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Thanksgiving 2014 Day Eight: For Persecution, Really?

Have I experienced persecution because of righteousness? Have I ever been so sold out to Jesus that the opposition would take notice? Well, that probably depends on my perspective and admittedly, I probably have a pretty low threshold for what constitutes persecution as well as whether or not it was for my faith in Jesus.

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I see it, persecution of Christians around the world. The media reports and frankly sometimes the media acts as agents of persecution of Christians. The righteousness of Christ, the Cross, the Only One Way smacks of elitism, exclusivity, and foolishness to the World.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭1‬:‭18‬ NIV)

Any righteousness I have within me comes from Jesus:

It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭1‬:‭30-31‬ NIV)

If as a Christian, I sin and am persecuted by others for that sin…that is not persecution that brings the blessing of the Kingdom, but if I suffer with Christians who are persecuted, if I am persecuted for letting the love of Jesus out into the world. If I boast in the Lord and am opposed, then I am truly blessed.

So today I am thankful for the opportunity to live out my faith even knowing persecution in this world may come, because I know there is place for me in God’s Kingdom and I want others to come to know that also.

Thanksgiving 2014 Day Seven: For the Pure Heart You are Creating in Me

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Purity that extends deeper than surface appearances comes with at a price. I am grateful for the One who paid that price. Even though He knew what a garbage pit my interior self was in.

A Deep Cleansing of my soul, like deep cleaning of a home, requires HELP! Or more precisely, The Helper promised by Jesus Christ to his followers, The Holy Spirit. First, like cleaning a room there are decisions to be made, what to keep, what to give to someone else, and what to throw away. Other eyes are often needed lest I cling to something best thrown in the trash.

And you know what else, it requires on going reevaluation, maintenance, and relinquishment to His wisdom in matters of purity of heart. I do tend to drag stuff out of the ash heap at times. It is a never ending cleaning job, but fortunately, the Holy Spirit does the heavy lifting, because we are promised that he will not stop purifying his followers:

‘being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.’ (‭Philippians‬ ‭1‬:‭6‬ NIV)

How I set my mind to this matters. It matters what I allow into my inner self, into the temple of the Lord that I do not entertain impure thoughts.

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭10‬:‭5‬ NIV)

It matters that I allow the Holy Spirit full access to every corner of my life and that I open my eyes to see and take in that which will work to make me pure so that ONE day I will see GOD.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (‭Philippians‬ ‭4‬:‭8‬ NIV)

Thank you, Holy Spirit for helping me everyday to unearth the garbage that needs to be tossed. Help me day upon day to become purer and to encourage purity in others. Amen

Purer in heart, O God, help me to be;
May I devote my life wholly to Thee:
Watch Thou my wayward feet,
Guide me with counsel sweet;
Purer in heart, help me to be.

Purer in heart, O God, help me to be;
Teach me to do Thy will most lovingly;
Be Thou my Friend and Guide,
Let me with Thee abide;
Purer in heart, help me to be.

Purer in heart, O God, help me to be;
Until Thy holy face one day I see:
Keep me from secret sin,
Reign Thou my soul within;
Purer in heart, help me to be.

Words: Fannie E. Davison 1877

Music: James H. Fillmore, Sr.

Messages to the Contrary are Just Plain Wrong

What then shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? Indeed, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is the one who will condemn? Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will trouble, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “ For your sake we encounter death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us! For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39 NET)

For several days now, I have been considering memorizing the 8th chapter of Romans…no, I have not completed the task, but I find every word of it so powerful and so reassuring. What a bit of ammunition to have ready, when Satan starts in with his battery of lies, slander, and his store of old tapes. You know the tapes I mean, the slip ups, the mistakes, THE SIN that nailed Jesus to the Cross.

Also, about a week ago I started singing (off key, of course since I cannot sing) a little chorus that took shape into the verses below based on the power of Romans 8.

So here they are…if you can write music, I would appreciate a real melody…that is if these words touch you. To God be the Glory

I’m fine, I’m good
If you heard any differently,
you misunderstood.
God’s good, God’s strong
messages to the contrary
are just plain wrong.

Before I open my eyes, Before I see the sunrise
Climbing out of this bed, the thought fills me with dread
Deep down in my gut the pain starts settling in my shattered heart
But I Can’t let it take hold, Can’t give it any control
Gotta get up and dress. Gotta choose prayer over stress
Gotta move, My choice, Gotta go, Choose to listen to His voice.

I’m fine, I’m good
If you heard any differently,
you misunderstood.
He’s good, He’s strong
messages to the contrary
are just plain wrong.

Facing dragons today, Feel like turning away
Wandering here in the dark, seeking one little spark
Then a whisper shouts clear, “Grab your cross and come here!”
So when I’m losing control, He shouts, “Take hold!”
Gotta get up and dress, face the world with its stress
Gotta move to His Voice. For me there is no other choice.

His voice, My choice
His will what a thrill
His way every day!

Whatever life brings, if He’s there I can sing.

I’m fine, I’m blessed
Even when evidence
screams distressed.
God lives, God’s strong
Messages to the contrary
are just plain wrong.

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When I get to heaven, I am going to be able to leap like the girl in this picture, until then suffice it to say,” I’m fine, I’m good. If you heard any differently, you misunderstood. I’m fine, He’s Strong. Messages to the contrary are just plain wrong.

Lenten Reflection: And We Didn’t Even Notice Him

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He was hated and rejected by people. He had much pain and suffering. People would not even look at him. He was hated, and we didn’t even notice him. (Isaiah 53:3 NCV)

Bruised and bullied, crying softly where he lay
Left to suffer by his taunters, battered child, jar of clay
And we didn’t even notice him, we looked the other way
Not a hint of recognition, not a single glance his way.

Wounding words on her Facebook page, No not another day!
Cannot face the ridicule and shame waiting in that hallway!
And we didn’t even notice her, we looked the other way
Not a hint of recognition, not a single glance her way.

Tiny heart beating, tiny product of a night of play
It doesn’t fit, wasn’t planned, just make it go away
And we didn’t even notice them, we looked the other way
Unborn infant, frightened mom, not a glance their way.

We shouldn’t be surprised at the headlines of today
We, too, are battered, bullied, broken jars of clay
The pattern of our brokenness makes us want to look away
But the Savior of the world has something else to say,

“In every tender battered shoot trampled on today
In every broken heart, in every fractured jar of clay
See me, see me, see me where the wounded lay
See me, see me, see me don’t look away.”

For every teardrop, every sin, He died to pave the way
Bloodied, naked on the cross, He didn’t look away
He saw the thief, He saw his mother, He didn’t look away.
Mockers, skeptics, pagan soldiers, all within his sway

And YET He stayed, He didn’t look away.
He didn’t look away! Can I not stay?
Can I not look and see beyond my mirror everyday
And see the suffering, tend a need for other jars of clay.

“In every tender battered shoot trampled on today
In every broken heart, in every fractured jar of clay
See me, see me, see me where the wounded lay
See me, see me, see me don’t look away.”

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Ten Days In, Need a Promise for Lent?

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For those Christians participating in this season of Lent through intentional soul searching, sacrifice, and seeking, frankly, even those who are not, today is the 10th Day of Lent, a quarter of the 40 days leading to Easter.

One beautiful and tragic truth about the calendar and time

It marches forward, there is no going back

Time for those of us in human form marks the days, the hours

And it does so relentlessly

Without any “hitting the pause” button or “rewinding”, without my control

Like the poem, “Into the valley of death marched the six hundred”*

Marching like the Grand Old Duke of York’s men, “up the hill” and “down again” **

Reaching that magical peak of life, younger for some, older for others, before the after,

beginning the downward march or on more days than I care to admit the “SLIDE”

I can look back, but I cannot go back

So forward I go….whether through Lent to Holy Week or through Advent to Epiphany

Season after season of life in this fragile flesh, with a finite mind and limited mastery

Remembering, Reenacting, but not Returning

So it was when the Incarnation occurred, Suddenly God became man

Christ Jesus, The Lord in the form of a baby and grew up to be a man

Came to be trapped by the movement of time

He Who knew the freedom from the calendar chose to be tied to the days and nights

Of human fleshly existence, no going back, no going back

Eyes fixed on a Cross, unlimited power and authority self-limited for those few years,

So that beaten, battered, bullied, the brunt of mockery stinging,

He struggled up the Via Delarosa, up Calvary’s hill bearing my sins

He struggled upward on the downhill side of His life as a man for you and me

In the darkness of despair, with the ugliness of all sin from beginning to end on him

The weight, the ways of the world infusing His dying form, God Left HIM,

Still human, Still divine but briefly separated from the Father

MY GOD, MY GOD, Why have You forsaken me?

He knew it was coming and still he continued…..

So here I am 10 days into Lent, considering the work Christ has done for me, the sacrifices made, the power of the Cross, the power of his resurrection. And then in Philippians I read:

For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6 NET)

And I am reassured by the promise. He continues to work in me…to perfect me, to lead me to stand closer to the Cross as He leads me forward in time to that level land.

Teach me to do what pleases you, for you are my God. May your kind presence lead me into a level land. (Psalms 143:10 NET)

*Charge of the Light Brigade” Alfred, Lord Tennyson 1854
**The Grand Ole (Noble) Duke of York, English Nursery Rhyme

Vanity, Vanity…Giving up a Sense of Entitlement for Lent

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Sense of entitlement – The world does not owe me anything. God does not owe me anything. I live in humility and grace. from “20 Things to Give Up for Lent”, Pastor Phil, Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, March 4, 2014

A fact about Entitlement:

It is a relatively new word; the first known use of this word was in 1942.

The full definition says a lot:
a. the state or condition of being entitled
b. a right to benefits especially by law or contract
c. a government program providing benefits to members of a specified group and the funds supporting the program
d. belief that one is deserving of or entitled to certain privileges by reason of birth, family, accomplishments, need or (my words not the dictionary) just because I think I deserve special privileges because I think I do.

While there may be pro and con arguments regarding a-c of the definition, I treasure the rights I have as a citizen of the United States based on the Constitution and I believe that human rights should be defended throughout the world. So here during this Lent season, as I consider the Word of God in Philippians, I know that I must dig out the weeds of vanity, selfish ambition, concern for my own interests which lead to a sense of ENTITLEMENT and I must seek to have the same attitude that Jesus did. I am always moved by these words:

Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort provided by love, any fellowship in the Spirit, any affection or mercy, complete my joy and be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose.

Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself.

Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well.

You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but

emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature.

He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross!

As a result God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow – in heaven and on earth and under the earth – and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:1-11 NET)

Even though Jesus existed as fully God, he did not demand EQUALITY. HE gave it ALL up, all the privileges of BEING GOD, took on the form of a slave, human form with all its fleshly needs, all its mental anguish, its heartaches, its fragility.

HE Humbled Himself…and was obedient to the death…death on the most horrific form of execution Crucifixion.

So, giving up Entitlement means that I must take on an attitude that does not demand to be First, or maybe even equal. It means that I need to be concerned for the needs of others and be faithful to carrying my Cross daily without comparing it to anyone else’s.

After all, in Jesus heart He always knew Who he was…He was One with the Father and One with the Spirit. And by His Blood, by my belief, and baptism I am an heir of God.

What more could I ask? “Now I belong to Jesus, Jesus belongs to me, not for the years of time alone, but for eternity.” (Lyrics and Music by Norman J. Clayton)image

No Matter What Your Eye Color Envy Dims Your Light…Giving up Envy for Lent

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“Envy – I am blessed. My value is not found in my possessions, but in my relationship with my Heavenly Father.” from “20 Things to Give Up for Lent”, Pastor Phil, Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, March 4, 2014

When people are tempted, they should not say, “God is tempting me.” Evil cannot tempt God, and God himself does not tempt anyone. But people are tempted when their own evil desire leads them away and traps them. (James 1:13, 14 NCV)

The temptation to Envy finds its origins in ungratefulness and dissatisfaction. Writing those two words saddens me because I realize how pathetic they sound. They paint a picture of a “victim of her circumstances” rather than a “beloved child of God” and one who is “more than a conqueror through Christ Jesus” her Lord. Envy denies Christ’s Blessings. Envy says, “You have not given me as much as You have given her.”

Clearly there is a reason why God included “Do not Covet” in His ten basic steps to a full, happy, blessed life. The definition of covet: “to desire wrongfully, inordinately, or without due regard for the rights of others” expands the reasons God knew envy leads to the troubled, angry, resentful state of covetness…and the news is full of tragic outcomes.

Giving up Envy for Lent requires facing the fact that I do envy others. Duh! It also requires facing the fact that Envy isn’t about admiring what someone else has or has accomplished but shouts “WHY NOT ME?” or worse “THAT SHOULD BE MINE!”…Envy throws the blessings of life in Christ in the face of God, like a ungrateful child.

ENVY destroys Love.
ENVY destroys Self.
ENVY destroys Happiness….you name it…ENVY destroys.

Most of all as I continue on this inward journey this Lent, Envy separates me from Christ. image

Instead of Envy, I will practice gratefulness for all the many blessings God has provided and continues to provide as I live abundantly in Him. I want to be more like Paul as he wrote to the Church at Philippi:

I am not telling you this because I need anything. I have learned to be satisfied with the things I have and with everything that happens. I know how to live when I am poor, and I know how to live when I have plenty. I have learned the secret of being happy at any time in everything that happens, when I have enough to eat and when I go hungry, when I have more than I need and when I do not have enough. I can do all things through Christ, because he gives me strength. (Philippians 4:11-13 NCV)

All I have , all I need is in Christ Jesus, my Lord.

Fear Less, Love More…Giving up Fear for Lent

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“Fear – God is on my side. In him I am more than a conqueror. (see Romans 8)” from “20 Things to Give Up for Lent”, Pastor Phil, Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, March 4, 2014

You are from God, little children, and have conquered them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world’s perspective and the world listens to them. If anyone confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God resides in him and he in God. And we have come to know and to believe the love that God has in us. God is love, and the one who resides in love resides in God, and God resides in him. By this love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment, because just as Jesus is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears punishment has not been perfected in love. We love because he loved us first. (1 John 4:4, 5, 15-19 NET)

365 times, one for every day of the normal calendar year, God proclaims in His Word, “Fear Not”, “Don’t be afraid”, or some version of the same. Fear crowds out love. Fear focuses on the temporary. Fear separates us from Christ. And so today on this second day of Lent, with the help of Christ Jesus, my Lord, I cast out fear. I give up the panic over growing old, senile, and feeble, the fear of what non-Christians say about the Church and Christians, the fear of death, the fear….oh, my goodness, I have entertained so many. Know what fear has held me captive long enough.

In 1 John 4, God clearly says, “LOVE drives out fear” and so when tempted to fear, I need to replace that fear with love, first the knowledge of that I am loved by God and then to extend love to others. Nothing can keep me from aging and eventually dying, but LOVE, God’s Love can dispel fear. As Romans 8 reminds us “if God be for us, who can be against us.”

Lord Jesus Christ, Draw me closer to living a life that LOVES as You Love. A Life that draws me out of the shadows, the hiding places and into your light. Help me GIVE up Fear this Lent and extend the grace of a loving life to others and myself. Amen.

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The Power of a Grateful Heart–Living Hope

Credit: Alexandrahunter.ca
Credit: Alexandrahunter.ca

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he gave us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, that is, into an inheritance imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. It is reserved in heaven for you, who by God’s power are protected through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. This brings you great joy, although you may have to suffer for a short time in various trials. Such trials show the proven character of your faith, which is much more valuable than gold – gold that is tested by fire, even though it is passing away – and will bring praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. You have not seen him, but you love him. You do not see him now but you believe in him, and so you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, because you are attaining the goal of your faith – the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:3-9 NET)

Hope is essential to life and to life everlasting. Sometimes I don’t live that way…I don’t live out the hope I have by faith in Jesus Christ. But reading these verses I became aware that having hope is good, but living hope has the power to sustain the Christian through all the battles and minefields of life. Living out our hope draws others to Jesus.

I don’t know why, but sometimes verse works better for me and this came to me today as I considered how grateful I am for the power of the resurrection that allows me to rejoice and to know He is waiting for me with open arms. I want to be the embodiment of Hope…Hope Walking, Talking, Serving, Writing and Worshipping.

Am I living hope?
Know what I mean, do I gleam like gold that has passed through fire,
Or, do I stumble and fall, with downcast eyes, hugging the wall
And dragging one foot?

Am I living hope?
Can you see Jesus in me? Do I live as an heir to the Kingdom of God?
Or do I bleed despair, with questioning eyes, gasping for air,
Cursing the blackness?

Am I living hope?
Though I can’t see, do I still believe that over yonder He is waiting for me?
Does my character shine? Is there light in my eyes? Joy in my heart?
Or, do I hide in the dark?

Am I living hope?
When I have passed, what I’ve done, said or written, will anything last?
Will people know Jesus any better through me? If I am living hope they should see
The footsteps of faith that I leave.

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38, 39 NET)