Cut To the Quick

Good morning! Today is Wednesday, December 19. Only seven days until we leave for Cancun! “Seven daaaayyysss…” (Spoken in that creepy “The Ring” telephone voice.)

Today is “Look For An Evergreen Day.” That’s easier said than done where we live, but there are a few of those in north central Texas.

On this date:
In 1924, the last Rolls Royce Silver Ghost was sold in London.
Adolf Hitler became Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the German Army in 1941.
In 1963, Zanzibar gained independence from the U.K.
In 1972, Apollo 17 returned to earth.
In 1998, President Bill Clinton became the second U.S. President to be impeached. He was, of course, acquitted.

Today’s birthdays include Ford Frick (baseball commissioner), 1894, Martin Luther King, Sr., 1899, Leonid Brezhnev, 1906, W. A. Criswell (preacher), 1909, Professor Longhair (blues musician), 1918, David Susskind (TV talk show host), 1920, Cicely Tyson (actress), 1933, Al Kaline (baseball player), 1934, Joanne Weaver (baseball player)(seriously), 1935, Maurice White (Earth, Wind & Fire), 1941, Zal Yanovsky (guitarist for The Lovin’ Spoonful), 1944, Alvin Lee (Ten Years After), 1944, Robert Urich (actor), 1946, Jennifer Beals, 1963, Kristy Swanson (Buffy, the Vampire Slayer), 1969, Alyssa Milano, 1972, Jake Gyllenhaal, 1980.

We had the most awesome time at our lifehouse Christmas party last night! We had great snacks and the white elephant gifts were great. I wound up with a nice “flameless” candle set. Christi got a Kermit plush holding a Butterfinger and a Twix. I hope she shares. We also had some awesome fudge (made with Kahlua) that Christi made, and some pretty amazing chocolate cake, brought by the Hennekes. It was, in Christi’s words, very comfortable. We are truly like family. Oh, and we also had apple butter. That’s become a bit of an inside joke. Our lifehouse leader LOVES apple butter (as do I).

I’ll be honest…it’s very difficult to think about anything but our trip to Cancun, which begins next Wednesday morning. I think we still a little Christmas shopping to do, though.

Christi got a “boot” from her doctor yesterday, which she is supposed to wear for four weeks. He did, however, tell her she could wait until we get back from our vacation to start wearing it. 😀 He didn’t think that it’s an old injury, and that she might have done that to her foot doing a thing with the leg press machine. There is definitely a “stress fracture” in her foot. She also can’t work out until it heals.

I’m calling for urgent prayer for our pastor’s wife. She has pneumonia, which has now been diagnosed as “double pneumonia.” Her name is Valerie.

While I’m asking for prayer, my manager is having shoulder surgery this morning, and will be out for a while. I’m praying for successful surgery and quick recovery for him. His name is Phillip.

My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD, and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever. (Psalm 145:21)
Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. (Psalm 36:5)
Father, as my mouth speaks your praises this morning, I pray that your Spirit guide me to a vision of you that will keep me looking to your grace throughout this day.

Today, I’m reading Isaiah 11:1-5.
1 There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
2 And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.

What a powerful passage! This passage is speaking of the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ. Inspired by verse 3, I pray that I might be able to also judge, not by what I see and hear, but by the righteousness of Christ. Lest I sound arrogant, I quickly say that I possess no righteousness of my own. However, the righteousness of Christ resides within me, and is available to me, when I submit to it, and allow it to reign in me. May righteousness and faithfulness be “the belt of my loins.”

Today’s reading in My Utmost For His Highest is called “What to Concentrate on.” The scripture reference is Matthew 10:34. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

This reading is a little tricky. I’ll see if I can make sense of it. It begins, “Never be sympathetic with the soul whose case makes you come to the conclusion that God is hard.” “God,” says Chambers, “is more tender than we can conceive…” If I cannot get through to God, it is because there is something that I’m not willing to give up. Even if I admit I’m doing wrong, if I don’t give it up, I might as well try to fly. “People want the blessing of God, but they will not stand the thing that goes straight to the quick.” In other words, people want God’s blessings, but they don’t want to have to do the thing that he most requires from them.

“If God has had His way with you, your message as His servant is merciless insistence on the one line, cut down to the very root, otherwise there will be no healing.” We must drive this message home until there is no place to hide, “no possible refuge from its application.”

Before the message of the Gospel is of any use, there must be a sense of need. Of course, we discussed earlier that the Gospel creates the very need that it satisfies. But we have to recognize that there are, quite literally, millions of people in this world who are perfectly happy without God. The kind of “sword” that Jesus came to bring is the kind that cuts through this false sense of peace to the quick of a man, making him realize that he is, in fact, lacking the most important thing in his life, the peace of God. “Jesus Christ came to send a sword through every peace that is not based on a personal relationship to Himself.” It’s a difficult message, and it tends to make the messenger unpopular. I pray that this would be the only thing that makes a Christian unpopular. Sadly, there are many of us out there who are doing other, senseless, things that are making us unpopular. Let’s stick to the message, let us know “What to Concentrate on.”

Father, I will praise you with my mouth, and pray that all flesh would do the same. I so look forward to the day that is prophesied when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. I thank you for your steadfast love that reaches to the heavens, and your faithfulness that stretches to the clouds.

I thank you for the righteousness and faithfulness that is the fruit of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. I thank you that he judges based on your righteousness, rather than on what he sees and hears, for righteousness pierces to the very soul of a man, judging motives and intent over visible action. I pray that you would give your people the same righteousness. I pray that we would recognize your infinite tenderness in our lives, and that we would stick with the message of the Gospel, driving it home until people have a true sense of true peace. And, Lord, please help us understand that, while Jesus came to “bring a sword,” we are to be people of peace. There are many of us who run around wielding that sword with no thought whatsoever of who they are cutting. We even tend to cut each other with it, and that ought not be so. Jesus commanded us to love each other as he loved us. I pray that we can fulfill that command, Lord. Last night, to me, was a perfect example of how we love each other. We had great fellowship with other believers, and it was amazing. I thank you for the sense of community that you have brought in us through this lifehouse ministry.

I pray for this day. May Christi have a good day today, with no anxiety. I pray that Stephanie will also have a good, anxiety-free day, and that you would draw her heart closer to yours. I ask for a smooth day at my work, with no issues. As we get closer to our vacation, I ask that you prepare my heart for finding you in the places we will go in Cancun. While this trip is definitely about R&R, may it also be about discovering you in new places. I fully intend to “experience” you in the beauty of the jungle.

I lift up Valerie Engle to you this morning, desperately praying for her healing, Lord. Touch her with your healing hand and fill her with your Spirit this morning. I pray for complete healing from this double pneumonia. Give Joel more strength as he ministers to her, and as he takes care of the children. I pray that brothers and sisters will rise up to help and provide for them.

I also pray for my manager, Phillip, that his surgery will go well this morning, and that his recovery would be quicker than expected.

Today’s reading was one of the tough ones. As Christians we need to bring peace, but it needs to be true peace, the peace that passes all understanding.

Grace and peace, friends.

“Come To Me”

It’s Sunday morning, August 19, 2012! That means that Stephanie is 19 today!! Happy birthday to our girl! It is also the birthday of our son-in-law, Justin. How weird is that? Happy birthday to Justin, too!

Today is “National Potato Day.” I love me some potatoes! Just about any way I can get them. Except “sweet.” Don’t like sweet potatoes. Except in a pie…but I’d rather have pumpkin pie.

On this date in 1909, the first race was held at the Indianapolis Speedway. (Pay attention Stephanie…all of this stuff happened on YOUR birthday!) Louis Schwitzer won that race. (Not to be confused with Nick Swisher.) On this date in 1964, The Beatles kicked off their first U.S. tour at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. On this date in 1946, Bill Clinton was born. On a not so good note, on this date in 1934, Adolf Hitler became president of Germany.

Also born on this date are Ben Carr (Family Pastor at The Exchange), Orville Wright, Coco Chanel, John Stamos (Stephanie did you know you shared a birthday with HIM??), Matthew Perry, Ginger Baker (drummer for the rock group Cream), Gene Roddenberry (creator of Star Trek), and Kyra Sedgwick (we already miss you, Brenda Lee!!).

We had a really good day yesterday. Transporting Grandmother and Don from west Fort Worth to our house went very well. Lunch was good, and we got to visit with the owners of Fogata’s for a few minutes. You see, we haven’t seen them since January, and it was good to visit with them to explain that they didn’t do anything to make us mad. They were thrilled to see our weight loss progress and encouraged us to stay with it. Then they gave us free dessert for Stephanie’s birthday. They do this thing with sopapillas…I’ll just show you.

Of course, we shared that six ways, so it wasn’t too bad for us. Afterward, we came home and had strawberry cake that Stephanie and Christi made together. It was quite good. Today, in about an hour, we head to Mineral Wells, for lunch with my parents (aka Grandma and Grandpa), and the cookie cake that we will take with us. We won’t be losing any weight this weekend. :p

Father, I pray that you would reveal something new to me this morning, or refresh something old. Give me a glimpse of you as I look into your Word today.

Today, I’m reading Psalm 80. Another psalm from Asaph, this one is a prayer for restoration.
Restore us, O God;
let your face shine, that we may be saved!
(3, 7, 19)

Verses 17 and 18 seem to be speaking of the Davidic king, and, ultimately, the Messiah.
But let your hand be on the man of your right hand, the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself!
Then we shall not turn back from you;
give us life, and we will call upon your name!

My Utmost For His Highest
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28

God’s desire for us is that we live a life that is fully immersed in Jesus Christ. However, there are times, when we are attacked from the outside, that we fall into a sort of introspective mode, and become self-conscious. “Self-consciousness is the first thing that will upset the completeness of the life in God, and self-consciousness continually produces wrestling.” It is not a sin. There are are multiple circumstances that may produce self-consciousness. “It is never God’s will that we should be anything less than absolutely complete in Him.” Anything that disturbs this “rest in Him,” must be dealt with immediately. It is not a case of “ignore it and it will go away,” (not a quote from Chambers), but must be dealt with by coming directly to Jesus Christ. “If we come to Him and ask Him to produce Christ-consciousness, He will always do it until we learn to abide in Him.”

I must beware of anything that threatens to divide my life in Christ, no matter what it is. “The great solution is the simple one–‘Come unto me.'” The verse above provides the simplest of answers, “Come to me.” The answer to every problem we have is, ultimately, “Come to me.” Yes, that sounds overly simplistic. But, “The depth of our reality, intellectually, morally and spiritually, is tested by these words.” Will I argue, rather than come? To the degree that I am not “real,” I will dispute.

In Life Together, Bonhoeffer speaks against the idea of reading bits and pieces of Scripture in the corporate setting. He is a supporter of the idea of lectio continua, or “consecutive reading.” “The Holy Scriptures do not consist of individual sayings, but are a whole and can be used most effectively as such. The Scriptures are God’s revealed Word as a whole.” (p. 60) His response to the objection that people can’t retain and comprehend large portions of Scripture readings in one sitting is this: “If it is really true that it is hard for us, as adult Christians, to comprehend a chapter of the Old Testament in its context, then that can only fill us with profound shame.” (ibid) He states that, if this is the case, we must admit that the Bible is mostly unknown to us. And I believe this to be true in the modern church. I believe with all my heart that, if we were to take a poll of Biblical knowledge among churchgoers today, the result would be dismaying. “Mature Christians keep on learning it and learn it better and better; and as they read and hear it on their own, they will never finish this learning.” (p. 61) I know this to be true from personal experience. The Bible is a living book…I learn more from it every time I read it (if I’m truly reading with any comprehension, that is). In his argument against reading single verses out of context, he says this: “The Scripture is a complex unity, and every word, every sentence, contains such a diversity of relationships to the whole that it is impossible always to keep track of the whole when listening to an individual portion of it. Therefore, it appears that the whole of Scripture as well as every passage in it far surpasses our understanding.” (ibid)

On the subject of consecutive reading, he says, “For those who want to hear, reading the biblical books in a sequential order forces them to go, and to allow themselves to be found, where God has acted once and for all the salvation of human beings. The historical books of the Holy Scriptures come alive for us in a whole new way precisely when they are read during worship services. We receive a part of that which once took place for our salvation. Forgetting and losing ourselves, we too pass through the Red Sea, through the desert, across the Jordan into the promised land. With Israel we fall into doubt and unbelief and through punishment and repentance experience again God’s help and faithfulness. All this is not mere reverie, but holy, divine reality. We are uprooted from our own existence and are taken back to the holy history of God on earth. There God has dealt with us, and there God still deals with us today, with our needs and our sins, by means of the divine wrath and grace. What is important is not that God is a spectator and participant in our life today, but that we are attentive listeners and participants in God’s action in the sacred story, the story of Christ on earth.” (p. 62)

Father, while I certainly believe that it is most definitely important that you be a participator in my life, I also believe that it is more important that I be a participator in what you are doing, which is truly, “the sacred story.” May I be an attentive listener to all that you would say to me. I am inspired, my conscience is pricked by what Bonhoeffer has written. I will purpose to read more complete portions of Scripture in my devotional times. I cannot do anything about the lack of Scripture reading in worship (other than pray that you would inspire our pastors to include more reading of Scripture), but I can do something about what I read on my own. Show me yourself as I read. Show me, through your Word, through the history, the great salvation that you have worked for us! I will listen! I will participate!

And when my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the Rock that is higher than I. Wow…I don’t know where that came from. Well, maybe I do. As soon as I typed “And when,” those words immediately came to my mind, and I have to assume that the Spirit put them there. (I know…it’s a worship song from, like, the eighties or something.) But that is the main theme of my devotion today, as I see the answer to all things being the words of Jesus when he says “Come to me.” When circumstances threaten to divide my life, to divide my unity with Jesus, that is what I must do, come to him. Too often, I panic. Or I spend hours meandering around, looking for some answer in the wrong places. Whatever is going on in my life, I will bring it to Jesus. As the old hymn says, “Tell it to Jesus alone.” Too simple for some, I’m guessing. But, Father, I’m a big fan of simple. And I believe that we have been guilty of complicating your grace much more than necessary. May we, your people, find a way back to the simple grace that you have provided on our behalf. May we truly come to you when we are overwhelmed. May we learn to abide in you.

I pray for this day. Give us safe travel to Mineral Wells, now, and a good time of fellowship with my parents as we celebrate Stephanie’s birthday some more. I pray that she have a wonderful day today. And I pray that you show her how much you love her today.

Your grace is sufficient. May it overflow in our lives.

Whatever is distracting you or afflicting you today, come to Jesus.

Grace and peace, friends.