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Thankfulness in the Midst of Suffering

by Phil Courson

Psalm 107:1,2a – “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Let the redeemed of the Lord say so…”

Wow! What a week! It has been a week like no other for Kay and me as dear friends have been experiencing some heartbreaking situations. But what we have seen in the midst of these circumstances is their unfailing trust in the Lord! We hope we have been an encouragement to them, but they have been an encouragement to us as well.

I am reminded of the psalmist in Psalm 107 who details the suffering of God’s people and the sometimes deliverance from their distress. But the psalmist encourages the ‘redeemed’ to give thanks to God because He is good! Let the ‘Redeemed’ give thanks to God, for His steadfast love endures forever!

Randy Alcorn says, “Gratitude never comes from avoiding difficulty, but from finding yourself sustained through it. The degree of joy rises to the degree of gratitude, and the level of gratitude corresponds to the level of suffering. God’s sustaining providence always brings relief, even when life grows especially difficult.”

No matter what suffering God allows to bring into our lives, His grace is there to sustain us. God is there with His mighty hand providing strength when we can’t seem to find any inside ourselves. God is there to reveal Himself to us in a greater way.

C.S. Lewis said, “ God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

As we walk through this fallen world, we will experience many joys and victories, but we will also experience pain and suffering. When we are experiencing pain and suffering, let us respond like the Psalmist encouragement: “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Let the redeemed of the Lord say so…”

My friends have ‘said so’ and my prayer is that I will ‘say so’ the only question is How about you?

When 30 Seconds Changes Your Life Forever

by Phil Courson

The story and video of Ray Rice has been on the forefront for the last couple of months, but the new video has our society in an uproar. I totally understand why people are upset and continue to post things on social media.

But I find myself thinking about many things concerning this story of Ray Rice, his current wife Janay Palmer, the NFL and our society at large in a 2 part series.

First, Ray Rice and his wife, Janay! During his public apology, Ray said,”I let so many people down because of 30 seconds of my life that I know I can’t take back…” Imagine…30 seconds changes your life forever! He will be forever known as the man punching and knocking out his girlfriend (now wife). He will not be known for what he did on the field at Rutgers University or with the Baltimore Ravens. Imagine – 30 seconds changes your life forever!

His life is forever changed and his future as a provider for his family is in serious jeopardy. We don’t know if some NFL team will take him back down the road, or what company would ever hire him. Imagine…30 seconds changes your life forever!

Knowing these things, I would imagine that Ray and Janay are battling many thoughts. “What about our future? What about our family, and us? To where do we turn for help? Who can we trust? Where are all our friends?” So many questions, and hardly any answers.

It is these thoughts that drive me to pray for Ray, Janay and their family. I pray that this event will lead them to the gospel of Jesus Christ. I pray that rather than trusting in themselves, they would trust God both now and with their future. I pray that Jesus would come and make Himself real to them, and that they would know that Jesus could change their lives for the better.

I pray that someone close will share the gospel with them and they would become a godly man and woman, husband and wife, father and mother, and lead their family well. I pray that they will understand that God forgives men and women for their sins, and that they could become part of His chosen family.

I pray that they will understand that the church of Jesus Christ is made up of people who are not perfect, but are sinners – just like them. People who were adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, drunkards, murders and yes, even people who have committed domestic violence.

You see, I pray that Ray and Janay would spend 30 seconds to repent and trust Jesus, because in doing so, that 30 seconds will change their life – forever.

It did mine, how about you?!

Reading – And Why It Is Important!

by Phil Courson

It’s summer and you possibly have some more time that has opened up. You are going on vacation, or taking the kids to the community pool, or spending hours having some ‘chill time.’ I want to encourage you to use this summer as a chance to spend some extended time reading for yourself and reading to your children. Why? Because reading is very important! Here are just a few thoughts!

1) Reading is important because it develops the mind. The mind is a muscle. It needs exercise. Understanding the written word is one way the mind grows in its ability. Teaching young children to read helps them develop their language skills. It also helps them learn to listen. Everybody wants to talk, but few can really listen. Reading helps children (and adults) focus on what someone else is communicating.

2) Reading helps us to discover new things. Books are great learning tools which require the ability to read and understand what is read.

3) Reading develops the imagination. TV and computer games have their place, but they are more like amusement. Amusement comes from two words “a” [non] and “muse” [think]. Amusement is non-thinking activities. With reading, a person can go anywhere in the world…or even out of it! They can be a king, or an adventurer, or a princess, or… The possibilities are endless. Non-readers never experience these joys to the same extent.

4) Reading develops creativity. When reading to children, stop every once in awhile and ask them what they think is going to happen next. Get them thinking about the story. When it is finished, ask if they could think of a better ending or anything that would have improved it. If they really liked the story, encourage them to illustrate it with their own drawings or to make up a different story with the same characters. Get the creative juices flowing!

5) Finally, reading is important because of its connection to learning. You are, right now, the result of words that you have heard or read AND believed about yourself. Learning and growing are essential for the Christian life. Reading teaches us!

Here are a few reasons why reading is important! Unless you see the potential for growth in so many areas of life when it comes to reading, you will never gain a love for it. Pick out some books or get my suggested reading list, but make sure you read this summer. I am busy reading…how about you?!

The Art of Confession – an article from John D. Barry

by Phil Courson

(From Phil Courson – Here is a helpful article from John D. Barry that will help us understand this important matter of confession.)

 

Confession is a lost art. Most Christian communities today have little outlet for doing so, and the systems for confessing that we do have are often tainted by a lack of honesty and trust.

This isn’t helped by the fact that none of us like to admit wrong. Yet God calls us to confession. In revealing sin in our lives, we have an opportunity to change (James 5:16). When a sin is revealed, the strength of temptation wanes.

This is not to suggest that we should openly confess our sins to all people, for unsafe and abusive people certainly exist. Rather, in close friendship with other Christians, we should be honest about our failures. Most importantly, we must confess these things to God.

We need to overcome the fatal assumption that because we are saved by Christ’s dying and rising for our sins, we no longer need to confess them. In admitting our sins to God, we move toward overcoming them and into an honest relationship with Him. God already knows who we are and what we’ve done, so there is no reason to fear being honest with Him. And perhaps in learning to be honest with Him, we can also learn to be honest with others.

For many of us, the difficulty of praying about our sins is what prevents us from telling God what we need and what we’ve done. God has an answer to this, though: the Psalms.

For example, in Psalm 51, the psalmist says, “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and from my sin cleanse me. For I, myself, know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (Psalm 51:2–3). He goes on to say, “Create a clean heart for me, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and with a willing spirit sustain me” (Psalm 51:10–12).

When we confess our sins to God and to others, He is faithful to help us overcome temptations. We have been given the great gift of Christ Jesus, who purifies us from all our wrongs against Him and others. And so we must seek His presence and live in it; in doing so, we can overcome the power of sin. In light of God’s power, sin is nothing; it deserves no stronghold.

Are you currently confessing your sins to God and others? How can you create a safe system to confess your sins in a way that honors God?

John D. Barry

 

Extraordinary Women

by Phil Courson

Extraordinary Women

“Likewise, husbands live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the women as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” 1 Peter 3:7

What makes the Bible so amazing and unique is the way it exalts women. The Bible doesn’t demean or belittle women. It is just the opposite, the Bible goes out of its way to pay homage to them, to ennoble their roles in society and family, to acknowledge the importance of their influence, and to exalt the virtues of women who were particularly godly examples.

Women from the beginning of Scripture are told that just like men they bear the image of God (Genesis 1:27; 5:1,2). At Sinai, God commanded children to honor both father and mother (Exodus 20:12).

This was a revolutionary concept in an era when most pagan cultures were dominated by men who ruled their households with iron fists while women were usually regarded as lesser creatures – mere servants to men.

Scripture seems to set women apart for special honor! Husbands are commanded to love their wives sacrificially, as Christ loves the church – even if they have to lose their own life (Ephesians 5:25-31). The Bible celebrates the priceless value of a virtuous woman (Proverbs 12:4; 31:10).

The point is simple – pagan religion encourage the devaluation of women, but the Bible from cover to cover portrays women as extraordinary! Eve, Sarah, Rahab, Ruth, Hannah, Mary, Anna, Mary Magdalene, Lydia, Martha and Mary, and a host of others who gave of themselves to serve their God and their families.

“Scripture honors women as women, and it encourages them to seek honor in a uniquely feminine way (Proverbs 31:10-30). Scripture never discounts the female intellect, downplays the talents and abilities of women, or discourages the right use of women’s spiritual gifts. But whenever the Bible expressly talks about the marks of an excellent woman, the stress is always on feminine virtue. The most significant women in Scripture were influential not because of the careers, but because of their character.” John MacArthur

Yesterday, our country celebrated Mother’s Day – let us make sure that we are always grateful for our wives, mothers, sisters and other women in our lives. Let us show them year round the respect of being a co-heir with Christ, and thank God for their involvement in our lives.

The Bible honors and esteems women like no other religion and we want to do the same at Abundant Grace! How about you?

Walk in Him

by Phil Courson

Colossians 2:6

“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him…

Paul tells Christians about the benefits available by virtue of being united to Christ in order to ‘walk in him’ faithfully and wisely – especially in the face of false teaching. Paul calls on them to understand all the resources they have in Christ so as to utilize those resources to fight the good fight of faith.

Just as we have received Christ by faith and grace so we must ‘walk in Him’ by faith and grace. We must continue to move forward and not be burdened by the cares of this life.

The gospel is for sanctification, not only justification; for growth, not only conversion. We do what Jesus instructs in the confidence that He knows and will accomplish what is best for our lives, and we are motivated and enabled to do this as He instructs us by His grace.

Paul calls on believers who are walking in Him or united with Him to utilize these promises and benefits and to not be led astray by any teaching that is contrary to the gospel that he (Paul) taught them (the Colossians).

You and I can walk in Him and enjoy the gospel benefits daily and continue to put sin to death in our lives. I have walked in my own strength for years and saw no fruit in my life as a result. I still battle the temptation at times today to walk in my own power and strength. But as I bring the gospel to bear on my life, I realize the futility of walk in my strength and humble myself to allow the Holy Spirit to empower me to ‘walk in Him’ and enjoy the life I have in Christ.

My prayer is that God will grant me the grace to ‘walk in Him.’ How about you?

Raised With Christ!

by Phil Courson

Have you ever read a compelling book where the plot builds, leading to a critical point, with seemingly no way out.  Or,  you anticipate something and then, at the last minute, the piece to the puzzle that puts it all together shows up creating a happy ending. My friend, Dan Walsh has written “Remembering Christmas”, and it has a “gotcha” moment that puts the book in this category.

When it comes to the resurrection, the Bible is like this as well. We see the story of sin entering the world, with no hope – until the Son comes.  He lives a sinless life, is beaten by those who hated him, hung on a cross and experienced the wrath of God, and died a horrific death.  BUT (here is the gotcha moment) He was raised from the dead and then ascended to heaven.

The resurrection is that moment in the story that changes everything and puts the pieces of the puzzle together. Both the cross and the resurrection of Jesus are central to Paul. Paul’s gospel hinges on the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead.

“There is obviously a direct link between death and resurrection. Without Jesus’ death, there could not have been a resurrection, but equally without the resurrection even the death of Jesus would have been a meaningless tragedy. In order for Jesus’ death to be of any benefit to us, he had to emerge from the grave alive, and as we have seen, Paul repeatedly confirms that fact for us.”                                      Adrian Warnock

The Christian faith is of no value or significance if Jesus Christ was not raised from the dead.

1 Corinthians 15:14 – “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”

We have eyewitness accounts, transformed disciples, ease of disproof, survival of Christianity, and the continuing of Christ’s presence. The resurrection has changed everything! It changed the cross from a tragedy to a triumph!

Because of the attacks on the cross of Christ, the resurrection has been neglected in the life of a Christian.

Again quoting Mr. Warnock:
“At the cross we learn true humility, our hopeless sinfulness, and our need of God. At the empty tomb we fully appreciate what Christ has achieved for us and receive power to live for him. A deeper, fuller insight into the trust of Jesus’ resurrection will cause our lives to be radically transformed.”

I want to live a ‘radically transformed’ life!  I want to live like I am ‘raised with Christ!”   How about you?!

Noah, Man of Faith

by Phil Courson

“By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” Hebrews 11:7

In less than two weeks, Hollywood will release a movie concerning Noah and the flood. I’m sure there will be MUCH ‘creative license’ because that is the way producers do things. On Sunday, March 30th, I will preach at AGCC on what the Bible says about Noah and the flood, to equip our people to share the biblical version of this amazing story! There are going to be opportunities to share the gospel with unbelievers because of this movie, especially since Russell Crowe is playing Noah.

The story of Noah and the flood, like every story in the Bible, is about God! Noah didn’t think up the idea of the ark himself. The ark was clearly God’s idea and He revealed it to Noah. This story is about God’s judgment and God’s grace.

God’s judgment – because ‘the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Genesis 6:5).” But it is also about God’s grace – “But Noah found favor (grace) in the eyes of the Lord (Genesis 6:8).”

The ark is God’s provision for Noah and his family to escape the judgment of God. God had provided a warning to the people of the coming judgment for 120 years as Noah was building the ark, but they continually rejected and mocked those warnings. The flood was God’s judgment and the ark was God’s salvation. But when GOD closed the door of the ark (Genesis 7:16) the time of judgment had begun.

But what about today, how does this story relate to us? Well we know that God is holy, He still hates sin and He is slow to judge. He warns us and tells us that the sins of men will not go on forever. Judgment will come! Acts 17:30 says, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

But God’s grace is available today as well. It is through the person and work of Jesus Christ. We can be pardoned from God’s judgment, as Noah was, if we live by faith and put our trust in Jesus. This is the ONLY means of escape provided by God! There is only ONE door, just like in the ark, through which we can come to God, escaping His judgment. No amount of Hollywood theatrics will change that truth.

The question is – have you gotten onboard? I have, how about you?

ReThink Lent!

by Phil Courson

 

What do you think of when you hear the word Lent? Fat Tuesday, Ash Wednesday or “What are you giving up for Lent?” What vice, luxury or sin are you giving up for the next 40 days (but you can do it for the next 325 days of the year?) Those are my thoughts about Lent! But maybe it is time for me to ReThink Lent!

In tradition, Lent is a 40-day period over 46 days (Sundays are not included) beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending on Easter Sunday.

What is the purpose of 40 days? Does the number 40 have significance in the Bible? Yes! – 40 is a significant number in the Bible – it speaks of waiting, preparation or testing and ends with a period of restoration, revival or renewal. Noah and his family were shut up in the ark, enduring the rain for 40 days and nights (Gen 7:17). Moses spent 40 days and nights on a mountaintop, neither eating nor drinking as he experienced the presence of God (Ex. 34:28); the Lord,  hearing the grumbling of the Israelites, condemned them to 40 years of wandering in the desert (Num.14:33); Elijah spent forty days and nights walking to Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:8); Jonah gave 40 days in his prophecy of judgment to the city of Nineveh in which to repent or be destroyed (Jonah 3:4).

The New Testament shows Jesus spending 40 days in the wilderness, fasting, and being tempted by Satan (Mark 1:12), and Jesus was seen by his disciples for 40 days after His crucifixion (Acts 1:3).

Because of this, Christians from many church traditions have marked the occasion of Jesus’ death and resurrection by a similar period of fasting known as Lent. But as I “ReThink Lent”, I want more than just giving up a vice or luxury, I want more of Jesus. Here are a couple of things Lent means to me as I ReThink it!

Lent is a time of preparation—a time of confession, prayer, and repentance.

Lent is a time of reflecting – reflecting on our shared experience of the suffering, death and glorious resurrection of Christ, the very center of our faith.

Lent is a time of self-examination – a time that should lead us to the end of our self-sufficiency and to full dependence on Jesus.

Lent is a time of intimacy with Jesus – Intimacy will be the natural result of times of preparation, times of reflecting, and times of self-examination. Intimacy comes through our engaging with God.

As I “ReThink Lent”, I don’t want it to last just 40 days, but pray that these things will continue to grow in my life everyday! I want more of Jesus everyday, how about you?

 

 


Cultivating Love

by Phil Courson

 1 John 4:19 – “We love because he first love us.”

Have you ever found the command to love both inspiring and challenging? I have! But I realize that in and of myself I cannot love God, and that means I will do a poor job loving my neighbor. The Gospel tells me that Christ has changed my heart and now I have the Holy Spirit inside me to empower me to love God and my neighbor. What hope that is for me…and my neighbor (i.e. my wife, children, family, friends and workmates)!

“We love because he first loved us.” This passage doesn’t tell me “I love God” because he first loved me. No, it tells me that “I just love” because he first loved me! Because he first loved me, I can love God and people! We cannot help it!

Love begets love! When I think of love I cannot help to think of God! Because love is who God is.

“Where love is, God is. They who abide in love abide in Christ. God is love. Therefore, love. Without distinction, without calculation, without procrastination, love.” Henry Drummond

Love is not something that can be created, but it is something to be learned. We have the greatest example of love in the person of Jesus Christ. If we want and desire to cultivate love, then we must contemplate the love of Christ and then we will love!

My prayer is that the love of Christ would be seen in and through me first in my love for my Savior, and then in my love for my neighbor!  How about you?

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