The Sacred Trust

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Even in my 6th decade of life, a full 10 years after my father’s voice was stilled by death, I feel the weight of his words that laid a sense of family, legacy, and responsibility on me from my earliest years. He instilled the truth in me that life is a sacred trust. He taught me that I am connected to ancestors past and generations future therefore, every choice, each act, should be considered the light of how it uses the investment of those who went before and how it prepares for those coming after for life.

Our Heavenly Father teaches us of the sacred trust of life, too. From the opening page of the revelation of Holy Scripture, we learn that He made us, not just to gather a few crumbs to eat, not just to propagate our DNA in an instinctive drive for survival, but rather to live for Him, which is a noble purpose! “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27, NIV)  What is He saying?

Some take that paragraph and turn it into a reason to exploit the earth and all living things. “After all,” they say, “God put us at the top of the pile, didn’t He?” It is true that humanity is distinct from the rest of Creation. In the story that the Spirit tells in Genesis, He “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7, NIV) He made us eternal, like He is! Our dusty bodies are decaying and eventually will return to the elements, but that ‘breath of life’ that gives us ‘soul’ lives on. However, that distinction of being, and that offer to ‘rule,’ does not give us unrestricted rights to selfishly use up our earth’s resources. Why? Because our life and place in His Creation order is a sacred trust!

Rachel Held Evans is eloquent about this.  “But to be “created in the image of God” carries significant leadership implications as well. In the ancient Near Eastern world, kings were considered divine image-bearers, appointed representatives of God on earth. Kings would often place images of themselves, usually statues, in distant parts of their kingdoms to remind their subjects of their sovereignty over the land. So for man and woman to be God’s image-bearers in this context, means that God has entrusted both men and women with ruling the world on God’s behalf.  “Let us make humankind in our image,” God says, “according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish,…birds, cattle,…all the wild animals…every creeping thing.”

We ‘rule’ in the sense that we bring His kingdom of Light and Love to the places where we work, play, serve, and worship. We push back the darkness of hatred. We work to build relationships. Our lives reveal Eternity to those who live just to serve their appetites. Yes, we are ‘more than conquerors’ through Christ, bearers of the image of our Creator.

Think about that deeply this morning.  You might be tempted to say, “Oh, Pastor Jerry, that’s just philosophy that does not really concern me.” Ah, but it does.  All of Scripture is given for our instruction, to make us wise, to point us to the best life. These words in the opening book of the Bible are more than a simple story and certainly beyond mere myth. They are there to shape our understanding and identity, so that we will live for His glory and enjoy the richest kind of life possible.

Live this day, make each choice, as the image-bearer of your Heavenly Father. Reflect His Presence into the world in which you live. Live in the sacred trust.

Here is a word from the Word. “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.” (Philippians 2:12-16, NIV)

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Lord Reign In Me

Over all the earth You reign on high
Every mountain stream every sunset sky
But my one request Lord my only aim
Is that You’d reign in me again

Lord reign in me reign in Your pow’r
Over all my dreams in my darkest hour
You are the Lord of all I am
So won’t You reign in me again

Over every thought over every word
May my life reflect the beauty of my Lord
‘Cause You mean more to me
Than any earthly thing
So won’t You reign in me again

Brenton Brown © 1998 Vineyard Songs (UK/Eire) (Vineyard Music UK)

CCLI License # 810055

A Statement We Cannot Ignore

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On this Monday morning, let’s go back to a familiar line in the Scripture – In the beginning, God created …”  (Genesis 1:1) We cannot over-estimate the importance of those five words for our understanding, words that will give us hope, purpose, and meaning in a confused, disorderly world. Have you forgotten these words or set them aside because of the controversies that swirl around them among those who argue about whether there is a literal 6 day creation or whether we live on a young earth created just a few thousand years ago, as some insist?

All we can know about the existence of this universe flows from that declaration. It is a bedrock foundation for our faith. God says that we are not accidents, nor are we simply the latest development in a random sequence of events ranging back over millions of years. He created – intentionally, beautifully, wisely, and with order.  If we erase that statement from how we understand life, all of the rest of our faith disintegrates.

 

That chapter includes three additional words that we need to know – “And God said … Nine times that those opening lines of the inspired Scripture tell us that God spoke the world we know into existence. The universe, as we know it, came from the mind of God and reflect His intent.

Genesis 1 causes me to know profound joy and deep assurance. I am not an insignificant organism, my body a mere collection of star dust! Oh, it may well be that God used the matter of His universe to create my body. But, it was His purpose to do so. Those words also call me to reverence and worship, to love and care for what He has made for me.

The opening passage of Scripture ends with this – “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. (Genesis 1:31, NIV)  “Very good” is a rather weak translation of the Hebrew text which includes the richer meaning of excellent, beautiful, pleasant, and abundant! That is the Creation that He made for us. Look at the colors that are painted in the sky this morning. He made them. The renewal of the earth with the coming of Spring; He designed that. Those eyes that drink in the beauty of the earth, those ears that hear the sound of the wind, those hands, that heart that beats, that brain that processes … these were made by Him with excellence!

Have you forgotten the majesty of Genesis 1?
Have you allowed the conceit of human wisdom to rob that foundation of faith from you?
Are you arguing over the ‘how,’ the ‘why,’ of that revelation and missing the meaning for you?

Today, this Monday morning – confess these three things:
“In the beginning, God created …”
“And God said…”
“God said it was very good.”

Then, worship Him with awe and step into this new week with the assurance that you exist in His Plan, that your life, though just one among 7 billion, matters to the One who called you into being. Let this revelation preserve you from the ancient, and now once again renewed, error of worshipping the Creation rather than the Creator! The earth He has made, the universe He has formed – these are for His glory.

Here is a word from the Word, a song of praise to the Creator.
” O Lord, our Lord,
How excellent is Your name in all the earth,
Who have set Your glory above the heavens!

 Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants
You have ordained strength,
Because of Your enemies,
That You may silence the enemy and the avenger.

 When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?

 For You have made him a little lower than the angels,
And You have crowned him with glory and honor.
You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
All sheep and oxen—
Even the beasts of the field,
The birds of the air,
And the fish of the sea
That pass through the paths of the seas.

 O Lord, our Lord,
How excellent is Your name in all the earth!”  (Psalm 8, NKJV)

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How Great Thou Art

(A hymn for worship, in beautiful simplicity)

O Lord my God
When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds
Thy hands have made
I see the stars\
I hear the rolling thunder
Thy pow’r thru’out
The universe displayed

Then sings my soul
My Savior God to Thee
How great Thou art
How great Thou art

When through the woods
And forest glades I wander
And hear the birds
Sing sweetly in the trees
When I look down
From lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook
And feel the gentle breeze

 And when I think
That God His Son not sparing
Sent Him to die
I scarce can take it in
That on the cross
My burden gladly bearing
He bled and died
To take away my sin

 When Christ shall come
With shout of acclamation
And take me home
What joy shall fill my heart
Then I shall bow
In humble adoration
And there proclaim
My God how great Thou art

Stuart Wesley Keene Hine© Copyright 1949 and 1953 Stuart Hine

CCLI License # 810055

A mirror reflecting His majesty

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Harry A. was a man who loved Jesus and it showed. There was nothing artificial or forced in his faith. He laughed heartily with others and he spread the love of God. He was a retired missionary who had served in hard places where Islam was the majority religion and Christians had to tred lightly. One of the things I loved about him was his little notebook in which he jotted down thoughts and impressions he felt were inspired by his conversation with the Holy Spirit. He would occasionally reach for it and say “let me tell you what the Lord and I have been discussing.” Then, he would share some insight he had gleaned from reading Scripture or meditation. Lest you think he was preachy or religious, let me quickly tell you that Harry was neither. I cannot remember a visit with Harry that wasn’t challenging, or inspiring, or comforting! He was an ambassador for his King.

Do you know how you become like another? There is just one way – spend time with that person! People start to ‘rub off’ on us when we sit at dinner with them in a Life Group, when we learn their stories, when we live through stormy times and triumphs with them.  Our associates will always influence us – to lift us up or pull us down. Harry’s life revealed with Whom he spent time. He was like Jesus.

When others spend time with you is it obvious that you have spent time with Jesus?  I have been reading and studying the stories of the Acts.  When Peter and John were hauled before the ruling council of Jerusalem for a lengthy interrogation, that hostile group came to this conclusion: “these men had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13) His love, wisdom, strength, and character had become theirs.

You probably know people who try too hard to be like Jesus. Their words often are just repeated phrases of things they have read or from sermons they have heard. Their efforts come off like a parody of the Christian life. You can’t fake love; not for long anyway. You can’t fake the life of the Spirit because the fruit of His Presence only ripens in us when we spend time in the Son.

My prayer that others will see Jesus in me. Paul says this – “Now, the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, he gives freedom … so that we can be mirrors that brightly reflect the glory of the Lord. And as the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like him and reflect his glory even more.” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18, NLT)  How amazing that ordinary people – you and I – can become mirrors that reflect the brightness of His majesty into our world.

Here’s a word from the Word. Let’s let Him shine today.
All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you. It started when God said, “Light up the darkness!” and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful. If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us.”  The Message (2 Corinthians 4:5-7)

Spend some time with Him and let His love rub off on you.

_______________

Forever Reign

You are good You are good
When there’s nothing good in me
You are love You are love
On display for all to see
You are light You are light
When the darkness closes in
You are hope You are hope
You have covered all my sin

 You are peace You are peace
When my fear is crippling
You are true You are true
Even in my wandering
You are joy You are joy
You’re the reason that I sing
You are life You are life
In You death has lost its sting

  (Oh) I’m running to Your arms
I’m running to Your arms
The riches of Your love will always be enough
Nothing compares to Your embrace
Light of the world forever reign

 You are more You are more
Than my words will ever say
You are Lord You are Lord
All creation will proclaim
You are here You are here
In Your presence I’m made whole
You are God You are God
Of all else I’m letting go

 My heart will sing no other Name
Jesus Jesus

Jason Ingram | Reuben Morgan© 2009 Hillsong Music Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

So Essential Tunes (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)

Spirit Nashville Three (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)

CCLI License # 810055

Will you love me more if …

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Did you see the news story yesterday about wealthy parents who hired a ‘consultant’ to get their kids admitted to prestigious universities? The allegations include bribes to coaches for places on athletics teams, fixed test results, and fake online profiles created to impress college admissions officers. It is a sad reflection of the drive to ‘succeed,’ the need to be ‘someone’ defined by letters and awards instead of inner character. Is this something new? Silly you, if you think so. It is sad that some deserving kid got pushed out of the place he had earned by the child of a family who used their wealth to buy a spot at the front of the line. Even more sad is what this kind of lying does to the heart of the student who knows she is living as a fraud.

Here is some good newsGod does not love you more if you are taller, richer, faster, stronger, or smarter! You do not need to buy His favor or approval. Grace is a gift – freely available to all at Christ’s expense. What a revelation for us who live in a competitive world that creates the kind of insecurity that drives a few to try cheat their way to the front of the line.

We desperately need a revelation of grace. Without it, we slide into religion that demands more and more of us as we vainly attempt to earn what we can only gain by faith.  Many years ago, during a trip to Latin America, I saw many towns with beautiful churches at their center.  Inside those buildings there was a common sight that broke my heart.  Poor people, mostly older women, crawled across rough stone pavement and splintery wooden floors to ornate altars that depicted God far above them, just out of reach. In many cases, the knees of those old women were bloodied by their effort.

Their devotion was admirable, but terribly misguided. God isn’t impressed by bloody knees. We do not need to inflict pain on ourselves to gain His attention! The Word tells that we “have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:19-22, NIV)

While you won’t find many Americans crawling across a splintery floor to a church’s altar, the same misunderstanding of Who He is makes many of us believe that He is out of reach, that we need to give more, do more, or find someone with ‘pull’ to help us to gain His favor.

To be clear, our Christian discipleship demands much of us but not to earn God’s love. We serve from love and gratitude, fully assured of His acceptance. “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning.” (Reclaiming Jesus’ Teaching on Discipleship, Dr. Dallas Willard)  The grace of God is no excuse for lack of reverence.

There is a pseudo-grace to which some cling who have misunderstood the Gospel as much as those with bloodied knees. The Word describes them “godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.” (Jude 4, NIV) Authentic faith deepens awe, replaces self-confidence with God-confidence, and grows a holiness in us that results from our walking ‘in the Spirit,’ relying on God’s promises that bring our lives into alignment with His purpose.

My earliest experience of Christianity was something like that of those who crawl to God. I thought that He was distant, angry, and bent on my destruction, restrained only by Jesus. In a season of brokenness, the Spirit caused me to re-examine the Scripture and what I saw in the Gospel of Christ was amazing, graceful, and liberating. The Lord brought maturity that revealed the joy of holy living. But, it was not Self trying harder, it was God, the Holy Spirit, living in me, and our partnership allows something supernatural to happen in me.

Disciple, do you somehow think that bloody knees bring greater blessing?
Are you asking God, “Will You love me more if …?”
Are you so trapped by the need to perform that you are willing to try short cuts, tempted by ‘fraudulent’ offers made by religious charlatans?

Hear the challenge of the word from the Word that Paul wrote to some Christians who had slipped back into mere religion after having known the revelation of grace.
“Oh, foolish Galatians! Who has cast an evil spell on you? … After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? Have you experienced so much for nothing? Surely it was not in vain, was it?  I ask you again, does God give you the Holy Spirit and work miracles among you because you obey the law? Of course not! It is because you believe the message you heard about Christ. In the same way, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” (Galatians 3:1-6, NLT)

_________

Amazing grace,
How sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but
Now I’m found,
Was blind but now I see!

Public Domain

Prayer – raw and honest

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Around 4:30 am, I awakened from a dream about my late wife, a poignant one about a road trip we took 4 months before she died. As is my custom, my waking moments were turned to God in prayer, but coming after that dream, my prayers were emotional, angry even. “God, where were you when cancer showed up? What good can possibly be found in this ongoing grief I feel?” In a few moments, I found myself thanking Him for her eternal life, moving to a better frame of mind as I prayed for His strength for the day, that His love and grace would show through me.

Prayer need not always be high praise. Sometimes it is a raw, honest overflow of our innermost struggles. The best prayer is a conversation with our Father that engages Him where we are and allows Him to move us to where He desires us to be. Paul urges us to “Pray without ceasing!”  (1 Thess. 5.17) That does not mean we go to live in some holy place or that we recite The Lord’s Prayer endlessly.  Ceaseless prayer is a way of life, constant contact with our God. IF we only allow ourselves to pray nice prayers we will not keep lines of communication open. Our heart will chill towards Him, reverting to formal, heartless prayers only on special occasions.

Those with whom we are closest in life are given the privilege of seeing as we are. We will risk a disagreement with someone that we love because we trust that love to keep the relationship strong, in spite of differences. So, if we really love the Lord, we will live openly before Him – our sorrow, our joy, our hopes, our failures, our celebrations – all shared with Him in prayer.

I have counseled many about getting through those times of life when we are angry at God, when we do not want to talk to Him.
How do we move beyond that kind of anger?

Use the words of another!
When words fail me, I turn to the Psalms to pray some of David’s rich words. I sometimes borrow a song. Recently the ancient words of the hymn – “Be Thou My Vision” have been part of my prayers.

Let others pray for you!
Oh, I hope you have advocates on whom you can call for prayer. Hearing the voices of others lifted to God on your behalf is a blessed thing.

Pray simply, using a single phrase!
“Lord, have mercy.” “Let Your kingdom come.” “Holy Spirit, come.” “Jesus!” God can fill in the gaps when our hearts are unable to shape our thoughts into long prayers.

Let the Spirit lead!
The Word gives this promise of His Advocacy on our behalf.  “The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.” (Romans 8:26-27, NLT)  There is a time when we pray best by being silent: our hands and heart open to Him, listening, waiting, presented in adoration of His Holy Presence.

Prayer is not an option.  When we pray, we open up our lives to the power of God and, in ways that defy our understanding,  we become co-laborers in His work of building His Kingdom here on earth.
Pray first, not last.
Pray often, not seldom.
Pray boldly, not tentatively.
Pray “faith-fully,” knowing that He is faithful, even when you cannot discern His ways or hear His voice.

Here’s the word from the Word. “But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.  Hear my prayer, O LORD, listen to my cry for help; be not deaf to my weeping.  For I dwell with you as an alien, a stranger, as all my fathers were.” (Psalm 39:12, NIV) “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” (Psalm 56:8, NLT)

“I will fulfill my vows to you, O God, and will offer a sacrifice of thanks for your help. For you have rescued me from death; you have kept my feet from slipping. So now I can walk in your presence, O God, in your life-giving light.” (Psalm 56:12-13, NLT)

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Lord I Need You
(Pray along with Matt Maher at this link)

Lord, I come, I confess;
Bowing here, I find my rest,
And without You I fall apart.
You’re the one that guides my heart. 

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You.
Ev’ry hour I need You.
My one defense, my righteousness,
Oh God, how I need You.

 Where sin runs deep, Your grace is more.
Where grace is found is where You are.
And where You are, Lord, I am free,
Holiness is Christ in me.
Where You are Lord, I am free,
Holiness is Christ in me.

 So teach my song to rise to You,
When temptation comes my way.
And when I cannot stand I’ll fall on You,
Jesus, You’re my hope and stay.
And when I cannot stand I’ll fall on You,
Jesus, You’re my hope and stay.

Christy Nockels | Daniel Carson | Jesse Reeves | Kristian Stanfill | Matt Maher
© 2011 sixsteps Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) Sweater Weather Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

Why pray when you can worry?

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Anxiety is part of my life. Even on the best days, when I have little reason to worry, it’s there; idling but ready to roar to life in a moment. On tough days, feelings of dread and doom become overwhelming. It shows up in the middle of the night, robbing me of sleep as thoughts tumble. It comes at mid-day whispering in my ear that life is out of control and failure is imminent.

Those who just experience occasional anxiety that is related to a specific issue of stress have no idea how difficult it can be to deal with the inner fury of worry while meeting the challenges of everyday life. Telling a person who wrestles with anxiety to ‘calm down,’ is a little like trying to put out a fire with a hose spraying gasoline! It just makes it worse, much worse.

Where does anxiety come from? The jury is out on that. Is it just the way my brain is wired? Did it come from my past experience? Does it reflect a place where faith is growing, a place where Truth is still taking root? My own conclusion is that anxiety has parts of all the above.  While I understand anxiety as a ‘normal’ part of my life (and for everybody at least some of the time), I also recognize that I need not surrender to it as I make the daily choice to refuse the mastery of fear and worry!

The word of God is clear that His plan is not for us to live in fear and dread, that anxiety is a denial of our birthright as His child. Jesus, in His famed manifesto of the Kingdom, (Matthew 5,6, 7) includes these words- “Do not worry!”  He says we can make a choice and He desires that we choose His care!  

I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?” (Matthew 6:25, NIV)  “Figure out your priorities,” He says, “and start to tell yourself that you are more than your stuff.”  People who belong to Him know that their lives are not wrapped up in getting and hanging onto the ‘necessities’ of life. Godless people live for those things.

What, then is the focus of those who belong to Him?   “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:31-34, NIV)  Put God first, confess His care, and do what He asks of you. The result is that He promises that we will have enough.

Does that instantly erase anxiety? Nope, it doesn’t, but it is a starting place from which the Spirit can lead us to mastery over anxious thoughts.

Paul, who may well have wrestled with anxiety, builds on Jesus’ invitation to daily trust in the Lord. He was inspired to write this (from prison, by the way) – Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:4-10, NIV)

Make the Lord your joy; not things, not accomplishments, not pleasure.  Rejoice in the Lord. Psalm 34 explains how. “I will praise the Lord at all times. I will constantly speak his praises. I will boast only in the Lord; let all who are discouraged take heart. Come, let us tell of the Lord’s greatness; let us exalt his name together.” (Psalm 34:1-3, NLT)  Create a life of worship – full of praise, that offers genuine thanks to God for the little beauties you see. Join with His people to ‘magnify’ Him.

Pray often. Do you understand prayer? We pray with sighs, with laughter, with tears, with songs, and even with words.  When anxiety shows up, tell God about it, and ask for His grace to overcome. This isn’t just about positive thinking, nor is it about ‘psyching’ yourself up for the day.  God, the Holy Spirit, finds a place alongside of us from which we gain peace that is unfathomable in a turbulent world.

Order your thought life.  Right thinking produces right living. God asks us to set aside hateful thoughts, to reject selfish thoughts, to refuse to wallow in lustful thoughts – replacing those patterns with true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy thinking.  For some, getting the right kind of thought patterns in place may require working with a therapist to dig out the lies and replace them with the truth. And, there is nothing to be ashamed of in that!

By faith, claim your birthright as God’s child – peace!  Ultimately, this peace of God comes from peace with God and that is His gift of grace, given to us through faith in Christ Jesus.

Here is a word from the Word. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24, NIV)  Amen.

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O Come To The Altar
(worship with Elevation and know grace)

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

Free to love?

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A bit of news reached me a few days ago that settled into my heart like a splinter gets stuck in a finger. Every time I thought about it, it created pain, a kind of irritation. Just as inflammation will fester around a little splinter, anger grew around the situation in me.  Focusing only on my own disappointment, I turned into a critic, refusing to see possibilities for that person and their choices. Finally, I took my heart to God, asking for His forgiveness for a critical spirit, seeking His grace. ‘Dig it out of me, Lord,” I prayed, ‘so that I will be free to love.’

Have any splinters stuck into your heart recently?
In the pain have you reacted without really understanding the person, the back story, and/or all of the issues that are at stake?
Have you tossed any word grenades at anyone recently reacting defensively because of fear?

Jesus generally approached others with offers of acceptance and understanding. He models a life that seeks redemption. When some grenade throwers dragged a woman who was having an adulterous affair to Him He could have lashed out at her with scathing words about her shamelessness and her lack of character, but He did not. Was he ‘soft on sin’ or lacking conviction about morality? It would hard to make that case since He came to give His life to save us from our sins!  Jesus saw the person before He saw their actions. He loved people. So, when this woman was brought to Him, His first words were affirming, hopeful, redemptive; and only then did he say, “Now, go and sin no more.”

Jesus was free to love a sinner because was not threatened by public opinion or pressure. He had not issue in His life that made Him doubt His Father’s love.  His primary desire was to please His Father. God’s approval is the only thing that mattered in the end. What freedom we find in being loved by our Father in heaven. In a passage about our relationships, John teaches us that “Perfect love expels all fear … We love each other as a result of his loving us first.” (1 John 4:18-19, NLT) By faith we receive the love of God, through Christ Jesus, and as His love wraps us with secure hope, we can stop living defensively, even though we know that we live in a broken world.  Living the life of an encourager, being hopeful, is a mark of security in the love of God.

Are you hurting because of disappointment in another? Let God love you and then forgive.  Forgiveness does not mean that we say, “It doesn’t matter. I’m over it.”  Instead, we hand all of the hurt to Him, releasing the debt we hold over another person to His judgment. When we give up resentment, when we let Him love us, we become like Jesus, authentic in our hopefulness for others, encouraging, and redemptive. Yes, we are free to love! There is a great joy found in instilling another with hope, in helping to lift a burden, in pointing one to a new way of thinking.

Here is a word from the Word.  These inspired words are both comforting and challenging. Lord, give us understanding and faith to receive Your word as living words today. Amen.

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” (1 John 4:7-12, NIV)

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Untitled Hymn (Come To Jesus)

(an older song, that invites us to know Jesus’ love)

Weak and wounded sinner
Lost and left to die
O raise your head for Love is passin’ by
Come to Jesus
Come to Jesus
Come to Jesus and live

 Now your burden’s lifted
And carried far away
And precious blood has washed away the stain
So sing to Jesus
Sing to Jesus
Sing to Jesus and live

 Like a newborn baby
Don’t be afraid to crawl
And remember when you walk
sometimes we fall
So fall on Jesus
Fall on Jesus
Fall on Jesus and live 

Sometimes the way is lonely
And steep and filled with pain
So if your sky is dark and pours the rain
Then cry to Jesus
Cry to Jesus
Cry to Jesus and live

 O and when the love spills over
And music fills the night
And when you can’t contain your joy inside
Then dance for Jesus
Dance for Jesus
Dance for Jesus and live

 And with your final heartbeat
Kiss the world good-bye
Then go in peace and laugh on glory’s side
And fly to Jesus
Fly to Jesus
Fly to Jesus and live
Fly to Jesus
Fly to Jesus
Fly to Jesus and live

Chris Rice
© 2003 Clumsy Fly Music (Admin. by Word Entertainment, LLC) CCLI License # 810055

For the birds

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About 6 feet from where I am sitting, a cardinal is enjoying breakfast at the feeder that hangs outside of my kitchen window. Does he know that I provided that seed? Not at all. Will he thank me? No. He’s just a bird that found some food on this cold, snowy morning.  As I watched him there, I was thankful for that little touch of beauty today. I also wondered if I am sometimes as unaware of God’s provision for me as that bird is of mine? Do I take from His hand without even a nod of gratitude, or do I pause to praise, offering true worship to the One who is my Provider?

Jesus teaches us to trust and receive the care of our Father. “Look at the birds. They don’t need to plant or harvest or put food in barns because your heavenly Father feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than they are. Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? Of course not.” (Matthew 6:26-27, NLT) What is weighing on your mind this morning? Are you anxious, full of care, rushing into the new day to try too hard to control all those variables in your life?

I am no stranger to problems and challenges. I could burden you for the next few moments if I explained just a couple of the things for which I am responsible at this time. But, today, the Spirit used the birds at my feeder to remind me to wait on Him, to let Him lead, to provide for me in the way that He will which is, in those most memorable words of Paul, “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.” (Ephesians 3:20, NKJV)

Jesus does not teach us indifference, nor does He ask us resign to fate. He offers His Presence and the promise of all the resources we need if we will make a choice to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” and in that choice, we are assured that “all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33, NKJV) What things? All that we need for this day!

The Spirit offers us a solid place of restfulness, through Christ.  Referring to the Israelites who would not enter the Promised Land because of their fear and forgetfulness of God’s provisions, He tells us to lean on Him. “For as long, then, as that promise of resting in him pulls us on to God’s goal for us, we need to be careful that we’re not disqualified. We received the same promises as those people in the wilderness, but the promises didn’t do them a bit of good because they didn’t receive the promises with faith. If we believe, though, we’ll experience that state of resting.” (Hebrews 4:1-3, The Message)

Create some space in your life today, preferably right now, to pause, to pray, to meditate on God’s provision for YOU. “Listen to my voice in the morning, Lord. Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly.” (Psalm 5:3, NLT)

Here is a word from the Word. May it fill you with peace today. “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: “He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.” (2 Corinthians 9:8-10, NIV)

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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

Lord, I need a miracle

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How many times have we prayed, “Lord, I need a miracle!”?  Today, are you wishing He would change something with a word, magically, to make your life happier? Truth is – there are miracles all around and most escape our attention.

Mark Batterson, in The Grave Robber,  tells of an accomplished violinist who was asked to go and play at a Washington, DC metro station as an experiment.  As Joshua Bell played in that place, 1097 commuters rushed by; only 7 stopping to listen to the beautiful music.  Before you shake your head at all those people who ignored the music wondering how they could be so oblivious; before you excuse them for rushing off to their desks and homes, just think about it.  What might you be missing as you rush through life, doing all those urgent things?

I realize we live in a broken world where many things go wrong. Sickness shows up. People let us down. The earth quakes; things break. Tears blind us. If we are people of faith we may cry, “Lord, I need a miracle.” Perhaps we do, however there are miracles happening all around us. The sun shines, the spring comes, the grass grows, bodies heal, people love, children laugh. Those are miracles we must not let ourselves forget.

The Spirit whispers to us, inviting us to remember that God is with us, the Savior loves us, and our lives are secure in His grasp.  Instead of begging God to do a miracle to change our situation, we will a real peace when we pursue the Presence of Jesus, allowing Him to be Lord in our life.

Jesus made a promise to provide. “Seek my Kingdom first,” He says, “and the rest will come.”  The Message is compelling in this passage. “Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” (Matthew 6:33-34, The Message)

Let’s trust God with our joy, our sorrow, our present, our tomorrow. Make time to listen for heaven’s song today.

The word from the Word –
“Shout joyful praises to God, all the earth!
Sing about the glory of his name!
Tell the world how glorious he is.

 Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
Your enemies cringe before your mighty power.
Everything on earth will worship you;
they will sing your praises, shouting your name in glorious songs.

Come and see what our God has done,
what awesome miracles he does for his people!”
(Psalm 66:1-5, NLT)

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Here As In Heaven

(Elevation Worship leads us to worship.)

The atmosphere is changing now
For the Spirit of the Lord is here
The evidence is all around
That the Spirit of the Lord is here

 Overflow in this place
Fill our hearts with your love
Your love surrounds us
You’re the reason we came to encounter your love
Your love surrounds us

 Spirit of God fall fresh on us
We need your presence
Your kingdom come your will be done
Here as in heaven

 A miracle can happen now
For the Spirit of the Lord is here
The evidence is all around
That the Spirit of the Lord is here

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

CCLI License # 810055

 

Turning your heart to God, anew

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My life, and yours, fills up with the important and trivial. Today I must finish preparation to teach a session tonight, answer some email inquiries, get an emergency lighting system working, pray for the congregation, schedule a plumber for some clogged drains among other things. If I forget ‘why’ I exist the ‘what’ of life will dim the glory of God for which I was made. He desires that we will know and love Him – even as we cope with disappointments and celebrate victories. That is why we need reset points and reminders.

One of those seasons is called Lent by the church. Lent comes from an old word “lencten” which meant “spring.”  It is a 40 day season, (not counting Sundays) that prepares Christians for the celebration of the Resurrection.  Historically, the season is marked by repentance and includes fasting, self-examination, and reflection.

Traditionally the opening of Lent is called “Ash Wednesday” because ashes made from palm fronds from the previous year’s celebration of Palm Sunday traditionally are used by some churches to mark the forehead- a sign of our humility and a stark reminder of our inevitable encounter with death; that ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust’ thing we say at gravesides.

The discipline of fasting is most encouraged during this time of year. Fasting, in the most narrow meaning, is about abstaining from food.  Actually, there are many ways to practice the renewal of fasting. We can enter the joy of fasting by setting aside some pleasurable pursuit, time on social media, or some special food. We can fast by generously giving away our time in service, setting aside Self. Whatever our choice, it is done as a reminder that we are subject to the Spirit. Fasting is an act of obedience, offered in faith to God, that opens us to a new experience of the Holy Spirit’s Presence!

God made us with a spirit-body connection! What we do in our physical body has an effect on our spiritual state- both positively and negatively. Paul starkly says “So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step. I am not like a boxer who misses his punches. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:26-27, NLT)  A literal translation of the NT Greek would read “I pound my body into submission!”  God does not ask us to abuse ourselves. We need not actually beat ourselves bloody, but there is maturity in reminding ourselves that life is more than food, clothes, or comfort.

Remember this –  religious ritual, done for the purpose of impressing God and/or other people, is worse than useless!  It is a expression of sinful pride. That is why Jesus urged us to practice spiritual disciplines like fasting, giving, and prayer without telling anyone. Such choices, because they are acts of faith, must be very personal. Jesus told us to keep our fasting a private matter! Jesus said, “when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, who try to look pale and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I assure you, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will suspect you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in secret. And your Father, who knows all secrets, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-18 NLT)

If we ‘show off’ or if we judge those who do not practice a discipline as we do, we rob the disciplines of any value. They become nothing more than the display of religion and empty traditions or worse, a means of making ourselves feel better than someone who does not share our conviction.

Will you give up ice cream for Lent?  If you do, do it for the purpose of seeking the Lord. (I think we might be better served by giving up some TV time for prayer, meditation or reading Scripture.) Don’t do it just because I said to. Rather, pray about it. Ask the Lord if you need to discipline your body to provide freedom for the Spirit, to allow for a reset.

Here’s a word from the Word about living in the Spirit. Think deeply and prayerfully on the promise of this passage.  “My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don’t you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence? …

What happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way.” (Galatians 5:16-18, 22-23, The Message)

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Build My Life

(a beautiful prayer of worship and hope)

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