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Your passions drive your actions. When your actions revolve around yourself, (your own comfort; your own desires; your own strengths) your passions are focused inward and your joy is dependent on fulfilling those passions. When you are passionate about Jesus Christ your joy is not based on yourself but on the realization that Jesus is passionate about you. Your actions are based on Your mutual love for each other. Jesus is passionate about you and he wants you to be passionate about him. That’s why he said if you love me, if you’re passionate about me, If your desire is for me, then you will naturally to have the things that I have promised you.

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the easy pathThere is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death. Proverbs 14:12

When I was in high school I remember leaving my girlfriend’s house and heading home. I was one of those first nice days of early spring and even though it was well past sunset, I decided to take the long road home. There was a road, well, more like a path through a section of woods that I decided to try. This path was a favorite ‘stopping point’ for high school couples. I was never plowed, so it was closed in the long winter months.

I noticed some tire tracks so I decided it must be open and turned cautiously down the road. At first, it was nothing but mud and ruts. The tire tracks stopped and it was obvious that whoever had been down this road had turned back…but not me.

As I rounded the curve I began to have second thoughts. Then my headlights showed what appeared to be clear sailing over a smooth level bed of snow. What I didn’t know, but would soon find out, is that the snow covered a thin layer of ice incapable of supporting the weight of my car. I came to a stop. There car refused to go forward or backward. I realized I was stuck so I opened the door to get out. When I did so water and chunks of ice flowed in. I closed the door, opened the window, climbed over the car and jumped to safety.

The next day we called a tow truck and had the car removed from the water and ice. I learned a valuable lesson that day. The road that looks smooth isn’t always what it appears to be. Sometimes the rugged road of ruts and mud is much safer.

Life is a lot like that road I traveled. Sometimes we struggle to get through the mud and ruts and shout with glee when the road ahead appears to offer smooth sailing. Then, we find out that smooth sailing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be!

It’s no wonder that Jesus warns us about tough times ahead. It’s no wonder that New Testament writers encourage us to rejoice when we go through trials. The narrow, rugged path is often best because it forces us to rely on God to see us through.

The world screams at us to look for the easy way out. The age of entitlement tells us what we deserve and it’s always good…at first. But God’s ways, even though they are hard, are always the best ways.

Be encouraged. Whatever struggle you are going through now isn’t meant to defeat you. Rather, it is brought into your life to make you stronger and to show you how strong your God really is. God’s way isn’t the easiest way, but it’s always the best way.

PRAYER: Father God. Even though it’s hard to do, I thank you for the ruts in my road because they remind me I’m much safer with you than I am on the road the world tells me is easiest. Thank you for the strength I receive through Jesus Christ and your Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

 



He fed you with manna in the wilderness, a food unknown to your ancestors. He did this to humble you and test you for your own good. Deuteronomy 8:16

MANNA-005SThe story of Manna has always intrigued me. God’s people are heading on a journey in which they really have no idea of the outcome. They are being led by a murderer with an anger issue. For hundreds of years they’ve lived as slaves in a foreign land under the rule of ruthless Pharaohs who were more interested in their own comfort than they were protecting the integrity of the Hebrew race.

In the midst of their journey God provides Manna for his people. No one is sure what Manna was/is, but whatever it was, it was a vital part of the Hebrew diet. Today, Manna serves as a lesson for each of us about God’s provision. Take a look at what Manna means to us:

  1. Manna shows we serve a creative God. God could have had any number of foods appear for his people. After all, he was God. The Hebrew nation was desperate for God’s intervention. They felt abandoned, afraid and angry. Jehovah God not only provided food, he provided the realization that God isn’t confined to explainable events to prove his presence. When they needed it, it appeared. No explanations. It just came. God still does that. He doesn’t always use Manna, but if we rely on him we’ll see small things throughout our day that prove his presence and desire to provide for his people.
  2. Manna reminds teaches us need v. want. My wife and I constantly remind ourselves not to succumb to what we call the ‘bigger-better-best’ syndrome. The ‘bigger-better-best’ syndrome is that little voice inside of us that tells us constantly that we need to have the biggest house, the better toys, the best car. ‘Bigger-better-best’ is driven by desire and desire is never satisfied. Many a Hebrew went out and collected far more than they needed only to find it full of maggots in the morning. Desire can never stay in the same house as trust. Jesus said “Why worry about tomorrow. Take care of today.” No doubt more than one Hebrew understood that truth thanks to Manna.
  3. Manna reminds us of the need to obey. Obedience is a bad word now days. To demand obedience is old fashioned. It squelches creativity. It’s intolerant. It destroys the rights of the individual. At least that’s what the world says. I think God responds by looking down on our self-destructive tendencies and says, “So, how’s that working out for you?” God’s rules are difficult to follow because the voice of desire screams loudly in protest. However, his ways are best. Many a Hebrew father no doubt listened to his children cry themselves to sleep because of hunger. Hungry stomachs that could have been filled if he’d obeyed God and went out to collect Manna.

Gods’ desire is to fill us each day with new life, with daily Manna from above. Lamentations 3:22-23 reminds us that “The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.”

Each and every day God provides new blessings for you to enjoy and share. Take time each day to take notice of this blessings and thank him for them.

PRAYER: Father God thank you for the example Manna is of your unfailing love for us and the blessings of each new day. Help me to never lose sight of all you have for me. Amen.



But while in deep distress, Manasseh sought the Lord his God and sincerely humbled himself before the God of his ancestors. 2 Chronicles 33:12

Maybe it’s a guy thing, but I tend to try to do everything on my own. For example, when the instructions say, “Use two people for the next step in assembling your new back-hoe.” Not a chance. I’ll break my back before I’ll ask for help.

Why, you ask? I could give you a variety of reasons. Some of them may even be half-way intelligent. But the reality is, I’m full of pride. Pride comes in various shapes and sizes. Sometimes it comes disguised as “There’s no one to help me.” Other times it comes deceives me by saying, “this isn’t big enough to ask for help on”, or “I’m big enough to handle this, I don’t need anyone.”

wake up callManasseh was a King in Israel in need of a big attitude adjustment. He ignored the lessons learned from those who went before him and followed other gods. He rejected the teachings of the most high because he was sure he knew better…until the Assyrian Arm
y came and led him away in shackles with a ring in his nose. The, all of the sudden, he remembered what he never should have forgotten. He remembered that the God of heaven warned him about rebellion.

Rebellion against God is really saying “I know more than you, I know better than you, my way is better than yours.” God is a patient, loving, understanding father. Because of this he is more than willing to let us try our own way in an effort to prove ourselves. But also, like any good father, he has his limits. There will come times when he’ll finally pull the plug and let our actions fall victim to the natural consequences of our rebellion. When that happens we become like Manasseh. We see the error of our ways and how much better it was to follow God’s way.

“I did it my way” may have been a great song, but it’s not the way God intends of us to live. Before you blame or question why, reflect on where you have been, what you have done, how you have treated people, what you have taken for granted. Your Father in Heaven may not be ignoring you, he may just be calling you back to himself.

PRAYER: Father I confess to you that many of the sleepless nights I endure are the result of worry caused by the consequences of my actions. Forgive me for those times and allow me the privilege of sensing your presence once again. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.


A Story of Mary and Joseph

(Following is a story of what might have happened in the life of a young couple whose future was dramatically changed by the visit of an angel)

#5 Angel visit (1)The world is full of great love stories such as Romeo and Juliet, Love Story and many more.  Stories in which boy meets girl, adversity comes and is overcome, and the couple lives happily ever after.

Mary and Joseph could be such a couple. They were the perfect couple.  When you saw them walking down the street, they would naturally get your attention.

Joseph was a rugged carpenter. His dark complexion and broad shoulders gave him a look of toughness. His hands were rough from hours of working with wood in his carpenter shop. His dark hair and eyes gave him a look of fierceness when you first saw him. As you got to know him though, you began to see in those very eyes a man of tenderness and quietness.

While he could make a piece of wood do exactly what he wanted, life was different. Under the strong muscles lay a soft and tender heart.  He knew wood, but he knew people better and this knowledge of people led him to sensitivity to God.  He had a keen awareness of the letter of the law. But beyond the letter of the Law was the purpose of the Law which showed God’s mercy and compassion.

He had a cunning awareness of society’s expectations and demands. He was a man of justice. Those that lived reckless lives needed to be held accountable for their actions.

He was also a man of mercy. He was well aware of the fact that there were those who put the laws and opinions of man above the intention of God. When he looked at a criminal, he didn’t just see the crime but the person behind the crime.  He walked a mile in his brother’s shoes.

Mary was tender and kind woman. Actually, she was just a girl, but she had wisdom beyond her years that was evident in a strong spirit. Women weren’t educated like they are today, but her wisdom far surpassed the academic knowledge of men of her day.

She enjoyed life. She could laugh at a good joke. Cry with a hurting friend. Comfort a child. She was industrious. Even though her frame was small, it contained a strong resolve to do what needed to get done.

She was a people person. She not only offered sympathy to the hurting, she felt their pain. Perhaps it was because of her own poverty, she always seemed to reach out to the down and outers of society.

Mary also believed in God. Her life revolved around the temple worship. She saw the empty religion of the Pharisees and earnestly desired the coming Messiah.

She was a busy woman, yet never so busy that she couldn’t help Joseph with a project or listen to a neighbor, or play with the neighborhood children.

How they met is a mystery. We have no record of their families, or their past.  Both of them had royalty in their blood, being descendants of David. But, that was far removed from where they found themselves now.

The hamlet they lived in was a little village of perhaps 200 called Nazareth. Nazareth got no respect. The rampant violence and immorality, along with its size gave Nazareth a poor reputation. Along with that, the Roman soldiers stationed outside of town usually had “their way” with many of the village girls. No one could be trusted in Nazareth. Nothing good ever came from this dusty little town.

Mary and Joseph were a bright light in this dark part of the world. Both were God-fearing quiet types who followed God’s law as best they could. Soon they would be married officially. For now, during this time of betrothal they would remain as faithful as any husband and wife might be before God…That is until the visit.

He found out about it on one of their walks through the countryside. He still remembers the pain in his stomach as she told him her story. He looked into those eyes of love and saw the girl of his dreams, the one who meant more to him than the world itself, except of course for

God. One thing was for sure. The Law was on his side. No one would fault him for prosecution to the fullest extent of God’s Law. From the time of Moses it had been in writing. Adultery was wrong and punishable by stoning.

But what if her story was true?  Even if it were true, what would his family say? To continue on with the marriage would be admitting that the child was his. That made him as guilty before God and man as she was.  She said she was leaving soon, to visit her cousin Elizabeth. When she got back, he would have an answer.

She’d never seen a real angel before. She’d heard stories of them from the times of the prophets. But it had been almost 400 years since anyone had heard any direct message from God. The angel said his name was Gabriel. He called her ‘the favored one of God.’ Even in the pain she felt now, she smiled at that phrase. Imagine, her, Mary, a chosen one of God! She looked at the poverty that surrounded her. It was hardly the surroundings of someone chosen of God.

Then the angel told her she was going to have a baby. She was only 14 years old! Other girls her age had gotten pregnant. Some were stoned to death as adulterers. Others were married in arranged marriages which little had to do with love, and much had to do with the dowry available.

Joseph was such a kind and loving man. She would be honored to have his baby. Then she heard the angel again say she was going to have a baby…now.  But how? She was a virgin. She had never, nor would ever be with a man outside of marriage. It was against God’s law. It was against the way she was brought up. People would never understand.  How would she tell Joseph? What would be his reaction?

The angel told Mary that her cousin, Elizabeth, was also with child. Suddenly she realized a need to talk to Elizabeth. She would go at once. But first, she had to tell Joseph. That’s why they were on this walk.  They’d often taken walks before to discuss the wedding, to pray, to discuss the prophets, to worship together. No walk would be harder than this one.

She swallowed hard. She felt like all of her insides would spill onto the ground if she opened her mouth. What would he say? Maybe she shouldn’t tell him until after. Then she heard her voice:

“Joseph, I’m pregnant. I saw an angel Joseph. He told me that it was from God. I’ve never been with another man Joseph. I love you, you only. Please believe me.”

She saw the hurt. He was quiet. She’d never known Joseph to speak quickly or rashly. They walked on in silence for what seemed like miles. Finally, it was time for her to go. She looked on more time into his eyes of love mixed with hurt.

“I love you Joseph. I’ll be back in three months. Will you wait for me?”

He bit his bottom lip, and nodded slightly. Then, she was gone.  That night, on his bed he prayed and cried. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to happen. Joseph struggled with his options.

Mary was pregnant. He knew it was not his child. Was it the child of God? Who would believe a story like that? Over the weeks that followed, he mulled over his options. He could legally take the dowry and have Mary stoned. He could just take the dowry and let her go quietly. He could go ahead with the marriage and deal later with the ridicule and possible punishment he would receive for not prosecuting this woman caught in sin. Should he exercise his legal rights and ignore her pain, or should he think of her feelings and go against the law?

After days of struggling, he finally came to his decision. When she returned from Elizabeth’s he would divorce her quietly. No dowry, no public disgrace, only a release from the marriage contract. It didn’t feel right, but it would have to be that way. In spite of his love for Mary, he would have to do what he felt was right in the eyes of God.

Then, suddenly, he saw it. It stood right before him in bright white robes. Light seems to emanate from its entire being. It was an angel!

“Joseph! Don’t be afraid. Mary’s story is true. The child within her is from the Holy Spirit of God. She will give birth to a son that you will name Jesus.”

So, her story was true. He lay back on his bed. His faith restored. He couldn’t wait for Mary to get back from Elizabeth’s.

 

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