Monthly Archives: October 2016

Ezekiel 19-21, Psalm 84, John 7

How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, faints
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
to the living God.

Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house,
ever singing your praise! Selah

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.[b]
As they go through the Valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
each one appears before God in Zion.

O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;
give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah
Behold our shield, O God;
look on the face of your anointed!

10 For a day in your courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
from those who walk uprightly.
12 O Lord of hosts,
blessed is the one who trusts in you!

 

 

Recently, I have had some strange feelings. Feelings of homesickness even though I am not away from my home. I am feeling unsettled and distant from this world, my friends and my community. The longing in my heart for my heavenly home increases each and every day, a longing placed there by my Master.  As I look around at the sin in the world I am heartbroken. I long for days of old, even further back than when I grew up. I know each generations has its fears and challenges but just a few decades ago, our children did not have to worry about school shootings and girls knew they were girls and boys knew they were boys. Fifty years ago the overall standard of morality was at a much higher level (or covered up to look good) and people actually cared. Today, anything goes for anyone. Even among believers, the lines between Christian freedom and moral license are very gray.

The words of Psalm 84 are so beautifully penned from the heart of a believer longing to experience the presence and glory of the Lord. In His courts we find security, protection and satisfaction. The worst job on the worst day in His presence is far better than the best day I can imagine on the most beautiful beach.

These words are speaking of an experience that I have a hard time imagining but they are also words to take comfort in while I am still in this world walking through day to day struggles and even more difficult times. I can walk away from reading this passage knowing in my weakest and darkest moments, God will sustain me with his strength. He is my shield and protector providing me with what I need at the very moment I need it. And ultimately, I am favored by him because of the blood of Jesus. I am anointed- a child of God! There isn’t anything that happens that isn’t for my good.

Dear Lord, create in me a true desire to long for a deeper relationship with you. May my heart and flesh cry out for you and sing for joy, Living God. You are my shield, protector and sustainer. I look forward to the day we meet face to face but what a joy and an honor to serve you while I wait expectantly. Amen.

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Ezekial 16-18; John 6

I’ve noticed that some foods I eat help me feel energized, clear-minded, and satisfied.  In the physical world, they are life-sustaining.  And there are other foods which have the opposite effect.  I am lethargic, fuzzy-headed, and depressed, yet craving more.  In the physical world, these foods are life-draining.

In the spiritual sense, Jesus is clearly of the first type.  He sustains and nourishes.  He is life-giving.

His nourishment is eternal.

“Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”  John 6:27

His nourishment is from heaven.

“For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”  John 6:33

His nourishment totally and completely satisfies.

“Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life.  He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.””  John 6:35

His nourishment had a cost.  Jesus would die on the cross for us.  All we have to do is believe in Him.

“I am the bread of life.  Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died.  But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.  This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”   John 6:48-51

It is by feeding on Jesus that we obtain eternal life and continue to thrive spiritually.

Dear Father, Thank you for loving me so much that you sent your Son to give me life.  You are the giver of eternal life.  You are also the sole source of true nourishment in this life.  Help me to seek nourishment in Jesus and only Jesus, for I know that other “foods” I may seek are not good for me at all. 

Diona

 

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Ezekiel 13-15; Psalm 136; John 5

There were the false prophets, saying false things. People turned to them for advice or direction, but were not advised or directed in truth. The Lord called their words lies and whitewash. Women prophets too–he called them false; he said they ensnared. Telling stories for profit, making promises that were never theirs to make.

20 “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against all your magic charms, which you use to ensnare my people like birds. I will tear them from your arms, setting my people free like birds set free from a cage. 21 I will tear off the magic veils and save my people from your grasp. They will no longer be your victims. Then you will know that I am the Lord. 22 You have discouraged the righteous with your lies, but I didn’t want them to be sad. And you have encouraged the wicked by promising them life, even though they continue in their sins. (Ezekiel 13:20-22, NLT)

Even leaders–their hearts full of idols. Things embraced that will make them fall into sin.

Then some of the leaders of Israel visited me, and while they were sitting with me, this message came to me from the Lord: “Son of man, these leaders have set up idols in their hearts. They have embraced things that will make them fall into sin. Why should I listen to their requests? Tell them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: The people of Israel have set up idols in their hearts and fallen into sin, and then they go to a prophet asking for a message. So I, the Lord, will give them the kind of answer their great idolatry deserves. I will do this to capture the minds and hearts of all my people who have turned from me to worship their detestable idols.’ (Ezekiel 14:1-5, NLT)

The more I read, the more I sit and think longer on these things. Ancient scriptures speak of God–he’s always after our hearts. He doesn’t want us chasing and trusting in lies. He doesn’t want our focus misplaced in selfish pursuits–idols that lead to sin. Not in ancient days. Not today.

Psalm 136 speaks of all God has done and of his faithful love.

Jesus speaks to the leaders of his day, leaders who were offended at Jesus’ work on the Sabbath. Jesus, the perceived rule breaker–who was truly following the rules. He speaks truth.

19 So Jesus explained, I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he is doing. In fact, the Father will show him how to do even greater works than healing this man. Then you will truly be astonished. 21 For just as the Father gives life to those he raises from the dead, so the Son gives life to anyone he wants. 22 In addition, the Father judges no one. Instead, he has given the Son absolute authority to judge, 23 so that everyone will honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son is certainly not honoring the Father who sent him.

24 I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life.

25 “And I assure you that the time is coming, indeed it’s here now, when the dead will hear my voice—the voice of the Son of God. And those who listen will live. 26 The Father has life in himself, and he has granted that same life-giving power to his Son. 27 And he has given him authority to judge everyone because he is the Son of Man. 28 Don’t be so surprised! Indeed, the time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God’s Son, 29 and they will rise again. Those who have done good will rise to experience eternal life, and those who have continued in evil will rise to experience judgment. 30 I can do nothing on my own. I judge as God tells me. Therefore, my judgment is just, because I carry out the will of the one who sent me, not my own will. (John 5:19-30, NLT)

From pulpit or podium, from congregation or culture, I weigh words against God’s word.

Lord, I pray that you would give me wisdom, that you would direct my path and give me clarity in decisions. I pray that your voice is the one I’d hear and follow, not my own, not someone else’s. Thank you, that you speak truth, for your great love, and for your faithfulness.

Courtney (66books365)

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Ezekiel 10-12; Psalm 83; John 4

I am the Samaritan woman. I read the story about the woman Jesus met at the well and realized her story is my story.  One day, I went to the well because I was thirsty.  I was looking for that satisfaction, that quenching, that had eluded me throughout my life.  I had tried to fill it several times before in many different ways.

“Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime.” He was waiting for me.  I knew it the minute I walked into that church.  Something was different this time.  I walked in and looked at the faces of all those people worshipping.  I knew whatever it was, THAT is what I was looking for.

15 “Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.”

16 “Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her.

17 “I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied.

Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband— 18 for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!”

I sat in that church service thinking of my life. I had been married and divorced twice and had jumped right into another relationship so fast it made my head spin.  We were all but living together.  At that point I didn’t know how else to fill up that emptiness that was inside of me.  The rejection ran so deep.  I thought that I needed someone in my life to give me value, to prove that I wasn’t a loser who deserved to be walked out on.  If only I found the right person, then I would be happy.  All the pain would go away.

“Please, sir, give me this water!” or I said something very similar and then Jesus offered me that living water.

14 But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”

I met the great I Am that day. I did find the right Person!

26 Then Jesus told her, I am the Messiah!”[d]

28 The woman left her water jar beside the well and ran back to the village, telling everyone, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did!

Once I met Jesus my life was changed. Who I was before that day is now part of the story I share to tell everyone how far He has brought me, how much He has changed my life.  I found value, significance, joy, and purpose beyond anything I could ever imagine.  Has life been hard since then?  Of course!  Do I still get thirsty?  Yes—but I know where to go for my living water when I feel that thirst coming on.  Jesus fills my life in ways I never imagined were possible.

42 Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not just because of what you told us, but because we have heard him ourselves. Now we know that he is indeed the Savior of the world.”

God has tasked me with telling my story. I hope when I do it encourages others to want to know Him more.  He has been so patient and taught me so much.  I want others to experience the freedom I have found through Him.

37 You know the saying, ‘One plants and another harvests.’ And it’s true. 38 I sent you to harvest where you didn’t plant; others had already done the work, and now you will get to gather the harvest.”

To me, telling my story or sharing something profound that He has taught me are ways of planting seeds. I can warn others of the pain they will encounter, I can share what happened in my life when I made bad choices, and I can point them to Jesus as a better way.  I want people to “hear Him themselves”.

The bible doesn’t tell us what happened to the woman after her encounter with Jesus but I bet she changed her life the way I changed mine. I could no longer live the way the world lives.  I knew there was a better way.  It didn’t happen overnight but there comes that point in time where you have to be all in, no turning back. I know He wanted better for me—and He made me want better for myself.  I hope someday I get to meet this woman.  I can picture us running to each other, embracing one another, and jumping up and down with joy because we “met a man who told me everything I ever did!

Thank you, Lord, for showing us a better way to live. Thank you, Lord, for giving us stories of people in the bible we can relate to.  They are not perfect people who always get life right and neither are we.  But You sent us a Savior, our beloved Redeemer, who came to give us living water. Through His love, He changes lives. Because of Him, my cup runneth over and never runs dry! In His name I pray, Amen.

Cindy (gardnlady)

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Ezekiel 7-9; John 3

When you put anything before Me, you ultimately hurt yourself…

“…I will not look on them with pity or spare them. Although they shout in My ears, I will not listen to them.” Ezekiel 8:18

Recently, while on a call with Comcast to cancel services on my account, the representative was amazed when I voiced that the reason for cancelling my services was that there’s a difference between need and want and I certainly didn’t need Comcast for the services they were offering. So it started me on this path of reflection to discern between those things that I need and those that I want. If you’ve not tried this before, consider trying this exercise to see those things that make it to one column or the other. This isn’t to say that all wants are bad… for instance, I have, and always will want deep relationship in my life. Wanting such things in and of themselves aren’t necessarily bad… putting this, or any other want or desire above God is the issue.

We think we can hide those parts of our lives that keep us away from fully engaging with God. We don’t like to think that we have idols in our lives, but when we withhold parts of ourselves from God, we hold them above God… and anything that we place above God is an idol.

We don’t wipe out idolatry once and for all without ever having to purge it again from our lives. Other interests constantly try to take over where only He belongs, so we constantly have to remain on guard. Beyond the fact that our Father deserves all of our honor and respect, in His infinite wisdom, when we focus on Him exclusively, it has the effect of protecting us from the deep pain that ultimately happens when we turn to outside influences for happiness and fulfillment.

The seducing influence of idols has us believing that we’ve found true happiness. However, this happiness is really temporary, lacking the depth that is needed to sustain us on a long-term basis… the kind of depth and peace that can only be found in submitting to the Father’s will, regardless of what life throws at us!

I had a friend several years ago who was a strong Christian… one thing I remember about Chris was that he was always happy and was rarely affected by life’s ‘junk’ being thrown at him! One day, I found myself getting more frustrated than Chris over hearing all of what he and his wife were going through with their son dealing with muscular dystrophy! It was at that moment that I realized that Chris had something I wanted. I didn’t fully understand it, but Chris had something deeper, more substantive, much larger than anything I had ever experienced before. And it was amazing to me how many ‘breaks’ Chris and his family received! Well… they weren’t really breaks… I’ve come to understand them to be abundant mercies and blessings, being offer to a family, who made the conscious decision to follow a God that was much bigger than any challenge or circumstance they were going through!

After speaking with Chris at length, I realized that in order for me to experience what he and his wife had found would require sacrifice on my part… it would require me to give up what I learned were harmful influences and start living according to a higher standard… our Father’s will! It was only through this process of letting go of false idols that I could tap into that deeper joy and peace I had witnessed, in spite of the outside influences from life. By aligning ourselves on ‘the rock’ that can withstand any circumstance, deeper, more sustaining joy can be had.

Oh, how we serve an unselfish God!! At the core of everything He does is our good! However, in order to experience His best and His protection requires a commitment on our parts to follow Him and His will completely. And while we can never lose the love of our Father, idolatry hurts the relationship with our God and puts in jeopardy all the blessings He has for us. Imagine one day, being in heaven, and seeing a large room full of boxes, and learning that they were all ours… but we never experienced what was in the boxes because the path we choose, other than focusing on our Father and being obedient to His will, prevented all those boxes from coming our way!

Caring for our children… enjoying a hobby… fostering friendships… our jobs… in, and of themselves, all good things, but when these things are done to excess, even good things can become bad… idols! Therefore, it’s a daily fight to ensure that we keep ourselves ‘in check’… to keep our Father first, before all others and all things. And, could it be, that by keeping our Father, and His will for our lives first, that we’ll receive more of God’s mercies? That our prayers will not fall upon deaf ears? That the pain life can be reduced because our Father’s ways are better?

Father, I reach out to You to ask that You search our hearts… remove and cleanse it of anything that keeps us from being closer to You. Father, I ask you to strengthen us as we re-learn how to live our lives according to Your will and not ours… that we grow in faith so that while we may not understand why it is that we are going through the challenges, we can rest knowing You are who You are, that we should cling to You always, and that Your love is enough, with no need for any substitutes. Amen.

Greg (gstefanelli)

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Ezekiel 4-6; Psalm 82; John 2

“That’s not what I expected. I’ve been listening to others who have heard Him teach, and their stories of His divine wisdom and hints of rising power have excited me – even ignited hope to my weary soul…worn down with eking out a living under the heavy hand of Roman captors. Yes, I feel like a captive, even though I am not a slave, yet. What a miserable thought – that I might have to sell my body to have some means of caring for my family, paying tithes and purchasing sacrifices, and giving to those who are even more needy and poorer than I. Oh, God, when will You save us? Those were my thoughts that Passover when I brought the few coins that I had saved to purchase an offering and pay the temple tax in the house of God.

As I walked inside the temple, a commotion began at the east corner, a place to avoid when purchasing an offering, though the other vendors are not much better. Dishonest and unjust Ben-Hadad charges exorbitant prices for exchanging Roman denarii for shekels, and his cohorts squeeze every last coin for their pitiful excuses of a sacrificial animal, even selling doves with broken wings and blemished, scrawny sheep.

All of a sudden an explosion of wooden tables crashed all around me and a whirlwind spinning with coins and curses seemed to suck out all the air in the room. Men groped on the floor or pressed against the wall in confusion and desperation. Then His voice, clear and with authority commanded, ‘Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!’ This must be Jesus!” (Adapted from John’s account of the cleansing of the temple, John 2)

Today some see the temple cleansing story as instruction to churches not to sell pastors’ books, study guides, bible covers, CDs of the weekly sermons, etc. What came to my mind, however, was Corinthians 6:19, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own…” This Scripture is instructing Christians not to use the body for immorality, wickedness, and various sexual sins. We are told we are without excuse because we have the indwelling Holy Spirit to convict us (let alone plenty of fellow believers and non-believers to condemn us). Yet, I wonder if the age-old practice of self-flagellation is just a misguided response to this conviction.  I don’t doubt that many of us feel a sound whipping is in order to cleanse our conscience! How long, though, does it take to forgive oneself and more importantly, what does it take for God’s forgiveness to sink in? I know how wretched a sister or brother in Christ feels to be caught up in sin. Christ still is consumed by zeal for His Father’s house – consumed by His desire to see us cleansed by His blood. But wait! Didn’t Jesus Christ already accomplish that? Are we truly forgiven or do we need to perform some ritual, penance, or sacrifice to cover sin?

I don’t think that is what the Apostle Paul was saying. Rather, what we need is to receive the ongoing regenerative work of the Holy Spirit, working out our salvation day to day in the presence of Almighty God.

Thank You, Jesus, that You are still consumed with zeal for my body, mind, soul, and spirit. Keep me aware of the places within me that need Your cleansing. Cleanse me by Your Holy fire and the washing of Your word. Have Your way with me. Thank You, thank You. Thank You, God for Your mercy!

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Ezekiel 1-3; John 1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.  John 1:1-3

This Word of God, this Son of God changes everything. He breathes and life comes to be.

And he said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel.”  So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. Then he said to me, “Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.” So I ate it , and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth. Ezekiel 3:1-3

The Word of God speaks into the past, present and future. Ezekiel’s time was war wrought and the people of Israel failed to accept God’s sovereignty and goodness. Even in their defeat, they could not, would not submit their hearts to the One who made them. They refused to acknowledge the Holy One of Israel.

This Word of God stands true. Jesus is who he says he is, the very Son of God. Unbelief on my part doesn’t change reality one bit, nor does others’ acceptance of Him. Global warming, corrupt leaders, wars and natural disasters can’t change the fact of who Jesus is.

And God repeats, “Do not be afraid…do not be afraid…do not be afraid.” Ezekiel 2:6

Jesus, your very Word speaks to me today. You assure me of your sovereignty and goodness no matter what the circumstance. All of creation, all of life is held together by you.  Holy Spirit, strengthen me to live in the truth of who you are. When fear of the opposition threatens to take me under, fill me with your Holy Spirit.  May I live to please you alone. Amen

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