Monthly Archives: May 2020

The Lord Is Merciful And Gracious

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Waves of Mercy

Picture for a moment the scene of ocean waves continually rolling onto a long sandy beach. The Lord recently revealed to me that His mercy is exactly like those waves, constant and never ceasing.

Lamentations 3:22-23 says,

“The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.” (NLT) 

Without the mercy of God, we’d be finished. For God in His anger can be as fierce as a hurricane and then in His mercy become like a peaceful ocean wave.

God loves us so much and is saddened when we intentionally do things contrary to His will. The pain isn’t surface level with God, but cuts deep within.

Do you remember how crushed you felt the last time a loved one hurt you? If you are like me, you were highly disappointed at their neglect for your feelings. We’ve all been there before. Then, while you might have been angry with the person who wronged you, you were also willing to forgive them because of their heartfelt apology.

Now, by placing God in the same scenario, perhaps we can gain a better understanding of the Father’s heart. Yes, God desires to demonstrate His mercy in our lives. His mercy gives us another chance even after we’ve blown it.

The awesome thing about God is to know what He says in 1 John 1:9,

“But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” (NLT)  

I personally enjoy being at the coast and relaxing to the sound of waves crashing upon the seashore. Whenever I return from spending time there, I am always refreshed and renewed. The ocean can be a treacherous place, but it also shares similar characteristics with its Creator. Everything on earth carries evidence of God’s character and handiwork; however, to me, the ocean is one of the greatest representatives in all of creation. As with God, the ocean is a source of life, strength, and tranquility.

Ocean waves, in particular, are truly amazing. Each time a wave washes up on the beach it carries away a portion of sand from one place to another. As a result, the waves, sand, and beach will always change. God deals with our sin in the same way the ocean deals with sand. He washes over us with His waves of mercy and takes away our sins.

Audio Adrenaline illustrates this clearly in a segment of their song, Ocean Floor: The lyrics speak of the songwriter’s sins, how they haunt him and are ugly. Then it makes the analogy of these sins being washed away by large ocean waves (God’s forgiveness) and they are as gone as the ocean floor is when wiped away by the churning surf.

Every day, God wants us to truly experience His mercy and do what 1 Chronicles 16:34 tells us,

 

Our God of Mercy

From: INTouch, ministries
Psalm 145:8-21

God isn’t stingy with mercy. The sunshine you enjoy on a beautiful day also warms everyone else in your area. Good health, jobs, education, families, and friends are all the result of God’s mercy over His creation. Even those who don’t recognize or thank Him for His goodness are recipients of it. However, His universal mercy is only temporal and cannot save anyone eternally.

There’s a limit to God’s mercy because it cannot contradict His other attributes—like holiness, righteousness, and justice. Sin must be punished in order for God to remain just. And without justice, mercy and forgiveness would be meaningless. This dilemma was the reason Jesus Christ came to earth to die: He satisfied God’s justice by bearing the penalty for our sins.

Although God offers the mercy of salvation to all through the gospel of Jesus Christ, only those who accept Him by faith receive it. Yet so many think lightly of divine kindness, tolerance, and patience; they fail to realize that these blessings should draw them to repentance (Rom. 2:4). These people trample underfoot His mercy and continue on their merry way, oblivious to the fact that justice, not mercy, awaits them in eternity.

Even believers can abuse God’s plentiful mercy by engaging in deliberate sin while telling themselves, “He’ll forgive me.” But as the ones who are redeemed and given eternal life, we should be overwhelmed with love and gratitude for what Christ did. Giving up the heavenly rights, authority, and comforts due the sinless Son of God, Jesus came and suffered divine justice for our sins so we could receive His Father’s mercy.

 

How to Rely on God Through Difficult Times

By: Joyce Meyer

Do you remember the last time you experienced a challenging or difficult situation? Maybe you’re in the middle of one right now. We usually don’t get excited about going through them. In fact, when trouble comes, we sometimes ask, “Why is this happening?”

 

Many times, things happen that we simply don’t understand. But that’s okay—God doesn’t expect us to have everything figured out. We can trust that He knows and will take care of everything. He wants us to look to Him and say, “God, I have no idea what I’m going to do, but I’m trusting You to take care of me.”

The truth is, when we are facing difficult situations that we don’t understand, one of the best things we can do is to trust God. It allows Him to take the wrong things that have happened and work them out for our benefit. Romans 8:28 (NIV) says, And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

We can trust that He is with us through every challenge we face, and we are ultimately going to come out stronger in the end.

Over the years, God has taught me so much about what it means to trust Him. For example, years ago, I really had to trust God when He told me to quit my job so I could stay home and study God’s Word more. Even though God was preparing me for full-time ministry, it was hard because we were short $40 each month of what we needed just to pay our monthly bills.

For six years, we had to have a miracle every month in our finances, and it didn’t make any sense to me at all why it was taking so long for our breakthrough. But God was teaching me how to trust Him for everything. I look back now and know that God was using this situation for my good and preparing me to do what I’m doing in ministry now.

Getting Comfortable with Not Knowing

I have learned from personal experience that putting my trust in God means there will be some unanswered questions. That was a hard lesson for me because I naturally want to understand everything…to know what’s going on so I can feel like I’m in control.

It’s just human nature to try and figure things out. So, when we’re in the middle of a situation, we can quickly find ourselves trying to reason our way through it. We generally want to know “Why, God, why?” or “When, God, when?” We want to know now how everything is going to work out.

But when we trust God, we have to get comfortable with not knowing everything—not knowing how God is going to accomplish what needs to be done and not knowing when He will do it.

Instead, God wants to direct our paths (see Psalm 23:3; Psalm 37:23), and that means He sometimes leads us in ways that don’t make sense to us. If we try to figure everything out, we will experience struggle and confusion. But there is a better way.

Instead, we can completely lean on Him, believing He wants what’s best for us. I know it’s easier said than done, especially when “life” happens—when we can’t quite see how everything’s going to work out and we’re tempted to take matters into our own hands.

But Proverbs 3:5-8 says, Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight…

Entering God’s Rest

Saying we trust God is one thing, but when we really trust Him and lean on Him, we enter His rest. It’s a special kind of rest that you can have even in the middle of difficult circumstances. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect and you don’t have to have all the answers, but you are trusting God to take care of you.

Most of us have spent our lives trying to take care of ourselves, but we must learn to trust our lives to His care. When we try to do things in our own strength and leave God out, we just get worn-out and frustrated. But when we fully lean on God, it brings us His peace. When we stop trying to figure everything out, God can be God in our life.

I want to encourage you to trust God completely in every area of your life. Remember that He is always on your side and He is fighting for you as you go through the challenges in your life. He loves you and has your best interest at heart at all times, and He is close to you when you’re hurting most (Psalm 34:18).

 

Streams in the Desert – May 31

Times have changed, but life’s hard times haven’t

You will come to your grave in a full age, As stacks of grain are harvested in their season. (Job 5:26)

A gentleman, writing about the breaking up of old ships, recently said that it is not the age alone which improves the quality of the fiber in the wood of an old vessel, but the straining and wrenching of the vessel by the sea, the chemical action of the bilge water, and of many kinds of cargoes.

Some planks and veneers made from an oak beam which had been part of a ship eighty years old were exhibited a few years ago at a fashionable furniture store on Broadway, New York, and attracted general notice for the exquisite coloring and beautiful grain.

Equally striking were some beams of mahogany taken from a bark which sailed the seas sixty years ago. The years and the traffic had contracted the pores and deepened the color, until it looked as superb in its chromatic intensity as an antique Chinese vase. It was made into a cabinet, and has today a place of honor in the drawing-room of a wealthy New York family.

So there is a vast difference between the quality of old people who have lived flabby, self-indulgent, useless lives, and the fiber of those who have sailed all seas and carried all cargoes as the servants of God and the helpers of their fellow men.

Not only the wrenching and straining of life, but also something of the sweetness of the cargoes carried get into the very pores and fiber of character.
—Louis Albert Banks

When the sun goes below the horizon he is not set; the heavens glow for a full hour after his departure. And when a great and good man sets, the sky of this world is luminous long after he is out of sight. Such a man cannot die out of this world. When he goes he leaves behind him much of himself. Being dead, he speaks.
—Beecher

When Victor Hugo was past eighty years of age he gave expression to his religious faith in these sublime sentences: “I feel in myself the future life. I am like a forest which has been more than once cut down. The new shoots are livelier than ever. I am rising toward the sky. The sunshine is on my head. The earth gives me its generous sap, but Heaven lights me with its unknown worlds.

“You say the soul is nothing but the resultant of the bodily powers. Why, then, is my soul more luminous when my bodily powers begin to fail? Winter is on my head, but eternal spring is in my heart. I breathe at this hour the fragrance of the lilacs, the violets, and the roses as at twenty years. The nearer I approach the end the plainer I hear around me the immortal symphonies of the worlds which invite me. It is marvelous, yet simple.”

God Will Give Beauty For Ashes

Isaiah 61 :: NIV. and provide for those who grieve in Zion– to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

 

The Year of the Lord’s Favor

61 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

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God Can Bring Beauty from Ashes

By: Debbie McDaniel   Crosswalk.com

 

“To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.” Isaiah 61:3 KJV

Throughout the Bible and ancient practices, ashes have often been the symbol of deep repentance and grief.

As the days of Lent are acknowledged each year, we see all around us the visual reminders of ashes on foreheads, and we are reminded of this one Truth, “…for dust you are and to dust you will return.” Gen. 3:19

Not exactly a nice, happy thought to get your day going. But the reality of it all sinks in deep. Because, as many of us know, life is not always “happy.”

Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s dark. And it leaves its mark, like ashes of grief, in the deepest parts of our souls, where no one but God can really see.

You may understand if you’ve ever felt these ashes:

  • You’ve ever lost a loved one or had to say good-bye too soon, left to journey through dark days of grief, wondering if you’d ever be able to carry on without them at your side…
  • You’ve ever received a hard diagnosis, faced the fear of the unknown, and felt the effects of disease and pain…
  • You’ve ever set at the bedside of a dying friend, and held a hand that once was strong, whose life had been cut short from the ravages of cancer…
  • You’ve ever been to a funeral for a sweet baby, or a precious child, and watched endless tears flow from hurting souls of a Mama and Daddy….
  • You’ve ever been deeply wounded, betrayed, abused, or mistreated…
  • You’ve ever walked through the fire of hard situations and wondered if you’d come out the other side…

Yes, it’s true, life is not always happy. It’s not always easy. It deals harshly sometimes, it seems unfair, and we may wonder where God is, or why He didn’t stop that difficult event or illness from happening.

Job was there too. This righteous man who loved and honored God. Yet he lost everything. It crumbled around him, all he held dear. And he knew without God, he was nothing. And we find him in the beginning of the book of Job, “…he sat in the ashes.” Job 2:8

Daniel was there. He and the people had suffered under captivity, he prayed to God on behalf of his people, that God would have mercy. He repented, and confessed his own sin, his deep need for Him. He knew where true strength and help came from, “Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes.” Daniel 9:3

Tamar was there. She had trusted and yet was betrayed. David’s own daughter had been taken advantage of, raped, and she was left on her own, alone, with no hope for her future, to pick up the broken pieces of shattered life. “And Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the long robe that she wore. And she laid her hand on her head and went away, crying aloud as she went.” 2 Sam. 13:19

And they may have wondered too…

Where was God in it all? Where is He now? Deep grief, crime, captivity, illness, death of loved ones, shattered hope, and broken dreams?

What Beauty for Ashes Really Means:

His Truth says this: He was there. In the midst of it all.

And though we may not always see it, or feel it, or even understand it, we can know beyond a doubt, that He is now. Still. He is with us.

“To provide for those who grieve…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes.” Isaiah 61:3

For He will never leave us or forsake us, His love for us in greater than we could ever imagine, though we live in a world where we face trouble many days.

Jesus reminds us in John 16:33“In this world you will have trouble, but take courage, for I have overcome the world.”

And that’s the key to the ashes that cover our days in this life. The deeper Truth that shines through every bit of our grief, and pain, and sin, is this, Christ came to set us free. Christ came to redeem. Christ came to bring hope. Christ came to bring beauty from ashes.

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives, and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” Is. 61:1-3

He never intends for us to stay stuck in our sin, pain, or deep sorrow. He heals and restores, He calls us onward, He reminds us that in Him, we have great purpose and hope.

There’s beauty and greatness behind every mark of darkness. The ashes will fall away, they don’t stay forever, but His greatness and glory shine forever through every broken place and flaw we’ve struggled through.

He conquered death. He lives forever. He reigns in glory. And we have victory in Him.

Take courage dear friends who are facing deep battles. He is greater than any enemy we face in this life. We overcome because He has overcome and our lives are hidden in Christ. May God cover you with peace, may He bring healing in the face of hard news, may He bring deep, abiding joy that makes no sense to the world, may He bring comfort and care as He wraps you in His arms. The God of miracles fights for you today, and He is Mighty.

There’s still beauty ahead…straight out of ashes. Christ redeems. Grace.

 

Finding Beauty in the Mess

“To all who mourn in Israel he will give: beauty for ashes; joy instead of mourning; praise instead of heaviness …” Isaiah 61:3a (TLB)

“Heather, I’m so sorry to tell you this, but it seems as though you will not be able to have children naturally.”

My doctor’s words pierced my already wounded heart and quickly made their way through my body threatening to consume me. He continued to explain how the previous tests and procedures had led him to this conclusion, but I’d already heard all I needed to hear … I wanted to get out of there. The next thing I remember was walking through the sea of pregnant women in the waiting area and rushing for the door.

Once my feet hit the sidewalk, I gasped for air, crying hysterically. I made my way to my car, the world before me a hopeless blur. When I arrived home I collapsed on my bed, desperate for God, but too broken to pray.

Three years on this painful path of infertility lead me to a seemingly hopeless place. I was certain there was only one way for me to become a mother. With the confirmation of my broken womb, I mourned the loss of my fertility and watched my dreams burn up around me until all that remained was a pile of ashes … it was my worst-case scenario.

But here’s the thing about our worst-case scenarios: They are powerless against an all-powerful God.

Ten years have passed since that dark day.

This morning, like most mornings, the pitter-patter of tiny feet making their way across the hardwood floors woke me. I sat up in bed and was promptly tackled by my curly haired, sparkly girl: “Good morning mommy!”

Before I could respond, two more sets of happy eyes and wiggly limbs climbed onto my bed, forcing me to lie back down for morning snuggles.

You see, I thought there was only one way for me to become a mom. But in the ashes of my pain and desperation, small bright green buds began sprouting up all around me. As God set me on a path toward adoption, I soon found strength in place of my fear.

Over the years, as I brought not one, not two, but three children home to be mine, the gladness of motherhood overshadows the mourning of infertility. And on days like today, as I lie in the very bed where I once wept out of desperation, I am overwhelmed with peace.

The truth is: This one beautiful life we get to live is messy. So often we trip over our hopes and desires, only to fall into the messes we’ve been avoiding all along. What I’m discovering is when we fall into the very mess we hoped to avoid, we often find God’s goodness there.

My three children may not have my eyes, but they do have my heart and call me Mom. And they have shown me that my finite plans will always be overshadowed by an infinite God.

Maybe today you find yourself sitting in a pile of ashes, feeling desperate. While our hopes and desires and plans for our lives are finite, an infinite God Who loves us can take our messiest messes and make something beautiful.

Streams in the Desert – May 30

Times have changed, but life’s hard times haven’t

And they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one was able to learn the song except the one hundred and forty-four thousand who had been redeemed from the earth. (Rev 14:3)

There are songs which can only be learned in the valley. No art can teach them; no rules of voice can make them perfectly sung. Their music is in the heart. They are songs of memory, of personal experience. They bring out their burden from the shadow of the past; they mount on the wings of yesterday.

St. John says that even in Heaven there will be a song that can only be fully sung by the sons of earth—the strain of redemption. Doubtless it is a song of triumph, a hymn of victory to the Christ who made us free. But the sense of triumph must come from the memory of the chain.

No angel, no archangel can sing it so sweetly as I can. To sing it as I sing it, they must pass through my exile, and this they cannot do. None can learn it but the children of the Cross.

And so, my soul, thou art receiving a music lesson from thy Father. Thou art being educated for the choir invisible. There are parts of the symphony that none can take but thee.

There are chords too minor for the angels. There may be heights in the symphony which are beyond the scale—heights which angels alone can reach; but there are depths which belong to thee, and can only be touched by thee.

Thy Father is training thee for the part the angels cannot sing; and the school is sorrow. I have heard many say that He sends sorrow to prove thee; nay, He sends sorrow to educate thee, to train thee for the choir invisible.

In the night He is preparing thy song. In the valley He is tuning thy voice. In the cloud He is deepening thy chords. In the rain He is sweetening thy melody. In the cold He is moulding thy expression. In the transition from hope to fear He is perfecting thy lights.

Despise not thy school of sorrow, O my soul; it will give thee a unique part in the universal song.
—George Matheson

“Is the midnight closing round you?
Are the shadows dark and long?
Ask Him to come close beside you,
And He’ll give you a new, sweet song.
He’ll give it and sing it with you;
And when weakness lets it down,
He’ll take up the broken cadence,
And blend it with His own.

 

Elijah’s appeal to the undecided

By: Charles Spurgeon

“How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him: if Baal, then follow him.” 1 Kings 18:21

Suggested Further Reading: John 13:12-19

I insist that it is your bounden duty, if you believe in God, simply because he is God, to serve him and obey him. I do not tell you it is for your advantage—it may be, I believe it is—but that I put aside from the question; I demand of you that you follow God, if you believe him to be God. If you do not think he is God; if you really think that the devil is God, then follow him; his pretended godhead shall be your plea, and you shall be consistent; but if God be God, if he made you, I demand that you serve him; if it is he who puts the breath into your nostrils, I demand that you obey him. If God be really worthy of worship, and you really think so, I demand that you either follow him, or else deny that he is God at all. Now, professor, if thou sayest that Christ’s gospel is the only gospel, if thou believest in the divinity of the gospel, and puttest thy trust in Christ, I demand of thee to follow out the gospel, not merely because it will be to thy advantage, but because the gospel is divine. If thou makest a profession of being a child of God, if thou art a believer, and thinkest and believest religion is the best, the service of God most desirable, I do not come to plead with thee because of any advantage thou wouldst get by being holy; it is on this ground that I put it, that the Lord is God; and if he be God, it is thy business to serve him. If his gospel be true, and thou believest it to be true, it is thy duty to carry it out.

For meditation: Four things God will not accept—hypocrisy (Luke 6:46), half-heartedness (Luke 9:59-62), double-mindedness (James 1:6-8) and lukewarmness (Revelation 3:15,16).

Jesus Is The Resurrection And The Life

The most important events in human history are the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. … Jesus made this wonderfully profound statement that changed the world, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” (John 11:25). The resurrection is our great hope.

 

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Come Out from the Tomb

Have you ever felt as though the burdens you encounter and the cares of the world have drawn the very life out of you? Well, I have good news for you! God wants you to “come out from the tomb.”

He wants to raise you from the dead and give you new hope and strength to endure the difficulties of life.

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:29-30 (NIV)

We entomb ourselves with the sins of the world, allowing our lives to be wrapped in the shroud of despair. Because we have forsaken the “joy of the Lord,” we no longer have the strength to fight!

“This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10b (NIV)

“The king rejoices in your strength, Lord. How great is his joy in the victories you give!” Psalm 21:1 (NIV)

As we continue in this state, we begin to grieve for who we once were in Him. We long for the sweet communion that once bloomed in our hearts. The merriment of that relationship is lost and the door to the tomb begins to close. Our worship no longer smells sweet but is a disappointing odor to God and those around us.

Our God is very capable of raising the dead and bringing complete restoration in our lives just as He raised Lazarus from the dead. He had to come out from the tomb.

Sometimes God allows us to be placed in the tomb to serve as a testimony to others when He brings us out.

“Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word.” John 12:17 (NIV)

This is relative to my situation when suddenly I was thrust into the role of a single parent. I allowed the sins of worry, unbelief, and doubt to take control. There was no joy in my life and depression allowed me to die. It was impossible to help anyone else because there wasn’t enough strength to help myself. Now the door to my tomb was closed.

As I lay there in my state of lonely depression, God ministered to my heart that He was there. He promised that He would never leave nor forsake me. Immediately, strength came back into my soul.

The stone to my tomb rolled back as He whispered Romans 8:28 in my heart:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (NIV)

God used my situation as a witness to encourage others by giving them hope to live. We must focus our attention on Him, so we, like Lazarus, will be able to hear His voice when He calls: “Come out from the tomb.”

No matter what your affliction or bondage is, God is able to raise you from the dead spiritually. When we place our faith and trust in Him, as we lie silently beneath the cares of life, He will do for us just as He did with Jesus. He will raise us from the dead, roll away the stone and say, “Come out from the tomb” and live.

 

What Does Jesus Mean When He Says, “I am the resurrection and the life” in John 11:25?

By:  Meg BucherWriter , Author, crosswalk.com

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die;” John 11:25

Our Savior came to earth to testify to God’s Truth, His Truth. And in doing so as a human He chose to feel what we feel. Jesus’ life on earth, death on the cross, and resurrection, was and is the way God chooses to shower mercy on us. God, who is love, sacrificed His Son in the greatest act of love the world will ever know. John, self-proclaimed, “one who Jesus loved,” was Christ’s earthly best friend. Much like the way he saw himself changed because of Jesus, his Gospel brings the love God has for us, and the way He sees us, to life. We are all the ones Jesus loves!

John leaned on his Savior at the Last Supper. His Gospel account is rich with the friendship the two men shared. As John retells the story of Jesus raising His friend Lazarus from the dead, he camps out on a pivotal Gospel truth. Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. It is in Jesus, we find true life and resurrection from the death our sins warrant. As believers in Jesus Christ, the Son of God who died for our sins and was raised from the dead, we are raised to new life in Christ.

Who Is the Resurrection and the Life in John’s Gospel?

Life is a major theme and concept of John’s Gospel. The word life occurs 36 times in his Gospel compared to no more than 17 in any of the other Gospel accounts. “Jesus did not merely have the power to resurrect,” Moody Bible Commentary explains, “His claim I am the resurrection and the life makes Him the very source of resurrection and all life.” John recorded seven, notably the Biblical number signifying perfection, of Jesus’ profound “I am” statements:

“I am the Bread of Life.” (John 6:35)

“I am the Light of the World.” (John 8:129:5)

“I am the Gate.” (John 10:7)

“I am the Good Shepherd.” (John 10:11,14)

“I am the Resurrection and the Life.” (John 11:25)

“I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.” (John 14:6)

“I am the True Vine.” (John 15:1)

Out of the seven, three contain the word “life:” “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35); “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die;” (John 11:25)and “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6). Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. “All of God’s sovereignty is mediated through Christ, and it hinges on his power over death in his resurrection,” preached John Piper. One person of our Triune God, Jesus, came to earth fulfilling over 300 Old Testament prophecies with His birth alone. “Everyone who lives refers to one’s physical life since it is followed by and believes in Me,” Moody Bible Commentary explains, “Only in this life does one have the chance to believe in Christ (Hebrews 9:27).”

The New Testament contains four Gospel accounts, all of which focus mostly on the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. John’s purpose is clear: “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31)“Life is Christ’s gift (John 10:28and he, in fact, is ‘the life’ (John 14:6),” explains the NIV Study Bible, “Life in living fellowship with God- both now and forever.

The Meaning and Context of John 11:25, “I Am the Resurrection and the Life”

Jesus had friends during His life on earth. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were among His close friends. At this point in John’s narrative, Jesus receives word that Lazarus is sick and dying. Instead of rushing to His friend’s side with a miraculous healing, Jesus stays back for two more days. “This sickness will not end in death,” Jesus said, “No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it” (John 11:4). When He finally arrives, Mary and Martha are distraught. Martha tries to piece together what she knows about Jesus and His teachings but struggles to fully understand why Jesus didn’t come before her brother died. “Jesus comforts Martha in her grief and gives her an eternal hope all because she stopped to listen to what He had to say,” wrote Yvonne Morgan for Beloved Women.

Our Savior weeps with us. He truly knows how we feel. At the sight of His friends’ pain, He felt sadness. Though He must have known it would cause His friends pain, Jesus was always obedient to His Father in Heaven. Everything He said and did glorified God the Father. He raised Lazarus from the dead with a command, and suddenly the truth becomes clearer for those who witnessed him walk out of the tomb.

“Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” John 11:40

There are seven signs in the Gospel of John, one of them being Lazarus’ resurrection from the dead: Changing water into wine (John 2:1-11); healing an official’s son (John 4:43-54); healing a disabled man at the Bethesda pool (John 5:1-15); feeding the 5, 000 (John 6:1-14); walking on water (John 6:16-21); healing the man born blind (John 9:1-12); and raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-44) (NIV Study Bible notes on Jn 11:25). Lazarus had been dead for days. In fact, his sister warned Him of the smell as Jesus approached the tomb. “Only as we confront the reality of death will we appreciate the hope of the resurrection,” wrote Constantine Campbell for desiringGod, “There is nothing like death to make us desire resurrection.”

Many had seen His miracles, including Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. But to raise someone from the dead was a possibility that escaped them. At one point, Martha says to Jesus: “…if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask” (John 11:21-22). When Jesus tells her that her brother will rise again  (John 11:23), Martha repeats what she knows of Jesus’ teachings but still fails to connect them to who He is: “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” And to that, Jesus replied: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)

Raising the dead is something only God is capable of. “Jesus raises the dead because he is the resurrection,” preached John Piper. Jesus not only gives resurrection and life, He is Resurrection and Life. “Our ultimate hope,” John Piper explains, “is not simply to be with Christ in immaterial existence, but to have resurrected bodies.” He was with God in the beginning (Genesis 1 and John 1), came to earth to live, died on the cross, and was raised to life; He now sits at the right hand of the Father. Jesus is eternal, which is what we become … in Him.

 

Jesus Is the Resurrection and the Life

By: John Piper, desiringgod.com

John’s Gospel told us last week that the reason Jesus did not go to heal Lazarus when he heard he was sick was because he loved him and his sisters Mary and Martha. He would stay where he was, and let Lazarus die, because he loved them. Verses 5–6: “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So [therefore!], when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.”

And the explanation that Jesus gave for how letting him die was love came in verse 4: “This illness does not lead to death [though he will die, that’s not the goal or the point]. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” In other words, it was more loving to put Lazarus through death and his sisters through grief, if that would reveal more of God’s glory to them and more of the glory of Christ. Jesus loves us by showing us himself.

Receiving Grace in Seeing Jesus

“Jesus loves us by showing us himself.”

This is absolutely fundamental to the main purpose of this Gospel — and the whole Bible. In John 1:14–16, John writes, “The Word [the eternal Son of God] became flesh [became human] and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Then in verse 16, he relates the demonstration of that divine glory to us. Verse 16: “And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” So the pattern is this: Jesus reveals his divine glory — glory as of the only Son from the Father — and we behold it, and from its fullness we receive grace.

So the incarnate revealing of the glory of God in Christ, climaxing with the cross and the resurrection, and our seeing it is the way we receive grace — that is, the way we are saved and receive all the promises of eternal life.

How Jesus Loves Us

So this whole Gospel is built around revelations of the glory of God in Jesus. And what we saw last week is this new emphasis that this is the way Jesus loves us. He does not mainly love us in this life by sparing us suffering and death. He mainly loves us by showing us and giving us himself and his glory. God loves us mainly by giving us himself and all that he is for us in Jesus. Jesus loves us mainly by giving us himself and all that God is for us in him.

Don’t measure the love of God for you by how much health and wealth and comfort he brings into your life. If that were the measure of God’s love, then he hated the apostle Paul. Measure God’s love for you by how much of himself he shows you. How much of himself he gives you to know and enjoy.

God’s Love in Giving Himself to Us

Before we see all this worked out in Bethany (verses 17–44), consider two confirmations from two other texts. For example, someone might say: but when I think of the love of God I think of John 3:16. Me too. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” God’s love is the gift of eternal life at the cost of his Son. Yes. Yes. Yes!

But what is the heart and essence of eternal life? Jesus tells in John 17:3: “This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” The essence of eternal life is the never-ending knowing of God the Father and God the Son. For God so loved the world, that at the cost of his Son’s life, he brought us into an everlasting knowing, admiring, loving, enjoying of himself and Jesus. The love of God is the gift of himself. And the greatness of that love increases in proportion to the greatness of his glory.

Jesus’s Love in Manifesting Himself to Us

And here’s a second confirmation that we are on the right track. In John 14:21, Jesus says, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” What a wonderful statement! “I will love you, and manifest myself to you.” That is how I will love you.

“The love of God is the gift of his glorious self.”

Oh, how many of us can testify to this reality with thankfulness and joy. In the days of suffering and loss, in the days of darkness, and when it seemed that all around our souls would give way, Jesus loved us — not first by taking away the suffering or the loss or the darkness, but first by giving us himself in ways that could not have been ours without this painful season. If you demand that God love you the way the world expects to be loved in this life, you won’t know what it is to really be loved by God. The love of God is the gift of his glorious self.

Because he loved Lazarus and Mary and Martha, he stayed two days longer and let them walk through the valley of the shadow of death, and then went and showed them his glory.

So let’s go with him.

Invincible Until the Cross

In verse 7, he says, “Let’s go.” And his disciples remind him in verse 8 that just a few days ago the people in Judea were trying to kill him. Are you sure? After last weekend’s message, several of you have asked me about Jesus’s strange answer in verses 9–10. He says, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”

What’s he saying? They say, “If you go to Judea, you’re going to run into a mob and get stoned.” And Jesus says, “No, I won’t. There are twelve hours in the day, and I am going to walk in the light of that day. And so I won’t be in the dark, and so I won’t stumble into a stoning mob. I will arrive at my appointment with the cross exactly when I intend to — at the end of that day.”

Be Grateful When God Blesses You

2 Corinthians 9:8-10 NIV

8 And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 9 As it is written: “They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.”Psalm 112:9 10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.

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The Blessing

Mr. Spock, of Star Trek fame, would raise his hand and say “Live long and prosper.”

This “Vulcan salute,” as it has come to be called, was invented on the set of Star Trek by actor Leonard Nimoy during the filming of the second-season opener, “Amok Time.” What the people didn’t know was that the Vulcan greeting came from Leonard Nimoy’s real-life Jewish heritage. He took it from the ancient blessing the Jewish Priests would bestow upon the Israelites.

The Bible says,

“Tell Aaron and his sons to bless the people of Israel with this special blessing: ‘May the LORD bless you and protect you. May the LORD smile on you and be gracious to you. May the LORD show you his favor and give you his peace.’ Whenever Aaron and his sons bless the people of Israel in my name, I myself will bless them.” (Numbers 6:23-27 NLT)

The actual blessing is done with both arms held horizontally in front, at shoulder level, with hands touching, to form the Hebrew letter “shin.” This stands for the Hebrew word for “Shaddai”, meaning “Almighty [God].”

With the hand symbol, the priest was putting the name of God on the people, sealing it upon them.

This is a special blessing God wants all of us to receive. This blessing is so important because it covers us completely in every area of our life, spiritually and materially.

This blessing is so specific that God commanded the Priests to bless the people not using their own words, but rather using an exact formulation for the blessing, prefacing the instruction with the words: “Thus shall you bless.”

This reveals that the blessing comes from the LORD Himself; the priests were a means for transmitting His gracious will. Now that we have Jesus, our Messiah, our Savior, we know that He is The High Priest and that His sacrifice has made it possible for us to enter boldly before God.

So today we can pray, petition, and speak blessings knowing that our voice will be heard, and our words will be fruitful before the Lord our Creator, because of Jesus.

As we continue to study the Priestly Blessing we learn that the people accepted the blessing and responded. So how do we receive and respond to a blessing from our Heavenly Father? We anticipate His blessing with a thankful heart and declare that His Word is so. Here is the blessing that the priests recited, along with the response of the people.

PRIEST: May the LORD bless you and protect you.

PEOPLE: Yes, may it be His will.

PRIEST: May the LORD shine His face to you and be gracious to you.

PEOPLE: Yes, may it be His will.

PRIEST: May the LORD turn (or lift up) His face to you and give to you peace.

PEOPLE: Yes, may it be His will.

You may ask, what does a Jewish blessing have to do with me?

The Bible says,

“And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you” (Galatians 3:29NLT).

So that means that all of God’s blessings are for us to obtain because Jesus paid the ultimate price. Everything he promised pertains to all of His children.

So let us expect the blessings from God and enjoy His goodness. Be thankful for the gift of His Son Jesus, which is His greatest blessing to us each day of our lives.

 

5 Truths about God’s Blessings Over You
By:  Lisa Apella

“The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” Numbers 6:24-26

The people of Israel had been camped at the foot of Mt. Sinai for almost a year after leaving Egypt. They had received God’s 10 commandments and his full law and built the tabernacle according to God’s precise instructions.

Now, on the cusp of moving toward the promised land and going into battle, God commanded the high priest Aaron to pronounce this blessing over the people. Because we hear these words recited so often, we can lose the awe that God would bless so extravagantly. Let’s dig out 5 truths in God’s blessing over you.

1.God is the source of all blessing. Although often referred to as the priestly or Aaronic blessing, these words weren’t written by men. They are God’s words spoken through his priests to his people. God is a God who blesses. In fact, when God created Adam and Eve, the first thing He did was to bless them. {Gen 1:28} And the last thing Jesus did? He blessed his apostles. As Jesus was taken into heaven, he was blessing his apostles. {Luke 24:50-51}

While these words are often spoken as a prayer or petition, there is no “will you” or “may you” found here. God has proclaimed this blessing and has commanded that it be spoken over His people.

2. God blesses us personally. Six times, these verses repeat “you” and each time it is in the singular form. Rather than blessing Israel corporately in these verses, God of the universe blesses each one personally. In a crowd of more than 2 million, God saw each one. God sees you. God knows you intimately, cares for you individually and blesses you personally.

3. God bends down to benefit us.The Hebrew word for bless means to kneel down. Used metaphorically here, it shows that God bends down to give us Himself and with that, all of His benefits – His faithfulness, mercy, forgiveness, grace, love, comfort, joy, hope, guidance, redemption, adoption, acceptance and more. Ephesians 1:3 tells us we have every spiritual blessing through Jesus. Because God is infinite, we can never reach the end of His blessing.

4. God blesses as a father to his child. How can God lift His countenance upon us if He is in heaven and we are on earth? Doesn’t he look down upon us? These words are a picture of a father lifting his child in his arms above him. Just as that father lifts up his beaming face to that child, God shines His full pleasure, His full goodwill, and His full joy over you as His child.

5. God’s blessing brings peace.Who doesn’t want peace? But God’s peace is more than the absence of strife. The Hebrew word for peace, shalom, stems from the word which means restoration back to the original state. God’s peace means not just harmony, but completeness and wholeness, rest and welfare, soundness and safety.

Take heart today. In a world that is often hard and chaotic, God has bent down to bless you personally. God of infinite benefits gives them to you. And though the world may frown, God’s beaming countenance is upon you. Today, child, walk in the fullness of Your Father’s extravagant blessing.

 

Third Level Blessing

While attending a Ministering Spiritual Gifts Conference, I heard a teaching by Apostle John Burkholder of Buffalo, NY, who taught on Luke 6:38:

“Give and it will be given to you a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

He says he regularly prays Luke 6:38 over his personal offerings. One day, as he prayed this verse, God told him he was praying it wrong. Apostle John asked, “How?” The Lord stated it was not enough to pray for his offering to blessed, but he needed to pray for those who were to bless him, that they would be blessed to be able to give. Then the Lord took it to another level, not only was he to pray for blessings for those who were to bless to him, but also pray for those who were to bless the givers, so that they could bless him.

This is a third level blessing, going beyond simple addition into multiplication of blessings. God is a God of multiplication. We see this at creation; God commanded every living thing to be fruitful and multiply (not add).

This is true in blessings as well as praying for others to be blessed. If we pray in the matter stated above, our blessings will be multiplied as well. So as you give your tithes and offerings, pray for those who are to give to you to be blessed, then for those who are to bless them to receive a blessing.

I prayed over my offering that afternoon and on Sunday at church. My wife has had some physical issues keeping her from working for more than two years. (God has been faithful in His provision for us). We and her doctors agreed that she should apply for disability. So, she filled out all the paperwork and submitted it. Her claim was promptly rejected. She appealed and was scheduled for an appeals hearing on the next Tuesday.

At the hearing, I was told I could say nothing, so I just sat there and prayed quietly in the Spirit. The judge said it appeared my wife qualified for disability and we would be notified in seven to 10 days of his decision. We were excited and praised God.

Three days later, our attorney called with the news that the judge’s decision had already been given and he ruled in our favor! She stated it would be at least two months before we received any back payments (two years’ worth) and then we’d receive monthly checks. We again rejoiced.

Then, one week later, the lawyer called saying she did not understand it, but the check was already processed and mailed. We were stunned. We received a check for two years’ worth of back payments. Praise the Lord! A manmade timetable of over 70 days was reduced to 10 days! We tithed on what we received and I again prayed over it and am waiting to see what God does.

I want to encourage you, when you give your tithes and offerings, pray for God’s blessing. Then go beyond that and pray for others to be blessed so they can bless you. Finally, take it to the third level of blessing, pray for those to be blessed that are to bless those who are to bless you. Then, watch and see what God will do.

 

Contagious Courage

MAY 25, 2020

“When she could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket made of bulrushes and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank. And his sister stood at a distance to know what would be done to him.” Exodus 2:3-4 (ESV)

Not so long ago, I realized I was missing something in my life.

It started when my daughters, both social workers, began exposing me to pain-filled situations that I knew very little about. My lack of proximity to hardship kept me from feeling the pain of many in our community.

Spurred by the courage of my daughters, I began breaking out of the comfort of my own social circle, befriending women in my community who’ve suffered great loss and who needed a trusted friend.

This has not been easy for me. I want to be brave, but still struggle to overcome fear of the unknown.

God’s Word is helping me overcome this fear, especially through the story of some women found in Exodus 1 and 2.

If their story were a play, it could look like this:

Act 1: Shiphrah and Puah, two midwives in Egypt, are commanded by Pharaoh to kill all male babies as soon as they are born. Yet the women fear God more than Pharaoh, and they let the babies live.

Act 2: In between labor pains, Shiphrah, Puah and Moses’ mother, Jochebed, discuss their options should Jochebed’s third child be a boy. In hushed tones, they piece together a plan. How would Jochebed disguise her newly-changed body? Answer questions about her delivery? How long could they keep him a secret?

As they make their plans, they recall God’s past faithfulness to help the Hebrews. While creating these God-inspired plans, their confidence in God grows, and their fear of their fierce enemy weakens.

Courage can overcome fear when we rehearse the faithfulness of God.

Act 3: Our key verse is played out: “When she could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket made of bulrushes and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank. And his sister stood at a distance to know what would be done to him” (Exodus 2:3-4).

Miriam, Moses’ sister, watches the basket-boat float on the Nile. When Pharaoh’s daughter calls for the basket to be brought to her, Miriam steps up, a child giving royalty advice on how to take care of the baby.

Curtains close.

Was the courage of Shiphrah, Puah and Jochebed contagious? Did it help empower Miriam to step up? I believe it did.

These women show how a ripple effect can take place when one person takes a daring step, and others witness it.

Like these women, I want contagious courage, too … to step out of my comfort zone and bring change and courage to another. The Lord is helping me reach out to those suffering to try to help lighten their pain. Though we don’t all look the same or share the same background, we have the same blood running through our veins. Together, we’re being brave, learning and serving together to push past our differences to forge new friendships.

I’m catching on to the courage of brave women who have gone before me. Though at times I feel scared about what I don’t know and have yet to learn, Jesus’ love is empowering me to take one small step at a time.

As my daughters have inspired me, can I inspire you to be courageous in your world today as well?

Step out to notice someone who needs a loving touch.

Invest in your community, and share the love of Jesus that you’ve experienced. If we step out in faith like these women, the Lord will help us to step into and be a part of contagious courage.

Jesus Said, “Judge Not!”

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Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Judged

CBN.com — One of our besetting sins is our judgment of one another. This despite the fact that our Master, Jesus Christ, has commanded us not to be judgmental.

So often our ideas about others are based on totally false assumptions or erroneous presentations by others about the person or persons in question. We often go through life thinking conclusions that have little or no basis in reality.

Case in point: I recently met a person whom I have heard vilified by many professing followers of Christ. Well, the person I met – and the person I had heard about turned out to be two completely different persons.

This individual was kind, soft-spoken, brilliant, and a follower of Christ. Wow, were my sources ever wrong! Therefore my perceptions were mistaken. How sad it would have been to have lived my whole life believing the false reports.

Remember, Israel had to stay in the wilderness for forty years after believing false reports from ten of the twelve spies sent into the Promised Land. It is somehow in our nature more acceptable to believe bad reports than good ones.

Scripture commands us in Philippians 4:8 to do this:

“Fill your minds, on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious, the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.”

Outward appearances are a poor criteria upon which to make conclusions about anyone. And other testimonies can be false as well. Judge not that ye be not judged! These are strong words and a powerful commandment from our Lord, one that He expects to be followed. Oh, and one thing more: bearing a false witness about someone else is also a sin.

 

Judge Not!

“For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Matthew 7:2 (NIV)

Teaching our 15-year-old son to drive has been a learning experience – for him and me! In typical God-fashion, the lessons haven’t always been about driving. Only God could take an average street corner and turn it into a life-lesson seared into my soul. Here’s what happened on a not-so-average afternoon.

After taking short trips on side roads, I decided my son Josh was ready for the “big time.” So we headed to Costco after school on a main thoroughfare. Since I don’t normally drive at that time of the day, I was unprepared for the amount of traffic. Josh was doing well until the light turned red just as he was pulling up to make a right turn. Since traffic was heavy, he was already going slowly, but instead of stopping, I could tell Josh intended to keep going.

“Stop, Josh,” I said quietly as the car kept rolling.

“Stop, Josh” I said a little louder. The car kept rolling, although it did slow. In a split-second, I could tell Josh was going to turn right on a red and I could see oncoming traffic starting to move. Why wasn’t Josh stopping? I started to panic.

“Josh STOP!!” I yelled, and he slammed on the brakes.

“Mom, you’re freaking me out,” Josh gasped.

“Josh, you’re freaking ME out!” I answered as we both sat there in shock. Josh explained that he thought I meant for him to slow down when I said “stop.” I didn’t have time to sort out his thought process on that one, because just then the light turned green and Josh turned right … legally and safely.

I told Josh I was sorry for yelling at him, he said he was sorry he didn’t listen to me and we were back on good ground. At least I thought so until seconds later a young guy who had been behind us at the light, pulled up on our left and motioned for us to roll down the window. Thinking there was something wrong with a tire, we did and he said, “Hey, if you are going to act like that, take your sticker off your car.” Then he sped off. Josh was shaken and I was just plain mad. I knew he was talking about our church window decal and I alternated between anger at his judgmental attitude and shame that someone might think badly about God because of a driving incident. But anger was the predominate emotion. I couldn’t stand that someone would judge me or my son without knowing anything about us.

I stewed over that the whole day, until God started speaking to my spirit about a judgmental attitude I’d had earlier that week. Something had happened at church that I let bother me. It wasn’t a sin issue, merely an oversight on someone’s part. But it concerned me. In fact, I had worked it up in my mind their lack of attention was wrong and I was going to tell someone about it. For days, I thought about how to say it and to whom. Then this happened.

I’m confident God allowed me to experience the bitter side of judgment so that I would see how hurtful it is. My judgmental attitude at church was clouding my love and compassion for my brothers and sisters in Christ who are serving God in wonderful ways and impacting many lives. I was convicted of my attitude, asked God’s forgiveness, and thanked Him for teaching me a lesson before I spoke any potentially hurtful words.

Jesus spoke these words to His followers, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1-2 NIV). I definitely experienced being judged, and it wasn’t pleasant. Nor was my judgment on others pleasant.

As I’ve thought about and prayed over this issue more, I’ve come to realize that I can still share my thoughts with those in charge at church (or anywhere else), so long as my heart and my attitude don’t contain a hint of judgment. But then again, I might not. I’ll definitely do an attitude check before letting any thought take root, or any potentially judgmental word come out of my mouth.

 

Judge Not?

What the Bible Really Says About Love

Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1–2).

This teaching of Jesus is widely misunderstood. A common reduction we often hear is, “Don’t judge me.” What’s interesting is that this reduction is the inverse application of Jesus’s lesson. Jesus is not telling others not to judge us; he’s telling us not to judge others. What others do is not our primary concern; what we do is our primary concern. Our biggest problem is not how others judge us, but how we judge others.

Caution: Judge at Your Own Risk

Actually, when Jesus says, “Judge not,” he’s not really issuing a prohibition on judging others; he’s issuing a serious warning to take great care how we judge others. We know this because Jesus goes on to say,

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3–5)

“How we judge others says far more about us than how we are judged by others.”

It’s not wrong to lovingly help our brother remove a harmful speck from his eye. It’s wrong to self-righteously point out a speck in our brother’s eye when we ignore, as no big deal, the ridiculous log protruding from our own.

So, Jesus is placing, as it were, a neon-red-blinking sign over others that tells us, “Caution: judge at your own risk.” It is meant to give us serious pause and examine ourselves before saying anything. Our fallen nature is profoundly selfish and proud and often hypocritical, judging ourselves indulgently and others severely. We are quick to strain gnats and swallow camels (Matthew 23:24), quick to take tweezers to another’s eye when we need a forklift for our own. It is better to “judge not” than to judge like this, since we will be judged in the same way we judge others.

Jesus takes judgment very seriously. He is the righteous judge (2 Timothy 4:8), who is full of grace and truth (John 1:14). He does not judge by appearances, but judges with right judgment (John 7:24). Every judgment he pronounces issues from his core loving nature (1 John 4:8).

Therefore, when we judge, and Scripture instructs Christians to judge at times (1 Corinthians 5:12), we must take great care that our judgment, like Christ’s, is always charitable.

Be Quick to Believe Innocence

The first way to take great care how we judge is to be slow to pronounce guilt when evidence is scant or hearsay or ambiguous. This runs counter not only to fallen human nature, but also our media-saturated culture that encourages hair-trigger judgments. We are wise to practice something codified in our judicial system.

In the United States, when a person is accused of a legal transgression, but the evidence against him is inconclusive, our jurisprudence demands we presume his innocence until sufficient evidence can demonstrate his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Such demonstration is typically not quick or easy.

Be Thorough Before Pronouncing Guilt

Circumstantial evidence is not placed before a “reasonable” judge who then renders a verdict based merely on his judicial common sense interpretation. Millennia of human history have taught us that appearances can be deceiving and “reasonable” people have conscious and unconscious biases that shape how they interpret evidence.

“We are quick to take tweezers to someone else’s eye while we need a forklift for our own.”

So, our courts demand a rigorous process of evaluating evidence in an effort to ensure that deceptive appearances and biases do not distort the truth. This process requires diligence, patience, and restraint. And while reasonable doubt regarding a person’s guilt persists, we are bound to believe — at least in a legal sense — the best about that person. We give him “the benefit of the doubt.”

When Paul wrote, “love believes all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7), he was talking about this kind of charitable judgment. Christians are called to believe the best about each other until sufficient evidence confirms beyond a reasonable doubt that a transgression has occurred.

Aim for Restoration

When evidence does confirm that a transgression has occurred, a second way we take great care how we judge is to “aim for restoration” (2 Corinthians 13:11).

If we’re personally involved in such a situation, our goal in confronting someone caught in sin or, if necessary, initiating a process of church discipline, is to gain back our brother or sister (Matthew 18:15). Our goal is not punitive, but redemptive. We must vigilantly remain “kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave [us]” (Ephesians 4:32). Even if the guilty person is unrepentant and fellowship must be severed, the purpose remains redemptive for the offender (1 Corinthians 5:5) and for the church (1 Corinthians 5:6).

Keep Quiet If Possible

If we’re not personally involved or are distant observers, we can still aim for the person’s restoration by, if possible, not saying anything. A wise rule of thumb: the greater our distance, the greater our ignorance. And ignorant commentary about a person or situation is never helpful and is usually nothing more than gossip or slander, which Jesus calls evil (Matthew 15:19).

“Our goal in confronting a Christian caught in sin is to gain back our brother or sister.”

We must remember how faulty our perceptions are and how biases distort our judgment. We often think we understand what’s going on, when in reality we do not. From a distance, love covering a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8) looks like not repeating a matter (Proverbs 17:9).

Judge with Right Judgment

How we judge others says far more about us than how we are judged by others. This is why God will judge us in the manner we judge others, not in the manner they judge us. Therefore, we must judge with right judgment (John 7:24). And right judgment is charitably quick to believe innocence, charitably slow to pronounce guilt, charitably redemptive when it must be, and charitably silent if at all possible.

And when in doubt, “judge not.”

 

Practice Prayer And Faithfulness

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Prayer and Faithfulness

Many years ago, my husband Kenn partnered with two other men in a farming business. We knew Clyde was a trustworthy man; we attended the same church. Sam, a local businessman, put up most of the money. We agreed the three men held equal responsibility should the business go broke. I wasn’t sure we could trust Sam.

Within two years, the business dissolved. The main reason was Clyde. He misrepresented himself and the product he endorsed. He skipped town, and to my knowledge, he never paid his debt. So much for thinking he was trustworthy.

How would we pay Sam back? We were a young family with two small children. We calculated 20 years of payments. Bankruptcy was a choice, but after praying, we sensed that God wanted us to pay our debt.

The Lord soon provided Kenn with a new job, and we paid Sam $2,000 per year. After two years, I prayed, “Lord, You know our faithfulness and how we have continued to pay Sam back. We have not cut back on our giving to the church or Your work. At the end of five years, I pray Sam will forgive the remainder of our debt.” Most days I prayed this prayer. I asked the Lord to give Kenn boldness to talk with Sam and ask him to write the balance off after we paid him back $10,000.

That didn’t happen. After three more years of continuous prayer and asking the Lord for this specific need, we received a letter in the mail from Sam. The letter stated, “Thank you for not forgetting about our business venture that did not do very well or your obligation to the note. I do not feel you owe me any more money. Please consider your portion of the note ‘Paid in Full.’” We paid $9,500 of our debt. The Lord answered my prayer $500 early, and Kenn didn’t have to ask Sam to forgive our loan. God moved upon his heart without our interference. Sam, the person I didn’t trust, turned out to be a generous and forgiving man.

This experience taught me two things. First, I learned that persistent prayer works, and God doesn’t always answer the way we pray. He often answers better.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Philippians 4:6 NIV

The second thing I learned is that we please God with our faithfulness. We continued to pay our debt to Sam and give our tithe and offerings to our church and the Lord’s work.

“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” 2 Corinthians 9:6 NIV

I believe God granted us a wonderful blessing through persistent prayer and our faithfulness in giving.

Are you persistent with your prayers and faithful in your giving to the Lord’s work?

 

The Power of a Simple Prayer

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything; tell God your needs, and don’t forget to thank him for his answers.” Philippians 4:6 (TLB)

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Want to see a father’s face ashen or hear a mother gasp? Then sit nearby as they discover three words on the box of a new toy: “Some assembly required.” What follows are several late night hours of squeezing “A” into “B,” bolting “D” into “F,” and hoping no one notices if steps 4, 5 and 6 are skipped altogether.

Parents want a gift for their child. What they get is a project – sometimes a project for life.

“Some assembly required.” It’s not the most welcome sentence, but it’s an honest one. Marriage licenses should include those words, in large print. Job contracts should state them in bold letters. Babies should exit the womb with a toe tag: “Some assembly required.”

Life is a gift, albeit disassembled. It comes in pieces and sometimes falls to pieces. Part A doesn’t always fit Part B. The struggle seems large and inevitably, something is missing.

It’s such a common problem. Who among us doesn’t have an area of life that isn’t working? How do you respond when the pieces don’t fit? In frustration? In anger? In prayer?

I’d like to say I always respond in prayer. The truth? I am a recovering prayer wimp. I doze off when I pray. My thoughts zig, then zag, then zig again. If attention deficit disorder applies to prayer, then I am afflicted.

But I also know there’s power in prayer, even simple prayers. Mary, the mother of Jesus, knew this too.

Maybe you’ve heard the story. A couple thousand years ago there was a common wedding in Cana. The bride wasn’t the daughter of an emperor. The groom wasn’t a prince. Apart from one detail, the event would’ve been lost in time. But we remember it because Jesus was on the guest list.

While Jesus was there, the wedding party ran out of wine. Enter Mary, mother of Jesus. For my nickel, she appears too seldom in Scripture. After all, who knew Jesus better than she did? So, on the rare occasion she speaks, we perk up. “The mother of Jesus said to Him, ‘They have no wine'” (John 2:3b, NKJV).

Consider this prayer of Mary. The pieces didn’t fit, so she took the problem to Jesus. Mary wasn’t bossy. She didn’t say: “Jesus, they are out of wine. So, here is what I need. Go down to the grove at the corner. Accelerate the growth of some Bordeaux grapes. Turn them into wine.” She didn’t try to fix the problem.

Nor was she critical. “If only they had planned better, Jesus. People just don’t think ahead. What is society coming to?”

Nor did she blame Jesus. “What kind of Messiah are you? If you truly were in control, this never would have happened!”

She didn’t blame herself. “It’s all my fault, Jesus. Punish me. I failed as a friend. Now, the wedding is ruined. The marriage will collapse. I am to blame.”

None of this. Mary didn’t whine about the wine. She just stated the problem.

Then, “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does your concern have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Whatever he says to you, do it'” (John 2:4-5, NKJV).

Apparently Jesus had no intention of saving the wedding banquet. This wasn’t the time nor the place He had planned to reveal his power. But then Mary entered the story: Mary, someone He loved, with a genuine need.

So what did He do? Jesus told the servants to fill the water pots with water, and that water became wine the entire party enjoyed.

Problem presented. Prayer answered. Crisis avoided. All because Mary entrusted the problem to Jesus. Her simple request prompted a divine response!

Like me, you might think if you take your problems to Jesus every time you have one, you’ll talk to Jesus all day long. I think that’s the point. After all, the writer of Philippians reminds us in our key verse, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything; tell God your needs, and don’t forget to thank him for his answers” (Philippians 4:6).

When life doesn’t fit, it’s easy to worry or be critical or try to fix it. But let’s let Mary be our model. She took her problem to Jesus and she left it there. She stated her problem simply, presented it faithfully and trusted Him humbly.

 

An Awareness of God

From; InTouch.com

 

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

The three commands in today’s passage may look simple because they’re short, but many people find them challenging to obey. Our lives are so full of responsibilities and activities that it’s all we can do to keep up our schedules, let alone live as these verses command. There’s only one way to succeed—not by trying harder but by focusing on Christ. When He becomes the center of our attention, our attitude and behavior will change.

Rejoice Always. The realization that our omnipotent God is constantly with us puts troubling circumstances in their proper place—under His authority. It also helps us sense the incomparable joy of His companionship, even in difficulties and suffering.

Pray without ceasing. It’s important to set aside time each day to come before the Lord with our problems and requests. But believers also long for an ongoing attitude of prayer, which, like a continual conversation, is expressed either verbally or in our thoughts. Then if a decision is required or trouble comes, our first thought is to turn to God for help.

Give thanks in everything. If our minds are set on the Lord each day, we’ll be able to thank Him regardless of the situation. That’s because we know He is with us and will work everything for our good—if not here, then in heaven.

These three admonitions are a call to become preoccupied with Christ. If we are consumed with other thoughts, it’s easy to feel irritated, worry unceasingly, and complain about everything. But when we begin each day in God’s Word, we are reminded of His instructions and His care.

 

Be Devoted to Prayer

By: John Piper

 

    Scripture: Romans 12:12    Topic: Prayer

    My simple and humanly impossible goal this morning in this message is that you would all be devoted to prayer. This is my goal because this is what the Bible calls us to be. My text is Romans 12:12 which is part of a longer chain of exhortations. It says we are to be “rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted (proskarterountes) to prayer.”

    Your version might say, “constant in prayer” or “faithful in prayer.” Those all get at aspects of the word. “Devoted” is a good translation. The word is used in Mark 3:9 where it says, “[Jesus] told his disciples to have a boat ready (proskartere) for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him.” A boat was to set apart — devoted — for the purpose of taking Jesus away in case the crowd became threatening. “Devoted” — dedicated for a task, appointed for it.

    Now, boats just sit there. But people are not dedicated that way. When the word is applied to a person it means devoted or dedicated in the sense not only of designation and appointment but of action in the appointed task, and pressing on in it. So for example in Romans 13:6 Paul talks about the role of government like this: “You also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.” That is, they are not only designated by God for a task, but are giving themselves to it.

    What’s remarkable about this word is that five of the ten New Testament uses apply to prayer. Listen, besides Romans 12:12 there are:

    • Acts 1:14 (after the ascension of Jesus while the disciples were waiting in Jerusalem for the outpouring of the Spirit): “These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.”
    • Acts 2:42 (Of the early converts in Jerusalem): “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
    • Acts 6:4 (The apostles say): “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
    • Colossians 4:2 (Paul says to all of us): “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving.”

    It does not mean that prayer is all you do — any more than being devoted to a wife means all the husband does is hang out with his wife. But his devotion to her affects everything in his life and causes him to give himself to her in many different ways. So being devoted to prayer doesn’t mean that all you do is pray (though Paul does say in another place, “pray without ceasing,” 1 Thessalonians 5:17).

    It means that there will be a pattern of praying that looks like devotion to prayer. It won’t be the same for everyone. But it will be something significant. Being devoted to prayer looks different from not being devoted to prayer. And God knows the difference. He will call us to account: Have we been devoted to prayer? Is there a pattern of praying in your life that can fairly be called “being devoted to prayer”?

    “Praying only as crises enter your life would not be a pattern of devotion to prayer.”

    I think most of us would agree on some kinds of praying that would not be called “being devoted to prayer.” Praying only as crises enter your life would not be a pattern of devotion to prayer. Praying only at meal times is a pattern, but does it correspond to Paul exhorting the church to “be devoted to prayer”? A short “Now I lay me down to sleep” prayer at the end of the day is probably not “being devoted to prayer.” Hit and miss “Help me, Lord” in the car as you need a parking place is not “being devoted to prayer.” All those are good. But I think we would agree that Paul expects something more and different from followers of Christ when he says, “Be devoted to prayer.”

    Let us not forget in all of this, as we saw last week, that the cross of Christ — his death in the place of sinners — is the foundation of all prayer. There would be no acceptable answer to why or how we pray if Christ had not died in our place. That’s why we pray “in Jesus name.”

    As I have weighed the obstacles to prayer that I could address, some of them fall under the question, why pray? And some of them fall under the question how pray. I want to focus this morning on the how. Not that the question why is unimportant, but it seems to me that we can have all our theological answers in place as to why pray and still be very negligent and careless in the life of prayer. So I will give a short answer to the question why, and then focus on practical how questions that I pray will stir you up to venture new levels of “being devoted to prayer.

    Memorial Day – Remember The Fallen Patriots

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    A Day to Honor Life

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    Memorial Day – to some it’s merely the beginning of summer and to others it’s a solemn day to remember those who have passed from this life. However, to the war veteran and to the families of fallen soldiers, Memorial Day carries significance so deep that words cannot express their hearts.

    When we look into the eyes of those who still mourn these once vibrant men and women, we often sense their loneliness and pain. We hear them choke back tears as they simply say the ranks and names of their military brothers and sisters at a Memorial Day service. White gloves, dress uniforms, rigid posture, and perfectly precisioned salutes represent the reverence and respect flowing from within. Those who have been personally affected by war understand and appreciate this day of remembrance.

    What should we say to those who sincerely honor this day? “Happy Memorial Day” doesn’t seem fitting. “I’m sorry for your loss” may be closer to appropriate. What would the fallen soldier want from their comrades and the rest of the country on this day?

    In an often quoted Memorial Day speech given in 1884 by Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., the speaker ended his address with these words, “Our dead brothers still live for us, and bid us think of life, not death — of life to which in their youth they lent the passion and joy of the spring. As I listen, the great chorus of life and joy begins again, and amid the awful orchestra of seen and unseen powers and destinies of good and evil our trumpets sound once more a note of daring, hope, and will.”

    The American soldier who gave his or her life for U.S. citizens to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness won’t be telling us how to observe the holiday. But I believe that Holmes’ proposition to “think of life, not death” would honor the fallen soldier. Their sacrifice follows the example of Jesus Christ laying down His life for our freedom. It’s selfless love for others – not so others can mourn forever, but live!

    “We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.” 1 John 3:16

    Notice that in scripture and in military service, the willingness to give up one’s life is not dependent on the worthiness of the people who benefit from the honorable act. In a perfect world, all who receive freedom and grace would be worthy of such a sacrifice and full of gratitude. But that’s not the way it is anywhere on Earth or in Heaven.

    “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” Romans 5:8

    We are blessed to be living in a free society. May we honor our American soldiers for the liberty we have in this country. May we also give thanks to Almighty God for the freedom we have to spend eternity with Him because of His gift of forgiveness through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

    Remember

    By: Jon  Bloom, desiringGod.org

    Memorial Day, as Americans have come to know it, began in the years immediately following the Civil War. But until World War II, most people knew it as “Decoration Day.” It was a day to decorate with flowers and flags the graves of fallen soldiers and remember those who had given, as Lincoln beautifully said, “the last full measure of devotion” to defend their nation. It was a day to remember what the honored dead had died to defend.

    A century and a half has passed since Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox, effectively ending a national nightmare that filled over 625,000 American graves with dead soldiers. Since then, other international nightmares have ravaged the world and put more than 650,000 additional Americans into war graves in Europe, North Africa, the Pacific Rim, Asia, and the Middle East.

    Remembering Is for the Future

    Memorial Day is an important national moment. It is a day to do more than barbeque. It is right and wise to remember the great price some have paid to preserve the historically unprecedented civil and religious freedoms we Americans have the luxury to take largely for granted.

    But the importance of Memorial Day is more for our future than it is for our past. It is crucial that we remember the nightmares and why they happened. We forget them at our own peril. The future of the United States depends in large amount on how well we collectively remember and cherish what liberty really is and the terror of tyranny. There is a high cost to forgetting. In the words of George Santayana’s famous aphorism, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

    A Memorial People

    Christians, of all people, understand the crucial importance of remembering. Christians are “memorial people” because the whole of our faith depends upon remembering. Those who persevere into the glorious future are those who remember the gracious past.

    That’s why God has surrounded us with memorials. The entire Bible itself is a memorial. We meditate on it daily to remember. The Sabbath was a memorial to Israel’s freedom from Egyptian slavery (Deuteronomy 5:15), and the church switched it to Sundays as a memorial to Christ’s resurrection and our freedom from sin. Israel’s great gathering feast days were memorials (Exodus 13:3). And now each time a local church gathers, each Lord’s Supper celebration (1 Corinthians 11:24–26), each baptism, each Christmas celebration, and each Easter celebration is a memorial.

    Remembering God’s past grace is necessary to fuel our faith in God’s future grace for us.† This makes the memory one of God’s most profound, mysterious, and merciful gifts granted to us. God designed it to be a means of preserving (persevering) grace for his people. We neglect it at our own peril.

    The future of the church, globally and locally, and of each Christian depends largely on how well we remember the gospel of Jesus, all his precious and very great promises, and the successes and failures of church history. Scripture warns us that if we fail to remember, we will be condemned to submit again to sin’s and hell’s enslavement (Hebrews 6:4–8). Such warnings are graces to help us remember.

    So as we commemorate Memorial Day as Americans, let us do it with profound gratitude for the extraordinary common grace given to us when men and women laid their lives down for the sake of America’s survival. And let us remember the past evils that we may not repeat them in the future.

    And as Christians, let us make every day, as long as it is called today, a memorial day (Hebrews 3:13). Let us “take care lest [we] forget the Lord” (Deuteronomy 6:12).

    Let us “remember Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2:8).

     

    Remembering

    From: Crosswalk.org

     

    “Remember, LORD, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old.” – Psalm 25:6 (NIV)

    I sometimes struggle to see how God’s Word applies to me and my life. Especially when I’ve been waiting a long time for some prayers to be answered. For hearts of loved ones to fully turn to Jesus. For manna to rain from heaven.

    The funny thing about waiting is it can be all-consuming. It inhales my attention, chews my focus and swallows my thoughts, leaving me in a place of uncertainty and doubt. I forget God’s power to fulfill my hopes for prayers answered. Its then, when I can’t see how He’s going to bring things to pass, I have to rely on His faithfulness in the past.

    Remembering God’s faithfulness in other’s lives in Scripture, reminds us of His faithfulness in our own.

    When the waters rise, you’ve waited long for rescue and you feel God’s forgotten, remember… Genesis 8:1*: But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded.

    When dust and debris threaten to replace passions, dreams and callings and you feel God’s forgotten, remember… Genesis 9:15: I will remember my covenant between me and you.

    When the pitter-patter of little feet is silent and you feel God’s forgotten, remember… Genesis 30:22: Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and enabled her to conceive.

    When fear, worry, doubt and anxiety enslave and you feel God’s forgotten, remember… Exodus 2:23a, 24a, 25b: During that long period…The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out…God heard their groaning and he remembered… and was concerned about them.

    When you can’t sleep and restlessness sets in, remember… Psalm 63:6-7: On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.

    When guilt consumes and you fear God will never forget your sins, remember… Isaiah 43:25: I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.

    When all hope is lost, remember… Luke 24:6a-7: He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you…’The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’

    When your marriage comes back from the brink of despair, remember… Deuteronomy 8:2: Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness.

    When dreams come true and you’re thriving in your calling, remember… 1 Chronicles 16:12a, 15: Remember the wonders he has done… He remembers his covenant forever, the promise he made, for a thousand generations…

    Recalling these accounts in Scripture helps me remember His goodness in my own life. When I can’t see how He is moving on my behalf, I choose to remember that He promises to be just as present and faithful to me and you today as He was for others in the past.

    When joy surrounds. When sorrow clobbers. When all’s right in our world. When the bottom drops out. When we feel loved and cherished. When we feel abandoned and alone, let’s remember… They remembered that God was their Rock, that God Most High was their Redeemer. (Psalm 78:35)

     

    The Power of Remembering Through Traditions

    “And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the LORD, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’” Exodus 12:26-27a (NIV)

    I forget where I put things (glasses and car keys come to mind). I forget to call people back, and I forget appointments.The only way I am not a train wreck of a person, truthfully, is because I have put in place systems to help me remember. You have systems, too, I bet — keys in a spot, notes jotted down, reminders on your calendar. Without ways to remember, things would slip through the cracks.

    But how do we remember The Big Things? Do we have a “system” in place to remember God’s love? Do we have routine ways to invest quality time with each other? To serve others regularly?

    I have rediscovered that there is such a system, and it is called “traditions.”

    Traditions are a passion of mine because they saved our family a few years ago. One moment I was scooping out blueberry oatmeal, the next I was sitting in an PICU room with my very young son who had had a life-threatening allergic reaction.

    Though I was grateful he was going to be OK, I was not sure I was going to be OK. I found myself struggling with a lot of regret. Were my husband and I doing this parenting thing right? Were we spending time on what mattered? Were we passing down our faith to our kids and taking time to show them love?

    We needed a system to remember.

    We needed traditions.

    It’s not my idea, by the way; it’s God’s. If you read the books of Exodus and Leviticus, you’ll see these books are jam-packed with ceremonies and rituals and feasts — God essentially telling His people, “Remember me. Remember how I saved you.”

    Moses told the Israelites in Exodus 12:26-27a, “And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the LORD, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’”

    Of course, traditions today are different from the unusual ones we read in the Old Testament, like rubbing sheep’s blood on doorframes during Passover. But the principle remains the same: We repeat meaningful things, and we remember God.

    Since that scary day in the PICU, we’ve put quite a few traditions in place to honor our faith, our values, each other. Here are a few:

    We sing hymns in the morning and read a devotional.

    We feast on a “Sunday snack dinner” and read a chapter from the New Testament.

    We have a “family day” once a year to celebrate our family.

    These traditions are anchors in our days, our weeks, our years. They break the monotony of life and remind us: This is what you believe. This is who you are. This is what you love.

    God knew we would forget, and He gave us traditions. How are we using this good gift?

    A Life Of Sacrifice

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    A Life of Sacrifice

    From: Crosswalk.com

     

    Weekly Overview:

    The Christian life is meant to be marked by simplicity. Jesus summed up our purpose with two statements: love God and love people. But in our humanity we have made complex what God designed to be peaceful, purposeful, and simple. A. W. Tozer remarks in The Pursuit of God, “Every age has its own characteristics. Right now we are in an age of religious complexity. The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found among us. In its stead are programs, methods, organizations and a world of nervous activities which occupy time and attention but can never satisfy the longing of the heart. The shallowness of our inner experience, the hollowness of our worship, and that servile imitation of the world which marks our promotional methods all testify that we in this day, know God only imperfectly, and the peace of God scarcely at all. If we would find God amid all the religious externals, we must first determine to find Him, and then proceed in the way of simplicity.” May we discover the peace and joy that come from pursuing a simple Christianity this week.

    Scripture:“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” – Luke 9:23

    Devotional:

    Living for our own gain adds stress, pressure, and chaos to life, successfully robbing us of all the transcendent peace available through sacrificial living. We were never created to be our own provider or sustainer. We were never meant to develop our own source of joy and purpose. The only place we will find lasting peace is in complete surrender to God’s intention for us: a life of total sacrifice.

    Jesus was our perfect model. He did everything according to the perfect and pleasing will of the Father. And Jesus said in Luke 9:23-25, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” Jesus makes it clear that sacrifice is the gateway to finding the life God intends for us. It’s the pathway that leads to the perfect will of our heavenly Father.

    If you’re like me, living life sacrificially initially sounds terrible and unattainable. It feels impossible based on past experiences and present selfish desires. But, we need to take time to know the God to whom we are sacrificing our lives. We need to renew our mind to the perfect love of Jesus who would lay down his own life for us before ever asking us to follow in his footsteps. The life God intends for you is better than anything you could discover on your own. If he’s asking you to live sacrificially it must be wholly and perfectly for your benefit.

    We are not sacrificing our own wills, plans, and dreams to a God who has less satisfying plans for our lives. We are not surrendering a happier, better life for something less, boring, or meaningless. Jesus said in John 10:10, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” God has plans greater than we could ever ask or imagine in store for us if we will lay down our dreams to make space for his. He has inexpressible joy for us if we will exchange what has made us temporarily happy for his dreams and visions that are full of purpose, meaning, and adventure.

    Jesus willingly laid down his life and received everything he had dreamed of: restored relationship with you. What’s waiting for you on the other side of sacrifice today? Find out as you engage in the act of surrender during guided prayer.

     

    Die to Yourself Without Losing Yourself

    Self-sacrifice can be exhausting. It can be painful, arduous, and largely thankless. Moreover, no shortage of people stand ready to take advantage of our willingness to serve. Nonetheless, few messages are more consistent in the New Testament than Christians being known for our sacrificial spirit (Romans 12:10).

    A picture intrinsic to our sacrifice reflects the nature of Christ (John 13:34). In fact, in his letter to the Philippians, Paul exhorts us to “in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). How do we do this and not lose ourselves? In other words, is it possible to be self-sacrificing without being self-obliterating?

    1. Anchor Your Worth in God

    First, in order to be confidently sacrificial, we must rest assuredly in our true value. This may seem like therapeutic Christianese at first glance, but hear me out. Oftentimes people are sacrificial in order to feel valuable — either internally (to themselves) or externally (to the world and to God). But we can never do enough to fill the giant void that the craving for self-worth creates. While we may have moments when our sacrifice is emotionally rewarding, those moments are fleeting and insufficient. We will inevitably find ourselves empty and hurt.

    On the other hand, if we allow God to shape and define our worth, we are free to empty ourselves without the fear of losing ourselves. My value comes not finally from what I bring to the table, but from the one who brought me there.

    God has made me in his image, a gift unique to humankind throughout all of creation (Genesis 1:26–28). More than that, he has seen me — the very real, very selfish, sinful me. He’s even seen the me that I haven’t seen yet because he knows every single thought I will ever think and every action I will ever take (Psalm 139:1–6).

    My thoughts and actions habitually betray my lack of love and trust, and yet God willingly gave up that which he loved most in order that I might be his (John 3:16) — not just some opportunity that I might be his, but the certainty that I would be his and become a part of his family, a fellow heir with Christ (Romans 8:16–17).

    That is the place — the place of God’s own self-sacrifice — where I find my real value. And knowing that God grounds my salvation in his own heart to be self-sacrificial is the foundation for my own self-sacrifice.

    2. Draw Your Energy from God

    Second, we must know from where the energy to be self-sacrificing comes. Too often we strive for self-denial in our own strength. But trusting in ourselves to deny ourselves is an oxymoron. Self-sacrifice is not refreshing to the ego, but often feels like death. And doubly so when our sacrifice seems to be in vain.

    While our own effort is vitally important, it is empty without the catalyzing of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23). Counting others more significant than ourselves is an activity that starts with, is borne along by, and finds its fulfillment in the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, sacrifice which doesn’t start with Spirit-dependent prayer and trust should not be expected to yield spiritual satisfaction.

    It is often when we find ourselves at the end of our own abilities that God’s grace in us superabounds (Ephesians 3:14–21). So, let us not too quickly withdraw when we find ourselves gassed in the marathon of lifelong sacrifice, but rather redouble our efforts through God’s word and prayer. Through our perseverance, God’s grace may be made more apparent to the world and ourselves.

    3. Sacrifice Yourself for God

    Third, we need to understand our own heart when it comes to self-sacrifice. Too often our self-denial is little more than window dressing on our desire to please people or control them. When it fails to accomplish these goals, we feel hurt. We may even blame God (which is always sin).

    What makes this even more complicated is that even rightly intended motivations are often wrongly prioritized. Wanting someone to be helped, get better, or feel more loved becomes the primary focus, not bringing honor to Jesus (Colossians 3:17). And when motivations, even good ones, get top billing over the glory of God, we are setting ourselves up for the sort of disappointment that leads to weariness in well-doing (Galatians 6:9).

    4. Set Boundaries with God’s Help

    Lastly, we have biblical grounds for proper boundaries. Not every relationship that requires self-sacrifice is in itself sustainable. If the relationship is with someone who makes a profession of faith, then they too are required to show love and respect, as well as sacrifice (Ephesians 4:25–32). When Christian relationships habitually lack the fruit of Christian maturity, it may be time to reassess our involvement (Romans 16:17–18). That should not end our acts of self-denial, but rather refocus them in areas where fruit seems to be more forthcoming through the leading of the Spirit.

    It also doesn’t necessarily mean the death of those relationships. Paul, for example, was frustrated with the lack of maturity in John Mark, and refused to let him go on one of his missionary journeys (Acts 15:37–40). But later Paul counted him as invaluable to his ministry (2 Timothy 4:11).

    It is a little trickier when exercising appropriate boundaries with non-believers. On the one hand, we are told to go the extra mile — to sacrifice above what anyone would expect — in order that the aroma of God may be perceived in us (Matthew 5:38–42). We reflect something almost unspeakably beautiful in the grace, mercy, and love of Christ as we lay down our lives not just for friends and family, but also for those who would consider themselves our enemies (Romans 5:8–10).

    On the other hand, while we are to be poured out, we are not to be unwisely used up. Times come when we must cut ourselves off from those outside the body of Christ (2 Corinthians 6:14–18Titus 3:102 Timothy 3:1–9). The keys seem to be sanctification and glory. If the relationship is not helping in our own sanctification and bringing glory to Christ, then it is time to reevaluate.

    That said, do not be hasty in boundary-making. It is easy to get hurt, scared, or offended and decide that a relationship must come to an end. Sometimes our sanctification and God’s glory take a long, tortuous route. Let the Holy Spirit guide you through Bible-soaked prayer over this relationship. Making a boundary too quickly can be just as detrimental as not making one at all.

    Self-sacrifice is painful, problematic, and peculiar, but it is part and parcel to the Christian life. Understanding where our value, energy, motivation, and even boundaries come from helps us to ground our giving in the grace of God, which is the one place where we will never find ourselves completely empty.

     

    Living Sacrifices

    From: InTouch.org
    Romans 12:1-2

    The idea of self-sacrifice runs contrary to the values of our culture. Subtle and not-so-subtle messages continually tell us to put ourselves first, demand our rights, and determine our own path. But God calls His people to lay themselves down on an altar as living sacrifices. In other words, we are to be separated from the world and given to the Lord for His purposes.

    Considering all that God has done for us in Christ, our response should be deliberate and voluntary submission. We give ourselves and the control of our life unreservedly to the One who has showered us with compassion and mercy by saving our soul from the grip of sin. Wherever He sends us, we go; whatever He requires of us, we do; and whatever He wants, we desire as well.

    This is not a one-time decision that forever sets the course of our life; rather, it’s a daily surrender to His will. At each moment, we have the option to grumble about our situation or to acknowledge God’s right to be in charge.

    As believers, we’re wise to remember that there is no better choice than to wholeheartedly trust our God, who has infinite knowledge, unfailing love, and almighty power. To crawl off the altar and rely on our limited understanding, self-interest, and human weakness will result in rebellion and its difficult consequences.

    To become a living sacrifice to the Lord is not only a duty but also a privilege. When we fully surrender to Him, He will transform us into the image of His Son Jesus, use us to further His kingdom, and bless our life with the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

     

    Streams in the Desert – May 24

    Times have changed, but life’s hard times haven’t

    Sarah bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him (Gen. 21:2).

    The counsel of the Lord standeth forever, the thoughts of His heart to all generations” (Psalm 33:11). But we must be prepared to wait God’s time. God has His set times. It is not for us to know them; indeed, we cannot know them; we must wait for them.

    If God had told Abraham in Haran that he must wait for thirty years until he pressed the promised child to his bosom, his heart would have failed him. So, in gracious love, the length of the weary years was hidden, and only as they were nearly spent, and there were only a few more months to wait, God told him that “according to the time of life, Sarah shall have a son.” (Gen. 18:14). The set time came at last; and then the laughter that filled the patriarch’s home made the aged pair forget the long and weary vigil.

    Take heart, waiting one, thou waitest for One who cannot disappoint thee; and who will not be five minutes behind the appointed moment: ere long “your sorrow shall be turned into joy.”

    Ah, happy soul, when God makes thee laugh! Then sorrow and crying shall flee away forever, as darkness before the dawn.
    –Selected

    It is not for us who are passengers, to meddle with the chart and with the compass. Let that all-skilled Pilot alone with His own work.
    –Hall

    “Some things cannot be done in a day. God does not make a sunset glory in a moment, but for days may be massing the mist out of which He builds His palaces beautiful in the west.”

    Some glorious morn–but when? Ah, who shall say?
    The steepest mountain will become a plain,
    And the parched land be satisfied with rain.
    The gates of brass all broken; iron bars,
    Transfigured, form a ladder to the stars.
    Rough places plain, and crooked ways all straight,
    For him who with a patient heart can wait.
    These things shall be on God’s appointed day:
    It may not be tomorrow–yet it may.