Tested, found Strong

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A metal railroad bridge in Western Pennsylvania that stood for over a century suddenly failed when a tornado swept through.  Engineers who worked to discover the reason for the collapse found that when the bridge was re-built decades ago, using steel in place of the iron, the original iron anchor bolts were left in place, considered too expensive to remove and replace. Steel accepts much higher loads than iron, allowing for flex before failure, where iron suddenly snaps. When 100 MPH winds created side stress, rather than weight pressing down, those older rusted iron anchors cracked and the bridge turned to ruin in a few moments time. (Bridge Fails)

One thing I know for certain – tests come to us all!  They arrive in many ways. Illness, disappointment, death, economic issues, depression, temptation … are just some of the ways we are tested.

How will we respond to those storms? Will the old anchor points of life snap and cause a collapse? Will we turn into a fearful, angry person? Will we abandon faith, turning on God? OR, will we stand, in courage, renewing our commitment to faith, leaning on the Word, even when to do so seems like folly?

In Matthew’s Gospel, we read of a miracle moment at the Jordan at the end of chapter 3. Jesus goes to John, the Baptist, and asks to be baptized, even though He is perfect, not needing the washing of repentance. The Holy Spirit descends and the voice of the Father thunders from above, announcing His delight in His Son. There is glory all around. If I had written the plan, Jesus would have gone straight that from that moment of blessing to Jerusalem to announce the Kingdom! We tend to think that way, believing that one season of blessing should always be followed by another.

Here is how God allowed the plan to unfold. “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: ”‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.” (Matthew 4:1-11, NIV)

He was ‘led by the Spirit’ to be tested. What a revelation. Jesus did not stumble into a bad time. He did not create His own problems with poor decision-making. The Father allowed Him to be tested! We could guess at a hundred reasons why, but the inspired author offers no explanation. He just tells us what happened. Jesus, left weak by an extended fast, is invited to misuse the power of God to satisfy His own appetite. He hears Satan telling Him that He should expect God to send angels to rescue Him if He put Himself into danger. He is offered a short-cut to ‘success’ in His mission, in only He will abandon His singular love of God.

In each situation, Jesus does not rely on His own strength, nor does He engage in lengthy debate with the Devil.  He goes to the Hebrew text of Deuteronomy, inspired Word, that He, the Living Word, knew was the revealed will of God. He speaks God’s Word in the moment of testing and that anchor holds Him in the storm.

Tests in our lives bring temptation in many guises.  Why do they come? We sometimes make wrong choices that lead us into hard places. We sometimes choose to live in Self-will rather than God’s will and find ourselves in a mess! But, sometimes God, for purposes beyond our grasp, allows us to walk in deep valleys where the Light of His Presence is hidden. What then? Will our anchor bolts snap leading to a collapse, or will we lean hard on faith, even when it appears irrational?  Faith does not discard reason, but sometimes it goes beyond it, trusting God for that which can only been seen with vision informed by the Spirit.

Know God’s Word and commit that truth to memory. Grow beyond ‘folk religion’ that rests on slogans, mottos, and assumptions. Become a disciple, a true follower of Christ, who ‘works out’ the implications of His salvation in all aspects of life. And, when the tests come, you will stand!

Mediate today on this word from the Word. Make this the guiding Truth for life – for the glory days and the testing times.

“Do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord, no matter what happens. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.  “For in just a little while, the Coming One will come and not delay. And a righteous person will live by faith. But I will have no pleasure in anyone who turns away.” But we are not like those who turn their backs on God and seal their fate. We have faith that assures our salvation.”  – (Hebrews 10:34)

“We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish. He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterward. Now he is seated in the place of highest honor beside God’s throne in heaven. Think about all he endured when sinful people did such terrible things to him, so that you don’t become weary and give up.” (Hebrews 12:2-3, NLT)

__________

Build My Life

(Will you build your life on Jesus?)

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

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

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

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

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

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Fire Baptized!

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In recent years we have witnessed mega-fires in the West, that have destroyed thousands of acres of forest and cost $billions in property destruction. In addition to climate change, experts now realize that fire suppression methods that protected property and landscapes over the last half of the 20th century actually created the conditions that now feed these huge fires. In the past, fires would burn the undergrowth, but not reach the canopy of larger trees, a natural process of thinning the forest for the healthiest trees to grow. But, those fires were not allowed to burn and dense growth accumulated, fuel for fires that rage out of control. Allowing smaller managed fires that clear out brush is one method of preventing even more catastrophic, canopy-killing fires from breaking out.

Fighting fire with fire. The idea seems to go against reason, at first.

God sometimes uses fiery trials in our lives, friend! If you are in the middle of a difficult situation, if you are feeling the heat of life, ask God to give you strength to endure.  In the loving hands of our Father, those experiences can actually help to clear out the clutter and encourage us to mature in faith.

John, the Baptist, offered this shocking statement to the people who came to hear him preach down at the Jordan River.  “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.” (Matthew 3:11-13, NIV)

John realized that his baptism, which focused on the act of being ‘sorry,’ of turning back to God was incomplete. Real maturity in faith required something more, and he knew that More was coming in the Person of Jesus who would fill us with the Spirit and, if we let Him, He will use the Spirit’s fire will burn away the distractions, the accumulated weight of other sins. Such fiery baptism is costly to us in terms of comfort. But, in John’s metaphor, it is a means of clearing away the chaff, the outer hull of the grain that is worthless.

Before we become fatalists and just accept all trials as ‘God’s will,’ we must realize that often we create our own troubles with foolish, or short-sighted, or sinful choices. We create the conditions for wild fires in our own life. It is wrong to blame God for those. However, He can use those things to cause us to reach the end of Self and turn to Him. When we do, He is our ‘ever present help in time of trouble.’

So, here at the beginning of this new year, I want to ask you if you are living just in repentance, constantly going back to God asking forgiveness, seeking renewal?

Or, have you been Spirit-baptized by Jesus, made clean by the fire, with fruitfulness in character, and growing to greater maturity?

This word from the Word will inspire. Let it grip your heart and mind today. “You’ve come to Jesus, who presents us with a new covenant, a fresh charter from God. He is the Mediator of this covenant. . . So don’t turn a deaf ear to these gracious words.  . . . Do you see what we’ve got? An unshakable kingdom! And do you see how thankful we must be? Not only thankful, but brimming with worship, deeply reverent before God. For God is not an indifferent bystander. He’s actively cleaning house, torching all that needs to burn, and he won’t quit until it’s all cleansed. God himself is Fire!” (Hebrews 12:24-29, The Message)

__________

Abba, I humbly place my heart, my mind, my life at Your disposal.
Keep me from just saying words unmatched with desire for You.
If there are things that need to be torched in my life,
Steady me in faith through the fire!

Let me emerge,
Not embittered, but empowered;
Not empty, but full of grace;
Not scorched, but cleansed.

 And, help my hope to be found in Jesus,
All other loves lesser, love for You greater.

Amen

Dream BIG!

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Do you have any crazy dreams about what life could be? Are you willing to let yourself think about change? Some of our dreams are naïve, some nothing more than fantasy. A few are downright wrong and deserve no more thought. There are nightmares- dreams that terrify. Then, there are those dreams that turn into vision which, when matched with action and resources, create a new reality! Most of us cannot imagine a world without a smartphone in our pocket, but a little more than a decade ago, they were just an idea.

In his most famous speech, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of a dream about something far more important than a tech device. He ‘saw’ a new kind of world. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today. … I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”  His dream, though partially fulfilled, is still yet to be fully realized in our nation.

On this final day of 2019, let me ask you again –
Do you allow yourself to dream? I say that we must dream or die.

Consider this word of God, spoken by Jeremiah to the Jews at one of the lowest points in their history. He was inspired to remind them that God calls us to hope. They are words for us! “This is what the Lord says, he who made the earth, the Lord who formed it and established it—the Lord is his name: ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’” (Jeremiah 33:2-3, NIV) The Message says it like this: “Call to me and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own.”

Are you dreams God-sized? Are they God-honoring?
Are they worthy of prayer and investment of your precious time?

Too often our dreams are exclusively about a life of greater comfort, more money, or increased influence. We turn our dreams turn into schemes about how we can use God’s power to further our agenda.

It is not wrong to ask God for our needs, to share our heart’s desire with Him. He invites us to do that with confidence. James teaches us to  “Tell God what you need.”   We balance that with the fact that He is a Good Father, and He knows our need better than we do.  By faith, we surrender to His will trusting that what He allows us to experience are ‘good and perfect’ gifts that shape us for His glory, which is our ultimate purpose for existence.

From personal experience I will tell you that your dreams and God’s plans do not always follow the same path. The decade that is closing today has brought me grief I could not have imagined as it began. My father, my mother, my wife, my brother, many friends – have died in this time. Ah, yes, death is a part of the life-cycle and I recognize that reality.

Then, too, in my pastoral work, I have experienced some wonderful moments with the people in my care, and I have known the worst disappointments of my entire ministry. Through it all, God has taught me to love Him and others more humbly and hopefully, with deeper faith.

The path I walked has been so far outside of my plans, I can say without exaggeration that it is beyond my wildest imagination. Most of us read that passage I quoted and we naturally think of “wondrous things” as fun, happy, and comfortable development. Disciple, God does have a plan for you and me! Our greatest joy is found in letting Him set the pace. He is a good God; not tame, not predictable, not bound to our limited perspective; but amazingly wonderful.

So, “since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25, NIV) When we invite the Spirit to take the reins, we begin to see the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy – “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.” (2:28)

May our most compelling dreams be about knowing Him, loving Him, and making a difference for His kingdom as long we enjoy life on this earth.

Here’s a New Year’s blessing. Receive it as you pray for the faith to let God be God!

“I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts as you trust in him. May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love really is.

May you experience the love of Christ, though it is so great you will never fully understand it. Then you will be filled with the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now glory be to God! By his mighty power at work within us, he is able to accomplish infinitely more than we would ever dare to ask or hope. May he be given glory in the church and in Christ Jesus forever and ever through endless ages. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:17-21, NLT)

“Joy unspeakable!
Faith unsinkable!
Love unstoppable!
Anything is possible, we were made to thrive!”

_____________

Thrive

(Casting Crowns reminds us that God has good things prepared for us!)

Here in this worn and weary land
Where many a dream has died
Like a tree planted by the water
We will never 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 Atlas Holdings (Admin. by Atlas Music Publishing)

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May I come in?

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In this age of smartphones, all of us have experienced attempting a conversation with someone who is absorbed by whatever is on the little glowing screen. I would have to plead guilty to that charge, at least occasionally, as well. It’s a not so subtle way of saying, “Whatever I am doing on this device is more important to me than you are.”  Not good, right?

Then, there are those interactions that happen when we receive clear signals that the other person does not have the slightest interest in helping us, even when they are paid to do so. A few days ago I was in a busy supermarket. The lines were long and the check-out person was uninterested in even basic service. My greeting went unacknowledged. An inquiry was met with a blank stare. I attempted a final ‘thank you’ and he turned, without a word, to start checking out the next customer. I felt sad as I walked away, not for me, but for that person who seemed so miserable. I wondered if he was that apathetic about the rest of his life.

How does the Lord find you when He shows up, by the Spirit?
Does He find a person taken up with the present?
Does He find you unwilling to engage with Him, to listen and learn from Him?
Or do you warmly welcome Him, inviting Him in, setting aside everything to focus intently?

John heard the Lord Jesus addressing a church that had grown apathetic about knowing the Lord. Read the words of Jesus.  “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.

So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:14-20, NIV)

Allowing ourselves to be so distracted by lesser things that we lose our spiritual passion is the most subtle of sins. It’s an old saying but still so true. We experience the tyranny of the urgent which drives out the truly important. It happens in many ways in our lives beyond the spiritual. Many marriages fail, not because of abuse or infidelity, but because two people get so busy making a living, keeping a home, parenting children that they become strangers, without intimacy. Once beautiful friendships can die not because of some awful offense, but because days turn into months that turn into years without time to renew and best friends turn into strangers.

It is not my intent to add to your guilt or time pressure! In these closing hours of 2019, I want to turn your mind and heart to truth, to encourage you to make the right choices about your priorities. None of us is rich enough in time to do all the things we think we ought to do or even the things we want to do. So, we must decide what comes first and organize our time around those things. In my understanding of the world, Jesus is first … all other things, occupation, home, even family … are lesser.

Will you make Him a priority in the new year?  That does not mean that you have to join a monastery, throw out your TV, or attempt to spend 2 hours a day in prayer and meditation.  Radical efforts usually fail.  In most situations, change needs to be intentional and incremental. If there is no time for personal prayer, carve 15 minutes into your day, not when you are exhausted or sleepy, but when you are at your best, so you can listen.  If you have not read the Scripture at all, start with a Psalm and a chapter from the Gospel, read aloud, with real mental engagement.  And do these kinds of things faithfully, not for a few days, but one day at a time, day after day.  When you sense the Spirit leading (and you will) respond with a real obedience – forgiving, giving, confessing, serving, loving.  Growth will come.

Here are Jesus’ words. They are full of promise, anticipating that we will open our hearts to Him. “So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

__________

Living Hope
(Listen, learn, love)

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
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])

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What I Learned About Grief (a reprise)

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4 years ago, on 12/29/2015, my wife stepped into eternity. A year after her death, I wrote the following. May the Lord use these thoughts to comfort those who mourn today.

____

Well Dad, it’s been a year. What would you tell somebody in your place about grief?” Sean asked me over breakfast. A little later, walking on a South Florida beach, I kept thinking about that question. What have I learned about grief in this year-long journey?

Grief a process not just an event.

Just like physical healing, the healing of our heart takes time. There is no miracle cure, no instant relief.  I found the rituals that surround grief so very valuable.  The day of her burial, in freezing cold on top of that New Jersey mountain, helped me know that she was not coming home. The words about our hope in the One who is the Resurrection and the Life echo in my memory a stark comfort. Seeing that coffin lowered into the earth and the soil pushed over it, made me know the reality of her departure. I cannot pretend she is coming home. The funeral service where songs, tributes, and God’s Word were another step ahead.  Her birthday, trips to see the kids, Easter, my birthday, the first day of school (she taught for many years), Thanksgiving, and Christmas each came with unique reminders; each season presenting new reasons to cry and to thank God for her.

Grief is easier to endure with people- friends and family- than alone.

How people go through this loss without a community is beyond me. Phone calls, emails, Facebook notes, visits with family, invites to dinner, and the ordinary interactions day in and day out with people who cared, who remembered her with me, kept me from sinking into depression. My children listened to me cry on the phone. Friends helped me to see the sunshine, and to know that there is more ahead; different but still full of promise. All of the crises of life are better endured with a circle of friends who love.  Are you loving and being loved? Don’t wait ‘til it is necessary.  Love today!

Grief opens a person to a wide array of temptations that have the potential to destroy life.

Shocking? I am only human and I’ll spare you the details but suffice to say when the heart aches, there are a hundred voices that offer soothing. By the grace of God, I’m largely without regrets. I did not realize how badly a soul desires some solace when the pain feels like it will never end! When my heart was ripped open I saw, in new depth, both the beauty of His grace and the depravity of human nature. Momentary pleasures sparkle with allure and it is so easy to fall prey to retail therapy, over-eating, toxic relationships, poor decisions. I am glad for people in my life who were ready to speak the truth to me, to remind me that God was greater than my pain, and to urge me to go steadily forward.  Be patient with those who grieve even as you encourage them to obedience to the Spirit’s leading. Don’t add shame to pain. Offer a hand or a shoulder!

Everybody’s different.

I have read at least a half dozen books written by people about their grief. In each I found echoes of my own thoughts as well as things that were non-existent for me.  One man wrote of feeling the need to completely shut the door on his life with his late wife. He quickly emptied the closets, disposed of her things, sold the home they shared, and moved to a new city.  He said that it was the way he survived his grief. Good for him! But, I still have Bev’s clothes hanging in the closet and I find being in the same house, doing the same work, living with the same people a great comfort.  Remarry? Several wrote of their happiness and I am glad for them.  Perhaps that will happen for me but certainly not at this time. Some said that they chose to stop talking about their dead spouse.  I like to talk about Bev. I visit and care for her gravesite. Some never go back after the burial.

Lesson?  Other than avoiding the sinful and the toxic, we will all make the journey in ways that reflect our personality, training, and experience.

The pathway is not straight!

Each month’s passing should bring about a measurable kind of healing, a lessening of grief, right?  Not for me.  There are wonderful days, when laughter comes quickly, when my thoughts are clear for the future, when I feel great hope. Then, a day will come when the wound feels as tender as it ever did, when tears turn into sobs.  In my experience, those kinds of days are fewer with time, but they still show up.  Just before Christmas I went to our attic to look for wrapping paper and saw rolls neatly taped and stood in a corner, just like Bev left them. It was a moment of devastation that led to a day of sorrow.

The past will take on a rosy glow and you will be tempted to try to live there.

With time, Bev has become something of an angel in my memory. I forget the arguments we had and the disappointments that we struggled to overcome. I remember the brightest moments, the sweetest words.  I have to tell myself not to canonize her and to refuse to look back too often. Her life is a closed book, now in God’s hand. Mine goes on and He has, as I reminded by a dear friend, “immeasurably more” (Ephesians 3:20) for me ahead.

Sorrow has deepened my faith and tolerance for Mystery.

I still have no answer for why God allowed my wife to die. Someone asked me a day or so ago, “Aren’t you angry at God?” Honestly, no.  Puzzled by His ways?  Surely, but angry, no.  He’s God, I am not. I choose to trust Him.  The words of the Scripture fill up my mind, a deep reservoir of hope and assurance. My worship is not as experiential or emotional these days. But I can sing, “praise God from Whom All blessings flow,” with conviction and for that I am grateful.  Don’t wait for the crisis to try to create faith. There was a foundation and the storm shook the house but it stood because it rested on the Rock of my salvation.

Tears are our friends.

Really what I mean is that expressing emotions is critically important. Pretending to be happy while sad twists a person’s soul into crippling condition. Ignoring the reality of loss is a sure way to get sick – in every way. God has found me in my tears, late at night in my bed, when silent tears slide onto my pillow, He whispers peace.  Yes, I have had a few friends walk away, unwilling or unable to cope with my sorrow. And, that’s fine. I bear them no ill will.  My tears have made me a more tender man with a much greater capacity for love and greater patience. So, yes, tears are my friends and they fall from my eyes without any shame.

Do I know it all? Of course not. Will everyone’s pathway through grief look like mine? No. But those are my ‘take aways’ in year one. Sorrow is a common experience among us humans, as much as we try to avoid it. But, we serve a God who is loving and good, the God of all comfort.

As we look into 2017, here is the benediction that blesses me. May it bless you as you receive the Word of God.

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

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 3:16-21, NIV)

___________

Good, Good Father

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

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Gift Returns

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Apparently we do not always get the gift we hoped for according to retailers. Retail stores will process a flood of returns starting today. Around 75% of people surveyed this Christmas season said that they would be returning gifts for various reasons. Clothes that do not fit properly, technological gadgets that do not function properly, things that are just unwanted – will find their way back to the customer service desk or the UPS store.

Have you wrestled with missed expectations in your life?  Have you ever felt that someone over-promised and under-delivered?

It happens in so many ways. The move to the new town is loaded with expectations of a whole ‘new start,’ and then the person finds that he is still the same, living in a different place.  A new job seems to offer so much more fulfillment but then the routine settles in and it’s just ‘a job’ like the one before it. Marriages fail when two people bring very different ideals about the relationship to the altar and then find that other person is incapable of being that ‘person of their dreams.’

There is one way to avoid being disappointed, but I do  not recommend it.  If you withdraw from life, refuse to get involved with others, and avoid risk as much as possible, you will reduce your risk of disappointment. But, is that how you want to live, safely insulated from both joy and sorrow, hiding from life? People who are fully  alive, working to make a difference in the world, and loving others will eventually deal with missed expectations.

The worst kind of disappointment can happen to us spiritually when we are taught wrong things about God:  Who He is, how He acts. When prayers appear to go unanswered, when we find ourselves wrestling with life in spite of doing the right things, we can become angry with Him, though it can be hard to admit.

Let me suggest some important choices we can make if we find ourselves struggling with disappointment with God.

The first seems counterintuitive, perhaps.
Reset your life’s anchor in the Person of God.

Instead of focusing on those things you think He should have done, on those situations where you cannot see Him at work, contemplate His majesty, thank Him for being love, for His grace, for His patience …  as you choose to ‘be still and know that He is God!”  (Psalm 46:10)

Preacher Isaiah watched Judah fall ever more deeply into spiritual malaise, knew that God was going to allow Assyrian invaders to destroy Jerusalem and even the Temple. Life might have made him bitter or filled him with despair. What did he do? He settled his hope, not on changed circumstances, but on an eternal God. He inspires me to greater faith as he reminds me that “Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:30-31)

Sometimes we must choose to adjust our expectations.  In a recent conversation with my adult children they teased me about having ‘adjustment issues’ knowing that both my personality and my stage of life tend to make me resistant to change. But, I am not alone. People generally work at making a life that ‘works’ for them. Then, reality arrives, and with it, the inevitable need to adjust, to adapt. Some refuse and invest tremendous amounts of energy fighting to make life just as it was, to force people and situations into an ideal that they have created for themselves.

Here’s a brutal honesty. That choice will be a destructive.  Self, as the center of existence, leads to a life of misery, bitterness, and loneliness. I love the opening lines of Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

In our human interactions, there is an important choice to make – forgiveness! Forgiveness, in one sense, is releasing others from our demand that they act in ways we approve or like. Forgiveness is a choice to submit to a higher purpose and to surrender our disappointment, the offense, to God. How can we do that?  In the faith that He will bring all things to justice in His time.

When we release that person who has disappointed us to God’s justice, we find freedom from the anger, hatred, and bitterness. Jesus taught that unless we forgive, we cannot find forgiveness!  “Forgive us our debts, as (in the same way) we also have forgiven our debtors…. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”  (Matthew 6:12) Forgiveness is a greater blessings to the forgiver than it is to the forgiven.

Today, even as you may be thinking about some gift returns, I encourage you to thank God for His Perfect Gift. As you do, you will find both a preventative and a cure for disappointment. If you’re struggling to make sense of the will of God, of the actions of others, or even of the mysteries of your own heart, start here.

“Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do,
everywhere you go;
He’s the one who will keep you on track. ”  (Proverbs 3:5-6, The Message)

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10,000 Reasons (Bless The Lord)

(Matt Redman builds our faith with this song of praise)

Bless the Lord O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
I’ll worship Your holy name

 The sun comes up it’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes

 You’re rich in love and You’re slow to anger
Your name is great and Your heart is kind
For all Your goodness I will keep on singing
Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find

 And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years and then forevermore

 Worship Your holy name
Lord I’ll worship Your holy name

Jonas Myrin | Matt Redman © 2011 Atlas Mountain Songs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) sixsteps Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) Thankyou Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) worshiptogether.com songs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

As You Say

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People I know are all over the map of emotions – joyful, grieving, fulfilled, empty, hopeful, despairing. How is your heart today? Perhaps you are afraid to let yourself think about that question. What is being covered over by the activities, the superficial laughter, the religious words? If you admit to yourself that life is not as you hoped it might be, you think you may not be able to recover. You are not the first to doubt, to feel alone, to wonder why!  But, in the Christmas story there is a person who made a choice to trust!

There is a part of Mary’s story that inspires the hurting, the wondering, the fearful, the doubting. This young woman, probably still in her teens, is visited in her village by a messenger from the Lord. “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.” (Luke 1:28-29, NIV)  The angel goes on to tell her that she is pregnant, not by natural means, but by God’s will, and that she will bear the Messiah. Her life is about to turn inside out. Her pending marriage will be put at risk. She will leave her home and go live with her relative, Elizabeth, to avoid the scandal that would break over her when it became obvious she was with child.

And, how does she respond to this? That is where I find words to hold onto. “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.” (Luke 1:38, NIV)

Her faith causes her to submit to God, to accept His message. Mary becomes part of the work of salvation, not just the womb in which Jesus was carried, but a part of His ministry. She nurtured the Son of God. She was a witness to His miracles, stood at the foot of His cross, knew His Resurrection life. She turned belief to faith.

Do not miss the subtle implications of the story. There is an interplay of the will of God and the will of Mary. She is ‘highly favored,’ though we are not told of any specific reasons that she found this favor. The ordinary young woman, nobody really, from nowhere, received grace, God’s unmerited favor. But, it is clear that she knew God, that her heart and mind were inclined to love and serve Him. God looked on her with His grace. She looked on Him with her faith. And, we know the rest.

God sees you today! He sees the good, the bad, the successes, the failures, the up’s and the down’s. The good news for you (and me!) is that He sees us through eyes of love and offers grace. Just settle yourself in that statement. The prayer of Paul reminds us that when we receive the grace, we find love, an amazing love. He says I pray for your understanding to increase “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—…”   That love is not just to make us feel warm, fuzzy, affirming emotions. It is transformative!  When we join Mary in faithful submission, entering into His love – we are “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19, NIV)

Many turn the words ‘submission’ and ‘surrender’ into ugly ones because they only think of the cruel who exploit, the powerful who oppress. God is not that, dear friend. He is good. He is not tame, nor is His will always comfortable, but He is right and He is love. We can TRUST Him with our whole heart, soul, body, and mind.  Will we, like Mary, say “as You have said”?  Become a participant in the Divine plan that He is working in you. You, too, are ‘highly favored.’

Take this word from the Word to heart. Savor it. “We ask God to give you a complete understanding of what he wants to do in your lives, and we ask him to make you wise with spiritual wisdom. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and you will continually do good, kind things for others. All the while, you will learn to know God better and better. We also pray that you will be strengthened with his glorious power so that you will have all the patience and endurance you need. May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father, who has enabled you to share the inheritance that belongs to God’s holy people, who live in the light.” (Colossians 1:9-12, NLT)

I ask once more – Will we, like Mary, say “as You have said”?
May you be blessed with joy unspeakable, peace overflowing, and love unending. Thanks for reading along this year in these daily musing on the Word.

CoffeeBreak With The Word will be back after a Christmas break. Merry Christmas!

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Mary Did You Know
(a spoken word presentation of this song.
Invest 5 minutes to watch it. It’s beautiful!)

Mary did you know
That your baby boy
Would one day walk on water
Mary did you know
That your baby boy
Would save our sons and daughters
Did you know
That your baby boy
Has come to make you new
This Child that you delivered
Will soon deliver you

 Mary did you know
That your baby boy
Would give sight to the blind man
Mary did you know
That your baby boy
Would calm a storm with His hand
Did you know
That your baby boy
Has walked where angels trod
And when you kiss your little baby
You’ve kissed the face of God
Oh Mary did you know

 The blind will see
The deaf will hear
The dead will live again
The lame will leap
The dumb will speak
The praises of the Lamb

 Oh Mary did you know
That your baby boy
Is Lord of all creation
Mary did you know
That your baby boy
Will one day rule the nations
Did you know
That your baby boy
Is heaven’s perfect Lamb
And the sleeping Child you’re holding
Is the great I Am

Oh Mary oh

Buddy Greene | Mark Lowry © 1991, 1993 Rufus Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) Curb Word Music (Admin. by WC Music Corp.)

CCLI License # 810055

 

 

Beyond Adorable

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Yesterday, our Awana Club (Christian Education for children) had their annual Christmas party. One little girl showed up with self-applied makeup and her own attempt at a party hair-do. Her Mom looked a little embarrassed as she informed me, “This was her choice.” I thought she was simply adorable. Part of Awana includes earning “Awana Bucks” that are spent in a ‘store’ that is set up twice a year. Last night the kids got to do some shopping. It was hilarious, sweet, and yes – adorable.

One of my favorite Christmas carols invites us to adoration. As you sing, “O, come let us adore Him,” I hope the mental image is not the same as the one formed in that opening paragraph. Adore comes from a word that means to ‘offer worshipful prayer!’   Now we use it as a synonym for love and affection. To adore someone signifies that you regard that person with the utmost esteem, love, and respect; that you will choose honor, admire, to be devoted to that one.

I adore Jesus.  My love for the Lord is strong, enduring, life-defining.  But, adoration for Him goes beyond affection. I offer Him worship in my words and actions. He holds the primary place in my life, all others choices secondary to His claim. Now, before you canonize me, I want to follow up that statement with the confession that I don’t always get the order right, that my intentions do not always translate into action.

Our adoration of Christ Jesus is diminished if other loves – for our reputation, our job, our money, our house – crowd Him out of our life.  If we stop worshiping whole-heartedly there will be an inevitable cooling off.

Adoration will disappear,
replaced by affection, which
will become token appreciation.

Jesus tells us that we must “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’” (Matthew 22:37, NIV)   In the book of the Revelation, Jesus speaks the church in Ephesus. They broke His heart by allowing their adoration slip away.  He says to them, “You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.” (Revelation 2:3-5, NIV) Jesus urged the Ephesians to remember their first love and to renew it.

This Advent Season when you hear that carol, “O Come, All Ye Faithful,”  let it stir a renewed adoration! Sing and speak of His goodness. A word of caution is in order here. IF you don’t adore Him, then don’t try to convince yourself or someone else that you do with empty words or borrowed words! Love can be made new. Do you know that love is first a choice, and second an emotion? Jesus warned that  “Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold.”  (Matthew 24:12) If that’s describing you, turn back to God.  Find a place alone with Him and confess that you have given yourself to another lover.  Turn back, renew your commitment to Him.

Our word from the Word is a prayer. “I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will give you mighty inner strength through his Holy Spirit. And I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts as you trust in him. May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love really is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is so great you will never fully understand it. Then you will be filled with the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” (Ephesians 3:16-19, NLT)

_________________

O Come All Ye Faithful

 O come all ye faithful,
joyful and triumphant,
O come ye,
O come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him,
born the King of angels.

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

 Sing choirs of angels,
Sing in exultation,
O sing all ye bright hosts of heav’n above.
Glory to God,
All glory in the highest.

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

 Yea, Lord, we greet Thee,
born this happy morning;
Jesus to Thee be all glory giv’n.
Word of the Father now in flesh appearing.

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

John Wade © Public Domain

A Real Christmas

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

Make people your priority!

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

Remember to include worship!

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

Give yourself away!

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

Recover wonder!

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

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

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

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O Come All Ye Faithful (Adeste Fideles)

(Celtic Woman sings this carol so beautifully)

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

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

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

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

Frederick Oakeley | John Francis Wade © Words: Public Domain

Reflecting His Light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elisha Albright Hoffman | John Hart Stockton

© Words: Public Domain