“The Warm Fuzzies of Self-Righteousness…”

Our reading today comes from Matthew, chapter 11:

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=matthew+11&version=NLT

 

Isn’t it funny how we have these pre-conceived ideas about Jesus?  I have a picture in my head, and an idea in my mind about how He connects with me.  I fear, that like these folks, that I many times miss Him, because He doesn’t come in the way I expect Him,  Sometimes He doesn’t answer my prayers in the way I want, so I assume He isn’t listening.  Instead of looking like a regular church member, he shows up on the side of the road, ragged and dirty, asking for help.  Instead of speaking words of compassion into my life, sometimes I get words of conviction.

I fear that it is these times, when His presence is the opposite of what I want, that I choose to ignore Him and pretend that I didn’t hear, see or discern what He was trying to say.  Just as marriage isn’t always moonlight and roses, I have learned that my friendship with my Savior isn’t always on a mountaintop beside peaceful streams.  I pray today, that I will come to accept Him in any way He wishes to reveal Himself – therein lies my path to blessedness.

Dearest Savior,

Please forgive me when I choose to walk past You.  Please forgive me for not being open to Your precious Holy Spirit each day.  Please help me to do better when witnessing Your work in this world, and responding to Your call.  Help me, Lord, to love all that You have to offer, and not just the warm fuzzies that lull me into a false sense of self-righteousness.  Create in me a humble and teachable spirit.

In Your precious name I pray,

Amen

 

“Is Your Family Suffering?”

Our reading today comes from Matthew, chapter 10

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=matthew+10&version=NLT

It would be very easy to read this passage and determine that it was written for the 1st century church; that it doesn’t apply to us.  It talks of persecution, denial, and rejection of the church by the world at large.  Those things happened a long time ago.  We are not sheep being stalked by wolves today.  Or are we?

I have prayed about all sorts of issues going on around me:  marriages falling apart, children in trouble, government agencies targeting specific groups of people for excess scrutiny.  And those are the big things.  What about the hidden threats to our everyday lives?  Financial pressures, overbooked schedules, the encroachment of worldly values that seek to undermine our families – just as insidious but harder to detect.

Is this just the status quo, or have we been numbed by the work of the enemy in our midst for so long that we do not even recognize him anymore? I do believe that many of our troubles are self-inflicted and created by our own poor decisions.  However, I also firmly believe that the enemy works 24/7 to defeat the people of God.  And if we give him an opening, he will take it.

Let us not forget that enemy we speak of is not the one portrayed in the media.  We are not looking for some demonic looking little creature holding a pitchfork.  God’s Word tells us that he is an angel of light, beautiful, winsome, and extremely cunning.  That makes him so very dangerous brothers and sisters, because he works for our destruction using our own weaknesses against us.  He puts seemingly good things, good choices, and appealing alternatives in front of us, all the while leading us down a path to despair.  

Is your family suffering?  Are you struggling to get through each day?  What about the church? We are being attacked on all sides and from within on a daily basis.

What can we do? Let us be wise.  Let us look with discerning eyes at our current state of affairs and lift them up to God.  Let us pray for the protection of our Savior over our families, our churches, and communities.  And let us seek to follow the path He has for us, instead of the one the world would lay down in front of us.  And let us trust in an Almighty God that loves us deeply, and will enter the fight on our behalf if we allow Him.  So let us pray my friends.  Let us pray hard and fervently.  Let us pray passionately and without ceasing.  Let us pray for the power of God to be unleashed into our current situations.  Let us pray for His sovereignty to reign in our lives.  Let us pray for Him to lead us to the protection that can be found underneath His wings.

Heavenly Father,

Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, who heals all our diseases and protects us from the evil one.  My Lord, my God I see the suffering around me.  Families, individuals, churches and communities are all dealing with attacks on every level.  Are we our own undoing my King?  Or are we being targeted by the one who seeks our destruction?  Please protect us Father, from attacks of this enemy.  Stand in front of us.  Be our shield.  And teach us to effectively use the sword of Your word.  Teach us to discern his works and to resist his temptations, regardless of their beauty.  Make us wise, and strengthen our families through the indwelling of Your Holy Spirit.

In the name of the Redeemer I pray,

Amen

The opinions expressed here are my own and do not reflect those of the Liberty Crossings UMC staff or leadership.

“Who, me??”

Our reading today comes from Matthew, chapter 9:

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=matthew+9&version=NLT

What a revelation I had this morning.  After reading this passage I began just to meditate on it, letting it sink into my heart.  I began talking with God about what it meant for my life, and that is when the hammer hit me on the head.  God is funny like that.  He flings a zinger at you in the least expected moment.

I was particularly drawn to the story about Jesus eating with the sinners and how the Pharisees thought badly of him for it.  He replied, that He had come for the sick, THOSE WHO KNEW THEY WERE SICK.  I spent a great deal of time thinking about our society in general.  There are those that know their own need:  the sick, the poor, the homeless.  But I was struck by the thought that most of us are like the Pharisees, we don’t see our own need, our own sickness.  

What a needy world we live in, filled with immorality, greed, self-centeredness, idolatry.  We worship our jobs, our bank accounts, our children’s achievements, entertainment – you name it- anything but God Almighty.  Yes we are a sick society indeed.  But most of us aren’t aware of our deep need for renewal.

Which led me to the later part of the chapter where Jesus looked at the people and was filled with compassion because they were wandering around like clueless sheep in need of a shepherd.  He pleaded with the Father for more workers, for harvesters that could lead these pitiful people to Christ.  The world needs strong, spiritual leaders with a heart for the lost.

“Yes Lord, I see it!  I see that I am called to be one of the harvesters, one of the righteous that lead these clueless people to Your saving grace!”   I see the message for me here.  And it makes sense to me.  I love helping people to deepen their relationships with Jesus.  It is what I am called to do.  That is a good word, Lord.  I guess I am done for the day.

Then He startled me.  I heard a voice speaking deeply into my soul say, “I have compassion for you too.”  For me?  What does that mean?  And then the realization began washing over me in waves.  I am sick.  I am one in need of saving grace.  I am not righteous, I am ridiculous – just like the Pharisees.  

Upon reflection, he revealed to me that I am sick in so many different ways.  But right now, I have a serious problem going on.  JEALOUSY.  It’s hard to admit, but it is true.  It is almost as if he showed me a picture of my own heart and instead of being all red (with love) there was this big chunk of green right in the middle of it.  And I hadn’t really noticed it until today.  

I have a good friend, whom I love very much.  And this person has accomplished something that I have wanted to do for many years.  But it hasn’t really worked out for me.  And I watch her being super successful, and I am so happy for her.  I wish her all the success this world can offer. I rejoice with her (honestly.) 

But there is this little (but obviously growing) part of me that says, “Why not me, Lord?”  I would be faithful to Him, and work to give Him all the glory.  So why not me?  “Haven’t I worked hard enough for You all these years to earn an opportunity like this?”  This has been in the back of my mind for several months, and growing stronger day by day.  And I have been unaware of how much brain space and soul space it has taken up within me.  

It seems that I have heard these words before.  Pharisees maybe?  An older brother perhaps??  Wow.  I really am sick…

How thankful I am that He looks at me with compassion and not contempt.  How thankful I am that He is willing to point these things out so that I can be made well.  I guess I am just like the rest of this broken society, wandering around like a blind and clueless sheep.  There goes my inflated self-image for today… 

Gracious Shepherd,

Forgive me for questioning Your plan for my life.  Forgive me for my condescending attitude toward others.  You make it perfectly clear that I am broken just like everyone else.  How thankful I am that You are a reconciling and renewing Savior.  Please remove anything in my heart that offends You.  Fill me with a peace and contentment for the life You have given me.  And prepare me to be a harvester in this world, all for Your eternal glory.

In the name of my Savior I pray,

Amen

 

“I Fear the Cost…”

Our reading comes from Matthew, chapter 8:

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=matthew+8&version=NLT

 

I accepted Jesus as my Savior 13 years ago.  However, I did not accept Him as Lord of my life, until several years later.  Many times, we say the two as if they are interchangeable.  However, they are definitely not.  I see the truth of this here in chapter 8.

I wanted the gifts of grace and salvation that Christ had to offer, but I did not want to turn all of my life over to Him – Just the parts that I needed help with (family relationships.)  However, there were several areas of my life that were going just fine (job and finances, for example) and I could take care of that all by myself.

See, I wanted the power that Jesus had to offer, but I was afraid of the cost.  Jesus is great for healing, saving, and restoring.  But I didn’t want to know what it might cost me to be a full on follower: tithing, lifestyle choices, my pride.  So I resisted giving Him space in any place except what was absolutely necessary.

Then, He gave me the greatest gift of all time – the crucible.  I call it the crucible because I was completely transformed during the experience from being a lukewarm Christian to being a Spirit-led disciple of Christ.  Hint – Do you know how you go from being lukewarm to Spirit-led?  BY FIRE!

That is right.  6 months of my life walking through fire – Divorce, job loss, home loss – everything gone. But the great thing is, Jesus walked through it with me.  And I got to know Him, intimately.  And I began to trust Him.  I learned to worship Him. And  I learned something else.  The cost of following Jesus is negligible in comparison to what we receive.  

I treasure my time in the crucible.  It was there that I found my life – the life I was so afraid of losing by following Him.  I found my calling, my foundation, and my purpose.  I am so thankful that He did not allow me to follow the example of the Garasenes in this passage.  They were afraid of what they would lose by allowing Him into their lives, and so they rejected Him.  And He let them. He allowed them the free choice of saying no to Him, and look at what they lost.  Yes, they held onto to their lives, livelihoods, and feelings of self-control, but in exchange for what?  A lifetime of blessing and an eternity of joy and wholeness.

Free will is not always our friend is it, brothers and sisters?

Gracious Lord,

How I praise You.  How I thank You for this wonderful life You have provided me.  To live in Your presence daily is the greatest treasure I can imagine.  I can’t believe the things that kept me away from You for so long – meaningless, worldly treasures that didn’t add one day to my life.  I am astounded by Your grace toward me and my self-centeredness.  And I am amazed at Your patience.

Help me to live this and every other day as Your servant, in the middle of Your divine will – where ever it takes me.

In the name of my Savior I pray,

Amen

“Even If You Haven’t Read Anything Else, Read THIS…”

Our reading today comes from Matthew 7:

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=matthew+7&version=NLT

Happy Friday Morning Friends,

I don’t know how many of you are reading along with us daily.  And that is perfectly fine if you are not.  But even if you haven’t read any of our other Matthew passages, please be sure to READ THIS ONE.  And I am not talking about my comments.  I ask you to read this chapter of Matthew.  Why?  Because it is so important.  It is the game changer for us all.  For me, this is the definitive teaching by Jesus on what He expects from our relationships with Him.  And I know we all want to get it right.  So please, open your Bible, or click on the link above and invest the 4 minutes that it will take to truly grasp what He is saying to us.

I have really wrestled with this chapter this morning.  It is so deep and relevant, I had a hard time embracing it all at once.  So I have spent some time down on the prayer trail behind our church.  I let His words wash over me and sink deep down into my soul.  And the message I received was profound.  

When all else is stripped away, (my service, my prayer time, my Bible study) do my daily actions lead people closer to Jesus or push them farther away?   It is pretty easy to be a disciple in a vacuum.  I can read, pray, sing, worship, write a blog…….  But as I go about my daily life, do my words and activities speak grace and love to those around me?  Do I practice the golden rule?  Do the people that don’t know Christ want to know more about Him because of their interaction with me?  Or are they more fortified in their choice that church is not for them?

Will Christ recognize me as one of His ambassadors on judgment day, or will my life be viewed as hollow religiosity?

I don’t believe it is a coincidence that this chapter appeared on our schedule on a Friday.  Jesus is good that way.  He knew that I would need several days to process this information.  I pray that you can find some time over the weekend to contemplate His message for you.  It has certainly been powerful for me.

Grace friends.

Dearest Savior,

I have a tendency to make my relationship with You complicated.  But thank You for reminding me that it is not.   It is all about a heart condition of grace being lived out in the world.  I want to be a tree that produces good fruit.  Fill me with Your Holy Spirit that I might live each day as a porch swing.  A presence so inviting, that people cannot resist spending time getting to know the source of my peace:  the holy Lamb of God.

In Christ’s name I pray,

Amen

 

“Appearances…”

Our reading today comes from Matthew chapter 6:

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=matthew+6&version=NLT

Appearances.  That is what this text says to me.  Don’t be concerned with your appearance to others, only to God.  Intellectually I believe in this, but practically I don’t think I do a very good job.  And sometimes, I don’t think about God at all.  Others’ opinions are the first thing on my mind.

How many times have I found myself saying to one of my children, “You are not wearing that to church!”  While my consideration was not on what they would actually experience at church, but instead, what others would think of ME by the looks of their clothing.    I don’t think God cares what we wear, as long as we come with honest and seeking hearts.

One of the biggest problems that I observe in churches today befuddles me.  We are the polar opposites of the church people Jesus was talking to in this text.  He was very concerned that all their religious activity was for show, to impress others.  There wasn’t a lot of heartfelt worship going on.  That is why He said, “do it in private.”

I don’t believe this is our problem though.  Our problem is that we resist open and heartfelt worship because we are worried about what the other CHURCH FOLKS will think of us.  It’s true.  We show up at church, sing (but not too loudly,) give (but not too much,) pray (but only in silence with the preacher.)  We are Christian, but we don’t want to be labeled, “Overboard” or “Too religious.”

Far be it for us to sing at the tops of our lungs the praises of our Savior.  Never let it be said that we allowed the Holy Spirit to move us into a state of complete adoration, or deep contemplative prayer during a service.  And above all else, even if our hearts are breaking and our souls are crushed – don’t even think about answering the call of the Spirit and accepting the invitation to join our Divine Healer at the altar in front of others.  What would the church folks think?  Maybe they will think I have a problem.  Maybe they will speculate about my marriage or my business.  Maybe they will lose respect for me…

And we are all guilty of it.  Many times I can remember wanting to sing or dance in worship because I knew I was in the presence of my Savior.  But I did not, because I didn’t want to embarrass my family standing next to me.  How many times have I wanted to go to the altar and pour my heart out before God?  But I didn’t because no one else was there and it would hold up the service.  I bet we all have times like those that we can remember.

I challenge us all today to stop worrying about what other people think about our faith practices.  God’s opinion is the only one that counts.  And let us consider for a minute dear friends; How do we think God feels when He says “Come” and we don’t respond for fear of others’ opinions?  How do we think God feels when He says “Do” or “Go” and we resist because we don’t want to appear too religious?

Today is Thursday.  I am still hearing comments about our contemporary service last Sunday.  In it, we saw a rare occurrence.  As the Spirit began moving among our congregation, we saw people coming to God.  We saw the altars alive with prayers of all types – people truly seeking the presence of Almighty God.  It was incredible and a beautiful sight to see.  And the Spirit was electric.  It was awesome.

I commend those people that felt a call to “come” and they went.  For those people that had the courage to step forward and show us all what true worship looks like – I thank you.  And a strange thing happened afterward.  No one called them “overboard” or “fanatical.”  Instead, Facebook and dinner conversations were filled with comments like “Spirit-filled,” “powerful,” and “exciting.”

To respond to the presence of God (in any way) is an awe-inspiring thing for the people around us.  It is a powerful witness. It is my prayer that the church universal embraces the presence of God and shows the world how wonderful it is to be fully surrendered to an audience of ONE.

Heavenly Father,

How I have failed You, time and time again.  Please forgive me for all the times I have had the chance to worship You and witness to the world – and I have resisted.  Fill me with Your Holy Spirit, my King.  Teach me to worship You in spirit and in truth.  Lead me to a relationship with You that loves out loud and invites others in.   

In the name of Jesus I pray,

Amen

The opinions expressed here are my own and do not reflect those of the Liberty Crossings UMC staff or leadership.

“This Is Backward…”

Our reading today is from Matthew, Chapter 5:

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=matthew%205&version=NLT

Good Morning Friends,

As we open our reading this morning, I urge you to not gloss over this text, as it is one that we all have heard many times.  The Beatitudes are something that we have all been encouraged to follow in our daily lives, so we tend to not listen closely because we have “already heard that.”

I welcome any comments you have on this passage, and any others, because I know it holds a different meaning for each of us.

As I read the chapter, my first thought was “This is backward.”  The message seems to me to be in the wrong order.  First, Christ teaches us about the blessings and graces of being followers, then He launches into the actual behaviors He expects from us.  It seems to me that the expectations should come first.  It was then that the message for my life dawned on me.  

These expectations set the bar pretty high for us don’t they?  Love your enemy, give more than we are asked for, when wronged – forgive, keep your mind and heart pure – not just your actions.

Those are a struggle for me – every one.  They ask so much and for me, require a huge amount of daily intentionality.  I admit, on days that I am overloaded, stressed out and struggling – I don’t make it.  I fall short in one or many of them, time after time.

That is where the beauty of grace comes in.  See, grace in the form of blessedness, is abundant for us.  Go back to the top of the page in chapter 5.  Blessed are they… Blessed are they…  

Blessed are we, friends, who have the presence of the Holy Spirit right here with us.  Blessed are we, sinners that we are, who are trying to live up to these expectations and fail.  Because He is here to pick us up.

The message of Matthew 5 for my life today, is that I will never live up to His expectations without the grace of our Lord pouring over me.  His presence in my life alone, makes it even possible for me to try these incredibly difficult commands.  Without the grace first, I don’t have a chance.  I guess the text wasn’t backward after all.

Heavenly Father,

I am so dull sometimes.  I see things from my worldly perspective, devoid of grace and mercy.  Thank You for putting up with me.  Thank You for doing the heavy lifting when it comes to the renovations of my mind and spirit.  Help me to live out the paths of blessedness – that I might know Your presence every day in tangible ways.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen