Self-imposed Exile

A self-imposed exile is a terribly lonely place filled with fragments of broken dreams, bits and pieces of promises unkept, and ominous shadows of betrayals done to you. You are not in that place because you were forced there. You are there by your choice. You have isolated yourself in an attempt to avoid the pain that inevitably comes from having relationships.

Is it better to seal yourself off, to make your world smaller in order to avoid potential pain? Is it better to keep people at arm’s length so that they will not say something insensitive or do something that wounds your heart? In this cave of woes into which you retreat, you will find anger, bitterness, and deeper regret. When you make our world smaller, you make yourself smaller. You may avoid added pain but you also limit greater joy. There is a reason exile was used as punishment; it hurts the one who is isolated.

No one has forced you into your self-imposed exile and no one is keeping you there but you. Emerge. Hear Jesus call to you as he did to Lazarus. Come forth! That cave is not where I intend you to be. I have a whole world for you. Yes, there will be triumphs and defeats, joys and sorrows, laughter and tears, but in the exile of your choosing there is only the false security that comes with isolation.

Using Jesus

Jesus is to be worshiped, honored, and followed. He is not to be used.

Every election cycle Jesus gets pulled out of the mothballs and brought forward as a political prop. Politicians, many of whom rarely darken the doors of church buildings, now spout a verse or two of Scripture (often out of context) and may even offer up a prayer every now and then. But politicians are the only ones who use Jesus to their own ends.

One of the earliest known confessions of faith was “Jesus is Lord.” Modern day believers use that phrase, too. We declare that Jesus is both Savior and Lord of our lives. By “Savior” we mean that He died for our sins on the cross and was resurrected giving us the hope of a new and eternal life in Him.

By “Lord” we mean that Jesus is the boss. We relinquish control of our lives to Him. He’s not our co-pilot; we give Him the driver’s seat! He sits on throne of our lives guiding our decisions and lighting our way.

We may not struggle with the concept of Jesus as Savior – He’s our “get out of hell free” card – but we do struggle with the idea of Jesus being in control of our lives. We kind of like the feeling of being in control ourselves, so often we will declare that “Jesus is Lord” but live as if, in truth, we are.

When we choose to claim the mantle of lord of our own lives, we will soon find ourselves in hot water, quick sand, or some other metaphorical but very real dilemma. It is then that we turn our faces heavenward and ask Jesus to bail us out, yet again. And often He does just that.
Truth be told, often Jesus becomes Lord only when it’s convenient for us. That is using Jesus!

But what if we quit using Jesus? What if we chose to declare Him Lord from the moment we woke up to the moment we dozed off? What if He were truly Lord of our time, our words, our thoughts, our finances, our diets, our everything? How would our lives change? How might the world be changed?
D. L. Moody said, “The world has yet to see what God can do with and for and through and in and by the man who is fully and wholly consecrated to Him. I will try my utmost to be that man.” I pray they find out and soon.

Redeeming Love

A song has been playing in my head throughout the week.  It’s not a new song.  It was written in 1800 by a brilliant man, but one who was often given to bouts of deep depression.  The man was William Cowper.  The song is “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood.”  Here are the words most commonly sung:

There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he wash all my sins away.

Dear dying Lamb, thy precious blood shall never lose its power;
Till all the ransomed church of God are saved, to sin no more.

For since by faith I saw the stream thy flowing wounds supply;
Redeeming love has been my theme and shall be till I die.

These words have been sung using a variety of tunes.  I am personally enjoying the version by City Hymns.  But it is the power of these words that grips my mind and stirs my soul, for the song speaks of a redemption that comes by the shed blood of Jesus Christ and the cleansing I have received because of it.

“Redeeming love has been my theme and shall be till I die.”  What is the theme of your life? What is that truth that holds your life together and gives it meaning? There is no greater theme or more solid truth than the redeeming love of God shown in the person and work of His Son Jesus Christ.

What It’s All About

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At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.  The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!  And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often.  The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them. Luke 2:1-20, NLT

A Dying Preacher

An old preacher was dying. He sent a message for his doctor and his lawyer, both church members, to come to his home. When they arrived, they were ushered up to his bedroom. As they entered the room the preacher held out his hands and motioned for them to sit, one on each side of his bed. The preacher grasped their hands, sighed contentedly, smiled and stared at the ceiling. For a time, no one said anything. Both the doctor and lawyer were touched and flattered that the preacher would ask them to be with him during his final moments. They were also puzzled; the preacher had never given them any indication that he particularly liked either of them. They both remembered his many long, uncomfortable sermons about greed, covetousness and avaricious behavior that made them squirm in their seats.

Finally, the doctor said, “Preacher, why did you ask us to come?” The old preacher mustered up his strength, then said weakly, “Jesus died between two thieves; and that’s how I want to go.”

Nearing the end of our lives gives us perspective. We are able to see what is truly important and what only appears to be important. We won’t be trying to make a point in our final moments; instead we will want to know we’ve made a difference. We will want to know our lives mattered.

We build our legacy day-by-day in the big and small things that make up our lives. Our legacy is formed in our relationships. If you eulogy were written today, would you be pleased with what it said? If not, begin today to change your legacy. You only get this one life; make it matter!

You be Jesus!

A mother was preparing pancakes for her sons, Kevin, 5, and Ryan, 3. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson. If Jesus were sitting here, He would say, “Let my brother have the first pancake. I can wait.” Kevin turned to his younger brother and said, “Ryan, you be Jesus.”

Jesus instructs us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. This is a lovely sentiment, but it can be a challenge to put into practice. Very often, we want our needs and wants to be met first. If I take the time, effort, and resources to meet your needs, I might not have enough for what I need or want. What a dilemma you’ve given us, Jesus!

In the end, it all boils down to who is Lord. If Jesus is Lord, then we will want to lovingly obey His call. If we are Lord, then we can do what we please. The Apostle Paul makes it clear how we are to treat one another. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

Is Heaven Overrated?

In the Los Angeles Times, Joel Stein wrote, “Heaven is totally overrated. It seems boring. Clouds, listening to people play the harp. It should be somewhere you can’t wait to go, like a luxury hotel. Maybe blue skies and soft music were enough to keep people in line in the 17th century, but Heaven has to step it up a bit. They’re basically getting by because they only have to be better than Hell.”

Heaven is not overrated.  If anything, it is underrated, misunderstood, and unappreciated.  The notion that the inhabitants of heaven will spend endless days floating on clouds and playing harps is not biblical – not in the slightest!  And to prefer a stay at the Ritz to the majesty of heaven is woefully short-sighted and shows a complete ignorance of God’s revealed truth.

Take some time to read Revelation 21 and 22.  You will find God pulling back the curtain to allow the Apostle John to get a glimpse of the glories that await all followers of Jesus Christ.  It is a place that is beautiful beyond compare.  A sea of crystal, streets of transparent gold, and a new Jerusalem that is half the size of the moon – that’s beyond our ability to fully integrate into our thinking!

There is no way that with finite minds we can grasp the fullness of what an eternity with God in heaven will be like.  The greatest poet cannot capture its grandeur.  The greatest artist cannot paint its beauty.  Paul was right – “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Eternity is not clouds and harp music.  It is not endless rounds of under-par golf or endless days of catching fish.  As we open the pages of Scripture and allow God to show us what awaits His children, none of us will walk away thinking heaven is overrated; in fact, it may ignite within us a burning desire to want to spend our forever in that place!