Category Archives: Topical

The Power of an Encounter

I have been listening to Doug Jacoby’s podcasts on worship.  I just heard one on seven confessions statements in the book of John.  I LOVE this!  Jacoby talks about seven people who encounter Jesus and clearly see that he is the Son of God, the Messiah.  It is encouraging to realize that all manner of people could see this about Jesus.  It was not this obscure philosophical thing.  He wasn’t just thought of as a good teacher who the masses were attracted to.  People who interacted with him could tell there was something profoundly divine in him.

  • 1:34   John the Baptist:  “I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”
  • 1:49   Nathanael: “Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you. Then Nathanael declared, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.'”
  • 4:42   Samaritans: “They said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.'”
  • 6:69   Peter: “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’  … From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.  ‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.'”
  • 9:38   Blind man:  “Jesus said to the blind man,  ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ . . . ‘Who is he, sir?’ the man asked. ‘Tell me so that I may believe in him.’  ‘You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.’  Then the man said, ‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshiped him.”
  • 11:27  Martha: “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ ‘Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
  • 11:50  Caiaphas: “You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish. . . . Now he did not say this on his own initiative, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation…”
  • 20:28  Thomas: “Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”

Reading these verses is great because I can start to think it is hard for people to come to faith.  These passages show it is not.  When I was flying to Oregon on vacation, I sat next to a woman who insisted that if someone reads the Bible, they will believe.  She grew up not knowing much about God.  But she was given a Bible and when she started to read it, she began to believe.  We had someone over to dinner last week who told us his conversion story.  Ten years ago he didn’t have much use for God.  He started coming to church and studying the Bible because his wife was doing it.  He told church members straight out he wasn’t interested.  But as he began to study, he began to come to faith.

An encounter with Jesus, either in person or through the word of God, is powerful.

You know, I was praying this morning that God would forgive my intermittent discontent — seeing a nice spacious house and wanting it, seeing people who are successful and wanting that.  People who encountered Jesus didn’t struggle with discontent.  They gave up everything they had and followed him.  There was no allure in material possessions, no allure in accomplishment.  This is what an encounter with Jesus does.  We realize that he is HUGE.  It rocks our world.  We see something that will fill that barren empty spot inside.

And now, every answer is in Christ.  He fills everything in every way.  (Eph 1:23)  Cradled in him, we will bear much fruit.  (John 15) Nothing can separate us from his love.  (Romans 8)  We can bask in him, revel in him, confide in him, converse with him.  He is there to give us guidance and wisdom.  (John 14)  He wants to bear our burdens and give us rest.  (Matt 11:28)  He believes in us and has vision for us. He sticks to us like glue.  He strengthens us.

Jake preached yesterday about how people forget that Jesus is GOOD NEWS.  As the Samaritans proclaimed, he is the Savior of the world.  How can we live our lives in a mundane way?  We are saved, forgiven, walking in the light.   And as for me, I don’t have to feel insecure, ineffective, or impotent.  I have a purpose.  I am never alone. I have hope.  I offer hope to others.

An encounter with Jesus changed lives.  A series of encounters with Jesus changed history.  Encountering Jesus today, and every day, will change me.  Bringing others into an encounter with Jesus will change their destinies, and ultimately, change the world.

 

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The Power of a Seed

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“Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”  John 12:24

The picture above shows redwood tree seeds.  Although you can’t tell from the picture, the seeds are being held in a paper towel on someone’s hand.  They are pretty small.  The ranger who was holding them compared their size to a flake of oatmeal.

Now compare this to the size of the grown tree.   All of the circle of trees in the picture below come from the root system of the tree that is now the stump in the center where my husband is standing.  One seed produced all of these trees, which are huge in diameter and unbelievably tall.

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“Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.  Jer  32:17

“Is anything too hard for the LORD?”  Gen 18:14

As I remember staring upwards at the mighty and majestic redwoods, I know that the God who made them can certainly do anything!

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But there is always a struggle in growth.  I started this blog with the verse that says a seed must fall to the ground and die to produce many seeds.

  • If I want to be productive, I must sow in self denial and loving others sacrificially.
  • If we want the church to grow, it will start with death to self and repentance.

This sounds depressing, but it is an encouraging concept, because it tells me what works.   I want to see God work in beautiful amazing ways.  And I find myself working hard, getting worn out.  It’s so simple that what I need to do is die to self, not be self propelled.

Let me plant one seed of caring for someone when I feel selfish and grumpy, one seed of perseverance when I feel like giving up, one seed that’s an invitation to church to someone who doesn’t seem to be open, one seed of prayer when I’m tired and want to veg.

Let me plant the seed that is an act of faith.  Jameson preached this past Sunday about imitating the faith of Jonathan in I Samuel 14. He challenged us to put ourselves in situations where God can do something.  “Jonathan said to his young armor-bearer, ‘Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised men. Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.'” (I Sam 14:6)

We have to get our of our comfort zone to take this step of faith.  I keep forgetting that growth involves struggle, indeed, it requires struggle.  The seed must die. I look around me at the  struggles that those I care about are going through, and I am anxious.  But it may be that they have to go through that challenge in order to become the person God wants them to be.  They have to work out their salvation with fear and trembling.  (Phil 2:12)

I have LOVED doing the Old Testament survey I’m working on.  Stories that were mundane to me now shine when I put them in the context of God’s overarching plan, when they reflect the themes of God’s character.  One story that impressed me was that of Jacob.  When he wrestled with the angel, God said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have prevailed.”  (Gen 32:28)

Jacob went through struggles, but he prevailed.  God intended that His will would be carried out through Jacob, and that all mankind would be blessed through him, but first Jacob’s character had to be tested.  He had to go through trials and hard work in earning matrimony with his love, Rachel,  and in earning wealth. . . and much more.

God also put Abraham and Isaac through trials.  Abraham obviously had to prove his allegiance to God by his willingness to sacrifice Isaac.  But I am also struck by the nomadic life God called the patriarchs to lead.  They were often on the move, with no place to call home.

This impacts me because I was just gone for a week, and I realize how different it is when I am traveling.  When I am home, I look forward to that time in that evening when I lay aside whatever I am doing and have a relaxing time of reading or watching Netflix.  When I am traveling and staying with people, I have a different mindset.  We will stay up talking.  I don’t expect a time to be self indulgent.  It’s all about serving.

It’s easier to have a servant mindset when I don’t have the comfortable routines of home. I think of how Jesus said, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”  Luke 9:58   Jesus didn’t have the option of being self indulgent.  For him, it was always about serving.  I think this may be one reason God had the patriarchs wander, to keep them reliant on him, and not on their comfort.

Unless a seed dies. . . May I learn to die more, to be uncomfortable more, be less self indulgent, living a life where it is about the ever increasing glory of an incredible God who created the redwoods, and millions of equally amazing things.

Even through fire, these trees stand strong.

Even through fire, these trees stand strong.

“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  Matt 19:26

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ADD Christianity

wonder woman

Today is the age of supermoms.  Women work, raise kids, take their kids to all kinds of activities, keep their house clean and decorated according to the latest trends, and so on.  The same is true of men.  Both men and women these days are expected to juggle a lot of things — jobs, family, fitness, recreation.  Heavy expectations are put on them — that their houses and yards look great, that they have a nice car, that their kids are high achievers, that they take care of the environment, that they pursue healthy eating, that they work out, that they have the latest electronic gadgets, etc.

We are always on the go.  We are over stimulated.  We have this kind of channel flipping mentality — just like we are constantly surfing the TV viewing choices, we are constantly dipping into this and that in life.

So it is no wonder some of us treat Christianity the same way.   We feel that we have to do everything — reach out to people, practice hospitality, help keep each other strong, give to the needy.  These are all good things.  But there can be a scatterbrained mentality that makes us dart here and there trying to do so much.

I will note that many Christians also struggle with laziness, so this may not apply to them.

It is comforting to me to know that as wonderful as Jesus was when he was on earth, he was constrained by the same physical limits I have — time and strength of body.  He could only do so many things in a day.  he couldn’t heal everyone, preach to everyone, save everyone.  And he didn’t expect himself to do so.

Instead, he took out time to pray.  He got away from people and the press of needs and gathered strength and wisdom from God, and put things in God’s hands.

Instead, he focused on 12 men, and even more closely on 3 men.  I would like to add that he focused on some women as well.  They may not have been a part of the inner circle of the 12 apostles, but it is obvious that Jesus had a relationship with Mary Magdalene, and Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus.

It is also comforting to me to realize that even with all of his efforts, Jesus wasn’t able to save even one of his disciples from spiritual struggles and weakness.

“Then everyone deserted him and fled.”  Mark 14:50

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32)

It is interesting here that many versions translate this as Satan asking to sift ALL the disciples as wheat.  When I am praying for others, what would it be like if I prayed expecting that they were going to be sifted?  “Father, I know that all of my sisters — Alicia, Danielle, Jessica, Markeya, Yesenia, Amy, Stephanie, Heather, LaJasmine, JasMin (and so on) — are going to go through some hard struggles that will test their faith.  Help them to find faith during these challenges.  I know they will be weak, but when they find faith and are even stronger than before, help them to strengthen one another as they go through similar trials.”

Jesus did say we should pray, “Lead US not into temptation.”  But he must have known some temptations are inevitable, and even necessary.  I just keep thinking that we are doing something wrong, I am doing something wrong, if people enter trials and have times of weakness.

So going back to the theme of ADD, Alicia and I actually got matching Wonder Women shirts to reflect the craziness of our life serving in this ministry.  But it doesn’t have to be crazy in a scatterbrained way, it can be a purposeful adventure.

I need to be like Jesus and take time to really focus in prayer, so I can hear the promptings of the Spirit on what is really important to do, and what relationships need my focus.  This helps me slow down and calm down.

And I need to understand the nature of God’s kingdom — that people will have times of trial and weakness.  Let me walk through that journey with them, and help them find faith.

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Hearing the Miraculous Song!

The Island City of Tyre

The Island City of Tyre

“In the pride of your heart  you say, ‘I am a god;’

Because you think you are wise, as wise as a god…You will be but a mortal, not a god, in the hands of those who slay you.”  (Ez 28:1, 6, 9)

Of course I wouldn’t say, “I am a God.”  But as I look at the struggles in my heart right now, I see that I am anxious.  I think it is up to me to fix everything.  I try to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders.  It’s a pride problem.

I struggle with giving to “the least of these.”  I want to qualify my sacrifice for others — who I give to, when it’s convenient to give.  Another pride problem.

Lately I am having problems with a chemical imbalance of some sort at times.  Paul said, “to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh.”  (II Cor 12:7) Maybe God allows me to have this  challenges in the flesh as a pride solution!  I surely do need to remember to be humble!

Pride can be a very scary thing.  The verse I started the blog with is from Ezekiel 28.  It is about Tyre.  Here is what Jesus said about Tyre, after he had sent the 72 out to proclaim the good news and they were rejected by the Jewish cities:

Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.”  Luke 10:13

In Ezekiel 28, Tyre was the most prideful of prideful dogs!  The way she was described, it is hard to imagine that another city could be more prideful.  Yet even she was not as prideful as the Jewish cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida.  If she had seen the miracles they saw, she would have repented.  They could not see the miracles, or the significance of them.   They did not repent!  Their hearts were so hard.

We need to see the miracles that are happening all around us — the miracle of answered prayer.  the miracle of being in God’s grace, the miracle of changed hearts, the miracle of insight, and many others.

Instead, I want more, more, more!  I look at what I still want to change, at the prayers that still need to be answered.  I miss the “surpassing great revelations” God is giving me.  Is this hardening my heart?  Do I take the miracles for granted?

Is there a relationship between acknowledging the miraculous work of God and repentance?  Does having the heart of a child, that I am in wonder at each act of God, help me to serve him better?  For sure!  As Jesus goes on to say in the parallel version of this verse in Matt. 11:25, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.”

And Jesus precedes his indictment in Matthew of the Jewish towns with this illustration:

To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:  ‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’”  Matt 11:15-17

What song is God playing for me?  Let me have ears to hear.  Let me not be deafened by my frustrations, by my anxieties.  Let me dance with praise as I see God working throughout the day, and may this help me to be more of the person I need to be.

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Some Thoughts on Comfort

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When is it okay to be comfortable?

“It’s important to me that I don’t get so safe and comfortable in my life that I forget that the majority of the world doesn’t live that way. Being careful not to love my surroundings or things too much just keeps me ready to move.” 

This was written by Mary Allison, who at the age of 59 just left the States and moved to Santiago, Chile, where she and her husband now lead the church.  When they took the challenge to move there, she didn’t even speak Spanish!

So there is a “bad” kind of comfort.  The kind that keeps us from answering God’s call to action.

And then there is a good kind of comfort, the kind that involves freedom from guilt!  What is freedom?  I spent some time this past week talking with a friend who is Chinese about what freedom means to Americans.  Freedom is something we hold as one of our most sacred values.  To Americans, freedom means being free from the control of others, specifically in our revolution, from despotic rulers.

But we can be free of the control of others, and still not really free.  There are other things we are controlled by.  I have spent much of my Christian life controlled by guilt, a need to achieve, a performance mentality.  It has been a wonderful growth in my life to not be motivated by these things, but instead, by the right things.  This truly is the best time of my life, a time when I am not twisted with the feeling that I should be doing more, when I don’t have the looming presence of “should” like a dark cloud over me all the time.

“If you serve to get free of your fear, you are doomed to failure.” 

Henry Cloud wrote this in his book that has become a Christian classic:  “Boundaries.”  Cloud goes on to say, “The point is this: we were called into freedom, and this freedom results in gratitude, an overflowing heart, and love for others.  To give bountifully has great reward.”

As I was been doing soul searching regarding the possibility of taking a job, I realized what was at the heart of my uneasiness.  I saw that I can use the busyness of a job, or any pursuit, as a way to hide from doing what is most important to me to do.  It is much more comfortable to stay occupied with the activity that is readily available than to push myself into sharing my faith, having new friends over,  spending time with someone who is struggling, etc.

THAT is what I want to avoid.  It isn’t that I don’t want a job, but I don’t want the allow the job to keep me distracted from what I’ve decided is really important.

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be required” (Luke 12:48)  I was reading the paper yesterday about a married couple who has just given the largest gift ever, $40,000,000, to Auburn’s School of Business.  They said they did it because of the principle of this verse.

God has given me sooooo much, and I do want to give back.  I want to be poured out like wine upon the altar.  I want to get out of the boat of comfort for him and walk on the water of faith.

But I want to do all of these things from a place of comfort with God.  I want to get uncomfortable because my comfort, my peace and security, is in Him.  My freedom is in Him. I want to take comfort in all of the goodness that is God — His single-minded sacrificial love for me,  His providence, His beauty, His plan for me, His belief in me.  I want to bask in the warm blanket of grace that surrounds me.

His peace is as vast as the ocean at dawn

His goodness is as abundant as trees laden with sweet fruit

His sovereignty is like a the course of a stream

Mary Allison shunned her personal comfort, and at an age close to retirement, moved across the world to serve.  Yet I would say that she is happy in this move, not struggling with it.  She considers it a great blessing.

May we all be willing to do this, stepping out of our comfort zone from a place of strength, living out with joy the definition of who we are as disciples on the Disciples Today web site:  “We are on a journey to that future life exploring the incredible plans God has for us on earth to love Him and to love others.”

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Well Done

“This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will defile my Temple, the source of your security and pride, the place your heart delights in. Your sons and daughters whom you left behind in Judea will be slaughtered by the sword.”  (Ezekiel 24:21)

Even though the Israelites were in captivity, their identity was that they were God’s people, the temple was the symbol of who they were.  It’s just like we as Christians today can say we are Christians, even though we don’t live like Christians — that is our identity.

The Israelites held onto the thought that they would be able to go back to Jerusalem and the temple.  But God took that comfort away, the “source of their security and pride.”  He took away their illusions of somehow still being right with God.  He took away their back door, that they could procrastinate, and always come back to him later.  There would be no Jerusalem.  There would be no temple.

Today as I was praying I thought, “I only have a brief time, a short window before someone I love becomes ill or passes away, or before I become ill or pass away.  Then that situation will dominate my life.  This time of relatively carefree living is limited.”

Contrast this with what the Israelites thought: “I can always repent tomorrow.”  God made it so there was no tomorrow for them to repent.

I watched a well produced video yesterday showing real people giving advice to their 16 year old self.  They had some humorous advice, but the real message was that they shouldn’t seek that ultimate tan, or they were going to get bad sunburns and later develop skin cancer.  And this skin cancer wasn’t treated by just removing a spot.  They would have horrendously long chemotherapy treatments. 

What advice would I give my 16 year old self?  My 26 year old self?  My 36 or 46 year old self?  I think I would say, “All those things you’re running after aren’t worth it.  The popularity, the partying, the achievement, trying to be perfect — it’s not worth it.  Seek and invest in what is really meaningful.”

What advice would my future self give me today?  What choices might I regret in later years?  What choices will I never regret?

So what did I do after I wrote this?  Did I go and rescue a homeless person?  No, I fixed up my bedroom, put up some cool new prints of pictures I took at the beach, dusted off the ceiling fan and got rid of all the clutter.  “How materialistic!” I thought.  “Maybe I’m not getting the point.”

But then I through about the importance of living in a good environment.  They say people are happier when they make their bed in the morning.  My decluttered and spiffed up bedroom reflects a good state of mind!  There have been periods of my life when I couldn’t bring myself to dust, much less fix something up.  Dwelling on our material surroundings may not be healthy, basing our happiness on our material state may not be healthy, but fixing up a room can be a celebration of God!

“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”  Ps 90:12

This morning, in the uncanny way God works, I randomly chose a sermon by Francis Chan to listen to, and it was about how short life can be.    Francis talked about a man who preached that you could die at any time, and then he died.  There may not be a second chance to make things right with God.

Then he discussed what it is going to be like when we face God one day upon our death.  Chan said, “Is there anything more important in your life than hearing God say the words, ‘Well done,’ when you get to heaven?”  That puts it all in perspective, doesn’t it?

Bowing and trembling before the fearsome majesty of God, and hearing Him say, “Well done.”  Wow.

Can he say that to me?  I know by grace He can and will, but I think of the state of my heart, and the things I’ve done and thought this week, and I just go, “Wow.  I’m ashamed. I don’t deserve that.”  But it is the most refreshing and comforting thing in the world to think He could say that to me.

Hamilton did a lesson last night at church on self control.  He said part of the way we build up self control is to write a list of every verse that will help us in an area, and then read that list every day, until it is internalized and it helps us get where we need to go.  That is what I need to do.  There are some things that I need to work on so that I can hear God say, “Well done.”  I will never deserve to hear those words.  I will never get all the way there.  But I can get better.

Going back to the verse I started this blog with, what is the source of my security and pride? Let me put my confidence in the most solid things.  Time is short.  What is really meaningful?  How do I make each moment count?  What do I need to do better?

Let me lay down the refuse of my self pleasing, my desire for recognition, my expectations, the desire to look good.  Let me instead get on my knees, with my face to the ground, and let Him make me into the person to whom He will say, “Well done.”

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The Pathway of Adventure

Setting out on the pathway of adventure

Setting out on the pathway of adventure

“Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to your mercy remember you me for your goodness’ sake, O LORD. Good and upright is the LORD: therefore will he teach sinners in the way. The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way”  Isa 25:7-8

All of us sin so much.  And we get lost in our sin.  And we get frustrated with the sins of others.  When will I get myself together?  When will they get themselves together?

How comforting it is to know that God is merciful.  Even though we don’t deserve it, he teaches us a way out of our messes.

Our contribution to the process is to be humble, to be quiet and watch for His guidance.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart; and lean not to your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths.”  Prov 3:5-6

One of my long time favorite verses!  According to MY understanding, we are in a hopeless muddle.  But if we look to him, he will show us a way out — no, more than that, he will actively direct our steps in the way we should go!

Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear;…  Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped….  Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert…. And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way.”  (Selections from Isa 35)

If we will continue to be strong, to work as the woman in Proverbs 31 — “She sets about her work vigorously, her arms are strong for her tasks” — the highway will be there.  That woman can work with strength because she has faith in God and does not let discouragement overwhelm her.

If we will be like the adventurer, setting out with excitement about what God will do, then there will be results!  Then we will walk with grace.  Then the way will seem clear to us.  The key is to march forth positively with anticipation, day in and day out, not shrinking back.

“How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you. Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”  Isa 30:20-21

Why do we turn to the left or the right?  Why do we wander?  We have A.D.D.  We are constantly distracted by our desires.  We want comfort.  We want stimulation and entertainment.  We’re “looking for love in all the wrong places.”  We are like the Israelites who “became prostitutes in Egypt, engaging in prostitution from their youth.”  Eze 23:3

It is so heartening that God is gracious and he hears when we cry for help.  He WILL help us go in the right direction.  It’s not just up to us to pore over the Bible and figure it out.  He is there with us, involved, actively guiding.

And He will take us in an awesome direction.  He will vanquish the challenges in our life.  Things will happen during the course of the day that are extraordinary.  Life will unfold in a way that is more than we could ask or imagine.  According to our faith it will be done.

Thanks be to God that he sent Jesus to be our shepherd and show us the way.

“Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  John 10

 

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