Archive for the “God’s Love” Category

Christmas is such a magical time of year. The snow glistens as it falls during the day and glows as it falls at night. Homes and businesses are decorated in celebration. People seem friendlier and more joyful.

For the Christian, though, it goes beyond decorations and magical snow falls. It’s not just a magical time of year, it’s a miraculous time of year. It’s the time of year in which we remember and celebrate the miracle of Jesus and the message of Jesus. Jesus is the reason for the season. Jesus is the Christ in Christmas – without Jesus there would be no reason to celebrate.

Today  I want us to step back from the Christmas story we’re most familiar with and see what came before it. We’re going to look at what was foretold about Jesus 700 years before the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and Joseph. 700 years before the birth of Jesus in the manger God gave Isaiah a message about Jesus. Isaiah prophecied this:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign:
The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son,
and will call him Immanuel.

Isaiah 7:14 (NIV)

The story of Jesus didn’t start with His birth or when the Angel visited Mary. There are many prophecies in the Old Testament that told the Hebrews – the Jews – that a Messiah, or Savior, would come. It was knowing that a Messiah was promised to them – promised by a God who is faithful – it was this promised Messiah that gave the Jews hope, even during very difficult and dark times.

This verse in Isaiah is one of those prophecies that holds the promise of a Messiah, given to the Jews during a very dark time in their history. The Jewish people had split into two nations – Judah and Israel, and they were each aligning themselves with sinful nations in order to battle one another. The country is in the midst of a civil war, not unlike our own civil war so long ago. I bet many of you had grandparents who fought in our civil war.

It is at this point that God holds out the promise of the Messiah:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign:
The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son,
and will call him Immanuel.

Isaiah 7:14 (NIV)

Isaiah’s statement is very simple, but each phrase is important. Let’s look at it closely.

“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign.”

Who is giving the sign? The Lord Himself.

Isaiah wants to be sure that we understand that it is the Lord’s sign, given to us. It didn’t originate in the thoughts of Isaiah, but from the heart of God. The sign is God’s gift to us.

Was God obligated to send the Israelites a sign? Absolutely not. They were led by an evil king and aligning themselves with evil nations. God could have said “I’m done with them. They have rejected me.” God didn’t have to give them a sign, He chose to give it.

He’s like that with us. He doesn’t have to come into our lives. He doesn’t have to provide for us and love us and even heal us. He doesn’t have to offer us eternal life. But He chooses to because He is compassionate and loving.

“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign.”

Who did the Lord give the sign to? The prophecy is given to Israel, but the sign was given to everyone. The sign wasn’t given just to those who knew the Lord and followed His commands, but it was given to the whole nation – to everyone. Not just to those who believe, but it’s also to those who don’t believe. Signs, by their very nature, point people toward things. Street signs tell you which way to go. Signs in the grocery stores tell you what food is in each aisle. Everyone who sees the sign and follows it ends up where they want to go. In Isaiah’s prophecy, God says He is giving us a sign. If we pay attention to the sign and follow it, the sign will lead us – in this case, to everlasting life.

A few minutes ago we said that God didn’t have to give us a sign – He chose to. It is out of His mercy and compassion that God doesn’t leave us to wander around trying to figure everything out for ourselves. He gave us a sign – a pretty significant one – like a blinking neon sign on a dark night! And His sign points directly to Jesus, as we see in the next phrase of the verse.

What was the sign? The next phrase of the verse tells us:

“The virgin will be with child and will give birth.”

A young woman who has never been with a man will become pregnant and will give birth. Isaiah must have been thinking “That’s not possible, Lord!” Yet what does Scripture say about the impossible? It says that “with God, all things are possible.” There is nothing impossible with God. No matter what impossible situation you’re facing, you can know that “with God, all things are possible.”

If we had been around before Creation and God told us He was going to create light and the land and the sea and all that are in the land and the sea…we’d have thought “That’s not possible, Lord!” Or maybe we wouldn’t have been quite so skeptical and would simply have thought “How in the world are You going to do that?” or “Can You really do that?” With God, all things are possible. I love that God has creative solutions to those situations that cause us to think “It’s not possible.” When that phrase comes to our minds, we can immediately think of the sign that God gave us – the virgin will be with child and will give birth. God interrupts our lives in miraculous ways. Perhaps not as miraculous as the virgin birth. That was a once only event because it ushered in the promised Messiah. But the miracle of experiencing His peace in the midst of our trials is still God doing what is impossible.

The prophecy of Jesus reminds us that God can do the miraculous. Every time you sing a Christmas carol this year that reminds you of the birth of Jesus, remember that God can do the miraculous.

In this verse, the Jews were promised that God would one day do the impossible and that “impossible thing” would be a sign to us. The young virgin would become pregnant and give birth.

But that’s not all. Isaiah finished the sentence by writing this:

“And will call Him Immanuel.”

The word Immanuel means “God with us.” Isaiah was saying that the child would be God with us – here on earth.

The sign that God would give us would be a miraculous birth. The message on the sign – the words written on it, so to speak – is that the child would be God in the flesh, here on earth. God, born as the baby Jesus. We read the stories of Jesus’ life and they become so familiar to us, that sometimes we forget that Jesus is God in the flesh and He walked here on earth.

In His compassion, God gave us a sign to point us in the right direction.

In His love, He came as a human who could literally put His arms around the disciples and say “Go this way.”

Seeing God’s compassion and love, is important because we know that Scripture tells us that He is the same yesterday, today and forever. God’s compassion causes Him to reach out to us, sometimes in miraculous ways, to lead us toward Himself. Jesus is a sign for us today. A Sign that God gave us because He is compassionate and because He loves us. He is a sign that will lead us to everlasting life.

A Child is Born – to Us; The Mighty God and Everlasting Father is Ours

A few chapters later Isaiah continued the prophecy about Jesus and wrote this:

2The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned….
6For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given:
and the government shall be upon his shoulder:
and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor,
The mighty God, The everlasting Father,
The Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:2 (NIV), 6 (KJV)

Isaiah gives us more insight into the child that would be born. We have heard these words so many times, they almost don’t have the impact on us that they would have had on Isaiah. Think about it – a CHILD is born – and he will be called MIGHTY GOD! Everlasting Father! Prince of Peace!

The sign that God would give – the child born of a virgin – would be the mighty God. He would be the everlasting Father. He would be God – with us – Immanuel.

For Him to be our everlasting Father, we must have everlasting life. Jesus became God in human form to show us how the way to have that everlasting life. He tells us this Himself.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
John 14:6 (NIV)

The virgin giving birth was given as a sign and the words on the sign were “God is with us.” When Jesus grew up He said it differently – “I am the way and the truth and the life.” In other words, “follow me and I will give you everlasting life.”

If you don’t know the Lord personally, if you don’t know Jesus as your friend, let me introduce Him to you. He is the Child who was given to us. He is the Mighty God and Everlasting Father. He is Immanuel, God with us. And He is the way, the truth and the life. When we follow Him, we have everlasting life. Tell Him you’d like to get to know Him better. That it is your desire to follow Him. He will reveal Himself to you and if you follow that revelation, you will have everlasting life.

Jesus’ birth didn’t just occur by happenstance. God told us in advance:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign:
The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son,
and will call him Immanuel.

Isaiah 7:14 (NIV)

Will you pray with me? Father, thank you for sending us a sign so that we would no longer have to wander and doubt. Thank you for sending a sign that points back to you. I pray that during the coming Christmas season You would help us to know You better and help us to follow You better. We want to experience “God with us”. We want to know Jesus. We want to follow Jesus. Thank You, Lord, for giving us everlasting life.

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Recently God reminded me of a very important principle in Scripture. He reminded me as I was reading one morning in Isaiah:

God awakens my ear in the morning to listen.
Isaiah 50:4

Every morning when God awakens us, He does so for one purpose – to listen to His voice. His desire is that we begin each day listening for His voice.

The theme is carried over in the New Testament. In the book of Revelation, for example, Jesus urges over and over again, “let everyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit says.”

Yet I find that it’s often so much easier to wake up in the morning and listen, instead of to the Lord, to the radio or the television or the first person we see. Often, we allow them to set the tone for our day.

Imagine, however, if we asked God to help us listen to His voice every morning. What kinds of things would He say to us?

I’m writing to Christians today – people who have asked God to forgive them of their sins and take control of their lives. If you haven’t done that, you can do so at any time. Check out this blog to learn more.

If you are a Christian, here are some of the things God would say to you each morning:

God would say: “You’re forgiven.”

He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases.
Psalm 103:3 (NLT)

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins.
Colossians 2:13 (NIV)

I am writing to you who are God’s children because your sins have been forgiven through Jesus.
1 John 2:12 (NLT)

What does that simple phrase “You’re forgiven” mean? It means that the separation that existed between you and God has been put back together. Scripture describes us as being at war with God because of our sin, but we have been reconciled – brought back together.

It means that we can live in the freedom of knowing that we are accepted by God without reservation. There’s nothing you or I have done that God isn’t ready to forgive. Scripture says that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

And it means we will one day spend eternity in heaven. Being forgiven brings us freedom in this life and eternity with God in the next life. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Not only would God say “You’re forgiven”, He’d also say: “You are loved.”

But the love of the LORD remains forever with those who fear him. His salvation extends to the children’s children
Psalm 103:17 (NLT)

Long ago the LORD said to Israel: “I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.
Jeremiah 31:3 (NLT)

I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love.
John 15:9 (NLT)

Knowing we are loved gives us courage to live the life that God has prepared for us. I don’t know about you, but it makes me smile every time I think about it. You are special to God. You are loved. Deeply loved.

God would say: “I gotcha! Don’t be afraid. I’ve got your back. Whatever comes your way – I’m with you.”

27My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, 29for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand.
John 10:27-29 (NLT)

God is our protection. He has our back! No one can snatch us from His hand. But there’s another element to God having our back. Not only is it His protection, it’s also His provision.

And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:19 (NIV)

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence.
2 Peter 1:3 (NLT)

Friends, for those of us who have trusted Christ as our Savior, when we listen to God’s voice in the morning, we face the day knowing that we are loved, that we are forgiven, that there’s nothing that will come up during the day that God we have to face alone.

God’s reminder that He awakens me to listen was one I needed to hear. It came after a very long time of being very busy. Yes, I kept reading my Bible during that time. Yes, I prayed regularly. But at some point, I wasn’t lingering with God. You know, Phil and I have our best conversations when we’re not rushing from one thing to another. The same is true with God. I am being more purposeful about lingering over my Bible reading and prayers. And every morning, I am reminding myself that I am forgiven, I am loved and God’s got my back. I gotta tell you – it’s  a great way to start each day!

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Zoey Grace, moments after her birth.

Zoey Grace, moments after her birth.

At 6:24 on 4/26 – 6:24 in the morning on April 26 – a lullaby rang through the halls of St. David’s Medical center.

That lullaby was an announcement to the world of the birth of Zoey Grace Martinez.

This was Zoey’s birth day – the day of her birth.

There was rejoicing in the hospital when we heard the lullaby because we knew what it meant. Zoey had breathed her first breath of life outside her mother’s womb.

There is Rejoicing in Heaven

I was reminded that Scripture says that there is rejoicing in heaven when one sinner turns to the Lord (Luke 15:7). Rejoicing over my birth! Rejoicing over your birth! Wow!

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

What a miracle that first breath is. In the womb, a baby’s lungs are filled with amniotic fluid. Near the end of pregnancy, the baby actually breathes the amniotic fluid in and out as they take practice breaths. Were they to do that outside the womb, they would drown. But inside the womb, somehow it prepares them for breathing air soon.

Then, suddenly, the baby enters the world and instantly they can breathe air. What an amazing and miraculous thing! “We are fearfully and wonderfully made,” Scripture says (Psalm 139:14). The New Living Translation puts it this way:

13You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and
knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
15You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
16You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.
Psalm 139:13-16 (NLT)

As you read the passage, do you feel the loving care of the Creator as you were created? The angels rejoice when we are born again…but it was the Lord who carefully knits us together before we were born.

Profoundly Impacted

I was blessed to be in the hospital room while Zoey’s mom was in labor and in the halls of the hospital, right outside the nursery window waiting as Zoey was born. And I was profoundly impacted. God revealed His love for me in a way that was fresh revelation for me. And I was blown away by it. I want to share that revelation with you. I hope you are changed by it as I’ve been

He Loved Us First

About eighteen hours prior to her birth, the long labor process began. I was one of about a dozen people at the hospital, watching, encouraging, praying and rejoicing.

I watched as Zoey’s mom would have painful contractions and Zoey’s dad would come over and rub her back to help her through the pain. The contractions would come more frequently and then less frequently. She eventually got pain medication and then the day just went on and on…and on and on.

I couldn’t help but see the relationship between our physical birth and our spiritual birth. Just as there are labor pains that bring physical birth there are spiritual labor pains that bring spiritual birth.

When I think back to my own coming to the Lord, I remember the ebb and flow of the process. There would be a spark of interest, then there would be a kicking against the truth. And there would be a drawing near to God and then a pushing away…A drawing near and a pushing away. All the while Phil was there trying to coax me along, helping me over the trouble spots. It took quite a while for me to be born again. For a long time, I just wasn’t ready to be born. But the Lord kept calling me. I’m so thankful that God is persistent.

Zoey wasn’t ready to be born for a long time either. Her poor mama was in labor for eighteen hours. During that time, what really impressed me was how very much her parents loved her. What they were willing to go through just to bring her into this world is a testament to the love they have for her – even before she was born.

Scripture says that “While we were still sinners Christ loved us.” “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8, NIV) That’s how God showed His love for us. He loved me first, and He loved me fully and with His life. He loved you first – fully and with His life.

Again, the spiritual implications have just blown me away. Seeing what these earthly parents were willing to go through…seeing their love in action – love that is so imperfect compared to the love of God, love that is so shallow compared to the love of God – seeing that gave me a glimpse of how very much God loves His children.

Extravagant Love – How Can I Ever Be Afraid of the Future?

He not only forms each of us in our mother’s womb, miraculously creates us so that we can breathe air the instant we leave the womb – He not only created us for our first birth, He then bought us back after we had sold ourselves into slavery. He paid the price so that we could be born a second time – free from the condemnation and ultimate consequence of our sins. Christ’s suffering on the cross was another sort of birth pains, another sort of labor pains. He hung on the cross while God heaped the sins of the world upon Him…so that I could be set free from those sins…so that I could live not just 70 or 80 or 90 years here on earth, but for eternity.

That’s love in action.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only son that whoever believes in Him, whoever hopes and trusts in Him, should not perish but would have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) 

“But God demonstrated His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

Well, there’s one other thing that I experienced that day that is so over the top it has led me to ask – it has held me in the place of asking – with the Apostle Paul, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31) In other words – “Since God loves us so incredibly, how can I ever be afraid of the future?

“This One’s Ours”

I’ve never been a baby person. Phil and I are childless by choice. Shortly after Zoey was born I sent pictures to Phil and he said “Sandy, All babies look alike.” And I said, “I know…but this one’s different.” The truth is that I was experiencing so much love for Zoey and I couldn’t figure out why. I just knew that “this one’s different.” Not different in terms of her outward beauty – she’s a baby. Yes, she’s an adorable baby, but objectively, she’s just a baby like any other baby. But there was nothing objective about Zoey. Somehow she was different. It took a while for me to verbalize it, but when Phil said “All babies look alike” I knew what it was. This baby – baby Zoey – is different and the way she’s different is that she is ours.

“This one is ours.” That’s the phrase that kept going through my mind. “This one is ours.” It is impossible to put into words the full implication of that phrase, but it embodies a fierce love and protectiveness and so much more. “This one is ours.”

Now Zoey is not mine in any sense of the word. I’m the great aunt that lives a couple thousand miles away. (Or put more specifically, a thousand dollars away, because that’s about what it costs to visit her (oh – and her mom and dad and other family members.) By the time she’s 16, I’ll be lucky if I see her a dozen times. And given my lousy track record for sending packages, she’ll be lucky to get a dozen packages from me.

Still, I couldn’t get the phrase out of my mind… “This one is ours.”

And God continued to impress upon me His great, great love for us. That He looks down…or over…Scripture says He’s with us all the time, so it’s not really a looking down. But God looks at us and says “this one is mine.” “This one is mine.” “I created that one,” He says, “and I went to great lengths to buy her back.” “She’s mine.”

And I’m blown away.

How much does that God  love me, and how much would a God like that protect me, lead me and care for me? A God who has already done what he’s done, gone through what He’s gone through for my birth – how far would He go to help me? And knowing that He feels toward me much the same way I feel toward Zoey, only to a significantly greater degree than I feel toward Zoey – He says “This one’s mine” – knowing that, how can I ever be afraid? How can I ever not trust Him?

Leaving Me is Not in His DNA – He Can’t Do It

Zoey, about one day old

Zoey, about one day old

Scripture says He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). I don’t think He can, even if he wanted to. He doesn’t want to, but I don’t think he could leave us or forsake us even if He wanted to. Is there anything God can’t do? That’s a question theologians can argue, but I don’t think He can leave us or forsake us. Because He looks down and says “This one’s mine.”

Long ago the LORD said to Israel: “I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself. (Jeremiah 31:3, NLT)

“This one’s mine.”

If God is For Us…

A few days after returning home, I came to Romans 8 in my Bible reading. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Let me translate it in light of my recent experience and all of Scripture – “if God who loves us so passionately – if the God who looks at me and says ‘This one’s mine’ – if that God is for me – and we know He is – what does it matter if anyone else is against me?”

Friends, every time I feel overwhelmed or scared for the future, I return to that moment when I realized that God says “This one’s mine” and I am filled with peace and joy.

If you’ve trusted Jesus as your Savior, you’re His, too. He rejoices over you. Rejoice in Him. And rest in His peace knowing He will never leave you and He will move heaven and earth for you.

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Now that we are in the short respite between Christmas and New Year’s, I thought I’d share with you the focus of my December meditations. My month was a bit too hectic to get this into a blog earlier, but perhaps God’s timing is at play and you will have a greater opportunity to absorb this today. I know this is a long blog, but I’m confident that you’ll be blessed by it. Take a few minutes in your devotions to read and meditate on it. God will bless you as He has me.

In late November, God brought to mind a story about my dad. His name was Pat. After his funeral we were sitting in my step-mom’s living room and my aunt said something very special to me. She said “Everyone knew when you kids were little, you better not touch any of you kids or you’ll have to answer to Pat.” I’ll make it personal – “You better not touch sandy, or you’ll have to answer to Pat!” Now that obviously was a very special thing for me to hear. It was wonderful to hear how much my dad loved me. But that wasn’t the lesson God had for me in reminding me of that conversation. The lesson for me was that I didn’t know my dad that way. By the time I reached an age when I remember things, my dad was an over-the-road truck driver so he was only home every other day to sleep. And when he wasn’t sleeping he and mom were arguing. Now I knew my dad loved me, but I didn’t know the dad that my aunt told me about.

The message God had for me was that, while I know God, there are many other ways to know Him. He is so much more and so much bigger than the little bit that I know of him. So my prayer became “Lord, reveal yourself to me in a new way this year during the Christmas season.” Along with that was the thought that when I preached in December maybe I would preach about the extravagant love of God that is embodied in the birth of Christ.

And I’m so excited about the passage God led me to study those themes. My December message was a special one. And when I finished preparing it, God led me to a worship song that fit perfectly. I had apparently bought it about a year ago and then promptly forgot about it. It totally expresses my heart as I prepared this message. Before I share the message with you, let’s listen to the song.

“Let Me Rediscover You” by Downhere

Oh, Lord, let us rediscover you this week. Don’t let this season end until we’ve seen you in a new and glorious way. Reveal Yourself to us, Lord. We want to see you and cry holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come. We want to worship the God who came to earth and returned to heaven. All for me. Amen!

God took me to the book of John. Now I have to admit – many people love the book of John, but it’s never been my favorite!

A common question new believers ask is “what should I read” and many people tell them to read the book of John. I don’t get that.

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.”
John 1:1 (KJV)

Say what? Quite honestly, that’s never done much for me. But God…He brought it alive to me this this year. We’re going to look at it in the New Living Translation

1In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He existed in the beginning with God.
John 1:1-2 (NLT)

At the simple reading of this, we don’t know that the Word is Jesus, but as we get further into the passage, it becomes clear. So, knowing that it is Jesus, what does the verse tell us?

Well, the first thing it tells us is that there was a time that God refers to as “the beginning” and God existed before that – He existed before the beginning of time. That’s why we call him the everlasting God, the eternal God – He existed before the beginning, He exists now, and he will exist beyond the end. That boggles my brain. But it’s true. There’s absolutely nothing I can do with that statement except accept it by faith. And worship.

We don’t worship a God who was born on a given day in human history and then died on a given day in history. Yes, Jesus did those things.

But in order for him to do those things, He had to step out of eternity and into the boundaries of human time. Think about that for a minute. We often focus on Jesus coming and dying for our sins and are amazed that He would do such a thing…and we should be amazed…but think about the bigger picture for a minute. Lose the “what’s in it for me” mindset that we all have, and think about the process.

Jesus existed before the beginning of human time. Jesus was with God. Jesus was God.

There’s a lot I don’t understand about the spiritual realm. One thing I’m pretty sure of is that it’s beyond my imagination and understanding with a WOW factor to the nth degree.

Jesus existed in that realm with God before the beginning of time.

And just in case you have developed a hierarchy in your mind that consciously or subconsciously considers Jesus less than God – I mean it only makes sense, right – The Bible says that Jesus is the Son and God is the Father; it also says that God sent His Son to die for our sins…so it only makes sense that God is greater than Jesus. Just in case you have started thinking that way, John includes that last phrase of verse 1 “and the Word was God.”

So not only did Jesus exist before time, and not only did He exist with God, but He is God. Scripture says if you have seen the Son – that is Jesus – then you have seen the Father. That’s not a “like father like son” statement – that’s a statement of the reality that the Father and Son (and the Holy Spirit) are one.

In those two verses, John starts his introduction to the Christmas story by making sure we understand that the One who came to earth is the One who existed before the beginning of time and is God Himself.

Let’s go on, starting again with verse 1:

1In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He existed in the beginning with God.  3God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him.
John 1:1-3 (NLT)

Here we have a new piece of information. That God created the world through Jesus. Jesus was the force behind the creation of everything. Jesus was the power that God used to create the world. Jesus was the creativity that God used to create the world.

The word translated “created” is a form of the verb “to be” – so we could also translate the sentence “Everything is” or “all things are” or “all things exist” because Jesus created them.

Now there’s another passage that describes creation – Let’s look briefly at Genesis 1:

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 (NIV)

God spoke and Jesus, the Word, created light.

God spoke and Jesus, the Word, created heaven and earth.

God spoke and Jesus, the Word, created land and the oceans.

God spoke and Jesus, the Word, created – as it says in John chapter 1 – everything – all things – nothing was created without Him.

Let’s go back to John 1:

1In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He existed in the beginning with God. 3God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. 4The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone.
John 1:1-4 (NLT)

Jesus gave life to everything that was created. It was Jesus who breathed life into Adam. And His life brought light to everyone.

Jesus was the creator of life at the beginning of time, He is the giver of new life for those who follow Him. He is the good shepherd who lays down his own life – who gives up his life – so that we might have life.

John writes more about the light:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.
John 1:5 (NLT)

Other translations of verse 5 say the darkness has not “understood” or “comprehended” it. Interesting that they translated it as they did. The word used is katalambano, which is more frequently translated apprehended.

The verse that this blog takes its name from is Philippians 3:12. The Apostle Paul wrote:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
Philippians 3:12 (NIV)

Jesus, the source of all life creates light and the darkness is not able to apprehend or grasp it. I don’t want to be like the darkness. I want to live in the light. I want to grab hold of all that God has for me. I want to apprehend that for which Christ has apprehended me (as it’s worded in the King James Version).

Skip down to verse 10:

He [Jesus] came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him.
John 1:10 (NLT)

Jesus, who existed before the beginning of time, who is God. Jesus, the one who created all things, who breathed the breath of life into Adam, gives life to all things. Jesus came into the very world He created…but the world didn’t recognize Him.

Jesus stepped out of eternity to come into a world where His people said…”What? Who did you say you were? I don’t think so!”

I think perhaps that is a betrayal worse than His crucifixion. The complete betrayal of the world He created – they didn’t even recognize Him.

He came to his own people, and even they rejected him.
John 1:11 (NLT)

The ones who He called to be His very own. The ones He chose. The ones he chose again and again as they turned to idols made of wood instead of the One who gives all things life. The ones who chose power or money or fame or leisure or…any of the so many other things we turn to instead of God. The ones…they are us…we rejected Him. I rejected Him.

Isaiah foretold this when he wrote this about Jesus:

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Isaiah 53:3 (NIV)

Jesus left the heavenly realms – left the world of eternity to step into the world of human time – for this. To be despised and rejected. To not be recognized by His own people. To offer abundant life only to have His creation reject it.

That’s extravagant love. God knew. Jesus knew…that many would reject His tremendous gift of salvation. And still, He stepped out of eternity, took on the form of a man, living among the indignities of this world of disease and sin.

That’s extravagant love. There’s no other explanation. Jesus was born as a helpless baby so that we might experience the love of God. He gave it all up for you and me. That’s how much He loves us. He gave up heaven and lived the rejection and betrayal…so that we may become children of God.

12But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.
John 1:12-13 (NLT)

To all who believed and accepted Jesus – it’s not enough just to believe. You have to believe and accept – the word there is lambano – remember katalambano – this is just the second part of it, lambano – so the words are very similar. To all who grab hold of Jesus – to all who      believe and receive Him – to those people, He gave the right to become children of God. He gave them new life – reborn, not physically, but spiritually – He gave them (us) a new birth that comes from God.

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.
John 1:14 (NLT)

That’s extravagant love. That the eternal God left behind the glories of heaven to show His glory to us, through the person Jesus. Jesus who created the world. Jesus who existed before the beginning – before time began. Jesus who gave up everything to show His extravagant love for me. So that I could become a child of God.  So that I could experience a new birth.

And for the sake of brevity, let’s skip to verse 18:

No one has ever seen God. But the one and only Son is himself God and is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.
John 1:18 (NLT)

Jesus has revealed God to us. Whew!

Jesus is the baby who was born in the manger. Jesus is the man who lived a sinless life. Jesus is the One who died for my sins so that I might be reconciled to God and have eternal life now and forever more. But He’s so much more than that. Jesus is the eternal God who left heaven to reveal God to us.

That’s how extravagantly He loves us.

If you don’t know that love, talk to God. He specializes in revealing Himself to individuals. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you. My first prayer went something like this: “Lord, I don’t even know if you exist, but if you do, I want to know you.” I was 23 years old. God revealed Himself to me in a way that left me no doubt of His existence. And now, 34 years later, He continues to reveal the extravagance of His love to me. He’ll do the same to you.

May God bless you abundantly with His presence now and throughout the coming year. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you. He’ll do it.

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2The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned…6For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.
Isaiah 9:2, 6-7 (NIV)

This is the prophecy of Jesus given to Isaiah more than 700 years before Jesus’ birth. During a Bible study last week my husband pointed out something that my attention had never been drawn to before. Notice that first phrase – “for to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” We all know that Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph, yet in the prophecy of His birth, the Lord describes Jesus as being born to “us.”

Immediately after Jesus’ birth, the event was announced like this:

8And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
Luke 2:1-14 (NIV)

Again, notice verse 11 – the angel didn’t describe Jesus as being born to Joseph and Mary, but to “you.”

Jesus birth was always intended in the heart of God as being a gift to the world. It was a gift to me and to you. Unto “us” a son is given; a Savior has been born to “you.” You and I are part of that “us” and part of that “you.”  Jesus has been given to us. He is our gift.

Enjoy your gift this Christmas – eternal life, bought for you with the precious blood of a Savior who loves you beyond measure.

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1Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good!
His faithful love endures forever.
2Has the LORD redeemed you? Then speak out!
Tell others he has redeemed you from your enemies.
Psalm 107:1-2 (NLT)

Do you remember the Jerry Seinfeld episode “Yada, Yada, Yada”? While he didn’t invent the phrase, he popularized it. You can YouTube it if you’re not familiar with it, but basically, it’s a way to shorten a story. “A friend of ours found a dog who had been abandoned, yada, yada, yada, and now we have a large dog cage in our kitchen.”

Well, the word translated “give thanks” above is the Hebrew word “yada.” Now technically it’s pronounced differently than the English “yada” – the Hebrew version puts the accent on the second syllable. But I’m using it as reminder to give thanks. Anytime I hear or am tempted to use the phrase “yada, yada, yada” – I’m giving thanks!

And that’s what this psalm is about…in part. It’s a lot about giving thanks. It’s also about the great love of our father who reaches down, involves Himself in our lives, and rescues us from whatever situation we’ve gotten ourselves into.

Having begun the psalm with the encouragement to give thanks, He continued:

For he has gathered the exiles from many lands,
from east and west, from north and south.
Psalm 107:3

Friends – we’re included in that verse! We are described as being aliens and exiled from God in Ephesians 2 – having no hope and without God. But “give thanks for the wonderful things he has done” – He has gathered us; He has rescued us; He has brought us home, into His family. We were all once lonely – alone without God, but God…let’s continue in Psalm 107.

The Psalmist (King David) then goes on to look at different ways that the Israelites had become alienated from God or exiled. As you read each example, you’ll see a pattern develop:

Some people __________ (fill in the blank with how they became exiled). This is followed by a verse that is repeated:

“Lord, help!” they cried in their trouble, and he rescued them from their distress.
Psalm 107:6, 13, 19 and 28

This was followed by a command that mirrors verse 1 of the psalm:

Let them praise the LORD for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them.
Psalm 107: 8, 15, 21, 31

Finally, more details are given about how God saved His people.

Here’s the detail:

Some wandered in the wilderness, lost and homeless, hungry and thirsty…

“Lord, help!” they cried…and He rescued them…

Let them praise the LORD for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them.

For he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.

Some sat in darkness and deepest gloom, imprisoned in iron chains of misery…

“Lord, help!” they cried…and He rescued them…

Let them praise the LORD for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them.

For he broke down their prison gates of bronze; he cut apart their bars of iron.

Some were fools; they rebelled and suffered for their sins….

“Lord, help!” they cried…and He rescued them…

Let them praise the LORD for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them.

He sent out his word and healed them, snatching them from the door of death.

Some went off to sea in ships, plying the trade routes of the world. Their ships were tossed to the heavens and plunged again to the depths; the sailors cringed in terror….

“Lord, help!” they cried…and He rescued them…

Let them praise the LORD for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them.

He calmed the storm to a whisper and stilled the waves.

The bottom line, friends is that God works to bring us back no matter what mess we get ourselves into.

And our proper response is what? “Let them praise the Lord for His great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them.”

The word translated “praise in these verses is the same word translated as “give thanks” in verse 1 – “yada.”

Yada, yada, yada – praise, thanksgiving, praise! Thank you, Lord, for working to get me out of the jams I get myself into. Read verses 33 through 42 of the Psalm and you’ll see that God will turn dry lands into rivers and rivers into dry lands to bring us back to Him. The verses highlight that the God we serve is a powerful God who controls all of nature and uses that power to bring us to himself, whether through blessing or discipline. It is his heart to bless us, but he waits for us to turn to him. He waits for the humble cry, “Lord help!”, and then he turns and rescues and blesses.

Thank you Lord, for using both discipline and blessing to bring me back to you.

I love the final verse of the Psalm:

Those who are wise will take all this to heart;
they will see in our history the faithful love of the LORD.
Psalm 107:43

When we stay close to God’s heart through thanksgiving and praise, we become wise and we see in our own history the faithful love of the Lord. The word translated “faithful love” encompasses mercy, kindness, lovingkindness, goodness and patience. It’s the same word used in the repeated verse “Let them praise the LORD for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them.”

Hallelujah! What a God we serve.

Friends, what is your history? Can you look back and see the faithful love of the Lord? More importantly, are you living that verse of praise – are you praising the Lord for His great love and for the wonderful things he has done for you?

This week is Thanksgiving and it provides a perfect opportunity to not be quiet in our praise and thanksgiving.

1Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good!
His faithful love endures forever.
2Has the LORD redeemed you? Then speak out!
Tell others he has redeemed you from your enemies.
Psalm 107:1-2 (NLT)

Grow your thanksgiving muscle as you speak out your praises and thanksgiving. As you do that, you will be better able to see God working in your history to continually bring you to Him. You will see His faithful love.

Enjoy your week! Enjoy God!

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In the Parable of the Lost Son, we’ve looked at the repentance of the prodigal son and the compassion and love of the father. That leaves the final character in the parable, the older son. I’ll start with the parable to refresh your memory of the story:

11Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Luke 15:11-32 (NIV)

Of the three characters, I find the older son to have the saddest story, but perhaps not for the reasons you think. He has been the obedient son. He stayed home and worked for the father during the years that his younger brother squandered his inheritance. Obedience is a good thing. Unfortunately in this case, it’s squandered obedience. The older son had a wonderful opportunity to grow in his relationship with the father during that time, but it doesn’t appear that he did. He clearly didn’t absorb the nature of his father – he showed neither compassion, love or mercy when his younger brother returned home. He was not ready to forgive. In fact, upon learning that the party was to celebrate his brother’s homecoming, he refused to go into the house.

He lacked a servant’s heart, instead using the phrase “all these years I’ve been slaving for you” to describe his efforts. The word translated “slaving” literally means “in bondage to.” The younger brother was enslaved to sin during his years of riotous living. The older son was enslaved to sin of a different kind. He had become a slave to his sense of duty and his belief that it was his own efforts that would earn him his father’s inheritance. He served his father out of obedience, not out of love. He was obedient out of duty. He viewed himself as working for his inheritance. What a drudgery those years must have been!

But there’s an even sadder element to his story. Read again the words of the father:

“My son,” the father said, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.”
Luke 15:31 (NIV)

“Everything I have is yours.” The son had at his disposal all that belonged to the father and he never availed himself of it. He didn’t even realize it was his.

Friends, our heavenly Father says the same thing to us “Everything I have is yours.” Notice the words “everything” and “all” and “all things” in the following verses:

6Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done…19And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6, 19 (NLT)

2Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, 3as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, 4by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
2 Peter 1:2-4 (NKJV)

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
Romans 8:32 (NIV)

“Everything I have is yours,” says the Father.

Remember, the parable is an illustration of spiritual principles. The younger son is a perfect picture of willful rebellion and then humble repentance. The father beautifully illustrates the loving and compassionate Father we have in heaven, ready to forgive and celebrate with us. Now we have the older son, who I’m afraid is very much like us sometimes. We so easily fall into the trap of serving the Lord out of duty.

Obedience is important in the Kingdom of God, but it must be obedience out of love for all the Father has done for us and gives us. Obedience out of duty creates in us the same attitude it created in the older son – bitter jealousy.

The Father’s message is “Everything I have is yours.” Let’s not live like slaves but as the son or daughter who has been given the Kingdom.

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Studying the Parable of the Lost Son, in my previous blog we focused on the namesake of the parable, the lost or prodigal son. He is only one of the three main characters in the story. Today I want to study the actions of the father. First, let me repeat the story:

11Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Luke 15:11-32 (NIV)

It’s important to understand what it meant for the son to ask for his father for his inheritance. It was exceedingly hurtful and humiliating. Many fathers would respond in great anger at such a request. The son was saying “your money is more important to me than you.” The son was disgracing the family. I have no doubt that it was a very difficult thing for the father to hand over the son’s inheritance to him knowing that he would squander it. Yet he did that, perhaps also knowing that the son had to come to his own understanding about life and his father’s love for him.

Verse 20 tells us that while the son was still “a long way off”, his father saw him. I’m guessing that the father had an eye trained on the lane down which the son would return. That throughout his daily life he kept looking, watching and waiting. The father is a picture of our heavenly Father. I love knowing that he watches and waits for each sinner to return. That He hasn’t turned His back on them, but longs for them to return, just as this father longed for his lost son to return. God waits patiently, turned toward so that when we make the slightest move toward Him, He is there.

The lost son’s father was filled with compassion for his son. He wasn’t full of criticism. He wasn’t full of self-righteousness. He wasn’t ready to punish. He was filled with compassion. The son was undoubtedly dressed much differently from when he left. Having lost all his money and having been slopping pigs, his clothing would not have been the same as when he left with his inheritance. But it wasn’t only his clothing that had changed – his demeanor had changed at least as much. He was now defeated. And he was now repentant. And his father was filled with compassion. So much that he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. What a display of affection! What an act demonstrating his love and forgiveness.

And he didn’t stop there. Before the son even finished what I’m sure was his well-rehearsed speech, the father began to direct the servants to begin the celebration.

“Bring the best robe.” – The best robe most likely belonged to the father. He was effectively saying – welcome back, what’s mine is yours.

“Put a ring on his finger.” – The ring was a sign of the father’s authority and he was giving it to his repentant son.

“Put sandals on his feet.” – Servants were not given robes, rings and sandals. The father was making it clear that his son was part of the family.

“Bring the fattened calf. Let’s celebrate!” – The father was expressing his joy. His son was once lost, but now he is found. The father was mirroring the response of all of heaven when one sinner repents (Luke 15:7; see my blog Helping Others Find Faith – Bringing Joy to Heaven.)

Jesus, in telling the story, was teaching about the Father’s love. This is the love the Psalmist wrote about:

10He [God] does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve….13The LORD is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him.
Psalm 103:10, 13 (NLT)

It is the love Paul wrote about and prayed for the Ephesians:

18And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
Ephesians 3:18-19 (NLT)

All of heaven rejoices when a sinner repents. God is watching for us to turn. He is waiting to run toward us and…

Put a robe around our shoulders – his robe of righteousness,

Put a ring on our finger – giving us His authority,

Put sandals on our feet – clothing us better than fields of lilies, and

Celebrate!

What a loving, gracious and forgiving Father we have!

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I used to make fun of my husband. Many years ago he purchased an 8-volume set of commentaries on the book of Ephesians. That’s 8 2-inch thick books on Ephesians (by Martin Lloyd-Jones) – which takes up about 8 pages in my Bible!

Well, I am being so blessed by Paul’s letter to the Ephesians this year that now I’m seriously considering tackling those books! A few months ago Phil and I lead a Bible study on the book of Ephesians with some nursing home residents. We’ve been leading a weekly study with them for about three years. This is the first study I’ve recorded because I was being so blessed. Now as I am reading it in our Resting at the River’s Edge reading, I am equally as blessed. I’m picking just a few paragraphs from the letter each day to write on, but I suspect there’s a more comprehensive Bible Study of the letter coming soon.

Today, we have to look at Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians that we find at the end of chapter 3:

For this reason I kneel before the Father,
Ephesians 3:14 (NIV)

Even this first sentence grabs me. “For this reason” – what reason? All that he has written before, which is a discussion of how we have been reconciled with God through Christ.  “We are no longer foreigners” he wrote in Ephesians 2:19, “but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.” He then went on to write that he had been given the privilege of preaching “preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8).

It is for this reason that Paul “kneels before the Father.” Do you kneel in prayer? I rarely do. I have a spur on my knee that makes kneeling painful so I rarely kneel. But, I find that when I humble myself by physically putting myself in a position of humility like kneeling, my prayer changes. Usually I get comfortable in my “prayer place” – a chair I frequently sit in while reading, journalling, blogging and praying – before praying in earnest. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s good to be comfortable with God. Yet, when I kneel, or often in my case simply sit on the floor with my head bowed, I have a stronger sense of God’s greatness and my smallness. It’s good to be reminded that He is God and we are His servants. I need to kneel more.

Paul takes the position of kneeling which emphasizes the master/servant relationship, yet he immediately acknowledges the intimate relationship we have with God – He is our Father. He is almighty and He is our Abba, Daddy. Without the intimate relationship, He becomes only a hard task-master. Sin has a price which must be paid, but His love caused Him to pay the price for us. Remember yesterday’s blog4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions” (Ephesians 2:4-5). It is to this God that Paul prays. It is to this God that we pray.

16I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
Ephesians 3:16-17a (NIV)

What a wonderful thing to pray! Paul first prays that God, who has immeasurable riches, would strengthen us in our inner being. That’s where I need God’s strength. That’s where I need to know that I know that I know that He loves me, that He is with me, that He is working in me and that He has purposes for my life. In my inner being. That’s where my strength comes from – deep inside, knowing God’s love for me. Paul prays that Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith. Again, I need that fully confident knowing – that’s faith. In the face of opposition or failure or just everyday life, I need to know Him. I need Christ in my heart through faith. Remember, Paul is writing to Christians. He asks God to strengthen them in their inner being so that Christ would dwell in their hearts by faith. As a Christian, pray this for yourself and those believers around you. Because we all face life and the enemy uses circumstances of life to try to tear Christ from our hearts. He tries to use disappointments to attack our faith. Pray that out of his glorious riches that God would strengthen our faith.

Yes, I know what that means. It means the testing of our faith. It means that we will face challenges. But they are challenges designed by God to help us grow stronger in our faith. They are challenges designed by our coach – the One who is training us in godliness and faith – to make us victorious. They are not challenges by our enemy that are designed to defeat us. They are designed by God to help us defeat our enemy.

Paul goes on, picking up the theme of love again:

17bAnd I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  
Ephesians 3:17b-19 (NIV)

It is out of God’s great love for us that He made us alive with Christ. It is in that great love that we have been rooted and established. That is our starting place and it is from that place that Paul prays that we might have the power to grasp – to apprehend, to take hold – how wide, long, high and deep God’s love is. The word “grasp” is the same word Paul used in Philippians:

I press on to take hold of [to grasp, to apprehend] that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
Philippians 3:12b (NIV)

This is not a “gaining by osmosis” or even supernatural impartation. Yes, there is supernatural impartation involved, but there is also action on our part – a pursuing and grabbing and holding on. Paul prays that we would have the power to grasp the depth of God’s love for us. God will empower us, but we must also grab and hold onto that love – so that we might be filled to the “measure of all the fullness of God.”

In a long paragraph about this phrase, Matthew Henry concludes with this sentence:

Those who receive grace for grace from Christ’s fulness may be said to be filled with the fulness of God, according to their capacity, all which is in order to their arriving at the highest degree of the knowledge and enjoyment of God, and an entire conformity to him.
Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible

Are you “filled up” with Christ? Do you experience the highest degree of knowledge and enjoyment of Him? I’m not. But I press on to attain it. And I pray that God would give me the power to grasp His immeasurable love for me.

Let’s pray for ourselves and others as Paul prayed for the Ephesians.

Should a sliver of doubt creep into your heart as you pray for such understanding and filling, Paul ends this prayer with a doxology:

20Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
Ephesians 3:14-21 (NIV)

He is able, friends. To do more –immeasurably more – than all we ask or imagine. More than all, not just more than some of what we ask, more than all of what we ask. And not just more than we ask, but more than we can imagine. He can do it. For His glory. Amen and amen.

Let’s pray for ourselves and others remembering that He can do immeasurably more than we are asking and more than we can imagine!

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1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ
Ephesians 2:1,4-5a (NIV)

As for you – yes, you! And me – we were dead in our sins. We were truly dead men walking. That’s the phrase used to describe men who have been sentenced to death and are in prison awaiting their execution. Like these men, we had a death sentence over our heads because of the sins we had committed. The sentence hadn’t yet been carried out, but it was irrefutable and irreversible. There were no appeals that might save us. We were still walking around. We might not have even heard the verdict, but it had been announced –

The soul who sins shall die.
Ezekiel 18:4b (NKJV)

“I [Jesus] told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am [the one I claim to be], you will indeed die in your sins.”
John 8:24 (NIV)

1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.
Ephesians 2:1-3 (NIV)

We were objects of the judgment of God because we chose to live according to our own desires – in other words, the way we wanted to live, without care or consideration of how God wanted us to live. We lived according to our own rules and our own made-up religion. But Truth is Truth. We can choose to believe that it is raining, but unless water is falling from the sky, it is not raining. We can choose to believe that there’s nothing wrong with our sinful behavior, but if God has defined it as wrong, it is wrong. And we become objects of God’s judgment.

But God – but God! – who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ. He saw our need and Jesus said “Father, let me take the punishment that they are owed, that they earned, that they deserve.” The sentence is irreversible, but it can be transferred to me. And so…

4…because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.
Ephesians 2:4-5a (NIV)

He made us “alive with Christ”…even when we were dead men walking. Only God can make the dead live. Only He, the One who breathed life into Adam .

The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. 
Genesis 2:7 (NIV)

That describes how we were created physically. Spiritually, God has done the same thing. Out of dust, something with no life, He breathed life into us and made us alive with Christ. Truly, it is by His grace that we have been saved. We didn’t do anything to earn our salvation (as Paul wrote later in the chapter) – it was a gift offered – the gift of Christ. And when we accept the gift, when we accept Christ, we are made alive with Him.

There’s a big difference between the first life and the second life. The first life is bound by earthly things. The second life – whew! – it is eternal and it is unbounded. To truly appreciate the next verses, we need to get a running start by re-reading verses 4 and 5:

4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved. 6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
Ephesians 2:1-10 (NIV)

Not only has our death sentence been paid by Jesus – not only have we been made alive with Christ – but God has also raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms! Now, while I’m sitting on my couch, typing on my laptop, I am also seated with Christ.

Pause to consider that a bit more. Wherever you are, can you imagine that you are seated with Christ? I’m sitting cross-legged with my feet under me because my toes are cold. Seated in Christ, I imagine then, that I am sitting on his lap. Pause to think about what that would be like (is like).

…(pausing here – are you?)

It’s not only when I’m sitting in the corner of my couch with my legs crossed on the seat cushion that I am seated with Christ. I will soon go to my office and sit in my desk chair. There, I will be seated with Christ in heavenly places. Can I embrace that and be confident in the wisdom He will give me for the day (if I ask for it from the one seated with me). Frequently throughout the day I ask advice of those around me. Today, I want to be aware that I am seated with Christ and turn to Him for advice.

But these are earthly things I’m writing about. We are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms – speaking of the rule and authority we have in the spiritual realm. We have it here on earth and we will have it to a greater degree in heaven. More to ponder…

Why has God done all this? I love this next verse

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Ephesians 2:10 (NIV)

I made a nativity set once from clay. I used molds to create Joseph, Mary, Jesus, the wise men and animals. After firing, I spent hours and hours painting them. They were my workmanship. I probably spent more time on the nativity set than anything I’ve ever made. I created it. They were inanimate objects. After painting and glazing them, I gave wrong instructions for the final firing and they were ruined. I was heart-broken. But it gave me insight into this verse. “We are God’s workmanship.” He has molded us and He gifts us and He teaches us and He disciplines us – all for a purpose. We are of so much more worth to Him than that nativity set was to me. He has spent so much more creating me and saving me and molding me into the person – in Christ Jesus – who is (or will be) perfect for the good works He’s prepared in advance for me to do. That process began before the creation of the world!

4Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.
Ephesians 1:4 (NLT)

Even before he breathed life into Adam, He chose us. He began working on us, creating us to do good works. And not just any works – the works He is preparing for us to do. In other words, He’s putting things in place so that I am ready and the works are ready at just the right time. I can’t even think three moves ahead in chess (or checkers for that matter). But God…

4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved.
Ephesians 2:4-5

He made us alive with Christ so that we might do the works which He has prepared for us to do. My life has purpose. Your life has purpose. Heavenly, God-created and God-sent purposes.

Lord, help me to grasp how deep and high and wide and long your love is for me (Ephesians 3:18), that you would raise me from my dead man walking condition and seat me with Christ in heavenly places. That you created me in Christ for a purpose – to accomplish the good works you’ve prepared for me.

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