Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Time to Go Deep....

"Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." - John 4:13-14

Our denomination held our annual convention last week in Louisville Ky. Several things came out of the meeting last week, none the least of which was a question about evangelism and how we effectively reach people for the kingdom.

Personally, I believe that believers will be a lot more effective in reaching people with the gospel of Jesus Christ if Jesus were really REAL to us. And if our motivation came from Jesus being real to us by way of having a genuine relationship with a LIVING GOD, I think we'd actually spend more time loving people and being the hands and feet of Christ, rather than spending time arguing over style of worship... or worrying about what sins we're against (since God is against all of them)... and start living what we are for: JESUS!

Let's face it. 85% of American churches are dead or dying. And it's our (the believer's) fault! We've spent way too much time talking about all the things that we are against (and have made our ways to the headlines far too many times for our arguments), and trying to change the world's behavior politically, and have forgotten as a people of how to genuinely love people where they are. The Jews of Jesus day were looking for an earthly ruler. If we continue to behave in this fashion as the church and are trying to change the world by the use of political action, are we no better than they?

I am not saying that we shouldn't be involved in the political process. That's a part of our dual citizenship in two kingdoms as believers. We should vote. And if God has called you to run for a political office, you should run. That's not what I am addressing here.

The truth is that lost people aren't going to behave as believers. That's a given. And try as we might, telling them to behave as believers won't make them believe or get them into Heaven. But if we demonstrate genuine love, respect, and consistently show them how Jesus is real to us when the rubber hits the road, we might find that our churches will be full!!! People will be coming out from behind the shadows of the steeples of our churches in droves and will be lining up to get in to hear about our God. Then we'd have more LIVING CHURCHES. Imagine that!

It all starts with the believer's understanding of the Cross... and allowing that to be REAL to us... not just words from the pastor or words from the page... remembering the blood of Calvary, the tremendous pain, the unbelievable gift of life that Jesus gave for you and for me. When we remember what He did at the Cross was not just for all the people for all of time, but that He did it just for you, then we realize that His love is personal. When we become aware of His holiness and come to grips with the fact that our own moral piety (regardless of how "pure" we might think we are) is nothing but filthy rags in His presence, that should make us bow in humility. When we become aware that what He did at the Cross was not just for you, but also for all of the people for all of time, that should make us missional. When we realize that the ground is level at the foot of the cross, that should make us unified and purposeful. When we realize His call to us, that should make us want to follow.

When we truly learn to love God, and become genuine followers of Christ, I believe that we will learn to thank Him and to praise Him. And we will learn to worship Him DAILY with a grateful heart. As our love relationship deepens, we will know Him more and more to be

the Lover of our Soul,

the Provider of our needs,

our Protector from Harm,

the Healer of our diseases,

our Deliverer,

our Maker,

our Guide,

our Breath,

our Life,

our Counselor,

our Best Friend,

our Father,

our Daddy,

our Master,

our Strength in times of Trouble,

our Wisdom...

This is by no means an exhaustive list... The deeper we go in love with Him, the longer the list. And the longer the list, the more those things will bubble out of us and will overflow onto those around us.

Remember the story of the woman at the well in John 4? Do you remember what Jesus said to her about the rivers of living water? He said that whoever drinks of His water would have rivers of living water flowing out of their lives. This was certainly true of the woman at the well after she met Jesus. Remember, she went back and told the others all that Jesus said and many began to follow Him. What she had gotten from Jesus was contagious! The entire village began to follow Jesus after they saw what He did for her.

Are you thirsty for Him?? Come and drink! Hungry for Him??? Come and eat!! Be filled up with what God has to offer... Dive in deep.... Learn of Him. Spend time with Him. Go deeper... Submerge your life into a Savior... Get soaking wet from head to toe in the River of Living Water.

Take the plunge. The rest will follow.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Happy Father's Day

"Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you." - Exodus 20:12

This is just a short post to wish a Happy Father's Day to the guys in my life who have helped to shape me into the person that I am. I am fortunate to have been raised not only my dad, but also my paternal Granddaddy (that's where my love for music/violin/fiddle came from.) After my folks' divorced, God added a loving step-dad to the mix sometime in the middle of my college days. He's not only crazy about my mom, but he treats me and my siblings and our spouses as if we were his own kids. Gotta love that! When I married Bill, He also blessed me with a wonderfully godly Father-in-law, who is now with the Lord. I have also been blessed with great teachers/professors, coaches, principals and pastors and pastoral types, as well as Sunday School teachers and goodness knows who else God has placed in my path to teach and shape me.

Some of those folks are still around, others have since left this earth. But I am ever so thankful for every last one of them. Anyhow, I just wanted to say, "Thanks, guys! Happy Father's Day!"


"If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don't love, I'm nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God's Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, "Jump," and it jumps, but I don't love, I'm nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love. Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn't want what it doesn't have. Love doesn't strut, Doesn't have a swelled head, Doesn't force itself on others, Isn't always "me first," Doesn't fly off the handle, Doesn't keep score of the sins of others, Doesn't revel when others grovel, Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end. Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled. When I was an infant at my mother's breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good. We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love." - 1 Cor.13

When Tony and I were engaged, he came up with a saying that became our marriage's motto of sorts, "Forever won't be long enough." We would include that on notes and cards to one another throughout our engagement.

After our marriage, we shortened the phrase to FWBLE. The phrase was too long to go on my wedding band, so we just used the first letters of each word. A local paper interviewed us just before the weekend of our wedding and we told our "adoring" public (aka, the folks who happened to read the Tennessean that day) all about FWBLE.

All together now: Awwwwwww.

Yep. It was pretty sappy. But I was married to the king of sap!

It made a great little country song that I wrote after he died. Sang it for a couple of weddings and a worship service once. It came close to getting picked up by a country band, too, if you can actually believe that. As the teenagers would say, "What-ever."

The truth is that sucessful, long lasting marriages aren't built on sweet phrases and thankfully, ours wasn't. They aren't even built on emotions like love or warm fuzzy feelings. Why? Because there comes a time in every marriage when the happy couple figures out that honeymoon is over... and the real life together begins. And trust me, there are no warm fuzzy feelings when that man that you love so much comes up to you, wanting to snuggle after he has been out cutting grass and desperately needs a shower! And, he's not going to be so happy with you when you roll out of the sack looking like you've been fighting the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles all night long, so much so that you even ripped a hole in the your old t-shirt that you've been sleeping in since college. One of you will snore and keep the other one awake!

And there will be days when one or the other will be seriously ill and the other will have just spent every waking hour at a hospital with him for the past several days/weeks... praying...

That's not to say joyous occasions don't happen. They most certainly do. Additions to the family, weddings, graduations, birthdays and other happy celebrations will be special days.

The real happily ever after marriages are from the beginning built on a relationship with Jesus first and then unconditional love, respect and commitment to one another second. That means you still love him in spite of the peeling paint from his snoring. And he's still crazy about you in spite of the bedhead hair you have first thing in the morning.

Having said all that, I played two weddings today. Both were for daughters of long-time friends. Both brides have AMAZING God stories. And both couples have a tough (but great) road ahead, if the roads behind them are of any indication of what kind of future they might have. I am thankful that God has blessed each of these two young women with wonderful husbands who will care for them... and meet their every need! And most of all, they love Jesus... more than they love one another.

My sincerest best wishes to Jessica and Ryan, and to Jacqui and RJ! God bless you guys!!!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Rabbi's Invitation to Discpleship: Follow Me

"Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." - Luke 9:23

I recently heard an old sermon podcast by one of my former pastors. He was speaking on the topic of Discipleship. One of the things that he said was that whenever a young Hebrew boy was chosen to be a student of a rabbi in Jesus' day, the rabbi's priceless invitation only included two words, "Follow Me."

Instantly, the young student would drop whatever it was he was doing and become a follower of the rabbi. He described how the new disciple would learn everything that the rabbi did... he spent every waking hour learning what the rabbi thought, how he ate, what he ate, believe what he did, and this new disciple would be (or would want to be) just like the rabbi.

Jesus has issued those exact words to us... "Follow Me." These are the same words he issued to the twelve. And these were the same words he issued to Peter when he was restored in the Feed My Sheep passage in John 21... You remember the story... After Peter had denied that he knew Jesus three times (after Jesus' arrest, while at the home of the High Priest), the rooster crowed. Later, after the resurrection, Jesus told the girls at the tomb to tell His disciples and Peter that He was alive and to meet Him in Galilee. The disciples didn't get there until later. Peter decided to go fishing. The rest of the disciples joined him. (Personally, I think they were probably needing to blow off some steam and did that in the best way that they knew -- to fish.) It was there that they saw Jesus on the shore making breakfast for them. They had fished all night long and hadn't caught anything. Then Jesus told them to cast the net on the other side of the boat! They caught 153 fish!!! It was there during breakfast where Jesus pulled Peter aside and asked him three different times whether he loved Him... Then Jesus lovingly told Peter to "Follow Me."

Following Jesus would probably mean that we spend our time learning from Him. We spend time in His word. We spend time in prayer and Bible Study. We may find ourselves in a small group learning from other followers what the Master taught. We learn what He likes and what He doesn't. And a Christ-follower, a disciple of Rabbi Jesus will want to be just like Him.

But cross bearing is not easy. You may be mocked and stripped naked emotionally by an irreverent crowd of on-watchers. You may find yourself bullied and beaten down by others who do not know or love The Rabbi Whom you are following. You may be spat upon. Laughed at. Mocked. And you may get a few splinters in your heart. Some of us may actually even face physical death for Following Him (just ask some brothers and sisters in the Underground Church! God is moving in spite of laws, but that's another post for another day!)

So... we find ourselves daily plodding down a road, walking where He has gone before us, following diligently in the Master's steps... and at some point along the road, we realize it is to His Via Dolorosa where He is leading us.... There we lay down our rights to ourselves.... our selfish ambition and our pride... we lay down the sin that so easily entangles and fix our eyes on Jesus (as Hebrews 12:1-2 tells us)... and then the hammer falls. In gratefulness we find that all of who we are was nailed to His tree on Golgatha... where He took the punishment for us all. (2 Cor. 5:21) Blow by blow, day by day, self is crucified (Gal. 2:20.) And by His mercy, we are then set free. Set free to live victoriously ... over sin.... over death... Set free to follow Him.

Then tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow again... we will hear The Rabbi's Invitation issued once again to us: "Follow Me."

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

AKA Flapjack and Fred??? Not so much...

"O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways." - Ps.139:1-3 (NIV)

I have a new nickname. Since I actually am called most of the time by a nickname given me as a newborn, I don't have a problem with gaining a new one. My first husband used to call me, "Hummy" (and I called him, "Bear.") I call my second husband, "HH." I've forever been known as Ms. Bitsy or Ms. Bits to my friends and their children. But this name is entirely different. I have newly been christened "Flapjack." Yes, you read correctly. "Flapjack."

My new name was given to me by a fourth grade boy sitting in front of me in the VBS Worship Rally yesterday. This kid was an active little boy... all boy... and liked to talk. You know the type. Outgoing. Likes to stir up trouble but not in a bad way... He turned around to my friend and asked her, "Do you know my name?" I didn't know the young man at all but quickly decided he was the type of kid I could have some real fun with... so I just grinned, elbowed my buddy and said, "Looks like a Fred to me!" Of course, the group of boys sitting around him starting giggling and he said, "No. Guess again." So I quipped, "Well... I was gonna say, 'Hubert' but I decided that you don't really look like a 'Hubert'. Nope. You're definitely a Fred! I'm gonna call you Fred all week!"

He said, "Then I'm gonna call you, 'Flapjack!!!!' Well... what's good for the goose is good for the gander, so I agreed...

This marked the beginning of a beautiful friendship. We've seen one another in the hallways, in classrooms, outside, in crafts... Pretty much everywhere... And each time, we greet one another with an exuberant "Howdy, Flapjack!" or a "Hey, Fred!", followed by a high-five. And we've ended each day with goodbyes...

Since I'm not a mom, I don't often spend time with the kids at church, unless they happen to be taking music lessons from me or I know their parents. So, I am doubting that any of those boys actually know my true name. No, I will likely affectionately always be remembered by them, henceforth and forever more as simply, "Flapjack."

Have you ever worn so many names that you run into an identity crisis of sorts? You are Mom to your children, Mrs. (insert your name here) to your child's teacher, the doctor, the dentist, and everywhere formal. You may wear any number of affectionate names. You may even have a special name for the hats you wear in your family... sister, aunt, grandma.... You may wear the name "Boss" at work. And some days, things can just be so crazy that you don't have a clue as to what your name is because you are wearing fifteen different hats all at once!

But one thing that we never have to concern ourselves with is whether God knows our name. The One who built and specifically designed every atom of every cell in our bodies knows every hair on every head. He knows all about the way that we walk, how we think, what we had for breakfast, and what we are doing at every single second of every single day. Yes, The One who created the Universe is the Same One Who designed blue, green, hazel, brown, black and golden eyes and placed them in the sockets of every child on the planet.... specially crafted for each and every one of us.

Make no mistake... our Heavenly Daddy knows our names! He even knows the exact moment that we took our first breath because He planned it before the foundation of the world.

And no matter what name the world may call us, regardless of the roles we play in this life, if we belong to Jesus, we have a special name that He has given us to wear... His very own. His name is the Name above all Names. It breaks the power of canceled sin and it sets the captive free! There is no name under Heaven or earth whereby men might be saved. (Acts 4:12)

And He has graciously given it to us.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

It All Comes Back to Jesus

"God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. " Hebrews 1:1-4 (NKJV)

This week is Vacation Bible School at our church and our theme (like a lot of other churches) is "Boomerang Express: It All Comes Back to Jesus." It really does all come back to Jesus and our personal relationship with Him, doesn't it?

How we live, who/what we worship, what we believe, how we manage our finances, how we plan our lives, raise our families, work at our jobs, the usage of the gifts we have and all that we own, dream about, live for boils down to our relationship with God... We either: a) love God and are called a part of His family because of an intimate personal relationship with Jesus Christ, or b) we don't have a relationship with Christ and choose not to trust Him. Whatever is the case, everything we do comes back to this question:

What kind of relationship do you have with Jesus?

I'm not talking about religion here... or denominations.... or lack thereof. Religion and church membership no more place you and I into an intimate personal relationship with Jesus Christ than walking into a garage makes you a car! I'm not asking about whether you've kept the Ten Commandments. I'm not talking about baptism, church membership, taking communion or how good of a life you or I might be living. I was baptized before I began to follow Jesus and all I did was get wet! All of those other things (baptism, church membership, living the Christian life) come after you have decided to follow Jesus.

I am talking about the day in, day out, relationship that you and I have with the Living God. Do we have real conversations with Him (that's what it means to pray)? Do we respect Him and give Him top value and priority over our lives (that's what it means to worship)? Do we listen to Him as His Holy Spirit teaches us from His Word (the Bible), other believers, the church, and circumstances? Do we Trust Him, not only for our salvation, but for our everyday decisions? Do you like what He likes, and do you do what He does? Do you dislike what He dislikes???

My second husband's parents passed away in June, 2005, just six days apart. Their 58 year marriage was such that you sometimes could not tell one from the other. When we were talking with their pastor regarding the planning of a second funeral service in a week's time, one of the things that we joked about was that after 58 years of marriage, they couldn't stand even a week apart from one another!

I believe that's what God intended for our relationship with Him. He knows us fully. (I Cor. 13:12, Ps. 139:16) He loves us deeply. (John 3:16) We should be so excited to spend time with Him daily that we can't stand one second apart from Him! He desires so much to spend time with you on a daily basis... not just on Sundays or Wednesdays for an hour or two, but every single day! I've said it before and I'll say it again! He is CRAZY about YOU! And He gave His life to prove it! (Romans 5:8)

It All Comes Back to Jesus. Romans 10:9-13 (from the Message) says this:

"Say the welcoming word to God - "Jesus is my Master" - embracing, body
and soul, God's work of doing in us what he did in raising Jesus from the dead.
That's it. You're not "doing" anything; you're simply calling out to God,
trusting him to do it for you. That's salvation. With your whole being you
embrace God setting things right, and then you say it, right out loud: "God has
set everything right between him and me!"Scripture reassures us, "No one who
trusts God like this - heart and soul - will ever regret it."It's exactly the
same no matter what a person's religious background may be: the same God for all of us, acting the same incredibly generous way to everyone who calls out for
help."Everyone who calls, 'Help, God!' gets help

So... How's your love life with Jesus? Have you trusted Him to be the manager/boss of your life?
Have you totally committed everything you are to everything He is for His benefits, His plans and His ways and on His terms for now and all eternity?

Are you a Christ-follower? Will you follow Him today?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Dress rehearsal

"The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness
."- Lamentations 3:22-23 (ESV)

I am a music instructor by trade. I have a lot of fun doing what I do and I love the interesting opportunities that I get doing what I do. At least a couple of times a year, I get the opportunity to play in the pit orchestra for different musicals. Usually these are church choir/worship ministry musicals, and always, they call for a series of final rehearsals: tech rehearsals, drama cast rehearsals, choreography, and then the final dress rehearsal.

That last week of rehearsing is the time when all of the tweeking is done to make everything "performance ready." This would be the time when costumes are checked, makeup gets a chance to work on the cast, spotlights and mics are set, and the final tough musical passages are worked out for the performances that would be around the corner.

The night of the final dress rehearsal, everything is supposed to be ready to go, just as if it were the opening night. The operative word here is "supposed." But things inevitably do go wrong. Light cues get missed. A mic switch won't take place. Power boards fail. Lines get dropped. Soloists forget lyrics. Orchestra folks miss cues. It's a part of being human. And, thus there are several "takes" (as the industry will call it) before the final dress rehearsal is completely polished and the product is "performance ready."

So what if we treated every day like it were a final dress rehearsal for the coming days with the Lord?

What would that look like?

2 Peter 3: 14 says, "So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him."

Will our days ever go absolutely perfectly? No. Not on this side of glory at least, because we are a fallen people living in a fallen world. But that does not excuse us from living and giving our best for God today. God has already poured out His mercies on us. They are new every single morning, as our focal scripture says.

Tomorrow will bring with it a brand new day... with brand new mercies from a loving God.... a new day for a dress rehearsal! Will you treat it as if it were your final dress rehearsal?