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Joy?

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In our Advent journey to the celebration of Christmas, this third Sunday turns us to “Joy.”  Are you experiencing JOY? I often walk close to sorrow. Yesterday I sat next to the bed of a man who has lived a long life who recently found out about a tumor in his brain. We talked about the likelihood that he is now writing the last pages of the last chapter. Tears welled up in my eyes, sliding down my face.  The holiday songs on my car radio as I left that visit were jarringly discordant with my emotions!

This morning with the dawn, I gave thanks for the joy that I know in Jesus despite real personal loss.  I cannot honestly say that I feel light, or that laughter comes easily these days. And yet, there is joy that is greater than my present experience and I will hold tightly, by faith, to that.

Christmas brings us a story that creates the possibility of joy; “for all the people!” With this phrase, “I bring you good news of great joy,” the angel reassured a group of frightened men, shepherds who were seeing the strangest sight there in the field outside of Bethlehem! Shepherds were a rough lot, earthy men. They were probably illiterate, not well versed in the prophetic texts. It is not likely that they were devout, and yet God chose to make His announcement to them. That is just amazing, at least to me. Was the angelic announcement to these ‘nobodies’ outside of the town an accident? Did the angel get lost on his way to the home of the mayor of Bethlehem? No, of course not.

God’s desire was to bring all people – shepherds from the field – and wise men from the East – to worship the Savior who had come to restore them to their Creator and Father.

Luke sums up it all up. The angels sang “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.”(Luke 2:14-18, NIV) And in that worship, they found joy.

I am going to take two cues for my life from this story.

First, I am going to turn to Jesus, to seek Him, that I might worship Him and find joy.

That worship starts with a willingness to set aside the demands of the day. The shepherds could have remained with their sheep. But they chose to go to see the Baby. They became part of a strange and wonderful story of God’s entry into our world. Wherever you are today, whatever your situation – find time to look for the Savior, to thank Him, perhaps just to wait quietly before Him offering your worship.

Second, I want to be a source of joy for others.

My prayerful goal this Season is to bring people the joy of Jesus.  So many of us really do need to know God’s love as we work our way through loneliness, illness, the limitations brought on by aging, or perhaps even the weight of guilt and regret. Those who are sad in these ways are not fixed up by a present or a happy song.  The darkness needs Light. Only in God can we find a reason for real and lasting joy, a hope that is bigger than any set of circumstances in this world.

I invite you to join me in this mission! “Hey, Jerry, we’re no angels.” Right you are! But we are people of the Spirit, “Christ’s ambassadors.” We have the awesome privilege of leading others to Him, sharing with them the Hope we have found. So, let’s pray for opportunities to be bringers of joy, messengers of hope.

If you’re reading this today and you are feeling the weight of disappointment, let me point you to Jesus, who is the Healer of broken hearts. He came to be our Savior, to close the gap between the Father and ourselves. He came to give us the gift of eternal life, which we can own now, while we wait for the Second Advent of our King. Tell Him your deepest need, yes, in your own words, your own way. Ask Him to help you. His answer may not come in the way you expect, but He will come to you. He promises!

Here is a word from the Word.
“So reach out and welcome one another to God’s glory.
Jesus did it; now you do it!

Jesus, staying true to God’s purposes, reached out in a special way to the Jewish insiders
so that the old ancestral promises would come true for them. As a result, the non-Jewish outsiders have been able  to experience mercy and to show appreciation to God.

 Just think of all the Scriptures that will come true in what we do!
For instance: Then I’ll join outsiders in a hymn-sing; I’ll sing to your name!
And this one: Outsiders and insiders, rejoice together!
And again: People of all nations, celebrate God! All colors and races, give hearty praise! And Isaiah’s word: There’s the root of our ancestor Jesse, breaking through the earth and growing tree tall, Tall enough for everyone everywhere to see and take hope!

 Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy,
fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives,
filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit,
will brim over with hope! ”  
(Romans 15:7-13, The Message)

________

Lord, inspire us with joy. Sing over us, like a mother comforting her child,
that we might know joyful peace this day. Amen.

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The Right Attitude

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Got troubles? Feeling disappointed? Been grieving? Are you just worn out?   Everybody finds themselves in the dark from time to time. Question is, what to do about it? If I let myself wish that life were different for me I feel guilty when I think about people who are in situations far worse than I am experiencing.  But, being aware of someone else’s misery does little to change my own feelings. Then, perhaps I try to pull out the old ‘count your blessings’ card, naming “them one by one.” That’s a good thing to do and encourages thankfulness, but in the end I am still dealing with my present reality. Complaining just deepens the darkness and makes those around me irritated, so that is not a great option.

So, what should we do? Paul offers this practical counsel from the wisdom of the Spirit. “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” (Romans 12:12, NIV)

Joyful in hope!
What a wonderful thing. There is nothing in my life today that can rob me of my hope in Christ Jesus. What is that hope? Ultimately, it is focused around eternal life, the home in the Father’s house that is prepared for me, bought and paid for by Jesus, and His gift to me and to all who trust Him in faith. The hope that I find in Him is also about this day, these problems. He assures me that even when I cannot discern His plans, even when I bring suffering on myself, even when the sinful world in which I live creates hardship, there is nothing that He cannot use to shape me into that person He desires me to be and to do His will through me.

The Spirit asks me to trust and even take joy in the fact that I “know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Romans 8:28, NLT)  Are you willing to trust Him with whatever is troubling you today?

Patient in affliction!
“Give it time, let Me work. Stay steady.”  Yes, that is the counsel of God.  If you’re ready to abandon your marriage, quit your job, write off a relationship, or even decide to leave God behind, hear the Word that counsels endurance. The principle of patience is a consistent theme of the Scripture. As humans we want solutions now. We are sometimes willing to prematurely blow up our lives because of our frustrations. God asks us to go steady ahead confident that His timeline is often very different from ours. Remember that patience is not apathy, nor is it passive. Patience is hope brought to the present that helps us make the right choice even when Self is screaming for relief or escape.

Learn the pattern of the 37th Psalm that says, “Trust, delight, commit, and be still” before the Lord!

Prayerful!
Prayer should not be confused with eloquent speeches to God, or petitions prepared with lawyerly precision in every word. Tears slipping wordlessly down your cheeks as you look to Jesus are precious prayers in His sight. Sighs that reflect the weight of the burden of the day are a kind of prayer that He can understand.  A simple “Help me, Jesus, to stand,” is sometimes the best we can do when we are frustrated and at the end of our rope.

The important thing is that we find ourselves focused on Him, listening to Him, and continuing the daily conversation.  If we stop talking to God because of some misguided idea that He will respond to our silence, we are only hurting ourselves. Make prayer an authentic expression – of your pain, about your problems, that share your joy, that adore Him for Who He is.  Just keep praying – faithfully.

Remember even Jesus wrestled with the will of His Father to the extent He asked Him for a way around the Cross, but He never stopped talking to Him!

The word from the Word is a text so beloved by me that a portion of it is tattooed onto my right arm!  OK, I could have left that part out, right?  Never the less, this passage brims with confidence in Christ and inspires us to trust Him. If you’re in a place of darkness, if you’re struggling, pray that the Spirit will make these words more than an idea, that they will come alive in you.

“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:14-21, NIV)

Hopeful. Patient. Prayerful.

_________

I Know Who Holds Tomorrow

I don’t know about tomorrow
I just live from day to day
I don’t borrow from its sunshine
For its skies may turn to gray
I don’t worry o’er the future
For I know what Jesus said
And today I’ll walk beside Him
For He knows what is ahead

 Many things about tomorrow
I don’t seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand

Ira Stanphill © 1950 New Spring (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.) CCLI License # 810055

 

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Let’s Work At It!

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Life goes to ruin so easily, doesn’t it?  The lawn and landscaping at my home do not take care of themselves!  Keeping it looking good demands constant attention. If I decided to just ‘let it go’ for a month or two, the weeds would take over!  Choose not to maintain your home, your car, your physical health and what happens?  There are soon large messes, major breakdowns, and chronic illness with which to deal. Little problems in life will turn into major issues of dysfunction without discipline and attention, hence the important concept of preventative maintenance. The proverb warns about apathy – “A little extra sleep, a little more slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest— and poverty will pounce on you like a bandit; scarcity will attack you like an armed robber.” (Proverbs 24:33-34, NLT)

Do you realize that spiritual health and vitality also demands our attention and effort? There are those who assume that since our salvation comes to us a gift of God, a result of His grace, received by faith, that there is nothing left for us to do.  This ignores the invitation Jesus gives us – “Come, follow Me!”  Every day demands that we choose our priority – will I serve myself or will I choose Christ?  And there is, for a few, the danger of ‘burn out,’ a real spiritual hazard to those who fail to understand the balance of work and rest or who throw themselves into every ministry that comes down the road, working without focus.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul says “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” (Romans 12:11, NIV)  A few months ago I met a woman who is 80 whose zeal inspires me. Along with her own family, she raised several adopted children who came to here with serious emotional needs.  After that season in her life ended, she responded to the call of the Lord to serve children in need around the world and continues to enlist people in the work of a world-wide ministry that educates, feeds, and loves children. She travels, every year, to visit a developing nation to see some of the children she is supporting financially.  All the while, she visits churches tirelessly promoting the work.  Did I say she is 80?

When Paul tells us to keep our ‘spiritual fervor,’ he uses a word that means to be ‘at the boiling point.’  Christianity is not intended to be a slow walk at the fringe of life or a few poems of inspiration read in a sleepy gathering on Sunday morning! We are to be engaged with the world in which we live, passionate about one thing above all others: serving the Lord! Are you?

Let’s not make the common assumption that we are being ‘good Christians’ as long as we show up in church once a week, while make sure that we do not lie, cheat, or steal.  Churches are full of good, moral people who are asleep in the Light, who are unconcerned about the souls of those who are lost in sin’s darkness, who are basically ignorant of their true purpose, spiritual gift, or place of service in the Kingdom. There is a kind of fulfillment to be found in engagement, in knowing the approval of God.

Zeal is not to be confused with just doing something for the sake of looking busy. There are zealots who are thoughtless, careless, or even just ignorant. They create nothing but chaos with frenetic and pointless activity. We are to be people led by the Spirit, equipped uniquely to do what the Lord desires us to do, and to develop those gifts so that we fulfill our calling with excellence.

Are you drifting along on the current of life?
Have you settled for a tepid faith, one that mostly avoids the call to ‘follow Jesus’ in any costly or committed way?

Prayerfully read this word from the Word. “Fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you … God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. So you must never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord. And don’t be ashamed of me, either, even though I’m in prison for Christ. With the strength God gives you, be ready to suffer with me for the proclamation of the Good News.” (2 Timothy 1:6-8, NLT)

Zeal! Make it a word that leads you to deeper commitment, for the Lord’s sake.
________

Set Me Ablaze
(a prayer for zeal!)

Set me ablaze set me ablaze
‘Til it’s all that I know
Set me ablaze set me ablaze
So  I’ll never grow cold

Breathe come and breathe
On the coals of my heart
Let Your fire start
Breathe come and breathe
On the coals of my heart
Keep me burning
Breathe come and breathe
On the coals of my heart

Let Your fire start
Breathe come and breathe
On the coals of my heart (oh)

Set me ablaze set me ablaze
With a single obsession
Set me ablaze set me ablaze
With an endless passion

Wild fire burn brighter
Deep inside my heart
Consume me rage through me
I want all You are

Bryan Torwalt | Jacob Sooter | Katie Torwalt | Mia Fieldes

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Love, don’t fake it!

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Paul’s words that I read this morning said “Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it.”   Romans 12:9 (The Message)  Bam! What an ‘on point’ directive. Americans like to think that discrimination is just something that someone else does.

No one likes to think that they are prejudiced. But our history is full of tragic stories of discrimination, often with the cooperation of the law.  The awful sin of slavery blighted this nation, brought suffering on millions, and destroyed human beings. Though the Civil War officially settled the question of slavery, racial discrimination remains a real issue in our nation 150 years later! I find it tragic that our current political atmosphere is letting stereotypical images turn people into objects, so many speaking rhetoric that only feeds fear. Let’s not forget what fear did during World War 2.  Americans decided that being of Japanese descent was enough to make a person suspicious, and this land of the free, took thousands of its own citizens and locked them in internment camps.

Christians are to really love ‘from the center of who we are’ because we are loved! Discriminating against others, turning them into objects of scorn, is a sin that is incompatible with the love of Christ Jesus. Have you ever felt shut out, like you didn’t belong? Rejection is a painful experience. From the time of childhood, right through adulthood, we human beings have the awful capacity to scorn the person who is different – in color, in race, in religion, in language, even in ability. Why we do it this is complex but God’s desire is clear:  Love!

In the Gospel story of the Incarnation, we find fear, discrimination, and God’s answer! When Joseph found out that his fiancé, Mary, was pregnant he decided that he would break their engagement; quietly, without trying to publicly shame her. His heart was most likely broken by her apparent unfaithfulness, but there was another thread in the story, too.  His honor was at stake. When her pregnancy became obvious, there would be stares and whispers, those who would wonder if he had impregnated her, others who would think she had sought another lover.

In the middle of his thoughts, God sent an angelic messenger who assured him of Mary’s fidelity.  The Lord asked Joseph to overcome his fear of discrimination. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21, NLT) Stand with her, Joseph! And he did! He was an obedient man who took whatever shame and criticism that she might have borne on himself.

God loved us when we were outcasts and rejects. The Bible says, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!” He stood with us and now He desires that we love those who are rejected, identifying ourselves with them, standing with them. We are called to take up the cause of those that would be denied justice. It is what Jesus would do, and so must we. The Scripture says, “Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.” (James 1:27, The Message) God asks us to practice a costly love that sees the need of others and reaches out to meet that need.

We need to guard against a patronizing kind of assistance that reaches ‘down’ without really coming alongside of those in need. Much of the so-called care for the poor, the needy, the rejected is done from a distance without really becoming one of ‘them,’ whomever they are. Simply offering a meal or a word of concern or a check to help with rent is a nice gesture and relieves some measure of suffering, but such efforts do not change people’s lives or show them God’s salvation.

Only if we are willing to get involved in a way that makes our lives intersect with those in need, can we hope to really make a difference. This is what Jesus did in the Incarnation! “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.” (John 1:14, The Message) Christian, when it comes to those in need are you just sending a check, or are you presenting yourself? There’s a big difference. Jesus said, “I’ll stand with you.” I hope you and I will do the same for those who are suffering, rejected, alone, or trapped by sin’s consequences.

Would you ask the Lord to confront you with hidden prejudice, with those ways in which you are less than loving towards those who are different from you? I am because I want to please Him, honor Him, and obey Him when He says to me, “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good.”

Here is a word from the Word, from the preacher Micah.  “With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:6-8, NIV)

_______________

A song of God’s love for us. Let it inspire love in you.

Rescue  (Lauren Daigle sings it beautifully!)

You are not hidden
There’s never been a moment
You were forgotten
You are not hopeless
Though you have been broken
Your innocence stolen

 I hear you whisper underneath your breath
I hear your SOS your SOS

 I will send out an army to find you
In the middle of the darkest night it’s true
I will rescue you
There is no distance
That can not be covered
Over and over
You’re not defenseless
I’ll be your shelter
I’ll be your armor

 I will never stop marching to reach you
In the middle of the hardest fight it’s true
I will rescue you

 I hear the whisper underneath your breath
I hear you whisper you have nothing left

Jason Ingram | Lauren Daigle | Paul Mabury
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How to find joy this Season

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Her eyes sparkled, bright with excitement as she showed off the puppy that “Santa had to drop off early before Christmas.” Her joy was infectious, filling the hearts of a dozen of us standing around.  What a contrast with another man with whom I spoke earlier that day who was all cynicism and sadness. 2018 was not a great year for him. In our conversation he expressed the desire to make a quick jump forward, straight into January.

How does this Monday morning find you?  Are you prepared to find joy or will you let the ubiquitous bad news of life weigh you down?

Before you explain your circumstances, I want to remind you that JOY is different from happiness. Happiness comes and goes like sunshine. We cannot control what happens around us, sometimes even to us.  Bad and sad things are ‘just life.’ Joy, by contrast, is an evidence of a heart that is trusting God, that is being infused with the life of the Spirit each day.  It is possible to know the joy of the Lord in the middle of some of the worst situations.

How? Let me make some practical suggestions for living with joy.

Make people your priority!
Don’t isolate when you’re sad. The comfort of your couch and a blanket, with some mind-numbing TV will be tempting when your heart aches. Get up and get out.  Talk to people, really engage with them. Give another your full attention. If you at a gathering, or at the dinner table, or sitting with a friend;  don’t hurry or just try to ‘get the program’ completed. Enjoy the opportunity to be with friends and family.  If you’re hosting a dinner or a party, don’t make it about perfect preparations of food and décor. Those things will quickly fade into oblivion, but an evening of meaningful conversation creates a lasting memory.

Remember to include worship!
Believe me, if you will set aside 20 minutes each day between now and Christmas Day, to meditate, to pray, and to read the stories of Jesus’ nativity from Matthew and Luke; the Spirit will meet you! Tell your family you will be going to church on Christmas Eve. Arrive early and sit with a listening heart, not one wondering, “when will this be over?”   “O come, let us adore Him… Christ, the Lord!”  Will you worship at the altar of consumerism with far more fervency than you worship the Lord Jesus? This imbalance in the use of our time and money reveals the identity of our true god. Keeping Christ in Christmas isn’t just about putting up a crèche on the lawn at City Hall. It’s about building an altar in our heart and honoring the One whose life is the cause for the celebration.

Give yourself away!
In Acts 20:35 (The Message) says, “I have demonstrated to you how necessary it is to work on behalf of the weak and not exploit them. You’ll not likely go wrong here if you keep remembering that our Master said, ‘You’re far happier giving than getting.’ ”  Give forgiveness. Give love. Give time. Give grace. Give away your expectations and receive what these days bring your way. Forget yourself. The paradox of joy is that it is never found in making self the center. Jesus says, “if you lose your life, you’ll find it.”  Sound like a riddle? It’s not. It is a life principle.

Recover wonder!
Instead of asking, “How could this be?”  when you read about  virgin being with Child, God becoming flesh, invite the mystery of it all to whisper to your soul a new message about the depth of God’s love. Let the sophisticates pretend to be bored by the holiday. Choose to be child-like (not childish!) in your wonder. I am not urging mere sentimentality. I am suggesting that we let go of our sophistication, our cynicism, our intense focus on now to hear God’s invitation to JOY.

You can come to New Year’s Day with a renewed heart! Sure, you may be tired in body from staying up too late, going here and there, but you will have received Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit. And, He brings life.

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

__________

Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne
(Pray this carol as you listen)

Thou didst leave Thy throne
And Thy kingly crown,
When Thou camest to earth for me;
But in Bethlehem’s home,
There was found no room
For Thy holy nativity.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.

 Emily Elizabeth Steele Elliott | Timothy Richard Matthews Public Domain

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God, You Own Me

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Last Saturday, it was like somebody flipped on a light. I saw myself clearly and realized that my heart was in need of change. The moment was of the Spirit, I am convinced, His presence calling me to get back in line. There have been so many other times of conviction, when the truth about a choice, an attitude, some part of me comes into clear focus.  Sometimes it is just a simple, “Yes, Lord” that gets it right. Sometimes it is a fight inside of me – between the sinful nature and the spirit.

If we want to walk with God, led by the Spirit, there is a basic requirement: we must let go of Self and let God own us!  This is, by the way, not a once and done choice. It happens daily! Paul was inspired to call us to a life aligned to God’s plans with these well-known words. “I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1-2, NIV)

Note where we start in this surrender. It’s not with fear of a terrible Deity who is out to destroy us for our willfulness. We look at His mercy.  We remember that He for us, that we have an Intercessor who is praying for us, who has given everything required to be right with God, freely at His own expense! We do not have to beg to be right with Him, plead with Him to forgive us, or bargain for salvation. Are you feeling the sting of a guilty conscience? That’s mercy!  He loves us too much to just let us run to our own destruction.

We continue by understanding that He is interested in more than our Sunday words or our affirmation of right doctrine. “Offer your bodies as living sacrifices.”  God cares about how we act. We know that food, drink, sex, pleasure, leisure are things of this temporal world and yet those things are part of how we serve Him, ways in which we delight Him by accepting His way over our own. This passage connectsbodies as living sacrifices” with “spiritual act of worship.”  If we speak words of contempt for another we make a lie of our claim to live in love. If we wallow in lust, seeing others as objects of our desire, we dishonor our call to bear the image of God in the world. If we define our value as a person by the things we own, we reveal that eternity has little hold on our heart.

“Living sacrifice” sounds like a contradiction in terms at first, doesn’t it?  Under the Jewish Law, sacrifices were killed, then laid on the altar to be consumed in an offering to God.  In the Christian covenant, Self dies, offered up to God, so that the very lives we live are a holy offering. Think about that!  As the Father looks on you today, will He find a sweet offering of words of love flowing out of a heart given to service?  Will He find sincere prayers ascending like smoke from an altar, giving Him adoration?

Yes, there is a fundamental choice – will I be shaped by the values of my sinful nature, which are formed by the world in which I live?  Or will I allow the wisdom of God to restore me to Him, producing a transformation in me?  Only when God owns my body, my mind, and my heart can I consistently live a life that is aligned to His purposeful plan.  That plan, by the way, is always ultimately “good, pleasing, and perfect” (complete and whole) for us.

I’ll be honest. There will be times when you say, “This is going to kill me!” You will feel a terrible sense of loss. You will struggle to love Him more than yourself.  There will be struggles that do not end with a single prayer or one confession. But, I can tell you this, too.  In that place of forgiveness, when we are reconciled to our Father in Christ, when the Spirit is leading us – there is a kind of peace of mind that is incomparable to anything of this world.

The word from the Word is that passage again, but this time from a contemporary paraphrase, The Message. Before you read it, pause and pray this. “Father, I want You to own me – body, soul, and spirit. I love Your mercy and thank You for your patience in making me into the person that You desire.  In Jesus’ Name. Amen.”

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you:
Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—
and place it before God as an offering.
Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.
Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.
Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll
be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”  (Romans 12:1-2, The Message)

__________

Build My Life

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
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Humble enough for awe?

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I like explanations, to know how things work. That’s always been who I am. According to my mother, even as a small child I took apart my toys, destroying them in the process of trying to figure out how they worked. I do remember getting a school bus for Christmas that had lights in it that flashed and motors that whirred.  I was perhaps 6 or 7 and that toy ended up a pile of parts on the living room floor, much to the chagrin of the grandmother who purchased it for me.  Sometimes it’s just better to enjoy the thing for what it is, admitting that we do not yet understand all things.

In my reading of Paul’s letter to the Romans, I came recently to chapters 9, 10, and 11; a long discussion of the place of “Israel” and the Gentiles in the scope and reach of God’s plan, of a doctrine we call ‘election.’  I read the words but struggle with the meaning. Like my younger self with those intriguing toys, I want to tear it apart to try to see how it works, to fit Paul’s inspired words into my sense of what is just and right.

I wonder how can a good and loving God choose some for salvation and others for destruction? Who is ‘Israel,’ the Jewish people, the literal descendants of Abraham, or is he speaking of all those who are adopted into God’s family when they respond to Him in faith?   My point today is to not solve the questions found in these chapters!  I urge us to approach God’s Word with humility, so that He can form us, not so that we can rewrite Scripture to ‘fit’ our sensibilities!

There are questions about God, His Word, and His will that I must resolve to humbly allow to exist, alongside of faith.  In time, with maturity, study, and the revelation of the Spirit there are truths that become clearer. And there is clearly a need for us to admit that He is God and we are not.

Even Paul humbly bows his head at the end of those chapters to admit that he cannot possibly know the whole mind of the Lord. “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36, NIV)

I am not making a case for laziness, or for refusing to ask hard questions in our study. We grow as we wrestle with Truth, allowing God’s word to shape and form our mind. But, there are things we cannot know yet, which may be revealed to us later on. As much as we might want to know, our Father lovingly asks for our trust, a faith that is settled in Jesus’ promise first given to the disciples as they were about to watch Him die on the Cross. He said that they would have a Guide for the way. “Oh, there is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not be presenting his own ideas; he will be telling you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. He will bring me glory by revealing to you whatever he receives from me.” (John 16:12-14, NLT)

Today, thank Him for His wisdom. Open your heart and mind to Him, inviting the Holy Spirit to lead. Allow Him to create faith in you for those things yet mystery to you.

“O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,  what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?

You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.  You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.

 O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8, NIV)

______________

Mystery

Sweet Jesus Christ my sanity
Sweet Jesus Christ my clarity

Bread of heaven broken for me
Cup of Salvation held out to drink
Jesus mystery

Christ has died and
Christ is risen
Christ will come again

Celebrate His death and rising
Lift your eyes proclaim His coming
Celebrate His death and rising
Lift your eyes lift your eyes

Sweet Jesus Christ my sanity

Charlie Hall © 2008 sixsteps Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)
worshiptogether.com songs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) CCLI License # 810055

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The Wonder of It All

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In the enthusiasm of youth and with more dream than actual plan, in 1977 Bev and I left work, home, and family to move 2000 miles; with little money, feeling that God was leading us to a new ministry. Each month brought a new trial. We grew terribly lonely. Our baby boy developed pneumonia and spent 5 long days in the hospital. The denomination in which I was a newly credentialed minister refused to recognize me in the  District because, due to my inexperience, I had failed to observe proper transfer protocol. To support our family I ended up as a laborer on a construction site, working long hours, sun-up to dark.  We returned to New Jersey a year later having made what seemed a meaningless detour in life.

With time, I came to understand that the Lord was in that year.  However, His plan for me was far different than my dream. He was doing things in me that were critically important for the future, teaching me about His faithfulness and grace. That year in Wyoming is remembered now as one of the most transformational times of life.

When we think we have life in our control, I think perhaps our loving Father smiles at our naiveté.  Are you ever tempted to think that He is not there, or that He has forgotten you when it all goes wrong, when, in spite of your best efforts, the results are not what you hoped for?

Genesis tells us the story of Joseph, a man beloved of God, who started life full of promise and ended up in a hard, dark place for years! God allowed Joseph to travel from favored son into a place in slavery. The household where he served as manager became a place where he was falsely accused of sexual harassment. That to his imprisonment! But God … was at work! Each `detour’ was actually a turn in the road that led to the throne!

Decades later, when he was the Prince of Egypt, he wept as he told his brothers that God had used all the events, even their treachery, to ultimately accomplish His will. He said “God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors. So it was God who sent me here, not you! And he is the one who made me an adviser to Pharaoh—the manager of his entire palace and the governor of all Egypt.” (Genesis 45:7-8, NLT)

Does this all mean that we should become fatalists, floating down the stream of life shouting, “Praise the Lord!” at every jolt? No. We laugh, we cry, we worship, and we wonder, because we are human with a rich range of emotions.  Through it all it is important that we actively pursue the will of God. Choices must be made that are shaped by a God-honoring obedience.  But , we cannot forget that, in spite of our best of intentions, there will be side trips and detours that leave us wondering, “what happened?”

Are you struggling through a situation that seems meaningless?
Trust Him. If you’ve made a mistake, He can turn it around. We have this assurance – “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Romans 8:28, NLT)

Here’s a word from the Word to take with you today.
“My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”
These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude,
leading the procession to the house of God,
with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng.

Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you …

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls;  all your waves and breakers have swept over me. By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me— a prayer to the God of my life.” (Psalm 42:3-8, NIV)

_________________

O Love That Will Not Let Me Go

(An interesting Amy Grant rendition of this great hymn which was penned by a Scot, George Matheson. He was a young man, deep in love when blindness struck him and his fiancé broke off their engagement. He went on, in spite of it all, to a life of ministry, but never married. The hymn is one of profound faith!)

O love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in Thee.
I give Thee back the life I owe,
That in Thine ocean depths its flow,
May richer fuller be.

 O Light that followest all my way
I yield my flickering torch to Thee
My heart restores its borrowed ray
That in Thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter fairer be

 O joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to Thee.
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O cross that lifted up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from Thee.
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red,
Life that shall endless be.

Matheson, George / Peace, Albert Lister © Public Domain

 

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“O tidings of comfort and joy”

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How are you starting this Monday morning?  Is it with a groan over the beginning of a new week of work? Is it with regret for things said or done?  Is it with dread, fear?  Or, are you anticipating life, the opportunities, large and small, to love, encourage, and laugh?  Last week brought so many challenges in my life that I stumbled into the Lord’s Day worn down, asking myself if I could do it again for another 7 days!

The Spirit found me in our worship as our music ministers sang a joyous, rollicking version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.”  Remember the opening lines?  “God rest ye merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay. Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day- To save us all from Satan’s pow’r when we were gone astray. O tidings of comfort and joy.” He asked me if I was prepared to ‘rest’ in Him, to trust His provision, to know His gracious gifts that are my hope and strength!

God’s love story for us, which we celebrate anew this Advent season, is so amazing precisely because it is told to a dark world in desperate need. God sees people who hate each with murderous intent in His Name! He sees cruelty on a scale that is beyond our imagination. He hears the conversations we have inside our own heads- knows our secrets – and loves you, me – and all of this world. He knows our challenges, our competence and lack of resources.

And, He invites us to “rest” as we trust Him to work in us and through us.

Remember, His love is perfect, is not like ours! We often become impatient with someone when they disappoint us, when their ‘humanity’ becomes too obvious. We are willing to dismiss that ‘failure’ after a sin or two.  In my natural mind, in my awareness of my sin and the sins of the World, the story of Noah makes a lot more sense to me than the story of Jesus. I can understand God’s anger and the solution He proposed! “God saw that human evil was out of control. People thought evil, imagined evil—evil, evil, evil from morning to night. God was sorry that he had made the human race in the first place; it broke his heart. God said, “I’ll get rid of my ruined creation, make a clean sweep: people, animals, snakes and bugs, birds—the works. I’m sorry I made them.” (Genesis 6:5-7, The Message)

“But God,” what a conjunction. God interrupts, “But …”  shifting the conversation. The verse continues-  “who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).” (Ephesians 2:4-5, NKJV)

Advent brings us the message of redemption, hope, revealing the heart of God who demonstrates a love that defies mere “justice.” The Father intervenes not to destroy but to restore.  Will He judge with justice? Absolutely, one day – but right now the Word holds out a path to salvation. “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, no one is likely to die for a good person, though someone might be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” (Romans 5:6-8, NLT)

The cracks that life’s pressure causes in us are where the Light of Jesus shines through. On the bleak canvas which we smear with our failures, He paints His picture of forgiveness.

Today, I am filled with a new sense of hope – for myself, for the world that I live in. This hope comes from the promise of Jesus Christ to love us despite our sin. Advent sings with joyful celebration -“He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found!”  Are you in despair this morning? Are you discouraged – by your own sins, by the failures of a friend or family member, by the darkness of the world? Fall on your knees and look up to the Cross where the broken Savior built a bridge that connects us to our Father. Rest there!

The word from the Word for our meditation comes from the letter to the Hebrews. “The promise of “arrival” and “rest” is still there for God’s people. God himself is at rest. And at the end of the journey we’ll surely rest with God. So, let’s keep at it and eventually arrive at the place of rest, not drop out through some sort of disobedience. God means what he says. What he says goes. His powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey.” -The Message, Hebrews 4:9-12

____________________________

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen 

God rest ye merry gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember Christ our Saviour
Was born on Christmas Day
To save us all from Satan’s pow’r
When we were gone astray

 O tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

 From God our heavenly Father
A blessed angel came
And unto certain shepherds
Brought tidings of the same
How that in Bethlehem was born
The Son of God by name

Fear not then said the angel
Let nothing you affright
This day is born a Saviour
Of a pure virgin bright
To free all those who trust in Him
From Satan’s pow’r and might 

O tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

Unknown © Words: Public Domain

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Read the last chapter!

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Spoiler alert! You see this warning in a review of a book or play when there is about to be a revelation of a critical turn in the plot. If you don’t want to ruin the story for yourself, you stop reading, right? Occasionally a writer will show you the end of the story and then turn time back to unfold the drama that led to the conclusion that you now know.  I’ll admit that sometimes I read the last chapter in a novel first. Silly? Maybe, but it’s something I do.

God told us the end of the story, the promise of eternal life, the defeat of evil, the joy of Heaven in His Book. I am so glad He did! Why? Because sometimes, in the middle of this thing we call life it all looks overwhelming, doesn’t it?  Whether we are talking about world problems – and there are plenty of those; or the more local challenges of our situation – and at least in my life there are enough to keep things ‘interesting;’ or even our personal struggles, we are encouraged to remain faithful to Him because we have assurance that He has our lives in His hands.

The closing passage of Romans 8 is packed full promise!  It’s a sort of spoiler alert for our lives, but in the best sense. Because we are called and justified in Christ, “we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good. …After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun. So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? … Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. … None of this (death, demons, etc.) fazes us because Jesus loves us.” (Romans 8:37, The Message)

On this Friday, perhaps you have had a tough week.  My heart has been full of concern this week, perhaps more than usual, for the people in my pastoral care – for those with broken hearts, for those with unrelenting pain, for those battling addiction, for those who are wondering if it’s worth the struggle, for those trying to make sense of what seems senseless, and more.

I will confess that these concerns have kept me awake in the night, have heavily weighed on me. Some of my prayers have just been sighs, knowing that the “Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” (Romans 8:26, NIV)  Yes, I pray those heavy prayers with faith in the promise – He has made us ‘more than conquerors’ through Christ Who loves us.  I know the end of the story, ‘cause I have read the last chapter.

Fighting the good fight? Never quit. Don’t settle for apathy or resignation. Here is a word from the Word. My prayer is that the Truth will infuse us with courage, stamina, and vision, for the Glory of God, now and forever. “And the angel showed me a pure river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, coursing down the center of the main street. On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations. No longer will anything be cursed.

For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and his servants will worship him. And they will see his face, and his name will be written on their foreheads. And there will be no night there—no need for lamps or sun—for the Lord God will shine on them. And they will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 22:1-5, NLT)

Jesus says, “See, I am coming soon, and my reward is with me, to repay all according to their deeds. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” (Revelation 22:12-13, NLT)

________

O Come All Ye Faithful (Adeste Fideles)

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

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

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

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

Frederick Oakeley © Words: Public Domain

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