God has a word for you

wordswag_1538567634970

The young woman’s heart was in tatters; fear and rage and confusion stirred to a toxic mix. She reflected on the Christianity of her youth and recalled only an angry presentation of moralism based on the pending wrath of a terrible God.  She told of reading the Bible for herself as an adult. She found the stories of the Old Testament awful, the reflection of human failures in the pages were messed up in her opinion.  My heart is sad for her and my prayer is that Spirit would find her with new faith, with the realization that God is for her, not against her. And, I pray for her to come to understand the Bible as the Word of God.

Have you struggled to read and understand the Word as well?
Do you even pick up a Bible on a regular basis outside of a church building?

There is a word for you in the Word!

The Bible is not magical, nor should we come to it superstitiously, treating it like a collection of fortune cookie sayings. But, we can and we should read the ancient words with the faith that the Spirit can make those words become living truth for us.  The Psalm celebrates it – “The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. I open my mouth and pant, longing for your commands. Turn to me and have mercy on me, as you always do to those who love your name. Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me.” (Psalm 119:130-133, NIV)

One way to engage with the Bible is a practice that is a thousand years old, coming to us from the Benedictine monks.  It is called Lectio divina (pronounced “lec-tsee-oh di-vee-nah”), Latin for “holy reading.”

One writer says, “It was originally practiced by monks who spent a large portion of their days praying and reading Scripture. While reading they noticed that at times individual words, phrases, or verses seemed to leap off of the page with a special personal importance. Have you had the same experience? These special words or verses can give a sense of encouragement, comfort, thankfulness, or conviction that often applies to present situations and can draw us closer to God. Lectio divina is an intimate way of communicating with the Lord. All too often in prayer and worship, we talk to God but don’t give him a chance to communicate back to us. Lectio divina employs God’s own words to have a personal conversation with him.”  (Phil Collins, Ph.D.)

Reading Scripture in this way is a four step process- Reading, Meditation, Prayer, and Thought.  It is not the only way we read the Bible as we must study the text in order to remain true to the meaning, to avoid twisting it into saying what we desire. Still we should have an expectation that the Holy Spirit will take the Word and make it alive for us. Is this simple and easy? Not entirely.  Hearing the voice of God through the Scripture requires that we apply ourselves to the process, that we learn to ‘rightly divide the Word of Truth,’ that we remain in a harmonious relationship with the Spirit.

The practice will ask you to set aside time, regularly, where you take the Bible in hand.  There will need to be focus, a sustained attention to the text for 15 minutes or so. Start with familiar passages that are accessible to your understanding like the Psalms or a Gospel. Don’t attempt to devour long passages, rather choose a paragraph or chapter for your time. Read it first to just understand the words. What is the theme? What is being said?  Is it corrective, instructing, teaching, informing, celebrating?

Then, close your eyes and let the Scripture you just read form in your mind, guiding your thoughts, making connections with who you are and where you are. Perhaps it will be a single thought that starts to take shape, an encouragement for you, something God wants to change in you, or even a conviction about some act that needs to be corrected.

As those thoughts form, begin to pray – perhaps repeating a phrase from the passage, or thanking God for something you have learned about Him, or asking Him to give you faith to receive the promise that He’s made alive to you.

Close your time with thoughtfulness. I encourage a kind of journal. No, you don’t have write well, in complete sentences, with great grammar. This is the place where you take what you believe the Spirit is saying and you commit it to text so you can review it or perhaps even share it when appropriate.

Collins observes – “Lectio divina is a process that will take some getting used to. Try not to quit if you aren’t fond of it after your first few attempts. Remember that it is much like learning to play the piano. At first each step may seem rigid and awkward, but after some practice and experience you can learn to have life-giving communication with God.”

Let me ask you again – are you committed to reading Scripture?  Don’t let the only Word you hear be what comes across the pulpit from your pastor. Don’t only read about the Word, getting only what someone else has prepared for you.  Learn to hear from the Lord.  Get an accessible translation of the Bible. As beautiful as that old King James Version in 17th century English language might be, you need to be able to understand the words and syntax.  Get an NIV translation, or perhaps if that is too difficult, get a New Living Translation. Then, read it!  Use the ancient practice of lectio divina and become a student of the inspired revelation of God.

Here is a word from the Word.  “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.  . . . God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.” (2 Timothy 2:15-19, NIV)

__________

Abba, I open my mind and my heart to You.
I am thankful for the Spirit Who makes the Word alive in me.
I ask that the seed of Truth will grow into a beautiful way of life
that honors You, that causes other to desire You.

Bring faith, renew hope, inspire transformation is my prayer,
through Jesus Christ.  Amen

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

He finished and I’m amazed!

wordswag_1538482272934
A friend of mine did the unthinkable (at least to me!) on Saturday. Josh completed an Iron Man™ triathalon. He pushed his body to the limits over a span of about 14 hours. An Iron Man experience  consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a marathon 26.22-mile run, raced in that order and without a break.  I tracked him online, each accomplishment filling me with amazement!  “How can he do that?” I wondered aloud many times.  So my admiration and congratulations go to Josh on an accomplishment of endurance.

Sometimes our Christian life becomes something of a test on that order, doesn’t  it?  If you and I are serious about our discipleship, we live against the stream, our lives at variance with the culture. There are days when we feel that we are being pushed beyond our limitations. Paul teaches a quality of character that is a critically important.  Patient endurance, the choice to persevere through difficult times, leads us to maturity and fruitfulness.

The word in the first language of the New Testament, Greek, is hupomone (hoop·om·on·ay). It’s a compound word, the prefix meaning ‘under’ and the root meaning ‘remain.‘  It is found in this passage from Hebrews – “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance (hupomone) the race that is set before us,” (12:1)  Here we see the distance runner given as an example of how to live as a Christian. Unlike a sprinter who explodes from the starting block, pouring everything she has into a 100 meter dash, Christians are called  run their race – steadily and consistently living for Jesuswith patience, with endurance (hupomone)!

Ever started something with great enthusiasm, only to collapse before the finish line?  Most of us can remember some time or place where we quit.
Marriages that begin with great romance can go flat, the love buried by a mountain of work.
Students go off to college with great intentions and too many get sidetracked into the three day weekend party life style.
That garden we planted demands work in heat, with bugs, and we let it go to weeds.

And…  some people invite Jesus Christ to become Lord and begin the marathon with the finish line in Heaven only to lose the joy, to let the full life of the Spirit, turn into the dull life of religion.

 “Hupomone” is not about a BIG start, it’s about a faithful finish!

Let’s be ‘finishers;’  people who keep their word, who fulfill their calling, who maintain their Christian witness through joy and sorrow, Summer and Winter, sunshine and rain. Jesus told a teaching story about this. “Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn’t first sit down and figure the cost so you’ll know if you can complete it? If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you’re going to look pretty foolish. Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: ‘He started something he couldn’t finish.’  Or can you imagine a king going into battle against another king without first deciding whether it is possible with his ten thousand troops to face the twenty thousand troops of the other? And if he decides he can’t, won’t he send an emissary and work out a truce?” (Luke 14:28-32, The Message)

Pleasing the Lord and finding His best, in life and in eternity, will demand “hupomone” – not the grim determination of dutiful compliance, but enthusiastic engagement with life sustained by the Spirit at work! Remember that it isn’t “all guts, no glory.” Finishers enjoy what mere starters never find: the satisfaction of a job well done,  a life well lived,  a victor’s crown!

Need a boost to stay in the race today? Here is the word from the Word.   “Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever.  And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God.  (Hebrews 12:2, The Message)

HUPOMONE! You can endure much more than you think – with God’s strength that He pours into you.

______________

Cornerstone

(a remix of an old favorite!)

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name

Christ alone cornerstone
Weak made strong in the Savior’s love
Through the storm He is Lord
Lord of all

When darkness seems to hide His face
I rest on His unchanging grace
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil
My anchor holds within the veil

He is Lord Lord of all

When He shall come with trumpet sound
Oh may I then in Him be found
Dressed in His righteousness alone
Faultless stand before the throne

Edward Mote | Eric Liljero | Jonas Myrin | Reuben Morgan | William Batchelder Bradbury© 2011 Hillsong Music Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

My Country Torn Apart

wordswag_1538136243020

Like millions of Americans I watched the hearing from the Senate yesterday, finding myself deeply moved by the powerful emotions of both persons.  I’ll leave opinions about the outcome to those better informed. The conclusions you and I will reach are influenced by multiple factors – gender, political persuasion, age – to name a few.  The fear and fury in that hearing room yesterday seemed, to me, a summary of what my beloved nation has become:  millions of aggrieved people fearfully and/or angrily talking across huge divides in understanding of the most basic values.

We have lost the ability to talk reasonably, with any attempt to understand the ‘other side’ seen as betrayal, sell-out, or disloyalty. The other party (as seen from both sides) is not just different or mistaken, it is now ‘evil’ and dangerous.  As my son noted yesterday on Facebook, we have descended into tribalism. Sean is about as fair a thinker as I know, but because his coffee shop hosted an event that encouraged ‘coffee with a cop,’ he lost a customer, this in spite of many events that embrace differing kinds of groups.  His comment is insightful. “Tribalism has overtaken us. It’s not the dems or repubs. It’s YOU and them picking sides and excluding, giving up on thought, productive action and compromise because sticking with your tribe is the easier option. Drawing lines in the sand is clearer.”

Why am I writing about this today, you may be asking? Isn’t this a blog about spiritual matters? It is! And, the toxic, angry, fearful, hate-filled atmosphere in America is a spiritual problem, one that Christ’s disciples should care about earnestly.  How have we forgotten Jesus’ words that tell us one of our priorities is to build bridges, to become those who seek peace?  “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.” (Matthew 5:9, The Message)

Could we start by eliminating absolute conclusions about huge groups of people from our thoughts and words?

When we say, “All of those …” you fill in the blank, “are stupid, or evil, or …” we shut down reasonable conversation that could lead to clearer understanding. I had a difficult conversation with a young woman yesterday about gender.  It was a remarkable thirty minutes when two generations, an older man and a younger woman, tried hard to see the world through the eyes of the other, deepening our understanding a little bit.  If that kind of conversation was multiplied by millions, if we would allow another to say things we find ‘stupid’ or ‘offensive’ without jumping to rage or cutting them off,  we may both find ourselves richer in the end.

Near the conclusion of yesterday’s hearing, Senator Flake (R.- Arizona) spoke briefly and a word in his comments took hold of me- humility.
Could we humble ourselves enough to listen?
Could we humble ourselves and admit that none of us has all the answers?
Could we humble ourselves and reach over the divide even if it costs us friends?

No matter who we are – male, female, young, old, black, white, gay, straight, rich, poor, progressive, conservative – we have a stake in the survival of our country. Whatever we perceive as wrong we can learn by listening and, if we are humble, can discover the art of finding common ground to advance the good.  We do not have to give away all our convictions and live in a land of complete compromise, but we can learn to humbly admit that we do not possess all the wisdom needed for life.

I pray for my country this morning with a broken heart.
I confess that I have been a part of the problem, too often rushing to proclaim what is ‘right’ before I have fully understood what is wrong. I have failed to know how the world looks to those who do not share my background, my place, my religion, my gender, my race. I pray to recover the heart of Jesus, shaped by fearless love.  I ask Him to lead me to a solid place of assurance of my God’s love so that I will live in bold love for the ‘other.’

The word from the Word is lengthy. Read it with a prayerful heart.
This is the message you have heard from the beginning: We should love one another. We must not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and killed his brother. And why did he kill him? Because Cain had been doing what was evil, and his brother had been doing what was righteous. So don’t be surprised, dear brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. If we love our Christian brothers and sisters, it proves that we have passed from death to life. But a person who has no love is still dead.

 Anyone who hates another brother or sister is really a murderer at heart. And you know that murderers don’t have eternal life within them. We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God. (1 John 3:11-19, NLT)

Go build some bridges to others today to keep America from being torn apart.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Take care of #1!

wordswag_1538048417538

My uncle told me a long time that if I wanted to go anywhere in the world, becoming anyone of importance, that I would need to learn the art of self-promotion.  He humorously put it this way – “He that tooteth not his own horn, the same shall not be tooted.”  It would seem to be ‘wisdom’ widely accepted given the polished resumes, the carefully chosen schools, the positioning for ‘success,’ the not so subtle shoves of others in the race for the top of the heap.

Conventional wisdom teaches us to make sure we take care of ourselves, never letting self-interest slip away.  God, the Spirit, speaks to us through Pastor James, of Jerusalem, challenging us to consider a ‘heavenly wisdom’ that points in an entirely different direction.

“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” (James 3:13-18, NIV)

Those who seek the insight of God about life will come to the necessity that they must die to Self!  They will reject the power games, the office politics, the careful image building that are so common in the world, choosing a genuinely good life fueled by humility.  Humility? Ugh. Who likes that word?  Who is coached in the art of being humble, of becoming self-effacing?  But there it is.  When we hang onto envy of those we perceive as ‘successful,’ when we give ambition a place to grow in the secret place from which our life is shaped, we cannot claim to be like our Savior, nor can we say we are insightful in a godly way!

James goes beyond just saying that pushing our own agenda, being full of concern for Self, is undesirable. In brutally direct language, he tells us that the ‘wisdom’ that shapes that kind of life is demonic, reducing us to behaviors of animals who live by tooth and claw.  Those consumed with reputation and power ultimately tear apart the world they live in dividing others into ‘for me’ and ‘against me,’  friend and foe.

There is a beautiful shift in his pastoral instruction as he outlines the qualities found in the life of that person who has learned about life and success from Jesus.

  • He is pure, an innocent. Yes, the sophisticates of this world mock the pure, pouring contempt on their goodness.  But, “the ‘pure in heart’ will see God,” Jesus said.
  • He is a person who works to create networks of cooperation, unconcerned with his own resume, working for the best of the community.  Is that something we really do, or just an ideal to which we give lip service?
  • He is able to understand how others are feeling, able to perceive their reactions, their needs, because he is ‘considerate.’
  • He understands the proper role of authority and chooses to readily accepts direction.
  • He is merciful, knowing full well his own weaknesses, he does not condemn without grace.
  • Where correction is necessary, he does it with the desire to restore wherever possible.
  • He does not pick and choose between people based on beauty, wealth, or social status. He is impartial.
  • And, he is the same ‘all the way to the core,’ refusing to play image games that do not match his core values.

Yes, James says that this is the kind of person who has come to know the wisdom of God!  My prayer is that He would write His Word on my heart and, leading me through life’s experiences, teach me to be wise in His Ways. Will you say “amen” in agreement?

Here are words from the Word.
“Wisdom makes one wise man more powerful than ten rulers in a city.” (Ecclesiastes 7:19, NIV)
“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.” (Psalm 19:7, NIV)

Are you merely smart or truly wise?

__________________

 Be Thou my vision,
O Lord of my Heart.
Naught be all else to me
Save that Thou art
Thou my best thought
By day or by night
Waking or sleeping
Thy Presence, my Light.

-public domain

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Faulty foundation for faith leads to failure

wordswag_1537959426268 (2)

I spend my days in a church building. Does that make me a person of faith?  Of course not.  I pray but even that does not necessarily mean I have developed faith.  Does faith mean that I try to “think positively?” No, again!  Faith is more than “having a good feeling” about something.  In that difficult day that was yesterday, in addition to asking God for wisdom, I examined my ‘faith’ to see if a common substitute – positivism-  had slipped into its place. Positivism focuses on outcomes. Faith rests on a Person!

Faith must be part of the life of one who would be a  follower of Jesus. But, we cannot make it about saying certain words, being religious, or even believing something. Faith is both a choice and a gift – God’s Spirit meeting our surrender – to create a foundation for a way of life in which the True North is fixed outside of the visible world on the invisible God.

The famous line of Scripture from Hebrews tells us that “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (11:1) Faith causes us to live with hope for eternal life in a place we have not seen, leads us to invest our time and resources in efforts for which the full return will not come until after we die, and to serve a Savior whose Kingdom is yet to be fully seen.

Faith that is healthy must be expressed in the context of whole-hearted submission to God. Some people express a self-fueled faith that is really just deep determination to force what they want into existence. Though they may quote Scripture verses to support their positions, if you dig deeper, you discover that what they are passing off as ‘faith’ is really just their own will wrapped in words that they believe will make God act as they wish!

Often they use the Scripture like a ‘magic incantation,’ thinking if they say certain things often enough, they can create their desired outcome.  That is, in reality, the very opposite of living faith that seeks God in complete surrender – “I am Yours to do with as You choose.”  God didn’t give us the promises of the Bible so we could find a phrase, seize on it, and then ‘make Him do what we want.’ He gave us the promises of the Scripture so we would trust Him and submit ourselves to Him.

Faith sometimes takes us onto a road where the way ahead is obscured by fog of uncertainty!  In that challenging, awful, awesome story of Abraham’s faith, he was asked to take the son of promise, his beloved Isaac, to Mt. Moriah, for a sacrifice. It was senseless to natural thinking, terrible even to think about, but he was faithful. He responded with an obedience that must have been crushing. “It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac.” (Hebrews 11:17, NLT)  We know the  rest of the story. God had a substitutionary ram prepared.  Abraham did not know that still he obeyed. Then, God gave him his son back!

So much of what passes for faith in our 21st century Christianity is sold around experience of the miraculous.  “Look God is real and He is good because He healed me of cancer.”  I’m thankful when He does that, but He is as much the God of those who die of cancer as He is those who are healed. A ‘faith’ that requires lists of ‘answered prayers,’ (translate that – “I got what I wanted.”) is at best a shallow faith, and really not much faith at all because it is shaped around results rather than living as a servant of the Person of God.

Genuine Faith steadily trusts God in the middle of uncertainty, when the way ahead is lost is enveloped in the unseen and the unknown, as much as when the blessings of health and great victories are evident. That is the kind of faith that I desire and admire. The strongest faith does not give you or me an exemption from the ordinary human experience that includes disappointment, hardship, and unexpected outcomes.  Faith does not always even provide a good reason for the suffering. Real Faith hears the Lord’s invitation to ‘trust’ and based on Who He is, and responds like Samuel of old who said, “Speak, Lord, I am listening.”  “It’s impossible to please God apart from faith. And why? Because anyone who wants to approach God must believe both that he exists and that he cares enough to respond to those who seek him. ” (Hebrews 11:6, The Message)

The writer of Hebrews, in the 11th chapter, gives us a powerful summary of faith and some wonderful examples of those whose faith was rewarded with joyous outcomes.  But, there is a part of that same chapter that is not often read where we learn that faith also has another side. “Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” (Hebrews 11:35-40, NIV)

Got faith? Make it a faith in God. Here is a word from the Word.

Since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory. We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” (Romans 5:1-5, NLT)

God teach us to live faithfully. Amen.
______________

Trust In You

(a song about faith to help you worship)

Letting go of every single dream
I lay each one down at Your feet
Every moment of my wondering
Never changes what You see

I’ve tried to win this war I confess
My hands are weary I need Your rest
Mighty warrior King of the fight
No matter what I face You’re by my side

When You don’t move the mountains
I’m needing You to move
When You don’t part the waters
I wish I could walk through
When You don’t give the answers
As I cry out to You
I will trust I will trust
I will trust in You

Truth is You know what tomorrow brings
There’s not a day ahead You have not seen
So in all things be my life and breath
I want what You want Lord and nothing less

You are my strength and comfort
You are my steady hand
You are my firm foundation
The Rock on which I stand
Your ways are always higher
Your plans are always good
There’s not a place where I’ll go
You’ve not already stood

Lauren Daigle | Michael Farren | Paul Mabury
© 2014 CentricSongs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

See You At The Pub (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Right Way?

wordswag_1537879992928
I stared into the darkness for a long time last night trying to sort through information that was delivered to me.  I wondered about the best choice for everyone involved.  My most basic question is – How do I best please God?   It is apparent that I need to discern the ‘real’ issue that person is bringing to the conversation.  Often what is said or how I perceive what is said is not the whole picture.  Do you find yourself struggling to know ‘the truth’ about a friend, a situation, the will of God for your life?   Sometimes it can be hard to sort out the truth, right?

There is an invitation found in James’ letter to the Church. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” (James 1:5-8, NIV)

Ask God!

This is the counsel of the Spirit. Go to the Omniscient One and lay it out for Him.  He will not call you an ‘idiot’ nor will He blame you for the problem and walk away to leave you struggling alone.  He will give wisdom.  We must be certain that we are not asking for Him to vindicate our own position.  If our prayer is “Lord, make me smart enough to argue my point. Give me what I need to have my position prevail,” we have not really prayed for wisdom, have we?

James reminds us that if we are trying to serve our own agenda and yet claim to want the counsel of the Lord we end up dragged back and forth,  ‘unstable,’ his word. We approach God seeking guidance with genuine humility that acknowledges He is God alone.

So, the basic thing required to find His wisdom is to return to the place where our heart is quiet before Him, our will surrendered to Him as supreme.  The ancient wise words of the Proverbs are true!  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. For through me your days will be many, and years will be added to your life.” (Proverbs 9:10-11, NIV)

Mediate for a while in this passage from Isaiah. God’s people were facing a terrible situation, their very existence threatened. Some advised an alliance with Egypt as the key to survival, a choice that compromised their faith. The question for us becomes will expedience overtake faith?  May we be called to faithful reliance on His wisdom to sharpen our understanding by this inspired word from the Word.

“This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it. You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses.’ Therefore you will flee! You said, ‘We will ride off on swift horses.’ Therefore your pursuers will be swift! A thousand will flee at the threat of one; at the threat of five you will all flee away, till you are left like a flagstaff on a mountaintop, like a banner on a hill.”

 Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him! O people of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you. Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:15-21, NIV)

Lord, grant wisdom beyond our human intelligence.
Sharpen my attention to Your voice;
Steady me to be patient as You unravel the knots, revealing the Truth.

In Jesus’ Name. Amen

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Thankful for today?

wordswag_1537792848529.png

I have a confession to make.  These days, when I grow fatigued or when there are many challenges, I start to daydream about retiring.  I imagine what life would be like if I did not have to answer the phone, meet a deadline, prepare for another sermon.  The sad fact is that I don’t really want that. When I take each day’s opportunities as they come, God provides all that I need and I find real fulfillment in what I do.

Nothing ruins today more than discontent!  If I, for whatever reason, try to anticipate some future need or blessing, the best of this day will elude me. Do you ever completely miss the joy of the moment because you are worrying about the future or fretting about some past experience?  God says that He provides what we need, when we need it, in the manner that is for our best. Do we believe that?

It’s called  ‘contentment.‘ Paul instructs us that “godliness with contentment is great gain.” In The Message we read: “A devout life does bring wealth, but it’s the rich simplicity of being yourself before God.” (1 Timothy 6:6-8)  On this Monday morning, let me encourage you to seek that kind of richness in your life, being God-aware, accepting His grace and letting go of trying to be someone else, wishing to be somewhere else, doing something else.  Live in the present, open and honest.

There is a lesson in His provision from the experience of ancient Israel. God sent Moses to lead His people out of Egypt to the Promised Land. They were not prepared in any way for the journey or to re-occupy Canaan. So, the Lord provided a visible reminder of His Presence and showed them in a tangible way that He was their complete resource.

For their daily food He gave them “manna” – which was literally bread from His hand. They awakened each morning to white flakes on the ground, which they prepared as their food. The was one command about manna. It was not to be hoarded or turned into a commodity. God said, “Gather only what you need for this day!”

“The People of Israel went to work and started gathering, some more, some less, but when they measured out what they had gathered, those who gathered more had no extra and those who gathered less weren’t short—each person had gathered as much as was needed. Moses said to them, “Don’t leave any of it until morning.” But they didn’t listen to Moses. A few of the men kept back some of it until morning. It got wormy and smelled bad. And Moses lost his temper with them. They gathered it every morning, each person according to need. Then the sun heated up and it melted.” (Exodus 16:17-21, The Message)

God provides. Are we content with His provision, living with what He gives to us this day?

Not only did a few fail to understand what it meant to gather enough, the whole nation grew discontent with this food from Heaven.  They grumbled that manna was boring, that they wanted more and different food. “… the Israelites began to crave the good things of Egypt, and the people of Israel also began to complain. “Oh, for some meat!” they exclaimed. “We remember all the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic that we wanted. But now our appetites are gone, and day after day we have nothing to eat but this manna!” (Numbers 11:4-6, NLT) It was never enough!

God provides.  Will we let Him satisfy us or will we look around, comparing ourselves to others, and growing miserable in the process?

Pray for contentment in the things of God today. Ask the Spirit to grant you the ability to accept what He has provided, to form your heart around joy in His ‘manna’ for this moment.

Here is a word from the Word that is a great promise for a Monday morning as we begin a new work week.  Meditate on it. Let it become ‘living truth’ not just a nice inspirational thought today. “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6, NIV)

Abba, whisper into my heart of your grace for this day.
Keep me from trying to spend tomorrow’s blessings or
redo what I perceive to yesterday’s failures.

Lead me to be fully present in Your plans and purposes today.
Thank you for forgiveness for past sins,
for blessings of yesterday that which become the foundation of today’s faith.

I want to be useful today, ready to be who You desire,
willing to enter fully into this moment with all the gifts of Your Spirit that are promised to me.

Thank you for Who You are, my Provider.

Amen

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Messed up plans, God’s opportunities?

wordswag_1537529149031

I like planning, order, and predictability. Those who know me best smile at routines that I have created that move me through one day and into the next.  Spontaneity can make a person fun to be around but if that ‘fun’ person cannot be relied on to keep commitments- the fun evaporates in the heat of frustration.  For me, given multiple obligations, a certain kind of structure is necessary. If I slack off for a few days unfinished tasks pile up quickly.  It is possible, and I fall into this trap, to be so committed to my plan that God gets squeezed into a little box of my own design.  Frequently I must remind myself that He owns me, that those things that I see as ‘interruptions’ can be opportunities He creates.

Last week when I slipped and fell, I realized that plans had to change, that limits were being forced on me.  More than once since then I have grown tense, frustrated by the forced slow-down. Then I tell myself that even though God did not trip me up last Wednesday, He knew my path and He can use all things for His purposes if I am willing to let go of my plan and trust Him for His!  A painful knee, a traffic delay, a missed appointment, a phone call out of the blue — these can be opportunities to find new grace.

Yes, friend, in ways that cannot simply be coincidence, our God can use the days we see only as part of life’s chaos to lead us to greater grace and for His glory.

Writing in Philippians, Paul tells that he is in prison for preaching the Gospel. He had not blocked out a year in his calendar for that!  Was he raging at life, cursing the misfortune?  Not at all. Look at the grace he shows. “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) He is not simply being positive. He sees the fruit of faith!

This Friday, it is quite likely that more than a few of you are dealing with people and circumstances that are not working out like you planned.  Your agenda has been tossed aside, your best plans destroyed.  Will you trust Him to lead?  Paul, who praised God from a prison cell, believed this whole-heartedly: “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)

Oh, let’s not become fatalists. Let’s not foolishly say “it’s all good.”  The sins of others and my own willfulness introduce situations into our lives that do not line up with the perfect will of God. The faith-builder of that passage is the promise that God operates outside of time and human limitations; great enough to accomplish His ultimate purpose in us. What is that purpose? To shape us into the likeness of our Savior. The Psalmist sang, “Even when the way goes through Death Valley, I’m not afraid when you walk at my side. Your trusty shepherd’s crook makes me feel secure.” (Psalm 23:4, The Message)

Frustration will come today – big and small.  Make yours a response of a beloved child of God, trusting Him. Don’t curse it, pray.  Don’t stew in anger, give it to Him and ask Him to sort it out. Thank Him for the promise that He is working in it for your good to accomplish His purpose.  Let go of the need to be in 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) You will not only know greater peace, you will also allow the beauty of His holiness to shine through.

The word from the Word is a familiar Psalm. Spend some time meditating here, won’t you?  Repeat this simple phrase-
Don’t fret. Trust. Delight. Commit it to the Lord!

Do not fret because of evildoers,
Nor be envious of the workers of iniquity.
For they shall soon be cut down like the grass,
And wither as the green herb.

 Trust in the Lord, and do good;
Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.

Delight yourself also in the Lord,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart.

 Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him,
And He shall bring it to pass.
He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light,
And your justice as the noonday.”

(Psalm 37:1-6, NKJV)
______________________

God Will Make A Way

(a simple song of trust, listen and worship)

God will make a way
Where there seems to be no way,
He works in ways we cannot see,
He will make a way for me.
He will be my guide,
Hold me closely to His side,
With love and strength
For each new day,
He will make a way,
He will make a way.

By a roadway in the wilderness
He’ll lead me,
And rivers in the desert will I see.
Heaven and earth will fade
But His Word will still remain,
He will do something new today.

God Will Make A Way
Moen, Don
© 1990 Integrity’s Hosanna! Music (c/o Integrity Music, Inc.)

CCLI License No. 810055

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Slashing or Soothing?

wordswag_1537441582939
At age 16, I knew that the Lord was inviting me to serve Him in pastoral ministry. My calling was clear but I was full of reasons why I shouldn’t, couldn’t take up that way of life. A veteran pastor who was visiting took time to listen to my heart, assuring me that nobody was good enough, smart enough to be “God’s man.”  He told me that God would guide, keep, and strengthen. I wonder if I would be a pastor today without that conversation?  16 years later, after a terrible year of failure that left me broken, another respected leader took time to sit with me and to remind me that God was not finished with me yet. What a blessed use of words to encourage and build up.

Yes, I have also experienced those conversations where words were used like a knife, cutting deep. Cruel and calculated to inflict maximum harm, those words bloodied my heart.  I stumbled onto an email a few days ago that was beyond honest, with words that slashed at my motives and character and even though it was an old one, it was hard to ‘hear’ those words.

To be authentic, I must acknowledge that my words are not always positive, loving, or encouraging – Help me, Lord!

James challenges us to remember the power of our words. He writes: “A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it! It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell. This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue—it’s never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth! My friends, this can’t go on.” (James 3:5-10, The Message).

Our tongues are wild, untamed things. Changing what we say on our own is impossible. Why? Because our words flow out of the wells of our heart. Our deepest values and most private thoughts will eventually bubble to the surface if we babble on long enough. No one can make his heart new by his own efforts. If we are self-absorbed, insecure, mean, profane, or filthy-minded; it will always show up in our conversations.

That is why we need Jesus!

He is a heart specialist. When His grace and love full into us and when we cultivate a day to day intimacy with the Holy Spirit, we are changed- from the inside out! I love the down-home illustration that our Lord used to make this point. “A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. A tree is idea identified by the kind of fruit it produces. Figs never grow on thornbushes or grapes on bramble bushes. A good person produces good deeds from a good heart, and an evil person produces evil deeds from an evil heart. Whatever is in your heart determines what you say.” (Luke 6:43-45, NLT) What fruit will others pick from your conversations today?

Listen to your words.
Do they deal death or bring life?
Do they encourage or take away hope?
If you need to be honest about another’s sin or failings, (and we must be truthful) are you careful to be gentle, correcting with the desire to restore; or does your harshness crush the soul?

Need to tame that tongue?
James says that YOU CAN’T but the Spirit can.  Any filter we try to put in place will fail. The source must be changed. So, get with Jesus and pray for a changed heart. Ask Him to wash out bitterness, envy, cynicism, unforgiveness, even hatred – replacing those evil fruits with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and good. Use that gift of speech to bless others and to cause those around you to thank God for His grace, expressed through YOU!

The word from the Word is a prayer … mine and I hope yours, too.  “How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart? Cleanse me from these hidden faults. … May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:12, 14, NLT)

______________

Ancient Words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CCLI License # 810055

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A Tested and Tried Faith

wordswag_1537355587263

“How are you?”  That is a common question for which we seldom expect any but a polite answer; “Fine. And you?”  When we are conversing with a close friend or someone we know is going through tough times and we ask, “How are you?” we wait for a real response, expecting to listen and help to carry the weight.  That kind of conversation gives that other person an opportunity to unpack their emotions, to sort through their thoughts. What many of us fail to realize is the importance of asking ourselves the question – “How am I doing?”

Self-reflection can be a difficult thing to do, especially in our fast-paced world and with all of the diversions that technology offers us. We need to take time to consciously think about the state of our mind and heart, to ask if our actions are consistent with the values we profess, to remember where we need to do some maintenance on our vital relationships.  We can easily become adrift in life, pushed here and there by the expectations of others, becoming slaves of our appetites, failing to make choices that bring about the best ends.

Then, too, in the middle of it all, clear understanding may elude us. Phone calls, deadlines, crying kids, emails, and such things can make us deaf to the cry of our soul for purpose. So, we must make time to ask – “how am I doing?” and allow the Holy Spirit to reveal the why behind the what in life. Kierkegaard  offers this – “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.”  Simply said,  without times of reflection and correction, we can drift far from our intended course, losing sight of the important as we are pressed by the urgent things in life.

Paul reminds us that our Christianity needs times of self- reflection. “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5, NIV)

How do we examine ourselves?

We look for choices made that align with our professed faith in Christ.

If we are His disciple, if He lives in us, we will see evidence of Him; love for others, joyful purpose in life, peace in the middle of crisis, trust in times of storms. Christians live with an active hope of eternal life, and their lives are guided by their expectation of a heavenly home.

We look for progress over time in maturity in godly living.

If we are still getting drunk every Friday, if we are still hating our neighbors, if we are still trying to find happiness in pleasure and things in the same way we were before we came to Christ, we should conclude that we need a course correction, real changes made in our pursuit of the Lord.  Those who are maturing in Christ love the things of God, men and women who are deep pools of refreshment for the world in which they live.

We look for healthy emotions in ourselves.  

Those who live in Christ are steady, able to trust Him equally in sorrow and joy. If we are in constant conflict, if we cannot settle to follow Him, if we are fervent in ‘faith’ today and apathetic the next – the evidence is that our faith needs to grow.

We look for strong and authentic relationships with other Christians.

If we are avoiding being around people of true faith there is a red flag of caution. Those who are ‘in Christ’ will find encouragement within the family of faith.

Yes, times of examination are critically important.  We need moments that allow us to reset, correction, and refocus.  We need ‘interruptions’ that break the incessant demands of daily life. Built into the Christian faith is a Holy Meal, a moment when we go back to the basics – His blood that restores us to our Father’s love; His body that was broken so that we could be made whole. One of the essential parts of that time of Communion is confession.  Paul says “Examine your motives, test your heart, come to this meal in holy awe. ” (1 Corinthians 11:28, The Message)

How am I doing?  It’s not a question to be avoided. It can be a moment of growth!

Today’s word from the Word challenges us to give ourselves to the examination of the Truth. “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:11-13, NIV)
_________

Abba, keep me on course, my heart and mind aligned to Your will.
Help me to pursue You with my whole heart.
Protect me from slipping into empty prayers and meaningless words,
Thinking somehow that those things can replace true devotion.

Test me. Reveal the secret things of my heart to me so that I will follow You.
In Jesus’ Name.  Amen

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized