Sunday Mornings (Guess Blogger)

I would like to welcome back Crystal Russell back as our guest blogger today.

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Sunday Mornings
On Sunday mornings we have a special time of prayer before everything gets started at church.

A group of women gather together to pray.

We pray over the Word that the pastors will bring, the Sunday school teachers, and everyone who will be attending that day.

“for where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” – Matthew 18:20

Promise from Jesus
I often think of this verse when I think of our prayer time.

We can (and should) prayer on our own but I also think that is important to gather together for prayer as well.

We have this promise from Jesus.

Why would we not gather together. He tell us He will be with us in a special way when we do.

The prayers of the early church opened the doors of a prison for Peter (Acts 12:5-10).

It makes in difference in our lives today too.

One of the blessing of learning to pray with another is the rich friendships I have gained. My most trusted friendships are with friends that pray with me.

A Challenge
I challenge you to spend time in prayer
alone, with a friend, with a group.

Prayer is our most powerful weapon.

We need to use it.

My Prayer
Father, thank you for the privilege I have in prayer to come into Your Holy presence. I stand in awe of you as my God and Creator. If that weren’t enough, and it is, when I come before you I get to call you Father. You call me your beloved daughter. You hear every world I pray and when I have no words you know the cry of my heart. Thank you Jesus for your promise you gave us that where two or three are gathered you are with us. Prayer is powerful, may we (your church) be faithful to come before you and use it.
-Amen

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Your Identity

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Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.                   John 1:12-12 NIV

It’s extremely easy to lose our identity, furthermore, to find ourselves searching all over to find out who we are. We hear stories on the news and we see it in the people we associate with. Additionally, we certainly deal with it in a very private as well as personal way as we hear voices, voices which tell us and then are projected into the world. We tell the world what we think about ourselves and don’t think for a minute we’re fooling the entire world. We may fool some people, but overall, we aren’t fooling everyone.
We hear the voices in our heart, spirit and mind telling us good and bad. We hear the good from those who really love and care for us, we hear that good from God — yet we tend to believe the bad which comes from Satan and from those who don’t care for us. We hold onto that bad stuff.
We hear things like . . . you’re
Not good enough, Not smart enough, Not attractive enough
Not skinny enough, not rich enough, not smart enough, not athletic enough, Not from the right family, We’re told we’re not enough! And countless other lies. Hearing those lies long enough and your identity will be formed by it. You feel rejected. Eventually you believe you’re not enough. The voices which shape our identity begin early in life, from the moment we are born. Those words and thoughts stick! Don’t they? They play like a broken record. I know I’ve heard them. I was reminded I wasn’t good enough too many times.
As much as we think we can overcome them, they come back and haunt us. You remind yourself, they were right, I’m no good, not good enough.
Then we begin a relationship with Jesus Christ. We realize in our heart, spirit and mind we need Jesus to help us through life. Yet we sin. We know this fact and the world knows it, and we think we’re worthless; unlovable. I’ve committed too many terrible sins. My sins exempt me from God ever loving me. So, I question if Jesus would die for me. Maybe He’d die for a Saint but certainly not a sinner. I’m not good enough.
That’s where we get it wrong friends. You see, there’s nothing we’ve done which is so bad that God cannot forgive us and bring us into His family. Humanly speaking, some may never forgive you, divinely speaking, we have a God who is not human! Thank God for that!! And He can and will forgive you . . . if you ask.
So, whatever you’ve done in your life up until this very second, know that God wants to be in a relationship with you. He loves you, He died for you. In 2 Peter 3:9, as Peter wrote about the return of Christ, he said, The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
That’s God’s desire for us. God doesn’t want you to think you cannot be loved and embraced by Him. Peter tells us repent, turn away from your sin. Turn to God and God will embrace you in a life changing relationship, he will change you and I from the inside, out. He wants you in His family. There is not a wall which is meant to keep you away, the door is always open, the lights are always on. But, we must receive Christ.
To receive this blessing from God, we must except Jesus for who is truly is, the Son of the Living God, the Messiah, the “Great I Am” What Paul wrote to the church in the book of Ephesians was readily understood but is often missed by us. Paul tells us in the book of Ephesians 1:5-6 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ in accordance with his pleasure and will-to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us the one he loves. Paul wanted the Ephesians to remember their identity. He wrote, in love he predestined us for adoption as sons and daughters through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will.
It was God’s great joy to adopt us into His family. God didn’t have to, He wanted to. What is your primary identity? God adopted you — do you understand that? If you believe in Jesus, you understand you don’t earn God’s love. God loves you because of who you are and who you will yet become in His kingdom. In Ephesians 2:4-5 Paul tells us, but because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions, it is by grace you have been saved. Also in the same chapter 8-9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift from God- not by works so that no one can boast. John Wesley the founder of the Methodist Movement summons up grace in three parts-Prevenient Grace, the grace that surrounds us: is the grace that comes to us before we know God. God showers it upon all people whether they are aware of it or not. Justifying Grace- The Grace that makes our brokenness whole. Justifying Grace brings a big change to the relationship we have with God. We come to acknowledge our sinfulness and trust that we are forgiven by God’s grace. Justifying Grace is when God reaches out to a person through Jesus Christ with accepting and pardoning love.
Sanctifying Grace- Smoothing out the rough edges. Prevenient Grace is God meeting you at every corner, Justifying Grace is God reaching out to you with love, you turn a corner in your faith journey. Sanctifying Grace challenger’s believers to go deeper in faith, to love the world energetically, and to keep growing in the knowledge and love of God.
So, Paul was telling the people this — — If you have come to know Jesus, your most defining moment isn’t who threw you out BUT who took you in. God picked you out, picked you up, and took you home. God did that for you!! He was willing to die for you, so you would never again have to face rejection from the world. He wanted you to be part of His family, even when nobody else did!
There were so many issue facing the churches then as well as so many different problems we face today. Paul tells them as well as us of today, we need to change our ways, he reminds them they belong! Their most defining moment is not who threw you out, but who brought you in. If you heard the call of God and responded to Christ, you need to know He picked you out, picked you up, and brought you home. He adopted you. You’re family! Let that sink in. Remind yourself, God adopted me. Hold onto those words, believe them! The term redemption was also a trade word. In Ephesians 1:7, Paul wrote ~ 7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.
Jesus paid the price for you and me by his suffering on the cross. That was the purchase price. Christianity is not about doing enough for God so he finally loves you. No, God buys us — redeems us — through the blood of Jesus hanging on the cross: “In him we have redemption through his blood—the forgiveness of sins.” God doesn’t need to punish you for your sins, somebody else was already punished for them.
In Ephesians 1:13, Paul wrote, In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were SEALED with the promised of the Holy Spirit.
Paul is reminding them, when they believed in Jesus – – – they were marked with a seal of the Holy Spirit.
We need to know and believe our identity in Christ. Whatever happens that is not good in your life. You name it! Maybe you’re in it right now. Know that you are His! You are the King’s child! The Lord of life, the God of all Creation, the Lord of the Heavenly Armies . . .
He loves you . . . He adopted you, He redeemed you, He sealed you. You are His! That my friends are your primary identity . . . You are a child of the Highest God, Jesus, the Christ!
And that is freeing. I don’t have to earn my way in, I don’t have to buy my way in, when life is a struggle I don’t have to buy junk to satisfy me, because I am the Lord’s.
When I remember that I’m loved, I serve differently. When I remember that I’m loved, I love differently. When I remember who I am, I give and live differently.
When I find myself in one of those moments when I’m buying something I don’t need and I think, What am I doing here? Why do I do what I do? Chances are, I’ve forgotten who I am.
When I find myself leaving a conversation and think — Was it necessary to rip into that person and bring them down? Chances are, I’ve forgotten who I am.
When I find my blood pressure rising over something really, really stupid and think, You don’t understand me! Why don’t you agree with me? Chances are, I’ve forgotten who I am. When I remember who I am, when I settle this identity thing, and when I remember it, I’m free to give grace, because I’ve received grace. I’m free to give love, because I’ve received love. I’m free to serve, because God has served me and lavished His mercy on me. When I remember who I am, I live differently. Just as the people of Ephesus needed to remember their identity, we too need to remember who we are. Knowing our primary identity as children of God, bought by the blood of Christ.

Grace and Peace to You My Friends

Christ Is Risen! Alleluia!

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When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, Who, will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb? But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has Risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, and tell his disciples and Peter, He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you. Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

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According to the Scriptures, our Risen Savior appeared to different individuals before ascending to the Father. It was a random coming and going, but specific encounters to teach us certain things. This took place during the period between Easter and Pentecost, between the Resurrection and Ascension. In today’s Scripture verse, Jesus gives us some “resurrection comfort.” When the men who walked to Emmaus were back in Jerusalem with the joyful news of their encounter with the risen Jesus, the other disciples replied, “The Lord has really risen!” (Luke 24:34) Paul says, “He was seen by Peter and then by the twelve” (I Corinthians 15:5-6) All these pronouncements tells us that, firstly, the Risen Lord wants to give the remorseful sinner back his self-respect. The first apostle Jesus appeared to was the one who denied Him. (Peter) Here the greatness of Christ’s love is demonstrated. He thought about the bitter grief of the Peter who wronged him, instead of wrongs and grief He himself suffered. Put yourself in this situation. Imagine with how much trepidation Peter received this message! Could it be true? Did he hear correctly? Did Jesus really mention his name? He has been the cause of so much of Jesus’ sorrow. He had denied Him three times! But this is how Jesus treats the sinner. Wo will ever be able to fathom the depth of God’s forgiving grace?

Against the dark background of Peter’s denial, the light breaks through in the disciples’ words to the men from Emmaus: The Lord has really risen! He appeared to Peter (Luke 24:34) A jewel glitters so much brighter on a dark background. Likewise, the grace of God and His saving omnipotence are best seen in a deeply fallen sinner. This short extract from history should encourage even the greatest sinner to go to the Father and confess their sins.

The gospel gives us no sensational or gripping detail of the conversation between Christ and Peter. Peter didn’t tell anyone what happened between him and Jesus. In life there are intimate and personal things that cannot bear up under the harsh glare of public exposure. There are spiritual experiences that must remain private because they are part of one’s personal fellowship with God. We dare not reveal every spiritual blessings to inquisitive publicity seekers, or shout it from the mountaintops. 

Three long nights of consuming grief followed Golgotha as well as the shock of Judas’ gruesome death. The offering that God seeks is a broken heart and a downcast spirit; He will not break those who are struggling. Peter discovered what true remorse meant, being tearful, unsure of his next step, knowing he was a fallen sinner, with hands outstretched to heaven in an impassioned plea for grace. And Christ in His unfathomable love and mercy is there, a place of true repentance. He meets in quiet reclusion with the remorseful sinner.

Prayer: Dear Jesus:

I come to you with a humble heart asking for forgiveness of my sins that I have committed. I thank you for taking my place on the cross at Calvary. Help me to become more like you and to serve others in your name, as you did here on earth.    Amen

Blessings to All of You on this Easter Day!

 

Holy Thursday

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Then came the day of unleavened bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.” Where do you want us to prepare for it? they asked.” He replied, As you enter the city a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, and say to the owner of the house, “The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples? He will show you a large room upstairs, all furnished. Make preparations there.” They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover. When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God. After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said. “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them saying, “This is my body given for you, do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays me!” They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this. “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the young and the one who rules like the one who serves?  For who is greater, the one who is at the table? You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelves tribes of Israel. Simon, Simon (also know as Peter) Satan had asked to sift all of you was wheat. But I prayed for you, Simon that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death, Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”           Luke 22:7-35

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Today is Holy Thursday or as some call it “Maundy Thursday, the night in which our Lord and Savior is betrayed by one of his disciples, as well as being deny three times by another, and others scatted when he was arrested. By the end of this night many Christians from around the world will gather together to celebrate “Holy Communion ” while remember the night in which Jesus would be betrayed and handed over to the chief priests, and the elders. Jesus will full the Scriptures that many years ago that Isaiah foretold us.

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his stripes we are healed.                      Isaiah 53:3-5

Do we even take the time to try to understand this night, or just sit and listen in a church pew? Could it be that on the hill of Calvary in which the cross that held God’s greatest gift his son Jesus, who whip, tortured, and crown of thorns laid upon his head ( and not a crown of jewel) He will then carry his Cross to the Place of the Skull also known as Golgotha, then my friends look deep into his eyes and hear Jesus whisper to you and me:                                                                       “I DID THIS FOR YOU”

 

Blessings to You On This Holy Thursday 

Jesus In Gethsemane

Matthew 26   Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

                                                                       Matthew 26:36-38

Gethsemane! How charged with holy perceptions, this name is to the believer! Today we come to a stop at Via Dolorosa-Christ’s road of sorrow. Gethsemane means “olive press.” Cedron, and move when we cross the bridge and move on into the shadows of the olive trees. Let us take off our shoes and bow our heads, for Jesus was here He was to wrestle in prayer with God. Gethsemane symbolizes the crushing weight Jesus carried on the cross. Christ prayed His high priest prayer for others, then He prayed for God to equip Him for His massive offering; to make the impossible possible, to bear the unbearable.

Is this the only way to save the world? asked our Savior. “It is not possible to find another way? Earlier, Satan showed Jesus the other, easier way. During Christ’s temptation in the desert, Satan said, “I will give it all to You, if You will only bow down and worship me.” (Matthew 4:9) Jesus didn’t want to take the easier way without God’s approval. Here in Gethsemane it was not Jesus’ body that was crucified, but His will. Our Lord placed His wishes and desires on the Father’s altar. Although the cup of suffering made Him shudder, He still accepted it from the Father’s hand. He let His will become His Father’s. He bowed in obedience and carried the burden of the world to Golgotha.

Grace and Peace to You My Friends

How To Forgive

 

Matthew 18   Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”                               Matthew 18:22

It was a rabbinical doctrine that a person had to forgive their fellow man three times. They believed that God’s forgiveness covered three transgressions and that he punished the fourth. Peter, the rash disciple with his impulsive nature, answered his own questions by saying that we should forgive seven times. Peter expected Jesus to compliment him, but Jesus answered that the Christian should forgive seventy times seven. there is indeed no limit to the Christian’s forgiveness.

Jesus tells the story of a servant who was forgiven an enormous debt, yet soon afterwards he had no mercy on a fellow servant who owned him a much smaller debt. This message runs through the entire New Testament like a golden thread: You must forgive others to be forgiven yourself. Those who cannot forgive others dare not expect God’s forgiveness. Godly and human forgiveness must go hand in hand.

In Jesus’ story the fact that stands out in the size of the two people’s debt. The point Jesus is making here is that nothing we do can be compared to what humankind did to God. If God forgives us our sins, we must also forgive others. We were forgiven an enormous debt that we would never have been able to pay, because our sins brought about the death of the Son of the Living God. We can find mercy in God’s eyes only if we forgive others like God forgave us.

Grace and Peace to You My Friends

Jesus Calls Us

 

Matthew 4   As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fisherman. “Come, follow me, “ Jesus said, “ and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.                     Matthew 4:18-22

I wonder how many of us if Jesus was still on earth and he ask us to follow him would we drop everything at that very moment and do it? In the book of Matthew it talks about the beginning of Jesus public ministry. John the Baptist had been put to death; and Jesus had withdrawn to Galilee, not because afraid of Herod Antipas, who had put John to death, but because he had a different vision of the future. There was agitation all over Judea for a king, for someone to avenge John’s death. Jesus’ vision of the kingdom was one of nonviolence. He was not interested in revenge not even for the death of his cousin and friend but for peace. 

For Matthew, this scripture was enough to justify Galilee, rather than Jerusalem, as the center of Jesus’ ministry. It is a call for a response to God’s action. God is making a new world. Get a new sense of direction and purpose and become part of that new world. Repentance is not only about remorse, but, more important, about a change of direction.

The contrast of light and darkness is a familiar theme in describing this life direction. Jesus, in fulfillment of the Scriptures, has ushered in an age in which the repentant will move toward the realm of light, and ways from darkness, the shadow of death. The light had dawned because Jesus has arrived. Jesus issued his called to discipleship, knowing the culture, heritage, and economic status of these fisherman. He asked them to leave what they knew and were comfortable with, to come and embrace a new lifestyle with different values and goals. 

What is Jesus asking us to do? Jesus is issuing a similar call to modern, would-be disciples. We come from diverse cultures,. different worldviews, and different places on the socio-economic ladder. We, like the disciples of old, are also called to leave the comfort and predictability as we enter a life of service to God. 

The call of fisherman to become disciples is significant, because it is the beginning of the church. Jesus took the initiative, he sought out these men in the midst of their work. The call was both a command and promise. The command was to follow him. The promise was to become “fishers of people”

Peter as well as Andrew, James and John left everything and everyone to follow Jesus. He issued a powerful appeal that made disciples. And it made a real difference in their lives. How do we become disciples of Jesus Christ? It is not a great mystery. We simply follow him, Jesus calls some us to adventure of serving in the mission field in a foreign land. Others are called to adventure close to home, serving God’s people through service organizations and schools, through food pantry, legal assistance, volunteering and voting, offering prayer and healing. There are so many ways for God’s people to follow Jesus into the adventure of serving. Where do you hear, God is calling you to join Jesus in the adventure of being his disciples? What row is yours to plant? What need in your church, or community, or in the wider world cries out to your heart? How will you respond to Jesus when he says “COME AND FOLLOW ME”

Grace and Peace to You My Friends