Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Pressing Ahead in the Year 2014

Hebrews 13:20-21 "Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

The year 2013 quickly slips away and we see a new year coming, whether we are ready for it or not. As the ball gets ready to drop and 2014 commences, how should I look at the past year and all it brought? For some people, the year 2013 had great sadness. For others, it may have spelled financial disaster, or the loss of a relationship, or illness. I found I had a mixture of conditions this past year. I choose today, though to look back at the circumstances of my life with a redemptive review. I can either be hopeless or hopeful. It depends on who I am looking at. If I look at myself, I quickly get hopeless. I know that in and of myself I have nothing to boast about, no bragging rights. My life is not wrapped around being in a certain social status, or my own particular claims to fame. But that is OK.

When I accept that about myself, I can then look away from myself and look at the One who lives inside me. With Him, all things are possible. (Luke 18:27)

If I believe in God the way I say I do, I do not need to be going backwards regretting the mistakes of the past. God knew every single detail of my life way before I was ever born. He knew all the trials, all the stupid things I would say and do, all the problems before there ever was one of them. He let them happen anyway, even if it was through a fault of my own. This fact gives me great comfort. Nothing in my life ever took God by surprise. He has never been disappointed in me, because He knows I am but dust, and that I can do nothing by my own power that will be of any use to Him or His Kingdom. It is only Him living inside me that can produce a work acceptable in His sight.

The Apostle Paul had every right to brag about his status as a Pharisee before His salvation. As he so beautifully writes in Philippians 3:4-14. "... If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.
But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ, and be found in HIM, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is in God by faith;that I may know HIM and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed into His death, if by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on that I may lay hold of that which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended;but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead.I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."

Do you see what he is telling us? We do not have to be tethered to the past, the mistakes and failures and clinging to our own human understanding. No, we can have a fresh start for this coming new year. And if we mess up in the new year (as we surely will) there is always a fresh start every time because God in His infinite patience had His Son pay for every infraction we ever did or ever will commit. That is why Jesus Christ is our very best friend, the friend that sticks closer than a brother.(Proverbs 18:24) No other man or religion can offer mankind what He does: total forgiveness, making us brand new creatures (II Corinthians 5:17) and mercy that endures forever. So, in 2014 I do not need to make any kind of promises to myself, promises I will surely break.

No, I just need to get more and more of Christ. More of His Word and His thoughts inside me. More prayer and communion with Him. As John the Baptist said, "He must increase, but I must decrease." (John 3: 30) For only when I am filled with Him am I truly happy.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Present of His Presence!

Matthew 1:24 "And she shall give birth to a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He himself will save His people from their sins."
John 1:14 "And the Word, entering a new mode of existence, became flesh, and lived in a tent (His physical body) among us. And we gazed with attentive and careful regard and spiritual perception at His glory, a glory such as that of a uniquely-begotten Son from the Father, full of grace and truth."
--both verses from Kenneth Wuest expanded translation of the New Testament

I often get into a panic mode at Christmas as I think that possibly my gifts to others won't be "good enough," whatever that means. But during this time, most of the people I bought for probably have more than enough anyway. Gifts sent overseas to the truly needy are the most meaningful to me. I just found out that three little kids in Zimbabwe received the shoeboxes we sent them through a great program called Operation Christmas Child sponsored by Samaritan's Purse. It is a simple idea: fill a shoebox with gifts for an impoverished child in a 3rd world country. It is easy and satisfying to do.
I encourage any who read to check into it next year. You will be blessed in participating.

But back to presents, how many will be disappointed with what they receive in just a day or two? Many will, and it will be evidenced by the number of people crowding the store for returns and exchanges on December 26. All this build up for material things and the gifts may temporarily make you happy, but there is always a letdown when the holiday is over.

I can think of a much more meaningful present. This is one that will never be returned by any who receive it. What's more, it comes without cost (for us, at least.) This gift was so expensive, it cost the giver His life to pay for it. This gift will outlast any Christmas gift given by men on this earth. Have you guessed it yet? It is the gift of God in sending His Son in the form of a baby. But Christmas is not just about the baby lying in a manger. No,it is much more than that. The baby grew up and gave Himself as the costliest present ever upon this earth.

"Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift!" II Corinthians 9:15

No wonder the Magi from the east brought Him the gifts they did: Gold, for they recognized He was Deity. Frankincense for the gift of worship the baby Messiah, used also in Jewish sacrifices in the years preceding. And finally myrrh was given for anointing His body, which would be beaten and bruised beyond recognition in thirty-three short years. These were truly gifts fitting for the King. (Matthew 2: 10-11)

This gift is given without regard to the merit of the one who receives it. It is not something we can ever pay back, either. It comes without strings attached for us the receiver. (Ephesians 2:8-9)Though when one recognizes the unfathomable value of this gift, it will induce the receiver to humbly give God full control of his or her's life. If we know the perfection of this gift, we can also trust the Perfect Giver to make something good out of our messed up, broken down lives.

One of the innumerable benefits I thank the Giver for today is this special promise that is made to all who takes the gift. It is the gift of His abiding presence, forever dwelling with us. If we get to know Him through His Word, the more we can abide in return with the One who gave everything to buy us back for Himself. His abiding Presence is what we need so desperately in these days of confusion, chaos and economic downturns. This is One gift that will keep on giving, from the minute it is received right into eternity.

Jesus says to His gift recipients in John 10:28-29: "And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand."

See? No returns on this one!! But if that were not enough, He also promises that He will always be with us, no matter what we have to face in this life.

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."

Since Jesus returned to the Father, He has been fixing magnificent palaces for His gift recipients in heaven. When the Father says the time is right, He will be coming like a thief in the night for all those who took advantage of His saving grace.

Are you in Christ today? Then no matter what you are facing: illness, financial difficulties, the loss of employment, the grief over death of a loved one, persecution, no matter what, here is what our Good Shepherd promises to all who take the gift of salvation:

Psalm 23:6 "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever."

If you have yet received Jesus the Savior, I urge you not to put it off one moment longer. For He will soon come for us, His children, and you do not want to be left behind.

Isaiah 1:18: " 'Come now, and let us reason together,' says the LORD, 'Though your sins are as scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.'" That is for anyone, anywhere, at any time.

Psalm 116:13 "I will take the cup of salvation, And call upon the name of the LORD."

Receive Christ today, and I promise you there will never be a letdown or disappointment.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

When Less is More...Christ is All!

Luke 1:51-53 "He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, And exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, And the rich He has sent away empty."

It's been harder for me this year to get into the Christmas spirit, as we hit some rough waves from the economic downturn. I always enjoyed trying to find that perfect gift for loved ones, and decorating in our small home, the extra activities and the cards exchanged. This year, there is really no extra money for many of these things, and I am sure some who read this will be able to relate.

Uncertainty. It seems to be all the more common as I grow older. The American dream is not being realized like when I grew up without worries for tomorrow. But then I think of the world my Savior was born into. Was not Jesus born in a time of uncertainty for Mary, his mother and Joseph, who quickly had to get him out of the country because of the mad King Herod trying to murder all the baby boys? (Matthew 1:13-14)

The Jews were oppressed by their occupiers from Rome. Mary had to travel late in her pregnancy to register in the City of David. I don't think she had many amenities then and not even a room when they got there. No, not even a room to give birth to her firstborn Son.(Luke 2:7)

Parties, goodies to gorge on, searching for the perfect gift, beating ourselves into a frenzy to try and create a magical day. Is that what Christmas is all about? As a girl, I always got sad as Christmas morning wore into the afternoon, realizing the letdown as the short,gray December day faded into night.

"Is that all there is?"

I wondered why I still was longing in my soul for something more. I think of the verse in Matthew often when I consider all the people crowding the stores, fighting over the best gifts, myself included. "But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd." Matthew 9:36

I need Christ this Christmas, the only light shining in this darkened planet. Is that what you need too? We find that even the most expensive gift sitting under the tree will not satisfy that God-shaped hole the Creator put in each one of us. It is as if Christ is beholding the masses packing the malls all this world over and His heart wants to call out to them all, if only they would listen: "Come to Me,all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)

Is Christmas a heavy burden to you this year? You need only look to Him. Rest, because you don't have to be perfect. He is perfect for you. If you believe in Him, He shares His very own righteousness with you.

"But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness." Romans 4:5

Who are we trying to please this Christmas as we labor to get the perfect gifts, the perfectly decorated house, have the best Christmas dinner or party? Is that what Christ wants? He doesn't even ask us to remember His birth. It is His death He wants us to remember! "...and when He had given thanks, He broke it (bread*) and said: 'Take, eat, this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me." I Corinthians 11:24

*my explanation

This Christmas, wouldn't it be cool if He found us watching and waiting for His soon return? The Apostle Paul wrote: "Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing." (II Timothy 4:8)
Instead of having the "perfect" Christmas, let our hearts await for our perfect Savior!"

"And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts" II Peter 2: 19

Joy to the world, the Lord has come!
Maranatha! May our Lord come again soon!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Why We Should Bless Israel

"God thunders marvelously with His voice; He does great things which we cannot comprehend. For He says to the snow, 'Fall on the earth'; Likewise to the gentle rain and the heavy rain of His strength." Job 37: 5-6
As I write this, we are in the midst of a snow and ice storm here in our part of the country. This one seems to be one for the record books with unseasonably cold temperatures hitting the Northwest US. Though the snow is beautiful, it also can be deadly. Sometimes I wonder about how these wild storms appear out of "nowhere."

I heard it suggested that this storm came to fruition as our Secretary of State was once again travelling to Israel for peace talks. This has happened before, as has been pointed out in some eye-opening books, among them being: The Israel Omen by David Brennan, Eye to Eye by William Koenig, and As America Has Done to Israel by John McTernan.

You see, the Jews are the apple of God's eye. In Zechariah, God tells us how special they are to Him: "For thus says the LORD of hosts: 'He sent Me after glory, to the nations which plunder you; for he who touches you (Israel*) touches the apple of His eye." Zech. 2: 8

It doesn't go well for those nations who go against Israel. America was at her peak of prosperity when we became the first nation to recognize their re-formed nation in 1948. Think of it, after over 1,000 years they are re-gathered to be a nation again after being scattered to the ends of the earth. This was all prophesied to happen. Isaiah 66: 8 tells us:

"Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall the earth be made to give birth in one day? Or shall such a nation be born at once? For as soon as Zion was in labor, She gave birth to her children."

No nation ever came back to life like the nation of Israel. Even the land, which Mark Twain described as desolate when he visited in 1867,came back to life when the Jewish people returned.

So why are we telling the Jews to give up their land? God gave it to them in Genesis 12:1-3:

"Now the Lord had said to Abram: 'Get out of your country, From your family And from your father's house, To a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing, I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed."

Like it or not, the Jews are the source of many blessings. According to http://www.jinfo.org/Nobel_Prizes.html 193 Nobel Prizes have been awarded to Jews, including ones for the categories of Chemistry, Economics, Literature, Peace, Physics, and Physiology and Medicine.

They have made great technological advances and given us vaccines that stopped the polio epidemic. But that is not the greatest gift the Jews gave us.

The greatest gift, the reason God blesses them is that they are the genetic race which brought forth our Messiah, whose birth we shortly will celebrate.

God promised Eve way back in the book of Genesis that her seed (Messiah) would crush the serpent, the enemy of men's souls. God's plan was revealed in the very first book of the Bible. In Genesis 3, God told the serpent of this enmity:

"And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head And you shall bruise His heel." (Genesis 3: 15)

How did this happen in human history? It happened just at the moment the enemy thought he had won. Jesus died on the cross for us. Blood and water came out when the Roman soldier pierced His side, thereby proving He was dead. (John 19:34)
satan thought he had triumphed, but when the Son of God rose from the dead three days later, his game was up.

It is interesting that the very last book of the Bible tells us how satan hates the Jewish nation, and how he unsuccessfully tries to kill them all so that we humans could have no Messiah to redeem us. Read the story of human history as it is encapsulated in these verses from Revelation 12: 1-10. The Woman is Israel, the Child is Jesus and the Dragon is satan.

"Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born. She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne. Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days. And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down."

If you look at the world today, you see that nearly all the nations have turned against the nation of Israel, including our own USA. It is not good to touch the apple of God's eye. It is not good to curse those whom God cannot curse. (Numbers 23:8) God tells us:

Psalm 122: 6-8
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls,
For the sake of my brethren and companions,
I will now say, “Peace be within you.”
Prosperity within your palaces.”