Monday, December 31, 2012

Are You Ready?

John 14:1-3 -  Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I WILL COME AGAIN and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. 

I listened to a sermon by a pastor at a church a friend of mine in Indiana attends. He spoke frankly about the last days being near. Just as the birth of Christ was prophesied, which prophecies came true, so has the return of Christ been prophesied and, therefore stands to be true. Jesus Himself has told us He will return in John 14 and other books.

He will return but how many are ready? How many believe in Jesus's return? Like Pastor Dave Engbrecht of Nappanee Missionary Church stated, just like the people in the Old Testament waited for years for the coming of their Savior and it didn't happen, when He did appear they were unprepared. So it is today. We've heard for a very long time Christ will return for His people. But skeptics loom as large as before.

The Old Testament showed us extremely well and many times what the world would look like before His return. It was lived out as an example for us. God had Noah build an ark and the people scoffed. We know the rest of the story. All but those who went onto the ark were saved, the rest perished. Well, today Jesus IS that ark. And when He returns again, all who have put their faith and trust in Him will as much as be on, or in, that Ark, and be saved.

I know there are oh so many skeptics. There are also some who are not but who aren't ready. They believe they have all the time in the world. And then there are those who can't wait for His return and are surely ready, mainly to take us out of this increasingly nasty world, like that in the days of Noah.

What is your condition? Are you ready? Is your heart looking to, and the thing you desire most, Jesus? If not, it's time to get ready. As Pastor Dave also said, He may not return in the next year but the signs are growing ever more obvious that the days are fewer. Several scriptures tell us that He will return like a thief in the night. We must be awake and watchful at all times. 

Is your mind focused on the Lord? Is He the most important thought? Are the things of God important? Then you're in a good place. If not, beware. Now is the time to consider a relationship with God.

Oh, I know, this is the so-called born again talk. Who says it's the only right way? Jesus does when He says He is the way, the truth and the life...and no one goes to the Father (even upon Jesus' return) apart from Jesus. And...Do not marvel that I said to you, you must be born again. (John 3:7)

We are not to fear this process. Only good comes from our submission to Christ. Only good comes from this relationship because in the end when He returns He will take us to that place He has prepared for us. 

He is setting the stage for us today to hopefully see His hand at work in this world through the tragedies and natural disasters, the sin and wickedness we see now. Like the days of Noah... Are you ready? God has a plan and His plan will not fail. It's pointed out in scripture for all to see. The thing is, it must be read to understand it. It must be heard, it must be preached. Jesus says, "Those who have ears, hear..." Are you listening? Will you really be ready? It's not just about knowing who Jesus is. I will continue to say this till someone somewhere gets it. It's about knowing Jesus in the very depth of the soul and spirit.

The following came the other morning in my email mailbox which I read after I completed this writing and I want to end with it. God knows what's best for all of us and He will do whatever He needs to to open ears, hearts and minds to understand who Jesus is and what He can do...and why we need Him. There will always be skeptics and I guess there's not much anyone, except for God, can do for them. But He's always trying... And so should we. His plan was accomplished at Jesus' birth. Another plan will be accomplished when He returns. All things in between are His plans and should be heeded. 

Wisdom Hunters, December 29, 2012: God will accomplish His purpose. It may be with or without us, but He will execute His will. God does not back down or hold back when it comes to the fulfillment of His wishes. He knows what is best and is bent toward carrying out His good will. Nothing can stop God from accomplishing His purpose. War cannot stop His purpose because He will draw people to Himself during atrocities of war. Illness cannot stop His purpose because he will reveal His care, compassion and sometimes healing during the eventual breakdown of the body. Death cannot stop His purpose. God will graduate believers in Christ to heaven and non-believers in Christ to hell.

Jesus is the only Way. He is the only Ark. His plans are for good, not evil. All who follow Him, through a relationship with Him, will be saved. Are you ready? He is coming soon. Like a thief in the night. Do you have ears? Hear.

Isaiah 46:10 - Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times  things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure...

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Friend for Eternity

Proverbs 18:24 - A man who has friends must himself be friendly, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

I'm reading a fiction book called Angels of Morgan Hill. I read it once before but this time I have a purpose...a book club for which I am leading the discussion. A big thing for me!!

Very briefly it's about a black family moving into a small town in Tennessee in 1947. The town is divided because of this family. And those offering to be friends just because they don't see the color of their skin get a bit snubbed too.

Only on page 40! And already seeing the words of God in play. Funny how a person who knows Christ can see these things. Well, it is written by a Christian woman...but scripture is not part of it. Although you can see the goodness of God (and the not so kindness of others) through the actions of the characters.

Here we have a young mother who has lost her abusive husband recently and she finds she is pregnant with her third child. She's just not sure this is a good thing because she has no money and she can see tough times ahead.

She has befriended the new, young black mother who suspects she has is pregnant. She confronts her. They talk, a bit. Addy says: "Miz Fran, I don't know nothing about the race you're running. All I know is that if you want I'll be one of them people who'll give you a cup of cold water." Fran responds: "I might need a great, big pitcher of water." "Then I'll just keep my well full...One day you'll look back and wonder how you ever made it through--how you ever got to the other side--but you did. We always do."

I think of Jesus and the good Samaritan. I think of Peter the Cyrene as Jesus dragged His cross to Calvary. Both gave help to one who clearly was shunned not realizing who He was. I think of Someone who will stick closer than a brother...if we so desire. I think of One who will not leave you or forsake you, one Whose well of living water is always full to those who need it from Him.

Jesus didn't come to remove our troubles because while we are this earth we will always have them. He came to help us through His love and strength through these times.

I know of a few people who are in need of this well. One knows Jesus and I pray for strength in these difficult days ahead after having lost his sweet wife. Two peas in a pod. Where there was one the other was...always. A relationship one admires. The other two are people who are in the midst of struggles also, both trying to pull through on their own, in their own strength, proclaiming it. Another I'm not so sure about. I'm not sure where her real strength lies. It's a shame people won't talk about such things when their struggles are hardest.

The next sentence from the book says this: There are few rare times in life when you feel you've found a friend for eternity. There's the word...eternity. Jesus is the best and only friend we will have for eternity but He must be a part of our lives today. Not just an empty hope in something, but a hope that has a name...Jesus. He is One who will never turn His back on you once you enter into relationship with Him. Oh, you might turn your back on Him, for which He will be saddened, but should you return back to Him, like the prodigal son's father, His arms will be open wide for that moment. No person on this earth can do what He has done. Keep that in mind.

It begins and ends with Jesus. Are you troubled? Seek Him. Seek that friend Who will never leave you.

Proverbs 17:17 - A friend (Jesus) loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Greatest Message

1Corinthians 1:18 - For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 

Not exactly your average Christmas message...not about the birth of Jesus...but a message of importance just the same. So intertwined, so relevant on any day.

I grew up in a church where the the message of Jesus Christ was not preached the way I know it today. I'm sure it talked about God's love and grace and mercy. But it probably missed the mark on the truth, that it's about a relationship, not a religion of works. 

So I had no idea that a relationship with Christ was what He is all about.

Oh, I knew I had been baptized as an infant and attended most Sundays until a teenager. I went through confirmation classes and graduated in the eighth grade (not remembering much at all and hating those Saturday mornings at church). Then when my parents, due to marriage problems, chose not to go anymore, I didn't miss it at all. So what did I get out of any of that??

I attended a Unitarian church for a time with my first husband. I liked that the minister would quote a scripture, probably talk about it with his dry sense of humor, then tell us to go home and apply it in any way WE wanted. Then there was the weekly coffee social afterward. It's not about how our selves; it's about His truth. 

I gave up on church altogether after getting divorced other than, maybe, once a year when at Christmas I felt "religious" and needed to attend a Christmas mass at the nearby St. John's Cathedral. Somehow I felt close to God then.

I was probably as far from being close to the Lord as ever.

Many more years went by. Many more Christmases when my focus on the season perked up.  I was still missing something but didn't know that yet. For me it was a combination of Christ and Santa. Presents without church. Or church because it felt like something I should do. Office Christmas parties with secret Santa. Where was the true meaning?

I didn't know I was a sinner. I would have laughed had I been told that. I sneered at those on the streets passing out tracts to lunchtime passersby. I would take what was "shoved" in my hand and at the first trash container, plop, there it went. Was I bad...I never even gave one look at any one of those pieces of propaganda.

And then there was the language at work. I fit right in with the guys (and some other gals). It almost seemed a common thing to be speaking certain, and often times God-centered in the wrong way, words into the office atmosphere without regard for others. Who cared? Everyone did it. No one complained.

And my sinful lifestyle continued. Worldliness, unhappiness, off color jokes, and other things I don't care to write about. It was all about me. It was about getting the most out of life because I thought it was due me. Somehow I deserved something.

And there you have it. Grace is unmerited favor. We certainly do not deserve it, although we think we do. Yet Jesus came to give us that free gift. He took the blows and rejection and ultimately death that belong to us...His grace covers all our sin. A concept difficult to understand. There is nothing we can do to deserve God’s favor. Only accept it as truth.

This is the greatest message we can hear at Christmas...or any time. We are all covered in a blanket of sinfulness until such a time. And sin will not grant us access to God or His kingdom...until we receive Christ into our lives. 

The day finally came when I was ready to meet the Prince of Peace, for that was, unbeknownst to me, what I needed. I still didn't realize it was I who was the sinner, but that eventually came. I just knew that something had to change and I was willing, oh so willing, to let the Lord do it. And He did...but He did the work in me! He gave me peace that has grown. He gave me a hope that has lasted. He gave me freedom and especially a desire to know Him more. 

Is this what causes so many people to reject Him? Not wanting to change, fearing it, afraid of what others would say...while all along God has greater plans for us than we can imagine? 

I would never have guessed...that the greatest message was not necessarily preached that morning I met the Prince of Peace (although it was good) but the greatest offer was sent out...and it seemed to be just for me. The offer of Jesus Christ as my deliverer, my help in time of trouble, my peace.

This is Christmas. Jesus was born that we might meet Him and get to knowing Him. He was born to bring us back into that right relationship with His Father. He was born, as the song proclaims, that man no more would die but that we could have a second birth... second chance at life...this time eternal life. No more apart from God. Born not of water but of the Spirit. In other words, born again. 

Oh how I remember after I was born again how I cringed when others would laugh or gripe about "them born again Christians and holy rollers." I knew I was somehow different. I knew now what born again was. Jesus said we must be born again. He speaks nothing but truth.  It's more than my baby baptism, confirmation, going to church at Christmas and Easter...or every week for that matter. It goes much deeper than that. It goes right to the very heart and soul.

I mentioned yesterday that it's about God living in us. It's a biblical thing that some churches I don't think really get, which is sad. I'm not trying to sound critical. It's the way it is.  It's about God opening up our hearts, minds and souls to receive Jesus. It's about a truth that convicts (to the point of rejecting Him sometimes) and yet a truth that when understood is amazing.

Give some thought to this real Jesus today. Give thought to the greatest Person bringing both the greatest message and gift...His words and Himself. This is love at the greatest. This is what Christmas is about. Let Jesus be part of this Christmas in a greater way. The greatest message IS Jesus. 

1Timothy 2:5-6 - For  there is  one God and one Mediator between God and men,  the  Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all...

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Greatest Gift

The people who WALKED in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined. You have multiplied the nation and increased its joy; they rejoice before You according to the joy of harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil. For You have broken the yoke of his burden and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, as in the day of Midian. For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:2-4,6)

I love our Heavenly Father! I love what He has done for all those throughout time who have heeded Him, followed after Him, learned from Him through His Word. And of course this means I love the Lord, Jesus Christ, who was and is and thankfully is still to come again.

Lord God, we are about to celebrate Your birth. I thank You for bringing light into this world. I thank You for taking me out of the darkness of my old life. I thank You that I saw that light. I stand with all the others who are now in a life of joy and peace because of Who You are and what You have done. Little by little You increase Your kingdom people. It is said that whenever one more person receives You into their life a celebration takes place in heaven. Oh, the sweet sound that must be!

I am thankful that I am now counted as one whose burdens of sin and oppression have been replaced with freedom and joy. I am able to fully understand the real reason for celebrating Your birth. Happy birthday, Jesus!

The Word became flesh in that tiny baby. A song states that when Mary kissed her little baby, she kissed the face of God. How amazing is that? 

I was wrapping Christmas presents and listening to Christmas music the other day. I listened intently to the words. Although we all know the words to many of the songs, are they just melodies we sing and get goosebumps over? Listen to this: Joy to the world, the Lord is come, let men receive their King. He is calling us to receive Him into our lives. Let every heart prepare Him room...He desires we open our hearts to receive Him. Let Him in. 

He reigns in the hearts of His people. While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains repeat the sounding joy... I am reminded of a scripture that says if we do not worship Him, the very rocks will... I tell you that if these (disciples) should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out. (Luke 19:40)

The Bible is considered alive. Hebrews 4:12 states: For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Jesus, the Word of God, the Son of God. And the very Word that created the heavens, the earth and all things in this world can amazingly also live in each one of us. We only need believe and act on it.

We are all in the darkness described in scripture. We are blind to the truth. We are clueless of the things of God...even not being able to understand the things that go on around us in our own lives, in those of our community, state or nation. We carry on believing in our own misguided way that everything will work itself out because it always has because we've always been able to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. Sometimes that just doesn't happen. Self needs to be replaced with God.

We who know the grace and mercy of an all loving--and disciplining--God, have that hope that all things will be eternally good. God promises...and He does not waiver...are for those whose trust is in Him. No one without God has this hope.

Jesus can be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace if we so choose. Choose is the key word. No man can claim these absolute titles. We must humble ourselves, shake off the pride and submit to One who knows best who we are and what we can be, in Christ, given His Holy Spirit to dwell in us and guide us into all truth.

Give some real thought to what happened at Christ's birth. He was on a throne in heaven yet He chose to come to earth to live as we do. He lowered Himself, He humbled Himself for us. That is not a picture of self or self-centerdness. its a picture of selflessness. Picture it. Jesus born in a stable sleeping in a feeding trough. Pure humility. He did not live in a mansion on earth; He had no home on earth because His home was heavenly and heavenward. He was rejected and despised by more people than those who followed Him. He preached hard words of truth. Life would not have been easy had it not been for the Holy Spirit. The same Holy Spirit of God that can dwell in us.

Today He is still rejected, even by those who attend church, those who think by taking their seat in a pew most Sundays makes them a Christian. A true Christian has Jesus with them every moment of their day because He lives in them. Oh yes, this can be. But it must be sought after, humbly. It must be heartfelt. 

This Christmas let the true light of Christ lead you into truth. Forget Santa and his reindeer. Forget all the presents and materiality of Christmas. Focus on the greatest Gift anyone could ever receive. He is yours for the asking. He will join you on the rest of your life's journey and be all He is to you because He can live in you. Imagine. Like Mary kissed the very face of God, His Spirit in us. Seem impossible? Who can imagine? We may not be able to get our head around this, but it can be.

Just ask Him. Ask Him with all your heart to come into your life and fill you with His truth, wisdom, power, strength, hope, love, comfort. He's waiting. You may not know it, because you are still in darkness, but you are a sinner. We are all sinners. But it is Jesus, whose life we celebrate again this Christmas, who takes that darkness away and brings His glorious light to you. 

The transformation is amazing. You can feel it. A burden will be lifted and the underlying sense of joy will just be. When all else goes wrong in life He will be there for you. But you must ask Him first. Let Him be the best Christmas Gift ever.

And this is the testimony: God has GIVEN us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. For God so loved the world that he GAVE his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (1John 5:11, John 3:16)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Name Above All Names

Isaiah 10:6  - For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

I've been coming across all sorts of books and articles about the names of Jesus. I have a couple in my library. At this time of year, however, there are five names that are prominent. And if you look closely, they encompass our Savior.

Yes, Jesus, wrapped up as a little baby was called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. Those are some big words for One so small.

According to Strong's Biblical Concordance I will describe what each word means. But first you must remember, Jesus is the Word. He was in the beginning at creation, is now and is yet to come.

Thankfully, despite our not being able to physically see Him, He can be with us (Emanuel) today spiritually. As a friend reminds us in prayer often, we are spiritual beings if we know Christ. We are in the world but not of it. (John 17:15-16)  Knowing Christ is not about head knowledge. It's knowing Him in our hearts. It's not about what we've done to "achieve" goodness in our lives but what He has done that we might become righteous. (2Corinthians 5:21)

So let's look at each name. I love digging into meanings! It may seem like reading a dictionary but if you look into these words, even the root words, they open up the meanings. They show us the character of Jesus/God.

Wonderful: marvel, a wonder (extraordinary, hard to understand thing); wonder (of God's acts of judgment and redemption). The root word means: to be marvelous, be wonderful, be surpassing, separate by distinguishing action; to show oneself wonderful or marvelous; to separate. Somehow we have watered down the meaning. Today so many things are wonderful. But look at Jesus' life.  Look at all He did to prove Himself as Savior. Who else could open blind eyes, heal the sick, raise the dead, speak amazing words of truth, could love everyone with unconditional love, could withstand rejection and death and then rise again...all for us. Wonderful. He truly separated Himself from all others...He was perfect in all ways. He is extraordinary.

Counselor: to advise, consult, give counsel, purpose, devise, plan. Possibly from a root word meaning to command. He told us Who He was (John 10:30). He told us He had a plan for us (Jeremiah 29:11). Those plans were set forth before the beginning of time (Psalm 139:16). All throughout His days on earth, and throughout His Word, He advised/advises and, yes, commands...all for our own good. He tells us: do not consider it strange...Do not marvel that I said to you, You must be born again. (John 3:7) He advises us to seek Him for our salvation. He advises us in the ways of truth.

Mighty God: mighty: brave man, strong man; to prevail, have strength, be strong, be powerful, be great; prevail; to make strong, strengthen; to act proudly (toward God); to bind up anything broken. I would say any Man who could have done all He did, including rising from the dead, would be called mighty. And isn't it He Who said He came to heal the broke hearted (Isaiah 61:1)? His ultimate goal is to heal our broken spirits, which each of us have without Him.
God: strength, power. Root words: pillar; ram...interesting words. We know God is all powerful. He is to be our strength, our strong tower. Ram denotes the strength in a ram's horns, massive and powerful. He is our shield against the enemy. In the strength of Jesus we can do anything and are eternally protected.

Everlasting Father:
Everlasting: perpetuity, for ever, continuing future; ancient (of past time); for ever (of future time);  of continuous existence. The root word means to pass on, advance. I love it...ancient and forever...our Ancient of Days...whose kingdom He will reign in peace forever.
Father (with a capital F!): of God as father of his people; of producer; of benevolence and protection; ruler or chief. He is our Father in Heaven, our Creator, He is good and our protector. And again, He will rule the world in peace forever one day.

Prince of Peace:
Prince:  ruler, leader, chief, captain; noble, official (under king); general, commander (military); heads, princes (of religious office); Ruler of rulers (of God). From the root: to be or act as prince, rule, contend, have power, prevail over, reign, govern; Lord; altogether. Jesus is our Prince. He is our  leader and has power. He prevails over all, reigns in our hearts and will contend for us. He is altogether everything we need.
Peace: completeness, soundness, welfare, peace; safety; health, prosperity; quiet, tranquillity, contentment; friendship; with God especially in covenant relationship. The root word: to be in a covenant of peace; to make peace with; to be complete, be sound; to make whole or good, restore, make compensation; be repaid, be requited; to make an end of. My, my. Jesus tells us His plan for us is to reconcile us with the Gather through our faith in Him. When we do, ALL these things become part of the promise for us. Total, complete, everlasting spiritual peace. He paid the price for all mankind.

Jesus, the Name above all names. The exalted One. Our Protector, Redeemer, Friend, all in all. If we have Him, we have all we need. I hope these things will loom large this Christmas.

Colossians 2:9-10, 2 -  For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power... in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

An Ordinary Mother

Luke 1:46-48 - And Mary said: My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. 

Okay, so Mary, mother of Jesus wasn't exactly ordinary. I mean, come on, conception by the Holy Spirit? How often does that happen?

However, what we know of her shows her to be not of an elevated status, but a typical girl from a typical, simple family in Nazareth. I did a little research on what Nazareth would have been like. There is not much mention of this town so one can conclude that it was not a prominent town or village. One account stated it could have been between 480 and 2,000 people. Mary was considered a humble peasant girl, so I am assuming all of Nazareth was comprised of people of humble means, yet not necessarily all humble spirits.

John 1:46 states, Can anything good come out of Nazareth? I'm guessing the town did not have the greatest reputation. If you recall Jesus returned after His ministry began and was rejected, most likely because He was only the Son of Mary, a peasant girl, and Joseph, a carpenter. I'm guessing the people really wondered at the way Mary conceived since who had ever heard of this. Oh, the skepticism. Can't we all be like that at times?

The other night we had a women's dinner at church for the Christmas season. It was called An Extraordinary Night. The speaker, Sandy Bradford, spoke on the things we don't often think about regarding what Mary went through as being chosen, conceiving and giving birth on that extraordinary night to this Son who was the Son of God. Bradford asked the women who had children to imagine all the feelings, thoughts, concerns Mary might have had.

I'm not going to reiterate all her thoughts. One thing is clear, Mary was ordinary...yet not. A peasant girl suddenly to become the mother of the Son of God...all in nine months' time. She didn't even have time to prepare for this. Only God could have given her the strength and more importantly the faith and trust she would need. The point I'm making is that it had nothing at all to do with anything she determined to do, apart from trusting, which alone is a huge thing.

God purposely chose Mary. Part of this purpose is to show how He uses ordinary people in life to achieve His purposes. We all know that Jesus, God, came down from His throne to live among us sinners. He walked and talked with the basest of people at times...prostitutes, thieves, liars, the proud and arrogant. He chose His disciples not from the elite class but the humble. He Himself, despite being the King of kings was humble. Isn't that just the perfect example of what we are to be?

What makes any of us think we are so great? Remember yesterday I mentioned Mitch's comment: But I realized that night that I'm not better or smarter than anyone. We are told that we are not to worship the creation but the Creator. And we are to worship nothing other than Jesus Christ.

Mary herself said these things about her own Son:
My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior...For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. (Luke 1:46-47,49)

She understood. She understood she was ordinary put into extraordinary circumstances. Imagine all she had to go through beyond just His birth. She was the mother of God yet she had the same feelings about her Son as we would have about our children...frustration, fear, sadness, joy, hope, pride, ending in abject grief. She learned first hand that she could not tell Him what to do...He was in His Father's house when she complained about His not telling them where He was going to be and His time had not yet come when she asked Him to do a miracle at a wedding.

Mary endured His comings and goings as His ministry took, literally, legs and sent Him all over the countryside. He claims to not have had a place to call home. He exclaimed, My mother and brothers are those who hear God's word and put it into practice, when told she and his brothers wanted to see Him. Imagine how she might have felt. And the worst feeling of all was the helplessness of being a mother seeing her Son whipped and beaten for telling the truth about Who He was, and then led to His crucifixion.

She was an ordinary woman then. She had no power or strength of her own to change the situation. She may have even found it difficult to trust in God during this time. She also knew that her salvation came through her own Son! I imagine what it was like after He arose and returned for a period of time. Was the sadness removed? Was the joy resurrected in her life? Did she fully understand now all He had to have gone through?

We are all ordinary people. We might think otherwise, but we still are. We only elevate ourselves with our sinful, prideful natures. We might learn a lesson from both Mary and her Son about humility. As Mary honored Jesus, as Jesus honored His heavenly Father over His earthly parents, so should we honor the Man who came to an ordinary woman and humbled Himself for all us sin filled people that we might all receive His free gift of salvation.

Our pastor, Rory Grooters, this morning asked us also to imagine what her life was like. Here was the gist of it, in my own words! She was the actual first temple of God, carrying Christ in her, having the very God within her, going through the difficult days when people didn't understand what she was going through and how it all happened, all the flapping gums and gossip, just like we go through because we have Christ in us...and doesn't that make us different? BUT what did she do? She delivered that Baby, the Baby that was to be all for us. And we are to deliver Christ in the same way to those around us, that they might also have the power of God within them.

So if, as followers of Christ, God chooses us for something, are we prepared as ordinary people? We may not think so but He has given us all we need to do what He desires. We are His ordinary people whom He has chosen to become in Christ, or better yet, have Him in us. He has given us talents and life experiences. All ordinary things. Coupled with trust and faith in Him we are able to do. It's all about Him. We are as ordinary as Mary. We are as ordinary as the fishermen, the prostitutes, the thieves and liars. He changes us. He takes the ordinary and makes them extraordinary...all to glorify Him.

Will you humble yourself as Jesus did? Will you come down from whatever place you're at, like Jesus did? Make no mistake, you are ordinary! Let Him make you extraordinary. Mary understood that. The mother of the Son of God...ordinary to extraordinary...all by the hand of God.

James 4:10 - Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Looking Up

Isaiah 45:22 - Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. 

Look up...we look something up to gain knowledge. We look up to someone. We look up scripture and we see Jesus. We look see Jesus, who will give all the real knowledge we need.

I was spending an afternoon cross stitching a Christmas gift. I turned on the Hallmark channel and watched a movie based on a book by Mitch Albom called Have a Little Faith, a true story.

Mitch is a sports writer who has fallen away from his Jewish faith. The old Rabbi Albert of his (former) synagogue asks him to do his eulogy. Mitch can't figure out why since he hasn't attended in awhile. But I'm sure Rabbi Albert knows. (My question is, how did this rabbi know? What did he see in Mitch?)

So Mitch spends time learning who this very wise Reb is in order to have some background...and eight years go by before the rabbi dies! During that time Mitch learns a lot about life and faith in God. Sometimes it really takes time.

In the meantime Mitch also meets Henry, a drug dealer turned pastor in a church with a hole in the roof and no heat or electricity when the bills don't get paid...and he finds a truly content and joyful congregation just the same. Even the men who sleep in the church under a leaky roof are happy. Although Mitch knew they had faith, I know their faith went a step further to faith in Jesus Christ. But Mitch was noticing.

This was all causing him to wonder. He's taking it all in. At one point in the movie after talking with Henry, he relates to his audience this statement: I think I used to know so much. I could look down and scoff at things, even faith. But I realized that night that I'm not better or  smarter than anyone. Only luckier. The men who slept on Henry's church floor never looked down; they only looked up to find comfort and love. And I realized at looking at Henry Covington I was seeing the rarest of things...a changed man.

When someone scoffs at the things of God, they are missing out on something. Henry was living in the dregs of his life but when faced with a potentially tragic situation he called out to God for mercy and God heard him...and Henry was changed, by the power of the Holy Spirit of God.

On the rabbi's death bed he asks Mitch to begin to write. Mitch says he's not ready...not that the eulogy isn't able to be written but that he'd been coming around because not only did the rabbi need something (the assistance he provided for this aging man) but because he needed something. And through these years, the eyes of Mitch's soul were receiving greatly from the Reb and Henry.

I scoffed much of my life. One day I realized something in my life needed to change and one day I asked for the Lord's help. Little did I know He was going to change me, not the situation. But that was okay because that's usually where the first change takes place. I came out ahead. No longer down and defeated, but with hope.

There's always a perfect time for God to show His love. We are to show the greatest love through our witness of Him. Timing may not always be when we want it for someone. Sometimes it really takes time. It will be in God's perfect timing...when someone needs it most. But we who have the hope of Jesus Christ are to at least plant the seeds. One seed may be plucked away by a bird, the next blown away by a breeze or tossed onto rocky soil which is not suitable for growth. But some day just one seed might be planted when the ground of one's heart is fertile and ready to receive. So time after time we are to sow.

My hope is in Jesus Christ. I'm not sure if Mitch has or will come to the saving grace of Jesus Christ. We cannot know the real spiritual condition of one's heart, but Mitch was at least examining himself, searching his heart, seeing evidence of a loving God both through the rabbi and Henry and Henry's rag tag congregation who knew where their hope lay.

None of us are smarter or better than the next the case of a believer in Jesus Christ it isn't becoming luckier. It's not about luck. It's about a gift we receive. It's having the peace that a life in Christ brings. It's having the hope in something greater than ourselves or any human being. Praise goes to God alone for that. He loved enough to see it happen in my life and in the life of each person who chooses to look up to see where their help cometh from.

He can change the hardest of heart and the weakest of persons. Sometimes it really takes time. But when He makes a change, there is victory over those things that held us back from the really great things God has to offer. In the eulogy Mitch pointed out that he learned from the rabbi that the only whole heart is a broken one! And, yes this is the truth. It's the whole way of God to point us in His direction. The point of the movie was to look up...

At the end of the movie Mitch makes one other statement: I realized later it wasn't about having the answers in life. It's about the search for the answers...the choosing to believe in something bigger than yourself that makes the journey of faith so challenging yet so worthwhile.

Joy to the world, our Lord did come! He came for all people. If you don't know Him and what He has for you, look up this Christmas, past the presents and the tree and all the cookies and food. Look to the true meaning of Christmas. Listen carefully to the very familiar words of the Christmas songs. I remember how those words had a whole new meaning after I had allowed myself to be changed by an Almighty God. Search your own heart.

Like Mitch spent time with Rabbi Albert to get to knowing him, or with Pastor Henry or his content congregation, when we spend time in the Word we learn about Jesus. We learn about the people who followed Him and how He used ordinary people. Look Jesus up or look up to Jesus. He's always any time in one's life...

So all right, I lost an hour or so of my cross stitching time! But it was so worth it.

Psalm 121:1-8 - I will lift up my eyes to the hills from whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul. The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Bottom Line

Leviticus 17:11 - For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.

All of life revolves around Jesus.  He's our bottom line. He is also THE lifeline. If we receive Jesus as Lord and Savior, we are part of the spiritual bloodline that connects us to Him. As in the Old Testament where people were forever giving blood sacrifices to atone for their sins, so Jesus became our blood sacrifice on the cross in the New Testament. It was all about the blood, physically at first, now spiritually. Hebrews 9:22 - And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission. Death, the end of self, brings life in Christ. That's the bottom line.

All life is about Jesus. It's about His birth, life, death and resurrection...all that we might learn of Him, take from Him the gift of life which He offers so freely, which life we can have through faith in Jesus. Then we can learn from Him, as His Word, what He has to tell us about how we are to live our lives, what promises are ours when we do, what fears may be cast aside because He tells us to "fear not" because He will be with us...and what will happen if we do not.

As a follower, I know He is with me if I am in His will. Am I always? Probably not. Do I want to be. Yes.  Seek first the kingdom of God... It starts with Jesus. It ends with Jesus. The beginning and the bottom line!

Jesus doesn't care about religion or denomination. It's about a relationship between yourself and an all powerful, loving God, one whose love for us is greater than we can even imagine. He is to be our first and foremost Love. If anything comes before that, we do not have that relationship. It's not about the good deeds we do in this world. There are many who do good things. But if it is not coupled with a relationship with Jesus...God with us, our Emmanuel, the Word which became flesh in the form of a humble baby, who grew in humbleness and obedience only to His Father in heaven, even unto death on the cross...our goodness is as filthy rags. 

I was reminded yesterday how He has us engraved in the palm of His hand. A picture so powerful it makes me weep. If you press your fingers into your hand and hold that grip for a few seconds when you open your hand you will see the imprints of your fingernails. If we so desire to be the objects of God's desire, we must allow ourselves the opportunity to receive Him into our lives that we might be securely engraved into His hand.

Although some will say we celebrate the birth of Christ at the wrong time of year, I don't believe it's the time that is important. It is even looked upon by some as a pagan ritual because several of the elements come from pagan worship. I don't worship the season or the stuff of the season; I worship Who it is all about. It shouldn't be just at Christmas anyway. It should be every day. We can celebrate what He has done for us at any time. He does such wonderful things each day. 

Jesus, You are the Lord of all. You transcend all things. It all began with You in the very beginning when You created all things. You then came down from Your heavenly throne to take Your place among men that all would know You, know Your awesome power, know Your love, and receive You for our righteousness and freedom from sin, to know what true forgiveness is all about. You came that we might have life. You came to remove the heaviness of shame and guilt. You came to heal the brokenhearted and transform lives.

Lord God, thank You for this time of year when we are once again celebrating Your birth. Such birth led to a sinless life in this world that we might see. Faced with You we see our sins and are either drawn to You for our salvation from those sins or we are repelled because we cannot stand believing we could be with sin. Convict us all, Lord. It is for our own good, that tough love like that of a parent. You choose that none should perish and You are there to pick us up when we have fallen. But sometimes pride just gets in the way...or our own desires in the world.

The opposite of bottom line is a point of creating. All things have a beginning and an end. Jesus, as God, created this world. He stepped down from heaven to live among His creation when things didn't quite go according to His plan and we needed restore our relationship with Him after man sinned in the garden. And then His life ended. He was in the beginning, has been all throughout the middle and is our bottom line, the end. And yet...He has been resurrected...and so can we be brought back to life if we look to Him, our Creator and Bottom Line.

Hebrews 12:1-2 - Therefore...let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares  us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Proper Channel

Ephesians 2:12 - ...that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

I had a blog several days ago explaining our spiritual blessings once we have received Christ. Today I want to share a little more.

As the scripture above states, we are without God and without hope without Christ. We are considered aliens/foreigners in this life. Think of what illegal aliens in this country should not have. They live among us but do not legally have jobs, insurance, homes, education. “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber."(John 10:1)

But if they come to this country legally, go through the proper channel, they can have these things. This is the way it is in God's kingdom. You cannot have all the benefits unless you do it the right way. You cannot hope to have eternal life without Jesus. You cannot enter the Kingdom of God without Jesus. He prepared the way for us. He is the only Way, truth and one goes to the Father except through Him.

There are rules in life...eternal and physical. Too many don't like following the rules. They want...and in their own way. Stubborn arrogance and rebellion will not get eternal life. Those things are not "legal." They are not the way. You will not get to heaven apart from Christ.

But listen to this: But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off [aliens/foreigners] have been brought near by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:13). Only through His blood. Only through Christ do we have real hope.

Just like there are (should be) "walls" to keep out illegal aliens in our country, there is a wall that separates us from God...that wall is sin. It is illegal, as it were, in God's eyes. It must be taken down and it can be by our reconciliation (voluntary) with Christ. Then we have access to all God wants us to have. When illegal aliens enter into our country the proper way, they should have much as they choose to have.

Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God...(Ephesians 2:19). That's all it takes. Entering in through Jesus, our Door, our Gate. We must be obedient to that call, that entering in, for it all to happen. It comes with a childlike faith in Jesus Christ and receiving Him as Savior and living a different life in Him, no longer strangers and having full access to Him.

John 10:9 - I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.