That FIRST step is the BIG one

riverfloodDo ever wake up and see just one thing out in front of you – impossibility?  The difficulties pile up like a wall of boulders. You know you should tackle the task of finding a way but sometimes the temptation comes to say, “I’m done. I quit.” I met a man living on the streets who once had a family, a job, a life; then he ran head-long into some really hard times and he just dropped out. Now he exists, by choice, sadly in the grip of addiction’s haze. That is a radical example.

Most of us will not choose to abandon life, but too many will resign inwardly. There is a better choice which we learn in an ancient story about God’s people. He led them to a place where they had to rely completely on Him.

That is why faith is so very important to me!  I claim no insight into all of the mysteries of life, but I hold onto the promise that I never walk alone, that those things that appear ‘impossible’ to me, are God’s opportunities to shape my life and faith.  So, I pray for courage, for steady faith, for a willingness to let Him lead as He wills.

After Moses died, Joshua prepared to lead God’s people into Canaan, the Promised Land. They were ready to move but there was one BIG problem. Right in their path flowed the Jordan River. To complicate matters, the Bible  says it was ‘at flood stage.‘  Joshua, who was an old man with a lot of experience in ‘walking by faith’ told the people –  “Think of it! The Ark of the Covenant, which belongs to the Lord of the whole earth, will lead you across the Jordan River! Now choose twelve men, one from each tribe. The priests will be carrying the Ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth. When their feet touch the water, the flow of water will be cut off upstream, and the river will pile up there in one heap.” (Joshua 3:11-13, NLT)  It is a great challenge but I want us to take note of one little line … “when their feet touch the water.”   They had to step into the river before the miracle happened!

40 years earlier, their parents had come to a similar moment, faced with the difficulty of possessing the Promised Land. That generation refused God’s invitation to let Him lead and they died as wanders in the wilderness. Joshua knew that lesson, one of the few survivors of that generation. So, he pressed them. What did they do?  They choose to believe God. And sure enough, when they stepped into the water, the river stopped flowing! Joshua summarizes the occasion saying, “This was so that everybody on earth would recognize how strong God’s rescuing hand is and so that you would hold God in solemn reverence always.” (Joshua 4:24, The Message)

Honestly, I wouldn’t have wanted to be the first priest to step into the water. I wonder how far in did he wade before the water receded? Knee deep? Waist deep? Why wouldn’t God have just stopped the river’s flow that morning so they could just walk across? We have no answer for that question but there is a life lesson here for you and me. When God says, “Go,” and it appears that there is no way, it’s time to step into the water! Obedience will open a way forward – from where we are into a new and wonderful place of His purposes.

Is God leading you toward a flooded river place?
Are you following obediently or screaming protests?
Follow faithfully.
Keep your focus on the Lord who goes before you.

When you are on the other side of that ‘impossible’ situation, you will look back with new faith. This word from the Word is a song for the tested, one that anticipates the fulfillment of His promises.
Sing a new song to the Lord, for he has done wonderful deeds.
His right hand has won a mighty victory; his holy arm has shown his saving power!
The Lord has announced his victory and has revealed his righteousness to every nation!
He has remembered his promise to love and be faithful to Israel.
The ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.”
(Psalm 98:1-3, NLT)

___________

To God Be The Glory

To God be the glory great things He has done
So loved He the world that He gave us His Son
Who yielded His life an atonement for sin
And opened the life gate that all may go in

 Praise the Lord praise the Lord
Let the earth hear His voice
Praise the Lord praise the Lord
Let the people rejoice
O come to the Father through Jesus the Son
And give Him the glory great things He has done

 O perfect redemption the purchase of blood
To every believer the promise of God
The vilest offender who truly believes
That moment from Jesus a pardon receives

 Great things He has taught us
Great things He has done
And great our rejoicing through Jesus the Son
But purer and higher and greater will be
Our wonder our transport when Jesus we see

Fanny Jane Crosby © Words: Public Domain

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Kicking and screaming; or Resting and singing?

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For me, there is a real comfort in having a plan. Yes, I like to feel that life is orderly.  I keep a calendar, do many of the same things, at the same time, each day.  But, no matter how carefully the plans are laid, we can be sure that there will be surprises; am I right? It’s time to leave for work and the car won’t start.  The stock market tumbles, taking the value of your 401(k) plan with it.  The doctor tells you that pain in your stomach is cancer. Your position at work is eliminated and you have 90 days to find a new job.

How do you respond to those ‘surprises?’  I confess that my natural way is to become tense, sometimes even angry. When larger things in my life feel out of control I unconsciously start looking for ways to ‘take control’ in other areas. God wants me to choose differently – to trust, to wait, to exercise faith.  He offers us an invitation – “Trust Me!”  Will we?

The lesson that Paul gives us in his letter to the Christians in Philippi is as applicable today as it was when he wrote it.  The theme of the letter is joy, which is even more amazing when we understand that he penned it from a prison in Rome. He was not there not for some crime. He was falsely accused of treason because he preached about Christ, Savior and Lord. Paul had not planned for this, but he trusts God.

So, he tells us – “I want to report to you, friends, that my imprisonment here has had the opposite of its intended effect. Instead of being squelched, the Message has actually prospered. All the soldiers here, and everyone else, too, found out that I’m in jail because of this Messiah. That piqued their curiosity, and now they’ve learned all about him. Not only that, but most of the followers of Jesus here have become far more sure of themselves in the faith than ever, speaking out fearlessly about God, about the Messiah.” (Philippians 1:12-14, The Message)  Before you dismiss his words as just being ‘relentlessly positive,’ read them again. Paul is not jumping for joy that he is suffering in prison, but he is able to look past his troubles and see that God is using what appeared to be a detour to accomplish Kingdom purposes!

Sometimes we toss off the following verse like a ‘happy talk’ meme, but it should be a cornerstone of personal faith.  Paul, inspired by the Spirit, teaches us that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:28-29, NIV)

Our majestic Father, in the mystery of His will, is completely able to use ‘all things’ for His purposes in my life, and yours, too. What is that purpose? To shape us into the likeness of our Savior.   The word says the worst life brings our way – death’s valley- can be a place where we experience God’s peace.  Read it! “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4, NIV)

Frustrations will come today – big and small. If you are living close to Him, if your heart is seeking His kingdom; then remind yourself that it is His day. Thank Him for the promise that He is working in it for your good to accomplish His purpose. When you’re tempted to complain or curse, to desperately attempt to hang onto control of your life, look up and pray: “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10, NIV) As Christ Jesus is allowed to be Lord of this day, you will not only know greater peace, you will also allow a greater holiness to shine through.

The word from the Word is a song from the Psalms. Do not race through it. Meditate, prayerfully, on each line – seeing the Providence and Power of the Lord’s ways.

“Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn,
the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when men succeed in their ways,
when they carry out their wicked schemes.”
(Psalm 37:1-7, NIV)

“The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord;
he is their stronghold in time of trouble.
The Lord helps them and delivers them;
he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
because they take refuge in him.” (Psalm 37:39-40, NIV)

Trust! Delight! Commit! Be Still!

_________________

Forever Reign

(worship along at this link)

You are good You are good
When there’s nothing good in me
You are love You are love
On display for all to see
You are light You are light
When the darkness closes in
You are hope You are hope
You have covered all my sin

 You are peace You are peace
When my fear is crippling
You are true You are true
Even in my wandering
You are joy You are joy
You’re the reason that I sing
You are life You are life
In You death has lost its sting

(Oh) I’m running to Your arms
I’m running to Your arms
The riches of Your love will always be enough
Nothing compares to Your embrace
Light of the world forever reign

 You are more You are more
Than my words will ever say
You are Lord You are Lord
All creation will proclaim
You are here You are here
In Your presence I’m made whole
You are God You are God
Of all else I’m letting go

 My heart will sing no other Name
Jesus Jesus

 Jason Ingram | Reuben Morgan © 2009 Hillsong Music Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) So Essential Tunes (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)

CCLI License # 810055

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Passionate? About What?

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My blood pressure rose dangerously while I cheered my beloved Patriots in the SuperBowl game last night. I yelled encouragement at the TV, whooped when they succeeded, and growled when they stumbled. But, in the end, even this fan knows ‘it’s just a game.’ I have little interest in the way that the Philly Eagles play because I have invested no time in understanding the team, their coach, or their players. But I will bend your ear about the amazing coach of the Patriots, the style of our (note the personal ownership) quarterback.  Thus, there was a personal sense of loss when my team lost last night.

Why do some of us care so much for our team?

The psychology behind it is interesting, having to do with identity and bonding.  We develop an identity around a team, wearing the logo, bantering with friends about them, until we feel like we are part of it. That makes us defensive and protective.  Then, too, we (yes, adult men do this!) somehow become convinced that we know the players. We talk about their strengths and weaknesses as if they are personal friends. We might even refer to them by first name, like they were a member of our family! This bond appears to silly to those outside of the sport, who find our fanatical devotion inscrutable.

There is something to be learned from the passionate love of sport in America.
What if Christians chose to identify themselves publicly with Jesus, talking about Him, celebrating the wins of His team (the Church) and cheering her successes?

What if we felt it personally when Christians (who are part of our team) fell on hard times or did not participate fully in life for Christ’s cause?
What if we strategized and invested ourselves deeply in making Christ and His kingdom known in all the earth?
What if we wore the cross, not as a proclamation of superiority, but as a mark of devotion?
What if we were so bonded with Jesus that we spoke of Him like we might speak of our favorite athlete?

Yes, I know the analogy fails at some point, but there are certainly things to be learned, aren’t there?

Jesus invites us to love Him. In fact, a fanatical (read, passionate) love is a foundation of the life that truly pleases the Lord. When queried about this, hear is what Jesus said. “The first in importance is, ‘Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these.” The religion scholar said, “A wonderful answer, Teacher! So lucid and accurate—that God is one and there is no other. And loving him with all passion and intelligence and energy, and loving others as well as you love yourself. Why, that’s better than all offerings and sacrifices put together!”  (Mark 12:29-34, The Message)

Are you just a disinterested ‘casual’ Christian?
Or, are you a passionate disciple, a lover of Christ, who desires to see others love Him, too?

Here is a word from the Word. As you meditate on these words of Jesus, I pray that He will become precious to you, awakening a deep devotion. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field. “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!” (Matthew 13:44-46, NLT)

__________

 Abba, on this new day,
I offer myself to You,
Desiring to serve You better,
to know You more,
To be filled with a holy passion for
You and Your work in this world.

May all other loves become secondary.
Call me, Spirit of God, to You.
Make eternity’s joys my present hope.
In Jesus’ holy Name. Amen

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Heartbreak

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When she sat down, her posture spoke sadness. As I looked in her face, I saw it – her heart was broken.  A little boy tried hard to conceal his emotions, but his quivering lip betrayed him. Yes, he was sad. I see a lot of sorrow because Pastors live around the raw edge of human experience. In many conversations it is not long before I hear about rejection, disappointment, sorrow, self-doubt, or loss.  I understand, oh so personally, the pain of heartbreak. How would I have survived the depths of my sorrow without those who would listen, who would let my words tumble out with all the messy emotions that go along with it, without faith in the One who holds me in His hands?

When heartbreak comes we really do not want explanations, do we? We surely do not want platitudes. We need true compassion, which is more than just empathy. Compassion goes way beyond empathy to not only engage with the other person’s emotion but to enter into their experience and to offer to help appropriately. When Jesus arrived in Bethany after the death of his friend, Lazarus, he did not just empathize with his sisters who were crushed with sorrow. He moved to help – assuring them of the “Resurrection and the Life” that were found in Him. And, then he went to the grave where Lazarus was restored to life. It is a dramatic example but holds a real lesson for us in compassion.  Go, stand with the heartbroken. Don’t just call or send a card. Be present, let your prayers be heard. Be wise and sensitive.

We need to call to mind, with real intention, the fact that God cares and He understands even that sorrow that defies definition with words! He does not ask us to ignore your pain, nor does He try to cheer us with jokes or slogans like “The sun will shine again tomorrow!” He is our Comforter, One who listens when we cry and holds us together with hope. And never forget – “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” (Psalm 34:18, NLT)

If you are gripped by sorrow – take care! A broken heart leaves us vulnerable to many temptations.  In my grief after Bev died, I was tempted to try to forget my pain by eating too much, spending too much, watching television mindlessly. Know this, too. Heartbreak and bitterness are next door neighbors! When our heart is full of grief we may find the slightest irritation turning into anger, and then quickly becoming rage. Don’t let yourself go there! In times of disappointment with people and situations, the Word urges us to something other than licking our wounds. God tells us to be proactive. “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32, NLT)

Heartbreak isn’t always visited upon us. Sometimes we bring it on ourselves, which deepens the pain as we feel both sorrow and guilt. David’s heart was broken by his own faithlessness. When his sins of adultery and murder were uncovered by Nathan, the prophet, the king’s heart was crushed. His prayer- of understanding, of confession, of heartbreak – is one of the most beautiful passages in all of the Bible. The 51st Psalm is raw, emotional, and full of hope.

Read these words from the Word and make them your prayer of renewal.

“God, make a fresh start in me,
shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.
Don’t throw me out with the trash, or fail to breathe holiness in me.
Bring me back from gray exile, put a fresh wind in my sails! …
I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered.
Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.”
(Psalm 51:9-12, 17, The Message)
_________

Healer Of Broken Hearts

(listen to this old song at this link)

He’s the healer of broken hearts
He’ll mend your shattered dreams
He’ll pick up the threads
Of your broken life
And weave them together again
To your soul He’ll bring peace and joy
A Friend in need He’ll He’ll be
The Healer of broken hearts\
Is Jesus of Galilee 

Is your life full of heartaches and sadness
Are your dreams all shattered and torn
There is One who through mercy and suff’ring
For you ev’ry sorrow has borne 

Do the threads of your life seem so tangled
That you wish you had never been born
There is One who is willing to help you
He knows ev’ry sorrow you’ve borne

Georgia Stiffler © 1945. Renewed 1972

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At the mountain’s peak

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There is something special about standing on a high point, looking out over the world.  Several years ago I stood on Pike’s Peak which is 14,110 feet above sea level!  I understood the song America, the Beautiful, the lyrics of which were inspired in Katherine Lee Bates after she climbed that mountain and looked west to more peaks and east to the great plains. She then wrote “O beautiful for spacious skies, For amber waves of grain, For purple mountain majesties Above the fruited plain!”  When I lived in Western Massachusetts there was a rocky bluff north of town called Monument Mountain, really more of hill, but the climb to the top allowed a person to take in the beauty of the Berkshires. Whether it is Everest, Pikes, or Monument – enjoying the view requires an effort. There is a climb involved.

Life brings us valleys and mountains. When we are led by the Spirit, we can be certain that He has wonders to show us, but getting to the heights demands something of us. Do you want to know the wonder of the mountain top experience? Do you want to find the perspective on life that is unique to standing on in a high place, looking back, gazing forward – seeing the majesty of the Lord?  In those places, we can find God revealed as we have not known Him before. We can see things in ourselves that were previously hidden.  But, will we make the climb? The shadow of the mountain, seen from the valley below, can be intimidating!

The Lord summoned Moses to a mountain because He had a revelation waiting for him. “Moses climbed up the mountain, and the cloud covered it. And the glory of the Lord settled down on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days. On the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from inside the cloud. To the Israelites at the foot of the mountain, the glory of the Lord appeared at the summit like a consuming fire. Then Moses disappeared into the cloud as he climbed higher up the mountain. He remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights.” (Exodus 24:15-18, NLT) On Mt. Sinai, in God’s Presence, Moses received the Law, the plan for the Tabernacle which was the center of Israel’s worship:  revelations great and wonderful. He was a changed man after that ascent.

John, too, had a revelation in a vision from a mountain top! “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.” (Revelation 21:10-11, NIV) From the height of his visionary mountain, John saw the strange and wonderful things that he wrote down for us in the book of the Revelation. And for centuries Christians have read those words and fond hope, the assurance that “God wins!” – the promise of God’s victory over sin and suffering.

In the classic, Pilgrim’s Progress, an allegory about our journey to the Celestial City, John Bunyan wrote of the Delectable Mountains that afford the pilgrims, Christian and Hopeful, a view of their final destination. His insight is clear and instructs us well. From the heights of the mountains we have to climb along the way, we catch glimpses of God’s glory that draw us along.

Are you living in the shadows of the valley right now?
Does some peak stand ahead of you, daring you to scale its heights?
Or are you in the climb, feeling exhausted; seeing only more difficulty as you look ahead?

Keep climbing!  God gives strength to those who call on Him. Walk it out, faithful just for today, if that’s all you can do.  There will be revelation waiting at the summit!

Here’s  a word from the Word. It’s a promise for those climbing life’s mountains.
“A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.
I look up to the mountains— does my help come from there?
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!”
(Psalm 121:1-2, NLT)

“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us
an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen,
but on what is unseen.
For what is seen is temporary,
but what is unseen is eternal.”
(2 Corinthians 4:17-18, NIV)

_______________

 Abba, I thank you for the mountain top experiences
That reveal new things to me.
As I live in the shadow of the mountain, Lord,
It is sometimes overwhelming to think of the climb
That is ahead.
Steady me.  Teach me to walk with You,
Letting you set the pace, trusting in You
For the strength I need for the journey.

 Jesus, grace me with patience and endurance.
Spirit of God, sing the song of the pilgrim to me
Oh lead me to Your holy place. Amen

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The Good Misery of a Guilty Conscience

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After feeling the sting of guilt, becoming aware of failure, I prayed – “Father, thank you for making me miserable. You have preserved my life with your convicting Presence.” Yes, it may seem strange to thank God for a guilty conscience. However, those feelings of shame and guilt over thoughts, words, or actions that are unworthy of a follower of Christ are His way of correcting us, leading us to the place of His blessing and favor.

David, Israel’s king and poet, a man who loved God and yet made some terribly sinful choices describes the misery of guilt. “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.” (Psalm 32:3-4)

Nothing hurts like a guilty conscience.  Temptation comes and presents us with a decision – to choose to resist or to do what ‘feels good’ in the moment.  If we decide to let those cruel words batter another, if we choose to lie, if we refuse the truth – we should be thankful when the sword of the Spirit slashes our conscience.

Have you ever experienced the misery of guilt? Guilt can keep us awake all night. It can make a delicious meal tasteless. It can turn a song into sound that only aggravates us like the scraping of fingernails on a chalkboard. Remember – all guilt is not bad.

Paul wrote a hard letter of correction to the Christians of Corinth. Apparently it caused many to feel real sorrow. Note what he says – “For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10, NLT) He took no pleasure in his rebuke telling them that he sent the letter while shedding ‘many tears.’ But, he hoped for a response of change, and it happened!

There is false guilt. Our conscience can be damaged, made too sensitive by constant criticism or scarred into uselessness by constant abuse. But, if our conscience is functioning in a healthy way, responsive to the Holy Spirit of God, informed by the truth, we should thank the Lord for the bone-deep ache that comes when we cross the line from right to wrong.

That ache that David felt after his sin was called out by Nathan, the preacher, was healed. How?  He owned his failure and changed his ways.  (You can read his prayer in Psalm 51) Never underestimate the joy that can be discovered in confession! “Then I let it all out; I said, “I’ll make a clean breast of my failures to God.” Suddenly the pressure was gone— my guilt dissolved, my sin disappeared. These things add up. Every one of us needs to pray; when all hell breaks loose and the dam bursts we’ll be on high ground, untouched.” (Psalm 32:5-6, The Message) Confession liberating,  letting us experience God’s forgiveness. Often sincere confession will also win the forgiveness of another person, even those we have wronged in the most serious way.

The next step to healing is not to play the victim or offer up excuses. God looks for genuine repentance. Many people want release from guilt. Many even regret what they have done because of the negative consequences, but they feel little need to change their ways!

The ancient people of God disobeyed the Lord confessed, but then would not turn to follow Him! They only wanted relief. They had no hunger to be holy. They would not turn around to pursue God. Will you?  Joel tells us about real confession and repentance that bring the restoration of our souls. “Come, spend the night in sackcloth, you who minister before my God; … (Joel 1:13, NIV) “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.” (Joel 2:12-13, NIV)

Are you alienated from the Lord who gives you peace? Is guilt keeping your prayer silent, robbing you of worship, making you miserable?  Thank God for the gift and then with humility of heart, tell Him what you have done and ask Him for strength to live as He desires.  He will abundantly pardon.

Here is the word from the Word.  “Where is another God like you, who pardons the guilt of the remnant, overlooking the sins of his special people? You will not stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing unfailing love. Once again you will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean! You will show us your faithfulness and unfailing love as you promised to our ancestors Abraham and Jacob long ago.” (Micah 7:18-20, NLT)

__________________________

Search Me O God (Cleanse Me)

Search me O God and know my heart today
Try me O Savior know my thoughts I pray
See if there be some wicked way in me
Cleanse me from every sin and set me free

 I praise You Lord for cleansing me from sin
Fulfill Thy Word and make me pure within
Fill me with fire where once I burned with shame
Grant my desire to magnify Your Name

Lord take my life and make it wholly Thine
Fill all my heart with Your great love divine
Take all my will my passion self and pride
I now surrender Lord in me abide

 Edwin Orr © Words: Public Domain

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Outrage and Insult

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A friend posted a remark online reflecting his sense of outrage over an issue that Christians have debated for centuries. It is a real problem and thoughtful people who want to serve the Lord best will wrestle with it. And, honest and good people will arrive at very different conclusions. When I suggested in a follow-up post that we might do better trying to encourage dialogue than expressing our outrage, several other people joined the ‘discussion.’ My appeal for conversation was quickly buried by angry words and even more outrage.

Have you fallen into that trap, too?  Social media encourages us to ‘say’ things and in ways that we likely would not say in a face to face conversation.  But, there is another issue here, too. We are an angry culture, deeply divided, and quick to dig in to defend positions- big and small. Christians should be different.

Let me point us again to God’s wisdom.  The Proverbs teach us that A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly. The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.” (Proverbs 15:1-3, NIV)  It is worth noting that final phrase is what gives us reason to be gentle people – God knows what is going on! My appeal is not that we become people without convictions or that we fail to stand up for what is right.  What we need is less emotion, less outrage, and more willingness to hear, to reflect, before we respond.

I was once one of those Christians who was quick to throw a verbal grenade, to make sweeping generalizations about others based on limited knowledge. “All those … “ was the introduction to a great deal of foolishness from my lips! That is a source of real regret.

Do I still find myself uncomfortable by the positions taken by others? I do.
When those ideas threaten a cherished value or my convictions do I grow defensive? I do.
Do I sometimes react before I think or listen?  I do.

But, I constantly remind myself that people and relationships are important.  My own life is a complex design of values and ideals that defy easy labels. Too many conversations I would love to have are shut down because I fail to meet some test in the eyes of another which, to them, means I must surely be an opinionated, bigoted, self-righteous old man who is incapable of understanding.

James was the first pastor of the church in Jerusalem, a church torn by debate over the proper way to regard the Jewish traditions from which nearly all the first generation of Christians came. As more Gentiles came to faith, the debates over circumcision, kosher diets, Sabbath-keeping, and eating food that had been prepared in temples of idols became sharply divisive!  That wise pastor taught this – “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (James 1:19-20, NIV)

Whatever ‘side’ you are on, whatever cause you advocate, whether you are young or old, male or female, whatever your political convictions – let us commit to put Christ first and to learn from Him. He calls us to peace. We do not have to affirm every position or idea of another to practice acceptance of the person.

Here is a word from the Word. May the Lord make us truly wise.
Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding,
for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold.
She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor.
Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who embrace her;
those who lay hold of her will be blessed.”
(Proverbs 3:13-18, NIV)

____________

Immortal Invisible God Only Wise

Immortal invisible God only wise
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes
Most blessed most glorious the Ancient of Days
Almighty victorious Thy great name we praise

 Unresting unhasting and silent as light
nor wanting nor wasting Thou rulest in might
Thy justice like mountains high soaring above
Thy clouds which are fountains of goodness and love

 Thou reignest in glory Thou dwellest in light
Thine angels adore Thee all veiling their sight
All laud we would render O help us to see
‘Tis only the splendor of light hideth Thee

© Words: Public Domain

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A Quest for adventure?

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Do you love an adventure?  Several years ago,  Bev and I flew to California and helped our kids move back to the East Coast.  We drove a rental truck loaded with household stuff through the deserts of Nevada and Utah,  over the majestic Rocky Mountains of Colorado, across the flat plains of the Midwest.  We ate in little local restaurants, stopped when we wanted, and generally enjoyed the days. It was an adventure.  Last week I “traveled” back to Israel while reading the posts and pictures of another couple making the trip. 20 years ago, Bev and I stood in some of those same places, another of our unforgettable adventures.

This Monday morning are you ready to take an adventure?  Ok, I think some of you are laughing, right? “Sure, Jerry,” said with sarcasm, “because it is Monday and I’m off to work. There is no time for adventure.” Think again!  Not all adventures take us across the country or to some foreign location.

God, the Holy Spirit, has plans for you today.  Paul says “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.”  2 Corinthians 2:14

Don’t dismiss the idea. Open your heart to Him. Invite the Spirit to create moments of unexpected opportunities for spiritual adventures today. Perhaps there is a conversation waiting to happen that could help someone change course in life. Perhaps there is a moment with one of your children when you will find her heart open to you.

Our highest calling and the place of our most lasting contribution to this world is where God and we walk together, discovering His plans. Make life a quest for the holy! Instead of looking for grand moments prayerfully look for God’s guidance in the ordinary and mundane. As much as I treasure the memories of Israel and that cross country drive, the real life I enjoyed with my sweetheart was the adventure of making a life together, watching four wonderful kids grow into adulthood, sharing the calling of leading a local church, seeing God lead and provide day after day.

Here is a word from the Word. Own it! “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble.” (Proverbs 4:18-19, NIV)

__________

Abba, raise my eyes,
Enlarge my vision!
Replace groaning with laughter,
Duty with delight.

In the ordinary give me
An awareness of Your holy Presence.

May I be wise enough
To seize every opportunity
To love, to laugh, to worship;
Yes, to live to the full.

That You, Jesus, may be
Honored in my thoughts, words, and actions.

 Amen

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Words that are like rain on dry soil

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Valued? Rejected?

Yesterday, mid-afternoon, my phone notified me of a message. Opening it, I read a paragraph from someone commenting about how this daily blog was useful in her efforts to share the Christian life with her neighbors. Her note touched my heart because it was affirming, encouraging. Words like that are like rain, bringing fresh life and renewed commitment.  I have my critics, too. Not too long ago, a man pointed out what he thought was wrong in the work I do and added dire predictions of failure before walking out of my life. Even the memory of that conversation is painful!

Is it natural to desire affirmation? I think so.
Watch a toddler respond to her parents smiles and claps.
Observe a child around the age of 8 trying to fit into his class, carefully noting the style of the kid that everybody ‘loves.’
You and I do on our social media, don’t we? Who posts a picture of themselves straight of bed, with hair a mess, eyes still sleepy, in old ragged pajamas?  You are smiling because you know it’s true.

We screen our image on Facebook putting up pictures of ourselves surrounded by smiling faces, when we are looking our best. Is that pride? In a way it is, but it also is just how we have learned to look for the affirmation of others.  But it is a dangerous thing to validate ourselves based on reactions, to believe ourselves a person of value only when we are getting high grades, applause, or encouraging notes via Messenger! That can take us down a road where we become actors, doing things that are not authentic, or even self-destructive in desperate pleas for love.  And you know, as I do, that there will always be someone who does what we do better, someone who appears to enjoy more friends, someone who is more popular.

In our Christian experience, our primary approval comes not from others, but from God.
Paul wrote to his critics in the church of Corinth, people he had brought to Christ who were being bamboozled by preachers who were smooth talkers with big stories. The apostle reminds those people that he is steadied by something other than their opinion of him. “Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (2 Corinthians 3:1-3, NIV)  He sees the work that God has done and it is the only letter of reference he needs!

 Was Paul being arrogant? Not at all. Self-affirmation, born of our own pride or arrogance blinds us to the truth about ourselves and life. That is not what he is doing. He knows that he gave his best to them, knows that Christ worked through him, and the results speak for themselves about the value of his work. Further on in his letter, chapter 4, Paul states that he refuses to twist God’s Word to serve his own purposes, that he will not deceive or manipulate just to gain approval.  Then, he writes these amazing words that should steady us all as we serve God. “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7, NIV) What freedom is found in knowing that God, the Holy Spirit, lives in us – weak and ordinary as we might be – and we become displays of His glory!

In another passage he reflects on his painful memories and his present peace, one forgiven by grace, the other empowered by the Spirit. “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” (1 Corinthians 15:9-10, NIV)

Has rejection hurt you?
Are you trying to erase the effect of a parent’s hurtful words spoken decades ago?
Are you trying to overcome that terrible pain that came when you were dismissed, belittled, or ignored?

Know this – The One who knows you best, loves you most!  There is forgiveness for your failures, there is strength for this day, and there is the promise of a reward that will come from the One who sees you all the way to your heart, who sets every action in the context of your entire life. Amazing, isn’t that?

Here is the word from the Word. Jesus says,  “I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love. “I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature.” (John 15:9-11, The Message)  Who needs more affirmation than that?

________________________

How He Loves

(worship at this link)

He is jealous for me loves like a hurricane
I am a tree bending beneath
The weight of His wind and mercy
When all of a sudden I am unaware of
These afflictions eclipsed by glory
I realize just how beautiful You are
And how great Your affections are for me

Oh how He loves us so
Oh how He loves us
How He loves us so

(Yeah) He loves us
Oh how He loves us
Oh how He loves us
Oh how He loves

We are His portion and He is our prize
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes
If grace is an ocean we’re all sinking
So Heaven meets earth
Like a sloppy wet kiss
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets
When I think about the way that

(Yeah) He loves us
Oh how He loves us
Oh how He loves us
Oh how He loves

John Mark McMillan© 2005 Integrity’s Hosanna! Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing (Integrity Music [DC Cook]))

CCLI License # 810055

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Bar Code Christianity

wordswag_1516881867933Remember the supermarket checkout before the bar code scanner? Each item was marked with a price and the checker had to punch it into the cash register. Yep, I really can remember those days. Now, the item is passed in front of the reader that ‘sees’ a little box with lines in it and instantly enters the price into the computer. The scanner cannot tell if it is pricing a can of peas or a box of Cheerios™ because it can only detect and decode a symbol inscrutable to our eyes.

In his book, The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard observes a development in Evangelical Christianity that he labels as “barcode religion.”  There is an event in which a “decision for Christ” is made. And, at that moment, God places a kind of spiritual ‘bar code’ on the individual marking him as destined for Heaven, all sins – past, present, and future – erased by Christ’s grace.  So, you are thinking, isn’t that true?  Well it is- but it is but  half of the truth. Salvation is a gift of God, provided by His grace freely, through Christ. But, to imply that once you have the barcode that all is said and done is a fallacy. Salvation is to be followed by discipleship.

It is a travesty to believe that such a profound inner change as being reconciled to God would not be followed by an observable change in values and behaviors, yet that is too often exactly the case! We have emphasized God’s grace and forgiveness of sin and left out the accompanying transformation called ‘sanctification.’ (becoming a person who is like Christ)  As long as you got the “bar code” it’s all good;  entrance to heaven assured. No worries needed about whether or not day to day behavior bears any resemblance to the Christian life that is described in Scripture. Concerned that we would preach a ‘works religion’ we have neglected to properly teach what it means to be a disciple.

The unintended result is to devalue the Cross of Christ by making what He did there into an eternal life insurance policy. In fact, what Jesus has done for us is to make a whole new life possible by announcing the arrival of God’s rule and to commission to be people of the Kingdom of God. His command that we ‘go into all the world and preach the Gospel,’ is not just about collecting ‘decisions to believe.’  It is about leading people to Him, so that they will be reconciled to God, filled with the Spirit, and transformed day by day into glorious being of love and holiness who are destined for heaven.

I wonder if Paul’s lament about “Christians” of the church in Philippi, is too often true of those who claim to know Jesus in 2018?  “For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth. But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior.” (Philippians 3:18-20, NLT)

The Spirit-filled Christian life begins with a grace awakening and is possible only to those who maintain an intimate connection with Christ Jesus, one He described as ‘Vine and branch,’  impossible apart from Him. The life of the disciple is one of growth, one that is empowered, one that is changed and she is a change agent in the world where she lives.

What a privilege to become a partner with God in making His rule known, in facing down oppression, in taking on prejudice,  living in a meaningful and purposeful way that is demonstrably different from those who do not yet know Jesus.  Are you living a ‘bar code’ kind of Christianity, content with the promise of grace but unconcerned with becoming His disciple?  Know that there is more, so much more, to faith.

The word from the Word challenges us to see the whole Truth.  The Word says that when Jesus is received by faith and the Spirit takes up residence in us, we “recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18, The Message)

Let’s engage with Him and as He lives in us, we will make His life known, changing our family and home, our place of work, yes – the world in which we live.

________________

Beautiful Things
(worship along at this link)

All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change
At all

All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come up from this ground
At all

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found
In You

You make me new You are making me new
You make me new You are making me new

Lisa Gungor | Michael Gungor © 2009 worshiptogether.com songs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

 

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