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God and You – unstoppable!

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24 hours ago I stood in the pulpit and delivered a message that was about the gifts of the Spirit, about the ways that God, the Holy Spirit, empowers you and me. I asked a question repeatedly of the congregation – “What do you want to do for God, with God, to change one thing in your world?”  I invited them to dream God-sized dreams.  At a meeting that evening, I listened to Peter, the man who will be taking the position as our Head of school, talk about his vision for that place and I heard someone dreaming aloud.

Do you dream anymore? Share your dream, especially one involving significant change, and a common response will be something like this – “Get Real!”  The world is full of people like Mr. Wonderful on “Shark Tank.” Ever watch that TV program?  Entrepreneurs bring their dreams to the panel looking for partners and funding.  Kevin O’Leary, a member of the Sharks, is frequently beyond critical, mean, making fun, predicting failure. Why does doubt, fear, and negativity come so easily to us?  Why are faith, courage, and positive attitudes so scarce?

I want to take you to the story of a man with a God-sized dream- Moses.  It was the divine time for the descendants of Abraham to return to Canaan, the Promised Land, after living in slavery in Egypt for 4 centuries.   The tiny clan that went to Egypt to avoid starvation during a famine had grown.  We are not sure but most likely their numbers exceeded a half million persons!

The Lord needed someone to lead them and he selected a man who was a former prince of Egypt, now a fugitive off  ‘on the far side of the desert’ tending Jethro’s sheep. Moses had been there for 40 years. He had put his dreams away and settled down!  God needed to get his attention and He did so with a desert shrub that appeared to be on fire but which was not actually burning up.   When Moses went over to check it out, God spoke his name.   He tells Moses that He is ready to move, that He has a plan, and then He says – “So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:10, NIV)

So now, go! Moses needed a lot of coaxing, offering excuses as to why he was not suited, why the task was too big, what was impossible. But, God told Him – “I will be with you.” It was the answer to all Moses’ objections.  Interestingly, the Lord did not say, “All the problems are solved. The path is cleared. It’s a smooth road.”  It wasn’t. Moses met opposition, disappointments, and hardships, but his anchor was the Presence of the Living God.

God is calling you, too!   He says,  “So now, go!”  to your family, to your neighbors, to the people with whom you work, to your city, to the world.  There are people to love that only you can reach. There is a something that needs to be done in a place that only you can fill.  Nobody can love your kids like you do.  So now, go.  Let yourself dream God-sized dreams;  not fantasies of escape, not silly dreams about riches or fame, but real visions of making God’s love real to others.

Stop stammering your excuses!  Paul was inspired to tell us that “Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people!” (1 Corinthians 12:7, The Message)  Decide to obey and a hundred voices will tell you why you cannot or should not do this. The enemy of God and good wants you to live an insignificant life safe on your living room couch letting day after day drift by.

I want to be all that He wants me to be, to do all He wants me to do, to risk it all for the glory of God.   I know I will not always get it right.   My history proves that too true.   I know I am not perfect (I heard that loud “Amen!”)   I know that I will fail for reasons that are sometimes my fault and sometimes beyond my comprehension.  But I also know this – God is greater than my flaws,  has promised to never leave me to fight alone, and has a rich reward in reserve for me when I finish the race obediently.   The results are in His hands.  Obedience is my responsibility!

Meditate on this passage today.  Ask the Spirit to cause it to inspire you to respond with a ready, “Yes, Lord,” when He says, “So now, go!”
” Pray diligently. Stay alert, with your eyes wide open in gratitude. Don’t forget to pray for us, that God will open doors for telling the mystery of Christ, even while I’m locked up in this jail. Pray that every time I open my mouth I’ll be able to make Christ plain as day to them. Use your heads as you live and work among outsiders. Don’t miss a trick. Make the most of every opportunity. Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down, not cut them out. ” (Colossians 4:2-6, The Message)

_______________________

I Want To Know You

(a worship song and prayer at this link)

I’ve tried in vain a thousand ways
My fears to quell my hopes to raise
But what I need your word has said
Is ever only Jesus

You died you live you reign you plead
There’s love in all your words and deeds
This weary heart finds all it needs
In ever only Jesus

I want to know you Jesus my Lord
King of the Heavens king of my soul
I trade my treasure and all my rewards
Jesus to know you then know you more

Though some should curse me for your name
I have no fear I have no shame
You stand with me for all my days
My ever only Jesus

Like wave after wave on the ocean
Like all of the sand on the shore
Your beauty and glory are endless
O Jesus I must know you more

James Proctor | Jonny Robinson | Michael Farren | Rich Thompson© 2016 Farren Love And War Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing (Integrity Music [DC Cook]))

Integrity’s Alleluia! Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing (Integrity Music [DC Cook]))

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Saved to the Uttermost!

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TGIF – thank God it’s Friday. Is that what you’re saying today? We all have weeks when we stumble into the weekend in a kind of emotional stupor, don’t we?  Life can turn into a maelstrom; confusion, fear, doubt, fatigue, disappointment, demands, temptation, too many demands wrapping us up, robbing our peace.

Let me remind you of something true. There is Someone who is there for you, who knows your emotional state, to Whom you can cry.  If you’re reading this blog, I am fairly certain that is not news, but we can forget it, doubt it, even reject it when it all just seems ‘too much’ to take. Meditate on this word for a moment. “Since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16, NIV)  Go back and re-read that passage one more time;  slowly!

At the beginning of His final week before the Cross, Jesus was met with palm branches and acclamation when He entered Jerusalem. Sounds good, right? But, it broke His heart because He knew that the crowds were fickle, that they would turn on Him in a matter of days. All that week He struggled with the men who were His friends knowing that He was about to entrust the Kingdom message to them, yet seeing them bicker about their status, fail to grasp what was really going on.

One of them turned on Him, betraying Him in the worst way.  In His time of great crisis, as He wrestled with the will of the Father, He asked them to pray with Him and … they fell asleep!  I cannot even imagine how isolated and alone He must have felt.  He was subjected to physical torture, psychological games by political hacks, and then sent to a horrific death.  For me the most wrenching cry from the Cross is this: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?”  It is the anguish of One torn from all that has defined Him from eternity!

That Jesus is YOUR Great High Priest this morning. Given that single week from His life, can you actually say He does not know what you’re dealing with today?  Stop trying so hard to make the hurt go away. Stop trying to work it out ‘til it makes sense.

Focus on this – “Because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.” (Hebrews 7:24-26, NIV)  The older translation has a beautiful phrase I want you to hang onto today: “He is able to save them to the uttermost that come to God by Him!”  

He is praying for you, for me, for this busted up world we live in, right now before the Father God.  Contrary to what you might be feeling at the moment, He has not lost control of your life. You maybe did, He never did. You can cry. You can scream. You can sit in angry silence.  Regardless, He is able to save to the uttermost!  Will you trust Him?

The word from the Word for this Friday is one that I hope will remind us that we cannot save ourselves, that it is not from us that salvation comes. ” Let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.” (Hebrews 12:1-3, NLT)

“We do this … by keeping our eyes on Jesus, our Great High Priest, Who saves to the uttermost!”

_________

Jesus! what a friend for sinners!
Jesus! lover of my soul;
Friends may fail me, foes assail me,
He, my Savior, makes me whole.

Hallelujah! what a Savior!
Hallelujah! what a friend!
Saving, helping, keeping, loving,
He is with me to the end.

Jesus! what a strength in weakness!
Let me hide myself in Him;
Tempted, tried, and sometimes failing,
He, my strength, my vict’ry wins.

Jesus! what a help in sorrow!
While the billows o’er me roll,
Even when my heart is breaking,
He, my comfort, helps my soul.

Jesus! what a guide and keeper!
While the tempest still is high,
Storms about me, night o’ertakes me,
He, my pilot, hears my cry.

Jesus! I do now receive Him,
More than all in Him I find,
He hath granted me forgiveness,
I am His, and He is mine.

-Public Domain

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Secret Disciples?

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Who among us, regardless of our political persuasion, has not learned to keep our opinions under wraps these days? It’s a time of strong feelings about so many choices made by our government, a time when one can lose a friend by offering support to or criticism of party or President. We are much poorer as a nation for our inability to have a real conversation, speaking as we do, in sound bites, clichés, and Facebook posts. Fear has destroyed the engaged discourse that helps us better understand the complex issues of the day for which neither side has complete answers.

Have you become a ‘secret disciple’ of Jesus, too?  It’s tempting, isn’t it? Christians are often targets for criticism, some of it well-deserved I believe. Using snippets of Scripture completely out of context to support political opinion leaves us looking silly or ignorant. Being unable or unwilling to talk about our convictions, to examine which ones are just our traditional understanding and which are foundationally rooted in the complete revelation of the Holy Word, gives us closed minds. Thus, being a conservative (not politically, but Biblically) Christian in our time often invites ridicule.  Then, too, there is the fact that the true disciple of Jesus will offend ‘the world’ just like our Lord did!  So, some choose to become a secret disciple.

John tells us about a good man who felt the heavy weight of fear, who had much to lose in ancient Jerusalem because he had become convinced that Jesus was Who He claimed to be. He says, “Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews.” (John 19:38, NIV)

Secret discipleship misses the mission Jesus gave to us.  Our words, our actions, are intended to shed light on a very dark world.  “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” (Matthew 5:14-16, NLT)  Perhaps if we were less concerned about for whom we were baking a cake, if we were more intentional about caring for those in need with real love, if we stopped making certain political positions the test of a ‘true’ Christian – His light shining out of us would actually cause people to thank God for us.

Real disciples of Jesus have changed the world. In the Roman empire, a brutal place full of death, Christians stood out for their love for all particularly the downtrodden.  The church was unique in the first century as a place where slave and free worshiped side by side, where women were treated as equals, where hope was available to everyone.  Those people claimed unwanted children and raised them in spite of their own poverty. They refused violence, actually ‘turning the other cheek’ like Jesus taught. Centuries later, in the time of the plagues in Europe, Christians cared for the sick when others fled, abandoning family. Their loving concern won them great admiration. Why did they do these costly things?  Because their true course was guided by eternal hope! They did not fear ‘having less’ because they took on another orphan. They did not fear death because they knew they were going Home to the Father’s house.

Is the Light of Jesus hidden in your life?  Perhaps it is obscured by a selfishness that has wrapped itself around your salvation making Jesus into a way to gain more for yourself. Listen to your prayers to see if this is true of you. Are your prayers primarily about your own circle of concern; more money, better health, blessings for your children?  This preoccupation with Self will dim the light in us and make us an unintended ‘secret disciple.’  Or, like Nicodemus, perhaps you have chosen to keep your love for Jesus under cover because you fear the rejection of friend or family.

Let the Light Shine!  The word from the Word today is challenging, not easy to digest, but compelling. “Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed? If anyone is ashamed of me and my message, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in his glory and in the glory of the Father and the holy angels.” (Luke 9:23-26, NLT)

Abba, secure us in Your love.
Set hope in us so that fear is gone.
Teach us to radically love,
to know how to speak, to think,
to act in ways that lets the Light of Your Son shine
brightly through us.

Amen

________________

We Are

Ev’ry secret ev’ry shame
Ev’ry fear ev’ry pain
Live inside the dark
But that’s not who we are
We are children of the day

 So wake up sleeper lift your head
We were meant for more than this
Fight the shadows conquer death
Make the most of the time we have left

 We are the light of the world
We are the city on a hill
We are the light of the world
And we gotta we gotta we gotta
Let the light shine

 Let the light shine
Let the light shine ooh

 We are called to spread the news
To tell the world the simple truth
Jesus came to save there’s freedom in His name
So let His love break through

 We are the light we are the light we are the light
So let your light shine brighter
We are the light we are the light we are the light
Jesus You are the light You are the light
You are the light
We will lift You high and shine shine shine

 Let the light shine let the light shine
Let the light shine let the light shine

Chuck Butler | Ed Cash | Hillary McBride | James Tealy

© 2011 Centricity Music Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

All Essential Music (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)

Wonder Down Under Music  (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)

Wondrously Made Songs (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055

 

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The Grand Restoration

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Don’t you love to finish a project? There is a feeling of accomplishment that comes when it’s complete. Perhaps there is even some relief that the job is finally done, especially if the work was long and difficult. I admire people who buy an old house and renovate it, particularly if they are doing it themselves and living in the middle of the mess!  But, how joyful to see the finished product, a new beautiful kitchen or bathroom – and knowing that it was the work of their own hands makes it all the more appreciated.

God made a beautiful world, one full of beauty, and then evil found an entrance. Genesis tells us that through disobedience sin came. The result of sin was death, destruction of the perfect balance. Our relationship with our holy, loving God was wrecked.  He, of blinding perfection, awesome majesty, was abandoned for lesser things with tragic results. Hatred overturned love.  Want replaced plenty. Perfect harmony was lost to misunderstanding. Mere idols, gods of our own making, took the place of the One True God. Until … “when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” (Galatians 4:4-6, NIV)

God, who might have destroyed it all chose rather to enter this broken world – to come to redeem us all.  Redemption was a word understood in terms of those who were placed into slavery to pay off a debt. Those so enslaved could be ‘redeemed’ – bought back and freed.  Sin had enslaved the world but God freed us with the price of His Son.  What a wonder, what a mystery;  what love!

John recounts the story of the sacrifice for sin, the awful crucifixion of Christ Jesus in few words. Captured near the end of the story are Jesus’ words that should evoke a great joy in us.  As He senses the end of his life coming, He says, “It is finished!”  He is not saying, “I’m done.”  He is not declaring that He’s finished. The plan of salvation known to God before time began was complete. The grand restoration of creation was now possible, the time of slavery was done! “Jesus knew that his mission was now finished, and to fulfill Scripture he said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of sour wine was sitting there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put it on a hyssop branch, and held it up to his lips. When Jesus had tasted it, he said, “It is finished!” Then he bowed his head and released his spirit.” (John 19:28-30, NLT)

This is the Gospel, the good news of Christ. “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2, NIV)   The words are rich revelations of His love towards us.  Justified! Made right, all debts settled.  At peace! Our uncertainties erased by Truth’s declaration, made at the Cross, that sin could no longer enslave those who receive the Gift by faith.  Rejoice!

And, how did He choose to make this happen?  “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. … God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Romans 5:8-11, NIV)

Will you live as a restored child of God? Will you let go of lesser things to receive the gift of Jesus?

It IS finished, on our behalf.  Life and more life for us provided by our Abba’s love.

_________

No Longer Slaves
(listen and worship)

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 famil
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

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Talking a BIG game?

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I met Diann yesterday when she came to see me as a rep for World Vision. In our conversation I learned about her life, raising many children, including 5 that she and her husband adopted. What I loved most was that she was so real about the joys and struggles of it all!   Life for her, like all of us, was not all sunshine and roses. Some of her best intended choices had unforeseen results but there was no bitterness, no cynicism. Nor was there the common Christian affliction of superficial ‘happy talk’ about the hard things. She was just real.

Bob Goff pokes holes in our pretensions in an essay in his book, Everybody Always. He suggests that we lose our Christian speak, so often used to impress or cover up our insecurity, trading it for reality. “We don’t need to go on ‘mission trips’ any longer. Jesus’ friends did not call them this. They knew love already had a name. … We don’t need to call everything we do ‘ministry,’ just call it Tuesday. … People who love don’t need all the spin, because they aren’t looking for applause or validation from others any longer.”

 

How about we just stop all the measuring, comparing, wondering so we can just be the person calls us to be?  Oh, I know, it’s hard not to wonder where we fit in the pecking order of life, isn’t it? I do it, too! Too often I allow myself to make ‘success’ (whatever that really is) into the number of people in church on Sunday morning instead of faithfully loving one or two on Tuesday.

In the pastoral journals I read, the names that appear in the headlines are of people who are ‘in charge’ of thousands, who are ‘changing the world,’  and the Devil uses that to tempt me to feel small, to ask ‘what’s wrong with me?’  Sad, isn’t it? But, it is such a common thing for all of us in different ways. Perhaps for you it’s beauty or money or your kid’s accomplishments or your house or … am I right?

Let’s get real with ourselves and God. Let’s make our prayer, “Here I am, Lord, all of me. It’s my desire to be the best ‘me’ I can be, using the opportunities You present to me today in the most excellent way so that Jesus will somehow shine through the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly.”
Here is something I do know with certainty. You and I will encounter people today who desperately need to be loved. No they don’t need a ‘Jesus talk’ to straighten them out. They surely don’t need to hear us brag, our self-aggrandizement disguised as a ‘testimony.’ They need us to listen and care like He did. They need us to leave them with hope that life can be different. They need us to remind them that God still is there, that in spite of what they see, He’s not given up on the world. If we are just loving, the Spirit will open up opportunities for the next conversation, the one about inviting Jesus Christ to be Lord of life.
So, let’s ‘go into all the world,’ starting at the front door and love like Jesus did. (That is not romantic or sentimental.) He saw the need, moved to understand it, and died to change it! Ready to love like that?
Let this word from the Word speak deeply to you. Spend some time meditating on the wisdom of the Spirit that Paul left for us here.

“In light of all this, here’s what I want you to do.
While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master,
I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—
on the road God called you to travel.
I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands.
I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere.
 
And mark that you do this
with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily,
pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love,
alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.
You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction,
so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly.
You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all,
who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all.
Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness. “
(Ephesians 4:1-6, The Message)

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Give Us Barabbas

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Mob mentality is a frightening thing that leads people to do and say things that would be unthinkable as an individual. In the African nation of Rwanda, in 1994, urged on by radio broadcasts and simmering anger, one group of people rose up against their neighbors and in 100 days around 800,000 people were slaughtered by machete wielding mobs!  History is full of similar stories – people whipped up by propaganda who take to the streets, destroying, killing.

We like to think ‘not me,’ don’t we?  We want to believe that we are above being influenced in that way, incited to hate by leaders who stir some visceral reaction in us.  A study of human behavior would suggest that swaying the mob is all too easy.

In John’s Gospel the conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders had come to a crisis moment. After He was betrayed by Judas and handed over to the Roman authorities, the mood of the people shifted. Those who had been swept up in adulation at His triumphal entry, now heard the accusations being leveled. They were further goaded by Pilate who kept repeating that Jesus was their king.  When he offered to release a prisoner in the Passover tradition, John says the mob “shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!”  He adds this footnote – “Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion.” (John 18:40, NIV)  Barabbas had committed real crimes, Jesus had only cared, loved, and taught them of God’s invitation. Yet, they choose the lesser over the Lord.

Later in the day, after Pilate had questioned Jesus again, he offered to free Him, suggesting that perhaps a flogging would suffice. But those who usually hated Roman authority, who had nothing but contempt for Caesar, were now a thoughtless mob and “they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.” (John 19:15, NIV)

Will you stand with Jesus today?  When the crowd pushes back against faith, when His call to a live of love puts you at odds with those who are cruel or hateful, will you courageously stand?

In the opening words of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives a promise in the context of resistance: “God blesses those people who are treated badly for doing right. They belong to the kingdom of heaven. God will bless you when people insult you, mistreat you, and tell all kinds of evil lies about you because of me. Be happy and excited! You will have a great reward in heaven. People did these same things to the prophets who lived long ago.” (Matthew 5:10-12, CEV)

If we are persistent in commitment, we will find ourselves going against the flow.  And, no matter how kind, how good, we are the fact is that if stand with Jesus, you are going to experience rejection.  Paul told his spiritual son this:  “All who live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).  It is not a maybe, could be, possible outcome! It is a certainty.  Stand with Christ, stand against the world.

What kind of difficulties may come our way if we won’t go with the crowd?

Personal insults are inevitable. You will find yourself the butt of jokes. You may be looked down on, considered a fool.

Physical intimidation is surely possible.  Martyrdom is not just a thing of the past. In many places in the world, in 2018, people are imprisoned, beaten, and even killed because they bear the name of Christ.  Those of us who are privileged to live our faith under the protection of the law, should give thanks for that, and pray for those who are being persecuted for loving Jesus.

Social pressure is part of being a Christian, even in America. “Lighten up,” we hear. “You are way too serious about your religion,” our family may say.

Stand! Not angrily, not with fists raised, but with the quiet courage that Jesus demonstrated, trusting Himself to the will of the Father.  What a tragic thing to allow ourselves to be caught up in the mob, and hearing the words “Give us Barabbas” come from our mouth.

Here is a word from the Word. “If you’re abused because of Christ, count yourself fortunate. It’s the Spirit of God and his glory in you that brought you to the notice of others. If they’re on you because you broke the law or disturbed the peace, that’s a different matter. But if it’s because you’re a Christian, don’t give it a second thought. Be proud of the distinguished status reflected in that name!”  (1 Peter 4:14-16, The Message)

_______

The Stand

You stood before creation
Eternity in Your hand
You spoke the earth into motion
My soul now to stand 

You stood before my failure
And carried the cross for my shame
My sin weighed upon Your shoulders
My soul now to stand

 So what can I say
And what can I do
But offer this heart O God
Completely to You

 So I’ll walk upon salvation
Your Spirit alive in me
My life to declare Your promise
My soul now to stand

 So I’ll stand
With arms high and heart abandoned
In awe of the One who gave it all
I’ll stand
My soul Lord to You surrendered
All I am is Yours

 Joel Houston © 2005 Hillsong Music Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

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True, that!

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Are you a lover of truth? Most of say so, and we mean it.  Unless we are a pathological liar, we do not live to deceive.  And still, even though many claim to love ‘authenticity’ and claim as it as their own, I find that ‘truth’ is a hard thing to come by in our time.

Opinion is confused with ‘truth.’ Preference is thought to be ‘truth.’  Truth is not always ‘obvious’ and it must be sought out.  Truth is not altered by public opinion, hatred, or denial! Truth is constant, abiding, and absolute. What do you believe is true about Jesus? That, friend, is critically important. Life depends on it!

When He was taken before Pilate, the Roman administrator in Jerusalem, that man was confused by Who he saw standing there. Clearly Jesus was a good man, yet His accusers were screaming about sedition, about rebellion.  Pilate asks Him about His identity. “Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” “What is truth?” Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.” (John 18:36-38, NIV) Hours later this man bent to public pressure and condemned a man he knew to be innocent to be crucified.

In a curious twist, Pilate, orders up a sign to be posted on the cross of Christ that read, “THE KING OF THE JEWS.” This was to be a kind of mockery, a written notice of the accusation. It was a poke at the religious leaders who built a false case against Him. Pilate may have even enjoyed his little joke. But, he wrote unwittingly wrote a statement of the Truth!  And, as they stood round the cross, those religious leaders whose envy and spiritual pride blinded them to the coming of their Messiah, mocked him saying, (Mark 15:32) “Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down from the cross. . .”  their own mockery a statement of the Truth!

Are you a lover of the Truth, really?
He is the Way, the Truth, the Life.
Do you love Him, enough to embrace His invitation to come and follow?
When it is ‘killing you’ to accept His way over your own, will you live in the truth?

Spend some time with Jesus’ words, which are the word from the Word for today. In their familiarity we are tempted to read and say, “Yep, that’s true.” Take more time to think about the ‘truth,’ about Him, about the way that He shows us for life. Then, commit to living freely, because of the Truth.

Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man on the cross, then you will understand that I Am he. I do nothing on my own but say only what the Father taught me. And the one who sent me is with me—he has not deserted me. For I always do what pleases him.” Then many who heard him say these things believed in him. Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:26-32, NLT)

______________

Father, so many words come at me every day,
Claiming to be the truth.
I want to live in the truth!

So, I pray that the Holy Spirit will give me a discerning heart,
a mind full of the Word, so I am able to sort out truth from error.

Give me a readiness to learn from You,
a quick mind that can sort out the competing ideologies of my world.

Help me to love You and to live in the Truth.

Lord, lead me to a life of holy service
that pleases and honors You, one lived without shadows,
Without shame, in the Light of the Truth.

In the Name of Jesus, I ask this. Amen.

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Thunderstorms!

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Call me silly, but I love Summer’s thunderstorms. Standing in sunshine, I can see the dark on the horizon and I know that in moments the storm will be blowing around my house.  As the storm approaches, the trees begin bend in the wind that howls. Debris whips around. An ominous darkened sky settles like a heavy blanket over the earth.  Bright flashes of lightning slash through the sky, followed by the crash of thunder that shakes the ground. What a display! And, then, just as quickly as it arrived, it’s gone. The birds sing again; the sun shines.

John 18 tells several interwoven stories, but it Peter’s story that captured my attention this morning. Jesus told his friends the storm was coming, that He must die. He warned Peter that he, the Rock, would fail! Then, after His soul-wrenching cries in the garden, the soldiers arrived and He was dragged to begin the awful procession to the Cross. Peter observed it all.

At  one point, he lashed out with his sword, cutting off the ear of a man. Jesus told him to put the sword away, that He ‘must drink the cup the Father has given me.’  Not long after that strange conversation, Peter is standing in the courtyard of the High Priest’s home, the storm is raging around him and in him. And John tells us this – “Peter had to stay outside the gate. Then the disciple who knew the high priest spoke to the woman watching at the gate, and she let Peter in. The woman asked Peter, “You’re not one of that man’s disciples, are you?” “No,” he said, “I am not.” (John 18:16-17, NLT)  Crash! Failure:  and it got worse, much worse.

A few chapters and many days later, the Resurrected Lord found Peter and spoke tender words of healing and forgiveness. Peter never looked back, investing the rest of life to tell the Story, through some up’s and down’s but he never uttered those words of denial again. He died a martyr about 3 decades later, after seeing thousands come to faith in Christ Jesus.

Christian, there will be chapters in your life much like John 18!  If life had a musical score, the ominous low sounds would start to play as the drama increases. The storm will start, a darkened sky at first, then tempestuous. You will be tempted to run, perhaps to deny Him, to wonder why it is this way, if He is there.  What will you do?

I encourage you to STAND FIRM. Wait out the storm.  No less than a dozen times, Paul writes those words in his letter – “Stand firm.”  “Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong.” (1 Corinthians 16:13, NLT)  You are stronger than you think you are. Why can I say that? Because you are not alone, in spite of what you may feel.  God is your Advocate, so stand firm.

And, learn to do something that few of us do well in our time – WAIT. “And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ.” (2 Thessalonians 3:5, KJV)  When the storm is reaching its crescendo, we just want it to be over. We may be tempted, like Peter when he used the sword, to try to settle the score, make it all end quickly, find some quick fix. But, God asks us to wait patiently for His purposes, even when they are beyond our comprehension in the moment. So, wait!

And, remind yourself that FAILURE IS NOT FATAL.  Near the end of the dramatic 18th chapter of John, Peter hears the rooster crow in the pre-dawn hour but that sound announces his failure loudly! Jesus had warned him that he would deny Him three times before the next day dawned- and he had.  He failed, badly. He abandoned the One who was dearest to him and the storm only worsened.  It felt like the ‘end of the story.’  We learn that Peter went back to Galilee and to his fishing boat. It was safe and familiar. I have to think that for those few days that he was there, each time he threw a net into the water, he heard himself say, “I never knew Him.” We might write off a friend like that but Jesus did not.  And, one morning, He found that broken man and told him, “Feed my sheep!”

Stormy time in your life?
Stand. Wait.
Failed? Turn back and, with repentance, find renewal.

Our word from the Word come from Peter, writing years later to Christians and to us. Speaking from inspiration and experience, he says – “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your Christian brothers and sisters all over the world are going through the same kind of suffering you are. In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation. All power to him forever! Amen.” (1 Peter 5:8-11, NLT)

_________

Love Wins

It’s a big world
We are hoping for a big change
We are broken in the fading light of a dying sun
We cry for redemption
There is hope there is hope there is hope
That ev’ryone who’s lost will be coming home
And ev’rything that hurts will be whole again
And love will be the last thing standing 

Can’t stop you can’t stop the seasons
Don’t stop don’t stop believing

 Keep on dreaming of the day when it all will change
Believe in the end love wins
If you’re waiting for the time
When your sun will shine
Oh look above ’cause love wins

 If it hurts you just breathe in
When it pains you just believe in the radiant light
Of the morning sun
We can find our redemption
Love is strong love is strong love is strong
It’s been there holding you all along
Ev’rything thrown away will be new again
And love will be the last thing standing

 There is hope there is hope for my lonely soul
There is hope there is hope to be made whole
There is life there is life to be set free
There is life there is life surrounding me

 There is hope there is hope for my broken heart
There is hope there is hope for a brand new start
There is life there is life give me eyes to see
There is life there is life You have captured me

Doug McKelvey | Robbie Seay | Tedd Tjornhom
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Truly holy, or just religiously weird?

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The faith I embrace is full of promise, a powerfully transformative messagesometimes. I have seen Jesus’ Gospel make a mean man into a gentle Dad, turn a hopeless woman into a purposeful person, bring freedom to addicts, sobriety to alcoholics, restore broken marriages, cause people to leave lucrative careers for places of lesser service …  What is Jesus doing in you, through you?  Are you different because of Christ in you? Has He made you distinctive, a stand-out in our world?

In Jesus’ amazing prayer of the night before the Cross His words reveal His desire for us. “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.” (John 17:15-19, NIV)  He wants God to ‘sanctify’ us as we live in this present age. That word is a prayer we will understand our destiny is found when we realize that we are “selected for a special purpose, consecrated for God’s use.”   When we receive the invitation to faith in Christ, the Spirit makes us alive to Him, to Truth. That truth teaches how to sort out the conflicting messages that come our way, gives us the ability to see beyond time to eternity so we will stay on course. He makes us different;  loving when others hate, at peace when others fight, living by God’s will rather than our own.

There is a lot of misunderstanding about that ‘different.’

Some define it like the guy who wrote the book about trying to live by every word of the Bible. In his attempt to literally transfer every word into the 21st century he did strange things like throwing stones at his friend who was in an adulterous relationship because that what he read in Leviticus. My fundamentalist upbringing led me to understand ‘holiness’ in some ways that just made me unreasonably weird. It was not the Spirit that was ‘sanctifying’ me for God’s purposes, it was a set of rules written to govern behavior. Paul calls this out as ‘legalism’ and reminds us that if we try to live the Christian life by writing endless lists of rules, we are not free; we are slaves. The beauty of the life of Christ in us never attained by that kind of ‘holiness.’

At the other end of the spectrum, there are those who have lost the whole idea of being ‘sanctified’ to a desire to fit into the culture, to be ‘relevant.’  An inordinate need to be ‘accepted’ robs such people of the distinctiveness of Christ’s call. Yes, we need to be able to speak to the world that we live in, to be able to communicate the hope of Christ in a way that it can be understood, but if, in the process, we become so enmeshed in that world that we love the same things, say the same things, sing the same songs, and make the same choices –  the Gospel’s ability to transform is lost! A insipid faith that cannot muster the courage to speak truth, that ‘conforms to the world’ in which it being expressed, is surely not what Jesus calls you and me to live.

We are to be people of the Spirit, who enjoy a lively conversation with Him that shapes us into wise, winsome, whole people in whom the beauty of Jesus is clearly evident.  People of the Spirit are humble, not arrogant. They do not have a need to condemn or criticize. They are truly different but not in weird, graceless ways. Like Jesus they will be offensive and attractive at the same time.  The world hated Jesus because His life and love exposed their emptiness and challenged their pretensions. Yet, they could not ignore Him, destroy Him, or marginalize Him.  When we are living ‘in the Truth’ we will be much the same; misfits, but yet able to effect change.

Here is a word from the Word. I have chosen to bring it to you from The Message, with the hope that the language will grab your attention, make you long to be fully alive to the Spirit.

“Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. … It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!” (Romans 8:5-11, The Message)

Let’s be different – not weirdly, but Spiritually!

___________________

All My Hope

(a great song by David Crowder)

I’ve been held by the Savior
I’ve felt fire from above
I’ve been down to the river\
I ain’t the same a prodigal returned 

All my hope is in Jesus
Thank God that yesterday’s gone
(Yes) All my sins are forgiven
(Oh I’ve) I’ve been washed by the blood
(Come on and sing)

 I’m no stranger to prison
I’ve worn shackles and chains
But I’ve been freed and forgiven
And I’m not going back I’ll never be the same
That’s why I sing

All my hope is in Jesus
Thank God that yesterday’s gone
(Yes) All my sins are forgiven
(Oh I’ve) I’ve been washed by the blood
(Come on and sing)

David Crowder | Ed Cash
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Disgusted with your church?

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I had a conversation yesterday during which I slipped into sin. Yes, I expressed, in unkind terms, my frustration with ‘church.’ Within the denomination that I have called ‘home’ for my entire lifetime, the politics I see got under my skin. As I fumed, I wondered why I should remain part of it. The Spirit quickly convicted me and brought to mind more than a few lapses in my own life when it came to the fellowship! In those moments, I became like a  growing number of Christians who say that they love God but don’t need to be part of a church.

Scandals, abuse, and just plain old hypocrisy gives millions a reason to stay home on Sunday. Around half of Americans do not go to church at all, ever! Most of that group profess a vague kind of spirituality.  My concern is for another group of people, those who say that Jesus is their Savior yet refuse to participate in a local church.  Many offer stories about a place where they found superficial faith, or met leaders who appeared to be hungry for money, or saw things that seemed inconsistent with Jesus’ message of the Gospel. Some are more direct – “The pastors are boring. Their sermons are disconnected from the world I live in.” Others point to unfriendly people.  I’ll agree – all of those things are true somewhere, sometime. (I pray that we do better at Faith Discovery Church!)

Some (I think they are a little more honest) say that they enjoy keeping Sunday free after a busy work week, preferring sleeping in to Scripture study, or a leisurely breakfast to worship.

It is not my intention to make you feel guilty if you are not a regular church attender. The truth is that by avoiding church you are missing out on being all that God desires you to be and others do not benefit from what you can bring to Christ’s church.  The normal Christian life, from the first generation, has included being part of a group of those who are disciples of Christ. The Spirit invites us into the Body.  We often make the mistake of confusing a building with a Body when we say, ‘church.’

The Church is made up of ALL those who are ‘in Christ.’  It is what Paul describes when he says “For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26-28, NLT)  It is hard to see that unity with all the buildings scattered across our towns marked with distinctive names and seldom joining hands or hearts for the Kingdom.  I confess the sin of division is too often on display.  Perhaps if churches (local congregations) were more intentional about being ‘the Church,’ the Light of Jesus would shine more brightly.

Are you a church skeptic? Been hurt? Disappointed? Just not found what you think you need ‘in church?’   I will risk appearing insensitive by inviting you to ‘get past’ those things so that you can focus on the larger picture.  Church is important to your whole experience of Jesus and there are issues that are larger than your personal comfort.  Americans love independence. The 11th commandment for many of us is ‘Thou shalt not tell me to do anything unless I feel it is in my best interest.’ That streak of independence often blinds us to the value of that which God deeply loves; His Church. How much does He love Her? “Christ gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault.” (Ephesians 5:25-27, NLT)

Instead of abandoning your church in a moment of frustration- re-commit;
first to the mission of Christ Jesus, then to that living Body through that He called into existence to carry it out.

In His final conversation with His disciples Jesus expressed His desire in prayer. “My prayer is not for the world, but for those you have given me, because they belong to you. All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory. Now I am departing from the world; they are staying in this world, but I am coming to you. Holy Father, you have given me your name; now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are. (John 17:9-11, NLT)

Here’s a word from the Word today.
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” (Ephesians 4:1, NIV)
“It was he (Jesus) who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:11-16, NIV)

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The Church’s One Foundation

The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord
She is His new creation
By water and the Word
From heav’n He came and sought her
To be His holy bride
With His own blood He bought her
And for her life He died

 Elect from every nation
Yet one o’er all the earth
Her charter of salvation
One Lord one faith one birth
One holy name she blesses
Partakes one holy food
And to one hope she presses
With every grace endued

  • Public domain, Samuel Wesley

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