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Slave To Love

My favorite song as a child was “Kaw-liga” by Hank Williams and Fred Rose (1953).  The story-filled song is about a wooden indian, Kaw-liga, who “Falls in love with an indian maid over in the antique store.”  Even as a youngster, I related to Kaw-liga in his fear of the unknown and critical.  He was, “Too stubborn to ever show a sign, because his heart was made of knotty pine.”  Though filled with feelings of affection, Kaw-liga and I rationalized away opportunity after opportunity to act upon what we felt.  Living and loving became difficult to the point of isolation and loneliness.  (Pause for Thought:  “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”—II Timothy 1:7  When do you feel most vulnerable and alone?  What does, “perfect love casts out all fear” mean to you?)
 
My uncle was a guitarist and lead-vocalist in a country-music band.  He would always ask for requests when he knew I was in the audience, but I was too afraid to ask for “Kaw-liga”.  My aunt would make the request for me, and then she would do something that still amazes me to this day; she would whoop about the stage, dancing like an indian while my uncle sang “Kaw-liga”.  My heart still smiles every time I hear the song and reflect on my families’ love for a fear-crippled child.
 
David did something similar to my aunt when he brought the Ark of the Covenant, the symbol of God’s presence, into Jerusalem (See II Samuel Chapter 6).  Though he was a king, he took the part of a dancing slave at the head of the processional entering the city.  David’s love for the Lord was greater than his fear of ridicule and criticism.  His joy was made complete in the knowledge of who he was in the Lord’s sight.    (Pause for Thought:  “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?”—Psalm 27:1  Have you ever done something others thought outlandish, but another accepted your love because of it?  How did you feel before, during, and after your actions?  How was Jesus’ life on this earth “outlandish”?)
 
My uncle passed away earlier this Fall.  I was asked by my aunt to speak at the graveside service.  The joyful life my aunt and uncle lived had caused me to reflect on my own.  As a child, I knew I didn’t want to feel like Kaw-liga when he, “Just stands there as lonely as can be, and wishes he was still an old pine tree.”  I claimed the promise of my God and King when he promised me an abundant life; a life full of relationships.  That is why I could sing Kaw-liga at the service while my aunt danced.  (Pause for Thought:  “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”—Ezekiel 36:26.  Has Jesus’ outlandish life allowed you to have a heart of flesh?  If not, what fears are keeping your heart stone-cold?  Have these fears helped or hurt your relationship with others?  What can you do to live fear-free?)
 

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Awakened & Shaken

The young woman is on a righteous path.  Our conversation a week or so ago confirmed what the Spirit had been saying, “Her awakening to the love I have for her will bring about a revival of her soul and the will of Heaven on earth.”  She, as a lover of Jesus and a ministerial candidate, is pursuing wisdom as it is to be pursued…through the Holy Spirit first, not the intellect first.  Her questions and applications were indicative of one being blessed for her hunger and thirst for righteousness.  (Pause for Thought:  “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”—Matthew 5:6 How do you define “righteousness”?  In what areas of life do you see the lack of righteousness?  Has God called you to do something about it?)
 
The more we spoke, and the more she answered the questions we gave her to reflect upon, the more she began to remind me of Stephen from the Book of Acts.  Her passion to apply God’s word into all manner of relationships was contagious.  It was impressive to listen to one so young; well on her journey to Spiritual maturity.  In comparison to those who claim to know so much about Christ’s purposes, her humility conveyed a powerful understanding of God’s will through Jesus.  I left our conversation thinking intently about what I had heard.    (Pause for Thought:  “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.  ‘Brothers choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.  We will turn this responsibility over to them.’  This proposal pleased the whole group.  They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.”—Acts 6:1,3,5  Who do you know full of the Holy Spirit?  What effect do they have on you and on others?  Are you full of the Holy Spirit?  Why or why not?)
 
Her journey isn’t without peril.  She expressed how much opposition she was receiving from her “Christian” classmates because of her passion for God’s word and ministry.  This doesn’t and shouldn’t come as a surprise.  When the Holy Spirit calls us into something for Christ’s-sake, and we can’t help but speak the truth, the enemy throws obstacles at us through people who could and should relate to our journey with Jesus.  Again, the story of Stephen comes to mind as he was noticed by the “spiritual leaders” of his day.  Stephen was awakened by the Spirit, but the leaders considered him a usurper of the normal pursuits of “spirituality”.  When met with opposition, Stephen’s Spirit-filled wisdom and love for others couldn’t be extinguished…even after death.  Saul, soon to be Paul, is living testimony to the awakening in Stephen and the shaking of the norm.  See Acts 6:8-7:59.  (Pause for Thought:  “See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks.  If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven?  At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heavens.’  Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire’.”—Hebrews 12:25-26,28-29.  Has anyone tried to quench the Spirit within you?  Have you ever tried to quench the Spirit in another?  How has the Spirit shaken the “normal” around you and awakened God’s will for you and others?)
 

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First Days

I vividly remember a moment of my first full day of school.  The school I was attending was vastly different from the one I attended my Kindergarten year.  Buses ran different routes, kid’s faces were frightening, and the playground was large and lonely.  I scaled the tallest play apparatus I could find, and planned to ride out the storm of my first day of school alone and scared.  Suddenly, I saw a pair of blue eyes peering at me over the floor of the platform as their owner climbed to the top.  Steve sat next to me and inquired how I was doing.  He knew perfectly well.  I told him of my fear and uncertainty, and he reassured me it would be OK.  His first-grader wisdom was just what I needed to get past my first day.   (Pause for Thought:  “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.  The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a helper suitable for him’.”—Genesis 2:15&18.  What “first days” do you remember in your life (school, sports, jobs, etc.)?  Whom did God place in your life at that time to be a “suitable helper”?)
 
Steve and I would continue to cross paths throughout our elementary school years, and our relationship to one another really peaked during our middle school years.  Steve was gregarious, enthusiastic and fearless about everything.  I was completely the opposite.  I relied heavily on my relationship with Christ to “get by”.  Steve noticed that my love of Jesus was everything to me, and he wanted to pursue my passion with his passions.  He wanted to join the church and youth group I attended.  His parents weren’t certain this would be a good idea.  After meeting my church family (which included my mom and dad) and allowing me to be their guide for their first day, Steve’s mom, dad, and middle brother began attending church along with Steve.  Steve’s entire family, including his oldest brother, would eventually surrender their lives to the Lord.   (Pause for Thought:  “Then Ananias went to the house and entered it.  Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit’.”—Acts 9:17.  Can you imagine Paul’s (Saul) first day as a follower of Christ?  How difficult would it have been for Paul to go from his anti-Christ attitude to an ambassador of Jesus without Ananias?  How have you struggled and who have you seen struggling with their “first days”?)
 
 I vividly remember my first day of driver’s education.  Steve and his family moved to South Carolina two-years prior to my summer driving course.  A mutual friend of Steve’s and mine asked if I had heard the news.  Steve was killed in a motorcycle accident a week before.  I cried.  Many years after Steve’s ascension, my church held a reunion, and Steve’s mom and dad travelled to Chelsea, Michigan to celebrate the church’s tenure.  When I saw them, we didn’t know what to say to each other.  The Spirit gave me the words to express how glad I was Steve found me my first day of school, and how it is only fitting Steve would find me to show me around on my first day in Heaven.  (Pause for Thought:  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified”—Romans 8:28-30.  What “first days” are heading your way?  How is God calling you to help another in their “first day”?)
 

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The Advocate

Spring has arrived, and with it, the nation’s pastime…Baseball.  In my youth, the baseball season-opener marked the beginning of five months of opportunity, revelry, and comradery.  It has been over fifteen years since I’ve played a game of baseball or softball, but my mind and soul still wander to the green fields of yesteryear and the names with faces of those who accompanied me in my athletic pursuits on the ball diamond.   (Pause for Thought:  “All this I have spoken while still with you.  But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”—John 14:25-26.  What times or places remind you of people you have not seen for a while?  How did these people (or this person) influence you to the point of remembrance?)
 
I’ve lately been thinking of a circumstance that happened when I was thirteen years-old playing catcher for a baseball team who’d drafted me quite unexpectedly.  The team had been together for two or three years.  The coach selected me from my old team to replace the catcher on his team.  He moved his regular catcher to second base to make room for me as the everyday catcher.
 
I played well for the team until one play at a key moment in a game against my new team’s arch rival.  With the winning run on third base, the hitter bunted the ball.  From my catcher’s position, I lost sight of the ball; looking for it on the ground at my feet, the air over my head, and the fence at the backstop.  While frantically searching, the winning run for the other team crossed home plate.  To my dismay, the third baseman had the ball all the time, and I failed to notice.  (Pause for Thought:  “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin.  But if anybody does sin, we have an Advocate with the FatherJesus Christ, the righteous one.  He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”—I John 2:1-2.  Have you ever felt like the “weakest link” in a family, community, or group?  How did you deal with these feelings?  Have you ever felt like you were a “spiritual weak link”?  Who did you turn to?)
 
The damage had been done.  The coach worked us hard and silently the first part of the following practice.  After about an hour, he made us sit on the bleachers.  He began to voice his displeasure with me in no uncertain terms.  The coach even did his best whirling dervish imitation to mock my failed attempt to locate the bunted ball.
 

Then something happened out of nowhere.  As I sat alone at the end of the bleachers, covered in my sweat and the dust from the field, Charlie, our centerfielder stood up and interrupted the coach’s mocking.  Charlie was a few years older than me and the brother of the boy I had replaced as catcher.  He said to the coach he was wrong to single me out for the loss, and he pointed to the team’s inability to win the game.  Charlie came over to me and shook my hand, and all my teammates surrounded me.  I saw Jesus in Charlie that day, and I can’t help but remember both of them every Spring.  (Pause for Thought:  “Even now my witness is in Heaven; my advocate is on high.  My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God as one pleads for a friend.”—Job 16:19-21.  When has someone stood up for you?  How does knowing Jesus stands at the right hand of God vouching for your body, soul, and spirit change the way you look at living life and taking risks for the Kingdom?)


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The Art of Recovery

Fishing Fletcher’s Floodwaters through the summer—Memorial Day to September—was a pleasure.  The water levels of the flooding stayed high enough to make for excellent catches of fish.  By Labor Day weekend, the water level diminished to the point all stumps and snags, once well below the water’s surface, lay exposed.  Fishing became problematic.  It was time to take slow boat rides and collect the summer’s lost fishing lures from their underwater tombs.  (Pause for Thought:  “Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body will also rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay.”—Psalm 16:9-10.  When have you felt abandoned?  What circumstances (finances, relationships, work, etc.) seem to overwhelm you with dread and loneliness?  How have you been rescued from these circumstances in the past?)
 
It was a treasure hunt for my family and me.  My dad and I would get in our boat and my grandpa would get in his.  We meandered through the once submerged forest looking for shiny, colorful, patches on the starkly dark, gloomy, tree trunks and branches.  Often, the lures and baits were so corroded and decaying, the hooks would disintegrate as you pulled them from the bark and grime.  The rust and pitting betrayed how long the baits had been left and forgotten.  It became a contest amongst us as to who could collect the most and best baits.  (Pause for Thought:  “But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.’  ‘Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?  Though she may forget, I will not forget you!  See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me’.”—Isaiah 49:14-16.  What emotional scars and distrust (fears) do you experience because of past abandonments?  Does knowing Jesus, through his crucifixion, empathizes and sympathizes with you help you to recover and, if yes, how?)
 

My grandpa would take the recovered lures, and using his God-given talents, restore them to pristine condition.  Many times the lures were improved with little flourishes and “touches” unique to my grandpa’s talents as a craftsman and fishermen.  Trolling lures received squirrel tail dressing to add life-like movement.  Spoons and jigs received fish-appropriate paint jobs that could withstand the stresses of rocks, wood, and fish teeth.  I loved receiving these baits back from my grandpa during Christmas and birthdays.  It was purposeful art created from long lost possessions recovered by those who took the time and effort to care.  (Pause for Thought:  “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.”—1 Peter 5:10.  How does this Holy Week culminating in Jesus’ resurrection and restoration to the throne help you in your current circumstances?  What joy do you have for your future now that sin, and its consequence of death, has been defeated?  What hope and strength can you gain from your association with Jesus’ suffering, death, and recovery from the grave?)


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Gaining Perspective

I like to ask my son about his thoughts and feelings regarding serious world matters we encounter together.  It becomes a little puzzle game when he and I have an opportunity to really get at the heart of matters.  His perspective and mine often differ, and it makes for some good conversation.  For instance, last weekend, we were watching our favorite show, and the host ended the show with a spirited monologue detailing his feelings regarding injustices his town was experiencing.  I thought this a good opportunity to ask my son, “Whaddya Think?”     (Pause for Thought: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” – Proverbs 1:7  How often do you factor in God’s thoughts on a subject for your decision making?  How often does the Lord ask you, “What Do You Think”?)
 
I wanted my son to express his solution to the matter and see how he would accomplish the solution (i.e. laws, persuasive speeches, writing, etc.).  He determined to solve the matter by making everyone be Christians.  I asked him why, and he replied they would then know peace.  He explained people would go to church, and read the Bible, and therefore, demonstrate a peaceful, righteous, relationship with each other.  I asked him if reading the Bible and going to church had resulted in peace within his own house, and he determined it didn’t always.  We each confessed the way to peace isn’t in being a “Christian-Doing”, but by being in a continual conversation with God to gain His perspective on matters of living.  (Pause for Thought:  “So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.  For who is able to govern this great people of yours?  So God said to him, ‘Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have you asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked.  I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be’.”—I Kings 3:9-12  Can you name three things the Lord gives, without hesitation, to His people?  Why, do you suppose, people choose not to ask God for wisdom and insight.  Have you ever asked God for wisdom concerning a matter in your life?  What were the short and long term results?)
 
A young man named Solomon was in a difficult situation.  The governance and justice of an entire kingdom rested on his shoulders.  God asked him, “Whaddya Think?”  Solomon said he thought wisdom, God’s perspective on matters, would bring the “shalom” (highest-good, peace) he and his kingdom required.  In essence, a prayerful conversation ensued, and when Solomon continued to ask God, “Whaddya Think”, the path towards the highest-good was found by Solomon and the nation of Israel.  It’s amazing when my son and I ask each other for our thoughts on a matter; it’s God’s truths from his word that we truly hear in our souls; like the verse that came to use while discussing our thoughts on justice and what people needed in the situation we heard about:  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the PEACE that PASSES ALL UNDERSTANDING, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”   (Pause for Thought:  “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord—and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.”—Isaiah 11:2-3a  How often do people seek your advice or perspective on a matter?  What is the basis/authority of your responses?  What will you ask God for this week?)
 

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Bearing Devotion

“Don’t come between momma bear and her cub,” were the words from my Dad as he witnessed someone taking responsibility for my son in the presence of my wife.  My dad often refers to my wife as “momma bear”.  It stands to reason since female grizzly bears are quite possessive of their responsibility for raising their offspring, and they demand intense devotion from the cubs while instructing them on the course of survival.  I’ve seen the Ursus arctos Horribilis (Latin for Mainland Grizzly Bear) manifest in my wife and dish out quite the scolding to perpetrator and son alike.  Jesus takes his responsibility for his children very seriously too.   (Pause for Thought:  “Better to meet a bear robbed of her cubs than a fool in his folly”—Proverbs 17:12.  “Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to the person through whom they come.  It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin’.”—Luke 17:1-2. What emotions do you feel when you think Jesus is responsible for your completeness in body, soul, and spirit?  What questions do you have in regards to His and your responsibility in your relationship with Him?  If you are a parent, how do you want your children to view and feel about your responsibility to them?  Should/Do you feel the same way towards God since He is your heavenly Father?)
 
I’ve just finished a book on the history of grizzly bear encounters in North America.  It’s amazing how many human-bear interactions are the results of the protectiveness of a she-bear for her cubs.  Cubs have no fear of humans, and the she-grizzly is quit relentless in her efforts to keep people from hurting her cubs.  Many accounts documenting a grizzly’s mauling and/or killing of a person, even after she has been mortally wounded, illustrate her tenacity and relentless effort to responsibly care for her cubs.
 
A mother grizzly will teach her cubs to avoid not only people, but also male grizzly bears.  A male grizzly will kill cubs, so the mothers will go into season for mating.  Many are the times, a sow grizzly will attack a boar grizzly larger than her to insure the cubs survive and avoid serious threat.
 
She is responsible to show her little ones where, what, and when to eat.  Contrary to popular thought, grizzly bears don’t eat everything all the time.  A grizzly will steer clear of a lowly skunk, and if they obey, cubs will not eat a porcupine because of the mother’s instruction.  The quills will cover the cubs’ mouth, so they cannot eat the foods the mother shows her cubs, thus making the threat of starvation a reality.  The mother will instruct the bear cubs to not eat and slow down during the winter, so as to reserve their energy (Sabbath?).  A cub or young adult grizzly that tries to forage through winter, instead of hibernating, will starve to death.  (Pause for Thought:  “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’  Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you.  This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’.”—Matthew 26:26-28.  In what ways has Jesus cared for you?  Your family?  Has He let you down?  In what area of your life do you want to trust Him more?)
 
Like my wife feels her reputation as a mother is on the line when people, including my son, see her taking responsibility for my son’s upbringing, Jesus’ feels His reputation is on the line, as our Savior, for His taking responsibility for establishing us with a place and position within His kingdom.  The least we can do as His disciples (devoted ones) is obey Him.  (Pause for Thought:  “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”—John 15:10-11)
 

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Appreciative Understanding

Ants and Aphids.  Two completely different insects, yet they enjoy a relationship that brings forth a beautiful example of God’s wonderful design.  The aphid is a defenseless insect with many known enemies and threats.  Ants are industrious and purposeful and live out a quite intelligent life.  So much so, ants of the “dairying” variety will protect and support a healthy population of aphids instead of destroying them in their helpless condition.  The aphid, in return, will exude an excess of “honey dew” from the saps it sucks from plants, and in gratefulness for what the ants do and who they are, they allow the ants to consume the honey dew from off their body. (Pause for Thought:  “Blessed are those who have LEARNED to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O Lord.  They rejoice in your name all day long; they exult in your righteousness.”—Psalm 89:15-16.  What divine design of God’s have you witnessed that makes you want to enthusiastically and publicly worship Him?  How often do you point out God’s design for your family/children, so they can celebrate in worship?)
 
We have no further to go, in God’s Word, than a few pages before we encounter one who showed his appreciation in understanding God’s divine design for redemption.  Abel gave God the perfect first-fruit of his flock of sheep as a blood sacrifice of gratefulness.  He had heard of God’s provision of a slain animal to cover the emotional and spiritual condition of nakedness, separation, and exposure of his parents after they sinned in the Garden.  Adam and Eve attempted to cover their sin with leaves, but God in His purpose-filled design, shed the blood of an animal to atone for their sin, and give them clothes.  Abel was grateful for this and demonstrated his appreciation in worshipful understanding.  He knew the truth of God’s design and acknowledged it to God.  (Pause for Thought:  “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness—Hebrews 9:22.  “God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.”—John 4:24.  What kind of items do you have around your house illustrating God’s divine design and intention for His creation-i.e. books, music, art, food, clothes, etc.  How often do you point these out to your family and children as a way of appreciating God’s design and teaching them to understand, so they can live up to God’s intention?  Will you do so this week?)
 

I have encountered people who suppose God must look and consider them in the same they look and consider ants.  I’m not sure how they can rate people as high as ants.  I wonder if that is why Cain’s story turned out the way it did.  Cain never understood or accepted the Divine design.  He repeated the mistake his parents made in trying to cover his sins, and maybe the sins of the world at the time (see Genesis 3:15), with his own efforts from what came from the ground.  I imagine Adam, Eve, and Abel tried to explain God’s design of care and provision and imitate it for him, but with the bitterness of an ungrateful heart, Cain lacked a worshipful spirit, and he continued in the iniquity of his ways.  We need to consider and be the aphid.  (Pause for Thought:  “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.  They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.  And they cried out in a loud voice:  ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne and to the Lamb’.”—Revelation 8:13.  What do you need saved from in your life right now?  How does/will your rescue fit into the Divine Design?  How will you show your appreciation for your place and being within God’s design?)


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Means & Ends

Philosophy 101 taught us to think rationally and logically regarding the world around us.  For instance, if A=B and B=C, then A=C.  These little formulas became the grounds for our understanding of things perceived in nature, regarded in character, and encountered in literature.  Political Science courses taught us to use things understood rationally and logically in world history and governments to determine outcomes and create change.  We studied and argued concepts like, “Is it better to be feared than loved?” and “Does the end justify the means or do the means justify the end?” (Pause for Thought:  “And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.—Romans 8:30.  Notice the “where” and “when” in this verse.  Our justification and glorification is here and now.  What kind of freedom does this give you?  How will you use your freedom for others?)
 
Please allow me to refer back to last week’s article where it was proposed that Jesus made certain all of the big uncertainties in living a human life—“What happens when I die?” and “Who am I?”  Because Jesus was who he was—both God and human—and because he experienced every known “unknown” mankind could ever experience, he determined our place (justification) and our being (glorification).  He made the ending certain.  We can speak and live with certainty as to where we are going and who’s we are.  Therefore, in the case of Christ’s HIStory and government, the end justifies the means.  (Pause for Thought:  “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?  It is God who justifies.  Who is he that condemns?  Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God interceding for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness or danger or sword?—Romans 8:33-35.  How is Jesus Christ’s government different from worldly governments?  Why, do you suppose, we place such conviction and personal attention to maintaining shifting governments instead of following a King and Kingdom of such certainty?  What would the world look like if earthly governments pledged their allegiance to Jesus?  What would your family look like if they pledged their allegiance to Jesus?)
 

If Jesus’ end justifies our place and being, what does that mean for us?  What then should be our response to all of this?  If you are like most Christians I encounter, they are on a path of trying to earn this justification and glorification.  But if something has already been given to you, how can you earn it?  You can’t.  You are supposed to use it.  I figure, scripturally speaking, we use it in three ways—APPRECIATION=WORSHIP (Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.—Psalm 95:6-7); DEVOTION=OBEDIENCE (Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than men!”—Acts 5:29); and IMITATION=SACRIFICE (Therefore, I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.—Romans 12:1).  (Pause for Thought:  How does knowing the end make it easier to live out your appreciation, devotion, and imitation of Jesus?  In what practical ways will you live up to your justification and glorification in front of others this week?)

 

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Living Up

I’m always fascinated when I meet someone who reads the last chapter of a book first.  I’ve been told knowing the outcome allows for a more fulfilling reading experience.  I suppose once the uncertainty of the ending is known, the means to the end is better understood and more appreciated.  Maybe that is why Jesus took care of humanity’s most uncertain aspects to living—“What happens when I die, and who am I?”—when He arrived, lived, died, rose, and ascended.  The last chapter is a foregone conclusion.  (Pause for Thought:  “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.  We believe that Jesus died and rose again, so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him.”—I Thessalonians 4:13-14.  What uncertainties are you and your family facing this year?  How does knowing death is nothing but a short sleep with Jesus help you face these uncertainties?  Remember, when you fall asleep at night, you don’t cease to be who you were when you awake.  Since this is so, what do you suppose we carry with us into Heaven?  What do you suppose is left behind?)
 
My wife, son, and I always pray before we part for work and school in the mornings.  The first school day of this year, I asked my son what he wanted to work on and perfect this semester.  I was thinking he would request prayer for an academic or intellectual pursuit, but instead, he said he wanted to know more about what a Christian does and who a Christian is.  His request exuded uncertainty.  He is currently living in an “earn it or lose it” state of being.  (Pause for Thought:  “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, 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.”—I Peter 2:9-10.  How does a royal priesthood look and act?  Are you basing your response on Jesus’s example or the world’s?  What, if any, difference is there between Jesus’s example of royalty and priesthood and the world’s?  What “certainties” does Jesus’s example bring with it?)
 

I want my son to understand a Christian (Jesus Christ Follower) doesn’t try to earn the places, rights, and privileges given to him, but focuses on living up to these gifts given freely by his heavenly Father.  My son’s eventual physical death is just falling asleep and waking up with Jesus—again.  Nothing can stop that from happening.  My son is a king in the order of Jesus—no one can take that away.  I want these grace-filled certainties to be the basis for his living and wisdom.  His place, my place, is guaranteed always—now and forever—at our Father’s table.  Our earthly failures will not be a reason for our removal from our place at His table, but an opportunity for us to live up to the gracious gift and accompanying responsibilities from our Lord Jesus Christ.  (Pause for Thought:  “You are those who have stood by me in my trials.  And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”—Luke 22:28-30.  What is the basis for being a Christ follower?  How do you view trials when they appear?  Do you try to earn your way closer to the King?  Do you believe the trial has come as a punishment for something you did or didn’t do?  How do you view Jesus’ authority and yours when these trials arrive?  If you will allow me, I would like to speak more to the subject of “living up” in next week’s article.)


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