This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Tearful Prayers- Psalm 88

This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Lesson 18 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 88, read by Lana Elder, with Chopin’s “Prelude in E Minor,” played by Josiah Elder

I was asking a friend one day why the Book of Psalms seemed to be so appealing to so many people worldwide. I asked him, “Of all the Scriptures, what is it about the psalms that make them so especially beloved?”

He described to me the incredible range of emotions which are expressed in the psalms, then he pointed to Psalm 88 as being one of the deepest, most sorrow-filled passages in the whole Bible. When I read it, I was astounded.

I had read the Book of Psalms several times before as part of my regular readings through the entire Bible. But to me, after reading through just a few of them, they all began to blur together. Now, however, after hearing my friend say this, I began to see them in a different light.

My friend said, “Maybe it’s because you hadn’t yet been through some of the things the writers of the psalms were describing.” I knew that he was right. It was only after experiencing some of the deepest pains of life did Psalm 88 really speak to me personally.

While this psalm begins like many of the others, with an appeal to God for help, it doesn’t end there. It ends with some of the most poignant words in all of Scripture. Maybe you’ve prayed a prayer like this before. Here’s how the psalmist begins:

“O Lord, the God who saves me, day and night I cry out before You.
May my prayer come before You; turn Your ear to my cry.
For my soul is full of trouble and my life draws near the grave” (vv. 1-3).

Whereas other psalms eventually lift us out of the darkness, this one just gets darker:

“I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like a man without strength.
I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom You remember no more, who are cut off from Your care” (vv 4-6).

Then, the psalmist begins to blame God for his troubles:

“You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily upon me; You have overwhelmed me with all Your waves.
You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them” (vv-6-8).

As unthinkable as blaming God may seem, it’s also natural. It’s natural to question God’s wisdom when things are going wrong. It’s natural to question His ways when we’re not getting ours. It’s natural to doubt His love when we don’t feel loved by those around us.

But as natural as all of those feelings may be, I’m thankful we serve a supernatural God. The truth is we serve a God Who truly loves us, Who truly helps us, and Who truly works on behalf of us–even when everything around us seems to be saying just the opposite.

I chose to highlight this psalm precisely because of the depths to which it goes. It’s not a rosy, cheery picture of life. It’s not even an appeal to a deeper faith. It’s simply a tearful cry of help. Sometimes we just need to cry in prayer. And sometimes we just need to know that someone else has been where we are.

I had another friend who always loved symbols of crosses which were empty, crosses which showed that Jesus was no longer on the cross, but rather has been raised to life and is still alive today.

But one time when my friend was in a hospital, laying in bed in excruciating pain, she looked up and saw a cross on the wall in front of her which pictured Jesus hanging on it. He was wearing a crown of thorns on his head and nails were driven through His hands and His feet. My friend said that in that moment, she was comforted in her own pain for the first time. Why? Because she knew there was Someone Who had experienced the depths of the pain and sorrow that she was experiencing.

Sometimes we need to focus on the fact that Jesus has been raised from the dead and was victorious over death. But other times we may need to remember that He suffered immensely. Walking through His suffering with Him can help us as we walk through our own. As the Apostle Paul says, “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11). Sometimes it’s important to know the power of Christ’s resurrection as well as sharing in His sufferings.

My friend who loves Psalm 88 finds comfort in knowing that there is someone else who understands his pain; someone else who has experienced his sorrow; someone else who doesn’t try to cheer him up or tell him everything’s going to be okay, but who simply walks through deep despair just as he has.

If you find yourself in a dark place today, remember that you’re not alone. Listen to the author of Psalm 88 as he pours out the final words of his prayer to God. Take heart that you’re not alone.

“Why, O Lord, do You reject me and hide Your face from me?
From my youth I have been afflicted and close to death; I have suffered your terrors and am in despair.
Your wrath has swept over me; Your terrors have destroyed me.
All day long they surround me like a flood; they have completely engulfed me.
You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; the darkness is my closest friend” (vv. 14-18).

Remember the suffering of the author of Psalm 88. Remember the suffering of Jesus. And remember the suffering of those who have read and have loved Psalm 88 throughout the centuries because it helps them to know they’re not alone.

Will you pray with me?

Father, we don’t like suffering. We just don’t like it.  But Father, we know that somehow we can experience a fellowship with You and a fellowship with Your Son through suffering in a way that we could never experience through any other means. Father, help us to keep turning to you, even with our tears. Help us to know that You understand our suffering more than anyone else could ever understand. Help us to take comfort in the fact that You’ve been where we are, and that You’ll walk with us through this, too. We love You, Lord, and we come again to You today in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

Here’s the link again to today’s psalm if you’d like to listen:
Psalm 88, read by Lana Elder, with Chopin’s “Prelude in E Minor,” played by Josiah Elder

And here’s the link to our reading plan for the book of psalms:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Yearning Prayers- Psalm 84

This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Lesson 17 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 84, read by Lana Elder, with Beethoven’s “Sonata Pathétique,” played by Bo Elder

Have you ever felt your heart lunging out of your chest towards something or someone–that feeling that you’re being pulled forward by some kind of invisible heartstrings? That’s what it means to yearn: “to have an intense feeling of longing for something, typically something that one has lost or been separated from.”

If you’ve ever prayed for something with an intensity of heart like that, you know what a yearning prayer feels like. One of the best examples of a prayer like this is found in Psalm 84:

“How lovely is Your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! 
My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out for the Living God” (vv. 1-2).

In this case, the psalmist’s heart is lunging towards God–specifically towards God’s dwelling place, that place where the psalmist knew he could meet with God.

I wrote a song one day about my own longing to be with God, to be in His dwelling place, just to know that He was right there with me. The song is called “My Sanctuary,” and the words begin like this:

All I want, All I need,
Is to be with You and to know You’re near.
All I want, All I need, 
Is to talk to You, and to know You’ll hear.
And I know There’s a place
I can go to feel You presence,
Oh, Lord, bring me there; bring me home.

At that moment, as I was writing that song, I felt like God had answered my prayer. Suddenly I was right there with Him; in His presence; in His sanctuary. At that moment, it became my sanctuary, too.

I sang:

This is my sanctuary, Oh Lord!
This is the place that I call my home!
This is my sanctuary, Oh Lord!
And I know when I’m here I’m not alone!

God answered that “yearning” prayer on my heart, that intense desire to be near Him; with Him; close to Him. I can hardly explain the immense satisfaction that I felt in the moments that followed–to be in His presence; to enjoy His peace; to experience His relaxing calm.

Sometimes our hearts long for something or someone, when what we’re really longing for is what God alone can provide: His immense satisfaction.

I think it’s critical, in those moments when we’re yearning for something or someone with a heartache that can’t be fulfilled, to turn those yearnings towards God. Why? Because sometimes our deepest longings can only be fulfilled by being in His presence–by being so close to Him that we can truly hear His heart about all of the other things for which we’re longing.

I spent a few hours of intense prayer one night at a church in Houston. I was praying to know God’s will in regards to a particular woman I was seriously considering marrying. I didn’t know what God might want, and I didn’t want to make a mistake. All I knew was that I deeply wanted to marry this woman–if that’s what God would want and what she would want as well.

I took a friend along with me to pray in a small chapel at my church. We knelt on the steps at the front of the sanctuary, pleading with God for His answer.

A few verses from the Bible came to mind about how the Holy Spirit can search out the deep things of God and reveal them to us. The verses say:

“However, as it is written: ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him’ but God has revealed it to us by His Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10-11).

So we leaned into our prayers, asking God’s Holy Spirit to search out the deep things of God to see what He might have in store regarding my relationship with this woman. In my mind’s eye, I could picture the Holy Spirit taking off from the place where we were praying, then zooming towards the throne room of God. I felt as if my prayers were getting so close to the heart of God that at any minute His Spirit would return to reveal to me His answer.

But just as I thought that answer was about to come, something else happened. It felt as if the Holy Spirit had finally arrived and entered into God’s dwelling place, but as soon as He did, an invisible door shut fast behind Him. All of our prayers stopped. Our seeking ended. That yearning feeling that had been so intense on my heart was gone. Somehow I knew that our prayers had touched the very heart of God. Even though I didn’t know the answer, I knew that everything was going to be okay.

A complete stillness–a complete calm–overwhelmed us. Although this wasn’t the answer I was expecting, it brought a peace to my heart that passed all understanding; a peace that was worth more to me than any other answer I could have been given. I simply knew that God had heard my prayers, and that He had it all under control.

A few months later, God did reveal His answer to my prayers, both to me and to this woman I was hoping to marry,  with a clear and resounding “Yes!” A year later, we were walking down the aisle in the same church, in a larger sanctuary just around the corner from that chapel where I had been praying.

I tell you this story not as a formula for how to get whatever you want from God in prayer. It just doesn’t work like that, for all kinds of reasons.  I tell you this story to encourage you to bring your intense longings to God–whatever those intense desires may be that are on your heart. By bringing them to Him and spending time in His presence, you can find a peace and a satisfaction that you won’t be able to find anywhere else on earth.

The bottom line is that  you’ll be blessed! That’s exactly what the writer of Psalm 84 says will happen:

“Blessed are those who dwell in Your house; they are ever praising You.
Blessed are those whose strength is in You, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage…
They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion” (vv. 4-5, 7).

Don’t let those unfulfilled longings on your heart frustrate you forever. Instead, turn those longings into prayers to God. Bring them before Him–and keep bringing them before Him. Let your heart yearn for God Himself, for His presence, for His sanctuary.

Then, as you come into His presence, recognize that you’re in the presence of your Almighty Father, the One Who loves you more than anyone in the world.

Let His peace overwhelm you. Let His wisdom pour out upon you. Let Him solve the puzzles that you can’t solve on your own. Let His comfort, His courage, and His confidence overtake you so that you can stand up once again knowing that “God’s got this.”

As you do this, I pray you’ll come to the same conclusion as the writer of Psalm 84:

“Better is one day in Your courts than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does He withhold from those whose walk is blameless.
O Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in You”
 (vv. 10-12).

Will you pray with me?

Almighty Father, bring us into Your presence today. Bring us into Your dwelling place. Help us turn our yearnings to You, so You can solve the puzzles we can’t solve on our own. Help us to know anything You want us to do or not do. Help us to know what’s right and what’s wrong in every situation. All we want is what You want, God, for we know and believe that whatever You want for us will be best. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

Here’s the link again to today’s psalm if you’d like to listen:
Psalm 84, read by Lana Elder, with Beethoven’s “Sonata Pathétique,” played by Bo Elder

And here’s the link to our reading plan for the book of psalms:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

Watch Here! | Listen Here! | Ask for Prayer | Contact Us | Visit Our Website | Subscribe | Facebook | Twitter | Tumblr | Bookstore

This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- “Remembering” Prayers- Psalm 77

This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Lesson 16 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 77, read by Lana Elder, with Chopin’s “Prelude in E Minor,” played by Eric Elder

Some of you might feel like you’re hanging on by a thread today. But I want to remind you that God’s got a hold of you with His strong arms, and that the ground beneath your feet is much more solid than you think.

I remember as a kid watching an interview about the filming of the movie Huckleberry Finn. The actor who played Tom Sawyer said that when they filmed a scene out on a lake, the boat he was in accidentally tipped over, throwing him into the water.

Not knowing how to swim, he struggled for air and began screaming for help. He truly believed he was going to drown. But in the midst of all this, he could hear people screaming back to him from the shore. What were they saying? Why weren’t they coming to help him? Didn’t they realize he was drowning?

But when their screams finally broke through his own, he cold hear them yelling: “Stand up!” He took their advice. He reached his feet for the ground beneath his feet–ground that he thought wasn’t there, but it was! He shifted his body and finally stood straight up. He was surprised to see that he was “drowning” in only three feet of water!

The ground beneath his feet was much more solid than he thought.

I’m not saying that the problems you’re facing are trivial. I’m not saying that the waters may not be truly deep. They may be. But what I am saying is don’t let the water fool you. The ground beneath your feet is much more solid than you think. If you’ve put your faith in Jesus, then you’ve put your faith in the most solid rock available to any of us. He is THE ROCK on which we stand.

Reach out your feet for the ground beneath your feet, the ground that you think might not be there. Shift your body and try to stand upright again. Let God reach down with His strong arms and help you do it. Then know that He’s got a hold of you, and that the ground beneath your feet is much more solid than you think.

In Psalm 77, we find that the writer, a man named Asaph, was in serious distress, too. He was crying out to God for help, stretching out his hands to God, but he still couldn’t find relief:

“I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands
and my soul refused to be comforted.”
(Psalm 77:1-3)

But by the end of the psalm, Asaph had found his footing again. He was able to stand again on THE ROCK beneath his feet. How did he do it? How was he finally able to stand again?

As best I can tell, he did it by “remembering.” He prayed to God, remembering what God had done for His people in the past. Four times in this psalm, Asaph uses some form of the word “remember”:

“I remembered You, O God, and I groaned” (v. 3).
“I remembered my songs in the night” (v. 6).
“I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
Yes, I will remember Your miracles of long ago” (v. 11).

And what did he remember? In his case, he thought back to the times when the Israelites thought they were going to drown, too, yet God saved them from doing so. The armies of Egypt were hot in pursuit of them, and only the waters of the Red Sea stood before them. They had nowhere else to go but to run straight into the sea.

And by God’s Spirit–by His very breath, the Bible says–the waters convulsed. They parted to the right and to the left. God’s breath dried up the floor of the sea beneath their feet and they were able to walk right through it, on solid ground.

Asaph pictures the scene in his mind as he remembers what God had done:

“The waters saw You, O God,
the waters saw You and writhed;
the very depths were convulsed.

“The clouds poured down water,
the skies resounded with thunder;
Your arrows flashed back and forth.

“Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind,
Your lightning lit up the world;
the earth trembled and quaked.

“Your path led through the sea,
Your way through the mighty waters,
though Your footprints were not seen.

“You led Your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.”
(Psalm 77:11-20).

I hope you can listen to this psalm in the recording I’ve posted to go along with it. The music I’ve recorded is exactly the same in both the first half and the second half of this psalm, but because the words are different in those two halves, the music in those two halves have an entirely different feel. As the psalm begins, it sounds like one of the saddest, most mournful songs of all time. But by the end of the psalm, Asaph’s words of remembrance makes the music sound exultant! Triumphant! Victorious! It’s the exact same music, but it has an entirely different feel!

What’s the difference? The difference is that Asaph remembers what he knows to be true of God: God is strong, God can save, and even God’s breath can make solid ground appear beneath our feet!

What about you? What can you remember today that God has done for you in the past? Was there ever a time when you felt like you were drowning, but God reached down and saved you? When God helped you as you were in distress? When God made a way for you where there was no way?

As you look back over your life, can you remember any times when it seemed like you couldn’t go on, but God helped you through it? When you couldn’t see a solution, but God made one appear, as if out of thin air? When it looked like everything around you was conspiring to be your end, but it turned out to be just a beginning of something even better than you could have ever imagined?

If so, think about such things! Picture them in your mind! Let those images flow of God’s past victories in your life, and let them encourage you now as you face whatever struggle you might be facing now. Let God reach down with His strong arm and lift you up, shift your position, and help you stand again on solid ground.

If you’ve never put your faith in Christ before, do it today. And if you’ve already put your faith in Christ, put your faith in Him again today for what you’re facing right now, too. Let Him be the SOLID ROCK on which you stand.

Will you pray with me?

God, help us to remember You! Help us to look to You! Help us remember what You’ve done in the past so we can put our faith and trust in You again today. Jesus, we know that You’re our SOLID ROCK. We know You have saved us in the past and you can save us from this, too. Help us when we’re drowning. Help us to get our feet back on solid footing once again. Help us to know that You will work in our lives again today as You’ve worked in our lives in the past. And Lord, let this day be one that we can look back on again in the future, remembering how You saved us in this trial, this struggle, this time of distress, too. In Jesus’ mighty name–the SOLID ROCK on which we stand–Amen.

Eric Elder

Here’s the link again to today’s psalm if you’d like to listen:
Psalm 77, read by Lana Elder, with Chopin’s “Prelude in E Minor,” played by Eric Elder

And here’s the link to our reading plan for the book of psalms:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

Watch Here! | Listen Here! | Ask for Prayer | Contact Us | Visit Our Website | Subscribe | Facebook | Twitter | Tumblr | Bookstore

This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Priming Prayers- Psalm 100

This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Lesson 15 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 100, read by Lana Elder, with Haydn’s “Arietta In A,” played by Eric Elder

I live on a farm that has an old hand pump on it. We seldom use it anymore, so to get the water to come out the well, you have to “prime the pump”–meaning you pour a cupful of water down inside the pipe, which moisturizes a leather ring on a cylinder, which creates the suction needed to draw out more water. Just a cupful of water can release a fairly unlimited supply of water!

Sometimes we need to do the same thing in our prayer times with God. Sometimes we’re able to come to Him with a song that’s already in our hearts; a song we’re just bursting to sing to Him. At other times we come to Him with barely a cupful of water, and we need Him to pour out a song into our hearts.

Thankfully, He can do that, too! All we need to do is to pour out a cupful of praise, thereby “priming the pump,” which then can release a fairly unlimited supply of praise in return!

Psalm 100 is one of those psalms that always seems to help me prime my pump, bringing me quickly into an atmosphere of praise. It’s a short psalm, just 5 verses long, and it takes just 30-40 seconds to read. Yet for those who take its words to heart, it can release a strong and steady stream of praise .

Listen to the words of Psalm 100, which is subtitled in the Bible as, “A psalm. For giving thanks.”

“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before Him with joyful songs.

“Know that the Lord is God.
It is He Who made us, and we are His;
we are His people, the sheep of His pasture.

“Enter His gates with thanksgiving
and His courts with praise;
give thanks to Him and praise His name.

“For the Lord is good and His love endures forever;
His faithfulness continues through all generations.”
(Psalm 100:1-5)

Lana and I put this psalm on the cover of our “Order of Service” for the day we got married, so a copy of this psalm was handed to everyone as they entered the doors of the sanctuary. We felt it was a fitting psalm for a day when we were naturally bursting with praise–and it was! There was no need for priming the pump that day! Our hearts were already overflowing with praise!

But there have been other days that I have pulled up this psalm when my heart wasn’t naturally bursting with praise, and I’ve found there’s at least a cupful of praise in this psalm to get things going again. A few of the reasons why we can praise God, even on rainy days, are contained within the psalm itself. It begins with a shout! In my last message, I talked about shouting to God when you’re angry or upset. But in this message, I’d like to encourage you to shout out a word of praise to God, joining the rest of the earth in its praise of God as well.

Shout out the word “Hallelujah!” for instance, which simply means “Praise God!” in Hebrew (originally “Halal Yah!”). For some reason, I really love saying it in the original Hebrew! And when I do, it becomes more than just a “Woo-Hoo!” to God; it’s a “Halal Yah!” to Him, a praise to the Almighty God Who created me, Who loves me and Who gives me every breath I take. It’s a “breathy” word of praise, with no hard consonants, like p’s or k’s, to interrupt the flow. Just pure praise. Pure breath. Pure worship from my spirit to His. And in return, God has often poured out a good dose of His Spirit back into me–and a fairly unlimited supply at that!

It also helps when I say it with a smile–with gladness, as Psalm 5 says in verse 2. There’s something about saying “Halal Yah!” that just makes me smile naturally, too. It’s a “whoop-de-doo!” kind of a word to me. “Halal Yah!” It’s joyous. It’s victorious. And it brings out the true gladness that I know is down in my heart. All of this is from just the first two verses of this worshipful psalm:

“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before Him with joyful songs.”

The next verse gives me a few reasons for praising God. They speak about how He is ours, and we are His:

“Know that the Lord is God.
It is He Who made us, and we are His;
we are His people, the sheep of His pasture.”

Now there’s a reason to praise God! He’s our God! He’s the One Who made us, and we are His. We are His people and the sheep of His pasture! He cares for us, because we belong to Him.

The next verse continues, telling us how we can come to Him, with thanksgiving and praise, knowing that He is ours and we are His:

“Enter His gates with thanksgiving
and His courts with praise;
give thanks to Him and praise His name.”

Come to Him with a thankful heart. Come to Him with praise. Then, as you enter His courts, give your thanks to Him; give your praise to His name.

Lastly, this psalm reminds me about some of God’s best attributes, as listed in the last verse: His goodness, His enduring love, and His faithfulness which continues through all generations.

“For the Lord is good and His love endures forever;
His faithfulness continues through all generations.”

I’ve been contemplating rainbows lately, and the powerful imagery they convey. They’re more than something for little kids to have on their stickers, or for big movements to have on their flags. They’re signs of God’s promises to the world He loves.

I saw a rainbow on my way home from Trinidad this week, and it came at a perfect time. Because of a delay at the airport, I missed one of my connecting flights…which meant I would miss my bus later in the day, which meant my plans for the rest of the night would change, too. As everything was getting backed up in my mind, I was tempted to get upset with the airlines and the agents and officials at customs.

I decided to praise God instead, trusting Him in the midst of it. I had done everything I could do, and I had to trust Him to do everything He could do. After running to one of my gates and watching the door close as the agent said, “We’re sorry, Mr. Elder, we’ve just filled the last seat on the plane,” I was tempted to be dejected again. Instead, I took a few moments to relax and praise God as I began the long walk to the customer service desk, where I was told I could standby for another flight on the other side of the airport, and I took another deep breath and began another long walk to get there.

When I finally arrived at that next gate, I sat down and saw, out the window in front of me, one of the most beautiful rainbows I’ve ever seen. It was coming down through the clouds and practically touched the plane that was sitting outside the window in front of me. I walked over to the window, and pointing it out to the others around me, we all looked at it in wonder.

About 45 minutes later, the rainbow was still there! I’ve never seen a rainbow last so long! They called my name, and told me there was one more seat on the plane… THAT plane, the one that we had been looking at for so long! It was that plane that had one more seat on it; a seat with my name on it; a seat with a rainbow of God’s promise practically touching it.

Sometimes you come to God with a song of praise that’s already on your heart. Other times you need to prime the pump with a cupful of praise to get things going, changing the atmosphere in your heart as well as the atmosphere all around you. Either way, always know that there’s an unlimited stream of praise ready and waiting for you to tap into at any moment. Just turn to God. Give Him a shout of praise. Give Him your best “Halal Yah!” Then let Him do the rest.

Will you pray with me?

Father, we praise you! We worship You with thanksgiving in our hearts! Halal Yah! Help us to bring forth the fullness of the praise that we know is deep within us–and even more, that we know is deep within You. Help us to pour out a song of praise from our spirit to Yours, then give us a good dose of Your Holy Ghost in return! Help us to praise You from the depths of our beings, knowing that You are good, that Your loves endures forever, and that Your faithfulness continues through all generations. In Jesus’ mighty name, Amen.

Eric Elder

Here’s the link again to today’s psalm if you’d like to listen:
Psalm 100, read by Lana Elder, with Haydn’s “Arietta In A,” played by Eric Elder

And here’s the link to our reading plan for the book of psalms:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Saving Prayers- Psalm 69

This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Lesson 14 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 69, read by Lana Elder, with Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” played by Marilyn Elder Byrnes

I’m writing to you this weekend from the Caribbean island of Trinidad, where earlier this week a tropical storm swept through and threatened to cancel the men’s retreat where I was scheduled to speak. But late Friday night, we finally made it to the retreat center, and even at that late hour, the other men arrived, also, eager to hear about the power of God to rescue and save us when we put our faith in Him.

It is this same power that King David called upon from God in Psalm 69, a time when the flood waters were rising in his own life. Listen to David’s cry for help at the beginning of this psalm:

“Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold.
I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me.
I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched.
My eyes fail, looking for my God.”
(Psalm 69:1-3)

David wasn’t just crying for help. He was screaming… screaming to the point where he had worn out his voice.

What can we learn about prayer from this psalm? For starters, it’s a reminder once again that prayer is not always polite and holy. As my friend who is on this trip with me, Jeff Williams, says, “Drowning men don’t whistle. They scream.”

If you’re going to be honest with God, you can’t pretend that everything’s okay when it’s not. If you’re fine, say so. But if you’re not fine, it’s okay to say that, too.

What also intrigues me about this prayer is that David knows Who to come to for help. He didn’t scream into thin air. He screamed to the God Whom he knew could save him. Listen to his cry as it continues:

“But I pray to You, O Lord, in the time of Your favor;
in Your great love, O God, answer me with Your sure salvation.
Rescue me from the mire, do not let me sink;
deliver me from those who hate me, from the deep waters.
Do not let the floodwaters engulf me or the depths swallow me up or the pit close its mouth over me.
Answer me, O Lord, out of the goodness of Your love;
in Your great mercy turn to me.
Do not hide Your face from Your servant;
answer me quickly, for I am in trouble.”
(Psalm 69:13-17)

There’s something about David’s relationship with God that caused him to keep coming back to God over and over again–even when he felt that God was distant and not answering him. The beauty of this is summed up in the words of a new friend I’ve made here on the island, Pastor Mitchell John, who says, “When we call to someone and they don’t answer, we usually give up and try calling someone else. But David doesn’t change Who he’s calling, Who he’s crying out to, Who he is supplicating. He keeps calling out to God.”

Why would David call out to the God who he feels isn’t answering his prayers? There’s a clue in this psalm as to why. David talks to God in a way that calls on His favor, His love, His salvation ( v13). David knows what God is like. He knows from his previous interactions with God and from his previous experiences. So when David sees no tangible evidence of God in his present situation, he doesn’t give up and call someone else. He calls on the One Whom he knows is there–the only One Who is able to help.

So he keeps calling. He keeps crying out. Even when he’s losing hope, he knows that his God is a God of hope. So he continues to call, even after his voice gives out. He’s obviously wondering, crying and questioning, but in the end, he knows where to turn for help.

What about you? Who do you call for help? How do you pour out your requests when the waters have come up to your neck, when you’re sinking into the miry depths with no foothold, when you’re worn out from calling and your throat is parched? I’d like to encourage you to keep calling out to God. Keep calling the only One Who can truly save you. Don’t hang up and call someone else. Trust in God’s favor, God’s love, God’s salvation.

Maybe you feel like screaming, but you’re not sure if it’s okay to do so. But if you’re going to explore the width and the depth of prayer, take some queues from David and give it a try. If it was okay for David, I think it would be okay for you. You might even need to truly scream! You might want to close your doors first. Or take a walk. Or sit in your car. Or scream into your pillow. But however you do it, don’t cry out into thin air. Cry out to the One Who can truly help you best!

Sometimes you need to get really honest with God.

You don’t have to pretend with God. You can tell him how you really feel, remembering to thank Him for the good in your life that you do experience, but being honest about the hurts you feel as well.

I’ve been mulling over a statement lately from a book written by a woman who lost her husband, and how hard it was for her to make small talk with others while she was still dying inside. She said it’s like they were asking her:

“Aside from that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?”

Thankfully, you don’t have to make small talk with God. If you’re in pain, you can say so. If you need help, you can say so. If you’re dying inside, you can say so.

Why? Because God already knows, and because He is the only One Who can truly save you. He is the One Who can rescue you. He is the One Who can reach down into your situation and pull you out of the pit.

Listen to David’s words, near the end of this psalm:

“I am in pain and distress; may Your salvation, O God, protect me” (v. 29).

Whether you’re drowning or in pain or lonely or heartbroken or suffering or in need of saving, cry out to God. If you’ve never put your faith in Christ for your salvation, do it today. If you’ve already trusted God for your eternal life, know that you can trust Him for your life here on earth, too.

Our God is a saving God. Call on Him to save you today.

Will you pray with me?

God, save us! Help us as the flood waters rise around us! Help us as we feel like we’re drowning and don’t know where else to turn. God, we trust in You, in Your favor, Your love, Your salvation. Help us to be honest with You today. Help us to keep putting our faith and trust in You. And help us to keep looking to You for our salvation.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

Here’s the link again to today’s psalm if you’d like to listen:
Psalm 69, read by Lana Elder, with Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” played by Marilyn Elder Byrnes

And here’s the link to our reading plan for the book of psalms:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

Watch Here! | Listen Here! | Ask for Prayer | Contact Us | Visit Our Website | Subscribe | Facebook | Twitter | Tumblr | Bookstore

This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Earnest Prayers- Psalm 63

This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Lesson 13 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 63, read by Lana Elder, with Petzold/Bach’s “Minuet in G Minor,” played by Eric Elder

In the play The Importance of Being Earnest, a man named Jack pretends to be a man named Earnest–a name he has chosen for himself whenever he wants to hide his real identity. Ironically, a woman falls in love with him and, believing his name to be Earnest, tells him that she loves his name so much she can’t imagine marrying a man who wasn’t named Earnest.

And so begins a journey of discovery for the man who is pretending to be Earnest, on his way to learning the importance of being Earnest (in more ways than one).

In our prayer lives, it seems that God is wanting us to do the same: not just pretending to be earnest, but truly being earnest, truly seeking Him from our hearts.

As I look through Psalm 63, I see David doing just that: earnestly seeking God from his heart:

“God, You are my God, earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for You, my body longs for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (v. 1).

In the heading for this psalm, it says that David wrote it when he was in the desert of Judah. For many of us, we speak of being in a desert figuratively, when times are tough or circumstances are dry. For David, he was literally thirsty and his body was literally longing for refreshment, for he was truly in a dry and weary land where there was no water.

How amazing then, that David came to God with his thirst and his longing, intentionally remembering from where his help would come. David lifted up his hands to God and sang:

“I have seen You in the sanctuary and beheld Your power and Your glory. Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You. I will praise You as long as I live, and in Your name I will lift up my hands” (vv. 2-4).

Here’s a man who knows the importance of being earnest. He lifts his hands to God, knowing that God is the one who can answer the prayers on his heart.

God wants us to do the same. He wants us to lift up our hands to God, intentionally remembering that He is the one who can answer the prayers on our hearts. He is the one to whom we can express our thoughts and desires, our hopes and our dreams, and our belief that He will answer us when we call to Him.

It takes great faith to come to God in this way, to pour out our hearts to Him. Yet great faith is what pleases God the most, when we come to Him believing that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him. As it says in the book of Hebrews:

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

What about you? Do you believe that God exists? Do you believe He rewards those who earnestly seek Him? It’s okay if you can’t answer those questions right away. It’s okay if it takes some time to think them through and come to your own conclusions. But in the end, know that it is your earnest prayers that God wants the most, your earnest seeking of Him, and your honest belief in Him.

I was reminded yesterday morning of God’s actual presence once again–not His far-off, distant, presence somewhere “out there,” but His manifest presence, right here with me in the very room where I’m writing this message.

I had been pondering a thought yesterday morning that I wanted to send to a friend. So I wrote it out and included a quote that was given to me by another friend 25 years ago. I sent it off.

When my friend wrote back, I had to get down on my knees and praise God. Why? Because my friend had been reading a book at that very moment which included the quote that I had just sent… a quote I had only heard in passing 25 years ago and have never seen in print before or since! To me, it was a sign of God’s manifest presence, a sign that He was right there, right then, right with me in my room. My only response was to drop down on my knees and say, “Thank You, Lord. Thank You for being right here with me, right now. Thank You for speaking to me, speaking through me, and speaking to yet another believer in the process.”

When David came to God, he came earnestly. He came full of faith. He came knowing that God was there, and that He was the Only one who could truly quench his deep thirst, truly satisfy the longings on his heart. David said:

“My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise You. On my bed I remember You; I think of You through the watches of the night. Because You are my help, I sing in the shadow of Your wings. My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me” (vv. 5-8).

David held on tight to God, and God held on tight to him. What a rich picture of a very rich relationship! I long for that kind of relationship with God, too!

I was thinking of this idea again earlier this week, about the importance of being earnest, as I watched one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies with my kids. There’s a point in the third movie where, in order to make something happen, someone must speak these words to a woman named Calypso: “Calypso, I release you from your human bonds.”

When one of the characters does so, nothing happens. Another character says, “He didn’t say it right. You have to say it right.” So this second character leans over to Calypso and whispers in her ear as if to a lover: “Calypso, I release you from your human bonds.” He used the same words, but with an entirely different tone. And when he did, all kinds of things began to happen!

I’m not saying that you have to say just the right thing in the just the right way to move the heart of God. But I am saying that God wants you to come to Him full of faith, truly believing that He’s there, that He cares, and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him. Because He is there. He does care. And He does reward those who earnestly seek Him.

How do I know? Not only because the Bible tells me so, but because God Himself has confirmed it’s so–over and over and over again–as I’ve come to Him with my own earnest prayers.

I know He’d love to confirm it to you, too. Come to Him with your earnest prayers, and discover for yourself the importance of being Earnest.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for letting us come to You, anytime day or night, with those things that are our on hearts. I pray that You would hear our prayers today, answering them as You see fit, giving us a strong sense of Your presence as we do. Lord, we come to You today in faith, truly believing that You exist and that You reward those who earnestly seek You. And Lord, we  pray now that You would satisfy those longings on our heart, longings which perhaps only You truly know are deep within us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

Here’s the link again to today’s psalm if you’d like to listen:
Psalm 63, read by Lana Elder, with Petzold/Bach’s “Minuet in G Minor,” played by Eric Elder

And here’s the link to our reading plan for the book of psalms:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

Watch Here! | Listen Here! | Ask for Prayer | Contact Us | Visit Our Website | Subscribe | Facebook | Twitter | Tumblr | Bookstore

This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- This Week’s Sermon

This Day's Thought from The Ranch

(Eric will return next week as he continues his special series.)

The Superhero in You
The Truth about Your “Secret” Identity

by Nate Barbour

There was a man who owned a Great Dane. Now this Great Dane was an extremely large and ferocious dog–definitely not the kind of dog you want jumping up in your lap. One day, as the man was walking his Great Dane down the street, he saw another man across the street who was also walking his dog–a little bitty dog with short legs no tail and no hair. It was an ugly dog and, frankly, it looked terribly sick.

Suddenly the Great Dane saw the little ugly dog across the street and decided he hated that dog. He broke free from his owner’s leash and dashed across the street on the attack. The owner of the Great Dane yelled to the man, “Look out! My dog is on the loose and he’s liable to kill you and that dog of yours! You had better run!”

But the little ugly dog turned around, bared its teeth, and when the Great Dane attacked, that little dog proceeded to grab hold of the Great Dane at the foreleg and began to eat that big dog up. It ate right up the leg, right up the throat, ate its head, right down through its body, right across the tail, right down the back legs, spit out the bones, and smacked its lips-and that was the end of the Great Dane, just like that.

Well, the owner of the Great Dane was absolutely astonished by what he had just witnessed. “Man, what kind of dog is that?” the man exclaimed. “I’ve never in my life seen a little dog that could do something like that!”

“Dog? Dog?” the other man said. “Before he got his nose run over by a truck and his tail cut off by a train, this used to be an alligator!”

You may feel like a puppy dog on the outside, but inside, you’re an alligator. You have the power of God at your disposal to do mighty things. And tonight we’re going to talk about your superpowers and the Superhero in You, the truth about your secret identity. Can you leap tall buildings in a single bound? Are you faster than a speeding bullet? Are you more powerful than a locomotive? You may not have the abilities of Superman, but you possess the power above all powers, the power of God.

II. Your Secret Identity

1 John 4: 4 “4 You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”

You’re a world overcomer. I love this. You’ve got something inside of you that makes you greater than any evil henchman or villain. You’ve got something inside of you that makes you stronger and more powerful. You have a “secret” identity. On one hand, you’re a mild mannered person, on the other, you’re Super So & So, with the capacity and power to defeat anything that comes your way.

Who is it that’s in you that gives you these super powers? What is your “secret” identity? The reality is that if you’ve made Christ your Lord, then He lives on the inside of you. Jesus Christ is the one pumping the power through your veins.

Before you accepted Him as Savior, you were just an ordinary Clark Kent, a regular Joe, and you got your nature from Adam, the first man, but when Jesus came inside of you, you were changed from being in Adam to the In-Christ man. So that’s your “secret” identity. The secret is that when Christ died on the cross, your old identity, the Adam man, died there, too. The only you that lives is the In Christ you. You are found in Christ and Christ is found in you.

The Distilled Bible says in Galatians 2:20 “I consider myself as having died and now I’m enjoying a new existence, which is simply Jesus using my body.”

Christ is your “secret” identity. He’s the one on the inside of you, giving you the power you need to face the day. What kind of powers are you talking about, Pastor Nate? You really do have SUPER POWERS. Let’s look at a few of them.

III. Your “Super” Powers

We’ve established that Jesus is on the inside of you providing the power. Well, wouldn’t it be true that you have the same power that He did? Yes. Let’s look at His power, that is now YOUR power.

Matthew 10:1 “1 And when He had called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease.”

You have the POWER to cast out demons.

You have the POWER to heal.

Jesus did. If he didn’t have the power to do it himself, he couldn’t have given it to the disciples. Look at Mark 5:1-8.

1 Then they came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gadarenes. 2 And when He had come out of the boat, immediately there met Him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, 3 who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no one could bind him, not even with chains, 4 because he had often been bound with shackles and chains. And the chains had been pulled apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces; neither could anyone tame him. 5 And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones.

6 When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him. 7 And he cried out with a loud voice and said, “What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me.”

8 For He said to him, “Come out of the man, unclean spirit!”

If you’ll read on, you’ll see that the spirit obeyed Jesus and went out of the man into a herd of pigs. Why did the spirit obey? Because he had the power to cast out demons. You’ve got the power to do that, too. That doesn’t mean you have to carry around your crucifix and bottle of holy water, looking for little girls who puke all over the place and spin their heads around. No, it means that should a demon or devil torment you or someone you know, you have the power to get rid of it. I’ve never had to do this, but I know that I can. I’ve heard stories upon stories of ministers meeting up with demon-possessed people, some are scary because the minister didn’t know what to do. Others define the Power to cast out demons because the minister knew about his power and used it.

You also have the POWER to heal.

Mark 1:40-42 “40 Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.”

41 Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” 42 As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed.”

Jesus had this power as was evident in His ministry. Everywhere He went, He was teaching, preaching and healing all who were oppressed of the devil. Everywhere He went, He was healing people. And everywhere you go, you can do the same thing. You have the POWER to heal. We’re not talking about the power of Wolverine. We’re talking about the Power of Jesus, the power that’s IN you!

We saw the power of God in demonstration last Tuesday when Dr. Dufresne was here. We saw person after person healed instantly because of Dr. Dufresne’s “super” powers. We can see that very same thing when you use your “super” powers.

Mark 16:17, 18 “And these signs will follow those who believe: they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

You have the power to heal.

A friend of mine had kidney stones about two years ago. I don’t know if you know what kidney stones are, but a kidney stone can develop when certain chemicals in your urine form crystals that stick together. The crystals can grow into a stone ranging in size from a grain of sand to a golf ball. Small stones can pass through the urinary system without causing problems. However, larger stones might block the flow of urine or irritate the lining of the urinary tract.

Well, my friend had stones that were about the size of a dime, and he had to wait for them to pass through his urinary system. Needless to say, it was extremely painful for him. He had these stones for well over three weeks. Well, during one of our band practices, I asked for prayer requests and his problem was one of them. We would split up the prayer request so each band member could pray and I asked my bro to pray for this particular deal. So when it was Gregg’s turn, he and another one of the band members got up and laid hands him. Within a matter of days, my friend had passed all of his kidney stones and had completely recovered. You have the power to heal.

You also have the POWER to create.

If you look at Genesis 1, you’ll see that God formed the earth with the Words He spoke. God is in you, right? If He has the power to create things with His words, don’t you have that same power? Yes.

Proverbs 18:21 “Life and death are in the POWER of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”

You have the power to create. You create your world, you frame your world with the words that come out of your mouth.

If you talk power, you’ll have power. If you talk healing, you’ll be healthy. If you talk prosperity, you’ll never lack. If you talk love, you won’t be hating. If you can say it, you can have it.

Around this time last year, I was waiting on a job. It had a few days since I graduated from college and I had been looking for a job for about 3 weeks. The school I went to was a Baptist college so I would go the Baptist Student Union office and look through their lists of churches that were looking for youth pastors. I wrote a few down that I thought were interesting, but I kept saying I don’t want a job at a Baptist church and I would continually say out of my mouth, “I’m getting a job at a non-denominational church like Grace Christian Church,” which is the church I was a member at, and where I had interned the summer before.

Well, I didn’t know where to start. I decided to talk to our Pastor, Pastor Wyatt Brown, and see if he had any connections anywhere. I didn’t get the chance to talk to him, but the next week, Rev. Steve Morin, who is one of their Associate Pastors came up to me and asked me what I was doing after graduation. I told him my intentions of becoming a youth pastor and he said I know a church, and one thing led to another and I ended up at the right place, here at Good News Church, pastoring you guys.

The reason I got this job was because of the words of my mouth. If I would have said, “I’m never getting a job at a good church.” Well, I wouldn’t have. But I didn’t say that. I said what I wanted and I got it. You have that same power. The power to create. So create what you want with that power, not a world that’s full of depression and lack. Say what you want and use your power for good.

You also have the POWER to increase.

Luke 9:10-17 “10  And the apostles, when they had returned, told Him all that they had done. Then He took them and went aside privately into a deserted place belonging to the city called Bethsaida. 11 But when the multitudes knew it, they followed Him; and He received them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who had need of healing. 12 When the day began to wear away, the twelve came and said to Him, “Send the multitude away, that they may go into the surrounding towns and country, and lodge and get provisions; for we are in a deserted place here.”

13 But He said to them, “You give them something to eat.”

And they said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless we go and buy food for all these people.” 14 For there were about five thousand men.

Then He said to His disciples, “Make them sit down in groups of fifty.” 15 And they did so, and made them all sit down.

16 Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the multitude. 17 So they all ate and were filled, and twelve baskets of the leftover fragments were taken up by them.”

Jesus took 5 pieces of bread and two fish and fed more than five thousand people. He didn’t break these pieces of bread and fish into five thousand itty bitty pieces so that each person could have just a nibble. No, he fed these people SO much that they had 12 baskets of leftovers. Jesus took the little bit that the disciples had and multiplied it. He increased it from a little to a lot just like that. And you know what? He lives in you. He’s using your body. He has the Power to increase. YOU have the power to increase.

There is power on the inside of you to take the little that you have and turn it into a lot. A couple of years ago, Kristen and I were a car accident with a friend of ours. Kristen had some minor neck and back pain, but I was banged up pretty bad. I was knocked unconscious and had to be taken to the Emergency Room because I had taken a pretty good hit to the head. After all was said and done, I had about $2,000 worth of hospital bills and I was violently sick for about 3 days. Well, a few days go by and I get a call from this insurance guy. He was from our friend’s insurance company and he wanted to meet up with us and give us some paperwork. So we met him and he said that our medical bills would be taken care of and that we could be compensated for our pain and suffering. I never thought I could get paid for being in a car accident, but after negotiating with this insurance company for 5 or 6 months, they wrote me a check for $10,000. I had never seen so much money in my life. I wrote my tithe. I paid the medical bills. And I put half of it in a Savings account, which eventually paid for the down payment on our house. You see, God wants to increase you. He put the power to increase on the inside of you. You have faith that when you give, God will give back to you pressed down, shaken together, and running over, so that you’ll have MORE THAN ENOUGH. You have the power to increase.

IV. A Hero or a Villain?

Galatians 6:9-10 “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

Use your “super” powers and go save your world. Go cast out demons. Go heal people. Go create your world. Go increase yourself and others.

You see, in you, is also the power to hurt, the power to tear down, the power to kill, the power to steal, the power to destroy, and the power to decrease. The choice is yours, will you use your powers for good or evil, will you be a hero or a villain?

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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- This Week’s Sermon

This Day's Thought from The Ranch

(Eric will continue with his series in two weeks)

Perseverance And Prayer

by Alan Perkins

God values perseverance very highly. Why?

 You and I live in an era of unprecedented speed. Technologically, the pace of change is almost beyond comprehension. A rule of thumb called “Moore’s Law” states that the speed of computer chips doubles every 18-24 months. My first PC, which I purchased in 1985 to write papers for seminary, was rated at six megahertz [never mind what a “megahertz” is]. The PC’s sold today operate at over a hundred times that speed. [Unfortunately, my mind still operates at the same speed as it did in 1985.] And the incredible speeds of those little semiconductors make possible all kinds of exotic applications, such as biometrics. For example, the police can now use video cameras to scan the faces of people walking through an airport, or sitting in the stands at a football game, and instantly compare those digitized images against thousands of photos of known terrorists. Or a computer can compare a fingerprint from a crime scene against the millions of fingerprints in the FBI database in a matter of seconds.

Not only that, but everyday activities which used to take days or weeks, we now expect to happen instantly. Federal Express delivers packages overnight. LensCrafters makes eyeglasses in an hour. At Walgreens, you can get film developed in an hour. Applying for a loan used to take several days; now banks are advertising loan approvals in thirty minutes or less. In fact, it’s difficult to identify any area of daily life that hasn’t been accelerated. Think about it. Microwaves. ATM machines. E-mail. On-line stock trading. America’s involvement in World War II lasted almost four years. Yet only a few days after we started bombing in Afghanistan, journalists were already referring to it as a “quagmire” and asking “how much longer is this war going to drag on?”

My point is that we’ve gotten used to having all our desires instantly gratified, and as a result we’ve become impatient. We’ve grown intolerant of any kind of delay. We expect to get what we want, when we want it. Now. Now. Now. Faster, faster, faster. Have you tried to use a rotary-dial phone lately? It’s torture! You’re waiting for that little dial to spin back around, and you want to yell, “hurry up, hurry up, hurry UP!” Or how about this one — what’s the smallest interval of time scientists have so far identified? No, it’s not a millisecond or a nanosecond. It’s a “honkisecond”. That’s the amount of time between when the light turns green and the driver behind you honks his horn. We have the attention span of a gnat. Have you ever noticed, when you watch an old movie, that they used to put the credits at the beginning? Not any more. These days, no one would sit through five minutes of credits before the movie. And have you ever noticed how much time the people in those old movies spent talking? Not doing anything, just talking? Not any more. We don’t have the patience for it.

Which explains why the Biblical virtue of perseverance is so rare today. Because perseverance runs directly counter to this mindset. Perseverance takes a long-term perspective. It focuses on the future, rather than the immediate present. Perseverance is patient. It keeps waiting, and believing and trusting, even when things take longer than expected. It keeps working, and seeking and striving, even when things turn out to be more difficult than anticipated. It remains faithful, even when there are ample opportunities to throw in the towel, to give up and move on. Perseverance means sticking with something for as long as God calls you to do so, no matter how long it takes, no matter how difficult or painful it becomes, no matter how many discouragements and disappointments and obstacles you encounter along the way.

Why is perseverance so important? Because it takes time to discover the true nature of things. As the old proverb states, “truth is the daughter of time.” For example, it takes time to know if a project or enterprise is going to succeed. Appearances can be deceiving. In fact, as we search the Scriptures, and study the history of God’s dealings with His people, we see that He has often been pleased to bring success and victory out of apparent failure and defeat. He likes to demonstrate his power and might by turning around seemingly hopeless situations. And so if we give up too soon, we may miss the blessing. The supreme example of this is the crucifixion of Christ. By all appearances, his mission had failed miserably. What could be more hopeless than a dead savior, a lifeless leader? But three days later came the resurrection. And that changed everything.

By the same token, it takes time and testing to reveal a person’s true character. Many people begin well, but relatively few finish well. In fact, when it comes to the issue of faith in Christ, perseverance is so important that only the one who finishes well, only the one who continues to the end, will be saved, because perseverance is of the essence of faith. John the apostle, referring to those in his day who had left the church and denied the gospel, writes,

“They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.” — 1 John 2:19

In other words, these people had never been genuine believers, although for a while it must have seemed that they were. During the time they had been a part of the fellowship, they likely gave every evidence of possessing genuine faith in Christ. They were baptized. They knew all the religious terminology. They could give a convincing testimony of their “salvation” experience. But when they left, the truth was finally revealed. Their leaving showed, not that they had lost their faith, but that they never had true faith to begin with. Their failure to persevere revealed the emptiness of their profession. Listen to the words of Christ: “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:22)

And listen to what the author of Hebrews teaches: “But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast. . .We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.” (Hebrews 3:6, 14) Notice that He doesn’t say, “We will share in Christ if we hold firmly to the end.” He says, “We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end.” In other words, if we hold on to the end, if we persevere in faith, it will prove that what we have now is real and genuine. Our remaining in the faith demonstrates the authenticity of our faith. And likewise, if a person abandons the faith, it shows that they never truly had it to begin with.

Not only does perseverance reveal the truth about situations and people, it also reveals the truth about God. It’s through perseverance that we come to know Him as He is. So if we abandon hope when trials come, we will never experience God’s power to sustain and strengthen us in the midst of suffering. If we yield to sin, we won’t experience God’s grace as sufficient for us to resist temptation. The only way to know God’s grace is to persevere in a situation in which we need his grace. If we flee, we may avoid the pain, but we will also be avoiding the chance to know God. If we give up on Christ too soon, then we will only see the tragedy of the crucifixion, and never the victory of the resurrection.

You may remember Joseph in the Old Testament. He was sold into slavery by his brothers, he was unjustly accused by his master’s wife and thrown into jail, he was betrayed and forgotten by one of his fellow inmates, Pharaoh’s cupbearer. Finally, through a series of unlikely events, he was made ruler over all Egypt; and he saved the whole nation from starvation, as well as his own family. But it was only by persevering in faith that he came to know God’s as good. In fact, God was good to Joseph all along; God was working out his good, and wise plan from the beginning. But if Joseph had given up, he would have never known that. He never would have seen how all his trials were working together for good. Joseph had to persevere in faith through years of what appeared to be God’s indifference and even hostility, before he could finally see that everything he had come through was a part of God’s good plan, for him and his people.

As Paul tells us, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9) If we continue in following Christ, we will reap a harvest. We will find his grace and mercy to be sufficient. We will find his rewards to be worth all the suffering, and sacrifice, and labor, and tears. But we must not become weary and turn aside from following Him, or else we will never know God as He truly is. Perseverance in the midst of trial reveals who we truly are. It also reveals to us who God really is.

Let’s take another example. Marriage. God insists that marriage is a lifetime commitment; that with a few exceptions, once a man and woman take their vows, they are obligated to persevere with one another. Why? Well, obviously God knew that there would be many difficulties, many disappointments, many reasons to quit, many opportunities for both the husband and wife to persuade themselves that a mistake had been made, and they would be better off starting over with someone else. He knew that without that lifetime commitment, we sinful people would be very unlikely to stick it out, very unlikely to voluntarily weather the storms and persevere through the pain. He knew that sometimes the vow is all that keeps people from taking the next bus out of town.

But I think there’s something else going on. I think God wants us to persevere with one another because that’s the only way to get past the garbage to the glory. You have to be willing to stay together through the revelation of your sin, through the process of learning to forgive and ask forgiveness, learning to repent, learning to serve instead of being served, learning to bear with one another’s weaknesses — you usually have to go through a lot of difficult, painful, unpleasant stuff in order to get to the really good stuff. To get to the place where you and your husband or wife, are loving one another as God intended, and serving Christ together, where you can truly appreciate one another, instead of just tolerating one another. As with most things in life, it’s only by persevering through the trials and troubles that you can enjoy the deepest blessings and pleasures of marriage.

Is perseverance easy? Of course not. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be perseverance. No one talks about “persevering” through a hot fudge Sundae. Sports fans don’t need “perseverance” to make it through Monday Night Football. We don’t need God’s grace to “persevere” in the things we enjoy. The Bible exhorts us to persevere because God knows there will be times we want to quit. Perseverance implies difficulty. But it’s difficulty with a purpose, and that purpose is godly character, and hope, and joy.

“Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” — Romans 5:3-4

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” — James 1:2-4

What’s the end result of persevering in faith? What’s the goal of continuing to follow and obey Christ? Spiritual maturity. Christlikeness.

I don’t want to give the impression that perseverance is a matter of grim determination; that following Christ means a lifetime of joyless toil and drudgery; that we get up every day and grit our teeth and clench our fists, trying somehow to brace ourselves for the misery and pain the day is certain to bring. If you’re approaching perseverance in that way, you will fail. You won’t be able to continue, because that’s not what God intended. We need to understand, first of all, that perseverance isn’t a matter of self-reliance. The power to persevere doesn’t come from ourselves, it comes from God.

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” — Philippians 2:12-13

And second, remember that God intends the life of faith to be a life of joy and contentment. This is true even in the midst of difficult circumstances, even when we are struggling and suffering; because our joy doesn’t come from our circumstances. It comes from the Holy Spirit. What did Jesus say?

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” — Matthew 11:28-30

And Paul also reminds us, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” — 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

For the Christian, perseverance is not an unbearable burden. It’s not a matter of just trudging along, day after day, bowed down by grief and sorrow. On the contrary, by faith, our hearts can always be lifted up, because we’re not bearing our burdens alone; Christ is bearing them with us and for us. As Paul prays for the Roman Christians, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

Now, I’d like to talk a bit about how these general observations on perseverance apply to prayer. I said that perseverance is important because it reveals the truth, about us and about God. And this is certainly true in prayer, because our perseverance, or lack of it, will reveal how much faith we have that God will answer. If we pray about something a few times, and then give up, it shows that we never really thought God would answer in the first place. It was worth giving prayer a shot — why not, after all? What’s the harm? But after a while, when we don’t receive what we’re seeking, if we have little or no faith, we abandon the effort as a waste of time. And God doesn’t answer that kind of half-hearted, faithless praying. As James tells us,

“But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” — James 1:6-8

God answers the prayer of faith. And perseverance in prayer is a sign of faith. Perseverance says, “Lord, I know you can do this. And I’m going to keep asking until you do.” But when we give up praying, we’re saying, in effect, “Lord, I never thought you would do it anyway.” In fact, if you don’t have faith, I predict that you won’t be able to persist in prayer. Over time, you just won’t be able to discipline yourself to do something that, deep down, you think is useless.

By the same token, persistence in prayer reveals the truth about God. It reveals him to be a powerful, loving, wise, and good heavenly Father who hears and answers our prayers. But we can only know and experience him as a prayer-answering God if we persevere in faith and persevere in prayer.

“Keep on asking, and you will be given what you ask for. Keep on looking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And the door is opened to everyone who knocks. You parents–if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! If you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.” — Matthew 7:7-11, NLT

Perseverance in prayer also shows that we value the things we’re asking for. God wants to give us the things we really desire, the things we’re serious about. God isn’t likely to answer prayers that are nothing more than passing fancies, just the idle musings of our minds. If we pray about something once or twice and then forget all about it, it probably isn’t something we really care about. If God were to grant that prayer, we might not even remember having asked for it. On the other hand, if we persevere; if we come to God over and over again with our request, it shows that this is something that really matters to us. And that’s the kind of “good thing” that God delights in providing. And one more thing: if there’s something good that we know we should want — like humility, or patience, or holiness — then praying for it with perseverance will help increase our desire for it. In other words, the more we want something, the more we will ask for it. And the more we ask for something good, the more we will desire it.

In closing, let me encourage you to persevere in faith. Remember, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9). Persevere in prayer. Keep praying when you’re discouraged; keep praying when it seems God isn’t listening; keep praying when your faith is weak; keep praying when you want to give up; keep praying when it seems that there’s no hope. But whatever you do, don’t stop. Don’t stop believing and don’t stop praying. Remember that Joshua and the people of Israel had to walk around the walls of Jericho every day for seven days before the walls finally fell. And remember that God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). The purchase price for all of God’s blessings has already been paid. All we have to do to receive them is to keep believing, and keep praying.

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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Strong Prayers- Psalm 62

This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Lesson 12 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 62, read by Lana Elder, with J.C.F Bach’s “Anglaise,” played by Kaleo and Karis Elder

Sometimes you just need to lean on God’s shoulder; you just need to feel the strength of His power; you just need to rest in the fact that no matter what comes your way, everything’s going to be okay, because you know that God is holding you close.

When I read Psalm 62, it helps me to do just that: It helps me to lean on God’s shoulder; it helps me to feel the strength of His power; it helps me to rest in the fact that no matter what comes my way, everything’s going to be okay, because I know that God is holding me close.

I love the way David begins this psalm:

“My soul finds rest in God alone;
My salvation comes from Him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation;
He is my fortress, I will never be shaken.”
(Psalm 62:1-2, NIV).

God’s so strong that when we lean on Him, we can truly find rest. He’s our rock. He’s our salvation. He’s our fortress. We will never be shaken.

As a man, I love being independent: making a way where there is no way, leading the charge through life and helping others whom God has entrusted to my care. That’s how I’m wired. Yet, I also realize that I have limits, that I can’t do everything on my own, and that there are times when I need–and I want–someone else on whom I can rely, someone else to whom I can turn, someone else in whom I can place my trust. And that “someone else” is often the God who created me–the God who built the rocks on which I stand.

As one man said to another on a TV show called When Calls the Heart: 

“You’re a self-made man, Mr. Coulter, and you should be proud of that. But no one does it alone. We all need help at times.”

We do all need help at times. David was strong. David was a leader. David took hold of life with a passion. Yet, David realized his limits, too. And when he did, he knew where to turn to find someone stronger than himself. He turned to the God who created the rocks on which he was standing.

I love the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases David’s opening words in Psalm 62 in The Message version of the Bible:

“God, the one and only–
I’ll wait as long as He says.
Everything I need comes from Him,
so why not?
He’s solid rock under my feet,
breathing room for my soul.”
(Psalm 62:1-2, MSG)

I was reading these words three years ago while sitting on a beach in Cancun–a rare treat for me. I was there for just 48 hours, but they were 48 hours in which I knew I was going to need God’s help. It was my 25th wedding anniversary–and I was taking the trip alone.

My wife had passed away just over a year earlier. I didn’t know how I would handle it, being all alone–being afraid I might capsize under yet another wave of grief.

But sitting there on the beach, all alone on my anniversary, I came upon Psalm 62. I read David’s words, written at a time when he could have easily capsized, too. I took heart when I read how, at such a tenuous time in his life, David leaned on God.

“God, the one and only–
I’ll wait as long as He says.
Everything I need comes from Him,
so why not?”

In that moment, I realized that everything really did come from God–even my dear wife whom I had lost and was missing so much. I realized that if  God was able to provide a wife for me all those years ago–not to mention every other blessing I had ever enjoyed in my life–that I could trust Him to provide anything I might need now or ever in the future.

I wrote in the margin of my Bible:

“Father, thank You for reconnecting me with this truth; that You are the one and only; that everything I need comes from You–even Lana came from You. You are my source and my strength.”

Instead of the wave of grief I had feared, I was overwhelmed by a wave of peace; a wave of love; a wave of rest in the fact that I knew that I knew that I could trust God with this, too.

It’s hard to wait on God, I know. It’s hard to wait when there are bills to pay, people depending on you, or a doctor’s report that hasn’t yet come in. It’s hard to wait when a baby’s on the way, a life mate hasn’t appeared, or a job offer hasn’t been forthcoming. It’s hard to wait in a checkout lane, at a traffic light, or for dinner to get done. It’s just plain hard to wait when there’s so much living to do!

But David knew he could trust God still–“in the waiting.”

“I’ll wait as long as He says.
Everything I need comes from Him,
so why not?”

If you’re facing something today that you’re afraid might overwhelm you, I’d like to encourage you to say some “strong prayers” of your own to God, prayers where you truly lean on His strength, rest confidently in His love, and know that He is with you, for you, and is solid as a rock. Take heart from the words of David, which continue in Psalm 62, that what God was able to do for him, He is able to do for you:

“Find rest, O my soul, in God alone;
My hope comes from Him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation;
He is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honor depend on God;
He is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in Him at all times, O people;
Pour out your hearts to Him,
For God is our refuge.”
(Psalm 62:6-8, NIV).

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for having such strong shoulders upon which we can lean. Thank You for letting us come to You today and rest in Your arms once again. Thank You for being there for us when we come to the end of ourselves. Take over, Lord, and take us beyond where we could have taken ourselves on our own. Help us to trust in You, to wait on You, and to enjoy this time of waiting while we are with You. You are our rock, our fortress, and our salvation. Help us to never be afraid, knowing that You are for us and with us, now and until the end of the age. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

Here’s the link again to today’s psalm if you’d like to listen:
Psalm 62, read by Lana Elder, with J.C.F Bach’s “Anglaise,” played by Kaleo and Karis Elder

And here’s the link to our reading plan for the book of psalms:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Cleansing Prayers- Psalm 51

This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Lesson 11 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 51, read by Lana Elder, with J.S. Bach’s “Prelude In C,” played by Lucas Elder

Sometimes we think our sins are too big for God to forgive.  But Jesus didn’t die for only the sins that we feel are “petty.” He died for all our sins, even those which we feel are the most grievous. A sin that leads to death might seem too hard for God to forgive, but if Jesus didn’t die for those, He wouldn’t have had to die at all.

In Psalm 51, David pours out His heart to God in prayer over what are perhaps the most grievous sins he had ever committed–his adultery with Bathsheba, who was another man’s wife, and the subsequent cover-up and murder of her husband.

The consequences David had to face from his actions were real, as the child born to him and Bathsheba died. But the cleansing that God poured out on him was real, too, as David poured out his confession to God. Listen to David’s heart as he begins his prayer:

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your unfailing love; according to Your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are proved right when You speak and justified when You judge” (Psalm 51:1-4).

David pleads for God’s mercy. He acknowledges the evil of what he’s done. And he acknowledges God’s right to judge him accordingly. Yet he pleads for God’s mercy nonetheless.

One of the reasons I find the Bible to be so trustworthy is that it doesn’t gloss over or try to cover up the sins of some of the most heroic figures contained within it. If I think of some of my own sins that are most grievous to me, and if you think of some of your own sins that are most grievous to you, can you imagine having them recorded in a book for everyone to see? Yet I am so thankful that David’s sins were recorded in the pages of the Bible, giving me hope that the same God who forgave David can also forgive me. If I thought that God could only forgive sins that I thought were petty, or if the Bible only recorded sins that seemed trivial, I might think that I could somehow pay the price for my sins myself, doing a few more good deeds, or giving more generously, or in some other way. But David’s words remind me that this is not what God wants. He wants our hearts, broken and contrite:

“You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; You do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (vv. 16-17).

That is exactly what David offers to God. That is exactly what I offered to God on the night that I put my trust in Him for everything in my life. And that is exactly what every one of us can offer to God, whenever we sin, to whatever extent that we sin, even for those sins which we might feel are the most grievous.

As you pray to God, come to Him and ask for forgiveness for even your biggest of sins. Then let Him forgive you, since the price for those sins has already been paid when Jesus died on the cross in your place. To not accept God’s forgiveness–and the joy that is possible from that forgiveness–would be like leaving an Easter basket filled with candy on the counter at the store, a basket for which your father has already paid and which truly belongs to you.

But sometimes we leave our baskets of forgiveness sitting on the counter. We don’t pick them up and truly enjoy the healing that forgiveness can bring because we don’t feel like we deserve it. We don’t! But our Father didn’t buy it for us because we deserved it. He bought it for us because He loves us. He doesn’t want us to die. He knew we would need it one day, so we could once again feel loved and accepted, cleansed and forgiven– otherwise we might melt in a permanent puddle of shame and regret and guilt, never to rise up again.

None of us has a perfect moral scorecard. But God wants us to know that He will gladly forgive us of any and all of our sins if we will simply acknowledge those sins before Him; pour out our broken and contrite hearts to Him; and trust in Him, that He truly has bought our forgiveness at the price of His Son on the cross.

Don’t leave the basket of forgiveness and cleansing and true joy on the counter. That’s not why He bought it for you. He bought it because He loves you. He adores you. And He doesn’t want you to die. By faith, through prayer, God will give to you what He has already purchased for you: forgiveness, cleansing, and true joy.

When David came before God, he acknowledged God’s ability to forgive. David said:

“Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones You have crushed rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity” (vv. 7-9).

Then David called out to God to do a mighty work in his heart; a work that he knew he couldn’t do on his own; a work that only God, the creator of his heart, could do:

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will turn back to You” (vv. 10-13).

If you need a clean heart today, whether it’s the first time you’ve asked God to do this mighty work in your life or the hundredth time, I’d like to lead you in a prayer of cleansing–a prayer straight from the words King David prayed after committing some of the most grievous sins of his life.

Will you pray with me?

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your unfailing love; according to Your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are proved right when You speak and justified when You judge… You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; You do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise… Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones You have crushed rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will turn back to You” (Psalm 51:1-4, 16-17, 7-13). In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

Here’s the link again to listen to today’s psalm:
Psalm 51, read by Lana Elder, with J.S. Bach’s “Prelude In C,” played by Lucas Elder

And here’s the link to follow along with our reading plan to read through all of the psalms this year.
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Selah Prayers- Psalm 46

This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Lesson 10 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 46, read by Lana Elder, with Christian Petzold’s “Minuet in G,” played by Josiah Elder

If your life is chaotic and you need a little peace, listen to God’s advice from Psalm 46:

“Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10a).

This is perhaps one of the most calming verses in the Bible–and it occurs in the middle of a very tumultuous psalm. So much is going on here that by the time you get near the end, those calming words are a welcome respite.

Here are a few of the verses that lead up to those climactic words:

“…we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging” (vv. 1-3).

“Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; He lifts His voice, the earth melts…”(v. 7).

“Come and see the works of the Lord, the desolations He has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; He breaks the bow and shatters the spear, He burns the shields with fire” (vv. 8-9).

And then comes the verse everyone is waiting for:

“Be still, and know that I am God” (v. 10).

It’s almost like a scene from the musical Hamilton, as a whirlwind of chaos swirls around Alexander Hamilton at a critical point in his life. The rest of the actors circle around him, picking up chairs and desks and papers, twirling the objects around him and holding them high. Chaos abounds.  Then…everything stops.

Hamilton sings, “In the eye of a hurricane, there is quiet for just a moment…” And there is quiet all around as he sings the rest of the song for the next two and a half minutes.

I love the imagery of that scene. Unfortunately for Hamilton, in that quiet moment he looks inward, decides to put his trust in his own strength–and it destroys him.

The writers of Psalm 46, however, look upward, decide to put their trust in God’s strength–and it delivers them.

How can you “be still” with God in a moment like that? How can you experience His presence when life around you is so chaotic? For me, it comes by literally stopping what I’m doing–whether it’s for just a few seconds or just a few hours–but long enough to “Be still, and know that He is God.”

Ever since taking a typing class in high school almost 40 years ago, I’ve always been a fast typist. And I’ve just gotten faster since then as I’ve worked on computers my entire adult life.

But when I spend quiet time with God, I do it “the old fashioned way.” I take out a pen and a journal. I hand write my notes to God. I try to take notes on what I feel He’s impressing on my heart from His Word and from His Spirit.

I try to write slowly–but it doesn’t always happen. Sometimes I rush, and my letters and words become illegible. But the very act of taking out a pen and a journal to record my thoughts are one way for me to slow down–to “Be still, and know that He is God.”

There’s also a mysterious word that appears in the psalms which helps me, too. It’s mysterious because Bible scholars haven’t found a well-defined translation of it in the ancient world.  But from the context in which it is often used, as best as they can tell, the word means, “stop and listen.” It’s the word, “Selah.” It’s a beautiful word, even without any meaning attached. (It’s so beautiful that one of my friends named their daughter “Selah.”)

The word “selah” occurs 74 times in the psalms (and only 3 other times in the whole Bible, in the book of Habakuk), and it occurs 3 times in today’s psalm, Psalm 46. This psalm is clearly a song, for the Hebrew text at the top of it says, “For the director of music….A song.” The word “selah” then appears 3 times, at the end of verses 3, 7 and 11.

For me, whether it means, “Stop and listen,” or as the Amplified Bible translates it, “Pause, and think of that,” whenever I see it in the Bible, it causes me to take a few extra moments to reflect on the words that precede it.

I say all of this to encourage you in your own prayer time with God to “stop and listen,” to “pause, and think of that.” Or as verse 10 says in this psalm, without having to guess at the original meaning of the words, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

I’d like to give you a chance to do this right now. I know you’re busy. I know you’re trying to get through the day and get on to whatever you have to do next. But if you’re able, take a few extra moments sometime today and read through Psalm 46.  Each time you see the word “selah,” stop and listen; pause and think of that; be still, and know that He is God.

Psalm 46
For the director of music, Of the Sons of Korah. According to alamoth (also likely a musical term). A song.

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging. Selah

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
He lifts His voice, the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Come and see the works of the Lord,
the desolations He has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear,
He burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for letting us be still and know that You are God. Help us to pause throughout our day and throughout our week–especially when things are so chaotic we can’t think straight. Help us to know what it means to “stop and listen,”  to “pause and think of that,” to experience those “selah” moments, even with all of the mystery that this word conveys. We love You, Lord, and we thank You for letting us be still and know that You are God again today. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

P.S. I’ve received all I need to travel to Trinidad and speak at the men’s conference at the end of June on the topic of “Attacks on the Souls of Men.” Thanks to all who have helped and prayed for this event.  I’m hoping to record the messages and post them online after the event.

Here’s the link again to today’s psalm if you want to listen to it with music (the introductory text and the word “selah” is not spoken aloud in this reading):
Psalm 46, read by Lana Elder, with Christian Petzold’s “Minuet in G,” played by Josiah Elder

And here’s the link to the reading plan we’re using to go through the whole book of Psalms this year. There’s still plenty of time to read them all!
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Deep Prayers- Psalm 42

This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Lesson 9 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 42, read by Lana Elder, with music by George Frederic Handel, played by Bo Elder

Psalm 42 begins with the words of one of my favorite worship songs when I first became a Christian:

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God” (Psalm 42:1).

The reason this was one of my favorite worship songs was because it spoke to the deep places of my heart. As a new Christian, I just wanted more and more of God. Thirty years later, I still do.

When you read Psalm 42, you can feel David’s deep hunger, his deep thirst for God.

“My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?'” (vv. 2-3).

And as you continue reading, you find out that his deep thirst is borne out of the deep pain in his soul:

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember You from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon–from Mount Mizar” (vv. 4-6).

The beauty of these verses is that it not only describes the problem David is facing, but also the solution he found to his problem: putting his hope in God; praising Him still; and remembering Him from the place where he had taken refuge.

It’s the same solution to the problems we’re facing. I heard from a friend yesterday morning whose week was filled with more than a few problems: a flooded basement, electrical issues, a tax problem, getting sick–all of which led to feelings of stress and loneliness. But like David, my friend found the solution in the simple act of turning to God, of actively hoping in Him and trusting in Him. He took away the feelings of despair. While the circumstances hadn’t entirely changed, my friend’s heart and mind changed–by trusting in Him.

Last year, I was able to visit the area in Israel where David most likely wrote this psalm, for he says in verse 5: “I will remember You from  the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon.” At one point, we stopped along the trail where we were walking, as we had come to a pool of water where it was easy to picture deer coming and quenching their thirst.

We sang, “As the deer panteth for the waters, so my soul longeth after Thee…” And we called out to God from the depths of our hearts to the depths of His. It was a sweet time of intimacy with our God who has the solutions to all of our problems.

At another point, we saw the raging headwaters of the Jordan River, one of the three tributaries which give birth to that significant river that travels the length of the country. As the water crashed in upon itself, it was easy to see how the waves turned into a metaphor for David’s song, describing both the tumult that was going on in his own heart, as well as the peace he found through prayer:

“Deep calls to deep in the roar of Your waterfalls; all Your waves and breakers have swept over me. By day the Lord directs His love, at night His song is with me–a prayer to the God of my life” (Psalm 42:7-8).

I don’t know what problems you might be facing this week. I don’t know what troubles my be besetting your soul. I don’t know what waves and breakers are sweeping over you. But I do know what can help you through them. I do know Who can satisfy that deep thirst in your soul. I do know what can change your heart and your attitude so you can keep pressing forward, as it changed the heart and attitude of David 3,000 years ago, and of my friend yesterday morning. David summarized the problem–and the solution–in the final words of his psalm:

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 42:11).

David spoke to his soul. He asked why it was so downcast and so disturbed. Then he spoke to it again, offering the solution that God is offering you today: Put your hope in God. Sing your praise to Him, your Savior and your God. Bring your deep prayers to the One who knows best how to answer them.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for letting us pour out our hearts to you, from the depths of our hearts to the depths of Yours. Thank You for providing the solutions to our problems, the answers to our prayers. Thank You for giving us Your peace even when the breakers and waves are sweeping over us. We pray that You would bring us that peace again today, right now, throughout the day, and in the days that follow. Help us to keeping putting our hope and trust and faith in You, for You are worthy of it all. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

P.S. I’ve received $275 from several of you this week to go towards my $700 travel expense to speak at a men’s conference in Trinidad at the end of June. Thank you!  I’ll be speaking on the theme of “Attacks on the Souls of Men,” and am hoping to record the sessions and post them online for others to see after the conference. If you’d like to help offset the cost of this trip, or cover the remainder in full ($425), that would greatly help with this unplanned expense. Just use this link. Thanks!
Click here to make a donation

Here’s the link again to listen to today’s Psalm:
Psalm 42, read by Lana Elder, with George Frederic Handel’s “Rigaudon,” played by Bo Elder

And if you’d like to read through the entire book of Psalms this year with us, here’s the reading plan we’re using. It’s not too late to catch up!
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Delighted Prayers- Psalm 37

This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Lesson 8 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 37, read by Lana Elder, with music by Ludwig van Beethoven, played by Marilyn Elder Byrnes

Psalm 37 contains some of my favorite verses in the whole Bible, such as this one in verse 4:

“Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

What I love about this verse, and about this psalm is that it talks about the benefits of delighting yourself in the Lord, of enjoying His presence, of enjoying your time with Him. A friend of mine says that when he spends time with the Lord, he often comes away with a smile on his face, even if he didn’t enter into his time with the Lord with one. It’s like spending time with a dear friend.

Changing a frown into a smile is just one of the benefits, though. God goes further and promises that if you’ll delight yourself in Him, He will give you the desires of your heart.

I was sharing with someone yesterday about the first time I fasted and prayed for a period of several days. On the second day of my fast, I was praying for a woman I had dated in college, but we were no longer dating. She was trying to make a decision about a job, and I told her I would pray for her during my time of fasting and prayer that week.

On the second day of my fast, as I was praying for her, I suddenly had an image of her, not in the job that she was praying about, but married and living a different life than the one she was currently living. It struck me that God didn’t want her to take that job, but He did have a man in mind for her to marry. I changed my prayers and said, “Yes, Lord, give her a husband.”

Before I had even finished saying that prayer, these words came into my mind as clear as any words I had ever heard from Him before: “Why don’t you marry her?”

I was stunned! That’s not what I was praying about at all! I was just praying for direction for her life–not mine!

I closed my journal and decided I must have been getting delirious from having not eaten. It wasn’t that I didn’t love her and didn’t love dating her. I did. But at the time, I just didn’t feel it was right for us to keep dating. It turned out that during our time apart, we both fell in love with Christ and gave our lives to Him, in separate cities, in separate ways. We were now both fully committed to Him first and foremost, and we were beginning to live new lives for the first time.

Maybe God really was speaking to me. Maybe He really did want me to consider that question: “Why don’t you marry her?” We lived over 1,000 miles apart and over four hours away by plane. It didn’t seem practical. But the question wouldn’t leave me for two weeks. I began to pray more intensely, setting aside the next three months to pray about the question, not telling her anything about it.

By the end of those three months, I could hardly think of anything else but marrying this woman! God had put such a love for her in my heart like I had never felt before.

At the end of the three months, I called her to see how she was doing. She said, “I feel like God wants me to quit my job, so I’m going to quit in the next few months. But I have no idea what I’m going to do next.”

I could hardly keep my heart from leaping out of my chest. “I have an idea,” I said. I told her what I felt God had spoken to me when I was praying for her three months earlier, and how much I would love to get back together with her again–for life. Now she was the one who went into shock!

She liked her new life in her new city. She liked the new friends she was making. She liked the church in which she had gotten involved.  And she liked me, but she wasn’t sure she was ready for getting married just yet. Over the course of the next few months, it began to look more and more doubtful that we would ever get together again. But then I read a verse in the Bible, a verse that gave me hope. It was from another Psalm, but with the same theme as the one I quoted above:

“May He give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed. We will shout for joy when you are victorious and will lift up our banners in the name of our God. May the Lord grant all your requests” (Psalm 20:4-5).

As I read those words, they became “living and active” within me, as the Bible says about itself in Hebrews 4:12. Those words filled me with faith that it was okay to ask God for something I wanted, and that if He did ever see fit to answer my request, I would shout for joy! I would lift up my banner in the name of my God! Although I was afraid it might sound a little childish, I prayed, “God, I know I don’t deserve it, and I know you won’t force someone to do anything against their own free will. But if there was only one gift I could ask from you in my life time, it would be to marry Lana.”

The prospect of marrying her still looked very bleak before I prayed, and my heart was still very heavy, but in that moment, it lifted. I knew I could trust God with the outcome, whatever that may be. And I knew I would indeed rejoice fully if it ever did come to pass.

As both of us prayed and sought the Lord more and more over the next few months while we were apart, God seemed to just keep bringing our hearts together, closer and closer. A year later we were married, on April 29th, 1989–28 years ago yesterday. (Here’s our engagement picture, in a field of Texas bluebonnets.)

As I read through Psalm 37 again this week, I was reminded of how true God’s Word really is.

“Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

I had set aside time to fast and pray for the first time in my life, “delighting myself in the Lord,” and one of the results of that prayer was that God spoke to me: He put a desire in my heart that I wasn’t even considering. He literally “gave me the desire of my heart.” He put that desire within me, and then He fulfilled that desire on our wedding day.

I’m not saying that we will always get everything we want. I’m not saying that our lives won’t be filled with hard things and hard times. I lost my precious wife to cancer four and a half years ago. But I am so thankful that I delighted myself in the Lord that day when I was praying and fasting. I am so thankful that I asked Him to give me the desire of my heart. I am so thankful that God gave me the 23 years of marriage that we did have.

And that gives me renewed confidence to keep asking Him to give me the desires of my heart again today–whatever He desires and wants to put on my heart.

This is just one of the benefits of delighting yourself in the Lord, of spending time with Him. Others are listed all throughout this psalm:

– “He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun” (v. 6).
– “For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land” (v. 9).
– “Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked; for the power of the wicked will be broken, but the Lord upholds the righteous” (vv. 16-17).
– “In times of disaster they will not wither; in days of famine they will enjoy plenty” (v. 19).
– “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be blessed” (vv. 25-26).
– “Consider the blameless, observe the upright; there is a future for the man of peace” (v. 37).
– “The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord; He is their stronghold in time of trouble. The Lord helps them and delivers them; He delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in Him” (vv. 39-40).

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for giving me the desire of my heart, 28 years ago. Thank You for encouraging me again today to keep delighting myself in You, and to keep asking You to give me new desires of my heart, new answers to prayer for the days ahead. Help me to keep delighting in You in prayer, keep delighting in You throughout my days, keep delighting in you even when I’m having to wait patiently for Your answers. I ask all of this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

P.S. I’ve been asked to speak at a men’s conference in Trinidad at the end of June. The topic for the weekend will be “Attacks on the Souls of Men.” I’m hoping to record the sessions and post them online for others to see after the conference. Would you consider making a donation to help me offset the cost for this unplanned expense? The group that has invited me can cover my costs while I’m there, but I’ll need to cover the cost of my travel to get there (about $700). If you would like to help with part (or all!) of this special need, please use this link. Thanks!
Click here to make a donation

Also, here’s a link one more time to listen to today’s psalm:
Psalm 37, read by Lana Elder, with Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Sonatina in G,” played by Marilyn Elder Byrnes

And here’s our reading plan for the book of Psalms this year, if you want to read through all of the psalms with us as we go through this series:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Sweet Prayers- Psalm 34

This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Lesson 7 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 34, read by Lana Elder, with music by Christoph Graupner, played by Eric Elder

I love chocolate chip cookies. I especially love them when they’re fresh out of the oven, warm and chewy, with the chocolate melting into strands when you pull them apart.

But I know I wouldn’t like them as much if a few of the ingredients were missing. If there were no butter, they’d just be a clumpy mass of dough. If there were no baking soda, they’d flatten out on the tray. If there were no salt or vanilla or sugar, they’d be almost tasteless. It takes all of the ingredients, mixed together, to make that delicious, mouth-watering moment when they come out of the oven.

Life does have some very “tasty” moments, but to bring them about, it requires mixing all the right ingredients together. And to be honest, some of those ingredients don’t taste so great on their own. I wouldn’t want to eat a stick of butter. I wouldn’t want to eat a cup of  of flour. I wouldn’t want to eat a spoonful of salt or vanilla, or even a cup of sugar, as sweet as it is, without the other ingredients mixed in.

But sometimes that’s what life gives us; the ingredients come to us one by one, then we get frustrated and wonder what in the world is going on. “This isn’t what I asked for! This isn’t what I prayed about! This isn’t the way things were supposed to go!” The beautiful thing about God is this: He mixes all of it together for good. Notice the word “together” in Romans 8:28:

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28, NKJV).

God takes all things and works them together for good. He’s a Master Chef, and that means  He can make something good out of anything that life throws our way, even those things that we might think are initially bitter or totally useless on their own.

In Psalm 34, David experiences one of those mouth-watering moments, when everything is mixed together just right. His cookies have just come out of the oven, and he can’t help himself from bursting into song, at one point singing:

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him” (Psalm 34:8).

But what makes this moment so sweet, so mouth-wateringly delicious, are ALL the ingredients that went into it. David sings God’s praises because he realizes that only God could turn everything he had gone through into something good.

The heading of Psalm 34 tells us what had just happened:

“Psalm 34. Of David. When he pretended to be insane before Abimelek, who drove him away, and he left.”

David had been on the run from King Saul, who was trying to kill him. Then David found himself in the presence of another king–an enemy–who might have also tried to kill him.

Thinking quickly, David pretended to be insane:

“So he pretended to be insane in their presence; and while he was in their hands he acted like a madman, making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard.”

King Achish [his proper name, also called Abimelek as in Psalm 34, which is his title] said to his servants:

“Look at the man! He is insane! Why bring him to me? Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me? Must this man come into my house?” (1 Samuel 21:13-15, NIV).

And it worked! Abimelek sent him away. Then David burst into song. Victory never tasted so sweet–which is why he probably sang, “Taste and see that the Lord is good…”

Individually, some of the ingredients that went into David’s song were pretty bitter. Facing death from one enemy only to find himself facing death from another. But God worked it all together for good, giving him a way of escape (and eventually making David king over all the kings in that land). David got a taste of the sweetness of God that day–and he savored every bite.

There are times in our lives when things come together just right, even for a moment, and we could burst into song as well. My encouragement to you today is this: go ahead and burst into song! Pray a prayer of thanksgiving to God for working all things together for good.

Savor every bite. Sing a song of praise. Pour out your heart to Him in thanksgiving. You may not be totally out of the fire yet, as David still had obstacles in his way until he finally became king himself. But take time out along the way to give God praise for what He’s brought you through so far–for what He’s already worked out for good in your life.

I had one of those mouth-watering moments myself yesterday, where I had some time to sit and think before I picked up my kids from an activity. I decided to go to a nearby park, sit on the grass, and write in my journal.

As I sat on the grass, I read through this Psalm again. I began to thank God for all the things that He had worked out recently in my life: I had been driving a car that kept breaking down, but now I had another car that I had found at a reasonable price; I had been working on a new book that has been challenging for various reasons, but now I had already finished three-fourths of it so far; I had been going through a long winter here in Illinois, but now I was enjoying the spring breeze and the scent of blossoms in the trees; and I had been hungry for a little something right before I came to the park, and I had found a vending machine in the park which had a small packet of M&M candies in it–Dark Chocolate Mint M&M’s at that, a rare treat–and I was savoring them slowly, one or two at a time while I prayed.

That didn’t mean that everything in my life was going the way I wanted it to. It wasn’t. And it didn’t mean that I didn’t still have obstacles ahead that I would have to overcome. But in those moments, I was able to taste and see that the Lord was good. Yesterday, His goodness happened to taste like Dark Chocolate Mint M&M’s.

What are you going through today that God might be mixing together for your good? Maybe you’re still having to eat all of the ingredients one at a time, and they don’t taste so good. But maybe there are other parts of your life that have already been mixed together for good, and which could taste sweet if you took the time to stop and think about them for a few minutes. It wasn’t so sweet when I blew a tire on the freeway a few months ago on a cold winter morning, but somehow that experience made yesterday’s spring breeze feel even better as I rolled the windows down on my replacement car. What had been bitter a few months ago turned into something extra sweet on what might have been an otherwise “ordinary” day yesterday.

If you need help thinking through the things God may have done for you lately, take a closer look at David’s psalm of thanksgiving, Psalm 34. Take a look at some of the things in the second half of the sentences below that God saved David from that made the victories so sweet when they did come. Maybe you’ll find a few things about which you can burst out into song today, too.

I sought the Lord , and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. (v. 4)
Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. (v. 5)
This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. (v. 6)
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. (v. 7)
The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry… (v. 15)
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (v. 18)
A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all… (v. 19)

Will you pray with me?

Thank You, God, for mixing ALL things together for good. Thank You for the victories You’ve given us, and for the ingredients we need to make those victories so sweet. I pray that You would help us to have Your perspective on our lives, not only the sweet times, but the bitter, so that we can enjoy them even more when they all come together.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

P.S. Here’s a link again to today’s psalm:
Psalm 34, read by Lana Elder, with Christoph Graupner’s “Intrada,” played by Eric Elder

And here’s our reading plan for the book of Psalms this year, if you want to read through all of the psalms with us as we go through this series:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- This Week’s Sermon

This Day's Thought from The Ranch


by Dale Martin

There is a picture, drawn by Clive Chislett which is mounted on one of the original Norman pillars of our Church here in New Romney. It is on the pillar closest to the war memorial. In the picture, Faust is engaged in a competitive game of chess against the Devil. And at first glance, it looks like Faust is losing. His opponent stands there grinning smugly. Satan thinks he has won. He is gloating. You can almost hear the devil thinking: “Checkmate! Game’s over! I win!” However, a person with a keen eye – and who knows the game of chess well- will see that the match is over – but not in the way the Devil envisaged. Because Faust has one move and one move only – that will give him the victory!

The picture has a very real meaning to us as Christians because it is a parable of the good news of Easter.

Think of it. When we look at the Cross on Good Friday, it looks (at first glance) like evil has won.

It looks like the defeat of righteousness.
It looks like goodness is dead and buried forever.
It looks like Jesus has been silenced and conquered.
But then, Easter Sunday morning reveals God’s greatest “checkmate” move of all time.

Christ comes out of the grave and into our lives with power and victory.
Easter is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

The Russian Orthodox Church has this wonderful acclamation made three times on Easter Sunday The Priest says: “He is risen” And the congregation reply: “He is risen, indeed”

But how do we know it true?

Professor Charlie Moule, the famous NT theologian once said:
“the birth and rapid rise of the Christian Church … remains an unsolved enigma for any historian who refuses to take seriously the only explanation offered by the church itself – the resurrection.” (C.F.D. Moule, The Phenomenon of the New Testament).

Most Sundays we profess our faith in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead when we say the words of the Creed: ” I believe ……in Jesus Christ, his only Son our Lord who was Conceived by the Holy Spirit, Born of the Virgin Mary, Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, dead and buried He descended into Hell, The third day he rose again from the dead” (The Apostles Prayer – BCP)

The Resurrection is a major pillar of our faith

Paul put it like this: “..if Christ has not been raised from the dead, your faith is futile” (I Cor. 15: 17)

Paul, a first Century witness, records the importance of the Easter story.

He wrote this in 1 Corinthians “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance:
i) that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
ii) that he was buried,
iii) that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and
iv) that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve

After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. (1 Cor. 15:3-8).

Paul records 513 (five hundred and thirteen) men as having seen the risen Lord.  Have you ever therefore wondered why?

John mentions only four post Resurrection appearances of the Risen Jesus.

In this Chapter, John 20 we read of three of these.

He appeared
i) to Mary Magdalene
ii) to all the disciples except Thomas and finally
iii) to Thomas

And in the following Chapter, John 21 we read of Jesus appearing to seven disciples including Peter, James and John, Thomas, Nathaniel and two unnamed disciples and his having breakfast with them.

Surely if the resurrection is such a big deal, why didn’t John add many more of the stories of these encounters?

At the very least – why didn’t he simply catalogue when, where and who had seen the risen Christ.

Surely that would make interesting reading.
1. Have you ever wondered what the reaction of James -Jesus’ brother – was – when the risen Jesus appeared to him.
And what did he say?
2. I wonder if Jesus appeared to Nicodemus – the Jewish rabbi who had sought him out that night as recorded in Jn 3.
It was the same Nicodemus who had helped Joseph of Arimathea bury Jesus

The reason John doesn’t record more post Resurrection encounters is because it didn’t fit in with the aim of his book. What do I mean?
John summed up the aim of his Gospel as follows: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.

But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing you may have life in his name.” In other words, John is not writing a history book as we know history books but a book to awaken faith.

And so these three post resurrection stories of John 20 have been recorded to awake faith in us.

For John, I believe, is saying: “You are either going to believe or you are not going to believe – and I have given you enough evidence to believe.

Further stories, however interesting, aren’t going to bring you to convince you, if these stories – that I record – don’t.”

So what is so special about these three stories?

I would like to suggest that each story shows a barrier to faith – which can be overcome by the presence of Jesus.  And they are all barriers that we as Christians will experience at some time in our lives.

1. The first of these barriers to faith was GRIEF and this was overcome by hearing the voice of Jesus Mary Magdalene, in last week’s Gospel reading, couldn’t see Jesus for her grief. It was only when she heard him call her name that she realises that He was risen. Jesus spoke to her – and by speaking released her from her grief. There are going to be times when we suffer from grief. We may grieve for the loss of loved ones.
And it is at times like this that we need to listen for Jesus’ voice calling us.

2. The second barrier to faith was FEAR – and this was overcome by experiencing the presence of Jesus The disciples in today’s Gospel reading were gathered behind closed doors in fear. Jesus had been crucified – and were they next on the list? And so Jesus comes to them and speaks words of peace. He showed them his crucified hands and St. John records: “The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord” (Jn 20:20) Fear can cripple us at times. It can make us irrational. And at those times, we need to seek Jesus’ presence in our lives- and it is His Presence that will bring us peace. When I get stressed out with worry and fear – I find wonderful comfort in the words of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn form me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls For my yoke is easy and my burden light.” (Mt 11:28-30)

3. The third barrier to faith was DOUBT and this was overcome by the touch of Jesus. Thomas seems rather unfairly to have had a bad press for the last 2000 years. His name has even entered into the English language. (You might call someone who doesn’t believe something a “Doubting Thomas”) But you have to remember that Thomas wasn’t with the other disciples when they saw Jesus. He didn’t have the benefit of what they had seen. He couldn’t believe that Jesus was risen – it was something outside his experience. Our faith is not an unreasonable faith. St Peter tells us for example “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have (1 Pet 3:15) God has given us minds and wants us to use them. Thomas in rather flowery language says: “I’m not going to believe until I can stuff my hand actually into his side.” That’s the force of what he is saying.
Our faith has to be based on a firm foundation – and Jesus realized that Thomas needed that confirmation. Once Thomas got the evidence he needed he simply said: “My Lord and my God” What Thomas asked for was very reasonable and so Jesus gave him what he needed for his faith. There are times when we need a special touch from God. It is not a sin to be skeptical. What is sin is to go on disbelieving when you are given the evidence.


Jesus deals with each person’s needs differently. He treats us as individuals.

Mary simply needed to hear Jesus’ voice and her grief was healed.
The disciples needed to receive the peace of Jesus into their lives to release them from their fear.

Thomas needed to see the Risen Christ. He wanted to put his hand in Jesus’ side before he would believe (Actually there is no evidence that he actually did so).

Each of us has different needs – we all ask different questions – but there is only one solution – a touch from the risen Lord.

May this Easter Sunday morning be a time when we look for and receive a touch from the risen Jesus – a touch that will transform us into his true loving disciples.  It did in AD 29 that first Easter Sunday morning and it can still do – if we are willing to come to him

Let us pray:
Heavenly Father , we all come this morning to Church with different needs, with our different agendas. We ask that we can deposit this all at the foot of the Cross and receive a touch from you today so that we can take up your Agenda for the world around us Give us a love for one another through which our town will be attracted to you. We ask this in Jesus Christ’s name Amen

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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- This Week’s Sermon

Today and next Sunday we will be blessed by sermons from two “visiting” pastors.  The following Sunday thereafter, Eric will return with his special series from Psalms.

This Day's Thought from The Ranch

The Pathway of Palm Sunday

by Dennis Lawrence

Read Matthew 21.1-11

If we ask people to describe life, most will depict it in the same way- as a path or a road. The reason is simple: life is like a journey. It’s a voyage from one experience to the next – from one tribulation to triumph and back again. It’s a journey from birth to death and beyond.

Once again, we have gathered together and have been granted the privilege to travel down the road of our Savior’s life. We traverse a specific street today because we’re in a special weekend in the annual celebration cycle of the Christian church. We can call today’s street THE PATHWAY OF PALM SUNDAY. As we walk with our Savior we can see that this is 1) A Familiar Road; it’s one we’ve walked before. Yet, our traveling companion is Jesus, which means this is always 2) A Unique Journey.

A Familiar Road

It was a familiar road the disciples found themselves on that first Palm Sunday. It was the road to Jerusalem and they had walked it many times before. They knew, as they reached the town of Bethany, they would soon turn round the Mount of Olives, and see the city of Jerusalem suddenly sprawl out before them. They had traveled this way with Jesus before. They would again come to the city, which, at this time, would be swelling with millions ready to celebrate the Passover.

Jesus knew the road as well. He’d traveled it before, from very young to now. Mary and Joseph brought him to Jerusalem for the feast every year. It was a magnificent road, a wonderful road to the pilgrims who traveled it. It was especially breathtaking, when, after not seeing the city for the whole journey, you came around that mountain, and there it was! You would see the temple glistening in the afternoon sunlight, and you’d see the magnificent, towering gates; you’d remember the great history of it all: how King David first took that parcel of land as God’s city, and how Solomon first built a glorious temple there. Then you’d recall years of sorrow, when it lay in ruin during seventy years of captivity, until Nehemiah rebuilt its walls.

The road itself was known and loved. But the journey of that Palm Sunday was completely different. The road would not change, but the things along the way, and the end result, would be different than any other trip ever made to Jerusalem.

Today, a donkey’s colt would be found tied up outside, and used as a mount for Jesus to enter Jerusalem. Today, throngs of people would go ahead and behind Jesus saying, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

The road was familiar. The road did not change; but the journey was unique. The disciples knew the road; Jesus knew the journey. He knew what lay along the road, telling them, “You will find a colt, untie it.” He knew what answer they needed to give: “the lord has need of it, and will bring it back shortly.”

Have you ever ridden a donkey? Most of us haven’t. Let’s think about what he rode that day. It was a young donkey colt, which had never been ridden before. This was a beast of burden, not a riding beast. This animal offered a good ride for baggage, not for people. The Gospel writer, Mark, records one important fact.

Mark 11.2- this animal had never been ridden. It wasn’t ever used. This is in line with Old Testament Law. Anything offered to God for a sacred purpose was to be new, never used for labor. The Lord only uses the new, the fresh, and the untarnished. He uses things that have never really been used for anything else. He accepts and uses the little, the small, even the insignificant, but He doesn’t like leftovers or second hand offerings. Note well that if we really want to put something to the Lord’s use, let’s remember little things, small things, fine things — but used, left over things? — Don’t expect he’ll do much with it.

The disciples went and found things exactly as Jesus said. They answered the owner just how he said to answer, and came back with the donkey. Then they put their cloaks on it, and Jesus rode it. Now this sounds like a recipe for disaster, especially if you’ve ever tried riding an unbroken horse. Most of us haven’t, I’m sure, but we’ve seen movies often enough to know what happens, at first. Donkeys are more stubborn than horses. Here Jesus had an unbroken colt, with a crowd of onlookers shouting “hosanna!” And now, Jesus was going to ride this thing through that crowd? This appeared to be a recipe for disaster, indeed! But there’s not even a hint of trouble as Jesus rides this humble animal into Jerusalem. He enters the city as the Lord and King and sacrifice. This small animal must have known: “this is my creator, the Savior of the World, the Son of God, upon my back…I’ll let him have an easy ride!”

As He rode, Jesus knew where the journey would end: today, crowds shouting Hosanna! By the end of the week, crowds would be yelling, “crucify.” Today, we see crowds laying palm branches before him. By Friday, women follow behind him with tears, his blood and sweat dripping as he toils under the cross. Jesus knew the journey. Still, he went forward. The crowds also went before and they followed behind him. They called him the One who comes in the Name of the Lord. They knew Jesus brought God’s Kingdom, the eternal Kingdom promised to King David. They believed he came as the promised Messiah, or deliverer. They called out “Hosanna,” which means, “Lord, save us!” And they knew that he would.

So what does this have to do with us today? First and foremost, we have another opportunity to see our Savior and King in action. He did all this for us. He walked this road and endured the journey for our salvation. We see Scripture fulfilled- the King comes gently, and riding on a donkey, just as Zechariah foretold (Zech.9.9). We see Jesus’ gentle nature as a king. We see his humility: He’s the Lord! The earth and everything in it is his by divine right, and yet he rides in humility on a tiny, lowly beast of burden.

2) A Unique Journey

We learn more as we travel this pathway this morning. As we walk the pathway of Palm Sunday we realize that all of us walk down a road in this life. Each path may be a bit different, and although we know the roads of our lives, Jesus knows the journey- we don’t.

Let me repeat that: We may know the roads, but Jesus knows the journey. And it’s really HIS journey; it’s his journey into our hearts, and into the hearts and lives of others. It’s a matter of his Kingdom coming, not ours.

There are too many people in this world who think that their life is all about themselves. “It’s my life,” the teenager screams at her parents, “I don’t care what you say. I’m going to do what I want!” A patient diagnosed with cancer cries, “Why is this happening to ME?” We often forget that our lives are not just about ourselves. Our lives have something to do with our friends, our family, our wives, our husbands, our children, our parents, our neighbors, our coworkers, our acquaintances, and yes, even our enemies. No one’s life is all about me, or you, or him, or her.

Self-centered and selfish- it’s part of the sinful human nature. And it can easily turn us in on ourselves, and turn us from each other and from the truth of the matter. The truth is that my life is not about me, but it’s about Jesus Christ. Your life is not about you. It’s about the one who died for you. It’s about what he will do in your life, for your life, and through life. Now, we’re often the main characters in the life God has given us, but let’s face it, what is your life or my life? As sinners who were condemned to hell, we had thrown true life away. But Christ redeemed us- each one of us. He bought us back. As the Bible says, “You are not your own, you were bought at a price,” (1 Cor.6.19-20). The life you live right now, Jesus paid for it. He paid for its sins; he earned its blessings. That’s what it means to be a disciple, a follower, a Christian, a lamb, a sheep of the Good shepherd. That’s a perspective that’s important to maintain.

Often, we’ll talk about life as a journey or a road. There are roads we may well know. We walk them day after day, year after year. There’s the road of a student: you know where you’ll go on Monday. You’ll get on the school bus, or get a ride from mom or dad, or carpool, to school. You’ll be there for several hours, go to this class, that class, recess, maybe softball, football, or track practice, and then its back home at night. There’s the road of someone’s daily life: you get up, get ready for work, drive the highway, punch in for eight hours, and head back home. Most of those roads we’ve traveled again and again, and will continue to travel. Jesus has gone with you every step of the way, though. Tomorrow and the next day it’ll probably be the same road, but who knows about the journey? What strange thing will appear along that road? When will a detour take place? We know the roads; Jesus knows the journey.

He gives us the right answers to all our questions and complaints in his Word. Oh, that we’d trust those answers more, and pay more attention to them! And as odd and confusing, as his words may seem to us, let’s not say: “I don’t understand you Jesus, so I won’t accept what you say. I can’t repeat it. You’re too hard to follow!”

When we put God’s Word aside, to come up with our own answers to challenges, and when we look for things that sound better to us than the Scriptures, then we end up losing hold of the little donkey he sent us to fetch. Then his whole intended ride into another heart, another life, is put off for another time. Let’s not be ashamed of the Scriptures, and the simple answers of faith. Jesus taught them to us. He knows the journey, and knew it ahead of time, before we ever walked the road.

Our lives, the roads we walk, lead us to either follow behind Christ, singing his praises, or to go before him, laying palm branches and cloaks. Missionaries go ahead, paving the way as Jesus rides into hearts by His gospel. Then pastors, teachers, and congregations follow behind, praising God for his kingdom that has come. As a congregation, we have our part, too, in cutting down palm branches, and laying down our cloaks. That’s what our offerings are about. God certainly doesn’t need our money, our time, or talents, but those are things that we give to honor Christ, to provide him a smooth path into other lands, other towns, and into the hearts and lives of other people.

Jesus may have taken you down a familiar road, but does something different. Who knows what will happen tomorrow? You think it’s just another journey to work, but he’s got in mind a humble ride into the heart of one of your coworkers, with you to going ahead, or following behind. You think it’s just another family get together or reunion. Jesus has a humble ride in mind for you; a humble ride through a simple conversation about church, faith, and forgiveness. Maybe it’s a conversation that’s happened before, but who knows? The road is the same: but today, the journey may be different. Jesus knows it, and will well provide the answers. Christ knows where and when to send us to fetch the humble never-before used gentle answer, which he will ride into another heart.

At the heart of Palm Sunday is a path. It’s the path our humble Savior rode on in majesty, and lowly pomp, as he went on to suffer and die for our sins. It’s about the path Christ humbly rides into our hearts today through His Word. Let’s share that Word daily, and remember that our roads, our journeys, really aren’t just about us. They are about Christ Jesus, and his salvation. Our lives are about his Kingdom- his rule in our hearts and in the hearts of others through faith. You may not be the main character of your life, but you and I and all believers are the ones who benefit from Christ’s work and from his journeys. So, ride On, Lord! Be with us always on your journey to save!

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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Rejoicing Prayers- Psalm 30

This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Lesson 6 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 30, read by Lana Elder, with music by Franz Joseph Haydn played by Marilyn Elder Byrnes

Today’s psalm reminds me that there are seasons for everything. Here in Illinois, summers are hot, over 100 degrees Fahrenheit many days. Winters are cold, often below 32 F for many days, with snowstorms that block us in our homes for hours.  Spring and fall are beautiful, with budding flowers and blossoming trees in the spring, and changing leaves and crisp, cool nights in the fall.

As George Carlin says (in what is probably the most accurate weather forecast of all time):

 “The weather will continue to change on and off for a long, long time.”

The seasons in our life change, too. And as much as I sometimes wish things would never change, there are definitely times when I wish they would: like living through the pain of losing my wife to cancer, for instance. Thankfully, God promises that the hard times we go through won’t last forever, that the pain we may be facing now can one day be behind us.

As King David said in Psalm 30:

Sing to the Lord , you saints of His; praise His holy name. For His anger lasts only a moment, but His favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning”  (Psalm 30:5).

Sometimes it’s hard to believe, but it’s true: “Rejoicing comes in the morning.”

When I first went through the book of psalms five years ago, looking for ways to pray more effectively, my wife was going through her cancer treatments. Things looked bleak, and they turned out even bleaker, as she passed away just nine months after her initial diagnosis. I couldn’t see anything in the future other than blank, gray days of nothingness. There was nothing that I could imagine ahead for me if she were to die.

As I read this psalm back then, I wrote some notes to myself:

“God says that weeping lasts for but a moment, and in light of eternity He’s right, even if it seems longer than a moment here.  Rejoicing comes in the morning. Wailing turns into dancing.”

I couldn’t see far enough ahead at the time to know what was going to happen or to know if that would ever be true for me. But it’s been five years now since I first took those notes, and I can look back now and see how true those words were. God was right. He really did bring back my joy. He eventually turned my wailing into dancing.

But in the midst of that painful season, I didn’t even want to think about rejoicing some day. I didn’t want to think about dancing some day in the future, or any time in the future. I just wanted things to go back to the way they were before tragedy hit, before our lives were turned upside down.

At that time, I was asked if I would be willing to film an interview to give people hope who were facing terminal illness. I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to talk about it. I frankly didn’t know what I could say. Saying anything was like admitting that the prognosis in our case was, in fact, terminal. But I felt God wanted me to do it, so I did, and the film team called the short interview Eric’s Hope. A few months later, and two weeks before my wife died, a couple more people from the team came to our house to film another interview, this time with our whole family. They called it Lana’s Hope. (You can watch both interviews online by clicking their links).

One of the things I remember distinctly at that time was a conversation with the woman who asked me to do the interviews. She was writing a screenplay for a feature film they were going to be making in Hollywood based on a fictional story of a woman facing terminal cancer. She asked me if I wanted to know what happens at the end of the movie. I said, “No, I really don’t.”

She said, “It’s good. You might want to hear it.”

I said, again, “No, I really don’t.”

I didn’t want to hear that someday everything would get better for the husband in the movie, or that he got married again or something, and that somehow, some way, everything turned out to be okay. I didn’t know how the movie was going to end, but I didn’t want to know, because whatever it was, it couldn’t possibly be better than it was for me and our family before my wife got sick. I couldn’t imagine having to live in this world without her, and I didn’t want to have to think about it.

But you know what? That Hollywood movie came out last fall in theaters, and online just a few weeks ago, so I watched it Friday night. There were still moments that were hard, but you know what? I realized I no longer had that stabbing pain I once had. And the ending was touching, sweet, and hopeful, even if things would never be the same as they were before. (The movie is called New Life, and you can stream it from iTunes or Amazon by clicking on their links, or you can get the disc from a variety of stores.)

My life isn’t the same as it was before our lives took that turn. And it never will be. But I have seen God turn my weeping into rejoicing, my wailing into dancing. Things do change, and sometimes, very thankfully so. As Mark Twain is credited as saying:

“If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.”

I sometimes wish things would never change. But that’s as unlikely as wishing the weather would never change.

When praying, keep in mind there are seasons in life, too. Too hot? Just wait. Too cold? Hang on a bit. Weeping?  Rejoicing comes in the morning.  Wailing? God can turn it into dancing.

No, things may not go back to the way they were before. But the truth is that as much as I sometimes wish things would never change, there are definitely times when I am thankful that they do.

Sing to the Lord, you saints of His; praise His holy name. For His anger lasts only a moment, but His favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning”  (Psalm 30:5).

Will you pray with me?

Father God, thank You for the changing seasons, and thank You for the changing seasons in our lives. I pray that You would give us hope today in the fact that some things DO change, that things WON’T always be the same as they are now, and that there are times when that is the BEST way for You to work in and through our lives the way that You want to. Help us to keep putting our trust and faith in You, for as much as things here on earth may change, You never do  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

P.S. We’ll be taking a break from the Psalms for the next two weeks, then we’ll return to them again after Easter. Now’s a great time to catch up if you’re behind in reading along through the Psalm with us! Here’s the reading plan for the year:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

And here’s the link once more to today’s scripture reading:
Psalm 30, read by Lana Elder, with Franz Joseph Haydn’s “Country Minuet” played by Marilyn Elder Byrnes

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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Comforting Prayers- Psalm 23

This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Lesson 5 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 23, read by Lana Elder, with music by Leopold Mozart played by Kaleo Elder

There are many ways to look at today’s psalm, Psalm 23, which is perhaps the most famous psalm in the book of Psalms, and perhaps the most famous passage in the whole Bible.  Today, I’m looking at what we can learn from Psalm 23 about praying more effectively.

While prayer often involves asking for God’s help or wisdom, struggling to know what to do or how things will work out in a situation, the beauty of this prayer is that it simply invites God into your life to let Him comfort you–to put your whole faith and trust in Him; to let Him take full control of your life and your situations; to allow Him to lead you beside still waters, to lie down in green grass, and to restore your soul; to trust Him that no matter what comes your way, He’ll be with you.

Listen to the words David wrote:

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
He restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”
(Psalm 23:1-4, NIV).

David was a shepherd, and he knew that good shepherds watch out for their sheep. When David was a shepherd, he had attacked and killed a lion one day and a bear another, all to protect his precious sheep. He knew the care that shepherds take of their sheep. So when he faced troubles of his own, it’s not surprising that he talked to God in terms that he understood well: “The Lord is my Shepherd.”

Sometimes we just need to let God’s comfort pour over us–to slow down long enough to let Him speak His soothing words to our hearts.

One way I’ve found to do this–to slow down and let God speak deeply to my heart–is to take time and savor not just every thought in a portion of Scripture, but every word.

Take the first sentence of Psalm 23, for instance. It has only five words: “The Lord is my Shepherd.” But if you’ll focus on each and every word, you’ll see how God can use a simple sentence to speak volumes to your heart.

Think about the first word: THE. THE Lord is my Shepherd. Not “a” Lord or “some” Lord or “any” Lord, but THE Lord, THE One and Only God, THE Lord of all creation, THE Author and Perfecter of your life. THAT’S your Shepherd. THAT’S the One you’re talking to. THAT’S your Lord. “THE Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”

Think about the second word: LORD. The LORD is my Shepherd. What’s a lord? A lord is a master, a ruler, a caller of the shots. And if God is your lord, that means that you’re not! He’s got this. And He’s not just ANY lord, He’s THE Lord, THE Ruler over all, THE One Who’s got the whole world in His hands, including you.  He’s totally trustworthy, because He’s THE LORD.

Then think about the third word: IS. The Lord IS my Shepherd. It’s not “The Lord WAS my Shepherd, years ago, when I needed Him to save me, or when He showed up that one time in a special way.” It’s not “The Lord WILL BE my Shepherd, some day in the future when I get my act together or clean things up a bit.” But it’s “The Lord IS my Shepherd, right now, today in the midst of everything I’m going through.” The Lord IS your Shepherd, if He really is. And if He’s not, then there’s no reason to wait even one more minute–you can make Him your Lord today, right now! Then you’ll be you’ll be able to say, like David did, “The Lord IS my Shepherd! I shall not want!”

You’re getting how this works. Let’s do two more, and you can think through them with me.

Think about the fourth word: MY. The Lord is MY Shepherd. What does that say about you, that the Lord is your Shepherd? If He’s your Shepherd, that means He’s actually, truly concerned about you! Not just the world in general, or the people around you, but you! When Jesus told the parable about the good shepherd, what did He say about that shepherd’s heart for the one lost sheep–out of the hundred that He had? He said that the shepherd would go after that one sheep because He didn’t want even one of His sheep to be lost. God really cares about you, personally.  He is your Shepherd, just like He is mine. “The Lord is MY Shepherd, I shall not want.”

Now let’s finish with the last word: SHEPHERD. The Lord is my SHEPHERD. What’s a shepherd’s job? To look after the sheep. That’s their whole job! They take the sheep out to green pastures to get food. They lead them beside still waters to get water. They let them lie down to take a rest. They protect them from wild beasts. And they bring them back home again when the time is right, leading them through the gate when it’s time to sleep. “The Lord is my SHEPHERD, I shall not want.”

We’ve only looked at five simple words in this psalm, but you can see how those simple words can speak volumes when you slowly focus on each one, letting God speak to your heart. And perhaps you can see why David concluded this prayer to God with the words that he did, knowing that the Lord was his Shepherd:

“Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6, NIV).

If you ever need comfort from the Lord, take your time, and let Him speak to you. Don’t hurry through it. Come back to Him and His Word again and again, meditating on a few more words, and a few more until the comfort of God pours over your heart.  Let His goodness and love follow you today and tomorrow and all the days of your life.

I think God knew we could all use a bit of comfort now and then. No wonder this is the most famous passage in the Bible!

Will you pray with me?

Father God, thank You for being our Lord and our Shepherd. Thank You for David’s example of coming to You and receiving Your comfort and goodness and love. Help us today as we continue to spend time in Your presence, whatever we do next, to know that Your goodness and love will follow us throughout this day today, and all of our days ahead, if we’ll keep putting our faith and trust in You.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

And here’s the link once more to today’s scripture reading:
Psalm 23, read by Lana Elder, with Leopold Mozart’s “Minuet,” played by Kaleo Elder

And here’s the link to our reading plan of all of the psalms in the Bible if you want to read along this year:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

Watch Here! | Listen Here! | Ask for Prayer | Contact Us | Visit Our Website | Subscribe | Facebook | Twitter | Tumblr | Bookstore

This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Pleasing Prayers- Psalm 19

This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Lesson 4 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 19, read by Lana Elder, with music by Edward MacDowell played by Josiah Elder

In my previous message, I talked about the value of saying “raw prayers,” prayers that pour out to God exactly what’s on your heart, without regard for whether it sounds pretty, or religious, or even kind. God can take it–and He already knows what’s in your heart anyway. Sometimes you just have to say it.

But in today’s message, I want to talk about the value of saying “pleasing prayers,” prayers that are also honest, but which are intentional about being pleasing to God. As a parent, I’m glad when my kids feel the freedom to come to me and express their raw emotions that they’re feeling on their hearts, without holding back for fear of what I might think. While it might sting sometimes, and their perceptions may not always be right, it helps to know what they’re honestly thinking so we can work through their thoughts together. But I’m also glad when they intentionally take time to say things which they truly believe, and which they know will please me .

Such is the case in David’s prayer today, which he ends with these words:

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

This entire Psalm is filled with “pleasing words,” words which David carefully and intentionally poured out to the God who gave him life.

He starts by talking about how glorious God is, and how His creation declares His glory to the ends of the earth:

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Psalm 19:1-4a)

I can see how those words would be pleasing to the God, the Creator, the One who created the earth and everything in it. Then he continues by speaking poetically about how magnificently the sun crosses the sky:

“In the heavens He has pitched a tent for the sun, which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is hidden from its heat” (Psalm 19:4b-6).

Then he launches into a carefully worded anaphora, a grammatical technique of emphasizing an idea by repeating that same idea in different ways. The Psalms are some of the first writings in the world to use this technique which has been subsequently used by writers like Shakespeare and speechmakers like Churchill:

“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever.
The ordinances of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous.”
(Psalm 19:7-9).

When I read this Psalm this week, I thought, “Imagine the care and thoughtfulness David must have put into crafting his words of praise to God in this way. He took a topic that was dear to him and dear to God’s heart, and then through repeating phrases, was able to express to God what he was feeling deep inside.”

I wondered what it would do for my prayer life if I could be as careful and thoughtful in my prayers to God as David was in this Psalm. It seemed like so much work, though, so I just continued writing in my journal as I normally do. But what came out of my pen next surprised me! It was a fully formed anaphora of my own!

“A desire for alcohol is not only for alcohol, but for relief from pain.
A desire for a person is not only for that person, but for relief from loneliness.
A desire for food is not only for food, but for relief from hunger….”

My poem went on for several more lines, describing the various things that people crave to bring relief from real pains. I was surprised at how easily the thoughts flowed from my mind to the paper in front of me. At the end of my thoughts, and my conversation with God, I wrote:

“Thank You for my mind and the ability You’ve given me to think. It’s remarkable. Thank You.”

And as I wrote those words, along with my thanks and praise to God for something I saw that He had created–my mind—I felt a touch of what David must have felt when he wrote his words, giving thanks and praise to God for something he saw that God had created–the heavens and His Word. Any father would be pleased to hear his children think and speak about those things in the world around him which the Father had a hand in creating. It shows honor and respect and true thankfulness.

There’s a time and place for “raw prayers,” prayers that just pour out whatever’s on our hearts to God, however they might sound. But there’s also a time and place for “pleasing prayers,” prayers that are carefully crafted to express other truths on our hearts that also bring pleasure and praise to the God who gave us life.

These aren’t words to butter up God to get what we want, but to honestly acknowledge Him for who He is, realizing how good and right and wise and perfect He is in all of His ways, and in all that He’s created–including us.

We can trust Him and trust His Word, even when He says things we don’t want to hear. We can trust Him that He really does know best.

What words could you speak today that would be pleasing to God? What insights has He given you into His ways or His Word or His creation that could bring out your praise for Him that is truly in your heart?

Why not take some time to voice those thoughts to Him, to write them out with a pen and paper, or type them out on a keyboard or keypad, or voice them out in a song or a poem?

Let the words within you flow out from your heart as a stream of praise to Him, as David’s words did when he said:

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

Will you pray with me?

Father God, thank You for letting us see that David not only poured out his pain, but also his praise, in ways that brought pleasure and glory to You. Help us to do the same, being honest and real with our problems and pains, but also with our praise and adoration. Help us to think carefully and intentionally about ways we can bring glory to You, both in our hearts and in our words that flow out of them. Let them be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

And here’s the link once again to today’s scripture reading:
Psalm 19, read by Lana Elder, with Edward MacDowell’s “To A Wild Rose,” played by Josiah Elder

And here’s the link to our reading plan of the Psalms. There’s plenty of time to catch up–even if you haven’t already started reading!
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Raw Prayers- Psalm 13

This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Lesson 3 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 13, read by Lana Elder, with music by Tchaikovsky played by Makari Elder

One of the beauties of reading through the psalms is that it touches on so many emotions that you don’t have to read very far into it to find something that will match what you’re going through. And when you find that something, you can pour out your heart to God in prayer, often using the same words that you’re reading on the pages in front of you.

Within just a few psalms, we’ve already seen David’s emotions range from eager expectation to awe-filled wonder to today’s psalm, in which he pours out some raw prayers full of pain and sorrow. Psalm 13 starts with these words:

“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide Your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?” (Psalm 13, 5-6a, NIV).

This is a man in pain, a man in anguish, a man who’s wondering if God is even listening any more. In The Message translation of the Bible, David’s words are paraphrased like this:

“Long enough, God–You’ve ignored me long enough. I’ve looked at the back of Your head long enough” (Psalm 13:, 5-6a, MSG)

Those are some raw words. They’re guttural. And they express the real sorrow in his heart..

Maybe you’ve felt this way before. Maybe you feel this way right now. If so, let me encourage you to say some raw words of your own to God. The pain you’re feeling is real, and it’s really okay to express to God how you’re really feeling. God can take it, and there are times when you just need to say it like David did.

I was speaking to a group of people a few weeks ago who were going through various tragedies in their lives. They had lost husbands or wives, sons or daughters, friends or family members. They were dealing with divorce. They were trying to find their way out of addictions. They were experiencing pain at its worst, and I was asked to speak to them about worshipping God in the hard times. (You can listen to the message here.)

I don’t usually say certain words. They’re not part of my normal vocabulary. But during my talk, in an unscripted moment, I covered the microphone and said out loud what I knew many in the room were feeling. I said, “In some of these dark times, you just say, ‘God, this really sucks.'” Nods of agreement began throughout the room.

When the night was over, one of the leaders of the group told me that my talk had really touched the people. And the one thing they said that impacted them the most was the moment when I covered the microphone and said what I said. In that moment, they said, they knew that I knew exactly what they were going through, and that opened them up to hear the rest of what I had to say.

Sometimes we need to get really honest with God, too–to say exactly what’s on our hearts–even if it’s not “pretty,” or “religious,” or what we think we’re “supposed” to say. Sometimes we just need to just let it all out–lay it all out–before God, who sees our pain and knows what’s on our hearts already anyway.

Sometimes we read the psalms, or sing them in songs, and they begin to sound so holy, so poetic, so “nice,” that we can miss just how raw they really are. Eugene Petersen, who translated the Psalms from the original Hebrew into English for The Message translation, said this in his introduction to the Psalms:

“In English translation, the Psalms often sound smooth and polished, sonorous with Elizabethan rhythms and diction. As literature, they are beyond compare. But as prayer, as the utterances of men and women passionate for God in moments of anger and praise and lament, these translations miss something. Grammatically, they are accurate. The scholarship undergirding the translation is superb and devout. But as prayers they are not quite right. The Psalms in Hebrew are earthy and rough. They are not genteel. They are not the prayers of nice people, couched in cultured language.”

I can only imagine the types of words David and the 400 men with him used while they were hiding out in the caves of the dessert while the king and his army were hunting them down to kill them. The men with David were described as “All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented…” (1 Samuel 22:2a, NIV). I can guess that at least a few of their conversations were far from genteel.

And I can believe that at least a few of David’s conversations with God sounded just as earthy and rough. I can hear it in the English translation, but only if I really think about what he was really going through and how shocking it is that he really said some of the things he said to God. It’s not like David suddenly switched into his “religious” voice when talking to God. He just said it like it was. He told God what He was feeling, in a way that he really felt it.

But then somewhere along the way, while pouring out his pain to God, David begins to praise Him instead. He begins to sing to God that not matter what he’s going through, he still trusts in God’s unfailing love. No matter what happens, he still praises God for having been so good to him. The psalm ends with these words:

“But I trust in Your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for He has been good to me” (Psalm 13:5-6, NIV).

How can a man go from pouring out his pain to pouring out his praise in the matter of a few sentences? We see the same thing happen in the book of Job, where Job, who has just lost nearly everything that was dear to him in a single day, tears his robes and falls to the ground. Yet he didn’t just fall to the ground and lie there. The Bible says “he fell to the ground in worship,” saying:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21, NIV).

Somehow, Job was able to pour out his pain and pour out his praise, nearly simultaneously. Somehow, like David, Job knew he could still trust in God’s His unfailing love–no matter what.

If you’re in pain today–in anguish–or if  things look so bleak you’re not sure how you’ll be able to stand it, let me encourage you to try doing what David did, what Job did, and what I at times have had to do: pour out your pain to God, in words that are real and raw, then pour out your praise to Him as well, trusting in God’s unfailing love for yourself.

You might feel like God is being slow to show up, taking His dear sweet time to answer your prayers. You might wonder if He’s even listening at all, because you feel like the only thing you can see is the back of His head. But the truth is, God is listening. He does care. And He is answering your prayers, even if you can’t see those answers yet, or even for a long time.

Pour out your pain. Keep trusting in His unfailing love. And you might just find yourself like David, pouring out your praise as well, saying, “for He has been good to me.”

Will you pray with me?

Jesus, thank You for giving us David’s example of how to pray raw prayers, guttural prayers, prayers that truly express what’s on our hearts. Thank You for letting us see how David and Job and others have been able to not only fall down when they’re in pain, but to still worship You as they fall. Help us to talk to You like they did, and help us to trust in You the way they trusted in You. Thank You for being so worthy of our trust and praise. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

P.S. Here’s the link to the audio message I mentioned earlier:
Worshipping God in the Hard Times

And here’s the link, once again, to today’s scripture reading:
Psalm 13, read by Lana Elder, with Tchaikovsky’s “The Sick Doll,” played by Makari Elder

And here’s the link to our reading plan if you want to read through all of the Psalms with us this year:
2017 Reading Plan For Psalms

Watch Here! | Listen Here! | Ask for Prayer | Contact Us | Visit Our Website | Subscribe | Facebook | Twitter | Tumblr | Bookstore

This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Magnifying Prayers- Psalm 8

This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Lesson 2 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 8, read by Lana Elder, with Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” played by Eric Elder

I set up a telescope one night to look at the moon and the stars. My kids couldn’t believe what they were seeing: how detailed and three-dimensional the moon looked, hanging there in space; how many stars there were–hundreds, thousands, millions–all glittering in the night sky.

They could hardly believe that each star was like our own sun–some bigger, some smaller, spread all throughout space! Each flicker of light that looked like it was no bigger than the head of a pin was, in fact, full of power, warmth, and wonder like our own sun–and there were a shining multitude of them everywhere we looked!

All this revelation, all this insight, all this awe came from simply holding a type of magnifying glass up to what we normally see on a regular basis nearly every day.

As I was reading through the psalms and looking for secrets of effective prayer, these words from Psalm 8 stood out to me:

“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth! … When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place, what is man that You are mindful of him, the son of man that You care for him?” (Psalm 8:1a, 3-4, NIV).

Something happens inside us when we hold up a magnifying glass to the world around us. It opens us up to seeing the incredible work that God has created in a new way. And that fresh perspective can help us to see our own problems in a new way as well.

King David, who wrote these words from Psalm 8 nearly 3,000 years ago, was struck with the same awe and wonder as my kids on the night I set up a telescope for them. As he considered the heavens, the work of God’s fingers, the moon and the stars which God had set in place, he burst out in praise! “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!”

And that made David look at his own life in a new way, saying, “What is man that You are mindful of him, the son of man that You care for him?”

Yet David realized that God was mindful of him. God did care for him. In fact, the same God who took such care to create the world that David saw created him with the same care–and not only created him with care, but considered him worthy to take care of the incredible creation around him!

God, it seems, has a magnifying glass of His own. When He looks at us, He looks with such detail that He can count the number of hairs on our head (see Luke 12:7). He cares for us so much that He has created us in His own image, and given us the task of caring for the rest of His whole creation.

If you wonder if God cares for you, just take out a magnifying glass today, literally, and look at one or two things in God’s creation. You’ll get a new perspective on your own life almost immediately.

This is what happened to William Wilberforce, a member of parliament who played a major role in ending the slave trade in England in the early 1800’s. He came to faith one day, not by looking up into the sky, but by looking down into the majesty of his garden. What he saw there so fascinated him that he plopped down on the wet grass to take a closer look. What he saw was the marvel of a spider’s web.

The movie Amazing Grace captures this faith-defining moment in the life of Wilberforce like this, as his butler finds him in the garden and wonders aloud what he’s found:

“It’s God,” said Wilberforce. “I have 10,000 engagements of state today but I would prefer to spend the day out here getting a wet arse, studying dandelions and marveling at… bloody spider’s webs.”

“You found God, sir?” the butler asks.

“I think He found me,” Wilberforce responds. “You have any idea how inconvenient that is? How idiotic it will sound? I have a political career glittering ahead of me, and in my heart I want spider’s webs.” 

Wilberforce found God by looking closely at a spider’s web, or, as he puts it in the movie, “I think He found me.”

I learned something new about spider’s webs just last week. My son told me that he learned in his biology book that a spider’s web is sticky only on certain strands of the silk it weaves, but that other strands aren’t sticky at all, so that it doesn’t get stuck when scurrying around on its own web. God somehow endowed the spider with the ability to spin different types of silk depending on the need.

I must have missed that fact when I took biology, but it was a little tidbit which enlarged my awe and wonder of God once again. How God instilled in a spider the wisdom and ability to know how to spin a web at all, or which silk to spin for which purpose, made me consider not only how clever the spider is, but how clever the God who created the spider is! And if God did this for a spider, imagine what He’s done for me, whom God says He has created as the pinnacle of all He has created on the earth, made in the very image of God Himself!

That thought makes me want to burst out in praise to God as well: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!” And it makes me look at the situations I’m facing in a new way as well.

What loomed large and overwhelming to me at the beginning of my prayers suddenly seems puny in comparison to what God could do in each of those situations.  Heal a cut?  Mend a relationship? Breathe new life into something in my life that has died?

What seemed improbable just moments earlier suddenly seems no problem for the God who placed every star in the sky and knows each one by name (see Psalm 147:4)!

The God who holds creation together can certainly hold my life together as well. By magnifying God and His creation, I can see how small–how manageable–my own problems are in comparison. Whatever I face, God knows how to handle it.

If you’re facing problems today that are overwhelming you, take out a magnifying glass. Literally. Take a look at one or two things around you today–your fingerprint, a flower, or even a spider’s web. Or take out a telescope and look at the nighttime sky. Or just take a look around you at any ordinary object, but look closely to see the colors, the shapes, the details that you may have overlooked before.

Then marvel and wonder at the God who created all that makes up everything you see. Marvel and wonder that the same God who created each of these things created you with the same care–and has believed in you and trusted in you enough to put you in charge of the care of His incredible creation.

Will you pray with me?

Jesus, thank You for your magnificent creation. Thank You for including me in your plans when You created the world. Thank You for Your promise to finish the work You’ve begun in me. Help me to sort out the things I’m facing. Bring order to my world. Bring peace to my heart. Bring wisdom to my mind. I ask all this in Your name, Amen. 

Eric Elder

P.S. Here’s the link again to today’s scripture reading:
Psalm 8, read by Lana Elder, with Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” played by Eric Elder

P.P.S. And here’s the link to our reading plan if you want to read with us through all of the Psalms this year. There’s plenty of time to catch up. Just pick up and keep reading along! 2017 Reading Plan For Psalms.

Watch Here! | Listen Here! | Ask for Prayer | Contact Us | Visit Our Website | Subscribe | Facebook | Twitter | Tumblr | Bookstore

This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Morning Prayers- Psalm 5

This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Lesson 1 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 5, read by Lana Elder, with music by Bach played by Bo Elder

As I was reading through the book of Psalms, I was looking for secrets to having a more effective prayer life. I didn’t get very far into the book when I found one:

“In the morning, O Lord, You hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before You and wait in expectation” (Psalm 5:3, NIV).

There’s something about morning prayers that make them hopeful. After a night of rest, it’s time to start a new day, a fresh day.

I’ve often prayed in the morning, waking up, taking out my Bible and a journal and a pen, then sitting quietly before God. But what I noticed differently in this Psalm is that the author, David, came to God with a spirit of expectancy.

David didn’t just come to God with a list of requests. He came with hope in his heart, expectant that God would answer. David knew the goodness of God. He knew that God was with Him. He knew that God was for him, just like He is for each one of us.

Our prayers have a purpose–not just because they quiet our hearts or help to organize our thoughts. Our prayers have a purpose because they involve another Person. They involve Someone who knows what you’re facing and who has the wisdom and ability to do something about them.

God really does know what you’re going through. He really does care. And that’s why you can come to God with the pieces of your life and ask God to help you put them together.

I love the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases David’s words in The Message translation of the Bible:

“Every morning you’ll hear me at it again. Every morning I lay out the pieces of my life on Your altar and watch for fire to descend” (Psalm 5:3, The Message).

Those words are so hopeful–so helpful. When I read these words I began doing this in my mind’s eye, with my own prayers. I began laying out the pieces of my life on God’s altar, with expectancy in my heart, then watching throughout the day for God’s fire to descend–just like it had descended in times past when people offered their sacrifices to God’s on an altar.

And I began seeing answers, that very day!

After having just written in my journal about what I should do for the day, I got a text from a neighbor at 7:05 a.m. offering to bring over lunch. Then I received word that an anniversary party was cancelled, which I had been wondering if I should attend or not. Then, after taking a morning walk with my wife and praying with her about a situation our daughter was facing, our daughter texted to say how God had just worked it all out! It was as if God were underscoring the words of David for me about laying out the pieces of his life on God’s altar, then waiting in expectation.

It’s good to pray at night or at the end of a project, as that allows us time to reflect on what God has done and to give thanks for what’s been accomplished. But in order to be most effective, it’s also important to offer our prayers up to God on the front end, inviting Him to speak and to work and to be involved in whatever we’re facing.

Martin Luther famously said:

“I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”

God wants to be a co-laborer with you.  He has things He wants to accomplish in and through you. And when you talk about those things with Him up front, He can help you sort them out and let you know what He can do and what you can do. In that way, you can bring it to pass together.

Not every answer comes right away, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t have expectancy in our heart. The past few weeks, my kids and I have been praying every morning for some royalty checks to be deposited in my account for some music I’ve written and produced.  While I normally receive these checks monthly, and they help to pay for the ministry that we do, the checks were delayed because of a new arrangement between the music companies involved. Every morning we’ve been praying, and every day we’ve been hopeful for an answer. At the same time, I’ve been working with the music companies, sending emails and making phone calls and having online chats, trying to help move the process along. I’m doing everything I can, but I’m trusting God with those things I can’t do. So every day we pray for the people involved in this process–the computer programmers, the accountants, and the decision-makers–asking God to give them wisdom as they work out the details.

Then just on Friday night, for the first time in months, I started seeing those deposits coming into my account. One, two, three, four of them! As the night went on, there were more: five, six, seven, eight! The deposits kept coming as the system started working again! I praised God, together with my kids, knowing that relief was on the way!

Come to God in the morning. Sit down with Him and go over your day. Ask Him what He wants you to do. Ask Him to do what you know you can’t do. Then be on the lookout for His answers. They may not come that day, but they might! And they may not come the next day, or the next month, as I had hoped while waiting for my missing royalties.

But even if you don’t see an answer right away, don’t think that God isn’t working on your behalf. Remember what God told Daniel, through an angel that God sent to him twenty-one days after Daniel had begun praying:

“Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them” (Daniel 10:12).

God hears your prayers the moment you utter them. So why not utter them the first thing in the morning? Invite God into your day. Let Him order your steps. Lay out the pieces of your life on God’s altar, then wait in expectation.

Will you pray with me? Then after the prayer, I’d like to share a short thought with you in the P.S. about today’s reading of Psalm 5 that I shared in the link at the beginning of this message.

Jesus, thank You for loving me the way You do. Thank You for caring for me. Thank You for creating me with a purpose in mind, with good works that You want me to do. Help me, Lord, to accomplish those works today. Help me to know that You’ll be with me, working right alongside me, doing what only You can do, while I do whatever I can do. Help me to see the answers to my prayers, whether today, tomorrow, or down the road. Help me to trust You and look to You with a spirit of expectation, knowing that You are good, that You are kind, that You are loving, and that You are ultimately for me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

P.S. When I first contemplated writing this series of messages on prayer, I asked my wife, Lana, if she would be willing to read and record each of the thirty messages I was going to use in this series. Lana had a beautiful reading voice, and she had recorded other Scripture CDs in the past, which I paired with some beautiful music in the background. I had sometimes even invited her onstage with me when I preached, so she could read the passage about which I was preaching, as her voice was so calming and beautiful.

Soon after we planned out the series, Lana was diagnosed with terminal cancer. We were shocked, but we were committed to prayer and to this series, no matter what. Lana went ahead and recorded all thirty passages, plus a few more, knowing that no matter what happened to her, God’s Word, once sent out, would never return without accomplishing that for which God sent it. It’s been almost five years now since Lana recorded these passages for this series. And while her life passed just a few months after she recorded these psalms, like a radiant flower that blooms one day then fades the next, she knew that God’s Word would never fade away. As it says in Isaiah:

“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:7-8, NIV).

Here’s the link again to Lana’s reading of today’s psalm, paired with music by Bach (“Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”) played by our son, Bo. I pray as you listen that God will fill your heart with a spirit of expectancy that He will answer your prayers. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Psalm 5, read by Lana Elder, with music by Bach played by Bo Elder

And here’s the link again to our reading plan for this series if you’d like to read read through the whole book of Psalms with us this year: 2017 Reading Plan For Psalms.

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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Conversations With God

This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Introduction to Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

I love talking to God. It’s often the highlight of my day.

For some, like my friend Dan Mountney, waking up and talking with God brings focus to everything else that happens in his day. “It centers me,” Dan says.

For some, like Adrian Rogers, talking to God brings clarity to what God wants him to do. When asked by a reporter if God had spoken to Adrian like the reporter had just spoken to him, Adrian replied, “Oh, no! It was much louder than that.”

For some, like Billy Graham, talking with God is like talking with a best friend. “How do you know God exists?” Billy was once asked. “Because I spoke with Him this morning,” he replied.

What about you? How would you rate your conversations with God? As much as I love talking with God, I still feel in many ways that I am just scratching the surface of what my conversations with Him could be like.

Five years ago, my wife Lana and I were talking about prayer. Lana said, “I’d like to learn more about prayer.”

I was stunned. Lana’s prayer life was already deep and rich and full. She prayed continually, in private and out loud, for me, for our family, for our friends, for missionaries, for entire countries. She prayed for breakthroughs and healings and restorations. She prayed for forgiveness and for a greater love for others. Yet with all she had learned about prayer over the years, she still wanted more.

For me, that was Lesson #1 in going deeper in my own prayer life, to simply know that there’s always more.

At that same time, I was wanting to take a closer look at the book of Psalms. What was it about this book that made it one of the most beloved books in the Bible? What secrets did it hold that made publishers often publish it by itself, or pair it as the one Old Testament book to go along with the entire New Testament? Why do people seem to quote so often from the Psalms, as Jesus did, more than any other book in the Bible?

By combining my curiosity about the Psalms with Lana’s desire to learn more about prayer, we took a deeper dive together into this book to see what we could discover in its depths. We learned that the book of Psalms is really a book of prayers; in fact, it’s the oldest prayer book in the world. The word “psalm” means “song” in Hebrew, the language in which the psalms were originally written. And since they are all songs to God, they are often considered prayers as much as anything else–conversations with Him that came from deep in the author’s heart.

We learned that over half of those “conversations with God” were voiced by King David, as specifically noted in the text, with many of the others alluding to his authorship based on the situations described in the psalms. I was personally looking forward to learning all I could from this man whom God described as “a man after My own heart” (see Acts 13:22).

What I wasn’t expecting was that the next year of our lives would take such an unexpected twist: soon after we began this deeper dive into the book of Psalms and the topic of prayer, Lana was diagnosed with cancer. Ten days later, we were told it was terminal. And nine months after that, Lana was gone, having passed from this life to the next.

It crushed me, and it crushed a part of my heart at the same time. If I had known this would happen when we first decided we wanted to have a deeper, richer and fuller prayer life, I’m not sure we would have done it.

But I was reminded of this thought again when a friend was telling me how he had recently made a decision to go deeper in his relationship with God. He began by waking up ten minutes earlier each day to read his Bible and pray. The following week, he woke up ten minutes earlier still. And the week after that, he woke up ten minutes earlier still, continuing this pattern until he was now waking up an hour or more earlier than usual so he could have as much time with God as possible.

He then told me about several things that had gotten increasingly harder in his life during this time: his work situation, family’s heath and his finances.

It reminded me of the difficulties Lana and I had faced soon after we made our decision to go deeper with God. I was tempted to say something to this effect when my friend said something that stopped me:

“I am so glad I decided to do this with God,” he said, “because if I hadn’t, I don’t know how I could have gotten through this time in any other way.” 

My friend was right. He was absolutely right. If Lana and I had not committed ourselves to a deeper walk with God, I don’t know how we could have gotten through what we had to go through, either. And how much better it is to be on the path of going deeper with God before life throws its worst at you, rather than waiting till it hits you full on? The time I’ve spent grounding myself in God, and in my relationship with Him, is the one thing above all else that has helped me through some of the most difficult challenges in my life.

So here it is, five years since Lana and I decided to take that deeper dive into the topic of prayer as seen through the lens of the Psalms, and now I’d like to share with you some of the lessons that I’ve learned. Along the way, I’ll also tell you about some of the miraculous answers to prayer I’ve seen and some of the amazing conversations with God I’ve had, many of which are no less miraculous or amazing to me than those I read about in the book of Psalms. The same God who walked with David through his highs and lows is the same God who has walked with me through mine–and who will walk with you through yours.

I pray God will speak to you in a special way during your time with Him, both while we’re doing this study together, and on your own for the rest of your days. I can think of nothing more incredible than to be able to talk personally with the God who created you, who knows you better than you know yourself, and who loves you like no one else on earth ever could.

I’m looking forward to our time together. I hope you are, too. I’ll share the details of how we’ll work through the book of Psalms in the P.S. below. But first, will you pray with me?

Dear Jesus, I am so thankful that we can come to you each and every day, all day, at any time during the day, and have a conversation with You. You are so loving and gracious, so kind and helpful, so wise and so knowledgable about all things, including me. Help me as I go through this day. Walk me through every situation I face. Help me to learn all that You want me to learn as we walk through this study of the book of Psalms. In Your name we pray, Amen.

P.S. Here’s my plan for going through the book of Psalms:

There are 150 psalms in the book of Psalms, each containing its own particular thought or theme. For this study, I’m going to share some thoughts with you from 30 of those 150 psalms. If you’d like to read all 150 on your own, I’d suggest reading one psalm a day for five days, starting with Psalms 1-5 this week. I’ll be highlighting one of those five psalms every week in my weekly Sunday message. By reading just five psalms a week, you’ll have two extra days per week to take a break or catch up on your reading as we go along. I also plan on taking a break for a week or two every six or seven weeks, which will give you a break and still more time to catch up if you need it. If you follow along with this plan as we go through the study, you’ll have read through the entire book of Psalms by the end of it. For those who like charts and check marks, I’ve typed up my weekly plan for this series, which you can view or print to put in your Bible. Here’s the link to the 2017 Reading Plan For Psalms.

Thanks for reading along with me! Enjoy!

Eric Elder

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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- This Week’s Sermon and New Series Coming!

Note from Eric: Would you like to read through the Psalms with me this year? It’ll be easy… we’ll just read one Psalm a day for five days each week. Then once a week, in our regular Sunday messages on “This Day’s Though from The Ranch,” I’ll share with you something I’ve learned from one of the five Psalms from that week.

As we’re reading through the Psalms, I’ll be looking particularly at how to have a more effective prayer life. Psalms is one of the most beloved books of the Bible and one of the most quoted books in the world. Why? That’s what we’re going to find out!

You don’t need to do anything special to receive these weekly messages. Just look for the Sunday message each week, which you already receive as part of your subscription to “This Day’s Thought from The Ranch.”

What you can do, however, is invite someone else to read through the Psalms with you this year! Just forward this email to them and ask if they’d like to sign up for our free daily emails as well. Your friends will get our inspirational quotes each day, just like you do, including this new series on the Psalms on Sundays. Just invite them to sign up for “This Day’s Thought from The Ranch” on the home page of our website at this link:

We’ll start with Psalm 1 next Sunday, February 19th. I’m looking forward to this new series. I hope you are, too!

Eric Elder

This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Receiving God’s Guidance

by Christian Cheong

This is the story of how God guided Abraham’s servant to find the wife for his son Isaac. We’re going to learn some principles in receiving God’s guidance.

Our God is a God who guides, and who wants to guide.

• He did that for Abraham – bringing him out from his homeland to Israel.

• He did that for Moses and the people – from Egypt to Canaan.

• He did that for the wise men who wanted to see baby Jesus – so He showed them the way through a star in the sky.

Today, God wants to guide you in your choices – if you allow Him.

2 Chron 7:14 “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

Rom 10:9 “If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

It is not that God do not want to guide us, it is more often the case that we do not want to listen to His advice. We ignore His guidance.


A flight attendant spent a week’s vacation in the Rockies. She was captivated by the mountain peaks, the clear blue skies, and the beautiful forest. She also was charmed by a very eligible bachelor who owned and operated a cattle ranch and lived in a log cabin.

At the end of this week, after a wonderful time with this bachelor, she has to return home to her job. While on board the place, she was pondering, “Should I go back to the city or return to the woods and stay with this man in the cabin for the rest of her life?” She was struggling but believes that God will give her an answer.

To refresh herself, she went into the rest room and splashed some water on her face. Just then, there was some turbulence, a ‘ding’ sound went off and then a sign in the rest room lit up: PLEASE RETURN TO THE CABIN.

She did – to the cabin back in the mountains.

…Modified from Reader’s Digest [1/81], p. 118.

I hope this is not the way you make decisions in life.

• Making the right choice is a dilemma for many people, including Christians.

• How can you and I be certain that we are in God’s will and that the decisions we are making are the right ones?

• This is an important subject for all of us since we all must make important decisions.

This passage in Genesis 24 deals with this subject and problem.

• In this chapter we not only see God providing guidance to His people in an important matter but we also see the conditions under which that guidance was provided.

• These conditions, which could also be referred to as principles, are what I will discuss today.

There are 4 key principles that can help us.

The 1st principle for receiving God’s guidance: Knowing God’s Word.

[See verses 3-4]

We must know God’s will and purposes to help direct our actions and decisions.

• And that knowledge comes first and foremost from God’s Word.

• God’s Word reveals God’s plan, principles and purposes.

• We need to start with that. Without this knowledge, you might as well do whatever you want.

Abraham knew right at the start what he was looking for.

• He gave very clear instruction to the servant where to find a wife for Isaac – not among the daughters of the Canaanites.

• Boundaries have been set because Abraham knew what was right in God’s sight.

Knowledge of God’s Word is the first step in the right direction.

We see Abraham taking steps to see that God’s plan is fulfilled.

• God promised to make him a great nation.

• Isaac must marry and have children for the covenant blessings to be received.

• Abraham understands this, so he doesn’t sit idly and wait for God’s plan to be fulfilled.

• He does his part and takes appropriate action; in this case he begins to look for a wife for Isaac.

Sometimes we think that if God guides us, it means we do not have to do anything.

• Like people who are out of work and yet refuse to go look for a job because they are waiting for God to provide a job.

• Such thinking is unbiblical. God wants us to do our part, but to do it while being guided by the knowledge of God’s Word.

This was what Abraham did!

• His search for a wife wasn’t based on human standards or desires but guided by his knowledge of God’s will.

• Why did he insist that Isaac’s wife be from his own relatives and not from the local people of Canaan? Why did he insist on this condition?

• Because he knew enough of God’s will to know that God wouldn’t bless a marriage to a Canaanite woman.

God did not tell him specifically, “You cannot take a Canaanite woman for Isaac.”

• Although no specific command, God did reveal to Abraham the wicked character of the people of Canaan.

• And he knew that to marry one of them would not be pleasing to God.

• Although no clear command from God, he did have enough information to make reasonable inferences.

In other words, we apply biblical principles to the situation.

• There are many situations in life that we do not have a specific command in the Bible, but we are to apply the principles we come to know from the Scriptures.

• And make a decision that is in line with the character of God.

So, the first principle for receiving God’s guidance is: Knowing God’s Word.

• Psalm 119:105 “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”


Consider the experience of a friend of mine, who was a recreational pilot when he was younger. On one occasion, he flew his single-engine plane toward his home base at a small country airport.

Unfortunately, he waited too long to start back and arrived in the vicinity of the field as the sun dropped behind a mountain. By the time he maneuvered his plane into position to land, he could not see the hazy runway below.

There were no lights to guide him and no one on duty at the airport. He circled the field for another attempt to land, but by then the darkness had become even more impenetrable. For 2 desperate hours, he flew his plane around and around in the blackness of the night, knowing that probably death awaited him when he ran out of fuel.

Then as greater panic gripped him, a miracle occurred. Someone on the ground heard the continuing drone of his engine and realized his predicament. That merciful man drove his car back and forth on the runway to show my friend the location of the airstrip. Then he let his lights cast their beam from the far end while the plane landed.

…James Dobson shared this about his friend in The New Strong-Willed Child, p. xi.

It is very critical that we know the will of God.

• Jewish proverb: “It is better to ask the way ten times than to take the wrong road once.”

• “For a painter, he cannot do without a brush. For a carpenter, he cannot do without a hammer. For us, our life can do without God’s Word.”

The 2nd principle for receiving God’s guidance: Be Committed to God’s Will.

[See verses 5-6]

We have to DECIDE, right at the start, to keep to God’s plan.

• Abraham was serious about doing it right. It is one thing to know, it is quite another to be completely committed to it.

• It would not be easy to get a wife who is willing to follow the servant back, but he was committed to staying within the boundary lines.

• And it was a success. This story shows us that God guides us when we are committed to His will and not our own.

“If no woman is willing to come to this land (so far), can we just take Isaac back home and settle there?”

• The servant is basically asking: Can we change plan if it doesn’t work?

• Abraham said NO! God has already revealed to him that He is going to give him and his descendants this land.

• So Isaac is not going to leave this ‘promised land’.

Abraham makes it clear that he is totally committed to following God’s plan.

• It makes the servant’s job very difficult, but Abraham is committed to doing it God’s way.

• You see, he is determined to align himself to God’s plan, not the other way around. We don’t change plan and fit ourselves.

King Solomon, the wisest man of all times, wrote Proverb 3:5-6

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

• NLT translates as “Seek His will in all you do, and (then) He (The Lord) will direct your paths.”

• For a person with great wisdom to say this is special. He is so wise, and yet needs to consult God in all ways.

God eventually worked supernaturally to fulfil His plan.

• God will work supernaturally in your life to bring about His plans, but only when you are committed to doing His will.

The 1st principle for receiving God’s guidance: Knowing God’s Word.

The 2nd principle for receiving God’s guidance: Committing to God’s Will.

The 3rd principle for receiving God’s guidance: Trusting in God’s Ways.

[See verses 7-8]

Faith is crucial. You must trust God.

• Without that, you won’t keep to His plan. You don’t believe that it will happen as God promised.

In verse 7 Abraham recounts that God had made promises that included his offspring staying in this land.

Since God made that promise, Abraham expects Him to keep it by supplying a wife for Isaac.
• His confidence is based on God’s promise, not on personal desire.

• God honours those who trust in His Word!

In verse 8 Abraham acknowledges that it may not happen as he expects.

• This isn’t a lack of trust in God – just an acknowledgment that God may provide in a different manner that he expects.

• Whatever it is, “only do not take my son back there.” We are not going to change God’s plan. We must have this determination to stay the course!

• One way or the other God will provide for His will to be done without His people compromising on His Word!

Many people express a trust in God but their trust is that God will provide what they want and desire, according to their own plans

• Abraham really believes that God will provide on this trip, even though it looks extremely remote.

• What are the chances that his servant can travel 800km, meet a qualified woman from Abraham’s own family, and convince her and her family to let her travel to a distant land and marry a man she or the family has never met?

• Human insight or understanding would say, “No chance!”

• Nevertheless, in verse 7, Abraham clearly expects God to do just this by sending an angel to guide and provide.

• He is not trusting in his own understanding or insight but is rather trusting in God’s ways.

King Solomon says (Prov 3:5): “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”

Whether the issue is marriage, career, studies, ministry, or some other life issue, we must trust God to supernaturally arrange the circumstances at the right time and in the right way.

That’s the 3th principle for receiving God’s guidance: Trusting in God’s Ways.

The 4th principle for receiving God’s guidance is to pray for God’s Wisdom.

The servant did not assume that he would recognize the woman God had prepared.

[See verse 12] He prayed.

• Notice something – after travelling a 800km journey on camel, the servant arrived at the perfect place to meet a young, unmarried woman at the very time the women would be coming to the well to draw water.

• What a coincidence. No, it’s what providence!

• God had arranged the circumstances perfectly for His will to be fulfilled in this situation.

Abraham’s knowledge, commitment, and trust were not in vain.

• God was working behind the scene.

• God will direct our circumstances so that His will is successfully fulfilled in our lives if we do our part to KNOW His Word, be COMMITTED to His Will, TRUST in His ways, and then PRAY for wisdom.

• I believe many of you can look back on your life and see evidence of God working and guiding your circumstances in remarkable ways!

• It is reassuring to see how powerful and wise our God is in directing our lives.

The servant realizes that this is a divine opportunity, so he prays for success and guidance.

• James 1:5 “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”

• We miss God’s guidance and divine opportunities because they do not pray.

Often we go through life just making decisions based on our own wisdom.
• We need to recognize that we do not have the wisdom to direct our own paths or to make right choices; we need to pray for God’s wisdom if we are to receive His guidance.

Continuing, James 1:6-8 “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.”

These biblical stories are recorded for our practical application today.

We can receive God’s guidance if we have the knowledge of God’s Word, are committed to His will, trust in His ways, and pray for His wisdom.

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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- This Week’s Sermon

This Day's Thought from The Ranch

But, God

by Richard Deem

There are a number of powerful 2-word phrases found in the Word of God. Phrases such as: Healed all; gathered in; cast out; raised up; pulled down. Each of these phrases are used in context with the power of God. However, there is one phrase used 43 times in Scripture that causes my spirit to leap for joy. That phrase is: BUT, GOD!

This small two word phrase communicates a tremendous message to all who will hear. It is God’s response to Satan’s challenge. It is the bottom line. It is the last word. It is all over but the shouting. “But God”, when viewed in relation to the challenges of life, is what up is to down; life is to death; in is to out. “But God” stand diametrically opposed to the negative roar of the world. The world says no – “but God” says yes. The world says can’t – “but God” says can. The world says won’t — :but God” says will. The world says stop – “but God” says go. The world says don’t – “but God” says do. The world says defeat – “but God” says victory!

“But God” climbs the highest mountain; traverses the darkest valley; and sings songs of victory in the midnight hour. “But God” exclaims “I’m going to the enemy’s camp and I’ll take back what he stole from me!” “But God is courageous, confident and conclusive!”

I’m speaking to you this morning from God’s perspective. I’m encouraging you to put on your Kingdom glasses and see things as God sees them. I want you to know it’s not over until God has His say. I’ve come to exhort you to stay for the entire game – wait until the last seconds tick off the clock; until the “home team” has had its chance. Wait until the last out is made! If you quit too soon, you’ll leave before victory is seen. I want to tell you this morning that the jury may still be out in your situation – all the votes are not in — the fat lady has not sung – God hasn’t had His final say. I’m speaking to you this morning on the subject “But, God . . .”

May I tell you this morning that in that book of miracles you hold in your hand, there are many instances where our adversary [Satan] is confounded and confused. There are stories of his elaborate schemes going awry, because he failed to realize that God would have the final say. Poor devil! He had worked so hard to get everything just right, yet just when he thinks he is victorious, he hears “But God!” Let’s look at a few of his defeats this morning.

  1. He Thought He Could Stop the Plan of God . . . BUT GOD [Acts 7:9; Gen 38-44]

And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt: BUT GOD was with him,

  1. Pit [Gen 37:22-24]

B. Potifer [Gen 39:1-6a]

C. Prison [Gen 39:7-20]

Echoes of his brothers: “. . .now let’s see what happens to your dreams.”

D. Palace [Gen 41:25-32]

  1. Notice Gen 39:21 & Acts 7:29 “But God was with Joseph!”

II. He Thought He Could Stop the People of God . . . BUT GOD [Eph 2:3-6]

All of us used to be just as they are, our lives expressing the evil within us, doing every wicked thing that our passions or our evil thoughts might lead us into. We started out bad, being born with evil natures, and were under God’s anger just like everyone else. 4 But God is so rich in mercy; he loved us so much 5 that even though we were spiritually dead and doomed by our sins, he gave us back our lives again when he raised Christ from the dead–only by his undeserved favor have we ever been saved– 6 and lifted us up from the grave into glory along with Christ, where we sit with him in the heavenly realms–all because of what Christ Jesus did. [TLB]

A. Perfect [Gen 1:26]

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

B. Putrefied [Eph 2:3]

Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.

Created to be kings, they now find themselves as paupers. Once were friends with God – now are enemies. Mind once filled with thoughts of God, now has become breeding ground for lust and evil. Once were rulers – now are slaves. History’s greatest tragedy.

C. Promoted [2:6] — BUT GOD!

And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:

III. He Thought He Could Stop The Power of God … BUT GOD [Acts 13:28-20]

And though they found no cause of death in him, yet desired they Pilate that he should be slain. 29 And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a sepulchre. 30 BUT GOD raised him from the dead:

  1. Pierced [Isa 53]

B. Planted [John 19:38]

And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus.

For something to bloom, it must first be planted!

C. Powerful [Matt 28:18] – BUT GOD!

And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.  Born in a stable, His mother a virgin, raised in a carpenter shop.  His parents were poor His people were slaves, His friends were a lowly lot.  His chances in life seemed so very slim, He’s expected to be a slave.  But people in darkness saw great light in Him And hope of freedom He gave.  All of the power of heaven and earth God had invested in Him.

He’s to die on the cross, descend into hell, Meet the devil, take the keys from Him.  He yielded Himself to the death on the cross, Cried it’s finished and slumped to die, in the regions of hell the devils celebrated, We’ve destroyed the king they cried!

In the midst of the celebration footsteps were heard Walking through the corridors of hell.  Then the shouting stopped as a voice rang out A voice rang out, a voice that rang like a bell.  Satan then trembled as he recognized Him Who had come to deliver His own.  “Shut and lock the gates”, he cried “Don’t let Him ascend to His throne!”

Don’t listen to the lies and disparaging words of our enemy. Realize that God has the final word! See things from the Father’s perspective. Incline your ear and hear “But God!”  Satan says defeat, but God says victory.  Satan says disease, but God says healing.  Etc.

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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- This Week’s Sermon

This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Fill Your Pastor’s Joy to the Brim

by Dana Chau

This morning, we look at Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 2, verses 1-4.

Someone has said, “Leaders are not grabbed; they are grown.” In most cases, when you see a terrific wife, husband or young adult, chances are she or he didn’t start out that way. The husband of that wonderful wife has a great deal to do with her inner beauty; the wife of that wonderful husband has a great deal to do with his inner beauty; and the parents of the wonderful young adult have a great deal to do with that young adult’s inner beauty. This is not always the case, but nurture does have its impact on nature.

We have a great impact and a great responsibility in shaping the people God entrusts into our lives, especially those we have regular contact with, our co-workers, our clients, our family and even our church family.

A pastor’s conference spoke of how the congregation begins to take on the likeness of its pastor over the years, so the pastor has no one to blame but himself, if he does not like the congregation after a number of years. I would make another claim, that I believe is true: The pastor that the congregation has after a number of years is not the same pastor who signed the contract many years before, but a person shaped by the congregation.

This morning, we will look at the “why” and the “how” to fill your pastor’s joy to the brim. The “why to fill your pastor’s joy to the brim” actually doesn’t come from this passage, but the “how” does. The “why” comes from Hebrews 13:17: “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.” So what we will talk about this morning also applies to the Elders of the church. At each of our Elders meeting, we spend a portion of the time asking about and praying for your spiritual well-being.

How many of us would do everything possible to be pleasant with our mechanic or at least avoid arguing with him when we leave him our car for repair? I would want my mechanic to be in a great mood, because an unhappy mechanic can lead to a poor repair job, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

Again, how many of us would do everything possible to be pleasant with our surgeon, or at least avoid arguing with her before we go under the knife? Again, I would. An unhappy surgeon can lead to my death, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

But few people think about the importance of having happy or joyful pastor and Elders. Our business is the well-being of your souls. We work to make many opportunities for you and your friends to get to know God, and if you already know God, we work to provide many opportunities for you to mature in your relationship with God. We also work to protect your souls and relationships from being damaged by sin and ignorance.

The next time you go into surgery, pray that God will give your surgeon a joyful spirit. He will do a better job on your body. Furthermore, the next time you meet with your pastor or Elder, pray that they would have a joyful spirit. They will do a better job on your soul.

Paul, the church planter and founding pastor of the Philippi Community Christian Church tells us this morning about three areas of progress in which the Philippians can grow to make their pastor’s joy complete. We saw in the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians that he was filled with joy, and he encouraged the Philippians to have the same joy. Now he tells the Philippians how they can be involved in filling his joy to the brim!

If you want the best care for your soul, stay awake and learn how you can get involved.

The first area of progress in which you can grow to make your pastor and Elders’ joy complete is the area of reliance upon God. (We read this in chapter 2, verse 1.)

A pastor who truly is concerned about your soul will not find joy in a bigger paycheck. He will not find joy in a plush house. He will not find joy in the compliments he receives from his sermons. A pastor who is truly concerned about the souls of those he shepherds will find joy when the people he shepherds grow to rely on God as their source of strength enough for them to become a giver and not simply a taker.

Paul’s joy begins to be filled to the brim as he assumed the Philippians have encouragement from being united with Christ, that they have comfort from the love of God, that they have fellowship with the Spirit of God, and that all these enable them to express tenderness and compassion toward Paul.

His “if” statements are like that of the father who says to his son, “If you are a man, you would own up to your mistake.” This statement does not question whether his son is a man, but assumes that to be the truth. A mother who says to her daughter, “If you have a nice dress, why not wear the dress to the party?” This statement does not question whether the daughter has a nice dress, but assumes that to be the truth.

The job of the pastor is similar to that of the parents. The parents teach and model a healthy relationship between a man and a woman so that the child can grow up and have a healthy relationship with the opposite sex. That’s why one of the best things you can do for your child is to love your spouse. Similar to a parent, the pastor teaches and models a healthy relationship between a person and God so that the people he shepherds can grow up and have a healthy relationship with God.

When the people have a healthy reliance upon God for encouragement, for comfort and for fellowship, God becomes their source of strength enough to help them become givers and not simply takers.

Let me give you a few examples. When a person can give encouragement to another without expecting in return because she has encouragement from being unite with Christ, then she has found her source of strength in God. Or when a person can comfort someone who is hurting slightly while he himself is hurting badly, because he has his comfort from the love of God, and he has found his source of strength in God. Finally, when a person can offer friendship to those who reject her, because she has the fellowship with the Spirit of God, and she has found her source of strength in God.

We can only find our source of strength in God when we make our goal in life to know God more. Otherwise, we will seek our strength in the wrong places, in money, in prestige, in possession, or in power. These sources not only will not provide the needed strength in life, but they often produce greed and insecurity. Only one who has found his or her source of strength in God can become a giver and not just a taker in life. And the pastor and Elders who see such progress in the people they shepherd will overflow with joy.

The second area of progress in which you can grow to make your pastor and Elders’ joy complete is the area of resolving to be a loving team in sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. Resolve means to set your mind to doing. (We read this in chapter 2, verse 2 and chapter 4, verses 2-3.)

Paul calls us away from division, not by thinking alike, but by thinking on the same things, the same love, the same spirit and the same purpose. The church at Philippi was not without problems. In fact, Paul gets very specific and begins to name names when he calls other Christians in the church to help Euodia and Syntyche to resolve their conflicts.

The job of a pastor is similar to that of a coach. A coach leads the team by determining the characteristic, the unity and purpose of the team. I forget which baseball coach was quoted saying, “The secret to coaching successfully is to find out which team members like you, which team members hate you and which ones are undecided. Then the job of the coach is to keep those who hate him away from those who are undecided.”

If there is such division in the church, the pastor has to do more than preserve his job. He has to work with the team to possess a loving unity and purpose. While a baseball team might even win with members who hate each other and who hate the coach, the church cannot win when there is no love and no unity in the members and for the pastor and Elders.

Jesus Christ defined for the Christians what winning looks like, when love and unity characterize the resolve of Christians. Even sources outside of the Bible would affirm the power of having the same love and unity as Christ. From the words of Napoleon Bonaparte, we read, “Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and myself founded great empires; but upon what did the creations of our genius depend? Upon force. Jesus alone founded His empire upon love, and to this very day millions would die for Him.”

The purpose of the church is to make the good news of Jesus Christ known to the community, to the country and to the world. This purpose is why we have local ministries, home missions and overseas missions. The good news is that through Jesus Christ, love and unity is possible between one another, even love and unity with God. But unless we are living such a resolve in our own lives, in our own families, or in our relationships with each other, we speak of what we have not experienced. We become like the salespeople who have never used the product – the product of love and unity.

On the other hand, if we resolve, that is set our minds on the same love, unity and purpose as Christ, we not only have good news to tell others about, but we also have good news to show others about and to share with others our experience. And the pastor and Elders who see such progress in the people they shepherd will overflow with joy.

The third and final area of progress in which you can grow to make your pastor and Elders’ joy complete is the area of relating to one another in humility and not in competition. (We read this in verse 3 and 4.)

As the pastor of the church, I am tempted to pretend that I am closest to God, possessing the most important gifts of the church and knowing exactly what I need to do and what you need to do in your life at any given moment. By the grace of God, I sometimes come to my senses or God withdraws Himself from my awareness, and I discover that God is not in my pocket, that I’m not gifted and talented to do all things in the church, and that I sometimes don’t know what God is doing in my life or in your life until afterwards.

God has not called your pastor to model perfection, but humility. You are to see that if God can use someone like me, He can use anybody in this room. To pretend to be something I’m not, or to think that I am better than you are is not only dishonest but will intimidate you from being the person God is making you to become.

A pastor was given an award for humility. A week later, the congregation took the award back because the pastor displayed it in his office. Humility is not mean to be put on display. Humility is also not downplaying one’s strengths and gifts. Humility is not low self-worth. Humility does not think of oneself more highly than he ought to think. Humility is aware of the good and strengths in others.

Competition, on the other hand, sometimes comes from a need to prove oneself, while humility relies upon God. Competition desires to exalt me, myself and I, while humility desires to exalt Christ, the Father and the Spirit. Competition resolves to distinguish the strong from the weak, while humility resolves to direct one’s power for God’s purposes. Competition has many loves, many allegiances and many drives, while humility has one love, one spirit and one purpose, that is to please God. Competition looks to one’s own interests, while humility looks also to the interests of others.

The one who possesses humility possesses godliness. The example set for us is that God humbled Himself in Jesus Christ. The Infinite became limited in time and space to serve and be a sacrifice on our behalf. Christians must learn to descend into greatness, if love, unity and achievement of God’s purpose are to occur in and through the church. And the pastor and Elders who see such progress in the people they shepherd will overflow with joy

Someone tells the story about a boy scout summer camp where the director found an umbrella neatly rolled inside a sleeping bag. The director asked the boy to whom this bag belonged, “Is there a reason why you brought an umbrella? It was not one of the listed items.”

To which the boy replied, “Sir, have you ever had a mother?”

As your pastor and Elders, we don’t try to be your mother, but we are responsible to God for the health of your souls. This morning, the Elders and I have been reminded of our responsibilities. As God gives us the grace and wisdom to do our job, you would greatly benefit from making our joy complete by growing in your reliance upon God, in your resolve to have the same love, unity and purpose, and in relating to one another in humility.

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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- 3 Stories And A Conclusion

This Day's Thought from The Ranch


by Eric Elder
The Ranch

About seven weeks ago, I saw God work in some remarkable ways. I’ve not shared them until today, because part of me wanted to do like Mary did when she saw God work in some remarkable ways. The Bible says that Mary, “… treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19, ESV). 

But I’d like to share these three stories with you today to give you three encouragements: 1) that God is really here, 2) that He really does care about us, and 3) that sometimes He blows our minds with the way He works things out. All three stories took place the first weekend in December.

I had flown out to meet my daughter, Makari, in Vancouver, Canada, as a producer friend of mine had invited her to film a brief background scene for an upcoming episode of When Calls the Heart, a beautiful series on the Hallmark channel which is about to start its 4th season on Sunday, February 19th.


Makari (right), on set with Emma Jean Mittelberg (left) and Erin Krakow (center)

Makari and I had met the cast and crew last year on the set, but this time Makari was going to be in front of the cameras, not just watching from behind the scenes. We were excited and looking forward to whatever God had in mind.

To my surprise, my producer friend, Brian Bird, and his wife, Patty, invited us to sit with them and their family for various events over the weekend, giving us an amazing view of the events as they unfolded. I was hoping for just a few minutes with Brian sometime over the weekend, as I knew he would be extremely busy with other activities, and here we were able to spend several extended periods of time, not only with him, but also with his family and a few of their friends.


Eric (right) and Makari Elder (left) with Brian Bird (center) in front of his production trailer on the set

Still, with all of the time we spent together, there was a particular project I have been working on that I wanted to talk to him about. At one point during the weekend, I asked him if maybe we could talk for five minutes about it, so I could give him an update on where it stood. We talked right then, for just a minute or two, but it turned out to be just the minute or two that I needed: a shot in the arm to keep moving forward with my project in the direction I was heading.

I went to bed that night thankful that we had been able to talk about this project, even ever-so-briefly, and for all the other amazing opportunities we had had so far in the weekend. But God was just getting started. I haven’t even gotten to the three stories yet!

The next day, Makari and I ducked out of the activities in Vancouver and took a three-hour bus ride south to Seattle, where another friend had invited us to visit her and see a Seattle Seahawks game with her  the next time we were in the area. She has a special suite in the stadium where she and her family watch the home games, and Makari and I were excited to see her and to see the game from her suite, something neither of us had ever done before.


Eric and Makari with Debbie Macomber (center) in her suite at a Seattle Seahawks game

When we got to the stadium, we were greeted graciously by my friend, Debbie Macomber, and her family. Although I had corresponded with Debbie various times over the past five years, this was the first time we were ever able to meet in person. She was as delightful in person as she was in her correspondence and on television interviews I had seen of her. (For those who may not recognize her name, Debbie Macomber is a New York Times bestselling novelist with over 200 million copies of her books in print. Her recent book, Sweet Tomorrows, is currently a #1 NYT bestseller, too! I normally wouldn’t point out these things, but it’s important to the story!)

As we were watching the game with Debbie and her family in the suite, a few of other people happened to come into the suite with us to say hello, including Steve Largent and Jim Zorn. (For those who may not recognize their names, Steve Largent was a receiver and Jim Zorn was a quarterback back in the early day of the Seattle Seahawks.)


Eric and Makari with Steve Largent (center), watching the Seahawks play the Panthers


Eric and Makari with Jim Zorn (center)

They, too, were gracious and kind to Makari and me, and Debbie asked if we’d like our pictures with them. I texted the pictures to a few of my family and friends back home, two of whom, independently, said, “They’re treating you like royalty,” and “It’s like you’re with royalty.” I felt that way, too, especially when I looked out into the stadium and saw, all around it, a “ring” of words marked “Ring of Honor,” which listed the names of ten Seahawks. The first two names on the ring were Steve Largent and Jim Zorn! And here we were watching the game with both of them on one side of us and  Debbie Macomber on the other!


The “Ring of Honor,” as seen from the suite where we were watching the game

It was like being with royalty! As I tried to take it all in, I felt like everything around me began to fade away, and God spoke clearly to my heart:

“Eric, if you could see yourself the way I see you, you would know that I see you as royalty. You are my child, and I love you so very much.”

It’s one thing to be in awe of the people around you. It’s another to have the God of the universe single you out and say: “I see you as royalty, too.” But the truth is, that’s the way God sees every one of us. There is an aspect to being a child of His that lifts and elevates us in a way that goes beyond anything people could do to lift or elevate us. And if we can just take that in, that the God of the universe not only knows us, but loves us dearly, and thinks that we’re precious children of His–the King of kings and Lord of lords–it changes everything. It changes the way we see ourselves, our worth, our value–even if our only claim to fame is being one of His children. That alone is amazing enough to warrant being listed on God’s own “Ring of Honor.”

But the story picks up from there. The next morning was the day we were to be on the set back in Vancouver. So Makari and I took a late night bus back to Vancouver after the game, got a quick night’s sleep, and woke up early the next day to meet Brian and a few others to head out to the set where they would be filming When Calls the Heart.


Eric on the set of When Calls the Heart with Janette Oke, author of the book by the same name which inspired the show

When I got to the lobby, I had a chance to sit with Janette Oke, who was also going out to the set with us. (For those who don’t recognize her name, Janette Oke is the author of over 70 books, including, Love Comes Softly and When Calls the Heart, the book on which the new television series is based which we were shooting. Again, I normally wouldn’t mention these things except that it is relevant to the story!)

I had met Janette a year ago, and at that time was so stunned to meet her in person that I asked her if she would pray for me and sign a notebook that I had with me, both of which she did so sweetly. I was astounded. This time around, I was able to sit with her on several occasions over the weekend, and we were able to talk about a wide range of topics. When I met her in the lobby, we sat down together again, and I told her about a project I was currently working on, pulling out a copy of the book I had written which was the basis of the project. As I was telling her about it, she asked several more questions and was keenly interested. I asked if she’d like to take a copy of the book with her, which she very much wanted to do! Awkwardly, I then asked if she would like me to sign it for her, which she also wanted me to do! As I sat there in the lobby of the hotel, I was stunned once again, this time not because I had met Janette Oke and she had signed a book for me, but because it felt like somehow she had met me! And now I was signing a copy of my book for her!  In that moment, I felt like God was speaking to me again, saying:

“Eric, I know you’re aware of the impact others have on you. But don’t underestimate the impact you have on others.”

And God was right. I often underestimate my own impact on others, even though I can so often see the impact others have on me. And it isn’t because I’m particularly special. My message for you with this story is to not underestimate the impact you can have on others, too.  We all have gifts and talents and a purpose on earth, and if we could only see ourselves as God sees us, we would see how He weaves and uses those gifts and talents and purposes for our benefit and for the benefit of others.

But the next story was the most surprising of all. As we went to get into our cars to go to the set, it was snowing heavily. We were trying to figure out who would ride with who, and it looked like there may not be room for me to ride with someone else, so I was about to look for a way to get to the set on my own, when my friend, Brian, who is one of the executive producers of the show, asked me to sit in the front seat of his car with him! (For those who don’t recognize his name, Brian has written and produced hundreds of episodes for television, including five seasons of Touched by an Angel, and has written and produced an upcoming movie for the same people who produced God’s Not Dead, this one based on the life of Lee Strobel, called The Case for Christ, which will be showing in theaters starting April 7th.)

As I stood there, just before getting into Brian’s car, Brian looked over the top of the car at me and said, “This is really unusual. It hardly ever snows on the coast.”

To anyone else, those words might have been just casual words about the weather. But to me, they were nearly identical to some words I had written a few months earlier and had put in the book I wanted to talk to Brian about, and the book I had just signed and given to Janette Oke! In my story, however, I had written about a snow scene that takes place half a world away from where we were standing. I had written: “It hardly ever snows on the coast. And if it did, that would be a very special day.” In my story, the snow scene that follows becomes one of the key climaxes of the story where the main character is desperately needing to know that God is still there, that He really cares, and that He has a purpose for this character’s life on earth. When Brian spoke those words, it was as if God were magnifying them in my heart, saying:

“Eric, it hardly ever snows on the coast. And that makes this a very special day for you.”

And a special day it turned out to be! I got in the car and began to talk to Brian, and, because of the snow, what should have been a 45-minute drive to the set turned out to be a three-hour drive! It was a delay that could have been problematic for all kinds of reasons, but because of the kind of day that it was, it turned out to be incredible–for me, at least! While I was hoping to get five minutes with my friend that weekend, and we suddenly got three hours–three hours in which we shared stories from each other’s lives, at some points laughing, at other points crying, and at many points noting to each other how God was working through each of them. Because of the weather, the scenes we were going to shoot for the show had to be altered, so our time on set wasn’t as long as we had expected. Afterward, we went out to lunch and I got to talk to Brian for another two hours. Then, because the snow was still falling, the drive back to the hotel took another two hours, instead of the expected 45 minutes. By the end of the day, I had spent seven full hours talking with Brian in the front seat of the car or at lunch, when I had been hoping to get just five minutes for the whole weekend, and just a few days earlier had actually been happy to get just one or two minutes with him! It was a special day indeed!

I felt like the woman in the Bible who told Jesus she would be happy with just a crumb off the table of a king, when Jesus went overboard and miraculously healed her daughter! I would have been happy with a crumb that weekend, when God had in mind a full-day feast! As it says in the Bible, God is able to do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,” (Ephesians 3:20, NIV). I sometimes wonder how that can be, because I can ask or imagine quite a bit! But that day, and over the whole weekend, God certainly went way beyond what I was ever asking or imagining.

Let me close with this. You are like royalty to God. You have no idea the impact you have on those around you. And, if you’ll keep your eyes and ears open, God has some truly special days in mind for you, wherein He will do more for you than all you can ask or imagine. Let these truths sink deep into your heart. And let God speak to you again today. He has so much that He wants to say. 

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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- The Value of Vision (Part 2)

This Day's Thought from The Ranch


by Eric Elder
The Ranch

Last week, I shared with you about the difference it made in my life to picture myself one year in the future, trying to envision what I could be doing or enjoying differently at the end of the year than at the beginning of the year. This week, I’d like to share about the difference that approach made to my goal setting in the lives of other people as well. Reaching our goals is for more than just getting what we want out of life. As the Bible says:

“Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18, KJV).  

One of the goals I set at the beginning of last year was to write the complete script and score for a new musical I’m writing called “St. Nick: The Musical.” I pictured myself holding a draft of a completed script and score. As I pictured in my mind what that would look like,  I wrote down this goal:

“I’d like to be holding a copy of a completed script and score for St. Nick: The Musical.

It was an ambitious goal, but one I really wanted to try. By the end of the year, I had completed one-third of the script and one-third of the score! Even though I hadn’t completely finished, this was phenomenal for me!

So I took a picture of myself at the end of the year holding a copy of both the script and score.


What I had envisioned at the beginning of the year had, at least in part, come to pass by the end, at least.

But what I also wanted to do at the beginning of the year was to help some other people write their own books this year, books that they had just been thinking about, but had never actually written. So at the beginning of the year, I wrote out another goal:

“I’d like to be looking at 3-5 others, whom I have encouraged to write, holding copies of their own stories in their hands.”

I didn’t set this goal for profit or gain for myself in any way. I set it because God has poured into me so much insight and wisdom into the writing and publishing process over the last twenty years–to the point where I’ve written and published nearly twenty books during that time. I wanted to pour out some of that insight and wisdom to others.

So I prayed. I prayed that God would show me 3-5 others that I could encourage to write their own books. And God answered that prayer! I asked several of them this past week if they would send me a picture of themselves holding their own books in their hands, whether they had rough drafts, finished drafts or published books. And here’s the result!


Jeanette wrote a draft of a book about how God helped her through a health crisis in her family.

Kent wrote a draft of a book on creativity for people wanting to reach their potential.


Al wrote a draft of a book about his father’s service to our country in the 2nd World War, (which he has been able to work on and share with his father along the way).


Shelly wrote a draft of a book about her intimate walk with God.


And Laurie wrote a children’s book about trusting in God, even  when “the lights go out.” (And she got it published on Amazon by January 2nd!)

How did this all work? After talking to God about my goal of helping others in this way, God started bringing people to mind, or bringing people to me in person, each of whom expressed their interest in writing and publishing a book. Whenever the topic came up in our conversations, rather than just saying a few encouraging words or letting those comments go by, I asked if there was anything I could do to help them achieve their goal.

In some cases, it was as simple as pointing them to a 90-minute online class I had taught and recorded a few years ago to show people how I create and self-publish my own books on Amazon. (You can watch it here for free!) Then I would make myself available to answer any questions or help them in any other way I could.

In other cases, I offered some ideas for how they could start their book–by writing down the main point they were wanting to make, coming up with a simple outline of the chapters their book could contain, and offering to read each of their chapters each week or whenever they wrote them. Several of the people found that simply having someone else involved and eager to read their work each week was just the incentive they needed to not only start, but to keep on writing.

And I loved reading what they wrote! Each story was magnificent as it unfolded. I was inspired in my faith, and I learned more about my friends than I had ever known before. It never felt like a chore to help others–it was a true joy.

I share all of this with you as we’re still at the beginning of 2017. We have nearly a whole year ahead of us. Maybe God has poured something into your life that He wants you to share with others–whether it’s a skill, a gift or a talent; an understanding or insight into a topic; a way of working, a way of thinking, or a way of living. Maybe there’s a goal you could put on your own list this year that could help someone else–or several “someone else’s”–by the end of it?

Why not take a few minutes to picture what that would look like at the end of 2017 to see that goal accomplished, then jot it down. Ask God to help you achieve that goal, not only for your sake, but for the sake of others, too. Remember that your vision might be just what others need to help them accomplish theirs.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18, KJV). 

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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- The Value of Vision

This Day's Thought from The Ranch


by Eric Elder
The Ranch

Last year I tried something new in my annual goal-setting. I like the way it turned out, so I thought I’d share it with you today as you look ahead to your own new year. As the Bible says:

“Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18, KJV).  

This applies to our personal lives as well. Vision is what gives us hope. Vision is what gives us something to “go for.” Vision is what keeps us on track when we’re in danger of veering off.

Last year, my friend, Kent Sanders, in his book, The Artist’s Suitcase, encouraged me to envision myself one year in the future. He wrote:

“Imagine what your life could be like one year from today. How could it be different? Would you look different? Would you have more energy or a better income? What about that book, blog, music, or other project you’re working on? What would it feel like to have it finished? … Write down what you see–your appearance, energy level, success, and the other items that are important to you. This is what your life could be like a year from now.”

I took Kent’s challenge to heart and asked God to help me envision what my future might look like if He and I were to work on it together. I came up with about 15 goals for the year. That was more than I had planned to write down, but not all of them were huge, and not all of them were vastly different from what I was already doing. But by writing them down, I was able to keep them in front of me all year long, which helped me realize all along that I was actually accomplishing my goals for the year, even by doing some of the seemingly ordinary, every day things I was doing.

For instance, this was one of my goals related to my family:

“I’d like to be enjoying rich conversations with my kids (during school, meals, and other activities).”

As I sat with my kids during the year, whether we were talking about their lives, or their schoolwork, or whatever else was on their hearts, I was able to feel good about the conversations at hand, and this was actually one of my goals: to be enjoying rich conversations with my kids! This really helped me as I went through my days, and ensured that I took the time to enjoy those conversations, not just rush through them and onto whatever was “next.”

This goal also helped me, in both small and big ways, to take advantage of the opportunities that arose to spend time with my kids which I might have missed otherwise.

This goal helped me in a small way, when after a dance class one night with my youngest daughter, she asked if we could stop to get something to eat on our way home. She wondered if we could sit down and eat at a particular restaurant. Normally, by that hour of the night, all I could manage was a quick stop at a drive-through so we could get back home because of all the other things that needed to be done. But because one of my goals was “to enjoy rich conversations with my kids,” we decided to stop and order from the menu at a sit-down restaurant–where a waitress actually brought our food to us!  While it might seem like a small thing, when you’re shuttling kids from one activity to another and trying to squeeze as much as possible into every day, taking an hour to just sit and enjoy a meal and a conversation seems costly, time-wise, but is so heavenly, in every other way.

And this goal helped me in some big ways, too. When my oldest daughter mentioned her interest in taking a cruise somewhere, someday, I didn’t give it much thought. Since we normally do things with our whole family, a cruise for a family of seven seemed out of the question. But because of my goal of “enjoying rich conversations with my kids,” I thought about her desire again when her birthday was coming up. I thought, “Maybe I could take just her, and we could go on a cruise together as something special to do, just the two of us.” She happened to call me soon after I had had this thought, telling me about her week, which had been particularly hard. I decided to tell her what I was thinking about the cruise and asked what she thought of just the two of us going. She loved the idea! We found a cruise that we could afford, and we went! And we would have missed it, had I not had this goal of spending time with my kids, and had she not expressed to me one of her own desires.


I had similar experiences with my other kids. Because one of my daughters is going into acting, I asked a producer friend if it would be possible for her to be in a background scene in one of his shows. To my delight, he said, “Yes!” So we flew to Vancouver for the taping and she was able to be on camera in a background scene. Even if her screen time turns out to be only a few seconds, the extended time we were able to spend with each other on the trip was priceless. I was able to accomplish my goal while also helping her to accomplish hers. It was a win-win for us both.


The goal continued to take on a life of its own as my youngest kids and I had been planning and saving for a trip to Israel someday, but we had never done it. It, too, seemed like it wouldn’t happen again this year. But because I had made it a goal, I made it a priority to find a way to do it, and we found one! And on the trip, I was able baptize both of them in the Jordan River–what a blessing for them and for me!


Not all of my goals with my kids involved going places. I was able to do some of them right at home. My oldest son knew that one of my goals was to finish a space in my attic that I wanted to use for reading and writing and praying. I had worked on it several years ago, but when my wife got cancer and passed away a few years ago, I stopped nearly completely. But I put that goal back on my list this year:

“I’d like to be enjoying my fully finished attic.”

So my son offered to help me out each week for much of the year, driving an hour each way to come to my house so we could finish all of the tiling and insulating and drywalling. With his offer, and the help of my other kids, too, we were able to get things almost finished! While we’re not quite done yet, I never would have pressed forward to get to this point had I not had this goal, and have the help along the way. And, by having my kids involved, I was able to spend more time with them, even through the work of it all, meeting my other goal of “enjoying rich conversations with my kids.”


Not all of these goals were fun and games, and each of them had its own set of challenges, difficulties, and costs. But in the end, anything worth doing takes effort.

While I didn’t accomplish all 15 of my goals for 2016, by having those goals in mind at the beginning of the year–and at the forefront of my mind throughout the year–I was able to stay focused and stay on track as much as possible for the rest of the year.

I’m looking forward now to writing out my goals for 2017. What about you? What are your hopes and dreams and visions for the new year? It’s not too late to sit down and give it some thought. We have a whole new year ahead of us. Why not write down your goals, keep them at the forefront of your mind, and see what God and you can do together?

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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- 2017 Daily Bible Reading Plan

This Day's Thought from The Ranch

by Al Lowry

Note from Eric Elder: If you’d like to join us in reading through the Bible in a year, you can start today with this “guilt-free” reading plan! Al Lowry describes it below, and there are links at the bottom of this message where you can view, print, and sign up for our “2017 Daily Bible Reading” plan. I hope you will! Here’s Al’s message…

With so many great devotionals out there to consider, how does one choose a good one to kick off the year?

I’m not kidding when I tell you I’ve begun dozens, but have often fallen short of completing these New Year’s resolutions.

More times than I like to think about, especially at the beginning of the year, I’ve voraciously dug into some new study and fallen off way too quickly. It’s been a vicious cycle of failures to me, and once again I’d end up getting down on myself for such incessant lack of discipline.

Then, 2 years ago, my friend, Eric, reset my course with a rather unique challenge: to read through the Bible in a year. I almost laughed when he suggested it, as I’ve desired to–and tried–many times before.  I’ll confess to you that my results would have most likely had me discovering my bookmark buried somewhere in Genesis by year’s end.

So why would this reading plan succeed where so many others did not?  Eric handed me a golden egg that gave the project hope where I had not seen it before.

The unique challenge of this yearly Bible read-through was preceded by 2 intriguing words: “guilt free.”

It was hard to grasp the concept when I already felt like a failure, believing that I’d just fall behind and drop out like other times.  Then, he kindly elaborated to me how this “no-guilt” factor actually set the course for a no-fail agenda.

The idea was to break the yearly Bible readings into the usual bite-sized daily diet (no surprise there).  The saving grace was not to be concerned with falling behind and getting frustrated and giving up. Technically, one could not fall behind, for even if that happened, the reader could resume on the appropriate day, and not worry or feel guilty about unread days. Of course, one would have the option of catching up on the missed text, but only if and when desired.

Initially, it seemed a little absurd to my type-A, overachievement gene to leave blocks of text behind, especially from such an important book. But eventually through careful thought, prayer and counsel from my friend, I began to realize that any devotional or even a topical church message could not thoroughly cover every biblical word every single time, and by taking this approach, I was likely to read more of the Bible by the end of the year than I would have ever read otherwise. All spiritual food we take in nourishes us as does the physical food we ingest. We would only starve if we failed to eat at all.

Logically, wouldn’t God reveal what I needed, and when I needed, it through even tiny mustard-sized efforts I offered up?

And so, exactly 2 years ago, I began my first guilt-free sojourn through the Bible, followed by a second year in 2016. Yes, I confess to missing or not focusing on many of the readings. But making it through at all was a major accomplishment in my life…and twice. 😉

What I found along the way for myself, and I suspect would be helpful for some of you, are a few tricks that stack the deck toward really getting into the game–and finishing.

I’d like to share some with you:

1. Listen to the word:

The Bible tells us to do just that, and with so many audible versions available and devices to listen on, it’s pretty darn easy.

That is not to say reading it shouldn’t be done as well, or in lieu of listening, but just try to have a listenable Bible version to help carry you through. Sometimes I would turn it on when I couldn’t sleep and would then doze off.  (Guilty me would accuse myself of cheating and feel the need to listen again. Guilt-free me would praise God in the morning for breaking my insomnia and allowing me much needed sleep.)

2. Write it down:

Jot down some thoughts along the way, and you’ll be as surprised as I was at the clarity it will bring. You may even find times when these thoughts can help others.

Sometimes days or even a week would go by without writing. But then, I would have some inspiration and these reflections, or devotionals, became ways to capture God’s voice. I offered them to others, and I have them still to reflect on.

I actually had no idea how much I had written until I started looking back through my notes. No need to be excellent authors in order to capture and help clarify an idea God gives to us. Rather, simply surrender ourselves to be willing conduits.

3. Don’t go it alone: 

The Bible states that two are stronger than one, and three are like the wrapped cords of a rope, not easily broken.  I found this to be so true, and I can’t state it enough. Before I started, I invited everyone I knew, and strangers alike, to join me on a special Facebook page.

This community became a small group that listened to my thoughts on passages and my prayer requests, and they shared theirs.  We shared a passage that touched us, or frustrations that we were having in our readings or in our lives.

This group need not be a replacement for church or a small group, but I just have to tell you that walking with others and being accountable is how this worked for me. Maybe it could for you too.

That being said, I’m ready to take the plunge again and would like to invite you to come along. Thank you old friends, who have said you’ll join me again. It is through your encouragement and inspiration that I feel confident to give it another go. And I would certainly love it if new readers join our adventure.

So, if you’ve felt God’s nudging to read the Bible in 2017, please feel free to come on board. We’d love to have you.

This year, I’m going to try something new and go straight through the Bible in book order–from cover to cover–from Genesis to Revelation.

Here’s a link to our “2017 Daily Bible Reading” plan (you can click any passage from this link to read it or listen to it in MP3 Audio, OR you can sign up to receive each passage by email every day at about the same time of day that you sign up):
2017 Daily Bible Reading Plan

And here’s a PDF of the same plan which you can print on one piece of paper (if you print it on both sides) to keep in your Bible. You can also click the links to each passage in this PDF if you want to read it online):
PDF of the 2017 Daily Bible Reading Plan

To join our Facebook group and encourage each other as we read along, click this link and request to join:
Facebook Group for 2017 Daily Bible Reading

And if you’d like to sign up for my emails (usually weekly) to encourage you along the way, just visit my website (which I’ve set up specifically for this purpose) and click “Follow”:
Visit Al’s website and click “Follow” for encouragement along the way

May God bless you and your families in the upcoming year. And if it falls onto your heart, let Him bless you in a special way through this Daily Bible Reading… GUILT-FREE!!!

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