Quiet!

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Several days ago, during my vacation in Colorado, I stood on a rocky point, about 9,000 feet up, looking out over the Sangre De Cristo mountains. The place is called “Inspiration Point” by locals and it lived up to its name. I felt real worship at that moment, awed by the beauty.  When a tiny baby is laid in my arms,  my response is never to scream or yell with delight over new life.  Instead a tender silence envelopes the child and me. I see yet another miracle of new creation.  Have you felt awe recently?

Awe is growing extinct and, with its passing, we are losing the art of listening. We crank up the volume, buy ever bigger TV screens,  shovel sound into our ears constantly- and – we risk becoming deaf to the voice of the Spirit. He often speaks to us as He did to Elijah, with that “still, small voice,” a whisper in our soul.

Often, because we are such activity freaks and noise junkies, on those moments when we do become aware of His Presence, instead of growing still before Him,  we open our mouths to make noise!  Incapable of quiet wonder, we insist that somebody says something, sings something.  Richard Foster, a favorite author, observes “Our Adversary majors in three things: noise, hurry and crowds. If he can keep us engaged in “muchness” and “manyness,” he will rest satisfied.”   – Celebration of Discipline

We need to ‘hear’ the admonition of God that came to a man who didn’t know enough about awe to keep his mouth shut and his ears open! It comes from the Gospels.

“After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.
Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”  When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified.  But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.”  (Matthew 17:1-7, NIV)

Dear Peter, how I love him! I fear that I do the same kind of thing, blurting out some inane remark instead of pondering the Presence! The ancient prophet declares, “God is in his holy Temple! Quiet everyone—a holy silence. Listen!” (Habakkuk 2:20, The Message)    Just so we’re clear, His holy temple is not St. Patrick’s or any other church building. We, Believer, are His holy Temple.   And when we sense the Spirit moving in us – be it in corporate worship, standing on a mountain, or in the company of a suffering saint – an appropriate response is to grow still;  to allow awe to overwhelm us, even as something that feels like terror sweeps over us.

Here is a word from the Word.
“LORD, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD.
Renew them in our day, in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.” (Habakkuk 3:2, NIV)

Today, make some space in all the ‘noise’ of your life to listen.   Invite the Spirit to fill you up with holy awe.  Like Elijah, you will find that in the quietness, the small voice of God whispers a great big message of assurance to your soul.

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Spirit Of God Descend Upon My Heart (Morecambe)

Spirit of God descend upon my heart
Wean it from earth thro’ all its pulses move
Stoop to my weakness mighty as Thou art
And make me love Thee as I ought to love

 Hast Thou not bid us love Thee God and King
All Thine own soul heart and strength and mind
I see Thy cross there teach my heart to cling
O let me seek Thee and O let me find

 Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love
One holy passion filling all my frame
The baptism of the heav’n descended dove
My heart an altar and Thy love the flame

Frederick Cook Atkinson | George Croly © Words: Public Domain

 

Trading Treasure for Junk

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Most of us have received those emails that start out with a sad story of someone who needs to transfer money and needs our help to do it. If we will just send them our bank information, they promise to let us keep a percentage of the transfer for our kindness.

What should be an obvious scam somehow becomes believable when greed overwhelms common sense. We like to think we are smart enough to avoid those scams that are so numerous in our digital age but millions of dollars are lost to con men every day. Their smooth talk and appeal to fear or greed manages to convince some people to believe a lie.

Paul’s letter to the Romans opens with a celebration of God’s gift of grace through Christ, the Gospel. Then, in 1:18, there is a jarring shift to his description of the tragedy of spiritual deception. He explains that God, who trumpets His existence in the world through Natural revelation, is ignored by people who prefer not to know that there is Someone to Whom they owe their existence and their worship. And, in that ignorance, a deception sets in that leads to a terrible exchange of treasure for junk, with awful consequence.

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. . . . . For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. . . .   They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.” (Romans 1:18-25, NIV)

Are you ready to trade away a rich relationship with the eternal God for some lesser god, for what you think will bring you happiness, or for a moment’s pleasure?   Don’t say it cannot happen to you!   If we linger long enough near temptation, gazing at the trinkets offered by the Swindler, they can take on the gleam of fool’s gold, appearing to be things of great value. If we refuse to acknowledge God, we leave ourselves wide open to becoming fools with confused values that lead to our destruction, similar to those who let greed overwhelm their good sense in a world of scams!

So, how do we avoid the swindle?  The Word tells us to make two choices.

First, glorify God.   What does that mean?  Worship Him.  Acknowledge His supremacy.  Make His Name great.

Second, give thanks.  Thankfulness reinforces contentment.  A contented person knows an inner peace that keeps the lies of the swindler from taking hold.

There is an example to be found in the experience of the ancient people of God, those who knew His Presence in the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. They had seen His power when they were miraculously brought out of slavery in Egypt.  They were fed by His hand each day. But, fatigue set in and they complained about the Lord’s provisions. They fought with the leadership that God appointed to lead them.

In their resistance, deception set in. In a night of self-indulgence and revelry, they exchanged God’s glory for a gleaming golden calf!  That generation of people died in the desert blocked from the Promised Land by their faithlessness to the God who had called them.

We need not live in fear of the devil’s scams!  Why? Because we have a great Savior, a wonderful salvation, and a right relationship with God available through grace, by faith. Let’s lean hard on Him, confessing our need, giving His true praise. He is able to keep our sight clear and our minds alert.

There is this warning of the word from the Word. May the Lord keep us.
“Don’t be so naive and self-confident. You’re not exempt.  You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless.
Cultivate God-confidence.
No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face.  
All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it.

So, my very dear friends, when you see people reducing God to something they can use or control, get out of their company as fast as you can.”  (1 Corinthians 10:12-14, The Message)
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How I Need You

(A new song of faith)

Every day in Your hands
You were there before time began
Sovereign one I rest in Your plan
From the depths to the dawn
You are there Your promise is strong
I will trust with all that I am

 Jesus Jesus oh how I need You
You stay the same
You are good in Your ways
Jesus Jesus oh how I need You
You are enough
All my trust is in You Lord

 You fashioned me formed my heart
Search my soul and know every thought
Love so great but never too far
And through the storm You’re the calm
And every war You’ve already won
Life secure in Your loving arms

 You are powerful God above it all
I believe in You I believe in You
You do miracles the impossible
I believe in You I believe in You

Bethany Phillips | Chris Griffin | Micah Massey | Nicole McLean © 2018 Highlands Creative Publishing (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.) CCLI License # 810055

You can be joyful

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The customer service representative had little interest in helping to correct the billing error that the company had made. She suggested that I should just email their department because she was ‘too busy.’ After spending nearly 30 minutes waiting on hold to talk to her, that answer was not what I wanted to hear. I knew that there was a choice to make – would I allow myself to become angry or would I choose to peace? Life is full of little choices like that for me, and for you, too. Thankfully, I chose to close the call graciously and to take a break to refocus for Jesus’ sake.

In his letter to the Colossian Christians (and to us) Paul was inspired to give us practical direction about finding the serenity that God promises to His children. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:16-17, NIV)  What exactly does this passage ask of us?

First of all, we are to give the Lord Jesus a priority place in our lives!
The word of Christ” is how Paul refers to the entire message of wholeness and transformation found in the Gospel, the message. If we want to know joy, we cannot isolate the good news that we are saved, that God has restored us to Himself, to some isolated corner of our lives that we explore only in church on Sunday morning.  That ‘’word”  needs to be stirred into every moment, shaping every decision.  Paul says “richly.”  We cannot just sprinkle a little “Jesus” here and there in our lives, we need to soak our lives with His Truth.

Second, we are to be engaged with one another with wise counsel!
The Christian life is not lived best in isolation. We love one another in this family of God enough to both point in the right direction (teach) and to warn our brother (admonish) when we see him wandering. That is a challenge in our privacy obsessed culture, isn’t it? The idea that we are happiest when we can ‘do our own thing’ is a lie.  A deeper joy is found in choosing to a life that requires surrender of Self, first to Jesus, and then to become a part of His Body, the Church. Within that family, we engage in the give and take of loving relationships which enrich us.

Third, we choose the attitude of our heart!
What is the soundtrack of your life? Paul tells us to sing! You don’t have to have a voice that earns applause to sing. Let three kinds of songs find their way into your daily life –
psalms; songs that are worshipful, offering adoration to God;
hymns; songs that praise Him; remembering His gifts and promises; and
spiritual songs; those songs that come from our own heart, overflowing from our experience of His goodness.

We can choose to ‘sing’ shaping an atmosphere of joy and inviting the Spirit’s presence to flow in us and through us, or we can choose to be miserable, full of complaint and criticism. We choose!

Fourth, we always remember that we belong to Jesus!
“Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
My first prayer in the morning goes something like this – “Father, help me to remember to live for You and with an awareness of You today. May my words reflect Your goodness and love, my mind be shaped by Your purposes …”   Do I always live that prayer? Hmmm, no! But, my goal is to belong to Him. In Him, I am secure, loved, hopeful, and my best self.  Help me, Jesus!

Choose JOY today. Take this short passage and pray it, meditate on it, let the Word own you – heart, soul, mind, and strength. Here is it is, the word from the Word, restated from The Message.

“Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.” (Colossians 3:16-17, The Message)

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O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing

(sing along!)

Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and king,
The triumphs of His grace!

 Jesus! the name that charms our fears,
That bids our sorrows cease—
’Tis music in the sinner’s ears,
’Tis life, and health, and peace.

 He breaks the pow’r of canceled sin,
He sets the pris’ner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood availed for me.

 Hear Him, Ye Deaf, His praise, ye dumb
Your loosened Tongues employ,
Ye blind behold your Savior come
And leap ye lame for you.

 My gracious Master and my God,
Assist me to proclaim,
To spread through all the earth abroad,
The honors of Thy name.

Charles Wesley

Let’s Fight!

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People apparently love to fight! Conflict is as common as dirt, everywhere – among neighbors, between nations, within families. The sad tale of the legendary feud between the Hatfields of West Virginia and the McCoys of Kentucky is an extreme example. Over the years at least 13 people died, supposedly over a stolen pig and a forbidden love.

When Christians fight, splitting churches, breaking relationship, it is a double tragedy – a disgrace to the Name of Christ and a loss of community.  And, it should never be allowed to happen. But, it does. Paul, inspired by the Spirit, teaches us a different way. “Therefore, 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)

The first reason for Christian unity is the fact that we no longer belong to ourselves, we are “God’s chosen people.” Our personal desires and agendas are to be eclipsed by His purposes. Might we disagree about what He wants from us? Yes, but if we recognize that His Church is greater than our plans, we will refuse to go on the attack. It goes beyond that. We are to make a conscious choice to continue in active relationship with people with whom we disagree. “Clothe yourselves,” the Word says, with those qualities that keep the peace. What are they?

Compassion! That is the willingness to enter into the emotion and experience of the other person, literally willing to feel what they feel.

Kindness! What a beautiful thing. When we are hurting, angered by another, instead of baring our claws, we choose to care and to elevate the other person’s interest over our own.

Humility! Yes, conflict cannot survive when we honestly admit to ourselves, “I don’t have all the answers, don’t see all the issues involved, and could learn from the other person.”

Gentleness! The world in which we live toughens us up, encourages us to develop a hard shell. God invites us to secure ourselves in Him, so we can lower our defenses.

Patience! Oh this is a tough one. We want our way, now.  It takes real faith to give God time to work in the hearts and minds of those with whom we are in disagreement.

The big issue in resolving conflict is forgiveness. Who is our model? God, Himself. “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” His forgiveness is complete, removing every trace of the offense. What a wonderful gift it is. When we offer to hand whatever debt we may feel the other person owes us to God, when we release our need to be vindicated and actively pursue relationship, something miraculous happens. Unity flourishes.

Jesus said that the singular mark of His followers would be their love for one another. Our ongoing feuds makes the Church weak and often ineffectual. Our refusal to let God’s love own our hearts, shape our actions, and keep us together in the family of God a barrier to faith in others.  As an insider, I can say that Christians can, and often do, feud with each other on a level with the Hatfields and McCoys.  How this must break the heart of God. But, where there is genuine love, not the fake sentimentality, syrupy insincerity we spread on the surface; the work of the Lord will become a powerful force for good, the church making a measurable difference for the Kingdom of God.

My prayer is that He will teach me to love deeply, for His Name’s sake. How about you?

The word from the Word says “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:34-35, NLT)

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Stand In Your Love
(we love because He first loved)

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

 My fear doesn’t stand a chance
When I stand in Your love
Shame no longer has a place to hide
I am not a captive to the lies
I’m not afraid to leave my past behind
I won’t be shaken I won’t be shaken

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

 Standing in Your love

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

CCLI License # 810055

Half Measures?

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To work with a person who is ‘all in,’ unwilling to settle for half-measures, is a joy. You never have to wonder what is hidden, what they are doing when no one else is around, or if they will actually complete their assigned tasks. It’s been my experience that those who choose to be fully engaged  – be it at home, at work, or in their Christian experience – are those who are most deeply satisfied. They put in the effort and reap the reward.

On this Monday morning, God invites us to know a complete kind of Christian life, deeply satisfying and effective, available only because of His gift to us.  Paul writes that “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.” (Colossians 2:9-10, NIV)  Let’s put that another way –  “God’s completeness is revealed in Jesus and because of Him we can know the richest life possible;  no longer victims; we are victors!”  The realization of that promise eludes those who do not trust Him without reservation, who attempt to hold onto Self while professing faith in Christ Jesus.

The Colossians were settling for half-measures of religiosity, trying to find a relationship with God through their own efforts. Some of their teachers were misrepresenting Jesus as less than God, making Him a spiritual teacher and/or a moral model. Paul warns them (and us!) about this. “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” (Colossians 2:8, NIV)  If we make our “Christianity” about observing holy days, keeping moral codes, or having the right kind of philosophy of life we miss the complete message that richly resources for to live joyfully, freely, and fully.  “I want to know Christ!” How about you?

How do we ‘know Him?’  Through faith that is expressed in devotion and obedience. Paul warns about substituting rituals and symbols for living faith. He refers to the Jewish “initiation” rite of circumcision and says that Christ went beyond making a mark on our physical body, cutting away the ‘sinful nature’ enabling us to be loving and whole people who please our Father. “When you came to Christ, you were “circumcised,” but not by a physical procedure. It was a spiritual procedure—the cutting away of your sinful nature. For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to a new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead.” (Colossians 2:11-12, NLT)  Do you believe that? Are you living in full faith? Or are you content with half-measures of external rules that leave your heart unmoved? That kind of Christianity leaves only regret, frustration, and an empty heart.

Paul’s words become strong as he urges us to go ‘all in’ in faith. Trying to keep rules others write for us in an attempt to find peace with God is a fool’s errand. “So don’t put up with anyone pressuring you in details of diet, worship services, or holy days. All those things are mere shadows cast before what was to come; the substance is Christ.” (Colossians 2:16-17, The Message) … “So, then, if with Christ you’ve put all that pretentious and infantile religion behind you, why do you let yourselves be bullied by it? “Don’t touch this! Don’t taste that! Don’t go near this!” Do you think things that are here today and gone tomorrow are worth that kind of attention? Such things sound impressive if said in a deep enough voice. They even give the illusion of being pious and humble and ascetic. But they’re just another way of showing off, making yourselves look important.” (Colossians 2:20-23, The Message)

Our hope, our peace, our power is found in Christ Jesus. Do you trust Him? Do you love Him? He is the source of ‘fullness!’ Today’s word from the Word points to the true source. My prayer is that the Spirit will make Him known to you, completely.

“Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits at God’s right hand in the place of honor and power. Let heaven fill your thoughts. Do not think only about things down here on earth. For you died when Christ died, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:1-3, NLT)

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The Solid Rock

My hope is built on nothing less\
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name

 On Christ the solid Rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground is sinking sand 

When darkness seems to hide His face
I rest on His unchanging grace
In ev’ry high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil

 His oath His covenant His blood
Support me in the whelming flood
When all around my soul gives way
He then is all my hope and stay

 When He shall come with trumpet sound
O may I then in Him be found
Dressed in His righteousness alone
Faultless to stand before the throne

Edward Mote © Words: Public Domain

Heaven, home!

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The message about yet another death in our family this morning brought new grief. But, I am not without hope because I have the hope of eternity.
What awaits us?  What is this hope of which we speak?

Heaven! 

Isaiah caught a glimpse of Heaven and it changed his life.  When the Lord allowed him to see the wonders of the Throne Room of God and the angels that worship God perpetually, he was overcome by the realization of his sinfulness and cried, “I am doomed because I am a filthy man!” (Isaiah 6)  And, in response to his confession, God made him clean, fit for holy service.

Paul tells of being lifted up to Heaven, seeing visions that were too holy to describe.  Those visions sustained his faith through a life of unbelievable difficulties in his ministry and near the end of his earthly journey allowed him to face his pending execution with this hope:  “now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return.” (2 Timothy 4:8, NLT)

John, in that book of unveiling, The Revelation, tries to describe other worldly visions with this world’s language.  He gives us language that shapes Heaven for most Believers, including such ideas as streets of gold, gates of pearl, and streams of pure water.   Who can really fully understand all that John means with statements like these? God “took me away in the Spirit to an enormous, high mountain and showed me Holy Jerusalem descending out of Heaven from God, resplendent in the bright glory of God. The City shimmered like a precious gem, light-filled, pulsing light.  … The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate a single pearl. The main street of the City was pure gold, translucent as glass.” (Revelation 21:10-11, 21 The Message)

There is much for us to anticipate as we ponder the quick glimpses of that beautiful City of God that we find in the Bible. But the most glorious, the most wonderful truth, is in the promise: “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4, NIV)

When we are welcomed home, the gaps in our knowledge will close, the distance in our love will be gone. Yes, we will know Him fully. Oh, what joy!  In that holy place, the pain and troubles will be gone, an almost impossible dream, for us. Jesus will dry our tears and take away every regret, remove the possibility of disappointment, and we will enjoy relationships with God and others that eliminate loneliness. No wonder John’s vision includes an outpouring of worship that he says was “like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God.”  (Revelation 19:1, NIV)

Ah, my friend, Heaven is not an escapist dream that comes to relieve the tedium of life.  That home is not just ‘happy talk’ to help us cope with death’s fearful approach.  I do remember a time, long ago, when I did not understand heaven, brushing off those older saints who wanted to talk about it, claiming that there was “too much living right here and right now to ‘waste’ time thinking about Eternity.” What a foolish boy I was.

Heaven is for now.   A Christian who does not have Heaven in view on the horizon of life will wander from God’s purpose and even lose heart when the questions outrun his answers.  On one of the most difficult nights in their lives, when He was about to be crucified, Jesus reminded His friends – “Don’t be troubled. You trust God, now trust in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s home, and I am going to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:1-3, NLT)

Keep the hope of heaven alive and in focus, Christian friend, whether you are 19 or 91!
Knowing that we are on our way home, keeps us steady, gives us reason to press on.

The word from the Word is from Paul, who urges us to remember eternity, to set it in our hearts.  “We keep getting reports on your steady faith in Christ, our Jesus, and the love you continuously extend to all Christians. The lines of purpose in your lives never grow slack, tightly tied as they are to your future in heaven, kept taut by hope. The Message is as true among you today as when you first heard it. It doesn’t diminish or weaken over time. It’s the same all over the world. The Message bears fruit and gets larger and stronger, just as it has in you. From the very first day you heard and recognized the truth of what God is doing, you’ve been hungry for more.”   (Colossians 1: 5  The Message) Isn’t that rich?

Plant your heart in Heaven.  Invest yourself in God’s work, as Jesus said, “laying up treasure” that is beyond the reach of decay, rust, or thieves!

One of these days, we are going Home!

____________________________

O That Will Be Glory

When all my labors and trials are o’er
And I am safe on that beautiful shore
Just to be near the dear Lord I adore
Will through the ages be glory for me

 O that will be glory for me
Glory for me glory for me
When by His grace I shall look on His face
That will be glory be glory for me

 When by the gift of His infinite grace
I am accorded in heaven a place
Just to be there and to look on His face
Will through the ages be glory for me

Charles Hutchinson Gabriel © Words: Public Domain

Not Ashamed!

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Will (not his real name) was in the grip of alcohol, so much so that he jeopardized the safety of his children, nearly destroyed his health, and came close to losing his marriage – then he met Jesus. He told me about his baptism in a river in which he saw a vision of dirty water flowing away from him, his old life gone. The man I know now loves God and others, is gentle, and is free of the slavery. He is one of hundreds that I have known who found new life in Christ; some with similar dramatic change, others with a more subtle shift from serving Self to loving God. That is why I am a person committed to making Christ known, to preaching the Good News of transformation.

With Paul, I make this declaration – “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17, NIV)  Mock the simplicity of inviting others to ‘come to Jesus’ if you will, but I have no reluctance to share His offer of life!

I know that something powerful happens to us when we receive Him, by faith, as Lord and Savior. Beyond therapy, which can be valuable; beyond learning new patterns of life in discipleship, which is important to growth – everyone of us can have an encounter with the living Christ, acknowledging that we are lost, confessing our alienation from our Creator, and accepting the gift of transformation from death to life that comes through Him.

Paul writes about ‘salvation’ and does not intend that we think of that as a single moment of prayer, at the end of a church service or with a friend who has presented us with Christ’s truth. Conversion, that moment when we are, in Jesus’ words, “born again,” is an amazing change in direction. Salvation is a way of life, resulting from the powerful life of the Holy Spirit Who takes up residence in us, leading us to wholeness, to restoration of our relationship with God, our Father. We are both ‘saved,’ in an eternal transaction and we are ‘being saved’ as an ongoing experience.

In the transformation that comes from receiving the Gospel of Christ we become participants in God’s very nature, knowing something called ‘righteousness.’  Let’s not allow old caricatures block our understanding. To be righteous does not mean that we lose our ability to laugh, to know joy, that we must become staid, buttoned-down, uptight religious zealots. Through Christ Jesus we are declared ‘righteous’ – acceptable to God who is perfect and holy because He extends His mercy to us – and becoming whole and holy as we grow in His grace so that old ways are replaced.

Let’s not lose sight of a critical phrase that comes next – by faith, from first to last!We cannot focus on our own perfection, hoping to change ourselves. The sinful nature trips us up every time we think we are smart enough, mature enough, to please God.  The life of the Spirit is poured into us when we respond to His invitation with faith, believing and receiving, what God provides in Christ. What joy! What power! What transformation!

Are you living the Gospel? Don’t confuse the question with being religious. Just trying to be nice, going to church, and attempting basic morality may be admirable but those things cannot make you or me right with God, and to the extent that we attempt to live the ‘Christian’ life in our own strength, we will likely end up only feeling more guilt.  The Gospel (Good News!) is that Christ Jesus came to save us – offering us new life, releasing us from the old ways, inviting us to become participants with Him in the divine life.

Here is a word from the Word.
Lord, use it to inspire us to greater faith and deeper transformation. Amen.

It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. …  immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! … Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it.

It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing. ” (Ephesians 2:1, 4-5, 8-10, The Message)

_____

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

I am who You say I am

Ben Fielding | Reuben Morgan © 2017 Hillsong Music Publishing Australia (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) CCLI License # 810055

Remember and reflect

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9/11/01 – 19 men full of hatred for ‘the Great Satan’ – America – set out on missions of destruction. 3000 people died and this country was changed. They killed in the name of Allah, their hatred and rage fueled by religious fanaticism and fear. It is not just fringe adherents of Islam that practice hatred in the name of God! We do well to remember, to reflect, and to resist the radical fringe of haters.

Where does religious hatred come from? It grows in a very fertile soil –fear – of a changing world, of those who are ‘different,’ that what we value is being destroyed. All of experience some level of angst when the world around us changes, don’t we?  We wonder about what we have given our lives to. We ponder the kind of world our children will live in. Sometimes it seems like the most precious things to us are being ripped from us. When we stoke those fears, feeding them with endless bad news, conspiracy theories, and mix in political and/or religious rhetoric, we risk becoming belligerent; hateful!

Jesus speaks directly to his followers, forbidding hatred! He says “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own.” (Matthew 7:1-3, The Message) We read His words about the two Great Commandments – “Love God with your whole being, and love others as you love yourselves!” There is no room for hating in those commands, is there? Only God can judge and only He can condemn. Why? Because He alone has the full knowledge of the motives and ways of others.

But, “Jerry, when we see the reality of sin and evil, we must respond to it, right?” Yes, absolutely. We would be fools to pretend that we are living in a world that welcomes the ways of Jesus Christ. God is ignored by many, with godless choices shaping our nation. There is a real Enemy of God who actively resists all that is good. The Evil One is sowing his seeds of destruction. But we will not overcome him by using the tactics of hatred and violence. Our response must be different. We can boldly speak to sinful behavior, while holding out the hope of redemption through the love of Jesus!

Ponder Jesus’ words, so often forgotten or laid aside in moments of fear. “You have heard that the law of Moses says, ‘If an eye is injured, injure the eye of the person who did it. If a tooth gets knocked out, knock out the tooth of the person who did it.’ But I say, don’t resist an evil person! If you are slapped on the right cheek, turn the other, too. … You have heard that the law of Moses says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and on the unjust, too.” (Matthew 5:38-45, NLT)

There is but one thing that allows Christians to overcome their fears, that gives them the ability to ‘turn the other cheek’ in the face of hostility. It is knowing the complete security of God’s love, that nothing in this world, no one, at all, can separate us from the promise of God to save and keep.

9/11 changed America – and not necessarily for the good. Christian, it is our call to resist the fear, to unite where there are divisions, to encourage and to be people of hope. On this anniversary of an attack fueled by religious hatred, let’s renew our commitment to change the world with the profound message of God’s love shown us through Christ Jesus.

Our word from the Word is anchoring Truth that lets us do the work of the Kingdom of God. No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels can’t, and the demons can’t. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away. Whether we are high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39, NLT)

______________

The Power Of Your Love

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

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

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

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

CCLI License # 810055

Let me tell you …

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Did you hear about that meeting? Can you believe what she said? Do you know what happened to him?
 Gossip is as old as human speech, as common as dust. It is not unique to rich or poor, male or female. We all let it happen, some less obviously, but nearly all of us talk about other people, some of the time. People share gossip for many reasons – to enhance their own social status, to gain attention from others, to subtly let others know their opinions, out of boredom, to get even with another. The fact that ‘everybody does it’ does not make it right.

A few days ago someone shared a morsel of gossip with me that she heard about my supposed pending retirement from ministry. There were a few shreds of truth in what was said but what was alleged about my motives and decisions was complete fabrication. I laughed it off, but wondered if anyone believed it? Most likely it got started in a conversation of speculation and after a few repeats, somebody’s ‘theory’ turned into ‘facts.’  (By the way, just to set the record straight, I have no plans to retire anytime soon, nor have I asked for a pay-out from the church.)

Words, even idle gossip, are powerful, capable of bringing pain and trouble to others. On school playgrounds kids chant, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me!” But that isn’t not true. Words can hurt, badly. You know that, and so do I.

What kinds of words flow from your lips? The wisdom of the Word teaches us these things –

Proverbs 16:28 – A troublemaker plants seeds of strife; gossip separates the best of friends.
Proverbs 18:8 – Listening to gossip is like eating cheap candy; do you really want junk like that in your belly?
Proverbs 26:20 – When you run out of wood, the fire goes out; when the gossip ends, the quarrel dies down.

Paul sets a goal for each one of us in the use of our words. He corrects some feuding Christians – “So let’s agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other. Help others with encouraging words.” (Romans 14:19)

The answer to gossip and critical speech is not a padlock on the lips; it is confession of sin which allows the Holy Spirit to transform our mind. If we want to replace negative, critical, destructive words with encouraging, positive, and life-giving ones, we must have a genuine change of heart, an inner work of the Spirit. Jesus reminds us that the words we say flow out of our inner-most person. What we think, what we value, who we really are – is revealed by what we say.

A slanderer, a gossip, is telling the world – “My heart is empty, without the positive, inspired qualities of the Spirit.”  I know this personally! When I am exhausted or discouraged, when I do not make the choice to be renewed in prayerful conversation with the Holy Spirit, the overflow of my lips becomes faithless, negative, and too often, critical.  And yes, when I walk with the Spirit, renewed in Him, in the same kinds of situations, He makes me capable of being encouraging, of speaking honestly, lovingly building up others.

Let’s call gossip what it is – harmful, destructive, and ungodly. No more excusing it as ‘being human’ or ‘just that thing that happens.’  When we find ourselves falling into it may we have the courage to apologize and to repent! Gossip is a sin against God and others. Treat it as such. Pray instead that God will transform your words. Pray that it will be life, not death, that results from your conversations.

The word from the Word is a bit lengthy today, coming to us from the practical letter of James.

“We all make many mistakes, but those who control their tongues can also control themselves in every other way. We can make a large horse turn around and go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. And a tiny rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot wants it to go, even though the winds are strong.

So also, the tongue is a small thing, but what enormous damage it can do. A tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is full of wickedness that can ruin your whole life. It can turn the entire course of your life into a blazing flame of destruction, for it is set on fire by hell itself.

People can tame all kinds of animals and birds and reptiles and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is an uncontrollable evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it breaks out into curses against those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water?” (James 3:2-11, NLT)

________

Make me a blessing, make me a blessing;
Out of my life, may Jesus shine.
Make me a blessing, O Savior I pray;
Make me a blessing to someone today.

-Public Domain

Solitary

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The cell was stark, nothing but a narrow bunk. It was called “Solitary.”  It was the place where inmates were placed for disciplinary reasons, or occasionally, for their own protection.  I toured a prison museum while vacationing last week. (Don’t laugh, it was interesting.)

When gets busy and responsibilities multiply, we may sometimes wish for a little time alone, but taking a break from our day to day responsibilities, which is what I did last week with a vacation, is entirely different from being cut off from all human interaction, locked into a cell without windows or glimpse of the world. It is an awful kind of punishment.

Circumstances may leave you feeling like you’ve been put into solitary confinement, abandoned even, but let me remind you, Christian, that you are never truly alone!  Moses spoke to God’s people and to Joshua when he was about to take on the leadership of the nation – “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. … The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Deuteronomy 31:6,8, NIV)  The repetition is a way of driving home the point to us!

We are never ‘in solitary’ even when we are alone. The Presence of God knows no barriers. The Spirit is with us, living in us. We can commune with Him, know His peace; anytime, anywhere. David speaks of times in his life when he felt abandoned, overwhelmed, alone. When he reflects on his heritage, belonging to God, he sings- “Many people say, “Who will show us better times?” Let the smile of your face shine on us, Lord. You have given me greater joy than those who have abundant harvests of grain and wine. I will lie down in peace and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe.” (Psalm 4:6-8, NLT)

There is a key to experiencing God’s presence, stillness. “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10, NIV) The power of the text is sometimes lost to us. Where the Word tells us to ‘be still’ the Hebrew text is about more than just turning down the noise of life. It is an active word that implies weakness, falling down in exhaustion. We might translate that line, “let it go!” Yes, to experience God’s Presence in His fullness, we must be willing to release our grasp on things, on expectations, on our own dreams and hopes. Is that difficult? Yes, because God’s Presence involves ‘things unseen.’

If you are feeling alone, wondering if the Lord has placed you in solitary confinement- ‘be still.’  Hit the pause button, step away, sink down, let go. … of what you think you need so that you are able to take hold of Who He offers to be in your life. We can become so convinced that we know how life should be, what others must do, the things we absolutely need to find contentment and peace, that we cut ourselves off from the best gifts that are found in Him. That’s not theory for me, I know it first-hand. In great loss I have found Him nearer, even when my heart aches. But, the price of knowing His peace is  surrender of my demanding, becoming still before as I honestly confess that He is Lord. In surrender, He finds us and lets us know His joy.

Feeling abandoned today?  Meditate on the eternal truth of the Word, from Paul who was inspired by the Spirit.  Speaking of his own accomplishments and religious achievements, he says – “I once thought all these things were so very important, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I may have Christ and become one with him.” (Philippians 3:7-9, NLT)

__________

One by one He took them from me,
All the things I valued most.
‘Til I was empty-handed,
Every glittering toy was lost.

 And I walked earth’s highways, grieving,
In my rags and poverty.
Until I heard His voice inviting,
“Lift those empty hands to Me!”

 Then I turned my hands toward heaven,
And He filled them with a store
Of His own transcendent riches,
‘Til they could contain no more.

 And at last I comprehended,
With my stupid mind, and dull,
That God cannot pour His riches
Into hands already full.

-Martha Snell Nicholson