Avenues of Grace

Seeking the Lord with Eyes Wide Open

More Than Just A “Sit and Soak” Christian

I see you. You’re tired, stressed, pulled in a thousand different directions. Some of you are grieving losses that the world cannot fathom, losses of childhood, innocence, family, friends, jobs, marriages, and hope altogether.  Mary Magdalene must’ve been the same way.

I can just imagine her, heading to the tomb…reliving every gruesome moment of His death, watching as they nailed Him to the cross, weeping with His mother as she likely collapsed under the weight of what the soldiers and the crowd were doing to her Son. Listening to the cries of the Lamb of God.

I bet she relived every moment…the moment that He saved her…the moment that He pulled her out of the darkness and released from her the demons that controlled her mind. I wonder if she smiled to think of the new life that He gave her or if she was too torn with grief to even consider it.

But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; 12 and she *saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 And they *said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She *said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and *saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus *said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she *said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” 16 Jesus *said to her, “Mary!” She turned and *said to Him in [a]Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher).

John 20: 11-16

How could she not have known that she was speaking to Jesus?  Was it too dark in the tomb? Was she too sleepy or upset? Did she miss the angels sitting there?  How many times had she heard Jesus’ voice? How could she have missed Him standing right in front of her?

Maybe a better question would be, “How often do we do the same thing?”

When we go to church, we expect to meet Jesus.  When we are praying or reading the Bible, we expect to meet Jesus. When we go to work…do we expect to meet Jesus?  When we’re doing the dishes, cleaning the house, and trying to get our children to stop fighting, do we expect to meet Jesus?  Perhaps Mary didn’t recognize Jesus because she wasn’t expecting Him.

And this thought makes me ponder how many times a day I miss Him.  How many times is He prompting my heart, but I am not truly listening.  How many times do my own griefs and troubles drown out the sound of my Shepherd’s voice?

But then He calls her attention; she recognizes Him; and I can just imagine the excitement in her heart.  He is standing before her, alive! I don’t know about you, but I would fall straight down on my face, too. I would never want to leave his presence, and I don’t think she intended to. You see, Mary’s relationship with Jesus was based on His physical presence. She needed to be physically near Him…and who wouldn’t want to be?  But we can’t miss what Jesus tells her next:

17 Jesus *said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene *came, announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and that He had said these things to her.

John 20: 17-18

Stop clinging to Me.

Stop clinging to Me?!  But Lord, isn’t that what you want?  There is no place that I feel more refreshed and whole than at Your feet! I love my quiet time and my small group and my coffee/prayer talk with my Christian friends and my pastor’s sermons and my…

Stop clinging to Me…Go and tell what you have seen.

And there we have it: the missing piece.  In a world that is starving for authenticity, starving for the Truth of the One who can save them, we have chosen instead to sit and soak on all that we are “learning” rather than share what we have seen with the lost.

Don’t misunderstand me: there is NOTHING more important than our intimate relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.  Nothing! But if no one ever hears the Gospel, have we really fulfilled our purpose?

We imagine America as a “Christian” country, but according to Pew Forum’s 2014 poll, only 25% of Americans are evangelicals. Only 13.1% of the entire world is evangelical Christian.  Considering that 108 people die every minute in our world, I’d say we have work to do.

So this brings us to the subject at hand: how do we move beyond the boxed up version of Jesus in our prayer closets and recognize Jesus’ prompting in our daily lives? How do we truly share Him with others and move from a mindset of  “me” to a mindset of missions?

First, we must EXPECT to meet Jesus…in every moment of every day. We must pray for open eyes and an open heart. We must train our ears to hear our Shepherd’s voice, even in the most unexpected places. And we must realize that there is so much more to the Christian life than simply overcoming our own trials.  We must look at the bigger picture: the Kingdom.

And we must share what we have seen. No, Jesus didn’t “need” Mary. He would’ve appeared to the disciples either way. But He allowed her to be part of what He was doing, and her obedience grew her own faith and prepared the way for His appearance to them. This set the standard for what He requires all of us to do–go and tell! I once heard a missionary say, God calls; the Holy Spirit convicts; Jesus saves.  Your job is to tell the story.  We see the same principle at work here. Mary was commanded to tell what she had seen, and Jesus followed. Oh that the same would happen for us– that we would share our stories only to have Jesus Himself show up!

19 So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and *said to them, [b]Peace be with you.” 20 And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”

John 20: 19-21

I can’t even fathom the awe of the disciples when Jesus appeared. I’m sure they were eager to see Him establish His Kingdom, the one they believed would be on the earth.  But Jesus’ Kingdom would look different than they expected, and His instructions would be simple ones: Share the Gospel.

He showed them His hands– the same ones that were pierced for our transgressions. The ones that were nailed to the cross that we should’ve borne.

He appeared to them after rising from the dead– the incomprehensible realization that He not only died for our sins but that He overcame death for us.

He prepares to ascend to the Father, the same one that He says is also now their Father because they have trusted in Jesus.  The Father who is now restored to them.

You see, the Gospel is not some long story that we have to memorize.  We are all broken, but God didn’t leave us that way. He sent His only Son who lived a perfect life and sacrificed Himself on the cross to pay for our sins. He was buried and arose three days later. He offers us eternal life and restoration with the Father if only we believe what He has done, believe that His sacrifice can save us, and trust Him to be Lord of our lives.

See?  It’s that simple.

So how does that translate to missions?

Jesus is sending us. He tells us to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:20), and He tells us to start in our own backyard (Acts 1:8). When is the last time we truly asked the Lord to break our hearts for the lost that are right in front of us? For the lost in our city? For the lost in our country? For the lost around the world?

No one on earth has the exact same inner circle as you.  Only you have your family, your friends, your coworkers, your routine, and the people that you encounter every day. Have you considered how to reach them? Have you considered that God has placed you exactly where you are for a purpose bigger than you? Are you complaining about the disgruntled people around you, gossiping about the wild coworker, judging another’s parenting skills, comparing yourself to the ones who seem to have it all together… or are you recognizing that some of these people are LOST?

One thing is certain: being a “good” person is not enough. Posting a Scripture on social media is not enough.  Hoping that someone will magically ask you if they can come to your church will likely not happen, and even if it does, there’s no guarantee that they will come back.

YOU must SHARE the Gospel…and you must LIVE it, too. Yes, you!

So that’s a start…because missions isn’t location specific; it’s a mindset.

Then there’s your city, your state, your country, and even the ends of the earth. Because Jesus is worth it. Because He commands it. Because our joy overflows to the point that we can’t help but share our REAL, PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP, not some scripted version of religion. We must share what we have seen, just as Jesus commanded Mary to do.

It’s time to stop sitting and soaking, and go out there and get our feet dirty.  Then we should repeat the cycle and soak again…then go and tell again.  And this should be the beautiful race that we run because the world is still lost…and it is our job to share the Gospel.

How Can You Get Involved?

Daily:

  • Minister to your family– remember, Jesus commands us to make disciples, not converts! How are you reflecting Jesus’ love to your family members? How are you talking about all that He has done? Who are you discipling right now?
  • Work, Kid Stuff, Daily Activities:  Identify a few people that you can build intentional relationships with.  How can you share with these people?

At Church:

  • What are your spiritual gifts?  Are you using them?
  • Who can you encourage that is outside of your typical friend group?
  • Where can you serve? (Greeting, singing, media, teaching, stocking pews, preparing food, children, youth, college, etc.)
  • Sit by someone who is sitting alone and talk to him/her!
  • Connections: Participate in community outreach such as writing letters, making phone calls, going on visits, and participating in events that help to share the love of Jesus.

Jonesboro Opportunities:

  • Foster Care/Adoption
  • Pregnancy Resource Center
  • International Student Ministry
  • Chinese Church
  • Family Care Home
  • Mercy Ministries
  • Kids at the Cross
  • Prayer Walking
  • Adopt an ASU football player
  • Christian Men and Women’s Job Corps

Arkansas Opportunities:

  • Prison Ministry
  • Children’s Homes
  • Forrest City Church Plant

USA Opportunities:

  • Spokane, WA church plant
  • Seattle, WA church plant
  • Alaska church plant
  • Brooklyn, NY church plant
  • Denver, CO church plant
  • Santa Barbara, CA church plant
  • Montana “Fry Bread” church plant
  • St. Louis, MO- outreach before Pastor’s Conference
  • New Orleans- Global Maritime Ministries

International Opportunities:

  • Haiti
  • Uganda
  • Cote d’Ivoire
  • Egypt
  • South Africa
  • Poland
  • Guatemala
  • Nicaragua (youth)
  • India

Want to know more about any of the CBC opportunities above? Contact Bro. Danny at Word Campus! 🙂

Worth the Risk: A Response to the Refugee Crisis

Source: Worth the Risk: A Response to the Refugee Crisis

Worth the Risk: A Response to the Refugee Crisis

We’ve all seen the pictures—the ones of men lined up on the beach waiting to have their heads chopped off. We’ve cried through the photos of children with tear-filled eyes posing with the leaders as a “warning” for the media. We’ve been enraged to hear about groups of people who have been forced to leave their communities, starve on a mountainside, and wait for an imminent death. We’ve heard of the rape, the torture, the crucifixions, the burnings… and we are angry.

This summer, I had the incredible opportunity to attend the Southern Baptist Convention. The theme was prayer, and I can never express the power of the Holy Spirit in those moments when thousands of pastors cried out to The Lord for our families, our cities, our country, and our world.

The last part of the night was prayer for the persecuted. As the faces of our brothers and sisters from around the world flashed across enormous, panoramic screens, I couldn’t contain my sorrow. Sorrow for those who are facing a hell that I cannot even comprehend, and sorrow that I could live my life and only have them as an afterthought. Why had I not been praying, fasting, relentlessly seeking wisdom from the Word and interceding on behalf of these people? How could I have been so inconsistent? How could I forget the innocent blood being spilled? How could I have been so selfish?

So I prayed. I prayed for deliverance for them. I prayed for brave men and women to rise up with the courage to fight the terrorists. I prayed for the Lord to remove the enemy. I prayed for the believers to remain strong and look to the Lord. I prayed for the terrorists to have dreams and visions of Jesus. And more than anything, I prayed for the Gospel to spread like wildfire.

Fast forward just five months, and something miraculous is happening. Because of the persecution, the people of the Middle East are beginning to question things that they have never questioned before. They are beginning to wonder why they are being forced to subscribe to a particular extremist brand of their religion. They are wondering why people are willing to die for Jesus. They are wondering why a line of men sang praise songs to Jesus until their cords were severed with knives.   And a movement is happening. But you’ll never hear about it on the news.

And then another miracle happened. The Lord answered our prayers. He delivered the people from the arms of the enemy. He gave them safe haven in a number of countries, and HE even hand-delivered them to our doorsteps so that they could hear the Gospel and sleep without fear of death.

And we welcomed them…with hatred, closed borders, name-calling, stereotyping, and prejudice. We looked at the color of their skin, the hijabs on their heads, and the country from which they came, and we forgot that they are the very people that we asked God to deliver and chose instead to brand them all terrorists by affiliation.

My fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, I urge you to pray and ask the Lord for wisdom in this situation. The Gospel has NEVER been about comfort, safety, and prosperity. If you don’t believe me, just look at the lives and deaths of Jesus’ own disciples. Better yet, look at Jesus’ life! These people are simply LOST, just as you and I were once lost. I implore you; pray and ask the Lord to show you how to see them the way HE sees them. He loved them so much that He died for them; who are we to deem them unworthy?

I understand that this is scary. I understand the potential threat. And I understand that the Gospel is WORTH IT ALL. I am in awe of how gracious our Lord is to give us such an amazing opportunity to share and to give these people such an unlikely opportunity to hear the saving, glorious Gospel of Jesus. We don’t have to go to the front lines; we don’t have to sacrifice anything except our personal, luxurious comfort.

It’s time for us to rise up and BE the church. We should love these people (and ALL people) so immensely that they can’t help but wonder the source of our love. We should pour out ourselves in every way possible to show kindness, friendship, aide, education, and any other means available to bridge the Gospel to them. We shouldn’t be fearful of foreigners if they come to our churches; we should welcome them with open arms and as much love as humanly possible. Because this is what Jesus would do and what He commands us to do.

I realize that many of you will disagree with me, and that’s okay. This is truly the conviction of my heart. All I am asking is that you genuinely seek the Lord in how to handle this situation. If your words flow from the condition of your heart, what does the world see when it reads your social media posts?

As for me, I am excited. God is never surprised and always has a plan. My prayer is to be ready for every incredible opportunity that He has in store! He is working everything out for good…we just have to have the right vision to see it.

Thus says God the LORD,
            Who created the heavens and stretched them out,
            Who spread out the earth and its offspring,
            Who gives breath to the people on it
            And spirit to those who walk in it

  I am the LORD, I have called You in righteousness,
            I will also hold You by the hand and watch over You,
            And I will appoint You as a covenant to the people,
            As a light to the nations,

   To open blind eyes,
            To bring out prisoners from the dungeon
            And those who dwell in darkness from the prison.

Isaiah 42:5-7

 

Praying in Expectation: Psalms 3-5

You can download Wednesday’s reading HERE.

My pastor once told us that when we think of our relationship with God, it’s like sleeping with a comforter over us.  That comforter doesn’t change the temperature in the room; it changes the temperature around US.

David knew this, and above all, he knew that God was present and powerful.  He knew that his only hope, his only protection, and his only righteousness rested in God alone.  While the readings for today cover a number of different issues in David’s life (Absalom’s betrayal, David’s reputation, and a range of enemies that pursued him), one thing remains the same: David’s foundation is strong because he cries out to a living and very present God.

A couple of years ago, I began to feel very convicted about saying “Dear Jesus” when I pray. I guess I’d never really considered it before; I had started my prayers with those two words since I was a child. The problem is that I wasn’t writing a letter to a God who would read it eventually.  I was talking to a PRESENT, loving, and powerful God who was right there with me.  I would never look at my husband and say, “Dear Danny…” Why? Because he is standing right in front of me! How often do we forget that God is even more present than the people we see every day?  He is present not only in our world and our situations but also in our thoughts, our fears, our hopes, our trials, our everything.  He knows our inmost beings  (Ps. 139:13-14); He is ALWAYS with us (Psalm 139); and nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:39).

Why would we ever treat Him otherwise? Even in mortal danger, David prayed with passion to a God who answers, and he waited expectantly for God to move! Oh how our lives, our churches, and the Kingdom of God would change if when we prayed, we would also watch for how God would move rather than continuing to carry our burdens!

Heed the sound of my cry for help, my King and my God,
For to You I pray.
In the morning, O Lord, [c]You will hear my voice;
In the morning I will order my [d]prayer to You and eagerly watch.

Psalms 5:2-3

Today, I am reminding myself that I am NOT walking alone.  God is still God! He is still all-powerful, all-knowing, and ever-present! He knows every depth of my being; He knows every step that I will take; and He knows every thought and inclination of my heart…and He loves me.

Father, show me who You are. Open my eyes to your presence and empower me with boldness to pray to You in a way that recognizes Your glory and power rather than my own insecurity.  Thank you that when the world around me falls apart, you are constant, faithful, mighty, and always with me.

Choosing Your Side of the Wall: Joshua 6-10

You can download Tuesday’s reading HERE.

I’ll be honest. I’ve been stewing on this post for days. I wish I could tell you that what stood out most was Joshua and his men defeating all of their enemies and being victorious.  I wish my thoughts were that encouraging.  I wish that I didn’t read these chapters and cringe at the bloodshed within the pages, at the thought of countless men, women, and children dying. But that’s what stood out. That’s what seems to be imprinted on my memory– a very bleak picture of bloodshed and death.

And then comes the question that I have to admit to asking…why Lord?  Why did they ALL have to die?

It’s the same question that I remember facing in college.  I was working on my Master’s Degree, and I had a very, well, difficult professor. He deemed himself the “Fallen Priest” because he not only had a double doctorate in literature/history but also had a Master’s Degree in seminary, one that he obtained in his pursuit to prove the Bible wrong. Each time we had class, he would make sure to incorporate some remark, some way to scoff at Christians.  One day, I had enough and said something back to him.  He proceeded to tear me to shreds in front of the class and leave me speechless, not because I was at a loss for words, but because it became clear very quickly that his seminary education as an atheist proved to be more than I could compete with. I went home crying because I couldn’t believe that an atheist knew more about the Bible than me. But God allows everything for a reason, and amidst my tears of frustration, the Lord created in me a passion to immerse myself in His Word, a pursuit that will take the rest of my life.

So back to the question.  It’s an honest one, especially in our society where everyone wins, everyone gets a trophy, and everyone is accepted no matter what. So before I dive into this, I want to be clear: I am NOT an ear tickler.  This is not one of those warm, fuzzy-feeling kind of posts, so if that’s what you’re looking for, I’d suggest that you stop reading now.

I’ll start with this: We are NOT all God’s children.  There, I said it. I can feel your eyeballs bulging out of your head.  We hear that statement so often, but it couldn’t be farther from the truth.  The truth is that prior to salvation, we are enemies of God.  Yep, that’s right. Enemies.

  • Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me. Psalms 51:5
  • and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest… Ephesians 2:3
  • For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.  Romans 5:10
  • And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, 22 yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach— Colossians 1:21-22

There we have it. NOT all God’s children…God’s enemies. In fact, Romans 8:8 tells us that “those who are in the flesh CANNOT please God.”

Tough words, I know.  But the story doesn’t end there.  God has given us free will; He has sent us His Son; and He offers salvation to ALL who believe (Romans 1:16).

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were [i]born, not of [j]blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.   

John 1:12-13

In this world we have two types of people: enemies of God and children of God.  We are not entitled to the Kingdom of God simply because He created us.  The absolute ONLY way that we can become a child of God is through Jesus Christ (John 14:6, Galatians 3:26).

So now let’s apply this concept to Joshua’s conquest. Joshua and his people served the One True God.  None of the other people groups did.

But they were massacred! God didn’t even give them a chance! (You know the thought crossed your mind, too.)

Here is where we let Scripture speak for Scripture.  Is God good? Yes. Is He sovereign? Yes. Is His desire to save the world? Yes. Would He just randomly decide to kill “innocent” people? NO.

  • Let’s take Sodom and Gomorrah for example.  Their sin was so great that the Lord chose to completely destroy the cities.  One could argue the same about the men, women, and children being destroyed there.  Abraham, terrified that the angels were going to destroy the cities, seemed to have the same question.  He asks the angels whether or not they will destroy the cities if there are any righteous people in them.  They promise to not destroy the cities if they can even find just TEN righteous people.  But they couldn’t. So Sodom and Gomorrah were completely destroyed. (Genesis 18)
  • Rahab likewise was from the town of Jericho, yet she wasn’t destroyed.  Her treason is not what saved her life.  Her belief and admission that the Israelites served the true God did, and it saved her family, too.

So why were those towns destroyed?  Because there was not one single person who would have chosen God, and in His sovereignty, He knew that.  He chose to destroy them because of their unbelief and also to fulfill his promise of giving the Israelites the Promised Land.

In the end, God’s people inherited a kingdom, and the enemies of God burned.  The same holds true for us today.  Joshua’s conquest is a picture of hope and a picture of destruction, but either way, it’s not a picture that we can ignore.  You see, the same principle applies for all of us: we will either choose Christ and have eternal life, or we will remain an enemy of God and sentence ourselves to destruction.  The walls of our lives will most certainly come down one day, but we get to make the choice of which side of the wall we will be on when it happens.

The Land of Nod: Genesis 4-7

You can download Monday’s reading HERE.

“By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying [a]about his gifts, and through [b]faith, though he is dead, he still speaks.” Hebrews 11:4

Why did God favor Abel’s sacrifice over Cain’s? It wasn’t because of the material of the sacrifice; it was the attitude of Abel’s heart. Abel’s faith is what pleased God, and that faith resulted in God seeing him as righteous. Cain, on the other hand, seems to have offered an empty sacrifice, one that involved no faith at all.

The Lord gave him this warning:

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, [e]will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” (Genesis 4:6-7)

But he did not master it, and his lack of faith allowed an open door for sin to take over his life.

Isn’t it so similar to us? How many times do we go through the motions of church only to find ourselves gripped by the devastation of sin? Sure, we aren’t murderers, but how often does sin take us so much farther than we ever intended to go? And to think of Cain and what he must’ve felt being cast out of the presence of God into the Land of Nod…(translated) the Land of “Wandering.” What else could there be outside of God’s presence? Aimless wandering without purpose…lostness.

I am BEGGING you. If you are just following the motions of church, please know that you were meant for so much more. Jesus loves you so much that He died for you. Yes, it’s real. Yes, it happened, and YES! He ROSE AGAIN! And He wants a relationship with you. He wants to give you abundant, eternal life…but you have to respond. You have to invite Him into your heart and fully surrender to Him in faith because the Land of Nod is still real, and without Him, there is still only wandering and eternal separation.

When Enough Is Enough: Romans 3-4

You can download Sunday’s reading HERE.

It’s not enough…it’s never enough.

Wake-work-meet needs- meet needs – meet needs- school pick-up- home- clean-dinner- dishes- laundry- mom- bedtime- bible- sleep- REPEAT.

Footholds…

Pictures—newsfeeds–advertisements—INFERIORITY—

Strongholds…

Not enough. Never, ever enough.

Defeated.

And then comes this still, small whisper…

You were never meant to be enough, because I was always enough.

 And His Words echo…

“Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due.” (v.4)

 I cannot win Your love. There is absolutely nothing that I could ever do to earn it. Your love compels me to work, but that work should only ever be to give You the glory that You are due. There could never be another purpose. I can’t make my own life right. I can’t straighten things out and then come to You. I can’t figure things out and then call on You. I can’t clean myself up and then walk through Your doors.  I can’t give You anything.  I can’t build Your Kingdom. I cannot save them. I can’t do anything except pour myself out at Your feet and watch You…

The Great I AM…

become everything that is needed in every single situation.

But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness (v.5)

Praise You, Father. You didn’t leave it up to me. Teach me to hear Your voice. Remind me of Your greatness so that my to-do list is truly an act of worship rather than a means of feeling accomplished. Forgive me, Father, for ever saying yes out of pride. Help me to rest in Your love and join You in Your work in the way that you invite me to. Father root me in Your Word so that I might discern Your will and follow Your ways all of my life. To You be the glory forever.

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Seeing God: Matthew 1-2

You can download Saturday’s reading HERE.

400 years. Since the creation of man, the Jews had continually heard from God…until now. They had endured oppression, war, independence, and peace, but they had not heard from God in 400 years. And then a young virgin girl carried within her the Promised One, the Messiah.

It’s no surprise that the Jews expected an earthly kingdom.  After all, they had ruled and conquered, and they had been oppressed and exiled.  An earthly kingdom made sense. So they waited for what they thought was coming. And they continued to follow the same rituals and empty sacrifices that defiled the altar of the Lord (Malachi 1).

And then the day came…the day that would change absolutely everything for all eternity. I wonder what went through Joseph’s mind the night that the angel appeared to him? I wonder how he felt every time he gazed at Mary’s growing belly? After all, he was just Joseph.  And she was just Mary. They were not royalty. They were not wealthy. They did not have power.

Yet God chose them.  Nothing about His choice makes sense from an earthly perspective.  How could the King of Kings be born in a manger?

Because every single word of God is true, down to the tiniest tidbit of prophecy… and Jesus would fulfill every single Messianic prophecy because He was the Messiah.  Matthew recognized this, and he implored the Jews to see it. Throughout his book, he reminded the Jews of everything that they believed in, every word of Scripture that they professed to be true…and then he measured that Scripture by THE Truth: Jesus.

If Matthew’s book could have a title other than “Matthew,” I think it might look something like this:

OPEN YOUR EYES!!!

Over and over, Matthew says, “This is what the Old Testament says about the Messiah.”  And over and over, Jesus fulfills the prophecy.  Even with the crazy circumstances surrounding Jesus birth, at some point, the Jews (and everyone else for that matter) had to come to a place where they believed in their hearts what they professed with their mouths.

It would have been easy to say that they were waiting in anticipation for the Messiah.  It would have been much harder for them to open their hearts in faith and see Him right in front of them, especially when He came wrapped up in a package they didn’t expect.

I think the same holds true for us. God doesn’t always show up in ways that we expect, yet if we just open our eyes…we realize that He is there with us…and has been all along.

Matthew’s method likewise holds true–measuring truth with Truth. How do we expect to see God in our lives if we aren’t reading His Word? Are we having one-way conversations?

Perhaps we need to stop merely speaking the words and start actually meaning them…

“Open the eyes of my heart Lord; Open the eyes of my heart…I want to see You…I want to see You…”

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The Vineyard of the Church: Isaiah 1-6

You can download Friday’s reading HERE.

Last year, my little girl was obsessed with the idea of picking persimmons from a tree in my parents’ yard.  We told her the old folklore about how the seeds could predict the winter weather, and she couldn’t wait to pick them.  She twisted those things off the trees until her hands were nearly raw.  When Grandpa told her that she had to wait until they actually fell to the ground and turned orange before she could eat them, she was NOT happy.  (She doesn’t like waiting for…well…pretty much anything.) So every time we went back, we would check to see if the persimmons were ready.  Finally, we went, and the whole ground was covered in these huge, plump, orange persimmons.  I had never tried one, so I decided to try them first.

As my daddy would say, “That thing was so bitter I could’ve stretched my bottom lip ‘plum over my head!!”  Seriously. I think all of the moisture in my entire body was immediately absorbed the second it hit my tongue.  My little girl cried because I wouldn’t let her taste them. I had to explain to her that, although they looked ripe, they absolutely were not good to eat.

Isaiah’s song of the Vineyard reminds me so much of this experience.  God has given us the absolute best of everything and shown Himself to us in every way– from creation to the cross– and yet we continue to walk blindly, hiding within the vineyard of the church.

Day in and day out, we have lost sight of the sacred and given in to the routine. We have seen the world around us and conformed rather than following The Way. Even following Jesus has become glamorized through country club churches, vacations in the name of missions, and ear-tickling sermons that are anything BUT scriptural.  Our vineyard is sick. Some of it is even dying. Some of it has been dead and overgrown for quite awhile.

So how can it be revived? How can we ensure that our churches are producing disciples and not just fans?

Here’s a little lesson in growing grapes:

1. They must be planted in the ground. 
  • In the same sense, we should be rooted in the Word of God.

2. They must be watered at the roots so that the sun doesn’t evaporate the water and dry them out.

  • In the same way, our life source comes also from our roots.  Are we reading the Word daily, or is everything else in life draining us of our time with God?
3. In the first year, grapevines should not be allowed to produce any fully matured fruits because the weight of them could ruin the vine; therefore, they must be pruned until they can hold the weight.
  • Now if this doesn’t speak, I don’t know what does! I cannot tell you guys how often I see new believers on fire for the Lord (Praise God!), yet in their excitement, they take on some huge task, such as leading a small group, to “live out” their new faith.  We absolutely, positively MUST have discipleship! At any given time, every single one of us should have a mature believer pouring into us, just as we should be pouring into others.  God has structured us as a body that works together, not independently.  When we walk alone, the weight ALWAYS overpowers us…especially when we are new believers.
4. When the vine is dormant, it must be pruned or it will lose its sap.
  • We are the same.  The church does not exist for the sole purpose of our enjoyment.  The church is the body of Christ, and as such, we should be the hands and feet of Christ.  God did not say, “Go ye therefore and sit on a pew.”  He said make disciples.  It wasn’t a request; it was a command!  And living a dormant Christian life comes with a very stern warning in Revelation 3:16.  As believers, we should serve! We should make disciples! The Gospel demands it, and continuing to “sleep” will eventually result in a dried up faith.
5. Because grapes are naturally hardy, they need little pest control, so usually this is done by hand-weeding on a regular basis.
  • I find this to be true of us as well.  If we stay rooted in the Word, God will reveal the “pests” in our lives and continually prune us into His image.
6. If all of these things are attended to, you will produce strong, delicious grapes!

It’s time to get back to the basics.  Jesus died for us.  He rose again for us.  And that is just the beginning.

We must tend to our vineyard… and we must plant more.

Information Source: http://www.wikihow.com/Grow-Grape-Vines

The Truth About Suffering: Job 1-2

You can view today’s reading HERE.

Job. OSufferinghhhhh Job. The man believers jokingly refer to when it comes to patience and the book that every “prosperity” preacher forgets to mention.  It sounds amazing for us to hear that, if we will just trust in Jesus, everything in life will just magically work out. The truth is that it does: we get to know God personally, and we get to live forever with Him in Heaven.  But that doesn’t mean that everything on earth works out perfectly, and no matter how many times we want to “name it and claim it,” at the end of the day, our words are in vain if they are outside of the will of the sovereign God.

First off, I want to be clear. Suffering is UNIVERSAL. We live in a fallen world, and believers are not excluded from suffering. In the past twenty-four hours, I’ve had friends/family call to ask me to pray for them because they are facing job loss, death, possible cancer, and various surgeries…and that’s just one day!

So how do I reply to all these prayer requests? Do I give them the traditional Southern Christian LIE that “God never gives you more than you can handle?”  Absolutely not. In fact, I cringe EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. I hear someone say that.  In my opinion, it’s the biggest lie in the Christian faith.  The truth is that God often gives us more than we can handle because only in those moments do we truly understand what it means to walk in faith and fully trust HIM. The better reply would be that there is nothing that God can’t handle, and He often uses our suffering to grow our faith and draw us to Himself.

When I think about what Job faced– the loss of his family, his wealth, and his own health– I am reminded that drawing close to the Lord is the most important thing we can possibly do in this life.  All these earthly blessings truly are only temporary. At any moment, any one of us could face tragedy.  Everything that Job poured into was gone within one day’s time. That’s humbling.

We spend so much of our lives working furiously–even worrying furiously– over things that could pass away in the blink of an eye.  The truth is that every good thing that we have comes from the Lord.  He does NOT owe us anything.  I realize that’s a hard statement to swallow, but it is the truth.  When we come to the point that we can recognize that EVERY good thing is a GIFT from God, we begin to live with gratitude, just as Job did when he tore his robe and cried out,

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
And naked I shall return there.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Job 1:21

Father, forgive me for turning your blessings into idols. Teach me to love you with humility and an open heart, truly seeing you as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Teach me to trust in Your goodness, even when I don’t understand Your will, and help me to focus my life and thoughts around things of eternal value. Thank you, Father, that you are mighty and loving and the One True God. I love You.

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