Steady as she goes!

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“Steady as she goes
” was the captain’s direction to the helmsmen on ships of old, meaning ‘hold this course.’  I have reminded myself of that old phrase many times in the last couple of months. After making the decision to close the Christian school ministry attached to the church which I pastor, the winds of criticism kicked up. The anger directed at me by people who are disappointed is hard to endure gracefully. The financial stresses that brought the decision and those that followed have caused sleeplessness and driven me to prayer.

And, when these gale force winds are blowing, I listen for the voice of the Spirit Who counsels me – “Jerry, steady as she goes.”

Nobody likes it when the preferred life path, plan “A” – so to speak – is disrupted. The wise have a plan “B” in place for such moments. Perhaps there is even a “Plan C” for what we think is possible but unlikely. But our best efforts, our most carefully developed plans sometimes disappear when a hurricane brings destruction on a scale that we never imagined in our worst nightmares!  There are the circumstances that develop unforeseen in our lives, that change everything. Losing my wife several years ago to cancer was the worst storm in my life, making the current one seem like a mere gusty winds by comparison.

Years of experience have taught me that allowing myself to get swallowed up by the storms, raging at God, responding to every critic, personalizing the attacks that come my way, is toxic, leading only to bitterness. Honestly, I do succumb to moments of fear and/or anger, but thanks be to God and good counselors, after the thunderstorm of emotions passes, hope is restored. It is far more than sunny optimism. My hope rests a bedrock faith in God’s love and grace, a sure conviction that He knows me better than I know myself, and that He is able to use all things; disappointment, sorrow, success and failure, to bring glory to Himself if I will walk ‘steady on’ with Him.  When we resist Him, when we decide to react rather than to press on, we turn into embittered, miserable people.  But, if we let Him guide and lead, He will use our tears to water the seed from which grows the beauty of Jesus in us.

In the book of James,  the Spirit urges us to faithful acceptance.  “God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:9-12, NLT)   Let’s not confuse his counsel of acceptance of God’s reign with resignation to ‘life as it is!’  He tells us to trust and to pray … ” Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray.  . . . The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” (James 5:13, 16, NLT)  Those ‘wonderful results’ are often not at all what we expected!   They are what God, in His infinite wisdom, prepares for us.

Disciple, let your faith grow deep, beyond demanding pleasant circumstances and sunny skies. Let the Holy Spirit of God do His work in you. He is not always ‘fair’ in the way that we would determine fairness.  His ways are not always pleasant as we would desire.  But He is always good, always present,  and as the Word promises, “always working for the good of those who love Him and who are called to His eternal purposes.”   So, steady as she goes!

Here is a word from the Word. It comes from that book in the Old Testament that asks us to trust a God Whose ways are sometimes inscrutable.  Join Job in this declaration of faith today.  “But He knows the way that I take; When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold. My foot has held fast to His steps; I have kept His way and not turned aside.” (Job 23:10-11, NKJV)

__________

My faith has found a resting place
Not in device or creed
I trust the ever living One
His wounds for me shall plead 

Enough for me that Jesus saves
This ends my fear and doubt
A sinful soul I come to Him
He’ll never cast me out — Public Domain

 Selling Jesus

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My email inbox receives at least a half dozen messages a day that announce yet another ‘church growth’ program. Subject lines include leads like this – ‘Pastor, grow your church!’  So much of the material is focused on leadership techniques, programs, and gimmicks to attract a bigger crowd to the church building.  I feel confused, as if I am being asked to be a circus ringmaster rather than a shepherd of God’s people. I pray for understanding to separate gathering a crowd from making true disciples.

What did Jesus say? “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20, NLT)

Much of what passes for the work of ‘making disciples’ is just salesmanship using the same methods to sell Jesus that are used to sell consumer products. We learn to capture interest using the right kind of words that ‘hook’ a person’s interest, how to move the conversation along by exploiting the other person’s felt needs, and then how to press for the close –  getting Sam or Sally to pray the ‘Sinner’s prayer.’  Ugh… is that it?  It makes me so ashamed that we would substitute that for the work of the Spirit. It is nothing more than human manipulation and is not aligned with the truth that recognizes the primary place of the Spirit of God as the active agent of salvation!

Christian friend, there is a part in bringing people to Christ for you and me. It isn’t a gimmicky thing, it isn’t learning ‘tricks.’ True disciples begin their efforts to share the Word with prayer and then do the work of serving that makes Jesus visible on earth. If evangelism (our churchy word for sharing the Gospel of Christ) puts you off, probably you are reacting to a program or method.

Jesus led people to the Truth without manipulation or pressure. He found opportunities to meet people and the Spirit flowed through Him.  Look at a story John tells about a day when He met a woman with a heart in desperate need. “When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” …Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.  … ”

The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.” Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?” Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him.” (John 4:7-30, NIV)

What did He do?
He accepted her, listened to her story, answered her questions, and the Spirit brought revelation! 

Are you praying for opportunities to share Jesus’ message? When He brings people to you, are you ready to love them in His Name and point them to Him?

The hope of the world is Jesus! Our primary mission is to “Go, to teach, and to make disciples!”  It is hard work, slow work. Creating a ‘religion show’ is much easier and doesn’t require the Presence of the Holy Spirit. Building His Church is impossible without knowing the Spirit and living in His Presence. But, when we walk with Him an undeniable reality comes into us that invites others to want to know Him. In that moment we must be ‘prepared to give an answer to everyone that asks the reason for the hope’ that we know.

Here’s a word from the Word.  Pray that the Lord would allow you to cause a party in Heaven today. “Imagine a woman who has ten coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and scour the house, looking in every nook and cranny until she finds it? And when she finds it you can be sure she’ll call her friends and neighbors: ‘Celebrate with me! I found my lost coin!’ Count on it—that’s the kind of party God’s angels throw every time one lost soul turns to God.”  Luke 15:8-10 (The Message)

Abba, Your great, loving heart must break as You see Your people
substitute the psychology of salesmanship for the experience of the Spirit.
Teach me to walk close to You, filled with the Spirit so that He spills over
from my life, like a refreshing drink of water in a dry, hot afternoon.

Lead me to those in need, to that one hungry for spiritual food.
Give me courage to speak a timely word, willingness to serve tirelessly.
May I know the joy of making disciples, leading others to know You, Jesus;
Giver of Life, Forgiver of Sin, and Hope for now and eternity.

Amen.

Desire

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The summer of 1974 is unforgettable for it was then that I first came to love Bev. That girl that first caught my eye became the woman who owned my heart for 41 years.  Ours was much more than a functioning partnership, as in – “I do these things, you do those, and we make a home.” Yes, we did complement each other, better together than we could be apart; but there was more than that. There was a desire to know, to be with, to touch, to talk. It went beyond who did what to make life work. Oh yes, the giddy infatuation which was that first Summer love gave way to a deep desire that endured.

Jesus says ”Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37, NIV)  How do you read that?

For many I think might be written, “Strive for moral uprightness and say good prayers so God will give you the things you want.” Their relationship with God is functional. There is nothing wrong with seeking God’s blessings but it is not the same as desiring Him!  For others Jesus’ words might be rewritten to say “Care for your neighbors and be compassionate and God will feel your love.”  That is rather like a person in a marriage saying, “I faithfully care for your children, spouse. That is the way I love you.” Sharing the love of children is a rewarding experience, but it can never replace the primary relationship, though in many marriages it does and when the children grow and leave, the ‘marriage’ ends. God wants us to love His children, but He desires our love for Him to be primary!

Let’s be blunt – do we actually desire God?
Do we really long for time to be with Him?
When we come into His Presence does our heart settle with a quiet joy, as it would in the presence of our lover?

Before you dismiss my words as some kind of emotional gush, the overflow of sentimentalism, consider just a couple of passages from the Scripture.
Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides You.” (Psalm 73:25, NIV)
Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4, NIV)
I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God.” (Isaiah 61:10, NIV)

Repeatedly, the Scripture speaks of God’s people as His bride, beloved by Him, from whom He seeks love.
The entire book of Hosea is a powerful story of God’s love for His wife (Israel) who has turned to other lovers told through the horrible experience of the prophet’s own dysfunctional marriage.

Paul uses the language of betrothal with the church in Corinth “I promised you as a pure bride (virgin) to one husband, Christ.”(2 Corinthians 11:2).

Jesus laments the functional nature of the church in Laodicea, doing many good things but having lost ‘first love.’  Though we do not often read His words as the longing of a lover, that’s what they are. “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20, NIV)  He says, “I want you to desire Me.”

Ask any married person about love and they will tell you just how difficult it can be to maintain desire, to keep love fresh and growing. Those that invest themselves in their relationship, who learn how to speak the love language of their spouse, who continue to delight in them, find the reward of intimacy. How precious to see a couple married 50 years, who are still ‘in love,’ not just used to each other, not just together, but who still desire the presence of the one that first captivated their heart.

 Is God your heart’s desire?  This is no easy question.  It is, apart from the Spirit, an impossible demand of us. The word from the Word reveals the way come to love Him. “He loves us first.” Oh that we would hear Him and go beyond religious performance for Him to genuine delight in Him.

“We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in him. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we are like Christ here in this world. Such love has no fear because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of judgment, and this shows that his love has not been perfected in us.” (1 John 4:16-18, NLT)

_________

Reckless Love

(worship with this song about His love)

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

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

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

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

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

CCLI License # 810055

Groan or Glory?

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It’s Monday! Does that make you groan, a reminder that you have to get back to work?  The grind can wear us down. The situation and/or people where we do our work can be difficult. But, (Ah you knew that was coming, didn’t you?) we who know Christ and who are filled with His Spirit are enabled, by Him, to embrace all of life with enthusiasm.

Yesterday was Pentecost Sunday, the day that Christians remember the birth of the Church and the Spirit’s arrival on those first Believers in Jerusalem.  Jesus had instructed them to wait … prayerfully. “When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them. ” (Acts 2:1-4, The Message)  What glory! Those people went out from the Upper Room and turned the world upside down in a single generation. Can this be our experience, too?

Pentecost was just not for then. We, too, are people who are filled with the Spirit, Who makes genuine enthusiasm for life possible!  Interestingly, the word ‘enthusiasm’ is transliterated from the koine Greek – ‘enthousiazein’ meaning “filled with God, to have God within!”  People full of passion, who created joy in the world where they lived, were said to be full of God!   Christian, that is not a metaphor. We are filled with God’s Spirit. He lives in us. He can change our drab lives into a thing of beauty. He can take our disappointments and give us hope. He meets us in our struggles and prepares a way for us to overcome. He enables us to respond to those who wrong us with divine love and profound forgiveness. Yes, He makes us people who are enthusiastic about life.

Enthusiasm is not just an attitude, it is an overflow.

Enthusiastic people invest effort doing what they do like nobody else could do it. Spirit-filled people share in God’s creative power, His joy in what He created, and He becomes the model for the way to live – as they breathe in His presence.  “Come on, Jerry” some of you are thinking.  “Get real.  If I did that where I work, people would think I’d lost my mind.  My job is grind.  I am unappreciated.  I am invisible.” There is no denying that misery abounds in our world where sin frustrates, where selfishness hinders.  But, our experience is not just sunny attitudes and naïve optimism. We can be full of God’s Holy Spirit, people made new and different – inside out.

Let’s make this practical. Instead of dragging yourself out of bed, pouring a cup of coffee down your throat, and grumbling your way to work; change your pattern. First thing, turn your heart and mind to the Lord. Invite Him to do His work in you.  Get up earlier than your kids to find 15 minutes of quiet with Him. Carve an extra 15 minutes of time with the Lord into your day before you walk into the shop or office.

When frustration mounts in traffic or that most irritating person shows up at your side again, silently thank God that He is with you right in that moment. And yes, instead of leaving the house with the drone of daily “news” in your ears, focus on being ‘full of God,’ enthused!  We honor the Lord when we do what we do without complaint, with joy, to the best of our abilities – as though we are working directly for Jesus Christ Himself. (which we are, by the way)

I propose an experiment…

Try to live in this way consistently for the next couple of weeks.
Pray all the way to work – for a Spirit-filled heart and mind,
for an attitude of joy, for creativity, for humility that says,
“I’ll do whatever it takes, no matter what others do.”

See what happens as you are enthused – full of God!

Here is the word from the Word -“Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better. We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light.” (Colossians 1:10-12, NLT)

_______

Take My Life

(an old hymn, redone by Chris Tomlin.
Make it your prayer today.)

Take my life and let it be consecrated
Lord to Thee
Take my moments and my days
Let them flow in ceaseless praise
Take my hands and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love
Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee

Take my voice and let me sing
Always only for my King
Take my lips and let them be
Filled with messages from Thee
Take my silver and my gold
Not a mite would I withhold
Take my intellect and use
Ev’ry power as You choose

Here am I all of me
Take my life it’s all for Thee

Take my will and make it Thine
It shall be no longer mine
Take my heart it is Thine own
It shall be Thy royal throne
ake my love my Lord I pour
At Your feet its treasure store
Take myself and I will be
Ever only all for Thee

Chris Tomlin | Frances Ridley Havergal | Henri Abraham Cesar Malan | Louie Giglio ©2003 sixsteps Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) worshiptogether.com songs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

Are you a salty Christian?

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Recently someone was criticizing the Christian Church as a waste of resources, serving no visible purpose.  The observation made me think about our mission in this world. The church doesn’t always get it right, sometimes does lose her way when flawed human beings forget God. But, it isn’t all that difficult to imagine what kind of world it would be without the persistent influence for good that comes from people and places that are committed to the love of the Lord.  Evil is always lurking and where it is without restraint, terrible suffering follows. 

Jesus described the functional nature of His church this way:  “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” (Matthew 5:13-15, NIV) In the ancient world salt was a critical preservative ingredient for food supplies. Just a little salt prevented decay. In the dark of night, even a tiny light makes a big difference.

Christ’s church ‘salts’ the world with love that pushes back hatred, with pursuit of justice that defends the weak, with hope that replaces despair! Do Christians do those things perfectly? I wish! Churches get corrupt, Christians lose their ‘saltiness.’  And yet, even with the awful chapters of Christian history (about which we must be honest), we simply cannot imagine what the world would be apart from the message of Jesus.

Want to be a salty Christian?

  • Be a person of prayer, regularly tuning your heart to the voice of the Spirit, lifting your vision to eternal perspectives.
  • Be a person of wisdom, drawing on the Spirit to demonstrate a life of principle, being able to offer solid counsel.
  • Be a person of compassion who sees need and liberally offers support to those who fall on hard times.
  • Be a hopeful person, who knows that this life is short, but whose true life is anchored in the salvation of Christ Jesus.

Pray that there will be such a measurable influence, such a quality of life in you, that others will say ‘thank God’ when they think of you. I believe that is Jesus meant when He says, “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden… let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” (Matthew 5:14,16, NLT)

If we are filled with the Spirit, overflowing with ‘living water’ we won’t have to announce our good works or demand recognition in order to have the influence God desires. We will be content to do the work He’s called us to do; quietly, persistently, and effectively.

Here’s a word from the Word. God help us to receive it, believe it, and live it.
” In light of all this, here’s what I want you to do. … I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere.” (Ephesians 4:1, The Message)

“I insist—and God backs me up on this—that there be no going along with the crowd, the empty-headed, mindless crowd.” (Ephesians 4:17, The Message)

Since, then, we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything—and I do mean everything—connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside.” (Ephesians 4:22-23, The Message) “Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents.” (Ephesians 5:1, The Message)

___________

Unstoppable God
(He is! And He empowers you.)

Heaven thundered
And the world was born
Life begins and ends
In the dust You formed
Faith commanded
And the mountains moved
Fear is losing ground
To our hope in You

 Unstoppable God
Let Your glory go on and on
Impossible things
In Your name they shall be done (oh) 

Freedom conquered
All our chains undone
Sin defeated
Jesus has overcome
Mercy triumphed
When the third day dawned
Darkness was denied
When the stone was gone

 Nothing shall be impossible
Your kingdom reigns unstoppable
We’ll shout Your praise forevermore
Jesus our God unstoppable

Chris Brown | Steven Furtick | Wade Joye © 2014 Be Essential Songs (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC) Elevation Worship Publishing (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC) CCLI License # 810055

Do your words mean much?

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Yesterday I signed an agreement, a contract. My name, a scribble a line on a piece of paper, indicates a promise, representing my intentions. Barring catastrophe, I will keep my word! Doing what I say, when I say I will do it, to the best of my ability is a strong value for me. Doing an on-time job, with excellence, is admirable in my eyes!

God seeks faithfulness in us. He is not much impressed with pious words that are not backed up by real obedience. Jesus told a story about two sons to help us to understand this. “But what do you think about this? A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway. Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go. Which of the two was obeying his father?” They replied, “The first, of course.” Then Jesus explained his meaning: “I assure you, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do.” (Matthew 21:28-31, NLT)

It’s a strange sort of story, isn’t it? One son appears the rebel, but he repents and reveals a heart tender towards his father. The other looks like the good son but his heart is corrupt, full of self-will!

Friend, do your Monday actions match your Sunday songs?
Do you sometimes wrestle with the Lord’s will but yield to Him to do what He asks?

The richest experience of the Spirit is found when surrender Self, prioritizing the call of God to do what He asks – when it is convenient and when it is costly, when we feel like and when we don’t, when it is exciting and when it is ‘just the right thing to do.’ Don’t be surprised by the fact that sometimes prayer, scripture intake, and service are not all that thrilling. Real life has many days when we do what needs to be done regardless of how we feel in the moment.

Chasing novel spiritual experiences will make us basically worthless to the Kingdom of God! Jesus’ words at the end of that story are shocking. He says that the most flagrant sinners whose hearts turn to God in true repentance discover the rewards of the Kingdom!

I want to be clear about something. Faithfulness in service is not the same as trying to earn our salvation by good works! We are saved by the grace of God, shown in Christ Jesus. But, our grace awakening will have observable consequence in life that goes beyond saying “I’m saved.” We are restored to our Father, learn to delight in what He desires, and surrender our hands and heart to His service.

Here is a word from the Word. “Knowing the correct password—saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance—isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills. I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’ “ (Matthew 7:21-23, The Message)

_________

Abba, help me to align my rhetoric with my actions.
Reveal hypocrisy to me, places where I say things I do not do,
Situations where I make promises I do not keep.

Give me a long view of life that reaches to eternity,
A willingness to wait for the rewards of faithfulness promised.
May I find real joy in knowing that I am living in obedience,
Quietly persisting in service, without seeking applause.

I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen

At the end of optimism

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Optimism is sold as the answer to dealing with life. There is much to said for being positive, for looking for the best. Who doesn’t love that song from Little Orphan Annie – “The sun’ll come out tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there’ll be sun.” People like that are a gift to the rest of us!  But, there are limits to the ability of optimism to carry us through hard times. When Bev was diagnosed with cancer, we needed more than a positive outlook. When she died, no amount of optimism could change the reality of beginning a new life alone. At the end of optimism, I found faith.

Optimism is built around the potential of human will. “I can do this. I will overcome.”  It’s admirable! But, faith is better.  Faith trusts in a purposeful God. At first glance, faith seems to resemble optimism. In fact, they are very different.  Optimism depends on a change of circumstance that I work hard to produce. Faith knows that there is an Unseen Hand that is “working in all things to accomplish something for the good of those who love Him!” (Romans 8:28)

Many Christian confuse optimism with faith, making bold assertions about what God will do in their situation.  Christians must never think that if they say enough positive things, or if they force themselves to ‘believe’ what they say with conviction, that they can obligate God to do what they want.  They are sadly mistaken, headed for a collision with reality.

Faith understands that “God is God, I am not.”

Perhaps it seems that I do not believe in the power of prayer.  Ah, I do! But prayer that is simply an expression of a positive mind, is not the same as prayer that seeks God and rests in His purpose.  God invites us to ask with confidence and to relinquish control of life to Him. Genuine faith always involves large quantities of humility, remembering that God sees what we can’t even begin to imagine.

Consider this …

Did Job suffer as he did because he did not pray with faith?   No!   He suffered according to the will of God for purposes that he did not know and could not grasp, and yet that faithful man did not turn on the Lord.   Yes, he questioned.  Yes, he even challenged God to explain Himself, but he quickly became humble and confessed that God was Lord of all saying, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” (Job 13:15, NKJV)

Did Paul go through hard times because he lacked faith?  To suggest that is absurd.   He reminds us that the sufferings he endured actually served to bring him to greater dependence on God!  “It was so bad we didn’t think we were going to make it. We felt like we’d been sent to death row, that it was all over for us. As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened. Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally—not a bad idea since he’s the God who raises the dead!” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9, The Message)

Peter tells us “those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” (1 Peter 4:19, NIV)

Build great faith!

Get to know God – in prayer, through meditation, from the pages of the Scripture, in worship.   Go beyond having a god (small ‘g’ intended!) that you keep around like a good luck charm, a deity you bring out to ward off ‘bad luck.’   That’s the stuff of religion, the empty tradition of human based ‘worship.’  Give your life to Him. Learn to be delighted by the truth that you are His; to be used by Him, to serve His purposes.   Faith allows us to go from good to great in His service.  Faith lets us abandon our plans and demands to discover the adventure of being part of what God is doing.  There, in His will, is supreme joy that supersedes our situations.

Our word from the Word invites us to know the heart of faith: a totally God-focused, surrendered, trusting life.  As you read these inspired words, ask the Spirit to breathe faith in your soul.

“I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.  May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.

Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.”  (Ephesians 3:14-21, NLT)
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Just Be Held

(a Casting Crowns song that strengthens my faith)

Hold it all together ev’rybody needs you strong
But life hits you out of nowhere
And barely leaves you holding on
And when you’re tired of fighting
Chained by your control
There’s freedom in surrender
Lay it down and let it go

 So when you’re on your knees
And answers seem so far away
You’re not alone
Stop holding on and just be held
Your world’s not falling apart
It’s falling into place
I’m on the throne stop holding on and just be held
Just be held just be held

 If your eyes are on the storm
You’ll wonder if I love you still
But if your eyes are on the cross
You’ll know I always have and I always will
And not a tear is wasted
In time you’ll understand
I’m painting beauty with the ashes
Your life is in My hands

 Lift your hands lift your eyes
In the storm is where you’ll find Me
And where you are I’ll hold your heart
I’ll hold your heart
Come to Me find your rest
In the arms of a God who won’t let go

 Just be held
Just be held

Bernie Herms | Mark Hall | Matthew West © 2013 My Refuge Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) Be Essential Songs (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC) Highly Combustible Music (Admin. by One77 Songs c/o Kobalt Songs Music Publishing (ASCAP))

House of Story Music Publishing (Admin. by One77 Songs c/o Kobalt Songs Music Publishing (ASCAP))

CCLI License # 810055

Don’t burn out!

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We all get weary, don’t we?  That fatigue can result from hard work, a project that demands sustained effort, or it can come from ongoing pressure and stress. A few hours ago, in the darkness of the early morning hours, my mind started sorting through a list of things that must be done, working with tough questions that must be answered. I turned to the Lord in prayer and words of Jesus came to mind – “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV)

His invitation is a sweet one for those times in life when the demands seem to be far greater than resources!

First, He says, “Come to me.”  

We’re very foolish if we let life responsibilities keep us from prayer, worship, and meditation. Remember that old saying about ‘the tyranny of the urgent?’  If we allow all the urgent things in life to own us, we will fail to do the truly important things.  One of those is making time to wait on the Lord worshipfully where we find renewal of our hearts.

Second, He tells us to “Take my yoke upon you.”

The ideal is not idleness. In the Eden of Genesis there was work to do. Being a disciple does not excuse us from sweat or effort. Jesus says that there is a yoke, an object of for labor, for us all. If a yoke was ill-fitting, it chafed and the bearer of the burden grew sore. If it fit right, the work was done better, with less fatigue. Jesus calls us to service. That service will often demand much from us, but if we’re putting on the yoke He’s prepared for us, He will be there to bear the weight with us.

Third, He says, “Learn from me!”

Jesus knew what I need to understand better- that work must be relieved by rest; that giving out must be matched by taking in! He gave His all to the people He loved and He also took time to retreat to time with His Father. Throughout the Gospels we find Him withdrawing from the ministry to pray and be alone with God. It’s such a simple lesson, but so easily ignored, isn’t it?  When we try to keep on going, pushing ourselves when we need to find a quiet place with Him to breathe in the Breath of the Spirit, we rob ourselves of effectiveness and joy.

Are responsibilities piling up and resources growing scarce?
Are people in your life asking more from you than you think you can produce?
Has the Evil One sent a demon to torment you with whispers of futility?

Here is the word from the Word. It is those words of Jesus again, from a paraphrase. Read it. Heed it!

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion?
Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.
I’ll show you how to take a real rest.
Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it.
Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.”
Matthew 11:28-29 (The Message)

“Look at me. I stand at the door. I knock.
If you hear me call and open the door, I’ll come right in and sit down to supper with you.
Conquerors will sit alongside me at the head table, just as I,
having conquered, took the place of honor at the side of my Father.
That’s my gift to the conquerors!” Revelation 3:20-21 (The Message)

_________

O Come To The Altar
(an invitation song … from Elevation Worship)

Are you hurting and broken within
Overwhelmed by the weight of your sin
Jesus is calling
Have you come to the end of yourself
Do you thirst for a drink from the well
Jesus is calling

O come to the altar
The Father’s arms are open wide
Forgiveness was bought with
The precious blood of Jesus Christ

Leave behind your regrets and mistakes
Come today there’s no reason to wait
Jesus is calling
Bring your sorrows and trade them for joy
From the ashes a new life is born
Jesus is calling

Oh what a Savior
Isn’t he wonderful
Sing alleluia Christ is risen
Bow down before him
For he is Lord of all
Sing alleluia Christ is risen

Bear your cross as you wait for the crown
Tell the world of the treasure you’ve found

Chris Brown | Mack Brock | Steven Furtick | Wade Joye © 2015 Music by Elevation Worship Publishing (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)

CCLI License # 810055

How to know GREAT Joy

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Missionaries were the super-Christians of my childhood church culture!  When a couple came to that little church in the one-street town of Truesdale, Iowa from some exotic place in the big world, it was a great Sunday for me. Most of them brought things from the land in which they served – pottery, musical instruments, hand-made tools, and little carved ‘gods’ that captivated my 8 year old imagination. Then, there were slides! Pictures projected on a screen transported me to some African nation or Pacific island, where intrepid Christians crossed raging rivers on log rafts, drove their Land Rovers across dusty plains, and preached in rustic building.

To me, they were the great Christians: God’s Special Forces, with a higher calling than the rest of us.  A time of prayer always ended the meetings, and I invariably told the Lord, with great sincerity, and a bit of dread to be honest, that if He wanted me to be a missionary when I grew up, I would go. A half-century later, I still admire missionaries who follow God’s call to the ends of the earth.

Maturity brought the realization that each one of us serves in God’s calling. We do not have to be preaching in Uzbekistan to be part of His work! People in desperate need live in our town. Familiarity often blinds us to the spiritual need of our next-door neighbor. I wonder if the Lord, by His Spirit, is telling us the same thing that Jesus told His disciples as they walked through Samaria- “As you look around right now, wouldn’t you say that in about four months it will be time to harvest? Well, I’m telling you to open your eyes and take a good look at what’s right in front of you. These Samaritan fields are ripe. It’s harvest time! ” (John 4:35, The Message)

Although there are churches in every town, preachers on the Internet, and crosses dotting the landscape, there are millions in these United States that live without knowing just how much God cares for them. Many are serving idols, though not the little carved grotesque gods. They are captivated by pleasure, by money, by godless philosophy. Some of our churches are lifeless, religion is everywhere, but God is absent.

Those of us who know Him are sent ones – missionaries in our time and place. The great commission – “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20, NLT) – is not just applicable beyond our borders.

We are entrusted with the words of life. When we introduce a friend to Christ, when we see them become hopeful, secure in God’s love, it is an experience like no other. For all the ‘church work’ that I do, what really keeps me going as a pastor are those moments when some believes, is baptized, and changed by the life of the Spirit. You can be a disciple-maker.

Forget the stereotypes of street preachers yelling about God’s impending judgment or the Jehovah’s Witnesses knocking on your door to hand out literature.  Be a friend! Live the Gospel. Pray every day for Jesus’ love and light to be evident in your words and actions. Live the Gospel before you speak the Gospel. And, you will become one of the happiest Christians on earth.

On this Monday morning, reflect on these words of Jesus, words that tell us our purpose. If we live that purpose, we will find JOY.

“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.

“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13-16, The Message)
_______

Abba, I pray to be a bright light in a dark world.|
Let Your love and hope live in me, shine out of me,
In a way that compels others to consider Your offer of life to the full.
Thank you for giving me that high and holy privilege of making You known.
I love You, Lord.  Let me always be ready to share that love with others
who have yet to know that You have opened the way to the Father for them.

Amen.

What a bloody, awful mess

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Are you impressed by God? Silly question, perhaps, but worth asking, I believe. We have tamed Him, explained away His majesty, and made ourselves so familiar with Him that we often lack the proper reverence that brings us to our knees and silences our complaints.

I am reading in Leviticus at present, a challenging book in the Bible for a modern mind, to be sure. It is full of ritual commands about what sacrifice to offer for what occasion. The details are, to our sensibilities, gross, involving slaughter, blood, and guts. Beyond the sacrificial details, there are specific commands about human behavior, what is right, what should be punished. It is often harsh, downright brutal, to our understanding.

What’s the point of it all? The book is about being HOLY. In every line, the message is that God is not a familiar Big Guy, that He is not like the fickle gods worshipped by other nations. God reminded His people, in rich symbolism, that He was present among them. However, He was not to be trivialized, marginalized, or approached with a casual or flippant attitude. The bloody, awful sacrifices were an object lesson in the cost of sin, demanding ‘life for life.’

In our sophistication we may wish to avert our eyes from the Cross, but the truth remains that we, too, are reconciled to our Holy God by sacrifice; the atoning sacrifice of His Son.  The writer of Hebrews is clear about how we become acceptable to God, our Creator – “When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Hebrews 9:11-14, NIV)

This theme of holiness extends to our era, to us as His people, too. In the New Testament, Peter refers to Leviticus 19:2 where we read: “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2, NIV) He amplifies the call – “As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. God said, “I am holy; you be holy.” (1 Peter 1:15-16, The Message)

We belong to Him, are called to offer ourselves as ‘living sacrifices.’  Our words, our choices, should reflect an awareness that He is present, powerful, and seeking our devotion. Does that mean we are people without humor, that we must never find pleasure in the simpler things of life? Not at all. That caricature of ‘holiness’ creeps into the Church and becomes a new “Law,” robbing us of the joy of the Lord. Genuine holiness grows out of our intimate knowledge of the Holy One. We love Him and choose to do nothing that we know would be displeasing in His sight.

Yes, He is a Holy God, but we do not cower before Him, nor do we run from His Presence. We come before Him boldly, yet in reverence, because Jesus has removed our guilt and given us the gift of being the children of God.  Read the opening chapters of Leviticus! Let the ‘otherness’ of God be impressed on you. Then, give thanks for the Perfect Sacrifice that makes you God’s own possession. Take up that high calling to serve a holy God.

The word from the Word says “You are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. “Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy.” Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls.” (1 Peter 2:9-11, NLT)

Abba, I am so grateful for Your declaration of my identity in Christ.
Today, may I be that kind of person who reverences You in Your holiness,
yet loves You intimately because of Your love.
As a priest, may I connect Heaven’s grace with the needs of earth.
As part of Your holy nation may ever choice reveal the beauty of Your reign.

In Jesus’ Name, Amen