Archive for December, 2008

RestingAtTheRiversEdgeLogoLet’s start at the very beginning!

As we begin our time together at the River’s Edge, we’ll start with the Book of Beginnings, Genesis. We’ll read about how God created the world and everything in it. Everything was perfect…until we messed up God’s perfect world. We’ll read about that as well. We’ll then begin a journey about how God continually called His people to return to Him and how we continually walked away. You may be wondering why I’m saying “we” when we certainly didn’t live in the Garden of Eden and we didn’t walk with Moses and Abraham and Isaac and Jacob (we’ll meet all of those men in January). Within each of us is an independent nature that is prone to doing things our way (instead of God’s way) wandering away from Him at the slightest instigation. So I say “we” because if we had been in the Garden of Eden, we would have followed Adam & Eve’s example. Perhaps we would have led the effort!

We’ll also begin to learn about Jesus, reading first in Matthew about how Jesus is related to Abraham who we’ll be reading about in Genesis. We will read the entire book of Matthew in January, so we’ll also learn about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

We’ll round out the month with a few Psalms.

That sounds like a pretty good way to get started! What are waiting for? The readings for January are shown below.

Recommended Reading Schedule

If you prefer to download a PDF of the schedule, click here. 

Day

Date Recommended Reading
January 2009
Th Jan 1 Genesis 1-4  
F Jan 2 Genesis 5-10  
M Jan 5 Genesis 11-14 Matthew 1
Tu Jan 6 Genesis 15-17 Matthew 2
W Jan 7 Genesis 18-19 Matthew 3-4
Th Jan 8 Genesis 20-23 Matthew 5
F Jan 9 Genesis 24-26 Matthew 6
M Jan 12 Genesis 27-29 Matthew 7
Tu Jan 13 Genesis 30-32 Matthew 8-9
W Jan 14 Genesis 33-35 Matthew 10
Th Jan 15 Genesis 36-39 Matthew 11
F Jan 16 Genesis 40-41 Matthew 12-13
M Jan 19 Genesis 42-45 Matthew 14
Tu Jan 20 Genesis 46-47 Matthew 15-16
W Jan 21 Genesis 48-50 Matthew 17-18
Th Jan 22 Exodus 1 Matthew 19-21
F Jan 23 Exodus 2 Matthew 22-24
M Jan 26 Exodus 3-4 Matthew 25-27
Tu Jan 27 Exodus 5-8 Matthew 28
W Jan 28 Exodus 9-13  
Th Jan 29 Exodus 14-15 Psalms 1-3
F Jan 30 Exodus 16-17 Psalms 4-6

If you’d like a PDF that lists all the chapters in the Bible so you can chart your progress, click here.

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  The LORD is my shepherd;
  I have everything I need.

  He lets me rest in green meadows;
  he leads me beside peaceful streams.

  He renews my strength.
  He guides me along right paths,
  bringing honor to his name
.
            Psalm 23: 1-3

RestingAtTheRiversEdgeLogo

This is an invitation. I’m conveying it, but it is being extended by the creator of the universe. He would like you to Rest at the River’s Edge with Him each day. He’d like to teach you a little about His ways, bring you peace, give you wisdom, have fellowship with you. Allow Him to lead you to beside the peaceful streams and your strength will be renewed.

I’m providing a daily Bible reading plan that will help you read through the Bible in a year. When some people hear that, they easily become overwhelmed, and that’s quite understandable – there are 1168 chapters in the Bible! But 1168 chapters divided by 365 days is only 3.2 chapters each day. And that’s easily do-able. The plan I’m providing is a little different  it will identify 4 or 5 chapters every day 5 days a week. That allows for two “grace” days (also known as “catch up days”).

If you read along with us, you’ll find that many of my blogs come directly from what I’m reading in Scripture. The blogs you read will often reinforce what you’ve read or give you insight into how God speaks to me from what I’m reading. I’d love to publish some of your thought as you read, too.

Let’s rest at the river’s edge with God. I am confident He’ll meet you there.

Watch for January’s recommended reading plan in tomorrow’s blog.

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When King Hezekiah heard their report, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the Temple of the LORD to pray.
2 Kings 17:1 (NLT)

I love this verse. It is a constant reminder that when things fall apart, the best thing for me to do is humble myself and pray. King Hezekiah had received a report that he was about to be attacked by the Assyrian army – an army that was kicking butt across the region. Israel was next on the list. How could the small nation stand against such an army?

The king of Assyria tried to weakened the Israelites before actually engaging them in battle. He sent messengers before him who:

  • Taunted King Hezekiah and the Israelites. He basically said “If you can find 2,000 horsemen in your army, I’ll give you 2,000 Egyptian horses for them to ride and then I’ll still beat you!”
  • Challenged their faith by saying “Do you think we’ve invaded your land without the Lord’s direction? The Lord Himself told us ‘Go and destroy it!'”
  • Destroyed their confidence in their king and God saying directly to the people “Don’t let the king fool you. He’ll never be able to save you from my power. None of the other countries were able to stand against me.”

King Hezekiah heard all this and went into the temple of the Lord to pray.

Lord, make me more like Hezekiah – I want to act with a calm faith in the face of what looks like sure disaster.

In our economy today, many people are listening to the kings of Assyria in their lives. They are hearing and believing that they will come to ruin unless they surrender now. The enemy is whispering in their ears “Who do you think you are that God would deliver you? Don’t you know that I’ve been sent by God to humble you – to punish you or to teach you a lesson? I could give you free housing/car/health insurance (choose your most pressing financial issue) and I’d still drown you in debt before the end of the year. Why will your God deliver you?”

The answer is He will deliver us because He is our deliverer. He will deliver us because we belong to Him. Husbands don’t let their wives be taken captive. Jesus Christ is the bridegroom of the Church – He is our husband.

But let’s respond correctly. Let’s choose to believe our God instead of foreign kings and let’s humble ourselves and pray.

I’m not making economic predictions. I have no idea if the economy will turn around in January or March or March of 2020. But I know that my deliverance comes from the Lord and is not dependent on the economy. My deliverance is not dependent on my own ability to work hard or to make money, it’s not dependent on being at the right place at the right time, and it’s not dependent on the amount of faith I have. It is dependent on God’s mercy and grace and His mighty power.

Where do you choose to place your trust – in the economy or in God’s mercy and power? Who do you choose to believe – enemy kings or the King of Kings?

How you approach 2009 depends on where your trust lies. If your trust is in God’s mercy and power, you can face the new year with confidence, not despair.  Place your trust in the King of Kings. He is the faithful provider, not dependent upon the whims of the economy. Strengthen that trust by visiting with Him regularly in prayer and by reading in the Bible about His nature and His history of faithfulness.

As an aside, let me give you something to think about. I’m going to be providing a plan for read through the Bible in 2009 along with weekly encouragements and blogs that correspond to the readings. Don’t be intimidated by it! You can read throught the Bible by reading about 3.2 chapters each day. For now, just be open to the idea. You’ll learn more about the plan in a day or two.

As I was writing this blog, a favorite verse came to mind:

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.

I wasn’t sure of the wording or the reference, so I looked it up. I found it in the middle of this wonderful prayer that seems a perfect ending to this blog. It is my prayer for you as we look toward 2009.

1 May the LORD answer you when you are in distress;
may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
2 May he send you help from the sanctuary
and grant you support from Zion.
3 May he remember all your sacrifices
and accept your burnt offerings.
Selah

4 May he give you the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed.
5 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.
6 Now I know that the LORD saves his anointed;
he answers him from his holy heaven
with the saving power of his right hand.
7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
8 They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.
9 O LORD, save the king!
Answer us when we call!
Psalm 20 (NIV)

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And I said to these priests, “You and these treasures have been set apart as holy to the LORD. This silver and gold is a freewill offering to the LORD, the God of our ancestors. Guard these treasures well until you present them, without an ounce lost, to the leading priests, the Levites, and the leaders of Israel at the storerooms of the LORD’S Temple in Jerusalem.” So the priests and the Levites accepted the task of transporting these treasures to the Temple of our God in Jerusalem.
                Ezra 8:28-30, NLT

As I read this, I was struck by the way that Ezra spoke to the priests – reminding them that they were set apart as holy to the Lord and the treasure they were carrying was holy to the Lord. I couldn’t help but be awed by the honorable responsibility given to them and to be challenged that God has given me this same responsibility. Because I know Him, because I have a relationship with Him, He’s given me His awesome Holy Spirit to live within me. I don’t know how that happens, but I know that everywhere I go, He goes. In a sense, I am transporting or carrying God into every place and every situation I find myself today, tomorrow, the next day and the next day, until He calls me to be with Him. He is the treasure in the earthly vessel of my body. Let me paraphrase Ezra – this is how I heard it in my spirit as I read the passage:

“You have been set apart as holy to the Lord. He has given you a free will offering – His Son for your salvation and the Holy Spirit within You to help you become more like Him. These gifts are more precious than silver and gold offerings. Guard them well as you walk through life, until one day you present yourself to God and hear Him say ‘well done.'”

Am I taking liberty with Ezra 8:28-30? Absolutely! But I am also being true to Scripture. Christ has come to live within each of us who follow His leadership – who give Him lordship of our lives.

This is my “Thursday” Christmas blog this week – I’m delivering it on Tuesday – so that you can begin to pray about and see the awesome task you have before you this week – to carry Christ into every situation you find yourself. For many of you, that will mean those difficult Christmas gatherings where Aunt Betty will do nothing but criticize you and Uncle Bart will be obnoxious and boorish.

Enjoy yourself! Christ lives in you and wants to bring joy in the midst of criticism and boorishness. He wants to bring it to you and those who seem unlikely candidates for it!

Have a wonderful, Christ-centered (at least in your heart) Christmas!

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In 2 Kings 6, we learn that “King Ben-hadad of Aram mobilized his entire army and besieged Samaria. As a result there was a great famine in the city. After a while even a donkey’s head sold for two pounds of silver, and a cup of dove’s dung cost about two ounces of silver” (verses 24 and 25, NLT). Samaria was experiencing a great lack because of the siege. It had sent their economy into a tailspin. Even the cheapest things money could buy were priced outrageously. The attitude within the country was one of defeat; there was no anticipation of victory. There was no hope.Chapter 7 begins with the prophet Elisha delivering a message: “Hear this message from the LORD! This is what the LORD says: By this time tomorrow in the markets of Samaria, five quarts of fine flour will cost only half an ounce of silver, and ten quarts of barley grain will cost only half an ounce of silver.” He prophesied that the lack would turn to plenty – that the land would become outrageously plentiful. Where previously two ounces of silver bought a cup of dove’s dung cost, now only a half ounce of silver would buy five quarts of fine flour or ten quarts of barley grain. It was an unbelievable prophecy to the man who heard it. And I suppose it’s understandable that he didn’t believe Elisha because he had been living without hope. He had been living with the expectation of defeat, not the anticipation of victory.

Fast forward to verse 17 and you’ll read “So everything happened exactly as the man of God had predicted.” Now that’s an economic turnaround.

What I find so interesting in this story is what happened between verses 1 and 17 – the way God turned the economy around. He caused the Aramean army “to hear the clatter of speeding chariots and the galloping of horses and the sounds of a great army approaching….So they panicked and fled into the night, abandoning their tents, horses, donkeys, and everything else, and they fled for their lives” (verses 6 and 7). The entire army that had set up the siege around Samaria heard so much noise that they thought Samaria had hired another army to defend the city and they panicked and fled for their lives. Let’s call that miracle #1.

We’ll call miracle #2 the fact that none of the Samaritans heard anything! They didn’t even know that the army had fled! In fact, there were four lepers sitting outside the city gates and they didn’t hear anything either. They continued to live under the siege mentality and finally came to the point where they said “Why should we sit here waiting to die? We will starve if we stay here, and we will starve if we go back into the city. So we might as well go out and surrender to the Aramean army. If they let us live, so much the better. But if they kill us, we would have died anyway” (verses 3 and 4). Obviously, the four lepers didn’t hear the sound heard by the Arameans and thought the Arameans were still in their tents.

So the lepers went into the Arameans camp and found it…abandoned! They went back to Samaria and told the gatekeepers who shouted the news to the palace. The king was also still living under the siege mentality. Scripture says that he “got out of bed in the middle of the night and told his officers, ‘I know what has happened. The Arameans know we are starving, so they have left their camp and have hidden in the fields. They are expecting us to leave the city, and then they will take us alive and capture the city'” (verse 12). It’s clear from the rest of the narrative that both the king and his officers thought the Arameans were still in the area, waiting to capture them. Listen to the defeat in one of his officers’ words “We had better send out scouts to check into this. Let them take five of the remaining horses. If something happens to them, it won’t be a greater loss than if they stay here and die with the rest of us” (verse 13). Again, he fully expected, anticipated, that they would all die.

But we’ve read to the end and know that the Arameans, indeed, had abandoned everything as they ran in fear for their lives. And before the day was over, as the Samaritans appropriated the abandoned property of the Arameans, two ounces of silver bought much, much more than it had the evening before. Let’s put it into dollars and cents. If an ounce of silver cost $20, last night a cup of dove’s dung cost $40 and a donkey’s head cost $640. Tonight, you can buy five quarts of fine flour or ten quarts of barley grain for $10. I’d rather be living today than yesterday!

There is so much that can be learned from this story, but I’d like to focus on only three things.

1) We are in a time when our economy is causing many to become afraid. God can change that overnight, by causing things to happen that none of us would expect, anticipate, or even think possible. The Samaritans did not anticipate that God would scare off their enemies. They had lost all hope of it happening. They believed they were going to die.

2) We can live our lives looking at the circumstances around us and become like the lepers, the king and all the other residents of Samaria believing that we have been defeated, that we will die; or we can live our lives knowing that our God can do great and mighty and unexpected things to save us. He has proven Himself in this regard – the birth, life and death of Jesus was unexpected, even though it was anticipated. The Israelites were looking for a Messiah to come; they were anticipating it. Yet Jesus was not what they expected, nor was His death the manner in which they expected to be saved.

3) God often, typically, uses the unexpected to bring about our deliverance. In Samaria, he used the four lepers – men who were not even allowed into the city to save the city from starvation and death. And of course, he used the totally unexpected invisible chariots and horses to strike fear into the Arameans.

I don’t know in what manner my needs will be met in the coming months, but I know where the provision will come from – from a God who loves me intensely and who is unbelievably creative and able to change my situation overnight. So I choose to live in hope instead of defeat. How about you?

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Check out this YouTube video. It put a more human face on the birth of Christ than anything I’ve ever seen or read. See the joy and awe on the faces of those around Him as He is born.

Lord, let us experience the same joy and awe as we journey through this last week before Christmas.

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How very hard it can be to trust the Lord when we are in pain! It doesn’t matter whether the pain is physical, emotional or spiritual, it can be difficult to rest in God’s peace when the questions of “why?” and “when?” and “will He?” jab at our souls at every turn.

There was a time when I unequivocally said that I had the gift of faith. My ability to trust God went beyond myself — I just knew He was trustworthy and I could count on Him. That deep-down-in-your-spirit kind of knowing that you can’t really explain. That peace that surpasses all understanding.

Then life happened. Significant life. Significantly bad life. Don’t get me wrong. I am blessed. But in the midst of that blessed life, I experienced life circumstances that challenged the farthest reaches of my gift of faith.

I am on the recovery path from those circumstances. My path hasn’t been a straight one, by any means — I didn’t always do the right things — but I have learned some things along the way that might be helpful to others who are in the midst of “life.” In the following discussion, I continually use the word “healing.” Please realize that I am not necessarily talking about physical healing. If you have suffered a significant emotional blow, I mean emotional healing.

  • There probably is no straight path to healing. Expect that you’ll take two steps forward and then fall back a step. Over time, the number of steps you move forward will begin to outweigh your backwards steps at a much greater ratio.That might mean measuring your progress in terms of months at first instead of weeks or days. Physical issues demonstrate this well — for the common cold, people expect to feel a little better each day, but recovery from abdominal surgery might take six weeks, and recovery from a stroke might take six months. When recovering from the surgery or stroke, you won’t sense that any healing has taken place on a daily basis. For those more significant setbacks in life, don’t even try to measure your progress toward healing on a daily basis — measure your progress in weeks or months.So don’t think of your goal as being past your current circumstances. Make your goal to move closer toward healing each week. Your ultimate goal is to be healed, but work toward the smaller goals and celebrate those incremental victories. There was a time when I said to my husband “I haven’t been angry for a week.” That was a step in my healing that took several months to achieve. It was worth celebrating.
  • Don’t let setbacks discourage you. Don’t live in them. Don’t overly coddle yourself. Accept them as reality, set aside the disappointment, and continue moving forward. There is so much to be learned from the physical realm here: I am always shocked by the fourth day of a cold. Colds typically run something like this for me:     Day 1 — feel yucky
         Day 2 — feel like I’m going to die, or wish I would
         Day 3 — I’m amazed at how good I feel, Praise God that this cold was so short-lived
         Day 4 — feel only slightly better than I did on day 2 – what happened to yesterday?
         Day 5 — almost better
         Day 6 — back to normalThat’s the cycle that colds have run for me for the past 30 years. Yet each time I get a cold, I’m shocked at day 4. “How can I feel so bad when I was doing so well yesterday? I must be really sick!” Don’t be like me. Don’t be shocked by day 4. Don’t look forward to it, but don’t be shocked when you get hit by it and don’t be derailed by it. Set your discouragement aside and look toward tomorrow.
  • Have someone that you can confide in who will reassure you of God’s goodness and of His continued love for you. I needed this more than I could have imagined. I needed someone to say, “Sandy, this is an aberration in your life. God is still being faithful to you. He still loves you. He will still use you in His kingdom.” It greatly embarrasses me to admit that my faith wavered so much. Like I said, I was a woman of faith. I had the gift of faith. I had always been able to believe God for things that others couldn’t see. In the midst of my pain, though, I couldn’t even see the things He was doing right in front of my eyes. I needed regular encouragement. And throughout the long process, I was continually reminded that my strengths were not my strengths after all. Qualities that I considered to be my strengths were fractured and broken, teaching me that I didn’t “own” my strengths — that I couldn’t sustain them, but that they were loaned to me by God and were sustained by Him alone.Notice that I wrote “have someone.” It is not healthy to go over your story again and again, even though that may be what you want to do. Have one person that you trust to whom you can pour out your heart and reveal your fears, and with whom you can celebrate your successes.
  • The body requires rest to heal itself, whether from physical or emotional issues. Sleep often and don’t beat yourself up about it. Quit being superwoman or superman for awhile — drop some of your activities so that you have plenty of time to rest.
  • Consider the importance of play! Be sure your schedule includes some things that bring you joy. Whether dancing or drawing, watching a movie or playing with the dog, be sure you take time for these things. You need the positive endorphins that your body releases when you are enjoying yourself. Make time for it.
  • Be proactive about spending time with friends — probably in short duration at first, but be careful not to shut yourself off completely. The tendency when we feel pain is to draw back. If the pain is emotional, that means withdrawing from those who love us. Work hard not to do this.
  • Don’t rely on your emotions. Your friends are still your friends, God still hears you and He still loves you, those closest to you still love you. Your world is not closing in on you. It may feel like it, but your emotions are not reality.
  • Practice kindness and forgiveness in situations where kindness and forgiveness are easy. No matter what healing you need, forgiveness will play a part. You may need to forgive someone who hurt you, you may need to forgive yourself for past decisions or actions, and you may even need to forgive God. That doesn’t mean that God sinned against you. He didn’t. However, you may be laying things at His feet that cause you to be angry with Him. The process of releasing that anger is for you to forgive God for allowing you to go through the circumstances you’re in.
  • In your heart, you will need to recognize that God’s ways are above your ways and that He is accomplishing His purposes through whatever has happened to you. But during that process, you may need to say, “Lord, forgive me.” ….. Grow your forgiveness muscle by forgiving all the little things that need to be forgiven. Some day you’ll be able to forgive the big things, too.I’ve learned that wounded people bruise easily. I caught myself becoming quite angry frequently during the process of healing. My latent anger turned into impatience at those around me. I needed to practice regular forgiveness for little things during that time. For example, a person who said something unkind offended me when in my “normal life” it wouldn’t have even registered. I needed to forgive her. The people around me in the grocery store all seemed more incompetent than they used to be. No, I was just less patient. I needed to confess that sin to God and extend kindness to every one of them.
  • Don’t forsake God. Stay in church. Find a new church if you need to. Continue to read Scripture regularly, even if it’s just a few verses at a time. Continue to pray, even if you feel like your prayers are just bouncing off the ceiling. Do those activities that make you feel closest to God. For me that’s worship; for some, it’s study, and for others it’s service. Feed your soul. Your pain will rob it of it’s stored energy, so feed it often.

This blog has been a long time in coming. This morning during my devotions I read a verse that finally prompted me to write it:

8“My thoughts are completely different from yours,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. 9For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.
            Isaiah 55:8-10, NLT

God is bigger than my pain. He always has been and always will be. His ways take my pain and turn it into a golden treasure. I am not yet at the point of seeing that treasure, but if there’s a progression from pain to treasure of clay, to treasure of silver, to treasure of gold, I would guess that I am somewhere between clay and silver. For that I am very thankful.

God may choose to heal you instantly. Rejoice! Praise Him! I know He can and often does heal instantly. He also allows us to journey through the healing process so that we learn to trust Him more and are able to help others through their healing process. I learned much about myself and God during my healing process. Some of the things I learned were things I didn’t want to know — how very weak and fragile I really am. But then God’s probably been trying to teach me that for years! 🙂

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During this Christmas season, it seems that all my prayers look toward Good Friday more than Christmas – toward the death of Jesus on the cross instead of the baby born in a manger. When my husband pointed this out to me, I began to reflect on it. Christmas, the season of rejoicing at the birth of a Savior, is inextricably linked with Good Friday, a day of extreme sorrow. Christmas, the day of the birth of a King, stands next to Easter, the day of the murder of a King. Hmmm.

The more I reflected on it, the more I realized how appropriate this juxtapositioning is – because the entire purpose of Christ’s birth was fulfilled in His death and resurrection. Without Christ’s death and resurrection, His birth would have simply been a footnote in history. Instead, his birth, life, death and resurrection are the turning point of history.

The angel Gabriel declared the purpose of Jesus’ life to Joseph in a dream when he said “And she [Mary] will have a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21, NLT).

Jesus’ purpose for being born was to save His people from their sins! What a lofty sounding destiny! Of course, another way of saying it is much less lofty sounding – Jesus was born to die! You see, the payment that is required for our sin is death. Someone must make that payment. Christ was born so that He could make the payment for us. His death enables us to bypass death and experience life forever.

Christ also suffered when He died for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but He died for sinners that He might bring us safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but He was raised to life in the Spirit.
1 Peter 3:18, NLT

For the wages of [required payment for] sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:23, NLT (bracketed words are my amplification)

Christ was born to die, and it was a destiny that He obviously knew from some very early age. I can’t help but wonder how knowing that His destiny was to die affected the way He lived His life. How would it affect mine? How about yours?

And then it hit me…we do have that destiny! Read this passage:

It is destined for each person to die once, and after that to face judgment.
Hebrews 9:27, (my paraphrase)

We are also destined to die! After our death comes judgment. For those who have accepted God’s free gift of eternal life, we are raised from the death, just as Jesus was, to live eternally with God. For those who have not accepted God’s free gift of eternal life, death rules in judgment.

I find myself agreeing with Paul who wrote the following to the Corinthians:

1As God’s partners, we beg you not to reject this marvelous message of God’s great kindness. 2For God says,
“At just the right time, I heard you.
On the day of salvation, I helped you.”
Indeed, God is ready to help you right now. Today is the day of salvation.
2 Corinthians 6:1-2, NLT

What does it mean to accept God’s free gift? It means to agree with Him and give Him control of your life. Agree first that you have done wrong and need His forgiveness. Believe that Christ died on the cross as the payment required for your wrongdoing. Yield your will to God’s will by determining to live according to His plans for your life instead of your own plans.

Then set about learning more and more about what those plans are. Because although our destiny might be to die and face judgment one day, God also has purposes and plans for our lives that go beyond ourselves.

My [Jesus’] purpose is to give life in all its fullness.
John 10:10b, NLT

11For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Jeremiah 29:11, NIV

Accepting God’s free gift of salvation not only brings eternal life, it also enlarges our earthly life. Can you dare miss out on such a “marvelous” opportunity to receive “God’s great kindness?”

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This is a story of two women – one “very old,” the other quite young. The older one was married to a priest. The younger one was engaged to a local carpenter. The older one had prayed for years for a child and had been disappointed month after month, year after year. The young one was still a virgin, looking forward to her marriage.Both became pregnant.

The older woman, Elizabeth, went into seclusion for five months.

The younger woman, Mary, was visited by the angel Gabriel and told that she would become pregnant and that her relative Elizabeth was already pregnant. Mary left a few days later to visit Elizabeth.

The women could hardly be more different:

  • They are one, perhaps two, generations apart in age
  • Elizabeth had been married for many years; Mary was looking forward to marriage
  • Elizabeth’s husband was a priest; Mary’s fiancé was a carpenter
  • Elizabeth did not receive a heavenly visitation bringing news of the birth; Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel
  • Upon learning of her pregnancy, Elizabeth immediately went into seclusion; Mary immediately went to visit Elizabeth

Yet how very similar they were. Both women were obedient to the Lord. Scripture describes Elizabeth as “from the priestly line of Aaron” and “righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations” (Luke 1:6-7). When Mary learned that she would become an unwed mother, an action that would most likely cause her fiancé to break off their engagement and publicly disgrace her, replied “I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to accept whatever He wants. May everything you have said come true” (Luke 1:38).

This is also the story of two men – Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah and Mary’s husband Joseph. The men are an integral part of the story, and they are as different from one another as the women are. Zechariah was a priest and the angel Gabriel spoke directly to him before Elizabeth became pregnant. Joseph was a carpenter and received a dream after Mary had learned that she would be come pregnant. In the dream, he was told to that Mary would give birth to the messiah and that he should marry her.

And yet, like the women, they are very much alike. Both were honorable, God-fearing men. Zechariah had remained married to his wife even though she didn’t provide him with a child in their early years of marriage. When he learned that his wife would become pregnant, he finished out his service to God before returning to his wife. Scripture records Joseph’s response to his dream: “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord commanded. He brought Mary home to be his wife, but she remained a virgin until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus” (Matthew 1:24-25).

Elizabeth and Zechariah. Mary and Joseph. Two couples who were used by God to change the course of history. Elizabeth was the mother of John the Baptist. Mary was the mother of Jesus.

So what’s my point? My point is that God uses people from very different backgrounds and in very different stages of life, if they are willing to be used by Him. One could even say that He uses them in spite of their current circumstances (Elizabeth was barren and Mary was a virgin). They key component for being used by God doesn’t seem to have much to do with our circumstances – which, let’s face it, we have very little control over, but a whole lot to do with being willing to be used by Him – which we do have control over.

Where are you? This Christmas season, are you bemoaning your circumstances and perhaps even using them as an excuse NOT to do what God wants you to do, or are you being like Mary and saying “I am the Lord’ servant, and I am willing to accept whatever He wants.”

If you have accepted Christ, He has an assignment (or two, or three) for you. Don’t back down from them. Let Mary be your example this season and be ready to say “yes” to whatever God calls you to.

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Hear the heart of God in the following Old Testament passage:

1But now, O Israel, the LORD who created you says: “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. 2When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. 3For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I gave [your enemies] as a ransom for your freedom. 4Others died that you might live. I traded their lives for yours because you are precious to me. You are honored, and I love you.
                                               Isaiah 43:1-4 (NLT)

This passage speaks of how precious Israel (that is, the people and the country) is to God. They are His chosen people and he tells how He sacrificed their enemies to save them, how He gave up some lives to save Israel because she is so precious to Him. God even says simply “I love you.”

Don’t just read the words. Feel the emotion. Imagine that it is your husband or wife saying the words to you. How would you feel? Your spouse is saying that he/she paid a ransom for you – the life of someone else for your life. You must be incredibly precious!

But perhaps you’re a skeptic and think, “Well, they were Israel’s enemies that God gave as a ransom. It’s not like they were important to Him.” Au contraire, my friend. All life is precious to God, and those He calls enemies are those who have chosen to be His enemies. A message that sometimes seems to get lost in the Old Testament is that God called “His people” not only the Israelites, but all who chose to trust Him. Rahab and Ruth, for example, were not born Israelites, but they chose to align themselves with Israelites. As Ruth said, “Your people will be my people and your God will be my God” (Ruth 1:16).

God shows the same attitude in the New Testament toward His people as He showed in the Old Testament. But in the New Testament, the Israelites have clearly rejected God.

10But although the world was made through him, the world didn’t recognize him when he came. 11Even in his own land and among his own people, he was not accepted. 12But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13They are reborn! This is not a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan – this rebirth comes from God.
                                               John 1:10-13 (NLT)

God offers His love to everyone, and those who accept the gift of forgiveness and salvation that He’s offered began to be called “Christians.” It’s the term we still use today.

Let’s look at that first Old Testament passage again:

1But now, O Israel, the LORD who created you says: “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. 2When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. 3For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I gave [your enemies] as a ransom for your freedom. 4Others died that you might live. I traded their lives for yours because you are precious to me. You are honored, and I love you.
                                               Isaiah 43:1-4 (NLT)

The concepts and words that stand out in my mind are:

  • God ransomed us
  • He will protect us
  • He is our Savior
  • Others died that we might live
  • We are precious, honored and loved

Remember those concepts and words as you read the following New Testament passages. In this first one, Jesus describes why He came to earth:

[Jesus is speaking] “For even I, the Son of Man, came here not to be served but to serve others, and to give my life as a ransom for many.”
                                               Matthew 20:28 (NLT)

Peter amplifies Jesus’ words in his first letter:

18For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. 19He paid for you with the precious lifeblood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. 20God chose him for this purpose long before the world began, but now in these final days, he was sent to the earth for all to see. And he did this for you.
                                               1 Peter 1:18:20 (NLT)

How precious we must be to God, for Him to pay a ransom, not of His enemies, but of His son! God’s own son is the price required to ransom us from the empty life we would otherwise have. What an honor! What love!

8But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. 9And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s judgment. 10For since we were restored to friendship with God by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be delivered from eternal punishment by his life. 11So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God – all because of what our Lord Jesus Christ has done for us in making us friends of God.
                                               Romans 5:8-11 (NLT)

God has ransomed us through Jesus Christ. Praise God! He has delivered us from eternal punishment to eternal life!

11And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.
                                               1 John 5:11-12 (NIV)

I hope you have the Son! Because being in the center of God’s love is life!

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