Getting it wrong

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In our current environment of fear, a time unlike any in my memory, Christians need to lead the way in faith. No, not with bravado that appears to dare that old virus to touch us. That is foolishness. No, not defying our government, no matter how misguided some public policies appear to be to some of us. We must respond with true faith, authentic prayers, and minds shaped by the eternal Truth. Unless we are keeping centered in Christ Jesus, we risk getting it all wrong, one way or another.

Peter, we learned in yesterday’s text, made a faith-filled proclamation about Jesus – “You are the Christ!” He listened to the Spirit, responded in faith, and led the way. Jesus called him a ‘rock,’ in that moment. A few verses later, not many days after his amazing faith words; “Rocky” got it terribly wrong and earned a strong rebuke from Jesus. Every time I read this passage, I cringe at the words the Lord spoke to him, words that reflect the seriousness of letting human wisdom replace spiritual truth. Read it and learn.

  • “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

  •  Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul.”  (Matthew 16:21-26, NIV)

Who doesn’t sympathize with Peter’s impulse in this story? He loves Jesus and cannot begin to even imagine how suffering at the hands of cruel men and then dying could possibly be the will of God for his Friend, the Man he is now convinced is the Anointed One who will bring deliverance for the people of God. He is so passionate that he ‘rebukes’ Jesus.

Talk about getting it wrong! He does not just say, “That’s awful” or “We don’t want that.”  He gets in Jesus’ face and tells Him to stop! Imagine how he felt when Jesus turned on him and told him he was doing the Devil’s work? How awful was the realization that he was making it more difficult for Jesus to choose to take the road to the Cross, to save the world?  “You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, and not from God’s.”

This is THE question for me, for you, today:  Do I have the mind of Christ so that my choices will reflect the Truth of faith?  Christianity is not irrational, but sometimes God calls us to be supra-rational, understanding the world in a way that goes beyond human reason and what we can know with our natural mind.  For example, we cannot perceive eternity but we orient our lives around an eternal hope because God has revealed it to us.  In this story, Jesus explains to Peter that if self-preservation is his number one goal, he cannot find the life that God has prepared for him!  We must be prepared to ‘lose our life’ in the natural scheme of things to find the life God gives that never ends.  Yes, that is supra-rational!

As the world appears to go off its axis around us, with financial markets collapsing, schools closing, normal human activities being suspended – let’s be the people of God – with the mind of God, informed by the Spirit.

When others run, we stand.
When others take care of only themselves, we generously care for all.
When despair overwhelms, we stand in hope.
When some say, there is no way we point to the Way, faithful in prayer, our hearts filled with the Love of the Father.

Here is a word from the Word. May it own us . “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 2:5, NKJV)  “and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7, NKJV)
___________

I Am Thine O Lord

I am Thine O Lord I have heard Thy voice
And it told Thy love to me
But I long to rise in the arms of faith
And be closer drawn to Thee

 Draw me nearer nearer blessed Lord
To the cross where Thou hast died
Draw me nearer nearer nearer blessed Lord
To Thy precious bleeding side

 Consecrate me now to Thy service Lord
By the pow’r of grace divine
Let my soul look up with a steadfast hope
And my will be lost in Thine

 There are depths of love that I cannot know
‘Till I cross the narrow sea
There are heights of joy that I may not reach
Till I rest in peace with Thee

Fanny Jane Crosby
© Words: Public Domain

Getting it right

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A team at the church which I serve has been working on the governing documents of the congregation for months. We are discovering how important words can be, how a little shift in a phrase can affect the meaning. Yes, we know that words matter as they are an expression of our understanding. Words can build faith, express love, encourage, and inspire hope. They can also tear down, wound, and demoralize. How are you using the words of your life?

There is one confession that is critically important, words that have the power of life. Those words? What you say about Jesus, what you truly believe about Him!

Matthew tells us about a moment when Peter, the man who often impulsively got things wrong, actually got it right. Jesus commended his faith and told him that he had not ‘figured it out’ but that God had revealed this important truth to him. “When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” He asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 16:13-17, NIV)

This moment happened near the end of Jesus’ public ministry, as He was preparing to hand off the work of the Gospel to those men. He was their teacher, their friend, an amazing leader, a miracle worker. All those things were wonderful, but there was more to Jesus than that and here it is – “You are the Christ!”  As God’s Spirit stirred in Peter, he came to understand that the Man he rubbed shoulders with each day was more than Mary’s son, more than a great rabbi. Jesus was God, come in flesh, to save the world. To be sure, not all the theology around the divinity of Jesus was settled in that moment, nor did Peter have perfect grasp of all that was included in those words, but, in declaring that Jesus was God’s Messiah, the Anointed One for whom the people of God had waited for centuries, he was taking a huge step of faith.

Many people who claim to believe in Jesus fail to receive the mystery of faith. They accept him as a great teacher, a philosopher who laid a foundation for humanitarianism, but will not confess that He is God, the Savior of the world.

Thomas Jefferson famously created the “Jefferson Bible” from which he excised all the reference to miracles of Jesus, His virgin birth, and the Resurrection because he thought they were superstitious ideas that detracted from the real value of Jesus teaching. He claimed to be a “Christian” because of his goodness and his hope in a benevolent God but rejected the idea of sin and the atoning work of Christ on the cross.

Is this your understanding of Jesus? There is more! The heart of the Gospel of Christ is found in faith, not superstition, but the revelation that He is God in flesh, the unique God-man, sinless Savior of the world, alive again as the Guarantor of our eternal hope.

Here is what Paul was inspired to write to us – “But the way of getting right with God through faith says, “You don’t need to go to heaven” (to find Christ and bring him down to help you). And it says, “You don’t need to go to the place of the dead” (to bring Christ back to life again). Salvation that comes from trusting Christ—which is the message we preach—is already within easy reach. In fact, the Scriptures say, “The message is close at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart.” For if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved.” (Romans 10:6-10, NLT)

John helps us to understand that, like Peter, we don’t just figure this out. We are touched by the Holy Spirit and respond with faith. “This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.” (1 John 4:2-3, NIV)

Who do you say He is?  Words do matter because they reveal our faith, our core understanding. Let the Word inform you, the Spirit inspire you, and trust Christ, the Living God, to transform you from death to life.

Here is a word from the Word. “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16, NIV)

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What A Beautiful Name

(Worship Jesus, revealed as our Lord)

You were the Word at the beginning
One with God the Lord Most High
Your hidden glory in creation
Now revealed in You our Christ

 What a beautiful Name it is
What a beautiful Name it is
The Name of Jesus Christ my King
What a beautiful Name it is
Nothing compares to this
What a beautiful Name it is
The Name of Jesus

 You didn’t want heaven without us
So Jesus You brought heaven down
My sin was great Your love was greater
What could separate us now

 What a wonderful Name it is
What a wonderful Name it is
The Name of Jesus Christ my King
What a wonderful Name it is
Nothing compares to this
What a wonderful Name it is
The Name of Jesus
What a wonderful Name it is
The Name of Jesus

 Death could not hold You
The veil tore before You
You silence the boast of sin and grave
The heavens are roaring
The praise of Your glory
For You are raised to life again 

You have no rival
You have no equal
Now and forever God You reign
Yours is the kingdom
Yours is the glory
Yours is the Name above all names

 What a powerful Name it is
What a powerful Name it is
The Name of Jesus Christ my King
What a powerful Name it is
Nothing can stand against
What a powerful Name it is
The Name of Jesus

 What a powerful Name it is
The Name of Jesus
What a powerful Name it is
The Name of Jesus

Ben Fielding | Brooke Ligertwood

© 2016 Hillsong Music Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

Is there a mountain in your way?

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My view from top of Pikes Peak – September 4, 2019

A few months ago, I drove up to the top of Pike’s Peak to stand and take in the view from that peak at 14,110 feet above sea level! To the east, the Great Plains lay like a tabletop. To the west, the Rocky Mountain peaks poke into the sky. Standing on top of a mountain like that is a natural ‘high,’ no pun intended! My ‘climb’ involved a couple of hours driving and still I felt a sense of accomplishment. Looking at that mountain from the foot and the view at the top produce completely different emotions – at one moment overwhelming, in another exhilarated.

As we walk with the Lord, we will find ourselves looking at peaks that rise menacingly, filling the horizon, daring us to try to find a way forward. Working toward that degree can be daunting. Rebuilding a life after loss to death can be a steep climb. Dealing with chronic illness, day in and day out, can be like climbing an endless trail up a steep slope. Ah, yes, there are so many ways that we face mountains. But, if we press on, if we hold onto faith in the power of God, when we have reached the summit, what a shift we find in understanding.

In Exodus,  I read about a man facing a mountain. God invited Moses to come to meet Him at the summit. “Then Moses climbed up the mountain, and the cloud covered it. And the glory of the Lord settled down on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days. On the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from inside the cloud. To the Israelites at the foot of the mountain, the glory of the Lord appeared at the summit like a consuming fire. Then Moses disappeared into the cloud as he climbed higher up the mountain. He remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights.” (Exodus 24:15-18, NLT) There, in God’s Presence, Moses received the Law, the plan for the Tabernacle which was the center of Israel’s worship, revelations great and wonderful. He was a changed man after his ascent to the top of Mt. Sinai.

John, too, was carried to a mountain where he gained new perspective! “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.” (Revelation 21:10-11, NIV) From the height of his visionary mountain, John wrote of the disciple’s great hope, the promise of God’s victory over sin and suffering in a book that has encouraged and intrigued Christians for two millennia- The Revelation of Jesus Christ!

In the classic, Pilgrim’s Progress, an allegory about our journey to the Celestial City, John Bunyan wrote of the Delectable Mountains that afford the pilgrims, Christian and Hopeful, a view of their final destination. His insight is clear and instructs us well. From the heights of the mountains we have to climb along the way, we catch glimpses of God’s glory that draw us along.

Are you living in the shadows of the valley right now?
Does some peak stand ahead of you, daring you to scale its heights?
Or are you in the climb, feeling exhausted; seeing only more difficulty as you look ahead?

Keep climbing! New vistas will appear when you get to the summit!

The word from the Word is a prayer for those climbing steep trails today. Whatever your challenge, whatever your fear, make this your prayer. “I am praying to you because I know you will answer, O God. Bend down and listen as I pray. Show me your unfailing love in wonderful ways. You save with your strength those who seek refuge from their enemies. Guard me as the apple of your eye. Hide me in the shadow of your wings.” (Psalm 17:6-8, NLT)

“It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights.” (Psalm 18:32-33, NIV)
__________

One Thing Remains (Your Love Never Fails)

(worship with this song about His love)

Higher than the mountains that I face
Stronger than the power of the grave
Constant in the trial and the change
One thing remains
One thing remains

Your love never fails
It never gives up
Never runs out on me
Your love

On and on and on and on it goes
It overwhelms and satisfies my soul
And I never ever have to be afraid
One thing remains
One thing remains

In death in life I’m confident and
Cover’d by the power of Your great love
My debt is paid there’s nothing that
Can separate my heart from Your great love

Brian Johnson | Christa Black Gifford | Jeremy Riddle © 2010 ChristaJoy Music Publishing (Admin. by Bethel Music Publishing)Mercy / Vineyard Publishing (Admin. by Vineyard Music USA) Bethel Music Publishing

CCLI License # 810055

Will washed hands make me holy?

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Pleasing God is a real concern for me, and if you’re reading this, probably for you, too. The ‘how to’ is the issue. We understand the ‘big’ things – live honestly, be kind, stay faithful to your spouse. But, what about the rest of life? Are we content to wear some superficial religious traditions to cover a heart filled with pride, selfishness, or greed?  Do we think that God finds us pleasing because we show up in church every other Sunday, or keep a Bible on the coffee table, or refuse to say the awful ‘curse’ words?

Matthew tells us that some of Jesus’ critics got worked up because the disciples ignored a tradition that had been elevated to holy law. “Some Pharisees and teachers of religious law now arrived from Jerusalem to interview Jesus. “Why do your disciples disobey our age-old traditions?” they demanded. “They ignore our tradition of ceremonial hand washing before they eat.”” (Matthew 15:1-2, NLT)  Don’t laugh. To us hand-washing is not a moral issue, but most likely we have our own ‘traditions’ that we use to measure our holiness, things equally minor in the scheme of life.

Jesus challenged the Pharisees to stop and realize that they had missed the point of a quality relationship with God.  “Listen and understand. What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’” Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” . . .   Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.” “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.’”   (Matthew 15:10-20, NIV)

He had no issue with washing hands before dinner!  But He reminded them that being sanitary was not the same as being holy.  A well-scrubbed body, a carefully screened vocabulary, or well-rehearsed socially acceptable manners can conceal a filthy heart and it is the corruption of the heart that God cares about. Let’s take the time to examine our lives for the deception of our traditions. It is possible that we are not really so much different from those Pharisees. We can, and often do, replace an authentic pursuit of knowing and loving God with some comforting traditions. Those traditions can keep us from hearing the Holy Spirit’s call to a beautiful holy life.

Giving the Holy Spirit access to our inner thoughts;  inviting God to put us through His school of faith that makes us like Christ, is a hard, often costly, and self-denying choice.   It is much easier just to ‘wash our hands’ and consider the work of holiness accomplished. Are you a quality Christian, one who really loves God, who has surrendered every part of his life to the Lord Jesus Christ?  Never settle for a Christianity that is just about ‘clean hands.’  Seek a pure heart.

Here’s a word from the Word. Let God change you from the inside out and HE will delight in you. What could be better than that?
“Now that you’ve cleaned up your lives by following the truth,
love one another as if your lives depended on it.
Your new life is not like your old life.
Your old birth came from mortal sperm; your new birth comes from God’s living Word.
Just think: a life conceived by God himself!  

That’s why the prophet said, The old life is a grass life, its beauty as short-lived as wildflowers;  Grass dries up, flowers droop, God’s Word goes on and on forever.
This is the Word that conceived the new life in you.
So clean house! Make a clean sweep of malice and pretense, envy and hurtful talk.” (1 Peter 1:22-2:1, The Message)

_______________

Lord I Need You

(Pray with Chris Tomlin as he sings of our heart’s need)

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

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

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

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

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

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

CCLI License # 810055

Abba, hold us near

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News of the coronavirus continues, a drone in our ears the moment we turn on the news.  With each day it creeps closer to our homes. Some say it’s nothing to fear, others lay out nightmarish scenarios. Our local schools are planning for extended closure. Our church attendance was down yesterday and I wonder if fear kept some home?  I visited a restaurant last night for dinner and could not help but notice the empty tables all around me. Our economy, so strong and robust, is taking a beating as a result of the uncertainty.

Not for many years have I sensed such deep and pervasive fear as I feel in our land today.  I am not a medical professional so I must not opine about the virus. The one thing all the experts agree on is the importance of hand washing and taking precautions if you have a compromised immune system due to age or serious illness.

Here is what I can say with complete confidence.  We must not live in fear, becoming overwhelmed by bad news.  David, in the shepherd’s Psalm declares –  “Even when I walk through the dark valley of death, I will not be afraid…”  How can he say that? “…for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.” (Psalm 23)  Christian, we do not walk alone, our Abba is with us.

When we are walking through dark times, when disappointment rises to meet us, even when demons attack- He is with us.  Many years after his fearful failures, a spiritually matured Peter wrote to encourage disciples who were ‘in the dark.’  “Don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—because these trials will make you partners with Christ in his suffering, and afterward you will have the wonderful joy of sharing his glory when it is displayed to all the world.” 1 Peter 4:12-13 NLT

Let’s take our cue from the response of the apostles that is recorded in Acts 16.  They had every good reason to be afraid and discouraged. After doing much good in the city of Philippi, these godly men charged with disturbing the peace, beaten by the authorities, and chained to a wall in a filthy jail! But, they chose a different way, focusing on the love of God. “Along about midnight, Paul and Silas were at prayer and singing a robust hymn to God. The other prisoners couldn’t believe their ears.” (Acts 16:25, The Message) You know the rest of the story… an earthquake shook open the doors; the jailer’s heart was opened by the sincere faith he saw in these two evangelists; and the light broke through!

It would be wrong of me to ask you to ignore the real and present threat. Christians who hide in denial only look foolish, not faith-filled. This is a time to learn new faith, to take the Word to heart, to look to the hand of the Father, as you declare – “The Lord is close to me!”  Like Paul and Silas, we find a song to sing; not a mournful one, but a song of hope.

For the people of God there is a place of rest in the center of His care. This crisis is a call to prayer, a reminder of our frail flesh, and an invitation to grow into His love.  Afraid? Tell Him. Unsure? Ask for guidance. Confused? Pray for wisdom. Above all, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16, NIV)

Here is a word from the Word. Throw open your heart, pull up the shades of your understanding, and let the Light shine in.

Meditate on this word from the Word.  Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night, nor fear the dangers of the day, nor dread the plague that stalks in darkness, nor the disaster that strikes at midday. Though a thousand fall at your side, though ten thousand are dying around you, these evils will not touch you. But you will see it with your eyes; you will see how the wicked are punished. If you make the Lord your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter, no evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your dwelling. (Psalm 91:5-10, NLT)

Abba, my heart is settled on You,
Holding onto Your promise of life and Light.
Around me the storms of fear are turning into a tempest. 

I pray for those who are sickened, Your healing;
For those who care for the sick, Your protection;
For all of us the courage to care, to be selfless,
To look beyond our own comfort. 

Speak peace to my heart,
like You did to the stormy lake in Galilee.
Increase my faith, Lord, I pray.

Be for me, for all who trust You, the
“Way Maker, Miracle Worker, Promise Keeper, and
Light in the darkness.”

In Jesus’ Name.  Amen
_________

Way Maker

You are here moving in our midst
I worship You I worship You
You are here working in this place
I worship You I worship You

(You are) Way Maker Miracle Worker Promise Keeper
Light in the darkness my God that is who You are

You are here touching ev’ry heart
I worship You I worship You
You are here healing ev’ry heart
I worship You I worship You

You are here turning lives around
I worship You I worship You
You are here mending ev’ry heart
I worship You yeah I worship You Lord

That is who You are
That is who You are

Even when I don’t see it You’re working
Even when I don’t feel it You’re working
You never stop You never stop working

Osinachi Kalu Okoro Egbu © 2016 Integrity Music Europe (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing (Integrity Music [DC Cook]))

CCLI License # 810055

Take my hand!

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Coronavirus – Covid19.  It’s become real and people are afraid! Are you?  So many are making decisions that are out of proportion to the actual threat of the virus. Our economy is staggering as the stock market responds with fear. Travel plans are being cancelled. Even the smallest risk of exposure is creating terrible anxiety. What I read tells me to take basic precautions – wash hands frequently, keep hands away from the face. It appears that the vast majority of people who do get infected develop symptoms like the common cold and quickly recover. But, fear is a powerful thing and the daily drone of news amplifies our sense that the threat is imminent for each of us.

Don’t let yourself be driven – in any part of life – by fear. Face the fact that Life is not a sure thing! Manage risk. Don’t become a slave to fear!

If you prepare to start a new project there will always be naysayers who will warn you that ‘there isn’t enough money, there isn’t enough time, somebody might sue us …”  If you take the lead for change you will inevitably be told that you’re “too young, too old, too dumb, too smart…” to live your dream.  Here is what I know –  if we believe those negative voices, we begin to die inwardly because we put our dreams on the shelf and go home to our recliners to watch TV alone night after night: safe but ‘dead.’

Reading in Matthew, we saw how Jesus fed 5000 people miraculously. It was a high moment, a wondrous thing to celebrate. He then sent His disciples home across the lake by boat, while he went to seek a solitary place of prayer. It was rough going  because of waves and wind. In the middle of the night, Jesus came to them – walking on the water. Their first response? Terror!  Who expects to see a man coming through the mists in the middle of a lake? “Surely,” they thought, “We are seeing a ghost.”  Then, He spoke.

Peter recognized the voice of Jesus and in keeping with his impulsiveness he said, “Lord, if it’s you tell me to come to you on the water.”  “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14: 29-31 NIV)

This isn’t a story about a daredevil who threw all caution to the wind or about a man with a secret death wish. Peter wanted to know His Lord and his love for Jesus overcome all fear, leading him to obedience. Peter asked Jesus to call him and when the Lord did, Peter responded — against all good sense — by getting out of the boat. He walked on the water until he realized the absurdity of his situation and only then  he failed… or did he?  I think that the real failures that night were the other 11 guys who sat safely in the boat watching Peter do the impossible.

We smile at Peter’s quickly fading faith, at the fact that when he realized he was standing on water, he grew fearful. But, I’m impressed that he obeyed Jesus’ invitation. I, too, have responded to His invitation only to begin to grasp the ‘impossibility’ of my situation and to slip into fear. He is there, my Savior, my God. Have you ever figuratively walked on water or are you safe in the boat, unwilling to take a risk?  Willingness to take a risk is an integral part of success!  Those unwilling to fail cannot succeed.

Are waves kicking up around your little lifeboat today?  Are your kids rebelling?  Is your marriage strained?  Is some sin pulling hard on you, so much that the temptation is nearly overwhelming?  Have past financial decisions come around creating a situation you can’t control?   Are you afraid of aging, the future, or the coronavirus?   We all have storms that come up, making waves. No matter how risk averse you are, sickness, stress, and hardships find us all. That’s life!

Jesus walks with us. He’s passing by, and He’s inviting us to walk on the waves! Will you accept the challenge to grow a bigger, deeper faith?  When you hear His voice, get out of the boat.

Here’s the word from the Word.  Make it yours as you meditate on it. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us. 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 12:1-3, NLT)

__________

“Precious Lord, Take My Hand”
Lyrics & Music by Thomas A. Dorsey
Performed by Mahalia Jackson

Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I’m tired, I’m weak, I’m lone
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home

When my way grows drear precious Lord linger near
When my light is almost gone
Hear my cry, hear my call
Hold my hand lest I fall
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home

When the darkness appears and the night draws near
And the day is past and gone
At the river I stand
Guide my feet, hold my hand
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home

“You are asking the impossible!”

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The person who is serious about following Jesus soon runs into His ‘impossible’ requests. He says to you and me –  “Build my Church!”  “Make disciples!” “Love your enemy!” “Forgive as I forgave you!”  “Die to Self.”  Maybe you are more optimistic about yourself than I, but that list, which is just a beginning, is marked by things that are simply not possible for me in my own natural strength.

That is where faith meets my inability.  I trust the Spirit to work a daily miracle of grace. Will you?

Here is a story about a day when Jesus made an impossible request of His friends. “When Jesus heard what had happened, (the execution of John, the Baptist) he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered. “Bring them here to me,” he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.” (Matthew 14:13-21, NIV)

You give them something to eat!”  The crowd numbered in the thousands, they were miles from any major town, and they had no money. Jesus seemed to be ignoring the reality of the situation. John’s Gospel adds the detail that it was Philip who spoke up. He said what they all thought. “It would take a small fortune, nearly a year’s wages, to buy bread, even if we could find any.” John tells us that Jesus “was testing Philip, for he already knew what he was going to do.” (John 6:6, NLT)  Andrew brought a boy and his lunch to Jesus, who gave thanks for it and miraculously multiplied so that it fed the whole crowd, with 12 baskets of leftovers!

God already has a plan for me, for you.
It may not align with our understanding in the moment. Who thought that a boy’s lunch was of much use in feeding a crowd of thousands that day so long ago? Instead of raising our objections, we can take our cue from Isaiah who teaches us to “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.” (Isaiah 55:6, NIV)

Present yourself to Him, ready to respond. He can, and often does, work in our lives outside of our expectations.  Why? “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9, NIV)

As you read Isaiah’s words are you tempted to say, “How can I ever know His plans?”  The Spirit of God lives in us. When you face an ‘impossibility’  if you will readily respond in faith, given what you know of Him in this moment, He will unfold the mysteries of His plan as you need to know it.

Andrew may have felt foolish bringing a boy’s lunch to Jesus in response to His direction to feed the crowd, but it was all he had and he offered it.  That kind of faith pleases God and prepares us to find His way and will sufficient to live in obedience.  Is that a difficult truth for you to accept, sounding like nonsense?  Pray for the mind of Christ. Submit your thoughts to Him, choosing to be quiet, to wait, to listen.  This is not about being gullible, or charging off to just do something because you think God must bless every choice YOU make. That’s not faith, that is presumptuous nonsense. To see the hand of God at work often demands that we wait with patient hope.

God does ask the impossible of us – that we live as His children in this world. But, He is not cruel, nor does He throw us into the deep water and abandon us there. He leads, He empowers, He is present. So, take this word from the Word. My prayer is that the Truth will inspire a new faith in us, that readily believes the plan of God that has been established from the dawn of Creation. “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13, NLT)

Now, where is that hungry crowd that needs to be fed His Word?

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Christ Be Magnified  ( A new worship song by Cory Asbury.
Let it be your prayer today.)

Were creation suddenly articulate
With a thousand tongues to lift one cry
Then from north to south and east to west
We’d hear Christ be magnified

 Were the whole earth echoing His eminence
His name would burst from sea and sky
From rivers to the mountain tops
We’d hear Christ be magnified

 O Christ be magnified
Let His praise arise
Christ be magnified in me
O Christ be magnified
From the altar of my life
Christ be magnified in me

When ev’ry creature finds its inmost melody
And ev’ry human heart its native cry
O then in one enraptured hymn of praise
We’ll sing Christ be magnified

 I won’t bow to idols
I’ll stand strong and worship You
And if it puts me in the fire
I’ll rejoice ’cause You’re there too

 I won’t be formed by feelings
I hold fast to what is true
If the cross brings transformation
Then I’ll be crucified with You
(You can hang me there with You)

 ‘Cause death is just the doorway
Into resurrection life
If I join You in Your suff’rings
Then I’ll join You when You rise

 And when You return in glory
With all the angels and the saints
My heart will still be singing
My song will be the same

Cody Carnes | Cory Asbury | Ethan Hulse © 2019 Cory Asbury Publishing (Admin. by Bethel Music Publishing) Capitol CMG Paragon (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) Writer’s Roof Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

The carpenter’s son

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You know that phrase – “Familiarity breeds contempt” – don’t you? When we know someone closely, it’s hard to think of them as uniquely gifted or talented. It is possible to completely miss the value of a friend’s advice just because they are a friend. That wisdom that comes from Mom or Dad that is so treasured by other people just sounds like the same old tired stuff we have heard them say from childhood. Our church can seem so boring or dull compared to the one two towns over because we know the patterns of our worship so well. Yes, we can overlook the love of our spouse, the stability of our home, the value of our steady job – just because those things are so close to us, so familiar, that we do not see the whole picture.

Here is something that is seriously important to remember – we can grow close to Jesus, knowing His goodness and grace for a long time and that familiarity can rob us of the wonder of faith.

Take a look at this from Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus went home to minister and when He stood up to teach in the local place of worship, at first the people were astonished, but then they grew offended. “Who does He think He is?”  “Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.” (Matthew 13:54-58, NIV)

One way to keep our faith fresh is to renew the full understanding of the revelation of Christ Jesus.

The Man of the Gospels is approachable and relatable. I love thinking of Jesus walking with His disciples, laughing in the sunshine, getting irritated with them when they were slow to learn, showing them the power of God when He stopped to heal a blind man. It’s a comforting, human, accessible mental image of my Savior, but if that is the only way I think of Him, it could be difficult to trust Him when life gets crazy or confusing.

I need to see the image of the majestic, mysterious Revelation of John, too. “On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.” I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” (Revelation 1:10-18, NIV)  That can just stop me in my tracks, make me draw a deep breath, and say reverentially, “Jesus, Majesty!”  It’s not as comforting as thinking of the Carpenter, Mary’s Son, but it is the completed picture of the Lord of Glory who desires our full faith and complete obedience.

Let’s not make the mistake of making God too small, taming Him in an attempt to make Him accessible. If we do this, we risk growing offended when things go upside in our lives, when He (as we think of Him) does not do as we think He ought to do.  C. S. Lewis, in his famed allegory of Christ, as Aslan, the lion, reminds us of the wonder. “Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”  (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe)  Lord, make that my conviction – that You are powerful, not ‘safe’ but always good. Amen.

The word from the Word calls us to both mystery and love. “Therefore, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:19-23, NIV)

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Majesty
(one of those classic worship choruses)

Majesty worship His majesty
Unto Jesus be all glory
Honor and praise
Majesty kingdom authority
Flow from His throne
Unto His own His anthem raise

 So exalt lift up on high
The name of Jesus
Magnify come glorify
Christ Jesus the King
Majesty worship His majesty
Jesus who died now glorified
King of all kings

Jack Hayford © 1981 New Spring (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055

Are you ‘good enough’ for your church?

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My Christian training was built around experience and ‘doing good.’  I learned to approach worship primarily through emotions as a Pentecostal. Church in my childhood years included joyous shouts, crying, exuberant singing, and some crazy, unexplainable things done in God’s name. We were also taught about holiness and it was easy to feel like a bad Christian, or even ‘not a Christian’ when temptations took root and grew into some sinful behavior. There was a great deal of emphasis on being pure, some impossible standards set in place, and some people who would not or could not ‘conform’ were treated as second class, on occasion even rejected by the church.

The tendency to try to make Christ’s work happen by human effort has not diminished over time. Christians still tend to decide who is in and who is out, failing to account for the immeasurable grace of God and the persistent power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus told a story that calls on us to leave the judgment to Him and to trust that He can preserve His work in the world. “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ ”‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ ”‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”” (Matthew 13:24-30, NIV)

His story made little sense to anyone familiar with agriculture. Getting the weeds out of the field was basic to getting a better harvest. But, in His field, the separation of wheat and weeds IS NOT the work to be done by us. What a radical concept but it is perfectly aligned with His message of supernaturally inspired love and grace. The farmer leaves the weeds; the farmer forgives the weeds.  The citizens of God’s kingdom deal with evil by forgiving it. We set aside temptation to “moral superiority”  and we let the weeds grow right alongside us because we are secured in God’s grace, not our own righteousness.

 Jesus teaches the full meaning of His story to the disciples. “His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:36-43, NIV)

There will be a day of judgment! God will not ignore disbelief and sin. It is not pleasant to read of the destruction and punishment of those who refuse the grace of God, is it?

His story leaves us with two important conclusions.

First is that He will take care of His children and keep us as we live among people who care nothing for Him, even those who are impostors that sit with us in the congregation of God. IF we are walking with Him, living in the Spirit, we need not fear that somehow the sin of the world will overtake us. We live with full confidence that God is greater.  It is for us to continue to hold out the grace of Christ, to accept people with the hope that they will believe and receive, being changed along with us into saints of the Living God. If we wrongly shut the doors of the Kingdom to those we deem unworthy, beyond help, or too sinful; we are stepping into the role that belongs to God alone.

Second, there is a time when God will separate good and evil and those who have loved Him will become radiant with His goodness, when the ‘weeds’ are removed in the Judgment. Hopeful? Yes. Sobering? Yes, too.

We are making our way into the second week of Lent, a time to reflect, repent, perhaps even practice some form of self-denial. Let’s keep our focus on Jesus! We are not ‘better’ because we fast two meals instead of one, because we are willing to give up social media and some others will not. Those kinds of choices must be made for the sole purpose of inviting Christ to be Lord of our lives, to remind ourselves that we are more than flesh and appetite, people of soul and spirit. The moment we choose to decide, even subtly, who is more worthy, who is a ‘real’ Christian by our own estimation, we assume the role that belongs exclusively to Christ at the End of the Age.

Our word from the Word comes from Paul’s final letter, written to Timothy. He reminds that timid pastor of God’s wonderful grace for us. May these words inspire us to love Him, waiting patiently for the full revelation of His Kingdom.

But God’s truth stands firm like a foundation stone with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and “Those who claim they belong to the Lord must turn away from all wickedness.” In a wealthy home some utensils are made of gold and silver, and some are made of wood and clay. The expensive utensils are used for special occasions, and the cheap ones are for everyday use. If you keep yourself pure, you will be a utensil God can use for his purpose. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work.

Run from anything that stimulates youthful lust. Follow anything that makes you want to do right. Pursue faith and love and peace, and enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts.” (2 Timothy 2:19-22, NLT)

Don’t slip into the error of trying to be ‘good enough’ by comparing yourself to others in your fellowship. Instead, thank God that He is making you complete in Christ and grow on in grace.

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O Come To The Altar
(an invitation song … from Elevation Worship)

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

The Book

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A. J. Jacobs, a man who knew nothing about the Bible, decided that he would spend a year following the Bible’s words to the letter. His book, The Year of Living Biblically, tells the story of his quest. Funny and irreverent, it is a revealing record about the power of the Bible. Jacobs was a skeptic who held a secular worldview. He did not think of the Bible as the revelation of God, in the least. But, as this man read and wrestled with the words, he changed from an atheist into an inquirer.

He met up with all kinds of people who thought they were following the Bible while missing the point entirely! He handled snakes with a little church in Kentucky that completely ignore the context of Jesus’ words found in Mark 16.  Yes, he made a huge effort to keep the letter of the Law.   At the end of the book, he did not say he has come to full faith in God, but he had become open to the spiritual. He did not become a convert or a believer, in my opinion, because his efforts to shape his daily habits by rules were divorced from a quest for the Person who inspired the words.

I am a Biblical man.   No, I don’t handle snakes, grow a long beard, or observe rigid dietary codes.  However, my views, my speech, my values;   all come from the Bible. From the earliest days of my life, the Book has been the source of truth around which my life is shaped.  From the Book, I learned early that I am not a god and that there is a God to Whom I will give account for the way that I live my life.  That singular idea has kept me from giving in to many temptations as well as motivating me to serving faithfully when I preferred to be served.  I gained the knowledge of a loving personal Lord that cares for people and that has caused me to have a high regard for the dignity and personal worth of other people.

I am inspired to live in the light of eternity, taught by the Word that this present world is just the prelude to the ‘forever’ life that is promised to all of God’s children.  Eternity,  out there on time’s horizon and growing closer each day, makes me hopeful and peaceful.

I don’t have a lot of patience with those who twist the wonderful Word into strange doctrines, who use snippets of the Word to support their pet theories. Few things make me more disturbed than hearing someone ‘interpret’ the Scripture with no real skill or study. Paul admonished Timothy, a younger pastor, about the importance of good teaching. He said,  “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15, NKJV) It is simply too precious to be misused by charlatans, misquoted by simpletons, or ignored by misguided sophisticates!

With the Psalmist, I say – “How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through Your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:103-105, NKJV)

John Ortberg writes that “Some 65 million copies of the Bible are bought or distributed in the U.S. every year-nothing else is a close second. The average house has at least three. People cheer the Bible, buy the Bible, give the Bible, own the Bible- BUT they just don’t actually read the Bible.”

Biblical illiteracy is a big deal even among Christians.  Only about a third of Christians know who delivered the Sermon on the Mount. (Jesus did.) Just under half can name the first book in the Bible. (Genesis) About three-quarters of evangelical Christians believe the phrase “God helps those who help themselves” is in the Bible. (Ben Franklin said that.)

Are you a person of the Word?
Just owning a Bible does not make you Biblical! Read it.  Of course, without the practice of group study, which has precedent spanning three millennia, you will miss much, most, in fact, of what the Bible actually has to say.   Really understanding what God says is a life-long quest, a serious study, and demands that we allow the Spirit to make the Word plain to us.   But, the reward of knowing and doing what the Word teaches is beyond estimation.

The word from the Word is a longer passage from Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ story about the Word planted in us like a seed. “Now here is the explanation of the story I told about the farmer sowing grain: The seed that fell on the hard path represents those who hear the Good News about the Kingdom and don’t understand it. Then the evil one comes and snatches the seed away from their hearts. The rocky soil represents those who hear the message and receive it with joy. But like young plants in such soil, their roots don’t go very deep. At first they get along fine, but they wilt as soon as they have problems or are persecuted because they believe the word. The thorny ground represents those who hear and accept the Good News, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares of this life and the lure of wealth, so no crop is produced.

The good soil represents the hearts of those who truly accept God’s message and produce a huge harvest—thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted.” (Matthew 13:18-23, NLT)

Is God’s Word producing a harvest of goodness in your life?

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Ancient Words
(Micheal W. Smith’s rendition of this great song)

Holy words long preserved
For our walk in this world
They resound with God’s own heart
O let the ancient words impart

Words of life words of hope
Give us strength help us cope
In this world where’er we roam
Ancient words will guide us home

Ancient words ever true
Changing me changing you
We have come with open hearts
O let the ancient words impart

Holy words of our faith
Handed down to this age
Came to us through sacrifice
O heed the faithful words of Christ

Martyr’s blood stains each page
They have died for this faith
Hear them cry through the years
Heed these words and hold them dear

We have come with open hearts
O let the ancient words impart
O let the ancient words impart

Lynn DeShazo © 2001 Integrity’s Hosanna! Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing (Integrity Music [DC Cook]))

CCLI License # 810055