Astonishing Love!

The Story

The divorce was over. 

Since then, Anita had done a lot of things she was not proud of but she had been rejected so long that she was looking for affirmation from anyone.  She used her body to get relief from the words that had played over in her head.  Her ex-husband had told her that ‘no one would ever want her’and she had believed him.  Somehow, now there was vindication.  Everyone wanted her body, but maybe he was right; did any of them really want her?

She had two little children and she was always careful to see that they were cared for, but this last time, when she didn’t know where they were frightened her.  She tracked them down and loaded them into the car.  They stopped at McDonald’s and got hamburgers and fries for everyone.   The drinks she had at the bar before she went home were wearing off.

She drove straight home and put the kids to bed telling them that she loved them.  As she did, she wondered how she would get off this crazy path she was on.  Anita loved her children and knew that the way things were now; she was cheating them of her time and training.  She had given that responsibility to others.

Going Home

When the call came that her Grandmother had died, she left work, picked up the children and put some things in a suit case and began the 28 hour trek to get back home.  She didn’t know it then, but she was headed toward love and freedom.

At the funeral, surrounded by the love of her family and friends, Anita took stock of her situation.  She determined in her heart not to go back to the crazy life she had been living.  She was making good money, but that didn’t make up for the longing in her heart.

Following Her Heart

She quit her job and sold her house over the phone.  She made arrangements with her parents to move in with them until she could get established.  She got a job right away.  Her Sister stepped up to watch the children when she was at work.  She would come home, tired and hurting.  Her bunions throbbing from all the time she was on her feet.  Her dear Mother would get a pan of sudsy warm water and kneel down to lovingly wash her feet.

Love

Her folks never asked questions.  They knew she was different; not the sweet innocent girl who had left their home.  She was worldly and sensual.  It drove them to their knees.  Yet to Anita, they never offered criticism or condemnation.  They only gave love and acceptance.  She was their daughter and they loved her and that was unchangeable.

What Anita did not know was that her Mom was not well, and soon she ended up in the hospital.  The doctor removed her gallbladder and with it 300 gall stones.  Anita had been so self-absorbed; she hadn’t noticed her Mom’s pain.  What remarkable love her Mom had sacrificed to her oldest daughter.

Today’s Lesson:

Anita’s parents showed the love of family.  They accepted her even when their hearts were aching at her condition.  This is a picture of the love of God for His family but it is only a small peek at the astonishing love that Father God has for His kids.

We Have An Enemy Who Lies to Us

Satan and his demons have taught us to believe that everything bad that happens is ‘an act of God.’  We have accepted the idea that God is just waiting for us to make a mistake so that he can lower the boom on us.  We fear Him but we don’t understand that we are supposed to reverence Him.  (That is what the word ‘fear’ means in the Bible – reverence and awe.)

When things are bad, we bargain with Him.  God, If only You will . . . and we make our request and  .promise to be good if only . ..  Father God knows that we can’t be good with our own effort.  He only wants us to love Him by accepting His Son Jesus and then He will change our hearts and our spirits; then being good will become second nature.  It is not about what we do.  It is about Who He is. 

The Truth – God Loves US

  • Every good and perfect gift is from above and from the Father . . .
  • He loves us with an everlasting love.
  • He is good and only does good.
  • He is love.
  • He has promised ‘no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’
  • His love endures forever.
  • We are His family.
  • We are children of the King.
  • He has given us everything we need for life and godliness.
  • He has forgiven ALL of our sin – past, present, and future!
  • He has made us ‘new creations.’
  • Our old life has passed away and all things have become new.
  • Even when the old habits in our flesh act out, He gently nudges us to turn to Him so that He can help us to be free.

We Live Far Below Our Privilege

The Scripture in Galatians 5:1 is haunting.  It says, “It is for freedom that Christ set us free!”  In church, we don’t see many people who were truly free.  Learning how much Father God loves us brings us to that freedom.

If you are struggling, join me in singing, “yes, Jesus loves me, yes, Jesus loves me,  yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so!”  Whenever we mess up, we can know that God’s love is always available.  Go to Him at once and receive His forgiveness.  It is always available.  Then sing that little chorus over and over again, until you begin to understand His astonishing love.

One Way – Only One Way

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Patrick was suddenly aware of the beautiful woman with crystal blue eyes and chestnut-brown hair.  She was stunning.  She was gracious and approachable.  People seemed to enjoy her presence.  He wanted to win her but had no idea how to do it.  He decided to go out and win the hearts of other women.  He felt that somehow, in this manner, he would learn to win the heart of his loved one.  He became a man of some reputation leaving a trail of broken hearts across the city.  Finally, he felt he was ready.

He had studied about her and knew where she would be.  He arranged to be there and to meet her.  He used all of the methods he had used in winning the affections of the other women.  She looked at him with tears brimming in those crystal-clear blue eyes and said, “Patrick, I saw you long ago and loved you.  I have watched as you have pursued other women and it broke my heart.  Now you come to me with all your experience and it means nothing to me.  All I ever wanted was you.  The way to my heart was clear.  You had only to come to me and I would have received you and loved you.”

Patrick’s face showed his dismay.  “Do you mean that you have wanted me all this time?”  “Yes, I have longed for you.”  Patrick asked, “Is it too late?”  “Dear Patrick, since you have found that there is only one way to my heart and that is to come to me and accept my love, I freely give it and forgive you all your previous efforts. ”

Today’s Lesson:

This is the way of our great God. He has provided one way – only one way – into His Presence.  He sees us pursuing false gods and his heart breaks. He knows that the enemy of our souls wants us to believe that there is more than one way to Him.

There is only one way and it is through the shed blood of Jesus.  He is the Doorway to Father God.  He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  No one comes to God, except through Jesus.

All we have to do is stop our self-effort and our self-focus and turn to Him.  He sent His only Son, Jesus, to pay the price for all of our sin.  He made it possible for any one of us, regardless of our past choices or beliefs, to come to Him.  The only qualification is that we accept what Jesus has done for us.  As we turn to Jesus, He provides us everything we need for life and godliness.  He loves us and wants to spend time with us.  He wants us to fall in love with Him and fulfill our destiny.

He knew that we needed Him and so He didn’t make it complicated.  He didn’t give a different way to one group of people and another way to another group.  He knew it needed to be simple and so He provided only one way.

The enemy likes to bring doubt and confusion.  He wants us to question everything.  Satan’s desire is to keep us off-balance and away from the One Way, Jesus.  He wants you to think Jesus is just an enlightened teacher or a prophet, but He doesn’t want you to know Him and the power of His blood.  But Jesus is not enlightened – He is the Light!  Jesus is not just a prophet – He is King of Kings and the Lord of lords!  Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.”  He is God!!!

Today, He is inviting you to come to Him.  He is waiting.  Just tell Him that you want to know Him and ask Him to make Himself real to you.  I assure you that He will.

Are You in the Way or is the Way in You??

Frank walked along the path in the early evening.  “It won’t be long before it is dark,” he mused, “I should be getting back.”  In a few minutes the sun was down and darkness was closing in rapidly.  He knew the path well, but the darkness began to conceal it.  He wished he had left home earlier or at least brought a flash light.

As he rounded the bend about one mile from the main road, a figure stepped out in front of him.  He could sense the size of the man, but couldn’t make out his features.  “Hello?”  The intruder didn’t speak.  “Excuse me,” he said as he tried to go around this silent interruption to his solitude.  The man grabbed him by the arm.  Alarm spread through Frank as he asked, “What do you want?”  Still there was no response.

Gathering his courage, Frank began to speak in soft tones.  “Sir, I don’t know why you have put yourself in my way tonight, but I have good news for you.”  The hold on his arm loosened slightly.  “You may not be aware that there is someone who loves you very much.  He lives in me an wants me to tell you that he understands and that he knows you are frightened and alone and that you don’t know what to do or where to turn.

He calls Himself the Way and I am His follower.  He knows that you thought to harm me by getting in my way tonight, but instead he wants to save you and has sent you to me, so that I could help you.  Won’t you please tell me why you are here and how I can help?”  For the first time, the man spoke, “My name is Stanley and I don’t know what to do.”

Frank thought he heard a sob escape from the man and he reached out and placed his hand over the hand the held him.  “It’s okay.  Let’s go get a cup of coffee and work this out.”

Today’s Lesson:

Frank knew who he had inside him.  He knew Him well.  Fear had tried to win the day when the tall anonymous man grabbed his arm, but he immediately turned to the One who lives in him and recovered his peace.  After whispering a brief prayer, he was able to share the Way out of the problems that Stanley was encountering.

This is what is possible to us when we lay aside religion and get to know Jesus.  He IS the Way, the Truth and the Light.  When the Way truly lives in us, we can be bold in the most threatening situations.  As long as we are alive, the love of Jesus can reach out.

Sometimes we are so busy judging the person who is in trouble that we don’t want to be around them.  There are many stories of people who go to church to find help only to be told they don’t measure up.  It is God’s job to judge the world and for believers there is ‘no condemnation.’  When we judge others, it clouds our thinking and keeps us from the love that sets us all free.

So the question for today is:  Are you in the way or is the Way in you?

We Are Made for Joy!

Mara’s baby had been sick for several months before he died.  Her hope for his recovery had faded slowly and when he died in her arms, it sucked the life out of her.  She had pushed away everyone.  Her husband came home on a hardship leave from his post in Korea, but he had to return a month later.

Dena was Mara’s neighbor who insisted on looking in on her.  When the baby was sick, Mara had given her a key that she never gave it back after the funeral.  If Mara wouldn’t answer the door, Dena would come in any way.  She would take over and open the blinds and air out the house.  She would put a pot of soup on the stove and begin to do the dishes.

When Dena walked in, this time Mara began to scream at her to get out.  Dena talked to her in a soothing tone of voice.  Mara screamed louder and began to jump up and down.  Dena waited until the fury ended and went to the distraught girl and took her in her arms and held her tight.  Mara began to sob.  She cried until she ran through the pent-up emotions.  Dena kept softly telling her that she loved her and that it will be all right.

Finally, Mara rose up and looked at her, “Really?  Will it ever be all right again?  How could God have done this to me?”  Dena knew this was not a time for reason, but she did say this, “Mara, you know God didn’t do this.  God is only good and he didn’t take your baby away from you, but He has your child now in His own strong arms.”

“I believe He has,” she sobbed, “but I miss my baby and my husband.  What am I going to do?” she wailed.

Dena looked at her and sighed.  “Dear girl, the baby has been gone for six months and your husband for five.  Brooding about this loss for such a long time is destroying you.  You were never meant to be sad and that is why it is so hard.  We were made for joy.  When we experience deep grief, it is important to find a way to get back to joy.  Do you know where joy is found? ”

Mara looked hopeless.  “If you want me to turn to God, I can’t pray.  I’ve tried, but I end up blaming God for all that has happened.  He took my baby and sent my husband to Korea at about the same time.  I am all alone!”  Dena said, “I know it is small comfort, but God has sent me to you.  You have never been alone.  He is with you and I am right next door and always as close as a phone call.”

Mara shook her head.  She couldn’t see any way out.  It was hopeless but as she listened to her friend, a glimmer of hope began to shine.  Finally she said, “I’ll try.”

Dena suggested that Mara take a shower and put on some clean clothes while she freshened up the house and then they would go out for lunch.  Mara shook her head indicating that she didn’t want to but slowly lifted her small body off the couch as if it weighed 300 pounds.  She obediently headed for the shower and stepped into the steaming hot water.  It felt good.  She poured shampoo in her hair realizing that she couldn’t remember the last time she had bathed.  She stood in the wonderful flow of warm water for a long time.  She felt she was being revived.

By the time Dena had finished changing the sheets and starting the laundry; Mara had fixed her hair and gotten dressed.  She looked better although her clothes were a loose from weeks of not eating.  She told Dena that she had prayed in the shower.  “I told God that I was sorry that I had been so mad at Him and asked Him to help me find my way back to Him.  I was amazed at the immediate peace that settled over me.  I feel better than I have felt since my baby left me.”  A small tear slipped down her check, but her eyes were brighter as she looked at her faithful friend.

Dena said, “Let’s go someplace really special.  What is your favorite restaurant?  She told her about a wonderful upscale restaurant in midtown and Dena said, “That’s my favorite too!”  Soon they were on their adventure.

Today’s Lesson:

When we go through difficult times, we tend to make them worse by isolating ourselves from our support group.  Mara pushed her friends and family away.  She was angry with God because she was alone; she never connected the fact that she had made it almost impossible for people to comfort her when her husband and baby left.

God never ever intends for us to spend months and months in grieving about loss of any kind.  He is always available to help us through the tragedies.  At one point in the Old Testament, he only allowed Israel to grieve for one month.  It is true that we need some time to deal with the change, but prolonged sadness grows and weakens us.  It becomes a place for the enemy to plant thoughts of hopelessness and victimization.

When we choose to run to Father God, His Presence brings us joy.  The more time we spend in His Presence, the more
joyful we become and he heals our wounds and binds up our broken hearts.  Scripture says, “The joy of the Lord is our strength.”

Mara had meditated on her pain and that always brings more pain.  When you feel the sadness over and over, the enemy helps us feel worse and worse and soon anger boils in our hearts.  Sometimes it results in destructive behavior.

Things weren’t all of the sudden wonderful in Mara’s life although she had begun her journey back from despair.  At times, she still had to fight the feelings of loss and loneliness, yet she has gone back to her church family and resumed her life.  She has even begun looking for a job.

Mara’s husband’s voice has sounded so relieved that last few phone calls.  He had worried about his beautiful wife and struggled with not being able to come home again but his tour of duty will be over in four months.  She is marking off the days on the calendar.

Dena still comes by and they have coffee and Mara is talking again about the baby and the pain.  She has learned the value of true friends and the joy of finding her peace in the Lord.

Until then, she is beginning again to spend time with her heavenly Father, Who never leaves her.

Focus is One of the Words for 2013

Nick loved football.  Every season he would watch every game – college and professional.  If he had time, he would go to the high school games in his community.  He focused every spare minutes on the adrenalin-laced games and heaven help his wife and children if they got between him and the television screen.  He would berate them and they would feel invisible and rejected.  He knew the names of all the players.  Soon his fanatic fixation had become the focus of his life while the neglected relationships around him quietly brought him chips and beer.  At dinner, his wife would tip-toe in and leave the hamburger and fries on the coffee table and retreat.

Eventually the marriage fell apart and Mom and Dad went their separate ways.  The children hated the divorce, but when they visited Dad, he still spent most of his time in front of the TV.  They are grown-ups now and while they love their father, they don’t feel they really know him.  He had not only been a spectator of sports that gave nothing back but he had been a spectator in his kids lives as well.  Does he have regrets?  You would have to ask him.

Today’s Lesson:

In our lives the circumstances are somewhat the same.  God is somewhat like the children in this story because He wants our undivided attention.  He promises that if we will draw near to Him, He will draw near to us.  He is waiting for us to turn off the television, the computer, the radio and to shut out all other distractions.  Father wants us to come to our quiet place and seek His face.  In our worship, we can put our focus on Him  As we listen, we will discover that everything we need, He has already provided.   It is ours for the taking just as the love the children wanted to share with their Dad was there if he had chosen to draw near.

We are to come boldly before the Father God’s throne of grace confident that as we seek Him, He will not be lost in a spectator sport or any other distraction.  We are the focus of His plan.  He wants us to be a fully functional family who focus our lives and love on Him.  We find that the Bible tells us that in His Presence is fullness of joy.  As we focus on Him, He will meet us and we will be the beneficiaries of His love and attention.

What are your focusing on?

Joy Full or Joy Less?

Pastor Joy Full walked through her living room thinking about the paradox of her name.  She had married John Full just before he left to go to Iraq.  He was only there for two months when she got the official visit.  He had been killed by a sniper in the line of duty.  The ‘line of duty’ made it sound okay, but it wasn’t okay.  In point of fact, nothing was okay.

She fell on the big leather chair that John had picked out before he deployed.  She shook her head.  Jesus was supposed to be enough, but right now, today, He was as distant as John’s memory. Once again, she spoke her name.  Joy Full.   Her name did not suggest who she had become.  She should have been married John Less or John Empty, then things would have lined up with who she is today.

Her husband had been so full of life; so like his name.  He loved the Lord with all His heart and he loved her passionately.  It was some comfort to know that He was enjoying life with the Heavenly Father.  It should have pulled her toward Father, but she hadn’t wanted to visit Him in the Throne Room lately.  She held him responsible.  How could He let this happen?

Joy knew that Father God didn’t cause John to die, but the Truth was not setting her free tonight.  She was due at the church in an hour for the Tuesday night prayer meeting.  The group spent more time talking about people than praying.  She chided herself for not being a better leader.  She knew the faithful would show up but she just could not face it.  Sue Ellen had a key.  She wouldn’t be missed.

She rubbed the arm of the brown leather chair.  “I miss you, John.”  She burst into tears!  She picked up her jacket, threw a few things in a suitcase, stopped by the bank and took out $1000 leaving a small balance.  After she had filled the car with gas she started driving.  She didn’t know where she was going, but she was fleeing her home, the church, and the pain.  She turned on the CD  player.  An old friend of the family, a pastor from her hometown, was teaching.  She had always found his voice soothing.  His Scripture was Proverbs 3:5, 6.  It was her life verse.

5Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.  6In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.

As she drove, tears rolled down her cheeks.  The ache in her heart, that she had ignored for these last two years, spread until she was sobbing uncontrollably.  She pulled off at a rest area and parked a good distance from the other cars.  She put the seat back and gave in.  She screamed at God.  “How could you?  I have lived my life for you!  How could you let this happen?”  Joy gasped for air, “John loved you and he loved me.  We served you!”  The rant went on for some time.  When she stopped, she listened but Father God was silent.

From complete exhaustion laid her head back and slept fitfully for thirty minutes.  She resumed driving.  Once she crossed the state line, she began to look for a place to spend the night and checked into a small roadside inn, paid in cash, and went straight to bed.

In the quiet of the morning, she saw the Gideon Bible on the night stand and she opened it.  It fell to Proverbs 3.  She smiled and breathed a sigh.  Her heavenly Father was letting her know that He hadn’t forgotten her.   “I know you heard me, Father,” she said.

She knelt on the floor by the bed and asked for permission to enter His Presence in the name of her big Brother, Jesus.  She crawled upon her Heavenly Father’s lap and poured out her heart.  She surrendered it all.  She gave Him the pain, the rejection, the loneliness, the emptiness, and her broken heart.  She told Him that she was sorry and that she knew that she would not heal until she gave up her right to this pain and the feeling that she was justified in holding on to it.

As she waited in His Presence, a sense of relief and joy began to fill her heart.  She recognized the grace and mercy of the Father’s love flooding her very being.  How foolish it had been to resist Him.  She knew that she would always miss John but the miracle of God’s love and mercy had pulled the stinger out of the pain.  She could release her hold on John and give him to the One who loves Him even more than she.

Pastor Joy Full felt God’s joy and for the first time in a long time, she was glad that John had blessed her with such a wonderful name.

Today’s Lesson:  In real life, the issues sometimes take longer to resolve, but when we fully release that which holds us to our Abba Father, (Daddy), then He takes the pieces and puts them together and we find ourselves even more complete and whole.  Joy is not the absence of suffering but the Presence of the Lord.

What holds you today?  What is it that you feel justified in nursing and rehearsing over and over again.  What is your private obsession?

Confirming Scriptures:

 

Psalm 77:1 – 6

1I cried unto God with my voice, even unto God with my voice; and he gave ear unto me.

2In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord: my sore ran in the night, and ceased not: my soul refused to be comforted.

3I remembered God, and was troubled: I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed. Selah.

4Thou holdest mine eyes waking: I am so troubled that I cannot speak.

5I have considered the days of old, the years of ancient times.

6I call to remembrance my song in the night: I commune with mine own heart: and my spirit made diligent search.

 

 

Jazzie’s Story

 Jazzie was a happy, light-hearted child.  She laughed almost from the day she was born and absolutely everyone was drawn to her.  She only cried when she really had a need and otherwise would play contentedly with her baby doll and her toys.  Her mother wanted to love her but she was so absorbed in the drama of her life that she hardly noticed the graceful, loving little person in her home.

As Jazzie grew older, the dysfunction of her home began to affect her.  There was shouting and anger all around her.  She would quietly slip off to another room to stay out-of-the-way of her older siblings and the adults in the house.  One day, the craziness became a part of her own life and the unspeakable things that she endured, broke her fragile and lovely heart.

She began to keep a low profile, but when things would begin to come apart, anger would rise up in her and she would try to protect herself to no avail.  Soon she reluctantly surrendered to the madness.  All through her growing up years, there was no joy and only survival.  She vowed never let anyone be able to hurt her and built walls around her heart.

Somewhere in the midst of the  pain, she made an agreement that ‘no one would ever love her.’  She had decided that she was not worthy of love.  She made another agreement also and it was ‘I am responsible.’  She felt that she could never trust anyone and she was in charge of herself.  These were very lonely decisions and they led her into deep bitterness.  She would see others falling in love and she would be jealous and hateful toward them.  When a young man would show interest in her, she would let him near for just a brief time and then she would wound him to protect herself from rejection.  A sense that she was powerful began to take root in her and she became prideful.  Everywhere she went, there was strife.

Empty and alone, she had opened a door in her heart that had been filled with an evil presence and often she felt as if it had taken control.  She didn’t know how to stop it and surrendered again.

She still had dreams.  Jazzie was very gifted musically.  She used to sing all the time.  She went to school to get her Masters in Music.   All of her compositions were dark and had an unsettling quality.  She was constantly comparing herself with the other talented students and felt something was missing.  This only deepened her rage.

What Jazzie didn’t know was that the God of the Universe loves her and He was longing for her to lay aside her anger, bitterness, pride and jealousy and turn to Him.  He had already forgiven her and all the people who had hurt her.  He wanted her to know that He was not mad at her.  He had sent people to her to tell her of His great love and He had many others praying for her.  He began to trouble her sleep and her dreams were filled with His voice calling her.

She didn’t know what was happening and still hung on to the hurt and the pain.  An old friend, who knew what her childhood had been, had an encounter with the Lord.  Her life was so changed that Jazzie could hardly recognize her.  She glowed with the life of God.  It hurt Jazzie to be near her.  She wanted her to die!  She didn’t even know why she felt that way.  It was all so confusing.  She knew next to nothing about the Lord and was a total stranger to the Bible.

Her talent began to be noticed and she took a trip to a nearby city to give a concert and spent the night in a hotel.  As she sat on the bed, she surfed the channels on the television.  There was nothing she wanted to watch.  Turning it off, she began to look for something to read and found a Gideon Bible in the drawer by the bed.  She opened it to 1 John 4 and scanned the verses.  She stopped at verse 7.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 

He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

 In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 

10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 

11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

She began to weep.  She really didn’t understand some of the words, but they by-passed her head and burned into her heart!

She knew that she did not love.

She searched her heart.  She did not love anyone.  Certainly she loved no one in her own family that had so wounded her.  She didn’t even love herself.

“God, if your real, please teach me how to love.  Come into my heart and change me.”  She felt a strange sense of peace that she had never known. She didn’t remember the happy, sweet child that she had been.

There was a flutter in her stony heart and it began to melt.  It was the beginning . . .

Minister of Death

The Pastor stood up in the pulpit.  He was a strikingly good looking man his hair graying a bit and a wonderful resonating voice.  He looked out over his congregation still reeling from the last counseling session is his office the day before.  How could anyone be so involved in so many sinful things?  He just didn’t understand.  Images had penetrated his mind that he just couldn’t shake.  He took a deep breath and began.

After an hour of coming against sin and admonishing everyone, by reminding them that every sin led to death, he begged them to give up anything in their lives that would cause them to come to judgment.  His own heart ached at the things he sometimes thought about.  He told them that “lust led to more lust, anger to more anger, dishonesty to more dishonesty, envy and strife to confusion and every evil work.”  He diagnosed their condition, but gave them no remedy.

He was quite worked up and the people sat in shock!  Their pastor had never before been so forceful.  Everyone sat in the pew, condemned and without hope.

This well intentioned pastor was a “minister of death.”

Today’s lesson:  When we try to be good enough, there is always someone to point out that our efforts are futile.  It is a misery that shows us exactly why God gave us the Law.   It is a bit like the diet started on Monday morning.  After you eat something that is not in the plan you just think, “Well, I blew it, I may as well finish that cake I made for the family.”

The purpose of the rules of the Law was to teach us that we can’t do it on our own.  All of our attempts, at keeping the whole Law,  end in frustration and disappointment.    Lifting up sin never leads us to freedom.  The Bible tells us that when we lift up Jesus, He will draw all of us to Him.

The pastor drew no one to the Lord that day.  He showed them their utter hopelessness without the Lord of Love.  His own sin loomed bigger and bigger as he spoke the words of judgment and condemnation over his listeners.

Jesus offers us grace which produces life.  Our job – our work is to believe on Jesus that God sent.  (John 6:29)  Our work is believing.  His work is doing in us what needs to be done.  Believing and trusting in Him sets us free.

So, do you want to be a minister of life or a minister of death?  Telling people all that they have done wrong never changes them.  We are told in Scripture that “the goodness of God leads people to repentance.”  Rom 2:4.  Repentance is a Bible word that means change.  It is turning away and turning around.  We look to Jesus instead of our sin.  We look to the Father instead of our own personal strength and ability.  We trust it all to Him.

As we turn to Him, His life – the ‘zoe’ life of God – grows bigger in us and we become freer and freer.

Why does the church minister death?  The Apostle Paul said, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel.”  (Galatians 1:6, 7)  This precious pastor never meant to lead people to a different gospel and a different Christ, but ‘there are some who want to trouble us and pervert the gospel.’  There is a demonic realm that interferes with us and we must be ever vigilant.  He wants to steal our freedom and put us back under condemnation.

There is only one Gospel.  It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His Grace and  Love.  It is not about our sin.  It is about how He purchased us out of sin with His own blood and lavished His grace upon us.  Now we share with Him all of theblessings that Father God has provided for us.

‘I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing therefore, choose life that both you and your descendants may live!’  Duet 30:19  It is a generational promise!

I Surrender Some . . .

The musicians began to move from praise to worship music and the words went up on the overhead.  “I surrender all, I surrender all.  All to Thee my blessed Savior, I surrender all.”

Travis took a deep breath.  He had surrendered his time by teaching the young people.  He had surrendered his money by giving generously to the church and to rescue children from the sex trade and support children in India.  He had surrendered his talent by singing in the church choir and even occasionally performing a solo.  He had surrendered a lot.  He studied the Scriptures and could quote them with ease.  He had surrendered more than most, he thought.

He was somewhat proud of his ability to argue doctrine.  He disdained those whose opinion was different from his. He judged the preachers on television and even judged his own pastor.   He had given Jesus his whole head, but what he didn’t realize was that what God wanted was his heart.  Something about the song began to disturb him.  He sang out the words with his usual enthusiasm, but the band kept playing the tune over and over and over!

He began to examine his own heart and he found that it was closed and dry.  He changed the words to “I surrender some . . . “  Tears began to slip down his face.  He tried to get control.  He didn’t want anyone to see.  He wanted the song to stop!  He was, after all, the ‘go-to’ guy with all the answers, but it was too late.  The tears were flowing freely now.  Without any volition on his part, he found his feet moving toward the altar and there in front of everyone – all his acquaintances and friends – all that he had judged and disdained, this hard-hearted guy fell to his knees sobbing.  Shockingly, he didn’t respond to an altar call by the pastor, yet he found himself on the floor in broken-ness.  The worship team was still singing, “I surrender all . . .” and this tough, arrogant guy was being changed.

For the first time, Travis, felt the breath of the Holy Spirit flood his soul and he was swept into the arms of His loving Father through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Travis had surrendered his heart and his soul.  He was made new.

Today’s Lesson:

Today, there are many people sitting in the pews in churches who have prayed a prayer with their heads and think that they have something.  They go about doing good and thinking they are special.  They don’t know the One they think they are serving and this is a tragedy.   When Travis prayed the first time, it was with his head.  The Scriptures tell us that when we call on the name of the Lord, it must be with our whole heart and not our whole head.  Father doesn’t want just ‘some’ part of us.  He wants ‘all.’

If we have not entered by the Way that Jesus opened by His death on the cross, when the day comes, and we stand before the Lord, will He say, “Depart from me, I never knew you?”  The wheat and the tares – the real and the counterfeit – serve together in any local church.  So, as leaders and pastors, what can we do?  Is there an answer?

First, it is important that we examine our own hearts to see if we are fully surrendered and fully awake.  Have we walked with the Lord so long that we are more into the organization and the management end of things than we are into spending time in His Presence?  Are we lifting Jesus up in every service?  Are we drawing near?

The worship team in our story was fully prayed up and the anointing that rested on them lifted Jesus higher and the convicting power of the Holy Ghost was on hand to convict and to save.  When one of the prayer team knelt beside Travis, he just put a hand on his back and prayed quietly while the man wrestled with his flesh and came to full surrender.

When Travis finally stood up, the stress and arrogance were gone.  He had met the One who created him and he had changed his citizenship.  Somehow now, all of the things that he thought about his ideas and reputation didn’t matter.  He was made brand new.

Related Scriptures:

Romans 10:9,10   

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.

Matthew 7:21-23

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

1 Corinthians 13:3
And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

Psalm 51:10-17

10Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

 11Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy Holy Spirit from me.

12Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.

13Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.

14Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.

15O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.

16For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.

17The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

Father Longing . . .

The divorce happened when the children were young.  She hoped it wouldn’t be too hard on the kids but she watched as her son begged for them to try once more.  As young as he was, he felt like he had caused the rift between Mom and Dad, but it just wasn’t so.  His tender nature wanted peace and longed for the family to be one.  He ached but he didn’t let Mom see the depth of his pain. Dad moved out and moved on.

I don’t know when she first knew the extent of his pain, but by then there was little she could do about it.  She tried not to talk about her own pain within his hearing, but she was not always successful.  He longed for his father and he loved his mother.  He was a tender spirit and hungry for a family.  When Dad remarried and then later Mom remarried, he made every effort to fit in so that his desire for a family might actually happen.

When he married, he determined to make things work – at any price.  In the beginning, he and his wife got along well.  He indulged her.  They were a two career couple and all went well until they had a child.   As he neared forty, he thought they had developed as a couple and were strong enough to ensure a stable family unit.

 After the baby came, she became depressed.  Worse yet, they were totally unprepared for the difference in their child rearing philosophy.  The change in their relationship hit him like a baseball bat to the gut!  The wall between them got higher and wider.  One day, she announced that she was no longer interested in maintaining the relationship.  His world crashed.

People long to find that one relationship that fulfills and doesn’t wound.  Fear of being hurt keeps us from trusting and we isolate or we just have random encounters.  Once in a while, someone talks to us about Jesus but skepticism believes it is just one more road to disappointment.  No father, mother, or spouse ever proved faithful and by extension God must be the one who was ultimately responsible for the pain.  How can we trust the One who calls Himself Father?

Today’s Lesson:   What we don’t understand is that God is Love.  Really!  The love of God is rich and pure and measureless.  His loving kindness endures forever.  He longs for us more than we long for Him.  But like any relationship, He won’t force Himself on us. He waits for us to draw near.  Then He reciprocates.

Father risked giving us free-will so we could choose to love Him like He loves us.  So the boy who became a man and a father can choose to love Him or not.  He may not understand that it is the only answer that will satisfy,  If he continues on his own, there will still be a longing in his heart and Father God will never quit longing for Him.   He will quicken His servants to pray for the young man, his ex-wife and their child.  He will send some to lift up Jesus in their presence and so draw them to Himself. 

The condemnation this young father feels will keep him focused on himself.  He will lack confidence  and will live from his soul.  He will hunger for the approval of others.  At last, if he runs out of options, falls to his knees and calls on the name of the Lord from his heart and faith enters, the love of Father God will wash over him and he won’t remember why he didn’t call out sooner.

When this happens, it is the beginning of fulfillment of the longing in both this young man’s heart and in Father God’s heart as well.

If you have a loved one who is far away, keep loving them and praying for them.  I have received comfort from the song that says, “The boy is reachable;  the girl is reachable.  To God he’s visible.  All things are possible.  If God can reach His hand of love through time, Touch an old sinner’s heart like mine, The boy is reachable, I know he’s reachable.”

Related Post:

Deep Calls to Deep

Confirming Scriptures:

John 12:32
And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.

Ezekiel 34:16 

I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick . . .

I Sam 2:30 – . . . or those who honor Me I will honor. . .

Deuteronomy 5:29
Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!

Psalm 10:17
O LORD, You have heard the desire of the humble; You will strengthen their heart, You will incline Your ear

Psalm 13:5
But I have trusted in Your loving kindness; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.

Psalm 14:1
The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”

Psalm 27:8
When You said, “ Seek My face,” my heart said to You, “Your face, O LORD, I shall seek.

Psalm 37:4
Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart.

Psalm 69:32
The humble have seen it and are glad; You who seek God, let your heart revive.

Psalm 27:8
When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, LORD, will I seek.