Break Through!

If you feel lost and all alone, let the love of Jesus break through. If you are overwhelmed by fear and confusion, drowning in a sea of problems you can’t control, let the Holy Spirit lead you back to the surface where you break through, able to breathe again. If you feel like you might as well be dead because addiction has completely taken over your life, let Your Father in heaven break through your pain and breathe life back in to you.

Listen carefully and you will hear the sound of God’s heart beating in tune with yours. It is no coincidence that you are reading this right now–God has a plan to save you, if you are willing. Come to New Life Church of God in Benton, Illinois, where God is breaking through. God is getting ready to do something so big, we can only see a tiny sliver. He is moving and shaking us out of our routines, causing us to move out of our pews and into the great unknown. We only know that where He goes, we will gladly follow.

Focus now on Jesus, who is your Savior, whether you know it or not, even if you are certain the last thing you need is a savior. If you have no idea who He is, then ask yourself if you want to find out why people like me keep talking about His love and mercy and grace and forgiveness, how He has healed us and set us free from our own addictions, how His love has radically transformed our lives from the inside out. Come, tonight-Sunday, June 23, 2019, at 5:30. We will be praying. At 6:30 we will be singing His praises and learning more about this man who came from heaven to save us and set us free.

It is no coincidence that you are reading this. Let God break through your pain and suffering.

New Life Church of God, 707 N. DuQuoin St., Benton, IL 62812. Phone 618-439-3833, nlcg.org

 

The Way Back

It begins with knowing that we are lost on our own. Because I accept that God created me, it is easy to see how often I have run away from Him thinking that going my own way is better. When I run away from God, I lose His protection. He still sees me and loves me even as I rebel and act hatefully to Him. The truth that never ceases to amaze me, however, is that He is always nearby, just a heart-cry away, anytime I call out to Him.

Through Hosea, our Father shows us the way back to Him. In chapter 14, God pleads with us to simply return to Him. He knows how we have stumbled by taking the wrong path–any path leading away from Him. And what He desperately wants us to know is that which path we are on or how far away from Him we have fled DOES NOT MATTER.

We don’t have to clean ourselves up before coming to Him, and the truth is that we cannot clean ourselves up anyway. To God, who loves us because He created us in His image, the first step away from Him is as wrong and sorrowful as the step we take today, even if it has been years or decades since we tried to get back to Him. So please, don’t even try to clean yourself up before coming to Him. His grace will begin to clean and restore us the second we turn back to Him.

The way back begins with our words. Just begin telling Him what you know in your heart, whatever you know you have done wrong. Start with the first thought that comes to your mind. Tell your Father, who already knows, where you are and how you got there. In telling Him, using whatever words you have to explain it, He will show you not only how that has hurt Him, but also, what you have missed by going your own way. When you see what you’ve missed, you will naturally turn toward Him and see His light beckoning you home.

By talking to God honestly and not hiding the truth or trying to justify our mistakes, we can’t help but see that what we have run to cannot save us but has only enslaved us in a dungeon that has shut out His light and love. As we accept that our own ways have only led to destruction, God can begin to heal us and show us His love. His love and mercy, showered on us the moment we turn back to Him are like the dew of the morning awakening our hearts and minds to have hope for a new day. He restores in us the life He meant us to live all along: as beautiful and carefree as the lillies of the field, and as strong and sure as the deepest roots of the tall cedar trees of Lebanon. He makes us flourish like an olive tree so we have more than enough to sustain ourselves and naturally give nourishment to anoint others with the oil He produces in our lives. Our lives, lived under His shadow, close enough that we can see His magnificence towering over us and reaching into eternity, not only shelters us but also gives shade to many others from the burning glare of the world.

When we make that journey, which is actually just one word away, we will be the most amazed person of all. We will exclaim to ourselves, “I don’t need any of these crutches I used to think were all that held me up!” We will know and understand with the deepest clarity, everything we’ve ever dreamed of and longed for is found in Him. Being at home with our Father, close enough to feel His love overshadowing the terrors of this life is where we find our sustenance and joy.

“Who is wise? Let him understand these things. Who is prudent? Let him know them.” Hosea 14:9.

Amen and amen.

 

 

 

 

How to Treat a Snake Bite

Listening to the radio the other day, I heard a story about how to treat a snake bite. The number one thing NOT to do is put a tourniquet on it. If you isolate the poison by cutting off the blood flow to the area with the bite, you will probably cause more damage than the snake alone could ever cause.

When we are spiritually bitten, poisoned by the lies of the enemy, it is also crucial NOT to put a tourniquet on the area of the bite. In the spirit realm, placing a tourniquet above the area of the bite happens when we justify our choice to believe the lie of the enemy. This is the process: we tell ourselves that it’s okay to do something we know to be wrong. We find a reason that suits our personality and mind, usually something that is commonly accepted by the world, to convince ourselves that we can get away with doing that which we know to be wrong. We excuse doing what we know to be wrong by accepting some lie that makes it okay for us.

In my life, the area that I have most clearly applied a tourniquet to is my choice to overeat. I know that when I overeat, I not only make myself miserable–feeling stuffed, a little nauseous, sluggish, and weak–I also dull my ability to hear God speaking into my life. I can’t see others’ needs when my focus is the obsession to eat more food, regardless of whether I’m physically hungry or not. It is a way of escaping from my responsibility to take care of this marvelous body and life God has given me and from my responsibility to love others as I love myself. It is a way to pervert God’s gift of enjoying good food, which God created to give me energy and support good health. It turns God’s blessing into a curse.

By justifying overeating, which I have known for decades to be wrong for me, I have applied a tourniquet to this area of my life. I have used every justification out there to absolve myself from doing what I know to be right, with the main justification being–just this once can’t hurt. Of course, “once” every couple of hours over several decades is no longer just once but an ingrained pattern of self-abuse that has resulted in bursitis, high blood pressure, acid reflux, lack of energy, and having to buy bigger and bigger clothes every year.

But even worse than the physical problems is the spiritual atrophy. I will never know what God intended to reveal to me in those moments, day in, day out, for over 30 years, when I chose to do what I knew to be wrong, eating more than enough to satisfy physical hunger. I can clearly see now that by applying the tourniquet of justification to this area of my life, I cut off the flow of Jesus’ blood, causing great damage to what He wanted to accomplsh through my life.

But God is so much greater than my sin that even now, at 61 years of age, He can and will deliver me and cause His life-giving blood to flow into the area of my spirit that I almost killed by my disobedience. My part is to ask Him for forgiveness, which I do, right now, and to repent sincerely, from my heart, so that He can then show me how to turn away from doing wrong and begin doing right. I pray for His guidance to show me how to remove the tourniquet of justification by making choices I know to be right and good in His sight. All for His glory so that everyone I meet will know His goodness and grace.

Amen and men.

 

Pack a lunch

The young boy’s mother didn’t have much to pack for him that day, but she put all she had in a basket. She looked at him as she put the food into the basket and saw something shining in his eyes she’d never seen before. “Son, tell me more about this man you’re going to see,” she said.

The boy, a scrawny lad of no more than ten, looked up at her with his bright, dark eyes, but said nothing for several seconds. Then he looked out the door toward the sea. Their small house was not far from the sea where his father went every day to fish. His catch had not been enough to feed their small family recently, but the boy knew that if he could only meet this man they called Jesus, everything would be all right.

Finally, the boy answered her. “I am going to meet Jesus today. I want to give him our bread and fish so he can help Papa catch enough fish to feed us this year.” His mother smiled and handed him the basket. “Go then. Who knows? God go with you, son. But be home before dark to help your father with his nets.”

The boy took the basket and ran out the door toward the mountain in the distance. As his mother watched him, she saw people coming from every direction. She began to worry that her boy would be caught up in some terrible mob, and she cried out for him to come back, but the wind from the sea carried her voice away. She watched her son running toward the mountain with the others until she could see him no longer.

The boy was so excited as he ran up the grassy slope at the base of the mountain. He had glimpsed some of the men he knew walked with Jesus. He worked his way through the crowds until he found one of them, a man called Andrew who he’d met one day in the village. The boy tugged on Andrew’s sleeve until he turned to look down at the boy, saying impatiently, ‘What do you want?”

“I have these barley loaves and fish to give Jesus,” the boy answered as he tried to catch his breath. Andrew took the boy by the arm and made his way through the crowd to the place where Jesus sat with the rest of his men. Andrew knew that Jesus wanted his followers to feed the crowd, but he realized that all they had combined was not nearly enough to begin feeding the thousands of people who had come to meet Jesus that day. The boy felt a wonderful warmth of love when he saw Jesus looking at the multitude of people. Andrew said to Jesus, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?” (John 6:9)

The boy watched, astonished, as Jesus took the basket from him, patted him on the shoulder, and blessed him for his offering. Jesus instructed his men to have the crowd sit down. When the multitudes finally settled down, “Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks He distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down; and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted.” (John 6:11)

The boy sat with the others, eating the food Jesus had blessed. He was happier than he’d ever been before. The bread and fish tasted better than ever, and he had a feeling of peace that he had no words to express. When he finished all he could eat, he ran up to Jesus to ask if he could help clean up. Jesus sent him with eleven of His followers to gather the leftovers. “Therefore they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves which were left over from those who had eaten.” (John 6:13)

When the boy came home late that afternoon, his mother was anxiously watching for him to return. She finally spotted him among the crowd coming away from the mountain. She was stunned when he retuned her basket filled to overflowing with fragments of bread, so much more than what she’d packed for him. She smiled but looked puzzled as she shook her head, kissed her boy, took the basket from him, and watched him run toward the sea to meet his father coming to shore in his fishing boat.

The mother watched her son help his father pull the boat onto the shore. Through the crashing of the waves and cries of the seagulls, she heard her son tell her husband all about the miracle Jesus made happen that day. She did not understand any of it but thanked God for giving her something to pack for her son to give Jesus that day.

(I imagined this story as the backdrop to the account in John 6:1-14. I pray it blesses you with a new perspective.)

The Eternal Good Friday

As our grand cathedrals burn to the ground

leaving only the cross of Christ to stand,

as our coastlands are washed away in torrents

and our cities crumble under wasted lives and deep divisions,

Christ Jesus hangs in an eternal sacrifice for any one

willing to accept Him as Savior.

On this side of eternity we cannot see

the value of a single soul who chooses to accept

His free gift of eternal life.

The eternal Good Friday reaches out to us today

with the horror of the only innocent son of man hanging on a cross

of unfathomable pain and suffering.

God chose and His Son Jesus chose

to come here to earth to save each one of us

knowing most of us would reject that sacrifice

as merely ridiculous, and throw away our only hope

of making it out of here alive.

But He came and suffered and died

for the one who would choose to accept her need

for a Savior to bring her back home,

knowing she had no other way.

But glorious mystery of wonder

that no one can fully explain:

that choice awaits each of us in our eternal soul–

accept salvation or live on your own.

You have the choice to believe you have found another way

because He values the one who chooses Him

above all.

Hope Over Heroin (hope over any addiction)

At New Life Church of God in Benton, IL, we are partnering with Hope Over Heroin. The big event will happen in August 2019. Look for much more information to come.

As in Ezekiel’s vision, recorded in chapter 37, we can no longer walk anywhere in this land without stumbling over the dry bones of the lives thrown away in search of more and more poison to fuel the disease of addiction. Our land is scattered with the shells of people whose lives are sucked dry of all hope of any existence outside their prison of addiction. People who used to live and laugh, who used to go to school and work, who used to love others and enjoy life now lay scattered across our land, able only to ceaselessly crawl toward the black hole of death that is addiction.

But, just as Ezekiel saw the valley of dry bones come to life, we too will see the broken, fragmented, buried lives lost to addiction come up out of the graves. God knows how to cause His breath, the very substance of His Holy Spirit, to enter into these dry bones: “Hear the word of the Lord” and live! “Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live!” Ezekiel 37:4-5.

God also knows the step-by-step process it will take to restore the fractured, fragmented, useless shells of addicts back into living, breathing, loving, growing people. God is bringing His Holy Spirit from the four winds to “breathe on these slain, that they may live.” Ezekiel 37:9.  Once people are delivered from addiction, the toughest work begins. Long after they arise from their graves, they will continue to say, “Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off.” Ezekiel 37:11. So, through the power and might of the Holy Spirit, those set free will have to be convinced, over and over, that they can live and love and be happy, valuable members of our communities again.

We who partner with Hope Over Heroin to battle against addiction must be willing to walk alongside the restored for as long as it takes for God to convince them that He truly loves them and has a plan for them, until they know that the Lord opened their graves and brought them up out of the darkness simply because He loves them. Therefore, we commit to praying and seeing them through so that they will know that God has put His Spirit in them and placed them in their own land to live and breathe again. Ezekiel 37:13-14.

Amen and amen.

Testimony (proof, evidence, witness, proclamation of personal experience)

When I was 13, no longer a child but in that in-between, awkward phase of trying to learn how to be me, I met Jesus for the very first time.

Having been raised in a church, I had heard about Jesus all my life, although it seemed to me that we were supposed to be mostly interested in God. God was the creator, and all those old testament stories warned us not to make him mad. When the preacher mentioned Jesus, he just seemed like an afterthought, a side story that really was too messy and complicated to focus on. In fact, everything about Jesus made me (and apparently everyone else) uncomfortable.

When I was 12, I went to church camp, not because I wanted to get closer to God, but to be with my girl friends for a week-long sleepover, and much more importantly, to meet cute boys. We had chapel each day, and along with most of the other kids, I told the leader that I had given my heart to Jesus. Soon after returning home, I and the others who had been “saved” at camp were baptised in water. I barely remember any of it because it just wasn’t that important to me. I see now that I was only doing what I thought was expected.

Sometime in the following year, I got involved with a youth praise group doing a production of “Pass It On,” a musical with lyrics I could relate to. I didn’t think about it at the time, but singing praises to Jesus began to open my heart to a yearning for something to love outside of my own self-absorbed focus. Also, the true love some of the kids had for Jesus made me curious. I see now that their sincere praises, sung out to Him, brought the Holy Spirit among us, like an enticing fragrance I couldn’t identify but wanted more of.

After we finished performing the Pass It On shows, I went with our youth group to another church for a revival service. Again, I didn’t go to be revived spiritually. I went to be with my friends, no doubt intending to make fun of anyone else I thought wasn’t as cool as me. I had no idea that God had a completely different experience in store for me that night.

The preacher told us the simple gospel account of Jesus, how He chose to leave His perfect home in heaven with His Father, to come to earth, knowing He would be despised, rejected, and ultimately die a horrific death on the cross. When I heard the preacher’s words, something shifted deep inside my spirit. I realized the truth: Jesus had died for me! He made the choice to come to earth knowing He would die in place everyone who has ever lived on earth, knowing that most of us would reject Him totally. In that moment, I understood that Jesus had already, once and for all eternity, died for me. His death on the cross was a done deal. And He had given me complete freedom to either reject His sacrifice or accept it. What pierced my heart was realizing that by rejecting Jesus, by brushing Him off as irrelevant to me, I could not erase His sacrifice. Whether I chose to care or not, He died for me!! Jesus’ heart of sacrifice for me, knowing how self-centered and rebellious I was, broke my wicked, selfish heart. I couldn’t run fast enough to the altar to fall on my knees in humble adoration of the Savior I’d never known before then.

From that day on, I have always known He was with me, especially in my loneliest, toughest times. It is my relationship with Jesus that sustains me and gives me the courage to do what I know to be right. Jesus is not only my Savior, not only Almighty, all-powerful, all-knowing; Jesus is my constant, never-changing friend, always ready to listen to my cries, answer my questions, protect me, and comfort me. Jesus laughs with me when I am amused. He gets my jokes, doesn’t mind my off-key singing, and He loves me even when I don’t love myself. When I was younger, I often tried to run from His love, thinking that I had better things to do than draw close to Him. But He was always patiently waiting for me to come back to Him. Over time, I have realized more and more, that coming back to Him is the only way I ever find any real peace.

Jesus died for each one of us. His sacrifice is an eternal, unchangeable fact. Everyone who hears the good news, that Jesus died to save each of us from a life separated from our Father God, has a choice to make: accept Jesus’ sacrifice, His free gift of life, or throw it away and find your own way to eternity. Either way, He is there waiting to give you the peace that surpasses understanding. The choice is yours….