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“The seeds that fell among the thorns are those that hear, but as they go on their way, they are choked by the worries, riches and pleasures of this life and their fruit does not mature. ” Luke 8:14

“Therefore, if you have been raised with the Messiah, keep focusing on the things that are above, where the Messiah is seated at the Right Hand of God”. Colossians 3:1

“I am the vine, you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit, apart from Me, you can do nothing”. John 15:5

I really enjoy being outside. I feel such a sense of God’s creation when I’m able to be outside, enjoying nature. I also like to take the Word outside and read it. And, living in coastal Virginia, part of God’s creation that occupies the outdoor space with me is the ever present mosquito, at least in the warmer parts of the year. So this morning, Bible in hand, I went out with my trusty dog and sat down to read the morning scriptures. Hardly had I time to crack open the pages of my Bible when I was pounced upon by the buzzing, darting hoard (welllll more like 3 or 4 but they’re mosquitoes dad gone it!) Of course, I immediately put my Bible down and went to swinging and swatting at this pesky nuisance.

Just then, the Spirit enlightened me ( and no not in a more efficient way to rid myself of the scourge). I had a plan to focus on Jesus Christ. I was going to read scripture and then pray. I was shown how little it takes, how easily I allow myself to lose focus on that extremely vital goal, to be utterly distracted by the trivial. Especially for me as mosquitoes; while buzzing around me, don’t tend to land and bite often and when they do, they don’t itch (please don’t hate me if you’re a mosquito magnet who gets crazy itchy).

So let’s leave the specifics of the mosquitoes and look to the broader lesson. Jesus Christ is very clear; we are to stay focused on the Heavenly Father and His word, that’s where the treasure and blessings to this life are. Yet we must understand, there is an enemy with the world at his disposal who will stop at nothing to distract us from, to turn our focus away from God. Especially the enemy attacks when our intention is to be uniquely focused on God such as when in the study of His word or in prayer. If the enemy can get us to put off the study or the prayer to God, then the enemy feels victorious. Here’s another truth we have to grapple with; in our fallen state, we are all to ready to chase after these distractions, losing our focus on our Heavenly Father by doing so.

What do I mean by distractions? In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus teaches us about them in the third example of the seed; the seed in the thorns. These thorns/distractions can be negative; worries or actual issues with health, finances, relationships, careers, etc. However, the thorns don’t need to be large, overpowering circumstances, they can be as small as a mosquito. The thorns/distractions also don’t have to be negative; a sudden affluence, a promotion, a new relationship, a new property, a healing, any good news, can break our focus from the source of the blessing to the blessing itself.

The enemy doesn’t just have a mind-blowing plethora of choices of distractions to use, but also has the ability to throw them at us constantly, one after another. Can he cause our fears to so overwhelm us that we can see nothing but despair ahead for ever? Can he trick us through worldly plenty to focus on our “good life” having us believe in our pride that we are deserving of it and should focus on the enjoyment of it and gaining even more. There is no need or time to think of anything beyond the greed of gain and the selfishness of using it, especially not prayer or study of the Word.

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ; here’s the point we really have to grasp if we are going to regain the proper focus. It is not about our individual effort. If I’m relying on “I” to have the strength to withstand the onslaught of the enemy; I will fail. But the Good News is, Jesus Christ, nor our Heavenly Father, ever wanted us to try to stand on our own.

Jesus was again very clear when He promised that by returning to the Father, He was going to be able to send the Advocate, the Holy Spirit to come and dwell within us. It is the team of Our Heavenly Father and His plan of salvation, Jesus Christ our Savior who has taken away our sins and the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, making things clear and giving us the strength to withstand the attacks of the enemy that allows us to defeat the enemy.

Thus remember, whether they be mosquitoes or some earthly pleasure; whether large or small, distractions will come. The enemy of this world will not stop trying to get our attention turned from our Heavenly Father. Should we feel tempted to race after that distraction, whatever it may be and wherever it may lead; remember the fact Jesus stated:….”apart from Me you can do nothing”. All that chasing will come to nothing, no matter what the world declares. Pray for strength through the Holy Spirit in the Name of Jesus Christ. Jesus also proclaimed that He has overcome the world and we can take heart and be in peace because of that; for in Him we can overcome as well.

So swat away or not; let us keep our focus on our Heavenly Father, through the sacrifice and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, realizing that the Holy Spirit will clear away all the thorns that are choking out the blessings of God’s word and will be the fertilizer that allows for that amazing crop and harvest that comes from a God focused life.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father we realize that this is a world filled with distractions attempting to pull our focus from You. Most Merciful Father we also confess that we are all too often ready, willing and able to jump on those distractions allowing them to take us away. We pray for the insight and the strength of the Holy Spirit, dwelling within us to blunt the power of the enemy to distract us and to keep the focus on You; Heavenly Father. That in being in Your Son Jesus Christ we can bring about the abundant harvest of love, light and blessings that this distracted world is in such need of. That in a God-focused life; we will bring praise to Your Most Holy Name. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

What do we do? How should I respond? Why can’t we or they stop this? Here’s a start. Today, find someone. Actively seek someone who needs an act of kindness AND ACT. That’s what we all can do. We can start to build or strengthen a culture where caring about vs. fighting with becomes the norm. Yes there may be a place for more legislation or more physical protection for locations. BUT DON’T WAIT OR COUNT ON THAT TO HAPPEN. Your and mine act of kindness just may be the connection a disturbed, distraught person needs. Our act of kindness may be the reason a trigger doesn’t get pulled, that a person may see some light in their present world of darkness. Strive to start with one act and build from there. And God will be with you in your attempt. Pray for Uvalde. Pray for Buffalo.

Heavy, trembling sigh. Look around, let your gaze wander. Places, like Ukraine, letter designations next to names like R or D, or a sequence starting with L, ethnicities, genders, rich, poor, gun rights or gun legislation, pro choice or pro life, law enforcement and law breakers and of course I could go on but you get the point. These are all points of difference, differences that can lead to divisions that lead us to what? Please, please understand, when we look to the differences and how we want to respond, feel driven to respond; HATE IS POISON! There is no righteous hate. There is no commandment, this person or that idea, thou must hate. HATE IS A POISON. Hate, like all poisons, destroys. Sometimes, hate is ingested in such levels that it destroys almost immediately. Sometimes, hate is ingested just a little at a time and its destruction takes a significant length of time to do its damage. HATE IS POISON. Hate is a poison that not only destroys the one who ingests it but also so often hugely damaging to those around that person as well. Did Jesus hate the person who betrayed Him? No He washed his feet. Jesus surely hated the Romans who killed Him. No, He healed one of their servants. Jesus must have hated those who falsely accused and had Him condemned. No, Jesus forgave them from the cross as He died. Look around, the tragedies of war and mass shootings may scream for you to be filled. You will undoubtedly hear words of hate as reaction. And if HATE IS POISON what is the antidote? LOVE. LOVE IS THE NOURISHMENT OF THE SOUL. Jesus Christ nailed it. LOVE! LOVE THE FATHER, LOVE EACH OTHER, LOVE EVEN OUR ENEMIES. Where do we get such love and the ability to share it? All we have to do is ask. Please, Please ask this very moment for the LOVE of Christ to come; to come to you and through you to the world beyond. Pray for Uvalde. Pray for Buffalo. Pray for Ukraine. Pray for Love

I was walking our dog yesterday. There was something she saw or smelled across the street and off she started to go. There was nothing wrong or misbehaving in her actions. The only issue was the large Jeep bearing down on where she was starting to walk. I always walk her on a leash so it was no problem to stop her. Here’s the thing, it’s not that she didn’t see the Jeep, she was just incapable of perceiving the danger. To her, her actions seemed appropriate and the goal was worth the action. It took someone else with greater capacity to see the danger and intervene. So? It got me thinking how often do I/we want something, something that seems completely appropriate, something good and off I/we go. We may act. We may pray and act. We may pray and wait, hoping to act. Then we are stopped. We’re not dogs. We’re not God’s pets. We are His thinking creation. If we’re not careful, in our arrogance we may feel we have the perfect perspective. If we are stopped in our tracks, thwarted from our goal, we may conclude God is wrong, that God doesn’t understand, that God has missed something. Instead let us understand that God’s perspective is perfect. We imperfectly know now and can’t see next. God is the God of now as well as next. God loves us and in that love will keep us from walking into the disaster of our own misperception. So should we be allowed to reach our goal, thank God for the blessing. Should we be stopped, thank God in faith for saving us from that disaster we could not perceive. You are loved by a God who always, perfectly knows best.

I! I? Oh the message of the world today. I can do anything! I can be anything! I can have it all! It would seem that “I” is the h “I” ghest concept of all. Enter Jesus Christ and the cross. Consider that the closest letter in the alphabet to the cross, in shape, is the letter “t”. Add the letter t to the phrase I can and you get I can’t. In the Gospel of John, Jesus is crystal clear when He states “apart from Me, you CAN DO NOTHING“. I can sure try but I’ll never thrive. I can sure strive but I will never be successful…..until I become a part of the blessed We. Please, please understand, Jesus Christ is not telling you that You are inconsequential. No, Jesus goes on to promise us; abide in Me and you will do things that are great, even greater things. You see we were never created to be “I” apart from or outside of Jesus Christ. It is in the blessed We, that we we are created to live abundantly. How much does it cost, what is the entrance fee to become part of the blessed We? All you have to do is accept the invitation. All you have to do is knock, seek or ask and Jesus Christ will come and join you. Oh and please understand this, there is a price required to be a part of that relationship. The truth is that Jesus Christ completely paid that price in full with His life. Thus let us leave behind the isolation of the worldly “I” existence and live into the blessed We of Jesus Christ and me.

Good Friday is absolutely the correct title. Yes, the horrific treatment Jesus was going through was terrible and led to a barbaric death. However, at the same time and, in fact the reason for His death was He was becoming sin. He became or took upon Himself our sin. So now when Our Heavenly Father considers and sees us, He sees us as innocent because of what Jesus accomplished. So it is good, very good for us, the sacrifice Jesus made for us today. Only good and not great? The Greater thing comes three days hence with His resurrection. Let us live into that sacrifice and see the greatness of His Good act.

So this Sunday, we’re going to gather together and shout loudly: “He is Risen!”, which is a quite proper thing to do. However, if we shout that simply as a celebration in and a pronouncement of a several thousand year old event, then we tragically miss the greater meaning. You see “He is Risen” is a proclamation of a current blessed reality. Jesus Christ is a very much risen, all powerful, living Savior this very moment! That the world refuses to acknowledge this and instead turns to worldly solutions and actions like war, greed, hate, envy and so many more useless pursuits does not diminish Christ’s power or purpose in the slightest. Christ is living at the Right Hand of God and His Love, Grace, Forgiveness and Mercy are as sustaining now as they ever have been. So while Easter Sunday is the traditional day of celebration, every day is the appropriate day of proclamation of He is Risen with the faithfully living into all the blessings and love that are connected to that truth. May you have a Blessed Easter.

Yes…but. Will the worldly clouds obscure the silver lining of God’s blessings? Today, if you’re open to it, you will be blessed by God. I say open to it because, like any gift, if you never accept it, open it or use it, then there’s little or no value to it. The world and the prince of this world wants to distract you from seeing any blessings or at the very least minimize the blessings to the greatest extent possible. How?, with messages like yes I might have received a blessings but there is suffering over here or there, or yes but the blessing won’t last, tomorrow will be bad, or yes but the blessing could have been bigger/better. It’s not like God doesn’t want you to be empathetic or sympathetic; indeed, He wants you to experience the blessings so that you might share the blessings with others in need so they might know of God’s love. God is a God of infinite resources and power. It’s not like the fact that He blessed you today means He’s running out of blessings to be able to give tomorrow. God knows exactly the correct amount of blessing to give. As too much sugar can ruin a cake, a blessing that is the wrong size too large can bring about more damage then good. Jesus Christ is clear when He said: “In the world you will have tribulation”. Christ was also clear that we can still be of good cheer and expect blessings because Christ has overcome the world by the plan of Our Father. So don’t allow the clouds of the world to obscure the power of the blessing. Instead, do two things today. First, live into the love and blessings from God with thanksgiving. Then, share God’s blessings so that the world may feel some healing and know God’s love. Happy, blessed Monday and week.

The Power of Redemption, the lesson from a gift card. So whether it’s procrastination or a factor of the age for which the gift card celebrated, I finally got around to redeeming a gift card that I had lying around for some time. And at that moment the Holy Spirit taught me something. You see that card had only potential power while it existed unredeemed. Oh sure the card had a monetary figure on it that to some in the world might have seemed big. However, until redemption, that value remained unrealized and the card’s purpose stayed unfulfilled. The Spirit showed me how that same concept applies to us. We are all created with value and purpose by our Heavenly Father. Yet until we are redeemed that value sits stagnant and that purpose unfulfilled. Plus, like a gift card can’t redeem itself, there’s no such thing as self-redemption in that we have no ability to redeem ourselves. We must understand there is only One true Redeemer and He is Jesus Christ. Here’s the major difference that we can’t miss, the gift card has no power in the process of redemption, it must sit there until someone gets around to acting on it. Jesus Christ stands by actively, eagerly waiting to redeem us instantly. It is we who must act. It is we who must not be tardy or ambivalent in asking for our freely given redemption. While our redemption is a free gift of grace from God, it most certainly had a supremely high cost. It costed Jesus Christ His life. Please don’t put off your redemption. The world may tell you, you have great worldly value in your possessions, your achievements, your wealth. The world may declare to you, you have no need of redemption. But, if you’re not redeemed by the precious Blood or our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, your true value remains untapped and your purpose is left dormant. Be redeemed simply by asking for it and if you are redeemed then live into that redemption with the purpose and value that our Heavenly Father so abundantly provides and become the gift of love to yourself and the rest of the world that God intended you to be.

So there might be many that are saying to God, asking God, pleading with God, demanding of God, even blaming God: “God, why don’t you stop this war!?” “Why aren’t you saving us?” It is an understandable request. But to all I would suggest that we take a step back, take a deep breath, look in the mirror and contemplate this. We are asking God to SAVE US FROM OURSELVES! We are quite accurately describing just who we are. We need to acknowledge that. What’s happening in Ukraine is not some asteroid crashing out of the sky or volcano belching destruction from the depths below. No, through hatred, anger, fear, covetousness, self-glory seeking, despotic tendencies and the list goes on, this is man-made as all wars are. “Oh that’s not me” you respond, that’s only him or her. Jesus Christ would ask us; have we never felt hatred in our hearts towards another? We may not have great armies at our disposal but have not ever lashed out in anger? Have we never blindly and unfairly judged another or sought out our own glory at the expense of another? The worldly motivations are the same. Here’s the thing, God listens and He will save. But we can’t miss this, our salvation starts with a humble request from our brokenness and not our demanding from some false sense of righteousness. It starts with confession, not command. In our humble confession and plea, Jesus Christ will come. And as Jesus lifted Peter up from the storm tossed sea when he was sinking, Jesus will lift us as well. We are sinking in the world tossed storm of lusts, envy, fear anger and hatred. Jesus will lift us, through His power, to a place where His grace reigns and our worldly tendencies are replaced by His overpowering love as long as we reach out to and focus on Him. The end of man’s inhumanity to man will not come from the works of man. The end of that begins with the humble, confessional ask to God.

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