A year ago . . . I was in trouble

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Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. (James 5:13, NIV)

Is anyone among you in trouble? . . . I was.
Last month I had my yearly physical and it reminded me of my medical check-up a year ago (2019). At that time I was in trouble. I felt horrible and every day was getting worse. All my self-help efforts (better diet, more sleep, vitamins, more carbs, more protein, lots of water, … you name it) were futile. My brain wasn’t working (I was getting lost while driving), and my body wasn’t working (at one point I couldn’t walk)—I was sick.

My family physician ordered tests, made referrals and the gauntlet began. The doctors had no idea what the problem was, and I had no idea what lay ahead. It was a struggle, concern, frustration, inconvenience, and strangely, something that I initially left God out of in my life. I fell for the lie that I could handle it on my own:

Satan’s main strategy with God’s people has always been to whisper, “Don’t call, don’t ask, don’t depend on God to do great things. You’ll get along just fine if you just rely on your own cleverness and energy.” The truth of the matter is that the devil is not terribly frightened of our human efforts and credentials. But he knows his kingdom will be damaged when we lift up our hearts to God. –Jim Cymbala

Thankfully, in the midst of my pride and foolishness, the Holy Spirit mercifully nudged me with James 5:14, “Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.” So that is what I did.

Let them pray . . . I did, and so did many others
I shared my need with my church, my family and my friends and they all prayed for me . . . and they kept praying for me. I’m so glad they did. My medical diagnosis was a rare condition (found in only five out of every one-million people) and it was unknown territory for the local doctors and medical specialists that were caring for me. Over the months following my diagnosis I had three major procedures to address the problem and all three failed. Then came the frustration, the anger, the medical bills, the questions and the doubt. All the while, people were praying—they were calling upon the Lord on my behalf.

Is anyone happy? . . . I am
People were praying and God was working . . . in my circumstances and in my heart. He had saved me from my sins forty years earlier and in my distress and struggle he saved me again—from myself. I was barely hanging on. Yet in the midst of my struggle, He made a way. I was sinking in despair, and He lifted me up. In my weakness, He gave me strength.  And when it seemed that all hope was gone, by God's grace and help, I found myself at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

After two trips to Minnesota and seemingly endless tests, needle pokes, scans, and a failed experimental procedure, I was scheduled for pancreatic surgery. All the while, my church, my friends and my family were continuing to call out to Jesus on my behalf. Thankfully, they kept praying.

Let them sing songs of praise . . . I will
In January, Dina and I made our third trip to Minnesota and I had pancreatic surgery. The doctor was able to remove the problem and I was physically healed! God made a way—He used the surgeon, the doctors and the hospital—and my health was restored. I am so thankful to the Lord for His help and healing. Every good gift comes from the Father above.

Here I am, free of the sickness and the struggle that plagued me a year ago—but it is bigger than that. True freedom began when I surrendered my all to Jesus and trusted the Lord with every step of the journey. I was in trouble and I obeyed God’s Word—I prayed and asked others to pray with me—and God helped.

A year ago . . . I was in trouble. But now I'm happy. Jesus has been so good and faithful to me. In the midst of my struggle He showed His hand at every point in my life, and I am thankful to say that through the challenging ordeal God gave me His peace, and my faith in Him has grown deeper and stronger. It was a test, but now I have a testimony. Along with the psalmist I can truly say, “In my distress, He has enlarged me,” (Ps. 4:1, KJV).

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.

Please take five minutes and check out the video below. It is a worship song that perfectly expresses my heart unto God. He is due Every Praise!

 


you are the keeper of the house

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In Matthew 21:13 Jesus said, “My house will be called a house of prayer.” But what if, due to Covid19 concerns or other things, we haven’t been in church for awhile?

Can we still pray?…connect with Jesus?…draw near to God? . . .  Absolutely!

In the gospels we read that Jesus [God] became flesh and blood, walked and lived among us, died upon the cross for our sins, defeated death, gave us new life and now lives in us via His Holy Spirit. Jesus inhabits our heart.

The Apostle Paul said it this way,

“I am crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

In other words, God’s new (and desired) residence is in our hearts. We are His house.

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16)

God no longer inhabits tents or buildings—He lives in people.

We are His temple, and God’s “house of prayer” is our heart. And you are the keeper of the temple . . . the house . . . your heart. Through Jesus, you are the priest and it is your privilege, opportunity and duty to make it a house of prayer. But how? Check out Psalm 141:1-2:

I call to you, Lord, come quickly to me;
   hear me when I call to you.
May my prayer be set before you like incense;
   may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.

Call out to God! You and I don’t need a priest, a church service, or a building to pray, connect with and draw near to the Lord. Through the cross of Christ we have access to God, right here, right now. Jesus is ever knocking at the door of your heart. Let Him in. Call upon the Name of the Lord!

As the keeper of the house (which is the heart) you and I need to live a life that is continuously fragrant with the incense of prayer, rising unto the Lord day and night. We must look to and revere the Lord continuously, praising Him with worship that is bold and abandoned, costly and consecrated. 

And we must follow Jesus, keeping our eyes and hearts focused on Him. We must live holy and humble; eager in the spirit of sacrificeno matter the cost, and unwavering in service to others and Christ the King.

In these stifling times, can we still pray?…connect with Jesus?…draw near to God?

Absolutely!

Let Psalm 141 be your guide as you look to the Lord.

Your heart is Christ’s home. Make it a house of prayer!


ten times doubly so . . . words

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There are so many words flying around these days! The 24-hour news cycle, social media, YouTube, radio, podcasts, TV . . . words, words, words. My life is full of words too—from my mouth and pen—to my family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, strangers, acquaintances and enemies.

This morning God’s Word reminded me that I am to bear fruit for the glory of God and words are fruit. Jesus said, “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:45, NIV). My words are a reflection of my heart and they are powerful. Check out these lines from the poem, “The First Settler’s Story” by Will Carleton,

Boys flying kites haul in their white-winged birds;
You can't do that way when you're flying words.
"Careful with fire," is good advice, we know:
" Careful with words," is ten times doubly so.
Thoughts unexpressed may sometimes fall back dead;
But God himself can't kill them when they're said!

Wow, I believe that nothing is impossible with God, but point taken Mr. Carleton—words are powerful. Now, more than ever, we are realizing that we can’t control much in our lives, but we can control our words. At least we can try, and we must, because words are fruit and fire.

Consider James 3:2-12, NIV:

2 We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check. 3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

I won’t belabor this diatribe on words with more words except to say that I am going to go from here heeding the words of Tim Keller and calling upon the Lord (with my words) for help.

Our words should be honest, few, wise, apt and kind. —Tim Keller

Psalm 141:1-3, NIV
I call to you, Lord, come quickly to me;
hear me when I call to you.
May my prayer be set before you like incense;
may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.
Set a guard over my mouth, Lord;
keep watch over the door of my lips.


no distractions

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When all you are trying to do is the right thing, it isn't hard to act, for you have no distractions.

-William Stafford -

God’s business is putting things right;
he loves getting the lines straight,
Setting us straight. Once we’re standing tall,
we can look him straight in the eye.

- Psalm 11:7, MSG -

If you want to live a powerful life - you must choose holiness. The life God uses is a life surrendered to Him.

- John Eldredge -

Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!

- Hebrews 12:2-3, MSG -


He Who Weigheth . . .

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I Fear a Man of Frugal Speech
    by Emily Dickinson

I fear a Man of frugal Speech—
I fear a Silent Man—
Haranguer—I can overtake—
Or Babbler—entertain—

But He who weigheth—While the Rest—
Expend their furthest pound—
Of this Man—I am wary—
I fear that He is Grand—

***

When words are many, transgression is not lacking,
but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. (Prov. 10:19, ESV)

A fool takes no pleasure in understanding,
but only in expressing his opinion. (Prov. 18:2, ESV)

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. (James 1:19, ESV)

I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak. (Matt. 12:36, ESV)

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Eph. 4:29, ESV)

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. (Ps. 19:14, ESV)

But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge. (Matt. 27:14, NIV)


MIFG...just like Dr. Penland

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Anywhere the person who is devoted to Jesus Christ goes, Jesus Christ is there with them. Oswald Chambers

Last night it was a privilege for Dina and I to observe and be a part of (via Zoom and Youtube Live) a farewell/retirement celebration for Dr. Thomas Penland, the Headmaster at Taejon Christian International School (TCIS) in Daejeon, South Korea. Dr. Penland faithfully served the Lord in that place for twenty-four years.

As an ardent Christ-follower and professional educator, Dr. Penland used his days at TCIS to educate students with excellence, serve and encourage others around him, and to glorify God in all things. His life mission and motto for the past forty-five years has been to have, “Maximum Impact for God” (MIFG).

After last night’s celebration of Dr. Penland, there is no doubt that he accomplished the mission of MIFG in his time and work at TCIS. As scores of people shared about Dr. Penland’s service and influence at TCIS and beyond, they referred to him as a model, inspiration, blessing, leader, minister, father, educator, encourager, missionary and friend. IMG_8014

Twenty-four years ago, Dr. Penland and his wife, Shirley, were available to God and felt called to serve at TCIS. It was their “ministry”—their obedient response to God’s call in their lives. And now, like a mist that appears for a little while, their work and service at TCIS is finished, but the rest of the story is yet untold as it ripples outward for God’s glory into time and eternity.

I want my life to have “Maximum Impact For God” (MIFG), don’t you?

Well, it begins today—your “ministry” begins today. Wherever you are and in whatever you are doing, make yourself available to God; look to Jesus every moment of every day, let Him fill you with His love, light and Presence, and God will use you for His glory. All of us are “called to the ministry" of being Jesus in our world—and if He is lifted up, He will draw all men unto Himself.

And as you make yourself available to God, your life will have MIFG…just like Dr. Penland.


fear ≠ the last word

IMG_6943Are you in the midst of trouble, struggle, desperation, disappointment, hopelessness, the Covid 19 pandemic, . . . FEAR?

Please read Psalm 34. Read it again and again. Let God’s Word fill, strengthen, nourish, soothe, keep, protect, assure, comfort, help and lead you in these difficult days.

The writer of the Psalm (King David) is just like you and me. He was experiencing fear, trouble and great need, but he didn’t face it alone. He trusted in God—where need is not the ultimate reality, trouble is never the final answer, and fear is never the last word.

Consider these verses from Psalm 34 (NIV):

15 The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,

    and his ears are attentive to their cry;

16 but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil,

    to blot out their name from the earth.

17 The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;

    he delivers them from all their troubles.

18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted

    and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

19 The righteous person may have many troubles,

    but the Lord delivers him from them all

God sees, knows and cares about you and me. Stay close to Him. Keep your heart pure and your mind fixed upon Jesus. Cry out to Him in prayer! God is not put off by your sadness (crushed spirit), discouragement and disappointment (brokenhearted). He wants our hearts, our trust and our faith to be in Him alone. He will deliver us and we will praise His Name!

It is when you have been scared to death and God has brought you out of the trouble, that you can sing God’s praise. When you are in a right place and cry out to Jesus, who is your only hope, you are in a situation ripe for a miracle. When you have no way to pay your bills and God provides, then you walk away while singing his praises. The trouble itself turns our minds to Christ and gives him the opportunity to show himself good and powerful in our lives.

—Dennis Kinlaw, This Day With the Master, (Aug. 12)

 


From my journal . . . I will trust

IMG_7865From my journal this morning . . .

This morning I awoke to worry—about our world, my children, my friends and the future. I know I shouldn’t start the day this way, so Lord I look to You. Thank you God for Psalm 22—a prayer from the lips of one facing trouble (who probably woke up to worry too).  I looked to Your Word and Psalm 22:4 NIV caught my eye.

In you [God] our fathers put their trust;

they trusted and you delivered them.

O God, in Psalm 22 things are bleak, the oppression is real and the situation looks hopeless. But the psalmist made a choice and looked to you. That is what I must do. And then, in my online prayer time with Daniel Henderson, I heard this:

In troubled times we have to make a choice how to respond—will it be based on what we feel, on what we see around us, or on what we know to be true?

This made me think of Hebrews 11:1 that says,

Faith is being sure of what we hope for and confident of what we do not see.

There is no feeling or seeing included in this verse—it is all about trust and confidence (faith) in what we know to be true. And what is true is Jesus, the Word of God, God’s love for us, and the power, presence and help of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Jesus is my rock, shelter, fortress, helper, provider, savior and Lord. God I need you!

A cry brings God. A cry is mightier than the polished phrase. —Samuel Chadwick

I will not worry. I will pray.

Lord, I trust in You today, I look to You today, I call upon You today.

I cry out to You today, in Jesus’ Name!


alarmed?

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How’s your faith today? Faith is hard, even on the best days. I just read my daily dose of the news and I don’t know about you, but I need a faith boost. Faith doesn’t come through gritted teeth or positive thinking, it comes through God’s Word. It is alive and life-giving, enlivened by the Holy Spirit. We must look to God’s Word.

“. . . faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17, NKJV)

In 2 Chronicles 20, King Jehoshaphat gets some concerning news and his faith is lagging (like mine). It says in verse 3 that he was “alarmed.” So what did he do? He prayed (see vs. 6-12).

I am hanging onto vs. 12, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.”

That is prayer. Prayer happens when we call upon the Name of the Lord.

God help me to put my eyes upon You today.

“. . . fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” (Hebrews 12:2, NIV)

Are you alarmed today? Pray! Look to Jesus! Call upon His Name!