For Those Of Us Who Fail

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Right in the middle of the earthshaking drama of Holy Week, while Jesus is moving toward His amazing work on the Cross, there is Peter’s story. The blustery leader of the disciples is swept up in the emotions at the Last Supper. Who wouldn’t be? He wants to protect the Man he has followed, the One in whom he has found purpose and hope.  All the talk about dying and leaving rattles Peter and he rises in protest.

When Jesus tried to caution him about his weaknesses, he insists he is ready to ‘go to prison or death’ for Jesus. The Lord sadly tells him that he will not be a hero, that he will fail spectacularly. I am encouraged by what Jesus added:  “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:32, NIV)

A few hours later, in the courtyard of the high priest’s home, while Jesus is being interrogated, Peter’s courage fails. When he was pressed about his relationship with the Lord, he broke. “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” (Luke 22:60-61, NIV) Even reading those words make me tear up. “Oh, Peter, you’re going to hate yourself!”

Are there any episodes in your life that you wish you could erase, memories that make you cringe? At a critical moment, did your faith fail; did you make a self-preserving choice that you now regret? Let me shout what I know from Peter’s story and from my own experience of God’s grace- it’s not over, you’re not finished, God has not discarded you as worthless. I am not minimizing failure, but I am extolling the scandalous nature of God’s grace. He does not just love the beautiful people or use those with perfect records. Much as we might try to deny it, the truth is that ‘all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.’

Peter’s story takes an unexpected turn a few weeks later, the ‘rest of the story’ told in the Gospel of John.  On the shore of the lake in Galilee, Jesus met Peter at a fire where they shared breakfast and renewal. Jesus walked him backed to the night of his failures and pointedly asked, “Do you love Me?” – not once, but three times. With each affirmation of love, Jesus told Peter to go and take care of the ‘sheep.’  Peter found new faith, returned to Jerusalem, and after Pentecost, he was a new man, full of the authority and power of the Holy Spirit.

Peter’s testimony of faith and renewal was compelling then and now.  “I was the one who fell on his face when the Lord needed me. I was the one who missed the point of the lessons – but He loved me still and restored me. Now, He’ll do the same for you!” The broken, the failing, the hopeless heard a word of hope in his testimony and turned to follow the Lord. He embraced the Lord’s command – “Peter, strengthen your brothers!”

Don’t gloss over that failure. Forget making excuses for that fall. Stop trying to justify yourself. Instead, find yourself at the feet of Jesus where there is grace, healing, and renewal. Take Peter’s example for yourself. Get right with God. Confess the sin, find forgiveness, let the Spirit do His restoration work, then strengthen your brothers!

Here’s a word from the Word. Peter was inspired to share this promise with us. It reads so powerfully against the background of his failure and restoration. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. … And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” (1 Peter 5:6,10, NIV)

You’re invited to our remembrance of Jesus’ gift of grace – Good Friday, 7 pm;
And to our celebration of the Resurrection – 10 am, Easter Sunday.

Https://FaithDiscovery.com

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Living Hope
(No more despair, because there is LIVING HOPE)

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 (REPEAT)

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

That beautiful thing that is so rare

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One of the most precious memories of my late wife are her prayers for me! How many times in the night, when I awakened in a struggle with some issue in ministry, she would put her hand on my forehead and pray for the Spirit to make His peace mine, His wisdom my guide. After she died, I found journals that included little written snippets of prayer and Scripture that she offered for me. What a treasure those prayers were and are.  But there is Another whose prayers for me (and you!) are of inestimable worth – Jesus!

In John 17, one of Jesus’ prayer for us is written down.  He was hours from His own intense sacrifice of reconciliation at the Cross, knowing the anguish that was before Him. And, we were foremost in His mind.  He does not ask the Father to make us rich, to give us lives of ease. He prays for us to be filled with the knowledge of the Father’s will, to be made uniquely useful to His purposes, and then He prays this prayer that is so poignant, and so often goes ignored among Christians.

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23, NIV)  Yes, He prays that we (Christians) will be of one heart, working and living together, to reveal God’s amazing love to our world. Truth be told, we have mostly failed miserably to accept the grace of that prayer, have we not?

Human history is one long tragedy of conflict, war, one group seeking advantage over another. Empires rise and fall on oceans of blood. Individuals push to be first, scheming and conniving for power. It can be seen in families, among children in school yards, in corporations, in politics, and saddest of all – in the church of Jesus Christ. When those outside of Christ look inside and see people playing the same power games, taking the same kinds of offense, using positions for personal enrichment like every where else in the world, many conclude that the Gospel is a fraud. The Name of Jesus is disgraced by our failure to love. Why is it so hard for us to understand Satan’s strategy to keep us from our mission is to “Divide and conquer?”  When we dig in and defend our positions, attacking those who are our brothers, those angry divisions, Paul says, always “give the devil a foothold” (Eph. 4:27).  We are quick to note the sins of lust and greed, but what of these:  “discord,” “dissensions” and “factions” (Gal. 5:20)?

Christians often hide their arguments behind protests of doctrinal purity but the Word says otherwise. Fighting is a sign of weakness in faith, of a mind that is not yet grasped the principles of Christ, that still is working on the power principles of the world.  Listen to Paul’s rebuke of the Corinthians who thought they were protecting God’s work, even as they destroyed it. “For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly?” (1 Cor. 3:3).

So, where does unity come from?  It is an evidence of the supernatural experience of the Love of God that causes us to love people more than our program or agenda. We cannot make ourselves ‘nice.’  The Spirit can, if we allow Him, make us loving. That love, “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:7, NIV)  Paul Thigpen observes – “Unity is not a matter of homogeneity, (being the same) but of harmony. Christians are not all to be alike, but they must find ways to integrate their differences into a symphonic whole—to create a singleness of spirit, of identity, and of purpose whose unifying center is Christ.” (Discipleship Journal  : Issue 101. 1999)

In this Resurrection week, would you join me in praying that prayer of Jesus?
Father, make us one; bring us to complete unity … so that others will know” the grace of Jesus and turn to God.

Here is a word from the Word.  My prayer is that my mind will submit to the truth of it for the glory of God. “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:2-6, NIV)

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O Come To The Altar

(the place to find healing and hope for unity)

Are you hurting and broken within
Overwhelmed by the weight of your sin
Jesus is calling
Have you come to the end of yourself
Do you thirst for a drink from the well
Jesus is calling

 O come to the altar
The Father’s arms are open wide
Forgiveness was bought with
The precious blood of Jesus Christ

 Leave behind your regrets and mistakes
Come today there’s no reason to wait
Jesus is calling
Bring your sorrows and trade them for joy
From the ashes a new life is born
Jesus is calling

 Oh what a Savior
Isn’t he wonderful
Sing alleluia Christ is risen
Bow down before him
For he is Lord of all
Sing alleluia Christ is risen

 Bear your cross as you wait for the crown
Tell the world of the treasure you’ve found 

Chris Brown | Mack Brock | Steven Furtick | Wade Joye © 2015 Music by Elevation Worship Publishing (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)

CCLI License # 810055

When the church burns

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The world paused yesterday to collectively gasp, then to mourn, as the beautiful cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris burned. 2 centuries in the making and standing as a marker of creativity and devotion for 7 centuries since,  the loss is beyond calculating. Even those of no Christian faith felt sorrow at the destruction of the church which stood at the center of the city, a place where kings were crowned, the famed buried, and faith was celebrated.

As I watched the news story, I was reminded of the transitory nature of the things of this world and the eternal nature of the true Church, the Body of Christ. My shock and sorrow was tempered by the solemn realization that Christ is greater than His churches!

We grow so attached to our holy places, our churches, our homes for worship – be they cathedrals in the city or chapels along a country lane. That is not a sin! After all, the devout experience the collective gathering of God’s people in those buildings. They mark the passages of life – birth, marriage, baptism, death – there. Then, the church building burns and we realize that as much as we love our ‘places’ our faith is larger and more enduring than the buildings in which we gather.

My own Christian journey includes several churches along the way, places where I met Jesus and the Spirit in worship, where I found love and encouragement in the faith. I visited the little chapel that was the church of my childhood last Summer and was shocked to find it a ruin, the roof collapsed, trees growing in the rubble! (It was no cathedral, to be sure.) Did that destroy my faith? Of course not. The echoes of the worship remain and the patterns of faith laid down there continue in me.  Another church that was pivotal in my past fell apart as people forgot Who they gathered to know and serve. As they fought, one by one people left the place and now the doors are closed. But, the seeds sown in my heart still are fruitful!

The Words says, “Fix your eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of your faith.” He is the enduring center of our worship. Building will come and go. Congregations will grow and falter. Movements will arise, thrive, and die but the Gospel of Christ will continue until the Father says, “It’s time for the fullness of the Kingdom!”

Ultimately these temples of the Spirit, our bodies, will die, too! But, then there is glory unimaginable. Build your life on the lasting hope of Jesus, laying up treasure in that place “where moth and rust do not corrupt and thieves cannot steal.”

Here is a word from the Word. May it, though stark, encourage us to a right perspective.
“For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down
—when we die and leave these bodies—
we will have a home in heaven, an eternal body made for us by
God himself and not by human hands.

We grow weary in our present bodies,
and we long for the day when we will
put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing.

 For we will not be spirits without bodies,
but we will put on new heavenly bodies.
Our dying bodies make us groan and sigh,
but it’s not that we want to die and have no bodies at all.
We want to slip into our new bodies
so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by everlasting life.
God himself has prepared us for this,
and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.

So we are always confident,
even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies
we are not at home with the Lord.
That is why we live by believing and not by seeing.”
(2 Corinthians 5:1-7, NLT)

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The Church’s one foundation is
Jesus Christ, Her Lord.
She is His new creation by water and the Word.
From heav’n He came and sought her
To be His holy bride
With His own blood He bought her
And for her life He died

Elect from every nation
Yet one o’er all the earth
Her charter of salvation
One Lord one faith one birth
One holy name she blesses
Partakes one holy food
And to one hope she presses
With every grace endued

Samuel Wesley, Public Domain

All that God has planned

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One of the innovations of our time that I find incredibly useful is the GPS guidance system included with my phone!  “Google, give me driving directions to … “  and the system will take me along the fastest route to my destination;  IF I pay attention to it. A few times I have turned down the volume and realized, too late, that I missed a turn. I’ll still get where I am going, but a new route is required, longer and slower.

Do you know that God, the Holy Spirit, desires to guide you, that He will lead you through life?  But, if we are not paying attention, or worse, when we think we know better – we can miss out on His plan.

Jesus, at the beginning of what we call “Holy Week,” lamented a missed opportunity brought on by His people’s deafness, their inability to hear the voice of God. Luke says, “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (Luke 19:41-44, NIV)  40 years later Jerusalem was destroyed, leveled by Rome, in response to a rebellion.  Jesus wept, knowing His people were missing their Savior, their peace that He brought.

What opportunities does God have prepared for you?
How is He inviting you to change course, to find grace, to discover new purpose?
Are you able to discern the leading of the Spirit?

We need not be rebellious or engaged in some terrible evil to miss out on Gods’ best.  His guidance can be lost if our minds are pre-occupied with lesser things. The urgent things will squeeze out the important ones.

Today, as we start the week that will end with celebration of the Resurrection, let’s set time aside for focused listening.  Each day make quiet time for contemplative prayer; not the usual prayers that are filled with our praise and/or words, but a silent “Here I am, I am listening, Lord” kind of praying. Take a pen and paper with you to prayer and jot down Scripture that comes to mind, things that the Spirit impresses on you.  What joy we find when we walk with Him.

Here is a word from the Word. I turn often to this passage for it reminds me of the amazing joy that I can find in Him. “And 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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Abba, as I begin this ‘holy week,’ I present my heart to You.
Help me to sort through the urgent things,
To make the important choice to seek You, to love You, to walk in step with You.

As I find the opportunities prepared by you for me,
may my responses give You glory,
reflecting the love of Jesus to my world,
the peace of the Spirit governing my thoughts.

As I come to Easter Sunday morning, I pray that I will be able
to join with others in your holy Church, rejoicing in the eternal life
that is ours through Christ our Lord.  Amen .

 

The JOY of Belonging

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I belong to the Church, my life formed, shaped, and supported by the people with whom I ‘do life.’  Living without belonging to this group that is bigger than my agenda, more important than my needs, and that will exist long after I’m gone is beyond my imagination. That kind of connection is increasingly rare.

We pastors can get worked up about those who are ‘casual’ in attendance at church, wondering why, putting ourselves under all kinds of pressure to create a more ‘entertaining’ Sunday experience, even resorting to guilt to increase the numbers. And, all the while, we can be focusing on mostly wrong things. Karl Vaters, in his blog, says this – “Most people who don’t attend church are not making a conscious choice against it. Choosing requires awareness. And that awareness exists for fewer and fewer people every day. … they haven’t rejected the idea of going to church. It simply isn’t on their list of options. They’re not lazy, they’re apathetic.”

The joy of belonging is an unknown to many who think of ‘going to church’ as a boring hour built around rituals that are hard to understand, talking about a book that seems disconnected from our time, among people that are ‘different.’  And, if our Christianity is not more than a ‘church’ experience, most of us will soon conclude, ‘’why bother?”

A Christian who is engaged with following Jesus, who is serving others, who is pursuing the King and His kingdom, will quickly conclude, “I cannot do this by myself.”  The church that understands what it means to be ‘the Body of Christ,’ will be a community where struggle is welcomed, where prayer is real, where imperfect people come together to miraculously become better together than they could possibly be alone!  Hungering for God will give meaning to celebrating Christ’s gift of Himself and God’s love in the songs and the ritual of Communion.  The preaching of the Word will become an opportunity to sort out the truth. For disciples those ‘different’ people will become brothers and sisters in the family of God.

Something has gone wrong with a kind of Christianity that thinks that a nicely ordered, and often rather impersonal, worship service is ‘it!’  Yes, the corporate worship experience is a valuable time to learn the Word, to sing and pray together. And we need a place to ‘be’ to know that we are part of something bigger and better because of the Spirit that lives in us. The question I am asking myself is not ‘how do I get more people to attend church?’ but rather ‘what must we do to help more people to understand what it means to belong to the church?’

All Believers need other Believers in their lives who understand and accept them, who can poke holes in their pretensions, and pray for them with true empathy. We need to be able to laugh and retreat from the work that piles up around us, not just in solitary pursuits, but in the company of Christ’s family. There is something godly and worshipful about sharing life at that level and then taking our cares to the One who sits on Heaven’s Throne! I am convinced that in addition to all the programs of church; genuine Christianity involves time for sharing a bowl of soup and a cup of laughter. May God draw us together in the love of Jesus.

So here is a word from the Word – “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25, NLT)

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If a response stirred in you – positive or negative, affirming or critical – I’d love to hear from you about this.

Write to me at Pastor@FaithDiscovery.com

 

Clear As Mud!

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There are Christians who say, “God told me,” as casually as I might say, “I saw that on the news.”  My own faith walk includes much more uncertainty. Sometimes what God is up to is as clear as mud, to be honest.  I am not talking about the ordinary things that can go wrong, and do. Computers that don’t work, cars that break down, traffic that backs up … this stuff happens.

The things that leave me wondering are those life-altering things that hurt so badly for which no cause can be determined.  When I do my best and find no apparent results, I wonder why. When people break our hearts and become unyielding opponents, the pain is awful. When our hopes and dreams crash to the ground in spite of our prayers, faith is tested. Genesis tells a story and I understand the words but what I find revealed there about God’s willingness to try us makes me shudder!

After waiting a lifetime for his dear son, Abraham wakes up to this one morning. “Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” (Genesis 22:1-2, NIV)

The details are spare, but Abraham was a real man and there is no doubt in my mind that the 2 day journey had to be the longest walk in his life!  Was he screaming inside, “Who are You, Lord? What kind of God demands this? How can you can one day and take the next?”  By the way, Jesus, the Perfect Man, felt that kind of conflict, too.  His anguish before the cross was profound, deep, and breaking!

Reflecting on the account of Genesis, I learn several things that can help us when the reasons for what is happening to us in the will of the Father are elusive.

God expects obedience.  The Bible says, “The next morning Abraham got up early. He saddled his donkey and took two of his servants with him, along with his son Isaac. Then he chopped wood to build a fire for a burnt offering and set out for the place where God had told him to go.” (Genesis 22:3, NLT)   There was no stalling, no negotiation. Abraham moved towards obedience. Will we?

Abraham clung to hope.  Though he had no idea how this terrible drama was going to work out,“He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” (Genesis 22:5, NIV)  Hebrews (in the NT) tells us that he reckoned that God could bring the boy back from the dead! Sometimes hope is just a flickering candle on the horizon; sometimes it blazes like the dawning sun. But, we have hope in Christ. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.” (Romans 8:38-40, The Message)

Ultimately our faith rests, not on an answer that works for us, but on radical faith in the person of God. “Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.   “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”  Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” (Genesis 22:7)

When we feel abandoned by God, when His purpose are as clear as mud, we must lean hard on Him.   Even Jesus, could not discern the Presence of His Father and He screamed that faith-filled phrase that claims relationship even as it confesses feelings of loss!  “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

Paul, near the end of his life, wrote this affirmation of faith to Timothy.  “If we die with him, we will also live with him. If we endure hardship, we will reign with him. If we deny him, he will deny us. If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.” (2 Timothy 2:11-13, NLT)    Abraham trusted in the faithfulness of God and in this most intense trial, at just the critical moment, God revealed Himself as “Yahweh Yireh, the Lord, my Provider.”     Remember the story?   Just as Abraham was about to take his son’s life, he looked up and saw a ram caught in the bushes, a substitute sacrifice provided by God, Himself.

Are the purposes of God as clear as mud for you today? Lean on Him! Grow quiet and pray for obedience in the present, for strength to go steady on.

Repeat the eternal truth with the Psalmist who sang,
“Be still in the presence of the Lord,
and wait patiently for him to act.
Don’t worry about evil people who prosper
or fret about their wicked schemes.
Stop your anger! Turn from your rage!
Do not envy others— it only leads to harm.

For the wicked will be destroyed,
but those who trust in the Lord will possess the land.”  (Psalm 37:7-9, NLT)  Amen.

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King Of My Heart
(let Him love you as you listen and worship)

Let the King of my heart
Be the mountain where I run
The fountain I drink from
Oh He is my song
Let the King of my heart
Be the shadow where I hide
The ransom for my life
Oh He is my song

 You are good good oh
You are good good oh
You are good good oh
You are good good oh

 Let the King of my heart
Be the wind inside my sails
The anchor in the waves
Oh He is my song
Let the King of my heart
Be the fire inside my veins
The echo of my days
Oh He is my song

 You’re never gonna let
Never gonna let me down
You’re never gonna let
Never gonna let me down

When the night is holding on to me
God is holding on
When the night is holding on to me
God is holding on

John Mark McMillan | Sarah McMillan © Meaux Jeaux Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

A Captive of the Past?

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Do you spend a lot of time looking back? These days I tend rummage around in my memories more than I once did. Yesterday I went up to the attic and found a little table and chair set that my late father-in-law made for my kids. As I showed it to my daughter asking if she wanted it for my grandson, I flipped over one of the little chairs where this was stamped “Grandpa Keith 12/23/83.” A flood of memories of a houseful of toddlers swept over me.

Nostalgia can be sweet …   and a trap! Our past should not be forgotten – both trials and triumphs – because those things are the fertile soil from which the present grows, after all! But, it is impossible to be productive and emotionally healthy lives if life is only a back-ward look.

Genesis tells that sordid and tragic story of the destruction of Sodom, of Lot’s family being rescued by the messengers of the LORD prior to the destruction. Tucked into the narrative there is this little line –“But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.” (Genesis 19:26, NIV) She could not let go of what was, could not anticipate God’s plans for the future. Her fate is a kind of warning to us all who would only look to the past. We will become frozen, rigid, and resistant to the will of God.

Paul, who we first meet as Saul, was a man who hated Believers in Christ. His zealotry made him a violent persecutor of the Church, a man actively trying to destroy the Gospel and those who followed Jesus.  God’s grace found him and changed him. Now could he, would he, overcome the regrets? If Paul dwelt in the past, he might well have withdrawn from the world, regretful and remorseful. But, he did not forget nor did he revel in those failures.  Later, Paul founded many churches, one being in the city of Ephesus. There his message found great success. Did he abandon his calling to the world to try to hang onto that moment of triumph? No. He celebrated the success and followed Jesus onward.

He says of the past – “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14, NIV)  He refused to become a captive of the past.

This is our declaration as we meet today – be it full of promise or a thicket of challenges – This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24, NIV)

Most of us, when young, tend to live too much in the future. As we grow older, we tend to live in the past. But, God works in the present!

The word from the Word is from the 90th Psalm.
“Teach us to make the most of our time,
so that we may grow in wisdom.
O Lord, come back to us! How long will you delay?
Take pity on your servants!  

Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives.
Give us gladness in proportion to our former misery!
Replace the evil years with good.
Let us see your miracles again;
let our children see your glory at work.

And may the Lord our God show us his approval
and make our efforts successful.
Yes, make our efforts successful!”
(Psalm 90:12-17, NLT)

_________

Living Hope
(young and old, He is our living hope)

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 whoa

 \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])

CCLI License # 810055

Laughter – the best way

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Don’t you love getting together with some good friends and swapping stories that make you laugh out loud? I love when my family hangs out and starts remembering those dumb choices, the silly kid tricks, and telling “Dad” stories, a rich source of humor.  Laughing with others is a great pleasure.  But, if you have been made a fool, becoming the object of ridicule, the laughter isn’t fun. It hurts!

God loves laughter. One of the myths of spirituality is that it demands a serious, humorless personality.  One of the evidences of the Spirit in us is JOY. One of God’s gifts is the ability to overcome the sorrows of life with hope that leads to renewed joy much as the dawn following the night’s darkness.  “You satisfy me more than the richest feast. I will praise you with songs of joy. I lie awake thinking of you, meditating on you through the night. Because you are my helper, I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings.” (Psalm 63:5-7, NLT)

On this Monday morning, take a moment to recover joy.  Make the decision that you will not start this week from a place of defeat or despair. Begin to praise Him, for Who He is. Hand off the concerns that weigh you down. Take joy! Let it find you in a song, touch you from the depths as you recall a moment of God’s faithfulness, surprise you from an unexpected place. Laugh with God!

Ah, beware the hollow laughter that is too often found about the pseudo-sophisticates who love to snidely poke fun at those they consider ‘less’ or inferior.  Refuse to let the laughter of the cynic to own your heart, that laughs at others instead of with them.

In Genesis, God came to Abraham and Sarah with a promise that seems like a joke. In advanced age, He said, “A year from now you will be enjoying a baby boy!” Sarah was a woman far beyond child-bearing years.  She had given up all hope of having a child.  As the visitors sat with her husband at the entry to their tent home, she listened in to a conversation that sounded absurd.

“Then one of them said, “I will return to you about this time next year, and your wife, Sarah, will have a son!” Sarah was listening to this conversation from the tent. Abraham and Sarah were both very old by this time, and Sarah was long past the age of having children. So she laughed silently to herself and said, “How could a worn-out woman like me enjoy such pleasure, especially when my master—my husband—is also so old?” Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh? Why did she say, ‘Can an old woman like me have a baby?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return about this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” (Genesis 18:10-14, NLT)

Can you blame her for laughing?  But her laughter was not born of delighted faith. It was an expression of disbelief.  She laughed at God, instead of with Him.

But, God was faithful to His word in spite of her.  Later, she had opportunity to laugh with God!  “She became pregnant, and she gave birth to a son for Abraham in his old age. This happened at just the time God had said it would. And Abraham named their son Isaac. Eight days after Isaac was born, Abraham circumcised him as God had commanded. Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born. And Sarah declared, “God has brought me laughter. All who hear about this will laugh with me. Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse a baby? Yet I have given Abraham a son in his old age!” (Genesis 21:1-7, NLT)  Yes, she named her son Isaac which means ‘He laughs.

Do feel the stirring of the Spirit, the outlines of a promise taking shape in you? How will you respond?
Will you laugh at God, dismissing His inspiration as something other than what it is?
Or, will you laugh with Him, celebrating His work in your, even in apparently impossible situations?

The word from the Word is from Paul’s letter of joy, written from prison. He refused to let his situation define his response, choosing joy.  He says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7, NIV)   Amen.

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Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee (Ode To Joy)|
(Michael W. Smith does this hymn well.  Be joyful with him)

Joyful joyful we adore Thee
God of glory Lord of love
Hearts unfold like flow’rs before Thee
Opening to the sun above
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness
Drive the dark of doubt away
Giver of immortal gladness
Fill us with the light of day

All Thy works with joy surround Thee
Earth and heav’n reflect Thy rays
Stars and angels sing around Thee
Center of unbroken praise
Field and forest vale and mountain
Flowery meadow flashing sea
Chanting bird and flowing fountain
Call us to rejoice in Thee

Thou art giving and forgiving
Ever blessing ever blest
Wellspring of the joy of living
Ocean depth of happy rest
Thou our Father Christ our Brother
All who live in love are Thine
Teach us how to love each other
Lift us to the joy divine

Mortals join the mighty chorus
Which the morning stars began
Father love is reigning o’er us
Brother love binds man to man
Ever singing march we onward
Victors in the midst of strife
Joyful music lifts us sunward
In the triumph song of life

Edward Hodges | Henry Van Dyke Public Domain

A New Name?

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In Biblical times, your name was about you, your parent’s hopes for you, where you were born. It was more than a collection of letters that appeared on your drivers license. Sometimes your name changed when God revealed a new calling to you. Such is the story of Genesis 17.  Abram, which meant ‘exalted father,’ had an encounter with the Lord in which God declared that He had plans for him.

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations.” (Genesis 17:1-4, NIV)

And God changed his name that day. “No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.” (Genesis 17:5, NIV)  Abraham means ‘father of many.’

There is so much inspiration in this chapter.  Abe was 99 and God still had plans for him! Those plans appeared to nothing but empty words to those who saw things with natural eyes. The only heir Abe had at that point was Hagar’s son, who was not to be the son of promise.  It might have seemed almost cruel to give the old man a new name that seemed ludicrous. Imagine introducing yourself to others, “Hi, I’m Father Of Many”  knowing that you have no son with your wife. But, Abraham believed God!

The Lord went on to tell him to change his wife’s name, too. She was 90 and still going by Sarai, which meant ‘princess.’  Now she was to be called Sarah, meaning ‘noblewoman’ because she was going to bear a son for the old man.

Yes, you read that right.  99 and 90 and a child was in the future. They struggled to understand it, too! “Abraham fell flat on his face. And then he laughed, thinking, “Can a hundred-year-old man father a son? And can Sarah, at ninety years, have a baby?” Recovering, Abraham said to God, “Oh, keep Ishmael alive and well before you!” But God said, “That’s not what I mean. Your wife, Sarah, will have a baby, a son. Name him Isaac (Laughter). I’ll establish my covenant with him and his descendants, a covenant that lasts forever.” (Genesis 17:17-19, The Message)

I read that chapter this morning with a mix of emotion. I laughed, too, at the absurdity of it all, but my laughter changed to deep hope as I realized that God is never finished with us. Parts of me feel my years and temptation comes to slow down and coast towards the exit!  “Give it up, Jerry. Let somebody else do it.”  But, God whispers of further plans, different perhaps than I would have anticipated, but of His ongoing desire to make me useful in a world I find increasingly hard to understand, in a time when I often feel like an anachronism.

Are you facing some hard decision?
Does it seem that much of what you had hoped for has slipped through your grasp?Perhaps you can only remember some terrible failure and feel defined by that choice made in the past?
Are you letting words of a parent, a former spouse, or someone else name you and define you?

The grace and mercy of God is about renewal and new names! He owns history and is never finished writing ours until that moment when we step from mortal to immortality. Listen for His voice. Ask for greater faith to live as He desires, refusing to let ‘the obvious’ determine your identity.

Meditate on this word from the Word. It is from a passage in the Scripture that fills me with faith every time I read it. May He do the same in your heart today.
May (you)  have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:18-21, NIV)

“Immeasurably more!” 
That’s not just poetry, that is His proclamation.
__________________

A New Name In Glory

(A old Gospel song.Forget yourself and sing along)

I was once a sinner but I came
Pardon to receive from my Lord
This was freely given and I found
That He always kept His word

 There’s a new name
Written down in glory
And it’s mine
O yes it’s mine
And the white-robed
Angels sing the story
A sinner has come home
For there’s a new name
Written down in glory
And it’s mine
O yes it’s mine
With my sins forgiven
I am bound for heaven
Nevermore to roam

 I was humbly kneeling at the cross
Fearing naught but God’s angry frown
When the heavens opened and I saw
That my name was written down

 In the Book ’tis written
Saved by grace
O the joy that came to my soul
Now I am forgiven and I know
By the blood I am made whole

Charles Austin Miles © Words: Public Domain

Known and Loved!

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Ever feel invisible, unseen, unknown?  Sometimes we feel like a gear in a vast machine, valued only for what we do, not who we are. When someone takes time to actually listen, remembers our name – it can make us cry!  We push through life, driven by responsibilities and we can forget that person alongside of us might be struggling to hang on through grief, or feeling lost and overwhelmed. Perhaps you feel as if you are sliding out of view because of aging, illness, or disability, and nobody seems to really see you, to care if you’re there, to engage with you. You want to scream, “Hey. I count. See me!”

There is One who does. His name isEl Roi, The God who sees.”

In Genesis 16 we are told the story of a person who became invisible, used, then tossed aside. Her name? Hagar. She was a slave who served Sarah, Abraham’s wife. The couple was childless and desperate, so they decided to ‘help God’ fulfill His promise of an heir. As was the custom of the time, Sarah used Hagar as a surrogate, giving her to her husband in the hope that she would become pregnant, which she did.

The younger woman, having produced a male son for the patriarch, felt her status improved but Sarah felt only jealousy and responded with cruel abuse. She went to her husband and demanded that the woman be thrown out, leaving her to a life of misery as she tried to survive. The servant girl was disposable, an inconvenient reminder of faithlessness. The Bible says, “Abram replied, “Since she is your servant, you may deal with her as you see fit.” So Sarai treated her harshly, and Hagar ran away. The angel of the Lord found Hagar beside a desert spring along the road to Shur… Thereafter, Hagar referred to the Lord, who had spoken to her, as “the God who sees me, (El Roi) for she said, “I have seen the One who sees me!” – Genesis 16:7,13 NLT

“The God who sees me!”  Do you know that HE knows YOU? Yes, He does. He sees right into your most secret places. He knows your dreams, your hopes, your sins, your past, and your future. He loves YOU, not just for what you can do for Him, but because you exist.

In our kid’s ministry we sing a song that says –
“You don’t have to be the fastest, strongest;
you don’t have to hold your breath the longest.
You don’t have to be a star, it doesn’t matter who you are!
Raise your hands and repeat after me,
“You can trust God definitely, you can trust God definitely.”

And it is a truth that will alter your life. The Gospels are not written about Jesus in palaces, speaking with kings. He lived among the common, the broken, the cast-offs – with genuine love. He knows your name, your heart, your need. Let Him love you. Then, let that love spill over onto those who are invisible, a deep concern for people regardless of their usefulness or ‘value’ in your plans.

Our God is truly El Roi, the God who sees. “The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.” (Proverbs 15:3, NIV)

Here’s a comforting word from the Word. May it bring comfort to you today as you deepen your faith in ‘the God who sees.’

“O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord. … even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you. … “Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”  (Psalm 139:1-4, 12, 24, NLT)

_________

You, You, You
(rejoice with the children’s song!)

You, You, You,
You can trust God
You can take him at his word
and give him your heart

You, You, You,
You can trust God
it doesn’t matter who you are
You can trust God

You don’t have to be the fastest, strongest
you don’t have to hold your breath the longest
You don’t have to be a star
it doesn’t matter who you are
Raise your hands and repeat after me
You can trust God definitely

You, You, You,
You can trust God
You can take him at His word
and give Him your heart
You, You, You,
You can trust God
it doesn’t matter who you are
You can trust God

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