Yearly Archives: 2019

Grace . . . Grace . . . God’s Grace

God’s Grace is unmerited favor. In other words we don’t deserve the blessing of salvation we receive from God but He gives it anyway. Why? because Jesus took away the consequence of the sin that separated us from God. Sin still exists – we are sinful by nature – everyday we err – everyday God extends grace towards us. Paul describes it this way in Romans 5:18-21:

Here it is in a nutshell: Just as one person did it wrong and got us in all this trouble with sin and death, another person did it right and got us out of it. But more than just getting us out of trouble, he got us into life! One man said no to God and put many people in the wrong; one man said yes to God and put many in the right.

 All that passing laws against sin did was produce more lawbreakers. But sin didn’t, and doesn’t, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down. All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that’s the end of it. Grace, because God is putting everything together again through the Messiah, invites us into life—a life that goes on and on and on, world without end. The Message.

Given the extraordinary gift of God’s grace, it is amazing that we routinely fail to extend the gift of grace to others. Maybe that is because we don’t understand what it is – unmerited (undeserved) favor (blessing). Or we haven’t extended it to the mundane corners of our lives enough to know that God’s Grace is meant for those moments too.

So what are we to do if we are God’s children – followers of Jesus Christ – to extend grace? If someone sins, what does it actually mean to extend grace towards him or her?

We probably know what it means “not” to extend grace – holding a grudge and actively seeking retribution against someone or unforgiveness which leads to excluding a friend, family member or colleague.

Grace does not mean “forgetting” about a wrong or excusing “bad behavior”. It is about treating someone with love recognizing that we all make mistakes. It is about honesty addressing a failure and then moving on. It is about the ability to accept the forgiveness sincerely offered from someone else. It is about moving on from a problem. It is about giving someone the benefit of the doubt with eyes open.

Remember Peter’s question to Jesus about forgiveness and Jesus’ response? It is worth the reminder.

At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, “Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?”

Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.

“The kingdom of God is like a king who decided to square accounts with his servants. As he got under way, one servant was brought before him who had run up a debt of a hundred thousand dollars. He couldn’t pay up, so the king ordered the man, along with his wife, children, and goods, to be auctioned off at the slave market.

“The poor wretch threw himself at the king’s feet and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ Touched by his plea, the king let him off, erasing the debt.

“The servant was no sooner out of the room when he came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him ten dollars. He seized him by the throat and demanded, ‘Pay up. Now!’

 “The poor wretch threw himself down and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ But he wouldn’t do it. He had him arrested and put in jail until the debt was paid. When the other servants saw this going on, they were outraged and brought a detailed report to the king.

 “The king summoned the man and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave your entire debt when you begged me for mercy. Shouldn’t you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?’ The king was furious and put the screws to the man until he paid back his entire debt. And that’s exactly what my Father in heaven is going to do to each one of you who doesn’t forgive unconditionally anyone who asks for mercy.” Matthew 18:21-35

Grace is an action. We are not born with the ability to extend grace to others. We need to be taught – that knowledge comes to us by and through the Holy Spirit. It is taught to us through God’s Word. It is taught to us through experiences that humble us. It is taught to us through the examples of others – those who extend grace to us.

So in this day, remember to practice grace. As Jesus teaches:

“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves.

This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” Matthew 5:43-48  The Message

Endings are New Beginnings

When a leg of our journey ends, a new leg begins. Change can be difficult. Change can be sorrowful. Change can be exciting. If we allow it, change can be a new beginning.

Consider Jesus’ Words to his disciples from John 16 (The Message):

“I’ve told you these things to prepare you for rough times ahead. They are going to throw you out of the meeting places. There will even come a time when anyone who kills you will think he’s doing God a favor. They will do these things because they never really understood the Father. I’ve told you these things so that when the time comes and they start in on you, you’ll be well-warned and ready for them. Verses1-5

(Remember, prepare yourselves daily by turning to God in devotion and prayer – then you will be prepared for whatever is coming.)

“I didn’t tell you this earlier because I was with you every day. But now I am on my way to the One who sent me. Not one of you has asked, ‘Where are you going?’ Instead, the longer I’ve talked, the sadder you’ve become. So let me say it again, this truth: It’s better for you that I leave. If I don’t leave, the Friend won’t come. But if I go, I’ll send him to you. Verses 6-7

(Remember, sometimes change must occur in order for something better to happen – without Jesus leaving we would not have the Holy Spirit)

“When he comes, he’ll expose the error of the godless world’s view of sin, righteousness, and judgment: He’ll show them that their refusal to believe in me is their basic sin; that righteousness comes from above, where I am with the Father, out of their sight and control; that judgment takes place as the ruler of this godless world is brought to trial and convicted. Verses 8-11

(Remember, His ways are not our ways)

“I still have many things to tell you, but you can’t handle them now. But when the Friend comes, the Spirit of the Truth, he will take you by the hand and guide you into all the truth there is. He won’t draw attention to himself, but will make sense out of what is about to happen and, indeed, out of all that I have done and said. He will honor me; he will take from me and deliver it to you. Everything the Father has is also mine. That is why I’ve said, ‘He takes from me and delivers to you. In a day or so you’re not going to see me, but then in another day or so you will see me.” Verses 12-16

(Remember, the Spirit takes from Jesus and gives to us)

That stirred up a hornet’s nest of questions among the disciples: “What’s he talking about: ‘In a day or so you’re not going to see me, but then in another day or so you will see me’? And, ‘Because I’m on my way to the Father’? What is this ‘day or so’? We don’t know what he’s talking about.”

Jesus knew they were dying to ask him what he meant, so he said, “Are you trying to figure out among yourselves what I meant when I said, ‘In a day or so you’re not going to see me, but then in another day or so you will see me’? Then fix this firmly in your minds: You’re going to be in deep mourning while the godless world throws a party. You’ll be sad, very sad, but your sadness will develop into gladness. Verses 17-20

(Remember, sadness WILL develop into gladness)

“When a woman gives birth, she has a hard time, there’s no getting around it. But when the baby is born, there is joy in the birth. This new life in the world wipes out memory of the pain. The sadness you have right now is similar to that pain, but the coming joy is also similar. When I see you again, you’ll be full of joy, and it will be a joy no one can rob from you. You’ll no longer be so full of questions.

This is what I want you to do: Ask the Father for whatever is in keeping with the things I’ve revealed to you. Ask in my name, according to my will, and he’ll most certainly give it to you. Your joy will be a river overflowing its banks! Verses 21-24

(Remember, the new joy can wipe out the memory of the pain- not the event itself but the pain of the event)

 “I’ve used figures of speech in telling you these things. Soon I’ll drop the figures and tell you about the Father in plain language. Then you can make your requests directly to him in relation to this life I’ve revealed to you. I won’t continue making requests of the Father on your behalf. I won’t need to. Because you’ve gone out on a limb, committed yourselves to love and trust in me, believing I came directly from the Father, the Father loves you directly. First, I left the Father and arrived in the world; now I leave the world and travel to the Father.”

 His disciples said, “Finally! You’re giving it to us straight, in plain talk—no more figures of speech. Now we know that you know everything—it all comes together in you. You won’t have to put up with our questions anymore. We’re convinced you came from God.”

 Jesus answered them, “Do you finally believe? In fact, you’re about to make a run for it—saving your own skins and abandoning me. But I’m not abandoned. The Father is with me. I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” Verses 25-33

(REMEMBER, in times of difficulties, hold onto your faith, ask the Spirit for wisdom and strength, and trust Jesus – for in that trust is peace)

When we gradually recognize that God allows “bad” things to happen in order for something “good” to occur. When we recognize the “good” we may determine that the original happening although “bad” catapulted us in a way that “good” occurred.

This does not diminish the hurt that goes along with the loss or the heartache that comes from losing someone or something that has been an integral part of our lives. It does not diminish the fact that we hurt when people we love or others are hurting. It does not automatically take away the pain from a tragic event.

In other words, change that brings the end to something – death of a loved one, loss of a friend, change of employment, unexpected move to a new location – graduation– opens the door to something new. The “new” is different and can evolve into “good” when we allow God to be in the lead.

For what is “new” is bringing us closer and closer to the return of Jesus and the establishment of God’s Kingdom here on earth!

Scars . . . You Choose!

Scars . . . We all have them.

Scars are marks left by a healed wound or a lasting aftereffect of trouble or injury.

They are formed in various ways – by traumatic events not of our making – by choices we have made in the past or present that result in consequences – by actions of others that ripple out and cause heartache to us.

They can be physical, emotional, mental or spiritual. Scars can affect our appearance, our moods, our reactions, our choices and our faith.

Since we all have them, what do we do with them? They can be very ugly and depending on the type of scaring, they can continue to grow. They can impede our progress in life by preventing us from realizing that God can take anything and use it for His Glory.

In order to move past scaring, we need to identify the event and the scaring that has occurred – we need to place that event and all that came from it including the scaring into God’s hands – and if necessary, repent, lament and forgive.

And then, we need to do something truly extraordinary. We need to accept God’s love, grace, mercy and forgiveness – because the fight has already been won. It was won on the Cross and God’s Plan for you was restored in the Resurrection. We are made flawless in God’s sight through the blood shed by Jesus Christ.

So remember . . .those scars we bear can either turn our focus from this miraculous news or propel us forward into victory in God’s Plan.

You choose . . . And if you are having trouble, listen to these words by Mercy Me in their song “Flawless”

No matter the bumps
No matter the bruises
No matter the scars
Still the truth is
The cross has made
The cross has made you flawless

No matter the hurt
Or how deep the wound is
No matter the pain
Still the truth is
The cross has made
The cross has made you flawless

Could it possibly be
That we simply can’t believe
That this unconditional
Kind of love would be enough
To take a filthy wretch like this
And wrap him up in righteousness
But that’s exactly what He did

Take a breath smile and say
Right here right now I’m ok because
The cross was enough

Then like a hero who takes the stage when
We’re on the edge of our seats saying it’s too late
Well let me introduce you to grace grace
God’s grace

No matter what they say
Or what you think you are
The day you called His name
He made you flawless

God has it!

Worry is a failure to focus on God – it is a failure of trust. Worry takes us out of the moment we are in and puts us somewhere else where we are not called to be. Jesus took time to address worry at its source.

Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.

Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!

You can’t worship two gods at once. Loving one god, you’ll end up hating the other. Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other. You can’t worship God and Money both.

If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.

Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.

If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes. Matthew 6:19-34 The Message

Consider this sage advise from Corrie ten Boom:

“Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength –

carrying two days at once is moving into tomorrow ahead of time.

Worrying does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow;

it empties today of its strength.”

So remember –

when your mind turns to worry – “what ifs” and “what should I do’s” or “where should I go” or “where am I going to get that” or “what’s going to happen then”

Refocus your thoughts on Today and what God has called you to do in this day. Tomorrow will take care of itself . . .

Clean up after the storm!

All of us experience storms.

Most of us will encounter the storms that arise from the death of a loved one, a severe or terminal illness, or conflict with family members or co-workers. Some of us will experience actual common disasters such as fires, tornados or floods.

Preparation for storms especially those that you have no idea are coming involves the daily discipline of seeking God. For each of us that looks different but it is a critical life pattern to establish in preparation for what we know is coming.

Although many of us prepare for eventual storms through our daily walk of faith, many of us forget that storms produce debris. Remember there is always clean up after a storm – some storms have less but there is always clean up. Failure to recognize the need to devote time to the clean up may result in emotional and/or physical exhaustion, depression, illness, phobias and the inability to function in our daily lives.

Contemplate the following in preparation for the clean up which will come after your next storm. Remember storms will come. Being prepared as best we can is in God’s Will.

  1. Because we fail to acknowledge or see the debris field after a storm, we are not prepared for the temptation to fall back into the same habits that may have contributed to the storm in the first place.
  2. Many times, the newer the stormy experience, the more intense the storm is. Since we have not experienced the type of storm before, we don’t know what to expect and are in a weakened state. When we are in a weakened state, we are more apt to respond emotionally without asking for God for guidance.
  3. We tend to forget the lessons we have learned in our daily walks with Jesus – lessons like focus on today – tomorrow has enough trouble of its own. See Matt 6:34
  4. We forget that storms sometimes mean that we need to re-order our priorities. What may have been a priority before the storm may have to be reevaluated – a new order may need to be instituted.
  5. We may get trapped in what used to be, wanting it to go back to that familiar, comfortable time but forgetting that we are in a new place with a need to refocus. A shifting has occurred. Sarah Groves says it so well in her song “Painting a Picture of Egypt”:

But the places they used to fit me
Cannot hold the things I’ve learned
Those roads were closed off to me
While my back was turned
The past is so tangible
I know it by heart
Familiar things are never easy
To discard

  1. Most storms involve the need for us to focus intensely on a specific person, event or crisis and therefore after the passing of this intensity, it is difficult to allow ourselves to decompress, to reorder our thoughts and movements to reset. A reset button is critical – we have one – His name is Jesus. Permit yourself to rest in Him.
  2. Sometimes we fail to realize that the storm is over – that a doorway has been provided but we have failed to see it – we are still caught up in the swirling dervish and make choices to step back into the storm to our detriment. This usually is a failure to trust that God has delivered us from the storm and we have missed our cue to move on.
  3. Repetitive storms of the same nature sometimes mean we did not sufficiently clean up from the first one.
  4. Sometimes it is the nature of our work or the people placed in our lives that result in storms – but remember to be cautious about making someone else’s storms our own. Walking into someone else’s storm unless prompted by the Holy Spirit is always “bad” and sometimes deadly. It can result in the “lesson of the storm” being lost to the person whose storm it is which may be subjecting them to future storms of a similar nature.
  5. Storms can steer us “away” from God and into “self survival” mode – Part of the cleanup is recognizing our need for Jesus and asking for help.
  6. Remember to look for God’s help and answer to prayer during the clean up. Many of us “miss” God’s assistance by refusing the help sent to us.
  7. Above all, in the aftermath of the storm, we cannot lose sight of God’s love for us and His plans for us – plans to prosper us and not to harm us – plans to give us hope and a future. See Jeremiah 29:11

Storms can produce fruit – deeper and greater than was possessed before the storm – deeper love, joy, peace, patience, faith, – greater empathy and kindness, a newly acquired gentleness and more self-control. See Gal. 5:22. These “fruits” in turn, produce seeds which God plants and waters to maturity.

Each storm we weather, is an opportunity to come closer to God, to gain more wisdom and to produce more fruit. If we take the time to deal with the clean up, the next storm of a similar nature hopefully will feel more like a squall than a hurricane.

As believers in Jesus, we know there will be trouble – He told us. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

In Christ, we have peace. Peace in any storm. Our job is to claim it!

To My Children and Yours

Technology is the cause of much good in this world – but too much causes us to substitute the content of information stored in our memories with the “how to” of getting it. If suddenly we had no access to our cell phones or computers what would be stored in our brains that would sustain us?

Would we remember “critical” information that would allow us to live? Would we remember the pitfalls of “history” which would allow us not to repeat behavior? Would we be able to maintain our faith if we had no means to access our bibles (except for those who have hard copies)?

What is in your memory? What do you want in your memory? God’s promises? Jesus? Isn’t that the most critical information we can remember – What our Father has promised us? Who Jesus is and how the Spirit is working?

Make your list and read it routinely so that it sinks deep into the recesses of your soul where it will never be forgotten. Here’s a start:

I am the Way and the Truth and the Life – no one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” John 3:3

I will never leave you nor forsake you.

Deut 31:8; Heb. 13:5; Josh 1:5; 1 Chron 28:20

 Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself. Matt 22:37-39; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27

The joy of the Lord is your strength. Neh 8:10

For I know the plans I have for you . . .plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11

This is the day the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24

God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us. Eph 3:20 The Message

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. James 3:2

 . . . “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” . . . 2 Cor. 12:9

 Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me. Luke 18:38; Mark 10:47

 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. 1 Cor 7:14

Point your kids in the right direction – when they’re old they won’t be lost. Proverbs 22:6

I lift my eyes unto the hills – where does my help come from – my help comes from the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth. Psalm 121:1

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Psalm 23

Rejoice in the Lord always – again I say rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Phil 4:4-7

Go forth making disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I will be with you always to the very end of the age. Matthew 28:18-20

“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me.  And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” John 15:26-27

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. James 1:27

 It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega – the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty, I will give without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all of this and I will be his God and he will be my son. Rev 21:6-7

. . . Yes, I am coming soon. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.  Rev 21:20

Maybe you just haven’t seen it yet!

You have been seeking, praying, pleading and yet, a situation or problem persists. Sometimes it is hard to hang onto hope – hard to set aside the temptation to sink into depression that comes from no answer.

Danny Gokey sums it up in his song “Haven’t seen it yet”:

 Have you been praying and you still have no answers?
Have you been pouring out your heart for so many years?
Have you been hoping that things would have changed by now?
Have you cried all the faith you have through so many tears?

Don’t forget the things that He has done before
And remember He can do it all once more

 CHORUS:

It’s like the brightest sunrise
Waiting on the other side of the darkest night
Don’t ever lose hope, hold on and believe
Maybe you just haven’t seen it, just haven’t seen it yet
You’re closer than you think you are
Only moments from the break of dawn
All His promises are just up ahead
Maybe you just haven’t seen it, just haven’t seen it yet
Maybe you just haven’t seen it, just haven’t seen it yet
Maybe you just haven’t seen it

 He had the solution before you had the problem
He sees the best in you when you feel at your worst
So in the questioning, don’t ever doubt His love for you
‘Cause it’s only in His love that you’ll find a breakthrough, oh

 CHORUS

 He is moving with a love so deep
Hallelujah for the victory
Good things are coming even when we can’t see
We can’t see it yet, but we believe that

Songwriters: Colby Wedgeworth / Ethan Hulse / Danny Gokey

 Each day we are called to keep our eyes on the one who has the “solution before we even had the problem” – the one who will never leave us or forsake us – the one who is for us not against us – the one who loves us far more than we love ourselves.

The alternative would be disastrous. If we knew of the problem before it happened, we would try to change course – try to side-step the issue or change a course that we need to power through. Without the problem, we would not seek to come closer to the One who has the answer!

Remember . . . the victory is already at hand. Let us set our hearts, minds, souls and our strength on God in this day. Live today in the victory of Jesus – and BELIEVE that

He is moving with a love so deep
Hallelujah for the victory
Good things are coming even when we can’t see
We can’t see it yet, but we believe . . .

How does it seem so long ago?

It is the week after Easter. Are we still thanking God for our Risen Savior?

Praise the Lord.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;

his love endures forever.

 Who can proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord

or fully declare his praise?

Blessed are those who act justly,

who always do what is right.

 Remember me, Lord, when you show favor to your people

come to my aid when you save them,

that I may enjoy the prosperity of your chosen ones,

that I may share in the joy of your nation

and join your inheritance in giving praise. Psalm 104:1-5 NIV

Are we still acknowledging our rebellion and our forgetfulness?

We’ve sinned a lot, both we and our parents;
We’ve fallen short, hurt a lot of people.
After our parents left Egypt,
they took your wonders for granted,
forgot your great and wonderful love.

They were barely beyond the Red Sea
when they defied the High God
—the very place he saved them!
—the place he revealed his amazing power!
He rebuked the Red Sea so that it dried up on the spot
—he paraded them right through!
—no one so much as got wet feet!

He saved them from a life of oppression,
pried them loose from the grip of the enemy.
Then the waters flowed back on their oppressors;
there wasn’t a single survivor.
Then they believed his words were true
and broke out in songs of praise.

 But it wasn’t long before they forgot the whole thing,
wouldn’t wait to be told what to do.
They only cared about pleasing themselves in that desert,
provoked God with their insistent demands. 
Psalm 106:6-14 The Message

 Was Easter just another “holiday” for us – a time for fun with family and friends – a time to take off work, eat good food and start spring cleaning?

Where are we in this week after Easter? Are we in the desert? Are we giving into our cravings?

Remember . . . Easter is not just once a year. It is everyday! We are blessed to live in the day, week, month and year after the first Easter.  Hillsong says it this way ….

Let us not forget . . . lest we succumb to the temptations of the desert that occur when we fail to remember . . . when we fail to turn our thoughts to praise . . . when we fail to walk with our Risen Savior.

The Day After

We look forward to “holidays” – a time to celebrate our faith, spend time with our families and contemplate the Blessings which have been poured out upon us.   However, many times these holidays come and go with no real impact on our souls. Many of us spend too much time preparing for the festivities and not enough time remembering the purpose of the celebration.

Don’t despair. Remembering today – the day after Easter – is in fact extremely important for the soul. Today, we are living in the aftermath of Easter – we are living in the dawn of the Resurrection. We can rest in the peace that comes with knowing in our souls that Jesus is Risen.

So take some time to contemplate these words from Jesus. Words to live by – words to nourish the soul.

When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

“Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.

“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:1-16 The Message

Today, remember the Blessings that were given to us – remember the gift of the Risen Christ – who conquered death and in that process provided a way for those who believe to follow Him to where He is – Eternity.

Remember, we are God’s light in this day – the light that shines eternity into this world.

Remember . . . What Week Is It?

What do you do to remember the Risen Christ? Isn’t this coming week – referred by some as Holy Week – a week of remembrance?

And who cares anyway? Why is it so important that we remember?

Because, it is a matter of life eternal or death eternal.

On Palm Sunday, we celebrate and remember Christ’s triumphal walk into Jerusalem – crowds acknowledging that He is the Messiah – people celebrating his kingship.

On Thursday, we celebrate and remember Christ’s last supper with his disciples – a meal where Jesus gave us communion to remember Him by – a time to come together as fellow followers and to remember His body broken for us and his blood poured out for the forgiveness of sins.

On Friday, we celebrate and remember his final sacrifice – a day when Christ’s love for humanity ran so deep that He died in our place for our sin – overcoming death once and for all.

On Saturday, we remember the heartache we face when we forget that Easter Sunday has already come – the day after Christ died and before the first disciples knew that Easter Sunday was coming.

And then . . . Easter Sunday . . . the day we celebrate and remember the Risen Christ. This is the day, we celebrate and remember and understand that Jesus IS the Son of God – that He conquered sin and the resultant death – our death – that He went before us to prepare a place for us – that He is already there, waiting for each of us, expecting us. We remember His Words to us before He left:

“I didn’t tell you earlier because I was with you every day. But now I am on my way to the One who sent me. Not one of you has asked, “Where are you going?” Instead, the longer I’ve talked, the sadder you’ve become. So let me say it again, this truth: It’s better for you that I leave. If I don’t leave, the Friend won’t come. But if I go, I’ll send him to you.

 When he comes, he’ll expose the error of the godless world’s view of sin, righteousness, and judgment: He’ll show them that their refusal to believe in me is their basic sin. That righteousness comes from above, where I am with the Father, out of their sight and control; that judgment takes place as the ruler of this godless world is brought to trial and convicted.

 I still have many things to tell you, but you can’t handle them now. But when the Friend comes, the Spirit of the Truth, he will take you by the hand and guide you into all the truth there is. He won’t draw attention to himself, but will make sense out of what is about to happen and, indeed, out of all that I have done and said. He will honor me; he will take from me and deliver it to you. Everything the Father has is also mine. That is why I’ve said, ‘He takes from me and delivers to you.’

 John 16:5-15 The Message

RETURN – REFOCUS – REBUILD – RECONCILE – REMEMBER – REJOICE!

FOR CHRIST IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN INDEED!!

God – Our Father, Our Jesus, Our Spirit

What is the reason you are opening your Bible? Are you looking for something that will speak to you about a situation you are in? Are you looking for encouragement? Are you looking for comfort? What ARE you looking for?

It seems like some of us approach reading the bible as a “chore” – something we are supposed to do. We memorize scripture because we are told that it is good to memorize scripture. We read a daily devotion because we believe that is the “right” way to start or end our day. Some of us never open the Bible because we have no idea why we should. So . . . What is the “purpose” of the WORD?

We are told that JESUS is the Word – the Word of Life.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood. . . . The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. John 1:1-5, 14

 And again:

That which was from the beginning which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 1 John 1:1-7

God the Father and Jesus the Son were together in the “Beginning”, along with the Holy Spirit (See Genesis 1:2). These three persons have always existed together in relationship. God is described as “Father” throughout the Bible – “father” implies that there is a child* – who is described as the Son of God – Jesus.

Jesus, The Word, tells us this: This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Luke 24:46-49

God gave us the Spirit. (See Joel 2:26-28; John 20:21-22; See Acts 1-2) God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom he has given us. Romans 5:5  The Spirit is the person who brings to life the Word through sharing his loving relationship with God and Jesus with all of us.

So . . . Why do we open our Bible? Is it not to uncover each and every time a new facet of our relationship with the one who created us and who wants to be in relationship with us – to know the Triune God more intimately?

Remember, the Word is alive and moving through us by the Spirit.

So the next time you open your Bible, do so reverently and with excitement, wonder and amazement – realizing that the Spirit of the Living God will be with you as you seek relationship with God – our Father, our Jesus and our Holy Spirit.

For Further Reading about the Trinity see “Delighting in the Trinity” – Michael Reeves

Wide Open Space

Are you feeling lost and alone?  Wait upon the Lord!

Are you plagued by doubts and what ifs?   Wait upon the Lord!

Are you bruised and broken within?  Wait upon the Lord!

You are not alone.

Psalm 38  – A Psalm of David – The Message

Take a deep breath, God; calm down—
don’t be so hasty with your punishing rod.
Your sharp-pointed arrows of rebuke draw blood;
my backside smarts from your caning.

 I’ve lost twenty pounds in two months
because of your accusation.
My bones are brittle as dry sticks
because of my sin.
I’m swamped by my bad behavior,
collapsed under gunnysacks of guilt.

 The cuts in my flesh stink and grow maggots
because I’ve lived so badly.
And now I’m flat on my face
feeling sorry for myself morning to night.
All my insides are on fire,
my body is a wreck.
I’m on my last legs; I’ve had it—
my life is a vomit of groans.

Lord, my longings are sitting in plain sight,
my groans an old story to you.
My heart’s about to break;
I’m a burned-out case.

Cataracts blind me to God and good;
old friends avoid me like the plague.
My cousins never visit,
my neighbors stab me in the back.
My competitors blacken my name,
devoutly they pray for my ruin.

But I’m deaf and mute to it all,
ears shut, mouth shut.
I don’t hear a word they say,
don’t speak a word in response.
What I do, God, is wait for you,
wait for my Lord, my God—you will answer!
I wait and pray so they won’t laugh me off,
won’t smugly strut off when I stumble.

I’m on the edge of losing it—
the pain in my gut keeps burning.
I’m ready to tell my story of failure,
I’m no longer smug in my sin.
My enemies are alive and in action,
a lynch mob after my neck.
I give out good and get back evil
from God-haters who can’t stand a God-lover.

Don’t dump me, God;
my God, don’t stand me up.
Hurry and help me;
I want some wide-open space in my life!

Do you want some wide-open space in your life?

Then . . . Remember – Wait upon the Lord.

Turn to God, be still in His presence and ask for help.  He will provide what you need – not necessarily what you want – but what you need in this moment.  Do not refuse His help.  Do not wallow in your issues – as a matter of fact – cease complaining and analyzing.  Acknowledge your behavior – share your remorse with God. Remember . . . He already knows – He was there when you did it.  Let Him deal with your enemies – the ones that seem to be coming after you in your weakness.

Put your trust in Him – the One who Saves – the One who provides wide-open space in your life – where peace abounds.

Detour . . . Really?

He answered again: “No. You may not come through.” And Edom came out and blocked the way with a crowd of people brandishing weapons. Edom refused to let them cross through his land. So Israel had to detour around him. Numbers 20:20-21 The Message

Sometimes, we are presented with detours not of our making. For instance, when a highway is shut down for repairs and the detour comes through your town. You did not cause the detour. You may have been warned about it but there is nothing you can really “do” about it. It is coming whether you complain about it or not. It is a disruption to your “normal” routine.   The truth is it can be embraced as a positive or judged as a negative.  You can cooperate with God in the detour or dig your heals in and complain.

What are you doing with that life detour of yours – the ones not associated with your disobedience or sin? Are you praying for the people who have suddenly been detoured through your life? Are you caring for the workers who are stationed at your square? Are you focusing on “who“ God has placed in your path? Or . . . are you pulled into the complaining of the “inconvenience” of it all or judging the people who are involved in the detour?

Why do we view all life’s detours as “detours”? Why are we not seeing some of them for what they are – God’s timing for something we might have little or no clue about. Maybe . . . our detour is God’s plan.   “Why”, you ask. “I don’t know”, is the reply. If we knew, we would screw it up!

If it is God’s plan, then it is not a detour but a moment to be embraced.

 

 

Truth and Consequences

Truth is defined as a “verified or indisputable fact, proposition, principal or the like”. Truth is also defined as “an ideal or fundamental reality apart from and transcending perceived experience”. Truthfulness is found in the list of “good” character traits along with honesty and integrity.

We struggle all the time with “truth”. Many of us are skeptical of what we hear or see in the media or in social media because we can’t verify that what is said is true. We are constantly trying to figure out if what is reported is actually the entire truth or part of the truth. Not having the entire truth can lead us down a path that we would never have taken had we known the entire truth.

So we need to start at the beginning in order to be grounded in the “absolute” truth that will allow us to calmly deal with the process of discerning truth in the dailiness of our everyday lives. Each of us needs to spend time answering the following questions in our own hearts. The answer to these questions form the basis of our understanding of everything else. If we know the answer to these questions then our reliance on this truth will profoundly affect how we perceive situations and people, and the path we will take in our life journeys.

*Does God exist and who is He? **Is Jesus Christ the Son of God and what does that mean? ***Is the Holy Spirit guiding believers in this day?

If we cannot answer these questions with certainty, then we can seek out the answers in many ways – by reading or hearing God’s Word (the Bible), by seeking the Truth in prayer, by contemplating the work of His Hand in Creation and by seeking out his disciples.

If our answers to these questions are “yes”, then our absolute truth starts with these truths: *God exists and created this world and everything in it. He loved us so much that He sent His only son to us to save us. **Christ is the Son of God; sent by God to save us from sin and to provide a way for us to enter eternal life. He lived, was crucified, was raised by the Holy Spirit, appeared to his disciples after death and lives with God. ***The Holy Spirit was sent to us by Jesus to be our guide and counselor; He is moving and working in our lives in this day. (The expanded version of these answers are found in the Bible)

These absolute truths have consequences. We need to remember them each day – preferably before we start into our busyness. Having these truths at the front of our consciousness will result in responses that may be substantially different than the response we may have had if we forget these basic absolute truths.

The Bible is chalk full of examples of what happens when we “forget” the absolute truths – Noah (Genesis 6-9); the Israelites in the wilderness (Numbers 11-14); and Judas’ betrayal (Matthew 26:47-56, Mark 14:43-52; Luke 22:47-50; John 18:3-11) to name a few.

We are contending with the consequence of this forgetfulness in our families, society and the Church – consequences like pride, grumbling, gossip, abuse, greed, gluttony, and sexual misconduct.

Many people label those in the church as “hypocrites” for our failure to put these absolute truths in the forefront of our moment by moment responses. We have forgotten God’s direction to us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself.”

But all is not lost. Each of us can choose to live in these Truths in this day. To stand in their strength – to rely on their goodness – to share in the love and grace that results from their power.

Remember . . . these Truths do have consequences.

GOD v. worldliness

We have a choice when it comes to living. We can choose the “ways of the world” or the “ways of God”. Some of us walk in and out of these two choices picking what each of us “think” apply to us individually.  Of course, that could be considered a third category of living – living according to our own perceptions of what is right and wrong. In essence, living according to our “own” moral standard is merely a “way of the world”.

We are warned by God throughout the Bible to distance ourselves from the world. There are directions and examples set forth from Genesis to Revelations on the need to follow God instead of the world around us. Paul summarizes how we are to live in Romans:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2 NIV

or said another way:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.  Romans 1-2 The Message

 We are called to live in the world but not to be a part of it. That means we have to know what behavior God warns us about and turn from it remembering that sin has adverse consequences.   When sin is pursued to its final outcome, it proves deadly.

Ignoring God Leads to a Downward Spiral

But God’s angry displeasure erupts as acts of human mistrust and wrongdoing and lying accumulate, as people try to put a shroud over truth. But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So nobody has a good excuse. What happened was this: People knew God perfectly well, but when they didn’t treat him like God, refusing to worship him, they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion so that there was neither sense nor direction left in their lives. They pretended to know it all, but were illiterate regarding life. They traded the glory of God who holds the whole world in his hands for cheap figurines you can buy at any roadside stand.

 So God said, in effect, “If that’s what you want, that’s what you get.” It wasn’t long before they were living in a pigpen, smeared with filth, filthy inside and out. And all this because they traded the true God for a fake god, and worshiped the god they made instead of the God who made them—the God we bless, the God who blesses us. Oh, yes!

Worse followed. Refusing to know God, they soon didn’t know how to be human either—women didn’t know how to be women, men didn’t know how to be men. Sexually confused, they abused and defiled one another, women with women, men with men—all lust, no love. And then they paid for it, oh, how they paid for it—emptied of God and love, godless and loveless wretches.

Since they didn’t bother to acknowledge God, God quit bothering them and let them run loose. And then all hell broke loose: rampant evil, grabbing and grasping, vicious backstabbing. They made life hell on earth with their envy, wanton killing, bickering, and cheating. Look at them: mean-spirited, venomous, fork-tongued God-bashers. Bullies, swaggerers, insufferable windbags! They keep inventing new ways of wrecking lives. They ditch their parents when they get in the way. Stupid, slimy, cruel, cold-blooded. And it’s not as if they don’t know better. They know perfectly well they’re spitting in God’s face. And they don’t care—worse, they hand out prizes to those who do the worst things best! Romans 1:18-32 The Message

We have all sinned and fallen short of God’s Glory. The key is to recognize our own sin and where we are each vulnerable to sin. Some of us struggle with pride, some with gluttony, some with gossip, others with greed, still others with sexual sins. When we take the time to set our sin before God and ask for forgiveness, God through His Grace will show us the way to change course.

Remember, the prodigal son (Luke 11;15-32). God’s Grace is far greater than any of our individual sin. He is waiting for us to recognize it and confess it to Him. He will then provide a way from it – for every situation can be used by God to bring Him Glory – even our sin-filled past and our bumpy journey away from it.

March Forth

There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,

a time for war and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

These Words of God penned by Solomon are critical to dealing with the ups and downs of life. Solomon advises us that in each of our lives there is a time for what we consider “good” and “bad” activity. We don’t always know why these events occur – nor do we always know the reason for them. We can surmise the reason and spend precious time speaking to each other about the reasons but we have limited understanding of what God’s plan is and how the “event” is going to impact us or others.

So what is the purpose of these ups and downs in life? How can we weather both the monotony of some activities and the storm of other activities? How do we cope with certain unspeakable horrors? What is the purpose of pleasure and sorrow?

I walked a mile with Pleasure;

She chatted all the way;

But left me none the wiser

For all she had to say.

I walked a mile with Sorrow,

And ne’er a word said she;

But, oh” the things I learned from her,

When sorrow walked with me.

“I walked a Mile with Pleasure” by Robert Browning Hamilton

The answer lies in the way we understand our purpose in this life. We are created by God for His purpose. We may or may not “know” what His purpose is for us in any given moment but the deeper our faith, the more we realize that He is in control and that’s precisely where we should want Him to be.

It is through the trials of life that we gain the most wisdom. It is through deep heartache that we understand the depth of joy. It is through tearing down strongholds that we are able to rebuild with understanding. It is only through pain and heartache that we learn to seek our Savior. It is only through seeking our Savior that we gain the understanding needed to know, accept and trust that God is in control.

So let us reconsider the trials and tribulations of our lives with a new perspective. Remember without them, we would not gain the wisdom needed to deepen our faith in our Creator and our Savior.

The Final Word

Besides being wise himself, the Quester also taught others knowledge. He weighed, examined, and arranged many proverbs. The Quester did his best to find the right words and write the plain truth.

The words of the wise prod us to live well.
They’re like nails hammered home, holding life together.
They are given by God, the one Shepherd.

But regarding anything beyond this, dear friend, go easy. There’s no end to the publishing of books, and constant study wears you out so you’re no good for anything else. The last and final word is this:

Fear God.
Do what he tells you.

And that’s it. Eventually God will bring everything that we do out into the open and judge it according to its hidden intent, whether it’s good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:9-14 The Message

“Everyday” Miracles

The Old Testament and the New Testament are a documentary on miracles – miracles of healing, miracles showing power over nature and miracles of raising the dead. We recognize that the greatest miracle was that of Christ being sent to us and preparing the way to eternal life by taking on our sins, dying on the cross and being resurrected to eternal life with God.

One of the reasons these miracles were written down was for us to remember what God has done in the past and a reminder that He is still a God of miracles. There are still healing miracles – there are still miracles showing God’s power over nature and I am sure there are miracles raising people from the dead.

But we tend to overlook or ignore what I call the “everyday” miracles designed just for us – for each of us to see as we go through our day. The question is “do we have eyes to see and ears to hear?” Do we expect miracles in our lives and the lives of our loved ones? Do we actually pray for them?

So what is an “everyday” miracle? I define it as something extraordinary that happens that is known by me to be an answer to prayer or a sign that I know was designed just for me in that moment. These types of miracles are difficult to explain to others because they are so very personal. Most of the time no one else knows that the miracle is occurring because it is an “everyday” event to others.

I have come to know these “everyday” miracles after many years of observation.   I can’t say that the following example was the “first” one I encountered but it certainly sticks out in my mind as one of the “every day “ miracles that jolted me into the realization that God is listening to every utterance we make and He cares that we communicate with Him. I have learned to expect communication from Him and try to look for it in the ordinariness of my daily activities.

About 21 years ago, my family moved from one town to another. I was pregnant with our third child and it had been a difficult time of packing in the midst of caring for two preschoolers, working, preparing the new house for our arrival and preparing the old house for sale. I was tired, stretched thin, unable to ask for help from friends and family and basically in the “moment by moment” mode of life.

In other words, I was an exhausted, sassy, pregnant woman with a short fuse. I was in deep conversation with the Lord – it was the only thing that was giving me strength to go on. I wondered if this move was at the right time, was the right place and would be a good fit for our family.

We loaded up the final boxes and furniture and I was thankful that the rain had held off. I was also thankful that the day was almost over but anxious about what lay ahead. As we pulled out of our old home, I gasped as I saw it. A rainbow – the most beautiful rainbow I think I had ever seen. It arced across the whole sky and filled the deep recesses of my mind with its beauty.  It spoke a deep peace to my soul.  It told me that God cared for me – that He had been with them on the journey and was going to continue on that journey with me – it reassured me that we were doing the right thing by moving – it promised me that God loved me and it gave me hope that a new life was ahead – a life filled with love, peace and joy.

To most other people that day in that little town in the world, that rainbow may have been seen as beautiful but it was viewed as an ordinary meteorological event. For me, it was a direct communication from God reassuring me of His presence and giving me hope for the future – He had plans for me – plans to prosper me and not to harm me – plans to give me hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:8

In my life, I have come to know that rainbows appear at times of great transition or fervent prayers. They are a sign to me that God is with me and they remind me of His promise that He will never leave me or forsake me.   These “everyday” miracles make me want to be ever vigilant in seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary events of my day.

So, in this ordinary day, seek Him and ask for your eyes and ears to be opened to see and hear what He has for you. When our eyes and ears are opened, we begin to see and hear the “everyday” miracles – then, we begin to expect to see and hear the miracles. When we wake each day, expecting to see God’s miraculous hand, we become “new” each day, excited about what God has in store for us, expecting His mighty hand to save, reinvent, revitalize, refresh and open doors for us to bring Glory to Him.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Matthew 7:7-8

Obedience is thicker than blood.

While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”

He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Matthew 12:46-50 NIV. See also Mark 3:31-35 and Luke 8:19-21

Jesus responds to question concerning his mother and brothers in three of the four gospels. At the time he shares this wisdom with his followers, He is in the midst of explaining the Kingdom of God using parables. In the Gospel of Matthew, He has just warned people about evil spirits and protecting themselves by keeping their eyes on God continually to prevent re-infestation of evil. In Mark, He has just warned people about blaspheming the Holy Spirit. In Luke, He has just warned people to spread God’s wisdom and light and not to keep it hidden.

Jesus is calling us into a “one-on-one” relationship with God. It does not mean we do not care for or receive care from our “earthly” family, but it does mean that we need to seek God first and listen to Him independently of others. And remember, once we “hear” we need to be obedient to what we have heard from God.

 He replied, “My mother and brothers are the ones who hear and do God’s Word. Obedience is thicker than blood.” Luke 8:21 The Message

TRADITION! TRADITION!!

So why do we do what we do in church? Why do some of us kneel to pray while others sit or stand? Why do some of us sing hymns and some of us sing praise songs? Why do some of us light candles on the altar and others do not? Why do some take communion every day and some take communion once a month. Why? Why? Why? Tradition!!!!!

Hear how Jesus reacted to the tradition of the day:

Some Pharisees and teachers of religious law now arrived from Jerusalem to see Jesus. They asked him, “Why do your disciples disobey our age-old tradition? For they ignore our tradition of ceremonial hand washing before they eat.”

Jesus replied, “And why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God? For instance, God says, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’  In this way, you say they don’t need to honor their parents. And so you cancel the word of God for the sake of your own tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,

‘These people honor me with their lips,

but their hearts are far from me.

Their worship is a farce,

for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’  Matthew 15:1-9 NLT

Jesus’ observations about the religious teachers man-made rules are critical to our understanding of our own worship. Why do we worship a certain way? Do we understand the tradition? Are we critical of others because they are not worshiping as we are?

 Tradition is seeped in scripture. Men and woman have interpreted Scripture to create traditions that remind us of the Scripture from which the tradition sprang. When you are involved in creating a tradition, you understand the purpose of it and when you follow it, you are reminded of that purpose.

For example, carrying light into the sanctuary at the beginning of the Church service and taking it out at the end reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world and we are to take His light out into the world. When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

These man-made traditions remind us of God’s Word, His promises, His covenants and His love for us and the Church. They are designed to help us remember Jesus and His promise of eternal life. But like any tradition, we can close our minds and refuse to “remember” the purpose of the tradition. And of course for many of us, we do not even know “why” it is that we “do” what we do in worship.

The point of “tradition” is to cause you to remember. It is repetitive in order to help you set aside the ”how” of doing it and concentrate on the “why”. So take some time this week to remember your traditions. Celebrate the ones that help you remember God and His Word. Find out why you practice traditions you don’t understand and above all, make sure you are honoring God with not only your lips but also your heart.

Be Delivered!

We all know the story of Moses and the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt. Most of us learned it as children – a story of how God came to the rescue of His enslaved people and sent them a deliverer to bring them out of their enslavement.

We know Moses heard and saw his call of God from a burning bush. We know about the ten plagues that God brought upon the Egyptians. We know about the parting of the red sea.

But have we actually thought about what it would be like to be one of those Israelites. Have we put ourselves in their shoes? When Moses came and requested their release, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Why? Can you imagine what the talk was around the camp fire? Were the Israelites “happy” that God had sent Moses to them? Did they even believe that he was sent? Was there dancing in the streets – celebrations in everyone’s homes? NO.

Then the Israelite overseers went and appealed to Pharaoh: “Why have you treated your servants this way? Your servants are given no straw, yet we are told, ‘Make bricks!’ Your servants are being beaten, but the fault is with your own people.”

Pharaoh said, “Lazy, that’s what you are—lazy! That is why you keep saying, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’ Now get to work. You will not be given any straw, yet you must produce your full quota of bricks.”

The Israelite overseers realized they were in trouble when they were told, “You are not to reduce the number of bricks required of you for each day.” When they left Pharaoh, they found Moses and Aaron waiting to meet them, and they said, “May the Lord look on you and judge you! You have made us obnoxious to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”

Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.” Exodus 5:15-23

What does your deliverance look like? Have you been praying for years for help and nothing has happened? Have you expected something or someone to pluck you out of a terrible situation and you just have not seen any sign of movement? Have things actually gotten worse after you prayed?

Take heart. God hears every prayer. God sees every heartache. He sent a deliverer to you – His Name is Jesus Christ. Instead of focusing on the need for your delivery, focus on the deliverer – Jesus. When your thoughts stray to darkness and your mind pulls you into depression, turn your thoughts to Him – set your eyes on His Word – direct your heart to sing His praises – pray for the song you need to hear to permeate your soul.

As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?  Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”

Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Exodus 14:10-14

Deliverance is always difficult. God hardens hearts for many reasons, but one is for us to recognize our need for Him – to refocus on Him – to be attentive to his call to us. When things are at their worse, we seek Him because we recognize there is nothing we can do but trust Him to deliver.

Deliverance for the Israelites was definitely a physical act by God to remove them from Egypt and place them in the promised land. But God was also delivering them from themselves – years of slavery and years in the desert finally turned some of their hearts away from themselves and their dire circumstances and to God. The ones that did not turn to God died in the desert.

Don’t be one of them. Turn and be saved.

And if you are one of the ones who has been saved, then remember there are many people that you know that are in need of your prayers and encouragement. If you are delivered then you understand the need to cooperate with God in the deliverance of others.

Are you following in order to truly lead?

It is a hard truth for even a devout follower of Jesus Christ to get their head wrapped around the fact that they are suffering and that God has allowed it.  Why? We cannot fathom the total answer to this question except God allows things to happen so that His Will can be done. His good, pleasing and perfect Will is for us to come to know Him as the Messiah and join Him in Eternity.

How God accomplishes this is through the Holy Spirit, by love, grace and mercy.  He uses followers and their sufferings to bring others into this saving knowledge.  He does it in ways and by means we cannot fully understand.

Jesus and his disciples headed out for the villages around Caesarea Philippi. As they walked, he asked, “Who do the people say I am?” 

 “Some say ‘John the Baptizer,’” they said. “Others say ‘Elijah.’ Still others say ‘one of the prophets.’” 

He then asked, “And you—what are you saying about me? Who am I?” 

Peter gave the answer: “You are the Christ, the Messiah.” 

Jesus warned them to keep it quiet, not to breathe a word of it to anyone. He then began explaining things to them: “It is necessary that the Son of Man proceed to an ordeal of suffering, be tried and found guilty by the elders, high priests, and religion scholars, be killed, and after three days rise up alive.” He said this simply and clearly so they couldn’t miss it.  Mark 8:27-32 

Once we comprehend that Jesus is the Messiah and He is leading us to victory through the help of the Holy Spirit, we can understand what Jesus says next to Peter:

But Peter grabbed him in protest. 

Turning and seeing his disciples wavering, wondering what to believe, Jesus confronted Peter. “Peter, get out of my way! Satan, get lost! You have no idea how God works.” 

Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for? 

“If any of you are embarrassed over me and the way I’m leading you when you get around your fickle and unfocused friends, know that you’ll be an even greater embarrassment to the Son of Man when he arrives in all the splendor of God, his Father, with an army of the holy angels.” Mark 8:32-38 The Message 

Jesus told Peter to get out of his way.  Don’t protest the Way of the Messiah whose role is to lead – allow it.  We are to follow.  Self-help is no help at all.  We are not to do this alone but at the direction of Jesus through the helper He sent to us – The Holy Spirit.  Our words should be His Words delivered in faith after prayer.

Does Prayer even matter?

Sometimes we get discouraged in our prayer lives because we don’t “see” results. This is especially true when it involves a loved one for whom we have been praying for a long time. When this occurs, we need a reminder that prayer is about an interactive relationship with God. It is about sharing with God our heart felt concerns for someone plus our joys and our hopes and our fears.

Prayer is not always about making requests.   It is also about giving thanks and praise. Prayer is an act of faith – faith in God – faith in His love for us – faith that His Will is the perfect plan for us and others.

Mark tells us of a time when Jesus showed the disciples about the power of prayer – of being in constant communication with the Father.

The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.   Mark 11:12-14

When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.

In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly, I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11:20-25

Jesus was showing the disciples that prayer is powerful. He used the fig tree as an example that a curse has consequences. Conversely, so does a blessing. So be careful that your heart is in the right place when you are praying – that it is pure and seeks the best and the highest for the person you are praying for. Get rid of resentments and past wrongs (real or perceived). Forgiveness of others, promotes God’s forgiveness of our selves.

AND . . . Remember, after Jesus ascended into Heaven, He sent to us the Holy Spirit – The same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. Within all those who believe, the Holy Spirit lives and dwells with resurrection power. Therefore, believe and trust that your prayers have been heard and answered.

Therefore, believe and trust that your prayers have been heard and answered!  You may see instant results and you may not. God hears all our prayers – the communication of our hearts.  We need to trust that those communications are being addressed perfectly by the God of the Universe. Thankfully, God’s grace turns our “misguided” prayers into something even better.

God’s perfect Will is more desirable than our plan. So the most awesome prayer to pray for someone else is that God’s Will be done in their lives, trusting that what happens is going to be used for God’s glory.

Remember, those prayers that you have been praying for years have been heard and answered by God. Maybe not in the way you have asked but through the filter of God’s Grace. Trust. Your prayers may be the catalyst that turns a person towards God and away from death.

My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins. James 5:19-20

Don’t be naive!

What does it mean to be naïve? Who do we envision when that word is used to describe someone? – A child running through a field chasing a butterfly – A person heading out to look for their first job – An innocent young boy or girl who has never been kissed? Eve in the garden with the serpent?

Well, that last one is an interesting one to ponder. We all know the story of “the fall”. We get it – God told Adam and Eve not to eat fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because they would surely die. The serpent tempted Eve who ate and shared her fruit with Adam. Because of their disobedience and new-found knowledge, God could not allow them to eat from the tree of life and live forever so He placed them outside the garden – away from the ability to live forever.

What does this story have to do with us – except that we are descendants of Adam and Eve who really screwed up when they disobeyed God!! That “screw up” affected the whole human race.

Let’s sit in the story for a few minutes. Read Genesis 3 from your own Bible and then read the Scripture as set forth in the following modern translation “The Message”.

The serpent was clever, more clever than any wild animal God had made. He spoke to the Woman: “Do I understand that God told you not to eat from any tree in the garden?”

The Woman said to the serpent, “Not at all. We can eat from the trees in the garden. It’s only about the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘Don’t eat from it; don’t even touch it or you’ll die.’”

The serpent told the Woman, “You won’t die. God knows that the moment you eat from that tree, you’ll see what’s really going on. You’ll be just like God, knowing everything, ranging all the way from good to evil.”

When the Woman saw that the tree looked like good eating and realized what she would get out of it—she’d know everything!—she took and ate the fruit and then gave some to her husband, and he ate.

Immediately the two of them did “see what’s really going on”—saw themselves naked! They sewed fig leaves together as makeshift clothes for themselves.

When they heard the sound of God strolling in the garden in the evening breeze, the Man and his Wife hid in the trees of the garden, hid from God.

 God called to the Man: “Where are you?”

He said, “I heard you in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked. And I hid.”

God said, “Who told you you were naked? Did you eat from that tree I told you not to eat from?

 The Man said, “The Woman you gave me as a companion, she gave me fruit from the tree, and, yes, I ate it.”

God said to the Woman, “What is this that you’ve done?”

 “The serpent seduced me,” she said, “and I ate.” Genesis 3:1-13

Eve had no knowledge of evil when the serpent spoke to her. She did not know what it meant to be lied to. She did not know what it meant to be deceived. She did not know what temptation was. She did not know what disobedience entailed – she had never disobeyed.

She did know that God told her not to eat from one tree. She knew what she was not supposed to do.

Adam had no reason not to trust Eve – they were companions in paradise. He did not know what it meant to be lied to. He did not know what it meant to be deceived. He did not know what temptation was. He did not know what disobedience entailed – He had never disobeyed.

He did know that God told him not to eat from one tree. He knew what he was not supposed to do.

Adam and Eve did not think about how their actions of disobedience would impact them and the rest of civilization. They had never disobeyed! They did not challenge the serpent or each other because they did not know what evil was – they did not know what consequences would occur. They were naïve.

We, on the other hand, should not be naïve. We know the story of Adam and Eve.  We have the knowledge of good and evil. We have suffered under that knowledge. We have disobeyed throughout our lives and we know that consequences occur. We know there is a temptor who has been defeated but who roams the earth looking for naïve people to tempt.

AND we know the rest of the story – the GOOD NEWS of Jesus Christ – that He died to conquer sin, was raised from the dead and lives as our Savior, providing the way for us to live eternally with Him. We know that our belief in Jesus Christ means the HOLY SPIRIT dwells within us giving us power to resist the temptor and his lies.

Therefore, don’t be naï (eve)!

Be prepared – know Scripture – so you know God’s Truth. Sit with God/Jesus/Holy Spirit daily so you know God’s voice. Think and look through God’s lens before you act. Seek the Holy Spirit for guidance before you plunge into temptation. Remember, obedience is a choice.

Submit yourselves, then, to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Come near to God and he will come near to you.  James 4:7-8(a)

Words and Actions Matter

Since we are all on unique spiritual journeys, we reach spiritual understanding in different areas at different times. At any given time on a particular matter, we may be spiritually “ahead” of someone who God has placed in the “lane” next to us on the spiritual highway (road to perfection – to be like Christ in all we do). Sometimes, we are spiritually behind them. It is not for us to compare but to be aware in any given encounter.

Paul gives us an example to chew on. He encourages us to seek the highest good in the people we encounter in our daily lives. Why? – So that they may be saved. He is explaining that although it is fine to eat anything served to us by our host, it is not always the “right” thing to do.

Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know.  But whoever loves God is known by God.

So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall. 1 Corinthians 8

This same scenario unfolds day in and day out in our own lives. For instance, God does not forbid the drinking of wine, but we should not be drinking wine with a person if it promotes their temptation to over indulge. If we know that a person is struggling with weight (gluttony) then it is not generally “good” for us to bring them a gift of sweets. If we know a person is tempted to gossip, then we should not fuel their temptation by feeding them information we know they will want to gossip about. If we know a person struggles with anger, we should seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance as we use our words and actions in a difficult situation.

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others . . . So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. 1 Corinthians 10:23-24, 31-33

Seeking the highest good in someone else means constant communication with Jesus to say and do what is in the best interests of the person we are encountering so that they can be saved. Remember, temptation lures us away from our relationship with God. Christians are called to resist temptation and help others to resist.

Our words and actions matter. So choose them wisely by turning to God and asking for guidance. A prayerful response to any given situation can mean the difference between “helping” a person sink deeper into a pit or encouraging them to find the ladder God has provided to climb out of the pit.

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