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Forever & Ever

“To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen” Philippians 4:20

“Jesus, thank you for sending the Holy Spirit to live in me.  I can turn to you at any time, day or night, in times of joy and of sorrow and you are with me guiding me, convicting me and loving me.  Forever and ever.  Amen”

When I married my husband 34 years ago, we promised to be there for each other till the day we die.  I plan on keeping that promise, and I’m certain he will too.  However, I also recognize that we are both human.  We will disappoint each other.  At times we’ve felt betrayed by the other.  We’ve been angry and hurt.  We’ve also loved each other deeply.  And although I hope that our promise we made all those years ago stays true, you just never know what strange turns our sinful human nature may take.

In all our relationships there is only one that we can know without a doubt, that we could place a million dollar bet on and know it’s a “sure thing.”  And that’s the one we have, as believers, with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. 

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” John 14:16-17

Before the glory of Pentecost the Holy Spirit only came and “visited” man.  He would come and direct various people in the Old Testament to do God’s work.  But Jesus made it clear that He would no longer make us orphans.  When He left He would step aside for the Holy Spirit to come and live IN us believers forever.  How beautiful, loving and glorious is that?  God – this magnificent, mysterious, expansive, all powerful being wants to be a part of me and you, always.  While we are taking a shower, making dinner, at work, running errands He is with us. 

“You have often left God.  Has He ever left you?”  

Charles Spurgeon

I’ve had friends that no longer talk to me.  I’ve turned my back on some myself.  I’ve even gotten pretty mad at God.   With one of my funnier moments telling Him, “I’m not going to believe in you anymore!” (Ponder the irony of that statement for a minute) But God has stayed true.

Friends, look at the very best relationship you have.  The one that brings you laughter, joy, loyalty and more.  And magnify that by a billion.  That’s God living with us and in us through the Holy Spirit.  I don’t know about you but I think that’s certainly something for which we should glorify and give thanks.

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His Word

"…encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into His kingdom and glory."  1 Thessalonians 2:12

“Jesus what would I be without your red letter words? Without the revealing words about our Father God?  Thank you Lord, for each time I open my Bible that your desire is to teach me about your kingdom and glory. Amen”

For many years I sat in a church pew without ever cracking open a Bible.  I didn’t even open it when the pastor told us what page to turn to – because the scripture was up on the screen.  My own Bible sat gathering inches of dust.  It wasn’t until just a couple years ago, when I was unable to attend church, that I realized all the teaching needed was available right at my fingertips.

“..my friends, stand over this volume, and admire its authority. This is no common book. It is not the sayings of the sages of Greece; here are not the utterances of philosophers of past ages. If these words were written by man, we might reject them; but oh, let me think the solemn thought — that this book is God’s handwriting, that these words are God’s.”

Charles Spurgeon on the Bible

How glorious is it that God – that omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent being – gave us all we need to know about Him and how to best have a relationship with Him?  Not only did He write down what we need to know He sent Jesus to reveal even more!  If we needed to summarize the purpose of Jesus’ brief physical walk on this earth it might be to say so that we could be pulled even closer in this relationship.  To know the one who created us like we know our own hand.  To want to be so close to Him that we become one with Him.  To know how simple it is to receive His full mercy and grace by just saying, “yes I do and I will.”  Throughout Jesus’ life He pointed us back to the Father and forward to the Holy Spirit.  Reminding us who sent Him and why.

"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of Godmay be thoroughly equipped for every good work." 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Yes, my friends, there’s still a lot about God and the Trinity that are a mystery.  His thoughts and ways are greater than ours.  But sometimes we just need to shrug and say, “maybe that’s not for me to know just now.”  Until then we can lift up our voices in praise for the gift of His Word.  It shouldn’t be taken for granted.  For most of our human existence we didn’t have this gift widely available.  The Bible is now translated into about 1,500 languages.  And for that we should give glory!

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The Heart of the Matter

“And I am so angry I wish I were dead.”  Jonah 4:9

I’ve shared before about the miraculous year I had doing God’s will during our 100 Lunches project.  When Jesus first spoke to me, directing me to make 100 lunches and deliver them to the homeless in downtown San Diego I had no idea the lessons He had in store for me.  Initially, I thought it was just a need that He directed me to fill.  My spiritual gifts were perfect to complete this task – or so I thought.  What began as a one-time submission to God became a year-long lesson in trust, compassion, faithfulness and humility.  Definitely not traits I would’ve confidently listed amongst my gifts.

With each passing day that year, God placed new trials and new opportunities for me to finally grasp what He really wanted of me.  I could administer any program at my church, work or other organization.  I’m organized, comfortable with leadership, a successful multitasker, and can teach readily.  As long as I was in charge life was good, so it seemed.  Until someone was unhappy with me or disagreed with me.  Or I hurt someone’s feelings.  Or I felt overlooked and unappreciated.  Praying came after the fall, if at all.

But the Spirit of God came upon me that fateful day.  I like to think of God seeing my potential.  My new beginning.  And He knew with some pruning and care I could shake off many of my old ways and start working on new ones.  Starting with praying to Him to help me make the change.  And learning that God wants our heart first, above all, so that it’s our heart that pours out to the world.

“Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. Jonah 1:2-3

The story of Jonah and the whale rank up there with Noah and his ark as being widely known by Christians and non-Christians alike.  Jonah tried to get away from God, jumped overboard, was swallowed by a giant fish, prayed to God and God spit him out onto the shore.  A nice story of turning back to God in faith, right?  But in these four little chapters there’s so much more!  There are lessons on being a “I’m fine, it’s fine” sleepy Christian.  Lessons like Moses experienced when he told God he wasn’t up for the job.  Lessons on how one person can help save so many.  

Jonah was actually a man of great faith.  He knew that if he went to Nineveh, a sworn enemy of the Jews and well-known for its evil ways, God would most likely use him to rescue the people there.  But Jonah’s patriotism got in the way of his faith.  So, he resigned as God’s prophet.  He didn’t want his new beginning to look like betrayal back home.  But God gets His way no matter how hard we try to thwart Him!  

Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah 3:3

So yes, Jonah sees how amazing His God is while sitting in the mouth of a giant fish and prays, remembering how God saved him before and asking for him to do it again.  And Jonah finds himself once more pressed on toward Nineveh.

While there he spreads God’s message that in 40 days the city would be destroyed because of their wicked ways.  But there’s something missing.  Within this story you will not find a message from Jonah on how to stop this destruction.  You won’t find compassion and love for these 1,000s of people.  He states the fact, does it efficiently and without pause.  In three days this one man had reached the ears of every citizen, including the king.  Pretty impressive right?  And although God loved the fact that they believed and turned from their evil ways you can’t help but think the real target of this lesson was just one man – Jonah.

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. Jonah 3:10-4:1

Jonah had the gifts of prophecy, faith, evangelism and apparently administration.  And he begrudgingly used them.  Where God saw an amazing new beginning as a man who could help bring so many to faith, Jonah saw embarrassment and shame.  He didn’t want to go home to face his people who hated the Nineveh citizens and be known as a traitor.  He stopped remembering that God loves everyone and God can work miracles in all our lives, even our enemies.

In chapter 4, Jonah is like the Prodigal Son’s elder brother – critical, selfish, sullen, angry and unhappy with what was going on.  It isn’t enough for God’s servants simply to do their Master’s will; they must do “the will of God from the heart.” Eph 6:6

Warren Wiersbe

So as Jonah sits on the hill outside town in the last chapter of this amazing story God takes another shot at softening Jonah’s heart.  He provides another lesson for him to experience and learn.  Because God is love He doesn’t give up on us.  He wants our new beginnings to be filled with love and compassion.  I love this quote from a sermon by Charles Spurgeon on Jonah:

“The deeper your trouble, the greater are your possibilities of adoration.”

When I first went into our 100 Lunches project, I was certain I could complete this simple task with efficiency and ease like Jonah.  But God put me on the hill, overlooking all that I had done that first week and said, “You have much more to learn.”  

With each distribution of lunches He said, “do it again, this time like this.”  He showed me how to be ok with people turning me down when I asked for help.  And how to be grateful when people came out of nowhere to help. He taught me how to slow down and look the hurting in the eye and offer a kind word or even a gentle touch.  He reminded me to trust in Him, to love Him.  He answered prayers which encouraged me to pray even more.  He allowed me to be loved by society’s “unwashed”, giving me the opportunity to tell them of God’s glory and provision. 

Jonah’s story ends without a word from him letting us know he “got it.”  His last lines are the first in this look at Jonah – “I wish I were dead.”  God’s last words are about His love and care for all people – no matter their nationality, financial status, religion, or sins.  Think of the amazing new life Jonah could’ve had when he left Nineveh.  Not just knowing about God, not just having faith that God is in charge.  But loving God and loving the fact that He wants us to live like Him, in love.  

Jonah’s faith was a divided one.  He held onto his patriotism and pride with a vengeance.  It caused him to withhold his love and compassion.  When we think of the Bible’s greatest lessons about love, 1 Corinthians 13 probably comes to mind. In verses 4-13 Paul tells us what love is. So many think these passages are about romantic love but in the context of the entire letter it’s about how we serve out God’s will with our gifts. In a way, the more important lessons are in verses 1-3. The lesson God was trying to teach Jonah. The lesson which can help us all in our new beginnings as God’s servants.

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” 1 Cor 13: 1-3

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From Student to Teacher

After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Luke 2:46

“The teacher encourages
the student morphs – moth to beauteous butterfly soars” 

Mala Naidoo, author

When God directed me to start the Emboldened blog He also led me to a few simple quotes to put on the homepage. I didn’t know at the time one day I’d be using those quotes for this week’s study on Jesus and His teaching nature! Of the few quotes He led me to, I included this one by Joyce Meyer:

“If you leave church and are not convicted, asking questions, or emboldened then either you are at the wrong church or you weren’t paying attention.”

Joyce Meyer

How many times have you left church and within an hour couldn’t remember what the sermon was about?  You couldn’t even pull up the general topic in your memory?  

I recently heard someone say that we don’t go to church to sit and put in our “dues” to God.  It’s where we should 1) be rejuvenated for the mission and 2) get more training for the mission.  And the second we leave the doors of our “God classroom” we should be at the ready to embark on the commission which Jesus gave us in Matthew 28:19. When church becomes a place where we leave just feeling like that was a “nice” experience, at best, or an obligation, at worst, we owe it to our personal faith progression to re-evaluate the situation.

When I started going to church my family ended up at a large Presbyterian church nearby.  The pastor was just what I needed at the time.  He was more counselor than teacher.  And when I left each Sunday I felt he had really spoken to the problems I was having and reminded me that God loved me.  The sermons were light on scripture, maybe one or two mentioned, and heavy on personal stories. But I soon found that sole message to be not quite enough.  I wanted to know more.  And the “teaching” sermons were what I gobbled up.   As my husband can attest, I’m very curious.  He constantly reminds me that I like to ask questions that seem to have no answers.  

As a developing Christian, we should all be asking questions about God.  If this “almighty being” is to be the center of our universe, the touchstone for how we live our lives, and the message we herald, shouldn’t we know everything we can know so we are prepared when sin enters our sphere?  So we can be prepared when a seeking, fellow man starts asking us questions?  

From learner to teacher.  That’s exactly the path Jesus took.  Here’s the rest of the scene when Jesus’ parents found him, as a boy, in the temple courts.

"Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers." Luke 2:47

And so, I constantly seek to learn more about this awesome God.  At the beginning of this year my husband and I were directed to a new church.  My son-in-law and his friend host a Christian men’s podcast called “Supplement the Faith.”  They heard on a local St. Louis radio station a show called “Core Christianity.”  The main host is Pastor Adriel Sanchez, who unbeknownst to me at the time, is a pastor in my town.  They raved about his sound, Christian doctrine and told us we had to go check him out. 

And so we went.  The music was not my favorite – very simple and traditional hymns.  The style of service was more formal than I was used to.  But when Pastor Adriel gave his sermon I realized I was listening to a teaching pastor.  That day, my church “program” was scribbled all over with notes!

In a brief period of time, I’ve learned a lot from and about Pastor Adriel.  He and his beautiful wife have four little children with another on the way.  This young pastor, who has led his fairly recently planted church for only about seven years, can be heard on the radio and podcast throughout the world via Core Christianity – which is a question and answer format.  His youthfulness stands in contrast to his calm, confident poise.  I recently asked Pastor Adriel if he’d be willing, in his busy schedule, to talk about his pastoral style.   

And if you are on your faith journey toward learning more about His Word, I encourage you to tune in to either Pastor Adriel’s sermons at North Park Presbyterian (PCA) or the Core Christianity podcast.  The questions asked on the podcast might just be something you get asked one day!

Kris:  You seem to be drawn toward being more of a “teaching” type pastor than say a “counselor” type.  How do you think you developed that style?

Pastor Adriel: I have a firm conviction that from the pulpit my job is to communicate God’s word clearly, and seek to apply it to the folks that God has entrusted to my care. Teaching or explaining the Bible is really important to me because I know that God’s word is the source of life. I do seek to provide biblical wisdom or counsel at times – but often that happens in the context of one on one conversations within the church.

K: Who are your favorite Christian authors/pastors?

PA: I love reading the Christian classics. St. Augustine’s Confessions, Martin Luther’s Commentary on Galatians, Calvin’s Institutes,  C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. I nerd out on church history, so I really enjoy reading the early church fathers. As far as living authors are concerned, I like books by theologians like Michael Horton, and pastors like Tim Keller.

K: What got you involved in doing Core Christianity and the podcast?

PA: One of my seminary professors invited me to be on a podcast he had hosted for decades called the White Horse Inn. Over time, we started thinking about a new project that would reach a broader audience helping them to understand the core doctrines of Christianity. A lot of research has come out recently highlighting how little Christians know about their faith – so this was a huge need. Our goal has been to answer basic listener questions about the Bible and the Christian life, and in the process to point folks to Jesus and his gospel. As we grow in our understanding of God’s word, we’re enabled to love and serve God better. 

K: What do you like most about doing the podcast?

PA: I love the live element. I think it makes the show exciting, because we can’t really anticipate what kind of call we’re going to get. As a pastor, I also love it when I’m able to answer a question for someone and I can tell audibly that they’re encouraged by God’s word. 

K: What are the most frequent topics you get asked?

PA: Questions related to marriage, assurance of salvation, finding a good church, and how to properly apply God’s law are common from our audience. Depending on what’s going on in our broader society, we also will get questions on current events. 

K: What question have you gotten that “stumped” you? And what was the funniest question?

PA: Never been stumped! Just kidding. Actually, sometimes we get very obscure Bible questions, or questions for which there is no clear biblical answer. I find those questions to be the most difficult to handle. As far as the funniest question we’ve received… not long ago someone asked if there were fish on the ark too. That one made me chuckle. 

K:  Which book of the Bible do you enjoy teaching the most and why?

PA: I find that whichever book I am preaching through tends to become my favorite book for that season. Believe it or not, I had a ton of fun preaching through Leviticus a couple of years back. I also really enjoy preaching through the Gospels. I preached through Mark early in my ministry, and like to revisit the Gospels from time to time in-between other books. 

K: Which book seems to be the most misunderstood?

PA: As I field questions about the Bible, I think one book that’s frequently misunderstood is Galatians. Many believers don’t have a proper understanding of the distinction between the law, and the gospel, and they struggle to understand how God’s law (and various OT commandments) are to be applied today. Galatians is helpful because it speaks to this kind of problem. 

K: Do you see value in studying the entire Bible — not just the New Testament — and why?

PA: Absolutely. Jesus said in John 5 that Moses wrote of him, and in Luke 24 that the entire Bible was about him. The entire Bible gives us a glorious picture of redemptive history, and each story in that history is meant to instruct us in one way or another (1 Cor. 10:11). If you don’t study the Old Testament, you’ll miss out on so many of the riches in the New Testament, and you’ll miss out on Jesus as he’s revealed in the types and shadows of the Old Covenant. 

K: What are your overall personal goals as a pastor for say the next 5 years? 10 years?

PA: Honestly, I just want to be a good husband, a good dad, and a faithful pastor. My goal is to grow in that for the next 5-10 years. 

Thank you to Pastor Adriel for his time!  Whether it be through a teaching pastor, Bible study groups/individual, Christian authors, a radio show or Christian podcast, these days we have so many resources at our fingertips to get to know God.   As Christians, we must make it a priority to place this knowledge of His ways firmly at the forefront of our lives.

I wanted to leave you today with this quote about being a learning and then teaching Christian:

He who asks will have; what more did he ask for? But he who seeks will go further; he will find, will enjoy, will grasp, and will know that he has obtained. He who knocks will go further still, for he will understand, and to him will the precious thing be opened. He will not merely have the blessing and enjoy it, but he will comprehend it.  

Charles Spurgeon

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Our Faith Progression

We, therefore, desire to copy his character and put our feet into his footprints. Be it ours to follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. What saith our Lord himself? “Follow me,” and again, “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” Not Christ’s apostle, but Christ himself, is our guide; we may not take a secondary model, but must imitate Jesus himself. 

Charles Spurgeon
 “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." John 15:5

Many years ago, I had the benefit of listening to a sermon series on our progression as a disciple of Christ.  I have heard many pastors say there’s too many of us Christians who seem stuck at the beginning of that progression and aren’t fully living the life Christ wants for us.

It may even come as a surprise to some that there is an expected “progression” in our faith lives.  We assumed that once we accepted Jesus as our Savior we’re done.  We are able to check off that box on the questionnaire asking what our faith is: Christian.  

"But we have the mind of Christ." 1 Corinthians 2:16

We all have probably heard the above verse a few times in our Christian lives.  But reading the entire chapter reveals something even more.  The progression.  

"When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power." 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

The apostle Paul himself explains that when he first came to the people of Corinth He came with the first step in the progression – the message of Jesus’ love for us.  That He died for us.  He rose again for us.  Paul goes on to say:

"We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature." 1 Corinthians 2:6

The mature.  Who among your faith group would you deem “mature” in their faith?  Who among them would you deem a “baby Christian?” And where do you count yourself?  This is not asked in judgment.  All who are saved are equally loved by God.  But you can probably tell the difference between people who are further along in their faith progression and those that aren’t.  And it has nothing to do with age.  The sign of a maturing Christian is that they’ve received the gift and have actually opened the box and are using it.

So what is this progression? In the sermon series I mentioned, these steps were defined as: 

  1. Believer – Mark 9:23 
  2. Follower – Luke 9:23
  3. Apprentice – Ephesians 4:14 
  4. Learner – Philippians 4:9

Jesus Himself shows us this progression as He lived out those three world-changing years. 

  • Step 1) The Loving and Faithful Friend 
  • Step 2) The Obedient Servant
  • Step 3) The Courageous Warrior
  • Step 4) The Patient Teacher
  • Step 5) The Wise Counselor

Throughout this series, the Jesus Mindset, we will meet people – some famous and some very ordinary– who exemplify the different steps in the faith journey. And it is only correct to start with the first step.  Lest we think we have step one down pat I should warn you that so many Christians remain in step one because of the difficult truths and expectations presented.  It is the message we hear over and over in our churches.  It is the first and the last message Christ has for us, which makes it the most important of all.  

“As the Father loved me, so have I loved you.  Now remain in my love.” John 15:9

When I was researching various pastors who make love and friendship a cornerstone of their message I realized I had an old friend already in my midst waiting to talk to me again.  As I perused through my Christian books I stopped on, “How Happiness Happens,” by Max Lucado.

Pastor Lucado probably needs no introduction.  He is an internationally known pastor, author, speaker and more.  He’s written too many books and articles to count.  And the theme throughout is love. How to accept Christ’s love.  And how to show love not just to our friends but to complete strangers.  He reminds us that Jesus is our loving and faithful friend and wants us to model that character trait to everyone we meet.  When you read about Pastor Lucado you see his lifelong mission is to set solidly in our hearts the message of God’s love for us.  He shows us how to translate that great gift to others.

“I’m a pastor. I can sit down with somebody who has a broken heart and love them and encourage them and remind them of how God cares. But I struggle when I look at a budget. Or I struggle when somebody says, ‘Well, what’s the long-term strategy for our church?’ Well, I don’t know. I guess we’ll see. Let’s love God, preach Jesus, and pray.”

Max Lucado on his leadership style

So much of what Pastor Lucado speaks of seems simple.  And yet, I find myself day in and day out forgetting to live out the simple messages. 

“Greet one another for your sake.  Experience the joy of showing people they matter.  Greet each other for their sake. What is small to you may be huge to them.  Most of all greet each other for Jesus’ sake.”

Max Lucado, “How Happiness Happens”

How often do we go through an entire day and find ourselves never having truly connected with another human being?

“Listen intently and praise abundantly.”

Max Lucado, “How Happiness Happens”

Isn’t that what Jesus did throughout His ministry? You can only imagine how the woman at the well in John 4:1-26 felt when Jesus was with her.  He wasn’t looking over her shoulder at a bird or cute dog while she spoke.  He wasn’t thinking about the next town He was to visit or His next meal.  He saw her.  He listened to her.  He loved her even when she pushed Him away.

It’s definitely easier to live out the Jesus Mindset of being a loving and faithful friend with people we choose to be around.  We pick our friends and we even pick who in our family we spend more time with.  We are deliberate with whom we ask to go to lunch at work.  But Jesus loved the unlovable.  He touched the untouchable.  

“You wonder why God doesn’t remove the enemies in your life? Perhaps because he wants you to love like he loves. Anyone can love a friend, but only a few can love an enemy.”

Max Lucado

Isn’t this where so many of us get stuck?  We count ourselves, “good people” or “good Christians” and yet we harbor, at best unforgiveness, and at worst hatred for people.  

I grew up in a household where unforgiveness and hatred ran deep.  I had a parent who judged harshly and never forgave. People and places got etched into stone on “The List.”  That was my touchstone, my guidebook.  So when I started hearing the message of God’s love, faithfulness and forgiveness it was difficult to accept.  The first step was to believe God felt that way toward me.  And to be honest, I find myself frequently falling backward into not returning those gifts to others.  

The lessons and examples from Pastor Lucado are great every day reminders on living out Jesus’ request of us to love one another.

“God is love” (1 John 4:16). One word into the passage reveals the supreme surprise of God’s love—it has nothing to do with you. Some people love you because of you. Not God – He loves you because He is He.  

Max Lucado

Isn’t that amazing? Wouldn’t you agree that most of the people in your life love you because of who you are to them? A daughter or son, a wife or husband, a longtime friend with similar interests, and so on. We may even find ourselves saying we love a person who is related to us but we don’t like them very much. It’s all conditional. But God loves us because He is love. Let’s not just gloss over that. Take a moment to really let it sink in. He is the definition of love. Like a cloud of love envelopes us and snuggles us wherever we go!

I saw a picture the other day of a woman at the store who had created a contraption designed to keep people six feet away from her. It involved a hula hoop, straps, signs, warning reflectors and more. When I saw this I thought, “that’s the exact opposite message of Jesus.” His cloud of love surrounding us is more like a fog bank — it pulls others in and seeps into everything. It quiets the world around us.

Today, when you go out into the world, picture your God cloud swirling around you. It’s beautiful and inviting. Its little tendrils reach out and wrap around others you meet. Invite them in with a smile, a greeting, a shrug of forgiveness. With each act of love we a do a bit of cloud seeding — leaving a piece of Jesus to grow.


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Jesus Mindset

“But we have the mind of Christ” 1 Corinthians 2:16

We so often hear the phrase, “To be like Jesus” but what does it really mean in our everyday lives?  My BSGs were in a deep conversation on Revelation about whether or not we believe in the rapture.  And, more importantly how does either position effect our lives.  History and our current world are full of scholars who know a lot more about the details of the Bible than probably you or I will ever grasp.  But there’s a difference, which is a deep and wide crevasse, between knowing and living out the qualities of Jesus.

“We, therefore, desire to copy his character and put our feet into his footprints. Be it ours to follow the Lamb whithersoever he goes. What says our Lord himself? “Follow me,” and again, “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you shall find rest unto your souls.” Not Christ’s apostle, but Christ himself, is our guide; we may not take a secondary model, but must imitate Jesus himself.” 

Charles Spurgeon

Imitation is not knowing of something but molding ourselves into an almost exact copy.  I say “almost” because of course, Jesus is God and we are not.  We walk the Jesus drawn path toward His perfection but we are always in a human mode my friend Betsy calls, “imperfect progress.” 

Our modern view of Jesus seems to be stuck in one quality, however.  And truth be told, if we could regularly live out that one quality it’d be a great step forward on our path.  That quality?  A loving friend.  

We hear the word “love” over and over in our churches, in our faith songs, on our Christian social media.  But what about Jesus’ other characteristics?  How many of us are willing to take on being Jesus the Warrior, Jesus the Servant, or Jesus the Counselor?  If we have hesitated is it because we know that once we decide to move along in our sanctification journey, we will encounter more and more resistance from the outside world?

Are we prepared, like the disciple Stephen, to be a martyr for God?  Are we prepared to state unequivocally that we must obey God rather than human beings? (Acts 5:29)

And so, we return to the original question, what does believing in the words of the Bible and Jesus mean to our lives?  It means we are to be in constant preparation for His coming.  It means we love our neighbors, we share the gospel whenever possible, we humble ourselves, we seek reconciliation and not revenge, we encourage and lift up our fellow travelers, we carry the message of Jesus throughout every generation, and we stand up for the truth of His Holy Word.  It means we make a perspective shift on every single aspect of our lives because we believe that one day soon our “age of grace” will turn to the “age of judgment.”  

Jesus expects us to be working on that preparation. It’s why He came – not to just leave us knowing God loves us – but living like God knows and loves us.  He came to be our example for gathering up residents of the future Kingdom come. 

Join me in this journey of looking at the different qualities of Jesus as we delve into His mindset so that we can become His imitators.  We will be challenged to accept all of His qualities, not just the ones with which we feel most comfortable.  Along the way we will meet some people whose lives are examples of those characteristics. 

Jesus was a great disrupter – possibly the greatest of all time.  Let’s let Him disrupt and reshape us.


As we begin this series take a moment to pray this confession found in Rick Renner’s, Sparkling Gems from the Greek:

“I boldly declare that I am a new creature in Christ.  Old things have passed away and all things have become new!  I am not who I used to be anymore.  I don’t think like that old person; I don’t see like that old person; I don’t talk like that old person; and I don’t behave like that old person anymore.  Now I am in Jesus Christ, and I think like Him, see like Him, talk like Him, and behave like Him.  I have come alive with vibrant life because of His resurrection power that works in me! I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!”

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Listen Up!

Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 
John 5:25

Today’s Fresh Fire is our last in this series.  It’s been a great adventure finding and studying verses that have helped me bolster my faith.  I hope these verses have helped your faith journey as well!

The idea of hearing the voice of God makes me think of my dog, Tucker.  When he was just a puppy, I made a commitment to train him much differently than our previous dog.  When my other dog was a puppy, I also had two small children to train.  And the dog was the last to get my attention!  So, with Tucker I’ve made it a point to make him into a good walking dog.  At this point in his training, he walks with a e-collar rather than a leash.

There were a few training goals which my husband poo-poo’d at the time.  One, that Tucker be trained to only chase rabbits when I allowed it.  And two, to only cross the street when he received our approval.  When my friends walk with me and Tucker they know that at each street corner we must stop, look both ways and proceed.  Tucker, even while walking slightly ahead of me, will sit at each corner and wait for me.  A training feat accomplished!

But what does this have to do with the voice of God?  You see, my real goal with Tucker was to help him not get hit by a car if say, he were to be in the front yard with me while off leash.  So, when we approached a corner and a car was passing by, even if it was going parallel to us, I made him wait.  I associated not only the changing texture of the surface he was on but also the sound of cars with his need to wait.

And I can almost swear he now looks both ways, looking and listening for cars.  He has learned to listen to something outside his little doggie mind before he can proceed safely.

Isn’t that what God wants from us?  To be so well trained to listen for Him that we don’t proceed until we hear what He wants of us?

And he said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the people of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat.
Ezekiel 3:1

Throughout this series through verse after verse we have heard that to stay close to God we must pray, read His Word and listen through silent mediation.  And the Bible shows us so many ways which God will speak to us – dreams, visions (like with Ezekiel), burning bushes, through others, signs, and the written word.  If we aren’t listening to all His ways then how can we ever expect to cross the street safely?  To move forward in our lives along His preferred path?

When Jesus made the statement in our verse today, He is telling us to listen up!  To pay close attention!  He tells us that a time is coming where when we hear His voice again it’s resurrection time.  For those who hear His Word and turn to Him for the first time, that resurrection might mean tomorrow.  Their dead souls come to live in new life.  For others it will be when the believers are raised from the dead and enter into God’s glorious eternity.  While still others will be resurrected and judged harshly.

But if we aren’t listening for Him, what will we miss out on?  We miss the opportunity to be made righteous.  We miss the opportunities to enjoy peace and grace and forgiveness right now.

This thing I know, that when I have neither heard nor read, I have yet felt the voice of God within me, and the Spirit has, himself, revealed some dark mystery, opened some secret, guided me into some truth, given me some direction, led me in some path, or in some other way has immediately spoken to me himself; and I believe it is so with every man at conversion;

Charles Spurgeon, The Majestic Voice

I was at my first women’s Bible retreat and we were challenged to go find a quiet place to talk with God.  I found myself at a rustic, outdoor chapel of sorts.  As I sat in prayer, I laid my heavy heart out for God.  My constant prayer at the time was to help me find peace and a lightness of spirit.  I felt so heavy with burdens.  As I finished my prayer a flock of tiny birds flew directly in front of me from one side of the chapel to another.  As they raced each other along their path they chirped loudly at each other – a flock of children laughing and squealing in some unseen game.  The landed in a tree just above me and kept up their heavenly laughter.  And I laughed along with them.

I realized immediately it was God snapping His fingers at me to say, “Wake up! There is joy to be had all around you! You see, even my tiny birds, who have only themselves, this tree and this moment are filled with laughter.  You have so much more that I have given you!”

The voice of God is everywhere.  It’s in us.  He fills our dreams.  He thunders with each storm and crashing wave.  He gently rocks us to sleep with the croaking frogs.  He loves us with the cooing of a baby.  He runs laughing with us while getting that kite up in the air.  To truly hear Him, to listen to what He has to say today, we just need a bit of practice and some well-planned training.  The next time you find yourself needing to cross a proverbial street in your life take a moment to listen. He will guide you safely across.

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Rescue Me!

Rise up and help us; rescue us because of your unfailing love.
Psalm 44:26

I’ll admit I’ve had a bit of a rough relationship with God the last few weeks.  I have an on-going health issue related to my sinuses.  For years I’ve suffered through swollen sinuses, infections, allergies, clogged ears, excruciating headaches and more.  I’m in my third year of allergy shots and recently had a second sinus surgery.  And I feel worse.

A few weekends ago I spent most of the time feeling like my head was either in a tight vise or underwater. Conversations were muffled and my eustachian tubes felt as though a needle was being jammed in them.  I got on my knees and started praying desperately for God to heal me.  While at church I prayed continuously for healing.  And the pain continued.

Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep?  Rouse yourself!  Do not reject us forever.  
Psalm 44:23

Have you ever felt the way the psalmist did when he wrote that verse?  Like God just isn’t listening?  That Sunday evening, I sure did.  I was in tears.  And so, I cried out to God even louder to please heal me.  For a brief moment I even felt myself being pulled back into my old way of thinking that God didn’t care about me or worse, maybe didn’t even exist.  But my faith journey has brought me too far to let me slide backwards.

There is no relapse where Christ heals; no fear that His patients should be merely patched up for a season.  He makes new men of them; He give them a new heart and He puts within them a right spirit.  

Charles Spurgeon

My knowledge of God has led me to a place of greater wisdom.  Instead of asking God to “wake up” I started asking Him if this was to be my thorn, my constant affliction to cause me to rely more and more on Him.

It also led me to put my pain and suffering in perspective.  While my issues are painful and irritating, I am not debilitated.  I can still rise every morning and serve Him and the people around me.  And through a pounding headache I can still go out for a walk and experience a beautiful day.  I put my troubles up against my mother-in-law’s, who through a year battling cancer and diverticulitis has managed a smile each time I talk to her.  Yes, at her lowest she has cried.  But I’ve watched her turn back to God in faith, searching for His hand in all things.

I want God to take away my pain.  I know He can.  He can heal me as I write this.  And it is not for me to know why He doesn’t.  

I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  
2 Corinthians 12:7-9

I would prefer not to be held to the same spiritual standards set by the Apostle Paul.  To seek God’s goodness when I feel my worst.  To feel His presence when my head is pounding.  To do the work required of me when the pain is almost overwhelming.  At times I just can’t.  That’s when I beg God to help me, to rescue me.

I’m not going to stop asking for healing.  But I’ve decided that I trust God that there is a reason He hasn’t.  And I know for certain, that in trusting Him, one day we will all be free from affliction and experience His amazing glory.

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First Love

But you must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always. 
Hosea 12:6

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a “doer.”  In the Bible, Martha is my spirit animal.  I can so easily picture myself cooking and cleaning all day, getting ready for Jesus to come for dinner.  Then while He is at my house I’m running around making sure the drinks are filled and people have enough to eat.  Cleaning up spills and getting a jump on doing the dishes.  All the while, slightly annoyed that others are sitting at His feet, enjoying His company while I slave away.  

There’s a lot of pride wrapped up in that thinking. And I’ve had to learn to accept my “doing” nature while learning two things: 1) accepting that other people are born to be the type to relax and soak up the moment and 2) learning how to balance being a doer and not missing out on those special moments.  Because Jesus admonishes us from His teachings in the gospels to His messages in Revelation to “return to our first love.”  Meaning, Him.

Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 
Revelation 2:4

This was the message to the church in Ephesus.  They were doers.  They took James’ messages to heart.  They worked hard, served many and were also great at making sure false teachers didn’t enter their midst.  But they forgot to be in awe and wonder for the Lord.

How often, when we feel like we are moving away from our faith do we turn to “doing” more rather than taking up Mary’s approach – sitting in awe and wonder at His feet?

Wonders are things out of the common, unusual things, extraordinary things. Usually they are unexpected; we wonder at them partly because they are novel and surprising. They take us aback; they are things which we looked not for. When they come they astonish us, and put us both in a muse and in a maze. We look, and look, and look, and cannot believe our eyes; we hear, and hear, and scarce believe our ears. 

Charles Spurgeon

Sometimes I find myself listening to a story of wonder by a fellow Christian – a story where God has worked miraculously in their life – and I do a quick acknowledgement and move forward.  As though this moment where God touched their life was so humdrum ordinary!

In a commentary on the restoration of our first love – the awe and wonder of Jesus Christ – Warren Wiersbe challenges us to take these steps:

Remember what we have lost.

Think back to when we were so excited about our relationship with the Lord.  Remember when He has worked miraculously in our lives.  Recall when we cried during our singing at church while we lifted our hands up to Him!

Repent (Change) our minds.

Decide that we want that awe, wonder and love back!  It sounds obvious but if you haven’t done it yet, evaluate why.

Repeat your “1st Works.”

What are those?  It was when you were devoted to prayer, mediation, Bible reading, service in His name, and worship

Thankfully, the world and God need both Marthas and Marys.  When I get caught up in my “Martha-ness” I remember that Jesus had His own special relationship with Her.  It was Martha that ran out to meet Jesus after Lazarus had died.  She proclaimed to Him that she believed Him to be the Messiah, the Son of God.

For some people, life may be monotonous and meaningless; but it doesn’t have to be. For the Christian believer, life is an open door, not a closed circle; there are daily experiences of new blessings from the Lord.  

Warren Wiersbe

I want to always be in touch with my “First Love.”  I want to live with that sense of awe and wonder.  And when I feel it fading I need only to sit in quiet mediation and allow His Holy Spirit to rekindle the flame within me.

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Solidarity

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 
Hebrews 12:14

I was having lunch the other day with a friend and she shared with me a disturbing trend in her two Bible study groups.  She said to me, “I’ve had it.  I’m exhausted.  I don’t want to hear either side anymore.”  You see, the Christians in her group forgot who was in charge of their lives and the great gift of peace bestowed on believers.  They started arguing about politics.  In fact, one of her groups completely dissolved because of this.

When we think about the status of our faith, we usually concern ourselves inwardly.  But throughout the New Testament we are charged with guiding our fellow believers closer to God’s truths and blessings.

See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.
Hebrews 12:15

So often that “bitter root” that gets fomented in our churches, faith groups, Bible studies, etc causes people to disconnect from their faith journey.  And if we have joined in creating that situation, we must count ourselves at least partially responsible for the results.

It is easy to throw stones at others, but glass houses should whisper caution.

Charles Spurgeon on A Political Dissenter

That’s not to say we aren’t to discuss the worldly goings on and the effects they have on our lives.  But our primary focus should be always on God and being peacemakers.

When the Covid pandemic hit and a Bible study I was in was still meeting we were discussing our fears and such.  The group leader proclaimed, “I believe God is sending us this pandemic as punishment for what we have done to the environment.”  I’m sure that just caused everyone reading this to divide into camps.  Now, I love the environment but I’m not an “environmental activist.”  And that statement didn’t sit well with me.  But instead of going on the attack I kept my mouth shut for once realizing that nothing I might say would change her mind or be helpful.

We seem to have evolved into a society where our opinions absolutely must be heard and must be accepted or else we are prepared to judge our “adversary” in all manner of ways.  And when this happens within a Christian group, I can tell you one thing for sure, Satan is quite happy.

This quote by AW Tozer is a bit long but he handles this issue very well:

One thing must be kept in mind: We Christians are Christians first and everything else after that. Our first allegiance is to the kingdom of God. Our citizenship is in heaven. We are grateful for political freedom. We thank God for democracy as a way of life. But we never forget that we are sons of God and citizens of another city whose builder and maker is God. For this reason, we must not identify the gospel with any political system or make Christianity to be synonymous with any form of government, however noble. Christ stands alone, above and outside of every ideology devised by man. He does not join any of our parties or take sides with any of our great men except as they may come over on His side and try to follow Him in righteousness and true holiness. Then He is for them, but only as individuals, never as leaders of some political faction. The true Christian will be loyal to his country and obedient to those in authority, but he will never fall into the error of confusing his own national culture with Christianity. Christianity is bigger than any country, loftier than any civilization, broader than any human ideology.  

A.W. Tozer

I’ll be honest, I’ve really struggled with this issue for the last few years.  I want to live in God’s peace but I also am a lover of freedom and America.  For the last few months each time I work myself up to being outraged over some issue I’ve turned to God.  I remind myself that He is ultimately in charge.  I remind myself that my job, as a Christian, is to share His Word and live faithfully by it.  That means showing grace and compassion.  It also means “allowing” God to handle everything until He tells me He needs me to do my part.

When we truly desire to be peacemakers and have Christian solidarity as a goal, we change our conversations and words.  Instead of sending around an inflammatory news article or Facebook post to our Bible study group and letting it drop like a bomb, we should share with them the struggle we have with the issue and where we see God in it.  

The apostle Paul dealt with strife amongst some of the churches.  Because let’s face it, our churches are just made up of people.  People with varying points of view and opinions.

I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world. For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.  
1 Corinthians 10:2-6

We should not be “waging war” like the world does.  Our fight should not be with each other – working to destroy one another’s faith.  We need to turn our focus back on to God and help our brethren to do the same.