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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Give Your Thoughts Over to God



Give Your Thoughts Over to God

 

I have the habit of thinking about whatever happens to fall into my mind.  And some of the things that fall into my mind are lies and wrong thoughts that mess me up.  I need to make some changes!   In Scripture we are told that our thoughts matter and we are to tear down the lies and the thoughts that are not of faith and to make our thoughts obedient to Christ.  The Bible says: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God.  And we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”  (2 Corinthians 10:5) 

 

Our thoughts and ideas are the stuff of life and survival.  God gave us minds to analyze and think through ideas and concepts.  He gave us His Word and the Church to filter these ideas through.  And God gives us the Holy Spirit to live in our hearts and be our teacher and guide. Many of the popular ideas out there in our world set themselves up against the knowledge of God!  Because of this, we who confess Christ ought to carefully examine the thoughts and the assumptions behind the latest ideas in fashion before we start believing them and passing them on.

 

The late Ayn Rand was a writer whose opinions have influenced many Christian groups today.  Ayn Rand was an atheist who hated Christianity. She wrote popular books that sold millions of copies.  Ayn Rand believed that in every society some of the people are the important “creator” types – the wealthy, the movers and shakers, the high society.  But then she believed that most of the people in society are second class citizens and not worth much..She called these ordinary people, - the ones who aren’t rich or famous -  the “parasites,” “looters,” and “moochers.”

 

 In her book, “We the Living” she writes: “What are your masses (people)…but mud to be ground underfoot, fuel to be burned for those who deserve it?”  The Bible teaches that followers of Christ are “not to be respecters of persons” (Acts 10:34) And that God calls us to love and treat all persons with respect.  Scripture teaches that every human being is made in the image of God and that every life is sacred. 

 

In the “Journals of Ayn Rand”, she write: “No man exists for the sake of another man …It is one of my main cornerstones- perhaps the basic axiom” p.266) This author spoke out against helping those in need.  Of course Jesus calls us to help those in need. (Gal. 6:7-10) Jesus gave his life for us and we are to pick up our cross and follow Him.  This author’s teachings are opposite from Biblical teachings and yet millions of Christians are influenced by her writings!  I believe that we should take the warnings of Scripture that say: “Demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God.” (2 Cor. 10:5a)

 

There are many other writers, pastors, politicians and media anchormen and women who also pass their thoughts and opinions on to us every day.  We are to test new thoughts and attitudes against Scripture and view all of our thoughts and feelings through the lens of God’s Word.  Most of us run our e-mail through a spam filter to get rid of junk and malware: and we ought to do the same with our thoughts and ideas.  Thoughts are powerful!  Scripture says: “whatever is not of faith is sin.”(Romans 14:23)      

 

God calls us to give our thought life to Him.  All of our thoughts are not intellectual thoughts.  Some are faith filled thoughts and some are loving thoughts.  We are to believe and trust in Him.  And we are to love God with all our heart and to love one another as we love ourselves.(Luke 10:27)  As Christians we are called to live loving lives of service.

 

But when people harm or betray us or our loved ones, we have angry hate filled thoughts. Life is full of injustices and we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t get angry about them. We are to right the wrongs that come our way if we can, then forgive and keep forgiving when our hateful thoughts return, and pray and give God what we can’t fix and trust Him to deal with it.  We are commanded by God not to hold onto our hate. God will deal with our impossible problems because He promises to answer our prayers. 

 

The story goes that a father tells his little son that there are two wolves in every human heart.  One wolf is made up of “love” and the other wolf is made up of “hate”.  The two wolves fight with one another back and forth inside the human soul.  Each wolf trying to influence the thoughts and take over the life of their human.  “Father, tell me,” asks the little son, “Which wolf will win?”  “Ah, my son,” answers the father, “the wolf that the human feeds, that is the one that will win.”

 

And this is so true.  We need to “feed” the love we find in our hearts so that it will grow.  We can be kind to one another and take care of each other’s needs.  Trust God to take care of our problems. Be there for one another.  Forgive one another and extend goodwill.  Pray for the other, especially those we have trouble loving.  Give to the poor and needy.  Turn the other cheek. Soon our life will be overflowing with love! 

 

And if we choose to “feed” the anger and hate that we feel, we can do that by holding onto hate and refusing to let it go – not forgiving.  Criticizing and gossiping and insulting others.  Making fun of others.  Using other people to satisfy our own needs.  Ignoring God’s Word. Refusing to extend goodwill. Joining “hate” groups. Negative thinking produces a negative life. It’s our choice whether we “feed” the love we have in our hearts or the hate!  But which one we “feed” will make all the difference in what kind of a life we live.

 

God calls us to believe in Him and have faith.  Reasons for our belief and faith are important and we need to struggle with these and God will help us with our doubts if we ask. The Bible says that faith comes by hearing the Word. (Romans 10:17)  So we can build up our faith by studying and meditating on the Word of God. God is greater than our difficulties and believing in Him can cause us to win any battle we face.  We can choose to see the power available to us through God when we trust Him more than our circumstances.  Nothing is impossible for us with God!

 

Scripture says that we are to “fix our minds” on good things.  Here is the passage: “Whatever is true, whatever is worthy of reverence and is honorable and seemly, whatever is just and whatever is pure, whatever is lonely and lovable, whatever is kind and winsome and gracious, think on those things.”  (Philippians 4:8)  We can choose our own thoughts on purpose.  Bad thoughts and habits can be broken and replaced with good ones. When we think about good things, there is less room for those bad thoughts to get into our minds.  Scripture says, “Be not overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.”  (Romans 12:21)

 

Scripture says: “Blessed is the person who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of the mockers.  But his/her delight is in the law of the Lord.  And in His Law he/she meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:1-2)  This says that the person who meditates on God’s Word is blessed!

 

All of the people in the Bible who were close to God had the habit of meditating on God’s Word.  To meditate means to think over and over about what the Word is saying to us.  To let the Word seep into our being and change us.  It may not be easy, but it will be worth the effort to spend time every day in God’s Word. There is power in God’s Word and if we meditate on the Word it will help produce a life worth living. 

 

God promises to be with us throughout our life – and death too!  (Psalm 23) And God promises that anything in His will that we ask for in prayer He will do!  We have so much to be thankful for!  God is offering each of us the gift of a good life, but we have to do our part in taking this gift.

 

Some of the ideas in this blog are taken from Joyce Meyer’s book, “Power Thoughts”.   

  

 

 

 

            


Saturday, February 21, 2015

You Are God's Beloved Child



 

You Are God’s Beloved Child

 

I would like to share with you some of the good things that I got from reading Henri Nouwens book, Life of the Beloved’ which has become a spiritual classic.  The late Henri Nouwen was a Catholic priest and one of the great spiritual writers of our day.

 

As believers in Christ we believe that we are God’s beloved children.  Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit speaks to our spirits telling us that we are God’s children. And that we can call God our Father or our “Abba” which means our “Papa”.  The Bible says: “…for you have received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba Father.” (Romans 8:15a-17b)  The Holy Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.  And if children, then “heirs”, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ,…”

 

Every time we hear the Holy Spirit’s voice whispering in our hearts that we are beloved children of God and God is our “Papa we want to hear more.  It isn’t easy to hear the Spirit’s voice in a world filled with other voices that tell us: “You are a nobody.”  “You are guilty.”  “You are ugly.”  Throughout our lifetime we will hear so many voices telling us that we aren’t good enough that we can easily start believing them.

 

We keep running around looking for someone or something to convince us that we are good enough to be loved.  But we are God’s chosen ones even when the world does not choose us.  Self rejection is a great enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the Spirit’s call telling us that we are God’s beloved children - heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ!  We need to claim this truth of who we are in Christ and live it out.  This core truth is that we are God’s beloved and very dear to Him.  (Song of Solomon 7:10)

 

 We no longer belong to ourselves to do our own thing.  We now belong to God, our Father. (1 Corinthians 6:20)  We gave our lives to Him when we believed and now the Spirit is urging us along a new joyful path and we haltingly follow.  Becoming the Beloved is the great spiritual journey we have to make in this life! 

 

Becoming the Beloved means letting the truth of our Belovedness become part of everything we think, say, or do.  To identify the movements of the Spirit in our lives, Henri Nouwen has found it helpful to use four words: (1) “taken”, (2)“blessed”, (3)“broken” and (4)“given”.  He believes that as a Christian we are called to become “bread” for the world: bread that is taken, blessed, broken and given.

 

To be “taken” means to be “chosen.”  As the “Beloved” we are God’s chosen ones and seen as special.  Long before we were born and became part of history, we were in God’s heart. (Jeremiah 1:5)  Because we were “chosen” does not mean that others were rejected.  This is a mystery.  I believe that God wants (or has chosen) every person to be His child (John 3:16) (2 Peter 3:9) but every person in the world does not want or has not chosen to belong to God.  God’s invitation – the gift of salvation - has gone out but many have not accepted it.  (Hebrews 2:3)

 

To get in touch with our chosenness when we are surrounded by rejections we first need to keep reminding ourselves that the world is manipulative, controlling, and power hungry.  We are not a “nobody” just because we aren’t rich and powerful by the world’s standards.  And secondly we need to keep looking for people and places where the truth that we are a beloved child of God is spoken and where we are reminded of our identity in Christ.  And the third thing we need to do is constantly celebrate our chosenness.  Keep saying “thank you” to God for having chosen us.  Gratitude is the best way to deepen our consciousness that we are not the “accident” the world tells us we are.  Our chosenness opens our eyes to the chosenness of others too!

 

The second word “blessed” is important because we fearful, anxious, insecure human beings are so very much in need of a blessing.  We need each other’s blessings.  By the word “blessing” we mean saying good things about someone.  Without affirmations and blessings it is hard to live well!  A blessing is to say “yes” to a person’s belovedness. 

 

The world will beat us up and that is all the more reason that we need to listen for the Spirit’s voice that continues to bless us as we walk through life.  Scripture says:  “His compassions do not fail, his blessings are new every morning:  Great is Your (God’s) faithfulness.”  (Lamentations 3:22b-23)  Let’s be attentive to the blessings that are new every morning and that come our way day after day!  Name them and count them on purpose and you will be amazed at what God does for you each day.

 

 My body heals itself of so many illnesses and ailments.  Each time it is a gift or blessing from God and I am thankful.  I had back surgery several years ago and the doctor put screws and bolts in my spine to make it longer.  New bone cells needed to grow into an inch of new space and my doctor was concerned that that might not happen.  But over time (and prayer) little by little new bone cells appeared out of nowhere and filled in the extra inch of space around the bolts and screws and my back became strong again. I felt like God had personally come down and handed me a precious blessing.  (which He did!)  Scripture says: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above and comes down from the Father…”  (James 1:17)  

 

There is power in our blessings!  Power in a parent’s blessing of their children and power in the children’s blessing of their parent.  The blessings that we give to each other are expressions of the blessings that rest on us from God.  As children of Light we need to go through the world spreading light and love and blessing.  Many of us suffer from a deep sense of being cursed.  We hear that inner voice that calls us bad, worthless, useless, doomed to sickness.  Stay away from the darkness and do not listen to the world’s lies!

 

We need to know how to hear and claim our blessing.  Henri Nouwen offers two suggestions for claiming your blessedness.  The first one is prayer.  The real “work” of prayer is to become silent and listen to the voice that says good things about you.  When we are still before God listening for His voice with our lives open before Him, often we can hear Him speak to our hearts and our lives are changed and blessed.  

 

And the second suggestion for claiming our blessedness is paying attention to the blessings that come to us day after day, year after year.  We often get too busy to notice that we are being blessed!  Without a conscious desire to “waste” our time, it is hard to hear the blessing. Claiming your own blessedness always leads to a desire to bless others.  To speak words of blessing wherever we go!  And people want to be blessed!  We can walk through life offering blessings and praying for people.  It flows naturally from our hearts! 

 

Every beloved child of God who has been chosen and blessed, has also lived with brokenness in their life.  We all suffer and feel rejected and ignored and left alone.  Our bodies are tense and we sometimes keep our guard up.  If we feel that we no longer have anything to offer to anyone, we lose our grip on life.  It is tempting to feel like a victim – to allow ourselves to live under the curse and the darkness of pain and rejection.  Instead of living out our brokenness as a confirmation of our fears, Henri Nouwen suggests that we are to allow God’s blessing to touch us in our brokenness.  To experience the suffering as a way to a deeper trust in God..  To trust God to take care of it. 

 

And the fourth word is “given” because our lives are fulfilled in giving ourselves to others.  We don’t have to spend money to give a smile, a handshake, a word of love, an embrace, a part of our life.  Life finds its fulfillment in giving.  Our life itself is the greatest gift we can give.  And the question isn’t “What can we offer each other?”  but “Who can we be for each other?”  The one who helps us the most is the one who is willing to share his or her life with us! 

 

Henri Nouwen closes his book by suggesting that we are called to become bread for each other – bread for the world.  He believes that our short little lives can bear fruit beyond the boundaries of the years that we are alive.  That God can abundantly multiply the little blessings we give to one another throughout our lives.  And like the boy who gave Jesus his little lunch and more than five thousand people were fed with it (John 6:1-15), Jesus can use the little gifts you give Him to do more than you can ever imagine.

 

The book ends with these words: “One of the greatest acts of faith is to believe that the few years we live on this earth are like a little seed planted in a very rich soil.  For this seed to bear fruit, it must die.  We often see or feel only the dying, but the harvest will be abundant, even when we ourselves are not the harvesters.”     

 

 

The ideas from this blog are taken from Henri J.M. Nouwen’s book “Life of the Beloved”  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Can the Church Mix Jesus with Political Power?



Can the Church Mix Jesus with Political Power?

 

Last week President Obama appeared at the National Prayer Breakfast and gave a short speech and as always, some of the people who attended the prayer breakfast were outraged by what he said!  Let’s look at part of what Obama said at this prayer breakfast that caused the avalanche of criticism from    right wing Christians!   

 

Obama stated that the beliefs of intolerance and hate held by Islamic terrorist groups such as Isis are not the beliefs that are shared by the larger Moslem community.  And then to make the point he mentioned that throughout the history of Christianity occasionally radical groups calling themselves Christian have done terrible things in the name of Christ which really did not represent Jesus Christ in any way. 

 

At the prayer breakfast Obama said: “…remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, some people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.  In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ….”  Obama is talking about old historical events when he mentions the Crusades and the Inquisition and for anyone to find that insulting to Christians today would be hard to believe.  But that is exactly what happened.

 

Reverend Mike Huckabee was quick to criticize our President on Fox News.  Part of what he said was: “Everything he (Obama) does is against what Christians stand for, and he’s against the Jews in Israel,” Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore added,” Obama has offended every believing Christian in the United States.  …”  Many more angry criticisms were forth coming against our President.  Year after year the hate goes on and on!  

 

The evangelical fundamentalist church has become more and more political.  It is not the grace filled loving church that it used to be!  It seems they believe that it is their duty as Christians to uphold their moral values in a secular society.  Many feel that they are called by God to conquer this country and force it to be godly!  Or their definition of “godly.”

 

If they could just pass enough laws, they could turn our country around for God!  Send illegal immigrants back.  Stop millions of poor people from having affordable healthcare.  Stop abortion.  Everyone carry guns.  Cut taxes.  Cut funding for public schools!  Angry political issues have become married to our Christian faith so that the amazing grace that once drew so many to the Christian church is now difficult to find inside its doors.    

 

Does the fundamentalist Christian’s concern for morality drown out their message of God’s love for sinners?  The message of Jesus has never been a proud powerful political message; it has always been a humble message of love, grace and forgiveness.  The political world plays by the rules of money and power but Jesus Christ never played by those rules!  Instead He sacrificed Himself on the cross for us and offers us grace.

 

 The fundamentalist church has become so swept up in everything political that it now plays by the rules of money and power – political power.  And the prayer breakfast which used to be a place where presidents could go and find helpful people and grace in time of need, has been changed into a prayer breakfast today where our president only finds criticism and people filled with ungrace.

 

 But aren’t these good Christians being nasty for a reason?  It would seem to be a good thing that the fundamentalist church is trying to turn the country back to morality.  Isn’t that what God would have them do?  Jesus tells a story or parable that I believe speaks to this issue. It is found in Matthew 13:24-30. 

 

 Jesus tells one of his stories or parables about the kingdom of heaven being like a man who plants good wheat seeds in his field.  All is well but then just when everyone is sleeping an enemy sneaks in and plants weeds among the good wheat.  When the workers see the weeds growing up along with the wheat in the field they ask the owner if they can pull the bad weeds up.  But the owner answers, “No” His reason is that while his workers would be pulling up the weeds they might also pull up some of the good wheat.  He tells his workers to wait until the harvest and the harvesters will first collect the weeds and burn them and then gather in the wheat.

 

The disciples asked Jesus to explain this parable of the wheat and weeds and He does in Matthew 13:36-42.  Jesus explains that the field is the world and Jesus says that He is the One who plants the good wheat seeds which are the people who follow Him.  The weeds are the children of the wicked one.  The enemy who plants the weeds during the night is the devil.  And the harvest happens at the end of the age.  Until then we are to leave the weeds and wheat together.  The reapers who pull up the weeds and burn them are the angels of God.  And then after that “the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”  (Matthew 13:43)  

 

I believe this parable of Jesus answers the question as to whether we workers in God’s field should work to pull up the weeds that grow throughout the wheat field.  Shouldn’t we Christians force morality and our brand of purity onto our nation?  Take dominion over our country in the name of Christ and weed out what is bad or what we don’t like?  Force the heathens to become Christian?  Make everyone pray in the public schools?  It would seem that the answer in Jesus’ parable to those questions is “no”. 

 

In this parable of the wheat and the weeds the owner of the field told his workers not to pull up the weeds but leave them in the field mixed together with the wheat.  That we workers should not be the judge.  That this job of judgment should be left for God and His angels to perform at the end of the age.  And the reason given in the parable was that if we try to pull up the weeds we will also pull up some of the precious wheat. 

 

What kind of a world are we creating when we run around pulling up weeds?   And pulling them up in the name of Christ?  The evangelical churches in the U.S. are losing members today because their concern for morality has drown out their message of Jesus’ love for sinners and his commands to take care of the poor and the sick.  They have mixed Jesus up with political power and the wheat is being destroyed in all their power plays.

 

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians he expressed concern that the church members of Galatia were bickering and criticizing one another.  Let’s listen:  “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, that ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!”  (Galatians 5:14-15)

 

 Perhaps we have been instructed to leave the job of judging and weed pulling to God because if we take on the weed pulling job we will bite and devour each other and we will all be consumed.  And then we won’t be there to do the real job that God gave us to do –the very most important job of the church -- to love one another as we love ourselves!

 

Some of the ideas in this blog were taken from Phillip Yancey’s book, “What’s So Amazing About Grace?  Pp. 225-236 chapter “Mixed Aroma”

 

      

 

 

     

 

 

 


Sunday, February 8, 2015

Jesus Calls Us to Pray Boldly




 

 

Jesus Calls Us to Pray Boldly

Luke 11:5-13

 

 

Jesus taught a whole lesson encouraging his followers to be bold when they pray.  To be persistent and keep on asking and never give up.  Jesus starts out with one of his parables or stories to try to get the point across.  Here is the story Jesus told.

 

“Suppose you have a friend, and he knocks on your door at midnight and shouts through the door, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread!  A friend of mine was traveling by and surprised me by dropping by my house tonight. I happen to be out of food right now and he is hungry.  It’s a mess.  What are we to do?’ 

 

It is very late and you have been wakened out of a sound sleep.  Now the dogs are barking and the children are waking up.  You are annoyed that your friend would inconvenience you like this.  You shout back, ‘Don’t bother me.  The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed.  I can’t get up and give you anything now.  You’ve got to be crazy to even ask!!’

 

But nothing slows your friend down.  He keeps knocking and begging loudly.  “It’s an emergency, please don’t leave us without food!”  There is more pounding on the door.  “My friend hasn’t eaten for several days and he is passing out!  I will pay you back tomorrow when I can go to the store.  Please, pleased!”  He keeps on knocking at my door!  And I can hear his friend’s children crying in the background! 

 

I turn over in bed, cover my head with my pillow and pretend not to hear.  He puts the little children up near my window so I can’t miss hearing them crying loudly for food.  I am irritated and I can see that I’m not going to get any sleep tonight until I get up and give him what he wants!  I get up grumpily and stagger into the kitchen and get three loaves of bread and open the front door and shove the loaves out the door at my friend.  I don’t give him the bread because he is my friend but because he won’t stop knocking on my door!  And because he won’t give up!.”  (Luke 11:5-8) 

 

Jesus tells this story to teach us to behave like the friend in the story when we pray to God.  To refused to give up.  To follow his example and keep on knocking loudly on the door of heaven boldly asking for what we need.  To keep on expecting and keep on holding up our need or the needs of our friends.  To let the Holy Spirit lead and to fast and pray and keep on believing. Jesus tells us to pray like that!  Prayer is holy work! 

 

Right after Jesus tells this story he adds: “Ask and it will be given, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives and he who seeks, finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”  (Luke 11:9-10)  Jesus is showing us that the gracious heavenly Father wants to give us good things if we will come to Him.  

 

Jesus continues teaching about the giving nature of our heavenly Father.  He says that if our son or daughter is hungry and asks us for food we human parents will not give our hungry child a stone instead of food. And even though we human parents have faults we still usually give good gifts to our children. (Luke 11:11-13a) “How much more will our holy heavenly Father who loves us perfectly “give the Holy Spirit to those of us – his children who ask Him!”  (Luke 11:13b)  

 

You notice here that Jesus teaches that God will give “good” gifts to his children and He will give the Holy Spirit.  Most Bible scholars believe that “good” gifts mean “spiritual” gifts.   Other Bible passages tell us to pray in Jesus’ Name and ask in His will and He will always give these things.  If we ask God for something that He sees will be bad for us or bad for someone else He does not promise to answer those prayers.

 

 James 4:3 says: “When you ask you do not receive because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your own pleasures.”  We can ask God for a new expensive car but I don’t think we have the promise that He will definitely give that.  He may but then I don’t think we can count on it.  But if we ask for the salvation of a loved one we do know that that is in God’s will and I believe we can count on God answering that prayer. 

 

We do not know all of the reasons why God sometimes waits to answer our prayers.  And sometimes we have to wait a long time for the answers!  Some even wait until they reach heaven!  But God is working behind the scenes!  God’s timing is not always our timing!  Is God testing our faith by sometimes making us wait?  We are to leave these things to God and keep on believing that God is hearing us and holding up our requests!  Keep on trusting our loving heavenly Father.  When Abraham was a young man God promised him that he would become a father, but Abraham waited until he was one hundred years old to see his first child!  

 

Sometimes we don’t know what we should pray for or how we should pray.  But our heavenly Father has taken care of that too.  Scripture says: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.  …and the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.”  We can know that the Holy Spirit will be there with us, giving us the needed faith to believe that God is hearing us and helping us pray in this holy work. 

 

Hebrews 4:16 says:” Fearlessly and confidently and boldly draw near to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in good time for every need.”  Our gracious heavenly Father bids us come to Him.  He longs to bless us and give us good gifts.  Psalms 100 tells us: “We are his people and the sheep of His pasture.  Enter into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise.  Be thankful unto Him and bless His name.  For the Lord is good.  His mercy is everlasting.  And His truth endures to all generations.”  (Psalm 100:3b-5)  He is calling us to come!