Gentle Shepherd!

Are you confident of God’s care? It is NOT a rhetorical question. It is one that begs an answer of us especially in these troubled times. The world is shaken by a pandemic that is causing a terrible impact on millions of people – sickness, sometimes death; job loss, anxiety about the future.  Whatever your opinion about the ways we ought to be dealing with it, we cannot deny that our lives are being significantly changed by this virus.  And, yes, many are stressed by politics. A week from today we will have elected a new government.  People from the Right and the Left fear the outcome, what the result will be for this nation in the years ahead.  Your concerns may be much more personal – a wayward child, a disintegrating marriage, a chronic illness.

So, let me ask you, Christian, again:  Are you confident of God’s care?

In my prayer today, remembering the needs of the congregation, my family, the nation, and the world, I called to mind the familiar words of David’s Shepherd Psalm, focusing on one line.  “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want … Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4, NIV) In that phrase David references two sides to the Lord’s care for us. 

The ‘rod’ of a shepherd was a stout stick, a club that could be used defensively. David, who shepherded his father’s sheep, knew the usefulness of the rod! When he was talking to King Saul about the challenge of facing the Philistine champion, Goliath, he said, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth.” (1 Samuel 17:34-35, NIV)  

I need a Defender. There is an Adversary who seeks my destruction. He is actively going after me.  Peter said that he “prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for some victim to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8, NLT)  Do I cower in fear? Not when I remember that my Shepherd is my Defender.  It’s not just spiritual foes that attack. Ezekiel spoke of the threat that can come from those who exploit the powerless. “Your princes plot conspiracies just as lions stalk their prey. They devour innocent people, seizing treasures and extorting wealth. They increase the number of widows in the land.” (Ezekiel 22:25, NLT)  When we feel powerless, when those who are ‘bosses’ threaten our well-being – we go the Shepherd’s side.

The ‘staff’ is a more familiar image to us. The shepherd carried a longer, more slender, stick that had a shaped crook at the top which fit nicely around the neck of a lamb! He could use the staff to reach out to pull a sheep to himself where he could administer care. The shepherd used his staff as his walking stick, as well. The staff has become a symbol of benevolent authority.  Micah writes “Shepherd your people with your staff, the flock of your inheritance.” (Micah 7:14, NIV)

I need One who provides Care! Sheep, by nature, are dependent on the shepherd. Domesticated sheep cannot thrive without constant care. They have no natural defense for predators. Their wool must be trimmed. Parasites must be removed. They must be led to new pastures. Sheep are timid, cautious, living in flocks, and generally not aggressive but it is unfair to call them ‘stupid’ just because they need a shepherd. Yes, I sing with the Psalm, “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.” (Psalm 95:6-7, NIV)

Look to your Shepherd, friend. Trust His defense and His care so that you will live with confidence in times of trouble.

Here is a word from the Word. Jesus, our Shepherd, offers us comfort. “The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.” (John 10:2-4, NIV)

I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. “I am the Good Shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:11-15, NIV)
____________

Gentle Shepherd
(a simple song that invites His care)

Gentle Shepherd come and lead us
For we need You
to help us find our way

Gentle Shepherd come and feed us
For we need Your
strength from day to day

There’s no other we can turn to
Who can help us face another day

Gentle Shepherd come and lead us
For we need You
to help us find our way

Gloria Gaither | William J. Gaither © 1974 William J. Gaither, Inc. (Admin. by Gaither Copyright Management)

CCLI License # 810055

Do you like me?

It is the rare person who cares nothing for the opinion of others! We learn, early in life, to fit in. We find people with whom we can identify, that give us a sense of place and belonging. That is not a bad thing, entirely, unless we allow the ‘group’ to think for us, surrendering our own identity.  Part of maturity is coming to know who we are, what is truly important, and gaining the ability to choose the influencers in our life wisely.  

Some persons never mature emotionally beyond the teen years. Remember being a teen, when the approval of your friends was paramount in life?  Whatever your ‘group’ valued – their style, opinions, music …. it all really mattered because you wanted acceptance. That’s natural, but how sad it is to see a person who has reached mid-life who is still allowing how she lives to be defined by her peers. That person is a puppet on string, dancing on life’s stage – tugged first this way, then that.

Persons who live for approval of others will constantly be adjusting their image, trying to conceal those parts of their life that they think are unacceptable.

Christians find a life in the Spirit, centered in God’s amazing love,  a love unrelated to our natural beauty, brains, or brawn.  His love flows out of His grace! In God’s love, shown to us in Jesus Christ, we gain security and a sense of identity that allows us to live openly and honestly.  A Christian can live authentically in this world when she has found who she is in Christ. 

Paul, when criticized for his message that ran counter to tradition, declared: “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10, NIV)  His statement was NOT born of arrogance, but of the most profound submission of his life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Are you able to live authentically because you have grasped the extent of God’s acceptance?  Or, are you investing a lot of time and energy to conceal failures, incapable of acknowledging your fears or feelings of confusion?

When you share parts of your life story, do you carefully edit out those episodes that you think are too ‘awful’ to be told?   When I find myself in the company of someone who feels compelled to put on a lot of spiritual ‘make up’ trying to look more ‘Christian,’ I just want to hug them close and whisper – “God loves you, warts and all. It’s OK to be real!”

This is not to encourage any of us to revel in sin or to excuse our bad behaviors. Some, in immaturity, make God’s grace into a license for sinning. “If He loves me as I am, then I can go on living to suit myself.” That’s always been the response of some to the message of God’s love. When we live openly, honestly before the Lord, we will be transformed to become more like Jesus.  

The Word teaches us to desire a life that pleases the Lord. “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is.” (Romans 12:2, NLT)

The motive for that change is of highest importance.
Are we trying to change ourselves to win the approval of our church or family, or arewe loving God and being changed by love? We cannot be a Christian just by ‘acting like one,’ our image defined by our church or pastor.   We must become a child of God, through faith, given a new name, a new identity. He writes His love in bold letters on our hearts which changes us, inside out.

Are you insecure? Defeat that fear praying to KNOW the depth of the love of God.  The One who knows you best loves you most!

Here’s a word from the Word. Keep it in your mind and meditate on it today – “For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God. And other people will approve of you, too.” (Romans 14:17-18, NLT)   That’s a win-win!

_____________

The Love Of God

(MercyMe sings of God’s great love!)

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell
It goes beyond the highest star
And reaches to the lowest hell
The guilty pair bowed down with care
God gave His Son to win
His erring child He reconciled
And pardoned from his sin

O love of God how rich and pure
How measureless and strong
It shall forevermore endure
The saints and angels song

When years of time shall pass away
And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall
When men who here refuse to pray
On rocks and hills and mountains call
God’s love so sure shall still endure
All measureless and strong
Redeeming grace to Adam’s race
The saints and angels song

Could we with ink the ocean fill
And were the skies of parchment made
Were every stalk on earth a quill
And every man a scribe by trade
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Though stretched from sky to sky

Frederick Martin Lehman | Meir Ben Isaac Nehorai

© Words: Public Domain

God’s preparations for ME

I value preparation! How about you?  Am I a ‘control freak?’ Perhaps, but life works best for me when things are in order, when I have the sense that there are plans and preparations.  As I awakened this morning with a prayer for the week on my lips, the Spirit whispered to me His assurance that He has already made preparations for my every need. Yes, nothing hidden over the horizon of my life’s timeline will catch God by surprise. There are resources readied for me, grace plenty available, and strength for the journey.

The story of Jonah is about a man who refused the call of God. He took a ship in the very opposite direction.  The Lord sent a storm to grab the errant preacher’s attention. Recognizing that he was the cause, Jonah asked to be thrown overboard.  And, even there, we learn of God’s mercy! “Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. ” (Jonah 1:17, KJV)  

He found himself in awe of God’s plans and had a moment of transformation!  “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, LORD, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple. “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the LORD.” (Jonah 2:7-9, NIV)

On the cusp of this new week, you may be wrestling with real challenges, facing some pain, trying to work through heartache. You may feel the uncertainty of our times in a way that brings anxiety. You may wonder what the future holds if …  God promises that He has already made preparations! His promise stretches into eternity.

Jesus, on the night before His crucifixion, sat with His friends over dinner and talked of their future. He assures them of God’s care.  “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:1-2, NIV)  He also told them of the gift of the Spirit that was prepared for them. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:16-17, NIV)

When we choose to live in God’s provision, we discover a quiet strength for life.  IF we are kicking and screaming about life, if we are cussing and complaining about our situation, we reveal a failure of faith, a refusal to accept what His has prepared for us. I know how easy it is to slip into a default mode of complaint.  The coffee is not brewed correctly.  We read our spouse’s face as critical. Our boss becomes an idiot. That driver in front of us needs to step on it.  IF we allow ourselves to complain, Self consumes us and we become less aware of God’s Presence and provision.  

The people of Israel, during the Exodus, had their every need fully provided for by the LORD, and yet, for them there was not enough, no contentment.  Forgetting the plight of slavery they griped about missing the food of Egypt, despite miracle manna that showed up each morning! Their endless griping eventually caused them to reject God’s invitation into the Promised Land. The whole generation that left Egypt ended up dying in the wilderness, living far beneath the perfect plan of God!  

Paul, who might have understandably complained about the difficulties of his life, choose faith. His practical counsel is that we choose to “Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! … Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.” (Philippians 4:4,8, The Message)  

Our Lord does not ask us to become dishonest or to deny the reality of a broken world but He does invite us to be aware of His Presence. He says that He is at work, to do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Eph 3:20) and that is a source of security and stability in a crazy, mixed up world, isn’t it?

Here’s the word from the Word.  “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10, NIV)

__________

Way Maker

(Let this song move you to worship and praise for God’s preparations)

You are here moving in our midst
I worship You I worship You
You are here working in this place
I worship You I worship You

Way Maker, Miracle Worker, Promise Keeper,
Light in the darkness, my God that is who You are

You are here touching ev’ry heart
I worship You I worship You
You are here healing ev’ry heart
I worship You I worship You

You are here turning lives around
I worship You I worship You
You are here mending ev’ry heart
I worship You yeah I worship You Lord

That is who You are
That is who You are

Even when I don’t see it You’re working

Even when I don’t feel it You’re working
You never stop You never stop working
You never stop You never stop working

Osinachi Kalu Okoro Egbu

© 2016 Integrity Music Europe (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing (Integrity Music [DC Cook]))

CCLI License # 810055

More than laughter

I love a good laugh!  Yesterday, Jay and Sean (my sons) called while they were driving together. We started joking about some of the absurdities in our world. Our laughter was refreshing.  Some people enjoy late-night shows with those guys that are supposed to be ‘funny.’ Those comics can make us laugh, but it’s not real lasting joy. We know that the “joy of the Lord” is completely different from the sit-com laughter, don’t we?  In fact, some of the deepest experiences of joy in my life are accompanied by tears, really.  

Driving on a back road yesterday, the fall colors mixed with misty fog, were beautiful and suddenly I was “God-aware,” with a sense of His love, so that I was momentarily tearfully joyful.  I love it when someone relatively new to our worship at Faith Discovery Church says “Pastor, sometimes I feel tearful here, but not because I’m sad. There is a peaceful sense of God’s Presence.”  My heart rejoices with them.

Nehemiah, the rebuilder of Jerusalem, called the people of God together to instruct them in God’s ways.  As they heard him they realized how badly they had failed God and they began to weep. “Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is sacred to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”  (Nehemiah 8:8-12, NIV)

In this turbulent year, when so many of us are struggling with the emotional fall-out of COVID-19 (yes, depression is a BIG problem), we must reach beyond the laughs of life to find that JOY that is found in the Presence of the Lord. That joy that gives us an ability to rise above our circumstances, to go through dark days and not to be crushed by them. God’s joy is both a gift and something that we must reach out to own. We cannot manufacture it or manipulate our emotions to ‘feel’ it, but we become aware of Him, pausing from the endless rush and noise of life, looking past the problems. 

Christian, remember that our life in Jesus is not just a grim slog through daily duties as we ‘try harder’ to do the right thing. He said “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:9-11, NIV)

We find His joy when faith rooted in the Word helps us to understand that there is more to life than what we can see at this moment.   
Joy can find us when we acknowledge our limitations and choose to rest in Christ Jesus.
Joy will win if we will silence the clamor of our heart to wait for Him to make a way where there seems to be no way.
Joy springs up when we confess our sins, accept His forgiveness, and renew our fellowship with our Father.
Joy is able to flourish in our hearts if we will let Him lead, even along those paths that we would never choose for ourselves.

In the life of the Holy Spirit we find joy! 

There’s no sin in sorrow!  Grief has many causes. Are you wrestling with temptation to the point of exhaustion?  Are you frustrated with something that won’t yield to your best efforts at finding a solution? Has someone you loved rejected you?   Is life not at all what you thought it could or should be? Are you angry with the Lord for allowing things to develop in your life that you did not expect?

Breathe this line – The joy of the Lord is MY strength.  Instead of attempting to joke your way around your sorrow or hiding your disappointment bravely, may I suggest that you find a place to be alone with God? You don’t have to drive to a church to find Him, though I hope you’ll find your way there weekly! I found His Presence on a back road a few hours ago.

He’s here now! Tell Him what’s weighing you down, lay it down and thank Him for Who He is!  Give it up.  If tears flow, let them, for they are a language that the Man of Sorrows understands.  Joy will find you as the Spirit fills you.

Make this word from the Word as a benediction.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him,
so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
(Romans 15:13, NIV)

Knowing Him will bring JOY to you today.
______________

Joy To The World (Unspeakable Joy)

(We need to sing this more often than just around Christmas!)

Joy to the world the Lord is come
Let earth receive her King
Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and heaven and nature sing

Joy to the world the Savior reigns
Let all their songs employ
While fields and floods rocks hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat repeat the sounding joy

Joy unspeakable joy
An overflowing well
No tongue can tell
Joy unspeakable joy
It rises in my soul
Never lets me go

He rules the world with truth and grace
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness
And wonders of His love
And wonders of His love
And wonders wonders of His love

Chris Tomlin | Ed Cash | George Frideric Handel | Isaac Watts | Matt Gilder © sixsteps Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) Vamos Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

The Battle Belongs to the Lord

“Lord, I’m tired,” I prayed as I prepared for sleep. It was a different kind of tired that I felt on Monday evening. That day I had done a lot of home care and I was physically ready for rest. Last night it was a kind of soul-weary. The concern for friends who are in hard times, the stress of ministry in a time when every word can set someone off in a deeply polarized Church, the ongoing challenges of ministry in this time of isolation and fear – all of this and more drained me. Paradoxically, an hour earlier I concluded a Bible study class in Joshua about the fall of the walls of Jericho. “Lord,” I prayed, “how do I remain steady, give hope, and see some of these walls come tumblin’ down?”

A myth persists among Christians that He will always part the waters, calm the storm, and send the sun to shine. We start to believe that we entitled to live in a zone of exemption from challenges and difficulties. This lie produces one of two terrible results. 1. We may conclude that our faith is faulty, that we have failed.
2. Worse, we may conclude that God is not worthy of our trust and retreat into a life of fear.

In reality, our commitment to Christ Jesus sets us up for struggle – a battle with “the world, the flesh, and the Devil!”  But … the battle belongs to the Lord. In my fatigue, I sort of forgot that, for a moment.

Joshua led Israel in a miraculous crossing of the Jordan. Then they camped inside the border of the Promised Land and faced a war of conquest. The old leader took a short trip to do some reconnaissance around Jericho. He was met by a ‘man’ holding a drawn sword! When the old leader discerned that he was in the presence of a Messenger of the LORD, he fell facedown in reverence.

He received a strange set of instructions for the coming ‘battle.’   He was told to send the Ark of the Covenant, seven priests blowing their shofars, and a contingent of soldiers to circle the city once a day for 6 days, then 7 times on the 7th day.  The Messenger assured him that “then the wall of the city will collapse and the people will go up, every man straight in.” (Joshua 6:5, NIV)

Since we know the whole story, we may not grasp just how crazy this scheme sounded to Joshua. Can you imagine going back to the war council and trying to explain this plan to them?  But, he demonstrates his faith with complete obedience, telling the people and the army that they were going to exactly what the Messenger told him to do.  His leadership was on the line. The future of Israel was at stake.

They followed the plan, the walls fell down, and Jericho was conquered.  God had a purpose! He wanted both Israel and the Canaanites to understand that this battle was His, not theirs. The glory was not for fearless generals or warriors. It belonged to the Lord.

This remains true today, my Christian friend. Jesus Christ commissions us to ‘go into all the world’ with the Good News. He sends us to defend the weak, to speak His hope to those without any, to bring wholeness to people broken by the evil in our world, to tell those who are far from God that they can ‘come home’ to the Father who loves them.  It’s easy to write those words but they describe a battle. Evil pushes back.  We can take a lesson from the experience of the people of God who were called out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.

The Lord promised Joshua that “No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. For I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you.” (Joshua 1:5, NLT)  That did not mean, though, that they would walk in and take over. There would be battles to possess the Promise. The land would be theirs, but not without struggle! The promise was secure, but taking possession demanded a gutsy faith, a willingness to march around the city walls, to go to war against an entrenched enemy. It was costly but their victory assured.

Disciple, living in the promise of our Savior, being full of the Holy Spirit, does not mean that we coast all the way to Heaven.  Paul took the good news of Jesus to his world and reminded those who were converts that they needed “to stick with what they had begun to believe and not quit, making it clear to them that it wouldn’t be easy: “Anyone signing up for the kingdom of God has to go through plenty of hard times.”  (Acts 14:21-22, The Message)  Our victory is certain as the battle belongs to the Lord, but it will require our engagement.

From the Word and my own long walk with Jesus I can tell you that we do our best work in God’s service when we have come to the end of our rope, surrendered our clever schemes, and taken hold of the promise of God. Are you tired? Does some ‘Jericho’ stand between you and God’s ‘Promised Land?’  Take some time to stand down, to listen, to let the Spirit find you with renewal and reminders of His holy strategy. Indeed, the battle does belong to the Lord.  So ‘be strong and courageous’ knowing that no matter how fierce the battle, He holds your destiny secure in His hands.

The word from the Word is my declaration today. They were first penned by Paul, when he was exhausted by unrelenting criticism of others and from dealing with some ‘thorn in the flesh’ which he does not specify. May his hope and assurance shoot adrenalin into our souls and prepare us to serve faithfully, Sola Gloria Deo. (For God’s Glory alone)  

He prayed repeatedly for relief.  God’s reply … “My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your weakness.”  Paul concludes this … “So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may work through me. Since I know it is all for Christ’s good, I am quite content with my weaknesses and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, NLT)

The battle belongs to the Lord!
______________

See A Victory
(Listen, worship, find renewal!)

The weapon may be formed but it won’t prosper
When the darkness falls it won’t prevail
‘Cause the God I serve knows only how to triumph
My God will never fail
My God will never fail

I’m gonna see a victory
I’m gonna see a victory
For the battle belongs to You Lord
I’m gonna see a victory
I’m gonna see a victory
For the battle belongs to You Lord

There’s power in the mighty Name of Jesus
Every war He wages He will win
I’m not backing down from any giant

I know how this story ends
I know how this story ends
You take what the enemy meant for evil
And You turn it for good
You turn it for good

Ben Fielding | Chris Brown | Jason Ingram | Steven Furtick © 2019 SHOUT! Music Publishing Australia (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) Fellow Ships Music (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC) Music by Elevation Worship Publishing (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC) So Essential Tunes (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)

CCLI License # 810055

Living in God’s Purposes?

If we chatted over a cup of coffee, I’m sure both of us could fill up an hour talking about the way that 2020 has derailed our lives. Dreams have died because of a virus. Sickness has come to millions. Death has visited thousands. Businesses closed. Churches are struggling. Jobs have disappeared. And, I don’t see an end in sight, just yet!

The poetry of Robert Burns, the 18th century Scotsman, includes this one about a poor mouse whose nest was torn up by the farmer’s plow.

“The best laid schemes o’ mice and men
Gang aft a-gley, (go oft awry)
And leaves us naught but grief and pain
For promised joy.”

It isn’t always a storm, a sickness, a divorce, or a recession that turns life inside out. We can lose our way, make a stupid choice, allow ourselves to believe a lie just for a moment, only to find ‘naught but grief and pain!

Joseph, a hero in Genesis, met more than a few surprises on the way to his horizons! He started life with great hope and was the favored son of Jacob. God blessed him with dreams and intelligence.

But … one day in a dusty desert, his jealous brothers changed everything and sold him to slave traders who took him to Egypt. Game over, right? Not quite!   In spite of his plight, Joseph chose excellence again and again. He was sold to Potiphar and soon was managing the household. The nobleman’s wife decided she really wanted to sleep with the good looking young man. His refusal earned him a false accusation of rape and a long term in prison. Game over? No.

He lived with the same excellence and was soon managing the prison! God orchestrated an unbelievable set circumstances that led him to the Pharaoh. About 20 years after being sold a slave he became the Prime Minister of a world-class nation. Several years passed and one day his brothers showed up in his court. When they found out who held their fate in his hands, they quaked with terror.  

Now it was Joseph’s turn to be a game changer. Once again his commitment to excellence showed up. He refused to take revenge! “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:19-20, NIV)

“God has a plan,” people tell us when our world has flipped inside out! It might seem like one of those things we just like to say. But, He really does have a plan. In the amazing way that only an all-powerful and all-knowing God could, He uses the unexpected, the tragic, the amazing, the wonderful – all things – to present us with new opportunities.

In Ephesians, Paul assures us that God is always at work on our behalf. “And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:9-12, NIV)

The grand plan of our salvation is purposeful, designed by the mind of our Father, and He will finish what He started. His Kingdom, now hidden in our hearts, will be revealed to the whole world. Our lives, as we trust Him to lead, are not just a tragedy, though there is sorrow.  He is using us to show off His grace, His mercy, His power so that others will praise Him. Hold onto that, dear friend.

Please know that I am not a fatalist!  It is foolish to say, “whatever will be” and drift with the current. As the story of Joseph helps us to understand, God has a plan and our part is to work with Him to make it known.  So, I am a ‘faithful-ist!’  

The word from the Word is prayer from the Psalms for those whose life has gone awry. If you’re struggling to make sense of it all, make it yours.

“Do not withhold your mercy from me, O Lord;
may your love and your truth always protect me.
For troubles without number surround me;
my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see.

They are more than the hairs of my head,
and my heart fails within me.
Be pleased, O Lord, to save me;
O Lord, come quickly to help me.” (Psalm 40:11-13, NIV)

“But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who love your salvation always say,
“The Lord be exalted!”

Yet I am poor and needy; may the Lord think of me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
O my God, do not delay.” (Psalm 40:16-17, NIV)
________________

Jesus is Lord of All

Jesus is Lord of all Jesus is Lord of all
No sin is too big, no problem too small
Jesus is Lord of all Jesus is King of Kings
My Lord is King of Kings

Presidents, princes, paupers will sing
Jesus is King of Kings
Jesus Christ is Lord of all
King of Kings and Lord of Lords
You know he’s Lord of all

Jesus is coming soon
Jesus is coming soon
Just look in your heart and see if there’s room
‘Cause Jesus is coming soon

Jesus Christ is Lord of all
Yes, yes, yes
King of Kings and Lord of Lords
That’s all there is, that’s all

My God is Lord of all
Jesus is Lord of all
Jesus is Lord of all
No sin is too big, no problem too small
Jesus is Lord of all

Keith Green

I Vote! Do you?

Two weeks from today, Americans will have the privilege of electing their government. Please take that privilege and responsibility seriously! Go vote. This year’s election offers us two very different visions of America, a real difference of policy.  Please remember that it is not just a Presidential election! We are selecting people who will set public policy from local townships right up to the Senate. There are many reasons you may feel that your vote ‘does not really count.’  You may find it hard to support either party.  Never the less, pray, think, get informed, and VOTE!

Paul urges us to remain engaged with the authorities that govern us. “Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know. Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can be quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation. This is the way our Savior God wants us to live.” (1 Timothy 2:1-3, The Message)  Even as you wrestle with the choices of this election, pray. Ask for wisdom in your choices. Pray that God will guide those who are entrusted with authority.  

Since we belong first to Christ and live under His authority, our lives should be markedly different as we approach this election. Pastor Rich Villadas of New Life Fellowship in Queens, NY offered these important thoughts that I am sharing with you today. Christians in America can (yes, we must!) demonstrate the life of faith that we claim. What marks us?

1.  We are NOT paralyzed with anxiety over the results of this election.

I have voted in every election year since Jimmy Carter was elected President. For many years I was much more politically active than I am these days, even running for local office 25 years ago. And, I have never experienced a time when people are as anxious about the results as they are today.  Stark pictures are painted by both parties that describe the end of life as we know if the ‘other’ guy is elected.  While the election will have real consequences, Christian know this – we are secured in the hand of our Father. So, quiet your thoughts.

2.  We PRAY for those with whom we differ.

The words hurled around these days are caustic, cutting, and cruel.  We no longer differ with the ‘other’ candidate, we attempt to destroy them, offering mockery and disrespect. Even families allow themselves to be divided to the point of breaking relationship over Red and Blue. Christian we cannot do this and claim to be Jesus’ disciple. Yes, there are real differences and we continue to PRAY lovingly for those with whom we disagree.

3.  We acknowledge our own blind spots and limitations.

To listen to some Christians speak, one could assume that they have just stepped away from a direct conversation with the Almighty, such is their certitude!  No matter what you think you know, you do not know it all. We all bring our pre-conceived ideas, our experience, our assumptions to the process.  Humility allows us to listen and learn. Being humble does not mean we set aside convictions, but we will admit that we do not share God’s omniscience.

4.  We refuse to be trapped by the error of anointing a candidate or party as THE ONE that belongs to God.

‘Nuff said!

5.  We are passionate about the ethical concerns that JESUS teaches us.

Jesus taught us that that all morality flows from two commandments: “to love God with all one’s heart, mind, strength, and soul, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself.”  Understanding public policy in terms of caring for ALL people, of every race, of both sexes, the poor and the rich, those who share our faith and those who do not  – is no easy task.  It is oh so easy to adopt slogans and sound bites without considering the very real impact on other people.  Christian we must always ask ourselves if our support for a candidate or party is people-centered, if we are advancing those things which Jesus made of first line importance to us.

6.  We are shaped in our behavior by Jesus’ voice more than the culture in which we live.

7.  We live with a HOPE that is incomprehensible to those who are not alive in Christ.

The Word reminds us that we hold “unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:23-24, NIV)  Whatever the outcome of November 3, God will still be Lord of all, Jesus will still be our Savior, and Heaven will still be our eternal home! This hope should steady us, keep us focused on serving, and keep us from fear-mongering.

Friend, I ask you to join with me in recommitting ourselves to the care of our Father. Our peace is not born of apathy or ignorance but of a deep assurance of the unwavering care of God, our Father.  Yes, we have to make a choice of party and/or candidate and I really hope that you will exercise your right as a citizen of these Unites States, but never forget – we are first citizens of the Kingdom of God. Let’s live like it. 

Republican or Democrat, there are plenty of issues with the positions of each party.  Someone has said that “If any Christian fits neatly into one political party, that Christian does not neatly into the Kingdom of God. God transcends all politics.”  Amen.

My appreciation to Rich Villodas for giving me the outline for the Coffeebreak today. I pray the Spirit will fill us with the wisdom and peace of God.

The word from the Word –
“O LORD, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me!
Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.” Selah

But you are a shield around me, O LORD;
you bestow glory on me and lift up my head.
To the LORD I cry aloud, and he answers me from his holy hill. Selah

I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.
I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn up against me on every side.
Arise, O LORD! Deliver me, O my God!
Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked.
From the LORD comes deliverance.
May your blessing be on your people. Selah” (Psalm 3, NIV)

I am a Radical!

I am a radical. Those who know me are most likely smiling because I appear quite conventional, an older man who lives in a rural neighborhood, keeps his lawn mowed, wears standard attire, and makes few waves in the world. But, I am a radically committed Christian by this definition – “a person who advocates thorough or complete political or social reform.” You won’t find me at a political rally or a demonstration in the street, but if you ask me you will discover my convictions about the centrality of the Lord Jesus Christ in all of life and the miracle of being born of the Spirit into eternal life.

The word ‘radical’ causes some of us to think of fanatics like those young men who shook our nation 19 years ago when they hijacked airplanes to knock down the Twin Towers, murdering thousands and killing themselves in the process. Or perhaps you think of one of those wild-eyed preachers on some late night TV channel who seems to need a psychiatric evaluation.  

-Radical brings to my mind a young woman from my congregation who has invested herself in training so that she can to go to a poor neighborhood in Colombia to live among deaf children.

-It makes me think of a group of people who invest 3 hours every Sunday afternoon in teaching the truth of the Word to the children and youth of our church, largely without thanks or recognition.

-Radical describes those who give away a tithe (10%) of their income to support churches that preach the Gospel, feed the hungry, encourage the weak, and offer restoration to the broken.

-Radical makes me think of 5 young Americans who saw the plight of the Waorani people in the Amazonian jungle and chose to go to try to reach them with a message of hope. Those young fathers and husbands were speared to death shortly after setting up their camp on an Amazon River beach in 1956. But, from their spilled blood there came a surge in world-wide evangelical efforts and that tribe did change and exists today in part because of their radical commitment.

Christianity was never meant to be a life of moderation! Our Savior and Lord calls us to surrender of ourselves for a radical dedication to His Cause. How else can we read His words? “If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give it up for me, you will find it.” (Matthew 10:39, NLT)  

John records another of Jesus’ invitations to radical commitment. “Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.” (1 John 2:15-17, NLT)

What owns us? It’s a question we must ask ourselves often. To bring clarity to your thoughts, ask these questions. In what do I seek security? To what do I give the majority of my focused energies? What are my children learning about life’s values from my daily life?

Jesus asks “Why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say?” (Luke 6:46, NLT)  He went on to say that if we just talk faith but fail to live faithfully we are like a person who attempts to build his house on a sandy beach without a foundation. Life’s storms will reveal the reality!  

A system of ethics, a religious creed, a God is a merely a “Moral Therapeutic Deity” cannot save us and lacks the power to transform us from sinners to saints.  If we choose a safe, moderate ‘faith’ that does not cause us to wrestle with temptation, make hard choices, and pursue the will of God, our religion will be barren, empty.  We will throw it away when “God” (not real God at all, sadly)  does not produce the happy life to which we believe we are entitled.

So how can we become radical without going insane? 
Two choices are of prime importance:

1.  We must recover a deep commitment to the study of Scripture and revere those words as the inspired and revealed Truth. Our understanding must be shaped by more than our private interpretations, including consideration of the long traditions of the Church and sound doctrine.

2. We must stay connected, living with other Christians with whom we remain in constant dialogue. The friction of community, the love required to deal with people who are flawed, who do not see the world as we do, who are working out their salvation as we are will keep us balanced.

Jesus Christ calls us to the radical Way. His call is not  based in strange visions, weird rituals, or unbridled self-expression. It is an invitation to crown Him Lord of all.

Here is a word from the Word. Pray that the Spirit will bring them to life, drawing you to Christ Jesus, and to a humble surrender to Him.

Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him!
Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them.
Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray.
Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.
Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.

It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.

Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized.
Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.”

(Philippians 4:4-9, The Message)

________________

Now I Belong To Jesus


Jesus my Lord will love me forever
From Him no pow’r of evil can sever
He gave His life to ransom my soul
Now I belong to Him

Now I belong to Jesus
Jesus belongs to me
Not for the years of time alone
But for eternity

Once I was lost in sin’s degradation
Jesus came down to bring me salvation
Lifted me up from sorrow and shame
Now I belong to Him

Joy floods my soul for Jesus has saved me
Freed me from sin that long had enslaved me
His precious blood He gave to redeem
Now I belong to Him

Norman John Clayton © 1938, 1943 Norman J. Clayton. Renewed 1966, 1971 Curb Wordspring Music (Admin. by W.C.M. Music Corp.)

CCLI License # 810055

Testimony!

My home is decorated with family photos, capturing a moment in time. I look at one from 1976, of a very young couple. She is visibly with child, their first. Yes, I remember the setting of that picture 4 decades later! We memorialize special moments, don’t we? At family gatherings we re-tell our stories, laughing, perhaps crying, building our sense of belonging, connected by heritage, understanding who we are in part because we know from where we came. Our stories are the testimony of what it means to belong to the Scott clan.

When Christians gather they celebrate a ritual meal and when the Cup and Bread are shared it is, as Jesus said, “in remembrance of Me.”  When go back, for a moment, to the Cross and His love. Hopefully we also recall the joy we knew when we accepted His gift of life and renew our hope.  

It is important for us to tell our own faith stories, too.  Can you tell the story of your own faith-awakening, concisely, and in a way that presents Christ to those who do not yet know His love?  We used to call that our ‘testimony.’  However we refer to it, we need to be able to tell The Story of Jesus and how He has changed our life.

When Joshua led the people of God into the Promised Land, it is worth noting that before they started the campaign of conquest, they built a memorial! After God stopped the Jordan River so that they could cross on dry land, here is what he did.  “On the tenth day of the first month the people went up from the Jordan and camped at Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho. And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan.

He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their fathers, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ For the LORD your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The LORD your God did to the Jordan just what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful and so that you might always fear the LORD your God.” (Joshua 4:19-24, NIV)  The stones told the story. They were a testimonial to the faithfulness of God.

Theology and doctrine are of critical importance but those truths live through real people, you and me. Paul says that our lives, when changed by the Truth of Christ, are to “reflect the Lord’s glory” as we are “being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory.” (2 Corinthians 3)  Our children, our extended family, our friends need to ‘see’ the Gospel even more than they need to hear it. One of the ways they see it is in the work of the Spirit happening in us in the ordinary days, when we tell our testimony.

When we walk with Jesus, we need not be self-conscious about talking of our Friend. We must not invent fanciful tales. We just tell the stories of His grace and love.  These stories are the ‘memorial stones’ that cause others to “might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful.”

I love to hear those authentic stories of His grace, that is often found in our failure.  My faith finds refreshing in the testimony of a Believer who knows her God personally. Do you know Him?

In John 9, there is a story of a man whose sight was restored by Jesus’ touch. His exuberance in telling the story caused the religious authorities to haul him in for questioning, insisting that he must be making it up, that it could not be true. They badgered the man and his parents. They asked them, “Is this your son? Was he born blind? If so, how can he see?”(John 9:19, NLT) So for the second time they called in the man who had been blind and told him, “Give glory to God by telling the truth, because we know Jesus is a sinner.” (John 9:24, NLT)

I love his response to this, and take the word from the Word for us today from his conclusion. “I don’t know whether he is a sinner,” the man replied. “But I know this: I was blind, and now I can see!” (John 9:25, NLT)

Can you say the same, that Jesus has taken away your spiritual blindness, given you eyes that see the goodness of God? 
What’s your testimony about His grace and goodness?

__________________

My Testimony

I saw Satan fall like lightning
I saw darkness run for cover
But the miracle that I just can’t get over
My name is registered in heaven
I believe in signs and wonders
I have resurrection power
Still the miracle that I just can’t get over
My name is registered in heaven

My praise belongs to You forever
This is my testimony from death to life
‘Cause grace rewrote my story I’ll testify
By Jesus Christ the Righteous I’m justified
This is my testimony (oh I’m alive)
(This is my testimony)

Come together sons and daughters
Bought with blood and washed in water
Sing the praises of the Spirit Son and Father
Our God will finish what He started
Our God will finish what He started
If I’m not dead You’re not done
Greater things are still to come
Oh I believe

Brandon Lake | Chris Brown | Steven Furtick | Tiffany Hammer © Music by Elevation Worship Publishing (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC) Maverick City Publishing (Admin. by Heritage Worship Music Publishing) (Admin. by Heritage Worship Publishing) Bethel Music Publishing

CCLI License # 810055

That FIRST Step

Sometimes people ask me, “What is the hardest part of preparing a sermon?”  My reply is a bit irreverent – “Getting my behind into my desk chair!”  As with so many things, big and small, the first step is usually the most difficult. There is a moment when we must commit ourselves, putting our minds and hands to the task.

When we contemplate starting something new – we often see a wall of impossibilities, don’t we?  However, when we begin, when we tackle the task, there are resources, there is determination, and somehow it gets done.

The book of Joshua tells the story of Israel’s possession of the Promised Land.  In chapter 3 they are camped on the plains, ready to go. But, there is a problem. Between Canaan and their camp the Jordan River was a barrier. To complicate matters, at the time of their contemplated crossing it was ‘at flood stage.‘  

Joshua, who was proven in his faith told the people – “Think of it! The Ark of the Covenant, which belongs to the Lord of the whole earth, will lead you across the Jordan River! Now choose twelve men, one from each tribe. The priests will be carrying the Ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth. When their feet touch the water, the flow of water will be cut off upstream, and the river will pile up there in one heap.” (Joshua 3:11-13, NLT)  How many of them heard him and silently said, “I’ll believe that when I see it!”?

40 years earlier their parents, when faced with the difficulties of possessing the Promised Land, had refused God’s invitation. Their faithlessness caused them to die as wanderers in the wilderness. Joshua was a survivor of that generation. The promise is theirs to own, but, they will have to make a choice of faith unlike their fearful fathers. He pressed them to consecrate themselves, to follow the Lord, and to ‘step into the river.” And, when they did the river stopped flowing! Joshua summarizes the occasion saying, “This was so that everybody on earth would recognize how strong God’s rescuing hand is and so that you would hold God in solemn reverence always.” (Joshua 4:24, The Message)

Note this! The river stopped flowing ONLY “when their feet touched the water.”  They had to take that first step in faith before the miracle happened!   

There is a powerful life lesson here for us. When God says, “Go,” and it appears that there is no way, it’s time to step into the water! Faith will follow the Presence of the Lord, just as the people of Israel followed the Ark of the Covenant into the Jordan River and committed themselves to the possession of God’s promise. Obedience will open a way forward – from where we are into a new and wonderful place of His purposes.

What seemingly insurmountable situation hinders your spiritual progress today?

Is God inviting you to a new ministry, to a new season of growth, to discovery of His promise and Presence in a deeper way?
Are you willing to follow in faith and obedience, one step at a time?

That first step ‘into the river’ is the toughest one, but if you are led by Him, He will make a way.

This word from the Word is a song for the tested, one that anticipates the fulfilment of His promises.  As you read these ancient, inspired words, I pray that the Holy Spirit will make them alive and compelling to you.

“O Israel, the Lord who created you says:
“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.
I have called you by name; you are mine.

When you go through deep waters and great trouble,
I will be with you.

When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown!
When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up;
the flames will not consume you.
For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
(Isaiah 43:1-7, NLT)
___________

Got Any Rivers
(Selah encourages our faith with their beautiful arrangement)

Got any rivers
You think are uncrossable
Got any mountains
You can’t tunnel through
God specializes in
Things tho’t impossible
He does the things
Others cannot do

Oscar C. Eliason © 1945
Assigned New Spring (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055