Of First Importance

1 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures… (1 Corinthians 15:1-3; NASB)

It’s been a week since I have written and that saddens me because my not writing is a direct result of not properly prioritizing.  I have a big deliverable for work due tomorrow so for the past week and a half that has been my focus, what I set my schedule off of, what I prioritized other things against…you get the idea.  In doing so, I have taken my focus off the things that matter…mainly Jesus.  In doing so, what I have found is my whole attitude, thoughts, and actions changed.  I got less patient, I am more frazzled, I become short-tempered…in general I am less productive both physically and spiritually though I am “busier”.

It took a conversation with a sister in Christ, a great bible class, and a an encouraging message from God’s word…all delivered yesterday…to soften my heart, reset my focus and get me back on a path that leads me along life’s events with Jesus.

I know that I am not the only one who falls into the busy snare that the devil sets out so I know you will have grace on my not writing and I hope that you will find encouragement in knowing that you aren’t the only one who is struggling with “busy” and that Jesus is but a prayer away.  Stop, take a breath, let Him grab a hold of you and walk with Him.  He has already lived and died for you.  Let Him live with you.  It is the first, most important and only thing we need.  Love you all!

Eternal Fellowship

1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life— the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us— that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.  This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.  If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. (1 John 1; NKJV)

In writing this morning, what is on my heart is the fellowship I have with my brothers (and sisters) in Christ and how powerful that is.  In studying this at one point, I came across a statement that hit home “Fellowship is a mutual bond that Christians have with Christ that puts in a deep, eternal relationship with one another“.  Our relationship with Jesus is the foundation of our relationship with each other and truly if we are gathered in His name and His purpose then He is there too.  That is enough for me to think about for a long time to really examine myself, my relationship (with Jesus and my brethren), my thoughts, my actions, and my overall attitude.

I want to move past that for now and just encourage you and I to see the profound value of our relationships in Christ, the absolute need for these relationships, and how much the devil wants us alone or fighting against these relationships.  Biblical teaching is about multiples…God does not want us to be alone and warns us of all the dangers of being alone and acting alone.

In a dark world, there is no safe place except for Jesus and in Him our relationships with fellow believers.  These relationships should be safe and if we don’t feel safe then something is wrong.  We should be able to be completely vulnerable and confess to each other and expect love, understanding, grace, mercy, forgiveness, encouragement, prayer….that is what we get from Jesus!  If we are looking to Him in our own life and allowing ourselves to be filled with His Spirit…we will then be able to humbly go to one another and be prepared to pour out what God has given us freely.  Not of ourselves…but of God.

If we are walking around thinking that we need to be perfect and get it all right ourselves…we are being deceived.  If we are not confessing to each other and we are trying to carry all of our troubles alone…we are failing and the devil is winning.  The devil wants the sheep separated, scattered and alone…easier prey and higher likelihood of success in destroying.  And that is what he does…the devil is a setter of snares, one who scatters and a destroyer.

I love my brothers and sisters in Christ.  I flourish when I am with them, vulnerable, and building while being built up.  I am at my worst when either I leave that environment or struggle to find it due to other’s behavior.  I am committed, however, to tighten my armor and get back to the fight and relish the touch of a brother/sister on my left and on my right as we stand together for Jesus and fight the good fight to His glory and our salvation.

Encouragement

1 Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their GodAnd God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)

Revelation was written to encourage the 1st Century Christians as they suffered under the severe persecution of the Roman Empire.  There is much to study and to learn from the book and I believe it is also given as an encouragement to us.

There are many of us who have loved ones that are very sick, hurting, or are otherwise in a very tough spot.  We love them and we want to help them but in truth there is only so much we can do.  Cancer, mental illness, physical disabilities, emotion abuse are the ones that come to my mind as I think about those I love who are either suffering or have someone who is suffering.  It breaks my heart overall and as I consider each case and the impact of the situation hurts me even more.  I dare say it makes me mad on some level though that is a fruit of the flesh and not the Spirit.  The Spirit, if I am focused as I should be, brings me peace, comfort, and encouragement.

As I think about it, I hurt because of the pain but I rejoice because I know that in the end, every person on my mind who is suffering is going to be ok when they go home to Jesus.  With that said, as I turn to those that are caring for them, love them, or otherwise affected by their loved one’s suffering…what can I do there?  Of course I can say encouraging things, I can pray for and with them, I can just generally be available, compassionate, and loving.  That is a lot and I should do more.

What I also want to do today is encourage everyone who is reading this to take time throughout the day and pray for those we know are suffering physical, mental or emotional pain.  Pray that even though they may not be able to pray or read scripture, that verses like these would fill their heart and God would comfort them through the power I know He has and will use for His children.  I believe everyone that is in Jesus is going to be ok in eternity and I believe our God is willing and able to comfort His children who are our loved ones in ways we cannot see or fully understand.  I believe that and I think we can find comfort in it.

It is not about us and it is not about now.  We cannot do it all and thankfully He has done it all.  Take heart and pray with me for all our loved ones and their families in these difficult times.

Anchor

19 This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, 20 where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6:19-20; NKJV)

There is a hymn that is probably familiar to many of you titled “Will Your Anchor Hold?”.  The chorus is:  “We have an anchor that keeps the soul.  Steadfast and sure while the billows roll, fastened to the Rock which cannot move, grounded firm and deep in the Savior’s love.”

There are so many great thoughts throughout the song about our Anchor being in heaven, that the cable of the Anchor passes between His heart and mine, that it is in the Savior’s hand, anchored fast to the heavenly shore,  that it is safely moored in the bright harbor to the city of Gold and much more.

The song also talks about the billows of life, strife, rising tide, strain, and raging tempests representing our struggles and challenges in this world.  Still, the Anchor holds beyond the veil in heaven where God is and we have access to divine power.

Of course others can’t physically see our Anchor or the cable passing between Jesus and us.  But they can see us holding firm with hope and peace even though the life around us is raging and hard.  They might not be able to see our Anchor but if we hold fast because we hold onto Jesus, there is a good chance someone is going to ask us how we could possibly be ok and then we get the chance we are looking for and just maybe the whole reason the storm is raging in our life in the first place…to share Jesus and our hope in Him.

Our Anchor is true.  We just need to stay connected to it and tell others why we do.  Hold fast brothers and sisters!

Trouble Free Heart

1 Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.”  Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?”  Jesus said to him, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. (John 14:1-6; NKJV)

There are several passages in John that remind me that Jesus has already done, is continually doing, and will most certainly do all the work required for my salvation.  In John 15, Jesus says to “abide” in Him.  He tells us that He has already saved us and what we need to do is put our whole life in Him and we will be safe now and in eternity.

Here, Jesus says “believe” and if we believe then we will not be troubled in our heart.  What do we believe?  We believe that Jesus came as a man, lived a perfect life and died on the cross without sin and as a sacrifice for all of our sin.  That perfect sacrifice was required and accepted by God for forgiveness of all the sin ever committed.  God the Father and Jesus the Son took away that what separates them from us.  In obedience to the gospel, we are saved so we do not need to be troubled.

Jesus came and He went…and because that is true we can be confident He will come again and when He does He will rescue those who faithfully believe in Him.

Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and if we make Him our way, our truth, and our life then He will comfort us today and rescue us from the second death.  We will live with Him, the Father, and all our brothers and sisters in heaven for eternity.  I hope this lightens all of our burdens and puts a spring in all of our steps today.

Strategic Pause

14 Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 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 4:14-16)

Strategic pause is a phrase I have heard both in the Air Force and in the Army.  The idea is that operations are so high and people are busy that there is a need to take break or stop long enough to check and ensure that everyone is okay, take care of different housekeeping items, ensure everyone is on the same page and that the organization is going in the right direction.

This sounds like life to me as well.  Life is busy.  Life can get hard and the burdens seem to far out weigh the rests.  We can get off track and focus on the wrong things.  There are times we need a pause.

I would argue we should pause before we need to pause.  I believe that is what God wants of us.  He wants us to come to Him often and with confidence that He will hear, He will act, and we will be “strategically aligned” to the eternal purpose of the gospel.  Jesus Christ lived as we live and He did it without sin.  Therefore, He knows what we are going through literally and He has the divine power to intercede and help us.  Moreover, He wants to.

Throughout the day, we should pause and confidently go to our Heavenly Father through prayer and make known what is on our heart and lay our burdens at His feet.  We will get more than we deserve and what we get will be just what we need at that moment.  Grace for the moment!  We pray, God hears, angels act and His children are ministered to.

Be strategic.  Plan to be with God.  Take your cares to Him.  Trust He will not forsake you (Hebrews 13:5) and that He will work for you.  Purposefully pause before you unwillingly get stopped by the load and burdens of this world and Satan’s efforts to derail you.  Grace for the moment is a prayer away!

Still Sitting on the Porch

I am recycling here…a post from 2017.  It is something that came to mind yesterday and I needed the lesson again so I thought I would offer it to you too.

A favorite parable of Jesus for me can be found in Luke 15:11-32 telling the story of the lost son or the prodigal son. There are many lessons in the parable but for today’s discussion lets focus on the teaching of God’s grace, mercy, love, forgiveness and restoration of hope for His children and the application as we work to better love and lead our children.

I have long thought about this parable and what has always struck me is how awesome it was to see the father running from the porch and going out to greet his returning son. His son had taken his inheritance, moved out of the house, gone to a faraway place and blown all that his father had given him on a lifestyle I am sure did not make his dad proud or happy. I imagine it was known to the father just how bad his son was behaving and I am sure it grieved him tremendously. There are a lot of emotions that might apply…anger, pain, embarrassment, regret, fear…I am sure there were some long nights for this dad. This dad could have just become bitter and wrote his son off…that would have been an understandable ending to this story. Still, knowing how wicked the son had been and the grief he had caused, the father still gets up as he sees his son returning and runs to welcome him home. What we see are the foundational blessings of God being expressed to this wayward son who wants nothing more than to come home. What a great image and lesson.

As time has passed and my children are getting older, this parable is starting to take on a different shape for me. With teenagers now roaming my home, I have learned that “bigger kids=bigger problems”. Further, as they grow and begin to shape their own lives, we allow them more freedom and there become more times when they are away from us with their friends and you hope and trust they are making good decisions and respecting the boundaries you have taught and modeled in their lives. And guess what, they don’t! They make stupid decisions. They get themselves into situations you know they know are dangerous. The wonders of the teenage brain ceases to amaze me and quite frankly disappointment me.

So what do I do? What is God teaching me here in His word? He is teaching me the tremendous heart of the father in his getting up off the porch to run to his son. However, what I am learning now is that as remarkable as this act is, what is even harder and equally important as a father is to stay on the porch. Our children have to spread their wings and as they do they are not going to make the right choices every time and the older they get the more dangerous wrong choices become. No matter how much we want them to listen to every word we teach them, to trust us (and God) in shaping their hearts and minds, to learn from our mistakes so they don’t have to suffer as we have…no matter how much we want that they are going to have to figure some of it out themselves…and that can really hurt and cause some sleepless nights for dad.

So we sit on the porch. What does that mean? Does that mean we wash our hands of the responsibility for our children? Does it mean we bury the fear and hurt and just write them off with a “they will get what they deserve” or “I told you not to…”? Does it mean that we resign ourselves to a position of abdication and just move on with whatever else is going on in our lives? Of course not.

What we do is remember we operate from a position of strength and draw upon the peace of God. We are confident in that God will not forsake us and He loves our children too. We have a voice in prayer and we take our worries and concerns for our children to Him and we trust He is working. We accept his grace, mercy, love, forgiveness, and hope and let it fill us up so that we are strengthened…both while sitting on the porch and so that we might get up and grab a hold of our children in the biggest bear hug out there when they come home and say “I am sorry”.

Even more, you don’t have to sit on the porch alone. There are brothers in Christ out there who will sit with you. We are a family. We all want each other to go to Heaven. We all, however, are not always going to take the easiest route. This is especially true of our children but our God is faithful and He will fight for them too…praise Him in that, be thankful, hold fast dad.

Pattern of Good Works

Likewise, exhort the young men to be sober-mindedin all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverenceincorruptibility,  sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of  you. (Titus 2:6-8; NKJV)

This passage is an exhortation of Paul for different member groups of the church.  I have noted in my bible that in this text we have a pattern against which we can reflect upon our life and evaluate how we are living.  There are words here that we can identify and evaluate ourselves against in terms of our behavior and purpose of working for the Lord.

Sober-minded literally means “free from intoxicating influences” and we think of that to mean not drunk on alcohol or high on drugs but it means more than that.  It means that we cannot allow ourselves to be captivated by any type of influence that leads us away from sound judgement.  We have to “keep our head”, “keep a clear mind” or “exercise self-control”.

And I don’t know about you, but “self” is always a challenge for me and in order to live like Jesus did “self” has to be the last thing considered no matter how much “others” are making that difficult.  We are here to serve others just as Jesus served and we have to consider our life through the lens of the Gospel for the salvation of others.  There is no “I” or “me” in that…only Jesus and those He seeks to save.

Jumping off from that point, we have integrity in doctrine, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech…all of which means living in such a way that we are a positive influence for the gospel.  We are to be grounded in the Word of God and living in a consistent manner that when someone fights against us because of our faith they are put to shame because we demonstrate the truth of God’s Word and the reason for our faith.  That doesn’t mean others will obey the same Truth we do or live the same way we do but every time someone sees us living consistently for Jesus there is an opportunity for them to see hope and salvation in Jesus…especially in difficult times or in difficult relationships.

I think Paul started with the mind first and I think that is where our choice starts.  If we determine to keep our mind clear and exercise self-control, we will then live with Godly integrity in reverence for Him, be incorruptible and have sound speech in love.  All of that will make a difference in another’s life and that makes all the difference in this world under the sun.

Singing with Libby

Last night, my daughter and I had our bibles open and were discussing a host of topics.  What I love about Libby is when we are having these discussions she will ask “does it say that in the bible?” or “where can we find that?”.   So we were  jumping around to different verses from spying out the promised land to what it will be like being in heaven with God for eternity.

At some point she asked me “what’s a psalm” and my simple answer was a bible song.  She wanted to take a look so we landed in Psalm 19.  I began reading and got to verse 7 and the words became familiar to Libby and by verse 8 we were singing.  It was so awesome to see her smile, the recognition of the words, the clear joy on her face and that I got to share in it.  Libby makes me a better man in so many ways and I am always at my best when I am present and participating in her life.  She leads to me to Jesus and invites Him into our relationship…and she’s only 10…thank God for her and for all of our children.  In my children, I find great understanding of my Abba Father’s desire for me and having me as a child.  I thank Him for that too.

Draw your children near.  Be present.  Participate in their lives.  Sing a song…why not this one?

1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament shows His handiwork.
Day unto day utters speech,
And night unto night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech nor language
Where their voice is not heard.
Their line has gone out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world.

In them He has set a tabernacle for the sun,
Which is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
And rejoices like a strong man to run its race.
Its rising is from one end of heaven,
And its circuit to the other end;
And there is nothing hidden from its heat.

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
Yea, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
11 Moreover by them Your servant is warned,
And in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can understand his errors?
Cleanse me from secret faults.
13 Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins;
Let them not have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
And I shall be innocent of great transgression.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.

Thankfully Praying

Continuing on in 1 Thessalonians chapter 5, we read:

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; NKJV)

This brings to mind a similar instruction from Paul in his epistle to the Philippians:

4 Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice5 Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.  6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.  8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthymeditate on these things. 9 The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:4-9; NKJV)

Take some time and consider the key words in these verses:

Rejoice, pray, thanksgiving, will of God, Jesus Christ, peace, true, noble, just, pure, lovely, good report, virtue, praiseworthy.

Evaluate your life today through the lens of these words.

Are you rejoicing in your own life and with those you care about or are you letting the bad things distract you?

Are you spending time in prayer whether it is a time you have set aside or continually conversing with your Father through the good and bad of your day?

Do you see the will of God today?  Do you see Jesus?  Are you trusting God is there and working?  Does this bring you peace?

Are the things you are thinking about true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and praiseworthy or is satan filling your mind with distraction?

God is a builder.  Satan is a destroyer.  Fill your heart and mind with the building materials of God, trust His will, feel His peace.  That is what He is shouting from Heaven.  That is my prayer for you and for me today.