. . . In With the New!

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 

2 Corinthians 5:17

With faithful certainty, January rolls around each year offering the promise of a new start.  If you’re like me, you’ve probably had your share of New Year’s Resolutions.  Looking forward to a new beginning, we make promises to ourselves that we’re fiercely determined to keep.  And we actually believe we have the power to make each year different by the exertion of sheer will. 

Sadly, instead of glowing triumphs, we soon slip into the comfort of those old, familiar patterns and realize with disappointment that the life we’re living this year bears a remarkable resemblance to the one we thought we were leaving behind.   What if this year became the year that everything really did change?  Imagine the joy of living out the promise of 2 Corinthians 5:17 and discovering you have indeed become a new creation, “The old has gone, the new has come!”

For once, what is being held out to you is an attainable goal.  In fact, if you have approached the throne of grace and received Jesus as your Lord and Savior, it’s a guarantee.  That’s the very reason He came to the earth and bore our sins on a cross.   He died so that all who turn toward Him in repentance could leave behind who they’ve been and become a new and holy creation through the power of His Spirit. 

It sounds good on paper, but you may have discovered it’s a much more difficult thing to live out.  I can relate.  I spent 20 years under the banner of Christianity striving to be what God desired me to be.  I knew I was supposed to take on the righteousness of Christ, but I didn’t know how to make it happen so I did my best to change myself.  If you’ve tried it, I’m certain you also discovered our carnal nature will not allow us the victory for very long.  

Perhaps Jesus’ words in John 5:39-40 will lend some insight into the cause of our defeat:  “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life.  These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”  I hadn’t realized it, but through all those years of attending church and praising Jesus with my mouth, I had never really given Him my heart. 

I thought I had.  I had convinced myself that saying all the right things and going through the right motions meant that I loved the Lord.  I had substituted knowing a lot about Him for truly knowing and loving Him, and then I wondered why I wasn’t experiencing any of the wonderful promises found in the Word.  I was guilty of Matthew 15:8, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

Many of us have unwittingly slipped our feet into the sandals of the Pharisees, searching the Word merely to discover what we must do to please God and find ourselves in His favor.  Yet in our quest to please Him, we have missed the only thing that will.  He makes one priority petition of us in Matthew 22:37, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”   What if, instead of offering up our lists of things we will improve upon as this new year unfolds, we set our hearts and wills on one simple resolution?  What if we resolve to fall in love with Jesus, the Savior of our souls?

You may be wondering what difference it would make.  It makes all the difference!  John 14:21 tells us, “…He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”   As we set our hearts on loving Jesus, He promises to demonstrate His love and show Himself to us in return.  It’s in the place of intimacy, where we truly know and love Him, that we give Him opportunity to show us who He truly is.  Absent of loving Him, we’ll miss seeing Him!

The apostle Paul said of his dramatic conversion into a new creation, “The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 1:14).   Jesus wasn’t only willing to pour His grace, faith and love out on the apostle Paul.  His heart’s desire is to pour them into you.  If your Christian walk is simply about duty instead of authentic devotion, it’s as if you’ve turned your back to Him and not your face (Jeremiah 32:33).   Picture with me that as our giving and gracious God pours His abundance over you, instead of absorbing His blessings, they’re simply rolling right off your back.  But if you have turned your face toward Him with a heart set on loving Him, you will begin to see Him as He truly is.  As He pours out His grace, faith and love, you are now in a posture to drink them in.   “Taste and see that the Lord is good!”  (Psalm 34:8)

Do not settle for allowing Jesus to remain a distant God who deserves worship but is not KNOWN.  We come to the cross of Christ for its resurrection power; the lie we have believed of the enemy is that resurrection power is only meant for our eternity.  Beloved, that power is meant for today, and it’s within you.  You need only believe and push past the outer courts of the sanctuary.  Press your way into the Holy of Holies, come into the presence of the King of Kings, and fall in love.  He’ll knock your socks off!  Don’t take my word for it, take His…

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”  1 Corinthians 2:9

We will never live in His promises without learning to live in His love.  Make it the cry of your heart to love Him completely, with everything that you have.  He will be faithful to “circumcise your heart to love Him” (Deut 30:6).  And as He releases the enemy’s grip on your heart, you will find that it begins to beat in tandem with the heart of Christ as the life-giving blood of His sacrifice courses through its chambers.  You will become new, and there, with the loving gaze of the Father resting on you and the strength of Christ lifting you, you will soar!

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Prince of Peace

Happy 2012! Christmas morning has come and gone, and now we rise to the dawn of a new beginning. Hope fills our hearts as we look to the potential of the year ahead, yet the uncertainty of its future reigns in our expectation to cautious optimism. We can’t allow ourselves to expect too much. Experience has left us a little gun-shy.

Dear one, when Jesus is the source of our hope, we can always expect greatness. “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (Romans 5:5, NIV 1984) Let us look to the Lord of Glory with unguarded expectation and allow Him to surpass our wildest dreams! (1 Corinthians 2:9)

We have reached the final week of our Christmas series exploring the four Names of God associated with Jesus’ coming from His prophetic birth announcement in Isaiah 9:6. Let’s review the entire verse and view it in context with verse 7.

“For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing it and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” Isaiah 9:6-7

Notice that the first thing we are told about this child to be born is that government will be on his shoulders. Our ability to experience Jesus by every one of these names will be directly linked to our choice to allow Him to rule.

Jesus came to lead His people to glory. We become His as we acknowledge His deity and His sacrifice, repent of our sin, and make a decision to follow Jesus to a new life. The moment that we put our faith in Jesus, surrendering our lives to His leadership, we are sealed as His own by the Holy Spirit—our Wonderful Counselor, the power of Mighty God comes to rest within us, and we become eternal sons (and daughters) of glory, belonging forever to the Everlasting Father.  And . . .

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” Romans 5:1-2

Jesus becomes our Prince of Peace as our broken relationship with Holy God is restored, our sins are forgiven, and we enter the realm of divine fellowship with our Creator. And still, He offers more! As we allow the Prince of Peace to rule and reign within our hearts, trusting Him through our obedience, some wonderful fruit begin to emerge in our lives.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

Trusting Jesus to lead allows God to FILL us with joy, peace, and hope! Beloved, your heart is not meant to remain empty. Allow God, through the gift of His Son, to flood it with joy . . . to set it at rest with His peace . . . to heal the ache of disappointment with renewed hope and glorious life(Proverbs 13:12)!

Proverbs 14:30 teaches that, “A heart at peace gives life to the body.” The absence of peace robs us of our ability to find joy in what we have. We will not be content, even when love abounds, prosperity comes, and life is kind. The sin nature within us will always crave more and will send us in pursuit of it, even if it costs us the blessings we already have.

In Christ, our souls have the ability to finally find rest and end our destructive cycles. Jesus said in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Jesus has given us His peace. So, how do we claim it? Isaiah 9:7 holds the key. The increase of His peace accompanies the increase of His government. The more we yield to the authority and leadership of the Holy Spirit, the more peace will abound. And as peace abounds, so will the life that springs from it (Proverbs 14:30). As we trust Jesus through our obedience, allowing Him to take His rightful place on the throne of our lives, joy, peace, and hope will follow in our wake.

“Peace on earth” must begin within the hearts of individuals. The kingdom of heaven is coming; in fact, it’s already here. It’s within all who have confessed Jesus as Lord. Remember,

“Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing it and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” Isaiah 9:7

Until He returns to claim His kingdom, we are His ambassadors of peace. May we humbly surrender our wills to His authority, that His glory may be revealed!

Submit to God and be at peace with him; in this way prosperity will come to you.” Job 22:21

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Everlasting Father

“ . . . And He will be called . . . Everlasting Father . . .” Isaiah 9:6

We have spent the last couple of weeks peeling away the outer wrappings of some of the gifts God gave us in Jesus. I pray that as you discover the value of the contents, your heart will be drawn to dig even deeper! We are barely scratching the surface, but as you pursue an intimate relationship with the Son of God, His gift of the Wonderful Counselor “will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I [Jesus] have said to you” (John 14:26).

One of the Holy Spirit’s jobs as our Counselor is to teach and reveal the deep things of God to each of us. Remember,

“We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.” 1 Corinthians 2:12

He desires you to KNOW, dear one. Our ignorance only keeps us from receiving His blessing.

Today we peer at the third name of God associated with Jesus’ birth in Isaiah 9:6. Christ opened the way for us to know and experience God as Everlasting Father. Recall the familiar words of John 14:6:

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Jesus is our only way to know God as Father. To belong to the Father, we must know and belong to the Son. John 14:7 adds these words, “If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well.”

God desires for you to know Him intimately as Father. Perhaps that thought doesn’t offer you much comfort. The stamp of sin on this broken world leaves many painful relationships in its wake. But regardless of the images the word father may bring to mind, allow yourself to contemplate the ideal dad.

Strong . . . Protector . . . Compassionate . . . Loving . . . Merciful . . .

Beloved, God is the Father you’ve always longed for.

“The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17

Scripture paints a picture of God as the Father who will never leave, no matter how bad things get. And unlike our earthly fathers, Mighty God is always strong enough to save us from the messes we’ve made. Nothing, however, thrills my heart like the words of that last sentence, “He will take great delight in you.” Don’t we all, if we’re going to be honest, long to be the object of someone’s delight? To know that we, above all else, are their source of pleasure and joy? Dear one, Scripture teaches that God takes great delight in you.

Whether or not we can draw the image from our own childhood experience, we can all conjure up a picture of a devoted parent cradling a beloved child, quieting restless cries with loving murmurs and whispered songs. Images of a mother seem to flow more freely, yet the sight of a father assuming that role brings a special tenderness to the heart. We are moved as strength chooses to display itself through gentleness. Dear one, that’s exactly how your heavenly Father embraces you.

Has it ever occurred to you that as God holds you in His capable hands, He rejoices over YOU with singing? Longing to quiet you with His love, He has gently lifted you into His lap to still your restless heart and sing songs of joy over your life. Yet many of us squirm and pull away from Him like a rebellious toddler, refusing to allow Him the joy of simply being with us. We have stuff to do, after all. Who has time to merely sit and be held?

Yet the result of yielding to His gentle embrace is the imparting of His strength in our need. Many of us miss the blessing of God’s commandment to us in Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.” We get so busy trying to make things happen in our own lives, we forget that He often asks for us to be still, believe, and let Him work on our behalf. Our willful rebellion keeps us from becoming recipients of His blessing.

God’s intention when He sent us Jesus was that He would be the “firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29). If you have put your faith in Jesus, committing your life to follow Him, you also are a child of God. As one of His children, an inheritance awaits you.

“. . . we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.

Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” Galatians 4:3-7

In Christ, you are an heir to the kingdom of heaven. Take up your inheritance, dear one.

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Mighty God

“ . . . And he will be called . . . Mighty God  . . . “ Isaiah 9:6

The birthday of our Lord is quickly approaching! I pray this Christmas will open for you a new revelation of who Jesus really is. He is so much more than I ever thought He was. I hope you will also discover that Jesus is full of delightful surprises. He won’t just meet your expectations. He exceeds them!

Last week, we saw that Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection paved the way for the Wonderful Counselor to come, the third person of the Divine Trinity. Adam’s choice to step outside of God’s will withdrew the Spirit’s presence from mankind and left us disconnected from God, but Christ’s atoning sacrifice for our sin released Him to dwell in man once more. The fellowship of the Garden has been restored! God now resides within all who believe in Jesus by His Spirit, sealing us as His own, and guiding us along the path of His will. Our obedience keeps us from quenching the Spirit and allows Him to do His job!

God’s perfect counsel in our lives isn’t the only gift Jesus gave us. The outpouring of God’s Spirit on mankind also opened up another new way we can know and experience God. Acts 1:8 teaches,

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Dear one, the manifestation of God’s power accompanies the advent of the Holy Spirit! The might of God comes to rest within us, enabling us to become something entirely new. The ordinary becomes extraordinary as the natural meets the divine. The impossible becomes possible, and we become living, breathing witnesses of His grandeur “to the ends of the earth.”

We often gaze back at the wonders of the Old Testament with envy. How awesome it would be to see the waters of the Red Sea pile up revealing dry ground! To witness water bursting forth from a rock to quench our thirst! To experience God’s daily provision as bread literally fell from the sky . . . even to walk the desert for forty years in shoes that did not wear out.

Pretty amazing, I admit. But our longing for the days of old often ignores the great reality that accompanied the Israelites through those miracles: they were miserable. Even with the glory of God revealed before their very eyes, they doubted Him. They turned away from Him and rebelled. They grumbled against God, saying, “If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt!” (Exodus 16:3)

They saw visible evidence of His presence, and yet they still rebelled. How could they have been so callous toward God? They had a heart condition, one that Christ came to heal and restore.

God still desires to do wondrous works in the lives of His people. However, with the coming of Jesus, the focus of His power has been redirected. He has set His gaze on restoring the deceitful, human heart.

Beloved, the miracles of today are no longer limited to the external works of old—the parting of seas, or even the calming of storms witnessed in Jesus’ day. A far greater miracle awaits those who will yield to the work of the Holy Spirit. Through Jesus, God now raises the dead!

Ephesians 1:19-20 describes “his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.”

Beloved, if you have put your faith in Jesus Christ, the same power that raised Christ from the dead now resides in you. And it’s available to you. In fact, God is just waiting for you to choose to use it so He can show Himself mighty on your behalf. He seeks to work within your very being, fixing what’s been broken and recreating you into someone completely new—the “you” He created you to be.

Most of us simply refuse to admit that we’re broken and in need of healing. Our pride convinces us that we carry no chains from our past and we have no need to seek God for His healing power. Would you open your heart to the possibility that you have been deceived? Would you consider that a miraculous work bearing your name awaits you from the hand of God? A wondrous gift that will release you from chains you can’t yet recognize you carry?

Trust Him with your heart, dear one. Offer it to Him and give Him permission to do His mighty work. You will be amazed at what He shows you.

And as the heavy chains you’ve carried fall broken to the ground, you will discover a new and wondrous joy . . . a joy you did not know you could feel. And your heart will leap in celebration as a new understanding of freedom in Christ is revealed. You will likely fall to your knees and beg His forgiveness because you waited so long.

Beloved, allow God to show Himself mighty in you!

"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." Ephesians 3:20-21

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Wonderful Counselor

“. . . And He will be called Wonderful Counselor . . . “ Isaiah 9:6

Have you ever wished you could have your own, personal adviser? Someone who had all the answers, could help you avoid pitfalls, and would lead you on the path to prosperity? Allow me to introduce you to one of the amazing gifts God gave us through His Son. Meet the Wonderful Counselor.

As my pastor so eloquently reminded us last Sunday, God’s gift to us in the manger cannot be separated from His purpose accomplished through the cross. Even the angels’ announcement proclaiming Jesus’ birth to the shepherds foretold His fate. “Do not be afraid, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).

Jesus came to the earth to save. He was born to die, a perfect sacrifice that would overcome the power of sin and death and unite us again in sweet fellowship with the God who made us. Not only would His death and resurrection provide for the forgiveness of our sin, but His return to the Father would usher in the release of the Wonderful Counselor.

As Jesus was nearing the end of His earthly ministry, He tried to prepare His disciples for His departure. As you may imagine, they didn’t take it well. I mean, would you? Jesus, the Son of God had lived among them. They repeatedly witnessed the miraculous as God’s power revealed itself throughout His ministry, proving Him to be the long-awaited Christ . . . chains were broken, sick were healed, water turned to wine, and loaves multiplied. It doesn’t get any better than that! Jesus could not possibly leave them now.

 But in John 16:7, Jesus spoke these words:

“But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”

Jesus taught that what the Counselor would open up for us surpassed what Jesus could do for us if He remained. We often think how much easier the Disciples had it. They could see Jesus face to face! They could touch Him and hear His voice as He spoke. While we struggle so much with our faith, they had the assurance of His presence among them to wipe away their doubt. Yet Jesus claims that we have the greater gift!

What does the Counselor offer that the person of Jesus could not? Jesus explained further in John 14:16-18.

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”

No, we don’t have the physical person of Jesus walking beside us. What we have is the presence and power of Jesus dwelling within us! We’re no longer limited by the physical boundaries of our location. He is wherever we are because He dwells inside us. And Scripture assures us that we will have Him forever. Once He’s made His home in us, He will never leave.

Jesus didn’t leave us as orphans, dear one. He abides in us as the Counselor, the Spirit of truth. Listen to what He desires to do in your life.

“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.” John 16:13-14

Jesus promised that the Counselor will guide us into all truth. Do you understand what that means? The Counselor will not only give us understanding of God’s Word, but He’s also available to warn us away from deception! His job is to steer us along the path of God’s will, thwarting the enemy’s plans to harm us and leading us safely through to God’s blessing. He speaks what He hears from Christ and makes it known to us. And verse 13 assures us that He will even tell us what is yet to come!

Beloved, are you listening? Are you following Him on your path to blessing?

Through the birth and death of Jesus, a priceless gift arrived, the Wonderful Counselor sent to dwell within the hearts of all who would believe. Is He guiding you? Surrender your life to His leadership and join the early disciples in witnessing the miraculous. What He has for you is beyond anything you could imagine (1 Corinthians 2:9)!

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Chosen to Belong

Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the LORD has chosen you to be his treasured possession. Deuteronomy 14:2

As a teen, I remember frequently walking the halls of high school with my eyes glued to the floor. I guess I felt that if I didn’t make eye contact I could slip into obscurity. If I didn’t see them, they couldn’t see me. Irrational, I know, but you do what you can to protect yourself.

Most of the time, I felt very much alone. I became quite good at hiding my pain, but emptiness followed me. Plagued by the notion that I was somehow not “good enough,” I did the only thing I knew to do:  I strove to be.

But my actions rarely brought about the results I had planned. The people in my life didn’t cooperate with the expectations in my mind, and my heart translated each disappointment and hurt as rejection. Each new wound reinforced these two inner truths that I came to know and recognize with resounding clarity:

  • I must not be worthy of love.
  • I must do my best to earn it.

In an attempt to earn the love and acceptance of those around me, I pursued perfection. I wouldn’t do anything unless I could do it well, and that often left me sitting on the sidelines. Security continued to elude me, and I rarely felt safe in relationships. I often felt as though I would never belong anywhere.

Have you ever struggled over your own sense of belonging? I imagine you have. A common thread appears to weave itself through many tattered lives: the aching wound left by the sting of love withheld.

What’s your story? Perhaps a parent or spouse that doesn’t know how to show love, peers that only offer their friendship when it suits them, or the lingering pain of offering your heart to someone who took it and ran. Regardless of the manner, we’ve all faced the sting of rejection.

Praise God for Romans 1:6, “And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.”

We have been called to belong to the King of Kings!  Jesus desires you. He chooses you. And He will never forsake you. We don’t have to convince Him to love us; He already does.

I discovered later that during those years of loneliness when I was convinced that nobody wanted me, Jesus had been pursuing me. He wanted me. He loved me . . . enough to die for me . . . and for you.

Zephaniah 3:17 offers this wonderful promise, “The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”

I am so grateful for the day my striving for acceptance came to an end and Jesus quieted me with his love. Nothing particularly significant marked the day. It was simply the day I turned toward Jesus in answer to His call. He asked me to love Him, and I responded with the life-altering realization that I wanted to trust Him with my heart.

From the moment I opened my heart to Him, He began to fill the void cut deep in my core by all those years of rejection. As I sought His Word to discover who He really was, I found a Savior who chose me, loved me, took great delight in me, and accepted me just as I was. I didn’t need to become something I wasn’t to earn His love. He just loved me, in spite of me.

A miraculous thing took place in my life as the striving ceased. The acceptance and love I had sought after for so long was suddenly offered to me without my seeking it! I found myself surrounded by a circle of friends who loved and accepted me, flaws and all.

It wasn’t until later that I even realized what had happened. Jesus’ love had healed the crippled and broken pieces of my heart, making me finally able to receive love. And then, the Giver of all good gifts lavishly gave.

Jesus delights in you. He asks you to delight in Him, and His petition comes with a promise.

Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4

He chooses you to be His. Accept His invitation to belong and discover a love beyond measure. Jesus, dear one, is worth the risk.

 

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The Sacrifice of Praise

"Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name." Psalm 100:4

Many of us will join with family or friends tomorrow to celebrate a day of Thanksgiving. We will gather around beautifully set tables filled with tantalizing dishes that entice our stomachs and enthrall our senses, their aromas warming our hearts with the familiar comfort tradition brings. Many will pause before they feast to offer a word of thanks, choosing this day to recognize publicly something they have to be grateful for.

Some sitting around those tables will be wearing forced smiles, trying to mask the sorrow in their hearts. As they listen to words of gratitude escaping the lips of those around them, they know they should rejoice with them, but envy swallows any feelings of joy over their gladness. Instead of rejoicing, bitterness gnaws at the heart, and the temptation presents itself to rail at a God who appears to pick others as favorites.

Sometimes, our human nature feeds us the lie that we have nothing to be grateful for. Circumstances overwhelm us, pain engulfs us, and we begin to drown in a sea of sorrow as disappointments and heartache crash over us in unrelenting, crushing waves. The weight seems too much, and the thought of fighting our way to the surface seems impossible. So, why even try? Why, indeed.

God offers this promise in Isaiah 51:3.

“The LORD will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the LORD. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing.”

Do you know that we serve a God whose specialty is the rebuilding of ruins? Who turns wastelands into fruitful gardens? Who replaces emptiness with joy and gladness with such radical transformation that the recipient’s heart cannot help but respond and overflow with thanksgiving and praise?

Perhaps we have misunderstood the promise of blessing given to us in Christ. Sometimes we interpret abundance in Christ to mean that we should suffer no pain, but that’s not what His Word teaches. Jesus Himself said in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Jesus does not promise us a trouble free life. Unfortunately, until Christ returns to establish His eternal kingdom, we will all have to deal with pain. What He does offer is the means to overcome our troubles when we cry out to Him in the midst of them.

God delights when we bring our petitions before Him, and we should boldly approach His throne of grace to seek His aid. But one, singular response in us begins our transition from the wasteland to the garden: the sacrifice of praise.

Psalm 8:2 teaches, “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.”

Praise silences our enemy and begins to move us along the path to joy and restoration. Why? Because when praises to God escape our lips in our time of greatest need, those words we utter reflect a deeper seed taking root in the depths of our heart. They constitute a release of faith.

Praising God in the midst of our pain says, “I don’t understand, but I trust you.” It speaks to both God and our enemy that we are certain of things we can’t currently see. It says, “I know that God is here, I know that He loves, and I know that He does not fail.” Offering our praises to God lifts the shield of faith, and according to Ephesians 6:16, extinguishes all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” Our enemy can’t hurt us with his lies if we refuse to believe them.

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name” (Hebrews 13:15). Let’s make every day a day of thanksgiving, asking God to shift our focus away from our troubles and praise Him for the many blessings we really do have to be thankful for. Sometimes praise does feel like a sacrifice, but when we offer it anyway, we open the door to grace.

Praise Him, dear one, and experience the miraculous as bit by bit the Spirit of Christ causes your heart to follow your lips. And,Joy and gladness will be found in [you], thanksgiving and the sound of singing” (Isaiah 51:3). Oh, glorious day!

 

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Tuning to the Voice of Truth

“Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.” Isaiah 55:3

Self-doubt and insecurity have plagued me for as long as I can remember. From the time I was a small child vying for attention within the bounds of my own family, I would hear in my head the whisper that I was not good enough. It was not a message that came from the lips of those surrounding me; it came from within.

Frequent feelings of rejection delivered an internal message that I was not valued, and I began to withdraw. I pasted a smile on my face to give the appearance that I was fine, but I kept my distance from people, building a protective wall around my heart. Very few were invited beyond its boundaries.

I can still remember the logic driving my thoughts, “If you just keep to yourself, they won’t hurt you. Don’t do anything that invites criticism, and you’ll be fine.” Makes sense, right? The only problem was, the action meant to protect me brought about the very criticism I sought to avoid! Quietly keeping to myself earned me the label of a self-absorbed snob. The very thing my inner logic said would help me only made matters worse.

We all have an inner voice. It’s the one that convinces us to take action, the one we trust to guide our steps and pulls us like a magnet into each bad choice. Unfortunately, that inner voice we loyally follow consistently leads us down the wrong path.

You know the voice. It’s the one that says. . .

  • “What harm could it do to look this once?” . . .But then you can’t stop looking.
  • “You don’t need anybody. You’re better off alone.” . . . But your loneliness consumes you and breeds hate.
  • “She doesn’t deserve forgiveness. You shouldn’t let this go.” . . .But the bitterness eats away at you and empties you of joy.
  • “If you do this, he will love you and never leave.” . . . But then he does.

Dear one, we have spent our lives listening to the wrong voice. Proverbs 14:12 teaches, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” This Scripture is so important to us that God chose to repeat it again in Proverbs 16:25. The way that we have known, the path that seems right to us, leads to our destruction.

Do you know why? Jeremiah 17:9 reveals an important Truth. “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.”

Your heart deceives you. The mantra, “Just follow your heart,” held out to you by this world’s prince is designed to lead you down a path to pain. The reason, friend, is that your heart isn’t free. Sin holds it captive, chained by a bond of slavery to the Deceiver. The inner voice that you hear compelling you to repeatedly make those choices you regret is his.

What’s worse is your heart can’t free itself from the deception; it’s “beyond cure.” We are born into sin (Romans 5:12), and once sin has taken root in our hearts, it rules and reigns, erasing our right to choose. “As it is, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me” (Romans 7:17). On our own, we don’t have the power to exit the path of destruction. Praise God, there is One who sets captives free!

Jesus’ death on the cross tore through the veil of sin, removing both its power, and its consequence. We no longer have to remain enslaved to our sin-ravaged nature and succumb to its deceit. Jesus has returned our right to choose!

Unlike your captor, Jesus will not force Himself on you. You are free to continue on your way, living the life you know and trusting yourself to set your own path. Just know that choice will lead to pain and regret, and will bind you to the enemy for all eternity.

Or, you can receive the gift of salvation held out to you through the cross by choosing to follow a new Master, Jesus Christ. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” John 14:6.

Jesus is the Way to your redemption. He is the Truth that frees you from sin’s deception. He is Life itself, offering both abundance on this earth and eternal life in heaven. He desires to pour His grace into your life. He simply asks you to believe.

Dear one, reject the rule of sin in your life and come to the cross to receive His forgiveness. You no longer need to follow the self-destructive path of your deceitful heart. You can follow the voice of Jesus.

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” John 10:27-28

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An Invitation to the Thirsty

 

I have spent much of my life in pursuit. As a little child, I sought to please in pursuit of praise. As a teen, I tried to conform in pursuit of acceptance. As an adult, I vainly strove for perfection in an attempt to earn both, not realizing that what I was truly after was the virtue I believed praise and acceptance demonstrated: love.

The pursuit of love lies at the heart of all man’s striving. God’s Word teaches in Proverbs 19:22, “What a man desires is unfailing love.” At the core of our beings, driving all our decisions, pursuits and dreams, rests a longing, woven into the fabric of our souls by the hand of the Creator. Left unfulfilled, this longing evokes a restlessness that robs our peace as it sends us in search of the One who can quench its thirst.

Unfortunately for us, God isn’t the only being weaving desires into the depths of our souls. A veil of sin, expertly crafted by the hands of the Deceiver, obscures our vision of the only source capable of satiating our thirst for love: God, Himself.

Seeking to steal God’s glory for his own, the Prince of this World draws our gaze to the trophies of this realm with unrelenting tenacity. Human relationships, wealth, knowledge, and power beckon our pursuit, promising to satisfy our need.  We set our hearts on possessing them, striving after the fulfillment we believe they will bring. Occasionally we even grab hold of them and experience a rush of momentary pleasure!  But our victory proves itself fleeting, and is invariably followed by an emptiness that sends us out in pursuit once more.

Allow your Creator to show you the reason for this perpetual cycle of unsatisfied expectation:

“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” Jeremiah 2:13

Dear one, the trophies of this world—the wealth and power, even the people through whom we hope to find the safety of love—are broken cisterns. They simply cannot satisfy. We find ourselves unable to draw from them the life-giving refreshment we crave because they, themselves, are empty. To experience the fullness of life, we must draw directly from its Giver.

I am awed by the love of God poured out to the broken people of this world through His Son, Jesus. Knowing we could not find Him through the enemy’s veil of sin, Jesus came to the earth in pursuit of us! And as He stretched out His arms on a cross:

 

“. . . darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out in a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.  When he had said this, he breathed his last.” Luke 23:44-46

 

One terrible afternoon, as Jesus took the sins of all mankind upon Himself, the Son stopped shining, and creation reflected His loss. His sacrifice split the veil that had separated man from the Presence of God from top to bottom. And after He had breathed His last, the Son rose once more, bringing with Him the opportunity for all who would believe on Him as King of Kings and Lord of Lords to pass through the veil He had torn.

The True Light that gives light to every man (John 1:9) beckons your approach. He speaks to you the same words uttered centuries ago to a thirsty woman at a well who was trying to draw water from a broken cistern,

“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water . . . Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:10, 13-14

Thirteen years ago, I met Jesus at my own well. I didn’t even realize at the time how incredibly empty and broken I was, until I responded to His tug at my heart and chose to open it to His love.

Jesus’ love has so profoundly transformed my life that I desperately desire to lead you to the spring so you also may drink in its life. My prayer is that if you have not met Jesus personally, I may have the humble privilege of introducing you to Him. If you know Him, but haven’t yet learned how to love Him and drink from the life-giving flow of His Spirit, may our journeys together through His Word empower you to embrace all that He died to give you.

I hope you will join me in seeking to draw from the One True well. If you’d like to partake, I’ll meet you here on Wednesdays. Until then, know Jesus loves you.

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