A salty soul

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I really like salt, not too much, but just enough. A little of it makes the whole pot of soup delicious. Light, well who can imagine living in the dark, all of the time? I’m loving the fact that the time of daylight is creeping back, earlier by a couple of minutes, each day, as we move through winter towards springtime.

Jesus reminds you and me that we have a vital role in this world. His disciples are not to be hidden away, out of sight, without influence. Here’s how He says it. “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13-16, NIV)

In His day, salt had a far greater importance in the food supply than merely adding flavor. Salt, combined with dehydration, allowed some foods to be stored by preserving the food from rot. Christians, filled with the Holy Spirit, have much the same role in society.  If they are doing what God wants them to do, they will make the world in which they live a better place. Challenging, isn’t it? There are tragic chapters in history where “Christians” who gained power used their influence to advance selfish gains, to do horrible things in the Name of Christ. But it is undeniable that much of the advance of human rights in the Western world came about as a result of the influence of godly men and women.

  • William Wilberforce spent most of his life battling slavery in England, often mocked and reviled, but tirelessly making the case that slavery was an evil that had to end.
  • Martin Luther raised his voice against a corrupt Church, insisting that it must return to the truth of “justification by faith,” rather than empowering an elite few to dispense salvation.
  • William Booth saw the grinding poverty in London’s slums and took his “Salvation Army” into the streets to preach Christ and changed thousands of lives.

Perhaps your faith won’t have those kinds of renowned results, but when it is authentic, deep, and uncompromising, it will have an effect on your family, your neighborhood, and your circle of friends. Just being there, modeling loving respect, steady faith, and real hope makes an eternal difference. We don’t have to preach loud sermons or hit people over the head with our Bibles in order to fulfil the ‘salt’ role of which Jesus speaks. We have to be present, active in faith, constant in prayer, and dedicated to His ways.

Our responsibility is to be light, our privilege to show the Way. It is Jesus to Whom we point, not religion, not a church’s dogma. The last line in the passage quoted above is a key truth. Meditate on it! When we are at our best as salt and light, we won’t necessarily win awards or have buildings named after us. We may do our work in obscurity, but inevitably others will see the results of our efforts and ‘praise our Father in Heaven.’  We – individually and as the Body of Christ – need to think hard about that! When we are present, even though we live against the flow of the culture, do people have a sense that the world is better for our being part of scene?  Do we lift others, infuse hope, model love, teach faith?

Paul knew that calling was a difficult one, requiring much more of him than he naturally could accomplish. Our word from the Word comes from his realization of his source of strength.  As you read it, pray that God will make you a salty Christian with an undeniable influence for good in your world, for the glory of God. To those who are perishing we are a fearful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved we are a life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for such a task as this? You see, we are not like those hucksters—and there are many of them—who preach just to make money. We preach God’s message with sincerity and with Christ’s authority. And we know that the God who sent us is watching us. Are we beginning again to tell you how good we are? …  We are confident of all this because of our great trust in God through Christ. It is not that we think we can do anything of lasting value by ourselves. Our only power and success come from God.” (2 Corinthians 2:16-3:5, NLT)

The change that comes through the influence of the godly man or woman is not finished in a day. It involves the witness of a lifetime.

Will you take the call to bring Jesus to your corner of the world?

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Take My Life And Let It Be (Hendon)

Take my life and let it be
Consecrated Lord to Thee
Take my moments and my days
Let them flow in ceaseless praise 

Take my hands and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love
Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee

 Take my will and make it Thine
It shall be no longer mine
Take my heart it is Thine own
It shall be Thy royal throne

 Take my love my Lord I pour
At Thy feet its treasure store
Take myself and I will be
Ever only all for Thee

Frances Ridley Havergal | Henri Abraham Cesar Malan © Words: Public Domain
Music: Public Domain

Sleeping with the lions?

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Here in America being a follower of Jesus is not going to cost your life. We might experience someone mocking our faith, or we might be left out by some who reject us for loving Him, but we won’t be imprisoned or threatened with death. In 2020 there are places in the world where you can get killed for publicly speaking the Name. Martyrdom is not just something of ages past. What about that?

In readings from Matthew we come to these lines- “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12, NIV)

One of the Old Testament heroes was a godly man in a pagan culture who lived with excellence and devotion. He was rewarded with places of leadership in the Babylonian court but his prominence could not protect him from the haters! You remember the story about Daniel’s night in the lion’s den, don’t you?

I was about 4 years of age in a little Sunday room in a country church when our teacher told us the story using cut-out pictures. We learned about Daniel’s faithfulness to God, about his prayers, and the terrible people who hated him so much that they conspired to have him tossed to the lions. Mrs. Hoferman told it with such passion that my heart pounded and I wondered if “that good man get eaten?”   And, indeed, God showed up to shut the mouths of the lions. Daniel emerged from the danger like a conquering hero.  “Yea!” I cheered.  Faith grew in me and I learned to trust the Lord.

There is another lesson that emerges from the story too subtle for a little child.  God allowed Daniel to enter the lion’s den for a greater purpose. Temporarily, evil seemed to win. He spend a long night alone with lion’s snarling and snapping an arm’s length away!  But, Daniel’s integrity was so notable, his faith so unquestionable, that even the pagan king shared his hope!  “The king caved in and ordered Daniel brought and thrown into the lions’ den. But he said to Daniel, “Your God, to whom you are so loyal, is going to get you out of this.”  … “At daybreak the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den. As he approached the den, he called out anxiously, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve so loyally, saved you from the lions?”  (Daniel 6:19-20, The Message)

The real hero of this story is not Daniel, is it?  The Almighty God is the One who gets the glory when the deliverance comes.

Those who suffer for Christ Jesus, who get tossed to the lions, so to speak, are not forgotten by God, nor are they inferior in faith. God uses those situations to deepen their faith and to bring glory to Himself.  When we whine and beg for an easier place, or protest angrily, we may miss the purpose of persecution.

Are you living in the lion’s den of life right now? Has the Lord, your loving Father, allowed you to live with suffering, or defeat, or circumstances that defy your best efforts to turn them around?

 Pray for rescue!  But, also remember that it may be His will to leave you there for a long night, for His own purposes.  “Come on, Jerry, that is not fair.”  Yes, I understand that and I weep with you. I am familiar with disappointment, with struggle, and I know that it is hard to wait, to trust, and to keep praying with faith for God’s glory to be revealed. Sometimes we just want relief, don’t we?  But, often the greater victory is not the one we seek.

Peter wrote to the first generation of Christians who were being intensely persecuted. His words would not go over well in our American churches where we like the “Sunday School” version of life where good guys always win and every difficulty turns into deliverance when God’s people pray. – “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” (1 Peter 4:19, NIV)

Here is a word from the Word. Let it inspire you to trust Jesus’ words about being blessed when persecuted for right living. If you are in the Lion’s Den, hold onto this word.

“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.”“Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life.” (James 1:2-4, 12, The Message)

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12, NIV)
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Stand In Your Love

When darkness tries to roll over my bones
When sorrow comes to steal the joy I own
When brokenness and pain is all I know
I won’t be shaken I won’t be shaken

 My fear doesn’t stand a chance
When I stand in Your love (repeat) 

Shame no longer has a place to hide
I am not a captive to the lies
I’m not afraid to leave my past behind
I won’t be shaken I won’t be shaken 

There’s power that can break off every chain
There’s power that can empty out a grave
There’s resurrection power that can save
There’s power in Your name power in Your name

 Standing in Your love

Ethan Hulse | Josh Baldwin | Mark Harris | Rita Springer © 2018 Be Essential Songs (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC) EGH Music Publishing (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC) Gateway Create Publishing (Fair Trade Music Publishing [c/o Essential Music Publishing LLC])

CCLI License # 810055

 

Angry enough to go to war?

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On Monday evening, I went to see 1917 a new film about the horrors of the First World War.  The images on the screen brought home, again, the illogical nature of warfare as a means of settling disputes, yet it keeps on happening. Conflict is as old as humanity. Families fight, political parties fight, nations go to war!

Ever had a “difference of opinion” with someone that escalated beyond annoyance into a prolonged fight?  It shades life a kind of gray, steals joy, and makes one weary, doesn’t it? Yesterday I found myself with a broken heart as I remembered a friend who, for his own reasons, severed our long-time relationship, deciding apparently that what divided us was greater than what we shared for 10 years. I longed to sit and ask him if the issue actually demanded ending a friendship that brought so much joy to both of us in the past?

My reading in Matthew today included this challenging sentence – “God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9, NLT)
It is true that we will  find things over which we differ – some of real consequence. If we are passionate about the issue, finding a way forward can seem an impossibility. Differences often escalate into an argument.  Arguments turn into attacks, attacks end relationships.   Couples who were once deeply in love find themselves in a lawyer’s office planning a divorce. Christians who were allies for the Kingdom of Christ  no longer even speak. Neighbors move away, never speaking again.  Nations raise armies for war.

When the war is over, when reason has returned, often we wonder, “how did it come to this?”

Let’s back up for a moment. Too many times the things over which we fight are not really about principles or even convictions. We get angry because someone steps on our toes. For the Christian, the real failure is not having different ideas, but refusing to work at understanding and reconciliation. Followers of Christ are called to resolve conflict, to seek peace.   We approach those inevitable disagreements differently. Most of the time, there is some exercise of power that is used to make the other guy see things ‘my way.’  But, the Kingdom of God never advances on the strength of guns or fists or even bellicose words!

Scripture directs us to approach others, even those with whom we differ, this way: “Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Always keep yourselves united in the Holy Spirit, and bind yourselves together with peace. We are all one body, we have the same Spirit, and we have all been called to the same glorious future.” (Ephesians 4:1-4, NLT) What a practical passage, but full of challenging concepts: humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance!

Never under-estimate the power of prayer when working through a conflict, be it in your marriage, at work, with a neighbor, in your family, or in the world! What kind of prayers do we pray?  The natural tendency is to ask the Lord to change the other person.  Have you ever prayed something like this?  “Lord, change him. Help him to see how wrong he is.”  Or, maybe you have even thought to pray, “Lord, help him to see he is an idiot!” Perhaps not with those words, but was the sentiment similar?

Our prayers need to mature beyond “help them to see how right I am” to “Lord, open my ears and my heart. Help me to listen. Be our peace.”  Jesus taught us that resolution begins with kind of prayer: “Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.” (Luke 6:28, KJV)  The Message says, “When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person.” 

Conflict makes us angry and anger is not generally the field in which reconciliation grows, is it?  “Angry?” the Bible asks, “Then, don’t sin!”  Instead bring your true emotions to the Lord. Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you through the process of understanding and patience. Confession of our own sins and failures is the foundation of forgiveness that leads to peace.  Peace-making does not mean that we give up on the truth or wave the flag of surrender to purchase peace at any price.

God asks us to keep pursuing active love, to do good to those who oppose us, while we patiently allow the truth to mature.  An amazing thing happens when we wait on the Lord in this way.  We change! Humility is a key. Dying to self means we give up our desire to be comfortable – either by walking off or exercising power to win! In constant prayer, we lay ourselves down before Him. When we surrender to Him, the Spirit comes with new life, new love, new peace.

Never forget that just as we can ‘wage war,’ we can ‘make peace!’

Here’s a word from the Word.  “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)

__________________________

The Paradoxical Commandments

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

© Copyright Kent M. Keith 1968, renewed 2001

Is purity possible?

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My reading in Matthew’s Gospel stopped this morning at this one line from Jesus’ words about discovering true joy- “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8, NIV) What is this thing that Jesus speaks about here? It is an inner life that is not corrupted by mixed motives, the core of a life that is made clean of guilt and shame, a sincere love for God and good. Those pure in heart can love without getting tangled up in lust. Those pure in heart can give without twisting generosity into a means of manipulation. The pure in heart trust God completely even as they wrestle with real life problems and challenges.

Have you confused purity in the same way that the Pharisees of Jesus’ time did?  They attempted to find purity by writing detailed rules for life and living, as much as possible, in isolation from the rest of their society. By avoiding those they considered ‘contaminated’ they thought they could find and preserve their own purity. As they walked the streets they held their robes close to prevent them from brushing against the `ordinary sinners’ among whom they lived. Did it work? Apparently not. Jesus used strong language to point out their hypocrisy, calling them ‘whitewashed tombs, glistening on the outside but full of dead men’s bones.’  Not exactly a description of a pure heart, is it?

The pure in heart are filled with the Spirit of God and they are to be like `salt and light.’ We think of salt primarily as a flavor. Jesus used the metaphor of salt in the way it most valued in His time- as a preservative. The pure in heart who have found their place in Him are not corrupted by being part of their world, they actually make it better!  He explained further that just like we don’t light a lamp only to put it under a basket, carrying it to a room to dispel the darkness, so those who knew God heart-deep take the Light to a dark world so others can find their way.

I want a pure heart! Jesus promises that “the pure in heart, … will see God.” (Matthew 5:8, NIV) To understand this as only a promise of heaven is to miss a huge part of the blessing. In The Message, the larger intent of His words emerges. “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.” When our thoughts, motives, words and actions are aligned with God’s truth, we find a new kind of vision that sees God at work in every day places. We also know the uniquely wonderful joy of living without hiding, without the need to pretend or pose.  Yes, that transparency gives us new eyes that ‘see God,’ that is, know Him intimately.

How can we gain a pure heart? We begin, as David, with a prayer for change. “Cleanse me … and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. … Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:7,10, NIV)  When we know that we have failed or fallen, we turn to Him, honest in our confession. He will not reject us, turn from us, abandon us. He gives us the heart of Jesus, washing us. The Word says “There was a time when some of you were just like that, but now your sins have been washed away, and you have been set apart for God. You have been made right with God because of what the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God have done for you.” (1 Corinthians 6:11, NLT)

True purity is beautiful thing not reserved only for children, little church ladies, and old men! It grows in us when we take time to commune with our holy Father because purity is not just an absence, it is God’s wholeness in us.  Pray for purity and then allow the Spirit to lead you away from dirt and corruption, to become whole, transparent, and filled with the life of Jesus.

Here’s a word from Word. May the Lord make it like a purifying flame that causes a godly beauty in us. “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. … And this is the word that was preached to you. Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” (1 Peter 1:22-2:2, NIV)

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8, NIV)
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Who You Say I Am
(Worship with this song that sets our sights higher)

Who am I that the highest King
Would welcome me
I was lost but He brought me in
Oh His love for me
Oh His love for me

 Who the Son sets free
Oh is free indeed
I’m a child of God
Yes I am

 Free at last
He has ransomed me
His grace runs deep
While I was a slave to sin
Jesus died for me
Yes He died for me

 In my Father’s house
There’s a place for me
I’m a child of God
Yes I am

 I am chosen not forsaken
I am who You say I am
You are for me not against me
I am who You say I am

 (Oh) (Yes) I am who You say I am

Ben Fielding | Reuben Morgan © 2017 Hillsong Music Publishing Australia (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

 

Well, she made her bed

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Ours is a culture that knows little about mercy. “Giv’em what they deserve,” we insist. American jails and prisons are full to overflowing. Our political system is in a state of constant war, the ‘win’ valued over seeing the issues through the eyes of the other guy. We seem to take a perverse delight in the fall and/or destruction of the famous, the powerful.

In a conversation I was talking about someone whose life was really broken, full of dysfunctional behaviors, and what could be done to help changes things. A younger person spoke up with words I might have spoken myself a couple of decades ago. They were harsh, perhaps true, but without compassion or mercy. Their words threw blame back on that individual who was so broken.  As I walked away, I felt such sorrow.  A breathed a silent prayer, asking God to forgive the judgment, to give a tender heart that was willing to enter into the experience of another even at cost to himself.

What is mercy? It is showing another compassion or forgiveness when it is without your ability to punish or condemn them. It goes beyond withholding judgment out of politeness as in thinking ‘what an idiot’ but not saying it aloud. Mercy causes a person to consider the needs of the other, to actively pursue the best interest of one that may well justly deserve anger or rejection.  Mercy is not to be confused with being naïve or incapable of facing reality like a grandmother who just cannot face up to the truth about her beloved grandson who is actually a brat for whom she makes all kinds of excuses.

“But, Jerry, I love justice! I want the score settled, bad guys put in their place.” Yes, justice is good, but our ‘justice’ is frequently flawed, often colored by self-interest, or fails to account for the context of the actions of another. We need to think about the possibility of redemption or change. We get angry when someone is unkind, or selfish, or hurtful and we want them to pay … except that Jesus calls us to be different. Are you full of mercy? Jesus says that it is a pathway to joy! “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matthew 5:7, NIV)

The mercy to which God calls us is modeled after His own. He knows us inside out, seeing our core motives, knowing even our ‘secret’ sins. And He holds out hope and renewal. “Where is another God like you, who pardons the sins of the survivors among his people? You cannot stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing mercy. Once again you will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean!” (Micah 7:18-19, NLT)

If we keep a careful record of every slight, every hurt, refusing to be merciful – we become a captive of anger, turning into a sour, cynical individual. No wonder Jesus tells us mercy is a choice that leads to ‘blessedness.’

On this Monday morning, listen to your words, inventory your thoughts. Are they harsh? Are you a critic? Do you blame and judge frequently?

Our word from the Word calls us, in the Spirit, to a new way. “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do your part to live in peace with everyone, as much as possible. Dear friends, never avenge yourselves. Leave that to God. For it is written, “I will take vengeance; I will repay those who deserve it,” says the Lord.

Instead, do what the Scriptures say: “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink, and they will be ashamed of what they have done to you.” Don’t let evil get the best of you, but conquer evil by doing good.” (Romans 12:17-21, NLT)

Father, help us! It’s hard to let You judge, to release those who hurt us from our condemnation. Teach us to be merciful. In Jesus’ name. Amen
____________

Good, Good Father

(Casting Crowns sings a great song about God’s love)

I’ve heard a thousand stories
Of what they think You’re like
But I’ve heard the tender whisper
Of love in the dead of night
You tell me that You’re pleased
And that I’m never alone

 You’re a Good Good Father
It’s who You are
It’s who You are
It’s who You are
And I’m loved by You
It’s who I am
It’s who I am
It’s who I am

 I’ve seen many searching for answers
Far and wide
But I know we’re all searching for answers
Only You provide
Because You know just what we need
Before we say a word

 You are perfect in all of Your ways
You are perfect in all of Your ways
You are perfect in all of Your ways to us

 Love so undeniable I can hardly speak
Peace so unexplainable I can hardly think
As You call me deeper still
As You call me deeper still
As You call me deeper still
Into love love love

 Anthony Brown | Pat Barrett © 2014 Capitol CMG Paragon (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

Common Hymnal Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

Housefires Sounds (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

Hungry?

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About a month ago, I decided to lose some weight so I have taken note of the quantity and quality of the food I put into my mouth! I miss those snacks, those sweet treats, those salty chips. But I am moving towards my goal as one surely will when fewer calories are consumed. There is another benefit to getting rid of the junk food. Meals are more enjoyable because I develop a real hunger.  Sugary, fatty, salty stuff that adds so many calories to our diets also tend to dull our appetite for the bold flavors of vegetables and salads, don’t they?  I enjoy those leafy greens garnished with nuts or seeds, and brushed with a balsamic dressing.  Here’s a question for your thoughts – Is your soul being fed a ‘junk’ diet?

Are you filled up with sentimental religion, empty rituals, and quick fixes for life? Or worse even, are you trying to find spiritual satisfaction in owning things, chasing excitement, or making a name for yourself? Jesus says Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6, NIV)

Do you know what you’re hungering for, really? Solomon knew soul hunger and had the means to try everything on life’s plate in his pursuit of satisfaction.  After building cities, chasing women by the hundreds, bringing orchestras to entertain him, and gaining international fame- his frustration with it all boils over in the refrain of Ecclesiastes, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!”

He was empty, his soul still hungry. His advice?  “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them”—” (Ecclesiastes 12:1, NIV) He had reached old age and the things that once let him avoid the hunger pangs of the heart no longer met the need. He realized, with great regret, that he could have known true soul satisfaction in the Lord years before.

The righteousness that truly satisfies is not one that we create with own efforts at ‘goodness.’  When we attempt to construct our own sense of being right with God, looking at our morality, our acts of worship, trying to think devotional thoughts – we will come up wanting, realizing that they are just not enough. Millions have tried and failed to be ‘good enough for God.’

He offers us, through faith in Christ Jesus, what we cannot gain on our own- being right with Him through the grace gift of salvation – “so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:29-31, NIV)  We can find inner peace, knowing that He has completely provided for us that which we cannot reach for ourselves. He reconciles us to Himself. He justifies us, erasing shame and guilt. He gives us Christ’s righteousness. Our former sense of lack, our hunger for inner peace is deeply satisfied. “In its place you have clothed yourselves with a brand-new nature that is continually being renewed as you learn more and more about Christ, who created this new nature within you.” (Colossians 3:10, NLT)

Hungry? Turn to God!  Receive Christ, and pursue His ways.   Invite the Holy Spirit whet your appetite for the Word and for worship (which by the way does not just happen in church buildings) so that you will eat and be satisfied.

Here’s a word from the Word.  Read this line from Isaiah’s words thoughtfully:   “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.”  (Isaiah 55:1-3, NIV)

__________

Hungry

I’m falling on my knees
Offering all of me
Jesus You’re all this heart is living for 

Hungry I come to You for I know You satisfy
I am empty but I know Your love does not run dry

 So I wait for You, So I wait for You

 I’m falling on my knees
Offering all of me
Jesus You’re all this heart is living for

 Broken I run to You for Your arms are open wide
I am weary but I know Your touch restores my life

Kathryn Scott © 1999 Vineyard Songs (UK/Eire) (Vineyard Music UK)

CCLI License # 810055

Different kind of rich

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The elderly man is at the end of his life. After a life full of caring for his family and others, he finds himself helpless. He shook his head in a kind of disbelief as he told me, “I used to teach them things, but there is nothing left.”  Another person who wrestles with faith told me that he thinks that God is an idea for weak people, that he is managing his life quite well on his own.  At this time, it appears he is. He is strong, self-sufficient, even proud in many ways. Both of these men, who are in very different situations, need the wisdom of Jesus. For one it is comfort. For the other it is a challenge.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:3-5, NIV)

That list is not exactly the ideal life in our thoughts, is it? Who wants to be desperate, pushed beyond limit, which is what it means to be ‘poor in spirit?’  I know first-hand, the pain of mourning, of waking up to deep sorrow, day after day, and it is a kind of hurt that has no equal in my experience.  Meekness? This is the stuff of mockery and comedy. Meek and weak are synonymous in our thoughts.

But, Jesus opens His amazing sermon about the life that God blesses with these astonishing statements about discovery of the sufficiency of God, about learning our true hope that is secured in Him! He reminds us that at the end of Self there is more, and that ‘more’ is the rich knowledge of God’s provision. Perhaps that stretches credibility for you. At one time it did for me, too.  I was, even as a professing Christian, a prideful man, full of plans and convinced that I could do good things by the force of my own ability and strength. At great cost to myself and others I came to know the folly of that kind of life.  My greatest regrets come from moments of arrogant self-will in which I was deluded.

God is not a sadist, nor does He desire our destruction.  But, He also knows that real life, our best life, is found in knowing Him, secured by the grace gift of Christ Jesus for life here and in eternity.

A young, rich nobleman came to Jesus and in a moment of authenticity asked what he could do find eternal life. He revealed a sense of need in that moment. How did Jesus answer him? He asked him to give away the wealth in which he found his security and to become His disciple. “Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” But when the young man heard this, he went sadly away because he had many possessions. Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to get into the Kingdom of Heaven. I say it again—it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!” (Matthew 19:21-24, NLT)

Don’t misunderstand this encounter. Jesus had nothing against the man’s wealth. It was his love of it, his trust in it, that was the stumbling block to his spiritual maturity, his discovery of God’s sufficiency for him. Jesus’ famed line about camels and needles eyes is frequently misunderstood as well.  It is not a condemnation of the rich. It is His observation that wealth can create the illusion of independence, distancing that person from relying God’s provision, which can make the humility necessary for accepting God’s grace gift of salvation nearly impossible.

Are you in a place where you feel that there is no place left to turn, that you are out of options, ‘poor in spirit?’

Look up! Trust God, who loves you.

Are you broken by life, perhaps by regrets, by the loss of what is dear to you, ‘mourning?’

God is the Healer of broken hearts, the One whose ‘compassion is new every morning.’

Are you willing to become meek, releasing the need to force your way, to serve Ego, ‘meek?’

Then you can find the power of the Spirit and a whole new way to influence the world in which you live.

I didn’t say those things, Jesus did! Perhaps you are not in those places but like the rich young man who came to Jesus, you hunger for more; realizing that life, though good, is more than what you can buy, what car you drive, what clubs you visit. God invites you to know Him, but it is a path of self-abandonment and surrender that allows us to own His grace and goodness.

Here is the word from the Word, that passage from the Message.

““You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.” (Matthew 5:3-5, The Message)

Give us ears to hear and eyes to see the Truth. Amen.

________

You Say

I keep fighting voices in my mind
That say I’m not enough
Ev’ry single lie that tells me
I will never measure up

Am I more than just the sum of
Ev’ry high and ev’ry low
Remind me once again just who I am
Because I need to know oo oh

You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
You say I am held when I am falling short
And when I don’t belong oh You say I am Yours
And I believe oh I believe
What You say of me I believe

The only thing that matters now
Is ev’rything You think of me
In You I find my worth
In You I find my identity

Taking all I have and now I’m laying it at Your feet
You’ll have ev’ry failure God
You’ll have ev’ry victory
Oh I believe yes I believe
What You say of me I believe

Jason Ingram | Lauren Daigle | Paul Mabury © 2016 CentricSongs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

Healed

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Even the most optimistic person, with the sunniest disposition, recognizes that there are millions who live with pain, who are abused by powerful people, who struggle to survive. Health care in America this year will top $3 trillion, about 18% of our total economy! Even accounting for unnecessary procedures, we can see that sickness and disease remains a real issue even in this developed nation. Eventually everyone encounters the limits in life that come with advancing years. Franklin wryly observed, along with taxes, the other certainty is death. Is there hope for healing?

Matthew tells us that “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.” (Matthew 4:23-25, NIV)

Let’s consider that word – healing – which causes so much controversy among Christians. Should we pray for healing? Does God still heal people today? Yes, we should, and yes, He does. Sickness and suffering are part of sin’s curse in this world and we know that Jesus came to defeat Satan, to forgive sin, and to invite us into God’s kingdom.  The restoration of health in body and spirit are benefits available to the Believer. That said, I take issue with those who declare that with enough faith we can enjoy miraculous healing of every disease, healing on demand. God allows some Christians to suffer, many become sick, and eventually we all die. However, we can experience the power of Jesus and find, in Him, a life that knows His touch and wholeness and hope in every situation.

One of the errors about healing is that is often seen as an event rather than a lifestyle. Jesus calls us into a relationship with Him. When we are obedient disciples, living as He desires – forgiving, loving, treating our bodies with respect, avoiding the sins of the flesh, finding a balance in worship and work, refusing to let anxiety own us – we generally find ourselves healthier in every way; healed. Healing is also a word about our spiritual state. Without Christ, we have no hope of eternal life. In Him, we are fully assured that when the body wears out we will leave behind what C. S. Lewis called the ‘shadowland,’ and fully become the glorious children of God in His Presence.

Here’s a pointed question – are you living a whole life in the fullness of the Spirit?
Or, are you defying God, refusing His gracious offer of healthy living and then expecting Him to miraculously step in and make it all better?

The word from the Word comes to us from the Psalms today. It is a celebration of the whole life that we find when we turn to our God. The entire Psalm is beautiful but for the sake of brevity, here is a part for your meditation today. May it point us towards a life that is whole, that knows the goodness of our Father.

“Some became fools through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction because of their iniquities. They loathed all food and drew near the gates of death. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He sent forth his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave. Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men. Let them sacrifice thank offerings and tell of his works with songs of joy.” (Psalm 107:17-22, NIV)
_________

Living Hope
(a song about the healing we find in Him)

How great the chasm that lay between us
How high the mountain I could not climb
In desperation I turned to heaven
And spoke Your name into the night

Then through the darkness Your loving-kindness
Tore through the shadows of my soul
The work is finished the end is written
Jesus Christ my living hope 

Who could imagine so great a mercy
What heart could fathom such boundless grace
The God of ages stepped down from glory
To wear my sin and bear my shame

The cross has spoken I am forgiven
The King of kings calls me His own

Beautiful Savior I’m Yours forever
Jesus Christ my living hope

Hallelujah praise the One who set me free
Hallelujah death has lost its grip on me
You have broken every chain
There’s salvation in Your name
Jesus Christ my living hope

 Then came the morning that sealed the promise
Your buried body began to breathe
Out of the silence the Roaring Lion
Declared the grave has no claim on me

Jesus Yours is the victory whoa
Jesus Christ my living hope
Oh God You are my living hope

Brian Johnson | Phil Wickham © 2017 Phil Wickham Music (Fair Trade Music Publishing [c/o Essential Music Publishing LLC]) Simply Global Songs (Fair Trade Music Publishing [c/o Essential Music Publishing LLC]) Sing My Songs (Fair Trade Music Publishing [c/o Essential Music Publishing LLC])

CCLI License # 810055

Calling

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Over a century ago, an iconic image was created by a magazine illustrator named James Montgomery Flagg.  The recruiting poster, made for the U.S. Army, showed Uncle Sam pointing his finger over the caption – “I want you for the U.S. Army.” Thousands of young men responded to the call and became part of the war effort. Their patriotism cannot be questioned but the cause to which they gave themselves is now seen as a costly war, waged in folly, accomplishing little. The so-called “War To End All Wars,” set the stage for the bloodiest war of the 20th century just three decades later.

To what are you giving your life, my friend? Whose call is guiding you?

Some are building wealth, called by the voice of riches to accumulate more. Some are chasing the ephemeral whispers of pleasure, looking for the next best experience. Some are responding to the call of pride, endlessly seeking recognition and applause.  There are hundreds of voices competing for our attention, each one, in its own way, offering to provide meaning and purpose to life for us.

But, there is only One Voice that can actually give us both abundant life now and lead us to eternal life.  Jesus is calling you and me.

Matthew takes us to the rocky shores of a lake. Jesus is assembling the 12 who would be trusted to take the Message to the world.  “As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.” (Matthew 4:18-22, NIV)  These men, who lived simple lives, providing a staple of the diet to the region, were offered an opportunity to bring others to know the living God.

Their response compels my attention. “At once they left their nets!”  There were no contracts, no exit clauses, no clarifying and extended discussion – just the compelling Call from Jesus. What did they know of Him? Why would they abandon everything they knew to follow Jesus?  We cannot know, but they did and the rest, as we say, is history. This Man that they had come to know called and they answered, “Yes!”

He is still calling, inviting men and women to become His disciples, making His work the priority of life, the defining reason for their existence. What will your answer be?

I answered His call twice, once as a child to be His disciple, again as a young adult to enter vocational ministry. A little girl asked me on Sunday, “Pastor Jerry, how long have you been a pastor?”  I heard my own voice answer her and for some reason saying it out loud was a bit shocking. “Honey, I have been doing this work for 45 years.”  Yes, a lifetime given to the One who called me a long time ago during a time of prayer in a tiny church, to Whom I said an unqualified “yes,” that night and to Whom I have been saying “yes” each day since; and there are no regrets.  Perhaps I could have accumulated wealth, gained fame, or found greater pleasures if I listened to those other invitations. But, this Call has allowed me to find life, hope, and love.

Will you say, “yes” to Jesus, my friend? That does not mean vocational ministry for all but it does mean making Him Lord of all. He desires to save us, to lead us out of hopelessness of that life dedicated to Self. He wants to restore us to our Father, give us the high and holy purpose of representing Him in the world in which we live, and then to be welcomed Home for eternity when the race is done. What’s your answer?

Here is the word from the Word. May the Spirit use it to speak to your heart, to call you into the service of the Eternal King. “Peter said, “We have left our homes and followed you.” “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you, everyone who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, will be repaid many times over in this life, as well as receiving eternal life in the world to come.”” (Luke 18:28-30, NLT)

___________

For The Sake Of The Call

Nobody stood and applauded them
So they knew from the start
This road would not lead to fame
All they really knew for sure
Was Jesus had called to them
He said come follow me
And they came

With reckless abandon they came
Empty nets lying there
At the water’s edge
Told a story that few could believe
And none could explain
How some crazy fishermen
Agreed to go where Jesus led
With no thought
For what they would gain
For Jesus had called them by name
And they answered

 We will abandon it all
For the sake of the call
No other reason at all
But the sake of the call
Wholly devoted to live and to die
For the sake of the call

 Drawn like rivers
Are drawn to the sea
There’s no turning back
For the water cannot help but flow
Once we hear the Savior’s call
We’ll follow wherever He leads
Because of the love He has shown
Because He has called us to go
We will answer

 Not for the sake of a creed or a cause
Not for a dream or a promise
Simply because it is Jesus who calls
And if we believe we’ll obey

Steven Curtis Chapman © 1990 Universal Music – Brentwood Benson Songs (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055

Shine Bright!

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Light, what a difference it makes. A bright sunny day tends to make for generally happier people, right? Those of us who live in northern climates where one gray day follows another in January and February can develop SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder. Some people begin to feel depressed as the days shorten, losing interest in life, having lower energy levels, becoming more irritable, and in severe cases- thoughts of suicide. One of the more effective treatments is a simple thing – turn on the lights, bright lights! Getting outside into the light of day, or bringing light with higher intensity into the home can help.

With age, I find that little ‘flashlight’ function on my smartphone quite valuable. I can put light on a small area, quickly and easily, to read that fine print, to find that lost coin. Once again, light makes a difference.

Let’s turn to things spiritual. Are you living in the Light? The Scripture frequently uses ‘darkness’ as a metaphor for life lived apart from God’s Presence.  Those who reject God, even Christians who refuse the Spirit’s leading, become confused; often sad. Unable to see clearly, they are prey for the Evil One who specializes in deception.  Right and wrong become indistinguishable. The path to a whole life that knows the blessings of the Lord is hidden. As the darkness deepens, so too the likelihood of falling into all kinds of spiritually deadly situations.

God brought Light into this world. We just finished our celebration of the birth of the Savior, who in the words of Isaiah, quoted by Matthew, came to be the Great Light. “When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”” (Matthew 4:12-17, NIV)

In that passage there is a choice that comes with the entry of the Light. When He comes to us, there is a revealing of who we are, what we have done, right down to the motives that drive us. That could be frightening enough to make us scurry to find the cover of darkness, IF we do not understand the grace and mercy that come with the Light. John reminds that He did not come to condemn the world but to save us from our sins.

Do you know and believe that? Are you willing to let the Light shine, to come into the open light of day, and repent, letting go what once seemed so important in order to grasp that which is of eternal value? Later in his Gospel, Matthew quotes Jesus’ words about living as children of the day. “Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!” (Matthew 6:22-23, The Message)

If you have never invited Jesus to be Lord, Savior, your Light of Life – turn to face Him today. Let the Light shine in. Change will come. Truth will guide. There will be no more stumbling around in the dark.

Christian, invite the Light to shine to every corner of your life. With the entrance of His light, there will be growth. Joy will increase.

Here is the word from the Word. Meditate on it, respond to it. Live! “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.” (Ephesians 5:8, NIV)
_______

Shine, Jesus, Shine
(This is the prayer of my heart)

Lord the light of Your love is shining
In the midst of the darkness shining
Jesus Light of the world shine upon us
Set us free by the truth You now bring us
Shine on me shine on me

 Shine Jesus shine
Fill this land
With the Father’s glory
Blaze Spirit blaze
Set our hearts on fire
Flow river flow
Flood the nations
With grace and mercy
Send forth Your word Lord
And let there be light

 Lord I come to Your awesome presence
From the shadows into Your radiance
By the blood I may enter Your brightness
Search me try me consume all my darkness
Shine on me shine on me

 As we gaze on Your kingly brightness
So our faces display Your likeness
Ever changing from glory to glory
Mirrored here may our lives tell Your story
Shine on me shine on me

Graham Kendrick © 1987 Make Way Music (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055