NOT QUITE SURE…2 Corinthians 4: 16-18

A change has been noted.  A recent one.  Since I was two years old, my left leg has been smaller (not shorter) than my right one due to polio, which mainly affected the left side of my body.  Always joked that a skinny anything was fine with me!

Until my wife mentioned that my left leg seemed more so than ever.  I don’t usually check out my legs passing a mirror.  Who would?  But wearing shorts this summer, the difference appeared somewhat alarming to her.

She even got out a measuring tape.  The results?  Two and a half inches difference in the circumference of my good leg over the other.  That’s quite a bit.  Wonder what this means?  Not quite sure.

Checking out websites on Post-Polio Syndrome indicates that muscle atrophy is a common symptom.  Followed by a growing weakness and then difficulty walking.  The slope can be a slippery one.  Am I on it?  Don’t know.  Not quite sure.  Could be.  Then again, maybe not.

Paul talks in 2 Corinthians about something similar–‘Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day’ (4:16).   All of us face ‘wasting away’.  Something goes wrong with our hearing, our eyesight, our memory.  Our ability to do all we used to enjoy and took for granted… until we no longer could.

A ‘wasting away’ happens to all of us if we’re blessed (!) to grow older.  Giving up this or that.  Involuntarily.  Against our will.

But not everything.  Paul goes on to talk about inner renewal that can happen daily.  At any age.  I think especially as we grow older.  ‘Wasting away’ physically can lead to more worship of the Lord… inwardly.

Added time in your Bible.  Praying more.  Giving more.  Relying on Jesus’ love and mercy.  Leaning on Him… and meaning it.  Encouraging someone else, which we know brings a bigger blessing our way.

Wasting away?  No way!  Maybe physically–things we must let go of, laced with fears and tears.  But other tears, shed with joy, will accompany us as we cherish our relationship with the Lord more and more.

Atrophy will fade away as I lay my trophies down at His feet in the presence of my Lord and my God!  Join me?

Prayer:  Lord, we bow to you, our God, who knows all about our future.  We’re in the best hands of all.  In Jesus’ own.  Amen.

HELP WHEN YOU NEED IT MOST… Ephesians 2: 11-22, Hebrews 4:12, Ephesians 3:12

I was in excruciating pain.   Throbbing in agony.   Thought I could handle it and wait for my appointment with the dentist in a few days.  No.  My root canal could no longer be put off.  Praise the Lord, my dentist has a compassionate staff.  Told them I couldn’t stand it a minute longer.  I’m here to stay.  Help!!

Got right in.  When the dentist returned from lunch, he immediately put off what he had scheduled, and came to help me.   A week later my wife and I flew off to my Moody Bible Institute’s college reunion.  Free from pain…and freed of a thousand dollars!

What I’m not sure about is if I hadn’t already been a patient of this dentist for many years, what they would have done for me?  Having that long-standing relationship helped.  That’s called access.  Came from a relationship of trust and dependability on both sides.  The dentist for me, and me for him.

This is what I thought about when I was reading Ephesians 2:8.  The context describes clearly salvation by God’s grace.  What do we receive after we trust Jesus?  A set of new rules?  Not really.  A button to wear?  None that I’ve found.

What we receive is access to God Himself.  ‘For through (Jesus) we both (Jews and Gentiles) have access in one Spirit to the Father’ (Ephesians 2:18).  Access, entrance, welcome, and admission to the King of Kings with ticket paid for by His only Son.  Bottom line:  we have entre to God.

As it says in the letter to the Hebrews–‘Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need’ (4:16).  This privilege of access has nothing to do with how good we’ve been.  Absolutely nothing.  It has everything to do with what Jesus has done for us.  As Paul writes–‘…in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in Him’ (Ephesians 3:11-12).

Our part?  To rely on Him.  That’s called faith.  To live a life dependent on the only truly dependable One in all the universe.  So, pull up your chair next to His.  Snuggle up a little closer.

Keep your relationship with the Lord filled with love and kind words of praise.  You’ll find that He’s totally accessible to you no matter what life throws at you.  He’s the catcher able to handle any curveball thrown our way by the enemy!  Our catcher…in the sky!

Prayer:  Lord, we thank you that you are always there for us.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

ANYONE WANT A NICE PIECE OF HUMBLE PIE?… John 1: 19-34

I’ve eaten lots of humble pie in my life.  Each piece didn’t taste very good.  But, upon reflection,  the taste has improved!  Moved from bitter, to tolerable, to nourishing, then to quite good.

There were those brief years I pastored a 600-member church, the most prestigious in town.  Growth was instantaneous.  A full-time assistant minister was added to staff early in my second year.  I was publishing in a variety of Christian magazines.  Climbing up the career ladder!  Rung by rung.  Though afraid of heights, I kept moving higher.

Or so I thought.  I hadn’t noticed, since I was mainly focused on myself and my career, that angels were at work.  Sawing ever so carefully through the upper rungs of that ladder.  Up I went, the rungs broke away, and down I came!  Like a rug had been pulled out.  Pastor Humpty-Dumpty came a tumblin’ down!  Cast afloat on an unknown sea in a boat full of holes.  Or so it felt.  That was decades ago.  Seems like someone else’s story.

I’ve learned that humble pie is an acquired taste.  What I had been feasting on was poison to my relationship with the Lord.  I thank Him for a hard fall as He was underneath me, catching me, cradling me in His loving arms, placing me back on my feet to move forward for Him.  This took a long time.  As in years and years.

Disappointments and failures in your life?  How could there not be?  The Lord will use everything in our lives when placed humbly at His feet.  You’ll be surprised, as I was, at His grace and care, coming even on the darkest nights.

Those verses in John’s Gospel are about John the Baptist.  Verse 20 is one I’ve read dozens of times.  What grabbed me was the success he was having.  Everyone was coming out to the desert to hear him.  Multitudes repented and were baptized.  How would I have felt with such a response?   Probably right to my head!

But not that John.  You can ask him and he’ll tell you without hesitation that it’s not about him.  It’s all about Jesus.  The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Jesus.  Him… not me.  Humble pie made of honey and locusts.

Tell of Jesus.  Share what He’s done for you.  Praise Him.  Love Him no matter your circumstance.  Humble pie!  Pass me another piece, will you?!  Told you… it’s an acquired taste!

Prayer:  Our God, we love to praise Jesus.  He’s our Lord and Savior.   In His name.  Amen.

 

COME ON! GROW UP!… Ephesians 4: 1-16

‘Come on!  Grow up!’  Easier said than done.  Now that I’m old as dirt, seems like I still have lots of ‘growing up’ to do!  I’m embarrassed to admit it; but, nevertheless, it’s so true.

What does it mean to grow up and mature?  Ephesians 4: 15– ‘Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ…'(ESV).  ‘Grow up in every way…’  The call to follow Jesus.  Lifelong–at least from the moment of conversion.  Total–not flirting with the fun parts only, ignoring the inconvenient or unpleasant.

Grow up in Him.  Lifelong.  Total.  That’s it!  Never will be a time, in this life, when I can say that I’m fully grown.  Always more… maturing in my faith.

So , why do I have rooms in my life’s ‘house’ where God is not welcome?  Worries that are mine alone.  Secrets I hope  known only to me.  Sins engrained as unholy habits.  Know what I mean?

Growing up is a total commitment.  Getting serious about God in ALL my life.   A prayer for the Holy Spirit’s help as I’m helpless on my own.

I look at the bends in the roads of my life, the twists and turns along the way.  I’ve seen that God has been with me, even when I’ve gotten terribly lost.  Especially there and then.  He’s my faithful companion– on the good roads and even those littered with pot-holes, many of my own making.

In His hands, nothing will be wasted, nothing beyond repair.  Guilty times will weigh less as He lifts the burdens.  Isaiah 43: 25 says, ‘I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.’  Pot-holes…all filled!

God straightens the crooked roads, and lifts high the low valleys.  He waters the desert and brings flowers where only weeds were growing before.  And this is in our lives…yours and mine!

One thing more.  This business of growing up…in every way?  It’s all about being ‘in Him who is the Head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love’ (Ephesians 4: 15-16 ESV).  Not growing up for us alone but for Him… who is our All in All!

Prayer:  Lord, help us to grow up.  To be more like your Son Jesus.  Amen.

VERSES TO DYE FOR!… Hebrews 4: 12-13

Over the years, I’ve visited many parishioners at various hospitals.  Like Englewood Hospital in New Jersey, where my two sons were born.  Or peddling my French Motobacane moped across the George Washington Bridge to New York City’s Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center; and, of course, numerous ones in Western Washington.  One medical procedure used on parishioners involved a special dye that would highlight problems in the network of veins and arteries.  Problems only detected by that special dye.

The Bible is that for us and more–as in a surgeon’s scalpel.  The author of Hebrews says, ‘…the Word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.  Everything is uncovered…’ (4: 12-13).

Like a dye or knife that reveals physical problems, the Bible will open up our lives to God’s scrutiny like nothing else can or will.  If you have no desire at all to change, totally satisfied with yourself as you are, love everything about yourself and want absolutely nothing to do with the things of the Lord, then don’t read the Bible.  Don’t give it any credence whatsoever.  None.

While there is ample comfort and encouragement found in its pages, the Bible is much more than that.  Like a surgeon who needs to remove, replace or resection something in our body that’s playing havoc with our health, so God’s Word will cut and penetrate, getting right to the heart of the problem.  To show us where we need help and change.  To grow healthy… in Christ.  Interested?

Don’t shy away from the Divine Surgeon.  Jesus is still the Great Physician.  For our good… to make us more like Himself.  Do your work, Dr. Jesus!  Show me what I can’t see.  Make me more like yourself!  Before I die, give me that special dye!  So I can be a cut above!  To be like You, Jesus!

Prayer:  Lord, we want less sin in our lives.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

WHAT’S MISSING?… Psalm 132: 15-16

Traipsing down memory lane, my wife and I attended a worship service at a church I served as assistant minister right after graduation from Princeton Seminary.  Was a prestigious church, with a membership of over 1500.  Had a pastoral and administrative staff of about 20.  Weekly staff meetings were very stressful.  I dreaded them, knowing how ill-prepared I felt to handle my new responsibilities.  Lots going on.  Much to do.   Abundant formality.   Plentiful politics, church-style.  But something was missing.

Back to that worship service we attended.  Instead of two services, they now had one.  The choir sounded good, and kept the tradition of wearing robes while processing and recessing.  I recognized some church members who were there during my time.  It was good to see them.  But where were all the others?  What happened to the church of 1500 that now had 60-70 at this service?  No one had warned them that I would be in attendance that day!

Couldn’t believe my eyes.  One of my former youth group members, an adult woman today, asked me why mainline churches were in decline.  Imagine she had her own in mind.  What had happened?

Didn’t know what to say, for I had been off the scene for many years.  However, with the advantage of hindsight, I could see more clearly what had been missing which would have taken a toll on the present congregation.  What was it?

I don’t remember ever hearing an altar call, an invitation to accept Christ into their lives.  Seemed as if assumed that all attending must have been believers.  Big assumption.  Were they?  How would we know?  Like planning a party but forgetting to invite anyone, wondering why no one showed up.  Could that be what’s missing?  The invitation?

Psalm 132:15-16.  Verse 15 tells of God’s provision.  He cares for those going through tough times–‘I will abundantly bless her provisions;  I will satisfy her poor with bread.’  The next verse is key to what’s missing–  ‘Her priests I will clothe with salvation, and her saints will shout for joy’ (Psalm 132: 16).

Instead of being wrapped in polished etiquette, pastors need to wear the message of God’s salvation found only in Jesus Christ.   Rather than tailored suits with silk ties, wing-tipped shoes and fancy rings, our churches should offer garments of salvation.  Forgiveness and new birth for all who respond to the Gospel call.

Pastors sharing salvation.  Extending the invitation.  Not assuming that others know Him, fearing to leave them naked and exposed.  We need His clothing.  What a shame to miss out on the very best that God has for us… and our churches!

Prayer:  Our Lord, may we be bold in proclaiming Jesus Christ to the lost.  In His name.  Amen.

FROM MY COLLEGE YEARBOOK… 2 Timothy 3: 16-17

In 1970 I graduated from the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.  Our yearbook was called the ‘Arch’.  No, this was not  podiatry school!  Named for the main entrance brick archway.  As graduating seniors, we were to choose a Bible verse that would be printed below our names and photos in the yearbook.  I chose 2 Timothy 3: 16–‘All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness…’  A good choice, wouldn’t you agree?

But why this verse?  Hopefully, not to fill in some required blank on my yearbook information page!  Another thing off my ‘to-do’ list.  Knowing me, I wonder!

Don’t get me wrong.  I know where truth can be found.  The older I get, the more I believe the Bible and the less everything and everyone else.  I’ve been around those who think the Bible is mere myth and fable, unscientific and outdated, bigoted antiquity.  I’ve heard their arguments.  I can sniff them out from miles away.

I’ve studied under some.  I’ve been to a seminary that used to stand solid on God’s Word.  Past tense.  Ordained by a denomination that has blasted itself far away from the unmistakable truths of Scripture.  I’ve been in a pastor’s Bible study where one stomped out of the room because someone, me and a few others, felt that God’s Word trumped their vaunted ‘human wisdom’.   I know that the Bible is totally trustworthy.  You too?

I’m glad I chose 2 Timothy 3: 16 for that yearbook.  My only regret is not adding the next verse.  The one about being a man of God, one thoroughly equipped.  As I look back, I can see some disconnect between knowing and living.  Between my head and my heart.  Old habits which are hard to break.  But with the Holy Spirit’s help, the dots start to connect between my mind and my will,  having a faith that works.

Can’t add that verse back into my old yearbook, but can decide to live for Him today.  Present tense.  To apply… what I know in His Word.  Connect the dots!   Join me?

Prayer:  Lord, we want to know your Word much better.  And then to apply it to our lives.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

IT’S GREEK TO ME!…Ephesians 5: 15-21

One puzzling aspect of the Christian life is knowing God’s will.  ‘What do I do, Lord’?  Have you struggled with this?  I have.  Over the years, I’ve learned not to worry about little things like what color socks to wear today or what to have for dinner.  Those decisions could drive you ‘plum crazy’!  It’s the bigger issues that I have in mind.

Here the Apostle Paul helps.  Read Ephesian 5:15-21.  Verse 16 talks about ‘making the best use of our time because the days are evil’.  How true!  The older I get, the more I realize that time is slipping by, and that this old world is never going to get better on its own.  Worse more like it, and I don’t like it one bit!

Verse 17 urges us to ‘…understand what the will of the Lord is’.  Yes!  God’s will.  The next verse tells us not to get intoxicated with wine, causing us to lose control… of godly living.  Liquor, money-grubbing, pornography, gossip or selfishness– whatever fleshly sin which intoxicates us.

Instead, ‘be filled with the Spirit…’ –followed by a list of what that looks like in our lives.  Here’s where it’s helpful to dig a little deeper into the biblical Greek.  When I said that the Apostle Paul ‘urges’ us…that’s not totally accurate.  Both the verbs ‘do not get (drunk)’ and ‘be filled (with the Spirit)’ are not suggestions at all.   They’re commands!

Verses 19 through 21 contain four participles.  The type used is the ‘adverbial participle’.  These modify verbs.  Here the verb is ‘to fill’, as with the Holy Spirit.  This is God’s will for us.  My ears perk up!

First adverbial participle– speaking with each other in a biblical way.  How?  Not glibly quoting Bible verses at each other, but letting His thoughts flow naturally through us.  Guarding our tongues.  Having compassion.  Encouraging someone in need.

Second participle is about songs and melodies, singing within our hearts.  I love to sing.  Some don’t or can’t.  We always can… within our hearts.  God’s will for us is being filled with the Spirit, producing overtones of inner joy and gladness.

Third.  Giving thanks.  Certainly God’s will for us.  Thanksgiving… all year long!  As in right now!

Fourth participle.  Submitting to each other.  Showing more concern for others than we normally would.  Taking a ‘back seat’ once in a while.  For someone else’s sake.  For Him.

God’s will?  Not so puzzling.  Not so much Greek to us.  Really rather simple.  Check out those four participles once again.  They’re His will for your life…and mine!

Prayer:  Lord, we want to faithfully follow you.   In Jesus’ name.  Amen.