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Let the Sun Shine In!

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A friend came into my office years ago and pushed back the curtains. “Bro, you gotta let the sun shine in,” he emphatically declared. I was struggling with depression and he knew that even something as ordinary as sunlight could help to change that.

Are you inviting the Light to shine in your life? Are you entering joyfully into worship, keeping your heart and mind in a place where the Spirit can touch you? Are you exercising faith, letting go of disappointment and leaning on the Lord?

It is important to remember the delight of ordinary things. Joy is not just discovered in a vacation to some far away place. A walk in the park can boost our spirits. Satisfaction of hunger does not demand a gourmet meal. A simple meal shared with friends can delight us.

  • A few years ago a young Mommy from the church I serve sent me a note about her kids, then aged 4 and 6, who were present at a recent baptism. “When G. and J. emerged from their bath, they were talking back and forth and your name was mentioned, so I asked them what they are talking about. ‘We were playing ‘Pastor Jerry dunkin’ ya in the church tub! He’s crazy!’”  Her note still makes my heart glad! The ordinary things are where the Son shines brightly!
  • Last week, I was privileged to sit at a table with four other pastors. We talked about life, joked with each other, and then got to the serious business of prayer.  As we concluded, one mused, “Isn’t God’s Presence wonderful?”  And, it is!  There was joy in those moments as we opened our hearts together.  Yes, the Son shone brightly on us in that meeting though it was of little importance in the big, wide world.

You have a decision to make this Monday morning. You can be glum or you can be glad! I’m not talking about denial, nor I am talking about escape. Joy is a gift of God to those who will receive it. The Bible says it is our choice! “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (James 1:2-3, NIV)

Here is a bit of reality counsel –  there is a God, and you are not Him! Nothing destroys joy more completely than trying to assume control of everything in life.  If I attempt to usurp the throne of God, my life becomes heavy with the weight of pressure, people, and problems! Consciously remember today and every day that God rules. He has a plan and while we do have the freedom to choose, He knows, cares, and purposes to keep us alive in Him.

Remind yourself often that nothing that is happening to you right now is a surprise to Him.   When faith grows, joy grows. God urges us, through the prophet Isaiah, to make the choice to trust, fixed on His absolute rule. “Remember this, fix it in mind, take it to heart, you rebels. Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.” (Isaiah 46:8-10, NIV)

Here’s a word from the Word. Let it draw a smile to your face as it rebirths joy in your heart.  “Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, … And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Philippians 1:3-6, NLT)

Let the Son Shine IN!

_________________________

I Want the Joy

(celebrate with the song)

It’s time I started dancing
over all these graves!
It’s time I gave You, Oh my Lord,
the highest praise!
It’s time to lift my voice,
Oh and beg for this blessing to fall!

 I want the joy of the Lord to come down!
I want the joy of the Lord to fall now!
I want the joy of the Lord in my life.
I want the joy of the Lord to lift me,
I want the joy of the Lord to change me,
I want the joy of the Lord in my life!

I Want The Joy © 2002 River Oaks Music Company (a div. of EMI Christian Music Publishing) Rita Springer

CCLI License No. 810055

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Join the Plodders

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(a blog from Kevin DeYoung- He is an American Reformed Evangelical theologian and author, currently the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church.)

It’s sexy among young people—my generation—to talk about ditching institutional religion and starting a revolution of real Christ-followers living in real community without the confines of church. Besides being unbiblical, such notions of churchless Christianity are unrealistic. It’s immaturity actually, like the newly engaged couple who think romance preserves the marriage, when the couple celebrating their golden anniversary know it’s the institution of marriage that preserves the romance. Without the God-given habit of corporate worship and the God-given mandate of corporate accountability, we will not prove faithful over the long haul.

What we need are fewer revolutionaries and a few more plodding visionaries. That’s my dream for the church—a multitude of faithful, risk-taking plodders. The best churches are full of gospel-saturated people holding tenaciously to a vision of godly obedience and God’s glory, and pursuing that godliness and glory with relentless, often unnoticed, plodding consistency.

My generation in particular is prone to radicalism without follow through. We have dreams of changing the world, and the world should take notice accordingly. But we’ve not proved faithful in much of anything yet. We haven’t held a steady job or raised godly kids or done our time in VBS or, in some cases, even moved off the parental dole. We want global change and expect a few more dollars to the ONE campaign or Habitat for Humanity chapter to just about wrap things up. What the church and the world needs, we imagine, is for us to be another Bono—Christian, but more spiritual than religious and more into social justice than the church. As great as it is that Bono is using his fame for some noble purpose, I just don’t believe that the happy future of the church, or the world for that matter, rests on our ability to raise up a million more Bonos (as at least one author suggests).

With all due respect, what’s harder: to be an idolized rock star who travels around the world touting good causes and chiding governments for their lack of foreign aid, or to be a line worker at GM with four kids and a mortgage, who tithes to his church, sings in the choir every week, serves on the school board, and supports a Christian relief agency and a few missionaries from his disposable income?

Until we are content with being one of the million nameless, faceless church members and not the next globe-trotting rock star, we aren’t ready to be a part of the church. In the grand scheme of things, most of us are going to be more of an Ampliatus (Rom. 16:8) or Phlegon (v. 14) than an apostle Paul. And maybe that’s why so many Christians are getting tired of the church. We haven’t learned how to be part of the crowd. We haven’t learned to be ordinary.

Our jobs are often mundane. Our devotional times often seem like a waste. Church services are often forgettable. That’s life. We drive to the same places, go through the same routines with the kids, buy the same groceries at the store, and share a bed with the same person every night. Church is often the same too—same doctrines, same basic order of worship, same preacher, same people. But in all the smallness and sameness, God works—like the smallest seed in the garden growing to unbelievable heights, like beloved Tychicus, that faithful minister, delivering the mail and apostolic greetings (Eph. 6:21). Life is usually pretty ordinary, just like following Jesus most days.

Daily discipleship is not a new revolution each morning or an agent of global transformation every evening; it’s a long obedience in the same direction.

 It’s possible the church needs to change. Certainly in some areas it does. But it’s also possible we’ve changed—and not for the better. It’s possible we no longer find joy in so great a salvation. It’s possible that our boredom has less to do with the church, its doctrines, or its poor leadership and more to do with our unwillingness to tolerate imperfection in others and our own coldness to the same old message about Christ’s death and resurrection. It’s possible we talk a lot about authentic community but we aren’t willing to live in it.

The church is not an incidental part of God’s plan. Jesus didn’t invite people to join an anti-religion, anti-doctrine, anti-institutional bandwagon of love, harmony, and re-integration. He showed people how to live, to be sure. But He also called them to repent, called them to faith, called them out of the world, and called them into the church. The Lord “didn’t add them to the church without saving them, and he didn’t save them without adding them to the church” (John Stott).

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7). If we truly love the church, we will bear with her in her failings, endure her struggles, believe her to be the beloved bride of Christ, and hope for her final glorification. The church is the hope of the world—not because she gets it all right, but because she is a body with Christ for her Head.

Don’t give up on the church. The New Testament knows nothing of churchless Christianity. The invisible church is for invisible Christians. The visible church is for you and me. Put away the Che Guevara t-shirts, stop the revolution, and join the rest of the plodders. Fifty years from now you’ll be glad you did.

___________

Kevin, I thank you!
Lord, make us steady, faithful, holy people in Your service. Amen

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The ‘wow’ factor

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Who do you admire? Is there someone whose life inspires you with hope, that causes you to desire God more? The late Billy Graham is one of my heroes, a man who was completely given to the work of the Lord, who lived to make Christ known.  He found that sweet spot in God’s will where excellence met devotion, where accomplishment was matched with humility, where his flaws were eclipsed by God’s grace.

Only eternity will reveal what that farm boy from North Carolina did for the Kingdom of Heaven.  It was my privilege to be in small groups of pastors on two occasions where he came and shared his time with us. Unlike some important people I have met, Graham was not impressed with himself. He knew himself to be a representative of Another!

Do you aspire to excellence and achievement?

Jesus says “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 5:15-16, NLT)  Pause and re-read those lines.  Christ in you, in me, will create a quality of life that others simply cannot ignore. The question is, will you allow the Spirit to do that work in you?

Some will rush on to the next chapter in Matthew, using Jesus’ warnings about public displays of giving, praying, and fasting as a reason to settle for mediocrity, to hide out in obscurity.  Yes, He did say “Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1, NLT)  Do not mis-read those words. He is not saying that we should be hidden, unnoticed because our lives lack a distinction that comes from devotion. Our ‘good deeds’ are not to be for the purpose of gaining admiration for ourselves, they are to be a reflection of Christ and the Spirit at work in us!

 What makes the difference?

It is all about the MOTIVE.  If we are aiming at having others look at us and say, “Wow, what a good guy!” Jesus says, “Go ahead and enjoy the applause. That is your full reward.”  If we want the beauty of Jesus to shine through us, God can take our efforts and use them in ways beyond our imagining to show off His goodness to those who walk alongside of us in life.

That is why we need to match our pray for Christ’s beauty in us with David’s humble prayer – “Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me; Cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I’m about; See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong— then guide me on the road to eternal life.” (Psalm 139:23-24, The Message)

There is a beauty in holiness that is often lost to modern Christians who confuse holiness with religious rule-keeping, with petty obsessions over superficial things.  In fact, a life that is truly devoted to God (the definition of holiness) develops a beauty that comes from wholeness, from love, from joy, that captures the attention of others. Let’s pray for His beauty to be seen in us!

Jesus took the words of preacher Isaiah as the description of His mission. As you read what He announced in that synagogue in Capernaum, let the truth of His desire for you captivate your heart. He wants to heal the dysfunction of sin and make us whole. He desires to enter our sorrow and make us joyful. Why?  Well, read for yourself.

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—

to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.
(Isaiah 61:1-3, NIV)

All that so that others will take note of who He is, what He does, and say – “Oh, what a wonderful Lord.”  That, disciple, is the ‘wow’ factor that we should aim for in life – to be one in whom His splendor is fully seen.

___________

Let the beauty of Jesus
be seen in me,
All His wonderful
passion and purity;
O my Savior divine,
All my being refine,
‘Till the beauty of Jesus
be seen in me.

Albert Orsborn
copyright, Public domain

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When Jesus says hard things

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Who does not enjoy the affirming thoughts of a greeting card?  When we read about being loved, about another’s appreciation, those loving expressions brighten our day and fill up our hearts. Greeting cards are intended to be like a warm emotional hug. But, are they the only kind of expression of love or care?

In my collection of treasured items, there is a letter my Dad hand-wrote to me in 1976, when I was just starting in pastoral ministry. In it, he said some hard things about choices, about the effect that my actions would have on the lives of others, about the sacrifices and joys of the calling that I was embracing as a young adult.  It is a profound expression of his love for me despite the inclusion of words that challenge me to this day!

In John’s Gospel we read “Many of his disciples said, “This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it? … many  turned away and deserted him.” (John 6:66, NLT)  Yes, it is true. Jesus offended many of those who were following Him by saying some HARD things to them about the place He claimed as their Bread and Life! He spoke in words about eating His flesh and drinking His blood and for some of them it was just more than they wanted to hear. If they wanted to experience the salvation He was offering, they were called to become one with Him and the way in which He spoke of that was hard, offensive, and many walked away.

Christian, Jesus still says hard things to us.  In our modern Church we smooth out the wrinkles, ignore the Mystery, and too often attempt to make the Gospel into something like a greeting card that is all about love and good feelings. But, that is not the whole of the Message. Jesus is good news. In Him we find our true Life, our real reason for existence, and our eternal Hope. We also hear Him say things like ‘take up your Cross and follow Me.’   Who likes to hear that invitation to die to Self? I want Him to affirm me, to give me the things that make my  life easy, to warm my heart with whispers of affection. Of course, that is surely a part of knowing Him.  And yet … we also hear Him say that we must love Him so intensely that all other loves will seem hatred in comparison.  He reminds us that our riches are to be eternal when He says ‘lay up treasure in Heaven.’

If we are honestly engaged with the Scripture and the Spirit, we will sometimes find ourselves offended, angered, disturbed by His words.

If you are not left wrestling with the implications of discipleship, challenged by the invitation to make Him Lord as well as Savior, I will be bold enough to suggest that you are living a superficial Christian life. There are moments in my discipleship journey when all can do is sink to my knees and borrow His prayers – “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done!”  I sometimes do not understand. I am sometimes angered by His demands of me, but I always know that what He asks flows from nothing but love – for me, for my world.

  • Christian, are you struggling to understand some part of God’s Word that you find offensive?
  • Has the Spirit convicted you about some part of your life that He wants to be more closely conformed to the ways of Jesus?
  • Have you run headlong into a conflict between what you desire and what the Lord demands?

Take this line and live it. “When you can’t trace His hand, trust His heart!”

May the choice of the faithful that is reflected in our word from the Word be ours as well.  “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:67-69, NIV)
_____________

Trust His Heart

(Worship along at this link)

All things work for our good
Though sometimes we can’t see how they could
Struggles that break our hearts in two
Sometimes blind us to the truth
Our Father knows what’s best for us
His ways are not our own
So when your pathway grows dim
And you just can’t see Him
Remember you’re never alone

God is too wise to be mistaken
God is too good to be unkind
So when you don’t understand
When you don’t see His plan
When you can’t trace His hand
Trust His heart

He sees the master plan
He holds the future in His hands
So don’t live as those who have no hope
All our hope is found in Him
We see the present clearly
But He sees the first and the last
And like a tapestry He’s weaving you and me
To someday be just like Him

He alone is faithful and true
He alone knows what is best for you
When you don’t understand
When You don’t see His plan
When you can’t trace His hand

Trust His heart

Babbie Mason | Eddie Carswell© 1989 Dayspring Music, LLC (Admin. by Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp.) Word Music, LLC (Admin. by WB Music Corp.)
CCLI License # 810055

 

Pastor Jerry Scott- FAITH DISCOVERY CHURCH- www.FaithDiscovery.com

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Are you ‘at home?’

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For the last week I have explored the byways of the Portland, OR area – lofty mountains, beautiful rivers, a huge bookstore downtown, a rural church, a college campus …  and I have been ‘at home’ in the home of my children. It’s been wonderful to spend time with them and get to know where they are and experience their lives but now, I’m ready to go home!  I guess I am, by nature, a homebody because I truly appreciate being in my town, buying coffee at the same shop, and being truly HOME.

Home is much more than a house, isn’t it?  We are ‘at home’ when we are among people who love us, those with whom we ‘do life’ serving in ways that make our lives richer because we are a small part of something larger than ourselves. I believe that God has make it a part of us to desire to contribute, to experience life together.  Service, done well and from the heart, ennobles us!

The late Kingman Brewster (1918-1988), a president of Yale University and a public servant, said “There is no greater challenge than to have someone relying upon you; no greater satisfaction than to vindicate his expectation.” In other words, it challenges Self to serve, but it is immensely rewarding to do it well and in a way that makes us part of a supportive web. That is the true ‘home.’

Our culture lauds independence, making our own way in life. “I don’t need anybody else” is a way of life that is barren. The idea of ‘self-sufficiency’ is largely mythical. Those who pursue life apart from ‘home-making’ will find themselves emotionally crippled, alone, and spiritually useless! The richness of love, not the sappy stuff of romance novels, but the robust, bold love that “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:7, NIV) is the soul of the best life. So, I’m looking forward to going home, plugging back into my network, and doing what God calls me to do each day.

What about you, disciple?  Are you creating a ‘home’ where you are doing the sometimes seemingly impossible, always costly, work of weaving a strong web that ties you to others? Some will nourish you. Some will require you to feed and serve. Both are part of love.

Here is a word from the Word. As you meditate on these Spirit-words, my prayer is that they will call you to make your home among God’s people, making strong ties, finding a rich life that extends into Eternity  – our forever home. “The end of all things is near. 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. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:7-11, NIV)

_____________________

Wherever there is laughter ringing,
Someone smiling someone dreaming,
We can live together there,
Love will be our home.
Where there are words of kindness spoken,
Where a vow is never broken,
We can live together there,
‘Cause love will be our home.

If home is really where the heart is,
Then home must be a place we all can share.
For even with our diff’rences
Our hearts are much the same.
For where love is we come together there.

With love our hearts can be a family,
And hope can bring this family face to face,
And though we may be far apart
Our hearts can be as one,
When love brings us together in one place.
Love will love will be our home,

Love Will Be Our Home
Chapman, Steven Curtis
© 1988 Careers-BMG Music Publishing, Inc. / Sparrow Song (a div. of EMI Christian Music Publishing) / Greg Nelson Music (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)

CCLI License No. 810055

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I love Bread!

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A great meal usually includes bread, not that white tasteless stuff that some mistake for ‘bread,’ but the whole grain, nutty, dark, and textured bread from the bakery! Our current diet fads demonize bread and carbs but, like most foods, in moderation, bread can still be a part of a healthy, balanced diet. I confess that I do enjoy my bread! In a time past, when meat was expensive and most people could not afford it in the quantity most of us enjoy, bread satisfied hunger. So, what satisfies you, my Christian friend? What is the ‘bread and butter’ of your life?

John tells us about a day when Jesus served bread to 5000 men, a miracle of multiplication, with 12 baskets of leftovers! The people were excited. No more struggle to find food, no more dealing with famines, no more wondering about bread! They were so enthused the Bible says, “they were ready to force him to be their king.” (John 6:15, NLT)

The next day when some of them found Jesus, He told them that He wasn’t around to fill their bellies. “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. … I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. … I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and this bread, which I will offer so the world may live, is my flesh.” (John 6:26,35,51, NLT)

The miracle was a means of pointing out His true identity as God’s provision for the soul hunger of humanity. He tried to get them to understand that they had a need that was far more important than getting dinner on the table. He was the “bread of life!”  They could know Him, consume His words, live in His Presence. He would satisfy them with eternal life. But, did they want that? More to the point, do you, do I? Or do we just want a Jesus who makes our present life easier for us?

We get things upside down most of the time, believing if are bellies are full, our appetites in life satisfied, that then our soul will be enriched.  The truth is that satisfaction flows inside out. A famished heart that is starving for God can never be satisfied with a slice of bread, or cake for that matter!  Jesus Christ feeds us in ways that have nothing to do with our stomachs and bread! He, Himself, was fed in this way by the Presence of His Father. When His disciples brought Him lunch one day at Jacob’s well, He did not eat. He told them, “I have a kind of food you know nothing about … My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work.” (John 4:32,34, NLT)

Is Jesus your Bread of Life?
Have you trusted yourself to Him, fed on His love, turned your life over to Him?

If we only love what Jesus can do for our budget and our belly, but fail to love with ‘heart, soul, mind and strength,’  we are just like those that He fed dinner who came back the next day looking for another meal who turned away when He closed the kitchen. He wants us to go deeper in spiritual things. Go beyond having a religion designed around some principles that will make life work better for you. Seek a relationship with the Lord that is deep, intimate, and soul-satisfying; something that too few who claim to be ‘Christian’ do.

Our word from the Word is His promise – “As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.” (John 6:57-58, NKJV)
____________________ 

Hungry, I come to You
For I know You satisfy.
I am empty,
But I know Your love
Does not run dry.

And so I wait for You,
So I wait for You.

 I’m falling on my knees
Offering all of me.
Jesus, You’re all
This heart is living for.

Hungry
Kathrun Scott© 1999 Vineyard Songs (UK/Eire) (Admin. by Mercy / Vineyard Publishing)
CCLI License No. 810055

Pastor Jerry Scott-FAITH DISCOVERY CHURCH- www.FaithDiscovery.com

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Scary Jesus!

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Do you like surprises?  Before you answer that, consider that the unexpected comes in many different packages!  It delights me to open the mailbox and find a note or little gift from someone. Great surprise, right?  I am not so pleased when a crisis explodes into my life, demanding every bit of courage I can muster to meet it. What can those surprises look like?  It could be sickness, or a change in employment, or a misunderstanding that creates tension.  But, how about when Jesus shows up to meet you?  Have you ever encountered His Presence powerfully in a way that surprises you in a way that is not so pleasant?  His disciples did.

The story is one that has captured our imagination, one of the more familiar ones about Jesus. In fact, the phrase “walking on water” has entered our vocabulary as a reference to someone who does something that we consider impossible. Here is how John experienced that surprising moment.  “When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. When they had rowed three or three and a half miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.” (John 6:16-21, NIV)

A couple of issues set up the story.

First, Jesus missed the boat!  It was time to go home, a trip across the lake. They waited around ‘til dark and Jesus did not show up so they finally decided to just go home.  I have to wonder if they were a little put off about that. Did they wonder where He was? Were they irritated that they had to make the trip in the dark?  Then, they find themselves rowing into a strong wind on choppy water.  Again, my imagination has them complaining about the delay in departure while they are rowing feeling a growing concern about the weather.

Then, the BIG surpriseJesus showed up in the middle of the lake, without a boat!

It’s a wonderful story to us but to those men it was a moment of terror, not a welcomed surprise, at all. They loved Him. But, nobody expected Him to show up in the middle of the windy trip on a rough water.  What they saw had no explanation or understanding, and they were frightened half to death. John implies that they initially resisted His approach. It’s not a long stretch to imagine that their terror caused them to scream at this ‘sight’ to go away. Until, He spoke and His voice, familiar to them, assured them that this was no ghost. This was their Friend, joining them, so they then welcomed Him into their boat.

Our “Sunday School” ideas about Jesus often tame Him, make Him into a nice, comforting Presence fitting neatly into our lives without disturbance. That is not the Jesus of the Gospels. He does not ‘fit into’ my life, or yours, neatly. Often, when He shows up, it is surprising, terrifying, disturbing, disorienting.  He is the Lord of Life and it is His right as our King and God to appear in our lives as He wishes.  When He does, in the middle of our fear over the unexpected, let us listen for His voice.

Those disciples were terrified another time when He arrived unexpectedly.  After His crucifixion, while they were still grappling with the Resurrection, Luke tells us about His appearance. ” While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” (Luke 24:36-39, NIV)

Today, I encourage you, wherever you are in your life, whatever your situation, to invite Jesus to be present. Instead of being shocked at His appearance, or even more sadly, missing out on Him altogether, invite Him to come close. Open your heart and your mind to His Presence, listening for the voice of the Spirit.  Don’t be afraid. Be full of faith.

Here is a word from the Word.  Live in the promise of His Powerful Presence today, not fearing, but full of faith. “God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. . . .For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus. And now he has made all of this plain to us by the appearing of Christ Jesus, our Savior. He broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality through the Good News.” (2 Timothy 1:9-10, NLT)

_________

No Longer Slaves
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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Are you asking the right questions?

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Albert Einstein was asked about his approach to problems. He replied, “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”  So what questions are you asking of yourself, of life, of the Lord?  Naturally we ask ourselves things like, “How am I going to pay my bills? How will I come through this situation?”  There are much more important concerns in life and if we raise our thoughts to that level, the ordinary questions will find their answers.  Better that we ask ourselves, “What does God want me to do? How can He use me given my present circumstances?”

Jesus’ disciples were ‘just folks.’ They weren’t big picture thinkers, profoundly spiritual people at the start, but He invited them to change in everyday lessons.

One day when He saw a crowd approaching, He asked them what looked like a simple question that was meant to enlarge their faith. “When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.” (John 6:5-6, NIV)  Philip, living only in the natural, quickly pointed out that it would take a lot of money and that they had none! I can identify with that man.  I define possibility by the boundaries I create – money, time, ability, resources.

Why is it so much easier to say, “I can’t” than it is to say, “How can we get this done?”

Another of the disciples seems to show a flicker of faith. “Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” (John 6:8-9, NIV)  Andrew saw a kid with a lunch, but there were thousands of people that Jesus wanted to feed.  At least he was thinking about the possibility doing what Jesus asked and asking a better question!

What is God asking of you?
Let your first response be one of faith that asks Him how He wants it done, not one that says, “I can’t!”  In most of the stories of people used by God there is an appalling lack of faith, at first. Moses told the Lord a whole bunch of reasons he was not able to go lead the Israelites out of their Egyptian slavery.  Gideon was quick to tell the Lord that he was nobody from nowhere and completely incapable of defeating Israel’s enemies.  King Saul told David he was too young and inexperienced to take on Goliath. But, when those people changed the questions they were asking from ‘what I can do’ to ‘what God can do,’ they went on to do the impossible.

Before you run off convinced that you are somebody great, that God has an obligation to do whatever you are dreaming up,  let me quickly remind you that real faith is anchored to HIS PURPOSES AND HIS PLANS, not yours. God has no obligation to make you a success, but He desires to make His Name great and will do with you and me, ordinary creatures who He equips to do what He asks of us.

Start to learn faith where you are, in the circumstances that are your life, now. It is foolish to think that we will go off to change the lives of thousands in some exotic location if we can’t or won’t love the people we live with.  Start here, now. When the work of rebuilding Jerusalem’s Temple was starting, post Exile, some mocked, some said it could not happen.  God’s answer to them was “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.” (Zechariah 4:10, NLT)  The Lord was glad to see the work started, the foundation laid.

Today, ask God for the way to forgive that person you hate.
Ask Him for the way He wants you to serve … your family.
Ask Him for faith to start to be generous with the resources He’s entrusted to you.

The disciples learned a lesson that day about the possibilities of faith.  As you read this word from the Word – invite the Spirit of God to increase your faith.  “Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks to God, and distributed them to the people. Afterward he did the same with the fish. And they all ate as much as they wanted. After everyone was full, Jesus told his disciples, “Now gather the leftovers, so that nothing is wasted.” So they picked up the pieces and filled twelve baskets with scraps left by the people who had eaten from the five barley loaves.” (John 6:11-13, NLT)
__________
Abba, You assure me that You can do
“Immeasurably more than we ask”
but the world I live in conspires to box me in,
to limit my vision.

Help me to ask the right questions,
to seek Your will and to invite Your solutions.
Increase my faith!

And, when people see Your love operating in me
then YOU will be honored,  lifted up, and all will be drawn to You.

Work through me, today, I pray,
In Jesus’ Name. Amen

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Let’s get some religion!

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After worship on Easter Sunday morning, a young man approached me about the sermon and told me that I needed to ‘make it hot in here.’  As the conversation went on he told me that ‘good’ preaching needed to make people feel guilty, that I needed to be more clear about sins of our society. He proceeded to name a few thing he thought were wrong. I smiled inwardly. That man has a good dose of ‘religion’ but I I wonder if he grasps the heart of the Gospel of Christ? Do you? Do I?

Jesus was challenged repeatedly by people who thought he needed to be ‘tough on sin.’  The leaders of the predominant religious system of the day roundly condemned Him for healing on the Sabbath because He was ‘working’ and that was forbidden.  That He would love and touch lepers offended them because their assumption was that those with leprosy were being condemned by God for some sin and deserved their horrible situation. Jesus’ touch spoke volumes about the worth of those regarded as ‘outcasts.’  He scandalized the religious by spending time with people who were immoral, who drank too much, Samaritans, and tax collectors.  When asked about all that, Jesus’ reply  – “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” (Luke 5:31, NIV)

Was Jesus without moral standards or did He think His Father was ‘soft on sin?’  Of course not. He knew that the real way to change was not condemnation or rigid religious rules. People had been trying that and failing for too long. His message was about powerful love and great promise.  Knowing Him was the key to pleasing God then, and it still is.   

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24, NIV)  “Crossed over,” He said. The fullness of the good news is that we are saved from sin and the penalty of death – spiritual and physical – not by doing enough good, but by faith in the One who is Ultimate Good. It’s not a new thought but how quickly we tend to obscure the grace of Jesus with our religious behaviors, somehow thinking that the result of salvation – holiness – is the cause of it.

Those religious leaders really believed that their hope of finding God was found in their scrupulous observation of religious law. “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:39-40, NIV)  They studied the Scripture to draw out the finest distinctions in behavior – what was right, what was wrong, thinking that moral perfection would earn them a home in Heaven.  What they could not and would not see is that the Scriptures point to God’s Savior, to Jesus.

Religion is not a terrible thing.  When we truly know Jesus as Savior, we will become His disciple, living with an aim to love and serve God. The Spirit will bring about changes in our daily behavior. I suppose we might even be described by some as ‘religious.’  The heart of our hope will always remain “Jesus” and in knowing Him we will discover the delight that is found in serving the Lord God.

Before you rush off to other things today, take a few minutes to meditate on this passage. Paul was once scrupulous about religious rule-keeping. Then, he met Jesus. As you read, note the shift of perspective. And, may the joy of God’s grace and favor find you this day.

“The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life.

Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness. I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself.” (Philippians 3:7-10, The Message)

That’s a religion worth living and dying for, isn’t it?

_____________

Knowing You

All I once held dear built my life upon
All this world reveres and wars to own\
All I once thought gain I have counted loss
Spent and worthless now compared to this

 Knowing You Jesus knowing You
There is no greater thing
You’re my all You’re the best
You’re my joy my righteousness
And I love You Lord love You Lord

 Now my heart’s desire is to know You more
To be found in You and known as Yours
To possess by faith what I could not earn
All surpassing gift of righteousness

 Oh to know the pow’r of Your risen life
And to know You in Your sufferings
To become like You in Your death my Lord
So with You to live and never die

 Graham Kendrick © 1993 Make Way Music (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)

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Do you love your misery?

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The Easter worship service closed with a high note as we sang the declaration of Christ’s victory.
Christ has died, and
Christ is risen,
Christ will come again!
Celebrate His death and rising!
Lift your eyes, proclaim His coming!
Celebrate His death and rising,
Lift your eyes, lift your eyes! – Mystery, Charlie Hall

My spirit soared with the congregation’s praise. In the church, I saw eyes wet with tears, hands raised in praise, and faces glowing with the joy of the proclamation. What a wonderful moment!

The question this Monday after Resurrection Day is – what will it mean, if anything, for our future? Was the emotion momentary, the affirmation of faith unable to survive the ‘real’ world outside of the church sanctuary? Or, will we, like the first disciples be powerfully changed by the proof of Life eternal that the empty Tomb of Jesus provides?

Change happens by faith and faith is more than a feeling!

John was with Jesus one morning when He visited a place of misery in Jerusalem. “Inside the city, near the Sheep Gate, was the pool of Bethesda, with five covered porches. Crowds of sick people—blind, lame, or paralyzed—lay on the porches.” (John 5:2-3, NLT)  One encounter that day made an impression on John and years later when he wrote the Story, he told about a man who was challenged to faith and change.

One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.” (John 5:5-9, NIV)

“Do you want to get well?” is a worthy question for us. Please do not read this as ‘blaming the victim.’ I am fully aware that people suffer all kinds of difficulties and often through no fault of their own. It is also true that some of us learn to live in our misery, unable to think that we can be different even if life is not.  God has given us two great gifts – the renewal of heart through Christ’s grace and the ability to choose how we will live.  That man had lived as an invalid for 38 years. Even thinking about healing introduced all kinds of new challenges to his life. His relationships would change. He would have to learn to support himself after surviving on the charity of others. He would have to learn to think differently. Jesus question was not a simple one – “Do you want to get well?”

Last week I found an article online that told the story of a man who received a football scholarship to university, who went on to teach in New York City school, and then went back to earn his PhD and is now a professor! I knew him as a boy in a church I served as their pastor.  He had all kinds of ‘reasons’ not to succeed. He was being raised by a single Mom who struggled to support her children while she worked as a house-keeper. He was an immigrant, without a network of connections. When I read about what he has done with life in the 2 decades since I knew him, I was full of joy.  Of course none of this happened just because of his own determination.  I knew his Mom! She was a disciplinarian who had dreams for her children. He grew up in a country that offers opportunity. But, there was also a major piece in his success that came from his willing to choose day in and day out to work hard to make something of his life.

So, Christian, do you want to become a disciple of significance?
Do you want to make your life one that honors the Lord, that makes a difference in the world in which you live, that will find a rich reward in Heaven?

Or have you learned to live as you are today, unwilling to engage in the spiritual disciplines that open your life to the inflow of the Spirit’s transformative Presence?

A consistent theme of the Gospel is change, restoration, hope!
Believe it. Receive the grace. Change!

On this day after Easter, Peter’s words are our challenge. As you read them, pray for a new vision for life and hear the Lord asking, “Do you want to get well?”

 “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.

 In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.

The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:3-8, NLT)

_________

Abba, thank you for finding me with love while I was still living in my sins,
offering to forgive and heal me.
Inspire me to choose to live today as Your child.
Give me faith, courage, and determination to choose
to live with a higher calling guiding my every choice.

Jesus, thank you for the message of triumph
which I heard and celebrated yesterday.
Now, through the power of the Spirit,
make me a person who desires, more than anything,
to live with excellence for Your glory.  Amen

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