Archive for December, 2011

Resting at the River’s Edge provides an opportunity to participate in reading through the Bible in a systematic way. We’re following a two year plan (2012 and 2013) that has us reading the New Testament each year and the Old Testament stretched over the two years. Having just completed a two year plan in 2011, we’re changing it up a bit. This year each of our monthly plans provide a column titled “Additional.” This column provides readings that will allow you to read through the entire Bible (that is, the complete Old and New Testaments) during the year 2012.

Here are three reasons to considering joining us as we are Resting by the River’s Edge together:

  • Reading your Bible daily gives God an opportunity to speak to you from His Word – there is no better way to position yourself to hear from God than through regular reading.
  • Following a plan like Resting at the River’s Edge ensures that you read the entire inspired Word of God, not just familiar passages over and over.
  • Finally, joining with us allows you to be blessed in a greater way by many of the blogs on this site. Frequently, a blog comes from the blessings or insights I receive as I read following the Resting at the River’s Edge schedule. These blogs reinforce lessons from the readings or share how I’ve been blessed by them.

Consider joining us as we read God’s Word individually and together.

I hope you’ll join us as we read together each month. Feel free to e-mail me, leave a message on my Facebook page, or post a comment at the end of any blog. I’d love to hear how you’re doing and what treasures you’re finding as you read with us. I look forward to hearing from you.

Blessings, Friends!
Sandy

The recommended reading schedule for January is below.

To download a PDF of the January 2012 recommended reading plan, click here.

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Yesterday I wrote about how blessed I was by Psalm 147. After writing the blog, I read Psalm 149 and found this similar verse:

For the Lord takes delight in His people; He crowns the humble with salvation.
Psalm 149:4 (NIV)

May we all humbly recognize our need for God as we close out 2011. When we come to Him in humility – recognizing His Lordship and asking Him to be Lord of our lives, He becomes not only Lord, but Savior.  He crowns us with salvation. Hallelujah!

If you have never humbled yourself before God, admitting that you have chosen paths that were contrary to His will for you – that you have sinned against Him – I encourage you to do so today. He is the One who created you, who loves you more than you can possibly imagine, who has put in your heart a longing that only He can fill, and who longs to fill that desire. He will give you the Kingdom of God in this life and eternity in the next.

The Good News of the Gospel message is this: While we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious standards (Romans 3:23), God has rescued us from the penalty of our sins. That penalty is death, but God’s gift to us is ETERNAL LIFE  (Romans 6:23). The gift comes through the person Jesus Christ:

God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.
Romans 5:8 (NLT)

That’s my favorite verse in the Bible. While I was still in rebellion to God, He sent Christ to pay the price for my rebellion – to take my place in death. While I was still railing against Him and others who believed in Him. That’s love beyond the love I know.

Scripture makes it clear that it’s God’s love for me and His grace – His free gift to me – that saves me. It’s not anything I’ve done to earn His love or my salvation. It’s His free gift to me that I accept through faith. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

When we humble ourselves to admit that we cannot save ourselves and when we come into agreement with Scripture that we have sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious standard, we can go to God in prayer and simply ask for Him to forgive us and to become Lord of our lives. At that point of humility, faith and trust, God crowns us with salvation – He saves us. Of course at that point, usually understand so little about faith and life with God. That’s OK. He understands us and takes that “childlike faith” and matures it and teaches us what it means to make Him Lord of our life. And what it means is a life that is so much richer than you can imagine. Jesus describes it this way:

My purpose is to give life in all its fullness.
John 10:10b (NLT)

Friends, if you have never trusted the Lord, if you have never received salvation from the only One who can give it, let me encourage you to do so today. There is no better way to begin 2012 than with new life!

Begin your new life with Him by reading His Word every day. Watch for our Resting at the River’s Edge reading schedule. We’ll post January’s schedule later today.

Praying God’s richest blessings for you and your family in 2012.

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10His [God’s] pleasure is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his delight in the legs of a man;
11the LORD delights in those who fear him,
who put their hope in his unfailing love.

Psalm 147

As I read this passage tonight, I was a bit taken aback. It says that God’s pleasure or delight is not in the characteristics of the things He has has created – the horse or man, for example. Rather, His pleasure and delight is in those who fear Him, those who put their hope in His unfailing love.

I am utterly convinced that God takes great delight in me. He created me, just the way I am. He understands my weaknesses and doesn’t expect me to be someone I’m not. Simultaneously, He is always helping me become more than I am. And always, always, always, He is conforming me to the image of Christ.

There is no way in which I interpret this passage to mean that He takes no delight in me, who I am and what I do, even though that might seem what it says upon first reading it. You will find many places in Scripture where an exaggerated claim is made to make a point. In the book of Luke, Jesus said this:

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.”
Luke 14:26

Did Jesus really mean that we’re to hate our father and mother, wife (or husband) and children, brothers and sisters? Isn’t this the same Jesus that said we’re to love our enemies and the same God who said we’re to honor our father and mother? Yes it is. In this passage Jesus is using a strong word to help us understand that being a disciple means putting God first in all things, even before our own life.

Our key passage uses a similar technique. It is not saying that God does not take delight in who we are and how we were made. He does. But what He really delights is those who fear Him, those who put their hope in His unfailing love.

What does this mean to my every day life? It means that no matter how successful I’ve been on a given day, no matter how well put together I am or how well my words came together to communicate my thoughts and purposes and plans, no matter…God delights in my love for Him. And when things fall apart, I have the awesome opportunity to put my hope not in my disintegrating plans or my ability to put humpty together again, but in the Lord and His unfailing love. It is an awesome opportunity because it is at those times when we are challenged not to despair but to rejoice in God’s goodness. Trusting in the unfailing love of God when things go wrong (and when things go right) delights the Creator of the Universe.

We don’t do it for our gain, but what do you think are the consequences of delighting the Father? They are only good things. Trusting in God’s unfailing love is the bedrock foundation of peace and joy.

As we close out 2011 and look toward 2012, let’s covenant to trust God more. Let’s agree together to delight the Father.

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…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Phil 1:6 (NIV)

I’ve been thinking quite a bit over the past week about a blog for the end of 2011 and/or the beginning of 2012. More accurately, I’ve been thinking I need to write such a blog…and I’ve had no idea what I might write.

Tonight I sat down to write a blog and it seemed to go in a different direction with each paragraph. Every paragraph was connected in my mind, but I was certain that there was little connection that actually made its way into written word.

As I paused to think about it, I realized it was the blog for the end of the year! (Thank You, Lord!) It’s a blog about the themes that God has been highlighting in my life over the past year – sort of a “year in review” of the “God-whispers” (more like shouts, actually) for 2011. So here we go.

Early in the year, God highlighted obedience by prompting our “Let’s be PC!” series. We haven’t exhausted the topics of obedience yet, so there may be additional installments in the series, but God was taking me back to basics. Obedience starts with the basics. As I look through my blogs over the past year, I see that obedience was a topic that came up again and again in many blogs that weren’t part of the Let’s be PC series. Lord, keep my heart inclined toward quick obedience!

During the spring, God began to impress upon me the need to believe and trust Him in a greater way – to actually live in faith. I am convinced that there is an underlying peace that comes from the confidence of knowing God is in control. I’m also convinced that living in faith puts us on the cutting edge with God…and I like that! I’m not always living it, but I’m sure working toward that goal. Lord remind me of Your power and presence throughout every day.

As spring turned to summer, God’s theme was praise – awesome, constant and glorious praise of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! I enjoyed it! In retrospect, we had an extremely busy summer with work and ministry. I know I was exhausted when it was over and I only went to the beach once. Yet what I remember most were the Friday Night Praises we planned and the singing of His praises throughout the week. Lord, You are worthy of our Praise! Hallelujah – Praise the Lord!

That praise theme turned into a theme of thanksgiving as we moved into the fall season. A blog I wrote three weeks ago haunts me. In The High Cost of Not Giving Thanks I quoted Romans 1:21.

Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. The result was that their minds became dark and confused. 
Romans 1:21 (NLT)

I wrote in that blog that there is a direct connection between an ungrateful heart and a spiritual darkness that brings confusion and leads to foolish actions. I’ve discovered that an ungrateful heart stems from a self-focus that is inconsistent with all that God wants from me. The ungrateful heart makes everything all about me. Nothing is exactly as I want it to be so I won’t be satisfied with it. I so don’t want to live my life that way. Oh, Lord, keep me from having an ungrateful heart.

As I’ve reviewed the themes of 2011, I see a progression:

Living in obedience…

Increases our faith as we see God move in response to our obedience…

Which leads us to praise God for working in our lives…

Which leads us to thanksgiving!

Such a progression excites me…I want to be the person that lives in the continuing cycle of obedience, faith, praise and thanksgiving.

Reviewing the themes also reminds me that I have so much more to learn in each area. I wonder, which of these four areas do you need to focus on? I would love to improve in all of them.

I also wonder…where will God take us in 2012? What will our first theme be? How will the year progress?

I don’t know yet! Here we are in that week between Christmas and New Year’s and God hasn’t’ spoken to me about a theme for 2012 yet. I have some inklings, but nothing concrete. So be in prayer with me, friends. And not just prayer – be in faith with me – that He who began a good work in you and in me will bring it to completion! Thank You, Lord!

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What are the odds you’ll get struck by lightening?

Or that you’ll eat out this week?

Or that you have a membership in the National Geographic Society?

What are the odds that one man at any time in history might fulfill only eight of the sixty major prophecies fulfilled by Christ?

You’ll find the answers to these questions and more in this article. I came across the article from a google search I did last week. I found it to be interesting and thought you would too. Enjoy!

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I was blown away as we sang this song in church Sunday. As we sang the chorus, I had a mental picture of Jesus seated on His throne on a high platform. Then He stood and began stepping down from the throne. As the image faded, the Christmas message explode in my spirit. Christ…stepping down from His throne, leaving His home…all for me. With tears in my eyes, I quit singing and simply worshiped the King of all Kings, the Lord of all Lords…who gave it up for me…

As we approach Christmas, take just a few minutes to meditate on that King and Lord. Turn your speakers up, sit back and close your eyes…or stand and lift your arms…worship Jesus…who gave it all up for you.

Downhere performs their song “How Many Kings.”
(copyright 2006, Centricity Music Publishing/Germain Martel Publishing)

 
Chorus and Coda:
How many kings step down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
And how many gods have poured out their hearts?
To romance a world that is torn all apart?
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?

Only One did that for me.

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Christmas cookies…celebrations with friends…family dinners…special (once a year) foods…the dreaded or much anticipated fruit cake (depending on your perspective)…New Year toastings…Did I mention Christmas cookies? For the person who is learning to eat in a more healthy (and weight conscious) way, Christmas might also be known as the Season of Temptation. This week I have had such a longing for raisin cookies made using my great grandma’s recipe. They’re not your typical raisin cookies. Hers is a unique recipe that calls for coffee and lots of raisins and lots of flour. And my mom made them every year at Christmas. Earlier in our marriage I followed the tradition. I could make them now…but I’d eat them and my recent weight loss success would be undone.

I’ve weathered two Thanksgiving dinners and one Christmas party quite well. Then I got to thinking about those raisin cookies. Then came a trip over the weekend to a market with great prices on cheese and a sampling counter. That’s when the phrase “Season of Temptation” struck me.

Only one more Christmas lunch, two Christmas dinners, and one New Year’s Eve celebration. (sigh!) Oh, and the impromptu invitation to share an afternoon with friends.

A Perversion of the Christmas Season
It’s less than a week before Christmas and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to include holiday celebrations with friends and family in my healthy eating plan each week. Of course all those traditions and celebrations center around special (i.e., high fat, high calorie) foods. And my mind is becoming increasingly willing to justify bad choices. Hey, it’s only once a year – enjoy! When do you ever get to eat these things? That family member made this just for you, you have to have another serving! One taste won’t hurt! You deserve to treat yourself after the day/week you’ve had.

As I walked the aisles of the local market, I was struck by the phrase “season of temptation.” Here we are, in a season which celebrates the birth of our Savior and it has become a season of personal and societal overindulgence. How sad it must make Jesus feel sometimes!

Let me be clear – I believe Christmas should be a season of celebration. It’s just that somehow it doesn’t seem that all the celebration should be so self-centered. I want to eat all those things because I want to indulge my taste buds. I’ve learned that my stomach won’t be indulged – it will just feel over-full, bloated and perhaps even a bit queasy or acidic. But my mouth will sure enjoy it while I’m eating it!

Temptations Abound
The holiday season brings with it many different kinds of temptation. Notice that I called it the “holiday season.” Christmas – the celebration of Christ’s birth doesn’t bring those temptations. Rather, our enemy seeks to continually divert our attention away from the reason for the season and onto the “holiday” nature of the season. He tempts us in various ways, encouraging us to:

  • Over eat
  • Over spend
  • Drink to excess
  • Speak too much and widen that gap between you and a family member
  • Indulge in self-pity or entertain loneliness
  • Accept too many invitations and lose the time you would spend with the Lord
  • Choose to worry instead of rest in Christ

With less than a week before Christmas, I suspect that you, like me, are in the midst of your season of temptation. I’m praying you’ll take a step back with me to (1) consider your situation and (2) make a plan. Let’s do it.

Consider Your Situation
I am encouraged when I remember that Christ understands my temptation. Scripture says that He was tempted in all things.

Read this:

1Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

4Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Matthew 4:1-4

Matthew 4:1 says that Jesus “was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” This was done on purpose, folks! It didn’t just happen that Jesus was praying and fasting for forty days and then satan tempted Him. Part of his “assignment” here on earth was to experience our temptations. He was tempted to satisfy His earthly, human appetites for food, drink, power and riches by using supernatural power.

Were those powers rightfully His to use? Absolutely! He was God and never stopped being God while He lived life as a man on earth. But He voluntarily chose to suspend His supernatural powers and do only as He saw the Father doing.

The second, and perhaps more important question, is “Was it part of God’s plan for Jesus to use His supernatural power to satisfy His earthly appetites at that time?” Clearly the answer is no. Jesus’ temptation was much larger than any temptation we will ever face. He was fully capable of using His supernatural power to accomplish anything at any time. Yet He chose to not satisfy His desires, but those of His Father. And His Father had bigger things in mind for Him.

The same can be true of us – I am blessed because I have the power to eat most anything I want whenever I want. I have the money to buy the food and I have the capability to eat the food. The question is, is it part of God’s plan for me to use my power in that way? The answer is no, so I face a choice – obey God confident that He has bigger things in mind for me, or indulge myself.

That’s my situation. You have a similar situation. I don’t know what your temptation is, but recognizing it and the true reality of it is the first thing necessary to overcoming that temptation. So I encourage you, friends, to think about what you are or will be tempted by this week…ideally before that temptation has an opportunity to take you by surprise. There’s more to my situation and yours, and we’ll learn about it as we begin to plan.

Make a Plan – Add the Spiritual Element
In reading about Jesus’ temptation in the desert, we see that He overcame temptation by keeping His focus on the Truth and extinguishing satan’s fiery darts with Scripture.

The truth is that God’s plan for me is to have a greater impact for eternity than I can imagine and my ability to walk in that calling is directly tied to my submission to His will. Each time Jesus was tempted, He chose to stay in God’s will – He refocused His mind from the earthly temptation to the greater will of God. When I remind myself of the link between my temptation and God’s will it reframes the picture. My ability to resist the temptation takes on a spiritual dynamic that has so much more power than my faltering willpower.

Jesus replied to satan, “It is written…” – He used God’s Word in His battles with temptation. This goes beyond reframing the battle by bringing weapons into our arsenal that we don’t have in the natural. I can repeat in my mind, “I won’t eat that piece of cake, I won’t eat that piece of cake, I won’t eat that piece of cake,” for hours on end (which I did yesterday as I sat around a table visiting with friends while a half-eaten cake sat in the middle of the table just begging to be snacked on). Or I can remind myself of these Scriptures (I’m paraphrasing to personalize them):

I have overcome the world, because the One who is in me is greater than the one who is in the world.
1 John 4:4

No temptation has seized me except what others have experienced. And God is faithful; He will not allow me to be tempted beyond what I can bear, but when I am tempted He will also provide a way out so that I can stand up under it.
1 Corinthians 10:13

Man (or woman) does not live on cake alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.
Matthew 4:4b

And God is able to make all grace abound to me, so that in all things at all times, having all that I need, I will abound in every good work. 
2 Corinthians 9:8

Which type of self-talk is more likely to lead to victory over the temptation? Obviously the scriptural one. Refocus your thoughts when tempted. Let the voice of God’s Word drown out the voice of the enemy.

Make a Plan – Practical Ideas
Don’t rely only on the spiritual element to bring victory. We live and interact in the natural world. God brings supernatural power to the battle, but we are foolish if we don’t also apply natural wisdom and practices to the battle. For example, not everyone at the gathering yesterday was sitting around the table with the half-eaten cake that was tempting me. Eventually I realized my foolishness, got up from the table and visited with others gathered in the living room. The temptation to eat more of the cake vanished almost immediately!

While each of us deal with our own temptations in different ways, here are some practical suggestions for curbing your overindulgence;

  • Identify the activities and events you will face in the coming week that will bring the most temptations with them. Identifying them in advance allows you to pray about them and develop a plan of attack. Our enemy has plans for attack. Let’s counter them with our own plans.
  • Pray about those anticipated activities and events. Pray about the people who will be there. Pray for ideas about how to escape the temptation. Remember 1 Corinthians 10:13 – with the temptation, God will provide a way of escape so that you may be able to bear it.
  • Can you avoid problematic events? Sometimes the answer is “absolutely yes.” We are not required to participate in every holiday celebration we’re invited to. We’re not required to have every minute of our schedule full – in fact, doing so makes us more vulnerable to temptation. Be sure your calendar includes time to spend with God and time to recharge your battery. Tired warriors are beaten warriors.
  • Remove yourself from activities that feed your temptation. Are you tempted to over spend? Leave the store and/or walk away from your computer Internet shopping. Do something different! Are you tempted to feel sorry for yourself? Make a plan to serve at a homeless shelter on Christmas eve or Christmas day or invite a friend to spend the day with you.
  • Is it possible to change the situation either by removing some element or adding a new element. For example, if you have required events that bring with them a temptation to drink to excess, bring your own beverage that sparkles with flavor – some sparkling water, juice or cider. Spend your time visiting with the sober crowd. Chew gum. Invite a family to take a walk around the block with you to escape the crowded house and catch up with what’s happening in their life.

Victory
There is victory over temptation, friends. Jesus’ temptation in the desert teaches me two things: Jesus understands our temptation and is able to help us when we are tempted. Hebrews says it this way:

10In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering…

18Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Hebrews 2:10, 18

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1   To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven.
2    A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
3    A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to rebuild
4    A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
5    A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
6    A time to search and a time to lose.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
7    A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak up.
8    A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (NIV)

4But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. 5God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. 6And because you Gentiles have become his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, and now you can call God your dear Father. 7Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, everything he has belongs to you. Galatians 4:4-7 (NLT)

Scripture says that there is “a time for every purpose under heaven.” Under heaven means here on earth. It also says “When the time was right” or “When the fullness of time had come” God sent His son…

When you put those Scripture together, I get excited.

There was a story in the news earlier this year about a study done by the Oxford Dictionary. The Oxford Dictionary is the dictionary to beat all dictionaries. Here in America, when we think of dictionaries, we think of Webster. In London, they think of Oxford. The study identified the 25 most commonly used nouns. The noun that is used more than any other noun is the word “time”. Also in the list of top 25 nouns are year, day, and week. So 4 of the top 25 words relate to time… The world is obsessed with time!

So obsessed that the US Government has two different agencies that are responsible for keeping the “official time” of the United States. Seems to me that one agency would be sufficient.

I think the reason we’re obsessed with time is because we can’t control it. It continues moving forward no matter what we do. Sometimes it seems to move more quickly and sometimes more slowly, but no matter what we do, it continues on.

We try to control it. We talk about managing our time. I googled “time management” and got 43,900,000 hits! Nearly 44 MILLION!

That made me curious, and since searches are so quick and easy, I decided to google just the word “time.” There were more than 14 BILLION references to the word time.

Yes, I’d say we’re obsessed with time.

I think we’re also obsessed with time because we don’t really understand it. Sometimes it seems to move quickly, sometimes it drags. It seems to just disappear sometimes and when we’ve taken an unexpected nap we can become totally disoriented – largely because we can’t figure out what day/time it is.

In all this stress over time, there is reason to rejoice and have peace. Let’s look at some of the things Scripture tells us about time.

1) God exists outside of time. Now I don’t understand what that means or how that happens, I just know that it is. Scripture is clear that God is eternal. That means He existed before time began and he will exist after time ends. There was never a time when He didn’t exist and there will never be a time when he won’t exist.

Isaiah 57:15 says that God  “inhabits eternity” – in other words, He lives in eternity.

In Isaiah 43:13, the Lord Himself says this: “From eternity to eternity I am God.”

Another phrase that you’ll find many times in the Bible is “from everlasting to everlasting.” It’s often used with an exhortation to “praise Him, because He lives from everlasting to everlasting.”

2) God created time.

1In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

3And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
Genesis 1:1-5

At the moment God created the first day, He created time as we measure it. The creation continues story by identifying what God did during the first seven days of the existence of time as we know it. Since God created time, we can trust Him with our time. When I am stressed because I have too much to do and too little time, I can take a step back, remember that God created and controls time, and rest in Him.

3) God has a purpose for our time and wants to be involved in our lives.

Did you ever wonder why you were born when you were born? I think girls especially sometimes look at history books and maybe they see the pretty clothes of the Victorian era or some other time and they begin to wish they had lived in another time.

Acts 17 tells us something interesting about the time in which we live:

26From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 
Acts 17:26-27

Ecclesiastes 3 says that there is a time to be born and a time to die. This passage says the same thing, but it goes a bit further. It says that God determines the time for us to be born and the time for us to die. He also determined the exact places where we should live. Why? So that we would seek Him and reach out to Him and find Him.

God’s actions throughout history have been aimed at one goal – that we would seek Him; that we would reach out and find Him. It’s so important to God that we have a relationship with Him that He sent His Son to earth. He understood that it can be hard for us to understand what we can’t see. So Jesus said “I’ll go! Send me.” Then He stepped out of eternity and stepped into time.

And that was such a climactic event in all of human history, that time is measured before and after it. We live in the year 2011 AD – in other words, 2011 years after Jesus lived.

4But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. 5God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. 6And because you Gentiles have become his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, and now you can call God your dear Father. 7Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, everything he has belongs to you. Galatians 4:4-7 (NLT)

This passage says that God sent His Son, Jesus, to buy freedom for us so that we could be adopted as God’s own children. And when we are adopted as His own children, everything He has belongs to us.

God’s highest purpose, is to give each of us an opportunity to be adopted as His son or daughter.

Romans 5 explains how that happened:

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.
Romans 5:6

“At just the right time” Christ “died for us sinners.” You see, even when we find God, we have a problem. That problem is called sin. We have lived our lives apart from God, doing what seemed right to us, not doing what God considered right. There is a punishment due for that sin – a penalty. The penalty, Scripture says, is death. So that we might escape eternal death, Jesus stepped in and said “Father, I’ll die in their place.”

Again, Romans 5:6 says:

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.
Romans 5:6

The passage continues with one of my favorite verses in all of Scripture:

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

“Now we can rejoice,” Scripture says, because when we believe what Scripture teaches and trust Jesus for our life, God adopts us as His sons and daughters and all that He has is ours. Remember, one of the things He has is eternal life…He lives in eternity. When we trust Jesus, we will live in eternity with God. Yes, He has still appointed a time for us to die, but it’s not an eternal death, it’s merely a crossing from this life into life with God for eternity.

Like I said earlier in this blog, I don’t understand eternity. You know what? That’s OK, because what I do know is that spending eternity with God is a GOOD thing. When my time on this earth is done, when God’s purposes for my life on this earth are accomplished, God has appointed a time for me to die. But He is arranging the events of my life so that I will seek Him and find Him.

When your time on this earth is done, when God’s purposes for your life are accomplished, He has appointed a time for you to die. In the meantime, He’s arranging the events of your life so that you will seek Him and find Him. If you haven’t found Him, I encourage you to continue to seek Him. You can read more about how to find Him here. The time is right! ’Tis the season.

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Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thess 5:18 (NIV)

Yesterday’s blog identified four benefits of regularly giving thanks:

  • We are being obedient to God’s will. Obedience is always honored by God.
  • It keeps us humble by regularly reminding us that we’re not the source of all the good things that happen in our lives.
  • It builds our faith by reminding us of God’s faithfulness and goodness to us.
  • It shelters us from the sin of ingratitude.

This last benefit might seem like a small thing, but read this verse from Romans. I’m including it in two translations:

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Romans 1:21 (NIV)

 Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. The result was that their minds became dark and confused. 
Romans 1:21 (NLT)

Two blogs ago, I wrote about the direct connection between an attitude of gratefulness and being made whole mind, body and spirit. We see the antithesis of that in this verse – that there is a direct connection between an ungrateful heart and a spiritual darkness that brings confusion and foolish actions.

When we discipline ourselves to consistently and regularly rejoice over what God has done in our lives, we reinforce in our minds (and spirits) truths about who God is and how He interacts with His people.

When we allow complaining and whining to take center stage, we reinforce lies that the enemy is whispering in our ears – God doesn’t love me, God won’t provide what I need, God isn’t interested in blessing me, God is not good to me. Our thinking becomes “futile” and we begin to think up “foolish ideas” about God, His character and His actions. Ultimately, our hearts and minds become “dark and confused.” That sounds a lot like depression to me. I’ve experienced serious depression. Dark and confused does a pretty good job of describing it. I didn’t like it.

I prefer the happy face of celebration. I’m not saying that all depression can be healed by giving thanks, but it’s a fantastic way to start…and I’m confident that some depression is healed through this spiritual discipline.

Why? Because when I am regularly reminded that all I have comes from God and that He is constantly faithful in my life, it develops a sense of contentment and peace in the very center of my being. And I like that. A lot.

So, friends, this Christmas season, what is at the forefront of your mind – the stress of the season, or the blessings from a God who gave up heaven so that we might one day gain it? Let’s agree to focus on the latter and to regularly give thanks for the innumerable ways He’s blessed us. It will significantly impact your Christmas season.

Let me leave you with this quote from Charles Spurgeon:

To be silent over God’s mercies is to incur the guilt of ingratitude…To forget to praise God is to refuse to benefit ourselves; for praise, like prayer, is one great means of promoting the growth of the spiritual life. It helps to remove our burdens, to excite our hope, to increase our faith. It is a healthful and invigorating exercise which quickens the pulse of the believer, and nerves him for fresh enterprises in his Master’s service.

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“He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, [says the Lord,]
and he prepares the way
so that I may show him the salvation of God.”
Psalm 50:23

In yesterday’s blog, we learned that giving thanks opens the way for God to show us His salvation (Psalm 50:23)

 But how can such a simple discipline have such a huge impact?

Supernaturally, of course! But there is logic to it!

 When we give thanks, it is an acknowledgement to God and the world, that all that we have comes from the Hand of God. It reminds us that we’re not the source of all the good that happens in our lives. That brings us to a place of humility. And that’s like an insurance policy against pride.

Both James and Peter quote Proverbs 3:34 when they wrote “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

When we give thanks, then, we are nurturing our humility and God gives grace to the humble. Developing a thankful heart puts us in a position to receive God’s grace. God’s salvation is found in the grace that He pours out on the heart that is humble.

When we strengthen our muscle of thanksgiving, it shelters us from the sin of ingratitude. It shows that we don’t take God’s gifts for granted. The act of giving thanks keeps us from becoming ungrateful.

When we give thanks, we are reminding ourselves of God’s constant faithfulness in our lives and that builds our faith.

The Israelites were instructed again and again to REMEMBER what God had done and to give thanks for it. They were instructed to teach their children what God had done. Why? Because it built their faith. If God had parted the Red Sea to save them from the Egyptian army and sure defeat, he could be trusted to beat any current enemy they were facing. If He had provided manna in the desert and made bitter water pure, He could be trusted to provide food those things in their lives again.

When we give thanks, we are reminding ourselves of God’s faithfulness – and that brings hope and an expectation that what He has done in the past, He will do again in our present and in the future. I sure need that. I love the Lord and have faith that He is always with me, that all He does is for my good, that He will provide for my needs, that He will…you get the idea. Yet I sure need to remind myself of what he’s done in the past sometimes. When I’m tired or stressed or frustrated or discouraged or…again, you get the idea. At those times, my faith needs to be reminded that we’ve been here before and God has shown up in a mighty way. He always has. He always will.

There is at least one additional benefit of giving thanks – When we give thanks, we are being obedient to God.

Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thess 5:18 (NIV)

It doesn’t get much clearer than that – it is God’s will that we give thanks in all circumstances. Not for all circumstances, but in all circumstances. There are always things to give thanks for, even in the worst of circumstances. And when we find those things (especially in the worst of circumstances), we are humbling ourselves, we are honoring God, we are and we are putting ourselves in a position for God to show us His great salavation.

Just as the ten lepers were being obedient as they went to show themselves to the priest (Luke 17:11-19), when we give thanks, we are being obedient to what God has told us to do. And the faithful God that we serve will bless that thankfulness, just as he blessed the obedience of the lepers.

God doesn’t just tell us to do things on a whim – He tells us to do things that are for our good – to teach us to live a life that blesses Him and that He in turn can bless. He commands us to do things because they’re good for us! So when we give thanks, we experience blessings beyond simply the assurance of having been obedient.

Tomorrow’s blog – The High Cost of Not Giving Thanks!

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