Dreaming of Paradise

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Last night ’round 9:30, I sat alone, prayerfully thinking about the chaos in which I am presently living. As I prayed, God was near.  Please understand that I am not complaining!  I enjoy rich blessings – the love of God, many friendships, a comfortable home, great kids. Yet … there are struggles with which I wrestle, even with my good life. And thus, I rightly long for that promised place where sin cannot enter, where suffering is unknown, and where intimacy with God is unbroken. In my weariness, I dreamt of Paradise.

The Psalmist expresses my desire:  “One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4, NIV)

Heaven is written into our beings by our Creator.   He made us to love and serve Him and, as we invite His Spirit to be at work in us, we will more intensely desire His Presence, which will be perfectly known when we reach Paradise! This morning, my meditation returned again to the words of Peter who tells us to be wary of getting too cozy in this present world. “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:11-12, NIV)

Without a firm grasp on the promise of Paradise, we will almost certainly become disillusioned, even embittered, with the passing of time. “I meet many faithful Christians who, in spite of their faith, are deeply disappointed in how their lives have turned out. Sometimes it is a matter of how they experience aging, which they take to mean they no longer have a future. But often, due to circumstances or wrongful decisions and actions by others, what they had hoped to accomplish in life they did not …. Much of the distress of these people comes from a failure to realize that their life lies before them… the life that lies endlessly before us in the kingdom of God.”   (The Divine Conspiracy, Dr. Dallas Willard)

Christians who loses sight of Paradise Promised will revert to the same responses to life that those without God experience. They will fight for their own interests and fiercely protect what they believe is important to their own happiness. They will fear what they cannot understand or control, but when eternity is in view on time’s horizon, faith settles, trust grows, and peace comes.  My friend, do not make the mistake of believing that eternal life only begins when we die, that the joy of Heaven is only available to us after our bodies are in the grave!  We are citizens of Heaven even now by the grace of Jesus Christ. We enjoy intimate communion with the Lord of Glory now.

Indeed, our high calling is to bring the kingdom reign of God to earth now.  Jesus taught us to pray, “may Your Kingdom come and Your will be done, on earth, as it is in Heaven.”  That is for now, but we cannot do the work of the Kingdom if we have little hope for it in our hearts.

Abraham is a model for us.  He heard God’s call, grasped the reality of Paradise, and lived the rest of days here on earth on pilgrimage.   Was he perfect?  No!    He took some detours from the straight and narrow path, but he never lost sight of where he was going.  The Word says  “By an act of faith, Abraham said yes to God’s call to travel to an unknown place that would become his home. When he left he had no idea where he was going. By an act of faith he lived in the country promised him, lived as a stranger camping in tents. Isaac and Jacob did the same, living under the same promise. Abraham did it by keeping his eye on an unseen city with real, eternal foundations-the City designed and built by God.”  (Hebrews 11:8-10, The Message)

Perhaps one reason we do not anticipate Paradise with greater desire is because we have adopted a flawed vision of it. The images of the misty fog enveloping transparent spirits floating in a ghostly realm, of little cherubs strumming harps as their feet dangle over the edge of clouds, are nonsensical!  Paradise is a real substantial place, of unimaginable beauty, where we know unbroken communion with God and perfect love of one another. Beyond that, let’s remember that Heaven was created by the God that thought up the refraction of sunlight by water moisture which produces the beauty of a rainbow.  If He would do that for beauty that lasts for a few moments what must He do for a place that is eternal?   We gave on the beauty of majestic mountains, enjoy the babble of tumbling streams, and are moved to tears by the cooing of a baby.  Now think;  if He would make a temporary world of such splendor, what must our eternal home look like?

So, by faith, reach out and hold onto Paradise.  When life is overwhelming, when sin threatens to engulf you,  when all seems futile,  when disappointment breaks your heart – look up and thank God that He has written Heaven into your heart. I did, and it brought rest, put me on the right path again.  It is precisely that God-instilled longing for Paradise that makes us unwilling to settle down and desire our best life now.   We are headed home!

Here is a word from the Word. My prayer is that the Spirit will write in large letters in our minds and hearts. “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country-a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”   (Hebrews 11:13-16, NIV)
_________

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)
Bethel Music Publishing CCLI License # 810055

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Who Do You Think You Are?

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One of the best gifts I received from my parents is the sense of ‘place’ and ‘purpose.’  In my formative years my Dad often said to me, “You’re a Scott, take care that good name.” It was not said in a prideful way. It was to remind me that I belonged to something bigger than myself, that my life was not just about finding my own bliss.  In the turbulence of my teens, when I was drawn towards temptation, Dad’s words echoed in my mind, preserving me from many foolish, short-sighted choices.  That gift of ‘identity’ was a powerful motivator to do good. A half-century has past and another Father now speaks to me, calling me to take care of His Name.

The primary reason I (and you) exist is not to find happiness. We were made to known and love God, to make His Name great as we reflect His glory and good to our world.

Peter writes to us, inspired by the Spirit, to remind us that our lives become a thing of beauty when we are filled with the Holy Spirit.  God take ‘nothings’ and make them into ‘somethings.’  We are called into God’s “Ekklesia,” the Church! “Ye are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that ye may show forth the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light: who in time past were no people, but now are the people of God: who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.” – 1 Peter 2:9-10 NASV

Elect, royal, holy, God’s treasure! Those words give us an identity, call us to a purpose, and ennoble our lives. Is pride possible? Not if we know the whole story which includes the reality that we are who we are only because of His work of Grace. “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.” (Ephesians 2:8, NLT)  “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10, NLT)

Are you living in your God-granted privileges today?
Are you rejoicing that He has called you out of the dark and into His wonderful light?

Zechariah urges people called by God to take their place, to live in His promise, and to know their destiny. The pictures painted by his words are jolting yet compelling. “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey… Then the LORD will appear over them; his arrow will flash like lightning. The Sovereign LORD will sound the trumpet; he will march in the storms of the south, and the LORD Almighty will shield them. They will destroy and overcome with slingstones. They will drink and roar as with wine; they will be full like a bowl used for sprinkling the corners of the altar. The LORD their God will save them on that day as the flock of his people. They will sparkle in his land like jewels in a crown. How attractive and beautiful they will be!” Zechariah 9:9,14-17 NIV  What are the words used to describe the people of God?

Protected. Powerful. Celebrating their victories with the abandon of those who are intoxicated! Precious as jewels and as beautiful, too!

So, who do you think you are? It is not a rhetorical question. It is a key to living the life He desires.  Believe His statement that you are “Elect, royal, holy, God’s treasure!”
IF you are Christ’s then you can live that description. Shake off that ‘I’m nothing, unworthy; don’t look at me’ attitude.  God has set His favor on you. Live in it today with thanksgiving, humbled by His grace, and fed by His goodness.

Abba, so much of life conspires to make me feel worthless.
So many tell me that I am less, that I have failed because I do not meet their expectations.
This immense universe sometimes makes me feel like a drop in the ocean.
Whisper, today, in my heart of Your Love.
Put steely resolve in my steps to find Your purpose and live it.

May I know, anew, who am I in Your eyes so that
I will live to make Your name beautiful before my world.

In Jesus’ Name. Amen
__________

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Is there evidence of a Christian heart?

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Few things hurt as badly as hearing that someone you considered a friend has torn you apart in a conversation, questioning your motives, your competence, or your character. It’s too common, even among the family of faith, our Christian brothers and sisters. And, it’s not all about ‘those people,’ either.  Have you, like me, ever walked away from a conversation and wondered, “Why did I say that? Why did I let myself go there?”  A morsel of gossip gets shared, or a critical comment slips in, or a demeaning statement is left unchallenged.

It happens to all of us. On the positive side, think of one of those conversations that started down that pathway that was gently and wisely steered back to higher ground.  For me, at least, it feels wonderful to express grace when the perceived failings of another becomes the topic.

In my ongoing readings of Peter’s first letter to the Christian church, this was what I read today.  Because of the redemption of Christ, “rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:1-5, NIV)  The Spirit weaves so much truth into those few words.

When Jesus is Lord of life, when the Spirit lives in us, our heart changes and one of the evidences is what comes out of our mouth. No more malicious words, no more hypocritical words, no more slanderous talk that tears at others. Jesus taught us that “out of the heart the mouth speaks.” We cannot hope to filter our words successfully if our heart is dark. If the Spirit is invited to live in us, however, the overflow of our words will be life-giving, like refreshing water! Peter urges us to feed on Christ, with the eagerness of an infant at her mother’s breast. “Crave pure spiritual milk,” he writes. An infant received complete nourishment in mother’s milk and grows. So will we, if we are fed by Christ.

Note that Peter switches metaphor but continues similar thought. An evidence of our maturity is our willingness to be ‘built into a spiritual house. The old selfishness, the me-first attitude that protects self-interests, is replaced with a desire to be linked with others in the faith, fitted together like stones in a magnificent Temple!  “Living stones,” he calls us. Think about that.  The ‘together’ aspect of our Christian faith is further explained by reminding us that we called into a ‘holy priesthood.’  Peter is not, at all, emphasizing a position of power or control. He is urging us to selfless service.  A true priest of God does not do what he does for himself. He serves – God, first; then others on God’s behalf.  And, this life becomes like a pleasing offering to God.

Oh, what an amazing passage.  It starts with the ugly things of natural humanity and moves to the beauty of the life redeemed. As you move through life today, listen to the overflow of your words. Do they reveal Christ at home in your heart?  Consider if you are letting yourself be called ‘together,’ as befits the Spirit’s work; or if you have slipped into becoming an instrument of divisiveness.

Our word from the Word is another translation of Peter’s words. May the Spirit cause them to be like mother’s milk to us, causing us to grow, to mature, and to become holy people in the service of the Lord.

“So clean house! Make a clean sweep of malice and pretense, envy and hurtful talk. Now, like infants at the breast, drink deep of God’s pure kindness. Then you’ll grow up mature and whole in God. You’ve had a taste of God. Welcome to the living Stone, the source of life. The workmen took one look and threw it out; God set it in the place of honor. Present yourselves as building stones for the construction of a sanctuary vibrant with life, in which you’ll serve as holy priests offering Christ-approved lives up to God.” (1 Peter 2:1-5, The Message)

________

Word Of God Speak

(an older song from MercyMe)

I’m finding myself at a loss for words
And the funny thing is it’s okay
The last thing I need is to be heard
But to hear what You would say

 Word of God speak
Would You pour down like rain
Washing my eyes to see Your majesty
To be still and know
That You’re in this place
Please let me stay and rest
In Your holiness
(Word of God speak)

 I’m finding myself in the midst of You
Beyond the music beyond the noise
All that I need is to be with You
And in the quiet hear Your voice

 I’m finding myself at a loss for words
And the funny thing is it’s okay

 Bart Millard | Pete Kipley © 2002 Simpleville Music (Fair Trade Music Publishing [c/o Essential Music Publishing LLC])

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Heaven on the Horizon

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As consciousness dawned this morning, I thought of Heaven!  There is the obvious reason. Today, Bev and I would have celebrated our 44th wedding anniversary. And, there are other reasons, too. In so many conversations in the last few days, I have realized in a new way, just how important it is to keep eternity in the forefront of my mind. I walked the rituals of grief with a family who lost a young son last week. I spoke with a young woman who is struggling with hopelessness. Another person shared the brokenness felt after great disappointment and the difficulty of finding the way to healing.

Yes, often life grows dark, but our hope of Heaven is like the ancient navigator’s North star. It keeps us from wandering, infuses us with purpose, and whispers assurance to us in the disappointments that inevitably come our way.

Peter’s inspired words to us teach us that “Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God. It cost God plenty to get you out of that dead-end, empty-headed life you grew up in. He paid with Christ’s sacred blood, you know. He died like an unblemished, sacrificial lamb. And this was no afterthought. Even though it has only lately—at the end of the ages—become public knowledge, God always knew he was going to do this for you. It’s because of this sacrificed Messiah, whom God then raised from the dead and glorified, that you trust God, that you know you have a future in God.” (1 Peter 1:18-21, The Message)  Other translations begin this way- “live as strangers with reverence.”

 We are not ‘home,’ we are going home. Our Father restored us to Himself through the sacrifice of Jesus and He has prepared a place’ (John 14) for us in His house. When I travel, I love seeing new places, meeting new faces, but I love to go home. Home is where I can relax, feel safe, kick off my shoes, raid my fridge, and turn up the music. Home provides an identity for me, giving me roots that keep me from drifting.

Christian, are you anticipating going HOME?  Before you conclude that I have a death wish, know that there is much to live for, joys to be known among friends and family that surround us, and yet … yes, and yet we need to anticipate that eternal Home.

When we cultivate an awareness of the Presence of God with daily worship, Heaven becomes closer. When we choose to worship Him, beyond form, with a love that encompasses ‘heart, soul, mind, and strength’ eternity takes hold of us even while we are creatures of time and space. Heaven in our heart changes us in our ‘walking around, everyday lives.’

So today, friend, invite the Spirit to come close. Give thanks for Jesus and the blood of His sacrifice that makes you holy. Look past the “empty way of life” that blinds those without God to things eternal.

Here is a word from the Word. “If only for this (present) life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a Man.” (1 Corinthians 15:19-21, NIV)  “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58, NIV)

__________

Build My Life

(a beautiful song of worship)

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)
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So What?

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Sir Hugh Beaver missed a shot at a game bird in 1954. An argument followed among the hunters about the fastest game bird in England.  Realizing that these kinds of arguments went on in pubs all over England every night, Beaver got an idea to have a book compiled about trivia and The Guinness Book of Records came into existence with the first bound edition published in London on 27 August 1955. Over the years the book has grown thicker, packed with facts, becoming the recognized authority of trivia, selling over 100 million copies! Now you can know the youngest person to achieve some goal, the identity of the most tattooed man, and a million other factoids.

Trivia, by definition, is information without serious consequence!  Let me ask you a serious question this morning.  Do you treat the Truth of Jesus Christ and your salvation as life-changing information or is the story of the Cross and Resurrection tucked into a corner of your mind as something nice to know for some time down the road of life?

Peter says that our faith and salvation is the most consequential truth we know. Having come to faith we are told to roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives. Don’t lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing. You didn’t know any better then; you do now. As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. God said, “I am holy; you be holy.”  (1 Peter 1:13-16, The Message)

When we come to know Jesus, we are reconciled to our Father, and called into His service. The life we lived before Christ, one that was being spent on money, pleasure, and perhaps creation of a legacy; is replaced with an eternal life that has but one overarching purpose. What is it?  We are invited to be engaged with knowing God and making Him known.  Our day to day decisions are made in the light of eternity, knowing that whatever we do for Jesus is never forgotten, that we can be a part of changing the eternal destiny of that person we introduce to faith, that we can defeat evil and bring Light and Life when He is allowed to work through us.

If that sounds grandiose, realize with me, it isn’t; not at all. God’s call to ‘be holy’ does not mean you must enter vocational ministry or become a missionary (though you might!).  He desires to make you the best spouse, parent, employee, neighbor … a person of integrity; right where you are today. That is the consequence of receiving the Gospel by faith.

Are you asking, “So, what?”  Has life become something like a treadmill of meaningless existence?  Re-think your faith. Begin to connect Jesus to life now. Make a difference, for God’s sake.

Here is a word from the Word. Take it with you today. “And whatever you do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus, all the while giving thanks through him to God the Father.” (Colossians 3:17, NLT)  “Work hard and cheerfully at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and the Master you are serving is Christ.” (Colossians 3:23-24, NLT)

There is a world waiting, not for trivial truth, but for the Truth that changes everything.

__________

Knowing You

All I once held dear built my life upon
All this world reveres and wars to own
All I once thought gain I have counted loss
Spent and worthless now compared to this

 Knowing You Jesus knowing You
There is no greater thing
You’re my all You’re the best
You’re my joy my righteousness
And I love You Lord love You Lord

 Now my heart’s desire is to know You more
To be found in You and known as Yours
To possess by faith what I could not earn
All surpassing gift of righteousness

 Oh to know the pow’r of Your risen life
And to know You in Your sufferings
To become like You in Your death my Lord
So with You to live and never die

Graham Kendrick © 1993 Make Way Music (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)

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Prove it!

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I wanted to get to know S. better knowing something of the complicated story of his life. He had once been a fervent Christian, leading a church, beloved by those in his congregation. When I met him, he was an opponent of all things Christian, as fervent in his opposition as he had been in his advocacy some 15 years prior. As we shared lunch that day, I asked him how he thought about things of God, if he ever feared that moment when he would meet the Lord. He leaned back and laughed derisively. “Come on, Jerry, it’s time you outgrew believing. I no more fear a god than I do the tooth fairy.”  I felt an awful chill in my soul that day as he challenged me to ‘prove’ the existence of my God.

In the 20 or so years that have followed that conversation, in spite of many trials and tests, I continue to love and serve Jesus. Do I always understand His ways? No. Have I grown in my relationship with Him over the years, changing some ways in which I know Him? Yes.  My life is shaped by my conviction that He is Who He claimed to be – the Savior and Lord.

Peter says this – “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:8-9, NIV)  Even though He is invisible to our natural eyes, even though we cannot ‘prove’ His existence, we believe!  What is this ‘belief’ of which Peter writes? The word of the text is one that is about more than a ‘hope it’s true’ response to an idea. Belief, in this context, is about putting trust in a person, committing ourselves with confidence to Him and the promises He has made.

What results from leaning into faith of this kind?  We find a joy that surpasses happiness. Peter calls it ‘inexpressible and glorious.’  There is an old Gospel song that uses the older translation. “Joy unspeakable and full of glory.”  In genuine faith, the Christian is given a gift; a quality of life that mere words cannot describe and that has a richness that outshines the ‘light and momentary’ troubles of this world.  This joy is sustained not just by a hope of eternal life in Heaven, but by an experience of salvation, here and now!  We know that we are held secure in God, made whole in a broken world, saved!

In this first week of 2019, examine your life.
Do the choices you are making reflect that you are committed to Christ in full faith, or are you holding back?
Are you waffling between completely trusting Jesus and making sure to care for yourself?

Give yourself away to the Lord of Glory.  Not childishly, but with a child-life trust. You will begin to know that of which Peter writes. “You never saw him, yet you love him. You still don’t see him, yet you trust him—with laughter and singing. Because you kept on believing, you’ll get what you’re looking forward to: total salvation.” (1 Peter 1:8-9, The Message)

Here is a word from the Word. “I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until the day of his return. Hold on to the pattern of right teaching you learned from me. And remember to live in the faith and love that you have in Christ Jesus. With the help of the Holy Spirit who lives within us, carefully guard what has been entrusted to you.” (2 Timothy 1:12-14, NLT)

______

Abba, my faith is tested and tried daily.
Situations arise that I cannot understand.
Reconciling some of my experience with Your promises
challenges me and I am tempted to try to take control of my life.

I pray for the Spirit’s Presence to keep me steady,
for courage to commit myself to You, even when You’re hidden.

Renew that unspeakable joy in me as I live with a committed faith in You today.
In Jesus’ Name. Amen

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God’s gift – Joy for 2019!

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America has a kind of crisis of which many are unaware. It is a crisis of hope!  A stark reminder of this is the fact that about 40,000 people take their own life each year in America, a figure that is probably low, due to the fact that some suicides are reported as ‘death from natural causes.’  Why is the dark of despair overtaking so many in this country? There is no single cause, to be sure. There is a general loss of faith that contributes to the sense of the meaninglessness of life. The population is aging and the elderly are particularly susceptible to loneliness and despair. Families are more fractured now than they used to be and family support is a key to surviving times of turbulence in emotional and mental health.

In Christ, we find a blessing of hope, a gift of God to us who live in this world that has so many sorrows and disappointments.  In the opening of his letter to Christians, Peter writes this wonderful passage of promise. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and 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 1:3-7, NIV)

The promise of eternal life, of a glorious existence in the Presence of God, is our living hope!    This hope cannot be stolen from us for we are protected by the strength of God, which we own by faith. “Yes,” Peter, acknowledges, “there will be grief and trials along the way.   But even these are reasons for hopefulness.   They are refining our relationship with Jesus and causing those who see us standing strong to realize that Jesus Christ is worthy of praise!”    Out of this gift of faith, comes an amazing result.   “Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy.” (1 Peter 1:8, NLT)

From personal experience, I know how hard it can be to work through the darkness of a time of depression. 25 years ago,  I experienced an awful time when I felt there was no reason for a new day to dawn.  For several months,  I awakened each morning with an awful sense of futility shrouding every thought.  The question – ‘why go on living?’ was never far from my conscious thoughts. There were two faint glimmers of light that flickered into that dark time – the promises of God and the love of my family.   I clung, desperately to the truth of Scripture, though a part of my mind insisted that I was unworthy – that others might experience His loving grace – but not me.    My family held onto me, loving me when I was silent, patiently waiting for their husband and father to reappear.

I am very thankful for the wise intervention of professionals who came alongside of me and helped me find my way out of that pit. Were my brain chemicals out of balance? Was it a spiritual attack waged by Hell to destroy me, or the result of disappointment in life?   Probably there is some combination of those factors, but I experienced it as a time of awful darkness.  Truly, looking back,  I thank God for allowing me to walk that road,  for it changed me for the better, in every way. If you are struggling with real depression, don’t remain silent!

You don’t have to experience depression to feel a loss of hope. Losing one’s job, a failure of a marriage, the death of someone we love, or chronic illness can wear us down and steal the sunshine from the sky. In those times, we must renew hope in the Lord! Paul overcame the difficulties of his life with this kind of faith.   He declared, “If God is on our side, can anyone be against us? God did not keep back his own Son, but he gave him for us. If God did this, won’t he freely give us everything else?” (Romans 8:31-32, CEV)

Are you fighting with despair?  Make the choice that Moses made – “He chose to share the oppression of God’s people instead of enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin. He thought it was better to suffer for the sake of Christ than to own the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to his great reward.” (Hebrews 11:25-26, NLT)

Our word from the Word this Monday morning points us to our Great Example! Learn from the Lord Jesus “who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! ”  (Hebrews 12:2-3, The Message)

God’s gift to us is JOY. May we receive it by faith.

__________

10,000 Reasons (Bless The Lord)

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)

CCLI License # 810055

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Making Church Messier

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It’s time to reclaim the church as something to which we belong rather than just an event venue.”  Those lines which appeared in an article in the Jan/Feb. (2019) issue of Christianity Today grabbed my attention. The writer told of walking to church one Sunday in his town past a little boy playing in the street. The boy asked, “Are you going to a party?”  The answer was- “Yes, we are! But we call it church. Go ask your Mom if you can come with us.”  The little boy went to the ‘party’ that day and within months his entire family, which was by social standards dysfunctional, became baptized participants in the Christian life of that congregation.

How do you see your church? Is it a place to go for an event or is it a place where a ‘family’ gathers to worship the Lord and share life? The New Testament uses familial language constantly when speaking of the Christians. They called one another brother and sister. They shared their possessions.

Luke says “all the believers met together constantly and shared everything they had. They sold their possessions and shared the proceeds with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people.”  What was the result of this new family of faith? “And each day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:44-47, NLT)

“Church” should look more like a family gathering than a concert!  The Church exists to call people into a new life, to make followers of Jesus, and to create a new society of people who love each other. That is not, sadly, the way most American churches function in 2019.  I believe that the American church has made a terrible error in trying to become an event venue, putting on a religious show, using décor and ‘culturally relevant’ images to attract larger crowds.

Pastors become salesmen, evangelism becomes marketing, and Jesus Christ becomes the ‘product’ neatly packaged in ways that comfort without asking too much of those who fill the building. The article referenced above rightly says that these ‘churches end up competing with each other for attendees just like businesses compete for customers.’

When you go to the house of your sister, with all the family together, you expect that there will be goofs, cranks, noisy kids, and opinionated uncles in the house. Part of the delight of family are all those personalities and because we love them, we welcome them, even delight in their quirks!  When we come together as God’s family, we too should expect something less than a smoothly orchestrated event that will not make allowance for that person who is ‘different,’ or who weeps, or laughs, or sings off-key, or says things that are socially inept.  Peter offers us this vision of the church family. “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:8-10, NIV)

At FDC (FaithDiscovery.com) we are attempting to encourage people to join a Life group, not because it’s ‘’fun” or because they need more things to fill up already packed schedules. We know that true Christianity is not just practiced with creeds and Communion in a sanctuary, it is lived in the middle of life – in times of birth and death, beginnings and endings, successes and failures. Life Groups help people to get past the event idea of modern church so that they will become brothers and sisters in the family of God.

Here is a word from the Word. My prayer is that the Spirit will cause us to hunger to know one another, to encourage each other beyond the handshake on Sunday morning. “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.” (John 13:34, NLT) “Share each other’s troubles and problems, and in this way obey the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2, NLT) “Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24, NLT)

Love deeply.
Let love remove all offense.
Be generous in giving away your personal comfort.
Go to serve, not to be entertained.
And, you will please the Lord and grow into something far richer in life than just ‘going to church.’

_________

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The TRUTH about YOU

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“Let me tell you the truth,” is not a phrase that generally prefaces a pleasant conversation. Often ‘the truth’ is that person’s perception of some failure. Sometimes, however, what follows are words that encourage us, that remind us of what may have forgotten while under pressure.  In the last three years since Bev went home to Heaven a friend in my life consistently lifts my eyes to hope. The “truth” offered particularly helped me not to drown in grief in those critical months after Bev’s death.  “The truth” has reset my perspective so that I can see God’s plan and press on days when it seems that there is only chaos and disappointment.

In the opening of his letter to us, Peter tells the truth to us! Inspired by the Spirit, his words are healing and hopeful. Sometimes we tend to skip the opening lines of those New Testament letters, as if they were just stock greetings, but they are so much more than just than that. Look! “This letter is from Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ. I am writing to God’s chosen people who are living as foreigners in the lands of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, the province of Asia, and Bithynia. God the Father chose you long ago, and the Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed Jesus Christ and are cleansed by his blood. May you have more and more of God’s special favor and wonderful peace.” (1 Peter 1:1-2, NLT)

Go back and look at those words that I put in boldface. Chosen! Holy! Cleansed!

God, in His omniscience, is unbounded by time. He lives in eternity. Let this fact amaze you as you ponder that He knew of you before you were even conceived and made it possible for you to become His beloved child. Why? Because we were lovely? No. Because we did something remarkable? No. He acts according to His own purposes to bring us to Himself, acting on us through His Spirit, drawing us to Himself. “Chosen” is no reason for pride as in “I am better than you because I was chosen for the team.”  If that is how you read this word that Peter uses, you have entirely missed the point. We draw great assurance from the fact that He has opened the door to knowing Him, that He is at work to bring us ‘home’ to His family. Are you living as a ‘chosen’ one, responsive to His invitation to daily grace?

When we receive His gift of grace, by faith, there is a change in us. We start to become holy. There is a caricature of ‘holiness’ that persists among us that sees it only as an exaggerated kind of ‘nice,’ a mild-mannered, inoffensive, naïve person. The word is richer in meaning. To be holy is to be ‘set apart’ for the purposes of God, to understand the high calling of being useful in His hand. People who grasp their purpose, who have a clear understanding of their abilities, can become focused and greatly effective.

Tom Brady, the QB of the Patriots, (that is an American football team, by the way) is single-minded in his pursuit of excellence. He is intense, spends endless hours honing his skills, and refuses to be distracted by the things his fame and wealth could afford him. In a sense he has made himself ‘holy’ for the sake of football. It shows in his accomplishments.

God calls each one of us to serve Him as holy people. The Spirit gifts us with abilities and opportunities and if we understand that we are to be ‘holy,’ we answer His call. Don’t confuse the call to be ‘holy’ with a call to vocational ministry. Not all of God’s people become pastors or church workers, but ALL have a place in Christ’s work in the world. Are you presenting yourself to Him as one who is holy?

Peter reminds us that we are clean through the blood of Christ!  Are you paralyzed by regret? Are you a captive of guilt or shame, held back from fully loving and serving the Lord because you feel unworthy, or because you can only remember some past sin or present temptation?  Sin is real.  We should not try to excuse or ignore those things that are shameful, but those things can be left behind because of the Cross of Christ. There He took our guilt on Himself and presented His with forgiveness and restoration.  Sinful?  Yes, “that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:11, NIV)

It is time to believe the Truth about yourself.  The enemy of God and good is a liar. He works hard to present us with distortions about God, about the world, about ourselves. God offers us the Truth. Will you accept it, live in it, and know the blessings found in Him?

Here is a word from the Word. “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32, NIV)

The Truth will make YOU free.

__________

O Come To The Altar

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

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A Gift We All Can Give

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When I am privileged to pray for others, it is one of the joys of my life. Yesterday I joined hands in a circle of a grieving family members and asked Jesus to be their Comfort; and felt His Presence. When I stand alongside of the bed of someone in the hospital, I know I am there not just to visit and talk about life, there is a moment when we pray together, and I lift them to our Father.  Often, when I awaken in the small hours of the morning, I remember friends, family, people in the congregation and quietly, there in the darkness, I pray for them. In this way, I give a gift we all can give to others.

Before you think me a saint, let me hasten to add, that I could and should pray much better than I do. I admire those who find it possible to spend hours before the Throne of God. I pray here and there, in short entreaties, sometimes in tears, sometimes in song, often ‘in the Spirit’ as I slip into a heavenly language understood only by my God.

How and when you pray, (and I do hope that you pray!) remember that form of prayer called intercession.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with praying for your own needs. God invites us to bring all of our requests to Him, as a child would come to her loving Dad.  But, there is a joy in serving as an intercessor; coming before God on behalf of another. Since Jesus Christ’s coming, the act of intercession is no longer restricted to a few persons.  He has made us, John explains, “priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.” (Revelation 1:6, NIV)

A story from Abraham’s experience, told in the 18th chapter of Genesis, teaches us something of this kind of prayer.  The Lord revealed to Abraham that He planned to destroy Sodom because “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous.” (Genesis 18:20, NIV) Abraham steps up on behalf of the city and engages the Lord in a conversation that looks like bargaining.

Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” (Genesis 18:23, NIV)  “Will you destroy the city if there are 50 righteous in it?” And, so it goes, until Abraham reaches the number 10! Boldly he appeals to the Lord on behalf of the righteous in the city. While there is much mystery in the whole interaction, the greatest lesson is that there is a valid role for us in praying for others, those who cannot rescue themselves.

Prayer does change people and situations. Sometimes it is instantaneous; often it is incremental.  Just because prayer does not always work like throwing a light switch, let’s not quit, or assume that ‘it will all work out regardless of prayer.’  In the mystery of prayer, God invites us to become advocates of His will and purpose in our world.  Does He know what we tell Him in prayer? Of course, He does, but yet He asks us to come and to make our requests known.  Still, He asks us to agree with Him, to earnestly pray for “His will to be done and His kingdom to come.”

One of the by-products of genuine intercession is what it produces in us. When we are praying for a nation, a city, or even our family – not ritual prayers, not tired prayers, but those that come from our true concern – those prayers create concern, love, and engagement. We become people who are aligned with God, first in our hearts, then in our actions. Our loving, sincere prayers offered on behalf of those who are ignorant or apathetic towards Christ, make a difference.

Are you a faithful intercessor? Don’t gauge the effect of your prayers by your emotional intensity or by results seen in the next moment. Be consistent, be authentic, letting your prayers reflect the child-like faith of which Jesus speaks:   “Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.” (Mark 10:15-16, The Message)

 Be a priest on behalf of your world! When you go before the Lord, bring them to Him, seeking His gracious mercy. Amazing things can happen.

Here’s a word from the Word. May the Spirit make it a call to action for each of us.
“Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and 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)

________________ 

Here As In Heaven
(Elevation Worship invites us into Gods’ Presence)

 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

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