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The other day a strange feeling came over me.

Don’t get me wrong about what I’m about to talk about here. I’m not claiming any powers of discernment or certainty.

I got the distinct feeling that there’s something wrong with a lot of people who say they are Jesus-followers/believers.

If you wan to supply your own vocabulary, like “aren’t saved” or “aren’t Christians,” do so at your own risk. I’m not saying that. (There’s other blogs for that, if you want to pursue that game).

No, but it was plain as daylight to me that when I hear a lot of people talk about Jesus, I feel like I’m hearing… an abridged version… an abbreviation if you will…

I said abbreviation. A shortened version of a real word. You see the abbreviation, you’re supposed to know what it means – yes, we all agree, we know what abbreviation means –

Don’t we?

We all know what the shorthanded version stands for.

Right?

Or perhaps, we don’t.

I’m beginning to think that when people say Jesus, the definition they mean can’t be trusted.

I’m getting the feeling that we’re talking about a kind of “mini-Jesus.” A diluted, declawed, demoted savior who is a symbolic representation for a kind of anemic, watered-down, unbiblical, culturally acceptable Jesus.

I get the feeling that if you move beyond the standard biographical paragraph, you’re going to discover that the Jesus you’re hearing about has considerably less to say than the Jesus as we meet him in the Gospels.

You’re going to discover that he has little or nothing to do with most of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, and the more demanding parts of the New.

You’re going to discover that there’s a remarkable resemblance between the abbreviated Jesus and the current version of political correctness. (Isn’t it unusual how Jesus takes an interest in whatever happens to be the current rage of the mainstream media these days?)

I’m not sure this abbreviated Jesus believes in hell.

He seems considerably more flexible on sexual matters that one would believe reading the Bible.

Living together before marriage? The abbreviated Jesus seems to have not issued a statement on that one.

I actually think the abbreviated Jesus doesn’t like to be bothered with issues of morality, character, or behavior. He’s mostly interested in larger political and cultural issues, or your experience at your local church, or how you’re doing in your relationships.

The abbreviated Jesus has quite a bit in common with contemporary “life coaches,” talk show hosts, political apologists, faith-based advocates, teachers of “principles,” community organizers and family value lobbyists.

The people who talk about the abbreviated Jesus don’t seem to know much about the Bible. Not at all.

But they still have a surprisingly strong opinion about the meaning of all kinds of things Jesus said and did in the Bible.

The abbreviated Jesus can convincingly seem like the real Jesus, until you look and listen closely. Then it appears that he’s lost his laptop, his luggage, and his cell phone. So for right now, he’s reading it all off the teleprompter.

The abbreviated Jesus doesn’t vary much from the script.

In fact – and this is what really got my attention – the abbreviated Jesus would only get crucified if there were some terrible mix-up.

The abbreviated Jesus is Jesus without the Biblical context, Jesus without church history, Jesus without Jesus theology, Jesus without costly discipleship, Jesus without offensive teaching or mysterious parables. The abbreviated Jesus is so easily explained, so comprehensible and user-friendly that anyone can follow him, even without instructions.

In millions of cases, the abbreviated Jesus is Jesus without the church. He’s Jesus who lets your pick your friends, pick your community, and pick your comfortable seat. He’s OK with whatever your plans are for the weekend. He’s not making demands of your time. He’s a major spokesperson for unplugging the fourth commandment. He’s not making any demands on your money that don’t follow your emotions. He wants you to feel personally fulfilled about whatever you choose to support. The abbreviated Jesus seems to always need one more book to really get down to what he actually means.

He has a lot of preachers who understand him, and a lot of churches where his way of doing things has become very popular.

Aside from abortion and gay marriage, the abbreviated Jesus is pretty happy in America. There’s so much for his friends to do and enjoy!

I don’t trust this abbreviated Jesus.

Sometimes, he’s been in my house, my head, my heart, and my ministry. I don’t like him.

He’s flat. Empty. Easy. Moldable.

He’s not full of the Holy Spirit. He’s full of US.

Frankly, he’s seems to be full of … well, my daddy might use those words, but I’m not going to use them, especially in a blog. If you don’t know what they are, ask a farmer who knows the real Jesus what the abbreviated Jesus is full of…

I’m announcing that I’m afraid of the abbreviated Jesus and his followers. I’m afraid of his “church”, his books, and his kind of “discipleship”. I’m uninviting him from my life, and my interactions with other Christians.

I want to know Jesus. The untamed, old school, offensive, mysterious, demanding, awe-inspiring, transformational, life-altering, crucified, risen, ascended, revolutionary Jesus.

I’ll spell it out: He’s the Creator. The Mediator. The Fulfiller and Establisher of the Law. He’s the Passover lamb. He’s the Head of the Church. He’s the heart and key to the Holy Scripture. He’s the meal on the table. He’s the life in the living waters. He pours out the Holy Spirit. He’s the rider on the white horse. He’s the King of Kings, and the Lord of Lords.

He is the Eternal God.

He doesn’t need my explanations, endorsements, or euphemisms. He isn’t reading my note cards and nodding. He doesn’t tolerate my sins. He’s the life of God for the sin of the world. He’s righteous, sanctification and holiness. He’s the Kingdom bringer, the executioner of judgment, the one who is worthy to open the scroll and read the books. He’s the light of Heaven and the conqueror of hell, death, sin, and the grave.

He’s the one in whom all history, poetry, story, and theology come together into the Great I AM. He’s the mystery and the Word that reveals God to all persons. He’s the Gospel itself, the meaning of every message and the open door of God’s mercy.

You can’t abbreviate him.

You fall at his feet and worship. You get up and follow. You die and he raises you on the last day.

That’s Jesus, and I have a feeling that a lot of people really don’t have a clue.

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The best way I think to understand The Ten Commandments is to look at them from the perspective given by the New Testament. And Galatians 5:4-5 is a good place to start to get this perspective. There the Apostle Paul writes: “But when the FULLNESS OF TIME came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law that we might receive adoption as sons.” Now I want you to focus in on that phrase, “…THE FULLNESS OF TIME …” In these four words I believe God used Paul to remind us that before Jesus would come into the world-which was God’s plan from the very beginning of time-before Jesus could come, something had to happen to sinful humanity to get us to the point where we could understand His coming. We had learn Who God is and who we are so that mankind could come to that level of maturity that would allow us to comprehend God’s love as expressed in sending Jesus. Think of humanity as a green “apple.” Well Jesus came into the world when we were red or “ripe.” He was born at the first possible moment that we could understand His coming.

Well this “ripening” process began with the scriptures recorded in Exodus 20. You see, Christianity did not come into the world without ROOTS and FOUNDATIONS. Remember in Matthew 5:17 Jesus said, “I am not come to destroy the law — but to FULFILL it.” In other words Jesus came to show the law’s true purpose. And the law that Jesus came to fulfill began with these ten basic principles for life.

So one purpose of the Ten Commandments was to prepare mankind for Jesus’ coming. In Galatians 3:24 Paul writes, “Therefore, the law has become OUR TUTOR to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith.” You know…in the Greek-speaking world of Paul’s day, there was a type of household servant called the paidagogos. This person was in charge of the child’s moral welfare; it was his duty to oversee the child’s character development. One of a paidagogos’ responsibilities was to take the child to school each day. He was not the child’s teacher, but he was responsible to see that the child was, in fact, under the teacher’s care. And in this New Testament text, Paul borrows this picture from his culture and says in effect, that the law has the same function. It is our “tutor” our “paidagogos.” So, the commandments in the Bible are designed not only to say, “Do this,” and “Don’t do that,” but to lead us to the person of God Himself. For as we attempt to obey God’s law we see both God’s holy perfection and our sin.

The law sheds a powerful light on our sinful state and leads us to realize how far we fall short.

Like a paidagogos the law leads us to “school” where we see our need for Christ.

Now, I want us to note a few other things about The Ten Commandments:

1. First of all, scanning through all 17 verses…all 10 laws…reveals that they fall into two sections.

The first four laws guide us in the way we relate to God…the way we revere, respect, and love Him. Glance at Exodus 20:1-17 and you’ll see what I mean: LAW #1 – God and God alone is God. LAW #2 – It is wrong to worship anything material as God. LAW #3 – God’s day is to be cherished and honored. LAW #4 – God’s name is not to be used recklessly.

And then the second section…the last six commandments….deal with how we are to treat each other…how we are to love, and respect each other. LAW #5 – Father and mother are to be honored. LAW #6 – Human life is sacred. LAW #7 – Sexual purity and fidelity is demanded. LAW #8 – The rights of property are to be observed. LAW #9 – False and slanderous speaking about others is condemned. LAW #10 – The desire to possess that which is not ours is branded as wrong.

Jesus was once asked which from this list was the greatest commandment. Do you remember His reply? In Matthew 22 He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself……All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” So Jesus taught that our relationship with God and our relationships with our fellow man are intertwined. We can’t love and respect God properly if we don’t love and respect each other and we can’t love and respect each other properly if we don’t also love and respect God. Without the horizontal aspect of a proper relationship with our fellow man our religion…our faith…..would become a selfish impractical thing in which we are concerned with our own soul and our own vision of God and nothing more. And without the vertical principle of loving God we wouldn’t value each other enough we wouldn’t see ourselves as special creations of God. People would be looked at as things and not as persons. The Ten Commandments then teach us that we need both a proper horizontal relationship with each other and a proper vertical relationship with God. The next time you see the intersecting beams of Calvary’s cross let it remind you of this truth: We need to practice both LOVE FOR GOD and LOVE FOR OUR FELLOW MAN. You can’t have one without the other…Do you remember the words of I John 4:7-8 : “…everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know god, because God is love.”

2. The second thing we notice about these ten commands is that they are mostly written in the negative.

With the exception of the 4th and 5th commandments, they are all stated as “Thou shalt NOT” and even the 4th command which deals with the Sabbath…is largely expressed in the negative.

Now, why would God do this? Why so many “NOTS?” Well, look at the context. God has just called the people of Israel out of slavery.

So, they were far from being a nation. At this point, they were a mob of disorganized disorder and they needed order. They needed “NOTS!” Remember God was molding them….ripening them….maturing them…into a nation of priests to tell the world of His love. Any parent knows that one of the first words you teach your toddler is “NO”. They head for the electrical outlet or the hot stove and you say, “No! Don’t touch that!” Well at this point, the people of Israel were in the infant stage….they needed limitations…like all human infants they were prone to sin and they needed to learn their “NO-NO’s”…their “NOT’s”. They had spent hundreds of years living with a nation that worshiped many Gods…so they had to NOT do that anymore! They had spent generations among a pagan nation that did not respect human life…humans were property to be bought and sold so they had to learn NOT to think of people in that way. These commands of God DO have a stern quality about them but when you are warning a child not to go down a path which will lead to them being hurt or killed, you can’t get too stern!

While on vacation several summers ago we drove along Bear Tooth Pass for several hours. And we came to one stop where the road had been built right on the ridge of these mountains. On each side of the road were sheer drop-offs.

Now, what if you were on this path and came to one of these overlooks along this crest of the mountains and as soon as you decide to stop your three year old throws open his door, hops out and starts running excitedly toward the edge as fast as his chubby little legs will carry him.

Now, is this a time to whisper sweetly? Is this a time to be positive and say, “You are running great son! Wonderful form!”

NO! This would be one of those times when, as a parent, your heart would leap in your chest as you SHOUT as loud as you can, “STOP! RIGHT NOW!” or “THOU SHALT NOT RUN IN THAT DIRECTION!!!” In Ezekiel 33:11 God says, “As surely as I live . . .I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die O house of Israel?” Doesn’t that sound like a loving parent exclaiming, “Stop! Stop! Turn back! Don’t go that way! There is sorrow ahead! There is death around the corner! Come back to Me?” You see, the fact that these ten laws are so full of negatives is yet one more indication of God’s tender love for us…His tender care. They are indeed ten(der) commandments.

3. And then….a third thing we should note is that the 10 Commandments are much MORE than a body of detailed rules and regulations.

They don’t give us detailed rules for certain specific situations. They are far greater in scope than that, for they are actual principles to apply to every situation in life, even in the almost 21st century. These 17 verses are God’s divine standards which form the foundation for any moral society. You know some people say the Ten Commandments are out of date. Some time ago TED TURNER said as much and modestly offered to replace the Ten Commandments with his own version, which he called the “Ten Voluntary Initiatives.” And Mr. Turner is representative of many in our society who feel that God’s laws are now out of date…that we’ve outgrown them….and they are no longer necessary. But the truth of the matter is we have NOT outgrown…we have not out-distanced the Ten Commandments. In fact, we haven’t even caught up with them yet. You see, the Bible says the Ten Commandments were not only engraved on tablets of stone that would eventually crumble into dust. Romans 2:15 says, “…the requirements of the law are written on our hearts, our consciences bearing witness…” This means that deep down inside each human being even today…thousands of years after Moses met God on Mt. Sinai…..even today there is this inborn knowledge in all people that the Ten Commandments are true. They are not obsolete…they are absolute!

Turn now to Exodus 20 and read the first commandment. It’s found in verses 1-3: And God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, Who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.

Now notice the phrase in verse 2, “Who brought you out of Egypt.” These were a people who had been redeemed by God…freed by God…rescued from slavery by God. But God didn’t want them to be just a redeemed people….He also wanted them to be a righteous people so He gave them these laws and principles for righteous living. And the first step toward being a righteous people would have to be their belief in the ONE GOD…their worship of ONE GOD. You see God was forming a covenant relationship with them much like the relationship that is between husband and wife.

Do you married people remember your wedding ceremony? It probably contained some form of this phrase: “I take thee _ to be my wedded wife or husband…to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, and FORSAKING ALL OTHERS to cleave only to thee..as long as we both shall live.” Marital vows are a pledge to a lifetime of faithfulness….a lifetime of exclusiveness.

No man or woman in their right mind would allow the spouse to strike a bargain before the marriage by saying, “I’ll spend most of my time with you, but I want to enjoy intimate relationships with other people some of the time.”__ No…marriage represents a firm, exclusive commitment to each other by both husband and wife.

And God calls us to have a similar exclusive allegiance to Him. Later on in the Commandments God says He is a JEALOUS God. God refuses to share the glory and the worship that is due Him with anyone or anything else. We were created to have an intimate, exclusive walk with GOD AND GOD ALONE. And it was important for the Hebrew people to get this straight from the “get go” because this principle conflicted with the different views of deity held by the world of their day. The first view was POLYTHEISM…or….a belief in many gods. The Egyptians were polytheistic. They believed in a god of the sun and a god of the moon an a god of the sea and a god of the grocery story….etc. Their world was crammed-full of gods and goddesses competing for the gifts and the worship of men and women.

The second philosophy of deity was known as HENOTHEISM. Those who held this view would accept one god as their god and would worship no other. But they also believed that other nations had other gods. A god was “god” only in one territory. It was sort of like it is in professional sports….this area…this territory….is COWBOY territory…and a great distance north and east of here is REDSKINS territory. And you know….even today we are somewhat henothistic.

We say we worship God. We claim that He is Lord over ALL our lives. But if we were honest we would have to admit that there are “territories” of our lives over which we do not give Him control. Think about it. Is there any “territory” in your life that is “off limits” to God? Well in the giving of this first command God was leading the Hebrew people beyond polytheism and henotheism to monotheism….which of course is the realization that there is not simply one God for each nation, but that there is only one God for all the earth….and He is everywhere!

Psalm 139 expresses this truth when it says, “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend to the heaven, Thou art there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, Thou art there. If I take the wings of the dawn and if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Thy hand will lead me. And Thy right hand will lay hold of me.” The Psalmist here is saying there is no place that God is not….no territory that He does not cover.

Now I want to point out three other things about this first commandment… First, of all ten commands, it may just be the toughest one to keep.

Now in all likelihood we who live in Amarillo, Texas, or wherever you might be reading this, won’t be asked to give our lives because of our commitment to put God first. Like Dietrich Bonheoffer, the theologian and pastor during WWII who refused to put Hitler on the throne and steadfastly kept God #1-and because of this was hung in a German prison…or like Cassie Bernall, the teen at Littleton, Colorado, who said, “Yes, I believe in God” and then paid for God’s priority in her life with a bullet through her head. Or like the tens of thousands of Christians around the world today who suffer because of their obedience to this law. Obeying this first commandment doesn’t usually involve this kind of persecution…but I think we still struggle to obey it. It is still difficult-even here-for us to keep God #1 in our lives. And…I say this from personal experience. You see, as I consider all the tasks I perform each week, whether it be sending letters to our guests or counseling or visiting in the hospital or preparing to preach.

When I think of all these tasks and compare them to obeying this first commandment, I would have to say that keeping God first in my life is the most difficult thing I do. It is so easy to let pride in godly tasks push God off of the throne of my life. And I think most Christians struggle with their obedience to this law. Maintaining a close, personal, growing relationship with Jesus Christ IS tough.

It is a daily battle. But as Ron Mehl says, “Our number one task as believers is to make sure that nothing — no “god,” person, object, task, duty, or pleasure-comes before God in our priorities, in our plans, and in our affection.” And Christians have always floundered in this area. Scripture says that the believers who made up the church in Ephesus worked extremely hard, stayed doctrinally sound, and patiently endured suffering in the Lord’s name. Yet, in spite of this, Jesus said they were “this close” to losing their light and their witness in the world. Why? Look at Revelation 2:4 . It says this was true because they had “left their FIRST love.” You see we can get so busy doing the Lord’s work that we don’t spend time with the Lord. We can actually come to worship godly activity and in so doing dethrone God Himself.

God wants to be FIRST in our lives. He pursues an exclusive love relationship with us. Perhaps this first command was on King Solomon’s mind when he wrote in Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with ALL your heart and lean not on your own understanding: in ALL YOUR WAYS acknowledge Him, and he will make your paths straight.” Now the phrase “all your ways” means in every thing we do….EVERYTHING! And the word “acknowledge” infers a relationship in which we put God first.

So, I think a good paraphrase of these words might be: “In everything you do-in your marriage, in your parenting, in the way you do your job, in the way you figure your taxes, in the way you drive your car on I-40, in the things you do for pleasure….IN EVERYTHING, PUT GOD FIRST, and He will direct you and crown your efforts with success.” So, I think this commandment IS the hardest to obey….But you know….

….it is also one of the most beneficial to us.

Since God is the boss of our lives….since our lives and everything in them are HIS responsibility…since we are HIS concern…that means the “buck” stops there. And since it does then it pretty much makes worry and anxiety obsolete. As Psalm 56:3 says, “In the day when I am afraid, I will have confidence in THEE.” – not ME. Ron Mehl, whose book on the ten(der) commandments inspired me to do this series, suffers from Leukemia. He writes, “Many people ask me how I’ve dealt with years of this illness — years of hanging by a rope over the edge of a cliff.

My answer might be that it’s not so bad when you know Who is holding the rope! I’ve settled into a sense of confidence that my time is in the Lord’s hands…..you see I know that my life really is HIS responsibility.” When we put GOD first then, like Pastor Mehl, we come to experience firsthand the truth of I Peter 5:7 .

We learn that we can, “Throw the whole weight of our anxieties on Him, for we are HIS personal concern.” You see, God asks us to make Him the first in our lives because we are first in His! So obeying this commandment gives us a lot less to worry about in life. We can sleep a lot better at night! In Matthew 6 Jesus said, “Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear….your Heavenly Father knows that you need these things. Seek FIRST His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.” You know worry is actually a sort of “red light” on the dashboards of our lives informing us that we are not putting God first.

So when you find yourself wringing your hands this week. remember that worry means we have taken back our lives from God’s omnipotent, all-loving care! Instead get on your knees and take your situation to the Boss. As the George Beverly Shea used to sing, “take your burden to the Lord and leave it there.” I want to say one more thing about this commandment. And here it is: when you come down to it….

It is foolish NOT to put God first.

As, Psalm 14:1 says, “The fool says in his heart, there is no God.” Considering all that God has done for us and all that He has promised to DO for us…it IS foolish to deny Him first place in our lives. He has loved us enough to give us His only Son to be our much-needed Redeemer! Why not give Him first place in our lives! Mehl tells the story of an eight-year-old boy who sat in class one day , taking a test. He became so nervous about the test and getting it done within the time limit, that he lost control and suddenly wet his pants. His face turned beet red as he looked down and saw a little puddle there beneath him. He wondered, “What am I going to do? I’m so ashamed! People will see! I’ll be the laughing stock of the school!” About this time he looked up and saw his teacher motioning him to come to her desk and he worried all the more for if he stood up people would be sure to notice his accident.

Well at that moment one of his classmates, a little girl, was coming down the aisle from behind him, carrying a large fish-bowl full of water.

When she got up alongside him, she suddenly lurched to one side and spilled the entire contents all over him and then dropped the bowl which shattered with a loud crash…and now covered by fish-tank water, the boy sat there thinking, “Thank God! Thank God! There is a God in heaven!” And he was so thankful that this little girl had done this that he was about to smile at her in gratitude when he remembered that little boys don’t even like little girls.

So instead he frowned at her and said, “What is wrong with you, you clumsy clod? Can’t you watch where you are going?!” Then, as the class laughed at the girl, the teacher took the boy (now covered by dignity) to the gym class to get him some dry clothes to wear. At lunchtime that day no one would sit with the little girl. Her friends avoided her at recess. It was clear that she had been elected the klutz of the day. When the day ended and the boy was on his way home, he saw this little girl walking by herself along the fence. He began to remember all that had happened that day and on an impulse he sheepishly walked over to her and said, “You know, I’ve been thinking about what happened today. That wasn’t an accident was it? You did that on purpose.”

And she replied, “Yes I did do it on purpose. I saw what had happened to you.”

You know we have a Redeemer Who, by dying on Calvary’s cross took our shame upon Himself. By shedding His precious blood, Jesus covered us. He washed away our sins. God saw our hopeless situation and provided a way for us to be rescued.

So, why should I ever want to put anyone or anything in front of Him? Why in the world would anyone want to tolerate any other “gods” in his life?

Why serve lesser “lords?” How could I NOT put Him first? So today, why not commit to give Him first place in YOUR heart and life? If you, dear reader, have never committed your life to Jesus….why not do so now? Ask Him to forgive your sin. Give Him the controls….the responsibility for every part of your life. Let’s all commit right now to make His will first. It could be that you feel that God’s will is to join the Church.

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Praying Hands

One of my most treasured possessions was given to me many years ago as a confirmation gift. It’s a wooden hand carving of the Praying Hands. Those praying hands not only remind of the carpenter of Nazareth’s praying hands but also the following story of “The Praying Hands” from an unknown author.

In 1490 two young friends, Albrecht Durer and Franz Knigstein, were struggling young artists. Since both were poor, they worked to support themselves while they studied art. Work took so much of their time and advancement was slow in coming. Finally, they reached an agreement that they would draw lots; one would work to support them while the other would study art. Albrecht won and began to study while Franz worked at hard labor to support them. They agreed that when Albrecht was successful he would support Franz while he studied art.

Albrecht went off to the cities of Europe to study. As the world now knows, he had not only talent but was a genius as well. When he had attained success, he went back to keep his promise with his friend, Franz. But Albrecht soon discovered the enormous price that his friend had paid. For as Franz worked hard at manual labor to support his friend, his fingers had become stiff and twisted. His slender, sensitive hands had been ruined for life. He could no longer execute the delicate brush strokes necessary to produce a fine painting. Though his artistic dreams could never be realized, he was not embittered but rather rejoiced in his friend’s success.

One day Albrecht Durer came upon Franz unexpectedly and found him keeling with his gnarled hands intertwined in prayer, quietly praying for the success of his friend, although he himself could no longer be an artist. Albrecht Durer, the great genius, hurriedly sketched the folded hands of his faithful friend and later completed a truly great masterpiece known as “The Praying Hands”. Today art galleries everywhere feature Albrecht Durer’s works.

But as inspiring as this story of love and sacrifice is, there is an even more inspiring and amazing story of sacrifice that will be remembered and rejoiced over through the corridors of eternity. About two thousand years ago, after partaking of “The Last Supper” with His disciples (Luke 22:7-23), Jesus led them one last time into the Garden of Gethsemane (the place of the olive press). He asked them to remain with him and pray. He went a little further and prayed. He began to be in agony as He prayed. Luke, the physician, tells us that He prayed more earnestly and that “His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). Those hands of the carpenter of Nazareth, the creator of the universe, would soon be nailed to an old rugged cross for the sins of the world. But the battle for the souls of mankind was really won in the garden of prayer. In Gethsemane Jesus was pressed beyond measure. Three times He prayed that, if possible, the Heavenly Father would take the cup of suffering from Him. “O, my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matthew 26: 36-46).

What was that cup that Christ agonized in prayer over? It was the “He who knew no sin”, the spotless, sinless, Son of God would lay down His life as a sin offering for the world. (See Isaiah 53). In prayer He surrendered to the Father’s will, plan, and purpose. What amazing love!

Have you lifted your hands in prayer? The greatest prayer that we can pray is “God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13). The next greatest prayer that we can pray is “Father, not my will be done but your will be done in my life” (Matthew 26:39). In the garden Jesus told His disciples to “Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). Only with bended knees and praying hands and heart will you have power over temptation and the tempter.

Jesus arose victorious over death, hell, and the grave. Those nailed scarred hands are still folded in prayer for you and me. “Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).

I urge you, come in prayer to Christ today. “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Follow Him in the school of prayer.

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I just received this email from Jerry A. Weant and thought that this was powerful and moving enough to share on my blog – As you read it, think about your own prayers. What do you pray for? Really? As Brad McCoy states, he thought he was praying for one thing. Turns out he was praying for something entirely different, and God knew what that was…

I have to share with you all our experience last night and bear with me, this email could get pretty long. Tom and I had the amazing privilege of hearing Coach Brad McCoy (Colt’s dad) speak at the Regents’ fall sports banquet. He had been the scheduled speaker for months – who knew that he would come to us after the three hardest weeks of his life.

He has coached for 26 years, won 4 state championships and has or is raising his three sons to be Godly leaders, with humble servant hearts. He confessed to us that he speaks all the time on growing leaders and on the importance of sports, football in particular, to learning life’s lessons. He also said that he had to change his talk for the night in light of what happened to Colt Thursday night. He apologized for what could sound like rambling and for having to talk about his son more than he might, usually, but he said he had to share with us how he saw God in all of this.

Coach McCoy began his talk telling us of God’s hand in the story of how Colt and Jordan Shipley came to live in the back house of one of our Regents’ families and that was very funny and entertaining. He wanted to thank the Andersons, who were there, for providing his son with a safe home and he wanted to honor for them for who they have been in Colt’s life (they hate to be publicly thanked like this but he thought it appropriate since they were part of the Regents’ family). I’ll share this story with you later because it’s what else he talked about that was so amazing.

He told us that three weeks ago his highschool football team, his youngest son is a senior on it, lost the state championship by 1 point because their kicker flaked out, they had to go for two with no time left on the clock and lost 13-12. Then he and his wife join Colt in New York for the Heisman ceremony which did not go as well as they could have hoped. Then they get to Pasadena for the biggest game in Colt’s life, one he has been preparing for all of his life – and he plays for three plays. He told us that as soon as Colt went down he began to pray that God would enable him to continue playing, he prayed for healing and for Colt’s heart and attitude.

He finally made his way down under the stadium, praying the whole way, hoping to see Colt sitting up and putting his pads back on and heading back out the tunnel. Instead, he saw him laying prone on a trainer’s table, no pads, and a tear on his face. Colt looked up at him and said “Dad, I had them – I knew everything they were going to do before they did it – I could have completed every pass I threw – I could see everything and I know we could have won this game.” Brad told God that Colt could have his arm!

Later, Colt got up and wanted to try and throw a little, just in case he had been miraculously healed and Coach McCoy said all he could think of was when Colt was 3 or 4 and they would throw in the front yard – he could see that little boy in this big ol’ quarterback and it broke his heart to watch him throw as if he was using the wrong hand, like he had to think of every step and where should his hand even be. When everyone finally decided he was not playing, Colt refused to let them put his arm in a sling, he put his pads back on and asked for a headset so he could help with the plays and help the new quarterback.

All through this, Coach McCoy was dealing with lots of emotions and he told us he was pretty angry with God and God finally told him “Colt is fine, it is you that need some help.” He said that God shared that with him over and over all through the night – like when the game finally turned around and the crowd was chanting “Gilbert…Gilbert” and he was so struck by the fact that this should have been Colt’s stage. He just shared with us the hurts of a father who could do absolutely nothing to help his son and how God helped him to realize that Colt would make it, that it was Coach McCoy who needed God’s strength at the moment. He told us his phone blew up from all the texts and messages after Colt spoke at the end of the game and that he didn’t hear what Colt said until Saturday morning. He did ask Colt later that night, around 3:00 am, what he said because he was getting all these calls about it and Colt said, “Dad, I don’t remember, I have no idea.”

Coach McCoy believes God spoke through Colt Thursday night. He also told us that Colt set out to impact the world through football at UT and he firmly believes he did that by what he said after the game in a way that Colt could never have done, even by winning the championship. He asked us to pray for Colt, not for his shoulder, because that is already getting better, but for his broken heart. He also shared with us that a non-believer who had heard Colt speak after the game recognized Coach McCoy and asked him about what he said. Coach said he had an amazing opportunity to explain “the Rock” to this person and to witness to him.

Then – he said he likes to sing some and apoligized because he might not make it through the song, but he sang for us the song about “…on solid rock, I stand – all other ground is sinking sand…” Anyway, it was an amazing night and I have to think we are probably the only community Coach McCoy has shared any of this with – what a story and what a privilege. He also shared with us his and his wife’s philosophy on raising kids and it’s that you prepare the child for the path, not try to prepare the path for the child – and this was something in Colt’s path and his faith would see him through.

I have never been to a sports banquet where I cried and laughed so much – he is a great speaker and was so honest and transparent – his hurt for his son and his joy and pride in his son were so evident. He also told us that he got a call from a NFL general manager yesterday who told him that what Colt said after the game just raised his stock with the NFL immensely, because if you want someone to be the face of your franchise, that is what you want their face to look like. Anyway, sounds like Colt is the real deal, which is what I have thought all along. I still can’t claim to be a UT fan, but I will always be a Colt McCoy fan!! Sorry this was so long and I’m sure I didn’t give his talk justice – it was just an amazing evening. Love you guys

“God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called.”

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One of the great surprises of the Broadway theater is the musical, “Rent.”  The play started on a dirty side street in New York City.  They call it Off-Off Broadway, which means the musical had little chance of making it to the big time.  But then something happened that nobody predicted.  The musical just exploded.  People started packing the house every night.  When the awards were given, “Rent” came away a winner.  Even after thirteen years it is still hard to get a ticket to this play.

Something about “Rent” touched a nerve and spoke to the heart.  It could be that the intensity of the young author spilled over into his work.  He was very sick as he wrote the play and died just before opening night.  The centerpiece of the musical is a song that comes in the second act called “Season of Love.”  Critics say this song may be one of the reasons that “Rent” continues to fill the theater night after night.

Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes.
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Moments so dear.
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes,
How do we measure a year?

In daylights—in sunsets,
In midnights—in cups of coffee,
In inches—in miles,
In laughter—in strife.

In five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes.
How do we measure
A year in the life?
How about love?
How about love?
How about love?
Measure in love.

Seasons of love.
Seasons of love.
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Journeys to plan.

Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes.
How do we measure the life
Of a Woman or a Man?

In truths that she learned
Or in times that he cried,
In bridges he burned
Or the way that she died.

It’s time now—to sing out
Tho’ the story never ends.
Let’s celebrate
Remember a year in the life of friends.

Remember the love.
Remember the love.
Remember the love.
Measure the love.

Measure, measure your life in love.
Seasons of love.
Seasons of love.

Paul understood these feelings when he wrote to the church at Ephesus.  From a jail cell, anticipating his own death, he too wrote with a great intensity.

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.  And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father ~Ephesians 5:15-20

His audience met in a little house church surrounded by a pagan culture.  And Paul’s impassioned yearning for his friends speaks to a universal question.  Is it possible to live a meaningful life in a world like this?  He knew that many things chipped away at their souls and assaulted their values day after day.  His response was to say that they could take the minutes of their lives and make them count.

If we turn from the Bible to today’s newspaper it is amazing how current Paul’s concerns still are.  Like Ephesus long ago we are part of a culture that incessantly assaults our values.  The old seven deadly sins of the Middle Ages still rear their ugly heads.  After all these years we still do battle with pride, envy, anger, lust, gluttony, greed, and sloth.  Stephen Carter, Professor of Law at Yale University, calls one of our basic problems a lack of integrity.  He says we live in an age where winning is more important than playing by the rules of the game.  He footnotes his case with a multitude of stories.  A beauty queen is stripped of her title when it is learned that the educational credentials on her resume were fabricated.  A respected national TV network is forced to apologize for doctoring a TV clip to make a truck seem less safe than it is.  Respectable authors of a book on management are accused of bulk purchases at key bookstores to get their book on the Best Seller list.  He talks about Republican and Democrat politicians who are guilty of taking under-the-table money for elections.  Mr. Carter wonders what has happened to integrity in our time. (Stephen L. Carter, Integrity [New York:  Basic Books, 1996] p. 4.)

Paul also struggled with the integrity issue.  His advice on how to live honestly in a difficult time is found at the end of his letter to the Ephesians.  How can we use the minutes and hours that stretch out before us?  How can we walk without stumbling?  The Apostle gives his friends, and us, five solid words of advice.

Paul begins with wisdom.  He reached back into his Jewish heritage and reclaimed an old word.  He told his friends to live not as unwise persons but as wise.  The Ephesians knew a lot about wisdom.  Athens and Alexandria were the centers of wisdom in their time.  They knew that wisdom meant knowledge and facts and intelligence.  But not all the things that march under the banner of wisdom deserve to be there.

If he were writing to us I think he would say that wisdom is not scanning the Internet.  He could not have had in mind the multitude of how-to books that we keep buying.  He certainly did not mean that wisdom is synonymous with yet another diploma or degree.

Paul’s understanding of wisdom was not intellectual achievement.  He was talking about one’s attitude toward life.  How one looked at the world.  Real wisdom is looking through the lenses as a child of God and seeing our brothers and sisters everywhere and knowing that we are here to make a contribution and give something back.  Real wisdom is standing firm and not letting the world shape our values.  Maybe this is one of the reasons that the play, “Rent,” touched a nerve in our time.  Maybe the dying young author had come to understand the meaning of real wisdom.  It is making sense of our lives and the times in which we live.

Paul follows his words about wisdom with a second world about time.  He talks about using well whatever minutes we have.  The King James Version cautions us to redeem the time, which means to use carefully the time we have been given.  Our lives are everlastingly besieged by a vast array of choices.  The great test for all of us is that we pick and choose among all the options, taking take with us things that matter and not things shabby and inconsequential.

Frederick Beuchner has said that every day we live is like a birthday present waiting to be opened.  We are to use wisely what we have been given.  Open the package ever so slowly.  Take from the box each brand new day with its challenges and opportunities.  This present of a day will never come again.  No wonder the Apostle writes to his friends, be careful how you use your time.

Paul then uses the word understanding. He encourages us to understand the will of God.  He pleads for discernment.  This age of ours knows little of discernment.  We are much like the window-shopper who stares incredulously into the shop window where, on the other side of the glass, someone has mislabeled all the valuable items in the window cheaply and placed ridiculously high price tags on cheap baubles.  It is not always easy to distinguish between what matters and what is inconsequential.  Yet Paul says we can go beyond the confusion of our time.  We can know the will of God.

Patrick Overton speaks to this in his poem from The Learning Tree:

When we walk to the edge of all
the light we have
And take that step into the darkness
Of the unknown,
We believe that one of two things will happen—
There will be something solid for us
To stand on
Or, we will be taught how to fly.

This is discernment.  We all stand on the edge of a precipice from time to time.  There is great confusion about what we are to do next.  But, like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress, if we keep our eyes on the light that shines in the distance and follow it all the way, we shall find the path.  We call this discovery the Will of God.

Paul’s next word is a verb, fill. He warns his friends not to be drunk with wine but rather to be filled with the Spirit.  The cult of Dionysius held that wine-induced frenzies led to religious insight.  Remnants of that cult are still with us.  Many still believe that whatever gets us through the hard times is all right.  But Paul reminds us that there are no substitutes for the Spirit of God who fills and enlightens believers.

Our age knows all too well that addiction goes far beyond drugs and alcohol.  We can be hooked on material goods, on money, on status, on success and work and sex and exercise and just about everything.  Paul says we are to be filled with the Spirit of God.  In that Spirit we find energy, breath, and life itself.  We are to accept no substitute for this filling, which God brings.

Has Paul saved the best word for last?  He gives us the word thanks. One man found this to be a saving word during a sudden, scary stay in the hospital.  Lying there, waiting for the test results he was afraid might reveal a malignancy, he began to sort out the things that mattered.  His hospital room was flooded by the memories of a lifetime.  He remembered the pleasure of listening to the Saint Louis Cardinals on the radio when he was a boy.  He recalled watching a son grow from boy to man.  He thought of the sheer delight on his daughter’s face as she watered skied for the first time.  The wonder of his minutes and hours and days just poured in upon him.  He remembered pumpkins…a 1969 Chevy…bicycle rides…holding hands with his beloved…early morning fog…blue jays, and raisin-bread Dalmatians.  Once he began thinking, he couldn’t stop.  He thought of old folk songs and hot dogs and tomatoes from his garden and stained glass windows and News from Lake Woebegon.  He remembered dahlias and daisies and dandelions and Doonesbury and Snoopy and Oscar Peterson at the keyboard and somebody singing “Porgy and Bess.”  But he said the best remembering was when the doctor came into his hospital room and used the marvelous word:  “Benign.”  In that remembering his life was changed forever. (Gordon Greer, “Editor at Large,” Better Homes and Gardens, November 1982, p. 4.)

How do we use our 525,600 minutes?  Living a meaningful life has never been simple.  But even though our roads are plagued with potholes and barricades, with barriers and detours, we can discover some wisdom along the way.  We do not have to fritter away our time.  We can make the most of what we have been given.  We can come to some understanding of this wonderful will of God.  We can find our help in spiritual realities and not in the addictions of our time.  Most of all we can learn to say thanks not only for the ups but also for the downs of our lives.  525,600 minutes.  We can learn to treasure the things we have been given.  And when our time comes, as it did to the old preacher who penned the letter and to the young man that wrote the play, we too can say:  We remember the love.  We really do remember the love.

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Children, it is the final hour (1 John 2:18)

How topical these words are! How they fit in well with what we are all living today, December 31!

The last day of the year… let us live it so as to participate in the Church’s litergical year! We should do this to express God in the fullest way that our hearts and our consciences feel and to make manifest our thanksgiving and request for forgiveness.

“It is truly right and just, and dutiful to give thanks to You!” To You. Exactly to You. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To thank You for all the abundance of the mystery of the Birth of Christ, in whose light the old year is passing and the new one is coming into birth. How eloquent it is, that the day which humanly tells us above all of “passing,” with the precise content of the litergy, should also testify to birth: God’s birth in a human body. And, at the same time, of man’s birth from God.

Any who did accept Him, He empowered to become the children of God. (John 1:12).

Together with this thanksgiving, let all the words of propitiation become the content of our participation in our worship today. Let us put everything which or consciences live into the words we speak, the acts we do, the thoughts we think, what weighs on them, what God alone knows how to judge and remit. And let us not avoid standing here before God, with knowledge and consciousness of guilt, the attitude of the publican in the Gospel of John. Let us take up his attitude. It corresponds to man’s inner truth. It brings liberation. It, exactly it, links up with hope.  Hope for a new world, a new beginning, and a renewal of the soul.

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“The Lord will settle international disputes. All the nations will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. All wars will stop, and military training will come to an end.” Micah 4:3 NIT

In the time of Jesus the people of Israel were still looking forward to this restoration. Before Jesus’ crucifixion, his disciples were confident that Jesus would go about fulfilling Micah’s prophecy by ridding Israel of their Roman occupation and bringing them peace and prosperity. But their hopes were dashed when he died. However, after his resurrection from the dead, the disciples quickly resorted to their earlier hopes and asked Jesus, “Lord, are you going to free Israel now and restore our kingdom?” (Acts 1:6). Jesus made it clear in his response that his kingdom was not that kind of kingdom. Instead, he indicated that Micah’s prophecy would be fulfilled when his eternal kingdom, populated by the redeemed, is established.

This is the kingdom for which Christians pray repeatedly, “may your kingdom come soon” (Matthew 6:10) and about which Jesus said, “My Kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Wars will cease one day, but only when Christ’s eternal kingdom comes. Until then, Paul’s words speak loudly: “Do your part to live in peace with everybody, as much as possible” (Romans 12:18). We may not be able to stop war. But by God’s grace we can obey this command and, “as much as possible,” live in peace with others.

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