“Love’s Gift, Life’s Thread”, from L.Willows

Albert Bierstadt1
Love’s Gifts, Life’s Thread

Where heroes walk the sunlight tilts
casting light upon streams pew.
Mountains break with peaks to view
upland, view – new clouds light built.

Hark, my soul can hear a call
like trumpet far that lulls the air.
Sweetened soar flies through like a dare,
God’s arrow in all might’s recall.

Where heroes walk the sunlight drifts,
lifetimes rainbow, blessings shed.
And In the shadow of such tread,
hearts long to bring love’s gifts, life’s thread.

© 2018 Linda Willows

Hebrews 12:1-2
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

2 Corinthian 4:17-18
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.a

2 Timothy 4:7-8
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

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“How can we be ‘joyful’ in this world?” by Martin Lloyd Jones

Romans15Beloved

by Martin Lloyd-Jones
Fellowship with God (1899-1981)

How can we be “joyful” in this world? What does Scripture mean by being “joyful”? Well, there are three elements of joy – First, joy is a state of complete satisfaction; obviously, there is no joy unless we are satisfied. Second, joy is a spirit of exultation; there is a difference between happiness and joy – happiness fully depends upon what “happens” (both terms come from the same root word “hap”) in a person’s life; joy has a deep heartfelt genuine gratitude element in it. Third, in joy there is always a feeling of power and strength. Someone who is truly joyful, in a sense, is afraid of nothing. When you are truly joyful, you are lifted up above yourself, and ready to meet every enemy. “The joy of the Lord is your strength.”

So, joy is something very deep and profound, something that affects the whole and entire personality. Furthermore, there is only one thing that can give true joy, and that is a contemplation of the Lord Jesus Christ – He satisfies the mind, the emotions, and our every desire. So joy is the response and the reaction of the soul to a knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. John writes to us that “our joy might be made full, filled to the brim.” The joy of the Lord is not dependent upon circumstances, like happiness. Joy is a deep, profound quality that enables us to stay standing whatever may be happening to us.

In order for the Christian to have “fullness of joy,” he must have conscious fellowship with God; that is, he must be abiding in Christ (and that is not a “passive” abiding). There are certain things that hinder the experience of fellowship, that militate against it, and rob us of it – First, there is unconfessed sin; it must be confessed; sin will always rob us of a conscious fellowship with God. If we fall into sin (that is, we cease to actively trust – Rom 14:23), we begin to doubt and to wonder, and the devil takes advantage and encourages us in this.

Second, there is lack of love for the brethren; one cannot love God and disregard fellow believers. Third, there is love of the world; a desire for its pleasures (you cannot mix light and darkness). Fourth, there is wrong understanding about the person of Christ – false notions concerning Christ result in having a lack of assurance with regard to salvation. It is imperative that believers are “absolutely certain” about the person and work of Christ – that is why Scripture is so emphatic on these subjects. There can be no true joy of salvation while there is a vagueness or uncertainty or a lack of assurance. Though “assurance” is not essential for salvation, it is essential to the joy of salvation.

If a believer is certain about these things he will KNOW that he is a child of God, that he has “eternal life” (1 Jn 1:2; 2:25; 5:13), and that he has “fellowship with God” (1 Jn 1:3-7) – that is, a conscious possession of the life of God within us. Again, the hindrances to “knowing these things” are listed above. If you truly desire to know this “joy,” you cannot take short cuts in the spiritual life. There is only one way and that is to confront these great and glorious truths, to believe them and to joyfully accept them. There are certain absolutes – the Incarnation, the Atonement, Regeneration, Sanctification, the Doctrine of Sin and of the Devil, and the Doctrine of the Second Coming. As we believe and practice these things, we will exper-ience “His joy;” being lazy and careless with the teaching of Scripture results in “no joy!”

One of the essentials of “true joy” is conscious fellowship with God – sharing in the life of God. This is one of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted concepts in Scripture – and it should not be! The Devil simply does not want God’s people to get a handle on this subject. “Fellowship with God” is probably the most glorious and wonderful truth in all of Scripture. Life outside God is not life, it is merely existence – there is a radical difference between the two. Apart from God we are spiritually dead (Eph 2:1).

Those who have become conscious of the fact that they are “sharing the life of God,” know what it is to rejoice and know what it is to be emancipated from certain besetting sins which hitherto always got them down – these are the believers who “overcome the world.” John wants all believers to share this same joy and participate in this same experience. Regardless of individuality or temperament, every believer can know this same experience. Fellowship with God is the result of something that is based upon the belief of an objective truth – note carefully: this is not a primarily subjective experience.

Last, there is only one way to true and lasting joy, and that is to start with the “holiness of God.”  If I start there, I shall be delivered from every false peace, from every false joy.  I shall be humbled to the dust, and see my true unworthiness, and that I deserve nothing at the hands of God.  We can do nothing better, every time we go on our knees to pray than to repeat John’s words – “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” And when we feel like rushing into our own desires and complaints, just  to pause and approach Him with reverence and godly fear, “for our God is a consuming fire.”

© Martin Lloyd-Jones

“Faith is the Source of Courage” from Reverend Chris Sicks

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“Faith is the Source of Courage”
Reverend Chris Sicks Reverend Chris Sicks
Pastor of Mercy

A few Sunday’s ago, as with all, I was once again like a child as I took my seat in the sanctuary of the church.  It had been a challenging week. I looked forward to the sermon by Pastor Chris Sicks, our pastor of Mercy at Alexandria Presbyterian Church.

One of the highlights of the sermon was the theme of how putting confidence in our own strength rather than in Christ renders us with the least potential gain. Instead, mortal confidence was the opposite of faith, it placed dependence upon the substance of that which keeps us apart from the One that we need the most.  “Our confidence needs to be in Christ, not in ourselves. He does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.”

True, I thought. True about me and specifically about the whole idea of confidence, strength and especially control. Since childhood I have been familiar with the culture of  “goals, dream mapping, destiny shaping, aiming your will, shaping reputation, defining borders, drawing upon conceptual ideology, thought control, positive redefining, mind mapping; time sculpting: have you had enough?? It is not art. It is all false confidence, all ways to cling to a self that is desperately afraid of losing ground, losing face and being revealed as pride, the opposite of love, the opposite of the Eternal.

It is like sand that is always sinking. No wonder it feels such a need to replenish and refill. At its core is a like a sinkhole.

But we have also been given the seed of Spirit, implanted in us at Birth, waiting to hear God’s Call. “Wake, I will come for you and lead you Home.” He put His Breathe in each of us.

“Our confidence needs to be in Christ, not in ourselves. He does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. You see. Faith is not in strength. Faith is weakness holding onto strength.”

Though this is not a new message my heart, the one that He gave to me needs to hear it again and again.

Pastor Chris Sicks explained that we needed to really grasp how weak we really are. I keep thinking that I know how weak I am. I know how weak I am,  but then I catch myself trying to muster up the strength to “do something or face something difficult”. So I don’t, I am fooling myself and actually still trying to control situations by doing just what he is about to talk about in the sermon. This he explained is the opposite of how we are to act when we face difficulty or conquer the “enemy situations” of our lives.

I had just spent the week in prayer and surrender. I thought that I had put my faith in God. I remembered again that we grow in Grace by degrees. Rather, be growing in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2Peter 3:18).

I like this excerpt from chapter ten of The Transformed Soul by Dr. W. E. Eckstrand”  in it author Jerry Bridges says on The Discipline of Grace-

Jesus said, “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5) – In theory we believe that, but in practice we tend to live as if we can do some things – each of us has areas of our lives where we feel fairly confident, and we don’t sense the need of the Holy Spirit’s aid.  But that is contrary to what Scripture teaches – we cannot do anything “spiritually good” apart from the working of God’s Spirit within us.  If we are going  to make any progress in becoming “more Christlike,” we will have to learn to rely on the Holy Spirit rather than on our own virtues and abilities.

How do we grow in a conscious sense of dependence on Christ?  Through the discipline of “prayer” – prayer is the tangible expression of our dependence on God.  Think about that.  Obviously, if our prayer life is meager, in effect we are saying that we can handle most of our spiritual life.  One of the chief characteristics of our flesh is having an attitude of “independence toward God.”  Undoubtedly, one of the reasons God allows us to fall to temptation so often, is to teach us exper-ientially that we really are “dependent on Him” to enable us to grow in holiness.  So if we want to become holy we must pursue, not a spirit of independence, but a “spirit of dependence” – and the best means God has given us for doing this is the discipline of “prayer.” (127-143)

Continuing with the Sermon, Pastor Sicks spoke about David and Goliath from 1 Samuel 17:39-53. There are many commentaries on this famous scripture. That day, I listened to a “new” David. I heard of a son who was the youngest, weak, fallible and with a life of sin. David was offered armor for slaying Goliath by his father, King Saul and refused it. The sermon did not rest there but my heart did.

In retrospect, I see that the armor that David refused for he had not “tested them” was an amazing moment. The real test was the moment that the armor was given to David by his father. He was able to define who his real father was. Was he going to wear the armor of his father the king or His Father, King Jesus Christ, The Lord? He chose to wear the Armor of God. That is why he won. For me, this moment of testing is David’s first victory, the battleground is the second. I pray that as I live out this week, I will see the moments when I have the choice to put on the Armor of God. I pray that I recognize that the Armor of God is Faith.

Our Pastor continued, it is faith that fights out battles and has the power to overcome the circumstances of our lives that seem insurmountable. Faith, he said is the source of Courage. This meant much to me since many members of the church are military and ex-military, some war-heroes. Even on this day, a number are facing near-fatal illnesses with extraordinary courage and witnessing their faith during these times has strengthened and deepened my own.  I find that my “neighbor’s mile had become my own”. I just don’t walk alone anymore. When you witness courage, which is really witnessing the Love of Christ, it alters your own heart.

He explained that we keep trying to be the power and the hero of our own lives by seizing control that we don’t have. (Only our ego/pride speaks to us in a way that confidently lures us into believing that this is the truth. )

Self-reliance is the opposite of faith. It is the opposite of strength, it is like fake strength, a part of our minds pretending to be strong holding onto control so that fears are allowed to stay hidden. This way, Pride is the master that is obeyed. It is a substitute for God, a false idol.

The sermon continued as the theme expanded with Hero analogies. Now our Pastor was moving on to another part of the lesson. One of the delightful things about Pastor Sicks’s sermons is his ability to engage humor when the topic gets tough. He said “Do you all want to be Batman? Or maybe Robin?  Did you all think that you were Luke Skywalker, the hero captain of the Ship? Or maybe you thought that you were a Princess Leia?” He had our attention. I could feel a lot of us nodding in remembrance. I felt myself in a gown with braids around my head.

Then he said, “Yes, but the truth is, we are really all Ewoks.”
Laughter. Ok. I am an Ewok. Yes. I like this. Then He said. “Actually, when the ‘Big Launch’ happened not only were you probably not the pilot or the co-pilot but we might have been way back in the audience.”

Ok. I thought- I am the niece of a cousin of an Ewok with a backseat in the balcony at the Launch and the only way that I can see anything is with a Powerful Lens. That means I need God from wherever I am seated- I don’t want to miss the event- Him, Now, Life, His Love, His Protection, His Spirit, The Power of His Kingdom.

It was a great moment of recognition as we all got the point. He continued by explaining that the Disney version of a man deciding to conquer a goal by generating courage from “inside” of himself was a false notion.

We cannot conquer a goal or a challenge by generating courage from some point on the “inside” of ourselves. That is a false notion. It is the superhero mentality. 

We all were taught to be heroes in a culture that told us that we had to pull it out of someplace in us, like a superhero with superpowers. This is our fantasy but it isn’t real. We are mortal, fallible, without superpowers, living in a world quite real, evidenced by our own experiences.

My heart spun and I wanted to send a message to my sons that grew up with Star Wars figures clutched in their hands. “Let Go!” You are loved by an Almighty Father! That message got through to me! I did not know it but I was about to go through a few week when I would have to give full control to Christ. I was ready. It was a beautiful, glorious experience. I put all confidence in Him. Every time a detail came up, I relaxed and affirmed that my complete confidence was in God. My Faith was in His Strength; I had none of my own, I was weakness holding onto the precious Beloved One that I kept my gaze upon, and returned by gaze to. I beheld the Love of Christ. His armor was with me, surrounded me and before me protecting me. This was the message that I took with me. Thank you Pastor Chris!

“You see. Faith is not in strength. Faith is weakness holding onto strength.”

“Christ does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Our confidence is in Him. We surrender to Him. When we encounter life, we ask, ‘how does this point me to Him?”

© 2018 Linda Willows

Pastor Chris Sicks is the author of “Tangible”, Making God Known Through Deeds of Mercy and Words of Truth” and Pastor of Mercy at The Alexandria Presbyterian Church, Alexandria, VA USA

Photo: Rachel Nielson

“Danced in graced prayer” a poem from LWillows

 

When I danced,
I felt the sweep of a such wind
Catching through all motion’s tone
All on the call from the notes sweet roam.

When I danced
I felt moments before all began
The breath before a pulse to start
Muscle, aim and the form would join heart.

When I danced
I felt joy freed in a gift
Spacious, open and light as a lift
Shared beyond measure, farther than space
Not of my own, but another, of grace.

When I danced
for a sweet time,
I was young, mortal kind,
afloat in God’s air
gifted this, such a dare
in life’s wondrous most cherished
and lovely graced prayer.

© 2018 Linda Willows

Ecclesiastes 3:11
He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.