Living to your God-given Potential

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On that Sunday morning in 1977 when Bev and I dedicated our first-born son to the Lord, I sang to him: “You are a promise, You are a possibility… you are a great big bundle of potentiality.”  (Bill Gaither)  My head was full of questions that day 4 decades ago. What would he become? What choices would be made to shape him? How would he use the gift of life? Would he allow God, the Holy Spirit, to develop his abilities and choose a path that would honor the God who made Him?  (I am proud of the man he is today, by the way!)

My own father spoke often to me as I grew up about the importance of our choices and God’s gifts, about possibilities and promise – about becoming a person who contributes to the world and remembers the higher purposes of the Lord.

When the Spirit calls you into the family of God, when you are reconciled to your Father and made alive through Christ Jesus, there are expectations of you, too. God sees each one of us as a ‘big bundle of potentiality!’  Yes, there is a whole new way of life opened to us when the Spirit of God takes residence in us, as we are ‘born again’ becoming children of God.

Look at this passage that speaks of the new things that are possible in us and through us. “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (Romans 8:14-17, NIV)

  • You have an identity!  Don’t be confused about who you are, where you belong. You are God’s own child. My own children clearly knew who they were. They were connected to a family, that was part of a larger family. From the stories they heard they learned about who they were, where they came from, and how to live.  As God’s child, you too, have an identity. You are shown, in Christ Jesus, how to live.
  • You enjoy access and closeness to Him! I hope that despite my imperfections as a father, that my children never needed to wonder if they were loved. I tried to be a Dad who was available to them, interested in who they were, ready to hear their stories and help them work through their struggles. Some of my most precious memories of fathering are formed around times when I was able to encourage, pray, and help them made the difficult choices that helped them to grow on.  Paul reminds us that we are not slaves of fear, as we once were. We are God’s kids who come eagerly to Him, “Abba.”  That is a word of deep respect and personal intimacy, a way of saying “My Father!”

  • You have an inheritance.  For us inheritance is about something received after death, in the settlement of an estate. That is not what Paul is writing about in this passage. The declaration of paternity in that time made a son one who shared in the family’s wealth, though it was not yet in his control. As heirs of God, we are given riches (please think bigger thoughts than money!) so that we can live without a sense of lack. We live with the knowledge that He has made us to share His love and life, not as recipients of charity but with full rights as children!  And as we stand with our co-heir Christ Jesus, remaining faithful in times of suffering, there is an unwavering assurance that we will ultimately enjoy the glorious existence that is prepared for us in the Father’s house.

Are you living in a way that invites the Spirit to lead you to discover the full expectation of Your Father?

Meditate on this word from the Word. Here the Spirit reminds that the amazingly wonderful truths about our adoption into God’s family are fully declared, but as yet, not fully realized. Pray for faith to accept what He has said, so that you will live to fully inherit His promise. “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will give us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, everything on earth was subjected to God’s curse.

All creation anticipates the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And even we Christians, although we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, also groan to be released from pain and suffering. We, too, wait anxiously for that day when God will give us our full rights as his children, including the new bodies he has promised us.” (Romans 8:18-23, NLT)

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No Longer Slaves

(worship at this link)

 You unravel me with a melody
You surround me with a song
Of deliverance from my enemies
Till all my fears are gone

I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God
I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God

 From my Mother’s womb
You have chosen me
Love has called my name
I’ve been born again into Your family
Your blood flows through my veins

 You split the sea so I could walk right through it
My fears were drowned in perfect love
You rescued me so I could stand and sing
I am a child of God

 Brian Johnson | Joel Case | Jonathan David Helser © 2014 Bethel Music Publishing

CCLI License # 810055

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Feeling guilty, like a convict?

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Sleep eluded me, my mind a whirl of thoughts of regret and guilt. I lay there wondering, “Why did I say that, act in that way?” You probably know that middle of the night awareness of failure, too. The guilt can serve a good purpose in me, bringing me to change, causing me to open my heart to God and, as necessary, to go and make things right.

There is a toxic response to the Spirit’s conviction that calls us to repentance; a lie which we must not allow to find a settled place in our minds. It’s called – condemnation! That is when we begin to believe that deception that insists we are too bad, too far gone, beyond the love and mercy of God.

Paul, after writing at length about how God sets us right with Himself through Christ Jesus, breaks out with a great declaration.  Take note of the transitory word, “therefore.”  The conclusion that we are about to read does not flow from human effort, from firm resolve, or from stellar religiosity! The freedom we can experience is provided solely by faith through Jesus.  Look at it. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2, NIV)  No condemnation!

 Condemnation is a translation of a compound NT Greek word that literally means to ‘judge down.’ It was used of a court’s determination of guilt and subsequent sentence under law. The judge determined guilt, the matter settled. The offender then lived with that conviction, paid the penalty, carrying the stigma of that condemnation.

To this day, to be convicted of a felony (a crime more serious than a misdemeanor) is an awful thing with consequences extending the rest of life. That criminal conviction becomes a part of personal history, known to banks, employers, courts, and anyone who does a background check. Many jobs are closed to convicted felons, even long after they have served their time. Depending on the state in which they reside many rights are lost to felons.

Under God’s Law, we are judged, convicted sin, one verse reminding us that we are ‘by nature objects of wrath.’ It is a desperate situation. There is condemnation, a fearful expectation of eternal separation from God and good. If you don’t like that statement, your issue is not with me but with the Lord Himself.

There is a brilliant phrase that shines into that dark place of hopelessness. “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:4-6, NKJV)

A convicted felon may be freed from the life-long stigma of his crime with a pardon. Certain of our elected executives are invested with the power, by law, to grant a pardon, erasing the conviction. There is no more condemnation! That is what our Father in Heaven did for us in Christ Jesus. The sin that condemned us, the judgment that destined us for destruction, the guilt that dogged us in the night – these are no longer necessary because we are, through Him, justified and therefore no longer condemned!

 When guilt that calls for repentance morphs into condemnation that insists you are beyond the mercy of God, refuse it standing on the truth. No more guilty condemnation for you, for me. Why? We are pardoned, our conviction under the Law erased by Jesus.

Here is a word from the Word.  Read it prayerfully, asking that the Spirit will settle it into your mind and heart.
 “Yes, Adam’s one sin brought condemnation upon everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness makes all people right in God’s sight and gives them life. Because one person disobeyed God, many people became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many people will be made right in God’s sight. God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful kindness became more abundant. So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful kindness rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:18-21, NLT)

Now, because of Him, no condemnation.

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And Can It Be

(the grand hymn of justification)

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood
Died He for me who caused His pain
For me who Him to death pursued
Amazing love how can it be
That Thou my God shouldst die for me

He left His Father’s throne above
So free so infinite His grace
Emptied Himself of all but love
And bled for Adam’s helpless race
‘Tis mercy all immense and free
For O my God it found out me 

Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night\
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray
I woke the dungeon flamed with light
My chains fell off my heart was free
I rose went forth and followed Thee

Amazing love how can it be
That Thou my God shouldst die for me

 No condemnation now I dread
Jesus and all in Him is mine
Alive in Him my living Head
And clothed in righteousness divine
Bold I approach th’eternal throne
And claim the crown through Christ my own
Amazing love how can it be
That Thou my God shouldst die for me

 Amazing love how can it be
That Thou my God shouldst die for me

Charles Wesley © Words: Public Domain

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The not so fuzzy and warm side of Advent

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(Don’t miss the hymn at the close of this meditation!)

My adult children have made their travels plans. My house is decorated with the brightly lit tree in the living room and the various Christmas trinkets scattered around. It is a “most wonderful time of the year.”  Next Sunday we will begin the season of Advent and remember the amazing, world changing Truth that God became flesh, a baby born to Mary, and we will know the joy of Christmas.

The Gospels tell us of an apocalyptic preacher who is very much a part of the Advent (From Latin, the word means “He is coming”) message. His message was anything but comforting!  He looked beyond the role of Jesus as Savior to remind us that He is also the Judge. “In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is nearI baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:11-12, NIV)

John did not sing “Away in a manger” while remembering a baby surrounded by a holy glow, looking around at shepherds with a gentle smile. He saw a Man, full of the Spirit, come to shake things up, to call the world to repentance, and to renew the Kingdom reign of God among men.

Do you remember this part of Christmas? As much as we love to remember the Babe sent to save us from our sins, the greater message of Advent is that the Lord will return with justice.

On the back wall of the sanctuary in the church I am privileged to serve as pastor, there are large wooden letters that announce – MARANATHA! I wonder if even 1 in 10 of the congregants have a clue to the meaning of that word?  It is an Aramaic word, found only once in the New Testament, in Paul’s writings to the Corinthians. In most modern translations the word is translated for understanding, but the KJV retains the ancient phrase. “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha.” (1 Corinthians 16:22, KJV)   Maranatha means “Our Lord comes.

What a change has come over the Church since that building was built as a place of worship. Those who chose to put that word across that wall in 1979, had an awareness of the promise of the Second Coming. The hope of a New World, set right by the Holy King of Glory, gripped us with fervor, moved us to sacrifice, and compelled us to share the Good News of the Savior who sets those who trust in Him right with God, taking away all fear of judgment because He reconciles us to the Father.

Let’s return Maranatha to a place in our minds this Advent season. Even as we are enthralled with the song of the angels –“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14, NIV), we must remember the cry of the forerunner of Jesus who spoke of the Righteous Judge that calls all of us to repentance, renewal, and holiness. His message is not so warm and fuzzy, but it is the rest of the Story.

Our word from the Word today encourages us with the promise.
Lord, give us faith to believe and to receive. Amen.
And now, brothers and sisters, I want you to know what will happen to the Christians who have died so you will not be full of sorrow like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus comes, God will bring back with Jesus all the Christians who have died. I can tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not rise to meet him ahead of those who are in their graves. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the call of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God.

First, all the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and remain with him forever.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, NLT)

Maranatha! (Mar • a • na • tha) – Our Lord is coming!

____________

Lo He Comes

(a beautiful Wesley hymn, follow the lyrics below as you listen, and worship!)

Lo He comes
With clouds descending
Once for favored sinners slain
Thousand thousand saints attending
Swell the triumph of His train
Hallelujah hallelujah
God appears on earth to reign

Every eye shall then behold Him
Robed in dreadful majesty
Those who set at naught and sold Him
Pierced and nailed Him to the tree
Deeply wailing deeply wailing
Shall the true Messiah see

Yea amen let all adore Thee
High on Thine eternal throne
Savior take the power and glory
Claim the kingdom for Thine own
O come quickly O come quickly
Hallelujah come Lord come
Come Lord come

Charles Wesley

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A Wretch, No longer!

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The beloved hymn, Amazing Grace, includes this phrase – “that saved a wretch like me!”  So, what’s a wretch?  The dictionary defines the word as “a despicable person, one who is miserable.”  John Newton, who penned those famed words was not just being poetic!

Born to a godly mother, he was taught the Scripture. When he was 7 years old, she died, and he went to sea with his father.  He became in his own words a champion at immorality. “I sinned with a high hand,” he later wrote, “and I made it my study to tempt and seduce others.”   Eventually he drifted into the lowest rungs of humanity, a captain of ships that carried human cargo from their African homes to the West Indies where they lived out the rest of their lives in misery and death.

In the film, “Amazing Grace” (2007) which tells the story of William Wilberforce, the member of England’s Parliament who led the 30 year struggle to outlaw slavery, Newton reveals that the horror of slave trade haunts his dreams, despite his own experience of Christ’s transforming grace, becoming a minister of the Church of England. He had been a wretch, a man so low yet God’s grace saved him!

We may find ourselves distanced from Newton’s sordid story and comfort ourselves that we are not so wretched as he.  Indeed in many churches, sensitive to modern ideals about the supposed goodness of human nature, the hymn is modified so that the word – ‘wretch’ – reads ‘soul.’  Perhaps we would conveniently forget what Scripture teaches us about our depravity. Ugh! That’s an awful word, isn’t it? But, the fact is that apart from the grace of God, shown us in Jesus Christ, we are sinners, miserably alienated from God in our self-will. If we are willing to look at our sorry state without redemption, the bright glory of Grace shines ever more wondrously in our eyes; truly amazing!

Paul knew of the wretched state of humanity first hand, too. This man was a self-righteous defender of his religion, ready to kill in the name of God. We meet him as he witnesses the martyrdom of Stephen, watching him die as stones thrown in rage pummeled the life from his body. Then, Saul (later, Paul)  met Christ and experienced amazing, transforming grace. He never forgot that his sinful nature was ready to make a re-appearance if given the least chance. He wrote, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24, NKJV) But he does not dwell on hopelessness, nor does he make excuse for sin!

God, through Christ, by the Holy Spirit, gives a new heart!  When Paul gives us the inspired words in Romans, he says that he is not a wretch any longer:  “The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.” (Romans 7:25, The Message)

In a broken, sinful, hate-filled world where pornographers exploit young women, where the rich take even more, where cruel people increase suffering with joy, where there is greed, prejudice – I am joyful in my salvation – a wretch no more!  Beyond that, we are privileged to join with God in the fight against the wretchedness of the world, made priests of grace, our appeal this –“on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20, NIV)

Would you humble yourself, willing to admit to your wretchedness?  There is a Savior who accepts wretches and makes heart, soul, and mind new! The Word promises – “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27, NIV) Yes, we sometimes slip back into our wretchedness when we take our eyes from Jesus. But, we need not wallow in the shame of our sins. Instead, we turn back to our God, and like the lost son, find the open arms of the Waiting Father.

My favorite passage in all of the Scripture is one I choose for todays’ word from the Word. I revel in the wondrous grace revealed here. May you know the joy of sins forgiven, the release from wretchedness, the welcome into the Father’s family.

“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:14-21, NIV)

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Read a detailed account of the Life of John Newton. Click here.

Amazing grace,
How sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now,
I’m found.
Was blind, but now,
I see!

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A Way of Life, not just a day

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The day after Thanksgiving, someone complained that their trip to shop was a waste because there weren’t any real deals this year. It made me laugh. I think I understand something of that frustration but wonder-  Is it really worth it? Those who do this early Christmas shopping thing, Black Friday and all, expect to find real bargains.

But, we all know that life is so much more than the price we pay for our newest LCD TV or laptop PC. In spite of that knowledge, there are some things we can do to retrain our mind and shift our emotions so that gratitude, not griping, is our first response to life’s disappointments, big and small.

We cannot allow “Thanksgiving” to just be a day to say ‘thank you’ to family and friends, to feel a flicker of gratefulness for the good things in our lives. We will be so much healthier physically, richer in spirit, and sweeter in relationships when we make Thanksgiving into “thanksliving.”

How can we do this?

Become generous!  Give things away freely. Share your time without parceling it out frugally. Listen intently.  Invest a portion of your income in charity.  In our church we teach tithing, based on the experience of the people of God in the Scripture. Tithing is presenting 10% of income to the Lord.  I believe that tithing is a guiding principle for our generosity, a baseline for the kind of generosity that helps to make us thankful people.

So much of our ‘charity’ today is stimulated by sad stories, pitiful pictures, or promises of ‘feel good’ recognition when our name goes on the wall!  In truth, generosity must grow beyond our feelings, to become a way of life, as purposeful as the investment strategy of Warren Buffet! We should look for worthy ministries, well run charities, and individuals that we can help onto their feet. In these ways, we put a portion of our resources, at least a tithe, to work for God. Gratitude grows in the fertile soil of generosity.

Worship deeply, regularly, and from the heart! True worship restores proper perspective, reminding us that we are not the center of the universe.  Carving 15 minutes into your morning schedule to look up and outside of yourself, to read a Psalm, to pray, to reconnect with the Lord God, will change your mind and heart.  Gathering with others to go through the patterns of worship is not just a good habit, it’s God’s ‘ask’ of us. “Don’t forsake the assembling of yourselves,” He says. True Worship is much more than some songs and a sermon. It is an acknowledgement of His primacy in life. In worship we learn how to live to bless.

Become aware of people around you!  Living a ‘me centered’ life is so natural.  “Serve me. Coddle me. Love me. Fit yourself to my needs.”  Looking for people to thank helps to destroy selfishness. We realize how much those around contribute to our well-being.

Give suffering and hardship a place in your life.  For some of you, that is just too much. Up to this point perhaps you were nodding in agreement, but now you’re shaking your head; “No way, not me.”

God can use the suffering to turn our hearts to Him and, if we find comfort in His promises and Presence, that suffering can make us beautiful people.

Moses, the great leader, when he was advanced in age, called the people of the Lord together to give them a serious warning.  He said, “God will bless you and you will likely become self-sufficient. Then, you will be tempted to forget to serve God.” Read his words (it’s a long passage) and let them remind you of the importance of thanks-living.  “For the people of Israel belong to the Lord; Jacob is his special possession. He found them in a desert land, in an empty, howling wasteland. He surrounded them and watched over them; he guarded them as his most precious possession. Like an eagle that rouses her chicks and hovers over her young, so he spread his wings to take them in and carried them aloft on his pinions. The Lord alone guided them; they lived without any foreign gods. He made them ride over the highlands; he let them feast on the crops of the fields. He nourished them with honey from the cliffs, with olive oil from the hard rock. He fed them curds from the herd and milk from the flock, together with the fat of lambs and goats. He gave them choice rams and goats from Bashan, together with the choicest wheat. You drank the finest wine, made from the juice of grapes. But Israel soon became fat and unruly; the people grew heavy, plump, and stuffed! Then they abandoned the God who had made them; they made light of the Rock of their salvation.” (Deuteronomy 32:9-15, NLT)`

So, let’s us give thanks, today, tomorrow, and each day- making gratitude a way of life.

This is the word from the Word – “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NIV)
____________

Give Thanks

Give thanks with a grateful heart
Give thanks to the Holy One
Give thanks because He’s given
Jesus Christ His Son 

And now let the weak say I am strong
Let the poor say I am rich
Because of what the Lord has done for us
And now let the weak say I am strong
Let the poor say I am rich
Because of what the Lord has done for us

 Give thanks

Henry Smith © 1978 Integrity’s Hosanna! Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing (Integrity Music [DC Cook]))

CCLI License # 810055

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What is YOUR story?

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I love a great story! Last night on CBS news they reported on a single man in Melrose, MA who runs a small vacuum cleaner repair business. Not wanting to be alone for Thanksgiving, Scott McCauley put an ad in the local paper inviting up to 12 people to his home for Thanksgiving dinner. 33 years later, he prepares a meal at a local church, at his own expense, served to those who call him to reserve a place.

This year he will serve about 50 people.  Why does he do it? “I think each of us are called to brighten a corner where we are and if everybody took care of their neighbor in their own neighborhood we’d have a much better world,” he said. “Someday, maybe nobody will call me up and say they’re coming for Thanksgiving dinner, and I’ll be really happy that everybody’s got a place to go.”  (CBS News, 11/20/2018)

I hope you have someone to tell your stories tomorrow.  At many tables the conversation will start about the weather, football teams, and move on to personal tales. There will be heroic achievements and embarrassing remembrances of accidents, spills, and scrapes with the law. Most of them will have been told before and will be told again. It’s what we humans do. Our stories will make us laugh and cry, but they are more than entertaining.

Stories define and explain us.  The more of your story I know, the better I understand who you are.

Authentic stories, told without embellishment or editing, will reveal the triumphs and failures, the hits and misses, of life.  Being able to talk about who we were, who we are, and who we hope to become is part of growing emotionally and spiritually.  When a person is loved enough to know they can tell their whole story, they can find redemption, forgiveness, hope, and change that flows from the inside out. That is why 12 step recovery groups like Alcoholics Anonymous create safe places for people to tell their real story, not the “fake news” that perpetuates a lie about life.  The truth is liberating, but leaves us vulnerable, so we need a loving place to tell it.

How I pray that the church which I am privileged to pastor will be a loving place full of authentic stories!  The love of Jesus, that story about His birth, His death, His Resurrection – all so that we could be reconciled to our Father, allows us to tell ourselves the truth and to find in Him that love that heals us and saves us.  Our natural impulse is to change our story, to conceal the ugly parts, to magnify the moments of success. Pride makes hypocrites of us. Jesus warns us about  “the yeast of the Pharisees—their hypocrisy. The time is coming when everything that is covered up will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all. Whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be shouted from the housetops for all to hear!” (Luke 12:1-3, NLT)

So, what’s your story?
Have you written a fiction about yourself that has enslaved you?
Have you believed a lie that somebody told you, a falsehood that controls you to this day?

The God Who knows you best, loves you most! His love makes the truth safe to tell. John reminds that “If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins—make a clean breast of them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. If we claim that we’ve never sinned, we out-and-out contradict God—make a liar out of him. A claim like that only shows off our ignorance of God. … if anyone does sin, we have a Priest-Friend in the presence of the Father: Jesus Christ, righteous Jesus. When he served as a sacrifice for our sins, he solved the sin problem for good—not only ours, but the whole world’s.” (1 John 1:8-2:2, The Message)

I’m looking forward to some stories on Thanksgiving. And, I’ll tell a few myself. I hope that in them all there is a thread of faith, an echo of the love of Christ.

You are invited to a Service of Reflection, Thanksgiving, and Communion at
Faith Discovery Church, Wednesday, 11/21/2018, at 7 PM.

___________

Blessings

We pray for blessings
We pray for peace comfort for family
Protection while we sleep
We pray for healing for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand
To ease our suffering
And all the while You hear each spoken need
Yet love is way too much to give us lesser things

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
And what if trials of this life
Are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom
Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt Your goodness
We doubt Your love
As if ev’ry promise from Your Word is not enough
And all the while You hear each desp’rate plea
And long that we’d have faith to believe

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not this is not our home
It’s not our home

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is a revealing of a greater thirst
This world can’t satisfy
And what if trials of this life
The rain the storms the hardest nights
Are Your mercies in disguise

Laura Story © 2011 Laura Stories (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.)

New Spring (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.) CCLI License # 810055

 

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You Owe Me!

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Want to kill any hope of feeling thankful this week? Convince yourself that you are being short-changed by life, that the world owes you something.  It’s called – entitlement. The thing is that it creeps up on us stealthily, starting with grievance, fed by disappointment. It grows like a weed and turns into a black hole of misery, in us, and for those around us.  What am I talking about?

Saying things like …
“God, why can’t I have the life my brother enjoys?”
“Why don’t my parents give me more like my friends get?”
“I deserve to be paid better than I am by that stingy boss.”
“My kids owe me some gratitude after all I give up for them.” And on the list goes….

One day Jesus was traveling and came upon ten men who were together in their awful misery. They were lepers. When leprosy (a broad term used to describe many skin conditions in that time) became evident that person was immediately separated from the community, as a means of keeping the spread of the disease to a minimum.  He could no longer live in his home, work in the community, or enjoy his family. Lepers lived a wretched life, beggars and scavengers to survive. Added to the social separation and physical pain, the leper dealt with the judgment of the community. It was generally assumed that it was the leper’s fault, the result of some sin in his life.

That day, those ten men somehow realized who was approaching.  Having heard about Jesus’ healing power, they started to yell- “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” He looked at them and said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, their leprosy disappeared.” Luke 17:14 (NLT) Imagine their joy when they saw their skin clearing, all evidence of their leprous condition gone, given their desperate situation!

Now, here’s the part of the story that I want to emphasize today. “One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God, I’m healed!” He fell face down on the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine?” (Luke 17:15-17, NLT)

9 of those men did not even think about being thankful. Who knows? Was it just the excitement of being healed, or did they somehow feel they deserved their miracle?

So many Christians have convinced themselves that God owes them more, better, happier, richer, healthier.  They fail to appreciate the best gifts of God –  salvation, peace, joy.  Why?  Because of entitlement!  Misreading the Bible and filled with Self, their prayers are turned into legal briefs that present their demands for action. Faith morphs into a ‘gimme’ system that says, “God, you promised; now, pay up!” How tragic, how misguided. Our Father in Heaven loves to bless and He does, but He owes you and me NOTHING. His gifts are based in grace, not merit.  What He desires is to walk with us, our lives a conversation full of grace, leading us to deep spiritual intimacy.

Entitled people never even think of thankfulness! Even when they enjoy life’s best, they are just convinced that God paid up, made good on the contract.  There is a terrible downside that goes right along with that idea. When things go badly, when life falls apart, they beat themselves up wondering what they did that brought such grief on their heads.

Mercy flows from the heart of our Father. Remember, He entered our broken world, in the Person of Jesus, to share our suffering and to give us salvation. The Psalmist reminds us – “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:9-14, NIV)

Are you grateful today?
Does thankfulness overflow from you?
Or is God asking, “where is the gratitude, where is the recognition of My mercy?”

I don’t want to like those 9 healed men that left Jesus without thanksgiving, do you?
In this season of Thanksgiving, check your heart for areas where entitlement has taken up residence.  Humbly acknowledge the truth, and then, liberally give thanks – to God, to friends, to family.

Here is a word from the Word for meditation today.
“A psalm of thanksgiving.
Shout with joy to the Lord, O earth!
Worship the Lord with gladness.

Come before him, singing with joy.
Acknowledge that the Lord is God!
He made us, and we are his.
We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

 Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him and bless his name.
For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever,
and his faithfulness continues to each generation.” (Psalm 100, NLT)
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There will be a Thanksgiving service, celebrated with Communion, at Faith Discovery Church on Wednesday, Thanksgiving Eve at 7 pm. You’re invited.

Thanks To God For My Redeemer

Thanks to God for my Redeemer
Thanks for all Thou dost provide
Thanks for times now but a memory
Thanks for Jesus by my side

Thanks for pleasant balmy springtime
Thanks for dark and dreary fall
Thanks for tears by now forgotten
Thanks for peace within my soul

 Thanks for prayers that Thou hast answered
Thanks for what Thou dost deny
Thanks for storms that I have weathered
Thanks for all Thou dost supply

Thanks for pain and thanks for pleasure
Thanks for comfort in despair
Thanks for grace that none can measure
Thanks for love beyond compare

August Ludvig Storm  Public Domain

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Three funerals on Sunday morning

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Yesterday, in our worship gathering, I was privileged to baptize 3 individuals. There was a time when I did not value baptism in the same way that I now do.  Back then, I saw baptism as a kind of ‘after thought,’ something that people did just to affirm their faith in Jesus Christ, the Savior.  It is that, and so much more! With the greatest joy and deepest reverence I walk into that baptismal, trusting God, the Spirit, to be present in that moment of death and life.  Do I believe that the Scripture teaches that people are put right with God through baptism?  I do not. Baptism follows saving faith.  I do insist that we must not devalue baptism as an act of obedience that has spiritual consequence.

These amazing words were inspired in Paul and given to us. “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him.” (Romans 6:4-9, NIV)

Baptism is a moment of burial, a funeral for the sinner in us; and resurrection, our eternal life evident in the act of coming out of the water. Woven through that text is assurance. “If we are united with Him in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection!”  Baptism should be a kind of ‘I know it’ moment. And, from that realization a new way of living emerges, one that is anchored in eternity, the promise of eternal life with God, our Father.

What does that have to do with everyday life?  The choices we make, the things we pursue, come from what we truly believe. IF you take the truth of the Scripture about baptism’s identification with Christ to heart, life will become different.  The old fear of mortality is eclipsed by the hope of heaven. The preoccupation with the feeding and comfort of the body is broken, replaced with a desire to walk with God from here to eternity.

Have you been baptized? Have you affirmed the faith choice to receive the gift of salvation through Christ and entered joyously into the new life made possible by the Holy Spirit at work in you?

The word from the Word today fills me with hopeful wonder. May the Lord bless it to you. Happy Monday! “By faith in Christ you are in direct relationship with God. Your baptism in Christ was not just washing you up for a fresh start. It also involved dressing you in an adult faith wardrobe—Christ’s life, the fulfillment of God’s original promise.” (Galatians 3:25-27, The Message)

___________

A New Name In Glory

I was once a sinner but I came
Pardon to receive from my Lord
This was freely given and I found
That He always kept His word

There’s a new name
Written down in glory
And it’s mine, O yes, it’s mine
And the white-robed angels sing the story
A sinner has come home

For there’s a new name
Written down in glory
And it’s mine, O yes, it’s mine
With my sins forgiven
I am bound for heaven
Nevermore to roam

I was humbly kneeling at the cross
Fearing naught but God’s angry frown
When the heavens opened and I saw
That my name was written down

In the Book ’tis written
“Saved by grace”
O the joy that came to my soul
Now I am forgiven and I know
By the blood I am made whole

Charles Austin Miles© Words: Public Domain

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When you feel that they just don’t care

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She felt invisible. A good Mom, she has loved and cared for her family and seldom receives even a word of appreciation. Her heart is wounded by their thoughtlessness.  He is aged and cries often, not because of physical pain, but because his family is so busy that they forget to include him, in spite of years of caring for them, giving up his own comfort to provide what they needed at the time.

Perhaps you can identify with this, having your own story about being overlooked, ignored, or forgotten by others?

When we give ourselves away, dig in and try to make a difference, only to be misunderstood and/or misjudged, it hurts!  The story of good people who get caught in the crossfire of personalities and egos at work, in their home, or at their church is an all too familiar one. When we find ourselves in those situations we have a choice to make. Will we get bitter?

Bitterness, a self-defensive reflex that says, “Take care of yourself. Trust no one. Build walls.” is chosen so naturally when we are hurting. We might want to retaliate.  Let me tell you something you probably know – bitterness is a poison that is indiscriminate. We cannot pour a cup for another without wounding our own soul.

So, how can we get better instead?

It is no cliché to say – “Remember who you’re ultimately serving!”  Jesus said that even giving a cup of cold water to a thirsty man or visiting a lonely one is a gift to Him. “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:40, NIV)  He knows exactly why we did what we did and never misunderstands or forgets.  Sobering, isn’t it? Hopefully, it encourages to do good even when we’re unappreciated.

One night, long ago, at a time when I was doing my absolute best to try to lead a church that was broken, a man I had trusted turned against me. He accused me and opposed me at every turn. He saw only a part of what was going on, his judgment was clouded by other associations. After months of being attacked, again and again, my heart was broken, my strength nearly gone. I never came closer to making the choice to leave pastoral ministry than I did one night after yet another tempestuous meeting.

Walking alone in the darkness of the church’s sanctuary, with tears streaming down my face that came as much from anger as from sorrow, the Spirit whispered oh so clearly “What do I know about this situation? Have I released you from your calling?”  I found comfort in committing the whole conflict to him, taking my part, and trusting Him to care for the rest.  The grace of His embrace gave me new strength and provided the freedom I needed to pursue forgiveness and reconciliation. It was not simple, nor was it easy!

If you’re hurting, dangerously close to slipping into bitterness, remember Who it is that you serve, ultimately.

We must not return fire, when others fire on us. Whoa, that’s a tough call, isn’t it? Peter tells us “If you’re treated badly for good behavior and continue in spite of it to be a good servant, that is what counts with God. This is the kind of life you’ve been invited into, the kind of life Christ lived. … He never did one thing wrong, Not once said anything amiss. They called him every name in the book and he said nothing back. He suffered in silence, content to let God set things right.” (1 Peter 2:20-23, The Message)

We actively seek the good of those who hurt us. It is not enough just to face this passively! Going beyond mere non-response supernaturally we move to bless them. “Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you.” (Luke 6:28, NLT)

How can we choose this way? Who will care for us? All of this rests on the secure foundation of the Lord’s love for us and His keen insight into the circumstances that have broken our hearts.

IF your soul is battered, IF your heart is broken, WHEN your mind cries out for vindication – go to Jesus’ embrace. He knows the Truth and even if all Hell accuses, it is He alone that makes us right in the sight of the Father.

Here’s a word from the Word. Make it your prayerful meditation today.
“Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have led a blameless life;
I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.
Test me, O LORD, and try me, examine my heart and my mind;
for your love is ever before me, and I walk continually in your truth.

I do not sit with deceitful men, nor do I consort with hypocrites;
I abhor the assembly of evildoers and refuse to sit with the wicked.
I wash my hands in innocence, and go about your altar, O LORD,
proclaiming aloud your praise and telling of all your wonderful deeds.
I love the house where you live,
O LORD, the place where your glory dwells.”  
(Psalm 26:1-8, NIV)  Amen.

__________

Good, Good Father  (listen, learn, and worship at this link)

I’ve heard a thousand stories
Of what they think You’re like
But I’ve heard the tender whisper
Of love in the dead of night
You tell me that You’re pleased
And that I’m never alone

You’re a Good Good Father
It’s who You are
It’s who You are
It’s who You are
And I’m loved by You
It’s who I am
It’s who I am
It’s who I am

I’ve seen many searching for answers
Far and wide
But I know we’re all searching for answers
Only You provide
Because You know just what we need
Before we say a word

You are perfect in all of Your ways
You are perfect in all of Your ways
You are perfect in all of Your ways to us

Love so undeniable I can hardly speak
Peace so unexplainable I can hardly think
As You call me deeper still
As You call me deeper still
As You call me deeper still
Into love love love

You’re a Good Good Father
It’s who You are
It’s who You are
It’s who You are
And I’m loved by You
It’s who I am
It’s who I am
It’s who I am

Anthony Brown | Pat Barrett © 2014 Capitol CMG Paragon (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) Common Hymnal Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

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Justified freely – not just dry theology

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If we hold that God is the Creator, the Source, the Giver of Life – there is a question that begs an answer.  How can I know Him?  Why would we not want to know the Being Who made us, to discover – in Him – the answers to questions about our purpose in existence? Paul tells us, in the opening passage of Romans, that God announces Himself to humanity in the grandeur of what He’s made, that He writes His moral code into our consciences.

But, is it enough to just say there is a Divine Being and then to conclude that He is unknowable?  We need not make that sad choice to live in ignorance of the Holy One. Why? Because, He has revealed Himself to us in His Son, Jesus Christ, and through the pages of the inspired Scripture; and He invites us to know Him.

That revelation includes an astounding declaration about how we can find freedom from that sense (which is real) that we are separated from Him, from the guilt and unworthiness that comes when we approach Him in worship. In the following passage, we find the heart of the Good News, the statement about how we are set right with our God, restored to our Father, and enter into eternal life.

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice . . . so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:21-26, NIV)

Justified! Does it matter? Is it a word only of interest to theologians?  It should not be. It is the heart of the Gospel, the great news that we who have wandered far can come home, not abjectly begging for a place among the hired help, but as children in the family, heirs of the Father’s life and riches!  The amazing part is that there is no initiation fee, no arduous pathway to His altar. There is an invitation to believe and receive!

Many find it just too good to be true. Insisting there must be something they must do, they straddle the fence of their own goodness, their own religiosity, and the grace of God. They say that they have faith in Christ and but hold high their baptism as the trophy that makes them right.  They add many things to ‘faith in Jesus’ – church membership, attempts at impeccable morality, humanitarian service, benevolence  … it is a long list.

All the while God says we are ‘justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.’  Yes, Jerry, but …  I must be good enough for God. And that is the lie that makes sons into slaves. God asks us to take that decisive step, in faith, to leave behind the human religious systems that are so appealing to us and commit ourselves to Jesus Christ alone.

The completed thought of being set right with God (justified!) is that we will become people useful to His purposes, we will find the joy of serving Him,  we will grow away from sin and into holiness that is beautiful, whole, and full of love.

Are you attempting to act like a Christian without actually becoming one? Are you trying to earn your way into the favor of God, to build a legacy of good that is sufficient to erase your sense of guilt?  If so, you have taken on a task that is impossible.  Would you be willing to just believe what He says to you, to accept His invitation to trust Christ as the complete and total reason for your acceptance at the throne of the Holy One?

The word from the Word today states the glorious freedom of the children of God. Pause and invite the Spirit to open your heart and mind to the Truth. Then, read on.  “By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that’s not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover, at the same moment, that He has already thrown open His door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.” (Romans 5:1-2, The Message)

Yes, we are justified (set right with our Father)  solely by faith in the Savior who gave His life to buy us back from the slavery of sin and the certainty of death. Only trust Him!

_________

Reckless Love

(worship with this song about His love)

Before I spoke a word
You were singing over me
You have been so so good to me
Before I took a breath
You breathed Your life in me
You have been so so kind to me

O the overwhelming never-ending reckless
Love of God
O it chases me down fights ’til I’m found
Leaves the ninety-nine
I couldn’t earn it I don’t deserve
Still You give Yourself away
O the overwhelming never-ending reckless
Love of God

When I was Your foe still Your love fought for me
You have been so so good to me
When I felt no worth You paid it all for me
You have been so so kind to me

There’s no shadow You won’t light up
Mountain You won’t climb up
Coming after me
There’s no wall You won’t kick down\
Lie You won’t tear down
Coming after me

Caleb Culver | Cory Asbury | Ran Jackson © Watershed Publishing Group (Admin. by Watershed Music Group) Bethel Music Publishing Richmond Park Publishing

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