Softly and Tenderly

I appreciate the singing we have as part of God’s design in worshiping Him.  I appreciate the acapella nature of the singing because it allows us to use the one instrument God gave us to make music for Him…our voice and we all can do it and when it is done together with those who are of like faith, it is magical.  I especially love when one of the kids is excited about the song and you can hear their voice over them all.  I am thankful for the songs in our worship.

As of late, I have been making note of songs we sing in a particular week that either really moved me or is something that I want to revisit with my family during the week.  I thought I would share one of those with you today and for anybody who knows this song…I am sure the tune is playing in your heart and mind…another awesome result of God’s design…scripture hidden in our hearts and playing in our mind through song.

I hope these words are encouragement to you today.  Jesus is always near.  Jesus loves us and wants us to Come unto Him and be safe within His fold.

28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30; NKJV)

Softly and Tenderly Lyrics (Will L. Thompson)

Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me.  See, on the portals He’s waiting and watching, watching for you and for me.

Refrain:  Come home, come home, you who are weary, come home; Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling, calling, O sinner, come home!

Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading, pleading for you and for me?  Why should we linger and heed not His mercies, mercies for you and for me?

Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing, passing from you and from me; shadows are gathering, deathbeds are coming, coming for you and for me.

Oh, for the wonderful love He has promised, promised for you and for me!  Though we have sinned, He has mercy and pardon, pardon for you and for me.

Psalm 107:31-43

31 Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!  32 Let them exalt Him also in the assembly of the people, and praise Him in the company of the elders. 33 He turns rivers into a wilderness, and the watersprings into dry ground; 34 A fruitful land into barrenness, for the wickedness of those who dwell in it. 35 He turns a wilderness into pools of water, And dry land into watersprings. 36 There He makes the hungry dwell, that they may establish a city for a dwelling place, 37 And sow fields and plant vineyards, that they may yield a fruitful harvest. 38 He also blesses them, and they multiply greatly; and He does not let their cattle decrease. 39 When they  are diminished and brought low through oppression, affliction, and sorrow, 40 He pours contempt on princes, and causes them to wander in the wilderness where there is no way; 41 Yet He sets the poor on high, far from affliction, and makes their families like a flock. 42 The righteous see it and rejoice, and all iniquity stops its mouth. 43 Whoever is wise will observe these things, and they will understand the lovingkindness of the Lord. (Psa 107:31-43)

God has the power and the capacity to make a home for His children where there is none…to provide water in a desert, to provide a fruitful harvest and plentiful cattle that will not decrease in number.  God will provide for those who cannot provide for themselves and are humbled by their circumstance.  God will humble those (princes) who think they can provide for themselves and have no need of Him.  If we are with Jesus, we are home…temporarily here in this life and forever with Him in Heaven.  Jesus taught in Matthew 5:2-12:

Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called sons of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
11 Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Hide this in your heart and hold-fast your confession in Jesus.  Go back to Psalm 107 regularly and call to mind what God has done and promises to do if we are wise in Him and understand who He is.

31 Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!  …. 43 Whoever is wise will observe these things, and they will understand the lovingkindness of the Lord.

Psalm 107:21-30

21 Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men! 22 Let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare His works with rejoicing. 23 Those who go down to the sea in ships, who do business on great waters, 24 They see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep. 25 For He commands and raises the stormy wind, which lifts up the waves of the sea. 26 They mount up to the heavens, they go down again to the depths; their soul melts because of trouble. 27 They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits’ end. 28 Then they cry out to the Lord in their trouble, and He brings them out of their distresses. 29 He calms the storm, so that its waves are still. 30 Then they are glad because they are quiet; so He guides them to their desired haven. (Psalm 107:21-30)

This section is specific to those who were tossed in the great open seas.  To be honest, I have never been in this situation before.  I have not been in the open water and come up against a storm that was so fierce there seemed no way to survive.  I have seen movies that have portrayed this, and I am always struck at how huge the waves are and how small they make large vessels look.  I can only imagine how terrifying it would be to have a wave take me all the way up only to drop me all the way down on to the bottom on the other side.  I guess it would be a relief to make it back to the bottom but then it would be short lived because I would be taken back up again and slammed down again and again.  I would have no control.  It would be, I can imagine, a terrifying and completely helpless feeling.

Nope, I have never been in this kind of storm before.  But I can tell you what, I have been in my own boat of life or there with a loved one in theirs…and have felt the same terror and helplessness as a mighty storm of life bashed and battered us.  I have been flung up to the top of a wave and slammed back down to the bottom.  I have felt that momentary relief only to be quickly filled with fear.  It is humbling at its best and it is completely demoralizing and soul crushing at its worst.

Yes, we have all been thrashed about on the raging seas of life…and if we are honest…no matter how experienced or mature we are…we have found those storms that have left us at our wits end.  But again…God is right there to hear our call for help, and He calms the storms and the waves go quiet.  I think about Peter calling out Jesus in Luke 8.  He was doing just fine walking on the water until the waves got a little rough and he got distracted.  He lost focus and he became afraid.  He started to sink and when he did, he called out to Jesus.  And what was the first thing Jesus did?  He reached out to Him and got Him safely back into the boat.  That is our God.

21 Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!  …and He brings them out of their distresses. 29 He calms the storm, so that its waves are still. 30 Then they are glad because they are quiet; so He guides them to their desired haven.

Psalm 107:15-20

15 Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men! 16 For He has broken the gates of bronze, and cut the bars of iron in two. 17 Fools, because of their transgression, and because of their iniquities, were afflicted. 18 Their soul abhorred all manner of food, and they drew near to the gates of death. 19 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He saved them out of their distresses. 20 He sent His word and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions.  (Psalm 107:15-20)

This section parallels the previous situation in terms of souls who are surrounded by adversity and distress.  Again, God’s children are disobedient and are distressed and are afflicted.  We see the depth of the despair and the urgency of the situation in that those needing deliverance here are at the gates of death.

In Christ Jesus, we can have confidence and assurance in death.  We should not be afraid of death as it has lost its sting (1 Corinthians 15:55-57).  The image we should have is of a door.  It was taught to me that both our birth and our death are doors we have to go through.  We are born through our mother’s womb and we all must one day die in the flesh as the spirit departs and returns to the Father.  That is a door we have to go through.  But in Christ…when that door opens for us, Jesus will be standing on the other side and He will be welcoming us Home.  What a relief and what a source of peace.

Conversely, finding ourselves in a state of rebellion and outside the comfort and security of Jesus, it is no wonder we find distress and fear of death…whether it be afar off or right before us.  Again, our comfort is one word away…if we cry out to our LORD in trouble He will save us…through the power of His word and its healing power.  God, through His word, will deliver us.  This is a fact and one documented in God’s inspired word over and over again.

I would say it is probable we will find ourselves in this distressing situation at one point or another…maybe multiple times.  I can say with absolute confidence that we do not need to stay there because our God will save us.

15 Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!  …and He saved them out of their distresses. 20 He sent His word and healed them, andelivered them from their destructions.

Psalm 107:8-14

8 Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men! 9 For He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness. 10 Those who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, bound in affliction and irons—11 Because they rebelled against the words of God, and despised the counsel of the Most High, 12 Therefore He brought down their heart with labor; they fell down, and there was none to help.  13 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He saved them out of their distresses. 14 He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and broke their chains in pieces.  (Psalm 107:8-14)

There can be times when we are faced with adversity or our hearts could be filled with darkness because we have taken our eye off God and are following our own will instead of His.  This can take many different forms but it involves being “bound up” in our affliction. This brings to mind 2 Timothy 2:24-26.

24 And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, 25 in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, 26 and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.

Like us, the sentence of their transgression or the consequence of their rebellion (sin) was more than they could bear and so they called out to God.  Again, if we call out to God, He will hear us.  We can be confident in that because we read here that He heard them, and their souls were filled with the blessing He gave them.  Their lives turned around.  They found a life full of joy rather than despair…freedom rather than bondage…because they called out to Him and His mercy provided what had been missing or what was needed most.

Let these verses call to mind the redemptive power and His willingness to deliver you from what ever is holding you captive and away from the peace He promises.

8 Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men! 9 For He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness.

Our Need: Jesus

1 If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. (Col 3:1-4; NKJV)

As we read in Luke 10:42, Jesus tells Martha (and us) that only one thing is needed…Jesus our Savior.  Jesus lived and died so that we could have what we really need, salvation.

Why do we NEED salvation in Jesus?  Because we are all sinners (Rom 3:23) and in our sins we are dead spiritually and need saving by Jesus.  8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. (Romans 5:8-9; NKJV)

We can know that by listening to the gospel.  Having heard the gospel and understanding who Jesus is, who we are, and our need for forgiveness and salvation, what do we NEED to do?  Peter tells us in Acts 2:38 that we must “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

In that act of obedience, having put to death our sinful flesh, …we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. (Rom 6:4)

And because we are raised with Christ, Who is our greatest need, our life needs to be different.  We need to strive for and seek daily the things that are above because that is where Jesus is. We need to exercise our mind toward heaven and we need to be thinking about things on the earth from heaven’s perspective.

Life here has to be lived but it needs to be lived in the context of eternity in Heaven.  We have died to our old self and we are raised up with Jesus who is sitting at the right hand of God.  Our life is now hidden in Christ and when He who is our life appears, then if we are faithful to Him whom we need, we will appear with Him in glory.

“I need to…”  When you use that statement, consider what comes next.  Does it look something like “I need Jesus first and foremost and He gets my firsts and I will look at life through His perspective”.  If you are like me, often times it doesn’t.  What it looks like is a bunch of words that describe all the things that have to get done in my daily life or sometimes it is followed by words that are really describing a “want” and not a need.

We have all we need in Jesus.  Jesus should be everything that we want.  Jesus fills all of our needs.  Heaven is all the home we need.  Keeping that at the forefront of our minds will shape our thinking to a heavenly perspective and our needs will be met and our wants will be shaped in a life lived for Jesus.  We are all busy but if we are first busy for Jesus then He will be all we need.

Receive

17 If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me. 18 But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account. 19 I, Paul, am writing with my own hand. I will repay—not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self besides. 20 Yes, brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in the Lord. (Philemon 17-20; NKJV)

The good deed and importance is found in Philemon receiving Onesimus.  Before I start with Philemon, please recognize the Onesimus is returning.  He is determined to reconcile with Philemon though the worst outcome for him could be that Philemon doesn’t reconcile and he lose his life…a punishment that was given to slaves who were disobedient.  This was in the realm of possibility but Onesimus had a heart to go and to reconcile.  As much as Philemon had to receive him, Onesimus had to go.  This cannot be overstated.

Paul urges Philemon to receive him like he would receive Paul.  It seems they shared a close relationship so the picture here is of two dear friends reuniting.  That is what Paul is expecting for Onesimus despite the fact that he had caused Philemon harm.  This shows us what reconciliation looks like.  Forgiveness is not just a lack of retaliation but restoration.  It is about how we receive one another in all circumstances and how we build and develop relationships with one another.

This is how God receives us when we are forgiven.  We do not simply escape the wrath we deserve but He FULLY restores us into a relationship with Him.  Paul paints a clear picture of what this looks like for Philemon and we can glean what it needs to look like in our lives.  Receive one who has wronged you the same way that you would receive one of your closest and dearest brothers or sister.

Paul is a catalyst in this restoration and we can be too.  Philemon might have had a long list of grievances or wrongs and it might have caused him a great internal struggle with what Paul was asking.  But Paul steps in and offers himself to take that debt on.  He doesn’t stop there though.  He doesn’t want a list of wrongs from Philemon that are now a debt on Paul.  What Paul wants Philemon to remember is that we are all indebted to our Lord Jesus and in this case to the one who taught and led us to Him.  Paul simply wants to bring to mind how desperately Philemon needed salvation at one point in time and to return the same offering of grace and forgiveness and restoration to Onesimus which Paul offered to him.  Again, we all can understand what that looks like and at different points play our part as a Paul (catalyst for restoration), Onesimus (willing to go and restored), and Philemon (willing to receive and to restore).

We forgive because we are forgiven.  We erase other’s debts because we have a record of debts that others have against us and a debt we can never repay our God and Father.  We owe our eternal spiritual life to God.  We understand that, then it will be easier to forgive.  We forgive because we are forgiven and we work for restoration in whatever role or situation we find ourselves in.  We work because that is the action we must take in our faith and love for Jesus and each other.

 

Heavenly Inheritance

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5; NKJV)

Peter provides a beautiful picture in this passage.  We see God’s mercy and that in Jesus we have been born again, resurrected to a new life free from the bondage of sin.  In that, we have a living hope and an inheritance in Heaven that will not fade away, lessen or in any other way diminish.  We know this because it is God Himself who keeps this inheritance for us and He does so with power.  Our part is faith and in that salvation and an eager expectation of Jesus’ return.

This encouraging picture of salvation, hope, and eternal life help us to frame our present life and the challenges we face.

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trialsthat the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christwhom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.  (1 Peter 1:6-9; NKJV)

The trials of life are like fire and as with gold, fire refines and removes the impurities.  Fire and pressure take a raw piece of gold and provides the process necessary to transform it into a precious and beautiful object.  Our faith is more precious than gold but the same type of process is applied to our faith and our soul…fire and pressure in a life lived for Jesus brings forth His glory and hope for others to see and receive the same inheritance through faith and obedience to the gospel.

Allow the love and promise of your Heavenly Father and Elder Brother lift your eyes upward when the world only seems to drag you down.

Deny Self

24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.28 Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” (Matthew 16:24-28; NKJV)

A couple points from this passage and a whole lot for us to consider, meditate on, and practice.

A definition for deny is “refuse to give or grant (something requested or desired) to (someone).”  Here, the someone is ourselves.  Jesus is saying that if we want to be His disciple we must deny following what we want and choose to follow what He has commanded and the example He has shown.  Taking this further, if we look at His example, Jesus denied everything except to do the Father’s will.  In every relationship and every circumstance to include the cross, Jesus denied Himself and chose His Father.  We can use this template in our own relationships and circumstances and if we find ourselves not entering the situation prayerfully or with a heavenly perspective, then we are not denying ourselves and following Jesus.  If we are not denying ourselves and following Jesus, then how can we possible deny ourselves and serve others.  If we deny ourselves, then Jesus and those we are interacting with become the most important.  If others are most important, than we will work to see the situation from their perspective and determine what we can do to serve them and their needs…not our own.

Second point, the cross is a symbol of one thing and one thing only…death.  Death is a complete and final act.  We understand what death looks like.  Life does not continue in that form.  Therefore, when we deny ourselves and follow Jesus, we are not taught to do it “just a little”.  We are taught to completely put off our selfishness, follow Jesus, and serve others.  Jesus doesn’t teach us that it is a one time thing.  We have to do this daily and because we are human, it means we will be faced with the choice to die to our own desires, denying ourselves and following Jesus many-many times in a day.  We have to die to ourselves daily to serve Jesus.

I know that when self is promoted, emotions generated from selfishness are acted on, and a loss of heavenly perspective occurs…I get myself in all kinds of trouble and those around me are impacted.  I also know that when this happens it is a snowball…rolling down a hill gaining mass and speed  and bounding over anything in its path until it slams into the unmovable Rock and shatters leaving only a gouge and debris field.  Why don’t I skip that part and just deny myself, die daily, and follow Jesus?  I know I would be better for it and so would those around me…most importantly those I love.

House of Mourning

1 A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of one’s birth; Better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men; and the living will take it to heart3 Sorrow is better than laughter, for by a sad countenance the heart is made better.  The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools. (Ecclesiastes 7:1-5; NKJV)

Today we will gather to celebrate the victory in Jesus of our dear sister.  It is indeed a celebration and that was what she asked we do today.  There will be sorrow to be sure because we miss her.  She lived a life that is amplified in the lives of the ones she influenced and participated in.  And today she will give once again as we reflect on her life in Jesus and draw encouragement and example in continuing to strive for the gospel.  Her name is a good name.  Her life wisely lived.  All of which echos in eternity.

The book of Ecclesiastes provides us a vertical and heavenly perspective as we view the horizontal nature of our lives on earth.  It is a lens that reassures us that all things matter because this life is not the end.  Our eternal life with God and the eternal nature of our relationships and actions here are earth are called into view.  Everything we do has an eternal impact and everything God is doing is about the salvation of souls.  Life.  Death.  All of it demonstrates a patient and loving God who is singularly focused on saving.

The house of mourning is not a place that we, by nature, would prefer to be but our Father says different and that we should go there and take to heart the eternal nature of our existence.  There is salvation in Jesus and destruction without.  It is the center theme to our lives here and in eternity.  It is what will be before us today and worthy of our consideration.  It is an opportunity to draw closer to our Savior, celebrate victory in Him and be encouraged as we leave and go back into the world knowing that everything we face is worth it when our race is run with Jesus and we go home to a loving God.

Finally, I want to share these passages as they were shared with me.  They are offered to help us as we work to understand God’s perspective for things that happen here, deal with the resulting emotions and search for peace and trust in God’s power.

Psalm 13:1-3; Romans 8:18; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Revelation 14:12-13; John 14:1-6; 2 Corinthians 4:7-5:10; Philippians 1:20-30; 1 Corinthians 15:50-58