Friday, January 30, 2015

Friday slowdown

He is there for you no matter what the situation
He is greater than any circumstance
Is a miracle too much beyond your expectation?
Just call on Him and give Him a chance
I know the mountain seems too high to climb and the road ahead seems dim
Just surrender to Him, He’ll step right on in

God knows, everything you’re going through oh yes He knows
He’ll go to the ends of the earth for you, He will go
He knows just what to do
Oh yes God knows

Jesus was a man who suffered all the great temptations
But He won’t allow one that you cannot bear
So He understands your needs and all your supplications
Still to grow is to learn to persevere
The more you realize your weaknesses the more that He can help
He sent His only son to give all of Himself

God knows, everything you’re going through
Oh yes He knows
He’ll go, to the ends of the earth for you, He will go
He knows just what to do 

He knew you well before you were conceived
He made a plan for you
It doesn’t matter what you’re going through
He knows just what to do
Don’t you know He has been there
And will always see you through…

God knows…
He’ll go…
God knows everything you’re going through
Oh yes He knows
He’ll go to the ends of the Earth for you
He will go…
He knows just what to do
God knows… … …
He’ll go… … …
God knows…

Thursday, January 29, 2015

What God doesn't know, conclusion

We've been studying this week a series of intriguing statements based on our focus verses from John 16:

                          Then Jesus’ disciples said, “Now you are speaking clearly and
                          without figures of speech. 30 Now we can see that you know all
                          things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you
                          questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.”

The disciples told Jesus "we can see that you know all things" and they were right! Our God is an all-knowing, and all-powerful God. When we say that there are things He doesn't know, we are making a play on words, as we have all week!

This is the Almighty, the Creator of the universe, and the Savior of mankind. And there is one last thing that He doesn't know . . .

Our Father doesn't know of a question that He cannot answer. Not one. He has the answers for any and all questions that we will ask Him. As an old gospel song says, "I don't know what the future holds, but I know Who holds the future."

Let's look at what He says about Himself:

                        I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like
                        Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times
                        things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and 
                        I will do all My pleasure . . .  (Isaiah 46:9-10) 

He knows the end before it happens, and He has known back in ancient times the things that will happen in years to come! Truly we serve an awesome God.

                       Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of
                       God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past
                       finding out!  (Romans 11:33)

His wisdom and His purposes and plans are way beyond our finite minds; we can never hope to fully understand what He will accomplish. But we know that He desires the best for us, and that thought can comfort us in the storms.

                      If any of you lacks wisdom, let him as of God, who gives to all
                      liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
                      (James 1:5)

We may not understand why something happens. We may not see the good in things when they occur. But we can trust our Lord to show us.
There is not a question that He cannot answer, if we will ask in faith.

To wrap up our study this week, there are no storms that He can't calm. He's never met a broken heart that He can't heal. He doesn't know of a habit that we have, that He can't break. He doesn't know of a sin that He can't forgive.
He doesn't know of a hunger for peace that He can't satisfy. He doesn't know of a tear that He can't dry, either. And He doesn't know of a dream that He can't fulfill for us.

And this one is so precious -- He doesn't know of a single person that He loves more than you. Or more than me.

Many thanks to Wayne Searls for sharing this concept for this week of studies.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

What God doesn't know, part II

We've been studying something that seemed shocking at first glance -- there are some things that God doesn't know! Let's continue . . .

Another thing that God doesn't know -- He doesn't know of a problem that He can't solve.
Are you saying "Amen!" here? I know I am!
I'm so glad that He is in the business of solving problems!

                      Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too
                      hard for me?  (Jeremiah 32:27)

                      Ah, Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth
                      by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too
                      hard for You.  (Jeremiah 32:17)

Has Satan been attacking us? Do the problems in our lives seem insurmountable? We need to remember God's promise to us:

                      So shall they fear the name of the Lord from the west, and His glory
                      from the rising of the sun; when the enemy comes in like a flood,
                      the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him.  (Isaiah 59:19)

And this, one, too:

                      Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through
                       Him who loved us.  (Romans 8:37)

Here is another thought; God doesn't know of an illness that He cannot heal. Let's look in the book of Isaiah again:

                     But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for
                     our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
                     and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

And yes, I understand that according to that verse, He will heal us of our sin-sickness. But He will also heal our physical bodies.

                     Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: Who
                     forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases...
                     (Ps 103:2-3)

                     Heal me, Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved,
                     for you are the one I praise.  (Jeremiah 17:14)

                     Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the
                     church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in
                     the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and
                     the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will
                     be forgiven.  (James 5:14-15)

Some of us studying this passage today are old enough to know the expression "the Amen corner." (Some of us are old enough to have attended church and heard from the Amen corner, too!) The Amen corner was sometimes a  certain portion or area of the church where particularly fervent worshippers would sit. In some congregations, it was their responsibility to say "Amen" at appropriate times during the pastor's message. Many times, the term just meant a certain man or woman (or group) that was vocal in their approvals of what they heard. Sometimes they would be so enthusiastic that the service would be interrupted by "Amen!" and "Hallelujah!"

Do you sometimes find yourself saying Amen to something that particularly moves you? Something that is meaningful, and stirs your soul? I have found that as I've gotten older, I am much more vocal and emotional in my walk with the Lord; many times I am misty-eyed as I think of His love and mercy.
I mentioned the Amen corner because the last note for today is one that certainly should have us rejoicing in His grace!

Our last thought for today is that God doesn't know of a burden that is too heavy for Him to carry. In His love and care for us, He will carry the burden that we entrust to Him. (Amen!)

                    Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God,
                    that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon
                    Him, for He cares for you.  (I Peter 5:6-7)

When we are tired and stressed, and weary of carrying our burdens and troubles, He invites us to rely on Him:

                    Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will
                    give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for
                    I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for
                    your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
                    (Matthew 11:28-30)

We can be bold in asking for Him to help us:

                    Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we
                    may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
                    (Hebrews 4:16)
God is so good to us! Amen!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Prayer requests

Do you have a prayer request or a praise for answered prayer that you would like to share with us today?

I found this quotation that was just right for our day:

                      Prayer is not so much an act as it is an attitude -- an attitude of
                      dependency, dependency upon God.    Arthur Pink

We certainly are dependent upon the Father, for the beating of our hearts, the breaths we take, and for all the blessings that we take so often for granted. But we are dependent upon Him, too, for the comfort and the peace He gives us in crisis. And for the joy in our hearts when we see an answer to the desire of our heart.

Share with us today -- we are honored to pray along with you, and to rejoice with you when prayers are answered.

Monday, January 26, 2015

What God doesn't know (More thoughts from John 16)

Have I got you scratching your head?

Or, worse, have I upset you? (I hope not.)

I hope you are just intrigued, and wondering if I fell and bumped my head or something. How can I be saying that there are things that God doesn't know?

I mean, seriously, check this out:

                 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge
                 of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable
                 His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became
                 His counselor? (Romans 11:33-34)

                 ...But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  (Matthew 10:30)

                 Lift up your eyes on high and see who has created these stars, the One
                 who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name;
                 because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power,
                 not one of them is missing. (Isaiah 40:26)

                 It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what
                 is in the darkness, and the light dwells with Him.  (Daniel 2:22)

We are lingering in the sixteenth chapter of John, specifically focused on these verses that we studied before:

                 His disciples said to Him, "See, now you are speaking plainly, and
                 using no figure of speech! Now we are sure that You know all things,
                 and have no need that anyone should question You. By this we
                 believe that You came forth from God."  (John 16:29-30)

But there are still some  things that God does NOT know. Ready? Let's dive in!

God doesn't know of a sinner that He does not love.
(Phew! Now I see you nodding your head. This is a relief, isn't it? We can all agree on this.) There has not been a sinner born yet on this earth that God didn't love. He loves all sinners, and it's His earnest desire that all would come to accept the gift of eternal life in Christ.
Here is evidence from the Old Testament:

                 The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: "Yes, I have loved you
                 with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn
                 you."  (Jeremiah 31:3)

God loves all men, all women, all children, all sinners. And He has loved us with an everlasting love that causes Him to draw us to Himself. The sinner may resist and reject, but His love is constant.
Here is more evidence, this time from the New Testament:

                   At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved
                  by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy,
                  being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love
                  of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things
                  we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing
                  of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us
                  generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified
                  by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
                  (Titus 3:3-7)

Now that I've reassured you that I'm not off my crumpet, let's go on to look at another thing that God does not know -- He doesn't know of a person that He will not save.

                   As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to
                  shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same
                  Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone
                  who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:11-13)

What an amazing promise from the Father! He knows all, and everything. And within that knowledge, there is still NO ONE that He will not save. Matthew 18:11 tells us that the "Son of man is come to save that which was lost." No restrictions. Not, if you are a certain race or creed, or if you have a certain amount of money, or if you have lived an exemplary life. He will save us if we call upon Jesus' name and in so doing, we turn away from our sins.
Peter says it so much better than I can:

                   The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slack-
                   ness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish
                   but that all should come to repentance.  (II Peter 3:9)

Another thing that God doesn't know:
He doesn't know of any sins that have been put under the blood.
As the hymn writer so eloquently put it, "Oh the bliss of this glorious thought!" Here, you can read the evidence:
                   If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is
                   not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will
                   forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (I John 1:8-9)

Yes, He will forgive us. But we humans forgive others and still remember their deeds and words . . .read here in the book of Hebrews for fabulous news:

                   "This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says
                   the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them
                   on their minds." Then He adds: "Their sins and lawless acts I will
                   remember no more."  (Hebrews 10:16-18)

And here in Psalms:

                    For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his
                    love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west,
                    so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (Ps. 103:11-12)

The last thing we want to look at today is that God doesn't know of a life that He can't change. This is certainly cause for rejoicing! No matter how badly we mess things up, He can change things. He will change our lives completely, by removing our sin and washing us as white as snow.

                    . . . and this is what some of you were. But you were washed, you
                    were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus
                    Christ and by the Spirit of our God.  (I Corinthians 6:11)

Later on today, take a stroll through Isaiah 35. We can see there that when God saves His people, he changes their lives -- He changes everything completely. Flowers will grow in the desert; people who are weak become strong; blind people see and deaf people hear. Things that seemed impossible become reality.

He doesn't know of a life that He can't change.

                      Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things
                      have passed away; behold all things have become new. (II Cor. 5:17)

So, today we have learned of four things that God does not know -- He doesn't know of a sinner that He doesn't love, nor does He know of a person that He won't save. He also doesn't know of a sin that's been placed under the blood, and He doesn't know of a life that He can't change.

I hope you will join me next time as we continue.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Friday slowdown

Jesus, You're all I need
You're all I need
Now I give my life to You alone
You are all I need

Jesus, You're all I need
You're all I need
Lord, You gave Yourself
So I could live

You are all I need
Oh, you purchased my salvation
And wiped away my tears
Now I drink Your living water
And I'll never thirst again

For You alone are Holy
I'll worship at Your throne
And You will reign forever
Holy is the Lord

Thursday, January 22, 2015

John 16:16-33 He has all that we need

Remember when we started this week's study?
Remember Jack?

Jack was hanging onto a small branch that he had grabbed, after he slipped off the trail he was following. He's been waiting there for us to continue his story. (Grin)

Jack has nowhere to go and thinks he might fall all the way down the ravine, to his death. He is yelling and yelling, "Help! Help me!"
He's about to give up hope when he hears a voice.

"Jack. Jack. Can you hear me?"
"Sure, I can hear you. I'm down here!"
"I can see you, Jack. Are you alright?"
"Yes, but . . . who are you, and where are you?"
"I'm the Lord, Jack. I'm everywhere."
"The Lord? You mean, God? Oh, God, please help me! I promise, if you'll let me down from here, I'll stop sinning. I'll be a really super-good person. I'll come to church every Sunday and I'll even volunteer at the church activities that my wife keeps asking me about."
"Easy on the promises, Jack," God says. "Let's just get you down from there and then we can talk. Now, here 's what I want you to do -- listen very carefully."
Jack says, "I'll do anything, Lord. Just tell me what to do."
"Okay. Let go of that branch."
Nothing happened.
God spoke again to Jack.
"Let go of the branch. Just trust me. Let go."
Silence again.
Finally Jack yelled, "Help, help! Is anyone else up there?"

I hope that you won't think that story is irreverent (and I'm indebted to Rev. Christopher Roberts for the story) because it truly illustrates a problem that we all have at one time or another.
It's difficult sometimes to trust God and let go, isn't it?
All that we need, God has. And He has promised to give it to us. But we have to trust Him.

                       Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your
                       own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)

                       As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher
                       than your ways, and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.
                       (Isaiah 55:9)

                       Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not
                      be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is
                      with you, wherever you go.  (Joshua 1:9)

                      You keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you,
                      because he trusts in you. (Isaiah 26:3)

Whatever it is that we need, God has. But we must trust Him. We can say that we want to know the will of God, but when we find out what it is, can we handle it? We may think it's too scary, or too difficult, and like Jack, we decide to look elsewhere.

God may challenge us to let go of something. It may be something that stands between us and God. He will challenge us to trust Him with our lives. And when we let go, and trust Him fully, we will find freedom and safety in His hands.  We will find that He has all that we need.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

John 16:16-33 He has all we need

This week we are continuing our study of Jesus' teaching to His disciples in the "upper room." We ended last time on this thought: the ABC's of  spiritual growth .....those letters could stand for Adversity Builds Character.

I'm sure that we have all had our shares of problems in our lives. Would we really want to change anything? Our natural self would say, "Oh, yes, please!" but our Christian self, the self that is struggling to grow more like Christ, realizes that even the mistakes, the pain, and the suffering have made us the people we are today. I guess one of the biggest lessons we learn is to pray that we will learn something from the pain we face. To be able to grow more like our Savior.

This is a thorny kind of a discussion, especially for those not trained in theology (like me) but we can try to apply what the Spirit has taught us, in order to understand this. Does God actually cause pain? Does He cause grief?  I think that there may be times like in the Bible (Jonah and Job come to mind) when God causes or allows pain directly. But I think perhaps there are more times that God lets us face the pain and the consequences that we have created for ourselves. "Deliver us from evil" is how He taught us to pray . . . Our own temptations can cause us pain. And I am not just talking about the pain we feel from eating that leftover pizza or those rich brownies at 2am.

Seriously, we can hope that we learn from our mistakes and the pain that God thinks (his ways are far above ours, remember?) that we need. 
And when we need help in that pain, He has all we need. All the comfort. All the peace. All the joy.

Jesus explains that we will have trouble in this world, but then He tells us, "take heart." In the King James it is translated "be of good cheer." That's a tall order, isn't it? Yes, it is, if we are not relying on Him! We often think of things in terms of happiness, though, when we should be thinking of joy. God offers us joy. Happiness is temporary -- we can find happiness in a hamburger and fries, or an awesome milkshake. We can find happiness when our team wins the ball game. Or when we look down and find a five dollar bill lying on the sidewalk. Happiness is short term.
Joy, however, is long-lasting. It's eternal. Joy is hearing our baby say "mommy" for the first time. Joy is watching the children God loans to us, as they grow up and mature into good, Christian citizens. And the ultimate joy is knowing Jesus as our personal savior; the ultimate in joyfulness is having a best friend that will always be there, and always offer us hope and unconditional love. Joy can help us weather the toughest storms, and make us certain that in spite of all of our pain, Jesus is with us.

When the happiness wears off, and the storm rages, but the smile is still on our face, then we know that we have the joy that only He can give. We know that He has all we really need.

How can we "take heart" in the midst of the storm? Jesus says, "I have overcome the world."
All that we need, He has. At the very end, we need victory. When our world trembles, and we tremble, too, remember that the Rock doesn't tremble. Our Rock will not move. He is the Rock of our salvation, and He will stand strong. On the terrible, wonderful day that Jesus hung on the cross, God gave us everything we need -- He gave us a Savior, His one and only Son. And on that day, Jesus won the victory and then gave the victory to us.

So, when we feel like the world is falling out from under us, and the walls are falling in, and everyone is out to get us, it does not matter. If Jesus is our master, we can say with all the confidence that Jesus said it, "I have overcome the world." Nothing can stop us now. Whatever we need, God has.
But we have to trust Him. We must believe that it is true. That's the kicker. And we'll talk about that next time.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

What are you listening to, today?

Are you singing with joy today? Are you making melody in your heart, and does that spill over your lips as you hum and sing to the Lord?
Music is an important part of how we worship our Father, and it keeps our thoughts turned toward Him.
I re-read this passage in Isaiah (Chapter 35), and wanted to share it with you:

                        The desert and the parched land will be glad;
                        the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
                        Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
                        it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
                        The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
                        the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
                        they will see the glory of the Lord,
                        the splendor of our God.
                        Strengthen the feeble hands,
                        steady the knees that give way;
                        say to those with fearful hearts,
                        "Be strong, do not fear;
                        your God will come, he will come with vengeance;
                        with divine retribution he will come to save you."
                        Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
                        and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
                        Then will the lame leap like a deer,
                        and the mute tongue shout for joy.
                        Water will gush forth in the wilderness
                        and streams in the desert.
                        The burning sand will become a pool,
                        the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
                        In the haunts where jackals once lay,
                        grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.
                        And a highway will be there;
                        it will be called the Way of Holiness;
                        it will be for those who walk on that Way.
                        The unclean will not journey on it;
                        wicked fools will not go about on it.
                        No lion will be there, nor any ravenous beast;
                        they will not be found there.
                        But only the redeemed will walk there,
                        and those the Lord has rescued will return.
                        They will enter Zion with singing;
                        everlasting joy will crown their heads.
                        Gladness and joy will overtake them,
                        and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

Surely that is enough to set us to singing!
So, what are you listening to, today?

Monday, January 19, 2015

John 16:16-33 He has what we need

Jesus went on to say, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.”
17 At this, some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” 18 They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.”
19 Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? 20 Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. 21 A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. 22 So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. 23 In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.
25 “Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father. 26 In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. 27 No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. 28 I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.”
29 Then Jesus’ disciples said, “Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. 30 Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.”
31 “Do you now believe?” Jesus replied. 32 “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.
33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

This is one of those passages where there is an awful lot packed in, for us to discover! You might find us lingering here next week, also. Let's dive in!

Many scholars and preachers refer to these chapters in John as the "Upper Room" teachings. Jesus has been trying to explain to His disciples exactly what is going to happen -- what must happen - in the coming days. He went to a lot of trouble to teach them, because He knew that there were some tough times ahead.  Now, sometimes He had to tell His disciples the same things, several times. Sometimes He had to rephrase things, or put it in terms of a parable. They just had trouble understanding their Master sometimes. And this is one of those times. But once He is finished, they "get it." They finally understand. And they finally believe it.

Jesus, as fully man and fully God, knew that the disciples, those closest to Him, would suffer because of their faith. Except for Peter and John, we lose track of the disciples after the Gospel accounts in our Bibles. If we look at ancient church traditions, we see that most of the disciples continued to spread the good news, and that they paid the ultimate price. John was exiled and died of natural causes, and Peter was crucified upside down during Nero's reign of terror, according to tradition. Phillip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Andrew, and James the son of Zebedee were all martyred.

Since Jesus knew that the disciples would face trials, persecution, and death, and would experience grief and pain, He comforted them. And He comforts us, as well, when we are having problems.

I read a story about a man named Jack who was walking along a steep cliff one day, and he accidentally stepped too close to the edge -- and fell off. On the way down, he grabbed a branch, and that temporarily stopped his fall. He looked down and realized that the canyon fell straight down for more than a thousand feet below him. He knew that he couldn't hang on to the branch forever, and there was no way for him to climb back up that steep incline. So Jack began to yell for help. He hoped that someone passing by would hear him, and lower a rope. He yelled for hours, but no one heard him.

We often feel like Jack, no? Be honest. I know, I can see you nodding your head.
We may feel like we are just hanging onto a tiny branch, and that no one can help. Maybe it's a situation where we work; maybe it's at school, or in our family life. Perhaps we are facing difficulties that we have created ourselves, and we have this awful feeling that we are hanging to that limb all by ourselves.

We may feel like no one will ever be able to help us overcome the difficulties we are facing. But we can take comfort in one thing -- the words of Jesus -- we can know that what we need, God has.

What we need, God has. Let that rest in your thoughts for a moment. Let's look at verse 33:

                        "I have told you these things...."

That tells us a great deal, right there. Who told us? The God Who created this world, and the universe around it. The Almighty, powerful I AM.  And He tells us a lot! God give us so much in His word. When we find ourselves in an impossible situation, we know that there is one place we can always turn to: the Bible.  We can open His word for advice. No matter what we are facing, what we need, God has.

Jesus goes on in that same verse:  " that in me you may have peace." In recent days, there has been a great deal of turmoil in our world, with senseless killings and violence that have shaken people's confidence and ability to move about and live their lives. Especially in France, there have been incidents of hatred and death.  Despite all that happens in our lives, and in our world, we have hope. God offers us His peace. Peace in the midst of pain, grief, and war. What we need, God has.

Jesus also told His disciples (and us) that "in this world you will have trouble." God has peace for us, but there will be pain.
We don't want the pain, do we?
We don't want the trouble, either.
We want the peace, and the comfort. But Jesus says we will have pain. There's a quote from Charles Spurgeon, the great evangelist, saying, "I dare say that the greatest earthly blessing that God can give to any of us is health, with the exception of sickness."
Yep.  I guess when we get right down to "brass tacks," God does not want us to waste our suffering. We learn from our mistakes, and also from pain. And God, Who knows us best, is well aware of this. We often wonder why God lets people suffer. Why does He allow pain and tragedy?  We don't know for sure. If any of us knew that, we'd have gone on lecture tour, written several books, and retired as a millionaire. (Grin) I don't think that any of us knows the full and complete reasons why He allows suffering. The reasons may be different in each situation. But what we do know is that He does allow it, and that through the suffering we can mature.
I've heard it called the ABC's of spiritual growth: Adversity Builds Character. We'll look at this more, next time that we study.  I'm not sure if I'm brave enough to go there alone -- I hope you will join me!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Friday slowdown

Some Christians feel that hymns are superior to worship music. Some feel just the opposite! Hopefully the mix of music types here on Friday slowdown each week will appeal to everyone. There are many types of songs and singers, and instrumental music has a place, as well.
I hope today's selection is a blessing.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

John 16:1-15, continued

We saw yesterday that the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sins, and then points us to a relationship with our Savior. Today we'll see what else the Spirit does . . .

He also gives us direction. We are given a source of truth, just as our verse yesterday showed us. We have a guide for living. We have a leader in uncertain times, and a light when the path grows hard to see. He shows us the footsteps of Christ, and leads us home.

                 He refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for
                 His name's sake.  (Psalm 23:3)

If we will listen, the Spirit will lead us deeper and farther into the truths that Christ wants us to live by. He takes the words of Jesus and places them into our hearts, and then helps us to apply them to our lives. He helps us to remember those words when they are sorely needed.

He also reveals Christ to us. He shows us what we need to see, and at just the right times. Have you a floodlight or spotlight on your home? Or have you seen one on a building?
What floodlights accomplish is far different from other lights, like stoplights. You need to see the stoplights, because they communicate an important message. They must be very visible. Floodlights, however, don't need to be seen. Not the light itself, anyway.  They can be placed where you don't notice them, but they shine on something that is important. You are meant to see the building or other thing that the floodlights are illuminating. They maximize the possibility that you will see that they shine on.
This is the role of the Holy Spirit, too. He is like a hidden floodlight, shining on the Savior, so that we can see Him.
And it's to our advantage that the Holy Spirit has come. Because He was fully God, but also fully human, Jesus was limited in time and space. But the Holy Spirit can be present everywhere, and He can be with everyone simultaneously. Where Jesus could concentrate His time and efforts on a few people here on earth, the Spirit will fill and indwell all who will welcome His presence.  Jesus ascended to heaven, and the Spirit is here, free to shine the light on this miracle, and to guide and direct us to Jesus.

Yes, the Holy Spirit is our Comforter, and our Helper. When we submit to Him, we will have all the help we need. We must remember, even though He is available, He does not turn us into robots. We can still be wrestling for control of our lives, and not submitting to His rightful place in our lives.

                    When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the
                     truth....  (John 16:13a)

Lord, help us to give heed to the Spirit and His guidance.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

John 16:1-15

We are studying the passage John 16:1-15 this week. Jesus is giving His disciples His final teachings before the cross. He knows there is a painful parting ahead. He knows that He is leaving them, and that it's going to be difficult for them. He even knows that they are going to behave poorly in the crisis that is looming before them.

But Jesus also knows that it's going to be better when He leaves. (Now, if I were one of the disciples, I'd be really confused by that, but instead, I'm here where I can read the Bible account and see that it all worked for good.) For three years, they had depended on Him for their very lives. They had been able to sit and walk and talk with Him, and ask questions. But Jesus, as Emmanuel, God with us, could only be in one place. And the Spirit, whom He would send, could be everywhere, and always available. In time, the disciples would realize that God's desire is to bring about the salvation of all people. Jesus would have to die, and to live again. Then the Holy Spirit would come.

So, who is this Holy Spirit? Who is this Friend?
Well, the Greek word that John uses is one that we may have heard before: paraclete. It means (basically) to "be called to one's side."  There are a whole slew of words that we use as synonyms . . . comforter, helper, advocate, intercessor, and companion. All of these describe different facets of the Spirit's ministry to us.
Let's look at the ways that the Spirit acts as our Friend.

The first responsibility of the Spirit happens even before we are Christians (this is one that He continues to do, after we are saved, though!).  We're talking about conviction of sin.
This is when the Holy Spirit acts like our prosecutor; He cross-examines us and refutes our excuses. But He does this as our friend . . . after all, aren't good friends the ones that can tell us bad news? That can look at us clearly and then gently tell us where we are going wrong?  Tells us who we really are, instead of who we are pretending to be?
The first thing He tells a person is that the greatest sin is that of unbelief. It's a hard fight, is it not? The fight to get rid of ourselves as the center, I mean. The Holy Spirit brings this conviction to us -- we must admit that He is God, and not us.

                 Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not
                  believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the
                  name of the only Son of God. (John 3:18)

So, if we do not believe, there is no hope for us.

The second thing our Friend tells us is that we have no righteousness without Jesus. First He tells us that we need a Savior, and then He tells us that we need Jesus for that Savior. He is the righteous One, and is the perfect sacrifice He offered. We just can't be good enough, no matter how hard we try. The standard is perfection -- God's holiness. So the Holy Spirit tells us that our righteousness isn't even close.
Then the Spirit tells us that God wants us to be in a relationship with Him, and brings us to repentance. And when that happens, there is "now no condemnation" for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Long before Jesus came, God spoke through Ezekiel with this good news:

                   And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.
                  And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart
                  of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my
                  statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

That is great news, isn't it? We don't have to rely on our own strength to walk the right path! We have His Spirit within us!
We'll finish this study tomorrow....hope you will join us.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Gems -- verses that inspire us

We humans have a saying, that something is like a "diamond in the rough;" a gem that is somehow not easily seen. It can be obscured by dirt on its surface, or it can be only partially exposed in a vein within a mine.

Each time we "mine" for verses in the Bible, we find gems. They may not be easily visible to us, or they may not be completely exposed to us, but with the Spirit's help, we can know these verses for what they are. They may exhort us to do better in some aspect of our lives; they may comfort us in a time of peril or stress. They may give us words when we are so joyful that words don't come easily.

Luke 17:20-21 was a gem for me recently -- here's the thought: He is with us!  Now!

                      Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would
                      come, He answered them, "The kingdom of God is not coming
                      with signs to be observed, nor will they say, "Look, here it is,"
                      or, "There!" for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of

Have you found a gem lately that you can share with us?

Monday, January 12, 2015

John 16:1-15

"All this I have told you so that you will not go astray.
2 They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God.
3 They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me.
4 I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you. I did not tell you this at first because I was with you.
5 "Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, ’Where are you going?’
6 Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief.
7 But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.
8 When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment:
9 in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me;
10 in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer;
11 and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
12 "I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.
13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.
14 He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.
15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.

This is a passage that speaks much about the Holy Spirit . . . there's a lot to learn here!

For many Christians, the Holy "Spirit" is interchangeable with the Holy "Ghost." Others are puzzled by the words.
After all, do you believe in ghosts?
I do.
The Bible tells us there is a spirit world, and it is composed of both good and evil spirits. The good guys are called angels, and the evil are called demons!

But, back to our story . . . in many translations we find that the Third Person of the Trinity is referred to as the Holy Ghost. And those translators may be just right on the money, since the word "ghost" in old Saxon (you know, the folks who came just before the King James who is famous for having the Bible translated) was actually the same as the word for "guest." No kidding! So I guess you could say that the Holy Spirit is the guest in our souls, or the Holy Guest. He will come to our souls without being asked, but He will not come IN unless we invite Him. He doesn't force Himself on anyone; He waits in love, and gently seeks admittance. His mission is one of mercy, peace, and joy, and His aim is to exalt Jesus.

Those are things the Spirit of God is. There are some other things that He is not:

He's not an "it." He has a distinct Personality, and He can be lied to, grieved, and hurt.
He's not a substitute for God, for He is God!
He's not imaginary. He is real, and very relevant, and oh, so important.

Sometimes people think that if they can't see or touch something, it isn't real, and it isn't important. I beg to differ. (Grin)
We can't see air, right? We can't touch it, either, not really feel it. We can feel it touch us, though. It can hold huge aircraft aloft. It can snap a tree into matchsticks. If it's pressurized, it can stop a semi-truck, break up slabs of concrete, and tighten the lug nuts on your car.
But you can't see it. You can't feel it. You can't even smell it, unless it is polluted. It's just air.
But it keeps us alive every minute of every day. If we were to be deprived of it for just five minutes, we would either be brain-damaged or we'd be dead. We simply can't live without it!

Well, the Bible calls the Holy Spirit the "breath of God."  And wind is used as a symbol for Him. Just because we can't see the Holy Spirit, it doesn't mean that He isn't here, or that He isn't real. In fact, He has important work to do. He is very active, and involved. He works with Christians, and with non-believers, too.

So, this week, let's study and see what Jesus says the Holy Spirit will do.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Friday slowdown

Our studies this week have touched on the hatred and persecution that we Christians must be ready and willing to suffer for our Lord. I could not find this hymn in a video, so I have included the words here. Blessings to all who stop, read, and ponder.
Father, in the name of Jesus,
hear our prayer for those in pain:
Scattered through the hostile nations
many suffer for Your name.
You have promised to Your people
opposition from the world.
Now sustain them, yes, protect them
by the truth found in Your Word.
Satan uses persecution
to instil a frightening fear,
threatening to destroy the body,
telling them that death is near.
Give them courage, noble courage,
never to deny Your name.
In the footsteps of the martyrs
may they spread abroad Your fame.
Raise up leaders in Your Church, Lord, 
people of integrity,
who will lead by their example
as You, Lord, want us to be.
May Your people in each nation
work in loving harmony.
Change the hearts of the oppressors,
break the yoke of tyranny.
Words: Hugh G Wetmore (c) 1999 (written for the annual International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church)

Thursday, January 8, 2015

John 15:18-27 continued

I hope you will look over our passage again, and then rejoin us. Go ahead. We'll wait!

Now we're ready . . . we are discussing Jesus' words describing how the world would react to us -- even though we are carrying the most wonderful message and gift the world has ever known, they will hate us. They will hate us because we are so different.
And because we insist on an absolute standard. Black and white -- with no shades of gray. Let's dive in!

                   Remember the word that I said to you, the servant is not greater than
                   his lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if
                   they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also. (Verse 20)

In some areas of the world today, the church is undergoing persecution. In some areas it is not. If not, it may be because there is very little difference to be seen, between the church and the world!
Some surveys show that there are few differences between the lifestyles of those who attend church, and those who do not. Church members wear the same styles of clothing, watch the same movies, get divorces just as often, buy just as many lottery tickets, have affairs and use unethical business practices. The world has so invaded the minds and hearts of Christians that the world sees little that is worth persecuting. How sad.

                   But all these things will they do to you for My name's sake, because they
                   don't know the One Who sent Me. (verse 21)

Jesus says that they hate Him because they don't know the Father. And they will hate us because they don't know Jesus. Let's dig deeper:

                   If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of 
                  sin: but now they have no excuse for their sin. (verse 22)

We can see that if Jesus had simply gone about healing and helping people, there would not have been any trouble here. But He did more -- He exposed their sin.
And then:

                   He that hates Me hates My Father as well. (verse 23)

We can't have the Father without the Son, or the other way 'round.

                  If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they
                  would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have
                  hated both Me and My Father. (24)

They heard what He said. They saw His lifestyle.  Both revealed their sinfulness. Now there was an absolute standard -- everything is to be measured against the standard that Jesus set. No grays, or shades of right or wrong will be allowed; it's black or white now. When we live a life that imitates Christ, it will remind the world of their own sins. They don't want to see a Christian who reflects God's holiness. They would rather hear, "we all sin. It's OK, you're trying hard."  If our lives reflect Christ, we are confronting them with a higher standard. That hurts. It reminds them of their shortcomings.

                 But this is to fulfill what is written in their law: They hated me without
                 reason. (25)

Remember when we were in school, and sometimes the teacher would say that they graded a test "on a curve"? The highest grade became a 100, even though there were mistakes on that paper. It created a whole new (lower) standard.
Jesus kinda messed up the curve -- He graded at 100 percent, and then everyone else had to be compared to Him. And that's what the world doesn't like. Being reminded of their sin makes them mad, and they can't take out their anger and hatred on Christ, so they will take it out on us.

                 When the Advocate (Comforter) comes, whom I will send to you from
                 the Father, the Spirit of truth Who goes out from the Father, He will
                 testify about Me. (26)

How can we make it in this hostile world? How can we survive the anger and hate that we will experience if we are reflecting Christ?  The Comforter will give us the endurance and staying power.

                 And you also must testify, for you have been with Me from the
                beginning. (27)

The Holy Spirit witnesses, and we witness. We can have a strength far beyond ourselves to keep moving forward in our Christian witness. And a witness is someone who simply tells what she (or he) has experienced.
Just "up the road" from me is The Cove, a place set aside by the Billy Graham organization for Christian retreats and studies. Billy Graham is now very old, and has Parkinson's. A few years ago, he told this story that reveals he understands that this world is not our home:

"I’m reminded today of Albert Einstein, the great physicist who this month has been honore by Time magazine as the Man of the Century. Einstein was once traveling from Princeton on a train when the conductor came down the aisle, punching tickets of every passenger. When he came to Einstein, Einstein reached in his vest pocket. He couldn’t find his ticket, so he reached in his trousers pocket. It wasn’t there. So he looked in in his briefcase but couldn’t find it. Then he looked in the seat beside him. He still couldn’t find it.
The conductor said "Dr. Einstein, I know who you are. We all know who you are. I’m sure you bought a ticket. Don’t worry about it". Einstein nodded appreciatively. The conductor continued down the aisle punching tickets. As he was ready to move to the next car, he turned around and saw the great physicist down on his hands and knees looking under his seat for his ticket. The conductor rushed back and said, "Dr. Einstein, don’t worry, I know who you are. No problem. You don’t need a ticket. I’m sure you bought one."
Einstein looked at the conductor and said, "Young man, I too, know who I am. What I don’t know is where I’m going."
Having said that Billy Graham continued, "See the suit I’m wearing? It’s a brand new suit. My wife, my children, and my grandchildren are telling me I’ve gotten a little slovenly in my old age. I used to be more fastidious. So I went out and bought a new suit for this luncheon and one more occasion.
You know what that occasion is? This is the suit in which I’ll be buried. But when you hear I’m dead, I don’t want you to immediately remember the suit I’m wearing. I want you to remember this:

This is the message that you and I are called to share with the world. The world, that is lost in sin. We know who we are in Christ, and we know where we will spend eternity. And we know how they can have the same assurance!

It's not a popular message. Most who hear it will reject it. Sharing the message may make us very unpopular with people. But we will be popular with the Christ who first brought it and received an even worse reception.
Let's endeavor to make this new year the year that we reflect Christ and witness to that world, that they, too, can know where they will spend eternity. With Christ, in glory!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

John 15:18-27 Really? They hate us? Oy.

We have a gift for the whole world!
Seriously, we do.
And nowadays, the world is all about self-esteem, warm and fuzzy feelings, and tolerance, right?
At least, not toward Christians.
And Jesus told us it would be that way:

                 If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you
                 belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do
                 not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That
                 is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is
                 not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute
                 you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They
                 will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the
                 one who sent me.  If I had not come and spoken to them, they would
                 not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever
                 hates me hates my Father as well.  If I had not done among them the
                 works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have
                 seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill
                 what is written in their Law: They hated me without reason. When the
                Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of
                 truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. And you
                 also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.
                 (John 15:18-27)

Something that confuses many Christians is the prevailing attitude of many non-Christians toward them. We'd like to think that since we are reaching out to the world with the most awesome message in all of history, that the world would applaud, cheer, and accept that message.
But most people are not waiting for the message with open minds and open arms -- in fact, Jesus told us that the world will not want us or our message. Take a deep breath here -- they hate us.
Really. That is what Jesus said.
But why?
One reason that the world hates Christians is because we are different. Look back up at our passage.

                  ...if the world hate you ....

The world is not the earth. It's the physical world that all of us live in. The word used here is "cosmos." It's root means to put in order, so the world we live in is organized, put in order. It's run by an intelligent "top dog" and his name is Satan. His main goal is to get this world in order, and to leave God out of it! So, the word "worldly" means to operate as if there is no God.

                You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world
                 means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a
                 friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.  (James 4:4)

The world has a litany of phrases: "forget about God," "do what comes naturally," "leave God out of this," etc.  You can't have that mentality if you are a Christian; you can't have God AND the world.

                 Don't be conformed to this world. (Romans 12:2)

Don't let anyone or anything squeeze you into the world's mold. You are a different-shaped peg than the hole they want you to fit into! Don't let the world tell you what to do.

Ooh. That sounded important to me. Did it strike you that way, too? How do you know?

How do you know when the world is telling you what to do?
Can you include God in what they want you to do? Anything that keeps you from including God is worldly, and you need to back away, hands raised. Don't even touch it.

As a Christian, what can I do? Anything that God can do with you. If your Savior has to wait outside the door while you do something, then DON'T!

What we love is what we will spend your time, money, and energy on. If very little of those are going to God, then God is not our top priority, is He?

                   If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you
                  do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That
                 is why the world hates you. 
The more we look like Christ, the more the world is going to treat us like it treated Him. We don't act, or talk, or think like the world does; we are so different that we are going to make the crowd uncomfortable. We won't be "one of them."
And we're not; we truly aren't "one of them." God has chosen us out by His grace and mercy. The concept of Christians living in the world, but not being of the world is awfully important. The ones who belong to the world are those who have become "at home" in the world. Life on this earth is all that they live for -- they focus on trying to accumulate the things of this world. Their desires and values are all wrapped up in power, possessions, and pleasure.
Our desires and values are very different.
We'll continue this tomorrow -- hope you'll join us!