Archive for the “Gospel Message” Category

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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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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Living God's HeartLiving Gods Heart

16So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
2 Corinthians 5:16-21 (NIV)

Being in Christ – saying “yes” to God’s Lordship – gives us new roles and responsibilities. One of those roles is that of reconciler. God reconciled us to Himself and has now given us the ministry reconciliation. Our message is to be the same as Paul’s – a heartfelt “Be reconciled to God.”

The word “reconcile” means “to restore to friendship or harmony; to settle or resolve” (www.merriam-webster.com). That is our job – to be one who brings reconciliation.

And it’s pretty hard to do that job wholeheartedly when I am harboring an offense against someone. No matter how hard I try to suppress or hide it, I’m not successful. I’m just not that good an actor. And hopefully you aren’t either! Because being a good actor in this case, simply means being good at deception. We don’t want to be deceivers, we want to be people of love. People who have worked through anything we might be tempted to have against a person.

One of the marks of Christian maturity is not being easily offended. Francis Frangipane refers to this as having an unoffendable heart. Of all the heart conditions we’ve studied so far this year, I think this one takes the most work. This one requires that I choose to turn my back on intentional and unintentional attempts to offend me. It means that I choose not to take offense. It means that I choose to forgive even before there is a need to forgive. It’s so much easier (in the natural) to take offense and hold onto a grudge!

I can’t choose to have an unoffendable heart without the love of Christ in me and without making a decision to let His love rule my heart. His love overlooks offenses. It is patient, kind, not prideful or rude or self-seeking. It keeps no record of wrongs. (1 Corinthians 13:4-5) The person who is easily offended isn’t characterized by those things. They are not patient with others. They do not respond kindly when they are offended, and their pride makes them easily offended. In not letting go of an offense, they are keeping a record of wrongs against them. Which, of course, makes them more easily offended with each interaction.

The disciples asked Jesus “What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3, NIV) His answer included the following:

10And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another… 12And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.
Matthew 24:10, 12 (KJV)

As the world turns away from Christ, people take offense more easily. That leads to betrayal and hatred. Satan is on the prowl, seeking whom he may devour – one of his tools is to bring you to the point of taking offense. Yes, you!

It can happen so easily – unmet expectations, frustrated progress, or a bad night’s sleep can all lead to slipping in our practice of love.

We can’t develop an unoffendable heart on our own, but Christ has made us a new creature. God has kept His promise from Ezekiel:

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
Ezekiel 36:26 (NIV)

Need help with this one? (I do.) Ask for it.

Lord, help me to develop an unoffendable heart. Remove from me my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh. Put the love of Christ within me – filling my heart so there is no room to hold an offense.

 

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“…all who believe in him are made right with God.”
Romans 10:4b

As I read this passage morning, I was struck by the phrase “made right with God.” It seemed to stir an old memory that is only half there of my mom telling me to “make it right.” It seems that was something she would say after we kids got into an argument. As I said, it’s only what I call a “half memory” – I don’t know if it really happened, but there’s something stirring in my mind.

We would go from fussing and fighting about something to saying we were sorry and hugging each other. Now I’m sure that good feelings didn’t abound at the time, but there was a degree to which we were reconciled.

When we believe in Jesus Christ, God brings complete, full and perfect reconciliation between us and Him. He doesn’t harbor those residual ill feelings we had as children toward our siblings (or we have as adult toward those who offend us). No, he promises that He will “never again remember [our] sins.” (Jeremiah 31:34) “He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.” (Psalm 103:12, NLT)

This is not a small thing. We have been made right with God. The Creator of the Universe whose majesty surpasses anything we can imagine, whose justice is perfect and whose righteousness is a standard that none of us can come close to meeting has made us right with Himself.

That reconciliation is made possible through our faith in Jesus Christ and his substitutionary death on the cross for us. It’s not made possible simply by believing in God. Let’s look at the verses that lead up to our key verse:

1Dear brothers and sisters, the longing of my heart and my prayer to God is for the people of Israel to be saved. 2I know what enthusiasm they have for God, but it is misdirected zeal. 3For they don’t understand God’s way of making people right with himself. Refusing to accept God’s way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law. 4For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God.
Romans 10:1-4 (NLT)

Paul makes it clear that one can have great zeal for God without knowing Christ. He calls it “misdirected zeal.” He makes it clear that we can pursue God in our own way – cling to the way that we want to be forgiven instead of accepting God’s way – and that it doesn’t lead to our salvation. Accepting God’s way leads to salvation. God’s way is believing and embracing what Christ has already accomplished – accepting His free gift, His substitionary death as fulfilling the payment or penalty required for our sin.

When we do that, we “who believe in Him are made right with God.”
Thank You, Lord. For making me right with You!

The Apostle Paul wanted to make sure everyone understood what he meant by that first paragraphs in Romans 10. A few sentences later he wrote this:

9If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved.
Romans 10:9-10 (NLT)

Have you been made right with God? If not, I urge you to take Paul’s advice – confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead. Believe it. Make Jesus the Lord of your life. Tell someone about it. Leave a comment on this post or email me – sandy@ApprehendingGrace.com.

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods HeartMake thankfulness your sacrifice to God, and keep the vows you made to the Most High…But giving thanks is a sacrifice that truly honors me. If you keep to my path, I will reveal to you the salvation of God.
Psalm 50:14, 23 (NLT)

We’ve spent several weeks on the topic of giving thanks, and I hope you are all working on your thanksgiving muscle. Yet I would be remiss to leave the subject without recognizing that there are times when it’s difficult to give thanks.

There are times in our lives when our bodies, spirits and/or hearts are broken. There are times when we feel like God is very far away. At those times, it is difficult to give thanks. Yet still, the commands of Scripture remain that we are to “give thanks in all circumstances.” It’s at times like this that we need the blessings that come with thanksgiving. Yet making those thanksgivings is a challenge. That’s when we truly learn to make thankfulness our sacrifice to God. It is a sacrifice because we do it out of obedience and out of a long history of knowing God’s goodness, even if we’re not able to feel that goodness at any given moment.

So I’ve gone to Scripture recently. Because I believe that if God tells me to “give thanks in all circumstances,” He will also teach me how to do so. I’ve looked up all the verses that say “give thanks” and believe I’ve found a secret in them – God’s secret about how to be thankful, even in those times when thankfulness seems hard.

There are 33 verses in the Bible that command us to “give thanks.” Those 33 verses identify 4 things that help us to be thankful. Two of those things are reasons to be thankful. The other two things are actions that help us to be thankful. So Scriptures gives us both reasons why we can be thankful and things we can do to help us to be thankful. We’re going to look at those 4 things.

Psalm 136, verses 1 through 3 give us the reasons to be thankful:

1Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good.
His love endures forever.
2Give thanks to the God of gods.

His love endures forever.
3Give thanks to the Lord of lords:

His love endures forever.
Psalm 136:1-3

The two reasons are right there in verse 1 — Because God is good and because His love endures forever.

“God’s love endures forever.” Almost half of the Scriptures that command us to “give thanks” tell us to do so because God’s love endures forever.

No matter what is happening to you today, no matter what your circumstances are you can know that God loves you more than you can ever imagine. He loves you with an everlasting love and His love endures forever. That word “forever” includes all circumstances and is for all times.

He loved you so much that He willingly sent His Son, Jesus Christ to live on earth as a man and then to die on the cross so that the penalty for your sins could be paid. Scripture says that we are all sinners; that we have all asserted our independence from God, gone our own way. The Bible calls that sin. And Scripture is clear that the penalty for sin is death. But the Gospel message is that God offers us the gift of eternal life through His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus chose to die in your place and in my place so that we can live for eternity with God. That’s how much God loves us. That’s how much He loves you.

My favorite verse in Scripture is found in Romans 5:8. It says that God demonstrated His love toward us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. That’s a love that endures forever.

God’s love is the same yesterday, today and forever. It endures forever. And that’s something that you can be thankful for every day of your life. No matter what your circumstances are, no matter how people around you are treating you, no matter how cranky you feel, God still loves you.

When we turn our attention away from the things that have gone wrong in our world and instead think about or meditate on God’s love for us, God changes our perspective and enables us to be thankful.

The second reason Psalm 136:1 gives for giving thanks is a simple one: because God is good. When I think about how powerful God is, how He spoke the world into existence, how the winds and storm obey Him, I am very thankful that He is a good God.

God describes Himself to Moses in Exodus 34. Listen to this:

6And [God] passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”
Exodus 34:6-7

That’s the goodness of God – compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands and forgiving sin. I can be thankful for a God that is so good.

Now those of you who know Scripture, know that I didn’t finish God’s description of himself. He is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, and he does forgive sin.

But the verse goes on to say that the does not leave the guilty unpunished. A good God cannot overlook sin, and we wouldn’t want him to. God’s goodness requires justice. That means that the price or penalty must be paid for our sins. But His goodness also provided a way for that justice to be served. He sent His own son to die for our sins so that we might share eternal life with Him. God has already told us that when he judges sin, the penalty for it will be death. But He’s also already paid that penalty through the death of Jesus. When we accept Jesus into our heart and make him Lord of our lives, God no longer sees our sin. He sees that Jesus has already paid the penalty for it. That’s something to be thankful for.

I wrote earlier that Scripture identifies 4 things that help us to be thankful. The first two are reasons we have to be thankful: Because God’s love endures forever, and because He is good. Scripture also gives us two actions or assignments that help us to be thankful.

The first one is found in Psalm 100, verses 4:

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
Psalm 100:4

“Give thanks to God and praise His name.” We are to praise God. It’s pretty hard to praise God without developing a thankful heart. It’s hard to praise him and stay in a bad mood. Even when circumstances are difficult around us, we can choose to praise God. When we do that, we soon find that our spirits rise and we’re no longer looking at the difficulties around us, but at the goodness of God. Even when things seem to be at their worst, there are things we can praise God for.

We can praise Him for his goodness and for his never-ending love. We can praise him for his mercy and for sending Jesus. We can praise him for his presence in our lives. We can praise him for the wonders of His creation. We can praise him for giving us His Word to read. We can praise him for the peace and comfort He gives us.

The second action I see tied to giving thanks is related to praise. We can find it in 1 Chronicles 16:8-9:

8Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name;
make known among the nations what he has done.
9Sing to him, sing praise to him;
tell of all his wonderful acts.
1 Chronicles 16:8-9

Scripture tells to “Tell of God’s wonderful acts.” When it’s hard to be thankful, remembering the good things God has done and telling others about them changes our perspective and produces a thankful heart in us. Do you know God as your savior? Tell others about Him! Has he blessed your life? Tell others about it. We looked at the first three verses Psalm 136 earlier. If you are struggling to give thanks, I encourage you to read the entire psalm. It doesn’t tell us to proclaim the mighty deeds of God, it simply does it. Here are just a few of the things the psalm says to give thanks for:

Give thanks…

to him who alone does great wonders, (v4)
who by his understanding made the heavens, (v5)
who spread out the earth upon the waters, (v6)
who made the great lights — the sun to govern the day, the moon and stars to govern the night; (v7-9)
to him who divided the Red Sea asunder (v13)
to him who led his people through the desert, (v16)
to the One who remembered us in our low estate (v23)
and freed us from our enemies, (v24)
and who gives food to every creature. (v25)

The Psalmist is proclaiming the deeds of God. If you were to write your own psalm, how would it read? Mine would read something like this:

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, His love endures forever.
He saved me when I was running from Him
He set my feet on a solid rock, He removed my need for striving
He blessed me with a wonderful husband
He leads me in adventures of ministry, He gives me joy in serving Him
He forgives my sins
He teaches me the mysteries of life with Him
He restores my soul and He will give me the crown of life

I challenge you, the next time it’s hard for you make thanksgiving your sacrifice, write your own Psalm 136. You will find that God’s goodness will overwhelm your heart; that His goodness is bigger and better than everything that is pulling you down. Your circumstances may not change, but your heart and your spirit will.

You’ve all heard of Hellen Keller. She was born in 1880 unable to hear or see. The circumstances of her life were pretty bad. Yet she found things to thank God for every day. Listen to this quote from her:

“For three things I thank God every day of my life: thanks that he has vouchsafed me knowledge of his works; deep thanks that he has set in my darkness the lamp of faith; deep, deepest thanks that I have another life to look forward to—a life joyous with light and flowers and heavenly song.”

If you know Jesus Christ as your savior, you can say that same prayer. “Thank you, God, for giving me knowledge of Your works. Thank you for bringing to my darkness the lamp of faith. Thank you, Lord, beyond measure, for the promise of eternal life with you.”

If you don’t know Jesus Christ as your Savior, you can do that now. If you have never said “Yes” to God, you are headed toward an eternity without Him – an eternity in hell, separated from God’s goodness and love. But that’s not what God wants. He loves you, and His love endures forever. He has made a way for you to spend forever with Him in heaven. That way is by asking Him to forgive your sins and to be Lord of your life. It’s His deepest desire for you.

You might pray a prayer something like this one:

Father in heaven, thank you for making a way for me to spend eternity with you. Forgive me, Lord for going my own way. Thank you for sending your Son Jesus to die on the cross as payment for my sins. Lord Jesus, come into my life. Teach me what it means to live my life for you. And Father, thank you for the promise of spending eternity in heaven with you. Thank you that you are good and that your love endures forever. I pray this in the precious name of Jesus. Amen

If you’ve prayed that prayer, you are a new creation in Christ Jesus. You have more to be thankful thank you ever have before.

When you find yourself in times where thanksgiving is hard, make it your sacrifice to the Lord. Turn to Him, remember His goodness, and give thanks.

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I have a dear aunt who is dying. [Footnote: My aunt has died since I wrote this. Thank you for your prayers for her family.]

Death is such an affront to us. It’s a slap in the face even when it is expected. When unexpected it’s a punch in the gut. Actually, it’s a punch in the gut even when it’s expected.

God didn’t intend it to be this way. And He makes it possible for death to be only a temporary separation from our loved ones. For those who accept Christ as their Savior, death is simply an entry way into the full presence of God and His eternal Kingdom.

Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
1 Corinthians 13:12 (NLT)

When faced with death I am reminded that God uses all things – even death – for His purposes. Several things become clear to me when I meditate on the end of someone’s life.

Life and death are in the hands of the Lord. That is sometimes a harsh reality, but it is a reality. We are often tempted to ask God why a loved one is taken from us. Often too young. Always too soon. I can’t answer those questions, but I am convinced that life and death are in His hands (Deuteronomy 32:39, 1 Corinthians 3:22). He determines the times and places we are to live (Acts 17:26) and He has our days numbered before we are born (Job 14:5).

God is present at every death. Whenever it occurs – or perhaps I should say each and every time it occurs – each and every time someone dies, God is there. I don’t have lots of answers but I know my God and I know His compassion and I know that the One who values life so much that He knows the number of hairs on each person’s head (Matthew 10:30) and the One who loved each one of us so much that He willingly died for us (Galatians 1:4, Titus 2:6, 1 John 3:16) – that God is present at the point of death. He grieves over sin if the death is untimely, but He is there for the dying. He is even there for the dying one who has spent a lifetime denying His existence. He gives them one last chance to recognize the reality of the One True God and submit their life into His hands.

There is a spiritual realm. That might seem like a strange statement to follow the first two, but my experience and the experience of others who have lost loved ones attest to the reality of a spiritual realm. I wrote about it this way in a blog a few months after my dad died:

I’ve come to the conclusion that there is some kind of spiritual connection among the living and when someone dies that connection is broken. When Phil’s mom died, he came up with this analogy: when a computer network is turned on, the system is always sending out impulses to other computers, checking to see if they are still connected. This is called “pinging” and it’s a continuous process. Without us being aware of it, it seems that our spirits “ping” for the spirits of those we love constantly and we receive an unconscious knowing that they are there. When someone dies, that ping goes out from us but is not returned. At an unconscious level there is a brokenness, a void, a missing connection that pushes itself into our consciousness and alerts our brain that “something is very wrong here.” Our brain then transmits that information to our emotions.

Birth and death are “holy-days” in a very true sense – days to set aside for reflecting on their purposes. Of course the fact that God is present makes them holy-days, but there is more:

  • The wonder of a newborn. The awesome creative power of God given to humans enabling us to create life. The instant and intense love that binds the newborn to his parents.
  • The crash of death. Reminding us that life has its limits that we cannot outwit, outlast or outplay. Reminding us that life is for the living and we ought not to waste time on petty, insignificant differences – or even the big ones. Life is for loving and bring glory to God. That’s the earthly side. There is a heavenly side for believers making it the most holy of holy days. It is the day in which we meet our Savior face to face. It is the day in which we worship as we’ve never worshiped before. It is the day of our true and final birth.

Lord, death is hard. Help me to introduce others to you so that they may experience not only a second birth (John 3:3-7), but a final birth into Your heavenly kingdom.

LORD, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered — how fleeting my life is.
Psalm 39:4 (NLT)

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From Discouragement to Faith - FinalFaith is the confidence, assurance and substance of things hoped for – things we confidently expect to happen. It is the conviction and evidence of things not yet seen.
Hebrews 11:1 (expanded translation using NLT, NASB, NKJV, NRSV and Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary)

The past week or two God has highlighted the word “perspective” for me – perspective in the sense of “how we choose to view things.” I want to choose to view things from a position of faith. That position is one of hope and confidence. That position is one of peace and calm. That position means living in the positive instead of the negative.

The key to living in the proper perspective is choosing to do so. My first blog in this series was all about making a decision not to camp out in discouragement but to move on to faith. I want to reiterate that important point in this last blog of the series. Faith isn’t a feeling. It is a choice.

It’s not a blind choice. It’s a choice made on evidence, experienced in both this realm and in the spiritual realm. Everything cannot and will not be explained in the physical realm in which we live. Otherwise there is no need for faith. There is, however, plenty of evidence that direct the reasonable person to choose faith. Having done so, God gives ample spiritual evidence – that is, the witness of His Spirit to our spirit.

Having chosen faith at some point – that is, having chosen to believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died for our sins so that we might share eternal life with Him, let’s choose to live by faith. Let’s choose to believe the whole Word of God and act upon it. Let’s choose to believe that God’s promises are real and that they were made by a God who delivers on them.

That means choosing to step away from discouragement. Discouragement hits everyone. It’s what we experience when what we were hoping for isn’t being immediately experienced. That happens. A lot. And it’s not fun. But we don’t have to react the way the world does. We can choose to respond by believing that God is good (He is, He really is!) and that He has our good in mind. Then we choose to wait expectantly for those good things to come.

Discouragement is a slippery place to be. It’s like a small plateau from which we can so easily slip over the edge and slide down into the valley, or we can purposefully look toward the hill and climb up to the next resting place. The valley will take your discouragement and turn it into depression. It’s not the place God wants you to settle. His desire is for you to dig deep and begin climbing up. Just as it does in the natural, climbing takes purposeful action and it takes energy. Sliding into the valley will happen on its own. If we want God’s best, we must make the choice to pursue it.

When you find yourself on that plateau of discouragement, don’t let yourself slip into the valley. Be purposeful in returning to a strong faith by taking these actions:

It’s time to go hiking! Let’s climb higher!

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12Therefore, since we have such a hope [that is, the hope of our glorious salvation], we are very bold….17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
2 Cor 3:12, 17 (NIV)

Dog Running Through Field with AbandonAre you bold? Do you live in freedom?
God asked me that question recently. My answer was “[gulp]…sometimes?” and God used that as a conversation starter.

“Where the Spirit for the Lord is, there is freedom.” Do you live in freedom? What does freedom look like? To me it looks a lot like the image at the right. Living in freedom looks a lot like “living like someone left the gate open.” It’s living without chains and fences and gates. It’s walking through open doors…no, it’s running with confidence through open doors.

I have some exciting news for you today. God has set an open door before you! He’s opened the gates! I am not being prophetic in any way. I’m simply being biblical. Scripture is so clear that God has prepared works for each of us. Ephesians 2:10 says:

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

God has called us, prepared us and prepared work for us. That means there are open doors. They may not be the doors we expect. They may not even be the doors we want. But they are open doors.

I don’t know about you but I don’t want to squander the opportunity to accomplish God’s purposes. I don’t want to live my life on the sidelines, especially when it comes to fulfilling God’s purposes. I want to live my life knowing that God has left the gate open and any door He’s opened I want to run through because what’s on the other side is the fulfillment of God’s purposes in my life.

Let me repeat that. What’s on the other side of doors that God opens is the fulfillment of God’s purposes in my life. And I can’t think of anything greater. I truly can’t. I can’t think of anything greater than accomplishing God’s purposes.

Yet I don’t always live like that. Why? When my heart’s desire is to run hard after the purposes God has for me and to love Him with abandon, why don’t I? I’m sure there are many reasons, but the one at the top of my hitlist is fear. I hate to admit that. I prefer to believe I fully trust God. But I know that sometimes fear still holds me back. It can take many different shapes, but all of them have the same root – lack of faith.

Fear is trusting that God can’t or won’t come through for you. It’s not trusting that God loves you so much that He will deliver you from whatever the enemy throws your way. It’s wondering if He will deliver you. It’s wondering if you’re worthy enough, important enough to Him or good enough for Him to lead you safely to the other side.

Today’s blog is going to begin to look at the lack of faith that comes from not fully understanding and embracing God’s love.

I see a relationship between three things: Faith, Freedom and Action (living like someone left the gate open). If I were to create a formula from the relationship, it would be expressed like this. Translate the symbol => as “leads to.”

Faith => Freedom [Faith leads to Freedom]

Faith + Freedom => Action [Faith plus Freedom leads to Action]

If we are not living like God left the gate open, it is in large measure because of a faith issue. And for most of us, I don’t think it’s an issue of believing that Christ died for our sins. I believe it’s an issue of understanding how that act flowed out of a heart that loves us more radically than we can imagine.

Because when we know how much we’re loved by God, freedom comes into our life. We are transformed from the Much Afraid people we are in the natural to men and women who step out in boldness.

There was a long period of time in my life when I was extremely buttoned up — uptight, fearful of what others thought, never doing anything to draw attention myself. There are two things that I attribute the changed me to. One is the unconditional love of my husband. I know that he is so much in love with me that I can fail a thousand times and he’ll still love me. And I fully understand that God has given me Phil to illustrate God’s unconditional love is for me. When I began to understand that God is not the Authoritarian in the sky waiting and watching for me to make a mistake, but always cheering me on, always enabling me to do better, always loving even when I fail…when I began to grasp that, an amazing freedom came into my life.

Let’s start at a very fundamental verse.

16“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned…
John 3:16-18a (NIV)

The fact that God would love us enough to send His son Jesus, the fact that Jesus would willingly leave all the glories of the Godhead and heaven and come to earth to live within the limitations of a human body and then die a horrible death – these things demonstrate – prove God’s love. God didn’t just say “I love you,” He proved it. His deeds prove His Word.

And yet, we believe verse 16 but somehow verse 18 doesn’t become part of our faith. Whoever believes in Him is NOT CONDEMNED.

Say it out loud “I am NOT CONDEMNED.” Go ahead – say it! I’ll wait!

Do you believe it? Has it gotten into your spirit to such a degree that you live life like God left the gate open? Are you ready to run through His open gates?

Well, if you’re like me, you’re not all the way there yet – at least not all the time. If you’re like me, there are still voices in my head that are condemning and negative. “I’m never going to be able to …” “I can’t possibly…” “If I were good I’d…” “I just can’t…”

I’ve come to understand that if I truly believed that I am not condemned, the voice in my head wouldn’t say many of the things it says. Because the things that the voice in my head says are inconsistent with God’s Word. God’s Word says that if we believe in Jesus we are NOT CONDEMNED.

God’s Word says it, but we don’t believe it because we still sin. Sin is bad. God loves us, so He convicts us of that sin. We feel it in our hearts and our spirit. And that conviction leads us to repent, to ask forgiveness. And (hallelujah!) we’re forgiven. But the enemy steps in and takes conviction and twists it into condemnation. He hammers us with it over and over again. He distorts God’s truth, which is what he’s good at, and we become willing accomplices when we embrace his condemnation and repeat it over and over to ourselves.

The Apostle Paul understood the relationships between sin and forgiveness and condemnation. In Romans 7 he said this:

15I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do the very thing I hate. 16I know perfectly well that what I am doing is wrong, and my bad conscience shows that I agree that the law is good…

21It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22I love God’s law with all my heart. 23But there is another law at work within me that is at war with my mind. This law wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me.

24Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin? 25Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Romans 7:15-25 (NLT)

Does a slave have freedom? No. A slave does what his or her master requires. And in this case, the master is sin. So what is it that Jesus does – he frees us from the slavery to sin – but there’s so much more – He doesn’t just free us from the slavery to sin, He frees us from the condemnation – the charge of guilty – of sin. Let’s pick it up in Chapter 8 verse 1:

1Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,

2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death….

15For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ,…
Romans 8:1-17a (NIV):

There’s that word again – “condemnation” – and Romans 8:1 says there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. Say it out loud again – “no condemnation.” The word literally means “no judgment against” – There is no judgment against us! Tell your heart, “heart – there is no judgment against you!”

Why is there no condemnation? Paul explained why – because the Spirit of Life has set us free – delivered us. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

God loves us so much that He has made us equal with His Son. I’m not saying that we’re God or we become God. But I am saying that God says we are co-heirs of all that is His. Co-heirs with Christ. God didn’t do this out of obligation. He did this because His heart is to bless His children. His heart is to give all that is His to His sons and daughters.
Messed Up Hair and All

Good parents don’t condemn their children, they love them unconditionally. They may discipline them to teach behaviors and principles that will lead to a good life, but they don’t condemn them. God is the perfect parent. He loves you. He even really likes you! You are the apple of His eye (Deuteronomy 32:10).

We’ll continue on this theme, but for today let’s pause – again and again through the next few days – to remind ourselves that we are NOT CONDEMNED by the Creator of the Universe, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Let that be the starting place, or perhaps the next step, in your journey to freedom…your next step to living like God has left the gate open…even if it messes up your hair!

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If you’re reading along with us using the Resting at the River’s Edge reading plan, two weeks ago read Acts 11. This verse caught my eye:

God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of turning from sin and receiving eternal life.
Acts 11:18b (NLT)

It has always been God’s plan to give salvation to all, both Jew and Gentile. When God made His covenant with Abram (who God later named Abraham), it ended with this sentence:

“All the families of the earth will be blessed through you.”
( Genesis 12:3b)

God intended Abraham to become a blessing to all the families of the earth – Jew and Gentile – men and women from every nation.

My just released book, More than a Fish Story, God Moving on Behalf of a City and a Man identifies seven Life Lessons in the book of Jonah. The first is the same message these verses teach us – that God cares about all people – even those we wouldn’t expect Him to. In the first two verses of Jonah we see God give Jonah the assignment of taking God’s message of repentance to the Ninevites. That wouldn’t seem like an unusual assignment for a prophet, but we learn that the Ninevites are Israelites’ enemies and they were a particularly cruel in battle. Yet God’s purposes hadn’t changed – He desired that the Ninevites would be blessed by an Israelite taking them the message of repentance. God was ready to bless them when they turned from their sins and followed Him.

And the two-fold message is the same today:

  1. God cares about all people – He desires that all people turn to Him.
  2. He’s given His people the responsibility of sharing the message with the world.

Of course every message from God has an application in our lives:

  1. If we’re to reflect the character of God (and we are), then we ought to care about all people…not just those who are like us or those that we like.
  2. Who might God be calling you to share His message of salvation with?

Don’t just read these words and quickly move on to the next thing. God has an assignment for you. Pause and pray. In what ways do you need to change? Who do you need to share Christ with?

You can download the book More than a Fish Story here. It provides 6 personal or small group studies in the book of Jonah and available free for a limited time.

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Palm FrondsPalm Sunday marks Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It was a time of great celebration. I was fascinated to learn this week that there was almost a mingling of Jewish festival celebrations and a foreshadowing of heavenly celebrations in that single event. In Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, we see elements of the Passover celebration, the Festival of Tabernacles, and heavenly worship.

First a brief review of Passover and the Festival of Tabernacles.

Passover
In the Old Testament, the Jews were enslaved by the Egyptians, and God sent Moses to deliver them. Moses repeatedly went to the Pharaoh with a message from God: “Let my people go so that they might worship me.” Well, we know that Pharaoh had a hard heart – he didn’t care about God or what god wanted. So God sent the ten plagues to try to convince Pharaoh to change his mind. There were plagues of frogs, gnats, boils and all manner of other unpleasant (and deadly) plagues. The first nine didn’t go very far toward softening Pharaoh’s heart.

The tenth one, however, was the most significant. It was a plague of death to the firstborn of every person and animal. While the Israelites experienced most of the plagues along with the Egyptians, they were protected from this one. God gave them very specific instructions to kill a lamb that was without spot or blemish and they were to take some of blood from that lamb and put it at the top and sides of their door. When the death angel saw the blood of the lamb on the door, he would pass over that house and no death would come to it. From that time on, the Jews celebrated the festival called Passover. It was a time when they remembered that the angel of the death passed over their home, saving them from death and bring deliverance from the Egyptians.

Festival of Tabernacles
The Festival of Tabernacles is in the fall and it remembers the time when God lead the Israelites through the desert to the Promised Land. It celebrates His provision for them –food, clothing, shelter and good health. This festival is the biggest celebration of the year. Here’s how the festival begins:

the first day you are to take choice fruit from the trees, and palm fronds, leafy branches and poplars, and rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days. 
Leviticus 23:40 (NLT)

Two Festivals Intermingle in the Celebration as Jesus Enters Jerusalem

So, again, we have these two festivals that the Jews celebrate.

  • Passover, representing the time when the blood of a lamb was put on the doorposts of the Jewish households and the angel of death would pass over that household.
  • Festival of Tabernacles celebrated by the waving of palm branches with great rejoicing for seven days. It commemorates God’s provision for the Jews as they wandered in the wilderness, and ultimately bringing them victory after victory as they came into the Promised land.

The symbolism of two events come together in the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The Gospel of John gives this account:

12The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,

    “Hosanna!”
    “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
    “Blessed is the King of Israel!”
John 12:12-13 (NIV)

People were in town to celebrate Passover – what they would experience was Jesus being that Passover lamb – as He was crucified and bled from the crown of thorns on His head and the nail through His feet and two more nails through His hands. Just as the Israelites had to apply the blood of the lamb to their doorposts to be passed over by the death angel, so we have to apply the blood of the lamb of God to the doorposts of our heart to pass from death to life. We have to say “Yes, Lord – You did that for me – Save me – I will follow You!”

But before the actual observance of Passover, Jesus came into town riding on a humble donkey. It is unmistakable that the crowd recognized Him as the Messiah they were waiting for – the One who would save and deliver them. Yet He didn’t come into town riding a horse or chariot. He came in riding a donkey. He was sending a message that they didn’t yet understand. He was sending the message that He was the Messiah who came to serve, not conquer. He came to be the lamb of God who would be slain so that the death angel could pass over all who would apply his blood to their hearts and souls.

They didn’t understand that yet. But their celebration makes it clear that they recognized Him as their Messiah.

“Hosanna to the Son of David!” They shouted. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

“Hosanna” means “save us now!”

“Son of David” is a phrase that had come to mean the Anointed Messiah – the One who would deliver them.

 So they cut palm fronds and waved them. And threw down their coats and the palm branches before Jesus as he rode into town. They were honoring Him as they would celebrate and honor a king.

What I found fascinating is that cutting palm fronds and celebrating with them is exactly what they did every fall when they celebrated the Festival of Tabernacles. They celebrated God’s provision and their deliverance through the desert to the Promised Land with palm fronds. Now God was providing their ultimate deliverer and they instinctively used palm fronds to celebrate!

The Celebration with Palm Fronds Continues
What I also found fascinating is that this celebration was a precursor of things to come. This was the earthly celebration that preceded the heavenly one. Jesus knew this celebration would be short lived and He would soon die on the cross. He knew that in just a few days He would become the Passover lamb whose blood protected all who took shelter behind it.

Christ became that perfect sacrifice so that we might have eternal life. We look forward to next Easter when we’ll celebrate the resurrection of our Lord. In the book of revelation, John the Apostle was taken up to heaven. This is part of what he saw:

6Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders…8And…the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb….9And they sang a new song:
    “You are worthy to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
    because you were slain,
    and with your blood you purchased men for God
    from every tribe and language and people and nation.
Rev 5:6-9 (NIV)

Hallelujah! Even in heaven, Christ bears the look of the Lamb who was slain and they are worshipping Him because He was slain and His blood, shed on the cross, made salvation possible for men and women from every tribe and language and people and nation. If you know Christ, if you have applied His blood to the doorposts of your heart, you will be among those people who worship Christ in heaven.

And let me show you one more thing. A few chapters later in Revelation John writes this:

9After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10And they cried out in a loud voice:

    “Salvation belongs to our God,
    who sits on the throne,
    and to the Lamb.”
Rev 11:9-10 (NIV)

As Jesus rode into Jerusalem, the people waved palm fronds and laid them at His feet. They shouted “Hosanna”“Save us Now!” There is a day coming when saints from every nation, tribe, people and language will stand before the throne of God – stand in front of the Lamb who was slain but is alive. And we will wear white robes, which symbolizes that our sins have been washed away, and we will be holding palm branches in our hands. And we will sing in a loud voice “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb.” Hallelujah!

The celebration of the crowd as Jesus entered Jerusalem is a dim reflection of the celebration we will be a part of in heaven. What a glorious time that will be, friends. We will worship like we have never worshiped before. With palm fronds from earth, we will worship in heaven. With full understanding that Christ Jesus is the fulfillment of every Old Testament promise and practice. With the experience of a new life that lasts forever.

This is Holy Week and I encourage you to reflect and celebrate the week. Celebrate Christ’s rule and reign today – that is, the ruling and reigning of Christ in and through your life. And celebrate knowing that there is a day to come when we will celebrate Christ together in heaven.

Hosanna! Save us now, Lord!
Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord

And blessed are those who call on His Name. I hope you’re one of them.

Special thanks to Real Life Blog for the image. Check it out here.

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