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Friday, July 31, 2015

David's Prayer


Psalm 143 is a prayer of David in which we see him seeking God in some very important areas of his life. Space prohibits me from printing the entire Psalm, but I would really encourage you to read it ....maybe read it several times out loud. 

David begins by asking God to hear his prayer because it is a cry for mercy. He seeks relief for his troubled heart on the basis of God's faithfulness and righteousness. His plea to God indicates that David knows he is a sinner, that none are righteous before the Lord. 

Not only was David feeling the need of prayer because of his sin, he prayed also for deliverance from his enemies.  His enemies were crushing him and he was dwelling in darkness. He says his spirit is growing weak and his heart is dismayed. 

Those are the requests and feelings of David in the first four verses of the psalm. Then starting in verse 5, we see David's prayer continue, but it seems to intensify somewhat when David remembers the old days when he was in meditation on the works of God. He considers all that God has done. Then David says that he "spreads out his hands to God, his soul thirsts for God like a parched land."

The agony in David's heart can be seen in his plea for God to answer him quickly.  He was feeling the failure of his spirit. He begs God not to hide his face from him.  Thus the picture of David's wrestling with his condition, the emptiness of his spirit, and the need of spiritual refreshing. 

That is also the description of us when we feel we have reached the end of our rope. We have tried so many ways and so many things that would fix our dilemma, and all have failed. We, like David find that our own agony brings us to our knees in prayer to plead for God's help. 

Then we see more progression in the intensity of his prayer when David says,
 "Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you.
        Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul."

And then later,
 "Teach me to do your will, for you are my God;
may your good Spirit lead me on level ground."

I hope you read the entire psalm, but I wanted to lead you to this point in David's prayer to show you his progress from despair to his confidence and trust in knowing God's answer to his prayer would be just what he needed.  That's the way we should seek God and his answer for our prayers, too.

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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Living by the Spirit


The conflict which the Bible describes as the war between the flesh and the Spirit, is the central theme of the latter part of Paul's letter to the Galatians. Paul is teaching the Christians in Galatia an important truth when he outlines the conflict.

Galatians 5:16-18   "16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law."

A few verses later, Paul puts life in the Spirit into greater perspective when he describes a spiritual life as one that produces the fruit of the Spirit.

Galatians 5:22-25   "22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit."

Keep in mind that physically, we live in a life of flesh, but because we belong to Jesus, we have yielded the desires of the flesh and pledged ourselves to be motivated by the Spirit of God.  The flesh is still a struggle for us at times, but as Paul points out, the conflict which exists between flesh and Spirit is a conflict which can be won by every child of God. 

Look again at the list of things which constitute the fruit of the Spirit. These are the evidences that we have overcome the flesh with its desires, and have pointed our lives to live after the Spirit.  That list in verses 22 and 23 is the undeniable proof that we belong to God. 

The world may measure us from the standpoint of wealth, possessions, prestige, our relatives, our physical appearance, or any number of things. The real measure of a person's life is evidenced by those things which are present when the Spirit lives in him. 

Someone has said there are three categories of three which make up the 9 evidences of the fruit of the Spirit.  Love, joy and peace touch on our relationship with God. Forbearance, kindness and goodness have to do with our relationship with our fellow man. Faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are associated with the way we conduct ourselves. 

As we contemplate each one in our lives, we may reveal some areas in which we excel and others where we need to grow. God knows we are human and subject to mistakes and blunders. His Spirit living in us is the power we need to overcome all that.

May our hearts echo Paul's words in verse 25, "Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit."

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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Brought Near by the Blood of Christ

The writings of  Paul reflected his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road. This one time hater of Christians, fighting against the church, and putting Christ's followers in prison, had a complete change in his life when he personally met the Lord. We knew him as Saul back then, but now, because of his turn to Jesus and his valiant preaching ministry throughout the country, we know him as Paul. 

His ministry included bringing Jews and Gentiles together into one body. There were those Jews, even after they became Christians that felt before you become a Christian you must become a Jew, subject to all the rules and ordinances of the law of Moses. Paul's letter to the Galatians was to dispel some of the teaching they had received. It was a teaching from those who made Christianity conditional on people following tradition and man-made ideas rather than faithfully following Christ. 

Then in Paul's Ephesian letter, he reminded the Gentiles that at one time, they were the outsiders. They weren't God's chosen people and Paul told them "In those days you were living apart from Christ. "  Further, he let them know that they "lived without God and without hope." Those verses are lifted from Ephesians 2:11-12.  Would you care to guess the first word of verse 13?  It is the word, "but."  That's a short little word, carrying an eternity full of meaning. Read the verse carefully.

"But now you belong to Christ Jesus. Though you were once far away from God, now you have been brought near to him by the blood of Christ."  Ephesians 2:13 NLT

Regardless of who we are, we have been in the same situation as the Gentiles which Paul was speaking to. We might be followers of a denomination's list of rules and regulations, or perhaps  some religious leader's assigned set of things we must do. The fact that is powerfully exclaimed by Paul is simple and to the point.  It is the blood of Jesus that brings us near to God. 

The point is further strengthened as Paul continues in the next verses which include this statement, "His (Jesus)  purpose was to make peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new person from the two groups. Together as one body Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death, and our hostility toward each other was put to death." 

If the death of Jesus brings our salvation, and makes peace between these warring segments of society, how much more do we need to know this is our only hope of maintaining nearness to God?  Our small and petty differences which divide and separate us lose their significance when we learn our differences with others also demolishes our nearness to the Father.  Our ceaseless prayer  is, "Draw me nearer, Precious Lord."

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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Rock Pile


As much as I love the outdoors, there are some areas too rugged for me to trek.  Every time I start discussing outdoor adventures, I am reminded of a trip to Southern Oregon a long time ago, and the invitation to go on a hike to collect rocks.  Yes, rocks.   These were special rocks which had been spit out of the ground hundreds of years ago when a volcano erupted. 

Our guide made sure we were all carrying backpacks, so we could load up on the pretty rocks and make our day worthwhile.  He advised us we were on a ranch which was along the southernmost border of Oregon, where it connects with Northern California, and we our hike would actually take us from Oregon into California, then back into Oregon. (I felt like we walked all the way to Southern California.)

The guide pointed toward a creek, several hundred yards to our left, and motioned for us to follow him as he started down a trail to the right.  He then told us our return to the car would be a walk on the banks of the creek, which was now quite a ways behind us. 

Rocks were everywhere! Pretty rocks, ugly rocks, rocks large and small.  I am not much on geology, but was advised which rocks to look for, and we were finding those quickly in our hike. When my backpack was about one fourth filled, I began to learn the lesson of being very selective about which rocks were more desirable than others.  The heavier the backpack became, the slower we walked.  During one rest period, I even went through the rocks in my backpack and tossed out a few, just to lighten the load. 

We finally arrived at the creek around noon, and rested again while we ate the snacks we had taken along.  The guide told us we were closer to the car if we walked along the creek, but it would take longer to get to the car if we walked along the creek, because of the rugged terrain.  The decision was made and soon we were taking the shorter, more rugged trail to the car.  That trail started so smoothly but graduated to going over boulders which lined the creek.  Keep in mind the backpack full of rocks we were each carrying.  I confess to you, when we arrived at the car, my backpack was less than half full, and I thought if I had to take one more step, both legs would fall off.  

I think about that hike even to this day when big decisions and choices come my way.  Which direction should I go, which trail should I follow?  Will the weight of my burden be too much for me to carry?  Is there help available and willing to rescue me?

God says through David in Psalm 32:8, "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you."

Maybe your hiking experiences are more favorable than mine, but I am sure your trek through life has met with many of the same ups and downs.  Knowing this, isn't it a wonderful blessing as we journey through life, to be assured that it is God who instructs and teaches us the right paths to follow?  And isn't it comforting for us to trust him through the ups and downs we encounter, because he continues to direct our way, keeping a loving eye on us? 

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Monday, July 27, 2015

Searching for God


From one of the blogs I read, I'm sharing a story from their weekend post:

An ancient tale from India describes a young man who was seeking God. He went to a wise old sage for help. "How can I find God?" he asked the old man. The old man took him to a nearby river where they waded into the deep water. Soon the water was up just under their chins. Suddenly the old man grabbed the young man by the neck and pushed him under the water, holding him down until he was flailing the water in desperation. Finally, the old man released him. The young seeker was coughing and gasping for air. Reaching the bank, he was furious! "What did that have to do with my finding God?" The old man asked him quietly, "While you were under the water what did you want more than anything else?" The young man thought for a moment and then answered, "I wanted air. I wanted air more than anything else!" The old man replied, "When you want God as much as you wanted air, you will find him." To pursue God means to long for Him with every fiber of our being. God promises to meet us in worship when we come seeking Him.

So what about us?  Are we that determined in our search for God?  When we desire to find and know and experience the God of the universe, will we want to find him like a drowning man wants to find air?  Will we want His presence  as much as we want the presence our favorite movie star, or sports celebrity, or TV idol.

Think with me for a moment about your search for God.  For some of us it cannot be described as a search because God has been with us from day one.  We had Bible story books from which we were read stories about all the important Bible characters.  Church attendance was an automatic thing on our weekly calendar, and we were there any time the doors were open.  It was like God was a constant guest in our house, present for every meal, with us as we worked, played, and even slept.

It didn't take too much of that for me to learn how it's sometimes possible for us to know ABOUT God without really knowing God.  That's when we experience life and it's perplexities and we find ourselves needing and looking for solutions.  So when I tell you about how regular God was mentioned and talked about in our house, I readily confess there came a time for me when I knew I needed to pursue God like the drowning man needed air.

Perhaps that is part of maturity.  But the truth is, until we find God and learn to experience his presence with us and in us, we will still be threshing in the water, needing air, and trying to save ourselves. 

1 Chronicles 28: 9 If you seek him, he will be found by you. (NKJV)

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Saturday, July 25, 2015

Using Our Gift


I've been attending a Wednesday evening Bible study for the past couple of months.  We have been studying from Romans 12 the verses which discuss our spiritual gifts.

Scripture tells us when we are followers of Jesus, we are empowered with a gift or talent, and we are to use that gift, along with others who are using their gift, for the building up of the Body of Christ. Those verses which describe and explain these gifts are located  in verses 3-8 of Romans 12.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead,  do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Throughout our study, in addition to learning about spiritual gifts, we have also been determining which gift we each have, and how we might use them for the benefit of everyone.  Remember, it's God's Word which tells us, " For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. Some call these "motivational gifts."  They are the things which make us tick, the motivation which leads us to functioning in the areas of the gifts.

I have studied and prayed about this subject often, but recently I came up with some questions.  I do not doubt the direction of the Scriptures in explaining and directing us to exercise our gifts.  I believe the Bible is true in telling me about their meaning and purpose.  However, the question I have is along the line about the use of them.

I have been a Christian for lots of years but do not recall anyone ever encouraging a church full of people to function in the area of one of these gifts which we have been given.  I have detected those in the church which have a specific gift and use it, but have never seen these gifts used by then entire church family.

I do wish to stress, from what I have learned, those who have been given the gifts are expected to use them.  They are not specifically to be used just for our work in the church, but as gifts of motivation, are to be used in every area of our lives.  I can see the Apostle Paul's point in warning us about thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought.  It's not a contest.  Some may seem to have a more important gift than others, but even those with the seemingly insignificant gift should be using it because all the gifts are necessary in the Body of Christ.

This past Wednesday evening, we concluded our study, but also determined we would continue to seek ways we could become more effective as we use our gifts.  I also encouraged the group to discuss this important topic with our church leaders, advising them of our study, and the desire to grow in the areas of the gifts.  The more I read the verses from Romans, the more I want to encourage everyone to be more determined to learn their gift, and use it for the whole Body, and to glorify God.

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Friday, July 24, 2015

A Borrowed Story

(A Borrowed Story)

Consumed by my loss, I didn't notice the hardness of the pew where I sat. I was at the funeral of my dearest friend - my mother.  She finally had lost her long battle with cancer. The hurt was so intense; I found it hard to breathe at times. Always supportive, Mother clapped loudest at my school plays, held a box of  tissues while listening to my first heartbreak, comforted me at my father's death, encouraged me in college, and prayed for me my entire life. When mother's illness was diagnosed, my sister had a new baby and my brother had recently married his childhood sweetheart, so it fell on me, the 27-year-old middle female child without entanglements, to take care of her.  I counted it an honor.

 "What now Lord?" I asked sitting in church. My life stretched out before me as an empty abyss. My place had been with our mother, preparing her meals, helping her walk, taking her to the doctor, seeing to her medication, reading the Bible together. Now  she was with the Lord. My work was finished, and I was alone.

 I heard a door open and slam shut at the back of the church. Quick footsteps hurried along the carpeted floor. An exasperated young man looked around briefly and then sat next to me. He folded his hands and placed them on his lap.  His eyes were brimming with tears. He began to sniffle. "I'm late," he explained, though no explanation was necessary. 

 After several eulogies, he leaned over and commented, "Why do they keep calling Mary by the name
of 'Margaret?'"  "Because, that was her name, Margaret. Never Mary, no one called her 'Mary,'" I whispered.
 I wondered why this person couldn't have sat on the other side of the church. He interrupted my grieving with his tears and fidgeting. Who was this stranger anyway?

 "No, that isn't correct," he insisted, as several  people glanced over at us whispering, "her name  is Mary, Mary Peters."   "That isn't who this is."   "Isn't this the Lutheran church?"  "No, the Lutheran church is across the street."  "Oh."  "I believe you're at the wrong funeral, Sir." 

The solemnity of the occasion mixed with the realization of the man's mistake bubbled up inside me and came out as  laughter. I cupped my hands over my face, hoping it would be interpreted as sobs. The creaking pew gave me away. Sharp  looks from other mourners only made the situation seem more hilarious.  I peeked at the bewildered, misguided man seated beside me. He was laughing too, as he glanced around, deciding it was too late for an uneventful exit. I imagined Mother laughing.

At the final "Amen," we darted out a door and into the parking lot. "I do believe we'll be the talk of the town," he smiled. He said his name was Rick and since he  had missed his aunt's funeral, asked me out for a cup of coffee. That afternoon began a lifelong journey for me with this man who attended the wrong funeral, but was in the right  place.  A year after our meeting, we  were married at a country church where he was the assistant pastor. This time we both arrived at the same church, right on time.

In my time of sorrow, God gave me laughter. In place of loneliness, God gave me love. This past June, we celebrated our twenty-second wedding anniversary.  Whenever anyone asks us how we met, Rick tells them, "Her mother and my Aunt Mary introduced us, and it's  truly a match made in heaven."

 REMEMBER, God doesn't make mistakes.  He puts us where we are supposed to be.

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