Lord, save us!

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Each day we learn of more about the spread of the virus and none of us has the faintest idea how this story ends. The uncertainty wears on us if we dwell on it, so let’s make a radical choice of faith.

There is a story about Jesus’ power that Matthew tells from his own experience. “Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” (Matthew 8:23-27, NIV)

Here is a suggestion for you today. Find a piece of paper or a journal and write down what is making you fearful. You do not have to write a book – a simple list will do. Then, holding it in your hands, pray “Lord, save us!”  Even if you don’t ‘feel it’ make the choice to turn to Jesus!  You don’t have to tell Him what to do, how to do it, or make a legal case.  Just place yourself, your needs, your family, your friends, your community, your nation, our world before and ask Him to save.

Jesus told that storm to settle and it did. He will calm the fears in you and in me IF we will choose faith. Remember He promises this – “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”   What comes from that assurance? “So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6, NIV)

Sometimes it may seem to you that God is not there. Words like I have shared above may seem to be written in a foreign language, all but incomprehensible. Choose faith anyway!

Faith does not rest on our experience or emotion. We choose to pray for faith, to live IN faith, and our intimacy with God will grow.  If we will choose to take God at His Word, which means accepting what He says as true and shaping our choices around the Truth, the Holy Spirit will strengthen us. Yes, and our experience will be shaped by the outcomes of our faith response.

Let’s not base our ongoing faith in results that we demand of God. Instead, let’s trust the faithfulness of the Lord Jesus.

The word from the Word today is Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians “that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Eph. 3:16–17).

Pray with me, the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray-

”‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’”

For Yours is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen  (Matthew 6:9-13, NIV)

__________

This is my song for this season …

Stand In Your Love

When darkness tries to roll over my bones
When sorrow comes to steal the joy I own
When brokenness and pain is all I know
I won’t be shaken I won’t be shaken

 My fear doesn’t stand a chance
When I stand in Your love (repeat)

 Shame no longer has a place to hide
I am not a captive to the lies
I’m not afraid to leave my past behind
I won’t be shaken I won’t be shaken

 There’s power that can break off every chain
There’s power that can empty out a grave
There’s resurrection power that can save
There’s power in Your name power in Your name

 Standing in Your love

Ethan Hulse | Josh Baldwin | Mark Harris | Rita Springer © 2018 Be Essential Songs (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)

EGH Music Publishing (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)

Gateway Create Publishing (Fair Trade Music Publishing [c/o Essential Music Publishing LLC])

CCLI License # 810055

 

Today, it’s tears

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Have your emotions been in wild swings? Mine, too. This morning there are tears. A song a cousin posted on Facebook as she cradled her baby son on her chest left me totally wrecked for a few moments. Thinking about my kids and grandkids, my friends, the people of my congregation – brought a surge of love and concern and then deep and heavy sobs with tears rolling down my face.

So, I guess the emotion of the day, or at least the hour, is sorrow. At one time in my life, I would have repressed those emotions, preferring a steely resolve, a determination to overcome them but I am wiser now. No, I do not bathe in the pathos, nor do I seek to jump on an emotional roller coaster. However, I am more self-aware, more willing to let my heart sort itself out, to understand that I am not a machine, but a warm-blooded human being.

A good friend wrote this on his pastoral blog yesterday, “We are not in normal times. Our normal ways of dealing with things don’t apply. For many, normal resources are out of reach. Social supports have vaporized. So let me say straight up: What you are feeling is normal. You are feeling it differently than everyone else – congratulations – you are not a clone! But whether you are non-plussed or freaked out – for you, you are responding in your normal to the abnormal around you. Own it. But it is time for it to not own you.” –Steve Felker (https://lifesprism.wordpress.com/)

Own your emotions, don’t let them own you. When we are really stressed, and who isn’t these days, it is important to give ourselves time and permission to feel, to process. If we do not, those emotions can get toxic. They can create physical symptoms, morph into depression, or drive us to behaviors that are irrational, even destructive. I love Steve’s practical advice in that same blog. “Stay away from the destructive stuff. Yeah, the 24/7 news feeds are not your friends. Nor is the endless stream of the freaked out social media. Nor are the pot, porn, and booze anesthetics of our culture. They may dull the moment, but they do nothing to order the inner storm stirred in heart and mind by times like these.”  Lots of wisdom there!

Do you know that you can take your emotions into God’s Presence? One of the safest places to ‘let go’ is in prayer! Maybe that is one reason Jesus advise us to pray our most personal prayers alone, not on street corners. When I was in tears this morning, my prayer was not very coherent. It was just “Oh, Jesus,” between sobs, tears, and tissues for a while. And, I know He heard my heart’s cry. Paul teaches us about that very kind of prayer. “And the Holy Spirit helps us in our distress. For we don’t even know what we should pray for, nor how we should pray. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.” (Romans 8:26, NLT)

Prayer of this nature is not just psychologically therapeutic, it changes us and our world, engaging the loving, living God with our needs.

Let me leave you today with these re-assuring words. Meditate for a while on this wonderful truth. “Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.” (Romans 8:26-28, The Message)

How I pray you know His love, that you are able to find hope in His care. Press on, friend, with “faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love.”

________

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
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
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

Don’t minimize the problem. Magnify the Lord!

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When I awakened this morning, my first thought was not joy, not faith, not hope. Perhaps you do better at pushing away the heaviness than I do. I wish I could, but my mind filled up at 6 am with thoughts about my friend still in ICU, critically ill; about a server who has brought me breakfast for years who is now without an income; about the millions of small businesses that are facing potential bankruptcy; about my inability to do what I have done for my entire life because I am ‘social distancing’ from people for whom I care which is the polar opposite of what a pastor does.

And then … yes, I chose FAITH over FEAR!

The Spirit of God whispered to me. “Jerry, don’t minimize the problem. Magnify the Lord!”  Faith does not ignore reality and our situation right now is dire. Faith looks higher to God. That is not a platitude, nor does it mean that all the troubles will disappear when I find the right prayer to say. Faith chooses trusts in Him, and allows us to find a “firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see.” (Hebrews 11:1, The Message)

After COVID19, life will go on, differently for all us, but it will go on. There will be loss, grief, orientation to new realities, and …
the potential to grow in the beauty of the Lord.

Let me illustrate with a snippet of my own story.  Six years ago, at this very season, Bev and I learned that she had advanced ovarian cancer and that the likelihood of her recovery was slim. As the doctor told us the grim news, we shook (literally!) like trees in a heavy storm. Our minds could barely grasp his words. Our hearts were battered. She was staring at months of suffering, I was facing the loss of my love. No, there is no fairy tale ending to that story. She died on December 29, 2015. But, I chose, with the help of dear friends and a precious God, to live. Her life continues in a realm invisible to me and mine continues, differently, here. In that awful season, we found deeper love and greater faith. That is not intended to sugarcoat the awfulness of it all.

Today … just for this day … choose faith! A favorite Psalm of mine is the 37th.
David gives faith some actions words, ones with which we can engage ourselves. He says,
Trust in the LORD and
do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this:

He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.
Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when men succeed in their ways,
when they carry out their wicked schemes.”
(Psalm 37:2-7, NIV)

Go back and re-read those bolded words.  “Trust … do good … delight in the Lord … commit your way… be still!”  Maybe you would want to write those down and make them your reminder when fear starts to make you tremble.

Here is a word from the Word. “The salvation of the righteous comes from the LORD; He is their stronghold in time of trouble.” (Psalm 37:39, NIV)

Don’t minimize the problem. Magnify the Lord!

__________

Beautiful Things

All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change
At all

 All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come up from this ground
At all 

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

 All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found
In You

 You make me new You are making me new
You make me new You are making me new (REPEAT)

Lisa Gungor | Michael Gungor © 2009 worshiptogether.com songs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

 

Pastor Jerry Scott

Faiith Discovery Church

FaithDiscovery.com

This is God’s judgment?

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I knew the question would come up and, sure enough, it did. Someone wrote to me asking, “Pastor Jerry, are the current troubles in the world the judgment of God?”  There certainly are plenty of reasons that the Almighty would want to let loose a corrective plague. Greed, materialism, violence, unending war, exploitation of the earth and the resources, pride are just a few of the sins that are rampant in this world. However, the simplistic thinking that concludes, “We sinned and God smacked us down,” is a complete misunderstanding of Who He is and how He acts.

God is not like an exhausted parent who just ‘loses it’ and makes everybody pay!  We, human beings, do that sometimes. When we come to the end of our patience with the kids, everybody loses privileges, or is sent to bed early, or worse, in some cases.  To think of a vengeful, wrathful God Who set a virus loose in the world because He is fed up with the world – with all of the suffering, the death, the economic chaos- misses His great heart entirely. Don’t stop reading or object to the reasoning until you finish this blog, please.

Listen to the Word about the way God acts for our good.
Don’t rush through this passage. It is rich for us, particularly in this time.
And have you entirely forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you, his children? He said, “My child, don’t ignore it when the Lord disciplines you, and don’t be discouraged when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes those he accepts as his children.”

As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Whoever heard of a child who was never disciplined? If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children after all. Since we respect our earthly fathers who disciplined us, should we not all the more cheerfully submit to the discipline of our heavenly Father and live forever? For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how.

But God’s discipline is always right and good for us because it means we will share in his holiness. 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 12:5-11, NLT)

God allows us (think not just of yourself as an individual, but as a world) the freedom to choose to align ourselves with His will or to ignore it. Throughout the Scripture, we learn that when people live as He directs, they enjoy life. When they choose to live selfishly and/or sinfully, their actions produce death. Pray for insight as you read these passages.

  • The principle started in the opening chapters of Genesis where God gave a direction: “Don’t eat or you’ll die.”
  • In Deuteronomy the principle is amplified: “Look at what I’ve done for you today: I’ve placed in front of you Life and Good Death and Evil. And I command you today: Love God, your God. Walk in his ways. Keep his commandments, regulations, and rules so that you will live, really live, live exuberantly, blessed by God, your God, in the land you are about to enter and possess. But I warn you: If you have a change of heart, refuse to listen obediently, and willfully go off to serve and worship other gods, you will most certainly die. You won’t last long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.” (Deuteronomy 30:15-18, The Message)
  • Christians, who live in the promise of Grace through Jesus Christ, are challenged to obey and find the best life. Jesus said, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:10-11, NIV)
  • Paul’s inspired words are clear: “Remember that you can’t ignore God and get away with it. You will always reap what you sow! Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful desires will harvest the consequences of decay and death. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So don’t get tired of doing what is good.” (Galatians 6:7)

Asking if coronavirus is God’s judgment is simply the wrong question. In one sense, it is because it, like all things that produce human pain and suffering, results from the work of Evil in this world which is loosed by the choice of humanity to reject the will of God. But, truly this breaks God’s heart for His children. Christians who rub their hands in twisted joy as they say, “God is giving the world what it deserves.” have an incomplete knowledge of their Father’s heart.

He is sad with us that choices to ignore His ways are ripping us apart, robbing us of peace, bringing death. Those are, in fact, the work of the Devil, and we who are the children of God, through Jesus Christ, are called to resist him, to pray for the “Kingdom of God to come and His will to be done, on earth, as it is in Heaven.”

Can God use this plague to call us to Himself? Yes, He can. Our illusions of self-sufficiency are being shattered. The slender nature of the thread of life becomes much more obvious when we realize it can be broken by an invisible virus. We do not know where it came from, how it was released on us, or when it will end. BUT we know that God saves, not kills; that His desire is our salvation, not our destruction.

So this morning, I invite you to join me in humble prayer. If confession is needed, let’s do it – with the full expectation of His grace to cover our failures and sins and to restore us to our place near His heart.  Then, let us go on to bold prayers for the release of His power, first in the invisible realm, praying that He will curb the power of the Evil one who seeks to ‘kill and destroy,’ and second in the presentation of ourselves as servant warriors who love others to wholeness- body, soul, and spirit- as we give ourselves in selfless service.

The word from the Word is the prayer Jesus taught us to pray.  Would you pray it with me, not just as a rote recitation, but as the expression of your faith, the surrender of your heart and mind to HIM?

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed (treated with reverent respect) be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.

 For yours is the kingdom, and the power,
And the glory forever. Amen.” (Matthew 6:9-13, NIV)

______________

How I Need You
(Listen and worship in this simple song of faith)

Every day in Your hands
You were there before time began
Sovereign one I rest in Your plan
From the depths to the dawn
You are there Your promise is strong
I will trust with all that I am

 Chorus

Jesus Jesus oh how I need You
You stay the same
You are good in Your ways
Jesus Jesus oh how I need You
You are enough
All my trust is in You Lord

 You fashioned me formed my heart
Search my soul and know every thought
Love so great but never too far
And through the storm You’re the calm
And every war You’ve already won
Life secure in Your loving arms

 You are powerful God above it all
I believe in You I believe in You
You do miracles the impossible
I believe in You I believe in You

 Bethany Phillips | Chris Griffin | Micah Massey | Nicole McLean © 2018 Highlands Creative Publishing (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.) CCLI License # 810055

“I’m gonna kill somebody”

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The shock of the current crisis is weighing down on us. Beyond the unknowns to the health and well-being of our family and friends, we are experiencing serious economic consequences as those in authority are shutting down commerce. I am seeing anger starting to crop up around me and in me, too!  Anger is a close cousin of fear. When we are afraid we are wired to respond with ‘fight or flight.’

Many, when feeling helpless, in circumstances that are beyond their control, feel building hostility, real, but unfocused at first. That pent up anger looks for a place to go, a person to blame. Before we know it, we’re mad at the supermarket for empty shelves, or those people who are hoarding toilet paper, or our spouse, or kids – and we say or do things that become regrettable, or worse, destructive to people and relationships.

Knowing this, let’s choose a different road, for the sake of Jesus and others. In the Word this morning, my meditation formed around this passage. “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:12-15, NIV)

I love the wisdom of our Creator that is revealed in that passage. We cannot just ignore anger or even repress it for very long. We have to deal with its source, which is about how we feel about ourselves.  People who are strong and whole emotionally, do not have to use anger as a means of regaining control or soothing themselves when they are powerless. That is why the passage begins by reminding the Christian of his true identity!  “God’s chosen … holy … dearly loved.”

In this crisis, those are key truths to keep front and center of our thoughts.

God owns me and you, having chosen us in Christ Jesus to become His children. So, take your fear to your Father! Leave it with Him, expecting Him to show you the way forward. Jesus promised that if we ask for bread, our Father will not give us a stone.  He has made us ‘holy,’ a much misunderstood idea. Holy means we are people selected to serve His unique purpose.

Instead of letting all of this overwhelm us with a sense of futility, we can pray and ask God, “How do you want to use me in all of this? What’s the plan?”  We start by caring, listening, empathizing, praying earnestly to reflect the heart of Jesus to others, self-sacrificially.  Interestingly, Jesus says that when ‘we lose our life for His sake, we find a whole new kind of life’ one richer and fuller than we can imagine.  We are ‘dearly loved.’  The lie that the Evil One wants us to believe is that God does not care, has abandoned us. He has not. Even His discipline is administered from a place of profound love.

All of the rest of that passage flows out of the truth of our identity in Christ Jesus – chosen, holy, beloved!  If we don’t start there, we cannot make it to “let the peace of Christ rule.”

This Monday morning take Jesus’ offer of love and let Him be Lord of life. The truth is that “to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—” (John 1:12, NIV)  The child of God gains great expectation and hope. “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:17-18, NIV)

So, let the peace of Christ rule your heart; not in denial of reality, not in minimizing the very real challenges, but as you pray to live your identity – chosen, holy, beloved – because that is who you are.

Here is a word from the Word. I’m receiving and believing – will you?  “There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love. We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.” (1 John 4:18-19, The Message)

___________

Stand In Your Love

(listen to this great song and let faith grow)

When darkness tries to roll over my bones
When sorrow comes to steal the joy I own
When brokenness and pain is all I know
I won’t be shaken I won’t be shaken

 My fear doesn’t stand a chance
When I stand in Your love 

Shame no longer has a place to hide
I am not a captive to the lies
I’m not afraid to leave my past behind
I won’t be shaken I won’t be shaken

 There’s power that can break off every chain
There’s power that can empty out a grave
There’s resurrection power that can save
There’s power in Your name power in Your name

 Standing in Your love

Ethan Hulse | Josh Baldwin | Mark Harris | Rita Springer

© 2018 Be Essential Songs (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)

EGH Music Publishing (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)

CCLI License # 810055

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