Posts Tagged “Isaiah”

Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words: Be joyful.
2 Corinthians 13:11a (NLT)

As I put the finishing touches on my last blog, I went to back to Scripture and looked up verses with the words “be joyful” in them. I found a lot of reasons for which we can be joyful. I didn’t think they belonged in the previous blog – that one seemed to be more restful than instructive. So let me follow it up with this list of reasons to be joyful.

Let me first say that there are many reasons people don’t allow themselves to experience joy. Guilt and fear are two of the most prominent.

  • Guilt that you are experiencing joy and others aren’t, guilt that you’re taking the time to experience joy when you should be doing any of a number of things, or guilt over anything the enemy can convince you to feel guilty about.
  • Fear that the joy will be taken away from you, fear that you have made a mistake (and therefore shouldn’t be relaxing in the joy), fear of living in general, or fear of anything the enemy can convince you to be afraid of.

My goal is to remind us that God wants us to be joyful and to identify some specific things that He’s told us to be joyful about. I want to open the door for the Holy Spirit to remove the guilt or fear that keeps you from experiencing joy, as well as open some new doors to rooms in which perhaps you’ve never experienced joy before.

Be Joyful for Holidays and Take Joy in Them

Be joyful at your Feast–you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites, the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns.
Deuteronomy 16:14 (NIV)

It may seem that I’m stretching this a bit, and perhaps I am, but in the Old Testament God established and commanded a series of feasts throughout the year. They had different purposes, but many were simply celebrations of God’s goodness and provision. Most Christians do not celebrate the Old Testament feasts. (I do not but think it would be a fascinating year if I were to incorporate all the feasts – and I’m guessing I would greatly benefit from it. If this interests you, the best approach may be to find a Messianic congregation to become a part of. Don’t be shy – go for it!)

I think we can extend the spirit of the feasts to recognize that God has given us times of rest and rejoicing and that we should be joyful in those. As I read about the Old Testament feasts, they seem like holy vacations that the Israelites were commanded to take each year! Vacations! Holidays! And they were commanded to take them! And they were to rejoice in them.

Incorporating the Lord in your next vacation is another blog waiting to be written, but suffice it to say in this blog that you can enjoy your vacations! Take them responsibly (that is, don’t spend the money for your next mortgage payment on them), then enjoy them.

Be Joyful in Your Success

Seven days you shall celebrate a feast to the LORD your God in the place which the LORD chooses, because the LORD your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful.
Deuteronomy 16:115 (NIV)

You will enjoy the fruit of your labor. How joyful and prosperous you will be!
Psalm 128:2 (NLT)

We’re not to be prideful when we’ve completed a job well and when we are successful, but we are to take joy in it. “God will bless…all the work of your hands so that you will be altogether joyful.” God blesses us for many reasons, but this verse tells us that one of those reasons is to increase our enjoyment of life – to increase our joy. So don’t feel guilty about your success. Enjoy it!

Experience the Joy of God’s Protection and His Refuge

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them sing joyful praises forever. Spread your protection over them, that all who love your name may be filled with joy.
Psalm 5:11 (NLT)

We can have joy because we know – we know – that God is our defender. When it seems like the world is against us, we can be joyful in God – in the One who knows us best and defends. In the one who says “that one is mine.”

We can look for the adventure because God will work it out. He will come riding in on a white horse and save us. What joy that will be! That’s the shouting kind of joy.

In the meantime, He gives us a place of refuge and we can rejoice in that. That’s the quiet, inner peace kind of joy.

Be Joyful in God’s Salvation

And my soul shall be joyful in the LORD;
It shall rejoice in His salvation.
Psalm 35:9 (NKJV)

So the ransomed of the LORD will return And come with joyful shouting to Zion, And everlasting joy will be on their heads. They will obtain gladness and joy, And sorrow and sighing will flee away.
Isaiah 51:11 (NASB)

God has saved you. Rejoice in His love and in your salvation. Don’t just celebrate, meditate on it so that you experience the joy of freedom that is possible through the salvation He has given you. We have been ransomed! We were slaves to sin. Christ paid the ransom to set us free. That’s how much He loves us. Rejoice! Be joyful!

Be Joyful in Knowing that God will Rescue You

25:10  [The Lord says:] “I will take away your happy singing and laughter. The joyful voices of bridegrooms and brides will no longer be heard. Your millstones will fall silent, and the lights in your homes will go out.”

33:10“This is what the LORD says: You have said, ‘This is a desolate land where people and animals have all disappeared.’ Yet in the empty streets of Jerusalem and Judah’s other towns, there will be heard once more 11the sounds of joy and laughter. The joyful voices of bridegrooms and brides will be heard again, along with the joyous songs of people bringing thanksgiving offerings to the LORD. They will sing, ‘Give thanks to the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, for the LORD is good. His faithful love endures forever!’ For I will restore the prosperity of this land to what it was in the past, says the LORD.
Jeremiah 25:10 , 33:10-11 (NLT)

No matter what you’ve done or where you have been exiled – God will rescue you because you are His. No matter how dark your situation seems today, God will turn it around. Sorrow may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning – and there’s always a morning after every night.

Be Joyful Knowing that You Are Loved

The LORD your God is with you; the mighty One will save you. He will rejoice over you. You will rest in his love; he will sing and be joyful about you.
Zephaniah 3:17 (NCV)

For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.
Zephaniah 3:17 (NLT)

Not only can we take joy in God’s salvation – or rather, the salvation He has given us – we can be joyful knowing the joy He takes in us. We sing in worship to the Lord. We sing for joy when life is good. God sings for joy about us! Wow! The Creator of the Universe rejoices over me. I am blown away by that.

Be Joyful Because You Have Hope

Be joyful because you have hope. Be patient when trouble comes, and pray at all times.
Romans 12:12 (NCV)

There is no such thing as hopeless for the one who Trusts in Christ. We always have hope. Always. And that’s reason enough to rejoice. As I said earlier, we can experience life as an adventure, watching with anticipation to see how God is going to come through in the current challenge…and the next one and the next one.

Friends joy need not be an elusive thing for the believer. When our hearts, minds and spirits are focused on these things, we can have joy – abundant joy. It’s part of the “abundant life” package God has given us.

Enjoy it!

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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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After a couple years of “practicing,” I began blogging in earnest on March 30, 2008. (My first blog is here. My March 30, 2008 blog is here.) That’s nearly six years ago. During those 269 weeks, there have only been 8 weeks when I didn’t post a blog. Why? Because it’s important to me to fulfill the call that God has on my life, and I believe that call includes blogging regularly. It doesn’t matter whether ten or ten thousand people are reading my blog. What matters is that I’m faithful and obedient. I’m not posting for the sake of posting. I’m posting because God has laid something on my heart and I’m a teacher, writer and speaker, so, like Jeremiah, if I don’t share it feels like “fire in my bones.”

Why do I tell you this today? Because it’s been seventeen days since my last blog. This is the longest I’ve gone without posting. Over the past month we have had extraordinarily short deadlines at work and other unexpected activities that simply left absolutely no time for writing and posting blogs. It’s been a pretty chaotic time and even when I’ve had the time to write blogs, I didn’t have time to post them.

The cool thing is that during the past couple of weeks, I have been very aware of my neglect of Apprehending Grace and totally at peace with it. I have a pretty strong sense of “ought to” that I regularly have to push away from. Over the past few weeks, God has taken care of that for me. So getting back into the swing of things, I thought I’d reflect on that peace and how it happened.

Things I Did Right

  • During this time, I very purposefully looked at my schedule each morning and asked God to identify the top priorities for the day. I’d pray, review my To Do list, pray again, then write numbers next to the tasks indicating their priority. I took time to do this no matter how busy we were. Each day I’d have “AppGrace blog” on the list. Each day it either didn’t get a number next to it, or the number was so low I never got to it. Because I had started the day asking God to put things in priority, I was able to sleep in peace each evening. I knew I was working as hard as I could, so if it didn’t get done, then it wasn’t God’s priority for my day.
  • Throughout the day I was intentional about pausing to breath in God’s presence when I moved from project to project. It was my “presence of God pause” – I’d take a deep breath and concentrate for a few seconds on God’s goodness. I was reconnecting with God’s presence in the midst of the chaos around me.
  • When tempted to complain about our season of busyness, I repeatedly spoke of the good things associated with this season. (Most notably that God was using it to supply our needs in a year when business has been very slow.)
  • I purposefully prayed each evening thanking God for His goodness and faithfulness. At bedtime God’s peace would try to slip away as all that was left undone would try to flood my mind. I kept that from happening by praying – sometimes aloud to keep the enemy at bay.
  • Each morning, no matter how tired I was, I thanked God for the day ahead.
  • I read God’s Word each morning. I didn’t always read as much as I typically would, but I read something.
  • I didn’t overdo it. Sometimes it felt like I was about to cross over that fine line of doing all we can and not overdoing it, but I was always able to pull back. I took a lunch break and dinner break each day. When I couldn’t work anymore, I quit. No matter how much was left on the To Do list. Not overdoing it is one way we show that we trust God. Pushing ourselves too hard is evidence that we’re relying on ourselves too much. I even had folks come help me clean my house twice during the past few weeks. (Special thanks to Linda who recognized the need and offered before I even asked.) Resting says that I trust God to enable me to accomplish what needs to be done in the time I have available or He’ll give me grace with clients for the work that isn’t accomplished. (Or He won’t give me grace with those clients, but He’ll provide for my needs in some other way. I’m OK with that option, too.)

Things I Did Wrong

  • One morning (very near the end of the busy time) I realized that I was putting my makeup on like a wild woman! My hands were moving so fast dabbing at the powder (with more force than necessary) that it was actually adding to my stress. When I realized it, I stopped and purposefully slowed my movements. It made a huge difference in my stress level. I realized that I was adding to my stress by acting as if I were under stress. I didn’t need to be under stress. I was experiencing God’s peace, yet I was still letting my mind and body register stress. In other words, I truly had peace about what wasn’t getting done, but during the day I was allowing myself to feel stressed about all I needed to do. I’m not sure that makes sense but it was my experience. What I found was that the moment I relaxed my movements, I felt less stress and greater peace. I have a tendency to move too quickly when I’m stressed. All that does is increase our stress. It really doesn’t help us get things done more quickly. More often than not it causes us to drop things or spill things or make mistakes. At least that’s my experience.
  • I didn’t do any of the things I did right as consistently as I’d like. I forgot to pause between tasks to breath in God’s presence, I did complain, and I didn’t ask for help as much as I could have. There’s always room for improvement.
  • Exercise and healthy eating fell by the wayside. Ugh. Time to recover the good habits I’ve lost over the past 2 months.

God’s peace is a wonderful thing. He promises that He will keep us in “perfect peace” when our mind is steadfast on Him (Isaiah 26:3). I wouldn’t say that the peace I experience was “perfect peace” – it slipped at times. But then, my focus wasn’t always on the Lord, either. But I experienced much more of it than I usually do. Thank You Lord! Sometimes we really do see ourselves making progress!

It feels really good to be back in my routine. I’m looking forward to more writing. And enjoying the short time left before Christmas. Merry Christmas, friends. Enjoy God this season! Despite my busyness, I sure have been. More about that in my next blog!

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Resting at the River's Edge Logo 2013Resting at the River's Edge Logo 2013

You’re almost there! This month’s schedule represents the last month of a two-year reading plan. If you’ve been with us for the whole time, you’ve read through the entire New Testament twice and the Old Testament once. If you read the additional readings each month, you completed the Old Testament twice. Congratulations!

We’ll start a new reading plan next month and I’m already looking forward to it. As I’ve read through this plan, I’ve identified things I’d like to change about next year’s plans. But that’s for another blog. If you have any ideas, please let me know. Comment on the blog, send me an email or past a message on our Facebook page.

In the meantime, don’t short-change this month’s readings. Read them with the Christmas season as a backdrop. Savor the final words of our Lord as you read through Revelation. Watch for all the prophecies about Jesus as you read through Isaiah. Enjoy and praise as you read the Psalms. Dwell in the love of God as you read 1, 2 and 3 John. I’m so looking forward to reading this month. Hope you are, too!

The following buttons will open PDFs of the November/December bookmark or all bookmarks. After the file has opened, you can print it or save it to your hard drive from your browser’s file menu.

Click here for the Sept/Oct 2013 recommended reading bookmark. Click here to download all bookmarks for 2013.

The December Reading Schedule also appears at the end of this blog.

Enjoy your reading! We’d love to hear what God speaks to your heart. Email me, leave a message on our Apprehending Grace Facebook page, or post a comment at the end of any blog.

Blessings, Friends!
Sandy

The recommended reading schedule for December is below.

2013-12Dec RecRdg

Here’s how the Resting at the River’s Edge reading schedules are organized:

  • The first two columns of the schedule allow you to read through the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice over a two-year period. You will typically read about three chapters a day if you follow this reading plan.
  • The “Additional Readings” column put you on a plan to read through the entire Bible in one year. You will read between four and five chapters a day if you follow this plan.

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Resting at the River's Edge Logo 2013Resting at the River's Edge Logo 2013

November is the official start of the holiday season in our house – Thanksgiving is just around the corner and Christmas follows quickly behind it. I love reading the book of Luke in November because it tells the Christmas story so well. It’s the book that will be our New Testament focus this month. Near the end of the month we’ll begin to read the book of Revelation – God’s final words to us.

Our readings take us through the Old and New Testaments over a two year period. We’re winding up our two years this month and next, so here at Apprehending Grace we’re already thinking about our 2014 plan. If you have any thoughts about how you’d like us to organize the readings, let us know. Comment on the blog, send me an email or past a message on our Facebook page.

The following buttons will open PDFs of the November/December bookmark or all bookmarks. After the file has opened, you can print it or save it to your hard drive from your browser’s file menu.

Click here for the Sept/Oct 2013 recommended reading bookmark. Click here to download all bookmarks for 2013.

The November Reading Schedule also appears at the end of this blog.

Enjoy your reading! We’d love to hear what God speaks to your heart. Email me, leave a message on our Apprehending Grace Facebook page, or post a comment at the end of any blog.

Blessings, Friends!
Sandy

The recommended reading schedule for November is below.

2013-11Nov RecRdg

Here’s how the Resting at the River’s Edge reading schedules are organized:

  • The first two columns of the schedule allow you to read through the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice over a two-year period. You will typically read about three chapters a day if you follow this reading plan.
  • The “Additional Readings” column put you on a plan to read through the entire Bible in one year. You will read between four and five chapters a day if you follow this plan.

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods Heart

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Matthew 3:2 (RSV)

When we seek God with our whole heart, it changes us. One of the ways we are changed is that we begin to understand how deeply horrible our sin is to God. As we continue to seek God, that understanding moves from our minds to our hearts. We become grieved in our hearts and spirits at the things we’ve done and the things we’ve thought. And if our heart remains open to God’s Spirit, we become repentant. Over the next few weeks, I want to explore what it means to have a repentant heart.

John the Baptist was the forerunner of Christ. Isaiah 40:3 is a prophecy about the ministry of John the Baptist:

Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting, “Clear the way through the wilderness for the LORD! Make a straight highway through the wasteland for our God!
Isaiah 40:3 (NLT)

In other words, his message would be one of preparing the way for the Lord to come. In Isaiah it’s described as “clearing the way through the wilderness” and “making a straight highway through the wasteland.”

The wilderness and the wasteland is our life – our sinful life. It’s a land that must be cleared before God can move in. I’m not saying that we have to get rid of all the sin in our life before we invite Christ to be our Lord and Savior. If that were the case, none of us would ever be ready to be saved. No, friends, sin has too strong a hold on each of us.

What I’m saying is that we must come to the place of (1) agreeing with God that our lives are wilderness and wasteland, (2) asking Him to come take over the mess and (3) committing to working with Him to follow His ways instead of our sinful ways.

That’s what opens the path in the wilderness and God loves walking through that path.
What the Apostle John actually said to the people was more to the point:

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Matthew 3:2 (RSV)

Now the word “repent” literally means “think differently” about your sins. It’s the place we all must come to if we are to live for Christ. Because, quite frankly, before we come to Christ, we like our sin. We’re happy to indulge in many of them. But God, through John the Baptist, calls on us to think differently about our sins. We’re to repent.

But that’s not a popular word in our culture. You’re more likely to hear someone say “I have no regrets” than “I repent” or “I have repented.” The concept of “no regrets” is one that denies our sin. Scripture has something to say about that:

8If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:8-9 (RSV)

The truth is that we are sinners and we have sinned. Repenting of our sin means that we learn to think differently about them – to think about our sin as God does.

We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind.
Isaiah 64:6 (NLT)

We are all infected and impure with sin. To think otherwise is to be deceived. But God is ready to forgive our sins when we come to Him with repentant hearts. He will cleanse our hearts from the darkness within them when we are truly repentant. Being remorseful isn’t enough – simply being sorry doesn’t cut it. Repentance means hating our sin as God hates it. And it opens the door for God to enter and wipe clean all the sin that we come to agreement with Him about. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Amen!

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I saw billboard the other day – “Practically Scarless” it promised in large letters. It carried the picture a woman in a bikini caressing her abdomen – she was so proud of the perfect body she had – if there were scars on her body, they were too small to notice. The billboard was advertising some kind of “practically scarless” surgery. Quite frankly, I found it a bit offensive.

The extreme emphasis on physical perfection in our society isn’t healthy. It creates incredible insecurity in young girls that grows to maturity as they become young women. It portrays beauty as an external thing, when true beauty is found in how we live and love. Besides…

I like my scars! I’ve got a number of them on my body, and they serve as reminders to me of God’s tremendous goodness!

I have a small scar on my hand. There is absolutely no reason I have this scar. Phil and I had taken his mom and aunt with us on vacation to Cozumel, Mexico. There was a mix-up with the rooms (as in the hotel didn’t have the reserved rooms and there were none available on the island). While we tried to sort things out, Gladys and Velma went and sat poolside at the outdoor bar. Phil eventually joined them while I waited at the front desk. When I joined them, I cut a corner too close as I entered the open air bar and scraped my hand against a wicker chair. No big deal, right? Right. My hand was cut and bleeding a bit, but nothing a napkin and some pressure couldn’t stop. A few band-aids and a few days later I had a small scab that eventually healed – into a scar that is still with me today. It’s about an inch long on the back of my left hand. Which means I can see it every time I look down at my hands when I’m typing. And I type a lot. This scar is an “imperfection” that reminds me of the many vacations we’ve been blessed to enjoy, which reminds me to be thankful. It also reminds me of the great mother-in-law Gladys was…which reminds me how much Phil misses his mom, which reminds me to pray for him.

Thank You, Lord, for giving us such wonderful times together. Thank You that we were able to share many of those times with Gladys and Velma. Lord, draw near to Phil when he misses his mama. Comfort him and bless him.

I have a rather large and ugly scar on my right fore arm. It’s the result of two surgeries that were required to put an elbow back together that the doctor described as looking like someone had taken a sledge hammer to it. Shattered as it was, my elbow required plates and screws to hold the pieces of bone in place while they healed. Fifteen months later the plates and screws were removed to provide me with greater movement and use of my arm. This was a hard one – a difficult time during which I spent three months living in a dark room because the pain meds made light unbearable. But it was during those long dark nights that God met me in a more tangible way than He ever had before or has since. I clearly remember one night. Phil was sleeping on the couch to be near me. (I was so thankful we had a reclining chair for me to live in during those months.) I was awake and we had worship music playing softly. I so wanted to wake Phil but he was getting precious little sleep as it was. So I began to pray – to cry out to God in my pain and loneliness and fear. And the presence of God became so strong in that room – I reached out with my good arm believing I would physically touch Him. Of course, I didn’t, but what an awesome thing it was.

When I see the scar on my arm, I remember God’s awesome presence that night. I also remember that three doctors told me I’d be lucky to have 50% use of my arm after it healed and I would probably live with pain. I have 95% and essentially no pain. My scar is a beautiful reminder of God’s nearness and a beautiful testimony of His power.

Finally, there are the internal scars we all have. Rejections. Disappointments. Accusations thrown against us and believed by others. These scars can be the ugliest or the most beautiful. They are the ugliest when we allow them to fester or solidify – that is develop poisonous roots or harden our hearts. When my elbow was healing, the doctor had me massage it many times a day. It hurt to massage it, but he assured me that it was this massaging that would stop the buildup of hard scar tissue that would limit my future movement. The same is true of those internal scars. We can’t simply stuff them down, cover them over or ignore them. We need to work through them – let the Holy Spirit massage them with healing balm of Gilead.

Perhaps you’ve heard that African-American spiritual:

“There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole; there is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.”

The balm of Gilead refers to verses in Jeremiah (8:22 and 46:11) in which God says there is no healing for the Israelites, even with the balm of Gilead. The spiritual brings in the New Testament and declares that the Holy Spirit revives us – Yes! There is a balm of Gilead. (Click here to hear a recording of Mahalia Jackson singing it.)

Often, perhaps usually, healing is not something we can accomplish on our own. It takes the supernatural work of God in our life. When my elbow was healing, despite my best efforts, that scar tissue began to form. The doctor was impressed by how little I had, but it was limiting my movement and I could tell it was a precursor to a painful future. I went to a healing service one night and God supernaturally touched my arm. One moment the area around the scar was hard and limiting; the next moment, the area was soft and pliable and my arm became flexible again. Praise God! He supernaturally completed the work that the surgeon had started and I’d been continuing.

After Jesus was tempted by satan in the desert for forty days, he returned to his boyhood home of Nazareth. “He went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures.” (Luke 4:16b) He read the following passage from the Old Testament:

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners;
Isaiah 61:1 (NRSV)

He concluded His reading by proclaiming that the Scripture was fulfilled that very day. In other words, He was the fulfillment of that Scripture. Jesus came to heal the brokenhearted and set the captives free. You can experience that healing and freedom in Christ. He can do for you what He’s done for me. He can heal wounds, both physical and emotional and spiritual. Seek His face, do what you know to do and trust Him with the results.

Yes, it would be nice to live in a world in which nothing caused scars – no injury severe or deep enough to create the trauma that results in scarring. But without the trauma, there can be no opportunity to experience God’s tremendous healing power.

I’m not looking for scarless perfection. I’m looking for a God who heals. The scars are a testimony to that healing.

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods HeartAs we begin our series Living God’s Heart the first characteristic we want to focus on is developing a seeking heart. A seeking heart looks for God. It watches for what He is doing because what He is doing reveals His nature, His plans and His purposes. It seeks Him in every situation.

A seeking heart wants to know God – know ALL of Him – the good, the bad and the ugly we might say…except that there is no bad and ugly in God. There might, however, be some things that appear bad or ugly to us. If that’s the case, it’s because we don’t yet know God. What might seem bad to us might be things that are good for us but we resist them – like eating our vegetables when we were a child (or perhaps still as an adult). Or what might seem ugly to us is really God’s justice – or even His love. If we seek to know God, we will set aside our agendas, our expectations and even our opinions and say “Lord, I want to know You. Teach me Your ways.”

We are in good company when we develop a seeking heart. Moses, a man God called His friend, desired to know God better:

12One day Moses said to the LORD…“13If it is true that you look favorably on me, let me know your ways so I may understand you more fully and continue to enjoy your favor.…18bThen show me your glorious presence.”
Exodus 33:12a, 13a, 18b (NLT)

King David, the only man Jesus described as after God’s own heart desired to know God better. He wrote these passages in Psalms:

Show me Your ways, O LORD; Teach me Your paths.
Psalm 25:4 (NKJV)

LORD, teach me your ways, and guide me to do what is right because I have enemies.
Psalm 27:11 (NCV)

Teach me your ways, O LORD, that I may live according to your truth! Grant me purity of heart, so that I may honor you.
Psalm 86:11 (NLT)

And although it doesn’t specifically say that King David wrote Psalm 119, it bears his fingerprints and many scholars attribute it to him. I like this verse:

Put false ways far from me; and graciously teach me your law.
Psalm 119:29 (NRSV)

Clearly, King David desired to know God.

A heart that seeks God wants to know Him personally and intimately. A heart that seeks God takes delight in Him. Such knowledge and such delight doesn’t happen without intentionally pursuing the One who wants us to be caught.

In his book The Stronghold of God, Francis Frangipane reminds us that God “will not fight for our attention, He must be sought.” God does not impose Himself upon us. In my first blog of 2013, I quoted Isaiah 65:1:

The LORD says, “I was ready to respond, but no one asked for help. I was ready to be found, but no one was looking for me. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am!’ to a nation that did not call on my name.
Isaiah 65:1 (NLT)

God waits for us to seek Him. And when we do, He rewards us – we have His assurance that we will find him

13“You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. 14I will be found by you,” declares the LORD.
Jeremiah 29:13-14a (NASB)

His promise to the Israelites remains His promise to us today. We will find Him when we seek Him with all our heart.

God wants us to seek Him and He promises that He will respond – He promises that we will find Him. What a reassurance, when our earthly bodies and spirits feel so inadequate to touch the heart of God! Next week we’ll look at how to seek God – how to develop a seeking heart. This week, let’s work on desiring to know God – let’s work on the desire to develop a seeking heart. Pray with me:

Lord, I want to know You and I want to know Your ways. Yet I get caught up in this world at times. Grab my attention – remind me that You are waiting to respond to me. Teach me Your ways so that I see You at work in this world. Lord, develop in me a heart to seek You in every situation and every moment.

I encourage you to pray a prayer like this each morning this week. God will answer your prayer and next week you’ll be ready for the next step.

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The LORD says, “I was ready to respond, but no one asked for help. I was ready to be found, but no one was looking for me. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am!’ to a nation that did not call on my name
Isaiah 65:1 (NLT)

This verse was a portion of our final Resting at the River’s Edge reading in 2012, and it seems a perfect verse to step us into 2013. God stands ready to help each of us if we will only cry out to Him.

What image comes to your mind when you read God’s exclamation “Here I am, here I am!” The first image that came to my mind was that of a little boy jumping up and down waving his arms in excitement as his grandparents get off the plane for a visit. He so wants them to find him.

Upon further reflection, though, I see parents reaching for their distraught child to protect and comfort her. The parents bend down to a level where the child can see them and are reaching out their arms to pull her in close saying “Here I am. It’s me. I’ve got you. You’re safe.” The child’s trauma begins to fade as the parents enclose her in the safety of their arms. Mom soothes her hair and kisses her forehead. Then Dad stands and turns his back to mom and child, facing outward to protect them from whomever and whatever would step forward to harm them. Those parents – both mom and dad together – provide an illustration of what God wants to be for us and do for us – save, comfort and protect. Later in the day mom and dad will talk with the child and explain how the child got herself into danger and how to protect herself in the future. God does that, too.

It is the story of the Old Testament and the New –

  • God gives us life – true life
    • He loves us
      • He teaches us how to live
        • He rescues us when we stray from that teaching
          • He loves us some more(!)
            • He protects us
              • He reminds us how to live
                • He loves us
                  • The process continues until our time on this earth is over, and then it starts all over with our life in eternity

That’s the God I want to serve in 2013. That’s the God I want to call out to in 2013. If you want that, too, pray with me. Here’s the simple prayer I prayed after reading this verse.

Lord, You are so good. Thank You for loving me. Thank You for seeking me – for crying out to me to follow you. Lord, keep me from my pride and sin in 2013. I am asking for your help now! Remind me to always cry out to you for help – when I am in great need and when my need is small. Lord, I want to find You in 2013. Help me to keep my eyes on You.

Friends, that is a prayer He will answer. I so look forward to what He has in store for me in 2013. Yes, I woke up this morning with the usual aches and pains. In fact, when I first woke this morning, the enemy tempted me to go down a long dark hallway with him. I fell into the trap for a short time until I realized how foolish I had been to not stop the thoughts immediately. We face choices many times every day – to look forward to what God has for us and call out to Him to bring that about (“Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”, Matthew 6:10, NASB), or we can let the forces of the enemy and this world trap us into living by its forces. God’s way is life! Let’s choose life.

Lord, we cry out to You for help! You are mighty to save. Save us now!

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