Bread – Glorify

August 21, 2017


Psalm 79

“O God, the nations … have defiled Your holy temple; they have laid Jerusalem in ruins…Pour out Your anger on the nations that do not know You…Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of Your name; …”  Ps. 79:1,6,9

This is a difficult Psalm to write about because the topic is so common. We find ourselves in deep need and we look around for the Lord’s deliverance…and He seems far away.

In this Psalm, Jerusalem has been laid waste.  We can only imagine the scope of the disaster.  There was no political structure because the ruling class had been eliminated.  There was no economy because the land was laid waste and nothing could be produced.  There was no social order because many families had been decimated.  And there was no religion because the temple had been destroyed and worship, so dependent upon the temple, was disrupted.  Think about what you would do if there were no order in the streets, half your family was gone, your money was worthless, your house was burned to the ground, your business shut down, and there was no place to buy bread or meat.  We can try to imagine such affairs, but for most who read this Bread, these realities have never hit us, all at once.

In such times, we appeal to God for help, wondering where He is.  We appeal to God based upon His relationship to us (His chosen), based upon His great compassion and mercy for us, based upon His promises, based upon His character, based upon our “special relationship,” based upon His law, …

But one thing we rarely do is to base our appeal to God on His glory.  “God, You should help us [me] because Your glory will be increased when You do!”

We know that we get something out of it when God shows up – mercy, deliverance, power, hope, opportunity, life, liberty, freedom, love, a new day, etc.  But do we even ask the question or even care what God gets out of it?

Well, if we love Him as we claim and if we worship Him as we claim, then we should care very much about what He wants as well.

We often talk about what God wants in terms of our response.  For example, what we say is that God wants obedience to His law or to His word.  Or maybe what God wants is our attention and gratitude.  Or may what God wants is for us to worship Him.

But the truth is that we can follow all the rules, be obedient to God and His word, and yet is God glorified?

When the emphasis is on the “we,” what are we doing to obey God, I would argue that He is not glorified.  The reason is simple.  Everything that comes from us is tainted by impure motive (what can we get in return).  Everything that comes from God is not so tainted.

God is glorified when we obey Him because of who He is and because of what He does, when we obey Him because He has transformed our heart, when we obey Him out of love for Him and Him only.  Can we do this on our own?  No.  But we can do it through the strength of Him who saves.

So, why, in the midst of this utter destruction, when God appears far away, do we appeal to Him based upon His glory?  “Help us … for the glory of Your name.”

It is because, at the end of the day, we are recognizing that, if God is getting what He wants, His glory, it is not because of anything we do but because of what He does.

What do we do on our own which glorifies God?  Nothing.  What does God do through us which glorifies Him?  Everything He wishes.

So, God, help me to glorify Your name by showing up today to help me do so.  “Help me…for the glory of Your name.”

One of the most powerful prayers we can make and we rarely do it.  Why?  Maybe it is because we don’t care what God wants.  Or maybe we just forget.  But maybe we just don’t know what we recite every Sunday – “Our Father in heaven, hallowed [holy, glorified] be Your name … For Yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory ….”

God, come into my life, so that You might be glorified.  Amen.

________

© 2017 GBF

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Bread – Resolved

December 30, 2016


Psalm 45

Hear, O daughter, and consider … Since He is your Lord, bow to Him.”   Ps. 45:10-11

This is the third step in the process of our glorification as Christ’s bride.  The pre-step is God’s choice of His bride.  The first step was for us to hear and incline ourselves toward God.  The second step is then for us to forget our past, pick up our cross, and follow Him.

This third step is encapsulated in the Psalmist’s simple statement that we, as Christ’s bride, should “bow to Him,” since He is our Lord.

 

This simple command sounds strange to Western ears, and particularly to Americans, where we say proudly that “we bow down to no man.”  But, of course, Jesus is God, so he is not mere man.  But, still, we like to think of ourselves as equal to God and, therefore, it is easier in our mindset to call Him “friend” then it is to call Him “Lord.”

But for the wedding feast to be truly glorious, for the bride to enjoy all of the benefits of hope, peace, love, and charity which God brings into the relationship, the bride must bow, the bride must be obedient to the Lord’s commands.

As we reach the end of the year and look forward to the new year, it is time for reflection and resolution, reflection on the past and resolution for the future.

As we look over the past year in our walk with God, have we really, really been obedient to His call on our lives, to His commands for life, or to His personal request that we become holy like He is?  We may have heard the good news of Christ and inclined our ear, and we may have gathered around us our church friends, leaving our past behind, but have we really “bowed to Him?”  Have we given up our selfish ways?  Have we subordinated self to His glory, His ways, His truth, and His life?  Instead of just asking ourselves “What would Jesus do,” have we actually done what Jesus has told us to do?

Many of us, myself included, are weak Christians.  We talk a game, but we do not walk it.  We have heard the good news and proclaim trust in Christ, but we trust ourselves and our friends and our wealth and the world more.  We do not walk in holiness; in fact, if we are honest, we barely make acquaintance with the concept.

But that is the past, and it need not be the future.  The work of God is to transform us, first by giving us a new life in Him and then training us, bringing us up from infants into maturity as His disciples.

Let’s all take on a New Year’s resolution that very well may be the hardest thing we have ever done.  Let us resolve to begin each day by “bowing to Him.”  Let’s be obedient to our Lord.

What does this look like?  I think it is simpler than we think.  If He says love, we love.  If He says rest, we rest.  If He says talk to Me, we talk to Him.  If He says “walk through that door,” we take the step of faith into the unknown (to us).

Resolved, that I put Him first and me second.  And for that, we need help.  Come Holy Spirit!

_________

© 2016 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

 

 

 

Bread – Prayer

April 25, 2016


Psalm 17

“Hear a just cause, O Lord; attend to my cry!  Give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit!…You have tried my heart, You have visited me by night, You have tested me, and You will find nothing; I have purposed that my mouth will not transgress.  With regard to the works of man, by the word of Your lips I have avoided the ways of the violent.  My steps have held fast to Your paths; my feet have not slipped.”  Ps. 17:1-5

This Bread is called “Prayer” because that is what this Psalm is called, “A Prayer of David.”

And look how it begins!  “Hey, God, here I am.  Listen to me because I am perfect?  You know I am because You know everything.  Hey, look at me; listen to me!”

Obviously this is both a paraphrase and something of an exaggeration, but not by much.  When we approach God, can we say that we are perfect, that we are sinless, that we can be examined by a holy God and found to be wanting in nothing?

The Christian might answer this question by saying that, “yes, because we are covered in the blood of the Lamb, we are deemed pure before God and able to stand before Him.”  That is true but it leads to a certain sloppiness in prayer because it means that we approach prayer as our three year old grandson might, stomping into the throne room of God and laying down our demand for candy without so much as a “Hi, grandpa!”

David is claiming the right to be in front of God because he claims obedience to the Father’s Law.

Can he rightly claim that, claim perfect obedience?  The answer is probably not, but he does anyway.  How?

How can we make a claim to perfect obedience, when it is impossible?

Might I suggest that it is not so much obedience in fact which matters to ordering our prayer life, but obedience in intent, obedience in desire and attitude.

We may be able to walk into the throne room of God with our prayers because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, but beyond that, doesn’t the power of our prayer depend in substantial part upon how much we want God, how much we want to obey Him and listen to Him and walk with Him.  The danger of casual prayer before an Almighty God made by a believer is not that we will be struck down, but that the results will be weak.  The strength of prayer made by a believer who tries his or her best to walk in obedience, who tries to speak with lips free of deceit, and who applies God’s Word to daily living lies not in the believer’s own righteousness, but it is certainly greatly increased in power by the believer’s own commitment to God and His ways.

So, if we are not to stomp into God’s throne room full of our own righteousness or maybe even a casual reliance upon our Savior, Jesus Christ, how are we to enter it?

What is not in this Psalm is what David did just prior to saying “Hear a just cause…”  What did David do to prepare for that opening volley of self-promotion?

I suspect that he examined his actions and his heart to see whether what he was going to say was true.  And, finding, like all men, that it was not completely true, he probably confessed it to God and asked God to forgive him his trespasses.  Preceded by confession, at the moment David said “Hear…,” it may very well be that his lips were “free of deceit.”

How do we walk into the throne room?  Do we just stomp in and say “Hey, God, listen to me, the great one!”  Or do we walk in with confidence, knowing that we bear the right attitude and the right gratitude, born of a desire for God, a desire for His truth, a desire for obedience, a desire to walk with Him, cloaked in the righteousness of Christ?

_________

© 2016 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bread – Lament

July 7, 2015


Readings for Tuesday, July 7, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 1 Sam. 15:24-35; Acts 9:32-43; Luke 23:56b-24:11; Psalms 5,6,10,11

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While there is celebration in the streets rejoicing over the triumph of man’s law over God’s, there is lament by many, including me, about how we as a society have come to reject God’s law as triumphant and substituted instead the sand of man’s whims and desires.

Our readings today speak powerfully to this.

From Psalm 11, “Why does the wicked renounce God and say in his heart, ‘You will not call me to account?’” Ps. 11:13

When man rejects God and His Word, His standards for life, isn’t he like the wicked, believing that there will be no accounting for his sin?

Well, there is an accounting. In our reading today from 1 Samuel, Saul admits to Samuel that “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.” 1 Sam. 15:24. In refusing to following thousands of years of history and the dictates of the Old and New Testaments, our United States Supreme Court feared the people more than God and obeyed the voice of the mob rather than the voice of God. So, Saul did what we have done, and this is what follows – Saul then says to Samuel, “’Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me…’ And Samuel said to Saul, ‘I will not return with you. For you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.” 1 Sam. 15:25-26. Is this what will now happen to us in this country? There is a day of being called to account. Whether that day is today, as it was for Saul, is up to God and we certainly pray that He defers His judgment, but He knows what He will do.

So, returning to the Psalm, we read this lament – “if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? The Lord is in His holy temple…” Ps. 11:3-4

When the foundations are destroyed, what can we do indeed? The Psalmist answers this question by skipping the answer and going straight to the solution – God. Our answer to the question of what do we do when the foundations are destroyed is to remind ourselves that God reigns, not us.

And so what are the righteous to do in the evil day, in the day of destruction of foundation?

Our answer is found in our reading today from Luke – Jesus has been crucified. “The women who had come with Him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how His body was laid….On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.” Lk. 23:55-56 Jesus has been murdered and put in a borrowed tomb. His body has not been properly prepared with funeral spices, so there is action to be taken by the righteous. But wait! No action is taken because it is now the Sabbath and God has commanded His people to rest. Even though there is something to do, God’s people wait because it is God’s command to wait.

And while they wait in obedience to God’s Word and His commandments, God works. When the women returned, the stone had been rolled away because Jesus had been resurrected.

We can and should lament the situation in which we as people of faith find ourselves. But before we take matters into our own hands, we would do well to reflect on the Psalms, on Saul, and on the righteous women. God is in His Holy temple; God is in control. Yielding to passion rather than God’s law and His love results in bad things. Obedience to God’s will in our lives matters, because while we obey, God works His miracles.

The foundations crumble; what are we to do? God. Christ is crucified; what are we to do? God. We are appointed to a position of influence; what are we to do? God.

There is an eternal pattern here. So let’s follow it.

__________

© 2015 GBF

Bread — Fear

June 23, 2015


Readings for Tuesday, June 23, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 1 Sam. 6:1-16; Acts 5:27-42; Luke 21:37-22:13; Psalms 94, 95, 97, 99, 100

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Who do you fear?

This is actually a more profound question than may first appear. In fact, it is the topic of all three of our readings today.

In Samuel, the infidel Philistines feared God and so did what was right before God, even though their religious system did not recognize Him, and they returned the stolen ark to Israel, along with a “guilt offering” for their trespass.

In Acts, Gamaliel, “a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people,” sort of fears God and so he counsels the Jewish council to release the apostles from capture because “if this [the apostles’/Jesus’] plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” Acts 5:34,38-39. Gamaliel knew God well enough and feared Him enough that he knew that God was in control of the outcome and to avoid being opposed to God’s work. Here, Gamaliel did not necessarily “help” God by returning the ark (the apostles) but feared God enough to not oppose Him by keeping the apostles either.

And then, finally, there is our reading from Luke where “the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put Him [Jesus] to death, for they feared the people.” Lk. 22:2. The people were following Jesus rather than them, they feared “the people” and their loss of power and position, and they struck back against God to protect themselves.

In these three readings we are confronted with a certain reality. Those of us who claim Christ, may attend church from time to time, may participate in a “Bible study” as much for its social benefit as its revelation of the Word, and believe that “fundamentalism” is dead or dying because the church needs to “change” to reflect “reality,” really do take Him for granted. Those of us in that category are more afraid of what people may think of us than what God thinks of us; we are more afraid of disgrace, condemnation, death and imprisonment at the hands of man rather than eternal damnation at the hand of God.

Do we, so-called Christians, really fear God. How is it that the unbeliever (the Philistines) and the works-believer (Gamaliel) fear our God more than we do, we who claim to know Him and worship Him and love Him?

We don’t like to use the word “fear” because it is a negative word. If we fear God, the thinking goes, then we will want to run away from Him and not run toward Him. I suggest that the opposite is true. When we truly fear God, what is brought home is the grace-mercy by which we have been saved. When we truly fear God, the enormity of what God did for us on the cross is brought home. When we truly fear God, we have faith in our future because we know that a fearsome God fights for us and will deliver us. A so-so God may not keep His promise; a strong, fearsome God will always keep His promise because it is His nature. The very things which make God fearsome are those things which make Him Lord, Savior, and Redeemer.

So, who do we fear? Man or God.

Choose wisely.

__________

© 2015 GBF

Bread – Slavery

January 23, 2015


Readings for Friday, January 23, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 45:18-25; Eph. 6:1-9; Mark 4:35-41; Psalms 31,35

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Slavery is a difficult topic because of our history and yet we are confronted squarely with it in our reading today from Ephesians: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering services with a good will as to the Lord and not to man…Masters, do the same to them, …knowing that He who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with Him.” Eph. 6:5-9

For many years Christians used this language as some kind of approval of the slave-system, and yet it was Christians who broke the back of the slave-system ultimately. In fact, built into this quotation today are the seeds of the systems’ destruction – “Masters, do the same to them …” There is no partiality with the Lord; we all stand before Him, regardless of our birth or circumstances, steeped in sin, saved by the grace and power of God alone, inheritors of the kingdom, brothers and sisters in Christ. Be we king or pauper, rich or poor, master or slave, genius or dumb, athletic or a couch potato – we all stand together as equally sinful, equally saved, equally justified by Christ’s death, and equally judged.

So do we ignore this passage as dealing with something in the past, part of history but irrelevant today? The answer is “no,” not because of slavery today but because all of the Bible is God’s Word to us and all of it, whether we understand it or not, is useful to us for training, growth in the Lord, and rebuke.

But the fact is that there is slavery today. For the moment, set aside slavery with chains (although this still exists), because people tend to get stuck in that traditional description of slavery.

But let me ask you some questions. If you are in the work environment, needing to bring home a paycheck to feed your family, is not your boss the functional equivalent of a “master” and are you not the functional equivalent of a “slave?” We may soften the words with employer and employee, but when the boss tells you to do something on pain of losing your job, don’t you do it? Similarly, in the military, when your commander (master) orders you private (slave) to do something, is this not the functional equivalent of slavery, even though we may soften it with language like sergeant and private? When you are a college professor, with control over the grades of your students and their present and future success, are you not a “master” and the student a ‘slave?” We may soften the description by calling one a professor and the other a student, but there is a master-slave relationship no matter how we want to sugarcoat it.

So what are we to do when we are the slave in the circumstances? Scripture tells us. We are not to act in a way which pleases man, but in a way which pleases God. And what does He tell us but to obey your earthly masters. By obedience to Christ, we are not obedient to the world but to Him. He appoints authority over us and He will exercise His judgment over that authority He appoints. As slaves, we obey our boss, we obey our teachers, we obey ranking officers. Not because they tell us to and show us the whip, but because we are obedient to Christ – we are slaves to Christ, our true Master.

And what are we to do when we are the master in the circumstances? Scripture tells us. We are not to act in a way which pleases man, but in a way which pleases God. And what does He tell us but to but to obey our slaves (“Masters, do the same to them …”). If God gives us authority over others, we are to love those people, listen to them, watch over them, consider their wisdom, obey them, and if necessary die for them. A position of authority is not only a position of steward, but a position of shepherd (if that is a word).

How can the student obey the teacher and the teacher obey the student? Because, and only if, they both obey Christ. If they are both slaves to the true Master, Christ, then each of them to each other is both master and slave – bound in mutual love, respect, honor, and trust.

Does this sound like utopia? Yes. Can this be brought about by the act of man through self-regulation, improved thought, more education, or the right kind of government or proper rules and regulations? No.

But what is impossible with man is possible with God. As words from our reading in Isaiah remind us today, “I am the Lord, and there is no other …I declare what is right…there is no other god besides Me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides Me.” Isa. 45:18-21

True equality does not come through man but through Christ.

Therefore, if you want to really throw off the shackles of slavery, bring everyone (including yourself) to Christ. Become a slave to Christ, the true Master, and you will be free, free indeed.

A strange concept, I know. How we be slave and free at the same time? Ah … the answer to that question is … who is your Master?

“Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done. On earth, as it is in heaven.” Amen and Amen.

__________

© 2015 GBF

Bread – Obedience

July 30, 2014


Readings for Wednesday, July 30, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Judges 3:12-30; Acts 1:1-14; Matt. 27:45-54; Psalms 72,119:73-96

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I often write in Bread about obedience and today is no different. It is not because it is a topic I enjoy. Instead, it is because Scripture is full of references to it, sometimes directly so (the reading from Judges today) and sometimes something built into the narrative (our readings from both Acts and Matthew). All these have a message – obedience to God’s commands is necessary to fully receive the blessings of God. If our faith is weak because our experience with God is shallow, maybe the reason is lack of obedience. If we do not live in joy because of the burdens we carry, maybe it is because we are lacking in our obedience. Obedience is not the result of a negotiation between us and God; it is the result of our understanding we are the created and He is the creator, that we are servant and He is master, that our love is flawed and His is perfect.

In Judges, we find that Israel “again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” and, as a result, was denied the benefits of being God’s chosen. We do not know in what area Israel was disobedient, but it is not hard to figure out – probably in everything, the key failure being the desire (we all have) to exalt themselves over God, to worship themselves, to listen to themselves, and to walk according to the paths they created. But fear not, Israel repented and the Lord brought them “a deliverer, Ehud.”

In Matthew, we find Christ on the cross at the height of His agony, where the fellowship of God the Father was removed from Him for a moment. The obedience here to God is implicit in the events. Jesus knew why He came to earth and was incarnated, He asked God the Father to take away His purpose in coming to earth (to remove the cup), and when God the Father said “No, finish your mission,” Christ was obedient unto not just common death, but spiritual death, detachment from God the Father with whom Jesus had dwelt in union since the beginning of time and prior. His obedience was absolute and the blessing which flowed from His obedience benefits today all those who call upon His name.

In Acts, Jesus has come back to the disciples after His death and resurrection and instructs them to wait until they receive “the promise of the Father.” They waited in the upper room in Jerusalem and, in obedience, received the blessing, power from the Holy Spirit.

Knowing these things, knowing that we are called to obedience and that blessings follow obedience, why are we disobedient?

I wish I had an answer to this for myself, but I don’t. We (I) would rather follow the path which I lay and suffer the consequences than follow the path which Christ lays and be blessed.

Aren’t we fortunate that our salvation does not rely upon our obedience, but on Christ’s obedience? In Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit, my disobedience cannot be ignored by me, but at least I can rest at night knowing that it is forgiven. Forgiven not because of my obedience, but His. Forgiven not because I earned it, but because God gave it.

What should my response be to such a rich gift? Obedience.

_______________

© 2014 GBF

Bread – Practice

February 12, 2014


Readings for Wednesday, February 12, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Gen. 27:1-29; Rom. 12:1-8; John 8:12-20; Psalms 81,82,119:97-120

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When I was in the band and orchestra in high school, I had the same teacher-director. In fact, I had him all the way from seventh grade through my senior year. He had a saying which he repeated every day until I was sick of it, but I did remember it. It was – “Practice makes perfect, but only if it is perfect practice.”

When we are born anew by the power of God into His salvation, by the exercise of His grace in our lives, we are essentially re-born as spiritual babies. We go from drinking milk to eating meat by practicing. We grow in the Christian walk by practicing, but we are perfected in our walk only by practicing “perfectly.” How do we do that?

Well, today’s reading from Romans actually contains some of the secrets to practicing our walk with God perfectly.

In Romans 12, we read: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I way to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned….Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them …” Rom. 12:1-3,5

The elements of perfect practice are: (1) renew our mind so that we know the difference between what God wants and what the world wants (essentially by studying God’s revelation to us, His Scripture and Jesus), (2) practice what we know in real life (test God’s instructions by using them), (3) evaluate ourselves honestly, and (4) and use our gifts. To reorganize these into a time sequence of behavior, (1) know what to do, (2) do it, (3) using our gifts in faith, and (4) evaluate how we are doing.

In order to have “perfect” practice, we must first of all know what the standard is that we are trying to achieve and we must pick from the best practice materials to practice from. Our standards given to us by God is His Word in Scripture. Not only is this the source of standards, but Scripture is itself the best practice material (we often make a mistake in assuming that our best practice material is something like Bread, a writing about Scripture, but the best is always the source material itself). Once we have gone to the best source of practice materials, we must practice, which is a constant testing of the best, a constant trying to do the best. But we must be fair to ourselves; this testing, this doing, is done according to the faith we have been given, according literally to the talent God has given us. But we must use all of our God-given talent, our “gifts” of the Holy Spirit. And then, having actually used our gifts, applying the best practice materials we have to life, we then need to constantly ask ourselves soberly, how are we doing? This self-evaluation is done honestly and soberly, “not thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought.” In other words, perfect practice has an edge to it. If we are truly the best, perfect practice will make us better. If we are truly the worse, perfect practice will make us better. Whether or not we are the best or the worse, the beginner or the professional, the untalented or the talented, perfect practice using God’s Word, His power, and His gifts, will make us all better.

Why practice at all, much less strive for perfect practice? One answer is that we have been told to and we are trying to be obedient, but that is not particularly motivating. Another answer is that we are merely being grateful for the gift of salvation we have been given – obedience not arising from duty but from gratitude. That is a better reason, perhaps, because it may for some be more motivating.

But what about this one – because it gives us pleasure?

Think about when you have had your greatest pleasure in life? Was it really when you closed the big business deal or bought a Cadillac or bought your first big house? Or was it when you came to Christ, when you love your spouse or your children, when you gave the last dollar in your wallet to someone who needed it more, when you walked for a few minutes with Jesus and He smiled upon you, when you watched while someone accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior, when the person who had nothing and got something gave it away, when you were dog-tired at the end of a long day and went to bed knowing that someone was living better tomorrow because of what you did today.

We practice music because we want to participate in music. We practice sports because we want to participate in sports.

Do you want to participate in Christ? Practice, perfectly. Every day.

And you will get better.

________________

© 2014 GBF

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