Archive for April, 2012

Resting at the River’s Edge provides an opportunity to participate in reading through the Bible in a systematic way. Here’s more details about the plan and our schedules.

Track your reading along with us using the table below, the downloadable half-page PDF or the May/June bookmark.

Share what God is teaching you with otherse. E-mail me, leave a message on the Apprehending Grace Facebook page, or post a comment at the end of any blog.

Enjoy God as you watch spring unfold!
Sandy

Download All 2012 Bookmarks Here

Download only the May/June 2012 Bookmark Here

Download a Half-Page PDF of the May Reading Plan Here

Here’s May’s reading plan:

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25I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. 26And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; 27I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!
Job 19:25-27 (NIV)

This is one of the first verses that impacted me. I was in my early twenties and a very young Christian. In reading through the book of Job, I learned about this man who had been hit hard, and yet he was able to make the proclamation above. I knew immediately that I wanted to be like that man.

I embroidered it on my gym bag “I know my Redeemer lives.” with a cross and a kneeling figure. (Actually, at the time, it was probably “I know my Redeemer liveth.”) I wasn’t very good at drawing patterns and I wasn’t very good at embroidering, but it was a labor of love and it put the Scripture deep in my heart. (I gave up embroidering soon after that.) Today this verse remains one of my favorites.

If you’re reading the additional readings in the Resting at the River’s Edge schedule you read this verse today. I’m a little ahead so I read it last week…and later in the day heard this song by Nicole Mullens. So I did what I do and went to YouTube. I was so blessed to find this video of Nicole singing the song in both English and Spanish while signing it. Yes, our Redeemer lives…and He loves us radically! Enjoy!

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12Therefore, since we have such a hope [that is, the hope of our glorious salvation], we are very bold….17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
2 Cor 3:12, 17 (NIV)

Dog Running Through Field with AbandonAre you bold? Do you live in freedom?
God asked me that question recently. My answer was “[gulp]…sometimes?” and God used that as a conversation starter.

“Where the Spirit for the Lord is, there is freedom.” Do you live in freedom? What does freedom look like? To me it looks a lot like the image at the right. Living in freedom looks a lot like “living like someone left the gate open.” It’s living without chains and fences and gates. It’s walking through open doors…no, it’s running with confidence through open doors.

I have some exciting news for you today. God has set an open door before you! He’s opened the gates! I am not being prophetic in any way. I’m simply being biblical. Scripture is so clear that God has prepared works for each of us. Ephesians 2:10 says:

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Ephesians 2:10 (NIV)

God has called us, prepared us and prepared work for us. That means there are open doors. They may not be the doors we expect. They may not even be the doors we want. But they are open doors.

I don’t know about you but I don’t want to squander the opportunity to accomplish God’s purposes. I don’t want to live my life on the sidelines, especially when it comes to fulfilling God’s purposes. I want to live my life knowing that God has left the gate open and any door He’s opened I want to run through because what’s on the other side is the fulfillment of God’s purposes in my life.

Let me repeat that. What’s on the other side of doors that God opens is the fulfillment of God’s purposes in my life. And I can’t think of anything greater. I truly can’t. I can’t think of anything greater than accomplishing God’s purposes.

Yet I don’t always live like that. Why? When my heart’s desire is to run hard after the purposes God has for me and to love Him with abandon, why don’t I? I’m sure there are many reasons, but the one at the top of my hitlist is fear. I hate to admit that. I prefer to believe I fully trust God. But I know that sometimes fear still holds me back. It can take many different shapes, but all of them have the same root – lack of faith.

Fear is trusting that God can’t or won’t come through for you. It’s not trusting that God loves you so much that He will deliver you from whatever the enemy throws your way. It’s wondering if He will deliver you. It’s wondering if you’re worthy enough, important enough to Him or good enough for Him to lead you safely to the other side.

Today’s blog is going to begin to look at the lack of faith that comes from not fully understanding and embracing God’s love.

I see a relationship between three things: Faith, Freedom and Action (living like someone left the gate open). If I were to create a formula from the relationship, it would be expressed like this. Translate the symbol => as “leads to.”

Faith => Freedom [Faith leads to Freedom]

Faith + Freedom => Action [Faith plus Freedom leads to Action]

If we are not living like God left the gate open, it is in large measure because of a faith issue. And for most of us, I don’t think it’s an issue of believing that Christ died for our sins. I believe it’s an issue of understanding how that act flowed out of a heart that loves us more radically than we can imagine.

Because when we know how much we’re loved by God, freedom comes into our life. We are transformed from the Much Afraid people we are in the natural to men and women who step out in boldness.

There was a long period of time in my life when I was extremely buttoned up — uptight, fearful of what others thought, never doing anything to draw attention myself. There are two things that I attribute the changed me to. One is the unconditional love of my husband. I know that he is so much in love with me that I can fail a thousand times and he’ll still love me. And I fully understand that God has given me Phil to illustrate God’s unconditional love is for me. When I began to understand that God is not the Authoritarian in the sky waiting and watching for me to make a mistake, but always cheering me on, always enabling me to do better, always loving even when I fail…when I began to grasp that, an amazing freedom came into my life.

Let’s start at a very fundamental verse.

16“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned…
John 3:16-18a (NIV)

The fact that God would love us enough to send His son Jesus, the fact that Jesus would willingly leave all the glories of the Godhead and heaven and come to earth to live within the limitations of a human body and then die a horrible death – these things demonstrate – prove God’s love. God didn’t just say “I love you,” He proved it. His deeds prove His Word.

And yet, we believe verse 16 but somehow verse 18 doesn’t become part of our faith. Whoever believes in Him is NOT CONDEMNED.

Say it out loud “I am NOT CONDEMNED.” Go ahead – say it! I’ll wait!

Do you believe it? Has it gotten into your spirit to such a degree that you live life like God left the gate open? Are you ready to run through His open gates?

Well, if you’re like me, you’re not all the way there yet – at least not all the time. If you’re like me, there are still voices in my head that are condemning and negative. “I’m never going to be able to …” “I can’t possibly…” “If I were good I’d…” “I just can’t…”

I’ve come to understand that if I truly believed that I am not condemned, the voice in my head wouldn’t say many of the things it says. Because the things that the voice in my head says are inconsistent with God’s Word. God’s Word says that if we believe in Jesus we are NOT CONDEMNED.

God’s Word says it, but we don’t believe it because we still sin. Sin is bad. God loves us, so He convicts us of that sin. We feel it in our hearts and our spirit. And that conviction leads us to repent, to ask forgiveness. And (hallelujah!) we’re forgiven. But the enemy steps in and takes conviction and twists it into condemnation. He hammers us with it over and over again. He distorts God’s truth, which is what he’s good at, and we become willing accomplices when we embrace his condemnation and repeat it over and over to ourselves.

The Apostle Paul understood the relationships between sin and forgiveness and condemnation. In Romans 7 he said this:

15I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do the very thing I hate. 16I know perfectly well that what I am doing is wrong, and my bad conscience shows that I agree that the law is good…

21It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22I love God’s law with all my heart. 23But there is another law at work within me that is at war with my mind. This law wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me.

24Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin? 25Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Romans 7:15-25 (NLT)

Does a slave have freedom? No. A slave does what his or her master requires. And in this case, the master is sin. So what is it that Jesus does – he frees us from the slavery to sin – but there’s so much more – He doesn’t just free us from the slavery to sin, He frees us from the condemnation – the charge of guilty – of sin. Let’s pick it up in Chapter 8 verse 1:

1Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,

2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death….

15For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ,…
Romans 8:1-17a (NIV):

There’s that word again – “condemnation” – and Romans 8:1 says there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. Say it out loud again – “no condemnation.” The word literally means “no judgment against” – There is no judgment against us! Tell your heart, “heart – there is no judgment against you!”

Why is there no condemnation? Paul explained why – because the Spirit of Life has set us free – delivered us. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

God loves us so much that He has made us equal with His Son. I’m not saying that we’re God or we become God. But I am saying that God says we are co-heirs of all that is His. Co-heirs with Christ. God didn’t do this out of obligation. He did this because His heart is to bless His children. His heart is to give all that is His to His sons and daughters.
Messed Up Hair and All

Good parents don’t condemn their children, they love them unconditionally. They may discipline them to teach behaviors and principles that will lead to a good life, but they don’t condemn them. God is the perfect parent. He loves you. He even really likes you! You are the apple of His eye (Deuteronomy 32:10).

We’ll continue on this theme, but for today let’s pause – again and again through the next few days – to remind ourselves that we are NOT CONDEMNED by the Creator of the Universe, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Let that be the starting place, or perhaps the next step, in your journey to freedom…your next step to living like God has left the gate open…even if it messes up your hair!

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I took a trip out of town a few months ago. While driving an unfamiliar freeway, I rounded a corner and saw the most beautiful billboard! The earth was shown as if seen from space and it was beautiful shades of blue and gray. It was set against a midnight blue sky with stars that seemed to twinkle. Whether they actually twinkled or not, I don’t know, but I know I was spellbound. Then my eyes and mind took in the whole billboard. Moving past the image, I saw the words that were plastered in large letters overlapping the earth just a little and splashed across the midnight sky: ADULT WORLD.

I was so saddened that this beautiful billboard would be advertising such sin. Isn’t that just like Satan – to make sin attractive and inviting. Truly, the billboard was one of the most eye catching things I’ve seen in a long time.

Scripture says the woman looked at the fruit and it was appealing to the eye (Genesis 3:6). She was in the Garden of Eden. Everything was appealing to the eye! God had planted Adam and Eve in the middle of paradise, which included a close personal relationship with the Creator of all things. And satan put up a billboard that said “ADULT WORLD.” “Come, experience things that God has restricted.” “Come, see how attractive they are.” “You’re an adult, you can make your own decisions. Come check it out.”

God gives wonderful gifts to His children. He also provides instructions about how to use His wonderful gifts. Satan takes those good instructions and twists them and challenges God’s authority. “Did God really say…” “You will not surely die…” (Genesis 3:1, 3) “Come on, nothing bad will happen.” “Come on, no one will know.” “Everyone else is doing it.”

Satan’s influence in our world is significant. God’s Truth is no longer respected by many people. Many Christians struggle to maintain their agreement with God’s standards when family members and friends follow the world. Yet it is upholding God’s standards that bring power into our lives. It is living righteously that brings God’s blessings and anointing. It is knowing and trusting His Word that brings victory.

The better we know God’s Word, the less attractive sin becomes. The closer we draw near to Him, the less we desire the things of the world. Let me share an example in the natural. After my husband’s heart attack, certain foods became much less attractive to him. He understood more intimately the devastation that a diet heavy in saturated fats could bring. Most of those foods became like a poison to him. In three years he’s had two pieces of cheese cake. And for the most part, he hasn’t been severely tempted to have more. Yes, he might have wanted them, but saying “no” was easier because he understood the consequences.

The more we know God’s Word and the more we experience intimacy with Him, the more we understand the negative consequences of sin.

Friends, the world is constantly bombarding you with messages that are contrary to God’s Word. Immersing yourself in Him and His Word is the best antidote to living in 2012. Temptations are all around us and the world encourages us to enjoy them. The weapons we wage war with to fight those temptations are not the weapons of the world. Scripture says “on the contrary, [our weapons] have divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4 NIV). Take up the “sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6:17 NIV) to “demolish arguments [of satan] and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and…take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Satan may make sin appear beautiful. Don’t fall for it. Trust the Truth of God to find the true beauty in His gifts.

7Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8Come near to God and he will come near to you.
James 4:7-8a (NIV)

Oh – and by the way –should you fall, remember that we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ. He offers complete forgiveness to us every time we turn to Him in sincere repentance. His grace is that real and that powerful.

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Francis Frangipane wrote the following in an email to subscribers. I appreciated the warning and wanted to share it. You can check out his books and training school here. The emphasis in the middle paragraph is mine.

Jesus warned about our days, saying, “Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold” (Matt. 24:10). The Lord’s warning was not just about conditions in the world; He is speaking to His disciples. He warned about conditions in the church.

Today, the church is overstocked with Christians whose love has grown cold. As a result, rancor fills our conversations. We have become a sub-culture that is mad that the world has not become Christian, while we are tolerant that we are not Christlike.

When you discuss things that are wrong, does rancor come forth or prayer? The word rancor came from Latin rancere, which meant, “to stink.” (See rancid). This is exactly what we exude heavenward when all we do is find fault and criticize. The smell of our rancor ascends into the awareness of God. These things ought not to be.

On the other hand, intercessory prayer is a sweet aroma to God. Again, when we pass through trials and determine to emerge more like Jesus, our very lives become “a fragrance of Christ to God” (2 Cor. 2:15). Amazing! in spite of our flaws and weaknesses, while we are living in this harsh world, we can actually become like Christ. Indeed, may this be the passion of all who trust God’s Son: to become a fragrance of Christ to

Let’s major in love and prayer – that is, becoming like Christ – and not even minor in rancor.

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3And [Jesus] said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 18:3-4 (NIV)

I spent about a year with this verse in the front of my mind. What struck me as I first read it during that year was the phrase “unless you change.” Hmmm. That means I need to be doing something differently. The way I’m to change is to become childlike. Being childless, I don’t have a lot of experience with childlikeness. So I began to observe other people’s children more intentionally.

God spent that year changing me more than I’ve changed during any other year of my adult life. Much of it came from the lessons I learned from this verse. One of the first things I learned from watching children is their proclivity toward being awed by things around them. They live in a world of wonder.

I do not. Unless I change and become like little children…

Here are some of the definitions for the word “wonder” from Merriam-webster.com:

a cause of astonishment or admiration…miracle…rapt attention or astonishment at something awesomely mysterious or new to one’s experience

Do you live in a world of astonishment? Do you see miracles everywhere? Do you live in a world that is awesomely mysterious?

Probably not. You probably live in a world that is incredibly practical and pragmatic. Somewhere in our growing up we learn to value qualities that are the antithesis of mysterious. We learn to be cautious, even in our risk-taking. In business we’re to always have an answer for the boss before he or she asks the question. “I don’t know” is not an acceptable answer.

In God, “I don’t know” is part of the wonderful mystery of a God that is bigger than we can fathom.

In much of evangelical Christianity today (both charismatic and noncharismatic flavors of it), we encourage one another to live by faith but expect one another to have a fully-developed plan before we take that first step in faith – and a fully-developed plan by definition requires little of the mystery and miracle of God.

I read a great article recently on Charismamag.com called A Cathedral of Astonishment. Here are a few excerpts:

If explanation had been the first response to the Resurrection, something would have been wrong.

And something is wrong!

What’s wrong is that we have precious little astonishment in our modern gospel….

But in our modern sophistication we have replaced astonishment with something a bit tamer. We have made the gospel reasonable, sensible and practical. We explain the gospel in cogent terms such as “the plan of salvation” and “spiritual laws”—as if it is simply the most rational thing in the world.…

Without astonishment we inevitably reduce the gospel to inert “-ology” and “-ism.” Or worse, it becomes a spiritual “product” that we must “market.” This is consumer Christianity, and it is the bane of our age.…

Throughout the second half of the 20th century, and now into the 21st century, American evangelicals have increasingly touted the virtues of the gospel by promoting it as “practical.” This has become something of an article of faith. It is unquestioned and fully assumed that we should make the gospel practical.…

But do we fail to see that this is the secular language of the market and not the sacred language of mystery? This is the language of consumerism, not the language of Christianity. This is the language of business, not the language of faith….

We’ve lost mystery and beauty and the power they have to produce the kind of astonishment that naturally leads to worship. …

We’ve lost a bit of our childlike wonder at the Gospel. In our need to be “adults,” in our need to have all the answers, we unconsciously push away the wonder of God.

Yet I think there’s a deeper issue at work in the loss of our wonder. It is the issue of pride and lack of humility. For us to experience wonder requires a humility that allows us to admit our own inadequacy – our own inability to understand and explain. Both qualities put us at odds with the values embraced by those around us.

Our culture values being in control. In the midst of embracing the mystery and wonder of God we can’t help but recognize that our sphere of control is puny and fleeting.

Our culture values power. Wonder is a childlike quality that renders us powerless. It puts us at the mercy of the object of our wonder.

Embracing the mystery and wonder of God requires that we embrace childlikeness. It’s a small price to pay for a glimpse of the eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving God.

Read the article. The author will challenge you to pursue the mystery and beauty of God.

Let your inner child out. He or she will lead you into the awesome presence of God.

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Bleeding HeartI love the Book of Hosea!
Its beautiful language and touching story illustrate allegorically the love God has for His people – people who again and again prostitute themselves with other gods. I am convicted as I read about the people of Israel chasing after other gods – because I know that I am as easily swayed by bright shiny objects as they were. And I fall in love with God again and again as I read His enduring and tender love for Israel.

When I read Hosea, my journal becomes filled with passages that speak to me. Let me share some of them with you. The only commentary I’ll add are subheads because God’s Word tells the story best.

God Punishes Israel…and Restores Her…and In the Restoration Betroths Her to Himself Forever

13    I will punish her for the days
    she burned incense to the Baals;
    she decked herself with rings and jewelry,
    and went after her lovers,
    but me she forgot,”
    declares the LORD.

14    “Therefore I am now going to allure her;
    I will lead her into the desert
    and speak tenderly to her.

15    There I will give her back her vineyards,
    and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
    There she will sing as in the days of her youth,
    as in the day she came up out of Egypt.

16    “In that day,” declares the LORD,
    “you will call me ‘my husband’;
    you will no longer call me ‘my master.’

17    I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips;
    no longer will their names be invoked.

18    In that day I will make a covenant for them
    with the beasts of the field and the birds of the air
    and the creatures that move along the ground.
    Bow and sword and battle
    I will abolish from the land,
    so that all may lie down in safety.

19    I will betroth you to me forever;
    I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
    in love and compassion.

20    I will betroth you in faithfulness,
    and you will acknowledge the LORD.

21    “In that day I will respond,”
    declares the LORD—
    “I will respond to the skies,
    and they will respond to the earth;

22    and the earth will respond to the grain,
    the new wine and oil,
    and they will respond to Jezreel.

23    I will plant her for myself in the land;
    I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’
    I will say to those called ‘Not my people, ‘‘You are my people’;
    and they will say, ‘You are my God.’”
Hosea 2:13-23 (NIV)

The Cause of Destruction

my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. Hosea 4:6a (NIV)

My people are being destroyed because they don’t know me. Hosea 4:6a (NLT)

Israel’s Desire…God’s Desire

1“Come, let us return to the LORD! He has torn us in pieces; now he will heal us. He has injured us; now he will bandage our wounds. 2In just a short time, he will restore us so we can live in his presence. 3Oh, that we might know the LORD! Let us press on to know him! Then he will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn or the coming of rains in early spring.”

4“O Israel and Judah, what should I do with you?” asks the LORD. “For your love vanishes like the morning mist and disappears like dew in the sunlight. 5I sent my prophets to cut you to pieces. I have slaughtered you with my words, threatening you with death. My judgment will strike you as surely as day follows night. 6I want you to be merciful; I don’t want your sacrifices. I want you to know God; that’s more important than burnt offerings.
Hosea 6:1-6 (NLT)

False Worship by People Who Have Forgotten God

11“Israel has built many altars to take away sin, but these very altars became places for sinning! 12Even though I gave them all my laws, they act as if those laws don’t apply to them. 13The people of Israel love their rituals of sacrifice, but to me their sacrifices are all meaningless! I will call my people to account for their sins, and I will punish them. They will go back down to Egypt.

14“Israel has built great palaces, and Judah has fortified its cities. But they have both forgotten their Maker. Therefore, I will send down fire on their palaces and burn their fortresses.”
Hosea 8:11-14 (NLT)

Plough Up the Hard Ground of Your Heart – Now is the Time to Seek the Lord

11“Israel is like a trained heifer accustomed to treading out the grain—an easy job that she loves. Now I will put a heavy yoke on her tender neck. I will drive her in front of the plow. Israel and Judah must now break up the hard ground; their days of ease are gone. 12I said, ‘Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of my love. Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and shower righteousness upon you.’
Hosea 10:11-12 (NLT)

The Heart of God – I Love This Picture

1“When Israel was a child, I loved him as a son, and I called my son out of Egypt. 2But the more I called to him, the more he rebelled, offering sacrifices to the images of Baal and burning incense to idols. 3It was I who taught Israel how to walk, leading him along by the hand. But he doesn’t know or even care that it was I who took care of him. 4I led Israel along with my ropes of kindness and love. I lifted the yoke from his neck, and I myself stooped to feed him.

5“But since my people refuse to return to me, they will go back to Egypt and will be forced to serve Assyria. 6War will swirl through their cities; their enemies will crash through their gates and destroy them, trapping them in their own evil plans. 7For my people are determined to desert me. They call me the Most High, but they don’t truly honor me.

8“Oh, how can I give you up, Israel? How can I let you go? How can I destroy you like Admah and Zeboiim? My heart is torn within me, and my compassion overflows. 9No, I will not punish you as much as my burning anger tells me to. I will not completely destroy Israel, for I am God and not a mere mortal. I am the Holy One living among you, and I will not come to destroy.

10“For someday the people will follow the LORD. I will roar like a lion, and my people will return trembling from the west. 11Like a flock of birds, they will come from Egypt. Flying like doves, they will return from Assyria. And I will bring them home again,” says the LORD.
Hosea 11:1-11 (NLT)

Come back to your God

      6So now, come back to your God! Act on the principles of love and justice, and always live in confident dependence on your God.
Hosea 12:6 (NLT)

Listen Carefully…Hear God’s Love

1Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God, for your sins have brought you down. 2Bring your petitions, and return to the LORD. Say to him, “Forgive all our sins and graciously receive us, so that we may offer you the sacrifice of praise…

4The LORD says, “Then I will heal you of your idolatry and faithlessness, and my love will know no bounds, for my anger will be gone forever! 5I will be to Israel like a refreshing dew from heaven. It will blossom like the lily; it will send roots deep into the soil like the cedars in Lebanon. 6Its branches will spread out like those of beautiful olive trees, as fragrant as the cedar forests of Lebanon…

8“O Israel, stay away from idols! I am the one who looks after you and cares for you. I am like a tree that is always green, giving my fruit to you all through the year.”

9Let those who are wise understand these things. Let those who are discerning listen carefully. The paths of the LORD are true and right, and righteous people live by walking in them. But sinners stumble and fall along the way.
Hosea 14:1-9

Let’s Return to the Lord
Friends, let’s return to the Lord wholeheartedly. Let’s step away from the things of this world that we hold tightly and that keep us from pursuing Him – things that keep us from loving Him and stepping out to follow Him more deliberately. Let’s just do it!

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16For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the call of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, all the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. 17Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and remain with him forever.
1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 (NLT)

My message for Resurrection Sunday tomorrow is titled “Follow the Leader.” Because He has risen, we will one day rise, too. It got me thinking about Chris Tomlin’s song “I Will Rise.” I found this YouTube video with a woman singing the song in ASL – American Sign Language – a language of the deaf. While I’m not proficient in it, I love to worship in sign language.

I watched as the signer/singer signed along with the song enjoying the variation she used to express the meaning of the words, phrases and song. I was enjoying it…but was totally unprepared for the impact it had when she sang the last line – totally unexpectedly, I broke into tears! The way she signed “I will rise” at the very end of the song literally shows her/me/you rising to meet the One she has been singing to and about all along – and the sign she uses when her fingers meet means “together” with the body language that powerfully communicated “together forever.” After spending the afternoon immersed in 1 Thessalonians 4 (and 1 Corinthians 15  – great passage!), the singing of the song in sign had a powerful impact. I’m guessing that you don’t need to spend the next four hours in 1 Thessalonians and 1 Corinthians to be impacted, too. Check out the video and be blessed.

Because He has risen, we will one day rise too. Hallelujah!
And just for fun…here’s the same song signed a bit more expressively. I love the variation.

May you know His resurrection power. Have a blessed Easter.

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If you’re reading along with us using the Resting at the River’s Edge reading plan, two weeks ago read Acts 11. This verse caught my eye:

God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of turning from sin and receiving eternal life.
Acts 11:18b (NLT)

It has always been God’s plan to give salvation to all, both Jew and Gentile. When God made His covenant with Abram (who God later named Abraham), it ended with this sentence:

“All the families of the earth will be blessed through you.”
( Genesis 12:3b)

God intended Abraham to become a blessing to all the families of the earth – Jew and Gentile – men and women from every nation.

My just released book, More than a Fish Story, God Moving on Behalf of a City and a Man identifies seven Life Lessons in the book of Jonah. The first is the same message these verses teach us – that God cares about all people – even those we wouldn’t expect Him to. In the first two verses of Jonah we see God give Jonah the assignment of taking God’s message of repentance to the Ninevites. That wouldn’t seem like an unusual assignment for a prophet, but we learn that the Ninevites are Israelites’ enemies and they were a particularly cruel in battle. Yet God’s purposes hadn’t changed – He desired that the Ninevites would be blessed by an Israelite taking them the message of repentance. God was ready to bless them when they turned from their sins and followed Him.

And the two-fold message is the same today:

  1. God cares about all people – He desires that all people turn to Him.
  2. He’s given His people the responsibility of sharing the message with the world.

Of course every message from God has an application in our lives:

  1. If we’re to reflect the character of God (and we are), then we ought to care about all people…not just those who are like us or those that we like.
  2. Who might God be calling you to share His message of salvation with?

Don’t just read these words and quickly move on to the next thing. God has an assignment for you. Pause and pray. In what ways do you need to change? Who do you need to share Christ with?

You can download the book More than a Fish Story here. It provides 6 personal or small group studies in the book of Jonah and available free for a limited time.

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19“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV)

Earthly trousseaus include things like linens and dishes and home accessories – treasures a young woman wants to take into her marriage. Yes, it’s an old fashioned idea and I don’t know anyone who does it anymore – at least not anyone in America – but it symbolizes the young bride’s hope for a beautiful life with her future prince.

Christ tells us not to worry about storing up earthly treasures, but to build up our trousseaus for our marriage to the King of Kings. What treasures would honor our future husband? What treasures should we be storing up in heaven? I read this passage a few months ago and these questions tickled in the back of my mind.

Before I share my thoughts on the question, let me approach it differently. There is a startling verse in Matthew 18:

And [Jesus] said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 
Matthew 18:3 (NIV)

We are to become like children to enter the kingdom of heaven. This is so counter-culture to us and we often skip over this verse. Becoming childlike will be the topic of some future blog. For today, I just want us to understand that God values childlikeness. When we receive Christ, we become His children:

12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
1 John 1:12-13 (NIV)

Let me ask you, then, what treasures do parents store? They store the precious attempts by their children to do things that are beyond their ability. The indistinguishable picture gets hung on the refrigerator. The nearly dead flowers that have been clutched too tightly in chubby little hands are placed in a vase in the middle of the table. God is no different from earthly parents. Well, yes, actually, He is quite different. But you get my point – He treasures our attempts to be like Him, even when those attempts fall short. Here are some of the things that build fill up our trousseau in heaven:

  • Every act of mercy
  • Every self-sacrificial act
  • Every act of humility – giving credit to others when you could have put the spotlight on yourself, showing deference to others
  • Every stand against satan, even those in which we get beat up a bit
  • Every act of forgiveness
  • Every act of kindness
  • Every step taken by faith, especially when there was no sight

I have come to believe that these things are greater treasures in God’s eyes than the writing of a tremendous book, leading a great organization or preaching the perfect sermon – all of which receive great acclaim within the Christian community. I’m not saying writing these things aren’t treasured by God – they are, and they will carry forward into eternity. I am saying that God honors what is done in secret and what is done at great personal expense without expecting glory in return.

Lord, help us to embrace the secret, sacrificial acts that bring glory only to You.

There is one other thing that I know builds up our heavenly trousseau. Read these verses from the book of Revelation:

8And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.

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3Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. 4The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand.
Rev 5:8, 8:3-4 (NIV)

Our prayers are so valued by God that they are stored up as incense in golden bowls in heaven. Our prayers for others, for revival, for the lost are sacrificial acts of mercy and humility. They take stands against satan and represent faith that overcomes lack of sight.

This week…pray for opportunities to build up your heavenly trousseau – and then walk through those open doors.

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