The Beginning of the End

It’s Christmas! And through all the lights and the gifts, the food and the family celebrations, one thing sets this holiday apart from other holidays.

Thousands and thousands of years ago, immediately following Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, God arrived on the scene and saw what the two had done. The world would be cursed. From that point on their labor would be hard.

When they told God that the devil had deceived them, he turned to Satan, and faced down the ancient serpent. God declared war. He told Satan right then and there that he would send an offspring — a descendant — of Eve to strike him, and deliver a crushing blow to his head.

Satan was not willing to concede defeat. He and his evil angels have fought back ever since then. And many people have lost their souls in this interminable series of counter-attacks against God, and against his Son, the Lamb of God.

But Christmas tells us that the unending war is finally coming to an end. God kept his promise to send an “offspring ” of Eve. As the Magi said, the star indicates that this child is the “the king of the Jews.”

More than that, the tiny baby lying in a manger will be named Jesus — Savior. Years later he will show himself to be not only the king of the Jews, but the victorious Lord of lords and King of kings.

He will triumph over Satan, sin and death itself by dying on a cross, and shedding his infinitely precious and priceless blood. He will be the sinless Lamb of God who offers himself as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of all mankind. In this self-sacrificial act, he will redeem us from our sins and win eternal life for all who are his called, chosen and faithful followers.

Christmas. It’s God’s kept promise to us. It’s the beginning of the end for Satan and his allies. It’s merely the first taste of triumph and victory for those of us who are with him by faith, who trust that the baby born in Bethlehem is our Savior and our Lord.

“They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers” (Revelation 17:14, NIV).

Jesus, Lamb of God, today I want to thank you for coming to be my Savior. I am so grateful that you kept the promise made long ago to Adam and Eve, a promise that was made necessary by their sin and mine. But most of all, I need to thank you for coming to triumph over sin, Satan and death. You called me and chose me to follow you. And you keep me in the faith. With you, we enjoy today as the beginning of the end, and the guarantee of our complete victory. Because of you alone, eternal glory is our true and final hope!

Our Bible reading for Friday, December 25, is Nehemiah 3:1 – 4:23, Revelation 17:1-18 and Psalm 147:12-20.

Header image based on "Nativity" by Jeff Weese, CC By 2.0

Jesus’ Long-Range Vision

Jesus has a vision for you. Did you know that? Right now today, he sees you sometime in the future seated next to him on his heavenly throne. You and I may not always be able to keep that vision — that long-range victory — in mind.

But it never leaves Jesus’ mind.

First of all, it never leaves Jesus’ mind because he himself experienced the thrill of that victory. Following the agony of the cross, God the Father raised his Son from the dead and seated him at this right hand on his throne.

Jesus wants you and me to experience that same eternal thrill. That’s why he is unafraid to do whatever it takes to keep us on track to receive our crown of victory. If it means rebuking and disciplining us, well, that’s OK. If it means calling us out, and urging us to make a U-Turn, that’s what he’ll do.

Jesus is the very best of coaches. He is outside the door of our heart, knocking and wanting to be invited in. He can’t do anything for us as long as we keep the door locked and barred. But if we hear his voice, the good news he speaks to us will transform our hearts and remold our minds. And it will impel us to open the door to him.

That good news of the cross and the empty tomb is the power for our salvation from sin, death and the power of the devil. His voice — the gospel — is the power to fully restore our sin-broken relationship with God. Through Jesus, our connection will be so thoroughly restored, so completely reconciled, that we will sit down and eat dinner with Jesus.

So if you feel like you may be under God’s discipline right now, rejoice! It means God loves you. It means he wants to eat with you at the heavenly banquet. It means he wants you to sit next to him on his throne, and share his power and authority forever.

That’s his vision. And he is not about to give up on it. Or give up on you.

“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 3:19-22, NIV).

Lord, I want to receive the victory you’ve envisioned for me. Grant me a repentant heart, and faith in your redemptive authority. By nature, I have no power or desire to open the door of my heart to you. So, please change me. Transform my cold, dead heart into a heart of flesh, so that I may trust you as my Savior, and one day take my seat alongside you in heaven.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, December 12, is Esther 2:19 – 5:14, Revelation 3:7-22 and Psalm 141:1-10.

Header image based on "Twyfelfontein Binoculars" by Santiago Medem, CC By-SA 2.0

Greater Than Our Hearts

Our hearts are a constant pendulum. We waver between emotions — back and forth. We’re happy and then we’re hurt. We’re angry and then we’re over it. We love, and then love becomes hatred.

Almost everything about our hearts can be strangely fickle.

And this applies to our faith in Jesus Christ as well. One day — even one moment — to the next, our faith can swing from one extreme to another. We’re supremely confident in God’s promises. And then our confidence is dashed to pieces.

This is nothing new. It’s the human experience. It’s the sinner’s experience.

That’s why all the way back in the first century, John the apostle spoke to his people about how to regain lost confidence and preserve rapidly evaporating faith.

First, he says, you need to understand your own heart. Your heart will find ways to condemn you. And actually, it’s not all that hard.

Your sins will raise up feelings of guilt and shame. The words and actions of others will provoke feelings of hurt and alienation. Your mistakes and weaknesses will foster feelings of incompetence, unpreparedness and lack of giftedness.

Our hearts easily fill with un-grace. And it’s a lack of grace aimed at our own selves. It’s an inner voice of self-judgment.

Second, John says, you need to understand your Savior’s heart. You must remember that God is greater than your heart.

In other words, what his heart says about you is far more important than what your heart says about you. And what his heart says about you is found at the cross of Christ and the empty tomb.

Where is your heart at right now? Don’t be surprised if you have to admit that your faith is a little shaky. Don’t be shocked if your heart is hurting, not whole. Don’t be taken off guard if you’re sensing more anger and frustration than love and kindness right now. This is all a part of the life of a sinner-saint.

The good news is, if you feel that way, now you know what to do to set your heart at rest. You can look to Jesus, and know that his forgiveness, love and power are with you all the way!

You know this because the holy God who condemns sin in sinful mankind is also the compassionate God who condemned his own Son to pay for your sins. Jesus’ condemnation made God’s compassion your new reality.

This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything” (1 John 3:19-20, NIV).

Lord Jesus, my heart feels shaky right now. My faith is weak and wavering. But you are greater than my heart. Set my heart at rest. Help me to know that you are with me, and to do the things that will refresh and restore my faith in you. I want to possess a confident faith that leans fully on all your promises.

Our Bible reading for Thursday, December 3, is Daniel 9:20 – 11:1, 1 John 3:11 – 4:6 and Psalm 137:1-9.

Header image based on "Colosseum" by Bob Garland, CC By-SA 2.0

Steady, Resolute, Purposeful

God is not two-faced. He also does not waver between two opinions.

God never says one thing, only to end up doing the opposite. A failure to keep his word just isn’t going to happen. When God speaks, it is with integrity and intention.

And likewise, God is never one to vacillate or hesitate. He doesn’t sit on fences. He is steady, resolute and purposeful.

Jesus’ coming is the proof of this. All of God’s promises were fulfilled in Jesus. God sent his Son, and with this one single action, he said “Yes!” to all our dreams. Jesus is God’s faithfulness in the flesh. Jesus is God’s love personified.

Who is more faithful to his words and promises than Jesus? He went all the way through vicious mocking, brutal beating, unimaginable cross-bearing, and eventually, agonizing crucifixion — all to be able to say his “Yes!” to us and keep his promise to win life eternal for us.

If Jesus unwaveringly did all that, there’s one other thing you can be sure of. Right now, he wants to help you become unwavering in your trust, to stand firm in faith, and to remain steady, resolute and purposeful in your quest for eternal glory.

His faithful love for you is pure grace. And your faithful love for him is pure grace too. You and I did not earn God’s love by anything we’ve done. And you and I do not love God or trust in him by our own power, either. God’s Spirit gets all the credit for that.

It is God who makes us stand firm in Christ.

“But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not “Yes” and “No.” For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silas and Timothy—was not “Yes” and “No,” but in him it has always been “Yes.” For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Corinthians 1:18-22, NIV).

Lord, thank you for your faithful love. I praise and glorify you that I can rely fully on your promises. Send your Spirit into my heart through those promises so that I can remain as faithful to you, as you have been to me. I want to be steady, resolute and purposeful in pursuing eternal glory — and I know you are the one who will make me stand firm in Christ.

Our Bible reading for Thursday, August 27, is 2 Chronicles 29:1 – 31:1, 2 Corinthians 1:12-22 and Psalm 103:13-22.

Header image based on "Elephant Rock Sunset" by Steven Bratman, 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

Two Are Better and Three Is Best

Most of us recognize intuitively that being dependent well into adulthood is not healthy or correct. So we often strive for independence. We get a job, we move into our own apartment, we start to pay the bills. We take responsibility for our own lives.

But the trap in this is that we can come to believe that this is as far as we need to go. We feel we’ve arrived, so we don’t perceive any need to ask ourselves if there’s something more.

But Solomon tells us there is. There’s something far better, he claims. And this is the true destination we should be stepping towards.

It’s not independence. It’s interdependence.

It’s understanding that the reason we need to learn how to take care of ourselves is really so that we can get into position to be able to take care of the needs of others, and have them also take care of our needs in a mutually beneficial relationship.

This is all the more true if God is in the midst of the relationship. Solomon’s father David had experienced a relationship like this. It was his relationship with his best friend, Jonathan. And right in the middle of that relationship with each other was their mutual relationship with the Lord.

It’s true. Two are better than one. And, as Jonathan and David demonstrate clearly, when the third party is God, three is best of all.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, August 12, is Ecclesiastes 4:1 – 6:12, 1 Corinthians 7:17-35 and Proverbs 19:23 – 20:4.

Jesus, thank you for coming to love and support me. I know that I am dependent on you and your love for forgiveness, peace, and eternal life. Help me to grow beyond independence to interdependence, so that I can fulfill the purpose you’ve given me to love others as you first loved me.

Header image based on "119/365" by Anna Gutermuth, CC By 2.0

The Pain of Abandonment, The Joy of Perfect Connectedness

Every now and then we come across abandoned buildings. Have you ever noticed that sense of loneliness associated with an empty, desolate, deserted building? It’s difficult not to think of it as a place that was once busy and bustling, and filled with people, relationships, purpose and love.

It’s not so very different with people.

Have you ever gotten the feeling that you’ve been abandoned? Have you ever experienced the loneliness of being left behind? Sometimes it’s friends who don’t stick with you through thick and thin, as you expected them to do. Or perhaps you’ve gone through the agony of separation in your marriage, or the geographical (and not infrequently the emotional) distancing that comes with moving away from home. Or maybe you were the one who stayed back and experienced the pain of the “empty nest.”

Separation from the love of our family and friends — whether emotional rejection or geographical distance — is painful. It can lead to inner struggles with our self-confidence and outer struggles with our sleep schedule, amongst other things. The pain of abandonment is very real, and very acute.

But have you also noticed that there seem to be people who are somewhat independent of the hurt that other people can cause them? Not entirely, of course. It almost always hurts to be abandoned by and separated from those we love.

But some seem to be able to rise above this pain. What is about them that allows them to do this?

I contend that they have someone in their life whose love is steady and faithful.

As Paul writes to the Romans, he talks about Someone who is not just any someone. He our Creator, our Sustainer, our Heavenly Father. He is the One who planned and carried out a plan of salvation, a plan that involved the sacrifice of his one and only Son. This One — God — pledges that nothing will be able to separate us from his love. He will never abandon us — no matter what challenges or obstacles we might face in life. He will never leave us nor forsake us, no matter how many others do.

His connection to us is perfect and forever. With him, the outcome is always the same. We will overcome. We will win. We will conquer.

Against all comers. And even despite all leavers.

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Friday, July 24, is Hosea 10:1 – 11:11, Romans 8:18-39 and Psalm 89:1-8.

Header image based on "abandoned homestead" by Jim Fischer, CC By 2.0

Where Does Kindness Start?

Sometimes a caricature of the Old Testament is drawn, in which people paint a picture of God (or God’s people) only being interested in judgment and punishment.

Yesterday I wrote about kindness being a hallmark of the very first New Testament church in Jerusalem.

So today, it really stood out for me that David, the “man after God’s own heart,” also is portrayed as having a strong predisposition toward acts of kindness.

First of all, he wants to take care of Saul’s descendants. A son of Jonathan named Mephibosheth is identified and David takes him into the palace and cares for him.

“David asked, ‘Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?'” (2 Samuel 9:1, NIV).

Then a little later, David seeks another opportunity to show kindness when one of his allies dies, and he wants to show kindness to his son, the new king. This story does not end well, and shows that kindness is not always rewarded with kindness in return. I’ll let that hang right there. Read 2 Samuel 10 and you’ll see what I mean.

“David thought, ‘I will show kindness to Hanun son of Nahash, just as his father showed kindness to me.’ So David sent a delegation to express his sympathy to Hanun concerning his father” (2 Samuel 10:2, NIV).

Sandwiched between these two stories is this statement, which shows David’s true motivation for kindness. He wanted to show others the kindness that had first been shown to him by God!

“The king asked, ‘Is there no one still alive from the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?'” (2 Samuel 9:3, NIV).

So, if you study these three passages carefully, you’ll see that kindness can start with another person first being kind to you. But the true place kindness starts is with God. His kindness is the best, most powerful kindness, because it encompasses the gift of his Son, Jesus Christ.

And Jesus is the greatest kindness that any of us will ever experience!

Our Bible reading for June 6, 2015 is 2 Samuel 9:1 – 10:19, Acts 3:1-26 and Psalm 70:1-5.

Lord, thank you for your kindness, displayed in the gift of your Son, Jesus. But your kindnesses are truly many! I experience them every day. I am so grateful. In gratitude, help me not just receive your kindnesses, but also, as David did, look for others to whom I can show your kindness.

Header image based on "Mark Twain Kindness is a language..." by BK, CC By-SA 2.0

Too Many to Count

David knew that there was nothing and no one that could compare to the God who had so graciously protected him over the years.

We are always tempted to find our peace and happiness in other people, or from other places. And David had his moments too. Moments of sin and idolatry.

But a repentant heart always turned him back to God. To the God who had always blessed him abundantly. And who always would provide for him beyond measure.

David’s eyes looked to the God who would sacrifice even his own Son for him. Ironically, this Son of God — Jesus — would also be a descendant of David.

He would be David’s Lord. And David’s Savior.

The kind of God who does this — who loves beyond measure — gives blessings too many to count.

To David. And to you.

“Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lordwho does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods. Many, Lord my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare” (Psalm 40:4-5, NIV).

Lord, help me to always remember your goodness. Your blessings are too many to count.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, April 1, is Numbers 31:25 – 32:42, Luke 8:40 – 9:9 and Psalm 40:1-8.

Header image based on "Mountains, water and flowers..." by Els, CC By 2.0

Lover of the Sick

Do you ever get that urge to run when someone near you is coughing and sneezing? I know I do.

Jesus is different that way. He goes after the sick. Partly, that’s because Jesus loves to heal the body. In fact, the gospel writers tell many stories of Jesus going after those who were sick and ailing, injured and broken.

But there’s something Jesus loves even more than healing the body. He especially loves to heal the spirit. Even with a paralytic man whom he heals physically, the very first thing Jesus told him was, “Friend, your sins are forgiven” (Luke 5:20, NIV).

Then, Jesus went out and found a man who needed a different kind of healing, a man who would have been an outcast to his fellow Jews. He was a tax collector, and that was not exactly a beloved profession, to put it mildly. But Jesus told this man, Matthew, that he wanted to include him on his team.

How healing Jesus’ kindness must have been to his spirit!

When Matthew later threw a party for all his fellow tax collectors, so that they could meet Jesus too, not everyone was pleased. Especially not the religious leaders. So they put the question to Jesus point-blank: “Why do you eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

Jesus’ answer demonstrated his immense heart for those who need his healing — and especially for those who need healing of their spirit.

“Jesus answered them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance'” (Luke 5:31-32, NIV).

Are you heart-sick because of your sins? Do you feel a sickening pit in your stomach, sensing that you’re an outcast? Are you discouraged because of serious illness or injury to your body?

Well, here’s some great news for you… Jesus loves to heal those who are sick!

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, March 24, is Numbers 16:36 – 18:32, Luke 5:17-32 and Psalm 37:10-20.

Lord, I’m sick over the sins I commit. My soul is hurting. Please heal me in your blood, Jesus. Do a great miracle and forgive all my sins.

Header image based on "Dear Flickr, I'm Sick." by Courtney Carmody, CC By 2.0