I Stand Amazed in the Presence ……

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It was simple. It was clear. It was filled with welcoming, acceptance, warmth and unity: people literally from all over the world meeting together in a park to celebrate the Resurrection and our oneness in the love and family of Christ. So it was no problem for me to invite passers-by to join us. Soon the chairs were  taken, and  folks sat on the stone wall around the meeting area, singing, listening to the singing, and listening to God’s clear invitation into the transformation of new life in Christ. I was  blessed,and I do mean blessed, to be able to talk to some of the people watching and passing by who didn’t know ”us” or why we were there.

One young woman from Asia chatted with me and I shared that we aren’t about religion, about forms anyways and traditions, as much as about the ONE who unites us all, traditional, Charismatic, high liturgy, non-denominational: Jesus, in relationship  with him, receiving God’s boundless love  through Christ. She said she sensed that,sensed a peace and love in me (which is Christ, not me!)  and knew this meeting must be about love. With plenty of food, why shouldn’t I/we invite people just walking by to come sit and eat with us and welcome them into the love we know and feel and walk in: not just  feel-good “limerence” love, but TRANSFORMATIONAL passionate, powerful love strong enough to change us from “world/leaf-eating simply existing caterpillars” into the new creation, significance and God’s purpose filled, Jesus-Holy Spirit-indwelling “butterfly” sons and daughters of God we were created to be?

This is one short post, but I don’t have to expound at length on the truth that Jesus WAS there with us,  yes in and through each ordinary people other, undeniably loving and extending  his hand and hope and value. I do truly pray these people will come again  on Sunday nights where the group  meets in Brian and Jessica’s house, just to sing and fellowship, and feel welcomed. nothing high  falutin’ , just the love of God in Jesus Christ.

10 He (Jesus) was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name,he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1: 10-14 N

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:21 Living Bible

10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 1 John 4: 10-11 NIV

What more do we need?

The women in this music video aren’t religious fanatics: they’re the ransomed, the redeemed,the sinners saved by grace, transformed to significance, purpose, and passion to see others find this same incalculable love, by unconditional  love through the  righteous Blood of Jesus and the unending love of  our Creator Almighty Father God!

Family, friends, please sing this at my “graduation party”!

The only “…BUT…” to pray today is BUT GOD ALMIGHTY AND JESUS LOVE ME, this I know, ENOUGH TO SUFFER, DIE AND RISE TO LIFE FOR ME!

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Here He Goes Again …

 

 

Waiting for the shore, and Amy, my “Dog and the log” of blogging lore.

Here goes God again, giving me a ”kiss” on my forehead. Truly, nothing can separate me/you/us from HIS love. In this post I start with God’s Word, which is TRUTH:

 

31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? 33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.

35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8: 31-19 NLT

It started insignificantly enough, a phone call from a banker – connected by another banker at the grocery store where I, for whatever reason, chose to go two days ago to deposit a check in the small branch office there – about meeting to talk about the investment we want to make. (I just perhaps annoyingly wrote a sentence almost as long as one of the Apostle Paul’s!) I could hardly hear him over the noise of the carwash where I was waiting for my car. After all the cleaning and vacuuming, I called him back from my clean car, and God overflowed in our conversation! Dot-to-dot again! Get out your pencil and follow this:

1) He’s Christian, genuinely, not just a practicer of religious ritual once a week. 2) We both have two sons. 3) His parents were on staff of a large church in Los Angeles, and you’d know the name if I dropped it. 4) The founder of that church previously founded a solid church in Phoenix in the 80’s. 5) The solid church in Phoenix birthed a daughter church in Mesa. 6) That daughter church was the church I became a member of in 2001. 7) His mother has been active in women’s ministry for decades. 8) I have been, too, though not at her national level. 9) His mother has wanted to write a book for a long time. 10) I’ve written books with others, and one myself. 11) She lived for a time in Boston. 12) I lived in Massachusetts for four years and often visited Boston. 14) Part of her ministry is to abused women. 15) Unspoken commonality. 16) His parents now live in Prescott, Arizona. 17) He is passing my phone number along to his mother.

Did you catch all that? What part of this is “simply a banking coincidence,” and what would the odds be that this IS just coincidence? Boy, Holy Spirit, the pneuma of God, Ruach Elohim, keeps “blowing up my raft” as I float on still storm-tossed seas. I do pray I’m passing the final shoal and nearing the calm shore, BUT glory to God that He’s keeping me a float!

The song goes, ”Every blessing You pour out I’ll turn back to praise,” so I’m hereby keeping my part of the promise! Blessed be the name of the LORD!

No, I have no clear clue what this will yet be about, but God is in it, so I’m in! Jesus gets to steer this canoe still, and boy, I had no idea I was prophesying over my life when I spoke that analogy in a women’s ministry meeting (at that daughter church) and yes, often teachers have to learn in real life lessons what they teach others! Okay, God, I DO believe it: YOU are my pilot, my stern (as in rear) paddler, the one directing this raft’s passage. Help me ship my paddle and rest as YOU steer – and You know what a challenge that is to me when my mind goes a mile a minute and I think I know where I’m headed (but I can’t see around the bend as YOU DO!).

So true confession today, like many of you, I have a hard time emotionally letting God have HIS way in my life even though intellectually I know His will for me is good, regardless of the waves and winds and floating logs (and floating things – I won’t use the slang term – my kids found in the waters lapping a beach in Asia) the enemy stirs up in my circumstances. I guess if I’m that much of a target for the enemy, it MUST mean I’m doing something right for Jesus and His Kingdom! I quote Jim Dennison of the Dennison Forum on that hard question of why God allows us freedom to choose and why He allows us to choose evil if we desire: “But I do know that he redeems all he allows and that he is love. The less we understand our Father’s ways, the more we need to trust his heart.”

Dear brothers and sisters,  when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.

Believers who are  poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them. 10 And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them. They will fade away like a little flower in the field. 11 The hot sun rises and the grass withers; the little flower droops and falls, and its beauty fades away. In the same way, the rich will fade away with all of their achievements.

12 God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. 13 And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. 14 Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. 15 These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.

16 So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. 18 He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession. James 1: 2-16 NLT

And mixing my metaphors, the words of Jesus about managing trouble:

20 The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. 21 But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word22 The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced. 23 The seed that fell on good soil represents those who truly hear and understand God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” Matthew 13: 20-23 NLT

 

May it be so, LORD Jesus, that this storm I’m still in scatters seed as far as Your wind of the Holy Spirit can take it, and may it land on good soil to produce good fruit, Kingdom purposes in lives who come to know YOUR endless love for them!

 

A “…BUT…” to pray: Lord, whew, in my own life I’m in the middle of ______________________ BUT You promise you will never leave me or forsake me, so I’m asking You to show me Your love and heart in a tangible way today, and I know You don’t begrudge me asking to see Your Goodness in my life! In fact, I’m trusting that my asking pleases You! In Jesus’ name, amen, and Holy Spirit, I’m listening _______________________________

 

 

 

The Everyday, Anytime Guide to Christian Leadership

LEADERSHIP. What is the essence of true, biblical leadership?

“Walt Kallestad talks about leadership in the sense of influence, asserting that such virtues as love, grace, and an affirming spirit are more powerful tools than authority and command.”  (Review on Amazon.com)

Robert Schuller calls it “A fresh perspective from an outstanding leader!” Lyle Schaller says, “For those who agree that leadership is the key to the future, this is the book they should read and heed.” And Bill Hybels adds, “This book will make a significant contribution to leaders who practice its principles.” Discover how to become a more effective leader by following Kallestad’s ten principles of Christian leadership. The book’s concise, motivational message, easy- to-read format, and entertaining cartoons get to the heart of what Christian leadership is all about. (augsburgfortress.org)51qv2ripldl-_sx322_bo1204203200_              Holy cow, can it really be 24 years since Walt, my pastor,  asked me to help him write this book? It was the first of five I was  blessed beyond words to work on with him, and literally the answer to a prayer I’d prayed one morning as I dropped my younger son off at the bus for Kindergarten,”Lord, you know I want to write, but I have no way to get into publishing. I’m nobody. Show me a way to use what you put in me!” Two weeks later, sitting in Walt’s  office getting the next quarter’s sermon titles to pass out to the Message Research Team, Walt paused and said, “You and I think a lot alike. You’ve never wanted to write, have you?”

This post is not to pat myself on the back, no way, no how.  Rather, it’s about God’s perspective on leadership. One thing I’ve always believed is that leadership means being a servant of others, not a lord or boss over others, not a controller of others, not top person on the totem pole, but a servant of those you work with, and yes, where the buck frequently stops. As such, it’s a role or responsibility demanding integrity, good judgment, and teamwork ethic regarding others as equally important and essential to accomplishing the group goal.

I’ve never sought to be  the leader of anything, but sometimes  I’ve  been voted in or  asked to lead, which was the case with the Message Research Team. The coordinator had moved, and the pastors needed someone to get the message topics and hand them out to the other  volunteers on the team; thus  I became coordinator of the team by being asked, not by seeking out acclaim. I saw myself pretty much as a funnel, not a “commander,” and that suited me just fine.

Walt created  acronym for the word “LEADERSHIP” with one chapter filling out each thought:

Love Unconditionally

Envision the Future Exceptionally

Affirm Continuously

Discipline with Determination (as in be  disciplined, not mete out discipline)

Energize Others Enthusiastically

Risk Boldly

Serve Selflessly

Hope  Relentlessly

Imagine Immeasurably

Pray Persistently

Nowhere in the book  did Walt suggest cracking the whip, making sure  everybody knew YOU were the boss, seeking your own way and will and imposing it on others, or expecting to be continually affirmed and validated unquestioningly by everyone else. The model we as Christians ought to take – without question – for leadership is our Lord Jesus. Jesus made his authority over blindness, deafness, lameness, leprosy, winds, waves, and even death VERY clear, and he was King of Kings before he came to Earth, while he was here, and is today and always, and yet he told his disciples:

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave,  even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20: 25-27 ESV

Yes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1 ESV

And “Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.” John 5:8

And yet as Paul wrote to the  Philippians:

“In his very nature he was God. Jesus was equal with God. But Jesus didn’t take advantage of that fact. Instead, he made himself nothing. He did this by taking on the nature of a servant. He was made just like human beings. He appeared as a man. He was humble and obeyed God completely. He did this even though it led to his death. Even worse, he died on a cross!”  Philipians 2: 5-8 NIRV

Again, Jesus modeled a life of loving, sacrificial service to show us what true leadership is.

Matthew 23:11
The greatest among you shall be your servant.

Mark 9:35
Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the last of all and the servant of all.”

The well-known Psalm that even non-Christians have probably heard and know the first lines by heart gives a word picture of true leadership: “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me  in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and staff comfort me.  You prepare.a table before me in the presence of my enemies.You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”

A shepherd is a leader, but he leads in order to protect and help his sheep grow in health, safely, free from danger and lack of what they need. When threat comes from lions or bears, the shepherd risks his own life for his sheep – he doesn’t consider his sheep expendable and use his sheep as a shield to protect his own life!

That doesn’t seem to leave much room for,”Hey, listen up! I’m the boss, and you’ll respect me just because I’m the boss and do as I say, because you are here for ME” in Christian leadership. Honestly, does anyone, whether in Christian work or secular work, enjoy working for someone who has an attitude of entitlement? I’ve experienced that, and I’m guessing you have too, and it doesn’t make getting up for work every morning a delightful, positive, hopeful prospect.

In the 13 years I worked as a substitute teacher, often the first question children in classes asked me was, “Are you a nice sub or a mean sub?”  I replied that it depended upon them, but of course my true attitude was that I was there to serve those children, follow the lesson plans of the absent teacher as closely as I could (if I even could find plans to follow) and give the children a positive day of real learning, attending to their needs, answering their questions, helping them with difficulties, and hopefully  adding some fun to help install in them a love of learning. Yes, I was the”boss” of the classroom that day,  but that meant I was there to serve  those students, not myself. I heard about subs who would come into the classroom, tell the students, “read this, do that,” put their feet up on the desk and read the newspaper, and act miffed when a student asked a question.

Even, especially, in families, dictatorial expectations and attitudes of entitlement have no place. Yes, the military is an exception, where people’s lives depend on executing orders from above without discussion, but our families and our  relationships and churches and even our workplaces aren’t meant to be regiments, but teams led, or more appropriately shepherded,  by servant-hearted, Jesus-modeling leaders who truly know and follow Jesus’ words:

” You call Me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so, because I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example so that you should do as I have done for you.…” John 13:13-15

The full text of Paul’s admonition and encouragement to the Philippians shows that servant-hearted leadership is not without value in God’s sight:

Don’t do anything only to get ahead. Don’t do it because you are proud. Instead, be humble. Value others more than yourselves. None of you should look out just for your own good. Each of you should also look out for the good of others.

As you deal with one another, you should think and act as Jesus did.

In his very nature he was God.
Jesus was equal with God. But Jesus didn’t take advantage of that fact.
Instead, he made himself nothing.
He did this by taking on the nature of a servant.
He was made just like human beings.
He appeared as a man.
He was humble and obeyed God completely.
He did this even though it led to his death.
Even worse, he died on a cross!
So God lifted him up to the highest place.
God gave him the name that is above every name.
When the name of Jesus is spoken, everyone will kneel down to worship him.
Everyone in heaven and on earth and under the earth will kneel down to worship him.  Philippians 2: 3-10  Berean Study Bible

I hope, then, I’ve been on track in seeing any leadership position I’ve been “elevated to”  as actually lowering myself to serve the people who were doing the job  with me, counting on me to keep people informed, picking up the slack when someone couldn’t fulfill their role.

Honestly, I’ve always preferred to be just a team member,and I’m VERY glad to see myself as  simply a team member and collaborator, that is, co-labor-ator , in God’sKingdom work  that he calls  each of us to join our leader and head,Jesus,in pursuing on Earth so His Kingdom CAN come, and His will BE done on Earth as it is in Heaven.  I do remember learning The Great Commission in my college fellowship Campus Crusade days, and I’ve never regarded it as”optional”  or “not my job” for me as a Holy Spirit-filled for a reason follower of Jesus:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 NIV

Yes, you matter, no matter what your gifting or calling, and yes, in some way, then, you are a leader. to the person who needs to see Jesus in you.

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 1 Corinthians 12: 12-27 ESV

I think both Jesu sand Paul would add, “Now live like a LEADER and the servant of all.”

No, I don’t get any royalties from the book,so I can freely encourage you to buy a copy and let me know if any part of it speaks to you. It  was Walt’s idea and vision, me filling in details, and enormously cognizant, yea verily fearful with reverential fear and a bit of “What was I thinking?” stark terror, of my responsibility to Christ as I was writing. All I  can say these many years later is thank you, Walt, for trusting me, thank you to the guy who moved us to Community Church of Joy, and thank you, Jesus, for hearing and answering my prayer and entrusting me with a bit of your work to do. (Please hear my prayers for him, too)

 

A “…BUT…” to pray: Lord, sometimesI’ve wanted to be a leader,sometimes I’vewished peoplewould see my capabilities, BUT I know you know how you made me,who you made me,and what  purposes you mademefor.So GodAlmighty, loving Father, please show me  where I fit in the Body of Christ  and give me the courage to walk out your purposes for me with  the same attitude Jesus had: that of a gladly serving servant. Give me an attitude adjustment if  and where I need it, and I know when you do, it  will be out of  your Father love for me. Holy Spirit, I’m listening ___________________________________________________ In Jesus’ name, amen!

Why should I love _____ if they don’t love me?

This question came up in one of the first Divorce Care classes I attended at my church. Ironically, the church name included the words ” of Grace,” and the first thought that came into my mind after I heard that question as I sat in a room filled with broken-hearted Christians was another question, “Why shouldn’t I love, when God could ask that same question of all of us, yet loves us all even when we didn’t and don’t love him?”

Here I go again, writing on the only thing worth writing about: the relentless,  implausible, passionate, selfless, giving love of God, dramatically and emphatically and irrefutably shown by Jesus – Y’shua,Isa, or whatever you call him in your language – living out God’s  love, dying on the Cross for each one of us out of God’s love, and rising again in the eternal life he offers us out of God’s love. If I sound like a broken record, I don’t care. All I truly care about is helping others see, understand,  apprehend and grab onto that love waiting abundantly for them to receive.

As I walked this morning, the email I received from Truth For Life would not let go or let up in my spirit, heart and mind. Here it is, words of Charles H. Spurgeon following words of John the Beloved and Jesus, that clearly express my reasons for writing anything, reasons for acting practically out of Christ’s love for people who couldn’t possibly give me anything in return, my reason for being:

This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus.There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. 1 John 4:17-21 NIV

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.    Matthew 5: 43-48 NIV

Why should I love someone who doesn’t love me? If the words above aren’t enough to answer that question for you, I hope Charles Spurgeon’s may make the answer even clearer:

Passion to Save Souls

Truth For Life

DAILY DEVOTIONAL DECEMBER 7, 2016

I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.
1 Corinthians 9:22

“Paul’s great object was not merely to instruct and to improve, but to save. Anything short of this would have disappointed him; he desired to see men renewed in heart, forgiven, sanctified, in fact saved. Have our Christian efforts been aimed at anything below this great objective? Then let us correct our ways, for what good will it be at the last great day to have taught and moralized men if they appear before God unsaved? If through life we have sought inferior objects and forgotten that men needed to be saved, then we will be held accountable.

Paul knew the ruin of man’s natural state and did not try to educate him, but to save him; he saw men sinking to hell and did not talk of refining them, but of saving from the wrath to come. To accomplish their salvation, he gave himself up with untiring zeal to spreading the Gospel, to warning and beseeching men to be reconciled to God. His prayers were persistent and his labors incessant. His consuming passion, his ambition, his calling was to save souls. He became a servant to all men, working for them, feeling a woe within him if he did not preach the Gospel. He laid aside his preferences to prevent prejudice; he submitted his will in things indifferent, and if men would just receive the Gospel, he raised no questions about forms or ceremonies. The Gospel was the one all-important business with him. If he might save some, he would be content. This was the crown for which he extended himself, the sole and sufficient reward of all his labors and self-denials.

Dear reader, have you and I lived to win souls to this extent? Are we possessed with the same all-absorbing desire? If not, why not? Jesus died for sinners. Can we not live for them? Where is our tenderness? Where is our love for Christ, if we do not seek His honor in the salvation of men? Lord Jesus, saturate us through and through with an undying zeal for the souls of men.”

  • Devotional material is taken from “Morning and Evening,” written by C.H. Spurgeon, revised and updated by Alistair Begg. Copyright © 2003, Good News Publishers and used by Truth For Life with written permission.
When people look at me curiously whenever I affirm that I love one who yes, did hurtful things to me out of that person’s own wounding and sometimes admittedly I let it happen, enabled unknowingly out of my ignorance, all I can say is Jesus loves me unconditionally, or rather I receive his unconditional love when I do the one condition God requires: repent for the sins I know I’ve committed and then receive out of gratitude the gift of forgiveness Jesus’ death and resurrection give me. How can I live out of less than the way my Lord and  Master and the Lover of my soul lived and died and gave his all for me?
I’m not Jesus, and I can’t be the Holy Spirit to anybody, and sometimes the wisest love is tough love that lets natural consequences bring the loved one to repent and seek God. But I can pray for those who don’t love me, who don’t know Jesus, and in fact must live sacrificially, reverentially, gratefully, compassionately, forgivingly, lovingly if I presume to call myself  by the name  of Jesus, Christian.
A”…BUT…” to pray: Oh, Father God, Lord Jesus, I admit its hard for me to love _____________________________________________ and sometimes I’d rather ask for “justice,” but justice is your business, not mine. My one call is to live like Jesus so that other people can see you are real, true, and alive in me, so Lord Jesus, when I have a hard time loving _________________, please help me to ______________________
______________________________ and give me wisdom to know how to show that,  and when and how to employ “tough love”, not bitterness, so that my love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight so that I may be able to discern what is good and best. And always, Lord, help me to sense, know, believe YOUR love FOR me, so I can act out of a heart filled with YOU. In Jesus’ name, Holy Spirit, I’m listening ______________________________________________img_1267

Frank Sinatra and Monopoly, Part 1: “I did it my way…”

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If you’re as far over the hill as people might think I am, you vividly remember and can sing along with the passionate strains of Frank Sinatra in what we then saw as a profound statement of personal validation (remember, this was 1969 and the full bloom of Flower Power, the Feminist Movement, anti-war protests, “ban the bra,” and other  anti-establishment movements). Decades and lots of water under the bridge later, after the fall of the Berlin Wall but facing even greater threats in our world, I now see this as a proud statement of self-interest, self-promotion,  standing on top of anyone who gets in your way, and what could be the theme song of the expanding membership of the Narcissists ‘R” Us Club. For the fun of it – and these aren’t all the verses of the song – count how many times you see the words “I” and “my” in the verses below:

“Regrets, I’ve had a few;
But then again, too few to mention.
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption.

I planned each charted course;
Each careful step along the byway,
And more, much more than this,
I did it my way.To think I did all that;
And may I say – not in a shy way,
“Oh no, oh no not me,
I did it my way”.

For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught.
To say the things he truly feels;
And not the words of one who kneels.
The record shows I took the blows –
And did it my way!

Yes, it was my way.”

Songwriters: DUPRI, JERMAINE/SEAL, MANUEL LONNIE/RAYMOND, USHER
My Way lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group, BMG RIGHTS MANAGEMENT US, LLC, S U I S A, COOPERATIVE SOC. OF MUSIC AUTHORS & PUBLISHERS
How many “I’s”? Nine. How many “my’s”? Four; “me” shows up too, (him)self, “all that,” (the British version would add “and a bag of chips…”) and going back to sophomore literature class, what would you say the author’s thesis statement might be? ___________________________________
Just for comparison.  Lets’ look  at the writings of some other authors, and write after each passage what you think the writer’s thesis statement might be:

 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature[a] God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;  rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Philippians 2:3-8 NIV  Paul (formerly known as Saul of Tarsus) _______________________
A man’s pride will bring him low, But a humble spirit will obtain honor.
Proverbs 29: 23 King Solomon __________________________________
A man’s pride will bring him low, But a humble spirit will obtain honor…Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you …Grieve, mourn, and weep. Turn your laughter to mourning, and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.   
 James 4: 6, 9-10 NIV James the Apostle_______________________________
They are blessed who are ·humble [meek; gentle],
    for ·the whole earth will be theirs [they shall inherit the earth;Ps. 37:11].
They are blessed who hunger and thirst after ·justice[righteousness],
    for they will be ·satisfied [filled].
They are blessed who show mercy to others,
    for ·God will show mercy to them [they will be shown mercy;the passive verb implies God as subject].
Matthew 5: 5-7 EXB  Jesus of Nazareth, (also known  as Redeemer, Son of God, Lord of Lords) _____________________________________
IF  My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV God Almighty (also known as Adonai, Everlasting God, Creator)
_____________________________________________
Hmmm…. Comparison?
And a BIG caution here to myself to avoid this easy-to-slip-into trap: I can’t ever think I can be proud of my humility, because then my humility is really thinly disguised pride. A better theme song for me to sing is the one that goes:
“Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, save in the cross of Christ, my God. All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to His blood.”
It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God: our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. 31 Therefore,as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1:31 NIV 
…but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD. Jeremiah 9:24 NIV
Sigh, what a fine line I/we need to walk, remembering Whose we are first and Who gave us that position, knowing that nothing I’ve/we’ve ever done can make me/us righteous before a Holy, Pure, Righteous God. I freely admit here that I’ve fallen into the trap of “Maybe I can help you, God ….” My motives going in were right, but some of the dumb things I’ve done certainly did nothing to advance “YOUR Kingdom come, YOUR will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.”  I don’t adhere to those who lash their own backs to show repentance, because to me, that’s just more making it about ME, about what I can do to atone for myself.  I’m simply saying that God forgives when we truly repent, wipes the slate clean, and gives us chance after chance to let Him be God and us simply reflect Him. THAT is our business, not “I did it my way,” but “I did it HIS way.”

Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
    the wormwood and the gall!
My soul continually remembers it
    and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;[a]
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.” Lamentations 3:19-24 ESV

Oh, ouch, that means lifting my paddle out of the water and letting Jesus steer the canoe, because He knows the better way to go. A complete stranger, Don,  gave me a powerful word from God several years ago that included these words:

                                                 I’m trying to bless you; you have to let me!

Stumble and fumble a paddle furiously as I’m often tempted, I get along much better when I sit down, shut up, hold on and LET GOD.  The song I’d like played at my funeral is this one by Robin Mark, one of my favorite Christian singers, with the caveat that it’s the way I WANT to live my life,  not the way I unfailingly did, and I pray Holy Spirit always leads me to and in God’s way, even if I trip and stumble and pull hard on His hand in the wrong direction. Count the number of you’s and your’s, you’ve and you’re’s  in the lyrics:

When it’s all been said and done
There is just one thing that matters
Did I do my best to live for truth?
Did I live my life for you?

When it’s all been said and done
All my treasures will mean nothing
Only what I’ve done
For love’s rewards
Will stand the test of time

Lord, your mercy is so great
That you look beyond our weakness
Finding purest gold in miry clay
Turning sinners into saints

I will always sing your praise
Here on earth and ever after
For you’ve showed me Heaven’s  my true home
When it’s all been said and done
You’re my life when life is gone.

If I could re-write Sinatra’s song,

For what is a (wo)man, what has (s)he got?
If not Jesus, then (s)he has naught.
To say the things (s)he truly feels;
And lift God’s praise as one who kneels.
The record shows Christ took the blows –
I’ll do it HIS way!

No “BUT’s” about it, Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe.  And may I say, when all is said and done, in a humble way, I hope I did it HIS way.

“You Will Hear a Voice Behind You…”

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Ethan and I in Nanning – we made it!

Sometimes, sometimes God’s Word rings true right in the middle of real life. It’s always true, of course; I just don’t see it in action up close and personal every day, but at Christmas in 2014, God certainly proved his Word – and his Love – very true to me.

I flew my younger son Ethan with me to China to spend Christmas with my older son, daughter-in-law and the two grandchildren. Ethan had never been to China before and I thought it would be a fun way for him to see where his brother has worked for the last ten years. I’d taken four trips over there by myself, and yes, on the last two I had run into several snags in airports, but God had orchestrated help for me. Ethan was going to get to see God in action, and I was going to get a powerful reminder!

We flew into Beijing to catch an in-country flight to another city, arriving on a large. full plane early in the morning. We had about 90 minutes between planes, which I thought was adequate time to transfer, that is, until saw the line at the customs station in the Beijing airport. Ahead of us in line were roughly 200 people! It would take a small eternity to clear customs, and at 6:30 in the morning ….

A woman pushing a cleaning cart came up behind us as we were eyeballing the roadblock of people in front of us, and seeing our confustion, suggested in her limited English that we go through the diplomatic line over to the right. Could we do that? I decided it was worth a try, so, clock ticking,  we walked over to the  diplomatic line. A family was in front of us, and the father was methodically handing over eight passports to the agent. Sloooowwwwly the agent looked through them and stamped them, and sloooowwwly handed them back. At last we were next, and there was no problem evidently with us going through that line, even though we weren’t diplomats, when I showed the agent our departure time.

We sped off to the inter-terminal train, hoping to quickly go from Terminal B to Terminal D. The train zipped along to Terminal C, people exited, doors closed, and then the train zipped right past Terminal D to Terminal E! Whaaat???!! We had no choice but to exit the train, and ahead of us was yet another checkpoint. Beginning to feel flustered and anxiety creeping up in me, we began walking toward the checkpoint when a voice in perfect English behind us inquired, “Are you going to Nanning?”

I turned to find a young Chinese woman walking toward us, smiling. “Yes, we are,” I replied, amazed that of all the cities she could have named, she named the one we were going to. She walked withs through TWO checkpoints: the one into the terminal and the one on the other side of a stairway to catch the train going back toward Terminal B. She was a Mandarin instructor at a university in Texas and just happened to be from Nanning!

That wasn’t the end of our trials in departing the airport, and I will spare you the cliff-hanging terror of the accident when a bottle of taco seasoning my son was carrying as a Christmas gift flew out of one of his shoes as the FOURTH security team looked through his backpack, shattering and spilling spices all over the floor. (Frankly, this has been the story of my life for the past seven years!) Suffice it to say they held the gate open just long enough – and I’m talking ready to roll the jetway back – for Ethan to run to it and all of us board the connecting flight. Whew!

As we plopped down in our seats on the plane, a verse from Isaiah ran and leaped on the jetway of my consciousness: “Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”” Isaiah 30:21-22 NIV

Praise God, praise God, from whom all blessings flow …. I absolutely knew God had directed two people, perhaps women who didn’t even know him, to help us make our connection that morning.  Four years earlier I’d faced a similar dilemma when I arrived at another airport in China, this time on my way back home,. I needed to catch the bus to the ferry that would take me to the Hong Kong airport, but what met me in the parking lot was a sea of vans whose only signage was in Mandarin. Behind me was a voice on that morning, too, asking me if I needed to find the bus to the Hong Kong airport ferry, and who should God have sent that morning but a pilot for Air China!

If you look back to my posts in 2013, you’ll find one that’s titled “God of my steps and mis-steps.” Boy, have I taken some mis-steps since then, out of sheer grief that sometimes rose like a tsunami to drown me. I would much rather tell you that I’ve trusted God serenely with my whole heart, but in all honesty, and because I’m sure someone else who’s goofed, staggered, and fumbled their way  through grief or PTSD needs to hear this, GOD has remained completely faithful to me despite my staggering!

Some days I still do, finding it hard to believe even now that a person I trusted completely would prove utterly untrustworthy, BUT God is trustworthy in spite of my wavering trust in him.

I quote Charles Haddon Spurgeon from a sermon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington, July 23, 1882:

I invite you to notice first of all THE POSITION OF THE WANDERER to whom this special blessing comes. How does God find men when he declares that they shall hear a word behind them? First, he finds them with their backs turned to him. This is clear enough, if you remember that the word is to be heard “behind” them. The sinner has gone away from God, and God calls after him from behind. He has turned his back upon his true Friend, his best Friend, his only capable Friend, but that Friend does not therefore change his temper and resent the insult; nay, he is provoked to a love more pleading and persuasive than ever, and calls to him to come into the right way. After having transgressed wilfully and wickedly, the rebel now distinctly turns his back on God and truth; according to the Lord’s complaint, “they have turned unto me the back, and not the face.” He turns his back on the law, on the gospel, on mercy, on eternal life. He turns his back on the adoption of the great Father, on pardon bought with the blood of Jesus, on regeneration which can alone be wrought by the Holy Spirit: he turns his back upon holiness, happiness, and heaven. He turns away from sunlight, and wanders down into deeper and yet deeper night, striving to get away from God and holy influences. Yet the Lord follows him, and with a voice of touching love and tender compassion he calls to him, “This is the way, walk ye in it.” The word of warning, instruction, and entreaty follows the wanderer, and with ever-increasing pathos beseeches him to turn and live. Again and again the wise, earnest, personal voice assails his ear, as if love resolved that he should not perish if wooing could win him to life. The wanderer seeks not God, but his God seeks him. Man turns from the God of love, but the love of God turns not away from him. What matchless grace is this, that God should thus call after sinners when they openly renounce his rule, and flee from his mercy.  http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/1672.php

This reminds me of one of my favorite songs, both in English and Chinese: “Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father. There is no shadow of turning with Thee. Thou changest not; Thy compassions they fail not. As Thous hast been, Thou forever will be.”

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

I wonder how much different my life might have been, how many potholes and how much quicksand I might have avoided if I could have done just that: trusted in the Lord with ALL my heart? Oh, people advised me to, but the problem is, nobody tells you HOW to do that, and the people telling you TO do that have very likely never gone through gut-wrenching tragedy to give you some helpful advice. Well, I have gone through it, and I’m still alive, and God is still showering his goodness on me despite all the (probably, definitely) needless angst and craziness  in my life since 2009. THAT is the message I have for you, dear someone who feels like a flop and failure for not being able to pull yourself up all by yourself and nobly trust in the Lord with ALL of your heart:  “Yet the Lord follows him (YOU), and with a voice of touching love and tender compassion he calls to him (YOU), “This is the way, walk ye in it.” The word of warning, instruction, and entreaty follows the wanderer, and with ever-increasing pathos beseeches him(YOU) to turn and live. Again and again the wise, earnest, personal voice assails his (YOUR)ear, as if love resolved that he (YOU) should not perish if wooing could win him (YOU) to life.”

As the trite saying of the 1970’s went, God ain’t finished with YOU yet! I don’t know what you’re going through. Some light is shining in my life at the end of a very long, dark tunnel, and I’m deciding maybe God wanted good for me all along! That’s who God is: goodness, love, mercy, kindness, power, provision, grace.

BUT God is also HOLY, Righteous, a Refiner’s Fire, PURE, and we do ourselves a mischief if you and I don’t remember that God is not to be trifled with in terms of the way we live our lives when we know better from God’s Word. So here is the rest of the passage from Isaiah 30:

Then you will desecrate your idols overlaid with silver and your images covered with gold; you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth and say to them, “Away with you!”He will also send you rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the food that comes from the land will be rich and plentiful. In that day your cattle will graze in broad meadows. 24 The oxen and donkeys that work the soil will eat fodder and mash, spread out with fork and shovel. In the day of great slaughter, when the towers fall, streams of water will flow on every high mountain and every lofty hill. Isaiah 30:22-24 NIV

Pretty graphic warning, isn’t it? I am/you are to regard everything we cherish, value, fear or reverence above God Almighty as unclean, unholy, un-holdable, untouchable, not to be done, thought, said, valued, or worshiped.

You are radiant with light,
    more majestic than mountains rich with game.
The valiant lie plundered,
    they sleep their last sleep;
not one of the warriors
    can lift his hands.
At your rebuke, God of Jacob,
    both horse and chariot lie still.

It is you alone who are to be feared.
    Who can stand before you when you are angry?
From heaven you pronounced judgment,
    and the land feared and was quiet—
when you, God, rose up to judge,
    to save all the afflicted of the land.
Surely your wrath against mankind brings you praise,
    and the survivors of your wrath are restrained.

Make vows to the Lord your God and fulfill them;
    let all the neighboring lands
    bring gifts to the One to be feared.
He breaks the spirit of rulers;
    he is feared by the kings of the earth. Psalm 76: 5-12 NIV

In our “God is our buddy” culture that I see all too often in the church in America, we need to remember that the voice we hear behind us speaking in mercy is also a voice of PURE Holiness from the ONE who has a right to judge every useless thought, word, attitude and action, and let us, sisters and brothers, live our lives wisely and care-full-ly in REVERENCE and Holy Awe, too, of the incredibly just and righteous God we dare to call Father.

A “…BUT…” to move: Today, God, show me how you’ve been there for me before. Remind me of the times you broke into my life with your love and guidance, even when I wasn’t looking for you: _____________________________________________________. And show me, please, yes even this: show me YOUR HOLINESS so I have the proper respect and awe of you, Olam El, Everlasting God Almighty ___________________________  In Jesus’ name, amen, and Holy Spirit, please, speak to me know in a way I can hear and understand. Correct me where you long to and need to, and lead me in YOUR righteousness to make YOUR way plain before my face __________________________

There Is Only One

 

img_1348My dad made me this silver cross inset with my birthstone – for a reason!

I still vividly remember the day I was checking out at the grocery store and the checker asked me about the cross necklace I was wearing, “Is that just jewelry, or are you really a Christian?”  His piercing questions has stayed with me for nearly four decades, because it’s the question that eventually comes to each of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus: is it just a name we wear, or do we really give the authority and purpose of our life over to the purposes of Jesus, the One Lord and Savior, and God’s Kingdom. If people don’t ask us that question here, God certainly will one day.

I’ve been a daughter, sister, student, wife, mother, teacher, speaker, writer, call center answerer, reservations agent, bank receptionist, Cub Scout Den Leader, and playground argument-controller, but in all these things, the One Thing that is true about me is that I call Jesus, Y’shua, both the Savior and Lord of my life.Whether I’m praying with that checker who asked me his question about my necklace to see if I would actually pray with him,  or mediating the ongoing arguments between Isaac and Sheila on the playground, or speaking to women in classes at church (where it’s easy), or finding recycled junk for Cub Scout crafts, or at the Zoo showing visiting kids from schools how amazingly interwoven and inter-dependent and precisely fit for their niches the world’s creatures are, or encouraging a learning-disabled boy in his conquest of fractions, or tucking my sons into bed at night, or holding my tongue when my husband tries to pick a fight and loving him anyway, the over-arching question to me every minute of every day is, “Is that just a facade you wear, or is Jesus truly Lord of your life, ALL of your life?”

That is, in truth, the one question that will eventually matter to each one of us. I’ve long believed that, if Jesus isn’t everything to me, then he’s nothing at all to me. All of history, all of life comes down to what I/we believe and accept as vital in our own lives  about the Cross of Calvary and the One who was nailed to it to pay for the sins of all mankind.

Who is Jesus?

 “For he (God) has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves (Jesus),  in whom we have redemption,the forgiveness of sins. The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of[a] your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel.” Colossians 1:13-23 NIV

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) “So what?” you ask. ” What does that matter?”

“The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)  “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By him we also have access by faith into this grace in which we now stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2) “There is no no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2)

Why does that matter? Why does Jesus matter? I’ve never flat-out stated this in any of my posts before, but there is a literal Hell- existence apart from, without the Presence of God, which will be pure torment –  and there is a literal Heaven – eternally forever vibrantly alive in the glorious, joyfully loving Presence of God. You WILL be in one existence or the other after your body dies, because God made the spirit within you to live forever. You have only two possible destinations, and there is only ONE WAY to be united in love with God forever: through the freely given blood of Jesus poured out paying the penalty for your sin (which “earns” you Hell) on the Cross. So I ask you:

1) Are you a sinner, incapable in and of yourself to be so totally holy and pure and sinless at all times that you DESERVE on your own merits to have a living relationship with the Omnipotent, Omniscient, Transcendent, Immutable, Holy, Pure, Righteous and Just and Merciful Creator of all things?  I KNOW I’m not, and I answered that question Jesus put to me on February 20, 1972: “You know I died for the world, but do you know I died for YOU?” In the decades since I’ve seen even more clearly and potently why I needed and need everyday a Savior whose purity and righteousness and mercy covers every dumb, stupid, selfish,thoughtless or angry thing I have ever or will ever do, think, or  say. THAT alone, Jesus’ Blood on the cross and His resurrection from the grave is THE ONLY WAY to a living, vibrant, everlasting relationship with God Almighty forever, adopted as His child, back in the relationship He intended all of mankind to have with Him when He created life. (and no, the pronoun “he” doesn’t bother me a bit or sound sexist at all, ladies. My earthly father was a “he”  and I have no trouble believing that God created both he-s and she-s out of the totality of His nature)

2) Can you get over yourself enough to accept and gladly cling to the ONE perfect substitutionary sacrifice to cover ALL of your sins? Can you deal with the fact that there is nothing you can do,  absolutely nothing, to “make” yourself acceptable to a purely Holy God? That is SO hard for us “You can do it – pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get it done” Americans, and I’d venture to guess, for every person on the planet who would LIKE to be acceptable completely to God on her or his own merits.

3) Can you believe that yes, God loves you passionately even in your imperfections and sin, loves you enough to offer Himself through Jesus as the ONE open door into relationship and fellowship with Him? Can you humble yourself and swallow your pride enough to gladly receive a freely given gift you couldn’t possible afford to “buy” for yourself?

4) If you responded “yes” to questions 1-3, can you accept that living in relationship with God through Jesus changes, must change if you truly mean to be God’s child, the way you relate to people  and possessions and position in life?

Someone dear to me said to me, “Jesus dying on the cross never meant to me what it means to you, and  I knew it would come back one day to ‘bite me.'” If Jesus is nothing and no one more than merely a historical figure, then that statement might make sense. Everyone agrees that Plato, Socrates, Julius Caesar, and Thomas Edison actually lived, and Plato, and Socrates wrote some interesting philosophy, Julius Caesar left  journals of his conquests, and we can read notes of Edison’s experiments with electricity, which did make a profound change in our daily lives.  But if you only believe that jesus existed as an historical figure and said some things worth considering, then you have no idea who Jesus was and is.

Neither Plato, Socrates, Caesar nor Edison have the power and the authority to  bring you into a genuine, living, joyfully connected in love and life-transforming relationship with the Author and Creator of the universe. Jesus dying on the cross is the One most singularly meaningful, vital, pivotal point of human history, and if it means only something in theory or a fact of history of little personal importance to you, then I wonder if it means anything at all to you, or more pointedly, if Jesus means nothing to you. If you went forward at an altar call at a church or crusade because intellectually it sounded like a good thing to do, something like buying flood insurance if you live near a river, then you entirely missed the most vital, crucial question of your life: do you know that, on your own merits, you can never be “a pretty good person” enough to genuinely know, encounter, be in relationship with THE perfectly holy Good who intentionally made you out of elements common to all matter but with an eternal spirit waiting to know Him as the Father who loves and longs for you?

Peter explained to Cornelius, the Roman centurion in Caesarea who was a God-seeking man, “Jesus…commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Acts 10:42-44 NIV

And  Paul proclaimed, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” Acts 4: 12 NIV

What does “saved” mean? It means entering into an eternal relationship with Everlasting God, the verdict on all the dumb, thoughtless, hurtful, selfish, cruel, mindless things you’ve ever done that do keep you apart from the perfectly sinless God rendered “NOT guilty” only, solely, completely because the sinless Jesus paid the penalty for ALL of the sin of ALL mankind, if only we individually recognize our desperate, yes desperate, need and personal inadequacy and receive that astounding free gift of love. Only one God, only one Jesus, his exact representation in a human body, only ONE WAY to relationship with God through Jesus.

Every message I’ve ever spoken, every post and book I’ve ever written, every conversation with someone (strangers included) that culminated in a prayer, every turkey sandwich I’ve taken to the homeless, every child I’ve helped to master fractions or spelling, every preschooler I’ve hugged, every hello and thanks and calling a clerk by name, everything I’ve done somehow reflects, positively  or negatively,  my relationship to Jesus and how I answer the question of his importance to me. Oh, for sure some days I’ve blown it, and blown it big-time; that’s precisely why I NEED Jesus. But my aim, my goal, my fervent hope is that I can be a vessel through whom God can move in love, validation, hope, occasionally confrontation in love,  acceptance, encouragement, and God’s truth lifted, lived, and illuminated in Jesus. Amen,  amen to the One Thing that matters.

Who is Jesus to you? How do you answer that one question? How will you live out your answer if it truly changes everything for you?

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A “…BUT…” to pray (even if you’ve prayed this before): Almighty God, loving

Father, I see how truly impossible it is for me to ever be “good enough” or do enough to earn or merit making my own way into relationship with you, but you created me for that kind of relationship. I see that something is very wrong, out of order with your original design for me even if I’ve “followed the rules” for the most part and even if I’m a “pretty good person.” Even if all that is true of me, I’m not without sin, flaw, beyond angry remarks or hurtful thoughts, like when I _______________________________. BUT when I come to you through Jesus’ death on the cross, you don’t see me through my sin; you see me through Jesus’ love, so God, right now I’m saying ______________________________________________________________ , accepting the gift of Jesus not as my “flood insurance” but as the one who loves me incredibly enough to die for me, the only one who could do this, now not just my salvation but the Lord and King and rightful guide of my life, and I say a glad thank you, God, thank you, Jesus, thank you that you _________________________ so now I know I can ____________________________! In Jesus’ name, hallelujah, and Holy Spirit, speak to me now and be alive within me forever ___________________________________________.