Kingdom Priorities for the New Year

Below is a digest of the daily email messages composed by Pastor Stuart Nice. This first week of 2016, he is sharing with us how to keep God's kingdom a priority in our lives. Click the title of each to read the full article.

First Things First | January 4, 2016
The most powerful catalyst for moving people through the stages of spiritual growth is the reading and reflection upon scriptures.

"But first, be concerned about his kingdom and what has his approval. Then all these things will be provided for you." (Matthew 6:33, God's Word Translation)

First Things First, Part 2 | January 5, 2016
The only true happiness we find in this world is found in our absolute rest in the Lord's ability to care for every detail of our lives. 

"Blessed are those who recognize they are spiritually helpless. The kingdom of heaven belongs to them." (Matthew 5:3, GW)

First Things First, Part 3 | January 6, 2016
Jesus equates our worship of God with our love for and reconciliation with others. We worship the Lord well by caring for His children.

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift."
(Matthew 5:23-24, NIV)

First Things First, Part 4 | January 7, 2016
The goal of the Christian faith is to know Him, not to become "spiritual." This is one of the things that sets Christianity apart from other religious faiths and pursuits. Our endeavor is to not be seen as spiritual, but to be with by the Father.

"When you pray, go to your room and close the door. Pray privately to your Father who is with you. Your Father sees what you do in private. He will reward you."
(Matthew 6:6, GW)

First Things First, Part 5 | January 8, 2016
The principle of returning to the Lord the tenth part of any increase, later known as the tithe, is a principle had been likely practiced all the way back to Adam, in which we see Abel offering his first fruits to the Lord in Genesis 4.

And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High. He blessed him and said,
   “Blessed be Abram of God Most High,
      Possessor of heaven and earth;
    And blessed be God Most High,
      Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”
He gave him a tenth of all.
(Genesis 14:18-20, NASB)

Daily Insights: Galatians 5:17-19a

Below is a digest of the daily email messages composed by Pastor Stuart Nice. This week he is sharing a few devotional thoughts from Galatians 5:17-19a. Click the title of each to read the full article.

August 31, 2015: The Tension Of The Spiritual Life
There are many challenges to the Spirit-filled life, but there is only one solution, get near to God. 
Here is a simple daily prayer for us this week.

Good morning Holy Spirit. Draw me closer. Fill me. Lead me. Use me. Deliver me from my flesh and strengthen me from the things that tempt me away from you.

Galatians 5:17-19a, GW

September 1, 2015: The Obvious Effects Of Our Corrupt Nature
Without inviting and yielding to the Holy Spirit's ever present work, we are subject to our old man taking over once again. It is not so much that the "old self" has power over us anymore after Christ's deliverance, but the habits of thought and heart continue to invade our lives without the Spirit's ongoing work. 
Galatians 5:17-19a, GW

September 2, 2015: Cultivating Your Spiritual Nature
As we cultivate yielding to the Holy Spirit, He delivers us, empowers us, and frees us with peace. We simply walk with Him in confidence. The law in our flesh is a struggle. The Holy Spirit removes the struggle and carries us in peace. 
Galatians 5:17-19a, GW

Daily Insights from the Letter to the Hebrews: Week2

Below is a digest of the daily email messages composed by Pastor Stuart Nice, sharing devotional thoughts from each chapter of Hebrews. Click the title of each to read the full article.

August 24, 2015: The Companion Of Peace
The Gospel provides with it rest and peace for those who will take it. ... Rest and peace go hand in hand. At whatever point you are striving, at that same point you are not experiencing peace. Let it go and place your life, circumstances, and trust back into the hand of God through prayer.  Now you can be at rest. 
Hebrews 4:10, NASB

August 25, 2015: What Suffering Teaches Us
if you are suffering today, know that the Lord is wanting to teach you, not so much about obedience, but about His love in the midst of pain. He is there. Follow Him through it. 
Hebrews 5:8, NASB

August 26, 2015: Living In The Quiet Confidence
Our Father wants us to be encouraged when we are disheartened and hopeful when we do not see a way in the darkness. The translators use the word confidence for the word we often read as "hope." This is an insightful way to remind us that "hope" is not "wishing" or believing without proof, but having confidence because God, who is unchanging, has said so.
Hebrews 6:18, 19, GW

Daily Insights from the Letter to the Hebrews: Week 1

Below is a digest of the daily email messages composed by Pastor Stuart Nice, sharing devotional thoughts from each chapter of Hebrews. Click the title of each to read the full article.

August 18, 2015: The Radiance Of God
Jesus is the exact representation of the Father, the radiance of His glory. The next time you think you need to be afraid of God or keep your distance because of your sins or shame, remember, He sent Jesus to come rescue us and embrace us. ... Come close again. He is awaiting you.
Hebrews 1:1-3a, NASB

August 19, 2015: Avoiding Drift in Your Life
If we aim to live our lives with purpose, "drift" is something we will all contend with. ... Drift takes place when we take our "careful attention" away from what is important.
Hebrews 2:1, NIV

August 20, 2015: Are You Stubborn?
Our stubborn will keeps us from experiencing our life of faith in its fullest expression. Let's lose our sophisticated childishness and trade it for the childlike trust we began our journey with.
Hebrews 3:7, GW

Recap for Sunday, August 16, 2015

“‘Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’” Isaiah 41:10, NAS95.

Yesterday we had a discussion about the importance of cultivating a confidence in the intervention of God's hand in our lives. We have all experienced the Lord's work in our lives, yet when faced with our "next challenge" often find ourselves with the question of "what happened to our trust." Over and over the Lord leads us into challenge areas and over and over we struggle.

As we discussed, this is the pathway of the Lord's discipleship in our lives. He grants us unique situations, problems, and circumstances; we try to solve them; we come to the end of ourselves; we turn to God; He answers; He leads us into the next place of growing trust. 

The sooner we see and understand the cycle and turn to Him, the more peace we experience, and the more we find the confidence that He is our God. Take a quick look at our verse. 

1) Do not fear... I am with you.

2) Do not be anxious... I am your God.

3) I will strengthen you.

4) I will surely help you.

5) I will uphold you by my hand. 

All of our fears and anxieties melt away when we once again realize that God is for us. Don't buy the lie that you are in your challenge alone. He is near and He is taking you through to see Him more clearly. 

Love,
Pastor Stuart

Essentials of the Spirit Filled Life

Below is a digest of the daily email messages composed by Pastor Stuart Nice, addressing the topic of essentialism. Click the title of each to read the full article.

July 20, 2015 – Essentials: Part 1
"The first part of the essential practices is simply answering the call to come to God."
Isaiah 55:3

July 21, 2015 – Essentials: Part 2, The Hypocrite
Jesus tells us, "When you pray, don't be like the hypocrites." ... It is interesting that the warning against hypocrisy is Jesus' first lesson of prayer.
Matthew 6:5

July 22, 2015 – Essentials: Part 3, The Secret Place
Jesus longs to be with us in the private places we have prepared to meet with Him, but He also loves to be invited into the private places of our hearts. 
Matthew 6:6

July 23, 2015 – Essentials: Part 4, Your Father Knows
Since He knows everything, the asking is to reveal to us our constant need to rely upon His care, and when we do see the answer, it creates a greater thankfulness in our hearts.
Matthew 6:7-8

July 27, 2015 – Essentials: Part 5, Know Your Daddy
Know your Father is close. Know He wants you to know Him like He knows us. Know that He cares for you intimately.
Matthew 6:9

July 28, 2015 – Essentials: Part 6, The Adoration
Let's give value to Him and weight to His words, and let's adore Him. He is so worthy of our hearts.
Matthew 6:9

July 30, 2015 – Essentials: Part 7,  An Invitation
Let's remember to invite Him daily into the dark places that keep us, our loved ones and the world from experiencing His full love and power.
Matthew 6:9-10

August 12, 2015 – Essentials: Part 8, The Prayer Of Provision
The daily pattern of prayer that Jesus gives us includes this covenant of provision. He promises to provide. Go ahead and ask. Then when you see His provision, don't forget to thank Him. He loves looking out for your every need. 
Matthew 6:11

August 13, 2015 – Getting Free
Here is the pathway to be free. "... as we also have forgiven our debtors." Until we have set everyone free around us, we will never truly be free because we are still attached by pain. When we set them free, then we will know the grace that we ourselves have received. 
Matthew 6:12

Making a Difference

"Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd." Matthew 9:36, NAS95.

This past weekend we talked about the Lord's call on each of our lives to make a difference in the world. We know our destiny as God's children is to be people who change the world or at least somebody's world. The message surrounded one simple question. "When we look out on our world, what moves our heart?" 

The difficult part of living in our age is the quick access to a lot of pain. Our televisions show images day and night of tragic circumstances, war, famine, and unspeakable atrocities. It is easy for us to become numb to the reality of the need around us. Instead of dropping to our knees and crying out for God's mercy we simply turn the channel and go on with our life. What if those images were there to stir our hearts to prayer and action? What if the news we hear about throughout the day broke our hearts and called us to God's purpose for our lives?

We really do not have to go very far to see hurting people. We just need the eyes of Jesus. In the verse above, it says, "...Seeing the people..." There are two words for seeing used in the bible. One is to see with our eyes and one is to see with our heart. This verse uses the heart. If we only see with our eyes, we can quickly turn away, but when we see with our heart, we are filled with the same emotions God feels for each person. 

I want to challenge us all to slow down and see with our hearts the needs around us. Your family members need a touch, a word, and a prayer. Your co-workers need an ear and a heart willing to encourage and invest in them. Those we interact with each day are the ones the Lord is calling to touch. 

Let me leave you with this:

"You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him." Acts 10:38 NAS95.

Let's be Jesus to our world today!

Re-awakening the Dream

"Abraham believed when he stood in the presence of the God who gives life to dead people and calls into existence things that don't even exist. When there was nothing left to hope for, Abraham still hoped and believed. As a result, he became a father of many nations, as he had been told: "That is how many descendants you will have." Abraham didn't weaken. Through faith he regarded the facts: His body was already as good as dead now that he was about a hundred years old, and Sarah was unable to have children. He didn't doubt God's promise out of a lack of faith. Instead, giving honor to God for the promise, he became strong because of faith and was absolutely confident that God would do what he promised. That is why his faith was regarded as God's approval of him." Romans 4:17-22, GWV.

We go through times in our lives when we can become cynical with those who believe that the Lord is going to do anything different in their lives. We can have a hard time envisioning a different world because we have experienced enough disappointments and blows against us and are jaded from the belief that life can and will be any different than it is today. 

As we come away from Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I am impressed again by his faith to believe for a different world than the one that he was living in. He was a modern example to us that there are many areas of justice, ministry, and mercy the Lord desires His people to be the solution for in our world. God is still looking for dreamers. 

I pray you will meditate on the verses above. Within them you will see how the Lord encouraged Abraham to participate in a different world. Here is a brief outline:

1) He spent time in the presence of the Lord.

2) He knew the Lord's ability.

3) He put His hope in God's power.

4) He exercised his faith in God's promise.

5) He persevered without doubt.

6) He honored God during the in-between time.

7) He placed his confidence in God, not himself.

Spend some time with these verse and receive the encouragement the Lord has for you today. We are called to so much more. Let's change the world of someone today. Let's do great things with God!

Grace with Truth

*“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14, *NAS

*“But we are meant to speak the truth in love, and to grow up in every way into Christ, the head.” Ephesians 4:15, Phil. *

As I have been sharing on the qualities of grace this week, I have been asked the same question. The essence of it is something like this. "If I am extending grace, do I still tell the one I am gracing the truth?" The answer is a resounding, "yes!" Grace does not limit the truth, it supports it. We can be truthful, even to the point of hurting another's feelings while extending grace.

The concept of grace is about removing barriers and it takes truth to do that. One of my favorite verses about Jesus is John 1:14. It says, "He lived (lives) among us with grace and truth."

When Jesus gives us grace, He does so by brining us to truth. When we are wrong, sinning, or going in a direction that is hurtful to ourselves or others, He corrects us. His grace and truth are bound together. His ministry recorded in the Gospels reveals that Jesus confronted people continually "with grace." Peter, the Pharisees, the Rich Ruler, and so many others illustrate this. Think of the woman caught in adultery. Jesus said, “I don’t condemn you either. Go! From now on don’t sin.”” John 8:11, GWV. He doesn't avoid the truth. He speaks it without condemnation.

Extending truth in grace without condemnation is our gift to one another. It allows us to actually come together and grow together. Our withholding of truth to each other will keep our relationships shallow at best.

So how does one bring grace and truth together without it getting so messy? Here are three things:

1) We check our heart first. Why is the Lord putting you in a place to extend His grace? Grace giving is remembering that "we love because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19. We are passing on the incredible grace He has given us. This means that we are fully forgiven and now fully forgive.

2) We ask ourselves wether we are withholding truth because I am afraid that it will hurt them or that it will hurt me? Usually it is our comfort level that we are concerned about, not theirs. Grace usually goes beyond our comfort level. Am I willing to let the Lord to work in this?

3) Approach is everything. People knew that Jesus wanted their best. The old adage, "people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care" comes into play. Jesus did not have a selfish motive for speaking the truth. He was speaking it for their good, not His own. When we approach truth with grace this way, it is irresistible.

Is there someone you need to speak the truth in grace with. Tell them something has been on your heart that you would like to discuss and set up a time to do it.

Grace as Welcome

"The Spirit and the bride say, "Come." And let the one who hears say, "Come." And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost." Revelation 22:17 NAS95.
 
This week I have been sharing the three main aspects that make up the quality of grace. The first is that it is a "gift," given freely, with no strings attached or motive to be repaid. The second is that it is a "love" that is expressed when we are unlovely and selfish. The third is that it is a "welcoming" that brings us near even though we may be or feel unworthy. 

Today let's look at grace as "welcome." Jesus is an includer. While He walked the earth He included unlikely men and women to be part of His mission. Fisherman, tax-collectors, prostitutes, people of questionable reputation were all given the grace of welcome to join in with the transforming life of the Kingdom. The woman caught in adultery, the woman at the well, Zaccheus and the apostle Peter were all able to come near to Jesus without shame and condemnation. 

The grace we have experienced is the grace that understands we have fallen, are not perfect and have not met even our own standards for ourselves. He welcomes us anyway. This grace of Jesus not only forgives and releases us from our past right up to the moment of your reading this, but takes none of it into account as sees you. Therefore there is nothing to keep you away from the full embrace of His life and care. 

So what does this mean for us? We can come freely to Jesus now and relate to Him in the present. We can also forgive and open our hearts to others without regard to their past. 

"Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1 NAS95.
 
Be free in the grace of God today. His grace bring you to Him. His grace opens our hearts to others. Let's practice it today.

Grace as Undeserved Love

*"Christ died for us while we were still sinners. This demonstrates God's love for us."* Romans 5:8, GWV.

*"Live in love as Christ also loved us. He gave his life for us as an offering and sacrifice, a soothing aroma to God."* Ephesians 5:2, GWV.

Yesterday I wrote to you about grace, I mentioned that there are three aspects that make up this quality. The first is that it is a "gift," given freely, with no strings attached or motive to be repaid. The second is that it is a "love" that is expressed when we are unlovely and selfish. The third is that it is a "welcoming" that brings us near even though we may be or feel unworthy.

Today I want to focus on the second aspect of grace. Love for the unloveable and unloving. Jesus lived this lifestyle. Going primarily to the outcasts of his generation, he loved those who nobody else would love. If you think about many of His conversations, confrontations, and healings, it was to those who were uncared for, especially by the religious community.

Jesus' teaching on loving our enemies, rises from this concept of grace. Loving the lovable is easy and takes no heart. When we have to go beyond our love boundaries, we give and truly experience grace. Take a look:

*"But I tell you this: Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. In this way you show that you are children of your Father in heaven. He makes his sun rise on people whether they are good or evil. He lets rain fall on them whether they are just or unjust. If you love those who love you, do you deserve a reward? Even the tax collectors do that! Are you doing anything remarkable if you welcome only your friends? Everyone does that! That is why you must be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect."* Matthew 5:44-48, GWV.

The reality is that this cannot be done in our humanness. Gracing the unloveable and even our enemies takes us seeing ourselves as "the graced." While we were unloveable, Christ gave Himself for us. It is only as we understand and receive this great grace that we will begin to extend it to others. When we withhold grace to others it is because we do not truly understand the magnitude of the grace that was extended to us.

Take a moment out today to receive the great and loving grace of God for yourself. Now think of those you have withheld loving grace from. Pray for them now.