Though this world with devils filled

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Yesterday, I stood at the bedside of an old saint whose awareness is gone, her brain tangled with Alzheimer’s Disease. It was a privilege to read the Scripture and pray for her, though I don’t think she knew who I was or why I was there. Walking to my car, I thought back several years to a time when she came to me for prayer as she realized she was descending into that ‘long good-bye.’  She was afraid of what was beyond her control. The memory broke my heart.  I also felt the chill of fear for a moment, “Jerry, what if …”

There is much that can make us afraid. Aging, sickness, death’s approach, the threat of war – a long, long list somewhat unique to each of us.

That is why God says this, over and over, throughout the Scripture: “Fear not!”  He keeps reminding us to look higher, to trust that He holds us secure in His hand.

In my reading this morning, Moses knows that he is near the end of his time of leadership. “Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the LORD swore to their forefathers to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Deuteronomy 31:7-8, NIV)

Our fears are not baseless nor are they silly. Our flesh is frail. Our world is full of threats. The Devil is at work to destroy. Think about that and you will tremble. So, how can we live fearlessly? Never does God counsel us to ignore reality or to try to just ‘be positive.’  God says that we face our fears with the promise of His eternal Presence. “I go before you and will be with you.”  It was true for Israel, it is true for me. That elderly saint I visited yesterday is not alone, for the Spirit of the Lord surrounds her and she will be lifted to His Heaven where the awful will be forever forgotten. Let this declaration settle over you. “This poor man called, and the LORD heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and He delivers them.” (Psalm 34:6-7, NIV)

Martin Luther, in the great hymn of hope, included these lines:
And though this world with devils filled
Should threaten to undo us;
We will not fear for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us!

We will not always understand why He allows the darkness to encroach on our lives. But, we know Who He is. “O for grace to trust Him more!”

Fearful? Is your future uncertain?  In the word from the Word today, we read Paul’s affirmation of hope. He did not write from the Hilton Presidential suite in Rome, at the end of a string of unbroken triumphs, while waiting for a ceremony to recognize his amazing accomplishments. He penned these words to a younger pastor, while sitting in a dark prison cell, knowing that he was days from execution for his faith. Was he afraid? Was he asking somebody to please to do something to save him? You read the words and pray to know the same faith that conquers fear.

“So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.  …Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because 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 1:8-12, NIV)

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A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

(A video from 1987 of Steve Green singing this great hymn)

A mighty fortress is our God
A bulwark never failing
Our helper He amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe
His craft and power are great
And armed with cruel hate
On earth is not his equal

Did we in our own strength confide
Our striving would be losing
Were not the right Man on our side
The Man of God’s own choosing
Dost ask who that may be
Christ Jesus it is He
Lord Sabaoth His name
From age to age the same
And He must win the battle

And though this world
With devils filled
Should threaten to undo us
We will not fear
For God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us
The prince of darkness grim
We tremble not for him
His rage we can endure
For lo his doom is sure
One little word shall fell him

That word above all earthly pow’rs
No thanks to them abideth
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Through Him who with us sideth
Let goods and kindred go
This mortal life also
The body they may kill
God’s truth abideth still
His kingdom is forever

Martin Luther © Words: Public Domain

Making things complicated?

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Ever heard of the K.I.S.S. Principle of design? Now, don’t get offended.
It stands for Keep It Simple Stupid.  Systems work best when they operate in the least complicated way. When Steve Jobs set about designing the IPhone™ he insisted on a design so clean, so intuitive, that no manual would be needed. He wanted someone to pick up the device and be able to use it immediately. He succeeded. Even a child can take a ‘smartphone’ in his hands and start to use it with no instruction!

God wants to know us and says that He is near and accessible.  When Moses spoke to the people of the Lord for one of the last times, he reminded them of this. “Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it. See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.” (Deuteronomy 30:11-16, NIV)

Christian, that word remains for you and me. The Spirit of God lives in us, makes the Way plain to us, and asks for our obedience. We don’t have to travel to the far side of the world on a vision quest to find Him. We don’t have to go through esoteric rituals to unlock spiritual mysteries. God is here, now, active in our hearts.

Jesus endorsed that simplicity, teaching us to keep our hearts pure and our words a simple ‘Yes’ to God, the Spirit. He told those who came to Him wondering about how to please God that it came down to just two basic commands – “Love God wholehearted and love your neighbor as yourself.” “All the other commandments and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:40, NLT)  He reserved only scorn for those who tore up the Word of God looking for loopholes and minimal ways to remain in God’s favor.

This does not suggest that learning or theology is unimportant. Those who are blessed with hearts that are responsive to the Spirit and minds that are diligent in study bring benefit to us as teachers, helping us to gain insight. However, at the core of our faith there remains the pure truth summarized this way – Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again!

Do you want to know the will of God in your life? Start with “yes” to the Spirit that has no reservation. Like Samuel of old, make your prayer “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” Living with a yielded heart allows us to know the Spirit’s leading, keeps us from “grieving” Him, and blesses us with revelation.

Here is a word from the Word. Lord, help us to have open ears, responsive hearts, and hands that move at Your direction. Amen

“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 10:9-10, NLT)

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Holy Spirit

(a song of adoration and invitation)

There’s nothing worth more that will ever come close
No thing can compare You’re our living hope
Your Presence

I’ve tasted and seen of the sweetest of loves
Where my heart becomes free and my shame is undone
In Your Presence Lord

Holy Spirit You are welcome here
Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere
Your glory God is what our hearts long for
To be overcome by Your Presence Lord

Your Presence Lord
Your Presence
Oh God how we love Your Presence Lord

Let us become more aware of Your Presence
Let us experience the glory of Your goodness (Lord)

Bryan Torwalt | Katie Torwalt © 2011 Capitol CMG Genesis (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) Jesus Culture Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

Don’t You Tell Me!

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Americans cherish their freedoms! Our wealthy society allows us many options that would be unimaginable in those places in the world where it can be a struggle just to survive. I am ever so thankful for those privileges that I enjoy in my day to day life.  There is a downside to our independence that is destroying us. Many will not allow even God Himself to reign. His will, His Word, His ways are ignored or rejected if they infringe on personal “happiness.”

More than a few Christians have told me, “I know what the Bible says, but I don’t accept that part.” The reason that follows usually has little to do with careful study or deep prayer. Usually it is more about what they believe they must do to be happy in life.  I’ve heard the following and more:

“Stay in this marriage?”
“No way. Life’s too short to waste it on her.”

“Forgive that person who has offended me so terribly?”
“You just don’t get it. I hope he has a miserable life and I’ll hate him ‘til he dies.”

“Serve sacrificially?”
“Pastor, I’ve got just one life and I’m going enjoy it to the full.”

Reading in Deuteronomy, in which Moses’ tells the people of Israel how they must live, I am reminded anew that God rules, I do not.  This little line stuck in my mind this morning, “You are not to do as we do here today, everyone as he sees fit,” (Deuteronomy 12:8, NIV)  God’s people were to discover and obey His will. History tells us that they largely failed. He asked for single devotion; they pursued other gods. The book of Judges, written after they had settled in the Promised Land, reveals moral and spiritual chaos, closing with this sad note. “And, everyone did as he saw fit.” (Judges 21:25)

Is Jesus in charge of your heart, your mind, your life?
Do you desire to know Him as Savior, but resist serving Him as Sovereign?

Peter tells us that we must “set apart Christ as Lord.” (1 Peter 3:15, NIV)  It must start in in each of our hearts. Christians have a reputation, often well deserved, for being judgmental of society’s sins while ignoring their own.  I am concerned about the moral depravity that I see all around me.  I am broken-hearted by the refusal to acknowledge the sacredness of life. The greed that keeps many in poverty weighs on me. But, before I start pointing at those ‘sinners,’ making public pronouncements of judgment, I must ask myself, “Is Jesus Lord of all of your life, Jerry?”  God wants integrity, desiring that my words and actions align, that I am willing to let Him lead even when His way is costly.

 Let us not be one of those Christians who miserably surrenders, with much sighing and crying. When we ‘give in’ but without enthusiasm, doing what we know is right only because we must, we rob ourselves of the JOY of the Lord.  It’s like a child who only obeys to avoid consequences. The obedience is minimal, isn’t it?  When we delight ourselves in Christ, when we accept His way and will, by faith, as THE pathway to the fullest life possible, right here and now, our embrace of His authority will be born of true love.

Ponder this word from the Word today, disciple. It reveals the Way to life at its best.
If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world at large cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you do, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.

No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you. In just a little while the world will not see me again, but you will. For I will live again, and you will, too. When I am raised to life again, you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Those who obey my commandments are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them, and I will love them. And I will reveal myself to each one of them.” (John 14:15-21, NLT)

Jesus, be the Lord of life. Amen.

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Thrive
(Casting Crowns sings a great song about learning to thrive!)

Here in this worn and weary land
Where many a dream has died
Like a tree planted by the water
We will never run dry

 So living water flowing through
God we thirst for more of You
Fill our hearts and flood our souls
With one desire

 Just to know You and to make You known
We lift Your name on high
Shine like the sun make darkness run and hide
We know we were made for so much more
Than ordinary lives
It’s time for us to more than just survive
We were made to thrive

 Into Your Word we’re digging deep
To know our Father’s heart
Into the world we’re reaching out
To show them who You are

 Joy unspeakable
Faith unsinkable
Love unstoppable

Anything is possible 

We were made to thrive

Mark Hall | Matthew West © 2014 Atlas Holdings (Admin. by Atlas Music Publishing)
Highly Combustible Music (Admin. by Atlas Music Publishing) House of Story Music Publishing (Admin. by Atlas Music Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

God’s Grandchildren?

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My grandfathers were both men of faith, very different in personality but equally faithful to the Lord. Grandpa Scott, a Danish immigrant, came to faith as an adult, in a revival meeting in a tiny Iowa town. His heavily accented English as he led our church in prayer still echoes in my mind, though it’s been 55 years since I heard it. Grandpa Baker was a lay preacher. Back then the Pentecostal worship depended heavily on the ‘song leader.’  He stood before the 40 or 50 people in that building and – full of the Spirit – raised his voice in the Gospel songs that are etched into my memories … “There’s a new name written down in glory … when we all get to Heaven …” and so many more.  We all followed his lead, young and old, accompanied only by an upright piano to one side of the room. Oh my, did they worship – loudly, emotionally, and fervently!  And, they passed the faith to my father and mother, who, in turn, passed it to me.

I am grateful for that legacy but I know that their faith will not sustain me.
Each generation must have their own experience of the Spirit for God has no grandchildren.

In my readings in the early books of the Old Testament I came to the passage quoted by Jews of old and to this day . The “Shema Y’Israel,” which is literally translated, “Hear, O Israel,” is a declaration of the existence of One True God. “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”   The text continues with this directive – “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-8, NIV)

It is the God-given task of every generation to lay the foundation of the knowledge of God for the next, but we cannot save our children from their sins. Only God can transform a human heart! We present the Truth and if we are wise we also live it well! Kids have a wonderful hypocrisy detector that can sense the old ‘do what I say, not what I do’ nonsense at a very early age!  If there is a large gap between what we say we believe and how we actually live, the next generation is almost certain to decide that faith in God is unnecessary baggage, tradition to be discarded as empty rhetoric.  Disciple, our standard is not perfection. If that were true, the faith would have died long ago. We pray and act authentically, living faith, showing repentance, admitting doubt, and wrestling honestly to see growing holiness of heart and mind.

Know this! Even the best and godliest of parents, cannot replace the Savior for their children. God deals with each generation. We individually know the Spirit and we must respond to Him, to receive the regenerative life of the Spirit for ourselves. Now a grandfather, I pray for my grandchildren, my heart’s desire that each one will come to know Christ Jesus, finding in Him the joy and purpose of life in the Spirit.

Do you pray for the Spirit to take hold of the heart and mind of your child, drawing her to the Cross and into a soul-transforming experience of the Spirit? A common misunderstanding among the churched is the belief that a good youth group or a solid Sunday School can replace consistent parental example and prayer! A good community of faith is an important part of the spiritual development of any person – young or old. However, when it comes to passing the faith to the next generation nothing can replace the examples of the fear of the Lord.

Are you passing the faith along, laying the foundation of the knowledge of God, living a life that invites the next generation to join the community of the people of God?

Here is a word from the Word. May it stir us to be people who invite the next generation to faith. “Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder; inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and on your city gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9, The Message)

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Great Is Thy Faithfulness  (it’s true! Worship at this link)

Great is Thy faithfulness
O God my Father
There is no shadow
Of turning with Thee
Thou changest not
Thy compassions they fail not
As Thou hast been
Thou forever wilt be

 Great is Thy faithfulness
Great is Thy faithfulness
Morning by morning
New mercies I see
All I have needed
Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness
Lord unto me

Summer and winter
And springtime and harvest
Sun moon and stars
In their courses above
Join with all nature
In manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness
Mercy and love

 Pardon for sin
And a peace that endureth
Thy own dear presence
To cheer and to guide
Strength for today
And bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine
With ten thousand beside

Thomas Obediah Chisholm | William Marion Runyan

© Words: Public Domain

God’s prescription for anxiety – Trust and Thanks.

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Life has lots of moving pieces for me at the present time. Decisions that will change my life are being made yet they are largely outside of my control. Being a person who does best in routines, when life is predictable, I struggle with feelings of anxiety. I know that this is quite natural.

God made us with the ability to meet the perception of danger with the focus and strength that comes from the rush of adrenalin that anxiety triggers. That chemical messenger in the brain sets off a process called the “fight-or-flight’ response.  But, we can become habitually anxious, seeing the whole of life as fearful, and therefore controlled by our anxious thoughts. Is this the life God desires for us?

When we leave in a constant state of anxiety, unwilling or unable to turn off the stress, our bodies start to wear, our mental health suffering sometimes with depression. Spiritually, it takes a toll, too.  Curiously, the very things that could relieve the anxious state – meditation, prayer, worship – become more difficult. We cannot seem to find a quiet heart that lets us enjoy the benefit of being in His Presence.

Most of us believe anxiety is beyond our control. We blame our fears on our genes or our training. There is some truth in that. Some people are much more prone to become anxious than others.  But, no matter our personality, we need not surrender to the fear, letting anxious thoughts keep us hostage from the life that God, the Holy Spirit, desires for us. Jesus promised a gift to those who accept His grace and love.  At the Last Supper, just before His crucifixion, when His friends would be subject to the worst kind of uncertainty, He said “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give isn’t like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27, NLT)

Pause for a moment – right now – and if you are feeling anxious tell Him you want to receive that GIFT of peace.
Tell Him what is hanging out there that feels threatening.
Ask Him to renew your faith in His ability to calm the storm and to speak peace to YOUR situation.

Paul, when he traveled and preached the Gospel in a hostile world, found himself in danger, over and over again.  He penned the following inspired words from a Roman prison.  They are not just greeting card ‘happy talk.’ His faith gave the boot to anxiety and he lived with real peace. “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon. Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7, NLT)

“Don’t worry about anything!”  God would not command us to do what is beyond our control or the impossible. He clues us in about the ‘how-to’ of that directive. The key is not try to suppress worry, nor is it in escape into fantasy.  We face the source of our fear and then we “Tell God what you need and thank Him for all He has done!”  If you are used to living with anxiety, if that has become your habit, your mind will rebel against this simple prescription. It will tell you that you’re being stupid, that you’re avoiding reality, that you need to ‘take charge.’

Take it from a guy who wrestles with anxious thoughts – make the choices of Trust and Thanks. Jesus has an interesting description of the result of worry. In a story he told about seed the of the Gospel producing a harvest in our lives, He said that some “seed fell among thorns (weeds) that shot up and choked out the tender blades so that it produced no grain.” (Mark 4:7, NLT) Then He explained His point. “The seed cast in the weeds represents the ones who hear the kingdom news but are overwhelmed with worries about all the things they have to do and all the things they want to get. The stress strangles what they heard, and nothing comes of it.” (Mark 4:18-19, The Message) Isn’t that interesting? We can miss out on the blessings of living in God’s Kingdom, in the richness of His care for us, just by focusing on our problems instead of God’s care.

Are you anxious today? Make a different choice – Trust and Thanks- and move the focus from your inabilities to God’s power and promises.

The word from the Word is a guide for our days. This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength!  (Isaiah 30:15).  Amen

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10,000 Reasons (Bless The Lord)

(Matt Redman builds our faith with this song of praise)

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

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

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

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

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

Jonas Myrin | Matt Redman © 2011 Atlas Mountain Songs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

sixsteps Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

Thankyou Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

worshiptogether.com songs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

3 Questions

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Walking my late wife through cancer and up to her departure for Eternity changed me, heart-deep.  I have been a Christian for 6 decades, had some victories and success, known some sorrows and defeats, but watching my beloved’s life ebb away, put life into sharp focus. Philip Yancey wrote about a life-changing moment that made him ask questions about everything, too. “Breaking my neck in an auto accident … caused me to reexamine my marriage my faith, and how I planned to spend the rest of my years.  As I lay strapped to a backboard awaiting word on whether a major artery had been punctured – in which case… I had mere minutes to live – I could only think of three questions worth pondering:  Who do I love? What have I done with my life? Am I ready for whatever comes next?”  (The Question That Never Goes Away, Why?  Philip Yancey Zondervan, 2013)

Who do I love?

Jesus told us the right answer for that question. ”Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39, NIV)  We know His words but do we live them? Are you living at a distance from God, fitting in worship and service when it is convenient? Are you loving others, selflessly, sacrificially? Love is a life-style, not a singular act. If love is to thrive, it must be tended carefully, made a priority among the many pressing responsibilities and options that come our way.

What have I done with my life?

Legacy is much more than accomplishment! “Jerry Scott” – the name – will not put on a bridge or a street. It won’t even be a footnote in history books. 50 years after I have departed this earth, most likely nobody will think of me except for that occasion when old photos are taken out or a family tree is traced on an ancestry site. But, I hope that there will be a lingering influence for Christ’s kingdom, the Word planted in lives, encouragement helping someone to turn from destruction to life in the Spirit. Jesus taught that our most lasting work is about building lives!

At the Judgment some will hear these wonderful words: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”  Will it be because they have built great churches, shaped corporations of great profit, or painted great works of art?  No, those things are ephemeral. Jesus says what matters is what we do for others. “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ . . . ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:40, NIV)

Don’t let “The tyranny of the urgent keep you from doing the important things!

Am I ready for whatever comes next?

Does life just happen to you or are you living purposefully?  Too many people allow themselves to wake up every day with someone else writing the script, always reacting to life instead of knowing the will of the Lord and living with positive aims on their horizon.

Then, too, we will live wisely if we remember eternity awaits.  In the 90th Psalm, the writer talks of the hardship of life and the fact that we get 70 or 80 years, more or less, in this world. Then he says this – “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12, NIV)

Death need not be a grim, frightening inevitable appointment – Jesus said “I am, right now, Resurrection and Life. The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all.” The fear of death mitigated by the promise of eternal life.  Let me remind you that church membership, baptism, or personal morality is not the key to that finding that life. Faith in Jesus is.  He said, “I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life.”  (John 14)   Do you know Him beyond the walls of your church, in a way that goes deeper than the creed, as Savior, Lord, and Master?

3 questions –
Who do I love?
What have I done?
Am I ready?

Yancey’s revelation came in a crisis and he has been blessed with additional years to refine the answers to those questions.  I do not want to wait until I’m staring at the finish line to ask them, do you? I want to live today as if it were the last one here on earth – no loving word left unspoken, no time wasted on sin or selfishness, passionately seeking to know my Savior.

The word from the Word comes from Ecclesiastes. Solomon let himself get caught up in chasing the wrong things as life’s meaning for much of his life. He knew pleasure unimaginable. He built a great Temple. He amassed wealth.  But, in advanced years, he realized he had wasted so much time.  He cries about the futility of it all – “Meaningless, meaningless, all is meaningless.” … and then he gives this counsel:   “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, NIV)

__________

Living Hope
(A reason to answer those 3 questions differently)

How great the chasm that lay between us
How high the mountain I could not climb
In desperation I turned to heaven
And spoke Your name into the night
Then through the darkness Your loving-kindness
Tore through the shadows of my soul
The work is finished the end is written
Jesus Christ my living hope

 Who could imagine so great a mercy
What heart could fathom such boundless grace
The God of ages stepped down from glory
To wear my sin and bear my shame
The cross has spoken I am forgiven
The King of kings calls me His own
Beautiful Savior I’m Yours forever
Jesus Christ my living hope

 Hallelujah praise the One who set me free
Hallelujah death has lost its grip on me
You have broken every chain
There’s salvation in Your name
Jesus Christ my living hope

 Then came the morning that sealed the promise
Your buried body began to breathe
Out of the silence the Roaring Lion
Declared the grave has no claim on me

Jesus Yours is the victory  

Jesus Christ my living hope
Oh God You are my living hope

Brian Johnson | Phil Wickham © 2017 Phil Wickham Music (Fair Trade Music Publishing [c/o Essential Music Publishing LLC]) Simply Global Songs (Fair Trade Music Publishing [c/o Essential Music Publishing LLC]) Sing My Songs (Fair Trade Music Publishing [c/o Essential Music Publishing LLC])

CCLI License # 810055

When a donkey was more perceptive than a prophet

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One of the strangest stories in the Bible is found in the middle of the book of Numbers. A fearful king, Balak, tries to hire, Balaam, a prophet to come and curse the Israelites who are camped at the borders of his kingdom.  Balaam tells the king he can only speak what God moves him to say, but agrees to go, hoping for a rich reward for his ‘spiritual services!’

As he is traveling, the Lord stands in the road, but the man is oblivious to His presence. His donkey, however, sees the angel and three times tries to avoid Him.  When Balaam beats the poor animal, God opens her mouth and she tells him that the Lord is standing in the way!  (I told you it is a strange story.)

God allows Balaam to go to meet Balak but warns him not to ‘sell out’ when he speaks.  And, in the end, he ends up receiving inspired messages that bless Israel; not once, but three times, which enrages the king who hired him in the first place. Holding a high view of Scripture, we should not dismiss the story as nothing more than a legendary tale. The Spirit chose to tell us the story which takes up three chapters of Numbers and we do well to take the lessons that are included.

First among those lessons is one that Peter made in his letter. The apostle warns about using the Spirit’s gifts for personal profit. He tells us we must not “wander off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness.  But he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey—a beast without speech—who spoke with a man’s voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.”  (2 Peter 2:15)  When God’s Spirit moves in us, when prayers are answered, when others are encouraged by teaching or example, some will seek us out hoping to ‘buy’ the power of God. “I’ll you to bless me!” And it is short road to ruin when the matters of the Spirit are turned into things of commerce.

There is also a lesson about submission to the leading of the Lord. Balaam nearly lost his life for rushing off to make a buck before spending time to know what God wanted him to do. Once in Balak’s kingdom, a kind of farce develops. The first time Balaam stands looking over the Israelite encampment, the king waits to hear him bring a curse on the people and instead hears a prophecy of a powerful future for Israel. Dismayed, he asks the prophet to go to another place for a better view of the ‘threat.’  There, too, Balaam is moved by the Spirit to bless God’s people. The king won’t give up and sends his hired prophet to yet another place, where again the Lord moves the prophet to speak of God’s favor for His people.

When the Lord reveals His will to us, will we quickly agree, and in that ‘yes’ become aligned to His purpose? Or, will we press again and again, like a whiny child who wants his own way?  Will we continue to beg God to let us have what we want?

We nod in agreement when reminded that “He is God and we are not.” Yet, from my own experience, I am fully aware that just knowing that does not guarantee obedience. When we are convinced that we know better than God, we will resist, even if passively, God’s plan. The secret to humble surrender is full trust in the good and loving heart of our Father. It is a tragic thing to just ‘give up’ because God is too big to resist or because we fear His power. That kind of obedience robs us of the richness we can find on the journey. Let’s come expectantly to Him, living in the faith filled assurance that He plans for our ultimate best, and then we will  ‘keep step with the Spirit.’

Read Numbers 22-24. The story will make you wonder, laugh, and think! Will it be strange to our 21st century minds? Yes, it will. But, in those lines God teaches us that He is God, that His will prevails, and that He is merciful enough to let a donkey warn a prophet before he is killed.

Our word from the Word invites us to know His voice.  Jesus says, “I am the one who corrects and disciplines everyone I love. Be diligent and turn from your indifference. “Look! Here I stand at the door and knock. If you hear me calling and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal as friends. I will invite everyone who is victorious to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat with my Father on his throne. Anyone who is willing to hear should listen to the Spirit and understand what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” (Revelation 3:19-22, NLT)

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Good, Good Father

(Casting Crowns sings a great song about God’s love)

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

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

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

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

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

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

CCLI License # 810055

Take that, you rebels!

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When we are frustrated by life or people, we risk saying or doing things that are outside of God’s will of us. Or, would that just be me? Our hearts need to remain humble before God, giving Him the opportunity of working in those situations that make us angry. Moses forgot that and it cost him dearly!

The Israeli people were thirsty and desperate. Living in the wilderness was hard, even though God provided for their basic needs. They came to Moses and complained – “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!” (Numbers 20:5, NIV)  Think about how that galled Moses. He worked hard everyday to lead them, had brought them out of slavery, yet they are questioning him. Beyond the questions, they were demanding relief now.

The urgent need of the moment can cause us to forget God’s past faithfulness. Unless we are tending our faith with daily prayer and renewal of the Spirit, faith will evaporate like morning dew disappears when the sun begins to shine.  And, to be clear, because we live in a world of sin’s curse, frustrations will most certainly be part of life.  God, the Spirit, asks us to honor Him with faith in times like that.

Moses met their complaints with prayer and God gave him the solution: “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.” (Numbers 20:8, NIV)   There is a sad note that follows.

He let their complaints and rebellion get under his skin, angered by the accusation that he was failing as a leader. He allowed his resentment boil over – and in that moment, he dishonored the Lord.  “He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.  But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” Numbers 20:10-12

In a fit of temper, he implied that he, not God, was producing the water needed. It’s so understandable, but God said it was unacceptable!  That day, Moses lost the privilege of leading Israel into the Promised Land.  The Lord held him accountable for his less than honorable actions and the consequence was that another would enjoy the glory of the realization of the hope of entering Canaan. That’s sobering, isn’t it?

Disciple, when you get frustrated by situations that resist your best efforts, when you do your best and someone demands more – will you trust God? Our true Source is Jesus. He is our Rock and from Him pours the waters of a fruitful life. Honor Him by declaring your dependence on Him. He has all the resources we need to meet the demands of your boss. He knows what you need to meet the needs of your family. He knows what your needs are TODAY.  When we live humbly, faithfully, with open hands and hearts, others will see past us and see Him in us.

Our word from the Word is from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. I pray that they will inspire us to trust, to live in faith, so that all will know it is not our strength, but Christ’s expressed through us, to the glory of God. “ I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Philippians 4:11-12, NIV)  “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19, NIV)

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

Worthy of ev’ry song we could ever sing
Worthy of all the praise we could ever bring
Worthy of ev’ry breath we could ever breathe
We live for You

 Jesus the name above ev’ry other name
Jesus the only one who could ever save
Worthy of ev’ry breath we could ever breathe\
We live for You We live for You

 Holy there is no one like You
There is none besides You
Open up my eyes in wonder and show me who You are
And fill me with Your heart
And lead me in Your love to those around me

 I will build my life upon Your love
It is a firm foundation
I will put my trust in You alone
And I will not be shaken

Brett Younker | Karl Martin | Kirby Elizabeth Kaple | Matt Redman | Pat Barrett © 2016 Martin, Karl Andrew (Admin. by Arkyard Music Services Limited) Kaple Music (Admin. by Bethel Music Publishing) Bethel Music Publishing

CCLI License # 810055

Fearful words?

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Fear brings out the worst in us! History’s ugliest moments were often made possible by fear that grew irrational or that was wrongly focused, giving grounds for atrocities unthinkable in more peaceful times.

Frightening tales of impending doom can provide powerful motivation for change. Tragically, people can be, and often are, exploited by leaders who use propaganda to stoke fear and gain cover for making war, building concentration camps, or persecuting some minority group.

In the book of Numbers, which tells the story of the journey of the people of Israel to the Promised Land, we learn that the Lord told Moses to send 12 men into Canaan to scout the land for the invasion. What they saw was amazing! “A land flowing with milk and honey,” they reported. They also saw some challenges – strong people and fortified cities.

Fear possessed ten of the men. They “spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size.” (Numbers 13:32, NIV)

That report went viral! Overnight, these people who were led by the Lord, who were fed daily by miraculous manna, who had the promise of His ongoing Presence, became irrationally fearful. From that fear grew a demand to return to slavery in Egypt. Fear so blinded them that they preferred the familiar past to God’s promised future! In days, they were plotting a rebellion, even attempting to kill Moses at one point!

Then, God drew the line and pronounced His judgment – “You will not enter and occupy the land I swore to give you. The only exceptions will be Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. ” ‘You said your children would be carried off as plunder. Well, I will bring them safely into the land, and they will enjoy what you have despised. But as for you, you will drop dead in this wilderness.” (Numbers 14:30-32, NLT)  For the next 40 years, the Israelites remained a refugee nation as the entire generation died off, one by one.

Such is the ripple effect of fearful words that create panic and rebellion!

Twelve men saw the real difficulties that were part of the process of owning the Promised Land, but only two had faith. Ten failed to set God’s faithfulness against Canaan’s difficulties. Fear owned them. Their negative report destroyed an entire generation.

Disciple, do you live with faith or fear in control of your mind and heart?

Faith doesn’t ask us to ignore reality. Some mistakenly think that acknowledging that life is hard, or that circumstances are not favorable, or that the future is unclear are evidences of a lack of faith. Not at all! The mission of the men sent into Canaan was to gain a truthful, reality-based view of what was ahead. Moses told them to “See what the land is like, and find out whether the people living there are strong or weak, few or many. See what kind of land they live in. Is it good or bad? Do their towns have walls, or are they unprotected like open camps?” (Numbers 13:18-19, NLT)

Knowing the challenges could have given reason to exercise faith in God and His promise. “Go up and take the land!” Their mission was not to be a feasibility study. It was to prepare a strategic plan to implement the will of God. When we really know what we are up against, but choose to be obedient to God’s direction – we show the most authentic faith!  Fantasy has nothing to do with real faith. Dreams are often just the product of our wishes unfettered by reality. Vision is faith-based, seeing the world as it could be as the Spirit leads us to become catalysts for change.

So, what is the real situation in your life today?

You can complain, react in fear, and refuse to follow the Lord. If you do, your fear can create terrible consequences for your family, your church, and your community.  Or, you can choose faith. You can say, “I couldn’t be more sure of my ground—the One I’ve trusted in can take care of what He’s trusted me to do right to the end.” (2 Timothy 1:12, The Message) Faith also has a ripple effect, infusing entire communities with hope, stirring people to accomplish wonderful things with God’s leading.

Our word from the Word is a familiar one. As you read it, pray that the Spirit will still voices of fear and give you ears for His leading.

“What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see. God gave his approval to people in days of old because of their faith.” (Hebrews 11:1-2, NLT)  “So, you see, it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that there is a God and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6, NLT)

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Who You Say I Am

(Listen to this anthem of faith at this link)

Who am I that the highest King
Would welcome me
I was lost but He brought me in
Oh His love for me
Oh His love for me

Who the Son sets free
Oh is free indeed
I’m a child of God
Yes I am

Free at last
He has ransomed me
His grace runs deep
While I was a slave to sin
Jesus died for me
Yes He died for me

In my Father’s house
There’s a place for me
I’m a child of God
Yes I am

I am chosen not forsaken
I am who You say I am
You are for me not against me
I am who You say I am

(Oh) (Yes) I am who You say I am

Ben Fielding | Reuben Morgan © 2017 Hillsong Music Publishing (Admin. by Hillsong Music Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing))

CCLI License # 810055

A Benediction

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Yesterday, Father’s Day, my children sent me words of appreciation, thanks for ‘being Dad.’ Their words are precious gifts!  They are a reminder of who am I and what I mean to my family… and others. Words are amazingly powerful, aren’t they? A caustic comment can burn a hole in my heart for days. An encouraging note can turn a hard day into a hopeful one. Are there any more beautiful words in the world than “I love you” spoken tenderly?

Moses taught the priests of Israel to speak this blessing over the people of the LORD.
The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn His face toward you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26, NIV)

The passage ends with this, “So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.” (Numbers 6:27, NIV)  God said that by speaking those words of blessing, the people would be stamped with His identity, reminded of who they were, and thus enjoy His Presence and provisions!

Disciple, you can speak priestly blessings. That privilege is not reserved for religious professionals or ordained ministers. In Christ, we are all called to holy service, to pray for our friends, family, and neighbors; and to represent God before our world, bearing His Name and Word on us. Peter says this: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you.”  (1 Peter 2:9)

I would not suggest that you stand in front of your office today, arms outstretched, pronouncing the benediction as your pastor may at the end of a worship gathering. They will likely assume you have lost your mind. But, you can, speak affirming words, offer hopeful words, use your words to connect the Lord of Glory to the people among whom you live.  Your life can, and should, be a source of godly blessing. Words that are dark – filled with defeat, criticism, offense, pride, jealousy, and unbelief – are abundant. We all fall into the trap of speaking those kinds of words like a curse over others.

Let’s pray earnestly for the Holy Spirit to change us, inside out, so that we pour out sincere words that bring the light and life of Christ Jesus to others.  We can, we should, we will! This Monday ask God to make you His priest, putting His Name on others, teaching them to know Him richly.

Our word from the Word is a caution from James, followed by an affirmation of the Psalm. May you know the wisdom of God and live in it this day. Amen

“The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth! My friends, this can’t go on. A spring doesn’t gush fresh water one day and brackish the next, does it?” (James 3:7-8, The Message)

I will praise the Lord, and everyone on earth will bless his holy name forever and forever. (Psalm 145:21, NLT)

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Abba, You have gifted me with Your love, with rich grace.
Teach me this day to gift my world with words of blessing.
Secure my heart in You so that the overflow of my heart
will be true praise, honorable thoughts;
that reflect my true identity that is found in You.

Jesus, thank you for the privilege of representing You,
as a holy priest.  Equip me that I will do it well, for the glory of God. Amen