The Word Effect

Sam (not his real name) is a man with a sin problem who wants to be free! I’ve met with Sam several times and realize that nothing short of the power of the Spirit and the Word can break the chains. He has good intentions, strong desire, and yet… recently he called me in the middle of the night after a relapse, but this time he was different. He wasn’t making excuses for his actions. Instead, he recognized that he had broken God’s heart and he acknowledged his real need of forgiveness. He was under the effect of the Word! (Please pray for him, won’t you? God knows who he is even though I must use a pseudonym in this TFTD!)

The Psalmist asks – How can a young man keep his way pure? Then, he answers – By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Praise be to you, O LORD; teach me your decrees.” (Psalm 119:9-12, NIV)

Does the Word shape your thoughts, your values, your actions?



I cannot over-emphasize the power that the Bible has to transform our ways of thinking! The Bible, when read often and with prayer for understanding from the Holy Spirit, reaches deep into our thought processes and changes us- inside out. I’m not talking about the kind of foolishness that causes people to seize a single verse out of context to justify an action they wish to take. That’s called ‘proof texting!’ Nor am I referring to studying the Bible with a purely literary point of view. though careful, thoughtful study of the historical context and literary forms of the text can be enlightening. One does not have to be an intellectual, nor does a person have to have a degree in ancient Semitic languages, to read the Scripture with understanding. To be transformed by the Word effect, we come with open heart, a willingness to ‘hear what the Spirit is saying’ as we read. Yes, there is a necessary place for scholarly study, for comparing our interpretation of passages with the understandings of others. And yet, we must not come to believe that the Bible is beyond our ability to read and comprehend.

Each morning, I open the Word to read a passage (sometimes only a verse, other times a whole story, or entire book). Through the course of the day, I find my mind returning to what I’ve read; reflecting on it, inquiring about the way that it is informing my choices, drawing on the lessons and principles. Admittedly some passages yield more diamonds than others! For sure! The Scripture shapes my worldview, corrects my thoughts; yes, is the arbiter that makes the call when I am faced with two roads from which to choose.

Strangely enough, it is a blessing that keeps many Believers from the Scripture. That blessing is the plethora of Christian books available. Many read much about the Bible, yet they never just read the Bible itself. They think that reading another’s interaction with the Word is enough. Then, too, some think that hearing a sermon from the Word (Oh, God help us to fill our pulpits with the Word!) is enough. These are grave errors. Having help to understand what is written in the sacred Text is a blessing, but everyone of us needs to interact with the Word ourselves when possible.

Dr. Timothy Johnson in his book, Finding God In The Questions, relates how he was looking for Jesus Christ, even though he had been a Christian Believer for years. He went back to reading the Gospels carefully and found that the Jesus he discovered again in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John was a Man far removed from the pictures and concepts presented in books and sermons. He found a new wonder over the “surprising teachings” of Jesus.

Believer, get yourself into the Scripture! (That might be better phrased, ‘get the Scripture into you.’) Make reading of the Bible text itself a daily practice. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t find a sparkling gem of new understanding on the first day. Don’t try to read too much. Don’t go for the hard passages first. Instead, pray for the Spirit to be at work, and then sit down to read.

If you’re new to the Word, start with Luke’s story of Jesus’ ministry.

Break away some mornings to read a Psalm, aloud, if possible.

Get a modern translation (or two) of the Scripture: one like the New International Version or the New Living Translation, so you don’t have to try to overcome the language barriers.

When you read a passage that defies a ready understanding or application, allow for some ambiguity! After all the Bible is not a textbook, it is a revelation of the Almighty, Eternal God!

  • There’s nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

    Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another

    —showing us truth,

    exposing our rebellion,

    correcting our mistakes,

    training us to live God’s way.

    Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.
    (2 Timothy 3:15-17, The Message)

May you come under the Word effect, transformed by the wisdom and wonder of the Scriptures!

____________________

How firm a foundation, Ye saints of the Lord,

Is laid for your faith In His excellent word!

What more can He say than to you He hath said,

To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?


Fear not; I am with thee. O be not dismayed,

For I am thy God, I will still give thee aid.

I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, And cause thee to stand,

Upheld by My gracious, Omnipotent hand.


The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,

I will not, I will not desert to its foes;

That soul, though all hell Should endeavor to shake,

I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

HOW FIRM A FOUNDATION © Public Domain CCLI License No. 810055

Compelling Faith

Real faith is not cheap, nor is it simple, nor is it easy! The Bible says, Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1, ASV) Faith, according to Hebrews 11, is how we take possession of eternal life while we yet live in this present world. All around us we see death, physical and spiritual, but by faith we understand that there is more, a reason to transcend the sensual, greedy, lustful, materialistic way of life that the faithless lead. Does such a transforming faith come easily to us? No. Should it? I think not.

Dr. Timothy Johnson (ABC News Medical Editor and pastor) in his best-selling book, Finding God In The Questions, tells about the many skeptics who wonder if there is a God, why He does not make His existence more plain. Woody Allen jokes, “If only God would give me some clear sign, like making a large deposit in my name in a Swiss bank account!” Somewhat irreverent, but which of us has not, at one time or another, wished for God to make Himself plainly known? Johnson suggests that were God to speak in a voice we could plainly discern, He would destroy the gift of our will, for we would be overwhelmed into passive submission. He longs for us to choose to seek Him, by faith, and to love Him without terror.

Johnson re-tells Kierkegaard’s parable of a king who falls in love with a peasant girl. He wonders how to make his love known to her without ruining her ability to freely love him in return. He does not want to simply order her to love him though he could. If he gives her liberal gifts befitting his royal status, he can never know if she loves him or just his gifts. So, he decides to assume the guise of a peasant to woo her. This is the story of God! He loves us, leaving us many evidences of that love, but His great act of demonstrated love was in the Incarnation, when He became a man and lived among us.

We read the Bible’s revelation, observe the evidence of Creation, sense the Spirit at work and ‘seeing’ that He exists, we choose to love Him by faith! Like any love relationship, loving God is complicated. We bring expectations that are unrealistic to our love for Him. We misunderstand Him. We try His love when our affections wander to lesser loves- YET, even if we are faithless, it does not destroy His love! The Scripture calls us to understand the greatness of knowing Him saying: This is a sure thing:

If we die with him, we’ll live with him; If we stick it out with him, we’ll rule with him; If we turn our backs on him, he’ll turn his back on us; If we give up on him, he does not give up— for there’s no way he can be false to himself.
(2 Timothy 2:11-13, The Message)

One of the mistaken ideas about faith is that it will eliminate the difficulties, answer all the questions. That is not true. The truth is that the deeper our faith, the more profound our questions will be! The more of God we see, the more we begin to know that there is so much more to understand. The greater our love for Him, the more He asks of us in return. That is why the Word reminds us that “it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that there is a God and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6, NLT)

Go deeper, Believer. Press past the shallow faith that is focused on today’s bread, on comfortable circumstances. By faith, ask the King to draw you into His embrace so that you will know Him, serve Him, love Him to eternity.

Faith, for what?

Recently I counseled with a Believer who is in a time of great uncertainties. Everything is changing, This person is trying to cope with issues of aging, growing children who resist the old family patterns, a marriage relationship that is being redefined, a sense of place in the world that is shifting, even new thoughts about God and how He works. As we talked, this troubled soul asked – “What can I do to make this all go away? Am I praying the right way? Am I doing something wrong?” As I saw the situation, this Believer is at a moment where there is the potential for great spiritual growth. Yes, in the same moment, there is also potential for tremendous destruction! I quietly told this Believer, “At no time in your life, other than perhaps when you were a teenager, have you had the opportunity to make such a huge difference in your future with a few decisions. You can choose to try to make the pain of change go away by drinking too much, leaving your family, seeking some pleasurable diversions OR you can face the changes with courage, take time in prayer and counsel to learn and do God’s will, and become a mature saint with an unshakeable faith!”

The picture of a piece of pasture land comes to mind. A rolling field of grass, a pretty meadow, can only become a fruitful field of grain if the ground is turned by the hard edge of the plow. We cannot become people of abundance in spirit unless we are willing to let God plow up the meadows of our lives! Jeremiah called on the people of God in this way saying: “Plow up the hard ground of your hearts! Do not waste your good seed among thorns.” (Jeremiah 4:3, NLT)

I take issue with those prophets of prosperity that fill our TV screens and sell thousands of books telling the people that they need not ever suffer, that they can have more money, better health, and unending happiness if they just ‘confess’ that they are King’s Kids! The spirit of the church of Laodicea (see Revelation 3) pervades the Pentecostal/Charismatic churches of America today. Faith becomes a formula to get rich, to grab power, to avoid anything that is unpleasant. The sales pitch of these false prophets never varies much from the self-focused message of triumphalism — “You can make your dreams come true by confessing your victory, claiming your inheritance!” They claim that Believers can get what they want from God by saying faith-filled words. All too often what these so-called saints want from God are bigger houses, nicer cars, eternal youth, and more perks at work!

The real issue is not what I want from God – it is what God wants from me. He doesn’t exist for me, I exist for Him. But the arrogance of our national success culture has crept into our churches, the ‘can-do’ attitude of American philosophy has twisted our theology so that we firmly believe God should bless us by endorsing our plans and providing for our personal habits of happiness. God cries out to us; “I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. And also buy white garments so you will not be shamed by your nakedness. And buy ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. I am the one who corrects and disciplines everyone I love. Be diligent and turn from your indifference.” (Revelation 3:17-19, NLT)

What do you want most from the Lord today – an easy road or to be full of His Spirit and transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ?

Answer that honestly. Are you willing to let Him plow up the fields of your heart to prepare for planting the seeds of the Word for an abundant harvest to come?

He promises that we will not go through the times of transition alone. And, yes, there is victory for us. No, it isn’t the temporal success story. It is the eternal success story that will be told ’round the table of Heaven. Take this promise with you today. Meditate on it and invite Him in.

Jesus says -“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)

_______________________________

Oh, deeper yet, I pray,

And higher ev’ry day,

And wiser, blessed Lord,

In Thy precious holy Word.

Deeper, deeper in the love of Jesus

Daily let me go;

Higher, higher in the school of wisdom,

More of grace to know.

Deeper, deeper! Blessed Holy Spirit,

Take me deeper still,

‘Till my life is wholly lost in Jesus

And His perfect will.

Deeper, deeper!

Tho’ it cost hard trials,

Deeper let me go!

Rooted in the holy love of Jesus,

Let me fruitful grow.

Deeper, higher, ev’ry day in Jesus,

Till all conflicts past

finds me conqu’ror,

And in His own image perfected at last. – © Public Domain CCLI License No. 810055

Hupomone

I just get a kick out of saying that word — hupomone (hoop·om·on·ay). Go ahead, say it again! Hupomone! I’ve taken leave of my senses, maybe writing in tongues (a new gift?) you think? Actually, I just got you to say a word of Greek from the New Testament. It’s a compound word of a prefix meaning ‘under’ and a root meaning ‘remain.’ OK, here’s the context… since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance (hupomone) the race that is set before us,” (Hebrews 12:1, NKJV) The writer of Hebrews calls for us to take a look at the distance runner as an example of how to live as a Christian. Unlike a sprinter who explodes from the starting block, pouring everything he has into a 100 meter dash, we are called to set a pace that we can maintain, steadily and consistently, living for Jesus– with patience, with endurance, with hupomone! The idea wrapped in the word is holding steady even under intense pressure!

All around us we can find examples of people who start something with gusto- only to collapse in the backstretch! Marriages begin with great romance and fireworks, but too often, fizzle under the strain of kids and bills. People head into new jobs with the intent of being the ‘next best’ only to become a place holder, a burnt out functionary, instead of an inspiring performer. Students go off to college intending to make the Dean’s list and too easily get sidetracked into the three day weekend party life style.

And…. yes, people invite Jesus Christ to become Lord and begin their Believer’s journey with enthusiasm (interesting word, by the way, that comes from a compound word meaning to be full of God). When Believers gather, they are there in church or Bible class. They are discovering God’s will and purpose and cheerfully becoming conformed to Christ Jesus. When they pray, it is with childlike simplicity and earnest faith. Then, again too often, over time the joy evaporates under the heat of temptation and pressure and they turn into pew warmers, preacher critics, with a ‘form of godliness that denies the real Power.’ Their Christianity becomes more of a habit than a source of joyful life.

Hupomone is not about a BIG start, it’s about a faithful finish! I admire ‘finishers,’ people who keep their word, who fulfill their calling, who maintain their Christian witness through joy and sorrow, Summer and Winter, sunshine and rain. One of my favorite pages in the newspaper is the one where they print the pictures of couples celebrating 50, 60, even 70 years of marriage. I used to think they were old people, but now they just look older. Reading their names, I inevitably think about the patience that they showed in living through separations of wartime, difficulties of sickness, joys of raising a family, building a life together. In the denomination that ordained me, 25 year ordination pins are headed out at the Annual conference. Often the contrast in numbers of newly minted preachers and seasoned 25 year veterans is startling, maybe a third or so. Somewhere along the way, many gave up, dropped out.

Are you a finisher?

Do you take time to think about commitments, praying for guidance – and only embracing those that you will see through to completion?

Jesus told a little teaching story about this. Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn’t first sit down and figure the cost so you’ll know if you can complete it? If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you’re going to look pretty foolish. Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: ‘He started something he couldn’t finish.’

Or can you imagine a king going into battle against another king without first deciding whether it is possible with his ten thousand troops to face the twenty thousand troops of the other? And if he decides he can’t, won’t he send an emissary and work out a truce?
(Luke 14:28-32, The Message) The implied conclusion is – FINISH what you start! That means – hupomone!

Remember that it isn’t “all guts, no glory.” Finishers enjoy what mere starters never find:

the satisfaction of a job well done,

a life well lived,

a victor’s crown!

Need a boost to stay in the race today? Here’s the way, the follow up verse to the one where we started today–

  • Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever.

    And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God.

    (Hebrews 12:2, The Message)

HUPOMONE! Say through the day.

People will think you’re nuts. If they ask, just tell’em you’re speaking Greek. Have fun.

_______________________________

He already knows!

“Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will point out to you.” (Genesis 22:2, NLT) Faith and dread must have shared the space in Abraham’s mind as he started out on the journey to his encounter with God. Each step had to get more difficult. It is beyond me to even try to imagine the horror of building a pile of stones for an altar, knowing that I would lay my son on that altar to offer him up to God! But Abraham did what God told him to do! I can easily imagine the tears streaming down Abraham’s face as he attempted to explain to his beloved Isaac that he was only doing Yahweh’s will. He might have said something like, “Son, I do not know why either. I know for sure I heard Him, as I have so many times over my lifetime. This makes no sense, but He directs. I love you so, Son, but I love Him even more.”

Abraham obeyed ‘in faith’ and went to the very moment of offering up his son. Only then did the voice of God ring out. “Lay down the knife,” the angel said. “Do not hurt the boy in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld even your beloved son from me.” (Genesis 22:12, NLT) Only then did this great man of faith find a deeper revelation of God’s nature. In a moment of drama obscured by the plainness of the text, he saw that God had provided a substitutionary sacrifice. Abraham looked up. He saw a ram caught by its horns in the thicket. Abraham took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. Abraham named that place Yahweh Yireh (God-Sees-to-It). That’s where we get the saying, “On the mountain of God, he sees to it.” (Genesis 22:13-14, The Message)

Sometimes God asks us to walk through days or months through trials so intense that each step feels like it may be our last! He makes His will known and then falls silent, leaving us without explanation, with only two choices: obey or turn away from Him! In our Wednesday School of the Bible we discussed the story of Genesis 22 last night. In just that little group of Believers there were heart-wrenching stories of times when God pointed the way up Mt. Moriah and waited for obedience so I know it’s a relatively common experience.

Are you trudging up Mount Moriah today, filled with dread, yet pursuing God with all the faith your heart can find? He will be Yahweh Yireh for you. He knows exactly what you need (not what you think you need) and, in His foresight, He has already prepared provisions for you. Walk on! Weep, if you must, but obey. In this time when self-love is so powerful, a lauded characteristic by our culture, we are tempted to try to play “Let’s Make A Deal” with the Lord! We devise alternatives, argue, and even try to manipulate God. But only two stark options – obey or turn away.

The path of obedience to the will of God, despite often leading us to an altar of costly sacrifice, always ends in His blessings – for He is Yahweh Yireh and He cannot abrogate His unchanging nature. Will you trust Him today?

_________________________

Be Thou My Vision– Hull, Eleanor / Byrne, Mary E.

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;

Nought be all else to me, Save that Thou art

Thou my best thought, By day or by night,

Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, And Thou my true Word;

I ever with Thee And Thou with me, Lord;

Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;

Thou in me dwelling, And I with Thee one.

Riches I heed not, Nor man’s empty praise,

Thou mine inheritance, Now and always:

Thou and Thou only, First in my heart,


High King of heaven, My Treasure Thou art.

High King of heaven, My victory won,

May I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heaven’s Sun!


Heart of my own heart, Whatever befall,

Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.



Be Thou my shield And my sword for the fight,

Be Thou my dignity, Be Thou my might.

Thou my soul’s shelter And Thou my high tow’r,

Raise Thou me heav’nward O Pow’r of my pow’r.

© Public Domain CCLI License No. 810055

Choices and Values

We act out of what we really believe, not what we think we believe! Yesterday I prayed with a woman of astonishingly deep (for this age, anyway) commitment to her marriage. Her husband has failed her in just about every way that a man can fail a woman, yet she still cares for him and not just with a card on his birthday. Despite a separation that was necessary because of his irresponsibility; she pays his bills, shops for his groceries, and prays for him! When she says the word, ‘covenant,’ she means it. How do I know? I only have to look at her choices to understand her real values.

In the most recent issue of Christianity Today (Feb.,2005) two separate articles were written about choices that revealed how people value Christian love. Two groups in different parts of the country professed love for the members of their group. In one case, it was true; in the other it was not. Gary Parrett, a professor at Gordon Conwell Seminary, S. Hamilton, MA, described how his home church divided over the issue of the conduct of public worship services, i.e, the music style. The disagreement became so intense that the church dissolved. He writes of the final service, “We were asked to form a circle around the sanctuary and to join hands. Together we sang, ‘We are one in the bond of love…’ then the service closed with many hugs and tears followed. It was very emotional and very hypocritical.” Christians who really valued love, modeled on the self-sacrifice of Christ, could never tear apart a congregation over a style of music. They would give up their personal comfort before they allowed such violence in the Body of Christ. You see, no matter their rhetoric and emotions, they didn’t really love much.

By contrast, Roger Dixon, wrote about a community in Texas called Homestead Heritage. Several hundred people, deeply committed to Christ and others, live in close relationship with each other. It isn’t a true commune in that they maintain their own homes and finances. But it is a powerful illustration of deep love. Dixon writes, “Many Christians talk about overcoming American individualism, but the residents of Homestead Heritage go beyond talk… What makes this community tick? .. . Decisions are made by consensus. Individuals are accountable to the group, but the group exists to serve each individual… They view themselves as an extended family and call each other ‘brother’ and ‘sister’ regardless of blood relations.” These Believers value Jesus’ call to love above personal convenience and comfort- and it shows in their choices.

Jesus said it like this, “You don’t get wormy apples off a healthy tree, nor good apples off a diseased tree. The health of the apple tells the health of the tree. You must begin with your own life-giving lives. It’s who you are, not what you say, that counts. Your true being brims over into true words and deeds.” (Luke 6:43-45, The Message)

A well known pollster who studies trends and practices of people in these United States, spoke recently to Southern Baptist leaders. George Gallup said, “We find there is very little difference in ethical behavior between churchgoers and those who are not active religiously…The levels of lying, cheating, and stealing are remarkable similar in both groups.” What is apparent in that discovery is that for a significant number of professed Believers, the core truth of the transforming Gospel of Christ is not really owned in their hearts and minds. They do not possess the truth they profess!

What do your choices reveal about your heart’s real values?

Ask a few trusted friends if they consistently see evidence of Christian values in your words and actions. Ask them to think about the unguarded moments!

Don’t be discouraged if you are not yet all that you want to be! This process of sanctification (becoming a godly person whose life serves God’s purposes) is life-long and involves daily decisions. Don’t attempt to effect the changes you desire solely with discipline or rigid rules of control. That will only work until you blow up in anger or are crushed by some life altering event that shatters your dreams and hopes.

Our hearts are changed by cultivating intimacy with God – in meditation, prayer, and worship. His character ‘rubs off’ on us when we’re with Him!

Our minds are changed by the wisdom of His Word as we study it and interact with it. That’s right. Just reading the Bible doesn’t change our values. We must wrestle with it, chew on it, and discuss the implications of what we find in those pages with other Believers. As we do, the seed of the Word germinates, take root, and grows to produce fruit- visible evidence that we are the people of God.

God promises us that IF we choose Him, He will work deeply in us. Take this promise with you today even as you pray, “Change my heart, O God!”

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we…. are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18, NIV)

Choices & Priorities

“Aim for nothing. You will hit it everytime!”

Without constant monitoring of goals and mission, I will most likely wander, spending entire days doing things that are not of primary importance. This will illustrate my point. Technology is useful and, as most of you know, I enjoy finding ways to apply technology to ministry purposes; a worthy effort, but not a primary purpose of my life. My mission as a local church pastor is not to tinker endlessly with computers, trying to coax the latest application to peak performance.

  • What are first importance issues for you? Do you know?

Defining a mission, setting goals, and committing ourselves to regular evaluations; are the only ways to avoid drifting along, hit or miss, doing what we enjoy instead of what is important! I know that God has given me responsibility to lead in a local church: caring for His people, teaching the Word, and encouraging others to serve Him faithfully. I must spend time in study – everyday! Whether I’m in the mood to read or not, I must, for reading feeds my mind so that I can teach. Caring and encouraging requires being involved with people. I cannot have an unlisted phone number or disappear from contact with the congregation for days at a time, because being ‘in touch’ is of first line importance.

Individuals, churches, committees, and corporations will not function effectively without a clear statement of mission and the discipline to do the first things first! Asking the question, ‘why am I doing this?’ is an important exercise that keeps us focused! Stephen Covey, in his great book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, points out that many of us don’t get to the important because we feel that we must respond to the urgent. Ever been talking to someone about something really important only to have the phone ring? What is your first inclination? That’s right, almost everyone of us breaks our train of thought to answer the phone! Covey says, “Urgent matters are often visible. They press on us, they insist on action. They’re often popular with others… pleasant, fun to do… and unimportant!” Urgent matters require that we react. Important matters demand that we plan, purpose, and act to do the first things, first.

Believe it or not, one of the keys to getting the most accomplished, is the willingness to leave some things undone!



Jesus lays down this marker about priorities for all of us. Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33, NIV) What are the ‘all things’ He refers to? Food, drink, and clothing. That’s right, even our daily provisions are not first line issues. Now there’s a real challenge for us. We spend a lot of time focusing on acquiring and guarding resources to assure that we have enough ‘stuff.’ And yet, Jesus promises, if we put God first, God will see to it that we are clothed and fed! Living that way demands a whole different set of values. Jesus told us “Don’t be greedy! Owning a lot of things won’t make your life safe.” (Luke 12:15, CEV) Do we believe that, I mean, really believe it? If so, it will change our priorities significantly. Much of what our society presses on us as urgent, will no longer be an issue of importance for a disciple of Christ.

For what has God made you responsible? Are you treating His gifts and callings as a matter of first importance?


“So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times! Don’t live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants.” (Ephesians 5:15-17, The Message)

Choices

What are you going to do with your freedom of choice today? Even recognizing that you can choose is a choice! Some of us will stumble into this day grumbling about going to work, about having to finish some project, about facing a deadline. Others will take on the challenges of this new week with joy, thankful that we are alive and participating at some level in this thing called, ‘life!’ Some of us will growl, others will smile – and many of us will assume that it is our situation in life that shapes our mood. Not true! Joy comes from inside, from what fills up our heart. Where will you focus – on the limitations or the possibilities?

God impressed on me as I awakened this morning that He has provided me with the freedom to choose how I will live today. One of the most self-defeating phrases is: “I just can’t help it!” If, by that you mean you can’t control your world, you’re right. But if you mean, you have no ability to exercise self-control, you are wrong! We can’t make our spouse be kind to us. We can’t make our boss be appreciative of our efforts. We can’t even be certain that our physical body won’t betray us with heart attack or a bad knee! But we can choose our response to the world and to the circumstances of life.

The Bible says that God broke the hold that sin had over us. Once we could not help but be selfish, lustful, in the grip of ego-driven appetites. But something happened that proclaimed our emancipation from spiritual slavery —

Our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also share his new life. We are sure of this because Christ rose from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him. He died once to defeat sin, and now he lives for the glory of God.

So you should consider yourselves dead to sin and able to live for the glory of God through Christ Jesus.

Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to its lustful desires
. (Romans 6:6-12, NLT)

Just for today- choose! Don’t say, “I can’t help arguing with my wife.” You can, if you will, today. Don’t say, “I can’t discipline my kids.” You can, if you will, today. Don’t say, “I can’t stop eating too much.” You can, if you will, today.

Here’s something that I’ve read again and again, in my life, called Just for Today. I hope you will recognize the wisdom in these words and determine, with the help of God’s Spirit in you, to make a choice – Just for today:

  • I will try to live through this day only, and not tackle my whole life problem at once. I can do something for twelve hours that would appall me if I felt that I had to keep it up for a lifetime.
  • Just for today: I will be happy. This assumes to be true what Abraham Lincoln said, that “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
  • Just for today: I will exercise my soul in three ways: I will do somebody a good turn, and not get found out; if anybody knows of it, it will not count. I will do at least two things I don’t want to do, just for exercise. I will not show anyone that my feelings are hurt; they may be hurt, but today I will not show it.
  • Just for today: I will be agreeable. I will look as well as I can, dress becomingly, talk low, act courteously, criticize not one bit, not find fault with anything, and not try to improve or regulate anybody except myself.
  • Just for today: I will have a program. I may not follow it exactly, but I will have it. I will save myself from two pests: hurry and indecision. — Ruth Carter-Bourdon

So now: Fear God. Worship him in total commitment.

Get rid of the gods your ancestors worshiped on the far side of The River (the Euphrates) and in Egypt. You, worship God.

If you decide that it’s a bad thing to worship God, then choose a god you’d rather serve—and do it today. Choose one of the gods your ancestors worshiped from the country beyond The River, or one of the gods of the Amorites, on whose land you’re now living.

As for me and my family, we’ll worship God.
(Joshua 24:14-15, The Message)

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Father, I come to you today, with profound thankfulness that

You have stepped into my life and set me free to choose –

to love, not hate; to experience joy even in sad circumstances;

to silence my clamoring selfishness that I might serve selflessly.

I pray that Your Spirit in me will lead me to opportunities

where I can share the love of Christ, extend a word of encouragement,

lift up a person who is crushed by despair… and help me

to have the courage to choose to become involved.

Forgive me, Lord, for lazy passivity that causes me to sometimes to drift along,

rather than taking up the oars and paddling my canoe towards your

high and holy callings!

May Jesus be honored by my choices today, I pray in His Holy Name.

Amen.

God’s Will –

The phrase, ‘the will of God’ was always part of my lexicon. The Christian tradition in which I was raised placed a lot of emphasis on knowing and doing God’s will, not just generally, but in a specifically personal way. In our church, the phrase was used liberally by the pastor, by visiting missionaries, and by people in their testimonies. As I listened, I concluded that God must speak audibly to them, though He never did to me. Never the less, I wanted to know God’s will.

People who were not taught to think in those terms don’t understand the compelling nature of living day to day with the sense that understanding and doing the will of God was of paramount importance. As a Junior in High School, I wrestled with ‘the call of God’ to prepare for pastoral ministry as my career. After an experience which I believed confirmed ‘God’s will’ for me, I applied for early graduation so I could attend Bible college. I can still remember the bemused look on the school principal’s face as I sat in his office, an earnest 16 year old kid, attempting to explain that I felt that leaving High School a year early to start my ministry preparation was “God’s will.” In retrospect, I’m sure Dr. Burgio had little real understanding, though he did support the decision and I left high school after that year to attend North Central in Minneapolis, MN.

Was my early graduation the ‘will of God?’ It surely seemed so at the time, but I’ve learned to be much more discreet in claiming God’s will as the reason for an action or decision. It’s a loaded phrase that is, in my opinion, way over-used by many Christians. I’ve heard the phrase, ‘It’s the will of God,’ used to back up some dubious decisions – from buying a new car, to moving to a new state, to taking a different job, and even getting a divorce!

Does God lead us and guide us? Most certainly.

Does He have a plan and purpose for us as individuals? Yes, He does.

There is no more wonderful way of life to be found than living in the center of the purpose of our Eternal God, guided by the Holy Spirit!

But, knowing His will is not just a matter of finding a verse in the Bible that seems to justify a decision. Nor is knowing His will found in making a decision and then asking God to ‘second the motion!’ God’s will is revealed to those of deep humility. James writes, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.” (James 4:10, KJV) In ‘The Message’ a contemporary translation of the Bible, the passage is compellingly worded. Take a look!

  • “So let God work his will in you. Yell a loud no to the Devil and watch him scamper. Say a quiet yes to God and he’ll be there in no time. Quit dabbling in sin. Purify your inner life. Quit playing the field. Hit bottom, and cry your eyes out. The fun and games are over. Get serious, really serious. Get down on your knees before the Master; it’s the only way you’ll get on your feet.” (James 4:7-10)


Much of God’s will for our lives is all ready stated in the Word, a matter of open Truth!

The 10 Commandments are an expression of the will of God for all people, in all times.

Jesus’ directive that we ‘love God and love others’ and so fulfill the Law of God, is binding for everyone.

That we dedicate ourselves to God, understanding we belong to Him as a people select for His purposes, is abundantly clear from the Bible. Paul writes that “…this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified. For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7, NKJV)

I’m convinced that most of our decisions are conformed to the will of God by observing such generally applied wisdom, yet… there are moments when we need to seek to understand what the will of God is for specific moments. Please be careful. Don’t try to shirk responsibility God has given to you for choosing wisely, by laying claim to ‘the will of God.’ Don’t cut off those who would advise and counsel you by bringing out the big gun, “God told me this was His will.” What can anyone say to that?

God has promised to direct our ways, to lead us into paths of everlasting life – if we are humble enough to let Him!

“Say a quiet yes to God” today. Here’s a Word to meditate on today as you seek to know His will:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart,

And lean not on your own understanding;

In all your ways acknowledge Him,

And He shall direct your paths.”
(Proverbs 3:5-6, NKJV)

________________________

Come, prepared to rejoice with us on Sunday. It’s Baptism Sunday, a joyous time of celebrating those who are being incorporated into the Church!

Sunday is Fellowship Sunday at the Assembly.

There will be a Potluck Dinner in the Family Fellowship Center following the 10:45 service.

Bring a dish to share and plan to stay.

Without Wax

“Sine Cera” a Latin phrase meaning ‘without wax.’ The connection to our modern word, sincere, isn’t instantly obvious until we explore the usage of the phrase. Seems that it came from the potters and sculptors of the ancient world. If you had spent time molding and firing a pot only to discover cracks that marred its usefulness, you could quickly make the pot marketable by heating some wax and pressing it into the cracks before finishing the item. Goofed on an expensive block of marble? Mix a little marble dust into some wax and cover your mistake. Initially, no one would know that the item was flawed. However, craftsman who was in business for the long haul, who wanted repeat customers, advertised that his products were ‘sine cera!’ – without wax.

The Scripture directs that “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. (Romans 12:9-11, NIV)

A feigned love for God, good, and others is unworthy of those who are loved by God with a pure love; but insincerity creeps into the fellowship of Believers too frequently to be ignored. We can ‘play along’ without being discovered for a long time. Want to be considered a ‘good Christian?’ Just show up in church with regularity, put on a smile and say, ‘praise the Lord,’ when mildly irritated, do some kind deed when it’s sure to be noticed and — you’re in! You might even be elected to the Deacon Board despite having no real relationship with Christ or true desire for holiness of heart. But, the ‘wax’ will eventually make its presence known– in the critical moment when the fires of life turn up the heat. What is real is often revealed in us when life gets tough, and it will, sooner or later. Job loss, a stretch of health problems, general uncertainty are just a few things that will melt the wax from the cracks, if they exist.

“But, Jerry, I’m not perfect and neither are you.” Good objection and true, too. That’s the glory of grace. God can use cracked pots, of which I am chief! One of my favorite passages says – We don’t go around preaching about ourselves; we preach Christ Jesus, the Lord. All we say about ourselves is that we are your servants because of what Jesus has done for us. … this precious treasure—this light and power that now shine within us—is held in perishable containers, that is, in our weak bodies. So everyone can see that our glorious power is from God and is not our own.” (2 Corinthians 4:5-7, NLT)

To be used of God we don’t have to be extra-ordinary or flawless. In fact, when we are honest about our inabilities, our uncertainties, our present ‘cracks’ in understanding; we make it possible for the Spirit of God to dwell in us in power. His Presence wonderfully compensates for our human frailty! When we are sincere in faith, though imperfect, we will be able to take the heat of life without losing the shine of Christ’s Presence. The passage I started to quote above, goes on to say — You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at. We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken. (2 Corinthians 4:8-9, The Message) Isn’t that rich? Paul is speaking from his own experience. Filled with the Spirit of God, he went the length and breadth of the Roman world preaching the message that Jesus Christ was the Way to Abundant Life now and Eternal Life later! His reward was often to be beaten, thrown out of a city, and even rejected by those who trusted more in religious law than Christ’s grace. But, he stayed faithful, letting the cracks show and trusting that the reality of the One who empowered him would show through.

The temptation to apply a little wax, to pretend a little, to let ourselves be thought to be someone other than who we are, is constant. It is often said in our time, “image is everything.” Let’s not buy the lie. Instead, as we are secure in the grace and love of God, let’s live ‘sine cera,’ without wax!

________________________________

Father, we come to you this Monday morning with an open heart,

trusting your love, mercy, and grace.

We know that Your eyes see us as we are, not as we wish we were,

and you love us still.

Give me a pure heart, a sincere heart, that seeks You and

lives for You, without hypocrisy.

May my willingness to live with integrity, to tear away every pretension,

to throw away the wax that could temporarily cover the cracks in character,

allow the Spirit to make a new heart in me and to create the likeness of Jesus Christ in my life.

I pray this Lord in the name of the loving Lord,

Amen.

Jerry Scott

http://www.washingtonag.net/

“Teaching People how to say “Yes” to God!”