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The ugly awful

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The news out of Harrisburg, PA yesterday was heartbreaking. A grand jury investigated sexually predatory behavior in the Catholic church going back 70 years. The published report listed 301 priests who preyed on children leaving thousands of people confused, afraid, feeling alone in their shame.  One man, in his 50’s who had been the victim of a priest, heard the name of that man on the list of predators and slowly shook his head, his story now confirmed after so many years.  He said, “I’m free, I’m free.”  Compounding the ugly was the awful revelation that church authorities did little or nothing to stop the evil, usually just moving a priest who was exposed to a new town.  It is hard to even imagine the reasoning that justified those decisions.

I want to distance myself from that. I want to insist that I am different, don’t you?  Let’s be reminded that as horrific as this story is, we are all capable of doing things we hope never see the light of day.

The history of humanity is full of chapter upon chapter of stories that confirm the preacher’s inspired words declaring that “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? But I, the Lord, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve.” (Jeremiah 17:9-10, NLT)

Perhaps you are getting angry, insisting that you are not like those awful men who preyed on children while representing Jesus.  I surely hope that we are not doing those things, and yet we do fail.  Sin is so common, so lacking in originality, that is accepted as ‘normal.’  That being true, let’s look into our own lives, away from the dark and sordid account of that grand jury report.

Ever been so angry you hated someone if only for a day or two?
Jesus says that kind of anger is kin to murder.
Remember His famous words about adultery?
If we spend time indulging fantasy, we have taken steps towards the reality.
Which of us has not just wanted to have his own way, disregarding the need of another?
That selfishness does not reflect the goodness of God, does it?

As much as some resist the fact, the truth is that we are universally resistant to the will and way of God. We all need a Savior! Against the backdrop of our failures, there is this bright light of hope, redemption, and transformation!

Paul, a man who had been full of self-righteous rage, who hated Christ and Christians, knew grace first-hand. The Spirit found him, invited him to give himself to the Lord Jesus, and changed him who had been “chief of sinners.”

He says, “Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. . . .  By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else. But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms . . .  God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:1-10, NLT)

My prayer is for a new heart. I want to care deeply for those victimized by sinful people. I want to shine brightly with Christ’s love in a world of darkness. By the Spirit, I desire to be an agent of redemption and transformation – starting in me!

Yes, my prayer is this, our word from the Word. What a promise from the heart of our Father. “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ezekiel 36:25-27, NIV)

______________

Father, make us whole and then make us healers.
Let your Light shine on us and then through us.
May we love the Truth and then be willing to speak it.
Help us, Holy Spirit, to listen, learn, and love.

In Jesus’ Name. Amen

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You just don’t get it

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Ever found yourself  in a conversation that you could not understand? I was talking computer jargon with someone the other day. Another person who was standing there looked at us blankly, then she laughed and said, “Well I hear the words but I have no idea what you are talking about.”  I tried to include her, simplifying what I was saying but she was still lost, lacking the experience that would have made sense of the words.

True Christianity can be like that. When I speak of ‘dying to Self,’ or ‘forgiving without reservation,’  I see some who hear the words without really being able to understand them. I am not defending the common practice of ‘insiders’ who use coded language or who thoughtlessly speak in the exclusive language of the Church. We are ambassadors of Christ and His kingdom and as such we must make every effort to make His message accessible to those who hear us.  But there are limits to the understanding of spiritual matters.

Paul tells us this. “No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us. When we tell you these things, we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths.

But people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means. Those who are spiritual can evaluate all things, but they themselves cannot be evaluated by others. For, “Who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to teach him?” But we understand these things, for we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:11-16, NLT)

The Gospel is first revealed by the Spirit to us!  When He speaks to us, moving us to desire Him, and we respond with faith, a new way of ‘knowing’ opens to us. We become people who think beyond the natural world into eternity. Let me quickly add — this insight is no reason for pride.  If we become proud of our ‘knowledge’ we sin against God, growing cataracts in the spiritual eyes He’s opened by His grace.

What happens when those who are not filled with the Spirit attempt to explain spiritual matters?  We get all kinds of false teaching.

One is a system of religiosity based on human effort.
Knowing God and accepting His grace in Christ through faith gets replaced with a message of ‘do’s and don’ts,’ regulations and rituals. It cannot work because we can never be ‘good enough’ to merit God’s love no matter how disciplined or moral we might be.

Another error is one all too common in our world that makes the Gospel into a scheme for producing the life we desire!
The philosophers that teach this say things like “Jesus wants you to be …”  and then encourage their hearers to fill in the blank with their heart’s desire. It is a cross-less ‘gospel’ that over promises and under delivers. It takes certain words of Jesus and turns them into a guarantee of happiness and prosperity.  It encourages a ‘worship’ that is more about stirring up human emotion than encountering the living God. It is more about self-help than following Him.

Millions love this ‘gospel’ because they can understand it with the natural mind.  It makes sense, so they say, that God would want to bless me, feed me, comfort me, and give me all that I want because He loves me.

Hearing the Gospel that tells of Jesus’ love, His willingness to enter our desperate situation to save us with sacrifice, and invites you and me to do the same with our world makes no sense to a person who is not alive to the eternal god. Jesus’ invitation to love Him more than family, more than Self, to ‘take up the Cross and follow Me’ are noble words that the mind without the Spirit cannot make a reality.  The fact that God can love and save a terribly wicked person is beyond the reach of the natural mind that insists that God is for the good alone.  (In the natural mind ‘Good’ is always relative to where we stand not fixed on the revealed truth of God!)

The mystery of faith is that Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again.  On that foundation we build our lives around His invitation to be disciples, even as we ‘work out’ the implications of knowing Him as both Savior and Lord in our day to day lives.  And, ‘ because we live by the Spirit, we keep step with the Spirit.’

 Here is a word from the Word. I pray it will not cause us to be lazy in thought or study. That is not the intent of this passage. Rather, may this passage bring us to humble prayer, to a place where we allow the Holy Spirit to make God’s truth our guide.  “So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom.

So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense. But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:20-24, NLT)

Abba, open my eyes, enlighten my heart,
and keep me where You can lead me.
I ask that I will have Your Mind,
That I will see as You see,
and, by Your grace, that I will live and speak,
in a way that You desire for Your glory.

In Jesus’ Name. Amen

____________

Listen To Our Hearts
(worship along at this link)

How do you explain
How do you describe\
A love that goes from east to west
And runs as deep as it is wide
You know all our hopes
Lord You know all our fears
And words cannot express
The love we feel
But we long for You to hear

So listen to our hearts
Hear our spirits sing
A song of praise that flows
From those You have redeemed

We will use the words we know
To tell You what an awesome God You are
But words are not enough
To tell You of our love
So listen to our hearts

If words could fall like rain
From these lips of mine
And if I had a thousand years
Lord I would still run out of time
If You listen to my heart
Ev’ry beat will say
Thank You for the life
Thank You for the truth
Thank You for the way

Geoff Moore | Steven Curtis Chapman © 1992 Primary Wave Brian (Chapman Sp Acct) (Admin. by BMG Chrysalis US) Songs On The Forefront (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) Sparrow Song (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

 

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Flat on his face, disgraced!

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One of my role models in ministry was accused of sad, selfish sinfulness last month, disgraced even as he was preparing to hand off the church he planted forty years ago, one that grew to be one of the largest in America. He wrote several best-selling books about the Christian life. I heard him speak several times over the years and he inspired me with a practical, down to earth message about living for Jesus in this world.

Now, like David, my lament is this – “How the mighty have fallen in battle!” (2 Samuel 1:25, NIV)

Thinking about about the pain in his family, about his wife’s sense of betrayal, about the other women he’s apparently discarded along the way, and his church in disarray – fills me with a mix of emotions including fear, anger, and sorrow.  Knowing how to deal with those who stumble and fall is hard, isn’t it?  He’s not an especially evil man and I am not prepared to throw out his books, erase his memory, or vilify him as many are doing.

For many the only possible response is to distance themselves from the man as quickly and as far as possible. Some, for a time apparently, tried to cover it all up, to protect him from his disgrace. Others are publishing harsh, critical statements that, at least to me, read as hateful. Thousands of us who saw him as a role model are disappointed because we fell into the trap of making him that man we saw only in his public persona a Christian celebrity. We allowed ourselves believe that because he had a well-known name, was a popular speaker and a best-selling author, that he breathed a different kind of air, living in a world apart from our ordinary one.  In fact, now we know that he is a ‘sinner saved by grace’ just like the rest of us.

If I could sit down for an hour with him today, I would just want to listen, to encourage him to do what he can to make restitution to those he’s hurt, to own his failure, and to receive the immeasurable grace of God that defies our human understanding.  Whatever he has done, whoever he is in private, I know that God loves him with a love that deeper than the pit his sin has dug!

Here a couple of conclusions that I have formed from Bill’s story.

 The first is that we all are capable of great good and great sin.
Those who are pointing fingers, self-righteously castigating this man, need to read St. Paul’s words again. “Don’t be so naive and self-confident. You’re not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless. Cultivate God-confidence.”  (1 Corinthians 10:12, The Message) We need not walk around in fear of the world, our sinful nature, or the Devil however we need a healthy respect for the lures of temptation that comes to each one of us.

Second, we need to resist the temptation to turn our leaders into celebrities.
Leaders are there to serve us.  We make a huge mistake that complicates their lives and confuses us when we turn the famous and gifted Christian musicians, pastors, and authors, into people we think are larger than life. When we do this, we fail to pray for them. Their ‘ministry’ becomes more important to us than knowing Jesus. And, if they fall, we find ourselves disillusioned, bitter, and angry. Paul reminded the Corinthian Christians that their love of name and personality was a mistake. His words to them are words for us!  “Christ Jesus … has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:30-31, NIV)

There is powerful forgiveness and unbelievable restoration available to those who turn from sin to God, who own their sin without excuse, and seek Him.

Are you struggling with temptation today?
We all do. It is no cliché to say that there is victory in Jesus!

Are you watching another struggle to get back on their feet after taking a terrible fall? Love them, pray for them, come alongside of them to offer a hand.

Here is a word from the Word.  God use it to keep us on our feet for Jesus’ sake.  “If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world. And we can be sure that we know him if we obey his commandments.” (1 John 1:8-2:3, NLT)

________

Come Ye Sinners

(a beautiful old folk hymn)

Come ye sinners poor and needy
Weak and wounded sick and sore
Jesus ready stands to save you
Full of pity love and power

I will arise and go to Jesus
He will raise in His arms
In the arms of my dear Savior
Oh there are 10,000 charms

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You want real change?

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Life feels like constant maintenance to me. My house requires attention, all of the time. Some is routine like keeping the water softener charged and the lawns mowed. There are things that have to be monitored and those that must be repaired.  I really like a clean house and enjoy the shine when it is done. But, within a few days it is in need of more attention, right?  We are always pushing back chaos, restoring, rebuilding.

After Judah was destroyed by Assyria, Jerusalem burnt, the Temple sacked – people concluded that the history of the Jewish people had concluded: except for those who recognized God’s promises. They hoped for a day when the mess would be cleaned up, the nation restored, the worship of the Lord renewed.  And, miraculously it was!  But, it did not happen without people who were willing to dream, sweat, and work.  God spoke to a Jewish man who was ‘cupbearer’ to the king in Babylon. “They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.” (Nehemiah 1:3-4, NIV)

Nehemiah felt the call to do something about his ruined homeland and took God’s invitation.  When he finally made the trip to a city he had never seen, he found piles of rubble.

After a survey of the work, he gathered those who shared his vision. “Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me. They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work.” (Nehemiah 2:17-18, NIV)  It was no walk in the park, but he got the job done.  What an inspiration!

So what is in need of attention around you?
What has God called you to restore?
Who needs you to be their ‘Nehemiah?’

If you want to lead your family to wholeness, be part of a church that is making a Kingdom difference, or even just live your own life in a way that honors the Lord, there are some pointers from the rebuilder of Jerusalem.

First– Gain God’s Vision!

He has a plan for your life. You are not a random blob of living organic matter existing for a few years in this universe.  You have a purpose.

Second- Assess the Challenges!

I am acquainted with a man who is busy all of the time, but his place is in disarray. Why? He does not understand the work that needs to be done so that he can prioritize and order his efforts.  You can work hard and accomplish next to nothing if you do not take time to understand the bigger picture.

Third- Gather resources!

Life is not a solo act, despite what you might have been told. The most lasting changes in us and in our world are done by teams of people whose combined efforts, empowered by God’s Spirit, are amazing. The right people, in the right place, equipped with the right tools, can move mountains.  Who’s on your team of life? What has God provided for you to do His will?  Ask for faith that will let you see beyond the  obvious.

Fourth- Get going!

The pithy wisdom of Proverbs includes this bit – “A little extra sleep, a little more slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest— then poverty will pounce on you like a bandit; scarcity will attack you like an armed robber.” (Proverbs 6:10-11, NLT)  Today’s opportunities will not return tomorrow.  Are you doing something, making the effort, moving forward in spite of obstacles?

A life well-ordered and Christ-honoring does not just happen while we wait. Bodies, homes, organizations, systems, churches, buildings –  they all demand our best efforts to build and maintain them.  After all the effort, Nehemiah remember this important choice, too. “At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres.” (Nehemiah 12:27, NIV)

Remember to Celebrate and Give Thanks.

Are you a restorer, a builder,  creating a life of beauty for the glory of God?

The word from the Word is a favorite of mine. Take the promise and go change your world. “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21, NIV)

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“What’s love but a second hand emotion?”

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Love!  A million songs are written about it. Every man, woman, and child craves it. Many don’t understand it. Some think it’s just about sex. Love makes us cry, fills us with longing, and can make life oh so sweet.  Christians talk a lot about love, don’t they?

Jesus did, too. Yet, for all our talk, authentic love remains the exception. Push us hard enough, disappoint us again, frustrate us and see if we remain loving by Paul’s definition- “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-6, NLT)

Jesus set the bar high for us in the way He wants us to love. “As I have loved you, love one another,” He said.  Yep, the standard is Jesus. Chew on that for a while.

How did He love?

Remember when His friends were fighting about pecking order, “who’s first?”  Jesus got up from dinner, took off his shirt, grabbed a basin and towel, and did for them what none of them would do for each other; washing their feet. He took the place of the lowest household servant before them. After this living lesson in loving and humility, He said, “Since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.” (John 13:14-15, NLT)  It isn’t likely we will actually wash anybody’s feet today, but we will have the opportunity to show grace when someone treats us unfairly or unkindly. We will be presented with people who are thoughtless, even rude.  Serve them with kindness.

Love must be active. To make it just something for a song or a greeting card misses the point of the genuine article. Love sweats, bleeds, suffers, serves, gives, forgives – because that what Jesus does!

So how can we love that way?  It’s impossible, right?
No, actually it isn’t.  “We love because He loved us first.”

I faced a situation yesterday involving yet another disappointment in the life of a person that I care for. His choice was foolish, inconvenient to me, and intentional. I was aggravated, but challenged by the truth and made a choice to confront, but not with harsh accusation, not with angry emotion. I prayed for the Spirit to make me gently loving, a person who tried to understand, but who was courageous in truth.  And, He did!  It was a small miracle, and should be, Lord helping me, the way I always act.

How about you?  Are you settled in faith, knowing the fact that God loves you?  The happiest Christians I know are those who are up to their elbows in selfless service, not fueled by duty, but an expression of love empowered! When they participate in the work of the Lord – serving their family, teaching kids, feeding the hungry, … whatever He calls and equips them to do, they embody Jesus.  What could be more rewarding ultimately?

Here is a word from the Word. Of course you have read it before, often.  You have heard it at weddings, saw it printed on cards.  Still, spend some time with this paragraph today, and pray that as you are loved, you will love like this.

“What if I could speak all languages of humans and of angels?
If I did not love others, I would be nothing more than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
What if I could prophesy and understand all secrets and all knowledge?
And what if I had faith that moved mountains?

I would be nothing, unless I loved others.
What if I gave away all that I owned and let myself be burned alive?
I would gain nothing, unless I loved others.

 Love is kind and patient, never jealous, boastful, proud, or rude. Love isn’t selfish or quick tempered. It doesn’t keep a record of wrongs that others do. Love rejoices in the truth, but not in evil. Love is always supportive, loyal, hopeful, and trusting. Love never fails!

 Everyone who prophesies will stop, and unknown languages will no longer be spoken. All that we know will be forgotten. We don’t know everything, and our prophecies are not complete. But what is perfect will someday appear, and what isn’t perfect will then disappear. When we were children, we thought and reasoned as children do. But when we grew up, we quit our childish ways. Now all we can see of God is like a cloudy picture in a mirror. Later we will see him face to face.

 We don’t know everything, but then we will, just as God completely understands us.
For now there are faith, hope, and love. But of these three, the greatest is love.”
(1 Corinthians 13, CEV)

________

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 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

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Lord, How Long Must I Wait?

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Around the table several of us were engaged with a ministry task, wrestling ideas to find the right way to go forward.  Initially, I was convinced that we needed to ‘get going,’ getting started sooner rather than later. That is my default mode – act now!  But, collectively we sensed the Spirit’s wisdom asking us to take some time with the process, to listen longer, to wait on Him. It is the right choice.

The Word urges all of us to learn patience, to value the processes that the Lord uses to shape us and to accomplish His will through us.  David’s inspired counsel is this – “Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act.” (Ps 37:7, NLT)

This morning the Spirit whispered again to me about patience, about waiting for His to lead! I know the emotion of the Psalmist who asks the Lord, “How long … ?”  It is a question asked more than a dozen times in the Psalms. How long before You act to curb the wicked?  How long before You rescue me from this situation? How long before I see Your promise?

Are you in one of those ‘between’ moments, anticipating what could be done but held back, perhaps even for reasons you cannot presently understand?  Know this with certainty! God wants His work done but His agenda may be quite different from ours.

Spiritual maturity arrives, over time, when we experience both success and failure, when we learn from our hasty conclusions and our better planned successes. God wants to ‘perfect’ us but He doesn’t do it with a wave His hand, in a single moment in prayer, or with a burst of revelation!  He leads us through life – trials, tests, struggles – lessons in character.  Understand when He asks you and me to be  ‘perfect’ He is not looking for ‘flawless!’  His desire is maturity, completeness, being whole.

The writer of Hebrews prays this for us: “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20-21, KJV)  That word, perfect, in the first language of the New Testament was about being ‘put together, whole, fitting into the right place.’

Developing the character of Christ Jesus, becoming whole and mature,  is a life-long process which will find completion only at that moment when we make our transition into eternal life. In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul explains that “Now we know only a little, and even the gift of prophecy reveals little! But when the end comes, these special gifts will all disappear. It’s like this: When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child does. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly as in a poor mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God knows me now.” (1 Corinthians 13:9-12, NLT)

There is real peace to be found when we patiently wait.  I want to encourage you not to tire of working out the implications of God’s salvation in your life.  Mastering the lessons of the Spirit-filled life is a life-long adventure that involves instruction, experience, and discipline.  If we grow impatient, if we try too hard in our own strength, we could give up which is why James encourages us “let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:4, NKJV) The meaning comes through more clearly in The Message where we read, “don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.”

Here’s a word from the Word for your meditation: “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever— do not abandon the works of your hands.” (Psalm 138:8, NIV)  Thank Him often today for that promise – “He will fulfill His purpose for you!”

___________

Build My Life

Worthy of ev’ry song we could ever sing
Worthy of all the praise we could ever bring
Worthy of ev’ry breath we could ever breathe
We live for You

 Jesus the name above ev’ry other name
Jesus the only one who could ever save
Worthy of ev’ry breath we could ever breathe
We live for You
We live for You

 Holy there is no one like You
There is none besides You
Open up my eyes in wonder and show me who You are
And fill me with Your heart
And lead me in Your love to those around me

 I will build my life upon Your love
It is a firm foundation
I will put my trust in You alone
And I will not be shaken

Brett Younker | Karl Martin | Kirby Elizabeth Kaple | Matt Redman | Pat Barrett © 2016 Martin, Karl Andrew (Admin. by Arkyard Music Services Limited)

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How do I love You?

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As I prayed last night, I mused about what it means to ‘love God.’  It’s a good question to ponder since Jesus said that loving God with heart, soul, mind, and strength is the top priority for every one of us.  Trained and shaped by the Pentecostal traditions of Christianity, my first thought is about emotional engagement.  From my youth I absorbed the idea that knowing the Lord will include laughter, tears, passionate prayers; a very personal engagement. When I hear my people pray for ‘revival’ what they often mean, perhaps unconsciously, is that God will let them have a highly charged emotional encounter with the Holy Spirit. Time and experience have taught me that God is loved in obedient service, in steady discipline, in studious understanding, too. Perhaps you are old enough to remember that old song that includes this line – “Love is a many-splendored thing!” It is!

And, we need to learn to love God in many ways, too.  Are you ‘in love’ with Christ Jesus? If you define that by applying the romantic ideals about love in our culture, you will be disappointed.  Yes, we should be passionate to know our God. Christianity without passion just isn’t Biblical!

The grandest love story of all time is the story of God’s love for us, written in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. There’s mystery in it. I could never explain how I loved my wife of 41 years just with logical bullet points. Oh, I could have tried, but I found my love for her inspired by more than her beauty, her diligence, her grace, her gift of children- and whatever else I might list. I loved ‘her,’ the unique, complex person she was, with something that defied complete definition.  In a similar way we cannot reduce the love of our Abba to a neat paragraph of theological jargon. We should be able to converse about our love for Him, but there is a mystery to it as well – one that should and will deepen with time and experience.

There is a story that Jesus told about that inspires our love for God. It isn’t a nice, pretty tale. It is about a rebellious son, a man who selfishly abused his father’s good heart, who made a mess of life. After he wasted his fortune and ruined his life he finally began to grasp a little about the love he had known! He decided to go home. There he expected to find condemnation and a place with the hired help, not in the family’s house.

What did he find? Love!  “And while he was still a long distance away, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.” That is compelling stuff! It defies logic, cannot be explained. It’s just love. John says that ‘we love because God loved us first.’

We cannot love God apart from faithful acceptance of the fact of His grace and love. If we won’t start there with Him, with His love for us, inevitably we will turn our “love” into duty, deal making, and calculations of appeasement.  God just wants us to respond to His declaration that He loves us and to weave that acceptance into every part of life, making it the foundation of every choice, every day. The Bible often talks about the concept of covenant with God. Jesus told us that God was writing a new covenant, an agreement, based not on our performance but on a gift.  It’s not a deal, not a contract, that says “You do this and then I’ll do this.” It is a declaration of love, eternal, embracing, hopeful, amazing, and deep.

Ah, friend, do you love Him?

If we love Him, we will stop playing “let’s make a deal” with God.  Our theology of love will go way beyond the idea that if we believe some facts, then we get the key to Heaven.  Our love will be a tumultuous discovery of a Person, a weaving of His life into ours, surrender, acceptance. In the process, we will start to think as He does, acts as He wills; not because we must, but because we have become of His heart.

Let this ‘love letter’ inspire you today. Read of God’s many-splendored love for you and bring your heart home to Him.  

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” (Ephesians 1:3-6, NIV)

So,  “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge,” Why?

So, “that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”  (Ephesians 3:16-19, NIV)

Lord, teach me to love You as I ought to love.
Inspire me my mind, enthuse my heart.
When other lovers offer me their delights,
Give me the courage and wisdom to choose You.

May love mature and deepen as I live for You and with You
Until that moment that You invite me home forever.  Amen
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Spirit Of God Descend Upon My Heart

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

 I ask no dream no prophet ecstasies
No sudden rending of the veil of clay
No angel visitant no opening skies
But take the dimness of my soul away

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

 Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh
Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear
To check the rising doubt the rebel sigh
Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer

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

Frederick Cook Atkinson | George Croly

© Words: Public Domain

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I’m really special, you know!

wordswag_1533556248550Henri Nouwen, a Dutch Catholic priest, well known for his writing about authentic Christian spirituality, was a brilliant man, a university professor, a prolific writer. He took the call of Christ seriously and wanted to know Him in deeper ways. Once he thought that he could best find God’s Presence in the monastic life . . .  until he was there for a few days.

Nouwen tells how he searched the mailbox, waited for calls;  hungering even for another monk to show him some attention. His mood darkened to depression and then anxiety. These were his thoughts, recorded in his journal. “My lifestyle became part of our contemporary desire for ‘stardom.’ I wanted to say, write, or do something ‘different’ or ‘special’ that would be noticed and talked about. … you can even preach the Gospel in such a way that people are led to believe nobody had thought of that before. In all these situations you end up with applause because you did something sensational.”   The Genesee Diary

Many of us, especially in the Western culture, are trained to believe that we are exceptional.  We become convinced, sometimes subtly, to of this – “I am important. I deserve good things. I am worthy of your attention.” The emphasis in on our individuality. This makes living a truly Christ-like life complicated.

Nouwen’s experience with anonymity in a community dedicated to quiet sameness in contemplation and service of Christ led him to a new understanding of Christ’s own surrender which is described in the Scripture. “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” (Philippians 2:5-7, NIV) This is not self-hatred. It is not a call to leave our gifts undeveloped.

When we ‘forget’ ourselves something happens that allows us to find love, what we all desire.  And there is this – God reveals that if we want to be of the highest value to Him, if we would live in the serenity of the Spirit promised to us, we will have to learn to be content with being all that Christ makes us. “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3, NIV) Ponder the call of Jesus. He asks each of us to give up our life, to take up our Cross, to die to Self. Does that sound like a path of misery? Think again! His promise is true. “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39, NIV)

Does the moon pine for its own radiance? We love that light in the night sky mostly unconscious that we are seeing reflected light. That lump of rock is beautified by the glory of another heavenly body.  The principle for our lives must be learned there.  IF we will surrender our need for notice, when we settle our heart on reflecting His radiance, we can discover a contentment that is beyond any fulfillment to be found in promotion of Self.

How much of your time is spent on making your own life more pleasant in ways as simple as insisting that a room be kept at a temperature comfort for you?  Christ offers to give us an inner life, to let us commune with Him. The paradox is that in Him we become real, content, and rich in that which cannot be taken away.

Here is a word from the Word – “Dearest friends, … put into action God’s saving work in your lives, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him. In everything you do, stay away from complaining and arguing, so that no one can speak a word of blame against you. You are to live clean, innocent lives as children of God in a dark world full of crooked and perverse people. Let your lives shine brightly before them. Hold tightly to the word of life.” (Philippians 2:12-16, NLT)

Abba, how I love myself.
So much time is spent wondering about what others think,
Trying to capture attention,
wanting so desperately to matter.

Forgive me for believing the lie that I can find
satisfaction for that love-hunger in anyone but You.
Free me to serve, to love, to be all that YOU desire.
Let me rejoice in reflecting Your radiance into the world,
content to be hidden in Christ.   Amen

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Stop whining, for God’s sake.

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I hate suffering! There I said it.  I like happy days, when I sing along with the radio, when in spite of the fact of being unable to dance, I go ahead and shuffle my feet.  Tears show up uninvited too often because of all the injustice, pain, and hardship around me.  Yes, I know that there are those who seem to be skilled at shooting themselves in the foot, making one poor choice after another and wondering, “Why is life so difficult?”  There are some who just can’t seem to catch a break, going from one tragedy to the next. And there are a lot of us who live on a planet where things go wrong for reasons we cannot know.

Here is what I do certainly know:  In the hand of God, the suffering that we endure, particularly that which comes our way because we are Jesus’ followers, has a purpose and a reward.  My reading in the Word took me to this extended passage.

Peter, God’s man and a guy we can readily identify with, reveals important principles.
“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.

However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” (1 Peter 4:12-19, NIV)

Suffering does not necessarily mean that we are doing something wrong or that we lack enough faith to rid ourselves of it!  Peter says if we are suffering like Jesus, because we are dying to Self and doing God’s will, we ought to rejoice when it gets tough and makes us groan!  There are preachers and teachers by the hundred who will tell you that they have the key to making it all better. They will invite you to their conference, sell you their book, and insist that you can learn some set of spiritual ‘truths’ that will produce miracles on demand.  What utter nonsense!

“Rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ.”  Faith is not a magic wand in our hands that waves away the realities of this sinful world. It is our strength that keeps us on our feet as we wade into the battle, armed with love, and reveal the patience and love of Jesus when the going gets rough.

I love Peter’s blunt reminder that if we are acting wrongly, if we are sticking our noses into other people’s business, we ought to expect the pain that comes our way. If people reject us because we are foolish or sinful, there is no glory in that. “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!”  (The Message 1 Peter 4:16)

As he finishes his thought, Peter speaks about judgment beginning with the family of God.  It’s time to think hard, to be clear-minded and discerning, about how we live.  No more silly slogans and simplistic answers for us. No more quick fixes and three step solutions for the complexities of life.  Because we have the ‘mind of Christ’ we should be able to see past our problems, understand the spiritual realm that surrounds us, and lead the way to  goodness and godliness.

Like it or not, Peter asks “If the righteous are barely saved, what will happen to godless sinners?”  This Christian life is not a stroll along a country lane in the sun up to the pearly gates of Heaven.  Jesus did not make it all soft-focus sentimentality. “Take up your cross and follow Me.” Crosses hurt!

In a hard time? Stop self-pity and excuses. If you’re making bad choices, do not play the victim. Get the help you need. Confess your failures and sins. Then go after Jesus.  If you are feeling the squeeze because you are following Him, then thank Him for the privilege of serving!

The word from the Word wraps it up for us. “So if you find life difficult because you’re doing what God said, take it in stride. Trust him. He knows what he’s doing, and He’ll keep on doing it.” (1 Peter 4:19, The Message)  And that is the Truth!

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The End is Near!

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“Jesus is returning soon!”  That message makes some quake, some sneer, some yawn.  A young man angrily told me how the teaching of his youth about the Lord’s return made him terribly fearful in his teen years, numerous times feeling that he had been “left behind.”  The Blessed Hope was anything but blessed and hopeful for him.  Many others eat up the books that create elaborate stories of wars, famines, and a world gone mad around the prophecy texts of Scripture. For others the promise of Jesus’ return is an escape, a way to avoid dealing with life as it, their attitude basically consigning this world to Hell while they wait for their Savior to show up and carry them away to heavenly bliss.

Here is what Peter wrote 2 millennia ago. The end of all things is near.” (1 Peter 4:7)

What do we make of his statement? Was he mistaken? Or, did he understand something that we need to know as well?  First, he is not wrong. A centerpiece of Jesus’ message was that He would return to the earth in glory and power.  The totality of Scripture is about justice and reconciliation. God’s desire is to defeat the evil that convulses the world, that produces pain and suffering, the restoration of all things. How will He do that? With the coming of the Lord!  Jesus told the band of disciples who clung to Him after the Resurrection that He was going to go and send the Spirit and that He would come back.  In a vision that John had on Patmos, one full of strange images of cosmic warfare told in the book of the Revelation, Jesus says to him – “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” (Revelation 22:12-13, NIV)

When we try to force dates on that promise we make a basic error that causes us to be foolish.  Hundreds of times in the history of the Church, little sects of people with end time fever have set dates, retreated from the world to wait, and found themselves disappointed.  Why do we so conveniently forget what Jesus said about this?  “Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear. “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.” (Matthew 24:35-36, NLT)

The return of the Lord is the hope of the Church.

No, we won’t be date-setters, spinning fanciful schemes around the hard to understand texts about His return.  Rather, in faith, we will hold the promise. We will wait for the vindication of our sacrifice, the deferred justice for the martyrs, the full realization of the promises of God will come on that Day.

Meanwhile, we take our cue for the way we ought to be living from the rest of Peter’s text.  “The End is near,” he wrote.  He went on to tell us this, our word from the Word for today:  Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:7-10, NIV)

Be a thoughtful Christian, engaged with your world.
Be a loving Christian, connected to the family of God, sharing life.
Be a serving Christian, doing what the Lord equips you  to do for His glory.

And, with John, we all say – “He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20, NIV)

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The Lion And The Lamb

(a song of worship)

He’s coming on the clouds
Kings and kingdoms will bow down
And every chain will break
As broken hearts declare His praise
For who can stop the Lord Almighty

Our God is the Lion
The Lion of Judah
He’s roaring with power
And fighting our battles
And every knee will bow before Him

Our God is the Lamb
The Lamb that was slain
For the sins of the world
His blood breaks the chains
And every knee will bow before the Lion and the Lamb
Every knee will bow before Him

So open up the gates
Make way before the King of kings
The God who comes to save
Is here to set the captives free
For who can stop the Lord Almighty

Who can stop the Lord Almighty
Who can stop the Lord (Almighty)

Brenton Brown | Brian Johnson | Leeland Mooring
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The Devil Is A Liar! Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)
Bethel Music Publishing

CCLI License # 810055

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