AM I POSITIONED FOR THE MIRACULOUS?

GENESIS 7:1-5: “Then the Lord said to Noah, “Enter the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you alone are righteous before me in this generation. You are to take with you seven pairs, a male and its female, of all the clean animals, and two of the animals that are not clean, a male and its female, and seven pairs, male and female, of the birds of the sky — in order to keep offspring alive throughout the earth. Seven days from now I will make it rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and every living thing I have made I will wipe off the face of the earth.” And Noah did everything that the Lord commanded him.” CSB

OBSERVATION: Am I positioned for the miraculous? As I enter the New Year am I trusting the Lord to do exceedingly, abundantly, above all I am able to ask or think? What is the key to walking in the miraculous provision of the Lord?

There is a great difference between the Biblical record and many books written by men when it comes to the miraculous. If I was to rely on the many books that have been written, I would end up adopting some system to receive my miracle. Yet, the Bible never teaches a system. It proclaims the wonders of a miraculous God who worked in miraculous ways for very ordinary people.

Miracles were never the works of man. They were always the gift of God. Paul, rebuking the Galatian church said,

  • “You foolish Galatians! Who has cast a spell on you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? I only want to learn this from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by the Spirit, are you now finishing by the flesh? Did you experience so much for nothing — if in fact it was for nothing? So then, does God give you the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law? Or is it by believing what you heard — just like Abraham who believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness?” Galatians 3:1-6 CSB

The story of Noah is a wonderful example of the miraculous provision of God given to an ordinary man of faith. God called Noah to build an ark, gave him the instructions, and Noah built it. Some have estimated from the Biblical record that it took Noah between 55-75 years to complete this project. In modern day terms that would be an entire lifetime. For a man to build an ark, for a proposed flood, on dry ground, requires faith. And the Biblical record states,

  • “And Noah did everything that the Lord commanded him.”

There is a unique participation between man and God in the working of the miraculous. God calls man by faith. Faith is evidenced in action. And God’s miraculous provision meets man at the intersection of these two. God called Noah to build an ark. Noah believed God (faith), and he built the ark (action, obedience). But how was Noah to round up all the animals and lead them into the ark? And who was going to close the huge door of the ark once they were securely in? This is where the miraculous provision of God meets the faith and obedience of Noah.

We have three cats in our house. I love cats. They are really my favorite four legged animal. Yet, have you ever tried to herd up three cats and put them into a single room? Needless to say – it is a challenge. Now put yourself in Noah’s position. How in the world, apart from the miraculous intervention of God, could he ever lead two of every living creature into the ark? And how could he guarantee that every species would remain healthy and alive as the floods came and they waited for the waters to subside? It was all the miraculous provision of God!

Someone wisely said, our job is to do the natural, it is God’s job to do the supernatural. It is when faith is evidenced in obedience that we are positioned for the intersection of the miraculous to touch our lives. What we are not able to do, He is able to do. All we can give Him is our obedience, the fruit of our faith. The rest is up to Him. If Noah had given up and not built the ark, none of us would be here today. His obedience opened up the wellspring of miraculous provision through the promised seed, Jesus Christ our Lord.

This is not works righteousness. We never earn the miraculous provision of God. We simply meet it on the road of faith and obedience. Faith trusts God so much that it causes us to act. When we are faithful in the small ordinary things, no matter how long it takes, the Lord shows up with His miraculous provision. It is not always overnight. Abraham had to wait 25 years for his son of promise. Yet, God touched a barren womb and a man past the age of siring a child, and Isaac, the child of miraculous provision was born!

When you read the pages of Scripture this is the pattern you will find. God calls a man. The man believes in the call (faith). The man acts on this faith (obedience). God meets the man with His miraculous provision. It is really quite simple. Yet, we complicate it so that we can make it into a formula that will sell books or seminars. This New Year we all have a choice. If we want to meet the miraculous provision of the Lord in our lives we only need to trust and obey. The old hymn puts it very eloquently,

“Trust and obey, for there’s no other way

To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”

Lord, as I welcome in the New Year, help me be positioned for Your miraculous provision. Help me to trust and obey!

In Jesus Name!

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WHAT IS THE WORSHIP GOD ACCEPTS?

GENESIS 4:1-5: “The man was intimate with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain. She said, “I have had a male child with the Lord’s help.” She also gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel became a shepherd of flocks, but Cain worked the ground. In the course of time Cain presented some of the land’s produce as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also presented an offering — some of the firstborn of his flock and their fat portions. The Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but he did not have regard for Cain and his offering. Cain was furious, and he looked despondent.” CSB

OBSERVATION: What is the worship God accepts? How am I approaching the Lord through my worship? When I go to church, what is the sacrifice that I am presenting to Him? Is it an offering of the works of my hands, or is it an offering of faith?

When you read the first five verses of Genesis chapter 4 it appears that both Cain and Abel were bringing a sacrifice of the works of their hands. Cain was a farmer and Abel was a shepherd. With just a cursory reading one might wonder – “What did Cain do that was of bad that the Lord did not have regard for his offering?”

The text does not give us the background to fully answer this question. A little assumption needs to be made. They both brought their offering “…in the course of time.” This can refer to a period of time, or an appointed time. We must assume that Adam and Eve had already passed down to them the importance of a blood sacrifice in approaching God in worship. The Lord had cut His covenant with Adam and Eve through the blood of the animals He offered when He provided them with clothes. Adam and Eve must have taught the importance of the sacrifice to their sons.

Yet, the question still remains. What was so wrong with Cain’s sacrifice? It probably was the first fruits of his crops. It probably was the best of his crops. And still the Lord did not receive it. This is because Cain presented himself to the Lord with a sacrifice that was based on his works, the produce that he had planted and produced. Abel presented himself to the Lord through faith by offering a blood sacrifice as a reminder of his covenant with God.

  • By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was approved as a righteous man, because God approved his gifts, and even though he is dead, he still speaks through his faith.” Hebrews 11:4 CSB

From the beginning of time mankind was taught that they could only approach the Lord on the basis of faith. Faith was shown in Abel’s sacrifice, but not in Cain’s. Cain thought he could approach the Lord on his own terms, and that his own works were good enough to present to the Lord. Abel, cognizant of his sinfulness, approached the Lord with a blood sacrifice to atone for his sins. This sacrifice was not a result of the work of Abel’s hands. It was the gift of God to Abel being presented back to God in faith.

When I approach the Lord in worship, am I bringing an offering of works or of faith? If I think that my accomplishments are what is pleasing to the Lord, I am offering up a sacrifice like Cain’s. However, if I understand that even my greatest works and accomplishments are but refuse, and I come to Him based on the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ, I am offering up the sacrifice of Abel, the sacrifice of faith. My access to the Lord in worship is never based on what I have done, or will do. It is solely based on what Jesus Christ has done for me.

I can only approach the Lord through the blood of Jesus Christ!

  • “Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus — he has inaugurated for us a new and living way through the curtain (that is, through his flesh ) — and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, since he who promised is faithful. And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.” Hebrews 10:19-25 CSB

The call to worship, both individually and corporately, is a call to enter into the Lord’s presence through a new and living way. This new and living way is to come before Him through the final sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. Jesus shed His blood once and for all so that we could eternally have access to the Father in worship by faith. We no longer have to bring an offering of an animal as a temporary sacrifice. We come to the Lord through the completed work of the Cross. We enter in through the open veil (His sacrifice), through the blood of Jesus Christ!

So then, what is our sacrifice? What do we bring to the Lord? We bring ourselves as a living sacrifice, surrendered, and presented to the Lord in worship. We do not bring our accomplishments, our righteousness, or our works. We bring our bodies, heart, soul, and mind, as a living sacrifice. This is the worship that is acceptable to the Lord. This is the offering of Abel.

  • “Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:1-2 CSB

As I meditate upon this truth and this call, I am humbled by the realization that so many times I approach the Lord with an offering like Cain. Somehow I get the idea that I must impress the Lord with my works. The truth is that my works can never impress Him. It is faith that touches the heart of God. It is my surrender that He wants. It is complete trust in the final and all sufficient sacrifice of Jesus Christ. When I come to the Lord in humility and faith – He joyfully accepts my worship.

Lord, forgive me for the times that I have tried to approach You based on my own works. I don’t want to approach You with the works of my hands. I want to come to You through the completed work of Jesus Christ. I want to give You my life as a living sacrifice, wholly surrendered to Your will. Lord – teach me how to worship You through faith!

In Jesus Name!

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WHAT WILL THE “NEW YEAR” BRING?

GENESIS 3:9-13: “So the Lord God called out to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.” Then he asked, “Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” The man replied, “The woman you gave to be with me — she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate.” So the Lord God asked the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” CSB

OBSERVATION: What will the New Year bring? With only a few days before we ring in another New Year, our thoughts leap forward and are filled with hope and anticipation. Perhaps the past year was not all we had hoped it would be. Yet, a clean slate lies before us – as long as someone or something else doesn’t mess it up!

Built into the fabric of our broken spiritual DNA is a common flaw that makes its way into the Biblical narrative very early on. It is the common flaw of what we call “passing the buck.” It is our tendency to blame everything on someone or something else, rather than taking personal responsibility for our own actions. It started in the Garden and continues on to this day.

The Garden of Eden was much like a New Year. It was a clean slate filled with wonder and possibility. Every opportunity was given to Adam and Eve, including the freedom of choice. It was this freedom of choice that was misused. When they fell prey to the deceptive lies of the serpent (Satan), they made the wrong choice and ate from the one tree that they were told not to eat from. This choice changed everything!

So how did they deal with this bad choice? When confronted by the Lord they immediately began to blame each other. Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent. Neither of them was willing to take personal responsibility for their actions and for the consequence of these actions. This broken pattern continues to this day. It can really have an impact on how we enter into the New Year.

Now, this is not to say that everything that happens in life is due to a choice. However, regardless of the source of the things we face in life, we have a choice on how we respond to these things. If we deal with every challenge or setback by blaming others we will never find the pathway to overcome the obstacles we face. To make oneself the victim in every situation is to keep oneself in a perpetual state of brokenness. Even when I am the victim, I still have a choice. I can choose the pathway toward healing, or I can allow myself to be overcome by the victimization. The power of choice can never be taken away from me.

This is especially true when it comes to broken patterns of sin in my life. Every one of us has a personal area of weakness and struggle that we face. It is easy to point the finger at other people, our upbringing, or society for our failures. Yet, the failure to face our own personal responsibility will keep us trapped in this cycle of sin. Instead of overcoming the sin, we find ourselves rationalizing it, justifying it, and living with it. Yet, it continues to sap our spiritual strength and limit our fellowship with the Lord and one another.

When we surrender our lives to Jesus Christ the power of sin over our lives is broken. This does not mean that we will never sin again. However, it does mean that we now have a choice when it comes to sin. By the grace of God, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can choose – not to sin!

  • “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be rendered powerless so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin, since a person who has died is freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him, because we know that Christ, having been raised from the dead, will not die again. Death no longer rules over him. For the death he died, he died to sin once for all time; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So, you too consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, so that you obey its desires.” Romans 6:6-12 CSB

Paul is not talking about our physical death. He is speaking of our spiritual rebirth through our death to sin. Without Christ we are powerless over the pull of sin in our lives. We are destined to fail, and will live in a cycle of guilt, shame, and passing the buck. However, when we place our faith in Jesus Christ and are born again, we are united with Him in His death and resurrection. The power of sin is broken in our life. We now have a choice to not sin. We now have the choice of living for the Lord through the power of the Holy Spirit!

How should this impact the way we face this New Year? It should help us to embrace our personal responsibility and empower us to make better choices. When we face temptation – we have a choice. When we face disappointment – we have a choice. When we face injustice – we have a choice. When we face sorrow – we have a choice.

In every situation of life – we have a choice!

If we choose to embrace our personal responsibility, if we choose to own our choices, if we choose to confess our sin, and if we choose to confess our need for the Lord, He will always be there to cleanse us, forgive us, restore us, and lead us into the pathway of victory and healing. The New Year can be a year of deepening our walk with the Lord and growing in His victory in our lives. As we look toward its open door – we all have a choice!

  • “This command that I give you today is certainly not too difficult or beyond your reach. It is not in heaven so that you have to ask, ‘Who will go up to heaven, get it for us, and proclaim it to us so that we may follow it?’ And it is not across the sea so that you have to ask, ‘Who will cross the sea, get it for us, and proclaim it to us so that we may follow it?’ But the message is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, so that you may follow it…I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, love the Lord your God, obey him, and remain faithful to him. For he is your life, and he will prolong your days as you live in the land the Lord swore to give to your fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Deuteronomy 30:11-14, 19-20 CSB

Lord, this New Year, help me to choose You!

Help me to choose Life!

In Jesus Name!

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AM I BEING TRANSFORMED THROUGH PRAISE?

PSALM 84:4-8: “Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise! Selah Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion. As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools. They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion. O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah” ESV

OBSERVATION: Am I being transformed through praise? The Psalmist proclaims both the importance of being with God’s people and the power of praise as we journey through the most difficult times of life. When we are facing great difficulty or sorrow, it does not seem natural to think of offering praise. Yet, it is our willingness to offer the sacrifice of praise to the Lord in these time that brings about a marvelous and miraculous transformation in our lives.

  • “Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise!”

There is something about being in the presence of God with God’s people that lifts us up and gives us strength. I can sing and offer praises to the Lord alone in my home or car, but it is never the same as when I am surrounded by hearts of faith that are lifting up their voices to worship and praise the One who was, and is, and is to come. At that moment I am transformed from a “me” focus to a “God” focus. I am reminded that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. And my spirit is renewed in faith as I put my trust in Him!

  • “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion. As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools.”

The Psalms speak over and over again about the journey of the Jews toward Jerusalem in anticipation of the festivals and coming to the Temple to worship. This journey to us speaks of the journey of life. There are times when this journey is filled with victory and celebration. And there are times when this journey is filled with sorrow and weeping. The Valley of Baca is only mentioned in this Psalm. It can be translated the Valley of Weeping from the Hebrew. Many believe it was not a literal place, but a figurative one, much like the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

The Psalmist proclaims that something wonderful transpires as one of God’s children offers the sacrifice of praise in the valley of weeping. The very tears that are shed are transformed into a place of springs. From a dry and desolate desert an oasis is born. It is praise that waters this desert through our tears. It transforms the soil of our hearts and allows the fruit of God’s grace to take root in our lives. And the springs become pools of refreshing so that not only are we restored, but the Lord then begins to use our lives to restore others.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 ESV

  • “They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion. O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob!”

I love the hope that is found in this verse! Our lives in the Lord are a continual transformation from strength to strength. Through a life of praise I am transformed. Each situation in my life is redeemed by the grace of God. He takes even the worst life has to offer and works it for the good in my life. Each mountain I climb does not sap away my strength, it strengthens me as I learn to place my trust in the Lord. And here is the best part of all – I reach my final destination! The Psalmist says – “…each one appears before God in Zion.”

What a wonderful picture of God’s faithfulness in our life. He who has begun a good work in us has also promised to complete this work. As we walk through the pathways of life we have a reason to give God praise. Called to walk with God’s people, we are never alone, we are always surrounded by our brothers and sisters in the Lord. There is mutual love and encouragement through His Church. And, we have the blessed assurance that He always hears our prayers. This is why the Apostle Paul can proclaim,

  • “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:12-18 ESV

The transforming call of a life of praise is never a solitary call. It is a c all to God’s people as they pilgrimage through life. It is a call to the Church to be a house of prayer and healing. It is a call to encourage one another with the same comfort and encouragement that we have received from the Lord. It is the blessed assurance that even when we walk through the Valley of Weeping we will be restored. We will meet joy in the morning as we learn to offer to the Lord the sacrifice of praise.

Lord, transform the dry places in my life into springs of life, into pools of restoration, as I pilgrimage through life, offering to You the sacrifice of praise.

In Jesus Name!

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IS GOD REALLY FOR ME?

PSALM 81:13-16: “Oh, that My people would listen to Me, That Israel would walk in My ways! I would soon subdue their enemies, And turn My hand against their adversaries. The haters of the LORD would pretend submission to Him, But their fate would endure forever. He would have fed them also with the finest of wheat; And with honey from the rock I would have satisfied you.” NKJV

OBSERVATION: Is God really for me? This is a question many ask at this time of year. For some the echoes of “Merry Christmas” seem hollow in the midst of their personal situation and pain. If God is really for me, why do I find myself in the situation I am in?

There is no easy answer to this question. It is simplistic to view everything in life in a cause and effect way. This was the error of the Jews during Jesus time. When Jesus encountered a man born blind, his disciples asked him,

  • “And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” John 9:2-5 NKJV

Take a moment to think about Jesus’ answer. He broke through the stereotypical assumption that the blind man’s personal situation was totally a fault of his own. And then Jesus did something more, He showed God’s intention to do something wonderful in this man’s life. As we read the rest of the story we discover what this was. The blind man was restored to sight.

So many keep the Lord at arms length because they hold a wrong concept of God. They view Him as some tyrannical ruler who is just waiting to punish them when they make a mistake. Or worst yet, they view Him as impartial and totally separated from their present condition. Both of these could not be further from the truth. The Lord declares through the Psalmist,

  • “Oh, that My people would listen to Me, That Israel would walk in My ways! I would soon subdue their enemies, And turn My hand against their adversaries. The haters of the LORD would pretend submission to Him, But their fate would endure forever. He would have fed them also with the finest of wheat; And with honey from the rock I would have satisfied you.”

God did not sit idly by to watch His creation come to ruin. He knew and understood the toll that sin had taken upon mankind. Destined for judgment and eternal ruin, God did something. This is what Christmas is all about!

  • “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” John 3:16-17 NKJV

If ever the intentions and heart of God were in question, they were answered in one solitary act. This act is called the incarnation. It is when God Himself entered into our plight, took on the form of a human, and came to reveal the true heart and intent of the Father. Jesus lived a perfect life for us, and He took the penalty of our sins upon Himself through His death on the Cross. And He proclaimed forever God’s intent and heart toward us when He rose from the dead.

The Apostle Paul proclaims in his Epistle to the Romans.

  • “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” Romans 8:28-32 NKJV

So this Christmas Eve, if you are still in doubt about God’s love and intent for your life, take a moment to look upon three things. Look upon the Lowly Manger where the Creator of the Universe humbly came to live and walk among us. Take a look at the Old Rugged Cross where Jesus died in your place so that you could be forgiven and freed from the power of sin and inherit eternal life. And, look at the Empty Tomb, where He forever proclaimed His love for you when He conquered the power of death and proclaimed “good” over your life!

I don’t know what situation you find yourself in this Christmas Eve. You may be mourning the loss of a loved one. You may be facing a broken relationship or a lost job. You may be battling a long term illness. You may be facing the unknown. Whatever your situation – God is for you! His Word proclaims it. His actions confirm it. And an empty tomb guarantees it. The Bible says let everything be confirmed in the mouth of two or three witnesses. There are three witnesses that proclaim that God is for you,

  • A Lowly Manger…
  • A Rugged Cross…
  • An Empty Tomb…

Merry Christmas!

In Jesus Name!

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THE PITFALL OF ISOLATION…

PROVERBS 18:1-2: “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” ESV

OBSERVATION: Have you ever isolated yourself from others in your time of trial? Isolation is one of the key ways the enemy of our souls positions us for his attacks. There is something in our human nature that tends to pull away from others in our times of crisis or disappointment. We need to learn and understand how destructive this pattern actually is.

In 40 years of pastoral ministry I have both witnessed and been the subject of isolation. Isolation is often linked to times of great trial, disappointment, and personal offense. However, isolation can also be the result of temptation and the attempt to walk the fence in our spiritual lives. As one studies the pages of Scripture they will discover that when someone isolates himself from the people of God, it never turns out well.

One key example of this is found in the life of David and his fall into sin. David was alone and isolated from his army while his army was engaged in war. Isolation usually leads to idle time. Isolated, idle, and not engaged in his duty, David found himself walking on the roof of the palace and looking where he should not have been looking. This led to his sin with Bathsheba, the death of Uriah his close ally, the death of a newborn child, and the eventual rebellion of his son Absalom against his rule and the kingdom. All of this could have been avoided if David had not isolated himself!

Here is the pattern I have observed during my years as a pastor. Someone is hurt or offended, or is facing an extremely difficult time n their life, and the first thing they give up is their church attendance. The Bible likens us to sheep, so in essence, they decide to leave the sheepfold. The enemy is very crafty. He tries to convince them that they can do just fine staying at home, reading their Bible, and praying. Yet, isolated, idle, they begin to rehearse their hurt and disappointment over and over again. And one by one, they begin to stop praying, and reading the Bible. They are now alone, without their spiritual armor, and open to the attack of the enemy.

When the enemy of our souls comes to attack, he does not choose to attack the strong sheep. He looks for the stragglers, for the isolated and wounded sheep. He is not a shepherd at all. He is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The Bible warns us over and over again of his method of attack.

  • “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” John 10:10-13 ESV
  • “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” 1 Peter 5:8-9 ESV

When we are going through great trials, when we have been wounded emotionally, when we have encountered great disappointment or loss, we must resist the temptation to isolate ourselves from the sheepfold. The church, the Body of Christ, is this sheepfold. It is the place of protection and healing for the people of God. When a sheep is wounded it needs to be protected and surrounded by the prayers and love of the other sheep, as together they look to the Great Shepherd for His healing power and care. Surrounded in love they are protected from the attacks of the enemy and from the pitfalls of isolation and idleness.

But, what do you do when the people who are the cause of your woundedness are the very people in your sheepfold? Jumping from church to church is so common today. If someone looks at us cross eyed we simply get in the car and drive to the church down the street. And, in a short time we find ourselves facing the same issues and problems with the new sheepfold we have identified ourselves with. As in marriage, so in the life of the church. We are called to work through our issues, to speak the truth in love, and to find reconciliation, forgiveness, and healing – right where God planted us. The church is not supposed to have a revolving door. The church is only supposed to have a sending door.

During my times of deepest despair, disappointment, physical and emotional duress, I have found the safety of being in the midst of God’s people. There were times when I led God’s people. And there were times when they surrounded me in love and carried me. Yet, in all of these times I was surrounded by both the people of God and the presence of God. The times in my life where I isolated myself always led to deeper hurt and disappointment. I have found how desperately I need to be a part of the people of God, the church, His Church! I have found the truth that Proverbs proclaims,

  • “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.”

The writer of Hebrews puts it this way,

  • “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:19-25 ESV

If we are going to enter into the holy place in worship, if we are going to draw near to God with a true heart in full assurance of faith, if we are going to hold fast to our confession – then we need each other. The call to worship, to faith, and to perseverance is a call to the sheepfold, not just to an individual sheep. We need each other in our walk of faith and service in the Lord. It is through the gifts and love of the Body of Christ that we are nurtured, encouraged, and protected as we serve the Lord and look forward to the Day of his appearing.

This morning the Lord is reminding me of the importance of His Church as I begin a new chapter in my life. I am no longer an undershepherd, a pastor leading a congregation. I am now one of the sheep called to join my heart and hands in love and service to the other sheep, and to my Great Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ. This is not the first time the roles in my life have changed. Yet, as I have seen the sheepfold from both sides I have grown in love with God’s Church, and I look forward to my new role in encouraging others to move from isolation into the sheepfold of God’s people.

There is great love and protection in the Family of God!

In Jesus Name!

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A NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION YOU CAN KEEP!

PROVERBS 16:20, 22: “Whoever gives thought to the word will discover good, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord…Good sense is a fountain of life to him who has it, but the instruction of fools is folly.” ESV

OBSERVATION: Have you thought about your New Year’s Resolution? There are only 10 days until Christmas. The stores are buzzing with activity. The highways are unusually busy. Schedules are cluttered with office and family Christmas parties. And yet something looms in the not so distant future – a New Year!

When all the celebrations are ended, when all the wrapping paper has been cleaned up, there is that week between Christmas and New Year when we begin to reflect on the year ahead. What will it be like? What changes will it bring? What changes in my life do I want to make?

I have never been one for New Year’s Resolutions. They are usually made and broken within the first few weeks, or even the first few days. Marketers know the cycle and the drill. The next rush of advertising right after Christmas is fitness equipment. This must be the only time during the year when there is a rush to buy these items. And why? It is because of New Year’s Resolutions that are made, but hardly ever followed.

However, there is one New Year’s Resolution that I made many years ago that truly changed my life. It was more of a decision than a resolution. I have always loved the Word of God. Yet, I never found a successful way to read the Bible through in a single year. I had tried everything from reading schedules to the formulated one year Bibles. The problem with all of these methods for me is that they contained dates. When I fell behind, these dates were a constant reminder and became a heavy weight that always won the battle.

Then one week between Christmas and New Year I had a thought. How many chapters are there in the Bible? I looked it up. There are 1,189 chapters in the Bible. I then thought – “How long would it take me to read through the Bible if I read 4 chapters a day?” I did the math, It was 297 days. That means that there are 67 extra days in the reading schedule. I could miss a day, and still stay on schedule. This thought gave me an idea!

What would happen if I read three chapters of the Old Testament, and one chapter of the New Testament each day. And then, what if I began to journal and write my thoughts when the Lord spoke to my heart about a key verse of section of Scripture. And, what if I integrated my prayer time and worship time into this discovery period in God’s Word. Through all of these thoughts the L.I.F.E. Devotional Plan was born. And let me tell you what it has done for my life.

  • “Whoever gives thought to the word will discover good, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.”

As I give thought to the Word each day (and yes, I still do miss days), I discover good each day. In fact, I discover God each day! Never before has my relationship with the Lord grown so deep than over the years that I have been using the L.I.F.E. reading plan. As Solomon notes in Proverbs,

  • “Good sense is a fountain of life to him who has it,..”

As I meditate upon God’s Word, as I allow the Holy Spirit to speak to my life, as I journal my thoughts and listen to the still small voice of the Spirit, and as I bathe this with prayer and worship, I enter into His fountain of life. And there is something wonderful that happens. His thoughts begin to become my thoughts. This within itself is the essence of “good sense.” This is what Proverbs calls the fear of the Lord, wisdom, understanding, and prudence.

The first year that I began this plan I barely made it. However, I did make it! Each year I choose a different, unmarked, version of the Bible. Each year I finish earlier and earlier, as it has become my delight, and I do not miss many days any more. I then use this extra time to focus on some key books of the Bible that I feel especially drawn to at this time. You don’t have to buy any special Bible, you don’t need a calendar. All you need is a notebook, a pen, and two bookmarks to keep track of your progress.

“L” stands for LIGHT. I read until I have a light bulb moment when a Scripture jumps off the page and speaks to me. “I” stands for intercession. I take time to pray over this Scripture, and also to pray as I read and as the Lord places people and situations on my heart. “F” stands for forgiveness. One of the key components of abiding in the word is repentance, followed by worship. As the Word of God convicts me, I repent. And receiving His grace and cleansing, I rejoice and worship Him. And finally, the “E” stands for engagement. It is not enough to simply be hearers of the Word, when I journal I grapple with the Word and meditate upon how I can put this into practice.

When I first made this New Year’s Resolution it was a duty. It was hard, but I was determined not to fail again. With the grace of God, this duty saw me through. However, something wonderful happened. This duty became a joyful discipline. And this joyful discipline became a delight. My time in God’s Word, my time in worship and prayer, and my time journaling my thoughts, have become the delight of my life! My day is not the same when I miss this precious time with the Lord.

As I move closer to the New Year I am filled with excitement. What version of the Bible will I read in 2019? What life changing insights will the Lord show me? What breakthroughs and victories will flow from my times of meditations, journaling, prayer, and worship? What wisdom and understanding will lead me into the paths that lie before me?

This year, you can spend a lot of money on a piece of exercise equipment, or you can buy an inexpensive journal and pen, an unmarked Bible, and start of the adventure of a lifetime. An adventure of your L.I.F.E.. I pray you too will discover the pathway, however it is found, into this daily encounter with the Lord. May His Word become your true delight!

In Jesus Name!

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