Bread – Chosen

May 22, 2009


Readings for Thursday, May 22   
    from the Book of Common Prayer:
    Ezek. 1:28-3:3; Heb. 4:14-5:6; Luke 9:28-36
    Psalms 87, 90, 136
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I am small and not naturally very athletically able.  Not only that, but I wear glasses.  Therefore, when the "popular kids" were choosing sides for their scratch football game, it was really important that I be chosen pretty high up in the ranks.  We were all chosen, ultimately, but it was terrible when you felt like you were the "Oh well" part of the last division of leftover people.  Unfortunately, I experienced being in the last round of the draft a lot.

But no matter when it was, it still felt good to be chosen.  It does feel good to be chosen, doesn’t it?

Our readings today talk about being chosen.  First, we are presented with the choosing of Ezekiel.  The Lord says to Ezekiel "Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you…I am sending you to the Israelites."  Ezek. 2:1-3.  In Hebrews, we are presented a lesson on priesthood — "Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed … No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God …" Heb. 5:1-4.  Third, Luke reports the calling of those disciples to witness the Transfiguration — "…He [Jesus] took Peter, John and James with Him and went up onto a mountain to pray."  Luke 9:28

Unlike our little game of football, however, in none of these cases did men do the choosing – it was God who chose, God who revealed, and God who enabled.  In Ezekiel, God says that He is the One sending Ezekiel to Israel.  Just so that Ezekiel would not think that he had any merit, when God told Ezekiel to stand up, it was not Ezekiel who stood but it was God who raised Ezekiel to his feet (Ezek. 2:2 — "As He spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet …").  In Hebrews, the writer points out that it was not even Jesus who chose Himself, but God, saying "So Christ also did not take upon Himself the glory of becoming a high priest.  But God said to Him, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father.’" Heb. 5:5  And, as we quoted previously in Luke, it was Christ who "took" Peter, John, and James to the Mount of Transfiguration.  In all three events, God revealed Himself.

There are other aspects of choosing revealed in these passages.  Note that God chooses individuals, one at a time.  He doesn’t say "you group" when it comes to being chosen.  Being chosen is something that happens one at a time.  Another observation is God’s choosing of people occurs over all periods of time.  Finally, one might note that each of these people is chosen into a different purpose or role – Ezekiel was chosen as prophet, Jesus as high priest, and the three in Luke as witnesses.

Now let us turn the focus away from abstract characters of history and toward us.  You (I) am chosen by God.  God chose us to be born, He chose us to survive our parents, He chose us to read this Bread, and He chose us to be with Him for eternity by sending His Son to die for us.  And when He asked us if we believed in Him, He chose us by having His Spirit stand us up so we could (and can) respond.

Obedience followed the choosing in each event reported in Scripture today.  Ezekiel obeyed God by eating the scroll.  Jesus obeyed God to death on the cross.  Peter, John and James obeyed Christ by going with Him up the mountain.

You are chosen, but what is your response?  Obedience or indifference?  Joy or neutrality?

Maybe you don’t want to be on the team, but as for me, I am very, very happy to have been chosen.  How about you?  What is your response?

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Lord, help us to wisely answer the question, "Will you really lay down your life for Me?"  Lord, help us to love your Word, incarnate in Jesus Christ and written in Scripture, and to solely rely upon them as our source of information about how we should live.  Help us Lord to come to You, once having come to You to become closer to You, and to preach the Gospel to all people in all circumstances, in and out of season, as You have commanded.  Help us know that You are God and we are not.  Assist us Lord through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to be willing and obedient servants.  It is only through the merits of your Son Jesus Christ that we are empowered to even make this prayer.  And so we thank You and praise You!  Amen.
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Bread – Ascended

May 20, 2009


Readings for Wednesday, May 20   
    from the Book of Common Prayer:
    James 5:13-18; 2 Kings 2:1-15;
    Luke 12:22-31; Rev. 5:1-14
    Psalms 68, 119:97-120   
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The reason for the multiple readings above is that tonight, according to the Book of Common Prayer, is the eve of the ascension of Christ.  The Ascension is one of the great celebrations of the church, and yet I’ll bet that very few have heard of it and that even fewer do anything to celebrate it.  I fall in this last category, unfortunately.

But one of the great things about writing Bread is that I get to stumble across these pieces of the church calendar which I have forgotten, and to therefore consider things which I would otherwise skip over in the busyness (business) of daily living.

There is a certain "so what?" which falls over us.  However, we acknowledge that these events form a chain, and in many respects each element of the chain is of equal merit, because without the entire chain we could, because of our sin, have nothing to do with the Father.  Each link in the chain has to be strong, because any chain is no stronger than its weakest link.  Of course, because this chain is forged by God, the links are infinitely strong.  However, our understanding of the links probably do not match their quality.

Without the incarnation there would be no birth.  Without the birth there would be no death.  Without the death there would be no resurrection.  Without the resurrection there would be no ascension.  So we have proceeded from Advent through Christmas to Good Friday and Easter.  But Easter does not end the story.  After Easter and a short stay on earth, Jesus ascends to the Father and it is this event and special church day we focus on today.

Luke reports the Ascension as follows:

"When He had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, He lifted up His hands and blessed them.  While He was blessing them, He left them and was taken up into heaven."  Luke 24:50-51

"In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day He was taken up to heaven…After He said this, He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight."  Acts 1:1-2, 9

Why is this an important link in the chain of salvation?  I suggest at least three reasons and you may have many more.

The first reason has to do with Jesus’ glory and sovereignty.  The IVP Dictionary of the New Testament (2004 Intervarsity Press) has this to say about the role of the ascension of Christ and His sovereignty, quoting from the article on the Gospel of Luke, paragraph 3.2.4:

"The key event at the center of God’s provision of salvation is the resurrection/ascension…A risen Savior is one who can rule and consummate His promise…In short, the ascension shows that He is Lord."

The second reason has to do with the gift of the Holy Spirit, which we will celebrate at Pentecost.  As Jesus said,

"I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."  Luke 24:49

And the third reason concerns the end times and our own ability to be brought into the throne room of God.  To quote from today’s reading from Revelation:

"And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?’…I wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside.  Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed…Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne….He came and took the scroll … Then I heard every creature in heaven and earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: ‘To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, forever and ever."  Rev. 5:1-13

Had not Christ ascended, He would not be sitting on the throne of God, the scroll would not be read, and prophecy would not be fulfilled.

So let us take a moment today and be grateful for this link in the chain of salvation, that Jesus Christ, having been born, crucified, and resurrected, then ascended into heaven, to sit at the right hand of the Father, to send the Holy Spirit to us, and to thereafter return again to reign in glory.

If that last paragraph sounds familiar, it should.  It comes from the Nicene Creed, adopted by the Church 1,700 years ago:

"…For us and our salvation, He came down from heaven:
By the power of the Holy Spirit He became incarnate from the Virgin Mary and was made man.
For our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate; He suffered death and was buried.
On the third day He rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom will have no end."

Thank you Lord for the day you ascended to the Father.  Thank you for this opportunity to remember this massive display of Your power and glory!

He is risen and ascended.  Glory to God!

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Lord, help us to wisely answer the question, "Will you really lay down your life for Me?"  Lord, help us to love your Word, incarnate in Jesus Christ and written in Scripture, and to solely rely upon them as our source of information about how we should live.  Help us Lord to come to You, once having come to You to become closer to You, and to preach the Gospel to all people in all circumstances, in and out of season, as You have commanded.  Help us know that You are God and we are not.  Assist us Lord through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to be willing and obedient servants.  It is only through the merits of your Son Jesus Christ that we are empowered to even make this prayer.  And so we thank You and praise You!  Amen.
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Bread – Listening

May 15, 2009


Readings for Wednesday, May 13   
    from the Book of Common Prayer:
    Rom. 13:1-14; Luke 8:16-25
    Psalms 72, 119:73-96   
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Elijah listened for God in the storm, the wind, the rain, and the thundering, but His voice was a whisper.

In today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is speaking and acting in stormy ways which cause us to sit up and pay attention, and which are the fodder for many excellent sermons.  These readings include the instruction not to hide the light of Christ in a jar, but to display it on the lamp stand (Luke 8:16), Jesus’ statement that all will be revealed (Luke 8:17), Jesus statement about an aspect of God’s economics (Luke 8:18b), Jesus’ statement that His mother and brothers were those who hear God’s Word and put it into practice (Luke 8:19-21), and Jesus comments on faith in the storms of life (Luke 8:22-25).

But hidden within these is a gem of Scripture which I had never noticed before today:

"Therefore consider carefully how you listen."  Luke 8:18a

Immediately for Bible readers they will note the "therefore," which picks up on the "all will be revealed" passage which precedes the statement.  However, I think there is something even more important in this passage.  Note that Jesus says that what is important is "how" you listen, not "that" you listen.

There is a temptation to read this sentence in the way that we would speak to our children — "Listen to me!"  However, Jesus does not command (in this sentence) that we listen to Him or that we even listen at all (although that is presumed), but He comments that we should contemplate "how" we should listen.

And when one focuses on the "how," one may well come to the conclusion that this simple little sentence is the pivot point for all of the other comments of Jesus about light, witness, economics, revelation, and faith which precede and follow it.

For example, does not the effectiveness and strength of the light which we display on our lamp stand depend significantly upon "how" we listen to our neighbors and the world.  If we listen with an attitude of "me," do we discover our neighbor’s needs?  No.  To really hear we must engage in the "how" of listening which requires active engagement, which requires us to be paying attention to what the other person is saying, and to really care about what he or she is saying.  If the "how" of our listening is critical and judgmental, what is the quality of the light which we show forth – is it lovely or harsh?  If the "how" of our listening is a form of agreement with the world in all things, what is the quality of the light which we show forth – is it full of illumination or weak and dull?  To follow Jesus’ command to set our light upon the lamp stand requires us to "consider carefully how we listen."

For example, does not our ability to perceive revelation, to perceive truth, to recognize wisdom, to "un-conceal" things require us to exercise the "how" of listening a particular way?  Does it not require us to read Scripture in a way which speaks to us rather than us speaking to it — and doesn’t this take a special "how" of listening?  Doesn’t our ability to interpret the world, to understand people’s pain, to discern right behaviors in the circumstances, require us to exercise a particular "how" of listening – one that is well grounded in truth, controlled in analysis, and exercised in love?

Jesus says "My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice." (Luke 8:21)  Does this not require a particular "how" of listening which includes both listening for apprehension and listening for self-application?

Finally, in the storms of life, how can we hear the calming words of Jesus unless we have exercised the "how" of listening in the midst of the tempest?

Jesus says "Therefore consider carefully how you listen."

How do you listen?  Consider the question carefully.  Your witness, your understanding, your rewards, your relationship with Christ, and the strength of your faith all are based on your answer.  Luke 8:16-25

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Lord, help us to wisely answer the question, "Will you really lay down your life for Me?"  Lord, help us to love your Word, incarnate in Jesus Christ and written in Scripture, and to solely rely upon them as our source of information about how we should live.  Help us Lord to come to You, once having come to You to become closer to You, and to preach the Gospel to all people in all circumstances, in and out of season, as You have commanded.  Help us know that You are God and we are not.  Assist us Lord through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to be willing and obedient servants.  It is only through the merits of your Son Jesus Christ that we are empowered to even make this prayer.  And so we thank You and praise You!  Amen.
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Bread – Sources

May 8, 2009


Readings for Friday, May 8   
    from the Book of Common Prayer:
    Col. 3:1-11; Luke 7:1-17
    Psalms 40. 51, 54
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One of my favorite sayings is "Give me control over the assumptions, and I can deliver to you any conclusion you want."  Translated differently, we are only as good as our sources of information because these provide the predicate, the basis upon which we will make decisions and act; if these are bad, we will come to bad conclusions and engage in poor behaviors, with undesirable outcomes.  If the source of our understanding is impure, we will be or will become sick.

You may have noticed this week that I have had no Old Testament lesson listed.  The reason for this is that the Book of Common Prayer dictates for this week that the Old Testament readings come from the book of "Wisdom."  This book is sometimes referred to as the "Wisdom of Solomon" and is a book contained in the Apocrypha, a section of the Bible which does not appear in most Protestant Bible translations.  The reason for this is that the books of the Apocrypha are not considered by the historical church as part of the "canon" of the Bible; in other words, there is no consensus from the historical church that these books are Scripture.  Instead, those people who include the books of the Apocrypha recognize that the books of the Apocrypha are "almost" Scripture, that although they are not useable to establish doctrines of the church, nonetheless they may be useful for obtaining wisdom.

I do not include them, however, in my listed readings because Wisdom (of Solomon) is not part of the canon of Scripture and, as a result, is an impure source.  Impure sources control conclusions, and not necessarily in desirable ways.

One problem we have as people is that we do not differentiate among sources very well.  We may use the Bible as a source of our understanding about, say evolution, but we may mix up that understanding with using sources about evolution from science, pseudo-science, philosophy, Oprah Winfrey, the internet, the History Channel, NBC television, public radio, our next-door neighbor, etc.  Perhaps we may have so many sources that our conclusions are always changing, based upon the most recent source we have drunk from.

Unfortunately, we have been taught and our own suspicions confirm in regular life that one can only discern the truth by using several sources, because each one is biased.  This is why so many people read so many newspapers or watch so many different opinion shows on television — on the theory that, if I can get a lot of biased information from a lot of different sources, the "truth of the situation" will somehow come out.  Our distrust of sources has burrowed so deep into our thought patterns that we feel very uncomfortable in relying upon a single source.

And yet, isn’t that what the Bible is?  A single source (actually a number of sources combined into a single message)?  Isn’t that what Jesus Christ is?  A single source?

Perhaps it is our fear of single sources that drives us to try to "tease out the truth" by using other sources.  Perhaps that is why we try to understand the Bible using so many man-made theories and sources.  Perhaps that is why we feel it so necessary to "add to" what the Bible says.

Ask yourself the question, where am I on the slippery slope of multiple sources?  Do I consider the Bible and Jesus Christ the only source?  Do I consider them the primary source?  Or do I consider them a good source?  Finally, do I consider them one of many sources?

It doesn’t take long to go from one place to the other.  To use a contemporary example, in our drive for tolerance we recognize that there are many sources of the "truth," and that great wisdom (translated as wisdom that agrees with me) can come from many places and many religions.

In today’s letter to the Colossians, Paul addresses this in the context of salvation.  He says:

"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things about, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things…Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature….since you have taken off your old self with its practices, and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge of the image of its Creator."  Col. 3:1-10

Restated, "since you have been raised with Christ, rely upon Him and His Word (Scripture) as the source of your behavior.  Get rid of your reliance upon secular, poisoned sources, and put on the source of life itself."

Do you rely on sources outside of the Bible and Christ for your information, for your assumptions about living?

The devil says "give me control over the assumptions, and I will deliver you whatever conclusion you want."

God says "give me control over the assumptions, and I will deliver to you peace, joy, and eternal life."

Consider carefully what you want and then consider who is controlling the assumptions.  In other words, "consider the source."

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Lord, help us to wisely answer the question, "Will you really lay down your life for Me?"  Lord, help us to love your Word, incarnate in Jesus Christ and written in Scripture, and to solely rely upon them as our source of information about how we should live.  Help us Lord to come to You, once having come to You to become closer to You, and to preach the Gospel to all people in all circumstances, in and out of season, as You have commanded.  Help us know that You are God and we are not.  Assist us Lord through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to be willing and obedient servants.  It is only through the merits of your Son Jesus Christ that we are empowered to even make this prayer.  And so we thank You and praise You!  Amen.
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Bread – Appearances

May 4, 2009


Readings for Monday, May 4   
    from the Book of Common Prayer:
    Col. 1:1-14; Luke 6:1-11
    Psalms 41, 44, 52
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Recently the world was witness to the misleading nature of appearances, when a woman who appeared to be talentless and tasteless stood boldly in front of a quietly jeering crowd of judges and audience, only to have the jeering turn into wild applause when they comprehended the reality of true singing ability.

Well appearances may be misleading in our walk with God, as well.  Our readings in Psalms today are full of such examples.

For example, David recites the example a person who appears to be a close friend, and yet "lifts up his heel" against David when given a chance.  Psalm 41:9.  Psalm 52 starts off with the appearance of a "mighty man," one who does evil, and reminds the one who appears strong that against the judgment of God, the "mighty man" is indeed weak.  On the opposite side of the "mighty man" is the person who appears frail and perhaps sort of stubby, like an olive tree; David calls himself this man, a man who like an olive tree "flourishes" in the house of God.

But the appearance which always gets to me is the appearance that God has abandoned me.  Who has not experienced the absence of God?  And, yet, is this not just an appearance?  And because it is an appearance, is it misleading? 

David points out that appearances may be surrounded by a lot of fact and yet still be misleading and distorted images of the reality behind the appearance.  Psalm 44 is an object lesson in this.  David begins this Psalm with a recitation of what the Lord did for Israel at the exodus from Egypt and what the Lord did for Israel to give Israel possession of the land against the "ites" (Canaanites, etc.).  Then, he says abruptly in verse 9: "But now you have rejected and humbled us … You gave us up to be devoured as sheep and have scattered us among the nations…All this happened to us, though we had not forgotten you … But you crushed us…" Psalm 44:9-17.

This lament was caused by circumstances which created in David an impression that God had departed, that He was asleep.  And so David asks the question of God "Awake O Lord!  Why do you sleep?…Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression?"  Psalm 44:23-24

But notwithstanding this appearance that God had abandoned him and did not love him anymore, David held on to the reality as he ends the Psalm with these words – "…redeem us because of Your unfailing love."  Psalm 44:26

To David it appeared as if love had failed, and yet he knew the reality of God’s character, that His love was "unfailing," regardless of appearances.  In his lament, David looked through the appearance to the reality and realized that God would save and He would redeem, because His love for David (and us) is unfailing.

In our walk with God it is easy to become depressed at appearances.  When this occurs, it is helpful to know the reality which underlies the appearances.  It is helpful to ask God to redeem us because of His unfailing love for us. Even more so, it is helpful to remember that God has redeemed us because of His unfailing love.  Knowing this, notwithstanding appearances, we can rest on rock.

Thanks be to God.

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Lord, help us to wisely answer the question, "Will you really lay down your life for Me?"  Lord, help us to love your Word, incarnate in Jesus Christ and written in Scripture.  Help us Lord to come to You, once having come to You to become closer to You, and to preach the Gospel to all people in all circumstances, in and out of season, as You have commanded.  Help us know that You are God and we are not.  Assist us Lord through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to be willing and obedient servants.  It is only through the merits of your Son Jesus Christ that we are empowered to even make this prayer.  And so we thank You and praise You!  Amen.

Bread – Wallowing

May 3, 2009


Readings for Friday, May 1   
    from the Book of Common Prayer:
    Dan. 6:1-15; 2 John 1-13; Luke 5:12-26
    Psalm 105
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What is "wallowing?" Perhaps it is best used in a sentence – "Why, he’s just wallowing in his misery."  E-or, that favorite donkey from Winnie the Pooh, wallows.  He wallows in his negativity.

We can all be guilty of wallowing in something.  It’s sort of like a tar pit, where we just seem stuck in affairs, circumstances, feelings, situations, or thinking which keeps us in a negative rut.

We know that Christ forgives our sins, but we remain in the same desperate circumstances.  We wallow in our addictions, our timidity, our fear, our loss, our grief, our work, our circumstances.

Why is this?  I think a hint of the answer may be in today’s lesson from Luke’s gospel:

"Some men came carrying a paralytic on a mat … When Jesus saw their faith, He said ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.’ …Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, ‘Why are you thinking these things in your hearts?  Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk?’  But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…’  He said to the paralyzed man, ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat, and go home.’  Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God."  Luke 5:18-25

Jesus forgave the paralytic his sins, but the paralytic did not immediately walk.  It was not until Jesus connected the two, to show that His grace to forgive sins is sufficient to, at the same time, give us victory over our infirmities.

This whole passage raises complex issues over whether forgiveness of sins alone is sufficient to overcome infirmities such as paralysis.  We all know people who have overcome great difficulties through their faith in Christ, and others who wait patiently in their infirmities with no cure, but with the strength of God to sustain them.  We all struggle with the apparent (to us) inconsistency or unevenness of physical healings.

The fact is that the man did not walk until God commanded him to walk, but one is left with a question – by forgiving his sins, did not Christ give him victory over his infirmities?  And if so, then why did he remain laying on the mat, "wallowing" so to speak in his trouble?

I suggest that one of the reasons that the man did not immediately walk upon being forgiven for his sins could have been that he didn’t realize he could walk – he didn’t connect the two.  Is it possible that the reason the paralyzed man did not start praising God until he was commanded to and did walk was that he did not realize the true power contained in the words – "Friend, your sins are forgiven?"

How often do we find ourselves in this same situation?  We hear about forgiveness of sins and say "Yeah, yeah, where is the miracle?"  And then we wait for the command from God for us to rise up from our circumstances, only to be disappointed that we have seen no miracle.

What we should realize is that forgiveness of sins is the miracle, and the rest is just fall-out.  Which is easier?  To say "walk" or to say "you are forgiven of your sins?"  Jesus does both, and I would suggest that He does both more often than we think, partly because we do not appreciate the true significance and power of our sins being forgiven.

We will never know if, after being forgiven his sins the paralytic could have stood up and walked without further intervention by Jesus, because he didn’t.  Likewise, if you remain wallowing in your infirmities after you are forgiven your sins, you will never know if you could have stood up and walked.

If you have repented and accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, trusting in His promises to provide the Holy Spirit, who gives us the ability to love, to exercise power, and to be self-controlled (see 2 Tim. 1:7), and you are still "wallowing in your misery," why?  Is it because you do not understand that you are the beneficiary of a real miracle – the forgiveness of sins?  Is it because you do not recognize that there is a direct connection between God’s mercy in forgiving your sins and his grace in providing you His Spirit, so that you can overcome?

My prayer for me and for you is that, in His power, we stop wallowing and start rising, that we become His ambassadors – in love, power, and self-control – to a world which wallows.

Let us claim the forgiveness of our sins in the work of Jesus Christ, and let us go forward into the dark with the light of glory and victory on our faces!  Amen.

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Lord, help us to wisely answer the question, "Will you really lay down your life for Me?"  Lord, help us to love your Word, incarnate in Jesus Christ and written in Scripture.  Help us Lord to come to You, once having come to You to become closer to You, and to preach the Gospel to all people in all circumstances, in and out of season, as You have commanded.  Help us know that You are God and we are not.  Assist us Lord through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to be willing and obedient servants.  It is only through the merits of your Son Jesus Christ that we are empowered to even make this prayer.  And so we thank You and praise You!  Amen.
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