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"How can a young person stay on the path of purity?  By living according to your word.  I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.  I HAVE HIDDEN YOUR WORD IN MY HEART THAT I MIGHT NOT SIN AGAINST YOU.  Praise be to you, Lord; teach me your decrees.  With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth.  I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches.  I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways.  I delight in your decrees; I WILL NOT NEGLECT YOUR WORD."  Psalm 119:9-16

Yesterday I read an article released by LifeWay that broke my heart.  Pew Research asked self-identified American Christians what parts of being a Christian are essential.  There were a list of things that people thought were important.  Topping the list of essentials for Christians was "believing in God" (86%).  "Forgiving others" was third on the list (69%).  What broke my heart was the fact the "reading the Bible" was only number eight on the list (42%).  As a matter of fact, one of the tag-lines of the articles said this: "For many Christians in the Unites States, reading the Bible is seen as an afterthought."

Psalm 119 is one of my favorite Psalms.  Throughout Psalm 119, the psalmist shows an appreciation and a value toward the Word of God.  Verse 11 says, "I have hidden your word in my that I might not sin against you."  That word "hidden" means "to treasure."  The Word of God is a priceless treasure, a precious gift.  Verse 15 says, "I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways."  Verse 18 says, "Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law."  Verse 105 says, "Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path."  Verse 130 says, "The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple."  Verse 167 says, "I obey your statutes, for I love them greatly."  THE WORD OF GOD IS ESSENTIAL IN THE LIFE OF THE CHRIST FOLLOWER!  The Word of God is alive and active (Hebrews 4:12).  The Word of God in me is powerful and transformational.  To know the Word of God is to know God, to know the heart of God.  If I value the love of God through Jesus Christ in my life, then I will value His Word in my life...knowing what it says, believing what it says, and doing what it says (James 1:22).  Proverbs 7:1-3 says, "My son, keep my words and store up my commands within you.  Keep my commands and you will live; guard my teachings as the apple of your eye.  Bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart."  If the Word of God is truly a lamp for my feet and a light for my path, then I will use it daily to walk in this dark world.  What kind of person only uses a light on a dark path once or every now and then?  What kind of person drives down a dark highway only using the headlights of the car every now and then?  When we are walking on dark paths, we shine the light continuously so that we can see where we are going.  When we are driving down the dark highways, we keep the headlights on so that we can see where we are going.  THE WORD OF GOD IS ESSENTIAL IN THE LIFE OF THE CHRIST FOLLOWER!  God's Word in me makes all the difference in my life...each and every day!  Colossians 3:16-17 says, "Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.  And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."  My prayer today is that reading and meditating on the Word of God is not number eight on our list of Christian essentials.  My prayer is that reading and meditating on the Word of God is at the top of our list of Christian essentials.  My prayer is that we can say as the psalmist said in Psalm 119:167, "I obey your statutes, for I love them greatly."  Amen!

"My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord.  Let every creature praise his holy name for ever and ever."   Psalm 145:10

It is so easy to be negative.  It is so easy to speak words that inflict pain and chaos.  However, it is just as easy to be positive.  It is just as easy to speak words that bring peace and hope.  When our hearts and our minds are focused on the Lord, our mouths will speak in praise of the Lord.  When our focus is on the Lord, He will give us a focus for glorifying God and helping others.  When our hearts and our minds are focused on self, well, you know what happens.  When we think selfishly, we speak selfishly.  We begin to criticize and tear down others, rather than pray for them and build them up.  If it doesn't suit us or help us, then we complain or attack.  Ultimately, it is a choice that we make.  As Christ followers, let's choose today to focus on the Lord and speak in praise of Him today.  Let's choose to speak words that encourage those around us.  And let's make the choice - my mouth will speak His praises - each and every day that God gives us...for His glory! Amen!

"'Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?'  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm.  Let nothing move you.  Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain."   1 Corinthians 15:55-58

Last week I was able to go with our students from Start Baptist Church to Cross Camp in Marshall, Texas.  I had the opportunity to teach Bible study to youth leaders and adult chaperones.  Each morning before Bible study, I asked the leaders to share some of their victory stories with us.  I believe it is so important to tell others about the victories God gives us in our lives.  I heard victory stories about students who surrendered their hearts to Jesus.  We actually had four students trust in the Lord as Savior, and each of them celebrated their victories with all of us.  I heard victory stories about physical, relational, and spiritual healing that God had brought many of the men and women there in my Bible study group.  It was an awesome time of encouragement in the Lord, and it was so good for me to be reminded that I serve the God of victory!

Yesterday, we stared our week of Vacation Bible School at church.  I was running around taking pictures of kids and adult workers.  I also had to change a couple of door knobs (you know, one of the other things pastors do while at church).  I didn't think much about what I was doing; it was just an average, normal day.  However, God was up to something BIG, and He invited me to be a part of it.  God had been working on a young mom's heart for several weeks.  She was here yesterday to help us with VBS, and she asked to speak to me for just a few minutes toward the end of our VBS day.  She wanted to know how to have a deep and vibrant relationship with God.  The more we talked, the more she realized she needed Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  I asked her if she believed that she was a sinner who needed Jesus.  I asked her if she believed that Jesus lived for her, died on the cross for her, and rose from the grave for her.  Her response was simple but amazing: "I BELIEVE!"  We prayed together, and she became my new sister in Christ!  During the closing celebration, she shared with all the kids and the workers that God had changed her life through Jesus Christ!  God is always working!  God is the God of victory!  And it is so awesome when God calls us to be a part of His victory in Jesus Christ and allows us to celebrate with other believers!

I don't know what battles you are facing today.  I don't know what you are doing today or where you are going.  But I do know this: God is always at work.  God is good, and He has called you and me to participate in what He is doing.  And there are no battles that we face, no mundane tasks that we take where God can't show us His glory and show us His victory.  And when we experience the victory that God gives us in Jesus, we need to share it with others.  Be encouraged by God today so that you can be an encourager to others tomorrow!  Let's tell others about how good our God is and how victorious God is in our lives through Jesus!  Someone needs to hear it.  Believe it!  Claim it!  Live it!