Posts Tagged “John”

Zoey Grace, moments after her birth.

Zoey Grace, moments after her birth.

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

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

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

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

There is Rejoicing in Heaven

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

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

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

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

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

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

Profoundly Impacted

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

He Loved Us First

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s love in action.

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

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

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

“This One’s Ours”

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

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

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

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

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

And I’m blown away.

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

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

Zoey, about one day old

Zoey, about one day old

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

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

“This one’s mine.”

If God is For Us…

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

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

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

Comments Comments Off on We are His! Musings on Spiritual Birth and the Tremendous Love of God

The Old Testament clearly portrays the Messiah as both a suffering servant and a conquering King, but the concept of the Messiah coming as a suffering servant was so beyond anything the Israelites could embrace, they were looking only for the conquering King.

What happens when Jesus is not who you expect Him to be?

The Pharisees and Saducees took offense. They allowed their pride to take the lead, blinding them to the real Messiah because He didn’t come as the conquering King. Instead of pausing, listening, watching and – most importantly – praying for discernment, the assumed they were right so anything or anyone who didn’t match their expectations was wrong. And they missed the miracle of the Messiah.

I don’t want to miss the miracle because I allow my pride to overshadow God’s messenger and message.

You know, the disciples were also expecting a conquering Messiah. Yet they watched as Jesus was killed by their fellow Jews. I can only imagine how devastated they felt. Then, hearing that He was alive – how very confused they must have been! I’m sure they were devastated by the week’s events, but trying desperately to hold onto hope. Then, suddenly, Jesus came into the room where they had locked themselves away because they were so afraid of the Jews. But Thomas was not among them, and upon hearing about it, he chose not to believe the men he had walked beside for the previous three years.

25So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”
John 20:25 (NASB)

Jesus did the unexpected and Thomas doubted. I don’t know, but I wonder if it was bitterness that caused Thomas to react as he did – bitterness born out of shattered hopes and dreams. The Messiah had been crucified. He had made them so many promises. Then God allowed Him to be crucified. Thomas had given up everything to follow Jesus. Now Jesus had abandoned Him. He had believed Jesus when Jesus proclaimed to be God. How could he have been such a fool?!

Shattered hopes have a way of worming their way into our thinking and turning everything upside down. Bitterness is often the byproduct of such upside down thinking.

26A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
John 20:26-28 (NIV)

Jesus can cut through upside down thinking, and upon seeing Jesus, Thomas let go of his bitterness and doubt. He immediately humbled himself before the King. It no longer mattered whether Jesus came as a conquering King or a humble one – He was still worthy of being “my Lord and my God!”

How do you respond when Jesus is not as you expect Him to be? Do you “require” Him to prove himself before you believe? Thomas did and Jesus was gracious and merciful enough to do so. Jesus went on to say that those who believe without requiring such proof are supremely blessed.

Yet how do we keep from being deceived? That’s the question that pops into my mind as I write about believing even when we don’t have full understanding. I think the key is in staying close to Jesus. What should happen when Jesus is not as we expect Him to be? It should drive us to our knees in prayer and into our Bibles in study. When He’s not what we expect, perhaps we need to get to know Him better.

Finally, remember that you are seeing just a glimpse of the whole picture. The story of the conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch teaches us this is (Acts 8:31-34).

What’s interesting is that the Ethiopian Eunuch was reading about the suffering servant and Philip came along and “began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.” (Acts 8:35, NIV)

Philip taught the Ethiopian the good news about Jesus from a passage Isaiah 53:7-8, which includes phrases like “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter” and “In his humiliation he was deprived of justice…For his life was taken from the earth.”

What happens when Jesus is not who you expect Him to be? Remember that you are seeing only a small part of His plan. Remember that He is the author of bringing good out of bad.

Jesus was not who the Jews expected. They expected the Jesus who is still to come, the One who will be a conquering King. But their pride caused them to miss the first King – the One who would forgive them and be merciful to them.

What Happens When Jesus is Not Who You Expect Him to Be? Sometimes you just have to love Him in spite of your limited understanding.

Comments Comments Off on What Happens When Jesus is Not Who You Expect Him to Be?

God’s Word holds the treasures of life. That’s why we’ve named our program for reading through the Bible in 2014 Treasure Seeking in God’s Word.

The only problem is I’ve fallen a bit behind…I expected to post the full schedule yesterday but about noon I got what I am hoping is a 24 hour bug. I feel much better today, but not quite good enough to get the schedule up. So I wanted to give those of you who will join us a glimpse at the first few days.

I’m breaking the readings into three columns: The Old Testament (minus what’s in the third column), the New Testament and the Poetry books and minor prophets. If you read all the readings for each day you’ll read through the entire Bible in 2014.

Here’s the scheduled readings for the rest of this week, January 1-3, 2014:

  • Genesis 1-8 (chapters 1-3 on Wednesday, 4-5 on Thursday and 6-8 on Friday)
  • John 1-3
  • Psalm 1-4

That might look like a lot of reading, but it’s only 15 chapters in 3 days…with two days to catch up if you fall behind. You’ll read the creation story and about the fall of Adam and Even (and all of mankind) as well as Cain and Able and Noah. As you read the creation story, you’ll read John’s description of it.

I hope you’ll decide to join us as we read through the Bible this year. Stay tuned for bookmarks that provide the schedule for the whole month and the rest of 2014.

Blessings, friends. May God reveal Himself to each of us as we seek the greatest treasure – knowing Him – in 2014.

 

Comments Comments Off on Seeking Treasure in God’s Word in 2014

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.

Comments Comments Off on Rediscovering Jesus

2Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
James 1:2-4 (NLT)

It seems to me that a study of joy would take us through a study of suffering. I haven’t done such a study so I can’t say that definitively, but the two seem to be intermingled frequently in the New Testament.  In this passage, James writes that “when troubles come” – because they surely will – “consider it an opportunity for great joy!” Anyone who preaches that life after Christ will be free from troubles is not preaching true to Scripture. Don’t listen to such preachers. They are not honestly and accurately delivering the Word of God.

When trouble comes, we to consider it an opportunity for great joy! That amazes me a bit. If you were to ask me “what opportunities for great joy are you seeing in the coming months?” my answer wouldn’t include the troubles I see on the horizon. (Obviously, I haven’t internalized and “owned” this teaching yet.)

By the way, that’s a great question to ask yourself periodically – “what is coming in the months ahead that will bring me great joy?” It’s also a great question to ask others. It helps to refocus us from the troubles of the moment to the blessings of God. But I digress.

My answer to the question would tend toward the more natural – I expect business to improve, I am looking forward to the Thanksgiving and Christmas season, I am participating in a mother-daughter pageant with my mom in a couple of weeks, I am looking forward to just being with my husband and hoping for some special time with him, I am expecting to learn some new skills in the next two months. All those things have the potential of bringing me great joy.

You didn’t find in my list the challenges I see in the coming months. But James tells us that those challenges are opportunities for great joy! Imagine how different my outlook would be if I considered those opportunities I listed and the challenges I anticipate as opportunities for great joy! How much better my outlook for the future would be!

Faith Requires Energy
Verse three tells me that the challenges I anticipate in the next few months have the potential for increasing my endurance. Endurance increases as we increase our ability to maintain a higher level of energy. So whether running longer or standing in faith longer, we’re building endurance. Faith requires energy! It is not a passive thing. It requires actively engaging our faith muscle. And challenges increase our ability to do that. It increases our endurance.

I am not a marathon runner, but I have some friends who are. As they train, it is hard work, but they are so joyful when they have reached the finish line of their marathon. Exhausted, yes. But joyful at the accomplishment. How much more joyful can we be when we remain standing after battles that have challenged our faith? Yes, the training is hard, and yes, the battle is exhausting. But the victory in Jesus is sweet and precious and joyful!

So Let Your Faith Grow!
The phrase that stopped me in this passage this morning was “So let it grow.” I tried to keep reading, but I couldn’t. “Let it grow” Scripture says. Don’t do anything to hinder the growth of your faith or to limit the increase in your ability to endure. Hang on to faith and let it grow.

What might we do to hinder the process. Well, worry is the first thing that comes to my mind. When I worry, I am not increasing my faith muscle. I am increasing my ability to distrust God. I am feeding the thing inside me that believes that satan will win and God will not be my Savior and Redeemer and Protector and Giver of Life. I am feeding my unbelief. How can my faith grow in that environment?

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me”
John 14:1 (NIV)

Wow! Two blogs on the same subject in two days! I guess God is trying to get my attention. Or perhaps yours! I thought I had gotten over my tendency to worry. Perhaps I’ve fallen into old habits. Perhaps at an underlying level I am stewing (aka worrying) over things I shouldn’t.

“Let your faith muscle grow”, God is saying. He’s got a good reason for saying it:

4So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
James 1:4 (NLT)

As I grow in faith, as my ability to faithfully endure the challenges of life, I am made more perfect and complete in Christ. That’s the place I want to be.

This week, my personal assignment is to settle into God regularly throughout the day, enabling His peace and wisdom to be the place I live. More about that in upcoming blogs! For today, let your faith grow!

Comments Comments Off on Let it Grow!

1“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
John 14:1-3 (NIV)

During the Passover meal, Jesus said some very disturbing things. He was going to be betrayed. He was going away and the disciples could not go with him. His disciples would deny him. I can’t imagine what was going through the disciples minds. In his next words, Jesus reassures them.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Jesus says. “Trust in God; trust also in me.” There is so much in those words. First, Jesus is reassuring them. He is calming what must undoubtedly be their increasing anxiety. He reminds them that they do trust in God and they can also trust in Jesus. But I like the first sentence because it is a definitive statement – “DO NOT LET your hearts be troubled” (emphasis mine).

Don’t go there. Instead, choose faith. If Jesus has given this command, it means we have a choice. I can choose worry or I can choose faith.

I read a bumper sticker once that said “worry is a terrible waste of an imagination.” How true! When we are worrying, it’s because we’re choosing to imagine all the bad things that can happen. And when we allow ourselves to go down those roads of imagination, we are making a choice not to trust God. We are making a choice to believe that satan will win.

Is God trustworthy? Of course He is. How do we know that?

We know because He’s proven it. God loves us so much, he sent Jesus to pay the price for our sins so that we could spend eternity with Him (John 3:16).

Scripture says that God has give us everything we need for life and Godliness (2 Peter 1:3). It doesn’t say some things, it says EVERYTHING.

So, DO NOT LET your hearts be troubled, friends. Trust in God; trust also in Jesus.

You know, trust comes from the heart – it doesn’t come from the head. It comes from the heart. Get to know God’s heart, don’t just learn things about Him.

“In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.”

This translation says “many rooms.” The King James translation says “many mansions.” Jesus isn’t preparing a shack in the slums for us. It’s not a motel room somewhere. It’s a mansion. But the kind of house isn’t the important part. What’s important is the second part of the verse and the verse that follows.

I am going there to prepare a place for you Jesus said. Jesus Himself is building the house. And it is a house made just for you. It is being custom built for you by the One who knows you better than you know yourself.

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

I love this verse. If He goes to prepare a place for us – well, He just said that He was going to do just that, so we can trust that He is – so if (when) He does, He will come back and take me to be with Him. Hallelujah! He has promised to return for me – and not just to return, but to return to take me to be with Him. And my very favorite part of the verse is the last phrase – so that we might also be where He is.

The New Living Translation translates the last half of the verse like this: “so that you will always be with me where I am.” Do you hear Jesus’ longing for us to be with Him? He is our bridegroom and He longs for His bride to be with Him. God the Father will fulfill the longing of His Son. A day will come when Jesus returns specifically to take His bride to their wedding.

I can’t wait. But while I do, I do so knowing that He longs for that day as much or more than I do. And He’s the One who is Faithful and True. And He’s the One who both commands and reassures us to not let our hearts be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in Jesus.

I choose to trust. And when worries come, I will say in the words of Jesus, “Get behind me, satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Matthew 16:23, NIV) And I’ll follow it up with “My Jesus loves me beyond measure and He is building a mansion for me. When the time is right, He’s returning to take me to be with him. Forever. So be gone satan. I want no part of you.”

I choose to trust. How about you?

Comments Comments Off on I Choose to Trust – How about You?

Living God's HeartLiving Gods Heart

They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity.
2 Corinthians 8:2 (NLT)

God’s very nature is one of generosity, the most significant act being the giving of His son:

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16 (NLT)

God gave. He didn’t stand back and offer advice. He didn’t point us to yet another verse of Scripture. He gave. By nature, He wants to share. He wants to share His Kingdom with us. He wants us to share in Christ’s glory. He wants us to live with Him in heaven.

When we reflect God’s heart, we become a person of generosity. Whether we have much or little.

I find that generosity springs out of a heart filled with joy. Yes, there are other characteristics that bring us to generosity. Compassion, for example, motivates us to action. Yet it is joy that motivates us to give generously and without anxiety or hesitancy. A heart overflowing with joy wants to share it.

Think back to a time when you were in the midst of great joy – perhaps when you were first in love or at the birth of your child. You wanted to share that joy with everyone. “Drinks are on me!” is the stereotypical worldly example. In response to some great thing in his life, the buyer wants to share his joy.

“Their abundant joy has overflowed in rich generosity” Paul wrote about the Macedonians. Their joyful heart – the joy they had found in knowing and serving God – was the impetus for great generosity…even in the midst of many troubles and poverty. It is not wealth that causes us to be generous. We can all probably think of someone who is wealthy but not at all generous. It is out of our joy that generosity springs forth without reservation.

Paul had more to say about the generosity of the Macedonians:

2They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity. 3For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will. 4They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem. 5They even did more than we had hoped, for their first action was to give themselves to the Lord and to us, just as God wanted them to do.
2 Corinthians 8:2-5 (NLT)

  • The Macedonians gave more than they could afford to give. Far more.
  • The Macedonians begged for the privilege of sharing.
  • The Macedonians gave themselves first to the Lord, then to others.

It is giving themselves to the Lord first that gave them the joy from which to give generously.

A joyful heart will lead to a generous heart and spirit. If you are giving sparingly or begrudgingly, give yourself first to the Lord. When you are experiencing the joy of the Lord – joy, despite your circumstances – act upon that joy and share it with others.

God’s heart is a joyful and giving one. He longs to share His joy with you and give you the joy of sharing it with others. Don’t resist him! To whom will you give joyfully today?

Comments Comments Off on A Joyful Heart Leads to Giving Generously

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.

Comments Comments Off on From Death to Life – For a Purpose

Living God's HeartLiving Gods Heart

FUD. I thought it was a word that Phil and I had made up, but I did my due diligence by looking it up on Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary…and found it’s both a word and an acronym – which is exactly how we’ve used it.

  • A fud is a fuddy-duddy – a person who is stuck on old ideas and old ways.
  • FUD is also an acronym describing Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt – three qualities that the world breeds. Three qualities that lead us to becoming stuck on old ideas and old ways.

Fear, uncertainty and doubt paralyze us. They make us anxious. I’m developing a new marketing project at work. This blog is one I need to hear because I’ve been paralyzed by indecision on this project. As I write this, I recognize that the indecision is based on the FUD factors.

  • Fear that I’ll fail – How foolish is that? So what if I fail? I’ll learn from it and just try again. This is not a life or death project. So what if others see me obtain poor results.
  • Uncertain that I’ll make wrong decisions – Again, so what? These are short-term decisions. It’s just that they’re in a new area and I want to get it right the first time. I think I need to get over myself. Yes, I’ll get it wrong sometimes. (Note to Self: Quit relying on self and rely on God!)
  • Doubt in myself and my ability to be successful – Have I learned nothing from my long walk with the Lord? Without Him, I am nothing. My trust must be in His abilities, not my own. Pleasing Him is my success, not making right decisions about marketing issues.

If I let myself, I can go down a long, dark road associated with making the wrong decisions on this project – but it’s all associated with FUD factors. It all boils down to being afraid I’ll make wrong choices and I’ll lose all my clients.

Yes, this world breeds FUD – Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt! But Jesus said “Be counterculture! Trust in God, and trust also in me.” (John 14:1)

You see, fear, uncertainty and doubt are satan’s substitutes for faith. If he can get us focused on those qualities instead of faith, he can paralyze us – keep us from making the decisions needed to move forward.

Christ said “Go!” (Matthew 28:19) Satan says “well, if you go, you might get hurt, you might go the wrong direction, you might fall in a pit.” Christ said “I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) Oh, and He began that command and assurance by reminding the disciples who was in charge: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 18:18)

  • There is no need to fear – All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus.
  • There is no need for uncertainty – All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus.
  • There is no need to doubt – All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)  is a familiar verse to many:

6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)

Which takes us back to our “Living God’s Heart” topic from last month – giving thanks. It builds our faith. It brings us peace. It removes our anxiety. It wipes away the FUD factors.

When the FUD factors have been demolished, when God’s peace fills our heart, faith and confidence grows.

Is indecision paralyzing you? It’s probably because you’ve lost a bit of confidence in God. Thank Him, ask Him for wisdom, remind yourself that He is with you and that He has all authority. Let faith grow in your heart. He’ll fill your heart with faith. I need some of that to make the decisions I need to make this week. I think I’ll go take my own advice! How about you? Do you need to spend a little time with God? Enjoy it!

Lord, forgive me when my focus gets out of whack and the enemy creeps in with FUD. Thank You for allowing me to “go” in Your name – to be Your representative here on earth! What an awesome privilege and responsibility. Help me represent you well. Lead me in the decisions I have to make along the journey. Satan – get your lies and temptations away from me. I choose to trust God. Because all authority has been given to Him. He has won. And I serve the winner.

Lord, lead me. I’ll follow.

Ya’ll can’t see it, but I’m smiling. Praying does that for a person.

Comments Comments Off on A Faith-filled Heart Brings Peace not FUD

Living God's HeartLiving Gods HeartWe’ve been studying about a thankful heart over the past few weeks. It has helped me through some tough weeks. In the midst of a bad case of stomach flu (or food poisoning, we’re not actually sure which it was) while travelling, I laid on my bed in the hotel room restless and nauseous. I was not a happy camper. Needless to say, my mind wasn’t working any better than other parts of my body. I asked Phil to read Scripture to me. His voice was either too loud or too soft. There seemed to be no perfect volume. His voice, a sound that usually has a very calming effect on me, somehow added to my nausea. Finally, I put my hand up to quiet him and I tried to quote Psalm 92:1-2.

1It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to the Most High.
2It is good to proclaim your unfailing love in the morning, your faithfulness in the evening.
Psalm 92:1-2 (NLT)

I botched the verse pretty badly. As I recall, it took me quite a while to come up with the first three words. But those three words have become a stronghold for me: “It is good.” When my brain is fried from illness, emotional upheaval or just plain exhaustion, I can remember those three words. And then they start the memory ball rolling and I can come up with the next three words: “It is good to give thanks.” And then the next three words: “It is good to give thanks to the Lord.” That’s my stronghold. “Lord, I give You thanks.”

I don’t think I ever got the words right that night, but in my jumbled mind, I was able to recall the overall theme and it began to bring peace. Healing didn’t come for another day or so, but that peace was followed by faith. As I gave thanks for God’s protection and healing, a confidence began to replace the defeat that my body and spirit was experiencing.

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled.” Jesus said. “Trust in God, and trust also in me.” (John 14:1, NLT)

Giving thanks changes the environment. It brings peace in the midst of chaos. It brings calm in the midst of the storm. That peace and calm are the precursor to a slowly building confidence. That confidence – well, it’s just another word for faith.

Phil was sick the few days before I was. One of the things he said to me describes the “before thanksgiving environment.” “When I’m this sick, it’s hard for me to believe I’ll ever be healthy again.” He had it much worse than me. I understood what he meant. When we look at the circumstances, it can be very hard to believe anything will change. And when we’re physically sick, it can be very hard to see past our circumstances. It can be very hard to believe that God will win.

Thanksgiving changes the environment. It reminds us of what God has done in the past. It reminds us of where our hope lies. It reminds us that with God, all things are possible. And that changes the environment. Peace and calm replace chaos and anxiety. Confidence replaces doubt. Faith grows.

The thankful heart creates the environment needed for the faith-filled heart to grow. Let me encourage you once again – be intentional about giving thanks. Even when (or perhaps especially when) everything around you is in chaos. Giving thanks grows your faith. And faith is a good thing.

Comments Comments Off on A Thankful Heart Leads to a Faith-Filled Heart

© copyright 2009-2013, Data Designs Publishing and Sandra J. Hovatter