Coming Home

I believe that “home” can be anywhere, as long as you are with people who love you. You’ve undoubtedly heard the saying “Home is where the Heart is.” When we marry, home should be wherever our spouse is, and if we are single, we usually choose to make our home near friends and family – people we know we can count on. It saddens me to hear grown people, and especially married people, say they want to go “home”, when they really mean they want to stop being a grown-up and go back to their parent’s home. We can go to visit our parents, and even stay for a while…. but is that really our home any longer? I know I’m always welcome at my mom’s home, and I know I have friends and family who would welcome me into their homes. I welcome to my home any family or friend who wants to come for a visit. It’s all just temporary though, because my REAL home is in Heaven with my LORD.

I read a devotion I’d like to share with you. It’s from “Right From The Heart 1-Minute Devotions,” titled “Going Home.”

“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.” – Luke 15:20

Robert Frost wrote, “Home is the place where when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” There’s no place like home. No matter how bad we mess up or how disappointing life gets, it’s the one place they have to take us in.

Jesus told of a wayward son who messed up big time, wasting all his dad had blessed him with. He became homeless and was so hungry he wanted to eat leftover slop fit only for animals. But when he came to his senses, he thought about home. He knew he didn’t deserve to go there, but he went anyway. And his dad was so overwhelmed with joy he welcomed him home.

The dad represents God, and the wayward son represents you and me. It’s Jesus’ way of telling us that we all mess up–but nobody messes up so badly that when he decides to come home to the Lord, the Lord won’t welcome him back to a right relationship with Him. Is it time for you to come home to the Lord?

I’m not sure that I agree with Robert Frost in saying that “home is where…. they have to take you in,” at least, not in the sense that our parents or siblings are obligated to help us or “take us in.” I suppose, though, that would imply that our “home” is necessarily with our parents. Our true “home” could be elsewhere. Turning to the scripture, I have been that prodigal, and when I came back from my selfishness, I was welcomed “home,” back into my family’s hearts and lives. I had turned my back on my parents and on GOD, wasting my life and my resources. In spite of myself, they never gave up loving and praying for me. I think that’s how you know you are home, wherever there are people who don’t give up on you; the people who love you and pray for you in spite of you.

Looking at your own life, have you been a prodigal son or daughter? Have you made it difficult for your family to like you, as I did? Not everyone has a birth family they can return “home” to as I am blessed to have. Abuse – substance, physical, emotional – circumstance, and not having JESUS CHRIST in their lives, these things can prevent us from going back to our earthly families. Are you concentrating on looking for your earthly home and not finding it? Do you yearn to be able to go “home”? It is sometimes impossible to find here on earth, and that is a sad, heartwrenching reality for many….. BUT!! Here’s the GOOD NEWS!

Regardless of whatever is happening or has happened in your life here on earth, whether you have a “home” or you are looking for one, there is One Father waiting for you with open arms, unconditional love, and forgiveness. The GOD of everything, the FATHER of all, is standing right next to you, just waiting for you! All we have to do is to acknowledge that JESUS CHRIST is GOD’S Only Son; that He lived on earth as a man, He died as the ULTIMATE sacrifice for our sins, and that He rose from the grave on the 3rd day, victorious over death and hell. He gave His all for you and for me. Can we do any less for Him?

A reminder to us all.

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No Distinction Between Us

I’m listening to a song called “Build My Life,” sung by Pat Barrett with Cory Asbury, and it begins with these words:

Worthy of every song we could ever sing
Worthy of all the praise we could ever bring
Worthy of every breath we could ever breath
We live for You …..

FATHER, Jehovah, Yahweh, The Great I AM; JESUS, Son of The Most High; the HOLY SPIRIT, the Triune GOD – who else is worthy of our praise and worship? There is not one being in existence who is worthy, other than our LORD, yet we persist in putting so much before Him. Consider these words from Paul:

“Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. …… But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a TRUE Knowledge according to the Image of the ONE who created Him – a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but CHRIST is all, and in all.” – Colossians 3:5‭,7-‬11 NASB

Do you know the old hymn “I Surrender All”? When we surrender all to JESUS, how is it that we think we are justified to judge others who are different from us? As Paul reminds us, there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman ….. No Distinction.

If we are in Christ, there is no distinction between us. Ethnicity, physical condition, nationality, creed, or social and economic ranking, we are the same, and we will all meet someday when we are joined in eternity with Him. For those who choose to stay in the world and reject JESUS The CHRIST, there is no distinction among them, either. After their death, they will also all meet and be on equal footing in hell. Harsh? Yes, but don’t shoot the messenger. This is the one distinction between humans and is determined by our Creator, not by me or any other person, that JESUS is the only way to an eternity with the LORD.

As a JESUS-follower, these things should be dead to me and no longer a part of my life: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry; anger, wrath, malice, slander, lies, and abusive speech. I shouldn’t seek ways to separate myself from other believers through the distinctions of the world – the distinctions that have been manufactured by the Enemy of the LORD, who is also known as Satan – to trip us and cause us to stumble. To keep these things out of my life requires that I constantly surrender my all to the LORD, and knowing that He Alone is worthy. Everything on and in and under the earth pales beside Him! I know – not just hope or believe – that the only way to peace within me on earth, and an eternity of praise is through JESUS CHRIST. How confident are you of the path you have chosen?

I Think There’s A Theme Here ……

Throughout the scriptures, there is a common thread. Actually, I see two, although they are tightly intertwined. The first thread is obvious: YAHWEH, the ALMIGHTY GOD, shows how much He Loves us and Treasures us, from Creating us to sending His Son, JESUS, to redeem us. The second thread is about us, humanity; how to live the best life possible, Worshiping and Loving our LORD and each other. He created man for companionship, for Him and for each other. He doesn’t need us, yet He desires a relationship with us. Humans, on the other hand, can’t live without that relationship. Before you start to argue the point, allow me to clarify: without a relationship with the LORD, we merely exist. To truly live, we must rely on Him as our LORD and as our primary companion — Yet we find it so difficult to acknowledge this Truth.

Think you’ve got your life under control? Really? I just finished reading an eye-opening book, “The Seat Beside Me” by Nancy Moser. If you truly think you’ve got it all figured out and that you are in charge of your life, I would encourage you to read it, and focus on the story of Dr. Anthony Thurgood. He had it all together, too, large and in charge….. until he realized he didn’t. Don’t read it if you find the thought of not being in control a disturbing concept!

I tend to be controlling and “in charge” until I remember where my “best thinking” has taken me. I have a difficult time asking for and accepting help, yet if I read (and follow!) the Word, that is exactly what I should be doing.

“Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.” – Ecclesiastes 4:9‭-‬10 NASB

Got that, self? “Woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.” Here are more verses in favor of working together rather than (selfishly) alone:

“…… and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds …..” – Hebrews 10:24 NASB

“For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ” you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” – Galatians 5:14 NASB

If – When we choose to love our neighbor as GOD commands, it becomes easier to link ourselves with their needs and offer help, whether physical or spiritual.

“Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak Truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.” – Ephesians 4:25‭-‬27 NASB

“Do not grieve the HOLY SPIRIT of GOD, by Whom you were Sealed for the Day of Redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as GOD in CHRIST also has forgiven you.” – Ephesians 4:30‭-‬32 NASB

Easier said than done! It is in our sinful nature’s to hold all of the evil within us. Bitterness can easily take hold of us when we feel we have been wronged. Wrath, anger, clamor, slander, malice – I have not only felt them, I have exercised them exceedingly in the past. I still contend with bitterness at times when it appears that the persons who have wronged me seem to prosper while I struggle. It’s not fair! Even so, this is what my LORD and my GOD ask of me:

“Let the Word of CHRIST richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with Thankfulness in your hearts to GOD.” – Colossians 3:16 NASB

Why does He ask this of us? For this reason:

“There is ONE body and ONE SPIRIT, just as also you were called in ONE HOPE of your calling; ONE LORD, ONE FAITH, ONE BAPTISM, ONE GOD and FATHER of all Who is over all and through all and in all.” – Ephesians 4:4‭-‬6 NASB

“For GOD SO LOVED the world, that He gave His ONLY Begotten SON, that Whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For GOD did not send the SON into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” – John 3:16‭-‬17 NASB

If we truly love our “neighbor” as ourselves, won’t we want them to experience the Life, Love, and SALVATION as offered by our LORD, just as we do?

Image from:

http://www.fbclagrange.net/resources/sermons/yahweh-sabaoth-the-lord-of-hosts/

Distracted

The enemy of the LORD, my enemy, is quite accomplished at putting distractions in front of us so that our concentration, our focus, is removed from my LORD and onto other things. The truly important things in our lives are often set aside because our GOD focus has been interrupted. For the past week, the enemy, Satan the destroyer and the father of lies has been very successful with distracting me. GET BEHIND ME, SATAN!

I’m not alone in this. There are hundreds, thousands, of Christians who struggle with distracting circumstances every day – maybe even every waking moment. Disease, illness, and failing health are prime examples. When we are focused on those instead of GOD, whether it is me/you personally or someone close to me/you, it is difficult to focus on GOD and His plans.

Trust, or a variation thereof, is used frequently in both the Old and New Testaments. The prophet Jeremiah put it succinctly:

Thus says the LORD, “Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind And makes flesh his strength, And whose heart turns away from the LORD…… Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD And whose Trust is the LORD.” – Jeremiah 17:5‭, ‬7 NASB

How often do we condemn ourselves by refusing to trust in the LORD? This verse from Proverbs is one I have heard countless time:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.” – Proverbs 3:5‭-‬6 NASB

I allow myself to be distracted though my worry and the urge to take charge; to “fix” things on my own, rather than rely on my GOD. How can I believe that He is Almighty enough to create everything, yet doubt that He can take care of me and my problems? Listen to Natalie Grant’s song “King of the World.”

Just a whisper of your voice can tame the seas
So who am I to try to take the lead
Still I run ahead and think I’m strong enough
When you’re the one who made me from the dust

It is so easy to fall into this trap of attempting to control life around us. I’m guilty of doing it over and over and over. Remember this definition of insanity? “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” My prayer today is that my focus on the LORD will grow, and that He will overcome the distractions. I’m not strong enough to do it on my own, so I must rely on the Holy Spirit to provide His strength. All we have to do is to ask Him for His help, and He will provide it. Thank You, LORD!

Martin Luther

“Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.” Martin Luther at the Imperial Diet of Worms, 1521.

While researching the life and teachings of Martin Luther, I came across some information on Luther that appalled me. We all know that he was the man who broke from the Catholic church, effectively beginning the Reformation and the beginning of Protestantism. He emphasized that Christianity should be about Redemption and Grace rather than Indulgences and the absolution of sin by clerics. I have a solid respect for his early teachings, but I found that as he matured, he became very antisemitic vocally and in his writings. That stance of antisemitism is not one I take lightly. Since JESUS was born into the Jews, GOD’s Chosen People, how can we possibly justify being anti-Jewish? I say with confidence that we (i.e. Christians, followers of CHRIST JESUS) cannot. If our LORD chose to send disciples to the Jews and the Gentiles, how can we do otherwise?

HOWEVER; I choose his comment from the Diet of Worms as one that I can easily agree with. No man shall have dominion over my faith and my salvation save one: JESUS, the CHRIST, MESSIAH, SAVIOUR of the world. The Apostle Peter wrote:

” ….. for you, who are protected by the power of GOD through Faith for a Salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; – 1 Peter 1:4b-‬7 NASB

Today’s world is much like the world of the 1st century A.D. Persecution of Christians was rampant, and like today it was more verbal, mocking and maligning than it was physical torture or persecution – although I believe that that time is coming, soon. In the United States alone, 23% of all Americans, and 34-36% among Milleniums (born after 1980), identify as having no religious affiliation, according to The Scientific American. ( https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-number-of-americans-with-no-religious-affiliation-is-rising )

If you do any research on the number of churches or on church membership in the U.S., let me warn you that there is an abundance of contradictory information available. As CHRIST-followers, should we be concerned? Absolutely! We live in a society that could be labeled “post-Christian”; one that is increasingly resistant and hostile to those of us who stand on the teachings of JESUS. Liberal, socialist, homosexual, transgender, anyone who espouses the view that there many ways to heaven, and every person who rejects JESUS is readily acceptable to our politically correct society. Accept that anything and everything other than the belief that JESUS is the Way, the only way, to heaven, and the world will love you. Stand on the Gospels of JESUS CHRIST and the world will hate you.

There is no room for fundamentalist Christians today.

Many people reject these teachings as too radical, too narrow minded, and too fundamentalist to have any value. The idea that JESUS was simply a teacher like Mohammed or Buddha is easier for most to accept, alongside the assertion that the Creator GOD, the Trinity, the Triune GOD – Father, Son, Holy Spirit, are merely stories made up by human minds. I ask, what human mind could possibly think this up? I think that Christianity, true Christianity as accepting JESUS as LORD, is the only “religion” on earth where we do nothing to gain salvation because GOD does it all for us. In any other religion, we have to work for it, and follow the rules in order to find redemption – and even then it’s not a guarantee. Our pastor, Mark Hitchcock, put it like this: “Our part [in our salvation] is to run away from GOD. His part [GOD] is to run after us until we find Him. A god we can understand is not a god at all. We don’t have to understand, just believe.” For me, the Trinity has secured my Salvation. I don’t understand it and I can’t explain it, but I believe it. I know in my heart and my soul it is true, and I have Peace because I have accepted His Grace and Mercy.

Listen to “Courageous,” sung by Casting Crowns. Powerful.

Image from ( http://www.aheartforgod.org/2013/09/26/a-lion-a-bear-an-uncircumcised-philistine-and-defeating-giants )

And When You Pray …..

AND WHEN YOU PRAY, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your Name. Your Kingdom come, Your Will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” – Matthew 6:5‭-‬15 ESV

In verses 7-8, it seems to me that JESUS is rather condemning of us Gentiles here for being wordy and full of ourselves, but I don’t believe He’d want me to focus on that. In fact, as a young person growing up in church, there were a couple of people that, when called on to pray, caused me to cringe inside. Why? Because they were exactly as JESUS describes: using many words and heaping their prayers with empty phrases. Looking back, I feel sure that these people meant well in their prayers, and I’m certain they were sincere in their pleas before GOD. This is not a condemnation of their prayers. I am also certain that they would not have been called on for the benediction or any other time, had they not been in love with our LORD.

When we do pray in public, it seems imperative to be cognizant of the Words of JESUS. I believe it is important to have someone to lead in us prayer during worship services for a couple of reasons. First is our Focus: we are so easily distracted from the reason we gather together that is good to have someone remind us where our minds should be. Second is having no words: there have been many times when I wasn’t able to form my own prayer, and the guidance provided by the pastor or other leader was just what I needed. There are also times when the opportunity to pray for someone (in public) comes up, and I believe that when that happens, we are to seize the moment. Praying quietly and privately with or for someone in public is a mighty witness. Simply bowing our heads and whispering a prayer goes a very long way towards defeating the enemy. He hates – with a passion – those moments when we call on JESUS and utter His Name out loud, even in the quietest voice.

Conclusion: pray often. In public, pray quietly and to the point. In private, pray softly, pray loudly, pray constantly. It’s a conversation with the CREATOR. I know, it’s mind-boggling that the LORD of the Universe wants to talk with me! And when you cannot say a word, just say JESUS. He knows.

Image from https://www.beliefnet.com

Delighted!

We all have places, people, and things that bring us delight. Babies laughing, puppy and kitten antics, majestic views, beautiful flowers and trees, music, food, children, spouses, friends, loved ones. These things, these delights, as much as we enjoy them and search for them, are all momentary and fleeting. On the opposite side, we also have our fears and frustrations, especially when when we are struck with physical, personal, or monetary crises. When disasters strike the righteous person, we question why. Why does the Almighty, Omnipotent GOD let His people suffer, but He allows the sinners and the lawbreakers, the evildoers, to (apparently) prosper?

I fervently believe that we will have it explained to us one day; the day we stand face-to-face with our LORD JESUS. Meanwhile …… it is important, critical, that as followers of the CHRIST we study and absorb His Word. There are numerous promises in both the Old and New Testaments that everyone will receive a final judgement in front of the Throne of GOD. The enemy of the LORD, the Father of Lies, the instigator who brought evil into our world, will receive his due – and it will not be pretty. All of the fallen, both people and supernatural beings, everything natural and supernatural, will receive their condemnation at that time. Read the Revelations of John! This is what I know to be true:

“Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in Him, and He will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for Him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land.” – Psalms 37:4‭-‬9 ESV

One day soon, Psalms 37:9 will come to pass. All evil that exists will be washed away and removed from earth, and those who have chosen to follow the LORD will be rewarded with a new home – one where heaven and the true, the real, Holy City will actually reside here on earth with us! My conclusion? Fretting and worry on our part indicates that we don’t think GOD can handle the little stuff. I’m guilty, too! Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!” – Psalms 37:7 ESV

I know, easier said than done! There’s a song done by Natalie Grant that pretty well sums up what often we do instead of waiting and placing our reliance on the LORD. What do you think?

When we stop trying to contain GOD, then we are able to delight in Him! Amen!