A great way to grow closer to the Lord is to read His word, pray, and write down what He is teaching you! Many of the people at Paradise Calvary Chapel do just that and we get to share them with you here!
2017 has been an interesting year, and a bit of a rough one for a lot of people. Hurricanes off the coast have destroyed homes and displaced countless people; Mexico saw it’s most powerful earthquake in decades; the north west has been ravaged by some of the worst structural fires they have seen—one such structure included the home of my sister and her family. Not to mention all of the geopolitical turmoil threatening the world. All in all, one may think it was the end of the world, and ironic enough, many have. But we as Christians should know better, and not give into the temptation of surrendering to fear. Terrible things in this world happen, but it’s important to remember two things: this is a broken world, and we have a brighter future in store for us.
I was speaking with someone recently about how it seemed like the Armageddon, I was able to tell them with confidence that I doubted it. Even though many people may be heralding the apocalypse, it is important to remember that this is an imperfect world, and as time goes on, that imperfection is going to become more apparent. Paul mentions it in Romans 8:22 when he tells his audience: “For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.” Birth pangs seems to be an apt description of all of the chaos and unrest around the world, but we also know that this isn’t the first time bad things have happened—a wise king once wrote about how there is nothing new under the sun. While the end-times may not be far off, this is not the first time catastrophe has struck, people seem to forget that.
The picture one sees when they imagine the world becoming even more worn down is not a pretty one, until it is repainted with the promises given to us by God. In fact, in the very same chapter I quoted from, Paul says: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose,” (Romans 8:28). Even if things seem bleak, God has promised that things work out in the end for His children—if not in this world, than in the next—and God has proven it time and again. Joseph was sold as a slave and ended up saving his family from famine; Paul was arrested, which let him preach the gospel in Rome; and believers in Europe were persecuted to the point of fleeing across the ocean to a land that would eventually become America. No matter how badly things get, God is ultimately in control, and even if it’s beyond our reasoning, He has a plan. Knowing that, and trusting in His promises, lets us face any disaster head on.
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.
“Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”
When Tim and I were in Croatia we lived in a house that had a yard in front, over the yard there were these wonderful grape vines. The purpose of the vines was not to grow grapes to eat, it was to create a canopy for shade during the summer months. Those vines were beautiful and healthy, they grew so thick that there was a solid canopy of vines and leaves and were very effective as a shade from the sun. Every fall though, the man who owned our apartment would come and prune back the vines (well, after the first year he made Tim do it). I was always amazed at how much he cut back; he seemed ruthless, the beautiful foliage that had been was reduced to bare, naked vines, devoid of any leaves or branches. I would sometimes question our landlord’s wisdom; why did he prune so deep? Was it really necessary to cut so much away? However, our landlord was a much more experienced gardener than I am, and sure enough, every spring we would see the sign of new leaves and branches, and soon our beautiful canopy was again providing lovely shade from that hot summer sun.
Recently, I’ve been considering Jesus’ statement that He is the vine, and we are the branches. Not only that, but His Father is the vinedresser, and as the vinedresser He lovingly prunes those branches, whenever they need pruning. Somehow, I am surprised whenever I find myself in a season of pruning. I am surprised at myself; how am I, an experienced Christian still in need of such intense pruning? I am surprised at the Lord sometimes; how can He allow me to go through such hard seasons? Why is He allowing these things in my life? As I find myself asking these questions I have to go back to this portion of scripture; “every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” As I’ve grown in my experience with the Lord I have come to realize that I will hopefully never get to the point that He is no longer pruning me. Just as those vines in my yard needed thorough pruning every season, the Lord cares enough for us to make sure that we receive pruning regularly. I never want to find myself in a place where the discomfort of a season causes me to reject the loving care of my Gardener.
The author of Hebrews puts it this way; “Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” As we walk with the Lord, we will find ourselves sometimes in a place of barrenness, or maybe feel like we’ve been stripped down to nothing; I pray that we all learn to yield to our heavenly Gardener, He really does know what He is doing, and afterward we will always experience the abundance of fruitfulness that comes from the care of the Master Gardener.
Do you star gaze? It’s hard to do it in a city like Las Vegas, but growing up in the mountains of northern California, far from the brilliant shine of a metropolis, I would spend hours at night doing little else but stare at the dancing lights above. I’ve had a certain affinity for stars most of my life, and the times that they are mentioned in the bible have always stood out to me. Especially verses like Psalm 19:1 “To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David. The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.” When looking up at a canopy of twinkling lights, it becomes easy to realize how small you are in the universe, and how powerful God is.
Sometimes, it’s mind boggling to me that people can look up at the stars and not believe in God. At the same time, it’s equalling astounding that a Being capable of creating the universe itself cares about me personally. Perhaps it’s written best in Psalms 8:3-4 when David says: “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained, What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him?” The bible says that God knows each of the stars by name, but He also knows the number of hairs on each of our heads! I know by experience that the more you know about something, generally the more you care about it; and the more you care about something, the more you are willing to give up for it.
This year, a special event in the cosmos occurred. A rare eclipse that covered the continent, one of its like that hadn’t been seen in nearly half a century. Being an astronomy enthusiast, and wanting to see an eclipse my entire life, I left for Oregon—nearly a thousand mile trip one way. The experience was amazing, and the perspective it gave even more so. If you read the bible, you’ll see that it took only four days before God created the stars in an almost effortless manor. This big, amazing, inconceivable thing that we call the universe was constructed in less time than a business week. Conversely, it took most of human history, at the cost of God’s own Son, to redeem mankind.
When I recall witnessing the eclipse, I can’t help but think about the wisemen that traveled all the way to Bethlehem because of what they saw in the sky. These men risked their lives to cross hundreds of miles in order to worship Jesus and present costly gifts. While I can’t compare that to my trip just to look at a large ball of molten plasma be obscured by what amounts to be a big rock, I considered it all worth it. In contrast, God traveled from Heaven itself in order to make a way for us to have a relationship with Him in His wondrous home above; and what’s amazing is that He must have thought it was worth it too. It didn’t cost God anything to make Heaven, but it cost God more than any of us can comprehend so that we could be there with Him.
As Jesus stood before Pilot, Pilot asked Him if He understood that he, Pilot, had the power to crucify Him or set Him free. Jesus answered Pilot, “You could have no power against Me unless it were given to you from above…” (John 19:10-11)
This has always been my favorite passage as, to me, it demonstrates the power of God. But over time, the Lord has shown me that the demonstration of God's power is found in His love. There is no greater power than God’s love; for it was God’s love for us that allowed Jesus to be crucified. The world tells us that in order to love others, one must first love his or her self. One must also put his or her self first, and not worry about others. But God tells us to love Him first, and love one another as He loves us.
(John 13:34 “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. As I have loved you, you should also love one another.”)
For if we love God first and foremost, we will take the background and put others before us. If we love Him first, His love will flow through us and pour out on others. This love is only possible once we experience His great love for us. Jesus told us to love our enemies.
Matthew 5:43-44 “You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I say to you, Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who despitefully use you and persecute you…”
How is it possible to love someone who hates you? Or caused a great tragedy in your life? It is only through God’s love for us, and our love for Him that this is possible. Again, if His love is flowing through us, it will pour out on others.
1Jn 4:16-21 “And we have known and believed the love that God has in us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. In this is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment, that as He is, so also we are in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear has torment. He who fears has not been perfected in love. We love Him because He first loved us. If anyone says, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar. For if he does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And we have this commandment from Him, that he who loves God should love his brother also.”
There is no greater power than the love of God – for God is love. And through His love is the power to cast out our fears, to love Him, to love each other, and love our enemies.
Recently I've been reading through the book of Colossians in my personal time. During the time in which this book was written there had already begun to circulate some early heretical groups that claimed a secret knowledge to salvation and which detracted from the diety of Christ. So it seems that Paul wrote this letter for the sake of reminding this church of the truth and power of the gospel by which they were saved. I found that these few verses sum up pretty well the message of this book:
"As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power." - Col 2:6-10
Throughout this book and in this current season of life, I've been reminded of the centrality of the gospel for the believer. I feel like I am rooted and established in the faith, being a believer in Jesus for a number of years now, but I've also found that it's easy to get caught up in living life apart from a DAILY recognition of what I've been saved from and for. Sometimes I tend to loose sight of the grace and mercy of God when I forget to meditate on the gospel's message periodically. In all of Paul's letters, no matter what the main message was, Jesus and the gospel are saturated all throughout his writings. He was always bringing things back to the the roots of our faith.
Jesus is the climax of history and the climax of the whole story of the Bible. It was Him who the whole Old Testament pointed to, and in Him we are able to partake in the "mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints... which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." (Col 2:2 & 27b). This is such a simple fact, yet also such a complex and brainwrecking fact. I can take comfort in knowing the simplicity of the gospel and how I've been saved from sin, yet I can think on this "mystery" every day for the rest of my life and still be enamered by it and surprised by the profoundness of it. The gospel should never be exhausted of it's impact in our lives and the day that it does we should recognize that something is wrong. We've slipped into complacency or into acedia (spiritual apathy) and need to be reminded by God's Word again that we can live into and live from the power of the gospel that only the Holy Spirit can birth into our hearts and minds and souls.
I came into marriage not really understanding the concept of being a "helpmeet". Life was still about what I wanted and what I wanted to accomplish. That turned out to be very destructive over the years; There was a point where things were in shambles, but God started turning me towards being a helpmeet in action.
Now we have come to a season where we are as polarized on certain things as the nation is on politics. I have been trying to just give my opinion. The problem is that my husband already knows my opinion and my opinion at this point is destroying more than helping.
God has brought me to 1 Samuel 24:1-12, 15-22 about David in the caves and King Saul chasing to kill him.
1 Samuel 24:3-6 say this:
"So he Saul came to the sheep folds by the road, where there was a cave; and Saul went in to attend his needs (David and his men were staying in the recesses of the cave). Then the men of David said to him, "This is the day of which the Lord said to you, Behold I will deliver your enemy into your hand, that you may do to him as it seems good to you. And David arose and secretly cut off a corner of Sauls robe. Now it happened afterward that Davids heart troubled him because he had cut Sauls robe. And he said to his men, "The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my master, the Lords anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord"."
David knew in his heart he was not to orchestrate the events that would move him on to the next season. A season of kingship! I feel I am in the caves like David. It's a hard season of letting go of interests and identity that are from the flesh. Like David it is not my place to strategize how short I can make this season of learning to be a helpmeet, not focused on self.
Then, David confronted Saul and let Saul know what had happened.
1 Samuel 24:17-21 is Sauls response. David was able to show Saul he was not out to further himself. Anything that happened would be because of Gods will! I have the choice to learn about being a genuine helpmeet from the heart. God has shown me this is what He desires! My other alternative is to try to alter things to my advantage and comfort. In this season I believe it would be to early to go directions that may ultimately be God's revealed will. If we went that direction now we would be ill equipped, walking towards temptation and towards distractions, leading away from God and giving glory to self.
In conclusion, God has shown me His hands are on the situation, so I will choose to trust!
Our family recently went on a short vacation to Southern California. We went there to attend our friends wedding anniversary and of course to enjoy the world famous west coast beaches. As you can imagine our 3 year old daughter didn't care much about the party. It was the beach she could not wait to get to. We told her we were going to go about a month ago. She asked as about the trip everyday, including the whole 5 hour drive there. Her excitement could not be contained.
It reminded me of the trips I took as a kid, always anxious to leave and start the adventure. I would wake up early, make sure my bag was packed, and ensure no one was waking up late. I could not stop thinking and talking about it.
Now that I'm older, I still get excited about the trip but never to the extent I used to. There are all these other worries in my head; I'm making sure everything's ready not just for my self but the whole family. I want to work out all of the little details, anticipate different scenarios etc. The experience is not the same as that of a little kid.
All of this got me thinking about my final destination as a Christian. Obviously that ultimately is eternity with God. That's a lot better than a mere vacation in Southern California. It would make sense that I would be a lot more excited about it than taking any trip as a kid. But am I?
The answer is yes, however I feel I'm not excited enough, or at least not often enough. See, as our vacation was approaching my daughter could not stop asking about it. It was a daily thing. I don't remind myself enough of where I'm headed as a follower of Jesus Christ. If I did I wouldn't struggle so much with feeling discouraged. I wouldn't be able to stop sharing about it with others. I wouldn't lose the eternal perspective we're all called to have.
When I first came to know Jesus, the excitement was overwhelming, but after a while it wasn't the same as that first love I had in the beginning (Rev. 2:4). It's like when I plan vacation as an adult versus a kid; I start to worry about other things in life, all of the little details. All that does though, is distract me from God.
Let's rejoice and be reminded: the day awaits where we will get to spend eternity in the presence of our God.
Have you turned on the news lately? If you have, then you’ve probably noticed the flames of passionate anger being stoked by the various anchors, analysts, and reporters. This isn’t a problem on one side of the political aisle or the other. It seems that everyone is angry, and they’re encouraging others to partake in that anger. Fostering a culture of indignation, frustration, and hatred. It’s enough to make even the most hardboiled of cynics want to turn off the TV. There’s no mistaking that divides are deepening, but no matter how much media may tell us that we should be outraged it’s important to remember our witness.
Over the course of the past year, I’ve been around people of differing political and world beliefs a great deal of time. Some of these people hold completely opposite opinions than I do; yet, I still befriended many of them. I became their friend for one simple reason: I loved them. I often chose not to speak about my opinions and simply made myself available and helpful to them; those that grew closer to me I shared some of my stances with. I could have gone in straight with the direct message to argue my point, but even if confrontation like that was my forte, nobody would have listened. I would have become another screaming voice, begging to be heard and destined to be dismissed.
I was able to talk and share my opinion with these people by having them want to be a part of my life, and I was pleasantly surprised a few times when my offers to visit church with me were accepted in kind. Some hadn’t been to church in more than a long time, and I can’t help but think that part of the reason why they were comfortable going was because they didn’t have to feel alone in the crowd. I’ve really seen this year how important it is to express love to people through how you live, and how much a soft tone will get through what a shouting match can’t.
As the world dips further into chaos, and emotions are rising, I can’t help but be reminded of Psalm two, verse one: “Why do the nations rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?” Rage seems to be more than appropriate to describe some of the passion and vitriol that people have for their beliefs right now; not just in America, but all over the world. But that’s never how the Bible teaches Christians to behave, and it’s important to remember the compassion and patience that we are instructed to have. I find it more than a little ironic that often in the Bible, God spoke with people when they were alone, and with a ’still, small, voice.’ The world is full of so much noise right now, that it’s hard to hear the call of truth and love. As counterintuitive as it may seem, sometimes it’s with a quiet voice that we can speak the loudest.
James 4:8, "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you."
Communication is vital to any relationship. Effective and frequent communication is how we grow closer to those in our lives. Ineffective and infrequent communication is likely to push people away and cause strife. Over the years I've learned that the type of relationships we have is highly dependent upon how we are able to communicate with each other. When I speak with the cashier at the grocery store, topics are surface-level and brief. I speak to them long enough to get through the line and then promptly forget about them once they are done doing what I needed from them. If I were to speak with my husband that way, I could hardly expect to grow closer to him, let alone maintain the relationship we have. The same goes for our relationship with the Lord.
Using the Bible as a guide, we see how David communicates with the Lord in Psalms. He cries out to God and asks questions of God constantly:
Psalm 25:4-5 and 16-17,
"Show me Your ways, O Lord;
Teach me Your paths.
Lead me in Your truth and teach me,
For You are the God of my salvation;
On You I wait all the day.
Turn Yourself to me, and have mercy on me,
For I am desolate and afflicted.
The troubles of my heart have enlarged;
Bring me out of my distresses!"
David was a man after God's own heart because he desperately wanted to know God's heart and fervently expressed his own heart to God. He doesn’t merely seek the Lord when he needs help; he sought to know Him and His ways, whatever it took. We can clearly see throughout 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 Chronicles, and Psalms how God drew closer to David when David drew closer to Him. They maintained good communication with each other.
Many Christians often say that they want to hear from the Lord, but still many of them are communicating with God on a surface-level, just getting what they need and going on their way. We can create effective and frequent communication by expressing our hearts to God in prayer and by letting Him communicate with us through reading His Word and being still.
"Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!"