He is Here (Revelation 3:20)

jesus_knocking_at_your_door

Forgotten first love, our hunger is lacking

We’ve left Him adrift in a sea of disdain

He stands at the door, awaiting the asking.

 

We no longer see what with Him we obtain

The Vine feeds the branch, but we want our poison

We’ve left Him adrift in a sea of disdain.

 

Hold tight to the Vine, we’ll rejoice in union

Yet faith is belief, expecting in unseen

The Vine feeds the branch, but we want our poison.

 

We say we want God, but there’s dogma between

He longs to come and with us break bread

Yet faith is belief expecting in unseen.

 

If we’d just focus on seeking him instead

The door only opens from inside to out

He longs to come in and with us break bread.

 

We’re filled with self-made doctrine leading to doubt

Forgotten first love, our hunger is lacking

The door only opens from inside out

He stands at the door, awaiting the asking.

Free Christmas Gifts for You

branch-and-bird

I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. (John 15:5, The Message)

In the U.S., the Thanksgiving holiday is over. Yet my thankfulness exceeds a five-day weekend feast.

I am incredibly thankful for the peace-filled place I am in, joined with Christ who led me into my Father’s embrace. God’s arms are full of unconditional love, extravagant compassion and outrageous grace and mercy.

My mission as a follower of Jesus is

to bring others back to Him. It is central to our good news that God was in Christ making things right between Himself and the world. This means He does not hold their sins against them. But it also means He charges us to proclaim the message that heals and restores our broken relationships with God and each other. (2 Corinthians 5:19:20)

I subscribe to this mission and to Christ’s directive, from our Father, to love each other, love our neighbors, and yes, love our enemies. I believe this is the only effective and provable way to lead people to our faithful and loving God.

It is one way as a branch of Christ I live out my faith. It is one way I can reach out and offer my gifts, received through God’s Spirit, to you.

After an 8-year journey of writing, editing and re-writing, today I offer to you free, my Branches Devotional Workbooks.

All five. All free. All year.

As a favor, would you please reblog so this gift reaches as many brothers and sisters as possible?

Thank you.

To receive one or all, and read more detail about these devotionals, visit Branches Devotionals.

Love is Not a Metaphor

©susanirenefox
©susanirenefox

The Lord was drinking some water out of a glass. There was nothing wrong with the glass, but the water tasted terrible. This was in a white building on a vast wasteland. The engineers within wore white uniforms and bootees on their shoes and gloves on their hands. The water had traveled many hundreds of miles through wide pipes to be there.

What have you done to my water? The Lord asked. My living water…

Oh, they said, we thought that was a metaphor. (*(©2016, Joy Williams)

Love can conquer fear and hate if we allow ourselves to love.

At the same time, love will cost us something.

Agápē love is the highest form of love. It is the kind of unconditional love which comes from God –a love that transcends behavior or circumstance.

It is the love the apostle Paul described in his first letter to the Corinthians. He urged them to use their Spiritual gifts from this place of agápē love, and explained to them if they did not, their gifts would be useless and bankrupt.

Love is patient; love is kind. There is no arrogance in love. It’s never rude or crude; its not self-absorbed, easily upset or keep score of wrongs. Love doesn’t celebrate injustice, but truth is love’s delight. Love never gives up, never looks back and never loses faith. Love is always hopeful endures all things through every circumstance. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

As my focus becomes more about following Christ and pointing to him as a loving, compassionate and inclusive God, some of my own brothers and sisters in Christ have denounced me for this focus and said, “You are not my sister.” Some have even defended Christ, saying, “Jesus wasn’t a weakling!”

On the contrary, our God is powerful; Jesus is powerful and does not need defending. Agápē love is powerful. Agápē love is courageous. Agápē love is dangerous.

You cannot be a weakling or timid or a coward to love like that. It takes being filled with strength, fearlessness and sacredness to bestow agápē love.

Conversely, if you are unwilling or unable to love like God, you have not let go of powerless, fear and disapproval. You have not yet allowed the fullness of agápē love to replace those other things that choke out the love of God.

God is love is not a metaphor.

Love God is not a metaphor.

Love your neighbor is not a metaphor.

Love each other is not a metaphor.

They will know you are My disciples by your love is not a metaphor.

Love your enemy is not a metaphor.

Perfect love casts out fear is not a metaphor.

I am thankful today for my Father’s love, for the love of Jesus Christ. I will be thankful tomorrow for the fullness of His unconditional love, grace and forgiveness. I am thankful He has taught me how to give agápē love.

I pray this day that tomorrow you pray a humble and sincere prayer of thanksgiving and choose agápē love.

Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose. (Proverbs 18:21, The Msg)

 

*(©2016, Joy Williams, Wet, from ninety-nine stories of GOD, Tin House Books)

Christians, Let Us Remember

glowing-cross

Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you oh Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)

It is finally the day after, and we all woke up this morning as Americans. Yet we are Christians first.

Some voted (or did not vote) as an expression of anger or protest. Many more of us used our vote as an instrument of principle. Whatever the outcome, our call in Christ is for reconciliation.

Many factions have sought to divide us, have sought to have us focus on flaws and sin instead of mercy and grace. The enemy has infiltrated our hearts, our thoughts, and our words.

“It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” (Matthew 15:11)

handsqueezingheartWe have several choices today and over the next four years.

We can let our shock and disappointment grow fear in our hearts. We can continue to brood, letting our anger simmer until it boils over into a rage that we can no longer contain. We can continue to cast blame, point fingers, and feed our resentment. Either of these choices will keep the door open for the enemy to squeeze Christ’s living water, grace and love out of our hearts.

 

On the other hand, we can choose to accept the results with grace. We can pray for our new President, for all the members of our new Senate and House of Representatives. We can pray there will be (or already has been) a gracious concession speech without bitterness or rancor. We can pray for a peaceful transition of power. We can pray for progress over politics. We can work wholeheartedly to unite our country.

In January, the hand of the winner of this hard-fought election will be placed on a Bible. The new President will take the Oath of Office. We can choose to put behind us the animosity we have lived with the last 20 months and instead, take up our cross and the mission of reconciliation. We can choose to be the light and the mouth of Christ.

You see, the controlling force in our lives is the love of Christ; Christ’s love guides us. He died for us so that we will all live, not for ourselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. Because of all that God has done, we now have a new perspective; we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. Whoever is a believer in Christ is a new creation. The old way of living has disappeared. A new way of living has come into existence. All of this is a gift from our Creator, who pursued us and brought us into a restored and healthy relationship with Him through Christ.

And He has given us the same mission – the ministry of reconciliation – to bring others back to Him. He reconciled the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And He gave us this wonderful mission of reconciliation. We are Christ’s ambassadors; God makes His appeal through us. (2 Corinthians 5:14-20)

His Embrace

father-holding-newborn

When we search His call, abide in love,

as we open all to God above

in our praise and prayer, we worship and declare

our God none to compare,

we feel His embrace, feel His embrace.

 

If we see neighbors through Father’s eyes

(neighbors – those heirs who we may despise),

it’s not “them” we see, but seeds of Diety

Who made us family.

We feel His embrace, feel His embrace.

 

And He loves without prerequisite

even though we doubt and won’t commit.

There’s plenty of space to make enough mistakes;

He gives mercy and grace.

We feel His embrace, feel His embrace.

 

His command: we are to love bar none

no matter what our likes, says Savior Son.

We have a choice, yet His will remains unmet;

in this will we regret?

We feel His embrace, feel His embrace.

 

Open hearts and heads to Life and Light;

His lavish grace will spread to all in sight.

As we pass kindness along, we become blessed,

have moved to His likeness.

We feel His embrace, feel His embrace.

 

 Luke 10:25-37

Are We Ready?

not-listening-jim-carrey

In Luke’s account of the Sermon on the Mount, (The Sermon on the Plain, Luke 6:17-52), he records Jesus telling us to love our enemies and pray for them. He writes of Jesus instructing us to refrain from judging or condemning others. He recounts Jesus reminding us to look at the logs in our own eyes first. (Luke 6:27-42).

I’ve read and quoted these verses many times, yet as I read them again, I noticed a key phrase for the very first time.

The Bible is like that – God’s word never changes, but if we allow it, the Spirit continues to mature us in our faith and transform us in ways we never though possible. Mysteries open our eyes to passages we have never seen before. We have “Aha” moments, and understand the words of the Lord more deeply. We gain clarity in areas of former confusion. We have breakthroughs divergent from long held beliefs.

To you who are ready for the truth; But I tell everyone who is listening; But to you who are willing to listen; But I say to you who hear; If you’re listening, here’s My message: (Luke 6:27)

The quote above is from five different Bible versions. In Matthew’s account (Matthew 5.1) by contrast, Jesus begins by sitting down and waiting until the crowd had gathered around him. Luke, who was a physician and known for his precision in chronicling detailed and accurate accounts, tells us Jesus begins his sermon by addressing those who were willing to hear the truth.

God speaks to each of us, but do we listen? Do we stop to pay attention to His whispers? When we pray, do we make time to listen for His response?

seven-deadly-sins-620x320Do we compartmentalize God’s commands when they don’t fit nicely into our acceptable framework? Do we pick and choose which commands to follow like we choose items off an á la carte menu? Do we prioritize the sins of others as more egregious than our own?

If we commit to follow Jesus, we must follow all His commands. Jesus was sent from God; he is an equal part of the Trinity, and appeared to us as the physical embodiment of the Father to bring us back into our Father’s embrace. We have the Spirit to remind us of his words – words of life – commands to keep us following in his footsteps. His commands keep us together in unity, in understanding and in healing. God wants us to continue to choose life.

“Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life.” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)

Are we sometimes too obdurate in our points of view, too inflexible in our behavioral habits, made too intractable by fear or anger to stop and listen, to reevaluate, to consider Jesus just might be right?  

A Tale of Two Pastors

Thinking Deeper than Skin

church

I read a post last week from a pastor in response to a list made by African American State Senator Jamilah Nasheed of this country’s current injustices, citing her reasons for declining to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.

Before I tell you about that pastor’s reaction, I’d like to tell you about my pastor’s response to a similar occurrence.

Eric Reid, 49ers safety, who took a knee during the national anthem with Colin Kaepernick, is a member of our church family. Our pastor, who is from European ancestry, knows Eric and knows his heart, but didn’t understand or necessarily agree with the gesture. What did my pastor choose to do?

He reached out to Eric, and asked him if he would be willing to have a video taped conversation to be played for the entire congregation over our four campuses. Our pastor wanted us all to have a better understanding of this issue of racial injustice, and the response to it of many who are taking a knee or sitting out the Pledge of Allegiance or the National Anthem.

Before Reid and Kaepernick took a knee, they had a conversation with Nate Boyer, former Army Green Beret and Seattle Seahawks long snapper. One of their goals was to find a way to show respect to the military while still honoring their own protest and beliefs. In the conversation with our pastor, and in other interviews, Eric Reid said:

“Colin was speaking to something that’s very true and prevalent in our country and those issues do need to be addressed and I discussed this with him and prayed about it. We wanted to make a statement but we wanted to be respectful. That’s why we knelt. There have been things that have happened lately that have struck a nerve with me. I mean, we’re America. We should be the best at everything we do. This is bigger than football.

“Tweeting at each other doesn’t accomplish anything. Sitting down with each other face to face, having a conversation with someone who doesn’t see eye to eye with you, that’s how you find middle ground, that’s how you find understanding, that’s how you put yourself in somebody else’s shoes and that’s how you make our country better.”

“Sitting down with each other face to face, having a conversation with someone who doesn’t see eye to eye with you, that’s how you find understanding, that’s how you make our country better.” Eric Reid

The pastor of our church is dedicated to grace, to spiritual maturity, to healing, to reconciliation. He is dedicated to building bridges and community. Thank you, Pastor Steve, for continuing this conversation and for leading and encouraging our ekklesia – gathering of people – to begin this conversation on our own.

So, back to this other pastor.

This pastor stated that he addressed Senator Nasheed’s list of injustices in light of his recent trip to a poverty-stricken, war-torn country, comparing in part the injustices in this country to the injustices of the other country. That is certainly one way to approach the injustices here; however, this pastor could have used his experience to should sharpen his focus on our own injustices, allowing him to contemplate a different cultural perspective. If he could place himself in others’ shoes in another country, why not in ours?

When Senator Nasheed wrote of the injustice of police brutality this other pastor said, “I’m sorry, but I’m sick and tired of this ‘police brutality’ business…Why not compare our supposed brutality to that of the cops in Iran?” Placing “police brutality” in quotes as he did, and preceding it with ‘supposed’ invalidates the experiences of a large portion of our American population. The unexplained death of a woman stopped for a traffic violation and assaulted by the policeman inside of her car for smoking a cigarette is brutality. And that is only a single instance.

When Senator Nasheed listed the injustice of poverty — the underfunding of our public schools, the other pastor wrote, “Seriously, how is being poor an injustice when the poor in this country are infinitely more wealthy than the majority of people in [war torn country]?” Again, that does not invalidate the economy of this country or the systemic differences in the way public schools are funded here. Go into any two public schools – one in a poor, urban community and one in a wealthy suburban area and compare textbooks, libraries, computer labs, science equipment, gymnasiums and sports equipment. It becomes readily evident.

When Senator Nasheed listed the injustice of voter suppression — passing Voter ID laws, the other pastor said, “So it’s injustice – as opposed to being just and lawful – to require that a person placing a vote in an election actually show proof [of] legal citizenship of this country? Do you even understand the definition of ‘justice’” Our American higher courts have defined justice quite clearly.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned North Carolina’s voter I.D. law and stated North Carolina legislators had passed the law with discriminatory intent,” and that its provisions deliberately target African Americans with almost surgical precision” in an effort to discourage black turnout at the polls.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Texas that struck down the voter I.D. law found not only that the law discriminated, but that it was intentionally designed to do so.”

A U.S. District Judge in Wisconsin struck down several provision of its State law, stating, “preoccupation with mostly phantom election fraud leads to real incidents of disenfranchisement and exist only to suppress votes.

And in North Dakota, a U.S. Federal Judge blocked a law required photo I.D to vote stating, “The public interest in protecting the most cherished right to vote for thousands of Native Americans who currently lack a qualifying ID and cannot obtain one outweighs the purported interest and arguments of the State. No eligible voter, regardless of their station in life, should be denied the opportunity to vote.”

No eligible voter, regardless of their station in life, should be denied the opportunity to vote.” U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland

Senator Nasheed also listed the injustice of not having health care, the injustice of unlivable wages, the injustice of unequal pay for women, the injustice of mass incarceration and the injustice of economic disparity. The other pastor wrote equally misinformed reactions (equal pay for women: “This a load of absolute baloney;” mass incarceration: “I suppose letting drug dealers, rapists, muggers, back out on the street just because of skin color would be the best choice?”) to the remainder of Senator Nasheed’s list, but I believe this is enough to see the comparison between the two pastors, and my own responses would be too lengthy to go into here.

I will only ask this pastor, as the shepherd of a congregation of Christ’s church – of His ekklesia – wouldn’t it be your mission to provide unity, encouragement, leadership and a safe place to worship for every member of your flock? To be well informed, invite conversations and seek solutions rather than condemnation?

Another of our pastors, Steve Ingold, spoke to us this past Sunday of the need for critical conversations. He said:

“Get to know someone different than you. Get to know their hearts. Choose to listen and understand. Choose to call someone and ask instead of choosing to judge and criticize and distance yourself. We have to do better as His church.” Pastor Steve Ingold, Cornerstone Fellowship

I respectfully and humbly pray this second pastor extends an invitation to lunch to persons of color and to women and begin to ask questions – not as someone superior, not as someone who thinks he knows better, but as someone who is ignorant of the experience of someone different than him, as someone who is humble enough to say, “I don’t know; teach me.