” The Law and The Gospel”

Many people read the Bible a bit selfishly…as if it were fundamentally all about us: our improvement, our life, our victory, our faith, our holiness, our godliness. We treat it like a disconnected series of timeless principles that will give us our best life now if we simply apply them. We read it as if it were a heaven-sent self-help manual including a divinely delivered “do not do” list. But by reading the Bible this way, we risk missing the whole point. Unless we stay focused on Jesus, even devout Bible reading can become fuel for our own self-absorbed self-improvement plans. God’s goal in speaking to us in the Bible is profound. We can say that all of God’s Word comes to us lined up under two key Words:  the Law and the Gospel.

 

The Law is given because we need to be reminded that there is something to be forgiven even when we are doing our best works and during our proudest achievements. The Gospel comes to tell us of God’s grace which says again and again that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

 

     The Law is God’s word of demand, and the gospel is God’s word of deliverance. The Law tells us what to do, while the Gospel tells us what God has done. The law can crush us, but not cure us. The Law can kill us, but not make us alive. The Law can defeat us, but not deliver us. The Law illuminates sin, but is powerless to eliminate sin. The Law points to righteousness, but can’t produce it. Nobody can live up to the Law, and nothing but the grace of God can take away our sin.” The Law is God’s first word, but the Gospel is God’s final word. The Law forces us to face our sin, but only the Gospel can forgive us our sin. The Law accuses us, while the Gospel acquits us. The Law exposes, but only the Gospel exonerates. The Law may curtail bad behavior, but only Grace can transform the heart of the behaver.

What if we keep the Ten Commandments, though? A low view of the Law makes us think that its standards are attainable, its goals reachable, its demands doable. A high view of the Law, however, demolishes all such confidence.  Only an inflexible picture of what God demands reveals the depth of our ongoing need for the Gospel.
     Only when we see that the way of God’s law is absolutely inflexible will we see that God’s grace is absolutely indispensable. A high view of the Law reminds us that God accepts us on the basis of Christ’s perfection, not our progress. A high view of the Law produces a high view of Grace. A low view of the law produces a low view of grace. God’s good Law reveals our desperation; God’s good Gospel reveals our deliverer. If “Law” was the final word of God– if the Bible were basically a book of instructions– we would be doomed. Jesus announced that He came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it, and He did. The Bible is one long story of God meeting our rebellion with His rescue, our sin with His salvation, our guilt with His Grace. The overwhelming focus of the Bible is not the works of the redeemed but the work of the Redeemer. The primary message of the Bible is this: The law-maker became the law-keeper and died for me, the law-breaker!  Glory to God!   (adapted from CT Online)

 


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“Keep Hope Alive”

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. —Romans 15:13 (NIV)

A very well-known journalist is hosting a special documentary on the justice system in America.  A trailer around the show highlighted an inmate’s comments on his perspective as to why the justice system needs reform.  He didn’t talk about the unfairness of any punishment, or racial disparity amongst the imprisoned.  He spoke about hope.  He made a simple statement about how powerful hope is and how damaging it is to have no hope.  “Hope is everything,” he said.  And it really resonated with me.
 
Prophetess Smith hosted bible study the other week and she focused that Tuesday night’s teaching on “hope”.  Hope is defined as a confident expectation of something that is to come.  We reviewed a number of scriptures that reinforced the significance of hope in the lives of Christians!  And we discussed how hope and faith work hand in hand.  Faith is “now” while hope is involved with the future. 

 

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. —Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)

In these days and times, we hear and see a lot in the news that challenges our hope (and faith).  Some dreadful things happen when hope fades away.  When contentment gives way to disappointment and discouragement, marriages fail, families break down, companies fold, communities suffer, and people give up.  As a nation, hope is vital.  As Christians, hope is vital.  Hope fuels our dreams for the future—here on earth and for our eternal state. So I must encourage you to maintain your hope! 

 

History reveals how powerful hope has been in transforming nations.  It’s more than just optimistic thinking.  Hope is a very powerful force when anchored in God and unleashed in the life of a believer!  When discouragement is turned into hope, the impossible becomes possible.  Defeat turns into victory.  Despair and fear fade away.  So search the scriptures about hope and get anchored!

 

A college classmate of mine usually ends every conversation with this declaration: “Keep hope alive!”  So, I’m going to take a page from his book today and tell you this very same thing:  KEEP HOPE ALIVE!

 


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“Happy 10th Anniversary”

“…and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. —Matthew 16:18b (NIV)

It was during the week leading up to Sunday, August 30, 2009, that Pastor Smith led us into the new church building.  Those of us who were here during that time should recall the zeal and excitement we felt.  God had favored our pastor and our congregation.  Since that time, God has continued to show us favor.  He has continued to sustain us.  He has continued to bless our congregation in many ways, starting with our pastor!  Praise God!

 
As it should be with any church building, this building is just a part of the vision God gave for our local church family of believers.  Prophetess Smith has shared with us on a number of occasions how the vision for our church includes ministering to the total man.  Where are we on this? 

All around us there are people who are hurting and defeated. There are people who are discouraged, sad, lonely and depressed. These people will continue to live this way until we demonstrate to them a much better way.  We must show them the hope of life in Christ Jesus!  It is for those who are still lost and in need of a Savior that we have to find continued zeal for ministry.  And that’s why the Pastor’s vision is about more than a building!

 
Where are we on the Pastor’s Vision?  According to Matthew 16, Jesus built a church upon a rock that would withstand “the gates of Hades”!  That sounds like a pretty strong church!  You see…in addition to reaching the lost, a strong church will weather the storms of the day and serve as protection, shelter, and a place of refreshing for its members.  A strong church will build the people up, so much so that when others come into the people’s presence they should feel the love, acceptance, strength and security of the God we serve.

 

Our prayer today must be one of thanksgiving, for God has surely done a marvelous thing in the building and sustainment of our church.  Let this day also include a call to continue the work of the ministry.  Let us all do our part in helping this church to fulfill the vision of ministering to the Total Man.  Ask your ministry leader how you can help?  And if you are not actively involved in a ministry here, that should be your next step. 

 


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“The Most Important Person on Earth”

Who is the most important person on earth?  There are many important people on this earth—some with power and authority and personal influence that makes them come to mind as soon as the question is asked.  When you need provision, perhaps the richest man on earth comes to mind.  When you need a healing, perhaps the most talented and skilled physician comes to mind.  The first answer to that question for most of us depends on our greatest human need at a given point in time.  However, for the Christian, there is only one answer that makes sense.  The most important person on earth is the Holy Spirit! 

Many of us are familiar with the idea of the Trinity—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, but we sometimes forget that Holy Spirit is a person.  Taking nothing away at all from God the Father or God the Son, God the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity at work on this earth in the lives of believers—helping, leading, guiding, and empowering us.  God is a triune being, and the three persons of the Trinity are unified, yet unique…three persons with three distinct personalities that each pklay a vital role in our redemption.

Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. (Acts 2:38 KJV)

We know this to be so, but do we understand what the Holy Spirit does?  Here are some work the Holy Spirit does here on earth in the lives of believers:

1.)  The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin.  When we first come to Christ, it is the Holy Spirit that helps us to recognize our need for a Savior.  It is the Holy Spirit that continues to helps us recognize sin. | When [the Spirit] comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” (John 16:8 ESV)

 

2.)  The Holy Spirit guides us.  The Holy Spirit helps us to understand the scriptures and to recognize what is truth and what is not, and also what is sin and error to help us navigate around it. | But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” (John 16:13 KJV)

 

3.)  The Holy Spirit fills us.  The Holy spirit fills us and empowers us to do the work God has purposed us to do. | “And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 13:52 NIV)

 

4.)  The Holy Spirit works through us, bearing fruit.  The Holy Spirit constantly helps us to bear the fruit of the Spirit throughout our lives. | But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no


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“You Are the Church”

…On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.  —Matthew 16:18b

It has been thousands of years since the church was first established, and directions have been given in the scriptures regarding various

aspects of the church as the body of Christ, the people of God, and the Bride of Christ.  Even with all of this, we can sometimes get confused about what a local church actually is.  So, let’s take a moment to

consider these interesting thoughts about church:

  • Church is not a building, though this lovely building can house a church and its ministries.
  • Church is not a denomination, yet a set of beliefs is important to our church.
  • Church is not about Sunday, still we should not forsake meeting together.
  • Church is not about one person or personality, however we recognize that our pastor is a gift to our church.
  • Church is not about size or growth, though we are all called to make disciples.

As such, we must not focus too much on the address or location of our church, but think about the church as something dynamic and mobile.

  • Don’t think of the church as something built to stand in one place, but think of it as something established to be sent.
  • Don’t think of the church as where you go a few hours each week, but rather what you are every day of the week. Because the church is the hands and feet of Jesus Christ.  Feet shouldn’t sit still.  Hands shouldn’t be idle.  Feet go.  Hands do.
  • Don’t think of the church as something you’re sitting through right now, because…

YOU are the church.  Now GO, and BE the church, then DO what the church was established to do in the Great Commission:  spread the Gospel and make disciples.  (Matt. 28:16-20)

 


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“5 ways to build up God’s Kingdom”

The Great Commission is the call for disciples to make other disciples:  “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” –Matthew 28:19-20 

As Christian disciples of Jesus, we are supposed to help in building up the Kingdom of God. We all intend to do it, but often talk ourselves out of it with a variety of excuses.  The number one excuse is that we don’t have time.  Another excuse is that we just don’t know how to really go about doing it.  Evangelizing is bringing others to Christ.  It is not the same as making disciples, but it is an important first step.  See, a person can be saved by God‟s grace without becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ. Discipleship means you are personally dedicated to the life to Jesus Christ.  That’s why The Great Commission requires two actions:  1.) baptizing them…, and 2.) teaching them… 

Here are the 5 areas where you can get to work fulfilling the Great Commission:

  1.  In Your Own Life: Strive to set a holy example to your family and friends. People notice whether are not you walk the walk of a Christian disciple. Check whether or not you line up personally with the scriptures.  Start with the 10 Commandments.  Assess how the fruit of the spirit shows up in your life.  Do you have a prayer life?  Do you study the scriptures?  People are watching.
  2.  In Your Home: Who are you at home? Does your family see you living up to the standards of a Christian Disciple?  Whether you are a child or a parent, your family should see you setting the example, and demonstrating Christian values in our home.
  3.  At Your Job: I recall a soldier walking up to me while serving in the Persian Gulf, and he told me he noticed that I was straight-laced and figured I was a Christian. I had never had the opportunity to talk one-on-one with this solider about religion or faith, but his comment made me realize that people at work, even in a wartime environment, notice your behavior and pick up on whether or not you demonstrate Christian values.  Your, customers, clients, co-workers, and supervisors should be able to see light of Christ shining in you!  And when given the opportunity, that measure of credibility will make it even easier to do deliberate kingdom building.
  4.  In Your Community: We often talk about outreach, and undertake annual projects around the holidays. These are important opportunities to do kingdom building in the community.  It is so important to consider that there are probably people living within a mile of our church who have needs the church can address.  Do they know we are here to help?  Do they see us reaching out beyond our church walls?  More importantly, has God laid on your heart any idea or project that could help where you talked yourself out of speaking up because it seemed like too much to handle?  Giving to a charity, participating in outreach, or hosting your own project are all great ways to do your part in some kingdom building. 
  5.  At Your Church: Every member of our church has at least one gift. Everybody here should be serving here at church in some capacity.  We have a variety of ministries where every member should be able to find a place to help in the church’s efforts at kingdom building.  We should all be doing our part to fulfill the Great Commission.  Remember that the Great Commission requires us to baptize believers and teach them to become disciples.  We must be about doing what we’ve been called to do. 

 


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“Prayer Still Works”

Storms come in all shapes and sizes.  They can be personal, like health crises, financial burdens, or relationship problems.  They can involve public interests, like politics and social issues.  Storms are looming all around us, and these days, its no surprise to feel overwhelmed by all that is going on.  It seems that there is no area of life unaffected by some negative force,  Some are even considering that the godless condition of our nation adds to that storm to create a feeling of hopelessness.  What, then, can we do? 

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people…” — 1 Tim 2:1 (NIV)

In 1 Timothy 2:1-8, Paul set some priorities for the church when he gave Timothy directions regarding prayer.  Prayer would make a difference in the early church, for the nation, and in the lives of the people.

As the terrible weather forecast is playing out in real time in Louisiana, I found myself thinking back to a time many years ago when I was caught driving on the interstate in extremely high winds and extremely low visibility. I had slowed down from 60 mph to about 20mph.  Suddenly, I could barely see anything but leaves and debris hitting the windshield.  It felt like a tornado was coming down on top of us.  I glanced over at my son riding in the passenger seat, and his eyes were closed, his hands were clinched together, and he was praying.  A few more seconds, and the wind calmed down enough for me to be able to see the cars all around ours.  It was somewhat of a miracle that we hadn’t been hit!  I often think about that time, and how it reminded me of the power of prayer.  Prayer is useful in every situation.  No matter what, prayer still works!

All throughout scripture, we can find evidence of the power of prayer.  It’s not that there is a magical formula to prayer that forces God to answer in the way we demand.  The power in prayer comes from the measure of faith we have when we approach God, matched with the right motives and a humble attitude.  There is power in corporate and individual prayer!  When what we seek from God lines up with his word, and when we truly believe that we can have what we ask, our prayer has power.  In reality, any power in prayer is directly related to the power of God who can do anything and everything as he so chooses. 

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.—Heb. 4:16 (NIV)

As long as we live, we will continue to face storms.  The important thing is to face them with confidence that God is with us…to help us in our time of need.  No matter the circumstances…when all else fails…prayer still works! 

 


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“God Said So!”

…because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” –Hebrews 13:5b-6

We say we have faith. We say we trust in God.  Yet we have fear.  Fear of what man can do to us.  Fear that our boss will terminate us from our job.  Fear that the bill collector will take our house.  Fear that the crook will steal our property.  Fear that the judge will rule against us.  Fear.  But we say we have faith, and that we trust in God.  What then can we do in these instances when we find ourselves giving in to fearfulness?  We can remember the point of these verses from Hebrews 13:  The Lord is with us!  God said so!

In Psalm 118, David gives a similar declaration in verses 5, 6 and 7: 

“When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord; he brought me into a spacious place. The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?  The Lord is with me; he is my helper. I look in triumph on my enemies.”

At times, when fear begins to overwhelm us, we can lose sight of this fact. But the scriptures are here to remind us of God’s attributes—one of which is that He will never leave nor forsake us.  The scriptures remind us that we need not fear any man.  The next time you find yourself in a situation where you begin to feel fear rising up inside of you, take it as a nudge to pray to God as David did and seek the scriptures for reassurance of this comforting truth:  No matter what man tries to do, if you are a born-again believer, God has got your back.  No matter what the circumstances say, trust God.  No matter how bleak things look, trust God.  Even if things don’t go your way, trust God.  No matter what, trust God. 

At the end of the story, when our time on this earth has passed, no matter what man may or may not have done to us whilst we were on this earth, God will still grant us the eternal life He has promised to all who accept the gift of salvation.  So, do not worry about mere mortal men.  Live with confidence knowing God will never leave nor forsake us. Remember, God said so.

 


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“An important role in the process of worship.”

Ushers & greeters play an important role in the process of worship in the house of the Lord . These gatekeepers and doorkeepers originated from amongst the Levites.  In 2 Chronicles 8:14 and 23:18-19, you can find a reference to the role of ushers as gatekeepers. 

Old Testament ushers were the overseers that David had assigned for service at the gates in the Lord’s temple. Some of their duties as keepers of the temple gates are well known, such as literally being in charge of who gets to enter in and handling disruptions.  Other duties are less known, like going in before high-ranking people to clear the way and literally striking down those who went beyond their rightful place in the temple. Ushers in scripture had many duties, and they sometimes had to wield weapons to carry them out.  It was the ushers’ responsibility to make certain proper reverence was used in worship of the Lord upon entering the temple. Can you imagine one of our ushers brandishing a sword as you tried to enter the sanctuary unprepared for worship?

David and Nehemiah relied on the Levites as gatekeepers to serve the Lord in all of their many duties, much like our Pastor relies on the ushers and greeters today.  Ushers today still have a hefty task of helping the worship leaders set the atmosphere for worship and to carry out certain other responsibilities. (Just watch them in action today.) Although the various duties have changed somewhat, the essence is still the same.  Worshippers arrive at church in all sorts of conditions.  I, myself, am guilty of arriving at church in a rush—all busy and unfocused—and it takes me a few minutes to shift my mindset off of my tasks and into worship.  But we should all think about the usher’s role in our church and also about how we hinder or help them in the discharge of their duties. 

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds — Hebrews 10:23-24

God’s Word tells us to “spur one another on”.  When we approach the Lord’s house ready to worship God, we help make the Usher’s job a bit easier.  More importantly, we glorify God when we approach His presence with a healthy reverence and ready for worship.  Let us encourage our ushers and greeters, as God-ordained servants, to continue serving the Lord.  God will get the glory when we do.

 


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“Gratitude for our Fathers”

“For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.” (Gen. 18:19 NIV)

Father Abraham…I recall singing a song as a child about this great father of many nations.  The blessings on this man of great faith can be ours as heirs to the promises of God.  This scripture speaks to us today, especially the fathers. 

From Genesis and the time of Adam, God has given men great responsibilities.  Fatherhood is one of them.  As citizens of the kingdom of God, we all have certain rights and obligations.  But it is men, especially fathers, who God chose and gave the responsibility to “direct his children and his household”.  God expects godly fathers to direct them in the ways of the Lord.  And there is a blessing for fathers who fulfill their responsibilities.

Fathers, along with their mothers, have a role in making sure that what goes on in their home honors God.  It begins with their decision to serve the Lord.  Joshua understood all too well that he had a great responsibility as the father and head of his household.  He didn’t try to pressure people outside of his house, but he was clear that his entire household, which included his wife and children and all of his servants, had to serve the Lord.

“But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” (Josh. 24:15b NIV)

As we learned from Genesis 18, a good father who directs his household well will enjoy the promises of God.  So, fathers, be encouraged.  Becoming a father is easier than being a father.  Did you catch that?  Becoming a father is easier than BEING a father.  Fathers have all sorts of concerns!  They have to provide and protect and guide and lead.  The father’s job is difficult.  But God’s Word is full of promises that should give fathers wisdom and strength for their great responsibility. 

To all of the fathers, we acknowledge your hard work and your desire to lead your children in the right way.  We appreciate you for the roles you play in our families and in our church.  We love you and we are praying for you.  Happy Father’s Day!

 


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“What is Pentecost Sunday?”

Question: “What is Pentecost Sunday?”

Excerpt from Gotquestions.org

Answer: Pentecost Sunday is a commemoration and celebration of the receiving of the Holy Spirit by the early church. John the Baptist prophesied of the first Pentecost when Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Matthew 3:11). Jesus confirmed this prophecy with the promise of the Holy Spirit to the disciples in John 14:26. He showed Himself to these men after His death on the cross and His resurrection, giving convincing proofs that He was alive. Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the Father’s gift of the Holy Spirit, from whom they would receive power to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:3-8). After Jesus’ ascension to heaven, the men returned to Jerusalem and joined together in prayer in an upper room. On the Day of Pentecost, just as promised, the sound of a violent wind filled the house and tongues of fire came to rest on each of them and all were filled with the Holy Spirit. They were given the power of communication, which Peter used to begin the ministry for which Jesus had prepared him. After the coming of the Holy Spirit, the disciples did not stay in the room basking in God’s glory but burst out to tell the world. This was the beginning of the church as we know it.

Today, in many Christian churches, Pentecost Sunday is celebrated to recognize the gift of the Holy Spirit, realizing that God’s very life, breath and energy live in believers. During this service, John 20:19-23 may be the core of the message about our risen Savior supernaturally appearing to the fear-laden disciples. Their fear gave way to joy when the Lord showed them His hands and side. He assured them peace and repeated the command given in Matthew 28:19-20, saying, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Then He breathed on them, and they received the Holy Spirit (John 20:21-23).

The celebration of Pentecost Sunday reminds us of the reality that we all have the unifying Spirit that was poured out upon the first-century church in Acts 2:1-4. It is a reminder that we are co-heirs with Christ, to suffer with Him that we may also be glorified with Him; that the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7); that we are all baptized by one Spirit into one body (1 Corinthians 12:13); and that the Spirit which raised Jesus from the dead lives inside believers (Romans 8:9-11). This gift of the Holy Spirit that was promised and given to all believers on the first Pentecost is promised for you and your children and for all who are far off whom the Lord our God will call (Acts 2:39).


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“Do you truly believe”

Easter was just a little over a month ago.  We celebrated our risen Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.  Those of us who have professed a hope in Christ agree that we BELIEVE!  We believe that God sent his son, Jesus, to die a substitutionary death for our sins.  We believe that Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried.  We believe that he rose on the third day with all power in his hand.  We believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to eternal life.  We believe that our salvation and eternity depends on our faith in Jesus Christ.  We truly believe. 

Or do we?

Our lives were changed once we believed.  The old things we used to do, we don’t do anymore.  Sure, we struggled for a moment with temptation (and still do sometimes), but our new nature won over the old sinful nature, and we began to mature in Christ.  But, if that is true, and we truly believe, why does our faith in God stop short of what we seek Him for in our daily lives?  Why do we believe in such an ancient and miraculous event as the resurrection, but falter on things we need today?  Perhaps it is a matter of faith.

We start out with a measure of faith, as Paul suggests in Romans 12:3.  But when the issues we face are seemingly too hard to imagine in our human minds, we begin to waver.  How, then do we grow this measure of faith into that strong, unwavering faith?  There are at least four things we can do:

1.) We can HEAR God’s Word.  If “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17), then we need to hear God’s Word.  I remember getting a call from a good friend at the sudden passing of her young husband.  She said she called, because she wanted to talk to someone who would “speak life” to her.  You cannot listen to all the naysayers and grow your faith!  You have to hear those promises in God’s Word that will encourage you!

2.) We can CHOOSE to believe God’s Word.  Sounds silly, perhaps, but just like we can choose to forgive, or to trust, or to love, we can choose to believe.  Finding a promise of God to stand on can help us with this.  There’s an old song, “God said it. I believe it” which reminds us to make the choice to believe every time doubt tries to creep in.  And every time you make that choice, your faith grows!

3.) We can TAKE HOLD of God’s Word.  This is a deliberate decision to keep our focus on God’s promises, no matter what the situation looks like.  It’s not easy, but it’s crucial to growing our faith.  “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” (Heb. 10:23). 

4.) We can ACT on God’s Word.   We know that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17), but it is even harder to act out what we hear, choose, and take hold of.  But if we want that strong unwavering faith, it’s what must happen.  “Unwavering faith is to count those things that be not as though they are, (Rom.4:17; Mark 11:22-24). 

There is no need for us as believers to be trapped in fear, weakness, poverty, or despair during any situation. We must grow our faith.  We must truly believe!

 


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“A Message to Our Graduates on Choosing Wisely”

Graduation is a busy time.  After years of making choices about everything to get to this point, you spend time finishing up studies, and fulfilling all of the requirements for graduation!  Before you know it, the time comes to move to the next phase of life.  Whether it is going off to college or pursuing a career dream, every graduate is faced with choices—before, during, and after.  Making choices never ends.

One choice, though, is very important to every Christian graduate. 

And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” —Joshua 24:15 (NIV)

I once read a story about a young Christian who went off to college.  After spending his whole upbringing seated every Sunday morning in church with his parents, he had decided to exercise his newfound freedom of choice.  He was out on his own and away from home.  He and his college roommate had decided to spend their first Sunday morning in the park—just hanging out with friends and having fun.  On his way to the park, he heard a church bell ringing the start of the morning service.  He tried to ignore it, but that nagging voice would not leave him alone. 

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” –Isaiah 30:21 (NIV)

Without much more thought, the young Christian suggested to his friend that they stop by a church– just to see what it was like– and, then, head on to the park.  They did, and both continued serving the Lord throughout college and even afterwards.

As Joshua said to the Israelites, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve . . . But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

Every one of us must make that decision.  Nobody can make it for you, and you can’t make it for anybody else.  Sometimes the decision isn’t easy.  Because of our sinful nature, we all get tempted to do our own thing.  So, it really comes down to this: Do you really want to serve the Lord?  If you do, then God will give you that resolve.   When the Lord came to Moses and spoke to him through the burning bush, Moses basically said, “I can’t do this. I don’t know what to say. I stumble over my words.”  But later in Exodus we see him facing off with the most powerful man on the face of the earth at that time. That is because God gave him the strength. 

In this same way, God will give you the strength to do what you need to do to serve the Lord and to live a life pleasing to Him.  It won’t be too hard, and you will find that you still have time to do things outside of church.  As we recognize our graduates, let us also urge every one of them to make a good choice to be completely committed to Jesus.

 


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“Psalm 39: Put Your Hope in the Lord”

I said, “I will watch my ways
    and keep my tongue from sin;
I will put a muzzle on my mouth
    while in the presence of the wicked.”
So I remained utterly silent,
    not even saying anything good.
But my anguish increased;
    my heart grew hot within me.
While I meditated, the fire burned;
    then I spoke with my tongue:

“Show me, Lord, my life’s end
    and the number of my days;
    let me know how fleeting my life is.
You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
    the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Everyone is but a breath,
    even those who seem secure.

“Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom;
    in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth
    without knowing whose it will finally be.

“But now, Lord, what do I look for?
    My hope is in you.
Save me from all my transgressions;
    do not make me the scorn of fools.
I was silent; I would not open my mouth,
    for you are the one who has done this.
Remove your scourge from me;
    I am overcome by the blow of your hand.
When you rebuke and discipline anyone for their sin,
    you consume their wealth like a moth—
    surely everyone is but a breath.

“Hear my prayer, Lord,
    listen to my cry for help;
    do not be deaf to my weeping.
I dwell with you as a foreigner,
    a stranger, as all my ancestors were.
Look away from me, that I may enjoy life again
    before I depart and am no more.”

 


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“God’s Motherly Love”

“As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.” — Is. 66:13

 Mother’s Day is a man-made holiday, but mothers are part of God’s design for the family.  But why?  God is intentional.  Everything he does is deliberate and with a long-range, inside and out view of each of our individual lives.  Nothing that God does is accidental or coincidental. 

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Rom. 8:28

God was intentional when He created mothers.  God even had Mary, the mother of Jesus, present at his crucifixion.  Perhaps it was so we would see the tenderness of God’s love even while His Son was dying on the cross.  God had a plan to redeem the soul of man.  And in that process, God imparted principles that work right alongside the Gospel message —principles around hope and love.  In His intentional way, we can see God’s motherly love for us.

During Israel’s exile and the overwhelming feeling of despair, God had to remind them that He had not forsaken them.  God used the example of a mother to let Israel know He had not forgotten them!  God, who we know as “Our Father”, uses the imagery of labor and childbirth, a mother nursing a child, and a child being comforted by a mother all throughout Isaiah 66 to bring out the concept of hope.  A disobedient nation could have hope because God, our Father, also has the capacity to exhibit what we understand as motherly love.

Mothers are as different as each of our unique personalities suggest.  Some are soft and gentle, while others are firm and hard.  Still, there is something about a mother’s love.  It’s almost indescribable!  We honor our mothers today, not only because God’s Word tells us to do so, but also because we recognize the many unselfish and sacrificial ways that mothers have poured into our lives.  We are grateful to God for our mothers.  And we are grateful to God for His motherly love!

 


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“Living with Eternity in Mind”

I’ve been to several visitations and funerals over the past 7 days, and I found myself thinking about the very different ages and stages and stories of each person’s life.  While their life stories were very different, every one of these precious people had professed a hope in Christ.  At some point, each one had made a decision with eternity in mind.

The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. — 1 Peter 4:7-11

God’s word encourages us to have an eternal perspective—to think beyond the daily routine of our obligations and earthly pleasures and to consider eternity.  Having an appropriate view of eternity should affect how we live, how we handle life’s ups and downs, and how well we prepare for the end that will surely come. 

This could seem sort of dark and sad, however, it is actually appropriate.  It should give us hope.  Christ lived his life with “the end of all things is near” mindset.  He knew he would endure great suffering as part of God’s plan for mankind.  He had a healthy view of eternity. 

None of us knows the day when Christ will return, but we do expect that he will.  None of us knows the exact number of our days either, but those of us who have confessed a hope in Christ expect to go to heaven when we die, and we expect to live eternally.  That is our hope. 

We must live purposeful lives—according to God’s will.  And we must not get overly concerned about the when and the where of Christ’s return, but determine to heed the words from 1 Peter 4 and live our lives with eternity in mind.  No matter what life may bring, love deeply, be hospitable, serve faithfully and graciously…“so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”

 


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Trust God

I heard someone say the other day, “If you don’t know it is NFL Draft weekend here in Nashville, you must be living under a rock!”  Yes, the NFL Draft festivities started this past Thursday!  32 teams were selecting athletes from a crowded field of hopefuls!  I did my research and learned that there are about 3,500 eligible players for about 254 spots plus a few free agents.  If you caught any of the draft rounds, you saw the excited athletes surrounded by an entourage of cheering fans and family as their names were called.  For these athletes, the years of hard work, training and preparation, topped off by their performance at the NFL combine, has caught the attention of the decision-makers for at least one of these teams.  With all of the fanfare, even with those who give God praise and thanks for being drafted, there are over 3,000 athletes who don’t get chosen.  What about them?  And what about those aging out of the NFL at the ripe old age of 30?  Both of these groups are impacted right in the midst of the excitement of this draft weekend. 

For the undrafted, they ask “What now?”  For those aging out, they also ask “What now?”  Fortunately, the answer is the same for all:  “Trust God!”  Or as the scripture so eloquently teaches, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV)

There are times when we have to face the truth of whether or not we truly trust God.  This applies to everyone involved and affected by the NFL Draft Weekend events.  It applies to all of us, too!  We all can probably recall a pivotal moment in our lives where we had a similar draft weekend-like experience, and our faith was tested.  Maybe it was receiving an admissions letter from a college…or a denial letter.  Perhaps it was an audition, or a job interview, or a promotion—and whether or not we got what we were going for made all the difference to us.  In moments of great joy and in moments of uncertainty and insecurity, we are called to trust God…either way. 

Some of us are in the midst of our Draft Weekend-like experience, and we are waiting for our names to be called.  Some of us see it coming in the near future, and our faith will be tested.  Whichever it is for you, and  whichever way it works out, remember this one important lesson:  Trust God.  No matter what it looks like in the moment, trust God.

 


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Let Your “Hosannas” Ring True!

The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” –Matthew 21:9 (NIV)

Today is Palm Sunday—a significant day for the Christian in this the season of Bright Sadness where we mourn and celebrate all at the same time. On this day, scriptures tell us the Prince of Peace triumphantly entered Jerusalem, the “City of Peace”, as the crowd of people lined the roads and cheered, “Hosanna!” meaning, “Save!” Ironically, these were some of the same people who days later would cry “Crucify him!” 

But even then, Jesus had foretold of his own suffering and death.  While the crowd was crying for him to save them from the Romans (Acts 1:6), Jesus had entered the city to save them from something even more significant—eternal death. Jesus knew he would soon have to endure great suffering and shame to save all of mankind.

Can you imagine the confusion that followed the first Palm Sunday?  Towards the end of this same week, the joyous cries would give way to fear and doubt. The disciples—those who had followed Jesus and sat under his teachings—would fall asleep on him, betray him, deny him, run away in fear, fall into despair, and essentially fail…at first. Can you imagine what it was like for them during this next week’s events over 2000 years ago? (As Jesus’ disciples today, we should put ourselves in their shoes and think about this for a moment.) When Jesus was crucified, the people had no idea of Easter back then. The disciples watched Jesus, their king and savior, be arrested and whipped and humiliated and crucified. What hope of resurrection did they have then? It hadn’t happened yet!

We, however, have the good fortune of hindsight.  Because of the scriptures, we can see the happenings of Palm Sunday in a more meaningful light. We can think about the events of this next week already knowing about the resurrection—not only that Jesus died, but also why he died and that we are the reason. Our cries of Hosanna today are because we know Jesus to be a savior! So as we enter into Holy Week, let us praise God for who he is and for what he did in sending his son, Jesus, as a sacrifice for our sins. Let us honor Jesus as the one who saves!

As disciples of Christ who really get what this whole Easter season represents, let our “Hosannas” ring true!

Hosanna!  Hosanna!!  Hosanna!!! 

 


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A message for the Youth – “Trees of Righteousness Planted by the Lord”

A seed is an interesting creation of God’s.  It is wildly amazing when you compare the size of a seed to the plant or tree that grows from it.  And that’s how we tend to think about our children!  The youth in our church are seeds in one sense of the word, where we guide, nourish, and encourage them to reach their full potential.  They are also striving to be the seeds in the sense that their ministry theme declares: spiritually enlightened and empowered disciples—SEEDS.  (See the front of this program.)  We give the Youth Ministry members opportunities to participate in the Sunday services.  We support their ministry efforts and their development.  We want our S.E.E.D.s to become full-grown “Trees of Righteousness”, and they must pursue it!

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither — whatever they do prospers” (Ps. 1:1-3).  

Righteousness is “the state of moral perfection required by God to enter into heaven”. The Bible tells us that we can never be righteous apart from God.  We must rely on God.  We must trust in the Lord to help us strive for this perfection.  Nobody’s perfect—our children aren’t and neither are we!

But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit” (Jer. 17:7-8).

We are well aware that trials and tribulations will come.  Our youth are not immune to their own share of trials and tribulations.  We would do well to remind them of who they and whose they are.  We would do well to keep these S.E.E.D.s firmly planted in the rich soil of God’s Word, watered by the Lord, and basking in the warmth of the Son.  When our young people are tested, we all need to remember what is declared over them:  They are SEEDs destined to grow into trees of righteousness planted by the Lord.  (And a tree planted by the Lord is not easily moved!) 

Youth:  It won’t always be easy, but keep your trust in God, pursue righteousness as you grow up, and let your lives bring glory to God!  We are praying for every one of you!

 


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“Only One Way”

What would you think of a doctor who, instead of telling you the truth, told you what you wanted to hear?  “Oh, I see you’ve gained a little more weight.  Even though belly bulge is a risk factor for heart disease, you will probably be alright.  You seem as healthy as an ox otherwise.”  And if believing that doctor’s softened diagnosis, you suddenly dropped dead, what would you think then? 

Most of us would prefer the hard truth in a situation like that.  “C’mon, doctor.  Give it to me straight.  What’s going on with me?  What do I need to do?”  But when it comes to the Gospel, some of us prefer to share a watered down version that is easier for the unchurched to accept.  But like the doctor, when we don’t tell the whole hard truth, people will miss the fact that they are in danger of dying without the promise of eternal life.

And so the doctor tells you that if you don’t drop 50 pounds and change some of your lifestyle habits, you are most assuredly going to have a heart attack or a stroke.  You could even die.  You listen to the hard truth and strive to make the changes necessary so you might live. 

How would you feel if you had to complete a very difficult task, but someone told you there’s a shortcut that will save you time and effort?  How would you feel when you found out that the shortcut, while a much easier way, actually places you on a path to nowhere?  So, imagine how disappointing it will be to those with which we share the Gospel when they discover we gave them a shortcut to salvation that doesn’t actually save them!

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  (John 14:6)

The hard truth of the Gospel—the one way to God—is extremely important to share with the unchurched.  Every one of us has to understand how wretched and lost we are without Jesus as our Savior.  We must resist the urge to try and soften the truth to make it easier to hear.  We must not try to create a shortcut to God just to make it easier for people.  It won’t work. 

Springtime is here!  As the Easter season quickly approaches, remember there is only one way to God, and that is through Jesus!  Share this truth and help someone come to Christ today. 

 


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“The High Cost of Forgiveness”

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us. –Eph. 1:7

Like most mothers, I think my children are “the world’s greatest, bestest, most well-behaved, precious, loving, and all things good in the earth” children in the whole wide world.  Even still, because nobody’s perfect (ha!), I had to try to teach each of them a very important lesson around relationships, trust, offenses, and forgiveness.  See, I believe that the art of forgiveness is a value that can be taught.  When it is based on the scriptures, it makes it easier to learn, especially when we are a family of believers.  Nevertheless, there is a vital difference between us and God.  While God’s word teaches us that God will forgive us when we repent and ask for it, humans are not always that easily receptive to an apology.  So I wanted my children to understand this difference when it comes to human relationships.  Once you offend a person, all you can do is try to make reparations and ask them to forgive you.  You can’t make them forgive you.  While I also teach them that it is right for us to forgive, we all have a free will.  You can’t make people forgive you and you can’t make them reconcile.  It is in these moments when people can begin to seriously consider the high cost of forgiveness. 

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. –Romans 6:23

Forgiveness is essentially covering someone else’s debt.  Forgiveness is not making an excuse for the offense or pretending it didn’t happen.  Our all-knowing, all-seeing God doesn’t do that either.  God made a way for our sins to be forgiven.  God made a way for our sins to be covered by the blood of Jesus!  Man broke God’s heart when we chose to sin against him, and his forgiveness definitely came at a high cost!  It cost Jesus Christ his life!

When we think about our sin, and how God sent his only Son to be the sacrifice to make a way for us to be forgiven, it is very important that we think long and hard about it.  Around Easter, we are able to take the time to think about the agonizingly cruel death Jesus suffered on the cross.  Most of the time, though, we tend to gloss over it without dwelling on how awfully gruesome crucifixion actually was.  And Jesus was innocent.  That makes it worse, doesn’t it?  Yes, forgiveness comes at a high cost!

Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.

–Luke 11:4

Praise God for his Son, Jesus Christ!  I am so grateful that God is not like us humans!  I praise God because of his lovingkindness and his grace and his mercy!  God sent his Son to save us from our sins, and it comes at a high cost.  Remember that.

 


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“Never Stop Praying”

Never stop praying.  —1 Thessalonians 5:17

Yes, that is essentially what that verses says.  Other translations say “pray continually” or “pray without ceasing”.  The point is the same…never stop praying! 

Now that probably seems like an obvious command.  Then again, when you try to actually do it, you begin to think it’s an impossible command.  Why would God lay out such a seemingly impossible directive for his children…for us to keep our heads bowed and eyes closed all day long?  Well, that’s not what the scripture means.  (I know you knew that!)  It means that we are to resort to prayer as our first and last activity of the day, our primary ongoing response to every situation, and a consistent part of our regular routine throughout the day and night.  With this in mind, we are actually able to follow the command as God designed.

“Never stop praying” means we should have an awareness of God’s power and sovereignty all of the time.  We must become so keenly in tune with how actively God is involved in our lives that we immediately turn to him in prayer for all of our issues and concerns.  Essentially, the minute we encounter issues, we automatically go to God in prayer. 

But it’s not just about going to God only when we have problems.  It’s also about having that ongoing relationship with God before, during, and after a problem.  We’ve previously established that prayer is communicating with God.  We’ve established that prayer is indicative of our relationship with God.  We’ve established that prayer is important for many reasons, including whether or not we are relying on God as opposed to ourselves.  Prayer is key to our Christian walk.  It’s for our good! 

If you already know this, then check yourself against the ideal.  Do you pray without ceasing?  If not, why not?

In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Paul commands us to depend on God and to commune with God through prayer—non-stop.  So…NEVER STOP PRAYING!

 


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“What happens when we look back?”

As I sat down to write today’s meditation, one question kept demanding to be answered:  What is the real purpose behind our looking back at our history?  Over the years, I have known there is no good reason not to look back, but I needed to answer this question clearly so that the deeper significance of our annual activities would come to light.

 

There are several things that happen when we look back at our history:  1.  We reflect on how far we have come as a people.

  1. We honor our ancestors who made sacrifices and who accomplished great things that benefit us still today.
  2. We consider where we are today, and with a hopeful heart, we determine to continue striving towards freedom and equality and reward.

 

Interestingly, each of these things has a spiritual benefit.  When we reflect on how far we have come as a people, we must acknowledge God’s presence in our story.  The Gospel truth was never far removed from the cries for freedom in those old days!  When we look back, we can see the bigger picture and better understand God’s plan at work for all of humanity.  When we honor our ancestors for their sacrifices and accomplishments, we have no choice but to also honor God!  We find examples of God’s love, and deliverance, and blessings.  We know that everything we are and everything we have is because of God.  And when we consider where we are today, hope arises in us anew.  We know that all things work together for our good.  Our history teaches us about unity, about faith, and about sacrifice in a way that should help us to better understand the principles of our Christian beliefs. 

 

From the beginning of man, since Satan entered in and had his way, there has been a people bound up in sin in some fashion.  Oppression and all of its ugliness has been a problem for many centuries.  Even today, some ugly situation makes the headlines and a new movement is spawned to take it on.  Some of you will sit here and dwell on the many issues we all face and become overwhelmed.  But let me caution you against that.  We have a future hope that should turn all of the present-day evil on its head.  Hope is the one ingredient we must nurture—in ourselves and in those we have an opportunity to affect.  We must maintain hope.  Hope is the reason we are here today.  Hope is the reason we look forward to tomorrow.  Hope is the reason we keep going.

 

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. —Rom. 15:13  

 


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“Called to Prayer”

As Christians, we have been called to pray.  Prayer is one of the most important aspects of the Christian life. You cannot live the Christian life without prayer, and you cannot live the Christian life well without praying well.  How we pray says something about our relationship with God.  So, to pray well, you must have a good relationship with God.  This means you pray according to scripture, and you do it often. 

 

When you pray, you are actually talking with God.  That sounds simple enough yet many Christians struggle with prayer. Many Christians are not satisfied with their prayer life.  They feel awkward approaching God.  They feel apprehensive praying out loud and with others.  They feel a need to develop a better prayer life.  How do you feel about your prayer life?

 

We have been called to pray, so there are three things about prayer we should all think about:

1.)  Prayer is a privilege.  If prayer is communication with God, then what an awesome privilege it is for us to be able to talk with God…to make our requests  before the creator and ruler of the world and have a reasonable expectation that He hears us and answers us. 

2.)  Prayer is a discipline.  Scriptures tell us things about the importance of prayer, and also how to pray.  As we learn to pray according to Scripture, our prayers can be transformed from a one-way monologue to a two-way dialogue with God. 

3.)  Prayer is a responsibility.  One key reason to pray is because God has commanded us to pray. If we are to be obedient to His will, then prayer must be part of our life in Him. 

 

We pray to God because we can.  It is a vital part of our relationship with him.  We understand it is important, so we must strive to develop a solid prayer life.  We also realize that it’s purpose often extends beyond ourselves. God has called us to prayer. Prayer is a divine privilege, a worthy discipline, and an awesome responsibility.  As Colossians 4:2 commands us, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” 

 

When God calls, we must answer.  God has called us to prayer.  We must respond.

 


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“Don’t just pretend to love others”

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. – Romans 12:9

 

Every once in a while, one of my girls will exclaim “Fake love!” It’s usually because I had a particularly busy day and was especially slow in responding to their texts. Of course they’re joking with me. Of course they know I am especially fond of both of them. Of course they know my love is not fake. With Valentines Day approaching, I thought it was a good time to focus on love…real love.

How often do you really love other people? This verse talks about not pretending to love others, but to really love them. What does real love look like?

Real love looks out for what is best for the other person. It doesn’t just say and do what makes other people happy. Real love stays the same. It doesn’t change based on how someone treats you or how you feel. When you love someone with God’s love, it doesn’t matter how that person responds, rather what matters is how you respond.

Real love, the God kind of love, isn’t always easy to live out. It takes guts. It takes putting aside what feels right at the moment and responding to that person in love. When you choose to love, it makes a difference, especially to those who don’t know Christ. So, here’s your challenge: Choose to demonstrate crazy love today to someone who might be hurting. You never know who you might win for Christ by choosing to love!

And if nobody told you today… I love you! (Smiles to Bro. Tony Henderson!)


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“If My People…Turn From Their Wicked Ways”

If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.–2 Chron. 7:14 (NIV)

 

We’ve spent the last few weeks reviewing what it means to be humble, to pray, and to seek God’s face.  God’s requirement that we “turn from [our] wicked ways” seems straightforward enough.  God is asking us to repent, right?  God is requiring us to stop sinning.  We probably understand that very quickly.  “Turn from their wicked ways”… Repent.  Surely we all get this.  Then why is it such an issue?

When God asks us to “turn from” our wicked ways, he is not simply requiring us to look away from our sin and face another direction!  God is requiring that we abandon our sin.  That means we must turn away from our sin and actually move in a different direction!  Leave that sin behind!  When you think about how much more significant an action it is to abandon our sin as opposed to just looking away from it, you realize that our very mindset is different.  And when our mindset is different, our physical bodies follow.  Abandon your sin.

Sin is anything that is contrary to God’s Word.  Proverbs 6:16-19 gives us six things the Lord hates and seven that are an abomination.  Exodus 20:10-17 outlines the 10 Commandments—definitive things we recognize as sinful if we go against them.  1 Corinthians 10:23-24 tells us that we all have the right to do what we want to do, but that doesn’t make it good or right, especially if it does not benefit others and bring glory to God.  Wherever there is a clear definition of sin in the Bible, we can easily see what’s right and what’s wrong.  Where the matter is not specifically spelled out, we then have to allow God’s Holy Spirit to lead and guide us.  Most of the times, though, the sins we commit are obvious and we know we are doing wrong.  And when we sin, we know that we must stop.  We must repent.

We are human.  We sin.  We ask God to forgive us.  God forgives us.  Walaah!  What’s the real issue here, then?  The issue is that we, as Christians, must realize that God’s forgiveness is not a vending machine deal.  And coming to church proclaiming faith in Christ while returning to our sinful lifestyles the moment we leave the church building is not repentance.  The Christian who testifies of his or her faith in God while returning again and again to their sin is straddling the fence on this matter.  You can’t love God and pursue sin at the same time!  It’s impossible.  You might want to, but God and sin simply do not reside in the same place.  So, you have to make a decision.

Think of it like this:  If you caught your spouse in an affair, and they apologized and said they were sorry, would it be acceptable to you if they returned again and again to an affair partner all while maintaining they love you deeply?  Most likely not.  Then why would we expect God to accept that we love Him while we continue to return to our sin again and again?  The scripture is clear.  We must turn from our wicked ways!  It’s a process, but with humble hearts, prayer, and seeking God, we can do it.  When all of this is done…and we turn from our wicked ways, THEN God will heal our land!  Amen!!!

 


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“If My People….Seek My Face”

If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.–2 Chron. 7:14 (NIV)

 

Throughout the scriptures, God’s people are encouraged to seek God’s face. When we seek God’s face, we are actually seeking His presence. The call to seek God’s face was issued to Israel because they had abandoned Him and needed to return to Him.

A person’s face reveals much about his or her character and personality. We see the inward emotions of a person expressed on their face. We recognize a person by looking at his or her face. When you think about it this way, one’s face, with all of the characteristics and expressions, is representative of the whole person. For the writers of the Bible, the human face could represent the entire person.

In Psalm 105:4, God’s faithful ones were called to “seek his face always.” Even if we have not totally abandoned God, there are times when we don’t always seek God’s face. We allow God’s face to be obscured by our human condition and fleshly desires. But still we are urged to seek God’s face!

Have you ever been at a movie or at some other event with a stage where someone or something was in front of you blocking your view? We might get frustrated with the obstruction, but we will usually situate ourselves—craning our neck, leaning over, and doing whatever we can—to see whatever is going on onstage. When life events obstruct our view of God’s face, we should situate ourselves and do whatever it takes so we can still experience the face of God!

“Who may ascend the mountain of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god. They will receive blessing from the LORD and vindication from God their Savior. Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, God of Jacob” (Psalm 24:3–6).

How, though, do we really seek God’s face? How do we actually enter into God’s presence? It is through prayer, praise, and worship that we can enter into God’s presence. And the true worship of God requires a redeemed heart that desires God alone—one that

continues to build itself up in the knowledge of God. As Christians, this should be a part of our daily walk—to humbly and trustingly seek His face in our prayers and in our times in His Word. And we won’t be able to hold back the praise we offer up as we become increasingly aware of how awesome and powerful and gracious and merciful God is!

“O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water. I have seen you in your sanctuary and gazed upon your power and glory. Your unfailing love is better than life itself; how I praise you!” (Psalm 63:1–3, NLT).

Seeking God’s face means desiring to know His character and wanting His presence more than any other thing He can give us. Remember, it is an important element to receiving the promise in 2 Chronicles 7:14.

 


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“If My People….Pray”

If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.–2 Chron. 7:14 (NIV)

In the Old Testament, the prayers of many, praying together consistently emphasize these pleas: that God would act for the sake of his great name, that he would glorify himself, and that he would do this by saving Israel through the judgment of their enemies.  These prayers sometimes included fasting.  The important point is that God answered the prayers of many!

In the New Testament, under a new covenant with God, many praying together is still significant.  Throughout the scriptures, people are taught to pray.  The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6 starts with “Our Father”!  “Give US this day our daily bread… Lead US not into temptation… Deliver US from evil…”.  Many praying together…just as Jesus taught…always done in a way that builds up the church (1 Cor. 14:16-17). 

People pray to God because they believe that he is able to forgive their sins, mighty to save, able to change the course of events, and willing to respond to the prayers of his people. These prayers of many, also called corporate prayers, usually call on God to do exactly what he has promised to do. When the Bible records the prayers of the people of God, it records them asking him to do what he has promised to do for the sake of his name. God has always intended for his people to pray for HIS glory and THEIR good.

Whenever God’s people pray together, the prayer of a mediator to which a repenting people can come up under is a clear sign of God’s rich mercy. Christ Jesus, who sacrificed his life for us, is our greatest intercessor (Rom 8:34)!

As part of our group of many praying together at New Cedar Grove, we should listen intently to the person leading prayer, and really pray along.  And if we are leading the prayer, we must not be so vain that we worry too much about our ability to articulate big words.  God hears our prayers, and he is much more concerned with our hearts than our eloquent sounding speech.  The Holy Spirit will help us (Romans 8:26). 

The more you pray, the easier it becomes to talk to God.  Interceding for many people is an important responsibility.  As Christians we may approach God boldly to intercede for others, knowing that Christ’s sacrifice has sufficiently cleared the way to the Father.  But we should always approach God with careful reverence, preparation, study, earnestness, brokenness, and thanksgiving. 

Through the prayers of many together, God’s people will become what God designed—united in Christ.  Praying together, after all, teaches us to be united in faith, united in hope, and united in love. 

Let’s pray…together.

 


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“Hard Times: A Reason To Be Grateful”

Hard times can be unbelievably taxing.  Depending on what is actually causing you heartache, you are no doubt feeling a lot of emotions—from sad, exhausted and energy-depleted to angry, bitter, regretful and more.

That makes it more important than ever to be grateful for the good parts of your life as they have the incredible power to help guide you through any difficult experience. Here are three things you can do that will help.

Recognize the Good:  Trouble has a way of making us forget that there is anything good going on in our lives. That’s why you must take time out of each day to recognize the good parts of your life. Some people call it “gratitude”. It is important to think on the good things, no matter how ordinary they might seem. Consider buying yourself a journal or notebook and make a point to write down the things in your life for which you are grateful. Writing them down makes them real. The number of things on your list might even surprise you once you write them down.

Refocus on the Good:  God created us with a wide range of emotions. It is important to give yourself the permission to be sad, angry or upset when times are hard, but don’t linger in it too long. Make a point to quickly re-center yourself and refocus on the good parts of your life. I call it “processing” things. Once you have let yourself feel the emotions, though, refocus. That way you are never sad or upset for too long. Spend time with people you love, and who love you. Spend time with God, and allow him to help you.

Create More Good:  Once you have allowed yourself to process emotions and have come to a point where you can be more easily grateful for the good in your life, it’s incredibly important to pay it forward so you can help others going through hard times in their lives. It can help you to gain some perspective when you can come to a point where you realize that others might be worse off than you. No matter how hard times get, you can begin to create more positivity in your life going forward.  

 

The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ – eternal and glorious plans they are! – will have you put together and on your feet for good. –Peter 5:10 (MSG)

 


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Together on our knees in 2019

 
As the new year begins, what is it that we can do to really make an impact. Where is our greatest need? Is it in our homes, in our communities, in our nation, or in the world?  Or is in in all of these places? There is so much going on all around us, that we can easily get overwhelmed by the idea of doing anything at all and throw up our hands and do nothing. As Christians, we must ask: Are we going to sit by and watch our culture fall apart and our families disintegrate and do nothing? Or are we going to do something to help turn America to God?

The future of our culture is in the hands of Christians because the cause of our cultural demise is innately spiritual. And if a problem is spiritual, its cure must be spiritual as well. If we Christians are going to help turn our nation to God, we must fall on our knees and our faces before God and pray. We must not only talk about prayer, but pray. Not only agree on the importance of prayer, but pray. Not only preach on the power of prayer, but pray. As Billy Graham once said, “To get our nation on its feet, we must get on our knees.”

Second Chronicles 7:14 contains an awesome promise: “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” In this hallmark passage, God calls a nation to pray.

Prayer is an earthly request for heavenly intervention. But we can’t enjoy this kind of divine intervention of healing in our land with just a little prayer tossed toward Heaven occasionally. The kind of prayer that will reclaim lives, families and a nation for God must take high priority in our schedules. In fact, if you look back at Nehemiah 1:4, you see that Nehemiah prayed and fasted for days when he heard about the conditions in Jerusalem.

In the face of his nation’s ongoing cultural demise, Nehemiah’s first reaction was to pray! He fasted and prayed and sought God. As he did so, God revealed His strategy—and reversed years of deterioration in just 52 days. This is because prayer saves time.

We could save a lot of time and worry if we spent time praying first. That’s because God’s divine influence makes light work of the issues we face. When we might spend weeks and months trying to resolve an issue in our own power, God can make all the difference in a much shorter amount of time.  Let’s make prayer our priority in this new year, and let’s pray TOGETHER!

 


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A Very Strong Message for Sharing the Gospel

“Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples.”                                                                                                                                                         —-Psalm 96:3

Have you ever been driving and then pass by a policeman with his speed gun pointed at the traffic coming from the opposite direction?  Have you ever flashed your lights so people would slow down and avoid getting a ticket?  If so, you were essentially warning them of something to come that would not go well for them.  Most of us would do that without thinking twice about it.  Why are many of us more concerned about a traffic stop than people’s potential for eternity in hell?! 

We have to remember that life comes to an end for everyone. One thing is clear: We all will die and eternity some place. Ecclesiastes 3:1–2 tells us, “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die.”

Jesus spent more time talking about Hell than anyone else. Of the forty parables He told, more than half of them relate to God’s eternal judgment of sinners. Hell is a real place for real people. It is as real as heaven!  Therefore, one of the strongest motivations for out getting out there to share the gospel should be so people won’t go to Hell. That is the bottom line. If we tell people they will have fulfillment, peace, and joy if they believe in Jesus, while that is true, it isn’t the most significant part of the message.  The greatest aspect of the gospel, which means “good news,” is that we don’t have to go to Hell. Instead, we can go to Heaven.  Where would you be headed if nobody had shared the Gospel message with you?  If you know people who aren’t Christians, then they are headed to Hell. The question is what are you doing to reach them? 

“It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment”. Hebrews 9:27

The Great Commission requires that we do more than share the Gospel message.  We are to make disciples who make disciples who make disciples, and so on and so forth.  But as we grow into a better understanding about discipleship and what it really means to make disciples, we must consider how important it is for us to share the Gospel.  In other words, while we are learning and growing into disciples who make disciples, we should continue to share the Gospel message. 

 


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Making Disciples

Have you ever gone into a store while they were restocking the shelves?  If what you wanted was out of stock, and you saw a pallet of that inventory waiting to be restocked, wouldn’t you get a little bit anxious waiting for the stockboy or girl to open up the boxes and get the item back on the shelves?  You’d probably be anxious for that stockperson to do their job.  Waiting 10 minutes would probably frustrate you.  Imagine how God feels while he waits on you to make disciples.  Depending on how long it has been since your conversion, God has probably waited more than 10 years for you to do your job!  This just reminds us that it is past time for us to figure out how to do our job.
 

A gallop poll confirmed that people who have friends at work are more engaged employees.  They are usually more involved and more productive as much as their capabilities allow.  The alternative is an employee who would rather be some place else, any place else even.  This same thing is important in church.  Think about it.  People who have friends at church are more engaged members.  They are usually more involved and more productive as much as their capabilities allow.  The alternative is a church member who comes sparingly or just stops coming altogether.  Wow.  Think on that for a moment and consider a recent sermon by Prophetess Smith where she showed us one of the problems:  We are failing in our mission.  We aren’t making disciples.  We are sharing the Gospel message, and we are getting people to accept the Lord Jesus as their Savior.  However, we aren’t very successful in getting them from conversion to discipleship.  One of the reasons is we aren’t spending enough time building a relationship with these new Christians.

 

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit… (Matthew 28:19)

 

Most of us probably know how to make converts.  We share the Gospel, and if someone responds to the Good News, there is a rebirth and a new Christian is made.  But until that person is reading God’s Word daily, praying with his or her spouse, obeying God, and sharing his or her faith at every opportunity, you haven’t yet made a disciple.  A disciple should be showing the Fruit of the Spirit and growing more like Jesus Christ every day.  

 

So what do we do to make disciples out of new Christians?  The most essential elements in disciple-making are relationship and time.  You’ve got to share one-on-one time with a person to make a disciple.  Classes and teachings are good, but caring for the person and talking to them directly have proven to have more impact.  That’s exactly what Jesus did!  The next most important thing is modeling discipleship.  You can’t make a disciple if you aren’t living as one.  Preach what you practice.  Encourage, love, pray with, study with, and be there for people and you will make disciples.  Jesus did all of this, and he made disciples!

 

The Great Commandment is our mission.  Go, and do your job!

 


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The Value of Woship

So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. —Acts 2:46-47

Just as something wonderful happens when God’s people get together and study His Word, something extraordinary happens when God’s people get together and sing His praises. Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” Now this verse is not saying that God only shows up when people worship, because God is omnipresent. But He manifests His presence in a special way when His people lift up His name in praise and worship.

The early church was a worshipping church. Acts 2:46–47 tells us, “They ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people.” The phrase “gladness and simplicity of heart” literally means “with unaffected joy.” There was joy in the early church. There was vibrancy. But there also was reverence. A few verses earlier, we read that fear came upon every soul, and wonders and signs were done through the apostles (verse 43). There should be joy and reverence. Those are elements that should be in our worship. The Spirit-filled church will be a worshipping church, and the Spirit filled Christian will be a worshipping Christian.

Someone might say, “Well, I just don’t always feel like worshipping.” Do you think the first-century believers always felt like praising God? They were harassed. They were beaten. They were mocked. These Christians faced persecution on a massive scale, but they were thankful to God.

The Bible doesn’t say, “Give thanks to the Lord when you feel good.” Rather, it says, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!” (1 Chronicles 16:34). That is how Job was able to worship God after calamity came knocking at his door (see Job 1:20).

Sometimes worship can feel like a sacrifice, still God is deserving of our honor and praise. No matter what, we must worship God.


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A Test of Faith

The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the LORD. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.” Elisha replied to her, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?” “Your servant has nothing there at all,” she said, “except a little oil.” Elisha said, “Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few. –2 Kings 4:1-3(NIV)

Have you ever felt hopeless? Overwhelmed by the pressures of daily life and all of its circumstances? Well, the woman in these verses had all but given up hope. Her husband had died, and left her with a ton of debt. She had no income. Creditors were threatening to take her sons as payment for her bills. In a moment of despair and helplessness, she cried out to the prophet Elisha.

There are times when the faithful will fall into financial difficulty, among other things. It does not necessarily mean anyone has been unfaithful or does not have faith. There are times when the difficulty comes as a test of faith. As the hopelessness overwhelmed her, this widow asked the prophet of God, Elisha, what to do. Elisha asked her what she had left.

Sometimes we only have a little for God to work with, but He can do a lot with a little. If we are willing to demonstrate our faith by putting that little bit into His hands, He multiplies it. Do you remember the fish and loaves and the widow who fed Elijah? What do you have? Whether we have a little or plenty, are you willing to put it in God’s hands?

Elisha told her to borrow as many jars as she could from her neighbors. And thus, she did. She poured the little oil she had left into one jar and it kept coming out of that jar. It continued to flow until every last jar she had on hand was full. What a way to pass a test of faith!

When you expect God to move, prepare in a big way. The oil the widow collected was sold to pay their debts with enough left over to sustain them. Sometimes, the solution will come in a most unexpected way. All God asks is that we trust Him. How you handle the difficulties you face can indicate whether or not you really truly trust in God.

Remember this:  Though the righteous fall into difficulty, God will provide when they place their trust in Him.

 


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We can give God joy

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2 NIV)

Jesus knew the purpose for his life on earth. One of the key ideas about Easter is the fact that his death, burial, and resurrection is the whole reason he came to earth. The purpose of Christ’s life was to offer himself as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind. The Bible says that Jesus became sin for us so that we could be forgiven and found righteous in God’s sight (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus endured the cross with that purpose in mind. Jesus was so certain of his purpose that he predicted when and how he would die (Matthew 26:2). Jesus looked beyond the suffering, shame, punishment, and death. Christ knew the joy that was yet to come, so he focused on the future.

What, then, is our purpose? Some would answer that our purpose is to love God, and to serve God. Others might say that our chief purpose is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. These descriptions are true. But let me also suggest that our purpose is to bring God joy!

The Bible says that there is great joy in heaven whenever a sinner repents (Luke 15:10). Likewise, the Lord rewards good works and there is joy in hearing him say, “Well done good and faithful servant.” This means Jesus anticipated the joy that would take place when each person would repent and be saved. He also looked forward to the joy that would result from each good work done by believers in obedience to God and motivated by love.

The Bible says that we love God because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). Ephesians 2:1-10 tells us that by nature we are rebellious towards God and are born spiritually dead. It is by his love and grace that he brings us to faith and reconciliation. God has even planned our good works (Ephesians 2:10).

As Easter approaches, think of this amazing thought: Our Father rejoices and experiences joy as we respond to him in repentance, love, and good works that brings him glory. We can give God joy! Remember that aspect of your purpose. God is looking forward to it.

 


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The Power of the Holy Spirit

For though He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God toward you. —2 Corinthians 13:4

Spiritual power is the divine energy God is willing to express in and through us and the divine authority needed to carry out the work God has called us to do victoriously.

We cannot “harness” the power of the Holy Spirit. This power is not just for preachers, evangelists, or people who work in special ministry; rather, it is available to every believer who willingly surrenders moment by moment in submission and obedience to the Holy Spirit.
 

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Do Not Lean on Your Own Understanding

Read part 1 first, Trust In The Lord.

Proverbs 3:5-6
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

 

Don’t Lean on Your Understanding

The verse involves a positive–something you must do. But it also involves a negative–something you must not do. Don’t lean on your own understanding. Basically, the verse is telling us that we ought not to be self-reliant. We cannot pursue a course of action, a financial decision, a business move, a relationship, or an educational choice, simply based on our own understanding. It must be founded in our trust in God.

Self-reliance is such a deceptive trap. We begin to pride ourselves in something–our savvy, our looks, our intellect, our spirituality, our family, whatever. And when we do, it takes away our trust in the Lord. It has become trust in self. The result is a dangerous compromise that will lead to destruction.


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Trust in The Lord

 

It’s simple. It’s short. Yet it’s incredibly powerful. Proverbs 3:5-6 is one of the most familiar passages in the Bible–with good reason. It sets forth a life-changing truth that is worthy of our attention. Spend three minutes reading this article, and see if you agree.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

Trust in the Lord.

It starts with trust. Any real relationship has to start with some level of trust. It’s the only way a friendship will endure. It’s the only way a marriage will work out. It’s the simple reason why an employer hires workers, or why the workers stay employed. It’s all about trust. Trust in the Lord, however, takes on an entirely new dimension. This is our trust in an eternal, all-powerful, all-wise, all-loving God. He is worthy of our trust. The trust is important, not just because of who God is, but because of the way in which we must trust him: with all your heart. It involves every fiber of your being. That’s the kind of trust we can have in God–a complete, unshakable, deep, abiding trust.

 

Read part 2, Don’t Lean On Your Understanding


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