Digging Wells, Taking Ownership

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Struggle is the common experience of humanity.  Even on our best days we know that we are a phone call away from tears, a slip away from pain, one breath from death. How then can we live with the peace of God that is promised to us?  Are there choices to be made to own His promises?  Yes, there are.  We do not give in to ‘fate.’ We are not just brave, holding back our tears or anger. God asks us to look to Him, even as we do the things that allow Him to strengthen us.

There is a principle found in Isaac’s story in Genesis 26.  Even as he prospered, he had to deal with difficulty. Pushed out of the land of the Philistines, he moved to the area where his father had lived. There he found the wells dug by Abraham filled in. That little detail is more than a footnote. In that time and place, a well for water gave permanence and signaled a claim of ownership. After the patriarch had died, the Philistines reasserted their claim to the land by throwing dirt and stones into those wells.  Isaac goes back, reopens them. But, he found resistance. So, he moved on to another valley where he thought he might settle – and he dug wells!

Here is a part of that chapter. “Isaac dug again the wells which were dug in the days of his father Abraham but had been clogged up by the Philistines after Abraham’s death. And he renamed them, using the original names his father had given them. One day, as Isaac’s servants were digging in the valley, they came on a well of spring water. The shepherds of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s shepherds, claiming, “This water is ours.” So Isaac named the well Esek (Quarrel) because they quarreled over it. They dug another well and there was a difference over that one also, so he named it Sitnah (Accusation). He went on from there and dug yet another well. But there was no fighting over this one so he named it Rehoboth (Wide-Open Spaces), saying, “Now God has given us plenty of space to spread out in the land.” From there he went up to Beer-sheba. That very night God appeared to him and said, I am the God of Abraham your father; don’t fear a thing because I’m with you. I’ll bless you and make your children flourish because of Abraham my servant. Isaac built an altar there and prayed, calling on God by name. He pitched his tent and his servants started digging another well.” (Genesis 26:18-25, The Message)  That well he named Shebah, which meant “oath.” He claimed God’s promise and chose to live in the covenant with God first known by his father, Abraham.

Isaac, though blessed and a son of God’s promise, had to dig wells which became symbolic of his search for God’s provision. He did not just pray and hope, nor did he pine for what could have been. He chose to work to own the promise. And, so must we!  When enemies attack you, seek refreshing from the Spirit. When Satan resists, return to your true Source.  When you are tired or discouraged, maybe even confused by the circumstances of life, find a place to settle in God and dig a well from which His Living Water can flow into your life.

In the middle of a hostile world, in times when struggle and conflict abound, go often to God’s Presence. Make the choice to pray, not timidly, but with desire to know Him. Enter into worship – alone each day and with others in gatherings of His Church. Open the Scripture and find renewal.  Yes, dig a well and declare that you are an owner of God’s promise to save you from sin, to keep you from temptation, to provide all that you need, and to give you life abundant and eternal.

Here is a word from the Word. Make it the meditation of your heart and mind today. Dig in and own the promise of His provision.

In that day you will say: “I will praise you, O LORD.
Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me.
Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid.
The LORD, the LORD, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.”

 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

 In that day you will say: “Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name;
make known among the nations what he has done,
and proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing to the LORD, for he has done glorious things;
let this be known to all the world.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion,
for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.”
(Isaiah 12, NIV)
__________

Come Thou Fount of ev’ry blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet
Sung by flaming tongues above
Praise the mount I’m fixed upon it
Mount of Thy redeeming love

  • Public domain

Trades and Transactions

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And so Esau despised his birthright.”  The story intrigued me as I read it this morning. Twin boys were born to Isaac and Rebekah; Esau and Jacob. Esau, as the firstborn, had the promise and privilege of becoming head of the family later in life. Genesis 25 tells us about a fateful day when he gave it all away for a bowl of soup! Coming in from a long hunt and hungry, he smelled supper prepared by Jacob. He asked to eat and his brother took advantage of him. “Jacob said, “Make me a trade: my stew for your rights as the firstborn.” Esau said, “I’m starving! What good is a birthright if I’m dead?” Jacob said, “First, swear to me.” And he did it. On oath Esau traded away his rights as the firstborn.” (Genesis 25:31-33, The Message)

Esau’s choice is not uncommon. Eve gave up her place with God for a piece of forbidden fruit. Samson abandoned his holy calling, seduced by sensuality. David sold his integrity to enjoy Bathsheba’s beauty. Judas traded his place for 30 pieces of silver. Peter denied the Lord to gain security when he was full of fear.

In the book of Hebrews, the Spirit makes Esau an example for all of us.  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 12:16-17, The Message)  We were created in the image of God, made to know and love Him. The sin that had robbed us of that heritage was forgiven in Christ and when we came to Him in faith, He made us ‘children of God.’  But a daily decision of faith is required to own our heavenly birthright.

We are all making transactions every day. We trade time and effort for treasure. The BIG question is “What do we treasure?”  Do you treasure your relationship with your Father, or is it possible that you are ready to ‘sell out’ for lesser things?   Owning the full promise of God requires that we see beyond today and reject the temptation of lesser things. ’  I am encouraged by Peter who reminds me that I am called higher and empowered by the Holy Spirit. “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” (2 Peter 1:3-4, NIV)

The story of Esau is a life lesson for every disciple.

  1. You will only know the rich blessing of God if you value what He offers.
  2. Little choices have big consequences.
  3. Bids for your soul, your integrity, are being made right now.

Before you go your way this morning, I want to remind you that the choice of Esau need not be your choice and that you are NOT facing your temptation alone.

Here is a word from the Word. Receive it with faith and go discover the plan and purpose of the Spirit today.  “We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish. He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterward. Now he is seated in the place of highest honor beside God’s throne in heaven. Think about all he endured when sinful people did such terrible things to him, so that you don’t become weary and give up.” (Hebrews 12:2-3, NLT)  “No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it is painful! But afterward there will be a quiet harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.” (Hebrews 12:11, NLT)

Abba, I am grateful for the high calling of knowing Jesus and
the restoration of my relationship with You.
Today I face many transactions, trades of myself and my resources.
Give me the wisdom to buy the best, to see beyond my own needs.

 Help me to live selflessly, to pursue Your will.
May You be honored and my life enriched – by my thoughts, words, and actions.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen

 

No Monday Let-down!

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It’s Monday after Easter and my heart is full of joy. The song echoes in my mind of the Mystery of our Lord. “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again… Celebrate His death and rising… Lift your eyes!”  Around me in the church, I heard voices rise in holy worship. As our hearts and the Spirit met in faith, the stresses of life were eclipsed by the joy of the Lord. No wonder we call that part of the church building a ‘sanctuary.’  As we worship, we feel eternity in our being, finding refuge and renewal!

We may not maintain the excitement that the celebration brings, BUT we can be sustained by the Truth that remains. God is the same this morning as He was on Easter Sunday morning. The beautiful songs, the flowers, the crowds, create holy expectation. Let’s not let that go! Just as came to Resurrection Sunday with our minds prepared to rejoice, let’s meet Monday with the assurance that He is still Lord, that His life is ours.

Monday, what do we expect of this day?
Are we open to the Spirit’s mystery?
Will we, in our prayers and with faith, be receptive to the grace He has for Monday mornings?

God does not only speak on Sunday or live in the church. The Holy Spirit is not defined by place or holy day! He is with us everywhere. Jesus illustrates the holy connection that allows us to hold onto the joy with the vine and the branch picture. He says, “Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me. “I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing.” (John 15:4-5, The Message) Ah, there it is!

We cannot hold onto a feeling, but we can stay connected in faith. That connection to Him allows the Spirit to work in us, to keep us, to fill us with holy joy! This day after Easter, don’t leave Jesus at home. Don’t just slide back into drudgery, into a dutiful and joyless Christianity. Eagerly ask, “what’s next, Lord?”

Here’s a word from the Word. “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.” (Colossians 3:1-4, The Message)

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MYSTERY
(celebrate the faith!)

Sweet Jesus Christ, my clarity.
Sweet Jesus Christ, my sanity.
Bread of heaven, broken for me,
Cup of salvation held up to drink.

Jesus – Mystery.

Christ has died, and
Christ is risen,
and Christ will come again!

Celebrate his death and rising!
Lift your eyes! Proclaim his coming!

Jesus – Mystery!

Mystery
Charlie Hall
SixSteps Music, Worship Together
CCLI License No. 810055

 

If you would like to watch our worship again, or download the audio, you can visit our podcast link –

EASTER 2019 Worship

For Those Of Us Who Fail

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Right in the middle of the earthshaking drama of Holy Week, while Jesus is moving toward His amazing work on the Cross, there is Peter’s story. The blustery leader of the disciples is swept up in the emotions at the Last Supper. Who wouldn’t be? He wants to protect the Man he has followed, the One in whom he has found purpose and hope.  All the talk about dying and leaving rattles Peter and he rises in protest.

When Jesus tried to caution him about his weaknesses, he insists he is ready to ‘go to prison or death’ for Jesus. The Lord sadly tells him that he will not be a hero, that he will fail spectacularly. I am encouraged by what Jesus added:  “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:32, NIV)

A few hours later, in the courtyard of the high priest’s home, while Jesus is being interrogated, Peter’s courage fails. When he was pressed about his relationship with the Lord, he broke. “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” (Luke 22:60-61, NIV) Even reading those words make me tear up. “Oh, Peter, you’re going to hate yourself!”

Are there any episodes in your life that you wish you could erase, memories that make you cringe? At a critical moment, did your faith fail; did you make a self-preserving choice that you now regret? Let me shout what I know from Peter’s story and from my own experience of God’s grace- it’s not over, you’re not finished, God has not discarded you as worthless. I am not minimizing failure, but I am extolling the scandalous nature of God’s grace. He does not just love the beautiful people or use those with perfect records. Much as we might try to deny it, the truth is that ‘all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.’

Peter’s story takes an unexpected turn a few weeks later, the ‘rest of the story’ told in the Gospel of John.  On the shore of the lake in Galilee, Jesus met Peter at a fire where they shared breakfast and renewal. Jesus walked him backed to the night of his failures and pointedly asked, “Do you love Me?” – not once, but three times. With each affirmation of love, Jesus told Peter to go and take care of the ‘sheep.’  Peter found new faith, returned to Jerusalem, and after Pentecost, he was a new man, full of the authority and power of the Holy Spirit.

Peter’s testimony of faith and renewal was compelling then and now.  “I was the one who fell on his face when the Lord needed me. I was the one who missed the point of the lessons – but He loved me still and restored me. Now, He’ll do the same for you!” The broken, the failing, the hopeless heard a word of hope in his testimony and turned to follow the Lord. He embraced the Lord’s command – “Peter, strengthen your brothers!”

Don’t gloss over that failure. Forget making excuses for that fall. Stop trying to justify yourself. Instead, find yourself at the feet of Jesus where there is grace, healing, and renewal. Take Peter’s example for yourself. Get right with God. Confess the sin, find forgiveness, let the Spirit do His restoration work, then strengthen your brothers!

Here’s a word from the Word. Peter was inspired to share this promise with us. It reads so powerfully against the background of his failure and restoration. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. … And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” (1 Peter 5:6,10, NIV)

You’re invited to our remembrance of Jesus’ gift of grace – Good Friday, 7 pm;
And to our celebration of the Resurrection – 10 am, Easter Sunday.

Https://FaithDiscovery.com

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Living Hope
(No more despair, because there is LIVING HOPE)

How great the chasm that lay between us
How high the mountain I could not climb
In desperation I turned to heaven
And spoke Your name into the night
Then through the darkness Your loving-kindness
Tore through the shadows of my soul
The work is finished the end is written
Jesus Christ my living hope

 Who could imagine so great a mercy
What heart could fathom such boundless grace
The God of ages stepped down from glory
To wear my sin and bear my shame
The cross has spoken I am forgiven
The King of kings calls me His own
Beautiful Savior I’m Yours forever
Jesus Christ my living hope 

Hallelujah praise the One who set me free
Hallelujah death has lost its grip on me
You have broken every chain
There’s salvation in Your name
Jesus Christ my living hope

 Then came the morning that sealed the promise
Your buried body began to breathe
Out of the silence the Roaring Lion
Declared the grave has no claim on me (REPEAT)

Jesus Yours is the victory
Jesus Christ my living hope
Oh God You are my living hope

Brian Johnson | Phil Wickham © 2017 Phil Wickham Music (Fair Trade Music Publishing [c/o Essential Music Publishing LLC]) Simply Global Songs (Fair Trade Music Publishing [c/o Essential Music Publishing LLC]) Sing My Songs (Fair Trade Music Publishing [c/o Essential Music Publishing LLC]) CCLI License # 810055

That beautiful thing that is so rare

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One of the most precious memories of my late wife are her prayers for me! How many times in the night, when I awakened in a struggle with some issue in ministry, she would put her hand on my forehead and pray for the Spirit to make His peace mine, His wisdom my guide. After she died, I found journals that included little written snippets of prayer and Scripture that she offered for me. What a treasure those prayers were and are.  But there is Another whose prayers for me (and you!) are of inestimable worth – Jesus!

In John 17, one of Jesus’ prayer for us is written down.  He was hours from His own intense sacrifice of reconciliation at the Cross, knowing the anguish that was before Him. And, we were foremost in His mind.  He does not ask the Father to make us rich, to give us lives of ease. He prays for us to be filled with the knowledge of the Father’s will, to be made uniquely useful to His purposes, and then He prays this prayer that is so poignant, and so often goes ignored among Christians.

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23, NIV)  Yes, He prays that we (Christians) will be of one heart, working and living together, to reveal God’s amazing love to our world. Truth be told, we have mostly failed miserably to accept the grace of that prayer, have we not?

Human history is one long tragedy of conflict, war, one group seeking advantage over another. Empires rise and fall on oceans of blood. Individuals push to be first, scheming and conniving for power. It can be seen in families, among children in school yards, in corporations, in politics, and saddest of all – in the church of Jesus Christ. When those outside of Christ look inside and see people playing the same power games, taking the same kinds of offense, using positions for personal enrichment like every where else in the world, many conclude that the Gospel is a fraud. The Name of Jesus is disgraced by our failure to love. Why is it so hard for us to understand Satan’s strategy to keep us from our mission is to “Divide and conquer?”  When we dig in and defend our positions, attacking those who are our brothers, those angry divisions, Paul says, always “give the devil a foothold” (Eph. 4:27).  We are quick to note the sins of lust and greed, but what of these:  “discord,” “dissensions” and “factions” (Gal. 5:20)?

Christians often hide their arguments behind protests of doctrinal purity but the Word says otherwise. Fighting is a sign of weakness in faith, of a mind that is not yet grasped the principles of Christ, that still is working on the power principles of the world.  Listen to Paul’s rebuke of the Corinthians who thought they were protecting God’s work, even as they destroyed it. “For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly?” (1 Cor. 3:3).

So, where does unity come from?  It is an evidence of the supernatural experience of the Love of God that causes us to love people more than our program or agenda. We cannot make ourselves ‘nice.’  The Spirit can, if we allow Him, make us loving. That love, “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:7, NIV)  Paul Thigpen observes – “Unity is not a matter of homogeneity, (being the same) but of harmony. Christians are not all to be alike, but they must find ways to integrate their differences into a symphonic whole—to create a singleness of spirit, of identity, and of purpose whose unifying center is Christ.” (Discipleship Journal  : Issue 101. 1999)

In this Resurrection week, would you join me in praying that prayer of Jesus?
Father, make us one; bring us to complete unity … so that others will know” the grace of Jesus and turn to God.

Here is a word from the Word.  My prayer is that my mind will submit to the truth of it for the glory of God. “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:2-6, NIV)

________

O Come To The Altar

(the place to find healing and hope for unity)

Are you hurting and broken within
Overwhelmed by the weight of your sin
Jesus is calling
Have you come to the end of yourself
Do you thirst for a drink from the well
Jesus is calling

 O come to the altar
The Father’s arms are open wide
Forgiveness was bought with
The precious blood of Jesus Christ

 Leave behind your regrets and mistakes
Come today there’s no reason to wait
Jesus is calling
Bring your sorrows and trade them for joy
From the ashes a new life is born
Jesus is calling

 Oh what a Savior
Isn’t he wonderful
Sing alleluia Christ is risen
Bow down before him
For he is Lord of all
Sing alleluia Christ is risen

 Bear your cross as you wait for the crown
Tell the world of the treasure you’ve found 

Chris Brown | Mack Brock | Steven Furtick | Wade Joye © 2015 Music by Elevation Worship Publishing (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)

CCLI License # 810055

When the church burns

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The world paused yesterday to collectively gasp, then to mourn, as the beautiful cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris burned. 2 centuries in the making and standing as a marker of creativity and devotion for 7 centuries since,  the loss is beyond calculating. Even those of no Christian faith felt sorrow at the destruction of the church which stood at the center of the city, a place where kings were crowned, the famed buried, and faith was celebrated.

As I watched the news story, I was reminded of the transitory nature of the things of this world and the eternal nature of the true Church, the Body of Christ. My shock and sorrow was tempered by the solemn realization that Christ is greater than His churches!

We grow so attached to our holy places, our churches, our homes for worship – be they cathedrals in the city or chapels along a country lane. That is not a sin! After all, the devout experience the collective gathering of God’s people in those buildings. They mark the passages of life – birth, marriage, baptism, death – there. Then, the church building burns and we realize that as much as we love our ‘places’ our faith is larger and more enduring than the buildings in which we gather.

My own Christian journey includes several churches along the way, places where I met Jesus and the Spirit in worship, where I found love and encouragement in the faith. I visited the little chapel that was the church of my childhood last Summer and was shocked to find it a ruin, the roof collapsed, trees growing in the rubble! (It was no cathedral, to be sure.) Did that destroy my faith? Of course not. The echoes of the worship remain and the patterns of faith laid down there continue in me.  Another church that was pivotal in my past fell apart as people forgot Who they gathered to know and serve. As they fought, one by one people left the place and now the doors are closed. But, the seeds sown in my heart still are fruitful!

The Words says, “Fix your eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of your faith.” He is the enduring center of our worship. Building will come and go. Congregations will grow and falter. Movements will arise, thrive, and die but the Gospel of Christ will continue until the Father says, “It’s time for the fullness of the Kingdom!”

Ultimately these temples of the Spirit, our bodies, will die, too! But, then there is glory unimaginable. Build your life on the lasting hope of Jesus, laying up treasure in that place “where moth and rust do not corrupt and thieves cannot steal.”

Here is a word from the Word. May it, though stark, encourage us to a right perspective.
“For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down
—when we die and leave these bodies—
we will have a home in heaven, an eternal body made for us by
God himself and not by human hands.

We grow weary in our present bodies,
and we long for the day when we will
put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing.

 For we will not be spirits without bodies,
but we will put on new heavenly bodies.
Our dying bodies make us groan and sigh,
but it’s not that we want to die and have no bodies at all.
We want to slip into our new bodies
so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by everlasting life.
God himself has prepared us for this,
and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.

So we are always confident,
even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies
we are not at home with the Lord.
That is why we live by believing and not by seeing.”
(2 Corinthians 5:1-7, NLT)

_______

The Church’s one foundation is
Jesus Christ, Her Lord.
She is His new creation by water and the Word.
From heav’n He came and sought her
To be His holy bride
With His own blood He bought her
And for her life He died

Elect from every nation
Yet one o’er all the earth
Her charter of salvation
One Lord one faith one birth
One holy name she blesses
Partakes one holy food
And to one hope she presses
With every grace endued

Samuel Wesley, Public Domain

All that God has planned

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One of the innovations of our time that I find incredibly useful is the GPS guidance system included with my phone!  “Google, give me driving directions to … “  and the system will take me along the fastest route to my destination;  IF I pay attention to it. A few times I have turned down the volume and realized, too late, that I missed a turn. I’ll still get where I am going, but a new route is required, longer and slower.

Do you know that God, the Holy Spirit, desires to guide you, that He will lead you through life?  But, if we are not paying attention, or worse, when we think we know better – we can miss out on His plan.

Jesus, at the beginning of what we call “Holy Week,” lamented a missed opportunity brought on by His people’s deafness, their inability to hear the voice of God. Luke says, “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (Luke 19:41-44, NIV)  40 years later Jerusalem was destroyed, leveled by Rome, in response to a rebellion.  Jesus wept, knowing His people were missing their Savior, their peace that He brought.

What opportunities does God have prepared for you?
How is He inviting you to change course, to find grace, to discover new purpose?
Are you able to discern the leading of the Spirit?

We need not be rebellious or engaged in some terrible evil to miss out on Gods’ best.  His guidance can be lost if our minds are pre-occupied with lesser things. The urgent things will squeeze out the important ones.

Today, as we start the week that will end with celebration of the Resurrection, let’s set time aside for focused listening.  Each day make quiet time for contemplative prayer; not the usual prayers that are filled with our praise and/or words, but a silent “Here I am, I am listening, Lord” kind of praying. Take a pen and paper with you to prayer and jot down Scripture that comes to mind, things that the Spirit impresses on you.  What joy we find when we walk with Him.

Here is a word from the Word. I turn often to this passage for it reminds me of the amazing joy that I can find in Him. “And I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts as you trust in him. May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love really is.

May you experience the love of Christ, though it is so great you will never fully understand it. Then you will be filled with the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

Now glory be to God! By his mighty power at work within us, he is able to accomplish infinitely more than we would ever dare to ask or hope. May he be given glory in the church and in Christ Jesus forever and ever through endless ages. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:17-21, NLT)

_______

Abba, as I begin this ‘holy week,’ I present my heart to You.
Help me to sort through the urgent things,
To make the important choice to seek You, to love You, to walk in step with You.

As I find the opportunities prepared by you for me,
may my responses give You glory,
reflecting the love of Jesus to my world,
the peace of the Spirit governing my thoughts.

As I come to Easter Sunday morning, I pray that I will be able
to join with others in your holy Church, rejoicing in the eternal life
that is ours through Christ our Lord.  Amen .

 

The JOY of Belonging

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I belong to the Church, my life formed, shaped, and supported by the people with whom I ‘do life.’  Living without belonging to this group that is bigger than my agenda, more important than my needs, and that will exist long after I’m gone is beyond my imagination. That kind of connection is increasingly rare.

We pastors can get worked up about those who are ‘casual’ in attendance at church, wondering why, putting ourselves under all kinds of pressure to create a more ‘entertaining’ Sunday experience, even resorting to guilt to increase the numbers. And, all the while, we can be focusing on mostly wrong things. Karl Vaters, in his blog, says this – “Most people who don’t attend church are not making a conscious choice against it. Choosing requires awareness. And that awareness exists for fewer and fewer people every day. … they haven’t rejected the idea of going to church. It simply isn’t on their list of options. They’re not lazy, they’re apathetic.”

The joy of belonging is an unknown to many who think of ‘going to church’ as a boring hour built around rituals that are hard to understand, talking about a book that seems disconnected from our time, among people that are ‘different.’  And, if our Christianity is not more than a ‘church’ experience, most of us will soon conclude, ‘’why bother?”

A Christian who is engaged with following Jesus, who is serving others, who is pursuing the King and His kingdom, will quickly conclude, “I cannot do this by myself.”  The church that understands what it means to be ‘the Body of Christ,’ will be a community where struggle is welcomed, where prayer is real, where imperfect people come together to miraculously become better together than they could possibly be alone!  Hungering for God will give meaning to celebrating Christ’s gift of Himself and God’s love in the songs and the ritual of Communion.  The preaching of the Word will become an opportunity to sort out the truth. For disciples those ‘different’ people will become brothers and sisters in the family of God.

Something has gone wrong with a kind of Christianity that thinks that a nicely ordered, and often rather impersonal, worship service is ‘it!’  Yes, the corporate worship experience is a valuable time to learn the Word, to sing and pray together. And we need a place to ‘be’ to know that we are part of something bigger and better because of the Spirit that lives in us. The question I am asking myself is not ‘how do I get more people to attend church?’ but rather ‘what must we do to help more people to understand what it means to belong to the church?’

All Believers need other Believers in their lives who understand and accept them, who can poke holes in their pretensions, and pray for them with true empathy. We need to be able to laugh and retreat from the work that piles up around us, not just in solitary pursuits, but in the company of Christ’s family. There is something godly and worshipful about sharing life at that level and then taking our cares to the One who sits on Heaven’s Throne! I am convinced that in addition to all the programs of church; genuine Christianity involves time for sharing a bowl of soup and a cup of laughter. May God draw us together in the love of Jesus.

So here is a word from the Word – “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25, NLT)

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If a response stirred in you – positive or negative, affirming or critical – I’d love to hear from you about this.

Write to me at Pastor@FaithDiscovery.com

 

Clear As Mud!

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There are Christians who say, “God told me,” as casually as I might say, “I saw that on the news.”  My own faith walk includes much more uncertainty. Sometimes what God is up to is as clear as mud, to be honest.  I am not talking about the ordinary things that can go wrong, and do. Computers that don’t work, cars that break down, traffic that backs up … this stuff happens.

The things that leave me wondering are those life-altering things that hurt so badly for which no cause can be determined.  When I do my best and find no apparent results, I wonder why. When people break our hearts and become unyielding opponents, the pain is awful. When our hopes and dreams crash to the ground in spite of our prayers, faith is tested. Genesis tells a story and I understand the words but what I find revealed there about God’s willingness to try us makes me shudder!

After waiting a lifetime for his dear son, Abraham wakes up to this one morning. “Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” (Genesis 22:1-2, NIV)

The details are spare, but Abraham was a real man and there is no doubt in my mind that the 2 day journey had to be the longest walk in his life!  Was he screaming inside, “Who are You, Lord? What kind of God demands this? How can you can one day and take the next?”  By the way, Jesus, the Perfect Man, felt that kind of conflict, too.  His anguish before the cross was profound, deep, and breaking!

Reflecting on the account of Genesis, I learn several things that can help us when the reasons for what is happening to us in the will of the Father are elusive.

God expects obedience.  The Bible says, “The next morning Abraham got up early. He saddled his donkey and took two of his servants with him, along with his son Isaac. Then he chopped wood to build a fire for a burnt offering and set out for the place where God had told him to go.” (Genesis 22:3, NLT)   There was no stalling, no negotiation. Abraham moved towards obedience. Will we?

Abraham clung to hope.  Though he had no idea how this terrible drama was going to work out,“He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” (Genesis 22:5, NIV)  Hebrews (in the NT) tells us that he reckoned that God could bring the boy back from the dead! Sometimes hope is just a flickering candle on the horizon; sometimes it blazes like the dawning sun. But, we have hope in Christ. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.” (Romans 8:38-40, The Message)

Ultimately our faith rests, not on an answer that works for us, but on radical faith in the person of God. “Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.   “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”  Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” (Genesis 22:7)

When we feel abandoned by God, when His purpose are as clear as mud, we must lean hard on Him.   Even Jesus, could not discern the Presence of His Father and He screamed that faith-filled phrase that claims relationship even as it confesses feelings of loss!  “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

Paul, near the end of his life, wrote this affirmation of faith to Timothy.  “If we die with him, we will also live with him. If we endure hardship, we will reign with him. If we deny him, he will deny us. If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.” (2 Timothy 2:11-13, NLT)    Abraham trusted in the faithfulness of God and in this most intense trial, at just the critical moment, God revealed Himself as “Yahweh Yireh, the Lord, my Provider.”     Remember the story?   Just as Abraham was about to take his son’s life, he looked up and saw a ram caught in the bushes, a substitute sacrifice provided by God, Himself.

Are the purposes of God as clear as mud for you today? Lean on Him! Grow quiet and pray for obedience in the present, for strength to go steady on.

Repeat the eternal truth with the Psalmist who sang,
“Be still in the presence of the Lord,
and wait patiently for him to act.
Don’t worry about evil people who prosper
or fret about their wicked schemes.
Stop your anger! Turn from your rage!
Do not envy others— it only leads to harm.

For the wicked will be destroyed,
but those who trust in the Lord will possess the land.”  (Psalm 37:7-9, NLT)  Amen.

___________

King Of My Heart
(let Him love you as you listen and worship)

Let the King of my heart
Be the mountain where I run
The fountain I drink from
Oh He is my song
Let the King of my heart
Be the shadow where I hide
The ransom for my life
Oh He is my song

 You are good good oh
You are good good oh
You are good good oh
You are good good oh

 Let the King of my heart
Be the wind inside my sails
The anchor in the waves
Oh He is my song
Let the King of my heart
Be the fire inside my veins
The echo of my days
Oh He is my song

 You’re never gonna let
Never gonna let me down
You’re never gonna let
Never gonna let me down

When the night is holding on to me
God is holding on
When the night is holding on to me
God is holding on

John Mark McMillan | Sarah McMillan © Meaux Jeaux Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

A Captive of the Past?

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Do you spend a lot of time looking back? These days I tend rummage around in my memories more than I once did. Yesterday I went up to the attic and found a little table and chair set that my late father-in-law made for my kids. As I showed it to my daughter asking if she wanted it for my grandson, I flipped over one of the little chairs where this was stamped “Grandpa Keith 12/23/83.” A flood of memories of a houseful of toddlers swept over me.

Nostalgia can be sweet …   and a trap! Our past should not be forgotten – both trials and triumphs – because those things are the fertile soil from which the present grows, after all! But, it is impossible to be productive and emotionally healthy lives if life is only a back-ward look.

Genesis tells that sordid and tragic story of the destruction of Sodom, of Lot’s family being rescued by the messengers of the LORD prior to the destruction. Tucked into the narrative there is this little line –“But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.” (Genesis 19:26, NIV) She could not let go of what was, could not anticipate God’s plans for the future. Her fate is a kind of warning to us all who would only look to the past. We will become frozen, rigid, and resistant to the will of God.

Paul, who we first meet as Saul, was a man who hated Believers in Christ. His zealotry made him a violent persecutor of the Church, a man actively trying to destroy the Gospel and those who followed Jesus.  God’s grace found him and changed him. Now could he, would he, overcome the regrets? If Paul dwelt in the past, he might well have withdrawn from the world, regretful and remorseful. But, he did not forget nor did he revel in those failures.  Later, Paul founded many churches, one being in the city of Ephesus. There his message found great success. Did he abandon his calling to the world to try to hang onto that moment of triumph? No. He celebrated the success and followed Jesus onward.

He says of the past – “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14, NIV)  He refused to become a captive of the past.

This is our declaration as we meet today – be it full of promise or a thicket of challenges – This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24, NIV)

Most of us, when young, tend to live too much in the future. As we grow older, we tend to live in the past. But, God works in the present!

The word from the Word is from the 90th Psalm.
“Teach us to make the most of our time,
so that we may grow in wisdom.
O Lord, come back to us! How long will you delay?
Take pity on your servants!  

Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives.
Give us gladness in proportion to our former misery!
Replace the evil years with good.
Let us see your miracles again;
let our children see your glory at work.

And may the Lord our God show us his approval
and make our efforts successful.
Yes, make our efforts successful!”
(Psalm 90:12-17, NLT)

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Living Hope
(young and old, He is our living hope)

How great the chasm that lay between us
How high the mountain I could not climb
In desperation I turned to heaven
And spoke Your name into the night
Then through the darkness Your loving-kindness
Tore through the shadows of my soul
The work is finished the end is written
Jesus Christ my living hope

 Who could imagine so great a mercy
What heart could fathom such boundless grace
The God of ages stepped down from glory
To wear my sin and bear my shame
The cross has spoken I am forgiven
The King of kings calls me His own
Beautiful Savior I’m Yours forever
Jesus Christ my living hope

 Hallelujah praise the One who set me free
Hallelujah death has lost its grip on me
You have broken every chain
There’s salvation in Your name
Jesus Christ my living hope 

Then came the morning that sealed the promise
Your buried body began to breathe
Out of the silence the Roaring Lion
Declared the grave has no claim on me

Jesus Yours is the victory whoa

 \Jesus Christ my living hope
Oh God You are my living hope

Brian Johnson | Phil Wickham © 2017 Phil Wickham Music (Fair Trade Music Publishing [c/o Essential Music Publishing LLC])

Simply Global Songs (Fair Trade Music Publishing [c/o Essential Music Publishing LLC])

CCLI License # 810055