Is there a way of hope in my terrible circumstances?

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Are you going through a tough time and tired of going through it alone?

Are you desperate for some guidance to help you find hope in your present difficult circumstances?

Are you open to receiving encouragement and support from others?

If so, I would like to invite you to join us this Fall for a life-changing 13 week ministry called HOPE GROUP.

We’ll meet Wednesdays from 6:30-8:30 p.m., starting September 13th, at Harvest Bible Chapel on Randall Road in Elgin.

Let me encourage you to take a step of faith to finding hope. THINGS CAN CHANGE!

For more information, about Harvest Bible Chapel’s Hope Group ministry at their Elgin campus, please check out the link!

http://www.harvestbiblechapel.org/event/summerhopegroupselgin/    (as an fyi,  our Fall registration link is not up quite yet, but will be shortly—bookmark this link).

Harvest Bible Chapel- Love without condition …Forgive without limit >>>>>>>This is what we do!

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Look closely…. do you see a stop sign?

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Check out this picture—do you see a STOP  sign?

Well, let me come back to that in just a minute.  This post is meant for “born again” Christians. You know who you are.

It is meant for those people who one day recognized that they were distant from God and that God, in His graciousness and mercy made a way for us to be reconciled with Him through Jesus Christ as He gave His life as a substitute for us.  Approximately 2000 years ago, Jesus took upon Himself the punishment that we deserved because of our selfishness, and rebelliousness towards God and in the Great Exchange offered us forgiveness and peace with God, as our relationship with Him was restored.   I hope you never get tired of hearing this gospel message.

Backing up just a minute as a way of explanation —before a person is saved, a person finds them self alienated from God.  They are led by their own selfish desires. In addition to their bondage to their fleshly instincts, an unsaved person comes under the slavery to the evil influences of the Devil and his demonic cohorts, as well as slavery to this world system that seeks independence from Almighty God. Habits of sinful behaviors and selfish motives and attitudes become ingrained.  Without doubt, the word “darkness” characterizes so well the life, and future potential of an unsaved person.

But, one day, as a believer in Jesus Christ can testify to, God brings in light.  Through no doing of our own, a saved person recognizes that they are alienated from God due to their sinful, selfish, and rebellious ways and they repent.  They change their ways and in humility they seek out a relationship with God.

With the assistance of the Holy Spirit of God now living in the person, an awareness of the power and wisdom of the Living Word (the Bible), and the support and training of the church community, a new believer grows in their understanding of the faith.

One of the key principles of our faith that every believer needs to understand is that the mandatory bondage to sinful habits of your former life are gone.  The Bible says, “we are new creations in Christ”.

The Bible says in Romans 6:6 (nasb) that “knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away (or another version says, “rendered powerless) with so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.”

In other words, as the New Testament speaks of so often, “it is for freedom that Christ has set you free”.

HANG IN THERE WITH ME —THIS IS GOOD STUFF!

Let’s go back now to the picture of the STOP sign. For probably 30 years, I have been driving down this street and I’ve come to a STOP sign.  Its been right outside a big hospital.  But the hospital has been taken down with the exception of just a few doctors’ offices and the city recently decided to remove the STOP sign.

What I found interesting is that over the past week or so, I have stopped numerous times at that intersection, but the truth is there is no STOP sign there.  In other words, although I am free to just keep on driving, a habit has been formed in my mind and every time I go that intersection, these habits  of the mind tell my will how to behave.

Can you follow the spiritual application that this STOP sign illustration is to our spiritual walks?

When I get tempted to take a second look at a pretty woman (an old, frequent habit), I don’t have to because I now free in Christ. The power of that old habit has been broken. I am a new creation in Christ.

When I get tempted to  get angry at a person who I feel didn’t respect me for some reason, (an old, frequent habit), I don’t have to because I now free in Christ. The power of that old habit has been broken. I am a new creation in Christ.

When I get tempted to covet the nice things that a friend might have that I can’t afford, (an old, frequent habit), I don’t have to because I now free in Christ. The power of that old habit has been broken. I am a new creation in Christ.

Just writing these words is exciting for me and I hope they are for you, as well.   If you are a Christian, the new you is not the old you.

God’s best for you is that you not only believe that, but that you act like it.

Why stop along the road of life when you are free to just keep on driving?

 

If a turtle lost its shell…

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I don’t know if you ever thought about this, but did you ever wonder, “can a turtle live without its shell?”

I’ve thought about that and the answer is “no”.  Its outer shell is not something it just carries around, it’s actually a part of its body.

The turtle’s shell is vital to its survival. Not only does it protect the turtle’s life from predators, who most often are not able to break through the hard shell, but that shell is bone with blood vessels and nerves. The turtles rib cage is actually fused with the top of a turtle’s shell which protects the turtle’s lungs.

Interesting, huh?  But, is there any further take away for us today other than gaining a little knowledge?

How about this?

Christians, we too, have an outer shell. Did you know that?   This outer shell we have is our flesh. It is that DNA in us that wires us to be enslaved to selfishness, rebellious to authorities, and independent-minded.  It seeks to lead us away from dependence on God and absorbed in a “life revolves around me” mindset.  Rather than worshiping God, the flesh seeks to exalt “me”.

One of the benefits of Jesus dying on the cross was that our bondage to the flesh (our outer shell) was broken.  The life,  truth, and power of the gospel of Jesus Christ disarmed the flesh’s power over us.

BUT, here are a few things to understand.

The outer shell (the flesh and all its attractions to the world around us) are still alive, it’s just we don’t have to obey its promptings.

Once someone submits their life to Jesus Christ by admitting their rebelliousness to Him and accept His loving forgiveness, we are given the Holy Spirit of God to live within us.  Through God’s Sovereign leading in our lives, He enrolls us in a war against our outer man and any pockets of its presence still doing guerilla warfare in our life.  God allows circumstances in our life to reveal areas where we still want to carry the shell of pride, or lust, or bitterness, etc

What the Holy Spirit does in our life when we encounter difficult circumstances  is shout out us to continual reminders that we are “FREE”.  We don’t have to listen to or respond to any outer shell/fleshly promptings.  The Spirit tells us carrying our obedience to the flesh will  harm us and because we are loved, He wants to spare us from that.

Unlike the turtle who can not live without its outer shell, the Christian is called to be intentional about putting it to death.  This is the path of the normal and powerful Christian life.

In John 12:24-25 (esv), Jesus says, “truly, truly,  I say to you, unless a grain of wheat  falls into the earth and dies ( I’ve added this note to this verse: where the seed’s outer shell breaks down), it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world  will keep it for eternal life.”

Christian brother or sister, you have been called to the truth that you no longer need to carry the weight of your outer shell – that part of you that wants to go solo through this world.  Because of His amazing grace, He wants you to understand that your greatest joys in life will come when you realize that your protection, and purpose, and identity are all found, not from any outer things, but all from the internal things of a right alignment with the one, true, Living and Loving God.

“Off” with the old, and “on” with the new!

 

For further study, please read, Galatians 5, Colossians 3, Ephesians 4 & 5, and/or memorize Galatians 2:20

 

 

 

Are you focusing on building sand castles?

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Looking out at the ocean, my mind was filled with wonder.  So much water.  It just went on and on until the horizon–such an incredible a sight.  On top of the awe I felt in looking out over this marvel of creation, I found myself also basking in the warmth of the sun, and the almost perfect temperature balance of the cool water on my toes.

Suddenly, my dreamlike experience was interrupted by some commotion further down on the beach.  “What was going on?” I wondered.  As I got closer, I could see that a crowd had built up around a bunch of kids playing at a sandcastle.  Their laughing, smiling, and energy was bringing joy to everyone admiring them.   

But, just to be clear, this was no ordinary sandcastle.   This thing was so big, there were rooms in it. The kids also built some tunnels that they were able to pass some of their toys through. Wow!  One of the fathers was also playing with the kids because I believe it was his idea that had conceived the suctioning of water from the ocean through some kind of contraption that the kids could then use to soak each other (and imaginary armies attacking their castle).  It was an incredible sight to behold.

Now here’s the point to me telling you this story—-it’s just a story.

Actually, I’ve  been thinking about this story for the past couple of weeks because I think that’s how life is.  Stay with me on this.

In this story, the kids (and the father), as well as the onlookers were having fun.  They were enjoying themselves and that is a good thing. Life should be like that. I hope you are enjoying your life because whether it’s with amazing sights of creation to behold, or amazing foods that dazzle your taste buds,  or fragrances that make your nose come alive, or any other experience in life that invigorate our senses, all of us should find pleasure in living life.

But, with that said, there is a need for balance to just  enjoying the individual moments of life and that is perspective.  The reality is that when the tide rises, the sandcastle in this story will be destroyed and be no more.  Just like that, the dream will be over.

Life is like that too. How much longer will you live before the high tide of life comes in?  40 years, 20 years, 5 more years, 1 more year; 30 more minutes?—none of us know, but the certainty is there.   Then, what?

My friend, I apologize if you were looking for a fun, little post about kids on beaches, and then got whiplash to thinking about “deep things”.

To be honest though, my heart seems pretty heavy these days as I’ve perceived people getting overly focused BUILDING SAND CASTLES.  In what they talk about, what I see their time being spent on, etc., it all seems to be focused on the here and now.   Just to be overly communicative,  I believe life should be enjoyed.   Personally,  I am finding greater and greater appreciation for every day I have and the sights and sounds that make up my days.

But, something inside of me, blares out through posts like this one to encourage others not only seek to enjoy life now, but to prepare yourself for the eventual day when this life is over for you and the next life begins.

Have you given that any thought lately?

For some, they have never  thought about life beyond their time now on the beach building bigger, and cooler sand castles,     If that is you, let me encourage you to pause from your beach building and consider your unworthiness to stand before the holy God who created the vast ocean next to your little project.  Before Him, you, like I am, are unworthy. The Bible says we are all sinners, and all we deserve is separation, death, and judgement. Instead, this gracious, and loving God offers us forgiveness and mercy.  What He offers to all who will accept this free gift is His kindness.  Have you accepted His generous gift made possible by the death of Jesus Christ, and His resurrection?

For others, you accepted His gift a while ago, but you have gotten so distracted by building sand castles that you have lost perspective. You have been so captivated by building the coolest sandcastle that you have made this the priority in your life.  You spend extra resources on your project. You talk with others about their sand castles to get ideas on how to improve yours.  You tend to do a lot of looking at others to judge your own to improve your feelings of importance.

If that describes you, you need to look beyond your sand castle to the ocean behind it.  Let me encourage you to once again consider the awesomeness of the One who created that vast ocean in front of you and Who has made a provision for you to come to know Him (as you once did). You need to get perspective to remember this bigger picture of life.  Yes, we are to enjoy each and every day, but we are also to live with eternity in mind and prioritize our behaviors now based on that eternal perspective.

How are you living your life, my friend?  Are you able to not only enjoy your sandcastle, but the Creator of the ocean behind it?

 

 

 

Beyond words!…… there is always hope

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Have you ever had the experience of standing on a beach and looking out at the ocean and just… “well, just feeling overwhelmed with the sight before you and its implications.  It is beyond words”!

The same feelings could be used to describe standing in front of some majestic mountain range, or the Grand Canyon.
Its one thing to go to some scenic destination and experience these awesome sights, but what if you lived at the base of some glorious mountain range and saw those incredible mountains every day? Would you ever lose the awe of seeing those peaks, or would you become desensitized to them?  I wonder.
Again, how about if you lived on the coast and had the vast ocean before you all the time?   Would you ever stop having your mind blown away from the thoughts of how deep those waters are, or are many miles of water there are before you come to some land? or wondering about all the many sea creatures that live in those waters?
Let’s keep going with the same “beyond words” theme, but apply it differently.
How about prayer?
Because it is so familiar a topic, have you become desensitized to the “over the top” incredible experience that prayer is?  Here you are, among 7-8 billion people on this planet and you have the opportunity, 24/7 to talk to the One, True God, who created it all, and sustains it all.  You have the opportunity, if you desire, to talk to this God.    Are you doing that regularly?  If so, why wouldn’t you be?
If you are a person who has submitted your life to Him through your faith in believing that Jesus Christ’s death on the cross has made provision for you to be forgiven of ALL your sins—well, not only are your prayers being heard, but you are also getting communicated back by Him through the Bible, and through the ministry of the Holy Spirit living within you.—–YEAH, that is awesome!
As our life is tuned in to doing His will and living for Him, seeking for His name and reputation to be honored and not our own, God gives us the following promises regarding our prayers being answered:
John 15:7 (esv)  – “if you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish , and it will be done  for you.”
John 15:16b-(esv) -so that  whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.”
Yet, although we have direct access to this living God and He tells us that our prayers will be answered, I still have an awful tendency to want to manage the challenges in life by myself. Unfortunately, and at the same time, foolishly, I want to act independently and control my own life.  How sad.
Well, let’s keep on this theme of “beyond words” and even go one better than the amazing truth that my prayers (when I do them- James 4:2) can be heard by God and will  be answered by Him.  In James, it says that the “prayer of a righteous  person has great power as it is working.” James 5:16b  (esv).
How about this further truth: if my prayers (although I am still so caught in the snares of my own selfishness and weaknesses) can get heard and answered by God think of how effective and powerful are the prayers of the other members of the Trinity on my behalf.
* Romans 8:26b (esv) tells us that  “the Spirit himself intercedes  for us with groanings  too deep for words”
* Hebrews 7:25b (esv) tells us that “He (Jesus Christ) always lives to make intercession for them.”
WOW!
The truths that not only does Almighty God listen and respond to my prayers as I come humbly before Him based on my faith in Jesus Christ, but  incredibly I have members of the Holy Trinity itself praying for my best.  I and you are supported beyond what we can imagine.  Why would any of ever feel we are without hope.  He has and always will be there to support us and offer us hope  as He gives us of Himself  (ALL……SO UNDESERVED….JUST GRACE!)

 

Will doing this one thing help you as you face your trials?

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Instead of saying trials, I was thinking about using the word “struggles”, or even “battles”.  Whatever, you get the point. We all face various times of great difficulty.  Not only can it be emotionally, physically, and spiritually challenging going through these times, but there is also an added pressure that comes from the realization in the back of our minds that if we don’t respond wisely in this difficult time, we can even make things worse. Ugh!

It is one thing to have a teenager who seems to consistently be making bad choices, but to frequently lose your temper when you are with them doesn’t help

It is one thing to have job stresses, but turning to alcohol (and not being able to control your drinking) is bound to compound your problems

It is one thing to have some marital conflict, but regularly looking at porn as an outlet for your sexual urges will only add gas to your current fires of difficulty

On and on, I could go describing battles that we all face. My guess is that if you are reading this post, there is probably a struggle that is already on your mind- some kind of trouble you are in, right now.  Although the specifics of each of our challenges varies immensely,  there is one common thing we can all do to help us as we work through our trials—–sing and worship God!

Let me give you some Biblical examples:

  • When the leaders of Israel asked God which tribe should go first in the fighting to take over the Promised Land.  God said that it should be the tribe of Judah.  Judah means praise”  (they were also commanded to lead in Numbers 10:14 and Judges 20:18)
  • in 2 Chronicles 20, the Israelites were about to be attacked by a big army and King Jehoshaphat was well aware that there was no human way they could defeat their vast opponent.  So, besides fasting and praying, vs 22 says “and when they began to sing and praise, the Lord set an ambush  against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so that they were routed.
  • In Acts 16, Paul and Silas preached the Gospel in Philippi and while there, some responded to the life-giving message and some others were  bothered by the convicting message (a typical set of responses when the Gospel message is proclaimed).  In fact, Paul and Silas got thrown into jail because of their evangelistic efforts. So while in probably a rat-infested, cold, uncomfortable situation how did they respond?  Verse 25 (esv) says, “about midnight Paul and Silas  were praying and singing hymns to God and the prisoners were listening  to them, and suddenly   there was a great earthquake , so that the foundations  of the prison were shaken.”
  • There can be no greater battle that was ever fought than the one Jesus Christ was involved in during the last week of His earthly life. To live a perfect life on earth so that His life could be accepted as a substitute for the sins of humanity AND to knowingly understand that by carrying to a cruel death, humanity’s rebellious actions and attitudes would mean carrying the weight of God’s judgement AND SEPARATION from the Father, was so intense that the Bible says in Luke 22:44 (esv), “and being in agony  he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood  falling to the ground.”   And what had Jesus done  before coming to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray with His disciples?  Matthew 26, verse 30 says, they sung a hymn.

How about you, my friend?  What trials are you going through right now?  How are you preparing to deal with them?  Have you tried singing and worshiping God?

Doing so, gets your eyes off of your big problems and focuses them on a BIGGER GOD!

Doing so, helps you understand that you are not in this problem alone, you have help, BIG HELP from the Creator of the Universe!

Doing so, helps energize you from having a negative, “it will never end”, “this is overwhelming”, “there is no way out” kind of attitudes to one of expectant hope because this God you are singing to has proven over and over again that He is faithful, that He is capable, that He is loving.

Maybe its time to start singing.

“What are we going to do today?”

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“What are we going to do today?”

I’ve been asked that question by my kids on weekends, and on vacations (and you probably have as well).  It’s a great question for a number of reasons.
For one, they are looking to me to give them direction to what we’re going to do?
Another reason is that it shows they want to be with me.  They are wondering what we are going to do together.
Another reason is that there something adventurous in the question.  Its like there is something unexpected, something exciting awaits for us to discover.

“What are we going to do today?”

In kind of an interesting twist to that question, I actually found myself  being asked by the Holy Spirit that very question the other day when I woke up.
I’m aware that the Holy Spirit miraculously lives within me as a follower of Jesus Christ.
I’m aware that He wants to counsel me, comfort me, advise me, convict me, re-assure me, inspire me, and so much more.  He is there all the time doing life with me  (how awesome, right!)

I was kind of startled by that question I received from Him because it challenged me.  Was I going to be living my life that day looking to Him to be a kind of genie fulfilling every selfish desire I have (I know those requests will not get answered as I want (James 4:1-3)?

So, what did I want to do today?  Well, I think the question was a good one to lead me to the understanding that I did not want to do anything that the Holy Spirit was not directing me.  I wanted to seek to be a follower of Him, rather than me taking the lead and seeking to fulfill my desires (Romans 8:5-8, Galatians 5:16-25).

I felt very confident and contented knowing that those who come to Him must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder for those who seek Him–Hebrews 11:6.

So, “what are we going to do today?” was I turned back on God.

I want Him to give me direction.
I want to do life with Him.
I want to live my life as an adventure (believing that He is able to do far more abundantly than all I could ask for or imagine for His glory)

What are you going to do today?