Posts Tagged “Luke”

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

October – the month of beautiful trees, a briskness in the air, bonfires and the annoying start of Christmas items in stores! It’s also the month for reading the books of Jeremiah, James, 1 and 2 Peter and Luke.  Throw in 2 Kings if you’re reading the additional readings. And the encroaching coolness outside makes it a great time to curl up and read.

If you’ve fallen behind and are looking for a good place to jump back into the readings, this month is perfect. Start on September 30th and you’ll join us at the start of Ecclesiastes and James. From here, the readings provide a great build up to Christmas. The New Testament readings will put you in a perfect place to enjoy the holiness of the upcoming season.

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

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

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

Enjoy your reading! We’d love to hear what God speaks to your heart.  Email me, leave a message on our Apprehending Grace Facebook page, or post a comment at the end of any blog.

Blessings, Friends!
Sandy

The recommended reading schedule for October is below.

Resting at the River's Edge October 2013 Recommended Reading Schedule

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

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

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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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Living God's HeartLiving Gods Heart

Being conformed to the image of Christ means thinking as He thinks and acting as He acts. In the previous blog, we learned that it God “has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32, NIV) In the New Living Translation, it’s worded just a little differently:

“…it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.”
Luke 12:32 (NLT)

It brings God joy to give. And I’m thinking the more He gives, the more joy it brings. After all, He’s not just giving us an enjoyable evening or basic provisions. He gives abundantly. He gives us the kingdom. He gives us salvation. He gives us “everything we need for living a Godly life.” (2 Peter 1:3, NLT) That’s over-the-top giving.

He’s given us the Holy Spirit. He’s given us gifts to use in fulfilling the calling that He’s given us – the purpose He’s given us for our lives.

All this and heaven, too.

He’s given us a family (Psalm 68:6). He’s given us freedom from condemnation (Romans 8:1). He gives us the power to be transformed (Romans 12:1). He’s given us His love. Whew! That’s the most precious gift. That the God who created the universe has given me His love, His heart.

All this and heaven, too.

Why? Because “it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.”

Does giving bring you joy? It will if you allow it, because you are made in the image of God. You carry His DNA, and His DNA derives joy from giving.

But sometimes it’s a joy that you have to learn because in our sinful nature, it is counter-intuitive to us. In our sinful nature, I think I will have more joy if I get more stuff. But God has never hoarded His stuff. He lavishes it upon us. In our sinful nature, I think I will have more joy if I am more powerful. But God has never hoarded His power – He gives us free will – the absolute antithesis of hoarding power. He also has given us power and authority beyond our ability to comprehend and often beyond our ability to use wisely. Still, He trusts us with it.

So we have to learn to give. We have to write that first check or give away that favorite possession. We learn to experience joy through the joy of the recipient. And when that isn’t expressed, we learn that God is smiling at our generosity. Scripture says that “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7) and “will bless you in everything you do” when you give generously to the poor (Deuteronomy 15:1).

God gives to us when we give to others. Let’s look at the 2 Corinthians passage:

7You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” 8And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.
2 Corinthians 9:7-8 (NLT)

God will generously provide all our needs – so much that we will have plenty left over to share with others. Which sounds to me like viciously wonderful cycle – we give generously which pleases God and he then generously provides for our needs so that we have plenty left over so we can give generously so He can bless generously so we can…

But check out the verse in the NIV:

7Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
2 Corinthians 9:7-8 (NIV)

I LOVE verse 8. It’s actually our company’s verse. “And God is ABLE to make ALL GRACE abound to you, so that in ALL things, at ALL times, having ALL that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (Emphasis mine, of course.)

God gives all we need – not just physically, but also emotionally, relationally, and spiritually – He is able to make ALL GRACE ABOUND to you so that you have ALL that you need. And when will he do it? ALL the time. Why? So that we can be successful – abounding in every good work.

God’s heart is to give.

When we live from God’s heart, we also give. We give our time, our talent, our money and possessions and our heart.

Who are you giving to today? My new sister-in-law told me that she doesn’t ever go to bed without doing something nice for someone. If she hasn’t done something nice by bedtime, she goes to the local store to find someone in need. Perhaps it’s just helping someone reach something. Perhaps it’s helping someone pay their bill. Perhaps it’s providing an encouragement to someone who just needs to know that someone cares. There are lots of ways to give.

Do you think she always feels like it? I doubt that she does. But she’s learned the joy of giving. She’s learned that it changes who we are from the inside out. And it brings God joy.

Who are you giving to today? Challenge yourself to give above and beyond joyfully.

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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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Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
Luke 5:5 (NIV)

That was a key verse in our Pastor’s message a few weeks ago. At least it was the key verse for me. I was struck by the phrase “Because the Lord says so, I will do it.” Doesn’t matter if I want to or not. Doesn’t matter if it’s morning and I’ve worked all night and I’m exhausted…or in my case, it’s evening and I’ve worked all day and I’m exhausted. Doesn’t matter if I’m discouraged because I’ve worked all day and haven’t made any money.

“Because the Lord says so, I will do it.”

Those were the situations Peter was in when he spoke those words. Peter, the professional fisherman, had fished all night – and he hadn’t caught anything. Jesus, this carpenter, came along and suggested he throw out his nets again. Peter could have had many responses, not the least of which was offense that this carpenter had the audacity to tell him how to do what he’d been doing all his life. But he doesn’t take that attitude. He calls Jesus “Master.” Then he explains the obvious (because he’s not sitting there cleaning fish, he’s sitting there repairing his nets) – that he worked all night and didn’t catch any fish. Put yourself in Peter’s sandals – he’s tired, he’s frustrated and he’s not getting paid for anything he did last night. Still, his attitude is respectful, humble and obedient. “Because you say so, I will do it.”

Are you ready to be obedient when you hear God’s voice? I sure want to be. I know I have a predisposition toward it – my spirit and heart want to say “yes!” For me the challenge is more likely to be hearing God’s voice than saying “yes.” Because I can get caught up in what I’m doing and forget to listen. In order for me to be able to say as Peter did “Because you say so, Lord…” I have to listen – I have to hear God’s voice.

A few days after our pastor preached about Peter’s obedience, Phil and I were listening to Pandora in our office. As we were working, this reggae song came on and a couple of minutes into it, I began to understand the words. The key phrase was “Listening for your voice!”

Take a listen to Christafari’s song Listening. I’ve included the lyrics after the song.

 

 

LISTENING by Christafari (I Kings 19: 11-12)
Lyrics from elyrics (modified by listening to the song)

So it seems sometimes that I grow weary (Isa. 40: 29)
and that the world around will overtake me.
And all the things I pray just seem to float away
as I stand alone and dream of you.

Listening – For your light to shine the way through the darkest night (II Cor. 4: 6).
Listening – For comfort and love to feel all right (Ps. 119: 50-52, 76)

Chorus: So I’m listening for Your voice to softly call my name.
I’m listening for Your voice to help me on my way.
Yes I am listening for Your voice I long to hear You say
“My child I’ve come and here I’ll stay.”

It is the still small voice the man listens for,
sometimes He shouts more time He whispers.
(2X)

For there are times in life I feel quite empty,
and there are times when nothing will prevent me
from striving day to day trying
to find a way to a love I can only find in You, ya you.

Listening – In moments, when I find it hard to hear you.
Listening – I find the solution in your Word.

Chorus

I want you to listen the tear from my eye well shines and glistens.
God’s Word is sweet as honey and it heals as medicine (Ps. 119: 103, 107: 20)
It soothes my soul what the pastor says to do (Heb. 13: 17)
[He also speaks] Through your brothers and sisters and the mind of Christ in you. (I Cor. 2: 16)
So I want you to listen and to listen cleanly.
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. (Deut. 30: 20)

Chorus

~~~~~~

Somehow I think the voice Christafari’s listening for sounds a whole lot different from the voice I’m listening for! But it’s the same God. Each of us hears God’s voice differently, but the key is listening. Because sometimes He SHOUTS, but more time he whispers. So we have to be actively listening. Being aware that He wants to speak and listening for His voice.

And then when we hear His voice, saying as Peter did “because You say so, I will do it.”

Ezekiel responded much as Peter did when He heard God’s instructions. In Ezekiel’s case, God gave him some pretty wild instructions. But because it was God who said so, Zek obeyed. Tomorrow we’ll look at Ezekiel listening to God’s voice and speaking it into reality. Stay tuned.

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

Footprints under the mango tree

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

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

Teenage Boys Ministered to by Orphans Unlimited

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

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

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

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

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

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Melissa letter stirred my heart for the children.

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

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

And may we adults learn from them. Jesus said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods HeartDeveloping an unoffendable heart isn’t easy! It means regularly dying to ourselves and living as Christ. Paul wrote to the Ephesian-s that they were to “live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:2, NIV) That means overlooking offenses – treating those who offend you as if they had not. It’s what God does for us, forgiving our sins to accept us into His Kingdom.

Such actions don’t come naturally, easily or cheaply. They must be intentionally developed. Here are some tips – practical actions you can take – to help develop your unoffendable heart:

Tips for Developing an Unoffendable Heart…

  • Meditate frequently on how very much God loves you. Pray Paul’s pray for the Ephesians for yourself:

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)

  • Make the decision that you want to have an unoffendable heart. Ask God to bring it to your attention the moment you are tempted to take offense.
  • Pray – sincerely pray – for anyone who does anything you’re tempted to take offense at. Don’t pray that they would go away, pray that they would prosper, that they would know Christ in a deeper way, that their relationships would be blessed, that their marriage would flourish and they would be in good health. Bless them. It’s what Jesus commanded in the sermon on the mount:

But to you who are listening I say: …bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
Luke 6:27, 28

  • Purposefully humble yourself when being criticized. Ask God to reveal any truth in the criticism. If there is no truth in the criticism, ask God to reveal any behaviors you may have that lead others to believe the falsehood.
  • Do something positive – show some love – for the person offending you. Again, it’s what Jesus commanded:

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you
Matthew 5:44

  • Ask God “what am I to be learning through this? What is Your purpose for it?”
  • Pray for a humble spirit. Being proud invites opposition from God as well as those around you. Scripture tells us that God opposes the proud and so do many people. Those around you may respond negatively toward you (giving you an opportunity to take offense) because of your prideful and arrogant behavior. Keep God on your side and be inviting instead of confrontational toward others by remaining humble.
  • Become a world-class encourager. Becoming an encourager means looking for the best in people and nurturing those qualities. Developing that “good finder” muscle engages muscles that are needed to overlook an offense.
  • Replace your frustration or anger with the one who is bring the offense with kindness. Be kind to others

31Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.
Ephesians 4:31-32 (NLT)

Practice these things and you will develop an unoffendable heart. Not overnight, but will happen. When I was a child, I took accordion lessons. I practiced half an hour every day for years and years and years. And years. At one time, I was pretty good. I wouldn’t have been good without the practice. The same is true for developing an unoffendable heart. Practice, practice, practice.

I’m not nearly as good at playing the accordion now as I was many years ago. Why? Because I no longer practice. Again, the same is true for our unoffendable heart. Even when it becomes strong, it will require regular workouts to keep it’s strength. Practice, practice, practice.

Will it be hard work? Absolutely. Will it be worth it? Absolutely. First because it is what God wants you to do. It is a matter of obedience. The wonderful thing about God, though, is that when we are obedient – living as He wants us to live, our life will be filled with more peace, more joy and more love. I want to live in more peace, joy and love, how about you?

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods HeartOur society doesn’t breed compassion. Compassion requires connecting with the pain of others and sacrificing to help alleviate that pain. It requires that we be outwardly-focused – seeing the needs of others more than we see our own needs. Compassion requires margin in our lives – that is, “white space” in which to see, feel and do for others. When we have no margin – when our schedules are overflowing and our stress levels are spiking, the white space in our lives is crowded out and we become focused on only our own needs. When that continues too long, life becomes all about us instead of all about others.

Read these verses about the compassion of Jesus:

When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Matthew 9:36 (NIV)

Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
Matthew 14:14 (NLT)

Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.”
Matthew 15:32 (NIV)

Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.
Matthew 20:34 (NIV)

Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!”
Mark 1:41 (NIV)

When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her, and said to her, “Do not weep.”
Luke 7:13 (NASB)

Do you feel the compassionate, loving heart of Jesus in these verses? As I read them, all together, not separated by circumstances and other stories, I see Jesus’ loving and compassionate heart more clearly. I see Him with His hand reached out to touch, heal, wipe a tear and comfort. I see His extreme care for those who are harassed and helpless, for those who are sick or hungry, and for those who need to be made clean or be comforted. I see His extreme care for people like me.

Jesus’ heart of compassion stepped into the hurting experience of others and did something practical to alleviate their suffering. Joni Eareckson-Tada talked about compassion and suffering in an address at Westmont College. I was moved by these words:

Helping somebody like me [that is, someone suffering with a severe disability] – God asks us to hook our veins up to that person who is hemorrhaging human strength – because we show Christian love when we pour our heart out into another’s life as though giving a spiritual transfusion. Warm and personal, reviving and life giving. That’s what Christian compassion means.

When we reach out in compassion to somebody, we’re reaching out into their suffering.

The world has so much suffering in it today – it is bleeding out of control.

When people are hurting, His church – and who else is there, it’s just you and me – His church is the agent of comfort and mercy and grace and encouragement, showing, not just telling, but showing His love. Not just proclaiming it, but portraying it. Helping them to experience it.

Jesus had crowds and crowds of people pressing in for attention from Him. He knew the pressures of too much to do and too little time. Yet He kept His outward focus. He saw the suffering of others, was moved with compassion and took action. He wasn’t too busy or too poor or too tired, although surely he had too much to do, too little money and too little sleep. He found His margin – that is the white space within the noise – by spending time with His Father.

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
Mark 1:35 (NIV)

It’s in the Father’s presence where we find our margin for the day. It might seem like adding an appointment with God to our already full schedule would take away even more of our white space, but it doesn’t. Somehow it expands the white space, giving us margin and purpose at the same time. It allows us to hear God’s heart – that heart of love and compassion toward us and others – and enables us to show that heart to others.

The passage in Mark goes on to say that when His disciples found Jesus they said something like “Come on! Everyone’s waiting for you!” Jesus didn’t let them steal the peace and purpose He’d just received from being with the Lord. “Jesus replied, ‘Let us go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.’” (Mark 1:38, NIV)

Jesus had a full schedule. He had little money. He had others pressing in on Him. But He allowed the Lord to work through Him, showing compassion to people who are harassed and helpless, sick or hungry. He showed His compassion to us so that we might show His heart of compassion to others.

Last summer I met a woman who was widowed at a young age. Undoubtedly she and her young children suffered a great loss. One of the things she told me is that she doesn’t let a day go by without doing something good for someone in need. It might be as small as helping an elderly woman reach an item on an upper shelf at the grocery store or buy a burger for a man living on the street. The key is that she does something. Every day. Developing a habit like my new friend changes the way we think. Little by little, act by act, it builds God’s heart of compassion into us.

What about you? Are you showing God’s heart of compassion to those around you? Do you see the pain, suffering, loneliness and hunger in the eyes, the walk and the behavior of others? If not, perhaps it’s because there is no margin in your life. Perhaps your own needs are crowding out the needs of others. Follow Jesus’ example so you can follow His behavior. Get alone with God so He can pour His heart into you and then you can pour it into others. Pray for a compassionate heart like His – then live it!

You can watch Joni’s entire message at Westmont College here:

 

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There are many illustrations in the Bible about how we are soldiers for the Lord, a part of His army. And while it’s true that our battle isn’t against flesh and blood, but against powers of darkness, there are lessons we can learn from earthly battlefields. A friend recently pointed me toward a Facebook page for the military unit her son is a part of.

The world is a different place these days. I didn’t know that military units have their own Facebook pages! I was quite surprised to learn that, but in today’s world, Facebook is the way the world communicates and it can be a wonderful tool for staying in touch. In a recent post, the captain of the unit included as part of his update information about what’s called an “After Action Report” or AAR. “If done properly,” the Captain wrote, “the After Action Reports are not for the thin-skinned, but it is a big part of how we get better, and why our Army is so strong.” He then shared some of the points from a recent evaluation. As I read the update, I was struck at the value the process and his advice has for us as Christians seeking to serve our King. Hence, our lessons from the battlefield.

Let me say here that I am NOT in any way meaning to devalue what the men and women in our military are doing. Their battlefield is much more stressful and much more dangerous than any I’m in. Rather, it’s my desire to honor them as I take from their lessons and seek to learn from them.

Lesson 1: Evaluate to Improve

Our first lesson comes from the activity itself – we can’t improve what we don’t evaluate. In the Facebook post, the Captain wrote this: “days seem to be endless, yet gone in a flash….It’s been a slow blur.”

Well, I’m not on the battlefield, but I know sometimes – lots of times, actually – my life feels like that. Will this day never end? And then “How can it possibly be Friday again?” Days seem endless, yet they’re gone in a flash.

If we don’t purposefully step back and evaluate our lives, we’ll find that more and more days have gone by without making steps toward improvement, steps toward growth, steps toward becoming the person God wants us to be.

One of the times we do that is during communion. Paul wrote this about communion:

27Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.
1 Corinthians 11:27-29 (NIV)

God wants us to examine ourselves, to watch our behavior, to not take what Jesus did for us lightly.

King David knew that it’s not only self-examination that’s needed. We too easily deceive ourselves. King David asked the Lord to examine him:

23Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
Psalm 139:23-24 (NLT)

If we’re to become more like Christ, we must examine ourselves and ask God to examine us.

Lesson 2: Stay Sharp

The Captain wrote this in his After Action Report: “How do we keep Soldiers and Leaders focused? How do we keep them from becoming complacent? Although we haven’t been doing this a long time, Soldiers get tired.  How do we prevent the “Groundhog Day” mentality from setting in, where every day or mission looks like the one before?  Or the dangerous mindset that occurs prior to a mission when Soldiers think that nothing has happened, so therefore nothing will happen.  This is when I worry about Soldiers taking shortcuts and being complacent.  Complacency kills, bottom line.”

It’s not so different in our spiritual life. No matter how long we’ve been a Christian, we can still fall. Scripture warns us:

8Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.
1 Peter 5:8 (NLT)

We’re to stay alert. Satan prowls around looking for who is most vulnerable, easiest to attack and kill. Even Jesus wasn’t immune to attacks by Satan. In the desert, satan tempted Him three times. Jesus successfully defeated satan each time, and then Scripture says this:

When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.
Luke 4:13 (NIV)

Satan is looking for an opportune time to attack us. Our responsibility is to stay sharp.

Lesson 3: Exceed the Expectations of Your Commander

Our military isn’t focused on just doing their job. They’re focused on exceeding the expectations of their commanding officers.

Do we have the same commitment to our Commanding Officer? Do we have the same commitment to our King?

Paul encouraged the Ephesians:

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.
Ephesians 4:1

And to the Philippians he wrote:

Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. 
Philippians 1:27

Is our focus on living a life worthy of the One who gave His life for us? Is our focus on living a life that is worthy of the One who created the universe? Is our focus on living a life that is worthy of the One who lives us so, the One who is jealous for us and whose love is fierce and strong?

Lesson 4: Allocate Resources Properly

Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Psalm 90:12 (NIV)

Numbering our days aright means first remembering each morning that our time belongs to God. To squander it is to squander God’s resources. At breakfast last week my husband said “everything we have is stewardship” Are we using what we have in the way God wants us to use it? Phil was talking about cars and money. It also applies to time. Time, money, cars, talent, our home and food – they’re all included as part of the resources we’re to allocate properly. Lord, help us get better at it!

Four Lessons from the battlefield:

Lesson 1: Evaluate to Improve
Lesson 2: Stay Sharp
Lesson 3: Exceed the Expectations of Your Commander
Lesson 4: Allocate Resources Properly

They’re lessons meant to keep our troops sharp, focused, the best. They’re lessons we would do well to implement in our lives and our walk with the Lord.

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