Nightstand Clarity

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The book has been sitting on the nightstand beside my bed for probably two years, along with a small stack of other “to read” books. It was a get to in no hurry book. The title just didn’t stir me to grab it yet. But it has surprised me. The title is “Good Grief” by Dr. David A Dean.

I have read about half of it thus far. It has brought to the surface a range of emotions, partly because of the subject matter, and partly because I know all those involved. I have smiled, sometimes a happy smile and at times that knowing sad smile. I have broken down in tears I could not hold back. But through it all it has given me a personal appreciation for grief and loss.

But, rather than focus on the grief of losing a loved one I want to focus on a quote from the forward, written by Dr. Sid Bradley. He writes, “We know that the grieving person is likely experiencing a combination of different feelings such as sadness, emptiness, hurt, confusion, frustration, anger, fear, or a number of other possible emotions.”

Grieving comes with painful loss, and most of us know painful loss is not the exclusive territory of death. Our own sin can produce such grief. It would appear the grief of sin produces the same range of emotions. For the moment I want to focus on just one grieving emotional response – fear.

I see a positive and negative side to the grief of sin. On the positive side, grief that produces fear is a means of drawing us to God and seeking His forgiveness. This fear reminds us we are moral beings. It reminds us there is a reckoning that will take place before a Holy God. That fear points out the separation our sin is causing us in relationship to Christ. Though He loves us, things are strained, and it calls us to confess, and seek forgiveness.

There is a negative side to this grief and its resultant fear. It explains why in numerous ways the Bible seeks to tell us forgiveness is ours through Christ. Forgiveness is ours for the asking because of the death and resurrection of Jesus in our stead. And, the most astounding of truths, this forgiveness is instantaneous and complete. I find myself in awe of the simple words of 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” There is no provisional stuff or temporary certificate of forgiveness until I pass the test and get my salvation license. No, it is immediate, and there is nothing I can or have to do to realize it.

However, fear is an emotion that creeps back into our lives, or at least my life. Even after we have sought forgiveness, and claimed the promises of God there is that grief and fear like my shadow. The enemy knows how to use it to advantage as well. And with fear over past sins I get distracted, paralyzed thinking how and why would God use or want me? No wonder the New Testament reminds us many times, “Do not fear.” Grief over past sins can limit our faith, our growth, our influence. And it is the grief, the false fear that limits us, not our past sins. Those are covered by the blood. Isn’t it funny? No matter how long one has followed Jesus our feelings and faith can run counter to each other! I say all this to remind me, and to remind you, when grief strikes because of your past; when fear approaches, choose faith over fear. Live the life God has for you by faith.

JT

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Conquering Whoville

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In my quiet time today one word changed everything. Below is what I wrote today. Perhaps it will be a means of setting you free in the love of Christ…

“Who can separate us from the love of Christ?…. No, in all these things we are more than victorious through Him who loved us.” -Romans 8:35a, 37

I was easily going to write only about verse 37. But as I read the passage again before writing, one word caught my attention – “who.” Consider the list of things Paul gives that cannot separate us from the love of Christ: affliction, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword, sheep to be slaughtered. These are “what” things, not “who.” It is entirely possible that it is a means of personifying these things, but what if it really is a “who” in these things?

People can be behind each of these calamities. Therefore, nothing that they do to us, including this list and more, can separate us from the love of Christ. What if the “who” are those passing judgment on us for being in these situations? Their opinions, nor our perception of their opinions, can separate us from the love of Christ. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ: not the things we may suffer, not the people who inflict such on us, not the opinions of others, not our perception of what others think of us, nothing. No thing can separate us and no who can separate us from the love of Christ, even if the “who” is my own condemning thoughts! Love reaches, keeps reaching, pursues… relentlessly.

Papa, I cherish such an unbreakable love. Help me to do likewise…
JT

The 90 Day Challenge Day 90 – Ready For Clear Directions

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“The Lord told him, Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying” -Acts 9:11

I cannot get over how explicit these directions are from the Lord to Ananias! He tells him he wants him to go somewhere. He tells him whose house, what street he lives on, who is there and where he is from. And if all that is not enough, God tells him what this man is doing at this home! I know, I know, this is God’s calling on the future Apostle Paul- missionary, church planter, teacher, and the man who provides a substantial part of the New Testament. Nevertheless, the Lord gives him detailed instructions. I’m sure this was not a daily ocurance in Ananias’ life, but it also appears not to be a shock to him either.

What comes to my mind as I read this passage are the words of Hebrews 13:8: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” While it may not be a daily experience to receive this kind of explicit direction from the Holy Spirit, there must be occasions when such leading is there for us as well. Most times I have a sense of direction from the Spirit. Some times I am given one step at a time. But I must believe there are times when detailed directions can still come from the Spirit. The question is, am I in a place spiritually to receive such leading? Ananias was ready for this kind of leading. He regularly sought God, to grow in Him and to hear from Him. I must do the same to hear His “voice”.

Father, may I always be ready for Your leading, whatever form it may take: impression, the next step, or detailed guidance. Help me to listen for Your voice.
JT

The 90 Day Challenge Day 89 – Be Strong

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“You, therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” -2 Timothy 2:1

We all know we need to be strong. We view being strong as a choice, a frame of mind an attitude. But strength has a foundation. One can choose to be strong just on hope, or self-reliance, or luck… The follower of Jesus is invited to build strength on grace. How can grace make me/you strong? It is grace that gives me life. Grace places me where I am in life. Grace has led me into the truths of God in the Word. Grace has brought people into my life that have made my life better. Grace has even brought me through pain, sorrow, and suffering. Perhaps most significant, is grace has forgiven me so I do not have to be forever defined by my sins or past. Grace and grace alone allows me to live free – free from the weight of guilt.

Father, make me stronger in the grace of Jesus.
JT

Readings for Day 90 – Acts 7, Acts 9:1-19, Exodus 1:8-21, Luke 24:1-12, Habakkuk 1-3

The 90 Day Challenge Day 88 – Contagious Pursuit

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“But, you, man of God, run from these things, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness” -1 Timothy 6:11

There is a vast difference between wishing and pursuing, or ignoring and pursuing. I am working on a table. The center section design needs planing, but it is much to large for my surface planer. Sanding, no matter how much you sand, will never yield a completely smooth surface. So, I researched, studied, and came up with a plan to make a sled planer for the project. I had to pursue it to get there….

This verse calls the follower of Jesus to pursue, not just hope for or wish for a lifestyle like Jesus. Too often, we can become content with things as they are; to be content with salvation and go only a little further. But, God calls us to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. We are to pursue becoming more like Jesus. We are to pursue becoming better people than if we just let life take its course. Righteousness and godliness cover two sides of one issue – holy living. Righteousness call us to rely on Christ to empower right living and rest in His forgiveness by giving us His righteousness. Pursuing faith invites us to believe God can and will change us, even when it seems impossible. Endurance inspires us to not give up, to not lay down and quit. And gentleness keeps us humble. Gentleness means the life changes God is making in us are lived out with others in a gentle rather than arrogant or condescending way. Gentleness will invite others to want to become more like Jesus too.

Papa, embolden my pursuing of being more like Jesus and may love and gentleness be the thread tying it all together that others may see You in me and want to become more like You too.
JT

Readings for Day 89 – 2 Timothy 2, 2 Timothy 4:1-18, Matthew 26:6-13, Acts 6:8-15, Ecclesiastes 10-12

The 90 Day Challenge Day 87 – Applying Discipline

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“Now the end of all things is near; therefore, be serious and disciplined for prayer.” -1 Peter 4:7

Prayer is widely talked about, emphasized, and believed in by followers of Jesus. Prayer is our communication line to God. Prayer is our comfort during times of hardship. Prayer is our means of interceding for ourselves and others. Then why is it so easy to forget the tie between prayer and discipline?

If I want to go fishing, I have to have the discipline to get up early enough to go. If I want to remain healthy it requires the discipline of exercise. Prayer, too, takes discipline. Far too often we can let other priorities crowd out our praying. Oh, our intention is to pray, but we then choose to allow things that must get done today to come first. We think we will get to it later and before we know it later didn’t happen. The discipline of prayer can take different forms. Some will need the discipline of a specific time of day. Others may choose the discipline of a specified length of time (that they choose to extend as the discipline becomes a habit) each day. Whatever, the method it take discipline. Discipline means I do it whether I feel like it or not because I need it. Discipline in prayer is making a statement to God that He is crucial to my day and not just a 911 call. And my experience, in almost every form of discipline is I’m always glad I followed through after I am done.

Papa, refresh the discipline of prayer in my life, to not only connect with You but to change lives.
JT

Readings for Day 88 – 1 Timothy 4:6-16, 1 Timothy 6, 2 Timothy 1:1-12, Ecclesiastes 7-9

The 90 Day Challenge Day 86 – Leading Toward Maturity

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“We proclaim Him, warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” -Colossians 1:28

Sometimes I can accept the gap between the goal and reality. Other times, not so much! I have my goals on distance and sometimes pace when riding my bike, but reality can be different. My time may be limited; the wind too strong; or I’m just not feeling as good. I’ve learned to deal with those realities, while still setting goals that push me. When it come to ministry it is a bit harder. This verse reminds me the goal is to present everyone mature in Christ. I might wish it said most, but it says everyone. I can’t say I have succeeded (in reality) with this goal. Oh, it is still my goal to assist everyone in becoming mature in Christ. But I have not led everyone there. Some have not even attempted. Others go so far and stop. A few press on. What am I/we to do with this impossible goal? Go for it. I must keep seeking to help everyone move to a more mature place in Christ. The rub is, every person I encounter has their own will and choice. No matter what I/you do to help some people mature in Christ they can stop, slow down, or even go the wrong way. I must pray for them, encourage them, point to the path of a devoted follower of Jesus – but I cannot choose for them. So, I keep on pursuing what will move people to maturity and place my trust in God’s timing. I’ll confess, that is not easy, nor without its heartaches – but it is the life, to which, a follower of Jesus is called.

Papa, make me more effective in leading others to maturity in Christ…
JT

Readings f0r Day 87 – 1 Peter 4:7-19, 1 Kings 6:19-21, Psalm 139, 1 Timothy 1:12-20, Ecclesiastes 4-6