Friday, December 8, 2017

Go...Stand-Up...Say...Fear NOT

Friday, December 8, 2017
The Lord gave me this message:  “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb.  Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.”  “O Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I can’t speak for you! I’m too young!”  The Lord replied, “Don’t say, ‘I’m too young,’ for you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you.  And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and will protect you.  I, the Lord, have spoken!”  Then the Lord reached out and touched my mouth and said, “Look, I have put my words in your mouth!  Today I appoint you to stand up against nations and kingdoms.  Some you must uproot and tear down, destroy and overthrow.  Others you must build up and plant.”  
Jeremiah 1:4-10(NLT)
God gave quite an assignment to a young one; one still wet behind the ears!  Jeremiah responded by acknowledging his fear:  I can’t do this, Lord; I’m too young.  Nobody will believe me, listen to me; God, you’ve got to find someone else!
At least on some level I know what Jeremiah felt like when God’s call washed over him.  It’s that sinking-feeling in the pit of your stomach that alerts you to the reality of a rough ride directly ahead.  It is a feeling of vulnerability; your underside will be exposed and you have no choice.  The scale was different for Jeremiah than Russell.  I speak to a few dozen folks on Sundays and a slightly wider audience through the week.  Jeremiah was a prophet to the world. 
But while the audience may vary in size, the job doesn’t; a mouthpiece may blow a piccolo or a tuba, but the notes play the same music.  And when you speak for God there will be words of judgment as well as words of encouragement. 
This is my fortieth year of ministry, and there is no question in my mind that the butterflies of anxiety that accompanied the first realization of being called to speak God’s Word to people were authentic.  It has been a rough ride; my family and I have been vulnerable to abuse from many different directions.  Offsetting that has been the consistent care of God.  Elizabeth and I (along with our children and extended family) have seen God work in marvelous ways to keep us safe, fed, and blessed in too many ways to recount.  We’ve never missed a meal and stand blessed beyond measure!
At times I wonder how God could be so kind and generous towards the likes of me.  This is particularly so when I think of servants like Jeremiah.  He was the weeping prophet, steeped in sorrow over the sins of his nation.  Jeremiah died in exile, a prisoner far from home.  He never saw the victory God was working, and to which God had assigned him.  Yet the man stayed by the stuff; Jeremiah never gave in to fear of what could be done to him in this body.  He stood against unrighteousness, proclaimed God’s holiness, and never blurred the lines between the two.
Rewards in this life are shadowy; you always have to suspect the source.  There are times a seeming reward, some windfall of money, praise, gift, or advance is a blessing.  Upon closer examination it turns out to be a temptation, a trap!  Other times the vulnerability issue, where your daily bread is in question may be threatened.  But it is a gift, an opportunity to walk in stronger faith. 
Trials, temptations, snares and toils; ministry can be a minefield.  But after forty years I’m more certain than ever that the initial Jonah-response most preachers I know exhibited when God called them into ministry is the best preparation.  It is during those times of self-doubt, questioning, trying to run-away, and the disciplining hand of Almighty God that we have that Go…Stand-Up…Say…and FEAR NOT heart for ministry planted deep within to sustain and strengthen us for the days ahead.
Forty years of walking by faith have taught me you need that!

For You Today

Are you called?  Are you worried about it?  Trying to run from it?  Good!
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

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Nana Tracks

Thursday, December 7, 2017
I listen carefully to what God the Lord is saying, for he speaks peace to his faithful people.  But let them not return to their foolish ways.  Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, so our land will be filled with his glory.  Unfailing love and truth have met together.  Righteousness and peace have kissed!  Truth springs up from the earth, and righteousness smiles down from heaven.  Yes, the Lord pours down his blessings.  Our land will yield its bountiful harvest.  Righteousness goes as a herald before him, preparing the way for his steps.  
Psalm 85:8-13(NLT)
Our grandkids have always known they will leave our house with Nana tracks.  My bride cannot resist an exposed baby nose, toes or chubby arms; there will always be a transfer of lipstick from Grandma Nana to whatever baby is within reach!  One of our little ones once told me:  You KNOW when Nana’s been here!
For the Psalmist that kind of reality is also true when the character and behavior of human beings bends towards heaven.  God speaks peace to us and (when we’re not so foolish as to ignore Him), the land is filled with glory.  That’s what we see when the unfailing love of God meets with truthful human character.  God’s glory is the result when humankind wages peace because we revere the righteousness of the LORD.  When we are truthful with each other His righteousness smiles from heaven, and blessings of his presence pour over us like the dew of Mt. Hermon.  And, particularly meaningful in Advent, we see that response to righteousness as the herald of the coming of the Lord.
Just as you know Grandma has been loving her grands because of the Nana tracks, you also know when God is near; righteousness and peace kissing is a wonder to behold!
But we do not live in a peaceful world.  That is because we do not live in a world culture where people trust each other…and often with good reason.  The mayhem of shouted insults, harsh language, and persistent grab for a larger piece of the pie is a stridency that cannot invite anyone to the table of peace.
There is an incredibly fine balance between righteousness and peace.  On the one hand peace is favored by most people I’ve ever met.  (There have been a few I’ve known for whom drama piled atop anger is a way of life; they wouldn’t feel right without it).  But peace is a longing within the human heart, a faded leftover of the disappearing stamp of God’s image on our souls.  We want peace, but we learn otherwise.  But the fact remains that only when the righteousness of God is honored entirely can peace have a place at the table.
Christ came as the Prince of Peace, and sin cried CRUCIFY!  And yet His resurrection still offered peace to all hearts and lives. 
What the Psalmist said that God said:  let them not return to their foolish ways…is only possible when we determine we will live in peace; anything less and we crucify him again.

For You Today

Let righteousness and peace have their kiss in your life; walk around with some heavenly Nana tracks; let the world know He’s been here!
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

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

An Empty Lament

Wednesday, December 6, 2017
O God, pagan nations have conquered your land, your special possession.  They have defiled your holy Temple and made Jerusalem a heap of ruins.  They have left the bodies of your servants as food for the birds of heaven.  The flesh of your godly ones has become food for the wild animals.  Blood has flowed like water all around Jerusalem; no one is left to bury the dead.  We are mocked by our neighbors, an object of scorn and derision to those around us.  O Lord, how long will you be angry with us? Forever?  How long will your jealousy burn like fire?  Pour out your wrath on the nations that refuse to acknowledge you—on kingdoms that do not call upon your name.  For they have devoured your people Israel, making the land a desolate wilderness. Do not hold us guilty for the sins of our ancestors!  Let your compassion quickly meet our needs, for we are on the brink of despair.  Help us, O God of our salvation!  Help us for the glory of your name.  Save us and forgive our sins for the honor of your name.  Why should pagan nations be allowed to scoff, asking, “Where is their God?”  Show us your vengeance against the nations, for they have spilled the blood of your servants.  Listen to the moaning of the prisoners.  Demonstrate your great power by saving those condemned to die.  O Lord, pay back our neighbors seven times for the scorn they have hurled at you.  Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will thank you forever and ever, praising your greatness from generation to generation.  
Psalm 79:1-13(NLT)
Cookies are still my weakness!  Since I was a small child I never met a cookie I couldn’t love.  And one childhood sin I was hard-pressed to confess was when Mom caught me red-handed with that proverbial offending hand deep in the cookie jar.
I’ll spare you the details, other than to remind you that there was that time you got busted for disobeying a direct command to stay out of this or that.  But, this isn’t about your sins.  Rather I’ll point you to what you probably did, by telling you what I did; I jumped right in the river of denial!  With cookie crumbs all over my face, chocolate chip smears on my hands and half a jar of cookies missing, mustering-up a straight face I looked right at Mom and copied Adam’s excuse; I blamed it on the dog!
This Psalm (as many others) recounts the harsh conditions of Israel’s suffering under the rulers of other nations that had conquered them.  It is a lament for the conditions, but somehow rings empty of confession that takes responsibility for the judgment they were experiencing.  There is a brief “blaming the dog” where the Psalmist asks God to not hold the sins of their ancestors against them.  But this smacks of victim-claiming; not me…I didn’t do anything…must’ve been the dog!
An empty lament is a prayer largely unheard in Heaven.  Any prayer for forgiveness and restoration that will be heard by God always begins with heartfelt and unreserved confession, acknowledging and accepting the guilt of doing wrong.  Mercy and forgiveness are reserved for those who are guilty – not those who have a great excuse!

For You Today

There’s no question that, given an opportunity, my dog would’ve eaten every cookie in the jar…but he didn’t deserve to be blamed for something I did. 
The good news remains that when I learned to confess my sins, God not only forgives me, He finds pretty amazing ways to wash the cookie crumbs off my face.
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, December 5, 2017

To Cooperate (or NOT)

Tuesday, December 5, 2017
After all this I saw another angel come down from heaven with great authority, and the earth grew bright with his splendor.  He gave a mighty shout:  “Babylon is fallen—that great city is fallen!  She has become a home for demons.  She is a hideout for every foul spirit, a hideout for every foul vulture and every foul and dreadful animal.  For all the nations have fallen because of the wine of her passionate immorality.  The kings of the world have committed adultery with her.  Because of her desires for extravagant luxury, the merchants of the world have grown rich.”  Then I heard another voice calling from heaven, “Come away from her, my people.  Do not take part in her sins, or you will be punished with her.  
Revelation 18:1-4(NLT)
Many times in Scripture we are urged to cooperate with fellow believers to do the work of the Kingdom of God.  Just as often we are warned to steer clear of alliances which drag us more into personal desires than Godliness.
Revelation is full of God’s judgments which fall on those who oppose Him.  In this passage we see final punishments falling on those who have let themselves become steeped in the passionate immorality of the age. 
It is a deep trap into which we fall when we attempt to minimize the seriousness of personal sin.  Scripture is very clear about this.  And in this passage of future judgment we see just how fiercely decisive the sword of punishment is for those who place personal gain over Godly compassion; even worse is the judgment that falls upon the heads of those who lead others into such sinful lifestyles.
The thought of judgment being more stringent for those who lead always brings a shudder to my soul.  As a pastor, even in a small membership congregation, the moment you open your mouth in teaching, preaching or leading in any way, the possibility of saying something that will affect someone else’s eternity looms large!  That being said, I am still thrilled to be a pastor, because the opportunity to effect change for good in someone’s life is just as much a possibility as leading one astray.  The two (human) dynamics in that mix are:
·       My faithfulness in preaching, teaching and leading in a Godly way
·       The Godly faithfulness of those who follow
Another aspect of this is on a grander scale in the human family – that of leadership of nations.  And Revelation is just as clear for what a national leader (and followers) do as it is for individuals.  National leaders that provoke the culture along a pathway that leaves righteousness, compassion, and Godly living fading into the rearview mirror are stockpiling riches for themselves in this world and an eternity of misery for the next.  I’ve often said I would never want to be president of any country.  The temptations associated with that much power are far above my pay grade.

For You Today

Your actions today are merely a teaspoon of water in a vast ocean of the deeds of humans throughout the world.  But even the smallest drop creates a ripple.  What effect will your ripples be in the life of another human being who crosses your path today?
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, December 4, 2017

When Waiting Seems Hopeless

Monday, December 4, 2017
Then I saw in heaven another marvelous event of great significance.  Seven angels were holding the seven last plagues, which would bring God’s wrath to completion.  I saw before me what seemed to be a glass sea mixed with fire.  And on it stood all the people who had been victorious over the beast and his statue and the number representing his name.  They were all holding harps that God had given them.  And they were singing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb: 
“Great and marvelous are your works, O Lord God, the Almighty.  Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations.  Who will not fear you, Lord, and glorify your name?  For you alone are holy.  All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous deeds have been revealed.”
Then I looked and saw that the Temple in heaven, God’s Tabernacle, was thrown wide open.  The seven angels who were holding the seven plagues came out of the Temple.  They were clothed in spotless white linen with gold sashes across their chests.  Then one of the four living beings handed each of the seven angels a gold bowl filled with the wrath of God, who lives forever and ever.  The Temple was filled with smoke from God’s glory and power.  No one could enter the Temple until the seven angels had completed pouring out the seven plagues.       Revelation 15:1-8(NLT)
The waiting game in Advent can seem rather pointless, particularly if you’re bent towards cynicism.  Even if you’re well-balanced and reasonably optimistic, life in the culture of the 21st century can bend you that way.  As children we wait in the back seat of a car, wait for a diaper to be changed, wait to be liberated from the high chair so we can go out and play, and we even wait endlessly for teeth to come in so we can finally chew our big brother’s homework papers to shreds.  Then as we mature there are lines in school cafeterias, PE class, and graduations.  We wait in lines at the Motor Vehicle Department, Social Security, Army Induction Center; we wait for job interviews and for a marriage license.  Last week some of you waited in lines at ungodly hours for Black Friday deals.  Some of us wait in church for the Pastor’s sermon to finally be over.
We wait!
And so the yawn comes as no surprise when waiting becomes the main theme of Advent.  We are asked, by virtue of the last great event (Jesus’ first advent) to think about, anticipate, prepare for, and meditate on the next great event, His next (and final) advent…the Second Coming.  We yawn (and sometimes dread) shopping again for the endless list of Christmas presents.  We yawn (and always dread) putting up the same tree lights and pumping-up Frosty for the front yard.  We yawn over the endless cycle of it all, and wonder if the real thing will ever get here.  Once again we become 5 years old in the back seat of Dad’s Plymouth whining…are we THERE yet?
Guilty as charged…that’s me.  I can be Scrooge and the Grinch all in one delightful package at least somewhere in this season. 
But I’m working on it. 
And I need passages like John the Revelator’s heavenly scenes of God’s final act in human history.  I need to entertain the wonderful glory of his mighty and righteous acts.  My soul craves the setting at right that which has been wrong. 
And so I need the endless waiting of Advent…because it isn’t endless at all.  In at least one very important sense, every time I allow myself to let go of the dread of the waiting game and actually enter into its fullness, I experience Christ’s presence.
And isn’t that the whole point?  The waiting really makes my heart grow fonder towards He who is our true North!

For You Today

Amid the darkness of black Friday, cyber Monday and whatever other marketing scheme dominates the horizon, take a few seconds to block it all out and enter Advent; wait today with purpose!
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

Friday, December 1, 2017

Stepping-Up Your Game

Friday, December 1, 2017
God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives.  Therefore, anyone who refuses to live by these rules is not disobeying human teaching but is rejecting God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.  But we don’t need to write to you about the importance of loving each other, for God himself has taught you to love one another.  Indeed, you already show your love for all the believers throughout Macedonia.  Even so, dear brothers and sisters, we urge you to love them even more.  
1 Thessalonians 4:7-10(NLT)
Paul wrote to encourage the church at Thessalonica.  He knew their lives were already immersed in serving Christ, but he felt an urgency to let them know it was time to blossom even bigger in God’s Kingdom; it was time for them to step it up.
The apostle began with the rules.  THE rules (10 commandments) are where we all start off; you do have to have a place of beginning!  But there is a time to put those rules behind us – not in the sense that they disappear and become unimportant, or relics to be ignored.  But, like anyone who recognizes God has a prior claim on our life and all we are, Paul urges the disciples to go beyond the mere rules…all the way to the spirit of the law.
It’s said that Samuel Clemmens (whose pen name was Mark Twain) had a potty mouth.  The story is that his foul language really tweaked his wife Olivia’s sense of decency.    She tried ceaselessly to get him to clean up his act, but all to no avail.  The man was incorrigible.  One day Mrs. Clemmens decided on a new shock and awe tactic to get her husband to quit cussing; she gathered all the foul words together in a rambling sentence, held her nose (so to speak) and let them fly from the other room at the top of her voice.  Momentarily Samuel appeared at the door and said:
My dear, you would do well to stop that; you have all the words, but none of the music!
Samuel Clemmens recognized that his wife was not a “fit” swearer; her life was higher than that, and it was strange to hear it coming from her lips.
In just that way Paul urges believers to step-up our game when it comes to the way we love.  It’s not about the rules, it’s about the music of loving.

For You Today

I’ve decided to put away the list of do’s and (especially) the don’ts; it’s time to step-up and dance to the music of God’s love!
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

Thursday, November 30, 2017

There is a Fountain

Thursday, November 30, 2017
“On that day a fountain will be opened for the dynasty of David and for the people of Jerusalem, a fountain to cleanse them from all their sins and impurity.  
Zechariah 13:1(NLT)
We are now in the Season of Advent, a new year in the Christian calendar; it’s a season of promise and expectancy.  This time is filled with the images of people who walked in great darkness anticipating the dawn of light and life. 
God said through the prophet Zechariah that a fountain would be opened for the cleansing and re-birth of Israel.  God’s forgiveness birthed in a stable would become that fountain that washes away the sins and rebellion of the past.
Israel needed a rebirth because of their national sins; they had stopped serving God and were full-blown into self-serving worship of whatever pleased them most.  That is a microcosm of what is true for all humanity.  As the apostle Paul proclaimed, all have sinned and fallen short of God’s standard[2].
Through another prophet, Isaiah, God spoke this same sweeping reality, that every one of us, like wandering sheep, have lost sight of God, and our deepest personal need is to be forgiven.  Zechariah’s prophecy of the opening of God’s forgiving fountain would be Jesus, the long-ago promised coming of a Savior:
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.  Isaiah 53:6(NLT)
This morning I’d like to let 17th century poet William Cowper hold-out Zechariah’s image of God’s fountain for us:
There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins,
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains:
The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in His day;
And there have I, though vile as he,
Washed all my sins away:
Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood
Shall never lose its pow’r,
Till all the ransomed church of God
Are safe, to sin no more:
E’er since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die:
When this poor, lisping, stamm’ring tongue
Lies silent in the grave,
Then in a nobler, sweeter song,
I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save:

For You Today

As we begin a new year in the Christian cycle of worship, thank God for the cleansing-healing power of the blood of Christ.  That fountain is what births you into the family of God, and it is the only reason you can stay there.
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
[2] Romans 3:23