Baltimore friends, has there ever been a better weekend for us to walk our streets, meet our neighbors, talk and listen to each other? It’s beautiful outside and someone needs to see your smile! After last night, we now have 50 murders (last year at this time there were just 34). Time for us to pray more than before. Let’s ask God for mercy and a stop to the violence. Let’s ask Father God what He would have us do, here and now with specifics. Today I enjoyed time with non-profit, business, and church leaders…hearing from them how they are responding. We are not alone. Good things are happening this week!
What is God like? Does God really love me? If I approach God what will I find? How can I find peace? What is God’s love like?
These are questions worth spending time on. Let’s get real. Let us come to God with honesty, even honesty about our doubts. Let us come to God with questions.
Answering these questions can be a journey. Taking another step each day is helpful. Let’s read a little to grow in our understanding.
John wrote, “God is love.” 1 John 4:8
Here’s what I believe: When I learn more about God’s love, I can better receive it, be changed by it, and bring it to others.
John knew Jesus. John walked with Jesus, talked with Jesus. Let’s read what John had to say about this love:
Personal relationship includes spending time with someone and learning more about them. If we are to learn more about Jesus, let us learn from people who walked with Him and talked with Him, people like John.
This is John, the friend and follower of Jesus, writing to people like us, people who lived in various places and found themselves in different places in their relationship with Jesus. John writes to show that true knowledge of God involves a personal relationship with Him. He writes this, around 50 years after Jesus walked the earth, to refute people who were falsely teaching that though Jesus was truly the Son of God, He was not also human. These false teachers also taught that only they had true knowledge. They despised John and the others who actually walked with Jesus, followed Jesus, and were teaching the truth. And so John writes to assure believers that they are “knowing ones”, having true knowledge of Jesus, and walking in relationship with Him. It is important for us to recognize that this true knowledge of God’s love comes out of a personal relationship with Jesus. And that true knowledge of God cannot be complete without understanding and experiencing the love of God, followed by sharing it with others.
What is this “Agape” Love John wrote about? Agape: a God kind of love that gives – to have love for someone or something, based on sincere appreciation and high regard, to regard with affection and loving concern. Agape is used to express the essential nature of God. Agape describes the attitude of God to His Son and the human race. Agape is used to convey His will to His children concerning their attitude one to another. Love can be known only from the actions it prompts. God’s love is seen in the gift of His Son. God’s love is seen in his decision to love us, because of His nature, regardless of our perceived value or attractiveness. His love is faithful, patient, kind, and selfless.
God’s love for us is a decision that He has made because it is who He is, it is an essential part of His nature. His love for us is undeserved by us. It is without fail. God’s love is overflowing to us. God’s love is active, selfless (pressing out our selfishness). God’s love takes away fear. God enjoys loving us. He literally takes pleasure in loving us. Through Jesus, God’s love for us has removed the obstacles to our relationship with Him.
We must be careful to not relate to God as though He loves us with a human kind of love. All too easily we define God’s love by our overall human experience, treating God with prejudice (with a preconceived notion based on wrong ideas or our experience with other people). God is not exactly like anyone you have met.
“Love, love, the word is always ringing in our ears, but when is it not mixed up with something else? Love and the desire to possess, love and the need to control, love and the need to be needed, love and the lust to absorb, love and condescension, love and narcissism (selfishness). In the Christian mystery love itself must be crucified, must die to be reborn as the grace of communion, as love set free.” – Meditations on the Passion of St John by Martin L Smith
Let us be careful to not associate God’s love with human “love” mixed up with the need to acquire, possess, or control.
Here’s a few questions that can help us unpack what we are learning about God’s love for us and apply it to today:
What is God’s love? What does God’s love look like? What does this say about God, about me? What does this mean? How does that affect today?
Here’s an example (from Tozer) of how we can consider what God’s love for us means, while looking at a verse of Scripture:
“Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because He loved us first.” 1 John 4:18-19
“We do not know, and we may never know, what love is, but we can know how it manifests itself, and that is enough for us here. First we see it showing itself as good will. Love wills the good of all and never wills harm or evil to any. This explains the words of the apostle John: ‘There is no fear in love; but perfect love cast out fear.’ Fear is the painful emotion that arises at the thought that we may be harmed or made to suffer. This fear persists while we are subject to the will of someone who does not desire our well-being. The moment we come under the protection of one of good will, fear is cast out. A child lost in a crowded store is full of fear because it sees the strangers around it as enemies. In its mother’s arms a moment later all the terror subsides. The known good will of the mother casts out fear. The world is full of enemies, and as long as we are subject to the possibility of harm from these enemies, fear is inevitable. The effort to conquer fear without removing causes is altogether futile. The heart is wiser than the apostles of tranquility. As long as we are in the hands of chance, as long as we look for hope to the law of averages, as long as we must trust for survival to our ability to out-think or outmaneuver the enemy, we have every good reason to be afraid. And fear hath torment. To know that love is of God and to enter into the secret place leaning upon the arm of the Beloved – this and only this can cast out fear. Let a man become convinced that nothing can harm him and instantly for him all fear goes out of the universe. The nervous reflex, the natural revulsion to physical pain may be felt sometimes, but the deep torment of fear is gone forever. God is love and God is sovereign. His love disposes Him to desire our everlasting welfare and His sovereignty enables Him to secure it.”
– The Knowledge of the Holy by A. W. Tozer
Here’s a suggested prayer for this journey:
“God, you are more important to me than anything else in this world. Thank you for taking away the guilt of my sin through Jesus. Please help me to receive your love as you intended it. Please help me be changed by your love. Please help me share your love with others.”
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David wrote, “I know the Lord is always with me. I will not be shaken, for He is right beside me.”
“You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.” Psalm 16:8, 11
David understood what it was like to be aware of God being right there with him.
(with you: “I’m with you.” Caught up, understanding, standing beside, in agreement, “I’m with stupid” I’m with her)
Where did he get that idea? It was Moses who finally put pen to paper to write that God had walked with Adam and Eve.
In Exodus, we see that God has done miracles to free His people from slavery in Egypt and made it possible for Moses to lead them on a journey to their Promised Land of rest. They have journeyed to a place where God is speaking to Moses about how they should live, love, and worship. The people get impatient with how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain. They ask Aaron to make new gods to lead them. Aaron makes an idol, a calf, from gold and a place for them to worship it. They begin to throw a party for the purpose of seeking a god that they created. God knows what is going on and tells Moses that He wants to destroy them. Moses pleads God to show mercy. God chooses to not punish them in the way that they deserve. In his anger, Moses breaks the stone tablets that carried the written agreement with God. Moses calls the people to repentance and asks that any who want to serve God stand by him. Then God tells Moses to take the people to the Promised Land but that He will not travel with them. Moses comes back to God asking for His presence.
“Then Moses said, ‘If you don’t personally go with us, don’t make us leave this place.’ How will anyone know that you look favorably on me – on me and on your people – if you don’t go with us? For your presence among us sets your people and me apart from all other people on the earth.’ The Lord replied to Moses, ‘I will indeed do what you have asked, for I look favorably on you, and I know you by name.’ Moses responded, ‘Then show me your glorious presence.’ The Lord replied, ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will call out my name, Yahweh, before you.’” Genesis 33:15-19
“Then the Lord came down in a cloud and stood there with him; and He called out His own name, Yahweh. The Lord passed in front of Moses, calling out, ‘Yahweh! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin.” Genesis 34:5-7
God continues to say that He will punish the guilty. It is important for us to remember that when we accept the forgiveness found in Jesus, we are no longer guilty. Through Jesus we can be in right standing with God.
The presence of God was considered essential. They came to value it above any other source of provision or security. They came to take joy from it. They viewed the presence of God as the sign that they were living the “blessed” life. It was not material possessions that made them feel supremely happy. Their awareness of the one true living God choosing to be with them, to be available to them, was a life changing thing.
An awareness of the presence of God is a “game changer” in our lives.
Let’s remember that Jesus was predicted to be our Savior, named “God with us”.
Jesus is preparing His friends for when He would be murdered, when He would come back to life, and when He would return to be with Father God and prepare a place for them. He describes just how God is always with them.
“If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive Him, because it isn’t looking for Him and doesn’t recognize Him. But you know Him because He lives with you now and later will be in you.” John 14:15-17
If we can identify a worship disorder in our heart, we can then enjoy the life changing awareness of God’s presence. Everything will change. “When you walk into the room everything changes.”
Some health problems are called “disorders” because something in the body isn’t working right.
When we value anything more than God, we have come to a spiritual heart disorder.
Most often, we cannot recognize a spiritual heart disorder without the help of others and the Word of God.
“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? But, I, the Lord search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve.” Jeremiah 17:9-10
“I will watch over and care for them, and I will bring them back here again. I will build them up and not tear them down. I will plant them and not uproot them. I will give them hearts that recognize me as the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me wholeheartedly.” Jeremiah 24:6-7
Thankfully, now God is quick to forgive us our sin when we call on Jesus our Savior, honestly confess our faults, ask for forgiveness, and turn our lives to Him.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us,” 1 John 1:9
To enjoy God’s presence we must recognize that He is more valuable than anything else in our lives.
Peter understood this. That is how he could write that God is “not willing that any should perish,” about God’s heart that no one reject salvation and suffer the results. He also wrote, God “let nothing take the place of You in my heart.”
God’s people in Exodus were looking to the idol (something other than God) to lead them and giving it credit for bringing them out of Egypt.
Let us believe that God is who He said that He is, “The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin.”
Let us believe that God the Holy Spirit is our Advocate, who will never leave us. Let us recognize Him by looking for Him. Let us welcome Him into our lives. Let us ask God to give us hearts that recognize Him as the Lord.
Let us confess our wrong, ask forgiveness, and believe that Jesus is our salvation.
Let us receive His love.
Let us say as David did,
“I know the Lord is always with me. I will not be shaken, for He is right beside me.”
“You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.” Psalm 16:8, 11
What happens with the President of the United States may be little remembered in 20 years. What you do with God’s presence may be remembered much longer. A friend of mine was a college basketball star and looking for love in all the wrong places. God was drawing him and he was trying to ignore it. One afternoon he and his friends walked by an older lady and he gave the usual greeting, “Sup?” Her reply was, “Jesus, son, and you better get with Him.” That reply rang in his ears for days and was a tipping point to bring him to faith in Jesus.
Someone may remember your kindness, your smile, your hug, your buying them a cup of coffee to listen to them.
Someone may remember you sharing your story of how the love of Jesus changed your life.
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Your focus determines your direction. Your focus affects your quality of life. Whatever your heart is focused on your life will be focused on and this will determine much of what becomes of your life!
Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom of God”. My heart focus is to be on the things of God first. They are of greater value, they are more important than anything else in my life.
How you start each day has a direct impact on how you will respond to what comes of the day. How you start 2017 may have a significant impact on how you live throughout the year.
How do I “seek the Kingdom of God above all else,”?
When Jesus said, “seek first,” He was also describing that a person following Him would do three things: give, pray, and fast (not for show but as a personal “Thank You” to God). We find this talk in Matthew 5-7 and in chapter 6 Jesus is saying, “when you give, when you pray, when you fast,”
The results are a life where we can reasonably choose to not worry, knowing that God will provide for us and reward us. See Matthew 6.
FIRST 21 Days of Prayer & Fasting January 8-28th for City Harbor Church. Prayer for each day: links
It’s a conviction, for us as a church, that starting a new year by seeking God brings us to right focus. As a church, we begin the New Year by setting aside a time of “sacred assembly” to dedicate ourselves to God afresh. As individuals, we set aside time for prayer & fasting to allow the Holy Spirit to deal with us personally (about our lives/homes/work) – to make sure that anything that should not be in our lives is cut out & anything that should be in our lives is put in.
The practice of fasting means – going without to focus on God. Setting aside time to focus on God is a perfect way to check your focus! “This practice removes distractions, cleanses your soul, deepens humility, intensifies prayer, feeds your faith, and it produces self-control.” – Pastor Frank Damazio
For best results, this includes changing your normal schedule and going without some of your normal activities so that you have more quality time for God. This may mean that you spend less time on the internet or watching TV in favor of investing more energy into your spiritual life.
At the beginning of every year as a church we are going without meats & sweets (at least) for 21 days to be focused on God through prayer & fasting. We are choosing to go without normal food and entertainment so that we can start the year more focused on God than anything else. Some of us will go without food for a meal, a day, or any multiple number of days.
Consult your Dr. before changing your diet.
Please consider writing down your answers to these questions:
- What do I want to be focused on?
- Why am I choosing to “go without”?
- What food, activities, music, TV, or social media will I be doing without?
- What will I be praying about?
- What days and times will I be in prayer and Bible reading?
Here’s an opening prayer:
God, you are more important to me than anything else. This January 8-28 I’m going without _______. I am doing this for the purpose of _______. I will be more focused on you than anything else. I choose to live for you. Please speak to me God. Thank you!
Here’s a few more verses to consider:
“When you give, pray, fast…focus, seek FIRST, and don’t worry.” Matthew 6
“Love with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind ie: with all your passion, prayer, intelligence,” FIRST Commandment Matthew 22:37
“You keep Your covenant and show unfailing love to all who walk before You in wholehearted devotion.” 2 Chronicles.6:14
“I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out – plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen. When you come looking for me, you’ll find me. Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.” Jeremiah 29:11-14
“Turn to me now. Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Return to the Lord your God, for he is merciful and compassionate.” Joel 2:12-13
Here’s a few books to consider:
- Fasting – Jentezen Franklin (also “The Fasting Edge” same author)
- 101 Reasons to Fast – Dr Bob Rogers
- Toxic Relief – Don Colbert MD
- Purple Book (Bible studies that every believer should go through with a friend) and Wiki Church Steve Murrell
- Crazy Love – Francis Chan
- The Jesus I Never Knew – Philip Yancey
- No Perfect People Allowed – John Burke
January Prayer Focus – Lent?
In the spring we will enter the ancient Christian calendar season of Lent, the 40 days leading to Easter. It’s good to learn from our history. Three major themes of this practice are self-control, prayer, and reflection. It certainly brings great joy in celebrating the resurrection of Jesus! It also honors the 40 days that Jesus spent in prayer & fasting, Matthew 4. For more resources on Lent, click here. http://bit.ly/YBOuXf
For the past couple of years we’ve chosen to not observe Lent directly. We follow the principles by starting the year with a prayer and fasting focus on Jesus (January 4-24). Then during the weeks leading up to Easter we set aside time to consider, reflect, and celebrate the Cross of Christ and the Resurrection of Christ.
Practical To Do:
- Prepare spiritually. (You’re hearing from God and know that you’re doing it because you’re led.)
- Determine what kind of fast and how long. (Certain meals or food, number of days, full fast?)
- Write down why you are doing it and your fasting plan.
- Devote extra time to prayer & the Bible.
- Limit time spent with TV, internet, and social media.
- Be physically prepared: headaches, lightheaded, bad breath, more sleep, plenty of water.
Spiritual Keys to Fasting:
- Fasting is an invitation. Not a requirement. (Breaking out of the routine of life, “You love me regardless, I am voluntarily giving this up, I am coming after you God.”)
- Fasting is a grace. Not gritting your teeth. There is a connection between the Holy Spirit and fasting. God gives you grace.
- Fasting is humbling yourself before God. “Lord I need you.”
- Fasting is an act of worship.
- Fasting is giving up something perfectly good, acceptable, so that you can have more of God.
- Fasting is a spiritual discipline that is a physical act.
- Fasting is a time of Spirit-led self-examination. You will see God begin to do a deep internal work in your life.
- Fasting increases our sense of humility and dependence on God.
- Fasting allows us to set aside time for prayer.
- Fasting expresses our earnestness and urgency to God in prayer.
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16 short prayers for 2017 – a great post from a dear friend Steve Carpenter
“For me and many others, praying the scripture is a powerful way in which to release God’s authority over our lives, our families and our nations. In preparation for 2017, here is my list of 16 short prayers from the Bible that we can pray for the new season ahead.” – Steve Carpenter
- The prayer of Moses. “Please, show me Your glory.” Exodus 33:18
- The prayer of Joshua. “What does My Lord say to His servant.” Joshua 5:14
- The prayer of Samuel. “Speak, for Your servant is listening.” 1 Samuel 3:10
- The prayer of Solomon. “Give to Your servant an understanding heart.” 1 Kings 3:9
- The prayer of Elijah. “Let it be known this day that You are God in Israel.” 1 Kings 18:36
- The prayer of Elisha. “Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” 2 Kings 6:17
- The prayer of Hezekiah. “Save us, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You are the Lord God, You alone.” 2 Kings 19:19
- The prayer of Nehemiah. “Oh Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name; and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy.” Nehemiah 1:11
- The prayer of Job. “I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.” Job 42:2
- The prayer of David. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139:23-24
- The prayer of Jeremiah. “Turn us back to You, O Lord, and we will be restored.” Lamentations 5:21
- The prayer of Daniel. “O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and act! Do not delay for Your own sake, my God, for Your city and Your people are called by Your name.” Daniel 9:19
- The prayer of Joel. “Spare Your people, O Lord, and do not give Your heritage to reproach.” Joel 2:17
- The prayer of Habakkuk. “O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years! In the midst of the years make it known; in wrath, remember mercy.” Habakkuk 3:2
- The prayer of Jesus. “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” Luke 22:42
16. The prayer of the Disciples. “Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.” Acts 4:29-30
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Day 21 Saturday January 28
“Lord, I receive Your love. I confess my mistakes. Please forgive me. Please do not punish me in the way that I deserve. Please do give me Your love in the way that I do not deserve. I believe that Jesus is my way to salvation and ultimately Heaven. Lord, I choose to live for You. I give my life to You completely. Please help me to see You more clearly. Please help me to understand Your purpose in my life. Thank You for helping me grow stronger in this resolve.”
- Lord, I will seek your kingdom first and live on purpose. Matthew 6:33
- Lord, You are the most powerful one and all of this is for you. Your kingdom is eternal. Psalms 145:13
- You are able to do more than I could ask for or think of. Ephesians 3:20
- To You, Oh Lord, be the glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Ephesians 3:21
- Lord, I will love you with all I’ve got and I will love others (in the same way I take care of myself). Matthew 22:37-40
- Lord, I will be sober, aware, careful, and a good steward in all things, enduring hardships. I will work to share the Good News of Jesus with as many people as possible, to fulfill the work You’ve given me. 2 Timothy 4:5
- Lord, I will urge as many people as possible (people of all varieties) to become followers of Jesus, leading them to take next steps in following You. We will love each other, ever learning more about who You are and all that You’ve said. We will gather in small groups in homes and as a larger group in the church. Matthew 28:19-20 Acts 2:41-47
Lord, please help us become a church:
- Loving Jesus in a way that people talk about.
- Where people find salvation & healing in Jesus.
- Helping people find careers & peaceful homes.
- Where everyone can find a place that they fit.
- Serving the city with love that works.
That this should result in peaceful neighborhoods, crime reduction, employment & literacy increase, and a decrease of addictions. It would include a better connected effort between existing churches, non-profit organizations, government agencies, and the business community.
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Day 20 Friday January 27
“Lord, please help me receive Your forgiveness. Lord, I surrender every area of my life to you. Lord, please help me leave the past behind. Please help me, as I choose to forgive others. Lord, please help me see how You want my life to look. Help me have a clear picture of what growing closer to You looks like. Help me see how my life can change. Lord please open my spiritual eyes to see the change that You desire.”
Let’s take a few minutes to write down a few topics to prayer over our personal lives. Reading Colossians 3, Philippians 4, or Ephesians 4 may help.
How could my life be different, for the better, to reflect the love of God and His plan?
What could be? What should be? By God’s grace, what will it be? What is that “preferred future” of God, for me?
What’s bothering you? What is the solution? What should be? Beginning to feel like a moral imperative? See a connection with what God is up to?
I believe God loves me. I believe that God knows what is best for me. God has a plan. By following God’s plan, I have the best plan of seeing the change (written above) become reality. With this change, people will see evidence that will draw them to Jesus.
“Lord please help me. Please bring change, miracles, and opportunities for me to take action. Lord please:
- Awaken my spiritual hunger
- See through the obstacles and not be distracted
- See Your guidance in my life
- Have the strength to resist sinful cravings
- Have the strength to seek You every day
- Help me plan specific next steps toward this change
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