A Real Christmas

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The friendly clerk looked overwhelmed, her face revealing the tension. She asked me, “Have you done your Christmas shopping yet?”  “Some,” I replied. “I ordered gifts for some of my grandchildren drop-shipped to Florida.”  I thought she was going to cry as she said, “I don’t even want to think about it. I really can’t afford it, don’t have time … “  Can you identify? Are you wishing away the next three weeks, longing for January 2nd?   There are some choices each of us can make so that this is a ‘season of wonder’ instead of a time of stress, exhaustion, and over-commitment.  We really can find ourselves singing ‘Joy to the World’  with sincerity.  As you continue to read, I want to encourage you not to see these thoughts as more ‘I gotta do this, too.’  Think of them as choices for spiritual and mental health, pathways to the renewal and hope this Advent.

Make people your priority!

Likely, you will either host gatherings or be a guest at one or more. Be present, not thinking about the next hour, the next day. Enjoy the moment. Give another your full attention. Don’t rush, hurry, or just try to ‘get the program’ completed. Enjoy the opportunity to be with friends and family.  Be content with less-than-perfect preparations of food and décor. Those things will quickly fade into oblivion anyway, but an evening of meaningful conversation creates a lasting memory.

Remember to include worship!

If you just read ‘church,’ think again. Yes, worship gathering are valuable to help us reset if we truly enter into the songs, pray, and learn.  I am talking about adding something to your list of to-do’s.  IF you will set aside 20 minutes each day between now and Christmas Day, to meditate, to pray, and to read the stories of Jesus’ nativity from Matthew and Luke, you provide an opening to God’s Spirit to meet you! Tell your family you will be going to church on Christmas Eve. Arrive early and sit with a listening heart, not one wondering, “when will this be over?”  Do more than sing,  “O come, let us adore Him… Christ, the Lord!” Actually enter in.  Which god will claim more of your attention in the next week – the ‘stuff and things’ one, or the Beautiful Savior?  The use of our time, the investment of money, is irrefutable evidence about the identity of our deity. Keeping Christ in Christmas more than putting up a crèche on the lawn , it is about honoring the One whose life is the cause for the celebration.

Give yourself away!

It is much easier to buy a gift than it is to give ourselves. Who needs a gift of forgiveness from you?  Give love. Give time. Give grace. Give away your expectations and receive what these days bring your way. Sit and listen to a child. Go see an elderly person who is alone and enjoy their stories. Send a long overdue note of appreciation to your parents. Be aware of the people in your life and listen to them, loving them.

Recover wonder!

Read the Christmas story with a child-like heart that says, “Lord, tell me again, how much You love me.”  Make it personal! Watch the old film, “It’s a Wonderful Life” and don’t make fun of it! Instead, let it inspire you to make a difference in someone’s life today.  Our sophistication, our cynicism, our intense focus on now can rob us of God’s gift. Let the sophisticates pretend to be bored by the holiday. Choose to be child-like (not childish!) in your wonder.

Let’s anticipate the arrival of New Year’s Day, 2020, having a renewed heart! Sure, you may be tired in body from staying up too late, going here and there, but you will have received Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit. And, He brings life.

Here’s a word from the Word for this Friday morning – “The Word became human and lived here on earth among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the only Son of the Father. … We have all benefited from the rich blessings he brought to us-one gracious blessing after another.” (John 1:14, 16, NLT)

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O Come All Ye Faithful (Adeste Fideles)

(Celtic Woman sings this carol so beautifully)

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

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

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

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

Frederick Oakeley | John Francis Wade © Words: Public Domain

Reflecting His Light

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Last night there was a brilliantly shining moon in the night sky. The light from it spilled across my snowy yard, making 9 pm seem like dawn. But, it was not actually light from the moon which is just a lump of rock about 240,000 miles from the earth without any source of light-producing energy. So, where did that moonlight come from? The sun! The moon is just a reflector.  How beautiful the sun’s radiance makes that moon in the sky.

We exist to reflect God’s radiance, His glory, into our world.  Jesus says that our lives, when connected intimately to Him, like a branch to a Vine causes growth of spiritual fruit. Why? This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (John 15:8, NIV)  Paul says that “And we, … all reflect the Lord’s glory … being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18, NIV)

Our lives will change, the emphasis of our prayers will shift, our joy will increase when we humbly accept that life is about revealing the glory of God, not about making a name for ourselves. Christian, as we face challenges, we can pray, “Show Your glory in me.” How can He do that? By giving us steady faith, by keeping us full of hope, shielding our heart from bitterness; OR by removing the problem, giving us victory.  Who doesn’t prefer the latter? But, if He choses to lead us through the trial rather than lifting us out of it, will we let His glory shine?

There are daily disciplines that open up channels for His life to flow into us. Reading of the Word, prayer that engages both our mind and heart, confession of our utter dependence on Him, service that dethrones our ego and enthrones Christ, gathering with His people to worship, giving of ourselves and our resources:  these things are choices we make as the Spirit invites us to come near.

When we do, there is a radiance that shines through us. This is His Glory! Christian, choose the glory of God today!  In the story of Samuel, we are told about a leader of Israel named Eli. He was a godly man, but his sons were corrupt. They abused and misused ‘godly things’ for their own purposes. God lifted His blessings. Eli’s daughter-in-law, grieving the loss of that glory, named her child, Ichabod I, which means ‘The Glory is departed.’  Trust Him, walking close to Him. Don’t allow His splendor to be lost.

Here is a word from the Word. “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you.” (Isaiah 60:1-2, NIV)
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Glory To His Name

Down at the cross where my Savior died
Down where for cleansing from sin I cried
There to my heart was the blood applied
Glory to His name

Glory to His name
Glory to His name
There to my heart was the blood applied
Glory to His name

I am so wondrously saved from sin
Jesus so sweetly abides within
There at the cross where He took me in
Glory to His name

O precious fountain that saves from sin
I am so glad I have entered in
There Jesus saves me and keeps me clean
Glory to His name

Come to this fountain so rich and sweet
Cast thy poor soul at the Savior’s feet
Plunge in today and be made complete
Glory to His name

Elisha Albright Hoffman | John Hart Stockton

© Words: Public Domain

Yes, you can!

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“Imagine a football team running off the bench to the field where they go into a huddle.  After an excited exchange about the upcoming play, they all run back to the bench and sit down, talking about the quarterback’s fine words.  Then, they jump up and do it all over again.  But, they never play the game!“  (parable from Francis Chan)

Christians are called by God into the game! If we only huddle up to hear the pastor’s talk, sing a few songs to lift our hearts, and pray for safety ‘til we get together again, but never engage our faith with life, we are missing the point.

Being Jesus’ disciple is not just about learning some doctrine or marginally shifting our values. It is about living in and by the Holy Spirit! I believe many followers of Jesus want to do God’s work, but they think it requires becoming an employee of a church or ministry, or that it demands a degree in theology, or … (you fill in the blank here).   Revelation – God’s work waits for us all around.

  • Did you pray with your kids today? Did you talk about godly living with them? That’s what He tells parents to do. “Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk  about my commands when you are at home and when you are away on a journey, when you are lying down and when you are getting up again.” (Deuteronomy 6:7, NLT)  That’s discipleship.
  • Did you pray for your spouse, encourage him or her,  joining heart and mind in mutual submission to Christ’s will? That’s discipleship!
  • That guy at work who’s profane, who has no time for spiritual things, needs to know Christ. Do you just shrug, willing to let him run ahead to his own destruction, faithless for a change? Or, will you spend real time, everyday, praying actively and specifically for him! That’s discipleship.
  • When a ministry at church invites participation, you can point to all the stuff you have do, at your packed schedule, and excuse yourself, or you can say “Here I am, Lord, use me.”  That’s discipleship.
  • When you’re offended, do you get in a huff and write off the offender? OR do you seek reconciliation? That’s discipleship!
  • When you feel yourself loving your stuff, do you exercise the discipline of generosity? That’s discipleship!

Discipleship is not passive, just sitting around waiting for that ‘open door’ you hope will appear in front of you.  Living in the purpose of the Lord does not mean that every difficulty will disappear, that all the funding will fall into our lap, that we will wake up excited and passionate about serving the Lord every morning.

Just like ancient Israel, we have to fight to possess the Promised Land.  God called Joshua, to lead the people of Israel, and told him –  “Strength! Courage! You are going to lead this people to inherit the land that I promised to give their ancestors. Give it everything you have, heart and soul. Make sure you carry out The Revelation that Moses commanded you, every bit of it. Don’t get off track, either left or right, so as to make sure you get to where you’re going.” (Joshua 1:6-7, The Message)

All those who respond to the Spirit need that same encouragement. It’s going to get tough. Strength! Courage! The Spirit will give us both. Jesus promised that “you will receive power (enablement) when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8, NIV)  It’s not magical. It’s Spiritual!

Here the paradox of authentic discipleship – it makes our Christian life something worth living.  Yes, it will sharpen our appetite for the worship and fellowship, too. And, being on the front lines of faith will cause us to feel desperately dependent on the Spirit.  So, how about getting before the Lord and telling Him to send you into the game? Discipleship is a privilege. What compares with beating back evil’s hatred and darkness and raising up Christ’s love and light?

The word from the Word describes that final awards assembly before the Father.  Imagine that moment with me. Then the King will say to those on the right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?’ And the King will tell them, ‘I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” (Matthew 25:34-40, NLT)

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Let Your Glory Fall

(a song that is a prayer for disciples)

Father of creation,
Unfold Your sov’reign plan;
Raise up a chosen generation
That will march through the land.
All of creation is longing
For Your unveiling of pow’r.
Would You release Your anointing?
Oh God, let this be the hour!

 Ruler of the nations,
The world has yet to see,
The full release of Your promise;
The Church in victory!
Turn to us, Lord, and touch us
Make us strong in Your might.
Overcome our weakness
That we could stand up and fight.

 Let Your glory fall in this room,
Let it go forth from here to the nations.
Let Your fragrance rest in this place,
As we gather to seek Your face.

David Ruis © 1992 Mercy / Vineyard Publishing (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055

 

The Other Advent

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The twinkling lights of Christmas decorations remind me of the joy of this season of celebration. Jesus came, our Immanuel (God with us) and the whole world was changed by that Gift that showed up in a manger in old Bethlehem. The Light of life arrived to shine in the darkness. And yet …  we still find ourselves weeping, evidence of the power of evil in death, suffering, war, hatred, and injustice.  Christian, let’s not forget the ‘other’ Advent, that promised Coming of the Lord of Glory.

In my reading in Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians, yesterday I read about God’s promised justice. (see CWTW, Monday)  When will the godly find vindication, their faithfulness be rewarded?  The Word says “This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you. With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith.” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-11, NIV)

e love the story of the Baby boy that Mary birthed. The tender drama of the stable, shepherds, and angels resonates with us. Thousands of children in churches around the world will reenact the Nativity, much to our delight. The carols of that Holy Night warm our hearts. But, it is not the whole story of the salvation of this world. The Cross and the Resurrection did complete our salvation, but the Scripture is clear that that full revelation of the King and His Kingdom are still to come.

The next Coming of the Lord will be in power, with justice and judgment, to destroy the work of evil. Paul speaks of Him coming “in blazing fire.”  Fire is the Scripture’s metaphor for purification, consuming that which is offensive, that which corrupts. The first coming was one of love, one that announced God’s desire for ‘peace on earth.’  The next Coming is one when separation occurs, when those who have loved Him are full of joy at the realization of the hopes and dreams of the ages, when those who have rebelled mourn because they see the folly of their refusal of His salvation.

Do you remember that ‘other Advent,’ the one yet to come? There is so much about that coming we cannot fully understand and some of us push it out of mind, too fantastic to really believe. He came once, He will come again. This is the Word of God.  Is that promise a blessed Hope for you or a source of terrible dread?  Today, you can receive the salvation of the Lord, you can be filled with the joy of being reconciled to God, the Creator, so that He is your ‘Abba,’ your loving Father.  Let’s us pray with Paul, “Even so, Come, Lord Jesus.” Amen.

Here is a word from the Word. Lord, let us receive it in faith. “When the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, are you going to free Israel now and restore our kingdom?” “The Father sets those dates,” he replied, “and they are not for you to know. But when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive power and will tell people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” It was not long after he said this that he was taken up into the sky while they were watching, and he disappeared into a cloud. As they were straining their eyes to see him, two white-robed men suddenly stood there among them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing here staring at the sky? Jesus has been taken away from you into heaven. And someday, just as you saw him go, he will return!” (Acts 1:6-11, NLT)

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Joy To The World (Antioch)

(Often sung in our celebration,
a song actually about the other Advent)

Joy to the world the Lord is come
Let earth receive her King
Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room
And heav’n and nature sing
And heav’n and nature sing
And heav’n and heav’n and nature sing

 Joy to the earth the Savior reigns
Let men their songs employ
While fields and floods
Rocks hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat repeat the sounding joy

 No more let sins and sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found
Far as the curse is found
Far as far as the curse is found

 He rules the world with truth and grace
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness
And wonders of His love
And wonders of His love
And wonders wonders of His love

Isaac Watts  Words: Public Domain

The Great Reversal

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I watched the NE Patriots lose a game yesterday most likely because of bad calls by the referees.  It was not a nefarious conspiracy. It was men being human, not getting it exactly right in the split second moment of judgment on the field. Fans that whine about bad calls are the worst, aren’t they?  I’m doing it this morning! But, even those who were announcing the game on television remarked at the blown calls that cost the Pats at least 2 touchdowns.

Who among us has not dealt with some kind of unfairness or injustice at one time or another?  It could be the truly awful that robs a person of life or liberty. It might be the relatively small issue of being misunderstood and assigned some mistaken motives.

This I treasure about God and the way He treats me (and you).  He is just. He never gets it wrong, never misjudges, never misunderstands. That is of great comfort to those who are secure in Christ’s love and should be terribly troubling to those who ignore Him.  Paul writes to us – “… God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.” (2 Thessalonians 1:5-7, NIV)

There will be no appeals of Heaven’s verdict, nor is there a need for any. God sees the totality of our life, knows us inside and out better than we know ourselves, knows exactly what we are capable of, the opportunities that have come our way, the disadvantages that hinder us – and is just, His judgment always right.  That could be a source of terrible fear except that His justice is tempered by mercy, His desire to justify us (to settle the sins and shortcomings) through the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ.

This is the wonderful message of Christmas that God came into the world to save us. “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—” (Colossians 1:21-22, NIV)

In this life Christians may meet with injustice, but not from the Lord. Others may refuse us their friendship. Some may reject us for no reason other than the fact that Christ is our Lord. In some places in the world, even today, disciples are suffering persecution, even death, for Christ’s sake. However, this life is not the last word.

Jesus spoke of the Great Reversal that He will bring at His second coming.  We do not merely hope for justice. We are assured of it!  “Mark my words, no one who sacrifices house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, land—whatever—because of me and the Message will lose out. They’ll get it all back, but multiplied many times in homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and land—but also in troubles. And then the bonus of eternal life! This is once again the Great Reversal: Many who are first will end up last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:29-31, The Message)

Meditate on God’s justice today. I pray that you will take comfort from the fact that He never gets us wrong, never forgets, and is merciful. Ah, and I pray that the truth will help us to be honest with ourselves, so that we are disciples who ‘get it right,’ who refuse to hide behind excuses and rationalizations. If you are going through a time of injustice – find rest in the perfect justice of God that will vindicate you.

Our word from the Word is a prayer. Make it yours. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”  (Psalm 139:23-24, NIV)  Amen
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Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

Come Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free
From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in Thee
Israel’s strength and consolation
Hope of all the earth Thou art
Dear desire of every nation
Joy of every longing heart

 Born Thy people to deliver
Born a child and yet a King
Born to reign in us forever
Now Thy gracious Kingdom bring
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone
By Thine all sufficient merit
Raise us to Thy glorious throne

Charles Wesley | Rowland Hugh Prichard © Words: Public Domain

 

Anxious no more

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Most of us know what it is like to go into some situation feeling anxious, uncertain about the outcome. A decade ago, facing major surgery for the first time in my life, I was laying on a hospital bed just outside of an operating room, shivering, not from cold but from fear! I was anxious about my life, about pain, about the what would happen to me in that room. A kind doctor came, put his hand on my arm, and assured me that I would be just fine, and then he gave me an injection that knocked me out.  When consciousness returned a few hours later, I had learned more about trusting the process and letting myself be confident in the skills of the people who have trained to care for patients like me.

Are you a confident Christian?
Do you trust God in a way that allows you to live for Him without anxiety, without wondering if you are ‘good enough?’
Does your faith draw you to true devotion, a life that is completely given over to Him?

My morning reading in the Word took me to the end of Paul’s first Thessalonican letter. He addresses us with words of assurance, turning our focus to the faithfulness of God.

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.
May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, NIV)

*He is the “God of peace.”  In Him we can discover serenity, a rest for our souls, that is not found anywhere else in this world. Because of the coming of Jesus Christ, which we are now remembering in this season of Advent, we are not alone, left to our own schemes to secure ourselves in a world that is filled with all kinds of uncertainty. We can know the God of peace and, in Him, find the confidence to lay aside our fears.

*He will “sanctify you completely.”  That word is often misunderstood as having to do with ‘churchy’ things, only for pastors and religious professionals. In fact, we all can know the confidence that flows from being made acceptable for a holy God, made whole through Christ Jesus. He has a purpose for your life! He has gifted you to fill that place. As you lean on Him, learn from Him, listen to Him – He will ‘set you apart’ from the ordinary, the profane, and make you into a person that fulfills a high calling.  Could there be more confidence than knowing who God made us to be and then living that destiny?

*He is able to “keep you blameless” ready to meet Him.  We need never trouble ourselves about whether we are good for God!  Naturally, we are not. In fact, outside of His grace in Christ, we are ‘objects of wrath.’  But, because of Jesus, we fear His judgment no longer. He actively intercedes for you, for me, in the throne room of the Almighty. He covers us with His righteousness, a gift of grace, that we receive by faith.  And, we are declared blameless, justified. “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”  (Romans 8:33)  Confidence results from faith in His salvation that is completed in us.

*He is “faithful.”  I am sometimes faithless. Humans are too prone to failure.  I can identify with the lyrics from the hymn …
Oh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be.
Let Thy goodness like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it;
Prone to leave the God I love!
Here’s my heart, oh, take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

How can we pray those words with full confidence?  By knowing that our salvation rests on HIS faithfulness, His covenant of grace, not on our flawless efforts.

On Sunday we will go to the Story in Luke for our second Advent Sunday text.  It is a word from the Word for us today. Read it, believe it, and leave fear behind.  “And this is how you will recognize him: You will find a baby lying in a manger, wrapped snugly in strips of cloth!” Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to all whom God favors.” (Luke 2:12-14, NLT)

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Come Thou Fount Of Every Blessing (Nettleton)

Come Thou fount of ev’ry blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy never ceasing\
Call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet
Sung by flaming tongues above
Praise the mount I’m fixed upon it
Mount of Thy redeeming love

Here I raise mine Ebenezer
(a marker stone of an encounter with God set by Jacob)
Hither by Thy help I’m come
And I hope by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home
Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wand’ring from the fold of God
He to rescue me from danger
Interposed His precious blood

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be
Let Thy grace Lord like a fetter
Bind my wand’ring heart to Thee
Prone to wander Lord I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart Lord take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above

John Wyeth | Robert Robinson © Words: Public Domain

Safe Religion?

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People who are fervently committed to a cause can be difficult to be around. They won’t bend or compromise. At your family table this Christmas there will probably be one or two who will take the conversation in a direction that leaves the rest of the people uncomfortable. It might be their ideas about what to eat, or the best way to use money, or their political persuasions that demonize one party and canonize the other.

Do you serve Christ Jesus with a fervent, uncompromising commitment?
Do you serve Him with single-minded devotion, every other decision formed by your desire to follow Him?

Some of you may well be thinking, “Oh, Jerry, I don’t want to be one of those people, those ‘true believers’ who obnoxiously push their religion on others.” Nor do I! But, I do not want a safe religion, a tame God, or a Jesus that is just for Sunday School stories for children.

Radical is not always a bad word, especially when it comes to faith. A carefully contained, neatly packaged religion may offer us some comfort, to be sure.  Are you one of those Christians who seeks ‘balance,’ who wants just enough “Jesus” to quell any fear of judgment, but not an all-encompassing relationship with Him that shapes your daily choices?

Paul writes to us to say – Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22, NIV)  As you read that do not necessarily think that God is requiring you to sell your home, abandon your job, and move to some remote place to share the Gospel with an unreached tribe. That’s often the caricature of radical faith that forms in our minds. In reality, knowing Jesus in a revolutionary way starts right where we are, in our familial relationships, how we treat others, where we look for joy.

The Spirit of God is speaking to every Believer, every day, but it is possible to stifle His voice. How?
Lots of activity that leaves no time for prayer and reflection will do it.
Focusing too much on ‘what I want’ will surely do it.
Starting to think that you can make yourself right with God with excessive religiosity is definitely a way to quench the Spirit.

So, how do we let the fire burn in us?  We listen, love, and learn.

Marriage is a great illustration for the way to know Christ wholly. A marriage that remains alive and warm must be tended by two people who make their relationship a priority. They do not smother each other, jealously possessive, but they keep their relationship exclusive, look for ways to please their spouse, pay attention to the subtle cues about the other’s needs, offer affection and affirmation.  They endure the up’s and down’s of emotions, weather storms, and know that passion ebbs and flows in all relationships. Overall, they define themselves by that singular relationship with their spouse – ‘married,’ turning the ‘me’ life into the ‘we’ life.

IF we want to know Christ, we will give ourselves to Him intentionally in much the same way. No longer will we think of owning ourselves. He owns our affections. We will make worship, prayer, and meditation an important part of life and will pay attention to what the Spirit says. When God speaks to us we will not contemptuously brush Him off.  Nor will we become silly, gullibly eating up everything that somebody says God told them. We will be wise and we will make the choice to embrace the best, the highest, the pure – for Jesus’ sake.

Here is that word from the Word again. I pray you will marinate your mind in this practical word of the Spirit, praying to make Christ the center of all of life.

Don’t suppress the Spirit, and don’t stifle those who have a word from the Master. On the other hand, don’t be gullible. Check out everything, and keep only what’s good. Throw out anything tainted with evil. May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he’ll do it!” (1 Thessalonians 5:19-24, The Message)

_______

Build My Life

(What is your foundation?)

Worthy of ev’ry song we could ever sing
Worthy of all the praise we could ever bring
Worthy of ev’ry breath we could ever breathe
We live for You

 Jesus the name above ev’ry other name
Jesus the only one who could ever save
Worthy of ev’ry breath we could ever breathe
We live for You
We live for You

 Holy there is no one like You
There is none besides You
Open up my eyes in wonder and show me who You are
And fill me with Your heart
And lead me in Your love to those around me

 I will build my life upon Your love
It is a firm foundation
I will put my trust in You alone
And I will not be shaken

Brett Younker | Karl Martin | Kirby Elizabeth Kaple | Matt Redman | Pat Barrett © 2016 Martin, Karl Andrew (Admin. by Arkyard Music Services Limited)

Kaple Music (Admin. by Bethel Music Publishing)

Bethel Music Publishing

CCLI License # 810055

Peace!

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A young girl in elementary school, bright and beautiful, went on and on about all the drama in her life, all the terrible things she suffered at the hands of others. I don’t doubt, for a moment, that school can be tough for a kid! As I continued to listen, her Mom joined right in, talking about the awful administration and uncaring teachers. I realized that the girl had been taught to see the world as a place of threats, to regard others as enemies. Every perceived slight had to be met as a challenge, every person subdued. Without a real change life is going to be very difficult for that little girl, because she will find exactly what she has been trained to look for – a fight.

Christians are taught to radically change their approach to life, to those with whom they worship and live. Paul’s inspired words to us are practical.
“Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-15, NIV)

Live in peace with each other.  What a timely word for us. Ours is a confrontational, combative, deeply divided world. Some suggest that America has not known such deep divisions since the Civil War. Christians have been drawn into the so-called ‘culture wars’ and many fight, tooth and claw. Only someone who is naïve or foolish could say that there are no real differences. There are! But, if we believe the Gospel of Christ we know that must not meet conflict with loud words, power plays, or threats. We are to walk in the way of the Prince of Peace, the Man who met His enemies with Truth and Love, who counsels us with that famed phrase, “if someone strikes you on one cheek, turn the other also.”

Paul tells us that a key choice of the peaceable person is PATIENCE.  The word he used in the first language of the New Testament would literally be translated to ‘suffer long.’  Patience is more than putting up with that other person. It is learning about them, engaging with them even when it hurts, working for understanding. Contemporary ‘wisdom’ advises us to discard the difficult people in life, to throw away those we see as toxic.  God says love them and suffer long with them, with the hope that love can conquer.

Real peace can be found when we are secure in the love of God, when we come to understand that our first priority is to please Him and that He is our Advocate. “That is why we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, so I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6, NLT)  Do you believe that? Is your soul’s security anchored in the amazing love of the Lord?

The first Law taught reciprocity: meet threat with threat, take eye for eye. Jesus changed that with a radical call to bold, profoundly expressed love.  He says “You have heard that the law of Moses says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and on the unjust, too. If you love only those who love you, what good is that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much.” (Matthew 5:43-46, NLT)

Are you choosing peace?  Peace with others flows out of a heart that rests in God. The place to start is with Him, finding restoration and reconciliation, coming to know how much He loves you. Then, loved, you can love others with more than words.

Here is a word from the Word.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27, NIV)

_________

Blessed Assurance (especially note the first line of verse 3)

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

 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

 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

Fanny Jane Crosby © Words: Public Domain

Light it up

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“Nothing good happens after midnight.”  I’m sure my now adult children remember that phrase from their teen years, when I was establishing a curfew.  Requesting that they get home a respectable hour was my attempt to protect them against the temptations that grow more alluring late at night, under cover of darkness. Some of you are probably glad I was not your Dad, right?

Paul’s inspired words that follow up those that promise the Return of Christ Jesus, use the metaphor of the day and night, the clarity of mind that is found at midday and the temptations that are part of the nightlife. He urges us to ‘belong to the day.’  You, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.” (1 Thessalonians 5:4-8, NIV)

The ancient world knew a much more clear divide between day and night than we do. Our technology and lighting allows productivity to go on ‘round the clock, but in Paul’s time, the daylight provided the only opportunity to work. When night fell, without the benefit of lights, crime increased dramatically in the dark streets. There were many dangers lurking in the darkness. So, it was time to be home, sleeping, and for some, a time of drunkenness.

Christian, are you living as a child of the day, a productive disciple?
Is your life open to inspection, an example of self-control, faith, and hope as befits one who knows Christ as Lord?
Are you wide awake, ready for the appearing of our Lord and Savior?

This past Sunday, I referenced the “Last Days” with the reminder that even if Jesus’ return does not happen for another century, each of us is living, in a sense, in our own last days, whether we are 14, 40, or 64! Life, in comparison to eternity, is so short. We cannot afford to let day after day pass as if we were asleep, or worse, intoxicated with the things of this world, so that we forget the calling given us in Christ Jesus.

Let’s make this season of Advent a time of renewal, a rediscovery our calling to service, as we live ‘in the Light.’

Here is a word from the Word, another passage that carries the same theme.

 “Awake, O sleeper, rise up from the dead, and Christ will give you light.” So be careful how you live, not as fools but as those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity for doing good in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but try to understand what the Lord wants you to do. Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, let the Holy Spirit fill and control you.” (Ephesians 5:14-18, NLT)

Lord, use your Word to awaken me.
May I be clear-minded, focused on Your goodness.
Lead me to live so that nothing is hidden,
nothing owns me apart from Your Holy Spirit.
In Jesus’ holy Name. Amen.

_______

Asleep In The Light

(a powerful song of revival from the ministry of Keith Green, 1978)

Do you see do you see
All the people sinking down
Don’t you care don’t you care
Are you gonna let them drown
How can you be so numb
Not to care if they come
You close your eyes
And pretend the job’s done

Oh bless me Lord bless me Lord
You know it’s all I ever hear
No one aches no one hurts
No one even sheds one tear

But He cries He weeps He bleeds
And He cares for your needs
And you just lay back
And keep soaking it in
Oh can’t you see it’s such sin

‘Cause He brings people to your door
And you turn them away
As you smile and say
God bless you be at peace
And all heaven just weeps
‘Cause Jesus came to your door
You’ve left Him out on the streets

Open up open up
And give yourself away
You see the need you hear the cries
So how can you delay

God’s calling and you’re the one
But like Jonah you run
He’s told you to speak
But you keep holding it in
Oh can’t you see it’s such a sin

The world is sleeping in the dark
That the church just can’t fight
‘Cause it’s asleep in the light
How can you be so dead
When you’ve been so well fed
Jesus rose from the grave
And you you can’t even get out of bed

Oh Jesus rose from the dead
Come on get out of your bed

How can you be so numb
Not to care if they come
You close your eyes
And pretend the job’s done
You close your eyes
And pretend the job’s done
Don’t close your eyes
Don’t pretend the job’s done

Come away come away come away
With Me my love
Come away from this mess
Come away with Me my love

Keith Green © 1978 Universal Music – Brentwood Benson Publishing (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.)

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CCLI License # 810055

Hopeful!

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The Christmas season officially started yesterday.  It was the first day of Advent, when Christians remember He came to save the world, He comes to us today to be our Lord, and that He will come again as our King.  At home, the tree went up and, since it was a snowy day.

For some of us this season of celebration includes some sorrow. I remember those who are not singing with us, that will not share the joy of the Season’s festivities. As I went through boxes of decorations, so many of them were reminders of my wife who died four years ago, just four days after Christmas. When we put up our last Christmas tree together in 2015, she was too weak to do the work, but she carefully supervised the placement of each bow and bauble from her place on the couch.

My Bible reading this morning brought me to this passage of promise from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonian Christians. There is so much hope included here. These are Advent words!  “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-16, NIV)

“The Coming of the Lord” is the Blessed Hope of the Christian. This is the moment of triumph, the final shout of victory, that we wait for in expectation. We recognize that our life is short, that all voices eventually are stilled by death, but we need not be in despair, nor do we ‘grieve as those who have no hope.’  Christians feel the loss that comes with the great divide of death. After 4 years, I still awaken often to renewed realization that Bev is beyond my reach, that I cannot share life with her, right now. But, I hold onto the promise that she lives in the Presence of God and that she, and millions more, will be reunited at the moment when trumpet of God announces the end of the ages.

Christian does your vision lift from the daily responsibilities of life from time to time to take in the far horizon that includes eternity? We can become captives of the day, faithful and dutiful disciples unless we consciously look up and renew our faith, a tight grasp on the hope and inspiration that comes from the proclamation that death does not have the final word.  As you mark the days of Advent make sure it is not just about the Baby in Bethlehem’s manger.  Include the Lord of the Revelation.

Here is a word from the Word. May it fill you up with hope and joy.
“The Father sets those dates,” he replied, “and they are not for you to know. But when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive power and will tell people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” It was not long after he said this that he was taken up into the sky while they were watching, and he disappeared into a cloud. As they were straining their eyes to see him, two white-robed men suddenly stood there among them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing here staring at the sky? Jesus has been taken away from you into heaven.

And someday, just as you saw him go, he will return!” (Acts 1:7-11, NLT)

________

Lo He Comes With Clouds Descending
(Wesley’s hymn, beautifully sung)

Lo He comes with clouds descending
Once for favoured sinners slain
Thousand thousand saints attending
Swell the triumph of His train
Alleluia alleluia alleluia
God appears on earth to reign

Every eye shall now behold Him
Robed in glorious majesty
Those who set at naught and sold Him
Pierced and nailed Him to the tree
Deeply wailing
Deeply wailing
Deeply wailing
Shall their true Messiah see

Yea Amen let all adore Thee
High on Thine eternal throne
Saviour take the power and glory
Claim the kingdom for Thine own
Come Lord Jesus
Come Lord Jesus
Come Lord Jesus
Everlasting God come down

Charles Wesley © Words: Public Domain