Those FaceApp photos!

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Have you seen the photos circulating on social media, created by FaceApp? It’s gone ‘viral.’  The app lets a person snap a photo and then it ‘ages’ them. The results can be hilarious and alarming! When our lined, wrinkly but still recognizable, face shows on our screen we wonder, “Is that really my future look?”

Aging is one of American’s greater fears. We ask ourselves – Will my mind fail? Will my health become fragile? Will I be discarded or forgotten?

In the book of Joshua I read this line today. “When Joshua was old and well advanced in years, the LORD said to him, “You are very old, and there are still very large areas of land to be taken over.” (Joshua 13:1, NIV)  God was reminding that leader that there was much yet to do and that he was part of the divine plan!

Joshua continued to lead Israel for another decade or so, establishing the people in the Promised Land, challenging them to remain faithful to God. One simple phrase became his epitaph: “After these things, Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of a hundred and ten.” (Joshua 24:29, NIV)  That found a place in my heart. “The servant of the Lord,” that phrase says the most important thing about life – for all of us.

We are all growing older. Time is relentless.  In later years, when our energy is less, when our enthusiasm has waned, we might be tempted to leave serving and ministry to others. I have known more than a few people who lived as if they were dead for years before their body was put in a coffin. Joshua did not stop living just because he was ‘very old.’ There is a realism that includes the limits of an older body that cannot keep up with the young, that recognizes the value of the ideas of the next generation.

Our prayer as we grow older is borrowed from Moses – “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12, NIV)

I remember being in my 20’s and wanting to be 30, convinced that it would be a magical age when I would be taken more seriously in my calling. Now, I am in my 60’s and sometimes wish I had the strength that I took for granted in my 30’s!  God can use us, no matter the season of our life. Let’s not make the mistake of putting off His call to another day.  He has a place for us all – young and old – in His plan.

Here is a word from the Word, written by a man who wasted too many years, only to live with regret. “Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor him in your youth before you grow old and no longer enjoy living. It will be too late then to remember him, when the light of the sun and moon and stars is dim to your old eyes, and there is no silver lining left among the clouds.” (Ecclesiastes 12:1-2, NLT)  “Here is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is the duty of every person. God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, NLT)

May your day be a blessed one as you find contentment in loving Him and serving others in His Name.
_________

Ashamed, no more

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An attractive woman counseled with me years ago who felt powerful shame about her beauty. She had multiple failed relationships with men and wondered why. She revealed that 20 years before, as she became physically developed in her teens, when she dressed up to look pretty, her father would call her a whore and a filthy tramp. Unable to understand that he was transmitting his own feelings of shame about his sexuality onto her, she processed his cruel words into ‘truth’ about herself.

Parents who use shaming as a primary disciplinary tool are doing an awful injustice! Holding a child up to ridicule that confuses what she has done with who she is has terrible consequence. If you tell a little person he is worthless long enough, he will learn to believe it and most likely will treat himself like a piece of junk! Shame, which morphs into feelings of inferiority, will generally turn into dysfunctional behavior in a pursuit of relief. Paradoxically, the self-destructive choices lead only to deeper shame.

Do you ever have a memory sweep over you accompanied by feelings of intense shame? It’s not all that uncommon. Is that shame bad or good? Mostly, shame is unhealthy. Guilt can serve us well, moving us to seek positive change because guilt is formed around action. Shame is about who we think we are and thinking that we are worthless or beyond love serves no good purpose.

The glory of the Gospel of Christ is that there is forgiveness and restoration. God does not just forgive our wrong behavior, He gives us a new identity. He makes us whole, new from the inside out. Jesus Christ came into a world that was full of darkness and sin, and became the Light of True Righteousness. No longer did the shamed guilty person feel that his only choices were to hide his sin, or to cover up his nagging sense of shamefulness with good works, or by condemning others, or by finding temporary pleasure in even more sinful choices. He could be forgiven and set free!  Jesus says “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” (John 8:12, NLT)

When the Bible is used like a club to beat sinners with shame and to drive them deeper into despair, it makes me furious. Jesus seldom spoke to sinful behavior without offering the possibility of change.  Yet, today, Christians turn to shaming, rightly speaking to the sins, but wrongly making the sinner feel worthless, hopeless, and condemned.  In John’s gospel, we read about Jesus’ interaction with a woman, giving her back her worth, while challenging her to change her ways. “The religion scholars and Pharisees led in a woman who had been caught in an act of adultery. They stood her in plain sight of everyone and said, “Teacher, this woman was caught red-handed in the act of adultery. Moses, in the Law, gives orders to stone such persons. What do you say?”

They were trying to trap him into saying something incriminating so they could bring charges against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger in the dirt. They kept at him, badgering him. He straightened up and said, “The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone.” Bending down again, he wrote some more in the dirt. Hearing that, they walked away, one after another, beginning with the oldest. The woman was left alone. Jesus stood up and spoke to her. “Woman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?” “No one, Master.” “Neither do I,” said Jesus. “Go on your way. From now on, don’t sin.” (John 8:3-11, The Message)

This is the same Jesus who loves us. He sees us not just for what we have done, but for who we can become in Him. On the Cross, He took our shame on Himself. And there He made it possible for us to become people of honor and glory.  At Calvary, the worst of sin met the amazing grace of God. The Scripture tells us “You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-15, NLT)

Are you living in shame?
There is no need to stay there any longer.

The word from the Word is a little longer today, but it is a powerful statement of what God thinks about WHO you are. “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s judgment. For since we were restored to friendship with God by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be delivered from eternal punishment by his life. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God—all because of what our Lord Jesus Christ has done for us in making us friends of God.” (Romans 5:8-11, NLT)  He hates sin, but He loves people. Let Him love you to life!

____________

No Longer Slaves (worship at this link)

 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

Give it a rest!

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After about 10 days without a real break, I made myself rest yesterday. I sat on my deck and enjoyed the sounds of life surrounding me. I read a good book with beautiful music playing. I did a few household chores, but mostly- I rested! As a result of easing up on the throttle, so to speak, when it was time to actually time go to bed, I quickly fell into a deep and peaceful sleep, my heart overflowing with thankfulness for the peace of God.

God told the Jews that one of the ways they would be marked as belonging to Him would be an observance of a weekly day of rest. One day in 7 was to be free of work, focused on rest and worship, for the purpose of creating space for reflection and finding renewal. While I do not read the Scripture as requiring a Sabbath law for Christians, I do see a principle that we ignore to our peril. When we become so convinced that we must work for days on end, that we cannot take time to rest, that worship is a luxury we cannot afford – we become deceived about our self-importance and lose sight of God’s love and provision for us.

Spiritually, we discover something of critical importance about ‘resting’ in the book of Hebrews, where we read of the ‘Sabbath rest’ available to the people of God.  God invites us into a place of serenity, where our souls are settled securely in the covenant promise of the Lord. “Since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith.” (Hebrews 4:1-2, NIV) Unbelief, a refusal to accept the grace of Christ, leads us to frantic activity that destroys our peace with God..

Are you working to try to save yourself?
Are you troubled that you might not be ‘good enough for God?’
Does your insecurity drive you to do more without joy?

Unless you are living in some deliberate, unconfessed sin – you need not let your heart be troubled. Christ Jesus fully completed the work of making us right with God. It’s done! Oh yes, we are called to work out the implications of that salvation as disciples of Jesus. We are gifted by the Spirit to serve, but not in a frantic way, not to prove our worth to God. Working with God is so much more fulfilling than working for Him.  Have you forgotten that Jesus calls us brothers not servants, that He invites to live as members of the family of God, not merely as servants in the household of God?

If we are constantly working hard in an attempt to earn His blessings or to salve our battered conscience, our efforts will be dutiful, exhausting; self-focused. This misplaced focus becomes a source of a temptation to settle for ‘looking good’ rather than actually allowing the Spirit to make us beautifully holy. When we engage in serving the Lord because we love Him even those things that could be drudgery, take on meaning: the same tasks, yes; but, done with a different motive.

But, if we rest fully on the completed work of Christ, we find continual renewal, more effectiveness, and peace ‘’that passes human understanding”  even in the worst of times.

Meditate on Jesus’ words. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV)  He has prepared a place of soul rest for you. It is not the kind of rest we find in a hammock in the backyard on a Summer afternoon.   It’s a sense of fulfillment and purpose that comes from knowing His covenant love and the security that results.

Do you need to tell yourself ‘just give it a rest!’?
Bring that matter that troubles your soul to Him.
Ask for wisdom, for help, for acceptance – and ‘enter His rest.’

Here is a word from the Word – “The LORD protects the simple-hearted; when I was in great need, he saved me. Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the LORD has been good to you. For you, O LORD, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.” (Psalm 116:6-8, NIV)

_____

Peace, peace, wonderful peace,
Coming down from the Father above!
Sweep over my spirit forever, I pray
In fathomless billows of love!

-Public Domain

Thanks, Mr. Rogers

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I enjoy a well-written biography. Who was he? Where did he come from? What formed his values? I am reading The Good Neighbor, about the man who was part of shaping the lives of millions of children who visited Mr. Roger’s neighborhood each day on television.

A primary descriptive word the author uses is kind, tracing Fred’s kindness to the example of his wealthy parents who were active in caring for the poor of their city. Beyond their example, he knew what it felt like to be treated badly. He was often bullied as a child when he was overweight, isolated, and frequently ill.  Fred Rogers wanted every child to feel loved and invested his life in pursuit of that aim.

Kind – what a bland word, at first glance. We may admire kindness but few of us consciously aspire to being ‘kind.’ Fred Rogers made an easy target for the pseudo-sophisticates who mocked his cardigan sweater and gentle tone. And, yet, children loved him, drawn to a man who had time to notice their interests.

Are you kind?

A kind person is of a gentle nature, helpful, and readily showing concern for others. A good measure of patience is required as well. The Word does not just suggest kindness to disciples. God requires it of us. Contrasting two very different ways of life, Paul writes “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32, NIV)

I feel the weight of those moments in my life when impatience made me demanding or mean-spirited. I know how easy it is to speak critical or harsh words, filled with judgment, that leave another’s heart broken.  And I am thankful that God has worked to make me a much kinder man than I once was, though that work has been at the cost of much pain.

The world we live in desperately needs Christians who are filled with kindness. In the cacophony of the raging culture wars, when even Christians hurl Twitter broadsides at those with whom they differ within the Body of Christ, I pray that God will make me gentle.  Gentleness does not mean that we live without conviction. Kindness does not make us fearful of taking a stand. Those who are filled with the Spirit learn to trust Him and that deep faith makes us capable of listening well so as to make even those with whom we disagree feel cared for, persons who are loved by God.

Indeed, kindness is evidence of the life of the Spirit in us! “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”  God is kind to us. He does not treat us contemptuously, does not refuse to hear us because we are ‘less’ to Him. He gives us good gifts, loving us even when we are apathetic towards Him.

As you head into a new week, try a little kindness. In prayer, thank God for His compassion. Repent for specific places where you have been mean, judgmental, cruel, or careless.  And, then pray for kindness and let Him break your heart, take away your fears, and make you gentle.

Here is a word from the Word – “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5, NIV)

_______

Try a Little Kindness
(an old song but a great thought)

If you see your brother standing by the road
With a heavy load from the seeds he’s sowed
And if you see your sister falling by the way
Just stop and say, you’re going the wrong way 

You got to try a little kindness
Yes show a little kindness
Just shine your light for everyone to see
And if you try a little kindness
Then you’ll overlook the blindness
Of narrow-minded people on the narrow-minded streets

 Don’t walk around the down and out
Lend a helping hand instead of doubt
And the kindness that you show every day
Will help someone along their way

 You got to try a little kindness
Yes show a little kindness
Just shine your light for everyone to see
And if you try a little kindness
Then you’ll overlook the blindness
Of narrow-minded people on the narrow-minded streets

Glen Campbell

Life Changing?

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Last weekend I went to see Toy Story 4 with some younger friends. I was surprised at the depth of my emotional response. I was really touched, drawn into the movie’s story line!  Woody, a cowboy doll, reunites with an old friend, Bo Peep, and discovers a new friend, Forkie.  (Hang with me, there’s a point here.)  The plot is built around the loyalty of friends and the ever-shifting nature of relationships. Woody discovers that Bo Peep has a different life than he could imagine. She challenges him to think about his assumptions about how life must be lived. She invites him to be willing to accept the changes that time brings and to grow into new experiences. The film is masterfully done but it really works because somewhere deep inside, we all know that change for us is inevitable, too.

Like it or not, change is the only constant. The old line says “Change or die.” It is true. We mature in understanding. Our bodies age. People come and go. Some relationships flourish and some perish. We have seasons of great fulfillment and then there are those months when we go to bed every day wondering why we should even get up the next.

How do you cope with the changes that come your way?

Some people deal with change by ramping up control.  They spend a lot of time and vast amounts of energy trying to eliminate variables, fix relationships, and keep life the same. In the worst case, the controllers become impossibly rigid, stubborn, and usually deeply frustrated because life is, no matter how much we try, beyond our control.

Some people escape, pretending life is not changing. They won’t talk about things that are shifting; or, they choose not to participate in a meaningful way in the processes of adaptation to change. For example, as they see their children growing up, instead of being a part of helping them to independence, the ‘escaper’ withdraws, emotionally hiding from this change that is so painful to experience.

God invites us to deal with life’s changes with faith.

 We trust Him because He is all-knowing and unchanging. He will guide us through change knowing what we cannot know and remaining a solid anchor point for us when life gets turbulent.  The inspired Word assures that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8, NIV)  The Gospel – that Christ Jesus saves us graciously and gives us eternal life – is the one constant that we need never question.  He said “Anyone who listens to my teaching and obeys me is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse, because it is built on rock.” (Matthew 7:24-25, NLT)

When we prioritize knowing God, setting our hope on His unchanging promise, we can do more than just cope with change. We can actually anticipate it, grow through it, and remain spiritually and emotionally healthy through it all.  At our Vacation Bible School this week, the kids affirmed with a shout “When life changes … God is good.”  I smiled as I heard their little voices raised in that statement, thinking how little they really knew what they were saying and I prayed for them that they would grow into the kind of mature faith that makes that more than a slogan.

Are you reeling in shock from some big change?
Are you angry, trying to control the forces of life to keep change from happening?
Are you escaping, refusing to accept reality?

OR, are you resting on God’s unchanging Word, praying for acceptance, growing into new opportunities?

Here is a word from the Word. May the Spirit keep you in hope when all life is changing. “But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t be afraid and don’t worry. Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if you are asked about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.” (1 Peter 3:14-15, NLT)

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In Christ Alone

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light my strength my song
This Cornerstone this solid Ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love what depths of peace
When fears are stilled when strivings cease
My Comforter my All in All
Here in

 No guilt in life no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
Till He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand

Keith Getty | Stuart Townend © 2001 Thankyou Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) CCLI License # 810055

Take Courage!

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On Monday, while walking the empty halls of the building that housed our now closed Christian school I felt disappointment, sadness, anger, and . . .  failure.  The closure of that school is so disappointing that I have been tempted to give up, to walk off, to throw in the towel!  That day, while I was in thought, prayerfully aware of God’s Presence, but not speaking; I sensed a word that from the Spirit, one He  whispers to me often recently – COURAGE!

Courage is not necessarily shouting down your opponents or charging into a fight. More often, courage is making the choice to do the right thing, to live the right way, to keep focused on the right course regardless of critics and in the face of circumstances that appear to have gone wrong. Courage refuses to react, choosing instead to respond.

In Luke 19, there a story about Jesus making time to meet a man of short stature named Zacchaeus.  As He was passing through Jericho, He took note of a man who was literally up a tree; stopped to talk to him, and invited Himself to dinner. Zacchaeus was a tax collector; a social outcast because of his cooperation with Romans, and most likely a crook, collecting more than Rome wanted and pocketing the difference. Spending time at Zee’s table was not a great way to burnish your reputation, but Jesus did it anyway- courageously! He saw a man hungry for God and took time to point him to life.

What makes that story even more remarkable is the realization that He was just a few days from the Cross when He met the little man in Jericho! The suffering, the rejection, the weight of humanity’s sin was waiting for Him in Jerusalem. He knew that yet He still courageously kept loving the least, seeking out the lost! Oh, to be like Jesus. 

Your life is going to have situations that take you places you do not want to go.
People you love will fail you, sooner or later.
Because you are human, you will make some mistaken and/or bad decision and have to live with the consequences. Will you collapse, or will you ‘take courage?

In Hebrews 6 we find this assuring declaration, “we who have fled to him for refuge can take new courage, for we can hold on to his promise with confidence. This confidence is like a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.” (NLT) It is our privilege it is to rest in Christ Jesus, to put those things we did not foresee before Him, and to know that He will be our faithful coach, One who guides.

Are you anchored in the unchanging Christ?  Settling ourselves in His Presence will keep us from reacting in panic when the things come at us for which we are not prepared.  Christians can run to Christ for solace and rest.  In Him, they find courage to take the measure of the day and to move ahead, living for His purposes.

Read this passage from Hebrews 6:19 again.  “We who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”  When the chaos of life threatens to overtake us, Christ offers to hold us secure, to give us a strong point to hang onto – His salvation, our hope!

Take Courage, Christian. How?

  1. Pray, even if only with sighs or quiet waiting, sharing the burdens of life with Jesus.
  2. Worship, not superficially, but from the heart, renewing faith in the love of the Father.
  3. Inform your mind with God’s Truth. Reading passages of hope and affirmation will be an antidote to the toxins of fear. ( Suggested passages – Psalm 37, Ephesians 1, Romans 8)
  4. Practice good self-care.  Exhausted people are often fearful people. Even Jesus took time from ministry to rest and find renewal.
  5. Choose to do one faithfilled, forward focused thing today.

The word from the Word points us to the example of Jesus. As you read it, my prayer is that you will ‘take courage’ and do the right thing, choosing the right path.

“Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! “ (Hebrews 12:1-3, The Message)

_________

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;

who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and
who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

  • Theodore Roosevelt

64!

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Yesterday was my 64th birthday and it was a day rich in joy!  My grandson, Gio, thought I surely needed a 3D Spiderman birthday card.  I’m wearing the ‘cool’ 3D glasses that were included.

As the day closed, I thought back – a slideshow of mental images of places and faces from the years. I am beyond grateful for those who taught me, loved me, and worked with me.  I remembered 4 decades of life shared with my beautiful Bev, our ministry together, loving four great kids together. My own parents showed up in my reverie, remembering how they passed me the baton of faith, teaching me the ‘awe and respect of the Lord.’  I thought about those I knew only through books – Ray Stedman, who wrote a little book called “Authentic Christianity,” challenged me to think hard about integrating faith into every part of my life; Richard Foster who showed me a kind of discipleship that shapes me today in his book  “Celebration of Discipline.”  There were hundreds of friends that came into my life, a few for decades, some for a short season – but each one leaving some mark on my life.

Surely the Proverb is worthy of remembering – “Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of one’s friend springs from his earnest counsel.” (Proverbs 27:9, NIV) “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17, NIV)

In some ways, I am living exactly the life I planned – serving God in pastoral work, loving His people, with the privilege of sharing His Word. It’s been nearly 50 years since I answered His call and there are no regrets.

Then, too, life has been full of unexpected twists! I never dreamed I would be without my loving wife at this age. Oh yes, I knew death would eventually separate us, but the idea she would leave me for heaven so young just did not exist.  As I grow older there is great comfort in affirming, using the ancient words of Job – “He knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” (Job 23:10, NIV)

What have the years taught me?  Among other things …

Laugh often!
Don’t take yourself too seriously. Jesus wisely cautions us about the cares of life. “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” He asks. (Matthew 6:27)

Love deeply.
It’s the only thing that will really matter in the end.

Keep Heaven in sight.
An eternal perspective will help you to avoid costly detours and give you hope in the darkest of days. 

Know Jesus as the Center. 
Paul says, “Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant.”  (Philippians 3:8) It is so true.

The word from the Word comes from his final days. They were written to a younger man to encourage him to faithfulness. He was full of confidence as he looked back, thankful for the opportunity to serve the Lord.  Are you living so that you, too, can look back without regret?

“As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought a good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness that the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that great day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his glorious return.” (2 Timothy 4:6-8, NLT)

Thanks for the all the birthday wishes!  Onward to 65!

A Christian Patriot?

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When the flag passes by in at our hometown parade on the 4th,  I’ll stand and salute! I’ll feel stirring of pride as old soldiers pass by. I love my country, the freedoms, the opportunities, the security that is found here.  I love her enough to weep for her sins, to pray for her leaders, to have a broken heart for what is happening to her.

My patriotism does not blind me to some terrible wrongs of our past including the policies of extermination that nearly destroyed the Native American population, the horrific practice of slavery and racism, and wars waged only to protect power, privilege, and economic advantage. I pray God’s forgiveness for those injustices and for ways to heal the wounds they caused.

Nor does my acknowledging of sins blind me to the blessings I enjoy in this great republic, the oldest and longest surviving democracy in history.  One of the things I truly love about my country is that I can raise my voice in dissent and that I can enlist others to vote with me for change.

Some of my brothers and sisters in the Church seem to think that God Himself is a citizen of the United States. He is not. Jesus is the Savior of the world; not just the West or the U.S of A. That is one reason that our local church is very cautious about weaving “God and Country” into our worship.  We fly the flag in our worship space, along with about 2 dozen flags of other nations, hopefully a not so subtle reminder that the God we worship is not just our God, nor does He favor us above any other nation.

I can hear the groans and cries of some who are reading.  “But, Jerry, we are a ‘Christian’ nation.” That is a phrase that needs to be explored more deeply.  If by it, you mean that the United States was originally settled by people who were almost all Christian by culture, that they drew inspiration for the way they organized the country’s laws from the Scripture, I believe you are right. If you mean that Christianity should enjoy a favored status in this secular nation, you are mistaken. When we try to weave government policies and church creeds together in law, we tread a dangerous path where the power of the law can be used to compel those beliefs that ought to be matters of individual conviction and faith.

It is not at all easy to find the right place to draw the line that separates the power of the state from our convictions. Christians and those without any religious conviction are universally in agreement that murder is a moral evil and thus feel no reservation about letting our government both forbid the practice and punish murderers.  I believe that science reveals the unbroken thread of life from the moment of conception, thus I believe that aborting an unborn child is tantamount to murder. Others do not share that understanding. What is the proper role of the law in such matters?  The United States continues to debate this, as we should, albeit sadly, too often without civility or thoughtfulness.

Can you see the problems inherent with Church/State entanglement?
Would you like the government to be empowered to compel you to worship God in a certain way as it did in England 5 centuries ago?

Would you want the national government to be collecting taxes for the support of a state church in the way that is done in some European countries yet today?

I must add this. Even as we celebrate our nation and pray for her, we must not confuse the United States with ancient Israel. When we indiscriminately take Old Testament blessings about Israel and make them apply to all things American, we fail to understand that ancient nation was a theocracy, a people with a common faith in the LORD God, different from this country.

Yes, I believe that God is ultimately the authority from which all human government legitimacy flows. No matter the nation, no matter the religion of the majority, the people prosper when reverence for One greater goes deep;  when integrity, selflessness, humility, and respect for human dignity are the basic principles that shape national policies.

Oh, America, I love you, and I pray for you.
In this I am on solid ground as a Christian.  The word from the Word today says “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4, NIV)

As we celebrate America’s birthday,  let’s pray for those who hold public office- be it the mayor of our town or the President! We pray for the Spirit to make them wise and just, that they would govern without partiality or self-interest. Let’s commit to good citizenship, for the sake of Christ! When we ‘render to Caesar the things that are his and to God the things that belong to Him’ we honor our Lord.

Happy Independence Day!

My sincere prayer today is:
God bless America that she would use her might for the right,
to truly create liberty and justice for ALL!

Confidence, not bravado

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One of these days, before I depart this world, I would like to try sky-diving. I’m fairly certain that when I stand in the open door of the airplane my legs will be trembling, my heart pounding. It does defy good sense to jump into thin air, with life depending on a nylon parachute. But, I’d like to do it. I would never attempt it on my own! The only way is to be strapped to an experienced person who will guide me through the terror of the moment.

When we listen to the voice of the Lord, He often calls us to do things that push us beyond our comfort zone. Joshua, the man who was Moses’ assistant, found himself in charge of Israel after the leader’s death. In the first chapter of the book bearing his name, in the opening 9 verses the Lord says the same thing three times.Be strong and courageous!”  In spite of all his years of experience and his faith, the new challenge must have been terrifying to him. So, God says, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9, NIV)

How does the Lord encourage him for the new task?
He does not say, “Everything’s going to be easy.”  Conquering Canaan would not be a simple thing to do.
Nor does He say, “My people are suddenly going to become compliant and easy to lead.” They were not and never would be!

He said, “I will be with you!”

 Disciple, the Lord is with us! “The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 118:6, NIV)  “God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6, NLT)

Accept that declaration by faith. Whether or not you sense Him, regardless of your emotions that may be churning, take His promise at face value and tell yourself – “God is here now!”

Joshua had experience with faith. For more than 40 years he had walked with God, loved His will, and pursued His ways. If we hope to live confidently in times of crisis, we need to live intimately with God now.  Trying to find sustaining faith when a hurricane blows through our life is nearly impossible if we have not built a relationship with God prior.  There are those who live carelessly, without any real ongoing desire for God’s Presence, who come running to church, crying, asking “Where is God?” when they run into a life-shattering situation. Desperately they seek a place of comfort. My heart breaks when I see their frantic reach for the peace that they know exists but that seems beyond their grasp.

So we need to steadily walk, keeping step with the Spirit, loving the Lord whole-heartedly today – so that when we are called to some hard task or when we find ourselves in the middle of the storm, we can go through it with assurance.

Here’s the word from the Word. “If you love me, you will obey what I command. And 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 14:15-17, NIV) “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:25-27, NIV)

Confident – not in our intelligence, our strength, because of our resources – but because we walk hand in hand with our Abba, we can change the world. Ready? Ours is true confidence, not mere bravado. Let’s do it.

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No Longer Slaves

(Zach Williams sings this amazing song in Harding Prison and it brings me to tears!)

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

Fatness

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One of America’s biggest health challenges today is obesity. We have so much food and apparently so little understanding of our physical frame that many of us are eating ourselves to death. Our blessings of plenty have become a curse. There is a parable in that for our spiritual health. I am not, by any stretch of imagination, a health-food fanatic, but I choose not to eat very much ‘junk’ food. Oh yes, I love snacks that are salty and rich in fats! Knowing that weakness, I just don’t keep them in the house. Sugary beverages are not on the menu either.  Drinking a glass full of 250 empty calories just doesn’t appeal to me.

I’ll leave nutritional advice to those who know the subject better than I do.  But, here is something I do know well. Even more important than what you put into your stomach is the ‘soul food’ that feeds your mind and heart!  How do you nourish your spirit?

Moses, at the end of his life, called the leaders of the people of Lord together and recited a long ‘song’ to them. (see Deuteronomy 32) He pointed out the ways that God had cared for them, describing their wonderful place in His love. Then, with the wisdom of the Spirit, he warned them of the perils that would come with the blessings of being a settled people in the Promised Land. “God made him ride on the heights of the land and fed him with the fruit of the fields. He nourished him with honey from the rock, and with oil from the flinty crag, with curds and milk from herd and flock and with fattened lambs and goats, with choice rams of Bashan and the finest kernels of wheat. You drank the foaming blood of the grape. Jeshurun (a name for Israel, the people of God) grew fat and kicked; filled with food, he became heavy and sleek. He abandoned the God who made him and rejected the Rock his Savior.”  (Deuteronomy 32:13-15, NIV)

When we take in the Word, understanding Who God is, aligning our lives to His will, we are blessed. The favor of the Lord is a great gift and leads us to a place of prosperity and contentment. Where we find ourselves contented, we risk neglect of the soul, and our blessings allow us to forget the very God Who provides them. We may become “Jeshurun;”  a fat, forgetful Christian. Worship will hold little attraction for us. Prayer can turn into an empty form if we allow our hearts to cool towards Him.  Sated by Pleasure, we can lose our desire for the Bread of Heaven. To ‘busy’ to serve, we will content ourselves to pay others while we remain on the sidelines.

What’s the answer?  Is it to live in perpetual misery? Must we live on the edge of desperation to remain faithful to God?  Not at all!

When God blesses, the right response is to receive those gifts with gratitude, to remember how we came to the place of His favor so that we will continue to walk with Him, love Him, and to share the grace we’ve found with others.  The disciplines of the Spirit – worship, meditation, community, service, humility, generosity, fasting from time to time – will keep us from the falling in love with our Self, from slipping into the deadliness of spiritual obesity.

Has your life in the Spirit led you to a place of blessings? Wisely accept the wisdom that warns of becoming fat and forgetful, but do not fear.  Instead, with gratefulness that recognizes the source of those blessings, give yourself generously to God’s work.  You will then experience a life that is both rich and God-aware!

Here’s a word from the Word. “God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you’re ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to do what needs to be done. As one psalmist puts it, He throws caution to the winds, giving to the needy in reckless abandon. His right-living, right-giving ways never run out, never wear out. This most generous God who gives seed to the farmer that becomes bread for your meals is more than extravagant with you. He gives you something you can then give away, which grows into full-formed lives, robust in God, wealthy in every way, so that you can be generous in every way, producing with us great praise to God. “ (2 Corinthians 9:8-11, The Message)

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Break Thou The Bread Of Life

(An a cappella version invites us to prayer)

Break Thou the bread of life
Dear Lord to me
As Thou didst break the loaves
Beside the sea
Within the sacred page
I seek Thee Lord
My Spirit pants for Thee
O living Word

 Bless Thou the truth
Dear Lord to me to me
As Thou didst bless
The bread by Galilee
Then shall all bondage cease
All fetters fall
And I shall find my peace
My all in all

 Thou art the bread of life
O Lord to me
Thy holy Word the truth
that saveth me
Give me to eat and
live with Thee above
Teach me to love Thy truth
for Thou art love

Mary Artemisia Lathbury – Public Domain