)

The final blow was the visit of the Death Angel, taking the first-born of every household that did not have the blood of a lamb on the doorposts, which was placed there in faith and in obedience to Moses’ directive.  A lamb became the substitutionary sacrifice. Only after this awful consequence of his hard, stubborn heart visited his palace, did Pharaoh let the Israelites leave Egypt. “During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the LORD as you have requested. Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. And also bless me.” (Exodus 12:31-32, NIV)

Is there some part of your life where you have hardened your heart to the will and purpose of the Lord?

Are you refusing to do what He asks of you – forgiving another, serving in some way you find undesirable, holding onto a sinful habit?

When the Holy Spirit whispers an invitation to greater faith, pointing you in a new way, do you silence His voice or readily listen?

Persistent disobedience produces callousness towards our Father!  Jesus spoke of the spiritual plight of the people who would not respond to Him. Quoting Isaiah, He said, ”‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’” (Matthew 13:14-15, NIV)

Let’s pray to have tender hearts that quickly respond to our Father’s love. Fear of what follows our obedience can make it hard to say a ready “yes” to Him. Replace that fear with faith, expecting that He will provide. Pride can hinder our willingness to follow Him, too. His way can appear as foolishness when viewed with natural wisdom. Be humble enough to be seen a fool for Christ!

Our word from the Word is a beautiful promise. Make it yours today. Know the beauty of a tender heart. And I will give you a new heart with new and right desires, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony heart of sin and give you a new, obedient heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so you will obey my laws and do whatever I command.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27, NLT)

Lord, give us a child-like heart,
ready to follow You in faith
wherever You would lead.
For Jesus’ glory. Amen.

______________

I Surrender
(a prayer in song)

 Here I am
Down on my knees again
Surrendering all
Surrendering all 

Find me here
Lord as You draw me near
Desperate for You
Desperate for You
I surrender

 Drench my soul
As mercy and grace unfold
I hunger and thirst
I hunger and thirst

 With arms stretched wide
I know You hear my cry
Speak to me now
Speak to me now

 I surrender
I surrender
I want to know You more
I want to know You more

 Like a rushing wind
Jesus breathe within
Lord have Your way
Lord have Your way in me
Like a mighty storm
Stir within my soul
Lord have Your way
Lord have Your way in me

Matt Crocker © 2011 Hillsong Music Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

Getting past the ‘if onlys’

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We can momentarily escape the tedium and trials of daily life with those dreams of ‘if only…‘  If only I had more money … If only  I could be 30 again …. If only! What a monumental waste of time and distraction. When we allow ourselves to believe that life would be better with someone else, somewhere else, we hinder God’s ability to use us right where we are.

Picking up my reading in Exodus, I find Moses in Egypt where he took up God’s commission to lead the Israelites out of slavery and to the Promised Land. And, everything is going wrong! His first encounter with Pharaoh was a disaster! Not only does the king mock him and the Lord, he doubles the work load of the Israelite slaves. The people he was trying to save to turned on him in anger.   So, what did he do?  Run back to the wilderness to his former shepherding gig? No. Take a vacation on the Med.? No. “Moses returned to the LORD.” (Exodus 5:22, NIV)    His prayer was not all that faith-filled! He complained  “O Lord, why have you brought trouble upon this people? Is this why you sent me?” (Exodus 5:22, NIV)  Never-the-less, God listened and answered.

It is the Lord’s answer to Moses that shapes the rest of this blog this morning. God’s answer has three parts that call us to renew our faith, not in ourselves, but in Him.

First, God says, “Trust in my Providence!”   “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: Because of my mighty hand he will let them go; because of my mighty hand he will drive them out of his country.” (Exodus 6:1, NIV)  If Moses and Aaron had met success on their first visit to the king, how likely do you think they would have been to take the credit? “Wow, we blew that guy away, didn’t we? We are the men!”  And, probably the Israelites would have tried to turn them into gods. The struggle made it clear that the Mover and Shaker in the work of deliverance was the LORD Himself, and those difficulties were a means of creating utter dependence on Him.

Second, God says, “Know me Personally!”   “I am the LORD  (Yahweh). I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty  (El Shaddai), but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them.” (Exodus 6:2-3, NIV)    God told Moses that the trials would lead him to a deeper intimacy with Himself.   Moses was given the Name of God, the holy Name that was so revered by the Hebrews they would not speak it.  So in the Scripture text, we read the word they substituted – LORD.   Where you see that in all capital letters, that is a clue that the personal Name of God, Yahweh  (some say, Jehovah) appears.   His Name means, “the I Am,”  “the Self-Existent One,” or “the One who is Present.”

Moses and God came to a place where they were on a first-name basis. Yes, friend, these trials of life can become what motivates us to seek His face. Will you?

Third, God says, “Renew your hope in my Promises!”  “Say to the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the LORD.‘” (Exodus 6:6-8, NIV)   Seven “I wills” are God’s declaration.  And the promises are bracketed by the statement, “I am the LORD.”     He secures the promise with the honor of His Name!

Toss the ‘if onlys’ that keep you blinded to His “I will.”
Money might temporarily make life simpler, but you can’t buy peace with God, nor exempt yourself from life’s trials with wealth.
Pleasure may divert your attention away from suffering, in your own life or in the world around you, but when the music stops playing and the dance is over, reality returns.
A new place may provide temporary excitement but with time routine returns.

God, however, is the source of life, of hope, of strength … and ultimately will take us to His eternal home.

Trust His Providence! Know Him Personally! Rehearse His Promises!

Here is a word from the Word. Meditate on what the inspired text declares. “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” (2 Corinthians 1:20-22, NIV)

_________________________

O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go
(A men’s choir sings this song in a cathedral. The message is profound. Their voices will transport you!)

O Love that wilt not let me go
I rest my weary soul in Thee
I give Thee back the life I owe
That in Thine ocean depths its flow
May richer fuller be

O Joy that seekest me through pain
I cannot close my heart to Thee
I trace the rainbow through the rain
And feel the promise is not vain
That morn shall tearless be

O Cross that liftest up my head
I dare not ask to fly from Thee
I lay in dust life’s glory dead
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be

Albert Lister Peace © Words: Public Domain

Yes! You Can!

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Have you ever side-stepped an invitation to do something because you doubt yourself? Maybe you were urged to apply for a job and decided, last minute, not to go for it, questioning your ability. We all know that over-confidence can land us in a real mess. However, a more common issue is the failure to live fully because of fear.  A crisis of confidence is not unique to you or me. It happens to us all.

Moses, the one-time prince of Egypt, failed and ran off to the wilderness, where he disappeared into obscurity, tending Jethro’s sheep for 40 years! Then, in the purposes of God, it was time! Israel needed a leader and God knew the right man for the job. God met Moses at a miraculously burning bush in the desert. It was aflame, yet not being consumed. When the shepherd saw it, he was intrigued and on investigation, found that the LORD used the phenomenon to get his attention! Once He had Moses’ focus, He called him to return to Egypt and deliver his people from slavery, leading them to the land of promise.

So did Moses say, “Great! When do I start?”   That is not the way it went. He grasped the apparent impossibility of the job, looked at his resume which included murder and flight to avoid prosecution, and asked God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”(Exodus 3:11, NIV)   In the dialogue with the Lord he points out his inability and God answers, not by reminding him of his charisma, intelligence, education, or court access.

God says to Moses –I’ll be with you! … “The LORD said to him, “Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” (Exodus 4:12, NIV)  

You and I share a high calling, too!  We are ministers of grace, agents of reconciliation, and ambassadors of the Kingdom of God. We are invited to live a holy life and to extend His rule into a world in rebellion, to lead those who are captive of Satan’s deception, out of the darkness into the Light!  Which one of us is smart enough, pure enough, to be able to say, “Follow me as I follow Christ.”?  (1Corinthians 11:1)  Not one, no one. If we look only to our training or our natural abilities as a qualification for taking up the call of God, we will say, “Lord, you have the wrong person here. Look for another.”

Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, a prideful bunch, people who were abusing spiritual gifts and failing to truly honor God. He tells them the true Source of their strength is God, the Spirit.

“Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.. . .   who is equal to such a task?. . . Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16; 3:4-6, NIV)

Meditate on these words from the Word.  Humbly thank God, the Holy Spirit, for empowering you for the task, then just do it.  Let Him amaze you with how much He can make of so little!

“You light a lamp for me.
The Lord, my God, lights up my darkness.

In your strength I can crush an army;
with my God I can scale any wall.
 

God’s way is perfect.
All the Lord’s promises prove true.

He is a shield for all who look to him for protection.

For who is God except the Lord?
Who but our God is a solid rock?
God arms me with strength,
and he makes my way perfect.
He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
enabling me to stand on mountain heights.”  (Psalm 18:28-33, NLT)

Now, let’s go in His strength and lead people to the Promised Land. Ready?

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Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)

(A song that talks about His invitation. God used this song to comfort Bev and me when we faced her cancer.)

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 Saviour

 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 Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

Not Forgotten!

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What encouragement I found in the story of Israel today, a reminder that in the worst of times, the Lord is present – but we do not always sense Him there, do we? When we make a long journey through sorrow, when we do our best with few visible results, when major disappointment comes our way, we can be tempted to reach the conclusion that God does not know or does not care. Are you in that place this morning?

Exodus opens with Israel in Egypt, grown from a small clan into an enslaved people. The favored status that they had known under Joseph was lost since gone. They had become the labor force of Egypt, building Pharaoh’s cities, a people without a future. About 4 centuries came and went since their grandfathers came to Egypt seeking relief from famine. When they prospered, the Egyptians responded by taking away their freedom, killing their sons, and making them slaves. Where was God?

The inspired text says “Years passed, and the king of Egypt died. But the Israelites still groaned beneath their burden of slavery. They cried out for help, and their pleas for deliverance rose up to God. God heard their cries and remembered his covenant promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He looked down on the Israelites and felt deep concern for their welfare.” (Exodus 2:23-25, NLT)  Let’s focus on four verbs – God heard! God remembered! God saw! God knew 

And, He had already started the process of their deliverance, though neither the Israelites or Moses were yet aware of that. When we read their story, we do so knowing the outcomes, years of experience compressed into a chapter or two. With our perspective, we wonder why they were afraid, faithless, and failing.

When we are living life, working through the trials, waiting on the Lord – it is so different. A month of struggle seems endless, doesn’t it?  The Word should remind us that we are not forgotten, that God has not abandoned us to work it out alone.  In the middle of the night, the prayers of the Israelites were cries, “God help us. Save us.” And, nothing happened …. It seemed.

God was there, unseen for the moment, but active.

Centuries later in the history of the people of God, they were once again subjected to the power of their enemies. Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed by Assyria, the best and brightest taken to be slaves in Babylon. They felt abandoned. Isaiah reminds them of God’s care. “But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.” “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” (Isaiah 49:14-16, NIV)  His love for them was as intense as that of a nursing mother for her infant. Their names, He says, are written like a reminder on His hands.

He is near you today, too. The choice we make is one of faith. Paul wrote to the Corinthians about intense persecution that nearly drove him to despair. People rejected his message. There were attempts to kill him. The law was used against him. Was it hard? You judge as you read his words. “We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken.”  Been there?  Here is the truth – God hears! God remembers! God sees! God knows!

Let this word from the Word inspire you. Paul, after telling of the troubles he knew, says that God’s Spirit resides in him, like a ‘treasure stored in an ordinary clay pot.’  Don’t you love that?

God’s Spirit is with us today. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, NIV)

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Lord I Need You

(A prayer in song.)

Lord I come I confess
Bowing here I find my rest
And without You I fall apart
You’re the one that guides my heart

 Lord I need You oh I need You
Ev’ry hour I need You
My one defense my righteousness
Oh God how I need You

 Where sin runs deep Your grace is more
Where grace is found is where You are
And where You are Lord I am free
Holiness is Christ in me
Where You are Lord I am free
Holiness is Christ in me

 So teach my song to rise to You
When temptation comes my way
And when I cannot stand I’ll fall on You
Jesus You’re my hope and stay
And when I cannot stand I’ll fall on You
Jesus You’re my hope and stay

 Lord I need You oh I need You
Ev’ry hour I need You
My one defense my righteousness
Oh God how I need You
My one defense my righteousness
Oh God how I need You

Christy Nockels | Daniel Carson | Jesse Reeves | Kristian Stanfill | Matt Maher
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