Saturday, December 31, 2011

No Longer Thirsty

Interesting that on the last day of 2011 Spurgeon selects a passage of Scripture that describes what Jesus did on another last day more than two thousand years ago.
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37–39)
It was close to the time of His arrest, trial, and subsequent crucifixion, but Jesus was still thinking about the eternal destiny of the people He came to save. He pleaded with them to recognize their thirst and come to Him for satisfaction that would not only last forever, but would bless everyone who was touched by its flow. He knew that the Holy Spirit would enter their lives as soon as He was glorified. This was His great longing for them and for us.

How does a person know if they are thirsty for the living water that only Jesus can supply? Is it a desire to know the truth? Is it a search for answers to those big questions like, “Why am I here?” “Is there life beyond this life?” “What is my purpose for existing?” “Is there a God?” “If there is, can I know for sure?” “What can I do about my sin and guilt?” Does God forgive, and if so, how can I be forgiven?”

For me, the questions were along the line of what happens when I die? My father told me that energy is neither created nor destroyed. I don’t know if he was correct or not, but I do know that I was filled with a burning desire, a thirst, to know what would happen to the energy of me after I died.

I didn’t come to Jesus though. I looked for answers in all sorts of other places, but none of them gave me that living water that Jesus promises to those who believe. Finally He came to me, put the drops on my tongue, and that was the last day of my thirst and my search.

On this last day of the year I am thinking of how wonderful to know Jesus and to experience the fulfillment of this promise. I drink deeply of His living water, having learned that nothing else satisfies my search or my thirst. I know the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. He gives me love, peace, joy and a whole pile of grace that I cannot earn or deserve. He is a blessing beyond compare, given all because Jesus was willing to die and be lifted up, and in the doing of it, be glorified for my sake.

Yesterday’s headaches, literal and figurative, are gone because the Lord of life washes them away, making me clean, whole, filled with Himself. I want to stand today, on this last day, and cry out, “If anyone is thirsty, come to Jesus and drink. Whoever believes in Him, as the Word of God promises, will receive and be a channel for living water. This is possible because Jesus died for us, rose again for us, and was glorified so the Holy Spirit could come and fill us with all the fullness of the Himself.”

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Lord, I was thirsty and You satisfied me. Every time that I feel even the slightest bit parched, You are here with me, giving me all that I need to be satisfied, blessed, and a blessing. This is incredible good news. Help me share it in 2012 with every thirsty soul that You bring into my life.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Happy New Year

We hop on a plane soon and for the next few weeks, we may or may not have Internet access. My daily devotions are just that... and an important part of my morning. However, they may not get posted each day, or on the same time each day. If you are following "Practical Faith" you may need to practice patience!

Soon another year comes to a close and we begin 2012. May the Lord be with you and bless you in ways that you never imagined! 

The source of Joy

A mild sinus infection is giving me a dull headache. After a few days, I’m feeling grouchy and impatient. Nothing like a slight nagging pain to reveal what I rely on for my joy.

I’ve tried extra sleep, pain killers, salt water sprays (which will eventually fix the infection), and as a distraction, writing, sketching, sewing, television, reading, and music. Instead of helping, none of these have made me feel any better.

This morning, the Lord directed me to a short verse that identifies the source of Christian joy and reminds me that even in this, my comfort and joy is not found in pills, medications, using my skills, or even in music.

Singers and dancers alike say, “All my springs are in you.” (Psalm 87:7)
Here, the Word of God points to those involved in worship. They sing and dance, but they know that the source of their ability is God, not themselves.

With this verse, Oswald Chambers reminds me that all natural talent has no value when it comes to serving Christ. That is, any abilities that I have apart from Christ cannot produce eternal fruit. I must rely on Him and the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in me to effectively serve God.

This principle is also true regarding my own spiritual condition. That is, to be joyful I cannot rely on my own resources. They may not be wrong in themselves, but my “solutions” cannot produce the fruit of the Spirit in me. Joy is never the result of things I can do apart from Christ.

Isaiah said, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isaiah 12:3), echoing the praises of the singers and dancers in the psalms. That is, he knew that their music was lovely and gave them much delight, but it was God who supplied the very life within them.

In that same vein, God supplies my life too. Because of that, He is the joy of my life, the very source of it. Before I was saved, I did many things to give me peace and a sense of well-being. However, those are nothing compared to the joy of salvation and the power of the Holy Spirit to produce joy, even when life is upside-down.

I’m convicted by this. Instead of going deeper into self-pity over present discomfort, God wants me to go deeper into Him, to find the joy that He gives, the joy that overcomes the world.

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ” (John 7:37–38)
This living water, this joy, is in Him. It is not in anything else, not my abilities nor the pleasures and “fixers” of life. They might work for others, but He shows me that if I want true joy, even when my head aches, I need to run to Him. He also reminds me that this living water is to flow outward; it is for others as much as it is for me.

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Jesus, it is easy to trust You and enjoy life when all goes well. You have undergirded me in the past with the power of Your Spirit to produce peace and joy in my heart, even in tough times. Today, this fruit of joy can be mine also. While I need to take care of the physical needs, instead of feeling sorry for myself, I need to be filled with Your Spirit that I might praise You and be a blessing to those around me.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Abiding in Jesus

With only a few days left in the year, it seems a good idea to reflect on what has happened in the past twelve months. Even with my foggy memory, highlights include two children engaged, several trips to interesting places, a major effort to declutter, and sadly, the death of my mother-in-law.

Last year also meant changes in our church, changes in my own spiritual life, and much answered prayer. I can easily see the hand of God in 2011 and how He has been involved in our lives. He remains faithful to His people now, just as He has been faithful in the past.

As Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to attack Israel. But the LORD thundered with a mighty sound that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion, and they were defeated before Israel. And the men of Israel went out from Mizpah and pursued the Philistines and struck them, as far as below Beth-car. Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer (meaning stone of help); for he said, “Till now the LORD has helped us.” So the Philistines were subdued and did not again enter the territory of Israel. And the hand of the LORD was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel. (1 Samuel 7:10–13)
“Until now the Lord has helped us,” declared Samuel. He made many mistakes in his life and ministry, but God was faithful and delivered His people from their enemies anyway. This is the same God who takes care of me.

My biggest enemy is not a horde of pagans with spears, but rather the Liar with his flaming darts. He attacks me with suggestions and innuendo, trying to turn my heart from crying out to God and trusting Him. This enemy wants me to believe that God is not at work in the lives of those on my prayer list. He also wants me to believe that I can handle life’s challenges without the help of God. He knows, as God knows, that apart from Christ, all my efforts have no eternal value.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. (John 15:4)
As I remember the faithfulness of God, I also remember the importance of abiding. While my faith does not force God to answer prayer, any lack of faith can block His answers. Abiding in Him keeps the channels open.
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:7–11)
One of my friends often says, “It is all about obedience.” She is right. Abiding in Christ is trusting Him, but real trust cannot ignore what He says or asks of me. In the past year, as God showed me areas in my life that needed change, areas where I was not abiding, He also granted me repentance and change. As those happened, so also did He bless me with answered prayer and the fullness of joy that Jesus promises. Obedience does not “earn” these things for I cannot obey unless I abide. Rather, obedience keeps the channels open so I do not block the blessings of God with my foolishness.

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Lord God, You have helped me this past year. It has been a good year, a growing year for me and filled with blessings for my family. The challenge to abide in You becomes sweeter as the days go by. While the enemy tries to thwart my faith, You are faithful to support and build it. You are working to change my heart, soften and humble me, yet at the same time always helping me see Your great power and mercy. The past year brought trials, and many good things, but the most precious hours have been when Your grace has kept me abiding in Jesus.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Obedience or Popularity?

While it is not my aim to make enemies, the Bible tells me that if I do right and stand for truth, I will be in conflict with those who are not interested in either righteousness or truth. I will make enemies.

Lately I’ve realized how easily I can slide into a subtle compromise. Just being silent when I should speak is one way, but there are others. Any time that I go along with the world’s value system, I am denying what I believe. 

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15–17)
A worldly value system is more interested in satisfying self and personal desire, being comfortable, even being exalted, than it is interested in obedience to God. It is one thing to love the world more than God, but how often have I encouraged this value system in others as well? How often had I lifted up status over godly character or achievement over integrity? What did I praise in my children’s lives to encourage a love of God rather than the love of things in the world? And did I do things like this to avoid losing relationships?

The motivations for taking the world’s route can be as simple as not wanting to make enemies. Christ may be the Prince of Peace, but He also said this . . . 

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. (Matthew 10:34–36)
When His light came into my life, it did not necessarily come into the lives of those around me, including my family. The presence of light should make darkness flee, but if resistance to Light refuses to yield, and if truth sticks to its guns, there will be conflict. Truth always puts lies underfoot, and those who believe those lies will shake their fist at the putting.

This includes those close to me, but it goes farther. Spurgeon says, “If you follow Christ, you shall have all the dogs of the world yelping at your heels.” That means that if my life stands under all tests to my faith, the world might first applaud, but it soon will not speak well of me. Those who are true and faithful to Jesus Christ will find others resenting that unflinching stand because it is a testimony against their sin. It was true for Him and is also true for me.

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’ (John 15:18–25)
Today’s devotional reading also says I need the courage of a lion to pursue such a course, because it will turn my best friend into my fiercest foe. For the love of Jesus, I must be courageous to stand for truth, knowing such a stand is hazardous to popularity and acceptance, even from my own family.

Only the Holy Spirit can do this. When pressed to choose between reputation or obedience that risks the friendship of others, my natural response is to back off and be careful, to say as little as possible. But when I do that, I am a spiritual coward. I am forgetting the life of Christ and how He never wavered.

I’m also forgetting that His life lives in me. When I choose to obey, He will come forth, giving my lips and legs and even my heart all that it needs to do what He asks. Whether my words and actions are embraced or rejected, appreciated or ridiculed, it is better to experience the worst of reactions for a brief time or even a long time, than it is to see a frown on the face of my Savior.

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Lord, I’ve an attitude to confess. I want to be a “sweet little old lady” — which is not a bad ambition, but if my motivation is a desire to have everyone love me, then I must ask for Your forgiveness and grace.

Instead, my desire must be to always love You and not be concerned what others think of me. You said, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:10). Abiding in Your love means obedience, not compromise — even for the sake of merely being a sweet little old lady.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Making Plans, Receiving Guidance

About this time every year, I start thinking about plans for the year to come, but I’m not as ambitious as usual. Perhaps it is the fatigue that comes with “too many birthdays” as my father used to say. However, it might be that I’m finally learning that I do not have to make so many plans. Instead, I just need to follow Jesus.
Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
The Bible speaks much about the guidance of God. He begins by teaching His people the truth about spiritual realities, truth that can only be seen by those who have His Spirit and are reborn through saving faith. We rely on Him, praying as the psalmist prayed . . .
Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long. (Psalm 25:5)
The promise of God’s guidance is more than a dry list of rules and directions for life. With His direction, life is an adventure that takes me places I’d never otherwise go, yet always produces satisfaction and vitality.
The LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. (Isaiah 58:11)
Not only that, the Holy Spirit is reliable and specific. He could bombard me with information that would overwhelm me with a terrible sense of my need and inadequacy, but this does not happen. Instead, He listens to the Father and tells me only that God wants me to know.
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. (John 16:13)
That is, when I read the Word of God each day, the Spirit of God speaks to my specific situation, giving me the truth I need for it. There is even a Greek word for this; it is “rhema” which is translated “word” yet means “a word spoken to meet the need of the moment.” This is why daily devotions are so vital. I put myself in a place where God can speak to me according to what I need to hear.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16)
Teaching, reproof, correction and training are the ways that God guides me. He shows me each day what will help me. Being guided into all truth is an enormous privilege. Without this, I would not know how faith in God applies to the daily situations and problems of life. I would not know how to respond to others who challenge my faith, or hurt me, or ask me questions. I would not know when I sin and need to confess my sin, or even when I’m in need of His help and guidance.

As God guides, He also indicates what is to come. I know that one day I will move from this life on earth to my eternal dwelling place with Him. For that, God makes another promise that uses the image of springs of water and His guidance.

They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. (Revelation 7:16–17)
As I read this and try to imagine what it will be like, I can see how the guidance of God now is a mere taste of His eternal guidance — and someday I will experience the fullness of His refreshing.

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Jesus, You are the Living Word, the Water of life. Out of You flows all that I need for life here and for life eternal. I can make plans for today, and for the year ahead because  Your word says so. But it also tells me that I ought to keep in mind, “If the Lord wills, I will live and do this or that.” (James 4:15)

I’m grateful for Your will — it is perfect — and for Your guidance which is also perfect. Keep my feet on the right path, and help me to always remember that Proverbs 16:9 says I can plan my way, but You establish my steps!

Monday, December 26, 2011

God is with us

Yesterday my husband read a selection from a book by Max Lucado that I discovered on a blog. As he read, a stillness filled the room and the presence of Jesus became obvious. We experienced a surprising moment of awe and worship.

Today I’m reading verses where God promised to be with His people. Most of these are the words of Jesus, but they begin with the promise of His coming and the amazing idea God becoming man and entering our world.

Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us). (Matthew 1:23)
We have been singing the carols and enjoying that sense of Him being with us. For many, this “magic” is gone by now for thoughts go back to their normal busy lives, focused on other things. But Jesus He has not gone. His presence with His people is as real every day as it is on Christmas day. He said it would be so, emphasizing various contexts.
IN PRAYER: Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. (Matthew 18:19–20)
IN OUTREACH: And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20)
IN MINISTRY: If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. (John 12:26)
IN THREATENING SITUATIONS: And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” (Acts 18:9–10)
IN ETERNITY: And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (John 14:3)
Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:24)
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Emmanuel, how wonderful! You are with me all the time. All I need to do is remember Your words; You promised to be with me and I believe You. When I think about this, it becomes a reality, an experienced sensation like the solemn stillness of a holy place, or the joy of a thousand voices singing Your praises.

On those few occasions when, no matter what I thought or tried, that sense of Your presence didn’t happen (very few times), even then I knew. Because You said You would be with me, I knew You were, even when I could not “feel” it. Thank You for such incredible assurance. Thank You that Your Word and promises are true and that You allow Your people the reality of You, God with us, every day and in all that we do. 

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Keeping Christ in Christmas

It is early, before church, before the gift-giving and receiving, before the food and laughter with family and friends. This is the best part of every day and particularly Christmas Day — being alone with the Lord, reading His words to me, sensing His presence, talking with Him.

I’m a bit surprised at Spurgeon’s choice for his devotional on this Christmas day. It is a warning, and with very little reflection, I realize that it is appropriate. He begins with this verse from the ancient book of Job.

And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually. (Job 1:5)
Spurgeon says, “What the patriarch did early in the morning, after the family festivities, it will be well for the believer to do for himself ere he rests tonight. Amid the cheerfulness of household gatherings it is easy to slide into sinful levities, and to forget our avowed character as Christians.”

Of course this ought not to be so, but he is right in saying that days of feasting are very seldom pure and sanctified enjoyment. They too frequently degenerate into “unhallowed mirth” and thoughtlessness.

Yet Christians can experience a hallowed joy that is pure and without idle words and loose talk. We know a holy gratitude with deep appreciation to God for all that He has done for us. We know the supreme joy that comes as we think about the advent, the incarnation of God into human flesh, the coming of Him who loves us. Yet our celebrations so easily turn from that supreme delight to more worldly “fun” that is unconsciously sullied simply by forgetting Him.

Today, I do not want to put Jesus out of mind nor have Him slip to second place. I do not want to sin by saying foolish things or thinking selfish thoughts. I want to be a blessing to those around me without any carelessness or vanity.

Yet so easily it happens. We play games and laugh. It is easy to be very happy and substitute that delight for the pure joy of being filled with the Holy Spirit. It is so easy to be kind and loving for the reciprocity of it rather than because the Spirit of Jesus in me is truly thinking of others rather than myself.

Some may think this is hair splitting, or not really important, but I know what happens when I am forgetful of my high calling, when I speak idle words or fall into those so-called little sins of ignorance and carelessness. I know that others are blessed in a true, spiritual and eternal sense only by the power of the Holy Spirit. My best is never good enough. Anything I do or say cannot touch souls unless the Spirit is in it.

While at the end of this Christmas day, or any day, I can confess any folly and disobedience and be washed anew by my forgiving God, I would rather not need my conscience purged from dead works.

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Lord, this day is about You. Keep my heart focused. Poke me sharply should I turn from the leading of Your Spirit. Keep me alert that if I sin, I will confess and yield immediately — today because it is Christmas, but all days also. Each one of them belongs to You.

Happy Birthday, Jesus.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Seeing the glory of God

The prophetic events foretold in the Old Testament have been described much like two mountain peaks with a valley of time between them. Those looking at the descriptions can see only the mountain tops, so they assume all these events happen at the same time.

For instance, the coming of the Messiah is often prophesied as if He would save His people and rule the world — in one advent. This is why many of the Jews wanted to make Jesus a king and have Him free them from Roman rule. However, saving came first. The role of king has been reserved for the second mountain peak. Now, we are in that valley of time. Note the words of this prophet . . .

A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Isaiah 40:3–5)
These verses are tied to both events, the first and second coming of Jesus Christ. The first sentences are quoted in the Gospels. John the baptizer was the voice who cried to the people to prepare the way of the Lord. He did this prior Jesus’ appearance as a babe.

The last line in this passage from Isaiah is a grand mixture. The first phrase says, “the glory of the LORD shall be revealed.” Compare this to what John wrote about Jesus first coming . . . 

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
Yet the second part says “all flesh shall see it together.” That did not happen then. In fact, “all flesh” has yet to see the glory of the Lord. This is not going to happen until He comes again, the second mountain peak.

In the valley of time, the glory of the Lord is not seen. For one thing, Satan and sin keeps people in darkness, as Paul wrote, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

However, a day is coming when Jesus will return, not as a child in a manger, but as a King and a judge of the whole earth. Isaiah said that His glory would be revealed and all would see it. This is confirmed by Jesus Himself.

And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. (Luke 21:25–28)
Matthew and Mark add that, “He will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matthew 24:31).

All will see Him and His glory, but not all who see His glory will be included in that gathering. Nevertheless, all will realize who He is and fall on their knees before Him.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9–11)
Because Jesus humbled Himself and became one of us dying for our sins, at His name, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord, just as Isaiah said.

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Oh Lord, today’s newspaper uses words like “the magic of Christmas” without realizing that what many sense is the presence of Your Holy Spirit. Political correctness tries to remove the Your name from this celebration. Many earnestly believe that the real meaning of Christmas is about gifts and Santa Claus. This is sad.

However, one day everyone will know the truth. You are the One who became flesh and lived among us that all flesh might see You and be glad. You offer redemption and forgiveness of sin. I pray that eyes will be opened to see and accept Your offer now, instead of waiting until You return as Judge when they must reluctantly bow and confess that You are Lord.

As for me, I don’t want my worship to be “one day” but fully today — and every day. Grant me grace also to proclaim Your glory, telling others that the manger child is God with us — that they may see and hear and know and glorify You.

(Photo credit)

Friday, December 23, 2011

True confidence gained by humility

We knew a man who always sat in the last row or took the seat farthest away from the speaker or his host. When I noticed his consistent pattern, I asked him about it. He gave his reason from the words of Jesus.
When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 14:8–11)
The Bible often says to “humble yourself” and I’ve often wondered exactly how does a person do that? The man we knew did something very simple. Although he held at least one PhD, was well-respected in the church and in all human measurements had qualities that should allow him to sit wherever he wanted, he chose the lowest place.

This is in keeping with humbling oneself, yet in a world that tells us the opposite, humility is not a popular characteristic. Too often it is confused with self-abuse of some sort, or self-pity, or poor self-esteem, or at the very least, a lack of self-confidence. However, God says that He is close to those who are humble and contrite of heart. He also says that humility is being like Jesus.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:3–8)
God’s ways are not like our ways. In the ultimate act of love, God the Son took the lower place and became a man. Then He took an even lower place by becoming a servant to God and to man. Serving our deepest need required that He die for our sins. He humbled Himself even more, and for Him, the lowest place became a tomb.

The cross and the tomb are an offense to the modern mind, not just because Jesus sets the example of humility, but because it plainly declares God’s evaluation of our sinfulness. Our sin is so serious in the mind of God that He sent His only Son to pay the penalty for it. This is an affront to pride, a slap in the face of all self-confidence and self-exaltation. It puts every human being in the lowest place.

Yet the words of Jesus promise to the humble something more. His words add a call to “move up higher.” So does the passage from Philippians as it adds what happened to Jesus after He took the lowest place.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9–11)
To humble myself does not have to involve something so dramatic as dying. Instead of picking the best view, the nicest looking options, the most comfortable chair, all I need to do is take a back seat and let others be more significant.

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Lord, I selected Philippians 2:3-4 as my verses for this past year. (Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.) There have been some changes, for which I am thankful and attribute to Your grace. Yet I must confess the many times I think of myself first. Continue to remind me that true confidence is not about me. Instead, it is found in being like Jesus.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

God’s commitment to His servants

When the angel appeared to Joseph, he said, “Fear not.” When the same angel appeared to Mary, he said “Fear not.” This angel knew that the mighty work of God that was about to happen would be fearful for them. He also knew they would need God’s help as they served Him.

This morning’s devotional reading takes me to a reminder of the angel’s words to Mary and Joseph prior to the birth of Jesus Christ, and a reminder of what He does for those who serve Him.

You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off; fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:9–10)
Because of the grace and calling of God, and regardless of how little it seems that I do for Him, I am His servant. He has chosen me — to my continued astonishment. And He will not cast me off — to my continued gratitude.

As if this were not enough, He promises me that He will give me strength and help me to do as He asks. This God, who rules the universe and created all things, never asks His servants to produce, to work, to do anything, by ourselves. He knows our frame, that we are but dust. He knows that in myself, I can do nothing.

The very notion of being a servant of God and belonging to Him forever could create fear in my heart. If I thought I had to do it in myself, I would shake with terror. Perhaps at first, when I was a new Christian, I thought this would be nothing. I had much confidence in myself and my own abilities. However, He has taught me the reality of how useless the flesh is apart from regeneration and the power of the Holy Spirit. Serving God is a fearful thing to anyone who thinks they must do it by themselves.

God shows me that my own strength is not only useless but dangerous. I can ruin things, turn others from Christ, undo goodness and put my fleshy self into all endeavors. This might appear okay to others, but in myself I can only make a mess of the godliness He desires. I have learned to fear myself and certainly not to trust my own abilities. I know that apart from Jesus Christ, I can do nothing.

 Knowing I am a servant forever, no breaks or holidays or time out allowed is also a fearful thing. Yet a wise Christian once said that the Lawgiver on the throne becomes the Law-keeper in our hearts. Apart from the promise of God that He will uphold me with His righteous right hand and supply all I need, I could not stand one moment without Him, never mind a day or a year or an eternity.
 

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Lord, Your requests to me are trivial compared to what You asked of Mary and Joseph, yet I am again humbled and astonished that You offer me the same resources as You offered them. You have designated me to be Your forever servant and promised Your help and strength so that I can do what You ask. You are utterly amazing! Thank You. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Out of my mind

An intellectual distant cousin posted an idea on his blog that only an atheist can do a pure good deed because he isn’t trying to curry favor with a deity. I responded that no one seeks God or can please God. He isn’t impressed with us even though He continues to love and reach out to us.

Currying God’s favor is a religious idea, but not a Christian one. The Bible says just the opposite. Instead of humanity trying to reach God (religion), God came to us in the Person of Jesus Christ. He had to do this because we cannot do anything to get beyond the barrier created by sin that separates us from Him. We need Him. He does not need us or our good deeds.

Yet even as I try to explain things like this to those who do not know Christ, I realize my own need of the Spirit of God. I cannot please Him or even know anything about Him and spiritual realities by reading, studying, or using my intellect and imagination, or through anything else of my own efforts.

These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:10–16)
This morning I’m thinking how useless is the human brain without Jesus. Oh, we come up with marvelous inventions, grand creative projects, vast and complex philosophies, but when life is over and all is said and done, we cannot know a thing about God or where we will spend eternity unless the Spirit of God reveals it to us.

Before Christ came into my life, I do not remember hearing one thing about these matters. I know they were explained to me, but my mind could not grasp them. Others may get bits and pieces, but the puzzle is scrambled and mixed up. Truth is mixed with error. Human reasoning, flawed by the sinfulness we all possess, does not even realize its own folly. Even those with “the mind of Christ” struggle because our sinful nature constantly tosses its wants and suppositions into the mix. Without the Spirit of God, we cannot know the things of God.

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Lord, today is like any other day — I need You. I need the clarity that comes from the Holy Spirit. I need Your clear direction concerning Your will. I also need You to reveal my ‘I will nots’ so I can confess them and receive that mysterious wonder that You call forgiveness and cleansing. Grant me today the ability to set aside any pride or reliance upon my own thinking. Only with the mind of Christ can I trust You totally and joyfully.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Compelling power of the Cross

One boy tells another, “If you don’t know the answer in Sunday school, just say ‘Jesus’ and you should be okay.”
I ask many questions to the ladies in my adult class. Sometimes the direct answer is Jesus and nearly every time, they respond with this boy’s story in mind, smiling because it is so obvious.

A few years ago, a pastor told me that jesting aside, his Bible study class finally realized that the way to discern the answer to any problem, theological or life-related, was to take a good look at Jesus. He is the standard and the answer to all questions. He is everything we need. 

The reason for this is as the Bible teaches. As sinners, not one of us is what we could be. Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Yet by grace, the glory of God is held before us and available in a person, one who is sinless and without any fault or disobedience. John said of Him, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Jesus is the perfect person, the measurement God uses to see where I am in my spiritual growth and daily life. If I measure myself by other people or human standards, I might lean to either pride or a pity-party, but with Christ as my answer, I am humbled yet given great hope.

When it comes to ministry to others, most Christians want hurting people to think right, feel good, have their needs met, and be comforted in their trials. Yet this is not necessarily all that Jesus has in mind. He knows how human sympathy can ignore the issue of sin. When trying to bless others, Jesus as our answer must come into the situation, but not merely the “nice” life of Jesus. He is the answer only because He died for our sin.

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. (John 12:32)
Jesus says that by His death, people are drawn to Him. Actually, we cannot come to God by any other avenue. He will not accept our goodness, kindness or any other human niceness. The only way we can come to God and receive blessing from Him is because Jesus died for our sin, a severe and necessary sacrifice, yet horrible. The Cross is no mere gold ornament on a chain. It is a place of great suffering for the Lord of lords, the stark reality of what must happen so we can be set free from sin and the sorrowful results of sin.

That means that when I encounter people in need, I must realize their greatest need. Food, clothing, shelter, even sympathy and kindness are important, but behind all of this, without Jesus, people are lost. No amount of any other kind of help will save them from the very worst fate. Their answer is Jesus.

One author goes so far as to say that if I can help others by my sympathy or understanding, I am a traitor to Jesus Christ. I cannot keep my own soul rightly related to God if I pour out for others in a very human way of ministry that ignores Jesus Christ and the Cross. This author calls that “amiable religiosity.”

Instead, I am to exhibit Jesus Christ crucified and lift Him up — in every situation. If not, then I will not only be going astray myself, but will distract others from the most important need of their life, no matter their situation. I lift up Jesus by living in right relationship with Him. My life and my words must point to Him, to how I need Him. The answer is always Jesus.

Thus, the calling of every Christian is to uncover sin and reveal Jesus Christ as Savior. This is not about saying comforting words, even though comfort will come. It is not about speaking beautiful sermons, or teaching with great skill. It is not about kindness, generosity, or making people feel good, even though all this can be part of it. Instead, it is about pointing others to the One who lived and died for them, the One who lives again that they might be forgiven, have eternal life, and live in right relationship to God, no matter their situation. Joni Erickson Tada did not become a servant of God because people constantly comforted her in her paralysis. She became a servant of God because Jesus Christ challenged her to die to self, as He did, and allow His life to become her life.

Many people need Jesus. My cousin is in full-time care because of a stroke. A friend’s daughter is immobile from the neck down for the same reason. How can they be blessed? By sympathy and cards and gifts of flowers? Of course those can be given, but the answer is always Jesus.

One of these two needy people knows Him, is not complaining or looking for temporary comfort in any other source. He is her life and her answer. The other needs kindness and whatever else can be given, but most of all, He needs Jesus and the solutions that are found in His death and resurrection.

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Lord, I absolutely ache that others know You. There is the greatest joy in right relationship with You, yet You offer more than joy. In You is all that is needed for life, including any horrific challenges that people experience. Because You died on that Cross, we can know and possess Your very life. With You living in us, we can overcome. For some, the trials are resolved. For others, the trials remain but so do You. With You, we have all we need. You are the answer. Help me be ever aware and always prepared to share You with others in whatever way will most benefit them. Rather than offering any temporary “fix,” I want them to know the One who is eternal.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Trusting God with bad news

Hearing bad news in the lives of others makes me feel somewhat uncomfortable talking about the good things going on in my own life. And at times, their bad news is like a warning that anything can happen to anyone. Will I be next?

This past week I was made aware that a friend’s daughter had a stroke that left her paralyzed. A cousin also had a stroke that put him into a full-time care facility. The newspaper is filled with sad stories, but these two are closer to home.

When things like this happen, I can dwell on the “what if’s” of life and become anxious. Life is not predictable. However, today’s devotional has something to say about how to respond to life’s unexpected nature. It begins with this verse.

The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD. (Proverbs 16:33)
In those days, the people of God sometimes used the equivalent of dice to make decisions. They knew that God could make the die go whatever way He wanted so they trusted Him when they cast their lots. Spurgeon asks, if the simple casting of a lot is guided by God, how much more the events of our entire life? Then he reminds me of another reality about God.
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Luke 12:6–7)
If God cares about sparrows, even about the number of hairs I have, then surely He cares for me. I need to focus on who God is, rather than having fearful thoughts about the future. This is important for several reasons. When I am anxious about anything, I cannot pray with faith. When the troubles of this world occupy my mind, serving Jesus is pushed to the side. When I worry about what might next happen to me or my loved ones, my mind is filled with myself, not the Spirit of God. Instead of abiding in Christ, I am tied up in myself.

Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33) and not to be anxious about tomorrow. He is in charge. When I think otherwise and fret about it, I am meddling with Christ’s business, and neglecting my own. My place is not to fix or provide or arrange, but to obey. As Spurgeon says, it is wise to attend to the obeying and let Christ manage the providing.

If I get my eyes off circumstances and worries about possible circumstances, then I can see the great provision of God more clearly. I can see His heart of mercy, His inscrutable wisdom. He never makes mistakes, no matter my anxieties or even my opinion.

Most of all, God has always dealt graciously with me. Because He remembers even sparrows, will He will never forget even the least of His children. I can cast all my burdens on Him for He has promised to never suffer the righteous to be moved.

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Lord, this season when joy is proclaimed and the good news of the birth of Jesus Christ is celebrated, there are sad events and news that is not so good. Yet You are still God. Every trial I have ever experienced has worked good in my life because You know what You are doing. While I do not understand the trials that others experience, I need to have the same confidence in You — for them. You control the roll of the die. How much more is Your hand involved in each event of life, working out Your plan to draw each one of us closer to You. If I can help others, I will, but worry is no help. Move me from being anxious or self-centered about anything and grant me the grace to trust You with all my heart — no matter what is happening.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Year-end Stock-taking

With twenty-eight relocations under my belt, it seems that I’ve spent much of my life filing. Every move requires reorganizing. Yet with my mind set, even the changes of seasons seem to motivate me to change my environment, or reassess what I’m doing. I look at what I have and ask if this or that is necessary or do I give it away?

At times I’ve fallen into ‘change for change’s sake’ or a useless busy work like moving furniture rather than doing something more important. However, most of the changes have been profitable in some way. Sometimes rearranging equals greater convenience. Sometimes decluttering clears my head along with my house.

This morning I’m challenged again to do some assessment. While this comes easily at the end of the year (or the beginning of a new month, or week, or even every morning), this time it is from God’s Word.

Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds. (Proverbs 27:23)
Spurgeon has some good things to say about this verse. He points out that a wise merchant occasionally takes stock. He opens his accounts, examines what is on hand, and determines whether his trade is prosperous or declining. This practice is easily transferred to those who belong to Jesus Christ. Those who are wise will often take stock to make sure that our hearts are right with God. We ask Him to reveal sin and life-patterns that need attention.
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23–24)
Those who are alert know that every believer struggles against an enemy who introduces false ideas into our heads. He also tries to stir up strife between the people of God, or sow doubt of the love of God into our hearts. He is diligent in trying to keep us from being joyful and fruitful in our Christian lives.

Besides checking for garbage from Satan, stock-taking can also clear out the excess and recorder all that should be in place. While this is seldom an enjoyable task, it is not intended to uproot our security in Christ, but any fleshy security in ourselves. We do it, not to disturb our peace with God, but to clear out any false peace of complacency and the laxness that so easily works its way into daily life.

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Lord, I’ve often seen how the state of my life, whether organized or in total disarray, is a reflection of the state of my soul. These words from Your Word easily motivate me to tidy up my home and computer files. They are more difficult to apply to the way I care for people or my own soul. Both can so easily become messy and without purpose. Help me to know well the condition of everything that You have put under my care. Show me the best way to give attention to anything that is not as it should be. I know that physically moving from one place to another helps to declutter, but obeying You in this does not require that I move to another place. Instead, You ask me to simply get moving.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Jesus is the door to life

Last night we enjoyed a local production of Dickens’ Christmas Carol. This old story still speaks to today’s audiences, perhaps because we so easily get caught up in the same blindfolded drive for prosperity as Ebenezer Scrooge. It is a metaphor — showing our need for a changed life

Metaphors help us more fully understand all the realities of life. No doubt this is why Jesus used many metaphors to describe Himself and His purpose for being on earth. He called Himself the Living Water, the Bread of Life, the Morning Star, the Good Shepherd. He also said I AM, referring to the name of God so sacred that the Jews would not pronounce or write it, substituting LORD in its place. This man who is God came to earth because we are sinners. He provides the only access to His Father.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
In metaphor, Jesus also describes Himself as the entrance to life eternal. He is the way into a relationship with God the Father. He is the truth and eternal life. In another short verse, He offers four precious privileges in more imagery to describe Himself.
I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. (John 10:9)
Here, the first offer is salvation, necessary to the other three, and described just as it is: those who enter by this Door will be saved.

This image of a door is prefigured in the Old Testament. Noah entered the door of the ark, and was secure. Any fugitive manslayer who passed through the door or gate into a city of refuge was safe. Jesus invites all who are laden with sin to come and find their safety, refuge and rest in Him.

Entrance through Jesus takes us into peace with God and guarantees entrance by the same door into heaven. As Spurgeon says, He is the only door, an open door, a wide door, a safe door. I am so blessed because I rest my hope of admission to glory on the crucified Redeemer, the Door.

This verse also offers a going in, a change of where I was to a new place to live. It reminds me of the play last night where family and friends go through a door on stage to share in a meal and celebrate together. Going through the Door called Jesus brings me into a place of communion with God’s people where I share in the love of God and His provision for us.

Even more, entering the kingdom of God through the Door of His Son is a place like no other. Here I meet with the Creator, the King of kings, the Lord of glory. Here I receive the power of the Holy Spirit, and am a partaker of all that God wants for me. No one can know those blessings on the other side of the Door.

Yet Jesus also said that those who enter will go out. This does not mean out from His grace and promises, or out of the kingdom and the blessing of eternal forgiveness. It means we will go out into the world to witness and work for the One who invited us in. We are called to warn sinners, serve the needy, teach the truth, win souls, and glorify God in a world that so easily forgets who He is and who they are. We are the messengers of God and must go both in and out. Jesus bids me to never forget I am here for this reason. The Door has not yet taken me all the way into my heavenly home.

Those who are saved and are going in and out will also find pasture. In context, this verse is about God’s sheep who are under His watchful care. He makes certain that we are taken care of, well fed and able to drink from the water of life. The Lord is our Shepherd, leading and guiding, correcting and teaching. This is a metaphor for all that He provides. I am like a sheep grazing in the best places, enjoying all that He gives me.

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Lord, the three spirits that spoke to Scrooge are not unlike the Holy Spirit who speaks to the heart of every sinner, even those of us who have gone through the Door and are saved. Because of You, being in Your blessed kingdom means that the past is forgiven, the present is blessed, and the future is completely secure. Thank You for opening the door of my heart that I might step through the Door of Your heart and enter the wonderful blessedness of never-ending life with You.

(Photo credit)

Friday, December 16, 2011

He even carries the invoice

Christianity unfortunately is dumped into the system called religion, but the Gospel is about as opposite from religious beliefs as it can be.

Religion says we must do this and do that to please God. It is made up of rules and rites, creeds and laws, putting a sorrowful burden on the honest heart because it knows that no matter how great the effort, the standard can never be attained. Religious people can get around this by creating a standard that they can reach. By doing this, they then fall into a self-righteous pride. Either way, religion is hard work.

The Gospel is not like that, despite the labels put on it. The Christian who knows Jesus Christ and lives by the power of the Holy Spirit does not base their faith on what they are doing. Instead, we have responded to His invitation and live by grace.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28–30)
Jesus knows that we are prone to try and earn the favor of God, but in our labors to do so, there is no certainty, no rest. The zealous eventually find themselves weary with the load.

Actually, the words here for heavy laden indicate just that — a great and large cargo, a full load. This load could include a deep desire for holiness and all efforts to become that, but whatever else is involved, the heavy load includes the weight of failure, of sin and shortcomings that separate sinners from God. It is the sense of never quite measuring up.

But Jesus talks about a different burden, a light one that is easy. The word used in this case is not the cargo of the first burden but a word that means the invoice! No wonder He calls it a light load.

Carrying this light load includes learning from Jesus, becoming acquainted with His nature and humility. It is walking alongside Him with a load that is easy; He shares the carrying and allows us to rest rather than labor and be stressed about our eternal destiny because He has secured it for us.

The Gospel is simple. Jesus died for our sins, was buried, then rose again the third day. The penalty for sin has been paid. Jesus also lives the righteous life we can never live, and when He is received into our hearts as Savior and Lord, that life becomes our life. He took our sin so that His righteousness might become our piety and holiness. Not only that, we die to our old life so that we can take His light burden and be yoked with Him.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (Galatians 2:20–21)
There is nothing I can do to earn the favor of God or eternal life. Contrary to religious beliefs, I am set free from the law of sin and death by faith in Jesus Christ, nothing else. I am saved by grace through faith, and even faith is a gift from Him. In this liberty, I am not in a religion but in an incredible relationship.
And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:3)
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Lord, so many sincere people work hard to please You with their religious activities. Others work hard to ignore You, thinking (rightly) that they cannot do it. Many have no interest at all, not realizing their need. No matter. The invitation goes out. You bid all who need saving (which is everyone) to come and You will satisfy the need of their souls. Thank You for inviting us, for inviting me, to let You carry our heavy load.