No Sweat!

And being in an agony He prayed more earnestly; and His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.Luke 22:44

Inscription and inspiration both tend to come from some very interesting places for me lately. I have to be honest in the fact that this week it came from cleaning out a drawer of old t-shirts in my closet. I came across a shirt that I remember buying when I was a sophomore in high school. It was at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes retreat and I have always held on to it remembering those days with fondness. Unfortunately, the years and frequent wearing have rendered the shirt into tatters with so many holes in it so enormous you can hardly read the words.

The shirt depicts an advertisement if you will for “The Lord’s Gym.” On the back it reads “No Sweat, Yeah Right!,” and then has the scripture from above.

When I started reading more of Luke 22 the verses really began to make me think. The chapter depicts some of the last hours Christ spent before His crucifixion. It takes us through the administering of the Last Supper and His journey into the Mount of Olives. Knowing what the next hours would bring Christ says in verse 42 “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done.”

I had to ask myself how often do I pray and leave that last part out? I can only imagine the number of times I have simply asked for my circumstances or those of others to change for personal reasons. I have begged for that cup to pass from me without acknowledging His lordship in my life and that His will, not mine be done. I don’t believe it is wrong to ask for something, but if I am following Him as a believer it should all be asked for and done according to His will.

After recognizing this and how He shows us how to pray I then thought of the strength and dedication in His prayer. The utter agony He was in knowing what was to transpire but the resolve to accept it as “thy will be done.” The turmoil to sweat as great drops of blood is something hard to imagine and yet it should also be mine. If I consider myself a follower of Christ, I have to be willing to sacrifice and pray as earnestly as He showed me. It made me want to pray harder than ever before. It made me want to be a true prayer warrior according to His will and seek only that. I hope we can all do this in our own lives as well as the lives of others.

Sounds like no sweat huh?

~ Kenny Stahl

Hope In The Lord

But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31

I appreciate this is an extremely popular verse and one that is often quoted and referred to. In fact I have had a feeling writing this that it might have been used by another one of the Inscription writers prior to this. In any case I chose this verse because it has been on my mind and has also come up several times in reading different places these last few weeks.

First of all, this scripture has been the favorite verse of several very special people in my life. Many of them are no longer with us here on Earth but thinking about them having such a hope in the Lord and renewed strength gives me such a beautiful peace. Just thinking of a friend or loved one soaring like an eagle and never becoming faint or weary because of their hope in the Lord is such a wonderful image in my mind.

Before this verse helped me to remember these people in my life I was expanding for other reasons. Once again my thoughts were drawn to the extreme weather that has already, and is potentially affecting so many people in various parts of this country. I put myself in the shoes of those waiting for a storm they know is coming and the damage that could follow. Even though possessions aren’t even close to being most important in our lives just thinking about this could make a person lose hope.

The beautiful and most encouraging message in this verse comes from the fact that we can find hope in the Lord. If we do that He promises that our strength will be renewed. This renewed strength gives us the ability to soar like eagles as well as run and walk without ever growing weary or faint. I know it is very easy to lose hope sometimes in the face of adversity. Circumstances can seem so dark at times that the thought of holding on to hope seems impossible. Yet we must all understand what is available to us when we do place this hope in the Lord. I pray we all bind ourselves to this hope in Him and know He will guide us through all trials in our lives without ever becoming faint.

~Kenny Stahl

 

Photo credit: Søren Astrup Jørgensen

Reaching Out

“God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.” James 6:10

Much like so many, if not all of you, I have spent a lot of time in reflection and prayer this week. Largely this has been due to the tragic disaster we have all seen unfold over the coast and surrounding areas of Texas. The loss of human lives, animals and property has been catastrophic. I doubt there is a single one of us that doesn’t have family or friends that are being directly affected by this terrible storm. If not directly family or friends we have been concerned with the suffering of our fellow man during this time. We have all worried about the well being of these people and many have attempted to help in any way they can. This help and compassion has come through the donation of time or money, by sending items in dire need or most importantly through the supernatural power of prayer. All of these are examples of our care, concern and love.

Our desire to help and love others in need is a wonderful expression of the love that Christ shows us. As we demonstrate this love what greater comfort could we ever have or hope for than the very fact that He see and will not forget what we have done? This is far different than when we repent for our sins and God blots out our transgressions and will remember them no more. So knowing the fact that He will not remember our atoned sins but will instead not forget the love we show others I will strive to choose love.

Prayerfully, as this catastrophic disaster rages on from what now seems like only the beginning, I urge us all to love people. Through any means possible we should all reach out in prayer, comfort and support of those affected by this storm and so many other storms of life. Lending any hand we are able to we show the love Christ has for us all while knowing that He is just and will not forget.

 

~Kenny Stahl

 

Photograph by: Milada Vigerova

What Do I Need?

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” Romans 8:26

How many of us have been in this predicament before? We attempt to take things before the Lord and find ourselves lost in asking where do we even start to pray? It’s very different when someone asks us to pray for a certain need. We see their need, take it before God, wait for His timing, follow up and praise Him for the outcome. So why can it be so difficult when we have needs of our own?

First of all I think part of the problem we have lies in the fact that due to our own nature we often don’t really know what we need or want. This brings up a very old comparison of a want versus a need. Don’t worry for this quick writing I think I’ll avoid that one- if only to say that if we don’t know exactly we want/need it’s very difficult to pray for something specific.

The great news of this scripture is that the Spirit helps us in our weakness! Once again we are not left alone to struggle. Even in the times that we can’t even form a sentence in prayer we can still be bold in talking to God and asking for His divine and supernatural intervention. When we go to prayer this tells us that He is with us, hearing every word or thought we cannot express.

We should never be afraid or intimidated by going to prayer. Certainly not for this nor any other reason. As long as we are going before Him seeking His will be done in whatever we are asking then He is always with us. With this confidence, the Spirit praying with us and hearing our very thoughts we can trust that our requests to God will always be heard and worked according to His will.

Photo By: Ben White

It is Well

I recently read a short article about one of my favorite songs. The song is “It is Well” and I’m keen on the Kristen DiMarco or Bethel version. When I read the article though I was amazed that one of my favorite songs had such a profound story that I never knew about. It was in the studying of that story behind its writing and subsequent choice of DiMarco to perform it that I was really led to write this.

I’ll keep the history part brief but it definitely plays a huge part in the meaning behind the song. Horatio Spafford penned the original version in 1873. Incredibly he wrote the song after terrible circumstances had all but decimated his family. He first lost his son in the Great Chicago fire only to later lose 4 daughters in a shipwreck on the Atlantic. It wasn’t until he was bound for Europe and passed the location of his daughters wreck that he wrote the lyrics to this song.

Just in reading these first few notes on the song I thought to myself how could someone write something so positive after their circumstances were so terrible by all standards? DiMarco’s viewpoint was the same and she related it to Jesus calming of the storm. “He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith? They were terrified and asked each other, who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!Mark 4:40-41

The Lord is so amazing and gives us every reason to never be troubled by the circumstances of this world or even our own lives. Christ died for us and loves us enough to promise us eternal life with Him instead of an eternity of misery and servitude. It is only in Him that in the face of horrendous conditions we can have such peace and the ability to abandon all worry, doubt and fear. Ultimately we must always have the assurance that Christ will calm any and every storm in our lives.

P.S. If you haven’t heard the song I encourage you to listen to it!

~Kenny Stahl

Photograph by: Adam Zvanovec

True Obedience

True obedience is the refusal to compromise in any regard our relationship with God, regardless of the consequences.” Aiden Wilson Tower

Seemingly this subject has been laid before me quite a lot this previous week. Whether it be a sermon, the words of a brother from church or possibly my own personal convictions I have heard this message repeatedly. The message has been clear: be obedient and put all other things aside to trust and follow Jesus first.

In our lives, it can be “easy” to be a believer sometimes but far more difficult to truly put everything else aside and put God first in all things. This beautiful quote reminds us to not only put God first but to be absolute in our refusal to compromise this relationship in any fashion. When we do consider exactly how far this dedication to putting God first goes we can definitely look at a portion of 2 Corinthians 2:5 which says that we must “bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.

EVERY thought… At least while this can be hard to accomplish at times the direction given is quite clear. This verse leaves no room or possibility of debate for how far our dedication to putting Him first really goes. We must capture every thought so that we might put all other things in our life secondary and abide by His word.

Trying to tie this all together, while I was reading this material I found another concept by Tozer that related this extremely accurately for me. In all of our hearts, there is a cross and a throne. We start out our Christian life on the throne until we decide to yield that to God and take up the cross. We cannot expect Christ to be the only one to die while we remain “king.” To truly be obedient to Him we have to give Him his place on the throne, dethrone ourselves and give our whole life to Christ.

Humble yourself…

But He gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
“Humble yourselves before the Load, and He will lift you up.”
James 4:6 & 10

Humility can easily be a trait that naturally eludes the inward spirit and nature of people. In itself it is such a basic characteristic and yet it can often be one that we fight the most to abide by. Yet when we see verses like these, among others, we see how much God loves us showing this (and what we seek to gain from it ) in our Christian walk.

In order for me to understand what it really meant to be humble, I had to look at the characteristic that is directly opposite. What does it mean to be proud and what gives us this sense of pride? Usually, in my own life, I look at achievements or stature that have been gained and it gives me an almost “righteous” sense about me achieving them. We have to understand here that reaching these is not necessarily a bad thing. Achievements, stature, accomplishments and triumphs are a wonderful blessing in our life, as long as we are giving the glory to God for allowing us realize them. The pride part can get in the way when we use them to put ourselves above others or believe that we reached this blessing or place all on our own.

It can become extremely easy to grow proud without even realizing it. We see the faults and labors of others and grow prideful of “where we’re at” compared to them. Instead I feel like we all need to strive to understand that no matter the circumstances in our lives we are all brothers and sisters in the one true God. Circumstances among people can be very different based on where people are in their personal walk with God. There is no way or reason I should ever put myself above another based solely on that fact.

I truly want to set my prideful ways aside and be humble. I want to be humble to the Lord as he commands so that I might be lifted up, but I also want to be humble to those around me. I feel like by doing this I have the ability to show others His love and give them the understanding of being on this walk towards Him and in Him that we are all going through.

 

Photo Credit: Bradley Swenson

Mercy & Grace

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” ~ Titus 3:4-7

In these verses, Paul explains a huge part of the journey in our walk with Christ. Building up to this though is first the summary of where we came from. We were all living in a life of sin prior to knowing God. He gives specific examples of all of mankind living in a foolish way, being disobedient and deceived by all things. We were virtually slaves to our passions and pleasures, while still living in malice, envy and hatred.

I thank the Lord that the message doesn’t stop there with all of us trapped in that kind of life. Instead the writer expounds on the redemption, justification and salvation processes we are given through the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is within this text that two magnificent principles are explained: Grace & Mercy.

A very wise man (okay…it was Garth Brooks) was asked the question once of the difference between mercy and grace. I always believed the explanation was a very accurate and beautiful response to the difference we see in those two principles. He said mercy was often seen when God didn’t give us something we deserved while grace was God giving us something we didn’t deserve.

Being honest I know from my experiences and life prior to knowing God that I certainly don’t deserve what He has blessed me with now. Living a life like many of us do prior to living in Him I know that I probably “deserve” a far different and even worrisome future. Instead of Christ taking this stance He shows me (and all of us) His kindness and love in the extension of His mercy.

Even after being spared by His beautiful mercy I am certain that I don’t truly deserve anything more. Yet once again, Jesus shows me His love, kindness and in this case grace. He grants me something I could never reach on my own or even with the help of any person, act or good deed. Instead He shows me His grace. He shows me how God appears to me and how the Holy Spirit is given to me through Jesus Christ. He gives me something that I don’t deserve by any far stretch of the imagination- he shows me His grace through redemption and eternal life in Him.

I am very thankful that we have the ability to serve a God who is so loving and kind to every person. I am also grateful that he gives us the opportunity to renew ourselves in Him and to become an heir to a life with Him for eternity.

A Matter of Choice

In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes Lord,” he answered. The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place hands on him to restore his sight.” “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.
Acts 9:10-15

Choices…we all have them, of that we can be certain and understand that is an absolute for all of mankind. In looking through verses for this writing I came to an obvious yet interesting (at least to me) observation. Throughout God’s Word I don’t believe there is a single person who didn’t have a choice to make at some point that is described or explained. Many of these choices could have been small while others were enormous in nature.

In this verse Ananias is given a direction by God himself, which turns into a choice to be made on the part of Ananias. Even after hearing God’s instruction Ananias still doubts and essentially tries to argue with God. My initial reaction to this was utter shock, thinking that if God tried to tell me something directly that I would of course never disregard what I was instructed to do but simply listen. I then realized this isn’t always the case and is something I like many of us struggle with. Do we not hear what God is sometimes telling us and then use our own rationale to cause doubt and argue with God? We can often use our own human mind to talk ourselves into hearing and doing what we want. In the end, Ananias yielded to the direction from God and made the appropriate decision to hear the word of God and follow it.

Without overstating, because this premise of choice affects us all I have talked with a multitude of friends and family this week that are facing very different circumstances and choices therein. Of course some are large that could change their lives while others have been smaller. No matter the scope of the choice my advice has been constant. That advice has been go to the Lord in prayer and seek only His will and to also ask for others to pray that they might hear from the Lord in making their decision. I can only hope and pray that all of us will take our choices before Him and align ourselves with His perfect will for our lives. When we hear His voice we can take such a comfort in knowing that because He only plans good for us that we are to be so blessed in following His voice.

New Beginnings & Second Chances

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” Ephesians 1:11-12

First of all, I just want to say how amazingly wonderful scripture, the written word of God, really is. It is truly extraordinary to have at our fingertips a virtual instruction manual for every individual and unique topic that could surface in our lives. While writing these brief messages it is such a privilege to have the ability to consult the word on any topic that God has set before me. These passages are wonderful tools for all of us to use and learn from in order to not only abide by His will but also to draw closer with a deeper understanding of our Savior.

Generally speaking, we all enjoy the thought or feeling of being chosen. It means we are accepted, recognized or approved for who and what we really are. It creates feelings in us that can be very special. Generally, we all want to be a part of something bigger and be a valued component of something greater than what we could do on our own.

As I speak broadly about new beginnings or second chances this would, of course, be the ultimate one. God our Father has not only predestined that he did choose us but also that it is all according to his perfect plan and laid out in his will. We hope in the Lord and thus are given this amazing choice of following him in salvation and granted this wonderful second chance for a life free of sin, pain, and bondage in fear.

When we delve a little deeper into this thought of a new beginning or a second chance we are often met with resistance. This resistance comes not only from the world around us but also very within our very own self (yes I’m talking about our flesh again). Both of these will tell us all the usual lies such as we don’t deserve a second chance, what we’ve done cannot be forgiven or we just need to leave things alone and remain in the past. All of these are of course lies that are meant to keep us from having the personal relationship with the Lord we were meant to and realizing these new beginnings and second chances.

Speaking just on the side of circumstances that bind us in the past I can say that daily we are given the opportunity to change and start this new beginning. I myself several times in the previous weeks have chosen to move past things that have caused me pain for some time, to forgive and to live out this chance I have in the Lord daily to move forward in Him. When I say if I can do it we all can I truly mean that.

To achieve victory and set out on this path we must break free of the mindset that our circumstances try to place on us. We all have to strive to take hold of the new beginning and truly fulfill our life in Christ.