Friday, April 20, 2018

Church Growth Strategy

Friday, April 20, 2018
While Peter and John were speaking to the people, they were confronted by the priests, the captain of the Temple guard, and some of the Sadducees.  These leaders were very disturbed that Peter and John were teaching the people that through Jesus there is a resurrection of the dead.  They arrested them and, since it was already evening, put them in jail until morning.  But many of the people who heard their message believed it, so the number of men who believed now totaled about 5,000.  Acts 4:1-4(NLT)
The bold message that there is resurrection only in the name of Jesus got Peter and John in more trouble than most of us.  They were thrown in jail by Sadducees, a hyper politicaly-minded group of Jewish leaders who believed in God, but not an afterlife; simply speaking the word resurrection could start them foaming at the mouth.
It hardly seems like a great church growth strategy to get thrown in jail.  But here Luke connects the imprisoned preachers speaking truth to power as a cause/effect to bring faith in Christ to many, growing the church from a handful to over 5,000 believers.
So…what’s up with that; how did that work, and will it still work?  Most of us pastors, and alll those who love the church, and want to see her prosper and grow healthy, want to know; we NEED to know!
Over the years I have read a ton of church growth literature; I’ve also tried many of the programs, approaches and strategic suggestions in those books, articles and websites.  If I have learned anything at all, church “growth” happens in three directions:  up, down, and sideways. 

There is UP

UP is when God does something in response to the church behaving like the early church once the Holy Spirit came:
All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.  A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders.  And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had.  They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need.  They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people.  And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.  Acts 2:42-47(NLT)
This is a description of humans not acting like the culture in which we now live, bent on being successful, hard-driving, self-actualizing, materialistic, self-interested and self-dependent.  This is a community serving God by loving everybody.  God’s response was to bless their life with His power.

There is also DOWN

DOWN is when the community refuses to live as the UP group lived.  End of that story!

There is also SIDEWAYS

SIDEWAYS is what happens when the church attempts to gain the results of the UP group by human methods.  They want a successful, thriving church; they just aren’t willing to let God’s Spirit have control. 
Sideways is almost worse than down…you get so distracted and disillusioned by false results (many churches do experience some increase in attendance because of a charismatic leader or massive membership drive, or gimmick)…but it is artificial at best. 
And, at worst, a sideways church growth can send the wrong message that Christianity is right-wing-power, or political strength.  The church can become a stronghold of Pharisees or Sadducees.  You wind up putting those who preach resurrection in jail.
For You Today
When it comes to church growth, or growth as a believer-follower of Jesus Christ, the issue always comes down to control; it’s either you or the Holy Spirit.  It’s never a strategy; it’s always about bowing to God’s will.
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day. 

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[1] Title Image:  Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, April 19, 2018

In Green Pastures and Beside Still Waters

Thursday, April 19, 2018
The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. 
He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength.  Psalm 23:1-3(NLT)
Green meadows with peaceful streams are quiet places.  Every human needs times of quiet to be restored – to have strength return to the body and mind.  For the Christian follower of Jesus those times are for prayer, casting all our cares upon the Lord.[2]  And, in order to do that there must be times of repose, purposeful rest!
For me the ability to gain restoring to my soul requires exchanging my exhaustion for God’s renewal.  This is an issue of sabbath, a principle God established early on for His people to prevent wearing out prematurely. 
“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God.  On that day no one in your household may do any work.  This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you.  For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested.  That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.  Exodus 20:8-11(NLT)
I have known people who seemed to think the concept of sabbath was so antiquated it didn’t apply to them.  The idea of taking a day off seemed wasteful; there was a world to be conquered out there, and taking time off from the conquest was lazy and irresponsible.  God may have rested on the seventh day, but the world would fall apart if they did…with all due respect, it doesn’t; your world comes unglued when you fail to rest.
Even one of the most famous myth creators knew this well.  The story goes that Aesop was playing a children’s game with some very young kids when a colleague walked by.  The man remarked that Aesop was wasting time with those children, playing a worthless game when he should have been working.  Aesop got up, picked-up his bow and laid it in the middle of the road and then challenged the man to tell him the meaning of what he just did.  The man wracked his brain for a long time, but couldn’t come up with an answer.  Having won this battle of wits, Aesop then explained, 'If you keep your bow tightly strung at all times, it will quickly break, but if you let it rest, it will be ready to use whenever you need it.' In the same way the mind must be given some amusement from time to time, so that you will find yourself able to think more clearly afterwards.[3]
For You Today
If you ignore sabbath you run the risk of being ineffective as a disciple at least.  But the more weighty transgression is to know that you have marginalized something God said was important.  If it’s been awhile, rest your bow today!
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day. 

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[1] Title Image:  Russell Brownworth
[2] 1 Peter 5:7
[3] Aesop's Fables. A new translation by Laura GibbsOxford University Press (World's Classics): Oxford, 2002. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

It's Not My Fault

Wednesday, April 18, 2018
The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the Lord God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”  “Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied.  “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat.  God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’”  “You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman.  “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”  The woman was convinced.  She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her.  So she took some of the fruit and ate it.  Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too.  At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness.  So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves.  When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden.  So they hid from the Lord God among the trees.  Then the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”  He replied, “I heard you walking in the garden, so I hid.  I was afraid because I was naked.”  “Who told you that you were naked?” the Lord God asked.  “Have you eaten from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat?”  The man replied, “It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit, and I ate it.”  Then the Lord God asked the woman, “What have you done?”  “The serpent deceived me,” she replied. “That’s why I ate it.”  Genesis 3:1-13(NLT)
Fight or flight are not the only weapons of response to attack in the human arsenal; there is always deflect which is what Adam and Eve did first.  Adam deflected guilt for his sin towards Eve; Eve kicked the can down the road to the serpent.  After all, why suffer accountability when you can blame someone else?  And so it goes!
Humans, even little humans caught with their pudgy little hands in the cookie jar, have always denied responsibility.  It is a mark of insecurity and immaturity to always find an excuse for what we have done  wrong.  Just like politicians put spin on an event in order to cast themselves as if standing on higher ground, so all people play that game in everyday life.
Even our legal system, based upon Judeo-Christian values and ancient ethical systems of justice, has developed such intricacies of proving/disavowing guilt or innocence over the past two centuries, the loopholes make it almost impossible to arrive at reasonable doubt or outright acquittal any more.  We are not only a society of don’t ask-don’t tell, we have become a people of vague shadow and nothing but questions.  The whole idea of absolute truth has become laughable in 21st century culture.  Is it any wonder the Scriptures are held up to scrutiny by people who haven’t even read the Bible, much less thought deeply over its claims?  We, as a species, are working hard at letting ourselves off the hook with God by reason of mental disease or defect – somebody else dropped us on our collective head when we weren’t looking, so it’s not our fault; case dismissed!
But none of that excuses anything when it comes to our accountability before God.  Holy Scripture doesn’t stumble over that one:
For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.  Romans 3:23(NLT)
For You Today
A Thought to Live By:
A person might begin to disbelieve that air exists, or is necessary for life.  That’s completely illogical, given the history of biological existance of every human and mamal ever to draw breath.  And neither does the strong conviction that oxygen is a myth change the reality that it will still fill your lungs and carry life through your body. 
In the same way, a person’s belief or disbelief in God, and that God has prior claims on our life, will mean nothing to the reality that He IS…and He DOES hold us accountable for the way we live.
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day. 

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[1] Title Image:  Courtesy of Pixabay.com

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Word of Sanity from the Wood Shed

Tuesday, April 17, 2018
God is speaking:
Then I will return to my place until they admit their guilt and turn to me.  For as soon as trouble comes, they will earnestly search for me.” 
God’s people respond from the wood shed:
“Come, let us return to the Lord.  He has torn us to pieces; now he will heal us.  He has injured us; now he will bandage our wounds.  In just a short time he will restore us, so that we may live in his presence.  Oh, that we might know the Lord!  Let us press on to know him.  He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn or the coming of rains in early spring.”  Hosea 5:15-6:3(NLT)
The wood shed evokes images of an era fading from view.  There was a time in American culture when, particularly on family farms, and other rural places, if the child had been disobedient the parent would utter the decree:  I’ll be in the wood shed; you meet me there.  That was the dreaded phrase announcing the impending punishment of a whipping for wrong-doing.
In the 21st century most writers of parenting materials would shudder and shriek over the supposedly barbaric practice of even telling Johnny he has done wrong, much less assaulting Johnny’s body with a switch, belt or paddle.  I must admit I get a little weary of hearing how Johnny’s psyche will get warped if he gets punished for behavior that is deemed wrong by the parent.  In my personal experience I do not believe punishment warped my mental state (though sometimes it did warp the way I sat down for a week)!
Hosea’s prophecy was all about the word of sanity from the woodshed, Israel’s response to the discipline of God.  To say Israel had been unfaithful is to understate their condition by a mile.  For a nation founded on allegiance to God’s ways, falling into worshipping other gods, going after power, materialism, and even child-sacrifice, while still claiming their heritage as God’s very special chosen people…well that was laughable. 
That would have been like America still claiming to be a Christian nation.
The history of Israel and the USA are no different than the history of humanity.  We are loved by God…we accept that love…and we reject living like we’re loved…and we wind up in the woodshed; there is little under the sun that is new.
Hosea crafted the right words for the collective mouth of Israel’s heart…let us return to the Lord.  Those are still the right words for any nation; those are still the right words for any person.  It is true we can (in this life) never turn off the sin meter; we all manage to slip off the path, or directly step over the line against God’s standard.  Our daily priority, then has to be repentance, confession, and diligently returning to the Lord.
This is what Paul meant when he wrote:
I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.                                  1 Corinthians 15:31(KJV)
This is the life of those who would truly follow Jesus as a disciple, putting to death that which stands in the way of your walk with Him. 
For You Today
If you’re familiar with the wood shed as a corrective your parent exercised with you, and changed your life from the wrong path to the right one…remember there is a spiritual wood shed that is connected to the straight and narrow path which leads to eternal life.
It’s not easy to die daily…but it’s the only way to live!
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day.

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[1] Title Image:  Courtesy of Pixabay.com

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Cain in Us

Monday, April 16, 2018
So now we can tell who are children of God and who are children of the devil.  Anyone who does not live righteously and does not love other believers does not belong to God.  This is the message you have heard from the beginning:  We should love one another.  We must not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and killed his brother.  And why did he kill him?  Because Cain had been doing what was evil, and his brother had been doing what was righteous.  So don’t be surprised, dear brothers and sisters, if the world hates you.  If we love our brothers and sisters who are believers, it proves that we have passed from death to life.  But a person who has no love is still dead.  Anyone who hates another brother or sister is really a murderer at heart.  And you know that murderers don’t have eternal life within them.  We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us.  So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.  1 John 3:10-16(NLT)
Of course John was not telling us anything new here; actions have always spoken much louder than words.  The Apostle was making a less than subtle point that you can know what’s in a person’s heart by that person’s actions.  For instance, it doesn’t do much good for someone who has just clobbered me with a rock to tell me he loves me as a brother.  His actions have already spoken, so his words are more a cover-up tactic, so I will not retalliate.  At the least it is mumbled platitudes to aswage the clobberer’s guilt!
The fact that Cain dwells in all of us is a troubling reality.  We hear so much these days of violence:  school shootings, murders, bombings, hi-jacked airliners, cars driven into crowds, drug-trafficking, slavery, nerve gas, nuclear arsenals, threats…it is Cain who walks our streets in the 21st century. And the heart of Cain is not sick with mental imbalance; it is sick with the absence of love.
John says that Cain’s motive in killing his brother was a matter of lacking love.  His anger grew because Cain was evil, refusing to act like he was created – in the image of God.  Seeing the actions of his brother, Abel, and his obedience towards God, stoked that anger like water on a grease fire.
We are thousands of years removed from that first murder, but we have taken this practice to levels of heinousness which would probably make even Cain turn over in his grave.  It is so commonplace to hear on the nightly news of another shooting that we hardly blink.  We read in news accounts of not only the killing, but desecrating of bodies and multiple murder killing sprees.  Children are the most innocent of victims.  Men and women casually, sociopathically, rid themselves of unwanted fetal tissue (more accurately, aborting and killing a living soul), and they call it family planning.
In the name of peace we build bigger, more powerfully-destructive killing devices, and go to war, dropping bombs with such regularity it is amazing anyone in any government on earth can keep a straight face when announcing a so-called peace initiative.
However, aside from the brutality of physical murder, there is its symbiotic twin, the emotional destruction of hope in another human soul.  The Cain in us begins young.  With social media tools in hand, children bully and isolate themselves from not only authority, but any kind of accountability.  It is typical to see Cain rising in a two-year old who strikes his playmate when she steals his rubber ducky.  But, left unchecked, this anger grows on through youth and adulthood.  The results are not pretty!
But there is light.  The Apostle said real love is what Jesus showed us on the cross.  He gave up an eternal existance of perfection to take our sinful Cain ways to an altar of sacrifice.  At Calvary Jesus took the hate of the world to hell, and made Heaven a possibility for anyone who will trust him.  Jesus took Abel’s place.
For You Today
Obedience to God’s will and ways always makes you a brother to Abel.  Cain doesn’t like being reminded of his evil by Abel’s goodness.  If you will follow Jesus today, get used to living on that edge, loving Cain; it’s not comfortable, but it’s the only way to deal with the Cain in you!
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day.

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[1] Title Image:  Courtesy of Pixabay.com

Sunday, April 15, 2018

After Easter Series #2. ASSURANCE

Then the two from Emmaus told their story of how Jesus had appeared to them as they were walking along the road, and how they had recognized him as he was breaking the bread.  And just as they were telling about it, Jesus himself was suddenly standing there among them.  “Peace be with you,” he said.  But the whole group was startled and frightened, thinking they were seeing a ghost!  “Why are you frightened?” he asked.  “Why are your hearts filled with doubt?  Look at my hands.  Look at my feet.  You can see that it’s really me.  Touch me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do.”  As he spoke, he showed them his hands and his feet.  Still they stood there in disbelief, filled with joy and wonder.  Then he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?”  They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he ate it as they watched.  Then he said, “When I was with you before, I told you that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must be fulfilled.”  Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.  And he said, “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day.  It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of his name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem:  ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’  You are witnesses of all these things.  Luke 24:35-48(NLT)
Last week we looked at the After Easter result of the resurrection.  We heard Jesus say peace three different times, and with three different meanings. 
The natural result of peace entering our journey is assurance.
Today we want to examine the difference assurance will make when you realize you have been given a second chance.
You would certainly think the disciples were in dire need of a second chance; especially considering the way they all acted at the end, deserting Jesus when the soldiers came for him in Gethsemane on Thursday night – particularly Peter, who cowered in fear outside Pilate’s house, denying Christ repeatedly while Jesus was on trial. 
Probably if any of us were in charge of punishment-choosing that night, those eleven disciples would have been incinerated by a lightning bolt; Apostle toast!
It’s no wonder that our text describes the disciples gathering in the upper room as amazed, excited, elated, and confused…when the two disciples who met Jesus on the Emmaus Road came hurrying back to tell them the news – Jesus was alive! 
Again…with Peter, chiefly considering his proud, bold statement that he would die for Christ, and then his subsequent shameful bail-out at crunch time…if I was Simon Peter it would have scared my socks off to know that Jesus was back in the hood!
But all the disciples were baffled and bewildered.  Our text tells us they were startled and disbelieving, full of doubt, fear, and joy.  Amazement overwhelmed them when Jesus suddenly appeared.  They couldn’t understand that He was really back, standing there.  Was it a ghost?  Their imagination?  Could it be?

And then Jesus opened their minds

Peter and the others had a terrible performance record before this.  They missed the mark on Jesus’ teaching so often.  It was because they were human, flawed, and self-centered…just like us.  But when Jesus opened their minds with the Word of Scripture, suddenly everything was different; they went from failure to formidable force that changed everything – they turned the world upside-down!
So let’s take a look at how the ASSURANCE the disciples got from Jesus that day took them from zero to hero in the eyes of Heaven. 
We will start with the human, worldly-minded disciples and their sinful ways, and trace it to what happened after they got a second chance.

Peter's Sinful Choice

Peter chose flesh over obedience

Peter is always in action.  At times he is opening his mouth before thinking (usually just to exchange feet).  Most often his action gets him in trouble. 
A few chapters back[2], standing in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter has told Jesus he would die for him, and, in the spirit of it all the big fisherman is itching for a fight.  The soldiers show up and Peter is determined to show his leadership skills; he pulls his sword.  This action, swinging the weapon and cutting-off the right ear of the servant of the High Priest, was a supreme testament to Pete's penchant for leaping without looking.  One of the disciples had asked the question, Should we use the swords now?  Peter's problem here is that he didn’t wait for an answer from Jesus. 
Many times I believe we can be guilty of the same, asking God to supply a need, or deliver us from a problem, or guide us to a right decision...only to plow ahead Peter-style
A preacher summed it up this way:  How busy we keep the Lord putting on ears that we, in our mistaken zeal, cut off.[3]

Peter also ignored the teaching of Jesus

Jesus taught us to love our enemies (Luke 6.27).  This was a basic problem that Jesus’ disciples AND the Pharisees shared; they were arrogantly stubborn when it came to what Jesus tried to teach them.  What Jesus said…they should have believed.  Instead they closed their minds.
It is interesting that Peter cut off Malchus' right ear (the servant of the High Priest).  When a High Priest was consecrated for service, the right ear received a sprinkling of blood.  That is a sign of cleansing. 
It is helpful to have no hindrances to hearing God's voice when you are a bridge between God and man.  You are responsible for hearing and doing.  In the New Testament church we are all priests.  It helps to have the ear inclined to God:
If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in his sight, obeying his commands and keeping all his decrees, then I will not make you suffer any of the diseases I sent on the Egyptians; for I am the Lord who heals you.  Exodus 15:26(NLT)
O my people, listen to my instructions.  Open your ears to what I am saying,  Psalm 78:1(NLT)

Why did Peter choose wrongly?  He was unprepared!

Just prior to this moment Jesus was praying while the disciples slept.  Even the inner circle of Peter, James, and John snoozed while Jesus was fighting the most critical battle of His ministry. 
We could learn this lesson.  In the crises of life, it doesn't matter how handsome, intelligent, popular or wealthy you are – if you have not spent alert and listening time with Jesus you will not have a clue as to his direction.  The alternative is to go it alone.  That usually means you will cut off an ear.
Peter’s sinful choices were followed by:

Peter's Second Chance

Jesus Touched Malchus

The word touch literally means to attach oneself to.  The meaning is unmistakable; ministry is always hands-on
Jesus touched Malchus' ear and it was healed (made whole).  Jesus was always touching people.  He touched a leper (Luke 5); He touched a dead boy (Luke 7); He was touched by a desperately ill woman (Luke 8).  The result was always the same; the touch of Jesus meant being made whole. 
Jesus touched Malchus, but besides a Roman soldier being made whole, the life of Peter would never involve another sword made of steel.  From then on it was the Sword of the Spirit, God’s Holy Word that was attached to Peter’s tool belt.

Jesus Gave Peter Freedom

When Malchus had his ear severed it’s a high probability that he would NOT have nominated Peter for disciple of the year.  Had Jesus not intervened, healing the ear, removing the evidence against Peter, the fisherman would have likely been hacked to pieces right on the spot by Malchus' company of soldiers.  At the very least he would have been arrested with Jesus.  But, how could they arrest Peter with no bloody ear stump as evidence?
But Jesus had more than Peter’s political freedom in mind.  The most impressive freedom was not that Peter wouldn’t go to the lock-up; Peter had been privileged to witness this miracle, and that pointed to a larger purpose.
The scene is filled with high drama, pathos, and a little humor:  Peter, a big, burly seaman wields a sword; to put it mildly he is not a skilled swordsman.  He swings at the leader of the soldiers, missing his intended mark (which was to sever Malchus’ head); instead Simon Peter, lousy marksman with a sword, lops off a consecrated ear. 
In my sanctified imagination I hear Peter grumble:  That's just the beginning you toad.  You should've been listening to Jesus anyway – like me.  Now for the rest of you.                                                    
Suddenly Jesus holds up his hand to stay Peter's second at bat.  And with a look that says, Oh Peter, you just don't listen, Jesus stops the action, stoops down and picks up the bloody ear.  You can just envision Jesus silently lamenting to himself:  And if only you'd been listening!
Then, with disciples, soldiers, and assembled onlookers holding their collective breath, Jesus reattaches the ear.
Peter is very confused. 
·       Why the swords in the first place? 
·       How are we going to have a kingdom if the King goes to jail? 
·       What is going on here? 
Freedom is like that – valuable enough to die for, but forcing decisions and responsibilities upon the participants.

Peter's Forgiveness

It was not right away; perhaps it was not for years, but what Peter would eventually realize is that Jesus' action was not only a healing, but a forgiving. 
Jesus took His divine hand and lovingly healed the ear of Malchus, and covered the sin of Peter.  It was as much second chance for the fisherman as it was for Malchus’ ear. 
There is often much more to miracles than we can see at first!
What Do You Do With Second Chances?

Embrace 'em

Forgiveness is a gift of God:
God saved you by his grace when you believed.  And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.   Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.  Ephesians 2:8-9(NLT )
When God offers you a second chance you just accept it. 
Days after the ear business, Jesus appeared to Peter and gave him a second chance at ministry.  Peter looked into Jesus' eyes and knew that he had been forgiven, and he’d been recommissioned to be a Kingdom servant. 
He knew he was unworthy.  He knew he could blow it again. 
But he embraced the second chance.

Extend 'em

A reality about being forgiven is that forgiving becomes possible.  Malchus knew firsthand the power and loving touch of Jesus.  However, he still arrested Jesus.  He didn't accept the second chance very well – and because he refused the forgiving love of Jesus, he himself could not forgive others. 
We must always be ready to forgive and forge ahead.  Otherwise we become like Steven Crane's character in his poem The Black Riders.  The Black Rider is described as ...a creature, naked, bestialHe is stranded in a desert, starving.  He sinks to eating his own heart. 
Asked if it is good, the creature replies:
I like it
Because it is bitter,
and
Because it is my heart.
Assurance will give you a consecrated ear – ready to listen to God's instructions. 
Assurance will give you an embracing heart – both for the second chances of God who forgives – and for others who must be forgiven.
Shall we pray?
Lord, help us to embrace your offer of freedom from hate, bigotry, and the arrogance that makes us suppose we’re somehow superior to others.
Father, the last thing this world needs is more ‘Black Riders’ so steeped in our stubborn choices we’d rather eat our own insides than forgive and embrace one we have learned to call ‘enemy’.
Help us to embrace others for the sake of Christ.
And, dear Lord, visit us now in this room with that same word of assurance with which you blessed the eleven who waited fearfully, unbelieving, unknowing what next they should do – say ‘PEACE’ and still our hearts. 
May the touch of your nail-pierced hands, feet, and side still our worried minds, and quicken our doubting hearts, and send us from this place changed into the kind of followers you want to use to transform this old sinful world.
We pray in the Name of the Son, because of the Father’s promises, cooperating with the Spirit’s call…Amen!                                                   

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[1] Title Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
[2] Luke 22
[3]Ironside, H.A., Addresses In Luke (N.Y. Loizeaux Bros., 1947), 649

Friday, April 13, 2018

When You Talk to Yourself

Friday, April 13, 2018
Answer me when I call to you, O God who declares me innocent.  Free me from my troubles.  Have mercy on me and hear my prayer.  How long will you people ruin my reputation?  How long will you make groundless accusations?  How long will you continue your lies?  -- Interlude
You can be sure of this:  The Lord set apart the godly for himself.  The Lord will answer when I call to him.  Don’t sin by letting anger control you.  Think about it overnight and remain silent.     -- Interlude
Offer sacrifices in the right spirit, and trust the Lord.  Many people say, “Who will show us better times?”  Let your face smile on us, Lord.  You have given me greater joy than those who have abundant harvests of grain and new wine.  In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe.  Psalm 4:1-8(NLT)
David, the shepherd boy who became king of Israel, did what we all do when troubled over an agonizing situation – he sat down to have a little talk with himself.  More accurately, David talked with God, but you can count on it that this son of Jesse placed himself vulnerably close to God’s throne for scrutiny; he wanted answers as to why he had to live with false accusations hovering over him from people who just wanted to drag his reputation through the mud.
In the middle part of this Psalm David is confessing his anger to God, but he’s also talking out loud to himself:  careful, now; letting the anger you have over this situation control you will destroy you as certainly as the worst sin.  Be still and pray all night if you must, but let silence before God and man work out what you’ll mess up if you run your mouth like a raging fire! 
You can just feel the temperature let up in the final sentences of David’s prayer.  In the opening of this Psalm David was asking God:  free me from my troubles.  Literally he was asking for relief, space from the pressure of a bad situation.  By the end of the prayer he has it.  Certainly the trouble hasn’t left; it is David’s spirit and mind that have changed.  His prayer has freed him by clearing his mind and allowing him to stand unconvicted before his Maker.
In Shadowlands, based on the life of C.S. Lewis, author, theologian, professor and defender of the faith, Lewis’ wife is dying of cancer.  It is a grueling, overwhelming, and life-changing experience.  In one scene he shares with the chancellor at Oxford (who is also his pastor) that his wife’s illness caused him to pray all the time.  As he walks away he remarks:  I don’t pray because prayer changes the facts; I pray because prayer changes me.
It is this fact that shows us the end of David’s prayer as he declares he will be able to lie down in peaceful sleep.  This can be seen two ways:
1.     David can actually get a peaceful night’s sleep, because being right with God frees your soul and clears your conscience.  And…
2.     David can die the death of the righteous, cleared of wrongdoing in Heaven’s eyes.
Either interpretation is possible – and both are true.
For You Today
Do you lie awake fuming over something you cannot control?  Is your reputation ruined because you earned it, or someone else is maliciously dragging you through the mud?  Has the pressure meter on your life reached the red zone?
Have a David kind of talk with God; it changes you.
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day.

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[1] Title Image:  Courtesy of Pixabay.com