Archive for August, 2013

Living God's HeartLiving Gods Heart

They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity.
2 Corinthians 8:2 (NLT)

God’s very nature is one of generosity, the most significant act being the giving of His son:

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16 (NLT)

God gave. He didn’t stand back and offer advice. He didn’t point us to yet another verse of Scripture. He gave. By nature, He wants to share. He wants to share His Kingdom with us. He wants us to share in Christ’s glory. He wants us to live with Him in heaven.

When we reflect God’s heart, we become a person of generosity. Whether we have much or little.

I find that generosity springs out of a heart filled with joy. Yes, there are other characteristics that bring us to generosity. Compassion, for example, motivates us to action. Yet it is joy that motivates us to give generously and without anxiety or hesitancy. A heart overflowing with joy wants to share it.

Think back to a time when you were in the midst of great joy – perhaps when you were first in love or at the birth of your child. You wanted to share that joy with everyone. “Drinks are on me!” is the stereotypical worldly example. In response to some great thing in his life, the buyer wants to share his joy.

“Their abundant joy has overflowed in rich generosity” Paul wrote about the Macedonians. Their joyful heart – the joy they had found in knowing and serving God – was the impetus for great generosity…even in the midst of many troubles and poverty. It is not wealth that causes us to be generous. We can all probably think of someone who is wealthy but not at all generous. It is out of our joy that generosity springs forth without reservation.

Paul had more to say about the generosity of the Macedonians:

2They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity. 3For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will. 4They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem. 5They even did more than we had hoped, for their first action was to give themselves to the Lord and to us, just as God wanted them to do.
2 Corinthians 8:2-5 (NLT)

  • The Macedonians gave more than they could afford to give. Far more.
  • The Macedonians begged for the privilege of sharing.
  • The Macedonians gave themselves first to the Lord, then to others.

It is giving themselves to the Lord first that gave them the joy from which to give generously.

A joyful heart will lead to a generous heart and spirit. If you are giving sparingly or begrudgingly, give yourself first to the Lord. When you are experiencing the joy of the Lord – joy, despite your circumstances – act upon that joy and share it with others.

God’s heart is a joyful and giving one. He longs to share His joy with you and give you the joy of sharing it with others. Don’t resist him! To whom will you give joyfully today?

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Resting at the River's Edge Logo 2013Resting at the River's Edge Logo 2013

While fall doesn’t officially start until about three weeks into the month, the beginning of September always feels like the beginning of fall to me. And it’s always a time when routines are adjusted to the change in schedules. Be sure to keep your Bible reading in your schedule! Our Resting at the River’s Edge schedule will help you stay on track, reading four or five chapters each weekday. If you fall behind, don’t worry about it! That’s why we only schedule readings on weekdays – so we can use the weekend to catch up. And if you can’t catch up on weekends, still don’t worry about it! Just keep reading at a pace that allows you to enjoy God’s Word. I’m confident that God will reveal Himself to you as you take time to get to know Him.

Click on one of the following buttons to open a PDF file of the September/October bookmark or all bookmarks. After the file has opened, you can print it or save it to your hard drive from your browser’s file menu.

Click here for the Sept/Oct 2013 recommended reading bookmark. Click here to download all bookmarks for 2013.

The September Reading Schedule also appears at the end of this blog.

I look forward to hearing from you about how God is speaking to you through His Word during the coming month. Email me, leave a message on our Apprehending Grace Facebook page, or post a comment at the end of any blog.

Blessings, Friends!

The recommended reading schedule for September is below.

Resting at the River's Edge Reading Schedule for September 2013

Here’s how the Resting at the River’s Edge reading schedules are organized:

  • The first two columns of the schedule allow you to read through the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice over a two-year period. You will typically read about three chapters a day if you follow this reading plan.
  • The “Additional Readings” column put you on a plan to read through the entire Bible in one year. You will read between four and five chapters a day if you follow this plan.

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In yesterday’s blog, we looked at the great choices that King Asa made during his life. One of his first actions as King was to rebuild the spiritual foundations of the city. What a great first choice for each of us to make – to tear down idols and build up our spiritual foundations. He also chose to live in humility, acknowledging that God was the provider of his victories and blessings. He gave his battles to the Lord, allowing Him to bring the victories. He didn’t take credit for himself.

Asa’s great choices resulted in his people earnestly seeking God. What a great legacy!

I was surprised at what came next.

1In the thirty-sixth year of Asa’s reign, King Baasha of Israel invaded Judah and fortified Ramah in order to prevent anyone from entering or leaving King Asa’s territory in Judah. 2Asa responded by removing the silver and gold from the treasuries of the Temple of the LORD and the royal palace. He sent it to King Ben-hadad of Aram, who was ruling in Damascus, along with this message: 3“Let there be a treaty between you and me like the one between your father and my father. See, I am sending you silver and gold. Break your treaty with King Baasha of Israel so that he will leave me alone.”
2 Chronicles 16:1-3 (NLT)

King Asa had been king for 36 years at this point, and he made many good choices during his reign. Then something happened. Asa made a tragic choice in this battle What was different about this battle than the others? The difference was King Asa’s tragic choice of going into battle without seeking the Lord. He looked at the situation, decided how to deal with it, and went about doing it. He never sought the Lord.

When he went to battle the first time, Scripture records that

Then Asa cried out to the LORD his God, “O LORD, no one but you can help the powerless against the mighty! Help us, O LORD our God, for we trust in you alone. It is in your name that we have come against this vast horde. O LORD, you are our God; do not let mere men prevail against you!”
2 Chronicles 14:11 (NLT)

There was none of that in the 36th year of Asa’s reign. Maybe he thought he had it all figured out after being king for 36 years. Maybe he was just tired and forgot to ask God. I don’t know. I do know that we all mess up sometimes. When we’ve done something before it’s easy to simply make a decision about how to handle a situation and take action. We tragically forget to call upon the Lord.

That’s not the most tragic decision of King Asa’s life, however. The Lord was gracious and merciful and He gave King Asa victory. Then then he sent another prophet to Asa. Remember the first prophet he sent? The prophet encouraged Asa and told him that whenever he sought the Lord, he would find the Lord. This time, the prophet had a different message.

7At that time Hanani the seer came to King Asa and told him, “Because you have put your trust in the king of Aram instead of in the LORD your God, you missed your chance to destroy the army of the king of Aram. 8Don’t you remember what happened to the Ethiopians and Libyans and their vast army, with all of their chariots and charioteers? At that time you relied on the LORD, and he handed them over to you. 9The eyes of the LORD search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. What a fool you have been! From now on you will be at war.”
2 Chronicles 16:7-9 (NLT)

God knows our hearts. He desires that we seek him – in fact Scripture says that he searches the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. There was a time when that was true of King Asa. But somehow, it was no longer true. King Asa’s tragic choice was to rely on himself and on others instead of relying on God. And because of that choice, Asa’s heart was not strengthened and his country would be at war continually.

Which brings us to the greatest opportunity Asa had to make a great or tragic choice. Unfortunately, we see that the choice he made was also a tragic one:

10Asa became so angry with Hanani for saying this that he threw him into prison and put him in stocks. At that time Asa also began to oppress some of his people. …12In the thirty-ninth year of his reign, Asa developed a serious foot disease. Yet even with the severity of his disease, he did not seek the LORD’s help but turned only to his physicians. 13So he died in the forty-first year of his reign.
2 Chronicles 16:10-13 (NLT)

What a sad, tragic ending for a king who started his reign by pulling down demonic strongholds and exhorting the people to faith. In the end, King Asa, who had served in such humility, allowed rebellion and pride to grow when he heard the words of correction from the prophet.

I am reminded of Paul’s exhortation to finish the race well.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.
Hebrews 12:1 (NLT)

That cloud of witnesses is all those saints who have gone before us – because of their example of living faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down. What was slowing King Asa down? It was his pride and it cost him dearly at the end of his life – it tripped him up as this passage says. We’re to strip off that weight and run with endurance the race God has set before us.

King Asa made the tragic decision near the end of his life to trust his own instincts instead of relying on God. We don’t know what led him to that place. Perhaps he was hurt by others. Perhaps he just became complacent from living an easy life during times of peace. Honestly, that scares me more than anything – to fall into the trap of trusting my own judgment because things have been going so well – to fall into the trap of forgetting to ask God for wisdom and help – to forget to rely on him. We don’t know what caused King Asa to fall into that trap, but he did. And after making that poor choice, he made the most tragic choice of resisting God’s discipline, of not humbling himself before God and the people of his land. And the result is that he and his country were at war until King Asa’s death a few years later.

We saw in yesterday’s blog that King Asa’s great choices impacted his people in a positive way. Today we see that his tragic choices impacted his people in a tragic way. The same is true in our lives. Our good choices, especially the choice to pursue God wholeheartedly, impact those around for their good. And our poor choices impact them negatively.

The older I get, the more I want to finish well. And the more I am aware how easy it would be to become dependent on my own abilities, or how easy it would be to become complacent with where I am, not seeking to know God more and serve God more.

Let’s not make the same tragic choice that King Asa made in his latter years. Let’s stay close to God – always pursuing Him, always running our race with endurance, always trusting Him for the victory.

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How many choices do you make in a day? Since this is a blog about making choices, I began to wonder that. I did what every connected person does – I googled it. How many choices do people make a day? I found answers that varied from 612 to 35,000. Of course, none of the sites I went to had any documentation to back up their definitively provided answers. One interesting study had scientists following CEOs around for a week. They learned that about 50% of the decisions they made in a week were made in 9 minutes or less.

Great choices…tragic choices…made throughout the seasons of our lives… and most of them made in 9 minutes or less.

2 Chronicles, Chapters 14 and 15 tell the story of the life of King Asa. I was struck by the choices King Asa made and how they changed throughout his life.

The year is 911 BC – 911 years before Christ was born. The nation of Israel was divided into two kingdoms – the northern kingdom called Judah and the southern kingdom still called Israel. In Judah, King Abijah died and his son Asa became king. As we look at Asa’s life we’ll see that while he was King of Judah and he lived a long time ago, the pattern of his life could be the pattern of any of our lives. The choices he faced were different from the choices we face, and yet they were very much the same. There are lessons to learn from Asa, both in what he did well – that is, the great choices he made, and in his failures – that is, the tragic choices he made. So let’s begin:

1When Abijah died, he was buried in the City of David. Then his son Asa became the next king. There was peace in the land for ten years. 2Asa did what was pleasing and good in the sight of the LORD his God. 3He removed the foreign altars and the pagan shrines. He smashed the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah poles. 4He challenged the people of Judah to seek the LORD, the God of their ancestors, and to obey his law and his commands. 5Asa also removed the pagan shrines, as well as the incense altars from every one of Judah’s towns. So Asa’s kingdom enjoyed a period of peace.
2 Chronicles 14:1-5 (NLT)

What was the first statement made about Asa after he became king in that passage? “Asa did what was pleasing and good in the sight of the Lord.” Asa made choices that were pleasing to God. What were those choices?

Scripture says that God gave Asa ten years of peace and during that time, he tore down foreign altars and pagan shrines and he exhorted, he challenged the people to seek the Lord. Asa rebuilt the spiritual foundations of the city. The best choice we can always make is to tear down idols in our lives and build up our spiritual foundations – to seek God regularly, to obey his law and his commandments.

So Asa started his Kingship by making great choices, let’s see what happened next.

6During those peaceful years, [Asa] was able to build up the fortified towns throughout Judah. No one tried to make war against him at this time, for the LORD was giving him rest from his enemies. 7Asa told the people of Judah, “Let us build towns and fortify them with walls, towers, gates, and bars. The land is still ours because we sought the LORD our God, and he has given us peace on every side.” So they went ahead with these projects and brought them to completion.
2 Chronicles 14:6-7 (NLT)

King Asa made more great choices. He first rebuilt the spiritual foundations of Judah, then went on to rebuild the physical foundations of the cities, fortifying the walls, towers and gates of the city.

While doing so, he didn’t do it with an attitude of “look how great we are – look at what we’re building!” No, he acknowledged that “the land is still ours because we sought the Lord our God and he has given us peace on every side.”

King Asa made the choice to live in humility – to acknowledge that every good and perfect gift comes from God. He also occupied the time well. He prepared himself and his people during times of peace for times of war that would undoubtedly come. The next verse talks about the great army and weapons he had.

King Asa had an army of 300,000 warriors from the tribe of Judah, armed with large shields and spears. He also had an army of 280,000 warriors from the tribe of Benjamin, armed with small shields and bows. Both armies were composed of well-trained fighting men.
2 Chronicles 14:8 (NLT)

We can learn from Asa’s great choices. During times of peace, we’re to keep busy. We’re not to become complacent or comfortable, but we’re to shore up our defenses, first spiritually – clean house by removing worship of worldly things. It’s easy for the worldly to creep in when things are going well. So when things are going well, we need to make wise choices and clean house spiritually first, then prepare for the battles God has before us. King Asa didn’t spend his afternoons relaxing in his King’s gardens. He spent them preparing himself and his people.

Well, peace didn’t last forever. Let’s continue to read:

9Once an Ethiopian named Zerah attacked Judah with an army of 1,000,000 men and 300 chariots. They advanced to the town of Mareshah, 10so Asa deployed his armies for battle in the valley north of Mareshah.
2 Chronicles 14:9-10 (NLT)

Just as a reminder – Asa had about 680,000 troops armed with shields and swords and he was facing an army of a million men and 300 chariots. Asa’s time of peace was gone. What did he do? Verse 10 said he deployed his troops for battle. Verse 11 continues Asa’s actions:

Then Asa cried out to the LORD his God, “O LORD, no one but you can help the powerless against the mighty! Help us, O LORD our God, for we trust in you alone. It is in your name that we have come against this vast horde. O LORD, you are our God; do not let mere men prevail against you!”
2 Chronicles 14:11 (NLT)

This is perhaps King Asa’s greatest choice – he gave the impossible battle to the Lord. “Help us, O Lord, for we trust in you alone. You are our God.”

We will also face battles in life. Perhaps not literal battles as King Asa did, but battles none the less. We would do well to follow King Asa’s great example and make the same choice – know that the battles belong to the Lord, step up to the battle, but then we turn the battles over to Him. We show up, but we trust Him for the victory.

Maybe our battle is physical – an illness or injury – we pray “Lord, I’m going to the doctor today, but I trust You to heal me.” Maybe the battle is for our provision or for our children’s provision. So we pray “Lord, I’m going to work today, but I trust You to provide for my needs.”

What was the result of Asa’s battle? Verse 12 tells us:

So the LORD defeated the Ethiopians in the presence of Asa and the army of Judah, and the enemy fled.
2 Chronicles 14:12 (NLT)

We serve a faithful God! When we face battles in life, we can trust Him. He is faithful!

Now I love what happens next. The next few verses give more description of the battle and how the Ethiopians were defeated, then the scene shifts to a prophet named Aazriah. Let’s read…

1Then the Spirit of God came upon Azariah son of Oded, 2and he went out to meet King Asa as he was returning from the battle. “Listen to me, Asa!” he shouted. “Listen, all you people of Judah and Benjamin! The LORD will stay with you as long as you stay with him! Whenever you seek him, you will find him. But if you abandon him, he will abandon you….7But as for you, be strong and courageous, for your work will be rewarded.”
2 Chronicles 15:1-2, 7 (NLT)

King Asa had just come off a hard battle. Yes, the Lord gave him the victory, but even when we win the battles, we can sometimes get pretty beat up. The Lord knew that Asa needed some encouragement, so He sent someone with a special message for him. A reminder… “Whenever you seek the Lord, you will find Him. But if you abandon him, he will abandon you. Be strong and courageous, for your work will be rewarded.” God will be found by those who seek Him.

Notice that God sent someone to give Asa the message. Do you make yourself available to be the messenger? I believe God has called all of His children to be encouragers. If we’re following God’s heart, we see through His eyes, and we know that this world is a hurting place full of hurting people. He’s given us the special assignment of being those prophets – being those people who build up the body!

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
Ephesians 4:29 (NIV)

And that was the result of the message to Asa. Continuing reading:

8When Asa heard this message from Azariah the prophet, he took courage and removed all the detestable idols from the land of Judah and Benjamin and in the towns he had captured in the hill country of Ephraim. And he repaired the altar of the LORD, which stood in front of the entry room of the LORD’s Temple.
2 Chronicles 15:8 (NLT)

Asa had already torn down shrines to false Gods, but now he went even further. He “took courage” and threw away all detestable idols. When we encourage people, it gives them courage to do the right thing.

King Asa continued to exhort the people to follow the Lord, and a few verses later Scripture tells us the results of Asa’s encouragement.

12Then [the people] entered into a covenant to seek the LORD, the God of their ancestors, with all their heart and soul….14They shouted out their oath of loyalty to the LORD with trumpets blaring and rams’ horns sounding. 15All in Judah were happy about this covenant, for they had entered into it with all their heart. They earnestly sought after God, and they found him. And the LORD gave them rest from their enemies on every side….19So there was no more war until the thirty-fifth year of Asa’s reign.
2 Chronicles 15:12, 14-15, 19 (NLT)

Asa’s great choices resulted in the people of his Kingdom earnestly seeking the Lord and they led to peace for his kingdom for many years.

One thing to note is that when King Asa made great choices, those choices impacted the people around him. The same is true in our lives. When we make good choices, those around us are positively impacted. When I live my life in a way that pleases God, Phil is impacted by it. My life has more peace and as a result, his life has more peace.

Even more important than that, when I lead a life that pleases God, those around me are encouraged to lead a life that pleases God. Friends, it’s important to put yourself in a place where there are people who love God more than you do! Because being around those people will motivate you to follow God more closely. Make it a priority to (1) be a person who encourages others to follow  hard after Christ and (2) be around others who love God more than you do.

King Asa made some great choices in his life. Unfortunately, that didn’t last through his entire life. Tomorrow we’ll look at some of the tragic choices he made.

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One of the ministries we follow and support is Orphans Unlimited in Mozambique, Africa. It was started by one woman, Pastor Brenda Sue Lange, in 1993. It has grown to serve many orphans and villages in the country, and it has grown as many come to Christ on a regular basis. This morning, her weekly update touched my heart. It was written by one of their newer staff members, Melissa Olmsdahl. Let this portion of her letter touch your heart and change the way you view the children in your life and ministry.

Footprints under the mango tree

If you go to our recreation centre, you will find thousands of little foot prints all over the show. When I look at these prints, during a quiet time, I always smile as I think of the kid’s joyful play in this area. The kids can be so silly, it’s so cute. There are so many activities that we have running up at the centre. We do sports programs for the bigger kids, during which, the little munchkins will often come and mischievously snatch the basket ball away. I’ll admit, most of the time I will hand the ball over to them, I can’t help myself sometimes Its getting it back that’s the challenge, some of these little guys know how to run, good golly!

We have the basket ball court and the soccer field up there, and at 8am and 3pm every day, our youth director, Bertino, runs the sports program. He is really reliable. Whenever I get a chance, I go up and play with them. I’m not the best athlete, but surprisingly, the boys let me in their games. It makes me feel really special.

Teenage Boys Ministered to by Orphans Unlimited

I really love those boys! They have all crept into my heart. They are the teenage orphans that are part of our orphanage. They are real teenagers, take chances, get into trouble, but they all are so special.

There are eight of them, they are all super different, but each of them have a special something lovely. They all help out with our Sunday school programs each week. They help with the lessons, and with controlling the kiddies. This week that passed they did a puppet show to tell the story of Jesus and Zacchaes in the tree. The little kids really love the puppets; they really get involved in what the “puppets” are saying.

Puppet Show at Orphans Unlimited Children's Sunday School Our Sunday school is always packed on a Sunday morning. Actually our churches are filled with mostly children. But a wise man once taught me that the kids are Jesus’s little evangelists. A child on fire is the best catalyst. If you could only hear the vibration in that little room when these kids sing, when they scream hallelujah! It’s intensely moving. Now imagine with me, all these children scattering after Sunday school, as little feet do, and go and play outside their huts, outside their friend’s huts, singing the praises to Jesus that they learned, all over the village…

These little foot prints in the sand are the foot prints of our little evangelists. Whenever I see these little foot prints, I feel the face of God smiling down, as a proud father, recounting the steps of His little children… Thanks you Jesus for these little babes.

Melissa Olmsdahl, Orphans Unlimited Staff Member I have started teaching them English words as well. Only three a day, I really love to watch their little brains soak up all they can. I have been teaching them body parts, and they really get a kick out of watching me use my body to show them the parts. I really enjoy spending time with them. And of course, play time under the mango tree is very action packed. I’ve been taken down and tickled, had ten little girls play with my hair, at the same time… and played horsy. As I said, it’s a dream come true.


Melissa letter stirred my heart for the children.

“A child on fire is the best catalyst…Now imagine with me, all these children scattering after Sunday school, as little feet do, and go and play outside their huts, outside their friend’s huts, singing the praises to Jesus that they learned, all over the village…”

I am not child-oriented, but what a vision to grab hold of and pray into – that the children of our churches would be on fire for the Lord and that they would run out with the enthusiasm and freedom that only a child has, telling the world about this wonderful man named Jesus.

And may we adults learn from them. Jesus said:

16Then Jesus called for the children and said to the disciples, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. 17I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”
Luke 18:16-17 (NLT)

The Kingdom belongs to those who are like children – eager to be near Christ and tell others about him.

To learn more about Orphans Unlimited, visit their website. It’s a great ministry to give an offering to! They steward the Lord’s money well.

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods HeartEven in our most downhearted moment, we can reach down deep and rejoice at the freedom God has bought for us. There are so many Psalms in which David cries out from the difficult situation he’s in. Yet they always end with a praise to God – with a recognition of the goodness of God and the good things He has done. Psalms 31 and 35 provide two examples of this. Throughout the Psalms, David is not shy about expressing the severity of his situation, crying out to God in verses like this

“Free me from the trap that is set for me” (31:4)

“Be merciful to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief. My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak. Because of all my enemies, I am the utter contempt of my neighbors; I am a dread to my friends– those who see me on the street flee from me.” (31:9-11)

“Malicious witnesses rise up; They ask me of things that I do not know. They repay me evil for good, To the bereavement of my soul.” (35:11-12)

David’s life wasn’t always pleasant (yes, that’s probably the understatement of the year). Yet in both of these Psalms, as well as most (all?) others, he returns to a rejoicing in his salvation and his God:

“I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul.” (31:7)

“How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you, which you bestow in the sight of men on those who take refuge in you…Praise be to the LORD, for he showed his wonderful love to me” (31:19, 21a)

“And my soul shall rejoice in the LORD; It shall exult in His salvation.” (35:9)

“I will give You thanks in the great congregation; I will praise You among a mighty throng.” (35:18)

“And my tongue shall declare Your righteousness and Your praise all day long.” (35:28)

Joy comes in part from what we choose to focus on. David faced exceedingly difficult times and he poured his heart out to the Lord during those times. But he kept the difficulties from overwhelming him by consistently praising – even rejoicing – in the One who is greater than the difficulties. The One who is sovereign over all things. The One who is our salvation. The One who loves us beyond our ability to fully grasp.

When Jesus made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, “the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen.” (Luke 19:37) “Hosanna! Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord” they cried (Mark 11:9).

The Pharisees took offense at the outrageous, joyful praise being given the Lord – “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” they said. (Luke 19:39)

Jesus’ response is instructive: “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:40)

If we do not rejoice, the very rocks we kick down the road will praise Him in our place.

Ron Kenoly released a song in 1995 (yikes, that was a long time ago!) titled “Ain’t Gonna Let No Rock.” “Ain’t gonna let no rock out-praise me. Ain’t gonna let no rock take my place.” You can check it out here. My sentiments exactly. I will rejoice in Him. I will sometimes dig deep for the joy within me, but I will do it because my Savior has bought my freedom!

We in America don’t understand the joy of freedom because we have experienced it all our lives. Here’s a video I found inspiring and instructive. The researchers spend an hour cutting away the netting that threatened to defeat a humpback whale. The whale was close to death when they found him tangled tightly in the nylon. After cutting and cutting and cutting until they were able to fully untangle him, the whale rejoiced over his new-found freedom. He spent the next hour making spectacular jumps out of the water, slapping it with is fins, twirling and totally blessing the people who had freed him. Did you catch that? He spent the next hour rejoicing over his freedom. We were once lost and now we are found. When was the last time you spent an hour simply rejoicing over your new life? Rejoicing is fun! Watch the whale! (The whole video is good, but the whale’s show begins at about the 6:20 into it.) You know he’s having fun! And listen to the joy in the rescuers voices as they enjoy the exuberant display. It blesses God’s heart when we rejoice over all He has done for us. Rejoice friends!

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods HeartThe world thinks it has the market cornered on celebration. They’ve got it wrong!

They think that Christians are sour and serious all they time. When we’re living as God wants us to live, they’ve got it wrong!

Ahh, there’s the rub – the “living as God wants us to live” part. It’s easy to get caught up in the seriousness of following God. When that fails, the seriousness of life is a huge draw. There’s so much to do and so little time. There’s so many challenges and so much frustration out there. Yes. There is. But God calls us to pull away from all that and enjoy life!

God instructed the Israelites to observe seven feasts each year. Two of them week-long celebrations of God’s goodness. The Feast of Weeks, also known as Pentecost, is a “festival of joy.” It celebrates the giving of the Law to Moses. Isn’t that interesting – it CELEBRATES the GIVING of the Law. The world thinks the Law – any law or restriction – anything that hampers one from doing their own thing (or what seems right in their own eyes as Judges 17:6 and 21:25 put it) – is a bad thing. Yet James says that the “perfect law” “sets you free” (James 1:25). The Psalms say that it revives the soul (Psalm 19:7). So God instructed the Israelites to have a week-long celebration commemorating the giving of the Law.

The second week-long celebration is the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths, rejoicing over the harvest, which represents God’s goodness and blessings. God instructed the Israelites to set aside a week each year to celebrate His goodness to them!

Other feasts included elements of celebration in their observance, but these two call for all-out, prolonged celebration. Stop your work. Interrupt your routine. And celebrate God!

God wants us to be joyful! Rejoice! He says.

And I’m guessing you’re like me and don’t do it enough.

The One who created us knows what we need. He knows we need to rejoice. He knows we need to celebrate.

A joyful heart is good medicine, But a broken spirit dries up the bones.
Proverbs 17:22 (NASB)

Developing a joyful heart by celebrating God’s goodness is “good medicine.” The phrase translated “is good medicine” literally means “causes good health.” Being joyful contributes to being in good health.

I’ll be honest with you. I’ve had a very tough week. Not just a normal tough week, a very tough week. Rejoicing hasn’t been easy. But life is easier when I push myself to rejoice. Before beginning to write tonight, I listened to some reggae Christian music (Christafari). Its fun, reggae beat, weird (to me) words and phraseology, yet honest message gave me reason to rejoice. That’s what it took for me to rejoice today. I started by reading Scripture and it laid the groundwork, but I was a hard case tonight. Scripture alone didn’t do it. But before turning off the music to write, I was singing at the top of my lungs with joy in my heart.

A joyful heart is good medicine. Push yourself to enjoy God this week. I know that sounds wrong. But it’s right! Because God wants us to celebrate! Enjoy God! Enjoy life!

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods HeartChoosing to take offense brings a seed into our lives that is the antithesis of the joy God wants us to have. It becomes a matter that occupies our thoughts, pulling us down from the heights of enjoying God’s glory to the depths of allowing satan to rent space in our head and heart. Offenses can easily take root that creates a stronghold of bitterness. Bitterness can result from two sources: disappointments of life and painful relationships. Let’s look at both.

Disappointments of Life
We will all experience disappointments in life. When those disappointments cause bitterness within us, it is because we have taken offense at the way God has dealt with us. We have ceased to practice thanksgiving. We have ceased to remember His goodness to us. Instead, the disappointment takes root and we believe the lies the enemy shouts in our ears.
You deserve better! God doesn’t care about you! God has rejected you and always will reject you! You’re not good enough for Him.
Lies, friends! They’re all lies! They lead to bitterness in our heart and soul. They rob us of all joy. Combat the lies of the enemy with the Truth of God’s Word.

It is out of God’s great love for you that He sent Christ to die for you. He has saved you and gifted you and has a purpose for you. He has gone to prepare a home for you so that one day you will be with Him. No, you’re not good enough for Him on your own – but He has credited the righteousness of Christ to you.

Make a concerted effort to practice thanksgiving – first thing every morning and last thing every evening. Praise Him before each meal. Look for His blessings instead of at what you haven’t received.

Painful Relationships
Just as we will all experienced disappointments in life, we will all experience being betrayed or hurt or disappointed by someone we love. If we take offense when that occurs, the bitterness root extends its tentacles. Those betrayals, hurts and disappointments must be released to God and healed by God. Forgiveness is not an option in the Kingdom of God.

14“If you forgive those who sin against you, [Jesus said,] your heavenly Father will forgive you. 15But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Matthew 6:9-15 (NLT)

We forgive out of obedience, but the wonderful thing about God’s economy is that obedience always carries a blessing. When we forgive, bitterness has no place in our heart or soul.

And that leaves lots of room for joy. Taking offense is the root of the two causes of bitterness. When we develop the unoffendable heart, there is bad soil in our heart in which bitterness can take root. But there is plenty of good soil in which joy can grow…and grow and grow.
A joyful heart is a blessing that transcends our circumstances. It pins its hope on the deep, abiding knowledge that God is good, that He has saved us and transformed us, and He will accept us with loving arms in heaven. In fact, Jesus is eagerly waiting for us there. He longs for us to be with Him. We are His bride.

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