Wednesday, August 31, 2016

PRAYING IN TIMES OF TROUBLE

PRAYING IN TIMES OF TROUBLE

Isaiah 37:14-15  Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD. And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD.

             This chapter of Isaiah contains an interesting story about King Hezekiah. The Assyrians were attacking Jerusalem with a large army and beginning to overpower it. The situation looked hopeless. King Sennacherib ridiculed Hezekiah mercilessly. Sennacherib made fun of Hezekiah’s misfortune by writing him a letter filled with insults about God in order to make the devout king lose all hope. Instead of losing hope, Hezekiah went into the temple, spread out the letter in front of God, bowed down with his face touching the ground, and prayed a heartfelt prayer.

            Learning to pray when there’s an emergency or when something is frightening us requires a lot of discipline. Instead of praying, we tend to torture ourselves with anxiety and worry. All we can think about is trying to get rid of the problem. The devil often tricks us when temptation or suffering first begins, whether we are dealing with spiritual or physical matters. He immediately barges in and makes us so upset about the problem that we become consumed by it. In this way, he tears us away from praying. He makes us so confused that we don’t even think about praying. When we finally begin to pray, we have already tortured ourselves half to death. The devil knows what prayer can accomplish. That’s why he creates so many obstacles and makes it so inconvenient for us that we never get around to prayer.

            On the basis of this story in Isaiah, we should get into the habit of falling on our knees and spreading our needs in front of God the moment we have an emergency or become frightened. Prayer is the very best medicine there is. It always works and never fails – if we would just use it!



Faith Alone: A Daily Devotional by Martin Luther. July  16.


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

AND YOU THINK YOU HAVE PROBLEMS

AND YOU THINK YOU HAVE PROBLEMS

Job 1:21   
Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.
            
The story of Job is one that touches so much in human life. Success as measured by this world had come to Job. Wealth and family had grown to such a measure that servants attended to his every need. He was well known in his community and well respected for his charity to the poor and fatherless. Job was a man of the century for his day and time. But, like many whom he helped, he fell into poverty and despair. How could such a reversal of fortune have occurred? Would such a fall be reversed? How could Job recover from such depths of grief and abandonment?

            We forget that our struggle in this world is not against mere humans and institutions created by men. Our battle goes beyond this world into the unseen and often misunderstood realm of spirits, powers and principalities beyond our senses. Satan is battling against God himself. In spite of the victory won by Christ, Satan continues to battle against the winners in heaven. Our struggles many times are the results of those battles and skirmishes in heaven. But we are never without help. God remains on our side and continues to defeat Satan at his every turn through God’s people.

            Job would not allow death, destruction, his wife or friends or his own painful situation to move him out of his faith into despair and cursing of God. Job battled the rational impulses that were ignited by Satan and fueled by his friends and wife. He refused to abandon the truth he knew of God’s goodness, providence and grace. Job refused to give into the temptation to curse God and die. That would have been the easy way out of his anguish and despair. But God had provided him sufficient faith for every event that occurred. God was true to his promise and Job knew it.

            When times are dark, painful and seemingly without hope, may the Holy Spirit support your faith and belief in God’s goodness and presence. May the darkness of despair never cause you to turn from you.

  

Jericho Road Ministries Chapel, by Rev. Bruce W. Gimbel, 2007.

Monday, August 29, 2016

REFUSING GOD’S HELP

REFUSING GOD’S HELP

John 3:18-19   
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.
  
            To us, God may appear to be angry. He seems to be an unjust, harsh, and stern judge. But God is saying here, “Now then, I will cancel the charges against you. You will no longer have to mourn. To be sure, you have sinned and earned the judgment of God. But your sin will be pardoned. The death penalty will be removed. I will no longer remember the sinfulness of the world – the sin in which people were born and in which they lived. Everything is settled. I will no longer look at your sin. Simply believe in my Son.”

            What’s missing? Why does judgment still hang over us if the Son has removed our sins? This judgment remains because people reject Christ, the Son of God.

            Suppose a physician is treating a sick person whom he knows he definitely can help. Suppose he has promised to get rid of his patient’s pain. The physician suggests a remedy for his patient’s illness or an antidote to counteract the poison his patient has ingested. Suppose further that the sick person knows without a doubt that the physician is capable of helping. In spite of all this, the patient says, “Get out of here. I don’t need your advice. You’re not a physician. You’re a fraud. I’m not sick. I didn’t eat any poison. And besides, it probably won’t hurt me.” Then what if the patient tries to choke and even kill this doctor? Wouldn’t you say that person is not only sick but also stark raving mad? The spiritual madness of refusing the help of God’s Son wants to give us is ten times worse than this.

  
Faith Alone: A Daily Devotional, By Martin Luther. March 3.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

THE HIDDENNESS OF THE DEVOUT LIFE

THE HIDDENNESS OF THE DEVOUT LIFE

Mathew 6:16-18   
"When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
  
            The real difference in the believer who follows Christ and has mortified his will and died after the old man in Christ, is that he is more clearly aware than other men of the rebelliousness and perennial pride of the flesh, he is conscious of his sloth and self-indulgence and knows that his arrogance must be eradicated. Hence there is a need for daily self-discipline. It is always true of the disciple that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, and he must therefore “watch and pray.” The spirit knows the right way, and desires to follow it, but the flesh lacks courage and finds it too hard, too hazardous and wearisome, and so it stiles the voice of the spirit. The spirit assents when Jesus bids us love our enemies, but flesh and blood are too strong and prevent our carrying it out. Therefore we have to practice strictest daily discipline; only so can the flesh learn the painful lesson that it has no rights of its own. Regular daily prayer is a great help here and so is daily meditation on the Word of God, and every kind of bodily discipline and asceticism.

            The flesh resists this daily humiliation, first by a frontal attack, and later by hiding itself under the words of the spirit…we thus excuse our self-indulgence and irregularity in prayer, in meditation and in our bodily life. But the contrast between our behavior and the word of Jesus is all too painfully evident…When all is said and done, the life of faith is nothing if not an unending struggle of the spirit with every available weapon against the flesh. How is it possible to live the life of faith when we grow weary of prayer, when we lose our taste for reading the Bible, and when sleep, food and sensuality deprive us of the joy of communion with God?




The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, pg. 189.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

EXPECTING TO BE UNDERSTOOD

EXPECTING TO BE UNDERSTOOD

Proverbs 3:5-6    
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

             Sometimes our troubles in communication involve expectations we have adopted, usually unconsciously. “We expect to be understood by other Christians and it comes as a shock to realize that they do not understand” writes Julie Gorman, teacher at Fuller Seminary. We expect to be understood, period, and are shocked when we aren’t. If not shocked, at least convinced it’s the other party’s fault – things were certainly clear when I spoke them.

            But Christians should never be shocked to be misunderstood, whether by those who share our faith or those who do not. Misunderstanding occurs because of two realities, both basic to the Christian understanding of creation, that as creatures we are both fallen and finite. Being fallen means our minds are never fully dependable; and our autonomous hearts are always attracted  to whatever ideas seems to make us the center of the universe, even though it sets us adrift to be…lost in the cosmos. If anything, we should be shocked when someone hears us correctly. But even if we were not fallen we would remain finite. Even if all we are and do weren’t so badly broken we would still be severely limited. Even at the best of times we can never comprehend everything at once, but only grasp bits and pieces, parts and partially at that, which means we can never fully, exhaustively understand anything.

            Being both fallen and finite, it makes more sense to expect misunderstanding, to see clear communication as a grace, a gift as precious as it is unexpected.

  

Critique: 2011 Issue 2 “Hindrances to Communication” by Denis Haack, pg. 6-7.

Friday, August 26, 2016

NO PAIN, NO GAIN

NO PAIN, NO GAIN

1 Peter 4:1-2    
Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.
  
            Of what avail is our life of prayer, our study of Scripture, theology and spirituality, if we do not trust the insights that we have received? Waffling back and forth between a decisive yes and a discouraging no keeps us in a state of terminal procrastination. Likewise, an exvlusive emphasis on the burning theological issues of the day (many of which are neither burning nor theological) or a one-sided emphasis on the pressing issues of social justice can temporarily or even permanently postpone a decision to trust in the love of God, thus keeping us in a state of spiritual limbo.

            “To live without risk is to risk not living”, my paternal grandma used to say. The way of trust is risky business, no doubt about it. To change careers suddenly because one feels unfulfilled, to assume the energy-depleting care of elderly parents, to retreat for three days of silence and solitude with Jesus or to volunteer for a summer in the sub-Sahara – all these challenges require a willingness to risk a journey into the unknown and a readiness to trust God even in the darkness.

            A person should not act impulsively, of course. A careful discernment process involving family, friends and a spiritual mentor should precede every major decision. But when the appropriate time comes, only the disciple with an unflinching trust in God will dare to risk. And that trust is not na├»ve. It knows that the possibility of making a mistake and getting hurt is very real. But without exposure to potential failure, there is no risk.

  

Ruthless Trust: The Ragamuffin’s Path to God, by Brennan Manning, pg. 20-21

Thursday, August 25, 2016

PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS

PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS

John 10:27-29   
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.

             A spiritually dead person can no more give himself spiritual life than a physically dead person can give himself physical life. That requires a supernatural act on the part of God. By that supernatural act God Himself, through His Holy Spirit, sovereignty takes us out of the kingdom of Satan and places us in His spiritual kingdom by a spiritual rebirth.

            And having once been born into the kingdom of God, we can never become unborn. Since it took a supernatural act to bring us into a state of spiritual life, it would take another such act to take us out of that state. Hence the absolute certainty that those who have been regenerated and who therefore have become truly Christian will never lose their salvation, but will be kept by the power of God through all the trials and difficulties of this life and will be brought into the heavenly kingdom.

            This gift of eternal life is not conferred upon all men, but only upon those whom God chooses. This does not mean that any who want to be saved are excluded, for the invitation is, “and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” (Rev. 22:17).  The fact is that a spiritually dead person cannot will to come. “No man can come to me unless the Father draws him” (John 6:44). Only those who are quickened (made spiritually alive) by the Holy Spirit ever have that will or that desire… And concerning them Professor Floyd Hamilton has very appropriately written: “All that God does is to let them alone and allow them to go their own way without interference…God save all who want to be saved, but no one whose nature has not been changed wants to be saved.”



The Reformed Faith by Loraine Boettner, pg. 10-11.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

ADDICTION: A BANQUET IN THE GRAVE

ADDICTION: A BANQUET IN THE GRAVE

Proverbs 9:13-18    
The woman Folly is loud; she is undisciplined and without knowledge. She sits at the door of her house…calling out to those who pass by, who go straight on their way. “Let all who are simple come in here!” she says to those who lack judgment. “Stolen water is sweet; food eaten in secret is delicious!” But little do they know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of the grave.

           There is an accepted tradition among those who struggle with addictions that goes something like this: helping yourself will help others, and helping others will help yourself. If an alcoholic learns to “take his soul to task,” it will bless family, friends, co-workers, and probably many others. If that same alcoholic looks out for the needs of others, and goes out of his or her way to serve another drinker, then that person will most certainly be blessed in some way.

As I dug into Scripture’s teaching on the reckless nature of the human heart and its rich teaching on self-control, it made me see that I needed help as well… Be sure to look for addictions in your own heart and life. Even though the focus of this book will be primarily on drugs and alcohol…the basic ideas are relevant to all kinds of sins that are not easily cast off. (Are there any sins that are?)

Theology makes a difference. It is the infrastructure of our lives. Build it poorly and the building will eventually collapse in ruins. Build it well and you will be prepared for anything. The basic theology for addictions is that the root problem goes deeper than our genetic makeup. Addictions are ultimately a disorder of worship. Will we worship ourselves and our own desires or will we worship the true God? Through this lens, all Scripture comes alive for the addict. Since all Scripture addresses our fundamental disorder of worship, all Scripture is rich with application for the addict.

  
Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave by Edward T. Welch, pg. xv-xvi.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

OUR REAL MOTIVES

OUR REAL MOTIVES


John 13:36-38    
Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three time!”

             One day Jesus said to his disciples: “I’d like you to carry a stone for Me.” He didn’t give any explanation. So the disciples looked around for a stone to carry, and Peter, being the practical sort, sought out the smallest stone he could possibly find. After all, Jesus didn’t give any regulations for weight and size! So he put it in his pocket. Jesus then said: “Follow Me.”

            He led them on a journey. About noontime Jesus had everyone sit down. He waved his hands and all the stones turned to bread. He said, “Now it’s time for lunch.” In a few seconds, Peter’s lunch was over. When lunch was done Jesus told them to stand up. He said again, “I’d like you to carry a stone for Me.” This time Peter said, “Aha! Now I get it!” So he looked around and saw a small boulder. He hoisted it on his back, and it was painful, it made him stagger. But he said, “I can’t wait for supper.” Jesus then said: “Follow Me.”

            He led them on a journey, with Peter barely being able to keep up. Around supper time Jesus led them to the side of a river. He said, “Now everyone throw your stones into the water.” They did. Then he said, “Follow Me,” and began to walk. Peter and the others looked at him dumbfounded. Jesus sighed and said, “Don’t you remember what I asked you to do? Who were you carrying the stone for?”


These Strange Ashes, by Elisabeth Elliot, pg. 132.

(quoted in The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller, pg. 51-52)

Monday, August 22, 2016

THE PRODIGAL WHO NEVER LEFT

THE PRODIGAL WHO NEVER LEFT

Luke 15:25-30    
The older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. “Your brother has come”, he replied, “and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.” The older brother became angry and refused to go in.”
  
            The parable of the two sons takes an extended look at the soul of the elder brother, and climaxes with a powerful plea for him to change his heart.

Throughout the centuries, when this text is taught in church or religious education programs, the almost exclusive focus has been on how the father freely receives his penitent younger son. The first time I heard the parable, I imagined Jesus’s original listeners’ eyes welling with tears as they heard how God will always love and welcome them, no matter what they’ve done. We sentimentalize this parable if we do that. The targets of this story are not “wayward sinners” but religious people who do everything the Bible requires. Jesus is pleading not so much with immoral outsiders as with moral insiders. He wants to show them their blindness, narrowness, and self-righteousness, and how these things are destroying both their own souls and the lives of the people around them. It is a mistake, then, to think that Jesus tells this story primarily to assure younger brothers of his unconditional love.

            Jesus’s purpose is not to warm our hearts but to shatter our categories. Through this parable Jesus challenges what nearly everyone has ever thought about God, sin, and salvation. His story reveals the destructive self-centeredness of the younger brother, but it also condemns the elder brother’s moralistic life in the strongest terms. Jesus is saying that both the irreligious and the religious are spiritually lost, both life-paths are dead ends, and that every thought the human race has had about how to connect to God has been wrong.


 The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller, pg. 9-10.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

THE BIG DECISION

THE BIG DECISION

Joshua 24:15    
But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods of your forefathers…or the gods of [those] in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.

            To help us understand sin, God gives a story depicting an event that perfectly describes sin for us. It is the events surrounding the lives of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3). The focal point of this story is the questioning of God’s Word. The sin was not committed in the questioning or discussion about God’s command. The sin was in the action taken as related to God’s prohibition of eating the forbidden truth. Adam and Eve wrestled with the questions brought to them by Satan. Their engaging Satan in the discussion about what should and should not be eaten was not the sin.

            Often times we are confronted with a choice that brings a question to mind about God’s Word. Back and forth we go in our minds about which decision should be made. We ask ourselves what God meant or what he prohibits us from doing. The questioning and the struggle are not sin. We must engage in this debate to find the true course of action. Unlike Adam and Eve, we need to invite God into the debate. One of their mistakes was to engage in this discussion between themselves and Satan without allowing God into the decision process.

            They both knew what God had said. Satan knew what God said. What Satan did was played on their freedom to choose between the right and the wrong way to obey God. Satan denied God was truthful to them. He caused them to question God’s goodness in this prohibition. He opened the door to doubt and led them to act upon their doubts about God.

            Sin is acting without faith, living in disobedience to God’s will for our lives. It can be a subtle move from faith into doubt and disobedience. The best defense against Satan is to invite God into the decision process. That will guarantee the right decision is made and sin is defeated.



Jericho Road Ministries Chapel, by Rev. Bruce W. Gimbel, 2005

Saturday, August 20, 2016

DO YOU BELIEVE OR DO YOU TRUST

DO YOU BELIEVE OR DO YOU TRUST

  
John 13:3 - 14:1    
Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!” “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me”, said Jesus.   
            
“People could not believe the headlines of the newspapers in 1860. French acrobat and tightrope walker Charles Blondin stretched an 1,100 foot long tightrope some 160 feet above Niagara Falls. In a bold performance, he announced his intention to cross the falls blindfolded with a volunteer on his back. The crowds roared with approval. When Blondin approached one member of the cheering crowd, the man promptly refused. It was one thing to “believe” the Great Blondin could carry a man over the raging waters, but it was quite another to “trust” him to do it. The faith that saves is the faith that is steadfast.” (Professor William L. Krewson, The Institute of Biblical Studies)

            Do you believe in Jesus? Do you trust Jesus? Like Peter, we often misunderstand our own attitude towards Christ because we do not really know our own hearts. Jesus knows our hearts better than we do. It is a huge distance from believing something about Jesus to trusting our lives to him because of what we believe. The distance can be as wide as Niagara Falls. Sometimes we face the distance when we are put into a life situation that can only be answered with trust and not belief. Peter faced that when confronted by a young woman with having been an associate of Jesus. Fearing man and not trusting what he believed he denied Christ three times.

            I pray that God gives us the faith to trust Him no matter the life struggle or circumstances we encounter. With confidence in Him may we take each day with the joy of our salvation and the trust of our beliefs.

  
Jericho Road Ministries Chapel, by Rev. Bruce W. Gimbel, 2008.


Friday, August 19, 2016

ABOUT OUR CHILDREN

ABOUT OUR CHILDREN

Proverbs 22:6    Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.

  
A – Always trust them to God’s care.
B – Bring them to church to learn to worship Him.
C – Challenge them to high goals.
D – Delight in their achievements.
E – Exalt God in their presence as an example for them.
F – Frown on evil.
G – Give them unconditional love.
H – Hear their problems and heart.
I – Ignore not their childish fears and concerns.
J – Joyfully accept their apologies.
K – Keep their confidence and trust.
L – Live a good example before them.
M – Make them your friends.
N – Never ignore endless questions.
O – Open your home to their visits.
P – Pray form them by name each day.
Q – Quicken your interest in their spirituality.
R – Remember their needs.
S – Show them the way of salvation.
T – Teach them to work.
U – Understand they are still young and are your child at every age.
V – Verify your statements.
W – Wean them from bad company.
X – Expect them to obey.
Y – Yearn for God’s best for them.
Z – Zealously guide them in Biblical truth.




Unknown Source, Calvary United Methodist Church, Windber, PA

Thursday, August 18, 2016

OBEDIENCE TO CHRIST BRINGS HOLINESS

OBEDIENCE TO CHRIST BRINGS HOLINESS

Colossians 1:9-10      
…we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord…

             Scripture does not only show the principle of holiness, but also that Christ is the way to it. Because the Father has reconciled us to himself in Christ, therefore he commands us to be conformed to Christ as to our pattern.
The Lord has adopted us to be his children on this condition that we reveal an imitation of Christ who is the mediator of our adoption. Scripture accompanies its exhortations with the promise of God’s countless blessings and of our all-embracing salvation.
Therefore, since God has revealed himself as a Father, we would be guilty of the basest ingratitude if we did not behave as his children.

Since Christ has purified us through the baptism in his blood, we should not become defiled by fresh pollution.
Since Christ has united us to his body as his members, we should be anxious not to disgrace him by any blemish.
Since Christ, our Head, has ascended to heaven, we should leave our carnal desires behind, and lift our hearts upward to him.
Since the Holy Spirit has dedicated us as temples of God, we should exert ourselves not to profane his sanctuary, but to display his glory.
Since both our soul and body are destined to inherit an incorruptible and never-fading crown, we should keep them pure and undefiled till the day of our Lord.

Such are the best foundations for a proper code of conduct. Philosophers never rise above the natural dignity of man.



Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life by John Calvin, pg. 14-16.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

BABY ADAM

BABY ADAM

Genesis 1:26-31       
God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; make and female he created them.

             After several days of creation God decided to create us, mankind. It took him five days to prepare the stage for his pinnacle of creation. In place for our arrival was the created universe. The stars and moon provide light for our days. The waters and dry land offered opportunities for living creatures to feed. Plants sprung up to shelter and shade the living creatures. Day and night were established for the created order to live and to rest according to their appointed times.

            When you think of the preparation we undertake for a new born child’s arrival, our efforts look quite similar to God’s preparation for us. We buy the cute clothes and shoes for baby. A room is picked out in the house for the new born to occupy. Furnishings are ordered and set in place. The color of the walls, carpet, sheets and blankets are all arranged. Everything arrives and is set out for optimal viewing by baby. The colors, smells and sounds will stimulate baby’s growth and development. What a wonderful and exciting time of preparation and anticipation. When baby arrives we cherish the time for his arrival and watch as he sleeps in his new home.

            Love is the common factor between God’s preparation and our own preparation for baby. Love is revealed in the consummation of a new living being. Adam is made in God’s image as baby enters the world with characteristics of his parents. All the world and all of baby’s room was set in place for the individual’s best interests and welfare. Everything leading up to the arrival was very good and well planned.

            Over and around us is the created order, established and ruled by God’s creative and sustaining hand. We were made good and pleasing to God. Nothing about our appearance or abilities is not pleasing to God. What a loving God we have when we consider the newborn child. God is love!

  

Jericho Road Ministries Chapel, by Rev. Bruce W. Gimbel, 2009.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

TRUST AND FEELING SAFE

TRUST AND FEELING SAFE

Colossians 3:12    
Therefore as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
  
            “Trust is confidence that the other person’s intentions are good and that we have no reason to be protective or careful around them” says Jim Belcher in his book Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional. If we are to feel safe in conversation, safe to be truthful and open, safe to expose our fears, convictions, and hopes, safe enough to risk asking hard questions, admitting deep doubts, or voicing strong disagreement, we must be able to trust those with whom we are talking.

            Treating people as those made in God’s image, loving them as St. Paul defines love in 1 Corinthians 13 means wanting them to be able to trust us even – or especially – when we happen to disagree with them. The fact they may not return the favor is beside the point.

            If it is true that we are chosen, if it is true that we are set apart to God by grace, if it is true that we are actually beloved of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – these realities mean that meekness is possible. I need not try to be God, or try to fix you, or to control the conversation so it ends where I am most comfortable. I am called simply to be gracious moment by moment, because God through Christ has been gracious to me. Being gracious makes sense because grace is the only thing of value I have, and since I received it as a gift, I can offer it in turn, and be grateful for the opportunity, whatever transpires. Being gracious is possible because in the gospel we have been granted grace, and God’s Spirit who arrives to take up residence within our very being proves his presence by causing fruit to grow that flows out into a lifestyle of shalom and loveliness.

            This is what inspires confidence and trust, and makes us safe.



Critique: 2011 Issue 2 by Denis Haack, pg. 1.

Monday, August 15, 2016

CREATIVE LOAFING

CREATIVE LOAFING

2 Thessalonians 3:6-15    
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching your received from us.

             There are all kinds of magazines published today. If you don’t believe me, visit a book store and see for yourself. Sports, leisure, hobbies, romance, movie stars and rock idols, magazines for seniors, baby boomers and children, history, science, collecting, dolls and more can be found. There is one titled “Creative Loafing”. Can you imagine having to learn how to creatively loaf. Idleness is a fool’s activity. Unfortunately our culture provides ample opportunities to loaf, calling it recreation, rest, fan participation and more. Our culture has more time and money spent on leisure activities than all the countries in the world combined. God’s people are in jeopardy of falling into the surrounding culture of idleness if we are not diligent.

            Paul addresses this very issue in his letter to the church at Thessalonica. Because of the dire importance of the sin of idleness he reminds us in "the name of the Lord Jesus Christ" to stress the danger. As a people called to a specific mission of glorifying God and providing salt and light to the world, we cannot afford to loaf. Paul says that those who remain idle are to be denied the privilege of associating with their fellow Christians. "Idle" in the Greek translates from a word meaning "disorderly". Paul is speaking about loafing, not being diligent in doing our daily work and having a slothful conduct. There is no excuse for living the Christian life in such a manner. In fact, such a life is not Christian at all. The danger of such people in the Christian fellowship is so serious that Paul advocates such drastic action as keeping away from the "idle."


Prayer:     Lord, forgive us the lack of self-discipline to remain strong in such a self-entertaining culture. Help us to read your Word, pray and fellowship in your name that our lives would reflect our love for you in Christian service and not a desire for the things of the world.




Jericho Road Ministries Chapel, by Rev. Bruce W. Gimbel, 2007.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

THE CAREFREE LIFE

THE CAREFREE LIFE

  Matthew 6:19-24   
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  "The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!  "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

             Worldly possessions tend to turn the hearts of the disciples away from Jesus. What are we really devoted to? That is the question. Are our hearts set on earthly goods? Do we try to combine devotion to them with loyalty to Christ? Or are we devoted exclusively to him? The light of the body is the eye, and the light of the Christian is his heart. If the eye be dark, how great is the darkness of the body! But the heart is dark when it clings to earthly goods, for then, however urgently Jesus may call us, his call fails to find access to our hearts. Our hearts are closed, for they have already been given to another. As the light cannot penetrate the body when the eye is evil, so the word of Jesus cannot penetrate the disciple’s heart so long as it is closed against it. The word is choked like the seed which was sown among thorns, choked with the cares and riches and pleasures of this life.

            The singleness of eye and heart corresponds to that “hidden-ness” which knows nothing but the call and word of Christ, and which consists win perfect fellowship with him. How can the disciple have dealings with earthly goods and yet preserve this singleness of heart? Jesus does not forbid the possession of property in itself. He was man, he ate and drank like his disciples, and thereby sanctified the good things of life. These necessities, which are consumed in use and which meet the legitimate requirements of the body, are to be used by the disciple with thankfulness.



 The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, pg. 193.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

HOW THE WORLD REWARDS SERVICE

HOW THE WORLD REWARDS SERVICE

  Genesis 39:19-20    
When his master heard the story his wife told him, saying, "This is how your slave treated me," he burned with anger. Joseph's master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined.

             Losing his good reputation and being thrown in prison was certainly Joseph’s worst hardship. What disgraceful wages he received for his years of faithful service! His impeccable character and hard work were rewarded with punishment and a ruined reputation. We serve, teach, counsel, comfort, and do what God tells us to do. For the most part, we do this for undeserving people from whom we get nothing in return except hatred, envy, and suffering. It seems that our lives are wasted on being kind to people who don’t appreciate it.

            Don’t ever expect the world to acknowledge or reward your faithfulness and hard work. The opposite often happens, as Joseph’s life shows. Therefore, make sure that you direct your service and life elsewhere. Don’t look for favor and kindness from the world. Its favor can quickly turn into furious anger.

            If you are called as a pastor or teacher, or if you are in some other position, set this goal for yourself: I will do my job faithfully without expecting any reward from the people I serve. I won’t assume that they will be grateful to me. Rather, I will bless others the same way my heavenly Father hands out his blessings. He gives money, talents, peace, and health even to the most ungrateful and evil people. I will remember Christ’s command, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). This means that we must serve people who are wicked, undeserving, and ungrateful. A few will acknowledge our service and thank us. But the others might even threaten our lives. Joseph’s example shows us what reward we can expect from the world for even the greatest of kindness – being tied up and thrown in prison.


  
Faith Alone: A Daily Devotional by Martin Luther. May  15.


Friday, August 12, 2016

FREEDOM FROM FEAR

FREEDOM FROM FEAR


Mark 12:41-44     
A poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything--all she had to live on."
            
          The account of the widow’s mite suggests that all the best gifts come from the loving hearts of men and women who aren’t trying to impress anybody, even themselves, and who have won freedom precisely because they have stopped trying to trap life into paying them back for the good they do.

             I experienced a significant breakthrough into the freedom of the children of God at my first AA meeting. In the past I would have set great store not only on looking good but on thinking too often about who is looking. My self-image as a man of God and a disciplined disciple had to be protected at all costs. My ravenous insecurities made my sense of self-worth rise and fall like a sailboat on the winds of another’s approval or disapproval. It was a supreme moment of liberation to stand up, kick the pedestal aside and simply state: “My name is Brennan; I am an alcoholic.”

            My spiritual director once told me, “Brennan, give up trying to look and sound like a saint. It will be a lot easier on everybody.”

            Living by grace inspires a growing consciousness that I am what I am in the sight of Jesus and nothing more. It is His approval that counts. Making our home in Jesus, as He makes His in us, leads  to creative listening: “Has it crossed your mind that I am proud you accepted the gift of faith I offered you? Proud that you freely chose Me, after I had chosen you, as your friend and Lord? Proud that with all your warts and wrinkles you haven’t given up? Proud that your believe in Me enough to try again and again? Are you aware how I appreciate you for wanting Me? I want you to know how grateful I am when you pause to smile and comfort a child who has lost her way. I am grateful for the hours you devote to learning more about Me; for the word of encouragement you passed on to your burnt-out pastor, for your visit to the shut-in, for your tears for the retarded. What you did to them, you did to Me. Alas, I am sad when you do not believe that I have totally forgiven your or you feel uncomfortable approaching Me.”

The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning, pgs.148-149.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

SHEPHERDS MEET THE NEEDS OF IMMORTALS

SHEPHERDS MEET THE NEEDS OF IMMORTALS

Psalm 23:1-3  The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.


            Leaders become shepherds when they awaken to the reality that their actions and decisions are able to improve the quality of the lives for those who follow them. This entails a fully integrated life involving the head and hand and heart. Our thinking and doing and being all lend to the development of people. When leaders provide an environment of contentment and abundance, they will find more growth and progress in the lives and actions of others.

            Psychologists believe that in order for people to achieve their full potential, certain things must be in place in their lives. First, their basic survival needs of food, clothing, shelter and water must be met. Next they require a sense of protection or security from danger, illness or bodily harm. Then they must have a sense of being a part of some group with acceptance, affection and understanding from others. This is followed by a need for self pride, self respect and status. Once all these needs are met a person can reach full potential. This truth is found throughout Scripture. Scripture teaches us to understand God’s complete love for us and our need to love Him and others with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (actions). It requires strong and tough leaders to display personal qualities of patience, persistence and diligence while working with their flock.

            People are not perfect. Yet shepherds are called to lead a group of imperfect souls. Looking at others we first see their physical characteristics. As a relationship develops we then learn about their character, skills, flaws and foibles. We get stuck at this point, failing to see their immortality. We forget that Christ died for them, too. “To be a shepherd requires a bold living out of both mercy and compassion. Choosing mercy means choosing not to punish an individual when justice demands punishment. Choosing compassion means providing for someone when justice demands that they not receive anything. Shepherd leaders can do this because they’ve been awakened to the mercy and compassion they have been shown.”


Shepherd Leadership: Wisdom For Leaders From Psalm 23, by Blaine McCormick & David Davenport, pgs. 20-29.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A HEART

A HEART

 Prov. 4:23 
Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.   



Give me a heart, dear heavenly Father,
a heart that’s free of all self-will,
a heart obedient to thy counsel,
that gladly thy commands fulfills.
 
Give me a heart prepared to practice
true self-denial at any time,
a heart that loves its enemies,
assured of glories yet to come.
 
Give me a heart of sympathy
for every person mired in sin,
that guides them toward the Father’s land,
embraces them, and takes them in.
 
Give me a heart that hankers not
for worldly pleasures, selfish ends,
a heart that loves the poor, and so
forgets itself, a hand to lend.
 
Give me a heart that pays no heed
to threats or scorn or ridicule,
that keeps faith always with its God,
though blamed, despised, or called a fool.
 
A heart like thine, that lives for God –
would such a heart be given to me!
O Jesus, take me and all my gifts:

I’ll find this heart alone in thee.

 

 poem: A Heart, By Eberhard Arnold 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

THE INSPIRATION OF SPIRITUAL INITIATIVE

THE INSPIRATION OF SPIRITUAL INITIATIVE

  Ephesians 5:14    
Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.  


            All initiative is not inspired. A man may say to you – “Buck up, take your disinclination by the throat, throw it overboard, and walk out into the thing!” That is ordinary human initiative. But when the Spirit of God comes in and says, in effect, “Buck up,” we find that the initiative is inspired.

            We all have any number of visions and ideas when we are young, but sooner or later we find that we have no power to make them real. We cannot do the things we long to do, and we are apt to settle down to the visions and ideas as dead, and God has to come and say – “Rise from the dead.”

When the inspiration of God does come, it comes with such miraculous power that we are able to arise from the dead and do the impossible thing. The remarkable thing about spiritual initiative is that the life comes after we do the “bucking up.” God does not give us overcoming life; He gives us life as we overcome. When the inspiration of God comes,  and He says – “Rise from the dead,” we have to get up; God does not lift us up. Our Lord said to the man with the withered hand – “Stretch out your hand,” and as soon as the man did so, his hand was healed, but he had to take the initiative. If we will do the overcoming, we will find we are inspired of God because He gives life immediately.



My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers, February 16.


Monday, August 8, 2016

THE MASQUERADE

THE MASQUERADE


Romans 16:17-18      
I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.

            But whether it is older or newer understandings of sin we resist, and however preachers, teachers, and politicians may assist us in the resistance movement, each of us possesses one last defense against the knowledge of sin – a defense so strong, supple, mysterious and private that even veteran sinners cannot track its ways.

            Self-deception is a shadowy phenomenon by which we pull the wool over some part of our own psyche. We put a move on ourselves. We deny, suppress, or minimize what we know to be true. We assert, adorn, and elevate what we know to be false. We prettify ugly realities and sell ourselves the prettified versions. Thus a liar might transform “I tell a lot of lies to shore up my pride” to “Occasionally, I finesse the truth in order to spare other people’s feelings.” We become our own dupes, playing the role of both perpetrator and victim. We know the truth – and yet we do not know it, because we persuade ourselves of its opposite. We actually forget that certain things are wrong and that we have done them. To the extent that we are self-deceived, we occupy a twilight zone in which we make up reality as we go along, a twilight zone in which the shortest distance between two points is a labyrinth.
  


Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin. Cornelius Plantinga, pg. 105

Sunday, August 7, 2016

OVERCOMING THE EVIL OF REVENGE

OVERCOMING THE EVIL OF REVENGE
                         
Matthew 5:38-42 
"You have heard that it was said, `Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

             The only way to overcome evil is to let it run itself to a standstill because it does not find the resistance it is looking for. Resistance merely creates further evil and adds fuel to the flames. But when evil meets no opposition and encounters no obstacle but only patient endurance, its sting is drawn, and at last it meets an opponent which is more that its match. Of course this can only happen when the last ounce of resistance is abandoned, and the renunciation of revenge is complete. Then evil cannot find its mark, it can breed no further evil, and is left barren.

            By willing endurance we cause suffering to pass. Evil becomes a spent force when we put up no resistance. By refusing to pay back the enemy in his own coin, and by preferring to suffer without resistance, the Christian exhibits the sinfulness of contumely and insult. Violence stands condemned by its failure to evoke counter-violence. When a man unjustly demands that I should give him my coat, I offer him my cloak also, and so counter his demand; when he requires me to go the other mile, I go willingly, and show up his exploitation of my service for what it is. To leave everything behind at the call of Christ is to be content with him alone, and to follow only him. By his willingly renouncing self-defense, the Christian affirms his absolute adherence to Jesus, and his freedom from tyranny of his own ego. The exclusiveness of this adherence is the only power which can overcome evil.           


 The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

OVERCOMING ANXIETY

OVERCOMING ANXIETY

Matthew 6:19-21 
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

           He is really directing our attention to the fact that even with and despite this perfectly justified care we can be unfaithful to God…when we take all these tasks and gifts…received from God…and thus give preference to the created things over the Creator. But in the language of the Bible this way of turning things upside down is called – idolatry….

We are anxious, for example, about food and clothing. Don’t we know that as God’s children we get them from God’s hand? …But often how indifferent we are to this giving hand compared with the gift itself. How typical it is of us: we do not worry about whether we remain in the hands of God or what this hand may do with us; we worry only about the means by which God is supposed to help us. I say “supposed,” for we have all got it in our heads that we are supposed to be helped in such and such a way. We must have food and clothing at this time, from such and such a source, and in such and such quantity. True, we understand that it is God who must help us and that we cannot get along without him (after all, we’re not atheists!), so we go ahead and ask him for the sources, the dates, and the necessary quantities. We decide, as it were, what “providence” shall be.  God is supposed to help us only by opening the door we are looking at and carrying out the program which we have planned for ourselves.

This is where Jesus sees the curse of care – that in care we are always looking to our own ways and not to the goals of God…So the first thing he teaches us is to fix our eyes on this goal: the kingdom of God, everything in which God completely realizes his higher thoughts and therefore where he will be all in all. Once we dare to do this, once we earnestly fix our eyes on God’s goal for our world and our life, then in every circumstance we will also be sure that everything else “will be ours as well,” that is, that then God will give us abundantly all the we need to gain this goal.

Life Can Begin Again by Helmut Thielicke, pg. 126.

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