Archive for the “Confidence in God” Category

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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1“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
John 14:1-3 (NIV)

During the Passover meal, Jesus said some very disturbing things. He was going to be betrayed. He was going away and the disciples could not go with him. His disciples would deny him. I can’t imagine what was going through the disciples minds. In his next words, Jesus reassures them.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Jesus says. “Trust in God; trust also in me.” There is so much in those words. First, Jesus is reassuring them. He is calming what must undoubtedly be their increasing anxiety. He reminds them that they do trust in God and they can also trust in Jesus. But I like the first sentence because it is a definitive statement – “DO NOT LET your hearts be troubled” (emphasis mine).

Don’t go there. Instead, choose faith. If Jesus has given this command, it means we have a choice. I can choose worry or I can choose faith.

I read a bumper sticker once that said “worry is a terrible waste of an imagination.” How true! When we are worrying, it’s because we’re choosing to imagine all the bad things that can happen. And when we allow ourselves to go down those roads of imagination, we are making a choice not to trust God. We are making a choice to believe that satan will win.

Is God trustworthy? Of course He is. How do we know that?

We know because He’s proven it. God loves us so much, he sent Jesus to pay the price for our sins so that we could spend eternity with Him (John 3:16).

Scripture says that God has give us everything we need for life and Godliness (2 Peter 1:3). It doesn’t say some things, it says EVERYTHING.

So, DO NOT LET your hearts be troubled, friends. Trust in God; trust also in Jesus.

You know, trust comes from the heart – it doesn’t come from the head. It comes from the heart. Get to know God’s heart, don’t just learn things about Him.

“In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.”

This translation says “many rooms.” The King James translation says “many mansions.” Jesus isn’t preparing a shack in the slums for us. It’s not a motel room somewhere. It’s a mansion. But the kind of house isn’t the important part. What’s important is the second part of the verse and the verse that follows.

I am going there to prepare a place for you Jesus said. Jesus Himself is building the house. And it is a house made just for you. It is being custom built for you by the One who knows you better than you know yourself.

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

I love this verse. If He goes to prepare a place for us – well, He just said that He was going to do just that, so we can trust that He is – so if (when) He does, He will come back and take me to be with Him. Hallelujah! He has promised to return for me – and not just to return, but to return to take me to be with Him. And my very favorite part of the verse is the last phrase – so that we might also be where He is.

The New Living Translation translates the last half of the verse like this: “so that you will always be with me where I am.” Do you hear Jesus’ longing for us to be with Him? He is our bridegroom and He longs for His bride to be with Him. God the Father will fulfill the longing of His Son. A day will come when Jesus returns specifically to take His bride to their wedding.

I can’t wait. But while I do, I do so knowing that He longs for that day as much or more than I do. And He’s the One who is Faithful and True. And He’s the One who both commands and reassures us to not let our hearts be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in Jesus.

I choose to trust. And when worries come, I will say in the words of Jesus, “Get behind me, satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Matthew 16:23, NIV) And I’ll follow it up with “My Jesus loves me beyond measure and He is building a mansion for me. When the time is right, He’s returning to take me to be with him. Forever. So be gone satan. I want no part of you.”

I choose to trust. How about you?

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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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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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I used to make fun of my husband. Many years ago he purchased an 8-volume set of commentaries on the book of Ephesians. That’s 8 2-inch thick books on Ephesians (by Martin Lloyd-Jones) – which takes up about 8 pages in my Bible!

Well, I am being so blessed by Paul’s letter to the Ephesians this year that now I’m seriously considering tackling those books! A few months ago Phil and I lead a Bible study on the book of Ephesians with some nursing home residents. We’ve been leading a weekly study with them for about three years. This is the first study I’ve recorded because I was being so blessed. Now as I am reading it in our Resting at the River’s Edge reading, I am equally as blessed. I’m picking just a few paragraphs from the letter each day to write on, but I suspect there’s a more comprehensive Bible Study of the letter coming soon.

Today, we have to look at Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians that we find at the end of chapter 3:

For this reason I kneel before the Father,
Ephesians 3:14 (NIV)

Even this first sentence grabs me. “For this reason” – what reason? All that he has written before, which is a discussion of how we have been reconciled with God through Christ.  “We are no longer foreigners” he wrote in Ephesians 2:19, “but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.” He then went on to write that he had been given the privilege of preaching “preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8).

It is for this reason that Paul “kneels before the Father.” Do you kneel in prayer? I rarely do. I have a spur on my knee that makes kneeling painful so I rarely kneel. But, I find that when I humble myself by physically putting myself in a position of humility like kneeling, my prayer changes. Usually I get comfortable in my “prayer place” – a chair I frequently sit in while reading, journalling, blogging and praying – before praying in earnest. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s good to be comfortable with God. Yet, when I kneel, or often in my case simply sit on the floor with my head bowed, I have a stronger sense of God’s greatness and my smallness. It’s good to be reminded that He is God and we are His servants. I need to kneel more.

Paul takes the position of kneeling which emphasizes the master/servant relationship, yet he immediately acknowledges the intimate relationship we have with God – He is our Father. He is almighty and He is our Abba, Daddy. Without the intimate relationship, He becomes only a hard task-master. Sin has a price which must be paid, but His love caused Him to pay the price for us. Remember yesterday’s blog4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions” (Ephesians 2:4-5). It is to this God that Paul prays. It is to this God that we pray.

16I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
Ephesians 3:16-17a (NIV)

What a wonderful thing to pray! Paul first prays that God, who has immeasurable riches, would strengthen us in our inner being. That’s where I need God’s strength. That’s where I need to know that I know that I know that He loves me, that He is with me, that He is working in me and that He has purposes for my life. In my inner being. That’s where my strength comes from – deep inside, knowing God’s love for me. Paul prays that Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith. Again, I need that fully confident knowing – that’s faith. In the face of opposition or failure or just everyday life, I need to know Him. I need Christ in my heart through faith. Remember, Paul is writing to Christians. He asks God to strengthen them in their inner being so that Christ would dwell in their hearts by faith. As a Christian, pray this for yourself and those believers around you. Because we all face life and the enemy uses circumstances of life to try to tear Christ from our hearts. He tries to use disappointments to attack our faith. Pray that out of his glorious riches that God would strengthen our faith.

Yes, I know what that means. It means the testing of our faith. It means that we will face challenges. But they are challenges designed by God to help us grow stronger in our faith. They are challenges designed by our coach – the One who is training us in godliness and faith – to make us victorious. They are not challenges by our enemy that are designed to defeat us. They are designed by God to help us defeat our enemy.

Paul goes on, picking up the theme of love again:

17bAnd I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  
Ephesians 3:17b-19 (NIV)

It is out of God’s great love for us that He made us alive with Christ. It is in that great love that we have been rooted and established. That is our starting place and it is from that place that Paul prays that we might have the power to grasp – to apprehend, to take hold – how wide, long, high and deep God’s love is. The word “grasp” is the same word Paul used in Philippians:

I press on to take hold of [to grasp, to apprehend] that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
Philippians 3:12b (NIV)

This is not a “gaining by osmosis” or even supernatural impartation. Yes, there is supernatural impartation involved, but there is also action on our part – a pursuing and grabbing and holding on. Paul prays that we would have the power to grasp the depth of God’s love for us. God will empower us, but we must also grab and hold onto that love – so that we might be filled to the “measure of all the fullness of God.”

In a long paragraph about this phrase, Matthew Henry concludes with this sentence:

Those who receive grace for grace from Christ’s fulness may be said to be filled with the fulness of God, according to their capacity, all which is in order to their arriving at the highest degree of the knowledge and enjoyment of God, and an entire conformity to him.
Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible

Are you “filled up” with Christ? Do you experience the highest degree of knowledge and enjoyment of Him? I’m not. But I press on to attain it. And I pray that God would give me the power to grasp His immeasurable love for me.

Let’s pray for ourselves and others as Paul prayed for the Ephesians.

Should a sliver of doubt creep into your heart as you pray for such understanding and filling, Paul ends this prayer with a doxology:

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 3:14-21 (NIV)

He is able, friends. To do more –immeasurably more – than all we ask or imagine. More than all, not just more than some of what we ask, more than all of what we ask. And not just more than we ask, but more than we can imagine. He can do it. For His glory. Amen and amen.

Let’s pray for ourselves and others remembering that He can do immeasurably more than we are asking and more than we can imagine!

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We’ve had extraordinarily high expenses this year. Thousands of dollars in car repairs. Unexpected medical bills.

We’ve had extraordinarily low income this year. Being self-employed means fluctuating income, but this year there’s been no fluctuation, it’s been consistently down.

We’ve had extraordinary pulls on our time and lifestyle this year. We’ve had many requirements that have eaten our time and gas money to provide unexpected support. We took a business trip (quite an expensive business trip) and got exceedingly sick essentially losing more than half of the benefit of the trip.

I’m not complaining. For the first five months, I just considered it life. A bit unusual life, perhaps, but life none-the-less. This past month I’ve wondered if there’s an extraordinary spiritual component to it. Are we being targeted by the enemy? I’m not one to blame every bad thing that happens on the enemy working against me. Lots of bad things are simply a result of living in a fallen world and/or my own bad or sinful choices. But when extraordinary things happen, I look to the spiritual realm. Yesterday, when yet another extraordinary expense hit shortly after news of continued low income, I began to more seriously consider a spiritual element. (OK, some would say I’m coming to the party a bit late. That’s probably true.)

But last night I began asking “What’s happening, Lord?” And even more to the point “How should I be responding to these issues, Lord?” I’m already remaining positive, hopeful and trusting. OK, I admit it, worry is beginning to creep in (which, of course, is the antithesis of trusting). Still, I know that I am a blessed woman. An extraordinarily blessed woman.

Well, I don’t have an answer to my questions yet. But this morning’s Scripture came at just the right time. I love serving a “just at the right time” God.

1God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.
2So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea.
3Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!
Psalm 46:1-3 (NLT)

I am so encouraged.

God is ALWAYS ready to help. Lord, I need your help! Come quickly.

So we won’t fear – I WON’T FEAR – when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea.

And then I love the defiant – confidently defiant – tone of verse 3:

Let the oceans roar and foam – because God is my refuge and strength; because MY God is always ready to help.

Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge – because God is my refuge and strength; because MY God is always ready to help.

Lord, help me.

Afterward:
Of course my husband is in the midst of all this with me. Last night was the first time we talked about this year’s occurrences having a spiritual source. This morning he saw that I was a bit off-kilter and we prayed. (I thank and praise God for my husband.)

As I just finished writing this blog – right up to the line “Lord, help me” – he came down from getting ready for the day in our bedroom upstairs. Always quick to share the goodness of God with him, I said “Want to know what my first verses were today?” I then read Psalm 46:1-3 to him.

Then he said “Want to know what my last verses were ? The last thing I heard on TV before I came downstairs was this:

“Don’t you worry about a thing. Cause every little thing is gonna be all right.”

I guess God speaks through Bob Marley, too. (No, I’m not endorsing his life or life message. God speaks through the ungodly.) Yes, every little thing is gonna be all right. Enjoy!

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods HeartI find that there are certain conditions in my life that lead to holy boldness:

Confidence – When I am feeling confident, I am bold, not timid.

Freedom – When I am experiencing freedom, I am bold because there’s nothing that is hindering me from being so.

Security – When I am feeling secure, I can make bold moves instead of playing it safe.

Being loved – When I know I am loved and will be loved even if I fail, I can step out in boldness, not being limited by any fear of what others will think.

Having hope – When I have hope, I can climb mountains that are otherwise too overwhelming.

All of these things are found in faith. All of these things are results of a faith-filled heart. Boldness – holy boldness – comes from a faith-filled heart, and it is the difference between timidly attempting the assignments God has given me and boldly attacking the assignments He has designed for my life.

All these conditions come from our faith in Christ. Let’s look at Scriptures that relate to each.

Confidence – Our confidence comes from Him – knowing what He has done for us and what awaits us:

Since this new way [that is, faith in Christ] gives us such confidence, we can be very bold.
2 Corinthians 3:12 (NLT)

Freedom – Oh, the freedom that comes from knowing God:

He gave himself for us to set us free from every sin and to cleanse us so that we can be his special people who are enthusiastic about doing good things.
Titus 2:14 (GW)

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
Galatians 5:1 (NIV)

Security – Having security means I am not worried about what will happen to me; I’m not to take action.

But you, O LORD, are a shield around me; you are my glory, the one who holds my head high.
Psalm 3:3 (NLT)

2He sang: “The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; 3my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety. He is my refuge, my savior, the one who saves me from violence.
2 Samuel 22:2-3 (NLT)

Being loved – Knowing that we are loved brings the greatest freedom and in turn, the greatest boldness. It is what causes us to run freely in the wind and fiercely into battle.

The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.”
Jeremiah 31:3 (NIV)

But God showed [demonstrated] his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.
Romans 5:8 (NLT)

Having hope – Hope gives us reason to look forward – reason to live boldly today because of what awaits us tomorrow.

18So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us.19This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.
Hebrews 6:18-19 (NLT)

Faith in Christ is the key to conditions of the heart that lead to a holy boldness.

Similarly, there are conditions of the heart that lead to reckless boldness. This may not be an exhaustive list, but I find these conditions to be the most common reason we take recklessly bold actions:

Fatalism – When I believe that “whatever is supposed to happen will happen,” I am less careful about where I step and the path I take. Fatalism is a lie from the enemy. Scripture is clear that we have personal responsibility to pursue God, to choose to obey Him by taking the actions He assigns to us, not waiting to see what will happen and trusting it has been His will.

Utter sense of futility – When “who cares” and “what difference does it make” are phrases that have captured my mind and heart, I either fall into the depression of nothingness or take rash action. Of course these phrases are also whispers from the enemy. They are signs that he has been on the prowl, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). He’s trying to devour you. God cares and He has purposes for your life that reach into eternity.

Rebellion – When I’ve become tired of following my King and decide to go my own way and make my own decisions, all of my actions can be labeled reckless boldness. We can’t blame the enemy on this. This is sin. It is our own selfish pride. It is thinking we have a better plan than God. It requires repentance – a genuine sorrow for our attitudes and actions, a turning to God for forgiveness and a change in our behavior and thoughts.

Disappointment with God – When God doesn’t live up to our expectations (oh, Lord, it is difficult for me to even write this, but I know there are time when we feel like this – forgive us when You are so worthy of our worship even when we feel disappointed) – when God doesn’t live up to our expectations, our hearts can grow cold. Our minds build a case against Him and our attitudes turn to rebellion. Being disappointed with God doesn’t have an easy solution – it’s usually a combination of repentance for our own wrong attitudes with a heavy dose of experiencing God’s great love. It requires an understanding that God’s plan is greater than our earthly desires.

The antidote to all of these conditions that lead to reckless boldness is faith. A faith-filled heart is the greatest weapon against these conditions. A faith-filled heart is the greatest weapon against reckless boldness. That faith comes from being with Jesus. We see it again and again in the New Testament.

The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus.
Acts 4:13 (NLT)

Because the men had been with Jesus, they had a holy boldness that confounded the leaders. We can have that same holy boldness.

It is also because of our faith in Christ that we can come into God’s presence freely – and it is in God’s presence where we find the source of all the conditions that lead to holy boldness:

Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.
Ephesians 3:12 (NLT)

And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus.
Hebrews 10:19 (NLT)

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.
Hebrews 4:16 (NLT)

Our faith-filled heart enables us to fulfill God’s purposes in our lives – it gives us the holy boldness we would otherwise lack and it keeps us from acting recklessly, without caution or care.

We have been studying Ephesians with our nursing home Bible study group and I have been so strongly impacted by Paul’s prayers for the Ephesians. I have been praying this prayer at every gathering since we studied the passage and regularly for myself and Phil. It seems so appropriate to every venue. And it is totally appropriate here. I pray for you as Paul prayed for the Ephesians:

16I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Ephesians 3:16-19 (NIV)

I can’t pray it any better. Knowing the vastness of God’s love for you, may you be filled to the “measure of all the fullness of God.” Whew! That’s gonna lead to some holy boldness!

If this blog has blessed you or helped you live in holy boldness, please share it with others. You can use one of the buttons below to share. Let’s help one another become a people worthy of God’s calling (Ephesians 4:1).

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods Heart

Confidence: the quality or state of being certain (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary)

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.
Hebrews 11:1 (NLT)

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

A firm faith gives us confidence – that is, it gives us a certainty, an assurance – that what we hope for will actually happen. That confidence can radically change our lives. In the allegorical story Hinds Feet On High Places by Hannah Hurnard we share in the adventure of the main character Much-Afraid who “escaped from her Fearing relatives and went with the Shepherd to the High Places where ‘perfect love casteth out fear.’” If you’ve not read the book I encourage you to do so.

Much-Afraid learns to trust God more and more as she faces the challenges of the journey to the High Places. She learns from God’s consistent loving-kindness that His love is unlike any love she’s experienced and her faith grows with each submission and each victory. As her faith grows, her nature and character change. Confidence does that to a person. Being certain that we are loved even when we fail, allows and enables me to live differently – uncontrolled by the fear of failing. Being sure that we are loved no matter what others think brings freedom into our lives – freedom to be the person God intends us to be and freedom to love others in a greater way.

A commonly asked question comes to mind: “If you knew you couldn’t fail, what would you attempt for God?” That question reveals many things.

  • Our answer reveals our passion. If you could be doing anything for God, what would it be? But it’s not just our answer that brings revelation.
  • Considering the question reveals our level of faith. How much do we trust God? How much are we willing to trust God?
  • It also reveals our idols. What are we unwilling to let go of?

As our faith in God grows, so does our confidence. A confident heart willingly makes sacrifices for God. A confident heart legs’ go of idols. A confident heart steps into God’s calling.

Stepping into God’s calling doesn’t mean we have no fear, it means we set the fear aside and focus on the source – we put our confidence in Him, not in our own abilities. Such confidence pleases God and He rewards it. Read what Scripture says about those who put their faith in God:

The eyes of the LORD search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.
2 Chronicles 16:9a (NLT)

God strengthens those who already have confidence in Him. He gives more courage, more confidence, more strength to those who take baby steps, adolescent steps and adult steps toward fully committing to Him. No matter where we are in our walk, God wants to increase our faith – and a faith-filled heart is a confident heart.

Confidence is a certainty. A heart that is full of faith is certain, sure, confident, of his or her position in Christ –beloved child of God. With the power that raised Jesus from the dead behind him or her. No reason for doubt! You gotta have faith – and your faith-filled heart will be confident in Him!

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods HeartWe’ve been studying about a thankful heart over the past few weeks. It has helped me through some tough weeks. In the midst of a bad case of stomach flu (or food poisoning, we’re not actually sure which it was) while travelling, I laid on my bed in the hotel room restless and nauseous. I was not a happy camper. Needless to say, my mind wasn’t working any better than other parts of my body. I asked Phil to read Scripture to me. His voice was either too loud or too soft. There seemed to be no perfect volume. His voice, a sound that usually has a very calming effect on me, somehow added to my nausea. Finally, I put my hand up to quiet him and I tried to quote Psalm 92:1-2.

1It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to the Most High.
2It is good to proclaim your unfailing love in the morning, your faithfulness in the evening.
Psalm 92:1-2 (NLT)

I botched the verse pretty badly. As I recall, it took me quite a while to come up with the first three words. But those three words have become a stronghold for me: “It is good.” When my brain is fried from illness, emotional upheaval or just plain exhaustion, I can remember those three words. And then they start the memory ball rolling and I can come up with the next three words: “It is good to give thanks.” And then the next three words: “It is good to give thanks to the Lord.” That’s my stronghold. “Lord, I give You thanks.”

I don’t think I ever got the words right that night, but in my jumbled mind, I was able to recall the overall theme and it began to bring peace. Healing didn’t come for another day or so, but that peace was followed by faith. As I gave thanks for God’s protection and healing, a confidence began to replace the defeat that my body and spirit was experiencing.

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled.” Jesus said. “Trust in God, and trust also in me.” (John 14:1, NLT)

Giving thanks changes the environment. It brings peace in the midst of chaos. It brings calm in the midst of the storm. That peace and calm are the precursor to a slowly building confidence. That confidence – well, it’s just another word for faith.

Phil was sick the few days before I was. One of the things he said to me describes the “before thanksgiving environment.” “When I’m this sick, it’s hard for me to believe I’ll ever be healthy again.” He had it much worse than me. I understood what he meant. When we look at the circumstances, it can be very hard to believe anything will change. And when we’re physically sick, it can be very hard to see past our circumstances. It can be very hard to believe that God will win.

Thanksgiving changes the environment. It reminds us of what God has done in the past. It reminds us of where our hope lies. It reminds us that with God, all things are possible. And that changes the environment. Peace and calm replace chaos and anxiety. Confidence replaces doubt. Faith grows.

The thankful heart creates the environment needed for the faith-filled heart to grow. Let me encourage you once again – be intentional about giving thanks. Even when (or perhaps especially when) everything around you is in chaos. Giving thanks grows your faith. And faith is a good thing.

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods Heart

5b“Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive?
6He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead!”

Luke 24:5b-6a (NLT)

He is risen! He is risen, indeed!

I hope you celebrated a wonderful Resurrection Sunday a few days ago. At the end of our service, several of us were sitting around…not wanting to leave the holy area where God’s presence had been, I suppose…and I think it was our pastor who said “I wish every Sunday was Resurrection Sunday.”

Yes, we had a great morning – a special early service followed by a potluck breakfast followed by a regular service. But the reason behind it all is that Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

He is alive! The resurrection is the turning point of Scripture. Everything prior to that point in history was leading up to it and everything after that event flowed out of it. The Old Testament builds toward the lamb of God slain for the sins of the world. Jesus is that lamb of God. But it’s not His death that gives us life. Yes, it is His death which pays the required penalty for our sin, making it possible for us to live eternally with God in heaven. Yes, it is His death which bridges the gap between our holy God and sinful Sandy. Yes, it is His death which demonstrates how very much He loves us.

But it is His resurrection that seals the deal. It is His resurrection that proves He is the King of Kings, Almighty God who holds all power in His hands. It is His resurrection that makes it possible for Him to be seated in heavenly places at the right hand of God. And it is His resurrection that makes it possible for us to be seated in those places with Him.

The angels asked the women “why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive?” Jesus is alive! His heart still beats. His hands still move. His ears still hear. He is the lamb who was slain yet lives forevermore.

The resurrection shows us – it demonstrates for us – the kind of power that is available to those who believe.

Come with me to Ephesians 1:

19I [Paul] also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power 20that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. 21Now he is far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given—not only in this world but also in the world to come. 22God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church. 23And the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself.
Ephesians 1:19-23 (NLT/NIV)

The power and authority that is in Christ is also alive in us. His heart beats in us. That power and authority becomes available to us and through us when we submit to His headship. Verse 19 says it is God’s power for us who believe…it is God’s power thrown open by our obedience. If you look through Biblical history, both Old Testament and New, the Israelites had power when they were obedient. The Apostles had power in their obedience. They were ineffective in their unbelief.

Yes, I’m using the words belief and obedience in the same way and that’s because in the ancient, middle-eastern mindset, they can’t be separated. To believe means to act on or live by that belief. It means to obey. You can’t have one without the other. It is our faith and obedience that gives us access to God’s power.

How great is that power? In verse 21 Paul struggles to find words that are big enough and well, powerful, enough, to describe God’s power. He uses these words:

  • Arche – means principality, also means source or beginning – Jesus is the originator of all things
  • Exousia – means authority, power or jurisdiction
  • Dunamis – the word from which we get dynamite – explosive power, ability, miraculous, creative power
  • Kyriotes – means dominion or ruling power, governmental power
  • Onoma – the power to name something – this power comes from having ownership, control or authority over something

Paul is saying that God has made Jesus far above all those kinds of power. Far above. And he goes on to say that Jesus is far above all those kinds of power not only in this world, but in the world to come.

And that very same power that raised Jesus from the dead is alive in us who believe – He makes that power available to those of us who believe.

Do you believe when you pray that you can change the world? Do you believe that when you talk to someone about Christ that you can change the world? Not because of who you are, but because the power that raised Jesus from the dead is alive in you.

There are many reasons why we might not be experiencing that power in your life, but one of them is that we simply haven’t owned it – we don’t expect to change the world (or often even to have an impact) when we do things for Christ. Yet Scripture says that the very same power that raised Jesus from the dead is alive in us. Oh ye of little faith! (Oh, me of little faith!)

God’s message to me this Resurrection Sunday was that He is alive! He is alive because of the awesome power of God that was able to raise Jesus from the dead! That power is “for those of us who believe” – it’s in me!

I don’t waste that power because I didn’t believe I had it. I don’t waste it because I don’t even try to use it.

Let’s believe in – that means expect! – powerful moves of God and let’s step into them.

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