Loose Something?

Lost is Found

Don’t we cling to our stuff, our lives, our lifestyles! Just try to get someone to change their eating habits—or any habits for that matter. Try to get a Chevy guy to switch to Ford. Try to get a Lakers’ fan to switch to the Celtics. We cling to what we have or do, and it’s, “My way or the highway.”

Not a Fun Subject

Our lives are much more than gasping for our next breath. They include everything about us. Think about it; when you die you loose far more than your next breath or heartbeat. You loose your hopes, dreams, aspirations, as well as all your stuff.

Does that sound morbid? If so, consider that our Creator put a sense of the eternal into mankind just so we’d strive for eternity with Him. That’s why Jesus’ words resonated so completely with His audience on that hillside:

He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it. (Matthew 10:39 NKJV)

Jesus wasn’t talking about giving up some bad habits, although that might be warranted. He meant giving up the title deed to your entire life, the good and the bad.

Fresh, or Salty? Good Religion, or Bad?

Brackish water is an offense to the palate, just as a life that mixes religion with worldliness is an offense to Jesus’ Holy Spirit. Apostle James had a couple of choice things to say about that.

James 3:11-12 NKJV Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.

James 1:26-27 NKJV If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

I have to ask myself, Am I fresh water, or brackish? What kind of spiritual fruit do I bear? What kind religion do I practice? Self-fulfilling, or other-centered? Do I join in praise to God while I have unconfessed sin in my life? Those are hard questions for me … and for you.

Christian, are you following Jesus, or your own whims? Are you lost to God, or to the world? Those are lifelong questions that we must answer daily, by the hour, or by the minute if needed.

Well? There’s no time like the present.

Easy Rider

Some off-ramps don’t appear worth taking.

“Enter by the narrow gate;
for wide
is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction,
and there are many who go in by it.
(Matthew 7:13 NKJV)

Seems like everybody has written or sermonized about the broad way versus the narrow, or the easy way versus the hard. We’re talking about destinations here.

When Jesus delivered his sermon recorded in Matthew’s gospel, chapters five, six, and seven, most of His audience were common folks, like you and me. His message hit home for them, as they knew they were sinners.

The elitist religious leaders, however, were also listening, and of course He wasn’t talking to them; no one could tell them anything because they were teachers, lawyers, priests, and scribes who knew it all. That’s not to say all of today’s teachers, lawyers, and clergypeople are know-it-alls, but … well, you know what I mean.

When I examine my conscience I know Jesus was talking to me when He sat on that rock on the hillside, as the broad and easy way has always been my default path—until, that is, I decided to give myself to God through Jesus Christ. But old habits die hard; I still struggle with self-control, occasionally reverting to my old ways. Now, however, my reaction to those slips and stumbles is entirely different; where I used to seek every opportunity to sate my fleshly desires, now such slips grieve me deeply. That’s how I know I’ve changed. Another change is taking my sins to God straight away, and begging for the grace to truly repent.

Wonder why I didn’t say, “ask forgiveness”? That’s because as long as I am in Christ, my sins are forgiven. And that’s even more reason for me to feel grieved when I sin; it’s like adding another thorn to Jesus’ crown of thorns.

My reborn self doesn’t want to ride easy any longer, but I pray for God to keep me on the hard and narrow way until I can give my Savior a big hug with tears of gratitude for what He has done for me.

A Most Unexpected Blessing

O LORD, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth, Who have set Your glory above the heavens! (Psalms 8:1 NKJV)

As I was reading my son-in-law’s excellent book1 about worship, a nearby explosion concussed the air and resounded throughout this end of the city—this was Independence Day—and drew my attention outside my window. What I beheld nearly took my breath away. A storm cell had recently passed directly overhead and left the most spectacular, sunset-lit cumulus clouds in the distance. Then the clouds took on a deep, red glow, as if filled with fire. They were literally glorious. If not for the annoying fireworks, I would have missed the amazing scene, and an opportunity to spontaneously praise God.

As my amazing son-in-law Kenneth pointed out in his book, if we’re walking daily with God we don’t have to wait til Sunday to worship Him. Neither do we have to rely on an emotional worship service to draw tears of joy from our eyes. Whether or not we feel His presence, He is always with us and in us, if we have relinquished our lives, including all of our works and rights, to Him through His eternal Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

I pity the millions who find wonder and gratitude welling up in their souls, but don’t know who to thank. Those who aren’t completely jaded by intellectualism may know it all has something to do with God, but most of them don’t have a personal, conversational relationship with Him. To most people, God is the big Codger upstairs who can’t busy Himself with our daily joys and concerns, except to grab a nearby lightening bolt to zap those who get out of line. What a tragic misunderstanding, both for their material life, and for their eternal life—and make no mistake; one way or another there is eternal life.

Whenever I think of God’s goodness and His love for His creation, especially for us unworthy humans, my emotions are split between the unexpected blessings that are just a precursor to eternity in heaven, and regret for all those whose pride prevents their admitting they are not God, and need the Savior.

Father, open our eyes to Your glory, whenever it occurs,
and lead us to spend at least a moment in spontaneous praise.

1Kenneth J. Spiller, Journey of a Worshiper (Bloomington, IA, Oxbow Press, a division of Thomas Nelson and Zondervan, 2016)

BAD COFFEE

Wipe that smile off your face, soldier! One gulp of G.I. coffee aught to do the trick.

Don’t ask me why, but last week at church I decided to forgo my usual cup of Sumatra coffee for some “popular brand” that the coffee folks also brew up. I hated it, not because it was objectively bad coffee, but because I was used to better (People actually drink that stuff?). Probably, if I were used to the brand that’s supposedly, “The best part of waking up” (God forbid!), the Sumatra blend would have tasted odd. So bad did it taste that I poured it out so I could refill my cup with what I really wanted. Sorry, coffee folks; if you had a coffee kitty I would have dropped in something extra.

Funny thing about a bad cup of coffee; you can’t make it good by adding a few drops of good coffee. You have to empty it completely and cleanse it before refilling it with the delicious brew.

Christians, what fills your cup? Worldly goals and entertainments? Self-gratification? Work? Envy? Gossip? Power plays? The New Testament gives us lists of behaviors that erode and sour our spirituality to the point that onlookers would never guess that we are different from those of the world.

Face it, brothers and sisters, we—the church of Jesus Christ—need revival … not to fill a few more seats or to add a few drops of sanctity to change our image from rigor mortis to that of born-again Bible thumpers, but to completely empty our cups of worldliness and carnality so God can fill us up with the fruit of His Spirit, and holiness, without the seeking of which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).

That’s His holiness, not just more of our own churchianity.

Dratted Tailgaters

The State of New Mexico was reworking I-25 through Raton Pass, so the speed limit through the construction zone was reduced to 35mph. I would have happily obeyed the speed limit, but for a car whose driver wasn’t satisfied with obeying the law and rode my bumper unmercifully.

Being a compliant sort, I allowed him to hurry me along to about 50mph. I mean, the pavement was good for a detour and as it was Sunday, hardly anyone else was on the road, so what was the harm?

Apparently that State Patrolman saw the situation differently, and my lack of resolve to obey the law cost me $85. I wondered why he stopped me, instead of the tailgater, and I voiced my concern to the patrolman. His answer? “You were driving too fast through the construction zone, and shouldn’t have allowed the other driver to influence your driving.” He probably didn’t realize it, but he applied Romans 12:1-2 (NKJV) I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. (2) And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Besides, it was a radar trap and I was in the lead, so I got the ticket and learned a valuable lesson.

I wonder why that lesson doesn’t transfer more easily to life in general, and more specifically to my faith-life. Lesson #1: I must not allow the world system to seduce me into disregarding God’s principles for holy living. Many will say, “I’m forgiven, so why should I concern myself with holy living?” Apostle Peter saw the issue a bit differently: 1 Peter 1:15-16 but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, (16) because it is written, “BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.” Sure, we have Christ’s imputed holiness if we are living for Him with our sin-guilt washed clean by His holy blood, but throughout the New Testament He urges us to live not according to the world’s corrupt standards, but by His standards, which is the definition of holiness.

Lesson #2: While tailgating in traffic is unsafe, illegal and stupid, “tailgating” Christ our Savior is by far the safest way to reach our ultimate destination.

Are you a “world-tailgater,” or a “Christ-tailgater?”

Apple Cluster Sin

Sandy’s Donuts makes “apple clusters.” They are the yummy clusters of goodness that most bakeries call, “apple fritters,” and simply typing that places me in serious temptation. Like this morning when, after getting up late, I didn’t feel hungry for breakfast, so I delayed it til after 2pm when I began feeling hungry. But that isn’t when the apple cluster temptation began.

My yearning for those clusters of fried, sugary goodness began as I was trying to concentrate on my daily Bible-reading … of course. While struggling through those Scripture passages, I prayed for God to counter my almost-certain baked goods binge. After my reading I realized that our household garbage receptacles were nigh unto overflowing, so hungry as I was, I set to gathering the refuse and began the fifty-yard trek to the dumpster. During my return trip I began feeling convicted about my yummy, afternoon plans as God’s inaudible voice reminded me of the consequences:

First, James 4:17 NKJV Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin. This nugget of wisdom from author James isn’t new to me; in fact, it haunts me more than I care to admit.

Do you really want to willfully sin?” said that pesky, silent voice.

Isn’t it somewhere included in ROBERT’S RULES OF ORDER that debaters aren’t supposed to detonate the “S-bomb”? If it’s not, it should be.

Second, “You will feel depressed and bogged down later.” Again, nothing new, but the hard truth of experience. While my palate loves those apple clusters, the rest of my body does not. No need for Your quiet voice here Lord, but thanks for the reminder.

Third, “You’ve already grown out of at least two wardrobes …” Enough said.

And finally, my own inner voice for a change, “Of course, You’re absolutely right Lord. I’ll be glad I didn’t. And thanks ever so much for Your help.

Sin? Really?

How could enjoying one (or two) wonderful apple clusters possibly be sinful? After all, lots of other fat Christians (forgive my frankness) manage to indulge their appetites for such palatal pleasure, so why not me? The answer is easy; I don’t want a thousand or two calories, however delicious, forming a barrier between my Savior and me. Regardless how you cut it, to willfully disobey is sin.

Does satisfying any of your appetites, whatever they may be, put a busy-signal on your prayer-line? Does praising your loving Savior seem just a bit hollow when you allow His conviction to penetrate your denial, and indulge anyway? If we honestly have to answer in the affirmative, James 4:17 applies directly to us.

Where is your battle line drawn?

I confessed just one of my struggles, but I have many more. What are your struggles? You may be skinny as a rail, able to look down your nose at us fat folks munching out on our sugary poison, but Apostle John says you are not free of your own guilt:

1 John 1:8-10 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (9) If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (10) If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.

If God’s church seems lacking in vitality, you and I can see the reason by simply looking in a mirror. A sinning church is an impotent church. How have we sinned? Read the New Testament and apply it to yourself, rather than to Betty-Sue over there.

And pray! Serious, sin-confessing, prostrate-on-the-floor prayer. Then watch the Holy-Ghost victory flow.

Mom’s Admonition

I used to have the habit of picking at my scabs. Mom warned me about it, but I usually forgot, or worse yet, ignored her admonitions. Why didn’t I realize it only caused my wounds to start bleeding again? Truth be told, my idle fingers still find the occasional scab, and without thinking I reopen those old wounds. What is it about imperfections that draw our attention to them?

Jesus’ disciple Thomas wasn’t around when the resurrected Savior first appeared to the others. I’m sure that when he finally saw Jesus, wounds and all, he had seen enough to convince him that Jesus was alive. Yet, Jesus told the doubter to place his fingers into the open wounds, driving His message home with a force like that of the spikes driven through His holy flesh.

Even though He gave my body the ability to heal itself naturally, my interference keeps reopening those old wounds. Similarly, I still bear open wounds from my past sins, but that’s not because Jesus failed to heal them. These bothersome scabs are emotional: shame, remorse, and regret. Since Jesus’ blood already covers the sins that inflicted these wounds, my insistence on “picking” at them makes them fester, causing completely unnecessary pain, and worse yet, forming an artificial barrier between myself and my Lord.

The Prideful Sin of Perfectionism

You’d never know to look at my room that I tend toward perfectionism … spiritual perfectionism, that is. As I read Christ’s perfect law of liberty (the entire New Testament), I can’t help making a checklist of my personal infractions, which in itself is an infraction. Apostle Paul gave us a beautiful, liberating, absolute rule in his letter to the Roman church:

Romans 8:1-2
(1) There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.
(2) For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.

Like I said, it’s a beautiful thing. Yet, I read the conditions and wonder if the promise truly applies to me. Am I really in Christ Jesus? Do I really walk according to the Spirit? Only with affirmative answers can I claim that promise.

I have to constantly remind myself that the very fact of my concern along those lines means this wonderful promise is my very own. And for those not-so rare times when I slip up, Apostle John provided an equally beautiful answer:

1 John 1:8-10
(8) If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
(9) If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
(10) If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.

Take THAT, all who stand pridefully in your, “sinless perfection.”

A careful examination of this passage reveals the identity of its audience: we, us. That includes St. John himself. So, if “the disciple whom Jesus loved” was guilty of sinning, what business have I picking at my scabs of imperfection?

The answer is Mom’s admonition!

More Tears of Joy

Abundant Supply

Today’s Our Daily Bread reminded me once again of my Savior and Creator’s endless, boundless love for me. If you haven’t read it, click on the link above. It’s a true page-turner, even though it covers one scant page.

Glimpsing God’s personal love for me never fails to exercise my tear ducts. The only times I’ve been let down are then I’ve tried to accomplish things in my own strength, which seems to be most of the time. And I should know better—I have precious little of that commodity.

That’s the positive side of our glorious, unspeakable joy in Christ, but those sweet tears are always mixed with a touch of bitterness; His perfect, absolute love also humbles me, even grieves me when I think of my imperfect humanness. Or I should have said my perfect humanness, because humanity’s best (altruism) is terribly imperfect.

Thank You, Father, for resolving to love humanity, even though You knew when You formed Adam that we would need a Savior to complete us, and what that act would cost You. King David’s prayer complements my own:

Psalms 36:5-7
(5) Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.
(6) Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; your judgments are like the great deep; man and beast you save, O LORD.
(7) How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

Amen!
BTW: Those in the know realize the photo at the top of this page portrays an unwise practice. We’re not supposed to feed any wild critter, even birds. Though we love to watch them eat, and think we’re doing them a favor, it spoils their God-given, natural foraging behavior. If you must feed something, feed the needy and the homeless, ’cause we humans are already spoiled.
You’re welcome.

Sorry Doesn’t Cut It

John the Baptist’s head on a platter

In Matthew 14:1-12, Herod, the mock-king of Israel, responded to his alluring step-daughter Salome’s demand for John the Baptist’s head on a platter with—well, God’s Word says it best:

[Mat 14:9 NKJV] And the king was sorry; nevertheless, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he commanded [it] to be given to [her].

So easily we preface our deliberate disobedience with, “Sorry Lord, but …” Then we try to condone our actions with a litany of excuses. Flip Wilson showed himself an acute observer of churchy behavior with Geraldine’s, “Da devo made me do it.”

My theology may be better than Geraldine’s, but my rationalizations are just as transparent. I pray for the self-control to resist my baser nature, so when I ignore the red flags I, in effect, tell God, “You didn’t answer my prayer,” diverting my guilt to the righteous One.

What presumption! I hold myself above God’s judgment by judging Him for treating me unfairly. How can God forgive such deliberate blasphemy?

Am I alone in this sin? Do such rationalizations cross your mind when you condemn someone else for their worldly behavior? When you envy someone else for their undeserved good fortune? When you rationalize consuming worldly entertainments as your, “liberty in Christ”? When you lust after material goods, presuming upon God’s future provision to, “Buy now, pay later”?

I plead, “Guilty as charged.” I must join the sea of sinners at the Judge’s left hand, bound for perdition’s miserable pit of eternal fire. And that would be my fate, if not for my Lord’s infinite grace, expressed in 1 John 1:6-10, where He pronounces the conditional, “If”:

If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.
But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us [our] sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.

Warning—We must not simply read those key verses. We must study them. Meditate upon them. Live by them, so we can claim God’s unfathomable grace.

For Want of Light

 

On ships of war, the men below decks at night exist in a dim, red world, lest when called to their battle stations in the outer darkness they should succumb to night blindness. In the same way, we must willingly live in relative darkness, so we might fully see what God places before us in His subtle, spiritual light.

Isaiah 50:10-11 New King James Version (NKJV)

10 “Who among you fears the LORD?
Who obeys the voice of His Servant?
Who walks in darkness
And has no light?
Let him trust in the name of the LORD
And rely upon his God.
11 Look, all you who kindle a fire,
Who encircle yourselves with sparks:
Walk in the light of your fire and in the sparks you have kindled—
This you shall have from My hand:
You shall lie down in torment.

Guilty as charged! I would love to be alone in that verdict, but alas, I am anything but.

My confession is true; I have ventured forth into self-generated light, imagining it was from God. I should have heeded Isaiah’s admonition: Who walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the LORD and rely upon his God.

Is trusting active, or passive? It is active, as we discern and reject the world’s—and the self’s—seductions. But it is also passive, as we wait on God’s light, as opposed to trying to generate our own.

We live in a performance-oriented culture, and that drive taints the church’s works. We constantly audit our own productivity, and that of others. We encircle ourselves with sparks, walking in the light of our own fire and in the sparks we have kindled.

Let us not turn our work for our Lord into a competition, always striving to make points against “them,” while refusing to acknowledge the fruit “they” bear, lest they pull ahead of us on some celestial scoreboard.