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Titus 3:1-8  The Message (MSG)

He Put Our Lives Together

 1-2Remind the people to respect the government and be law-abiding, always ready to lend a helping hand. No insults, no fights. God’s people should be bighearted and courteous.

3-8It wasn’t so long ago that we ourselves were stupid and stubborn, dupes of sin, ordered every which way by our glands, going around with a chip on our shoulder, hated and hating back. But when God, our kind and loving Savior God, stepped in, he saved us from all that. It was all his doing; we had nothing to do with it. He gave us a good bath, and we came out of it new people, washed inside and out by the Holy Spirit. Our Savior Jesus poured out new life so generously. God’s gift has restored our relationship with him and given us back our lives. And there’s more life to come—an eternity of life! You can count on this.

I want you to put your foot down. Take a firm stand on these matters so that those who have put their trust in God will concentrate on the essentials that are good for everyone.

Have you thought about what is happening in your life lately? Do you sometimes feel, like I do, that you need a good bath? When we began our faith walk, repenting of our sins, and putting our trust and faith in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, the Lord gave us a good bath… He washed us clean by His Spirit. But in our daily living, we can often feel as Teresa of Ávila felt, “Oh, my God and Lord, how everything is ruined by the vain habits we fall into and the way everyone else follows them! Our faith is so dead that we desire what we see more than what faith tells us about–even though what we see is that people who pursue these things end up with nothing but misfortune!”

She wrote, “… the Lord has blessed us with wonderful capacities to help us along the way! Reason tells the soul how mistaken it is in thinking that these earthly pleasures are of the slightest value in comparison with what it is seeking. Faith instructs the soul in what it must do to find true satisfaction. Memory reminds it how all of those pleasures come to an end, and how all those who once engaged in those pleasures–who seemed to find such enjoyment in them!–are now dead and buried. .. The will inclines the soul to love God, the One in whom it has seen so many acts and signs of love. In particular, the will shows the soul how this True Lover never leaves it, but goes with it everywhere and gives it life and being. Then the understanding comes forward and makes the soul realize that, for however many years it may live, it can never hope to have a better friend.” (Interior Castle)

Peter emphasized in 2 Peter, chapter 1, that everything that goes into a life that pleases God has been given to us, miraculously, by the Lord Jesus, as we get to know Him personally and intimately. The truth is that nothing that we can do by our own effort will please the Lord. He has given us faith, even though it may seem much smaller than a grain of mustard seed, and on that basic faith He wants to build and complement with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness and generous love. With these things growing and developing in our lives, we will become mature in Christ, we will get our “faith life” back! We will find joy, hope and God’s grace on the wide-open way of living in the Kingdom of God, and walking into His eternal Kingdom one day.

Several days ago I dug out a little box of Christian encouragement cards that an old friend gave to me a few years ago. It’s been a while since I used these as part of my daily reflection / devotional time, but as always, the message on the card each day touches me in places where I need God’s touch. Yesterday’s card said:

God does not work on our time table, but God’s timing is always perfect. Reflect on God’s faithfulness in the past, and you will find the strength you need today. “Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; He is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love for a thousand generations.” Deut. 7:9

This message from the Spirit was just what I needed… The thought of reflecting on God’s faithfulness in order to find strength for today continues to come up in my mind and spirit…  I realize more and more as the years pass, that strength for each day is a gift from God, from a faithful God. When we are young, we take strength for granted, we assume that physical, mental and emotional strength we feel will always be available. But after living for years, and experiencing life’s punches, life’s ups and downs, I realize that the strength I need comes only from the Lord. I no longer take it for granted, but I seek the Lord’s help, I reflect on His faithfulness.

Part of being a disciple of Jesus Christ, of living as a member of the Kingdom of God, of the Lord’s church, is to reflect on God’s faithfulness, not only to ourselves, but to others. Distress and the difficulties of life should drive us to the Lord. Reflecting on the Lord’s faithfulness in such times should turn us around, get us back on the “way of salvation.” We will be “more alive, more concerned, more sensitive, more reverent, more human, more passionate, more responsible. Looked at from any angle, you’ll (you’ve) come out of this with purity of heart.” (2 Cor. 7:11-13; The Message)

That’s what I want in my life… God’s strength and purity of heart. I want to be more alive today, more human, more reverent. I want to not only experience His presence, but experience His strength that will enable me to become more like Jesus.

Reflect on His faithfulness to you and you too will find strength for today.

 

Finding A Resurrection Faith

by John van de Laar © 2010 Sacredise

This article was written for the South African Methodist Newspaper – The New Dimension – and will appear in its April issue.

Are you a risk-taker or a “play-it-safe”er? Does your faith lead you into risky, transforming encounters with the Risen Christ, or into safe, predictable sameness? In an interview, author Len Sweet reflected on the risky business of travelling to church, often in cars or taxis moving at a hundred kilometres an hour, with little more than a few feet between us and the other vehicles. But, when we arrive at church, we play it safe, resisting anything unpredictable or challenging. It’s like we trust the other drivers on the road, Sweet says, more than we trust God’s Spirit in our worship.

Yet, the Bible calls for a different church. The writer to the Hebrews, teaching about faith and judgement, offers these words: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God” (Hebrews 10:31). Our worship is intended to do just this – each week we gather and place ourselves into the hands of the Living God, inviting God to do with us as God desires. As the writer Annie Dillard said, if we really understood what we are doing in church, we would hand out crash helmets at the door!

It’s important that we embrace this fearful unpredictability in our worship, and not resist it. Life is not safe. It is challenging, painful, unpredictable, glorious and surprising, and a safe faith can never sustain us through it. Rather, we need a faith that strengthens us and empowers us to enter fully into life’s glorious mystery.

Where is such a faith to be found? We find it when we encounter the resurrected Christ. This is not always a comforting experience – as we read the Gospels we discover that the disciples were often afraid when faced with the Risen Jesus. But it offers life that even death cannot quench.

If we are to follow Christ into adventurous faith, we need at least two things. The first is to believe, not just in our heads, but with our whole lives, that Jesus really is a tomb-breaker. We say the words “Christ is risen” so easily, but it’s a frightening proclamation. Resurrection means that we lose control. All the rules change, death is no longer the end, and we are no longer able to predict where life may lead us. We are faced with a God who refuses to remain buried in tombs – or even in our little boxes of law, doctrine, habit or preference.

If we are to embrace the tomb-breaking God, then we must also embrace a life of constant learning. This is the second thing we need. In the resurrection encounters Jesus does not make it easy for his followers. It’s like a game of “hide and seek” with Jesus constantly appearing in different places and ways. The disciples have to let go of what they think they know, and adopt the humility of children, becoming students of the Resurrected One. This learning never ended for them, and it can never end for us.

So, as we worship in the glory of resurrection, let’s resist the temptation to make church a “safe” place. Let’s allow the creativity and the Spirit of God to surprise and disturb us. Let’s open our hearts and minds to new ways of learning from the Risen Christ. And let’s be a people who are driven by worship out of the safety of our buildings and into all the places in our world where resurrection is so desperately needed.

http://tinyurl.com/ylqsh59    

(Link to author, John van de Laar’s blog)

As many of my friends and followers of this blog may be aware, I am contemplating a massive change in my life, a change that will put me “on the road again” to missionary ministry. In my early adulthood, I had the wondrous privilege of being a missionary in Bolivia and Argentina, but since 1988, my life has been lived in the U.S. In the next few weeks, I will come to a final conclusion and decision about my life in the near future… will I continue to live and work in the United States, or move my “tent” to Panama? Where and how is the Spirit of God moving me?

The strangeness of my world is the very real possibility that once again, I will live my life with and in Christ in the context of a Latin American country and culture. In many ways, I have lived in “tents” so long that I don’t have a permanent place of belonging. The nomadic existence I have experienced seemingly all my life has often perplexed me, haunted me, and challenged me. It has left me feeling rootless and homeless.

Jesus too was homeless. He too experienced life with the sense of homelessness, saying in Matthew 8 and Luke 9, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Jesus wanted his followers, and he wants me today, to understand that to follow him means to experience change. Sometimes this means a painful break with the way things have always been. Such a break “can lead to a renewal of the ability to sense the wind of the Spirit, and a renewal of a living and dynamic relationship with our God. . . In the Christian community, the power to change, to make a break with the past, comes from the Holy Spirit. The activity of the Holy Spirit is not the preservation of the status quo, but newness, change, vitality and transformation. This power enables us to be what God wants us to be. Through the Spirit, we see where changes need to be made; through the Spirit we receive the power to make those changes. The call of the gospel is to ‘live the future,’ as painful as it is to let the past go.” (p. 25, The Road Home)

So, my question is, how do I hold my tent down when I’m feeling the strong gale winds of change assail me. How do I cope with the looming, changing direction of my life?

My fearful self, my “I’d rather nothing change too much”-self, my “lack of faith”-self says, “Lord, put down the stakes. Stake down my tent here, Lord, where I am, and let me encounter a new way to serve you right here. I don’t really want to experience more change.” But deep in my heart, I hear the Spirit say, “Away… upward, glide with the wind! I’ll keep you safe on the winds of change, and bring your tent down to a new space to breathe my presence and feel my protection. You will not only remain alive in the midst of change; you will be fulfilled by it.”

“Change is only a moment’s pain between familiarity and familiarity” writes author Sara Covin Juengst. Although the changes that God allows in our lives may be painful, may even be seemingly tragic, the pain does not last. And his loves holds us and keeps us safe during the transitions between “the old securities to which we want to cling and the new freedoms that will become familiar through the gift of grace. The gift of grace enables us (me) to see change as a positive happening, to accept and even cherish it.” (p. 38, The Road Home)

Lord, as I wander
on the road again,
as I am swept up by the
winds of change,
watch over me, You who
blow over me.
Guide me as I pitch
my tent; make clear
the steps I take.
Bring me to my journey’s end
with the stakes of my tent
driven deep into your ever-faithful
heart of love.

(Brief quotations from The Road Home: Images for the Spiritual Journey; Sarah Covin Juengst)

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