Beautiful

In the course of a year, $8 billion dollars is spent in the United States on cosmetics. Over a lifetime, a typical women spends $15,000 on makeup products.

That’s a huge investment in outward beauty. And it’s not just money. According to a Today/AOL report completed in 2014, the average woman takes 55 minutes to run through her daily beauty routine.

Interestingly, while men still appear to be far behind the women in spending time and money this way, recent studies seem to show them beginning to close the gap.

Looking back on the beauty routines of the ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians, none of this represents anything new, I’d guess.

There’s absolutely nothing sinful about investing modest sums in enhancing one’s physical beauty, as long as we do not somehow wrap our identity (and even our destiny) around such things. That being said, in ancient times and in modern, what has always been most needed is beauty of the heart and mind.

When a woman finds her identity in Christ, her inner confidence, peace and joy begin to radiate to the outside. As faith in Jesus’ love and goodness grows, true, inner beauty glows brighter and brighter. A woman who knows to the depth of her very being that she is God’s daughter, and carries herself that way, will always possess that something extra.

Inward beauty trumps outward beauty any day of the week, and twice on Sunday. It’s value is infinitesimally greater, as the author of Proverbs 31 notes. While the added value is huge to the woman herself, to her family members and business partners, none will see the value of a woman of noble character more clearly than the woman’s husband.

Some may consider this section rather “old fashioned.” But broaden it out. How many companies have failed in recent years from “all star” CEO’s having abysmal failures of character? They may have had all kinds of wonderful talents and abilities. But in the end, what truly counted was their character.

The book of Proverbs begins as a father’s advice to his son. And one way of looking at the final chapter of Proverbs is to see it as a father’s advice to his daughter. So maybe the question is simply this, “What do we want to see our daughters grow up to become? What beauty do we want them to see as their true beauty?”

“A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life” (Proverbs 31:10-12, NIV).

Jesus, help our daughters to grow up to be beautiful in your sight. May we have both men and women of gospel-motivated character in positions of leadership in our world so that our world may continue in peace and harmony, with great productivity. And through this, Lord, may your name be glorified and your kingdom come, as the gospel reaches to the ends of the earth.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, December 26, is Nehemiah 5:1 – 7:3, Revelation 18:1-17 and Proverbs 31:10-20.

Header image based on "Girl in Make-Up Mirror" by Saxbald Street Photography, CC By 2.0

The Confident Life

Confidence is highly honored and praised in our culture. One of our society’s most well-known quotes comes from Henry David Thoreau, and it shows the esteem we possess for this attribute:

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined.”

 As Christians, we have a high view of confidence, too. Search through the Bible and you’ll find more than a few passages that start with the phrase, “I am confident,” or “we are confident,” or “being confident of this.”

Our culture often builds it’s sense of confidence on what we accomplish in life. Have we, as Thoreau suggests, “lived the life we imagined”? Our preparation, our performance, our years of experience, our willingness to authentically “be who we are” — these are the things on which our society recommends we build our sense of confidence.

Our society says that we should stop looking outside of ourselves. True confidence is found by digging deep and looking within. Self-respect, self-worth and self-love all begin with self. And many in our world today believe this.

The Bible also wants us to learn and build confidence. But it suggests an entirely different path to confidence. This path directs us away from ourselves to God.

It’s tough to be confident with consistency when we base our confidence on ourselves. Our preparation is shaky at times. Our performance can occasionally be sub-optimal. What if we haven’t yet built up those years of experience? Or what about those times when we go through seasons of self-doubt, and aren’t really sure who we are?

Confidence is good. But we can possess a confidence that’s far more solid and consistent if we build it on the Lord.

As David writes, the Lord keeps all his promises. He always does what he says he’s going to do. He reaches down to us when we’ve fallen and gives us a hand up. He gives us our daily sustenance, and he satisfies our desires. Take note, he fulfills not just our needs, but even our desires.

Jesus. And Jesus’ accomplishments. Now there’s a solid place upon which to build our confident life.

“The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises
    and faithful in all he does.
The Lord upholds all who fall
    and lifts up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to you,
    and you give them their food at the proper time.
You open your hand
    and satisfy the desires of every living thing” (Psalm 145:13b – 21, NIV).

Lord Jesus, you alone are my confidence. Help me turn away from self to you, to resist the temptation to look at my own accomplishments and instead look to you and your accomplishments as my true source of confidence. You keep your promises, and I know you will open your hand and satisfy my desires.

Our Bible reading for Monday, December 21, is Ezra 7:11 – 8:14, Revelation 13:1-18 and Psalm 145:13-21.

Header image based on "Go Confidently" by Son of Groucho, CC By 2.0

Coronation

It’s Christmas time and that’s the time of year when we frequently get to hear the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah. It’s such an amazing work of art that even unreligious people are struck by the divine nature of this music.

A few years ago, Michael Christie, musical director of the Phoenix symphony said to the Arizona Republic that although he is not a particularly religious person, “I come out of ‘The Messiah’ and think, ‘Wow. I feel devout in this moment.’ It’s like I’m converted for those couple of hours whilst it’s happening. And I’ve felt that way every time.”

While it’s a familiar piece of music, many may not recognize that the words of the chorus are quoted directly from the book of Revelation. These words are sung at the “coronation” of Christ as the eternal King. The old world of sin, death, and decay is passing, making way for a new world of everlasting purity, peace and joy.

When the apostle John wrote the book of Revelation from the isle of Patmos, he was writing to people undergoing extreme persecution for their Christian faith. Their property was being confiscated. Their loved ones were being arrested and tortured. Their movements and actions were under constant scrutiny and suspicion. They had no power or clout. Their freedom was severely curtailed.

Through John, God gives these people a prophetic vision of a future kingdom where their freedom will be perfect. Their power will be restored, their peace will be eternal, and their joy will exceed all boundaries.

All of this will be brought about by the coronation of their eternal King, Jesus. Because of him, they have hope and a future. Because of him, they have an eternal kingdom waiting for them.

For any Christian of two thousand years ago or today, no matter what troubles we are facing in life we are confident. Because of Jesus, we may be hard pressed, but we are not crushed. We may be perplexed, but we’re not in despair. We may be persecuted, but we’re not abandoned. We may be struck down, but we’re not destroyed.

Because of Jesus, we are more than conquerors and our reward awaits.

“The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said:

‘The kingdom of the world has become
    the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah,
    and he will reign for ever and ever.’

And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying:

‘We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty,
    the One who is and who was,
because you have taken your great power
    and have begun to reign.
The nations were angry,
    and your wrath has come.
The time has come for judging the dead,
    and for rewarding your servants the prophets
and your people who revere your name,
    both great and small—
and for destroying those who destroy the earth'” (Revelation 11:15-18, NIV).

Jesus, you are my hope and future. Thank you for making me more than a conqueror, despite my sins and guilt. Thank you for rescuing me from my troubles, giving me strength to endure, and an eternal place in your kingdom, under your everlasting rule.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, December 19, is Ezra 4:6 – 5:17, Revelation 11:1-19 and Psalm 145:1-7.

Header image based on "Hallelujah Chorus - it's Handel Messiah season." by brownpau, CC By 2.0

Tread on the Heights

Often we gauge God’s love for us by the outward circumstances of our lives. We begin to believe that what’s taking place around us defines how much God cares about us.

When Habakkuk wrote, Babylon was becoming the dominant world power. Habakkuk, a prophet in Judah, was trying to forewarn the people of Judah that cruel Babylon would soon be coming to crush their nation.

This raised major questions, and Habakkuk puts those questions directly to God. Why is there so much evil in our world? How is it that the wicked seem to prosper more than those who are righteous? Do evil people get off scot-free?

Right away, Habakkuk starts off the book with a complaint, a bitter complaint he takes directly to God: How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save?” (Habakkuk 1:2, NIV).

God listens to Habakkuk’s complaint. And he responds. God wants others to hear his response and he instructs Habakkuk to make it plain to them.

The answer God gives is that Habakkuk must take the long view. In the short term, it may sometimes seem as if the wicked are getting away with their wickedness — and doing so with impunity. But eventually, God assures Habakkuk, they will be judged and justice will prevail.

God’s answer takes up all but the first verse of chapter two. Habakkuk absorbs God’s answer, and he responds with a prayer of triumph that concludes the book. The beauty of Habakkuk’s prayer is that it gives us a peek inside the heart of a man whose faith has been refreshed and renewed by God’s words and promises.

Habakkuk vows to stop judging God’s love by the circumstances and events that he is witnessing and simply trust God’s heart and God’s promises. Habakkuk commits to no longer allowing his feelings to be controlled by the externals, but rather by God’s willingness and ability to give him strength and help him through the tough times.

What we learn from Habakkuk is made plain. We do not see all that God is doing. And we cannot see all that God will do. But we can be completely confident that God is God, and he will do what is right in the end.

We can also know that God will strengthen us and carry us upward through the difficult times. God will renew our courage and confidence. Ultimately, through Christ, all God’s people will see victory and tread on the heights.

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LordI will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights” (Habakkuk 3:17-19, NIV).

Lord, help me to find joy in you, even when my outward circumstances are not joyful. You, Lord, are my strength, in good times and difficult times. In Jesus, I am confident you will enable me to tread on the heights of eternal victory.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, October 27, is Habakkuk 1:1 – 3:19, Titus 2:1-15 and Proverbs 26:3-12.

Header image based on "Panorama from the summit of Jewel Mountain. Chugach Mountains, Alaska" by Paxson Woelber, CC By 2.0

Don’t Lose Sight of the Benefits

There are a total of 150 Psalms. And this is one of the most beautiful of them. For me, it ranks right up there with the 23rd Psalm.

The key verse is verse 2: Praise the LORD, and do not forget all his benefits.

With God there is always a reason for gratitude and applause. Why? Because with God there’s continually one blessing after another.

And here David takes inventory of those blessings. He calls them benefits. Man, are there ever a lot of those benefits! And like David says, we don’t ever want to lose sight of them.

See for yourself. And take some time today to pause and really meditate on this Psalm. There’s so much here.

Healing. Redemption. Compassion. Grace. Forgiveness.

That’s how great God’s love is!

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord works righteousness
    and justice for all the oppressed.

He made known his ways to Moses,
    his deeds to the people of Israel: The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
    slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
    nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:1-12, NIV)

Lord, your healing, redemption, compassion, love, grace and forgiveness are truly amazing. Help me remember all these benefits (and more!) you grant me every day, and praise you for them. Truly, you are worthy of my worship.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, August 26, is 2 Chronicles 26:1 – 28:27, 2 Corinthians 1:1-11 and Psalm 103:1-12.

Header image based on "bible and ballcap" by Eric Golub, CC By 2.0

Who Gets the Glory?

It’s called the “big reveal.” Maybe it’s one of those TV programs like Extreme Weight Loss, where a person has lost a major amount of weight and gotten themselves back into shape. Maybe it’s a show on HGTV like Fixer Upper, where a wreck of a house is turned into a gorgeous home.

It’s an emotional moment. A major transformation has occurred. And it’s very satisfying to see the end result of a lot of hard work.

Sometimes we too look back at work we’ve accomplished, and it brings us great satisfaction. We feel something important and valuable has been accomplished. And that feels good. We’re extremely enthusiastic about what’s been accomplished.

This is exactly where Paul is emotionally as he nears the end of three missionary journeys and more than a dozen years of work. He’s excited about all that’s been accomplished.

But it’s pretty cool to see how humbly Paul approaches those accomplishments. They’re not really his accomplishments at all, Paul writes. They’re Jesus’ accomplishments. He was merely the conduit for those blessings that the Gentiles are enjoying. The glory all belongs to Christ.

It was Paul’s service. But it was God’s achievement. God’s success. Paul is no less proud of all this — not because of what he had done, but because of what Jesus had done.

As we look back on the things we’ve accomplished in the past year — or the past decade — as we review our service to God, to our families, to our places of work, to our neighborhoods and communities — how do we see it? Do we see it as something we accomplished, something we can boast about, something that will bring glory and renown to us?

Or do we recognize that we were merely the conduit, the person that God was working through, so that he could accomplish what he wanted to accomplish through us? Do we realize that the important thing is to lift God’s name high, and bring glory to Jesus rather than to ourselves?

“Soli deo gloria,” the early Roman Christians used to say, using Latin, the language of their homeland. To God alone be the glory!

“Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done” (Romans 15:17-18, NIV).

Lord, thank you for working through me to accomplish your purposes. All that has been accomplished through me is your achievement, not mine. It’s your success, and your glory. And that is my joy! May all I think, do and say bring glory to you alone!

Our Bible reading for Sunday, August 2, is 1 Chronicles 12:23 – 14:17, Romans 15:14-33 and Psalm 90:1-10.

Header image based on "Soli Deo Gloria" by Alper Cugen, CC By 2.0

Unlimited… Even with the Limits On.

Sometimes we feel like our situation or circumstances limit us. And that can be hard to take. We like to live our lives without limits.

But often the limits are not nearly as limiting as we think they are.

Paul demonstrated this when he came to Rome and was placed under house arrest, with a Roman soldier guarding him. It would have been easy for Paul to cave and think that this would hinder him from accomplishing his goal of sharing Christ with the Romans.

But instead, Paul maintained his focus on his purpose — glorifying God and sharing Christ. He wore Jesus’ heart on his shirtsleeve, and was warm and welcoming to any who came to visit him. And he used the exceptionally powerful weapon that he had at his disposal — the gospel.

He simply went about his business, and didn’t let the imposed limitations disturb him or distract him from his appointed mission.

When we remember that our real purpose in life is to glorify God in all that we do, limitations don’t seem so limiting any longer. Paul could glorify God from his rented house in Rome.

When we recall that our job description is always, “Love!” the limitations fall away because we can show the love of Jesus wherever we are.

When we wield the powerful word of God as Paul did — it’s the sword of the Spirit! — we realize that all we ever need to accomplish our mission is to teach about the Lord Jesus Christ. Wherever we might be, we can do that with boldness and without hindrance.

We become unlimited, just like Paul did, even when serious limits might seem — to the casual observer — to be present.

“For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!” (Acts 28:30-31, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Saturday, July 11, is 2 Kings 22:1 – 22:20, Acts 28:17-31 and Proverbs 16:28 – 17:4.

Jesus, help me to move beyond all limitations — whether self-imposed, or imposed by others — and continue to share you and your salvation boldly with others.

Header image based on "Fenced In" by Jeff Golden, CC By-SA 2.0