I’m offended!

offend

As I listened to the President’s State of the Union speech last night, I was mentally writing the headlines that I knew would appear the next day. This morning they appeared as expected, invective hurled back and forth from Left to Right, pundits cheering those ‘their side’ while heaping scorn on the other. We are nation full of offended special interests quick to take the worst view of those whose positions we do not share.

Do you get offended? No, I am not talking about your politics now. Let’s make it personal.

Do you hear a critical word and retreat into a defensive position, with a wounded spirit?  Do you hear an insult, or even a perceived one, and then repeat it to yourself, over and over, letting the words slash at your heart?  Do you sharing them with friends so that they can join you in your woundedness?  If so, then you will deepen the divide between people. Solomon offers insight about this. “An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city, and disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel.” (Proverbs 18:19, NIV)

A man who was part of our pastoral ministry team at Faith Discovery Church several years ago, who now pastors a church in New York, Eric Hoke, blogged about the cost of holding onto an offended heart. He wrote. “My attitude of constant offense led to anger, which led to resentment that led to bitterness. What it ultimately came down to is that my resentment towards people for not acting the way I think they should, my bitterness towards them for their words that hurt me and my anger building up because of my offense had nothing to do with them, but everything to do with me. I was living in that state by choice!”  From personal experience, I can certainly agree with him, knowing those same feelings.

Another blogger, Yaholo Hoyt, reminds us of an important fact. “No one can push your buttons if you don’t have any. When we are offendable, then other people can control our behavior. They can “rile us up” or get a reaction. Only by ridding ourselves of reactionary habits can we be in control of our words and our actions to others.”   (Never Offended)

Disappointment is real. People do fail us. We are hurt by words that sometimes flow from carelessness and sometimes are aimed at us to wound and destroy.  But, Christians who are secured by the love of Christ, taught to set aside self-interest to serve like their Savior, should be among the most difficult people to offend in the world. Peter teaches that “love covers over a multitude of sins.”  Friction in human relationships is inevitable. But, the love of Christ heals the burn, soothes the heart, and sustains our unity.

When I am tempted to offense, and I am, I know it is best to pause, reflect, and pray.  I know that words that wound in a moment of heated exchange or in a context of confrontation usually sound much different the next day when the emotion has subsided. I know that if I rush off to find a friend and repeat those words, I can drive them deeply into my spirit where they fester like a thorn that lodges under my skin. How I pray that the love of Jesus will shape my heart’s responses to others. That love is not trite or cheap. “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, NLT)

Are you offended this morning, ready to take issue with someone?
Did your spouse fail to treat you as you hoped, leaving you angry?
Did your friend overlook you, disrespect you, or judge you unfairly?

The word from the Word has some healing wisdom for the offended heart.  Paul says “Do your part to live in peace with everyone, as much as possible. Dear friends, never avenge yourselves. Leave that to God. For it is written, “I will take vengeance; I will repay those who deserve it,” says the Lord. Instead, do what the Scriptures say: “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink, and they will be ashamed of what they have done to you.” Don’t let evil get the best of you, but conquer evil by doing good.” (Romans 12:18-21, NLT)

Pray this prayer, first prayed by St. Francis of Assisi centuries ago.

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow charity;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light; and
Where there is sadness, joy.
 

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled, as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying to ourselves that we are born to eternal life.

Amen.

Flat on my face, again!

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It’s hard to be reminded of failure, isn’t it? Anyone of us who is honest with ourselves will have moments that when remembered cause us to cringe, to feel regret. Who among us would not like a ‘do over,’ an opportunity to go back and make a different choice, to say a different word.  We cannot. History is made and cannot be rewritten.  But … yes, I am so glad for what we find through Christ Jesus.  There is redemption, there is forgiveness, there is restoration!  Are there consequences that flow from those choices? Yes, there are. But, there is ‘no more condemnation.’

Christians celebrate a message of radical forgiveness through Jesus. Yet, some remain religious, rigidly insisting on some imagined perfection in themselves and others. When we let faith apply the truth of reconciliation and forgiveness, we are free us to live nearer to His heart AND we are empowered by the Spirit to be holy.

Bob Carlisle sings a song called “We Fall Down.”  (lyrics at the end of this blog) He describes a peasant who envies the monks who he imagines live above the temptations he experiences. He meets one of them outside of the monastery one day. The man tells him that monks are tempted and sometimes fall, too. The lyric repeats –  “We fall down, we get up – and the saints are just the sinners who get up!”

We may look at a brother in Christ with envy. “Look at him. He is so much better than I am, he does not even struggle with sin any longer!”  That is a trap and a deception. There is no one that has achieved sinless perfection this side of Heaven. A disciple who is growing in Christ will always deal with temptation, often severe, always personal. For one it may be lust, for another greed, for another pride. As the Holy Spirit leads us along the Way, we do conquer temptations, but evil conspires to find another way to neutralize us. Subtle pride is just as much a sin as blatant lust! Apathy is as much a sin as stealing. Bitterness is a sin just as much as blasphemy.

Temptation is ever present and the war continues – sometimes raging, sometimes just a skirmish! “We fall down, we get up – and the saints are just the sinners who get up!”

The Word reminds us that “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NLT) Be very suspicious of the authenticity of anyone who claims they have found ‘the secret’ that allows them to live without any struggles with sin and/or temptation! Either they are self-deceived, lying, or they want to sell you something. The Word reminds us that “sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” (Genesis 4:7, NIV)  How do we grow in holiness of heart, the beauty of Christ Jesus?

We defeat Self, Satan, and Systems of this World – not by our cleverness, nor by escape to some utopia – but by standing in the Truth of God’s amazing grace in the middle of the war! -We know His love is deeper than our sin We know that the Spirit is at work in us giving us the strength to stand. If we fall, we reach for Jesus’ hand and get up, learning and growing from our failure. “We fall down, we get up – and the saints are just the sinners who get up!”

Are you struggling with past failures and sins today, feeling ashamed, alone, inferior, broken?
Is some temptation dancing in your mind?
To hide it, to deny it, to try to defeat it all by yourself will lead only to failure.

Saints (that is what WE ARE when we belong to Christ) are not perfect. “We fall down, we get up – and the saints are just the sinners who get up!”

I want to remind you of a wonderful by-product of experiencing grace, of realizing the depth of our own sin and knowing God’s love to forgive it. We become gentle, merciful, and forgiving of those who fail us. How can we who are forgiven hold onto a debt of another?  Indeed Jesus taught us to pray ‘Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.’

Stand in Christ! Here’s a word from the Word. It’s the Truth. Hold onto it today.
That means you must not give sin a vote in the way you conduct your lives.
Don’t give it the time of day. Don’t even run little errands that are connected with that old way of life.  Throw yourselves wholeheartedly and full-time- (remember, you’ve been raised from the dead!) – into God’s way of doing things. Sin can’t tell you how to live.
After all, you’re not living under that old tyranny any longer. You’re living in the freedom of God.”
(Romans 6:12-14, The Message)

______________

We Fall Down

Listen to Bob Carlisle sing “We Fall Down.”  (YouTube Link)

Cursing ev’ry step of the way
He bore a heavy load
To the market ten miles away.
The journey took its toll
And ev’ry day he passed
A monastery’s high cathedral walls
And it made his life seem
Meaningless and small

 And he wondered how it would be
To live in such a place
To be warm well fed and at peace
To shut the world away
So when he saw a priest
Who walked for once
Beyond the iron gate
He said tell me of your life
Inside that place

And the priest replied
“We fall down, we get up,
We fall down, we get up.
We fall down, we get up,
And the saints are just the sinners,
Who fall down and get up!”

 Disappointment followed him home
He’d hoped for so much more
But he saw himself in a light
He had never seen before
‘Cause if the priest who fell
Could find the grace of God to be enough
Then there must be some hope
For the rest of us

 Then there must be some hope
Left for us

 ‘Cause we fall down and get up
We fall down we get up
We fall down we get up
And the saints are just the sinners
Yeah the saints are just the sinners
Who fall down and get up

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Who gets the last word?

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Our legal system has one court that has the last word.  When a case makes its way through the courts, through appeals, it may finally come before the Supreme Court. Surprisingly to me, I recently found that only around 80 are accepted by the 9 justices to be heard each term. When they render their judgment, it is final, no higher appeal.  They have the final, the last word. Because of the weight that their judgments have in shaping our national life, the politics that swirl around the appointment of a justice, who serves for life, are something to behold, leaving those of us on the outside baffled by the machinations of those in power.  Yes, having the last word is important and knowing who will render that judgment is critical, too.

In my readings in Peter’s first letter to Christians, I came upon this declaration of God’s promise to have the last word. What joy and comfort I find here. My life has its share of sorrows, of things that I cannot presently understand, of disappointments when things do not turn out as I had hoped. Am I unique? Not at all. Answering our need to be assured, Peter is inspired to say this to us:

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 5:10-11, NIV)

  • That cancer that suddenly came into your body does not have the last word, though it may seem to when death looms.
  • That economic upheaval that ended your job does not have the last word, though it may feel like it when your lifestyle must be radically changed.
  • That announcement by your spouse that he is finished with the marriage is not the last word but you may feel as though life is over.
  • That habit that appears to have you completely bound does not have the last word, even though it feels like you will never change.

What does Peter say to us about all of this?

First of all, he reminds us that the Lord is the “God of all grace.”
Yes, we turn to Him, not in cowering fear or to beg for His attention, but rather with the assurance that He is the complete resource.

Second, he puts eternity foremost.  God has “called you to eternal glory in Christ.”
Life does not end when the lid of casket is locked in place! What is happening now must be seen in the context of the eternal life that awaits. There is a splendor ahead that is ‘immeasurably more’ than we can even imagine.

Third, he tells us that we will “suffer a little while.”
We live in a world where evil exists, where weeds grow, where best intentions get frustrated. When we are going through terrible times, it may be that we are reaping the harvest of past mistakes and sins. It also may be that we are just experiencing life in a broken world.  Peter knew this first hand and tells us “Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—because these trials will make you partners with Christ in his suffering, and afterward you will have the wonderful joy of sharing his glory when it is displayed to all the world.” (1 Peter 4:12-13, NLT)

Last, he underscores and bolds, by repetition, the fact that God has the last word.
God perfects us. Yes, He will ultimately restore to wholeness those things that are broken, incomplete, or just plain misunderstood.
Peter uses a literary device of saying the same thing three ways to drive home the point – God will make you “strong, firm, and steadfast.”

 He has the last word, Christian.  The devil does not. Other people do not. Circumstances do not. God, the Eternal Father, who is full of grace will keep us. Will we trust Him?

Here is a word from the Word. “’In him (Christ Jesus) we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:10-15, NIV)

________

Build My Life

(a beautiful prayer of worship and hope)

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

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

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

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

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The Devil? Really?

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In our culture, increasingly secular and marked by disbelief, there is a strange statistic. About 60% of us believe in the existence of the Devil! The survey that I read revealed that we are not very precise about who we think the Devil is. Evil is a common word used. We also tend to identify the devil with people and behavior with which we disagree! So, who is this being? Does he actually exist? He does and he aims to destroy wherever, however, he can through the work of lesser beings called demons.  Even as I write those words, I know that some will run wild with them, seeing demons behind every disappointment, blaming the devil for things that really come from their own refusal of God and good!  It’s so much easier to say “the devil made me do it,” than it is to take responsibility to live as the Lord desires.

None the less, we force a mistaken understanding on the Scripture, if we dismiss the devil as relic of superstition. John’s apocalyptic book, Revelation, contains some vivid language to describe the devil. In chapter 12, we are told of an ‘enormous red dragon’ (not to be understood literally, but rather as a picture language symbol) who was poised to destroy the Messiah at his birth, who rebelled against the order of Heaven and was defeated by Michael, the archangel, who was kicked out of the Presence of God.  We learn that he has “had a great fall; He’s wild and raging with anger; he hasn’t much time and he knows it.” (Revelation 12:12, The Message)  John was not just a man who was steeped in myth. He was given visions, inspired with insight, so that he could see the spiritual realities. He ‘saw’ that Evil has a name and a personality! “This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels.” (Revelation 12:9, NLT)

From John we learn that two primary aims of the devil are to destroy the works of God and to deceive the world! Paul tells us that the deceiver is adept at disguise, “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.” (2 Corinthians 11:14, NIV)

Do I live in terror of the devil? Not at all, nor should any child of God.  I am secured by He who is greater. The sacrifice of Christ has restored me to the embrace of my Heavenly Father. When I ‘keep step with the Spirit,’  I am given authority over the darkness. John says of Christians, “they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony.”  (Revelation 12:11, NLT) He alludes to the Exodus story, one of faith in which the Israelites who obediently responded in faith by putting the blood of the Passover lamb on their doorposts escaped the death angel’s judgment. We receive Christ, by faith, and His sacrifice covers us. We live fearlessly, not in our own strength, but in the power of the Spirit.

My conviction about the reality of evil is what causes me to seek to bring salvation to this world in which I live.  Evil is not just the result of ignorance or lack of opportunity. Do those things contribute to the suffering? Yes, they do.  But, I also see that evil is personal, intentional, and aimed at anything and anyone God created and loves.  But, even as we face the attacks of evil that comes at us through ‘the world, the flesh, and the Devil’  we have a promise of victory!  Martin Luther wrote, in his hymn, A Mighty Fortress, that though we walk in a world ‘with devils filled,’ who ‘threaten to undo us, we will not fear for God has willed His truth to triumph through us.’

Here’s a word from the Word. Meditate on it. Let the Truth give insight into your own behavior and that of those who are around you, then pray to be holy and to be part of the Divine Conspiracy to save Creation! Both James and Peter teach a key principle to winning over evil. It starts with humility and submission to God!

“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7, NIV)  “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” (1 Peter 5:8-9, NIV)

Let the Lord of life guide you and He will keep you in the hour of trial.

_______

Under His Wings

Under His wings
I am safely abiding
Tho the night deepens
And tempest are wild
Still I can trust Him
I know He will keep me
He has redeemed me
And I am His child

Under His wings
What a refuge in sorrow
How the heart yearningly
Turns to His rest
Often when earth
Has no balm for my healing
There I find comfort
And there I am blest

Under His wings
O what precious enjoyment
There will I hide
‘Til life’s trials are o’er
Sheltered protected
No evil can harm me
Resting in JesusI’m safe evermore

Under His wings
Under His wings
Who from His love can sever
Under His wings
My soul shall abide
Safely abide forever

Liz Wagley | William Orcutt Cushing

© Words: Public Domain

 

Head pounds? Take more Tylenol™

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It is a miserable headache. My body feels like I have been beaten. Do I like the pain? Of course not. But, it is a signal to me that a tiny virus has taken up residence with all those not so wonderful symptoms that go with the common head cold.  If pay attention, rest, and drink fluids, I will recover more quickly. If I ignore the pain I will prolong the misery.

Pain can be a gift to us when we recognize it as a signal that something is wrong, that corrective action is necessary. Touch a hot surface and instantly you hand pulls away as nerves flash a pain signal to your brain that causes you to react. Without the pain, your hand would be severely damaged, wouldn’t it?  Not all pain is physical.

We can know spiritual sickness, too. When our soul aches for meaning, when we cannot find peace of mind, when prayer becomes an afterthought, what does it mean? That is when we need discernment, perhaps even a wise counselor to help us. An aching heart can be caused by guilt, the conviction of the Holy Spirit asking us to turn around.  Waking up with a sense of futility signals a time to renew our pursuit of God’s plans. When we are substituting momentary delight for eternal purpose, wasting precious days, God will call us to look higher.  And, yes, an aching soul may be signaling some place of unforgiveness, some unresolved conflict from long ago, some place where our heart is resisting God, the Spirit!

Our medicine cabinets are full of chemicals that mask our pain. I can take some Tylenol and a nasal decongestant and fool my body into thinking I am better, but all I have really done is hide the symptoms.  Pain relievers are not healing, they just temporarily turn off the pain signal. That’s not all bad if we take steps to deal with the issue that causes us pain at the same time. Tragically there are things that we can turn to that mask the pain in our hearts. We can stir up angry rage, which hides our pain. We can run to gourmet delights and find some temporary relief.  We can go and buy new clothes and numb our ache, for a while.

Jesus says, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29, NLT) Don’t be too quick to dismiss that prescription! We need to practice soul health.  That includes regularly getting together with others to worship the Lord.  In all the demands of our busy 2019 lives, we must faithfully find ourselves in quiet times of reflective prayer.  We can, we should, turn over our cares and concerns to the One who knows all our tomorrows. The Spirit of God will lead us to love, to forgive, and will call us to repentance.  This will give us the kind of spiritual health that allows us to clearly know the difference between the junk and the treasure in life.

As with most healing, the pain of our soul is seldom relieved in an instant. Rather, God heals us from the inside out as we learn to live in ways that are spiritually healthy. Here’s a word from the Word. Read it thoughtfully, prayerfully today. There’s a lot of soul food in it!

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.


And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”
-1 Peter 5:6-10, NIV

_______

Living Hope
(A song to turn our hearts to His healing promise)

How great the chasm that lay between us
How high the mountain I could not climb
In desperation I turned to heaven
And spoke Your name into the night
Then through the darkness Your loving-kindness
Tore through the shadows of my soul
The work is finished the end is written
Jesus Christ my living hope

Who could imagine so great a mercy
What heart could fathom such boundless grace
The God of ages stepped down from glory
To wear my sin and bear my shame
The cross has spoken I am forgiven
The King of kings calls me His own
Beautiful Savior I’m Yours forever
Jesus Christ my living hope

Hallelujah praise the One who set me free
Hallelujah death has lost its grip on me
You have broken every chain
There’s salvation in Your name
Jesus Christ my living hope

Then came the morning that sealed the promise
Your buried body began to breathe
Out of the silence the Roaring Lion
Declared the grave has no claim on me

Jesus Yours is the victory
Jesus Christ my living hope
Oh God You are my living hope

Brian Johnson | Phil Wickham © 2017 Phil Wickham Music (Fair Trade Music Publishing [c/o Essential Music Publishing LLC])

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Finding the balance between Truth and Love

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Earlier this week, when New York passed a law that, in my opinion, showed an utter disregard for the sacredness of human life, I made some public statements that some found offensive.  Several called me out for a ‘lack of love.’  I took their rebukes seriously, for I am not above correction.

When is it appropriate to express convictions based on my understanding of the revealed will of God even those that make some people uncomfortable, angry, or feeling guilty? Or, should my goal be to ‘just love’ without judgment, realizing that life is complex, that choices are hard, and that people are different?  The Scripture teaches me both to be a voice in the wilderness whose life and words call others to get right with God and to be a messenger of reconciliation that holds out the grace of God, which is immeasurable and free.

The balance between truth and love is a major concern for me in my Christian life.  Have I found the perfect place at the fulcrum? No, certainly not.

Here is how I think about these things, the guidelines that I try to follow.

 First of all, I know that my primary message is not morality, it is about Christ Jesus.  There must always be the hope of redemption, the offer of restoration.  The promise of John 3.16 where God is said to love the world must be prominent in my words. However, the Cross makes no sense if there is no offense.  We are sinners, separated from our Father, in desperate need apart from the intervention of His grace.  Is depravity a popular topic? Not at all, but it part of the truth.

Second, I must be authentic about my own process! Jesus reminds me to get the post out of my own eye so I can see clearly to help my brother rid himself of the splinter in his. His point was not ‘I’m OK, you’re OK,’ so let’s sing a happy song of affirmation of our dysfunctions and imperfections.  He asked us for humility to understand that we are all dealing with a sinful nature, all recipients of grace.  If my message is about ‘those people who sin’ whoever they may be or whatever they may have done, I will slip into a Pharisaical blindness to my own pride.  Again, acknowledging my own sins does not preclude bearing witness to the Truth.  It means I lead the way to the Cross of Christ where I find myself set right with a holy God.

Third, I must never speak to gain applause or be silenced by a desire for approval. It may sound arrogant, please forgive me that, but it matters little what anyone ultimately thinks of me. That does not mean that I am beyond accountability or free to say whatever comes to mind. When the Bible tells me that God sees past my words and my actions to the very intents and motives of my heart, I am equally comforted and terrified!  Nothing in me is hidden from Him.  While I am completely assured of heaven through Christ Jesus I also know that He will hold me accountable for how I live, what I say, and how I used those opportunities He presented to me.  Yes, that is beyond sobering. It makes me feel the fear of God.

In the opening of the book of the Acts, a promise that the Spirit of God would live in us is made. And why does He come to us?  Jesus said, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8, NKJV)  We are empowered to be those who bear witness to Him – Who is Truth and Love!

So, my prayer is to be winsome, compassionate, and wise even as I am fearlessly committed to the messages of sin and redemption.  In a culture that has more and more “Nones” (those with no faith) and “Dones” (those who are fed up with organized Church) may we find a way to “speak the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4.15)

Here is a word from the Word.  “But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (1 Peter 4:13-18, NIV)  Amen.

When failure brings doubt

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Do you ever begin to question God, asking Him what He’s up to? Abraham did!  In Genesis 12, God gave him an amazing promise of many descendants, that he would be a blessings to the whole world. Years past and Abraham was still without a son! In the 15th chapter, he asks God this – “O Sovereign Lord, what good are all your blessings when I don’t even have a son?” (Genesis 15:2, NLT)  I think most of us have been in that place. We think we know God’s promise but there seems to be no way from where we are to that place of His blessings. What did Abraham do?  “He believed God!”  So must we.

If we attempt to anything in life, especially in the work of God, we may find ourselves dealing with situations that look like failure.  Our doubts will be fueled by the half-truths that are shared by well-intentioned Christian. Many insist that if we are living in faith, we will go from success to victory in unbroken triumph! We don’t. Nobody does.

We love to recount the story of Jesus’ visit to his friends in a boat on the Sea of Galilee.  We imagine Peter’s bold step over the side of the boat where he walked on the water, too.  It’s a glorious story of faith, until it isn’t!  Peter failed moments after he started. So, did God throw him away? Not at all. More remarkable than Peter’s short trip on the water, is the faithfulness of Jesus who caught him before he sank. We love to tell of Paul’s travels around the empire planting churches. Yet that story is incomplete if we do not remember that he got thrown out of most cities he visited, knowing rejection and disappointment again and again. He spent almost as much time in jail as he did teaching in marketplaces. The most amazing thing is that he didn’t just give up and go home!  In fact, some of his best writing to us comes from those times of imprisonment.

Paul acknowledged the desperation he felt. Feel the emotion in his words. “We were crushed and completely overwhelmed, and we thought we would never live through it. 9 In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we learned not to rely on ourselves, but on God who can raise the dead.”  (2 Corinthians 1:8, NLT)   Like Abraham before him, Paul learned to lean unto God. In his moment of doubt, the Lord spoke to Abram and that man responded with faith that leaned into God. And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord declared him righteous because of his faith.” (Genesis 15:6, NLT)

Are you wrestling with disappointment? Have you heard the promise of God only to find yourself frustrated? Brent Crowe reminds us of an important thing. “There is a type of failure that attempts something that is consistent with God’s desired will and yet comes up short or doesn’t work out the way we thought it would. This is the type of failure that God doesn’t look at and go… ‘You’ve failed and you’ve sinned’… Number one I think it pleases him.  Number two, I think he views it through the lens of sanctification and we’re being built up in the faith when we attempt things for God’s glory.” – Brent Crowe

God chose to include failure on the pages of the Bible. Instead of giving inspirational stories about perfect heroes, He told us about real people who lived in faith mixed with failure. If we look deeply, we will be astounded by the grace of God that finds people at their worst. We celebrate David’s love for God and his victories and they are ever more amazing when we also include his violent nature, his terrible moments of adultery and even murder!  We admire about Abraham’s faith, which was remarkable, but tend to forget that God loved and used him even when he got it very wrong, fathering a son with Hagar, lying about Sarah to Pharaoh. Samson was a hero and a heel!  He led Israel to great victories but could not overcome his weakness for pretty women.  Still God’s grace persisted.

So, am I excusing faithlessness or failure? Not for a moment.  Our desire must be to know the Presence of God, to walk in the Spirit, and to do those things that make His Name great.  But, we will fail and others will fail us. What then?  Will we give up, go home, and look for another place for joy? Or, will we love Him, accept His grace, and give it where necessary?

The word from the Word is from a letter of Paul that I love.  In our worst failures there is a divine conjunction – “But God…”   He “is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so very much, that even while we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s special favor that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ, and we are seated with him in the heavenly realms—all because we are one with Christ Jesus. And so God can always point to us as examples of the incredible wealth of his favor and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us through Christ Jesus. God saved you by his special favor when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.” (Ephesians 2:4-8, NLT)

Lord lead us to life in the middle of the messes that are a part of this broken world. Amen

__________

Even If

(Mercy Me encourages us to lean on our Father)

They say sometimes you win some
Sometimes you lose some
And right now right now I’m losing bad
I’ve stood on this stage night after night
Reminding the broken it’ll be alright
But right now oh right now I just can’t

 It’s easy to sing
When there’s nothing to bring me down
But what will I say
When I’m held to the flame like I am right now

 I know You’re able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone

 They say it only takes a little faith
To move a mountain
Well good thing
A little faith is all I have right now

 But God when You choose
To leave mountains unmovable
Oh give me the strength to be able to sing
It is well with my soul

 I know the sorrow and I know the hurt
Would all go away if You just say the word
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone

 You’ve been faithful
You’ve been good all of my days
Jesus I will cling to You
Come what may
‘Cause I know You’re able
I know You care 

I hope in You alone ooh

 It is well with my soul
It is well it is well with my soul

Bart Millard | Ben Glover | Crystal Lewis | David Arthur Garcia | Tim Timmons

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Submission- them’s fightin’ words!

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Relationships between the sexes are a mine field these days.  For good reasons, we are being asked to rethink our assumptions, to reconsider our ways.  Women are refusing to accept being ‘just a body’ or someone who is assumed to be less or inferior. For good reason, they are demanding that men who use and abuse be held accountable for their actions. The noise of the battle can make real and honest dialogue difficult. Some men are responding with a retreat into a kind of masculinity that cripples emotion, that robs them of tender connection with their wives and daughters. Making marriage work well, a challenge from the dawn of time, has become more difficult as we negotiate our way into a world of equals. What is right? How do we do this?

There is wisdom from God, words that Peter wrote under the inspiration of the Spirit, that cannot be disregarded. Ah, they are often fought over, mangled in the process of interpretation, even outright refused as a vestige of a patriarchal world. If we drag our wounds and assumptions to this passage we will miss the truth that will guide us.  Let’s see what the Spirit says to us.

Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear. Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.” (1 Peter 3:1-8, NIV)

There are three words that shape that whole passage – ‘submissive, considerate, and harmony.’  None works well without the other!  We do these things imperfectly and often come to the tragic and wrong conclusion that the Word is flawed. No, we are.

This passage says nothing about inferiority of women. Wives are not ‘put down’ by the passage, they are invited to let their husbands lead, to care. “Submission” is often read as requiring a wife to take whatever he dishes out simply because her husband is given the leadership role in their home. Peter, in reality, asks that a wife become strong enough to support their husbands, to become his wisest counselor, to develop the kind of character that makes her a person of beauty from the inside out. The key phrase to understanding this is that they ‘put their hope in God.’   All Christians, male and female, learn from Jesus that asserting Self is not His way. Is it hard to trust God to defend us? We know the answer to that question.

The Spirit calls on husbands to live considerately.  The Authorized (KJV) says “dwell with her according to knowledge.”  In other words,  take the time to really get to know her, to understand her, to love her in a way that shows real delight. God, the Holy Spirit, tells the Christian husband that his wife stands alongside of him as an equal partner of eternal life, as a child of the Heavenly Father.  Woe to the husband who does not treat his wife as one who is beloved of God.  God will hold him accountable for cruelty, for selfish ways, for treating his wife unjustly.

And, both husband and wife are taught to ‘live in harmony.’  Do you know the difference between unison and harmony?  God does not ask husbands and wives to sing the same note! That seems to be ideal today and it makes for all kinds of problems for us. We are told to sing harmony, to find that note that is the perfect complement to our spouse. A choir singing in unison can make beautiful music, but oh the amazing sound that comes from harmonious notes.

Is this an easy word?  No, and I’m sure some readers will take issue with it (and me). My late wife and I spent many years working out the harmony of marriage. When we did it well, a thing of rich reward and true beauty flourished in which we both enjoyed security, love, and our best lives. When we fought, struggling with each other for what we thought we were owed, there was misery. God, the Spirit, led us, blessed us, taught us, forgave us, and we loved to the day that she went home to her Father in Heaven.

Now here is a word from the Word.

Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other.
None of this going off and doing your own thing.
And cultivate thankfulness. 

Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house.

Give it plenty of room in your lives.

Instruct and direct one another using good common sense.

 And sing, sing your hearts out to God!
Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.” (Colossians 3:15-17, The Message)

It Really Does Matter to God

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When America elected her first black President a decade ago, I thought that we might have finally reached the end of racial hatred in the nation. How naïve I was!  In my opinion, prejudice has roared back to life. Want to have a heated conversation? Just venture into the area of equal opportunity and immigration. I am not a sociologist so I will leave the analysis to better minds. However, my Christian friend, I can say with great confidence that God finds attitudes of discrimination abhorrent.

Today our country takes note of the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.

The man, a pastor from Birmingham, Alabama, used his God-given gifts to work at reshaping America’s attitudes about race, to spark the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. He saw the evil of segregation and named it for what it was – sin. His vision of non-violent resistance spared many lives as that movement gained momentum. Ever the preacher, Dr. King drew inspiration from the Scripture, using the picture words of the Old Testament prophets to great effect.  He loved to quote Amos, “let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.” (Amos 5:24, KJV)  Perhaps his greatest gift to us was the formation of a new vision for America, best summed up in what are his most memorable speech which we now call, “I have a dream.” Few, if any, knew the strength of his words when they were spoken that day from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 23, 1963, but his vision reshaped these United States.

I Have A Dream – MLK, Jr. (read his words at this link)

As I have said, I am not reluctant to label racism as a sin. The scripture is filled with references to justice, calling on the people of God to defend those without power, to esteem others. So, where we see divisions by class, or religion, or race, or sex we must challenge it, starting right in our own heart and mind!  Discrimination is a subtle sin that cloaks itself behind all kinds of words. Being ‘different’ becomes being of lesser value. Judgment of behavior becomes a reason to reject persons. Give such thoughts no standing.

Disciple, in Christ there is no ‘us’ and ‘them.’  In Him we ALL stand on equal ground. “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26-28, NIV)  The Scripture insists that how we love God and how we love other people are inseparable. We cannot claim to love God and hate others.

I leave this word from the Word with you today. As you ponder it, let God use it to shape your heart and mind.
“With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:6-8, NIV)

If you are enjoying a work holiday, I hope you take a few minutes to thank the Lord for the witness to the truth that was Martin Luther King, Jr.
And, I hope that all of us will pray that God will help us to wrestle with those complex issues of our time that keep us divided, starting with our own heart.

Ala Carte Bible

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Ala Carte dining is a delight to some because each item on the menu is separate, providing the opportunity to choose only what is desired. Some restaurants offer ‘specials’ and in the fine print you see this line – ‘no substitutions allowed.’  My Mother-in-law makes me smile when we go to an Italian restaurant. The waiter is always surprised when Mom orders her chicken parmesan with a side of mashed potatoes rather than pasta.  Ah, the joy of choice.

Our love for freedom of choice does not mesh well with the call to being Christ’s disciple yet that is precisely how many Christians practice their faith. Those truths they find hard, that go against the grain for them, are excused away, reasoned out of existence, or simply refused on the basis of “I just don’t believe that.”  It’s not a new thing. Thomas Jefferson, the admired third President of the United States, actually went to the trouble of creating his own Bible.  He took a sharp instrument and cut away part of the text he found disagreeable! A copy of the text he created exists in the Smithsonian Museum. The 84-page volume is bound in red leather and titled The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.

In my morning meditation today, I read the following text from Peter’s letter to Christians.  It’s one of those texts many Christians conveniently ignore in our time. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. “”But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:21-25, NIV) 

Speaking directly to those who were slaves, but in fact to us all, Peter commands submission, a willingness to accept suffering!  “Come on, Jerry, surely you don’t believe Peter was approving of slavery or injustice?” Of course not. But, he was inspired to teach us that when those things enter our lives in this sinful world, rather than taking to noisy protest, rather than making retaliatory threats, we entrust our care to Christ Jesus and like the One who died for us, take the suffering on ourselves to allow God to do His work.

I am quite sure that more than one of you reading this blog today just shook your head and said, “Nope, not for me. I won’t just take it.”  And that is your choice. I have done that, too.  However, when we disregard what God asks of us, we are on our own. We step outside of His providential care.  He lets us refuse Him and lets us taste the consequences of our willfulness.  Some learn, turn, and find the grace to live joyfully in submission to His will. Others, like the ancient children of Israel, persist in complaint, resistance, and rebellion until they die in the desert of life, separated from the living water of the Spirit by their own willfulness.

Radical discipleship requires the abandonment of Self to live ‘in Christ.’ There is no middle ground, really, to be found in the true life of a Christian, for Jesus asks to be Lord of life, not just parts of life.

Here is a word from the Word. May the Spirit make it live in us for the glory of God. “It’s common knowledge that “God goes against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble.” So let God work his will in you. Yell a loud no to the Devil and watch him scamper. Say a quiet yes to God and he’ll be there in no time. Quit dabbling in sin. Purify your inner life. Quit playing the field. Hit bottom, and cry your eyes out. The fun and games are over. Get serious, really serious. Get down on your knees before the Master; it’s the only way you’ll get on your feet.” (James 4:6-10, The Message)

________

Abba, thank you for patiently waiting for me to yield,
for persistently inviting me to resources found only in You.
Forgive me for refusing You because I am convinced I know better,
for resisting Your way, preferring what seems best or comfortable.

Tell me again of Your amazing love, let me see Jesus anew.
In that place of humble surrender, may my heart find
a joy and security that is unknown to those who will not
trust with a child-like heart.

Keep me from self-will, I pray.
In Jesus’ name.  Amen