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acts

Are you up for a challenge that just might change your life? For the next 15 days, would you be willing to explore with an open mind a historical account? A story full of intrigue, influence, mystery, murder, persecution, adventure, loyalty, diversity, inclusiveness, and love. It shows people at their worst and their best. Bitterest enemies become close friends; prejudices are overcome; unity and love are the key. I ask that you read with an inquiring mind and fresh eyes the story of the birth of the church. Set aside any preconceived ideas you may have about the church. See how God took a few devoted followers to turn the Roman world upside down and spread a message that continues to influence our world. In fact, this story changed history and the hardest hearts of men.

Are you ready for the challenge yet? Explore the possibility that God’s story- His Story holds the key to many of your questions about life, mankind, eternity and more specifically- your life and your story. You’ll see how God used ordinary people just like you and me as instruments of change in their world. Are you ready? Here’s an easy, creative intro to get you started:

Acts 1-12

The book of Acts is the story of the birth of the church, the work of the Holy Spirit in everyday people’s lives. It chronicles the growth, struggles and spread of Christianity. I hope you’ll join me in reading the book of Acts.  

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Note – Here are two resources that could help as you walk through the book of Acts:

Dr. Constable Commentary: If you come across something you have a hard time understanding or if you simply want to dig deeper, look up this free online commentary.

https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/acts/acts.htm

Youversion Bible Plan: If you desire to walk through this online, check out this online Bible reading plan that will help you keep on track. 

https://my.bible.com/reading-plans/89-acts

Recommended Bible Versions: ESV, NIV.

Recommended Study Bibles: Life Application Version which can be found in the ESV and NIV version.

 

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Does your life feel impossible and overwhelming? This video might very well refresh you and give you God’s answers to our problems. God says, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” Mt. 11:28

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Michigan fall

 This time of the year causes me to reflect on things I am thankful for and I have a huge list. Mine all have names and faces. They are just ordinary people who have crossed my path and added a richness and beauty to my life that I could never have imagined. They’re the ones who’ve encouraged, instructed, corrected and loved me with an extraordinary love. 

My list would start with a childhood neighbor, a man with a heart of gold who encouraged me through his kind words of affirmation. Or the 6th grade teacher who patiently coached my stammering attempts at an oral report. My childhood friend, Joy, true to her name, who could find joy in any situation, despite polio and diabetes! A teacher who gave sound advice and a life changing book. A youth leader who gave wise counsel. A mentor couple who taught me the value of friendship and how to help others. A friend who called at just the right time, insisted I go to the hospital and drove me there. Friends who came to share my grief at the death of my mother. My siblings with whom I share a crazy sense of humor and always love me. My loving in-laws that made me want to be a part of their family and welcomed me as their own. My mom who loved me unconditionally and taught me to treat others with kindness and respect. My dad who sacrificed and worked hard because he loved me. My husband, my rock, who never wavers – my love, my best friend, and my most avid supporter. My sons, my joy, who remind me of the goodness and grace of God and brought me amazing daughter-in-loves! My neighbors who brought supplies to secure our home after the Wylie Hail Storm. My friend, who at 80, reminds me that spunk has no age limit. My friend who says “Come on, let’s walk”, because I need it. My best friends who pray with me through thick and thin, storm and calm. The Church, not a brick and mortar building, but people who exemplified the words “Love God and love one another.” My lifelong friends that are faithful, true friends. My friends at my current church, my peeps who encourage me, care for me, and challenge me every day to live what I say I believe. I can only say, “Thank you, Lord.”  I’m rich and blessed! 

1 John 4:9-11

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

As you remember people who have touched your life give them a call, go for a visit or send a note! God has placed these extraordinary people in my path and many more that I haven’t mentioned. I am blessed beyond measure! Be prepared, your list maybe longer than mine. I hope you’ll count your blessings! 

Who are you thankful for?

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PostAbilityToForgiveSin-1080x600This story is from the life of Corrie Ten Boom. She and her family hid Jews in their home in Holland during the German occupation. They were discovered and sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp. Her story vividly illustrates the power of forgiveness. After the war, she spoke throughout the world sharing her story and through her book “The Hiding Place”.

I’m Still Learning to Forgive by Corrie Ten Boom

It was in a church in Munich that I saw him, a balding heavy-set man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken. It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives. …

And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights, the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor, the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were! Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland; this man had been a guard at Ravensbruck concentration camp where we were sent. …

“You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,” he was saying. “I was a guard in there.” No, he did not remember me. “But since that time,” he went on, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein, …” his hand came out, … “will you forgive me?”

And I stood there — I whose sins had every day to be forgiven — and could not. Betsie had died in that place — could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking? It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do. For I had to do it — I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. “If you do not forgive men their trespasses(sins),” Jesus says, “neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses (sins).” … And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion — I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. “Jesus, help me!” I prayed silently. “I can lift my hand, I can do that much. You supply the feeling.”

And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. “I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!” For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.

Who do you need to forgive?

 

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Golden yellow and orange leaves silently drifted down to carpet the forest floor. I was surrounded by forest, separated only by clear glass walls and steel spires that reached up to the treetops. A cold, fine mist blanketed the forest but I was warm and comfortable inside the Thorncrown Chapel. It was like a welcome, warm embrace.  Low, sweet instrumental music played in the background and I just wanted to soak in it. This peaceful, quiet chapel was the dream of Jim Reed. He wanted others to “encounter not just a beautiful building, but the God who longs to fill your life with the beauty of His presence.” I didn’t want to leave this peaceful, quiet place but we were all too soon on our way. Where do you go to find peace?

My life hasn’t been all that peaceful, lately. You, too, may be experiencing a season where peace is absent. The absence of peace and living stressed, anxious lives isn’t a good place to dwell. We carry around all kinds of worries and concerns – yesterday’s regrets or our future concerns about career, sickness, money, relationships, retirement, and aging weigh us down. Yes, the world can weigh heavy on our shoulders but we were never meant to carry so much of it. I have to admit, I often pick it up and carry it like I can truly heave it to my shoulders, like the mythical Atlas who held the world on his shoulders. So, what’s the cure for our worries and concerns, our stressed out, burned out lives? Well, it’s helpful for me to remember that God says a lot about giving our worries and concerns to Him. I can almost imagine Him saying, “Why are you carrying that and not trusting me? Why don’t you just leave those with me?”

Right now, you may be going through grief, depression, fear or suffering. Please understand, you were never meant to carry all of that. Only the Lord has shoulders that are strong enough. Listen to what Jesus said in John 14: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let not your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.” His peace is available for believers and for those who will come to Him.  Jesus is the burden bearer, He says, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Just like His never-ending love, His never-ending mercy, His never-ending forgiveness, He has an unlimited, never-ending supply of peace. He gave me His peace, but first, I had to surrender what I was carrying to Him. We are talking real peace, the kind that is beyond understanding (Philippians 4:7). He has this for you, but, you must first be willing to surrender what you are carrying to Him. So, what are you carrying? Are you willing to exchange your anxious, troubled burden and thoughts for peace?

 

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The story of the demon possessed man in Mark 5 has been on my mind lately. Our world struggles and suffers everyday as the result of evil and people do horrible things when possessed by evil and darkness. Many are overcome by sin and addictions causing them to be the perpetrator of evil and in turn, they are destroyed by the very thing that they invited into their lives. They thought they were the master, now they are the slave and evil is their master.  The story says he was demon possessed but it doesn’t tell us how he got in this state. Evil consumed and controlled him. He was tormented physically, mentally and spiritually. Chains and leg irons couldn’t hold him. He wandered among tombs day and night, crying out, and cutting himself. He was ostracized from society because he was dangerous. Jesus often addresses the problem with evil as a sin problem. I believe, and most people would agree that when we get caught up in sin, we open ourselves to evil influences.
We all see what evil does in our world when it’s overt. We see unthinkable, terrible things that happen, things that only can be explained as demonic, evil. We aren’t told how or why the tormented man started down the slippery slope of sin.  Whether it was an attractively seductive sin or one of unforgiveness, or some other sin, evil got it’s hooks in him! But we do see what evil and sin did to him. It isolated him from the living, threatened to destroy him, and it drove him insane!!  And that is exactly what sin does when it gets control of us. Sin deceives and seeks to destroy us. The demon possessed man walked among the dead.
Until, Jesus came he was a walking dead man.
The story tells us the demon possessed man came and bowed down before Jesus when Jesus arrived on the scene. But Jesus saw a man, a human being, in need of deliverance, a tormented, desperate man, held captive by a legion (1,000’s) of demons. Jesus saw a person of infinite eternal worth. He saw a man worth saving. He saw a man worth dying for. The demons begged Jesus not to send them to eternal destruction when He commanded them to leave. They pleaded with Jesus, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” And they begged to not be tortured. They don’t do the weird exorcist stuff around Jesus. They obey Jesus and they run. Jesus sent the demons into a herd of pigs who run down a steep bank and drowned. And the now freed man in his right mind freely worshipped Jesus.
How do we relate this story to our lives? Well, we may feel pretty good about ourselves if we compare ourselves to the demon possessed man. Most would agree that we’ve all done wrong things, sinful things whether we lied, or stole or have done something worse. Comparing our sins to anyone else’s just doesn’t work, we all come to God the same way- bankrupt. It’s obvious we need God’s help and Jesus offers us the same thing he did to the demon possessed man, life and freedom. He freely offers it to whoever believes Him and trusts Him. Something the Bible says explains it this way, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.”
The walking dead man became a free, fully alive man when he met Jesus. He was now free to live a life of purpose, joy and wholeness! The now freed man begs Jesus to please let him go with Him, but Jesus tells him to go home and tell “how much the Lord has done for you and how he had mercy on you”. The walking dead man was now a free and very much alive man. That’s what Jesus offers each of us when we meet Him– he offers us freedom and life!

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My Dad and I often eat lunch at the only café in his hometown. We simply eat and make small talk. It is really the only conversation we make nowadays as Dad’s dementia has robbed him of much of his short-term memory.  He still remembers his family and us, his kids, and I am really thankful to God for that. Frequently, Dad’s life-long friend stops by our table to talk. This particular day they discussed foundations, house foundations to be exact.  As he spoke with Dad, I realized very quickly that the man was not talking to me, but engaging my Dad in conversation. I was lost in the minutia of piers, beams and details that I truly know very little about. He was discussing things that my Dad remembers and he was talking my Dad’s language. It is seldom that anyone discusses what my Dad did for a living for 50 years. For a few minutes Dad was in his element, his world that he could relate to, his work world, building houses from the ground up. When he was younger he could draw out the blueprints of a house, figure the cost and knew every detail down to the nails, and rebar. As someone said so well, He has forgotten more than most in his trade will ever know. He knew the old way, building houses on solid foundations that long outlast their owners and occupants. Dad often says the foundation is the most important, fundamental part of building a structure.

Have you ever thought about what your life is built on? What is the foundation of your life? Jesus had a lot to say about foundations. He was a carpenter. He talked about splinters and planks in your eyes. He knew about building structures and building into people’s lives. He related stories like the one in Matthew 7:24-27 about a wise and a foolish builder. “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” Jesus is that solid rock he’s referring to in this story. He is that one absolute truth, that One you can count on and He can be trusted. He wants us to build our lives on a solid, sure foundation. He says that He is the Way, the Truth and The Life and no one can come to the Father (God) except through faith in Him. If you’ve ever seen the sink holes where whole houses are swallowed up you can see how shifting sand can be a very risky foundation to build on.

It’s good to take inventory of our lives whether we are wisely building on the solid rock or foolishly on shifting sand.  It’s important to ask – are we building wisely by investing time, energy and money in eternal things, and following what Jesus says? Are we investing in other people’s lives, loving others, and leaving something that will last long after we’re gone? Scripture helps us understand where and how to invest in verses like I Timothy 6:17-19, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”

An old hymn’s title says it well, On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is shifting sand. So, what are you building your life on? If we build on anything or anyone else other than Jesus we risk losing it all to the shifting sand of a faulty foundation.

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.”  I Cor. 3:10-11

 

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