Learning to Love Others as Jesus Does

Called To Pass The Jesus Blessing | February 27, 2017
Yesterday at VLC we talked about our vocation or calling to "see people" and to give them the "Jesus blessing." As we begin reading the book of Acts this week, the concept is once again reiterated to us by Jesus. To paraphrase, "Keep the main thing the main thing. Be animated by the Holy Spirit and let people see Jesus shine through you everywhere!" 

He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”
Acts 1:7-8 (NASB)

Sorting Through Perspectives | February 28, 2017
As God is doing a work in our lives or in the lives of those around us, we often try to interpret them from our own perspective. On the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out, only a few understood what God was doing. Those without the "intimate" understanding were left to sorting out what was happening through their own perspective. 

And they all continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others were mocking and saying, “They are full of sweet wine.”
Acts 2:12-13 (NASB)

Do You See Me? | March 1, 2017
One of the recurring themes that captures my heart is what I call, "the invisible man" theme. Because I am self-focused and live in a world of self-focused people, it is rare for myself or others to see each other. Now I don't mean "see someone," I mean "see someone."

When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he began asking to receive alms. But Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze on him and said, “Look at us!” And he began to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them.
Acts 3:3-5 (NASB)

The Ultimate Conductor | March 2, 2017
It is hard for us to see the "God-Connections" when we are experiencing difficulties. We seem to equate bad circumstances with the absence of God. However, the reality of this scripture and many others affirms that God is in ultimate control over every aspect of our lives. 

For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.
Acts 4:27-28 (NASB)

Miscommunication | March 3, 2017
Sometimes we will not escape the cruelty, jealousy, and judgement of others. Even if it is against wisdom, emotions run hotter than reason. Though this story is tragic at its base, it is a classic case of miscommunication. 

So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”

They took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them.
Acts 5:38-40 (NASB)

Learning from Jesus on How to Be Human

Underestimating Our Humanity | February 22, 2017
We all want to please the Lord with our whole life. In our words, our actions, our service, and our character, we are pressing forward to honor Him in all we say and do. However, there is this one challenge we all have. We are human. Humans are broken, weak, and have been known to break very sincere promises they make to the Lord. 

But Peter said to Him, “Even though all may fall away, yet I will not.” And Jesus *said to him, “Truly I say to you, that this very night, before a rooster crows twice, you yourself will deny Me three times.” But Peter kept saying insistently, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” And they all were saying the same thing also.
Mark 14:29-31, NASB

The Power Of Silence | February 23, 2017
We live in a noisy world. With the rise of social media, it has gotten even noisier. Now everyone can post, tweet, blog, and kvetch in just about any manner they please. Opinions, arguments, accusations, retorts, and personal positions are all there for everyone to interact with. Then we have Jesus...

The chief priests began to accuse Him harshly. Then Pilate questioned Him again, saying, “Do You not answer? See how many charges they bring against You!” But Jesus made no further answer; so Pilate was amazed.
Mark 15:3-5, NASB

Afraid To Speak | February 24, 2017
Many people live with a strange sense of dread for the future. Even if life is being lived at the fullest level and God's blessings are abundant, there is a little demonic voice that tells us that it is too good to be true. 

But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you.’” They went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
Mark 16:7-8, NASB

Walking with Jesus Beyond Our Comfort Zone

Help My Unbelief | February 13, 2017
We probably all have areas of our lives where we have given up hope. Yet, as children of God, there are times when we encounter Jesus anew and He reminds us that meeting with Him is the boost we need to be able to see beyond our present situation. 

And He asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” And Jesus said to him, “ ‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.”
Mark 9:21-24, NASB

Valentines Forever | February 14, 2017
To be a Valentine forever, we choose the pain and blessing of love over all other things. This ensures a healthy relationship as well as a healthy heart. Forgive; stay vulnerable; seek oneness in the other. These will keep you in love for a lifetime.

They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” But Jesus said to them, “ Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.
Mark 10:4-5, NASB

Becoming A Radical Forgiver | February 15, 2017
In this single verse, Jesus makes the case for the most important activity anyone can be a part of, both from a blessing perspective and from a personal perspective. I think that sometimes we choose not to get this verse because it seems like Jesus got it wrong somehow. Let me explain

Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.
Mark 11:25, NASB

Are You The Example Jesus Is Using? | February 16, 2017
This chapter is full of drama. Challenged on every side, Jesus reveals his brilliance, displays His wisdom, and commends those who are getting the essence of the Kingdom life. When He finishes these tests of wit, He sits down by the offering box and examines the habits of the givers. In this, He discovers such an outstanding example, He calls His disciples to teach them the lesson. 

And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.”
Mark 12:41-44, NASB

Are You Focused On What Lasts? | February 17, 2017
It is easy to get distracted by the many things in this life that parade themselves as beautiful, valuable or important.... Love, beauty, Spirit, peace, and joy are gifts that the poorest of us can access and own. Pause for a moment and allow Jesus to give you the wealth that is free.

As He was going out of the temple, one of His disciples *said to Him, “Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!”
Mark 13:1, NASB

When Jesus Challenges Us

When All Seems Lost | February 6, 2017
Why does it seem that Jesus is sleeping when we think we are on the brink of perishing? Why does He seem so cozy on the cushion while our lives have gone over the edge? It seems the story is clear. He's not worried like we are. 

Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”
Mark 4:38, NASB

Coming Up Behind Jesus | February 7, 2017
Sometimes we feel the need to approach Jesus from a different direction to get what we need. Of course if we were truly conscious of who He is we would never resort to such tactics. However, sometimes our minds can still be subject to our unclear or ignorant beliefs. 

After hearing about Jesus, she came up in the crowd behind Him and touched His cloak. For she thought, “If I just touch His garments, I will get well.”
Mark 5:27-28, NASB

The Problem With Jesus At Home | February 8, 2017
When Jesus visits His hometown, the people there judged Him on their familiarity with Him rather than on who He really was.

But Jesus told them, “The only place a prophet isn’t honored is in his hometown, among his relatives, and in his own house.” He couldn’t work any miracles there except to lay his hands on a few sick people and cure them. Their unbelief amazed him.
Mark 6:4-6, GW

What Is Going On Inside? | February 9, 2017
Many of us have been taught how to appear spiritual and to curb behaviors that would appear "un-Christian." While these approaches have some measure of prudence in them, they fall far short in the development of the heart and the spirit. 

After He called the crowd to Him again, He began saying to them, “Listen to Me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man."
Mark 7:14-15, NASB

Do You Have Built In Faith? | February 10, 2017
Immature and underdeveloped faith tries to find its footing on signs, wonders, and acts of God. These are self-evident to the mature, for they have no need for a "show" from God.... What would your faith-life be if Jesus said to you, "Truly, no sign will be given to you." Would it cause the faith in us to rise or the faith outside of us to be discouraged?

The Pharisees came out and began to argue with Him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven, to test Him. Sighing deeply in His spirit, He *said, “Why does this generation seek for a sign? Truly I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”
Mark 8:11-12, NASB

Letting the Good News of Jesus Speak to Us

Below is a digest of the daily email messages composed by Pastor Stuart Nice as he leads us in reflecting daily on the Gospel of Mark. Click the title of each to read the full article.

The Re-Beginning Of Good News | February 1, 2017
I am struck by the first words...The beginning... There is a definite starting place in the Lord. Sometimes it is a re-beginning.

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
     “Behold, I send My messenger ahead of You,
      Who will prepare Your way;
      The voice of one crying in the wilderness,
     ‘Make ready the way of the Lord,
      Make His paths straight.’”
John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.
Mark 1:1-5, NASB

Can Jesus See Your Faith? | February 2, 2017
This classic gospel story is packed full of application for us, but the phrase that stands out so clearly to me is Christ's response, "When Jesus saw their faith..." There is something so charged in that statement. These four men were determined to get their friend to Jesus, because they knew He was able to help. Their tenacity, their perseverance, and their faith drove them forward.

     Several days later Jesus came back to Capernaum. The report went out that he was home. Many people had gathered. There was no room left, even in front of the door. Jesus was speaking God’s word to them.
     Four men came to him carrying a paralyzed man. Since they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof over the place where Jesus was. Then they lowered the cot on which the paralyzed man was lying.
     When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
Mark 2:1-5, GW

Accusing Jesus | February 3, 2017
I have for some time, whenever I read about the Pharisees, try to find myself in the story. It is a little uncomfortable because I hate to admit that I might be less spiritual than Jesus, and possibly part of the problem, rather than the solution. When I set myself up to "judge" their actions, I realize I might be in their story. 

Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, 
Mark 3:2. NIV

Life Lessons from Following Jesus

Speaking Words Of Life | April 22, 2016
Our words have an incredible impact on our lives and the lives of the people we interact with. It only takes one word to hurt, and a few words to heal. Everyone you meet today "NEEDS" an encouraging word from you. There are no exceptions

The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,
Proverbs 10:11a, NIV

What Kind Of Giver Are You? | April 21, 2016
Jesus draws an interesting comparison in this short vignette at the Temple. The level of generosity of the giver is measured by their faith in God's provision and in His ownership of the believer's resources.

As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
Luke 21:1-4, NIV

The Character Of God | April 20, 2016
When you are reading your bible, don't forget to highlight those attributes that reflect the perfect character of God. They will bring you closer to Him. 

I will proclaim the name of the Lord.
   Oh, praise the greatness of our God!
He is the Rock, his works are perfect,
   and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong,
   upright and just is he.
Deuteronomy 32:3-4, NIV

Is Christ Your Life? | April 19, 2016
These verses take me back to my formative years as a disciple of Christ. In that period of my life, I had nothing and needed nothing so Jesus was my life, and pleasing Him was my entire aim. But then, as I was faithful in the little, He began giving me much. In fact, the Lord has given me so much in every realm that often I find myself actually thinking that my life is about those things and I get lost from my true purpose. 

Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers.
Deuteronomy 30:19-20, NIV

Are You Blocking The Way To Jesus? | April 18, 2016
This verse has challenged me every time I have come upon it. Here is the story of a blind man crying out for Jesus and the disciples and others were doing everything they could to block his way. I wonder how many times I have been a hindrance to others in their quest to connect with Jesus.

Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Luke 18:39, NIV

Being Corrected by Jesus

Can You Be Trusted? | April 13, 2016
How we view and handle money is one of the defining values that reflect our spiritual life and growth. Since the Lord uses money as a test of these, we should be aware of its influence and power in our lives.

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?
“No one can serve two masters.
Luke 16:10-13, NIV

April 12, 2016 | Are You Doing Side-By-Side Worship?
There are a lot of things that are vying for our attention in the culture we live in. The fast pace along with options cause us to lose focus on what is important in the eternal scheme of things. Our time is limited so we are tempted to try to multi-task, extend our day by sacrificing sleep, and wake up each day with an anxious and distracted heart. 

Do not set up any wooden Asherah pole beside the altar you build to the Lord your God, and do not erect a sacred stone, for these the Lord your God hates.
Deuteronomy 16:21-22, NIV

Letting Go Of Your Control | April 11, 2016
Trying to control our circumstances is one of greatest hindrances to the spiritual life.  Wherever we try to choose control over trust, we are hindering the work of God and our own spiritual progress. 

I put no trust in my bow,
my sword does not bring me victory;
but you give us victory over our enemies,
you put our adversaries to shame.
Psalms 44:6-7, NIV

Staying True to Jesus

A Thirst For God | April 7, 2016

As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God
Psalms 42:1-2, NIV

Take this verse in again. Go ahead. Read it again. Ok. Now one more time. Can you catch the passion? Can you catch the desperateness? Can you catch the desire? While many follow Christ habitually, few follow with this fervency.

What Is God's Desire For You? | April 6, 2016
Plain and simple, Abba's desire for us is that we would experience His full blessing and experience the joy of knowing Him. In fact, this desire is not just for us but for our children as well. However, there is a caveat. 

Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!
Deuteronomy 5:29, NIV

Right Answer, Wrong Heart | April 5, 2016
The story of the "Good Samaritan" is set up by this interchange with Jesus. The "expert in religion" answers correctly about the priority of loving relationships with God and man being supreme above all other things. However, since this is very difficult to do, he sees if he can "stay correct" while relieving himself of the obligation to love all people. 

And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” 29 But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?"
Luke 10:28-29, NASB

Are You Still Following Jesus | April 4, 2016
Walking with Jesus over the long haul requires a perpetual focus upon who He is as our Lord....  Following Jesus is "Jesus" focused. 

As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."
Luke 9:57-58, NIV

Following Jesus into Holy Week

Humbled By the Cross | March 25, 2016
The cross is the place of peace. It brings us to Jesus in our true self. This sacred place helps us to realize that we are nothing without Him. Though our selfish pride rejects wisdom and trust in exchange for waywardness and self-reliance, the cross puts all of this to rest. We simply release our nothingness and embrace His fulness.

Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
    he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Philippians 2:7-8, NLT

The Most Humbling Activity | March 24, 2016
I was reading a book recently and the author made this statement..."I pray that I will experience humiliation regularly to test if I am growing away from my pride." That is a prayer I have never thought of praying. I don't want to be seen as weak, incapable, inept, or foolish. In fact, if you are like me, we want people to perceive us as having it all together, being on top, and being "successful." 

“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet."
John 13:13-14, NIV

The Practice Of Stillness In The Storm | March 23, 2016
There are few things that will rock our world like being out of relationship with others. The whole of Psalm 37 is an encouragement to be humble and stand instead of fight and run when relationships are being challenged. 

Be still before the Lord
   and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
   when they carry out their wicked schemes.
Psalm 37:7, NIV

Going Backwards | March 22, 2016
Today's reading reminded me of something that crops up in my heart from time to time. It is the tendency of my thoughts to want to pull back to some time in my life where there was less stress and responsibility. The problem is that my memories are over-simplified thoughts of a different stress and responsibility. Most seasons of life have pressure. The Israelites would rather trade the memory of their pressure of slavery in Egypt to the perceived pressure of warfare (even with God fighting for them). 

So they said to one another, “Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt."
Numbers 14:4, NASB

The Tempter's Opportunity | March 21, 2016
As we come to Holy Week, we can see that the final testings were all set to converge.  Jesus was about to confront the religious leaders, the disciple's faith, the betrayal, and the cross. There was enough on His plate to even discourage Jesus. 

When the devil had finished every temptation, he left Him until an opportune time.
Luke 4:13, NASB

Putting Our Relationships First

The Prayer Of Relationship | March 18, 2016
There are many types of prayers we are instructed to utilize as believers. We are taught to intercede, supplicate, petition, entreat, and offer thanksgivings. While all of these are useful and necessary, my favorite prayer is simply the prayer of relationship. This type of prayer does not desire anything but the Lord for Himself. 

Now when Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak with Him, he heard the voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim, so He spoke to him
Numbers 7:89, NASB

The Blessing | March 17, 2016
Sometimes there are gems hidden in the text of seemingly mundane or boring parts of the bible. This is one of the reasons we should read through our bibles once in a while, for we shall glean and capture these treasures. While today's "blessing" is well known by most, it is tucked in the middle of some interesting commands. 

The Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:
“‘“The Lord bless you
      and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
  and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
  and give you peace.”’
“So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them."
Numbers 6:22-27, NIV

Called to the Mundane | March 16, 2016
Many think that God would have them be involved with something really exciting, especially if it has to do with ministry. Our greatest calling is actually to the mundane, un-exciting, obscure service that only the Lord sees. 

As part of all their service at the tent, they are to carry the frames of the tabernacle, its crossbars, posts and bases, as well as the posts of the surrounding courtyard with their bases, tent pegs, ropes, all their equipment and everything related to their use. Assign to each man the specific things he is to carry.
Numbers 4:31-32, NIV

Fighting for Promises | March 14, 2016
Anyone who has been a follower of Jesus for more than a few days gets the idea that the promises of God don't always fall out of the sky like rain. Most often they are obtained through battles. From our salvation, to baptism, to 40 days of testing, to ministry, either ourselves or someone else has had to battle for our blessing.

You and Aaron are to count according to their divisions all the men in Israel who are twenty years old or more and able to serve in the army.
Numbers 1:3, NIV

Living as Jesus' Disciples

Resting In Forgiveness | March 11, 2016
As we come to the weekend, I am reminded that with every Sabbath, we have an opportunity to reset our lives with the Lord and each other. Keeping short accounts of our sin and the sins of others is one of the keys to the life of peace. 

Blessed is the one
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
whose sin the Lord does not count against them
and in whose spirit is no deceit.
Psalms 32:1-2, NIV

A Constant Encouragement | March 10, 2016
The bible is a gift that the Lord gave to us to be a constant encouragement to us. Within it are found the words of life for salvation, instruction in wisdom, points of correction, and words that lift us up in times of grief, sadness, darkness and disorientation. 

Be strong and take heart,
all you who hope in the Lord.
Psalms 31:24, NIV

A Key Command For Consumers | March 9, 2016
When we read through the laws in Leviticus, we should be looking for principles of the Spirit that are universal to all people. Many of the commands were intended specifically for the Israelites, but within them is the heart of Abba from a universal perspective. While the laws do not apply to our context, the wisdom and principles always apply. 

“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God."
Leviticus 19:9-10, NIV

How To Keep Your Commitments | March 8, 2016
We have all made promises to ourselves and others that at the time we really believed we would keep. "I'm going to lose five pounds." "I'm never going to raise my voice to my children." I'm going to stick to a budget." "I am going to read my bible every day." These and hundreds of other commitments have been made at a time before the test.

But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same.
Mark 14:31, NIV

Unusual Sightings | March 7, 2016
It is crazy how many "divine appointments" we will have when we begin to tune in to the Holy Spirit. Without regular times with the Lord, honing our spiritual senses, we miss these opportunities. This is one of the incredible tragedies of our lives. The Lord has so many connections for us to make, but we walk right by them. 

So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him.
Mark 14:13, NIV

When Jesus Challenges Us

Bonus Day | February 29, 2016
Happy Leap Day! Every four years we are receive one free bonus day to spend. This day, like all others is vitally important in the grand scheme of your life, yet few perceive it.

I remain confident of this:
  I will see the goodness of the Lord
  in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
  be strong and take heart
  and wait for the Lord.
Psalms 27:13-14, NIV

The Biggest Hindrance To Unanswered Prayer | March 2, 2016
The greatest hindrance to our prayers is unforgiveness. Even if we obtain our desires, we are missing the most important piece of life... loving each other. 

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours. But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.”
Mark 11:22-25, NLT

Dramatic Worship | March 3, 2016
Worship in the New Testament age is a contrast to the Old Testament. Everything the Israelites experienced came from outside of them through second hand worshippers, called priests. In the Age of Jesus, everything comes unfiltered from the inside of our lives where the Holy Spirit lives. 

Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting. When they came out and blessed the people, the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. Then fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the portions of fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.
Leviticus 9:23-24, NASB

What It Means To Be All In | March 4, 2016
We often find ourselves being challenged to get closer or go further with Jesus. Most of our discipleship is a calling to abandon, pursue, and divest ourselves of the old life. Is it enough to simply give our lives incrementally, or should we throw ourselves fully into the hands of our Lord?

A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on."
Mark 12:42-44, NASB

Ministry Lessons from Jesus

Learning Essentialism | February 22, 2016
We clutter our lives with all sorts of complications, filling our schedules and our homes with things that will have no lasting impact. While reading today's scripture, I was reminded that Jesus was an Essentialist. 

Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits. These were his instructions:“Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town.
Mark 6:7-10, NIV

Missing The Miracle | February 23, 2016
Is it possible to see Jesus do incredible things in our lives over many days, weeks, and years and still have our hearts hardened? Of course. So what do we do in these times? 

Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.
Mark 6:50b-52, NIV

A Passion For God's Glory | February 24, 2016
There is something in the heart of every Christ follower that longs for a greater revelation of the Lord. Instead of pursuing God themselves, they trade their personal experience for a vicarious one. Like watching the Discovery channel, they never get off the couch and take a walk in the woods.  

Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”
Exodus 33:18, NIV

Unconventional Ministry | February 25, 2016
I often tell people that Jesus wasn't/isn't weird. He was the most normal person who ever walked the planet. However, this ministry episode may be seen in a different light. Here Jesus is doing something completely unconventional. I am sure He could heal Him with a touch or even without one. Why did He choose this unconventional approach?

After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue.
Mark 7:33, NIV

Holding on to Jesus in the Tough Times

Don't Be Afraid | February 15, 2016
One of the most often used statements in the bible is, "Don't be afraid." Fear, worry, and anxiety, grip most people's live on a regular basis. Since we live in a world of uncertainty, our emotional state is heightened much of the time. Jesus came to set us free from this malady and restore our peace. 

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid."
Matthew 28:8-10, NIV

Is This God's Plan? | February 16, 2016
Following our Lord will eventually bring us to times of disillusionment or confusion about where He is leading us in our lives. During these times, we may question Abba and His wisdom instead of strengthen our trust and resolve. 

They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?"
Exodus 17:3, NIV

Grace Alone | February 17, 2016
Most of us consciously or unconsciously want to appear to others like we have our lives "all together." This positioning of our "goodness" can creep into our lives with the Lord. However, since the Lord knows us from the inside out, we must learn to come to Him just as we are. 

“Make an altar of earth for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, your sheep and goats and your cattle. Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you. If you make an altar of stones for me, do not build it with dressed stones, for you will defile it if you use a tool on it."
Exodus 20:24-25, NIV

Which Is Easier? | February 18, 2016
Without thinking about it, most of us would answer this question as if a physical healing was the more difficult proposition. When we are praying for the sick or some seemingly difficult situation, we equate it as one of the hardest things for the Lord to do. Of course, this is not the case. In fact, Jesus reminds us that His healing touch is the easier of the things He compares. 

Which is easier:to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? 10 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, 11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home."
Mark 2:9-11, NIV

I'm Having A Difficult Time Expressing Myself | February 19, 2016
Sometimes we don't get it. The Lord's thoughts are not our thoughts and the Lord's ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8). 

Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?"
Mark 4:13, NIV

Letting Jesus Show Us How to Live and Love

Do You See Jesus | February 8, 2016
Jesus makes the most profound analogy in these verses. He is saying, that we should see everyone as if we were looking at Jesus himself, especially those we have a tendency to overlook or even look down upon.

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’"
Matthew 25:40, NIV

The Timeless Call Of Abba | February 9, 2016
Our calling as Christians has less to do with knowledge of the bible or our spiritual growth, or staying qualified for heaven. The reason the Lord leaves us on earth is to fulfill our calling to help bring freedom, good news, and life to those who are suffering. We are God's answer to helping a world that is perishing. 

The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey —the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
Exodus 3:7-10, NIV

Completely Inadequate | February 10, 2016
Most of us are more concerned about what we cannot do over what we can do. When Moses received His assignment from God, He looked at his insecurities, giftedness, and experience and determined that he was totally inadequate for the mission. This "should" be our response as disciples of Christ. If we think we have what it takes, we will surely rely upon ourselves rather than the Holy Spirit. 

Moses answered, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?” Then the Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand? “A staff,” he replied.
Exodus 4:1-2, NIV

What To Do With Accusations | February 11, 2016
There will be times in our lives when we will be misunderstood and possibly accused of things that we have neither done or had motive to do. In these last pages of Matthew, we find the most truthful, pure, and right person who ever walked the earth standing before those who were determined to see evil in him. 

Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?”  But Jesus remained silent.
Matthew 26:62-63, NIV

Getting Up | February 12, 2016
We all fall. We all fall short. We all miss our goals. We all get discouraged. It is during these times that we have to make a choice.

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
  but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall,
  but we rise up and stand firm.
Psalms 20:7-8, NIV

Listening to Jesus through the Scriptures

But They Refused | February 1, 2016
Some of the saddest words in the bible are recorded in this verse, "...but they refused to come." Why would anyone refuse to come to a wedding banquet prepared by a king?

Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come."
Matthew 21:1-3, NIV

Trapping Jesus | February 2, 2016
When we are listening for the voice of Jesus, are we simply waiting for Him to say what we want to hear?

Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words.
Matthew 22:15, NIV

Phoning Home | February 3, 2016
One of my favorite attributes of the Lord is that He hears us. There are times when we feel alone, in trouble, distressed, and stressed, but like David, we can learn and know that we can always call home.

In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.
Psalm 18:6, NIV

It's Worth It | February 4, 2016

Wisdom is often associated with old people. The first chapters of the book of Proverbs are a father's exhortation to his "young" son to get wisdom as a young person, which means it is possible to be a young (or younger) person who has obtained it. There are three ways to gain wisdom.

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom.
Though it cost all you have, get understanding.
Proverbs 4:7, NIV

Words From The Storm | February 5, 2016
We often reflect on Elijah's experience of hearing the Lord in the whispering voice, but here we have the Lord speaking out of the "storm." The Hebrew word here can mean tempest or even hurricane. When we are in a storm of life, the Lord is still speaking. However, in the case of Job He wasn't speaking answers, but questions.

Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm.
Job 38:1, NIV

Following Jesus into Freedom

Fearing Your Forgiveness | January 25, 2016
Let the full forgiveness of Christ's finished work, calm your mind and cheer your soul. He loves you, forgives you, and only has good planned for your life. Let Him love you. It will bring a smile to His face. 

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph:I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly. ’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.
(Genesis 50:15-17, NIV)

Debt Free Living | January 26, 2016
Forgiving others and living in forgiveness is the number one factor for growing spiritually, loving, and ultimately experiencing happiness and joy. 

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy- seven times."
(Matthew 18:21-22, NIV)

Exceptions For A Hard Heart | January 27, 2016
A good portion of our lives is spent looking for loopholes when we are facing difficulties and trials. Instead of rising to Abba's original intention for our lives, we find convenient scriptures, people to agree with our brokenness, and now, "God's grace" to try to release us from transforming to His image. Jesus reminds us that grace is not the problem. It is our heart. 

Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning."
(Matthew 19:8, NIV)

Is God Unfair? | January 28, 2016
We can never look at what we have done for the Lord, or how obedient we are, as a sign of worthiness. Rather, whether we come to Jesus as a child or on our death bed, Abba has deemed that we will receive His grace in the same way.

“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’"
(Matthew 20:13-15, NIV)

When Jesus Makes A Mess | January 29, 2016
This episode has always bothered me. The gentle Jesus in my mind goes into the Temple and starts making a mess and driving out money changers and the "sacrifice" salesmen. I can understand his passion against the injustice, but His actions shock me each time I read it. So I have to back up. 

Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”
(Matthew 21:12-13, NIV)

Choosing to Follow Jesus When Life Gets Hard

Below is a digest of the daily email messages composed by Pastor Stuart Nice for the third week of January. This week he is encouraging us to choose to walk with Jesus, especially if the way is unclear. Click the title of each to read the full article.

What Is Happening Behind The Scenes | January 18, 2016
God is always doing an amazing and mysterious work in the lives of his children. Though we do not understand the mechanics of his ways, he is working throughout our lives in a manner that is bringing about his purpose and blessing for us. 

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field."
“The kingdom of heaven is like leaven."
(Matthew 13:31, 33, NASB)

The Problem Of Familiarity | January 19, 2016
As we grow in friendship and familiarity with Jesus we can begin to take Him for granted, thinking that we know how He is going to act or think about something we are concerned about.

"Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at Him. But Jesus said to them, “ A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” And He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief.
(Matthew 13:55-58, NASB)

Going Beyond The Pain | January 20, 2016
When people are in grief and pain, give them some space to get their emotional needs resolved. Don't allow your pain to keep you from love. The Holy Spirit has empowered us with compassion and love beyond our emotions. Let love drive us past our pain and the feelings associated with them. 

Now when Jesus heard about John, He withdrew from there in a boat to a secluded place by Himself; and when the people heard of this, they followed Him on foot from the cities. When He went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and felt compassion for them and healed their sick.
(Matthew 14:13-14, NASB)

Recognizing Your Brothers | January 21, 2016
We see what we are looking for. Our vision is influenced by our perspective, which enables most of us to have a particular way of excluding others.

But Joseph had recognized his brothers, although they did not recognize him.
(Genesis 42:8, NASB)

The Danger Of Trusting Your Feelings | January 22, 2016
David has such an honest and raw way of expressing Himself in song. This psalm, like many others, begins with an honest emotional reflection and prayer. Though David usually works his emotions back to the truth of who God is and what He is really doing, he has no problem laying out the facts as he "feels" them. 

For the choir director. A Psalm of David.
1 How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?
     How long will You hide Your face from me?
2 How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
     Having sorrow in my heart all the day?
     How long will my enemy be exalted over me?

5 But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness;
     My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
6 I will sing to the Lord,
     Because He has dealt bountifully with me
(Psalms 13:1-2, 5-6, NASB)

Living in Conversation with Jesus

Below is a digest of the daily email messages composed by Pastor Stuart Nice for the second week of January. This week he is encouraging us to engage Jesus as a life conversation partner. Click the title of each to read the full article.

When Fear Grips Us | January 11, 2016
Practicing trust in the face of uncertainty is where our relationship with Jesus is brought to deeper understandings. When times are stormy, all of our walks with Him in the sunshine become so much more important.

And they came to Him and woke Him, saying, “ Save us, Lord; we are perishing!” He *said to them, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it became perfectly calm. The men were amazed, and said, “What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?"
(Matthew 8:25-27, NASB)

Seeking to Touch Jesus | January 12, 2016
The scriptures reveal her "self-talk." "If I can touch Him, He will heal me." She had an absolutely resolute belief that Jesus had the answer and getting to Him would be enough.

And a woman who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years, came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His cloak; 21 for she was saying to herself, “If I only touch His garment, I will get well.” 22 But Jesus turning and seeing her said, “Daughter, take courage; your faith has made you well.” At once the woman was made well.
(Matthew 9:20-22, NASB)

What's Wrong With My Kids? | January 13, 2016
Don't be discouraged, simply start moving in the direction you want to see your children walk in. With your prayers, and the presence of the Holy Spirit, you will see the fruit of you efforts.

So Isaac lived in Gerar. When the men of the place asked about his wife, he said, “ She is my sister,” for he was afraid to say, “my wife,” thinking, “ the men of the place might kill me on account of Rebekah, for she is beautiful."
(Genesis 26:6-7, NASB)

Stairway To Heaven | January 14, 2016
There are a few times in our lives when we are so profoundly impacted by an encounter with the Lord that it becomes the pivot point of our lives. These moments of encounter change everything for us.

He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac."
(Genesis 28:12-13, NASB)

Walking Together | January 15, 2016
Our relationship with the Lord is the key to our trust in Him. We know Him when we walk with Him. Take Jesus up on His invitation. Come to Him. Stop carrying the load alone. Take the walk together.

And those who know Your name will put their trust in You,
For You, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You.
(Psalms 9:10, NASB)

"Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy- laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."
(Matthew 11:28-30, NASB)