R.H. Loy

Godly Character – Holy Living

Since everything here today might well be gone tomorrow, do you see how essential it is to live a holy life? Daily expect the Day of God, eager for its arrival. The galaxies will burn up and the elements melt down that day-but we’ll hardly notice. We’ll be looking the other way, ready for the promised new heavens and the promised new earth, all landscaped with righteousness. 2 Peter 3:11-13

 As children of God, it matters how we approach our day. It matters whether we are exhibiting righteous behavior or giving into our own desires. It matters how we act towards others. Are we kind or disinterested or worse yet, just plain mean? Most of all, it matters how we interact with God. Are we prayerful, joyful, expectant?

Are we approaching TODAY, with an attitude of gratefulness towards God for His provision for us? Are we anticipating the opportunity to serve him in this day? Are we delighting in the promise of eternal living He has for us in this day?

Godly Character – Temptation

As part of our quest to be people of Godly character, we will face obstacles. Obstacles are temptations. Temptations are not sin. They are circumstances that allow us to choose God and His way or not. If we choose God and His Way, we overcome the temptation. When we forge ahead on our own, we end up embroiled in sin.

Sin can be worldly in nature like greed, gossip, lying, cheating, etc. It can also be spiritual like choosing the world’s voice over listening to God’s Voice.

Once we become yoked with Jesus through rebirth, we are assailed with the spiritual temptations He faced. These temptations did not come to us prior to our rebirth because the Spirit was not part of our nature then. But once we choose to follow Jesus and are reborn, our new nature filled with Him will be tempted by the temptations He faced.

Now Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wild. For forty wilderness days and nights he was tested by the Devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when the time was up he was hungry.

The Devil, playing on his hunger, gave the first test: “Since you’re God’s Son, command this stone to turn into a loaf of bread.”

Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy: “It takes more than bread to really live.”

For the second test he led him up and spread out all the kingdoms of the earth on display at once. Then the Devil said, “They’re yours in all their splendor to serve your pleasure. I’m in charge of them all and can turn them over to whomever I wish. Worship me and they’re yours, the whole works.”

Jesus refused, again backing his refusal with Deuteronomy: “Worship the Lord your God and only the Lord your God. Serve him with absolute single-heartedness.”

For the third test the Devil took him to Jerusalem and put him on top of the Temple. He said, “If you are God’s Son, jump. It’s written, isn’t it, that ‘he has placed you in the care of angels to protect you; they will catch you; you won’t so much as stub your toe on a stone’?”

“Yes,” said Jesus, “and it’s also written, ‘Don’t you dare tempt the Lord your God.’”

That completed the testing. The Devil retreated temporarily, lying in wait for another opportunity. Luke 4:1-13 MSG*

It is hard to imagine going 40 days without eating. But we can imagine that we would be weak, delirious, and probably in an extremely bad mood. In other words, we would not be at our human best – probably close to rock bottom.

Apparently towards the end of this 40-day period when Jesus was at his weakest, He was tempted with the greatest of temptations. The first of these final three was to use His power to comfort Himself and restore Himself to strength by turning a stone into bread. Then He was tempted to take control of the earth by a shortcut (not the cross) and provide Himself with every pleasure. Finally, the Devil basically said to him “I dare you to jump off this steeple because you know God will save you.” Jesus refused to “be right” and instead answered that He would not test the Lord God.

Jesus resisted the temptations by quoting Scripture from Deuteronomy. In His weakness, He relied on the Spirit to guide Him to the Word of God. He also resisted by refusing to focus on His own needs. Instead He looked to The Holy Spirit for help.

Just an obvious final note, Jesus resisted these temptations by recognizing the fact that He was being tempted. Sometimes, we Christians are oblivious. We are so focused on avoiding the obvious worldly sins that we fall right into the trap of the spiritual temptations that arise in our ordinary daily lives. We respond to these spiritual temptations by choosing comfort, shortcuts and testing God with our righteous attitudes.

Remember . . . Stay alert; be in prayer so you don’t wander into temptation without even knowing you’re in danger. There is a part of you that is eager, ready for anything in God. But there’s another part that’s as lazy as an old dog sleeping by the fire.” Matthew 26:41 MSG*

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Godly Character: Today – Listen & Obey

A builder is more valuable than a building any day. Every house has a builder, but the Builder behind them all is God. Moses did a good job in God’s house, but it was all servant work, getting things ready for what was to come. Christ as Son is in charge of the house.

 Now, if we can only keep a firm grip on this bold confidence, we’re the house! That’s why the Holy Spirit says,

Today, please listen;
don’t turn a deaf ear as in “the bitter uprising,”
that time of wilderness testing!
Even though they watched me at work for forty years,
your ancestors refused to let me do it my way;
over and over they tried my patience.
And I was provoked, oh, so provoked!
I said, “They’ll never keep their minds on God;
they refuse to walk down my road.”
Exasperated, I vowed,
“They’ll never get where they’re going,
never be able to sit down and rest.”

 So watch your step, friends. Make sure there’s no evil unbelief lying around that will trip you up and throw you off course, diverting you from the living God. For as long as it’s still God’s Today, keep each other on your toes so sin doesn’t slow down your reflexes. If we can only keep our grip on the sure thing we started out with, we’re in this with Christ for the long haul. Hebrews 3:4-14MSG*

God has given us Today. He keeps renewing His promise asking us to listen and obey in this day –Today.   Who are we to listen to and obey? Jesus Christ. In order to sit down and rest, we need to listen and obey Jesus – Today.

How? By loving God and each other, by reading God’s Word, by sitting with Him in prayer and by worshipping Him through raising our voices in song or marveling at His creation and by discerning what He wants us to do in the moment we are in. The “how” in Today is between Jesus and us, but God’s direction is clear – Today, listen and obey so that we will find rest.

Remember . . . we should not do what they did in the wilderness for 40 years – turning from God towards being a “self-centered, whining, grumbling and maneuvering for power” kind of people.

This is the day the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it!

Psalm 118:24 NIV

 *Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Godly Character – Faith in Action

Our Godly Character is based on faith. Throughout Scripture, we are told that faith produces action. Faith is not dependent on social status, wealth or gender. It is based on a person’s belief in God that is exhibited by actions they are compelled to take based on that belief.

In Joshua 2, we read about Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute and probably an innkeeper in Jericho. As Joshua led the people of Israel into the Promised Land, he sent two spies into Jericho on a reconnaissance mission. The spies arrived at Rahab’s house. She sheltered these two men in her home hiding them from her own people, and sending the Jericho King’s guards off on a wild goose chase. Why would she do this?

She told the spies that “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. Joshua 2:9-11 NIV

Because of her belief in God, she assisted the spies and saved her family. God blessed her because of her faith. She is listed as the mother of Boaz in Christ’s Genealogy in Matthew1:5.   Her faith is celebrated in Hebrews 11:31 and James 2:25.

We can take a lot of comfort from the story of Rahab. She was blessed because of her belief which caused her to act for God. God considered her righteous in spite of her profession.  

Sometimes we get stymied in our walk with God because we think we are not good enough to act on His behalf. The truth is we will never be good enough. However, God can use us where we are no matter what.

So let us examine our hearts. Do we actually believe that God is the God of heaven above and earth below? Do we believe that God loves us so much that He sent His only son, Jesus, to die for us, making us righteous through Him? Do we have faith that God can use us in this moment to make a difference in His Kingdom? Do we actually possess faith that produces works?

Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?

I can already hear one of you agreeing by saying, “Sounds good. You take care of the faith department, I’ll handle the works department.”

Not so fast. You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove.

Do I hear you professing to believe in the one and only God, but then observe you complacently sitting back as if you had done something wonderful? That’s just great. Demons do that, but what good does it do them? Use your heads! Do you suppose for a minute that you can cut faith and works in two and not end up with a corpse on your hands?

 Wasn’t our ancestor Abraham “made right with God by works” when he placed his son Isaac on the sacrificial altar? Isn’t it obvious that faith and works are yoked partners, that faith expresses itself in works? That the works are “works of faith”? The full meaning of “believe” in the Scripture sentence, “Abraham believed God and was set right with God,” includes his action. It’s that mesh of believing and acting that got Abraham named “God’s friend.” Is it not evident that a person is made right with God not by a barren faith but by faith fruitful in works?

The same with Rahab, the Jericho harlot. Wasn’t her action in hiding God’s spies and helping them escape—that seamless unity of believing and doing—what counted with God? The very moment you separate body and spirit, you end up with a corpse. Separate faith and works and you get the same thing: a corpse. James 2:14-26 The Message*

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Character – Love First

God is Love. 1 John 4:8

Jesus commanded us to “love God and love one another”. Luke 10:47

People with Godly character love. They love God with all their heart, soul, strength and mind and their neighbor as themselves. They choose love first . . . over judgment, management, anger or criticism.

The Royal Rule of Love

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 chose 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*

Remember . . . Love first. Open your eyes and ears to hear not only yourself but others and celebrate the difference.

 

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Stay at the Center of God’s Love

Where do you see yourself in the Book of Jude?

I, Jude, am a slave to Jesus Christ and brother to James, writing to those loved by God the Father, called and kept safe by Jesus Christ. Relax, everything’s going to be all right; rest, everything’s coming together; open your hearts, love is on the way!

Dear friends, I’ve dropped everything to write you about this life of salvation that we have in common. I have to write insisting—begging!—that you fight with everything you have in you for this faith entrusted to us as a gift to guard and cherish. What has happened is that some people have infiltrated our ranks (our Scriptures warned us this would happen), who beneath their pious skin are shameless scoundrels. Their design is to replace the sheer grace of our God with sheer license—which means doing away with Jesus Christ, our one and only Master.

I’m laying this out as clearly as I can, even though you once knew all this well enough and shouldn’t need reminding. Here it is in brief: The Master saved a people out of the land of Egypt. Later he destroyed those who defected. And you know the story of the angels who didn’t stick to their post, abandoning it for other, darker missions. But they are now chained and jailed in a black hole until the great Judgment Day. Sodom and Gomorrah, which went to sexual rack and ruin along with the surrounding cities that acted just like them, are another example. Burning and burning and never burning up, they serve still as a stock warning.

The Archangel Michael, who went to the mat with the Devil as they fought over the body of Moses, wouldn’t have dared level him with a blasphemous curse, but said simply, “No you don’t. God will take care of you!” But these people sneer at anything they can’t understand, and by doing whatever they feel like doing—living by animal instinct only—they participate in their own destruction. I’m fed up with them! They’ve gone down Cain’s road; they’ve been sucked into Balaam’s error by greed; they’re canceled out in Korah’s rebellion.

These people are warts on your love feasts as you worship and eat together. They’re giving you a black eye—carousing shamelessly, grabbing anything that isn’t nailed down. They’re—

Puffs of smoke pushed by gusts of wind;
    late autumn trees stripped clean of leaf and fruit,
Doubly dead, pulled up by the roots;
    wild ocean waves leaving nothing on the beach
    but the foam of their shame;
Lost stars in outer space
    on their way to the black hole.

Enoch, the seventh after Adam, prophesied of them: “Look! The Master comes with thousands of holy angels to bring judgment against them all, convicting each person of every defiling act of shameless sacrilege, of every dirty word they have spewed of their pious filth.” These are the “grumpers,” the bellyachers, grabbing for the biggest piece of the pie, talking big, saying anything they think will get them ahead.

But remember, dear friends, that the apostles of our Master, Jesus Christ, told us this would happen: “In the last days there will be people who don’t take these things seriously anymore. They’ll treat them like a joke, and make a religion of their own whims and lusts.” These are the ones who split churches, thinking only of themselves. There’s nothing to them, no sign of the Spirit!

But you, dear friends, carefully build yourselves up in this most holy faith by praying in the Holy Spirit, staying right at the center of God’s love, keeping your arms open and outstretched, ready for the mercy of our Master, Jesus Christ. This is the unending life, the real life!

Go easy on those who hesitate in the faith. Go after those who take the wrong way. Be tender with sinners, but not soft on sin. The sin itself stinks to high heaven.

And now to him who can keep you on your feet, standing tall in his bright presence, fresh and celebrating—to our one God, our only Savior, through Jesus Christ, our Master, be glory, majesty, strength, and rule before all time, and now, and to the end of all time. Yes.

The Book of Jude from the The Message*

What point in your life is not at the center of God’s love?

Remember . . . You are “kept safe by Jesus Christ. Relax, everything’s going to be all right; rest, everything’s coming together; open your hearts, love is on the way!”

 

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Citizens of Character

But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.

Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul. Live an exemplary life among the natives so that your actions will refute their prejudices. Then they’ll be won over to God’s side and be there to join in the celebration when he arrives.

Make the Master proud of you by being good citizens. Respect the authorities, whatever their level; they are God’s emissaries for keeping order. It is God’s will that by doing good, you might cure the ignorance of the fools who think you’re a danger to society. Exercise your freedom by serving God, not by breaking the rules. Treat everyone you meet with dignity. Love your spiritual family. Revere God. Respect the government.   1 Peter 2:9-17 The Message*

These Words from Peter were written during the time of the Roman occupation – life under Roman rule was not easy. The point Peter is making is that we, Christians, must be citizens of character. We must do what is right and good. We are directed to respect authority; not break rules but uphold them, peaceably working with grace to change those that need to be changed.

Let us pour out the gifts God has given us to others. In this way, they will know Jesus through us. Do it with grace, mercy, compassion, strength and behavior that will set an example of “right” living. Right living includes reverence of God, respecting the authority and treating people with dignity.

And remember . . . PRAY . . . God hears and receives our prayers. He always answers whether it be a “yes”, “no”, “maybe”, “not now” or “wait”. Our job is to pray without ceasing and believe and trust that the God of the Universe is working all things together for our good. Maybe not what we envisioned as “our good” but what He knows is good.

The effects of our prayers ripple through eternity and never come back void.

 

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Character – Do we have it? – Do we need it?

Godly character starts with our faith in God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. When we put our faith in the Three-in-One, we develop (through everyday life experiences which God orchestrates), traits that together make up our character – obedience, trust, discipline, patience, strength, understanding, wisdom, discernment, compassion and honesty. A person with character in turn exhibits love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Why is it important to understand and develop our own Godly character?

Why is it important to encourage others in the development of their Godly character?

Godly character provides us with a compass for living. It provides us with a means to evaluate life. It provides us with discernment into situations so that we are not misled. In this day and age, Godly character is essential to navigating life.

When we have Godly character, we strive to make each moment holy by doing the next right thing. We strive to follow the Law and the Prophets and the teachings of the New Testament. We strive to do what Jesus taught us: “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31 NIV.

 We strive not because it will “earn” us eternal life but because we are indebted to Jesus for what He has already done for us. Jesus already provided the pathway to heaven for us. Our works are a reflection of our great love for Him and our outpouring of love for others – wanting them to also share in the gift of eternal life. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove. James 2:18 The Message

So let us evaluate ourselves . . . Do we need some growth in Godly character? Probably. How do we determine what we need? How do we gauge Godly character?

One way is by determining if we are exercising it during the drudgery of everyday life. Do we exhibit Godly character in everyday situations? Can we respond to those situations as our Savior would? Does love, peace or joy come from our spoken words? Are we patient and kind with our families and co-workers in everyday life? Do we pray without ceasing? Are we on the look out to help others as we go about our day? Do our minds dwell on things of God or things not of God?

Character developed in the drudgery of life prepares us for the crisis we will face. It is in our everyday, day in and day out existence, that God trains us. In a crisis, what is exhibited is what has already been developed in us. It is not developed instantaneously – we rise to the occasion because we have been training for it!

Another gauge – evaluation of our projects and works. Are they disciplined to Christ?   See 2 Corinthians 10:1-6. In other words, are we looking to Christ before we start our day or a new project to see where we should start and what we should be doing? Many projects and works are of no consequence because they are not done at the direction or in conformity with Christ. Shouldn’t we be starting our day asking for Jesus to go before us and direct us in His work?

Another gauge – do we worship God everyday, all day, in all kinds of situations and with joy? If we only worship God on Sundays, are we in need of some character building in this department?

These are just a few examples of how we gauge our Godly character. Each of us needs improvement in different ways. This is an on-going life challenge – to continue to develop Godly character until we are fit and ready for eternal living.

As we look to this season in our lives, let us evaluate where we are in the development of our Godly character and work on areas where we discern a deficit. In all probability, we have enough work to do in our own character development that we will not have time to focus on the character development of others.

Just saying . . .

SPOILER ALERT!

SPOILER ALERT – THIS DEVOTION IS FOR MATURE CHRISTIAN READERS – YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE – THE ONES WHO BY YOUR WORDS AND ACTIONS FOLLOW JESUS!

Then Jesus told them, “Before the night’s over, you’re going to fall to pieces because of what happens to me.

There is a Scripture that says,

I’ll strike the shepherd; helter-skelter the sheep will be scattered.

But after I am raised up, I, your Shepherd, will go ahead of you, leading the way to Galilee.”

 Peter broke in, “Even if everyone else falls to pieces on account of you, I won’t.”

 “Don’t be so sure,” Jesus said. “This very night, before the rooster crows up the dawn, you will deny me three times.”

Peter protested, “Even if I had to die with you, I would never deny you.” All the others said the same thing. Matthew 26:31-35

 So for you Christians out there, what do you think God is up to by allowing this pandemic and its resurgence? What are you discerning from this whole thing? Are you discerning anything? Are you actually taking the extra time you now have to sit with the Lord in prayer?

Maybe you are concluding that this country and world were in need of an adjustment – a wake up call to alert us that we are off in many wrong directions.

Maybe you have determined that it is hard to discern the “world’s truth” because there are so many conflicting stories coming from so many “reputable” sources.

Maybe you have found out that it is a good time to be praying for each other, our elected leaders, our health care workers and nursing home staff, our families we can’t see in person because you have no control over any of this.

Maybe you have discovered that you really don’t like some elected and non-elected persons in power and disagree with their mandates because it is not what you would do.

Maybe you are figuring out that there are things you have been doing that you now can’t do that you should not have been doing in the first place.

Maybe you have discovered your defiance of authority and put your “ideas” of what is “right” ahead of the leaders God has placed where they are and have taken on a “critical” spirit spewing hate through ridiculing and complaining.

Maybe you are discouraged, feeling sorry for yourself because life just took a turn and it is harder than it ONCE was.

STOP BEING LIKE PETER . . . WAKE UP . . . GET ON YOUR KNEES. . . PRAY. . . PRAY . . . AND THEN . . . PRAY SOME MORE.

Then Jesus went with them to a garden called Gethsemane and told his disciples, “Stay here while I go over there and pray.” Taking along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he plunged into an agonizing sorrow. Then he said, “This sorrow is crushing my life out. Stay here and keep vigil with me.”

 Going a little ahead, he fell on his face, praying, “My Father, if there is any way, get me out of this. But please, not what I want. You, what do you want?”

When he came back to his disciples, he found them sound asleep. He said to Peter, “Can’t you stick it out with me a single hour? Stay alert; be in prayer so you don’t wander into temptation without even knowing you’re in danger. There is a part of you that is eager, ready for anything in God. But there’s another part that’s as lazy as an old dog sleeping by the fire.”

He then left them a second time. Again he prayed, “My Father, if there is no other way than this, drinking this cup to the dregs, I’m ready. Do it your way.”

When he came back, he again found them sound asleep. They simply couldn’t keep their eyes open. This time he let them sleep on, and went back a third time to pray, going over the same ground one last time.

When he came back the next time, he said, “Are you going to sleep on and make a night of it? My time is up, the Son of Man is about to be handed over to the hands of sinners. Get up! Let’s get going! My betrayer is here.” Matthew 26:36-46 The Message*

Do we think our situation is worse than our Savior’s?

The bottom line is we don’t know why this is happening. But rest assured, God knows. His Will is what we want not ours.

Therefore, let us stop complaining . . . stop feeling sorry for ourselves . . . stop being rebellious . . . stop criticizing those in charge . . . stop being defiant . . . stop being disobedient . . . stop putting ourselves first and instead do what Jesus did:

PRAY FOR GOD’S WILL TO BE DONE – HIS GOOD, PLEASING AND PERFECT WILL.

AMEN.

 

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Hope for Help from God

It’s a Good Thing to Hope for Help from God

 19-21 I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness,
the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed.
I remember it all—oh, how well I remember—
the feeling of hitting the bottom.
But there’s one other thing I remember,
and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:

 22-24 God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.
How great your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
He’s all I’ve got left.

 25-27 God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits,
to the woman who diligently seeks.
It’s a good thing to quietly hope,
quietly hope for help from God.
It’s a good thing when you’re young
to stick it out through the hard times.

 28-30 When life is heavy and hard to take,
go off by yourself. Enter the silence.
Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions:
Wait for hope to appear.
Don’t run from trouble. Take it full-face.

The “worst” is never the worst.

 31-33 Why? Because the Master won’t ever
    walk out and fail to return.
If he works severely, he also works tenderly.
    His stockpiles of loyal love are immense.
He takes no pleasure in making life hard,
    in throwing roadblocks in the way:

 34-36 Stomping down hard
on luckless prisoners,
Refusing justice to victims
in the court of High God,
Tampering with evidence—
the Master does not approve of such things.

Lamentations 3:19-36 The Message*

Have you reached the bottom?

or

Are you in a never-ending valley of the ordinary?

Have you quietly sought help from God?

Have you waited in silence for hope to appear?

 

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Adventurously Expectant!

Many of us are waiting. We are unsettled. Why? It may be that our focus needs to be readjusted. Ponder these words from Paul found in Romans 8:

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!

That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens.

All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy. Romans 8:15-25 The Message*

Paul is reminding us of who we are and what we need to refocus on. How do we do this?  Steer ourselves away from “SELF”.  Look around – what is God asking us to consider during our wait?  It will not involve what we think we want or deserve.

John 4:36 reminds us that, “The Harvester isn’t waiting. He’s taking his pay; gathering in this grain that’s ripe for eternal life.”

Luke 12:35 emphasizes the same reminder. “Keep your shirts on; keep the lights on! Be like house servants waiting for their master to come back from his honeymoon, awake and ready to open the door when he arrives and knocks. Lucky the servants who the Master finds on watch”.

These Words from God remind us to be prepared for the return of Jesus – it could happen at any moment and we want to be doing what is right and good when that time occurs. Those who are ripe will be harvested.

So during the “Wait” of this season, we should be in preparation for eternal living. How do we do that? By living each day at a time – doing the next “right” thing.

 

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Criticizing others? Really?

Cultivating Good Relationships

14 Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently.

2-4 For instance, a person who has been around for a while might well be convinced that he can eat anything on the table, while another, with a different background, might assume he should only be a vegetarian and eat accordingly. But since both are guests at Christ’s table, wouldn’t it be terribly rude if they fell to criticizing what the other ate or didn’t eat? God, after all, invited them both to the table. Do you have any business crossing people off the guest list or interfering with God’s welcome? If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help.

Or, say, one person thinks that some days should be set aside as holy and another thinks that each day is pretty much like any other. There are good reasons either way. So, each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience.

6-9 What’s important in all this is that if you keep a holy day, keep it for God’s sake; if you eat meat, eat it to the glory of God and thank God for prime rib; if you’re a vegetarian, eat vegetables to the glory of God and thank God for broccoli. None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. It’s God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—not each other. That’s why Jesus lived and died and then lived again: so that he could be our Master across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty tyrannies of each other.

10-12 So where does that leave you when you criticize a brother? And where does that leave you when you condescend to a sister? I’d say it leaves you looking pretty silly—or worse. Eventually, we’re all going to end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God. Your critical and condescending ways aren’t going to improve your position there one bit. Read it for yourself in Scripture:

“As I live and breathe,” God says,
“every knee will bow before me;
Every tongue will tell the honest truth
that I and only I am God.”

So tend to your knitting. You’ve got your hands full just taking care of your own life before God.

13-14 Forget about deciding what’s right for each other. Here’s what you need to be concerned about: that you don’t get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is. I’m convinced—Jesus convinced me!—that everything as it is in itself is holy. We, of course, by the way we treat it or talk about it, can contaminate it.

15-16 If you confuse others by making a big issue over what they eat or don’t eat, you’re no longer a companion with them in love, are you? These, remember, are persons for whom Christ died. Would you risk sending them to hell over an item in their diet? Don’t you dare let a piece of God-blessed food become an occasion of soul-poisoning!

17-18 God’s kingdom isn’t a matter of what you put in your stomach, for goodness’ sake. It’s what God does with your life as he sets it right, puts it together, and completes it with joy. Your task is to single-mindedly serve Christ. Do that and you’ll kill two birds with one stone: pleasing the God above you and proving your worth to the people around you.

19-21 So let’s agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other. Help others with encouraging words; don’t drag them down by finding fault. You’re certainly not going to permit an argument over what is served or not served at supper to wreck God’s work among you, are you? I said it before and I’ll say it again: All food is good, but it can turn bad if you use it badly, if you use it to trip others up and send them sprawling. When you sit down to a meal, your primary concern should not be to feed your own face but to share the life of Jesus. So be sensitive and courteous to the others who are eating. Don’t eat or say or do things that might interfere with the free exchange of love.

22-23 Cultivate your own relationship with God, but don’t impose it on others. You’re fortunate if your behavior and your belief are coherent. But if you’re not sure, if you notice that you are acting in ways inconsistent with what you believe—some days trying to impose your opinions on others, other days just trying to please them—then you know that you’re out of line. If the way you live isn’t consistent with what you believe, then it’s wrong. Romans 14 The Message*

Paul says it all.

 

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

What do we do with a hardened heart?

Exodus 7-11 describes the story of Pharaoh and the release of the Israelites. It took 10 disasters before God’s purpose was accomplished. Before and after each disaster, “God hardened Pharaoh in his stubbornness. He wouldn’t listen, just as God had said to Moses” Exodus 9:12. He hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Why did He do this?

If Pharaoh was the only character in the story, maybe God would not have hardened his heart 10 times. But this story has many people, many factions, and many leaders involved. God’s plan was touching so many facets of so many peoples’ lives in ways we can’t fathom. What we need to remember is that His ways are not our ways.

So how does this story of Pharaoh and Moses and the Israelites relate to us?

This is how. God has a plan that we do not see. We want to control, lead and talk our pharaohs out of their stubbornness. But we can’t. It is not want is going to bring God’s plan to fruition. That is not God’s plan for them and all the other people affected by their actions.

All we can do is speak in truth in love. And when the truth is not heeded after multiple attempts, our job is to get out of Jesus’ way and allow God’s plan to come to fruition. We can’t manage it; we can’t make them understand; we can’t manipulate them; we can only get out of the way.

God must deal with them. Our job is to stand firm in love and truth. We don’t know what God’s “really” doing. We only know that we can’t control it. And we must let God control it.

So take heart when you are watching your pharaohs. Pray for them. They are part of God’s plan. We can count on God always being good.

Joy unending Joy!

Remember the story Jesus told of the prodigal son? The younger son demanded his inheritance right away from his father. The father divided the property between his two sons and the younger one left and squandered his fortune on undisciplined, shameful living, wasting everything he had to a point where he was working slopping pigs. He came to his senses figuring out that he had sinned against God and his father. He returned home to ask for a job as one of his father’s hired hands. His father was so ecstatic to see him that he ordered his servants to prepare a feast to celebrate.

“All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on. He told him, ‘Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast—barbecued beef!—because he has him home safe and sound.’

“The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’

“His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’” Luke 15:11-32  The Message*

The Bible doesn’t take the story any further. It is unknown if the brother decided to stay in his sulk or to see things through his father’s joy. Wouldn’t it be amazing to read these words from the brother to the father:

“You are so right dad, I was just thinking about myself and how I deserved a party. I focused on being hurt because you didn’t do something for me but you do stuff for me all the time! I spoke without thinking stirring up discord when there was no reason for it. In fact, I am so thankful my brother is home! What a joy it will be to share life with him again not to mention I will enjoy having him help us! What a family reunion this is!! I am so glad he is ok and that you are so blessed to have him return. I know you were grieving thinking he was gone forever! What a celebration this is. I thought my brother was lost forever but now he is home safe with us!”

If that epilogue was included at the end of the story, we would be certain the brother would have remembered that God works out all things for our good and that we should rejoice in the day we are in! He would have enjoyed a party! He would have given his brother the opportunity to repent and be reinstated into the family through mercy, grace and love.

Instead, it is very possible the end of the story for the brother was a of miserable self-pitying night alone, not to mention the fallout the next day!

How many times have we chosen this path? The path of grumble and complain – the path of comparing and criticizing?

We have a choice. The end of our story is not yet here and His mercy is new every morning! Choose God. Choose to pass on joy instead of discord!! Choose to love instead of hate!!!

The joy of the Lord is my strength. Nehemiah 8:10 NIV

This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:34 NIV

 A cheerful disposition is good for your health;
gloom and doom leave you bone-tired. Proverbs 17:22 MSG*

 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 NIV

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

The Peace of Christ

Have you ever felt torn between two worlds? One that involves your love of Christ and one that is of this world where you don’t even think about Him.

Maybe on Sunday, you are going to church and have your eyes on Him but then as the week progresses He is not as obvious to you? Maybe you think about Him in the morning as you sit with Him and read His Word but as time passes, you are distracted by work or your family or world events.

In this day, how do you mesh God with this world? Well . . . He did create it – He sent His Son to save it – His Spirit lives in it . . .

So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.

Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you’ll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ. Colossians 3:1-4 MSG*

So when you realize that you are distracted from thinking about Him no matter what you are doing, turn your thoughts back to Him. Turn off the distractions – news, television, Facebook, and internet. Stop behavior that distracts you from Him and points you to worldly pursuits.

Don’t lie to one another. You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete. Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ. Colossians 3:9-11 MSG*

Yes you heard him right . . . view everyone through Christ – through His eyes of love not the worlds eyes . . .

So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it. Colossians 3:12-14 MSG*

Remember . . .

Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way. Colossians 3:15-17 MSG*

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Love one another!

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. 1 John 3:1-3 MSG*

How are we to behave? Model the life of Christ!

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. 1 John 3:4-8 MSG*

How should we act? Act right!

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. 1 John 3:9-11 MSG*

How should we treat others? Love them!

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. 1 John 3:12-15 MSG*

How do we confront hate?  We love!  We abide in Him who is Love in the moment we are in through His Holy Spirit!

Remember . . . in this day . . . Love one another.

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

I’m gonna see a Victory!

“Shout! A full-throated shout!
    Hold nothing back—a trumpet-blast shout!
Tell my people what’s wrong with their lives,
    face my family Jacob with their sins!
They’re busy, busy, busy at worship,
    and love studying all about me.
To all appearances they’re a nation of right-living people—
    law-abiding, God-honoring.
They ask me, ‘What’s the right thing to do?’
    and love having me on their side.
But they also complain,
    ‘Why do we fast and you don’t look our way?
    Why do we humble ourselves and you don’t even notice?’

Isaiah 58:1-3 MSG*

 Do you have a decision or project you’ve been working on for a long time? Something that gnaws at your mind or heart – something which stares at you at the end of the day – something you try to get to but there never seems to be enough time to start it? I am talking about a decision or project that has been in the making for years – not the laundry pile that is always there. You have consulted the Lord – You have asked for help. You have even fasted to keep your mind focused on God in your situation. Why can’t you get resolution?

 “Well, here’s why:

“The bottom line on your ‘fast days’ is profit.
    You drive your employees much too hard.
You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight.
    You fast, but you swing a mean fist.
The kind of fasting you do
    won’t get your prayers off the ground.
Do you think this is the kind of fast day I’m after:
    a day to show off humility?
To put on a pious long face
    and parade around solemnly in black?
Do you call that fasting,
    a fast day that I, God, would like?

 “This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
    to break the chains of injustice,
    get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
    free the oppressed,
    cancel debts.
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
    sharing your food with the hungry,
    inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
    putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
    being available to your own families. Isaiah 58:4-7 MSG*

God is asking us to turn our hearts and minds away from ourselves and look at the people and situations he has placed in our path in this day. The project or decision we are focused on is irrelevant if we haven’t dealt with the moments we are in. Looking ahead to plan or behind to berate ourselves for failing to “get it done” is of little consequence. What He is asking us to do is follow Him in the moment we are in.

Do this and the lights will turn on,
    and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
    The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
    You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’ Isaiah 58:8-9 MSG*

 Setting ourselves aside (our personal wants and desires) in furtherance of His Kingdom in this moment, will pave the way for resolution of our own situation. If we follow Him in each moment of this day, the decision or project will either get resolved in His time or He will give us understanding that it was not His to start with. Either way, His peace will carry us because in the words of Elevation Worship “I’m gonna see a Victory, for the battle belongs to you, Lord!”

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Ascension!

“Children, I am with you for only a short time longer. You are going to look high and low for me. But just as I told the Jews, I’m telling you: ‘Where I go, you are not able to come.’

 “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.” John 13:33-35 MSG*

Jesus commanded us to love one another. Why? Because when we love, we point others to Him.

“I’m telling you these things while I’m still living with you. The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you. I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught. John 14:25-27MSG*

Jesus wanted us to know that He left us in good hands and with a gift – Peace. Why? So we would not be upset or distraught but would remember that we are well and whole!

“You’ve heard me tell you, ‘I’m going away, and I’m coming back.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I’m on my way to the Father because the Father is the goal and purpose of my life.  I’ve told you this ahead of time, before it happens, so that when it does happen, the confirmation will deepen your belief in me. John 14:28-29 MSG*

Jesus challenges us to be thankful for His journey to the Father. Why? Because His goal and purpose in life was to be obedient to the Father by saving us and when we connect these dots, our faith deepens.

And then what He had told the disciples was going to happen, happened. Jesus was crucified, buried and on the third day, arose! He appeared to Mary Magdalene, to Peter, to John, to the disciples on the Road to Damascus, to the disciples in the Upper Room and by the Sea. And He spoke to them.

 You’re the first to hear and see it. You’re the witnesses. What comes next is very important: I am sending what my Father promised to you, so stay here in the city until he arrives, until you’re equipped with power from on high.” Luke 24:47-49 MSG*

Jesus promised the Holy Spirit before His death and after he arose He reminded the disciples to wait for The Holy Spirit. Why? So they and us could be equipped with power from God.

 He then led them out of the city over to Bethany. Raising his hands he blessed them, and while blessing them, took his leave, being carried up to heaven. Luke 24:47-51 MSG*

Jesus ascended into Heaven. . . And, we are reminded by His words before He died:

“Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking.” John 14:2-4 MSG*

So as you awake tomorrow – Ascension Day – be reminded by the Holy Spirit that Jesus has a room ready for you and He will be back to take you to live with Him. Halleluiah!

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Is fear knocking? Banish it!

Fear is an insidious temptation. Its job is to divert our attention to something that is not of God.   When it strikes, we become confused and tend to go into a hibernating mode. Fear isolates and turns our outward thoughts inward. We dwell on ourselves and our own preservation. If it is allowed to go unchecked it immobilizes us and sucks the very life from our soul.

God’s Love always conquers fear!

God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.

 We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.

 If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both. 1 John 4:17-21 MSG*

Conquering fear is a process.   Turning from fear to love takes time and effort.   Many times we have allowed fear to take root so deeply that uncovering and exposing it to God’s Love is a lengthy process. Two steps forward, one step back. But as the light seeps in, we start to be able to love others as we love ourselves – a sure sign that our fear is no match for God’s Love.

So let us be liberated from fear by Love. Banish your fear and move towards Love. Start with actively allowing yourself to know God’s Love by turning to Him. Sitting with Him. . . Singing to Him. . . Walking with Him . . . Listening for Him and sharing Him with others in Love. Wherever you are in this moment make an effort to trust Him and the Love that He has for you.

Remember . . . God’s Love always conquers fear!

 

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

What more do you need?

You who sit down in the High God’s presence,
    spend the night in Shaddai’s shadow,
Say this: “God, you’re my refuge.
    I trust in you and I’m safe!”

That’s right—he rescues you from hidden traps,
    shields you from deadly hazards.
His huge outstretched arms protect you—
    under them you’re perfectly safe;
    his arms fend off all harm.

Fear nothing—not wild wolves in the night,
    not flying arrows in the day,
Not disease that prowls through the darkness,
    not disaster that erupts at high noon.

Even though others succumb all around,
    drop like flies right and left,
    no harm will even graze you.
You’ll stand untouched, watch it all from a distance,
    watch the wicked turn into corpses.

Yes, because God’s your refuge,
    the High God your very own home,
Evil can’t get close to you,
    harm can’t get through the door.

He ordered his angels
    to guard you wherever you go.
If you stumble, they’ll catch you;
    their job is to keep you from falling.
You’ll walk unharmed among lions and snakes,
    and kick young lions and serpents from the path.

“If you’ll hold on to me for dear life,” says God,
    “I’ll get you out of any trouble.
I’ll give you the best of care
    if you’ll only get to know and trust me.
Call me and I’ll answer, be at your side in bad times;
    I’ll rescue you, then throw you a party.
I’ll give you a long life,
    give you a long drink of salvation!” Psalm 91 MSG*

 This is what you need to hear!

 Sit down in God’s presence, spend time with Him and acknowledge He is your refuge! Don’t run scared. He has you. You are resting in His presence. Now it is light outside and you need to stand up and follow Him on the mountain path. It is narrow and there are lots of places for lions (big problems and little problems) and snakes (sneaky people and made up fears) to hide. But He has commanded His forces to protect you and to keep you safe. He promises.

 As a matter of fact, IF YOU HOLD ONTO HIM FOR DEAR LIFE, GET TO KNOW HIM AND TRUST HIM, He promises to: deliver you from trouble, protect you, answer you, comfort you, rescue you, give you long life and give you His life saving Grace.

 So get up and follow Him! Stop feeling sorry for yourself and grab ahold of His promises. A new day is dawning. He is in it with you! What more do you need?

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

A Servant

“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. 25So 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 NIV

I lost a friend, today. One who is celebrating with Jesus and all those who have gone before him. I know in my heart that Jesus welcomed him with the words “Well done, good and faithful servant”, because that is what he was – a servant of the Lord.

His passing onward reminds me of our role in this world – to be servants – to be following Jesus in our everyday life – whatever that may be. It is allowing God to be in the lead showing us the path, showing us the gifts He has given us to use for His Glory. It is about keeping our eyes on that lighted pathway, our head held up and our steps sure.

It is not about stopping on the path, or passing the Lord on the path or shoving Him out of the way as we sprint ahead – but of stopping when He stops, walking when He walks and running when He runs. My friend was good at that. Good at walking in step with the Lord on the path set for him.

I am not saying that his path was not filled with challenges and hardships. It was. What I am saying is that he took what was given to him and in response to those challenges and hardships; he vaulted forward on the strength of Jesus. And along the way, his life touched and impacted more of God’s children than ever could be imagined.

Trust . . . Live . . . Repeat!

All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort—we get a full measure of that, too.

Are you going through “hard times”? If so, what did you learn? How were you strengthened? If not, has God brought you along side someone else who is experiencing a difficult time that you have some insight into or similar experience with?

6-7 When we suffer for Jesus, it works out for your healing and salvation. If we are treated well, given a helping hand and encouraging word, that also works to your benefit, spurring you on, face forward, unflinching. Your hard times are also our hard times. When we see that you’re just as willing to endure the hard times as to enjoy the good times, we know you’re going to make it, no doubt about it.

Are you there, yet – at the point where the same peace that surpassing all understanding is present whether it be a hard time or a good time? Have you realized that your hard time is also shared with those praying for you – the Body of Christ?

8-11 We don’t want you in the dark, friends, about how hard it was when all this came down on us in Asia province. It was so bad we didn’t think we were going to make it. We felt like we’d been sent to death row, that it was all over for us. As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened. Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally—not a bad idea since he’s the God who raises the dead! And he did it, rescued us from certain doom. And he’ll do it again, rescuing us as many times as we need rescuing. You and your prayers are part of the rescue operation—I don’t want you in the dark about that either. I can see your faces even now, lifted in praise for God’s deliverance of us, a rescue in which your prayers played such a crucial part.

Do you understand the resurrection power that connects one brother in Christ or sister in Christ with another? Do you understand the power of prayer? Have you asked for it from your fellow brothers or sisters in Christ?

12-14 Now that the worst is over, we’re pleased we can report that we’ve come out of this with conscience and faith intact, and can face the world—and even more importantly, face you with our heads held high. But it wasn’t by any fancy footwork on our part. It was God who kept us focused on him, uncompromised. Don’t try to read between the lines or look for hidden meanings in this letter. We’re writing plain, unembellished truth, hoping that you’ll now see the whole picture as well as you’ve seen some of the details. We want you to be as proud of us as we are of you when we stand together before our Master Jesus. 2 Corinthians 1:4-14

Are you reading “between the lines” in a situation looking for hidden meanings? Or are you seeking the whole truth and asking God to show it to you based on the details you do have?

15-16 Confident of your welcome, I had originally planned two great visits with you—coming by on my way to Macedonia province, and then again on my return trip. Then we could have had a bon-voyage party as you sent me off to Judea. That was the plan.

17-19 Are you now going to accuse me of being flip with my promises because it didn’t work out? Do you think I talk out of both sides of my mouth—a glib yes one moment, a glib no the next? Well, you’re wrong. I try to be as true to my word as God is to his. Our word to you wasn’t a careless yes canceled by an indifferent no. How could it be? When Silas and Timothy and I proclaimed the Son of God among you, did you pick up on any yes-and-no, on-again, off-again waffling? Wasn’t it a clean, strong Yes?

Do you realize that God operates in “real time”? Sometimes what we were lead to do was not about the “doing” but was about the “following” so that in the process something is produced that may or may not be known to us. It does not mean that we heard “wrong” at the time, just that what we thought was the purpose was not God’s purpose. Can we live with not knowing every purpose of God or do we have to investigate everything we don’t understand and place “blame” when we think we have figured it all out?

20-22 Whatever God has promised gets stamped with the Yes of Jesus. In him, this is what we preach and pray, the great Amen, God’s Yes and our Yes together, gloriously evident. God affirms us, making us a sure thing in Christ, putting his Yes within us. By his Spirit he has stamped us with his eternal pledge—a sure beginning of what he is destined to complete.

23 Now, are you ready for the real reason I didn’t visit you in Corinth? As God is my witness, the only reason I didn’t come was to spare you pain. I was being considerate of you, not indifferent, not manipulative.

24 We’re not in charge of how you live out the faith, looking over your shoulders, suspiciously critical. We’re partners, working alongside you, joyfully expectant. I know that you stand by your own faith, not by ours.  

2 Corinthians 1:3-24 The Message*

Are you looking over your shoulder, being suspiciously critical or are you partnering with God and alongside others, joyfully expectant of God’s provision?

Remember, the strength of the Body of Christ is all of us standing by our own faith . . . together.

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

“Cast your burdens on the Lord”

Before the sun rises each day, I snuggle under a blanket on my big comfy chair with my steaming cup of coffee and open the worn cover of my favorite devotional – Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest. It is my “go to” devotional. I have probably read it every other year for 20 years. It never gets old – it never ceases to stir me in my walk with the Lord. Monday, April 13th was no exception.

What To Do When Your Burden Is Overwhelming

Cast your burden on the Lord… Psalm 55:22

We must recognize the difference between burdens that are right for us to bear and burdens that are wrong. We should never bear the burdens of sin or doubt, but there are some burdens placed on us by God which He does not intend to lift off. God wants us to roll them back on Him— to literally “cast your burden,” which He has given you, “on the Lord….” If we set out to serve God and do His work but get out of touch with Him, the sense of responsibility we feel will be overwhelming and defeating. But if we will only roll back on God the burdens He has placed on us, He will take away that immense feeling of responsibility, replacing it with an awareness and understanding of Himself and His presence.

Many servants set out to serve God with great courage and with the right motives. But with no intimate fellowship with Jesus Christ, they are soon defeated. They do not know what to do with their burden, and it produces weariness in their lives. Others will see this and say, “What a sad end to something that had such a great beginning!”

“Cast your burden on the Lord….” You have been bearing it all, but you need to deliberately place one end on God’s shoulder. “…the government will be upon His shoulder” Isaiah 9:6. Commit to God whatever burden He has placed on you. Don’t just cast it aside, but put it over onto Him and place yourself there with it. You will see that your burden is then lightened by the sense of companionship. But you should never try to separate yourself from your burden.

Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, April 13

Have you been struggling with a burden? Are you asking God to take it away or are you asking Him to shoulder the burden with you – asking Him to open your eyes to see the burden through His eyes?

Remember . . . “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 NIV

Turn Your Eyes

As they continued their travel, Jesus entered a village. A woman by the name of Martha welcomed him and made him feel quite at home. She had a sister, Mary, who sat before the Master, hanging on every word he said. But Martha was pulled away by all she had to do in the kitchen. Later, she stepped in, interrupting them. “Master, don’t you care that my sister has abandoned the kitchen to me? Tell her to lend me a hand.” Luke 10:38-39 The Message

As a follower of Jesus, many of us are “doing” good things. As we journey deeper in faith, our vision becomes clearer and we realize that doing “good” things is not always the “best” or “essential” thing to be doing.

We have a unique opportunity at this moment in time to concentrate on doing the “essential” thing – to enjoy the “main course”.  So let us remove ourselves from our list of tasks and ask ourselves some simple questions.

When was the last time you gave yourself a break – from work – from cleaning – from directing – from supervising others – from having “to do“ anything. When was the last time, you had no agenda but Him?

When is the last time you merely rested in Him – in his teaching – in the beauty of His spring flowers – in the warmth of His sun or the vastness of His night sky – or the laughter of His children?

When is the last time you hung on every word He said?

The Master said, “Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it—it’s the main course, and won’t be taken from her.” Luke 10:38-42 The Message

So . . . “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nO4uIyz_d90

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jR7r0Br_HNs

O soul are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior
And life more abundant and free

Turn you eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace

Through death into life everlasting
He passed, and we follow Him there
Over us sin no more hath dominion
For more than conquerors we are

And turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace

His word shall not fail you, He promised
Believe Him and all will be well
Then go to a world that is dying
His perfect salvation to tell

And turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace

Lyrics by Helen Howarth Lemmel 1922

What ARE we doing?

When Hathach told Mordecai what Esther had said, Mordecai sent her this message: “Don’t think that just because you live in the king’s house you’re the one Jew who will get out of this alive. If you persist in staying silent at a time like this, help and deliverance will arrive for the Jews from someplace else; but you and your family will be wiped out. Who knows? Maybe you were made queen for just such a time as this.” Esther 4:12-14 MSG*

If you are a follower of Jesus, then you have been blessed for a time such as this. You have been strategically placed in this world to be the hands and feet and voice of Christ himself. The Holy Spirit is within you and is guiding you. Worship. Listen. Intercede. Follow.

When the Master Shows Up

 “Keep your shirts on; keep the lights on! Be like house servants waiting for their master to come back from his honeymoon, awake and ready to open the door when he arrives and knocks. Lucky the servants whom the master finds on watch! He’ll put on an apron, sit them at the table, and serve them a meal, sharing his wedding feast with them. It doesn’t matter what time of the night he arrives; they’re awake—and so blessed!

 “You know that if the house owner had known what night the burglar was coming, he wouldn’t have stayed out late and left the place unlocked. So don’t you be slovenly and careless. Just when you don’t expect him, the Son of Man will show up.”

Peter said, “Master, are you telling this story just for us? Or is it for everybody?”

The Master said, “Let me ask you: Who is the dependable manager, full of common sense, that the master puts in charge of his staff to feed them well and on time? He is a blessed man if when the master shows up he’s doing his job. But if he says to himself, ‘The master is certainly taking his time,’ begins maltreating the servants and maids, throws parties for his friends, and gets drunk, the master will walk in when he least expects it, give him the thrashing of his life, and put him back in the kitchen peeling potatoes.

“The servant who knows what his master wants and ignores it, or insolently does whatever he pleases, will be thoroughly thrashed. But if he does a poor job through ignorance, he’ll get off with a slap on the hand. Great gifts mean great responsibilities; greater gifts, greater responsibilities! Luke 12:35-48 MSG*

Have you been blessed with resources? In other words do you have savings, a steady income and/or a job that is continuing? Have you sought Christ’s counsel to determine how he desires you to use these resources? Is there a business you normally patronize that is now closed? Have you discerned if they are still in need of income to pay their rent, utilities, feed their children or themselves? What are you being called to do?

Do you have a position of influence to assist people in this time? Are you making yourself available to those in your sphere of influence – those God places in your path either through work, church, or in the grocery store parking lot? What are you being called to do?

Do you have the physical ability to provide needed labor? Is you neighbor elderly and in need of a light bulb being changed, or yard work being completed or a minor repair being done? Can you volunteer at a food bank? What are you being called to do?

Are you trained in professions that are being called into extraordinary service? Have you turned to Jesus for strength and guidance? Are you focusing on His love, knowing He will never leave you or forsake you – knowing that He already won? Are you believing that He has your back and claiming the power of Jesus as you work? Are you refusing to complain, feel sorry for yourself, or place blame? What are you being called to do?

Are you blessed with a talent – such as music – and are you sharing that with others through a telephone call, a serenade through a window, a video chat with a parent or grandparent? What are you being called to do?

Are you a believer in Jesus Christ who has time to intercede for those in harms way? One of the greatest forms of worship is lifting others to the throne of God. We all have time now that is different than the time we had a month ago. So ask God to place those people on your heart who are in need of the touch of Jesus. Will Jesus touch them anyway? Yes, but what a smile we bring to His face when we are listening and discerning what He is doing and we are doing it too. Have you discerned anything about what you may be called to do from your relationship with Jesus?

If not, maybe you just need to be still.

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

What ARE we talking about?

Since we are apart from each other, what are we talking about in our daily lives? Are we allowing our minds to run amuck? Are we blaming others for the state of the world? Are we complaining about our circumstances? Are we practicing our faith?

In the midst of uncertainty we are called to be certain in our belief of Jesus . . . and not only certain about our belief, but actually believe what He told us. Remember . . .

“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.a

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful,

for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,

for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,

for they will be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets before you. Matthew 5:3-12 NIV

 Or said another way:

“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. Matthew 5:1-12 The MSG*

So instead of asking questions like “How are you surviving this isolation?” or commenting on what our government officials are doing wrong, why don’t we try asking each other “how is it with your soul?”

And then . . . be prepared to give love, hope, peace and joy in response . . . even if there is uncomfortable fallout . . . for you are, at that point, in the company of greatness.

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Rest . . . Listen . . . Arise

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

 Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him. Psalm 37:7 NIV

Many times God calls us to rest before arising. Why? Because we can’t arise when we are not rested. Many of us do not take the time to rest – it’s just not in our schedule. But now . . . is a very good time to rest . . . and while resting refocus.

When I call, give me answers. God, take my side!
Once, in a tight place, you gave me room;
Now I’m in trouble again: grace me! hear me!

 You rabble—how long do I put up with your scorn?
How long will you lust after lies?
How long will you live crazed by illusion?

 Look at this: look
Who got picked by God!
He listens the split second I call to him. Psalm 4:1-3 MSG*

 Are you listening? Really listening?

 Complain if you must, but don’t lash out.
Keep your mouth shut, and let your heart do the talking.
Build your case before God and wait for his verdict.

 Why is everyone hungry for more? “More, more,” they say.
“More, more.”
I have God’s more-than-enough,
More joy in one ordinary day

Than they get in all their shopping sprees.
At day’s end I’m ready for sound sleep,
For you, God, have put my life back together. Psalm 4:4-8 MSG*

Remember . . . refocus on God . . . stop complaining . . . shut your mouth and let your heart do the talking. Be still. Wait patiently. Practice resting in the Lord. For soon, He will ask you to arise.

And remember . . . who should we look to for answers?

God and God alone.

 

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Don’t Panic – PRAY

A friend of mine recently shared with me a quote from a devotion she was reading.  In essence the writer was asking  –  Do we believe “in God” or do we “believe God”?

The significance of this question cannot be more relevant than today.  As we face this global challenge, we are called to fix our eyes upon Jesus – the same thing we were called to do yesterday and the day before that. Listen to what Jesus told his disciples. Then ask yourself “Do I believe GOD?”

12-15 “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.’ 

Do you believe God? Do you believe you are being guided by the Holy Spirit? Do you believe the Spirit is delivering to you directly from Jesus?

16 “In a day or so you’re not going to see me, but then in another day or so you will see me.”

17-18 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.”

19-20 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.

21-23 “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.

23-24 “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!

Do you believe God? Then PRAY! You know what is in God’s Will!  Pray that  . . . and if you don’t know what is in His Will pray for Him to tell you!  And believe that He will!

25-28 “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.”

29-30 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.”

31-33 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.”  John 16:12-33 The Message*

Do you believe God? Are you unshakeable and assured? Are you deeply at peace?  Then share that today with others who need reassurance.

And remember . . .  Take heart. God wins!

 

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Back to the Basics

Sometimes it is good to return to the basics . . . to reset where you are . . . to take stock . . . to refocus so you can build anew . . . to remember whose you are, where you are going and what you are called to do.

Dear friend, guard Clear Thinking and Common Sense with your life;
don’t for a minute lose sight of them.
They’ll keep your soul alive and well,
they’ll keep you fit and attractive.
You’ll travel safely,
you’ll neither tire nor trip.
You’ll take afternoon naps without a worry,
you’ll enjoy a good night’s sleep.
No need to panic over alarms or surprises,
or predictions that doomsday’s just around the corner,

Reset your mind. It is a choice to turn your “thinking” away from disastrous temptations and towards God. If you are having trouble, turn to praise, ask (pray) for a song in your heart, listen to worship music, give thanks, count your blessings or focus on someone in need of help.

 Because God will be right there with you;
he’ll keep you safe and sound.

Never walk away from someone who deserves help;
your hand is God’s hand for that person.
Don’t tell your neighbor “Maybe some other time”
or “Try me tomorrow”
when the money’s right there in your pocket.
Don’t figure ways of taking advantage of your neighbor
when he’s sitting there trusting and unsuspecting.

Don’t walk around with a chip on your shoulder,
always spoiling for a fight.
Don’t try to be like those who shoulder their way through life.
Why be a bully?
“Why not?” you say. Because God can’t stand twisted souls.
It’s the straightforward who get his respect.

God’s curse blights the house of the wicked,
but he blesses the home of the righteous.
He gives proud skeptics a cold shoulder,
but if you’re down on your luck, he’s right there to help.
Wise living gets rewarded with honor;
stupid living gets the booby prize.
Proverbs 3:21-35 MSG*

Remember . . . today is a new day . . . a day to reset . . . a day to give thanks and praise . . . a day to set the past behind us . . . a day to restart . . . a day to remember that eternity meets us in this moment.

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

A Walk with Jesus

Many of our traditions recognize the season of Lent – 40 days set aside in the Christian calendar to reflect on the journey of Jesus leading up to the cross.

It is a time for repentance, forgiveness, sacrifice, reflection, discipline, remembrance and preparation. It is a time of fasting and prayer – a time to seek the Lord in our journey through a walk in His.

Next Jesus was taken into the wild by the Spirit for the Test. The Devil was ready to give it. Jesus prepared for the Test by fasting forty days and forty nights. That left him, of course, in a state of extreme hunger, which the Devil took advantage of in the first test: “Since you are God’s Son, speak the word that will turn these stones into loaves of bread.”

Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy: “It takes more than bread to stay alive. It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.”

For the second test the Devil took him to the Holy City. He sat him on top of the Temple and said, “Since you are God’s Son, jump.” The Devil goaded him by quoting Psalm 91: “He has placed you in the care of angels. They will catch you so that you won’t so much as stub your toe on a stone.”

Jesus countered with another citation from Deuteronomy: “Don’t you dare test the Lord your God.”

For the third test, the Devil took him to the peak of a huge mountain. He gestured expansively, pointing out all the earth’s kingdoms, how glorious they all were. Then he said, “They’re yours—lock, stock, and barrel. Just go down on your knees and worship me, and they’re yours.”

Jesus’ refusal was curt: “Beat it, Satan!” He backed his rebuke with a third quotation from Deuteronomy: “Worship the Lord your God, and only him. Serve him with absolute single-heartedness.”

The  Test was over. The Devil left. And in his place, angels! Angels came and took care of Jesus’ needs. Matthew 4:1-11 MSG*

Have you ever prepared for a test by fasting? Have you ever spent 40 days praying for God to give you strength and wisdom and words for a time of testing? During that time have you sought Him in His Word asking Him to speak through Scripture? Have you addressed a troubling situation in the manner of Jesus – by weakening your human condition so that God can be in control and the solution and glory are all His?

Remember . . . traditions are fruitless if we engage in them out of blind habit – they are only fruitful when we engage our hearts, minds, souls and strength in seeking Jesus. 

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Close to Home

Sometimes our toughest challenges are those close to home – with those we love the most or are supposed to love the most. Sometimes we struggle with those who believe and those who do not – those who say they believe and those who do not – those who think they are awake but are asleep in their beliefs – those who think they believe but have never turned from themselves and put their heart where their head is.

It can be a lonely walk. But do not despair. You are never alone. For those of us who know that “God will never leave us or forsake us”, the question that follows is “what are we being called to do?”

Each of our circumstances are different – none of us lives the same lives. So no one knows the right path for each of us except for God. Thank God that the movement of the Holy Spirit will be different for each of us given what will bring God Glory. The key is to seek God’s path through our circumstances – not rely on our own understanding but seek God’s first. Be careful of outside advise from others who are not in a position to know the entirety of your situation – such advise should only be sought after a clear indication from God.

The Master, God, has given me
    a well-taught tongue,
So I know how to encourage tired people.
    He wakes me up in the morning,
Wakes me up, opens my ears
    to listen as one ready to take orders.
The Master, God, opened my ears,
    and I didn’t go back to sleep,
    didn’t pull the covers back over my head.
I followed orders,
    stood there and took it while they beat me,
    held steady while they pulled out my beard,
Didn’t dodge their insults,
    faced them as they spit in my face.
And the Master, God, stays right there and helps me,
    so I’m not disgraced.
Therefore I set my face like flint,
    confident that I’ll never regret this.
My champion is right here.
    Let’s take our stand together!
Who dares bring suit against me?
    Let him try!
Look! the Master, God, is right here.
    Who would dare call me guilty?
Look! My accusers are a clothes bin of threadbare
    socks and shirts, fodder for moths!

10-11 Who out there fears God,
    actually listens to the voice of his servant?
For anyone out there who doesn’t know where you’re going,
    anyone groping in the dark,
Here’s what: Trust in God.
    Lean on your God!
But if all you’re after is making trouble,
    playing with fire,

Go ahead and see where it gets you.
    Set your fires, stir people up, blow on the flames,
But don’t expect me to just stand there and watch.
    I’ll hold your feet to those flames.

Isaiah 50:4-11 MSG*

Remember . . . we cannot be disgraced by those who have no power to disgrace us.  Stand firm. Stand strong. We have already won – we are His and we are almost Home.

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

State of the (Union) Heart

What is the state of your heart? Is it connected to your mind? Are they working together for God’s Glory? Or does your heart say one thing and your mind say another? Is your heart filled with what you need or what God desires for you? Is your mind scheming to manipulate even the simplest tasks of the day?

After that, Pharisees and religion scholars came to Jesus all the way from Jerusalem, criticizing, “Why do your disciples play fast and loose with the rules?”

 But Jesus put it right back on them. “Why do you use your rules to play fast and loose with God’s commands? God clearly says, ‘Respect your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone denouncing father or mother should be killed.’ But you weasel around that by saying, ‘Whoever wants to, can say to father and mother, What I owed to you I’ve given to God.’ That can hardly be called respecting a parent. You cancel God’s command by your rules. Frauds! Isaiah’s prophecy of you hit the bull’s-eye:

These people make a big show of saying the right thing,
but their heart isn’t in it.
They act like they’re worshiping me,
but they don’t mean it.
They just use me as a cover
for teaching whatever suits their fancy.”

He then called the crowd together and said, “Listen, and take this to heart. It’s not what you swallow that pollutes your life, but what you vomit up.”

Later his disciples came and told him, “Did you know how upset the Pharisees were when they heard what you said?”

Jesus shrugged it off. “Every tree that wasn’t planted by my Father in heaven will be pulled up by its roots. Forget them. They are blind men leading blind men. When a blind man leads a blind man, they both end up in the ditch.”

Peter said, “I don’t get it. Put it in plain language.”

 Jesus replied, “You, too? Are you being willfully stupid? Don’t you know that anything that is swallowed works its way through the intestines and is finally defecated? But what comes out of the mouth gets its start in the heart. It’s from the heart that we vomit up evil arguments, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, lies, and cussing. That’s what pollutes. Eating or not eating certain foods, washing or not washing your hands—that’s neither here nor there.” Matthew 15:1-20 MSG*

Take stock and make adjustments, so that your heart is full of God who is love. If you are conflicted between heart and mind, then focus on love. It is out of the reservoir of your heart that you will live and live abundantly. Remember . . . your life is at stake.

God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.

We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.

 If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both. 1 John 4:17-21 MSG*

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

The “Call”

Continuing with Paul’s story after his meeting with Jesus on the Road to Damascus, Paul tells us that he was set apart by God by His grace. Galatians 1:15-16. For what? . . . To preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Romans 1:1

Paul knew he was separated and knew his purpose. He did not consult other human beings. In his own words to the Galatians, he tells us he spent three years in Arabia shortly after his conversion. What was he doing? We can only assume, God was preparing him for his mission – peeling off layers of his “stinkin onion” so he was indeed free of the chains of the past. That took time.

God also calls us to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That “call” takes a different path for each of us. Some, like Paul, are called to travel and share the Gospel to those who have never heard of Jesus Christ. Others are called to share the Good News in their local communities through service or by one-on-one discussions with those they meet in their everyday lives. Still others, like Billy Graham, are called to large forums preaching to millions.

Regardless of how we are called to share the Good News, we need to be focused on that call and not get side-tracked by focusing on our personal holiness and what we perceive as the lack of holiness in others. Too often, we feel it is our business to look for splinters in others’ eyes but forget about the “plank” in our own. The “call” is not for “personal holiness”. The call is to share the “Good News”. Personal holiness is a side effect of knowing Jesus.

So remember the Words of Christ, himself:

“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.

 “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.

 “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 6:31-38 MSG*

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

The Wait

My friend recently reminded me of Paul’s conversion on the Road to Damascus.  But it was how she posed a question that made me return to dwell on Paul’s experience once again. She asked this: “ If it took Paul three years to deal with forgiving himself then why should I think I am any different?”

I’m sure that you’ve heard the story of my earlier life when I lived in the Jewish way. In those days I went all out in persecuting God’s church. I was systematically destroying it. I was so enthusiastic about the traditions of my ancestors that I advanced head and shoulders above my peers in my career. Even then God had designs on me. Why, when I was still in my mother’s womb he chose and called me out of sheer generosity! Now he has intervened and revealed his Son to me so that I might joyfully tell non-Jews about him.

Immediately after my calling—without consulting anyone around me and without going up to Jerusalem to confer with those who were apostles long before I was—I got away to Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus, but it was three years before I went up to Jerusalem to compare stories with Peter. I was there only fifteen days—but what days they were! Except for our Master’s brother James, I saw no other apostles. (I’m telling you the absolute truth in this.)  Galatians 1:13-20 MSG*

What struck my friend was that after this traumatic and life altering event of being struck blind and having Christ call him out, Paul took three years to get his act together before going onto Jerusalem to meet with Peter.

Three years to forgive himself. Three years to begin the process of loving himself through God’s eyes. Three years to learn. Three years to prepare. Three years to consult with God, not man. Three years.

Have you been through a life-altering event – a trauma – a time when Jesus called you out? If so, it may be that you need to learn to forgive yourself and learn to see yourself through God’s eyes. It may be that you need to take time to learn what God has for you in this new season – to take time to learn to rely on Him and not on human counsel. It may be that you need to sit in His Word in order to understand the need to sit in His Presence.

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.  Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.  Jeremiah 29:11-14 NIV

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Bruising with Words

Peter said, “I don’t get it. Put it in plain language.”

Jesus replied, “You, too? Are you being willfully stupid? Don’t you know that anything that is swallowed works its way through the intestines and is finally defecated? But what comes out of the mouth gets its start in the heart. It’s from the heart that we vomit up evil arguments, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, lies, and cussing. That’s what pollutes. Eating or not eating certain foods, washing or not washing your hands—that’s neither here nor there.” Matthew 15:15-20 MSG

 I hate when I screw up. When I say something that hurts another person. Something not meant for their ears, but they hear it. Regardless of whether it is the truth or not, the sting of misplaced words bruises the soul.

When the soul is bruised, the truth of the words is lost in the bruising. Truth is meant to be spoken in love, not in anger, criticism or grumbling.

I can still hear my mother’s voice saying, “if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Not only is it not good to say it, it is not good to think it in the first place. “Stinkin thinkin” is also a sign of discord within the soul.

But that is our nature, isn’t it. We complain and speak harshly about others all the time. Why?? . . . because we are born into a fallen world. Our nature is prideful and selfish. Just because we are born from above does not mean we automatically become perfect. No!!! We need to work at setting that type of thinking aside. When stinkin thinkin comes out in word form it means that our souls are in need of a cleansing. It means that we are not connected to our life source – the Vine.

So when it happens, we must go back to the great soul cleanser – Jesus – and ask for forgiveness, turn from our “stinkin thinkin”, stop our mouth from spouting and instead seek rejuvenation from the Lord in prayer, thankfulness, worship and praise.

Blessings in Disguise

New Heavens and a New Earth

“Pay close attention now:
   I’m creating new heavens and a new earth.
All the earlier troubles, chaos, and pain
    are things of the past, to be forgotten.
Look ahead with joy.
    Anticipate what I’m creating:
I’ll create Jerusalem as sheer joy,
  create my people as pure delight.
………..

For my people will be as long-lived as trees,
    my chosen ones will have satisfaction in their work.
They won’t work and have nothing come of it,
    they won’t have children snatched out from under them.
For they themselves are plantings blessed by God,
    with their children and grandchildren likewise God-blessed.
Before they call out, I’ll answer.
    Before they’ve finished speaking, I’ll have heard.
Wolf and lamb will graze the same meadow,
    lion and ox eat straw from the same trough,
    but snakes—they’ll get a diet of dirt!
Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill
    anywhere on my Holy Mountain,” says God.

Isaiah 65:17-25 MSG*

It is the wee hours of the morning. I am sitting with my canine companion in her final days here on earth. She has been with us 14 years. So in my anguish, I asked God to remind me of how and why she came to be our treasured Meg.

The evening before my mother-in-law died, we visited my father-in-law and the kids all came running in with seven pups in their arms – chubby and super cute except for one who was tiny and obviously not well. The kids held her up and said what’s wrong with this one Poppop? In words only a farmer could say to a group of grade schoolers, he said, “Aww that one . . . she’s the runt – can’t get enough milk at the milk bar . . . not enough room for her. She’s probably going to die”. In unison, these loving cherubs turned to me and said, “what are you going to do?”

I looked at those beautiful innocent faces and remembered now how earnest and full of love they were. I told them there was nothing we could do now but get the runt back out to her mother alone and let her eat while they played with her brothers and sisters.

The next day my Husband called to let me know that his Mom had passed on. We were expecting it, but it was an emotionally tough time. She was an awesome mother-in-law. I couldn’t imagine someone more wonderful to have than her. My Husband finished the conversation with “What are we going to do about that puppy.”

Now, I had already told my mother-in-law that I was not ready for a puppy – our 18 year old dog had died four years earlier after a year of hospice care. I kept saying to her, I just can’t deal with a puppy at the same time I am caring for four kids, my Dad and your son!

So of course I replied, “we are not doing anything with that puppy.” He replied, “No really, what are we going to do with that puppy?” I replied a bit louder “WE are not going to do anything with that puppy?” There was a moment of silence and then I said, “you have that puppy in your van, don’t you.” The answer was a simple “yes”.

The day Grandma went home was the day the kids remember our Meg coming home. I did not want her . . . but my Husband and the kids desperately wanted her. So in she came. The first night I slept on the couch with her crying on my chest yearning for her real mom and siblings . . . not fit to be away from them yet. My thoughts bounced between “Lord, please do not let her die” and “Where is everyone now at 2:00 a.m.?”

The next day, my husband went to the hospital with a gall bladder attack that required surgery. As I made arrangements for the kids and now a puppy, I remember asking God why – why now – I just did not need one more thing! Yes indeedy – at that moment it was all about me.

But time went on. She became a member of our family. Each of the kids had periods of time when she was their favorite. She was a constant in the home – available to each of us for comfort and exercise, laughter and sorrow.

You see, God is acutely aware of the “troubles, chaos and pain” of this world.  He walks beside us everyday – all day – and what can seem like “the last thing I need right now,” is the very thing we do need.  Grief never seems like a blessing.

In our memories, Meg’s arrival in our family coincides with the passing of Grandma. God knew we needed help and the blessing our Meg has been to us over the years has been immeasurable!   I now know what I did not know then – God Blesses us even when we don’t know He is Blessing and even when we can’t see through our circumstances.

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

But by the Grace of God go each of us!

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. Romans 12:3 MSG*

Sometimes we lose sight of who is in charge. God brings His goodness to us. Our job is to share that goodness with others. If we think God’s goodness is generated from us, it leads to a prideful existence – an existence that turns the spotlight away from God and onto us.

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. Romans 12:4-6 MSG*

Remember pride . . . it “goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall” Proverbs 16:18. So be careful. Return to your first love – Christ – and remember what goodness you are called to share.

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 12:6-8 MSG*

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

A New Year’s Letter

And now, here’s what I want you to do: Tell the truth, when you speak. Do the right thing by one another, both personally and in your courts. Don’t cook up plans to take unfair advantage of others. Don’t do or say what isn’t so. I hate all that stuff. Keep your lives simple and honest.” Decree of God. Zechariah 8:15-17 The Message

How is your most intimate relationship doing? Do you need to have a conversation? Do you need to tell the truth to someone? If so, remember this: The Holy Spirit works through truth. Although speaking the truth can be difficult, truth, spoken in love, will have an impact in God’s Kingdom.

Example of truth by letter followed by conversation:

My dearest:

 I am writing this letter because, for me, it is sometimes easier to write then to speak. Let me start by saying I am your biggest fan. I love you more than anyone, except God. Nothing I say here is a criticism. I am only trying to address my struggling and our relationship because I want it to be the best it can be. I don’t want to argue, I want to discuss and brainstorm with you.

 I know you need time to process these types of conversations. So, I thought it might be good to think about these things ahead of discussing them in person. When we are both ready (meaning within the next week) can we set a time to speak – preferably when we are not tired, preoccupied or grumpy.

 I am struggling and have tried to figure out why. I have prayed and sat with God looking for His wisdom not my own. I think He has provided me with some. So here is what the major issues are:

  1. I need your companionship. We are in a new place in life – I want to go do stuff with you when you are not tired or preoccupied. Thanksgiving/Christmas was difficult – I missed you being here (or your involvement or your joy or _____________________________________________ _________________________________________________________________________________________.) I need to be with you mentally – I need to know we are in the same “book”, not necessarily in the same chapter but at least in the same book.
  2. Spiritual Connectedness. So speaking about being in the same book, I feel like we are not spiritually together most of the time. Knowing and loving God is my top priority. You and my family are my second priority. I hope God is also your first priority ahead of me – if He is not then we have a problem. The problem is that we then don’t view life in the same way – what we want to do and where we want to go and what we want to spend money on is not in sync with each other.
  3. I need your help with our finances. We are blessed – truly blessed but I am under extreme pressure to make it all work. I don’t want to be in charge of all this. Can we talk about _____________ ________________________.  All this stuff I need help with. We need to do this together.
  4. My work and your work. Our work schedules don’t compliment each other. We need to coordinate that together. _____________________ _______________________________ _______________________________. These are important to me. We need us to figure this out together.

 In order for me to feel connected to you, we need to have a mature adult on- going loving conversation about these issues. When I am connected to you, I enjoy our relationship. I will never stop loving you. I want you to succeed. I want us to succeed. It is my top priority besides following Jesus.

 I love you.

The Gift

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  John 3:16 NIV

We can get carried away with the “warm, fuzzy” story we tell our young children about the birth of Jesus and in the process lose the whole reason for celebration. It is the harsh reality of that birth, life and death that actually saves our children and us.

Nothing is “warm and fuzzy” about His birth in a stable, in the cold, without medical assistance in an occupied territory to a mother pregnant before marriage. Nothing is “warm and fuzzy” about the powerful seeking to kill Jesus and in the process killing hundreds of other children. Nothing is “warm and fuzzy” about fleeing a country because of persecution and living in a foreign land.

Frankly, there is nothing “warm and fuzzy” about God giving us His one and only Son. From a human perspective, only a few of us come close to comprehending that sacrifice but all of us must try. For it is in the trying, that God speaks to our hearts to help us understand His miraculous gift – the “gift” that Saves our Souls – the Gift that forges a pathway to Heaven and eternal life.

That is what our celebration is about . . . God saving us through His Son Jesus Christ.

And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him. John 3:17-18 The Message*

 So . . . what gift are we giving this Christmas to those God has entrusted to us?

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

You are God taught!

Paul’s words to the people of Thessalonica over 1950 years ago could have been written to us! Are we living to please God? In our everyday life, is that thought paramount in our hearts and minds?

One final word, friends. We ask you—urge is more like it—that you keep on doing what we told you to do to please God, not in a dogged religious plod, but in a living, spirited dance. You know the guidelines we laid out for you from the Master Jesus. God wants you to live a pure life.  Keep yourselves from sexual promiscuity.

Learn to appreciate and give dignity to your body, not abusing it, as is so common among those who know nothing of God.

Don’t run roughshod over the concerns of your brothers and sisters. Their concerns are God’s concerns, and he will take care of them. We’ve warned you about this before. God hasn’t invited us into a disorderly, unkempt life but into something holy and beautiful—as beautiful on the inside as the outside.

If you disregard this advice, you’re not offending your neighbors; you’re rejecting God, who is making you a gift of his Holy Spirit. 1Thes 4:1-8 MSG*

Remember this advice over the next several weeks, when you are distracted by the pressures of Christmas and year-end events – when you are indulging in ways that may be taken to extremes. This is not a time to turn from God but a critical time to turn to him.

Regarding life together and getting along with each other, you don’t need me to tell you what to do. You’re God-taught in these matters. Just love one another! You’re already good at it; your friends all over the province of Macedonia are the evidence. Keep it up; get better and better at it. 1 Thes 4:9-10 MSG*

“We are God-taught”. Let that sink in as you contemplate your relationships with your family and friends. Sit with God and ask for His guidance for you in loving them.

Stay calm; mind your own business; do your own job. You’ve heard all this from us before, but a reminder never hurts. We want you living in a way that will command the respect of outsiders, not lying around sponging off your friends. 1 Thes 4:11-12 MSG*

As we schedule our activities during the next several weeks, let us keep in mind that in order to stay calm we need to seek the One who has advise for us. In the seeking, our focus will be on the things of God and will keep our minds from taking us into “business” which is not for us.

Remember . . . let us truly contemplate and celebrate Christ in this day and the days to come. We know how. We have already been “God-taught”.

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

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  MSG*

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.

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

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 MSG*

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?

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

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 MSG*

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.

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

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 MSG*

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

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

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 MSG*

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 MSG*

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.

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

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 MSG*

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 MSG*

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 MSG*

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.

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

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 MSG*

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 MSG*

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 MSG*

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 MSG*

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!

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

“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 MSG*

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 MSG*

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 MSG*

 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.

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

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  MSG*

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 MSG*

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.

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

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 MSG*

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 MSG*

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. NLT

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 ESV

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

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 MSG

 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 MSG*

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 MSG*

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?

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

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  MSG*

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  MSG*

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.

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

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 MSG

 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 MSG*

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.” 

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

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 MSG*

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 MSG*

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. 

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

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 MSG*

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 MSG*

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 MSG*

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 MSG*

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.

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

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 MSG*

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 MSG*

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 MSG*

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.

*Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

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?

 

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