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Create In Me a Clean Heart

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54 Now when they (the Jewish leaders) heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at (Stephen). 55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
(Acts 7:54-60)
 
Have you ever wondered what your last words on this earth would be?  Stephen, as his life is taken from him by an angry crowd calls out, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.  Stephen quotes His Savior, who spoken those words from the cross, having fulfilled all that was necessary for our salvation.  Charlemagne, the Roman emperor who died in 814, uttered these same last words, as did Christopher Columbus in 1506.  I always hoped I would have the privilege of leaving this world with these same words on my lips.  It would be a privilege to die with these as our last words.

It is also a privilege to begin each new day with these words on our lips.  Each day is a gift from the Lord.  Our gift to Him is the manner in which we live that day.  It is so easy to begin our day, rehearsing the “To Do” list that stands before us.  Our plans can take priority.  Our goals can become our god.  Often we find ourselves asking the Lord to bless what we are doing.  Perhaps it would be better for us to begin the day praying for the Lord to lead us to the things that He is blessing.

Our gifts and talents and abilities are a gift from God, to be used to serve Him.  The best way to serve the Lord is by serving others.  How are you making a difference to the people around you?  Your “To Do” list is important, but it must include caring for others physically, emotionally and spiritually.

We live in a fast paced world, which has recently come to a near halt.  Perhaps the Lord is offering this time for us to reconnect with those who could use a word of encouragement, a word of care, a word of compassion.  Are you making a difference for others?  If not, join King David who prayed about his spirit, saying, Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me (Psalm 51:10).

Prayer: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.  Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.  Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you (Psalm 51:11-13).  I pray this in the name of Jesus.  Amen.

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Abundant Forgiveness

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And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’” And she went and did as Elijah said. And she and he and her household ate for many days. The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.
1 Kings 17:13-16  ESV

 
How could so little become so much? The poor widow in today’s reading had barely enough flour and oil to make a single cake for herself and her son. Even worse, because of the severe drought in the land, she had resolved herself to the reality that it would be their last meal and they would then die. How bold of Elijah to impose on her and say that she should first feed him and then there would still be enough for her. But yet by faith that Elijah was speaking God’s word and command to her, she obeyed.
 
While we may not see this exact miracle elsewhere in scripture, there are certainly many examples of God calling people to have faith and trust in Him to provide. Perhaps the most similar story comes in the New Testament with the feeding of the 5,000. With just a few fish and loaves, Jesus feeds the multitude and shows them the power of God to provide for their most basic needs.
 
For most of us, our basic needs of food are well covered. We seldom miss a meal and often have much more than enough. But there is an even more important basic need that only God can provide, and that is the need for forgiveness. Because of our fallen nature we sin daily, and often. We are in desperate need of mercy, grace, and forgiveness.
 
But thanks be to God who still today speaks to us as Elijah spoke to the widow with the words, “Do not fear.” Though Satan would whisper in our ears that we are not good enough for God to love and that surely God could never forgive us, the truth is that we have nothing to fear. Because God sent His Son Jesus to suffer, die, and rise again, we have absolute confidence that the forgiveness He offers is indeed for us. And the best news is that it will never run out! As the flour and oil was supplied to sustain the widow and those in her household, so God supplies the forgiveness to sustain us until the day when He will call us to heavenly home.
 
Gracious Father, thank You for the abundant forgiveness that You pour out on me for the sake of Jesus my Lord. Calm my heart with the peace that only You can bring. I have nothing to fear knowing that You are in control. Bless me as I await His return and pray in His name, amen.


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Our Joy

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54 Now when they (the Jewish leaders) heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at (Stephen). 55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
(Acts 7:54-60)
 
Stephen preached the Word of God, explained its truths and offered the message of salvation.  The response of the audience was to cry out, shove their fingers into their ears and rush him.  All Stephen wanted to do was share the message of salvation with people who had waited years to hear it.  Jesus was the fulfillment of every Old Testament prophesy they studied.  He was the hope for which they yearned and the freedom for which they longed.  And now they want to hear nothing about Him.  Instead, they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. 
 
Amazing, isn’t it?  They should have known better.  They studied the Scriptures.  They were waiting.  So, what went wrong?  Was it Stephens’ delivery?  Did Stephen approach his listeners in an inappropriate manner and offend them?
 
The people Stephen addressed had the same problem every sinner encounters.  They had an “I” problem.  We have an “I” problem.  Our sinful natures move us to believe we need no help when it comes to salvation.  We don’t want to hear that we are sinful and unclean.  We don’t want to hear that we really don’t deserve the love of God. 
 
In my first parish a young lady visited our worship a number of times.  She concluded that she couldn’t join our family of faith because we were too negative.  She explained that we began each worship service by confessing our sins.  She wanted a more joyful experience.  I explained that we confess our sins and then hear the wonderful word of forgiveness that comes through the gracious sacrifice of Jesus.  This, I said, is our joy.
 
When it comes to hearing the truth, we often stick our fingers in our ears.  We need to listen to the truths of the Lord’s Word and in them find forgiveness.  Forgiveness brings new life and points us to eternal life.  The truth is not always easy to hear when we are being convicted of our sin.  But the truth of forgiveness is so sweet.  Scripture tells us that faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17).  Let us keep our fingers out of our ears and hear His powerful Word.
 
Prayer: O Holy Spirit, I thank You that You speak Your truths to me through Your Word.  I can only rightly hear those truths by Your working in my heart.  Bring me to listen and respond with a heart of thankfulness.  I pray this in the name of the resurrected Jesus.  Amen.

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Compassion

 
 
 
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31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:31-32

Each and every day, there is always a new story in the news or from other people about how someone is bullying another person or if a person is being mean to you or anyone else. It truly baffles me when someone is just mean or if bullying is going on. I am sure that we have all seen this in one form or another and may have even been apart of it at times.

As we continue in this journey of life, we must remember that we are all children of God and he does in fact love each and every one of us equally. We must have the compassion for others as Christ has for us. There is a saying, “What would Jesus do?” And that is love, show compassion, and support everyone around him. That is what we must strive to do. We are all one church body and one family in Christ.

As we go out and continue into the weekend I challenge you to show compassion and love to each and every single person you can. Try not to show bitterness or hostility but love, as Christ loves us. Once we can all do this, the world will continue to become a better place for us until we reach the heavenly kingdom and Christ comes again. We must forgive as Christ forgave us.

Prayer: Almighty and Everlasting Father, you have equipped us with the strength and love to provide for others as you have provided for us. We pray that you guide our hearts so that we may always love, even in times of rage and anger so that we may receive your eternal kingdom and live eternally with you and set a model for everyone else around us. Through Jesus Christ, your only begotten son. Amen

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Victorious Over Sin

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“For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me…Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  Romans 7:19-20, 24-25

There isn’t a Christian who hasn’t struggled with sin and come up a loser.  There are those times that sin seems to overpower us and overwhelm us.  We all have those sinful habits and addictions that seem to plague us no matter how hard we try to get rid of them.  Even the Apostle Paul lost battles with his sinful nature!

But Paul gives us great news here.  When we fall into sin, that sin doesn’t define us.  Yes, sin lives within us and will stick with us on this side of eternity.  Yet, that sin is in us, but it isn’t us.  We’re defined by our relationship with Jesus Christ.  He is our Savior.  He has rescued us, and He is greater than our sin.

One of my favorite Martin Luther quotes puts it perfectly:  “So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this:  ‘I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it?  For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf.  His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is, there I shall be also!'”

It’s understandable that our losing battles with sin discourage us.  But that’s why we look to Jesus and His cross and empty tomb for our identity.  For that’s where our sins have been paid for and put in their place.

Repent when you sin.  Remember that Jesus died for you.  Rejoice in the forgiveness, life and salvation that is yours.

Gracious Father, when I struggle to overcome my sinful habits and addictions, remind me that You have already declared that I am victorious over sin through Jesus’ cross and empty tomb.  Give me strength to daily repent, to daily remember Christ’s death for me, and to daily rejoice in that life and salvation that is mine through faith.  In Jesus’ name, Amen. 


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