Onward!

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Ever been ‘so sure’ that some choice was just the right one, so committed to a course of action you were certain was God’s will, only to find that everything has gone wrong? Looking back, do you see decisions you made, for all the right reasons, that brought a totally different outcome than you anticipated?  I know both of those experiences.

Sometimes the passing of time reveals that what we were so determined to do really had little to do with the Lord’s guidance and everything to do with being headstrong.  And yes, sometimes we can see that God is guiding but His intentions for us were different than our preconceptions.

While I do not believe in fate, I have no doubt that when we keep step with the Spirit, God, our Father, is guiding us – with revelation, in circumstances, by His Spirit. I am holding onto this promise tightly today. “If the LORD delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand.” (Psalm 37:23-24, NIV)  When does the Lord ‘delight in our way?’  When we are living with humble obedience, responding quickly to Him.

Do not make that promise more than it is, however!  God does not tell us to plunge ahead in life, thoughtlessly or without prayer, with misplaced trust that He will prevent us from making costly or wrong choices. He gives you and me responsibility to live wisely and well. As a Christian we need healthy caution about relying solely on our ‘gut’ or even our limited insight. We must learn to wait, listen. A wise man said, “How rare it is to find a soul quiet enough to hear God speak.”  Ponder that for a moment.

Peter loved Jesus and when he heard Him talking about going to the Cross, Mark says he “took him aside and began to rebuke him.” (Mark 8:32, NIV) That Jesus would die the death of a common criminal, on a Roman cross, suffering such agony, and be in the will of God at the same time was incomprehensible to Peter! What purpose could such a thing serve? But the Cross was the plan of God! Peter’s good intentions, but ignorance of the will of the Father, earned him a strong correction. “Turning and seeing his disciples wavering, wondering what to believe, Jesus confronted Peter. “Peter, get out of my way! Satan, get lost! You have no idea how God works.” (Mark 8:33, The Message)

While I offer those cautions, let me flip the coin and remind you, disciple, that there need not be a paralysis brought on by the fear of walking out of the will of God!
He’s a big God. As the Psalm said, “though he stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand.”

Earlier in that same 37th Psalm, there is this advice for living securely in the hands of the Lord.

Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong;
for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.
Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.
Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.” (Psalm 37:1-7, NIV)

Beautiful words, aren’t they?  Today I want to be who He desires me to be, in the place He purposes for me, doing the things in which He delights.  How about you?  Here is a word from the Word. “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” (Galatians 5:16, NIV)  “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25, NIV)

________

I’m Trusting You
(One of our Awana Kid’s songs)

Wherever you lead me
I’m gonna follow
I’m trusting you God
You are good
Life will get crazy
Wild and amazing
I’m trusting you God
You are good (REPEAT)

(Oh) I wanna live each day like anything can happen
Can’t hardly wait to see what’s next
I wanna face this world with wonder and excitement
Face every challenge every test (REPEAT)

Walk through the valley
Climb mountains high
Wherever we go Lord
YOU ARE GOOD
Can’t hold me back now
I’m gonna fly
Wherever we go Lord
YOU ARE GOOD (REPEAT)

I’m trusting you God
You are good
I’m trusting you God
You are good

Jay Stocker © 2019 Group Publishing, Inc.

CCLI License # 810055

Veterans – Thank you!

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Today is Veteran’s Day, formerly called Armistice Day. It was set to mark the end of the ‘war to end all wars,’ that awful conflict in the early 20th century that saw armies in trenches, an exercise in madness that cost millions of lives that officially concluded on the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour. Tragically, just 2 decades after World War 1,  the drums of World War 2 were beating. Millions more died in that struggle to defeat tyranny and hatred. America is still fighting her longest war, with soldiers in Afghanistan for 18 years!  Some of the youngest soldiers going to that war were infants when it began.

Despite our dislike of war, it is important that we take the time to honor those who have served in our nation’s armed forces today. While we abhor the violence of war, we recognize that it is sometimes necessary to take up arms in defense of the nation’s interests. Those men and women who answer that call to serve are owed a debt of gratitude!

Soldiers, sailors, air men, and marines – we THANK YOU for making our way of life possible, for protecting our lives and liberty.

Christian, we tend not use militaristic language in church as much today as in the past, but let me remind you that, in Christ, we are all called to serve to extend the borders of the Kingdom of Christ Jesus. No, it’s not a political realm, nor are the weapons of our engagement bullets or bombs. We are called to push back evil, overcoming it with good; to defeat death by sharing the gift of life through Jesus Christ. We go to feed the hungry, comfort the broken, lift up the fallen, set at liberty the oppressed – through the Gospel of Christ Jesus.

His Mission is Our Mission. Jesus said “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”(Luke 4:18-19, NIV)

Paul frequently referred to the calling of the disciple with terms borrowed from the military world.  He urged Timothy to overcome sin and temptation. “But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (1 Timothy 6:11-12, NIV) In his second letter, he is even more explicit – “Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer.” (2 Timothy 2:3-4, NIV)

In the well-known imagery of spiritual warfare, he says, “Stand your ground, putting on the sturdy belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News, so that you will be fully prepared. In every battle you will need faith as your shield to stop the fiery arrows aimed at you by Satan. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray at all times and on every occasion in the power of the Holy Spirit. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all Christians everywhere.” (Ephesians 6:14-18, NLT)

Christian, we can be strong in the Lord without becoming militant! We must understand that this life in Christ is not a pleasure cruise to Glory, a perpetual ‘walk in the park.’ There is a real Enemy who desires the destruction of our faith, who holds those without Christ in captivity, who causes untold suffering for humanity.  He is not defeated by songs and sermons alone!  He must be met in the streets by disciples who are fearless, full of faith, and prepared to die to Self.  The veterans of this conflict will bear the scars and wounds of war, too.

Today, even as you remember those who have served in our Marines, Army, Navy, and Air Force and offer your appreciation to those vets that you encounter –  may God, the Spirit, renew the call to serve in your life. May He give us a vision of a robustly strong faith that engages evil, that prays for the defeat of the Devil, and that loves those who are apart from God with a courageous love.

Here is a word from the Word.  Lord, raise up bold warriors of love and may we lead captives to glorious freedom in Jesus. Amen  We will serve “in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left;” (2 Corinthians 6:7, NIV)  “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5, NIV)

________

When The Battle’s Over

Am I a soldier of the cross
A follower of the Lamb
And shall I fear to own His cause
Or blush to speak His name
 

Must I be carried to the skies
On flowery beds of ease
While others fought to win the prize
And sailed thro’ bloody seas

Sure I must fight if I would reign
Increase my courage Lord
I’ll bear the toil endure the pain
Supported by Thy Word

And when the battle’s over
We shall wear a crown
Yes we shall wear a crown
Yes we shall wear a crown
And when the battle’s over
We shall wear a crown
In the new Jerusalem
Wear a crown wear a crown
Wear a bright and shining crown
And when the battle’s over
We shall wear a crown
In the new Jerusalem

Isaac Watts

  • Public Domain

I’ll pray for you

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You can give others an amazing gift. You do not have to be wealthy, young, old, male, female … just faithful! Yes, you can pray for others. The Bible tells us to “… pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with.” (James 5:16, The Message)

Too many times in my life to count, others have prayed for me. One of those prayers comes to mind today, the evening I was ordained to Christian ministry. Other pastors gathered around me in May, 1980 and placed their hands on my shoulders, inviting God, the Holy Spirit, to rest on me, to prepare me for service.  The prayers of friend and family have sustained me in trial, in sickness, when seeking guidance.

I’m certain that when I have passed on to Heaven, most of my sermonizing will be forgotten, my writing will fade into oblivion. But, I hope that people will remember the prayers I offered for them.  I have no idea how many people I have prayed for in my lifetime, but it has to be thousands! I can only hope that my prayers are as comforting to them as the prayers offered on my behalf are to me.

Prayer is more than emotionally therapeutic. It is powerful!  Do you pray for others?  Perhaps you find that a bit difficult?  We simply present the need of our friend to God, asking Him directly on their behalf. Eloquence is not required. Lengthy, involved petition is not a prerequisite.  We just open our heart, our mouth, engage our mind and speak to the Father.  Sometimes when I pray for those in my pastoral care, I don’t even know what to ask God for on their behalf. The situation may be complicated, the details of their dilemma unknown to me, yet I can pray for them because God knows their need, so I ask Him to love them, keep them, steady them, entrusting that person to Him.

“But, Jerry, what does that gain? Doesn’t He already know the need?”  He does! I cannot explain all the reasons that an All-knowing, All-powerful Purposeful God wants us to pray, but clearly He does. The Bible make that abundantly clear. “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7, NLT)

Our personal prayer should include times of active listening, being attentive to the Presence, so that He is able to direct us.  And, the Word urges us to ask boldly, ask faithfully, and trust Him radically. Know this! Faith is important, a God-focused faith. Faith is not being convinced that God will do exactly what we ask Him to do. True faith is a sure hope that He will act in our best interest, an attitude of child-like trust. He doesn’t answer prayers because we’re good enough, loud enough, or even earnest. No good Dad gives his son everything he asks for because his wisdom knows that not all things that son desires are the best. Our Father does what is best for us.

There is this, too.  When we pray for one another, let’s not just do it from a distance, let’s learn to do that in person. Praying, even if the words get fumbled, even when there are quiet pauses, is like a soothing salve for the soul. Few things will evoke deep tears, not the sad kind, but the “I’m moved to the center of my being” kind, more than hearing someone talk about me, my needs, my life to the Father.  God will put it all in the right perspective and use our prayers to accomplish His will and purposes.

When we pray for each other, we must go beyond – “Lord, bless Pete, Sally, and Sam.” Let’s get specific, praying for financial provision, for specific guidance, for restoration of love in marriages, for victory over sin, for spiritual growth, … the stuff of real life! By the way, remember this – prayers for others must never be used as sermons! Don’t try to fix somebody or advise them while you are supposedly talking to the Lord. I experienced a few of those ‘prayers’ and honestly, I resented them.

Let me pray for you now borrowing Paul’s amazing prayer for the Ephesians, a prayer that is one of my favorite passages in the Word.
“When I heard of the solid trust you have in the Master Jesus
and your outpouring of love to all the followers of Jesus,
I couldn’t stop thanking God for you—
every time I prayed, I’d think of you and give thanks.
But I do more than thank.

I ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—
to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally,
your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do,
grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers,
oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength!” (Ephesians 1:15-19, The Message)

To the praise and honor of our wonderful Lord. Amen!
___________

The Prayers Of The Saints
(Matt Redman invites us to worshipful prayer)

Are the prayers of the saints
Like sweet smelling incense
Are the prayers of the saints
Like sweet smelling incense to Your heart
To Your heart

 Let these prayers of the saints
Be sweet smelling incense
Let these prayers of the saints
Be sweet smelling incense to Your heart

 Are the songs of the saints
Like sweet smelling incense
Are the songs of the saints
Like sweet smelling incense to Your heart
To Your heart

 Let these songs of the saints
Be sweet smelling incense
Let these songs of the saints
Be sweet smelling incense to Your heart

Matt Redman © 1998 Thankyou Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

Right Thinking, Right Living

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Les Miserables, Victor Hugo’s novel, is the story of a man who is sentenced to 19 years of hard labor for stealing bread. Jean Valjean turned into a tough convict. On his release, he was offered shelter by a kindly priest.  During the night, he steals the silver and runs off.  The next morning the police drag him back to the priest’s home, expecting a tirade of anger. But, on seeing him the priest exclaims, “So here you are!  I’m so delighted to see you.  Did you forget that in addition to the silver I had given you the candlesticks?  They are silver and of considerable worth.   Here, take them.”  The police have no choice but to release the convict who stands trembling before the priest. He presses the candlesticks into Valjean’s hands saying, “Do not forget; do not ever forget… I have bought you, now make a new life for yourself as a new man.” It’s a great story of grace and redemption!

God has set you free through Christ Jesus, bought you, not with silver, but at the cost of His life.   Is the evidence of that salvation growing in you?

Paul, in the 6th chapter of his letter to the Romans, points out the change in our status with God that comes to us through Jesus and presses for transformed behavior. “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.” (Romans 6:6-7, NIV)  That’s declared fact!  “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.” (Romans 6:12-13, NIV)  That’s our part of applying the truth, living in grace.

A life that is pleasing to God, filled with the beauty of devotion, that reflects the character of Jesus does not just ‘fall out of the sky’ on our head. We work out the implications of our salvation. We live in ‘truth.’ We confess, we repent, we worship, we live as He desires. The paradox of this amazing way of life is that we are not called to more Law, to tighten the rules for ourselves or others as we attempt to be the holy people of the Lord. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” (Romans 6:14, NKJV)  We lean into the undeserved favor that is the gift of God, and in the increasing discovery of the oceans depths of His love, we are led into righteousness.  Oh the wonder, the joy!

  • Have you failed, sinned? Do not run from your Father, hiding behind excuses. Run TO Him to find grace for renewal.
  • Do you feel the pull of temptation?  Tell Him and ask for the clarity of the Truth to replace the confusion of the Lie.

Our word from the Word today comes from the last lines of that same chapter. The Holy Spirit inspired words call us higher.  Meditate on these words and let the Truth set you free to live the glorious life of a child of God.

“As long as you did what you felt like doing, ignoring God,
you didn’t have to bother with right thinking or right living,
or right anything for that matter.
But do you call that a free life?
What did you get out of it?
Nothing you’re proud of now.
Where did it get you?
A dead end.
 

But now that you’ve found you don’t have to listen to sin tell you what to do,
and have discovered the delight of listening to God telling you,
what a surprise!
A whole, healed, put-together life right now,
with more and more of life on the way!

Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death.
But God’s gift is real life, eternal life,
delivered by Jesus, our Master.”

(Romans 6:20-23, The Message)
___________

Reckless Love

(worship with this song about His love)

Before I spoke a word
You were singing over me
You have been so so good to me
Before I took a breath
You breathed Your life in me
You have been so so kind to me

O the overwhelming never-ending reckless
Love of God
O it chases me down fights ’til I’m found
Leaves the ninety-nine
I couldn’t earn it I don’t deserve
Still You give Yourself away
O the overwhelming never-ending reckless
Love of God

When I was Your foe still Your love fought for me
You have been so so good to me
When I felt no worth You paid it all for me
You have been so so kind to me
There’s no shadow You won’t light up
Mountain You won’t climb up
Coming after me
There’s no wall You won’t kick down
Lie You won’t tear down
Coming after me

Caleb Culver | Cory Asbury | Ran Jackson © Watershed Publishing Group (Admin. by Watershed Music Group) Bethel Music Publishing Richmond Park Publishing

CCLI License # 810055

 

Who are YOU?

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That was fun,” the boy said as we left an awards ceremony where his achievements were recognized. It was fun to enjoy the reward of his real efforts. However, I smiled as he said it because he had unconsciously touched on a part of being human that can lead to folly.

Recognition does feel good, doesn’t it? There can be a downside to thanks and awards if they become more important to us than faithfulness and obedience to our Father.  Being recognized, gaining the approval of others, can turn into an addiction, making people play the fool, pretending to be what they are not, telling stories that are not true– just to impress other.  We can know that pride is taking root when we find ourselves measuring yourself against others in an endless game of comparison.

It feels great to be voted ‘most liked,’ or ‘most successful’ and there is nothing wrong with those things, if the desire to gain recognition is not allowed to own us. But, how quickly pride can take charge causing us to ‘buy things we don’t need to impress people we don’t like.’   Dave Ramsey, the financial guru, makes this wry observation: “I’m not against people having new cars. I’m against them having you. We spend a tremendous amount impressing somebody at the stoplight who we’ll never meet. It makes you broke and keeps you broke.” Pride can run out of control and turn a person into a fraud, a  ‘wanna-be’ who is incapable of finding God’s best in this day. Pride can steal the meaning of life where we are by causing us to think that we must turn into someone else to make others admire us.

The Bible says that Jesus was born a nobody, came from nowhere, had no degrees. He did not seek Jerusalem’s favor and cared little for applause. Isaiah had prophesied that the Messiah would be a man without “beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:2-3, NIV) Jesus lived in the center of His Father’s will, content to be obedient. The Word says this about Him- He was “in very nature God, (but, He) did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” (Philippians 2:6-7, NIV) Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name!” (Philippians 2:9, NIV)

Disciple, find joy in being who God calls you to be, in the place where God places you, with the people that God surrounds you.

If God makes you a king, then rule diligently.
If He makes you a servant, then serve with your whole heart.

Contentment is a choice we make each day and part of that choice includes recognizing the deadly seduction of pride. Now let’s not confuse contentment with complacency. If you choose to give up on life and drift along in mediocrity, do not call that contentment. Contentment is learning to be all that Christ has called us to be, using the gifts the Spirit has given us in the best ways, serving well. The focus, however, is not the applause of others. It is to please the One who knows us best and loves us most!

Choose humility as your way of life. Humility is found in being content to belong to God while being confident in His promise.

Here’s a word from the Word, wisdom about doing well for the right reasons and the certainty of enjoying the best reward.

“If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else,” (Galatians 6:3-4, NIV)  So, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9-10, NIV)

__________

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

Faith – compels

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Harriett
is a re-telling of the story of Harriett Tubman, the diminutive woman who escaped slavery by traveling 100 miles alone, without food, while being pursued by men bent on returning her to servitude. She returned several times to lead other slaves to freedom, became a leader in the Union army during the Civil War, and was a powerful voice for women in the Suffrage movement before her death in 1913.

The movie, now in theatres, includes something about her life which I never learned in my history classes – her powerful faith in God, a key part of her courage and the source of her inspiration to resist the evil, even if it cost her life. Tubman’s strength came from her faith in God as deliverer and protector of the weak. It made her fearless in the face of death and she often said “I can’t die but once!”

I reflected on this question today – Is my faith in God active and alive in a way that I am compelled by it; or is it more like a comforter that I wrap around myself to insulate me from life’s hardships?

Like me, you have a heard the Bible’s stories of faith a hundred times. David showed up at the battle lines of Israel and, inspired by his faith in the Lord, took up his slingshot to face the Philistine champion, Goliath. Noah’s faith allowed him to hear God’s direction to build an ark for the salvation of his family.  The faith of those Jesus called to follow Him caused them to travel to the ends of the Empire to tell the Story of the Gospel of Christ, changing the known world in a generation, and losing their lives in the process.

In the “faith” chapter, Hebrews 11, there is this paragraph – “And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.” (Hebrews 11:32-34 (NIV)  This is a description of something more than a belief that offers comfort to us in times of difficulties. What is described here is a core conviction about what is true, right, and worth living and dying for!

Peter teaches us that faith that is compelling will have a grasp of eternal life, of a kingdom come and yet to come in fullness. We are, he said, born by the Spirit “into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:4-7, NIV)

This kind of faith will not result from just ‘trying to believe more.’  It grows in a heart that is fed the Word, nourished in worship, and that endures the days of testing with an upward look by inviting the Spirit to be at work. There is a myth that only some people are capable of faith as if faith just falls on us out of Heaven. To be sure, Faith is a work of the Spirit, but we receive faith, exercise faith, and grow in faith as we choose to walk with the Lord on a daily basis.

Harriett Tubman, though illiterate, heard the Word and let the seed grow in her until her faith compelled action. The movie, as historical dramas do, portrays her as a saint. In fact she was a flesh and blood human being, strong but also quite capable of failure.  In all of her humanity, she found strength in God and we tell her story with wonder.  What can God do with you? What does He want to do through you? Let faith grow and tell Him –  you’re available.

Here is a word from the Word. It’s familiar, but take time to meditate on the truth here. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see … and without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:1, 6, NIV)

__________

In Christ Alone

In Christ alone my hope is found\
He is my light my strength my song
This Cornerstone this solid Ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love what depths of peace
When fears are stilled when strivings cease
My Comforter my All in All
Here in the power of Christ I stand

No guilt in life no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
Till He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand

Keith Getty | Stuart Townend© 2001 Thankyou Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) CCLI License # 810055

Hold My Hand

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I love it when I awaken to the birth of a new week on Mondays with a clear sense of my purpose and plans, eager to tackle the tasks at hand.  I look at my calendar app in my phone and see the appointments lined up, the times for preparation to teach or speak blocked out, the meetings that are scheduled, and I find a kind of comfort in that time map. This morning I felt neither eagerness nor comfort. It’s not sadness. I know what grief is from too much experience with it. What I felt at first light was more akin to the caution you feel when you step into a darkened room.

Life feels a lot less certain this morning than it usually does. Perhaps it was yesterday’s funeral for a man my age who died suddenly on Friday while on a walk in the park with his wife. Perhaps it is just left-over weariness from a non-stop weekend of ministry and meetings. God only knows, literally!  So, my prayer this morning was child-like – “Abba, please hold my hand.”

I meditated on the inspired wisdom of James, words that could be seen as bleak. Today it was my reminder that Someone knows my tomorrows. “Look here, you people who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what will happen tomorrow? For your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15, NLT)

Preparation for the future, as much as we can anticipate it, is the course of the wise. The wisest will always remember that within the boundaries of the purposes of God, there is His gift to us of freedom. We are not adrift on the ocean of random chance nor are we locked into a course that makes us pawns in the hands of God. Our Heavenly Father does not find Himself trying to play catch up with a world that has outrun His plans. He is not surprised by the storms or the opportunities for He “knows my days before one of them came to be.”  Right alongside of that assurance is the reminder of responsibility “to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12 (NIV)

 As the sun rises higher in the sky, spilling light over the earth, it is a kind of metaphor for my morning. When I think of His promise to guide, of the eternal life in Christ Jesus that He has secured on my behalf, the uncertainties become less threatening, manageable even, because “I know Who holds my hand.”  I’m still praying “Abba, hold my hand” but not from fear. Instead, with His word in my mind and the Spirit in my heart, I am ready to say, “Lord, let’s do this.”  How about you?

Take this word from the Word with you today. Let the wisdom work deep into your being, forming a desire to walk with Him.

Psalm 1 (NKJV) —

Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.

 He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.

 The ungodly are not so,
But are like the chaff which the wind drives away.
Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.

 For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the ungodly shall perish.
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Build My Life

(what or who is your foundation?)

Worthy of ev’ry song we could ever sing
Worthy of all the praise we could ever bring
Worthy of ev’ry breath we could ever breathe
We live for You

 Jesus the name above ev’ry other name
Jesus the only one who could ever save
Worthy of ev’ry breath we could ever breathe
We live for You
We live for You 

Holy there is no one like You
There is none besides You
Open up my eyes in wonder and show me who You are
And fill me with Your heart
And lead me in Your love to those around me 

I will build my life upon Your love
It is a firm foundation
I will put my trust in You alone
And I will not be shaken

Brett Younker | Karl Martin | Kirby Elizabeth Kaple | Matt Redman | Pat Barrett

© 2016 Martin, Karl Andrew (Admin. by Arkyard Music Services Limited)

Kaple Music (Admin. by Bethel Music Publishing)

Bethel Music Publishing

CCLI License # 810055

Still Hungry?

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We were talking in general terms about spiritual things. The other person admitted to being deeply discontent with life, in spite of having what appeared to be an enviable lifestyle. Cars, vacations, a nice home … yet she was dissatisfied.  I think I know why.  By her own admission, she had no meaningful relationship with God.  She told me “I believe in God and I trust Jesus as my Savior.”  But daily prayer, regular worship, engagement in service – she admitted they were not part of the way she lived.

While we talked, my mind remembered the words of an ancient preacher. “Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.” This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways.” (Haggai 1:5-7, NIV)

Are you hungry? Perhaps you do not recognize it as hunger.  For you it is that sense that there must be more to life or there is the feeling of emptiness. Most likely if you’re reading this, you are a Christian, having made a profession of faith. But, are you a disciple? Like my friend above do you just believe in Jesus or do you follow His ways, desiring to serve Him?

Some Christians spend day after day in endless diversion trying hard to fill up an empty soul. Their spiritual diet is one of pre-digested devotional material, 2 minute prayers, worship when convenient, and refusal to ‘get real’ with Christ is a sure way to slip into religion without relationship. They avoid the spiritual disciplines of contemplative prayer, silence, generosity (more than money, by the way), or fasting because they are hard or unfamiliar. They practice a form of Christianity that is more about ‘what I feel’ rather than daily discipleship. When life gets rough, instead of working through the situation with the help of the Spirit, patiently learning from it, they reach for a quick lift of inspiration.

And, their soul remains hungry for the Presence of the Living God.

Truth is that we are made to know God and to be filled with His Spirit. If we do not pursue Him, either because of rebellion or ignorance, we will look for something or someone to fill up our soul! Curiously, when we find ourselves stressed by temptation, pressed to our limits by life’s trials, we will feel the pull of ‘the flesh.’  Our soul hunger may get mixed up with sensual desires. All kinds of things we thought we would never even consider can become alluring when life is clouded with uncertainty.

The Lord asks us a question and follows with a promise: “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.” (Isaiah 55:2, NIV)   Mature disciples know in Whom they find lasting satisfaction. With the Psalmist they say, “I will praise you as long as I live, lifting up my hands to you in prayer. You satisfy me more than the richest feast. I will praise you with songs of joy. I lie awake thinking of you, meditating on you through the night.” (Psalm 63:4-6, NLT)

The Scripture teaches us to seek Him and His ways. Will you prioritize your spiritual life, make seeking God more than something fit into a convenient spot in a busy life?

Put worship first. Find a place to help the needy where there is no reward or recognition. Pray to live for justice, to be full of forgiveness, to love Him and others intentionally, not occasionally.

The word from the Word is a promise. I pray you will live in this deep satisfaction with the things of the Lord.  “The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.”  (Isaiah 58:11, NIV)

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10,000 Reasons (Bless The Lord)

(Matt Redman builds our faith with this song of praise)

Bless the Lord O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
I’ll worship Your holy name

 The sun comes up it’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes

 You’re rich in love and You’re slow to anger
Your name is great and Your heart is kind
For all Your goodness I will keep on singing
Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find

 And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years and then forevermore

 Worship Your holy name
Lord I’ll worship Your holy name

Jonas Myrin | Matt Redman © 2011 Atlas Mountain Songs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) sixsteps Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) Thankyou Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) worshiptogether.com songs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

 

Serenity!

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Are you confident in God’s love for you, completely assured that you are right with Him?  In my pastoral care, I talk with people who wonder if they have made the cut with God, if an eternal home is really theirs, if He loves them truly.  Sometimes the source of their ‘dis-ease’ is a terrible choice of the past, a regrettable moment of moral failure. Sometimes their faith has been battered by extended suffering or loss. For a few, it is an incomplete knowledge of the Gospel; too much Hellfire preaching leaving out Amazing Grace!

In his letter to the Romans, Paul makes the case for Christ.  Humanity is held captive to sin, subject to judgment, destined to perish – except for the intervention of God. When you get to chapter 5 in his letter, he shifts to the assurance of the Christian. Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2, NIV)

No Christian need wonder about his acceptance with God!  Because of Jesus, and through faith, there are two amazing declarations God makes to us.

  1. We are at peace with Him! This is not just about an absence of conflict. This is about a state of being that envelopes our experience, that is greater than our emotions. There is serenity that flows out of what He has done to justify us – to erase the debt of our sin.  Beyond that He says that we are now reconciled to Him! “For since we were restored to friendship with God by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be delivered from eternal punishment by his life.” (Romans 5:10, NLT)
  2. We enjoy access to Heaven’s favor!  The barriers are removed. The judgment is gone. We have access to GRACE.  When things get difficult in some area of life, having someone “on the inside” really can help, right?  The right person can open doors of opportunity for us.  Christ Jesus provides us that kind of ‘insider’ status.

We live in faith that focuses on Christ Jesus, not on ourselves. If we attempt to find assurance by trying harder, peace will elude us. If we measure ourselves against others, we will either fall into false pride or misery of inferiority.  He is our peace. He is our Open Door. What He did on our behalf is complete, totally satisfying the righteous demands of God, and giving us unwavering hope.

Paul anticipated a question that may be forming in your mind – “If God is for me, if I have this status of serenity and access to grace, why is my life filled with pain? Why am I suffering?”  You may not like his answer, but it is truth.  “And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (Romans 5:2-5, NIV)  Suffering can have a purpose!  If we meet it with faith in Jesus, we can rejoice that He is developing a new kind of person in us – steady, deep, filled with Jesus, and hopeful.

Suffering does not always mean that there is something wrong with our devotion. It is not a punishment. The penalty for our sins and failures was taken by Christ Jesus. Suffering, when matched with faith, can make us beautiful.  That is not a popular idea, but it is grounded in the revelation of God’s Truth.

Whatever your situation, however you may be feeling today, turn your eyes to Jesus. He is our PEACE! The word from the Word declares the depth of His love for you, for me.  Receive Him and the gift in faith. “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, no one is likely to die for a good person, though someone might be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s judgment.” (Romans 5:6-9, NLT)

What blessed assurance!
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Blessed Assurance

(Elevation Worship invites us to rest)

Blessed assurance Jesus is mine
Oh what a foretaste of glory divine
Heir of salvation purchase of God
Born of His Spirit washed in His blood

This is my story this is my song
Praising my Savior all the day long
This is my story this is my song
Praising my Savior all the day long

Perfect submission perfect delight
Visions of rapture now burst at my sight
Angels descending bring from above
Echoes of mercy whispers of love

Perfect submission all is at rest
I in my Savior am happy and blest
Watching and waiting looking above
Filled with His goodness lost in His love

Fanny Jane Crosby – Public Domain

Responsive?

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I like to see a return on investment, don’t you?  When I put my time and effort into a project, I want to know that something positive will come of it. A friendship that deepens into a partnership is a thing of delight, isn’t it?  When we plant a garden, the best part is when we get to enjoy the produce from that plot of ground that we have sweated over for months.

God is looking for a return from us. Jesus calls that ‘fruitfulness.’  I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” .  . . . My true disciples produce much fruit. This brings great glory to my Father.” (John 15:5,8, NLT) What is this fruit of which He speaks? It is the character and likeness of Christ Jesus in us, the qualities of the Kingdom worked in this world through us by the Spirit; “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  (Galatians 5:22)

Is the Lord pleased with the quality and quantity of the fruit of the Spirit in your life? We cannot be spiritually fruitful apart from the LIFE of the Spirit operating in us, anymore than a dead apple tree can produce apples!  While the Spirit makes the fruit possible, there is a part that we play. Our life must be open to the flow of the Spirit, our daily inclination towards an obedient love of the Father. Jesus spoke of the Father as the Gardener who ‘prunes every branch so that it will be even more fruitful.’  Yes, He uses His Word and our experience to bring us closer to Him, to cut away the things that keep us from the abundant life He desires.  And yet, we know that unlike a tree in an orchard, we have the ability to reject His plan, to resist His work, to become unfruitful by choking off the nourishing work of the Holy Spirit.

I love another story that Jesus told because it reveals the Father’s patience and persistence for us.  Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ ”‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” (Luke 13:6-9, NIV)

Are there situations that are making you face your need, hard things that are confronting you with a call to change, circumstances greater than you can manage that create a sense of desperation?  These are some of the ways that the Spirit digs around our hearts, opening the ground for nutrients!  He pours on grace; words from the Word that show us the Truth, encouragement from a friend that helps us to turn around, moments of revelation that clearly show us His way. Will we receive His work, letting the fertilizer do what He intends – increase our fruitfulness?

Jesus’ story has another possible ending which we cannot ignore. The tree that does not respond to the digging and fertilizer can be cut down! “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (John 15:1-2, NIV)  It is hard to even think of the possibility of being ‘cut off’ because of our refusal to receive the gift of His life, isn’t it?

Is the Spirit making you fruitful in the things of God, increasingly bearing the image of Christ Jesus?  He desires that very thing from us and does all that is necessary for fruit to grow.

Meditate on this word from the Word, prayerfully today.  “As we know Jesus better, his divine power gives us everything we need for living a godly life. He has called us to receive his own glory and goodness! And by that same mighty power, he has given us all of his rich and wonderful promises. He has promised that you will escape the decadence all around you caused by evil desires and that you will share in his divine nature. So make every effort to apply the benefits of these promises to your life. Then your faith will produce a life of moral excellence.” (2 Peter 1:3-5, NLT)

Lord, increase our fruitfulness as we live in You and through You. Amen.

__________

Your Grace Is Enough

(Matt Maher sings of the work of the grace of God.
Worship along with him today.)

Great is Your faithfulness O God
You wrestle with the sinner’s restless heart
You lead us by still waters into mercy
And nothing can keep us apart

 (So) remember Your people
Remember Your children
Remember Your promise O God 

Your grace is enough
Your grace is enough
Your grace is enough for me

 Great is Your love and justice God of Jacob
You use the weak to lead the strong
You lead us in the song of Your salvation
And all Your people sing along

 Yeah Your grace is enough
Heaven reaches out to us
Your grace is enough for me
God I sing Your grace is enough
I’m covered in Your love
Your grace is enough for me for me

Matt Maher © 2003 Thankyou Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) spiritandsong.com CCLI License # 810055