Changed? Really possible?

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In Victor Hugo’s great story, Les Miserables, Valjean is stalked by an officer of the law, Javert, who is an inflexible man, consumed with the idea that a person cannot change. When Valjean is discharged from prison after a long, unjust sentence, Javert sneers at him, declaring that he will see him back in custody again. “Men don’t change,” he says. “You were born a criminal and no matter how hard you try, you cannot change that fact.”

Valjean experiences grace at the hands of a local priest who tells him that he has bought him a new life with his gift. He is transformed and becomes the beloved mayor of a prosperous little town. When they meet again in those circumstances, Javert refuses acknowledge the new character of Valjean. Consumed by shame over his own ignominious past, he cannot bring himself to admit that Valjean is not who he once was.

What do you believe about change?
Is it really possible?
Can a person, no matter their past, become new and whole?

In Joseph’s story there is a lengthy passage of his interactions with his brothers who come to Egypt looking to buy food during a famine. (Genesis 40-45) In what appears to be a cruel game, Joseph tests them, imprisons them for a time, and sends them back to Canaan to bring their brother, Benjamin, to him. He sets them up for an accusation of criminal behavior. Why all this? It is not retribution!

He is trying to understand if they have grappled with what they did to him 20 years before and to determine if they are changed men.  In a crisis moment, when it appears that Benjamin will be kept in Egypt to be Joseph’s slave, Judah, one of the older brothers, steps forward with a plea – “Take me in Benjamin’s place.” He confesses the sins of the past without excuse. At that moment, Joseph knows they are different men.

Often we are hardest on ourselves, unable to let go of guilt and shame from the past. We may profess to believe in grace, but we let nagging accusations remain a festering wound in our souls stealing the joy of Christ, holding us back from what He promises to us.  And, sometimes even as we say we hope for redemption, we hold the past over the head of another, refusing to free them with complete forgiveness.

Here is God’s truth – “What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun! All this newness of life is from God, who brought us back to himself through what Christ did. And God has given us the task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. This is the wonderful message he has given us to tell others. We are Christ’s ambassadors, and God is using us to speak to you. We urge you, as though Christ himself were here pleading with you, “Be reconciled to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-21, NLT)

God, the Holy Spirit, desires to lead us to transformation – to make us His saints!  Paul, in that amazing transition passage in Romans 7 and 8, points out the deep inner conflict of the sinful nature and the spiritual nature. He teaches us that it is not self-help, not determination of our will, that frees us to for change. It is a work of the Spirit, as we open our lives to Him in confession, faith, prayer, worship, service, and devotion.  There is this grand statement about the reality of God’s work for us and in us.  Because of Jesus’ death and Resurrection we know that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2, NIV)

Will you become wholly new, a truly holy (dedicated to God) person?
Will you receive the grace that is His gift to all who come to Him in faith?
Will you hope for transformation, praying for a new heart and changed mind in yourself?

Our word from the Word is a paraphrase of Romans 8, quoted above. As you read this, pray for faith to make it the living Word today. “With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2, The Message)  Hallelujah and Amen!

__________

No Longer Slaves
(Zach Williams sings this amazing song in Harding Prison and it brings me to tears!)

You unravel me with a melody
You surround me with a song
Of deliverance from my enemies
Till all my fears are gone

 I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God
I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God

 From my mother’s womb
You have chosen me
Love has called my name
I’ve been born again into Your family
Your blood flows through my veins

 You split the sea so I could walk right through it
My fears were drowned in perfect love
You rescued me so I could stand and sing
I am a child of God

Brian Johnson | Joel Case | Jonathan David Helser © 2014 Bethel Music Publishing

CCLI License # 810055

Ready for Promotion?

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We all know that guy who is always selling himself- the big stories, the careful image built to project the right perception, positioning himself to know people with influence. I suppose that is one path to one kind of success but self-promotion is not a pretty sight to see, in my opinion. There is nothing wrong with aspiring to leadership or desiring to gain a place of influence that can be used for the good of others. However, wanting recognition or power to satisfy ego needs is ugly, prideful, a place where much evil flourishes.

The better way is to build the character and cultivate the qualities that prepare us for God’s promotion!

 Joseph, the teenager sold into slavery by jealous brothers, ended up in Egypt on the lowest rung of society’s ladder.  He did not nurse his wounds, feed resentment, and demand that someone rescue him. He prayed, trusted God, and did the right things. Life took him from slavery to prison, from bad to worse – so it seemed.  But, his intimate connection to the living God did not go unnoticed.

When the king had a dream which nobody could understand, one of his servants remembered that guy he met in jail who had spiritual insight. “Then the king’s cup-bearer spoke up. “Today I have been reminded of my failure,” he said. “Some time ago, you were angry with the chief baker and me, and you imprisoned us in the palace of the captain of the guard. One night the chief baker and I each had a dream, and each dream had a meaning. We told the dreams to a young Hebrew man who was a servant of the captain of the guard. He told us what each of our dreams meant, and everything happened just as he said it would. ” (Genesis 41:9-13, NLT)

Joseph was called into court where he heard Pharaoh’s dream. God revealed the meaning and wise counsel to Joseph which he shared, confidently, with the king. “And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt. …”

And God promoted him!  “The plan seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his officials. So Pharaoh asked them, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.”  (Genesis 41:33-41, NIV)

Are you polishing up your resume, working to create that social media image, trying hard to become ‘’somebody?”  God’s success is counter-cultural. The way to leadership is through service. Two of Jesus’ disciples came to Him seeking places of influence. Remember what He said? “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43-45, NIV)  When Jesus humbled Himself, even to death, God raised Him up and now He is seated at the Father’s right hand.

Let God promote you. He needs faithful people, who are filled with the Spirit, to lead His people, to care for His church, to extend the reach of His reign. Desire the best spiritual gifts. Present yourself to Him, humbly.  And, see where He leads, how He uses you. The center of His will is the place of our greatest effectiveness and deepest peace.

Here is a word from the Word.  May the Lord use it to correct the cultural ideas about power and promotion, making us like Jesus.  “So be content with who you are, and don’t put on airs. God’s strong hand is on you; he’ll promote you at the right time. Live carefree before God; he is most careful with you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7, The Message)

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Build My Life

(As you listen, give your life to Him, the Builder)

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

Delighted in God during times of disappointment?

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When life goes in a direction I did not anticipate, I remember the words of Robert Burns, the 18th century Scottish poet, who wrote
“The best laid schemes o’ mice and men
Gang aft a-gley, (go oft awry)
And leaves us naught but grief and pain
For promised joy.”

So, what best-laid plans that you made went awry? It’s not always that big catastrophe that knocks us down is it?  Oh, losing a job, watching your marriage fall apart, or fighting with chronic pain can be hard, but sometimes what disappoints us is much more personal. It’s that stupid choice of a hurtful word that damages a friendship; or that dumb lie we tell; or that impulsive act that leaves us full of ‘naught but grief and pain!

Joseph, hero of Genesis, archetype of Jesus, met some surprises on the way to God’s promised destination! As the favored son of Jacob, he started life with great expectations. One day in a dusty desert, his jealous brothers changed everything and sold him to slavers who took him to Egypt. Game over, right? Not quite!

He persisted and found himself managing the household a rich man. Potiphar’s wife decided she wanted to sleep with the good-looking kid. His refusal earned him a false accusation of rape and a long term in prison. But, he kept on doing the right thing and God used the awful things to bring him to Pharaoh’s attention. He became Prime Minister. It was many years after that terrible day when he was torn from home and family and sold into slavery that his brothers showed up in court. When they found out who was sitting on the throne, they quaked with terror.

Now it was Joseph’s turn to be a game changer. His faithful heart is revealed in what he said to them. “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:19-20, NIV)

In the amazing way that only an all-powerful and all-knowing God can, He is able to turn those ‘surprises’ into opportunities. The Lord says, “Trust Me!” and we really should! “While I wait for God as long as he remains in hiding, while I wait and hope for him.” (Isaiah 8:17, The Message) “Yes, indeed—God is my salvation. I trust, I won’t be afraid. God—yes God!—is my strength and song, best of all, my salvation!” Joyfully you’ll pull up buckets of water from the wells of salvation.” (Isaiah 12:2-3, The Message)

Meditate in this Psalm for a few moments this morning.
Savor the words, pray for the Spirit to sow them deep in your soul. Then, ‘wait patiently’ for God to act.

Don’t worry about the wicked. Don’t envy those who do wrong.
For like grass, they soon fade away.
Like springtime flowers, they soon wither.

Trust in the Lord and do good.

Then you will live safely in the land and prosper.

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires.
Commit everything you do to the Lord.
Trust him, and he will help you.
He will make your innocence as clear as the dawn,
and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun.

 Be still in the presence of the Lord,
and wait patiently for him to act.
Don’t worry about evil people who prosper
or fret about their wicked schemes.
” (Psalm 37:1-7, NLT)
________________

Just A Closer Walk
(Patsy Cline and Willy Nelson sing this classic)

I am weak Thou art strong
Jesus keep me from all wrong
I’ll be satisfied just as long
As I walk let me walk close to Thee

Just a closer walk with Thee
Grant it Jesus is my plea
Daily walking close to thee
Let it be dear Lord let it be

When my feeble life is o’er
Time for me will be no more
Guide me gently safely o’er
To Thy kingdom shore, to Thy shore

Just a closer walk with Thee
Grant it Jesus is my plea
Daily walking close to Thee
Let it be dear Lord
Let it be dear Lord
Let it be dear Lord let it be

 

God knows, God plans

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I recently listened to a preacher declare to his congregation – “Everything in your life, the good, the bad, the hurtful, when others do wrong to you … comes straight from the hand of God so accept it as part of His plan.” That is not true! There is a huge difference between what God wills for us in His perfect loving plan and what God allows. He is not the Author of sin or evil, ever.

Human beings are free to choose to seek and follow Him, or to reject and rebel.  When we reject Him, our choices are sinful and the inevitable result is suffering – for us, for others. But, there is an assurance that keeps us at peace even when we suffer because of the sinful world in which we live. Nothing surprises the Lord and “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28, NIV)

The story of Joseph reveals God’s amazing ability to work through sinful people and circumstances; that knowing all things, He is able to weave together the threads of life to accomplish His plan for those who love Him.  As a young man, Joseph’s heart was sensitive to the Spirit. His father unwisely showed favoritism and the older brothers jealously hated the boy. God, knowing the awful road of suffering ahead for him, prepared him with two prophetic dreams.  He shared those dreams with his family stoking the fires of resentment.  They are recorded in Genesis 37.  The brothers sheaves of grain bowed down to Joseph’s; and the sun, moon, and stars gave honor to him. His brothers, in hateful resentment, first plot to kill him and then, when presented with an opportunity, sold him to traders headed for Egypt.

While God did not orchestrate their sin, He knew their hearts, knew the choices they would make, and He prepared grace for Joseph in the middle of it all!  Stored in Joseph’s mind is the dream that will sustain him through the next 2 decades of unbelievable difficulties.

My friend, finding the peace of God does not require that we make Him a monster that deals in evil and suffering. We need not become fatalists that resign to His supposedly terrible dealings with us. Indeed, James reminds us that God is good! “Don’t let anyone under pressure to give in to evil say, “God is trying to trip me up.” God is impervious to evil, and puts evil in no one’s way. The temptation to give in to evil comes from us and only us. We have no one to blame but the leering, seducing flare-up of our own lust. Lust gets pregnant, and has a baby: sin! Sin grows up to adulthood, and becomes a real killer. So, my very dear friends, don’t get thrown off course. Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light. There is nothing deceitful in God, nothing two-faced, nothing fickle.” (James 1:13-17, The Message)

Rest in this: nothing that happens to you today is a surprise to the all-knowing Father and He has already prepared grace for you to meet the challenge.

Jeremiah reminded the children of God, when they were suffering the results of their rebellion in captivity in Babylon that God was at work for their restoration. “This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.” (Jeremiah 29:10-12, NIV)

Are you in a time when your heart is broken by the sin of another?
Are the circumstances of the day marked by disappointment or difficulties?
Do you find yourself hemmed in by choices made by others that seem to have no good end?

Don’t blame God! He did not do this to you.  Yes, He is God and He allowed it. We can never deny His power and His mastery of all things. But, sin is a destroyer of what is good, what is precious, what is blessed. In that He is a Restorer of those who turn to Him.  He frees us from slavery to sin and enables us to live in His kingdom. He works through us to accomplish His will and to bring honor to His Name. So, trust His saving grace through it all.

Many years after those brothers sold Joseph, they were standing before him in Pharaoh’s court, bowing down, just as God had revealed. Joseph, full of grace and forgiveness, declares this faithful statement. Make it your word from the Word today and be strengthened to stand. “But Joseph told them, “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, to judge and punish you? As far as I am concerned, God turned into good what you meant for evil. He brought me to the high position I have today so I could save the lives of many people.” (Genesis 50:19-20, NLT)  Amen!

_____________

Good, Good Father  (listen, learn, and worship at this link)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CCLI License # 810055

 

The REAL you

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In his book, The Life God Blesses, Gordon MacDonald tells about a visit with his grandfather in a nursing home. Time had dulled the keen edge of the old man’s mind. After attempting conversations with his grandfather, who had served Christ faithfully through many years, Gordon asked if he might pray with him before he left. Then, the old man asked to pray and a change came over his person. He prayed a prayer that called on God to bless those around him, a prayer that included specific Bible references. His prayer was clear and focused. Then, he prayed for the man in front of him, “Lord, bless,” and paused to ask, “who are you?” “I”m your grandson, Gordon.” “Oh, yes, Lord bless Gordon…” When age and a failing mind had stripped nearly everything of value from this saint, including awareness of his own grandson’s identity, what was at the depth of his being was revealed. He was, more than anything else, one who loved and knew God!

 What kind of person are you at the core of your being?
If your job, your ‘stuff’ of life were stripped away, who would be left?

Superficiality is the curse of our age. We can live day after day without a serious thought, distracted by trivial matters, television dramas, fashion, and/or political nonsense. We can get caught up in a life that measures worth by attractiveness, wealth, IQ, possessions … anything but the things of God.  Paul writes about that empty way of life. “Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth.” (Philippians 3:19, NLT)  If we live only for earth’s rewards we will become living ghosts drifting through this world with empty souls. I believe that one of the reasons our culture is so taken with pursuit of perpetual youth is our general lack of depth of spirit. If life is only about how much we can enjoy earthly pleasures, it follows that we will be terrified by the losses that accompany advancing years.

Christian, we who profess to love Jesus can get trapped by a kind of ‘spiritual’ superficiality characterized shallow ‘bless me’ prayers, avoiding hard places of service to which He calls, and even refusing to endure those valleys where He becomes nearer and dearer to us. Of those someone has said that they “play at their worship, and worship their play.”

How I want to be a person whose love for God goes deep, a man of integrity who loves Him more even as eyes dim and mind clouds! Jesus reminds us that “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26, NLT)

Let’s pursue God and stop passing the time in diversions.  Solomon, the king who lost himself in pursuit of earth’s pleasures, circled around to this conclusion of wisdom – “Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor him in your youth before you grow old and no longer enjoy living. It will be too late then to remember him, when the light of the sun and moon and stars is dim to your old eyes, and there is no silver lining left among the clouds.” (Ecclesiastes 12:1-2, NLT)

Here is a word from the Word –“Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it. . . . There are many out there taking other paths, choosing other goals, and trying to get you to go along with them. I’ve warned you of them many times; sadly, I’m having to do it again. All they want is easy street. They hate Christ’s Cross. But easy street is a dead-end street. Those who live there make their bellies their gods; belches are their praise; all they can think of is their appetites. But there’s far more to life for us. We’re citizens of high heaven! We’re waiting the arrival of the Savior, the Master, Jesus Christ, who will transform our earthy bodies into glorious bodies like his own. He’ll make us beautiful and whole with the same powerful skill by which he is putting everything as it should be, under and around him.” (Philippians 3:16-21, The Message)

______________________

 Be Thou my vision
Oh, Lord, of my heart.
All else be naught to me
save that Thou art,
Be my best thought
by day and by night,
waking or sleeping,
Thy Presence, my Light.

Amen

Wrestling With God?

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A small group of Christian friends gathered and as we usually do, we made a list of our concerns for prayer. This week the list was long, evidence of the ways that we encounter sin and suffering in our world. Our list included sick friends, the grieving Christians in Sri Lanka, people who have lost their way, among other things. That we would pray is, hopefully, evidence that we are engaged, not apathetic about the state of the world in which we live! Ah, it’s a struggle, isn’t it? Are you ever tempted to lose yourself in distractions, to watch too much TV, play mindless games? Perhaps you want to be like a turtle and just pull into your shell and forget about the struggles out there?

I meditated on an episode from the life of Jacob this morning. His name means ‘Deceiver’ and he lived up to it! He ripped off his brother, tricked his old father, and manipulated his father-in-law. He is a shameless schemer until one night when he has a life-changing encounter.

Here’s how it’s told: “…during the night Jacob got up and sent his two wives, two concubines, and eleven sons across the Jabbok River. After they were on the other side, he sent over all his possessions. This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until dawn. When the man saw that he couldn’t win the match, he struck Jacob’s hip and knocked it out of joint at the socket. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is dawn.” But Jacob panted, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” “What is your name?” the man asked. He replied, “Jacob.” “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “It is now Israel, because you have struggled with both God and men and have won.” “What is your name?” Jacob asked him. “Why do you ask?” the man replied. Then he blessed Jacob there. Jacob named the place Peniel—“face of God”—for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared.” (Genesis 32:22-30, NLT)

Like many of the Genesis stories, the details are spare and sometimes mysterious, but the core lesson comes through here, loud and clear. God had not given up on Jacob. In the middle of the night the Lord (or an angel representing Him) met Jacob and challenged him! It was a wrestling match that lasted all night and left Jacob a changed man with a new name, and a limp to remind him of the encounter.

God wants to lead us, to love us, to transform us from sinner to saint, but it won’t happen without struggle.  The character of Jesus develops as we experience the life of the Spirit Who comes to us through the daily practices of the disciplines – prayer, meditation, Bible intake, worship, service, confession – among them.  We don’t just drift into spiritual maturity. We wrestle with Self, Satan, and Systems that resist God’s work in us.   We must be willing to contend prayerfully for the work of God to be accomplished in us and through us.  Will we?

Don’t be discouraged by the struggles of life!
Don’t think you’re doing something wrong because you’re in a wrestling match.
It may be the very means that God is using to develop you into a champion for His purposes.

After Jacob spent that exhausting night, he realized that the strange encounter was more than a night of bad dreams! “I’ve met God!” And, “Mr. Slick”  became Israel, meaning “God wins.”  Everyday when his new name was spoken, he was reminded that his best life was found in submission to the Lord, that God always prevails. He came to understand, more deeply than ever before, that the center of God’s will is the place of greatest peace. That revelation came at the price of wrestling, not apathy.

Those struggles that are making you wrestle with faith, that cause you to question God’s plans and purposes, that make you groan in prayer, that drive you to seek out the wisdom of the Word, are not a bad thing. God will use them to shape  you into a person worthy of His high calling and to reveal new depths of Himself to you. Don’t throw up your hands and just drift with the current. Prevail in prayer. Let God make you new.

Here’s a word from the Word. “And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels. Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet.” (Ephesians 6:10-13, The Message)
_______

Defender
(a prayerful recognition of His love in our struggles)

You go before I know
That You’ve even gone to win my war
You come back with the head of my enemy
You come back and You call it my victory

 You go before I know
That You’ve even gone to win my war
Your love becomes my greatest defense
It leads me from the dry wilderness

 All I did was praise
All I did was worship
All I did was bow down
All I did was stay still

 Hallelujah You have saved me
So much better Your (this) way
Hallelujah great Defender
So much better Your (this) way

You know before I do
Where my heart can seek to find Your truth
Your mercy is the shade I’m living in
You restore my faith and hope again

 When I thought I lost me
You knew where I left me
You reintroduced me to Your love
You picked up all my pieces
Put me back together
You are the defender of my heart

 All I did was praise
All I need to do is worship
Lord I will just bow down
I’m just gonna stay still

John-Paul Gentile | Rita Springer | Steffany Frizzell Gretzinger © 2015 Gateway Create Publishing (Fair Trade Music Publishing [c/o Essential Music Publishing LLC]) Kindred Joy Music (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.) Bethel Music Publishing

CCLI License # 810055

Make a life-changing choice

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Yesterday around 10 am my office phone brought a call from a pastor I knew 40 years ago.  “Jerry, I just wanted to thank you.” His appreciation for ministry that I do was authentic and heart-felt. It was encouraging. Among the voices of the critics, hearing one of with affirming words is a blessing! “Thanks-living” has the capability of transforming another’s bad day into a good one, changing a miserable situation into one that is tolerable.

Do you realize that offering sincere praise to God opens our hearts to the inflow of the Holy Spirit? “Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. … Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.” (Psalm 100:2,4, NIV) You can break the grip of discouragement with a genuine offering of worshipful praise. Go beyond the trite – “Thank you, God, for beautiful flowers.”  Thank Him for grace, for faithful friends, for forgiveness, for strength, for promise and purpose.

Praising Him is sometimes easy, almost spontaneous!  “Thank you, Lord! Praise God!” bursts from my lips.  There are days when we offer what the Bible calls a ‘sacrifice of praise.’  A choice is made to look past the problems, to thank God for His goodness, that He is indeed Lord of life, in spite of situations that defy understanding.  Avoid the error of implying that God is the author of terrible things like war, disease, or sinful oppression by thanking Him for those things. He allows us great freedom – to create good and to do evil. And, in the middle of the messes that the sinful of humanity (ours and others) create, He invites us thank Him for His faithfulness, for His love, for His goodness.

 When we are filled with worshipful praise of God, there is a shift in our human relationships. We more readily offer genuine thanks!  When you hear yourself slipping into criticism, pause. Find a word of appreciation. Watch the tone of the conversation change. It will amaze you. And you’ll feel so much better, so much more encouraged, at the end of the conversation.

Take these simple thoughts to heart today and make it a day for “thanks-living.” Why not start right now with 5 minutes of praise prayer? Don’t ask God for anything, just thank Him – profusely for people who bless you, for His plan in situations that challenge you, and for His love for you! Then, as you go through the day, look for opportunities to drop a word of affirmation and thanks into the lives of people.

Here is a word from the Word. Read it slowly, pausing to let the truth sink in.

“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)

“Taste and see that the Lord is good.
Oh, the joys of those who trust in him!
Let the Lord’s people show him reverence,
for those who honor him will have all they need.” (Psalm 34:8-9, NLT)

One last thought- Thank you for sharing life with me through this daily blog called CoffeeBreak with the Word!

________

O worship the King all glorious above,
and gratefully sing his power and his love:
our shield and defender, the Ancient of Days,
pavilioned in splendor and girded with praise.

 Your bountiful care, what tongue can recite?
It breathes in the air, it shines in the light;
it streams from the hills, it descends to the plain,
and sweetly distils in the dew and the rain.

 Frail children of dust and feeble as frail –
In you do we trust, nor find You to fail;
your mercies, how tender, how firm to the end!
our maker, defender, redeemer, and friend.

 O measureless Might, unchangeable Love,
whom angels delight to worship above!
our ransomed creation, with glory ablaze,
in true adoration shall sing to your praise!

Robert Grant, public domain

Digging Wells, Taking Ownership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Public domain

Trades and Transactions

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

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

In the book of Hebrews, the Spirit makes Esau an example for all of us.  Watch out for the Esau syndrome: trading away God’s lifelong gift in order to satisfy a short-term appetite. You well know how Esau later regretted that impulsive act and wanted God’s blessing—but by then it was too late, tears or no tears.” (Hebrews 12:16-17, The Message)  We were created in the image of God, made to know and love Him. The sin that had robbed us of that heritage was forgiven in Christ and when we came to Him in faith, He made us ‘children of God.’  But a daily decision of faith is required to own our heavenly birthright.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

No Monday Let-down!

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a word from the Word. “So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective. Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life.” (Colossians 3:1-4, The Message)

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MYSTERY
(celebrate the faith!)

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

Jesus – Mystery.

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

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

Jesus – Mystery!

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

 

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

EASTER 2019 Worship