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Free At Last

16 Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. 17  Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. 1 Peter 2:16-17 (NASB) 


5 Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, 6 not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, 7 rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, 8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. 9 Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him. Ephesians 6:5-9 ESV


I think starting off, it is important for us to understand that Peter and Paul are not writing just to the man or woman on the streets, but that they are writing to believers. 


I point this out mainly because it is very possible to come to any portion of the Bible in such a way as to miss the fact that the purpose of the Bible is ultimately to introduce us to Jesus.


 It is only in our awareness of who Jesus is and what Jesus has done that we are then able to come to the places of application and recognize that this is not just a form of moralism —“Do this and do that and don’t do this and don’t do that”


It ain’t just behavioral modification. It is the dynamic work of the Spirit of God, quickening us and enabling us to become what God intends for us to be. 


All that to say this- Pastor’s sermon “Free At Last” made me a little mad. I was so happy to be at church for in-person service and then he starts preaching and I start feeling like sour grapes. It’s not that he didn’t preach truth, it’s that he did -and sometimes the truth hurts. 


An excerpt from this week’s sermon notes said: 


“I have the right to disagree with political leaders, but I do not have the right before God to treat them with dishonor. Like the counsel that Peter gives to wives in chapter three, even if they have an unbelieving husband let their lives be such an example that they win their husband, without speaking a word. I must tread carefully when I start denouncing people, calling others names, even political leaders. I am not saying there is no room for political dissent, certainly, there is. But the attitude that is displayed in that dissent must be one of honor. “


Ugh! I wanna be mad and ugly in response to what our current leaders are doing. I wanna get on Facebook and rant and rave and share posts that reflect what I feel is right and true. I wanna protest! 


But am I called to? 


That’s the question that popped into my head during Pastor Neal’s message and it burned me down.  So I’ve really had to sit with this and process through what Peter is saying. What is hilarious, is that normally I would much rather read Peter than Paul. They both have basically the same message here, but for whatever reason I have always been able to swallow it better coming from the words of Peter. I think Paul always seemed so bluntly honest in his delivery that any conviction I felt from his words felt harsher. (lol! Oh mercy, the way my brain works!)  But in this case, I have found myself looking to Paul. So for this blog I’m gonna hang out with Paul as a means to process what we are learning in 1 Peter. Bear with me folks!


Servants, respectfully obey your earthly masters but always with an eye to obeying the real master, Christ. Don’t just do what you have to do to get by, but work heartily, as Christ’s servants doing what God wants you to do. And work with a smile on your face, always keeping in mind that no matter who happens to be giving the orders, you’re really serving God. Good work will get you good pay from the Master, regardless of whether you are slave or free. Ephesians 6:5-8 The Message (MSG)


When the Holy Spirit comes to live in the life of an individual, it changes everything. And it changes particularly the way a person thinks—That is the point. 


The gospel changes our view of things wonderfully but radically. We often quote C.S. Lewis. He said,  “I believe in Christianity as I believe in the rising of the sun, not simply because I can see it but because by it, I can see everything else.”


 The gospel changes our view of marriage, changes our understanding of what it means to be a wife or a child or an employer or an employee. It changes how we operate and function in our community and the world. It changes how we think about everything. 


The reason Paul says what he says  is because he is thinking properly. And the way we need to approach challenging issues like those we are facing now is by also thinking properly.  We have to think in terms of what the Bible teaches. 

 Paul is not driven by pragmatism here. He’s not guided by practical experience or observation. He’s steered by his theological convictions. 

What is a foundational conviction for Paul? It is this: that God has entrusted to him and to those who serve with him the message of reconciliation. So, for example, when he writes to the Corinthians, in 2 Corinthians 5, he says, “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself …. We are ambassadors for Christ …. [And so] we implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

Paul is concerned first and foremost with man’s relationship to God. That is the great issue, always! That the condition of man before God in light of eternity is and always will be the driving force of proclaiming the gospel.

That’s why Peter, in 1 Peter 2, says, “I appeal to you as pilgrims and as strangers.” The great issue is not what is going on politically around me. It’s not this wretched virus. The issue is: God is holy, man is sinful, man is separated from God. The message that we’re given to share is that God reconciles men and women to himself through Jesus. 

Time is short. We’re not here forever. We are pilgrims and strangers. That means the issues of this world, as significant as they are, are not the great issues. 


The great issues of the world relate to the reality of our separation from God, of the provision that God has made for us in that need, and of the fact that we are here for just a short time.  


I have so lost focus… I have gotten so hung up in politics and social injustice,  fear of communism, and of what’s to come- that I lost sight of what is really important. 


Paul recognized that. That’s why in 1 Corinthians 9 he says, “My great concern is to win as many as possible.”


 To win as many as possible. So if he had taken on the social injustices of the time, and under Nero there were many,  he would never have won hardly anybody at all! Because all he would have been talking about all the time was, “You know, this shouldn’t be happening.” Of course it shouldn’t be happening! But that wasn’t the message he had been given to preach. 


Why is the church in the world today? We’re not in the world to reform the world. Our mandate in the world is not political, it’s not social, and it’s not economic. The fact is that we are living in a period of time in the United States where the social, political, and economic concerns have increasingly encroached upon the minds of those who should know better and have begun to take on virtually a life of their own. Where we have begun to be seduced by the idea that these really are the issues—that if we could just fix A, B, and C... then we would be fine. 

 

But we were never invited to fix these things. The calling of the church is to proclaim the gospel. 

 

In researching, I came across this statement from Martin Lloyd-Jones who makes this amazing observation. He’s speaking to a congregation, probably in the 1940s, or  ’50s, “We hear so much today about defending Western civilization [from] attack. That is all wrong! As a Christian I am not primarily [concerned about] Western civilization, I am interested in the Kingdom of God; and I am as anxious that men [and women] behind the Iron Curtain should be saved as that men on this side of the Iron Curtain should be saved. We must not take up a position of antagonism towards those whom we want to win for Christ. If we spend [our whole] time talking against them we [will] never win them.”

 

This is at the height of the Cold War. What is Lloyd-Jones saying? He’s saying, “The whole  world is preoccupied by the threat of Communism. Many of you want me to stand up and keep talking about Communism. Communism is a real problem, and the Communists are doing this and the Communists are doing that. But I’m not going to do that. Why? Because I want Communists to hear about Jesus.” 

 

Now, you can apply it in any way you want. The movement towards socialism, the woke left, the liberal extremists, whatever. 

 

If I write  “You know, what’s wrong with the world today is fake news, and the woke left are shredding our constitution, the gender issue is upside down, and marriage has gone to pot, and abortion is promoted by our governors.” So on and so on.  People may get fired up and get excited? I might get a few likes on Facebook, but to what end? What has happened in terms of people being converted or lives transformed? Very little! 


 Because it’s not the issue.

 

You see, the great concern—the great concern—is that the gospel might frame our thinking. And it is the gospel which frames Paul’s thinking. Because Paul recognizes that the gospel works everywhere. The gospel works in jails. The gospel works in politics. The gospel works in science. The gospel works in the children’s ministry. The gospel works in the nursing homes. The gospel works! 

 

And so Paul, as he is addressing these Ephesian believers, is speaking to them in the social context in which they find themselves. And his responsibility is not to disrupt that environment, but instead to show them the difference that the gospel makes.


He’s talking to slaves and masters. The gospel is the answer to slavery. The gospel is the only answer to anything. The gospel is the answer to human trafficking, to government corruption, to social injustice.


The gospel is the only answer to the morally upside-down world we find ourselves living in. 

 

The reason we are dealing with all the problems in this world is man is sinful, man is selfish, man is self-centered, and man needs a Savior. So how will man get a Savior? Only if people share the gospel. 

 

The Gospel.

 

I want you to know that I care passionately about abortion. I care passionately about racism. I am exercised beyond measure regarding what is happening politically. I am livid at the thought of forced vaccinations. I want everyone to be safe and healthy. Fake news and big tech censorship drives me to distraction.

 

 But this sermon series, these scriptures, framing things within God’s word, has brought me full circle. Because at the end of the day, the real transformative work in a nation is the transformative work of the gospel. 

 

Why is America as ungodly as it is? ’Cause there ain’t enough Christians! We need more Christians. How do you get more Christians? By preaching about the issues of the day? No. By preaching the gospel.

 

The more Christians, the more Christian thinking. The more Christian thinking, the more Christian action— in science, in politics, in media, in education, and in medicine. But if I get sidetracked into thinking that these issues are the main thing, I risk neglecting the message of God’s Word which really is the main thing.


If you read history, and alongside it church history, you’ll find out all kinds of fascinating things—and with this, I’ll close. 


All through history It’s those that just simply, day by day, share Jesus with those they encounter, It’s the apparently insignificant work that goes on in a little church in Lebanon where the pastor proclaims to his people the unsearchable riches of Christ,  It's the woman who used to be an addict that shares her testimony with someone she met in the grocery line, It’s actions like these that are what yielded and what yields today, righteousness and transformation. 

 

Think about all the work that is going on unseen in small congregations with faithful pastors just sticking with the gospel.

 

We believe that the greatest need of man is not a vaccine, or an economic bailout, or one more social program. We know the greatest need is to be reconciled to God. When God reconciles us  to himself and changes our way of thinking, then that man, that woman, will engage in the privileges and opportunities that are there for them to effect real change— That’s how we change the world.

 

Because the gospel works everywhere, and works through individuals whose lives have been embraced by it and who in turn are embracing others.


Father, thank you that we can trust that you are present and working in our lives. As we are confronted by these complex and uncomfortable times, we ask that you will help us to do as Paul has done, as Peter has done, as our Pastor has done, and to frame things in light of your Word. We ask that we receive the enabling of the Holy Spirit to speak and to hear, to understand, to believe, to figure things out, to obey and accomplish your purposes, In Jesus’ name -Amen.

 

 

 


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All Over But the Shoutin'

We all like to be protected against bad things. When it is cold outside, we put on layers of warm clothes and a ‘boggin. Summer comes and we slather on sunblock, put on sunglasses, and cover ourselves in bug spray. Our cars have all sorts of gadgetry to protect us from the dangers of driving. The computer I am typing on has firewalls and virus protection. The lengths we go to are endless. 


Now, due to a microscopic little bugger called Covid-19, everyone is required to wear PPE at work or when going out in public. I have to don a face mask and drown myself in hand sanitizer to go pick up a gallon of milk. 


The new normal is getting old. When will it end? Pastor’s message this week was called “Shout” but right now, it feels like it’s all over but the shoutin!


I’m having a hard time settling into the new normal. The new normal seems unsettling. And TBH, stress does not bring out the best in me. Flattening the curve is warping my brain! For me, the arc on this quarantine is too long, and it bends toward bad habits and a bad attitude. 


Please don’t misunderstand. I genuinely love people. I want everyone safe and healthy. But the MINUTE the governor told me I MUST wear a mask in public, every particle of my being went into full-blown rebellion (if you have read my blog before, you know I struggle with submitting to authority.) 


I have the fabric to make a mask. I have made masks for other people, but to be told I MUST wear them!? I’m ready to lay down in the street in protest! 


I don’t though. Instead, I just refuse to wear the mask, stomp my foot and cross my arms like a petulant child, and send my husband to the grocery in my stead since I can’t enter without the darn thing. 


I get it. It is scary. There are lots of things we don’t know and the facts all seem to be muddied and manipulated by those in charge. In the early days of the outbreak, President Trump called it “an invisible enemy.” 


We do have an invisible enemy, but it ain’t just the ‘Rona. This enemy is way beyond what can be seen under a microscope. 


For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12

Ya’ll know as well as I do, we definitely have an unseen enemy who means to destroy us. There is no doubt about it. But I think the enemy I have to battle most in this situation is ME- my fears, my emotions, my bad attitude. That feels like the bigger battle and a more fearsome enemy right now. 


The mandate to wear a mask has unmasked the truth about some things I need to deal with. Thank goodness God is still God. Side note- God is too good to me.


I woke up this morning as I have for so many mornings lately, all grubby and grumbly. I didn’t want to write a blog that was encouraging. I’m mad and frustrated. I really just wanted to waller around in my fantastic mope until my fingers were all pruny with it. But I knew I had to put something down. So I half-heartedly start searching for scriptures on shouting about God’s goodness and look what happens- I find God’s goodness. It’s enough to make me laugh and cry all at the same time. 


Lookout “unseen enemy”! Step aside fluctuating emotions and bad attitude. Ephesians 6 gives me a spiritual Hazmat suit! 


Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.… Ephesians 6:13-18 msg

 

And if I back it up a little further, I realize before I put on this spiritual super-suit I have to first take off some things. Ephesians 4:30-32 tells me to


30 And don’t make the Holy Spirit sad. God gave you his Spirit as proof that you belong to him and that he will keep you safe until the day he makes you free. 31 Never be bitter, angry, or mad. Never shout angrily or say things to hurt others. Never do anything evil. 32 Be kind and loving to each other. Forgive each other the same as God forgave you through Christ.


 “Never be bitter, angry, or mad…”.  


If I make my mind up now that I won’t feed into my bad attitude, if I don’t get tangled up in bitterness and anger through this mess while adjusting to a new normal I don’t really want, then I will be ahead of the game when things around me just keep changing. (Sorry, I am totally using this blog to preach to myself!)


Then there is Colossians 3:12-14 


“Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.”


It’s hard for me to quietly go along with some of the things happening around us. My attitude needs adjusting more than I like to admit. But whatever happens in this world, we are assured that God intends to use it for good – including this stinkin’ virus. I’ve just got to remember to suit up and fight the good fight of faith cause it really is all over but the shoutin’. 

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Big Shoes To Fill

“Most important of all, love each other deeply, because love makes you willing to forgive many sins.” ‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭4:8‬ ‭ERV‬‬


“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second most important command is this: ‘Love your neighbor the same as you love yourself.’ These two commands are the most important.” ‭‭Mark‬ ‭12:30-31‬ ERV


“Do for others what you want them to do for you.” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭6:31‬ ‭ERV‬‬


Loving each other well is hard. And doing for others what you want them to do for you requires so much more than just asking, “What would I want in this scenario?”


 We know exactly what we’d want. We know our own hopes, dreams, and fears. We know what touches our hearts. We’ve walked a lifetime in our own shoes. 


But loving other people well requires a barefoot moment. I have to kick off the familiar and step out into the unknown so that I can walk around for a while in someone else’s shoes - to understand what it is they want, what they need, hope for, or feel and to love them right where they are.


Maybe the path to loving well is empathy-


Empathy. When I give my undivided attention to someone. I put away my own perspective. I look into their eyes and listen- really listen- without the intent of responding or judging what they are sharing.


Just be there and listen.


That’s when you get a glimpse of how they are feeling. How they see life. What they have been through. It’s being present. It’s receiving rather than pulling.  It opens the door for better relationships and better human connection. It’s walking a mile in their shoes.


Now, before you think I’ve gone all new age on you let’s shift gears. 


When I was a little girl I always tried to put my daddy’s big old work boots on and walk around in them. They were way too big for me. I barely had enough strength to pick them up with my skinny little legs. I remember kind of dragging my feet across the kitchen floor and being so proud that I could do it. 


Later as a mom with kids of my own, I realized that kids will do and say whatever they hear and see. Sometimes we are unaware of our influence until your sweet little angel gets you in the check out line in the grocery and shouts that cuss word she has heard you say way too many times. Kids are always watching and listening. It’ll bring you right down to earth when you find out somebody's watching and patterning their lives against your own. 


But it’s a picture. 


“For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps,” ‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭2:21‬ ‭NASB‬‬


Loving God and loving other people well is hard, but Jesus is our example. If we follow in his steps and pattern our lives after His we can learn to do it. It may be like when I tried to walk in Daddy’s boots. You may have to stumble and drag your feet at first, you may never be able to fill his shoes on this side of heaven, but we can follow in his footsteps. 


We can be present with people, walk a mile in their shoes, really listen, see…


and love them right where they are. 




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Holes In My Holiness

4 You are struggling against sin, but you have not had to give up your life for the cause. 5 You are children of God, and he speaks words of comfort to you. You have forgotten these words:

“My child, don’t think the Lord’s discipline is worth nothing,

    and don’t stop trying when he corrects you.

6 The Lord disciplines everyone he loves; he punishes everyone he accepts as a child.”

7 So accept sufferings like a father’s discipline. God does these things to you like a father correcting his children. You know that all children are disciplined by their fathers. 8 So, if you never receive the discipline that every child must have, you are not true children and don’t really belong to God. 9 We have all had fathers here on earth who corrected us with discipline. And we respected them. So it is even more important that we accept discipline from the Father of our spirits. If we do this, we will have life. Hebrews 12:4-9



Holy Moly! This week’s message  “The Journey: Don’t Go Back” was a tough one for me. It felt kinda like when you got in trouble, got a spanking, and then your mom or dad sent you to your room to “think about what you did.” This message from 1 Peter 1:13-19 really required that I take a long hard look at my life in contrast to the life we are called to live. What I discovered is this:


 My holiness is full of holes.


In so many areas of our lives, we are reflections of our culture’s expectations instead of our Savior’s. We have either decided the scriptures aren’t relevant, are wrong, or worse -we have chosen to just go against what we know is right. 


This message was a call to self-reflection as well as a reminder that Jesus is not just my savior but also my Lord.


  • The way we talk & dress 
  • What we watch on TV or listen to in our earbuds 
  • How we treat others 
  • What we post on social media 
  • How we spend our money
  • Our sexual and racial ethics 
  • The overall direction of our lives 


In these areas, do we just go with the flow or do we actively contrast those things against the backdrop of scripture? Everything in our lives should be informed and directed by those verses. We can’t be satisfied with holiness that is full of holes. We need to strive for a holiness that is entire and complete and extends to every area of our lives. Obedience to God is not an option. 


One Bad Apple Spoils The Bunch


In the book of Haggai, a prophet had an important message for the Jews who had recently returned from exile. They had forgotten their God, choosing instead to focus on their own interests, so it was time for them to “consider their ways”. Nothing was more important for the Jews than to show that the Lord was at the center of their thoughts and actions, so Haggai directed them to finish rebuilding God’s temple.


There were voices in Jerusalem saying that the time was not right for God’s house to be rebuilt. They were in a time of recession, their crops were not producing well, and the burden of a new temple was too much.


The Lord’s response was to ask if the time was good enough for them to live in relative ease and continue to ignore God’s service.

God gave them something to consider: could it be that their present circumstances were a direct result of their disobedience.

Haggai gave the example of an Israelite who carried meat in his pocket that had been set apart for use in the temple. The garment was considered holy because of what it carried, but that holiness could not be transferred to something else. In contrast, unholiness or something that was unclean would pollute whatever it touched.


That tells me something about how carefully we gotta live in this world. 


It’s kinda like little boys. They always come home dirtier than when they left. Dirt, grass, and bicycle grease all seem to attach themselves to active boys. It seemed like my boys were always sticky and stinky and if there was a mud hole within 100 miles they were gonna find it. The only way to keep them clean is to keep them away from the dirt.


The people of Haggai’s day weren’t covered in mud but in disobedience and selfishness. Haggai said their cleanup would start when they put God first. Only then would God’s favor return. Holiness leads to blessing.


Obedience to God is hard—but it’s worth it.


The book of Haggai seems pretty unique among the books of Old Testament prophets for one key reason: the people of Judah actually listened! Haggai’s message to rebuild the temple was passionate, simple, and straightforward (Haggai 1:8). Through the physical act of rebuilding God’s house, the people began to shift from devotion to self toward devotion to God.


Haggai didn’t just leave them alone with the job of rebuilding. He kept preaching to the Jews, encouraging them with hope for the future. According to Haggai’s message, if the people would place God at the center of their lives, they would realize the future blessings that God had in store for His people.


These guys had a lot coming against them. Ezra 4:1-5 tells us about the pressures and scare tactics and all the external opposition they faced, but Haggai focused on the internal opposition- namely from their own sin. The Jews had placed their own interests before the Lord’s interests, looking after their own safety and security without giving consideration to God.


Haggai’s encouragement to rebuild the temple in the face of opposition and the Jews’ selfishness reminds me of Peter’s call to holiness to a people who have been and are facing persecution and suffering for their faith in Christ. It also reminds me of Paul’s encouragement to Christians in 1 Corinthians 3:10–17 to build our lives on the foundation of Jesus. 


Holey Moly! Pastor’s message in “The Journey: Don’t Go Back” was a hard one to hear. However, I still think it is a message of encouragement. It makes us take a deeper look at our lives- not so that we can feel low down and worthless, but to help us ask questions that will ultimately lead us to a deeper relationship with God. 


Are you living a life of holiness or is your holiness full of holes? Are you building a life that reflects that you are a temple of the Holy Spirit, leaving a foundation that will stand the test of time? 


13-16 So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives. Don’t lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing. You didn’t know any better then; you do now. As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. God said, “I am holy; you be holy.”

17 You call out to God for help and he helps—he’s a good Father that way. But don’t forget, he’s also a responsible Father, and won’t let you get by with sloppy living.

 18-21 Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God. It cost God plenty to get you out of that dead-end, empty-headed life you grew up in. He paid with Christ’s sacred blood, you know. He died like an unblemished, sacrificial lamb. And this was no afterthought. Even though it has only lately—at the end of the ages—become public knowledge, God always knew he was going to do this for you. It’s because of this sacrificed Messiah, whom God then raised from the dead and glorified, that you trust God, that you know you have a future in God. 1 Peter 1:13-19 MSG

 

 

 

 




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Hymn Of Joy

I’ve been thinking about music and memory lately. Music makes me happy. It helps me think. I’ve actually got a pair of earbuds in my ears while I’m writing this. 


I come from a fairly musical family. My Mamaw played the organ and lead the church choir for years. There are cassette tapes of me somewhere out there when I was a little bitty girl singing while she played the organ. Later she taught me to play and sing “Rock of Ages” on a toy organ I got as a gift.  


 My Papaw had a beautiful voice and he is where I get my love of bluegrass music. He gave me a Mr. Microphone for Christmas (remember those?). 


I remember the first time I ever heard “The Little Brown Church In The Vale” was in my Aunt Peggy’s car as we were driving the five hour trip to my Mamaw’s house. My Aunt Peggy says music - the old songs- are in our DNA. That memory is genetic. I tend to think she is right.  


When I was in high school I was in chorus, Mr. Underwood’s class. We got to sing all these amazing pieces of music. Lots of them were old hymns or spirituals. Back then, it was just something fun to do, but now I see all this history and meaning woven into the fabric of those songs. 


 All that to say this. As you sing those old songs, those hymns in different contexts, you find layer upon layer of memory and imagination, of Christian experiences- from your past and other people's pasts stretching back hundreds of years to those great composers and thousands of years to the great prophets and you find out that you're part of something much bigger than yourself, much bigger than your immediate circumstance. I mean dude! That’s enormously reassuring as well as really challenging right? 


Isaiah 12 was where this idea started for me. It’s a song of praise to God that we take from the ancient Israelite tradition and we make our own. And so I have this idea rolling around in my head. When we sing songs as Christians, we find that we're stepping into a river that is way bigger and deeper and wider than we could have imagined. 


1 In that day you will sing: “I will praise you, O Lord! You were angry with me, but not anymore. Now you comfort me. 2 See, God has come to save me. I will trust in him and not be afraid. The Lord God is my strength and my song; he has given me victory.”


3 With joy you will drink deeply from the fountain of salvation! 4 In that wonderful day you will sing: “Thank the Lord! Praise his name! Tell the nations what he has done. Let them know how mighty he is!

5 Sing to the Lord, for he has done wonderful things. Make known his praise around the world. 6 Let all the people of Jerusalem shout his praise with joy! For great is the Holy One of Israel who lives among you.” Isaiah 12:1-6


We are joining in with multitudes of people and nations who have sung these songs and prayed these verses. That’s how music and poetry works.   


It’s Biblical


Singing is Biblical. It’s Worship that becomes witness. It is Jesus shaped, spirit-filled worship. Worship that celebrates the amazing undeserved forgiveness of God. Worship that flows out to witness in the world.


Isaiah 12 begins with “At that time…” or “on that day..”


Which day are we talking about? At what time? Read Isaiah chapters 1 to 11. There is this buildup of victory leading up to Isaiah 9. In Isaiah 11 you have this beautiful picture of a new creation and of everything being transformed, and then, at last, the whole world will be brought to victory through God.  


But to get here, to the point of praising, something has happened that makes them suddenly say “Oh -God really is in charge after all…”


We all have moments like this. We all have those moments of sudden realization that God has been in it all and through it all, and even though all sorts of things may have gone wrong- God is still the victor! 


That is the message of Isaiah 12. 


But how did they get here? What led them to this point? As you look back at the stories of the people, the history and memories shared in scripture. You can see so many of these songs and stories of joy and praise.  


That path to victory is paved with challenges and joy. The hills and hollers of life are clearly marked in the lives of the people we read about in the Bible. There ain’t no doubt that life has its struggles—professionally, economically, socially, politically, emotionally— the Lord knows this. But God has provided His grace and strength to give us joy in spite of difficulty and attack.


Pastor began a new sermon series from the book of 1 Peter, called “The Journey.” This week ‘s message was “Surprised By Joy.” We read from 1 Peter 1:3-9 and I can’t help but hear the song of praise from Isaiah 12 echoed in Peter’s words. 


3 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, 4 and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. 5 And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see. 


6 So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. 7 These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. 1 Peter 1:3-7


Victory is Ours!


Our Heavenly Father, our Comforter, our Shepherd, our Warrior King- stands with us in the middle of trouble and turmoil. He doesn’t shy away from our challenges or wild emotions. God doesn’t panic, and He doesn’t scramble for solutions. 


The Bible calls those who have put their trust in Jesus as “more than conquerors,” ones who overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony. We do not fear death. Our appointed end is victory. But add this to that fact: Jesus is very much present in our everyday lives to proclaim that our present reality is also one of victory.


Like one long beautiful sustained note, His sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection reverberate throughout history—backwards into the past and forward into eternity — He has paid the ultimate price to win the ultimate victory. I read it somewhere like this, “His triumph was one that was complete in its totality, irrevocable in its authority, and unequivocal in its extravagance.” 


And He willingly shares it with us. If that doesn’t bring you joy, I don’t know what to do for you.


Our Song Is His Song


 He is not absent in this moment. He sustains us and keeps us. But more than that He gives us His song to sing.


Our songs of praise, the songs of joy and victory through Jesus, are our path to peace in this mess—It’s the key to staying strong in the battle. It fights back the questions I talked about last week… That little voice that tries to rise up to accuse God’s character. Where is God? What if He doesn’t come through? What if…


8 Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy. When the Lord returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes. 9 Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people… Isaiah 52:8-9


The instruction to sing truth is not some euphemism. It is our weapon against the pressures in life. The truth we sing breaks down the thoughts that fog up our judgment, obscure our view, and taint our perspective of God’s power and goodness and His love for us as His children!


3 We live in this world, but we don’t fight our battles in the same way the world does. 4 The weapons we use are not human ones. Our weapons have power from God and can destroy the enemy’s strong places. We destroy people’s arguments, 5 and we tear down every proud idea that raises itself against the knowledge of God. We also capture every thought and make it give up and obey Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5


When we lift our voices we find ourselves strengthened on the inside to believe God. We quit frettin’, find ourselves leaving fear behind, and instead becoming amused at the enemy’s pitiful tactics and predictable attempts to discourage us. 


We don't have to shout down the devil. Even a verse sung quietly to ourselves as we go about our daily work becomes worship when our hearts are pointed towards God.


Praise lets the truth rise higher than the accusations. What if He’s positioning us for His purpose? What if He’s using this moment to strengthen believers and proclaim truth to unbelievers? What if He’s drawing me closer so that I see once and for all who He really is?


In Isaiah’s song, in all our hymns of joy that have been passed down, is our family history. When we sing, we go home! To the place of confidence in our savior. We remember His faithfulness. We remember His promises. Victory is ours. Joy is ours. It is our inheritance. 


5 Sing to the Lord, for he has done wonderful things. Make known his praise around the world. 6 Let all the people of Jerusalem shout his praise with joy! For great is the Holy One of Israel who lives among you.” Isaiah 12:5-6


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Psalm 42

How are you guys feeling? You doing ok? Anybody feel like they are on the emotional equivalent of The Beast at Kings Island?


Y'all I have been so emotional this week… well mostly mad. Anger is my go to emotion but then it usually ends up leaking out of my eyeballs so...


Everything just seems so bizarre to me. The virus, the economy, and the fear. The lies and manipulation and the division it's all causing. Mean Girls on Facebook. Fake news, the quarantine, and the government playing fast and loose with my constitutional rights. The weird Easter. Everything has got me all twisted up in myself. And I should probably mention that I have spent entirely way too much time watching the news and exploring the deeper realms of social media following this thing until it has all my emotions in a tizzy.   I think my word for the year is gobsmacked. That’s the only adjective that I can think of that even comes close to covering how I really feel. 


Today I hit the Psalms to try to get my life right! 


Psalm 42 is pretty amazing. I think it might  be one of the most emotion filled chapters in the whole Bible. All the emo kids got nothin' on Psalm 42. David outdoes 'em all. It's got dark, deep, heart pain and poetry filled, gut wrenching soul trouble. 


But sadness is not mainly what this Psalm is about it's mainly about God and having a thirst for him.  And I’m here y'all. I am crusty hearted and dry as a bone right now… 


1 As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God.

2 I thirst for God, the living God. When can I go and stand before him?

3 Day and night I have only tears for food, while my enemies continually taunt me, saying,

    “Where is this God of yours?”


4 My heart is breaking as I remember how it used to be: I walked among the crowds of worshipers, leading a great procession to the house of God, singing for joy and giving thanks     amid the sound of a great celebration!


5 Why am I discouraged?  Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again—  my Savior and my God!  


Now I am deeply discouraged, but I will remember you— even from distant Mount Hermon, the source of the Jordan,  from the land of Mount Mizar.

7 I hear the tumult of the raging seas as your waves and surging tides sweep over me. 

8 But each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me,  and through each night I sing his songs, praying to God who gives me life.


9 “O God my rock,” I cry,  “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I wander around in grief,

    oppressed by my enemies?” 

10 Their taunts break my bones.  They scoff, “Where is this God of yours?”


11 Why am I discouraged?  Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again—  my Savior and my God!


In Isolation


This Psalm was a song meant to be sung, maybe with Psalm 43 which looks to me like basically an extra verse if this was sung as a hymn. There's some debate about it, but most likely it was written by David. I’m rolling with that… I think it just smells like him.


So Dave starts off by immediately introducing us to a picture of a deer. "As the deer pants, so my soul pants my soul thirsts for God." Animal thirst. Dry mouthed, hot, sweaty, horrible taste, foamy saliva, must drink or die kind of thirst. That's the picture here. And David says, I thirst like that for God. This Psalm is about being thirsty for the presence of God.


In the first section we begin to see what is making David so thirsty. In verse 2 he asks the first of five questions and wants to know when he will be able to appear before God. I’m thinkin’  this means when will he be able to be with God's people and worship God with them again because in verse 4 he remembers when he would sing with a bunch of people in the house of God. (Anybody out there feel like this right now!?)


David is isolated and alone and he is torn up inside. 


We are in the midst of this crazy quarantine, Some of us are experiencing real isolation. Especially those who don’t have access to smart phones and the internet.  All of us at the very least feel detached because we can’t connect with friends and family and our community the way we are used to. 


That's the place that David is at in his life. But look how he deals with it. In verse 4, he begins to remember things "as I remember how it used to be."


When you are down, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to begin to remember past times when God was good to you, past times when you experienced his love and his grace. You bring up those highlight reels and you start playing them in your head. 


How has God been faithful to you specifically?


Have you ever read through Genesis and noticed how they are always building memorials? It seems like anytime anyone ever talks to God in that book that they go gather a bunch of rocks and build a memorial.


Some of you need to do that. I've got a couple ways I do this. I've got journals. I’ve got notebooks stuck all over my house with stuff I’ve scribbled in them... and then there is this hand held journal (cough, cough iphone)  If y’all ever saw my google docs you would just shake your head. It’s a mess. But in all that stuff I've got written records of specific times when I was really wrestling through something, or times when God really answered a prayer, or spoke to me through scripture.


Sometimes when things get rough I go back and I just read through some of them. Here's what happens. You start remembering how you felt then and begin get encouraged and hopeful about the current situation you're in.


And that's what we see happen with David. Check out what he remembers. Verse 4, " I walked among the crowds of worshipers, leading a great procession to the house of God, singing for joy and giving thanks amid the sound of a great celebration!”


He might be remembering the time when they brought the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. 2 Samuel 6 tells the story. David is so stoked  to be getting the arc - that held the original Ten Commandments, God’s written word, that he calls for this big festival with sacrifices and everything.  2 Samuel 6:15 says, "David danced before the Lord with all his might.. and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the horn."


He remembers a great time of worship with God's people. I know you can sing songs and worship by yourself but there is something so awesome and special about worshiping God with his people. It's just one of the best parts of being The Church. 


David remembers a past time when God was good to him. Then what is his response? Verse 5, "Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God!  I will praise him again— my Savior and my God!"


He's encouraged and He praises God in spite of how he’s feeling. His situation hasn’t changed but remembering God’s goodness gave him hope that it could and would happen again. He would see and be with God's people and he would experience God's presence again. 


Amen! And so will we. I am crusty right now over the fact we haven’t been allowed to come together at church, not even for Easter Sunday, but I also know this ain’t forever and I can look back and have hope.


No Defeat


Now in case we get the wrong idea and think that if we ever hit a rough patch all we gotta do is remember the good God times and then all will be hunkydory; the Psalm goes on. When you're in the thick of it, sometimes it just comes in waves and you have to keep fightin’ for joy and peace in God. So in the second part of verse 5 through verse 7 he dives back in.


Let's start with verse 7. (For this one I love the ESV version)  "Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me."


I love the beach. I know the feeling of breakers and waves going over. I remember getting knocked down and being underwater all twisted up, being thrown about, not knowing which way was up or down and feeling like I might drown. 


My daughter has been hit by this thing pretty hard financially. She texted me the other day and said she felt like she was “out here drownntinggg.” Translation: drowning -when life just feels like you've been put through the ringer and you don't know which way is up or down. You don't know what to think or feel about anything anymore. You're just beat up and you're drowning.


Here we are and there’s David feeling like heaven and hell has come against him- so what's he do? It's in verse 6. "Now I am deeply discouraged,  but I will remember you— even from distant Mount Hermon, the source of the Jordan,  from the land of Mount Mizar.." He remembers all the places where he met with God or felt God’s presence in an especially significant way. 

 

David follows the same pattern as before. When he's all twisted up and frustrated, and discouraged, he remembers those times where God has met him and was good to him. So what do you do when you don't know which way is up? You remember how God has delivered you in the past, you remember his goodness and his faithfulness.


Day and Night


Despite the way things sometimes look, God is continually at work in your life. 


Verse 8, "By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life."


Last year after the big corporate fast we did, I experienced something I will never forget. I hope I can explain what happened. I had been complaining to God that I never feel spiritual when I fast, I just feel hangry. That night I was sleeping but I began to wake up. And as I woke up I heard myself praying. Like my inner voice was mid prayer and I woke up and overheard myself praying. I knew it was my spirit- that part of us that connects with God, and I knew it was only because of God that this could even happen! I knew that he was answering my prayer by showing me that some part of me did feel spiritual-was connected to God-  even if the rest of me felt mean and grumpy. God was working in my life even while my knucklehead was sleeping! He’s always working in our lives. He never sleeps. He never leaves us alone. He is present even now in the midst of this crazy time.


Life & Death Questions


In verses 9-11 We get David's last few questions.


"Why have you forgotten me?" 

"Why must I wander around in grief, oppressed by my enemies?" 

“Why am I discouraged?  Why is my heart so sad?”


David is really down here.


But he continues to do what he has been doing this whole Psalm: pouring out his heart to God. In Verse 4 in the ESV it even says "I pour out my soul".


Have you ever done this? Just laid it all out on the table before God? I think that's really what's going on with these questions here. Many of us have probably asked God this question or at least a form of it, "Why have you forgotten me?" "Where are you God?" "Why don't you care?" "What are you doing LORD?"


Ever asked that question? I think sometimes we get the idea that we’ve got to have it all together to come to God so we go to him trying to put on our best face and look all good so he'll be impressed, when really we're falling apart. 


I feel like I’m coming out of my skin. One more bit of news and I may spontaneously combust! But I don’t think God is mad at me for it.


The thing is...God is big enough for our questions. He’s big enough for this virus and this situation.  He's not going to get all offended when we come to him openly and honestly. Sometimes you just have to lay it all out on the table where you’re at spiritually before you can actually start to pray and have a real conversation with him.


All throughout Scripture we see Godly men asking God questions. David asks. Moses questioned God a bunch. Job got ridiculous and said he wanted to take God to court. Habakkuk laid out questions before God and then said he would climb up in a tower and wait to hear God's answer. I think it's okay to ask God questions or express our frustration to God. It’s an invitation to Him to show us who He really is. 


And David's questions are interesting because they are in the form of this self-communicating dialogue. He talks to himself as if he is two people and wrestles and fights with himself. And then he even preaches to himself. We all know we have an ability to do this. All of us are talking to ourselves all the time. There is an internal dialogue going on in our heads.


Y’all ever turn the rear view around so you can talk to yourself? I know I ain’t the only one who does this...


David recognizes this and does what he does well. He's a warrior and so he battles. He questions and challenges his spirit. Why are you thinking and feeling that way? Stop it. Turn to God. Put your hope in him. Some of you may never have done this and you have to learn how to do it . You have to learn how to fight with yourself.


D. Martin Lloyd Jones, was a pastor in London in the last century. He said,  “Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? (Gulp!)


He wrote a  book titled "Spiritual Depression: It's Causes and Cures." In it he writes, "You have to speak to yourself. The Scriptures teach us how to speak to ourselves. Remind yourself of certain things. Remind yourself of who you are and what you are. You must talk to yourself and say: 'I am not going to be dominated by you, these moods shall not control me. I am going out, I am breaking through.' So get up and walk and do something. Say 'no, I do not feel anything, but whether I feel or not, I believe the Scriptures. I believe God's Word is true and I will stake my soul on it, I will believe come what may." That's good stuff.


What has to happen is that we have to get our eyes off ourselves (and social media and fake news) and how we are feeling. We have to shift our eyes onto God and his word. You have to become a preacher and preach God's word to yourself. And when you do that the darkness, the yuck, will eventually lift.


When we feel as if our bones are gonna break, David's answer is for us to pour our heart out to God and then preach to our soul and command it to put hope in God. 


Wrapping it Up


All these words. Thanks for hanging in and reading if you've made it this far. Let me try and pull this altogether for us. Step back for a second and look at all the emotions expressed in this Psalm and then look at the faith in God this Psalm shows as the answer to those feelings.


Longing, sadness, nostalgia, turmoil, overwhelmed, alone, rejected, and beat down. Some intense emotions. Pretty familiar for most of us.


David deals with all of 'em in faith. 


First, the feeling of deep longing and bitter sadness. In response to that feeling faith says, God is still real. The answer to that soul thirst is the living God. I love how he clarifies who God is in the second verse. He says my soul thirsts for God, for the living God. The only thing that can meet the need of the soul is the real and true God, the one who is an actual person and who actually lives.


God is alive and active!


Second, the feeling of longing for the past. In response faith says, I will worship God in his house again. I will praise him. I love how he is looking backward remembering times of worship and then it turns into confidence looking forward to future worship. 


Third, the feeling of inner struggle and being overwhelmed. In response faith says, God is my God, the God of my life. I love that in response to the struggle, David gets really personal. It is not just God, he's my God. And when he prays to him, he addresses God as "the God of my life." What we need now more than ever is a sense of the personal presence of God! He's my God, the God of my life -even when I'm struggling and feel like I’m drowning.


Lastly, the feeling of being alone, reviled and like your very bones are gonna break from the pressure of it. In response faith says, God is my rock. When all else is gone. If everything we are used to gets stripped away,  God is there, he is immovable like a rock. God is someone you can always count on and plant your feet on. He is a rock. While the world is shifting, when the rules are being changed every day, while the economy, our jobs, and our health is uncertain- What we need is God as our rock.


Feelings versus faith. It probably doesn't get more gut-wrenching and raw than this Psalm but at the same time it gives us some astounding affirmations of faith in response to those feelings. God is a living God, is my God, the God of my life and is my rock.


Let me end with a question, what does this Psalm have to do with the gospel? How does it point to the person and work of Jesus?


Here’s how I think it might. This Psalm is about thirsting for God. That we as humans in this life and in this world will experience thirst like what described here. Jesus knew this and this is the reason he came into the world.


Think about what he says to the woman at the well in John 4:13-14. "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."


How could Jesus say such a thing? Easy. Jesus is the living God in the flesh. Jesus came to give his life so that we might have eternal life and might call God my God. So that he might be the rock in our life in our hour of need.


Just a couple chapters after Jesus talks to the woman at the well he's teaching and preaching and he says these fairly odd words, "Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me (John 6:54-57)."


David's ultimate longing was for the closeness and provision that comes only through Christ.


So in the midst of this craziness, let's drink and be satisfied in Jesus for all that he is. There is no feeling or hardship we may face that the cross of Christ does not apply to.


Here's your take away Sometimes we may not always feel right about things, we will get crusty and dry and thirsty, but Jesus died so that whatever we are going through he might be present for us to drink from and be satisfied, forever. He is our rock, our salvation and our God.




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Beautiful Feet

I’ve been thinking about feet. 


“But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’” Romans 10:14-15


Dirty feet. Clay feet. Two left feet.


But beautiful feet? How beautiful are the feet? Seriously? Are feet really that beautiful?


Feet are NOT my favorite. We try to cover up our feet – keep them in cute shoes and protected and out of sight. Feet can be dirty and stinky. We can feel vulnerable and uncomfortable about our feet. Feet are not the first thing we think of as the most beautiful of our body parts.


And yet this passage speaks of those who proclaim the Good News as having beautiful feet - as they walk the walk and talk the talk. 


It’s almost Easter. Actually it’s Maundy Thursday. The day Jesus washed the Disciples' feet and showed us how to love one another. As we look forward to celebrating Jesus' death and resurrection and as we begin to prepare our hearts to celebrate all that Jesus did for us, we might notice the feet all around us. 


14 I am your Lord and Teacher. But I washed your feet. So you also should wash each other’s feet. 15 I did this as an example for you. So you should serve each other just as I served you. 16 Believe me, servants are not greater than their master. Those who are sent to do something are not greater than the one who sent them. 17 If you know these things, great blessings will be yours if you do them. John 13:14-17


In scripture, the Disciples would put one foot in front of the other as they tried to follow Jesus, we read the story of Mary of Bethany who washed the feet Jesus in an amazing act of worship, we watch as Peter would not allow Jesus to wash his feet, and we see a man who uses his own feet to pick up and carry Jesus’ cross. We see the Women at the tomb whose feet were some of the first to carry the Good News. 


Finally, our feet will bring us to the foot of the cross. We cannot go any further. We cannot take another step by ourselves. And yet in this cross, we find Jesus. It is Jesus who takes on the weight of the world. It is Jesus who commits himself fully to God and the way of the cross. It is Jesus who loses life, only to gain it. It is Jesus who invites us to keep following, to keep putting one foot in front of the other, even when we don’t know where that might take us. It is Jesus who is there with us, offering grace and forgiveness and new life over and over again. And it is Jesus who invites us to the communion table, to renew again our commitment to walking in his paths, and to receive the grace and strength to keep walking. 


When we walk forward to receive communion, even as we celebrate in our homes, it is a sign of our desire to follow Jesus and to use our feet to the glory of God. Our feet RUN to tell others the Good News of the Gospel.


Tonight, we will share communion in our homes or online and remember. We can’t meet together physically but the love of Jesus unites us in spirit and knits our hearts together. We will meditate on humility, love, service, and vulnerability. Let’s do it with the awareness that our feet have brought us to Jesus, the source of Good News.


Prayer

Father, we come to the foot of the cross. We come with our feet, like our lives, tired and dirty and desperately needing to experience the Good News. Wash us, prepare us, and help us to proclaim the Gospel. Let us enter into the story of Jesus, Let His amazing love and sacrifice meet together in our lives, and let us offer our hearts, our lives, our hands, our feet, every part of us into your care and service, for the sake of the Gospel. Teach us how to worship and honor you with all we have. Wash us and make us one with the body of Christ. Help us to let go of pride and power and offer ourselves in humble service. Help us come to know the liberating peace of being a servant. Holy Spirit, create in us the mind that was in Christ, to enable us to love and live just like He did. I pray we count our feet as beautiful – beautiful feet that bring the Good News to the world. Through Jesus, who humbled himself and poured himself out like water, we pray- Amen.


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BUT THIS HAPPENED...

8 For we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about [a]our trouble in [the west coast province of] Asia [Minor], how we were utterly weighed down, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life [itself]. 9 Indeed, we felt within ourselves that we had received the sentence of death [and were convinced that we would die, but this happened] so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead. 10 He rescued us from so great a threat of death and will continue to rescue us. On Him, we have set our hope. And He will again rescue us [from danger and draw us near], 11 while you join in helping us by your prayers. Then thanks will be given by many persons on our behalf for the gracious gift [of deliverance] granted to us through the prayers of many [believers].


“But this happened…” That small phrase sets the stage for some big spiritual truth. When crisis or tragedy strikes, when hard times come, when the bottom drops out of life, we often wonder two things. Why did this happen and how is it all gonna turn out? 


 Here we find one important explanation to both questions. Hard times come to teach us not to trust in ourselves but only in the Lord. Most of us are pretty good at handling the regular everyday stuff. We understand normal pressures and we learn how to deal with them. But sometimes things happen that’ll strip the gears right off life and force us to our knees or sometimes even so down that we are flat on our faces. (See Pastor’s sermon on 2 Chronicles 7:14 “The Invitation”


At that point, when all our options are chucked out the window, our only hope is God. When that happens, we cry out to Him in desperation, knowing that if he doesn’t help us, we’re sunk. 


Looking back at his terrible ordeal in Asia, Paul understands that it had to happen the way it did. It was totally awful. It was terrifying.  But he came out on the other side having learned to trust in God alone. We all have to learn the same lesson, and we have to learn it over and over again.


But in the learning, we also come to depend on God to do it over and over again. This is exactly where God wants us—to be in the place of constant dependence on him.


When we learn to depend on God, amazing things happen!


 And He will again rescue us [from danger and draw us near],  Then thanks will be given by many persons on our behalf for the gracious gift [of deliverance] granted to us through the prayers of many [believers].


 So we move from being desperate and afraid to praying, then to praising God, and everybody else who prayed for us moves with us as God answers our prayers. See… totally awesome huh? 



God gets the glory when we pray.


God is glorified when we pray for others. I don’t reckon that had never hit me before. I’m not sure I had ever really even thought about praying for others as a means to bring God Glory. But now I can think of at least five ways

  1. God is glorified when we pray for others because we are responding to needs in a Christ-like manner. 
  2. He is glorified because we are demonstrating to others that we believe what God’s Word says about prayer is true. 
  3. He is glorified by our prayers for others because one part of the body of Christ is moving to meet the needs of another part of the body of Christ. 
  4. As we pray, we are partnering with God to further his work in the world. When my wimpy little arm is linked to the mighty arm of God- miracles happen.
  5. God is glorified by the end result because we give thanks to him when the answers come and the needs are met.



Our prayers bring glory to our Heavenly Father and our prayers help those we pray for.


The thought of partnering with God is totally exciting because it means that when I am on my knees, I can make contact with the most powerful force in the universe. As I pray, my motives are purified, my faith is strengthened, and my heart is focused on eternal things. When I pray, I am in touch with Almighty God himself, the Creator of the heavens and the earth. Even though I think my prayers often sound like sawdust and cold oatmeal when I  join hands with God to bless others and to advance his cause in the world, things happen. Even in my weakest moment, by prayer, I am chipping away at the darkness and pushing back against the enemy's dominion.


Our joy and blessings are multiplied when we unite with other people and see God respond to those prayers. 


I always feel like I pray better….that’s to say my prayers feel more focused when I pray with other people. When I pray alone I have to contend with some serious monkey brain. But there are also at least a couple of things that happen when we pray together that cannot happen when we pray alone.


 First, when we pray together, our faith is mutually strengthened. As we pray together, the prayers of one person will spark something in another person so that your faith strengthens me and my faith strengthens you. We all leave that time together with more faith than we had in the beginning. 


Second, when we pray together, joy is multiplied when the answers finally come. We’ve all seen this happen with our own eyes. All of us can look back and see clearly how the hand of God upon our lives has kept us. There have been situations where we all thought that we were not going to make it, but somehow God brought us through. How many testimonies have been shared on our Sunday evening services alone that have caused us to cheer and hug and praise God for His goodness and mercy? Our rejoicing is louder and longer and more public when we have prayed together. 


Lastly, My joy comes from the lord and not from stuff. In the midst of this pandemic, the tendency is to hoard food and supplies because we don’t know what the days ahead are gonna look like. But I am not gonna be any healthier, happier, or stronger by sitting on a heap of toilet paper and hand sanitizer. My strength comes from the Lord.


 I’m gonna jump back to the Old Testament for just a sec. Nehemiah 8 tells me the Joy of the Lord is my Strength. (I’m linking this to where I found it, so go look!) The original Hebrew for "joy" in Nehemiah 8:10 is "chedvah," meaning joy or gladness. The root word for joy in this context means to rejoice or to make glad. "Strength" in the same verse is a Hebrew word meaning “a place or means of safety, protection, refuge, or stronghold.” The root word of strength means “to be strong, prevail; to make firm, strengthen.” The joy of the Lord is a constant gladness and cause to rejoice. It comes from an inner strength that is a direct result of our relationship with Him. When Jesus died for us, He restored us to a peace with God that cannot be undone. My joy rests in God’s joy and not in what is happening in this broken-down world. 


 This striking point in Nehemiah is made to a people who were ravaged by war, weakened by insecurities, and constantly being reminded of their own fragility. 


But in our time. In this time of anxiety and fear… this is where we ALSO find our strength. Strength for life, for pain, for the struggle, for fear, for raising and teaching our babies, for staying married in the midst of being quarantined with our spouse (lol)...for everything. The strength we need for this life is found in the essential, the necessary, unfailing joy of the Lord.


So how is it all gonna turn out in the end? God is gonna bring us through, our faith is going to be strengthened, our joy is gonna be multiplied, and God is gonna get the Glory. 



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Seek My Face

One of my all-time favorite top 10 authors is Paulo Coelho, and one of my all-time top 10 favorite books is his Manuscript Found in Accra. I’ve recently been listening to it again on audible. So much of what he writes seems to sync with what we are experiencing at this time. 


He says, “I'm not worried about tomorrow, because God is there already, waiting for me” 


There were a few of us talking about this virus. We talked about the fear and confusion we are expected to feel, tempted to feel,  in contrast to the peace God gives that “surpasses understanding” 


What is going to happen? What is our tomorrow gonna look like in light of what is happening in the world today? I don’t know. But “I’m not worried about tomorrow because God is there already, waiting for me.” 


Pastor’s key text this past Sunday was 2 Chronicles 7:14.  “...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.” It’s an invitation. 


He concluded by encouraging us to pray Psalm 27. One verse seemed to jump off the page in light of the two. Another Invitation.


Psalm 27:8 “When You said, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You, “Your face, Lord, I will seek.” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭27:8‬ ‭


“Seek my face.”


This is the key to thriving in an otherwise unstable, unpredictable, hostile world. It isn’t by seeking stability, comfort, riches, or security (or toilet paper). Seek God! Seek God Himself!  Psalm 34:4 says I looked for the Lord, and He answered me. And He took away all my fears.


I think Verse 8 is smack dab in the middle of this psalm for a reason. It’s the heart of the message. Shoot! It’s the heart of everything. In the ancient world, before printing presses and Kindle, these scriptures would be read out loud. You had to be good listeners. People would have known when they were at the center of a message, and they knew that the lesson to be learned was there – in the middle. Ain’t that how it is with us too? Don’t we learn the best/hardest lessons while we are in the middle of something?


 And here it is in Psalm 27, almost like it’s purposely tucked away in the middle – waiting to be found by those who are seeking. This is the precious nugget we’re supposed to take away from this: God is inviting you, “Seek My face, seek My presence!” So let your heart respond obediently: “Your face, Your presence, Lord, I will seek!”


Even as I’m writing this, the phone has rung with one need after the other, one crazy situation after another. People desperate for prayer. Why? Because who else can we turn to, but God. 


  I’m gonna leave off with three thoughts from Psalm 27 

  • God breaks down fear in his presence. If we are afraid we need to get in the presence of God. Not for what he can do for us, but for who He is. This ain’t just being sentimental... God’s character does the work of wiping out fear because he is light and salvation. He is our stronghold. God speaks truth where fear lies- that’s his light. God rescues us from fear and despair- that’s his salvation. God holds us, carries us, sustains and protects us from the effects of fear-  He’s our stronghold. 


  • In God’s Presence, I am safe.  Many of my fears relate to the unknown. I’m afraid of the things I can’t control. God hides, conceals and lifts his people up in times of struggle.  He changes our fear into praise... Being in the presence of God is not some emotional experience or philosophical idea. We are not just temporarily safe. We are promised eternity.  In his presence, he extends love to us and for us which results in our preservation and care. We don’t just get some warm fuzzy feeling, we are safe in him. 


  • God is at work in the middle of all this. I’d love to tell you that all the things that make us anxious in this mess- the fear of sickness, of the instability of the economy, of the unknown, will just disappear when we come to God, But that’s not what this passage says. It ends with a call to wait. And in the waiting God builds courage and strength in us. The good news is not that whatever bothers me is gone, but that the God who cares for me is here! 


We don’t know what tomorrow holds, but we don’t have to be afraid because God is already there. His love is simple; His invitation is simple.........”Seek My Face,” that’s all. 


 

How do you sense God’s invitation to seek his face?



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