A BOATLOAD OF BLESSINGS

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. [John 10:10 (ESV)]

It was morning along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Fishermen on shore were cleaning their boats and nets after a night of fishing. The mood was dark and the men were glum. It had been a disappointing night and their nets had returned to them empty.

As people gathered around Jesus to hear his message, He sat in one of the empty boats and spoke to the crowd from there. He then presumed to tell these experienced fishermen take their boats out again and drop their nets. What did Jesus know? He was just an itinerant preacher and carpenter from Nazareth. The fishermen, however, didn’t argue about his lack of credentials nor did they point out that the best time for fishing was evening and not daytime. There were no complaints about being tired from a night of work and no grumbling about having just cleaned the nets. Instead of questioning Jesus about his fishing knowledge, they simply obeyed. The result of their obedience was a record-breaking catch! If we followed Jesus’ advice as readily as did Simon Peter and the others, just imagine the blessings we might gather in our lives!

And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. [Luke 5:4-7 (ESV)]

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EASY COME

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. [John 3:16 (NLT)]

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. [Ephesians 2:8 (NLT)]

little bue heron“How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” asks the comedian. “Practice, practice, practice,” is his answer. “Nothing ever comes to one, that is worth having, except as a result of hard work,” said Booker T. Washington, a man who truly knew the value of hard work. Most of us, having been raised with a strong work ethic, would agree with Washington’s words. If we want something we must work for it. If we want to be musicians, we practice; if we want to get on the team, we train; if we want a scholarship, we study. Success comes through determination and lots of hard work. We’ve heard all the maxims; there’s no elevator to success so we have to take the stairs. We know there’s no such thing as a free lunch, we must work our way up the ladder, and we’ve got to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. Success is never handed to you and it’s only in the dictionary that success comes before work.

If we get to Carnegie Hall by practicing, the Olympics by training and Harvard by studying, how do we get to Heaven? What do we have to do? Here’s the rub—unlike just about everything else in the world, we can’t earn our way, practice our way, study our way, work our way or even buy our way into Heaven. All we really have to do is believe our way through those pearly gates but that just seems so un-American! Surely everything has a price—there’s got to be something noble we can accomplish, someone we can impress or bribe, some special words we can say, or a way we can pay to guarantee a spot. In fact, we’re just a bit suspicious of a deal that seems too good to be true. Surely, there’s a catch but, truly, there isn’t. Jesus paid the price long ago; all we have to do is accept His gift of salvation!

Religion is spelled ‘D-O’, because it consists of the things people do try to somehow gain God’s forgiveness and favor. But the problem is that you never know when you’ve done enough. But thankfully, Christianity is spelled differently. It’s spelled ‘D-O-N-E’, which means that what we could never do for ourselves, Christ has already done for us. To become a real Christian is to humbly receive God’s gift of forgiveness and to commit to following His leadership. [From “Becoming a Contagious Christian” by Bill Hybels]

“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved. [Acts 16:30-31a (NLT)]

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ANGELS IN DISGUISE

Therefore, angels are only servants—spirits sent to care for people who will inherit salvation. [Hebrews 1:14 (NLT)]

dubble tulip“I’m the answer to Pastor’s prayers,” said the woman lightheartedly as she sat down next to me at Bible study. Having seen on Facebook that he was praying for more people at Bible study, she felt the urge to come. Her comment caused me to think about the way God uses us to answer people’s prayers.

I was looking at the vast array of allergy medications when another woman joined me. While perusing the shelves, we discussed the merits of various brands. She then said, “I see from your cross, you’re a Christian, so you’ll understand. I know I should be thankful in all things but I’m just having an awful time with this one.” She went on with her grievance that severe allergies had suddenly attacked her at sixty years of age. I sympathized since, like her, I never suffered from allergies until my senior years. “Perhaps,” I suggested, “we should be thankful that we haven’t had to suffer from them since youth!” We talked a little about gratitude and God and joined one another in a quick prayer. When done, she said, “Thanks; I needed that!”

A stranger approached me at church and asked if a certain pastor had arrived. After telling her not yet, something made me pause and ask if there was anything I could do for her. Replying that she needed someone with whom to pray, I offered. She shared her concerns and we laid them before God in prayer. We chatted briefly and I gave what comfort and guidance I could (along with a big hug). I then offered to find the pastor but she said, “No, you were just what I needed.”

I think of a friend who, when he discovered a loved one was using drugs, was devastated. The next day, he had lunch with a business acquaintance who asked what was troubling him. As my friend poured out his concerns to a man he barely knew, the businessman shared his own story of addiction and gave some much needed and excellent advice. He was just what was needed.

Were those mere coincidences or were they orchestrated by God? That first woman didn’t have to come to Bible study. In response to the woman with allergies, I easily could have said, “That’s too bad,” and finished my shopping. As for the woman who needed someone with whom to pray, after telling her the pastor wasn’t there, I could have gone about my business. That businessman didn’t have to ask my friend about his troubles and he certainly didn’t need to share a very private part of his own life. By responding to someone’s need, had we become answers to their prayers?

Although angels are God’s messengers and spiritual beings, I wonder if we humans might also act as His messengers and be given opportunities to answer people’s prayers. Rather than ministering spirits, we are ministering mortals. Although we have bodies and angels don’t, there is a bigger difference between God’s holy messengers and us. God’s angels have unquestioning obedience to His commands; we, on the other hand, often ignore Him and the opportunities and tasks He sets before us. God’s angels are sent by Him to help believers—but so are their brothers and sisters in Christ. Could you be an earthly angel in disguise? Could you be the answer to someone’s prayers?

Yes, praise the Lord, you armies of angels who serve him and do his will! [Psalm 130:21 (NLT)]

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CHRISTMAS SPIDERS

spider webTo all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory. [Isaiah 61:3 (NLT)]

It was a web day at the bird sanctuary and I don’t mean the world-wide kind. It was one of those days when the morning dew, mist, and light cooperated in such a way that we saw beautiful intricate spider webs hanging everywhere. Looking as if they were made of strands of silver rather than silk, it seemed that the spiders had decorated all the trees in celebration of Christmas.

They reminded me of an old folktale that was read to me every Christmas. As I remember it, a mother thoroughly cleaned her house in preparation for Christmas and not a cobweb remained. All of the spiders fled to the attic lest they be swept away with their webs. On Christmas Eve, they heard the joyful noise of carols being sung and grew curious. Once the family went to bed, they all crept downstairs to see what the commotion had been about. Amazed by the beautifully decorated tree and never having seen anything like it, they crawled up and down the tree all night long as they admired every shiny ornament. Unfortunately, by morning’s light, the tree was covered with their gray webs and the ornaments were barely visible.

On Christmas morning, when the Christ child came to bless the house, He was surprised to see the spiders and their strands of silk covering the tree’s branches. Knowing how sad the family would be to see their once beautiful tree covered with dusty webs, the Christ child touched it. The spiders’ gray threads immediately turned into strands of silver and gold and the exquisite tree shimmered and shone more beautifully than ever.

I love this story and not just because it explains how the custom of hanging tinsel on a tree began. The Christ child, with His heart full of love, entered the home to bring a blessing for the family. Touching the damaged tree transformed it into a thing of beauty and, with that touch, He saved their Christmas celebration. Christ has a heart full of love for all of us and comes into our lives to bless us. When He touches our damaged hearts, like the tree, they’ll become things of beauty. We won’t look any different nor will we be adorned with strands of gold and silver but, once He’s touched us, our lives will be beautifully transformed. He doesn’t just save our Christmas; He saves our lives!

Our Christmas tree has no tinsel to remind me of Jesus’ miraculous touch. Nevertheless, every time I see a spider web glistening in the morning light, I remember how Christ has transformed my damaged life into a thing of beauty and give thanks.

The first gift of Christmas was love. A parent’s love. Pure as the first snows of Christmas. For God so loved His children that He sent His son, that we might someday return to Him. [Richard Paul Evans]

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. [John 3:16-17 (NLT)]

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AUDACIOUS PRAYERS

And without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. [Hebrews 11:6 (RSV)]

Steamboat Ski - COIt was a dreary winter day when the entire congregation exited the church into a weed-filled field. Like the Israelites, we were armed with horns, only ours were those silly blowout noisemakers seen at children’s birthday parties. Silently, we marched until we’d circled the muddy patch of ground seven times. Anyone observing us from the highway surely thought us foolish as we raised those noisemakers to our lips, blew hard and then cheered. Unlike the Israelites who marched around Jericho so God would knock down walls, we marched around that field to show our faith that God would erect walls for us!

That was a little more than five years ago in the Colorado mountain town where we spent our winters. Armed only with big prayers and bold faith, that church built a 15,000 square-foot Family Life Center. At its dedication last September, the congregation was again given noisemakers; when the service ended, the horns sounded as they celebrated God’s love, grace, and amazing provision.

Erecting that building wasn’t an easy task—blueprints were drawn and redrawn, delay after delay occurred, the red tape seemed never ending, and everything was more complicated and often more expensive than expected. The church never lost faith in the project nor did they cut back on serving God’s people. They faithfully continued their discipleship, benevolence, education, community outreach and missions work while raising additional funds for their expansion. This ski and ranch town is not a wealthy one and many are employed only seasonally. Nevertheless, they generously stepped out in faith, shared their resources, made sacrifices, and trusted God to provide. The pastor is fond of reminding his flock that God honors audacious prayers because audacious prayers honor God. The Family Life Center is a testament to that statement—when the people dared to dream and pray big, instead of walls falling, they were raised!

Picture the audacity of the bleeding woman who was so sure Jesus could heal her that she pushed her way through the crowd just to touch the hem of His robe. Imagine the audacity of Joshua asking God to stop the sun and moon from moving until the Israelites had defeated their enemies. When Elijah prayed for both drought and rain, he made some audacious predictions to Ahab. Like the bleeding woman and Joshua, he would have looked a fool if God had not answered those prayers. God came through for them all because their big bold prayers honored an even bigger God.

We insult our amazing Father with trivial prayers; they’re like asking famed chef Gordon Ramsey to make only a peanut butter sandwich. Inconsequential prayers imply we’re not sure He really can do anything that great. Courageous faith means bold audacious prayers and stepping out for God’s kingdom. Because they prayed, believed, and acted on their belief, that mountain church saw our awesome God provide in miraculous ways. He can do far more than we can imagine or ask and we must never doubt His power. Perhaps God will say, “No!” but, if we never ask, He can’t say, “Yes!” God honors audacious prayers because audacious prayers honor Him!

Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it [a demon] out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.” [Matthew 17:19-20 (RSV)]

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GOD-INCIDENCES – Thanksgiving 2017

The Lord has made the heavens his throne; from there he rules over everything. [Psalm 103:19 (NLT)]

mountain bluebirdMost of us live rather ordinary and somewhat predictable lives that are occasionally interrupted by major life events (some welcome and some not). It is life’s little surprises—its happenstance and serendipity—that keep our lives from becoming humdrum. On this Thanksgiving Day, let’s give thought to those little blessings we call coincidences.

We probably have no problem crediting God with the big blessings of life—things like the birth of a healthy child, the benign biopsy, the successful surgery, the spouse he gave us, the better paying job or His gifts of salvation and forgiveness. On the other hand, we tend to think of the little unexpected blessings—the butterfly or bluebird, the chance meeting, the phone call from a loved one, the sermon that spoke to our need, or the humorous email that arrived when we were in the dumps—as mere coincidence or luck. After all, our God is almighty and far too busy running the universe to deal with the minutiae of our everyday lives. Make no mistake; nothing is unimportant to a God who sees every sparrow fall and knows the number of hairs on our heads. Our universe is not run by random chance and God can multitask better than a one armed paper-hanger or a mom with triple toddlers! Nothing escapes His notice!

We speak to God in prayer but often chalk up His answer to luck or coincidence. Although He speaks audibly, I think he also speaks through a seemingly random Bible verse, a fortuitous encounter, words in a book we happen to pick up, a picture we see, or even sunsets, sunrises, flowers and animals. When we credit the little blessings of life to coincidence, we’re happy. When we credit them to their orchestrator, we become thankful. While we’re surprised by these seemingly random or chance events, our God never is! Both the big important incidents and the unimportant trivial ones come from His hand.

On this Thanksgiving Day, we will give thanks for our food, family, health, homes and all the major blessings of life. Let us also give thanks for the little blessings, the godsends, that make our ordinary lives so extraordinary: the ones that encourage us when we want to give up, put smiles on our faces, fill our hearts with joy, answer our questions, or remind us how much we’re loved. Along with all the big things, let’s be sure to give him credit for the little ones—the God-incidences—that he scatters throughout our days. His fingerprints are everywhere we look!

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. [Romans 8:28 (NLT)]

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. [Psalm 107:1 (NLT)]

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