You won’t believe it!

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Years ago I had a friend who lost his ability to speak because of a stroke. It was heartbreaking to visit and see the frustration on his face when he was unable to join the conversation, unable to ask for a drink of water, or let anyone know what he thought. For years Vince had preached and praised, encouraged, and corrected. Then, no words at all. Speech is a great gift that makes it possible for us to say what we feel, to reveal who we are. How are you using that gift?

Reading in Matthew, I came to Jesus’ words about authentic words, heart-deep words. “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:33-37, NIV)

Are your words plain, honest, and without shades of meaning? Hyperbole is not the problem. When a person says, “I’ve told you a thousand times!” we know that their words are not intended to be taken literally. The problem is word inflation, which is just plain old dishonesty. It is everywhere around us.

Job titles often have little to do with the actual work, designed to make an employee feel better about her position. Advertisers routinely mislead consumers, though carefully within guidelines that avoid legal repercussion. Every time I hear those unintelligible disclaimers that are tacked onto the end of a radio spot, I smile wryly at the idea that they have met the letter of the law while entirely missing the point of consumer protection.  Years ago, I took my grandson to McD’s for a Happy Meal™, that included a toy. He opened the package, assembled the toy, then discarded it. “What’s the matter?” I asked. “It doesn’t work like on TV!”  he replied. Deceived! How sad.

Believer, do you use words honestly? Do you not quite lie, but attempt to create impressions that are not related to the real world in which you live?  It’s a spiritual issue, Jesus says. The text quoted above involves vows and promises, but has a wider application. What comes out of our mouth, because we are representatives of the King of Glory, is to be trustworthy.  Our lives and words are to be so aligned that we have the complete trust of others, rendering the for saying things like “I swear to God!” totally unnecessary.

When you speak do others pause and wonder if there is any need to search for hidden facts? Do they feel any need to deflate your words to find the truth lost in bluster or bluff?  James, who learned from his Master, Jesus, urges us to use plain speech.  “Since you know that God cares, let your language show it. Don’t add words like “I swear to God” to your own words. Don’t show your impatience by concocting oaths to hurry up God. Just say yes or no. Just say what is true. That way, your language can’t be used against you.” (James 5:12, The Message)

Authentic words come from the heart of the person who is at peace with God and herself, who is secure in His grace. Knowing His amazing grace and His love that surpasses any human love frees us to live in reality- the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly. Christians have no need for drama, nor do they desire to impress. They won’t cover up or puff up.  Jesus says they will go beyond the ‘legal’ use of words because they know God cannot be deceived by torrents of empty words. Let’s go beyond applying Jesus’ words to just what we say. Make the principle of authenticity part of all of your life so that you will honor the Lord by refusing all forms of exaggeration, dishonesty, and fluff; refusing to cultivate an image. Be the person who God, in His grace, has called you to be;  nothing more, nothing less.

The word from the Word is set in the context of Paul’s ministry. He was surrounded with preachers who polished their presentation to make themselves more than they were. Paul refused to do that. May his words encourage all of us to the choice for authenticity. “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every person’s conscience in the sight of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:1-2, NIV)

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Abba, I live in a world where words are cheap.
Protect my heart and mind from the devaluation of the gift You have given.
Secure me in Your love so that I can be authentic.
When I am tempted to adopt the ways of the world,
to try to impress or mislead, to shade meanings,
convict me and lead me to words that bring life and light.

Using the Psalm I pray, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14, NIV)

Amen

Truth’s sharp edge

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Remember that movie A Few Good Men? It is a story about a Marine who dies because of a code of discipline that is enforced too rigidly. In the trial of the senior officer, Colonel Jessup, (famously played by Jack Nicholson) the young lawyer, Daniel Kaffee, (played by Tom Cruise) exposes the Colonel’s false testimony by pressing him in cross-examination. He knows that if he goes for the man’s pride, he will likely get him to break. The movie’s most famous line comes from the moment when the Colonel’s contempt for the young lawyer boils over and he angrily shouts “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!”

The truth in life is often hard to handle, isn’t it? It is a lot easier to soften the edges, to blur the lines, to compromise or ignore the reality in which we live. In my reading from Matthew today, I came to this most difficult passage, one in which Jesus presses us to deal with sin. It is a passage subject to much misunderstanding if read without wisdom and prayerful discernment.  “You have heard that the law of Moses says, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust in his eye has already committed adultery with her in his heart. So if your eye—even if it is your good eye—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your hand—even if it is your stronger hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” (Matthew 5:27-30, NLT)

We like to think our thought life is our own, what goes on inside our head is of no concern to anybody. Jesus challenges that idea with His words about sexual desire and God’s way for those who are His disciples. He tells us that when we make others into objects for our own gratification, even if only inside our own head, we sin. Before I go on, let me say clearly that if taken out of the context of the full Gospel these verses can induce guilt and shame, self-loathing, and fear. I do not write that to rob the passage of impact! Jesus meant these words to hit us like a punch in the face to move us past our apathy.

The truth is direct, edgy. He says, that if we leer at another, reducing that person to body parts to feed our fantasies, we are sowing the seeds of our own moral destruction. With vivid metaphor He calls on us to deal ruthlessly with our desires, making no excuses for them. Does He actually intend that we blind or maim ourselves? No!  But, He does want us to get serious about developing a mind that is responsive to the Spirit of God and that will involve some choices that demand self-denial that hurts, really hurts.

Three things need to be said to give Jesus’ challenge a context for us.

First is that apart from a new birth, the Spirit’s gift of life, we cannot even hope to live the life that God desires in us.

No amount of moral striving, rigid self-discipline, or accountability can change a sinner into a saint. When we feel the heavy weight of conviction of the Spirit, we surrender to Christ, take the grace, and find ourselves being changed from the inside out.  The beacon of hope shines out of the truth that “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,” (Ephesians 2:6, NIV) “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:8-10, NIV)

Second, we need to feed our thoughts with healthy food!

Monday evening I turned on a movie that I thought would be an adventure in the world of international intrigue. Within 10 minutes, the lead character, who was being pursued by a lot of bad guys, had stabbed one through the eye, split open the head of another with an axe, and killed about a dozen more in various bloody ways, all graphically splattered across my 50” screen in my living room. The Holy Spirit spoke to me and asked me if I was going to spend the evening bathed in violence and I answered by turning off the story.

I tell you that as a simple illustration of a much more important truth. What you feed your mind will become the seeds of your thought-life. What is your playlist of music? Where does it take your thoughts? What do you read? How is that forming your ideas?  What plays on your television or smartphone?  Jesus’ words about cutting off our hand finds context in the content with which we feed our thoughts.

Third, worship is a powerful means of thought transformation!

True worship, both with other Christians and individually, brings us from the world and the immediate pressing issues into the realm of God’s Spirit and eternity.  A soul that is satisfied with worship is much less likely to give in to the lures of temptation.  Worship is a life that finds greatest worth in God. Worshipers adore Him, pursue Him, choose time with Him, make Him the priority because of love. David declares the truth – “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.” (Psalm 62:1-2, NIV)

When we fail to worship, we will inevitably find other ways to satisfy the soul’s hunger. When we learn to worship, often finding ourselves in His Presence, there we will find the inner life of the Spirit making us into people who overflow with goodness.

Are Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 hard? They are, but we can handle the Truth!

The word from the Word invites us to know the truth, live the truth, and find the freedom of the Truth. “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 John 2:1-6, NIV)

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How I Need You

Every day in Your hands
You were there before time began
Sovereign one I rest in Your plan
From the depths to the dawn
You are there Your promise is strong
I will trust with all that I am

 Jesus Jesus oh how I need You
You stay the same
You are good in Your ways
Jesus Jesus oh how I need You
You are enough
All my trust is in You Lord

 You fashioned me formed my heart
Search my soul and know every thought
Love so great but never too far
And through the storm You’re the calm
And every war You’ve already won
Life secure in Your loving arms

 You are powerful God above it all
I believe in You I believe in You
You do miracles the impossible
I believe in You I believe in You

Bethany Phillips | Chris Griffin | Micah Massey | Nicole McLean © 2018 Highlands Creative Publishing (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055

I’ll kill you!

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What do you do when that person takes advantage of you for the 100th time, making life so difficult? How do you deal with that person whose actions left you bleeding and broken?  At first, we probably will feel anger as  it rises in us like a storm, increasing in intensity. In the tempest, we might say things, perhaps even take actions, that are regrettable on reflection. Over time we may choose to settle into a simmering anger. It may show as hostility. It might lie just beneath the surface as a festering resentment. It may even morph into a kind of hatred, though we would find that hard to admit to ourselves.

Jesus has some direct words about our human relationships. On first reading they can seem hard, unyielding, impossible for ordinary human beings. He says, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:21-24, NIV)

Jesus also taught us that the basic choice we make in such times is to forgive. It isn’t an option! Jesus does not give disciples much wiggle room on the subject. In His model prayer there are these lines, “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12, NKJV) Would you want God to forgive you with the same attitude and effort that you have towards that person who has hurt you repeatedly? Jesus explains that we have the power of choice in the matter of forgiveness and that our decision to forgive really matters to God. He goes on to say, “In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part.” (Matthew 6:14-15, The Message)

If you’re ready to kill somebody (figuratively, not literally), consider these truths. Read all of them as they work together in the process of making us capable of genuine forgiveness.

Forgiveness begins with me, not the person who has offended me.
God extends the offer of forgiveness to us at His own expense and He initiates the process. We cannot be passive, waiting for someone to seek forgiveness. Followers of Christ pursue conflict resolution, at the same time. We will work at understanding our own anger, hurt, and offense- praying through those things and doing the spiritual and emotional work necessary to start towards forgiveness with the help of the Spirit. Then, we will be able to reach out graciously.

Forgiveness with God is not partial, nor conditional.

“He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  We cannot say we have forgiven if we hold onto the debt, build walls, or sabotage relationships.

Forgiveness is a process, not an event.
We offend God, He forgives…  again and again. Our sins are not to pile up. Instead, His desire is that we live close to Him, with no guilt, no shame, alienating us from His love. In our relationships, we must not wait ’til Christmas, or a birthday, or some family gathering – for example – to decide to ‘clean up’ the junk that has accumulated. We need to be forgiving, gently finding ways to keep our relationships with others close and safe and trusting. Because we live with ordinary mortals, they will fail and disappoint repeatedly, just as we do. We choose to continue to forgive.

Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation.
God offers forgiveness, but to live in peace with Him we must receive forgiveness and grace that leads to genuine repentance. In much the same way, developing a new relationship that is mutually beneficial requires the involvement of both parties, working together to find reconciliation and justice. However,  forgiveness is an individual choice to give our hurt, our sense of debt, to God and trust Him for perfect justice! In that choice, we release the other person and we discover freedom from our anger.

Are you feuding with someone, feeling offended by another’s actions, dealing with anxiety over an unresolved dispute?   How about praying about real forgiveness? It’s not easy, nor is it a ‘once and done’ moment. In the struggle to forgive you may find yourself praying in tears, asking the Holy Spirit to soften your heart. Tell Him how you feel, what you feel, why you think you’re feeling that way.  Ask Him to help you to be willing to give the offense and the offender to Him for His impartial judgment! He knows the motives, the reality of the situation better than you do. Trust!

Then, as Jesus teaches, begin to “bless those who curse you!”  You will find a new sweetness of spirit enveloping you, a sense of health overtaking you, a newly peaceful sleep pattern coming on your nights. In forgiveness you are like your Father in Heaven.

Here’s a word from the Word to ponder today.  It’s a story Jesus told about being forgiven and becoming one who forgives.  “Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No!” Jesus replied, “seventy times seven!” “For this reason, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. He couldn’t pay, so the king ordered that he, his wife, his children, and everything he had be sold to pay the debt. But the man fell down before the king and begged him, ‘Oh, sir, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ Then the king was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.

“But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment. His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and jailed until the debt could be paid in full. “When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him what had happened. Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ Then the angry king sent the man to prison until he had paid every penny. “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters in your heart.”
(Matthew 18:21-35, NLT)

___________

O Love That Will Not Let Me Go

(This hymn is one of profound faith that makes forgiveness possible.)

O love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in Thee.
I give Thee back the life I owe,
That in Thine ocean depths its flow,
May richer fuller be.

 O Light that followest all my way
I yield my flickering torch to Thee
My heart restores its borrowed ray
That in Thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter fairer be

 O joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to Thee.
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O cross that lifted up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from Thee.
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red,
Life that shall endless be.

Matheson, George / Peace, Albert Lister © Public Domain

Heart-deep?

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Growing up I was one of the ‘good’ kids. My parents expected me to live the way they taught, and for the most part, I did. I never got in trouble with the law, drank to excess, or used the drugs that were increasingly common in that era. My “Christianity” was, at least in my teen years, most about keeping the rules. Though I was a church-going kid, my relationships with the Lord was largely second-hand, a borrowed faith of my parents. I did what I was taught, mostly because of fear. Mixed into my motives for obedience there was a real desire to honor my Dad and Mom, whom I loved.  In truth, however, the state of my heart often did not match the way I looked to others. As I matured, my faith grew and what was mostly a ‘religious’ experience became an expression of devotion to the God I learned loved me. His love, as John says, reached me and I learned to love.

Key question for today is this –  Is your faith heart-deep, growing out of a desire to know and serve Jesus, or is it shaped by compliance with spiritual and moral rules to avoid a pained conscience or to gain approval from your church?

In my morning reading, these words of Jesus spoke to the importance of going beyond keeping rules, becoming a transformed person. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20, NIV)

Jesus says that those who desire to know Him, to enter into His life, will discover a whole-hearted love for God. “I warn you—unless you obey God better than the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees do, you can’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven at all! Pharisees were excellent rule-keepers! They studied the Law of Moses and wrote long lists of rules on how to live. Jesus, knowing their hearts, understand that their true motive had more to do with keeping it legal and looking good, than actually getting to know God. In a comical, yet pointed, criticism of their hypocrisy, He said of them, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” (Matthew 23:23-24, NIV)

Jesus addressed the formation of attitudes that lie beneath our actions.  Regarding the commandment not to murder, Jesus moved the line way back and told us that the issue was anger that led to contempt for another person. When we take the stance towards another that says – “You are a worthless individual,” it is an issue of concern to our Heavenly Father.  Regarding the commandment about adultery, Jesus said that an attitude that devalues another person, making him or her into an object to satisfy our lust is as much a concern to our Father as having sexual intercourse with someone who is not our spouse. He spoke of keeping our marriage commitment and corrected the error of the Pharisees who thought divorce was acceptable as long as the paperwork was in order! “You can’t use legal cover to mask a moral failure.” Jesus said. (Matthew 5:32, The Message) When it comes to our words, Jesus warned about abusing words in a way that allows us to make one impression while leaving ourselves wiggle room to do what we want to do.  We need to memorize this – “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:37, NIV)

When we reduce our Christianity to mere compliance with the commandments, the beautiful life of faith, rich in love and holiness, gets twisted into a fear-based religion that enslaves us to guilt and fear. The Gospel is not ‘do better, be better, get better.’  Christ came to save us from our sins, not by writing stricter rules for us, but by liberating us from the old cycle of fear and failure with love.  He is not lurking in the shadows alongside the road of life, like a cop in a speed trap; divine radar at the ready, waiting to catch us so He can issue a ticket to us. He is inviting us to know and treasure Him so that the lure of temptation that comes our way pales in comparison to the glory of His love.

Let’s really ‘enter the Kingdom.’ Let’s pray for the Spirit to help us to delight in the Lord, heart-deep. Paul says that we learn to ‘keep step with the Spirit.’  “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.” (Galatians 5:24-25, NLT)  Sons and daughters of the Heavenly Father, we are loved and led to lives that leave behind the idea of just ‘keeping it legal’ to discover the joy of His holiness.

Here is a word from the Word. I love the wisdom of the Spirit that encourages us to give ourselves without reservation to God, and reminds us that it is not outside in, but inside out, an overflow of that which is heart-deep. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1-2, NIV)

____________

Rescue Story

(Zach Williams sings this great song hope)

There I was empty handed
Crying out from the pit of my despair
There you were in the shadows
Holding out Your hand You met me there

 And now where would I be without You
Where would I be Jesus

You were the voice in the desert
Calling me out in the dead of night
Fighting my battles for me
You are my rescue story

Lifted me up from the ashes
You carried my soul from death to life
Bringing me from glory to glory
You are my rescue story

 You are You are
You are my rescue story

You are You are

 You were writing the pages
Before I had a name
Before I needed grace oh
Singing songs of redemption
‘Cause every time I ran away
You were louder than my shame

 You never gave up on me
You never gave up on me
You are my testimony oh

 You never give up on me
Oh You never give up on me
Oh this is my testimony oh

 You are You are
Oh You never gave up on me
Never gave up on me
You are You are
Yeah You are my rescue story

 Andrew Ripp | Ethan Hulse | Jonathan Smith | Zach Williams

© 2019 Anthems of Hope (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)

Be Essential Songs (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)

A salty soul

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I really like salt, not too much, but just enough. A little of it makes the whole pot of soup delicious. Light, well who can imagine living in the dark, all of the time? I’m loving the fact that the time of daylight is creeping back, earlier by a couple of minutes, each day, as we move through winter towards springtime.

Jesus reminds you and me that we have a vital role in this world. His disciples are not to be hidden away, out of sight, without influence. Here’s how He says it. “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13-16, NIV)

In His day, salt had a far greater importance in the food supply than merely adding flavor. Salt, combined with dehydration, allowed some foods to be stored by preserving the food from rot. Christians, filled with the Holy Spirit, have much the same role in society.  If they are doing what God wants them to do, they will make the world in which they live a better place. Challenging, isn’t it? There are tragic chapters in history where “Christians” who gained power used their influence to advance selfish gains, to do horrible things in the Name of Christ. But it is undeniable that much of the advance of human rights in the Western world came about as a result of the influence of godly men and women.

  • William Wilberforce spent most of his life battling slavery in England, often mocked and reviled, but tirelessly making the case that slavery was an evil that had to end.
  • Martin Luther raised his voice against a corrupt Church, insisting that it must return to the truth of “justification by faith,” rather than empowering an elite few to dispense salvation.
  • William Booth saw the grinding poverty in London’s slums and took his “Salvation Army” into the streets to preach Christ and changed thousands of lives.

Perhaps your faith won’t have those kinds of renowned results, but when it is authentic, deep, and uncompromising, it will have an effect on your family, your neighborhood, and your circle of friends. Just being there, modeling loving respect, steady faith, and real hope makes an eternal difference. We don’t have to preach loud sermons or hit people over the head with our Bibles in order to fulfil the ‘salt’ role of which Jesus speaks. We have to be present, active in faith, constant in prayer, and dedicated to His ways.

Our responsibility is to be light, our privilege to show the Way. It is Jesus to Whom we point, not religion, not a church’s dogma. The last line in the passage quoted above is a key truth. Meditate on it! When we are at our best as salt and light, we won’t necessarily win awards or have buildings named after us. We may do our work in obscurity, but inevitably others will see the results of our efforts and ‘praise our Father in Heaven.’  We – individually and as the Body of Christ – need to think hard about that! When we are present, even though we live against the flow of the culture, do people have a sense that the world is better for our being part of scene?  Do we lift others, infuse hope, model love, teach faith?

Paul knew that calling was a difficult one, requiring much more of him than he naturally could accomplish. Our word from the Word comes from his realization of his source of strength.  As you read it, pray that God will make you a salty Christian with an undeniable influence for good in your world, for the glory of God. To those who are perishing we are a fearful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved we are a life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for such a task as this? You see, we are not like those hucksters—and there are many of them—who preach just to make money. We preach God’s message with sincerity and with Christ’s authority. And we know that the God who sent us is watching us. Are we beginning again to tell you how good we are? …  We are confident of all this because of our great trust in God through Christ. It is not that we think we can do anything of lasting value by ourselves. Our only power and success come from God.” (2 Corinthians 2:16-3:5, NLT)

The change that comes through the influence of the godly man or woman is not finished in a day. It involves the witness of a lifetime.

Will you take the call to bring Jesus to your corner of the world?

___________

Take My Life And Let It Be (Hendon)

Take my life and let it be
Consecrated Lord to Thee
Take my moments and my days
Let them flow in ceaseless praise 

Take my hands and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love
Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee

 Take my will and make it Thine
It shall be no longer mine
Take my heart it is Thine own
It shall be Thy royal throne

 Take my love my Lord I pour
At Thy feet its treasure store
Take myself and I will be
Ever only all for Thee

Frances Ridley Havergal | Henri Abraham Cesar Malan © Words: Public Domain
Music: Public Domain

Sleeping with the lions?

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Here in America being a follower of Jesus is not going to cost your life. We might experience someone mocking our faith, or we might be left out by some who reject us for loving Him, but we won’t be imprisoned or threatened with death. In 2020 there are places in the world where you can get killed for publicly speaking the Name. Martyrdom is not just something of ages past. What about that?

In readings from Matthew we come to these lines- “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 who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12, NIV)

One of the Old Testament heroes was a godly man in a pagan culture who lived with excellence and devotion. He was rewarded with places of leadership in the Babylonian court but his prominence could not protect him from the haters! You remember the story about Daniel’s night in the lion’s den, don’t you?

I was about 4 years of age in a little Sunday room in a country church when our teacher told us the story using cut-out pictures. We learned about Daniel’s faithfulness to God, about his prayers, and the terrible people who hated him so much that they conspired to have him tossed to the lions. Mrs. Hoferman told it with such passion that my heart pounded and I wondered if “that good man get eaten?”   And, indeed, God showed up to shut the mouths of the lions. Daniel emerged from the danger like a conquering hero.  “Yea!” I cheered.  Faith grew in me and I learned to trust the Lord.

There is another lesson that emerges from the story too subtle for a little child.  God allowed Daniel to enter the lion’s den for a greater purpose. Temporarily, evil seemed to win. He spend a long night alone with lion’s snarling and snapping an arm’s length away!  But, Daniel’s integrity was so notable, his faith so unquestionable, that even the pagan king shared his hope!  “The king caved in and ordered Daniel brought and thrown into the lions’ den. But he said to Daniel, “Your God, to whom you are so loyal, is going to get you out of this.”  … “At daybreak the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den. As he approached the den, he called out anxiously, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve so loyally, saved you from the lions?”  (Daniel 6:19-20, The Message)

The real hero of this story is not Daniel, is it?  The Almighty God is the One who gets the glory when the deliverance comes.

Those who suffer for Christ Jesus, who get tossed to the lions, so to speak, are not forgotten by God, nor are they inferior in faith. God uses those situations to deepen their faith and to bring glory to Himself.  When we whine and beg for an easier place, or protest angrily, we may miss the purpose of persecution.

Are you living in the lion’s den of life right now? Has the Lord, your loving Father, allowed you to live with suffering, or defeat, or circumstances that defy your best efforts to turn them around?

 Pray for rescue!  But, also remember that it may be His will to leave you there for a long night, for His own purposes.  “Come on, Jerry, that is not fair.”  Yes, I understand that and I weep with you. I am familiar with disappointment, with struggle, and I know that it is hard to wait, to trust, and to keep praying with faith for God’s glory to be revealed. Sometimes we just want relief, don’t we?  But, often the greater victory is not the one we seek.

Peter wrote to the first generation of Christians who were being intensely persecuted. His words would not go over well in our American churches where we like the “Sunday School” version of life where good guys always win and every difficulty turns into deliverance when God’s people pray. – “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” (1 Peter 4:19, NIV)

Here is a word from the Word. Let it inspire you to trust Jesus’ words about being blessed when persecuted for right living. If you are in the Lion’s Den, hold onto this word.

“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.”“Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life.” (James 1:2-4, 12, The Message)

“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 who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12, NIV)
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Stand In Your Love

When darkness tries to roll over my bones
When sorrow comes to steal the joy I own
When brokenness and pain is all I know
I won’t be shaken I won’t be shaken

 My fear doesn’t stand a chance
When I stand in Your love (repeat) 

Shame no longer has a place to hide
I am not a captive to the lies
I’m not afraid to leave my past behind
I won’t be shaken I won’t be shaken 

There’s power that can break off every chain
There’s power that can empty out a grave
There’s resurrection power that can save
There’s power in Your name power in Your name

 Standing in Your love

Ethan Hulse | Josh Baldwin | Mark Harris | Rita Springer © 2018 Be Essential Songs (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC) EGH Music Publishing (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC) Gateway Create Publishing (Fair Trade Music Publishing [c/o Essential Music Publishing LLC])

CCLI License # 810055

 

Angry enough to go to war?

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On Monday evening, I went to see 1917 a new film about the horrors of the First World War.  The images on the screen brought home, again, the illogical nature of warfare as a means of settling disputes, yet it keeps on happening. Conflict is as old as humanity. Families fight, political parties fight, nations go to war!

Ever had a “difference of opinion” with someone that escalated beyond annoyance into a prolonged fight?  It shades life a kind of gray, steals joy, and makes one weary, doesn’t it? Yesterday I found myself with a broken heart as I remembered a friend who, for his own reasons, severed our long-time relationship, deciding apparently that what divided us was greater than what we shared for 10 years. I longed to sit and ask him if the issue actually demanded ending a friendship that brought so much joy to both of us in the past?

My reading in Matthew today included this challenging sentence – “God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9, NLT)
It is true that we will  find things over which we differ – some of real consequence. If we are passionate about the issue, finding a way forward can seem an impossibility. Differences often escalate into an argument.  Arguments turn into attacks, attacks end relationships.   Couples who were once deeply in love find themselves in a lawyer’s office planning a divorce. Christians who were allies for the Kingdom of Christ  no longer even speak. Neighbors move away, never speaking again.  Nations raise armies for war.

When the war is over, when reason has returned, often we wonder, “how did it come to this?”

Let’s back up for a moment. Too many times the things over which we fight are not really about principles or even convictions. We get angry because someone steps on our toes. For the Christian, the real failure is not having different ideas, but refusing to work at understanding and reconciliation. Followers of Christ are called to resolve conflict, to seek peace.   We approach those inevitable disagreements differently. Most of the time, there is some exercise of power that is used to make the other guy see things ‘my way.’  But, the Kingdom of God never advances on the strength of guns or fists or even bellicose words!

Scripture directs us to approach others, even those with whom we differ, this way: “Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Always keep yourselves united in the Holy Spirit, and bind yourselves together with peace. We are all one body, we have the same Spirit, and we have all been called to the same glorious future.” (Ephesians 4:1-4, NLT) What a practical passage, but full of challenging concepts: humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance!

Never under-estimate the power of prayer when working through a conflict, be it in your marriage, at work, with a neighbor, in your family, or in the world! What kind of prayers do we pray?  The natural tendency is to ask the Lord to change the other person.  Have you ever prayed something like this?  “Lord, change him. Help him to see how wrong he is.”  Or, maybe you have even thought to pray, “Lord, help him to see he is an idiot!” Perhaps not with those words, but was the sentiment similar?

Our prayers need to mature beyond “help them to see how right I am” to “Lord, open my ears and my heart. Help me to listen. Be our peace.”  Jesus taught us that resolution begins with kind of prayer: “Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.” (Luke 6:28, KJV)  The Message says, “When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person.” 

Conflict makes us angry and anger is not generally the field in which reconciliation grows, is it?  “Angry?” the Bible asks, “Then, don’t sin!”  Instead bring your true emotions to the Lord. Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you through the process of understanding and patience. Confession of our own sins and failures is the foundation of forgiveness that leads to peace.  Peace-making does not mean that we give up on the truth or wave the flag of surrender to purchase peace at any price.

God asks us to keep pursuing active love, to do good to those who oppose us, while we patiently allow the truth to mature.  An amazing thing happens when we wait on the Lord in this way.  We change! Humility is a key. Dying to self means we give up our desire to be comfortable – either by walking off or exercising power to win! In constant prayer, we lay ourselves down before Him. When we surrender to Him, the Spirit comes with new life, new love, new peace.

Never forget that just as we can ‘wage war,’ we can ‘make peace!’

Here’s a word from the Word.  “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, The Message)

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The Paradoxical Commandments

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

© Copyright Kent M. Keith 1968, renewed 2001

Is purity possible?

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My reading in Matthew’s Gospel stopped this morning at this one line from Jesus’ words about discovering true joy- “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8, NIV) What is this thing that Jesus speaks about here? It is an inner life that is not corrupted by mixed motives, the core of a life that is made clean of guilt and shame, a sincere love for God and good. Those pure in heart can love without getting tangled up in lust. Those pure in heart can give without twisting generosity into a means of manipulation. The pure in heart trust God completely even as they wrestle with real life problems and challenges.

Have you confused purity in the same way that the Pharisees of Jesus’ time did?  They attempted to find purity by writing detailed rules for life and living, as much as possible, in isolation from the rest of their society. By avoiding those they considered ‘contaminated’ they thought they could find and preserve their own purity. As they walked the streets they held their robes close to prevent them from brushing against the `ordinary sinners’ among whom they lived. Did it work? Apparently not. Jesus used strong language to point out their hypocrisy, calling them ‘whitewashed tombs, glistening on the outside but full of dead men’s bones.’  Not exactly a description of a pure heart, is it?

The pure in heart are filled with the Spirit of God and they are to be like `salt and light.’ We think of salt primarily as a flavor. Jesus used the metaphor of salt in the way it most valued in His time- as a preservative. The pure in heart who have found their place in Him are not corrupted by being part of their world, they actually make it better!  He explained further that just like we don’t light a lamp only to put it under a basket, carrying it to a room to dispel the darkness, so those who knew God heart-deep take the Light to a dark world so others can find their way.

I want a pure heart! Jesus promises that “the pure in heart, … will see God.” (Matthew 5:8, NIV) To understand this as only a promise of heaven is to miss a huge part of the blessing. In The Message, the larger intent of His words emerges. “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.” When our thoughts, motives, words and actions are aligned with God’s truth, we find a new kind of vision that sees God at work in every day places. We also know the uniquely wonderful joy of living without hiding, without the need to pretend or pose.  Yes, that transparency gives us new eyes that ‘see God,’ that is, know Him intimately.

How can we gain a pure heart? We begin, as David, with a prayer for change. “Cleanse me … and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. … Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:7,10, NIV)  When we know that we have failed or fallen, we turn to Him, honest in our confession. He will not reject us, turn from us, abandon us. He gives us the heart of Jesus, washing us. The Word says “There was a time when some of you were just like that, but now your sins have been washed away, and you have been set apart for God. You have been made right with God because of what the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God have done for you.” (1 Corinthians 6:11, NLT)

True purity is beautiful thing not reserved only for children, little church ladies, and old men! It grows in us when we take time to commune with our holy Father because purity is not just an absence, it is God’s wholeness in us.  Pray for purity and then allow the Spirit to lead you away from dirt and corruption, to become whole, transparent, and filled with the life of Jesus.

Here’s a word from Word. May the Lord make it like a purifying flame that causes a godly beauty in us. “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. … And this is the word that was preached to you. Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” (1 Peter 1:22-2:2, NIV)

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8, NIV)
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Who You Say I Am
(Worship with this song that sets our sights higher)

Who am I that the highest King
Would welcome me
I was lost but He brought me in
Oh His love for me
Oh His love for me

 Who the Son sets free
Oh is free indeed
I’m a child of God
Yes I am

 Free at last
He has ransomed me
His grace runs deep
While I was a slave to sin
Jesus died for me
Yes He died for me

 In my Father’s house
There’s a place for me
I’m a child of God
Yes I am

 I am chosen not forsaken
I am who You say I am
You are for me not against me
I am who You say I am

 (Oh) (Yes) I am who You say I am

Ben Fielding | Reuben Morgan © 2017 Hillsong Music Publishing Australia (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

 

Well, she made her bed

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Ours is a culture that knows little about mercy. “Giv’em what they deserve,” we insist. American jails and prisons are full to overflowing. Our political system is in a state of constant war, the ‘win’ valued over seeing the issues through the eyes of the other guy. We seem to take a perverse delight in the fall and/or destruction of the famous, the powerful.

In a conversation I was talking about someone whose life was really broken, full of dysfunctional behaviors, and what could be done to help changes things. A younger person spoke up with words I might have spoken myself a couple of decades ago. They were harsh, perhaps true, but without compassion or mercy. Their words threw blame back on that individual who was so broken.  As I walked away, I felt such sorrow.  A breathed a silent prayer, asking God to forgive the judgment, to give a tender heart that was willing to enter into the experience of another even at cost to himself.

What is mercy? It is showing another compassion or forgiveness when it is without your ability to punish or condemn them. It goes beyond withholding judgment out of politeness as in thinking ‘what an idiot’ but not saying it aloud. Mercy causes a person to consider the needs of the other, to actively pursue the best interest of one that may well justly deserve anger or rejection.  Mercy is not to be confused with being naïve or incapable of facing reality like a grandmother who just cannot face up to the truth about her beloved grandson who is actually a brat for whom she makes all kinds of excuses.

“But, Jerry, I love justice! I want the score settled, bad guys put in their place.” Yes, justice is good, but our ‘justice’ is frequently flawed, often colored by self-interest, or fails to account for the context of the actions of another. We need to think about the possibility of redemption or change. We get angry when someone is unkind, or selfish, or hurtful and we want them to pay … except that Jesus calls us to be different. Are you full of mercy? Jesus says that it is a pathway to joy! “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matthew 5:7, NIV)

The mercy to which God calls us is modeled after His own. He knows us inside out, seeing our core motives, knowing even our ‘secret’ sins. And He holds out hope and renewal. “Where is another God like you, who pardons the sins of the survivors among his people? You cannot stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing mercy. Once again you will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean!” (Micah 7:18-19, NLT)

If we keep a careful record of every slight, every hurt, refusing to be merciful – we become a captive of anger, turning into a sour, cynical individual. No wonder Jesus tells us mercy is a choice that leads to ‘blessedness.’

On this Monday morning, listen to your words, inventory your thoughts. Are they harsh? Are you a critic? Do you blame and judge frequently?

Our word from the Word calls us, in the Spirit, to a new way. “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do your part to live in peace with everyone, as much as possible. Dear friends, never avenge yourselves. Leave that to God. For it is written, “I will take vengeance; I will repay those who deserve it,” says the Lord.

Instead, do what the Scriptures say: “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink, and they will be ashamed of what they have done to you.” Don’t let evil get the best of you, but conquer evil by doing good.” (Romans 12:17-21, NLT)

Father, help us! It’s hard to let You judge, to release those who hurt us from our condemnation. Teach us to be merciful. In Jesus’ name. Amen
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Good, Good Father

(Casting Crowns sings a great song about God’s love)

I’ve heard a thousand stories
Of what they think You’re like
But I’ve heard the tender whisper
Of love in the dead of night
You tell me that You’re pleased
And that I’m never alone

 You’re a Good Good Father
It’s who You are
It’s who You are
It’s who You are
And I’m loved by You
It’s who I am
It’s who I am
It’s who I am

 I’ve seen many searching for answers
Far and wide
But I know we’re all searching for answers
Only You provide
Because You know just what we need
Before we say a word

 You are perfect in all of Your ways
You are perfect in all of Your ways
You are perfect in all of Your ways to us

 Love so undeniable I can hardly speak
Peace so unexplainable I can hardly think
As You call me deeper still
As You call me deeper still
As You call me deeper still
Into love love love

 Anthony Brown | Pat Barrett © 2014 Capitol CMG Paragon (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

Common Hymnal Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

Housefires Sounds (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

Hungry?

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About a month ago, I decided to lose some weight so I have taken note of the quantity and quality of the food I put into my mouth! I miss those snacks, those sweet treats, those salty chips. But I am moving towards my goal as one surely will when fewer calories are consumed. There is another benefit to getting rid of the junk food. Meals are more enjoyable because I develop a real hunger.  Sugary, fatty, salty stuff that adds so many calories to our diets also tend to dull our appetite for the bold flavors of vegetables and salads, don’t they?  I enjoy those leafy greens garnished with nuts or seeds, and brushed with a balsamic dressing.  Here’s a question for your thoughts – Is your soul being fed a ‘junk’ diet?

Are you filled up with sentimental religion, empty rituals, and quick fixes for life? Or worse even, are you trying to find spiritual satisfaction in owning things, chasing excitement, or making a name for yourself? Jesus says Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6, NIV)

Do you know what you’re hungering for, really? Solomon knew soul hunger and had the means to try everything on life’s plate in his pursuit of satisfaction.  After building cities, chasing women by the hundreds, bringing orchestras to entertain him, and gaining international fame- his frustration with it all boils over in the refrain of Ecclesiastes, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!”

He was empty, his soul still hungry. His advice?  “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them”—” (Ecclesiastes 12:1, NIV) He had reached old age and the things that once let him avoid the hunger pangs of the heart no longer met the need. He realized, with great regret, that he could have known true soul satisfaction in the Lord years before.

The righteousness that truly satisfies is not one that we create with own efforts at ‘goodness.’  When we attempt to construct our own sense of being right with God, looking at our morality, our acts of worship, trying to think devotional thoughts – we will come up wanting, realizing that they are just not enough. Millions have tried and failed to be ‘good enough for God.’

He offers us, through faith in Christ Jesus, what we cannot gain on our own- being right with Him through the grace gift of salvation – “so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:29-31, NIV)  We can find inner peace, knowing that He has completely provided for us that which we cannot reach for ourselves. He reconciles us to Himself. He justifies us, erasing shame and guilt. He gives us Christ’s righteousness. Our former sense of lack, our hunger for inner peace is deeply satisfied. “In its place you have clothed yourselves with a brand-new nature that is continually being renewed as you learn more and more about Christ, who created this new nature within you.” (Colossians 3:10, NLT)

Hungry? Turn to God!  Receive Christ, and pursue His ways.   Invite the Holy Spirit whet your appetite for the Word and for worship (which by the way does not just happen in church buildings) so that you will eat and be satisfied.

Here’s a word from the Word.  Read this line from Isaiah’s words thoughtfully:   “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.”  (Isaiah 55:1-3, NIV)

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Hungry

I’m falling on my knees
Offering all of me
Jesus You’re all this heart is living for 

Hungry I come to You for I know You satisfy
I am empty but I know Your love does not run dry

 So I wait for You, So I wait for You

 I’m falling on my knees
Offering all of me
Jesus You’re all this heart is living for

 Broken I run to You for Your arms are open wide
I am weary but I know Your touch restores my life

Kathryn Scott © 1999 Vineyard Songs (UK/Eire) (Vineyard Music UK)

CCLI License # 810055