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What Does Your Heart Earnestly Yearn For?

Dear Friends,

     Maybe I should start by asking:  What is it that you really want?   What is it that you really desire?   What does your heart earnestly yearn for?   Do you even know? 
     This week's "thought" addresses that issue: What  your heart truly yearns for.   The answer I offer today comes to you from David Downing, co-director of the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. It is taken from an Advent Devotional book called, "The Grand Miracle."  Enjoy.
"I Am the Bread of Life."
John 6:35

     "It is not what God can give us, but God that we want," said George MacDonald.  He was a seasoned old soul, and what was true for him may have been more of an ideal for other pilgrims on the journey. The rest of us may feel more inclined to pray: "Father, forgive us, for we do not know what we want."   We seek a gilded afterlife when we could have Eternal Life.  We seek breadcrumbs of earthly pleasure when we could have a heavenly banquet.  We avoid pain when we could embrace joy.  We plead for words that will give us comfort and light, but our own darkness does not comprehend the Word. 
     Help us, Lord.  We ask for a road-map to heaven when the Way, the Truth and the Life stands right before us.  We want the crown without the cross, and we fix our gaze on the crown more than the King.  We look to Glory, but others do not see the glory when they look at us.  We do not ask too much in prayer, but too little.  We follow the One who multiplied the loaves and do not see the Bread of Life.  We want to quench the thirst of the moment, but do not ask for Living Water, the cup of heaven.
     The Everlasting took human form so that we might lift our eyes from the gifts to the Giver. He emptied Himself so that from His fullness we might receive grace upon grace. The baby lay in a feeding trough so we might not be forever hungry. The child spoke in His Father's house, so we might put away childish things. The man told us that we must die to live, that sorrow would turn to joy, that those who seek will find.  He rose that we might rise. He came to be with us for a time, so that we might be with Him forever.  Lord, teach us to know what we want, to want what you want, and most of all, to want you.  Amen." 
     So many today do not realize that their pursuit of joy, happiness, pleasure, contentment and peace in their souls' is really an inner craving after God.  "God has placed eternity in our hearts," says Solomon, in Ecclesiastes 3:11.  And that "eternity" which God has placed within us has left a hole in our soul that can only be filled, as Pascal put it, "by an infinite and immutable object, that is, by God Himself."
     Yes, most people fail to see that their clamoring after all those things -- even sinful things -- is really a pursuit of God and what He alone can supply when He enters our being, by His Spirit, in the grace of regeneration.  To quote Pascal at greater length, "There was once a true happiness in man, of which there now remains only an empty trace, which he vainly tries to fill with things from his environment. Yet all these efforts are inadequate, because the infinite abyss in the human soul can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is, by God Himself."
     Maybe our prayer should be:  Lord Jesus, forgive us for chasing after things that can never truly satisfy when you have told us time and again in your Word that we can find true and lasting satisfaction only in You; in having You.  So often we clamor after everything but you, even venturing into the pursuit of sinful and forbidden things, before we finally come -- broken, empty and damaged -- to see the error of our ways. Convince us, we pray, that our inner hunger can only be satisfied as we feed on You the Bread of Heaven, and our inner thirst can only be quenched as we drink deeply of You the Living Water -- the only water a person can partake of and thirst no more.  Lord, as Mr. Downing has correctly prayed, "teach us to know what we want, to want what you want, and most of all, to want you."  Amen.
In this time of anticipation and waiting, Pastor Jeff


Brokenness is the Pathway to Spiritual Fruitfulness

Dear Friends,

     Today's "thought" confronts us with a reality we sometimes wish were not so.  Yet, it's a truth proclaimed both in Scripture and from the mouths or pens of numerous saints throughout history: Brokenness is the pathway to spiritual fruitfulness.  Before God can truly use you, He must first break you.  As much as we might wish it were otherwise, it is true. This selection comes from the devotional, "Streams in the Desert" by L. B. Cowman (with added content).  Enjoy.

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God,
you will not despise.”
Psalm 51:17
     “Those people God uses most to bring glory to Himself are those who are completely broken, for the sacrifice He accepts is, "a broken and contrite heart.”  It was not until Jacob’s natural strength was broken, when “his hip was wrenched” at Peniel (Gen. 32:25), that he came to the point where God could clothe him with spiritual power.  It was not until Moses struck the rock at Horeb, breaking its surface, that cool “water flowed out of it for the people to drink” (Ex. 17:6).  It was not until Gideon’s three hundred specially chosen soldiers “broke the jars that were in their hands” (which symbolized brokenness in their lives, Judg.7:19), that the hidden light of the torches shone forth and brought terror to their enemies.
     It was once the poor widow broke the seal on her only remaining jar of oil and began to pour it out that God miraculously multiplied it to pay her debts and thereby supplied her means of support (2 Kings 4:1–7).  It was not until Esther risked her life and broke through the strict laws of a heathen king’s court that she obtained favor to rescue her people from death (Est. 4:16).  It was only when Jesus took “the five loaves . . . and broke them” (Luke 9:16) that the bread was multiplied to feed the five thousand.  It was through the loaves being broken that the miracle occurred.  It was when Mary broke her beautiful “alabaster jar of very expensive perfume” (Matt. 26:7), and destroyed its future usefulness and value, that the wonderful fragrance filled the house.
     Mary (the mother of Jesus) was not only told of the joy of her being chosen by God to give birth to the Messiah, but that her heart would be pierced also -- cut and broken in two, as if by a sword. Overwhelming grief would cut deep into the joys of bearing and raising Jesus.  Peter was broken of his stubborn pride through the crushing and humiliating experience of denying Jesus three times in His hour of greatest need. Yet, through such failure and humiliation, he was made more humble and dependent on the Spirit, readied through the pain of brokenness to lead the early church.  Heartless Paul was broken on the road to Damascus as Christ appeared to him and blinded him, and he was led helpless, dazed, humbled, and broken in spirit, into the city, like a little child.  Likewise, it was when Jesus allowed His precious body to be broken by thorns, nails, and a spear, that His inner life was poured out like an ocean of crystal-clear water for thirsty sinners to drink and live! 
     It is not until a beautiful kernel of corn is buried and broken in the earth by DEATH, that its inner heart sprouts heavenward and grows to produce hundreds of other seeds or kernels. And so it has always been throughout history — GOD USES BROKEN THINGS.  Those who have been gripped by the power of the Holy Spirit and are used for God’s glory are those who have been broken in their finances, broken in their self-will, broken in their ambitions, broken in their lofty ideals, broken in their worldly reputation, broken in their desires, and often broken in their health.  Yes, He uses those who are despised by the world and who seem totally hopeless and helpless, just as Isaiah said: “The lame will carry off plunder” (Isa. 33:23).
     ‘Oh, break my heart; but break it as a field is plowed and broken for the seeds of corn… Oh, break my heart; break it, victorious God, that life’s eternal well may flow abroad... Break it as when the captive trees, breaking icy bonds, regain their liberties.  And as thought’s sacred grove to life is springing, be joys, like birds, their hope, Your victory singing.’ (Thomas Toke Bunch)”
     This theme is spoken of repeatedly throughout church history.  Martin Luther once wrote in similar terms suggesting: “God creates out of nothing. Therefore, until a man nothing, God can make nothing out of Him.”  Another saint said, “God always builds on ruins.”   Alan Redpath said: “God will never plant the seed of His life upon the soil of a hard, unbroken spirit. He will only plant that seed where the conviction of His Spirit has brought brokenness, and where the soil has been watered with tears of repentance as well as tears of joy.”   Hudson Taylor the famous missionary to China said, “When God wants to do His great works, He trains somebody to be quiet enough and little enough, and then He uses that person.”  Revival, says Isaiah, comes not to those who think they have it together, but to the broken: “This is what the high and lofty One says – He who loves forever and whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and revive the heart of the contrite.” (57:15).  Being broken is never pleasant, but it is the path that leads to spiritual fruit and usefulness.
     The way God makes us whole is to permit us to go through experiences that "break us" — because brokenness is the pathway to wholeness and restoration.  Pride is like steel that must be softened in the heat of the furnace before it becomes something that can be formed and molded.  The human heart is by nature like hard parched ground which must be watered with tears, and broken by the plow of trials, before the seed of His word can penetrate and take root. The will of man is like a hard lump of clay which the Potter must first pound and squeeze and stretch and then repeat the process all over again, before he can then take it and make it into a beautiful piece of colorful pottery.  Lord, how we wish there was an easier way... 

In His Service, Pastor Jeff


God’s Providence

Greetings All,

     This morning at the men’s group I attend (where we were discussing the life of Fanny Crosby from last week’s thought) the conversation strayed into a discussion of the providence of God, or the sovereignty of God over all the affairs of our lives. Even the smallest details. Even the hurtful details. Things we can now (though not at the time we were going through it) thank God for, and even the things we may have wished had been different. God's providence is His divine oversight of the all that happens in this universe.
     In light of that conversation I wanted to send out a “thought” on that topic. A topic which I do not hear spoken of as much as I used to. Yet,  I would ask you to read, consider what is said, and see if what follows fits with what you believe and have been taught. I myself find the topic fascinating and very comforting. I trust you might also. This selection is by Ray Pritchard. Enjoy.
     “Providence is God’s gracious oversight of the universe.  Every one of those words is important. God’s providence is one aspect of his grace. Oversight means that he directs the course of affairs. The word universe tells us that God not only knows the big picture, he also concerns himself with the tiniest details. Here are five statements that unfold the meaning of God’s providence in more detail.

He upholds all things.
He governs all events.
He directs everything to its appointed end.
He does this all the time and in every circumstance.
He does it always for his own glory.
     The doctrine of God’s providence teaches us several important truths:  FIRST, God cares about the tiniest details of life. Nothing escapes His notice for He is concerned about the small as well as the big. In fact, with God there is no big or small. He knows when a sparrow falls and he numbers the hairs on your head (Luke 12:6-7). He keeps track of the stars in the skies and the rivers that flow to the oceans (Job 38-41). He sets the day of your birth, the day of your death, and he ordains everything that comes to pass in between (Psalm 139). SECOND, he uses everything and wastes nothing There are no accidents with God, only incidents. This includes events that seem to us to be senseless tragedies (Romans 8:28). THIRD, God’s ultimate purpose is to shape His children into the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29). He often uses difficult moments and human tragedies to accomplish that purpose.
     Many verses in the Bible teach these truths, including Acts 17:28, Colossians 1:17, Hebrews 1:3, Proverbs 16:9 (“in his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps”), and especially Psalm 115:3 (“Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him”). The doctrine of God’s providence is really a combination of four other attributes:

Sovereignty—He is in control.
Predestination—He is in charge of how everything turns out.
Wisdom—He makes no mistakes.
Goodness—He has our best interests at heart.
     In the words of R. C. Sproul, “God doesn’t roll dice.” Nothing happens by chance. Ever."
     Here is a story that is said to be behind the incredibly insightful and beautiful words of William Cowper's hymn that follows.  A story that exemplifies God's providence. Reportedly this is the last hymn William Cowper (1731-1800) ever wrote, and here is the story said to be behind it. Cowper often struggled with deep depression and doubt. One night he decided to commit suicide by drowning himself. He called a driver (horse and carriage, obviously) to take him to the Thames River. However, thick fog came down and prevented them from finding the river (another version of the story says the driver got lost deliberately). After driving around lost for a while, the gentleman finally stopped and let Cowper out. To Cowper’s surprise, he found himself on his own doorstep. God had sent the fog to keep him from killing himself. He realized that even in our blackest moments, God watches over us.
     He wrote the following hymn in light of that and other incidents (difficult and pleasant in nature) which evidenced the hand of God guiding the circumstances of his life -- can we say in a "Proverbs 16:9" manner?   “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain."
     Can you trace the hand of God's providence in your life?  Do the circumstances of your life suggest an invisible hand of power and grace was guiding you to a destination you did not intend to go to?  Was your story written by you, or do the details of your life-story suggest another author scripted it?  Just some thoughts to ponder….
     Grateful for a God who cares enough to guide, direct and sometimes over-rule our choices, Pastor Jeff


Fanny Crosby's Life Story

Greetings All,

     Everyone loves an inspiring story!   I came across the story below while preparing for my Sunday School class on, "100 Must Know Christians From Church History."  It is about Fanny Crosby the well-known hymn writer (well-known, at least, to those who attend churches that did, or still do, sing hymns - since many don't)!  I have taken material from three sources to create the account below, the major source being, "50 People Every Christian Should Know - Learning From Spiritual Giants of the Faith" by Warren Weirsbe.  Should you desire to look at a far more extensive recounting of her life, it can be found in her autobiography, "Fanny Crosby's Life Story," or  Edith Blumhofer's book, "Her Heart Can See."  Enjoy.

     "I believe myself still really in the prime of my life!" wrote Frances Jane Crosby at the age of eighty-three. She lived twelve more years (1820-1915)...  Donald P. Hustad has called Fanny Crosby "the most prolific and significant writer of Gospel songs in American history." She wrote more than 8000 songs, most of which are now forgotten.  But many continue to minister to people: "To God Be the Glory," "Blessed Assurance," "Praise Him, Praise Him," "Jesus keep Me Near the Cross," "All the Way My Savior Leads Me," “Safe in the Arms of Jesus,” “Rescue the Perishing,” “Savior, More Than Life to Me,” “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior,” and many others. 
     When Fanny was only six weeks old she developed a minor eye inflammation and the doctor's careless treatment left her blind. "It seemed to be intended by the blessed Providence of God that I should be blind all my life," she wrote in her delightful autobiography Fanny Crosby's Life Story, "and I thank Him for the dispensation."  The doctor who destroyed her sight never forgave himself and moved from the area, but Fanny held no ill-will toward him. "If I could meet him now," she wrote, "I would say "Thank you, thank you -- over and over again -- for making me blind."  In fact, she claimed that if she could have her sight restored, she would not attempt it. She felt that her blindness was God's gift to her so that she could write songs for his glory.  "I could not have written thousands of hymns," she said, "if I had been hindered by the distractions of seeing all the interesting and beautiful objects that would have been presented to my notice." 
     Fanny was greatly influenced by her mother and grandmother (her father died when she was very young). When the family moved to Connecticut a neighbor (Mrs. Hawley) read to her from the Bible and taught her Bible stories.  It seems unbelievable, but by the time Fanny was ten years old, she could recite (from memory) the first four books of the Old Testament and the four Gospels!  She could also repeat "poems without number."  She sometimes compared her mind to a writing desk, with little drawers and compartments filled with information readily available. In 1835 (at the age of 15) her mother took her to the famous "Institution for the Blind" in New York City for formal education  She proved an excellent student in everything except mathematics. In rebellion against the subject she wrote the following poem:  "I loathe, abhor, it makes me sick; To hear the word arithmetic!"  Before long, she became the resident poet for the school, and the superintendent was concerned that the growing praise might go to her head. So he called her into his office and warned her to beware of pride. He also urged her to use her gifts to the glory of God.  "His words were like bombshells," she would later write, "but they did me an immense amount of good."
     In 1845 (at the age of 25) Fanny, who was somewhat frail in health and had experienced loss through the death of loved ones, became increasingly concerned about the state of her own soul.  She had been so busy learning, teaching and nursing that she had forgotten something very important: She realized that she did not have a true love for God in her heart. She began to attend numerous churches of varying denominations in her quest to find what she needed from the Lord.  She attended Congregationalist, Episcopalian, Dutch Reformed, and Methodist Episcopal churches, as well as Wesleyan camp meetings. Her concerns intensified after an interesting dream: She dreamt one night that a friend was on his deathbed, and he asked her quite pointedly (in the dream) if she would meet him in heaven.  She responded "yes" in the dream, but when she awoke the next morning she felt uneasy about the state of her soul.  Five years later, in November of 1850, she attended revival meetings at the Broadway Tabernacle Methodist Church in New York City.  She went to altar twice, yet it was not until the singing of, "Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed? that she went forward a third time while the words of the last verse, "Here, Lord - I give myself away! 'Tis all that I can do" were being sung.  This line took hold in her heart and she began to shout!  She had been born again, and finally had the personal assurance she had been searching for.  This, needless to say, led to one of her most famous songs: "Blessed Assurance."  "My very soul was flooded with celestial light," she said. "For the first time I realized that I had been trying to hold the world in one hand and the Lord in the other." After this experience, she boldly testified about Christ and never shied away from praying in public. 
     In 1851 she published her second volume of poems, where she makes reference to her declining health in the preface -- though she would go on to live another 64 years!  In 1858 she wrote her third volume of poems -- the same year she married Alexander Van Alstyne, who had also been a student at the school for the blind and, like Fanny, had taught there upon graduating. He was a gifted musician and a perfect partner to the poetess.  The turning point in her life came in 1864 when she met William Bradbury, the famous hymn writer and publisher. "For many years I have been wanting you to write for me," he told here.  "I wish you would begin right away!"  She did begin, and the result was her first gospel song, "Our Bright Home Above." Little did anyone realize that God would use her to pen over eight thousand songs in the next fifty-one years.  How did Fanny write her lyrics?  "I never undertake a hymn," she explained, "without first asking the good Lord to be my inspiration in the work I am about to do." She would pray and meditate until she was in the right mood. Sometimes she would quote other hymns to prime the pump. Then the ideas would come and she would develop the song in her mind and commit it to memory.  At times, she would have as many as forty different songs stored away in her mind. She would let each song lie still for a few days before dictating it to a friend, who would then send it off to the publisher.
     In her day she was one of the best known women in America  In fact, on the occasion of her 85th birthday, Grover Cleveland, President of the United States, wrote to her:  "My dear friend:  It is more than fif­ty years ago that our ac­quaint­ance and friend­ship be­gan; and ev­er since that time I have watched your con­tin­u­ous and in­ter­es­ted la­bor in up­lift­ing hu­man­i­ty, and point­ing out the way to an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of God’s good­ness and mer­cy..."
     Fanny was just a few weeks away from her 95th birthday when she was called home -- a hope she had written about often in her songs. For the first time she could see, and, best of all, she could see her Savior.  Have you ever noticed how often she wrote about "seeing" in her lyrics?  Watch for the references the next time you sing a Fanny Crosby song. "Saved by Grace" is just one example, where she writes: "And I shall see Him face to face, And tell the story -- Saved by Grace; Yes we shall see him face to face, And tell the story -- Saved by Grace."  It was said of another blind hymn writer, George Matheson, that God made him blind so he could see clearly in other ways and become a guide to others.  The same tribute could be applied to Fanny Crosby, who triumphed over her handicap and used it to the glory of God."
     It's hard to summarize such a profound life of 95 years in a few simple paragraphs without leaving out many pertinent details.  Maybe the lengthy autobiography and other biographies would fill in the holes, answering such questions as: Were there brief times when she wished she could see, or struggled with the limitations brought about by her blindness?  What truths of Scripture helped her remain so grateful, joyful and positive?  What would her attitude have been if she hadn't been given parents and others who poured themselves into her in regards to her faith?  And what about the amazing gift of her near photographic memory and immense poetic skills, since we know not all are blessed with such awesome abilities?  How did such extraordinary graces help her when it came to accepting the doctor's blunder in causing her blindness?  Did he ever come to forgive himself?  So many questions and many surely without answers this side of eternity!
     For hymn lovers like myself, Fanny Crosby's songs have been an inspiration and great spiritual help.  My favorites are Blessed Assurance and To God Be the Glory.  They have always uplifted me, both the music and the words. For who could say it better?
To God be the glory great things He has done,
So loved He the world that He gave us His son,
Who yielded His life an atonement for sin,
And opened the life gate that all may go in.

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord let the earth hear His voice!
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord let the people rejoice!
O come to the Father through Jesus the Son,
And give Him the glory great things He has done

O perfect redemption the purchase of blood,
To every believer the promise of God.
The vilest offender who truly believes,
That moment from Jesus a pardon receives

Great things He has taught us great things He has done,
And great our rejoicing through Jesus the Son.
But purer and higher and greater will be,
Our wonder our worship when Jesus we see.

In His Grace, Pastor Jeff