Take my hand!

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Coronavirus – Covid19.  It’s become real and people are afraid! Are you?  So many are making decisions that are out of proportion to the actual threat of the virus. Our economy is staggering as the stock market responds with fear. Travel plans are being cancelled. Even the smallest risk of exposure is creating terrible anxiety. What I read tells me to take basic precautions – wash hands frequently, keep hands away from the face. It appears that the vast majority of people who do get infected develop symptoms like the common cold and quickly recover. But, fear is a powerful thing and the daily drone of news amplifies our sense that the threat is imminent for each of us.

Don’t let yourself be driven – in any part of life – by fear. Face the fact that Life is not a sure thing! Manage risk. Don’t become a slave to fear!

If you prepare to start a new project there will always be naysayers who will warn you that ‘there isn’t enough money, there isn’t enough time, somebody might sue us …”  If you take the lead for change you will inevitably be told that you’re “too young, too old, too dumb, too smart…” to live your dream.  Here is what I know –  if we believe those negative voices, we begin to die inwardly because we put our dreams on the shelf and go home to our recliners to watch TV alone night after night: safe but ‘dead.’

Reading in Matthew, we saw how Jesus fed 5000 people miraculously. It was a high moment, a wondrous thing to celebrate. He then sent His disciples home across the lake by boat, while he went to seek a solitary place of prayer. It was rough going  because of waves and wind. In the middle of the night, Jesus came to them – walking on the water. Their first response? Terror!  Who expects to see a man coming through the mists in the middle of a lake? “Surely,” they thought, “We are seeing a ghost.”  Then, He spoke.

Peter recognized the voice of Jesus and in keeping with his impulsiveness he said, “Lord, if it’s you tell me to come to you on the water.”  “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14: 29-31 NIV)

This isn’t a story about a daredevil who threw all caution to the wind or about a man with a secret death wish. Peter wanted to know His Lord and his love for Jesus overcome all fear, leading him to obedience. Peter asked Jesus to call him and when the Lord did, Peter responded — against all good sense — by getting out of the boat. He walked on the water until he realized the absurdity of his situation and only then  he failed… or did he?  I think that the real failures that night were the other 11 guys who sat safely in the boat watching Peter do the impossible.

We smile at Peter’s quickly fading faith, at the fact that when he realized he was standing on water, he grew fearful. But, I’m impressed that he obeyed Jesus’ invitation. I, too, have responded to His invitation only to begin to grasp the ‘impossibility’ of my situation and to slip into fear. He is there, my Savior, my God. Have you ever figuratively walked on water or are you safe in the boat, unwilling to take a risk?  Willingness to take a risk is an integral part of success!  Those unwilling to fail cannot succeed.

Are waves kicking up around your little lifeboat today?  Are your kids rebelling?  Is your marriage strained?  Is some sin pulling hard on you, so much that the temptation is nearly overwhelming?  Have past financial decisions come around creating a situation you can’t control?   Are you afraid of aging, the future, or the coronavirus?   We all have storms that come up, making waves. No matter how risk averse you are, sickness, stress, and hardships find us all. That’s life!

Jesus walks with us. He’s passing by, and He’s inviting us to walk on the waves! Will you accept the challenge to grow a bigger, deeper faith?  When you hear His voice, get out of the boat.

Here’s the word from the Word.  Make it yours as you meditate on it. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish. He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterward. Now he is seated in the place of highest honor beside God’s throne in heaven. Think about all he endured when sinful people did such terrible things to him, so that you don’t become weary and give up.” (Hebrews 12:1-3, NLT)

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“Precious Lord, Take My Hand”
Lyrics & Music by Thomas A. Dorsey
Performed by Mahalia Jackson

Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I’m tired, I’m weak, I’m lone
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home

When my way grows drear precious Lord linger near
When my light is almost gone
Hear my cry, hear my call
Hold my hand lest I fall
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home

When the darkness appears and the night draws near
And the day is past and gone
At the river I stand
Guide my feet, hold my hand
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home

“You are asking the impossible!”

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The person who is serious about following Jesus soon runs into His ‘impossible’ requests. He says to you and me –  “Build my Church!”  “Make disciples!” “Love your enemy!” “Forgive as I forgave you!”  “Die to Self.”  Maybe you are more optimistic about yourself than I, but that list, which is just a beginning, is marked by things that are simply not possible for me in my own natural strength.

That is where faith meets my inability.  I trust the Spirit to work a daily miracle of grace. Will you?

Here is a story about a day when Jesus made an impossible request of His friends. “When Jesus heard what had happened, (the execution of John, the Baptist) he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered. “Bring them here to me,” he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.” (Matthew 14:13-21, NIV)

You give them something to eat!”  The crowd numbered in the thousands, they were miles from any major town, and they had no money. Jesus seemed to be ignoring the reality of the situation. John’s Gospel adds the detail that it was Philip who spoke up. He said what they all thought. “It would take a small fortune, nearly a year’s wages, to buy bread, even if we could find any.” John tells us that Jesus “was testing Philip, for he already knew what he was going to do.” (John 6:6, NLT)  Andrew brought a boy and his lunch to Jesus, who gave thanks for it and miraculously multiplied so that it fed the whole crowd, with 12 baskets of leftovers!

God already has a plan for me, for you.
It may not align with our understanding in the moment. Who thought that a boy’s lunch was of much use in feeding a crowd of thousands that day so long ago? Instead of raising our objections, we can take our cue from Isaiah who teaches us to “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.” (Isaiah 55:6, NIV)

Present yourself to Him, ready to respond. He can, and often does, work in our lives outside of our expectations.  Why? “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9, NIV)

As you read Isaiah’s words are you tempted to say, “How can I ever know His plans?”  The Spirit of God lives in us. When you face an ‘impossibility’  if you will readily respond in faith, given what you know of Him in this moment, He will unfold the mysteries of His plan as you need to know it.

Andrew may have felt foolish bringing a boy’s lunch to Jesus in response to His direction to feed the crowd, but it was all he had and he offered it.  That kind of faith pleases God and prepares us to find His way and will sufficient to live in obedience.  Is that a difficult truth for you to accept, sounding like nonsense?  Pray for the mind of Christ. Submit your thoughts to Him, choosing to be quiet, to wait, to listen.  This is not about being gullible, or charging off to just do something because you think God must bless every choice YOU make. That’s not faith, that is presumptuous nonsense. To see the hand of God at work often demands that we wait with patient hope.

God does ask the impossible of us – that we live as His children in this world. But, He is not cruel, nor does He throw us into the deep water and abandon us there. He leads, He empowers, He is present. So, take this word from the Word. My prayer is that the Truth will inspire a new faith in us, that readily believes the plan of God that has been established from the dawn of Creation. “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13, NLT)

Now, where is that hungry crowd that needs to be fed His Word?

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Christ Be Magnified  ( A new worship song by Cory Asbury.
Let it be your prayer today.)

Were creation suddenly articulate
With a thousand tongues to lift one cry
Then from north to south and east to west
We’d hear Christ be magnified

 Were the whole earth echoing His eminence
His name would burst from sea and sky
From rivers to the mountain tops
We’d hear Christ be magnified

 O Christ be magnified
Let His praise arise
Christ be magnified in me
O Christ be magnified
From the altar of my life
Christ be magnified in me

When ev’ry creature finds its inmost melody
And ev’ry human heart its native cry
O then in one enraptured hymn of praise
We’ll sing Christ be magnified

 I won’t bow to idols
I’ll stand strong and worship You
And if it puts me in the fire
I’ll rejoice ’cause You’re there too

 I won’t be formed by feelings
I hold fast to what is true
If the cross brings transformation
Then I’ll be crucified with You
(You can hang me there with You)

 ‘Cause death is just the doorway
Into resurrection life
If I join You in Your suff’rings
Then I’ll join You when You rise

 And when You return in glory
With all the angels and the saints
My heart will still be singing
My song will be the same

Cody Carnes | Cory Asbury | Ethan Hulse © 2019 Cory Asbury Publishing (Admin. by Bethel Music Publishing) Capitol CMG Paragon (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) Writer’s Roof Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

The carpenter’s son

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You know that phrase – “Familiarity breeds contempt” – don’t you? When we know someone closely, it’s hard to think of them as uniquely gifted or talented. It is possible to completely miss the value of a friend’s advice just because they are a friend. That wisdom that comes from Mom or Dad that is so treasured by other people just sounds like the same old tired stuff we have heard them say from childhood. Our church can seem so boring or dull compared to the one two towns over because we know the patterns of our worship so well. Yes, we can overlook the love of our spouse, the stability of our home, the value of our steady job – just because those things are so close to us, so familiar, that we do not see the whole picture.

Here is something that is seriously important to remember – we can grow close to Jesus, knowing His goodness and grace for a long time and that familiarity can rob us of the wonder of faith.

Take a look at this from Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus went home to minister and when He stood up to teach in the local place of worship, at first the people were astonished, but then they grew offended. “Who does He think He is?”  “Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.” (Matthew 13:54-58, NIV)

One way to keep our faith fresh is to renew the full understanding of the revelation of Christ Jesus.

The Man of the Gospels is approachable and relatable. I love thinking of Jesus walking with His disciples, laughing in the sunshine, getting irritated with them when they were slow to learn, showing them the power of God when He stopped to heal a blind man. It’s a comforting, human, accessible mental image of my Savior, but if that is the only way I think of Him, it could be difficult to trust Him when life gets crazy or confusing.

I need to see the image of the majestic, mysterious Revelation of John, too. “On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.” I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” (Revelation 1:10-18, NIV)  That can just stop me in my tracks, make me draw a deep breath, and say reverentially, “Jesus, Majesty!”  It’s not as comforting as thinking of the Carpenter, Mary’s Son, but it is the completed picture of the Lord of Glory who desires our full faith and complete obedience.

Let’s not make the mistake of making God too small, taming Him in an attempt to make Him accessible. If we do this, we risk growing offended when things go upside in our lives, when He (as we think of Him) does not do as we think He ought to do.  C. S. Lewis, in his famed allegory of Christ, as Aslan, the lion, reminds us of the wonder. “Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”  (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe)  Lord, make that my conviction – that You are powerful, not ‘safe’ but always good. Amen.

The word from the Word calls us to both mystery and love. “Therefore, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:19-23, NIV)

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Majesty
(one of those classic worship choruses)

Majesty worship His majesty
Unto Jesus be all glory
Honor and praise
Majesty kingdom authority
Flow from His throne
Unto His own His anthem raise

 So exalt lift up on high
The name of Jesus
Magnify come glorify
Christ Jesus the King
Majesty worship His majesty
Jesus who died now glorified
King of all kings

Jack Hayford © 1981 New Spring (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055

Are you ‘good enough’ for your church?

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My Christian training was built around experience and ‘doing good.’  I learned to approach worship primarily through emotions as a Pentecostal. Church in my childhood years included joyous shouts, crying, exuberant singing, and some crazy, unexplainable things done in God’s name. We were also taught about holiness and it was easy to feel like a bad Christian, or even ‘not a Christian’ when temptations took root and grew into some sinful behavior. There was a great deal of emphasis on being pure, some impossible standards set in place, and some people who would not or could not ‘conform’ were treated as second class, on occasion even rejected by the church.

The tendency to try to make Christ’s work happen by human effort has not diminished over time. Christians still tend to decide who is in and who is out, failing to account for the immeasurable grace of God and the persistent power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus told a story that calls on us to leave the judgment to Him and to trust that He can preserve His work in the world. “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ ”‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ ”‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”” (Matthew 13:24-30, NIV)

His story made little sense to anyone familiar with agriculture. Getting the weeds out of the field was basic to getting a better harvest. But, in His field, the separation of wheat and weeds IS NOT the work to be done by us. What a radical concept but it is perfectly aligned with His message of supernaturally inspired love and grace. The farmer leaves the weeds; the farmer forgives the weeds.  The citizens of God’s kingdom deal with evil by forgiving it. We set aside temptation to “moral superiority”  and we let the weeds grow right alongside us because we are secured in God’s grace, not our own righteousness.

 Jesus teaches the full meaning of His story to the disciples. “His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:36-43, NIV)

There will be a day of judgment! God will not ignore disbelief and sin. It is not pleasant to read of the destruction and punishment of those who refuse the grace of God, is it?

His story leaves us with two important conclusions.

First is that He will take care of His children and keep us as we live among people who care nothing for Him, even those who are impostors that sit with us in the congregation of God. IF we are walking with Him, living in the Spirit, we need not fear that somehow the sin of the world will overtake us. We live with full confidence that God is greater.  It is for us to continue to hold out the grace of Christ, to accept people with the hope that they will believe and receive, being changed along with us into saints of the Living God. If we wrongly shut the doors of the Kingdom to those we deem unworthy, beyond help, or too sinful; we are stepping into the role that belongs to God alone.

Second, there is a time when God will separate good and evil and those who have loved Him will become radiant with His goodness, when the ‘weeds’ are removed in the Judgment. Hopeful? Yes. Sobering? Yes, too.

We are making our way into the second week of Lent, a time to reflect, repent, perhaps even practice some form of self-denial. Let’s keep our focus on Jesus! We are not ‘better’ because we fast two meals instead of one, because we are willing to give up social media and some others will not. Those kinds of choices must be made for the sole purpose of inviting Christ to be Lord of our lives, to remind ourselves that we are more than flesh and appetite, people of soul and spirit. The moment we choose to decide, even subtly, who is more worthy, who is a ‘real’ Christian by our own estimation, we assume the role that belongs exclusively to Christ at the End of the Age.

Our word from the Word comes from Paul’s final letter, written to Timothy. He reminds that timid pastor of God’s wonderful grace for us. May these words inspire us to love Him, waiting patiently for the full revelation of His Kingdom.

But God’s truth stands firm like a foundation stone with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and “Those who claim they belong to the Lord must turn away from all wickedness.” In a wealthy home some utensils are made of gold and silver, and some are made of wood and clay. The expensive utensils are used for special occasions, and the cheap ones are for everyday use. If you keep yourself pure, you will be a utensil God can use for his purpose. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work.

Run from anything that stimulates youthful lust. Follow anything that makes you want to do right. Pursue faith and love and peace, and enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts.” (2 Timothy 2:19-22, NLT)

Don’t slip into the error of trying to be ‘good enough’ by comparing yourself to others in your fellowship. Instead, thank God that He is making you complete in Christ and grow on in grace.

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O Come To The Altar
(an invitation song … from Elevation Worship)

Are you hurting and broken within
Overwhelmed by the weight of your sin
Jesus is calling
Have you come to the end of yourself
Do you thirst for a drink from the well
Jesus is calling

O come to the altar
The Father’s arms are open wide
Forgiveness was bought with
The precious blood of Jesus Christ

Leave behind your regrets and mistakes
Come today there’s no reason to wait
Jesus is calling
Bring your sorrows and trade them for joy
From the ashes a new life is born
Jesus is calling

Oh what a Savior
Isn’t he wonderful
Sing alleluia Christ is risen
Bow down before him
For he is Lord of all
Sing alleluia Christ is risen

Bear your cross as you wait for the crown
Tell the world of the treasure you’ve found

Chris Brown | Mack Brock | Steven Furtick | Wade Joye © 2015 Music by Elevation Worship Publishing (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)

CCLI License # 810055

The Book

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A. J. Jacobs, a man who knew nothing about the Bible, decided that he would spend a year following the Bible’s words to the letter. His book, The Year of Living Biblically, tells the story of his quest. Funny and irreverent, it is a revealing record about the power of the Bible. Jacobs was a skeptic who held a secular worldview. He did not think of the Bible as the revelation of God, in the least. But, as this man read and wrestled with the words, he changed from an atheist into an inquirer.

He met up with all kinds of people who thought they were following the Bible while missing the point entirely! He handled snakes with a little church in Kentucky that completely ignore the context of Jesus’ words found in Mark 16.  Yes, he made a huge effort to keep the letter of the Law.   At the end of the book, he did not say he has come to full faith in God, but he had become open to the spiritual. He did not become a convert or a believer, in my opinion, because his efforts to shape his daily habits by rules were divorced from a quest for the Person who inspired the words.

I am a Biblical man.   No, I don’t handle snakes, grow a long beard, or observe rigid dietary codes.  However, my views, my speech, my values;   all come from the Bible. From the earliest days of my life, the Book has been the source of truth around which my life is shaped.  From the Book, I learned early that I am not a god and that there is a God to Whom I will give account for the way that I live my life.  That singular idea has kept me from giving in to many temptations as well as motivating me to serving faithfully when I preferred to be served.  I gained the knowledge of a loving personal Lord that cares for people and that has caused me to have a high regard for the dignity and personal worth of other people.

I am inspired to live in the light of eternity, taught by the Word that this present world is just the prelude to the ‘forever’ life that is promised to all of God’s children.  Eternity,  out there on time’s horizon and growing closer each day, makes me hopeful and peaceful.

I don’t have a lot of patience with those who twist the wonderful Word into strange doctrines, who use snippets of the Word to support their pet theories. Few things make me more disturbed than hearing someone ‘interpret’ the Scripture with no real skill or study. Paul admonished Timothy, a younger pastor, about the importance of good teaching. He said,  “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15, NKJV) It is simply too precious to be misused by charlatans, misquoted by simpletons, or ignored by misguided sophisticates!

With the Psalmist, I say – “How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through Your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:103-105, NKJV)

John Ortberg writes that “Some 65 million copies of the Bible are bought or distributed in the U.S. every year-nothing else is a close second. The average house has at least three. People cheer the Bible, buy the Bible, give the Bible, own the Bible- BUT they just don’t actually read the Bible.”

Biblical illiteracy is a big deal even among Christians.  Only about a third of Christians know who delivered the Sermon on the Mount. (Jesus did.) Just under half can name the first book in the Bible. (Genesis) About three-quarters of evangelical Christians believe the phrase “God helps those who help themselves” is in the Bible. (Ben Franklin said that.)

Are you a person of the Word?
Just owning a Bible does not make you Biblical! Read it.  Of course, without the practice of group study, which has precedent spanning three millennia, you will miss much, most, in fact, of what the Bible actually has to say.   Really understanding what God says is a life-long quest, a serious study, and demands that we allow the Spirit to make the Word plain to us.   But, the reward of knowing and doing what the Word teaches is beyond estimation.

The word from the Word is a longer passage from Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ story about the Word planted in us like a seed. “Now here is the explanation of the story I told about the farmer sowing grain: The seed that fell on the hard path represents those who hear the Good News about the Kingdom and don’t understand it. Then the evil one comes and snatches the seed away from their hearts. The rocky soil represents those who hear the message and receive it with joy. But like young plants in such soil, their roots don’t go very deep. At first they get along fine, but they wilt as soon as they have problems or are persecuted because they believe the word. The thorny ground represents those who hear and accept the Good News, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares of this life and the lure of wealth, so no crop is produced.

The good soil represents the hearts of those who truly accept God’s message and produce a huge harvest—thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted.” (Matthew 13:18-23, NLT)

Is God’s Word producing a harvest of goodness in your life?

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Ancient Words
(Micheal W. Smith’s rendition of this great song)

Holy words long preserved
For our walk in this world
They resound with God’s own heart
O let the ancient words impart

Words of life words of hope
Give us strength help us cope
In this world where’er we roam
Ancient words will guide us home

Ancient words ever true
Changing me changing you
We have come with open hearts
O let the ancient words impart

Holy words of our faith
Handed down to this age
Came to us through sacrifice
O heed the faithful words of Christ

Martyr’s blood stains each page
They have died for this faith
Hear them cry through the years
Heed these words and hold them dear

We have come with open hearts
O let the ancient words impart
O let the ancient words impart

Lynn DeShazo © 2001 Integrity’s Hosanna! Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing (Integrity Music [DC Cook]))

CCLI License # 810055

 

 

Unpardonable Sin?

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You have heard that saying, “he cut off his nose to spite his face,” right? It is a way of speaking of the folly of that person who grows angry or bitter enough to strike out in revenge or retaliation but in the process ends up hurting himself more than anyone else. That man who becomes offended by a parent and says, “I’ll never speak to you again,” does damage to himself and his own family by isolating them. People get hurt at work, quit on the spot, and regret their reaction a week later.

Ever heard of the unpardonable sin, a choice to persistently resist the work of the Spirit with the result of separating one’s self from the source of their salvation?

Jesus was doing God’s work, shaking up the establishment in the process. Some of the leaders angrily accused Him of using demonic power, being a tool of the Devil. The accusation was absurd as He says in His response. “If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?”  Evil does not fight evil. The Devil does not send his own demons packing, letting the oppressed find freedom. He goes on “But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Matthew 12:26-28, NIV) The implied question is “Will you perceive the work of God or cut yourself off?”

The signs and wonders that Jesus did were evidence of the dawn of the New Era in God’s work, which would find completion at the Cross and in the evidence of the Empty Tomb. Freedom from guilt, abundant life in the Spirit, was now a possibility to those who entered the Kingdom by faith. But, Jesus points out a tragedy.

He said that some of those listening to Him, seeing His work, would miss their salvation because they were shutting out the Person of the Spirit who was sent to change their hearts. Read Jesus’ words with understanding. “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (Matthew 12:30-32, NIV)

My Christian friend, let’s always seek to remain open to the Spirit, tenderhearted before the Lord. Willful rebellion against God’s Word, ongoing resistance to the conviction of the Spirit, holding onto offenses when we know we should pray to forgive, giving bitterness against the family of God a place in our mind – these are things that separate us from the renewal of the Spirit.

If we continue to ignore His voice, if we attribute His work to things other than Himself, we slip deeper into deception by the day. The counsel of Hebrews is this –  “So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it. The message God delivered through angels has always proved true, and the people were punished for every violation of the law and every act of disobedience. What makes us think that we can escape if we are indifferent to this great salvation that was announced by the Lord Jesus himself?” (Hebrews 2:1-3, NLT)

The so-called “unpardonable” sin is not some gross act that is beyond the reach of the redemptive grace of God. It is the often subtle choice to ignore the Spirit’s voice. Jesus said that the Word seed can be choked out and die IF we allow the “the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in (to grow in us) making it unfruitful.” (Mark 4:19)  That is, however, of no concern to that person who is walking with God, responding to the Spirit, renewed day by day in worship and spiritual disciplines. Why? Because they are saving themselves?  Not at all! That person is experiencing the work of the Spirit who makes us alive and aware before the God of our hope.

As we make our way through the 40 Days of Lent, one of the ways we use this time of preparation, is to pray for a heart more responsive to the Spirit. What a joy is found in the life of the one who responds to God with an attitude of child-like faith and ready obedience. “What’s next, Abba?”

Here is our core passage again, this time from the paraphrase of the Gospel, The Message. “This is war, and there is no neutral ground. If you’re not on my side, you’re the enemy; if you’re not helping, you’re making things worse. “There’s nothing done or said that can’t be forgiven. But if you deliberately persist in your slanders against God’s Spirit, you are repudiating the very One who forgives. If you reject the Son of Man out of some misunderstanding, the Holy Spirit can forgive you, but when you reject the Holy Spirit, you’re sawing off the branch on which you’re sitting, severing by your own perversity all connection with the One who forgives.” (Matthew 12:30-32, The Message)

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Spirit Of God Descend Upon My Heart (Morecambe)

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

 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
O let me seek Thee and O let me find

 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

Living in the Glory way

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I am a father to four wonderful people. When they were little, my desire for their lives had little to do with getting an Ivy League education or aiming for the executive suite in some corporation. More than anything, I prayed that they would become spiritually and emotionally whole people, capable of deep love, knowing God, and productive in their place in this world. Hopefully, even in our imperfection, their Mom and I loved them, taught them, and modeled a kind of life for them that helped to shape their character and values. Today, they are people who are making the corners of the world where they live better and brighter. It makes a Dad glad!

Did you know that your Heavenly Father desires a rich life for you? He wants to bring all of His children to the potential placed in them by His design. In Hebrews there is a short phrase tucked into the 2nd chapter about His efforts through Christ on our behalf:  He is “bringing many sons to glory.”  After discussing the potential of humanity, made lower than the angels, but given the stewardship of Creation, the writer points out that men and women who are broken by sin, frustrated by the Fall, have not yet fulfilled the destiny, not yet becoming who their Creator made them to be.

Then, there is this:  “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. In bringing many sons (and daughters) to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.” (Hebrews 2:9-10, NIV)

When Jesus came, His mission went beyond making it possible for us to hope for Heaven, in the sweet by and by! to think that the Christian life is just about eternal insurance falls so far short of the truth. God’s Son came to walk with us, to suffer alongside of us, to offer Himself a sacrifice for sin, so that we enter the Kingdom of God and reclaim our destiny as children of the Father. When we are filled with Spirit, a new quality of life overtakes us and there is a kind of ‘glory’ that comes from us that makes us noble, loving, whole people in whom the goodness of God is revealed.

That chapter includes these lines about the spiritual freedom of the Christian. “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:14-15, NIV) The mystery and wonder of the Incarnation, Christ Jesus becoming fully Man, speaks to the fact that God did not stand aloof and urge us to reach up to Him. He came to us, suffered with us, and now leads us to freedom because we have no fear of the Evil One or even of death itself! “Therefore, it was necessary for Jesus to be in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God.” (Hebrews 2:17, NLT)

Today, I want to encourage you to pray, “Lord, lead me to a life that reveals Your glory.” That does not mean becoming famous, rich, or successful in the usual ways. We aspire to live like Jesus, to love, to show compassion, to be a person of excellence in the use of the gifts we are given. He is leading the way. He is working in us, for us.  Believe, receive, live!

Here is a word from the Word. “But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:16-18, NIV)

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Let the beauty of Jesus
Be seen in me;
All His wonderful passion
And purity.
O Thou Spirit divine,
All my nature refine,
‘Till the beauty of Jesus
Be seen in me.

  • Albert Orsborn

Don’t you cross that line!

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Has your Christianity devolved into a set of rules, keeping of traditions that are disconnected from the Person of Jesus? It is not a silly question. Today, I want to go back to Matthew’s Gospel and read about a day when Jesus incurred the wrath of some important leaders by challenging their understanding about what it meant to love and serve the Living God.

Jesus met some religious leaders of His day who had lost sight of God’s Presence, who had made law more important that God and people. They hid their true motives behind an external conformity to the traditions that they had wrapped around the Law of Moses. To use a modern metaphor, they couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

At the outset of Lent, Jesus’ words will help us to use this traditional time of reflection for truly good and holy purposes.  

“At about that time Jesus was walking through some grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, so they began breaking off heads of wheat and eating the grain. Some Pharisees saw them do it and protested, “Your disciples shouldn’t be doing that! It’s against the law to work by harvesting grain on the Sabbath.” But Jesus said to them, “Haven’t you ever read in the Scriptures what King David did when he and his companions were hungry? He went into the house of God, and they ate the special bread reserved for the priests alone. That was breaking the law, too. And haven’t you ever read in the law of Moses that the priests on duty in the Temple may work on the Sabbath? I tell you, there is one here who is even greater than the Temple! But you would not have condemned those who aren’t guilty if you knew the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to be merciful; I don’t want your sacrifices.’ For I, the Son of Man, am master even of the Sabbath.”

Then he went over to the synagogue, where he noticed a man with a deformed hand. The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Is it legal to work by healing on the Sabbath day?” (They were, of course, hoping he would say yes, so they could bring charges against him.) And he answered, “If you had one sheep, and it fell into a well on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you get to work and pull it out? Of course you would. And how much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Yes, it is right to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Reach out your hand.” The man reached out his hand, and it became normal, just like the other one.” (Matthew 12:1-13, NLT)

The Sabbath, a command of the Law, was a gift to the people of God, one day in seven when they were called from the routines of life to remember the Lord they served. Pause, remember, worship! The focus of the Sabbath was not to be the  prohibitions of the day. They were to use the time to renew their relationship with God. But the Pharisees had turned the Sabbath observation into a rigid set of rules that made the day a burden, so that people were more concerned with making sure they did not break the rules than finding God’s Presence.

Sabbath law had become burdened with layers of a combination of inconsequential, restrictive, and harmful traditions. “Keeping the Sabbath” had become a key issue of Jewish identity obscuring the real reasons for the celebration of the Sabbath. Since Christians are not defined by that tradition, we can nod our heads in agreement with Jesus about the Pharisee’s rigidity while forgetting that we have our own ‘sacred’ traditions and woe be the person who treads on them!

Let’s not lose the lesson Jesus is trying to teach with an argument over modern “Sabbath” rules.  He condemns their rigid observance that would keep hungry men from eating, a suffering man from being healed. Jesus does not throw away God’s call to living holy and obedient lives that honor Him. He asks us to show some compassion, to understand that we can slip into a place where we love our traditions more than people, even more than the Lord Himself. We can, and many Christians do, become slaves of our rules that keep us from being compassionate, humble servants of Christ.

I am aware that some will twist these words into a  justification for doing whatever they please, for ignoring the call to holiness that is part of the Gospel. But I am willing to risk that abuse to keep Jesus front and center in the Gospel. When we love and worship Him – wholeheartedly and with integrity – He will lead us to please His Father. We are not saved by keeping up appearances and careful conformity to the rules, both written and unwritten, of our Church. We are transformed by daily intimacy with the Spirit that is made possible by the grace of Jesus Christ. When we seek Him first, He will lead us from darkness into Light, and the old things will pass away. We will become fruitful in the evidence of that life – “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  (Galatians 5)

Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of a traditional season of sacrifice for many Christians. Don’t allow your choice to observe the fast to become more important than your desire to know the love of God. Use the disciplines of the Spirit to open your heart to Him, to invite the Spirit to make you alive.

Here is a word from the Word. Meditate on it for a few minutes and then, go bless your world with the love of Jesus!
You take no delight in sacrifices or offerings.
Now that you have made me listen, I finally understand—
you don’t require burnt offerings or sin offerings.
Then I said, “Look, I have come.
And this has been written about me in your scroll:
I take joy in doing your will, my God,
for your law is written on my heart.”
(Psalm 40:6-8, NLT)

____________

Lord I Need You

(A prayer in song.)

Lord I come I confess
Bowing here I find my rest
And without You I fall apart
You’re the one that guides my heart

 Lord I need You oh I need You
Ev’ry hour I need You
My one defense my righteousness
Oh God how I need You

 Where sin runs deep Your grace is more
Where grace is found is where You are
And where You are Lord I am free
Holiness is Christ in me
Where You are Lord I am free
Holiness is Christ in me

 So teach my song to rise to You
When temptation comes my way
And when I cannot stand I’ll fall on You
Jesus You’re my hope and stay
And when I cannot stand I’ll fall on You
Jesus You’re my hope and stay

 Lord I need You oh I need You
Ev’ry hour I need You
My one defense my righteousness
Oh God how I need You
My one defense my righteousness
Oh God how I need You

Christy Nockels | Daniel Carson | Jesse Reeves | Kristian Stanfill | Matt Maher © 2011 sixsteps Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

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Soul Renewal and giving up ice cream

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Last Saturday, on a sunny winter morning, I took my car to be washed. While there, I threw open the doors, vacuumed the carpets, and wiped down the dashboard. The dirt, old receipts, and little spills all accumulated so slowly that I did not see them until I really looked and realized – “this car is a mess!”  Similarly, all Christians need times of ‘soul’ renewal, don’t we?  The clutter of petty sins builds up almost imperceptibly.

  • Nobody ever became godly or stayed that way without being intentional and engaging with effort. Oh yes, Jesus saves but we work out the implications of that salvation as we ‘keep step with the Spirit.’

Tomorrow, Christians are invited to enter the season of Lent, 40 days marked by repentance, that includes time to reflect on life, to examine our hearts, and perhaps to enter a ‘fast.’ Traditionally the opening of Lent is called “Ash Wednesday” because ashes made from palm fronds from the previous year’s celebration of Palm Sunday are used by some churches to mark the forehead with a sign of our humility. Those ashes are also a reminder of our inevitable appointment with death; that ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust’ thing we say at gravesides.

Are you still stuck on that word – fasting?  In the most narrow meaning fasting is about abstaining from food but we can enter the joy of fasting in many ways.  We can choose to suspend our enjoyment of something like time on social media, or the amount of time we watch television. We can fast by laying aside the pampering of Self. Whatever our choice, true fasting is not focused on the ‘deprivation’ but rather on the pursuit of the Presence of God. If we enter into a fast as an act of obedience, offered in faith to God, we can our attention to the things of God sharpened.

God made us with a spirit-body connection! What we do in our physical body has an effect on our spiritual state- both positively and negatively. Paul starkly says “So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step. I am not like a boxer who misses his punches. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:26-27, NLT)  A literal translation of the NT Greek would read “I pound my body into submission!”  God does not ask us to abuse ourselves. We need not actually beat ourselves bloody, but there is maturity in reminding ourselves that life is more than food, clothes, or comfort.

Jesus urged us to practice spiritual disciplines like fasting, giving, and prayer without telling anyone. Such choices, because they are acts of faith, must be very personal. He said, “when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, who try to look pale and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I assure you, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will suspect you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in secret. And your Father, who knows all secrets, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-18 NLT)

If we ‘show off’ or if we judge those who do not practice spiritual disciplines as we do, we rob ourselves of the value of offering ourselves to God. Our ‘spirituality’ turns into a self-centered display of religion and empty traditions. Our Lenten devotions must not be used as a means of making ourselves feel better than someone else.

Will you give up ice cream for Lent?  If you do, do it for the purpose of seeking the Lord. (I think we might be better served by giving up some TV time for prayer, meditation or reading Scripture.) Don’t do it just because I said to. Rather, pray about it. Ask the Lord if you need to discipline your body to provide freedom for the Spirit, to allow for a reset.  Has junk accumulated in your heart? Lent is an invitation to get ready for the JOYOUS celebration of the Resurrection, God’s ultimate declaration that He makes all things NEW.

Here’s a word from the Word. Think deeply and prayerfully on the promise of this passage.  “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. … Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. … so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.” (Philippians 2:3-4, 12-13,15, NIV)
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Kyrie Eleison
(a Lenten prayer in song by Chris Tomlin)

Lord have mercy Christ have mercy
Hear our cry and heal our land
Let kindness lead us to repentance
Bring us back again

 For Your name is great and Your heart is grace
Kyrie Eleison (translation – Lord, have mercy)
Over all You reign You alone can save
Kyrie Eleison
Lord have mercy Christ have mercy on us now

 Who is this God who pardons all our sin
So ready to forgive
You delight to show Your mercy 

For Your name is great and Your heart is grace
Kyrie Eleison
Over all You reign You alone can save
Kyrie Eleison

 Lord have mercy Christ have mercy
Lord have mercy Christ have mercy on us now

 Chris Tomlin | Jason Ingram | Matt Maher | Matt Redman
© 2016 S. D. G. Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)
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We’re family

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While at lunch on Saturday in our little town of Belvidere, I looked up and coming in the doorway was my son, Sean. He lives in Florida so seeing him in a restaurant in my town was a surprise, to say the least! He showed up without announcement, expecting a place to stay, just as it should be because we’re family.  There was no need to call ahead and make a reservation or ask my permission. Because he is my son, he knows there is always a room at Dad’s house. I was delighted to enjoy his company for a day before he went to NYC for business concerns.

Do you know that you can be a CHILD of God with all the perks of being ‘family?’  The Scripture says, “Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.” (Ephesians 3:12, NLT)  In another passage, we are reminded that we are children with privileges. “This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children.” (Romans 8:15-16, The Message)

God invites us to come close, to know Him, to trust Him, to love Him – because He loves us. Do you trust God with the affection of a child, or are you cowering before a distant Deity that terrifies you; guilty and ashamed?  Jesus has reconciled us, forgiven the past resistance to His grace, and offers a full restoration of our rights as children of God. We believe it, receive Him, and find ourselves welcomed home. That allows us to live with an even greater confidence of His welcome than my son felt when he came to my home this past weekend. We can be confident of His acceptance. We can learn to live in an ongoing conversation with the One who loves us most. What a privilege!

Hear the Truth again – “Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, everything he has belongs to you. Before you Gentiles knew God, you were slaves to so-called gods that do not even exist. And now that you have found God (or should I say, now that God has found you), why do you want to go back again and become slaves once more to the weak and useless spiritual powers of this world?” (Galatians 4:7-9, NLT)

Is there something in your life that is stressing you, keeping you awake at night, making your head ache? Share it with the Father. With child-like faith go to Abba and ask His wisdom, His comfort, His resources for your need. Don’t be shy; be boldly confident. No concern is too small or too big. No joy beyond His interest, nothing in your life outside His care.

Though my children are all grown with kids of their own, in their own careers and successful, I am still delighted to share their lives, to hear their hearts, to pray for their needs, to rejoice in their successes – because they’re family.  Your Heavenly Father desires your love and will hear your heart. Oh yes, as with any good father, He may not do what you want Him to do, but He will do what is best for you. If He corrects you, it is because He loves you.

The word from the Word is a single line. Meditate on the declaration. Ask the Spirit to help you to accept His love today. Don’t live like an orphaned child.  “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are.”  (1 John 3:1)
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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

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

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