The End of Time

Floods, fires, viral pandemics, earthquakes  … shake us up, don’t they? Some are pointing to these things as evidence that the Second Coming must be near at hand. Conspiracy theorists, especially among some Christian groups, insist that a godless one-world government and the Anti-christ of the Apocalypse are waiting to step onto the world’s stage.  Somehow vaccines, 5G cell service, and Bill Gates, join Dr. Fauci in a strange concoction of fantastic ideas about a great conspiracy emerging. The closure of churches and restrictions placed on individuals must be, these people insist, the prelude to an organized attempt to silence Christians in America.  Could we please just STOP with the speculative, often silly, theories?  

We are more easily duped because so few of us trust our news sources, our government, or any institutions these days. “Fake news” is a phrase that has entered our lexicon for good reason. Our media has become so politicized and polar that we all know that much of what we hear is heavily biased or just out-right propaganda. In that environment, the most outlandish and baseless ‘facts’ find ways to take root in the minds of many.

Christian, we must be wise, which is not to be confused with ‘smart.’ We must anchor our minds in the eternal Truth and develop our thoughts with careful, prayerful reflection that is guided by the discernment that the Holy Spirit promises to give to us.  It is possible to be fervent in faith without losing our minds in the process

The world is a rapidly changing place. From where I stand, I see growing hostility toward God and His Word.  Large numbers of people have decided that they have no need of God, Jesus, or personal Deity. They have declared themselves, de facto, their own god (small g intended); throwing off moral restraint, worshipping at the altar of self-fulfillment and technology. 

So, does this indicate that we are now in the “End Times”?  Many will not like my conclusion. The answer?  Yes and no.  

When Christ ascended to heaven, He promised His return. The Church era is the ‘final chapter’ for this world. So, in one sense the end times started 2000 years ago.
We know from the Scripture that we are to expect the imminent return of the Lord so yes, that too, indicates that we are in the end times. 
And, more personally, we are mortal, our lifetime here finite, a sobering thought about our own pending appointment with God.  Jesus could return today, Glorious Day! But, the ‘day and the hour’ are not known to us, which makes Christians who engage in date-setting for ‘the End’ dangerously wrong-headed.

Instead of letting ourselves get worked up in fear, wrapped up in conspiracy theories, and duped by those who want to sell us an over-priced book, we need to take the word of Jesus to heart.  Luke recounts a parable He told about a nobleman traveling to a far country who entrusted his wealth to three of his managers. His parting words were – ‘Operate with this until I return.’ (Luke 19:13, The Message) They were to expect him to return while working to produce a return on his investment.  Jesus expects this of us. We are not to sit around wringing our hands with worry or waiting from a rescue from the sky. We have much Kingdom work to do, even as we hope for the coming of our Lord.

All the while, we have the promises of our Lord Jesus Christ who reminds us that a world in turmoil is reason to remember that time is finite and God will bring about His plan. “And there will be strange signs in the sun, moon, and stars. And here on earth the nations will be in turmoil, perplexed by the roaring seas and strange tides. People will be terrified at what they see coming upon the earth, for the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with power and great glory. So when all these things begin to happen, stand and look up, for your salvation is near!” (Luke 21:25-28, NLT)

When we start to think that life will go on forever, the truth smacks us in the face and we realize, anew, that we are mortal. When we grow arrogant, the fires, floods, earthquakes, wars, and pandemics remind us that we are not as much in control as we might wish to think we are.  

He is God, I am not.  My times are in His hands.  
Is your life held in His love, secured by His salvation? The declaration of judgment for all is not a terror to me. It gives me even more reason to serve Him, not from fear, but because I know my efforts for His Kingdom will be vindicated in that Day. Perhaps all the current shaking and rattling in the world will settle and a decade from now, peace and prosperity will have found us again. Or it may be that God is writing the epilogue of human history, soon to be published. That is not for us to say.

I leave Jesus’ words as the words from the Word. Own the promise, by faith, even if understanding is incomplete. In the promise there is peace. “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” (Revelation 22:17, NIV) “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.” (Revelation 22:12-14, NIV)  

________

Lo He Comes With Clouds Descending

Lo He comes with clouds descending
Once for favored sinners slain
Thousand thousand saints attending
Swell the triumph of His train

Alleluia alleluia alleluia
God appears on earth to reign
Every eye shall now behold Him
Robed in glorious majesty

Those who set at naught and sold Him
Pierced and nailed Him to the tree
Deeply wailing
Deeply wailing
Deeply wailing
Shall their true Messiah see

Those dear tokens of His passion
Still His dazzling body bears
Cause of endless exultation
To His ransomed worshippers
With what rapture
With what rapture
With what rapture
Gaze we on those glorious scars

Yea Amen let all adore Thee
High on Thine eternal throne
Savior take the power and glory
Claim the kingdom for Thine own
Come Lord Jesus
Come Lord Jesus
Come Lord Jesus
Everlasting God come down

Charles Wesley
Public Domain

Less? Blessed?

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The last 8 weeks have brought ‘less.’  Roads are not so crowded. Days are not as filled with activities. Weekends leave us with time weighing on our hands. Looking ahead, many are coming to grips that they may have to adjust to living with less as the ripple effect of the virus brings job loss, wage cuts, and reduced staffing. That is, at first thought, not generally something to call a blessing, is it? How can less be blessed?

We like big, don’t we?  We like options. We like shelves full of 28 brands of products that do the same thing! It makes us feel rich. Amazon™ brings more options than the “Mall of America” right into our living room and MasterCard™ rejoices when we browse those digital pages to buy ‘stuff.’  Do we realize that there is stress that goes with having so many options from which to choose? We like the feeling of importance that comes from a crammed calendar. All those things we do helps us to convince ourselves that we are valuable. But, do we understand that when we cannot sleep because our mind continues to race when we lie down we are getting a message that life is too full?

We are trained to be consumers, to be discontent.  We are told that we ‘need’ a new phone, another pair of shoes, more clothing because our economy requires spending. Most products have obsolescence built into them so that we will feel the need to replace them in a couple of years. We think little of creating more debt to get a new house, another car, or to go on a vacation will finally be ‘it.’  But, now a challenging narrative is emerging- one of contentment, one that lets us live with less. Can we accept it? Will we?

Could it be that God is inviting us to a restored sanity?
Might He be asking to ‘consider our ways and be wise?’

One of the choices that Christians make, for God’s sake, is simplicity. What is that? The opposite is complex. God invites us to become people who are transparent, whose motives are clear, whose minds are focused singly on serving Christ Jesus, with a hope that is formed around eternal life.  Simplicity flourishes in us when make God more than the “Bread King” who is supposed to feed our desires, instead allowing Him to help us to learn to be contented with who we are, what we have, and where we are.

As we think about the blessing of less, there are some practical things we can do, God helping us.

We stop comparing! Envy is the great enemy of simplicity.
We refuse to create an ‘image’ that we must then work hard to maintain.
We are generous, breaking the hold of ‘stuff’ by sharing, not just out of our excess, but sacrificially.
We learn to thanks for life, as it is, rather than begging God to make it what we think it should be.
We live today, choosing to let Him judge the past, to prepare us for the future.
We learn that saying ‘no’ is an acceptable response; a no to our own hearts demands as well as a no to cultural pressure to conform.
We live within our means, refusing to pile up debt in a vain attempt to create happiness.

Here’s what Jesus said.  “Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is bad, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is! “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:22-24, NLT)

What’s your vision for life?  If it is a clear vision, fixed on truth, and focused around the goodness of God, you will live freely, soberly, and with contentment. If it is corrupted by materialism, sensuality, celebrity, greed, or other common American ‘values,’ you will descend ever deeper into the confusion of trying to fill the longing for meaning with things that can never satisfy your soul.

Learning new ways to think and live is never easy. I believe that God is inviting us to a new satisfaction, growing out of deep and intimate worship. Right now that isn’t even happening in church buildings but we can worship when we revel in the beauty of a bird’s song, the giggle of a child, the beauty of a sunset – finding the grace He promises ‘for today.’   The choice to become simple will break the chains that keep us enslaved to Self and Satan; serving lesser gods of reputation, things we own, and the things that fill up our days.

Shall we discover the blessing of less?

Spend some time with this word from the Word. These are powerful words that can transform our values.

Yet true religion with contentment is great wealth.
After all, we didn’t bring anything with us when we came into the world,
and we certainly cannot carry anything with us when we die.

So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.
But people who long to be rich fall into temptation
and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires
that plunge them into ruin and destruction.
 

For the love of money is at the root of all kinds of evil.
And some people, craving money, have wandered from the faith
and pierced themselves with many sorrows.

But you, Timothy, belong to God; so run from all these evil things,
and follow what is right and good. Pursue a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness.”
  (1 Timothy 6:6-11, NLT)

_________

10,000 Reasons (Bless The Lord)

Bless the Lord O my soul O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before O my soul
I’ll worship Your holy name

 The sun comes up it’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes

 You’re rich in love and You’re slow to anger
Your name is great and Your heart is kind
For all Your goodness I will keep on singing
Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find

 And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years and then forevermore

 Worship Your holy name
Lord I’ll worship Your holy name

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Representing Jesus!

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A friend of mine told me about wearing a mask to a local store where he encountered a man in the parking lot who mocked him for his cowardice. Another shared about wearing his N95 medical grade mask, one that he’s had in his garage for months, only to be rebuked for not ‘saving’ the medical grade masks for health professionals. These are mild examples of the divided nature of our nation. I, and many other pastors, are sincerely concerned about preserving the unity of our churches in coming weeks as we reopen our buildings to meet for worship. If we Christians bring our strong opinions with us, what will result?

We must practice that kind of love that is always to be the most notable quality of a Christ followerdeep, other-centered love. Paul says it this way – “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” (Romans 12:9-10, NIV)

Balancing the needs of all those who call the church their spiritual home is no easy task. Some think we should open now, even in defiance of the government authorities. Others would keep the building closed until a vaccine and/or treatment is in place, which could be months from now. Some say that masks are unnecessary, others insist we will wear them publicly indefinitely.  Some think that the danger of spreading the contagion means we cannot sing. Others think that singing is a basic part of worship, not to be hindered for any reason.  Must we limit the number in the building?  I know you have opinions. We all do!

Time and again I remind myself of the greater importance of the unity of the Body of Christ. When I feel irritation rising with that person who disagrees with I am sure is ‘the truth,’ I feel the counsel of the Spirit reminding me to listen well.  Faith Discovery Church will open, though no date has been set yet. The process, to date, has been guided by the shared counsel of our leadership team. Even within that small group of 9 persons there are widely divergent opinions about the requirements that will be placed on those who attend. We talk, with respect, with honesty, keeping our focus on honoring Him.  In the end, each one will yield his or her opinion to the wisdom of the whole, and we all pray that our work is directed by Christ, the Head of the Church, as we are filled with the Holy Spirit.

Let’s widen our perspective today to include our individual responses to others in this world. Most of us have strong opinions about the decisions that the government is making to limit our individual liberties and about the way that others are responding to those directives. Some would take to the streets in fierce defense of our cherished American freedom and condemn those who refuse to do so as ‘sheeple,.’ Some believe that limits are in the interest of us all and see those protestors as idiotic and irresponsible.

Tragically, conspiracy theories have flourished like weeds in this soil of unrest, making any reasonable conversation nearly impossible.  Ideas that would be quickly dismissed in any other time seem to find root in people who are otherwise thoughtful.  (Click here to read an excellent article about conspiracy theories among Christians.)

Yes, I confess to my own sin in this. If you know me at all you know I am a person who is generally not reluctant to express an opinion. This is not a time for that! Destructive divisions are tearing us apart in a time of crisis.  We need people who will do the hard of reconciling people to one another. Knowing my tendencies, I have mostly stopped watching media reports because of the reactions that they trigger in me, responses that are far from Christ’s calling.  How about you? Would you get honest with yourself?

Let’s pray to remember this – we are Christ’s first, citizens of God’s kingdom.  Let’s represent Him well in our interactions with all, even as we pray for a loving heart, a gentle spirit.  I believe that there is an opportunity for Christians to lead the way in our time, people who are wise, who act rather than react, who demonstrate faith responsibly, whose lives show the truth that our God is greater even than death itself.

Here is a word from the Word. I have chosen the Message paraphrase for clarity. As we read it, lets invite the Truth to sink deep, convicting and convincing each of us about how we best represent our King before the world.

“Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it!

All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.” (2 Corinthians 5:16-20, The Message)

__________

Abba, my heart is often in conflict these days.
There are fears that stir anger, anger that can make me blind and deaf.
Secure my soul in You with Your Word and by Your Spirit.
Speak peace. Convince me of the importance of love.

I pray that You will be well represented by those who bear Your Name.
Keep us from weakness even as You teach us meekness.
Preserve us from folly born of presumption, even as You make us fearless in faith.
Help me, Lord Jesus, to bear the beauty of Your Spirit before this world –
In my thoughts, in my words, in my actions. Amen

Work through it with Faith!

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A half-century ago, Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross studied how we react to grief. She found that people generally follow this pattern: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Not all people experience every one of those or the the same sequence, but the pattern is generally true and knowing it helps us cope and become proactive. Think about your own emotional experiences in the last 2 months. Even if you have not had friend or family member sick or dying, life has taken a hard hit, hasn’t it? Nothing is quite the same and we are constantly told that it never will be. That is hard to grasp and to fit into our plans for life.

Christian, there is an abundant life of faith in the middle of this mess. So let’s talk about that for a few minutes this Monday morning.

When we were first learning about the pandemic many of us coped by telling ourselves, “It’s not really that bad. It will be over quickly.”
That’s denial.

Then, it dragged on and we wondered why we felt so much irritation, why we found ourselves lashing out at others. Anger showed up!

And so we started figuring out our own response, “Maybe if I do this, or go here, or talk to that person, or …” Yes, we tried making a deal with life and/or God. Bargaining!

But, week 6 came and instead of things changing, we were told to stay home longer, that our job was on hold, that our bank account was rapidly emptying and we wondered why we just wanted to stay in bed or eat junk or worse … that’s depression.

Acceptance is a beautiful thing. It’s not an end point, but an entry to understanding, adjustment, and new reality. Acceptance is that process in which we start to see life as it is, not as we wished it to be. “This really is happening. It is beyond my control. So, how will I respond?”  We must not confuse acceptance with giving up and or resignation. People who ‘give up’ lose their joy, choosing just to survive by killing their emotions. They throw away relationships, deciding that hope is too hard. You know those people. They are cynical, often bitter, mere shells of the person they once were.

It starts with being authentic about what we think and how we are seeing life. Often it requires someone who listens and provides feedback, who lets us empty our heart and soul and sort through our thoughts.  For Christians it must include time of prayer and openness before the Lord. We match our fears with His Word, settling on the foundations of Truth.  The Psalms are an incredible resource for this process, helping us to give form to our feelings, leading us to praise and worship, reminding us of the eternal hope we have in the Lord.

Acceptance does not usually arrive with a flash of insight that brings instantaneous transformation. It is like the coming of Springtime. Remember those days in March when the sun warms your face, when the shoots of green start to appear, followed by buds on the trees? Steadily, but imperceptibly, the earth transforms – winter to summer.  Acceptance comes like that, warm days of hope, frosty mornings reminding you that you are not quite there yet, but hope continues to emerge, as we turn our hearts toward God, the giver of life.

Jesus pours hope into us saying,  “I know all the things you do, and I have opened a door for you that no one can shut. You have little strength, yet you obeyed my word and did not deny me. … Because you have obeyed my command to persevere, I will protect you from the great time of testing that will come upon the whole world to test those who belong to this world. Look, I am coming quickly. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take away your crown. (Revelation 3:8-11, NLT)

Maybe that is a truth that feels like it beyond the edge of your faith this morning.  Don’t be ashamed or fearful. Tell Him that you want to hold on. Adopt the prayer of that distressed Dad in the Gospels whose daughter had died, a man who cried, “Lord, I believe! Help me overcome my doubts!”

We all have days when we just have to just keep going, asking the Lord to lead us along paths, the end of which we cannot see. We will stumble over our sinful nature getting angry, going negative, wandering into self-pity or fear. We will allow ourselves to waste the day in distractions. Does that ever happen to you?  When I have those days I fantasize about a perfect words without battles, without temptation, without suffering, without disappointment.

Real life in the real world is about living our faith, patiently dealing with the sins, the obstacles, the disappointments, the temptations, the tests, the people who provoke… with the help of the Holy Spirit, who will lead us to a richer life in His truth, full of hope.

John Bunyan captured the process with his amazing classic – Pilgrim’s Progress.  Ah, yes, we are on the journey to our home.  If we want to please God, we have to be willing keep walking, trusting the infinite grace of our Savior.  “Patient endurance is what you need now, so you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.” (Hebrews 10:36, NLT) Keep asking God to move you to acceptance that is shaped by faith. Keep serving others with the gifts that God has given you, even when it seems that nothing is being accomplished.

Here’s a word from the Word. Meditate on it for a few moments right now. Invite the Holy Spirit to use it to strengthen your resolve to remain faithful to Christ.  “Be careful to put into action God’s saving work in your lives, (work out your salvation – NIV) obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him. In everything you do, stay away from complaining and arguing, so that no one can speak a word of blame against you. You are to live clean, innocent lives as children of God in a dark world full of crooked and perverse people. Let your lives shine brightly before them. Hold tightly to the word of life, so that when Christ returns, I will be proud that I did not lose the race and that my work was not useless.” (Philippians 2:12-16, NLT)

________

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

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Bungee Jumping

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I am a Pastor who is praying to know how to lead in faith while being a wise, Spirit-responsive, other-centered person. Knowing where wisdom ends and faith begins is not an easy thing to discern. In coming weeks, it is likely that it will become possible to gather once again for worship. Doing so will involve risk. What is the right thing to do? You have your own decisions to make that will require faith and wisdom. If called back to work, where does faith start and fear end? In entrusting your kids to schooling, when is the appropriate time?

No choice is without cost, as we have seen nationally.  When we prioritize the safety, the economy takes a huge hit, and there is a financial cost to families that may be part of their lives for years to come. If we prioritize ‘normality’ the risk of sickness, and possibly death, increases, though it remains debatable to what degree. Many of us, I think, might feel a little like a bungee jumper who jumps off the bridge over a chasm. Though connected to a strong elastic, he cannot help but wonder, during the free fall, if the cord will hold when he hits the end of it.

Though we know the promises of God, it is quite human to wonder as we lean on Him: will He catch me? Everyone who follows Jesus Christ faces the choice of faith; not once, but each day.
Our very Gospel pivots on faith.
Will we trust the promise of God’s grace or continue in our own religious works?
Our security rests on faith.
Will we attempt to create wealth and relationships that make us feel secure or will we live with our hope resting on the Rock, secured by His Word?

True faith is constantly renewed. Grandpa’s faith is insufficient for today’s challenges. Our own faith that kept us a decade ago needs to be bolstered by discovery of faith that is sufficient for today. “The righteousness of God (is) revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17, KJV)  If you don’t understand Paul’s point, let me restate it. Faith for today is laid on the foundation of yesterday’s faith in an ongoing process; faith to faith.

Genuine faith does not exempt one from feeling real fear!  In the book of Daniel, we meet faithful men: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They were Jews who had been carried off to serve in Babylon when Assyria conquered Jerusalem, ripped from their homes and transported hundreds of miles into an alien culture. There they faced the challenge of hanging onto their faith in Yahweh or being assimilated into the religion and culture of Assyria.  The safe choice was to ‘go along to get along.’ The faith choice was to trust the Lord. They chose the Lord and He gave them want they needed. (Read the first 6 chapters of Daniel prayerfully and those words will renew you in faith!)

One day the megalomaniac king decided that he would set up a giant image of himself and require all of his administrators to give worshipful homage to it or face a fiery death. These men could not bow to an idol and keep their faith intact. Did they feel fear? Judge for yourself as you read their response to the king’s demand. “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18, NLT) Do not miss that phrase – ‘even if He doesn’t!’ They fully recognized that their choice could bring them death and they were willing to make the faith choice anyway!

Are you facing a choice of faith today?  Don’t confuse the fact that you are experiencing some fear with a conclusion that you must be faithless.  Instead, focus on God.  ‘Fix your eyes on Jesus’ the Scripture counsels us.   I have told myself that a hundred times this week!  “Jerry, keep your eyes on Jesus who instilled faith in you and who keeps faith alive in you.”  And I know, from the Word and my testimony, that HE is faithful even when I am faithless. Praise Him.

Accepting God’s gift of faith will ask you to set out from the known, from what you perceive to be safe, to leave behind the comfortable.  God WILL meet you there. Ponder this word from the Word. “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” (James 2:14-18, NIV)  (If you intrigued by that excerpt, here is a link to the entire chapter which inspires me to greater faith.  James 2)

Let’s grow in faith together, encouraging each other. Lose any critical spirit. Reject any judgment. Quell the emotions. Exercise faith!

I hope to ‘see’ you online this Sunday, 10 am, for virtual worship.
(Faith Discovery Church)
________

Even If

(Mercy Me sings a song built around the story in Daniel I shared above)

They say sometimes you win some
Sometimes you lose some
And right now right now I’m losing bad
I’ve stood on this stage night after night
Reminding the broken it’ll be alright
But right now oh right now I just can’t

 It’s easy to sing
When there’s nothing to bring me down
But what will I say
When I’m held to the flame like I am right now

 I know You’re able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone

 They say it only takes a little faith
To move a mountain
Well good thing
A little faith is all I have right now

 But God when You choose
To leave mountains unmovable
Oh give me the strength to be able to sing
“It is well with my soul”

 I know the sorrow and I know the hurt
Would all go away if You just say the word
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone

 You’ve been faithful
You’ve been good all of my days
Jesus I will cling to You come what may

‘Cause I know You’re able
I know You care
I hope in You alone ooh
It is well with my soul
It is well it is well with my soul

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Fears, Facts, and Faith

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The leadership team of our church met (online!) to discuss what kinds of policies we will have in place when FDC starts to gather for worship again. At least that hope is now on the horizon! Our conversation was complicated by the differing ideas about best ways to deal with the virus.  Hard facts are hard to come by in a world of contradictory information provided by the ‘experts’ who cannot or will not admit that they are often learning as they go.  The politics that are wrapped up in this terrible crisis makes it even harder to get to the truth. Do you find it confusing to sort through it all?  I surely do. Fear can grow when facts are in short supply.

Each day I remind myself of ONE thing that I KNOW, an anchor point for me.  My foundation is expressed in the words of Paul, written to his younger pastor friend who was a timid man.

It is God who saved us and chose us to live a holy life. He did this not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan long before the world began—to show his love and kindness to us through Christ Jesus. And now he has made all of this plain to us by the coming of Christ Jesus, our Savior, who broke the power of death and showed us the way to everlasting life through the Good News.

And God chose me to be a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of this Good News. And that is why I am suffering here in prison. But I am not ashamed of it, for I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until the day of his return.” (2 Timothy 1:9-12, NLT)

If anyone could be excused for being fearful, Paul could. His life which was dedicated to the Gospel of Christ was hard. As he penned those hopeful words, he was on death row in a miserable Roman prison. Yet, he is confident- not in himself but in Christ Jesus, his Lord.  “God saved us … God chose us … His plan was to show love … suffering is real but I am not ashamed, for I KNOW the ONE IN WHOM I TRUST.”

At the core of my being there is a simple faith – I am God’s child, saved by His grace.  Do I still wrestle with questions about life? Well, of course.  Suffering remains a thorny issue.  Evil in all its expressions roars in my face, challenging my faith.  But, I choose to rest on His declaration and to say “I know in Whom I have believed and that He is able to keep me!”  From that solid foundation I find the footing to deal with life, to remain hopeful, to endure trials, to experience joy.  Ah, friend, will you trust Him?

Give up all attempts to play ‘Let’s Make A Deal’ with God. We cannot impress Him. We cannot wring favor from Him with songs, prayers, or rigid religiosity. The moment we shift our hope from His grace given freely to us in love, we lose our assurance.  But, if we ‘fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith’  we defeat fear and live with wisdom.  We are not foolish to choose to be confident in this – nothing that comes our way is too big for Him, will surprise Him, or can overcome His gracious love.

Does that mean we become simpletons who deny the realities of pain or disappointment that exist all around us? Not at all.  We are still very much part of this world which is, ‘with devils filled and threatens to undo us!‘ (Martin Luther)

But, a GREATER truth secures us: that we are in the hands of the King whose power has triumphed over sin, Hell, and death. So, we trust – in Christ Jesus of whom we say – “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12-14, NIV)

Choose simple faith. From the Word, understand the core Truth of God’s eternal nature, of the triumph of Christ, and of the Spirit’s power – and place those things at the center of your life. Ask the Lord to teach you to respond in faith to the issues of your life, choosing the way of the faithful consistently. And, you will find rock-like stability in a confusing world!

In our word from the Word, James reminds us of the importance of simple faith. Read it carefully and prayerfully.  “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:5-8, NKJV)

If you are not a Christian, receiving God’s gift through faith, do it now.
When we know Who holds tomorrow, who holds our hand, we are able to be at rest.
Do you know Him? Is He really Lord? Then, trust Him!

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I Know Who Holds Tomorrow

I don’t know about tomorrow
I just live from day to day
I don’t borrow from its sunshine
For its skies may turn to gray
I don’t worry o’er the future
For I know what Jesus said
And today I’ll walk beside Him
For He knows what is ahead

Many things about tomorrow
I don’t seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand

Ev’ry step is getting brighter
As the golden stairs I climb
Ev’ry burden’s getting lighter
Ev’ry cloud is silver-lined
There the sun is always shining
here no tear will dim the eye
At the ending of the rainbow
Where the mountains touch the sky

I don’t know about tomorrow
It may bring me poverty
But the One who feeds the sparrow
Is the One who stands by me
And the path that is my portion
May be through the flame or flood
But His presence goes before me
And I’m covered with His blood

Ira Stanphill © 1950 New Spring (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.) CCLI License # 810055

Taking the heat

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Fire is a great blessing and a terrible curse. Fire can purify as well as destroy.  Ore containing gold is subjected to intense heat and when it liquefies the precious metal locked in the rock can be drawn off. The process is hard but the result is something of value and beauty.  Are you feeling the heat these days? Is the uncertainty testing your faith, making you feel like you want to give up?  If so, you are not alone. Whatever novelty might have been part of the first couple of weeks of quarantine is long gone. We are seeing the results of slamming on the brakes of the economy as businesses are closing, for good. In many homes, tensions are rising. Christians are experiencing temptation more than ever. Yes, we are in the fire!

Peter, a man who knew about being in tough times, writes to encourage us.  “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:6-7, NIV)

In short, he reminds us that trauma can produce transformation IF we endure it while steadied by faith.  The ancient preacher spoke truth for today when he said that God is our Refiner.  He allows us to feel the heat, not to destroy us but to make us holy. “Who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness.” (Malachi 3:2-3, NIV)

When a person goes to serve in the Marines the first 13 weeks are tough!  Boot camp is designed to shock a young recruit out of his assumptions about life and to mold him into a disciplined soldier. In basic training they are scared silly, intimidated, yelled at, awakened in the middle of the night, have their head shaved, are pushed to physical limits of endurance. To civilians, basic training looks cruelly sadistic. But if you ask the soldier about it when he’s under fire in combat he will tell you that the trauma transformed a bunch of kids into a disciplined, military unit, making him tough enough to stand up under fire.

Wise parents let their offspring appropriately experience difficulties, too. They let them work through conflict, understand disappointment, feel some level of stress all the while standing in the background to keep them from destruction. The wisdom of the Word speaks to us as we go through the fire. “Don’t feel sorry for yourselves. Or have you forgotten how good parents treat children, and that God regards you as his children? My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline, but don’t be crushed by it either. It’s the child he loves that he disciplines; the child he embraces, he also corrects. God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children.”  (Hebrews 12:5-8)

James 1 is familiar. “Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides.” (The Message) One might ask, “Is God serious? Why would I welcome tough times as a gift, or as an “opportunity for joy?” (NLT) The short answer is that trauma produces transformation.  It is hard not to complain when you’re getting melted in the fire, but pray for the ability to faithfully welcome the challenge as an opportunity to grow.

Will you accept this truth for times of trial? God says that “No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it.” (I Cor. 10:13 The Message)

Keep these truths in mind when things get tough, when the fire heats up.

First – God is present! We are not alone.

Second – We are called into community! We are part of the Body of Christ. Let’s act like it.

Third – Greater glory awaits! This (what we see today) is not all there is.)

By the way, don’t blame all of your trauma on the Lord. Sometimes we stupidly, sinfully, or shortsightedly invite the fire right into our own heart! Peter wisely says “Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!” (1 Peter 3:17, NLT) “So if you are suffering according to God’s will, keep on doing what is right, and trust yourself to the God who made you, for he will never fail you.” (1 Peter 4:19, NLT)

Here’s a word from the Word for this day:  God blesses the people who patiently endure testing. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12, NLT)
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Blessings

We pray for blessings,
We pray for peace comfort for family
Protection while we sleep
We pray for healing for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand
To ease our suffering
And all the while You hear each spoken need
Yet love is way too much to give us lesser things

 ‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
And what if trials of this life
Are Your mercies in disguise

 We pray for wisdom
Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt Your goodness
We doubt Your love
As if ev’ry promise from Your Word is not enough
And all the while You hear each desp’rate plea
And long that we’d have faith to believe

 When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not this is not our home
It’s not our home

 ‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is a revealing of a greater thirst
This world can’t satisfy
And what if trials of this life
The rain the storms the hardest nights
Are Your mercies in disguise

Laura Story © 2011 Laura Stories (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.)

New Spring (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055

Yes, He can!

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Last night, before sleep, I picked up a little book by a well-known author who declared “God sent this corona virus on the earth.” His argument is that since God is sovereign, meaning that He rules answering to no one higher, that we must conclude that He purposefully did this to the earth. His reasoning troubles me because it makes God the source of great suffering. Perhaps you think I’m splitting hairs in these words.

I am convinced that God does what He wills to do, answering to no one higher than Himself. I am equally convinced that He operates from goodness, that His desire is to save not to destroy.  He was never unaware of the coming pandemic, but the fact that He allowed it is, at least in my thinking, far different than thinking He caused it.

So, what does God desire in all of this?
What are His purposes in allowing the virus on this earth?

To answer that question with specifics is truly arrogant. I cannot, nor can you, completely explain the purposes of a God whose ‘ways are higher than our ways.’   However, I can tell you this. God is at work in us and for us. He has a way prepared that will lead those who trust and follow Him,  a way that leads to life, to more glory than we can imagine. When the ancient people of the Lord found their nation devastated by invaders, their city and Temple leveled by Assyrians, many concluded that they were finished as a nation.

But, Jeremiah heard from God and urged them to look past the obvious, to the sovereign (remember that word?) abilities of the Living God.  “This is what the Lord says, he who made the earth, the Lord who formed it and established it—the Lord is his name: ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’” (Jeremiah 33:2-3, NIV) The Message says it like this: “Call to me and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own.”

By faith, I accept what my natural mind cannot see in this moment- that God will do things that are beyond my imagination!  The LORD is not telling us that He will do exactly what we want Him to do. He will do what is best for us… often in ways that we couldn’t or wouldn’t expect. That is where I think the faith of some gets mis-focused. Somehow they become convinced that the power of the Almighty God can be used to further their own plans, that He will serve their agenda. Prayers, well-meant perhaps, become selfish and small.
“God give me the money I need for that new project.”
“God, make my wife love me in a way that makes me a happier person.”
“Lord, give me a new job that provides me more free time.”
“Heal me… comfort me… give me …”

Do not misunderstand what I am saying. There is nothing wrong with asking God for the desires of our heart. In fact, James teaches us, “Tell God what you need.”  The greater issue is getting our hearts aligned with His purposes, surrendering our self-will to His, so that we are asking Him for things that are best.  When we are full of faith we approach His throne in prayer as beloved children, presenting our requests, opening our hearts to Him, even as we know with full assurance that God knows our need better than we do. In that confidence, we accept the grace He gives and what He allows us to experience. We know that He is the giver of ‘good and perfect’ gifts.

Disciple, God does have a plan for you and me! Our greatest joy is found in letting Him set the pace. He is a good God; not tame, not predictable, not bound to our limited perspective; but amazingly wonderful.  Begin your prayers with worship, praising Him for Who He is, thanking Him for the complete salvation that you know through Christ. Lean on Him, rest in Him. Then, the petitions that flow from your heart will be less whiny, less ‘gimme that, God’ and more, “Lead me in the paths of life everlasting.”

Paul says, “since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25, NIV)  Will we let Him set the pace, take the lead?  Nothing, no one, can keep Him from doing what He desires. Yes, He can!  It is life-sustaining truth to know that “My word that goes out from my mouth will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11, NIV)

Here is a word from the Word. May the Spirit use the eternal Truth to inspire, in you and me, the faith to let God be God! “I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts as you trust in him. May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love really is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is so great you will never fully understand it. Then you will be filled with the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now glory be to God! By his mighty power at work within us, he is able to accomplish infinitely more than we would ever dare to ask or hope. May he be given glory in the church and in Christ Jesus forever and ever through endless ages. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:17-21, NLT)
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Be Thou My Vision (Slane)

(don’t skip this hymn, pause and listen as you look at the words.
it is an amazingly inspiring prayer)

Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me, Save that Thou art
Thou my best thought by day or by night
Waking or sleeping Thy presence my light

 Be Thou my wisdom, and Thou my true Word
I ever with Thee, and Thou with me Lord
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son
Thou in me dwelling and I with Thee one

 Riches I heed not, Nor man’s empty praise
Thou mine inheritance, Now and always
Thou and Thou only , first in my heart
High King of heaven, my treasure Thou art

 High King of heaven, when vict’ry is won
May I reach heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall
Still be my vision, O Ruler of all

Eleanor Henrietta Hull © Words: Public Domain

Are we there yet?

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“Are we there yet?”
   Little voices coming from the back seat of the car, often when we were just an hour into the ride, asked that question. My children could not understand that 500 miles meant a 10 hour long drive. They just knew our destination was a beach house and a week of fun at the ocean.  When we did arrive at the ‘cottage’ they had only glimpsed in the rental brochure’s pictures, they would jump from the car to explore the place that would be their ‘home’ for the next week. The allure of the vacation just made them want to know “Are we there yet?”

Of course, being the kind and patient Dad that I was (smile), after the question was asked for the umpteenth time, my tone of voice as I replied “We will get there when we get there, don’t ask again!” stilled their inquiries.

This experience with COVID19 has made me like a kid wondering when it will be over. I find myself asking the Lord, “Are we there yet?” Along with the desire to renew patterns of living, I am full of questions about what life will look like even when schools are back in session, when restaurants are open, when churches gather in sanctuaries again, when we are told it is safe to resume our family gatherings.

Most likely it will take some time for many to feel a level of comfort that allows them to hug again, to sit in the company of friends, to resume those social engagements that once were ‘just life.’

And, there are even deeper questions than just rediscovering those patterns of life. I wonder, and perhaps you do as well, what will survive this crisis? Will there be a job to go back to? What institutions and/or companies may fail because of the economic hard stop that came with this virus? You are not alone and you are not strange if you are feeling anxious about security. Most of us are feeling terrible uncertainties.  One evidence of that are those dreams that so many report, sleep patterns broken as our brains try to sort out the issues of the world we now call home.

The world is not about to end. Remind yourself of that often. However, the world is changing and nothing is more difficult for human beings than change. Most of us do not even realize how hard we work to preserve the status quo. But, life constantly changes and those who will work to adapt, with faith and hope, emerge from trauma intact, discovering grace for each new day.  I love this quote:
“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.
” – William Arthur Ward

We will get ‘there’ but it is going to be a journey. In no way do I want to minimize the struggle, nor do I suggest that the best response is the one I offered to my questioning children all those years ago. It is not healthy – spiritually or emotionally – to just shut up and go for the ride!

Especially those who are disciples of Christ Jesus have a real responsibility to one another. Paul, inspired by the Spirit, directs us to mutual care. “Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.” (Philippians 2:4, The Message)  We need to be patient with those who need to talk it out, even when they go on endlessly. We need to absorb the storm that is kicked up by some who deal with their anxiety in angry words.  We need to lovingly hold up those who become so overwhelmed that they want to drop out of life. We must carefully encourage those who have lost sight of the destination, who are paralyzed in fear.

The word from the Word tells us to ‘accept one another.’  God wants us to stay connected, to patiently encourage, to listen to the questions without irritation, so that TOGETHER we can get to that tomorrow that is secured in His providential love. Here is the passage. I hope you will spend a few moments with the Lord and pray for understanding, even if you’re asking, “Are we there yet?”  

“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” (Romans 15:5-7, NIV)

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Blessed Assurance

Blessed assurance Jesus is mine
O what a foretaste of glory divine
Heir of salvation purchase of God
Born of His Spirit washed in His blood

 This is my story this is my song
Praising my Savior all the day long
This is my story this is my song
Praising my Savior all the day long

 Perfect submission perfect delight
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight
Angels descending bring from above
Echoes of mercy whispers of love

 Perfect submission all is at rest
I in my Savior am happy and blest
Watching and waiting looking above
Filled with His goodness lost in His love

Fanny Jane Crosby © Words: Public Domain

Let’s talk about those “Oh, Jesus!” prayers

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I sighed heavily, my prayer just 2 words, “Oh, Jesus!”

I know, somehow deep inside that the world is not as the Creator intended it to be. It’s not all grim! I enjoyed a sweet afternoon chatting with friends, joyful to be part of a team that served families from the Food Pantry at Faith Discovery Church.  The sun shone brightly and what joy there was in offering a bag of groceries and a word of hope to many.

But, then,  I came home to the awful story out of Georgia about a young black man shot in the street by two white men who thought he was a burglar. “Oh, Jesus!”
An email arrived that informed me that that I should prepare for the possibility that church ministries will be severely curtailed through the end of the year. “Oh, Jesus!”

I have prayed a lot of “Oh, Jesus!” prayers lately. Truly, I just run out of words, the vast need of the world bearing down on my soul like the weight of a heavy anvil.

This morning I read Paul’s words about the weight of sin and suffering. “And even we Christians, although we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, also groan to be released from pain and suffering. We, too, wait anxiously for that day when God will give us our full rights as his children, including the new bodies he has promised us. Now that we are saved, we eagerly look forward to this freedom. For if you already have something, you don’t need to hope for it.

But if we look forward to something we don’t have yet, we must wait patiently and confidently. 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 8:23-26, NLT)

Is that not a great passage? The Spirit, living in us, whispers into our hearts that there is more beyond, that our human experience is not the complete expression of life. The last 2 months have powerfully reminded me (you, too?) that life can change quickly. This crisis has yanked me from complacency and renewed my thirst for the Living God.  How about you?

The Spirit would remind us that there is a whole NEW, wonderful life prepared for us, one for which we are to wait with patience. And, while we wait, the Spirit hears our “Oh, Jesus!” prayers. What humanity’s sin of rebellion released into Creation – pain, death, hate, despair – is answered with God’s promise of salvation through Christ Jesus.

Peter says it like this: “In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” (1 Peter 1:3-6, NIV)

Yes, we are fully reconciled to our Father, given access to His Throne, and promised that someday we will know our ‘full rights as His children.’  It is almost unimaginable, isn’t it, to think about a life where no one dies, no one hates, no one is lonely?  Don’t be tricked into believing that knowing Jesus is just about ‘pie in the sky by and by!’  Yes, Heaven is on the horizon but IF we walk with the Lord with hope today, we can enjoy a supernatural serenity; a ‘foretaste of glory’ even now.

The groanings and sighs, those “Oh, Jesus!” prayers, are not resignation to fate, nor are they a surrender to life as it is. They are the prayers of as soul that hungers to fully know the Spirit’s life in all the fullness of God.

Dear Christian, let us not be naive or escapist in our faith, people who refuse to see life as it is. Jesus once asked His friends to take a second look with spiritual eyes so that they would be able to see the opportunities right in front of them.  “Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” (John 4:35, NIV)  So must we.  And, when we see the need and the more that is beyond, we will feel the weight of our calling and we will groan – “Oh, Jesus!”

The word from the Word is a familiar one. This Friday morning spend some time meditating here. If you feel the weight of the broken world, perhaps even your own failure, go ahead and sigh that prayer, “Oh, Jesus” not with despair but rather with faith.  For, “those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31, NIV) So we pray, ever more earnestly,  “May your Kingdom come, and Your will be done – on earth, as it is in Heaven.” Amen.

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O That Will Be Glory
(an acapella version of this old hymn. Take a moment to listen. It will bless you!)

When all my labors and trials are o’er
And I am safe on that beautiful shore
Just to be near the dear Lord I adore
Will through the ages be glory for me

 O that will be glory for me
Glory for me glory for me
When by His grace I shall look on His face
That will be glory be glory for me

 When by the gift of His infinite grace
I am accorded in heaven a place
Just to be there and to look on His face
Will through the ages be glory for me

 Friends will be there I have loved long ago
Joy like a river around me will flow
Yet just a smile from my Savior I know
Will through the ages be glory for me

Charles Hutchinson Gabriel | Marilyn White © Words: Public Domain