Black Sheep

Black Sheep

Luke 15:4-7 (NLT) “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!

On my daily commute, I pass a small makeshift farm. It started as one pen with a couple sheep. Now it is three pens, several sheep, two herding dogs, and some chicken coops. Recently, there were several lambs born with one that is solid black. The sheep and Great Pyrenes are solid white so the little guy sticks out like a sore thumb with its raven-colored coat. Every day I slow down to look for the black sheep. But as of late, the little one is not among the flock.

Today, I am acutely aware of the black sheep. I am part of a blended family. My parents each brought two children to their union. I have a very tangled family tree so we will stay on this side of it for now. My sister was very young and my biological father adopted her when she was just two years old. My bonus mom as one might call her also had a son. He did not embrace the new family quite so much and gravitated toward his own father and his side of the family. He might even be called a black sheep of sorts. Life for him was very difficult and his struggle very real. He loved the Lord, but had his own wilderness moments along the way. He passed away yesterday. I am sad. Although he was not as closely knit into our family as my brother and sister – I am sad for him. He died feeling that he was a black sheep. He felt like a disgrace who was ostracized. Not because he was not loved and cherished by his family, the enemy wrapped him in up in a lie that would cause him to stumble in life many times.

The tragic news of his death has haunted me. I see black sheep all the time. From the actual animal to the people who wander through life never experiencing the Love of God and all His Fullness. The inability to fully grasp and understand the completeness of God’s Grace and Goodness that He has just for them. Caught up in comparison, tangled in lies and stumbling over stupid things – they wander through life never really knowing, understanding or fully comprehending that which is pursuing them. Have we as Christians and believers contributed in some way? Setting conditions on love and acceptance that God never truly intended? To distance ourselves from the lost, wandering and broken afraid it is contagious? To gravitate toward success avoiding those who represent failure? To forget that we too were once the one lost sheep who was carried home by our Savior?

Matthew 18:12-14 (MSG) “Look at it this way. If someone has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders off, doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine and go after the one? And if he finds it, doesn’t he make far more over it than over the ninety-nine who stay put? Your Father in heaven feels the same way. He doesn’t want to lose even one of these simple believers.”

Where is the celebration when a simple believer is born? When the one who was lost wanders to the altar of our churches? Do we embrace them as they are? Or do we mandate a grace of change from imperfect to perfect in an instant? The Blood of Jesus covers our sin. Over time the Word begins to wash us clean including old wounds. A black sheep cannot change the color of its fur. It is still a sheep. The DNA the same it just looks different. You can shear it a hundred times and its coat will remain black. However, as Christians caught up in religion, we get so bent on changing people to meet our expectations and mandates of doctrine that we forget to love them just as they are. Love is not mean. It is not unkind. It is forgiving. Accepting. Affirming. This is the kind of love that allows the Lord to work out salvation and complete the transforming power offered through Jesus Christ. Where are the beloveds? The Love of God is unconditional. It loves with powerful passion even when it is not wanted or reciprocated. The Perfection of God meets us in our imperfection and loves us just the same. I don’t think we get that. If we did – people would flock to our services to encounter such love – no pun intended.

I Peter 2:25 (NLT) Once you were like sheep who wandered away. But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls.

The example of Jesus Christ is to be a guardian of souls. Our Shepherd is the Guardian of our souls. Guardian means defender, protector and keeper. The one who looks after and is responsible for someone. My mission in life must be to seek the sheep and CARRY them home. It doesn’t say that when he found the sheep that he beat it severely, reprimanded it harshly, or any other form of punishment. It says, “and when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders.” He did not wait for the sheep to come to him, but the true shepherd searches for the sheep. He pursues the one that is lost. Religion will only separate and divide unless it becomes about relationship. I tried to change a thousand times going to church and following everyone’s instructions. Yet I still wandered into the wilderness of life, I made countless mistakes. I let God down and failed Him faithfully. When I came back to the Lord, He didn’t berate me. In fact, He wooed me. He loved me. He filled me with more love and grace than I ever thought possible. When I fell in love with Jesus – all the hypocrites and haters didn’t matter anymore. I found love. Unconditional and unfathomable love. It is from that I have learned to love others without expectation. I find that I gravitate toward black sheep and embrace them because I was once lost and now I am found.

My heart is heavy today. I am sad that my brother has passed. I believe that Jesus mercifully came and set him free. I grieve the relationship that could have been and never will be. I am pressed to consider my love for others today. Do I look for the lost sheep as I do the little black sheep each day? Do I show unconditional love to those who are wandering? When they do come to church – are they met with celebration or more condemnation? God don’t let that be me. Fill my heart with the love and compassion that you have for each us. The kind of love and commitment that leaves the ninety-nine to pursue the one. Lord, let my response be rejoicing as I carry them home. Forgive me Jesus for the forgotten ones. Those who I turned a blind eye to or just walked around. All the times that I judged someone for not living up to my convictions or pursuing them with anything but unconditional love. Teach me Holy Spirit to be a guardian of souls. To rejoice over the sinner more than the saints. Be my example Lord for you are the Good Shepherd.

John 10:9-11 (NLT) Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep.”

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Pick Up Your Sword

Pick Up Your Sword

Hebrews 4:12 (NKJV) For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

As believers, the Lord has given us a powerful weapon to overcome the enemy each day. The Word of God is the sword of the Spirit. There have been several studies over the last five years due to the concern of Bible illiteracy. People express a fondness for the Bible but only about 20% of professing Christians actually read it on a daily basis. Almost one out of every ten houses own a Bible and the average household has three. Even with all those Bibles on hand, about half of Americans read very little of it. One in ten have not read any of it. About 13 percent, opened it to read a few sentences. About 30% say they have read a few passages or stories. A few more statistics if you will bear with me, twenty-two percent read a little bit each day routinely, while a whopping thirty-five percent say that they have not read it at all. I could continue to bore you with statistics found in the studies but they would only be a cause for alarm. To believe in Jesus Christ requires knowing the Word of God.

The illiteracy of the church is a problem. It is a hindrance to the growing, maturing and developing the Body of Christ. Jesus Christ is the Word of God who came wrapped in flesh as a living demonstration of God’s Love and Affection for mankind. To know Jesus it is imperative to know the Word of God intimately and personally. There were a number of reasons why people did not read the Bible in the study including it is not a priority and busyness. Others just don’t read as a whole while others could not see its relevance in their daily life. Only a small percentage did not own a Bible with just ten percent disagreeing with it. If only ten percent disagree with the Word of God, it means that ninety percent do see value in its pages yet still do not make an effort to read, study, and work it in their life. Why?

Hosea 4:6 (NKJV) My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.

God’s People are literally destroyed for lack of knowledge. When the enemy comes with a lie, the only way to combat it is with truth. God’s Word gives us a new identity in Jesus Christ. To know who we are, what we are called to do, and empowered with the strength of confidence to do it. I will not have confidence in someone I don’t know. Stranger danger is important to the safety of our children. If God and His Way (Jesus) are strangers in our life, what recourse is there when the enemy tells us otherwise? It is important to our spiritual wellbeing and success to know Christ intimately and completely. My husband and I have been married for almost two decades. He is my best friend. I know him inside out. I know how he thinks. I know how he lives. I know him intimately. If someone tells me something about him, I know immediately if they are telling the truth because I know my husband. Christ is our bridegroom. He is my Salvation. (Acts 28:28) He is the Word of God wrapped in a human body to identify with in this life until I reach forever. (John 1:14)

Matthew 4:1-4 (NKJV) Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”

The leadership team of our church is currently fasting and praying together. It is only day two and my body is mad about the whole thing. It is crying out for relief from hunger and to overcome fatigue. Though I am hungry and tired, I still must continue to work and care for my family. Jesus was taken into the wilderness to be tempted. He fasted for forty days and nights. He was hungry. The enemy came to Jesus to tempt Him. Jesus responded with the Word of God as a weapon. It is important to understand the relevance and power of God’s Word to overcome every temptation in life. Of note, it is the Holy Spirit who led Jesus to the wilderness to be tempted. When tempted from a divine standpoint is a positive test. Remember Job, God said, “Consider my servant…” God wanted to bless Job. Job had a pride problem. God allowed His Servant to be tempted to move Him from stagnancy to supernatural double portion blessing.

“It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”

It is important to the vitality of our spiritual existence that the Word of God become a priority in our life. “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony…” The Blood of the Lamb gives way to salvation. The Word of God is our testimony. The Spirit uses the Word of God as a sword. It is the very thing that overcomes the enemy and his lies in our life. It is the essence of the renewed mind and steadfast spirit. It is the foundation of our faith. Without it, we will not be able to stand against the enemy’s attack. Forfeiting victory to ignorance. A starved and depraved spirit man will not win against the principalities and darkness but be bound and drug back into bondage. We secure our freedom in Christ with His Word that empowers our faith with knowledge that produces faith and confidence in His Grace provided by the Blood and boldness to speak the Word of God in our life that overwhelms every enemy and foe against the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is besieged each day in a barrage of lies and half-truths. The problem in the church today may be spiritual illiteracy but it is easily overcome by the Truth.

Ephesians 6:14-17 (NKJV)  Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God…

When the Bible uses “word” it has two distinct connotations. There is “logos” and “rhema”. The “logos” word is the message. The Bible in its entirety is the “logos” word. “Rhema” is the portion which the believer wields as a sword in the time of need. In verse 14, there is mention of “having girded your waist in truth”. This would be the “logos” word. Our confidence in Christ comes from the Word. However, the Word of God is mentioned in verse 17 as the sword of the Spirit. It is not enough to read the Word but it must declared in our life to have an effect. The Word of God wins the battle when it is used in our conversation and prayers. Used to nullify the lie of the enemy, the Truth keeps us from the bondage of the lie. The only weapon afforded to us is the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. Everything else is straightforward confidence and trust in God’s Power to sustain us. We do not win by might or power but by using the Word of God effectively and efficiently in our life to overcome. Are you armed for battle today? Are you ready to fight back and regain all that the enemy has taken from you? David faced the giant with only five smooth stones and a slingshot in the natural. But it was all those long nights tending sheep and meditating on the Word of God, writing it down, and mulling over it that honed his spirit for battle. He did not win by might or power that day. The Lord was with Him.

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword. You have been given a weapon. It is time to use it. Do you read the Word of God every day? I challenge you to do so. Not out of religion or routine but to establish a sound relationship with Jesus Christ. You must know Him to love and trust Him. He is the Word. Without intimate knowledge of the Bible, how will you be able to discern the truth from a lie? I cannot see Him. I must seek His Face and His Heart where it can be found. Once I gain confidence in Christ, I will see that there is power in the Word to be used in my life. The foundation of faith is widen in this place. Trust is established based on it. Confident hope is discovered and then becomes our desire. The sword is two-edged. It not only strikes down the enemy but continually separates the flesh and spirit to do away with those things hindering us from victory each day. It works for us and in us at the very same time.

Isaiah 54:7 (NKJV) No weapon formed against you shall prosper, and every tongue which rises against you in judgment you shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is from Me,” says the Lord.

I do not own a handgun. I will not own one unless properly trained in using it. To have a loaded weapon in the house does me no good against an unwanted intruder or attacker unless I know how to use it. The Bible laying on a dusty shelf is powerful. It has the ability to arm its owner and ward off the attacker. We perish when we don’t know how to use it. Faith must be established in confident hope. NO weapon formed against you shall prosper. This is God’s Word for your life hidden in the closed pages of the unused Bible. It has the power and potential to save, heal and deliver you from every temptation or attack the enemy brings. If I don’t know, understand, and believe the Word of God – it’s power remains contained in the pages and I will not overcome experiencing anything promised there. To know the Word, to believe it and to use it is our salvation and deliverance in every situation.

I challenge you to get in the Word of God today. Pick up your sword. Study it for yourself. Ask the Lord to reveal His Person to you as He comes to life from the pages. It is the truth that governs the life of the believer, freeing us from the bondage of lies tying us to our current condition, circumstance and situation. It is a constant reminder of our identity as sons and daughters of God – greatly love, constantly empowered and deeply desired. It gives us worth. It infuses faith with substance making every impossibility totally impossible. It puts the enemy on the run. You need His Word. Like any good food, once it is tasted, it changes our appetite and creates a hunger for it. We are not weak and helpless but mighty in power. Our power is in the Blood of the Lamb and the Word in our life. Our testimony arising from temptation and test that is overcome. Let God tell you about your life today. Don’t be a Christian statistic. Jesus wants you to have a rich and satisfying life that is exceedingly abundantly more than you can think or ask. The Word of God is the seed that produces such a life.

2 Corinthians 10:3-6 (NKJV) For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,  and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.

Restoring Joy

hands holding the sun at dawn

Psalm 51:8-12 (NLT) Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me—now let me rejoice. Don’t keep looking at my sins. Remove the stain of my guilt. Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me. Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and make me willing to obey you.

Have you lost your joy today? Does it seem like serving the Lord is tedious? Are you broken hearted and losing your faith? Sin got you down. Shame overwhelming. Life is a struggle. Darkness constantly trying to overtake the Light of God’s Love for us. We battle for happiness. Going through life like we rummage through our dresser looking for something to wear that makes us feel confident and good. Our salvation promotes freedom that allows us to be joyfully satisfied in all areas of life. Repentance and obedience should provide a refuge that gives us a place to run to rather than wrestling with the enemy and ourselves to maintain our peace and joy in Jesus Christ. As a born again believer, each new day is filled with destiny as God continues to breathe life into me and give my opportunities to do His Will. To some that may not sound appealing, but for those who take one step by faith to do the Will of God, well you know its potential.

“We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.” (Buddha) How ironic that Buddha would be quoted with such insight. I agree with him believe it or not. I do believe that human beings are shaped by their thoughts due to their higher intelligence and dominance in this world. We do become what we think. I think that I am a Child of God, therefore; I choose to live like it. I think about Him all the time. When our mind is focused on the Love and Grace poured out by Jesus, it makes us cognizant of our sin-filled and sinful condition. This will cause guilt and shame. To some it is overwhelming, eroding what they know about the Living God and contaminating one’s ability to hold true to the knowledge and understanding of God’s Compassion and Unconditional Love for us all. Maybe just maybe if we could change the way that we think, it might produce a life change that will release a wellspring of overflowing joy in our life.

“Restore the joy of my salvation and make me willing to obey you.” Is it possible that our joy left when obedience ended? The joy of the Lord is our strength. But to take advantage of another’s strength requires dependency. For example, a chair may seem to be sturdy and of a sound structure, but it is not until I actually sit on it that I can determine if my trust is valid or misplaced. The joy of salvation is found in repentance or turning from our sin to follow Jesus. It is achieved in each step we take from this world into the Kingdom of God. After all, isn’t that what freedom is all about? Stepping out of sin, shedding chains of bondage and celebrating our freedom by serving Jesus Christ.

Psalm 119:1-8 (NLT) Joyful are people of integrity, who follow the instructions of the Lord. Joyful are those who obey his laws and search for him with all their hearts. They do not compromise with evil, and they walk only in his paths. You have charged us to keep your commandments carefully. Oh, that my actions would consistently reflect your decrees! Then I will not be ashamed when I compare my life with your commands. As I learn your righteous regulations, I will thank you by living as I should! I will obey your decrees. Please don’t give up on me!

“As I learn your righteous regulations, I will thank you by living as I should.” Are you thankful for Jesus today? How do you honor His Sacrifice to obtain your life and give you back your freedom? Staying free? During our weekly youth service, I was praying for our kids. I had a vivid image of them standing in a row across the front of the church. The angel of the Lord was walking by each one. Though their bodies stood poised with their arms by their side, as the angel approached most would raise their hands in the shadows not in the natural and the angel would mark their forehead with the oil dripping from its hands. But there were some who did not life up their hands in the spirit, so the angel passed them by. God’s Prosperity in our life is a soul condition that begins to impact our life as it grows from our heart and manifests around us. We must find a way to get there from here. Are you reaching out to Jesus today? Or just going through the motions? It matters! Do not let Him pass you by! God is doing everything in His Power bound by His Word to bless you and make you succeed. But He can only give you as much as you are willing to take. That is called freedom.

Joy comes from integrity. Honesty with God doesn’t mean you are always right, faithful or true. It is not about living a sinless life. Integrity is being genuine. Joy comes from obedience. Trusting God’s Word and doing what it says in plain and simple terms. Joy comes from living in full pursuit of Jesus Christ rather than having divided interests. Joy does not compromise for temporary happiness or comfortable relief. Joy is found in consistency.

Mother Teresa believed that “joy is prayer; joy is strength; joy is love; joy is the net of love by which you can catch souls.” I do not believe that anyone can be an effective witness for Jesus Christ and not be filled with the joy that comes from His Spirit living inside of us. Where is your joy today? Peace with God allows us to live according to the Word of God and not our feelings. What an awesome relief?

Psalm 1:1-3 (NLT) Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season.
Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.

Do you delight in the Word of God? Do you read it, study it or meditate on it each day? If not, why? The word “follow” occurs a lot when it comes to Jesus. We are to “follow” Him. Follow implies that we are going somewhere. Follow me, Jesus tells us. Why? For joy sake, we must learn to live a life of repentance in full pursuit of God’s Will through His Son, Jesus Christ. But why? Because those who do will prosper. God has given us the Holy Spirit who cultivates spiritual fruit. The Kingdom of God is internal working its way externally. Too many times, people are reliant on the five senses or how something makes them feel so they avoid inconvenience or discomfort to live their life in freedom.

“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!”  (Galatians 5:22-23) The Holy Spirit is put inside of us to clean out and cultivate our heart to do the Father’s Will. Joy is the second fruit of the Holy Spirit. Understanding that the enemy wants to steal, kill and destroy anything and everything that God is doing in us and for us, he will offer us compromises such as happiness for joy. Lust for love. The list goes on. How will we ever know the difference if we don’t know the Lord and His Will for us? We will fall for the enemy’s tricks every single time.

Psalm 16:9-11 (NLT) No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice. My body rests in safety. For you will not leave my soul among the dead or allow your holy one to rot in the grave. You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.

“Service which is rendered without joy helps neither the servant nor the served. But all other pleasures and possessions pale into nothingness before service which is rendered in the spirit of joy.” (Mahatma Gandhi) The Word of God shows us how to serve the Lord and follow in Jesus’ footsteps and the Holy Spirit feeds us the fruit of our labor including love, joy, peace and so on. To attempt to serve Jesus only from our flesh always leads to failure. You cannot go where you have not been without a map and/or guide. We have been given both.

Our life has a place in Jesus Christ. He wants to be our refuge and strength. The Word of God says clearly through Nehemiah that the “joy of the Lord is your strength.” He was the one who facilitated the rebuilding. We are building a kingdom. We must learn to seek the Kingdom of God and live for it today from the wellspring surging from our heart rather than serving the Lord with our head. He doesn’t care what you think. It matters what who we know. Services to God offered from any other motive but love and thankfulness will be rejected. “As I learn your righteous regulations, I will thank you by living as I should!”

Psalm 30:11-12 (NLT) You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy, that I might sing praises to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever!

The Lord will turn our mourning into joyful dancing. He will take over the clothes of mourning and replaces them with a robe of righteousness identifying us as a Child of God and the Bride of Jesus Christ. I know that somewhere along the way from sickness to healing with our son, I had to stop looking for happiness in the natural and take hold of joy by faith. I couldn’t rely on what I saw, heard or felt anymore because it all was hopeless.

God has promised me a hope that never leads to disappointment. I must invest my life in trusting and depending on my God allowing Him the opportunity to make good on His Promise that He will cause “everything to work together for the good of those who love” Him. Loving God leads to joy. It is the second fruit that is offered by His Spirit. If you do not have joy today, I have good news. It can still be found. Jesus has not left you and never forsakes us. My God has given me a future and hope that I must have faith to lay claim to. Faith that does not just sit in one place. I need follower’s faith that intends to lay claim to everything that the Lord has promised and will not stop until the wedding day comes. “I am overwhelmed with joy in the Lord my God! For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation and draped me in a robe of righteousness. I am like a bridegroom dressed for his wedding or a bride with her jewels.” (Isaiah 61:10)

Psalm 19:7-8 (NLT) The instructions of the Lord are perfect, reviving the soul.
The decrees of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The commandments of the Lord are right, bringing joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are clear, giving insight for living.

The psalmist admits “My heart is breaking as I remember how it used to be: I walked among the crowds of worshipers, leading a great procession to the house of God, singing for joy and giving thanks amid the sound of a great celebration! Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad?” Are you unhappy today? Is your heart breaking because it has lost its joy? Do you remember how it felt to praise God and worship Him but now something is missing? What is the solution?

“I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again—my Savior and my God!” Joy is a choice. It is a conscious decision to put all faith and trust in the Lord and keep it there. It is making time to open the Word of God – to read, study and meditate on it. Communing with His Spirit and making more room for Him in our heart and giving Him access to our mind freely and lovingly. Following Jesus is the only way to achieve the love, joy and peace that is promised otherwise we are living in contradiction that will not produce the Fruit we desire that can only come from the Lord like joy! Will you rejoice today? I hope so. Give the Lord your burdens. Choose to serve Him because you love Him. Live each moment of today praising God even if it means stifling some complaints. Maintain your freedom even if it means turning the other cheek or biting your tongue. Let the joy of the Lord overtake you as He revives your soul and renews your hope today!

Psalm 118:24 (NLT) This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it!

Enduring Freedom

Enduring Freedom

John 8:32-36 (NLT) And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” “But we are descendants of Abraham,” they said. “We have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean, ‘You will be set free’?” Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.

Well, after a long weekend of celebrating Independence Day including fireworks and festivities, it is back to the grind. The weekend was not anything extraordinary for our household. Preparations for the upcoming move kept us busy. While many of our family, friends, coworkers and acquaintances flooded our timelines and social media with pictures of their celebration of our country which allows us great freedoms. How did you exercise your freedom this weekend? Some will wake up with terrible headaches and certain ailments from overindulgences. Why would I even mention such a thing? Today is the morning after. It is the call to reckoning for a weekend spent. For some they will dread putting their feet on the floor to return to reality – what is your reality? Desperate for change a temporary escape leads back the bondage of drudgery. We live in a free country so why do so many people live in confinement. Confinement of purpose, bound by debt, consumed by consumerism, and all other society norms that drag us deeper and deeper into despair. How can we celebrate something that we do not live in? We are a free country. We are free people in Christ. Where is our liberty? Today. The morning after such a celebration before you step back into the rat race called normal life to pursue the elusive “American Dream”, may I remind you that there is a better way?

“And you will now the truth, and the truth will set you free.” There were some people who ventured to church this Sunday and maybe got a taste of the freedom Christ offers called grace. When they left the building, the enemy came and demanded their freedom from them by heaping guilt, shame and regret back on their shoulders which to those who don’t know or understand the full capacity of God’s Grace, Mercy and Love will responsibly take back on. We must learn to live in enduring freedom. Freedom founded in Christ and not available to the enemy. Jesus came to give us a rich and satisfying life that the enemy cannot touch. He opens the Gateway of Grace which allows us to come to Him freely and unrestrained by sin to enjoy the life that God planned for us. (John 10:9-10)

How does one remain free in the Grace of God through Jesus Christ? Freedom comes instantaneously in Jesus Christ but requires a relationship of consistency to maintain it. The Power and Authority of Christ as our Lord allows us to remain steadfast in His Grace and Love each day. Those who believe it will receive. We must know and understand the pathway to freedom and seek to maintain it each day. The grace given to me by accepting Jesus Christ as my Savior and seeking to make Him my Lord allows me open access to His Kingdom because His Grace is enough for me to walk boldly and confidently in His Presence and have the life and promises predestined for me before sin became a problem. The more I seek to maintain this freedom in my life the greater the potential of fulfillment I will find.

Ephesians 1:5-8 (NLT) God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.  

We are the sons and daughters of God. He adopted us because He wanted to and it brought Him great pleasure. He purchased our freedom with the Blood of His Son in rich loving kindness and grace. His Plan was never to make us slaves forced to do His Will and live a life of indebtedness, but rather God’s Desire for us was freedom to live according to His Will and achieve the highest standard of living called His Perfect Will. If God’s Will required perfect people, He would never have extended grace to us to fulfill it. It is His Grace given through Jesus that creates perfect unity and complete removal of all sin for the purpose of fulfillment in God.

Colossians 2:6-10 (NLT) And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ. For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority.

Acceptance of Christ is a cure all for sin. His Blood washes your sin as far as the east is from the west. BUT… I decide if His Grace is enough to maintain my freedom. Freedom from what? Sin. Guilt. Shame. Regret. Returning to the darkness. I believe that as a whole the Body of Christ must step up their discipleship game because men and women are falling away every day because of our folly in this area. We count heads at the altar but fail to accept them into the fold. We herd them into groups and programs but fail to meet them one-on-one get to know them beyond Sunday or the occasional Wednesday. We must continue to follow Jesus to have enduring freedom. As we follow, we should be leading, too.

“God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin.” (I Corinthians 1:30) The root of our connection to Christ is our relationship with Him. The deeper our bond to Jesus Christ and greater our love for Him, the less likely we become to fall into temptation or sin. His Word is the knowledge that becomes wisdom pointing out traps and snares along the way as His Experience and His Spirit become our guide. The lesser things in life become unappealing once we taste and see that the Lord is good. Christ is the ruler and authority over every other power that exists. Our partnership and union with Him allows us to live with power and authority in life. No longer searching for satisfaction, we live in constant hope and faithful commitment to Jesus knowing His Grace is enough to set us free and our relationship with Him keeps us that way.

How do I know that my roots are grounded in Christ? Easy. A tree is identified by its fruit. (Matthew 12:33) You will grow what you sow. Sow the Word faithfully and obediently in the Spirit and you will reap the Fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-23 classifies this produce as – love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. All these things are beneficial to us and those around us. Allowing the Spirit of God to work in us and through us will give us greater and greater freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17) as we surrender our life piece by piece to His Holy Inhabitation and Constant Cultivation as He completes His Work in us.

James 1:21-25 (NLT) So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls. But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.

Here is the social challenge with spiritual freedom – not every Christian believer has the same mindset. Religion muddies the water of our relationships because no one is in agreement. There are different set of rules and doctrine in each House of God. Young converts have no concept of Truth beyond what we teach them. If they do not see a clear picture of Jesus in our attitudes and actions, they will fall back on the world for acceptance. Nobody has it all together. No one gets it all right. We are imperfect people filled with a perfect God. He will make His Way out of those who successfully surrender their all to Jesus. It means not conforming to this world but allowing Christ to transform us from the inside out. Maybe…just maybe…if each believer reading this today took the time to concentrate on the Word, allowing the Spirit to produce a little more fruit, and focused on the Way, the Truth and the Life rather than comparing their spiritual productivity or lack thereof to others, maybe we would get somewhere in setting captives free.

“If you are standing strong, be careful not to fall.” (I Corinthians 10:12) The enemy is crafty and will use the Truth against those who do not fully believe it. For those who do not humble themselves before the Lord, the enemy uses pride to keep them believing they are good people who serve a good God. The same will starve from a lack of spiritual fruit. Without the grace of God humbly bestowed on us by Christ and accepted the same way – our freedom is compromised each day. Every day you will be tempted. It doesn’t matter how strong we think that we are in the Lord, there is daily temptation. What is the temptation? Sin. Anything in our life contrary to God’s Word, Will and Way is sin. We must strive to get rid of all “filth” in our life. Stinking thinking comes in all forms. To truly know who we are in Jesus Christ requires constant inspection of our heart and soul compared to His Word and guided by His Spirit. His Grace is enough for me. It is by His Grace that I have been set free. To live in that grace is enduring freedom.

2 Timothy 2:11-13 (NLT) This is a trustworthy saying: If we die with him, we will also live with him. If we endure hardship, we will reign with him. If we deny him, he will deny us. If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is.

What good is freedom if we cannot maintain it? Every captive desires to be free but some have forgotten how to live outside of confinement. Unless they learn to live freely, they will seek captivity again. Convicts who spend many years in penitentiaries have a difficult time assuming a normal life. Countries freed from dictatorship seek new leaders because they cannot live without it. Without a constant abiding relationship in Jesus Christ through His Word and Spirit, we will all do the same. Falling back into the darkness, stumbling over temptations, and letting go of His Grace that will always be more than enough to maintain their freedom. Are you free today? Is the freedom you found in Jesus Christ enduring?

“Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 24:12-13) We live in this world. Sin is rampant. Love is cold. Even the church is experience the chaotic and chilly conditions. The great thing about God’s Grace is that we receive new mercy each day (Lamentations 3:22-23) so if we have forfeited our freedom in some way, it is easily reclaimed. Failure is only fatal if we never seek freedom in Christ again. The Word of God promises that those who endure to the end will be saved. Enduring freedom comes to those who abide in Jesus Christ. Grace is the gateway to God’s Goodness. Jesus is the Gate. He has unlocked it but will you go through it. Freedom cannot be forced but merely accepted. Take time to evaluate the Fruit of God’s Spirit in your life today. Examine your heart for dark closed up spaces. Plant God’s Word in there today. Thrust open your thinking to the Light of His Love considering its possibilities and choosing Him first.

Psalm34:4-10 (NLT) I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears. Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken their faces. In my desperation I prayed, and the Lord listened; he saved me from all my troubles. For the angel of the Lord is a guard; he surrounds and defends all who fear him. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him! Fear the Lord, you his godly people, for those who fear him will have all they need. Even strong young lions sometimes go hungry, but those who trust in the Lord will lack no good thing.

Attracting Opposites

Two opposite magnetic poles attracting

Psalm 133 (NLT) How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony! For harmony is as precious as the anointing oil that was poured over Aaron’s head, that ran down his beard and onto the border of his robe. Harmony is as refreshing as the dew from Mount Hermon that falls on the mountains of Zion. And there the Lord has pronounced his blessing, even life everlasting.

Do opposites attract? I think so. While leads to conflict, but tends to thrive in resolution. I see it in the dynamics of our family. My husband and I are dramatically different. Yet somehow when we met there was an instant attraction. I am an extrovert. He is an introvert. I talk all the time. He is the shy, quiet type. Together – I think we are a match made in Heaven…most days anyway. My husband is my life partner. We made a commitment to live and love the rest of our lives together. Most days this commitment is very easy to honor. But there are some days that my selfish, prideful self tries to get in the way of the seamless love that the Lord creates in us as part of this marriage. Days when submission is tough. Times when I think I am right and do not want to relent.

Our children are no different. Each one their own individual with different personalities. As I have watched them grow up and develop their own relationships with each other, each one gravitates toward the sibling who is their opposite, too. The ones who are most like me tend to have closer bonds with their dad. The ones like dad seem to be bound to me most often. But let something go wrong, or someone come against one of us – the connection is clear. Don’t mess with our family. The love that has blended this family together is based on God’s Love. Love is commitment. God desires us to love each other and all others with the same kind of love. The kind of love that lays our heart down for one another. Even in opposition, it is time for us to connect and thrive in all our relations. Though we are opposites, it is clear we attract. We are life partners. We are family.

As I continue to pack our home preparing for the big move, memories are stirred up. I was putting the contents of some shelves in a box and read the sign in my hand. “You call it chaos. We call it family.” Welcome to my world. This group can definitely raise a ruckus. With two teenage girls, there are days I am a referee with a whistle or must resort to a water hose to cease the conflict between them. As we tear apart this house in preparation, I know that it is with great anticipation. This is the only home they have ever known. They are excited about what is coming but the newness brings about some worry and stress. As the mama of this dwindling brood, it is my job to maintain harmony and set the example of love.

Harmony is agreement, accord, or harmonious relations. In music, it is the compilation of sound into a beautiful melody and song. It reflects unity. It is peace. Musicians who play their own notes and choose their own keys create clamor. If they are unwilling to join in with the others, it is clear to the audience. Love is not self-seeking. It is not prideful. People are though. We want our way every day in just about every way. It is clear in our friendships, families, work places and, yes, even in the church that there are many marching to the beat of their own drum rather than listening to the heart beat of God seeking to join His Song.

God loves it when His Children live in harmony joined by peace. Yet the composure of people is a difficult task. Each one must come with their own offering in order to join in one accord. Opposites attract but the coming together can be a struggle when dominated by opinion and pride. The Lord is reminding us today that He loves harmony among us. All of us. It provokes His Blessing in such a place…any place…dominated by unity. The commonality in our life is God’s Love demonstrated in the Sacrifice of His Son that dispensed grace in abounding measure so that we could love, forgive and bind together is His Greatest Desire.

Ephesians 1:4-6 (NLT) Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son.

After years of craziness of a house filled with kids, now it is quiet as three have left our nest. When they all are together, I watch the older ones care and concern for their younger siblings and it melts my heart. When they love and encourage one another, it gives me such joy and peace. Their interaction with one another, though loud and obnoxious sometimes, clearly demonstrates their dedication to one another. I wonder if that is how the Lord feels when we love and care for one another. It has to be. He chose us to be His Children. God didn’t differentiate. He created us all with the desire for us to join His Family and live in His Kingdom. Human beings are the ones who keep choosing to love and devote themselves to lesser things. He poured out His Grace because it is His Greatest Pleasure to have us with him.

Ephesians 2:14-18 (NLT) For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.

My husband and I have been married for seventeen years. For more than a decade, we have worked together to keep this thing together. My number one tip for anyone who desires to be married is this – don’t even bother without Jesus. When two self-centered human begins try to form a partnership – things get messy. We need someone who will come between us giving us knowledge, wisdom and discernment. The person who you are dating will change into someone completely different when you share life with them, live with them, work beside them and have children. The personalities introduced to the mix only adds to the conflict. Commitment is the key. First commitment to Christ and then a commitment to others.

We must reconcile our life to Christ every day in order to find harmony in all other relationships. I am human. I have flesh. I definitely know that there is pride in me that seeks to tear apart the connections that Christ has placed in my life. When Jesus became our Savior, He gives us His Spirit. We become family. The church must learn to blend the family of God into the Body of Jesus Christ. Dominated by grace. Overwhelming love. Abounding in generosity. Giving ourselves completely to be life partners with every other Child of God. This is God’s Desire for us.

I Peter 2:16-17 (NLT) For you are free, yet you are God’s slaves, so don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do evil. Respect everyone, and love the family of believers. Fear God, and respect the king.

Jesus Christ laid down His Life for me. He stepped out of His Place seated on a throne to establish the Grace I needed but could not afford so I could live with Him forever. How do we become prideful in such a state? I don’t know but we do. Our relationship to Christ is solely based on what Jesus can do for me. It has nothing to do with anything I can do for Him. Christians exemplify pride in our religion and traditions much like the Pharisees. Church is a secret club one must be initiated into rather than putting out the “Whosoever Will Come” sign and meaning it. Jesus reminds us today that we indeed are free. Who the Son sets free is free is free indeed. How are you using your freedom today?

Don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do evil. Respect everyone. Two words that crumble our resolve in that it is clear human beings do not respect one another let alone everyone. Respect is esteem for the worth of a person. Christ died for everyone. We are told to respect everyone. Why aren’t we doing it? Love the family of believers. This is not just your current congregation but every single person who believes… even if it is not exactly like you do and they do not have the same practices as you. Fear God. To fear the Lord is to avoid sin and darkness at all costs including living a loveless life of self-seeking ventures. Comparing spiritual gifts with one another is no different than being jealous of the neighbor’s new car or boat. It is all from a source of pride. You either want what they have or judge them for having it.

I Corinthians 13:4-7 (NLT) Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

The love suggested in I Corinthians 13 leads to harmony and peace with all mankind. True love has nothing to do with us but everything to do with Who first loved us. My love is tainted. It is skewed. It is imperfect and often has hidden conditions. The Love of God in us has certain attributes that allow us to evaluate our love for one another according to God’s Standard of Loving. If we get it right, we will live in an everlasting covenant that extends our life forever.

Proverbs 16:18 (NLT) Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall.

Pride will destroy relationships and become a barrier of love if we allow it to. Pride crushes other people beneath our glares, opinions, need to be right and desire to be better than the very one that Christ led us to bond with. (Psalm 73:8) Arrogance is the acid that bubbles into conflict. Creating roots of bitterness that will kill the entire creative work that God is doing in us and through us. (Proverbs 13:10) Conflict builds walls while harmony brings them crashing down. Finally and maybe most important to note is that the Word of God clearly states that He will not tolerate those who slander their neighbor due to pride and conceit. (Psalm 101:5)

I John 3:9-10 (NLT) Those who have been born into God’s family do not make a practice of sinning, because God’s life is in them. So they can’t keep on sinning, because they are children of God. So now we can tell who are Children of God and who are children of the devil. Anyone who does not live righteously and does not love other believers does not belong to God.

Righteous living is dominated by love. When our sons became teenagers developing an interest in girls, I was clear that they were to respect these young ladies. Treating them as though they were their own sisters. I believe that this advice applies to all our interactions in life with all people. God desires it of us. To love one another completely and committedly. Our boys are fiercely protective of their sisters. My hope is that when they are in the company of a date that this image comes to their mind that she is a Daughter of God and meant to be treated as such. As their mom, it is my job to lead by example. Do I treat my spouse as a Child of the Living God? Do I treat my own children that way? Do I treat others including my enemies as such? We are all bought with the same blood. Jesus died for us all on the very same day. His Intentions was that all might be saved. When I encounter people today, Lord let me see them as you do. We are all life partners reaching for forever and easing toward Eternity. God didn’t make us all look the same for a reason. Opposites attract because there is comfort in the fulfilment of our weakness by another. Ultimately it is the Grace of God demonstrated by His Son and the outpouring of His Spirit that bind us all together in love. We must strive to be the example of love in all things. Not human love, but amazing love like Jesus. Share your faith with another and introduce them to hope. Be a grace giver not a grudger. Be loving not judgmental. Be good to someone today just like our Father is good. Be sure that no one is left behind for the enemy is real and looking for the one who we forget. (I Peter 5:8-9) Learn to live as life partners with everyone in love with Jesus. There is a harvest of blessing awaiting those who choose to sow in love daily.

Galatians 6:9-10 (NLT) So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.

 

Breathless

Breathless

Matthew 16:24-26 (NLT) Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?

I love praise and worship. To begin with a simple song, and get lost in His Presence erases the burdens of the day filling the heart and mind with freedom all over again. A room full of people evaporate into a moment of just us – the Lord and I. If you haven’t experienced such a time in the Presence of God – I highly recommend it. With my eyes closed lost in His Love, the worship leader made a statement something like, “When you woke up this morning, the Lord was there with you, but what if He wasn’t?” My heart stopped. I couldn’t find another breath. It was unthinkable to comprehend a morning without Him let alone a whole day. I am too far gone in this thing called faith. Somewhere in the last few years, my life has become unmanageable without the Holy Spirit in me, filling me, holding me and keeping me. It was a defining moment. Just an ordinary midweek service in a little church in the woods, but nevertheless no less motivating than that which thrust Peter from a boat in the midst of the storm. Maybe this is what it means the deep cries out to deep.

If you want to be my follower…Jesus didn’t force us to go after Him. He invites us into His Presence but does not push or shove us to go. He just tells how to do it, and makes the way clear with unconditional love, overwhelming grace and new mercy each day to accompany us on our journey. We must decide to start. The steps are clear and uncomplicated. You must give up your own way. Take up your cross. Follow me. We are the ones who make it more difficult than it really is. With fancy religion, outdated tradition, and overrated opinions creating methods that do not lead us into the Presence of God or create a lasting relationship with Jesus Christ. In the end, there is nothing. A fathomless void of empty promises sealed with regret.

To save our life, we must lose it. What does it benefit me if I gain the whole world, but lose my soul? Is anything worth more than my soul? Not to Jesus. He died to rescue our soul, the essence of our being that makes it to eternity. My body will die. Everything I own turn to rubble. It is my soul that must prosper. As He breathes new life in me day by day, I find that I am no longer breathing on my own.

John 14:6 (NLT) Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. 

I have a friend who grew up in the Greek Orthodox. She knew of God. Heavily immersed in the teachings of her church, it was something she did not about someone she knew. It was when the Lord heard her cries and answered, “No one can come to the Father except through me” that she finally accepted the grace that is sufficient to allow us access into God’s Presence again. The doorway opened by faith and maintained by hope can never be closed again by anyone but those who possess it. Jesus is the Way. He is the Truth (Word of God). He is the life (His Spirit). All these qualities wrapped in a love so great and inconceivable even those who receive it seldom know what to do with it.

Repentance is truly the giving up of our way to walk through life the Lord’s Way. I cannot step into right standing with God or come to Him boldly outside the covering of grace given to me by Jesus. I cannot follow another without surrendering my way. People are not given to surrender or submission. It is a sign of weakness in society but God uses such things to confuse the enemy. Jesus is the only way. I was talking to a very nice gentleman who belongs to a certain fellowship that believes that life is a journey to God. It doesn’t matter what path you choose – you will get there. Believing only that one must be a good person and give their life to others it leads to Heaven. That is not what God’s Word says, and you cannot change it without nullifying the whole thing as tainted to truth which becomes a fallacy. He missed it. They all missed it. Studying the Bible yet not surrendering one’s way leads to darkness. Compromise is of this world, a new life in Christ is bound by commitment. It is the only way that our faith become the key that unlocks His Kingdom for us.

John MacArthur defined the first step of discipleship as self-denial. He said, “Discipleship is on God’s Terms, just as coming to Him is on His Terms. The Lord here reminds us that the key discipleship principle of wining by losing involves self-denial, cross-bearing, and loyal obedience.” The word “deny” is from aparneomai which means to completely disown, to utterly separate oneself from someone. This is the kind of denial a believer is to make regarding self. To utterly disown and refuse to acknowledge one’s old self. Arthur Pink wrote, “Growth in grace is growth downward; it is the forming of a lower estimate of ourselves; it is a deepening realization of our nothingness; it is a heartfelt recognition that we are not worthy of the least of God’s mercies.” It is in the midst of such revelation that one can move on to take up our cross.

Galatians 2:20-21(NLT)My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.

How do I take up my cross? John MacArthur relate that this “is simply to be willing to pay any price for Christ’s sake. It is the willingness to endure shame, embarrassment, reproach, rejection, persecution, and even martyrdom for His Sake.” Early followers understood the concept of the cross because they watched people carry the load of it all the way to their death naturally, physically and visually daily. During the lifetime of Christ alone, it is estimated that there were about 30,000 crucifixions that took place. MacArthur goes on to share to take up our cross for the Lord as His Disciple is to begin a death march through this world. In fact he sums it up quite nicely as “To come to Jesus Christ for salvation is not to raise a hand or sign a card, although such things may sometimes play a part. To come to Jesus Christ is to come to the end of self and sin and to become so desirous of Christ and His righteousness that one will make any sacrifice for Him.”

My old self is crucified with Christ. The process is complete but my transformation is not. Each day the Lord reveals more and more to be sacrificed and surrendered to His Love, Grace and Mercy. To complete this journey of genuine faith and confident hope means that I must continue to follow Christ with my cross by my side to nail every passion, desire and intent outside of His Way and keep moving as instructed. The cross represents the suffering I will face in my pursuit of Christ. Christ does not call us to His Side to make life easy and prosperous but to make us holy and productive. This will result in complete peace and satisfaction in our acquisition of the life that He planned for us.

Matthew 10:37-38 (NLT) “If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine.

In the children’s movie, “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town”, the character known as Winter Warlock wants to leave his evil ways behind but cannot seem to find his way. Kris Kringle attempts to help him with the song, “Put One Foot in Front of the Other.” It goes like this – Put one foot in front of the other and soon you’ll be walking ‘cross the floor. Put one foot in front of the other and soon you’ll be walking out the door.” One step turns into another and another. Change of direction is formed one footstep at a time. I hope you are not offended by this analogy. But rather than making following Christ so difficult, why not keep it simple? It truly is basic. Deciding with a single footstep and continuing with each footfall to follow Jesus. That’s really all there is to it. Change is always overwhelming. Comfort is compromised when our Call is Christ. I didn’t say it wasn’t hard. In fact, it challenges me every single day in each choice I make to choose Christ, His Way and His Word. But it is worth it…oh so worth it.

To follow Christ may mean leaving others behind. It is a radical transition from death to life that some people will not embrace. Love them. Lead them. Pray for them. You have to keep moving closer in obedience each and every day to reach the full potential God placed in your life and achieve the purpose for which He has called you. So what does this have to do with anything from the worship experience? It means everything and here’s why.

Ephesians 3:17-20 (NLT) Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.

About halfway through our son’s battle with cancer, I think around the third and most heavily involved relapse, I reached the end of me. The distance between God and man became too wide to live on both sides any longer. Each conversation laced in pity. The treatment plan now involved the word “death”. In our faith and medically, just about the time it looked like we had won only to discover it was fighting back harder and stronger almost smarter each time. Just about the time, a glimmer of hope began to shine it was threatened by insurance. I don’t know what happened or exactly how it did or the precise moment of transition but somewhere in the mix of chaotic details, I detached from reality and grabbed faith with both hands. I couldn’t straddle the fence, I was forced to choose who to believe and to follow. I think we all come to that inevitable moment when we can no longer serve God and this world. In that moment a choice is made that will change our life forever…at least it did mine.

The moment of truth comes when we must answer the call to deeper things of God. Not the occasion run for the altar or shedding of some tears, but the moment that we finally disconnect from faith in anything or anyone other than Jesus. It is a traumatic event to completely surrender one’s faith and life to the Lord. However, what I found in that moment when I could not bear the details of my life any longer that His Response was unfathomable and endless love for me. He filled all the empty spaces and cavernous voids left in the process of refinement when all the worthless things in my life were burned away to reveal fresh ground for new faith.

How did it begin? Not the moment my heart was shattered along with every sense of security I had when they told me that he had cancer. It was not in the complete undoing of my perception of life to accept the reality of Christ found in our crisis. It began when I made the commitment to give up my life, take up my cross and follow Him. It was not spectacular in production just the simple choice to put one foot in front of the other again and again. When I came to the end of myself, Jesus was waiting. Diving into the depths of His Love, I still struggle to fully understand this encounter. When Christ completes us, it leaves us breathless to try imagine life without Him immersed in His Love. He wants you to experience the width, length, height, and depth of His Love for you. You must come to Jesus. Do things His Way. Take up your cross laying down your life and decide to follow Him no matter what the cost. Nothing more or less will do. In exchange for your life, He gives us His Glory. Through His Mighty Power at work in us, the Lord will accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. This is His Promise to me. This is His Promise for you. Yes, it leaves me breathless.

Job 33:4 (NLT) For the Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.

This is the air I breathe, this is the air I breathe, Your Holy Presence living in me. This is my daily bread. This is my daily bread. Your very Word spoken to me. And I’m desperate for you, and I’m lost without you! – Breathe by Michael W. Smith

Wealth of Worry

Wealth of Worry

Matthew 6:33-34 (NLT) Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

After months of cleaning, organizing and showing our home, we now have a contract or pending sale. Not only that, we found our new home which is perfect for us. Well, it really is just like the one being left behind just a better location. With the primary focus of our weekend gone and our realtor and banker handling all the details, I find myself without a pressing issue this weekend. Of course, there is packing and a garage sale to prepare for but right now… today… and this weekend, I really have nothing that I have to do. Now what? I am of the Martha nature. I used to fill every single moment of my life with what I didn’t do, what I needed to do, and what had to be done. How about you? Did you know that this is also called worry? It is the primary source of stress. The enemy doesn’t level us with bombs. He buries us in stuff. Stuff to do. Stuff we need. Stuff we want. Stuff, stuff and more stuff. That is until there is the straw that breaks the camel’s back crushing us under cares and burdens that were never ours to bear. I am guilty as charged.

When I got up this morning, I commented to my husband how weird it was not to have anything to do. Longing for that thing called boredom, we nagged about as kids. Yet when I linger too long in the morning wrapped up in my comfy bed or stay in my pj’s something comes over me. A feeling of guilt. I am wasting time, precious time that cannot be reclaimed. We are by nature doers who evaluate our success and failure in life by our ability to overload it and manage it successfully. I think Christians are the worst. Just knowing Jesus makes me feel unworthy and the need to do something, anything just to give back. The truth is that His Grace is sufficient for me but I do not feel sufficient for Him. You know what? That’s my problem. Is it yours, too?

This is not a message for those who are lazy and irresponsible but a gentle whisper from the still small voice that meets us in exhaustion when we are overwhelmed and stressed. Like the Lord spoke to Elijah, He still speaks to us now, “What are you doing here?” We are called to a place of rest. As believers, we have the Mind of Christ which should be settled and secure in all things by faith and trust in the Lord’s Ability to call all things finished which was His Statement on the Cross. Recently a friend went on vacation, a godly woman who is very heavily immersed in ministry in our church. She went to the beach. Her place of natural peace and tranquility. She posted on social media upon her return of all the things she accomplished in the remaining hours since from her getaway. Yet now she needed another mini vacation. I believe that somehow this describes the inner struggle of many believers who love the Lord and feel the overwhelming and pressing need to serve Him well. He wants more than our time. He gave us our talent so there is nothing to prove. He wants to be the treasure of our heart. Jesus wants to be the One Thing who we cannot live without. He wants us to seek His Kingdom above all other things. It is a place of peace. In His Presence, there is rest.

Psalm 27:4-5 (NLT) The one thing I ask of the Lord—the thing I seek most—is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, delighting in the Lord’s perfections and meditating in his Temple. For he will conceal me there when troubles come; he will hide me in his sanctuary. He will place me out of reach on a high rock.

One thing. Lord, let it be about one thing today. Not everything. Although professing faith and trust in the Lord, it is human nature to worry and stress in our doing. It is the standard measure of the world. Hard work. We admire it. Hard work and motivation are key qualities and assets in workers. It’s true. The Kingdom needs dedicated and committed laborers. Where are they? Worn out. Stressed out. Overwrought. Torn in too many directions.

A very wise man once gave an illustration to a youth group. He had a jar and an array of rocks, pebbles and gravel strewn across the table. He asked the kids if they thought all of the contents would fit in the jar. There were varying opinions and many tried unsuccessfully to fill it up. He took the large rock much bigger than everything else and put in first. Next he carefully arranged all the moderately sized pebbles around it. Finally, he poured the gravel in and it fit all the tiny spaces created by the contents of the jar. His message was “one thing”. Jesus is the One Thing that is most important to center our life around. There will be issues, problems, heartache and situations that take precedent in our life evidenced by all the pebbles placed in the glass around the big rock. Then there are all the light, momentary, temporary things that don’t really matter but are allowed by us to take residence in our life. Some will fit and some will fall away unnoticed. As long as Jesus is the One Thing we seek, the most important priority in our life, who fills each day with His Presence every “thing” else will fit together just fine.

Is your life utter chaos? Not God’s Plan. Do have trouble resting when it’s not? That’s not God either. God created human beings to have dominion over the earth and everything in it. Sin interrupted the tranquility of life offering compromises for our time, talent and treasure. It is when we invest all these commodities back to One Thing – seeking the Kingdom more than anything else that we will see the harvest of love, joy and true peace that comes from living in His Presence all the time.

Luke 12:25-27 (NLT) Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And if worry can’t accomplish a little thing like that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things?

The wealth of worry is an impoverished soul. Worry is the result of unresolved doubt that produces fear. Fear is really just the perception of a lie becoming a reality if only in our mind it is debilitating. There are people literally held captive and do not live based on fear and anxiety that is perceived and never a reality. Is that you? Are you afraid to stop? Are you too worried to let go? Is fear eroding your faith without even knowing it? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? No, in fact it is stealing precious time each day that could be wisely invested into things that count like prayer, praise, and worshipping the Lord. If worry cannot add one minute to our existence, why is it so worthy of it? It’s not. I am worried today that if I do nothing that I will waste the day. How silly is that? Where is the Sabbath, sojourn, and Selah called rest and peace? Being eaten up by the lie that I can do something apart from Christ.

I Corinthians 7:20-22 (NLT) Yes, each of you should remain as you were when God called you. Are you a slave? Don’t let that worry you—but if you get a chance to be free, take it. And remember, if you were a slave when the Lord called you, you are now free in the Lord. And if you were free when the Lord called you, you are now a slave of Christ.

By surrendering our life to Jesus Christ to be saved from our sin, a Child of God is no longer in bondage or slavery to sin. Sin was the only thing keeping us from God’s Presence. Now through Jesus, we have total access into His Presence each day. It is this very privilege that by His Grace we can come boldly to His Throne each day and live there. Because Christ paid a debt that I could not afford and can never repay, I am a slave of Christ and He has set me free. Free from worry, stress, fear and even doing all the time. He invites me to enter this foreign place called rest. Until I am able to achieve peace and rest in Jesus Christ, I have not chosen freedom for myself. Jesus offers it each day with the gift of mercy for all those times I didn’t trust Him enough to stop worrying about everything and trying to do it all. I think He smiles at my ignorance with a sideways grin saying, “You wanna try again?” The Lord offers us freedom each day and in every choice by offering to take care of it. What is my response? Freedom is achieved when we enter His Rest choosing above all things to live in the love, joy and peace. Total trust allows us to take time off, sit back and relax – not just physically but mentally, too. Jesus said it is finished. His Death and Resurrection did it all. He gave us everything when He released His Spirit for our benefit and blessing. What better way to honor that sacrifice than to try to trust Him a little more? We have been given a chance called freedom. We should take it.

Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT) Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Don’t worry about anything. Worry can be hidden in good intentions and worthwhile activity. However, God has called us to a place of rest. It’s funny because our body will just give out. When our human strength has reached its limit, it ceases to cooperate with our brain. A person will literally collapse with exhaustion. Since our son has been healed, he will literally just fall asleep without notice for his body to recharge. Maybe that is why the Word of God speaks about peace that guards our heart and mind as we live for Christ. This is not talking to the lost and dying but the saved and sanctified who are worrying about things that don’t matter.

Getting a glimpse of this place called rest, to know a moment of God’s Perfect Peace will make you want it more. There is a faithful exchange that must be made to have such a life. We must diligently stop worrying about anything and everything. It doesn’t matter how much of our life that is given to ministry, missions and sharing the Gospel – worry tells us that there is still fear and disbelief hidden deep inside our heart, mind or soul. It must be rooted out and pulled up completely so that His Love can flow deeper as we become grounded in His Amazing Love. His Grace is sufficient for you today. His Power lives inside of you looking for a way out. It only happens by moving out of the way and allowing the Lord to rule and reign over every worry, care and burden. If you have nothing to do today, you are blessed. Rest in your blessing and stop trying to find something “worthwhile” to do. Just bask in His Presence. If you have too many things to do, maybe it’s time to take a minute to evaluate the contents to be certain that Jesus is the Center of it all.

Colossians 2:6-10 (NLT) And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ. For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority.

Lost Contact

Lost Contact

Matthew 7:1-6 (NIV) “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. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

 

About a year ago, I began wearing contact lenses. Tired of my glasses, it was time for a change. After the first couple of days of attempting to stick something in my eye which did not seem amenable to my doing so, it was a piece of cake. I have enjoyed them tremendously… until last night. Sundays are very long days. By the time, we finally make it home and eat some dinner. I am ready for a hot shower and bed. As I was attempting to remove my contacts which has always been a breeze, I lost one. No seriously after digging and rubbing my eyeball for an hour, I cannot find it. I don’t know if it is still in my eye, or worked its way out but my eye is screaming this morning. It is swollen, red and very irritated. Flooding it with eye drops, I cannot even gently touch it today without intense pain. Why wouldn’t I immediately seek the Lord and anything that might offer relief? I went straight to Matthew 7 this morning.

 

The plank in the eye story about judgment has always been a warning against self-righteous indignation when we decide that the behavior or actions of another are not worthy of the same grace that God gave us so we judge them according to their actions and not the grace given to us by Jesus Christ. There is a strong warning for God’s People who judge other people. Good judgment is not the problem at all. In fact, Jesus has given us the Holy Spirit to give us discernment. (I Corinthians 2:10-11) God’s Ways are not like our ways. God’s Word will never return to Him void or not accomplishing exactly what God intended it to do. (Isaiah 5:8-10) The Word of God is quite clear that “whoever hears my (God’s) word and believes him sent me (Jesus) and will not be judged but passes from death to life.” (John 5:24) It is human nature to add to the context of obedience and raise the bar of life, but it is not God’s Way. His Word is complete all by itself. (Ecclesiastes 3:14) Jesus said, “It is finished” and He meant that it is done.

 

Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV) For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork (masterpiece), created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

 

We are saved by grace through faith. There is no other way to the Father but by the Son. (John 14:6) Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Let’s talk just a little bit about that today. We all know and understand Matthew 7 when it talks about other people but I believe that if God’s People would seek discernment and allow the Holy Spirit to make our hope confident that this problem with judging one another might get nipped in the bud. Comparison to anyone other than Jesus Christ is a joy-killer and prosperity ender. Your life is unique. You are referred to as “God’s Masterpiece”. It is not only how we judge others but how we judge ourselves. Most of the time I expect more of myself than anyone else. I put my expectations in others that should be solely grounded in God’s Love and His Grace. When I decide that others are not worry of God’s Grace. I am judging them. When I am certain I have overstepped my bounds and must do something to further achieve God’s Grace as well, I am judging myself.

 

What is judgment anyway? Judgment is the ability to judge or make a decision. It is to form an opinion objectively (not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice) but based solely on facts. When we overcome human thinking and stand on the Truth according to God’s Word, we develop good judgment not based on the attitudes and actions of others but on the basis of Jesus Christ and the faith that we have in Him. We believe and are confident that the hope we have in the Lord far out measures and outweighs worldly opinions. Judgment or discernment is not a bad thing. It is when we decide to judge in the absence of grace that it gains a negative connotation.

 

There are three products of judgment that can be problematic in our life. Oppression, offenses, and opinions hold no power over us except what is given. They are three bully clubs that we use on others, as well as, ourselves. They all stem from lies and deceptions from the author of confusion. In order to overcome these three culprits, it is optimal to pull apart our thoughts and rip open our mind to examine the contents. When we find these three weed seeds, it is best to tear them out immediately or they surely will destroy us from the inside out beginning with bitterness and strife.

 

Psalm 119:130-135 (NIV) The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. I open my mouth and pant, longing for your commands. Turn to me and have mercy on me, as you always do to those who love your name. Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me. Redeem me from human oppression, that I may obey your precepts. Make your face shine on your servant and teach me your decrees.

 

Judgment of others and self-condemnation begins with unrealistic expectations based on lack of knowledge. They have been a great gift (salvation) but not taken the time to read the directions so all the wonderful benefits sit in the box waiting to be used. Not many people take the time to study God’s Word each day and pack in knowledge that feeds discernment and starves ignorance. To oppress means to burden with cruel and unjust impositions or restraints. It makes one subject to a burdensome or harsh exercise. We cannot earn grace. It is a God-given gift. We are called to love – one another and our self. Poor judgment based on a lack of knowledge is foolishness that fastens the shackles of oppression on the arms of God’s People. We must seek the Word of God to know the Way of God. We must walk in the Way of God to have God’s Will. Whom the Son sets free is free indeed. (John 8:36) The Truth has the ability to establish freedom in your life today. (John 8:32) The Lord desires to free us today from ignorance and the oppression of poor judgment. (Psalm 146:6-8)

 

Proverbs 19:11 (NIV) A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.

 

Are you offended today? Are you harboring unforgiveness? To withhold forgiveness from another person is a form of judgment that hinders us. It takes us captive allowing the other person to remain free. 2 Samuel 25 is the story of David, Abigail and Nabal. Nabal offended David greatly and David was ready to settle the score. But Nabal’s wife was a wise woman and the moment that she heard of Nabal’s offending words and actions to David, she sprang into action preparing provisions going to David to personally offer forgiveness for her husband’s foolish offense. David accepted her gift and Abigail’s people were saved as well. What if we were so quick to respond? Would it remove the cloud of offense that hangs over the church today? People get offended so they leave. They carry that baggage to the next place they go and add to it until one day they are sitting at home alone with offense built up as a wall all around them. Do not judge them it could be you. Just because you are right does not give you the right to be offended.

 

The word “offend” means to irritate, annoy or anger. It is to cause resentment or displeasure. Clearly that is not the cause of Jesus Christ or the outcome He desires in our life or for His Kingdom. Offense is the offering of pride that exalts itself over the humble spirit of salvation and grace. It demands its own way and accountability for all actions except those of self. By choosing to foster love and grace in our life, it will cover every offense. (Proverbs 17:9) Calmness and patience will lay great offenses to rest (Ecclesiastes 10:4) so we can politely step over them and keep following Christ.

 

Proverbs 18:2 (NIV) Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.

 

An opinion is a belief or judgment that rests on grounds insufficient to produce complete certainty. It is often based on how we feel not what we know. It is not a secure position. Yet, many people will base their life and future on the opinions of other people. Public opinion is the devil’s fodder because it is an emotional reaction and not an eternal response. My tongue contains the power of life and death. The contents of my heart determine the overflow and potential in each word using my breath to resurrection my life and purpose or slowing kill it in doubt, fear and worry born of disbelief.

 

Matthew 7:1-5 warns of the dangers of poor judgment, lacking judgment or misplaced judgment. We are all guilty of it. This threat stems from ignorance. The more we study the Word of God, pray and seek out His Spirit for discernment – the better equipped we become at avoiding things like oppression, offense and powerful opinions. We have everything we need for a life of godliness. His Divine Power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Peter 1:3) Sometimes we forget the Gift of God that we have been given but His Word reminds us and His Spirit confirms it. We must use the Word of God as the sharp, two-edge sword that it is to allow the Holy Spirit to penetrate our soul and spirit and rightly divide us from things life oppressive, offensive and opinionated thoughts so that we can live in the freedom given to us by Jesus. (Hebrews 4:12) We cannot judge others when love and life abound in us. We cannot see our old selves when overshadowed by God’s Love, Affirmation and Approval. If we could just get the enemy out of our head and under our feet, we would come to know and realize that we have the power to walk in victory every day from glory to glory in Jesus Christ. Maybe this is how we stop giving dogs what is sacred, and allow the pigs to trample our pearls, by taking captive every single thought that creates strongholds in us like oppression, offensiveness and opinions.

 

2 Corinthians 10:3-5 (NIV) For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

 

The enemy strives to make people believe that God’s Grace is not sufficient. He twists and turns every word God has ever spoken to use against God’s Children. The truth is that the enemy is the author of confusion. He lies ruthlessly and without regret. If he can access a human thought or make his way into our mind, he will do so. Sin begins with a lie. Always. Jesus overcame the lie of the enemy when he was tempted by him. When we allow our thoughts to be sifted like wheat by the enemy lacking confidence that comes from faith in God and a personal pursuit to know who we are in Christ and who He is to us, we become subject to poor vision. We lack discernment so even when we look in the mirror, the reflection is altered. The glass is cloudy enough without adding objects like oppression, offense and opinions to block our view and vision of God’s Plan and Purpose for our life. My contacts help me see clearly. However, when it did not come out as expected last night rather than being patient, I began to dig in my eye relentlessly. So much so that now my eye is swollen and irritated. I am not sure if the contact is still in there or not. Today I must be patient. I must allow the eye drops to calm the irritated state of my pupil. Maybe the contact has already worked its way out and I need to just allow it my eye to rest. Nevertheless, I have learned a valuable lesson.

 

God is definitely not finished with us yet. If our purpose was accomplished and plan fully achieved, He would be calling us home or coming to get us. Since we are alive and breathing, it means the process is still ongoing. Lord, forgive me for judging others. As I strive daily not to do so, let me not turn on myself. God’s Grace is sufficient for me. Let me fix my thoughts on you today. Slam the windows and doors of my heart and mind to the enemy’s lies and open my soul and spirit to more of you. I ask the Holy Spirit to continue to cultivate good fruit and remind me of who I am to You, Lord! Fix my eyes on you, Jesus and if you see fit to do so fixing my eye would be awesome but if not right this minute let it be a reminder of where my faith belongs along with all expectation and who my Living Hope is – it’s you Jesus. May I be fully consumed mind, soul and body with your Love and Grace – not only sharing it with others but understanding it is for me too!  God loves you today. Jesus is passionately pursuing us ready to overtake us with His Lovingkindness. The enemy is a liar. You have the victory. You are an overcomer. It doesn’t matter what you think or what others may say! You win! What’s blocking your view?

 

Philippians 4:6-8 (NIV) For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

Generous Soul

Close up on water pouring from watering can onto blooming flower bed

Proverbs 11:25 (NKJV)

The generous soul will be made rich and he who waters will also be watered himself.

As I begin to go through the closets, drawers and cupboards of our house preparing to sell our house, I find though I think my lifestyle is minimalistic, I am a borderline hoarder. Ok, not really but as the mounds of unwanted, outgrown, unused and forgotten “stuff” accumulates I realize that maybe just maybe all the times I thought that I had nothing to give it was actually hidden in my drawer, closet or high on a shelf. It is easy to give what we no longer find of value or worth. I do not think twice about the things I leave behind at the nearest charity. I am simply cleaning out my house. This is not generosity. It is not giving of ourselves. In fact, it is purely selfish in motive. We tie the word “generous” and even “charity” to our things. It has very little to do with what we have to give physically but is more characteristic of who we are becoming spiritually.

Our daughter’s birthday is today. We celebrated last Friday night. At the end of the party, I had a plethora of food leftover. There were plenty of s’more fixings so I gave it to the youth pastor for the upcoming movie night. Sunday night the remaining cupcakes induced a frenzy at the youth service. I divided the remaining barbeque to feed three households. I shared what I had. Was this the result of a generous soul? Not really. What was I going to do with a mound of marshmallows, chocolate bars and graham crackers but no place to build a bonfire for roasting? Cupcakes are not on my diet plan. My refrigerator could not store all the meat and it was just going to waste. Do you see my dilemma? Was I giving of my heart or of my overflow? Too many times, we stop giving when it becomes inconvenient or uncomfortable. If it is too personal or too much, we take one step back from sacrifice to remain at ease.

To be completely honest, it is easier to give what we have rather than who we are to people. Relationships are messing. People have problems. If I can ease their way or give them “something” they need, it will make things better right? Maybe for that moment or in that situation, but God didn’t call us to live a generous life. He invites us to live with a generous soul.

Matthew 6:1-4 (NKJV)

“Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.”

To do a charitable deed is not a bad thing. It is a good thing. To make it a God thing, it must be wrapped in His Love. If your gift makes a way for you to share the Love of Jesus with someone else rather than drawing any kind of attention to you as a person, it is profitable to our soul. What is charity? Charity is God’s Agape Love. Agape love is the love of believers for other people corresponding with the Love of God for mankind. It is unselfish love for others as Christ loves us. To truly have a generous soul, it must move from our hand to our heart. To see what we have as a key to open doors so that the Light of God’s Love can permeate the darkness in others. If we give for recognition, it is not from our relationship with Jesus Christ. To give of anything other than ourselves is good. To give ourselves is God.

I Corinthians 13:1-3 (NKJV)

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

Looking at the “things” piling up in the office and thinking about what to do with them, I realize that my original intentions to “bless” someone is not enough. If I do not take the time to share the Love of God with them, talk to them, get to them, share their struggles and help them along the way – love is not a part of this offering. I can give everything I own away but it means nothing more than a burnt offering in my backyard to an unknown god if I do not cover it, smother it, and infuse it with love. God’s Love. The kind of love that I have been given with the grace that goes with it and the understanding that I have come to know in the Lord.

What is love? Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is not jealous. It is not arrogant. Love is not rude. Love is not selfish but selfless in all things. Love cannot be provoked so it is not angry nor does it become enraged or exasperated. Love thinks no evil. Love does not rejoice in wrong or when another is caught in wrong. Love is the Truth. God’s Word is the Truth we live by. Love bears all things. Love always extends grace and mercy no matter how deep the hurt or level of wrong. Love believes in all things because its expectation is in the Lord, not other people. Love hopes all things because it is based on the Kingdom that is coming not what we see or feel today. Love endures all things. Those who endure to the end will be saved so I guess love must endure with us to be successful. Love never fails. Love covers a multitude of sins. Love is the leverage we need to extend more of ourselves to other without ever fearing losing ourselves. We are to abide in God’s Love so we are free to love.

I Corinthians 13:13 (NKJV)

And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

As a believer, our very first call is to love. We are to have faith born of love. We are to have hope born of love. But without acceptance of the Love of God – everything else we do is pointless. We are to abide in His Love. Wrap it around our whole life like a warm fuzzy blanket and extend it to the world we live in. Charity begins with God’s Love and stems from it. It is the fruit of His Spirit in our life that allows us to love the way that Jesus commands us to. As we grow in Christ and His Spirit grows in us, our generosity becomes immersed in love. Charity to the believer is to love like God. It is agape love that is unconditional. It is our motivation for giving. Charity is defined by this world as generous actions and donations to those in need of aid who are poor, ill or helpless. It is something given to one in need. It is goodwill and kind feelings for those who are in need or experiencing disfavor. It is also leniency in judging others. Everyone in need did not just fall on hard times. Some are suffering from consequences self-produced by bad choices or indiscretions, their need is a product of sin or willful disobedience. This is the giving that requires God’s Love so the seed of transformation, salvation, deliverance, healing and restoration is deposited. Without love, faith and hope will never be reproduced in others through us. It all begins with love. Not natural love that requires something of others, but True Love as experienced by those He died for.

Galatians 6:6-10 (NKJV)

Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches. Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.  For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.

The Word of God encourages generosity on every level. There is no greater gift than to lay our life down for another. (John 15:13) Are we truly laying down our life? Or just giving up things that don’t really matter? Is there a sacrifice of self in our giving to others beyond “things”? Everyone likes Luke 6:38, “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” Many preachers will quote the Word of God right before taking the morning offering unaware that this has nothing to do with the money that we give at all. Jesus was telling us not to judge other people but to give them grace. This is that which we “give” to be returned “good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.” Like produces like. I can give away things and be blessed with more stuff. Or I can choose to give grace, love and time to receive God’s Favor in my life. If I sow in the Spirit, I will reap spiritual fruit. Where my treasure is, there I will find my heart. Where is my heart today when it comes to giving? I want a generous soul.

Let us not grow weary while doing good today. I will continue to give of our surplus to others. However, in doing so, I will make sure that my heart goes with it. Sensitivity to human need begins in our heart and must be given of the heart for godly use. There are many who will give of their hand today to help someone less fortunate. Today, I will give from my heart for as their soul prospers so will mine. God gives seed to the sower. (Isaiah 55:10) It is up to us to plant it in love.

Proverbs 22:9 (NKJV)

He who has a generous eye will be blessed for he gives of his bread to the poor.

The Mystery of Fellowship

The Mystery of Fellowship

Ephesians 3:8-12 (NKJV)

To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him.

Friendship. Relationship. Companionship. Fellowship. It is the interworking of people networking through life that incorporates our heart, mind and eventually our soul with others. Intimacy creates soul ties not easily broken yet ripped apart by division and discord. The Body of Christ is not exempt. I have been a member of churches that would eventually split and venture off in separate directions. How is that even possible when our only goal is Jesus? Does He veer off in different directions? Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8) God does not lie or change His Mind. (Numbers 23:19) No one came come to the Father but by Jesus. (John 14:6) The Lord is quite clear concerning His Thoughts on division among believers. It is written in His Word, “Now I plead with you, Brethren (or believers, Body of Christ, Christians, disciples, followers of Jesus, whatever you have named your pursuit of God and His Kingdom) by the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you…” To be a Child of the Living God is to live in pursuit of fellowship with the Lord, God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The impact for those who engage in this endeavor will develop, grow and blossom into a prospering fellowship among all believers.

Yet in this age of small groups, culture groups, traditional Sunday School and church gatherings, there continues to be discord and division in the family of the Living God. Rather than pursuing greater understanding of who the Lord is and what He desires of us, the church has taken on a whole new cause. In attempt to prove that their way is right, it has become locked in a mudslinging war amongst itself. God hates it. Jesus is broken hearted. The Holy Spirit is intent on changing it. Fellowship is important. Not the kind of friendships and acquaintances that the world engages in, but rather the type of relationships that we have been called to and equipped by His Love to participate in.

 

Psalm 63:1-3 (NKJV)

O God, You are my God; early will I seek You; my soul thirsts for You; my flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water. So I have looked for You in the sanctuary, to see Your Power and Your Glory. Because Your Lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise You.

 

The primary source of growth and development of true fellowship, the kind that the Lord desires for us to have, begins with Jesus Christ. A daily pursuit of His Love, Grace, Knowledge, Understanding and Wisdom that gives us a desire for greater things in our life connections and relationships. The change in our heart produced by Jesus Christ begins to give us a new perspective on people and the role they play in our life. A firm foundation of faith wrapped up in confident hope allows us to love other without expectation from them. This makes grace flow through the inner workings to bind us to one another. We must have a thriving and earnest relationship with Jesus Christ to move into a place of constant companionship that will carry over into all our interaction with others in life. One cannot engage in godly fellowship without being likeminded. To accept Jesus as Savior and not make Him Lord places our life in a gray abyss. We no longer interact with the same people or do the same things because there is an immediate heart change, but unless He becomes Lord producing a life change, those same individuals are forces to move forward or drift back forsaking their new found freedom once again. When Jesus is our Savior and Lord, it changes our heart and life which gives us a desire to fellowship with those who believe as well.

2 Corinthians 6:14-18 (NKJV)

Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” Therefore “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.  I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”

What is fellowship? It is friendly relationships. It is companionship. To be joined together by a common interest or cause. People come together many times on this basis. There is power in this kind of unity. 2 Corinthians 6:14 tells us as believers to not be “unequally yoked” with unbelievers. This does not mean to avoid such people, ignore them or in any way, shape or form abandon them. We are called to share the Gospel of God’s Love with every person who we come in contact with in word and deed. To be yoked means to join, couple, link or unite. It is like the harness used to join two animals together to share the same burden like oxen or horses. Their strength is increased in the pairing of the two. The Lord is telling us that such a connection with those who do not believe should be avoided. Why? There is not a common interest or cause therefore the two will oppose each other and the weaker will give in to the stronger animal. It is counterproductive as we fight a battle that is unnecessary and clearly to be avoided as it is stated in the Word of God. We love and seek to serve unbelievers to lead them to the Love of God. But we are never to “yoke” our life according to their purpose.

Our cause must always be Christ. When it becomes any other objective, opposition arises and churches quake splitting down the middle showing the world around us that we are not untied in cause or purpose without true revelation of God’s Love. We must come to an agreement. Christ above all agendas, schedules, personal tastes and preferences. This is what unites the Body of Christ. It is the very thing that will spark a fire of revival again.

Ephesians 5:8-12 (NKJV)

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret.

I John 1:5-7 (NKJV)

This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.

True fellowship with Jesus is to avoid darkness completely and live in the Light of His Love with character and integrity each day taking one step closer to Jesus and moving farther away from the darkness of the past. To do so will cause a change in the relationships once had with other people. This is true of most positive change in life as well. If you were once an alcoholic, but now choose a clean and sober life. Your drinking buddies will one day stop calling because you have nothing in common anymore. Single friends will slowly drift away from married couples as their goals in life now differ. It is human nature for relationships to come and go. Jesus is constant. He never changes. As He becomes the premise of our life, our relationships will change. It is okay. Yes, He will heal the hurting heart when love leaves. But the real love that is found in Christ will fill every void left by wandering people and wavering hearts around us.

2 Corinthians 8:1-7 (NKJV)

Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia: that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God. So we urged Titus, that as he had begun, so he would also complete this grace in you as well. But as you abound in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all diligence, and in your love for us—see that you abound in this grace also.

 

The fellowship of ministering to the saints. The Churches of Macedonia were suffering great trial of affliction and poverty that they gave with great joy and abounded in freedom. They did not allow the challenges of their life impact their fellowship full engaged and completely generous in their absolute surrender to the ministry of the saints. What is that? I believe it is to never forsake the coming together of like-minded people in Jesus Christ. To fully participate in becoming like-minded and growing in the Grace of God together. It goes on to say as you abound in EVERYTHING – faith, speech, knowledge, diligence, love and grace. Understand that this life will not get any better, it will always hate Jesus. You and I cannot change how the world feels about the Kingdom of God but by continuing to put aside our opinions and personal agendas to pursue true fellowship and absolute unity. The commonality between us is not how we choose to worship but Who we worship with our whole heart and every fiber of our being. When yoked to other believers in a thriving relationship, a constant source of comfort, encouragement and unity become a cord that we use to bind ourselves to the Altar of God as we pursue Him together.

Philippians 2:1-4 (NKJV)

Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

As a teenager, our youth group had a weekly Bible study and fellowship. Each gathering included a devotion and prayer. In the modern church, small groups and culture groups gather in homes, restaurants, basketball courts, shopping malls, and just about any other place you can think of. They call it fellowship. Maybe. Is Jesus in it? See fellowship is formed by a common cause or interest. If that interest is anything other than Jesus and He is not glorified during our time together, we are pursuing a hobby or interest. The work begun in us by Jesus Christ relies on the constant molding and shaping of the Word of God, Holy Spirit and friends who are in our life to become the iron that sharpens iron. (Proverbs 27:17) We must not become distracted by trying to find a common interest other Jesus Christ. But dwelling so deeply in Him, that any other interest or gathering that we embark on will bring Glory to His Name.

There has always been power in unity. The Tower of Babel is the perfect example. The people united in cause were able to do extraordinary things but apart from the Will of God their efforts would end in confusion as the Lord disrupted their communication. (Genesis 11:1-9) There are many towers that have risen in these dark times and some include the word “church” attached to them. Like-minded people forming a fellowship on a cause other than Christ with a convoluted message and disgrace of grace. They have not made Christ the foundation and one day, it will be evident in their fall. To preserve our fellowship as pure, holy and godly requires a constant connection to Christ with full examination of our heart going in. As we fellowship with others, it should be yoking those believers who pursue Christ wholeheartedly and blending our lives together in God’s Love. By doing so, God will bless every relationship born of our love for Jesus – body, mind and spirit. Jesus is our cause. Nothing else will do as it becomes a fiery passion for souls. This will grow into a strong desire and willingness to share the faith, speech, knowledge, diligence, love and grace discovered as we prosper in Jesus Christ together. Our souls will prosper. Life will get better in the Presence of God in fellowship with His People. It is in harmony with all believers that we solve the mystery of fellowship growing in God’s Love, Grace and Mercy together.

Psalm 133:1-2 (NKJV)

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down on the beard, the beard of Aaron, running down on the edge of his garments.