OPEN WIDE!

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I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it. (Psalm 81:10)


Having delivered His people from more than four hundred years of bondage in Egypt, God was just getting started blessing His people. The people of God had witnessed miracle upon miracle from His hand; then, when they were trapped between the Red Sea and the pursuing armies of Egypt, God parted the waters and the people crossed over on dry ground. When the waters came back together, the entire Egyptian army was plunged into a godless grave.

To begin to plumb the depths of today’s word of encouragement, go back and read the verse again. Notice how God reminds His people what He has already done for them. He set His people free from slavery in Egypt and called them to Himself, and He did it all by Himself, entirely apart from anything they had done or could do for Him. And as if that wasn’t enough of a blessing, God says, “Open wide, and I will fill you to the overflowing”—mercies multiplied and blessings beyond compare!

Can you picture a nest full of cheeping baby birds with their mouths wide open in anticipation of the mother bird returning to feed them? How much more will our Father in heaven fill His children if we would but open our mouths? Because of what God in Christ has done for us, we have been given the privilege to boldly come to the throne of grace and make our requests known to the Sovereign Lord of all the universe. We are not to come fearfully. We are not to come hesitantly. We are not to come slowly. We are to come boldly, with our mouths open wide, a song in our hearts, and supplication on our lips. We are to come as the psalmist did: “I open my mouth and pant, longing for your commands” (Psalm 119:131).

Remember, God had already given the people of Israel the unimaginable blessing of freedom from bondage in Egypt. Today He instructs His people to “open wide” because more blessings are on the way. When you come to God in prayer, do you come expectantly? Has He not proven Himself a thousand times over in your life? The only way to come to God is with an attitude of wide-open anticipation, because such a posture tells Him and shouts to the world that we know our God is able to do immeasurably more for us than all we could ever ask or imagine.

Now, it’s true that God can do anything, and He can fill even the mouth that is closed. But He prefers when we come to Him with expectant hearts and our mouths wide open, seeking to slake the deep thirst of the soul for His presence. May this be the confession of our lives!

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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MY LOAVES AND FISHES

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Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” (John 6:8)


Here is a biblical principle we all have a tendency to forget, especially when we are in seasons of scarcity: a little with the Lord is a lot! In all four gospel accounts, the Lord preserved a story that offers us great comfort and encouragement. In our passage today, Andrew brought a boy who had only five loaves and two fish, yet when he gave them over to the Lord, his seemingly insignificant offering was transformed into the story of the miraculous “Feeding of the 5,000”—which, in actuality, was probably a crowd of as many as 15,000 to 20,000 people.

We live in a world that insists that the more you have, the more valuable and important you are. But the Bible tells us that God looks not at the outward appearance of man, but rather at the heart. God does not measure our value, worth, and importance based on what we have acquired; rather, we are valuable, worthy, and important simply because of what He has given us: the incomparable inheritance of being made in His image. As image-bearers of God, we are set apart from and high above all of creation. And because we are made in the image of God, we are never to measure our self-worth by our net worth.

Regardless of what you have or don’t have, you are of infinite worth to God . . . so much so that God the Father sent God the Son to die in your place to pay the penalty for your sin. Why? So that He could have an intimate, personal, loving relationship with you for all eternity. Remember, God did not need any of us. No, God wanted us, and to see this any other way is to miss one of the most important messages in all of Scripture. Keep in mind that God was in perfect, eternal relationship with Himself—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He had no need for anything, especially us. What God did have was an eternal want to create a people He could love and who would love Him back.

Do you know one of the best ways to demonstrate your love for Jesus? Offer all that you are and all that you have in faithful service to Him. Sadly, there are a great many people who say, “I don’t have much to offer up to God.” That simply is not true! You have you, and you are all God wants. God wants you to live for Him, lean on Him, and learn from Him. He wants what’s in your heart, not what’s in your hand. And when He has captured your heart, you will release all that you hold in your hand, and He will use it for His glory and the good of others.

What are your loaves and fishes? What little do you have that, when you release it to your Lord, will become a lot? God wants to use you right now, right where you are. He wants to use the personality, life experiences, gifts, talents, and abilities He has given you. When you surrender those to the Lord, you can count on this: God will bless it and supply a supernatural increase.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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A FRIEND INDEED

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Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. (1 Samuel 18:3)


You and I can glean a great deal from the friendship that existed between David and Jonathan. Jonathan was the son of King Saul; David was the king’s servant. When David went out to battle and returned victorious, the people would shout, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7). Saul became insanely jealous of David, and even tried to kill him several times. But Jonathan never wavered. He was a true friend to David, even when it hurt his own relationship with his father. True friendship is costly and demands sacrifice, a sacrifice which Jonathan willingly made for David.

So what does a true friend like Jonathan look like lived out in the life of another? It is someone who, when you need it most . . .

  • Listens without lecturing
  • Comforts without condemning

Jonathan loved David as himself and refused to follow his father into his sinful murderous plots against David. Jonathan was more concerned for David’s well-being than his own. One day King Saul actually tried to kill Johnathan—his own son! Remarkably, Jonathan defended David to his father even when David was not around, which is truly rare today. Jonathan rejoiced when David rejoiced and grieved when David grieved.

Here are two questions to answer:

  1. Do you have a friend like Jonathan in your life today?
  2. Are you a friend like Jonathan to someone else?

To be sure, Jonathans are a very special gift from God, and they are to be valued above the riches of this world. If you have a Jonathan-like friend in your life, pause to reach out and tell them what they mean to you. We all need a Jonathan and we all need to be Jonathan to others. Remember, as the old saying goes, a friend in need is a friend indeed.

Who right now needs you?

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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CONGRATULATIONS, BROCK!

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Dear Brock,

Tomorrow at 8:00 a.m. the Boland family will be sitting in the Spec Martin Memorial Stadium for Stetson University’s 133rd Annual Commencement Exercise, watching as you walk across the stage to receive your degree in Music Education. It really does seem like only yesterday when we dropped you off at the campus to start your freshman year . . . and here we are, four years later, preparing for your graduation.

Leaving you at Stetson that first day was a mixture of joy and sadness; no matter how much a parent prepares for that day, emotions run high. Mom was staying for the parents’ weekend and Tank and I were heading back to get ready for weekend services at the Cross. As we started to walk away and the tears began to flow, you stopped me one last time and said something that I will forever hold in my heart: “Thank you, Dad!” We both knew what you were saying, and I thanked God for 18 years of countless mercies He displayed every time I messed it up.

You were our firstborn, and there were so many times I blew it as your dad while you were growing up. I was hardest on you, not just at home, but as your coach in so many sports, including karate. I think back on how many times I hurt your heart growing up, and it still breaks my heart today. I was demanding a level of obedience from you that I could not give to God myself! Often I disciplined you—not in love, but in anger—which is the antithesis of what God does for us. Yet through it all, as Romans 5:20 says, where my sin increased, His grace increased all the more. God was so gracious to protect your precious heart and to begin changing and growing me into the father He was calling me to be for you, Jenna, Katie, and Tank.

To say that Mom and I are proud of you would be an understatement of gargantuan proportions. You are the first of our four children to graduate from college. Our God has truly met your every need in Christ Jesus these past four years, and to see how He has grown your gifting and love for music brings a joy to us that is indescribable. I don’t believe we missed any of your performances, whether singing in the choir or performing in the opera . . . and I even got to watch an intramural championship flag football game!

In addition to your music education, God has given you an incredible girlfriend in Meg. We sat in the same stadium last year and watched her walk across the stage and receive her Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance. We can see the powerful and positive influence God has caused Meg to have in your life, both in and out of music education and performing. We have also seen the incredible impact you have had in her life and believe God has brought you both together for something truly special and God-glorifying.

And, as if it could not get any better, you are convinced that God is calling you back to Cross Community Church to put your gifts into full-time service as our Director of Music and Media. My son, as I write this my emotions are beginning to get the best of me, making it hard for me to find the right words to truly express my heart. So it is best that I let God’s Word speak for me in a way that I trust will express the depth of my love for you and my gratitude to God.

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. (3 John 4)

I love you, Brock!

Dad

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CONTACT – CONNECTION – BUT NOT COPY!

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They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. (John 17:16)


There are two common errors when it comes to understanding the role of the church in the world today. One error is to be believe that Christians should be so insulated from the unbelieving world that we make no impact for the glory of our King. The other error is to become so saturated in the unbelieving world that we make no impact for the glory of our King.

The key to avoiding both these errors is to understand that we are in the world, but not of the world, and we are called to make a difference in this world by being different from this world. We are to make contact and deep connection with unbelievers in the world around us, but we are in no way to copy the behavior and customs of this world. Read on and be encouraged!

In order to encourage sinners (that is, people just like us) to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, we must make contact with them and connect with them the deep truths of the Gospel, but we are never to embrace the sinner’s sin in order to fulfill our mission in this world. As Peter said, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12).

To be sure, there is great tension produced by living in a world that is hostile to God, but we have been given the power of the Holy Spirit to live in such a way that our good deeds do indeed glorify God. Make no mistake, when we live this way, some will accuse, but some will also advance in the direction of the Almighty. We make God attractive to the watching world when we live in a way that is pleasing to Him . . . when we become “the aroma of Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:15) to the people around us.

Here is perhaps the best way of looking at being in the world but not of the world: Our physical location right now is in this world, a world that for the most part lives in defiant opposition to the biblical worldview. The unbelieving world does not not acknowledge God as God or thank Him for the many blessings we receive from His hand. The vast majority of unbelievers have a man-centered worldview which is of this world, and we are not to follow it in any way. We must guard against allowing any man-centered thinking to seep in and saturate our biblical worldview through the movies and shows we watch and the music we listen to. As disciples of Christ, we are to put the biblical worldview on display for the world around us with both our lips and our lives; when we do, we can be assured that God will supply the increase.

Remember, make contact with everyone you can and work to establish some kind of friendship connection, but make sure you don’t copy them! You will be an eternal difference-maker by being different . . . because of the One you love and serve: the Lord Jesus Christ.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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COSMIC CONTROL

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I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you. (Acts 18:10)


Sometimes life just seems to be a bit out of control. But in reality, it only feels that way because we are looking at the circumstances around us and not at the One behind it all, He who is in complete cosmic control.

Today’s passage records how God reminded Paul in a vision that He had everything under His complete cosmic control in the city of Corinth, and that Paul should continue serving His Lord. What was true for Paul 2000 years ago is true for us today. Read on and be encouraged!

The late Dr. R. C. Sproul is often quoted for something he told my class in seminary, something I have never forgotten and frequently repeat from the pulpit: “If there is one maverick molecule anywhere in the universe, you cannot trust God for anything!” Either God is in control of everything . . . or nothing. There is no middle ground. Think about it this way. If not even a bird falls to the ground apart from His will, then you, as a Christian believer who is made in the image of God and adopted as His beloved child, should find great comfort and encouragement in the fact that He is working all things for your good . . . even those things that don’t feel good!

If you remember the story of Job, you know that the devil needed God’s permission to test the faith of Job. Not only did Satan need permission, he could only do what God allowed him to do and nothing more. There is only one force in the universe that is omnipotent (that is, all powerful), and that force is God. Our God is in complete cosmic control of absolutely everything in the entire universe at every moment. Remember, the One who makes the devil himself flee at His Word is also in control of each and every one of Satan’s devilish agents.

So . . . if God is in control, what have we to fear? That is especially true when we are busily engaged in doing our duty. Anyone who stands in opposition to us is standing in opposition to Omnipotence, and they shall become like a bruised reed and as smoking flax (Matthew 12:19-20).

Is it not a great comfort to you today to know the cosmic control of your Christ over every aspect of your life? The One who laid down His life to have a personal relationship with you is controlling all things, sustaining all things, and ultimately making all things work together for your good and His glory. Nothing and no one can thwart God’s purposes for your life and for this world.

One final thought: There was a time when everything in Joseph’s life appeared to be absolutely out of control. His brothers hated him and sold him into slavery when he was about 17 years old. He did well in his captivity for a time, but then he was falsely accused of attempted rape and he languished in prison for years. Finally, at age 30, after interpreting the dreams of Pharaoh, Joseph was elevated to the position of vice-regent over all Egypt. In that position of authority, God used Joseph to save the Israelites from starvation when seven years of famine hit. When we look back on those 13 years in the life of Joseph, we can we see how God controlled each event—even those events that other people intended for evil—and realize how God meant it all for Joseph’s ultimate good, as well as the good of a great many others.

I am convinced that we should frequently look at life backwards to see just how beautifully God has been orchestrating all the events in our lives. Knowing that God has cosmic control over everything allows us to rise above the circumstances in life and to focus on the One who directs them: our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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MAKING SENSE OF THE SEEMINGLY SENSELESS

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Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. (Psalm 139:6)


If you are anything like me, you’ve probably read or heard of some dreadful, tragic event and immediately said to yourself, “That just doesn’t make any sense!”

Those who knew the lovely missionary family must have thought this very thing. On March 19, 1971, Walt and Vonnie Steinkraus, a dedicated Wycliffe missionary couple serving in New Guinea, were at home resting with their young daughters, Kerry and Kathy, after attending Sunday church services. At 3:00 pm a huge section of the 300-foot mountain on the opposite side of the river from the Steinkraus’s house suddenly broke loose. With a deafening roar and incredible force, a half-mile-wide, 100-foot-deep slab plunged downward . . . scooping out sandbanks and crossing the river with lightning speed. It drove through the opposite bank and covered the village with rock, mud, and debris ten feet deep. The missionary family was buried in the landslide. Death was instantaneous; it’s possible they never even heard a sound.

Why? A sense of disbelief hung in the air over all those who knew the family, including seasoned veterans of the Wycliffe team, who had been tested by fire and hammered on the anvil of adversity and affliction. It just didn’t make any sense! Why would this happen to a family who had committed their lives to serving God? Why this particular hillside? Why did it collapse at the very time when the Steinkraus family was at home, resting from their labors in the Lord of translating the Bible into the Tifalmin tongue? Walt, Vonnie and their children were taken—not by the landslide, but by their Lord to their eternal home in heaven before they were able to finish the project. Why?!

In this case, God was gracious to supply the answer that so many of us search for. As rescue workers sifted through the debris in the aftermath of the disaster, they found an envelope with the words of Isaiah 55:9 printed on it:

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.

We must remember that what seems senseless to us is not the least bit senseless to our Savior. We see only in part; He sees everything in whole, from beginning to end. We see in the temporal; He sees in the eternal. When we mere mortals look for answers, we don’t have any. None of us has the mind of God, so how can we in any way make sense out of a seemingly senseless and utterly life-changing event?

Over the years, here is the best answer I have been able to come up with for those who are in the midst of a crushing set of circumstances, and I share it often with our congregation:

I don’t know what the reason is for this calamity, but I know what it cannot be. It cannot be because God doesn’t love us. The cross proves that truth!

The psalmist was right; such knowledge is simply too high for us to understand. This is where we simply must accept rather than try to explain. We know that our God is a good God and so we trust Him even when we cannot trace Him, knowing that all things will eventually work together for our good and His glory. So when circumstances seem senseless, don’t look to make sense of it, rather, look to your Savior and lean on Him, not your own understanding.

One last thought: when the veil of physical death drops and we are separated from members of the family of faith, we grieve, and rightly so. We know we will miss their presence in our lives! But we do not grieve as those who have no hope. For those who have placed their trust in Jesus Christ’s atoning death, burial, and resurrection, death does not mean “Goodbye” . . . It simply means, “I’ll see you soon!”

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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