Weekly Devotion

Pressure free . . . please!

So when we set aside our own maneuvering, what wisdom do we glean from our walk with the Holy Spirit? Do we open up opportunities for others because we have not maneuvered a situation? Do we allow God to handle a situation that we “knew” we were “right” about and just had to let someone know? Do we actually relieve our own pressure valve by allowing God to take control of our day?

Paul has this to say about it:

We, of course, have plenty of wisdom to pass on to you once you get your feet on firm spiritual ground, but it’s not popular wisdom, the fashionable wisdom of high-priced experts that will be out-of-date in a year or so.

God’s wisdom is something mysterious that goes deep into the interior of his purposes. You don’t find it lying around on the surface. It’s not the latest message, but more like the oldest—what God determined as the way to bring out his best in us, long before we ever arrived on the scene.

The experts of our day haven’t a clue about what this eternal plan is. If they had, they wouldn’t have killed the Master of the God-designed life on a cross. That’s why we have this Scripture text:

No one’s ever seen or heard anything like this,
Never so much as imagined anything quite like it—
What God has arranged for those who love him.

But you’ve seen and heard it because God by his Spirit has brought it all out into the open before you.

The Spirit, not content to flit around on the surface, dives into the depths of God, and brings out what God planned all along. Who ever knows what you’re thinking and planning except you yourself?

The same with God—except that he not only knows what he’s thinking, but he lets us in on it. God offers a full report on the gifts of life and salvation that he is giving us. We don’t have to rely on the world’s guesses and opinions. We didn’t learn this by reading books or going to school; we learned it from God, who taught us person-to-person through Jesus, and we’re passing it on to you in the same firsthand, personal way.

The unspiritual self, just as it is by nature, can’t receive the gifts of God’s Spirit. There’s no capacity for them. They seem like so much silliness.

Spirit can be known only by spirit—God’s Spirit and our spirits in open communion. Spiritually alive, we have access to everything God’s Spirit is doing, and can’t be judged by unspiritual critics. Isaiah’s question, “Is there anyone around who knows God’s Spirit, anyone who knows what he is doing?” has been answered: Christ knows, and we have Christ’s Spirit. 1 Corinthians 2:6-16   The Message

Remember . . . Whenever God’s Will is in complete control, He removes all pressure. Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, December 1.

May we have a pressure-free day filled with God’s Spirit, unscripted by unspiritual critics, peace-filled without our maneuvering.

our maneuvering vs. Holy Spirit Movement

How about a day of no maneuvering – a day that you do not zig this way to get one more thing done or zag that way to avoid some confrontation? A day free from planning what you are going to do in response to something someone else may do.

How about a day that is purely unscripted – that you do not change this appointment to allow you additional time to go somewhere else?

How about a day that does not feel squished – you know a day that just flows from moment to moment not hurried but filled?

You’ll remember, friends, that when I first came to you to let you in on God’s master stroke, I didn’t try to impress you with polished speeches and the latest philosophy. I deliberately kept it plain and simple: first Jesus and who he is; then Jesus and what he did—Jesus crucified.

I was unsure of how to go about this, and felt totally inadequate—I was scared to death, if you want the truth of it—and so nothing I said could have impressed you or anyone else. But the Message came through anyway. God’s Spirit and God’s power did it, which made it clear that your life of faith is a response to God’s power, not to some fancy mental or emotional footwork by me or anyone else. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 The Message

What about a day, focused on God, in sync with His Spirit, knowing minute by minute that you walk with Christ whose blood poured out for you?

For in our maneuvering, do we miss what God has planned for us – do we miss opportunities to respond to God’s power? Do we miss the movement of the Holy Spirit?

Preparation is Godly Discipline

Many of us are gearing up for a time of family and friends, of social gatherings and joyful celebrations.

Some of us, however, are facing a time of conflict . . . loneliness . . . mourning . . . memories of what once was. We are looking at this season of joy as a season of dread.

Whichever season we are in, we need to be prepared for what the day has . . . prepared to be representatives of Christ. 

God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.

 Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet.

If we are prepared, we are ready to rely on God and not on our own understanding. We are ready to handle what this world has for us – ready for the challenges – the flaming arrows, the disappointments, the naysayers, the gossip, the criticism, the judgment. We are ready to handle the joys . . . ready to encourage . . . ready to be hospitable . . . ready to love.

Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life.

God’s Word is an indispensable weapon.

In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters.

We get prepared for these days ahead by practicing and applying truth, righteousness, peacefulness, faithfulness and claiming the power of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Remember . . . God’s weapons are for use in this day. Ask Him to show you how to use them. Read His Word. Sit with Him and His Word in a daily way and listen and converse with Him moment by moment. This is a discipline. It takes practice. It is preparation.

Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out. Ephesians 6:10-18 The Message

Remember . . . this is not a competition – we want everyone to win . . . to know the love of Christ. We want all our family, friends, and neighbors to be with us in paradise. So pay attention to those who God has placed in your path. Be prepared to encourage each other in love.

Prepare

After Jesus feed the five thousand and walked across the Sea of Galilee, the people realized that he had left them. So they went seeking him.

When they found him back across the sea, they said, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

Jesus answered, “You’ve come looking for me not because you saw God in my actions but because I fed you, filled your stomachs—and for free.

“Don’t waste your energy striving for perishable food like that. Work for the food that sticks with you, food that nourishes your lasting life, food the Son of Man provides. He and what he does are guaranteed by God the Father to last.”

To that they said, “Well, what do we do then to get in on God’s works?”

Jesus said, “Throw your lot in with the One that God has sent. That kind of a commitment gets you in on God’s works.”

They waffled: “Why don’t you give us a clue about who you are, just a hint of what’s going on? When we see what’s up, we’ll commit ourselves. Show us what you can do. Moses fed our ancestors with bread in the desert. It says so in the Scriptures: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

Jesus responded, “The real significance of that Scripture is not that Moses gave you bread from heaven but that my Father is right now offering you bread from heaven, the real bread. The Bread of God came down out of heaven and is giving life to the world.”

They jumped at that: “Master, give us this bread, now and forever!”

Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever. I have told you this explicitly because even though you have seen me in action, you don’t really believe me. Every person the Father gives me eventually comes running to me. And once that person is with me, I hold on and don’t let go.

 I came down from heaven not to follow my own whim but to accomplish the will of the One who sent me.

“This, in a nutshell, is that will: that everything handed over to me by the Father be completed—not a single detail missed—and at the wrap-up of time I have everything and everyone put together, upright and whole. This is what my Father wants: that anyone who sees the Son and trusts who he is and what he does and then aligns with him will enter real life, eternal life. My part is to put them on their feet alive and whole at the completion of time.” John 6:26-40

Did you ever think about the fact that Jesus’ “job” is to “put us on our feet alive and whole at the completion of time”? This process called “life” is the means by which God’s Will is carried out by Jesus. He is even now setting us on our feet and preparing us for the entrance into eternal life.

So as we contemplate Thanksgiving, let us remember God’s Will.   Let’s cooperate in it. Let us not jump in front of Jesus but instead be in step with Him, following when we need to follow, waiting when we need to wait, being still when we need to be still.

Let us remember the friends and family that are going to join us and the joys and challenges those interactions will produce. Let us remember to be on guard against falling into the same patterns of behavior that do not honor God. Let us sit in prayer and thanksgiving in advance of Thanksgiving Day so that we are prepared to bring Glory to God.

Prepare. Prepare your mind, your heart and your soul to bring Glory to your God. Let us join in prayer:

Lord Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth,

We give thanks that you called each of us.

We give thanks that once you have us, you will never leave us or forsake us.

We give thanks that you love us . . . unconditionally.

We give thanks that you have entrusted each of us with people who are precious to you and therefore should be precious to us.

We give thanks that who your Son sets free is free indeed.

We give thanks that in your house, there is a place for each of us – yes, we are your children.

We give thanks that you are for us, not against us.

And we Believe, Lord, yes we believe.

Because we believe, we confess and repent of our sin.

We confess and repent of our selfishness, our arrogance, our anger, our jealousies, our unfaithfulness.

We confess and repent of our greed and malice, our sexual misconduct and adulteries.

We confess and repent because we have worshipped idols of all kinds including – money and power and position.

We confess and repent of our failure to take care of our bodies, our minds, and our souls which make up the temple of your Holy Spirit.

We confess and repent of our gossiping and whining and our complaining.

We confess and repent of our failure to turn to you, to listen, to go when you have called.

We confess and repent of our worry which exhibits our distrust in you.

We confess and repent of our failing to pray first, failing to wait upon you for your Will to be done.

We confess and repent for intervening in situations based on our own assessments instead of yours.

We confess and repent because we have judged people and situations that we really have no understanding of.

We confess and repent of our failure to extend grace – your grace that you freely give to us.

We confess and repent for failure to pray for the leaders in your Church, the leaders of this state, this country and your world.

We confess and repent of our dishonor of you and your son Jesus Christ and your Holy Spirit who lives and moves in we who believe.

Reach each of us in our brokenness and weaknesses.

Rid us of our unbelief – rid us of anything that is not of you.

You have promised us protection through Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit and so we claim your protection for each of us and ask that you continue your protection of us and our families, of all your saints, and of your Church.

As temples of your Holy Spirit, we ask you to fill us to overflowing with the fruits of your Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Oh Lord, may we give thanks to you as we celebrate Thanksgiving.

May we love you with all our hearts and all our souls and all our minds and all our strength and our neighbors as ourselves.

In Jesus Name we pray. Amen

Remember . . . For the Glory of God

When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, He will sit on His glorious throne.  All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate the people one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will place the sheep on His right and the goats on His left.

Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you visited Me.’

Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink?  When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You?  When did we see You sick or in prison and visit You?’

And the King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’ Matthew 25:31-40

When we let “right” behavior take over, it leads to more right behavior. “Right” behavior leads us to take care of those who God has placed in our path.

Respect instills more respect.

Self-control produces more self-control.

Kindness brings more kindness.

Encouragement ripples into more encouragement.

Faith spawns more faith.

Peace brings more peace.

Love births more love.

This daily exercise in “right” living produces sheep who listen to their shepherd and . . . sheep who listen to their shepherd will spend eternity in His presence.

Then He will say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave Me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink,  I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, I was naked and you did not clothe Me, I was sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’

And they too will reply, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’

Then the King will answer, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me.’

And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” ’ Matthew 25:41-46

The converse is also true. Once we let “bad” behavior loose it leads to more “bad” behavior. “Un-right” behavior focuses us on ourselves and leads us away from God.

Gossip encourages more gossip.

Lying leads to more lying.

Gluttony brings on more gluttony.

Self-centeredness brings on more self-centeredness.

Scheming leads to more scheming.

Hate breeds more hate.

This behavioral challenge occurs each day – in every way – in every situation.   The more we choose the Godly way, the more Godly we become.

Remember . . . Do the next right thing . . . For the Glory of God.

Meshing our faith (drenched in love) with Life – part 2

“Stay alert. This is hazardous work I’m assigning you. You’re going to be like sheep running through a wolf pack, so don’t call attention to yourselves. Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove. Matthew 10:16 The Message

Take away #5 – Remember, power corrupts. We need to be on guard to strive to be humble; strive to focus on others instead of ourselves. If not, we will be dragged into the fray – office gossip, pot-stirring, planning another’s fall, and conniving to get ahead or to remain at the top.

 “Don’t be naive. Some people will impugn your motives, others will smear your reputation—just because you believe in me. Don’t be upset when they haul you before the civil authorities. Without knowing it, they’ve done you—and me—a favor, given you a platform for preaching the kingdom news! And don’t worry about what you’ll say or how you’ll say it. The right words will be there; the Spirit of your Father will supply the words.

“When people realize it is the living God you are presenting and not some idol that makes them feel good, they are going to turn on you, even people in your own family. There is a great irony here: proclaiming so much love, experiencing so much hate! But don’t quit. Don’t cave in. It is all well worth it in the end. It is not success you are after in such times but survival. Be survivors! Before you’ve run out of options, the Son of Man will have arrived.

 “A student doesn’t get a better desk than her teacher. A laborer doesn’t make more money than his boss. Be content—pleased, even—when you, my students, my harvest hands, get the same treatment I get. If they call me, the Master, ‘Dungface,’ what can the workers expect?

 “Don’t be intimidated. Eventually everything is going to be out in the open, and everyone will know how things really are. So don’t hesitate to go public now.

 “Don’t be bluffed into silence by the threats of bullies. There’s nothing they can do to your soul, your core being. Save your fear for God, who holds your entire life—body and soul—in his hands. Matthew 10:17-28 The Message

Take away #6 – We need not be concerned when others speak ill of us. Although it hurts, especially if family or close friends are involved, choose to give those experiences to God and ask for Him to forgive them, and draw them to Him so that you can see them again in paradise. Remember, we are participants in planting, cultivating and harvesting. That is tough work and we can’t expect to be treated better than Jesus. God uses the people in our lives to help us and uses us to help them. Remember also . . . He will never leave us or forsake us – so when there seems like no options are left – don’t give up. A closed door means a window is being opened. Hold on; be still and wait for His miracle.

 “What’s the price of a pet canary? Some loose change, right? And God cares what happens to it even more than you do. He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head! So don’t be intimidated by all this bully talk. You’re worth more than a million canaries.

“Stand up for me against world opinion and I’ll stand up for you before my Father in heaven. If you turn tail and run, do you think I’ll cover for you?

 “Don’t think I’ve come to make life cozy. I’ve come to cut—make a sharp knife-cut between son and father, daughter and mother, bride and mother-in-law—cut through these cozy domestic arrangements and free you for God. Well-meaning family members can be your worst enemies. If you prefer father or mother over me, you don’t deserve me. If you prefer son or daughter over me, you don’t deserve me.

 “If you don’t go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don’t deserve me. If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me.

“We are intimately linked in this harvest work. Anyone who accepts what you do, accepts me, the One who sent you. Anyone who accepts what I do accepts my Father, who sent me. Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God’s messenger. Accepting someone’s help is as good as giving someone help. This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t lose out on a thing.”

When Jesus finished placing this charge before his twelve disciples, he went on to teach and preach in their villages. Matthew 10:29–11:1 The Message

Take away #7 – God loves us. We need to love Him more than anyone else. When we put Him first, we will have His strength to persevere through storms.

He has a job for us to do in the moment we are in. He provides all we need for this day. Don’t worry about family and friends who don’t get it. When you leave them behind to go do His Work, Jesus will come teach and preach to them in ways you could not have imagined.

Be gentle, kind, humble, and honest. Trust that God can work through you and in you to help in the planting, cultivating and harvesting of souls.

Remember to accept the help provided to you by God – sometimes we are so focused on giving that we fail to see what is being provided to us. Be aware. Be thankful.

In this day, mesh your faith, drenched in love, in the place you have been placed with the people you have been placed here with.

Meshing our faith (drenched in love) with Life

Pastors seem to do it better than others. Maybe that is because their profession should be the meshing of their faith with their life’s work. But what about the rest of us? What does it mean to mesh our faith with our everyday life? The answer, as usual, is found in God’s Word.

Jesus sent his twelve harvest hands out with this charge:

“Don’t begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously. Matthew 10:5-8 The Message

Take away #1 – We are called in the moment we are in, in the place we are in and with the tools that we have been given. Don’t make it complicated.

“Don’t think you have to put on a fund-raising campaign before you start. You don’t need a lot of equipment. You are the equipment, and all you need to keep that going is three meals a day. Travel light. Matthew 10:9-10 The Message

Take away #2 – As followers of Jesus, we are already equipped with all we need to meet the day we are in. Although some of us are being called to get formal training, most of us are being called to minister to the people who God has placed in our path with the experience and knowledge we have already gained in our lives.

“When you enter a town or village, don’t insist on staying in a luxury inn. Get a modest place with some modest people, and be content there until you leave. Matthew 10:11 The Message

Take away #3 – We are not in competition. This is not a popularity contest. We do not need or should we take on “airs”. Be genuine and honest. Refrain from being pompous and a know-it-all. Be content.

“When you knock on a door, be courteous in your greeting. If they welcome you, be gentle in your conversation. If they don’t welcome you, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way. You can be sure that on Judgment Day they’ll be mighty sorry—but it’s no concern of yours now. Matthew 10:12-15 The Message

Take away #4 – In the day we are in, we need to be gentle in our conversations with others. Sometimes, we are called to plant seeds. Sometimes, we are called to cultivate seeds already planted by others. Sometimes, we are called to participate in the harvest that has already been planted and cultivated. We don’t always know what our role is in the process but we can be obedient to God by following His directive – be gentle in conversation and if what you say is not received, let it go and quietly move on. God has it. We don’t have to worry about it.

…. To be continued next week!

“Follow Me!”

“Come follow me and I will show you how to fish for people.” Matthew 4:19 NLT

As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. Mark 2:14 NIV and Luke 5:27

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. Mathew 9:9 NIV

 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” John 1:43 NIV

He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Luke 9:59 NIV and Matthew 8:22

 Why does Jesus keep repeating, “follow me”? Why is it so important that we be “followers” of Jesus? The call of Jesus always entails the words: “Follow me”. Following is an act of obedience. Following requires an active step on our part to accept that Jesus is our Leader. Following requires a humble heart and a setting aside of one’s self. It requires listening which means taking time to be in God’s presence.  Following means Jesus always goes before us – for if we forge ahead, we block Jesus from others – Like Peter.

You remember . . . Peter . . . so like many of us. In the course of 24 hours, Peter went from joyful worshipper to determined protector to complete denier. Jesus reinstated Peter by describing how he should “act” towards others. “Feed my lambs”, “Take care of my sheep” and “Feed my sheep”. His final reinstatement words to Peter were, “You must follow me!” John 21:22 NIV

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”  John 10:27 NIV

 “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Matthew 10:38 NIV

 “Following”, by definition, means that someone else is leading. We cannot call ourselves Disciples of Jesus unless we submit to following Him. Jesus leads us by example and we strive to imitate him.

“Following” is an action. It is not a stationary position. Following means seeking Jesus moment by moment . . . being quiet when we need to be quiet . . . encouraging when we need to encourage . . . standing when we need to stand . . . walking when we need to walk . . . serving when we need to serve . . . veering right when we need to go right . . . running when we need to run and . . . standing firm when we need to stand firm.

“Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.”   John 12:26 NIV

Are you a follower of Jesus?

A Trusting Life Won’t Topple

Now listen to God’s Message, you scoffers,
you who rule this people in Jerusalem.
You say, “We’ve taken out good life insurance.
We’ve hedged all our bets, covered all our bases.
No disaster can touch us. We’ve thought of everything.
We’re advised by the experts. We’re set.”

 But the Master, God, has something to say to this:

“Watch closely. I’m laying a foundation in Zion,
a solid granite foundation, squared and true.
And this is the meaning of the stone:
a trusting life won’t topple.
I’ll make justice the measuring stick
and righteousness the plumb line for the building.

Isaiah 28:14-17 The Message

Isaiah (name meaning “The Lord Saves”) began his ministry about 2,759 years ago. He has a message for God’s people which transcends time and place. His message from God is for us.

We can plan all we like. We can take out life insurance to protect our loved ones. We can build up our 401(k)’s and choose jobs with pensions and good medical insurance. We can meet with our financial advisors to provide for our children’s education and our comfy retirement. We can “think” we are set.

But the truth is the only way to prevent our life from toppling is to trust in the foundation set by God – Jesus Christ. We must trust in Him and Him alone. This does not mean we do not plan, but we plan knowing that our trust is not in worldly financial products. Our trust is in the living God who measures our plans by justice and righteousness.

A hailstorm will knock down the shantytown of lies,
and a flash flood will wash out the rubble.

 “Then you’ll see that your precious life insurance policy
wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.
Your careful precautions against death
were a pack of illusions and lies.
When the disaster happens,
you’ll be crushed by it.
Every time disaster comes, you’ll be in on it—
disaster in the morning, disaster at night.”
Every report of disaster
will send you cowering in terror.
There will be no place where you can rest,
nothing to hide under.

Isaiah 28:17-20 The Message

How do we know if we are “trusting in Jesus”. We know by our reaction to the disasters that come upon us and they do come upon us at one time or another. Are we crushed by them? Are we cowering in terror? Is there no place to rest or hide? If so, we need to turn to the one who can give us rest and peace – Jesus. Extreme trials can perfect our trust in Him and Him alone.

 God will rise to full stature,
raging as he did long ago on Mount Perazim
And in the valley of Gibeon against the Philistines.
But this time it’s against you.
Hard to believe, but true.
Not what you’d expect, but it’s coming.
Sober up, friends, and don’t scoff.
Scoffing will just make it worse.
I’ve heard the orders issued for destruction, orders from
God-of-the-Angel-Armies—ending up in an international disaster.

Listen to me now.
Give me your closest attention.
Do farmers plow and plow and do nothing but plow?
Or harrow and harrow and do nothing but harrow?
After they’ve prepared the ground, don’t they plant?
Don’t they scatter dill and spread cumin,
Plant wheat and barley in the fields
and raspberries along the borders?
They know exactly what to do and when to do it.
Their God is their teacher.

And at the harvest, the delicate herbs and spices,
the dill and cumin, are treated delicately.
On the other hand, wheat is threshed and milled, but still not endlessly.
The farmer knows how to treat each kind of grain.
He’s learned it all from God-of-the-Angel-Armies,
who knows everything about when and how and where.

Isaiah 28:21-29 The Message

 REMEMBER . . . Believe in Jesus. Trust that He has saved you. Your extreme trial can perfect your trust in Him. Today, do the next right thing . . . keeping your eyes focused on justice and righteousness . . . seeking God who knows everything about when and how and where . . . a trusting life won’t topple.

Think again about sin

Oswald Chambers shares this description of sin and its relationship to reconciliation: “Sin is a fundamental relationship – it is not wrong doing, but wrong being – It is deliberate and determined independence from God.” My Utmost For His Highest, Oct 7.

Jesus died to overcome the heredity of sin – sin that entered the world at the beginning – the sin of disobeying God and separating ourselves from Him – the collective sin of generation upon generation.

Our firm decision is to work from this focused center: One man died for everyone. That puts everyone in the same boat. He included everyone in his death so that everyone could also be included in his life, a resurrection life, a far better life than people ever lived on their own.

Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore.

Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. 2 Corinthians 5:14-19

We tend to look at our individual sin. For instance, the gossip we passed on to a friend yesterday about an acquaintance. Gossip is a sin but the “sin” we need to focus on was our choice to separate ourselves from God and follow our own desire to have “power” over the delivery of such information or the selfish glee we experienced from seeing someone else’s failure or whatever else our thought process was stirring up. The sin was our failure to seek God in the moment – asking Him if the information was something that should be shared for His Glory or if it was better to quash it and end the ripple effect of the sin.

What we should be focused on is our relationship with God – are we seeking Him in the moment we are in – are we acting in a way that brings Glory to Him? If we are focused on our relationship with him and not our individual actions, we will not only “do” the right things but more importantly be in the “right” relationship with God. If we are in the right relationship with God we will be in the right relationship with others.

God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.

How? you ask. In Christ. God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God. 2 Corinthians 5:20-21

Remember . . . in this day you have been given a fresh start because of Jesus. Seek Him first. Be His representative. Enter God’s work of reconciliation wherever you are and in whatever you are doing. Why? So we are in the “right” relationship with Him who created us.

The web of rejection!

Rejection came at the beginning.   We all know what it means to be rejected but do we recognize the consequences of deep seeded rejection? Do we understand that rejection thwarts our walk with God by moving us to jump in front of Jesus to save ourselves while rejecting God and others?

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,  but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ ”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman.  “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Genesis 3:1-6

The enemy is in the business of sowing rejection among God’s people. Why? Because in accomplishing the sowing, the enemy establishes the beginning of our rejection of God. Once we begin “”doubting” what God has told us, we begin the downward spiral of fearing God’s rejection, rejecting ourselves, and rejecting others. When this happens, we find ourselves in a pit spending all our time trying to escape from the spider web of rejection being spun in our minds and lives.

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.  But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

Genesis 3:7-12

When we reject God, we begin to hide from him because we think He is rejecting us. We think because of our behavior, we need to protect ourselves by hiding. Once we start to hide, we begin rejecting ourselves for our perceived unforgivable failures and rejecting others before they can reject us. It’s a nasty web of destruction.

The end result is our feeble attempts to control everything from morning to night, from demanding perfection of ourselves to demanding it in others, from managing our own “problems” to managing other’s situations before they impact us. Our actions spiral out of control, leaving us feeling empty and alone.

That’s what the enemy would like us to think. When we think this, we are ineffective in our walk with the Lord. But the truth is “God will never leave us nor forsake us.” Deut 4:31; Hebrews 13:5.

The solution is Prayer. Sitting with God and letting him know of our failure in believing his Word and His love for us, repenting for hating ourselves and in turn showing our contempt for His creation; repenting of lying and deception, manipulation and control and all that flowed from our acts of fear; repenting of rejecting others and the hurt that rippled from that rejection; asking God to forgive us for rejecting Him and for our pride and rebellion in thinking we could solve our own problems without Him. And while we sit with God in prayer, we need to ask and call forth healing and acceptance of His love for us – and His guidance for our new path in this day – a path of love and peace towards God, ourselves and others.

Remember . . . Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth. . . . Psalm 121:1-2

Jumping in Front of Jesus!

Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him. Even so, I will defend my own ways before Him. Job 13:15 NKJV

We do not know why bad things happen. We can surmise that it is because the person did something “wrong” and therefore bear the consequence of their sin. That may sometimes be true. However, the story of Job debunks the theory that someone’s suffering is always linked to their actions.

God allowed Satan to have his way with Job – through the destruction of his family, his possessions, and his health. Satan used “friends” to try to convince Job to focus on his own sin and God’s punishment of him for that sin. But they were wrong.

In the process, Job suffered deeply. God waited. Job reached the conclusion that God expected from him. As he addresses his friends who are offering “their” analysis of his suffering, Job says, “Because, even if he killed me, I’d keep on hoping. I’d defend my innocence to the very end. Just wait, this is going to work out for the best – my salvation!” Job 13:15 The Message.

 In the end, God dealt with Satan, deepened Job’s faith in Him and debunked a widespread notion that suffering is always linked to a person’s sin.  God knew that Job was His. He knew Job would not lose faith. Through Job’s pain the rest of us have God’s assurance that even when it does not seem like He is with us, He will never leave us or forsake us.

The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deut. 31:8 NIV

So let us remember when supporting others in times of trouble that we do not know what we do not know. Sometimes we are called to listen, pray and not offer advice. Sometimes we are called to listen, pray and offer advice. But it is a rare instance when we have a clear directive from God to tell someone else what “to do” in their situation.

As we walk hand in hand with our Savior, let us remember whose hand we hold. Don’t jump in front of Jesus. When we do, we lose hold of His Hand.  Our jump to “manage” another person’s situation may just block that person from seeing the Teacher and experiencing the freedom that comes from trusting Him.

self management or God Management?

When we manage situations and people, we run the risk of complicating already complicated situations. Take a look at Haman’s reaction to a failure to show him respect.

When Haman saw for himself that Mordecai didn’t bow down and kneel before him, he was outraged. Meanwhile, having learned that Mordecai was a Jew, Haman hated to waste his fury on just one Jew; he looked for a way to eliminate not just Mordecai but all Jews throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes. Esther 3:5-6 The Message

Haman allowed anger and hate to control his response – He managed the situation by using his position and power – going to the King to cause the elimination of all the Jewish people in the Kingdom.   He was going to get revenge!

As the story continues, the king discovers that Mordecai had exposed a plot to assassinate him and was never thanked. He asks Haman for his advice on how to properly honor a person who has delighted the king. Haman, thinking the king is talking about him, tells the king to robe the person in the king’s robe and parade him around town on horseback.

As Haman soon finds out, the king is talking about Mordecai and Haman is ordered to carry out the honoring process. When he completes leading Mordecai around, Haman flees to his home to tell his wife and friends the grave turn of events.

While they were still talking, the king’s eunuchs arrived and hurried Haman off to the dinner that Esther had prepared.

So the king and Haman went to dinner with Queen Esther. At this second dinner, while they were drinking wine the king again asked, “Queen Esther, what would you like? Half of my kingdom! Just ask and it’s yours.”

Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favor in your eyes, O King, and if it please the king, give me my life, and give my people their lives.

 “We’ve been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed—sold to be massacred, eliminated. If we had just been sold off into slavery, I wouldn’t even have brought it up; our troubles wouldn’t have been worth bothering the king over.”

King Xerxes exploded, “Who? Where is he? This is monstrous!”

“An enemy. An adversary. This evil Haman,” said Esther.

Esther 6:14-7:6

What drives us to react with control to perceived wrongs or actual harm done by another? Why do we plot and plan to seek revenge? Is it fear? Is it our need to control our circumstances – the fear that God can’t handle actual or perceived “wrongs”.

“Control” is not all bad – some people are blessed with vision to see what a situation is and strive to make it better. But for most of us, “control” is a reaction and a sign of fear. It is a sign that we do not trust the situation to be righted except by our intervention. In other words, we rely on our own strength and fail to turn to God or trust that God is in control.

Maybe today, we will be given a situation wherein we are “wronged” or our loved one is “wronged”. Maybe it is a situation we have been in time and time again and have no idea how to handle it.   Maybe it is time to get out of our own way and let God have His way. We have choices – we can manage and manipulate the situation or we can allow God to work it out. Which one will we choose? Self–management or God management?

Do you trust God with the Truth?

They said to him, “Just who are you anyway?”

Jesus said, “What I’ve said from the start. I have so many things to say that concern you, judgments to make that affect you, but if you don’t accept the trustworthiness of the One who commanded my words and acts, none of it matters. That is who you are questioning—not me but the One who sent me.” John 8:25-26  The Message

Do we accept the trustworthiness of God? In our words and acts, do we actually trust that God will use the “truth” that we speak to move in other people’s lives?

Many of us are struggling with breakdowns in relationships with family, friends and co-workers. We have become frustrated – ready to walk away. But as we look at our situation, have we trusted God to work through the truth? Have we actually explained the problem to the person? Have we offered the truth?

Maybe we don’t think it is our place or our duty. Maybe it is easier to not tell them and just stay away or pretend we are too busy when they call. Confrontation is never easy. Maybe in the past we have complimented them on the behavior which is now out of control. Maybe we have told them “white” lies to get out of telling them the full truth. Maybe in our prayer we have not been led to reveal the truth.

God commands us not to lie about our neighbors. Exodus 20:16. Throughout His Word, from Genesis to Revelations, we are told not to lie and are given warnings concerning liars. Yet, we all lie or have lied in our past.

Remember, Jesus told the truth – even when no one believed him – even when it was hard to explain – even when he knew the consequences might be difficult. Jesus trusted that God would take what had been spoken and use it for His Glory.

 They still didn’t get it, didn’t realize that he was referring to the Father. So Jesus tried again. “When you raise up the Son of Man, then you will know who I am—that I’m not making this up, but speaking only what the Father taught me. The One who sent me stays with me. He doesn’t abandon me. He sees how much joy I take in pleasing him.”

When he put it in these terms, many people decided to believe.

Then Jesus turned to the Jews who had claimed to believe in him. “If you stick with this, living out what I tell you, you are my disciples for sure. Then you will experience for yourselves the truth, and the truth will free you.”  John 8:27-32  The Message

So what if we each spoke the truth. How amazed would we be to see God work in our relationships and circumstances? What would God do with the truth we spoke?

He would heal. He would spark new life into our relationships. He would stir up love. The truth is God works mighty wonders through Truth. The big question is can we trust Him with the Truth, knowing He does all things for our good.

I will rescue you

Where are you? What are you doing? Are you in a slump – unable to pray, unable to worship, surrounded by people who don’t know God, isolated and alone, wondering why you are where you are?

Remember what others have done who have gone before you.

Even though they were afraid of what their non Israelite neighbors might do, they went ahead anyway and set up the Altar on its foundations . . . Ezra 3:3

 These Israelites being spoken of in the Book of Ezra were a people who had been attacked by Nebuchadnezzar, kidnapped, dispersed to other lands, beaten down and enslaved for 70 years. They were bruised and scared but hopeful because God had called them back to their homeland. The first thing they did upon returning to Jerusalem was to build an altar “on its foundation”.

Remember . . . start where your foundation is. Don’t jack hammer out the past – it happened; it scarred; it shaped; it sharpened; it chiseled and . . . it can be used to bring glory to God. It is part of who you are. Those experiences and scars can be transformed by God into something of great significance.

AND REMEMBER . . .

You are not hidden
There’s never been a moment
You were forgotten
You are not hopeless
Though you have been broken
Your innocence stolen

I hear you whisper underneath your breath
I hear your SOS, your SOS

I will send out an army
To find you in the middle of the darkest night
It’s true
I will rescue you

There is no distance
That can not be covered
Over and over
You’re not defenseless
I’ll be your shelter 
I’ll be your armor 

I hear you whisper underneath your breath
I hear your SOS, your SOS

I will send out an army
To find you in the middle of the darkest night
It’s true
I will rescue you
I will never stop marching
To reach you in the middle of the hardest fight 
It’s true
I will rescue you 

Rescue. Publishing: © 2018 See You At The Pub & CentricSongs (SESAC) / So Essential Tunes & Fellow Ships Music (SESAC) / Flychild Publishing & So Essential Tunes (SESAC) Writer(s): Lauren Daigle, Jason Ingram and Paul Mabury

God’s Sweet Scent

Consider this:

You have a friend or friends that you hear something about and it causes you concern. More than that, it causes you to pray for them and to seek God in your response. You were planning a visit but after prayer, you decide to write a letter first – to address the problem in advance.

Why would God ask you to do that? Maybe for your good and for the good of your friend(s). Sometimes, situations take time to resolve. Errors in behavior are not easily corrected because most of the time there is a ripple effect which must be stopped in order to get back on track.

Your letter addresses the news you heard and gives honest, loving advice as to how to correct the situation. If you had delivered it in person, you would have heard the reaction – no one likes to be told they are wrong. No one likes to confront others with the truth when they know it will not be received well.

Sometimes a letter, from the heart after prayer, is the way to address a situation – to prepare both the writer and the receiver for the next encounter. Maybe, a letter prepares the way for the victory that is God’s and God’s alone.

Now consider these Words breathed forth from God:

That’s why I decided not to make another visit that could only be painful to both of us. If by merely showing up I would put you in an embarrassingly painful position, how would you then be free to cheer and refresh me?

3-4 That was my reason for writing a letter instead of coming—so I wouldn’t have to spend a miserable time disappointing the very friends I had looked forward to cheering me up. I was convinced at the time I wrote it that what was best for me was also best for you. As it turned out, there was pain enough just in writing that letter, more tears than ink on the parchment. But I didn’t write it to cause pain; I wrote it so you would know how much I care—oh, more than care—love you!

5-8 Now, regarding the one who started all this—the person in question who caused all this pain—I want you to know that I am not the one injured in this as much as, with a few exceptions, all of you. So I don’t want to come down too hard. What the majority of you agreed to as punishment is punishment enough. Now is the time to forgive this man and help him back on his feet. If all you do is pour on the guilt, you could very well drown him in it. My counsel now is to pour on the love.

9-11 The focus of my letter wasn’t on punishing the offender but on getting you to take responsibility for the health of the church. So if you forgive him, I forgive him. Don’t think I’m carrying around a list of personal grudges. The fact is that I’m joining in with your forgiveness, as Christ is with us, guiding us. After all, we don’t want to unwittingly give Satan an opening for yet more mischief—we’re not oblivious to his sly ways!

12-14 When I arrived in Troas to proclaim the Message of the Messiah, I found the place wide open: God had opened the door; all I had to do was walk through it. But when I didn’t find Titus waiting for me with news of your condition, I couldn’t relax. Worried about you, I left and came on to Macedonia province looking for Titus and a reassuring word on you. And I got it, thank God!

14-16 In the Messiah, in Christ, God leads us from place to place in one perpetual victory parade. Through us, he brings knowledge of Christ. Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent with life. But those on the way to destruction treat us more like the stench from a rotting corpse.

16-17 This is a terrific responsibility. Is anyone competent to take it on? No—but at least we don’t take God’s Word, water it down, and then take it to the streets to sell it cheap. We stand in Christ’s presence when we speak; God looks us in the face. We get what we say straight from God and say it as honestly as we can. 2 Corinthians 2 The Message

Remember . . . we are called to seek God and speak His truth in love and in the way we are led by the Holy Spirit – it could be by a letter, a visit, a phone call, email, etc. but whatever way it is, when we are called, we need to ask God for direction and follow it. When we do, “we give off a sweet scent rising to God which is recognized by those on the way of salvation – an aroma redolent (pleasingly fragrant) with life.” 

If we knew . . . then what?

A breakthrough is coming.

Wait for it. Just wait for it.

No – we don’t need to know how or when or why. We only need to know what He has already given us – for the day we are in.

The plan is already in place. It has already been set in motion – He already knows what we need before we need it.   And His Plan is good.

Be Still. Don’t worry – for His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

Focus on this day. Remember . . . God – your God – has given us just the right amount of strength for this day – not for tomorrow because it is not here yet – just for today.

His promises are eternal . . . they do not change. He loves us. He will not forsake us. He sent His one and only son to purify this world of sin through His death and resurrection. His Holy Spirit dwells inside those who believe giving them wisdom, strength, healing, comfort, faith, determination, and words of truth for all situations. In this day, we have all we need. And it is far more than we could ever hope for or imagine.

But that’s not enough for some of us. We want to know. We think we need to know. We want to be in control of it. So we worry about it – sapping our strength from today and diverting our attention from God and His Plan. The result is that we have successfully allowed the joy and light to be sucked out of the task and out of the day we are in – the day we were given.

So . . . what if we knew the details? What if we knew His Plan would take two or five or twenty years? What if we knew what it would entail – the people we would lose – the “things” that would have to go – the heartache we would endure – the hardships we would crawl through – the cost of the journey? What if He gave us the “how” of the plan in advance? What would we do?

Would we embrace it? Would we give thanks for it? Would we believe it?

OR

Would we turn from it? Would we crumble in discouragement? Would we run the other way and say “no, No, LORD, NO!”? Would we try to change it – to make it not happen? Would we blame ourselves – getting stuck instead of keeping our eyes focused on Him?

OR

Would we try to help God make it happen by packing in advance or hording what we think we would need or discarding certain friends/family that are not in our picture of His Plan. Maybe we would get to know someone new who we think could help. Would we announce it to others prematurely thinking they are part of the Plan?

Most of us, if we are honest, would screw it up.

Instead of seeking God in the moment we are in, some of us would be making plans for His Plan. We would be attempting to control the Plan that is not ours to control. Some of us would crawl into a shell hoping the Plan would change. Some of us would get angry, our faith not strong enough to withstand the journey we think we would be embarking upon.

We would forget the basics – Love God and treat our neighbors as ourselves.

We would be distracted – failing to put on the full armor of God – The helmet of Salvation upon our heads, the breastplate of Righteousness upon our chests, buckling the belt of Truth around our waists, and shodding our feet with the Gospel of Peace, handing to us the Sword which is God’s Word and lifting up the Shield of Faith to extinguish the flaming arrows of the enemy and being in constant prayer and supplication for all the saints now and forevermore.

So remember . . . be content with the wisdom God instills in us today for this moment and follow it . . . it may be that God will give us insight for tomorrow in order to get us through today or prepare us for tomorrow . . . but only if He believes we are equipped to handle it. We do not know all the details of the plan, but we know Him and He is good!

Are you listening . . . Really listening?

The disciples came up and asked, “Why do you tell stories?”

He replied, “You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. Matthew 13:10-14

Do we get it? If we don’t have the gift of insight, is there any trace of receptivity within us? If not, read on and be nudged . . . it is a matter of life and death.

He told another story. “God’s kingdom is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. That night, while his hired men were asleep, his enemy sowed thistles all through the wheat and slipped away before dawn. When the first green shoots appeared and the grain began to form, the thistles showed up, too.

“The farmhands came to the farmer and said, ‘Master, that was clean seed you planted, wasn’t it? Where did these thistles come from?’

“He answered, ‘Some enemy did this.’

“The farmhands asked, ‘Should we weed out the thistles?’

 “He said, ‘No, if you weed the thistles, you’ll pull up the wheat, too. Let them grow together until harvest time. Then I’ll instruct the harvesters to pull up the thistles and tie them in bundles for the fire, then gather the wheat and put it in the barn.’” Matthew 13:24-30 The Message

Jesus dismissed the congregation and went into the house. His disciples came in and said, “Explain to us that story of the thistles in the field.”

 So he explained. “The farmer who sows the pure seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, the pure seeds are subjects of the kingdom, the thistles are subjects of the Devil, and the enemy who sows them is the Devil. The harvest is the end of the age, the curtain of history. The harvest hands are angels.

“The picture of thistles pulled up and burned is a scene from the final act. The Son of Man will send his angels, weed out the thistles from his kingdom, pitch them in the trash, and be done with them. They are going to complain to high heaven, but nobody is going to listen. At the same time, ripe, holy lives will mature and adorn the kingdom of their Father.

“Are you listening to this? Really listening? Matthew 13:36-43 The Message

So which are we going to be – the wheat or the thistle? And how do you know which one you are?

My dear friends, don’t let public opinion influence how you live out our glorious, Christ-originated faith. If a man enters your church wearing an expensive suit, and a street person wearing rags comes in right after him, and you say to the man in the suit, “Sit here, sir; this is the best seat in the house!” and either ignore the street person or say, “Better sit here in the back row,” haven’t you segregated God’s children and proved that you are judges who can’t be trusted?

Listen, dear friends. Isn’t it clear by now that God operates quite differently? He choses the world’s down-and-out as the kingdom’s first citizens, with full rights and privileges. This kingdom is promised to anyone who loves God. And here you are abusing these same citizens! Isn’t it the high and mighty who exploit you, who use the courts to rob you blind? Aren’t they the ones who scorn the new name—“Christian”—used in your baptisms?

You do well when you complete the Royal Rule of the Scriptures: “Love others as you love yourself.” But if you play up to these so-called important people, you go against the Rule and stand convicted by it. You can’t pick and choose in these things, specializing in keeping one or two things in God’s law and ignoring others. The same God who said, “Don’t commit adultery,” also said, “Don’t murder.” If you don’t commit adultery but go ahead and murder, do you think your non-adultery will cancel out your murder? No, you’re a murderer, period.

 Talk and act like a person expecting to be judged by the Rule that sets us free. For if you refuse to act kindly, you can hardly expect to be treated kindly. Kind mercy wins over harsh judgment every time. James 2:1-13 The Message

So remember . . . the wheat are those who love God. We show our love for God by loving others as we love ourselves. And remember . . . Jesus did not say, “love only the people we think are stalks of wheat”.  No . . . the Royal Rule of Scripture says, “love others as you love yourself”.  So don’t be concerned about judging which people are the “wheat” and which people are the “thistles” – that is God’s job.

Our job is to love God, love others and show kindness and mercy to all. 

Sharpeners

I also received a report of scandalous sex within your church family, a kind that wouldn’t be tolerated even outside the church: One of your men is sleeping with his stepmother. And you’re so above it all that it doesn’t even faze you! Shouldn’t this break your hearts? Shouldn’t it bring you to your knees in tears? Shouldn’t this person and his conduct be confronted and dealt with? 1 Corinthians 5:1-2 The Message

Do you have friends or loved ones who sharpen you? You know, the ones that make you uncomfortable at times because they confront your human spirit with the Holy Spirit – the ones who challenge a behavior or gently point out an alternative way to handle a delicate situation – the ones who ask questions that make you stop and think about what you are about to do.

I’ll tell you what I would do. Even though I’m not there in person, consider me right there with you, because I can fully see what’s going on. I’m telling you that this is wrong. You must not simply look the other way and hope it goes away on its own. Bring it out in the open and deal with it in the authority of Jesus our Master. Assemble the community—I’ll be present in spirit with you and our Master Jesus will be present in power. Hold this man’s conduct up to public scrutiny. Let him defend it if he can! But if he can’t, then out with him! It will be totally devastating to him, of course, and embarrassing to you. But better devastation and embarrassment than damnation. You want him on his feet and forgiven before the Master on the Day of Judgment. 1 Corinthians 5:3-5

What happens if you push away or ignore or dismiss or discard those people that God has placed in your life to sharpen you? What happens to any of us when we do not have Godly counsel? What happens when we are ignoring God and we are left alone to our own devices with no one to hold us accountable? What happens when we are blinded and there is no reliable sharpener in our toolbox? We lose our way . . . and run the risk of devastation and embarrassment . . . or worse.

Your flip and callous arrogance in these things bothers me. You pass it off as a small thing, but it’s anything but that. Yeast, too, is a “small thing,” but it works its way through a whole batch of bread dough pretty fast. So get rid of this “yeast.” Our true identity is flat and plain, not puffed up with the wrong kind of ingredient. The Messiah, our Passover Lamb, has already been sacrificed for the Passover meal, and we are the Unraised Bread part of the Feast. So let’s live out our part in the Feast, not as raised bread swollen with the yeast of evil, but as flat bread—simple, genuine, unpretentious. 1 Corinthians 5:6-8

When we ignore the counsel sent to us by God – when we have lost our way and our path is “good” intentioned but ill advised – when we cannot “hear” God, we need a sharpener in our circle of family or friends. One that we can go to and ask directly for a truthful and honest answer. If we don’t have sharpeners, we become dull and eventually unable to see our own writing – we are surrounded by “yes” people who we can count on to agree with us. It is never a good sign if we can’t name a sharpener or two who we count as good friends.

 I wrote you in my earlier letter that you shouldn’t make yourselves at home among the sexually promiscuous. I didn’t mean that you should have nothing at all to do with outsiders of that sort. Or with crooks, whether blue- or white-collar. Or with spiritual phonies, for that matter. You’d have to leave the world entirely to do that! But I am saying that you shouldn’t act as if everything is just fine when a friend who claims to be a Christian is promiscuous or crooked, is flip with God or rude to friends, gets drunk or becomes greedy and predatory. You can’t just go along with this, treating it as acceptable behavior. I’m not responsible for what the outsiders do, but don’t we have some responsibility for those within our community of believers? God decides on the outsiders, but we need to decide when our brothers and sisters are out of line and, if necessary, clean house. 1 Corinthians 5:9-13

Remember . . . just because a behavior is wrong, does not mean we should dismiss a person from our lives or judge them as unacceptable in God’s Kingdom. That is God’s job. Our job is to seek God’s direction in all our relationships. In any given situation, we need to ask if we are being called to sharpen or we are to leave that task to someone else. We are not always to be sharpeners. When we are called to sharpen, we must seek God’s wisdom through prayer and then filled with grace, share with the person trusting the Holy Spirit to guide our words and actions.

And remember . . . without sharpening, we are not able to function in the way God intended – we are less than what we could be. Our purpose is dulled and not as effective. Sharpening gives us a point.

The Journey that Counts Eternally!

As soon as the meal was finished, Jesus insisted that the disciples get in the boat and go on ahead across to Bethsaida while he dismissed the congregation. After sending them off, he climbed a mountain to pray. Mark 6:45-46 The Message

Did you ever notice that God starts with a meal – A time of nourishment – A time of preparation – A time of fellowship – A time of joy – A time of miracles – A time of heightened awareness – A time of love experienced.

At the beginning of a new leg of a journey, God prepares us. We don’t always recognize the preparations. We don’t always welcome them either. We are often times caught up in our agenda – our plans – our resolutions and our goals.

But those do not concern God because He is concerned with our journey. He pushes us out – He insists that we go – He provides a sturdy and strong vessel to protect us – He gives us tools for the journey – He knows the journey is not more than we can handle – He also knows we would not go if we were in charge or if we knew what was out there – He knows we are prepared even if we do not.

Late at night, the boat was far out at sea; Jesus was still by himself on land. He could see his men struggling with the oars, the wind having come up against them. At about four o’clock in the morning, Jesus came toward them, walking on the sea. He intended to go right by them. But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and screamed, scared out of their wits. Mark 6:47-49 The Message

It is not that He leaves us alone. He is watching us. He sees the struggle. He already knew we were going to have it (remember He insisted we go forth having prepared us himself). He allows us to experience the struggle waiting until it is the right time (late enough but not too late) – He comes close. We can see Him if we are paying attention – if we are looking for Him.   Or we can go it alone struggling to pull through on our own.

Jesus was quick to comfort them: “Courage! It’s me. Don’t be afraid.” As soon as he climbed into the boat, the wind died down. They were stunned, shaking their heads, wondering what was going on. They didn’t understand what he had done at the supper. None of this had yet penetrated their hearts. Mark 6:50-52 The Message

Remember . . . when we turn to Him, He is quick to comfort us. The comfort we receive brings peace within our souls – not necessarily because we know why something is happening or how we are going to journey through it or how the storm will end. What we do know is that God is with us in the journey. He knew it was coming. He is watching and waiting for us to call to Him. He wants us to notice His preparations within us. He wants us to recognize our need for Him and allow Him to calm the storm – calm it in His way based on His knowledge and judgment – not ours.

He will not insist on it. No . . . our God will not insist that we turn to Him. But He will insist that we go out again. What we don’t learn this time, we will hopefully learn next time. What we do learn this time will be woven into the fabric of our soul, strengthening and preparing us to journey again.

The truth is, God is about the journey – not about our plans. His plans for us are always good because His ultimate plan is for us to join Him in eternity. Each moment, He is guiding us towards that Goal – His goal for us.

Remember . . . it is the journey that counts eternally.

Pit Puller, Maintainer or God Seeker?

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command.  I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.  John 15:13-15

There are three kinds of friends. Those who pull you into a pit, those who keep you in the same place you have always been and those who elevate you to be the person God intended you to be. Change the first, elevate the second and treasure the third.

The pit-pullers are people who draw your attention away from God and fuel your basic ungodly desires. They complain and gossip enticing you into doing the same. They pit friend against friend – co-worker against co-worker – sister against sister – brother against brother – pulling you into the pit of turmoil. They thrive on intrigue and underhand machinations fueled by jealousy and pride. They are quick to tell people what to do and what not to do – judgmental of all but themselves. They stab you and others in the back drawing you into the same dreadful behavior.

The pit pullers are toxic to spiritual growth and emotional health. They stunt others progress in life. They may very well be religious and think they are in touch with God but they don’t seek Him in prayer before opening their mouths or deciding their course of action.

If you are a pit puller (and we all are at certain times in our lives) make a concerted effort to turn to God, change your thinking and seek out friends who can encourage Godly behavior.

“Status quo” friends keep you where you are. They agree with you on most things. They rarely disagree and rarely encourage you to seek God in your quest to figure out a problem. They will certainly aid you in times of trouble but are not helpful when it comes to figuring out your course of action because they are lost themselves. Although they rarely pull you into a pit, they do not challenge you to turn to God or seek Him in your quest. They do provide companionship, laughter and friendship – very good qualities in a friend. But when your life gets tough, their companionship does not propel you forward – it keeps you where you are.

God-seeking friends are keepers. They are people who you know care deeply for your soul. They do not have to be people you see everyday, but they are people that would lay down their lives for you – in a heartbeat they would pick you up from any place you were stranded; they could be called anytime of the day or night.

God seekers are people who challenge you to be your best – to be who God intended you to be. They do not gossip but instead discourage you from sliding down a slippery slope. They rarely tell you what to do because they know that you must seek answers directly from God – they know they are merely facilitators in your quest. God seekers walk with you – they stand beside you – they encourage you to do what is right and good.

God seekers remind you of who you are in Christ – they remind you that you are beloved by God. They remind you that your faith as small as a mustard seed can move a mountain. They remind you that the God you serve is good and that by placing your unknown future in God’s hands you have nothing to worry about.

Remember the words of Jesus . . .

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.  This is my command: Love each other. John 15:16-17

Remember also . . .

To different people, we could be a “pit puller”, “status quo” friend or a God seeker.   As we grow in our own walk with God, hopefully we eliminate our own behavior that puts us in the “pit puller” or “status quo” friend category.

So . . . when reviewing your list of friends and prior to getting rid of the “pit pullers” – make sure you seek God to determine if that is what He would have you do. Maybe you are the one being called to be the God seeker to your pit-puller!

Stains . . . of Hope

As I struggled to remove a stain from my husband’s white shirt, I thought about the stains that we each struggle with. Stains of the soul – from hurt and embarrassment – from pride or greed – from our own making and the making of others – from circumstances beyond our control – from childhood and recent stains from yesterday.

In this all-out match against sin, others have suffered far worse than you, to say nothing of what Jesus went through—all that bloodshed! So don’t feel sorry for yourselves. Or have you forgotten how good parents treat children, and that God regards you as his children?

My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline,
but don’t be crushed by it either.
It’s the child he loves that he disciplines;
the child he embraces, he also corrects.

 God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children. Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves. Would you prefer an irresponsible God? We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God’s training so we can truly live? While we were children, our parents did what seemed best to them. But God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God’s holy best. At the time, discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God. Hebrews 12:4-11 The Message

Some stains on my husband’s shirts were old – they were not caught until the shirt went through the dryer and become baked in. Some of the stains were recent – caught quickly.

The old stains were much harder to remove. They required soaking, rubbing, washing and bleaching. The newer stains – not so much. They were caught in time – before the drying occurred – before the stain became permanent.

Isn’t that how it is with our souls? The stains of old are much harder to get rid of – they seem to resurface at odd times – never quite resolved – never quite gone. We struggle with the “how” of getting rid of them. It seems they come back time and time again – like a train circling the mountain never quite making it to the top.

When we catch the stain quickly, many times it is an easy fix – an apology, a choice to review the “intent” of the person before jumping to conclusions, or a refusal to allow the stain to stick to us, because it is not of us- it is someone else’s stain for them to deal with.

So don’t sit around on your hands! No more dragging your feet! Clear the path for long-distance runners so no one will trip and fall, so no one will step in a hole and sprain an ankle. Help each other out. And run for it!

Work at getting along with each other and with God. Otherwise you’ll never get so much as a glimpse of God. Make sure no one gets left out of God’s generosity. Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent. A thistle or two gone to seed can ruin a whole garden in no time. Watch out for the Esau syndrome: trading away God’s lifelong gift in order to satisfy a short-term appetite. You well know how Esau later regretted that impulsive act and wanted God’s blessing—but by then it was too late, tears or no tears. Hebrews 12:12-17

Stains over time without proper treatment become permanent bitter roots of the soul that spew poison throughout. Those bitter roots are deadly.

Thankfully, we have a Savior. Thankfully, we have brothers and sisters in Christ who also know our Savior. Thankfully, there is hope.

Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! Hebrews 12:1-3

Do you see what we’ve got? An unshakable kingdom! And do you see how thankful we must be? Not only thankful, but brimming with worship, deeply reverent before God. For God is not an indifferent bystander. He’s actively cleaning house, torching all that needs to burn, and he won’t quit until it’s all cleansed. God himself is Fire! Hebrews 12:28-29

Stain Removal Tip: When we seek God, we are much more able to identify the stain early on and address its removal more quickly by cooperating with the Holy Spirit.

That “Stinkin” Onion

The process of life is complicated.

We are who we are based on many factors – from DNA given to us by God through our biological parents to our past circumstances created by our own acts, those of others and those beyond our control. All of which have given us experiences that have shaped who we are in this day.

We are where we are in life based on a journey we have sometimes cooperated in and sometimes rebelled from – letting God lead us at points but doing it on our own most of the time.   We had choices. The decisions we made contributed to where we are in this moment.

In this process, we have either gained faith or lost it.

But it’s trouble ahead if you think you have it made.
What you have is all you’ll ever get.

And it’s trouble ahead if you’re satisfied with yourself.
Your self will not satisfy you for long.
And it’s trouble ahead if you think life’s all fun and games.
There’s suffering to be met, and you’re going to meet it.

“There’s trouble ahead when you live only for the approval of others, saying what flatters them, doing what indulges them. Popularity contests are not truth contests—look how many scoundrel preachers were approved by your ancestors! Your task is to be true, not popular.   Luke 6:24-26 The Message

We need a visual. Something to remember as life happens. I started with an onion but it was too stinky – moved to a lettuce with its crisp, green fresh leaves – but I am back to the onion. We are a stinky and stubborn people. We are born that way and develop layer upon layer of stinkiness.

Those layers are from childhood and teenage experiences – from parenting and parentless experiences – from environmental challenges – from poor parenting sprinkled with extraordinary love – from having too much or too little – from misinterpretation of events to glimpses of truth– from perceived wrongs to actual understanding – from jealousy gone wild to unending grace – from greed gone unchecked to untold generosity – from ignorance to understanding – from selfishness to selflessness – from fear to trust – from deep seeded pride to hard earned humility. The layers keep adding to themselves until we are one big stinkin onion.

To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: 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 that person. If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously. Luke 6:27-30

If we do, the layers will start to be transformed –some peeled off, some reworked, some strengthened, some reordered.

Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that.  Luke 6:31-34

If we do, the layers will start to be transformed –some peeled off, some reworked, some strengthened, some reordered.

I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind.   Luke 6:35-36

If we do, the layers will start to be transformed –some peeled off, some reworked, some strengthened, some reordered.

 Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier. Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.   Luke 6:37-38

If we do, the layers will start to be transformed –some peeled off, some reworked, some strengthened, some reordered.

 He quoted a proverb: “‘Can a blind man guide a blind man?’ Wouldn’t they both end up in the ditch? An apprentice doesn’t lecture the master. The point is to be careful who you follow as your teacher. Luke 6:39-40

If we do, the layers will start to be transformed –some peeled off, some reworked, some strengthened, some reordered.

It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this I-know-better-than-you mentality again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your own part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor. Luke 41-42

If we do, the layers will start to be transformed –some peeled off, some reworked, some strengthened, some reordered.

You don’t get wormy apples off a healthy tree, nor good apples off a diseased tree. The health of the apple tells the health of the tree. You must begin with your own life-giving lives. It’s who you are, not what you say and do, that counts. Your true being brims over into true words and deeds. Luke 6:43-45

If we do, the layers will start to be transformed –some peeled off, some reworked, some strengthened, some reordered.

Why are you so polite with me, always saying ‘Yes, sir,’ and ‘That’s right, sir,’ but never doing a thing I tell you? These words I speak to you are not mere additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundation words, words to build a life on.

If you work the words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who dug deep and laid the foundation of his house on bedrock. When the river burst its banks and crashed against the house, nothing could shake it; it was built to last. But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a dumb carpenter who built a house but skipped the foundation. When the swollen river came crashing in, it collapsed like a house of cards. It was a total loss.” Luke 6:46-49

Work these Words into Your Life! Allow God to transform the onion into layer upon layer of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Each day gives us that opportunity.

Remember . . . God has given us the tools. The toolbox is the Holy Spirit who moves in us guiding us to use the tools for the work of the day we are in.  So lets get to work cooperating with God – there is a stinkin’ onion to transform.

Examine your Mind and Heart!

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.” Matthew 5:3 The Message

Examine your mind and heart – In the midst of your storm, are you able to set aside the “stinkin’ thinkin’” that bombards your thoughts by focusing on God through Scripture, worship music, prayer and seeking advise from only “wise” brothers and sisters in Christ? Remember . . . You are blessed because God has opened up this opportunity to deepen your faith by trusting Him more.

 “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.” Matthew 5:4

Examine your mind and heart – Are you allowing yourself to love deeply which will at times bring you to mourn deeply? Have you lost something – a person, a job, a friendship, or a thing of great importance to you – and have fallen into a pit of despair? Are you mourning with what appears to be no way out? Remember . . . in your mourning, God promises you will know His comfort given in a unique way designed just for you – your God hug.

“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.” Matthew 5;5

Examine your mind and heart – Are you comparing yourself to others instead of celebrating who you were made to be? Are you content in what you have or are you looking for something to fill a void? Remember . . . God blesses those who are meek with everything they will ever need.

“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.” Matthew 5:6

Examine your mind and heart – Are you only thinking about God at set times – morning or evening devotions or when you are in a storm or Sundays or only on Christmas and Easter? Is God a crutch or a “Genie in a bottle” who is only consulted for your wants and desires? Are you seeking and focusing your heart, mind and soul on Him, every moment of every day? Remember . . . God promises that when you seek Him you may feast at His Table.

 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.” Matthew 5:7

Examine your mind and heart – Are you seeing past your own agenda into someone (enemy, adversary or person placed in your path) else’s pain or plight so they know of your favor upon them? Remember, . . . In blessing others with mercy, God’s favor will rest upon you.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.” Matthew 5:8

Examine your mind and heart – Are you fully committed to allowing God to peel back the layers to cleanse your heart? Are you aware of a repetitive behavior (sin) that you know is wrong but think is harmless? Are you “blinded” by your desire for something that is not of God? Remember . . . when your mind and heart are in the right place, you can “see” God move.

“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.” Matthew 5:9

Examine your mind and heart – Are you showing others by your own behavior how to be part of a team by shutting down discord and gossip with positive interactions? Are you speaking truth in a peaceful way that sheds light on a situation? Are you being a “doormat” who ignores the truth and allows evil to flourish? Remember . . . peacemakers have an honored 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.” Matthew 5:10

Examine your mind and heart – Are your actions for God resulting in others gossiping, shunning or persecuting you? Remember . . . give your circumstances to God letting Him untwist what can’t be humanly untwisted, pray for the persecutors and be Blessed by knowing you are in God’s Kingdom now for “eternity meets us in this moment”. C.S. Lewis

 “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 5:11-16

Remember . . . “love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 12:30-31. This sums up life’s purpose.

What is your intent?

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. Ecc 12:11 The Message

We know who they are. The ones that bring wisdom and calm to a situation. The ones who seem to bypass the gossip and the snarky comments and go straight for the essence of the problem or conflict. The ones that promote peace and harmony. The ones who speak truth. The Wise ones – that encourage us to live well – because they have been given to us 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.   Ecc 12:12-13

And if they (the wise ones) are giving us a Word from God, do we listen? Do we do what they encourage us to do? Or are we seeking our own answers from self-help books and “face” book and those who agree with our version of the story? Are we just stirring the “pot” by telling all our friends about our situation and how “wronged” we have been and how “terrible” the other person(s) acted?

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. Ecc 12:14

So practice grace. Look for the intent in others actions. Was there intent to harm – or was it merely a lack of knowledge or a different view of the solution to a problem? And if the person was intending harm, what is the “intent” of your response? Remember . . . some day, maybe today, God will bring our intent out into the open.

So in this day . . . May we fear God . . . by seeking Him, by discerning His wisdom through the reading of His Word, by prayer and encouragement of others, by keeping our hearts clean and by practicing grace.

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.

Resolve to Choose

As we contemplate the upcoming year and make promises to ourselves to live better, love better and do better, it may benefit us to approach these promises in a different light.

What if, we decide to utilize our minds to be willfully in sync with God – to make a conscious choice to subordinate our will to His? What if we wake up each day and ask God to transform the way we think?

What if we actually live like Paul challenges the Christians in Rome to live?

Challenge:

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:1-2 New Living Translation

Choice:

It is a choice to give our bodies to God as a living and holy sacrifice. Many of us make the same resolution year after year – to lose weight and get into shape. We try to do this by our own will power and fail. So why not ask God to intervene? Ask Him to give us a yearning for water instead of soda or beer. When grocery shopping, ask Him to help us enjoy the bounty of His earth instead of the pre-packaged, reconstituted substances found in the snack or frozen food aisles? When trying to motivate ourselves to exercise, ask God to show us a friend who could use encouragement and take a walk with them. Whatever our human weakness is, let us choose to ask God for guidance.

Challenge:

Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. Romans 12:3-5

         Choice:

It is a choice to re-evaluate ourselves in terms of God’s standards. If we are successful at earning money, do we pat ourselves on the back and spend it on ourselves with no thought as to why we have been blessed with so much. Do we actually think that the possessions we have are ours or do we understand that everything we have was loaned to us by God? Have we ever sought God’s Will in how to spend it or use it?

It is a choice to recognize that gifts from God come in many forms and they have a Godly purpose. The key is to determine what we have been blessed with and how we are passing those blessings onto others so that they may be stronger in their journey of faith. As we build others up, we build up the Body of Christ.

It is a choice to understand that “we belong to each other”. As Christians, the same Holy Spirit in you is the same Holy Spirit in me. The Holy Spirit unites us as one. So when you suffer, I suffer – when you grieve, I grieve – when you are encouraged, I am encouraged. Why? . . . because we are connected as one through The Spirit with Jesus.

Challenge:

In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. Romans 12:6-8

Choice:

It is a choice to recognize the gifts God has given us and use them for His Glory. Let us re-evaluate our selfish thinking on the reason for the gifts and instead ask God to show us how to use the gifts for the encouragement and building up of His Body. Let us face each day, remembering that in the scope of eternity, this day is a new beginning. Let us ask God to strengthen us with the gifts we need in the moments we are in.

         Challenge:

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. Romans 12:9-13

Choice:

It is a choice to love others. It is a choice to seek out in prayer what someone else is in need of. It is a choice to ask the Holy Spirit to move in someone else’s life to bring them closer to Jesus – to ask that they be placed in circumstances so that they recognize their need of a Savior. It is love to intercede for someone else – to know and understand that Jesus died in our place so that we might have eternal life with Him.

Challenge:

Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!

Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the LORD.

Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. Romans 12:14-21

Choice:

It is a choice to throw off grumbling. It is a choice to view circumstances differently – which many times is a choice not to be offended. Accept that circumstances are not coincidence – that we are placed in this time and place to be used by God for His Glory. Don’t waste time planning to hurt someone – it never ends well!

It is a choice to recognize evil and flee from it. Let us choose to remove ourselves from situations that are not of God, praying continually for wisdom and discernment. Prior to evil attacking, we need to put on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6) and ask God to intervene with a song in our hearts and worship on our lips.

It is a choice to treat enemies with kindness. In our kindness, we may be the seed that causes the changes needed for a person to believe in Jesus. Never underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit to move in someone’s life!

Conclusion

Each of us is on our own unique journey, never before traveled by any other person. We cannot compare our journey to others; instead, we need to use the wisdom gained from our journey to encourage others on their journey, recognizing that we don’t have answers for them, only a way to encourage them to find their own answers through God.

This year, may we resolve to seek God and His direction as we face each new day. Let us shrug off our own will and let God replace it with His Will.

Remember . . . Rejoice . . . and be Renewed . . . for Our God is Love. Choose Love.

 

To Believe or Not to Believe

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.  Isaiah 9:6 King James 2000

 To believe or not to believe – that is the question of this Christmas Season.

The simple truth is that God draws us to himself (John 6:44). Then it is up to each of us to choose to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and that by believing we may have life in his name. John 20:29-31. This choice is an act of our will and it is a choice to believe that God sent to us a Messiah and His Name is Jesus.

If we make this choice to believe, then we have made a conscious decision of our “will”. As we journey in our faith, we must constantly choose to harness our will to be in line with that of God.

It is a choice of obedience. It is a choice of recognition that our will is trumped by His Will. His Will for us many times is determined through the reading of His Word, through prayer, through faith, through seeking and trusting that what He makes known to us is sufficient. And sometimes, it is an act of our will to accept that He has chosen not to reveal the “why” of something but we trust that it will be made known to us later – maybe not until we reach Heaven. During these times, it is an act of our will, to choose to trust that His plan for us is always good. (Jeremiah 29:11)

It is a choice of freedom – freedom from the false idea that we are in control of our own destiny. When we trust in Jesus as our Messiah, we acknowledge that He is in control and He can solve the pressing issues that surround us – our job is to believe that He is up for the task and to exhibit the fruit of His Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self control. Galatians 5:22-23

 It is a choice of faith – to leap into darkness knowing God will provide – that nothing we have is ours, but instead it is His, on loan, to us for His determined period of time, to be used by us for His Glory.

It is a choice with consequences – consequences which are always eternally good but ones that come with trouble and heartache.   Jesus told us that “in this world there would be trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).

And so, it is a choice with struggles. It is a struggle to keep our eyes on Jesus and not to succumb to our own will. It is a struggle to stand firm against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:12.

 It is a choice with Heavenly back-up. We are instructed to tell satan to “get behind us” – Why? Because God has our back and He will deal with satan. Our job is to put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.  Ephesians 6:13-18

It is a choice which opens up untold adventures – untold opportunities for seeing miraculous events in ordinary lives.

It is the choice of life over death  – the only choice with a promise of eternal life – life that will continue after our earthly death – life that has been forged by the death of Jesus, the one without sin who became sin for us thus substituting his perfection for our imperfections making us acceptable to God and therefore providing us with entry into Heaven.

As we celebrate the Birth of The Messiah, let us contemplate our choice. If we have not made the right choice, let us reconsider and make the correct one. If we have made the correct choice, then let us strengthen ourselves in that choice by submitting our will to His – opening our hearts to receive God’s message for us in this day.

The Aftermath

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:8-12

God has chosen shepherds before. Moses was a shepherd who was tending his sheep when he came upon a burning bush. David learned critical lessons as a shepherd that gave him the ability to knock down a giant. Jesus is described as the “Good Shepherd”.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it.  The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. John 10:11-13

It is not a coincidence that God chose the shepherds to be the first to hear the Good News about the birth of Christ. It is not a coincidence that he chose people who could withstand the hardships of living outside in the cold and heat with the continual threat of wild animals while all the while protecting creatures who could not protect themselves. It is not a coincidence that God uses those who are able to hear His voice, see His miracles, and follow His direction.

Remember the Story – Remember what happened. Remember what the Shepherds did after they heard the Good News.

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,

and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. Luke 2:13-20

What was the aftermath of the sharing of the Good News?

The Shepherds sought out the truth of the revelation. When they had confirmed the miracle, they spread the word and then glorified God!

They did not dismiss the revelation from God but instead acted upon it. They did not sit on the Good News as if it was selfishly meant just for them. They did not use it for their own personal gain! They simply and excitedly shared it with others and then glorified God.

When was the last time we shared the Good News with anyone? When was the last time we enthusiastically expressed the joy of the birth of Christ with others? When was the last time we truly Glorified God?

As we proceed through Advent, lets challenge ourselves and each other in the midst of the celebrations to celebrate like the shepherds – enthusiastically sharing the Good News of the birth of Christ – plus the rest of the Story – that Christ died and is resurrected and will come AGAIN!

Journey of Understanding

Jesus asked, “Do you finally believe?  But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me.  I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” John 16:31-33

As we celebrate the coming of the birth of Jesus, many of us are pulled in many different directions – leaving Jesus out of our preparations for Christmas. But at the heart of the Christmas celebration is the understanding that God humbled himself and came into this world as a baby – a baby with a purpose.

The religious scholars at the time of Jesus’ birth were looking for a Messiah – a King – a powerful leader that would free them from oppression. They were looking for someone to put them in power and establish them in comfort. And even though Jesus has freed all those who believe from oppression, the religious scholars were looking for someone else, not Baby Jesus.

What are we looking for? Who do we think Jesus is? Can we wrap our heads around the fact that Jesus was sent by God to conquer death and sin by dying a physical death on the Cross and rising from the dead in victory to be with God?

Are we looking for a Jesus whose purpose is to heal, comfort and defend us? One who takes us out of our troubles? One who is merely a sounding board for our wants and desires?

Remember who Jesus is – not who we might want Him to be.

Jesus came to save us from sin and death, to forge a pathway for us to eternal life with Him in Heaven and to send the Holy Spirit to help us navigate in this world. He shows us what love is by laying His life down to save us from certain death.

He did not come so that we could be comfortable or satisfied or free from troubles. Remember His words, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

If all we know is comfort and satisfaction, we have no need for a Savior. It is through troubles that we gain an understanding of grace. We learn about obedience and self-control. We gain empathy and wisdom. We gain faith and are filled with hope.

So remember, who Jesus is. Our understanding starts with BELIEVING that He is who He says that He is.  Remember that trials and tribulations are part of our journey of understanding. With this understanding, we experience His peace – the peace that surpasses all understanding!

I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one can come to the Father except through me. John 14:5 NLT

Sharpening Others

Be Still and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10

In our journey walking with God during our short stay on this earth, He is teaching us critical lessons for eternal living – lessons dealing with Loving Him, Loving others, pride, self-sufficiency, obedience, etc.

These lessons are critical and for many of us, are cyclical in nature. Not all of us struggle with the same lesson; some “get it” on the first encounter with a particular lesson while others are “stuck” for years dealing with the same critical instruction. Regardless of whether we are in a season of being “stuck” or are moving from one lesson to the next, God is using each moment of every day to assist us in our journey closer to Him.

Each day, we can be sharpened. Each day we can learn something new or experience a deepening of an understanding that we have known for quite sometime. Sometimes, we are called in obedience to help someone else in their journey.

When we become followers of Jesus Christ, we become saints – chosen by God – set free by His Son and filled with His Spirit to bring Him glory today and for all eternity. We must therefore, seek Him in the moment we are in to determine what we are to be doing. Just as God uses others to sharpen us, we are also called at times to sharpen others.

As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend. Proverbs 27:17

To be called to sharpen another believer is a great responsibility. When we know we are being called to be a sharpening tool, we must seek the help of the Holy Spirit in the process of the sharpening – remembering that God can use us in any situation. Our job is to “Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.” Ephesians 6:18

If you are being used by God in someone else’s journey, make sure that you are walking in step with the Lord and seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Remember, eternal living starts today.

Who is Sharpening You?

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

 Did you ever wonder why someone is your relative, friend or part of your circle of acquaintances? As we contemplate the celebration of Thanksgiving and as we look forward to the possibly of spending more time with some of the same people at Christmas, we may want to sit with God and ponder the purpose of our relationships – the good, the bad and the ugly!

If we believe God has a plan and that plan is good, then we must assume the people placed in our lives are there for a reason – the reason being ultimately good. So what does that mean for each of us?

Most people have a variety of relationships – with a spouse , children, or siblings or cousins or aunts or uncle, or in-laws or a best friend from childhood. So why has God placed you with your spouse, your brother or sister, your parents, your relatives, your neighbor, your best friend, or your co-workers or acquaintances you keep running into? What does God have in mind for you?

As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend. Proverbs 27:17

One truth that is evident is that God gives us people who will help us grow in Him. We can see this principle played out in our own families. Ask yourself this question, “Am I closer to God than I was last year?” If so, then how so?

Did you have to struggle through an issue with your spouse or sibling or co-worker? Was it frustrating and hard – were their views different from yours? Do you feel like you made mistakes or you could have handled the struggle differently? Did you learn anything from the experience? Did you end up estranged from the person or did you end up closer to God or both?

Are you still angry at God and asking, “Why did that happen to me or why did you do that to me or why did you not save me from that?”

Do not get stuck in that cycle of self-pity. Set it aside. Remember who God is and His purpose for you. Then re-evaluate the situation in light of His goodness. Instead, think about how your relationship with others has sharpened you. Contemplate how you have grown in your love for God. Claim the power of His love by thanking Him for the experience and asking for help to carry on with this day – the day you are in.

As you look forward, remember those who are placed in your path and view them in light of God’s plan for you – plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Give Him praise and thanks for these people who are sharpening you with love, truth, and grace – even if they have no idea that they are part of God’s purpose for you and you are part of God’s purpose for them.

Head into today and tomorrow with anticipation that the people God places in your path are here for your “good” and not for your “harm”. Then, remember to allow yourself to be sharpened giving thanks in all situations for God’s love for you.

FAITH v. fear

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.  And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. Romans 8:15-17 NIV

In other words, if you are a follower of Jesus then you have been set free by Jesus and are filled with the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of Truth. Remember the freedom you have received. Remember that faith is active – don’t make the mistake of just reading the scripture and then going off and doing it “on your own”.

Faith must be exercised in order for it to grow. If you are struggling to live life, then remember you are a child of God, filled with His Spirit who is void of fear! The fear inside of you is not of the Spirit of God. Get rid of it – actively choose to eliminate it – exercise your faith – by trusting God with your hardship.

If you are without a job or direction or purpose, remember you are not in bondage. You are free – free to live – free to thrive – free to learn and love and prosper. Exercise your faith. Take a step. Even if it turns out to be a “wrong” step, trust that God can handle it and steer you in the right direction.

Don’t allow fear to lie to you. Don’t allow bondage to cripple you. Remember you are a child of God’s, born of the His Spirit. Don’t let yourself be something less than God’s precious child.

It is worth hearing more of Romans Chapter 8 and maybe it helps if you hear it said a different way:

 Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing. And God isn’t pleased at being ignored.

But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won’t know what we’re talking about. But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God’s terms. It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!

 So don’t you see that we don’t owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There’s nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him! Romans 8:5-17 The Message

REMEMBER, His plans are for you, not against you. So come on! Forget what you once were and focus on who you are in Christ. Step out in faith. Exercise what is inside of you. Don’t let fear or bondage hold you back. You are a child of God! You live with the Father and the Son through the Spirit each and every moment! AMEN.

Claim it!

God wants us to be passionate about what He is passionate about. He wants us to knock – to seek – to ask. He wants us to want what He wants – to be intimate in our relationship with Him. When we are able to understand this basic truth, a whole new life opens up. We then begin to understand that we are who He says we are – and it is good!

Listen to the beginning of the story of Nehemiah – about a man who grasped the passion of God with regard to His people living in Jerusalem and who sought His Will and asked for His help.

 The memoirs of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah.

It was the month of Kislev in the twentieth year. At the time I was in the palace complex at Susa. Hanani, one of my brothers, had just arrived from Judah with some fellow Jews. I asked them about the conditions among the Jews there who had survived the exile, and about Jerusalem.

They told me, “The exile survivors who are left there in the province are in bad shape. Conditions are appalling. The wall of Jerusalem is still rubble; the city gates are still cinders.”

When I heard this, I sat down and wept. I mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God-of-Heaven.

I said, “God, God-of-Heaven, the great and awesome God, loyal to his covenant and faithful to those who love him and obey his commands: Look at me, listen to me. Pay attention to this prayer of your servant that I’m praying day and night in intercession for your servants, the People of Israel, confessing the sins of the People of Israel. And I’m including myself, I and my ancestors, among those who have sinned against you.

“We’ve treated you like dirt: We haven’t done what you told us, haven’t followed your commands, and haven’t respected the decisions you gave to Moses your servant. All the same, remember the warning you posted to your servant Moses: ‘If you betray me, I’ll scatter you to the four winds, but if you come back to me and do what I tell you, I’ll gather up all these scattered peoples from wherever they ended up and put them back in the place I chose to mark with my Name.’

“Well, there they are—your servants, your people whom you so powerfully and impressively redeemed. O Master, listen to me, listen to your servant’s prayer—and yes, to all your servants who delight in honoring you—and make me successful today so that I get what I want from the king.”

I was cupbearer to the king.

Nehemiah Chapter 1 The Message

Nehemiah, a cup bearer to the king, a trusted and influential position, placed in the right place at the right time for the work God had for Him. God’s passion became Nehemiah’s passion. He sought after it through prayer and fasting – crying out to God in repentance and thankfulness. And God delivered.

What passion has God placed on your heart? How has He aligned you in the right place and at the right time to accomplish the work He has for you? Are you crying out – seeking – asking?

Remember, God created you in His Image. You are who He says you are. His passion is placed in you. Now, claim it – and watch God deliver!

God shares His Spirit

Are you struggling to keep your eyes on the Lord? Are you hearing voices in your mind that you know are not of God? Do the words of Lauren Daigle’s song “I say” speak to you?

I keep fighting voices in my mind that say I’m not enough
Every single lie that tells me I will never measure up
Am I more than just the sum of every high and every low?
Remind me once again just who I am, because I need to know

 You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
You say I am held when I am falling short
When I don’t belong, oh You say that I am Yours
And I believe, oh I believe
What You say of me
I believe

 Remember there is a battle going on in the heavenly places. But we do not need to fear. We have the Holy Spirit who knows the mind of God. Listen to these words of Paul as he teaches the Corinthians:

The Spirit, not content to flit around on the surface, dives into the depths of God, and brings out what God planned all along. Who ever knows what you’re thinking and planning except you yourself? The same with God—except that he not only knows what he’s thinking, but he lets us in on it. God offers a full report on the gifts of life and salvation that he is giving us. We don’t have to rely on the world’s guesses and opinions. We didn’t learn this by reading books or going to school; we learned it from God, who taught us person-to-person through Jesus, and we’re passing it on to you in the same firsthand, personal way.

 The unspiritual self, just as it is by nature, can’t receive the gifts of God’s Spirit. There’s no capacity for them. They seem like so much silliness. Spirit can be known only by spirit—God’s Spirit and our spirits in open communion. Spiritually alive, we have access to everything God’s Spirit is doing, and can’t be judged by unspiritual critics. Isaiah’s question, “Is there anyone around who knows God’s Spirit, anyone who knows what he is doing?” has been answered: Christ knows, and we have Christ’s Spirit. 1 Corinthians 2:13-16 The Message

Paul continues in his letter to the Ephesians – teaching them about the weapons to fight back against the devil’s schemes:

And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.

 Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out. Ephesians 6:10-18 The Message

 Remember . . .

 The only thing that matters now is everything You think of me
In You I find my worth, in You I find my identity

 You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
You say I am held when I am falling short
When I don’t belong, oh You say that I am Yours
And I believe, oh I believe
What You say of me
I believe

 Taking all I have and now I’m laying it at Your feet
You have every failure God, and You’ll have every victory

 You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
You say I am held when I am falling short
When I don’t belong, oh You say that I am Yours
And I believe, oh I believe
What You say of me
I believe

 Oh I believe, yes I believe
What You say of me
Oh I believe

 Songwriters: Paul Mabury / Lauren Ashley Daigle / Jason IngramYou Say lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

In time of Crisis . . .

There are different kinds of crises – death of a loved one; unfairness of a situation which brings great turmoil; a national tragedy; a dispute within the Church; an extended illness of a family member or friend; a tragic accident; loss of a job and the list goes on and on.

When someone else is enduring a crisis, what do most of us do? It obviously depends on the type of crisis, but should it? It seems like our first human instinct is to talk to others (not the person involved) about the crisis – expressing our disbelief or heartfelt dismay or sympathy or maybe our anger, opinion or judgment.

We may disown the person or follow them from afar – waiting to see what happens before we enter into the situation.   That’s what Peter did:

They took Jesus to the high priest, and all the chief priests, the elders and the teachers of the law came together. Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire. Mark 14:53-54 NIV

Or depending on the crisis we may actually distance ourselves from knowing the person altogether or claim we really “never knew them” as a close friend.

While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him. “You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus,” she said. But he denied it. “I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about,” he said, and went out into the entryway. When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, “This fellow is one of them.” Again he denied it. After a little while, those standing near said to Peter, “Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean. He began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.” Immediately the rooster crowed the second time.  Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept. Mark 14:66-72

We may even surround the person, shouting curses and throwing stones as they did with Stephen who merely told the truth to people who did not believe.

At that point they went wild, a rioting mob of catcalls and whistles and invective. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, hardly noticed—he only had eyes for God, whom he saw in all his glory with Jesus standing at his side. He said, “Oh! I see heaven wide open and the Son of Man standing at God’s side!” Yelling and hissing, the mob drowned him out. Now in full stampede, they dragged him out of town and pelted him with rocks. Acts 7:54-58 The Message

But what should the saint do? (by definition a saint is a believer in Jesus Christ.). In someone else’s crisis, are we not first called to pray – taking time to enter into conversation with God about the person He placed in our lives? What does our conversation with God sound like? It sounds like love wrapped in a heartfelt desire for God to do the very best for the person. Our prayer does not necessarily request that the person be removed from the crisis but rather for the Holy Spirit to move in the crisis to bring the person into unity with God for His Glory.

The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know. Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can be quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation. This is the way our Savior God wants us to live.

He wants not only us but everyone saved, you know, everyone to get to know the truth we’ve learned: that there’s one God and only one, and one Priest-Mediator between God and us—Jesus, who offered himself in exchange for everyone held captive by sin, to set them all free. Eventually the news is going to get out. This and this only has been my appointed work: getting this news to those who have never heard of God, and explaining how it works by simple faith and plain truth.

Since prayer is at the bottom of all this, what I want mostly is for men to pray—not shaking angry fists at enemies but raising holy hands to God. And I want women to get in there with the men in humility before God, not primping before a mirror or chasing the latest fashions but doing something beautiful for God and becoming beautiful doing it. 1 Timothy 2:1-10

So the next time God places us in the path of someone in crisis, let us remember that prayer is the first line of defense for that person – not gossip or anger or judgment – but intercession for one of God’s creations whom He has entrusted into our sight for but a moment in time.

Believe?

What does it mean to believe in Jesus – to be His follower? Listen to what he tells us:

The Good Shepherd and His Sheep

“I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.”

Those who heard Jesus use this illustration didn’t understand what he meant, so he explained it to them: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me were thieves and robbers. But the true sheep did not listen to them. Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.

“The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again.  No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.”

When he said these things, the people were again divided in their opinions about him.  Some said, “He’s demon possessed and out of his mind. Why listen to a man like that?” Others said, “This doesn’t sound like a man possessed by a demon! Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”  John 10:1-21 New Living Translation

Jesus specifically tells us that that he is the Good Shepherd – the Messiah. Why don’t we believe him? Are we in the same category as the Pharisees that were going to stone him because he was claiming to be the Messiah – not taking the time and energy to actually hear and understand what Jesus is actually saying to us? Listen again to Jesus’ words of explanation.

 Jesus Claims to Be the Son of God

It was now winter, and Jesus was in Jerusalem at the time of Hanukkah, the Festival of Dedication. He was in the Temple, walking through the section known as Solomon’s Colonnade. The people surrounded him and asked, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

Jesus replied, “I have already told you, and you don’t believe me. The proof is the work I do in my Father’s name. But you don’t believe me because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand.  The Father and I are one.”

Once again the people picked up stones to kill him. Jesus said, “At my Father’s direction I have done many good works. For which one are you going to stone me?”

They replied, “We’re stoning you not for any good work, but for blasphemy! You, a mere man, claim to be God.”

Jesus replied, “It is written in your own Scriptures that God said to certain leaders of the people, ‘I say, you are gods!’ And you know that the Scriptures cannot be altered. So if those people who received God’s message were called ‘gods,’ why do you call it blasphemy when I say, ‘I am the Son of God’? After all, the Father set me apart and sent me into the world. Don’t believe me unless I carry out my Father’s work. But if I do his work, believe in the evidence of the miraculous works I have done, even if you don’t believe me. Then you will know and understand that the Father is in me, and I am in the Father.”

Once again they tried to arrest him, but he got away and left them. He went beyond the Jordan River near the place where John was first baptizing and stayed there awhile. And many followed him. “John didn’t perform miraculous signs,” they remarked to one another, “but everything he said about this man has come true.” And many who were there believed in Jesus.  John 10:22-42 

Do you believe? Remember, belief is not about being part of a social club or volunteer organization. It is not about “doing good” for others. It is not going to church because it is the right thing to do or to be seen in order to build up your status at work or in the community.

Many of us say we believe in Jesus but never speak His Name except as an expletive.  We may go to church, take communion and count ourselves as Christians but we have never spoken to another person about Jesus.

Belief is not based on someone else’s belief although many times it starts with watching someone else we admire or envy. We want what they have so we follow their behavior. But ultimately, belief is based on our personal connection to the living God – Jesus.

Some of us believe in a “higher being” but do not believe that Jesus is God in human form who lived, walked and died on the Cross to be resurrected from the dead, ascending into heaven sealing the pathway to eternal life for us.

If you believe Jesus is the way the truth and the life – providing those who believe with eternal life – doesn’t it make you want to turn to those God has placed in your path and encourage them to believe?

 

From Sin . . . By Grace

Sometimes it is good to go back to the beginning – to remind ourselves that we were born into sin – we inherited it as our nature from the beginning – from the expulsion from the Garden.

The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.  And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”  So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.  After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. Genesis 3:21-24 NIV

So the human race was banished. Why? Because we did not obey God – we could not be allowed to eat from the tree of life and live forever with our sinful nature. This rebellion has continued through the ages. God started again with Noah saving six humans from the flood but the same thing happened. Disobedience.

Isaiah reported the following vision to the people of Israel during the reigns of kings around 700 B.C:

 “Doom, rebel children!”
    God’s Decree.
“You make plans, but not mine.
    You make deals, but not in my Spirit.
You pile sin on sin,
    one sin on top of another,
Going off to Egypt
    without so much as asking me,
Running off to Pharaoh for protection,
    expecting to hide out in Egypt.
Well, some protection Pharaoh will be!
    Some hideout, Egypt!
They look big and important, true,
    with officials strategically established in
Zoan in the north and Hanes in the south,
    but there’s nothing to them.
Anyone stupid enough to trust them
    will end up looking stupid—
All show, no substance,
    an embarrassing farce.”

And this note on the animals of the Negev
    encountered on the road to Egypt:
A most dangerous, treacherous route,
    menaced by lions and deadly snakes.
And you’re going to lug all your stuff down there,
    your donkeys and camels loaded down with bribes,
Thinking you can buy protection
    from that hollow farce of a nation?
Egypt is all show, no substance.
    My name for her is Toothless Dragon.

 So, go now and write all this down.
    Put it in a book
So that the record will be there
    to instruct the coming generations,
Because this is a rebel generation,
    a people who lie,
A people unwilling to listen
    to anything God tells them.
They tell their spiritual leaders,
    “Don’t bother us with irrelevancies.”
They tell their preachers,
    “Don’t waste our time on impracticalities.
Tell us what makes us feel better.
    Don’t bore us with obsolete religion.
That stuff means nothing to us.
    Quit hounding us with The Holy of Israel.”

Therefore, The Holy of Israel says this:
    “Because you scorn this Message,
Preferring to live by injustice
    and shape your lives on lies,
This perverse way of life
    will be like a towering, badly built wall
That slowly, slowly tilts and shifts,
    and then one day, without warning, collapses—
Smashed to bits like a piece of pottery,
    smashed beyond recognition or repair,
Useless, a pile of debris
    to be swept up and thrown in the trash.”

Isaiah 30:1-14 The Message

Isaiah continues to instruct the people as to what God is saying to them:

“Your salvation requires you to turn back to me

    and stop your silly efforts to save yourselves.
Your strength will come from settling down
    in complete dependence on me—
The very thing
    you’ve been unwilling to do.
You’ve said, ‘Nothing doing! We’ll rush off on horseback!’
    You’ll rush off, all right! Just not far enough!
You’ve said, ‘We’ll ride off on fast horses!’
    Do you think your pursuers ride old nags?
Think again: A thousand of you will scatter before one attacker.
    Before a mere five you’ll all run off.
There’ll be nothing left of you—
    a flagpole on a hill with no flag,
    a signpost on a roadside with the sign torn off.”

18 But God’s not finished. He’s waiting around to be gracious to you.
    He’s gathering strength to show mercy to you.
God takes the time to do everything right—everything.
    Those who wait around for him are the lucky ones.

Isaiah 30:15-18 The Message

The human race including God’s chosen people continued to disobey. Relying on themselves – refusing to seek God for direction. So what happened to change that? We are still in the same boat EXCEPT for one extraordinary event.

Isaiah tells us about it:

 “Take a good look at my servant.
    I’m backing him to the hilt.
He’s the one I chose,
    and I couldn’t be more pleased with him.
I’ve bathed him with my Spirit, my life.
    He’ll set everything right among the nations.
He won’t call attention to what he does
    with loud speeches or gaudy parades.
He won’t brush aside the bruised and the hurt
    and he won’t disregard the small and insignificant,
    but he’ll steadily and firmly set things right.
He won’t tire out and quit. He won’t be stopped
    until he’s finished his work—to set things right on earth.
Far-flung ocean islands
    wait expectantly for his teaching.”

 God’s Message,
    the God who created the cosmos, stretched out the skies,
    laid out the earth and all that grows from it,
Who breathes life into earth’s people,
    makes them alive with his own life:
“I am God. I have called you to live right and well.
    I have taken responsibility for you, kept you safe.
I have set you among my people to bind them to me,
    and provided you as a lighthouse to the nations,
To make a start at bringing people into the open, into light:
    opening blind eyes,
    releasing prisoners from dungeons,
    emptying the dark prisons.
I am God. That’s my name.
    I don’t franchise my glory,
    don’t endorse the no-god idols.
Take note: The earlier predictions of judgment have been fulfilled.
    I’m announcing the new salvation work.
Before it bursts on the scene,
    I’m telling you all about it.”

Isaiah 42:1-9

This Book we call the Bible is filled with life altering Truth and glimpses into the future. We are told that Jesus is coming. We are told to look for him. We are told that a NEW salvation plan is going into effect. Why? Because until then nothing changes – the human race is still the same corrupt people who keep doing the same thing over and over and over again. Disobedience. Wanting to be their own Master.

How is it that we realize that we have a choice to turn from that sinful nature? It is our realization that we are not enough – that we cannot do it all on our own – that we need the help of God.

It is at that point when we turn from our own self towards God and ask for help that God with His unmerited favor (“grace”) can reach us without destroying us. It is only by recognizing we need God that He can actually break through our sinful nature and give us a way out of our inherited nature. The way out is through Jesus – it is through Jesus that the Holy Spirit came and it is through the Holy Spirit that you and I receive guidance, wisdom and the ability to turn from our sinful nature to the nature of Jesus.

God is Multi-Tasking – Right Now!

Paul brought the Gospel to the Gentiles after a supernatural visitation from Jesus. In the midst of Paul’s zealous religious quest to annihilate the people of the “Way”, God caused a complete turnaround in Paul’s life. Everything he stood for was completely debunked in a matter of seconds.   Listen to the Scripture Account and put yourself in Paul’s story:

Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.  As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.  He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied.  “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone.  Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus.  For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord,” he answered.

The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem.  And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.  I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”  Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.     Acts 9:1-19 NIV

What is going on in your life? Do you need a Paul moment – a 360 degree turnaround? Or are you so zealous for a cause that you don’t even know that you need a Paul moment? Maybe you are unwilling to fully commit yourself to God such that a Paul moment will not come? Or maybe you are being called to be part of a bigger picture – one you know nothing about – one that defies logic? Maybe you have argued with God’s call but have chosen to be obedient anyway – like Ananias?

 Whatever your circumstances are, REMEMBER our God is multi-tasking, in this moment. He is orchestrating and carrying out plans both big and small that we have no comprehension of. He can orchestrate a 360 degree turn instantaneously at the perfect moment in someone’s life, direct them to a place already prepared for them, while at the same time causing someone else to have a dream or vision to cooperate in the completion of the 360 degree turn.

 God does not slumber or sleep but is multi-tasking each and every moment of each and every day. He deals with the big things and the very small things. All are important to Him and all are accomplished according to His Will. So turn to Him and be prepared for His multi-tasking in your life – RIGHT NOW!

In Trouble? Then Remember!

We all face times of trouble – moments when we don’t understand – moments when events occur and our circumstances seem hopeless. But God’s promises never change. They were Truth when they were said and recorded and they continue to be Truth today.

When Jesus was facing the Cross, He was trying to prepare the disciples for His death and resurrection, but they did not understand. How could they? But he told them anyway, because later they would remember His Words. Later, they would comprehend and understand. Later, the Spirit would come and make it clear. Later, they would celebrate His Way.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God a; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” John 14:1-7 NIV

Jesus continues to answer the disciples’ questions with Truths to remember:

Philip said, “Master, show us the Father; then we’ll be content.”

 “You’ve been with me all this time, Philip, and you still don’t understand? To see me is to see the Father. So how can you ask, ‘Where is the Father?’ Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you aren’t mere words. I don’t just make them up on my own. The Father who resides in me crafts each word into a divine act.

“Believe me: I am in my Father and my Father is in me. If you can’t believe that, believe what you see—these works. The person who trusts me will not only do what I’m doing but even greater things, because I, on my way to the Father, am giving you the same work to do that I’ve been doing. You can count on it. From now on, whatever you request along the lines of who I am and what I am doing, I’ll do it. That’s how the Father will be seen for who he is in the Son. I mean it. Whatever you request in this way, I’ll do. John 14:8-16 The Message

So Remember – refresh your memory with the Words of Jesus. Repeat those Words to yourself. Sing them. Whatever it takes to remember . . . He is the Way the Truth and the Life! Anyone who believes in Him shall not perish but shall have eternal life.

Completing the Assignment with Intentional Love

We are to be disciplined in following Jesus – seeking His direction and then acting upon it. But how do we act? How do we fulfill His directive?  

Paul answers this question in his letter to the Romans.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.  Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Romans 12:9-13 NIV

Or translated another way:

Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.

Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.

Paul continues his answer by reminding us that our job is to complete our assignment through the love of others both friend and foe:

Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.

Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”

Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.  Romans 12:9-21 The Message

Remember, it takes discipline to find direction and it takes intentional love to fulfill it.

 

Disciplined Direction

Are we “doing” things for God in the Name of Christ that have nothing to do with Him? Are these good deeds merely our ideas and impulses which have not been properly vetted through prayer and petition? Are we seeking His guidance to determine our role in His Church?

These are questions Paul answered for us in his Letter to the Romans over 1900 years ago.

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 12:1-2 NIV

Or translated another way in The Message:

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.

Paul goes onto advise us on how we should view our relationship with God and our role in the Church:

I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.

In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we’re talking about is Christ’s body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn’t amount to much, would we? So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t.

If you preach, just preach God’s Message, nothing else; if you help, just help, don’t take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching; if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don’t get bossy; if you’re put in charge, don’t manipulate; if you’re called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don’t let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face. Romans 12:1-8 The Message

Remember, “doing” for God without disciplined direction from God is merely self-centeredness. Our role in the Church is at the direction of Jesus Christ who is the head of the Body – so let us keep our eyes on Him!

Story Time!

Never Without a Story

26-29 Then Jesus said, “God’s kingdom is like seed thrown on a field by a man who then goes to bed and forgets about it. The seed sprouts and grows—he has no idea how it happens. The earth does it all without his help: first a green stem of grass, then a bud, then the ripened grain. When the grain is fully formed, he reaps—harvest time!

30-32 “How can we picture God’s kingdom? What kind of story can we use? It’s like a pine nut. When it lands on the ground it is quite small as seeds go, yet once it is planted it grows into a huge pine tree with thick branches. Eagles nest in it.”

33-34 With many stories like these, he presented his message to them, fitting the stories to their experience and maturity. He was never without a story when he spoke. When he was alone with his disciples, he went over everything, sorting out the tangles, untying the knots.

The Message Mark 4:26-34

What was the purpose of Jesus’ method of teaching? Obviously, it was to teach a lesson about the subject matter. But wasn’t it also to guide us in how we share our faith with others? How do we do that?

With a story – our story – unique to us – designed by God – perfect for the situation He places us in – filled with our mistakes and God’s grace.

If we can picture our lives as the backside of God’s tapestry, we will understand that there is a story that the Weaver has designed that we just don’t know in its fullness. It is our story. Uniquely ours. It is interwoven with other’s stories – people that the Weaver places in our path – whose strand intersects with ours.

Each strand weaves its way through the tapestry. Each strand has a unique path – none are the same although for a period of time, the strands might mesh to make a beautiful splash of color or form the critical juncture with another strand. Some day our strand will complete its place in the tapestry.

The tapestry of life is so complex that we have no way to control it. When we do try to control it, we lose sight of the purpose of being in the tapestry – to go where the Weaver directs us in order for the tapestry to be completed in accordance with its original design.

Each day can be viewed as a day of weaving. Each day we have the choice to cooperate with the Weaver – to follow the example of the Weaver’s son, Jesus – to exhibit his love, joy, peace, patience, faithfulness, kindness, goodness and self-control – to obey the pull through the loom so the going goes smoothly except when it doesn’t which may have been the point.

It is the journey that is important and whom we have partnered with that makes the difference. Each day our eyes can focus on Jesus, the one who shows us how to live by making each moment holy – whose love, mercy, and grace form the path of each strand.

We also have the choice to do it “our” way – twisting our way through our day. Our way is the hard way – the way of turbulence and restlessness. The Weaver will still be in control but it will be difficult for us when He straightens out our twisted strand. Of course, sometimes the straightening has nothing to do with us because it is caused by the choices of others who may have chosen their own way.

But regardless of the choices we make or others make, the Weaver is in total control and the Tapestry will be completed in accordance with the Weaver’s pattern, not ours and not anyone else’s.

So back to the original question – how do we share our faith?

Like Jesus did – in the form of a story. Our story of love, grace, and hope – of disappointments, trials and tribulations. Not in a complaining way, but in a way that brings hope and comfort to someone else.

Our journey intersects with other’s journey at the direction of the Weaver. At those intersections, we are to come up along side the other strand bonding with them as Jesus has bonded with us in order to bring glory to the Weaver whose masterpiece is in the making. We are to treat the other strand as we desire to be treated. Our desire comes from the Weaver, our direction from the Weaver’s son and our power flows from the Weaver’s Spirit.

So share your story – woven by God through the love and grace of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit!

 

A Simple Guide for Behavior

Simplify in word collage

1-5 “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.

“Don’t be flip with the sacred. Banter and silliness give no honor to God. Don’t reduce holy mysteries to slogans. In trying to be relevant, you’re only being cute and inviting sacrilege.

7-11 “Don’t bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This isn’t a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in. If your child asks for bread, do you trick him with sawdust? If he asks for fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing. You’re at least decent to your own children. So don’t you think the God who conceived you in love will be even better?

12 “Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God’s Law and Prophets and this is what you get.

Being and Doing

13-14 “Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention.

15-20 “Be wary of false preachers who smile a lot, dripping with practiced sincerity. Chances are they are out to rip you off some way or other. Don’t be impressed with charisma; look for character. Who preachers are is the main thing, not what they say. A genuine leader will never exploit your emotions or your pocketbook. These diseased trees with their bad apples are going to be chopped down and burned.

21-23 “Knowing the correct password—saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance—isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills. I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’

24-25 “These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.

26-27 “But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards.”

28-29 When Jesus concluded his address, the crowd burst into applause. They had never heard teaching like this. It was apparent that he was living everything he was saying—quite a contrast to their religion teachers! This was the best teaching they had ever heard.

Matthew 7 The Message (MSG)

AMEN!

 

God’s Grace is Enough

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come:  I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.  Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.” Genesis 9:12-17

It was late afternoon, and I struggled to understand where life was taking me. I was confused – thinking that God’s plan was taking me one way but now doubting that I had heard correctly. I have come to learn that this kind of self-awareness of His plan is a warning – a warning to slow down and “Be still and know that I am God” Psalm 46:10.

It is a time to remember God’s sovereignty – to remember His promises – to remember to turn to the one who gives life so abundantly. It is a time to be quiet – a time not to speak or complain or analyze. “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28. Christ-awareness always eliminates self-awareness and produces peace.

And then it happened. A stunning double rainbow – a symbol of God’s covenant with the earth and with me. It spoke of His control over His creation – of the link between heaven and earth – of His promise to overcome the storms with a beautiful display of His Grace. It pointed me to Him – reminding me to trust in His plans for me – For I know the plans I have for you – plans to prosper you and not harm you. – plans to give you hope and a future.  Jer 27:19.

Powerfully Prepared to Serve

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure. 1 John 3:1-3 NIV

Or said another way:

What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are. But that’s also why the world doesn’t recognize us or take us seriously, because it has no idea who he is or what he’s up to.

 But friends, that’s exactly who we are: children of God. And that’s only the beginning. Who knows how we’ll end up! What we know is that when Christ is openly revealed, we’ll see him—and in seeing him, become like him. All of us who look forward to his Coming stay ready, with the glistening purity of Jesus’ life as a model for our own.

John goes on to say:

All who indulge in a sinful life are dangerously lawless, for sin is a major disruption of God’s order. Surely you know that Christ showed up in order to get rid of sin. There is no sin in him, and sin is not part of his program. No one who lives deeply in Christ makes a practice of sin. None of those who do practice sin have taken a good look at Christ. They’ve got him all backward.

So, my dear children, don’t let anyone divert you from the truth. It’s the person who acts right who is right, just as we see it lived out in our righteous Messiah. Those who make a practice of sin are straight from the Devil, the pioneer in the practice of sin. The Son of God entered the scene to abolish the Devil’s ways.

People conceived and brought into life by God don’t make a practice of sin. How could they? God’s seed is deep within them, making them who they are. It’s not in the nature of the God-begotten to practice and parade sin. Here’s how you tell the difference between God’s children and the Devil’s children: The one who won’t practice righteous ways isn’t from God, nor is the one who won’t love brother or sister. A simple test.

For this is the original message we heard: We should love each other.

We must not be like Cain, who joined the Evil One and then killed his brother. And why did he kill him? Because he was deep in the practice of evil, while the acts of his brother were righteous. So don’t be surprised, friends, when the world hates you. This has been going on a long time.

The way we know we’ve been transferred from death to life is that we love our brothers and sisters. Anyone who doesn’t love is as good as dead. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know very well that eternal life and murder don’t go together.

This is how we’ve come to understand and experience love: Christ sacrificed his life for us. This is why we ought to live sacrificially for our fellow believers, and not just be out for ourselves. If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love? It disappears. And you made it disappear.

My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves.

And friends, once that’s taken care of and we’re no longer accusing or condemning ourselves, we’re bold and free before God! We’re able to stretch our hands out and receive what we asked for because we’re doing what he said, doing what pleases him. Again, this is God’s command: to believe in his personally named Son, Jesus Christ. He told us to love each other, in line with the original command. As we keep his commands, we live deeply and surely in him, and he lives in us. And this is how we experience his deep and abiding presence in us: by the Spirit he gave us.         1 John 3 The Message

Since Jesus “showed up” to get rid of sin and did indeed conquer it, we are saved from it. That is the freedom we have. We are free to love unconditionally – no strings attached! No fear! No worry! Just existing to love God and others.   It is a simple life goal and yet it becomes complicated if we succumb to our human tendencies and accept the temptation to turn from God.

For although satan has lost the war, he is alive and roaming about the earth, tempting us to turn away from God. That is his sole purpose – to tempt us to separate ourselves from God. But do not fear, for we have the Holy Spirit – a gift from Jesus – to combat the temptations. The same Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead lives in us and is quite capable – to steer us clear of acting upon the temptations of life.

Therefore, go forth with confidence that you are fully empowered to be God’s servant today – free of fear and worry – ready to love God and love others – guided by the powerful Holy Spirit!

The “HOW TO” of Living

Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires, but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. Romans 8:5-8 NIV Translation

 Or said another way:

Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing. And God isn’t pleased at being ignored. Romans 8:5-8 The Message

The Apostle Paul goes onto say:

 But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won’t know what we’re talking about. But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God’s terms. It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!

So don’t you see that we don’t owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There’s nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!  

Romans 8:9-17 The Message

We are an integral part of God’s work in ourselves. Each of us must identify our own tendencies toward self-focus and what triggers our tendency to turn towards ourselves and not immediately towards God. Intently refocusing on God in these situations will shed a whole new light on our self-created cyclone and give us a new perspective. With this new perspective, our personal swirling dervish starts to diminish. And when the swirling dervish starts to slow down, misperceptions can be reinterpreted in the light of truth. Forgiveness becomes a reality. The by-products of the self-focused behavior begin to fall off.

The end result of the change from self-focus to God-focus is love and peace and joy – not to mention patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Who is my Neighbor?

. . . so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.  A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.  He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.  The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”          

Luke 10:29-37

 

FAST FORWARD – TWO THOUSAND YEARS LATER

A young couple was traveling from a big city to the safety of the country. They had lost everything in a hurricane but had enough money to buy two train tickets to make it to within 100 miles of their destination.   They did not speak the native language very well, but knew enough to get by. They used their phone gps sparingly (they lost their charger) to point them in the right direction.

They walked for days trying to avoid difficult situations. They were hungry and tired. A storm drenched them. They found shelter on the steps of a locked church and slept on the concrete stoop. They persevered.

As they walked down a major highway, a follower of Jesus whizzed past them in the safety of her mini-van. She wondered what two people were doing walking down a highway with a duffle bag on their shoulder. She said a prayer for them but did not stop to inquire as to their condition – she was very busy and her mind moved on. Hundreds of other cars passed them by with no one inquiring as to their need.

Four hours later, the Jesus follower was returning home from work. It had been a very long day and she had things to do at home – children to care for, laundry to complete, plans to make. And then, she saw them.

Immediately, she knew that this moment in time was no coincidence – she had long ago learned that there are no coincidences in life. She called her husband who confirmed that she should not stop alone and so she traveled onto her hometown stopping at a fellow Jesus follower’s house for assistance. He immediately set aside his dinner and came with her.

The two of them stopped near the couple who were standing near a bridge. As they approached the young people, the Jesus Follower asked if they needed help. The young lady hesitantly and in a few words of English said they were fine.

Realizing that the couple did not speak her language very well, the Jesus Follower asked if they needed food and a place to stay. The Jesus Follower explained that she would call a Pastor friend who could help. The young lady’s eyes lit up when she heard “pastor” and looked with pleading eyes at her companion.   She spoke to him in her native tongue and he hesitantly agreed.

The Jesus Follower called her friend, the Pastor, who was the director of a local church sponsored support agency. He steered them to a local campground and promised to assist in the morning. The couple climbed into the Jesus Followers van and they drove to the campground. All the cabins were full but the Campground owners offered a place to pitch a tent. The Jesus Followers called other Jesus Followers and with the wheels in motion for shelter, they traveled to a local fast food restaurant for dinner.

The couple was hungry and appreciated the meal. “Gracious” was shared. “God bless you” was spoken by these young people from a foreign land to the Jesus Followers. Breakfast foods were obtained and they all returned to the campground where three more Jesus Followers met them with a tent, sleeping mats and a cell phone charger. Bedding was produced by the campground who provided a bathhouse and the ability to charge the phone. The Pastor arrived in the morning and took them to breakfast, provided them with shoes, clothing, train tickets, and transport to the train.

Jesus asks the same questions: “Who are these young people’s neighbors?”

The Body of Christ answers, “Jesus Followers who had mercy on them, without regard to where they were from, what they had done, or where they were headed because: God knows them. God loves them. God provides for them.

That is how the Body of Christ should work. Each Jesus Follower discerning in the moment they are in what they are being called to do. There is no need to worry about the big picture or how the parts come together because God is in charge of that. Jesus Followers must learn to focus on Jesus and do what is right and good in the day they are in. If the Body of Christ can learn to do that individually, then we can be used by God together for His Glory – and one day when we are called home, we, too, can hear those words of Glory – “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Construction Zone

I am the way the truth and the life no one comes to the father except through me. John 14:6

 I waited at road construction the other day. It was 90+ degrees and I was praying for the flag holder – what a difficult job! My air conditioner was pumping cool air into my car and I was quite comfortable but that flagger was red faced and sweating.   It was a long wait because there was a “follow me” vehicle. Soon, it was my turn to follow the lead car. It was a windy road and there were multiple work crews on a 2-mile stretch. It was good to have the lead car because we kept switching lanes.

As I sat in contemplation with God today, I was reminded of that experience. God was helping me understand it as a parable. Jesus is the “lead car”. Those of us who are followers of Jesus are following Him through the road construction of life. Life is a windy road, with unexpected turns and lane changes. Jesus leads us through the twists and turns, the hazards and road blocks – through the rough patches and pot holes. As we experience this journey we are bumping up against God’s gift to us through Jesus – eternal life!

Eternal life is not something we “attain” at death but something that we have already received as believers in Jesus Christ. It is not taken from us when we screw up or hit a pot hole. It is here. It is now. It is real. We are His.

Ryan Stevenson describes it this way in his song “No Matter What”:

A lot of us grew up believing
At any moment we could lose it all
And at the drop of a hat
God might turn his back and move on
A lot of us feel like we blew it
Thinking that we’re just too far gone
But I want you to know
There’s still a hope for you now

No matter what you’ve done
You can’t erase His love
Nothing can change it
You’re not separated
No matter what

There’s never been a better time to get honest
There’s never been a better time to get clean
So come as you are
Run to the cross and be free
Oh be free

No matter what you’ve done
You can’t erase His love
Nothing can change it
You’re not separated
No matter where you run
He’s always holding on
You’re still a daughter, You’re still a son
No matter what

Don’t know what you’ve been taught
Don’t know what you’ve been told
All I know is my God
Will never let go of you
And I don’t know what you’ve seen
Don’t know what you’ve been through
All I know is my God
Will never let go of you
He’ll never let go

One day, we will all reach the end of the construction zone of life. In the meantime, the key to persevering is to keep our eyes on the one who knows the way – the one who leads us through the trials and tribulations of life – the one who deliverers us to the other side of each of these experiences – Jesus.

All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” John 6:37-40

What a Waste of Time!

It is such a common trap – thinking about how someone else should be acting towards someone or something – trying to figure out what someone will think if a certain thing is said or a certain action occurs.

God, come close. Come quickly!
    Open your ears—it’s my voice you’re hearing!
Treat my prayer as sweet incense rising;
    my raised hands are my evening prayers.

Post a guard at my mouth, God,
    set a watch at the door of my lips.
Don’t let me so much as dream of evil
    or thoughtlessly fall into bad company.
And these people who only do wrong—
    don’t let them lure me with their sweet talk!
May the Just One set me straight,
    may the Kind One correct me,
Don’t let sin anoint my head.
    I’m praying hard against their evil ways!
Psalm 141:1-7 The Message

 It becomes so complicated – this thing called life – when we are trying to figure out other people’s reactions and then what our reaction should be. We are tempted to repeat the issue over and over again to others (getting conflicting advise) which causes it to become bigger and more distorted. We “fret” and cause ourselves anxiety about an issue that has increased in size as we smolder in it. But remember, Jesus commands us to actively stop the fretting and set the worry aside.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me” John 14:1

 “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 15:33

 When in those situations – when we are being pulled toward worry, intrigue and judgment, it’s always good to remind ourselves of what we should be doing instead – loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 1 Cor 13:4-8

If we pray and ask God into the situation – If we remember that we are to actively set aside our worry – If love never fails – Then these situations are simplified in our minds and our job is to do what is “right” and “good” in the moment we are in and let God handle the rest. We don’t need to revisit the situation or dwell on it or smolder in it or worry about tomorrow. GOD HAS IT! AMEN!!

The Intersection of Grace with Prayer

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” Ephesians 2:8-10. 

Grace is the unmerited and overflowing favor of God. We don’t deserve it, but God extends it because Jesus opened the pathway for us to be redeemed by Him. His extending Grace to us is also beyond our comprehension – overflowing in ways we simply cannot fathom.

God’s Grace intersects with each of us on a daily basis – we cooperate with God’s Grace through prayer.

Prayer is communicating with God. It can be corporate in nature – as in a prayer together with others during worship at Church. However, most prayer is “personal”. It is talking with God in solitude and silence, in the midst of disaster and chaos – in whatever situation we are in – at work, at play, at worship. It is done by kneeling or standing or sitting or running or singing. Prayer cannot be put into a box of “how to” but instead it is a lifestyle of consistently seeking relationship with God.

When God’s Grace intersects with our Prayer, we are cooperating with God to make the moment we are in Holy. It is how He asks us to live – drawing on his unmerited favor which overflows into our lives each and every day. Does that mean that we can ask anything and expect that He will respond –YES!! – He will respond – not always as we imagined or requested but He always responds to one of His children.

And what is the result of this lifestyle? Peace. Simple, uncomplicated Peace. Paul puts it this way in his letter to the Philippians:

Rejoice in the Lord always [delight, take pleasure in Him]; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit [your graciousness, unselfishness, mercy, tolerance, and patience] be known to all people. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious or worried about anything, but in everything [every circumstance and situation] by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, continue to make your [specific] requests known to God.  And the peace of God [that peace which reassures the heart, that peace] which transcends all understanding, [that peace which] stands guard over your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus [is yours].

Finally, believers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable and worthy of respect, whatever is right and confirmed by God’s word, whatever is pure and wholesome, whatever is lovely and brings peace, whatever is admirable and of good repute; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think continually on these things [center your mind on them, and implant them in your heart].  The things which you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things [in daily life], and the God [who is the source] of peace and well-being will be with you.

Philippians 4:7-9

Remember . . . . God wants us to seek Him.  As we seek Him more and more, His Grace will become more and more evident to us. . . . God’s Grace is enough. His Will Be Done. Amen

Suffering – What to do, say and pray!

What do we do when someone who we love is faced with deep anguish, pain and suffering? What do we say? How do we pray?

The Book of Job gives us insight into a situation beyond the knowledge of Job and his four friends. Job had no idea that God and Satan were in the midst of an interaction involving Job who God had declared was righteous in God’s eyes. Satan argued that Job was righteous because he had been so wonderfully blessed by God – a great family, lots of possessions and the respect of his community. Job 1-2

But God knew what Job was made of – He created him! God allowed Satan to take away Job’s blessings. What followed was the terrible suffering of Job who could not understand his circumstances and his friends who judged rather than comforted. Job 3-37

God reveals to us in the Book of Job these nuggets of wisdom:

  1. God is in charge and is looking at the entire picture that we do not have the ability to comprehend. It is not our job to figure out the “why” of a tragedy. If we focus on the “why”, we will fall into a pit of despair that will be difficult to climb out of.
  2. We will all suffer. Each person will have their own trouble. Jesus reminded us of this when he told his disciples that his time had come. He stated, “Now my heart is troubled and what shall I say? ‘Father save me from this hour?’ No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” John 12:27-28.
  3. Suffering removes shallowness. In the course of suffering most of us become more empathetic. In other words, suffering can prepare us to help others. God has put in place persons who are our safety net in the event of a fall. They cannot save us from the fall but they can offer comfort, reassurance and hope to help us weather the storm. Safety nets are made up of a few persons who have usually weathered their own storms with the help of others.
  4. Since there is no way to truly know why a tragic event occurs, we need to focus our energies elsewhere. If you know you are part of the safety net for another, do not shirk your duty. Rest assured that if you do, God will call someone else but you will have missed an opportunity. In that event, repent and move on – ever more vigilant the next time you are called.
  5. In the midst of the storm, there is no room for judgment. Judgment means we are focusing on the “why” instead of the person. Our focus should be “do unto others as you want others to do unto you”.
  6. What to do, say or pray?
    • If you are part of someone’s inner circle, go to them, listening and loving as the Holy Spirit moves in you. There are no hard and fast rules on comfort. It is a work of the Holy Spirit.   Those who ask God to go before them and trust that God is in control of the situation will do and say the right thing. (Job’s friends did start out with the right idea – they went to him, sat with him presumably with the intent to comfort him. However, their focus was on the “why” of the situation instead of sharing the hope of the Living God.)
    • If you are not part of someone’s inner circle, but have been called by circumstance or experience, do your part. Is it sending a card with words of encouragement? Is it helping with a task that will ease the load of the suffering person or their inner circle? Is it a hospital visit or a meal? Is it monetary assistance?
    • If you are not part of someone’s inner circle but the person has been placed on your heart, pray for the person and the people who are part of the inner circle. Your prayers are strengthening the Body of Christ. They are of critical importance.
  7. Persevere in faith. God is good and we can safely rely on Him in our troubled times. In the midst of our trouble or someone else’s, we need to draw close to Him so out of our relationship, we will find His comfort. The key to developing this focus is to practice it on a daily basis during the good times and the mundane times, because trouble will eventually come to us all.  So in this day and in this week be in the practice of “making each moment Holy”.

Remember, God is in charge. He is good – ALL the time. He has The Plan. He is the judge – not us. We can trust in Him even when circumstances are not what we think they should be or what we want them to be. Suffering will come. Ask and you will receive Holy Spirit guidance to be able to persevere and to be able to be the safety net for others.  Our focus in times of trouble should be on Him. Our focus when others are in trouble should be on Him. So, persevere in faith. And Remember, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. Mark 12:30

Fruit Bearers

Talking with His disciples, Jesus conveyed to them what the process of life with Him is like. He wanted them to understand the relationship between Himself, God and us. As was His way, He taught the disciples using something they were familiar with – a vineyard and the process the Gardner painstakingly engages in to produce fruit for His use.

“I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn’t bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken.

“Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me.

 “I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples.

“I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love.

“I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.

“You didn’t choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won’t spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you.

“But remember the root command: Love one another.”  

John 15:1-17 The Message

This process of life is just that – a process. We have been grafted into God through Jesus. Once grafted, we are pruned in order to bear fruit not for ourselves but for God’s Glory.

Practically speaking, this means that we need to take an active approach to abide in Jesus.

  1. Believe that when we are grafted onto the Vine, Jesus will not remove us. Set worry behind you – it is unbelief. Unbelief can only be conquered through the process of pruning.
  2. Remember who is first in our life. Jesus is the source of our life – without the Vine, we would have been dead branches (burned and discarded). However, since we believe and are grafted to the vine, we need to remember not to turn from the source of life. Actively seek Him – by taking time to: worship, delve into His Word, communicate with Him (prayer) and serve those placed in our paths on a daily basis. Abiding can only be accomplished through pruning.
  3. Know God’s commands and follow them. This can only occur if we delve into God’s Word and actively seek to follow what we read. Welcome the pruning process knowing that you are being drawn closer and closer to the Gardner!
  4. Celebrate the pruning that occurs in our life. Attitude does matter. When tough times come, we need to be vigilant to abide in Jesus with our attitude, words and responses. As the pruning process becomes more refined, we can see how far we have progressed!
  5. The point of the Gardner/Vine/Branch analogy is to help us understand that we are not in this alone – in fact we are not “in charge”. Our job is to stick to the Vine and not turn from it. Pruning helps us understand that abiding in Jesus is good and getting ahead of Jesus on our own direction is not.
  6. Remember why Jesus told the disciples about the vine and the branches – so that His joy could be theirs! Be joyful – not just in the good times but also in the challenging times. Pruning does produce joy; so welcome it!
  7. Love one another. In each day, we need to be aware of those placed in our path and care for them. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in that care. Walk with others through difficult times as others have walked with you. Send a note. Make a call. Cook a meal. Listen. Share in others celebrations. If you miss these opportunities, don’t worry; pruning produces more opportunities!

The point of pruning is to bear fruit. And as fruit bearers, God will hear you. God is pleased when you talk with Him. Remember, a request to God, made out of pure love for God’s Will to be done in a person’s life, will be granted. He promised.

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow – A Perspective

Forget the former things;

do not dwell on the past.

See, I am doing a new thing!

Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?

I am making a way in the wilderness

and streams in the wasteland.

The wild animals honor me,

the jackals and the owls,

because I provide water in the wilderness

and streams in the wasteland,

to give drink to my people, my chosen,

the people I formed for myself

that they may proclaim my praise. Isaiah 43:18-21

The “past” sets the stage for the present. It is the launching point for today.

Having perspective on “what has been” is a matter of life or death – of joy or continued sorrow – of eternal significance or of no significance.

Our pain of yesterday – is just that – past pain. It is not present pain unless we choose to continue it in this day. It takes a reordering of our mind to choose God and His righteousness in this day.

Use the past to remember how to live in today.

Those earlier ones never did get to the place of rest because they were disobedient. God keeps renewing the promise and setting the date as today, just as he did in David’s psalm, centuries later than the original invitation:

Today, please listen,
    don’t turn a deaf ear . . .

 And so this is still a live promise. It wasn’t canceled at the time of Joshua; otherwise, God wouldn’t keep renewing the appointment for “today.” The promise of “arrival” and “rest” is still there for God’s people. God himself is at rest. And at the end of the journey we’ll surely rest with God. So let’s keep at it and eventually arrive at the place of rest, not drop out through some sort of disobedience. Hebrews 4:5-11 The Message

Our goal for “today” is to bring glory to God in each moment by living obediently as Jesus teaches us – in peace with others, acting in a righteous manner (being honest, kind, merciful, humble, meek, pure in heart) and praising God in word and deed.

So, in this day. . . Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-32

Remember, “today” has enough worries of its own – so don’t dwell on what is to come.

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:28-34

The purpose of “tomorrow” is to live righteously today. Concentrate on today and tomorrow will take care of itself. Eternity meets us in today and will meet us again, tomorrow, either here or in Heaven.

Remember, today is tomorrow’s past so live “right” today and launch into tomorrow at the right place.

Slipping?

If you feel yourself slipping into depression or lethargy;

If you feel directionless with no indication of where to turn;

If you are hurt and unable to be comforted;

If you are grieving with no end to your pain;

If you are questioning His presence;

If you are worried and losing hope;

If you feel your faith slipping away;

If you feel completely alone;

If you feel misunderstood and have no one to turn to;

If you are trapped in circumstances beyond your control;

If you are in need of reassurance and unfailing love.

Then, turn to the Word of God.

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.

He will not let your foot slip –  he who watches over you will not slumber . . . Psalm 121:1-3

 Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30

 Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those that hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. . . Matthew 5:3-6

 Be still and know that I am God . . . Psalm 46:10

 Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? . . . Matthew 6:25-27

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

 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, he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened . . . Matthew 7:7-8

 I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. . . . John 7:25

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

Don’t you give up!

We must trust that God’s Plan for us is being worked out even if we don’t understand and even if it is difficult. For we know His Plans are to prosper us and not to harm us, to give us hope and a future. See Jeremiah 29:11.

If you are in a place of turmoil – a place where you do not understand His plan – then ask God for His Word to fill your being, for His Spirit to comfort your emotions, and for a song in your heart to help your thoughts from turning negative.

Natalie Grant sings of this in her song, More than Anything:

I know if You wanted to You could wave Your hand
Spare me this heartache, and change Your plan
And I know any second You could take my pain away
But even if You don’t, I pray

Help me want the Healer
More than the healing
Help me want the Savior
More than the saving
Help me want the Giver
More than the giving
Oh help me want You Jesus
More than anything

You know more than anyone that my flesh is weak
And You know I’d give anything for a remedy
And I’ll ask a thousand more times to set me free today
Oh but even if You don’t, I pray

When we focus on Jesus, instead of what we can get from Him, we are able to walk in God’s Plan even when it is difficult and we don’t understand. Why? – Because we have Resurrection Power living on the inside of us through Jesus’ gift of the Holy Spirit.

Chris Tomlin sings of the mighty power of the Holy Spirit in the song entitled Resurrection Power:

You called me from the grave by name
You called me out of all my shame
I see the old has passed away
The new has come

Now I have resurrection power
Living on the inside
Jesus, You have given us freedom
No longer bound by sin and darkness
Living in the light of Your goodness
You have given us freedom

I’m dressed in Your royalty
Your holy spirit lives in me
I see my past has been redeemed
The new has come

Freedom
You have given us freedom
You have given us freedom
My chains are gone

When we grasp the freedom given to us by Christ through the Holy Spirit, we can live expectantly – looking for His Miracles – each and every day – knowing that through our faith and trust, His plans will prevail.

So don’t you give up! Expect that in each and every day, God’s miraculous power is at work through the Holy Spirit for our good. Expect a miracle. Look for them. Do not give up. Do not worry – worry means you are not trusting in Him and the resurrection power living on the inside of you.

Unspoken reminds us to never give up in their song Miracle:

Have you stopped reaching
No longer seeking greater things
Have you forgotten
You have a Father listening

He tells the sun when to rise
Gives the wind it’s breath
Swings a door wide open and
Moves in the moment you least expect

Don’t you give up on a miracle
You’ve got to speak to the impossible
You gotta
Pray till your breakthrough breaks through the ceiling
Keep on believing
Don’t you give up
Don’t you give up
On a miracle

How many chances
How many answers
Pass us by
You know it takes faith
To step on the waves
When you’re terrified
When you’re backed in a corner
And you can’t wait any longer

Don’t you give up on a miracle
You’ve got to speak to the impossible
You gotta
Pray till your breakthrough breaks through the ceiling
Keep on believing
Don’t you give up
Don’t you give up
On a miracle

Feels like the prayers and the words you have spoken
They go unnoticed
Like drops in the ocean
Just beyond the veil of your vision
You’re mountains are moving, moving on
Remember the works his hands have done
Where you once were and how far you’ve come

Don’t you give up on a miracle
You’ve got to speak to the impossible
You gotta
Pray till your breakthrough breaks through the ceiling
Keep on believing
Don’t you give up
Don’t you give up
On a miracle

So in this day, focus on making each moment Holy. . . Remember eternity meets us in this moment.

Life Lines

As she careened down the flooded creek in a canoe, she began to wonder about her decision to join her friends in what appeared now to be a foolish adventure. It was March and it had rained for days. The water was cold – very cold. Wasn’t this the type of situation that her parents had warned her about? Had she assessed the risks correctly? Was she properly prepared for this?

She heard a yell followed by a splash. Turning, she saw two friends in the water. Her boyfriend said, “They will be alright. We’ll pull off.” But, she couldn’t leave them and pleaded with him to turn around and help.

As they maneuvered their canoe towards their friends, they were sucked up against some trees. She leaned trying to stay upright as her boyfriend yelled, “Don’t lean!!” It was too late. Water started filling the canoe. Her boyfriend yelled, “Get out!!!”   She did. She whirled downstream until her feet hit solid ground. Thankful, she stood in the middle of the raging creek, life vest on, calm and satisfied that she was safe.

Her boyfriend had made it to the side of the creek and started yelling at her to swim. She simply replied, “No”.   Others joined him directing her to swim, but why would she. She was safe – she felt secure. Her mind was not registering that she was freezing or that water raged around her shoulders. She did not think about the trees and debris that were shooting down the river towards her. She just knew that she was very safe with two feet on solid ground.

They all continued to yell but she heard none of it – it seemed serene where she was and very quiet. But something caught her attention. Her boyfriend was staring at her. Their eyes locked. She noticed that he had never looked at her that way – what was it? Love? Genuine concern?

She wondered why. She opened her ears to hear what he was saying. He was pleading with her – “You have to get out of the water; you are going to freeze.” He started into the water and it was as if his soul reached out to her and in that split second she believed that she should do what he told her because she believed in him – not in what he was telling her to do – but in him. Why would he look at her that way and encourage her to do something that would hurt her? Why would he not want her to be ok? Why would he come back into the raging water towards her if everything was alright?

She launched herself into the raging waters again, swimming across the rapids. She was panicking – why had she listened to him. She was safe in the middle where her feet could touch. She should have stayed. She would have been safe there. But now that she was in the water she had to swim and swim hard.

As she was dragged up from the waters, she heard his voice, taking charge of her, telling her to get up and walk. She did not want to walk. She just swam through a raging creek. She was exhausted. She just wanted to sit. What was he yelling at her about when she just did what he told her to do!! Didn’t she deserve to just rest – but he was pulling her up, practically dragging her towards the road. The others were going too – quickly as if they were late for something.

She allowed herself to be led along the side of the creek, but her strength started to slip away. Her boyfriend was practically carrying her. She was cold – very, very cold. Her mind was not working as it should – she had just come through a near tragedy and she was not able to focus. Things seemed to be happening in slow motion. From her daze, she saw them knocking on someone’s door. They were welcomed into warmth and the hospitality of new friends.

Reflection

This is a life moment – one that happens every moment of every day somewhere in this world. A moment when a person helps someone else through a sheer desire to save them. A moment born out of love for someone else who is in a terrible situation. A moment when a life line is thrown and when someone realizes they need help or when the life line is accepted even if the person does not believe they need help. It is a moment when a person in trouble takes a step towards freedom because they believe someone else has the answer. It is a moment when belief is born not out of a person’s own knowledge but because that person is confident in someone else’s knowledge.

The following Scripture is a challenge to all of us. Where are you in God’s story?

Scripture – John 14:5-14 Jesus the Way to the Father

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?

Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.  

Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.  

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.  And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

Challenge

Do we believe in Jesus because he is living in us or do we believe because someone we trust believes?

Are we in the middle of a raging creek unable to hear the people shouting from the bank? Are we under a delusion that we are safe in the middle of the raging waters because it is easier to continue in our perceived safety than cross the raging waters to freedom? Have we focused in on someone who has earned our trust and asked Jesus to open our ears to hear? Do we believe because the evidence of Jesus is exhibited in the person we trust?

Are we a life line for someone to begin to believe? If we are a life line, have we taken the additional steps to bring our friend into safety? Have we stood on the bank and called to them? Have we stepped into the raging waters and held out our hand? Have we brought them into the warmth, clothing them in love and feeding them with the knowledge of Jesus so that they too can become life lines for others?

 

Resurrection Power

I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Phillipians 4:10

 

Reflection

 

Do you know what power you have through the Holy Spirit who was sent to us by Jesus Christ? Do you grasp the enormity of this Truth?  The verses that follow verse 10 give us the answers but the answer is worked out differently in each of us.

 

Scripture

I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.  I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Phillipians 4:10-13 NIV

 

Or The Message translates it this way:

 

I’m glad in God, far happier than you would ever guess—happy that you’re again showing such strong concern for me. Not that you ever quit praying and thinking about me. You just had no chance to show it. Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. I don’t mean that your help didn’t mean a lot to me—it did. It was a beautiful thing that you came alongside me in my troubles.

 

Challenge

 

How The Spirit works the power of Christ out in each of us is miraculous and beautiful. Think about how this occurs in your life. Write your Resurrection Power list knowing that each day God will add to it. What follows is a generalized beginning list. Make yours to include the situations and circumstances that have transformed or are transforming you.

 

Resurrection Power is believing today that we became and are a new creation in Christ when we first believed that He is the Son of God.

 

Resurrection Power is believing that we can do all things through Christ who set us free from our past.

 

Resurrection Power is focusing on today (tomorrow has enough worries of its own) and acting upon what God has promised us in this day.

 

Resurrection Power is being content in our circumstance of today because we believe God is moving us past it or through it or around it or over it.

 

Resurrection Power is being content knowing that no matter what the circumstance I have all in need in Jesus.

 

Resurrection Power is the certainty of impossibility.

 

Resurrection Power is unconditional love at its finest.

 

Resurrection Power is the belief that the Holy Spirit is working is us today.

 

Resurrection Power is the joy of the mundane.

 

Resurrection Power is trusting that God has healed our soul wounds.

 

Resurrection Power is confidence that Jesus is alive in us in each and every moment.

 

Resurrection Power is the confidence that the Holy Spirit is moving through the unexpected “feeling” of deep confidence in a decision or a “catch in our Spirit” which makes us pause before acting.

 

 

Weathering the Storms

Reflection:

We anticipate a hard day filled with many activities, work decisions, deadlines or interactions with people that sap our strength. We run quickly into the fray – never stopping to breath or assess our state of being – no time to think about God let alone seek His counsel or be thankful for His Blessings.  And yet, we yearn for His wisdom. We ask for it in our off-handed way. When we arrive home after our event filled day, we are too tired to do anything but finish our day with our favorite “zone out” activity – you know what yours is – watching television, withdrawing into social media, computer surfing or gaming, shopping, excessive drinking, exercising, reading – escaping because you “deserve” it after the hard day you’ve put in! We fall asleep exhausted having taken no time to be still with God.

What just happened to your day? Where was God in it? How are we to gain wisdom from the storms and happenings of our day if we don’t take time to assess what just happened! God is providing us with Truth if only we will take time to sit, be still, and commune with our Creator and the One sent to redeem us.

Scripture – Jesus Calms the Storm – Mark 4:35-41

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.  A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.  Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

Challenge:

Faith is gained by exercising it. Exercising faith means relying on the Truth. Relying on the Truth means trusting the One from whom the Truth comes. Trust overcomes fear. In order to overcome fear and trust Jesus, we need to spend time with Him.

What storm are you in the midst of that needs to be “Quiet! Be still!”?

What fear do you need to set aside in favor of faith?

Will you claim the “Resurrection Power” that is in you through the Holy Spirit, to speak to your current storm?

What one thing can you give up in order to spend daily time with Jesus?

Being Certain in the Uncertainty

Reflection

 For most of us, being uncertain of what is to come is a sign of weakness. We think it speaks to being unprepared or ignorant of our circumstances. We think it represents to others that we are not fit to be in a leadership position because we have not anticipated the next course of events. It means we have not “mapped out” where others are going to “zig “ so we can “zag” appropriately to gain an advantage.

The truth is NO ONE knows what tomorrow will bring. We can all make educated guesses of what is to come in many areas of life but we have no idea what will happen in any given day. We simply do not know.   If we sit too long thinking about our lack of knowledge about the future it will produce anxiety – why? Because we want to know – we want to be in control – we want to set our own course – we want to be in charge of our destiny.

Again, the TRUTH is we cannot know – we are not in control – we cannot set our own course and we are not in charge of our destiny.

The key is to know what to be certain about so that we view uncertainty with anticipation instead of dread. As you read the Scripture below, put yourself in Paul’s shoes and walk with him as he journey’s to Damascus. You might just figure out what you need to be certain about.

Scripture

 All this time Saul was breathing down the necks of the Master’s disciples, out for the kill. He went to the Chief Priest and got arrest warrants to take to the meeting places in Damascus so that if he found anyone there belonging to the Way, whether men or women, he could arrest them and bring them to Jerusalem.

He set off. When he got to the outskirts of Damascus, he was suddenly dazed by a blinding flash of light. As he fell to the ground, he heard a voice: “Saul, Saul, why are you out to get me?”

He said, “Who are you, Master?”

“I am Jesus, the One you’re hunting down. I want you to get up and enter the city. In the city you’ll be told what to do next.”

His companions stood there dumbstruck—they could hear the sound, but couldn’t see anyone—while Saul, picking himself up off the ground, found himself stone-blind. They had to take him by the hand and lead him into Damascus. He continued blind for three days. He ate nothing, drank nothing.

There was a disciple in Damascus by the name of Ananias. The Master spoke to him in a vision: “Ananias.”

Yes, Master?” he answered.

“Get up and go over to Straight Avenue. Ask at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus. His name is Saul. He’s there praying. He has just had a dream in which he saw a man named Ananias enter the house and lay hands on him so he could see again.”

Ananias protested, “Master, you can’t be serious. Everybody’s talking about this man and the terrible things he’s been doing, his reign of terror against your people in Jerusalem! And now he’s shown up here with papers from the Chief Priest that give him license to do the same to us.”

But the Master said, “Don’t argue. Go! I have picked him as my personal representative to non-Jews and kings and Jews. And now I’m about to show him what he’s in for—the hard suffering that goes with this job.”

So Ananias went and found the house, placed his hands on blind Saul, and said, “Brother Saul, the Master sent me, the same Jesus you saw on your way here. He sent me so you could see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” No sooner were the words out of his mouth than something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes—he could see again! He got to his feet, was baptized, and sat down with them to a hearty meal.

Acts 9:1-19 The Message

Challenge

Paul thought he had a good plan that was based on his religious training as a Pharisee and on his misguided belief that God wanted to eradicate the “Jesus followers” involved in “heresy”.   He was executing that plan to perfection when God showed him who was really in charge, what his destiny would be and where he would go from that point. After his encounter with Jesus, Paul’s certainty was not in his own plans but in his Savior.  He knew that each day was going to be about following Jesus – he became certain in the uncertainty.

What part of Paul’s story are you in?

-Are you in the process of planning something that might be off course? Have you consulted (prayed) Jesus in your planning process?

-Are you “blinded” and waiting for God’s direction? Have you sought help (prayed) from Jesus?

-If you are off course, have you consulted Jesus (prayed) about how to make a hard “right” turn? Has God provided an “Ananias” for you? Have you listened, turned and stepped out in faith onto your new path?

-Has God called you to be an “Ananias” for someone? Have you listened or are you still arguing with God about it?

R. H. Loy

God’s Deposit

Reflection

At Pentecost, The Holy Spirit was given to believers in Jesus – people that believed that he had died and rose to be received by God.

We receive the Holy Spirit when we believe in Jesus. Depending on the tradition of the group of Christians we affiliate ourselves with, the determination by others as to when a believer receives the Holy Spirit may differ but the bottom line is that a believer in Jesus receives the Holy Spirit – meaning we have been infused with the Resurrection power of Jesus Christ.

In other words, “we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength”. (Phil 4:13)   The test as to whether we are “doing” what we should be doing is determining if we are walking as The Holy Spirit directs us to. The question we need to ask of ourselves on a daily basis is this: Am I loving the Lord my God with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my mind and with all my strength and my neighbor as myself”? See Mark 12:30

The second question is this: Am I “doing” what I want to do for my own benefit and comfort or am I “doing” what The Holy Spirit is leading me to do realizing that God’s investment (The Holy Spirit) in me requires a response.

Read this familiar Parable (of the Talents) from the Gospel of Matthew 25:14-30 understanding that the man (Jesus) entrusted his wealth (The Holy Spirit) to each of us in accordance with our abilities.

The Parable of the Bags of Gold

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them.  To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.  The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more.  So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more.  But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

“After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them.  The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed?  Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

“ ‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags.  For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.  And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matthew 25:14-30

Challenge:

Assess your life in view of the power of the Resurrection which God has deposited in you?

How does your assessment impact your current course of life?

Speak to the Impossible

In these scriptural situations, Abraham, Daniel, Paul and Jesus faced the impossible. Spend some time stepping into each of their lives. Do you feel their anguish? Can you relate to infertility or abuse? Have you faced death in your job or through the suffering of another? Have you been persecuted?

What did they do when faced with the impossible?

Abraham and Sarah

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation,and I will bless you; . . . So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. (Genesis 12:1-2,4)

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.”  He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.( Genesis 15:4-6)

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”

So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne.Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.

(Genesis 16:1-2, 15-16)

Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac; I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. (Genesis 17:17-19)

Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him. “There, in the tent,” he said. Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.” Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him.  Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing.  So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?” (Genesis 18:9-12)

Daniel and the Lion’s Den

At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den. When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?”

Daniel answered, “May the king live forever!  My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty.”

The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. (Daniel 6:19-23)

Paul and Silas in Prison

The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. (Acts 16:22-26)

Jesus in Gethsemane

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.  “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”

Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him.  “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:32-36)

Reflection

Sit with your impossible – As you contemplate your impossible situation hear these words from the song Miracle by Unspoken (video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yrV9kRr888)

Have you stopped reaching 
No longer seeking greater things 
Have you forgotten 
You have a Father listening

He tells the sun when to rise 
Gives the wind it’s breath 
Swings a door wide open and 
Moves in the moment you least expect 

(Chorus) Don’t you give up on a miracle 
You’ve got to speak to the impossible 
You gotta
Pray till your breakthrough breaks through the ceiling 
Keep on believing 
Don’t you give up 
Don’t you give up 
On a miracle 

How many chances 
How many answers 
Pass us by 
You know it takes faith 
To step on the waves 
When you’re terrified 
When you’re backed in a corner 
And you can’t wait any longer 

(Chorus)

Feels like the prayers and the words you have spoken 
They go unnoticed 
Like drops in the ocean 
Just beyond the veil of your vision 
You’re mountains are moving, moving on 
Remember the works his hands have done 
Where you once were and how far you’ve come 

(Chorus)

(Publishing: © 2016 Centricity Music Publishing (ASCAP)/Jon Lowry designee/Wordspring Music, LLC & Fleauxmotion Music (SESAC) Writers: Chad Mattson, Jon Lowry and Tedd T)

So in this day, speak to your impossible. In your darkness and your solitude, speak to the impossible. Remember . . .

Abraham did it by his faith in God’s Word to him – stepping out and persevering and it was credited to him as righteousness. God took care of the impossible!

Daniel did it by standing firm in the midst of terror and fear – stepping into certain death and faithfully facing those fears. God took care of the impossible!

Paul did it by faithfully worshiping and praising God in the midst of abuse, pain, and imprisonment. God took care of the impossible!

Jesus did it by going off by Himself and sharing His heartache and anguish with His Abba, recognizing that He wanted what God wanted regardless of the human sacrifice that God required.  God took care of the impossible!

R.H. Loy

STAND FIRM

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. 

Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints…

Ephesians 6:10-18 New American Standard Bible

 

OR maybe understanding comes through this biblical version:

 

And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.

Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.

Ephesians 6:10-18 The Message

 

Reflection: This message of preparation is critical to our spiritual well-being and that of the people God has placed in our lives. We need to take heed and be aware that there is a battle going on that we cannot fully comprehend but which exists whether we acknowledge it or not.

God has not abandoned us in this battle but has provided us with armor to protect ourselves and others. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation as described in God’s Word are set forth as actions to protect us. Practicing these actions strengthens us for the battle. Prayer should be our constant companion because it is our lifeline of communication with God.

We are called to stand firm in the battle against evil. That means using the weapons of truth, righteousness, peace, faith and salvation gained by delving into God’s Word and praying for guidance. God is at the forefront of these battles (the war having been won by the death and resurrection of Jesus) and we are called to do our part by standing firm.

 Contemplate (read God’s Word and think about it) the weapons given to us (truth, righteousness, peace, faith and salvation) and ask God to reveal to you which weapon in your arsenal needs to be sharpened.

Ask God (pray) for assistance in sharpening that weapon(s) and BE PREPARED for situations to arise where you will need to exercise the weapon. Remember, it is only through exercising our weapons in the small skirmishes that we are prepared for the battles to come.

 R.H. Loy

Doubts?

Jesus Appears to Thomas

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

John 20:24-29

 

Reflection: Thomas, like many of us, doubted. Jesus did not chide him for his doubts but instead encouraged him to check out his wounds – to seek the Truth and Believe.

Jesus does not shun us for our doubts – He encourages us with His Truth.

Yesterday, as I greeted Easter at sunrise, I marveled at the fact that although I did not see the sun rise as I had hoped, it rose nonetheless. It rose even though clouds obscured my vision. It rose whether I believed that it would rise or not.

Jesus arose and is alive today whether we see Him or not – whether our vision is obscured or not – whether we believe or not.

So return to the Truth – refocus on its message – rebuild your life upon it – and remember what it teaches you.

R.H. Loy

Jesus is Risen!

The Empty Tomb

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words.

When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened. Luke 24:1-12

Jesus Appears to the Disciples

While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost.  He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds?  Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet.  And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.

He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.  He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day,  and repentance for the 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 24:36-49

Reflection

The disciples were just waking up from their Sabbath rest. (Remember, Jesus was hurriedly buried on the First Day of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread because the Sabbath was approaching.) They were still reeling from what they had witnessed – the brutal torture and death of Jesus on the Cross. So their reaction to the women’s account of what they found at the tomb is understandable and their reaction to seeing Jesus again is – well “perfectly human”! They were not prepared for Him to be alive. They did not remember His words to them before He died – they had to be reminded.

Step into the shoes of the disciples at the moment they saw Jesus and heard him say “Peace be with you”. What would the Truth that He is alive and risen from the dead mean to you?

On this first day of the new week after the trauma of the 6th day and the rest/refreshment of the 7th day, are you prepared to meet the Risen Christ? If not, sit with Jesus and ask Him to open your mind to understand the scripture and to show you what He has prepared for you.

Lessons from the day in Between

Creation

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. Genesis 1:27-28, 31, 2:1-3

The Sabbath

Then the Lord said to Moses,  “Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy.

“ ‘Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it is to be put to death; those who do any work on that day must be cut off from their people.  For six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day is to be put to death.  The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant.  It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’ ” Exodus 31:12-17

The Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread

“ ‘These are the Lord’s appointed festivals, the sacred assemblies you are to proclaim at their appointed times:  The Lord’s Passover begins at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. On the fifteenth day of that month the Lord’s Festival of Unleavened Bread begins; for seven days you must eat bread made without yeast.  On the first day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work.  For seven days present a food offering to the Lord. And on the seventh day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work.’ ” Leviticus 23:4-8

Do not eat it with bread made with yeast, but for seven days eat unleavened bread, the bread of affliction, because you left Egypt in haste—so that all the days of your life you may remember the time of your departure from Egypt. Let no yeast be found in your possession in all your land for seven days. Do not let any of the meat you sacrifice on the evening of the first day remain until morning. Deuteronomy 16-3

 The Passover Lamb and Unleavened Bread

 Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 1 Cor 5:6-8

 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. 1Peter 1:18-21

Reflection

On Thursday evening, Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his friends – the celebration prescribed by God to Moses commemorating the day that the spirit of death passed over the Israelites.

On Friday, the Feast of Unleavened Bread began – a seven-day celebration commemorating the swift exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt. The leaven (yeast) which makes the bread rise by a fermentation (decaying) process, was eliminated from the bread because there was no time to let the bread rise – the people needed to be ready to leave. “Unleavened bread” – bread not subject to the decaying process – represents the purity, sinlessness and holiness of Jesus.

On that first day of the Feast, it was also customary for the release of a prisoner – representing the release of the Jewish people from slavery and death. However, the people at the urging of their leaders chose a murderer to be released instead of the sinless Christ.

Further on that first day of the Feast, God directed the people “Do not let any of the meat you sacrifice on the evening of the first day remain until morning.”

On Friday, Jesus was crucified. As sunset approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a secret disciple of Jesus, got permission from Pilot to remove Jesus’ body from the cross and bury it before the Sabbath began.

 

Reflect upon the symbolism and timing of these events:

On the 6th day, God made us in His own image and “it was very good”.

On the 6th day, the Feast of Unleavened Bread began; Jesus was crucified and buried.

On the 7th day, God rested because His creation was complete.

On the 7th day, the followers of Jesus were observing the Sabbath – resting, recuperating, and waiting.

 

As you contemplate this Saturday in between the death/decay and resurrection, think about what “decaying” process God wants to eliminate from your life to prepare you for Resurrection and new life.

The Crucifixion

1-2 Then they all took Jesus to Pilate and began to bring up charges against him.  They said, “We found this man undermining our law and order, forbidding taxes to be paid to Caesar, setting himself up as Messiah-King.”

Pilate asked him, “Is this true that you’re ‘King of the Jews’?”

“Those are your words, not mine,” Jesus replied.

Pilate told the high priests and the accompanying crowd, “I find nothing wrong here. He seems harmless enough to me.”

But they were vehement. “He’s stirring up unrest among the people with his teaching, disturbing the peace everywhere, starting in Galilee and now all through Judea. He’s a dangerous man, endangering the peace.”

6-7 When Pilate heard that, he asked, “So, he’s a Galilean?” Realizing that he properly came under Herod’s jurisdiction, he passed the buck to Herod, who just happened to be in Jerusalem for a few days.

8-10 Herod was delighted when Jesus showed up. He had wanted for a long time to see him, he’d heard so much about him. He hoped to see him do something spectacular. He peppered him with questions. Jesus didn’t answer—not one word. But the high priests and religion scholars were right there, saying their piece, strident and shrill in their accusations.

11-12 Mightily offended, Herod turned on Jesus. His soldiers joined in, taunting and jeering. Then they dressed him up in an elaborate king costume and sent him back to Pilate. That day Herod and Pilate became thick as thieves. Always before they had kept their distance.

13-16 Then Pilate called in the high priests, rulers, and the others and said, “You brought this man to me as a disturber of the peace. I examined him in front of all of you and found there was nothing to your charge. And neither did Herod, for he has sent him back here with a clean bill of health. It’s clear that he’s done nothing wrong, let alone anything deserving death. I’m going to warn him to watch his step and let him go.”

18-20 At that, the crowd went wild: “Kill him! Give us Barabbas!” (Barabbas had been thrown in prison for starting a riot in the city and for murder.) Pilate still wanted to let Jesus go, and so spoke out again.

21 But they kept shouting back, “Crucify! Crucify him!”

22 He tried a third time. “But for what crime? I’ve found nothing in him deserving death. I’m going to warn him to watch his step and let him go.”

23-25 But they kept at it, a shouting mob, demanding that he be crucified. And finally they shouted him down. Pilate caved in and gave them what they wanted. He released the man thrown in prison for rioting and murder, and gave them Jesus to do whatever they wanted.

26-31  As they led him off, they made Simon, a man from Cyrene who happened to be coming in from the countryside, carry the cross behind Jesus. A huge crowd of people followed, along with women weeping and carrying on. At one point Jesus turned to the women and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t cry for me. Cry for yourselves and for your children. The time is coming when they’ll say, ‘Lucky the women who never conceived! Lucky the wombs that never gave birth! Lucky the breasts that never gave milk!’ Then they’ll start calling to the mountains, ‘Fall down on us!’ calling to the hills, ‘Cover us up!’ If people do these things to a live, green tree, can you imagine what they’ll do with deadwood?”

32 Two others, both criminals, were taken along with him for execution.

33 When they got to the place called Skull Hill, they crucified him, along with the criminals, one on his right, the other on his left.

34-35 Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing.”

Dividing up his clothes, they threw dice for them. The people stood there staring at Jesus, and the ringleaders made faces, taunting, “He saved others. Let’s see him save himself! The Messiah of God—ha! The Chosen—ha!”

36-37 The soldiers also came up and poked fun at him, making a game of it. They toasted him with sour wine: “So you’re King of the Jews! Save yourself!”

38 Printed over him was a sign: this is the king of the jews.

39 One of the criminals hanging alongside cursed him: “Some Messiah you are! Save yourself! Save us!”

40-41 But the other one made him shut up: “Have you no fear of God? You’re getting the same as him. We deserve this, but not him—he did nothing to deserve this.”

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom.”

43 He said, “Don’t worry, I will. Today you will join me in paradise.”

44-46 By now it was noon. The whole earth became dark, the darkness lasting three hours—a total blackout. The Temple curtain split right down the middle. Jesus called loudly, “Father, I place my life in your hands!” Then he breathed his last.

47 When the captain there saw what happened, he honored God: “This man was innocent! A good man, and innocent!”

48-49 All who had come around as spectators to watch the show, when they saw what actually happened, were overcome with grief and headed home. Those who knew Jesus well, along with the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a respectful distance and kept vigil.

Luke 23:1-49 The Message

Reflection: In the space of less than 24 hours, Jesus shared a Last Supper with his friends, was betrayed by Judas, condemned by the leaders of his faith and the government, tortured, humiliated, spat upon and hung on a cross to die. In that process, the four Gospels give us a sense of what was experienced by Jesus and those around him. Each Gospel tells the story differently but not in contradiction to one another.

Step into the shoes of one of Jesus’ accusers as you watch him being beaten and whipped. Are you spitting on Him like the leaders? Are you mocking Him along with the soldiers? Are you nailing Him to the Cross? When the sky turns totally black for 3 hours what do you do?   Run in Fear? Stay and continue to watch Jesus die? Turn to God in repentance? Is your faith strengthened or are you content to think “good riddance”.

Step into the shoes of one of Jesus’ followers as you follow Jesus to the Cross. Notice the despair, anguish and hopelessness you feel as you watch the torture and listen to the abuse of Him. Notice the horror you feel when he is nailed to the Cross. When the sky turns totally black for 3 hours what do you do? Run in Fear? Fall to your knees to pray? Gather with those who stand by Him? Is your faith strengthened or are you hiding in fear?

As a modern day disciple, knowing that the Resurrection comes, sit with the truth of these events and ask God to show you where you have come in your journey from accuser to disciple and where He still wants you to go in His Grace.

The Last Supper

On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”

So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.”

The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.

When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.”

They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely you don’t mean me?”

“It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it.

“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Mark 14:12-26 NIV

Reflections:  This is the last time Jesus gathered with his group of disciples and followers – their Last Supper together.  These were his friends and his betrayer.  These were the people chosen to spread the Gospel to the World.  Jesus knew He was saying good-bye but not forever.  So, He shared with them an act of fellowship, blessing and thanksgiving – symbolizing His sacrifice and their (our) eternal communion with Him through Grace.

Try to imagine yourselves as a disciple at the table – What would you think as Jesus told you of the betrayer?

As a modern day disciple of Jesus, knowing the Truth of the Resurrection, come to the table and contemplate the eternal significance of Jesus’ sacrifice to bring you -through Grace – into His fellowship.

Washing His Disciples’ Feet

Just before the Passover Feast, Jesus knew that the time had come to leave this world to go to the Father. Having loved his dear companions, he continued to love them right to the end. It was suppertime. The Devil by now had Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, firmly in his grip, all set for the betrayal.

 Jesus knew that the Father had put him in complete charge of everything, that he came from God and was on his way back to God. So he got up from the supper table, set aside his robe, and put on an apron. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the feet of the disciples, drying them with his apron. When he got to Simon Peter, Peter said, “Master, you wash my feet?”

 Jesus answered, “You don’t understand now what I’m doing, but it will be clear enough to you later.”

Peter persisted, “You’re not going to wash my feet—ever!”

Jesus said, “If I don’t wash you, you can’t be part of what I’m doing.”

“Master!” said Peter. “Not only my feet, then. Wash my hands! Wash my head!”

Jesus said, “If you’ve had a bath in the morning, you only need your feet washed now and you’re clean from head to toe. My concern, you understand, is holiness, not hygiene. So now you’re clean. But not every one of you.” (He knew who was betraying him. That’s why he said, “Not every one of you.”) After he had finished washing their feet, he took his robe, put it back on, and went back to his place at the table.

Then he said, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You address me as ‘Teacher’ and ‘Master,’ and rightly so. That is what I am. So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do. I’m only pointing out the obvious. A servant is not ranked above his master; an employee doesn’t give orders to the employer. If you understand what I’m telling you, act like it—and live a blessed life.

John 13:1-17 The Message

Reflections: Jesus has rescued a people out of this world who are His. He will never leave us or forsake us. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Therefore, we are cleansed but we need to be vigilant in our daily walk because evil tempts all of us regardless of our spiritual maturity.

What does Jesus desire to wash from your feet?

Is there an attitude you need to lay aside to achieve the humility exhibited by Jesus?

Are you able to accept help from other Christians as well as offer it?

Anointing Jesus

Jesus was at Bethany, a guest of Simon the Leper. While he was eating dinner, a woman came up carrying a bottle of very expensive perfume. Opening the bottle, she poured it on his head.

Some of the guests became furious among themselves. “That’s criminal! A sheer waste! This perfume could have been sold for well over a year’s wages and handed out to the poor.” They swelled up in anger, nearly bursting with indignation over her.

 But Jesus said, “Let her alone. Why are you giving her a hard time? She has just done something wonderfully significant for me. You will have the poor with you every day for the rest of your lives. Whenever you feel like it, you can do something for them. Not so with me. She did what she could when she could—she pre-anointed my body for burial. And you can be sure that wherever in the whole world the Message is preached, what she just did is going to be talked about admiringly.”

Mark 14:3-9 The Message

Reflections:

Reflect upon a time when you judged another’s act of kindness becoming angry and indignant?

How can we turn our indignant anger over someone else’s faithful act or accomplishment into a celebration?

Read the Gospel account of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection. Notice the people who were chosen to comfort, honor and assist Him in his final week of life before his Resurrection.

R.H. Loy

Simply the Truth

The Gospel Accounts of Jesus’ Crucifixion, Death and Resurrection:

Matthew 26-28    Mark 14-16    Luke 22-24   John 12-21

As we approach the celebration of our Savior’s death and resurrection, it is good to remember the truth of what occurred. The accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are eyewitness accounts of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. Some argue that the accounts vary and therefore, they cannot be relied upon.

However, a study of each Gospel reveals individual accounts written by people who experienced a miraculous event. The fact that they each emphasize different aspects of the same event only lends credence to their accounts. The Truth of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus has been denied by non-believers for over 2000 years but God’s Truth continues to prevail.

Holy Week began yesterday on Palm Sunday and will continue until next Sunday, Easter. Some Christians will practice traditions during this week to remind them of the events of Jesus’ Crucifixion and Resurrection. Some Christians do not follow specific traditions but hold special services to reflect upon the Last Supper (Maundy Thursday), the Crucifixion (Good Friday) and the Resurrection (Easter Sunrise).

Regardless of the traditions and events practiced by different parts of the Body of Christ, all Christians are called upon to reflect upon the Truth of the Word of God set forth in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

The question that we need to each resolve in our own hearts is this: “Do we believe that Jesus was crucified for the sin of the world, died to conquer death, is risen from the dead and is alive today?”

Our answer to this question is a matter of eternal life or death.

R. H. Loy

Chipping Away!

My face hurts!

After seeing my doctor for my “annual” checkup that happens every couple of years, I was told to use a cream that attacks pre-cancerous cells on my face to prevent future problems.   Since I have already had two surgeries to remove these nasty cells, I knew that the use of the cream was very beneficial and could prevent the need for more surgery.

I experienced this wonder cream before and despite its beneficial healing qualities, I was not eager to use it again.   The memory of it was very clear in my mind because over the course of several weeks it produced very red and painful chapped skin that flaked off leaving behind “good” skin free of the pre-cancerous cells.

Purchasing the cream was the easy part – I did that in 2016. But needless to say, I kept putting off its use – it was never quite the “right” time to experience 4-6 weeks of painful and ugly facial therapy. Although I knew I should for my own well being, I just could not bring myself to go through that again. Silly – right?

As I experience this facial cleansing, I am reminded of the spiritual cleansing God has for us that we push off for a later time – a time when we don’t have to worry about what other’s think or the “fall out” we think is going to occur. It is easier to sweep those issues under the rug for cleansing at a later date or bury them totally so there is no need to address them at all.

Chipping away at our spiritual exterior can be painful. Applying spiritual disciplines can be hard to start and harder to maintain. Sometimes we know that the discipline is going to be painful so we shy away from starting – knowing it will cause pain to us or the people we love. However, in the scope of eternity, it is necessary to free us and bring us closer to God.

Listen to the Writer of Hebrews as he encourages us in Chapter 12:1-6 of The Message:

Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!

 In this all-out match against sin, others have suffered far worse than you, to say nothing of what Jesus went through—all that bloodshed! So don’t feel sorry for yourselves. Or have you forgotten how good parents treat children, and that God regards you as his children?

My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline,
but don’t be crushed by it either.
It’s the child he loves that he disciplines;
the child he embraces, he also corrects.

God loves us. He wants us to be fit for service. He disciplines us to make us ready and able to work in His Kingdom. The “pain” we endure increases our faith. Without pain there is no gain. So let us endure so that we can achieve all that God has for us.

R.H. Loy

Friendship within the Body of Christ

“On hearing it, many of the disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life, the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.”

For Jesus knew from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.”

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.    John 6:60-66

 As a prisoner for the Lord, then I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith one baptism one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.   Ephesians 4:1-6

 

Relationships can be difficult.

Sometimes, we get “ticked off” with a friend and our reaction may be to cut off the relationship because they have offended us. We may think to ourselves, “my life is very busy and I don’t have time for people who irritate me, grumble all the time or are depressing to be around.”

We may think that it is the other person’s responsibility to say that they are “sorry” since they offended us! Sometimes, we are so exhausted from dealing with the person that we just need a break. Then again, sometimes it is our own insecurities and fears that cause us to step away, fearful that the other person may discover something we have hidden too deep for others to know.

Whatever the reason, God created us to love Him and to be in relationship with one another for His Glory. Our job is to prayerfully love and encourage those who God wants us to be in relationship with and to seek His Will in that relationship.

If a relationship is with someone who we know is a member of the Body of Christ then we have increased obligations.

We, as the Body of Christ, did not create ourselves. We were drawn into a relationship with Jesus by God himself. Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him”. When we finally come to Christ, it is a miraculous event – being drawn by God and enabled by God to believe in Jesus sets us apart. Therefore, those who are set apart by God for Jesus are also set apart by God for other believers – the Body of Christ.

This is a extraordinary group – each member drawn by God to be in relationship with other members of the same “Body” which in turn is to be God’s hands and feet on this earth. Each person is essential to the Body’s function. Each person is specially made to contribute in a unique way to the Body. The Body is God’s creation. It should be handled with great care.

So why is it that we struggle with the very people God drew into His Body? Remember there is evil afoot!   Satan likes nothing better than to disrupt the work of the Body of Christ. He does this by tempting us – preying on our pride, our insecurities, our past hurts and present struggles in an attempt to divert our attention from God.

It can be difficult work to maintain a relationship with someone who is challenging our sensibilities – but God uses all sorts of people and allows challenges to refine us so we can be more productive members of the Body.   Sometimes it is the relationships that challenge us the most that also bring us closer to Jesus.

If we are at odds with someone who we know is part of the Body of Christ, then it is a relationship by definition that we need to carefully, gracefully and prayerfully seek to peacefully preserve.

It is not to say that we are called to be “bosom buddies” with all Christians.   However, we are called to be in a respectful, grace-filled, peaceful relationship that builds up the Body of Christ instead of tears it down.

When the Body of Christ is a cohesive group, strengthening each other with encouragement and loving each other with unending grace (like Jesus loves us), then we are a powerful instrument to bring Glory to God.

When the Body of Christ is a fractured group, competing with each other for power and refusing to give each other the benefit of the doubt, then we have gone the way of the disciples who turned their back on Jesus and no longer followed Him.

My prayer for us in this coming week is that we prayerfully and gracefully seek resolution of conflict with members of the Body of Christ who God has placed in our paths. You never know – it might be the catalyst for the miracle we are waiting for!

R.H. Loy

Vigilant Anticipation!

And so I insist—and God backs me up on this—that there be no going along with the crowd, the empty-headed, mindless crowd. They’ve refused for so long to deal with God that they’ve lost touch not only with God but with reality itself. They can’t think straight anymore. Feeling no pain, they let themselves go in sexual obsession, addicted to every sort of perversion.

But that’s no life for you. You learned Christ! My assumption is that you have paid careful attention to him, been well instructed in the truth precisely as we have it in Jesus. Since, then, we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything—and I do mean everything—connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you.

Ephesians 4:17-24 The Message

Have you ever had the feeling that something is about to happen but you don’t know what it is? You know it is from God but you don’t know how to prepare because you don’t know what to prepare for.

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”  C.S. Lewis – Mere Christianity Book IV, Chapter 2

C.S. Lewis draws a picture for us of God indwelling our bodies and taking great care to get our house ready for Him. That process is not always easy. Sometimes we just can’t wait for God to get the work done – we need to forge ahead on the logical path we have set for our new rooms. Sometimes, we want to be in charge of the reordering because we know what our rooms should look like! Sometimes we don’t want our house reordered. It is easier to stay just the way we are.

But if we are truly seeking and wanting God to use us for His glory, then we welcome this rebuilding with vigilant anticipation. We welcome the hurting gut wrenching change. We welcome the vision God has for us as opposed to the vision we have for ourselves which falls so short of His desire for us. We welcome our new look relishing the cottage he is turning into a palace!

So expect the unexpected. Be aware of everything. It is a time to be treading water with eyes wide open. It is a time to be listening to what is going on around you – of writing down the events that are occurring especially the “coincidences”.  Be extra vigilant in prayer and seek the movement of the Spirit. Be careful of your steps – careful of your words – careful of where you are going. But most of all . . . vigilantly anticipate the unexpected.

My prayer for us this week is that we, with vigilant anticipation, wait upon the Lord!

R.H. Loy

Complaining v. Speaking Life

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.  But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you.  So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.

Philippians 2:12-18

“It is so cold and rainy! I wish it were spring!”

“It is so hot and muggy! I wish it were fall!”

“It is too noisy! It is too quiet! It is too fast! It is too slow!”

“Those refs are terrible! “Those umps are useless!” “These games are rigged!”

“This phone never works!”   “I always have to do everything!”

“These politicians are crooks!” “ALL they do is fight – they never get anything done!”

Blah ….. ..Blah ……..Blah ……… Blah!!!!

Is it possible to do everything without grumbling or complaining? Or maybe the question for you is: Is it possible to do anything without grumbling or complaining?

Does your life revolve around YOU? Because that is what complaining is – the spinning desire to concentrate on yourself and your own needs, desires and comforts.  What would happen if you stopped? Would you end up with nothing to say?

The purpose of not grumbling or complaining is so we can become blameless and pure. The assumption then is that if we don’t stop, we continue to be part of the warped and crooked generation doing and speaking what does not please God.

Complaining is actually an affront against God. It is disagreeing with the circumstances He has placed us in. Instead of being lights in the darkness of that situation, we make the darkness darker unless we choose to be the light with God’s help. Sometimes just stopping the complaint can bring a whole new perspective to a situation or hope to what appears to be a hopeless place.

My prayer for us this week is that we rejoice in our circumstances, giving thanks to God for using us for His glory in situations that call us to be the light in the darkness.

R.H. Loy

Of God or Of the World?

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.  For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

 1 John 2:15-17

There is a point in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia – Prince Caspian – when Lucy hears Aslan’s voice (Aslan represents Jesus in this series) and excitedly reports this to the rest of the group who are trying to come to the aid of Prince Caspian but have lost their way. The rest of the group, Peter, Susan, Edmund and a dwarf dismiss her proclamation and decide to “vote” which takes them down the wrong path. Lucy who was so certain that she heard Aslan follows the group because she doubts herself in light of the “logic” of her older brothers and sister.

After the children are lost and facing danger, Aslan calls to Lucy again in the middle of the night and she follows his voice until she sees him. He asks her why she did not follow Him. She ashamedly admits her error.

This is a critical lesson for all of us who proclaim ourselves to be Jesus Followers. Many of us are prone to take the advise of worldly advisors or other Christians before seeking God in situations both personally and in the Church. Likewise, many of us “offer advice” to other Christians or “take a vote“ without seeking God in the situation. Our well-intentioned seeking or advising without Godly direction can take us down the logical worldly path straight into danger.

My prayer for us this week is that we seek God in our situations and make every effort to listen for His voice.

R.H. Loy

Sharing, Listening, Trusting

Scripture reassures us, “No one who trusts God like this—heart and soul—will ever regret it.” It’s exactly the same no matter what a person’s religious background may be: the same God for all of us, acting the same incredibly generous way to everyone who calls out for help. “Everyone who calls, ‘Help, God!’ gets help.”

But how can people call for help if they don’t know who to trust? And how can they know who to trust if they haven’t heard of the One who can be trusted? And how can they hear if nobody tells them? And how is anyone going to tell them, unless someone is sent to do it? That’s why Scripture exclaims,

A sight to take your breath away!
Grand processions of people
    telling all the good things of God!

But not everybody is ready for this, ready to see and hear and act. Isaiah asked what we all ask at one time or another: “Does anyone care, God? Is anyone listening and believing a word of it?” The point is: Before you trust, you have to listen. But unless Christ’s Word is preached, there’s nothing to listen to.

Romans 10:11-17 The Message

Many of us have experienced the defeatist attitude expressed by Isaiah, “Does anyone care, God?” It is usually expressed when we are having difficulty “hearing” from God and our default thought is “What difference does it make, God – nobody cares anyway.”

When we are not “hearing”, it may be that we should be persevering by trusting that God’s Plan is in motion.   We must trust that He works in mysterious ways to bring about His plan. His Plan is always to “prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jer. 29:11 (remember to think of this from God’s perspective not your own).

In the meantime, remember that before a person can trust, they have to listen. But unless Christ’s Word is preached, there is nothing to listen to.

My prayer for us this week is that we be alert to opportunities that God orchestrates to “tell the good things of God” in our situations! We can be used as God’s instruments to assist others to listen so they can trust in God.

R.H. Loy

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