So where are we from our experience yesterday? You know, those sorts of experiences of God are not ones that can be done in 10 minutes and then move on to something else.
To dive into our spiritual reality sometimes takes us places that we don’t want to go. For others, it may come as a comfort, long forgotten in the midst of daily challenges. However, no matter where it takes us, it is a place in which we should stay for a while and allow the Holy Spirit to minister to us.
What does He have to say to you? Will He speak words of grace and healing into a current struggle? Will He whisper, “well done, good and faithful servant” over a lifetime of faithfulness? Will He take you to a place of rejoicing?
Brothers and sisters, I urge you to find your place of worship today and open your hearts to the indwelling of the Spirit. He is waiting there to commune with you in a most personal way. It doesn’t matter if your Hallelujah is full of joy and adoration, or if it broken and painful. He is faithful to show up in all circumstances.
I have heard this song twice in the last 12 hours. That is a sacred echo. I believe I was meant share it with you today. I tried to pick a couple of versions that would speak to any of us, and believe me, there are about a hundred out there. So I hope this takes you to a place of worship today in which you come face-to-face with the risen Lord.
Hallelujah – The Canadian Tenors – WOW!!
Hallelujah – Kurt Nilson – Amazing – But a bit more earthy
Hallelujah – Bon Jovi – For all you 80’s children
We talk a lot about Jesus in church circles. We sing about how mighty He is to save. We celebrate His resurrection with joy and flowers and family meals. But what is it really all about?
How do we take an intellectual understanding of grace and salvation and make it something that has an impact on our daily lives? How does it become real for us in this moment?
I don’t know about you, but it is incredibly difficult for me to fully embrace the promise of heaven. I believe I am going there one day (hopefully in the very distant future.) However, that promise doesn’t really speak to my needs in the present. Life in eternity is all good and wonderful. However, I have more concrete concerns and worries today. How does Jesus play into this picture?
When I think about my needs for this day, Psalm 23 comes to mind. Most of us will recognize it as the “funeral psalm.” But look again. It is the everyday, living psalm. In it, we find the promises of God for us in this moment. We don’t have to wait until our crossover comes to experience the vastness of God’s love and grace toward us. We can have them now.
Today’s exercise is incredibly deep. It takes us to our deepest fears and needs, and then presents us with the opportunity to trust in God for all of them. It bears truth to the reality of our relationship with our Savior – is it real and life-giving, or is it all academic, without root or substance?
Try it. Take this version of the psalm and write it out. Then, write it out again, but with the exact opposite meaning. For example, my alternate line one might read:
“I have no one watching over me, I don’t have everything I need.”
You can do this for the entire psalm (which I highly, highly recommend.) Or you can choose the verse that speaks to you the most. Don’t worry about getting right. Your spirit will create the words for you. Once you have finished the exercise, then read both versions.
Which one is the reality of your life today? Which version is the expression of your soul?
Many of us Christ-followers say and sing all the right things, but do not trust the promises with our hearts. Many of us show up at church with smiles on our faces while we are overcome with doubts, fears, and anxieties on the inside.
Take the time today. Meditate on this psalm. Every word of it, as if it is the first time you have ever seen it. Your interior work for the foreseeable future is to stay with these promises until you are living them and believing them. It will not be easy. And for many of us, not quick. But this is what the spiritual life is all about. This is what we are living for. Do not let the world take it from you, dear friends. Embrace the assurance as if your life depends on it. For it surely does.
Grace and peace to you.
The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name.
Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid,
for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord forever
“ Let us go out into the wilderness for a while and rest ourselves.The crowds gathered as always, and Jesus and the twelve couldn’t eat because so many people came and went. They could get no peace until they boarded a boat and sailed toward a deserted place.”
Last Thursday, the staff of our church had a great day. Staff Sabbath, a day which we take 3 to 4 times each year, is a time when we load up our chairs, blankets, ipods and books, and head off to the wilderness for a day of rest.
It is not a planning day, or a strategizing day. Normally we don’t even speak to each other. It is just a day to “be.” Our rule is, do whatever renews your soul. And it is a day that we all look forward to. Some of us read. Some of us hike. Some of us nap. But the best part (for me, anyway) is the worship.
I put my headphones on and head for my favorite swing on the other side of the lake. And there I sit and connect with my Lord and Savior. It is a magnificent experience. The others sometimes share that they do the same thing, although in different places. My friend Laura heads for the rocking chairs on the back porch. My friend Andrew climbs to the top of the mountain. But regardless of where we have chosen to be, it is our sacred space. And God always meets each one of us there.
In the past, I have heard others comment on how nice it must be to get to do that “on a work day.” And I am very quick to share that our church staff doesn’t get a weekly worship time. We don’t get to simply walk into God’s presence every seven days and lose ourselves in prayer and worship. We are too joyfully busy creating that opportunity for others to enjoy. Therefore, it is an imperative that we schedule time away for ourselves, or we would quickly become a church led by people with very little connection with God. Can you imagine how terrible that would be?
But my whole point is,
Everyone needs Sabbath
Everyone, including Jesus, needs a periodic time of rest, reflection and personal worship. God established this time for us early in Genesis. He knew, and modeled for us, a seven-day cycle in which we have time for all the necessaries in life: work, enjoyment, and rest. And in His earthly ministry, Jesus continued to teach this important lesson.
First, physically we need rest. We can’t run all the time. We live in a world that tells us we should. However, eventually everything breaks that doesn’t get proper rest and maintenance. And that includes us.
Second, spiritually we need rest. Whether we acknowledge it or not, our spirits were created for worship and communion with the Creator. And if we don’t get it, eventually our souls dry up, and a restlessness is created that can’t be remedied with the things of this world. To be spiritually deprived is just like physical hunger. It affects us in every aspect of our lives. And it is a miserable existence.
My friends, I hope that you are fully taking advantage of the “renewing” opportunities offered by your local church each week. Not just as a place to go out of habit or obligation, but as a refuge and sanctuary. As a sacred place where you can leave everything else behind for a day and connect with your one, true power source. And when you get there, I hope you embrace Him and open your heart to fully worship Him. The amazing thing about opening our hearts up to God, is that He immediately fills them with His Holy Spirit. And we walk away knowing that we have experienced His magnificent presence. True worship is a life-changer.
I come today to worship You in spirit and in truth. I open my heart fully to experiencing Your presence and to the word You have for me today. Help me, Lord, to leave the concerns of this world behind for just a little while, and to focus entirely on You. Teach me to be a true worshiper. Lead me to that path of abundant life You promised.
In the Lord’s name I pray,
Today’s Lectio Divina Passage:
Your prayers, rather, should be simple, like this:
Our Father in heaven, let Your name remain holy.
Bring about Your kingdom.
Manifest Your will here on earth, as it is manifest in heaven.
Give us each day that day’s bread—no more, no less—
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive those who owe us something.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
But let Your kingdom be, and let it be powerful and glorious forever. Amen.
Matthew 6: 9-13
Today’s song: Here I Am To Worship – Israel Houghton & the New Breed Choir
Please be in prayer for Gary Coshatt, a member of Liberty Crossings UMC. He is currently in emergency brain surgery. Our details are not clear, but his wife and two children need all the prayers we can give them.
“These people think they can draw near to Me by saying the right things, by honoring Me with their lips, but their hearts are far away from Me.
Their worship of Me consists of man-made traditions learned by rote; it is a meaningless sham.”
I was reminded of something this morning. I can tend to be very legalistic. There is no denying that I am a rule follower. I don’t like gray areas. If you give me a set of rules or conditions, I will always stay within those boundaries. And I am very comfortable there. Living with structure keeps me safe and always helps me to know what to expect next.
Regardless of your personal attitudes, you can’t deny that legalism is good when it comes to things like traffic safety, nuclear energy plants, and completing tax returns. (I fear I would have made a fantastic Pharisee.)
However, the one place that I am certain legalism is not good is wrapped up in our relationship with God. Jesus fulfilled our requirements under the law over 2,000 years ago. We have been set free. But I don’t think we actually know it yet.
Unfortunately, friends, I fear that many of us still live under “the law” because it is comfortable for us. It is a known quantity, and really doesn’t require much of us. Let’s be honest. A good deal of , even our church culture, would tell us that to be a good Christian only requires the following:
Do you recognize that all these characteristics have something in common? They are all based on activity. I should do something. Or I should not do something. And the reason this kind of relationship is so appealing to many of us is that it is easily controllable. It doesn’t take much effort to do these things. And they make us feel good about ourselves. And, sneakily enough, by doing all these things we can say we are following all the major commandments (The Golden Rule, Deuteronomy 6, The Greatest Commandment, etc…)
Here is the problem friends, while all these things are good – THERE IS SO MUCH MORE!
And when I say “so much more, “ I don’t mean much more to do. I mean much more to be had. There is so much more that God wants us to have than just a superficial feeling of being a good person.
He wants us to have deep-down peace. He wants us to overflow with joy. He wants us to be able to lie down and sleep at night without worry. He wants us to know how much we are, each one, loved and valued and treasured. And list goes on and on.
But we can’t have those things if we continue living a superficial relationship with our Savior. Until our hearts are opened completely and our souls are receptive to His leading, we will never have those things. These things are too far away for us if we continue to focus on “doing.” The only way to take hold of these gifts is to learn to “be.” And to let the Spirit of God speak into our lives.
What would happen, dear ones, if you laid down all your plans and concerns, and just said, “Father, lead me.” Where might He take you if you were willing to go? Would it be to a place of purpose and fulfillment? Would it be to a place He had prepared for you? Two things are certain. First, it would be a good place. You can count on it. Second, it is an unknown place. And, for some of us, that is scary.
My prayer for each of you today is that you would truly open your heart to the relationship Jesus wants to have with you. I pray that you would seek Him earnestly, in the quiet of your own soul and listen intently on what He has to say to you. And that you would lay your own thoughts, plans, and maybe even fears aside and choose to rest in His faithful hands.
Isn’t it time to stop so much “doing,” and focus on just “being” with the lover of our souls?
May you be blessed by His manifest presence today.
Two great meditation tools for today:
Song of the Day: Oceans – Hillsong United, the acoustic version
Lectio Divina Passage for Today:
The one thing I ask of the Lord—the thing I seek most—
is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, delighting in the Lord’s perfections and meditating in his Temple.
Hear me as I pray, O Lord. Be merciful and answer me!
My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”
And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”
“know this, that the kingdom of God has come near you.’” – Luke 10:11
I spent some time this morning with my favorite modern-day philosopher, Mr. Don Henley. In his song, “Learn to be Still,” he suggests that,
“heaven is lying at your feet,”
but we will never see it because we are so distracted in this life. I agree.
So here is your challenge for today. Set 3 or 4 alarms on your phone throughout the day; just choose some random times when you know you aren’t going to be otherwise engaged. And when that alarm goes off, just take a minute or two, wherever you are, and just be still. Look around you. Be aware of the small glimpses of heaven that surround you and breathe in the presence of God. Embrace this life for all its worth, friends. We are indeed living in the kingdom of God, if we can only take the time to recognize it.
Thank you, Mr. Henley, for saying it so much more eloquently than I ever could.
Song of the day: Learn To Be Still – The Eagles
Lectio Divina Passage for today:
“Then He turned to His disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see; for I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see what you see, and have not seen it, and to hear what you hear, and have not heard it.”
“Peace! Be still!”
Yesterday, my pastor encouraged our congregation to practice the discipline of simply “being still.” This may sound easy enough, however, for most of us, not so much when we actually try to do it. For many of us, silence is such a rare occurrence that we don’t know what to do with it once we have it. For many, we can’t even achieve silence without some practice. Our minds begin to race with all the things we should be doing instead of just sitting and “doing nothing.”
I was that way once. And it took me months to train my mind to be still in the presence of the Almighty. However, now that I have learned that invaluable exercise, I will never go back. The peace that comes with a still mind is amazing friends. So just try it for a few days with me. And I look forward to hearing the stories of how your life is transformed by the process.
Try to be still and just listen today. Turn off the radio and tv. Close your doors (as much as possible.) Do whatever you can to exist in the silence. You may find it uncomfortable at first. If you need something to help calm your mind, try repeating this prayer as often as you need: “Peace, Be Still.” The word of our Lord is powerful and can take us to places that our souls desperately need.
If you can spare around 20 minutes, consider trying the Lectio Divina exercise with the scripture below. Meditate on those words slowly throughout the day and allow God to speak to you.
Song for the day: “Be Still My Soul”
Lectio Divina Passage for Today:
“A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
“Let all that I am praise the Lord; with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.
Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things he does for me.
He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases.
He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies.
He fills my life with good things.”
Psalm 103 1-5
I once heard an argument between a married couple that has stayed with me for a long time. In the midst of arguing about their primary problem (I don’t know what it was,) the husband said to his wife, “You never smile anymore.” The wife quickly responded, “What do I have to smile about?”
Sometimes I feel this way too. Sometimes, it seems as if everything is going wrong, my outlook is bleak, and very quickly I fall victim to the “woe is me” syndrome. These periods are part of our human condition, everyone has them.
If you are in one of these places right now, let me affirm your feelings. We encounter some hard places in this life. And it is completely acceptable to feel sad, or maybe even angry about those situations. We have been given those emotions for a reason. It is even more acceptable to share those feelings with God. He is our heavenly Father, and He hurts when we do.
However, I don’t especially like feeling that way. It makes for a long day, and many times, an even longer night. On occasions like that, I take myself back to psalm 103. I remind myself that, although my life might not be what I want at that particular time, there are still good things about it. I remind myself that although things are really bad, I still have reason to praise God and thank Him for His faithfulness in the storm. Surely, I can find one thing to be grateful for, can’t I?
And what if you are in a good place? This is a great thing for you to do too. Have you really sat down and considered deeply the good things you have? If you are like me, that exercise could take all day. Beginning with the fact that I woke up again today, and stretching all the way through the thought that I can go to church without fear. I have many things for which I am thankful.
Regardless of where you find yourself today friends, consider spending some time in deep thought regarding the good things and thanking our Lord for them. You might find your heart filled with praise, and maybe you will find that you do, indeed, have something to smile about.
You are good to me. I thank You for _____________________________________. And I praise Your holy name. Hallelujah to my Jehovah-jireh, my Lord and provider!
In Christ’s name I pray,
In case you are having a really bad day, I thought I might throw this silly song in to get you started. If you are having a great day, this is the song to sing –by all means! (P.S. I take fully responsibility if it stays in your head all day) Be blessed!
Lectio Divina Passage for Today:
“But she said, “I swear by the Lord your God that I don’t have a single piece of bread in the house. And I have only a handful of flour left in the jar and a little cooking oil in the bottom of the jug. I was just gathering a few sticks to cook this last meal, and then my son and I will die.”
But Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid! Go ahead and do just what you’ve said, but make a little bread for me first. Then use what’s left to prepare a meal for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: There will always be flour and olive oil left in your containers until the time when the Lord sends rain and the crops grow again!”
So she did as Elijah said, and she and Elijah and her family continued to eat for many days. There was always enough flour and olive oil left in the containers, just as the Lord had promised through Elijah.”
1st Kings 17:12-16
“A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.”
My daughter is nine. This year, she has decided to fast on Tuesdays for Lent. It isn’t a total fast, she will only consume water and vegetables. However, for a 9-year-old, that is pretty much like eating nothing.
So this morning at breakfast we were discussing dinner plans. Now, our family has a choice to make. We can either support Hope in her choices, or we can leave her to struggle on her own. What do we choose? Will we have something yummy like pasta or hamburgers? Or will we all choose a salad and water?
It may seem like a small thing, however, for my daughter, it is a big thing and we will support her.
Following the Lord is hard. There are challenges and trials. Many times we find ourselves led in other directions. But isn’t it easier to stay the course when we have others walking with us and supporting us? In my personal experience, I have found that, without godly, praying friends, I would have lost my way several times .
What about those times in which we just want to quit and accept our defeat (or failure?) Those are the times that we are in the greatest need of prayer partners and encouragers. And I’m not talking about those fringe friends that will just share platitudes and tell you everything will be alright. Because, sometimes, that isn’t the case.
I am talking about the people in your life that see your reality for what it is, and seeks God on your behalf. I am talking about the people that will come along beside you and carry you when you can’t walk anymore. The people that will speak truth and grace into your life and be faithful to help you discern God’s will for you. The Greek term for such relationships is “koinonia.” It means deep and abiding friendship and shared communion with God.
Do you have these people surrounding you? This world does not create those relationships for us. We have to seek them out. We have to pray and ask our Savior to lead us to those people that will be our foundational community – and we have to show up and cultivate it.
If you don’t currently have those people in your life, let me ask you a question. How will you make it, friends? How will you stand through the storms in your life? Because they are out there, and they will come – eventually. And, in the meantime, what are you missing out on? Are you living the life Jesus has for you? Or are you missing out on some incredible opportunities to engage with your brothers and sisters – to be a part of the blessed body of Christ?
Maybe you say your spouse is that person for you. Wonderful. However, I would suggest that, sometimes, you need more. There are times in our lives when our spouse isn’t the best person to rely on in a particular situation. If you don’t have a trusted friend (or two) of the same gender, prayerfully consider finding some. The value of such relationships cannot be measured. They are critical if we are to succeed in this life. God never meant for us to be alone. He said so in Genesis. That is why He created Eve. Faithful companionship is part of the original design for us. Please don’t shortchange yourself by denying your need for such relationships.
Grace to you, brothers and sisters.
You provide for all my needs. Sometimes I don’t attend to my relational needs very well. Please lead me to those people You have provided for my koinonia. Please point my needs out to me, and help me to surround myself with people that will lead me closer to You.
In Jesus’ name I pray,
Song of the Day: FANTASTIC version of “They’ll Know We Are Christians.”
Lectio Divina Passage for Today:
“A mob quickly formed against Paul and Silas, and the city officials ordered them stripped and beaten with wooden rods. They were severely beaten, and then they were thrown into prison. The jailer was ordered to make sure they didn’t escape. So the jailer put them into the inner dungeon and clamped their feet in the stocks.
Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening. Suddenly, there was a massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off! The jailer woke up to see the prison doors wide open. He assumed the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword to kill himself. But Paul shouted to him, “Stop! Don’t kill yourself! We are all here!”
Acts 16: 22-28
“For by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy. And the Holy Spirit also testifies that this is so. For he says,
“This is the new covenant I will make with my people on that day, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”
Then he says,
“I will never again remember their sins and lawless deeds.”
And when sins have been forgiven, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices.
Hebrews 10: 14-18
I had the most wonderful weekend. I was incredibly blessed to attend a Third Day concert with my friend, Jennifer. I love the music Third Day creates, so I had been looking forward to this weekend for a long time.
So there I was, singing, praying, worshiping, and generally having a magnificent experience. And suddenly, right in the middle of the concert, I was overcome with feelings of guilt and remorse over and event that happened years ago. The thought kept rolling through my mind, “How can you stand here and worship God with so much unresolved sin in your life?”
That was a downer. So I sat down in the middle of this huge crowd and began to pray through that situation. The truth is, both when it occurred and many times since then, I have prayed and asked God to forgive me for my part in the situation. But the problem is, I keep hanging onto it and feeling somewhat guilty and unresolved.
So I prayed through it some more, not really getting anywhere. But right before the concert ended, Mac Powell, the lead singer introduced the following song, and encouraged us to look at the person next to us and to affirm that we were indeed children of God.
Friends, I took one look into my friend’s eyes, I heard her say the words, “You are a child of God,” and I knew that I had been forgiven. It was a powerful experience. When someone speaks profound truth into your life, it changes you.
So I take this opportunity to share as much truth as I know with you. This is your time to get as close to our Lord as you possibly can. Don’t allow any barriers, especially those you create yourself, to stand in your way.
If you have any doubts about your salvation; if you have any worries about God’s intent to forgive your past mistakes, please take the time to let this truth sink into your soul:
When Christ sets you free, you are free indeed.
That is all it takes friends. Jesus says “It is finished.” And He means it. So live into that truth today and do not let the enemy of your soul convince your otherwise.
I come to you asking for your forgiveness and mercy. I confess that I have sinned in the following ways: ______________________________________ . But I believe in your promises of grace and redemption. Create in me a clean heart. Fill me with Your Holy Spirit and show me any offenses I have committed against You or my brother. Change my heart and cloak me in humility. And I trust You to lead me down the paths of righteousness.
In the name of Jesus Christ, my Savior, I pray,
Song for the day: Children of God – Third Day
Lectio Divina Passage for the Day:
“I am counting on the Lord;
yes, I am counting on him.
I have put my hope in his word.
I long for the Lord
more than sentries long for the dawn,
yes, more than sentries long for the dawn.
O Israel, hope in the Lord;
for with the Lord there is unfailing love.
His redemption overflows.
He himself will redeem Israel
from every kind of sin.”