Faith Sized Expectations

“Because you have so little faith truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘move from here to there’, and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20
The disciples had been trying to help. We don’t know how long they prayed, if they fasted, or what healing they claimed in Jesus name. Whatever they did – – it didn’t work. The disciples must have demonstrated some Spirit filled ability at some point,for this father to come to them believing they could heal him. Why then didn’t it work? Why couldn’t they expel this demon? Was their faith lacking?

Did the disciples expect to see this boy healed? Did they believe when Jesus told them, “as you go proclaim this message, ‘ the kingdom of heaven has come near’ heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received freely give.” Matthew 10:7-8 If Jesus indeed gave them the authority to perform miracles, why in this instance could they not? The disciples asked why, and Jesus replied. “because you have so little faith.”


How often have our expectations of God fallen short of His? When we ask for His help, for the Holy Spirit’s intervention are we asking with the expectation of a mustard seed or a watermelon? Our expectations of what God can and will do mirror the size of our faith. Do we have faith to move mountains or faith to help us find a road around them? Do we expect a demon to be cast out or a boy to calm down? Where God wants to dazzle, amaze, blow our minds, and glorify Himself, we’re hoping for a release, or relief from our immediate discomfort.

Perhaps the disciple’s expectation of what should happen or might happen didn’t align with God’s plan for the moment. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1 What were they convinced was going to happen? Were their hopes and convictions in line with God’s?

I’ve seen in my own life that often my expectations of what God wants to do is in direct correlation with the strength of my faith. Little faith equals little expectation. The disciples wanted a boy healed, God wanted lives to be changes, a family to be restored, a community rejoicing and glorifying God together. The disciples could not heal the boy, perhaps because their faith and expectations of what God was doing were too small.

James tells us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.” James 1:5-7

If we believe God can do immeasurably more than we can ever imagine, then we must ask with full confidence, and expect that He is already moving. Our expectations need to be bigger, but before that can happen our faith needs to be bigger. God loves surprising us; He loves exceeding our expectations. Jesus tells us, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Luke 6:38

What do you expect God to do in your current circumstance? Do you believe that He can do greater things than you can even comprehend? You should believe it because He can, and He does!

NOTE: His faithfulness is not dependent on your worthiness – don’t let your feelings of unworthiness diminish your expectation of His greatness. Don’t believe that your faith is what causes God’s actions. God’s faithfulness demonstrated across eternity is what gives us the conviction to know He will act, and the confidence to walk in expectation of His grace and mercy.

If having faith like a mustard seed can move mountains…what could watermelon sized faith accomplish? Live in great expectation of God’s greatness and His love for you!

Please help me share the good news of Jesus and how He can change your life, and our world!

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Come back and visit at ListenLearn.Live Ministries

Don’t Waste an Experience

I was reminded recently of the impact each of us has on the lives of those around us. Over the past several weeks I’ve lost multiple family members and friends, all of them unexpected and tragic. Looking back on how they each impacted my life, I am who I am partly because of them. Each has left their mark on my life, for better or worse, they are part of me and my memories of them are cherished.

While I spent time wading through photographs, I remembered some things I had forgotten. My Uncle Mark, who passed last month, taught me how to ride a bike. More than that he taught me not to be afraid. He told me that I would probably fall, I might bleed, but would I let that stop me from learning to ride? In fact I did fall, and I did bleed, but I rode my bike and I loved it! Bumps and bruises will happen in life, will we let that fear keep us from living?

One of my girl friends from when I was in high school passed a few days later. She and I were close, then we weren’t, then we were, then we lost touch. Amy and I grew close during our earliest young adult years, and she taught me to see the good in every moment, especially in the small, boring, insignificant moments, because each is a blessing. In the process of reconnecting with a group of our mutual friends, someone shared a moment where I had impacted their life. Then another friend shared, and another. Before long we were each sharing memories of how we had, without realizing it, indelibly left our mark on the others. I guess, I never thought back then that something I did or said would be remembered 30 years later.

Driving home after services that day, I was struck how each of us impacts the lives of those around us. Whether we want to or not, what we say and do, or don’t say or do will leave an impression. I heard it said that non-believers are more likely to watch how professing Christians live their lives, than to read the Bible. In other words, the things we say and do, may be the only experience of Jesus some people will ever have, what do our lives say about us, what do they say about Jesus?

Are we uplifting, encouraging, edifying one another or tearing down? Do our lives point to Jesus or do they only bring attention to ourselves? Are we helping others to become the people God created them to be, or beating them into a mold that best suits our needs and expectations.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:29-32

I was so grateful for the very humbling reminder that God gives each of us, every day the opportunity to positively affect those around us. A smile or friendly gesture, taking the time to speak with someone who feels alone or excluded, reaching out just because, sharing a meal, giving a hug, being a friend, all simple acts with long term impact. It takes no more time to lift someone up than it does to tear them down. It takes no more time to be respectful and polite, than to be rude and demeaning.

Jesus went to those in the world who needed Him most. The sick, broken, downtrodden, and the sinners. He came to the mourners, the possessed, the lost and the outcasts. Jesus didn’t come to  those who thought they were good enough, He provided enough for all to come to Him. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Romans 5:6-8

One day after I have gone to Glory, I hope that I have lived my life in a way that has had a positive impact on those around me. I pray that I lived my life in a way that pointed to Jesus and drew people closer to Him. I want to encourage people to be brave, enjoy every moment, and to love those that God has called us to love.

Please help me share the good news of Jesus and how He can change your life, and our world!

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No word from God will ever fail!

my ways are not your way

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? Romans 8:31

If God is for us, who can be against us…Powerful words, words full of promise and commitment. Words to encourage and assure us, words that fully express God’s passion for His children. Just a few verses later it states, Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril or sword? – Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. Romans 8:35-37

So, if God is for us and nothing can separate His children from Him, then why are we so fearful? Why do we doubt His love and His care? Why do we think and act if things are either out of His reach, to big for Him to handle or too small for Him to care?

Is it a lack of faith? I believe that, at least in my life, it’s a lack of understanding. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:9

I don’t understand why I had to struggle so much in life; death, loss, more death, trials and tribulations…why? I asked that a lot. What I have experienced recently however, is a growing sense of who God is, through my relationship with Jesus Christ, and through that, a better knowledge of how little I know, or as Socrates put it, “True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing.”

Isaiah 41:10“Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”

I can’t comprehend the passion and fullness of God’s love, or of Jesus’s sacrifice for me. I can only understand through the lenses of my life’s experiences, without the Holy Spirit. And there it is…with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in my life I can begin to experience and understand God’s ways, who Jesus is, and through that the unthinkable grace that’s been given to me.

Cory Asbury expresses this so well in his song Reckless Love“Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God. Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine. I couldn’t earn it, and I don’t deserve it, still, You give Yourself away Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God.”

God is sovereign. Nothing gets by Him, nothing is beyond Him, nothing surprises Him, and He can and will work ALL things for His Glory and our good. More than that, there is nothing that will surprise Him, shock Him or rock Him.

Jeremiah 32:27“Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me?

So, back to my point, if God is with us who can be against us? Knowing that there is nothing God can’t do, nothing is too big or too small for His attention and that He will always provide for our needs, then why do we still doubt and fear? I believe it is because we have a very hard time, without the help of the Holy Spirit, fully comprehending who He is.

The remedy is easy, get to know Him better. Ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom to discern His ways, pray for understanding, read His words. None of us would attempt to write a biography on a famous individual without spending considerable time with that person, reading about them, studying their actions and decisions. Why then do we throw our hands up in the air and yell, “why Lord”, when we haven’t been intentional in our efforts to know him better?

The key is being intentional, you can’t read a scripture, pray Sunday morning then throw your hands up that it’s not working. It takes time, effort and commitment…the fruits of which however, will be immeasurable; thirty, fifty and a hundred-fold more than you could ever imagine.

Let God surprise and bless you in 2021 as we walk in the path He created for us!

Please help me share the good news of Jesus and how He can change your life, and our world!

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come back and visit at ListenLearn.Live Ministries

 

What’s inside your Tupperware?

green tupperwareYes I just asked you what is inside your Tupperware. Spoiler alert, I am old enough to still own some of the old 1970’s green and gold classic Tupperware, photo shown left. Although I am not old enough to have bought it myself.

 

I still remember being asked by my mom, “Betsy, what is in that Tupperware container in the back of the fridge?”

The only way to find out…the only way, was to pull it out, open it and see.

Yup, you guessed it, if I was lucky it was a few days old left overs. No big deal, dump in the trash, no harm done. However, I’m thinking more about the container that’s been in there since, well who knows how long. Everyone in the family keeps hoping that someone else will deal with it so they won’t have to. Days have gone by, weeks, dare I say a month. There is now a serious science project growing, a 20th century bio-hazard to say the worst.

Everyone gets into the fridge, everyone sees that container, we push it aside to get what we’re looking for. We move it from the top shelf to the middle to the back, hoping it will miraculously not be there the next time we go searching. Then it happens… “Betsy, what’s in that Tupperware container in the back of the fridge?” Oh no, not me, why is it always me?

You walk to the fridge and slowly move some things around, praying miraculously that it won’t be there. Maybe Dad already took it out and dealt with it? Maybe the boys got tired of seeing it and just threw the whole thing in the trash…yea, they’d totally do something like that. Then, you see it, still there, carefully hidden in the back, starring at you. Nope it wasn’t dealt with, now it’s up to you.

How often have we had this conversation with ourselves? How about with God? We know it’s there, the green Tupperware container. It’s hidden in the way back of the fridge. We see it but we just continue to move it around from shelf to shelf. “We’ll deal with that tomorrow, I don’t have time to take care of that today, it’s just going to make a mess and I have things to do…places to go…people to see.” We come up with so many reasons not to deal with it, all the while we’re hoping that one day we’ll open the fridge and the green Tupperware will be gone. Not just gone but emptied, cleaned, put through the dishwasher and sitting on the counter just waiting for us to use it again…it could happen…right?

Here’s the funny thing about green Tupperware, you can’t see through it like a Ziploc bag or a clear plastic container. It’s not a glass jar or plate with Saran wrap. It’s full of toxic sludge that has been there for so long, longer than we’d care to admit, however no one would ever know. There are day’s it’s hidden so far in the back of the fridge, we forget it’s there. When our friends come over all they see is a clean fridge that has some Tupperware in it. Probably last night’s dinner or leftovers from the lunch you had a few days ago. They’d never know what’s really inside.

Green Tupperware can hide a multitude of sins…and no I’m not using that word flippantly. We can often hide it in the deep recesses of who we are, keeping the sludge from being seen by our friends, co-workers, family. The funny thing is, God can see it. He wants to help us deal with it. He wants to take that container of sludge, empty it into the trash, put the Tupperware (yup that’s us) through a holy dishwasher and make us clean. That is the only way He can fill us up with all that He has in store for us. If we’re full of sin, we can’t be full of Him.

My pastor often quotes Jeremiah 29:11, it has become one of my favorite verses from the Bible, “For I know the plans I have for you, “declares the Lord”, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

God doesn’t want you to remain full of the old ‘stuff’ that you carry around inside. He is passionate about you and your life and your happiness. He doesn’t want to condemn, embarrass or humiliate you, He wants to clean you out and set you free.

Next time He asks you what’s in the Tupperware, ask Him to help you open it, you might be surprised by what happens.

I’d love to hear from you. Come back and visit at “Connectthedotblog”.

 

Day 3 Valentines Week – Brotherly Love

“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” Romans 12:10

As I thought about what I wanted to write today, I wanted to find the best way to express this love that we have towards on another. Specifically the love we have for our brothers and sisters in Christ but also for our family and friends. This kind of love which in Greek is Phileo or Philadelphia what we think of as fraternal affection. It is a love, a familial bond between brothers and sisters in Christ, who might not otherwise share an affection. More simply it is the love we share as adopted sons and daughters of God.

Tonight as I was leading our youth, I sat there speaking with them about James chapter 3 and how our words, and actions, stem from the condition of our hearts. While I was speaking I felt an affection for each of these young people, some of whom I’ve known for most of their lives. They are like family to me. I know their parents, I’ve walked with them through tragedy, joy, rights of passage and seen them grow into the young Christians they are. Several of them are my children’s best friends, they are as welcome in my home as they are in my heart. While they are not my children, biologically speaking, I feel a great sense of pride in their accomplishments, I hurt when they hurt, I smile when they smile, I exalt in their success and try to uplift when they are downtrodden. It truly does take a village (or the Body) to raise children, and I am humbled and privileged to be part of that village.

God calls us to love one another with brotherly affection and this is what He is speaking of. Jesus tells his disciples, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35 How we love each other will be our witness to the world that we belong to Christ. The world is watching to see how we treat one another, do we really walk what we talk? Or do we treat our family in Christ the same as everyone else? Do they see us standing up for one another when one of us is being targeted? Do they see us defending our brother or sister when their integrity is being questioned? Do they see us seeking and speaking only loving word about those with whom we walk this road every day?

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.” John 15:12-17

We are not Christ’s servants but his friends and He has called us to love as He did. He laid down His life for us. He commands us to love each other, let brotherly love continue (Hebrews 13:1), love one another deeply from the heart (1 Peter 1:22), and to add to faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection, and love (2 Peter 1:7)

In some translations the words agape and philia are used interchangeably. Agape being God’s love for us and philia being our love for one another in the body. Just as above Jesus command to us is to love one another as He loved us. While we are incapable on our own to love as He loved, He does give us the criteria He’s looking for, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Yesterday, I wrote about the love parents have for their children and how we would gladly give our lives for theirs. Jesus takes this one step farther, that we would lay down our lives for any of our brothers and sisters.

When Jesus describes His love or the Fathers love, the term Agape is used. It is His  unconditional love that flows from His very nature, perfect and complete. The nearest we can express back to Him is what is described here, a preferential love that acknowledges the best in others regardless of their flaws, is not dependent upon that affection being returned, and wells up in us, by its God given nature, the ability to give selflessly of ourselves even unto death.

As broken vessels we are incapable of exemplifying God’s perfect love perfectly. Perhaps, this is as close as we can get, this side of heaven? The love we feel for our brothers and sisters in Christ should be the nearest thing we can express to God’s love for us. Relentless, unyielding, always seeking to see the best in others, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

The love that is described above is not a suggestion  for us to try and follow. It is the very definition of who God calls us to be, especially to those with whom we share our faith. Love is a choice, it is a feeling, it is a matter of will, it flows from a heart transformed by the Holy Spirit.

This week when you look at the faces of those in your life, either via zoom, video chat, or where possible in person, chose to love them as Christ loved you.

 

Is There More Than One Kind of Love?

There are as many books about the topic of love as there are definitions for the word. As I mentioned yesterday, I found no less than 3, and as many as 7 different definitions of love in Greek and Hebrew alone. But while I was reading, I thought, is it possible, that there really is only one love, just as there is only one God? Is it also equally possible that there are multiple facets of the same love just as there are three different parts to our One Triune God?

C.S. Lewis states in his book, The Four Loves, that “The human loves can be glorious images of Divine love.” All our expressions of love come from a single source, without whom we would be unable to express anything remotely related to love. Without God, without His divinely created imprint on our very person at the deepest most basic level, we would be incapable of love.

The first expression of love that comes to mind when I reflect on the word, is that of a parent to a child. I have 5 children, 4 of whom are still living. I don’t believe I could express in words how I feel about my children without using the word love. My love for them does not depend on their behavior, their attitudes, or their obedience. My love for them remains when they are mad at me, wish I was some place else, wish I was someone else, or when the completely turn their back on me and say terrible things.

My love for my children is not dependent upon them, it is dependent upon me. I’ve had two biological children and three adopted children. I would gladly give my life to save any of theirs, and recall a time when I made that offer to God in a desperate attempt to keep my oldest from suffering. I would do it without thinking, as any parent would. The Greek word for this is storgē. Storgē is a natural affection between members of a family. It is used in Romans 12:10, “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” In this instance the word being used is philóstorgos, this is a devoted love shown by family members, a special affection shared between members of God’s family, divinely adopted, and serving the same heavenly father.

A devoted love shown by family members, shared affection in the family of God, divinely adopted! When I think of how God loves us the best example I have is that of a loving father. One who loves out of His own goodness, not out of the deservedness of His children, but because of who He is. His love is in NO WAY dependent on us. We can do nothing to earn His love, therefore we can do nothing to lose His love. It is there, the great constant of the universe. His love is so constant that even in the midst of our most terrible moments of disobedience, He sacrificed Himself to save us the pain of living our lives in a broken world, separated from Him, without hope of ever being restored to what we were mean to be. He left heaven, and came to earth with the sole purpose of bringing us home, so we can be healed, so we can be whole, so we can be restored, not because we deserved it.

On the cross Jesus didn’t cherry pick who He died for, He died once for all, (Romans 6:20).

The love I feel for my children is an imperfect reflection of the love God feels for me. The very ability I have to love my children is because He created me in His image and He loved me first. He imprinted upon my innermost being His love, that in turn makes me capable of loving others as He does. The closer I grow to Him, and strive to be like Him, the closer the love I show will resemble His.

We love our families, natural and adopted, the way God loves us. Our love is imperfect, and flawed, and often taken for granted. We get angry and say things we don’t mean. We turn our backs and walk away, we withhold love because we don’t feel the warm fuzzy glow of it. But, in the end love, the kind of love God shows us, is a choice. We love others because God loved us, not because it feels good (because often it doesn’t when love isn’t being returned), not because it’s what we’re supposed to do, but because God loved us. From that deep and infinite well of love we can’t help but share it with those around us.

This week, make sure that those in your family, natural, adopted, forever, and otherwise experience God’s love through your actions. Show your love to them in real tangible ways, let them know that no matter what they do, you are devoted to them and that special affection you have is a gift from God, just as they are.

Let God surprise and bless you in 2021 as we walk in the path He created for us!

Please help me share the good news of Jesus and how He can change your life, and our world!

Like, share, comment, and add your email to receive blog posts, podcasts, and more!

come back and visit at ListenLearn.Live Ministries

 

Love, Its Not About You

It’s Monday night and day 1 of Valentine’s week. Yes, I said week. I was reminiscing today, when we first started dating, the big deal I made of Valentines Week for my husband. I used to go on my lunch break over to his apartment and decorate his door. I thought I was being cute, ultimately I wanted him to know I was thinking about him. Didn’t spend lots of money (didn’t have lots of money) got wrapping paper and cheezy stuff from the dollar store and went crazy. It was fun for me to surprise him and I loved doing it, not for any reason other than I knew it would make him smile.

So, in the same spirit, during Valentine’s Week, let’s talk about love.

We read throughout scripture about love; love of God for man, love of man for God, love of man for family, friends and fellow believers. We read about love between a man and a woman, and we read about the love parents have for their children. In Greek and Hebrew there are as many as 7 different words used for love and more than twice that number of definitions, depending on which theologian you ask. What it all boils down to (and we’ll get into the love gumbo of definitions as we move through the week), is that love is never about you.

Yes, you heard me right, and yes, I did say that. Love is not and never will be about you. I may know what you’re thinking, God’s love is about us. Well, it is for us absolutely, but it’s about Him. All love is about Him, being made in His image our very ability to love comes from Him. Without Him we would not be able to love others. Love begins with Him and finds it’s completeness in others, it’s never about us.

Agape love (Greek AGAPAO) means unconditional love, it is not love based on the goodness of the beloved, or upon natural affinity or emotion. Rather it is a benevolent love that always seeks the good of the beloved. God’s love for us is not based on our goodness, our deservedness, our righteousness, or anything we can or will do to earn it. God’s love is a benevolent and unconditional love that always seeks our good. WOW!

Love is not based on whether or not someone deserves or has earned our love, it’s not based on our emotions, it is based on a desire to always seek the good of others. This reminded me of a song that is often playing in my head, by Cory Ashby. It’s called Reckless Love and the chorus states:

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the 99
And I couldn’t earn it
I don’t deserve it, still You give yourself away
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God

God’s love for us is indeed reckless, unfair, limitless, and totally inconceivable. His love encompasses all the other kinds of love that are expressed throughout scripture. It is the purest, deepest, longest, strongest and most complete expression of goodness, and there is nothing we can ever do to earn it, or deserve it. God’s love is a reflection of who He is, not a reflection of who we are (thank goodness).

God’s love is also not dependent upon our response, its there always waiting for us to turn to Him. Even when our back is turned He is always working for our good, when we are the most undeserving His love is still seeks our good. There is nothing that can stand in the way of God loving us, not even us.

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:37-39

As we kick of Valentine’s Week 2021, remember there is one whose love for you will never fade, never end, never falter. His love will always be true, and for your benefit. His love will not end on February 15th, or once you’ve finished your last chocolate, and watched the last Hallmark special. His love is eternal and will last throughout every day, of every year, for all time, and beyond.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 

Let God surprise and bless you in 2021 as we walk in the path He created for us!

Please help me share the good news of Jesus and how He can change your life, and our world!

Like, share, comment, and add your email to receive blog posts, podcasts, and more!

come back and visit at ListenLearn.Live Ministries

Altar of Thanksgiving

Close-up Of Gratitude Word With Pen On Notebook Over Wooden Desk

Throughout Old Testament Scripture we read that altars were created to commemorate some act that God performed on behalf of His people. Whether it was to mark the creation of a covenant, celebrate a victory, remember a promise, mourn a defeat, or forge a relationship, altars were created to memorialize what God had done for His people so they would not forget, so they would remember and have something to point to when sharing with their children and their children’s children.

An altar was a sacred place; it was where we came to make offerings and to atone for our sins. It is where we laid down our burdens and our sins and came clean before God. The altar of God was a place without pretense or pride, we humbled ourselves before God and acknowledged our lack, our inability, our weakness, and utter brokenness.

In our churches today, altars are seen much the same. The altar is a place where we come forward seeking forgiveness, provision, strength, guidance, and interceding for those we love. In our churches the altar has become a place where we bear our deepest pain, struggles, desires, failures, and fatigues. It’s not to wonder that the altar has become known as the mourner’s bench or the sinner’s rail, a place one comes to when they’ve sinned or need help, but this is exactly what the altar is for! God wants for us to come to Him with our troubles, He want to be the balm that soothes our weary souls, He wants to offer forgiveness, and discernment, and direction. God wants us to come to His altar with all our troubles and to lay them down.

The altar is a place of release, a place where we can unburden our hearts to the one who already knows everything and loves us regardless. The one who died for us even while we were living in our sin and brokenness. It is no wonder that people are drawn to the altar when they don’t believe they have any place else to turn.

I love Christmas movies! I love the feelgood nature of the, and there seems to be an unlimited number of movies to make you shed tears of joy. I’ve noticed that when it comes to Christmas movies, most of them, at some point, find the protagonist at a church, at an altar, asking God for help, for guidance, for Him to intercede in a miraculous way. In some cases, it is just a plea for a sign to show God is there. The altar is so much more than a place or a thing. It is where we come to meet God. It is where some of us have made life altering decisions, experienced the Holy Spirit in a way that is inexpressible. It is a place where we not only come to meet God, but also a place where we can point to and say, “that spot right there is where I met Jesus for the first time.”

We have a lot of altar calls happening in churches right now. If your church is like my church, we are opening the altars every week as a place for people to come forward and meet God. Whatever the reason, they come with their heads in their hands, tears streaming down their face, knowing that awaiting them are the loving arms of the Father. Each week, people walk forward to seek forgiveness, ask for provision, seek wisdom and direction for challenges in their lives. The altar is part of our public worship and a sharing of our deepest hurts in a safe community that loves and supports us.

While thinking about this today, I began to wonder why our altars are a mourner’s bench and a sinner’s rail, and not a seat of worship and praise? Why do our altars see more tears of brokenness than tears of joy?

“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.” Psalm 100

While this year has been incredibly hard for millions and millions of people. I have been trying to focus on all the ways that God has continued to bless me, my family, friends, and my church. Trying to see each challenge as an opportunity to learn and grow. God is teaching me patience, grace, and more patience. During all the hardship, fear, anxiety, struggles, and feelings of absolute inadequacy in the face of so much, God has remained faithful. Each day I find something else to praise God for, some new way He has blessed me, or that I just hadn’t noticed before.

I want to go to the altar, not to ask or to receive but to give to God the only thing I have, my praise, my gratitude, my thanksgiving. What an amazing testimony it would be if just one Sunday, instead of opening the altar for people to bring their wants and needs, instead to bring their praise and worship. What a witness to have a church full of people fill the front of the room around the altar to just thank God for all He is doing in their lives, amid their troubles, in the midst of uncertainty, in the middle of the mess, we thank God for all He has done to bless our lives, to show us favor, to provide for our needs, and to never leave or forsake us.

A church full of people, on their knees at the altar of God just giving praise and thanksgiving?

The altar of God is always open, the Holy Spirit lives in our hearts so we don’t actually have to go to a place to ask for forgiveness, provision, peace and direction. We can do that from anywhere. On our knees at our bedside or an altar in the church. The important part is to go there. My challenge to each of us is to remember that along with our requests, along with our wants and needs, we should always remember to thank, in advance and with expectation the one to whom we owe all things.

You get them for a reason…use them!

Over the past 4 months I have been working my way through 2 seminary courses that I’d like to call Big words Theology I, and Big words Theology II.

In these classes I’ve studied words like Justification, Regeneration, Salvation, and Sanctification. It was so crazy in the beginning, that, no joke, I would be sitting with my text book, a Bible dictionary and a notebook, writing down all these words with their definition, spelling them out three times each, and using them in a sentence…Can you tell my life has also been about helping my children with virtual schooling?

It occurred to me during these classes that, too often in Christianity, we make simple things more difficult than they need to be. We use big church words, straight out of the Bible, but not words we use in everyday conversation. For people who did not grow up in the church, how do we share what Jesus did and who God is, in a way that relevant, and relational, and more easily understandable?

I shared with one of my classmates that to really understand scripture, you have to take what you think you know, deconstruct it down to the smallest, simplest elements to see where your beliefs come from, then let scripture and the Holy Spirit help you to build it back up again.

What you find is that some pieces you won’t use any more, some new pieces get added in, other pieces get a more prominent role, and ultimately some pieces get left out entirely. In the end you have a faith build on a solid foundation of scriptural knowledge you can talk about.

So that was a long-winded way of stating a simple concept. Studying Scripture can kind of be like building furniture from IKEA.

IKEA is an amazing, do it yourself, store. They have everything there. The displays are beautifully and professionally decorated, the furniture seems sturdy, and you can just picture how that new entertainment center, or kitchen hutch, or bunk beds are going to look in your home. So you walk up to the perfectly designed display, grab the tag next to your chosen item  then go out to the warehouse that’s twice the size of Costco, find your shelf, and load a very, very large box onto your cart.

You see the photo on the box that reinforces your belief that what you are purchasing is exactly what you’re looking for. You get in line, pay for your item, then you carefully load it in your car and head home.

Once you get home you open the box, and pieces start falling out, all kinds of pieces, some roll under the couch, others land on your toe, others you’re able to grab before they smash into something else. You carefully collect the pieces, clear a space, lay them out on the floor, and then begin the search for your instructions.

Slowly… laboriously… meticulously you read all the many pages of instructions in multiple languages, in case of translational differences, right before beginning the assembly process.

Ok, so, we jump right in and start trying to re-create the image we saw at the store with all the pieces and parts we have, of course forgetting those that rolled under the couch. Soon we discover we don’t have all the tools we need, so we improvise.

Finally, after what seems like hours (and really was hours) you step back to see what you’ve created and… it really doesn’t look exactly like you remember it, it doesn’t look like it did in the store, it doesn’t look like it does in your friend’s house. What happened?

So, you have some pieces left over, so what, even Lego gives you extra pieces. So, you used some of your own hardware because some was missing (or under the couch). You ask everyone to come and admire your work undaunted by their quizzical looks.

You decide to gently, move it into place, and just as you pick up one side, pieces begin to pull away. The screws you used to replace the ones you lost pull apart and the whole thing comes down with a large crash. But that’s ok… because you really weren’t sure if it would fit there anyway.

Our faith, or beliefs, our walk is so often something that we think is going to make our lives look better, and easily fit right in. Like a new dining room table with all our friends and family joyfully gathering round. When we move forward with our belief, but disregard the instructions, substitute parts, don’t use the right tools, and expect life changing results, when our dream or image of what the Christian life is supposed to look like – when the picture on the box doesn’t look like the picture your built – we say it doesn’t work, it’s not real, it’s not for me, my life is too complicated, too messy, I can’t have nice things… we turn and walk away.

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”  Hebrews 11:1

We can’t hope to have the life in Christ that we all long for if aren’t willing to believe with our hearts, follow the instructions, use the right tools, and leave our old parts behind. When we don’t do this our lives, our faith is like a house built on sand.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” Matthew 7:24-27

It will not stand, it will come crashing down, and not because it isn’t real, or doesn’t work, or your life is to messy, or complicated but, because we didn’t follow the instructions of the person who designed and created our life. We were given instructions on how to build our lives, we were provided the tools needed to construct, and the parts required. We liked the picture, we liked the idea, we didn’t think it would be so much work.

Living like Christ is not easy; however, it’s not complicated either. Romans 10:9 states, “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Simple enough right?

Once you make that decision, the rest is a matter of following the instructions, using the tools, and the parts provided. We have been given everything we need to live the life God designed for each of us to live. The Apostle Peter tells us, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” (2 Peter 1:3) And we read in 2 Timothy that, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

God wants us to teach and equip us for the work he has for us to do. The box won’t be too big for the car, the pieces won’t roll under the couch, the right tools will be provided. All we need to do is follow the directions and pray. God will take care of the rest.

Friends, scripture is full of words that may not be as common to some as to others. However, we know that the intent of those words is to give us the understanding we need of God and his will for our lives, to have a relationship with Jesus who was the perfect example for us to follow, and be aware of how the Holy Spirit will work in and through us to accomplish Gods plans for our lives and this world.

Unlike IKEA everything is provided for us to build our lives with Christ as the cornerstone, it will be more beautiful, and complete, and fulfilling than you could possibly imagine…just follow the instructions.

Pease help me share the good news of Jesus and how He can change your life, and our world!

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