We Belong to Each Other

You would think that the easiest place to walk as a child of light is with other light-dwellers. Yes. In a place where minds are encouraged by Christ’s love, and spirits are alive by the same Spirit of God, and hearts are tender and compassionate because of His work within…yes, in this situation the Church-planter Paul affirms that our joyful response should be “…agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.” (Philippians 2:2) From his perspective, the Family of God should be an everyday illustration of God’s love and grace, reaching out to the people of the world– a living temple for God’s presence. It sounds like the ideal family, doesn’t it?

And yet Paul takes the time to instruct the early church at length in how to make that happen, over the course of many different letters, and even scolding those who are behaving poorly with one another. Clearly relationships within the Family of God are a good bit more work than we might expect. In Peter’s letter we find him echoing the same thoughts, and this time it is in the middle of all his examples of living an everyday life of excellence: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:7-10) Both Paul and Peter aren’t afraid to get into the practical nuts and bolts of how to live as children of the light, nor do they hide the fact that it is liable to be difficult at times. Whether we are talking about work relationships, marriage, respecting government, or getting along with fellow believers, our behavior should be above reproach so that we will bring glory to the God who called us into His kingdom. At the same time, we will be shining God’s light into the darkness the way Jesus did when He walked here Himself.

Peter describes a community of genuine friendship, brotherly love for one another. The kind of friends who truly care when you are going through difficulties, and come alongside to help. People of compassion and humility– not looking out for their own interests, but looking to serve others. An adopted family of peacemakers, focusing on the eternal bond we share in Christ instead of on the earthly differences that can pull us apart. He fully expects the early believers to voluntarily hold the same values, not because they are culturally homogeneous, but because they have all turned away from earthly perspectives and are devoted to the same cause of building the Kingdom of Light.

Paul affirms that this is expected and normal for Christ-followers who share life together: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.” (Colossians 3:15) After all, in God’s eyes every one of us is a sinner saved by His own gracious consent into the Kingdom of Light, regardless of where we have come from, or our situation in life. All the earthly distinctions that we pride ourselves on are as temporary as this world– the person we are becoming on the inside is what we get to take into eternity. Beloved author Madeleine L’Engle rightly observed that “We draw people to Christ…by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.

And we can see this theme of beautiful light running through Peter’s letter, and the Christ-followers shining into the darkness to draw others to God. Day by day they look more and more like Jesus.

~~~~~~~

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning…. In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John 1:1-2, 4-5

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What I share with other believers is not just a mutual interest, as if we were all members of a global fan club. We are members of His global family, with the same Father, the same Spirit, the same hope. Blood might be thicker than water, but Jesus’s blood is thicker still.

Bronwyn Lea
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New Every Day

Somehow, counting out these blessings each day has a vulnerable feel to it. How many good things does the heart need, to be able to call it a happy day? Who am I depending on for my good, really? What do I actually believe about a sovereign God? And how easily a harsh word or a deep hurt or a lingering anxiety overwhelms any number of blessings. Even this sobering freedom that I get to choose how my heart is growing– I can respond to any situation with a thankful heart, or not, and it is sad how often my first instinctive reaction is something other than gratitude. No question about it, when we consciously place ourselves in the radiance of God’s presence, we can see more clearly the gap between what we believe and what we live.

Bending my will to this spiritual discipline of gratitude keeps peeling away the layers of self-sufficiency and wish-to-control, and as one day’s list gives way to the blank page of the next, it’s remarkable how much giving thanks feels like trust. My heart can still stutter hard, knowing that provision for today does not guarantee the same for tomorrow. The unknown can loom large in the night, and problems take on nightmare quality under the lens of What If. It is here that I have to choose again…. Can I trust the Grace that was enough for today to be big enough for tomorrow’s uncertainties? And it’s like I can hear Jesus saying, “…do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34) I get that there’s an assurance of troubles, and it makes good sense not to spend your worry before it’s due, but this is hardly encouraging news for wannabe-thankfuls. I have to back up and read over and again the most important part of Jesus’ sentence: “…seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow…” (Matthew 6:33) My focus on living as a Christ-follower keeps me living in the present under His care. My thankfulness for the great gift of salvation and trust in the Father’s goodness gives my heart peace.

So it is both what I desire and what God provides that is guarding today and tomorrow. And I can see how when I want His presence more than anything else, these daily blessings are like manna, everyday evidence that He is here with me. I pick up each one and give thanks, believing that it will be enough for whatever I am facing today. And tomorrow will have its own simple graces, along with whatever troubles may come. I can trust Him in this. Each day Jesus promises to me again, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

The prophet Jeremiah saw it clearly: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23) God’s gifted goodness is fresh and fully abundant each morning as I rise. And His faithfulness ensures enough for all the days to come. So I choose yet again to trust, and I walk through another day with eyes wide open, looking forall the ways my Father loves me.

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The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to You, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open Your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. The Lord is righteous in all His ways and faithful in all He does.

Psalm 145:14-17

We have no idea what it is that God is saving us from every single day we wake up with breath.

Shelly Miller
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Of Snowfall and Forgiveness and All Things New

They keep calling for snow, and it happens this way every year, waiting for the first deep blanket of white to hide the bleakness of Winter. It’s like the world has been reduced to its bare bones, and shivers beneath the gray sky, waiting for a covering. And after the rushing around and the beauty of the holiday decorations sometimes it feels like everything has come to a dead stop. You can catch a glimpse of huddled hearts, just trying to survive in this world…putting on a good face and waiting for something to change…feeling like a failure…wishing for a chance to start fresh.

The tree and the holiday decorations are still here, because now I can actually slow down and soak them in. The lights shine bright in the Winter gloom. Every time I see the field of stars and the soaring angel in the nativity, I remember telling the children about Jesus’ birth, and how creation itself sang out, “Welcome, welcome, we are so happy You are here!” It was the best present ever. I think of how often I have yearned for the happiness of Christmas to cover all the aching broken places– but there is only so much you can fix, and don’t we all wish the Peace on earth, goodwill to men could go on after the calendar page turns? I want to believe that the wounds of this world can heal. It’s seeing hearts change, and souls mended, lives turned around for good that keeps me hanging onto hope. And as I contemplate the rough wood of the stable in this Winter light, I see the cross there, too– it is beautiful awe-full Mystery, how the stuff of creation becomes an altar upon which the Creator offers Himself up.

And January hangs on the wall: an invitation to new beginnings, the anticipation of new possibilities whispering in our hearts because of Emmanuel, God with us forevermore. Listen hard, and you can hear the longing for God to make a way where there seems to be no way, as we search for our One Word, and dive into new projects, and refocus on healthy habits. We are all in the same boat, wanting reassurance for the regrets of the past year, and a hope for the year to come…that somehow these months will be meaningful and count for something of worth in the long run. By now I have learned that filling in those days with my own ideas and efforts is only a recipe for exhaustion; it is His presence that covers each moment with significance. So I wait and listen for His voice. And the song of the Musician-King keeps running through my head: “The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; He leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to His name….” (Psalm 23:1-3) I couldn’t want anything better for the New Year.

The snow comes in the night, silently overlaying yesterday’s footsteps, and we wake to a world made new. It makes me think of what we have been talking about in our small group, how the original meaning of the word righteousness was more about God making things right than about us doing things right. God is showing His righteousness when He delivers His people from the enemy; when He provides for them; when He brings justice and upholds the needy; when He covers them with His love and says I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15) Blessed are the people who hunger and thirst for righteousness the way a dying man longs for water, because God has given us Himself at Christmas, to make everything right again. The past that you wish you could escape; the loss you are trying to survive; the fear that hangs over your head; the hard angry feelings you just want to let go of…this is why Jesus came, to bring us His righteousness, His making-things-new, and He’s saying Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

We walk into the New Year, and there is His covering of grace everywhere I look.

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

Isaiah 43:18-19

Can’t go back to the beginning;
Can’t control what tomorrow will bring;
But I know here in the middle
Is the place where You promise to be.
I’m not enough unless You come–
Will You meet me here again-?
‘Cause all I want is all You are–
Will You meet me here again?

Here Again, Elevation Worship
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With You

Some days you just need to sit quietly and remember that there is Someone who loves you best of all, and He is good. Acknowledge all the fears that push to the surface in the quiet of the night. Fully face the emotions that you can ignore by keeping busy. Pour them out before your Father and let Him gather them up in His strong arms…gather you up, and draw you close to His heart that does not change, does not waver in its utter commitment to you.

“The Lord says, ‘I will rescue those who love Me. I will protect those who trust in My name. When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue and honor them. I will reward them with a long life and give them My salvation.’” (Psalm 91:14-16)

Can’t go back to the beginning;
Can’t control what tomorrow will bring;
But I know here in the middle
Is the place where You promise to be.

I’m not enough unless You come–
Will You meet me here again?
‘Cause all I want is all You are–
Will You meet me here again?

As I walk now through the valley,
Let Your love rise above every fear.
Like the sun shaping the shadow,
In my weakness Your glory appears.

Not for a minute
Was I forsaken;
The Lord is in this place,
The Lord is in this place.
Come Holy Spirit–
Dry bones awaken!
The Lord is in this place,
The Lord is in this place.

I’m not enough unless You come–
Will You meet me here again?
‘Cause all I want is all You are–
Will You meet me here again?

Elevation Worship
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What Do You Want Most?

You can ask for something and not even realize what it is you really long for. And sometimes the not-getting is as much a discovery and a gift as receiving your heart’s desire. But it takes time to learn all that. Time, and tears, and asking for all the things you want while you wrestle with the things that are. Time and opportunity to see the Savior standing in the middle of your darkness shining His light until you finally realize it’s all the same to Him. And suddenly I remember the Musician-King singing about this very thing “…even the darkness will not be dark to You; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to You.” (Psalm 139:11-12) It takes time to see that if He is standing in the middle, lighting up any dark circumstance, I can be at peace there too. Funny, isn’t that just what the Church-planter Paul has been saying all along? ” Don’t worry about anything….Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

But things like that you only learn from experience, like the Twelve did in their boat on the Sea of Galilee. When you hear with your own ears the Master’s voice commanding the wind and the waves, and see with your own eyes how they obey Him, you know Who is truly in control of all things. When you feel the frightened beating of your own heart, and how everything quiets in His presence, you realize He is fighting for you and you can simply trust like a child. But learning these things takes time, and when needs press the heart, waiting is the last thing we want.

Someone mentioned to me recently that surely God would respond to a person’s faith in asking for healing. Surely there was no lack of faith, and the faithful servant who asked would be better off made whole. Surely God would answer, because He is good. He is certainly that, but maybe it isn’t about faith or healing at all. Maybe it is about something God values even more, because He is perfectly good. Our eyes are only on the outcome we desire, but He is looking at what can happen in the meantime, as we seek His face. His desires for us are “…immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine…” (Ephesians 3:20), and there are things He can accomplish in the waiting that turn out to be the healing our hearts need most. I can hang on tightly to what I want– the solution I can figure out myself, and want immediately– or I can relax my grip and turn to look at Jesus’ light, trusting that He is bringing good things in the waiting. Maybe the answers I want will come, and maybe they will not, and it will still be okay because He promised. And I remember the prophet Jeremiah, who wept for his people long ago and could still say: “The Lord is good to those who depend on Him, to those who search for Him. So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord.” (Lamentations 3:25-26)

Strengthen my heart to want You most, Lord Jesus. I know that in the end, there’s nothing worth more than having more of You.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!

Matthew 7:9-11

But faith is not measured by our ability to manipulate God to get what we want. It is measured by our willingness to submit to what He wants.

Tricia Lott Williford
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Discovering Sabbath

As a kid, I always thought keeping the Sabbath was the boring commandment. It meant that on Sunday we got dressed up and went to church, had a big dinner, took a nap, spent time with family. Good stuff, all of it, but if you were going to pick out ten rules to live by, that one seemed a bit tame– or just downright out-of-place, stuck in there with respecting the name of the Almighty, telling the truth, and not murdering other people. Like maybe we got up to nine big ones, and reached for one more to make an even and memorable ten? But if we do believe that those Ten Commandments actually came from the hand of God Himself, written down as foundational for a nation under His rule, then somehow that guideline for Sabbath is vital, and there is something about a day set apart that God finds precious and necessary. At the very least it should spark our curiosity to understand His intention for Sabbath rest. Maybe it is not until we find ourselves overwhelmed by life…at the mercy of grief…exhausted by what it takes to keep our heads above water… that rest becomes a treasure to seek out, and we begin to understand how very vital it is to a soul’s well-being.

At its heart, Sabbath is a call to come home to the presence of God. It seems self-evident, like we would not need to set aside a whole day just for that purpose, but the very fact that He wanted to write it down for us underscores how easily we forget to simply come. In all our building of a life and pursuing relationships and seeking happiness, the hours of the day fill up fast, and we fall into bed at night exhausted with ourselves. Sabbath woos us to rest. It whispers to stop from all our striving and rest in the goodness of our Provider…to wash the dust of the week away and be refreshed. It gives us space to enjoy simple things like family and naps and long walks and ice cream… to be thankful. It is a kind of re-set for the spirit, a reminder that despite all our day-to-day efforts, the life that matters comes from our connection to Jesus, the Vine.

Sabbath reminds me who I am. It is time and space to pause everything I am doing and just Be. Be loved, be accepted, be forgiven, be fully present with Someone who knows me, and stay long enough to hear the song He is singing over me. In His presence my soul finds rest and healing from battering expectations and anxious thoughts and gnawing insecurities. And when I gather with other Christ-followers I can rest from running against the current of culture for awhile. We can join with like minds and speak the same language of worship and need. And the truth is, I need this breakaway time if I am going to keep on running the faith-race well for another week.

When I really understand Sabbath and its vital importance to my spirit, I know exactly why God wrote it in His Top Ten list. He knew that our weakness was the desire to be self-sufficient, to build a kingdom for self to rule, and how easily we accept the lie that we are enough in ourselves. So God writes it down for us: Set apart a day for Sabbath. In all your busy planning and building, take time to step back and remember that you are created– that you belong to Someone Else and are only one small part of His great big world. Take a day to rest, to be thankful for His provision, to acknowledge that you need His grace, to rejoice in His love for you. “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.” (Psalm 34:8)

Be careful to keep my Sabbath day, for the Sabbath is a sign of the covenant between Me and you from generation to generation. It is given so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy.

Exodus 31:13

The Sabbath is not part of a trendy self-help program. It is a part of heaven and a glimpse of God. Sabbath is not one day of vacation a week. It is part of the most solid and tangible time of life. The Sabbath balances the active parts of life with the holy parts. Jesus needed both to be fully human, and so do we.

24/6, Matthew Sleeth
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A Place to Call Home

I hear Church-planter Paul making amazing faith declarations, like “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am,” (Philippians 4:12) and I know that this is no small thing, because I’ve read the travel journal he left behind. He spent most of his life uprooted, on the road, hunted down, in pain, cold and hungry. At odds with the culture around him. But still he could think of himself as peaceful and happy, because he had already found a home in God. His heart is on full display in his letters: “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him….” (Philippians 3:8-9)

I know in my spirit that what Paul says is right and true– that Christ is a treasure, worth more than anything else in this world. I also recognize that my heart has a long way to go before it can find joy in every loss, if it means having more of Jesus. But maybe that’s not one big lesson I have to learn all at once. Maybe it is more like countless in-the-moment choices to invite Jesus into my experiences. Maybe it is as simple as accepting His invitation to come live with Him, and do as He says. “Now remain in My love. If you keep My commands, you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commands and remain in His love.” (John 15:9-10) Just come near to Jesus and live there, this one day. Then do it all over again tomorrow. And whenever you wander away– when emotions get bullied by circumstances and thoughts whirl– just turn around and run Home again where you are safe and Someone loves you best of all. We understand that He gives eternal life, but somehow that seems like a far away destination most of the time. We forget that when Jesus talked about being reborn, it was for the here and now. See, eternity isn’t something waiting for after we die. New life begins the moment we ask Him to remake us, when we begin living in the Eternal One. Jesus describes it in gardening terms: “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)

Maybe it is easiest for us to understand when we feel alive and growing, and we can see the fruit He is producing in us. I know how the hard days can blind the heart, so that we rush into instinctive flight…or fight back with whatever is readily on hand. As if we could ever beat back the darkness of this world with more of the same. But the secret Paul learned is that even in times of loss and pain and fear, God’s presence was his refuge, a safe place to run. He wrote in one of his letters, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation… present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) Live with Him, talk to Him, thank Him, expect Him to answer. This is how Jesus wants us to understand His simple everyday invitation, and He promises that when we stay close to Him, our prayers are already worked into God’s plans. When life is difficult, there is no better place to live, to put down roots, than the Source of all comfort and strength and healing. Just keep coming Home with your needs and trust the loving Father to take care of you. The Musician-King set it to music some thousand years before: “Whsoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ ” (Psalm 91:1-2)

Not all of us have known the blessing of a healthy home on this earth, but we all do share that longing. We want to have that commitment to family, day in and day out, until memory overlays memory, all the good and the bad shared by people who love one another, and the place becomes rich with it. We want that comfortable haven where we can be most ourselves, the place we feel accepted and secure, at peace. Sometimes the days are messy and struggling, but we choose to persevere, hold onto faith that it will work out for good. This creates a place to call home, whether we’re taking about a place with walls and a door, or a residence for your spirit. This is what Paul learned day by day: to make his heart’s home in Christ’s presence– through good and bad, obeying what Jesus had taught him and trusting His love. Until after all the years he could say without a shadow of a doubt that it had been worth it. That what he had lost didn’t even matter in light of all that he had gained. And if you think about it, what could you possibly lack when you have an intimate relationship with the God of heaven and earth? Paul’s home was wherever Jesus was, and Jesus had never left him, no matter what strange lands Paul traveled. It was a connection as elemental as a plant rooted and flourishing in a vineyard.

So this is how we begin, simply as children, taking Jesus’ outstretched hand and staying close beside Him one day and then the next. Just keep on coming Home to His presence. In all those small choices– to obey, to trust, to be close to Him– we are growing strong and secure in His love. And someday we will be able to say confidently with Paul, “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)

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Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9

~~~~~~~


Can’t go back to the beginning;
Can’t control what tomorrow will bring;
But I know here in the middle
Is the place where You promise to be.
I’m not enough unless You come–
Will You meet me here again?
‘Cause all I want is all You are–
Will You meet me here again ?


Not for a minute
Was I forsaken….
The Lord is in this place,
The Lord is in this place.

Here Again, Elevation Worship
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Lighthouse People

There were these chalk artists, when I was a little girl, who would come to Summer Camp, or special meetings at church. The lights would dim so that eyes could focus on the easel and the artist’s hands as he laid colors up on that paper, music swelling in the background while he blended and swirled shades together confidently. You could never tell what he was drawing at first, but the skies, the sea, the mountains sprang into existence beneath his touch, and it was obvious the artist knew exactly where he was going with it. It always felt like a small glimpse of Creation, and what it was like for the angels who looked on in the Beginning. Gradually the details sprang up: trees, bushes, waves, birds flying high, until the final focal point of the picture became clear. Often the picture was of a lighthouse on a cliff, looking out over the sea– sometimes stormy, sometimes calm at sunset– and a sailing ship coming into the harbor. The artist would give a Bible lesson about how Jesus guides us to the safe harbor of Heaven, if we watch for His light.

That memory sticks with me, and of course I haven’t out-grown the need to be guided by Jesus’ light, but by now those early lessons are overlaid with many renditions of This Little Light of Mine and the verse I learned in Bible Club about how to shine as children of God: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) Turns out that as we grow up, Christ-followers are being shaped by the Creator’s hands into a lighthouse as well, shining through the darkness to help people find the Way.

And here Paul is, talking about how to live as a child of light, only there is nothing about cliffs and sunsets and strong beacons at sea; he is getting very down-to-earth and ordinary with it. “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure…” (Philippians 2:14-15) Everything? Well that covers a great deal. And without grumbling? Complaining seems like a relatively small thing on the scale of venial sins, but if you ever manage to step out of that river, you realize just how easy it was to get swept into the current. And maybe it has more importance than we realize, because Paul finishes his sentence: “Then you will shine…like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.” (Philippians 2:15-16) See it’s not enough to be relatively better than the rest of the world. I mean just watch the news for an hour, and you can end up feeling smugly secure about yourself, and yet still blend in gray against the backdrop.

No, the way to stand out in the darkness is to become something altogether different– learn to speak a different language from the prevailing flow of words and opinions and values, like the foreigner that you are. If you are a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven, it might mean not criticizing all the things that are wrong in this world as if it were a surprise to you (because there is no end to that list) and start giving thanks for all God’s blessings in this world (which are also unending and really are often surprising). It will mean holding firmly to the Living Word who wakened you to eternal life; fixing your eyes on Him and not getting distracted. It will mean giving up grumbling about how difficult life is, for the sake of offering praises to God for His provision and presence with you. Instead of arguing your point, your rights, your opinions on how things should be, deciding to lay down your Self for the good of others the way Jesus did. That is plenty enough to keep you busy, and remarkable enough to make you shine.

And again, Paul has the right words for it: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2) It’s a call for all of us non-conformists to step into the Light of God’s Word and let its fiery truth re-make us– be set ablaze ourselves– until suddenly all that old darkness is illuminated and we can see it for what it is. So can everyone else, and it will either draw them into the Light as well, or make them uncomfortable; Paul says don’t let either reaction shock you or sway you… just keep on shining bright. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18) And what great power it is, that wakes up the dead to eternal life!– that takes enemies and makes them beloved children, “that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9) It is not yet completely apparent what we will become, but we can stand firm on God’s promise that “…He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

I imagine that as the angels watch the Creator at work and us shining for His glory, they can’t stop singing for joy.

~~~~~~~


…be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 5:18-20

~~~~~~~


The world thirsts for a different kind of neighbor—not the kind who deny their fellowman, take up their comforts, and follow their dreams—but the kind who deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow Jesus in his mission of loving a weary world to life. The world also thirsts for a new vision for being human, for pursuing and entering friendship, and for leaving things better than we found them.


Scott Sauls
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Of Fire and Faith and Precious Things

Almost ten years ago now, John Piper published his very personal and powerful testimony of what God could accomplish through crisis, entitled Don’t Waste Your Cancer. The title was slightly shocking, definitely thought-provoking, but it turns out that a long time ago a Fisherman-turned-preacher was writing the same kinds of things: “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” (1 Peter 1:6) Perhaps more shocking to our modern mindset is Peter’s idea that this experience was everyday normal. “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you,” (1 Peter 4:12). Somehow we cling to the notion that suffering and disappointments are not normal to life…or at least have the idea that they are interruptions to real life, and we should do whatever it takes to resolve them quickly, with as little damage as possible, so we can go back to the pursuit of happiness we are surely entitled to. It sounds as irrational as it is, when you write it out like that. Even more strange is the blithe assumption that bad things are more likely to happen to other people. Really? Odd that we fail to see the illogic in this almost universal misdirection.

And it’s like we have this picture with a number of the puzzle pieces missing, so that the entire image is still a mystery. All we know for sure is that if we have to suffer pain, we want it be meaningful in some way– we don’t want our ordeal to be wasted. Peter says the meaning is found in the promises of God that assure us of who we are and where we are going. He writes to the early believers: “In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.” (1 Peter 1:3-4) God’s promises give us forward-looking perspective on whatever we are facing here along the way, and the point from both these good preachers stands like a beacon: when we find ourselves in the fire, clearly there is more to see than only flames.

Peter says the main purpose of trials is to re-shape our hearts, and goodness knows, mine needs a new shape. Sometimes it seems like my transformation into Jesus’ likeness moves at a snail’s pace, so maybe I should welcome the rough patches, see them for what they are: a crucible, where the circumstances of life combine and interact to create something new in me. I do understand that, how pain and grief make us wrestle with what we actually believe, examine our flawed ideas about who God is. I recognize that stripping away of what Pastor Tim Keller refers to as functional idols— the things we depend on in our everyday life instead of God. I don’t know about you, but I find it incredibly easy to grab onto any solid thing that offers to ease the stress I feel, distract from the hard things I don’t want to face….often without thought for how well it can actually save me. And it’s a tragic irony that so many of the lifelines I can cling to are only holding me stuck where I am– just one more thing to burn. Better to let go, hold out empty hands and fall into the arms of the Savior who stands next to me in the fiery furnace. It is a severe mercy that takes away the things that separate us from the One who loves us more than life.That kind of loss only makes us stronger.

And right there I discover the more personal value of pain. The author of Hebrews encourages his readers with these words: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”(Hebrews 4:15) He has walked the path of suffering Himself, and when we are content to follow Him there, we come to know Him better, understand His heart. When everything else burns away, we can see Him face to face; as we pour out our hearts to Him, we begin to understand that it is His own love that is the consuming fire, for He will not tolerate anything but the best for us. As a wise sister said recently: “Prayer is the weapon we wield that makes everything else we do survive fire.” (Ann VosKamp) And I can hear the Musician-King singing, “You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11) I believe this with my mind, but in following Him through suffering my heart gets to learn to sing along through the tears.

The way to waste pain is to miss the point of it– refuse to let God use it for His good plans. And all of me can get in the way of what He is accomplishing. My pride, my self-sufficiency, my fear and anger and refusal to listen, my running away to anything other than Him. If I can remember that trials are just part of life, and tools in God’s powerful hands, there is not a moment that will be wasted. Lord, give me eyes to see You, ears to hear Your voice, and a teachable heart that does not fear the fire.

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These [trials] have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

1 Peter 1:7

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There’s nowhere I’d rather be,
When You’re singing over me–
I just wanna be here with You.
I’m lost in Your mystery;
I’m found in Your love for me–
I just wanna be here with You


So let all that I am
Be consumed with who You are,
All the glory of Your presence–
What more could I ask for?


With You, Elevation Worship

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Family Matters

A friend told me a few weeks ago that she would have faith for me, when my own heart was not strong enough, and it was the best gift. That promise comes back to me over and over, a sort of walking stick to lean on, as I go. Some days you have to lean hard on the faith of others, because you feel the battle raging hard and the full vulnerability of your spirit. This is where the Family of God shines bright, when we stand shoulder to shoulder against the darkness and pray for one another, lift up our own faith to strengthen others in the fire. We truly do not know the battles another person may be fighting on the inside, and how powerful our words of encouragement may be in their lives. Peter assures us that all of us go through hard times– they are meant to strengthen our faith, to strip away the clutter and fog of this world. Walking through the fire is a normal part of any faith-journey, and we should not be surprised or dismayed by it. Some housefires are more obvious than others, but no Christ-follower is exempt, and we can’t afford to get so wrapped up in our own lives that we lose the time to watch out for the rest of the Family.

Because we can’t ever forget that there is an Enemy out there, a hungry predator in the night who desires only to cripple and destroy. Peter warns us to stay alert for him and fight back, be stronger together. It’s like the Wise King always said: “A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12) These men understood how invaluable healthy relationships are in the difficult places of life. Even though we rejoice greatly in Jesus’ promise never to leave us, sometimes we still need someone with skin on, as my daughter used to say.

So when you are faltering in your own faith, weary of waiting and asking, let my faith stand for you. And when I have one of those days when it feels like a strong wind could blow right through me, I will reach out to you. Let us pledge to be the face of Jesus to one another, the tangible reminder of His power and presence with us in whatever we are going through. This is what the Family of God is for, and none of us should live as orphans in this world. And here is Peter reminding us again how very much we matter to our Heavenly Father: “…you are a chosen people….that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:10)

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There’s a grace when the heart is under fire
Another way when the walls are closing in
And when I look at the space between
Where I used to be and this reckoning
I know I will never be alone…


There’ll be another in the fire
Standing next to me
There’ll be another in the waters
Holding back the seas
And should I ever need reminding
How good You’ve been to me
I’ll count the joy come every battle
Cause I know that’s where You’ll be

Another in The Fire, Elevation Worship

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And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To Him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.


1 PETER 5:10-11
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