Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Bridges in the New Year

 Sunday afternoon Kelly, Christian, and I hiked one of our favorite trails at Drift Creek Falls. A suspension bridge near the end spans the creek far below. We love it for many reasons. The guys shared animated conversation on its construction and had fun swinging it to and fro. I savored the clean air and grandeur of the scenery, and of course, I had fun swinging too.

Bridges are important; they get us from point A to point B. The question is: should all bridges be crossed? On this New Year’s Eve, I’m thinking about where I’ve been this past year and where I want to be in 2014 – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. There are three things to do with bridges: burn them, repair them, or cross them. Wisdom teaches us there’s a time for all three.

Burning Bridges
Perhaps you’ve been warned not to burn bridges, but I believe sometimes it’s the right thing to do. When what is on the other side is dangerous to your  physical, emotional, and/or spiritual welfare; when you don’t ever want to return to that unhealthy place – it’s time to cut the connection. This includes bridges to addiction, abuse, self-destructive habits, bitterness, rage, lies, and sins that bring heartache and death.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:18-19, NIV

We all have regrets about things we said or did this year. The good news is we don’t have to repeat those destructive patterns. With God’s help, we can burn those bridges and cross over into a new land full of promise.

Repairing Bridges
Secondly, some bridges need to be repaired. Are there broken relationships in your life? Is God leading you to ask for forgiveness, make restitution, reach across a chasm of misunderstanding, or earn back trust that’s been broken? Repairing bridges can be hard work, time consuming, and costly, but people are worth the trouble.

You may not use the bridge often. If the person is not making healthy choices, you may only want to visit occasionally, accompanied by safe, supportive companions to make sure you get back safely. But once you’ve repaired the bridge from your side, the other person can cross to you whenever they’re ready.

The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

Isaiah 58:11-12

Crossing Bridges
Finally, there are bridges ahead in 2014 that God has in mind for us to cross. It may be a new job or relationship, establishing new habits and personal growth, or adventurous spiritual trails. The bridge might look a little formidable at first. You may not relish crossing a swinging bridge with rushing water far below, descending into a dark forest on the other side. What some perceive as adventure, you may see as threatening and uncomfortable. However, if God is blazing the trail, we have nothing to fear.

Thousands of Israelites followed Moses’ lead forty years through the desert to reach the Promised Land. When they got to the Jordan River, Moses found out he wouldn’t be entering with them. The people were afraid to venture on, but he reassured them:

The Lord your God himself will cross over ahead of you.” Deuteronomy 31:3

The same is true for us. God himself will cross ahead of us into this New Year. If we have lost trusted mentors, He will provide new ones to lead us on.

This New Year is full of promise. I pray God’s richest blessings on you as you step into 2014.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

It's Almost Christmas in the Advent Week of Love!

Merry Christmas Eve to you all! I have been so busy getting ready to celebrate with family and friends that I haven't posted for a while. But I wanted to give you three final gifts for Christmas which I hope will be a blessing to you, your family, and friends.
Our first Christmas celebration

Last week was the week of JOY in the Advent calendar, and these final days before Christmas are the week of Love. How fitting, since it is God's great love for us that prompted Him to send His Son. Normally I try to post shorter pieces, but since I know I will not be able to get back to my computer for a couple days, I'm going to give you three readings in one, for you to read at your leisure. Have a blessed and delightful Christmas. You are loved!

#1: Love Gives
Love gives. It can’t help it. The gift may not be a birthday present or a package under the tree, but where there is love, there’s giving involved. It may be time, or service, or touch, or words of praise and encouragement. These things can be given by the poorest lover. Those who love always find a way to give to the object of their affection.

We assume the Wise Men were kings or wealthy astrologers because of the gifts they gave. But what if they weren’t? What if they spent every penny they had, risked their reputations, and left everything behind out of love for the King of Heaven? They traveled from the Orient to the Holy Land to find Jesus. Theologians estimate it took them three years. Even if they were wealthy to start with, food and travel accommodations along the way cost them dearly.

Yet, they couldn’t help it. The promised King of all men was going to be born in their lifetime, and they didn’t want to miss it! They wouldn’t arrive empty handed either. Would we do the same? How much do we love Jesus? How much are we willing to give to Him and to others in His name?

#2: Don’t Forget Jesus!
By now your home is probably decorated for Christmas, with lights, candles, a tree, and nativity sets of all sizes. Imagine what would happen if you forgot to put the figure of Jesus in the manger. Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and wise men would all gaze adoringly, worshipfully…at an empty space in the crèche!
Marie's beautifully welcoming porch

I made a similar mistake a few years ago. The line I was supposed to sing in the Christmas cantata was, “Born to be Messiah; God’s only begotten Son.” However, at dress rehearsal I belted out, “Born to be Messiah; God’s only forgotten Son.” Even though no one seemed to notice, I turned three shades of red. It posed an important question for me to think about. Have I forgotten Jesus this Christmas?

It happens. We get wrapped up in ourselves and forget the best gift of all. A seasonal translation of Jeremiah 2:32 might say, “Do my people forget to buy presents, decorate their homes for Christmas, or eat themselves into oblivion? Yet my people have forgotten me - the reason for Christmas - years without number.”

I began to examine myself to see if Christ had been forgotten in the holiday excitement. I hope these thoughts help you remember to keep Christ in Christmas as well.

Many “Holiday” movies have nothing to do with the reason for the season! They’re either fluffy sentiment or blatantly anti-Christian. I want to seek entertainment that highlights changed lives, sacrificial giving, and hope.  

We get busy with parties, shopping, church and family events. Meaningful time with the Savior can get squeezed out. Yet without Jesus, Christmas means nothing. Time every day with God is essential.

I lit candles and put on soft Christmas music just before my husband got home from work. “It’s beautiful!” he said, “like entering another world.” Then he started counting the number of nativities in the living room. “Hmm, are you trying to make a point?” I laughed. The way we decorate our home tells the world, and us, what we’re truly celebrating.

Then there’s shopping. Buying gifts for our growing family can easily take over my mind. It’s tempting to spend months in a shopping frenzy. I have forgotten Jesus at times in all the excitement and planning. It helps to keep asking myself: why am I doing this? And get back to my love for our Savior.

Many of you are experiencing financial discomfort, health problems, or heartbreak. I have had lonely years too, when the idea of Christmas cheer stuck in my throat. But even in immobilizing pain, I realized the message of Jesus is not obliterated by our suffering. It’s enhanced. Jesus came to love us in the midst of our pain, to show us a future where sin, worry, and heartache can never touch us again.

No matter how painful your circumstances may be, they are temporary. Jesus is God’s gift of love who meets our greatest need. He is God’s only begotten Son.

#3: Love That Anticipates Needs
Kelly and I went white water rafting a couple years ago and I was once again amazed at the way he expresses his love for me. For the third time that summer, we had planned an outdoor adventure, expecting hot weather. Each time it was cloudy and cool.

My husband knows how easily I get cold and how much I hate it. So, unbeknownst to me, he had packed a warm, heavy sweatshirt in two layers of plastic bags. Then he put it in our waterproof lunch bag in the boat. So when we stopped for lunch and I was wet and miserable, Kelly wrapped me in a thick sweatshirt. I was warmed by his loving anticipation of what I would need and the trouble he went to for my comfort.

My grandson's first Christmas tree expedition
This is Christmas in miniature. God knows our greatest need, our weaknesses, our pain. He knew before time began that man would sin in the Garden of Eden and already had made a plan to save us.

First, however, we had to realize how utterly inadequate we are to maintain sinless perfection through rule-keeping. The entire Old Testament proves what a dismal failure mankind is at keeping the Law. No one can live a sinless life, except Jesus Christ himself.

It’s like my body’s inability to stay warm without outside influences. I jokingly tell my husband I’m part reptile, because I immediately take on the temperature of my environment. I crave a spot in the sun to warm my bones.

God has given us a place in His Son. His love anticipated our need and He provided a way for us to get to heaven through Jesus. We didn’t know ahead of time that we would need Him, but God did. At just the right time, as we sat shivering in the misery of our sinfulness, He sent Jesus to show us God’s love and sacrifice His life for us. His free gift of forgiveness warms us like nothing else can. Our relationship with Him on earth prepares us for an even better life with the Lord in heaven.

Before Christ came. We were like children; we were slaves to the basic spiritual principles of this world. But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, ‘Abba, Father.’ Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir. Galatians 4:3-7, NLT (emphasis mine)
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly… But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:6, 8, NIV (emphasis mine)

Christmas Day! Scripture About God’s Love

His Protecting Love:
Psalm 36:7 - How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

Psalm 42:8 - By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me— a prayer to the God of my life.

Love that Listens:
Psalm 66:20 - Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me!

Love that Gives:
John 3:16 - For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

1 John 3:1: See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

Love that Sustains:
2 Thessalonians 2:15-17 - So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

Unconditional Love:
Titus 3:3-7 - At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior,  so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

Our Example of Love:
1 John 4:7-12 - Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

Jude 1:1-2 - To those who have been called, who are loved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance.
May the hope, peace, joy, and love of God rest on you, fill you, and flow from you this year.
Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Celebrating the Advent Week of JOY: What Does Jesus Want for Christmas?

Yesterday marked the third Sunday of Advent and the theme for this week is JOY. Joy runs high throughout the Christmas story. No one exhibits more exuberant abandon regarding Jesus’ arrival on earth than the shepherds and angels. Both the givers of the good news and those receiving it showed abundant enthusiasm.

 Our Christmas pageants echo that joy as golden haired girls with tinsel halos smile and wave at the crowd while singing about His birth. Shepherd boys bound down the aisle vying for first place to reach the manger, sometimes dropping staffs and stuffed sheep in the process.

Even those who are supposed to play antagonists in the show sometimes can’t resist joining in. Like the Innkeeper, who after telling the holy couple he didn’t have any space left just couldn't help himself and suddenly blurted out, “but you can have my room!”

However joy is much more than momentary happiness. It’s impossible, deep down, solid assurance that Jesus has come and He is the King. We’re invited to join the shepherds and angels in announcing the news.

Monday, December 16: Giving to Jesus
Years ago we started a new tradition at our house. It helps us remember that while we enjoy giving gifts to each other for Christmas it’s really Jesus’ birthday. On Christmas Eve we each write on a 3x5 card what we want to give Jesus in the coming year. Then we put it somewhere on the tree.

On Christmas morning, before opening stockings and gifts, we share what we’ve written with each other. It’s my favorite part of Christmas. It opens our hearts to God and each other in a very special way.

Over the years we’ve given Jesus: a servant’s heart, patience, not arguing back, a bolder witness, a softer tongue, the steering wheel (or throne) of our life, our careers, and many other things. After Christmas morning we each put the card in our Bible or someplace where we will see it throughout the year and be reminded of our promise.

The trick is to start asking Jesus what He would like ahead of time, much like we ask for wish lists from family members. It helps to know what people really want rather than try to guess. It’s not much of a blessing if we just buy them what we want ourselves, or grab the first thing we come across so we can quickly exit the store.

What is on Jesus’ “wish list”? Since giving is such a big part of the way we celebrate His birth, I thought I'd find out what God says in His Word about giving.

Give Willingly
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7

Give the Good News

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve. Isa. 61:1-3

Give to the Needy
There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded. Deuteronomy 15:11                         

Give to Please God

“When you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do…to be honored by others…But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:2-4                              

What you will give Christ this Christmas? If you’re like me, you will fail many times to perfectly accomplish your goal. If you truly desire to give yourself to God, however, He will appreciate the fact that you love Him and desire to give yourself to Him more than anything else, every day of the year.

May we all joyfully say: “Merry Christmas; Happy Birthday Jesus!”

Monday, December 9, 2013

Christmas Peace and Accepting Plan 'B'

Yesterday was the second Sunday of Advent and the theme for this week is: PEACE

Interestingly enough, the two most peaceful participants in the Christmas story are the ones who had the most difficult circumstances. God knew what He was doing when He chose Mary and Joseph.

He picked a young virgin of unshakeable faith and humility. She was willing to suffer misunderstanding, rejection, and possible death for her unprecedented circumstances. She was the world’s first and only pregnant virgin.

We don’t know much about Joseph, but he was a man of dreams and visions, who believed what God told him and acted on it. No matter what God required - no matter what time of day or night - Joseph protected Mary and the Son of God she carried.

How could they so peacefully accept all that was required of them? They calmly submitted to gossip, moving from place to place, and random visits from rag tag shepherds and wealthy kings.

What was their secret? I believe they knew they were a part of a bigger plan, so big, that it couldn’t be defeated. Their peace came from knowing that the One who promised is faithful. They were content to do their part in the most powerful drama of all time.

Monday, December 9: Accepting Plan ‘B’
I like to plan ahead and have control over my life. My favorite line from the old “A Team” was when Hannibal said, “I love it when a plan comes together.” However, it’s a good thing that not all my schemes “come together,” because they’re not always God’s best for me.
Just like us, Joseph and Mary had plans, or at least dreams of what life would be like when they got married. They probably pictured a quiet existence in Nazareth with Joseph doing carpentry and Mary keeping house – including kids, friends, and worship at the synagogue. Angelic visits, prophetic dreams, and parenting the Messiah probably didn’t enter their minds.
When I was growing up and things went awry, my dad would say, “I guess we’ll go with plan B.” Often, the situation went on to plan C or even D. It helped me learn that fretting and flailing don’t help the situation. Yet, sometimes, I still do that, just a little.
My husband constantly amazes me with his cheerful flexibility. His favorite saying is: “It’s time to improvise and adapt.” Mary and Joseph knew how to do that. Here’s a few examples:
Mary’s Plan A
Marry Joseph and have children.
We’ll live respected lives of obedience to God.
We’ll live in Nazareth near family.
Mary’s Plan B
I’m pregnant with the Messiah by the Holy Spirit! Everyone assumes I’ve been unfaithful, but I know I’m blessed.
Our baby was born in a stable.

Joseph’s Plan A
I will marry Mary and raise a family.
I’ll divorce Mary quietly for unfaithfulness.
Unexpected trip to Bethlehem to pay taxes; the baby will be born there.
Joseph’s Plan B
Mary’s says she’s pregnant by the Holy Spirit!
An angel told me to marry her; she’s having the Messiah!
We have to run to Egypt because Herod wants to kill Jesus.

Every time Mary and Joseph thought they knew the plan, God threw another curve. Through it all, they followed His directions with amazingly good attitudes. Their acceptance of Plan B: fulfilled prophesy, revealed Jesus as the Savior of all men, strengthened their own faith, and magnified their dependence on God.

They demonstrated that Plan B can be even better than Plan A, which really wasn’t Plan B at all, but Plan G – God’s Plan. The best one of all.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Happy Advent! and a few Christmas devotions for you

Yesterday was the first day of Advent. If you were in church, it's possible someone read a special scripture and lit the first candle on the Advent wreath. That's what we did at our house. It's the beginning of one of the most exciting seasons of the year and I love the way these days of preparation help us center our hearts on what's truly important.

The season begins each year on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, which can be as early as November 27 and as late as December 3. The word Advent means “coming.” These weeks are set aside so we can focus our hearts on the coming of Jesus. By the time Christmas arrives, we can wholeheartedly celebrate His birth. He came in human form to show us God’s love through His life, sacrifice on the cross, and triumphant resurrection.

The Second Advent of Christ is even more anticipated - when Jesus comes back to take all Christians home to heaven. All who have accepted the forgiveness and new life He offers look forward to this even more than Christmas.

There are four small candles and one large one in an Advent wreath, and each introduces a theme for that week. This week is Hope, followed by Peace, Joy, and Love. The fifth candle is the Christ candle, which we light on Christmas Day.

This is exactly what I wish for you this Christmas – in your relationship with Jesus Christ, with your family and fellow man, and in the deepest places of your heart. May you experience the Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love that Jesus brings.

In the weeks to come I will be posting an occasional devotion from the book my pastor asked me to write for my church family. I hope you enjoy today's:

Monday, December 2: It’s the Same Every Christmas

We read about the same characters every year. But each time we return, God has something new for us. Jesus came gift-wrapped in swaddling clothes. The only ones who knew who He really was were a brave young couple, some smelly shepherds, a resentful king, a few misguided priests, and foreign stargazers. Yet heaven rang with praise and the earth rejoiced in God’s plan.

Where do you find yourself in the story?

Joseph and Mary - The Weary Travelers: Found in Luke 2:1-7
·         Are you traveling for Christmas this year? Is it by choice?
·         Was it was difficult for Mary and Joseph to trust God in this inconvenient trip just before Mary’s due date?

The Innkeeper – The Harried Host: Found in Luke 2:6-7
·         Have you unwittingly left Christ out in the cold this Christmas because your life is too full? What needs to change?
·         How might the story have changed if the innkeeper had known who was to be born that night?

The Angelic Host - The Pageant: Found in Luke 2:8-14
·         What was the purpose of their display: to draw a crowd, show off their costumes, wave at their mom’s? What was their message?
·         How can we model our programs after theirs?

The Shepherds – The Partygoers: Found in Luke 2:15-20
·         These men didn’t hesitate to accept the party invitation – they didn’t shower, stop to buy a hostess gift, or get a babysitter for the sheep. They just went! How did it change their lives?
·         How could our attitude change the focus of the Christmas parties we host or attend?

Herod - The Greedy: Found in Matthew 2:1-3, 7-8 and 16-18
·         King Herod was the Grinch who tried to steal Christmas. Why?
·         How does Satan try to steal the throne from Jesus today?

The Priests - The Party Poopers: Found in Matthew 2:4-6
·         The priests knew the King would be born in Bethlehem, and that the Wise Men were on their way to worship Him. Instead of welcoming the Messiah, they went along with Herod’s plot to kill Him. Why?
·         What excuses do people today give for not worshiping Christ at Christmas?

The Wise Men - Lavish Givers: Found in Matthew 2:1-2, 9-12
·         These were not your normal baby shower gifts, but they were perfect for King Jesus. Gold symbolized His position of royalty, Frankincense His priestly role, and Myrrh foretold His sacrificial death.
·         What will you give to honor the King this year? 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Victory Day Fifty: Inheriting a Fortune!

Here we are at the last day of the Victory series, and if you haven’t gotten the idea by now - all who stay true to Jesus Christ in this life not only enjoy His love and guidance now, but are victoriously rewarded in heaven!

The scene there won’t be like the movies where nasty, greedy family members gather like vultures to see what they’re going to get “from the old man.” To their dismay they discover he hasn’t left them anything. They didn’t really care about the guy when he was alive, except for his money, and he knew it all along. That’s when the sweet and unsuspecting niece, grandson, or maid finds out their years of loyal, loving service are paying back – a million times over. They have inherited enough to take care of them the rest of their days.

If we remain God’s loyal, loving servants, what we see in the movies is only a taste of what our inheritance from God will be. The twist is that we are the ones who must die before we inherit. If we give up our own selfish desires and live to please Him instead, we will forever live as victorious children of God.

All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings,
and I will be their God, and they will be my children.
Rev. 21:7, NLT

Are you celebrating a victory today? What has God done in your life this last year? Has God helped you defeat an addiction or attitude? Has God healed a relationship? Have you grown in your relationship with the Lord, or started a brand new relationship with Him? I hope you will share with us. Your story will encourage others and give them courage to stay strong and keep aiming for victory too.

To leave a word of testimony, click on the word “Comments” below and type in the box that appears. If you have an Internet account, choose the appropriate one on the list, if not, click on the word “Anonymous” and then click “Publish.” You will see some letters and numbers that say “Copy the text.” Copy them exactly with a space in between and then select “Publish” and you’re done. Your comments will be sent for approval and appear later on the blog.

Thank you for joining me in the "50 Days of Victory." I can’t wait to hear your victory stories!  

Friday, November 29, 2013

Victory Day Forty-Nine: Rider on a White Horse

If you live in the United States, or are from the US, I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. We have so much to be thankful for in Christ Jesus our Lord! Our family gathered round the table and our sharing time could have gone on for much longer, if there hadn't been the promise of pie afterward. Somehow, that sped it up just a little.

Kelly and I will be celebrating once again with our kids tomorrow. So we are doubly blessed.

We're getting down to the last two days of the Victory series. I hope it has been a blessing to you. While it has been a challenge for me to post as often as I wanted to, it was amazing how the scripture I had planned for that day always touched my heart all over again. Next week I will begin posting a few Advent devotions from a book my pastor asked me to put together for our church family. It was such a fun project and I can't wait to share it with you too!

Years ago, I was going through one of the worst times in my life when I read the following verse from Revelation. It came alive like never before.

I looked up and saw a white horse standing there.
Its rider carried a bow, and a crown was placed on his head.
He rode out to win many battles and gain the victory.
Rev. 6:2, NLT

Suddenly I saw my Savior, our strong and mighty conqueror, riding out to the last earthly battle. But also, I saw Jesus in heaven, as my hero against all fear and worry in this life. It gave me comfort like never before. This is what I wrote in my journal:

Oh my soul, do not give way to fear.
Trust in the One who loves you, who has saved you and keeps you.
Look into the eyes of your Lover and trust Him, my Beloved.
He will care for you; He will provide.
Do not fear, little one, or be intimidated by the enemy's attacks.
Satan is the loser and he already knows he has lost.
That is why he fights with such vengeance against the Almighty, and against you.
Lean back into the strong chest of the Rider who is faithful and true,
whose name is the Word of God,
the King of kings and Lord of lords.
He will carry you, protect you, and take you home when the battle is over.
Just rest now and trust.
Hang on to Him in all the striving until the final battle is won.
Beth Vice, October 11, 2005

I pray this vision encourages you to see Jesus as your conquering hero. He has already won the victory and is ever-present to be our strength and mighty warrior. Trust Him. Lean back on Him. Worship Him.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Victory Day Forty-Eight: Don’t Cry, the Lion Has Won

Remember the baby shampoo commercial that showed pouty faced babies with soap in their eyes? The slogan was, “No more tears.” That’s what today’s verse promises us; we don’t have to cry anymore. Our reason for hope is much better than a gentle shampoo that won’t sting our eyes. Jesus, the mighty Lion of Judah, has already won over the forces of evil that bring tears in this life:

“Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah,
the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory.
He is worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
Rev. 5:5, NLT

This was one of the elders already in heaven, reassuring John that everything was going to be okay. Jesus would take care of it. John was weeping because no one in heaven or earth was worthy to open the scroll in God’s hand that was sealed shut. Unless someone did, there was no way to know what was going to happen at the end of time. John couldn’t bear it.

It would be like watching an action movie to the final climactic moment, then having the power go out. There, in the darkness, we would sit tense and frustrated. Did the hero and heroine make it out alive? Did they get the bad guy? Save the earth from annihilation by aliens? Find the cure before the child dies? What happened?! Imagine then, John’s torment, knowing the end of time was coming in real life. He had been told to write everything down for future generations. He longed to give his readers hope. What would he tell them?

You and I also weep with frustration and grief over the consequences of sin in ourselves and our world. We can’t see what’s going to happen. We wonder, Is there any hope? Are we going to make it? The answer is the same for us as it was for John. God has written the end of the story and He holds the future in His hands. Only One is worthy to reveal that future and save us from the dire penalties of sin. And He’s already done it.

The Lion of Judah has already won the victory. He has conquered sin and death. If we accept His forgiveness and trust Him today, and each day as it comes, we don’t have to weep with fear over our eternal destiny. Even though we cannot see what our future holds, we know who does, and He has taken care of it. After these times of trouble on earth, we will be safe with Jesus in heaven. Weeping may remain for a night, but joy comes in the Morning.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Victory Day Forty-Seven: Better Than a Lazy Boy

People jokingly refer to their Lazy Boy or comfy chair as their throne. Of course, there’s also the one that sits in the bathroom. No matter how much time we might enjoy spending time on them, none can compare to the throne Jesus describes in today’s verse. The victory seat.
“Those who are victorious will sit with me on my throne,
 just as I was victorious and sat with my Father on his throne.”
Rev. 3:21, NLT

The books of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Revelation give us glimpses of what heaven looks like, and the glory surrounding the throne. God the Father sits on His throne, and Jesus the Son of God is on a throne next to Him. In this verse, Jesus says the victorious will sit with Him on His throne. I’m not sure I understand all this. If you take it literally, it sounds cozy and amazing, but also
a little crowded.

I think of King Solomon’s throne. He built: “a great throne covered with ivory and overlaid with fine gold.  The throne had six steps, and its back had a rounded top. On both sides of the seat were armrests, with a lion standing beside each of them. Twelve lions stood on the six steps, one at either end of each step. Nothing like it had ever been made for any other kingdom” (1 Ki. 10:18-20).

That sounds magnificent and ornate, like a splashy display of power and wealth. But it also sounds cold and uncomfortable, but then I’m sure he had a lot of richly embroidered cushions too. Jesus’ throne will be even better.  

What does all this rambling have to do with our sitting with the Father and Son on their thrones? I think it will not only be breathtakingly beautiful and filled with glory, but also comfortable. Companionable. It won’t be like a never-ending family visit, where everyone runs out of things to say, yet continue to fill the space with awkward conversation. All of them long to be anywhere else, except the bore who talks on and on, seemingly unaware no one is interested.

No, when we get to heaven, we’re going to have so much to talk about; so many questions to ask. We will be so full of wonder and praise in the Presence of our Lord and Savior, that we might even just sit there speechless for a time, adoring Him. It definitely won’t be boring or tiresome.

And finally, it will be restful. Although there will be lots to do in heaven, we won’t have the pressure of time. There will be opportunities for worship, action, and for savoring the delights created for us, the children of God. The victorious. I want to experience this, don’t you?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Victory Day Forty-Six: I Don’t Want it to End!

Have you ever spent time with friends or family you just didn’t want to end? Ultra romantic dates when neither wanted to say goodbye? What about books or movies so good you could hardly pause to eat or sleep? With Thanksgiving this week, many of us will be enjoying special dishes we don’t get every day - delights that make your mouth water just thinking about them. And how about worship times so amazing you wish it would go on forever and ever? We feel clean and free, like we’ve touched a piece of heaven.

Today’s scripture reveals that Jesus understands these longings, because He promises five more rewards that never end. He wants to make sure we know the riches of heaven are worth standing firm for here on earth. At first, they will sound strange. So give this time to percolate through your brain.

“Because you have obeyed my command to persevere, I will protect you from the great time of testing that will come upon the whole world to test those who belong to this world. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take away your crown.  All who are victorious will become pillars in the Temple of my God, and they will never have to leave it. And I will write on them the name of my God, and they will be citizens in the city of my God—the new Jerusalem that comes down from heaven from my God. And I will also write on them my new name.”
Rev. 3:10-12, NLT, italics mine

“Yea! I get to be a pillar,” you say. “Just what I’ve always wanted.” Think about it, though. What do we call someone who is respected by everyone; whose reputation is flawless? We call them a pillar of society. So reward #1 is respect, honor, stability and permanence to grace the place where God is.

We Get to Stay
The second thing He says is that we never have to leave the Temple. Remember those great times of worship that we wish would never end? In heaven they don’t. That glorious emotional high and feeling of safety with God and His people is eternal.

What do people do when they get a really special gift for a loved one? They get it engraved. A card is too temporary to show the depth of their love. That’s what Jesus does with His faithful ones; He writes His Father’s name - tattoos the family crest on us - for all to see.

If you’ve ever immigrated to another country, you treasure the title of citizen more than those who were born there. Earth is not our home; we’re looking forward to our citizenship in heaven. When we immigrate, God assures our citizenship there.

Jesus’ New Name
Apparently we’re going to have a lot of writing on us. If you’re not a tattoo fan, don’t worry, I’m sure it will be tastefully done. Jesus doesn’t tell us what His new name will be, but we get to share it. We’ll be forever identified as His Beloved, belonging to and cherished by Him.

These five blessings give us much to think about. What love! Jesus wants us to know the tremendous sense of belonging and security we’ll have with Him. It will never end.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Victory Day Forty-Five: Forever the Cherished Bride

I believe the deepest wounds we inflict on one another in this life are not physical, but emotional. Worst of all, is the pain of being rejected by a close loved one – a child, parent, or mate. A man or woman whose spouse chooses someone else over them suffer a pain so profound, so personal, that it seems nothing can ever heal the scar completely.

For a woman, it is forever connected with her identity as a bride. Her white wedding gown, that proclaimed she was loved and desirable is now cast aside. The name her husband so proudly gave her is now taken back, and given to another. And it seems that she herself has been erased from the book of his life, his memories of her gone.

What a joy it is to know then, that Jesus will never un-choose His Bride – the Church. Men and women alike, we are the Bride of Christ. I have known the pain of rejection. So these verses are especially meaningful to me. However, even those who have never experienced divorce or a family member turning against them, have been abandoned at some point in their life, by someone they loved. And the pain is never forgotten.

But Jesus says to us,

“All who are victorious will be clothed in white.
I will never erase their names from the Book of Life,
but I will announce before my Father and his angels that they are mine.”
Rev. 3:5, NLT


He will never stop loving His Bride. To those who love Him Jesus has given His name, and will never take it away. He won’t give it to another in our place. He is proud to announce to His Father and all the angels that we belong to Him. Forever. That’s a promise we can count on.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Victory Day Forty-Four: I Finally Get to Be in Charge!

In the middle of her presentation our speaker paused and sighed. “After all these years of being a Christian, I still struggle with giving God control.” It’s true with all of us. We know Jesus is Lord; we know God is perfect and capable and loving, and yet we can’t quite pry our fingers off the steering wheel of life.

That’s why it’s an amazing thing that one of the rewards for victory in this life is authority in heaven.

“…hold tightly to what you have until I come. To all who are victorious, who obey me to the very end, to them I will give authority over all the nations.”
Rev. 2:25-26, NLT

This was the Spirit of God's message to the church in Thyatira. Their biggest problem was over authority. A woman in the church claimed to be a prophetess, but was taking away from God’s authority and parceling it out to others gods. Some people were giving in to this false religion and blending the truth of Christianity with the so called “mysteries” of the pagan priests. This was a repeat of Queen Jezebel’s wicked rule years earlier. She had vied for control over Israel, and their allegiance to God, by introducing her own brand of worship.

The message for us is the same. God will not share us with any other god or worldly belief. Not even if that god is us, trying to take over the controls of our life. However, in an amazing turn of events, if we obey and give Him control in this life, He will bless us with authority over others in heaven. I’m not sure I understand all this, but it gives me something to ponder.

Our God and the wonders He has awaiting us in heaven are too wonderful to comprehend. So I think I’ll just keep following Him and learn as I go.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Victory Day Forty-Three: Triple Whammy Reward

Today’s verse in our series promises a three-fold reward for those who are victorious in this life. Apostle John, the only one of the twelve disciples that wasn’t martyred (not that they didn’t try), was banished to the Island of Patmos. There, during a time of worship, Jesus revealed heavenly mysteries to John about the end times, instructing him to write them down.

Jesus mentions so many blessings in the first three chapters of Revelations that it’s mind boggling. I can imagine John trying to remember it all. So much beauty! So much praise! So many colors and sights and sounds! How could he describe them to those who haven’t been there?

Jesus describes phenomenal rewards, mixed with warnings not to give up until the end. He knows the pressure feels like more than we can sustain, the temptations enticing, and we get weary of choosing the right when the wrong is easy and popular. So He opened the door, just a bit, to show much our efforts will be rewarded..

“To everyone who is victorious I will give some of the manna that has been hidden away in heaven. And I will give to each one a white stone, and on the stone will be engraved a new name that no one understands except the one who receives it.”
Rev. 2:17, NLT

Perhaps you’re thinking, “So, we get mystery bread, a rock, and a name. Hmm, that’s…nice. What else? That was my first thought until I discovered what those three things include.

Manna was the miraculous food God provided the Israelites in the desert before they entered the Promised Land. It represents life, daily provision, nourishment, satisfaction, and a free gift for the taking. It has been hidden away in heaven until the end time.

In John’s day, a white stone meant ‘yes’ and a black stone ‘no.’ When God gives us a white stone He is saying, “Not guilty.” You are innocent because you have accepted the forgiveness my Son bought with His blood. Here you go. Your ticket to heaven has been paid.

The third reward is a new name engraved in the stone. A name of affection; a nickname. Something that has tremendous meaning to that individual that no one but Jesus could possibly understand. It might heal a deep wound inflicted on that person because of cruel name calling or attacks on their character. Perhaps the new name helps them overcome a label applied to themselves they could never remove. Ugly, Crazy, Stupid, Lazy, Worthless, become Beautiful, Imaginative, Clever, Motivated, Treasured. Each name is chosen to fill a profound need.

Don’t you want to dine on secret food held back for conquerors only? Wouldn’t it be a relief to get rid of the gnawing ache of guilt and shame? And wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a name more intimate than Snookums or Love Muffin? Something that really makes your heart skip a beat? It sounds great to me! Good enough to keep on fighting the fight until the day we see Jesus face to face.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Victory Day Forty-Two: Sweet and Juicy Rewards

In ancient battles, it was all about the plunder, the loot, the treasure. Even soldiers, who didn’t care about their king were plenty willing to go to battle, if they could carry home gold, jewels, women, clothing, and all the worldly wealth of their enemies. In our case, it’s a little different. From this point on in the series, I’m going to highlight scriptures that talk about the heavenly rewards God promises for the victorious.

We’re not in this war against the forces of evil for the booty, unless of course you count the captives set free when we convince them to follow our Commander. No, we fight because we’ve fallen in love with our King and His cause – the salvation of mankind. Also, because we hate how our enemy destroys everyone he rules. Yet (because of the glorious grace of our God) after the Great War is over, we do get to enjoy plunder. When we leave our earthly body or Jesus takes us home, we will experience rewards we can’t even imagine.

Here’s the first:
“To everyone who is victorious
I will give fruit from the tree of life in the paradise of God.”
Rev. 2:7, NLT

Does that have a familiar ring? Where have you heard about the tree of life before? Genesis chapter three tells us it was in the middle of the Garden of Eden. Those who eat fruit from the tree of life live forever. It’s like the legendary fountain of youth only in handy fruit form. You might wonder, if God put it in the Garden, why isn’t it still available? Because of sin.

When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, sin entered our world. Since God is too merciful to doom us to an unending life of sin and all the pain it brings, He removed man from the Garden and provided the antidote to eternal death – Jesus.

So, in the end, we get to go back to that Garden existence, only we will have the gratitude of knowing what Christ has done for us in order to enjoy this gift. Don’t you wonder what it tastes like? Sweet and juicy, fresh and pure, satisfying like nothing we’ve ever had on earth. And that’s not all. To the victors go the spoils! Check in tomorrow to find out what else God has in store for those who fight faithfully to the end.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Victory Day Forty-One: Faith is the Victory

For every child of God defeats this evil world,
and we achieve this victory through our faith.
And who can win this battle against the world?
Only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God.
1 John 5:4-5, NLT

If you recognized this blog title from the old hymn, you probably couldn’t resist humming the chorus - especially since the photos provide the lyrics. It’s been a while since I sang it, but it kept popping into my mind as I prepared for today’s post. The song is old, written in 1891, and the scripture even older, written around the year 98, but both state a timeless truth. Faith in Jesus is what gives us victory over the world.

A familiar song and Bible verse wasn’t enough to nail it down for me though. I had to ponder this and do some digging to grasp the full power of this claim. How does faith, I wondered, do battle for us against the world? And what does it mean to win against the world? Why are we at war?

I found that “the world” refers to spiritual rulers, not earth itself or the people who live here. The spiritual forces of evil that war against God also war against mankind. They’ve been at work since the Garden of Eden trying to take us captive to sin and imprison us in destructive lifestyles. What better way to hurt the Creator than to torture and pervert His beloved children and convince us He either doesn’t exist, or has no power or desire to save us.

Having faith brings us back into right relationship. We can’t get victory over addiction, pornography, same sex attraction, gambling, gossip, stealing, lying, pride, selfishness, greed, ingratitude, or any other worldly passion without faith. Anything else is just legalism and self-help programs. Those can only give a certain degree of success. They might curb our outward behavior, but they cannot change our heart, and that’s where true victory takes place.

We can only get victory when we believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and then live our lives accordingly. In other words, stop trying to be our own gods (as if we’ve done such a great job of it), and let Him lead. If we say we believe He is God, but continue to do whatever we want, we deny our own claim. Do we really believe He loves us; that His plan is good; that He knows what’s best for us? If we do, and act on it, our faith will be the victory.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Victory Day Forty: Cross Action

[Jesus] canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross.
 In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities.
He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.
Col. 2:14-15, NLT

Whenever you see paintings and sculptures of Jesus on the cross, He appears to be passively hanging there at the mercy of the Roman soldiers, waiting for death. It looks like He’s done for; evil has had its way. He is the epitome of the sacrificial Lamb.

Much of the time, I think we picture ourselves the same way. Our sinful tendencies have us nailed to a cross and we feel helpless to escape them. We try to encourage each other to “hang in there,” but it’s not much of a consolation.

Yet these verses reveal that Jesus was not just the Lamb of sacrifice, but also the Lion of Judah. He was totally in control over the events of that day, actively defeating sin’s power over us for all time. Just look at the action-packed phrases in this passage, He:

·         Cancelled the record of Satan’s charges against mankind
·         Took away any sign of our guilt by nailing it to the cross
·         Disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities
·         Publicly shamed them with His victory over the power of evil

That’s great news for us. When we choose to accept Jesus’ offer of forgiveness, we don’t just “hang in there” until we die, like wimpy victims of the demon hoard. When we died to sin, that choice set certain things in motion. If we have crucified our sin nature with Christ, then we also get to join in the victory He won there for us. The charges against us have been wiped out and Satan has no power over us anymore.

Jesus’ work on the cross provides us with a life of action, empowering us to live not as victims, but as victors.