July 31-August 1, 2019
THE GIFT OF HOSPITALITY
“Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house.”
We spend much of our life coming and going, busily rushing from one place to the next – the gym, coffee shop, grocery store, work – yet if we are honest, these are not the primary spaces in which our true selves are formed. These are not the places where intimate relationships are nurtured and strengthened. Intimacy is cultivated and celebrated in the privacy of a home. Though there are many lessons learned in the story of Martha and Mary, we cannot miss that it is a powerful testimony to what we might call “domestic spirituality.” The life of discipleship is lived with Jesus around the kitchen table and in the holy, ordinary rhythms of everyday life.
And yet, many of us are terrified of what awaits us in these intimate spaces. We don’t want to deal with our deep thoughts, with relational challenges, with what God might want to teach us and show us in that space, and so we avoid them and stick with the “safety” of the public space. We stay at the gym a little longer, work a few hours later, fill every open slot on our calendars so we stay active and busy and never have to deal with the big questions that lie just below the surface. I wonder, though, if we might be missing something profound that the Lord wants to do in each and every one of us?
Martha, though often (unfairly) maligned in this story, begins with a bold act of faithful discipleship: she invites Jesus into the intimacy of her home. Are we willing to do the same? It is easier to keep Jesus at a distance, observing his ministry as a bystander or assessing his teaching as a disengaged intellectual exercise. To invite him into your home is to invite his close scrutiny of your most personal and private spaces. It is to give him access to the parts of your life that we are tempted to hide and keep in the dark.
If we have ears to hear and eyes to see, in our intimate spaces the Lord seeks in love to offer tender words of compassion and redirection, as he did with Martha. Discipleship is not God simply seeing and affirming everything about us, leaving us just as we are. It most often includes God inviting us to bring our shame and sin into the light and allowing him to heal and restore us, setting us back on the path that leads to life. This is the gift of encountering Jesus in close and intimate ways. He draws near, not to shame us, but in kindness to lead, shepherd, and teach us.
Where have you kept Jesus at arm’s length, afraid to let him into your most vulnerable and private spaces?
July 29-30, 2019
THE NECESSITY OF COMMUNITY
“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”
I just experienced an engaging weekend in the mountains with eight friends. This was our thirteenth consecutive year sharing our hearts with a relational deep dive. The second night one of the men asked the group, "What truth have you learned from God over the past 4-6 weeks?" Answers varied from peace in the midst of a new grandchild's birth defect to the Lord's loving support through a severe health challenge, to a child's drug addiction that brought a man and his wife into intense prayer and love for their daughter. One man shared the joy and honor of spending time with and influencing a grandchild for Christ. Tears and truth mingled together to transform all of us. Sharpened by one another in the Spirit, each man grew into a better version of himself.
I was freshly reminded of the necessity for community. Without relational engagement with others I am only a shell of myself. The blade of my life becomes dull while cutting through the clutter and chaos of everyday life. Only by the whetstone of another righteous life am I able to learn from and feel the sparks from his story grind away the impediments to my relational intimacy with God and others. Character is forged by the caring combustion of a vulnerable community.
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,” (Hebrews 10:24)
Pride smothers in community for lack of air to the ego. Do you have a band of brothers or a group of sisters who love you for you? Friends who don't require anything to earn their love and there is nothing you can do to lose their love? You can be yourself, and in the process better understand yourself. Love thrives where it feels listened to and understood. Peace blankets a heart that is freely comforted and cared for by an empathetic group of friends. Sparks of truth will rub pride the wrong way from time to time, only to soften the ego and humble the heart.
Most importantly is your community of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Linger long in the presence of the Trinity and your trust and love will grow without end. Ask for your Father's wisdom and He will open your mind to thoughts only seen by eyes of faith. Seek your Savior's forgiveness and He will wash away your guilt and shame with His purifying grace and love. Rest in your Comforter's care and the Holy Spirit will give you rest and rejuvenation to your soul. Divine community draws your heart into ongoing communion. The cords of faith, hope and love cannot be broken, when you come broken before the community of the Divine.
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (2 Corinthians 13:14)
How can you develop a humble and vulnerable heart with a small group who loves you?
July 28, 2019
“Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”
John Newton understood God’s mercy. When he was a child, his mother taught him Scripture and prayed he would become a minister. But Newton became a rude, profane captain of slave ships. However, during a 1748 voyage to England, a severe storm almost sank his ship. That day at the helm, Newton cried out to God and repented of his sin. He later wrote, "On that day the Lord sent from on high and delivered me out of deep waters." Newton eventually left slave-trading. Then his mother’s prayers were answered when he began preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. He also joined with William Wilberforce, a member of Parliament, in succeeding to abolish British slavery.
Newton lived to be 82 and preached for 43 years until the last two or three years of his life. He never ceased to be amazed by God's grace and told his friends, "My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things: That I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior." Newton often composed hymns from the lessons and Scripture from the Sunday church services. His most well-known hymn is “Amazing Grace.”
Repentance is a military term meaning “about face.” So when you’re facing temptation, listen for the Lord’s kind voice calling you to turn away. If you’re deeply entangled in a pattern of sin, don’t wait until your ship is falling apart. Call upon the amazing grace of your Heavenly Father. He never ignores the call of a repentant sinner.
Presidential Prayer Team
July 27, 2019
SEATED ON HIGH
“Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?”
This week marked the fiftieth anniversary of perhaps the crowning achievement of human creativity and ingenuity. On July 20, 1969, two Americans, Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, landed their spacecraft on the surface of the moon.
Most people think that the crew of Apollo 11 were the first human beings to travel to the moon, but that is only partly correct. In December 1968, the crew of Apollo 8 (Jim Lovell, William Anders, and Frank Borman) traveled to, but did not land on, the moon. On Christmas Eve of that year, Apollo 8 entered into orbit around the moon. The crew read from Genesis 1 as they transmitted to approximately one billion people worldwide a breathtaking view of the earth rising above the surface of the moon.
Our immense earth—a little blue jewel in the vast darkness of space. Our earth, one little speck in the solar system surrounding an ordinary star. Our sun, one of approximately four hundred billion stars in the Milky Way. Our galaxy, one medium-sized galaxy among a couple of trillion galaxies!
In the documentary “In the Shadow of the Moon,” astronaut Jim Lovell says:
“We learned a lot about the moon, but what we really learned was about the earth: The fact that just from the distance of the moon, you can put your thumb up, and you can hide the earth behind your thumb. Everything that you’ve ever known, your loved ones, your business, the problems of the earth itself—all behind your thumb. And how insignificant we really all are, but then how fortunate we are to have this body and to be able to enjoy living here amongst the beauty of the earth itself.”
We rightly marvel at the extraordinary Apollo moon missions that transported human beings to our nearest cosmic neighbor. The Apollo spacecrafts traveled at a top speed of approximately twenty-four thousand miles per hour on their journey to the moon. How incredible that such machines were created fifty years ago and accomplished so much while being controlled by a computer with far less computing power than your cell phone!
What an accomplishment. Yet what a small fraction of the universe we have explored. What a small fraction of the universe we can explore. Even traveling at the top speed of the Apollo spacecraft, it would take 122 thousand years to reach the nearest star other than the sun. It would take more than seventy billion years to reach the nearest galaxy, the Andromeda Galaxy.
As big as the creation is, the Bible shows us that our Creator is even bigger. The vast oceans of the earth, which when perturbed by an earthquake create tsunamis powerful enough to wipe out provinces, all can be measured by God in the hollow of his hand:
“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?” (Isaiah 40:12)
The enormous heavens are described by David as the work of God’s fingers—not even his whole hands:
“You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.” (Psalm 8:3)
Whether we are in the heavens or in the depths, our God will be there with us:
“If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” (Psalm 139:8)
He “upholds the universe by the word of his power”:
“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” (Hebrews 1:3)
The creation is big; our God is unfathomably bigger. Our infinite Creator cares about every single one of his creatures:
“The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens! Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people. He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the LORD!” (Psalm 113:4–9)
The picture of God given to us in Psalm 113 is of One so awesome and big that he has to stoop down to see the heavens and the earth he created (“Let me stoop down and find that beautiful blue earth. Oh, there it is down there! Wow, that is a pretty one!”). Jim Lovell was rightly humbled by how small we and our earth are in comparison to the expanse of God’s creation. Yet amazingly, we are precious in the Creator’s eyes.
The biblical picture of God is not merely that of a powerful and omnipresent Creator, but also of a God who actually cares about seemingly insignificant people located in a tiny corner of the universe. He is a compassionate Father who cares for the poor and needy, and draws near to them:
“I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed. This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.” (Psalm 34:4-7)
He takes note of weak and vulnerable people, and works for their good:
“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. Great is our LORD, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure. The LORD lifts up the humble; he casts the wicked to the ground.” (Psalm 147:3-6)
We ask along with David:
“what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:4)
God so loved weak and sinful sinners like us that he sent his one and only Son to the tiny blue speck orbiting an ordinary star on the edge of the Milky Way Galaxy, so that:
“… whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:15)
What an amazing God!
Stephen W. Stein
July 26, 2019
“For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.”
When building a fire, you start with little pieces called tinder, such as twigs. When that catches, you add kindling, small sticks. Then on to firewood, logs, that keeps the fire burning into the night. Likewise, an argument can start by something little, an unkind word or misunderstanding. Hashing it out with a third party can turn into a gossip session, fanning the flames to a full-fledged fight.
The Bible condemns gossip:
“They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips,” (Romans 1:29)
“For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.” (2 Corinthians 12:20)
“Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.” (1 Timothy 5:13)
The apostle Paul advises:
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29)
“The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:35-37)
The word "careless" implies not giving much thought to what you say. You may not mean to hurt a person by talking about them. Even listening to prayer requests at a prayer meeting can become gossip. Be careful to not add kindling to a fire when you speak. Pray that gossip, rumors and blatant lies will cease so disputes will fizzle out like a campfire on a wet day.
Presidential Prayer Team
July 24-25, 2019
LOVE DOES SOMETHING
“Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.’”
When we hear the story of the Good Samaritan, I think it is easy to default to seeing ourselves as the hero of this story. We are also meant to be the ones who reach out in love to heal and restore those who are beaten and bruised, no matter who they are or where they come from. And of course, there is great truth in this perspective, yet I wonder how the story changes when we choose to read it from the perspective of the man left for dead on the road?
Far too often you and I live and view the world from positions of superiority. We think we are the ones who “have” and are meant to bless those who “have not.” Yet true discipleship, true love for the other, requires that we see our shared frailty and humanity, to remember that to be human is to be someone in need, someone who is affected by the brokenness of the world. We are the ones in need, Jesus is the Good Samaritan who brings our healing.
In Jesus we encounter the perfection of love for God and perfection of love for neighbor. Jesus moves in love and compassion towards each and every person affected by the weight of sin and death. Jesus the Good Samaritan moves towards the world in love and compassion, not stopping to ask if we are deserving of his love. His mission is to heal the world and that requires a radical willingness to lead with love, a love that transcends neat boundaries and easy definitions.
This is the good news of the gospel. This is good news for you! God moves towards us in love and compassion when we find ourselves isolated from him and from others. In countless ways we make decisions that leave us empty and hollow, shattered and scattered. Our hope is that when, not if, we find ourselves in these situations, God’s love is not shaken nor does it waver. As a popular worship song reminds us, “There’s no shadow you won’t light up, mountain you won’t climb up, coming after me.”
Do you believe this is God’s heart towards you today? Wherever you find yourself, do you believe God can find you there? And not only find you there, but approach you with love and compassion and bring you to a place of healing and hope? This is the heart of the Good Samaritan.
How does the story of the Good Samaritan reframe your own struggle and give you newfound hope?
July 22-23, 2019
REST FOR THE WEARY
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
God’s plan for His people includes rest of soul. He wants to refresh your mind, will, and emotions. What’s so awesome about Christ’s call to come in Matthew 11:28 is that He isn’t calling you to a religious tradition. He isn’t calling you to a church, or a particular religious method of prayer. He isn’t calling you to a theological system. He’s calling you to Himself.
“Come to me,” he says. He is opening His arms and waiting to envelope you in His love. There is healing, truth, and hope in His love. When you want to lay down and want to quit and give up on life, He is saying “Come to me.” When your kids aren’t behaving how you desire and you’re carrying the burden of worry for them, He is saying, “Come to me.” When you’re tired of following religious rules, and you’re tired of trying to prove that you’re good enough for God, He is saying, “Come to me.”
When your mate is struggling with unemployment.
When your finances are a mess.
When work is tiring you out.
When coworkers are testing your patience.
When social media is exhausting.
When your marriage is in trouble.
When a special friend betrays you.
When you feel ashamed, worried, anxious, frustrated, or angry. . .
He is saying, “Come to me.”
He wants to help you carry the burden that you can’t carry on your own. We will always have burdens to bear in this life. But He wants to make your load lighter so you aren’t crushed under the weight. His yoke is easy. His burden is light. His call isn’t for people who seem holier than others. It’s not for the nicest Christians or those who have the prettiest histories. It’s not for those who look like they have it together. It’s not only for the spiritually mature or those who have been walking with Him the longest. It’s for everyone. It’s for me. It’s for you. It’s for all who are weary and heavy laden.
Are you weary? Do you feel burdened, tired, burned out and worn out? The beloved Savior is calling. “Come to me.”
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD.” (Jeremiah 17:7)
Do you have a burden? Answer his call to come. He’s waiting to give you the rest you need.
July 21, 2019
THE LION AND THE GAZELLE
1 Peter 5:8
“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”
Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn't matter whether you're a lion or a gazelle; when the sun comes up, you'd better be running."
When we awaken each morning, we must realize that the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.
In Psalm 5, we read that David came to God early in the morning and asked for his protection and help:
“In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.” (Psalm 5:3)
We also need to pay attention to the vital importance of prayer.
The Daily Encourager
Submitted by Peggy Lasher Bentley
July 20, 2019
“ONE SMALL STEP . . .”
“…Jesus was walking in the temple courts…”
Fifty years ago today, on July 20, 1969, American astronaut Neil Armstrong made history by becoming the first person to set foot on the moon. His timeless and famous remark at the time, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," will go down as one of the most iconic phrases of all time.
When Armstrong visited Israel in 1994, he was brought to the Old City of Jerusalem by his host and noted archaeologist Meier Ben-Dov. When they came to the Hulda Gate, atop the stairs leading to the Temple Mount, Armstrong asked Ben-Dov if Jesus himself actually would have walked there.
"I told him, 'Look, Jesus was a Jew,'" recalled Ben-Dov. These are the steps that lead to the Temple, so he must have walked here many times."
Armstrong asked if these were the original steps, and Ben-Dov said that they were.
"So Jesus stepped right here?" asked Armstrong.
"That's right," answered Ben-Dov.
"I have to tell you," Armstrong said to the Israeli archaeologist, "I am more excited stepping on these stones than I was stepping on the Moon."
July 19, 2019
DARK SIDE OF THE MOON
1 Kings 19:12
“After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.
You have, no doubt, heard of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. They were the astronauts who first walked on the Moon during the Apollo 11 mission. But did you know the mission had another astronaut? His mission might have been even more important than the other two. His name was Michael Collins and his job was to navigate the command module around the surface of the Moon three times during the 22 hours Armstrong and Aldrin were jumping around on the Moon.
Three times, for 47 minutes each, Collins found himself on the dark side of the Moon with no contact between Earth or his fellow astronauts.
In a statement to the public, NASA described his situation. “Not since Adam has any human known such solitude as Mike Collins is experiencing during this 47 minutes of each lunar revolution when he is behind the Moon with no one to talk to except his tape recorder aboard Columbia.”
Collins described the feeling that he had as he was literally all alone. I don’t mean to deny a feeling of solitude. It is there, reinforced by the fact that radio contact with the Earth abruptly cuts off at the instant I disappear behind the Moon. I am alone now, truly alone, and absolutely isolated from any known life. I am it. If a count were taken, the score would be three billion plus two over on the other side of the moon, and one plus God knows what on this side.”
Most cars today have a GPS tracker. It tells us when to make a turn and when to get off at an exit. For most of the time, especially on longer trips, the GPS is silent. How many times do we think, “Am I still going the right way?” Wouldn’t it be nice if the GPS voice would encourage us? “You are on the right road, don’t worry just keep driving.” Wouldn’t that be comforting when we have that fear that somehow we have gotten off of the path?
God works in the same way as that GPS tracker. Many times we panic when we don’t hear from Him. When He tells us what to do, we need to have faith to carry out that mission unless He tells us differently.
We as humans would like to have the Moses experience where God is speaking audibly in a loud voice. That is not how God usually works in our world today. It is with a still small voice in the quiet times that He can talk to us. Those are the times when He can tell us exactly what we should be doing!
It is like getting instructions from our boss. If you or I were receiving special instructions on doing a job, would we have our headphones on? Would we be playing with our phone or have our TV on so loud that we couldn’t possibly hear? Or would we cut off all of the competing noise so that we could hear exactly what to do? The answer is obvious, but the next question is “Why don’t we give God the same kind of attention so he can instruct us?”
Collins had already received his instructions before his mission. He knew precisely what he was supposed to do. If he had not been prepared, the silence would have brought fear and doubt.
Many of us are not like Michael Collins the astronaut. We have not been in front of God with closed mouth and open ears. It is in these times that God can and will talk to us. It is in these times that the silent night will have a “still small voice” breaking the silence. When we decide to silence the world’s activities and seek Him, God will talk to us and give us His instructions.
Then, with His help, we can execute our mission while we are here. Christians everywhere question what their purpose in life is. What is God’s plan for me?”, they will ask. The answer can be found, but it won’t be with countless voices talking to us.
In the silence, we find our mission. And in the silence, many times we carry it out. That is what faith is. Like the GPS, we are to assume that if we are given a mission and we are carrying it out, God will break in if we have gotten off track.
Somehow Collins was able to stay focused and keep his module on course through the enormous silence. Three times he had to endure the blackout, and each time he put his faith over his fear. After the third trip around, the other astronauts docked with his module and they were shortly on their way home.
Some day our missions will be over too, and the silence of faith will be replaced by joy, love, peace, and jubilation!
July 17-18, 2019
COMMUNION ON THE MOON
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
July 20th marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing, when two men changed history by walking on the surface of the moon. But what happened before Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong exited the Lunar Module is perhaps even more amazing, if only because so few people know about it.
I’m talking about the fact that Buzz Aldrin took communion on the surface of the moon. Some months after his return, he wrote about it in Guideposts magazine:
"The background to the story is that Aldrin was an elder at Webster Presbyterian Church in Texas during this period in his life, and knowing that he would soon be doing something unprecedented in human history, he felt he should mark the occasion somehow, and he asked his pastor, Dean Woodruff, to help him. And so the pastor consecrated a communion wafer and a small vial of communion wine. And Buzz Aldrin took them with him out of the Earth’s orbit and on to the surface of the moon.
July 20, 1969, the day of the lunar landing was a Sunday. Aldrin and Armstrong had only been on the lunar surface for a few minutes when Aldrin made the following public statement: “This is the LM pilot. I’d like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way.” He then ended radio communication and there, on the silent surface of the moon, 250,000 miles from home, he read a verse from the Gospel of John, and he took communion. Here is his own account of what happened:
“In the radio blackout, I opened the little plastic packages which contained the bread and the wine. I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine slowly curled and gracefully came up the side of the cup. Then I read the Scripture,
"I am the vine, you are the branches. Whosoever abides in me will bring forth much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:5)
I had intended to read my communion passage back to earth, but at the last minute [NASA] had requested that I not do this. NASA was already embroiled in a legal battle with Madelyn Murray O’Hare, the celebrated opponent of religion, over the Apollo 8 crew reading from Genesis while orbiting the moon at Christmas. I agreed reluctantly. …I ate the tiny Host and swallowed the wine. I gave thanks for the intelligence and spirit that had brought two young pilots to the Sea of Tranquility. It was interesting for me to think: the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the very first food eaten there, were the communion elements.”
And of course, it’s interesting to think that some of the first words spoken on the moon were the words of Jesus Christ, who made the Earth and the moon — and Who, in the immortal words of Dante, is Himself the “Love that moves the Sun and other stars.”
Eric Metaxas" July 16, 2019
“Jesus called out with a loud voice, 'Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.' When he had said this, he breathed his last.”
Noise. Vibration. Pressure. Fireball. Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield used these words to describe being launched into space. As the rocket raced toward the International Space Station, the weight of gravity increased and breathing became difficult. Just when he thought he would pass out from the pressure, the rocket made a fiery breakthrough into weightlessness. Instead of lapsing into unconsciousness, he broke into laughter.
His description made me think of the days leading to my father’s death. The heaviness of life kept increasing until he no longer had the strength to breathe. He was then released from his pain and broke free into the “weightlessness” of heaven. I like to think of him laughing when he took his first breath in Jesus’ presence.
On the Friday we call “good,” something similar happened to Jesus. God placed on Him the weight of the entire world’s sin—past, present, and future—until He could no longer breathe. Then:
“Jesus called out with a loud voice, 'Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.' When he had said this, he breathed his last.” (Luke 23:46)
After being suffocated by the weight of our sin, Jesus received back from God the life entrusted to Him and now lives where sin and death have no power. All who trust Christ will one day join Him, and I wonder if we will look back at this life and laugh.
The sacrifice of Jesus points us to the joy of heaven.
Julie Ackerman Link
July 15, 2019
LIGHTEN YOUR LOAD #4
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
I don’t know what burden you are carrying. I don’t know what is weighing you down. But I do know the answer: Jesus says,
“Come to me, ...Take my yoke upon you . . . Learn from me...” (Matthew 11:28-30)
For many years I never understood that verse, because I didn’t know what a yoke was. When Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you,” it sounded to me like he was going to give me something else to deal with. My burden is already heavy enough, Lord. I don’t need to take your problems on me, too.
A yoke actually is a board with two arches in it that is placed over two cattle so they can pull a cart. The value of a yoke is that it halves the load. Without a yoke, one cow must pull that entire load by itself. But if you yoke up the cow with another cow, then the two cows pull the load together, and the load is half as heavy.
When Jesus says to take his yoke upon you, he is not saying that he is going to give you his problems (Jesus doesn’t have any problems!). He is saying that he will share your problems. He is going to share your load. He is going to take your stress on himself and bear it with you.
Jesus uses three verbs in this verse: come, learn, and take. Jesus says, “Come to me. Team up with me. Then, learn how I do it. Take on a lighter load. This is going to reduce your stress. This is going to make it easier for you to navigate.”
When you are yoked with Christ, you move together with him. You move in the same direction and at the same speed. And you move in the right direction and at the right speed.
Questions for further reflection:
How difficult is it for you to accept help from someone who wants to share your burdens and make it easier on you? Do you have people in your life who are willing to do that for you? How are you offering yourself to others to help reduce their stress?
God already knows all about your stress. How will you show him that you are ready to take on his yoke?
July 13-14, 2019
WHERE IS YOUR STING?
1 Corinthians 15:55
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
A family on vacation were driving along in their car, windows rolled down, enjoying the cool breeze of the warm, summer's day. All of a sudden a bee darted in the window and started buzzing around inside the car. A little girl, highly allergic to bee stings, cringed in the back seat. If she were stung, she could be in serious trouble.
"Oh, Daddy," she screeched in terror, "It's a bee! It's going to sting me!"
The father pulled the car over to a stop, and reached back to try to catch the bee. Buzzing towards him, the bee bumped against the front windscreen where the father trapped it in his fist. Holding it in his closed hand, the father waited for the inevitable sting. In pain from the sting, the father let go of the bee.
With the bee loose in the car again the little girl panicked. "Daddy, it's going to sting me!" The father gently said, "No, honey, he's not going to sting you nowy. Look at my hand." He showed her the bee's stinger in his hand."
And that's exactly what Jesus did for us on the cross. He took the sting of death for us … as the songwriter put it, "You will know him by the nail prints in his hands." And as the Bible says, "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?"
The Daily Encourager
Submitted by Peggy Lasher Bentley
July 11-12, 2019
TRAVELING LIGHT #3
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,”
Whether we are an athlete running a race, a world traveler touring the globe, or simply a human being trekking through life, we each have a choice as to what and how much we are going to carry with us. What are we lugging around? What might be hindering us?
Another way to look at this idea is to consider what is crowding our mental or emotional lives. I am embarrassed to say that, right now, I can’t drive my car into my garage because my garage is packed to the rafters with boxes. No two physical objects can occupy the same space at the same time. This is just basic physics: I have to choose between the boxes or my car.
The apostle Paul, who was once shipwrecked, knew that sometimes the challenges of life require us to throw out or throw off anything that will sink our ship. Acts records how the ship’s crew even threw their tackle and needed supplies overboard in order to survive the violent storm.
“On the third day, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands.” (Acts 27:19)
Choices like these are not easy.
Physical clutter—like a crowded garage—is obvious, but we can mistakenly believe that because mental or emotional clutter is invisible, it doesn’t carry weight. We may keep large cabinets in our minds filled with memories of each grief, sorrow, mistake, missed opportunity, hurt, and injustice from our past.
It is simply exhausting to live that way—trying to trek through life carrying all that baggage. Too much crowding in our minds and hearts prevents us from enjoying life, breathing the fresh air, and enjoying the people around us.
We have to ask ourselves some difficult questions:
Am I ever going to use the anger, the anxieties, the worries, and the negative thoughts? Are they really necessary? Do I really need to carry all this with me? Can I use this mental and emotional space in a more useful, healthy way?
Traveling light takes courage, and a great deal of faith.
Consider what might be hindering you, whether it be sin, temptation, or hurts from the past. What will you choose to take with you? What will you choose to leave behind?
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,” (Hebrews 12:1)July 10, 2019
TRAVELING LIGHT #2
“Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road.”
When my son flies home from Nashville to Pennsylvania, he typically jams all his belongings into a carry-on. He wants to avoid the time and hassle of baggage claim. His few short years of flying have taught him the importance of “traveling light.”
Jesus, in sending out the seventy-two disciples, warned them to “travel light.” No wallet. No bags. No sandals. Evidently they would not be able to accomplish the mission if they were carrying excess baggage. But I think Jesus may have been including some other kind of “baggage” when he further instructed them on how to deal with people’s responses to their message.
When they encountered towns that did not welcome them, Jesus told them they were to dust their feet and move on:
“Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’” (Luke 10:8-11)
He knew rejection of the gospel was inevitable, and he didn’t want them to be weighed down with the baggage of defeatism or resentment. On the other hand, Jesus warned his disciples to drop any notions of self-advancement when “even the demons submitted.” No space for conceit or self-reliance. Only humble rejoicing that their names were written in heaven:
“The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!’ And he said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’” (Luke 10:17-20)
All of us encounter success and failure on the Christian journey. How we deal with the ups and downs may be determined by whether we are carrying unnecessary weight.
So how does your suitcase look these days? Do you have some excess baggage you want to get rid of? Need to leave some attitudes at the security gate? It actually feels pretty good to “travel light.”
Take a survey of your “luggage.” Ask God to help you get rid of anything that is slowing you down.
July 9, 2019
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”
If you are planning a backpack trek through the wilderness, step one is to gather everything you might need. Step two is to get rid of half of what you have gathered. Step three is to get rid of half of that.
When you realize that everything you want to take along on your two or three days of hiking will be borne along on two straps digging into your shoulder muscles, it makes you a little more judicious about what you stuff into that backpack. Traveling light will help you enjoy the view with eased up shoulders, enabling you to travel faster and rest easier.
Life could be like that too. Many of us have the tendency to carry too many burdens as we march ahead. Scripture, however, tells us to walk in the Spirit and to daily cast all our cares on Jesus who cares for every detail in our lives. We might fool ourselves by thinking that the more we carry and the faster we go, we are accomplishing and pleasing the Lord. In fact, the very opposite might be true.
“Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.” (Psalm 55:22)
When we over-pack our lives without taking adequate time to rest, it may look outwardly heroic but there is a frenetic quality to our work that lacks true effectiveness as we lose our ability to be fully present, and to discern what is really needed in our situation.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11: 28-30)
July 8, 2019
“And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
Aging is God’s idea. It’s one of the ways he keeps us headed homeward. We can’t change the process, but we can change our attitude. Here is a thought. What if we looked at the aging body as we look at the growth of a tulip?
Do you ever see anyone mourning over the passing of the tulip bulb? Do gardeners weep as the bulb begins to weaken? Of course not. We don’t purchase tulip girdles or petal wrinkle cream or consult plastic-leaf surgeons. We don’t mourn the passing of the bulb; we celebrate it. Tulip lovers rejoice the minute the bulb weakens. “Watch that one,” they say. “It’s about to blossom.”
Could it be heaven does the same? The angels point to our bodies. The more frail we become, the more excited they become. “Watch that lady in the hospital,” they say. “She’s about to blossom.” “Keep an eye on the fellow with the bad heart. He’ll be coming home soon.”
“And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:23)
Are our bodies now free? No. Paul describes them as our “lowly body”
“who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” (Philippians 3:21)
Or as other translations state:
“the body of our humble state” (NASB)
“these weak mortal bodies” (NLT)
“our vile body” (KJV)
“ "our simple bodies” (NCV)
You could add your own adjective, couldn’t you? Which word describes your body? My cancerous body? My arthritic body? My deformed body?
My crippled body? My addicted body? My ever-expanding body? The word may be different, but the message is the same: These bodies are weak. They began decaying the minute we began breathing.
And, according to God, that’s a part of the plan. Every wrinkle and every needle take us one step closer to the last step when Jesus will change our simple bodies into forever bodies. No pain. No depression. No sickness. No end.
This is not our forever house. It will serve for the time being. But there is nothing like the moment we enter his door.
Submitted by Peggy Lasher Bentley
July 7, 2019
APPLE OF MY EYE
“keep my commandments and live; keep my teaching as the apple of your eye;”
The expression “apple of my eye” goes back to biblical times. In those days, there was no word to describe the pupil of the eye. So they referred to it as an apple--the most common solid round object they knew. The “apple” continues to be considered very precious and valuable since it is essential to vision. Thus, when someone is referred to as the “apple of my eye,” that person is highly cherished.
Throughout Scripture, God instructs His people to hold His wisdom and guidance in high regard:
“Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: ‘I am the Lord your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you in the way you should go.’” (Isaiah 48:17)
However, the Pharisees, who had classified over 600 Old Testament laws, often tried to distinguish which ones were the most important. When one of the Pharisees posed this question to Jesus, the Lord summarized the Ten Commandments and the other Old Testament laws by quoting them:
“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:5)
“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 19:18)
Jesus gave the essence of God’s commands by instructing them to love Him and love other people. He said by fulfilling these two directives, a person will keep all the laws and commandments.
God has called you to bear much fruit and to be a shining light in this world. To do so, you must have a clear vision from Him. And it’s simple. Love God and love others. Cherish those directives daily and your life will be focused and filled with purpose. Pray this also becomes the first priority for all of your local and national leaders.
Presidential Prayer Team
July 6, 2019
WALKING IN THE LIGHT
“For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life,”
Stubbing your toe in the night as you try to make your way in the dark can cause great pain. Wearing a shoe could have been your protection, or just a glimmer of light might have saved you the agony of this experience.
In the same way, living your life can either be one of walking in the darkness with its hidden perils or being guided by a light for your protection. Today’s culture would have you believe that you should do what you feel is right for yourself, forget the old ways. But that is a very narcissistic, and dangerous, viewpoint. The Old Testament book of Proverbs has a profound, ongoing relevance to today’s issues. As Bruce Waltke, professor of Biblical studies, writes: “[Its] significance lies in its affirmation that the Lord brought ‘wisdom’ into existence, revealed it to humanity, and, as Guarantor, upholds its revealed moral order.” Daniel Webster once wrote that to preserve the government we must preserve morality.
“Without getting familiar with God’s Word and learning how to effectively shine its light on our problems, we will certainly stumble in the blackness” (Dr. Charles Stanley). The Lord provides commandments as paths to follow; His teachings give light to the blessings of taking heed to His direction. They are given to preserve you:
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
Seek Him as you daily read the Bible. Call upon God to draw this nation’s leaders to Him, seeking His ways and the wisdom to do right.
Presidential Prayer Team
July 5, 2019
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
In the US, the Fourth of July is a national holiday when outdoor grills are heated up; beaches are packed; and cities and towns have parades and fireworks displays, picnics, and patriotic celebrations. All of this is in remembrance of July 4, 1776, when the 13 American colonies declared their independence from England.
Independence appeals to all ages. It means “freedom from the control, influence, support, and aid of others.” So it is not surprising that teenagers talk about gaining their independence. Many adults have the goal of being “independently wealthy.” And senior citizens want to maintain their independence for as long as possible. Whether anyone is ever truly independent is a discussion for another time and place—but it sounds good.
Craving political or personal independence is one thing; daring to pursue spiritual independence is problematic. What we need instead is a recognition and acceptance of our deep spiritual dependence. Jesus said:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
Far from being self-reliant, we are totally and eternally dependent on the One who died to set us free. Every day is our “dependence day.”
Our greatest strength comes from dependence on our strong God.
July 4, 2019
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”
When you think about July 4th in the United States, what comes to mind?
Perhaps you think about a day off from work with picnics, fireworks, and those red, white, and blue flags displayed in front yards along your neighborhood.
This is all good, but the one word that comes to my mind is freedom. We live in a country where we can voice our opinions freely and can vote for the people of our choice. We should never take our freedom for granted.
My father served in World War II. My mother was a Red Cross volunteer during that war. My niece and her husband served in Desert Storm. I also have had loved ones in the Vietnam War and a friend now in Afghanistan.
Because of their contributions in keeping us all free, I proudly display the US flag.
Have you thought about the American flag and all that it stands for? This emblem of our nation is placed on the graves of our honored dead who fought for us to remain free, and it flies high during times of peace, as well as war.
There is another real freedom we can have. We can display it every day of the year. That is our freedom “In Christ” to live a life to glorify Him, so that His banner of love, truth, and peace can be seen by everyone around us.
We can be free in our spirit to serve the Creator of the whole universe, and that, my friends, is True Freedom.
“For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:2)
Just like our flag that represents freedom, Jesus is a banner over us, protecting and shielding us. He is the “Glory and the Lifter of our heads” at all times. Let freedom ring out in your heart today.
“But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.” (Psalm 3:3)
July 3, 2019
“For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;”
It seems people are often on a quest for more knowledge. In 1953, there were only 100 computers in use around the entire Earth. Those machines weighed tons and filled large rooms. In 2017, there were approximately 120 million personal computers sold in the world. And, by the year 2020, there will be an estimated 6.1 billion users of smartphones, hand-held sized and even more powerful miniature computers. What used to be an arduous and lengthy process to find information, is now simplified by consulting a phone in a matter of seconds. Yet the more people learn, the more they desire a faster, smarter way to access knowledge.
However, the world’s knowledge and wisdom can never measure up to God’s. In 1 John 3, the Apostle John explicitly stated that He knows everything. The Lord is the only source of all knowledge, understanding and wisdom. Theologians use the word “omniscient” to describe the fact that He is all-knowing. Psalm 147 says,
“He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.” (Psalm 147:4-5)
Imagine. The Creator knows each star in the universe by name! That’s at least 70,000 million million million stars. What an incredible picture of the omniscience of God!
So remember that your best source for wisdom is not found online. Seek the Lord through prayer and in His Word for direction and answers for every situation. He knows everything about you and loves you unconditionally. Pray also that America’s leaders will seek His wisdom for every private and public decision.
Presidential Prayer Team
July 1-2, 2019
HOPE IN A HARD SITUATION
1 Kings 19:4
“But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, ‘It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.’”
Years ago, when I was in-between jobs and struggling to make ends meet, I felt as if I was in the wilderness, a dry, trying and testing place. Naturally, I wanted my trial to quickly end. I couldn’t wait for relief to come. Then, I sensed that the Lord wanted me to take advantage of my trial because there would come a time when it would end, and it would be unfortunate if I looked back with regret, knowing that I had wasted my days by complaining.
Perhaps you are having your own wilderness experience. Maybe you’re not struggling with unemployment, but perhaps you’ve recently divorced, your child has moved to college, you’ve moved to a new town, or you’re struggling with unexpected illness. There are many circumstances that can cause us to feel as if we are in the wilderness. While you’re waiting for God to release you from your trial, here are some things to remember about your testing time.
While in the wilderness, like me, you may wish that the trial would quickly pass so you can get on with life. That’s normal. But in your desire to experience joy again, don’t miss the good that God is doing.
In every wilderness experience God is at work in the believer’s life, doing something beautiful. He’s doing something in you—something that, when you look back, you’ll be able to see that He was stretching you, growing you, and making you more of who He created you to be for His glory. While in the wilderness, you can ask the hard questions. The Lord is not put off by your honesty, or your lament. His ears are open to your cries and He wants to bear your burden:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
The wilderness is a time of vulnerability, and vulnerability is necessary for all relationships to flourish, including your relationship with Christ. In the wilderness, God is inviting you to hear Him in a unique way. He wants you to hear His voice afresh so you can experience greater intimacy with Him and experience greater joy. In the wilderness is where you can become more self-aware, aware of your motivations, aware of your heartache, and aware of your need for God.
It’s God’s desire that the wilderness move you from trying to control your life and bear your own burdens. He wants you to cast your cares on Him. In the wilderness, God is working to release you of bondages you may have that are rooted in fear, pride, or a lack of trust.
Ultimately, in the wilderness God wants to lead you to a place where you can experience His presence in greater measure, understand His love more fully, and experience more peace in the days to come.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-10)
Go to June Archive