Monday, 4/22/19 – Pressing on…

art beverage black and white breakfastWelcome to Monday — Manic Monday…. Mr. Monday, me oh my…. Monday, Monday (couldn’t guarantee)… Rainy Days and Mondays (always get me down).*

The Easter weekend has ended and the world quickly changes gears. Chocolate bunnies are half price, the tulips are trashed and out come the Victoria Day fireworks! Easter isn’t news any more. Not on Monday.

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We had our fun! Hid the eggs, had a holiday weekend, a few big feasts and families gathered. Perhaps Friday we reflected on Him… that bloodied man, the nails, a cross. Sunday we rejoiced! Resurrection tickled our ears with some vague ideas about immortality, but then it was over. Monday beckoned… Mundane Monday.

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Today you have important things to do… papers to sign… bills to pay… the 9-to-5 to fill… and the rush hour home. The pastor’s question, “What does the Resurrection of Christ mean to me?” seemed appropriate on Sunday, but what has it to do with Monday?

Is that your world? I certainly hope not! Paul was first to admit, the man who lives in that world, a world without the hope of resurrection, is indeed “most miserable.” He states,

For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Cor. 15:16-19)

Why pitied? Because without hope of resurrection we bear our trials for no purpose, we testify of our trust to no end. Christ is no better than some sort of genie to help us through a brief few decades of existence. We are no better than a dog, less significant than a redwood or a few rare turtles that live to be 400.

Paul asks, “What have I gained? If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’”

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But Christ has indeed come into this world, lived His few brief decades, died, and also risen. While He walked with us He showed us the Love and plan of the Father. He brought us a salvation, a way out of our lostness and sin, darkness and defeat! Now He sends you and I into this world with this same mission: to reflect the Father, to lead men out of darkness and into the hope of resurrection.

“What does the Resurrection of Christ mean to me?” It means my very life. The resurrection is the real thing. And you and I are placed here to bring this reality into each of our mundane Monday mornings, wherever they be.

Paul ends with a warning, that we not let this world turn tables on us.

“Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’ Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame.” (v.33, 34)

It’s Monday – get in there saint, and shine! YOU have the hope of eternity to bring them.

More tomorrow…

* If you’d really like to pursue this “songs about Monday” theme, here’s a YouTube link to the top ten  — but a better use of your time would be to visit Lincoln Baptist Church. Click on the April 21 message under Media to hear Pastor Steve’s message “The Joy of Easter.”

Wednesday, 4/17/19 – Pressing on…

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There must have been something powerfully persuasive in the way that man died before his eyes: so slow and excruciating a death yet with such unswerving confidence of identity, purpose and integrity. There must have been something in that man that exuded Truth. Most of what he knew of that man he had gleaned by watching him during these final agonizing hours. Yet that was enough… enough to foster complete trust in that man. He did not have long to live himself… at least, not in this world. He turned his head to the man and gasped, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42).

My gut is doing Chewbacca impersonations… it explodes, swells, and stabs me from within. I am a fool! I think I am suffering! But I have not even cracked open the door to suffering… it is barely ajar. Yet already my graces are slipping. My sentences have shortened to brief verbal explosions.. I sound demanding… impatient. I want to exercise compassion, to minister Christ to others in suffering. But my own pain leaps upon me, knocking me down again. What a weak, Weak, WEAK creature I truly am!

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But this is the gift of Easter – that He, that man, who suffered so gloriously, has imputed to us who trust that same spirit and Spirit. He is being formed in each of us, having taken upon Himself that full room of suffering. He grasped the knob, flung it full open, and marched full into it. The agony was unimaginable! It demanded its own special word, “excruciating!” [Latin: ex + cruciāre “out of” + “the cross”]

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. (Luke 23:39-46)

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Oh God, I cannot rise to meet you in that same level of suffering! I can only … only accept that gracious gift from Your scarred and bloodied hand. To refuse it would be only further insult, cause You further pain. But what can I surrender to You in praise?

Why… all I have is never enough. But what I have I give without loss.

I give you my life.

This Easter… Let God do His full transformative work in you, open wide your heart to His Spirit, abide deeply in Him allowing the fruit of the Holy Spirit to form from you, making you all that He suffered, died, and rose to make you to become.

Press on…

Tuesday, 4/16/19 – Pressing on…

vehicle on road at nightYesterday I wrote about the battle that goes on around us: the battle between the believer and the world… the battle between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man. I gave thanks for the indwelling Holy Spirit Who guides us around the minefields that seek to destroy us.

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This past Sunday Pastor Steve spoke about this battle that wages within us: the battle between flesh and Spirit. “For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other” (Gal. 5:17). The desire that wins depends largely upon which desire you feed. Pastor Steve challenged us to nurture a desire for one specific “fruit of the Spirit” – to each ask oneself, “What fruit of the Spirit am I hoping to acquire or strengthen in my life?

It’s good to get serious about growing in godliness. ”Add to your faith…godliness…,” says Peter (See 2 Pet. 1:3-8). But be forewarned: God often grants this request by giving us something quite different… things that may quite puzzle us at first. In fact, we may even begin to wonder if He really loves us at all!

A poem written by an unknown Confederate soldier illustrates this well…

The Blessing of Unanswered Prayers

I asked for strength that I might achieve;
I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health that I might do greater things;
I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy;
I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men;
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life;
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I had asked for,
but everything that I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself my unspoken prayers were answered;
I am, among all men, most richly blessed.

close up of fruits hanging on tree

Remember how good fruit is made great fruit: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. (John 15:1,2)

Stretch wide your branches and surrender to the surgery of the Master Gardener. He has your greatest fruitfulness in mind — even when it looks like He may be destroying you.

More tomorrow…

Listen to Pastor Steve’s complete message on ‘Producing the Fruit of the Spirit’ online at the Lincoln Baptist Church website! Look under ‘Media’ for the April 14 message.

Monday, 4/15/19 – Pressing on…

I don’t know if it was a bad burger or just a bad bug that had snuck in while my resistance was low from the broken ribs, but from Friday evening through most of Saturday the next battle on my agenda turned out to be a wicked diarrhea! By Saturday evening I was left physically depleted and spiritually discouraged. I knew I was going to miss another Sunday away from the House of Worship and the family of God.

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By late Sunday morning, apart from the previous day’s trips to and from the washroom, I had spent well over 36 hours laying on the living room couch. It was a beautiful day out, so I decided to attempt a brief walk.

It was a sad walk that Palm Sunday morning. I knew that at the same moment my brothers and sisters in Christ were engaged in worship to the King of kings, listening to the redeeming Word of God and opening their hearts to the Holy Spirit as He comforted or convicted their souls.

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Instead I walked. I passed parents and kids playing ball on their lawn, the family dog romping beside them. I saw others out walking with determination in their steps, goal fixed on getting in that daily exercise. Kids played on backyard decks, other dogs barked and cars whizzed by. The neighborhood was active with folk who, like myself that morning, were not in church worshipping before God, Commerce was active too: drug stores, supermarkets, gas stations and fast food franchises.

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Sunday—Palm Sunday, yet so many had “better” things to do than give thought to Christ. After all, Life is short, isn’t it? Family is important. You gotta make a living in this world, right? It all sounds quite logical. Why “waste” half a day going to church? I’m a good man… woman. The church just wants money anyway. I’m not fool enough to give away 10% of my hard-earned income. I got bills to pay, right?

Yes, life is short, but eternity is very, very long. Yes, you gotta make a living in this world, but also in the next. True, you don’t want to “waste” your money, but you’d be wiser still to invest in things eternal. Its good to be a good man… woman, but Heaven is for the holy. Only Christ can make that possible.

“Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become ‘fools’ so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight….” (1 Cor. 3:18, 19)

It’s a spiritual battle indeed in this world. Thank the Lord for the gift of His indwelling Spirit to guide us.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Ps. 111:10)

More tomorrow…

Wednesday, 4/10/19 – Pressing on…

adult dark depressed face

Today I am still feeling utterly miserable! My busted ribs still hurt, the nausea persists and I’m getting “couch sores” that I just can’t seem to squirm away from without the ribs stabbing back at me. I grumble a lot, and I don’t like being with myself, and I’m certainly not being very fruitful! I hate being such a burden to my caring wife — and she’s not feeling all that hot either!

But this is the real stuff of life. You know it. And if faith in Christ is of any worth at all then it must be of worth on days like these also.

I want to write more about staying connected to Christ, the Vine, and producing spiritual fruit (Pastor Steve’s Sunday message). It’s not coming. Frustrated, I pick up today’s reading in Bonhoeffer instead.

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He reminds me of Paul’s words to the Galatians, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal. 6:2), and, “…as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (v.10).

I’m am doing neither of these things this day. Instead, others are doing these things for me! Bonhoeffer’s ‘Journal Reflections’ tightens my thumbscrew more and asks, “Think of the people in your life. To whom are you a burden? How does it feel? In what ways do the people in your life help bear your burdens?”

Hey!–How’d he know I felt myself a burden to others? But he was right. While I much prefer to “Cast my burdens on the Lord” (Ps. 55:22), it seems in many instances the Lord prefers to support me by passing them on to His Body, the Church—you and I. Regardless of what I may prefer, this time I am the recipient, not the benefactor, of this ministry.

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How do they help bear my burdens? Well they have done so by God’s love… His life flowing through them. They have shown this in their goodness and kindness, words of encouragement and prayers. They have demonstrated patient endurance, gentleness and joy. They have ministered to me with the fruits of the Spirit! Aha! How sly of the Lord! The very thing I was supposed to write about this day, yet which seemed so far from me, He has brought round to me through the back door… right into the living room of my small miseries.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance,
kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Gal. 5:22, 23)

Stay connected to Christ, this Vine. Not only for your own virtue, but for all of those who will from time to time need spirit-borne fruit to sustain them. And when it’s your turn to be nourished through others, be thankful. It is all from our loving Lord.

“You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.” (Ps. 145:15,16)

Press on…

Follow Pastor Steve’s new message series on the Gifts of the Spirit online: look under ‘Media’ at the Lincoln Baptist Church website.

Tuesday, 4/9/19 – Pressing on…

I’ve been reading a devotional book by Dietrich Bonhoeffer throughout this Lenten season. In a recent entry Bonhoeffer asks the question, “Is it easier to complain about what God does not give us, or to be thankful for what God does give us?” Initially I misread the second question. I thought it had asked, “…or to be thankful for what God does not give us.”

20190406_155659In a way I think my misread makes an even more interesting question. The first question about complaining suggests a presumed right which none of us fallen mortals should dare think is ours. God owes us nothing. The very fact that we can approach Him at all and ask for anything… why… its absurd! Its as though a gnat were to have audience with a king and request a lifetime supply of…. well, rotting fruit (Gnats like that, I understand)!

art carving close up crown

OK, OK, I know gnats only live 7 to 10 days and that a single bad apple would certainly be enough to amply fill the bill, but you catch my meaning. We have no right to complain for we have no right to request anything in the first place. We who have done nothing but buzz annoyingly about the face of the Almighty deserve rather the swat of His Hand or a hearty blast of bug killer.

Yet, if this king were to grant this gnat its request–and even more–most surely this insect should be thankful. It was received into the throne room, its petition had been heard, and the royal response had been more than favorable. It had been given what it did not deserve. That is grace.

The gnat must be thankful also that it did not receive what is more fitting for an insect before royalty – a swift dose of poison and it’s final demise. It had not been given what it did deserve. That is mercy.

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This past Sunday Pastor Steve’s message was “Staying Connected to the Vine.” (see John 15:1-13). This is essential for fruitfulness. We must also remember that it is by grace that we are in connection to that Vine at all! Do you see good fruit in your life? If so, do not become proud… rather give thanks to God.

Paul adds to our understanding…

If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. (Rom. 11:17-21)

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What Paul really has in mind here the distinction between Jews and Gentiles, but it is equally true that all people have been separated from that Vine by sinfulness. It is a Holy Vine, it must bear Holy branches and Holy fruit.

Yet this is exactly what God, the Good Gardener, intends to make of us! It is exactly how He sees us now, “…a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Pet. 2:9,10)

Praise Him — and be fruitful!

More tomorrow…

Monday, 4/8/19 – Pressing on…

Many readers of this blog will know these past several days I have been nursing a couple of broken ribs. Wanting to give them the best chance possible to heal I asked my family doctor (among other questions) what would be the best way to position myself for sleeping at night. Her reply was concise and professional: “Whatever is comfortable,” she said. (It was a bit of a “Duh!” moment.)

20190407_060209But she can say that and I can accept that because we both know the value and accuracy of these bodies’ pain signals. The body knows exactly when and exactly where a problem exists. It signals the brain in a most un-ignorable and unpleasant fashion both the seriousness and urgency of the trouble.

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Suppose you’ve just brushed past some brambles and gouged your ankle. Immediately the brain commands the whole rest of the body to bring its gifts to bear upon the matter – neck: move head down, eyes: focus upon the right ankle, scan for visible damage, report… hips, thigh, knee: seat the body on the park bench, right thigh, right shin: raise foot to rest on bench, shoulders, arms, hands: pull up pant leg, neck: turn, eyes: assess damage more closely, toes: wiggle… and on it goes.

This is the normal functioning of a body.

We need all its parts working together, using their various gifts. Oh, I suppose I could pull up that pant leg using my left foot, but let’s face it, calling upon the parts best designed to meet the task would prove far more satisfactory! But no parts would be called into service at all without pain’s first alarm.

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We need pain. Without pain we would just go on walking on the foot that has a rusty nail stuck in it. We would just go on feeding jalapeno peppers to that ulcerated stomach… Gruesome stuff.

But look a little deeper — what is true of your body is also true of your soul. Is your soul is in pain now? For many There is an inner angst… a fear of death. We sense inherently that death is wrong. It ought not be there… and we are correct. Do you feel it?

This pain in your soul is telling you that something is wrong… something needs your attention… What are you to do? — You can’t Photoshop real things away!

You need to see the Doctor. This is far more serious than broken ribs! In fact, you need major surgery… you need a new heart. The new heart is ready (given by a living donor, the Surgeon’s Son, at the cost of His life)… the Master Surgeon awaits….

The response is simple: agree with the diagnosis, recognize you cannot fix this yourself, believe the Master Surgeon can, then lay helpless on the table and submit to His touch….

He will do all the rest.

More tomorrow…

Note: Because of my condition I was unable to attend church this past Sunday, but will listen online and comment Tuesday. You can listen too at the Lincoln Baptist Church website, look under ‘Media.’