Category Archives: Devotional

Sunrise Thankfulness

Today’s guest blogger is Jolene Flores.  Jolene describes herself as a Wife, Mother, Baker, looking to infuse a dash of Grace into this world.  Dan Flores is fortunate to be married to Jolene.  She used to blog at Grace Infusion and you can see some of her cake creations at Cakes by Grace.  Thanks for your addition to…

The Grace Challenge Day 8

Morning light sets ablaze a darkened world.

I awake each day before daylight slips onto the horizon. Each day that my heels click on pavement towards car, I glance at the still night sky. Stars scattered in great brilliance, and the moon looks as though there a pinhole in the night sky and now revealed to us is a slight snippet of heaven-light.

As I drive to work, the hour or so that I drive, I search the horizon from all directions. I witness the morning hues stretch out their arms and suppress all semblance of night darkness. That golden morning light that washes over the mountains is the last view I have before I walk into the office. It is confirmation that the day has begun, the world has awoken.

To me, a sunrise is a sacred moment in the day, when God’s masterful hand paints a glorious magnum opus for us. For us. His chosen. His beloved. A sunrise is a reminder that God never rests. I sometimes envision Him looking upon us with an adoring Father-glance, the way I look upon my children as they sleep. To God, we are the most glorious of all creations. More lovely than the daybreak. More of a masterpiece than any other works of His hands.

A sunrise is also a reminder of renewal. Of forgiveness. Each morn is a new one; the day before is put to bed and the day ahead is a blank canvas for us to paint beauty upon. As heaven light warms us out of the cold dark night, we are given great opportunity to begin anew; make this day better than the last. That gift is given by He alone who spoke the light into being, framed and colored in Salvation Grace, and breathed life into our very lungs.

And so, in this day’s morning light, my heart swells with gratitude. Father-glances, grace, renewal, salvation, warmth.

Anything less than gratitude for this new day would be blasphemous.

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4 Verses from Isaiah

Here are some of my favorite verses from the book of Isaiah:

Isaiah 25:1-3:  O LORD, You are my God; I will exalt You, I will give thanks to Your name; For You have worked wonders, Plans formed long ago, with perfect faithfulness. 2 For You have made a city into a heap, A fortified city into a ruin; A palace of strangers is a city no more, It will never be rebuilt. 3 Therefore a strong people will glorify You; Cities of ruthless nations will revere You.

Strength is not commonly associated with “religious” people.  A construction worker told me recently that Christians do not have a reputation as being “strong” in the construction workplace.  I like this verse because it affirms godliness as a strong characteristic.  That is why Paul says that bodily discipline is “only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things…”

BE Strong!

Isaiah 30:21: Your ears will hear a word behind you, “This is the way, walk in it,” whenever you turn to the right or to the left.

What an apt description of the working together of the Holy Spirit and our conscience. You know what is right, you do.  The issue isn’t what is right and what is wrong, the issue is:  Are you going to heed the voice?  Decide to obey.  Choose the right path.

Listen!

Isaiah 37:31 “The surviving remnant of the house of Judah will again take root downward and bear fruit upward.

There is a marvelous principle of growth embedded in this verse.  The fruit that is produced by the tree is a by-product of two things:  The internal structure of the tree (identity) and the strength and vitality of the root structure (mindset).  If you want to produce the fruit, you must have the appropriate identity.  The Bible calls that being born of God, born from above.  Christ has made believers a new creation.  Secondly, that must be the new soil in which the mind lives. If you plant an apricot tree in rich soil, it will produce fruit.  It will not have to try to produce it, it will simply produce it.  If you are not producing the fruit, one of two things is wrong.  You have not been made into a new creation by Christ, or you are not sending your roots down into the soil of God’s revealed truth.

Take care of your garden.

Isaiah 49:16 “Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me.

This verse has stuck with me for weeks now.  I can’t get over this picture of God loving me so much that He writes my name on His hand.  To be honest, I don’t know if I really believe this verse.  It is beyond my imagining that God would love me that much to perform this silly adolescent act.  This is what I did as a kid when I was so in love with Laura what’s her name in 4th grade.  That is what a lot of drunken sailors do when they get a tattoo with their girl’s name on their bicep, and then get it crossed out in the next port and replaced with a new one.  The picture here is one of sonship, God has adopted me as His son, and I can call Him Father.

Remember who you are!

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When He Became Strong…

Maybe one of the most tragic verses in the entire Bible is 2 Chronicles 26:16:

“But when he became strong, his heart was so proud that he acted corruptly, and he was unfaithful to the LORD his God…”

This verse was written about King Uzziah who was the king of Israel between 787 and 735 BC. Isaiah the prophet was a contemporary of Uzziah’s. God had just “helped” (2 Chronicles 26:7) him in his battles against his enemies and Uzziah proved victorious to the point that the passage describes him in this way:

“Hence his fame spread afar, for he was marvelously helped until he was strong.”

That description is then followed by the fateful description in verse 16:

“But when he became strong, his heart was so proud that he acted corruptly, and he was unfaithful to the LORD his God…”

Notice a few things:

1. God made him strong. Our source of strength and our provision is God. One of the most presumptuous sins of humanity is taking credit for what is rightly due to God. What is responsible for your personal success in life? Is it your brains, strength, common sense, perseverance, vision, opportunism, good fortune? Whichever choice you responded to, it came from God. God made you smart. God made you strong. God gave you common sense. God supplied the vision, perseverance. Whatever you call luck, is really the smile of God upon you. God gave Uzziah the victory over the armies of the Philistines, the Arabians and the Meunites (whoever they were). Who is responsible for your personal success in life, your blessings? Uzziah’s fatal mistake was not giving God the credit for his fame. Do you recognize how blessed you are? Do you recognize where those blessings came from? Psalm 3:5 says: “I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the LORD sustains me.” And you thought you did that all by yourself, didn’t you?

2. His heart was so proud. His second mistake flows from the first but is not a necessary jump. (There are other second options, a subject for another blog). Uzziah took personal credit for his strength and for his fame. This is the “god-complex.” Uzziah was master of his domain. He ruled the roost, he was the man. God prospered him and he took credit for it. His heart became proud. Proverbs tells us to watch over our hearts with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life. Jesus says that out of the heart flows the stuff of defilement (Steve’s version of Mark 7:14-21), that is why we need renewal and rebirth. The issues of the heart cannot be ignored, they cannot be stifled or controlled. What is the status of your heart? Interestingly enough, the Spirit knows your heart. Isn’t it time to have a tune up of the heart, to make sure it is firing with the Spirit? There is a great line from a hymn that calls us to “tune our hearts.” A humble heart is ready to admit that God is in control.

3. Uzziah acted corruptly, and he was unfaithful to the Lord his God. Do you know what horrific act Uzziah committed that is described in the text? He went to the temple to burn incense to God! On the surface it seems so innocuous. So benign. But it wasn’t. He was not authorized to do what he did. He wanted to not only usurp the place of God, he wanted to usurp the law of God, the temple of God and the priests of God. He was so full of himself that he only saw his own desire. Doesn’t that sound familiar? The resultant act that flowed from the pride was almost irrelevant – it is expressed in so many ways. We can be totally out of God’s favor even in church. You see God is not interested in the outer show, he is interested in the internal demeanor. Is your heart on its knees before God? I don’t know, only you and God know.

Uzziah was king for 52 years. He became king when he was 16 years old. He is characterized as a king who did right, he sought God and God prospered him. Then this event at the end of his life tarnished his reputation. God “smote” him with leprosy and a leper he died, and he is remembered for being a “leper.” What a tragic ending.

There is another way for you to write this verse and I hope this is the description of your life – something worth putting on a grave marker:

“But when he became strong, his heart was so humbled that he acted righteously, and he was faithful to the LORD his God.”

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I Will Pray for You

This is our Worship Focus at Nuevo Community Church for March 4, 2012.  Text for the morning:  John 17.

“I will pray for you.”

Those are powerful words.  But like all good things, sometimes they have a dark side.  These powerful words are sometimes simply discussion “enders”.   At the end of a difficult conversation, or an uncomfortable one, “I will pray for you” becomes our transition away from the discomfort.  Sometimes it is reduced to the same platitude class of sayings as “How are you?”  We really don’t mean it; it is just how we open a conversation or greet people.  So, unfortunately, “I will pray for you” is sometimes dismissive.  I hope that isn’t true, or at least that this will challenge us to actually mean it when we use the phrase.

Even better than the phrase “I will pray for you” is what Jesus does in John 17.  In this instance, Jesus actually prayed for his disciples in their presence and John (God bless him) had the presence of mind to record it for us!  Paul practiced this as well.  He told people how he was praying for them.  Colossians 1:9ff is one of my favorite templates for praying for other people.

So, let’s deal with first things first.  Don’t use the phrase “I will pray for you” unless you mean it.  Second, when appropriate, tell people how you are praying for them. This built-in accountability will make a difference. It is hard to compound lies, that is, if I have made it a habit of turning “I will pray for you” into a meaningless platitude, it is harder to get around the habit of giving details of said prayers.   Third, today, know that Jesus prays for you.  He intercedes on your behalf.  He has your best interest in mind and He is all about bringing that best interest to pass.  As you worship, be grateful for a praying Jesus who prays for your well-being.

Jesus is praying for you.

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3 Ingredients for Growth

 I am interested in how people grow.  This is crucial information for individuals, married couples and parents.  I think there are at least 3 components that are critical to growth:

Appropriate Environment.  My wife has a book called the Sunset Guide to Plants (something like that, but I am in bed writing this post and I am not going to go find it to give you the right title – wait…Google), it’s actually called Western Garden Book. It gives you the types of plants that will thrive in your particular climate.  The premise being that plants that thrive in Washington don’t necessarily do well in the Southern California desert region we live in, no matter how much you like the plant.

Growth occurs when the appropriate environment is supplied.  Things like soil, moisture, sunlight all contribute to growth.  In the human realm the environment has to do with the people, places and challenges in which we surround ourselves.  So if you  want to grow look around and see what the climate is where you do your living.

Who are the people in your life?  Are they positive people? healthy people? People who have a strong life compass?  People who are ahead of you, that is older, more mature, stronger and wiser?  The people we are with tend to shape our minds and hearts.  They can encourage us or destroy us.  Make wise decisions about your associations.

Closely related are the places of your life.  These are homes, workplaces, church, clubs, hang-outs.  Do the places I go encourage me to grow?  If not, maybe a change is in order.  Maybe I am in the right place, I am just not invested in the program –  if that is the case then engage.

Are you challenged by your activities?  Challenge pushes us to move beyond complacency and try new things.  Last October I rode in the Tour de Perris, a century ride sponsored by the city of Perris to commemorate their centennial anniversary.  A century is the bicycle riders marathon, 100 miles on a bicycle.  This was challenging, and in order to accomplish it I surrounded myself with others who were like-minded and we put ourselves in a place (our bikes) to carry out the challenge.  We all grew as a result.

Appropriate Elements.  You have to feed plants the right things if they are to grow in a healthy manner.  In the same way, if you are going to grow you have to address the needs in your life and apply the appropriate nutrients to your life so that you will grow.  The human body needs food, water and rest.  The human spirit needs a healthy sense of identity, security, and purpose to grow.  The human body really grows and matures, then simply needs maintenance until death.  The healthy habits of childhood simply need to be repeated in the physical realm. At 52 I am no longer looking to grow physically.

My spirit continues to be in need of development and in order to grow I nurture my sense of security (faith and belief, trust), identity (my relational knowledge of God which is characterized as “son-ship”), and purpose (engaging in my place in the family of God, the kingdom).  When I focus on developing these three areas of my life, bad habits fall to the wayside and the fruit of God’s Spirit are displayed in me.  Some of the practices that encourage this are:  repentance, believing, trusting, humbling myself, submitting, obeying, resisting temptation, and immersing myself in truth.  Some of the things that serve as blocks are:  scepticism, self-righteousness, independence, unbelief, worry, temptation, the power of the lie.

Appropriate Energy.  These things do not happen just because.  I must invest energy in the process.  Developing relationships with the right people and placing myself in the right contexts and challenging myself to do greater things takes effort.  Working on my faith is just that, a godly work which takes time and effort.  Discipline and discernment compel me to find this new direction in life so that I may grow.

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The Power of One Word

I have to go to work today.

I remember when I was in seminary back in the 80’s.  I worked at Glendale Federal Savings on Brand Blvd. in Glendale.  I was a “Customer Service Representative,” more commonly known as a “teller.”  I remember thinking what a consummate waste of time I thought it was because I was preparing for work that was much more substantive, that is, pastoral ministry.  I told myself:  “I could be studying the  Bible right now, but no, I have to be here listening to people complain about their money.”

Fast forward ten years, now I am working in ministry, and guess what?  I found myself still complaining about my lot:  “I have to go to work today.”  I was now in the idyllic future place of doing what I “wanted” to do, but one word caused me to move back to the bank.  This realization made me change one word and with that one word change my outlook not only on work, but every day I was alive.

I get to go to work today.

Just that one word change has the power to change my attitude, energy level, motivation and happiness.  One word pushes me up or drags me down.  Change one word.

Every day is a good day.  Every day is given to me from God.  Every day I get to….you fill in the blank.

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Prayer for True Knowledge

Here is a prayer written by Thomas a Kempis:

Grant me, O Lord, to know what I ought to know,
To love what I ought to love,
To praise what delights Thee most,
To value what is precious in Thy sight,
To hate what is offensive to Thee.
Do not suffer me to judge according to the sight of my eyes,
Nor to pass sentence according to the hearing of the ears of ignorant men;
But to discern with a true judgment between things visible and spiritual,
And above all, always to inquire what is the good pleasure of Thy will. Amen
(The Moral Compass, William J. Bennett p. 754)

and a corresponding prayer for knowledge by the apostle Paul:

For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints,do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.
(Ephesians 1:15-19 )

After Paul gives thanks he prays that God may give to the Ephesians a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ and that the eyes of their heart may be enlightened.  All of those phrases are knowledge phrases.  He asks that they will be enlightened in three ways:  hope, riches, greatness.  Paul is assuming here that their is a tendency in believers to have misconceptions about appropriate hope, true riches, and the nature of greatness.  Listen to my sermon from this week (will post the link when the sermon is up) for a perspective on true hope, riches and greatness.

A major thrust of the believers prayers should be in the arena of the mind and to renew our mind so that it conforms to the mind of Christ.  Prayer can be defined as mind work.  It is the place where I examine my mind, my thinking, my values, my  hopes, my philosophy, my understanding of truth, my wisdom.  Hence Paul prays that we have wisdom and that the veil over our minds be pulled back and that our hearts may be brought into the light, that is out of the darkness.

Paul had a practice of sharing his prayers with his readers.  As a result we have a treasure of examples of how to pray for one another.  I have made it a practice to use the prayers of Paul as a template for how to pray for others.  Here are some good ones:  Ephesians 1:15-23; Ephesians 3:14-20; Colossians 1:9-12; Colossians 4:2-4; Philippians 1:9-11; Philemon 1:4-6.  Pray for one another.

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Living Life Full Blast

I don’t know if this is always a good thing.

I was washing dishes (we don’t have a dishwasher) the other day and noticed that when I rinsed I was turning the water on full blast.  When I say noticed I mean that the stream of water caught the ice cream scoop at the perfect angle to soak my shirt.  My self talk sounded like this:  “Turn the water down stupid!”  So I did.

It got me thinking.  Could it be that living life full blast all the time was not a good thing?  What seemed profound when I was washing the dishes now seems mundane as I verbalize the notion.  But many people, including yours truly, typically live life full blast, all the time.  I am often confused by people who say no, or who limit their activity, or go to bed before 10. And there are always extremists, people who say:  “I can’t do Bible Study on Tuesday night because I shop for my groceries on that day.”  They think that they can’t do more than one outside the house after work activity in one day.  How silly.

Or is it?  Do you live your life full blast, all the time.  Has the notion of rest (sabbath) been a part of your spiritual and physical an emotional health plan?

I look forward to the fourth of July because it is one day I say no and rest.  I don’t go to our small town parade and fiesta.  I don’t go to fireworks shows.  It isn’t because I am not patriotic.  I just stumbled upon what a great day of rest feels like and I do it at least once a year.  So here is to figuring out how to turn the faucet down.

By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.  Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.  (Gen 2:2-30)

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”   (Mat 11:28-30)

Sounds really good to me.

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Quotes about Jesus

This past Sunday I preached on the Supremacy of Christ from Colossians 1:15-20.  I ran across these quotes about Jesus and include them for your enjoyment.  Many provocative things have been said about Jesus throughout history and from around the world.  It is truly impressive.

I know men and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between Him and every other person in the world there is no possible term of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creation of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for Him.

–Napoleon

No one else holds or has held the place in the heart of the world which Jesus holds. Other gods have been as devoutly worshipped; no other man has been so devoutly loved.

–John Knox

Even those who have renounced Christianity and attack it, in their inmost being still follow the Christian ideal, for hitherto neither their subtlety nor the ardour of their hearts has been able to create a higher ideal of man and of virtue than the ideal given by Christ of old.

–Fyodor Dostoyevsky

A man who was completely innocent, offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act.

–Mahatma Gandhi

Jesus of Nazareth, without money and arms, conquered more millions than Alexander the Great, Caesar, Mohammed, and Napoleon; without science and learning, he shed more light on things human and divine than all philosophers and scholars combined; without the eloquence of school, he spoke such words of life as were never spoken before or since, and produced effects which lie beyond the reach of orator or poet; without writing a single line, he set more pens in motion, and furnished themes for more sermons, orations,discussions, learned volumes, works of art, and songs of praise than the whole army of great men of ancient and modern times.

–Philip Schaff

I am an historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history.

–H.G. Wells

As the centuries pass, the evidence is accumulating that, measured by His effect on history, Jesus is the most influential life ever lived on this planet.

— Historian Kenneth Scott Latourette

Socrates taught for 40 years, Plato for 50, Aristotle for 40, and Jesus for only 3. Yet the influence of Christ’s 3-year ministry infinitely transcends the impact left by the combined 130 years of teaching from these men who were among the greatest philosophers of all antiquity.

–Unknown

I have read in Plato and Cicero sayings that are very wise and very beautiful; but I never read in either of them: “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden.”

–Augustine

Buddha never claimed to be God. Moses never claimed to be Jehovah. Mohammed never claimed to be Allah. Yet Jesus Christ claimed to be the true and living God. Buddha simply said, “I am a teacher in search of the truth.” Jesus said, “I am the Truth.” Confucius said, “I never claimed to be holy.” Jesus said, “Who convicts me of sin?” Mohammed said, “Unless God throws his cloak of mercy over me, I have no hope.” Jesus said, “Unless you believe in me, you will die in your sins.”

–Unknown

Jesus is the God whom we can approach without pride and before whom we can humble ourselves without despair.

–Blaise Pascal

As a child I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene….No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life.

–Albert Einstein

An unsurpassed master of the art of laying bare the inmost core of spiritual truth.

–Geza Vermes

Jesus Christ is to me the outstanding personality of all time, all history, both as Son of God and as Son of Man. Everything he ever said or did has value for us today and that is something you can say of no other man, dead or alive. There is no easy middle ground to stroll upon. You either accept Jesus or reject him.

–Sholem Asch

I accept the resurrection of Easter Sunday not as an invention of the community of disciples, but as a historical event. If the resurrection of Jesus from the dead on that Easter Sunday were a public event which had been made known…not only to the 530 Jewish witnesses but to the entire population, all Jews would have become followers of Jesus.

–Pinchas Lapide, Orthodox Jewish scholar, Germany (born 1922)

Despite our efforts to keep him out, God intrudes. The life of Jesus is bracketed by two impossibilities: “a virgin’s womb and an empty tomb”. Jesus entered our world through a door marked, “No Entrance” and left through a door marked “No Exit.”

–Peter Larson

The most pressing question on the problem of faith is whether a man as a civilized being can believe in the divinity of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, for therein rests the whole of our faith.

–Fyodor Dostoevsky

If I might comprehend Jesus Christ, I could not believe on Him. He would be no greater than myself. Such is my consciousness of sin and inability that I must have a superhuman Saviour.

–Daniel Webster

They gave him a manger for a cradle, a carpenter’s bench for a pulpit, thorns for a crown, and a cross for a throne.  He took them and made them the very glory of his career.

 ~W.E. Orchard

If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies.  Yet distance makes no difference.  He is praying for me. 

~Robert M. McCheyne

“In his own lifetime Jesus made no impact on history. This is something that I cannot but regard as a special dispensation on God’s part, and, I like to think, yet another example of the ironical humour which informs so many of his purposes. To me, it seems highly appropriate that the most important figure in all history should thus escape the notice of memoirists, diarists, commentators, all the tribe of chroniclers who even then existed.”

Malcolm Muggeridge, British journalist (1903-90)

You should point to the whole man Jesus and say, ”That is God.”

Martin Luther

The Jews tried to keep Christ contained within their law, while the Greeks sought to turn Him into a philosophy; the Romans made of Him an empire; the Europeans reduced Him to a culture, and we Americans have made a business of Him.

Unknown

I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.  Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.

  ~Mahatma Gandhi

Our problem is this: we usually discover him within some denominational or Christian ghetto. We meet him in a province and, having caught some little view, we paint him in smaller strokes. The Lion of Judah is reduced to something kittenish because our understanding cannot, at first, write larger definitions.

–Calvin Miller

People talk about imitating Christ, and imitate Him in the little trifling formal things, such as washing the feet, saying His prayer, and so on; but if anyone attempts the real imitation of Him, there are no bounds to the outcry with which the presumption of that person is condemned.

–Florence Nightingale

Because Christianity’s influence is so pervasive throughout much of the world, it is easy to forget how radical its beliefs once were. Jesus’ resurrection forever changed Christians’ view of death. Rodney Stark, sociologist at the University of Washington, points out that when a major plague hit the ancient Roman Empire, Christians had surprisingly high survival rates. Why? Most Roman citizens would banish any plague-stricken person from their household. But because Christians had no fear of death, they nursed their sick instead of throwing them out on the streets. Therefore, many Christians survived the plague.

–“2000 Years of Jesus” by Kenneth L. Woodward, NEWSWEEK, March 29, 1999,

There was no identity crisis in the life of Jesus Christ. He knew who He was. He knew where He had come from, and why he was here. And he knew where He was going. And when you are that liberated, then you can serve.

–Howard Hendricks


ht: Tentmaker.org, Quotegarden

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It is Well – Horatio Spafford

If you have never heard the story behind this marvelous hymn it is well worth the time and a tear or two shed. Horatio Spafford had a series of “Job” like experiences which form the inspiration for this hymn. It also has a marvelous recording of the hymn (recorded here at our church in Nuevo…the guys in the video are lip-syncing that’s my voiced dubbed in), the video is narrated by none other than Bill Gaither. Enjoy. Cry, you need to. Be inspired and go to church tomorrow and worship like you mean it.

ht: cliffordthedawg

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