Taking Up My Cross: Commission

Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.17 When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted!

18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”        Matthew 28:16-20 (NLT)

There are times when God keeps me in the “Brussels sprouts” for a while. This week has been that. I received some information about the ministry, Voice of the Martyrs, and it spoke to my spirit and heart. I have been in the gospels reading all week.

How many times have I sat in a sermon or teaching on this passage of Scripture? BUNCH! And yet, this week, once again, God has spoke a fresh word to me. He showed me again that His words never return empty and never stale.

A disciple will have doubts. Eleven men, who had seen Jesus do miracles and speak about God as Father and with authority, had doubts. John and Mary had seen Him die a horrific Roman crucifixion and laid in a tomb. And then spent 40 days with Jesus after He rose from the dead! And still they had doubts! I have often thought, “If I had seen all of that – I wouldn’t doubt!” And then I got a light bulb of insight. Jesus, their Teacher and leader had been crucified! So what were the chances that they would have the same end if they went on and did what He had done? Probably 100%. And there is the place where doubts come in. Because Jesus is asking me to be a disciple – and means all of me, wherever He leads. Crucify my wants and my way and take up my cross. I can’t carry a cross if I am also toting all of my stuff!

A disciple is an ambassador. Paul says we are ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20). God is making His appeal through us. God’s message is to be untainted. I made a decision to commit my life because of God’s words (Luke 9:26), not because of the man who delivered them. When I got home that night, it wasn’t the man I remembered but the Savior who loved me – me!

A disciple empowers others to go and be. Jesus says here to Go and make, not keep. The harvest needs workers, not pew sitters. Paul said,

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.      Ephesians 4:11-13 (NIV)

Jesus said we disciples are here to help others grow in their relationship with Him so that all nations might come to know Him. But there is going to be persecution. There are going to be people who are determined to try and stop the spread of Jesus’ Good News. People within the church who want to keep control and things like they have always been, and people who do not believe and will do anything to wipe out those who do.

Jesus, by His example, showed me that the life of a disciple is a life of sacrifice. When there is a choice between sleeping in and getting out of bed for worship, what am I going to do? When it is buying a second home or supporting a missionary, what am I going to do? The answer to both questions is: ask God. In both examples it might seem the answer is obvious but the obvious answer is to be obedient to God! Maybe I have been out doing what God wants me to do without sleep for 24 hours. I have been worshiping Him in service so He may be telling me to rest. The second home could be a retreat for people who can’t afford hotels and vacations. God has the plan. Am I listening? Am I willing to sacrifice? And yes, am I willing to step in faith and stand in faith, even in death?

I have a friend who has just received word that her cancer is back. She has fought the good fight for years. She is seeking God’s plan for her now. She expresses that she knows that His answer might be the most difficult she has faced. He may be telling her it is time for her to come home.

And that is where I am today. I realize that while we in the Western part of our world may not have “persecution” as it was defined in the 1st century church, but we may be asked to wake up and live each day as if we only had that day. We need to understand the power in a testimony of a life lived in obedience to Jesus. Every day, “What do You want me to do today, LORD?” Live sacrificially to help others and spread the Good News, not bank my wealth or build my power. And when the day comes, sooner or later, when God says, “Come on home, My child.” I will be ready and testify one last time about Jesus, “It is finished.”

My Tribute/My Redeemer Lives written by Andre Crouch & Nicole C Mullen, sung by Nicole C Mullen

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Taking Up My Cross: Persecution

Disciples are not better than their teacher, and slaves are not better than their master.25 It is enough for disciples to be like their teacher and for slaves to be like their master. If people call the head of the family Satan, what will they say about the rest of the family?”               Matthew 10:24-25 (CEV)

I have been praying this morning and it is that I might communicate what God has put into my spirit to share. This is for those of us who live in the Western world. We live without a daily threat from a government who determines who and how we will express our faith. But we do have an enemy who wants to undermine our worship and relationship with God. That enemy is our own flesh and mind.

When we here in the Western world consider “persecution,” we usually point our fingers at our own government and speak of the “Founding Fathers” who penned The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution of the United States with their eyes and ears tuned into God. However, if we take the time to read the biographies of these men, we find that many of them, including Thomas Jefferson, were not conservative, evangelical Christians. Some were not God-believing Christians at all. Like many people today, they had felt the condemnation of the “bureaucratic” church, which had little to do with God’s Church, and so they were determined to create a nation and a government that would not tell people how, who and when to worship.

Despite what we may personally think about individual politicians in the 21st century, our government still does not tell me who, how and when to worship. My family and I can attend whatever place of worship we want. We can pray over our meal in a restaurant. My grandchildren can pray before taking a test in school and over their lunch in the school cafeteria. No, their teacher cannot lead them in prayer at the beginning of the school day, but then, frankly, as I do not know what their teacher happens to believe, and so I’d rather she/he not lead a prayer but that my grandchildren pray before they leave home to start their day.

Persecution comes into my life every day. It comes from my own mind and emotion.

It lies to me about who I worship. When I become focused on what others have and what I do not have, I am creating a ‘god’ out of stuff! When my personal comfort becomes more important than welcoming the homeless, the seeker and little children into God’s Church, then I am not worshiping Him but keeping a beautiful padded pew for myself.

It lies to me about how I can worship. Have you ever come into church ready to worship and had the choir director/leader begin by introducing two new songs? And they are uptempo, rockin’ numbers, not sweet quiet worship songs!

Worship is not about the music that happens inside a building with a cross on the top of it. Worship is about every minute of every day (Romans 12). If the more quiet, meditative music is what brings me into a spiritual worship, then get a CD or iTunes download of what I want and play it 24/7 in my car and home. If it is hymns I love, those are also available. If I want more Scripture reading or a good deep, challenging sermon, pull out my Bible for study and go online and search the websites. Start a Bible study with one or two others who are also looking and watch it grow!

It lies to me about when I can worship. Some of the most wonderful hours in worship have happened on road trips! I can sing and talk to the LORD in my car really well! I can sing and talk to Him in my bedroom or on my porch. And this is a principle I need to pass along to my children and grandchildren. Corporate worship is what we do in our fellowships on the Sabbath, not in football stadiums on Friday night or in classrooms on Monday morning. But personal worship can happen any where and God is pleased when it happens and no one but He and I know it! (Matthew 6:5-7)

Persecution comes to me when I am distracted and focused on things that are not of God’s plan for my day, my life. If I am thinking about all that “I don’t have” or “I can’t do this” then I am not open to God’s voice saying, “Jody, go here” or “Jody, pray about this” or “Jody, come and be quiet with Me.” God’s will – will be done. I trust Him for His timing.

Mayjesty and Glory written by Thomas Fettke

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Taking Up My Cross: Peace or Sword

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”        Matthew 10:34 (NIV)

There have been many people I know who find this verse very troubling. I know one pastor who told me he would never preach on this verse. And then proceeded to explain to me that this verse didn’t mean what it said – on the surface.

Just prior to this verse, Jesus spoke the words that forever changed my life, the words that cut me to the heart and I committed my life to Jesus.

Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.”       vv 32-33

As I sat and heard those words proclaimed, I had to ask myself, “Am I ashamed to say I love Jesus? Am I too stiff-necked to bow to His will and way?” Prior to this moment, I had determined I would never walk up in front of a church filled with people and “give my life to Christ.” I could do it in my heart. That is what matters. It wasn’t necessary for me to make a public spectacle!

It is about my heart. I could say all the right words but if my heart was not truthful, the words would mean nothing. But that night, the 101st Airborne could have been guarding that altar and I still would have pushed my way through and fell on my knees! I was ashamed of myself. I knew only Jesus could heal my broken, beat up heart. And He did. And I am not afraid of acknowledging Jesus at any time!

The verse after Jesus saying He was bringing a sword, tells the disciples just had rough and close to home it is going to be.

For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – 36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.”                  vv35-36

We are in the midst of all that Jesus has said. Whether we look at the dissension in our biological families or among our brothers and sisters in the Lord’s family, there is division and dissension. What are we to do?

Throughout this chapter, Jesus is teaching us about our priorities. He is opening our eyes to His Kingdom and how we are to live and witness with our lives to others.

Every night I pray and ask God to guide me in the words I speak and write. Jesus spoke often about the Father’s love. He spoke those words of truth. And I want to be an encouragement to His children and repeat those words. Jesus also spoke the truth when He said He brought a sword in His teaching. Paul and the writer of Hebrews speak of God’s Word as a sword, separating truth from lies and opening my heart and spirit to God’s examination. Not all of God’s truths are sweet to my spirit like a Twinkie. Some are tougher teachings and go down like Brussels Sprouts. This is one of them.

What God has said isn’t only alive and active! It is sharper than any double-edged sword. His word can cut through our spirits and souls and through our joints and marrow, until it discovers the desires and thoughts of our hearts.      Hebrews 4:12 (CEV)

Jesus brings the sword because He brings the Truth and sometimes that truth is difficult and divisive. Father God would not have sent the sword if He didn’t care and love us. May we receive all of His word with teachable hearts.

Hear These Praises written & sung by Darlene Zschech

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Taking Up My Cross: I Am Loved

[And then Jesus said,] “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues;18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles.19 When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; 20 for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”            Matthew 10:16-20 (NRSV)

I spent the weekend being drawn back again and again into the gospels and Acts as I considered how and what Jesus taught His disciples. Scholars may write libraries of books on whether His ministry with these men lasted one year or three, but either way, it was an intense time. Jesus laid the ground work and the Spirit continues to fulfill His role as teacher until this day.

When I read Chapter 10 in Matthew, I am struck by the “lists” that bring information to the point. There are no parables here. Matthew tells who the disciples are and then goes right into Jesus sending them out to preach what they have heard. They are not going to “all the world” yet. They are to begin with their own community. Jesus warns them of trouble; there will be people violently opposed to what He has said about God and His Kingdom. Strangely enough, I also hear how much God loves them, how much He loves me, who is also His disciple.

Jesus walked the path first. There is no step that God asks me to take that Jesus doesn’t show me the way by His example. He shows me what compassion really is. He sets an example of what grace is all about. He even shows me how to take down some hypocrites. Most of all I see how Jesus keeps His eyes on the Kingdom goals.

Jesus warns of people who will cause trouble. Before the disciples set out on their first mission, Jesuswarns them about people who will accuse them and lock them up. The troubling statement is when Jesus warns that even our families may violently disagree with our new life. Making a commitment to Jesus can also make our family and close friends uncomfortable if they are not in the same place.

Jesus shows us the Father always knows. Jesus speaks to my uncertain, questioning heart. He reassures me that the Father knows me and what is going on in my life, even down to the number of hairs on my head. If I am struggling, if I am being truly persecuted, if I even have questions about who He is and how He works, God knows and wants to make His powerful, loving presence known to me.

Too often in this world my concept of love may be defined by experience with superficial people. When God says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love,” (Jeremiah 31:3) His definition is infinite and pure. As I continue to read and gain insight into what it means to be one of Jesus’ disciples, I will find throughout the Scriptures God’s testimony of His love for me. Persecution may come to me but God’s love and great mercy will never fail no matter how difficult the road.

Your Love is Extravagant written & sung by Darrell Evans

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Now the Day is Over

I will bless the Lord who guides me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
8 I know the Lord is always with me.
I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.

9 No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice.
My body rests in safety.
10 For you will not leave my soul among the dead
or allow your holy one to rot in the grave.
11 You will show me the way of life,
granting me the joy of your presence
and the pleasures of living with you forever.       Psalm 16:7-11 (NLT)

In the night,Lord, I remember your name, that I may keep your law.
56 This has been my practice: I obey your precepts.

57 You are my portion,Lord; I have promised to obey your words.
58 I have sought your face with all my heart;
be gracious to me according to your promise. Psalm 119:55-58 (NIV)

God continues to speak to me about being sensitive and loving to all His children.

I have said before in these devotions that illness and worries always seem to peak in the middle of the night. And that isn’t without good reason. Most of us sleep during the night so when I am unable to sleep, I am going against the routine, the “normal.” I don’t know any doctors who are on call 24/7 and when I have had to call a doctor at 2 a.m., whether professionally or for my own family, rarely have I reached my doctor. It’s always an associate. As good as he or she might be, they aren’t the one I know and trust.

Jesus is on call 24/7, isn’t He? Recently I have found my night time conversations with Jesus to be – precious. By that I mean – something that I can not put value on. It is priceless. When I cannot sleep, opening my Bible or asking God, “Who do you want me to pray about?” will bring me into a quiet, intimate time with Him. Maybe I am more open to His teaching. Maybe I am more open to the Spirit’s direction in prayer. There is less of me having my way. And I sleep very well after!

If you can’t sleep, open your Bible, turn on a quiet hymn or song, or just close your eyes in prayer. Let the LORD speak to your heart. Let Him tell you what is on His heart. That is an extraordinary honor.

Now the Day is Over written by Sabine Baring-Gould & sung by Hastings College Choir

Now the day is over,
Night is drawing nigh;
Shadows of the evening
Steal across the sky.

Jesus, give the weary
Calm and sweet repose;
With Thy tend’rest blessing
May mine eyelids close.

When the morning wakens,
Then may I arise
Pure and fresh and sinless
In Thy holy eyes.

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Mourning Part II: (for all)

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. 27 And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.       Romans 8:26-27 (CEV)

Do I have deep feelings for others who are not my family or my friends? Am I sensitive to people who cannot see Jesus as the Son of God? Do I mourn for them because they do not have peace to get them through each day or assurance for what awaits after death?

Jesus cried, mourned, over the people of Jerusalem:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.38 And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate. 39 For I tell you this, you will never see me again until you say, ‘Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’              Matthew 23:37-38 (NLT)

Jesus cried over those who would not see Him for who and what He was – is. I believe Jesus still “mourns” over those who will not, can not, see Him today. Do I have a sensitive heart for the Jews? Do I have a tender heart for the Muslims? And more across the world who cannot see God’s Truth?

For 50 days before Pentecost, the disciples fasted and prayed in a locked room. And then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, spoke and 3,000 (some born as Jews and others chose to be Jews) finally saw Jesus as the Messiah. And we know the disciples went on to share the Good News with anyone who would listen.

I want to pray that people, whoever and whatever they are, will come to know the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Abraham Lincoln said, “I am sorry for the man who can not feel the whip when it is laid on the other man’s back.” I have been without Jesus in my life and God has been faithful to keep that memory of pain and loneliness fresh in my mind. When I pray for people, God guides me in thought and word. I see Jesus in my mind, praying over the people in Jerusalem today. I join Him in intercession for those who are blind. I want my heart to ache as His heart aches for God’s children.

For too long, my idea of mourning was defined by the death of my son or those that I served in hospice. I believe God is showing me true mourning now as I see the world in chaos and horrific pain which can only be relieved in God’s Kingdom, not this earthly one. And in prayer, the Spirit of God always brings me to the “Amen” with the knowledge of His wisdom and His great love.

Whether we pray in the early morning, as we lay down to rest at night, in a mid-day respite, or carry an ongoing conversation with God throughout the day, let us always hold with steadfast hearts to the promises, the faithfulness, and the unconditional love of God. No matter our sins, even the rejection of God, has been covered by Jesus’ sacrifice. God’s gift of forgiveness is for everyone who will come with repentance and a heart which knows no other way to go on but through a stumbling, hopeful step into His arms.

Come to Me written by Kari Jobe and sung by Jessie Goodman

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Mourning: Part I (for me)

God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”     Matthew 5:4 (NLT)

Dr Alan Wolfelt says in his grief workshops that “grief” is what most of us experience privately. “Mourning” is the public expression of our grief. Dictionaries include words like “deep feelings” and “being sensitive” among their descriptive words. And all this got me to thinking about Jesus’ point.

I have always assumed that Jesus was speaking to us who have experienced the loss of someone we love through death. Jesus was saying to me that in those dark nights when I am missing that one I love, when I ache with the loss, God’s Spirit will be there to comfort me in ways no one else can. I still believe that.

But Jesus was all about bringing reconciliation between the Father and His children. His audience had tried for centuries to follow the Law and make that happen – and failed. So Jesus is all about repeating the Good News: we are saved and reconciled to God!

But I miss the point because I don’t grieve for the sins I have committed that keep me separated from God! I am not feeling the pain of that separation – until now. The light bulb has gone on!

My sins keep me separated from God until I receive the forgiveness and love that comes to me through Jesus. Paul says “nothing – not death or this life or demons or powers here or to come can keep us separated from God’s love through Jesus” (Romans 8:38).

How can I not take the time every day to allow the Holy Spirit to search me and shine His light on my sins? It is like brushing your teeth or washing your face every day. Without those every morning, I feel yuk! But when I am clean and fresh, I have more energy; I am not carrying the burden of sin with me!

When Paul writes to the Corinthian church, he shares about Godly sorrow.

For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death.

Just see what this godly sorrow produced in you! Such earnestness, such concern to clear yourselves, such indignation, such alarm, such longing to see me, such zeal, and such a readiness to punish wrong. You showed that you have done everything necessary to make things right.      2 Corinthians 7:10-11 (NLT)

When I take the time with God, He pours out His love and forgiveness. It’s not about begging for forgiveness but it is about feeling the need, feeling the separation and reaching out for Jesus’ hand which has been there waiting to pull me up and dust me off when I fell from His path.

All my life, walking every day with Jesus, brings peace no matter life’s bumps and storms. No matter if today is my last day here or 30 years from now, when I confess my sins and allow Jesus to wash me clean, I am ready to meet the Father because of Jesus. That does bring peace that passes all my understanding!

Give Me Jesus written by Fernando Ortega & sung by Vince Gill

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Rock or Sand?

[Jesus says,]“Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock.25 Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. 26 But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand.27 When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”      – Matthew 7:24-27 (NLT)

What is the foundation of my life? Is it the shifting sand of what the world sells? Is it the bedrock of Jesus Christ?

From the outside, the part of me that people perceive because it’s what I want them to see, it may appear I am no different than a believer in everything or the one who believes in nothing. A contractor can build a house on sand for $100,00 and make it appear no different than the home built on bedrock for $1 million. But Jesus warns that when the rains come, the difference in the construction will be seen by all.

For four years prior to my son’s diagnosis of cancer, God gave me a hunger for His Word. I read 2-3 hours every day and it did not seem like any time at all! Then during the year James was in chemotherapy the reading and studying that I had done came back to me in moments when I was so afraid or so confused. God’s promises, who He is, and how much He loves His children was spoken to me, over and over.

Today we look at the civil unrest in St. Louis, the Ebola outbreak, the wars in the Middle East and northern Africa and we wonder where is God and what is He doing? He is doing what He has done throughout history. He is here.

The question I am asking should be directed towards myself, not God. Where am I in all of this? What am I doing about the sickness and evil of the world. “Who? Me?”

Jesus answered that very question in Matthew’s same Sermon on the Mount. I don’t use The Message often but it is a paraphrase that can speak plainly.

Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.

Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:13-16 (The Message)

The spiritual structure that God has built in me is not just for me. I am to be a “open house” to others so that they will see God. My spiritual life must be on the solid foundation which is Jesus. The walls are to be like glass so that others will see Him and follow Him. My house should be clean but have a well-lived look that says I have lots of company; people who come through for encouragement, rest, and wisdom as they travel on their own path of life.

I encourage you to join me in reading Psalm 105. It’s a good one for building!

Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done… (verse 1, NIV)

Sandyland from Psalty’s Singing SongBook

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The Worse Sinner

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.17 Now to the King eternal, immortal,invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.                               1 Timothy 1:15-17 (NIV)

Oh how happy I am that Jesus would save even me! Have you broken every commandment? I have. Have done something you thought Jesus could never forgive? I have. But here it is: the guy who was responsible for killing and imprisoning lots of Believers – and Jesus picked him out, threw him on the ground, and had a “Come to Me (Jesus)” moment. Now that is a witness that I can hear and believe. And that’s the very reason God did it.

God loves me. God loves me. God loves me. Am I beginning to understand?!! God, Creator of the Universe, everything from rocks to diamonds, clouds to fog, ants to Orca whales, is my Father and loves me, His child. And if I do not understand what unconditional love is, God has given His Word and so many witnesses to spell it out to me. I can read about so many fallible people between the first page of Genesis and the last page of Revelation who were “wretched” like me.

How does God do it? Well, He is God so I’m not quite sure except I know He does because He has proven it over and over to me. When I forget, God shows me the story of David or He taps someone on the shoulder who calls me or writes me or tags me on FaceBook and shares their story.

And if you are having a day or a week or a month when it just seems your are slogging day after day through the mud of despair, then try this (Come on, what can it hurt?): Father God, I am having a rough time. [feel free to give Him the details here – I do!] I am so far down that I can see the underbelly of a possum. I am tired of trying. Help me, LORD! I am going to take a step of faith and thank you now for the encouragement you are going to send my way. I am going to thank you now that next Monday will be better than today. I am praying this in Jesus’ name and with His strength and faith. Amen.

Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) written & sung by Chris Tomlin

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A Good Word, but is it God’s Word

Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.13 But evil people and impostors will flourish. They will deceive others and will themselves be deceived.

14 But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you.15 You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus.16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.       2 Timothy 3:12-17 (my emphasis)

All Scriptures are useful and inspired by God. That is a comforting, wonderful statement. It keeps me going back to this book from God day after day with anticipation and expectation that He is going to speak His words into my heart. And He does. But reading Scripture is not picking and choosing what I will believe and what I won’t. And there is where the Scriptures really become a learning tool.

I am extraordinarily blessed to be married to a man who has spent most of his life studying the Scriptures. He would tell you this is not necessarily an entirely good thing. He has a gift for learning languages (many of them!) and so he reads the Bible in Hebrew and Greek like I read it in English. He worships God as he studies the Scriptures. But he also came out of seminary a non-believer. He knew so much about God that the relationship was rung out dry as a desert. Today, it is so awesome to just talk with him about God’s Words. I learn so much about history and read familiar passages that become new and powerful with knowing who the people group were and how they functioned as a society and how God interacted with His children.

I have learned that no one verse in the Bible stands by itself. It is connected to the whole. Like the passage above.

Too often I would take a single verse like #16 above and it becomes so familiar and means I should enjoy the poetry of Psalm 23 and the poetry of the genealogies. (Say, what??!!) Paul is speaking to a young man that he has mentored for some years. Paul knows that his time with Timothy is growing short, so he begins to push Timothy into some Scripture that will not be easy to hear. There are Scriptures that aren’t easy for me to hear. I share some of the troubling ones with my paraphrase:

Everyone who wants to live a godly like, be a disciple not just a believer, is going to be persecuted.             2 Timothy 3:12

Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it will only be a single grain. But if it dies, it will bring much fruit.                 John 12:24

I am the door through which you enter to be saved forever. I come so that you may have this abundant life.                 John 10:9-10

All three of those passages are wonderful, feel good Scriptures until I take them in context and realize that Jesus and Paul are lovingly and passionately telling me, a disciple, that walking in the steps of Jesus are not for the faint or easily discouraged. There will be persecution as my brothers and sisters in the Middle East and Asia and Africa know. God gave His Son so that I might live. If it is God’s plan that I would die, whether through direct persecution or that my life be a testament to the courage and strength that God gives to those with cancer and other maladies, who am I to argue about His plan?

God is looking from Genesis, His time with Adam and Eve, to the eternal moment when He brings His children to their eternal home. We see this as thousands of years. God sees it as only moments when compared to the eternity that He has planned for us.

Let us draw near to God, my sisters and brothers. Let us set our time with God in prayer and study as the #1 priority in our lives. Let us learn the sweet songs of love and compassion as well as the difficult tenants of a true warrior. We’ve read the final chapter. We know how the story will end. It will be a forever abundant life with our Father God. Forever? I don’t even know what that means – but I’m learning.

Thy Word written and sung by Amy Grant

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