Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas . . . and see you next year!


If you're stopping by today, I hope that you enjoy the song below, and thank the Lord for all His blessings!

Merry Christmas! Our Savior, Redeemer, Friend, and Counselor is come!



I'll be taking a break, and we'll study again after New Year's Day!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Prayer requests


It's been a while since we paused to pray, and share requests and praises. Let's do that today!

We are in the midst of a hectic time of year, and I've been trying to provide posts that are a respite in the busyness, an oasis of calm.  Prayer can do that, too, by allowing us time to reflect and listen for His voice.

Do you have a prayer request that you would like to share? We will be honored to join you in praying for that request.

Do you have a praise, an answered prayer to share with us? Those are always wonderful to hear.

And of course, spend some time in prayer in thanksgiving. This is the season that we humans have chosen to celebrate Christ's birth, and the miraculous gift of salvation. Let's thank Him.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Contemplation


Contemplate today this fervent prayer . . . O come, Emmanuel . . . come to a world sick with sin, and heal us . . .

Friday, December 19, 2014

Friday slowdown

On this Friday slowdown, click on the video and let it play as you move about and do your usual things. I guarantee you will finish with a smile on your face and joy in your heart!


Thursday, December 18, 2014

That holy night

Enjoy this respite from the hustle and bustle today.

Thank the Father for that holy night . . .


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Mary, did you know?

Every time I think of Mary, I wonder about the thoughts that went through her head . . . in Luke, we read that she questioned the angel briefly, and then was content.

Ever wish you had that kind of faith? (Grin)

This song is especially poignant for this season, and these gentlemen do a wonderful job singing it.

Enjoy.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Contemplation

In this season that we have chosen to celebrate Christ's coming to earth, a part of the Father's plan, I think it is appropriate that we spend time in contemplation and wonder at His gift.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Thursday, December 11, 2014

John 15:9-17 Someone loves you, conclusion


Have you ever talked with a person that isn't interested in being a part of a congregation of believers? Someone who says, "I want nothing to do with a church."
Many times they have this attitude because people who were thought to be Christians have failed them. They've let them down. People who perhaps were trusted, and failed.

But if we truly think about it, the problem is not that the church failed them. And it isn't really that those supposed believers failed them. The problem is that they don't know our Jesus.

These disappointed people don't know how faithful He can be. They don't realize just how much He wants to care for them. They don't know what He wants to do in their lives.

There are people who sit in church every Sunday that don't really know Jesus as their friend. They may have been in church most of their lives, and they are "there every time the doors open" but they have gotten mesmerized in the routine and the rituals. They sing the songs and bow their heads in the prayers, and listen to the preacher . . . but they aren't experiencing any real relationship with Jesus. They haven't known the contentment and satisfaction of spending time with Jesus: the one Person they can truly call their Friend. The One who loves them.

That's really sad. Because Jesus really does want to be our Friend. He is ready to have us spend regular time with Him; He wants us to confide in Him; He wants to carry our burden. The root of the problem is that some of us have not yet realized how important it is to be friends with Him.

                   I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every
                   branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear
                   fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already
                   clean because of the word I have spoken to you.  (John 15:1-3)

And He also told us:

                  As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my
                  love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as
                  I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have
                  told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be
                  complete...You are my friends if you do what I command.

The first step to becoming His friend is to accept Him into your life.
Believe that He will be your closest friend because He is the Son of God. Admit that you are a sinner, and that you need His gift of salvation; admit that you can't live joyfully without His grace. Tell Him that you want Him to be in charge of your life; tell Him you want to become what He knows you can be. Start a new life with His guidance.

On Monday, I mentioned the tree near our home that is carved with initials and love notes. It tells its story to whoever stops to look. People wanted to say, "I love you."

The Bible tells us that Jesus "had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men." (Isaiah 53:2-3) THe people of His day wanted to get rid of Him. They took Him outside the city and nailed Him to a tree.

But even today, when people look at that tree, they still read that message: "I love you."




Wednesday, December 10, 2014

John 15:9-17 Someone loves you, continued


On Monday, we noted that in our present world, people are becoming more and more isolated and alone, with fewer people who are friends, or say, "I love you."

Let's look again at part of our focus passage, verses 9 through 12:

                   "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my
                    love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as
                    I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.
                    I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy
                    may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have
                    loved you.”

God created us. He knows the importance of friendship, and so He built the church on that foundation. One of the important functions of the church is to be a place where we can build friendships.
What does a friend look like?

I heard this quote once, and it sounded good to me: “A friend is a person who knows us – and still likes us.”

Proverbs has a lot to tell us about friends:

                   Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.
                    (27:6)

                    A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. (17:17)
 
                    A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend
                    who sticks closer than a brother. (18:2)

One of the awesome things about today's world is the ability to look around and find resources that help us make our points sometimes! I thought this story was really appropriate:

                 Back in the 1980’s Sam Rayburn - Speaker for the House of Representa-
                 tives - learned that one of his friends had just lost his teenage daughter.
                 Early the next morning Rayburn knocked on his door.
                “I just came by to see what I could do to help.”
                 The father replied that there was nothing to do.
                “Well,” Rayburn said, “have you had your coffee this morning?”
                 The man replied that they had not taken time for breakfast. So Rayburn
                 went to work in the kitchen. While he working on making breakfast, his
                 friend came in, and said, “Mr. Speaker, I thought you were supposed to be
                 having breakfast at the White House this morning.”
                 “Well, I was, but I called the President and told him I had a friend who was
                 in trouble and I couldn’t come.”

That’s what the Bible means by friendship. To have someone who regards you so highly that they want to be there when you need them.
So Jesus is telling us in this passage that He will be there for us -- we need to be there for each other.
There are other verses that encourage us to be all we can be, for others:

                  Therefore encourage one another and build each other up....
                  (I Thess. 5:11)

                  Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another
                  above yourselves. (Romans 12:10)

                  Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the
                  law of Christ.... (Galatians 6:2)

There's just one problem here . . . even when we are trying, even when we are doing our best, even when we have asked the Spirit to help us, we don't always love like we ought to.  We can fail -- because we are not God.  No matter who we are, and how long we've been servants of God, we sometimes will fail; we won't be there when people need us.
We may be distracted by our own personal problems and schedules. We can be inconsiderate and selfish at times. There are even times when we get our feelings hurt and have a hard time showing love to one another. All of these shortcomings can make it difficult to be the kind of friends, and to show the kind of love, that God desires for us to do.

But it's not impossible!!
Jesus gave us the keys in the verses above: follow His example, learn from Him, and make it our life's goal to be there for each other, since He is there for us.  He says He will never leave us or forsake us.  And to add to that, He told us:

                  Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
                  (Matthew 11:28)

Peter understood that we might need to be reminded, and he wrote:

                 Cast all your cares upon Him; because He cares for you. (I Peter 5:7)

And here is what Paul wanted us to know:

                Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died -- more
                than that, who was raised to life -- is at the right hand of God and is also
                interceding for us.  (Romans 8:34)

Jesus will never forsake us. He will always care for us. And He is always interceding for us. We will never have an earthly friend like Jesus.  He will always be there when we need to talk. He is always there when we need guidance. He will be beside us when life is good, and when days are stormy.

We'll talk more about this tomorrow. Hope you will join us!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Verses that inspire


Have you found a gem in the Word recently? Did a verse or passage truly inspire and teach you?

Won't you share it with all of us?

Many times when we share, we are able to help, comfort, and inspire those who hear or read what we've posted.

This verse has meant a lot to me lately:

Ezekiel 36:26-27:

                        I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove
                        from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will
                        put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful
                        to keep my laws.

Monday, December 8, 2014

John 15:9-17 (again) Someone loves you


Are you surprised that we are in the same passage this week? I can't help it! There are so many wonderful lessons from Jesus in these verses!

                     As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If
                    you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have
                    kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love. These things I
                    have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy
                    may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another as
                    I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down
                    one's life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I com-
                    mand you.  No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know
                    what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that
                    I heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose
                    Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit,
                    and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My
                    name He may give you. These things I command you, that you love one
                    another.

We have the distinct privilege of living in a rural area; when our house was first built, over twenty-five years ago, we could not see any lights or other signs of human life from our porches or deck! Our land was farmland many years ago, but the probable location of a house can still be seen, and there is a huge oak tree there. The tree is easily over one hundred years old; it is massive, and when our kiddos were growing up we called it the "initial tree."
Carved into its bark are initials of enterprising individuals who wanted to mark the tree for posterity, to leave something behind when they were gone. Some are sets of initials -- young lovers carved their initials to say, "I love you" in what they felt would be a lasting tribute to their affection. Others who have looked on the tree many years later have seen that "I love you" there.

The experts tell us that emotionally healthy people form meaningful ties with other human beings. They don't just nod in the hallway; they don't just smile as they pass, pulling in the driveway; they share personal things. They talk about their likes and dislikes, and they share their joys and fears. They extend themselves freely to others, and help others -- and they know how to graciously accept assistance when they find themselves "in over their heads." And when they have important decisions to make, they ask for (and receive) insights and support from their friends.

But studies show a disturbing trend in our world. There is evidence that Americans have a third fewer close friends that just about twenty years ago. And more disturbing, the data indicates that the number of people who have no one to count as a close personal friend has doubled. It's the same for males and females, for young and old, all races, all educational levels. And even in our families, the comfort levels have diminished significantly. All of this points to people who are feeling lonelier and more isolated than ever.

They need an "I love you" from somewhere, from someone.

We'll study this more, this week. I hope you will join us!


 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Thursday, December 4, 2014

John 15:9-17 conclusion

This time of year, the stores and the commercials strive to convince us that joy is something you can purchase. A shiny new toy, a gift under the tree; surely those things will make us joyful.
Well, yes and no.
In the story that I shared with you yesterday, it was obvious that joy has nothing to do with externals. It isn't the clothes we wear, or how much money is in our wallet. It doesn't have anything to do with our career or our position in life, or how many people in the church won't make a move without consulting us.
It has everything to do with our hearts.
It's a gift from God, and it is grown by God when we let Him work in us and through us.
Remember Paul's words?

                But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness,
                goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  (Galatians 5:22)

As I watched those senior citizens, I could see that their joy in tiny gifts made with love was the same joy felt by the teens who gave them. It's not about us; it's about Him.
If we were to do a survey of verses containing the word "joy" in the New Testament, we would quickly see that the idea of joy is often side-by-side with the idea of suffering. We may be suffering, or we may have everything we ever wanted -- it doesn't matter, though, because joy is about something different.
Ready?
Here it is in a nutshell: joy is really about knowing that we are loved by God. That we are saved by God. And then realizing that nothing else really matters.
Second, joy is found only in giving. When we are focused on others rather than ourselves. When we are meeting their needs instead of ours. When we are sacrificing our desires so that someone else can experience theirs. You won't find that in the dictionary, either. But I saw that in the lives of the teens that day, who were inspired to make plans to come back and carol again before Christmas, for the seniors at that center.
Think about it. We don't have to be saints to get real joy out of giving gifts to others. And usually that's a lot more fun than receiving gifts, even though we may appreciate them very much. The joy isn't in the things -- it's in our choice to give to others.

While we are thinking about the fact that joy is a gift from God, and that it's one of the fruits that the Holy Spirit produces in us, let's also think on this: you and I can stop His Spirit from creating them in us. We need to examine ourselves and change those areas where we are preventing God from creating joy within our hearts.  For most of us, including me, the biggest obstacle is selfishness.  I can look at my own life and see that the times when I am not full of joy are the times when I am focused on myself!
Let's look back at our passage, specifically verses 12-13:
   
               My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love
               has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

In our hearts we know, we will never find joy in pursuing ourselves, but we will find it in loving God and in loving one another.  It's a choice that we make, and we receive joy from living for others first and for ourselves second.
Let's confess our selfishness. Let's pray that Jesus, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorned it's shame, and then sat down at the right hand of the Father's throne . . . let's pray that He will open our hearts and show us our selfish ways and the misery those ways cause. Let's ask for forgiveness and then choose to live for Him and for others.
Then watch out!
Because we will experience true joy!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

John 15:9-17 continued


Today we are going to focus on John 15:9-17. You might be surprised what our passage will be for next week. But that's another story.

Let's talk about joy.
Are you a joyful person?
Think about it.
Notice -- I didn't say, "Are you happy?"
You see, that is different. Most of us will admit that there is a difference between "joy" and "happiness."  But it might be hard to explain, or define that difference!

This time of year, especially with the frenzy of Black Friday sales, it is easy to see what the world thinks joy is. Joy is buying a trampoline at half price. Joy is the latest gadget in your hot little hand. It's the coolest toy, or the most expensive car . . .

Well, I guess we can't be too hard on 'em. Maybe these folks looked in the dictionary:

                Joy -- the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by
                the prospect of possessing what one desires.

Wowser! That's all it is?  It's just how we feel when everything is going our way?
Well, no. At least, I don't think so.

Some years back, I had the pleasure of accompanying a group of young people from our church as we took specially prepared shoeboxes to the residents of the local assisted living facility. Our daughter had conceived of the idea of filling the boxes with things they might need and enjoy, and might have no other way of finding, especially those who didn't have family to regularly visit them.
There was joy in these young people's hearts as they donned Santa hats and jingle bells, and with boxes in hand, entered the rooms singing heartily as they went.
And there was joy in these elderly people's faces and hearts, as the teenagers presented them with their gaily wrapped boxes, and then stood beside them in small groups, as they finished singing a carol. I saw the sparkle in their eyes -- both the kids and the seniors -- and I thought, this is joy.

Just before He went to the cross, Jesus instructed His disciples one last time. They've left the upper room and are on the way to (or maybe they have arrived at) Gethsemane. This is what Jesus says:
“9As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command. 15I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit–fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 17This is my command: Love each other.”
I feel like the key verse for us this week is verse 11: "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete."
What did He tell them?
Well, two things . . . to obey, and to remain. Look back in verse 10, and you will see: obey my commands, and remain in my love.
That is how we can have complete joy!
First, our obedience results in joy. Sometimes we may think the opposite, especially as new Christians just learning and reading the Word. We may think that God has given us a long list of "don'ts" and He wants to limit our freedom and make us miserable!
Instead, the opposite is true: obedience to God is our path to joy, because obeying the things we are not supposed to do saves us pain, and hurt, too. But also it's our path to joy because when we do all of the things we ARE supposed to do, we can find real purpose, and meaning, and life.

Secondly, we are to remain in His love. Do you remember the day you realized (perhaps the day you were saved) that you are unconditionally loved by God?  That's a true-knock-your-socks-off kind of joy, is it not? (Grin) We have known that unconditional love of Jesus in the past, and we can know it each and every day. Jesus' command for us is to remain in that love; don't get distracted or sidetracked; don't let anyone persuade you otherwise; never, ever lose sight of the eternal truth of the season we now celebrate . . . Immanuel, God with us.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son…” Jesus is beckoning for us to remain under His wing, to remain wrapped in His arms, to remain always in the midst of the fact that we are loved perfectly, unconditionally, truly, not by virtue of anything that we have done or failed to do, but solely by the grace of God.

It's when we realize that, that we can know real joy!


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Prayer requests


We didn't pause in our month of praise to share our prayer requests, so I want to encourage all of you to leave a comment today.

Has God answered a prayer of yours? Has He shown Himself faithful, and worked in your life, or the lives of those you love?

Is there something that we can join with you in prayer about?

Please feel free to comment and let us know. It's a privilege to share and to support each other in His name.

Monday, December 1, 2014

John 15:9-17, Introduction


In The Applause of Heaven,  Max Lucado writes of a certain King:

No man had more reason to be miserable than this one-yet no man was more joyful. His first home was a palace. Servants were at his finger­tips. The snap of his fingers changed the course of history. His name was known and loved. He had everything ­ wealth, power, respect.

And then he had nothing. Students of the event still ponder it. Historians stumble as they attempt to explain it. How could a king lose everything in one instant? One moment he was royalty; the next he was in poverty. His bed became, at best, a borrowed pallet-and usually the hard earth. He never owned even the most basic mode of transportation and was dependent upon handouts for his income. He was sometimes so hungry he would eat raw grain or pick fruit off a tree. He knew what it was like to be rained on, to be cold. He knew what it meant to have no home. His palace grounds had been spotless; now he was exposed to filth. He had never known disease, but was now surrounded by illness. In his kingdom he had been revered; now he was ridiculed. His neighbors tried to lynch him. Some called him a lunatic. His family tried to confine him to their house.
Those who didn’t ridicule him tried to use him. They wanted favors. They wanted tricks. He was a novelty. They wanted to be seen with him-that is, until being with him was out of fashion. Then they wanted to kill him. He was accused of a crime he never committed. Witnesses were hired to lie. The jury was rigged. No lawyer was assigned to his defense. A judge swayed by politics handed down the death penalty. They killed him.

He left as he came-penniless. He was buried in a borrowed grave, his funeral financed by compassionate friends. Though he once had everything, he died with nothing.
He should have been miserable. He should have been bitter. He had every right to be a pot of boiling anger. But he wasn’t. He was joyful. Sourpusses don’t attract a following. People followed him wherever he went. Children avoid soreheads. Children scampered after this man. Crowds don’t gather to listen to the woeful. Crowds clamored to hear him. Why? He was joyful. He was joyful when he was poor. He was joyful when he was abandoned. He was joyful when he was betrayed. He was even joyful as he hung on a tool of torture, his hands pierced with six-inch Roman spikes.

Jesus embodied a stubborn joy. A joy that refused to bend in the wind of hard times. A joy that held its ground against pain. A joy whose roots extended deep into the bedrock of eternity.

It is this joy that we will study this week, as we resume our study in the gospel of John.