COME AS YOU ARE

“Now go out to the street corners and invite everyone you see.” So the servants brought in everyone they could find, good and bad alike, and the banquet hall was filled with guests. [Matthew 22:9-10 (NLT)]

My in-laws were great ones for giving theme parties. When they hosted a “Backwards Party,” guests entered through the back door, wore their clothes backwards (which my mother-in-law admitted made it difficult for the men), and ate dessert before dinner. At another get-together, attendees came dressed as children, received jump ropes and jacks, pulled taffy, and played games like “Mother May I?” and “Pin the Tail on the Donkey.” My introduction to their parties was in 1966 when they turned their house into a Prohibition era speakeasy and guests needed a password to enter. Women dressed as flappers while the men wore fedoras, vests, and spats. Another party had the theme, “Come as You Wish You Had Been.” My mother-in-law, dressed in shorts with a whistle around her neck, came as the PE teacher she once dreamed of becoming and my father-in-law dressed as the train conductor he once aspired to be. Other attendees dressed as ballerinas, weight lifters, princesses, cowboys, or baseball players.

The one theme party they never hosted was “Come as You Are!” After all, no one wants to come as they are. If we can’t be someone else entirely, at least we want to be a better version of ourselves! If I were invited to a “Come as You Are” party, I know I would cheat. I’d change out of my yoga pants, tee, and Crocs into an outfit that would suggest my life is far more exciting than it really is. Then I’d put on make-up, touch up my nails, comb my hair, and spritz on perfume before leaving the house. Yet, “Come as you are!” is exactly how God invites us to come to Him.

We don’t have to be neat, clean or accomplished, nor do we have to repair what’s broken in our lives to accept the invitation to Jesus’ party. Our Lord didn’t invite the elite or influential to be his disciples; He invited twelve ordinary, uneducated, and imperfect men. He knew Peter was impulsive, John and James hot-tempered, Judas flawed, and Matthew a traitorous tax-collector. The woman at the well and the thief on the cross didn’t have to pretend to be anything but the sinners they were and neither do we! The blind, lame, adulterous, afflicted, possessed, soiled and corrupt—they all came to Jesus, not as the innocent children they once were nor as they once wished they could have been, but just as they were. It’s hard to believe that our perfect God could love and accept us, as imperfect and flawed as we are, but He does.

Although we can come to Him as we are, make no mistake about it, we won’t remain that way. We must shed the old us and put on the new in the same way that Saul, the self-righteous Pharisee, did when he became Paul, the Apostle. When we accept Jesus’ invitation to come as we are, He will make of us what we should be.

The church is not a select circle of the immaculate, but a home where the outcast may come in. It is not a palace with gate attendants and challenging sentinels along the entrance-ways holding off at arm’s-length the stranger, but rather a hospital where the broken-hearted may be healed, and where all the weary and troubled may find rest and take counsel together. [James H. Aughey]

Jesus answered them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.” [Luke 5:31-32 (NLT)]

Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us. [Colossians 3:10-11 (NLT)]

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WHO’S THE PILOT?

key west expressI trust you, O Lord. I said, “You are my God.” My future is in your hands. [Psalm 31:14-15a (GW)]

By the time our son was seventeen, he had his pilot’s license. To log solo flight time, he’d often fly from his school in another state to a small airport near our home. We’d meet him there and enjoy lunch together before he returned. Sometimes, he’d take one of us up for a short flight over the scenic countryside before he flew back to school. I don’t even like commercial flights on a jumbo jet with a seasoned pilot so getting on a single-engine Cessna with a teenager at the controls was a leap of faith for me. Nevertheless, when I’m on a plane, I have to leave the flying to those far more skilled than I—even when it’s a seventeen-year-old! Reassuring myself that there was less my son could hit in the air (while trying to forget that safely landing a plane was probably more difficult than parallel parking), I surrendered control to him and trusted that he knew what he was doing.

God is my Co-Pilot is the title of a 1945 film based on the World War II exploits of Robert Lee Scott, Jr. That title eventually became a Christianese catch-phrase and still can be found on bumper stickers today. While a charming sentiment, it is theologically incorrect. If God is our co-pilot, we’re in the wrong plane! There are no dual controls in God’s plane and He doesn’t want us touching the yoke or messing with the rudder pedals. God is neither our assistant nor are we His. He’s not the passenger on our plane; we’re the passengers on His. We don’t belong anywhere in the cockpit; we belong back in the cabin. He has a flight plan specifically designed for each of us and we have to trust that plan to Him.

While it’s easy to trust in God’s sovereignty and cede the controls to Him when the journey is smooth, it’s much harder when turbulence occurs or it begins to storm. I’ve had some bumpy (and frightening) flights, especially over the mountains in summer, but I never barged into the cockpit to take charge nor did I don a parachute and bail out. Trusting the captain, I surrendered control to him, buckled up, prayed, and let him do his job.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult for me to admit that I’m no better at running my life than I am at piloting a plane. While I’m willing to trust a complete stranger to pilot me safely home in the midst of a storm, I often bail out or push into the cockpit of life and try to seize the controls from God at the first sign of turbulence in life. The end result is that I crash and burn and God ends up being rescue squad, fire department, clean-up crew, and salvage expert. Trust and obey is really all God asks of us, and yet we often try to do His job for Him.

Heavenly Father, forgive us for the many times we try to wrest control of our lives to go in another direction than the one you planned for us. As Creator of the Universe, we concede that you are far more skilled at plotting the best route, keeping us on course, and handling all the storms, unruly fellow travelers, engine problems, and fuel shortages that trouble our days. Secure in your love for us, we know that you want us to have a safe landing. You are the captain—the pilot of our plane. Trusting in you, we are your passengers awaiting your orders.

When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer. [Corrie Ten Boom]

I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord. They are plans for peace and not disaster, plans to give you a future filled with hope. [Jeremiah 29:11 (GW)]

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LOST IN THE MAZE

Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path. [Psalm 119:105 (NLT)]

scarecrowAlthough we usually visit my daughter’s family in New Mexico in October, my broken ankle canceled our plans. The only bright spot in the cancelation is that I won’t have to participate in the dreaded family tradition of navigating through the corn maze at the pumpkin farm! I say “dreaded” because I’m so directionally challenged that I’d have trouble finding my way out of a box. Actually, after our first outing, I’m surprised any of us ever again ventured into another corn maze.

For our first venture, we chose what was reported to be the best (and largest) maze in the area—a 16-acre corn field that had been transformed into an intricately designed labyrinth. Although we had a small map, we soon became convinced that it was for an entirely different maze. Between the trail’s fiendish twists and turns and its 6-foot walls of corn stalks, we soon were totally lost. We had no idea where we were, let alone where we’d been or where we were going. Hot, thirsty, and tired, the little ones started to whine and complain and we adults weren’t much better. What was supposed to be a fun family outing was turning into a miserable afternoon.

While pausing to finish the last of our water, my husband happened to glance down at the stakes placed along the pathways. Connected by twine, they kept people from taking shortcuts or straying off the convoluted trail into the corn. Seeing that some stakes had a barely noticeable tiny arrow drawn on their  ends, we tried following the markings. Finding that they never led us into dead ends or left us walking in circles, we continued following those arrows all the way to the exit. Even though the solution to our problem was right in front of us, in our frustration, we hadn’t seen it.

While wandering through that maze, we were like a flock of sheep without a shepherd—and a flock without a shepherd is just a herd of lost sheep (maybe even dead ones since they’ve been known to follow one another off cliffs or into deep water)! While we may be smarter than sheep, like them, we need guidance and our Shepherd is the Lord. While it’s easier to follow His lead when all is going well and the path seems straightforward, it grows more difficult when the path He’s laid out for us is a complicated or challenging one. In God’s world, however, there are no shortcuts and sometimes we have to navigate through what seems a hopeless maze. Think of the convoluted routes taken by the Apostle Paul on his four mission trips, the less than straightforward route to Canaan God gave Moses, and the many years and challenges encountered by David before he became king. The paths on which God placed them were filled with twists, turns, and even a few dead ends.

Although our Shepherd will never abandon us, it sometimes seems as if He has. Feeling hopelessly lost, we find ourselves unsure of where to go or what to do as we wander through a maze of difficulties or major decisions. Rather than tiny arrows drawn on wooden stakes, God guides us through our journey with His word. Without it, we can find ourselves as lost as my family was in that corn field. Whether the path God puts us on is a complex maze or a straightforward four-lane freeway, He has provided us with all the guidance we need in Scripture. Far more accurate than our useless map and easier to understand than those arrows, His word can be trusted to lead us through our troubles to hope, safety, sustenance, strength, and peace.

 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. [2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NLT)]

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FELIX

Sending for Paul, they listened as he told them about faith in Christ Jesus. As he reasoned with them about righteousness and self-control and the coming day of judgment, Felix became frightened. “Go away for now,” he replied. “When it is more convenient, I’ll call for you again.” [Acts 24:24b-25 (NLT)]

flame vineFelix was the governor of Judea from 52 to 58/59 AD. A Greek who became a freedman under the reign of Emperor Claudius, he’s described as a cruel, immoral, and corrupt governor by ancient historians Josephus and Tacitus. Tacitus called him “a master of cruelty and lust who exercised the powers of a king in the spirit of a slave.” As Judea’s governor (or Procurator), his job included procuring funds for Rome which Felix accomplished mercilessly while lining his pockets as well. That it took 470 soldiers to safely escort the Apostle Paul from Jerusalem to Caesarea indicates the lawlessness of his time.

In Acts 24, we meet Felix as he conducts an inquiry into the Jews’ charges against Paul. After hearing the accusations of the Roman advocate Tertullus, Paul launched a strong defense against the false allegations. Perhaps uncomfortable with Paul’s reference to the righteous and unrighteous, Felix adjourned the case until the arrival of Lysias, the garrison commander who saved Paul’s life in Jerusalem.

A few days later, Paul again appeared before Felix. Joining the governor was Drusilla, his third wife and the granddaughter of Herod the Great. She’d left her husband, King Aziz of Emesa, for Felix and, like her uncle Herod Antipas (the one who beheaded John the Baptist), her marriage was illegal since she was neither divorced nor widowed. I imagine the shameless couple didn’t take kindly to the Apostle’s words as he spoke of righteousness, self-control, and the coming day of judgment. Frightened by Paul’s message, Felix sent him away, saying he’d call for him again when it was more convenient.

Although the governor frequently called for Paul to talk with him over the next two years, Felix never decided Paul’s guilt or innocence. Scripture tells us the corrupt man was looking for a bribe, but surely it didn’t take Felix two years to realize a payoff was not forthcoming. I suspect the governor was drawn to Paul’s message but, unwilling to repent, he couldn’t commit to the Way. The corrupt and powerful man was caught between two incompatible worlds—if he chose Christ, he would end up relinquishing his position, influence, ill-gotten wealth, and even his wife. Unwilling to do so, Felix thought himself a freedman, when, in fact, he was in bondage to his sinful way of life. Eventually recalled to Rome, Felix never decided about Paul or Jesus simply because it was inconvenient. Let us not make the same mistake!

The two sworn enemies of the soul are “Yesterday” and “Tomorrow.” Yesterday slays its thousands. Past sins plunge many into darkness and despair. … Tomorrow slays its tens of thousands. Vows, promises, resolutions are never fulfilled. “Some other time,” many say, when urged to repent and believe. They fail to realize that now is the acceptable time. [Herbert Lockyer]

Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living. Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you. Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living. [Romans 6:16-18 (NLT)]

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LOVE CASTS OUT FEAR

dragonflyWhen all the people in the synagogue heard these things, they became very angry. They got up, forced Jesus out of town, and took him to the edge of the cliff on which the town was built. They planned to throw him off the edge, but Jesus walked through the crowd and went on his way. [Luke 4:28-30 (NCV)]

For love to be real, for it to grow deep inside, it must not give in to fear. It is not afraid to give, to risk, to chance, even if it hurts. Love believes. It is faith moving forward. Fear holds us back. It makes us stop or turn and run. [Chris Fabry]

While writing yesterday’s devotion about selfishness being the opposite of love, I found several authors who suggested that fear is the opposite of love. This gave me pause; can something be the opposite of more than one thing?

From day one, when Mary and Joseph fled with Him to Egypt, Jesus had plenty of reasons to be fearful and yet fear never prevented Him from speaking, healing, pointing out hypocrisy and evil, or going to the cross. He didn’t give in to fear when, after speaking of God’s grace to Gentiles, the people of His own hometown tried to force him off a cliff. Angry mobs, religious leaders, and Rome never intimidated Jesus or kept Him from challenging the corrupt political and religious system of His day. He knew a warrant was issued for His arrest and that the cross awaited Him in Jerusalem but fear didn’t stop Jesus from boldly riding into the city while being hailed as a king. He knew Judas would betray Him and yet the Lord shared His last meal with him. Jesus didn’t plead for mercy or justice at his trial and His last words weren’t ones of fear or selfishness; they were words of loving forgiveness. Nothing Jesus said or did speaks of fear but everything He said and did speaks of love.

Afraid of commitment, rejection, manipulation, the opinions of others, insufficiency, injury, ineptitude, failure, or that there won’t be enough left over for us, we don’t love. Afraid of being vulnerable, we protect ourselves by not getting involved, not going all-out, not sharing, and not caring. So, like the priest and Levite in the Good Samaritan parable, we walk away, keep to ourselves and our interests, pretend we don’t notice, or make excuses.

Fear happens when we look at ourselves rather than trust in God. Perhaps fear and selfishness are two sides of the same coin. When we’re fearful, we become selfish and, when we’re selfish, it’s likely we’re afraid of something or someone. Love, however, is the antidote to both afflictions. God is love and where God’s love is, there is neither selfishness nor fear.

The call of Jesus is a call to take heart, to have courage, to stand tall in the name of love. The daily invitation that the risen Christ extends to us is to be a people who refuse, in love, to step to the tune of fear. [Bishop Robert O’Neill]

Where God’s love is, there is no fear, because God’s perfect love drives out fear. It is punishment that makes a person fear, so love is not made perfect in the person who fears. [1 John 4:18 (NCV)]

God did not give us a spirit that makes us afraid but a spirit of power and love and self-control. [2 Timothy 1:7 (NCV)]

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IN THE FIRE – Polycarp (Part 1)

Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. [Isaiah 43:1-2 (ESV)]

athabasca falls - canadaHaving refused to bow down and worship Nebuchadnezzar’s gold statue, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego bravely stood before the king. Even when offered a second opportunity to save themselves from incineration in the blazing furnace, the young men were confident the Lord they loved more than life itself would save them. “But, even if he doesn’t,” they added in what are some of the most heroic words in Scripture, “We will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” Furious at their refusal, the king had them tied up and tossed like logs into the fiery furnace—a fire so hot that the soldiers who threw the men into the furnace were killed. The men’s faith was well-founded; in spite of their bindings, they could be seen walking about freely in the flames (with an angel of the Lord) and the three emerged unscathed from the inferno.

Because they wouldn’t worship the emperor, Christians were considered disloyal to Rome. Moreover, Romans feared that the Christians’ refusal to make sacrifices to their various gods would cause disaster to fall upon the nation. Hated by the Romans, Christianity was considered an “illegal superstition” until 313 AD. Polycarp (ca. 69-155 AD), who was said to have been taught by the Apostle John, was appointed by some of the original apostles as bishop of Smyrna. Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the bishop was arrested and faced a choice between God and incineration.

Like Nebuchadnezzar, the Roman Proconsul offered his prisoner a second chance and promised to set Polycarp free if he would curse Christ, declare Caesar as Lord, and offer a bit of incense to Caesar’s statue. Even though Polycarp knew his refusal to deny Jesus meant he’d be burned at the stake, he said, “86 years have I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?” When the soldiers prepared to nail him to the stake, the old man stopped them by saying, “Leave me as I am. For he who grants me to endure the fire will enable me also to remain on the pyre unmoved, without the security you desire from nails.” Did the bishop think he might escape death as did Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? If so, he was seriously mistaken. Unlike them, he died a martyr’s death.

In the first story, three men walked out of a furnace untouched by fire and, in the second, an equally righteous man, died at the stake. Nevertheless, both stories illustrate faith—people’s faith in God and God’s faithfulness to His people and both stories are a call for all of God’s people to be faithful witnesses to Him. All four men clearly exhibited their faith in God by refusing to bow down to anything or anyone but God and all four men are examples of being faithful witnesses to God. Obviously, in the case of the fiery furnace, God showed his faith in His people with the men’s supernatural escape from death; even Nebuchadnezzar recognized that God’s angel had rescued the men. But, since no angel saved Polycarp from the flames, how can his story demonstrate God’s faithfulness to his people?

God showed his faith in His people more than a century earlier when He offered His one and only son so that all who believed in Him would not perish, but have everlasting life. Polycarp knew God already had demonstrated His love and faith through Jesus; whether he lived or died, Polycarp knew there was nothing to fear. “You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and is then extinguished, but you know nothing of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly,” warned the bishop before courageously adding, “Bring on whatever you want.” Could we do the same?

You can kill us, but you cannot harm us. [Justin Martyr]

And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment, so also Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him. [Hebrews 9:27-28 (NLT)]

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