Scattered Stones?

In the middle of my lawn there is a stone, mostly hidden, too large to dig out by hand. It does no harm except to ding the blade of my mower when I fail to steer around it! It exists, singularly, without purpose. Several feet away, there are hundreds of stones, neatly aligned, built into a gracefully curved wall that adds a touch of beauty to the landscape. Those stones illustrate two types of Christians – those who exist disconnected from God’s Church and those who align themselves with others for the purpose of creating a place of beauty in this world.

Thousands, millions perhaps, of Americans believe in Christ Jesus but cling to an independent life. They profess, with no hint of irony, their refusal to ‘fit in’ with any formal church structure, reveling in their supposed ‘freedom’ in Christ Jesus. Their reasons for not connecting with a local fellowship are many – hypocrisy in leadership, disagreement with the way resources are spent, uninspiring worship, or some past experience that has left them wounded.

Others just choose not to connect with a local church because they can tune in to listen to a celebrity media pastor or enjoy a service from Mega City Church elsewhere in the US that their local church cannot begin to replicate. Their choice allows them to ‘feed’ their soul without making any demand of service.

The refusal to be an engaged, committed, serving Christian in a local assembly is without Scriptural foundation.  Peter reminds us that “As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:4-5, NIV)  

There is no way to become all that God desires apart from the Church. Yes, Jesus is our ‘personal Savior,’ as we like to say. Of course, God knows us individually. And, He calls us INTO His Church where as we connect with others we become part of something larger, more beautiful, declaring the Glory of God.  Christians who are committed and connected and those who exist alone are as different from one another as a stone cathedral is from a rock on the ground!

Paul changes the metaphor of our relationships. In his first letter to the church at Corinth, he challenges their ego-focused faith, one that exalted favorite preachers and spectacular ‘spiritual gifts’ over humble, faithful, committed church life. “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-15, NIV)  A hand finds its purpose only in connection with an arm, directed by a head! A foot maybe hidden in a shoe, but it serves the body. A severed hand, a single ear, a disconnected leg may still be recognizable but it is lifeless, without purpose.

Is the Church perfect, always loving, a place of beauty? As one who has spent his entire life of 65 years as part of the local church, with the vocation of ministry, I know as much as anyone how difficult Christian relationships can be. God’s people can be amazingly wonderful, generous, and loving and they can be selfish, judgmental, and territorial – just like me, just like you!  

We are works in progress, graced by God and graceful. The Church is the plan of God for our spiritual development, a living organism into which we are called where we grow. Some use “the love of Jesus” as an excuse to become parasites in the Body, draining life from the church. Others drink deeply of the Spirit and are changed, growing into persons of splendor, as they shine with Jesus’ light. That’s church life.

Are you just a rock or are you a “living stone built into a spiritual house?”  

Here is a word from the Word. I hope that it will encourage you to choose to become part of the temple, the Church where God reveals His purposes in us and through us.  

“Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless—cheerfully. Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God’s words; if help, let it be God’s hearty help. That way, God’s bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus, and he’ll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything.”
-The Message, 1 Peter 4:8-11
____________

Build Your Kingdom Here

Come set Your rule and reign
In our hearts again
Increase in us we pray
Unveil why we’re made
Come set our hearts ablaze with hope
Like wildfire in our very souls
Holy Spirit come invade us now
We are Your church
We need Your pow’r in us

We seek Your kingdom first
We hunger and we thirst
Refuse to waste our lives
For You’re our joy and prize
To see the captives’ hearts released
The hurt the sick the poor at peace
We lay down our lives for heaven’s cause

We are Your church
We pray revive this earth

Let the darkness fear
Show Your mighty hand
Heal our streets and land
Set Your church on fire
Win this nation back

Change the atmosphere
Build Your kingdom here we pray
Unleash Your kingdom’s pow’r
Reaching the near and far

No force of hell can stop
Your beauty changing hearts
You made us for much more than this
Awake the kingdom seed in us
Fill us with the strength and love of Christ
We are Your church
We are the hope on earth

Chris Llewellyn | Gareth Gilkeson | William Herron

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

CCLI License # 810055

Secure in His embrace!

Texts and emails by the dozen have urged me to prayer recently; a good thing, right?  Mostly, though, they are asking me to go to God with a single agenda, to press Him, as if I were lobbying a powerful Friend to act. Prayer is petitioning. We should ask God about our needs. However, true prayer must include time to listen, contemplative prayer, which can be incredibly difficult for those of us accustomed to living with smartphones and email; that provide those instant responses.  Talking with God is not at all like messaging with a friend!  

There is a kind of praying that is called ‘centering.’ Christ Jesus is made the focus. It is not a time for petitions or beautiful praise. It is an act of adoration, a time to receive a gift of His peace. It’s like those moments when you see someone you love and you reach out in embrace, holding each other close, wordlessly, just being together.  Right now in our crazy, mixed up, stressed out world – we must make time to find rest, to learn to be with Jesus.  I want to encourage to change your mental image of prayer to include times when you are content in His Presence, centered in faith, waiting.

Quietly murmur this confession. Learn how to listen!  
“He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah”
(Psalm 46:9-11, NIV)

There is amazing spiritual strength to be found in surrendering to the Spirit and entering into silent prayer that WAITS on the Lord. Paul urges us to dismantle “every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and (to) take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5, NIV)  In the story of Job, when his suffering drives him to angrily demand a confrontation with the Lord, God comes, not with explanations, but to reveal Himself in greater majesty. Job’s response is humility. He says, “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth.” (Job 40:4, NIV) 

Centering prayer does not seek to change God’s mind. It restores Him to His rightful place in my life. When I am actively, yet silently, waiting before Him, the Spirit helps me to re-enthrone Christ Jesus as Lord of life, my hope. I return often to the words of Isaiah inviting us to holy submission. In a time of national crisis the Lord called His people to re-center their hope on Him! “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15, NIV)   In true prayer, we are intent on finding Him.  We set aside the need to press Him to endorse a solution of our own design.

Waiting can be much more difficult than working!

The angst of our time is real. The world, in the words of the hymn, is filled with devils who “threaten to undo us.”  But, we do not “In our own strength confide” for “our striving would be losing.” Now, there is a choice about how to live. We can attempt to control it all and find ourselves full of frustration. Or, we can enter into His Presence – centered on Christ! The Spirit is inviting us to a new and deeper spirituality, beyond the comfort of our religion.

Engage your whole person in this kind of praying.
Sit quietly.
Place your hands open, palms up, in front of you.
Draw your breath in slowly. Pause, then then breath out as you say the name of Jesus.
Tell Him simply, “I receive your peace.”
Stay there!

For most of us such praying, entering into His Presence is so unnatural that we will feel foolish, or nothing at all – at first. But, He is there.  It is likely that your mind will initially reject this ‘quiet’ and you will want to reach for your phone, turn on some music, just ‘do something.’ Choose Jesus! It’s simple, but it is not easy! Keep handing yourself to Him, giving the Spirit mastery as you meditate on His Word and Promise.

Here’s the word from the Word.
“O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. …
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.
My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.” (Psalm 130:2-6, NIV)
_______

A mighty fortress is our God

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing
Our Helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe
His craft and pow’r are great, and, armed with cruel hate
On earth is not his equal

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He
The Lord of hosts His name, from age to age the same
And He must win the battle

And though this world with devils filled should threaten to undo us
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure
One little word shall fell him

That word above all earthly pow’rs, no thanks to them, abideth
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him who with us sideth
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also
The body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still
His kingdom is forever

God, it makes NO sense!

A long discussion about the swirling confusion that is the state of our nation left me exhausted. Facts are hard to come by when we no longer trust the usual sources of information. I have learned how to say – “I just don’t know!”  It is not the answer that we like is it? 

My Christianity includes some real questions, too. I wonder why God allows evil to continue, why suffering goes on, why He sometimes remains silent when we cry out for relief. I read the Word and find mystery on some of the pages.  I remember a comment attributed to the humorist, Mark Twain. “It ain’t the parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”

Faith is both a gift and a choice. Isaiah, pondering the destruction of Jerusalem by a pagan empire, wondered why God allowed it. The Spirit reminded him of this truth. “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9, NLT) Preceding those word there is a promise of restoration and forgiveness. “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” (Isaiah 55:6-7, NIV)  

Isaiah had to wonder why a God who promises such mercy would allow so much awful suffering and destruction of all he held dear.  History reveals that God did restore His people, mercifully and faithfully bringing exiles back to Jerusalem about 70 years later! There was a national renewal and the Temple was rebuilt. Isaiah could only ‘see’ that in faith.

Are you willing to trust God when ‘nothing makes sense?’ That can be ever so difficult!  He does not ask to live in ignorance, foolishness, or superstition. However, He does ask us to be humble enough to say, “I just don’t know, but I will walk in obedience to what I do understand.”  “But, God, why?” is my cry when the future is obscure or when what I think I so desperately need or want runs headlong into what He commands of me. In those times I reach for the prayerful words of a man who was aware of the gaps in his own faith as he asked Jesus to heal his son:  “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Any parent knows that there are times when they insist on obedience from their child, even when that little one cannot grasp the ‘why’ of the ‘what.’ Some issues remain outside the ability of a child to understand or beyond their maturity to make a choice for the long-term. That is why God gives them parents to teach, to give them the training that will equip them for life as an independent adult. It hurts the loving father to refuse the request of a tearful son but he will when he knows the request is not best.

Paul reminds us of our own partial understanding, as he reminds us of a day of clarity that will come. “But when full understanding comes, these partial things will become useless. When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.” (1 Corinthians 13:10-12, NLT)  What a glorious thing. All the questions that nag at us, that try to destroy our faith and hinder our worship, WILL BE fully answered and our hearts will rest.

Has life gone sideways for you?
Does the current chaos of COVID and politics make you confused?
Is some personal issue unresolved, God silent, and the way ahead hidden?

You are NOT alone. “God is not dead, nor does He sleep.”
So, let us trust, praying that our faith will increase, even as we leave the secret things to Him.

Here is a word from the Word.  Meditate on these amazing words about the majesty of the Lord.  

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!

“Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?”

For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36, NIV)

____________

Be Magnified

I have made You too small in my eyes,
O Lord, forgive me.
And I have believed in a lie
That You were unable to help me.
But now, O Lord, I see my wrong;
Heal my heart and show Yourself strong.
And in my eyes and with my song.
O Lord, be magnified,
O Lord, be magnified!

Be magnified, O Lord.
You are highly exalted.
And there is nothing You can’t do,
O Lord, my eyes are on You.
Be magnified, O Lord,
Be magnified!

I have leaned on the wisdom of men,
O Lord, forgive me.
And I have responded to them
Instead of Your light and Your mercy.
But now, O Lord, I see my wrong.
Heal my heart and show Yourself strong,
And in my eyes and with my song,
O Lord, be magnified.
O Lord, be magnified!

Lynn DeShazo© 1991 Integrity’s Hosanna! Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing (IMI))

CCLI License # 810055

Done With YOU

I was enjoying my dinner last night when a couple sat down at the table near me in a nearly empty restaurant. The conversation was animated. (OK, I eavesdropped!) She adamantly stated that Susan (not the real name) was not invited to their home with the rest of the family.  Apparently Susan voted for the ‘other guy’ and the speaker took it as a personal affront. “Some things are forgivable, but not that,” she declared with great passion. “She has betrayed our family’s heritage …” 

And it went on, while I grew more sad with each moment. So much for a pleasant dinner.  Is that conversation I overheard an oddity, a quirk of someone with a misadjusted personality? No, it is not. Too many families are being torn apart, too many friends are not speaking, too many churches are becoming split because of our polarized political environment.  

Christian, we must, for Christ’s sake, do better.

In the church in Corinth when divisions over personality and preference broke out, Paul did not treat it as something acceptable, ‘just a natural human response.’ He called on those Christians to repent, telling them that their fighting was  evidence of sin and spiritual immaturity.

“Now, dear brothers and sisters, I appeal to you by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ to stop arguing among yourselves. Let there be real harmony so there won’t be divisions in the church. I plead with you to be of one mind, united in thought and purpose. For some members of Chloe’s household have told me about your arguments, dear brothers and sisters. Some of you are saying, “I am a follower of Paul.” Others are saying, “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Peter,” or “I follow only Christ.” Can Christ be divided into pieces?” (1 Corinthians 1:10-13, NLT)  

He returns to the subject later in the same letter, underlining his concern, reminding them that their party spirit was wrong. “You are still controlled by your own sinful desires. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your own desires? You are acting like people who don’t belong to the Lord. When one of you says, “I am a follower of Paul,” and another says, “I prefer Apollos,” aren’t you acting like those who are not Christians?” (1 Corinthians 3:3-4, NLT)

Christians can hold very different convictions and keep the unity of the Spirit. How?

First, we put our identity in Christ FIRST. Whoever you may be in life, however you choose to identify yourself, you are first a Christian, defined by knowing Him as Savior and Lord. We are members of His Body and we cannot be healthy, happy, and productive people if we cut off others with whom we disagree or if we choose to separate ourselves over differences. We will go beyond ‘tolerance’ to seek true unity of purpose in our shared identity as the ‘children of God.’

Second, we live in the same grace that we have been given by God. Sometimes people are just flat wrong and there is nothing wrong with recognizing that. Some suggest that we can each have ‘our own truth.’ That is nonsense, but we do have our own perspective, shaped by our experience, training, and information.  None of us can lay claim to complete knowledge. So, we graciously accept the differences that exist, listening and learning. If someone persists in utter nonsense, we gently engage with the facts, not from superiority, not with disgust or disdain. Grace gives space for change and patiently pursues relationship as something of primary importance.

Third, we refuse to elevate secondary issues into primary ones. There are three things that will endure—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13, NLT)  The noise and fury of this election will subside, eventually.  The urgency that we fell about climate change, economics, race relations, immigration and such matters will be temporary.  I do not mean to suggest that there are not things worthy of debate, nor would I be foolish enough to think that decisions made by city councils, state legislators, or the President are inconsequential.  Our health and safety in this world depends on wise, thoughtful leadership.  BUT, our ultimate security, our eternal hope, rests solely on the promise of Jesus Christ. That first-line security allows us to engage in debate over secondary issues without baring our fangs and putting out our claws!

Fourth, we will need to die to self to maintain unity.  I confess that sometimes when I have to listen to someone who is committed to a position that is exactly opposite of my own I find it irritating. I am tempted to just walk away with an attitude of contempt. Yes, more than once, I have thought to myself, “What complete lunacy. How could an educated and informed individual even say that out loud?”  And, then checked by the Spirit, I surrender my personal comfort (dying to Self most of the time) to take a position of love that seeks ‘first to understand’ the person and to prioritize the relationship. The halo slips and, honestly, sometimes I fail, firing back with a snarky remark!

Christian we cannot descend to the level of those who live by their natural instincts or their own wisdom. We are ‘of Christ.’ We are to be filled with His loving heart. Can you even imagine Jesus writing off a family member or a friend because that person was aligned with the ‘other’ party?  I cannot. Can you imagine Him refusing to stand alongside of someone because their politics?

The Church does not do her work with political power, nor can we let ourselves be deceived into thinking that any government made up of human beings will bring us into the rule of God.  Because we live in a democratic republic, we rightly seek to influence the policies of our governing authorities, but we also realize that when and where resistance is required, it must be shaped by humility and with a willingness to endure persecution without complaint, for the sake of our Savior and Lord.

Here is a word from the Word, a directive for all Christians, for this time. “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:1-6, NIV)
__________

In Christ Alone

(Celtic worship does this song beautifully!)

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light my strength my song
This Cornerstone this solid Ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm

What heights of love what depths of peace
When fears are stilled when strivings cease
My Comforter my All in All
Here in  the love of Christ I stand

No guilt in life no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny

No power of hell no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
Till He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand

Keith Getty | Stuart Townend © 2001 Thankyou Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

I will not live in the coward’s refuge

Here we are … waiting.  Who will be our President? In my mind a much more important issue is the recovery of a national unity, in what seems to be our ‘two Americas.’  The divide shows up everywhere, even in our churches. I am heart-broken over the disdain for the ‘other side’ that is tearing friends and families apart. Yes, I write often about finding peace and I confess it is a struggle, but it is the birthright of the Believer, therefore I will wait in hope, live purposefully in joy, choosing love. How about you? Christian, we have a BIG job yet to do!

If we want to experience the peace of God we must be willing to become content; not apathetic, but secure in our Father’s grace, satisfied by His love. Are you willing to actually ‘live’ in the moment, to accept this day from His hand, to desire to be exactly the person He desires; no more, no less? 

Jesus counsels us about allowing ourselves to be anxious. “I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? … Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. … For the pagans (those who don’t know God) run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” (Matthew 6:25, 27, 32, NIV)  His wisdom is to enjoy the things you have right now and to make the most of this day.

Let’s not retreat into apathy. That’s the coward’s refuge!  We cannot just stop caring, for God has given us the calling to work to bring about His purposes in this world; loving the loveless, feeding the hungry, advocating for the powerless, pointing others to Christ.  That agenda sets us against the tide, invites the opposition from this world as well as the spiritual one. However, we are not engaged in this work with our natural abilities. If I attempt to do life as a Christian, in my own strengths, trying to control life with my own strategies, I will become stressed, angry, and frustrated.

Paul, a Spirit-filled man, went through life’s up’s and down’s. He was hero and he was heel. Some loved him, others drove him out of town like a criminal. Sometimes he was respected by the Christians he taught and sometimes they ignored him preferring smooth talkers that fed their ego! He felt joy and pain equally. Yet, he never wavered from his commitment to Christ he loved because his true contentment was not circumstantial, but fixed on a Person greater than this world. He would not take solace in the coward’s refuge.

The secret of his consistent service, of his ability to keep going in the face of hardship is found in these words. Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to get along happily whether I have much or little. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need. … And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. Now glory be to God our Father forever and ever. Amen.” (Philippians 4, NLT)

We have a choice in the middle of our current mess – we can live miserably, overwhelmed, blaming, and complaining-  OR we can take the grace of Christ and live with contentment. Which will you choose today?

God is good, all the time, dear friend.
He is equally Lord of life when things are good and when things go wrong. 
He is Lord while we wait and when we act.  

Here’s a word from the Word for this day. “Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!” (Lamentations 3:21-24, NLT)  “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1 Timothy 6:6, KJV)

_______________

God Is Good All The Time

(turn up the sound and rejoice with Don Moen)

God is good, all the time.
He put a song of praise
In this heart of mine!
God is good, all the time,
Through the darkest night
His light will shine.
God is good! God is good,
All the time!

If you’re walkin’ through the valley
And there are shadows all around;
Do not fear, He will guide you,
He will keep you safe and sound.
‘Cause He has promised to never leave you,
Nor forsake you, and His Word is true.

Though I may not understand,
All the plans You have for me,
My life is in Your hands
And through the eyes of faith-
I can clearly see-
God is good, He’s so good,
God is good, He’s so good,
God is good,
He’s so good all the time!

Don Moen | Paul Overstreet © 1995 Integrity’s Hosanna! Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing (IMI)) Scarlet Moon Music, Inc. (Admin. by Kobalt Music Publishing America, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055

Finding the Blessed Life

Perhaps you, like me, are weary of all the talk, all the opinions.
Today, I simply share the words of Jesus, from His Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Matthew 5.

“Jesus began to teach them, saying:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
(Matthew 5:2-13, NIV)

May you be blessed in your obedience to His invitation, becoming a blessing to the world in which we live.

Amen.

Today’s phrase – God Rules!

In an election unlike any in my memory there are so many who are issuing dire warnings that we’re doomed if the other guy is elected. Will a Biden election bring America economic ruin? Will a Trump re-election set the world aflame?  Will a Democrat majority in the Senate bring the destruction of the republic? Will a Republican majority take away basic rights?  Oh the noise and the fury. Perhaps you are as tired of it all as I am. IF you have not voted, please do today.  Lay aside anxious thoughts, refuse fear.  How?

Let’s look at the life of a man that God used in a pagan empire, a man of excellence and integrity who influenced the world. His name was Daniel. About 600 years before the time of Jesus, Babylonian conquerors overwhelmed Jerusalem and took young men from that city to serve in the courts of their capital. Daniel was among them, still a teen, but well-trained in the Scripture.  Surely that teen struggled to understand why the Lord God allowed Jerusalem and the holy Temple to be sacked by idol worshippers. It was, in fact, the end of the world, at least as Daniel knew it.

And yet, there in a foreign land, a captive, he chose to serve God faithfully.  In face of much evidence to the contrary, he trusted that God was in charge of human history, that there was a plan in it all, though inscrutable at the moment. He grew into a deep, mature faith, becoming a man so in tune with the Spirit that he became God’s spokesman to the super-power of his time!

On one occasion, Nebuchadnezzar demanded that his counselors tell him not only the meaning of his dream, but the content of it as well! Impossible? Sure it was. Daniel, who had become one of those trusted counselors, went to prayer, received the revelation, and told that king what God was saying. Remember that dream? It was a large statue with golden head, silver chest, bronze belly, iron legs, and feet of clay. It represented the kingdoms of men. The key part of the dream was the Stone that was cut out, not with human hands, that smashed the statue. The meaning? All earthly kingdoms will come to an end when the King of Kings sets up His reign. God showed Daniel that He was still in charge.

In another terrifying dream, that king saw a great tree in the center of the earth. It was cut down by a heavenly messenger, but the stump was left. Daniel courageously told Nebuchadnezzar that it was a message that he was about to be cut down because of his arrogance. “They shall drive you from men, your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make you eat grass like oxen. They shall wet you with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses. “And inasmuch as they gave the command to leave the stump and roots of the tree, your kingdom shall be assured to you, after you come to know that Heaven rules.” (Daniel 4:25-26, NKJV)

When Daniel was about 80 years old he was called to interpret a terrifying vision. Belshazzar, the regent of Babylon, whose arrogance far outstripped that of Nebuchadnezzar, was throwing a banquet when a hand appeared to write on the wall of the hall. No one could understand the cryptic phrase. Then the queen mother reminded Belshazzar of an old Jewish man who had counseled the prior king. Daniel came and read the inscription: “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin” — “Numbered, numbered, Weighed, and Divided!” Boldly, Daniel pronounced the message of Heaven.

“Your Majesty, the Most High God gave sovereignty, majesty, glory, and honor to your predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar. He made him so great that people of all races and nations and languages trembled before him in fear. … But when his heart and mind were hardened with pride, he was brought down from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. …until he learned that the Most High God rules the kingdoms of the world and appoints anyone he desires to rule over them. You are his successor, O Belshazzar, and you knew all this, yet you have not humbled yourself. For you have defied the Lord of heaven …you have not honored the God who gives you the breath of life and controls your destiny! So God has sent this hand to write a message.” (Daniel 5:18-24, NLT)   His message?  God rules!

Christian, “God Rules!”  Though the Lord calls us to be responsible, proactive, and engaged in the world in which we live, all the while we know that GOD RULES!   

Trust that revelation today.  As you watch election results, continue to know that He holds us in His hands, that our salvation is secure. Whatever happens in the elections today, whatever storm blows through your life, whatever crisis comes in your life – GOD RULES.  Pray for eyes that see what God sees and a mind that thinks as He thinks.  Join that great man of old, Daniel in this worshipful declaration – “Blessed be the name of God, forever and ever. He knows all, does all: He changes the seasons and guides history, He raises up kings and also brings them down.” (Daniel 2:20-21, The Message)  He has charged us with responsibility to pray for His will to be done, to trust Him with unwavering obedience, and to live with a rock-solid assurance of His care.

The word from the Word is the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray –
“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’”
(Matthew 6:8-13, NIV)
____________

Be Thou My Vision

Be Thou my vision
O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me
Save that Thou art
Thou my best thought
By day or by night
Waking or sleeping
Thy presence my light

Be Thou my shield
And my sword for the fight
Be Thou my dignity
Be Thou my might
Thou my soul’s shelter
And Thou my high tow’r
Raise Thou me heav’nward
O pow’r of my pow’r

Riches I heed not
Nor man’s empty praise
Thou mine inheritance
Now and always
Thou and Thou only
Be first in my heart
High King of heaven
My treasure Thou art

High King of heaven
When vict’ry is won
May I reach heaven’s joys
O bright heaven’s Sun
Heart of my own heart
Whatever befall
Still be my vision
O Ruler of all

Eleanor Henrietta Hull | Mary Elizabeth Byrne© Words: Public Domain

Salvation is not found on a ballot

Tomorrow we have the privilege of electing our government here in America. On Wednesday morning about half of the nation will be disappointed and half will be delighted, such is the state of our politics. And some, at both ends of the spectrum, will be outraged by the prospect of being governed by ‘that man’ being defined as the one for whom they did not vote!  Oh yes, elections do have consequences. Policies that have real effect for our lives will come from the councils, Congress, and Executives we elect. That means we should vote thoughtfully, and as Christians, prayerfully.

HOWEVER …  my dear Christian friend, let’s be reminded again that politics are no substitute for the Gospel of Christ. Legislation can never replace the work of the Holy Spirit in the salvation of the world. A leading pastor wrote that “the most important lesson we should learn is that the church must stand against the way politics has become a religion, and religion has become politics.”  Christians are not first Republican or Democrat!  We are foremost of Christ and in Christ.

It is to our shame that we let our convictions about COVID-19, health care, immigration, or gender issues divide us from those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. It has been said in my presence more than once, “He could not possibly be a Christian. Look at who he supports.”  Come now, friend. Is that really true?  Does support for the temporal agenda of some political party actually disqualify a person from knowing and loving Jesus Christ? Since when did how a person views climate change or abortion rights become the litmus test for being ‘in Christ?’  

Yes, it is my conviction that the sacredness of human life and issues of justice flow out of knowing the eternal principles of God’s Word.  But, I also know that neither party is ‘pure’ in the way they reflect my convictions about the Truth. That is why I recognize that my salvation and that of the society in which I live will NEVER come from our legislators or our courts.  When we elevate the political process and misplace our hope in the power of legislation to save and transform the world we have given ourselves to a false god. We give ourselves to an empty hope!  

It is an equal mistake to conclude that Christians should remain outside the political process, having no interest in public policy. Christians, just like everyone else, have ideals that we would like to see reflected in our laws and policies. In our system, we have the privilege of voting our convictions.

But, our highest and most holy calling is not to write better laws but rather to bring salvation to the nations through the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ! Why? Because the Gospel does what no law can ever do. It changes a sinner into a person who knows God and good. The law can only attempt to control behavior with the threat of punishment.  Christ’s love will change behavior by changing the heart and the mind.  We seriously hurt our ability to share the Gospel of Christ if we wrap our politics around Him, implying that one must be _______________ in persuasion in order to be a true Christian.  

Russell Moore reminds Christians that it their calling to “maintain a prophetic clarity that is willing to call to repentance everything that is unjust and anti-Christ, whether that is the abortion culture, the divorce culture, or the racism/nativism culture. We can be the people who tell the truth, whether it helps or hurts our so-called ‘allies’ or our so-called ‘enemies.’” 

A prophet is not a wild-eyed fanatic on the fringe of society. The true prophet is one who comes from their place of prayer and speaks on God’s behalf out of an  intimate relationship with Him.

I will pointedly ask – when you make those ripping statements on Facebook, when you hurl hateful comments at the ‘other’ side, when you seethe with rage about some defeat of legislation or exult with something akin to religious ecstasy over the election of a President – is that the result of time before the Throne of Heaven and a profound experience of the Holy, or is it an expression of the preferences of Self?  

In the coming week, let us not become like Esau who sold his birthright for a bowl of soup! He gave away his spiritual birthright just to fill his belly.  Will Christians surrender the high ground of loving God and knowing Christ Jesus for some temporal advantage? We must not.

Whatever your political registration, may you always remember the higher calling, your true identity as a follower of Jesus. Peter tells us that in Christ “You are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.  “Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy.” Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls.”  (1 Peter 2:9-11)

Go vote!
Pray for these United States to be a home for all people.
Speak wisely, thoughtfully, graciously as you advocate for your politics, never forgetting who you truly are.

_____________

Father, I come to You today asking
that Your kingdom will come and Your will be done –
in my life – so that it may be done in my world.

Temper the passion of my convictions with a new experience of Your holy love.

Grant me wisdom in casting my vote, as these are troubled and confusing times.
As Francis prayed, “Make me an instrument of Your peace!
In Jesus’ Name.  Amen

Advice for when you’re stuck in the mud!

Jay, my son, bought himself a Jeep Wrangler when he was 19.  He took his sister ‘for a drive’ in his new vehicle and somehow decided that it was a good idea to attempt some “off-roading.”  He chose a trail that was not really for large vehicles; Mistake #1. Mistake #2 was over-estimating the ability of the Jeep to navigate a muddy hole. It is not hard for me to imagine Jay’s frustration and desperation as he gunned the engine and just dug in deeper!   The Jeep was soon buried to the axles.

Christine and Jay faced a long walk out of the woods and when they finally showed up that evening long ago, tired and muddy after their misadventure in the woods, I was relieved and aggravated. The next day, with help from a friend who knew the ‘woods’ well, the Jeep was recovered with great effort. That adventure is a memory we share, one of those family stories that we love to laugh about. Thankfully, he knew when to quit and go for help.

We all find ourselves stuck in the mud sometimes, don’t we?  We cruising through life, singing our songs, our self-confidence growing – and then –  we drive into a hole. Those bogs take many forms – sickness, business failure, relationships that get difficult, fear or uncertainty, doubt, temptation …. And we can get stuck!  We can thrash around, trying our best to dig out, only to find that all of that effort has done nothing but make the mudhole deeper.

The wise know when it is time to stop struggling – in a faith-filled way. I am not describing surrendering and resigning to hardship. I am not talking about waving the flag of defeat. There is great wisdom in knowing when to say, “I need help!”  It reveals maturity to know one’s limits and to be able to face personal places of weakness.

I am so thankful for the wonderful people who have come alongside of me over the years when I have become stuck in the mud!  During that time of awful depression in mid-life, there were allies who stood with me, pouring encouragement into my heart, reminding me of God’s goodness, praying with me when my own prayers were silenced.  When Bev, my late wife, was on her long journey with cancer, there were people who braved the sorrow and held us up on that pathway.

Then, too, we must remember to “look up” abandoning self-sufficiency as we seek the wisdom of the Spirit. We can, we must, ask for wisdom, pray for an infusion of courage, and faithfully trust Him to reveal the resources we need to get out of the hole.  That might seem to be oh so easy, but it’s not!  There is that thing called – pride.  Millions stay stuck refusing to admit, “I’m in over my head.”  Who wants to admit he can’t get himself out of the pit? Who wants to ‘let go and let God?’  We say it and it sounds good, but the doing is much, much harder.

Joshua, leading Israel in the conquest of Canaan knew a great victory at Jericho. Not long after his army was routed and defeated at Ai. As I read the prayer he prayed, I see a real man struggling in a mudhole.  “Ah, Sovereign LORD, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan!  O Lord, what can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies?”  (Joshua 7:7) There it is …  Panic! Blame! Loss of perspective!  But, God was faithful, revealed the sin of Achan to Joshua, and led Joshua to a new victory.

A few days after the Exodus, Moses, was stuck between the Red Sea and the army of Egypt.  After he prayed, he called on the people of Israel to “Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again. The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.” (Exodus 14:13-14, NLT)  Just stand still. This was not giving in to fate. This was resting in faith!  His admission that they could do nothing was paired with his faith in God’s promise to show the way. And He did. Only as the faithful and courageous Moses was willing to obediently do what God said, extending his staff over the sea, did the Lord open up the sea. The solution was amazing, unforeseen, and a lesson in greater faith.  

Is the mud flying, the hole getting deeper?
Is your desperation growing?

Give up! Look up!
Ask for help. There’s no shame in that.
And, my Christian friend, place yourself anew in the hands of God. Sometimes He changes our situation, sometimes He changes us.

Here’s a word from the Word. “God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, Even though the earth be removed, And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; ” (Psalm 46:1-2, NKJV)  “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10, NKJV)
______________

Lord I Need You

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)

CCLI License # 810055

The Judgment of God

“COVID is the judgment of God for our sins.”  Some are coming to that conclusion, certain that God is angry with humanity who has rejected Him.  I am not naïve about the spiritual bankruptcy of the world in which I live. Greed, materialism, violence, unending war, exploitation of the weak and the poor, and sexual promiscuity are everywhere.  21st Americans, even many who claim to be “Christian,” have pushed God to the edge of life, ‘out of sight, out of mind.’  It is an insult to the Lord of Glory but to think of God as an exhausted parent who just loses His temper and makes everybody pay is not only wrong, but something like blasphemy.

God is not a vengeful Being who set a virus loose in the world because He is fed up with us! He is not a weak God unwilling to challenge our sins, however.  HE does work to bring us to our senses, to invite us to re-consider our ways, with a corrective LOVE that desires, above all, our reconciliation to Him.  People famously complain about the awfulness of eternal judgment wondering how a good God could possibly send anyone to Hell, or allow anyone to experience misery. The fact is that we (both individually and as a society) choose our Hell!  When people live as He directs, they will find life. When they choose to live for Self, in sin, the seeds of death are sown – physical and spiritual death. God grants us the freedom to choose to align ourselves with His will or to ignore it.

  • In the opening chapters of Genesis God gave a direction gave a simple direction: “Don’t eat or you’ll die.” They ate. They died.
     
  • In Deuteronomy He invited His people to remember to revere Him: “Look at what I’ve done for you today: I’ve placed in front of you Life and Good Death and Evil. And I command you today: Love God, your God. Walk in his ways. Keep his commandments, regulations, and rules so that you will live, really live, live exuberantly, blessed by God, your God, in the land you are about to enter and possess. But I warn you: If you have a change of heart, refuse to listen obediently, and willfully go off to serve and worship other gods, you will most certainly die. You won’t last long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.” (Deuteronomy 30:15-18, The Message)  The long history of His people, cycling through repeated times of obedience and blessing and rejecting Him and suffering the consequence, confirms the truth of His words.
  • Christians, who know the Grace of Jesus Christ, are STILL challenged to obey and find the fullness of life. Jesus said, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:10-11, NIV)  
  • Paul’s inspired words are clear: “Remember that you can’t ignore God and get away with it. You will always reap what you sow! Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful desires will harvest the consequences of decay and death. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So don’t get tired of doing what is good.” (Galatians 6:7)

No one can say with certainty where this plague came from but I can absolutely say that our response to it has been anything but LIFE-GIVING or GOD-HONORING.  We have become less loving, more selfish, and many have used the virus as an excuse to avoid worship and service. Our response has only made a terrible thing worse. While I would be wrong to say God judged the world with a pandemic, I unapologetically state that it is an invitation to this world (and me!) to reconsider the pride that has caused us to reject or marginalize Him. Our illusions of self-sufficiency should be shattered. 

IF we will humble ourselves, He will stand with us, keep our hearts at rest, and grant us His powerful salvation.   Alas, I see little humility – among Christians, in our nation, in our leaders. We have not prayed for His mercy. We have not loved others above ourselves in His Name. Thus, we remain in the grip of fear and/or denial as if those were the only responses possible.

So this morning, may I invite you to humble prayer?
If confession is needed, let’s do it – with the full expectation of His grace to cover our failures and sins and to restore us to our place near His heart. 
Then, let us go on to bold prayers for the release of His power,
first in the invisible realm, praying that He will curb the power of the Evil one who seeks to ‘kill and destroy,’ and,
second in the presentation of ourselves as servant warriors who love others to wholeness- body, soul, and spirit- as we give ourselves in selfless service.

The word from the Word is an excerpt from the prayer that Solomon prayed at the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem. Make it a model for your own prayers today.

“If the skies are shut up and there is no rain because your people have sinned against you,
and then they pray toward this Temple and confess your name and
turn from their sins because you have punished them, then hear from heaven and
forgive the sins of your servants, your people Israel.

Teach them to do what is right, and send rain on your land that you
have given to your people as their special possession.

“If there is a famine in the land, or plagues, or crop disease, or attacks of locusts or caterpillars,
or if your people’s enemies are in the land besieging their towns—whatever the trouble is—
and if your people offer a prayer concerning their troubles or sorrow, raising their hands toward this Temple,
then hear from heaven where you live, and forgive.
Give your people whatever they deserve, for you alone know the human heart.
Then they will fear you and walk in your ways as long as they live in the land you gave to our ancestors.”
 (1 Kings 8:35-40, NLT)

______________

Great Is Thy Faithfulness

(Focus on HIS faithfulness and be called to His side.)

Great is Thy faithfulness
O God my Father
There is no shadow
Of turning with Thee
Thou changest not
Thy compassions they fail not
As Thou hast been
Thou forever wilt be

Great is Thy faithfulness
Great is Thy faithfulness
Morning by morning
New mercies I see
All I have needed
Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness
Lord unto me

Summer and winter
And springtime and harvest
Sun moon and stars
In their courses above
Join with all nature
In manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness
Mercy and love

Pardon for sin
And a peace that endureth
Thy own dear presence
To cheer and to guide
Strength for today
And bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine
With ten thousand besideThomas Obediah Chisholm | William Marion Runyan

© Words: Public Domain