Never Give Up!

In 1917, Frederick Lehman, a California businessman beset by financial setbacks, wrote the lyrics to the hymn, “The Love of God.” His inspiration led him quickly to pen the first two stanzas, but he got stuck on the third. He recalled a poem that had been discovered years earlier, written on the walls of a prison. No one knows the prisoner who scratched it there into the stone, but it expressed a deep awareness of God’s love. The poem happened to be in the same meter as Lehman’s hymn. He made it his third stanza (Our Daily Bread, Kenneth Peterson).  Here is the hymn:

  1. The love of God is greater far
    Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
    It goes beyond the highest star,
    And reaches to the lowest hell;
    The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
    God gave His Son to win;
    His erring child He reconciled,
    And pardoned from his sin.

Refrain:    
Oh, love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure—
The saints’ and angels’ song.

  • When hoary time shall pass away,
    And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall,
    When men who here refuse to pray,
    On rocks and hills and mountains call,
    God’s love so sure, shall still endure,
    All measureless and strong;
    Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—
    The saints’ and angels’ song.
  • Could we with ink the ocean fill,
    And were the skies of parchment made,
    Were every stalk on earth a quill,
    And every man a scribe by trade;
    To write the love of God above
    Would drain the ocean dry;
    Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
    Though stretched from sky to sky.

Never give up!  Above, a financial failure and a seemingly hopeless prison sentence could not separate these men from the love of God.  This love is expressed “beyond the highest star and reaches to the lowest hell, reconciles the erring child, and pardons the guilty and sinful.”  It “endures, is measureless, strong, and at the very heart of the angels’ song.”  Romans 8 describes it this way, 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Whatever your condition, no matter how bad your predicament seems to be, “Jesus is at the door of your heart, knocking.  He desires to enter into your life as a rescuer and friend” (Revelations 3:20).  Humbly “cast all your cares on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

By the way, the hymn above has been recorded and popularized by Mercy Me.  Listen to and meditate on “the love of God”.

Veteran’s Day

On this Veterans day, I want to start with something very near and dear to my heart, because it represents the heart of every military man and woman, and every person who serves in an official capacity, and who serves selflessly, regardless of dangers. It is called the Oath of Office: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United states against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.” Those of us who put their trust in the Lord do not swear, but we affirm, and we know that it is being done from the heart of dedication to God, and to this nation. I believe that many have forgotten this oath, both military and political alike, and that many have reverted to true faith and allegiance only to ourselves. I know I can ask any past military man or woman who has been in harm’s way defending this constitution by which we govern, to recite it today, for I know it holds that same dedication that it once had but now seems like it is just said, without meaning or dedication to any other than ourselves. We are called by God to submit to our governing authorities, and we are to submit as if submitting to Him, but we also know that our governing authorities do not do the same. Will we ever find our way in this nation back to the true leadership of God? This is what Scripture tells us: “Submit to every human authority because of the Lord, whether to the Emperor as the supreme authority or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good. For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. As God’s slaves, live as free people, but don’t use your freedom as a way to conceal evil. Honor everyone, love the brotherhood. Fear God, Honor the Emperor.“ 1 Peter 2: 13-17 But today, I want to bring honor to my Lord, by honoring those who exhibit selflessness either on the battlefield, or in the classroom, or on the streets of our nation. I believe that there is a war going on, and this war is between good and evil. Everywhere there are good people, living for freedom, and wanting to be examples of faith and goodness to those around them. They stand for this freedom, because they know that it comes from God, and they will stand no matter what the consequence of standing. I salute you, my friends, for you have taken on a special mission, that of being a servant of the Most High in a land filled with those who hate God, and want to do everything they can to destroy those who honor God, and live for Him. Today I honor you veterans of the past, wherever you stood your ground; today I honor you veterans of the present, for you are the ones who now have to live, knowing that we are in perilous times, and there is danger at every turn; I salute you veterans of the future, who will, by the grace of God, fill the shoes of those who have gone before you in Jesus’ name proclaiming freedom to those living in darkness. You are in our military; you are in our police forces; you are in our classrooms; you are in our hospitals; you are in our politics; you are in our churches. I pray that God will be your strength and leadership today, and He will be the One who guides your paths. Pastor (and veteran) Andy

True happiness

Are you happy? I mean really happy! Is happiness something that you strive for? Contrary to what is going on around us, people are generally happy in life. But if you ask them if their lives have meaning, that turns out to be a different story. You see happiness is something that we want, because it involves the fulfillment of the wants. You are happy if you have most of what you want; if you are fulfilled in your relationships; if you don’t have need of anything else. Happiness is therefore built on self-indulgence, when sought after alone. But meaning and purpose involves giving, because that’s the way God made us. Does it surprise you that you find more happiness when it is combined with giving? Giving of ourselves gives a life meaning, and meaning is more than just being happy. Happy people without life purpose, cannot be totally happy, unless of course that they are constantly feeding their want list. There is a reason we are told this in Scripture: “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, sharing the same feelings, focusing on one goal. Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” Philippians 2:1-4 Giving to others out of love, makes us complete. It’s the fabric of what holds marriages together, and it is what holds friendships together. It is the very essence of Christ, who gave the ultimate in giving – His very own life, for the benefit of you and me. If you want true happiness, that thing that comes with fullness of meaning in our lives, be a giver, even if it looks like those you are giving to, are only looking to receive so that they can be happy. Giving is more than money or possessions, but giving of time and the talents that God has given you. That is what holds the most meaning. So check out your happiness level. Are you happy because you have everything you want, or because you have been made content by the giving that comes from your heart. That’s true happiness. Jesus, I thank You for the purpose of life You have instilled within us. Help us to be focused outward toward others before self. Make our happiness one, not of the absence of fear, but of the presence of meaning in our lives. You are that meaning. Help us to become more like you, and less like us. Pastor Andy

“How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain”

New research is starting to explore how gratitude works to improve our mental health.

BY Dr. JOSHUA BROWN, Dr. JOEL WONG | JUNE 6, 2017

With the rise of managed health care, which emphasizes cost-efficiency and brevity, mental health professionals have had to confront this burning question: How can they help clients derive the greatest possible benefit from treatment in the shortest amount of time?

Recent evidence suggests that a promising approach is to complement psychological counseling with additional activities that are not too taxing for clients but yield high results. In our own research, we have zeroed in on one such activity: the practice of gratitude. Indeed, many studies over the past decade have found that people who consciously count their blessings tend to be happier and less depressed. 

The problem is that most research studies on gratitude have been conducted with well-functioning people. Is gratitude beneficial for people who struggle with mental health concerns? And, if so, how?

We set out to address these questions in a recent research study involving nearly 300 adults, mostly college students who were seeking mental health counseling at a university. We recruited these participants just before they began their first session of counseling, and, on average, they reported clinically low levels of mental health at the time. The majority of people seeking counseling services at this university in general struggled with issues related to depression and anxiety.

We randomly assigned our study participants into three groups. Although all three groups received counseling services,

  1. The first group was also instructed to write one letter of gratitude to another person each week for three months,
  2. Whereas the second group was asked to write about their deepest thoughts and feelings about negative experiences.
  3. The third group did not do any writing activity.

What did we find? Compared with the participants who wrote about negative experiences or only received counseling, those who wrote gratitude letters reported significantly better mental health four weeks and 12 weeks after their writing exercise ended. This suggests that gratitude writing can be beneficial not just for healthy, well-adjusted individuals, but also for those who struggle with mental health concerns. In fact, it seems, practicing gratitude on top of receiving psychological counseling carries greater benefits than counseling alone, even when that gratitude practice is brief.

And that’s not all. When we dug deeper into our results, we found indications of how gratitude might actually work on our minds and bodies. While not definitive, here are four insights from our research suggesting what might be behind gratitude’s psychological benefits.

1. Gratitude unshackles us from toxic emotions.

2. Gratitude helps even if you don’t share it. We told participants who were assigned to write gratitude letters that they weren’t required to send their letters to their intended recipient. In fact, only 23 percent of participants who wrote gratitude letters sent them. But those who didn’t send their letters enjoyed the benefits of experiencing gratitude nonetheless.

3. Gratitude’s benefits gradually accrued over time.  

4. Gratitude has lasting, positive effects on the brain.

The Bible is spot-on to the research findings of Dr. Brown and Dr. Wong:

The Apostle Paul challenges us in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  Maintain an attitude of gratitude.

Paul instructs to have confidence and gratitude toward God no matter the situation.  Romans 8:28 exclaims, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose”…Why do we believe this?  V. 29 explains that in our time of need or hurt, we cry out to God.  The end result is that we look and act more like His compassionate Son.

So, in this day of elections let’s heed the above Words of gratitude and practice the following verses from Ps. 112:6&7, “For the righteous will never be moved. He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.”

If you are challenged mentally, I like the idea of writing “gratitude letters” and send them.  Do one per week for 3 months.  Also, place a sticky note on your bathroom mirror reminding you to quote out loud and practice 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 above.  Let’s practice gratitude and get mentally well together.

Innocent or Evil

I felt like I was hiding from an enemy last night when we turned off the lights and it was like no one was home. We did that because we do not believe we should take part in a holiday that puts so much attention on the occult and on demons and evil in all types of ways. It’s even gotten so that Halloween has even been sexualized by some of the costumes that are being advertised. It’s a holiday I prefer not to take part in, for the sake of children who unwittingly go around seeking candy from strangers. I know that some have tried to tame it down by using the phrase, “trunk or treats, given out of trunks on church parking lots. I know that there will be at least some who will be injured, either by the children running across streets in a candy frenzy, or by some perverted individual who will try to either substitute drugs for candy, or fix candy with objects that could harm. All for the purpose of celebrating a night that traditions say, “the dead come out during this night” so that people would dress up in costumes to ward off the spirits of the dead.” So I turn out the lights because I will not be a part of this. And I pray that all the children will be safe from harm during this time. When I seek Scripture for this I am taken to the Old Testament. Now some may say that we now live under the season of grace and that all things are permissible. But we also must remember that all things are not beneficial. Some of the rules of the Old testament are just plain sensible, and are still sensible today. So I share this with you today: “When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not imitate the detestable customs of those nations. No one among you is to make his son or daughter pass through the fire, practice divination, tell fortunes, interpret omens, practice sorcery, cast spells, consult a medium or a familiar spirit, or inquire of the dead. Everyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord, and the Lord your God is driving out the nations before you because of these detestable things. You must be blameless before the Lord your God. Though these nations you are about to drive out listen to fortune-tellers and diviners, the Lord your God has not permitted you to do this.” Deuteronomy 18: 9-14 I don’t think anyone can dispute that Halloween is a demonic holiday. There is no other reason for it, even if some try to minimize its darkness by involving children. We who are of the faith, should reject that which even has the appearance of evil. I’m not talking about shunning those who let their children go trick or treating, but to encourage all to teach all that is good, and to stay away from that which honors the things of evil. I know this will be met with some who reject it as evil, but search your heart, as believers, and know that even if you want to participate in a part that you consider not evil, you are still honoring the day by participating in what is meant for evil. Let’s make sure our children are not programmed to accept the day, but to understand why we do not celebrate. Let’s not let anything unholy come into our homes, and dressing up as a cartoon character may not be unholy, but the practice of the day is unholy, and we must be awake and act sensibly in a time when this holiday is becoming more and more evil. Pastor Andy

Innocent or Evil?

I felt like I was hiding from an enemy last night when we turned off the lights and it was like no one was home. We did that because we do not believe we should take part in a holiday that puts so much attention on the occult and on demons and evil in all types of ways. It’s even gotten so that Halloween has even been sexualized by some of the costumes that are being advertised. It’s a holiday I prefer not to take part in, for the sake of children who unwittingly go around seeking candy from strangers. I know that some have tried to tame it down by using the phrase, “trunk or treats, given out of trunks on church parking lots. I know that there will be at least some who will be injured, either by the children running across streets in a candy frenzy, or by some perverted individual who will try to either substitute drugs for candy, or fix candy with objects that could harm. All for the purpose of celebrating a night that traditions say, “the dead come out during this night” so that people would dress up in costumes to ward off the spirits of the dead.” So I turn out the lights because I will not be a part of this. And I pray that all the children will be safe from harm during this time. When I seek Scripture for this I am taken to the Old Testament. Now some may say that we now live under the season of grace and that all things are permissible. But we also must remember that all things are not beneficial. Some of the rules of the Old testament are just plain sensible, and are still sensible today. So I share this with you today: “When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not imitate the detestable customs of those nations. No one among you is to make his son or daughter pass through the fire, practice divination, tell fortunes, interpret omens, practice sorcery, cast spells, consult a medium or a familiar spirit, or inquire of the dead. Everyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord, and the Lord your God is driving out the nations before you because of these detestable things. You must be blameless before the Lord your God. Though these nations you are about to drive out listen to fortune-tellers and diviners, the Lord your God has not permitted you to do this.” Deuteronomy 18: 9-14 I don’t think anyone can dispute that Halloween is a demonic holiday. There is no other reason for it, even if some try to minimize its darkness by involving children. We who are of the faith, should reject that which even has the appearance of evil. I’m not talking about shunning those who let their children go trick or treating, but to encourage all to teach all that is good, and to stay away from that which honors the things of evil. I know this will be met with some who reject it as evil, but search your heart, as believers, and know that even if you want to participate in a part that you consider not evil, you are still honoring the day by participating in what is meant for evil. Let’s make sure our children are not programmed to accept the day, but to understand why we do not celebrate. Let’s not let anything unholy come into our homes, and dressing up as a cartoon character may not be unholy, but the practice of the day is unholy, and we must be awake and act sensibly in a time when this holiday is becoming more and more evil. Pastor Andy

There Is Such Confidence…

I can remember as a young Christian, Philippians 4:13 was my favorite verse, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  Admittedly, I focused too often on the first half of the verse, “I can do all things” using this as a self-empowerment exercise.  However, I discovered living in my own strength generated inconsistent behavior in my spiritual walk. If you look at Paul’s writings in context, he emphasized the last half of 4:13, “through Christ who strengthens me.” 

Earlier in Philippians 3:4-6, Paul lists some of his many stellar, high profile accolades produced by an “I can do all things” mentality yet ultimately counting them all “loss” and “rubbish”…“But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ” (3:4-6)

The emphasis to Christ-Followers must no longer be “I can” for “I” has been crucified with Christ.  Galatians 2:20 states this clearly, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”  It is no longer “I” but “Christ living through me.”  So, I can do all things not because of me but because of the power, courage, boldness, compassion, kindness, forgiveness, and humility of Christ who lives in and through me. 

In 2 Corinthians 12:9&10, Paul the Apostle puts things in 20/20 perspective, “But the Lord said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  In the spiritual realm, my own strength has no currency.  My best efforts are considered bankrupt. Power comes from the Holy Spirit.  Abundant living results when I get off and stay off the throne room of my life and become wholeheartedly obedient to God.

Once you get “a Christ living through me by faith” mentality, there is such confidence not because of “me” but because of the all-powerful God living within me. 1 John 5:14&15 explains, “14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.” “I can do all things THROUGH CHRIST WHO STRENGTHENS ME.”    

No Need for Waze, He Shows Us the Way

Transportation around the DFW Metroplex is a mess. Pam and I are constantly surprised with new huge highway projects which are hazardous and frustrating.  9 out of 10 cars are in a hurry with many of them already late for their meeting or event.  I wish that I could give testimony that I am Mr. Steady Eddie when I am in the midst of this confusion, but I am a mess.  After a number of my “gut decisions” choosing which route would give us the quickest, simplest and safest directions around the MetroPlex went amiss, I concluded along with Pam (!) that I need help! Our modus operandi has totally changed…

Thank God for Waze, an online tool with traveling instructions of best route presented by a woman’s voice.  We actually talk about “her” as if she is a member of our family!  In fact, we pronounce “her” name as “Wayzee”.  Have we gone crazy?!  If you answer “yes”, you are correct. “She” has saved us valuable time and highly likely the cost of marriage counseling (!😊).  Thank God for Waze!

Our spiritual lives are very similar.  We are all train wrecks if we trust in our own flesh (our own abilities) to make wise decisions.  The Bible is clear about the bankruptcy and pain caused by the flesh:

  • Proverbs14:12 declares, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”
  • Romans 3:12&23 state, “All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
  • Like the candor of the Apostle Paul in the previous verses, Jesus tells us frankly in Luke 13:5 and 24:47, “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish…repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

The Son of God and the Apostle Paul clearly spoke that we are lost and without direction in life if we live it in the flesh.  Each of us are to repent which means to change our mind.  Rely on GOD not yourself!

No need for Waze, He shows us the “Way “‘Jesus says to us, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6).  Paul says it this way, For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (John 14:6).  There is no other route to heaven or for guidance in life.  “He is the way”.

In the traffic jams of life, Jesus gives us crystal clear direction in His Word.  Proverbs 3:5&6, Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.  And, if you want to know how to recognize that path, Psalm 119:105 tells us, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”  Wholeheartedly trust in Jesus and His Word.

Living a Christ-like life

I think most of us would like to live surrounded by other believers, but the truth is that most of us are surrounded by those outside the faith. They, then, are the ones who watch us, who see our behavior, and who will end up judging us according to our hypocrisy or our faith. So how are we to live among the “outsiders” so that they cannot accuse us of hypocrisy or being “haters?” Here is what Scripture tells us: “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to slander no one, to avoid fighting, and to be kind, always showing gentleness to all people. For we too were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved by various passions and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, detesting one another. But when the goodness of God and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us – not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to His mercy, through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit. He poured out this Spirit on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that having been justified by His grace, we may become heirs with the hope of eternal life.” Titus 3:1-7 Right here in a couple of paragraphs, we have the guidance for living a Christ-like life. No, He doesn’t say what will happen to us when we live like this, for that is not important. If anyone wants to know what will happen to them if they live respectable lives, before they agree to do it, they have missed the point of faith. Our faith tells us that regardless of how we are treated, we treat others like Jesus would. Our faith tells us that the way we live will not be rewarded with kindness necessarily, at least on this side of eternity. This is a model for living without regard to how we are treated in return. Our faith is not dependent on that. We lived in a duplex in Hawaii, when I was in the Military, and when I became a believer, I told the people living next to us. From that point on, they treated us like we had leprosy. But several months later, the wife from next door knocked on our door. She was embarrassed to be there, but she had to reach out. She asked if we would pray for her and her family, which was falling apart. She may not have liked the fact that we became believers, but in need, she reached out because she knew our faith was real. We were not looking for admiration, but were living like Christ wanted us to live. He revealed to us that the “outsiders” were indeed watching, and at least one turned to God in the time of need, and asked us to pray for them. If you believe, You have been given the Holy Spirit, who He says, ‘He poured out on us abundantly.’ If you believe, you will desire to be the peace in the midst of “Outsiders”. They will see your peace, and they will not be able to call you hypocrite, when you practice these things. They may still persecute you, but at least you will have given them nothing but love and peace, gentleness, and kindness, avoiding being sucked into retaliation for the way they treat you. We will respond with love; we will respond with kindness and gentleness. I know it’s hard, but it’s the way of the true believer. Pastor Andy

When You’re Squeezed What Comes Out?

When moments become competitive or emotional or when you engage someone who is different than yourself whether it be their beliefs, their background, their ethnicity or when you feel violated, how do you react?  When you are tempted to involve your mind or body towards fleshly, sinful actions, do you satisfy your desire, or do you choose to act in obedience to Christ?  When you are emotionally or mentally squeezed, what comes out? Is it acidic, bitter, lustful, boisterous, satanic, or is your reaction Godly?  Are your words and/or actions compassionate and merciful or insulting and belittling?  You are constantly being tempted.

Life is a choice, isn’t it?  The Bible in Galatians 5 gives us our choices how we behave.  When squeezed, we can either choose the desires of the flesh or submit our will to God. Let’s take a look at what our choices look like:

Galatians 5,19-21, 19Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these…those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

OR…

Galatians 5:22&23 “22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

One is selfish and the other is submission to God.

One is flesh and the other Spiritual.

One is the kingdom of self and the other is the Kingdom of God.

One is of the devil and the other is of God.

One is temporal and the other is eternal.

One is impure and the other is pure.

One is based on lies and deception and the other based on Truth.

One leads you to hell and the other guides you to heaven.

One is about darkness and the other is full of light.

With all the above said, never forget. Life is lived inside out. It all begins with the heart. Two quick verses will rock all of us:

Matthew 12:33, How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

Proverbs 4:23, Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.

When you’re squeezed, what comes out?  Your choice…

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