Monday, November 30, 2015

Another Advent

Good morning,

Before I knew it, I have found myself at the end of 2 Corinthians!  Beginning tomorrow, I'll be doing my morning devotional time with Ann Voskamp's Jesse Tree Advent devotional series, Unwrapping the Greatest Gift.  I'm very excited about that.  Then, after Christmas, we'll head to Galatians.

It's funny how much I love the Advent season, especially growing up in a church that did not celebrate it.  Perhaps that's one reason why.  Another reason is that it helps me to focus on Jesus in the days leading up to 12/25.  Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are my favorite days of the Christmas season, but not because of gifts or decorations or music or even family get-togethers.  (In fact, some years, I have literally said out loud on Christmas Day, "Thank God Christmas is over. Maybe now I can get some rest!"  That is not what God intended, for sure!)

If I let myself, I get very negative about the Christmas season.  The world certainly perverts it, and that is reason enough to adopt a "bad mood".  But, then, there's the decorating .... four days of it this year, in my case, which is admittedly ridiculous!  I get a little OCD about it, needless to say.  Then, the shopping!  After doing some online shopping last Friday my credit card was hacked.  Annoying. Oh, can I forget the traffic?!  We live about 4 miles from a major shopping center and interstate highway.  These factors and others can conspire to make one tired and grumpy.

This is why I deliberately like to focus on Advent which, in the liturgical tradition, began yesterday in churches that "celebrate" it.  I'd like to encourage you to focus on celebrating with your family each day of the Advent season, as we continue on to Christmas Day.  There are many great resources you can use.  I'm going to mention a few below.

1.  Last year, I followed and blogged about John Piper's Advent devotionals in his Solid Joys series.  I read each one in the evening and lit the Advent candles as the month progressed. They were very meaningful, without or without a wreath and candles.  You can find those by googling John Piper Solid Joys.  Tomorrow, December 1, he begins his Advent devotionals.  The first one is called "Prepare the Way".

2.  Advent Wreath/Candles/Calendars:  even though this involves some expense, it is a wonderful tradition to start with your children.  Depending on the product, you can use it to count down the days to Christmas.  It's great to use a tool like this in conjunction with an Advent devotional.  Here's a free one:
There are also free coloring pages available on the internet.  Here is a link to one:
And, here's another!

3.  I've mentioned the Jesse Tree tradition conceived by Ann Voskamp already.  While these Advent devotionals, which begin on Dec. 1st, used to be free, they are now in a book she published.  If you are so inclined, go get the book today at your Christian bookstore, and follow along with me, starting tomorrow.  Or, download it onto your iPad/tablet from Amazon.  With purchase, you get downloadable paper ornaments for any small tree (one per day) and also free printable coloring pages.  Here's the Amazon link:

4.  Read your favorite Christmas books to your children.  It is wonderful to build a library of great children's books, which can then be passed down to your children's children.  Here are some of my favorite titles from over the years:
Elijah's Angel, by Michael Rosen
The Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, by Susan Wojciechowski
The Legend of the Candy Cane, by Lori Walburg
The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg
The Night Before Christmas, by Clement Moore
The Pine Tree Parable, by Liz Curtis Higgs
Alabaster's Song, by Max Lucado
Once Upon a Christmas Eve, by Kathy-Jo Wargin
As you can tell, they are not all strongly Christ-centered.  Some are fanciful.

Regardless of what tools or method you choose, don't let Advent get by you, without stopping every day to focus on the Savior.

Thank you, Father, for this new Advent season come!  Until we can celebrate You in all Your glory, in Heaven, we can look for you in the days leading up to your birthday, reveling in all the beauty of this blessed season.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Rice and Refuge

Good morning,

There are times when, even having heard the truth of the gospel, we lose our way.  We get off God's path.  We lose perspective.  It may be a sudden event which catapults us into the briar patch.  Or, it may be a more gradual veer.  Suddenly, we find ourselves in the weeds, or in the swamp, or in the muck and mire.

Last night was a great time of ministry in ATL.  However, it was a late night and at an ungodly hour I climbed into the bathtub with my iPad.  This is part of my evening ritual.  What was not typical about last night was that the iPad got baptized.  I keep it in a combo case-keyboard, which most assuredly was ruined. Still, I was hoping that the case kept the iPad sheltered enough to save it.  With a hopeful heart I tried to use it, only to find that it was flitting around from app to app, blinking, trying to shut down, but then powering back up - - - doing all kinds of frantic didos.  It looked kind of like it was losing its mind.

After taking it out of the case and drying it off, into a Tupperware container of rice it went; and, I headed off to bed.  This morning, I got up, started the coffee and looked in on my little, electronic friend.  Miraculously, it seemed to be normal; so, I plugged it in and am currently sending it through an OS update.  I figure if it can survive that, it can handle just about anything.

Over the Thanksgiving break I was made aware of a loved one who, figuratively speaking, had gotten a dunking.  Those closer to him had despaired of his very life.  I was heartbroken to hear that this beautiful, gifted soul had come so close to total breakdown and destruction.  His closer loved ones are rallying around him, bringing critical resources to bear as they support him through this time of anguish.

One resource is indispensable in times like these: the LORD.  He is "the rice" who will rescue, revive and restore us.  Without him, all other "resources" are of extremely limited value.  Often, our unintended destinations result from our deliberately turning our backs on Him, and refusing to walk in His ways.  Other times, we end up where we don't want to be because of circumstances out of our "control" (or the illusion thereof).

Regardless, the Scriptures tell us that He is our hiding place and our deliverer.  Although there are many verses pertinent to this topic here is one of my favorites, from Psalms.

You are my hiding place;
you protect me from distress.
You surround me with shouts of joy from those celebrating deliverance. (Selah)
I will instruct and teach you about how you should live.

I will advise you as I look you in the eye.
Psalm 32:7-8 (NET)

He surrounds his troubled children in times of terror, like a blanket of dry rice.  He is a refuge, a place of safety and security.  As soon as we seek Him, the shouts of deliverance joy begin.  Don't you just love that?  He knows the end from the beginning!  Even when we cannot see the end of our troubles, He not only sees them, He shouts for joy as the One who "makes all things new".

I'm aware of another, separate situation in which the "child" going through it may not see ultimate deliverance in this earthly life.  Sometimes, deliverance is perfected in Heaven.  There is nothing to compare to that standard of "making all things new".  Wow, what a thought to contemplate!

Even in those kinds of "hopeless" situations, though, as in all such trials and tribulations, the LORD says He will "look us in the eye."  Most of us have a memory, either as a child or as a parent, of someone taking us by the chin and saying, "Look at me".  Usually, it is before vital instruction is about to be given.  So it is with the LORD.  He takes us by our spiritual chins and says, "Look at me. I will instruct and teach you about how you should live."  Thank you, sweet LORD!

You may or may not be in a situation today where all your circuits are going haywire, where you are blinking and apping all over the place.  You may or may not be in a situation where you are too broken even to flop and flounder, physically.  Regardless, let the rice of the Holy Spirit cover you, surround you.  He is there with you, in the middle of your trouble, grief or terror.  He is waiting for you to call on Him to come and reach you, rescue you, make all things new again.  Your only Savior is waiting; all you have to do is call.

Oh LORD, the world and its rulers are often sickeningly successful at deceiving us into believing we do not need You, that we can handle this on our own, that we are our own gods.  The result of our deception is that we get lost in the weeds.  I am so thankful that You never turn your back on us in those times; all of us have "been there" to one extent or another at some time or another.  When You answer our cry for help and rescue us, in "making all things new" You don't always reverse the consequences of our situations.  You do, however, give us a greater portion of Your Holy Spirit so that we come out of those trials "stronger" in Your incomparable strength.  I praise You for that, LORD.  I praise You for how You bring beauty out of ashes, new growth out of a dead stump, how You restore what the locusts have eaten (Joel 2:25).  Father, I pray for those who need for You to take them by the chin this morning.  I pray that they will seek You, fix their eyes on You so that You can do what only You can do...the miraculous!  In Jesus' name, amen.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Good morning,

Frankly, Thanksgiving Day has taken a hit in our modern,  American culture.  From its birth, established a national holiday by President Lincoln in 1863, it has been a day when people ceased from their labors, gathered together with loved ones, and thanked the Lord for all He has done. Lately however, it has been overshadowed by encroaching Christmas commercialism.  Harvest-themed decorations are scarce, while Halloween decor proliferates.  Then, as early as September, we begin to see Christmas decorations.

Last evening, on his radio show, my friend, Erick Erickson, asked callers to phone in as to what they are thankful for, since Thanksgiving Day is tomorrow, (as I write this in real time).  There was a variety of answers, as you might expect.  I fleetingly thought about what I am most thankful for, and that is the privilege of knowing Jesus Christ.  Then, en route to a destination, I did not give it any deeper thought.  After that huge #1, there are many competing blessings for which I am thankful.

Christian thankfulness springs from a sure belief that God our Father is the Giver of all good things, through the person of His Son, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit who lives within us.  Without that foundational truth, thankfulness is superficial.  Perhaps this is why Thanksgiving Day has fallen so out of fashion.  We, as a people, do not acknowledge that our dependence is on God, that our successes flow from His gracious hand, that the very food we eat and the clean air we breathe are His providence.

In the dead of night last night I lay awake for a couple of hours, trying to find sleep again.  During that time, I reflected on how blessed I am and how thankful I am that so many of our family members still walk this earth with us.  Thanksgiving week has always been one of my favorite times of year, but it became of greater significance 18 years ago when my daddy lost his long battle with cancer the Saturday before "the big day".  In fact, today, 18 years ago, we laid his body in the ground.  Last April, our family lost my husband's brother to an extended battle with cancer.  Losing that dear, sweet, generous Christian man was a huge blow to our family.  All of this caused me to be grateful that so many of our loved ones are still here.  All other 50 or so of my husband's large, extended family are still with us.  My husband and children are healthy and well.  Both my siblings are thriving, as are their children.  Of my 10 aunts and uncles, all in their late 70s or 80s, only one has gone on.  Of my 11 cousins, only one has passed on.  My mother has been blessed, similarly, with good health this past year.  For these bountiful blessings, I am tremendously grateful.

Publix food stores has a poignant Thanksgiving commercial out at the moment.  It shows many aspects of Thanksgiving Day celebrations - - - dropping the casserole, burning the food, setting off the smoke alarm, the power going out, squabbling family members, etc.  In the end, though, everyone gathers around the table, joins hands and (presumably) gives thanks.  In the middle of all that upheaval and catastrophe, peace and thankfulness come.

Paul, in his letter to the Colossians (3:15), says - - -

Let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body, and be ye thankful. 

It is difficult to be thankful unless peace is present first.  By an act of our will we must embrace Christ's peace, that peace only available from Him, and let it rule in our hearts, not only at the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons, but always.  His peace, so transformative, brings thankfulness.

No matter the upheaval, the unpleasant surprises, the disagreements, the various human foibles or seemingly indiscriminate sorrows that may arise to steal your joy this Thanksgiving, look toward Jesus, embrace His truth and His peace.
And then, give thanks.

Heavenly Father, You are the Source of All Blessing.  We thank You today for Your Son, our Savior. In His name, may we be truly thankful for the tremendous bounty we have received from Your hand. Amen.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Heavenly Visions - Fleshly Thorns

Good morning,

My sister would say my house looks like "the wreck of the Hesperus" - - - some literary analogy from a work I cannot name.  Yesterday, I put away the fall decorations and dragged out all the boxes of Christmas decor.  Can you guess what I'll be doing later today?  Still, dawn is breaking over the ridge.  The coffeemaker is sighing and the brew is good.  I've been studying 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, an extremely fascinating passage.

In it, Paul continues to share his qualifications to be an apostle of Jesus Christ.  The capstone of his persuasions is to share (in the third person) about a remarkable vision he had, about 14 years prior. I'm perplexed by Paul's use of the third person here.  It is plain, from verse 6, he is speaking of himself as being the man who was "caught up to the third heaven".  He seems to think that to just come out and say, "I am that man" would be boastful.  Some things, though true, are not necessary.

Over the course of his ministry, Paul was the recipient of many visions.  Here are some references for some of them:  Acts 9:3, 12; 22:6, 17; 16:9; 18:9-10; 23:11; 27:23.  Nevertheless, the vision described by Paul here in 2 Cor. 12 is "a cut above", if you'll pardon the pun.  He says that he was taken up into "the third heaven".  I've blogged about this before and so will just briefly recap here. The first heaven is our earthly "atmosphere".  The second heaven is the vast expanse beyond the earth's atmosphere, where the heavenly bodies  (planets, stars, etc.) reside.  The third heaven is the abode of God Himself.

So, that's where Paul went - - - into the very presence of God.  He saw and heard things there too wonderful to share.  According to one source, 14 years before the writing of 2 Corinthians, when Paul said this occurred, he was residing in Antioch.  When I first read about it, I thought it might have occurred during his time in Arabia, at the very beginning of his ministry.  But, that was wrong.  He had already returned from Arabia, and the vision occurred before his first missionary journey.  Not that this matters overly-much...

We move on to the interesting fact that God gave Paul some kind of "weakness", which was with him the rest of his life and ministry.  There has been much speculation about what this is - - - - all the way from saying it was his mother-in-law (insert eye-roll icon here) to his poor vision.  The latter is quite probable, as Paul makes reference to it several times in his letters.  Although a highly educated man, he used scribes, who wrote down his letters.  See 2 Thess. 3:17, for example.  There, Paul signs with his own hand, which is in stark contrast to the rest of the letter, dictated to a scribe.  Again, it does not matter overly-much exactly what this chronic "thorn" was, poor eyesight or something else.

The more important point is this:  if Paul, that paragon of humanity, that man who saw Jesus at the moment of his conversion and was caught up into the very presence of God some 6 years later was given a "thorn in the flesh", why do we think, then, that we should escape?  I venture to say that every Christian has something that "bedevils" them.  We are every day confronted with our imperfect, fallen world, in which lives our imperfect, fallen-yet-redeemed selves.

Sometimes, while blogging, I have the tv on "silent" mode.  Right now, Kyle Busch, the NASCAR driver is on the morning news show, reflecting on this past season, which had contained "ups and downs".  Regardless of how "famous" we become, aren't all our Christian lives like this?  Our temptation is to get so sad during the "downs" or when our "thorn" is poking us that we overlook the "ups".  Maybe God wants to show us more heavenly visions, if we would only ... look up.  This is what Paul did.  I love verses 8-10 (NET):

I asked the Lord three times about this, that it would depart from me. But he said to me, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me. 10 Therefore I am content with weaknesses, with insults, with troubles, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

Our gracious Father knows that our fleshly tendency is to trust in our own "strength" and boast of our own power/accomplishments.  When we do that, though, we tamp down the power of Christ at work in us.  When we allow ourselves to "be weak" - - - when we acknowledge our limitations, He can then be freed to show forth His mighty power.  He will not share His glory with anyone.

Oh how this runs counter to our world's culture!  To unbelievers, it sounds like utter foolishness.

In every small act of our mundane days, He wants the glory.  In decorating the house for Christmas, He wants the glory.  In waiting on His perfect timing, He wants the glory.  In our interactions with loved ones this holiday season, He wants the glory.  We can ask the Lord, as Paul did, to take away our "besetting sin" or our persistent, chronic torment.  But, if He does not, we should realize that one day (in Heaven) we will be free of it.   Until that day, we can find contentment in our present circumstances, so that He can receive the glory due His mighty name.

Heavenly Father, You who are enthroned above the sphere of earth and between the cherubim, all glory and praise belong to You alone.  Make Your glory visible in me today.  I present my weak self for your use, in the furtherance of Your kingdom, in the carrying out of Your will.  Help me, in my weaknesses, Lord!  Show Yourself mighty despite them.  In Jesus' name, amen.


Wiersbe, Warren W. The Wiersbe Bible Commentary. 2nd ed. Colorado Springs: David C Cook, 2007. 537. Print.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Holiday Perseverance and Discernment

Good morning,

This is not going to be my typical post, as it has not been a typical morning.  Yesterday was like "Thanksgiving Celebration 1", with my husband's side of the family's event and then our church's Thanksgiving Feast last night.  The youth had a "lock-in" afterwards.  My part to help with the latter was to be at the church this morning in order to have breakfast set up for 70 or so kids by 6:00 a.m., and then get them all picked up by 8:15.  With that mission accomplished, I came home to greet the appliance repairman, who could not stay because the 2-person job was short one technician.  Then, it was to care for the sick turtle, feed the dog, potty the dog, etc.  Before I knew it, it was nearly 10:00. After this, it will be on to decorating the house for Christmas....if I'm not too distracted to do so.
'Tis the season.

In the midst of all this, I read 2 Corinthians 11:16-33.  In this passage Paul was telling the Corinthians about his experiences as a missionary-evangelist-church planter.  It is sobering to read of all he endured:

  • 39 lashes with the whip on 5 separate occasions
  • beaten with a cane ("caning") on 3 separate occasions
  • stoned once
  • shipwrecked three times, and one of those was drifting in the ocean for a day and night
  • in danger from a number of sources most of the time
  • let down in a rope basket, through a window in the city wall
  • sleepless nights
  • hungry and thirsty many times
  • falsely accused and in prison on several occasions, for a total of 5-6 years
  • always, during all the above, anxiously concerned for the young churches
When I look at this list, I realize that my minor challenges are, well....minor.  It helps me regain perspective!  The reason Paul shared all this with the Corinthians was to establish his credibility as a true apostle of Jesus Christ.  He references the false apostles who had been beguiling the Corinthians, in verses 12-15 (NET).

12 And what I am doing I will continue to do, so that I may eliminate any opportunity for those who want a chance to be regarded as our equals in the things they boast about. 13 For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is not surprising his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will correspond to their actions.

I'm not gifted with a great deal of discernment, when it comes to examining other people.  My husband has an abundance of that gift.  But, I'm grateful for when God does give me an extra helping.
Certainly, Satan opposed Paul, because of how he was spreading the gospel so diligently and faithfully.  While satanic opposition can be a validation of a person's ministry, the greater proof is whether or not the believer stays true to the Word of God.  It is sad to contemplate the reality that there are false prophets in the midst of The Body.  But, it is certain that there are.  Like their true master, they disguise themselves as the holiest of the holy.  While we may be deceived, God is never fooled.  He knows His own.

One thing I've noticed is that the "wolves in sheep's clothing" are often prideful.  They draw attention to their "accomplishments" as if they were responsible.  Their eyes are on themselves.  After all, again, they are following the example of their true master, the evil one, whose pride led to his eternal downfall.  True servants of the Most High God know that they are incapable (in and of themselves) of any good thing.  They recognize that it is His Spirit at work in them that accomplishes His will, and they give Him the glory for it.  They keep their eyes firmly fixed on Him.

So, here we have two valuable "litmus tests":  
  • are they in-line with the Word of God as revealed in Scripture?  and 
  • are they humble?
Open the eyes of our hearts, Lord!  

Dear Father, thank you for discernment and perseverance in the face of various types of trials.  No matter what my brothers and sisters are enduring today, Lord, give them your strength and your comfort.  Some of them are dealing with anxiety, loneliness, sickness, pain, fear, persecution. Whatever our challenges today, may we keep our eyes firmly fixed on You, our Savior.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Ain't Me; It HE!

Good morning,

At first reading 2 Cor. 10 seems like a strange, little chapter.  No one verse jumps out until the very end.  You get the idea that Paul is uncomfortable talking about himself, to some extent, and so talks all around the actual point until he gets to the very end.  What's going on here is that the Corinthians, as mentioned before, were at the nexus of a spiritual "power grab" from competing religious factions, of which Paul was one.  Paul was defending his authority, with meekness, but he was also pointing out that the Corinthians, by focusing on all these "better than thou" comparisons were missing the point.

I think that we tend to do that in Christian circles today.  While it's true that "spiritual fruit" is an indicator of God's blessing, we should not get "hung up" on that.  There are times of dormancy, which are not only a natural part of the growth of fruit trees, but also of ministries.  When a ministry has been through a particularly nasty attack from Satan, the results will be visible and plain.  It often takes some time to recover.  One of the biggest fallacies of comparing ministries is failing to realize that God works in His own ways and in His own time.  Some folks "stars" are "ascending" while others' are on the wane, at any given point in time.  So what?  Soli Deo Gloria!

The main thing is this:  each ministry must remain true to its calling and true to the Word of God, using powerful God-tools to smash warped philosophies and tear down barriers against that Truth (vs. 4-5).  That should be the focus.  Then, if there is any comparing, boasting, bragging or claiming of credit to be done, it should be the way Paul put it in verses 17 and 18:

17 But the one who boasts must boast in the Lord18 For it is not the person who commends himself who is approved, but the person the Lord commends.

This is meekness: not some trumped-up sense of false humility, but rather a determined, carnality-stomping focus on what He has done, not on what we have done.  "God gives the increase", not us. (1 Cor. 3:6)  Since He is in charge of results, why all this comparing?  Paul says when we do that we demonstrate a lack of proper understanding (vs. 12).  Indeed.

A frequent, unfortunate outcome of spiritual pride is that it blinds us to what God wants to do in our ministries next.  We are so sure WE know where God is going to lead us that we miss seeing what He would like to do.  I know I've been guilty of that.  "Man judges on the outward appearance, but God judges the heart."  My recollection of 1 Samuel 16:7.  Here it is from the NET:

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t be impressed by his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. God does not view things the way men do. People look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Samuel was making comparisons between the sons of Jesse, and he thought for sure that Eliab, one of the taller, handsomer sons, was the one God would choose as Israel's next king.  But, no....and the verse above is what God spoke to Samuel in response.

Basically, spiritual pride just kills spiritual discernment.  So, let's seek meekness in our walks, in our ministries ... not seeking to promote ourselves, but rather, seeking to promote our Lord and His saving gospel.  We are called to meekness and to faithfulness.  He will grow His work in and through us.  He will "give the increase"! 

Father, please forgive me for my self-aggrandizement, my extreme deficit of meekness.  Oh Lord! It's all about You!  Nobody else.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Be One

Good morning,

We have this thing in education lately called the "flipped classroom".  Basically, it works like this: the teacher's whole-group instruction (fancy name for "lecture" or "demonstration", usually) is video-recorded.  Students are then asked to watch it at home, where they can start, stop, re-wind and re-watch, etc.  Then, in the classroom, small-group instruction that is more hands-on and application-focused is done with the teacher's supervision and guidance.  I like it!  I'll come back to this in a moment.

Paul spent the remainder of chapter 8 and all of chapter 9 expounding on His theme of giving.  See, this is how it worked back then.  Each small, local church first shared their resources to support each other.  Then, once their members' basic needs were met, they donated heavily of their overflow to support other local churches in the Asia Minor and Mediterranean areas.  The missionaries, such as Paul, Titus, Barnabas, Mark and others transported the gifts to the other local churches.

So, this morning, we are going to "flip" the Scripture passage, in a sense.  We are going to start at the end.  Here's the passage first:  2 Cor. 9:6-15 (NET)

My point is this: The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously. Each one of you should give just as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, because God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace overflow to you so that because you have enough of everything in every way at all times, you will overflow in every good work. Just as it is written, “He has scattered widelyhe has given to the poor; his righteousness remains forever.”10 Now God who provides seed for the sower and bread for food will provide and multiply your supply of seed and will cause the harvest of your righteousness to grow. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you may be generous on every occasion, which is producing through us thanksgiving to God, 12 because the service of this ministry is not only providing for the needs of the saints but is also overflowing with many thanks to God.13 Through the evidence of this service they will glorify God because of your obedience to your confession in the gospel of Christ and the generosity of your sharing with them and with everyone. 14 And in their prayers on your behalf they long for you because of the extraordinary grace God has shown to you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

What is this "indescribable gift" Paul mentions at the end of the chapter? It is not a "what"; it is a Person, Jesus Christ!  He is God's indescribable gift to us.  In 8:9 together with 9:15, Paul bookends this exposition on the importance of charity by pointing out the main reason the Christians give generously:  because God gave so lavishly to us.  John 3:16 comes to mind.  For He SO loved....!

I'm very excited about doing Ann Voskamp's Advent devotionals, starting December 1.  It's called, Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, which is what made me think of it right now.  Last year, I did John Piper's.  What a blessing!  If you want to check his out, download to your phone or iPad the app called, "Solid Joys".  Excellent!

Anyway, back to the topic at hand.  There is a very powerful giving principle expressed in 9:6, an agricultural principle that was familiar to most of the people of that day.  If you don't plant much seed, you won't harvest much fruit!  Applied to giving, we are similarly encouraged to give lavishly. I wrote a little note to a young brother this morning who was leading a small group Bible study that did not have have "gangbusters" attendance.  I reminded him that we never see on this mortal plane the full outcomes of our obedience and faithfulness.  So true!  And, the same is true of our giving.  When we get to Heaven, I believe we'll get to see a fuller picture of what our obedient service has produced. You see, it's not just about giving your money, although that's what Paul was dealing with here.  It's about giving from all your resources - - - including your time and your God-given talents.  "It's time to get our hands dirty."

Verse 7 has another excellent principle.  If you give because you feel "guilted" into it, you might as well not give at all.  That is not a gift, it is a tariff.  This kind of giving does not honor God.  I'll be straight with you:  if you don't give of your money and serve the Lord, and do it cheerfully, there is something wrong in your walk with God.  Those who truly "see" what God has so freely given to them give back to Him out of a cheerful heart.  Because He is our "enough", (vs. 8), we "overflow to every good work".

Natalie Grant has a new album out, and the title cut is called "Be One".  That's what I'm talking about!  "Calling all hearts, calling all hands....we can be the arms that don't let go...why wait around for a miracle to come, when we can be one?"   And, the people of God said, "Yes!  So be it!"

Dear Father, you know, I was thinking about that awful dream I had last night, where in it I committed a crime.  Even though I walked it back in the dream, it showed me just how deeply depraved my sinful nature is (and also that I should not eat sweet potato pie right before going to bed!)  That's why I'm so thankful for your "indescribable gift" of Jesus, who washes ALL my sins away.  Because of Your generosity, I am set to "be one".  Thank you for another of Your precious promises, found in verse 10.  Yes!  You provide seed for the sower and not only that, You multiply it, causing righteousness to grow in me, the only true righteousness, the fruit of the Holy Spirit.  In the only Name, the precious name of Jesus, amen. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Giving Grace

Good morning,

Do you remember as a child being forced to say "I'm sorry" to your sibling, and not meaning it at all? I do!  Saying "I'm sorry" through clenched teeth, with squinty eyes is (hello!) not genuine, is it?  We know that, because of our personal experience and also because of dealing with children, if you have had that experience.  Usually, the misbehavior that prompted the "I'm sorry" soon recurs.  Why does this happen?  It happens because the repentance was not genuine!

We are moving on to 2 Cor. 8, giving just a love pat to the rest of chapter 7.  The remainder of that chapter dealt with a mysterious, lost letter that Paul wrote to the Corinthians.  I've mentioned it in previous blog posts.  All we know about it comes from Paul's references to it in 2 Corinthians. The letter was very strong in its corrective language and intended to deal with a particular situation in that local church.  I reckon God did not intend for us to be privy to it.  The letter was hand-delivered by Titus, who worked with that local church to not only deliver its contents, but to exhort the Corinthians to repentance and restoration.  Paul rejoices in 7:8-16 that all of this was accomplished.

 For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.
2 Cor. 7:10  (NKJV)

The Corinthians had "godly sorrow", which is true regret for their individual and corporate sins; and then, they repented.  Paul points out that godly sorrow always leads to repentance, a change of heart and behavior.  Without both, there is no salvation.  Just praying a little prayer and walking the aisle....unh-uh.  No. There has to be a genuine desire from the heart for Christ, a true belief in Him. Only then does He save.

In chapter 8, where we are digging in this morning, Paul goes on to say that Titus had another assignment for his visit to the Corinthians.  It was to teach them about the grace of giving.  Look at 8:1-9.

Now we make known to you, brothers and sisters, the grace of God given to the churches of Macedonia, that during a severe ordeal of suffering, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in the wealth of their generosity. For I testify, they gave according to their means and beyond their means. They did so voluntarily, begging us with great earnestness for the blessing and fellowship of helping the saints. And they did this not just as we had hoped, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and to us by the will of God. Thus we urged Titus that, just as he had previously begun this work, so also he should complete this act of kindness for you. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, and in all eagerness and in the love from us that is in you—make sure that you excel in this act of kindness too. I am not saying this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love by comparison with the eagerness of others.For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that although he was rich, he became poor for your sakes, so that you by his poverty could become rich. 

There's a reason Paul segues into giving here.  Giving flows from joy, and joy is the result of repentance, confession, restoration.  Have you ever thought of Christian "charity" (giving) as a grace? The Bible declares that it is!  It is a grace much disparaged and maligned.  Satan uses greed as one of his best offensive weapons in the Church.  Greed creeps in and soils the beauty of genuine Christian giving.

When I was on mission in Peru recently, I heard our pastor ask the leader of a local Peruvian ministry if he had taught his people about the grace of giving.  I was sort of shocked by that, at the time.  Of all the things I expected him to emphasize teaching, giving would have been on down that list a ways, not at the top.  Yet, his admonition followed the New Testament model Paul builds here.  Let's break it down:

  • In verse 5 we see that the grace of giving overflows from a heart devoted to the Lord and to the carrying out of His will.  
  • Paul cites as an example of this heart attitude the churches of Macedonia who, in spite of their suffering and poverty had also overflowed with generosity and acts of kindness. (vs. 1-5)
  • More than that, Paul references the ultimate Giver, Jesus Christ (vs. 9), whose grace compelled Him to leave Heaven's glory, wrap Himself in flesh and ultimately pour His physical, human life out for us so that we might receive salvation, with all its riches and benefits.
We can parse and debate and argue about how much to give to the Lord, but why?  I believe that the Old Testament model of 10% is a good start.  But, I don't think we should be restricted to that.  After all, we are no longer under law, but are under grace!  (Romans 6:14) If the Lord's Spirit prompts us to give more, we should.  We should be known as people who give generously.

Now, I know that you think this is talking about your money, and in this context of 2 Cor. 8, it is. But, God does not only want our money; it all belongs to Him anyway.  More than that, He wants our hearts.  Truly, if He has our hearts, he will have our money too.  This is why Jesus said, 
"Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."   But, wait, look at that larger passage, Luke 12:32-34 - - -

32 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.33 Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Beautiful, isn't it?  And, oh so true.  We already have in our possession, Christian, all of the spiritual possessions of God's kingdom!  Our true treasure is in Heaven, not here on earth.  All of our earthly possessions are designed to further the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ - - - nothing more, nothing less.  When we really "get" this, it transforms our lives and the lives of others.  It's pretty radical living, honestly.

Lord God, King of the Universe, Creator and Giver of all good things, teach us the grace of giving. May we be known as people who give as generously as Christ gave.  It is in His name I pray, amen.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Make Good Choices

Good morning,

I knew a mother, a contemporary of mine, who used to tell her children as she left them in the morning, "Make good choices!"  She knew that, during their day, they would be faced with many alternatives.  She was reminding them to opt for the best rather than for the easy, the comfortable, the seductive.  All that is shiny is not gold.  This memory reminds me of 2 Corinthians 7:1, today's scripture:

Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that could defile the body and the spirit, and thus accomplish holiness out of reverence for God.

Another title for today's post could have been, "Choose Holiness".  That is what Paul was asking the Corinthians to do.  You see, they were faced with a big choice.  As I've mentioned earlier in our study they were being seduced by false teachers whose teachings were contradictory to Paul's.  The Corinthians could not live holy lives, pleasing to God, by following false doctrine.  Paul was certain of this and accordingly asked them to choose well.

But, beyond that, Paul was asking them to choose well in the everyday decisions of their lives, just as my acquaintance years ago did each morning with her kids.  In so doing, Paul described the process of a holy walk with God.  Let's break it down.

First, holiness begins with remembering the promises of God (vs. 1).  What are those promises? God's promises are many, but I believe Paul was referring in 7:1 to those he had just written about in 2 Cor. 6:16-18

  • that God lives in us because our bodies are His temple
  • that we are His people and He walks among us
  • that He is and will be our Father
  • that we are His sons and daughters
  • that He welcomes us when we come to Him
  • that He is the Supreme, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords
So, before choosing, we must remember these precious oaths God makes to us.  Humans sometimes break their promises, but God's promises are more like oaths.  He never breaks His.

When I read this verse, I had to think a bit about our role versus the role of the Holy Spirit in our cleansing.  We go to Him for cleansing, and per the promise, He welcomes us.  It is not our "good works" which achieve holiness in us.  But, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have ordained that we have a role in it, and that role is to choose holiness.  Our Sovereign Father never negates our free will. He allows us to choose Jesus as Savior when our relationship begins, although He knows what we will choose, due to His omniscience, His all-knowingness.  Furthermore, He allows us to choose whether or not we walk in holy living moment to moment, day to day.  

That mother knew that her children had the freedom to choose, multiple times a day.  She wanted them to choose well, but knew that their choices were ultimately theirs alone.  God certainly wants us to choose His way, in every circumstance, and His heart is grieved when we do not.  But, He does not, even in His perfect sovereignty, take our choices away from us.

When we choose His way, He perfects His holiness within us to a greater and greater degree.  He molds us more and more into the image of His Son.  Praise Him!  Even when we choose poorly, He can and does turn those choices around to His glory and to our "good" because He loves us.  That is why the Scripture says, "All work together for good to those who love Him, to those called according to His purpose."

I used to believe that it would be easier for me to walk through this life successfully if I "made good choices."  To some extent I believe that this is a scriptural promise.  For example, if you brush your teeth regularly (and floss!), you will usually get to keep your teeth healthy until your death.  It's easier to keep your teeth, so I'm told.  So, I brush and floss regularly.  But, walking in holiness does not in every aspect make life easier, as I believed when a youth.  Often, it makes you Satan's target.

The thing is, wanting life to be "easy" is not the proper motivation for walking in holiness, walking resplendent.  The proper motivations are three-fold:
  • to show God our reverence, our worship (vs. 1)
  • the glorification of God and 
  • the furtherance of His kingdom here on earth (Matt. 6:9-10)
all of which go hand-in-hand.    

The last passage I mentioned, the one from Matthew 6, is from the Lord's Prayer.  Part of that prayer Jesus taught us to pray was that the Lord God would deliver us from evil.  As we are faced with tough choices, it is very important to stop and take a moment to go before God's throne and pray that prayer.  Depending on our own strength in times of temptation is foolish, because we have no strength in and of ourselves.  Our strength comes from the Lord, from His Holy Spirit living within us.

Father, may your Spirit, Who lives within us, flame up to consume all in our hearts that is unholy.  May we confess and repent, to rid our souls of any barnacles which may have attached themselves there. And then, as we walk today, may we walk resplendent, reflecting Your glory.  May we make good choices, choices which bring you honor and point others to Jesus Christ, the only One in whom grace, help and salvation are found.  In His name I pray, amen.

Monday, November 16, 2015


Good morning,

One of the scariest things a parent can face is to see his or her children make bad alliances.  In today's passage Paul continues his instruction to the young Corinthian church, referring to them as his children in 2 Cor. 6:13-18 (NET) :

Now as a fair exchange - I speak as to my children - open wide your hearts to us also.

He then goes on to say, by way of contrast, that they should guard their hearts, being wise as to whom they open their hearts or "hitch their wagons".

14Do not become partners with those who do not believe, for what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship does light have with darkness?  15And what agreement does Christ have with Beliar?  Or what does a believer share in common with an unbeliever?  16And what mutual agreement does the temple of God have with idols?  For we are the temple of the living God, just as God said, "I will live in them and will walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people."  17Therefore "come out from their midst, and be separate," says the Lord, "and touch no unclean thing, and I will welcome you, 18and I will be a father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters," says the All-Powerful Lord.

There is a reason I used the phrase "hitch their wagons" earlier.  In the King James Version's translation of verse 14, an agricultural term is used: "yoked" - - - "do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers".  In modern times, some readers will think of eggs (although that would be "yolked"). But, in centuries past, people were familiar with the necessity of pairing two oxen of like temperament and strength to "yoke together".  A yoke was a heavy beam, placed over the backs of two oxen, to bind them together, so that they could pull the cart or wagon in the same direction.  By "pulling together" the pair would effectively carry the wagon where the driver wanted it to go.  If one ox was wanting to pull in one direction and the other ox in another, OR if one ox was weaker than the other, moving the wagon was harder to achieve.  Deuteronony 22:10 says this:

"Thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together." (KJV)

So, what is Paul saying here?  That we should have no associations with those whose beliefs differ from ours?  That sounds a bit extreme.  How else will we win the world to Christ, unless we share the message of the gospel? Warren Wiersbe puts it like this:  "Some sincerely zealous Christians have turned separation into isolation, until their fellowship has become so narrow that they cannot even get along with themselves."1  No, Paul is saying that we should not "open wide our hearts" to those who believe radically different things about Jesus.  Doing so will, at best, compromise our testimony and, at worst, lead us into disobedience.  We should reserve our deepest friendships and alliances for those whose views are similar to our own.

I was talking to someone a few days ago whose parents were from differing religious backgrounds, one a Baptist and the other a Catholic.  Often, in such families, the children are raised in the Catholic faith, although they are not usually devoted Catholics as adults.  Why is that?  Sometimes it is because the Protestant parent "converted" to Catholicism, with their heart really not in it.  I remember being warned, as a teenager, to not date anyone outside the Protestant faith because, it's harder to fall out of love with an "unequal" person than to fall in.  Good advice.  Even for same-sex friendships, it is best to bind your heart to those of like-mind and like-spirit.

What about business alliances?  It is one thing to work for a boss who does not share your belief system, but you may have to eventually make a choice between following the orders of your boss/organization or staying true to what the Bible says.  I was reading a piece yesterday about a Swedish midwife who was told she had to participate in abortions.  She had to make a choice.  Even in business, it is wise to work for an organization whose mission is similar to the one God has given to you.

The Lord Jesus was found associating with "sinners" (Luke 7:34), but ,he was also "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners" (Hebrews 7:26).  His closest friends were his disciples.  With wisdom from the Holy Spirit, we must practice what Wiersbe calls "contact without contamination". Otherwise, we risk isolating ourselves from the very people who need Christ the most.

Father God, please protect us from making relational choices that draw us off-course.  We want to remain fixed in our devotion, steady in our following after you, relentless in the completion of our mission.  Give us discernment, wedded to the same love for our fellow man which motivated our Lord Jesus.  In His name I pray, amen.


Wiersbe, Warren W. The Wiersbe Bible Commentary. 2nd ed. Colorado Springs: David C Cook, 2007. 520-21. Print.

Friday, November 13, 2015

That Perfect Minister

Good morning,

I had a pastor once who exhorted us, "Every member a minister", meaning that all of us should be exercising his or her spiritual gifts in some ministry or other.  He was exactly right.  It is in this context that I use the term today.  Our text this morning is 2 Cor. 6:3-10 ---

 We do not give anyone an occasion for taking an offense in anything, so that no fault may be found with our ministry. But as God’s servants, we have commended ourselves in every way, with great endurance, in persecutions, in difficulties, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in riots, in troubles, in sleepless nights, in hunger, by purity, by knowledge, by patience, by benevolence, by the Holy Spirit, by genuine love, by truthful teaching, by the power of God, with weapons of righteousness both for the right hand and for the left, through glory and dishonor, through slander and praise; regarded as impostors, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well-known; as dying and yet—see!—we continue to live; as those who are scourged and yet not executed; 10 as sorrowful, but always rejoicing, as poor, but making many rich, as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

If you are involved in ministry, the truth of these verses resonates in your heart, because you have lived it.  Of all people, ministers are held to a higher standard.  Often, they are expected to be "perfect", which is unreasonable.  Jesus demonstrated, as history's only perfect man, that even in the face of perfection, there is opposition.  Furthermore, in the days leading up to His crucifixion He promised the disciples that their ministries would be opposed by people who are controlled by the enemy (John 15, 16, 17).  Paul tells Timothy in 2 Tim. 3:12 that all of us who desire to live godly lives in Christ Jesus WILL be persecuted.

Still, those associated with a specific ministry, especially one that is faithful to the Word and that God is blessing, seem to be the target of the worst attacks by Satan.  Paul lists some of them in this passage.  He points out that ministers will sometimes experience glory, praise, but will also (even more often) experience dishonor, slander, accusations of being an "impastor" :) (imposter), distresses, harassments, and sometimes even imprisonment, beatings and death.

Some are so discouraged by these attacks they give up, laying down their ministries and walking away.  When this happens, Satan has won a skirmish.  Yesterday morning, in the wee hours, I came upon an article which I shared to my Facebook page.  It was titled, "The Reality of Spiritual Warfare in the Home".  If you are a mom, please go read it.  I'll put the link under Sources: below.  Your primary ministry is now the raising of godly children.  Don't pooh-pooh or disdain your very important ministry, or let anyone discourage you about where God has called you at this time.  It is not up to us to interfere with the callings God puts on other people's lives.  As for me, I have enough troubles with the calling He has put on mine!

In that regard, take care how you view and assess ministers, whether "men of the cloth" or laypeople. I learned this lesson from my father many years ago.  He was far from being a perfect man, but he was a very loving man, one of the two most loving men I've ever known.  (The other is my husband.) My dad would never participate in a campaign to get rid of the man God called to our little church, and he warned us against such behavior. God states that He hates pride, and I imagine He especially hates the kind of spiritual pride which tears down ministers and ministries.  If God gives you a word of knowledge to share with a minister, then share it with him or her . . . in private (Matt. 18:15-17).  Don't go murmuring behind someone's back.  This is unscriptural, because it creates dissension in the Body of Christ.  This kind of behavior makes you Satan's "tool".  Don't be deceived!  It is not up to us to revoke the calling God has placed on a person's life.  That is God's job.

God calls us to "be tenderhearted and forgiving of one another, just as God, for Christ's sake, has forgiven us." (Ephesians 4:32)

Most ministers are very careful to live by verse 2 of this passage.  They avoid the very appearance of evil (1 Thess. 5:22).  I have seen this in action and silently commended them for their wisdom.  They realize that they live at the very nexus of Satan's most potent attacks.  

Let's pray for our ministers, anyone leading a ministry.  (I consider this "almost-daily blog" a ministry.  Please pray for me!)  In particular, could I ask you to pray for the youth discipleship weekend we are having through our local church, beginning this evening.  Let me ask that you specifically pray for these:  Brandon (youth minister), Sydney (youth ministry assistant), Taylor (worship leader), the praise band, Ed (the visiting minister who will be speaking), host homes, small group leaders (mostly college aged students), those who are transporting the youth, those who are preparing or who have prepared food for the youth.  Thank you for joining me in prayer for them.

Heavenly Father, I pray this morning for every person leading a ministry or serving in ministry.  Please fill them with Your Holy Spirit and give them patient endurance.  Thank you for the truth of Scripture that you give to them.  May they proclaim it boldly, yet with love.  May their lives be characterized by humility and love for their fellow believers and for the lost.  Fill their spirits with Your power, O Father God, and strap onto their hands Your mighty weapons of righteousness.  Teach them to do spiritual warfare in the matchless, mighty name of Jesus, Lord God!  Please protect them and their families, Lord God!  Strengthen their families and keep them from Satan's plans to harm them.  Father, I lift up to you this morning our D-Now weekend, and pray for all those involved.  Let Your Holy Spirit go forth in power to irrevocably change lives.  Please have Your hand on every minute detail of this weekend, Lord.  Bring forth a mighty harvest of souls and may those who already know You have their love for You deepened.  I ask this for the furtherance of Your kingdom and for Your glory alone, in Jesus' name.  Amen.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Accidental, Miraculous Ornament

Good morning,

Today is going to be another one of those crazy days; I woke up and said, "I really don't have time for morning devotions."  But, I looked at the next set of verses as we continue through 2 Corinthians together; and, when I read the first two knew I had to blog today, no matter what.  Here is our focus verse for this morning, 2 Corinthians 6:2 - - 

For he says, “I heard you at the acceptable timeand in the day of salvation I helped you.” Look, now is the acceptable time; look, now is the day of salvation!

I don't know why Paul shoved this verse, almost parenthetically, into this passage.  It does not seem to fit, at first glance.  Paul is quoting the first part of a verse from Isaiah (49:8) - -

This is what the LORD says: "At the time I decide to show my favor, I will respond to you; in the day of deliverance I will help you;

I don't believe there is a human being who has ever lived who has not cried out to God for help, at some point in his or her life.  It is the prayer most often prayed.  It is prayed by saints; it is prayed by sinners, by devout believers and by infidels who claim there is no God.  Sometimes it comes wrenching out of us in the midst of the direst circumstances, when faced with the imminence of our deaths, for example.

We were talking about this with some friends the other day, how God answers prayers.  He always answers, but sometimes the answer He gives is not the answer we wanted.  God answers our prayers for His own glory and to further His plans on the earth.  This is why He sometimes seems indiscriminate.  There are times He grants the requests of unbelievers, as much as He does believers. After all, if He did not hear and answer prayers of unbelievers, how would any of us have become believers?  :)

When we pray, "Rescue me, save me!", we are often asking for deliverance from our present circumstances.  Yesterday, after lunch, I sat down to make 25 ornaments for an ornament exchange. A group of ladies from my church banded together to do this so that we could do Ann Voskamp's Jesse Tree devotional series with our families during the upcoming Advent season.  The ornament I signed up to make was City of Bethlehem.  I thought, "I'll just order something from Oriental Trading!", since I was cut out to be creative but got sewn up wrong.  (Think about that one for a minute; you'll get it, lol!)  So, that is what I did.  Unfortunately, when I unpacked my little kits, I realized that the ornaments were 7.5 inches in diameter.  Unacceptable.  With the exchange looming (in about 4 hours), and with dinner yet to cook, I was in a pickle.  I sent up a prayer for HELP!

Off to Michaels I went.  The good ladies there gave me some suggestions.  I poked around and found some good deals on materials.  Even though I was WAY out of my comfort zone, I headed home with a cheerful heart.  All I had to do was to stamp the Bethlehem stamp onto the inkpad, stamp the blank ornament and let it dry.  Everything was going great until I realized that the ink was not drying on the semi-glossy surface of the ornaments (which I had thought were like chalkboard, but were not). What to do, what to do....It was 4:00 by this point.  Help, Lord!  Miraculously (again), I found in a cupboard this can of spray fixative which I'd never seen before ... but how long would it take to dry? Google said 30 minutes. Whew!  So, I sprayed all the little darlings and laid them in a large, flat box in the back of my car, to dry.  I had also planned to stamp the reverse side, but the drying dilemma nixed that.  I did think, though, that if I could by some miracle locate the gold Sharpie that was somewhere in my Christmas decorations I could write the Jesse Tree scripture assigned to "City of Bethlehem" on the back of the ornament without much fuss.   Another prayer for help!  God immediately told me where to find it.  It was exactly where He said.

Now, look, there have been other times that I've gotten myself into messes, usually through my own poor decisions, where the Lord has let me crash and burn, ok?  This type of rescue described above does not always happen in response to my frantic prayers.  Simply put, God decided to show me His favor, and I am thankful, very thankful.  I was thinking that, during the month of December, I'll use a picture of each of the Jesse Tree ornaments in my blog post, so that you can see how beautifully creative my FBC Cantons sisters are.  Maybe some of you ladies would like to do this with "24 of your closest friends"!  Here's the link:

There is one prayer for help that God always hears and answers.  When a person realizes his or her own hopeless sinfulness, that without Him there is no hope for eternal salvation, and when Jesus is asked to save that person's soul, the answer is always a resounding, "yes".  This is what Paul is talking about in 2 Cor. 6:2.  Paul expounds upon this verse, however.  He emphasizes that this critical decision, to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, must not be delayed.  "Today (now) is the day of salvation".  No one is promised tomorrow, you see.  Although Paul was writing his letter to believers, he wanted to be sure that any "sleeper cell unbelievers" in the congregation heard the importance of making a heart decision for Jesus Christ right then.

There's nothing accidental about that heart decision.  It is beautifully intentional, on the part of every person who hears the Gospel message and chooses Christ.  It's not accidental; but, it IS miraculous!

Father, thank you for rescuing me, for allowing me to hear the truth about Jesus and giving me the grace to pray that prayer of salvation many years ago.  I'm eternally grateful.  I'm also thankful you sometimes miraculously haul me out of the ditches into which I often get myself.  I praise Your holy name for Your pity, mercy and grace.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Hello "New"!

Good morning!

Part of the human experience is "dirtying things up".  Houses don't stay clean.  Babies don't stay "changed".  Our cars tend to become "rolling trash heaps", especially in busy families.  It's just a constant battle to keep things clean!

Perhaps that is part of the allure of "new".  New things are clean and fresh and usually beautiful. They smell so good.  They look so good!  We love them.

But, more than the sensory gifts of "new", newness represents a fresh start.  Don't we often want this? Like the little child who erases her pencil scribbling on her classwork to the point she tears a hole in the paper, we long for a new, clean sheet...a second chance.  We long for redemption.

Today's focal point in the Scriptures is 2 Corinthians 5:17, a beautiful jewel in yesterday's passage:

So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away--look, what is new has come!

This verse bring hope to the weary, the beaten down, the despairing.  It hands a crisp, new sheet of paper to the frantic soul, searching to be made clean.  When we accept Jesus as our Savior, a spiritual transaction takes place between us and Him.  It is as if He hands us a fresh start.  At that moment of our salvation, He places His Holy Spirit within us, forever, takes away all of our sins, forever, and (metaphorically speaking) puts His indelible stamp of ownership on our foreheads.  This transaction brings a transformation: at that moment, we become a new creation of His!

Now, this may seem confusing because this verse does not mean that we will not ever again battle the filth of the human condition.  "Becoming new" does not take away our humanity.  Unfortunately, our in-born, sinful nature co-exists alongside our new, re-born spirit.  So, while He forgives all our sins -- past, present and future, we will continue after our salvation moment to lapse into sin.  We will get somewhat dirty, and will have to regularly come to Him for confession, forgiveness, a spiritual bath, if you will.  Still, the victory overall is ours, because we belong to Him, who has triumphed over sin and death.

Although we will still continue to struggle against sin, Christ "remembers our sins against us no more" (Hebrews 8:12).  Isn't that a precious thought?  So often, we find it hard to accept His forgiveness, his offer of cleansing and newness, because others will not forgive us, or because we won't forgive ourselves.  This is one of Satan's traps.  God has promised that He removes our sins "as far as the east is from the west" (Psalm 103:12).  While this does not usually mean that we escape the earthly consequences of our past sins, we do in Jesus Christ escape the eternal death that is payment for them.  In our omniscient God's mind, they are eternally "forgotten".

Part of knowing Christ is that we look at things in a new way.  For one thing, in our salvation experience and then resplendent walk, our view of Jesus Christ changes.  Before coming to know Him, our view of Him was tainted by Satan's lies and the world's false portrayals.  Once He lives inside of our hearts, we come to know Him, spirit to Spirit, ours communing with His.  The unbelieving world stops at examining Jesus's earthly life; but we, His own, plumb the depths of His Spirit's riches.  The world is mesmerized by a baby in the manger.  We worship a risen and glorified King on His heavenly throne.

Therefore (as Paul would say), because of this, "and so", when we receive that new sheet of clean paper, that fresh start, what we write on it is different.  We not only view Christ differently, we view others differently also.  We enthusiastically embrace our spiritual gifts .... gifts He gave us to use in the ministry of reconciliation, blogged about yesterday.  We see people not as family, friends, or acquaintances, but rather as people for whom Jesus gave His all, so that they, too, can become a new creation, so that they, too, can receive forgiveness for sins and eternal life in Heaven.

The salvation experience is a glimpse of Heaven, actually.  As humans, we love newness because it gives us a taste of the eternal newness, completion and perfection we will experience that moment we leave this earthly body and come face-to-face with Him.  The image of God in every human, Believer or not, longs for that, because it is how He created us from the very beginning.  He created us to long for the peace which is only found in Him.

Do you know Him?  I don't mean "know OF Him".  But, have you encountered His offer of salvation and accepted Him into your heart?  If not, reach out to Him in prayer, asking Him to rescue you from sin and it's inevitable consequences (eternal death).  Only He is able to hand you that beautiful new start.  Reach out and take it today!

Father, I know that this post was meant for someone today who feels like there is no hope, that there is no escape from his or her past decisions.  But, Lord God, You are the God of the impossible!  It is only You who can "make all things new".  I thank you, Lord Jesus, that you took the payment for all my sins and gave me that "fresh start" so many years ago.  It is a "foretaste of glory divine" to know You and to walk with You, every day of my life.  In Jesus' name, amen.