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In loving pursuit

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Do you have prayers you have prayed for years, still waiting for an answer? I know that I’m not the only one.

While I realize that God’s timing is perfect and His ways are high above my own, I have to admit that sometimes I get discouraged because I don’t see the answers coming fast enough. But I reason I can’t hurry God, because I want His answer and not my short-sighted one. So I continue to pray.

I have been struggling with those prayers I offer for the people I love that do not put their faith in God or know Him personally. The struggle is real because I know we are called to share our faith. I share in the best way I know, but I also sense when it is time to back off and hold my tongue. I don’t want these people to feel annoyed if I would keep pushing when the response isn’t receptive. But my heart hurts because I want to see them in heaven someday, and I know they could be enjoying relationship with God now. I so want them to know the joy of walking with God and the blessing and provision it brings.

This is where Proverbs 3:5-6 comes in: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.

In other words, I cannot lean on my own understanding that God might not want to answer this prayer, or to answer it now. I need to continue trusting that God is already at work and that He has a far greater love for these people than I am even capable of.

Sunday’s message was a “red X” story of how God lovingly pursued Joey Gerarden through years of alcohol abuse and addiction. Joey didn’t really know God and didn’t know how to look for Him, but he had amazing stamina and resilience as he struggled on his own, again and again. Though he was resourceful in managing the only life he knew, trouble followed him even as he tried to run from consequences. If you missed Sunday’s message, please watch the video to find out what finally made Joey realize he needed Jesus in His life, and how things began to fall into place after that.

Joey’s is another beautiful story of God’s redemptive power and an amazing reminder of how God is right in the middle of situations that might otherwise seem “hopeless.”

It warmed my heart and made me think of a verse that has often encouraged me -- Isaiah 65:1,

“I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.’

Ah, yes! God is already at work. He knows all, loves all with an unfailing love. He is never without hope, without mercy or without a solution. He is never aimless, careless or powerless. His resources are abundant, His patience plentiful, and His energy is bountiful. Even if we must wait for God’s perfect timing, we can trust and know that He is already in loving pursuit.

Thank you, God!

Yoked

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I have a confession to make.  I am tired.  Tired of loading the dishwasher. Tired of picking up clothes and shoes that were discarded in the middle of the floor. Tired of planning meals that I am tired of cooking.

I am worn out. I am worn out from carrying the weight of my daughter’s chronic migraines. I am worn out from trying to meet expectations at work and at home. Expectations not created by others but by me.

I am burned out on all my doing. I am burned out from trying to prove that I am enough. I have allowed my striving to rob me of intimacy and connection with Jesus and the people around me.  I have allowed it to rob me of fun.  I don’t live like I am free.

This morning, I decided to stop the cycle. I decided to intentionally stop and spend time in God’s Word.  When I picked up my phone bible, there was an email notification on my screen that caught my attention. It was an email announcing the launch of a new devotional study by Jennie Allen, called “Proven.” These words penetrated my heart; “I don’t have to prove anything because Jesus proved everything.”

Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG) says, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Jesus provided the solution. (Of course, I already knew that Jesus was the answer, but my actions were not reflecting that truth.) In this verse, Jesus says, “come to ME,” “get away with ME”, “walk with ME, “work with ME,” keep company with ME.” The voice bible translation says it like this, “When you are yoked to Me, your weary souls will find rest.” What would it look like for me to live “yoked to Jesus?”

As I understand it, a yoke is a piece of wood that connects two animals together as a team, for the purpose of plowing. I don’t know how agriculturally accurate this is, but it brought to my mind a picture of being connected to Jesus as a team, working together, moving in the same direction. When my connection to Him is that close and constant, he can help carry the weight. He can steer my direction. He can help me keep going when I don’t have the strength. He is literally working with me all the time in everything I do. I am not enough by myself, but He is enough through me. He makes me enough.

I needed this reminder today. Jennie Allen sums it up well, “Jesus is saying, Keep coming back to Me and I will keep satisfying you. And out of that life with Me, you will overflow and bring life to others.”

 

 

 

 

 

Our empty words

In this second message of the Impact series, Pastor Troy talked of words that build up and words that tear down. He shared several scriptures aimed at watching the words we say. The one that really got me was Matt 12:36, where Jesus said:

“But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.”

I really do aim to encourage and respect others with my words. Often these words are full of love. And I tend to avoid conflict until I know there is no other way. But the empty words… which ones are those?

First I thought of times I grumbled. Maybe it was easy to do along with everyone else who was unhappy about something. It doesn’t matter. These are times I had the opportunity to find the positive or be grateful and instead I took the easy way out.

Then I remembered times I spoke too soon but should have reserved comment. I had judged before I heard the rest of the story, not just the part I saw or heard with my own eyes and ears.

There are times I took Satan’s bait and took offense to something that wasn’t worth worrying about.

There are words I’ve spoken when I was too tired or too hurt to wait for a better time to have a thoughtful conversation. There were times I spoke and my tone was not loving, and this brings emptiness.

I painfully recalled times I tried to joke and it came out lame. Did someone get hurt by misunderstanding my careless words? There is no humor worth that.

I recalled times of doubt and saw the ill-chosen words that circled in my head like vultures watching for a place to land. Why did I let them circle? That’s how believing a lie begins.

Then I remembered the lies I let live inside. Something like, “You’re not good enough.” Those were the emptiest words of all. And whether I repeated them or just thought them, the damage was not pretty.

With conviction, I thought of all these empty words and the impact they’re having, rather than the impact that could be happening if my tongue behaved better.  

“Holy Spirit, remove these empty words as far as the east is from the west,” I prayed. “Create a pure heart in me and fill it with your love so that is what flows out from me.”

Woods and waters

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All the canoeing and camping visuals at church for this series pull at a special place in my heart. This was us -- Ted and me. We often watched the sun set or enjoyed the northern lights while out in our canoe. The woods and waters fascinated our hearts and drew us deeper in relationship with our Creator and each other.

Meander back with me to our Labor Day weekend 2012… It was glorious weather for camping. Ted and I usually invited others along, but somehow this outing was a gift just for us. God blessed us with so many simple pleasures that special camping weekend -- the one that turned out to be our last.

We heard the hoot-hoot-hoot of an owl as we stretched out on our sleeping bag late the first night. A full moon greeted us through the canopy of our tent.

In the very early hours of morning, we heard the mystical croon of the loon -- for hours and hours. One of the absolute best perks of camping was hearing this beautiful sound of the north as we drifted in and out of dreamland.

As the morning sun ushered in the day, we made coffee on our camp stove and brought it out in the canoe.

On the placid river, we watched a great blue heron fish for breakfast and then shake its head to help swallow down the big catch. A small bird perched in the bushes thrust its head back and let out a long melodious warble. A mud hen floated in the bog, then went under cover as we glided near. A loon and her baby swam together, separately disappearing under the water and popping up in new spots, the baby peeping for his mother.

We talked of how it was nature's perfect "worship service." Tranquility. Peace. Harmony. The heron was a sterling example of patience and perseverance. The songbird exuded joy. The loon added its melodic voice to the worship. What a great picture it was of how well God provides for all His creation.

We cooked a savory brunch of bacon, potatoes and veggies in foil as Ted poked and tended the fire. Later, he grinned like a kid as he played with a pine bough in the fire, watching it crackle. Our little dog Nikki chased the chipmunks that teased her.

As we often did, Ted and I alternated in a free-flowing, conversational prayer as we gazed upon the captivating fire. We lifted family members, friends and situations around the world, placing them in God's capable hands, one by one. We expressed our gratefulness for the simplicity of our surroundings, the beauty of all creation giving Him glory. How we loved our lives together – this was us – enjoying God in His place of priority.

Looking back, these times in the woods and waters gave me a greater appreciation that God has a magnificent plan and He knows how everything fits. Oh, how I long to be out there again, among the green and growing woods, and the clear and flowing waters, trusting Him with all that's on my heart.


Our God and Creator, thank you for your sense of order, your attention to detail, your bountiful provision, your abundant refreshing! All are so evident when we take the time to look. Your thoughts and ways are so high above ours. Your faithfulness guides us where we need to go. I will trust YOU.

What is worship?

“We often make the role of music in the church synonymous with worship,” said Bobby Coverston. Yet nowhere in the Bible does it connect the word ‘worship’ with music. Instead worship has everything to do with the heart, with sacrifice and with bowing down. And the word ‘praise’ is often connected with music.

“As worship begins in holy expectancy, it ends in holy obedience. Holy obedience saves worship from being an opiate, an escape from the pressing needs of modern life.” This quote by Richard Foster tells us to come with our hearts open and warns that we can’t use worship as an escape.

At a Maranatha worship leaders conference years ago, Bobby heard a definition that stuck with him: “Worship is an outward posture that reflects and inward attitude and an outward attitude that reflects an inward posture.”

Bobby went through a quick history of worship, beginning with Genesis 4, where Cain and Abel offered worship without prior instruction. In the time of Moses, more instruction was given. In essence, it was about focusing on God in their hearts; remembering who God was and that He deserves the best.

In later times David introduced music. He was an accomplished musician and wrote many of the psalms. In fact, the word ‘psalm’ means to pluck a string.

Synagogue worship went on for years until people eventually lost the meaning behind why they were doing it. They treated it as an obligation or ritual, and often lost the focus on God and bringing their best.

Many years later, Nehemiah, standing on a high platform, read from the Book of the Law, which served to remind the people what worship was intended to be about. The people took the message to heart, shouted ‘Amen’ and bowed down in worship.

In the New Testament, after Jesus had come to earth, the book of Acts recorded the spread of the church, and the people felt a new invigoration of who God was.

Then in Romans 12:1-2 Paul stated, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Bobby landed on the phrase, “in view of God’s mercy,” reminding us that is why we worship. He suggested we could finish the sentence from wherever we are in life today, such as:

  • In view of God’s mercy, in the middle of my financial struggles, I will worship you, God.
  • In view of God’s mercy, in the middle of my destructive behaviors, I will worship you, God.
  • In view of God’s mercy, in the middle of my loved one’s cancer, I will worship you, God.

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” This is a quote from A. W. Tozer in The Knowledge of the Holy.

If we are to love the Lord with all our hearts, souls, mind and strength, what does that mean? It’s not just in our heads and in our innermost being – it is to involve all of us (offer your bodies as a living sacrifice) and is to show outwardly.

What is Worship is a good article by Michael Morrison that Bobby read at Troy’s recommendation. As we ponder what it looks like to get worship ‘right,’ we should look to Jesus as the one who is doing it right. He is the perfect solution to imperfect people. Apart from Him we can do nothing, but with Him it is right because He is the perfect sacrifice. We can look to Him as our example. He is worthy of all our worship.

His thoughts and His ways are so far above our own thoughts and our ways. But we can trust Him, and even when it hurts, we can still worship and praise God.

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