Archive for the “God’s ways” Category

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.
2 Corinthians 5:20a (NIV)

I was shopping at Walmart the other day and a sales associate smiled and greeted me as I walked by. His greeting took me by surprise and put a smile on my face.

And the Holy Spirit used the opportunity to remind me that I am Christ’s ambassador…and then to ask me how that was going. The answer – not nearly as well as the Lord and I would like it to be. You see, I keep forgetting to act like an ambassador. The Walmart associate was doing a better job that day of being an ambassador for Walmart than I was at being an ambassador for the Lord. Ouch!

I once took a missions trip, and throughout the trip, I was so aware that my behavior represented Christ to the people around me. I made a point of smiling and being pleasant and talking about the goodness of God. Throughout the trip, I was mindful that I wanted people to see Christ in me, their hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).

Then I came home. And I returned to life as usual. I don’t want to live my life as usual in 2015. I want God to use me to impact the Kingdom of God. That requires living life as an ambassador for Christ. Let’s put the verse in context:

16So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! 17This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

18And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 21For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:16-21 (NLT)

One of the purposes God has given us – and it’s one He will infuse with His power as we perform it (read this blog for more on that topic) – is telling others about Christ. That’s what this passage says, but it wraps in it in a bit of a different package.

God, through Christ, took the initiative to reconcile the world to Himself. That means He took the first step to restore the relationship between sinful man and holy God. That reconciliation is possible because God no longer counts our sin against us. That’s His gift to us. We are forgiven. And being forgiven, our relationship with Him is restored to the way God originally intended it to be – loving, intimate and ongoing.

He’s given us the message of reconciliation – in other words, He wants us to tell others that they can be reconciled with God, just as we are. God is making His appeal to the world through us – you and me. In other words, we are Christ’s ambassadors. We speak and act for Him.

An ambassador is “the highest-ranking person who represents his or her own government while living in another country” (Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary).

  • We’re not flunkies! As ambassadors for Christ, we are people of high stature and authority. We speak for the King. We’ll need to study what the King would say and how the King would respond to situations we encounter if we want to represent Him well.
  • We represent the government of our true home – God’s Kingdom. To do so, we must know as much as we can about our country – God’s Kingdom. Its values, customs and goals are significantly different from our earthly country.
  • We live in a country that is not our home. While we’re here on earth, we’re just passing through – earth is not our home. Lord, help me to live that way! Someone who is just passing through travels light. I confess that I’ve accumulated too much stuff to be considered one who is traveling light!

It’s important for us to get all three of those points firmly planted in our minds and spirits. Being confident of these things, we can fulfill our role as ambassador effectively. When we lose sight of any of those points, our ambassadorship is hindered. We don’t live or act in the authority of the King, we don’t represent Him well or we become too preoccupied with the way things are done in our temporary country.

While living in our temporary home, it’s important that we have a Kingdom perspective. Verse 16 reminds us that we should not evaluate others from a worldly or human perspective. In other words, everyone we meet is a child of God, create in His image, loved by Him. God wants to shower His love on each person we meet. He wants each person to join us with Him in eternity. Do you view people from this perspective when you meet them?

Lord, change my perspective. Help me to see others as you see them. Help me to love others from a Kingdom perspective and in a Kingdom way.

I want to be a better representative of Christ in 2015. How about you?

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Hi Folks! I initially published this blog in March 2012. It is so appropriate to yesterday’s blog that I wanted to re-issue it – with a bit of updating. Enjoy! Sandy

It All Started with Edward
In 1855 there was a man named Edward Kimball. Edward taught Sunday School at a church in Boston. There was a 17-year-old boy in his Sunday School class who Kimball described as having one of the darkest hearts he’d ever seen. One day Mr. Kimball felt lead to visit the boy outside of Sunday School, so he went to the store where the teenager worked. By his own admission, Mr. Kimball was unsure of himself. He wrote about it later:

“I began to wonder whether I ought to go just then during business hours,” he latter reported. “And I thought maybe my mission might embarrass the boy, that when I went away the other clerks might ask who I was, and when they learned, might taunt [him] and ask if I was trying to make a good boy out of him. Then, I decided to make a dash for it and have it over at once.”

Can you sense Mr. Kimball’s insecurity from his own words? He later described himself as having made a rather anemic presentation of the gospel with the young man. But the boy was ready. God had been working on him.

That young man’s name was Dwight L. Moody.

I see several things in this story…

  • We never know what is in another person’s heart or when they are ready
  • Trust the Spirit’s prompting
  • Believe that God is going to use you! (Need a reminder of that? Read yesterday’s blog!)

Dwight Moody was holding a meeting in the late 1870’s at Lake Forest College in a suburb of Chicago. After the service, he counseled a student who was struggling with the assurance of his salvation. That young man later became a friend and co-laborer with Dwight Moody.

That man was J. Wilbur Chapman.

Mr. Chapman was an evangelist like Dwight Moody and later hired a young man to assist him in his ministry. That man was an former baseball player who had come to know Christ at a city mission in Chicago.

The man was Billy Sunday.

Billy Sunday was saved in 1887. Many years later he told the story like this:

“Twenty-seven years ago I walked down a street in Chicago in company with some ball players who were famous in this world … and we went into a saloon. It was Sunday afternoon and we got tanked up and then went and sat down on a corner. … Across the street a company of men and women were playing on instruments – horns, flutes and slide trombones – and the others were singing the gospel hymns that I used to hear my mother sing back in the log cabin in Iowa and back in the old church where I used to go to Sunday school.

“And God painted on the canvas of my recollection and memory a vivid picture of the scenes of other days and other faces.

“Many have long since turned to dust. I sobbed and sobbed and a young man stepped out and said, ‘We are going down to the Pacific Garden Mission. Won’t you come down to the mission? I am sure you will enjoy it. You can hear drunkards tell how they have been saved and girls tell how they have been saved from the red-light district.’

“I arose and said to the boys, ‘I’m through. I am going to Jesus Christ.’”

His story tells me some things:

  • God uses seeds planted in our childhood.
  • God used the Christians playing various instruments and singing on a street corner to touch long-overlooked memories.
  • God used the gentle boldness, enthusiasm and compassion of some unknown person to bring Billy Sunday to the mission and another nameless person in history to bring Billy Sunday to Christ.

Billy Sunday became a well-known evangelist. He held a series of evangelistic meetings in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1924.

Out of those meeting an organization of businessmen with a heart for evangelism was formed.

This group held an all day prayer meeting in the cow pasture of William and Morrow Graham. During that prayer meeting, someone prayed “Lord, raise up a man out of Charlotte, North Carolina, who will preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth.”

That summer the businessmen invited an evangelist named Mordecai Ham to hold evangelistic meetings in their town. There was a high school student in town who knew his mom and dad wanted him to attend the meetings – but he had determined to have none of it. He would not attend. During the meetings, Billy Sunday challenged students to attend and the student became curious. One evening he jumped in the back of a friend’s pickup truck, went to the meeting and sat in the back row.

That man was Billy Graham and he gave his life to Christ that night. He was the oldest son of William and Morrow Graham, owners of that cow pasture where they held that all day prayer meeting.

In June 1994 Billy Graham held his second crusade in Cleveland, Ohio. My Aunt Dolly attended one evening and gave her life to Christ. My Aunt Dolly died earlier this year. She is now with her Lord and Savior, Jesus. Thank you, Edward Kimball.

Trace it backwards, friends, and you see that Billy Graham (and my Aunt Dolly) came to Christ because Edward Kimball allowed God to use him in his fear and ineptitude. As I wrote earlier, Kimball later reported that he felt like his presentation of the gospel to Dwight Moody had been pretty anemic. It might have felt that way in the natural, but God added to it His dunamis power and a miracle occurred. Again, thank you, Edward Kimball for letting God use you to impact eternity.

Edward Kimball obeyed the whisper of God and stepped into the works God had prepared in advance for him to do.

Lots of Names, One Theme
Well, I’ve just thrown a lot of names and details at you, but the theme is that history is full of people – people just like you and me – whom God has used in extraordinary ways.

Beginning with Mr. Kimball – he was a Sunday School teacher of teenage boys, and by his own admission his presentation of the gospel was pretty weak – but God used him to bring one of the greatest evangelists of all time to the Lord, Dwight Moody. But Mr. Kimball’s influence didn’t end there. There is a direct line of influence from Dwight Moody all the way down to Billy Graham and then my Aunt Dolly. And of course the influence continues. Billy Graham’s son Franklin leads an organization called Samaritan’s Purse that provides food, clothing, shelter and medicine to people in need all over the world. It is not an exaggeration to say that thousands, perhaps millions of people have been impacted by this ministry. Billy Graham’s grandson is a good preacher in his own right. And let’s not forget about my Aunt Dolly – the people she influenced are no less important than those influenced by Billy Graham. Her children and grandchildren influence those around them to love Christ – including Aunt Dolly’s great grandchildren.

And we can trace all of them back to Edward Kimball, a Sunday School teacher in a church in Boston. And we can trace it back to a young man who struggled to believe Scripture that says “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

And we can trace it back to men and women who played instruments and sang gospel songs on a street corner where drunk ball players took a break from their drinking.

And we can trace it back to some businessmen who attended an all-day prayer meeting.

We can even trace it back to that one individual who boldly prayed “Lord raise up a man out of Charlotte, North Carolina, who will preach the gospel to the ends of the earth.”

The thing that stands out so clearly to me from all of this is that within this chain of historic events there are a number of Christians who had large ministries that were used by God to sweep multitudes into His kingdom, and there were a number of ordinary Christians who faithfully lived out their calling and obediently ministered to the few whom God put in their path. The chain of events would have broken down without the obedient and faithful action of the ordinary Christians. While Edward Kimball and the slide trombone player on the Chicago street corner were never called by God to have a worldwide ministry like that of Dwight Moody or Billy Graham, both of those great evangelists can trace their spiritual ancestry back to those faithful Christian workers.

God has a plan for each one of us. Scripture makes that clear in both the Old and New Testaments.

Jeremiah 1:5 (God is speaking to Jeremiah) “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

There was nothing extraordinarily special about Jeremiah. What God did for Jeremiah, He has done for each of us – not necessarily calling us to be prophets to the nation, but creating us for a purpose.

The Psalmist wrote this awesome passage that has the same message:

13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,

16 Your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
Psalm 139: 13-16

The message is repeated in the New Testament:

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

God has worked in your history, setting things in motion, preparing you and preparing the world in which you live, for the good works that He’s called you to.

So, everyone in that chain of history that began with Edward Kimball and ended with Billy and Franklin Graham stepped up to the plate to swing at the pitch God threw them. They had given their time and their talents to God. Instead of staying home and watching the latest episode of their must-see-TV, they spent all day in prayer. Instead of going out drinking with his buddies, Billy Sunday said “Today, I’m going to Jesus.”

I want to encourage each of us to get in the game. Let’s not be satisfied with life as we know it, but allow God to use us in ways that leave a lasting impact on this world.

I want to see God move. I’m not going to see it without getting in the game. I’m not going to see my community won to Christ by just going to church every Sunday. I’m not going to see men and women grow in their faith by just enjoying fellowship with other believers. I’m not dissing those things. Both are very important. But we can’t change the world without being in it and being purposeful in it.

What has to change for you and me to accomplish the purposes that God has prepared in advance for us to do? Here are some ideas:

  • Believe that God wants to use us (see yesterday’s blog)
  • Change our patterns and schedules
  • Know what He has called us to
  • Step out in faith, even when we don’t have all the answers

A Final Encouragement

Phil 1:4, 6 “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

God will bring the work He’s started to completion, but we have a role to play. Your role may be large, but more likely it will be small. You may not be used by God to lead thousands to Christ, but you may be used by God to lead the world’s next great evangelist to Christ. You are a part of God’s chain of events in human history.

Others can’t keep us from accomplishing the things God has ordained for us to do, but we can. We can step out of the chain of events and not have that impact that God wants us to have. God will still accomplish His purposes on earth…He’ll just use someone else. Don’t let someone else receive the blessing of serving God that He has set aside for you. Get in the game. Step up to the plate. Start today!

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On the third of December I sent myself a fairly cryptic email. The subject line read like this: “Journal/Blog: 2015 – Year of Hope.”

2015 – Year of Hope. I didn’t identify any specific Scripture I was reading when God dropped that into my spirit, but I remember feeling the nudge from God so strongly that I sent myself an email so that I could later transfer the thought to my personal journal and seek God for what else He might want to say about it. Maybe I would develop it into a blog or series of blogs.

That was it. I haven’t done any more writing on the topic or study or research. But God planted the word in my spirit on December 3rd and it’s been growing.

I suspect there will be a number of blogs on the topic of hope in 2015, but I wanted to start with sharing the thing that gives me the greatest hope on a day-to-day basis.

What is it that gives you hope when you are tempted to feel less than hopeful. When life beats you up a bit, or even perhaps when life just continues in the constant sameness day after day – How do you answer the question that comes unbidden into your mind “Is all this worth it?” What is it that gives you hope?

Now as Christians, we have many reasons to be hopeful. As a believer in Christ and one who desires to make Him Lord of my life, I can have hope regardless of my circumstances because I am…

  • forgiven
  • saved
  • sanctified – a fancy word for “made holy or acceptable to God” (a pretty amazing and wonderful thing)
  • filled with the Holy Spirit
  • the bride of Christ
  • seated with Him in heavenly places

And on top of all that, I have the promise of spending eternity in heaven with my Lord. Hallelujah!

Those are all tremendous reasons for rejoicing and for having hope…all great reasons that I’m not going to write about today, except to say that if you are not totally confident in all those things – if you’re not totally confident that you’ve been forgiven, if you’re not totally confident that you will spend eternity in heaven, check out these blogs:

Made Right with God

How Can I Know I’m Saved

There’s another reason to be hopeful that sits at the top of my list. I can get pretty jazzed about the reasons I’ve just identified, but they’re all very future. Yes, they have a “for today” element, but they’re largely reasons I can be hopeful for my future.

The reason I get most jazzed about is a present, for today, reason. That one reason is this: God – the Creator of the Universe and everything in it – the One who holds the world together – the One who created me and knows me better than I know myself – that God has plans and purposes for my life that have eternal significance. He has things for me to do today that will have impacts that continue through all eternity is what I get jazzed about.

And you know what? I can step into those plans because I know that He is the God of the impossible. So no matter what my circumstances are, no matter what my physical or intellectual abilities are, no matter what my personality limitations are, He is the God of the impossible and He wants to use me to impact eternity! Wow! Hallelujah!

You see, I am sometimes tempted to be discouraged by my circumstances or physical abilities. I am tempted to think I’m not smart enough or I don’t have the personality or natural abilities I need to do something for God. But you know what? A God who can do the impossible – a God who has miracle working power – that God (my God) operates outside the boundaries of our circumstances and abilities.

That’s important enough to repeat: Our God is not limited by our circumstances and abilities – He works outside them. Yes, He works within them in the sense that He uses our circumstances and our abilities to accomplish His purposes, but He works outside them in the sense that He is God. He can do what we can’t even begin to imagine. And the thing is, He wants to do it in and through us. He could do it on His own…but He says “come on, let’s do it together.”

Friends, that’s what I get jazzed about. Let’s look at Ephesians 3: 20-21:

20Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
Ephesians 3:20-21 (NIV)

In the New King James translation, it reads “to him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think.” Hallelujah!

Let’s break look at the passage a bit more closely.

“Now to Him who is able” – are you convinced that God is able? That’s the place to start.

We’ll come back to this passage, but let’s look briefly at Hebrews 11:1. A very common verse…

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)

The Holman Christian Standard Bible says it this way:

Now faith is the reality [or assurance] of what is hoped for, the proof [or conviction] of what is not seen.
Hebrews 11:1 (HCSB)

Choosing to engage our faith – in other words, choosing to say and hold to the “I believe” – comes before the reality of seeing – it is the place where hope lives.

Do you want to have hope? Choose to believe God and His Word. Every day, in every moment, in every circumstances, in every inadequacy, in every discouragement. Choose to believe that God is able.

I’m not asking you to believe that you can do whatever God calls you to do. I’m asking you to believe that He can do it. That He is able.

I know that’s not always easy. But it is where hope lives. When you believe God is able, hope rises in your heart and your spirit.

Even though believing isn’t always easy, there’s an element that’s even harder – choosing to believe means more than simply saying and holding to the “I believe”, it means living the “I believe.”

It isn’t enough, to simply say “I believe” – even if you are believing with all your heart. It must be lived! Faith is living in that confidence that God is the God of the impossible. Living in a way that shows you believe He is able to do the impossible in your life. Not just in Abraham’s and Isaac’s and Jacob’s lives. Not just in the Apostle Peter’s life and in Paul’s life and in John’s life. But in your life and in my life.

And if it’s true that God is able to do the impossible in our lives (and it is), then no matter what our circumstances or physical abilities are, we have a choice to make over and over again many times every day – to believe and live in hope or to back away from it.

Friends, I am exhorting us today not to back away from believing God. Don’t back away from hope.

Let’s return to Ephesians 3:20:

“Now to Him who is able” – Lord we believe that You are able – to do what? “more than all we can ask or imagine.” This verse jumped off the page at me during a Bible study in early November. I felt like God was challenging me to improve my imagination. If God can do more than that, I want to imagine more.

Later, however, I noticed a little word that hadn’t hit my radar before. Scripture says “more than ALL we ask or imagine.” Not more than a little bit of what I can imagine, or some of what I can imagine, but more than all I can ask or imagine.

That’s what the God who is able can do! Lord, I believe you are able. Improve my imagination, give me bigger dreams. And help me choose to believe that you can do it all – that You can do more than all of it.

And even as I say that, the enemy whispers, but…but… you’re 58 years old…you can’t jump as high as you used to jump and you can’t run as fast as you used to run…you have obligations to take care of parents who live 50 miles away…you are overwhelmed with work sometimes…you’re tired…you’re…

And so I am tempted to step back from hope. But the Lord is prompting us to say… “Get thee behind me satan.” “Lord, I choose to believe that you are able to do immeasurably more than all I can ask or imagine.”

Hallelujah! Are you with me? Do you believe that God is able?

Well if so, hang on because there’s more to this verse.

As if God’s ability to do more isn’t exciting enough, here’s the part that I get super jazzed about…How is he going to do that immeasurably more, that exceedingly abundantly more? By the power IN US.

The power – the word is dunamis – the word from which we get dynamite. The explosive power. Miraculous power. When you read the words “mighty works” or “miracles” in the gospels, it is probably the word dunamis in the Greek.

In Chapter 1 of Ephesians, Paul prayed for the Ephesians to know God’s “incomparably great power” – dunamis (Eph 1:19). He went on to say something about that power – He said that the incomparably great, dunamis power, is the same power that He “exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 1:20).

God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to the power that is work within us – that dunamis power that raised Christ from the dead.

Wow!

The word dunamis occurs in many places, but I want to share one curious place. In Matthew chapter 13 we have the story of Jesus returning to his hometown.

54[Jesus] went to His hometown and began to teach them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, “How did this wisdom and these miracles come to Him? 55Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t His mother called Mary, and His brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? 56And His sisters, aren’t they all with us? So where does He get all these things?”

57And they were offended by Him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his household.”

58And He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief.
Matthew 13:54-58 (HCSB)

That word “miracles” in verse 58 – it’s dunamis.

Friends, I don’t want to limit or diminish God’s use of His dunamis power in my life because of my unbelief. I want to believe God’s Word that says He is able.

Now to Him who is able to do immeasureably more…by the power – dunamis – at work in us.

We’ve answered the question “is God able?” – how about the question “does He really want to work through me?” Does He really want to work through you? Ephesians 2:10 answers that for us:

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)

We were created for a purpose – to do things that God has prepared for us to do. We are not here by happenstance. We are not living in our community, seeing the people we see, going to the places we go by happenstance.

There is a verse in Acts that says God determined the exact times and places where we should live. It’s not happenstance.

God has worked in your history, setting things in motion, preparing you and preparing the world in which you live, for the good works that He’s called you to.

Did you get that? God has worked in your history, setting things in motion, preparing you and preparing the world in which you live, for the good works that He’s called you to.

And that, friends, is what I get jazzed about that. That gives me hope on a day to day, even hour by hour, basis. When life gets boring, I know that God is working – using His dunamis power in me to accomplish immeasurably more than all I can ask or imagine to accomplish the good works He’s prepared in advance for me to do. When life gets tough, I know that God is working. When life is good, I know that God is working. In all the situations, God is working in and through me…if I continue to pursue Him. If I plug myself into the plan. Because the sad news is that at any moment, I can choose to step out.

I want to encourage all of us not to step out of God’s plan. As we look into the new year, tell God you want to plug into the plans He has for you. And then believe it is happening. Live in that place of faith and hope, whether you see it or not.

Here’s an important point, though: God’s dunamis power doesn’t always look like a TNT explosion. It is at work in the every day things. I can be sitting listening to a message at church, and the pastor can say something that rocks my world. And those around me won’t have a clue. My husband may not even have a clue until I tell him. But in my spirit something arises that spurs me on to love God more and to serve God more. And that is no less an example of God’s dunamis power than the more explosive, miracle workings we think of. When God works in one person’s heart to grow in obedience and love for Him, eternity watches with anticipation to see what God will do next, how He will use his dunamis power in that person’s life.

The works God’s created for us to do may very well be low-key acts of obedience – offering a cold cup of water to a prophet, for example. And here’s a cool thing – God promises us that when we do that, we will receive the prophets reward! (Matthew 10:40-42) Why, because we believed that God was working through us, so by faith we acted. And our cold cup of water enabled that prophet, that evangelist, that Sunday school or Bible study teacher, that preacher, that missionary, that lay person, to accomplish the work God has prepared for him or her.

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)

And so we act, we step into the good works that God has prepared for us to do. We say, “Lord, thank you for using me today. What small or large work do you have for me to do? I believe it will have impact throughout all eternity.”

That’s how I want to approach life.

Here’s my hope and confidence: Some day, I will be sitting with the Lord, and someone will come up to me and they will say “Sandy, you don’t know me, but I’ve been looking forward to meeting you. In 1981 you led a girls club and you encouraged the girls to share Christ with a friend. I was a friend of one of those girls.” And a while later someone will come up to me and say “Sandy, you wrote that blog and it woke me up out of the spiritual slumber I was in.” Or “you preached that message and made it so simple that I understood for the first time that God wanted to use me.” Or “you shared that facebook post and it made me angry but I couldn’t get it out of my head.” Or “Sandy, you built that Operation Christmas Child shoebox or gave that offering and someone worlds away from you introduced me to Christ.”

Friends, I get jazzed about that. That’s my greatest reason for having hope on a day-to-day basis. And not just that, but for what follows it – that person I impacted will impact someone else who will impact someone else who will impact someone else…should the Lord tarry.

It’s not that I have visions of grandeur. It’s not that I’m so great. Quite the opposite! I have confidence – faith – in my God to do phenomenally cool and exciting things – to use His dunamis power in and through me…if I let Him. If I give Him control. If I follow His lead. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from ballroom dance lessons, it’s that two people can’t lead. One must follow. That’s my job. I’m the follower. It often goes against my nature, but that’s what being conformed to the image of Christ is all about – conforming my will to His.

Lord, as I look forward to 2015, help me hold onto faith – that place where hope lives – believing that You are able to do cool and amazing things that will impact eternity through my typically ordinary life.

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The LORD said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die, because I appear in the cloud over the atonement cover.”
Leviticus 16:2

I love being a New Testament Christian living in a time when we have embraced the tremendous love God has for us. I believe we have a greater understanding of intimacy with God than most people of previous generations.

Yet sometimes I wonder if we’ve embraced our freedom to approach His throne too whole-heartedly and abandoned the respect and holiness that the One who sits on the throne deserves and requires. The Lord told Moses that Aaron wasn’t to approach the Most Holy Place in whatever manner He desired. There were specific procedures that were to be followed.

3“This is how Aaron is to enter the sanctuary area: with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. 4He is to put on the sacred linen tunic, with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen turban. These are sacred garments; so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on. 5From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.”
Leviticus 16:2-5 (NIV)

Aaron was to enter the presence of the Lord cleansed, wearing proper clothing, and with a sin offering and a burnt offering. I can’t help but see a correlation to how we ought to approach the Lord.

The Old Testament priests were to wash themselves before putting on their sacred garments. As New Testament believers, we are washed in the blood of Christ, which allows us to be clothed in His righteousness. We are cleansed of our sin by the blood of Jesus, the lamb who has already been slain for us. Because the wages of sin is death – that is, the price required to make atonement for the sin is death, the priests went into the sanctuary to shed the blood of the bull as an offering to cover their sin. Jesus shed His blood for our sins – the price has been paid for our sins.

We are no longer required to take a bull into the sanctuary and kill it. But we would do well to enter the sanctuary remembering that it has been done on our behalf. Such an attitude requires that we remember that we are sinners who are saved by grace. It means entering His presence in humility, asking for forgiveness for our sinful thoughts and actions of the previous week. It is only after we have accept God’s forgiveness that we are clothed in the sacred garments of the righteousness of Christ. It is from that position that we can come before His throne with boldness.

The priests also brought a burnt offering. The burnt offering was a complete offering — the entire offering was burned. It represents giving ourselves totally to God. To do less than that is not worthy of the great price He paid and is disrespectful. Yes, I fall far short of giving all I am to God, but I can enter His presence with the attitude in my heart that says “Yes, God. Here I am, send me. Whatever, whenever. Yes, God.” I know the reality is that when He asks me to do something we’re likely to have a conversation about it – which is a kind way of saying I don’t always respond with such enthusiasm and it may take a while for me to come around to the “Yes, God” action that matches the attitude. Nevertheless, I can have the attitude that I want to be fully and quickly obedient. The reality is that without the attitude, the action will never follow.

Entering God’s presence is about a whole lot more than songs that speak to our hearts and make us feel good. In truth, those songs are probably more about us and how we want to worship God than they are about God and how He wants us to worship Him. Don’t get me wrong. I love worship and I believe it pays a key role in preparing us to enter God’s presence. But I’m afraid that sometimes our focus is too centered on the enjoyment of the music than the proper attitude of our hearts.

Yes, let’s enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Let’s also approach His throne with boldness – while simultaneously entering His presence with appropriate reverence and humility and with a recognition of our sinfulness and His holiness. Both are God’s reality. They ought to be ours.

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Woman Reflecting by the WaterThis afternoon I was reading about the many tensions that exist in planning a typical worship service — competing values and goals that those of us sitting in the pews are happily ignorant about. Tensions like planning for both a personal and a corporate worship experience, honoring the heritage of the past while still meeting the needs of the present, and balancing the teaching of objective truth with every believer’s need for a subjective experience of God are just a few of the challenges that make planning any service much more difficult than most of us realize.

As I pondered these issues, I began to think about the Christian life in general. As we begin to walk with the Lord, we become aware of how short we fall of the glory of God. Walking a little further, we begin to get a glimpse of who He wants us to be and how He might want to use us. Even further down the path, that glimpse comes into sharper focus until at some point we have a picture with some definition to it. We can see that He wants to shape us and mold us into an image of His Son that is still uniquely us.

But we’re not there yet. So we begin to live our life in the dynamic tension of being one person while we’re becoming another person; of seeing both the present and the future and remaining both “content” and “discontent” with the present while we look and work toward the future. That tension can cause guilt and frustration or excitement and joy.

Sometimes I get so excited about the person God is slowly changing me into. That person is so very much better than the person I am today. And yet, I can also see that the person I am today is at least a little better than the one I was ten years ago. And she’s definitely much better than the person I was twenty years ago! The difference between living my life in guilt and frustration or excitement and joy is a result of which of these three “people” I’m focusing on.

Focusing on the person I am today generally leads to a discontented Sandy. I periodically say to Phil “If I were really a good daughter, I’d _________________” (I can fill in the blank with any of a number of things that I’m apt to feel guilty about not doing for my parents). That’s focusing on the incomplete person I am today. And that person isn’t doing all those hundreds of things I sometimes think I “should” be doing. That person is tired, frustrated and guilty. She is just one step away from being ashamed and defeated. That person doesn’t see God at work in her life; she just sees her life as it is here and now – falling far short of the glory of God.

Focusing on the person I was twenty years ago can lead to either totally inappropriate shame or the very dangerous emotion of pride. I’m not the person I was ten or twenty years ago, so it isn’t appropriate for me to be burdened with guilt for my shortcomings in the past. God has already changed me. My sins of the past are forgiven. If I compare my “twenty-years-ago self” to my current self, however, I might easily exaggerate my improvements in my mind and say “Wow, look how much better I am today.” I pray that when that happens, the Holy Spirit reminds me loudly and clearly that “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Prov. 16:18)

The best place to be is focusing on the person God is changing me into. When my focus is on that person, I have hope. I have excitement in my life, because I can begin to see how He is using even my failures to move me closer to becoming that person. When my focus is on that person, life is more fun because I can enjoy the process of growing. I can view my maturation process as an adventure with God instead of Him pounding me into shape. It is this view that actually transfers my focus from myself to God and His work in me.

I’m not denying that life is difficult at times; in fact, I’m going through one of those “difficult seasons” now. Aging parents and increasing responsibilities can be a heavy load at times. But I can see, and others have told me that they can see, how God is using this to soften some of my sharp edges. And that is good, because the person God is molding me to be (and has shown me glimpses of) needs softer edges. So we’re working on softer edges right now. Next week (month, year?) we might be working on something else. I don’t know. I’m just along for the adventure! And the joy. And the relationship with Him.

Perhaps this is some of what Paul was feeling when he wrote to the Philippians:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:12-14 (NIV)

Of course the ultimate prize is Christ Himself. Along the way, though, there are many preliminary rounds with prizes to the winners. Prizes like softer edges and the wonderful adventure of becoming the person God already sees. What a God we serve! Let’s serve Him well in 2014.

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Studying the Parable of the Lost Son, in my previous blog we focused on the namesake of the parable, the lost or prodigal son. He is only one of the three main characters in the story. Today I want to study the actions of the father. First, let me repeat the story:

11Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Luke 15:11-32 (NIV)

It’s important to understand what it meant for the son to ask for his father for his inheritance. It was exceedingly hurtful and humiliating. Many fathers would respond in great anger at such a request. The son was saying “your money is more important to me than you.” The son was disgracing the family. I have no doubt that it was a very difficult thing for the father to hand over the son’s inheritance to him knowing that he would squander it. Yet he did that, perhaps also knowing that the son had to come to his own understanding about life and his father’s love for him.

Verse 20 tells us that while the son was still “a long way off”, his father saw him. I’m guessing that the father had an eye trained on the lane down which the son would return. That throughout his daily life he kept looking, watching and waiting. The father is a picture of our heavenly Father. I love knowing that he watches and waits for each sinner to return. That He hasn’t turned His back on them, but longs for them to return, just as this father longed for his lost son to return. God waits patiently, turned toward so that when we make the slightest move toward Him, He is there.

The lost son’s father was filled with compassion for his son. He wasn’t full of criticism. He wasn’t full of self-righteousness. He wasn’t ready to punish. He was filled with compassion. The son was undoubtedly dressed much differently from when he left. Having lost all his money and having been slopping pigs, his clothing would not have been the same as when he left with his inheritance. But it wasn’t only his clothing that had changed – his demeanor had changed at least as much. He was now defeated. And he was now repentant. And his father was filled with compassion. So much that he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. What a display of affection! What an act demonstrating his love and forgiveness.

And he didn’t stop there. Before the son even finished what I’m sure was his well-rehearsed speech, the father began to direct the servants to begin the celebration.

“Bring the best robe.” – The best robe most likely belonged to the father. He was effectively saying – welcome back, what’s mine is yours.

“Put a ring on his finger.” – The ring was a sign of the father’s authority and he was giving it to his repentant son.

“Put sandals on his feet.” – Servants were not given robes, rings and sandals. The father was making it clear that his son was part of the family.

“Bring the fattened calf. Let’s celebrate!” – The father was expressing his joy. His son was once lost, but now he is found. The father was mirroring the response of all of heaven when one sinner repents (Luke 15:7; see my blog Helping Others Find Faith – Bringing Joy to Heaven.)

Jesus, in telling the story, was teaching about the Father’s love. This is the love the Psalmist wrote about:

10He [God] does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve….13The LORD is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him.
Psalm 103:10, 13 (NLT)

It is the love Paul wrote about and prayed for the Ephesians:

18And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
Ephesians 3:18-19 (NLT)

All of heaven rejoices when a sinner repents. God is watching for us to turn. He is waiting to run toward us and…

Put a robe around our shoulders – his robe of righteousness,

Put a ring on our finger – giving us His authority,

Put sandals on our feet – clothing us better than fields of lilies, and

Celebrate!

What a loving, gracious and forgiving Father we have!

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2Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
James 1:2-4 (NLT)

It seems to me that a study of joy would take us through a study of suffering. I haven’t done such a study so I can’t say that definitively, but the two seem to be intermingled frequently in the New Testament.  In this passage, James writes that “when troubles come” – because they surely will – “consider it an opportunity for great joy!” Anyone who preaches that life after Christ will be free from troubles is not preaching true to Scripture. Don’t listen to such preachers. They are not honestly and accurately delivering the Word of God.

When trouble comes, we to consider it an opportunity for great joy! That amazes me a bit. If you were to ask me “what opportunities for great joy are you seeing in the coming months?” my answer wouldn’t include the troubles I see on the horizon. (Obviously, I haven’t internalized and “owned” this teaching yet.)

By the way, that’s a great question to ask yourself periodically – “what is coming in the months ahead that will bring me great joy?” It’s also a great question to ask others. It helps to refocus us from the troubles of the moment to the blessings of God. But I digress.

My answer to the question would tend toward the more natural – I expect business to improve, I am looking forward to the Thanksgiving and Christmas season, I am participating in a mother-daughter pageant with my mom in a couple of weeks, I am looking forward to just being with my husband and hoping for some special time with him, I am expecting to learn some new skills in the next two months. All those things have the potential of bringing me great joy.

You didn’t find in my list the challenges I see in the coming months. But James tells us that those challenges are opportunities for great joy! Imagine how different my outlook would be if I considered those opportunities I listed and the challenges I anticipate as opportunities for great joy! How much better my outlook for the future would be!

Faith Requires Energy
Verse three tells me that the challenges I anticipate in the next few months have the potential for increasing my endurance. Endurance increases as we increase our ability to maintain a higher level of energy. So whether running longer or standing in faith longer, we’re building endurance. Faith requires energy! It is not a passive thing. It requires actively engaging our faith muscle. And challenges increase our ability to do that. It increases our endurance.

I am not a marathon runner, but I have some friends who are. As they train, it is hard work, but they are so joyful when they have reached the finish line of their marathon. Exhausted, yes. But joyful at the accomplishment. How much more joyful can we be when we remain standing after battles that have challenged our faith? Yes, the training is hard, and yes, the battle is exhausting. But the victory in Jesus is sweet and precious and joyful!

So Let Your Faith Grow!
The phrase that stopped me in this passage this morning was “So let it grow.” I tried to keep reading, but I couldn’t. “Let it grow” Scripture says. Don’t do anything to hinder the growth of your faith or to limit the increase in your ability to endure. Hang on to faith and let it grow.

What might we do to hinder the process. Well, worry is the first thing that comes to my mind. When I worry, I am not increasing my faith muscle. I am increasing my ability to distrust God. I am feeding the thing inside me that believes that satan will win and God will not be my Savior and Redeemer and Protector and Giver of Life. I am feeding my unbelief. How can my faith grow in that environment?

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me”
John 14:1 (NIV)

Wow! Two blogs on the same subject in two days! I guess God is trying to get my attention. Or perhaps yours! I thought I had gotten over my tendency to worry. Perhaps I’ve fallen into old habits. Perhaps at an underlying level I am stewing (aka worrying) over things I shouldn’t.

“Let your faith muscle grow”, God is saying. He’s got a good reason for saying it:

4So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
James 1:4 (NLT)

As I grow in faith, as my ability to faithfully endure the challenges of life, I am made more perfect and complete in Christ. That’s the place I want to be.

This week, my personal assignment is to settle into God regularly throughout the day, enabling His peace and wisdom to be the place I live. More about that in upcoming blogs! For today, let your faith grow!

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods Heart
In our last blog in the Living God’s Heart series, we looked at how very generous God is to us while we are here on earth. We focused on 2 Peter 1:3 –

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. (NLT)

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness. (NLT)
2 Peter 1:3a (NLT)

There’s more to that verse and we’ll look at it in a future blog, but today I want to look more at the generous nature of our God.

He has given us everything we need to live lives that honor and glorify Him while we are here on this earth. What a gift!

But He didn’t stop giving there. His giving is not just for this life, but for all eternity.

Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.
Romans 5:2 (NLT)

Literally, God has brought us to “where we now stand” – He has given us the undeserved privilege of living in His presence, of receiving everything we need to live godly lives, of receiving His kingdom here on earth. “And” we will one day share in God’s glory.

There is not a word or series of words large and grand enough to convey the depths, the heights and the breadths of God’s giving. He will share His glory with us for all eternity. And we’ve done nothing to earn or deserve. It is an undeserved privilege for those who love the Lord.

God doesn’t hoard anything – not His love, not His Kingdom, and not His glory.

When we’re living God’s heart, our lives reflect His generous nature. When we’re living God’s heart we’re:

  • Giving to those that don’t deserve it.
  • Giving above and beyond.
  • Taking pleasure or joy in giving.

The Sacrifice of Giving
It would seem that there is no question that giving is a sacrifice. When I give, I must give up something. Even so, it is a sacrifice that reflects God’s heart. Hebrews tells us that it is a sacrifice that pleases Him:

And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.
Hebrews 13:16 (NLT)

Giving is a joyful sacrifice – one that brings joy to the Father, joy to the giver and joy to the one who receives.

In this way, giving is truly not a sacrifice – it brings us joy. It might be seen more appropriately as a trade – I will trade this thing that I am giving away for the joy I will receive! How wonderful for God to consider that a sacrifice! How wonderful that He rewards that sacrifice:

Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the LORD your God will bless you in everything you do.
Deuteronomy 15:10 (NLT)

The Old Testament teaches that when we give generously and God will bless everything you do.

Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.
Luke 6:38 (NLT)

Jesus taught us that when we give generously, we will receive generously.

God’s very nature is to give generously. He gives for this life and for the life to come, going so far as to giving us the privilege of sharing in His glory! Whew! Honestly, I can’t imagine that.

I can’t imagine it, but I trust it! So I choose to give generously in this life. Sacrificially…because I know that any sacrificial giving – no, all sacrificial giving – is simply a downpayment on the joy I will bring to the Father, the recipient of my gifts, my family and myself.

Give and it will be given to you.

Give and you will receive.

Live God’s heart in your world today.

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by Guest Blogger Vicar Karen Ressel

Introduction (by Sandy)
My last two blogs were about (1) listening to God’s voice and (2) speaking life into the dry bones of our lives. I realize that the last message may be a bit unusual for some of you. Applying the prophetic message God gave Ezekiel for the people of Israel to our lives may seem like I’m taking Scripture out of its time and hammering it into 2013. What I actually did was take the principles from the prophetic word, trusted that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and applied those principles to my life today. God told Ezekiel to speak life into the dry bones that represented the nation of Israel. I heard the Holy Spirit whisper that we can listen for God’s voice and then speak His life-giving Words into the dry areas of our lives.

I recently read a sermon that reassured me that God wants to speak life into our lives. It is the perfect blog to follow my short series on listening for God’s voice and speaking His word into our lives.

God’s Heart is to Give You the Kingdom (Believe It, Speak It into Your Life)
by Guest Blogger Vicar Karen Ressel

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”
Luke 12:32(NIV)

The first phrase in our key verse is not meant as a command – “DO NOT be afraid.” Rather, it’s meant as an assurance, “Do not be afraid…” As an assurance, it’s spoken gently and with compassion. These are the words of Jesus.

Why should we not be afraid? Because Jesus tells us that it is “God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” It is God’s gracious decision. It is God’s gracious action to show you divine favor.

Folks, this is the promise that God makes to each one of us. The promise that is manifested in the sending of Jesus Christ, fully human and fully divine, to live among us! Christ is the enfleshed divine promise. We are the unsuspecting benefactors of God’s grace! Pure promise! Pure, divine, beyond our understanding grace!

The Greek word translated here as “pleasure” is the same word that appears earlier in Luke’s gospel when Jesus is baptized (21:22). Remember the voice from heaven? “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” We aren’t talking about any kind of human understanding of pleasure; we are talking about divine favor.

It is God’s intention, plan, and delight to give you the kingdom! I want you to focus on the Godly reality that it is God’s desire to give you all good things. Say it out loud –“It is God’s good pleasure to give me the kingdom!” One more time: “It is God’s good pleasure to give me the kingdom!”

Perhaps you find yourself thinking, “Easy for you to say Vicar, I can’t” or “sounds good, but.” I understand. But before anything like it starts to squeeze into your mind I want you to say to yourself, “It is God’s good pleasure to give me the kingdom!”

I know that our lives are filled with demands, some big, some small. The demand to accumulate things in exchange for a false sense of security, like the rich man who felt a need to build bigger barns. The demand to prove our worth, day in and day out.

I think the root these things is fear. The climate of fear permeates our lives through the media and in our conversations. Advertisers prey on our fear in hopes of selling us something to make the fear go away. Fear of not having what we need to live, food, clothing, shelter; fear of violence, from domestic abuse to terrorism and everything in between; fear of not measuring up to the demands of our culture, are we beautiful enough? Handsome enough? Are we smart enough to compete in the job market?

The climate of fear chokes us; it makes us clench our fists and hold onto what is ours at all costs. We become isolated. It breeds a feeling of scarcity.

God’s reality is that He wants us to have…and enjoy…and share abundant life. Our human perception of that Godly reality becomes corrupted by sin. Abundant life becomes measured by our things, by our status, by how much power we are able to exert over other people.

When fear is absent from our lives and we can grasp God’s reality, we may actually be able to imagine treasures beyond self-driven determination … self-assessed success … and self-obsessed security.

Being ready for Jesus’ second coming is less about any actual time and place…Being ready for Jesus’ second coming is about imagining Jesus’ activity in the world.

Today I want to ask you to imagine, imagine what it would be like to live your life without worry…or anxiety…or distraction. If worry or anxiety, or distraction comes into mind, I want you to shift your focus, shift it to Jesus words; “It is God’s good pleasure to give me the kingdom!” With that thought as our foundation we are able to live from that Godly reality of abundant life rather than
from the fear that blocks us from trusting God’s promise.

God wants us to live free from worry…to keep our priorities straight…not to be consumed by greed, or love of those things that don’t bring real happiness, those things that don’t bring us life. God wants us to have and enjoy and share the abundant life that comes from authentic community and right relationship with God and each other. Did you catch that? God wants us to have…and enjoy…and share abundant life.

What if every morning, before your feet hit the floor, you said to yourself, “It is God’s good pleasure to give me the kingdom!” How might that change the way that you approach your day? Our response to God’s gift of an authentically abundant life is to live a life shaped by trust in God’s gracious provision. When we live from the reality of God’s promise, we become free to share the promise with others, and to participate in God’s mission here on earth, without fear and anxiety.

Jesus creates faith by announcing a promise, “It is God’s good pleasure to give me the kingdom!” Promises create a shared expectation about the future and bind together the giver and receiver of the promise in that shared anticipation. Promises create relationship…Promises create hope…Promises create faith; faith that frees us to be generous; faith that enables us to leave anxiety behind; faith that creates in us confidence about a future secured, NOT by human endeavor or achievement, but by God alone.

In the reading from Genesis today, Abram is told that he will have descendants as abundant as the stars. This is a promise to Abram of a future reality, which then shapes his present reality. Abram’s response to God is to live into that promise. The promise and the possibility of the promise are held together in the midst of impossibility. Really, think about that, can you count the stars? It is impossible. And yet Abram doesn’t question, or examine the promise, he acknowledges it and then…he…lives…into it.

It is like that with the kingdom of God too. The kingdom is here, but at the same time it seems impossible. Can the kingdom of God really exist here and now? The promise is about a future reality. The promise of God to give us the kingdom, all good things, is a future reality, which shapes our present reality. Because of Christ’s life, ministry, death, and resurrection we understand God’s kingdom to be with us in this present time. Christ has already reconciled us with God.

Jesus’ words, “do not be afraid,” are grounded in God’s faithfulness, a faithfulness that extends to the entirety of God’s creation. Can we respond to God’s promise and live into it? That is really the question to ask ourselves this morning. Can we believe the impossible promise for no other reason than God is a faithful promise-keeper? Can we trust our lives to God and just live into God’s promise like Abram did?

It will require us to change our perception. When you wake up in the morning, say “It is God’s good pleasure to give me the kingdom!” Before you close your eyes at night, say “It is God’s good pleasure to give me the kingdom!” And during the day, when you are feeling those fears, anxieties, or distractions creep into your consciousness, say to yourself, “It is God’s good pleasure to give me the kingdom!”

Living without fear and knowing the source of your treasure—that is your God-given identity, your Godly-worth—makes it possible to be prepared. It is a part of the pattern of discipleship; it is part of participating in God’s kingdom here and now. God wants to give us the kingdom and all good things…not eventually but right now, right here.

God promised Abram descendants as abundant as the stars, an authentically abundant life. Abram heard that promise. Abram believed and trusted God. Abram lived into God’s promise.

This morning you heard God’s promise, to you, for an authentically abundant life. Trust and believe that promise, and you will find yourself living into an authentically abundant life.

After all, it is God’s desire for you to have…and enjoy…and share an authentically abundant life.

Thanks be to God!

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The message of yesterday’s blog was that in order to be obedient to the Lord, we must first hear what he says, and to properly hear him, we have to be listening. We want to be able to say like Peter said “Lord, because you say so, I will do it” (Luke 5:5). When Peter responded, Jesus turned a night of fishing with no catch into a morning of one last dropping of his nets and a boat overflowing with fish.

Ezekiel responded much as Peter did when He heard God’s instructions – instructions that were crazier than those He gave to Daniel. The results were crazier, too. And the whole story, although far removed from our lives, has application to it. God explained to Ezekiel that the prophecy was meant for the people of Israel, but I think we can look at the whole of it and apply it metaphorically to our lives. We can take the principles from it and apply them to each of our lives.

So let’s go to Ezekiel 37 and read about Ezekiel’s experience in a valley filled with dry bones. God grabbed me in the first verse!

The LORD took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of the LORD to a valley filled with bones.
Ezekiel 37:1 (NLT)

I have a question for you – Are there dry bones in your life?

One of the commentaries I read about this passage described the scene this way: Ezekiel was taken “to a valley filled with many bleached bones, scattered on the ground, the skeletons of corpses long ago decomposed and devoured by carrion-eating birds and animals.” Are there areas of your life like that? I have some. Some dreams that have been waiting to be fulfilled for a long time. Some areas that I’ve neglected for so long that they are decomposing. Perhaps some relationships or disciplines that in the busyness of life I’ve left scattered on the ground in my haste to do the next thing on my list. The longer I’m away from the discipline, the more it dies and I die with it. It might be your prayer life or Bible reading or the practice of giving thanks or praising God. Are there areas of your life that feel brittle and wasted or wasting away?

“The LORD took hold of me…”

This first phrase got my attention. “The Lord took hold of me.” You are probably more accustomed to reading it in the NIV or King James Version, where it is translated “The hand of the Lord was upon me.” While both translations mean the same thing, the New Living Translation connotatively seems radically different. When I hear or read “The hand of the Lord was upon me” I think of my Father resting His hand on my shoulder and leading me somewhere. The phrase “The Lord took hold of me” implies that I have no choice, that He’s grabbing me by the collar or with both hands and forcibly taking me somewhere. And that’s truer to the meaning of the verse. The word translated “hand” in the NIV means hand, but it means “a hand with power” – which is consistent with the rest of the verse that talks about being carried away by the Spirit, Ruach, of the Lord.

So the first thing I heard the Holy Spirit asking me was “Have you allowed the Lord to take hold of you? Or are you resisting Him? Are you yielding only a little when He wants to take hold of you and take you places you couldn’t go on your own?” Lord, I’m listening…how can I obey?

Have you allowed the Lord to take hold of you? That’s the first thing God is asking you today. He is encouraging us to yield to His power. He is encouraging us to yield to His Spirit’s working. Ezekiel would not have had the experiencing of speaking to the dry bones if he hadn’t allowed the Lord to take hold of him and take him to the valley of dry bones.

One of the things I like about this passage is the interaction between Ezekiel and the Lord. Ezekiel doesn’t have a clue what’s going on. He’s just been forcibly taken and gently placed in a valley filled with bones. Imagine his confusion. Let’s read more about the valley:

1The LORD took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of the LORD to a valley filled with bones. 2He led me all around among the bones that covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out.
Ezekiel 37:1-2 (NLT)

Basically the Lord led Ezekiel on a tour through the dry bones. They walked among the dry bones. The bones were all around him.

I think we often avoid those valleys of dry bones in our lives – the valleys of decay and brokenness – because they were created by some kind of devastation. The valley of dry bones is a place of death. Something horrible happened to create that valley. Lord, I don’t want to go back there. Don’t take hold of me and take me there!

But if we listen to the Lord, the panic or depression that can take hold of us in the valley is held at bay as He speaks. When God takes us to the valley of decay and brokenness – it’s not to cause us more pain. It’s to bring us back to life. So let Him take hold of you and lead you to the dry places. Then listen.

It’s interesting that when God spoke, it was in the form of a question.

Then he asked me, “Son of man, can these bones become living people again?”
Ezekiel 37:3a (NLT)

God often asks us a question simply to open our mind to possibilities. “Sandy, can this dream live again?” “Sandy, can this relationship be repaired?” “Sandy, can this spiritual discipline that has been long forgotten come back to life?” “Sandy, can our relationship be restored – returned to what it once was?” Maybe that’s where you are – feeling alienated from God. It’s a painful place to be. And maybe you’re feeling like you’re doing everything you can and still you’re far from God. “Can this relationship come alive again?”

“O Sovereign LORD,” I replied, “you alone know the answer to that.”
Ezekiel 37:b (NLT)

Ezekiel answers God’s question honestly. I don’t know. Only You know, Lord. I have no power to change the situation. But You do. Can this dream come alive again? I don’t know. Can this relationship be repaired? I don’t know. Hidden in Ezekiel’s answer is a question – the same question God asked him – can these bones come alive again?

So God answers his question:

Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, …
Ezekiel 37:4a (NLT)

God says – “You, Ezekiel, you speak to the bones. Speak a prophetic message.” The word “prophecy” means “speak by inspiration of God” – Listen to hear what God has to say, then speak it!

4Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, LISTEN to the word of the LORD! 5This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! 6I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’”
Ezekiel 37:4-6 (NLT)

God goes on – “Speak to these bones. Call the dry bones to attention even though they are dead.” What is Ezekiel to say to the bones – “Listen up!” The word translated “listen” also means “obey” – What did Peter say? “Because you say so, I will do it.” (Luke 5:5)

Broken dreams, LISTEN to the word of the Lord. Dead relationship…LISTEN to the word of the Lord.

“Dry bones, listen for the voice of God! The sovereign God says…”

Who says? The Sovereign God – Adonai Jehovah – the self-existing God who controls all things – Listen to what He says!

“The sovereign Lord says “I.am.going.to.put.breath.into.you.and.make.you.live.again!”

Read that passage again. “The sovereign Lord says “I.am.going.to.put.breath.into.you.and.make.you.live.again!”

God says we’re to speak to the dry bones in our lives: “Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again!” Do you believe He can do it?

Well, in case you doubt that it will be a full and beautiful life, let me be more clear God says – “I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you and you will come to life.”

You know, there’s life and then there’s life. There’s life and then there’s life abundant. Life abundant isn’t just life made alive, it is life adorned – with flesh and muscles and skin! It’s life with the breath of God inside us. It is knowing that He is the Lord. That’s God’s promise.

Let’s step back for a second. Who again was he making this promise to? The decimated Israelites who were nothing more than dead, dry, brittle bones because of their own disobedience! So you know what? I may have messed up big time and that’s why my dreams are unfulfilled or that’s why my relationship with God has gone stale or that’s why my relationship with my husband is distant or cold. But God…But God…offers grace and through that grace and His sovereign power, he offers life.

Scripture says that faith comes by hearing. In this passage, life comes by hearing – listening to the word of God and speaking it as He instructs. Faith and life are inseparable. They cannot be divorced from one another! God says “listen, speak and live…”

Let’s see what Ezekiel does:

So I spoke this message, just as he told me.
Ezekiel 37:7a (NLT)

Like Peter, Ezekiel is saying “Because you said so, I will do it!”

7bSuddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. 8Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them.
Ezekiel 37:7b-8 (NLT)

And an amazing thing happened! God was true to His word! He caused the bones of each body to come together and attach themselves as complete skeletons.

Mr. T on the old television show The A Team? “I love it when a good plan comes together!” I love it when God is true to His Word.

As Ezekiel watched, God did what He said He would do….almost. He got all the way through putting skin on the bodies, but still they had no breath. What God did was amazing, miraculous. But it wasn’t finished. So He gave Ezekiel another task:

9Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man.
Ezekiel 37:9a (NLT)

Remember, we said that the word “prophecy” means “speak by inspiration of God” – Listen to hear what God has to say, then speak it!

9Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man. Speak a prophetic message and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.’”

10So I spoke the message as he commanded me, and breath came into their bodies. They all came to life and stood up on their feet—a great army.
Ezekiel 37:9-10 (NLT)

God gives Ezekiel a second assignment required to finish the task.

Too often we watch and are so amazed at what God has done that we are satisfied with a partial fulfillment of God’s promise. We’re satisfied with a partial healing or a partial restoration. “Then skin formed over them but they still had no breath in them.” Don’t settle for half of what God has promised. Yes, half of what He promised is amazing, but it’s only half. It’s not the glass that’s half full, it’s our life that’s half full. Don’t settle.

Speak again. Call on the Lord. Don’t settle for half healing. 

I’ve been watching our plants grow. They grow fast and I love it. Then they bud. Then they produce fruit. I mean, the process is amazing. But if we stop watering and nurturing at any point in the process, the plant dies. Words of prophecy are the watering and nurturing that our bones, our souls, need. So, we listen for His voice…and we speak as He commands.

Let’s finish the passage.

11Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel. They are saying, ‘We have become old, dry bones—all hope is gone. Our nation is finished.’ 12Therefore, prophesy to them and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I will open your graves of exile and cause you to rise again. Then I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13When this happens, O my people, you will know that I am the LORD. 14I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live again and return home to your own land. Then you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken, and I have done what I said. Yes, the LORD has spoken!’”
11zekiel 37:11-14 (NLT)

That brings us back to our first question: Are there dry bones in your life? Let God “take hold of you,” have control, “carry you away by the Spirit.” Don’t give God just a little control, let Him carry you away. Yes, even to the place of the dry bones – because sometimes we have to visit those dark places to let God heal them. If we don’t give Him all the pieces, He can’t make us whole.

There is a line in the Christafari song in yesterday’s blog that I didn’t really hear until I listened to the song for about the tenth time. It’s during the extended “reggae speak” portion and they say “With God’s all seeing eyes you will see clearly that your day to day life it is just prophecy; to be fulfilled by God Almighty.”

Your life – the life God wants you to lead – is waiting for you to prophecy it so God Almighty can fulfill it.

“Speak a prophetic message to these bones” God told Ezekiel. Speak a prophetic message to the broken, dead bones, so that they might live! Listen up, broken dead bones – The Sovereign Lord wants to impart life to you.

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