3 minutes | Dec 8, 2020
1 Thessalonians 5:17 • How to Pray Without Ceasing - Ami Loper
So.... I had a thought. When I was a preschooler, I remember moaning to my older siblings, “I can’t wait until I can read.” One of my older sisters said in typical older sibling air, “Oh, but once you can read, you read everything...” and you know what? She was right! When words come before my eyes, I read them. I don’t have to think about it or gear up to sound out the letters. I just read them. That truth made me think about the instruction in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to, “pray without ceasing.” How do we carry on a continuous conversation with God? It’s really much the same way we unconsciously read everything that comes before our eyes! But it doesn’t start there. It starts with methodical and sometimes challenging effort to pray and reminding ourselves continually to keep praying. In much the same way that learning to read began with sounding out words and it was hard to do and we had to keep pushing ourselves (or having someone else push us) to keep trying to read each page and each book that we came across - in that same way, learning to pray without ceasing starts with concerted effort and determination to practice! But eventually, with practice, praying without ceasing can become second nature to us, just as reading did. It often helps, if possible, to pray out loud. Whether you’re in the car or you’re around the house, just open your mouth and talk to the Lord about what is on your mind. Don’t harbor it in your heart; let the words come out. This helps to keep our mind focused so that it’s not constantly wandering to other things when we’re trying to talk to the Lord. You could also pray silently, of course. Wherever you are, share with the Lord what is on your mind, what’s on your heart, and listen for how he may be speaking or directing you. Now, there is a difference between praying continually and praying in deep, planned times of prayer. And we can’t have one without the other. If we try to have times of prayer that are deep without having a continual connection, those times of deep prayer will feel like strangers talking. And if we only partake of continual prayer without the commitment to also have deep and planned times of prayer, we never have the opportunity to go deep with the Lord or for the Lord to go deep with us. Many people have given up on the concept of praying without ceasing thinking it’s just not possible, but it is attainable. It is something all of us can and need to practice and then to flow in in our lives. God can handle and wants to hear about every part of your life! And we desperately need to share it with Him, whether we realize it or not. I’m reminded of the beautiful hymn by Joseph Scriven: “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” His lyrics rightly say, “Oh, what peace we often forfeit // Oh, what needless pain we bear // All because we do not carry // Everything to God in prayer.” Carry everything to God in prayer and watch as the Lord stoops to lighten your burden and care for you.
4 minutes | Dec 7, 2020
John 11:38-40 • Move the Stone - Randy Boldt
I say this a little tongue-in-cheek, but one of the greatest acts of bravery I’ve ever witnessed happened a couple of years ago. Some skunks had moved into the crawlspace under our house. We became aware of it because they apparently got into a fight and sprayed each other which created an unbearable smell throughout our home. But when the pest control guy arrived and got to work, I was in awe of the fearlessness he exhibited as he suited up to go under the house directly into the teeth of that stinky situation. That took courage. But all kidding aside, it takes far more courage to be willing to open the crypt in our souls where unbelief has buried the decaying remains of our broken dreams. We spiritually recoil from the risk of exposing the foul aroma emanating from the moldering mess of our disappointment, anger, and heartache. But the Lord must take us there if we’re ever going to experience a revival of hope. And that’s the lesson of John 11 verses 38-40 which set up the climax for the account of the resurrection of Lazarus. On the way to this miraculous moment, Jesus had repeatedly made it clear that death would not be the end of the story. He’d said this episode would instead result in a display of the glory of God. But those involved just couldn’t seem to believe there could be anything beyond the physical reality of Lazarus’ passing. So, as the Lord approached the cave where his friend’s lifeless body had been entombed, he was deeply moved not only with emotional empathy for their grief but also with sorrow over their lack of faith. When he asked that the stone covering the grave’s entrance be moved, Martha resisted, cautioning him that the stench from the decaying body would be overwhelming. But I think, based on the Lord’s reply, that her response revealed more than a practical consideration. It exposed how far she’d allowed herself to travel down the road of unbelief. Her earlier conversation with Jesus had awakened a fresh confidence in who he is. But unbelief buries hope, and much of hers was in the grave along with her brother’s body. She was grieving her way through to a future without him, and it seems she'd already become so invested in her new reality she just couldn’t imagine there was any alternative. I mean dead bodies stay dead and rot, end of story. But as he always does, Jesus was challenging earthbound assumptions and illuminating a heavenly perspective. With a statement in the form of a question he called her to believe what he’d said over what she thought she knew. By asking that the tomb be opened, he was also asking her to be willing to reopen the story to a different ending. He was inviting her to trust the power and faithfulness of his word more than the limitations of her own understanding. Jesus has an annoying habit of confronting our doubts. His loving heart just refuses to abandon us to that confining state which so vastly limits our experience of his glory Do you have a buried hope rotting in a tomb dug by unbelief? If so, don’t be surprised when Jesus asks you to move the stone that covers that grave. We must brave the putrid scent of our faithlessness and expose the decomposing corpse of our unfulfilled hopes if we’re going to witness the unimaginable wonder of his power to restore what we thought was lost. He’s really good at resurrecting broken dreams, and you can confidently bring yours to him right now.
5 minutes | Nov 23, 2020
John 11:28-37 • Here and Calling - Randy Boldt
After bringing her pain and disappointment to Jesus and being sensitively escorted by him into a fuller understanding of who he is, John 11:28 tells us Martha delivered a deeply moving private message from him to her sister. She told Mary, “Jesus is here and calling for you.” It’s hard to imagine that Mary hadn’t been notified of the Lord’s arrival in Bethany at the same time as Martha. They were grieving their brother’s passing together within a group of mourners. So, when Martha got the news and immediately went to meet him, it seems Mary made a personal choice not to. And I can understand that. There’ve been times when I’ve felt so let down by Jesus that I didn’t want to talk to him either. Still, Jesus specifically reached out to her through Martha to assure her that in the midst of the heartache, confusion, and discouragement she was experiencing, he was present and inviting her to come to him. Verse 29 tells us she quickly responded to his loving invitation, and verses 30 through 37 describe their encounter. Jesus didn’t scold her for hesitating to come sooner. He didn’t offer an explanation even though he knew a dramatic miracle was on its way. He simply allowed to her express her sense of betrayal and wept with her. And that brings back a very vivid memory. At the beginning of 1993, I had uprooted my family from their home, schools, church, and a city we all loved because I’d been asked by our denomination to provide pastoral leadership to a church in another part of our state that was in crises. It turned out to be a huge challenge. We had earnestly prayed before making the decision, but – almost immediately after moving – sensed we’d made a disastrous choice. The church was in far worse shape than we were told, our kids had a very hard time adjusting, our finances took a hit, our marriage struggled, and I was mad at God. I found myself in the small, rural community of Visalia, CA – a place few people have ever heard of – feeling unappreciated, ineffective, unfruitful, and abandoned. For several years prior, I’d attended a large gathering of pastors from around the world each fall in Southern California. It was always a highlight of my calendar. But that year I didn’t want to be around my peers and was in no mood to act like everything was OK between me and Jesus because it wasn’t. And I really couldn’t afford to go anyway which I was also upset about. But at the last-minute, I decided to go after all. I entered the auditorium filled with 2,000 church leaders for the first session and tried to find a seat as far away as possible from the platform and anyone that might recognize me. I don’t recall the theme of the speaker’s message, but as he was concluding, he was encouraging us with a reminder that God had called us to the cities we served. With the implied answer being, "yes," he rhetorically asked, “Is there a man of God in New York? Is there a man of God in Chicago? Is there a man of God in Dallas? Is there a man of God in Los Angeles?” All world-class cities. And then he asked, “Is there a man of God in Visalia?” I couldn’t believe it. Who’s ever heard of Visalia? But it was like Martha’s message to Mary, “Jesus is here and calling for you.” After the meeting, I raced back to the room where I was staying, fell to my knees in the rich sense of his presence, and wept. I was awestruck all over again by the love of the one who showed up in my darkness and called me out of a crowd just so he could hold me in his arms while I unburdened my soul. And I rose from those sweet moments changed. My circumstances were the same, but I was now reconnected with my Savior and that made everything OK. As with Mary, there was a miracle on its way that I wouldn’t have been able to understand at that point. But having the assurance of his empathy and nearness was really all I needed. And no matter what you’re going through, it’s all you need too. Please hear this urgent, personal message from your Savior today, Jesus is here and calling for you.
4 minutes | Nov 8, 2020
John 11:17-20 • Heartache’s Question - Randy Boldt
It’s likely that Lazarus had already died by the time the urgent message from his sisters imploring Jesus to come to Bethany was received. Then, the Lord waited two more days before starting the journey. And John 11:17 states that by the time he arrived, Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Jesus’ apparent failure to answer their cry for help must have been heartbreaking and crushingly difficult for Martha and Mary to comprehend. Verses 18-20 tell us that in the meantime, they’d been surrounded in their grief with the presence and comfort of friends as well as religious leaders who’d come from Jerusalem to be with them in their time of need. Then, as word of the Lord’s imminent arrival reached them, we’re told that Martha immediately left that circle of support and went out to meet him, but Mary chose to remain with the mourners at their home. This difference in how they responded to Jesus in their time of disappointment and heartache begs an important question. How should we handle those times of deep disillusionment when it feels like God has failed us? Do we run to bring our heartache and confusion to him or remain huddled with our grief and nurse our sense of betrayal? I was a young staff pastor when I got a call in the middle of the night. An airline pilot who was part of the Bible study group I was leading had just perished in a plane crash. He was a new husband with a new baby, and his sudden passing shook me to my core. My wife and I quickly joined the brigade of friends and family who were mourning with his wife and attempting to surround her with care and comfort. And although we all did our best to provide what she needed, we quickly discovered the limitations of what we could offer. But I was amazed to watch her purposefully gather up her load of unbearable pain, profound loss, overwhelming fear, along with deep confusion and bring it to Jesus. It wasn’t that she was in denial of her grief process. But she had awakened, at a very deep level, to an awareness of her desperate need for the Savior in that dark season. And it was a wonder to witness the indescribable peace that began to settle over her soul as she welcomed the Lord’s presence into her pain and allowed him to shoulder her burden. I believe that’s what opened the door to one of the most amazing things I’ve ever witnessed. After I’d finished my part in the funeral service and taken my seat in the front row of the chapel, our lead pastor offered his closing remarks. He gave a brief and simple presentation of the gospel followed by an invitation to receive the saving grace of Jesus. He asked everyone to bow their heads. Then, he welcomed those who wanted to become Christ-followers to lift their eyes to meet his, and by that act acknowledge their decision. Honestly, I was embarrassed by what he was doing. In the wake of such a devastating tragedy, I couldn’t imagine anyone choosing that moment to place their faith in Jesus. But with my head bowed and eyes closed, I heard my pastor begin to acknowledge those who were responding. I was so surprised, that I opened my eyes and started scanning the crowd for myself. And sure enough, people were committing their lives to Christ. And one specific couple captured my attention – the pilot’s parents. They walked into that service as unbelievers with every reason to not want anything to do with God. But they left that day having opened their hearts to the love of Jesus. Disappointment, confusion, and sorrow always present us with a choice. And much is at stake. Do we wrap ourselves in the blanket of our pain and let it define our future or do we place it in the nail-scarred hands of the one whose comfort and power release redemption, restoration, renewal, and resurrection.
4 minutes | Oct 26, 2020
John 11:11-16 • A Rough Road on the Way to a Glorious Destination - Randy Boldt
Have you ever wished God would be more clear about something? I think every Christian has, especially when we're going through something difficult and are desperate to know why. Often in those situations, both the Bible and the inner voice of the Spirit seem silent or the answers given insufficient or confusing. That’s what happened in John chapter 11 verses 11-16 when Jesus attempted to explain to his disciples why he’d waited before departing for Bethany to be with his sick friend. He tried to help them understand that he’d purposefully allowed Lazarus to die and sufficient time to pass so there could be no doubt about his being deceased. That way, when the Lord dramatically brought him back to life, their faith would increase. But they struggled to comprehend. Jesus was being neither cute nor mysterious when he told them that Lazarus was asleep. He was simply employing a commonly used idiom. And they would have immediately understood it in the context of the seriousness of Lazarus’s illness to mean that he had died. But the Lord added that he was going to wake him. And in their limited perspective, this changed the context. So, instead of understanding the combined statement as a figure of speech, they were forced to take him literally, and couldn’t grasp why Jesus needed to travel all the way to Bethany just to wake Lazarus from a nap. Even when Jesus patiently clarified what he meant, they still seemed to have trouble putting it together. First, even though Luke’s Gospel tells us they had twice previously witnessed Jesus bring someone back to life, it certainly wasn’t an everyday occurrence, and they likely struggled to believe he could do it after so much time had passed. And second, they must have been taken aback when he said he was happy about all this for their sakes because it would cause their faith to grow. What about the suffering of Lazarus and his sisters? He seemed to be saying this was a good thing. But the rest of this story makes it very clear that Jesus wasn’t being unloving or insensitive. He was deeply moved by the profound suffering of his friends. But he was trying to help his disciples grasp the truth that sometimes God must allow us to experience a rough road on the way to a glorious destination when there’s no other route available. Although from everything the Bible reveals about the nature of God, we can be confident he didn’t cause Lazarus’s sickness or death, it’s clear from the text that Jesus did allow it. But there’s a profound difference between causing and allowing. And this episode reveals that sometimes it’s just not possible for us to grasp from our limited perspective the wonderful things our unlimited God is up to in the midst of a challenging circumstance. That can be a hard thing for us to admit. We give ourselves way too much credit. We like to think that the comprehension issue is never our fault. If God would just make himself clear, we’d certainly be able to understand. But this passage illustrates that that’s just not the case and beckons us to exercise more humility. It invites us to become more comfortable trusting the love and wisdom of our good God than insisting we understand. In fact, I seem to remember a verse about that. Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.”
5 minutes | Oct 24, 2020
James 3:13-18 • Where Does Your Wisdom Come From? - Matt Kladnik
4 minutes | Oct 23, 2020
James 3:5-12 • Words are Powerful - Matt Kladnik
4 minutes | Oct 22, 2020
James 3:1-4 • Be Curious - Matt Kladnik
3 minutes | Oct 20, 2020
Proverbs 4_23 • Above All Else - Louis J Locke
5 minutes | Oct 19, 2020
John 11:7-10 • Freedom from Fear - Randy Boldt
Jesus had just received word that his friend, Lazarus, was gravely ill. But instead of setting out at once for the town of Bethany to be with him and his sisters in their time of need, he remained where he was. Bethany was in the region of Judea and a suburb of Jerusalem where the religious elite had just recently tried to kill him on two separate occasions. So, his disciples must have assumed that his choice not to go was based on concern for his safety. But then, after two days, John 11:7 says he abruptly announced he was going after all and invited them to come along. This obviously took them by surprise, and in verse 8, they questioned him about the wisdom of putting himself in harm’s way. But his answer in verses 9 and 10 made it clear the decision to not go sooner wasn’t made on the basis of fear. He had twice previously (John 8:12 and 9:5) said he was “the light of the world.” So, they would have understood what he meant when, speaking metaphorically, he explained that if you keep your gaze fixed on the “light of this world,” you can boldly walk without being afraid of stumbling. He said it’s only the spiritually nocturnal – those who stick to the shadows – that have to worry about getting tripped up. Let’s stop and consider the importance of these statements because a lot of us deal with fear. It takes many forms: fear of failure, fear of change, fear of heights, fear of flying, fear of spiders, fear of needles, fear of the future, fear of the dark, fear of missing out, etc. And although there’s probably not a technical term for it, early in my adulthood I experienced the sudden onset of a terrifying fear of being over water on a bridge. My wife and I had just moved to the San Francisco area to join the pastoral staff of a new church, and some friends had come to visit. We took them to see the Golden Gate Bridge, and it was such a beautiful day, we decided to join a crowd of tourists and walk the span. Everything was going well until we reached the point beyond the city-side anchorage where the bridge structure is suspended over the waters of the bay. Then suddenly, I had a panic attack, fell to my knees, and had to crawl back to where I felt safe. My reaction took me completely by surprise and was extremely embarrassing. I’d crossed many bridges in my life to that point without ever experiencing an ounce of fear. But at that moment, I was truly terrified. And from that point on, crossing bridges over water became a serious issue for me made worse by the fact that God had called me to serve his church in a region connected by a network of them. I tried avoidance, but that just wasn’t feasible in the Bay Area and didn’t work anyway. So, as an intelligent person who knew my anxiety was completely irrational, I tried reasoning with myself. But that didn’t work either. So, I decided to just give it time thinking it would eventually pass. It didn’t, and I finally came to terms with the fact that this was really a spiritual issue. There are certainly rational fears that help protect us from harm. But irrational, constraining, and debilitating fears are not from God and keep us from experiencing life as he intends. In fact, 2 Timothy 1:7 says, “…God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” And Romans 8:15 tells us we “…did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but…the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba [or daddy], Father.’" Both passages reveal that there’s a demonic personality at work behind our phobias but that it can be overcome by the powerfully liberating work of the Holy Spirit. And it’s clear from what Jesus told his disciples that fixing your gaze intently on him is what releases the Spirit to dispel our fears. Once I understood this, every time I crossed a bridge, I would prayerfully look straight ahead as though I was literally focusing on the Lord, and found myself stepping out of the darkness of fear into the light of the power of the Spirit. And soon, I was completely free. Are you being exploited by a spirit of fear? Stop stumbling in the shadows it produces and choose instead to step out into the sure footing of the light of Jesus. He’s ready if you are.
6 minutes | Oct 12, 2020
James 2:18-26 • Faith and Works (part 2) - Matt Kladnik
4 minutes | Oct 11, 2020
James 2:14-17 • Faith and Works (part 1) - Matt Kladnik
4 minutes | Oct 10, 2020
James 2:4-13 • The Consequence of Partiality - Matt Kladnik
4 minutes | Oct 9, 2020
James 2:1-3 • Partiality and Favoritism - Matt Kladnik
3 minutes | Oct 8, 2020
1 Timothy 1:18-19 • Prophecies For 2020 - Failure or Invitation? - Ami Loper
So... I had a thought. If you can remember all the way back to the end of 2019, you can probably remember with me that there were a lot of prophecies, positive prophecies about 2020. 2020 was going to be our year of 20/20 vision, of clarity of sight. I think you’ll agree with me that this year, 2020, has been a year of murkiness! It’s been a year of people dealing with deception; it’s been a year that has defied every template we thought we could place on the year! What does that mean for the prophecies? Did they fail? Did everyone hear wrong? Should we give up trying to prophesy? No. It doesn’t mean the prophecies were wrong, but what a lot of people don’t understand about prophecy is that prophecies are often our invitation to fight for God’s will. We all may wish that prophecies were given as absolute promises of what is going to happen. It would be nice if a prophecy was given and then we could just sit back and wait for it to roll in on us and happen to us, but that’s not what prophecy is. As Paul explains to Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:18-19, prophecies are given to us for doing warfare. Paul writes, “This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience....” Prophecies are actually given to us as a sort of heads up for what’s ahead. We can either thwart them through our own disobedience or get in line with God’s word and fight to see His word come to pass. Often times, when we receive a prophecy it will look like everything is going the opposite direction, like everything we see is contrary to that prophecy. That is our time to fight; that is our time to come into agreement with what God has said and stand in faith for it regardless of what we see. If we choose not to do this, Paul makes it clear in the last part of verse 19 what happens. He says, “By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith.” What a crystal clear picture of what happens to our faith when we receive a prophecy and expect it to just happen without any fight or battle. It makes a shipwreck of our faith! We run aground, we can’t go any further, we are dashed against the rocks as our disappointment turns into disillusionment and we begin to question the goodness and faithfulness of God. We can actually lose our faith when we choose not to fight for what God has promised us.Let’s determine in ourselves to stand together for what God has promised us for this year. With just a quarter of the year left, let’s stand for that clarity of sight, for the 20/20 vision for ourselves, for our families, for our nations and for the world.
4 minutes | Oct 7, 2020
James 1:26-27 • Relationship Vs. Religion - Matt Kladnik
4 minutes | Oct 6, 2020
James 1:22-25 • Be a Doer - Matt Kladnik
3 minutes | Oct 5, 2020
Exodus 5:1 • Let My People Go - Monica Villanueva
4 minutes | Sep 30, 2020
James 1:19-21 • Hearing and Speaking - Matt Kladnik
4 minutes | Sep 29, 2020
James 1:16-18 • Gifts from God - Matt Kladnik