Archive for the ‘Sanctification’ Category

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“FREEDOM!” – May 11

May 11, 2013

“We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.  For one who
has died has been set free from sin.”  Romans 6:6-7

 Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
Star Spangled Banner, Francis Scott Key (1814)

English: American Flag blowing in the wind
English: American Flag blowing in the wind (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I live in the United States of America, the land of the free and the home of the brave.  I realize that the US is the land of the more free, but is it the land of the completely free?  Freedom is the core issue in many political debates.  There is an inevitable hint of freedom embedded in the topics of abortion, gun control, employment, morality laws, private-property, taxation, wealth redistribution, etc. The concept of freedom is generally understood but rarely well-defined.  Your definition of freedom may vary significantly from my definition of freedom.

I have been pondering whether it is even possible for created man to be free in any respect.

I was recently catching up on some of my podcasts.  I am subscribed to a podcast called Philosophy Bites.  It is podcast that interviews university professors in specific areas of philosophy.  I listen to the podcasts to get a general idea of what is being contemplated in the ivory towers of our universities.  I was engaged by the podcast Alan Ryan on Freedom and Its History.

The interview centered on the intriguing question of “What is it to be free?”  One definition in the podcast that caught my attention was: freedom is the ability to do whatever you want to do.   I think that we can agree that under this definition no one is completely free.

You agree to a promissory note; you are no longer free.
A speed limit is posted; you are no longer free.
You have children; you are no longer free.
You agree to be employed; you are no longer free.
You are required to pay taxes; you are no longer free.

You are no longer free because you are not able to do whatever you want to do.

Many people state their objection to Christ in terms of freedom.  They view salvation in Christ as a loss of their freedom; their ability to do whatever they want to do.  The deeper question is whether they are giving up any freedom.  Those who have not received Christ as their Lord and Savior are not as free as they might think they are.  For instance, they are not free to please God.

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed it cannot.  Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Romans 8:7-8

It is not possible for people who are not in Christ to please God even if that is what they are determined to do.  Therefore, they are not free.  Humanity is born under the bondage of sin.  They are not able to do anything other than sin.  They are enslaved to one whom they obey.  There is not a person who can live without sin apart from Christ.  There is no real freedom for those who reject Christ.  They are enslaved under the bondage of the appetites of their sinful hearts.

However, there is no freedom for those in Christ, in the sense of doing whatever you want to do.

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. Romans 6:22

When we come to Christ, we become slaves to righteousness, for we are slaves to what we obey.  We become debtors, when we receive the Spirit of adoption as children of God.  We are not our own.  We have been bought with a price so that we can glorify God with our bodies. (1 Cor. 6:19b-20)  The paradox of the Christian life is that we are set free only when we willingly submit to enslavement.  We remain enslaved to sin while we pursue our personal freedom.  The desire for personal independence is a manifestation of a love for self.

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Romans 6:12

What was your first reaction to my statement that you are a slave of God?  Did you recoil from that concept?  Why should that concept be objectionable to us if we love God will all that we are?  Our desire for personal independence is a sin that enslaves us to the passions of our self-love.  I think this paradox is captured in this quote from Dag Hammarskjold:

God desires our independence – which we attain when, ceasing to strive for it ourselves, we “fall” back into God.  Dag Hammarskjold, Markings

The child of God finds true and complete freedom in Christ only when they give all to the Father in heaven; when they die to their self and submit completely to God – willingly becoming a slave of God.  When we “fall” back into God, trusting that He will catch us, then we are given a new heart, with new desires.  What we want changes when we are a new creation in Christ.  Freedom, doing whatever we want to do, is only available by being born-again.  It is only with this new heart that we can please God by loving him without compulsion.

There is no freedom available to the will of man. 

Every person must make a decision about who will enslave them.  We are enslaved by the one whom we obey.   May we humble ourselves and come to Christ as willing slaves.  In submitting to the Lordship of Christ, we will receive the fruits of righteousness that leads to sanctification and true freedom as children of God to do what we want to do, which is to love God.

The question for us all is who are we submitting ourselves to?

PRAYER: Lord, you know how inclined my heart is to go off on its own.  You know that I am so prone to wander away from You and be enslaved by the passions of my sin.   Father, keep me in You; continue to give me a new heart that wants You more than anything else in this world.  Lord, I submit myself to You with all of my heart, soul, and mind.  Thank you for giving me true freedom in your Son as I fall back into your loving arms.  I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ.   Amen.

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“HUMBLY COACHED” – April 27

April 27, 2013

“And his fame spread far, for he was marvelously helped, till he was strong.  But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his own destruction.” 2 Chronicles 26:15b-16

A swimming club of sorts has developed at my work.  There are four of us who make the trek to the pool throughout the week to get some exercise by swimming laps.  None of us are experts in the fine art of swimming.  So, we share articles and videos with advice on how to be more efficient at moving through the water.  We know we are weak swimmers but we want to get stronger.  Therefore, we try to tweak our technique when we find some good advice.

The CoachSwimming is an activity that is particularly hard to critique yourself.  You may think that you’re efficiently gliding through the water but it is hard to really know.  It is very helpful to have someone watch you swim and provide a little coaching.  One of my friends spotted a problem in my swim technique a while back.  I was able to do some drills based on that observation to correct a deficiency that I was not even aware of.  I could not see it.

Coaching is only of value if you are willing to listen and change. 

I am very willing to take coaching advice in areas where I know that I am weak or from people who I know are stronger than I am.  They are strong. I am weak.  I want to know what they think might be of help to make me stronger.

However, what happens when you become stronger?

Walter Miller  (LOC)I have to admit that I am less inclined to listen to those who I perceive to be weaker than I am.  I bristle when advice comes from someone who appears under-qualified.  I am tempted to disregard coaching when I question the person’s motivations or they make me feel inferior.

The problem with strength is that it can cause us to unknowingly slide beyond the help of coaching.  Coaching will work only if it is heard.  Relative strength is such a fiendish enemy because it plugs our ears.  If you are the strongest person you know, then what does anyone have to teach you?

This is why strength can easily lead directly into pride.  Pride is an inordinate opinion of one’s own strength.  That opinion gets displayed in how we feel other people should relate to us or the value we place in their observations.  It is easy for the proud to dismiss the coaching of others.  Pride will defend its lofty opinion when others don’t support it appropriately.

It is so easy to get caught in the trap of our own strength.  The only escape from this trap is to recognize that our perceived strength is relative.  It is relative to those who are around us.  It is easy to be the big fish in a small pond.  It is even easier to be the big fish when you’re the sole inhabitant of the fish bowl.  There is never a place for pride when we realize our pond is the universe.  No one has any strength that is greater than the great I AM.  We all stand humbled before God.  We all stand meritless before the worthiness of Christ.  Our boasts are laughable on the scale of our Redeemer’s works.

However, our pride is not amusing to God.  It is gravely offensive to our Lord.  God hates the proud because they deny His surpassing strength.  The proud are fools in thinking that they are equal to God. The practical result of comparing our strengths to the God of the Universe is a humility that opens our ears to coaching.  A humbled heart will recognize the weaknesses in their strengths.  It is by the work of the Spirit that we become stronger in our faith.

Sanctification is the result of following the coaching of God.

Praise God that he does not leave us to our devices to try to figure out our sanctification on our own.  The Father has sent the Spirit in the name of Jesus to teach us all things and to bring to our remembrance the teachings of Christ. (John 14:26)

We need to be humble and accept the teachings of the Spirit in all forms:

The Spirit directs us through the scriptures and prayer.

The Spirit teaches us through teachers and pastors.

The Spirit pushes us toward a deeper relationship with the Father through mature believers.

He also trains us through the weak.

He uses the questions of the immature to convict our own hearts.

He uses the accusations of the unsaved to reveal our hypocrisy.

He even can use the donkeys of this world to speak truth. (Numbers 22:28)

We must recognize that the rejection of a message simply due to our perceived status of the messenger is a form of pride.  Pride such as that is hated by God.  Now, we must be wise and discerning to recognize truth from the chaff of the world.  However, pride does not have a place in that process.

May we be humble, wise, and discerning to see the Spirit’s coaching in all the wonderful variations and forms that He uses.

PRAYER: Father, forgive me for my pride.  Lord, I know how quickly I tend to take my eyes off of you.  Keep me from having the blessings of sanctification transform into a hinderance.  Forgive me if my pride has been a stumbling block to others.  Father, keep my eyes fixed on you.  May all my comparisons be to your surpassing worth.  Give me a humble and contrite heart that longs for only You.  I praise You and pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ.   Amen.

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“RENTER OR LANDLORD” – Mar. 18

March 18, 2013

“And he began to speak to them in parables.  “A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower, and leased to tenants and went into another country.” Mark 12:1

For RentThe company I work for does not own its office space.  We lease the building from a most unreasonable landlord.  This landlord has no compassion or understanding for our condition.  These economic times have been difficult.  Yet, our landlord still expects a lease payment every month. 

We are the ones who take care of the building.  It is by our labor that value is created in this building.  If it wasn’t for us, this building would be a vacant shell.  We are doing him a favor by occupying this building for him.  He needs us but has never even thanked us for what we do for him.  He just expects a slice of the pie that he has never earned.  We have been in this same building for so long, most people think that we own it.  No one around here even knows this landlord.  He lives in another state and has not even been to the office in years.  He is just sitting back profiting from our hardship. 

I have had enough of this nonsense.  I have convinced the partners of the company that this oppression needs to end and we should stop making our lease payments.  We have been here long enough that this building should be ours.  Our landlord is just going to give this property to his son when we are the ones who have earned it.  We should be the ones who inherit this building.

The landlord sent us a friendly reminder when we missed our first payment.  How rich was that?  He then tried to telephone us when we missed our second payment.  There was no need to even answer that call.  He then sent one of his flunkies to come and talk to us when we missed our third payment.  We told him what was what and sent him on his way with a swift kick to the backside.  When we missed our fourth payment, our landlord sent his son.  The guy who is going to inherit our building; the one who is claiming what we have earned.  We settled things once and for all. 

Yet, here I sit in this prison cell.  I still don’t understand how the jury could not recognize our right to the inheritance of our building. 

In reality, the landlord of the office where I work is a very nice man.  The underlying motivation of a renter like the one described above is a desire to be the landlord.  It is the same issue for the tenants of the vineyard in Mark 12.  They wanted to own the land.  They wanted the inheritance.  They didn’t want to be obligated to give up anything that they had grown.

This attitude is a rebellion against the rightful owner of the property.  Property rights are not transferred even when tenants act as if they do not have a landowner.  They can go all the way to the extent of killing the heir of the rightful owner but even that does not transfer ownership.

This is what the rejection of Christ’s claim to our lives looks like at its core; it is a rejection of God as the landlord of our lives.  It is a rebellion against God.

Do you live your life as a tenant or as a landowner?  

A person who thinks they are Lord of their life will say, “It’s my body. It’s my life. It’s my money. It’s my house. These are my possessions. I don’t owe anyone anything. I worked hard for all of this.  This is my reward for being smart or clever or entrepreneurial; Its all mine.”  Landlords can make those types of decisions.  That’s not an attitude of a tenant.  That is not an attitude of gratitude.

That is the attitude a thief that is taking possession of something that is not rightfully his own.

The ownership of the fruit of our lives is a battlefield over who will be Lord of our hearts.  When we fight to keep the fruit of our life, we are declaring our lordship; landowners keep the fruit.  We are pretending that we are the owner of our own life.  There is no man who can nullify the rightful claim of his Creator.

Do you have a history of thinking that God is very far away;

Do you think that God doesn’t care about fruit;

Have you convinced yourself that God needs you;

The owner, in Mark 12, expects to get some fruit.  The premise here is that God holds accountable His servants for making fruit, spiritual fruit, based on what they have been given.  A follower of Christ fights the battle within their own flesh to live ALL- IN for God.  A follower of Christ desires to love God with everything that they are.  They love God because he did send his Son – while they were still a rebellious tenant – He sent his Son to be rejected but through that rejection he would become our salvation.  That is why we long to be good tenants.

I think that we all know that we can be better tenants.  I don’t want to be the type of renter that has to be constantly hounded because of late payments.  I don’t want to be the type of tenant that needs collection agents sent every month to make sure I am not trying to steal from God.  I do not want to be the type of tenant that has to be reminded that the things I love so much are not really mine.

I want to be the type of tenant that is producing fruit in abundance and willingly giving back to my Lord in gratitude for what He has given me.

However, it is so easy to start assuming the role of lord of my life.

 What am I doing with my body?  Am I glorifying God with my body?

What am I doing with my family?  Am I glorifying God with my family?

What am I doing with my money? Am I glorifying God with my money?

What am I doing with my time? Am I glorifying God with my time?

All of those areas are not mine; they belong to God and I am going to have to give an account.

I want to be a fruitful vine.  Here again is the good news.  I can’t be a fruitful vine on my own.  God is here to forgive us, to correct us, and to instruct us.  He has sent his Spirit to rebuild the unfruitful parts of our lives so that they might be fruitful.   That is God’s will for our life – our sanctification that we may produce fruit that is glorifying to him.

Our first step is to understand that He is Lord and we are tenants.

PRAYER: Lord, I know am prone to wander, I know that I am prone to leave the God that I love; I know that my nature is to claim all that I have.  Lord, bind me to you.  Remind me that all that I have has been given from you.  Father, make me into a grateful servant and a fruitful vine.   Amen

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“JUST KEEP SWIMMING” – Mar. 14

March 14, 2013

“And we all, with unveiled grace, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.  For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”  2 Corinthians 3:18

Follow the little black line.  Turn; follow the little black line; Turn, follow the little black line…what lap is this?  It’s 23; going on 24.  No, wait; I don’t think I finished 23. So, it might be 22, going on 23.  Why can’t I count?  Here is the turn again.  Fine, I will go back to 23.  Follow the little black line.  I need to keep my elbows higher and reach longer. Follow the little black line.  I need to remember to make that telephone call when I get back to the office; I forgot to send that email…how should I write that…formal or informal?  Turn; follow the little black line.  Gulp…fat-guy wave… oh man, I really need to cough.  Follow the little black line.  Where is that turn…what lap am I on?

Swimming

Swimming (Photo credit: AirmanMagazine)

That is my lunch time ritual. Several coworkers and I provoke one another to make the trek to the local public swimming pool for a lunchtime filled with the churning of chlorinated water.  In one of my less lucid moments, I set a swimming goal.  I thought it would be motivating to pick a goal to focus on, rather than the mind-numbing passing of the little black lane indicator at the bottom of the pool.  The challenge that I set for myself is to swim 1,750 yards (almost a mile) in 30 minutes or less.

I take a shot at my goal every week.  Yesterday, I made another attempt.  It felt like I was swimming at my practiced pace.  I felt good.  I felt (reasonably) fast.  I pulled hard on the last couple laps.  I reached long for the wall, stopped the time on my watch, pulled my goggles off…33 minutes, 34 seconds.  Ugh!

I still have to find over three minutes to cut off of my time.  That is about 200 yards worth of swimming time.  “This might be too hard of a goal,”  “I don’t know if I can keep a pace that fast, for that long,”  were my thoughts as I crouched, resting in the shallow end of the pool, as my co-worker swam to my end of the pool.

He asked me my time and I lamented my concerns about finding over three minutes.  We talked about technique.  He had noticed that my left elbow was coming in low and my arm was striking the water rather than cutting into it.  He thought I might be short stroking a little.  I mentioned that he might be pushing down rather than back on his right arm because his shoulders were bobbing out of the water on his breath stroke.  He swam a lap while concentrating on technique.  I was amazed at the difference.  He was much smoother.  It looked like he was using much less energy and was going much faster.  It is amazing the results that can come from a little correction in technique.

I returned to pondering the dilemma of my goal.  There are 35 laps in my 1,750 yard swim; 70 lengths of the pool.  If I can pick-up two seconds per length, then I will cut 140 seconds.  That is 2 minutes, 20 seconds right there.  Two seconds per pool length seems within the realm of the possible.  There are 69 turns in my swim. I might be able to pick-up another minute if I can cut about a second off of each turn.  I have yet to figure out the flip-turn so I just grab the side and turn.  Two seconds per length; a second per turn, that seems doable.

I went back and looked at my times from last August.  I have already cut 1-1/2 minutes off of my 500 yard time.  I don’t have a mile time to compare to because I wasn’t doing them.

Hey, this might actually be possible!

Every follower of Christ has a spiritual goal that has been set for them – Christ-likeness. I know that many folks get frustrated with where they are in relation to this goal.

They are churning away but don’t seem to be going anywhere. 

They continue to struggle with the same sins. 

They’re aggravated with roller-coaster inconsistency in the basic spiritual disciplines. 

They compare their own life to Christ and cannot help but feel discouraged.

They begin to wonder if the faith described in the Bible is even possible or if it is from a by-gone age.

It is good to periodically be reminded that we all are being transformed from “one degree of glory to another.”  Those spiritual giants who you respect have not obtained it and never fully will until they are with our Father in heaven.  They are working on their own next degree through the power of the Spirit.  They may have just passed a few more degrees than you have. The work of the Spirit in our lives is typically a transformation of incremental degrees.  Occasionally, we might be blessed with a quantum transformation but that is more of the exception than the rule.

All of God’s children are being progressively restored back into the image of their Father that man was originally created in.  The key word is progressively.  It is like my swimming.  I am not going to jump in the pool and swim a mile in 30 minutes.  It is going to take a lot of progressive training to bring my times down.  It is already happening.  I look back and I am faster than I was 6 months ago.  In the same way, we should expect to see a continual, progressive spiritual growth into Christ-likeness throughout our lives.  We should be able to look back at our lives 6 years ago and see more fruit of the Spirit in our lives now.  That is the evidence of the degrees of our transformation.  We are to expect a continual moral and spiritual transformation as we walk the narrow path of keeping our minds on the things of the Spirit.  As we change by degrees, the things that we desire will change while we are moving from one degree of glory to the next.

I look at our example of Christ in comparison to my life and it seems undoable.  How is it possible to pick-up that many degrees of glory in whatever span of life the Lord has planned for me; just ponder on the magnitude of that transformation for any of us.

However, there is nothing that is too hard for God and we know that our sanctification is the will of God.  Therefore, we can know that it is possible and we can trust the Holy Spirit to do His work in our lives.  We just need to focus on doing our part and make every effort to supplement our faith.

For this reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.  For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5)

This is how I do it – I just keep swimming.

I strive to follow the little black line that is the narrow path of my Lord;

I see a turn coming; steady, prepare, make the turn and get back on the line;

Follow the little black line;

Focus on what I am doing;

Fight sin:

Follow the little black line;

Fight the distractions;

Follow the little black line;

I see a turn coming; steady, prepare, make the turn and get back on the line;

Follow the little black line;

Periodically check my practices and make corrections;

Follow the little black line;

Swimming pool with lane ropes in place

I realize that this advice is sort of simple and a little silly. 

However, the Christian walk is not as complicated as some make it out to be.  The Christian walk is about walking.  It is about doing what you already know you need to be doing.  If you just keep swimming on the line of this life of faith, you will be amazed at how  far the Spirit will take you without you even realizing it.

When you take a big gulp of nastiness, spit it out and keep swimming.

When you lose count of what is important, drop-back and keep swimming.

When you get fatigued, keep on the straight line because a turn will be coming.

Above all keep swimming because we sink when we stop.

So, keep swimming and following that little black line that the Lord has given you.  It will take you straight into His arms and His glory.

PRAYER: Lord, I know that it is You who keeps me afloat.  I know that it is You who enables me to even see the path that you have laid out in front of me.  Thank you for sending your Spirit to teach me and to guide me.  Father, enable me to consistently follow you.  Help me to stay on track and seek you with all of my heart.  Lift my eyes to see You and help me to set my mind on the things of  You.  Thank You for being so good to me and continuing to bring me along even when I am less than helpful.  Amen

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“GREAT INTENTIONS” – Mar. 5

March 5, 2013

“Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.” Acts 8:35

I have been asked a couple of times, “Why would you want to do that?” after explaining my goals for the coming year.  These goals include:

A few (at least two) triathlons; one of them being Emmett’s Most Excellent Triathlon.

Cycling the 4 summit challenge and riding a century (100 miles).

Running a 10K race.

I realize that these activities are not what many will list on their recreational itinerary.  They are not on my recreational itinerary either.   On my list of preferred activities, the endorphin rush has yet to displace the sedentary sedation of a shade tree and glass of iced tea.   Physical endurance activities can be satisfying but anything that involves some sort of physical discomfort is hard for me to categorize as fun.

I did not pick these goals to be a source of entertainment.  I set these types of goals so that I might achieve a very specific and important long term goal.  My long-term goal is to be fit.   I simply feel better when I am in shape. I prefer to live the type of lifestyle that being in shape affords.  I hope that my later years of life will be blessed to be very active.  I want to be that guy who people consider helping across the parking lot but are then blown away by him on the ski slope.  I want to be that grandpa who can teach his grandkids what a hard day’s work means.  I want to be that old guy who everyone in the Church under-estimates his age by twenty years.  It is unlikely that I will have an active future if I exist in the sedation of a sedentary present.  The best way of realizing that future me is to start working on this present me.

When is the right time to get into shape?

I am full of great intentions. We all have that image of the person who we want to be.  I think that the day-dreams of our youth still reside in most of us but have been relegated to the mental trash heap of the unrealistic to be compacted by the weight of adult responsibilities and expectations.  I wonder what the younger you would think of the older you?  Great intentions need a push to transform into anything else.  I have learned that I must be intentional for an intention to become a reality.  There are so many distractions that can sidetrack good intentions into the languishing world of unrealized dreams.

It is important for me to make a goal in order to push intention into intent.  My intent motivates me to prepare for these shorter-term goals and the shorter-term goals do the transforming work of achieving the longer-term goal.

I think that we stay spiritually fit in a similar manner.  We should have shorter-term spiritual goals to help us stay on task for our primary goal.  It is so easy to allow our good intentions of getting serious about our faith to languish as an unrealized dream while we are distracted by a pursuit of entertainment and the weight of adult responsibilities. We need to evaluate our lives and determine those areas where the Spirit is leading us to get serious.

When is the right time to start glorifying God and enjoying Him?

It is important for us to move from intention to intent.  Most of us know what we should be doing.  Most of us have great intentions but we are caught in the spiritual sedation of busy lives.  We need to allow the Spirit to lead us from our great intentions and motivate us to prepare for these short-term, realistic goals and these shorter-term goals will transform us into our true desire to glorify God and really enjoy Him for forever.  Aren’t you tired of living with unrealized intentions?

EvangelismI don’t know what the most glorifying things we can do for God are but I have to think that evangelism has to be very high on that list.  There is a celebration in heaven for each soul who is born again.  That should tell us how big a deal evangelism is from God’s perspective.  I don’t know how I can love God with all that I am without the wonder of my Savior spilling into my conversations.  I don’t know how I can love my neighbor as myself without telling him about the most loving act that has ever been done for him.  It is actually unloving not to tell someone about Jesus.

It seems to me that evangelism should be part of the life of every follower of Christ who is striving to glorify and enjoy God.

I think that evangelism is one of those great intentions that many Christians have but don’t act upon.  I have heard many folks talk about sharing the gospel in terms of “I could never do that.”  The context is often relegated to the realm of  “giftings.”  Those who have the “gift of evangelism” are the ones who should go about sharing the gospel.  I believe that God has gifted some brothers and sisters with a wonderful and unique ability to proclaim the good news about Jesus.  However, I don’t believe that gets the rest of us off the hook.  Just because one servant is gifted such that they bring in a ten-fold harvest does not make it right for me to bring in no harvest.

Many people steer clear of spiritual conversations because they do not feel confident explaining the “good news” and their faith.  They often are disappointed when they see an opportunity float by and are uncertain what to say.  It has happened to me.  I don’t want to be like that.  I have let too many opportunities drift past due to an insecure hesitation.

I want to be like Philip.  Philip was great at glorifying God.   Philip could engage a conversation, jump into the scripture, open his mouth, and explain the good news about Jesus.  I want to be like Philip; that is my great intention.  I want to be ready to open my mouth and let the Lord take a conversation where He wills it to go.   I want to glorify God.  I want to bring in a harvest of some kind.Evangelist Ray Comfort open-air preaching at a...

Now, here is my reality.  I am more of a writer than a conversationalist.  A long conversation can easily exhaust me of words and land me in the world of awkward silence.  Meeting new people is as uncomfortable as a dental appointment for me.  I am not a quick thinker.  I like to ponder and mull over my responses.  I do not have the gifts of what I think an evangelist should have.

However, I still want to be like Philip.  How will I push my intention of sharing the gospel into the reality of doing it and glorifying God?  I will probably always fight my insecurities of real-time conversations so the best way for me to be like Philip is to prepare to be like Philip.

I participated in CRU when I was in college.  I think that they prepared us very well to be like Philip.  They had us practice our testimonies.  We wrote out our own personal stories of how God transformed our lives and then we memorized it.  We were prepared to tell our own story of Christ’s grace and mercy in a concise, non-rambling, logical manner.  I need to go back and update my testimony and know my story of personal transformation. 

We practiced sharing the gospel.  We practiced by using tracts and we practiced just talking about God and bringing it back to the good news of Christ.  I shared the gospel a lot more when I was prepared.  I was better prepared when I was involved with other people who were preparing with me.  Preparation and accountability resulted in actually doing what we wanted to do.  I need to practice making a clear presentation of the gospel and find some folks who are wanting to do the same thing. (Ray Comfort has some excellent tools to teach us how to share the gospel at the Way of the Master.)

I believe that being intentional about preparing and sharing the good news about Jesus is a wonderful way to realize the good intentions of a desire to glorify our Lord and Savior.  We get the blessing and enjoyment of participating in the miraculous work of the salvation of the lost.

That is the life I want to live.  That is the life I want when I am old.  That is the life that I want now.  Let’s get spiritually fit and bring in a harvest that we always intended but have never thought possible.  All things are possible for those who are the Lord’s.

PRAYER: Father, thank you for giving us such incredible news to tell this world about.  Thank you for using us to preach that good news.  Use me Lord.  Prepare me Lord.  Give me eyes to see the opportunities that are floating around me.  Give me confidence to open my mouth for your glory.  Lord, I want to see your word go forth; I want to see lives transformed; I want to see your Kingdom expanded and souls saved.  Father, I love You – use me as You will.    Amen

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“CLEANSING POWER OF LIGHT” – Feb. 27

February 27, 2013

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  John 1:9

UV Disinfection SystemAs a civil engineer, I have worked on various water treatment projects for both wastewater and drinking water.  We are in the final stages of a design of a water treatment plant for a small community water system, supplied by a mountain stream.  This water treatment system will have many components that are necessary to purify the drinking water.  However, water from a system that makes perfectly clear water can still be dangerous to drink.  It is dangerous due to what you cannot see.  There are all sorts of microorganisms in mountain streams that can make us humans very sick and in some cases kill us.  It is necessary to include a unit process in this treatment system that will remove these unseen organisms that can have such a significant effect upon those who will drink the water.

The selected disinfection process is ultra-violet disinfection.   This process uses the ultra-violet radiation from specialized light bulbs to rid the water of contaminating microorganisms.  The interesting part of UV disinfection is that the process does not actually kill the microorganisms.  The radiation alters their DNA in a way that it prevents the organism from reproducing.  These microorganisms have relatively short life spans so if they cannot reproduce then they will disappear over a very short period of time.  The power of the right kind of light can be very purifying.

However, the effectiveness of this light is very dependent upon the light shining upon what is unseen.  Anything that inhibits the light from fully illuminating the “bad actors” will result in those organisms reproducing and they come back with a vengeance.  Therefore, purification from infectious contaminants is dependent upon the intensity of the light, the duration of exposure to the light, and the general murkiness of the water (water quality).

In many ways, the Spirit works in the lives of believers in similar ways as UV disinfection.  Our problem has always been our flesh.  Our flesh is amazingly efficient at producing sin.  Our flesh is hostile to God and the result of that hostility toward God is death for all who live according to the flesh.

However, we are stuck with the problem of the flesh until we die.  Even though we are not living according to the flesh as followers of Christ, our flesh still has the ability to produce sin.  Our desire as earnest followers of Christ is to stop producing sin.  We want to please God.  A life of sin is not pleasing to God.  The only way for our flesh to stop producing sin is for the DNA of our flesh to be changed; we need to be changed.  Our flesh has to be continually disinfected.  It has to regularly be altered so that it will no longer reproduce sin.

That is the job of the Spirit in the life of a Christian.  It is the work of the Spirit that alters our flesh at the spiritual DNA level.  It is through these alterations in our very nature that we begin to produce the fruit of the Spirit rather than the fruits of the flesh (sin).  This process happens for all who are living according to the Spirit by setting their mind on the things of the Spirit.  It is when our minds are set on the things of the Spirit that the cleansing work of the Spirit can happen.

However, this work of the Spirit is dependent some of the same factors as UV disinfection: intensity, duration, and clarity.

Intensity:  We have to let the power of the Spirit work in our lives.  That can be a painful, searing process.  We are being altered – it might get uncomfortable.  The things that we love are being conformed.  It can be intense.  Some things may be ripped from us.  We may want to use the spiritual dimmer switch to make the process more bearable.  However, we have to allow the Spirit to challenge us and convict us.  We have to take what we are being taught through God’s word and respond to it.  It is like turning down the intensity of the Spirit, when we are lackadaisical about what we know needs to change in our lives.  We will see incredible changes in the produce of our lives when we set our minds on the things of the Spirit and allow the intensity of the Spirit to cook us until we are done.

Duration:  We are to live according to the Spirit.  The more time that we spend with our minds set on the things of the Spirit, is just more time for the Spirit to be transforming us into the image of Christ.  It is a process that we call sanctification.  A Thanksgiving turkey will never be ready if you continually take it in and out of the oven.  It has to go into the oven and stay in the oven for anyone to be pleased with it.  In much the same way, it is not surprising that our lives are not pleasing to God, if we spend the majority of our time with our minds set on the things of this world.  There are many aspects of our lives where the best medicine is a long soak in the Spirit.  Actually, the most cleansing life is the one where our minds are never set upon anything other than the things of the Spirit.  The purifying work of the Spirit can do amazing transformations in the soul of the person who wins the battle for the control of their own mind.

Clarity:  The battle for our own mind, what we set our mind on, is made more difficult when we flood it with garbage and the irrelevant.  Our flesh can grab onto the most benign of fleshly desires and be back into the production of sin.  It is like trying to shine UV light through a stream of mud.  It just will not penetrate very deep.  We must evaluate our lives for the clutter of the world.  There are many things in our lives that are not sinful in and of themselves but they may not be helpful for what we want most; our own sanctification.  I am continually working to un-clutter my mind because I know that all that other stuff will easily begin to make it harder for me to set my mind on the things of the Spirit.

The battle for control of our minds is very important.  It is one of the main reasons that I am working hard at memorizing scripture.  Rolling scripture around in my head is a very good way for me to wrestle my mind away from my flesh and set back in the place that I want it to be – set on the Spirit.  I know my flesh.  It is not good.  I know that when I set my mind on the fleshly that I produce all sorts of detestable produce.  I have more experience doing that then I care to admit.

I know where I want to be and that is living in accordance to the Spirit.  I don’t want to be any place other than walking with my Lord.  That means I need to fight the battle of my mind continually.  Where I allow my mind to rest has a direct influence on the work of the Spirit in my life.  I know that when I am actively setting my mind on the things of the Spirit that intensity of the Spirit is turned up, the Spirit has time to work, and there is not a lot of garbage blocking the process that I want most – to produce pleasing fruit for my Savior.  It is only those who are living in the Spirit that will please God.

Let’s fight for the control of our minds and let the Spirit do His job in our lives, which is our sanctification.

PRAYER: Father, thank you for not leaving us like we are.  Thank you for the work of the Spirit in my life.  Lord, help me to control my mind.  Teach me to recognize when I am not setting my mind on the things that are of You.  Father, I want to live my life in a manner that is pleasing to You.  You are so good and faithful to me.  I want to be a pleasing fragrance to You.  Forgive me for those times that I am not; when I set my mind on the things of the flesh.  Lord, I know that You still have a lot of work to do in my sanctification.  Spirit do your work in my life.     Amen

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SPIRITUAL IMMUNE SYSTEM – Feb. 8

February 8, 2013

“…And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”  Luke 5:31-32

Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral

Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am very thankful for my immune system.  I have been sick and have been making great use of it.  More accurately, I am still sick but I am getting better; thanks to my immune system.

I have read about how severe the cold and flu season has been this year.  I have had friends and family sidelined for a period of time by some nasty microscopic organism.  Now, I have had my turn and I can attest to the fact that it is pretty nasty this year.  I think I might take up the blue-masked fashion statement of flu protest; I don’t want to get that again and I sure don’t want to give it to anyone.

It started six days ago.  I was feeling fine but within 3 hours I was lying in bed, chilled as my body sought a temperature that would acclimatize me to the Sahara.  That wonderful feverish state lasted, sporadically, for four days.  At one point, the entire family consisted of a variety of blanketed bumps, spread across several couches, all giving a token interest to the TV’s attempt to distract us. All we could do was wait and let our immune systems do their respective jobs.

I have had a lot of time to think between episodes of the Cosby Show, Andy Griffith Show, Pawn Stars, Duck Dynasty, etc.; I did not have much else to do.  However, the breadth of my contemplation has been rather limited.  I mostly thought about – me and how sick I felt.

I think that is a primary result of being sick.  We become acutely aware of the clammy feel of the skin, dull ache in the side of the brain, muscles that are impossible to stretch to relief, and the search for the holy grail, a comfortable temperature.

flu virus

flu virus (Photo credit: nigro pino)

I find it interesting how often Jesus interacted with sick people.  It is incredible to think that Jesus could have cleansed me from all viruses and their effects with a word.  I would have liked that.  However, I think He was making an important point.  Jesus healed people.  Jesus said that he came as the physician.  He is the physician for the sickness that is more deadly than any influenza strain.

Jesus is the only physician for the sickness caused by the infecting agent called sin.

We are in a pandemic of this hereditary and terminal disease.  Everyone has it. It is so familiar that most people don’t think of it as an abnormality but people are still seeking a variety of treatments for the symptoms; new relationships or adventures to freshen things up, drugs or alcohol to dull reality, stretching resources to grasp enough possessions to get relief, the search for just the right laying of religious flavors to feel comfortable.

The problem is that none of those treatments are addressing the infecting agent – sin.  They are just masking the symptoms.  Just like our physical bodies need an immune system to kill dangerous pathogens, we need a spiritual immune system.  However, no one is born with a spiritual immune system.

You have to be born again to get a spiritual immune system.

Jesus Christ, as our great physician, has cured all who have come to Him of the terminal aspect of sin.  Sin will no longer kill those who are in Christ Jesus.  I don’t know why God did not decide to cure us from sin, completely, right upon our salvation.  I would have preferred to go straight from a terminal sin slave to perfect holiness.  However, God’s way is better and that is why He gave us what we call sanctification – “a progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives.” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology)

Sanctification is our God given spiritual immune system.

The role that we play in the function of our physical immune system is both active and passive.  When my fever was raging, I did not have to consciously send T-cells to infected areas; I surely did not change the thermostat on my hypothalamus.  I just passively lay on the couch, yielded and trusted my immune system to work within me.

In a similar way, that is what God is doing regarding sin in the life of a believer.

“Paul tells his readers, “Yield yourselves to God as men who have been brought from death to life” (Rom. 6:13), and he tells the Roman Christians, “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Rom. 12:1). Paul realizes that we are dependent on the Holy Spirit’s work to grow in sanctification, because he says, “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live”. (Rom. 8:13)” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Pg 754)

The killing of sin in our lives has been and will always be a work of God.

However, I am amazed at how some will become proud or overly confident in their own sanctification.  It is like bragging about your immune system.  “I never get sick. I have a great immune system.”  I don’t understand why a person would brag about that since they have no control over it. In the same way, why would we take pride in our sanctification?  If you are not tempted by a besetting sin of a brother or sister, the appropriate response is to thank God for doing an unseen work within you that has freed you from that sin.  Looking down your nose at that person makes no sense.

The fact that killing the infecting agent of sin is a work of God does not mean that we have no role to play.  I can do a lot of things to either help or hurt my physical immune system.  I don’t get a cold because I don’t get enough sleep.  I get a cold because a lack of sleep wears my immune system down.  I think that is a similar role that we play in our sanctification; our spiritual immune system.

“There are many aspects to this active role that we are to play in sanctification. We are to “Strive…for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14); we are to “abstain from immorality” and so obey the will of God, which is our “sanctification” (1 Thess. 4:3) John says that those who hope to be like Christ when he appears will actively work at purification in this life “And every one who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (1 John 3:3)… This kind of striving for obedience to God and for holiness may involve great effort on our part, for Peter tells his readers to “make every effort” to grow in character traits that accord with godliness (2 Peter 1:5).” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Pg 754)

All that we do in our lives will be either to enhance or inhibit our spiritual immune systems.  It is helpful to me to think of spiritual disciplines such as Bible reading and meditation (Ps 1:2, Matt. 4:4, John 17:17), Prayer (Eph 6:18, Phil 4:6), Worship (Eph. 5:18-20), Witnessing (Matt 28:19-20), Christian fellowship (Heb. 10:24-25) and self-discipline / self-control (Gal. 5:23, Titus 1:8) as sanctification enhancers (immune system enhancers).  Those are all activities that God has told us to strive after because they create soft hearts.  Sin is easily killed in soft hearts.

God’s job is to kill sin.  My job is to  create the perfect environment for sin killing.

The believers who neglect the care of their own souls will continue to suffer the ailments of sin and will not experience growth and sanctification.

Take care of your spiritual immune system and it will take care of you.

PRAYER: Lord, thank you for taking the sting of death out of sin for me.  Thank you for saving me from that deadly ailment.  Father, continue your cleansing work within me until I am free of sin and like Christ.  I cannot wait for that day.  I am so tired of being sick with sin.  Lord, give me the strength and the desire to create the perfect environment for you to work in my life.     Amen

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COMPLEXITIES OF LIFE AND R2-D2 – Jan. 16

January 16, 2013

“Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house.”  2 Samuel 7:11b

R2-D2 hugI remember going to watch Stars Wars (Episode IV) in the movie theater.  It was almost more than my nine-year brain could take.  I remember walking out of the theater and looking up into to the sky for laser streaks of  epic space battles.  I was not detoured from my fascination with Star Wars due to the absence of intergalactic cruisers above me.

My wish list became replete with Star Wars requests.  I wanted all things Star Wars.  I was part of the first generation that made George Lucas very rich.  I had Star Wars action figures, light sabers and x-wing models.  I even tried to build my own R2-D2.

I conceived my R2-D2 design during one sweltering summer night.  My room was on the second floor of an old farm-house with air conditioning that consisted of an open window.  Sleeping when the temperature gets down to 85 degrees Fahrenheit is difficult.  However, the heat was not a problem on this night.  My imagination was having the effect of a double dose of caffeine and sugar so sleep was not possible.  I rolled through my plans to build myself a robot.  This was going to be great.  I could not wait for the morning.

At some point, I did fall asleep because the morning sun woke me up.  My parents were probably shocked at the speed at which I got my chores done and disappeared into the workshop.  I was on a mission.  My plan was to have a functioning R2-D2 robot by the end of the day.  I could not wait for everyone to see how my robot would follow me around, beeping and chirping, and doing “things”.

As you might imagine, I ran into an immediate problem creating my robot.  I did not have a clue  how to build a robot; all of my daydreaming about having a R2D2 like robot had focused on “having” the robot and not very much on building a robot.  The first challenge was how was I going to make it move.  I didn’t have any electric motors that I could use.  The only electric motors in the shop were my Dad’s tools and they all had cords.  I didn’t want to have to plug-in my robot ; R2-D2 didn’t have a cord.  Thankfully, that eliminated the retrofitting of my Dad’s tools into my robot.  I shutter to think how bad that would have gone.

I decided to leave the concerns of propulsion to a later time and moved on to the structure.  I ran into another problem.  I did not have any R2-D2 like shells that I could use.  The best I had was an old, dented, galvanized bucket.  I figured that would have to work.  Now, how to make it move?  I needed wheels.  I was wise enough to know that scavenging wheels off of the lawn mower, wheel barrow, or cart was a good way not to see the light of day for the rest of the summer.  So, I dove into a couple of boxes of dust and junk.  My reward was four casters of three different types.  A robot has to roll, so they were going to have to work.  I set to work with my supplies in hand.

I finished my robot in about three hours.  My robot debut was to the summer sun, my dog, and a passing cat.  The reviews were very lackluster.  My robot was a metal bucket turned upside down, nailed to a piece of scrap plywood with four wobbling casters beneath, pulled by three pieces of bailing twine, knotted together.  I pulled it around for a little while with great disappointment.  This was nothing like my dreams of the previous night.  However, I learned a very important lesson.

Building a robot is really hard.  Its complexities far exceeded my nine-year old technical capabilities and the supplies of a dairy farm in rural Idaho.

This experience would not be the last for me.  I have many times overestimated my own capabilities.

“That doesn’t look that hard”.                    “Just hit it harder.”

“Yeah, I really need to do that; this is how you do that”.

“If we just follow this list, then it has to work.”

                                   “We need to get a longer bar.”

“Google it – then you can figure it out.”

To the consternation of my wife, my first inclination is still to try to “figure it out”.

This “figure it out” attitude has caused me all sorts of problems when I have misapplied it in my spiritual life.  I have often been like David.  David saw that the he was living in a house of cedar but the ark of God was in a tent.  David thought it would be a good idea to build a house for God.  That sounds like a good idea to me.  Let’s figure it out.

I don’t know what attitude David had about building God a house but given God’s response, I don’t think it was quite right.

David might have had the “poor God; He needs my help” attitude.  Poor God is in a tent.  Therefore, He needs me to build Him a house.

It could have been guilt.  I am living in this really nice house while God is in a tent.  I don’t feel good about that.  God needs a house to make me feel better.  Therefore, I am going to build a house for Him.

He could have been focused purely on the material.  Building God a house is a “no brainer”; I need to build a house. Therefore, I need timbers, stone, craftsmen, etc.

David did not understand the spiritual complexities of building a house for God Almighty.  God dwelling in a building is a task beyond the ability of man.  It is a task similar to a nine-year old building a robot.  It was beyond David’s capabilities.

God reminds David that He doesn’t need him.  David needs God.  God reminds David of all the things that God has done for him: took him out of the pasture, defeated all his enemies, made his name great, and given His people peace.  That was all God.

God tells David that He is the one who will be building a house for David.

Just like David, God is the one behind all the things that we accomplish in our lives.  So often, our “figure it out” attitudes have us trying to build a house for God in that God shaped vacuum in our hearts that Blaise Pascal identified.  It is beyond our capabilities to build an environment within our own hearts for God to live.  There is no amount of housekeeping that will make it suitable.

God is the one who builds a house within us.

We need to remember that all the “good works” that we endeavor to undertake are beyond our capabilities.  We cannot “figure it out”.  The spiritual complexities are way beyond our capabilities to even comprehend.  All of the spiritual fruits that come from everything that we get the privilege to participate in come from God.  God is behind it all.

God is merely calling us to be obedient to him. He is the one who is doing the real work.  We just need to recognize that and give Him the glory that he is due.

PRAYER: Lord, thank you for the reality that you will be the one who completes the good work that you have started in me.  Father, I know that my sanctification is not something that I can figure out.  Thank you for your Spirit working in my life.  Lord, I acknowledge that anything of any good in my life is due to you and the work that you are accomplishing.  Father, please continue that work.  Don’t leave me like I am.  Lord, teach me how to be an obedient servant that is reliant upon you and not myself.  Teach me how to have a life full of “good works’ that are to your glory.  Amen

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BREACH THE DAMS – Jan. 14

January 14, 2013

“Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”  John 7:38

Water is a powerful thing.  Water can destroy when raging in a storm.  Water can cut through steel when combined with pressure and a narrow nozzle. Water can devour a mountain in search of precious metals.  Water can sculpt the land into magnificent canyons.   Water can be at once both beautiful and terrifying.

The most important aspect of water is that it gives life.  There will never be a bountiful harvest without water.

I am a civil engineer.  I have spent a considerable part of my career dealing with water.  We as a society need the benefits of water but we work very hard to control it.  We put water in pipes; we pump it from one place to another; we line canals and river channels with concrete to guide it and prevent erosion; we build dams to control the intensity of its flow; we build levees and surge walls to deflect it.

Yet, we get a glimpse of the power of  water when the devices of civil engineers are overwhelmed and water is allowed to flow in its full concentration and duration.  Water will lay waste the constructs of man given enough time and intensity.

North Fork Toutle River valley in November 1983

North Fork Toutle River valley in November 1983 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think one of the greatest examples of the power of water was during the eruption of Mount Saint Helens.  The North Fork of the Toutle River was transformed into a miniature “Grand Canyon”.  According to traditional interpretations, this landscape would have been thought to have taken centuries to be created.  The power of unrestrained water created it in just five days.

The Holy Spirit is likened to living water flowing in a river.  There is nothing more powerful than God Almighty.  Water is a pale comparison.  Yet, the Spirit flowing unrestrained and with full force can be a frightful thing.

English: Hoover Dam

English: Hoover Dam (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I wonder how many devices I have engineered or allowed in my life to try to control the erosive characteristic of the Holy Spirit in my life.  How many dams have I erected; how many channels have I allowed sin to line and protect what is precious to me; how many levees have I mounted up to shelter my conscience; how many pipelines have I laid to use the Spirit in my system; how often has the harvest been lost due to my trying to manipulate the Spirit into a safe manifestation?

The Spirit is not safe.  The Spirit will wash away all of our man-made edifices.  The Spirit will cut through the hardest rock and the strongest metal.  The Spirit will transform the landscape of our lives when left permanently unrestrained.

I long to see the power of the Lord working in my life and the lives of others.  Let’s tear down the dams of our lives and let the erosion of our flesh by the wonderful scouring of the Spirit commence.  Let’s allow the Spirit to remove the overburden of years of sin to reveal the precious metals of His harvest.  Let’s breach the dams that protect the godlessness of our lives.  Let’s allow the Spirit to have His way.  Just maybe, future generations will stand at the banks of our lives and give glory to God for the beautiful landscape that His Spirit has sculpted.  Just maybe, fields of glorious harvest will sprout from the Spirit overflowing the banks of our lives.

sunset at Grand Canyon (Arizona, USA) seen fro...

sunset at Grand Canyon (Arizona, USA) seen from Yavapai Point (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

PRAYER: Lord, thank you for your Spirit.  Thank you for the fact that you are transforming me, that you are removing the overburden of my life.  Thank you for your continuing work of sanctification in my life.  Father, do it more!  I want more, Lord.  I know that I have erected many things in my life in an attempt to make following you safe.  Forgive me Lord.  Forgive me for not cooperating with your Spirit; show me those devices so that they can be removed.  Father, sculpt my life for your glory.  Amen

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