Thanks for letting me serve you.

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We were two guys conversing while we waited. He noted the cross I always wear and asked about it. I told him I was a Christian and a pastor, that I had worn one for many years. He laughed and told me that his father was a pastor but “I was not ready to take on that life.” We agreed that serving as a pastor to God’s people is a good thing and requires a ‘calling,’ which he told me, “I never heard.” When I was 16, I did hear that Call.

Being a Pastor is both what I do and who I am. The work is like any other occupation, with both up’s and down’s.  I am privileged to teach the Word, to counsel, to pray, to lock the church doors, and to make sure we have a balanced budget.  In the same week I often share in – birth and death, grief and celebration. I am called in times of crises:  marriage difficulty, tragedy, serious illness. The burden of speaking is to ‘rightly divide the Word of Truth.’  To be interesting and to be faithful to the Word is sometimes a challenge.

Yes, there is heartbreak. People angry at God sometimes aim their frustration at me, seeing me as His representative. One of the hardest things is when people I love just walk away – often without explanation, leaving me wondering how I could have better served them. I find myself elated when I see someone growing in Christ, when I walk a person to the point of accepting Jesus as their Savior and Lord.

You can bless this Pastor, and your pastor if you go to another church, with these wonderful gifts.

  1. Pray for him, every day.

Ask the Lord to keep and protect him, to help him to be disciplined and courageous, and to be loving in times of trial, and to stay renewed and alive in the Spirit.  Remember, spiritual leaders are front-line targets. When a pastor fails, there is hurt and disappointment. Even where there is no moral compromise, like all people, pastors become discouraged or disillusioned. So, pray for your Pastor.

  1. Accept him and the spiritual gifts God has given to him.

Appreciate the unique strengths of your Pastor and encourage him in those areas where he is not as proficient. He probably knows the gaps in his skills and gifts better than you do. Remember, too, that he does not possess every gift of the Spirit. He, like you, has been created by the Lord to serve in a unique way.

  1. If you must criticize him, (and no pastor is above correction or criticism) do it honestly and directly.

If you have an issue with your pastor, make a time to sit with him and tell him about it. The church looks very different from his side of the pulpit and he may not share your perception. Give him the opportunity to explain that decision with which you disagree.  Take time to understand yourself before you criticize your pastor. If you are angry with God, do not take it out on the one in the pulpit.

  1. Don’t idolize or idealize him.

He must live what he teaches, but he cannot do it not perfectly. He, like you, is working out his salvation each day, a recipient of God’s grace. If you turn him into idol, you sin because only God is worthy of your worship and devotion. If you idealize him, pushing him onto a pedestal, you will be disappointed. From that place, his ability to serve you is nearly impossible. He teaches you best, not from some lofty place far removed, but as leads you with an authentic, observable, living faith in a loving Lord. Jesus cautioned his disciples about seeking titles, about hiding behind robes. (see Matthew 23)

We are the family of God. Don’t try to make your pastor more than he is – a Christian walking with Jesus – just like you.

I hope it does not sound self-serving, but remember that the Word teaches that pastors are a gift from God to His church. The Lord “gave these gifts to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ, until we come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature and full grown in the Lord, measuring up to the full stature of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-13, NLT)  What a ministry position description!

Here is a word from the Word. “Appreciate your pastoral leaders who gave you the Word of God. Take a good look at the way they live, and let their faithfulness instruct you, as well as their truthfulness. There should be a consistency that runs through us all…. Be responsive to your pastoral leaders. Listen to their counsel. They are alert to the condition of your lives and work under the strict supervision of God. Contribute to the joy of their leadership, not its drudgery. Why would you want to make things harder for them?” (Hebrews 13:7, 17 The Message)

This Sunday marks the 19th anniversary of my pastoral call to Faith Discovery Church. Thanks for letting me serve you!

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A note – I use the male pronoun in this blog, not exclusively. God’s gifts and callings are given equally to men and women.

A Stunning Choice

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… to Forgive

The tragic case of the ‘wrong apartment’ killing in Dallas, wrapped up with the female police officer who shot and killed a young man in his own apartment convicted of murder. Amber Guyger came home after a 13 hour shift and says she went to the wrong floor and entered the wrong apartment thinking it was her own. She killed Botham Jean, who lived in that apartment, claiming she thought he was an intruder. She was convicted of murder and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Yesterday, videos went viral on the internet showing that young man’s brother telling Ms. Guyger to go to Jesus where she could find her guilt taken away. He asked the judge for permission to go and hug the woman who killed his brother! His father said he hoped to become her friend. Both expressed profound forgiveness.

Their choice comes from their devotion to Christ Jesus, from hearts willing to surrender hatred and bitterness,  replacing those corrosive feelings with Jesus’ love. It is such a counter-cultural choice the whole nation paused to consider it.  This brought to mind the choice to forgive made by grieving Amish families whose chose to forgive the Charlie Roberts who murdered 5 of their children in a school house shooting in 2006.  The choice of Christians who sincerely forgave the wrong offender stunned the nation then, too.

Forgiveness is a cornerstone of our Christian faith!  “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15, NLT)  We forgive because we are forgiven and we find forgiveness in forgiving!

The reason so many refuse to do it is because they do not really understand what it means to forgive. The common idea is that forgiveness somehow implies that ‘what you did no longer matters.’  How untrue. God forgives but He is also just. A person can seek justice, as the family in Dallas did, yet do so without malice or hatred. The most complete forgiveness, the kind we witnessed yesterday, comes from the conviction that God is the Ultimate Judge and that He will grant perfect justice. Genuine forgiveness that goes beyond just saying the right words is a release of our desire for vengeance, along with any sense that the one who wronged us owes us something, to God.  “Lord, you will give me justice, so I release this person to You.”

Genuine forgiveness is not easy, never simple, nor does it come to us naturally. We forgive because our obedience to Christ Jesus as Lord is greater than our natural desire for retribution.

Jesus teaches us to put our security in God’s hands. “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak (coat), do not stop him from taking your tunic.(shirt)  Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:27-31, NIV)

Are you hanging onto a wound, nursing a grudge, hoping the one who wronged you feels your anger?  If you’re God’s child, you are hurting yourself much more than you are hurting the offender. That anger, that hate, makes you a prisoner of the person who did you wrong, keeping you tied to a time and place of pain. Forgive! Give the person, the pain, the anger, the desire for revenge to the Lord, trusting His perfect justice. It is a radical choice, but there is great freedom to be found.  Pray for faith to make that hard decision. Then, obey the Spirit’s invitation to forgive.

Here is a word from the Word. “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)

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Here As In Heaven

The atmosphere is changing now
For the Spirit of the Lord is here
The evidence is all around
That the Spirit of the Lord is here

Overflow in this place
Fill our hearts with your love
Your love surrounds us
You’re the reason we came to encounter your love
Your love surrounds us

 Spirit of God fall fresh on us
We need your presence
Your kingdom come your will be done
Here as in heaven

 A miracle can happen now
For the Spirit of the Lord is here
The evidence is all around
That the Spirit of the Lord is here

Chris Brown | Mack Brock | Matthew Ntlele | Steven Furtick | Wade Joye © 2015 Music by Elevation Worship Publishing (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)

CCLI License # 810055

Fantasy or Faith?

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Sometimes I am able to solve the BIG problems, make everybody happy, and accomplish amazing things – in my dreams! My mind is able to create a world where everyone lives ‘happily ever after’ when I slip the bounds of consciousness during sleep. Then, I wake up to real life, to the renewed knowledge that solutions are created with hard work and implemented, step by step. It is a world in which I make mistakes, endure outcomes that I did not see coming.  Here is what I also know – often my disappointments become the doorways to discovery of God’s plans. At the end of my resources, if I walk with Him in faith, He acts in His own mysterious ways and almost never within my timetable.

Are you facing multiple challenges, kind of wishing you could find a quick and painless way to solve those problems? Are you tired? Even weariness, however, has its own kind of blessing. When we’re just too tired to stand, we can kneel in prayer and listen to the Spirit more intently.

Peter was inspired to leave us this wonderful wisdom about trusting God through it all. Read it carefully! “God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. … Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen. Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world. So be happy when you are insulted for being a Christian, for then the glorious Spirit of God rests upon you. If you suffer, however, it must not be for murder, stealing, making trouble, or prying into other people’s affairs. But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being called by his name!”  (1 Peter 4:10-16, NLT)

First, God says that HE prepares us to be part of His work and gives us divine abilities to fulfill His purposes. You can serve Him.  I can, too. Because, He has resourced us!

Second, He assured us that the hard stuff is part of being human and that all of these painful things serve the purpose of burning away the fog that obscures the brightness of Christ Jesus shining through me! Raising godly kids, dealing with our own temptation, doing what God asks us to do, pressing toward excellence in life – these require the presence of the Spirit in us – if we want Jesus to shine through.

Third, He says that the pain makes us partners with Christ, joined in His suffering, and open to the Spirit’s strength. That’s not a very popular idea even in the Christian world where so many trumpet perpetual triumph, breakthroughs, and prosperity for all. Yet, it is a consistent theme in the Word that without suffering there is no real growth.

Fourth, God invites us to praise Him for the privilege of being named ‘child of God!’

If we could find some magical method to create a world of eternal sunshine, without any suffering, full of perpetual happiness, Peter tells us we would not seek God as He desires. Without stress that forces growth we will remain immature, undeveloped.

I loved visiting with my 5 year old grandson on Monday. He was blissfully unaware of the turmoil in our government, untroubled by the decay of our culture.  He is amazingly happy, as little children ought to be. Have you mistakenly believed that disciples of Christ should continue to live as little children- unaware of the world in which they live?   We do need a child-like faith that trusts the provision of our Father, but we cannot lose ourselves in playing at life while the world burns, can we?

I am a mature man, called to the work of building the Kingdom of God in a world full of sin that makes that task sometimes hard. God will not give me all the answers I want, magically waving away every trouble, but He will give me (and you) all we need for ‘life and godliness,’ to live with steady endurance and in full faith in His strength to keep us.

Take Paul’s testimony about God’s sufficient promises to heart today. Here is a word from the Word. “I think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and completely overwhelmed, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we learned not to rely on ourselves, but on God who can raise the dead. And he did deliver us from mortal danger. And we are confident that he will continue to deliver us. He will rescue us because you are helping by praying for us. As a result, many will give thanks to God because so many people’s prayers for our safety have been answered.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-11, NLT)

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God Only Knows

(For King and Country sings a beautiful song! Enjoy)

Wide awake while the world is sound asleep and
Too afraid of what might show up
While you’re dreamin’
Nobody nobody nobody sees you
Nobody nobody will believe you
Every day you try to pick up all the pieces
All the memories they somehow never leave ya
Nobody nobody nobody sees you
Nobody nobody will believe you

God only knows what you been through
God only knows what they say about you
God only knows how it’s killing you
But there’s a kind of a love that God only knows

God only knows what you been through
God only knows what they say about you
God only knows the real you
There’s a kind of a love that God only knows

There’s a kind of love that
There’s a kind of love

You keep a cover over every single secret
So afraid if someone saw them they would leave
But somebody somebody somebody sees you
Somebody somebody will never leave you

For the lonely for the ashamed
The misunderstood and the ones to blame
What if we can start over
We could start over we could start over
‘Cause there’s a kinda love that God only knows

God only knows where to find you
God only knows how to break through
God only knows the real you
There’s a kind of love that God only knows

Joel Smallbone | Jordan Reynolds | Josh Kerr | Luke Smallbone | Tedd Tjornhom © 2018 Curb Wordspring Music (Admin. by W.B.M. Music Corp.) Shaun Shankel Pub Designee (Admin. by Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp.) Buckeye26 (Admin. by WB Music Corp.)

CCLI License # 810055

Adding to His family?

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One of the great joys of my life are those holy moments when I am privileged to lead people to know the love of God, to receive the gift of His grace. For some it is a dramatic moment of high emotion, with tears, and then a flood of happiness. For others it is a dawning realization, a settling of the truth about the love of their Father shown them through Jesus, that takes root in their lives.  The Spirit moves, the heart surrenders, and there is new birth into the family of God.  This moment is so significant that Jesus said that there is “rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10)

We know that He told us to go into all the world and preach the Gospel, but do we do this work? Or do we think that leading others to know Jesus is the specialized work of missionaries and evangelists?

I see evangelizing poorly done and it makes me cringe. While I admire the courage of that person who asks a perfect stranger if they know Jesus, I also wonder if the question only produces embarrassment about 99.9% of the time. I have seen clumsy attempts made to press Gospel leaflets into the hands of reluctant persons and know how irritating that is to me. I would not buy an appliance from someone who knocked on my front door, so why would I discuss how I feel about my relationship with God with a stranger? You can introduce people to Christ without embarrassing them, without resorting to threats of eternal damnation.

How?

Be prayerfully aware of spiritual need!
Jesus took His disciples through Samaria, among people almost all Jews of the time thought were beyond God’s reach, and He told them “Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.”  (John 4:35)  Among our friends and in our extended families there are those who are struggling with guilt, looking for meaning, wondering about God. If we are sensitive we will see their need, which is the first step.

Pray before you speak!
Conversion is more than convincing someone to agree with you about some things you read in the Bible. No one can be saved apart from God’s work in the heart. We pray, consistently, expectantly, faithfully for the Spirit to shed light and bring revelation of the Truth.

Let your life speak more loudly than your words!
Prior to most every decision about buying something or engaging a contractor, we read reviews and/or get recommendations from friends. We don’t live in small communities anymore where everyone knows the kind of work that someone does or if she is reliable, so we look for a ‘witness’ who tells us about their experience.  Most people who come to Christ through your efforts will do so because they see an undeniable quality of life and love in you. “I want what you have,” is the underlying fact.

Know how to use the Scripture well!
You can take a person to the story of a lost son who came home to a loving Father (Luke 15) and let it speak to your friend.  You can point to the promise of new birth that Jesus shared with a Nicodemus in John 3. You can lead them through key points that Romans makes about the separation sin creates and the forgiveness that God offers –  (“All have sinned … Wages of sin is death, Gift of God is eternal life.”)  3:23; 6:23

Sharing Jesus does not come in a formula or with a “one-size fits all” speech.  We converse, weaving our witness with God’s truth, and the Spirit brings new life.

The most joyful Christians I know are those who are sharing their love of Jesus with others – teaching, loving, inviting, integrating faith into everyday life.  It’s not easy work. It’s a little like having children. Ask a parent. Children are costly, steal sleep when they are babies and teenagers, make impossible demands of us, sometimes disappoint, can be ungrateful – and – they love us, enrich us, fill us with warmth – all at the same time.  Praying with someone to accept Jesus and seeing them born again is just the beginning. After that comes the investment of making disciples.

The word from the Word is an invitation for us to join the ongoing work of making Christ and His rule known in all the world.
“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20, NLT) “But when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive power and will tell people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8, NLT)

The world is waiting, starting at your front door. Let’s go!

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No Longer Slaves

You unravel me with a melody
You surround me with a song
Of deliverance from my enemies
Till all my fears are gone

 I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God
I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God

 From my Mother’s womb
You have chosen me
Love has called my name
I’ve been born again into Your family
Your blood flows through my veins

 You split the sea so I could walk right through it
My fears were drowned in perfect love
You rescued me so I could stand and sing
I am a child of God

Brian Johnson | Joel Case | Jonathan David Helser © 2014 Bethel Music Publishing

CCLI License # 810055

 

Infatuation and love

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Bev, the woman who became my life partner, walked into my life on the first Sunday of June, 1974! It was ‘love at first sight.’ That Summer we spent hours together, talking and dreaming. Just a touch produced euphoria. We were intoxicated with each other’s person. We were convinced that we were ‘perfect together’ though we knew next to nothing about each other! We married in January, six months later and we were in love for 41 years until she went home to Heaven. The letters I wrote to her during that time are stored away with other memorabilia from our life. The gushing prose of my infatuation is funny and sweet, exactly as it should be for those newly in love! It was the season of romance.

Over the years our love changed remarkably. We were perfect together not because we were ‘just the same,’ as we thought in the first days. We learned that love was complementary, giving each our place among the routines of our shared life and gave stability, producing a kind of security that enhanced our ability to serve God. Though the infatuation faded a few years into our marriage, we shared a love that deepened, that found some of the sweetest moments in our 4 decades together during the terrible last months of her illness.

I have a question for you.  Are you just infatuated with God, or do you love Him deeply? Some of our contemporary Christian literature celebrates the romance of personal faith, lauding the moment of conversion and the euphoria of new-found faith. I rejoice that finding Jesus excites that the gift of faith in those early days of discipleship, but does it lead to spiritual transformation? The romance of the Spirit is euphoric, intoxicating even. Some teach that the Christian life will continue to be the ‘spiritual high’ of the first moments in which we find hope, forgiveness, and purpose.  That sets up a false expectation that leads some to change spiritual experiences – moving from church to church, from one teacher to another.

The Scripture urges us to “stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God.” (Hebrews 6:1, NLT) The ideal of the Christian is not the early romance of new, yet instable, faith. It is a mature, enduring, persevering faith of the kind that Paul wrote about to Timothy. The old apostle had been knocked to the ground on the road to Damascus in a dramatic revelation of Jesus decades earlier. Saved and healed, he grew into a profound faith. Now, he faced death, condemned for his faith. Does he lament the loss?  Not at all. “I am suffering here in prison. But I am not ashamed of it, for I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until the day of his return.” (2 Timothy 1:12, NLT) “I have fought a good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.” (2 Timothy 4:7, NLT)

Have you kept the faith? Is your love for the Lord mature, rich, and deep?

Disciple, grow on in Christ Jesus. Don’t mourn or resist the inevitable changes in your relationship with Him. I am not suggesting, even for a moment, that we should settle for apathy. Indifference is not to be mistaken for mature love. Jesus warns of ‘forsaking our first love!’ (Revelation 2:3 NIV) His desire is that He is always the first in our priorities, the One to whom we are devoted. However, He calls us to develop into “fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13, The Message)

Here is a word from the Word. May the Spirit call us to love that is steady, life-long, and fulfilling.  “And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s people, let us go right into the presence of God, with true hearts fully trusting him. For our evil consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:21-25, NLT)

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Your Grace Is Enough

Great is Your faithfulness O God
You wrestle with the sinner’s restless heart
You lead us by still waters into mercy
And nothing can keep us apart

(So) remember Your people
Remember Your children
Remember Your promise O God

Your grace is enough
Your grace is enough
Your grace is enough for me

Great is Your love and justice God of Jacob
You use the weak to lead the strong
You lead us in the song of Your salvation
And all Your people sing along

Yeah Your grace is enough
Heaven reaches out to us
Your grace is enough for me
God I sing Your grace is enough
I’m covered in Your love
Your grace is enough for me for me

\Matt Maher © 2003 Thankyou Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

spiritandsong.com

CCLI License # 810055

Contented?

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How content are you in your own skin?  Crazy question, you think?  Approach it this way. Consider some or your recent decisions, nothing big, just something like what you chose to wear, or some place you wanted to be seen. Now ask yourself, “Why did I do that?” Was it to impress someone, to try make others think of you in a certain way? Or, was it a genuine expression of who you are?

So many people spend huge amounts of resources, time, and energy trying desperately to make others like them, to be who they think they others want them to be. In the process, they turn into empty shells, living behind a mask of pretend, saying things they don’t really believe, buying things they do not really need.

My point today is not to point you in the direction of self-centeredness nor am I suggesting that you would be better off if you chose to be an obnoxious person who cares nothing for others. Understanding how others perceive us, learning how to participate in the social interactions around us is an important part of a happy life. But, it is a lie, a terrible enslaving lie, that tells us we would be loved more if we were taller, thinner, richer, smarter … and the list goes on.

One of the basic truths of the Gospel is this – God knows you, inside and out, and He loves you! He does not love you because you are white, black, female, male, old, young, poor, rich:  He loves you because you are. Christian, do you know this to the core of your being? By faith, will you accept that He loves you, right now, where you are, as you are? Paul, inspired by the Spirit, puts God’s love in focus with these words. “”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 demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him!” (Romans 5:7-9, NIV)

In love, He offers to enter our lives, by the Spirit, and walk with us in a process of transformation that we Christians call – sanctification. That is just a big word that means we become useful to Him as we discard the old ways that were centered on Self and take on the character of Jesus Christ. IF we know He loves us, we do not do this to try to make Him like us, nor are we concerned about the opinions of other people. Our one desire is to be who He wants us to be, nothing more, nothing less.

What freedom is found when that truth is received in faith and becomes the cornerstone for our daily decisions. The silly choices to pose and pretend make no sense to us. The pressure to conform to the expectations of others has no effect on us. We learn to rest securely in our Father’s embrace. “Fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” (Romans 12:2, The Message)

 

Are you sick of trying to be someone you are not?

Does the constant stream of messages about who you must be and what you must do get tiresome?

Is your heart constantly restless, comparing and coveting in a search for happiness?

Give it up! In prayer thank God for the life you have and for His love where you are. Confess the failures and sins to Him and thank Him for His promise to transform you, inside out. Get real – truthful with yourself, refusing to participate in the world’s “BS” (sorry, I just can’t think of a better way to say that) that makes slaves out of those who keep saying things that are inauthentic.  The peace of God will settle over you.

Here is a word from the Word. Meditate on it, in all of its simplicity and profundity!   “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.” (1 Timothy 6:6-7, NIV)   At peace with who we are in Christ, letting the Spirit make us who He wants us to be, and focused on our eternal home given to us as a grace gift – we will live with joyful peace.

________

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
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

 

But, it was so much fun, right?

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Ever had a conversation with a Christian about the past, their “Before Christ” days, and sensed that they still had some leftover desires for those things?  When we are called to follow Him, He asks us to let go of this world to own Him and – let’s be honest – that can be difficult! The familiar, even though we know it is not God’s best, wraps around us like a comforter.  When things get stormy in life there is the temptation to return to old things, former paths.

The people of God, when they were called out of Egypt to journey to the “Promised Land” set out with great hope. The reality of living in the desert, even with God’s daily provisions, soon got to them and they longed for ‘home.’ (see closing song by Keith Green, “So You Wanna Go Back to Egypt.”)  “The people soon began to complain to the Lord about their hardships; …  the people of Israel also began to complain. “Oh, for some meat!” they exclaimed. “We remember all the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic that we wanted. But now our appetites are gone, and day after day we have nothing to eat but this manna!” (Numbers 11:1-6, NLT) Their complaints brought suffering.

In Genesis, there is the story of Lot’s wife who became a pillar of salt on the plains of Sodom. God’s angels rescued Lot and his family from the city before its destruction, telling them to run for the hills and not to look back. She did and you know the story! The life she knew, though lived among corruption, held her affection and she turned back but her choice brought death.

One of the saddest lines of the New Testament is written by Paul about a ministry colleague named Demas.  The old apostle was on death row, writing his last letter to Timothy. Can you feel his emotion in these words? “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica.” (2 Timothy 4:10, KJV)  We do not know the details but it is not too hard to imagine that Demas decided to go home concluding that if following Jesus was going to get you killed, like Paul, he wanted nothing more to do with the Way.  The Bible does not tell us if Demas ever found his way back to Jesus.

Are you feeling the tug of the sins of the past?
Has fatigue or disillusionment set in, making those old pleasures attractive once again?
Are you struggling to ‘let go’ of what you know to possess the Promise?

Take a lesson from those referenced passages. The past is a dead-end. You can’t really go back, and would you want to? Our word from the Word tells us how to stay the course.
“Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. … do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.” (Hebrews 10:32-36, NIV)

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:2-3, NIV)

There is joy in the journey when faith inspires hope and we can see the promise that waits.
God, keep us from looking back and help us to keep looking to Jesus.
Amen

_________

So You Wanna Go Back to Egypt

(Enjoy this song, fun, but with a point!)

So you wanna go back to Egypt
Where it’s warm and secure
Are sorry you bought the one way ticket
When you thought you were sure
You wanted to live in the land of promise
But now it’s getting so hard
Are you sorry you’re out here in the desert
Instead of your own back yard

 Eating leaks and onions by the Nile
Ooh what breath for dining out in style
Ooh, my life’s on the skids
Building the pyramids 

Well there’s nothing do but travel
And we sure travel a lot
‘Cause it’s hard to keep your feet from moving
When the sand gets so hot
And in the morning it’s manna hotcakes
We snack on manna all day
And we sure had a winner last night for dinner
Flaming manna souffle

 Well we once complained for something new to munch
The ground opened up and had some of us for lunch
Ooh, such fire and smoke
Can’t God even take a joke? Huh? NO!

 So you wanna to back to Egypt
Where your friends wait for you
You can throw a big party and tell the whole gang
Of what they said was all true

And this Moses acts like a big shot
Who does he think he is?
Well it’s true that God works lots of miracles
But Moses thinks they’re all his

 Oh we’re having so much trouble even now
Why’d he get so mad about that c-c-c-cow (that golded calf)
Moses seems rather idle
He just sits around, he just sits around and writes the Bible!

Oh, Moses, put down your pen!
What? Oh no, manna again?
Oh, manna waffles
Manna burgers
Manna bagels
Fillet of manna
Manna patty
BaManna bread!

Keith Green – Copyright 1978

Insiders, chosen

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I generally loved school except for physical education class. Not being athletic, lacking the skills for most sports, I knew that when it was time to pick teams, I would be standing alone at the end of the process. The captains first selected their friends and then those with greater ability. Finally, when no one else was left, one of them would call my name – “Scott,” without enthusiasm. It was as sad as it sounds. The memory brings a wry smile today and a greater appreciation for the need to include everyone, to take notice of those that others devalue.

You need never feel left out, without value, or overlooked! Reflect on what Jesus said to His disciples. “I no longer call you servants, because a master doesn’t confide in his servants. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. I command you to love each other.” (John 15:15-17, NLT)

The Son of God does not value us just for our usefulness or function. He says that we are friends, not servants. Oh yes, we do serve Him but not because we are compelled to do so by fear. We are invited to KNOW Him, love Him, and be included in His plans. Pride has no place, He reminds us, because we did not earn this right, nor did we come to some realization because of superior intelligence or insight.

He chose to make Himself know to us, coming to find us, ‘while we were still sinners.’ Beyond that, He says that He has given us real purpose, to do things that have eternal value, a participant in the work of God in this world.  It gets better!  And, He has given us the right to use His name in prayer, giving us access to the Presence of God when we pray.

 It is not just children who can sing “Yes, Jesus loves me!”  He loves me and you. Each of us needs to know this, settling securely into the promise, so that in a world that demeans, devalues, uses, abuses, or ignores those who somehow miss out on “desirable” qualities, we will not become miserable and mean in response. When we know we are chosen, dearly beloved children of the Father, we will stop striving, pushing for the front of the line, trying desperately to carve out a place for ourselves. Instead, we can be exactly who God wants us to be, caring little for the approval and/or acceptable of others.

The enemy of God and good will conspire to cause you to feel ‘left out’ and unloved. Refuse his lie. Meditate in the Word, thank God for the amazing love of Christ Jesus, that is not just for the world in general, but for YOU specifically. Yes, the One who knows you best, loves you most.  You are beloved, desired, sought out – chosen to receive His love.

Here is a word from the Word. Here we learn of the responsibility that comes with being the Father’s beloved child.  May we who are loved, learn to love well.  “As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:12-14, NIV)

________

Who You Say I Am

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

Convicted!

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Many times in my life I have felt the Spirit press conviction on me – “Jerry, you need to make a course correction in your life.”  He asks me to realign my life with the will of my Father. I can offer up a hundred excuses, rationalize my choices, or try to convince myself that it is not that much of an issue. The best response, I know, is to own my choices and to ask for His help to get my heart right. In surrender there is peace, joy, and the comfort of the Spirit. If you are alive to God, you have experienced the this too. It’s called ‘conviction.

Our loving Father desires the best for us, wants to keep us from wandering into quicksand of selfishness that will keep us from serving Him effectively. Is it pleasant or easy to fix an attitude, to forgive a hurt, to readjust our affections away from the things of this world? I think you know that answer! Paul urges us to ‘work out your salvation.’  This is not a call to detailed observance of religious rules. God, the Spirit, desires that we stir the Truth of His Word and obedience to His ways into every part of our lives. God’s plans replace our agendas. Our desire for the Spirit’s power takes the place of self-help and careful preservation of our image. Our life purpose shifts from Self to a whole-hearted pursuit of living in and for the Name of Christ Jesus.

God, the Spirit, reminds us that “the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” (1 Corinthians 4:20, NIV)  All the “God-talk” in the world is worthless without God-living. Christianity just as an idea, something for discussion groups alone, has nothing to do with genuine discipleship.  Jude says that people who claim to know Jesus but who fail to integrate the Gospel into their lives are “like clouds blowing over dry land without giving rain, promising much but producing nothing. They are like trees without fruit at harvest time.” (Jude 12-13, NLT)

I love the promise that God gives to those who truly desire Him.  Jesus said “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6, NIV)  This is the kind of life that flows from knowing Jesus, a “new creation” through the Spirit. We cannot achieve it but we can receive it! In full faith we come to Him, our hearts completely open, our minds surrendered – and He creates new life by the Spirit in us so that from us there is a “flow of living water.”  (John 7)

In this word from the Word there is a promise of real blessing. Meditate in this, praying that the Spirit will make Himself known in you, through you.

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

 He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.

 Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.” (Psalm 1, NIV)

_________

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

Yes, you can!

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I have a word for you this Monday morning – “YES!”  Sunday evening found me tired and in that weariness I was overwhelmed, thinking of a hundred reasons I could not do this, why I should not attempt to do that thing, dreading a new week. I went to bed allowing defeat to play it’s melancholy theme in my mind. But, sometime in the middle of the night the Spirit whispered His wisdom to my heart about the misplaced focus of my intentions and He reminded me that God’s “Yes,” should not be refused nor limited by my perception of abilities.

We could explore the reasons that “No” is so much more common than “Yes” but I think you would agree that the common human experience is one in which we are told – by our own mind, by others – about all the limits and barriers- that because we are too … old, young, small, poor … we should not think we can really do what we dream. I join with the Spirit of God to speak a word to you this morning – “Yes!”

You can serve God faithfully – Yes!
You can love that difficult person – Yes!
You can overcome that habit – Yes!
You can make a real difference – Yes!
You are a person that matters to God – Yes!

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

Some in that church had accused him of failing to follow through on his word, that he had made promises he did not keep. He explains that hardship and discernment caused him to change his plans, but that God’s promises are not subject to change.  When God says Yes to us, receiving us, giving us salvation, it is a yes that nothing in this world can change.

So, as you start a new week, if a melancholy song of doubt and/or defeat is the mood music of your day, hit the pause button and let God’s “Yes” inspire hope, renew life, and restore the color to your vision! Thank Him that He is greater than your failures, that He has resourced you with what you need to meet the challenges ahead, that He is present for you right where you are.

Meditate on this passage that is so rich with promise for each one of us who are ‘in Christ Jesus.’  It is our word from the Word today. “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)

Immeasurably more than all we ask – now that is a big “Yes!”

_________

Thrive (crank up the volume and let Casting Crowns lift you up)

Here in this worn and weary land
Where many a dream has died
Like a tree planted by the water
We never will run dry 

So living water flowing through
God we thirst for more of You
Fill our hearts and flood our souls
With one desire

 Just to know You and to make You known
We lift Your name on high
Shine like the sun make darkness run and hide
We know we were made for so much more
Than ordinary lives
It’s time for us to more than just survive
We were made to thrive

 Into Your Word we’re digging deep
To know our Father’s heart
Into the world we’re reaching out
To show them who You are

 Joy unspeakable
Faith unsinkable
Love unstoppable
Anything is possible

 We were made to thrive

Mark Hall | Matthew West © 2014 My Refuge Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)Be Essential Songs (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)

CCLI License # 810055