Think like Jesus!

So much of what is happening in these United States, at least as reported, quickly escalates our fears. The chaos of life unsettles us all in different ways.  In the words of Yoda (actually George Lucas) “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”  Without diminishing the real anguish that has moved millions into the streets, I am suggesting that now that we have raised consciousness, it time to sit down at the table. It is time to listen to the ‘other side.’  The intensity of the rhetoric has made otherwise reasonable people incapable of hearing with understanding. As we shout at each other we feed rage – an emotion that makes us blind and deaf.

Those of us who are in Christ need to take the lead towards real dialogue, with a genuine desire for needed change, and deep compassion for those with whom we have little shared life experience. These are acts of faith and obedience.  Whether you are old or young, rich or poor, black or white – if you are a Christian, admit that hating the ‘other side’ is an unjustifiable sin. Oh yes, despise the sin! The cruel evil of unrestrained power is intolerable. The impulse to lump people into pre-judged groups with hateful labels is a sin! Hate that, but do not hate people.

The Lords speaks to us through His Word. “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:1-4, NIV)

The Spirit starts by reminding us about God’s gift to us. We were ignoring God, doing our own thing, living without concern for His purposes.  How did He approach us?  Did He shout at us, condemn us, call us stupid, or try to use His infinite power to crush us?  Not at all. Christ Jesus loved us by setting aside His divine prerogatives, subjecting Himself to the weakness of His own creation. He offers grace to the worst, not when we were trying to be good but  ‘while we were still sinners,’ resisting Him, rejecting Him.  When we have known His love, been secured in His mercy, and made alive to God, the Spirit says that we are to be ‘like-minded.’  Think like Jesus! Have you been thinking like Jesus? (re-read that question)  In the same way that He was pro-active to save us, we are to move toward those with whom we live.

Jesus put our need above His comfort. Let this sink in.  “Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. He made himself nothing.”  (Philippians 2:6 NLT) God asks us to set aside defensiveness and self-protection. Instead of being so quick to say, “I’m right!”- Christians are to work at understanding that the other guy has something important to say to us. The Spirit says, “Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.” (Philippians 2:4, The Message)  That directive is not just about ‘nice people,’ or those who reciprocate with reasonable words. 

Bold, transformative, amazing love becomes possible when our fears are erased with an unshakeable love of Jesus!  “Who or what can separate us from His love?” Nothing! He asks a simple question of us “If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that?”  He reminds us that “Even sinners love those who love them! … Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.” (Luke 6:32-36, NLT)  His words are for us all.

It is a struggle not to retreat into the safety of our preconceptions. We may think we are doing good if we choose to ignore the voices that disturb the status quo. God asks that we move toward those with whom we differ. Put away the idea, “I know better.”  Instead, we put the concerns front and center of our minds as we choose to think like Jesus!  Think about the image of the person with whom you have the greatest difference.

Now … pray for grace to hear him. Pray until you can get past the “Well, Lord, I guess You love him so I’ll try to be nice”  to a place where you can care about his interests, seek the best for him.  By the way, if you do not know what that it, God does, so agree with Him.

The discovery of truth, the dawning of acceptance, comes slowly but only when we are ready to listen. Accepting another is not the same as agreeing that everything he says is true. Unity needs to be more than a slogan. So on this Friday, take the lead to listen, to create opportunities for real conversations by lowering the temperature of the rhetoric.

Here is a word from the Word says “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.” (Matthew 5:9, The Message)  God helping us – we can do it for the glory of Christ Jesus.

_________

Lord I Need You
(Pray with Chris Tomlin as he sings of our heart’s need)

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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Stormy weather

I forgot to use God’s amazing gift of choice yesterday when I allowed myself to fret and complain. I focused on the ‘what could be,’ on ‘what I’m missing right now,’ on the noise of the conflict that is raging across our land. There is no denying that there are plenty of reasons for anxious thoughts. While there may be very little I personally can do to change national policies, to restore economic fortunes, or to address long standing racial issues, I can live as a man of the Spirit who brings God’s grace, His wonderful peace, into the corner of the world where I live WHEN I remember to Whom I belong.

Let’s go to the Gospel and read a story that Luke was inspired to record for us. It is about a stormy experience that shook up Jesus’ disciples and gave them revelation.

“One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and started out. On the way across, Jesus lay down for a nap, and while he was sleeping the wind began to rise. A fierce storm developed that threatened to swamp them, and they were in real danger. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”

So Jesus rebuked the wind and the raging waves. The storm stopped and all was calm! Then he asked them, “Where is your faith?” And they were filled with awe and amazement. They said to one another, “Who is this man, that even the winds and waves obey him?”  (Luke 8:22-25, NLT)

Mark, who heard the story from Peter, adds this detail. When Jesus spoke to the storm, He said  “Peace, be still!”  Let’s not over analyze the passage so as to lose the impact. It is there for one primary reason: to show us the power of Jesus.  This same Jesus is my Lord. Is He yours?   We can trust His power for our stormy time or we can be like the disciples in their panic.  “We’re going to drown!”  they screamed as they awakened the Master. Mark tells us that Jesus challenged that panicky response.  “Why are you so afraid? Don’t you have any faith?”  When I read His words they were addressed to me in 2020!  “Jerry, why are you so afraid? Don’t you have any faith?” 

Note that Jesus did not tell them that the storm was merely imaginary, nor did He tell them that their concern was baseless. He showed them that He is greater than storms.  

I invited Him to speak to my stormy soul, to our tempest-tossed nation, to those restless angry crowds of people who are spilling into the streets of our cities.  Jesus, speak peace!  It is not for us to tell Him what to do nor can we predict how He will care for us, but we are assured that HE is present and active.  Will you choose to trust? Oh, for grace to trust Him when the winds are blowing with hurricane force. You are not a terrible or faithless Christian if the tempest has temporarily caused you to lose your assurance of His care.

I remind you, as He reminds me, we are not helpless victims! We can choose to meditate in His Word. We can take passages of promise and focus our thoughts. The Psalm shows us how. “I watch for your ancient landmark words, and know I’m on the right track. … I set your instructions to music and sing them as I walk this pilgrim way. I meditate on your name all night, God, treasuring your revelation, O God.” (Psalm 119:52-55, The Message) 

Has anxiety filled your mind? Is fear the pre-dominant emotion of the day? Are you letting anger cloud your reason? Make the choice to trust the LORD of the storm.

The word from the Word will help us to stay centered in God’s sustaining Presence. “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (Isaiah 43:1-3, NIV)  Focus today on those three words – “You are Mine!” 

_____________

T’is So Sweet to Trust

‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to take Him at His word.
Just to rest upon His promise,
Just to know thus saith the Lord.

I’m so glad I learned to trust You
Precious Jesus, Savior, Friend
And I know that Thou are with me
Will be with me to the End.

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him,
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er!
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus;
O for grace to trust Him more!

-public domain

Lord, start with me

What a week it’s been. Turbulent, frightening, thought-provoking, disturbing, enraging, sorrowful – you might want to add your own word there. I turned off the television last night after 15 minutes disgusted with the pundits of the Left and Right. Flipping from one “news” channel to the next I heard nothing but raw propaganda purposefully shaped to inflame rather than to inform. My time on Facebook was equally disturbing: hateful, biased, uninformed, blaming, and racist comments.  I went to bed troubled in heart, filled with questions, and fell asleep in prayer for insight, for wisdom, for change that starts with me.

I must pause to make this lengthy disclaimer –  There is enough self-awareness in me to realize that as a 65 year old white male with conservative leanings, I have blind spots, probably some big ones. This blog, as thoughtful as I may try to be, as prayerful as I am for the Spirit’s wisdom, will include “Jerry” – a man who distrusts government, who believes in self-reliance, who values order, who is a passionate about authenticity, who loves Christ and His Church, who loves grace and redemption, who has known life in largely rural settings, etc. Have my ideals evolved over the years? I certainly hope so, God helping me. Is there a ways to go? Yes, there is! Asking the hard questions of myself is unpleasant. Admitting to feelings that are unworthy of Christ, my Lord, is painful. I want to settle into my old comfortable ways, to ‘shut out’ the protests, to just get things back to ‘normal,’ like so many of us who have never known real discrimination.

America’s real problem is not political, it is spiritual. Before you heave a sigh and say, “Oh, yeah, here he goes. Here comes the old stuff about prayer in school, abortion on demand, and gay marriage,” let me hasten to say that it’s much more, way deeper, than those things. We have become worshipers of other gods – Money and Self our top gods.  Even many Christians do not truly ‘serve’ God, though they may say they do. Their “God” exists to serve their needs. Prayers are mostly ‘bless me’ petitions focused on personal health, wealth, and comfort.

Radical discipleship that calls for the death of Self is nearly incomprehensible to the majority of Christians, simply making no sense to us, for we love self-fulfillment, personal rights, and self-expression. We talk about God but the God of the Scripture no longer exists for most of us. He cannot command our hearts, cannot judge our actions because we have made Him too small, too trivial, peripheral to our ‘real’ life not the core of our existence, the One Who gives us life and meaning.  Arrogantly we define God instead of God defining us. Yes, where we are as a nation is the logical outcome of our 100 year march towards the exaltation of SELF, the gradual elimination of the holy and majestic Lord from our consciousness.  He has not forsaken us, we have forsaken Him.  We proudly believed that technology would save us, that education would reform us, that laws would restrain us. And the last 3 months have revealed their empty promises.

How can we change? The basic choices we need to make include humbling ourselves, repentance ( going past regret), entering into prolonged silence, and earnestly asking God to reveal Himself to us.

Jesus told us that there are just 2 commands.”‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39, NIV)  Ask the Holy Spirit to give understanding about what He meant. Ask yourself if you really love God more than life itself.  Ask if you love the ‘other’ (black, white, rich, poor, male, female) like you love yourself.  IF you come up short, and you will, because we are all sinners, there is an answer.  At the end of ourselves there is Jesus Christ. He is found in repentance and received by faith.

There is so much to say, but I will stop there today. Here is a word from the Word. Please go beyond just reading it. Spend some time with the Living Word allowing for the Scripture to transform your mind and heart.

“When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, no one is likely to die for a good person, though someone might be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s judgment. For since we were restored to friendship with God by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be delivered from eternal punishment by his life.” (Romans 5:6-10, NLT)

“And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will accept. When you think of what he has done for you, is this too much to ask? Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is.” (Romans 12:1-2, NLT)

________

Change my heart, O God,
make it ever true,
Change my heart, O God,
may I be like You.

You are the Potter,
I am the clay,
Mold me and make me,
this is what I pray.

Change my heart, O God,
may I be like You.

— Eddy Espinosa

Finish the race!

When the COVID19 crisis rolled around in mid-March, I suppose I was naïve, thinking “All right, 4 weeks and we will get back to normal.” Then, it stretched on and on and on. The bad news multiplied and the last week of protest and civil unrest has only added to our uncertainty. Do you want to find a retreat, take a break, quit?

It is said that “Tough times don’t last, tough people do.”  Yeah, true perhaps but all the inspiring mottos in the world just aren’t enough right now.  I need more and I find it in the strength that is given us by the Spirit of God.  Truly, friend, these times can reveal a strength we did not know we had. By His grace, and in His power, we can stand! 

God, the Spirit, inspires us to stick with it, to finish the race. In Hebrews 12:1 we read- “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1, NLT)  

The NT was first written in Greek and that word ‘endurance’ is the translation of this word:  – hupomone (hoop·om·on·ay). Say it again! Hupomone!  The compound word means to ‘bear up under pressure.’  The metaphor written into the text is the picture of that distance runner who pushes the limits of his physical endurance with the finish line in sight. Unlike a sprinter who pours every ounce of energy into a 100 meter dash, the marathoner sets a pace that he can maintain, steadily and consistently.

This is the picture of the Christian life, especially in difficult times.
We press on, with patience, with endurance. Hupomone!

Let me make the point again, disciple. This Christian life is not just about a BIG start, it’s about a faithful finish!  We all admire ‘finishers.’ Those people who keep their word, who fulfill their calling, who maintain faith, who keep on serving, who show up in sunshine and rain inspire me. How about you?  I love reading about marriages that go the distance – 50, 60, even 70 years. Bev and I only made it to 40 before the Lord called her home, so I’m a little envious, too. When I think about 5 decades of marriage, I see patience that they showed in seasons of changes. I think about working through the stresses of raising a family. I see people willing to work hard at building a life together.

Are you a finisher?
Do you wisely make your commitments, praying for guidance – and seeing them through to completion?

Jesus told a teaching story about this. “Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn’t first sit down and figure the cost so you’ll know if you can complete it? If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you’re going to look pretty foolish. Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: ‘He started something he couldn’t finish.’

Or can you imagine a king going into battle against another king without first deciding whether it is possible with his ten thousand troops to face the twenty thousand troops of the other? And if he decides he can’t, won’t he send an emissary and work out a truce?
(Luke 14:28-32, The Message)

The implied conclusion is – FINISH what you start!

Remember that it isn’t “all guts, no glory.” Finishers enjoy what mere starters never find: the satisfaction of a job well done, a life well lived, a victor’s crown!

Listen to the encouragement of the Spirit. Keep connected to a team of people who share your vision. Keep the finish line in sight.

Here is a word from the Word, a promise from our Lord Jesus Christ. “Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.” (Revelation 3:10-11, NIV)   Marantha!

____________

Mighty To Save
(Let the greatness of God draw you to worship as you listen)

Ev’ryone needs compassion
Love that’s never failing
Let mercy fall on me
Ev’ryone needs forgiveness
The kindness of a Saviour
The hope of nations

Saviour He can move the mountains
My God is mighty to save
He is mighty to save
Forever Author of salvation
He rose and conquered the grave
Jesus conquered the grave


So take me as You find me
All my fears and failures
Fill my life again
I give my life to follow
Ev’rything I believe in
Now I surrender


Shine your light and let the whole world see
We’re singing
For the glory of the risen King
Jesus
Shine your light and let the whole world see
We’re singing
For the glory of the risen King


Ben Fielding | Reuben Morgan
© 2006 Hillsong Music Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)
CCLI License # 810055

“Seek 1st to Understand”


Prior to worship yesterday, I lay on my face in the church sanctuary praying for insight, for wisdom, for stability.  It was a desperate prayer because I feel like a man adrift on a rudderless ship; life defies understanding right now. The actions of my government confound me. The inability to find common ground on just about any issue is frustrating. The civil unrest which includes violence and destruction continuing across the nation makes little sense to me. It is my nature to quickly propose solutions so that life can get ‘back to normal.’  In these days I hear God’s Spirit asking me to listen. It is hard to do, I confess.  I want to shout.

In my worst moments, I let myself rant, blaming, arguing, blustering – all clear evidence that I am feeling stress, anger, and confusion. And God asks me to rest on Him, to secure my mind and heart in His promise, and to listen – to Him, to others, that I might learn.

The citizens of ancient Jerusalem were confused by the words of the prophet that told them of a coming day of destruction at the hands of the Assyrians. “No way,” they said, “that cannot be. We are God’s city, the home of God’s Temple.  We’ll find a way to stop this!”  God replied, “Only in returning to me and waiting for me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength. But you would have none of it. You said, ‘No, we will get our help from Egypt. They will give us swift horses for riding into battle.’ But the only swiftness you are going to see is the swiftness of your enemies chasing you!” (Isaiah 30:15-16, NLT)

Will we listen to Him, to one another?
Will we stop talking long enough to think?
Can we let go of what we think we know long enough to learn things that are true?

Stephen Covey, author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, lists consideration as habit #5. “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  He wisely teaches that most of us “listen” to the words of others but not to really hear them. We listen with the intent to reply. Even while they’re speaking, we are starting to formulate our answer. What inevitably happens in that communication pattern? We get only part of the message before we stop listening, and the other person senses they are not “being heard.”  

Covey also points out that we never really understand others IF we only listen autobiographically. In that kind of ‘listening’ the words that enter our brain are uncritically filtered through our own experiences.  When we assume the speaker thinks from the same framework as we do, that their values and attitudes are the same as ours, no real understanding is possible.

The Spirit is asking me (and you perhaps?) to listen with understanding. It is a basic expression of Christ-like love to care enough about others that we would work at gaining understanding. Only then can we actually address real needs! Jesus said, “Do for others what you would like them to do for you. This is a summary of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12, NLT) In another context, He said, “…you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31, NLT) Imagine the kind of relationships we would enjoy IF we actually put that into practice consistently?

How would the words you are saying about ‘those other people’ (whomever they may be) change if you learned to listen with open ears and mind?
How would it transform your racial attitudes if you were really empathetic, ‘seeking first to understand, then to be understood?’

In a principle addressed to husbands, but with broad application to our relationships, Peter says to “dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honor unto the wife.” (1 Peter 3:7, KJV) The NIV says, “Be considerate.”  The command of the Spirit is to listen and understand, so you can actually address the real needs of the person you love.

Start with prayer that secures you in God. Worship His greatness, quiet before Him in prayer. Meditate on this declaration: “When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?” (Psalm 56:3-4, NIV)  Practice active listening, disciplining the desire to speak, giving wisdom time to mature as you gain insight. Yes, it is hard not to rush to judgment. Lord knows I have done it so many times. Patient listening, waiting on the truth, is evidence of the Spirit’s life in us. It is an act of selflessness that honors the Lord of Life, who loved us while we were still sinners, and took action to meet our greatest need.

Here is a prayer for the day.

“Father God, in a world marked by conflict,
in my country that is torn apart by rage,
I want to hear, to understand, to be willing to let go
of what I think I know to learn.

Help me to love and make peace.
Oh yes, Spirit of God, make me a peace-maker!

Fill me with wisdom and insight. Grant me patient love.
Take away harsh judgment that quickly condemns,
replacing it with the gentle spirit you showed
when confronted with ordinary sinners.
Let me fulfill your royal law by loving others more than I love myself.

In the Name of Jesus, who loved me. Amen.

He Leads, I’ll Follow

In 1977, I read an article in TIME magazine about a town in Wyoming that was booming.  Coal and oil were turning a sleepy cow town into a thriving little city, full of young workers. I was familiar with Gillette, WY. My Dad, before entering ministry, took us there each summer when he was buying lambs for his sheep company.  Reading that article, I sensed the calling of the Spirit to go there. I went to prayer and, after a week or so, I broached the subject of a cross-country move to my wife. Late August found us traveling to Wyoming. We had no job waiting for us, very little money to sustain us, and a big dream pulling us westward!  

The next 12 months were full of HUGE life lessons that helped mature me, growing faith in me. The ripple effect of that decision changed the course of several other lives as well.  Then, one year later we returned to New Jersey where I became an Associate Pastor. Our year in Wyoming looked like a fool’s errand to many but there is no doubt that God led Bev and me to that little town. It was not for the purpose which we thought. God used that place to develop our spiritual maturity.

Do you live in a way that lets God lead?

Christians should be led by the Spirit. Paul says that “those who are led by the Spirit are children of God.” (Galatians 6.14)  Before claiming that God is telling us to go here or there, buy this or that, to make some major life change, we need to recognize the voice of the Lord and understand what discernment means. Too many times Christians claim to be “led by the Spirit” when in reality they are just following a feeling or responding to some emotional impulse. There is no substitute for wise counsel and submission to the revealed Truth of the Word as we walk with God!  In our nation many value feelings over thinking especially when it comes to the practice of faith.  Knowing God for some equates to “having an emotional experience.”   One author points out that letting go of doctrine and accountability leaves us adrift on “the vast sea of subjectivitycarried by the turbulent winds of half-truth blow onto the vicious crags of confusion and mindless spirituality.” – Full Gospel, Fractured Minds? – Zondervan, 2005

In 2020, given the upheavals in our lives brought about by COVID19-  grief over losses, angst about health, coping with government restrictions on our lives and economic losses – the value of knowing that we can be led by God’s Spirit is inestimable. Personal peace and the witness of faith become evident in those whose minds and hearts are guided by the Lord.  Yes, Christian, God speaks today.  He says, “Come now, let us reason together.” Isaiah 1:18 (NIV) Spirit-led people live with a deep, life-shaping faith but not a blind one! Paul encourages us to “present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” Romans 12:1 (NKJV) Note the word, “reasonable.” We need not ‘lose our minds’ to be led by the Spirit.

It is not a lack of faith to examine the claim of that person who says she is being ‘led the Spirit.’ Asking God to give for a discerning mind is not the same as refusing to follow His lead. It is a humble recognition that we are imperfect, that we can get it wrong.  Christian history is replete with stories of charismatic leaders who were given too much credence, who led God’s people into foolish and destructive situations.  John gives us this warning: “do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world.” 1 John 4:1 (NLT)   The passage goes on to say that the primary test to determine who is a genuine ‘prophet’ – that is one who is claiming to hear from God and speak for God- is the way he conducts himself day to day.  Is there clear evidence of submission to Jesus Christ as Lord? Rebellious rogues who recognizes no authority bring disrepute to Christ’s Church.

There is great boldness for the believe to be found in knowing what God says and following His lead!  It’s time for mature disciples to ‘wait on the Lord’ and having heard His voice, to stand courageously as they invite others with Paul’s words – ” Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1, KJV)  Have you heard the Spirit’s call? Are you letting Him lead? People of the Spirit, led by Him into works of faith, make His name glorious and build His kingdom. He leads, I’ll follow.

Here is a word from the Word.  “If you need wisdom—if you want to know what God wants you to do—ask him, and he will gladly tell you. He will not resent your asking.” (James 1:5, NLT)  “So humble yourselves before God. Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Draw close to God, and God will draw close to you.” (James 4:7-8, NLT)

______________

He Leadeth Me

He leadeth me O blessed thought
O words with heavenly comfort fraught
Whate’er I do where’er I be
Still ’tis God’s hand that leadeth me

He leadeth me He leadeth me
By His own hand He leadeth me
His faithful follower I would be
For by His hand He leadeth me

Sometimes ‘mid scenes of deepest gloom
Sometimes where Eden’s bowers bloom
By water’s calm o’er troubled sea
Still ’tis God’s hand that leadeth me

Lord I would clasp Thy hand in mine
Nor ever murmur nor repine
Content whatever lot I see
Since ’tis my God that leadeth me

And when my task on earth is done
When by Thy grace the victory’s won
E’en death’s cold waves I would not flee
Since Thou through Jordan leadeth me

Joseph Henry Gilmore | William Batchelder Bradbury

© Words: Public Domain

Those empty eyes

This CoffeeBreak is not sweet, nor is it uplifting. The video of a man dying on a Minneapolis street with the knee of another uniformed man pressed into his neck haunts me this morning. I do not know how the man in custody came to be lying there, nor why 4 officers felt a need to restrain him.  What I cannot escape are the empty eyes of the man who let another die under his knee as people pled with him.

He stared back at a crowd which included children, stuck his hand in his pocket in the most casual way, and the man died while people cried. Today my guess is that he rationalizes what he did by saying he was ‘just doing his job.’ It’s a line with a long history. Many of those charged with war atrocities in the 20th century offered the defense of ‘just following orders,’ another way to say ‘just doing my job.’

We like to characterize those who commit terrible acts as monsters, don’t we?  We want to be convinced that they must be horrible and twisted in some way that distinguishes them from us; except that they are not. Acts may be monstrous but they are done by human beings who eat, sleep, breath, have families just like you and me. Evil is real. Apart from God’s redemptive good, it grows like mold, killing us inside out. When we allow ourselves to be dehumanized by a society that turns us into a cog in the machine, evil flourishes. When we let ourselves be convinced that hurting another is just part of our job, we become capable of terrible things.

Evil gives us empty eyes. We cannot see the cost to others in what we do, cannot appreciate the humanity of another, are blinded to the suffering that comes from our words and actions.

Those eyes that are empty of empathy are far more common than we like to admit. Who among us can honestly say we have not demeaned another?
Perhaps it is ‘just a joke’ about someone that makes them less.
Perhaps it is the rage of a spouse that allows him to have his own way in the household.
Perhaps it is the subtle snub of someone we think is lesser in some way.
Perhaps it is the manipulative action of a supervisor that steals the dignity of a laborer.
Perhaps it is the religious intolerance that makes ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ with dogma.

Some men dragged a woman ‘caught in adultery’ to Jesus for judgment. With empty eyes they demanded that He judge her, too, because this was the ‘the Law.’ But Jesus truly saw her, loved her, and asked the same of her accusers. “See yourselves first. Are you without sin?” He asked. “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7-8, NIV) Seeing, they slipped away, leaving Him to offer redemption to the woman. 

Ah, those Eyes of Jesus. May we see as He sees.

The wisdom literature of the Word reminds us of a choice to make. “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you.” (Proverbs 4:23-25, NIV)  What are you allowing to fill your inner thoughts?  Jesus was clear that what we say is clear evidence of what we think! Listen to your unguarded words and you will get a glimpse of your soul’s content.

Here is where it gets hopeful. We are not helpless before evil. Hearts can be renewed, empty eyes can see again. There is a Savior, a Healer, the Lord of Love and Life.

Of Him, Paul writes “God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and by him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of his blood on the cross. This includes you who were once so far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions, yet now he has brought you back as his friends. He has done this through his death on the cross in his own human body. As a result, he has brought you into the very presence of God, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.” (Colossians 1:18-22, NLT)  

And when we come to Him and find forgiveness and new life, we then can see. So, “Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.” (Ephesians 5:1-2, The Message)
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The Power Of Your Love

Lord I come to You
Let my heart be changed renewed
Flowing from the grace
That I found in You
And Lord I’ve come to know
The weaknesses I see in me
Will be stripped away
By the pow’r of Your love

Hold me close
Let Your love surround me
Bring me near
Draw me to Your side
And as I wait
I’ll rise up like the eagle
And I will soar with You
Your Spirit leads me on
In the pow’r of Your love

Lord unveil my eyes
Let me see You face to face
The knowledge of Your love
As You live in me
Lord renew my mind
As Your will unfolds in my life
In living ev’ry day
By the pow’r of Your love

Geoff Bullock © 1992 Geoff Bullock Music (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055

Do your job!

Bill Belichick, coach of the NE Patriot football team, is known for his team philosophy: “Do your job!” He’s a no-nonsense coach who expects that every man on the squad will perform at the highest level so that the team will benefit. Everyone matters. From the weight room to the practice field, Belichick reminds young often undisciplined players that they are there to win games. That is ‘the’ job. Apparently the coach is onto something. The Pats have an enviable record of wins.

Our Coach, (Parakletos) the Holy Spirit, asks the same of us, Christian.  God saves us and brings us into His Church, the Body of Christ, so we can become an effective, fruitful person, making a difference in our daily lives because we love Him.  We are mistaken if we believe that our faith is confined to an hour’s devotion on Sunday morning to secure our heavenly home for that hopefully distant moment of earthly departure arrives.  Yes, I hear the objections – “Jerry, my relationship with God is based on faith. Are you telling me that I have to earn my place in heaven?”  Our peace with God, the promise of salvation, IS NOT the result of our religious efforts. Let’s go back and underline that. However, we are saved to serve and God is telling us – ‘Do your job!’

Yesterday, considered part of the story of Nehemiah, the rebuilder of Jerusalem and the Temple of the Lord. The account inspires us and reveals a deep faith and diligent commitment. Both were important in bringing about the restoration of Jerusalem. Nehemiah heard about the sorry state of the city and his first response was prayer. He knew that ultimate success depended on God.  The godly man also put his own life on the line. He left a job in the king’s court taking up a difficult challenge that involved read hardship.  When the work started, he met each obstacle in the same way – praying and trusting God while making practical plans.  I love one short phrase that perfectly captures the blend of faith and our work. When he was told that enemies were preparing an attack, he “prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.” (Nehemiah 4:9, NIV)

I trust God to complete His work in me and through me but I am not passive nor will I just sit around waiting to be rescued. It is my privilege to become a disciplined part of His work, His Spirit working in me and through me. Paul, who knew God’s saving grace, who trusted completely in Christ Jesus, also says that what God has done for us has a consequence for everyday life. “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed-not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence-continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13, NIV)

God’s wonderful gift of grace does not exempt us from personal responsibility. Somehow that idea has slipped into the minds of Christians today. We fail to remember that the Word which promises us grace we could never deserve also teaches us the law of the harvest, that the seeds we plant produce the crop we harvest. “The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:8, NIV)

Are you a passive Christian? Have you mistakenly assumed that there is nothing to do except wait for Heaven?  Let’s take the model of Nehemiah, loving God and leaning into His Presence in daily prayer, opening our hearts and minds to His truth and transformation by the practice of the disciplines of the Spirit. Do your job. “Pray and post a guard!”  

Here is a word from the Word.  “Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:9-10, NLT)  Do your job!

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Jesus calls me, I must follow,
Follow Him today.
When His tender voice is pleading,
How can I delay?

Follow, I will follow Thee, my Lord;
Follow ev’ry passing day.
My tomorrows are all known to Thee,
Thou wilt lead me all the way.

Howard L. Brown | Margaret W. Brown © New Spring (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.)

Come, let’s rebuild!

Many of us were heartened a bit this weekend as America started to return to life. As the restrictions are lifted and we start to slip out of fear’s grip we are ready for friends, for meals together, for worship. However you fix the blame or see the reasons, there is one inescapable conclusion. Life has taken a major hit.  Before we can even think of getting back to ‘normal,’ a major effort focused on rebuilding lies ahead. We must rebuild confidence, trust, a broken economy, church ministries, business … and the list goes on.  Will we get it done?

The city of God, Jerusalem, was destroyed by Assyria, her walls torn down, God’s Temple sacked, the best and brightest taken into captivity.  Most people concluded that life as they had known it was over; except for a tiny remnant of the faith-filled who believed God’s promises.  Are you part of God’s faith-filled, praying for our broken world, praying for more than the old normal, but rather for a true spiritual renewal?

God called a man to lead that remnant, to pull together their efforts. His name?  Nehemiah.  He was a Jewish man, living in exile, the ‘cupbearer’ to the king in Babylon. He got word of the crisis back in the land of his fathers. “They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.” (Nehemiah 1:3-4, NIV)  He wept. He grieved. He engaged. He prayed!  THEN, he acted.

What a story it is. (Suggested read – Nehemiah 1 and 2)  I’ll skip some of the intermediate details. When he got to Jerusalem, he took time to survey the project, to gain understanding. Only then did he share God’s vision with others. “Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me. They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work.” (Nehemiah 2:17-18, NIV)  It was no walk in the park, but he got the job done.  What an inspiration!

How can we become rebuilders in this broken world, even of our own lives that have been left in disarray?

First- GET God’s Vision!

He has a plan for your life. Vision, ‘seeing’ what the future can be, is basic for change. Getting a vision and committing to it makes moving mountains possible. Be sure to prayerfully discern between YOUR dream and GOD’S vision. He is not obligated to fund your dream but He will resource us to complete His vision.

Second- Assess the Challenges!

What seems important to you or me may not be God’s first line concern. He desires more for us than simply restoring our prosperity or letting us become comfortable once again. What is the real challenge that needs to be met? It is not always obvious and the answers are not often easy.

Third- Build your team!

Never underestimate the importance of being part of a group of people who share vision. Nehemiah had many people that he brought into his circle who put the pieces of the vision into place. Take care not to confuse competence with character. Surround yourself with those who truly desire God, who are engaged in ‘seeking first the kingdom of God.’

Fourth- Gather resources!

What has God asked of you?  As you know that, take this Word Truth and live it. “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19, KJV) He has the right people to be on your team. He has the right plan, a rich store of wisdom, and the Spirit’s gift that will keep us going. Will we access those resources or attempt to fulfil the vision on our own? The work of God can only be accomplished in the strength of the Lord.

Fifth- Start!

Today’s opportunities will not return tomorrow.  Are you doing something, making the effort, moving forward in spite of obstacles?  You have to love the pithy wisdom of Proverbs – “A little extra sleep, a little more slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest— then poverty will pounce on you like a bandit; scarcity will attack you like an armed robber.” (Proverbs 6:10-11, NLT)   Rebuilding will not just happen while we sit around singing. Too many Americans have turned into professional victims waiting for someone to rescue them, to feed them, to soothe their troubled minds. God give us courage to stand up and start.  By the way, Nehemiah was not everybody’s hero!  His efforts were lauded by some but he felt the sting of critics’ words. IF you stand up, someone, perhaps many, will try to shoot you down.

Let’s get serious with God in prayer, inviting the Holy Spirit to show us a new vision – for ourselves, our families, our churches, our nation, our world.  Let’s offer up our lives to serve as re-builders who create beauty for the glory of God.

The word from the Word is a favorite of mine. Let’s take this promise and commit to getting to work.

“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21, NIV)

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Still Rolling Stones
(Lauren Daigle inspires!)

Out of the shadows
Bound for the gallows
A dead man walking
‘Til love came calling
Rise up rise up
Six feet under
I thought it was over
An answer to prayer
The voice of a Savior
Rise up rise up

All at once
I came alive
This beating heart
These open eyes
The grave let go
The darkness should have known
You’re still rolling stones
You’re still rolling stones

Now that You saved me
I sing ’cause You gave me
A song of revival
I put it on vinyl
Rise up rise up
I once was blinded
But now I see it
I’ve heard about the power
And now I believe it
Rise up rise up

I thought that I was too far gone
For everything I’ve done wrong
Yeah I’m the one who dug this grave
But You called my name
You called my name
Oh You’re still rolling stones (2X)
You’re still rolling rolling (2X)
You’re still rolling stones

Jason Ingram | Lauren Daigle | Paul Duncan | Paul Mabury © 2018 Centricity Music Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) CentricSongs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

In the hands of Fate?

Someone whose life has been filled with so much pain and disappointment told me, “I’m losing faith.” I get it. If we believe that real faith in God gets us a pass on the suffering in this world, most likely we will discard our belief in God like we once outgrew our belief in the tooth fairy. Genuine faith engages us in a conversation with God that ask to know Him and to live as He desires.  There is a recurring question in my prayer: “What are You doing, Lord?”  Certainly God does not give an account of Himself to me. My question is less about getting an explanation than it is about trying to understand how I can keep myself aligned with His plans. Even as I pray to grasp the ‘why’ of our times, I also often pray this line from Jesus’ prayer – “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth, as it is in Heaven.”

Christians view ‘God’s will’ in two ways that many believe are mutually exclusive. Some focus on the fact that God is the Creator and Source, concluding that whatever happens is His will, the extreme view of this making us puppets without choice.  One does not have to think very long about that without running into some serious moral issues.  Does God will murder or rape?  On the other side of the question there are those who believe that we are responsible for whatever happens to us. This group believes that God has limited His direct involvement in the world, leaving us to work out the difficulties on our own. In the most radical application of the idea of free will, God becomes little more than a remote Advisor, One on Whom we cannot rely.

The Bible teaches us two things that appear to be in conflict:
One is that God is ‘sovereign,‘ meaning that He does as He pleases above all.
The other is that you and I are a ‘free agents’ who enjoy the privilege of choice and the power to change the world.

Yes, both statement are true. God is ‘in charge,’ and I am free to choose to participate in His purposes or to reject His will! What see as an ‘either/or’ situation, the Bible teaches as a ‘both/and’ situation.

Jeremiah, seeing the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, struggles to understand.  As he prays God tells him, “O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand. If I announce that a certain nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down, and destroyed, but then that nation renounces its evil ways, I will not destroy it as I had planned. And if I announce that I will build up and plant a certain nation or kingdom, making it strong and great, but then that nation turns to evil and refuses to obey me, I will not bless that nation as I had said I would.” (Jeremiah 18:6-10, NLT) What does Jeremiah learn from the Spirit of God?   He learns that God’s will and human choice are interwoven, that we participate the purposes of the Lord.  

Our choices are important. We are not puppets on a string, helplessly dancing as a God of inscrutable purposes pulls and twists from His throne.  It is important that we respond to Him with the daily choice to align ourselves with His revealed plan, and in that Spirit-empowered choice, we are able to live contentedly, even in the worst of situations.  There is a supernatural serenity (a ‘peace that passes understanding’) found in faithful devotion. If we choose to act as self-willed rebels or angry fools shaking puny fists in His face because of unpleasant circumstances, we cut ourselves off the One who is our life.

Isaiah urges us not to think too highly of ourselves and to submit to the Lord. Using the same imagery as Jeremiah, he writes – “Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the LORD, who do their work in darkness and think, “Who sees us? Who will know?” You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, “He did not make me”? Can the pot say of the potter, “He knows nothing”?” (Isaiah 29:15-16, NIV)

The practical implications of the twin truths of God’s rule and our freedom of choice is that we can live peacefully in this world. When difficult situations arise in our lives or in the world around us, we run to the One who is unchanging, ‘the same yesterday, today, and forever.‘ We take solace from His promise that He will never leave us, never forsake us. But we do not stop working with Him to bring His rule to this world. We pray for change. We present ourselves to Him, and discipline ourselves so that His purposes are not hindered by our self-will. The Believer’s focus is always on seeking God, even as the Spirit works to strengthen our faith.

Christian, the question that we should ask when confronted with conflict, sickness, and suffering is not best framed as ‘why is this happening?‘ but rather as, ‘what are You asking of me, Lord?
If He wills that we go through the fire to refine our character, we can walk through it with peace.
If He wants to lead us to repentance, it is imperative that we respond quickly!
If His desire is to make us a living example of His grace, then our momentary sufferings become a thing of glory, the pain we experience inconsequential compared to the privilege of being used in His plans.

In all of this, we have repeated invitations from the Spirit to pray about everything, to make our requests known to God, to come boldly to His Throne: with the trust and humility of a child-like faith!

Here is a word from the Word. May the truth encourage us to love Him more.
“Let me hear of your unfailing love to me in the morning, for I am trusting you.
Show me where to walk, for I have come to you in prayer.

Save me from my enemies, Lord; I run to you to hide me.
Teach me to do your will, for you are my God.
May your gracious Spirit lead me forward on a firm footing.”
(Psalm 143:8-10, NLT) Amen

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I Surrender All

All to Jesus I surrender
All to Him I freely give
I will ever love and trust Him
In His presence daily live
I surrender all

I surrender all
All to Thee my blessed Savior
I surrender all

All to Jesus I surrender
Make me Savior wholly Thine
Let me feel the Holy Spirit
Truly know that Thou art mine

All to Jesus I surrender
Lord I give myself to Thee
Fill me with Thy love and power
Let Thy blessing fall on me

Judson Wheeler Van DeVenter | Winfield Scott Weeden © Words: Public Domain