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Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love. Psalm 48:9

True worship comes from the heart. It isn’t about the songs we sing, the instruments we play or the type of service or religious tradition that we follow. Psalm 48 is a praise song Old Testament style. The writers of the Psalm recount the various victories that Israel had over their enemies. These victories didn’t come because Israel was a strong and powerful nation. These victories came because Israel served a strong and powerful God.

Jesus told the woman at the well that worship isn’t about a Temple, building or activity. Worship is about what is going on inside of you and where you are in the journey of life. Paul tells us more about worship when he says, “we are temples of God because the His Holy Spirit lives within us.” We no longer have to travel to a particular spot to engage in a specific activity for a predetermined amount of time.

Worship is also personal. Even though we can gather as a group to worship, it’s really about what is going on in our heart the counts. You can sing and perform worship songs in church and not really worship. You can stand or sit quietly in church and be in a deep state of worship!

Worship is about meditating on God’s great love. Do that now. As you read this verse again, think of what it means to have God’s unfailing love available to you.

God’s love is available to you during those times of financial distress when you realize that you aren’t going to make it. You may be in the process of losing everything, yet in the midst of that meditate on the fact that even though you don’t understand the ‘why’ you know God loves you and will see you through.

God’s love is available in your grief. He knows the pain of losing a loved one. As a father He watched His only Son be brutally murdered even though He was completely innocent.

God’s love is available when friends fail you. Jesus knew that pain. Every one of his closest friends turned their backs on Him when He needed them most. But He loved them just the same.

God’s love is available when relationships you counted on for a lifetime of fulfillment come to a brutal end.

Take time today to meditate in a quiet place, away from distractions. Ask the Father to meet you there. Focus your mind on the good things He has done for you. Trust Him to complete the good work He has begun.

PRAYER: Father God. There are so many distractions in life. I confess to you that my worship of you has been superficial for the most part. I’ve let so many things interfere with really meeting with you. Some of those things are good things like church activities and bible studies and helping the poor. Some are things that are sinful. All of them have kept me from really knowing and understanding you. In this quiet moment please give me one thing I can focus on about your love as I travel through the day. In the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, Amen.

When the days of mourning had passed, Joseph said to Pharaoh’s court, “If I have found favor in your eyes, speak to Pharaoh for me. Tell him, ‘My father made me swear an oath and said, “I am about to die; bury me in the tomb I dug for myself in the land of Canaan.” Now let me go up and bury my father; then I will return.’ “ Genesis 50:4-5

 Yet another chapter in the life of Joseph had come to an end. He’d enjoyed living within the blessing of his father in a large family. He’d experienced the humiliation of being rejected by his own brothers and sold as a common slave. He’d lived through years of suspicion as a result of false accusations. He’d struggled through the stress of leading an entire nation through difficult economic times as a result of a major drought. Egypt became a great nation because of the honest and generous dealings of Joseph. He’d rejoiced in the reconciliation of his family.

Now, his father Jacob had died. The death of a father is never easy. It doesn’t matter if it is early in life or during adulthood. Losing dad is tough. Even when a father has been abusive, absent or alienated that loss is traumatic.

After Jacob died and the mourning rituals were complete it was time for him to be laid to rest. As he was dying he’d asked Joseph for one thing, to be laid to rest in his homeland, the land of his father Abraham, Canaan.

Joseph had always been a man of his word. This time would be no exception. Gaining special permission and the blessing of Pharaoh, Joseph and a large contingent of his family went to Canaan for the burial.

This was no small task, nor was it an ordinary request. Yet it was granted gladly by Pharaoh. Joseph was a major figure in the government of Egypt. To let him go with a large group of people had mutiny and political threat written all over it. Still, he was granted that favor. Why?

Joseph was allowed to go bury Jacob because throughout his life Joseph had proven to be a man of integrity. In all of his business dealings he’d proven that he could be trusted and that he was a man of his word.

Secondly, Joseph lived in a land where many gods were worshipped. Even though the Egyptians didn’t follow Jehovah God as the people of Jacob did, they were impressed with the honesty, the hard work and the devotion of God’s people.

Joseph gained the respect of those around him because he was devoted first to God and then to his neighbor. It wasn’t until long after Joseph died that the Egyptian government turned against God’s people. His testimony lived on for many years.

Each of us, as Christ-followers, can take a lesson from the life of Joseph. We are being constantly watched and scrutinized by those around us to see if our faith really makes a difference in our lives. Can we be trusted? Do we do what we say we’ll do? Are our business dealings honest? Are we someone that can be counted on to offer support emotionally, physically or spiritually to anyone regardless of what they have done to us?

Few of us have had the life that Joseph had. We’ve not been in prison, sold as slaves or rejected by family. Few of us have stayed the course and remained people of integrity as well. Our past mistakes don’t matter to God. He can use you no matter what you have done.

PRAYER: Jehovah God when I look at the life of Joseph I’m both amazed and embarrassed. I’ve not suffered to the extent he did, yet I’ve made some pretty stupid decisions that have kept me from being the man/woman of integrity I know you want me to be. I ask that you forgive me for the times I didn’t stand strong. Empower me to live more fully for you so that your love may flow out to those around me. I ask this for your sake and in the name of your son Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:62 

There are certain stories in the Bible that require us to take a double take. When Abraham’s nephew Lot and his family were rescued by angels, they were told not to look back. When Lot’s wife stole a glance at the destruction going on in Sodom and Gomorrah she became a pillar of salt. God showed no mercy in this situation. We can’t really blame Lots wife from taking a look back. The fire that fell that day destroyed the lives of her family and friends. But God’s command was clear. Move on. No matter how much it hurts, it costs to follow me.

Thousands of years later, the Apostle Paul writes to the church in Philippi, “Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14. In the preceding verses what is he talking about? Suffering and sacrificing of all things.

One day Jesus was walking along the road. People came and proclaimed their intention to follow Him, but each one had a pre-requisite. Each had an area of their lives they wanted to hold back from Him. Theirs was not a complete allegiance but a convenient arrangement for their own good.

Grace is NOT free. Grace costs and costs dearly. It is free for us to take hold of, but that is only because the payment has been made on the Cross and is finalized through the empty tomb. Following Jesus isn’t easy. If anyone tells you that if you turn your life over to Jesus all your troubles will disappear….RUN! Following Christ may be the start of struggle.

First, you may be misunderstood by others. When you say you are a Christ-follower people may automatically assume that means you are perfect. Christ followers are NOT perfect. We are however forgiven. We may suffer, but our suffering is never as great as the suffering Jesus did for us on the cross. His suffering was physical (death) and emotional (deserted by family and friends) and spiritual (forsaken by God “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?”).

 The second area of struggle may be the struggle of our own self-image. It’s human to base your self-worth on what you do for a living, the decisions you’ve made in the past, the opinions of others. It’s human, but not Christ-like. Our self-worth, our heritage and our future are not based on anything we can do in life. Who we are and what we are to become is based solely on who Jesus is and what we allow Him to accomplish during our short stay on this earth.

What do you need to walk away from today to sell out completely to Jesus? Is it a job? A Relationship? A habit? A church? Nothing on this earth is worth risking your walk with Jesus. Only through Him will you be able to break free.

The good news is that Jesus looks on the heart. He knows our faults. He knows our struggles. He knows our desires. He knows how hard it is to break free. That’s why He patiently, lovingly and graciously empowers us through His Holy Spirit to move towards freedom and complete dependence on Him. Paul finishes his Philippians statement by saying, “Forgetting the past…I press on.”

Press on today in your walk with Jesus. Ask Him to show you what needs to be released. Trust Him to give you the power to let go for Him.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, this verse is a hard one for me. I know there are areas in my life that I’m not ready to give up to You. Please forgive me for that and help me to wisely and in the power of your Spirit, move towards complete dependence on You. Keep me from looking back. Help me to always see you before anyone or anything else. Amen.

Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. Isaiah 58:12

 The word of the Lord came to the Prophet Isaiah concerning Israel’s return from exile. It was a word that had a dual significance to God’s people. On the one hand it spoke of their physical return from bondage and how the cities and towns that lay in ruins would once again rise from the ruble to become thriving towns and villages.

One the other hand, the passage holds eternal meaning. It speaks of a time when, once and for all, God will deliver His people from all their enemies. In Jesus we find spiritual restoration, but one day, Jesus will return to gather us to Himself where we will spend eternity with Him. No more death. No more sickness. No more division of nations, cultures or denominations. Eternity in peace with our Savior! 

For the Christ-follower this verse reminds us that the ruins of our past are not permanent. Regardless of what you have done, who you have hurt or who has hurt you, the past is just the past. Because of the forgiveness we have in Christ we can put the past behind us and press onward with the promise that God can use us and even the sins and poor choices of our past for His glory.

It is also important for us to realize that no matter what the past holds for you in the sense of memories, pain and devastation, there is some good to build upon. The prophet says “Your people…will raise up age-old foundations”. When the people of Israel returned home to the devastation brought to their homeland by invading armies there was ruin everywhere. Walls and roofs had collapsed and were useless. But the foundations stood firm. It was on these foundations that the buildings would once again rise.

In the same way, we may have wandered from Christ. We may have come to a point where we no longer believed, no longer chose to follow Him. Our choices of the past may have brought ruin and devastation to our lives. But no matter what has been destroyed as a result of our decisions, there is always something God can use to build us back up for His glory. No life is a total loss when God is involved.

The prophet gives us one more challenge in this verse. Not only is there always something to salvage from our own lives, the same is true for those around us. As Christ followers we have the privilege and opportunity to be “Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings”. We are surrounded by friends and loved ones whose lives have become nothing but shattered ruins of what could have been. With God’s help and the power of His Holy Spirit working in us we can reach out to those that have been demoralized, attacked and defeated and help them to rebuild on the foundations that still exist.

What an awesome opportunity awaits us! Some day we will be taken out of this world to a far better place. Until then we can build our own lives and the lives of others on the love and forgiveness offered through Jesus!

PRAYER: Father God. When I think of the devastation that your people of Israel must have experienced when they returned home I am reminded of my own devastation. I’ve felt beaten up, battered and misunderstood as a result of choices I’ve made and the injustice I’ve suffered at the hands of others. But that is my past. Forgive me for my part in the ruins of my life. Empower me to rebuild on the truths you have told me about myself. Give me wisdom and strength to lift my brother from the ruins as well for your names sake. Amen.

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32

Throughout history people have given their lives for freedom. Those who have been in prison or have been prisoners of war will tell you that the worst part of imprisonment was having your freedom ripped from you. Being behind bars can be demeaning, lonely and extremely painful physically as well as emotionally, but those bars are not nearly as harsh as the bars each of us are behind on a daily basis.

For every person behind the physical bars of prison there are thousands who we see on the street that are imprisoned by invisible bars, sometimes of their own choosing. Bars of anger over past hurts and abuse. Bars of the past that refuse to let us see the outside world of second chances and new beginnings. Bars of fear over the future and death. Bars of resentment towards God and others who have hurt us. Bars of want and desire driven by lustful passion for things we hope will satisfy (but rarely do). Bars that keep us from forgiving ourselves or others for past decisions. Bars of religious tradition and dogma the hinder the Holy Spirit from working freely in your life.

As a Christ-follower you don’t need to be in prison any longer. Many have given their lives to be free. Jesus already died for your freedom. Choose to follow Him. Talk to Him about the prison you are in. Be honest about how you feel about God, yourself and others. Learn from Him through His word and others who have chosen to be free in Him.

Jesus came to remove the anger, to remove the hate and disappointment, to calm your fears and fill the void of loneliness and despair in your lives. Religion won’t do that. New relationships won’t last. Having all the newest toys and gadgets can’t make you happy. Only a life sold out to following Jesus can. Many will tell you religion is too restrictive. Jesus isn’t religion. Jesus is relationship. Full, vibrant, free relationship built on love, forgiveness and second chances.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus. You know better than I the prison walls I’ve built for myself. Walls of anger and guilt and despair and loneliness. I desperately seek freedom from things in life that seem to make my prison walls thicker and stronger. You say you came to grant me freedom. I ask that you would show me this freedom today. Help me to grow in relationship with you so that I can be free as you promised. Amen.

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