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Today we are celebrating LIFE!  To be Christian is to have accepted God’s invitation for eternal life.  To be Christian is to have embraced the reason Jesus came to earth which is stated in John 10:10.  Stand as we read this one verse of Scripture together out loud:  “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Now turn to Psalm 139:O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. You hem me in–behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.  If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.  (Wherever you go, there you and God are!  He is always with you!)For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

Silent Prayer
God not only wants you to have eternal life, but His presence in your life will impact your quality of life.  Never underestimate the value of the reality that God is Emmanuel which means He is WITH US!  Life is hard whether you are a Christian or a non-Christian.  How you will experience the hard parts of life will depend upon your recognition or acceptance of the fact that God is with you.  Life to the full or abundant life doesn’t have to begin when you die.  It is available to you right now no matter your circumstances.
Let’s look at some of the ways God is with us.
God is with us when we are being formed.Scripture explains that our existence isn’t a result of random chance.  God Himself created each one of us in our mother’s wombs.  He was there before our conception with a concept, a plan, a design for each one of our lives.  He set the plan into motion when He began the hands on work of forming us.
That’s why to abort a child is completely wrong.  It reveals Satan’s purposes in a dramatic way.  Satan wants to try to snatch anything He can from God’s hands whether an unborn baby who is being fashioned by the hand of God or a baby Christian who is being fed by the hand of God or a mature believer who is being led by the hand of God.  Snuffing out life is the work of Satan.  Praise God that even though our laws don’t protect the unborn, unborn children are always safe in the hands of their Creator, God.  For children who never live to open their eyes on earth, their first glimpse is of Jesus, their Redeemer.  Praise God that for women and men who make the wrong choice to abort a child there is healing and hope from God as they cry out to Him for forgiveness.
Women who have had abortions report difficulty moving on with their lives.  Their quality of life suffers once the realization of what they have done sinks in.  Post traumatic syndrome, guilt and shame often follow these women for decades.  It is only by the healing power of God that women can find the grace to forgive themselves after they have asked God to forgive them.  If you are here today and are suffering the after effects of abortion God wants to remake your future and infuse quality of life back into your life.  It’s not too late for you to experience abundant life!
Psalm 139 talks about how God knits us together in our mother’s womb.  Every capillary, every ventricle, every nostril, toe, or elbow, every centimeter of your intestines  are fashioned by God Himself.  He is there, on the inside, doing His job as the Creator of each of you.  He is watching over our unformed bodies (Psalm 139:16).
Even before you are being formed on the inside God has already developed the blueprint for your life.  He has already prepared “good works” for you to walk in and accomplish, and as He creates you, He puts into your DNA and personality and gift mix the skills and talents and interests that will enable you to carry out those tasks.  Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  Abundant life comes to us as we discover what those blueprints are and why each of us is here on this earth!  In that respect, abundant life is a life of discovery!
God is with us when we are broken.God never takes His eyes off of you.  Adam and Eve learned this truth right away.  They had sinned against God, and then tried to hide from Him.  Trying to hide from God is like trying to get a dog to quack or trying to nail Jell-O to the wall.  Impossible!  God started the rebuilding of their lives with a question.  “Where are you?” He called to Adam and Eve.
When we are broken by sin we often reflect on what has happened.  We ask ourselves things like:  How could we do what we said we would never do?  How could we hurt someone we love?  How could we step outside the commitment we made in our marriage?  How could we lie to our boss?  How could we deceive a friend?  How could we become a slave to an addiction?  How could we open our lives up to the stronghold of pornography?
But God didn’t ask those “how could you” kinds to questions of Adam and Eve.  He didn’t ask them, “How could you disobey me?”  or “How could you be so weak that you gave in to such an obvious temptation and trap?”  He didn’t ask them questions to shame them.  He simply asked, “Where are you?”
You see.  Sin dislocates us from God.  Following the breech, God wanted Adam and Eve to look at their spiritual location.  He wanted them to acknowledge the separation between God and Adam and Eve that sin created.  That separation was a spiritual death because that is what sin brings . . . death.  God had given them everything they could ever desire, but they chose to focus on the one thing God restricted them from having.  Instead of enjoying life and ruling and reigning in life as God designed for them to do, they forfeited “the good life” all for something that wasn’t as good as it looked; something that couldn’t produce the results Satan had promised.  He is such a liar.  We see from the beginning that Satan was hard at work to steal the “good life” from Adam and Eve and all of us by trying to get us disconnected from God.
“Where are you, Adam and Eve?” is the question meant to help them relocate themselves inside a relationship with God.  Quality of life begins by being connected to God through a relationship with Jesus.  This morning, God is asking you, “Where are you?”  Are you living the “good life” that comes from being right with God or are you trying to hide?
God is with us when we are rejected.Abraham and Sarah had been promised a son even though they were already past childbearing years.  They believed God’s promise, but as even more time passed and there was no pregnancy Sarah took matters into her own hands.  She gave her Egyptian maid, Hagar, to her husband so that in her thinking she could have a child with Abraham via Hagar as sort of a surrogate.  Well that sounded great initially but when Hagar actually got pregnant, Sarah wasn’t as joyful as she thought she would be.  Joy turned to jealousy.  Sarah started complaining to Abraham about the situation when she was the one who created it.  Instead of talking some sense into her, Abraham basically told Sarah to do what she wanted to fix the situation so that she was satisfied.  Pick up the story in  Genesis 16:6-13:
6 “Your servant is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her. 7 The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. 8 And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?” “I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered. 9 Then the angel of the LORD told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” 10 The angel added, “I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count.” 11 The angel of the LORD also said to her: “You are now with child and you will have a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the LORD has heard of your misery. 12 He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.” 13 She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”
Hagar was very much a victim of her circumstances.  Sarah used her and then kicked her to the curb.  Hagar, though once needed and valued, was now scorned and rejected.  She did like so many of us do when we are used, abused, or rejected. She started running.  She thought putting distance between herself and her problems would solve them.  Physical distance doesn’t take care of emotional pain and scars because as we run away we take that baggage with us.  It’s like running with a backpack of pain on your back.
So many people are spending their time, energy and resources trying to run from their problems.  Running is hard work.  People who are always running are always out of breath.  They can’t relax and center themselves because they are always sort of “gasping for air.”  Runners are always angry, lonely, or exhausted because the harder they try to distance themselves from their pain the futility and reality that it’s always with them drains them of joy and contentment and steals their quality of life.
When God spoke to Hagar she was sitting in the desert.  Hagar experienced God as the God who was with her in the desert.  He asked her a key question:  “Where have you come from, and where are you going?”
“Hagar, talk to me about your pain,” God was saying.  “Tell me what happened.  Why are you hurting?”  “And after you do, tell me where you are planning to go?”  Hagar admitted she was running from Sarah.  Where she was going was a mystery.  She didn’t answer part B of God’s question.  I’m thinking she had no clue where she was going.  Some people are so busy running away from something they haven’t taken any time to think about what they want to run towards.  How would she support herself as a single mother in that culture?  She really had no business running away.  It wasn’t strategic.  It was just desperate.
Before God asked her the question he called Hagar by name and added something to the greeting.  God said, “Hagar, servant of Sarah.”  He was reminding her of her home, and beginning the process of pointing her in the direction she needed to go. After listening to her, God told her to return home.  He basically said, “I want you to face the pain and work through the pain.”  Her ability to have a successful future depended on her willingness to confront her pain and problems.  Part of God’s words did include a blessing for her, but they also dealt the harsh reality that her son, Ishmael, was going to be more than a handful and would have a difficult time in life getting along with others.  What parents wants to hear that?
And then something amazing happened. Somehow during the exchange, Hagar got a release in her spirit.  She was headed home.  Circumstances hadn’t changed, but being heard out by God gave her an amazing level of comfort.  She said to God at the end of the encounter, “You are the God who sees me.”
Who here this morning needs to be reminded that God sees what you are going through?  Where have you come from, and where are you going?  God wants to be with you as you face your problems and insecurities.
God is with us when we are afraid.In I Kings 19 God had a question for the prophet Elijah.  Elijah was hiding in a cave, and God asked him, “What are you doing here?”
With God’s help, Elijah had just defeated 850 false prophets on Mt. Carmel, but instead of feeling confident, instead of celebrating, he was hiding in the cave because he was afraid of one person, Jezebel, who threatened to harm him.  Isn’t that sometimes how it works with fear?  Instead of focusing on all of our victories and everyone who is for us we get fixed on the one person that seems to be out to get us or the one circumstance that seems to be chasing after us and it causes us to lose our quality of life to the grip of fear.
When God asked Elijah, “What are you doing here,” I don’t think He was just referring to the cave.  I think God was also saying, “Why are you living life in fear?”  “How did you get to such a fearful place, Elijah?”  Fear is a quality of life stealer.  Quality of life is crushed when we are controlled by fear.  The fearful life is not an abundant life.
God told Elijah to come out of the cave and stand boldly where the presence of the Lord was going to pass by.  Quality of life, you see, perspective and boldness for living comes as we interact with the presence of God.  Elijah did just that.  And what did God tell Elijah to do?  He told him to go back the same way he had come just as he had Hagar.  God had unfinished business for Elijah and because of fear, Elijah had left it undone.  He was supposed to go back and anoint a new king and a new prophet to succeed him.  We must come to understand that quality of life, abundant life, is tied to our obedience to finish the works God gives us.
If you have been running from a calling because of fear, you will never experience the kind of freedom in your body, mind and spirit that accompany the abundant life.  Living in fear isn’t living.  Jesus is asking some of you here this morning, “What are you doing here?”  Get out of your cave.  Stand on the mountain and connect with the presence of the Lord as He passes by!
God is with us when we are suffering.  Love, love, love the Bible story of the woman who had suffered with a condition that caused her to bleed for 12 years.  It’s found in Mark 5.  She had suffered on so many different levels.  She had lived a secluded life because back then her condition made her unclean.  No one wanted to have anything to do with her.  She wasn’t even allowed to worship in the temple.  Can you imagine?
Scripture says she had gone from doctor to doctor and none helped her.  Every time she got her hopes up that someone could help her they were dashed.  Mark 5 tells us that not only did she suffer from this physical condition, not only was she an outcast of society, but she had also become destitute due to spending all of her money on doctor after doctor. She was as physically, relationally and financially drained and low as a person could be.  She had NO quality of life.  She was barely existing.  She may have been breathing, but she wasn’t living.  She wasn’t like some of us who say, “I have good days and bad days.”  All of her days were bad ones.  But although she was out of resources, she wasn’t out of hope!

She had heard about Jesus.  He was different than anyone else she had gone to for help.  She had the faith that if she could just touch the hem of His garment she would be healed.  Her life could take a positive upswing.  Things could change.  Her suffering could end.  Even though there was a crowd around Jesus she managed to wiggle her way in between people to get close enough to strain and stretch far enough to touch the hem of Jesus’ robe.

And when she did, her bleeding stopped, and she felt she was free from her suffering.  Jesus felt the power to heal had been released from Him.  He knew someone had gotten close enough in faith to release a miracle.  Jesus asked a question she was to answer.  “Who touched Me?” He said.

When you think everyone has forgotten you, when you think nobody can help you, when you have tried everything humanly possible and done all you know to do reach out for Jesus.  He is there!  He is there to minister healing to you when you are suffering.

Some of you have suffered now for a long time.  Jesus is here to ask you today, “Who wants to touch Me?”  “Who wants to bring their suffering to Me?” “Who believes I can end their suffering?”

Finally, God is with us when life stays hard.   Listen to the Apostle Paul’s words in II Corinthians 12:7-10: 7To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.
9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Scholars don’t have a definitive answer on what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was.  Most believe it was a physical issue that Paul just had to kind of “deal with.”  Many of us know what that is like.  Many of us are on medication for something or deal with some kind of daily ache or pain.  Perhaps our ongoing issue isn’t physical in nature, but it’s ongoing drama in some of our relationships.  Maybe it’s persecution we face from non-Christians at work. Maybe it is the ongoing stronghold of grief that forms a cloud over our joy and ability to enjoy life.  Paul explained that there was a purpose for his thorn.  His thorn had been allowed in his life to keep him humble.

For many of us, that “thorn in the flesh” doesn’t keep us from going to work or coming to church, but it is always with us.  Whatever Paul’s thorn was it didn’t keep him from preaching the Gospel, traveling for the Gospel and disciplingconverts.  He just kept going.  How could he just keep going?

We look at the words of the Lord to Paul.  This time it wasn’t a question, but a statement.  Vs. 9:  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Here is the edge Christians have on non-believers in this life.  There are graces of God or gifts of God that are tailor-made for every situation we will face.  Every thorn Satan can stick us with will have a godly counterpart or special grace from God to be able to help us stay focused on God’s call on our lives and enable us to still experience an abundant life.  Satan wants to stick us with thorns to bleed life out of us, but hallelujah, God’s power at work within us will thwart the purpose of the thorn and fulfill the purposes of God!  Satan’s thorns will not bleed us of life, but they will prompt the power of God to overtake our lives.

Because wherever God has a purpose God is at work in power.  Paul said the thorn in his life had a purpose.  The purpose was that God’s power at work in Paul could be seen rather than Paul get the big head and claim the glory for the good things that were happening through his preaching.  If you are here this morning, and you have a thorn in your side, there is a purpose for it, and there is power from God to enable you to live above the pain and power of the thorn.

Does anyone here need to talk to God about an ongoing thorn in their life?  Does anyone here need the power of God to become their focus so that the power of the thorn loses its grip in your life?

Abundant life is a growing life. 

-When we embrace that this life is a call to do the good works God has ordained for us according to our special gifts and abilities we are growing in the abundant life.

-When we confess our brokenness to God and ask for forgiveness of our sins and let God remake us and teach us to stop sinning we are growing in the abundant life.

-When we face our problems by seeking God’s perspective on our pain and let Him heal our hurts and focus us on our future we are growing in the abundant life.

-When we are afraid but we agree to come out of hiding believing that God will interact with us in a way that will restore our confidence and go in boldness to do big things in His name we are growing in the abundant life.

-When we are suffering and have reached rock bottom whether spiritually, physically, socially or financially or in all of these ways and yet still choose to believe we can touch God, and He can restore our quality of life we are growing in the abundant life.

-When the difficulties of life press into our sides and seek to steal our focus if we rest in the sufficiency of Christ and serve Him in spite of the thorn rather than whine we are growing in the abundant life.

In what way can your quality of life improve this morning?  What piece of the abundant life does God want to offer you today?  Will you celebrate Jesus’ offer to give you life by responding to this message?


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