Hubris or Humility?

In his column for the New York Times, which is titled “Not In Control,” David Leonhardt admits that the way we have approached the virus in this most recent pandemic needs to change. We must, he writes, “avoid believing that we can always know which behaviors create risks.”  He quoted Michael Osterholm, who runs an infectious disease research center at the University of Minnesota, who says that we need to keep in mind one overriding idea: humility. “We’ve ascribed far too much human authority over the virus,” the researcher said. With all the proclamations, posturing, and politicking that the COVID virus has stirred, it was good to see someone admit – we do not know all that we think we know!

I want to run with that thought of humility today. Hubris convinces us that we are masters of our universe, that we understand ourselves, others, and our world more than we actually do. That excessive pride and the resulting over-confidence ultimately makes fools of us when we encounter situations that make it plain that we are not nearly ‘all that!’ Pride is a basic human sin, wrecking our relationships with others and with the Lord.

How important is humility to a vibrant Christian life? Take a look at the wisdom of the Word.

Jesus spoke to the need with this paradoxical statement –
           “whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:4, NIV)

    Paul urges us to
               “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2, NIV)

    James does not qualify the command –
               “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.” (James 4:10, NIV)

    Peter, likewise, directs us to
               “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” (1 Peter 5:6, NIV)

Humility is an indispensable trait in the character of the godly.  From the opening stories of Genesis to wild visions of the Revelation we learn that humility is an irreplaceable quality for that person who would truly know and love the Omniscient God. Humility allows us to strengthen our relationship with God because it removes our need to ‘have our own way,’ and brings us to bended knee and open heart before Him.  Humility is a key characteristic of the person who builds lasting friendships, who lives in harmony with others. It dissipates anger. It facilitates forgiveness. It raises up the wounded and broken, viewing people as being worthy of respect. 

Humility is a much misunderstood trait, not to be confused a lack of healthy self-esteem. Nor is it about hating ourselves or living in the shadows. The humble cultivate a rich awareness of themselves and others, knowing who they are in Christ, how they are gifted, where they are weak, contented to be no more or less than God made them to be.  Released from the need to strive and compete by God’s gracious love and acceptance, a humble person lives with love for all persons, including themselves, in the best ways.  The humble man has no need to pursue the ‘success’ image that is entrenched in American lore and society.  The chains of servitude that are made strong by endless attempts to find self-worth and acceptance by pleasing others are broken by letting God do the work of creating a humble spirit in us.

Will we receive the wisdom of Jesus when He calls us to let the work of humility be done in us? There is great promise for us in this. “God blesses those who realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them.” (Matthew 5:3, NLT)  “God blesses those who are gentle and lowly, for the whole earth will belong to them.” (Matthew 5:5, NLT)  Wow! Heaven’s authority and earth’s blessings are God’s gifts to those who are humble.

Isaiah reminds us that “The eyes of the arrogant man will be humbled and the pride of men brought low; the Lord alone will be exalted in that day. The Lord Almighty has a day in store for all the proud and lofty, for all that is exalted (and they will be humbled).” (Isaiah 2:11-12, NIV) 

Like all evidences of the Spirit’s life, humility is both a gift of God and something we must cultivate. 

First step is to acknowledge Christ as Lord
Not just once, but daily. Make a confession of His lordship, His rule, His ownership of your life part of your morning prayer. Almost every morning, among the first thoughts in my mind is a simple prayer – “Lord, this is your day, What opportunities have You prepared for me today?  May You be honored by my thought, word, and action.”  (Full disclosure – I fall short of that aspiration more than I would like to admit.)

Second step is honest confession of reliance on His grace and goodness
Confession is not endlessly rehearsing ‘I am such an awful person. I am guilty. I am shameful.’  Confession is a daily response to the Spirit of obedience, a readiness to recognize failure and quickly find restoration because of His love and goodness to you.  Though I have walked with God for 6 decades and served as a pastor preaching the Word for 45 years, I confess my need of the Spirit, my complete reliance on His power and grace everyday. That is not weakness, that is humility.  Without the life of the Spirit actively working in me as I yield myself to Him, I cannot please God. Nor, my friend, can you.

If you think you are capable of living for Christ Jesus without living the Spirit’s disciplines, without real prayer, without learning the Truth of the Word, without worship and fellowship with other Christians – you are gripped by hubris!  Want to learn and live with humility?  Then, bow your head, open your heart, and learn to lean, like a child, on the complete sufficiency of the Father.

Here is a word from the Word. Given great gifts and profound revelations of spiritual truth, St. Paul was apparently tempted to go it on his own. “So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10, NLT)  Ah, now there is humility – not I, but Christ who lives in me.

_______________

Goodness Of God

(Take a few minutes and make this your worshipful confession)

I love You Lord
Oh Your mercy never fails me
All my days
I’ve been held in Your hands
From the moment that I wake up
Until I lay my head
I will sing of the goodness of God

All my life You have been faithful
All my life You have been so so good
With every breath that I am able
I will sing of the goodness of God

I love Your voice
You have led me through the fire
In darkest night
You are close like no other
I’ve known You as a father
I’ve known You as a friend
I have lived in the goodness of God

Your goodness is running after
It’s running after me
Your goodness is running after
It’s running after me
With my life laid down
I’m surrendered now
I give You everything
Your goodness is running after
It’s running after me

Ben Fielding | Brian Johnson | Ed Cash | Jason Ingram | Jenn Johnson

© 2018 Capitol CMG Paragon (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

SHOUT! Music Publishing Australia (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

Fellow Ships Music (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)

So Essential Tunes (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)

CCLI License # 810055

As the world turns

For a year and a half I have known that the moment was approaching when I would step away from pastoring the church I have served for 21 years. On September 1, I will no longer be the pastor of a church. It’s the right decision for me, for the congregation. This choice has kicked up memories, moments of celebration, occasions for regret. Having negotiated many changes in my life- some part of a plan, some not of my choosing – I am aware of this:  God has new opportunities for me and a fresh vision for them.

Nostalgia is nice, as a temporary diversion, but we cannot successfully navigate our way into the future while staring into the rear-view mirror of life.  We will surely miss the best that God has prepared for us IF we let the rosy tint of memory convince us that life was better back then.  I have to remind myself that memory is highly selective.  History gets rewritten by our present understanding and/or emotional needs. As we think only of the ‘good old days,’ we tend to forget God’s faithfulness in the ‘ordinary.’  Our recall usually involves the headline events – big moments of joy or sorrow, major triumphs or terrible failure.

Try to think of this date – July 29 – in 2011.  Unless something special happened  or you have kept a journal, I doubt you can remember what you had for breakfast, who you met, or where you went. Our memories are built around celebrations, Christmases, vacations, getting a new homes or starting a new job. On the other side of that we recall the awful moments of breakups, financial loss, or death. But, real life is lived in unremarkable moments – shared breakfasts, meetings, commutes to work, irritations like broken appliances, arguments about a missed appointment:  those many ordinary days when God’s grace keeps us and we live in the flow of time. 

A song that I find myself humming, singing even, often recently is that old hymn – “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” I love this line – “Summer and winter, Springtime and harvest, Sun, moon and stars in their courses above; join with all nature in manifold witness, to Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love!”  The world turns and in that predictable change of seasons, sunrise and sunset, there is mute testimony to God’s goodness. In worship of the Eternal God, I find my heart and mind at peace.

Ah, friend are you facing some change? The truth is that we all are because time leaves nothing unchanged. This world is not the same today as it was a year ago, nor our situation be the same a year from now.  We are not adrift, without security, in this sea of change. There is an anchor for us who know God – His great faithfulness.  Our Savior’s love is unwavering, constant. The Word assures that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8, NIV)

Let’s not miss the moment, trying to recapture yesterday’s glory or fix its mistakes. Let’s not let today’s opportunity slip past because we are lost in some fantastic reverie about tomorrow. Paul’s wise counsel teaches us to live NOW – “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:15-18, NIV)  

Here’s a word from the Word. Jesus reminds us that God, the Spirit, is working in us now. “No one tears a piece of cloth from a new garment and uses it to patch an old garment. For then the new garment would be torn, and the patch wouldn’t even match the old garment. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. The new wine would burst the old skins, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine must be put into new wineskins. But no one who drinks the old wine seems to want the fresh and the new. ‘The old is better,’ they say.”” (Luke 5:36-39, NLT)

Lord, lead us to the joy of this moment, to faithfulness to the calling  of this day.  Amen.

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Blessed Assurance

Blessed assurance Jesus is mine

O what a foretaste of glory divine

Heir of salvation purchase of God

Born of His Spirit washed in His blood

This is my story this is my song

Praising my Savior all the day long

This is my story this is my song

Praising my Savior all the day long


Perfect submission all is at rest

I in my Savior am happy and blest

Watching and waiting looking above

Filled with His goodness lost in His love

Fanny Jane Crosby

© Words: Public Domain

Influencers

My phone rang in the evening last week and a cheerful voice said, “Hi. I hope I’m not disturbing you. This is Jack Winters.”   Jack’s voice trembled with emotion when he said, “I’m so glad your Dad wouldn’t give up on me,” he said.  He was calling on his ‘birthday’ as a Believer, remembering a day more than 4 decades in the past when my Dad knelt with him in the church and together they prayed for new life.  Jack was born again that day, in his words, “a mess turned into a message.”  His life was in ruins. He was an angry, hard-drinking, broken man whose wife was ready to walk out.  Jesus made him new and it showed.  For more than 40 years, he has lived an active Christian life, a man beloved by his family. He’s not just talked the talk; he has lived the life.

That is how true Christian discipleship works!  It makes us ‘influencers.’

The Gospel is like a seed planted, then grows, matures, and bears fruit.  It is replanted and the effect ripples outward through the world.  

What effect will ripple through time from your life?
Are you living today in a way that God can use you to touch others with grace?

Lord knows we need grace-filled people in this world, people whose hearts are turned to the Father, who are ‘God’s own.’


Jesus used a homely illustration about the influence we are to have.  He says, “You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it useful again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. You are the light of the world—like a city on a mountain, glowing in the night for all to see. Don’t hide your light under a basket! Instead, put it on a stand and let it shine for all. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” (Matthew 5:13-16, NLT)  Salt! Light!

Salt in the day before refrigeration was more than a flavor. It was a preservative. It kept the provisions from rotting!  When we Christians understand our place, our calling, and we are walking in step with the Holy Spirit, we push back the rot, preserve the world in which we live.  We help the ‘Jack Winters’ of the world, who have been overwhelmed by self, by sin, by the devil to find the freedom that Christ offers and to become whole and holy. And the one we lift up, lifts another, and another … and the ripples of our influence spread.

Light is a powerful agent too. Plants bend toward the sun. Emotions lift when the days are bright. Life itself requires the energy of the sun’s light.  Yes, Christian, it may sound grand but we are to be life-giving people.  Paul reminds us that the light in us is not our own radiance. We “reflect the Lord’s glory.”  (2 Co 3:18)  Like the moon which has no energy, no glory of its own, we are mirrors of His gracious goodness, letting His light shine from us.

The modern world, like it or not, is a place of social media, with about 4 billion people connected on Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, and other platforms that this old man has not even heard of yet. Part of that media world is the role of influencer. Influencers build a reputation of expertise about some specific niche of life. Their posts are avidly followed by audiences they build over time who pay close attention to their views. For a few, it becomes their primary source of income, supported by the companies who make the products these ‘influencers’ promote.

I do not want to sound crass or commercial but let ask you – are you an influencer for Christ Jesus? Are you living with prayer, reflection, meditation, integration of Truth, led by the Spirit so that YOUR LIFE becomes a model for those who live around you?  It’s a high calling that has nothing to do with ego and everything to do with true discipleship!


How we live is creating a culture. Lord give us the vision to make it one of excellence!

Here’s a word from the Word.  “We don’t go around preaching about ourselves; we preach Christ Jesus, the Lord. All we say about ourselves is that we are your servants because of what Jesus has done for us. For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made us understand that this light is the brightness of the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. But this precious treasure—this light and power that now shine within us—is held in perishable containers, that is, in our weak bodies. So everyone can see that our glorious power is from God and is not our own.” (2 Corinthians 4:5-7, NLT)

Be salt, light; an influencer for Christ Jesus!

_______________

Shine on Us

Lord, let Your light
Light of Your face
Shine on us
Lord, let Your light
Light of Your face
Shine on us
That we may be saved
That we may have life
To find our way
In the darkest night
Let your light shine on us

Lord, let your grace
Grace from Your hand
Come over us
Lord, let your grace
Grace from Your hand
Come over us
That we may be saved
That we may have life
To find our way
In the darkest night

Let Your grace come over us
Lord, let Your love
Love with no end
Come over us
Lord, let Your love
Love with no end
Come over us
That we may be saved
That we may have life
To find our way
In the darkest night

Let Your love come over us
Let Your light shine on us

Smith Michael Whitaker / Smith Deborah Davis
Shine On Us lyrics © Deer Valley Music

The Hard Truth

Doomsday preaching is not my style. I hate it when preachers and politicians scare the life out of people and then say, “Trust me to keep you safe.”   I see that as manipulative, and yet … there is a sharp edge to the truth, an inescapable reality that a loving God is also a God who cannot wink at the insolence of evil people. As I see it, America has poured herself a full cup of God’s judgments.

Our greed, our willingness to wage war to exploit the poorer nations of the world, our ‘protection’ of our status at the top of the economic heap, our willingness to sacrifice human life for the sake of convenience are direct challenges to Heaven’s God.  I believe that the prayers of a few, the faithful remnant of those who love and revere the Name, have kept this nation, but now the axe is laid to the root. 

Micah, an ancient preacher, saw these same sins in the Jewish people. He heard the voice of the Spirit and preached that judgment must come. “How terrible it will be for you who lie awake at night, thinking up evil plans. You rise at dawn and hurry to carry out any of the wicked schemes you have power to accomplish. When you want a certain piece of land, you find a way to seize it. When you want someone’s house, you take it by fraud and violence. No one’s family or inheritance is safe with you around!

But this is what the Lord says: “I will reward your evil with evil; you won’t be able to escape! After I am through with you, none of you will ever again walk proudly in the streets.” (Micah 2:1-3, NLT)  

Some of you may object to using the OT prophet to predict judgment in this era of grace, insistent that the new covenant spares us this kind of thing. You are mistaken. Grace is amazing and God’s patience with us is beyond comprehension. Christ Jesus does offer gracious forgiveness and restoration, but not without repentance.  The NT Testament reminds us that “God cannot be mocked, what a person sows, he will reap!”  Jesus said that if we love Him, we are to ‘keep My commandments!’

Then, too, you may have heard too much gloomy doomy preaching that struck you as insincere and phony. It railed on the dramatic sexual sins of a few while selectively ignoring the greed of the majority, the racism that divided the churches black and white, the war-mongering that devastated nations to enrich ourselves. Micah heard people telling him to shut-up, too.  “Do not prophesy,” their prophets say. “Do not prophesy about these things; disgrace will not overtake us.” (Micah 2:6, NIV)  “If a liar and deceiver comes and says, ‘I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer,’ he would be just the prophet for this people!” (Micah 2:11, NIV)  America has plenty of pulpits filled with voices that proclaim endless blessings, prosperity as the birthright of those who say the right prayers.

Is it too late to turn things around? Only God knows.  I believe that the Church has lost so much credibility by crawling into bed with corrupt politicians, seeking to protect her privilege, that even the feeble voice of those who truly know and love Christ is lost in the cacophony of evil. In my view the demons of deception hold sway over the land.

Still, I know that God is seeking people with hearts that love Him. He longs for those who have the humility to stand silent before Him. Christian, we need not take to the streets to shout of coming judgment. We do better taking to our knees, praying for clean hands and pure hearts in ourselves. Peter reminds us that “it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (1 Peter 4:17-18, NIV)

In my opinion, the hard truth is that judgment will surely come, though the majority will never see it for what it is, preferring instead to see ‘bad luck’ or ‘natural disaster’ or ‘social consequence.’  The principle stands that when justice is denied, when God is ignored, when Self and greed are worshipped – however a culture does those things – the seeds of destruction are planted that will germinate and bring about its collapse. But, in the rubble and ruin, there can be renewal.

So it is that Micah sees God’s promise. I end with his word, our word from the Word.  “Someday, O Israel, I will gather the few of you who are left. I will bring you together again like sheep in a fold, like a flock in its pasture. Yes, your land will again be filled with noisy crowds! Your leader will break out and lead you out of exile. He will bring you through the gates of your cities of captivity, back to your own land. Your king will lead you; the Lord himself will guide you.” (Micah 2:12-13, NLT)  

Even so, come, Lord Jesus! Be our Prince of Peace, our King of Righteousness. Amen.

_____________

Just As I Am

I wondered how to come to You
I did not dare believe it true
That You regard the orphaned ones
Beloved daughters worthy sons

The broken and the barren too
I heard could find some rest in You
What kind of love in inj’ry’s place
Would leave instead the stain of grace

So I come in sorrow and I come in shame
I come to the cross with my pain


“Just as I am without one plea but that
Thy Blood was shed for me
And that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee
O Lamb of God I come I come”

The pardon that I found from sin
Spilled out from where the nails went in
My heart will ever more proclaim
I had not lived until that day

O Lamb of God, I come

And I know there is a crown for me
Beyond where mortal eyes can see
And I don’t nod to any man
But offer me just as I am

So I come rejoicing with hands held high
And I come singing words of new life


“Just as I am without one plea but that
Thy Blood was shed for me
And that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee
O Lamb of God I come I come”

Nichole Nordeman © 2007 Birdboy Songs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

Birdwing Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)  CCLI License # 810055

Love Listens

I try to listen. Do I agree with every conclusion in every conversation? Not at all. Does listening imply that I believe that the person who is speaking is properly informed? Not always.  Listening without criticizing, correcting, or even confirming allows me to learn. Some conversations go over ground traveled many times before.  I try to listen because I know that person needs to say it again. Maybe it is a way of explaining themselves, or an attempt to sort through confusing circumstances, or even a sub-conscious attempt to gain affirmation.  I know this – relationships deepen when people actually listen to one another.  

I would like to be a better listener than I am. I am prone to rush a conversation, sometimes forming a conclusion before the other person has finished his thoughts.   I wonder how many conversations I have never had, ones that might have enriched my life or helped another to carry their burdens because I pre-judged the other person, deciding not to engage myself. Psychologists tell us that we form an opinion about another within 7 seconds. Those ‘first impressions’ are usually superficial, based on the shape of another’s face, the tone of her voice, his posture, even the clothes they are wearing.  It is a fact that people who enjoy a high ‘likeability factor’ go on to develop a better sense of self-esteem and have an advantage in virtually every part of life.

Christian, Jesus asks us to do better in this. He teaches us to love, and part of that is hitting the pause button on forming those opinions about the worth of another that keep us from engaging, from really hearing others. His words to us are starkly clear – “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” (Matthew 7:1, NIV)  Because we are deeply loved by God, though flawed even sinful, we can love, but do we?

Among the lessons that I have learned in my sojourn on this planet is that life is a process.  Nobody makes a great decision or a poor one without context! Our daily choices come from our information, which is often incomplete. They are shaped by the complex networks of life – including reactions to the decisions of other people, the ability to understand opportunity, and even our emotional state. This does not mean that we cannot form convictions about what is best, what is right, what is true.  We need those boundaries to guide us but if we overlay our experience onto others without grace and compassion, we become judges not brothers.

We all have those moments when it seems so obvious to us what our friend needs to change, how he should act, the choices he needs to make! “Come on,” we think, “what’s wrong with you? Why don’t you just get it together?”   I hear your objection, “So, Jerry, are you suggesting that we just ignore the poor decisions, the sinful choices that our brothers make?” 

Jesus’ appeal is not that we reject all standards or that we develop a kind of rosy vision that cannot see what is true. Wisdom and discernment are critically important parts of life for every Christian.  That being true, our Lord asks us to allow  the Holy Spirit to give us a loving heart that will engage meaningfully even with that person we believe is erring.  Love listens, not just to the words but to the heart. Love looks deeper, to see the context, to find the way behind the what.  Engaging is a choice that is much more costly to you and me than judging will ever be. Judgment, even about the small things of life, gives us permission to step away and to blame the victim. The loving heart that engages people living with sin is like Jesus. That love demands much of us – patience, willing to get involved, enduring pain, and yes; the risk of disappointment. Not everybody responds well. Some dig deeper into the mess they are making. They just keep making poor choices, living sinfully.

Ready to pounce, to take the place of a judge?  Consider this wisdom of the Word.
“Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.” (Galatians 6:1-5, NIV)  That passage seems to be contradictory in regard to our responsibilities, doesn’t it?   We are told to carry each other’s burdens, but then we read that everyone should carry his own load.  Digging deeper, we see that we must help one another with life’s crushing burdens all the while realizing that we must accept personal responsibility for ourselves.  It is a familiar theme in God’s Word. We are part of His Body, called into close community, as inseparable as eye and ear and foot! Yet, we are seen by our Creator with our individual gifts and opportunities which He desires that we use in the best ways.

Let me return to my main thought today – Love Listens. The word from the Word comes at the end of Jesus’ encounter with men who dragged a woman who had sinned to him. They pressed Him to condemn her. He refused. May this simple sentence become compelling in our hearts and minds today. “When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7, NIV)

Lord, help us to live the process, to wait for the results, not to rush to judgment. Amen.
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No Longer Slaves

(Knowing that you are a child of God sets you free to love!)

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

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

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

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

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

Brian Johnson | Joel Case | Jonathan David Helser

© 2014 Bethel Music Publishing

CCLI License # 810055

Gratitude is powerful!

When we pause to extend a sincere word of thanks to another, it is like a tonic. It lifts the heart, brightens the day, and improves the life of the one giving thanks. Try it!  Gratitude is powerful.

The inspired Word directs Christians to live differently, walking in love, in light, in wisdom. “Live a life filled with love for others, following the example of Christ, who loved you and gave himself as a sacrifice to take away your sins. And God was pleased, because that sacrifice was like sweet perfume to him. Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God.” (Ephesians 5:2-4, NLT)  Let’s think about that closing line. 

What does thankfulness have to do with being a loving, pure, morally upright individual?  

When we train ourselves to live with an attitude of gratitude, we become God-aware; our mind, our heart open to what He is doing in and around us. In that life that invites an intimacy with the Holy Spirit we live in a way that allows Christlikeness to ‘rub off’ on us, His beauty and character growing in us.  Think about a friend with whom you are close. You adopt their phrases, learn to like their food, value what they value, to like what they like.  It just happens, sometimes by conscious imitation, more often just because they are around all the time. You can deny it, but it is true.

We are influenced by those that surround us. This is true in our spirit, as well.  When we live with a thankful heart, offering praise to God for even the simple things in life, His Presence takes over and we become a ‘friend of God.’  As His friend, we begin to be like Him!

In that Ephesians passage, Paul returns to this theme of praise and thanks as an evidence of the life of the Holy Spirit in us. “Be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:18-20, NIV) 

The first directive- Be filled with the Spirit- is written in the present tense.  Yesterday’s experience of the goodness of God is great, but no substitute for experiencing His life today.
It is an imperative.  The Spirit-filled life is not an option for those who would please God and know all that He has prepared for them. We must be filled with the Spirit.

It is also written in the passive voice. We cannot fill ourselves with the Spirit. He must be received, the gift of Christ Jesus for those who believe. 

We need not beg God to give us His Spirit. We don’t have to travel to some far away place or find a special prophet to impart the blessing.  We receive Him, by faith, in response to the promise of Jesus.  “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:16-17, NIV)  His life in us is evidenced by fruit of character – love, joy, peace, patience – and a joyful thankfulness that bubbles up in us.

Yesterday the New York Times reported a decline in life expectancy in the US. The article said “For many, daily life lacks the structure, status and meaning that it once had, as the Princeton University economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton have explained. Many people feel less of a connection to an employer, a labor union, a church or community groups. They are less likely to be married. They are more likely to endure chronic pain and to report being unhappy.

These trends have led to a surge of “deaths of despair” (a phrase that Case and Deaton coined), from drugs, alcohol and suicide. Other health problems, including diabetes and strokes, have also surged among the working class. Notably, the class gaps in life expectancy seem to be starker in the U.S. than in most other rich countries.”  Despair, resulting from the death of hope, affects physical well-being!  I suppose I should not be surprised. Christian, a true life of thankfulness, one that invites God close, that connects meaningfully to others, and that overflows with joy brings health to us as well.

Friend, do you want the joy of the Lord in your life? 
Invite Christ to be Lord and Light. Be God-aware, living with an attitude of gratitude, giving thanks. Invite the Holy Spirit to live in you, making Him welcome in your songs and praise.

The word from the Word today –

“The LORD is far from the wicked but he hears the prayer of the righteous.

A cheerful look brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones.” (Proverbs 15:29-30, NIV)

_____________

Joy Unspeakable

I have found His grace is all complete
He supplieth ev’ry need
While I sit and learn at Jesus’ feet
I am free yes free indeed

It is joy unspeakable and full of glory
Full of glory full of glory
It is joy unspeakable and full of glory
Oh the half has never yet been told

I have found the pleasure I once craved
It is joy and peace within
What a wondrous blessing I am saved
From the awful gulf of sin

I have found that hope so bright and clear
Living in the realm of grace
Oh the Saviour’s presence is so near
I can see His smiling face

I have found the joy no tongue can tell
How its waves of glory roll
It is like a great o’erflowing well
Springing up within my soul

The safety net

When a high wire performer at the circus walks daringly out on a line suspended 30 feet above the ground, generally something called a ‘safety net’ is strung between the wire and the floor! It is there to catch her if she falls. The more daring perform without one! The term has come into our vocabulary referring to the government programs created to help people in need. Social Security is a safety net for older Americans. Unemployment compensation is there for those who lose their job. Whatever your opinion of those programs, it is hard to deny that generally Americans live a better life because of them.

Sooner or later you are going to need a safety net in life. We all get knocked off the wire by gusts of winds of trouble at one time or another. Aside from knowing God, Who is the ultimate source of security, we need people who form networks that can support us, who will catch us as we fall. 

Are you weaving a strong safety net of relationships? 
Is your life inter-connected with others in a network of care?

Solomon, reflecting on the plight of the person who has attempted life as a solo act, “There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. “For whom am I toiling,” he asked, “and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?” This too is meaningless— a miserable business! Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:8-12, NIV)

American wealth and independence has an unintended consequence – creation of legions of people who come to a crisis without knowing anyone on whom they can call. We love to live life on our own terms, doing our own thing, finding our own way.  A generation ago, Frank Sinatra recorded a song that celebrated the myth of the independent man, I Did It My Way.  It was an anthem reflecting an impossible ideal, attractive on the surface, but tragic in the long run. People who did it their way, burning bridges along the way, discarding difficult people, refusing to ‘join’ a wider network of relationships that would hinder them in their pursuit of their own life, often end up sitting alone in their home friendless and afraid.

Christian, God calls us into His Church, not just to sit in a church on Sunday morning, but to become part of an intimate community. I’m sure that you already know that intellectually, but my question to you is this – does the way you live each day show that you prioritize those relationships?  It is easy to give a nod to the idea of being ‘in the Body of Christ.’  We know and believe Jesus’ words about love for one another. Now, will we actually work those concepts into our lives, in the process creating strong interdependent relationships that a reliable safety net for life?

A single line in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians holds the key to networks that last: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21, NIV) The word he uses in the first text of the Bible is a word about order, about falling in line and keeping step with the marching column.  We love to celebrate the person who ‘marches to the beat of their own drum.’  But, the Spirit of God asks us to hear the call of Christ and to give up our independence as we revere Him together, following His lead. It’s complicated, isn’t it?  Living in a real community is inconvenient, costly, and very counter-cultural to our American ideals!

Here are some words from the Word. Take some time to meditate on them, prayerfully asking God how this wisdom can be woven into your choices in life. You will be richer in obedience.

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” (Romans 12:10, NIV)

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.” (1 Peter 1:22, NIV)

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. (offenses)” (1 Peter 4:8, NIV)

“No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” (1 John 4:12, NIV)

Now, how strong are your safety nets?

________________

We Will Stand

(From the 80’s – a song by Russ Taff about ‘together.’)

Sometimes it’s hard for me to understand
Why we pull away from each other so easily
Even though we’re all walking the same road?
Yet we build dividing walls
Between our brothers and ourselves.

But, I don’t care what label you may wear,
If you believe in Jesus you belong with me!
The bond we share is all I care to see,
And we’ll change the world forever,
If you will join with me,
Join and sing, sing.

You’re my brother, you’re my sister,
So take me by the hand.
Together we will work until He comes.
There’s no foe that can defeat us,
When we’re walking side by side,
As long as there is love,
We will stand!

The day will come when we will be as one
And with a mighty voice
Together we will proclaim that
Jesus, Jesus is King.
It will echo through the earth.
It will shake the nations.
And the world will see, see that;

You’re my brother, you’re my sister,
So take me by the hand.
Together we will work until He comes.
There’s no foe that can defeat us,
When we’re walking side by side,
As long as there is love,
We will stand!

James Hollihan | Russ Taff | Tori Taff © 1983 Word Music, LLC (a div. of Word Music Group, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055

Choosing the marks of success

As I close the season of my life given to pastoral ministry, I am given to reflection about that part of my life.  What does it mean, will it matter? There are markers of worldly success that are easy to see – titles, influence, accumulation of wealth, awards and recognition. Then there is a life of significance that is about spiritual values, what God thinks of a person.

30 years ago I attended a conference where a man named Bob Buford spoke to us about shifting our focus from success to significance. Buford had made a lot of money and become a ‘big guy’ in the world of cable television.  Then, at the height of his success his adult son died tragically in a swimming accident. Buford, a Christian, was radically effected and gave the second half of his life to helping others, to mentoring leaders in spiritual values.  He shifted to living for a significant legacy.  He said  “As for me, I have decided that just about all that will be left of me when I leave this earth is what I can let go of to invest in the lives of others. The fruit of my life and my work will grow on other people’s trees.

Can you differentiate between success and significance

Success is largely built around self- focused on ‘me.’  Significance looks outward – builds relationships, encourages others, serves without need for recognition, and most importantly – recognizes that submission to the will of God is the key.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking that a person pursuing a life of significance cannot also find wealth or fame.  We do understand what Jesus said about this.  Worldly success can, and often does, complicate spiritual development because it provides an illusion of self-sufficiency.  

Jesus said it simply: “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:25, NIV)  Those who would know God must be totally surrendered to the Spirit of God, willing to ‘keep in step with the Spirit.’  That is nearly impossible choice for that person who is accustomed to having the control that wealth can offer, who has lived to lead the charge! However, when a person who finds success says ‘yes’ to the will of God, understanding the true Source of his blessings, God make him useful for His work in this world.

Jesus puts this challenge before us-
will you choose to chase success as measured by accumulating possessions, or
will you pursue significance as measured by Heaven’s values?

He warns about the illusory value of worldly success. “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where they can be eaten by moths and get rusty, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where they will never become moth-eaten or rusty and where they will be safe from thieves. Wherever your treasure is, there your heart and thoughts will also be.” (Matthew 6:19-21, NLT)  The siren song of success lures many to give the whole of their lives to creating a life for themselves that will inevitably be taken from them. 

No matter how great the store of things that are accumulated, no matter how many awards pile up, no matter the admiration of others –  at some point the merry-go-round of life comes to a stop. What then? Solomon’s sigh near the end of a life of ‘success’ was one of regret –  “My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11, NIV)

Significance, a life that is rich in service, love, and worship – leads to security of a different kind; the peace of God.  By the way, do not leap to the conclusion that the gateway to significance is poverty or retreat from the struggle of life in the real world!  It is not just monks or pastors who can find spiritual significance.  The real question is where we place our treasure, what we love and value most.  Jesus is painfully clear that we cannot “serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Luke 16:13, NLT)

Christian, what is the true goal of your life- success or significance?

The word from the Word comes from Solomon, the summary of a man who mis-spent the greater part of his life. “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them”— … Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, NIV)

________________

Build My Life (let this worship song speak to you today)

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

CCLI License # 810055

Beauty Matters!

 


This Monday morning I want to urge you to find soul strength in beauty. Take some time to appreciate beauty – in music, in the natural world, in the soul of another, in a sunset, in a photograph, a work of art, or a flower.  Stop to think about it, appreciate it, and to thank God for the gift of beauty in the world in which you live. 

I saw a kind of ‘beauty’ yesterday during a funeral service. The US Marine honor guard played taps from the back of the church and the crowd rose to their feet. Then I noticed the shaking shoulders of some vets moved by the simple song and symbolism. Most beautiful, though, were the arms of those standing near those men that encircled them with an embrace. 

I’m a country boy and love the beauty of back roads, winding lanes, sunlight streaming through the trees, a laughing brook.  While I wrote these words this morning, I looked out on my yard to see twin fawns, still spotted, running through the grass playfully.

What beauty renews you? David writes of about an important aspect of our worship. He says, “One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4, NIV)  

Christian, do you love God’s Presence? Do you take time to see His beauty? I am afraid that our noisy hurried ‘worship’ experiences in modern buildings stripped of symbols makes us prone to miss the beauty that is found near His heart. He is always with us, near us, but I believe there can be a special beauty found in prayer pauses, in shared Communion, in looking on the cross and altar as we open our minds and hearts to God’s Presence. When we learn to spend some time each day in quiet reflection, contemplating the Person of God, one of the benefits is the reminder that our lives are not just about eating, sleeping, and going to work. We remember we are Children of God, eternal beings destined for His home – what a beautiful thought.  

Paul reminds us that contemplating the beauty of Jesus has a direct impact on our lives. It’s not just dreaming or escapism.   Listen to the Spirit’s wisdom. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18, NIV)  Contemplating His beauty allows us to share in His ‘glory,’ His bright radiance, and we are changed, ‘with ever increasing glory,’ made brighter and brighter as we stand in the Light.

Do not think that I am incapable of seeing the ugly.  Sin mars God’s world. The Creation full of beauty can turn violent. Gardens quickly degenerate into weedy messes when left untended. The same human being that can love is capable of hatred. Even art becomes an expression of chaos when God’s order is removed from it. Much art produced by post-moderns, people who see the world as a product of chance and a place without over-arching purpose, is chaotic, full of noise and fury, and harsh – because that is the place from which the artist begins his work!

But, this I know, in Christ Jesus God is reconciling the world to Himself. His desire is not just to make it possible for us to go to Heaven someday, though that is wonderfully true. He desires to ‘make all things new,’ to restore beauty in us and through us in this world. Has life overwhelmed you, problems become many while resources have diminished?

Take a beauty break!   Go ponder the works of God in Creation. Or, listen to some beautiful music. Or, visit a garden. Or, enjoy a work of art… and do it with a prayerful invitation to the Holy Spirit. Ask Him to embrace you, to come close and to remind you that despite the destruction and chaos that the Evil One wreaks on this world, that He is the King of Kings, the Author of Life, the One who remains the Source of Hope, Life, and Beauty. 

Here’s a word from the Word to ponder today:   “Let Your work appear to Your servants, And Your glory to their children. And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us, And establish the work of our hands for us; Yes, establish the work of our hands.” (Psalm 90:16-17, NKJV)
____________ 

How Great Thou Art

O Lord my God
When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds
Thy hands have made
I see the stars
I hear the rolling thunder
Thy pow’r thru’out
The universe displayed

Then sings my soul
My Savior God to Thee
How great Thou art,How great Thou art
Then sings my soul
My Savior God to Thee
How great Thou art, How great Thou art

And when I think
That God His Son not sparing
Sent Him to die
I scarce can take it in
That on the cross
My burden gladly bearing
He bled and died
To take away my sin

When Christ shall come
With shout of acclamation
And take me home
What joy shall fill my heart
Then I shall bow
In humble adoration
And there proclaim
My God how great Thou art

Stuart Wesley Keene Hine © Copyright 1949 and 1953 Stuart Hine Trust CIO Stuart K. Hine Trust (Administration: USA All rights by Capitol CMG Publishing, except print rights for USA, North, Central and South America administered by Hope Publishing.

CCLI License # 810055

Grimly Determined?

A long time ago the teacher’s advice during a gym class baseball game made an impression on me. Never an athlete, I wanted desperately to make a hit. I gripped the bat in grim determination, stared at the pitcher, and swung wildly at the pitch. You guessed it – I struck out yet again! The teacher told me I was trying too hard, over-thinking the game.  That advice never did help me with my baseball game, but it has stayed with me as a life lesson. When I allow myself to become a knot of tension, when I am overly focused on me, I am trying too hard and, if I’m wrapped up in myself, I am certain to fail to live as God desires.

The Scripture promises us that God is always at work, that He is greater than the situations that frustrate us, that He can and will accomplish His purpose in us and through us but we must be willing to let Him lead. Paul writes “I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will give you mighty inner strength through his Holy Spirit.” (Ephesians 3:16, NLT)  “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.” (Ephesians 3:20, NLT)  That is not just for super-saints.  

I believe that sometimes we ‘try too hard’ on our own and end up getting in God’s way, that our unwillingness to wait, to trust, to pray actually hinders the work of God, the Spirit. A prime example are the wandering Israelites of the Exodus. When they chose their own wisdom, when they followed the ‘intelligence’ of the spies who declared the conquest of Promised Land would formidable, near impossible, God let them wander for a generation!  Only after they died did their children get to possess the promise of God.

I make no case for being passive or for resignation to ‘fate.’ Our faith must be robust, our hands engaged in the work to which He calls us. God Almighty has chosen to work with us, as amazing as that seems. He gives freedom to walk with Him, to know the joy of fulfilling His plans.  He also will let us rebel and resist, to doubt and delay, though not without consequence.  Sometimes I think that Christians who claim to be ‘waiting on the Lord’ or who delay action by saying ‘I’ll pray about it,’ are just avoiding making a tough decision or doing the hard thing that He asks.

A Psalm gives us an image to ponder about our constant response to our God. “I lift up my eyes to you, to you whose throne is in heaven. As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he shows us his mercy.” (Psalm 123:1-2, NIV)  There is a submission, a surrender, that allows His perfect will to emerge. So we sing, “Perfect submission, all is at rest. I in my Savior am happy and blest. Watching and waiting, looking above, filled with His goodness; lost in His love.”  (Blessed Assurance)

Let the Lord lead you, alert to His ways, attentive to His word.  Instead of trying to wrestle a blessing from His hands, open yours to accept what He is ready to give.

Are you trying too hard? Pause, reflect, listen, give thanks, receive!

Here’s a word from the Word.  May your soul sing with the Psalmist about the glorious works of our God.

“You answer us with awesome deeds of righteousness, O God our Savior,
the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas,
who formed the mountains by your power, having armed yourself with strength,
who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the turmoil of the nations.

Those living far away fear your wonders; where morning dawns and evening fades
you call forth songs of joy. You care for the land and water it;  you enrich it abundantly.
The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so you have ordained it.”
(Psalm 65:5-9, NIV)

__________________

Blessed Assurance
(Carrie Underwood’s simple presentation of the hymn will help you to worship this day)

Blessed assurance Jesus is mine
O what a foretaste of glory divine
Heir of salvation purchase of God
Born of His Spirit washed in His blood

This is my story this is my song
Praising my Savior all the day long
This is my story this is my song
Praising my Savior all the day long

Perfect submission perfect delight
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight
Angels descending bring from above
Echoes of mercy whispers of love

Perfect submission all is at rest
I in my Savior am happy and blest
Watching and waiting looking above
Filled with His goodness lost in His love

Fanny Jane Crosby © Words: Public Domain