New Year’s, Blogs and Star Wars

As we wind up 2015, I want to pause a moment, reflect on the year and say thank-you to all of you who joined me on pastorjeffgunn.com for the very first year of my blog’s existence. So many of you commented favorably on the posts, and told me you found them to be engaging, helpful and relevant to your life. Just so you know — you were all a great encouragement to me to keep on keepin’ on!

Second, if you look in the column on the left side of my blog, you’ll see that countdown number to “The Big Day” has been replaced today with “The big day is here.” So, for those of you who read through your Bible with the CrossWalk staff for an entire year, I want to say, “Congratulations! Well done! You made it.” And thank you for doing this with us. I hope you found the journey to be enlightening, encouraging and faith-strengthening.

I can’t go without mentioning my brother-in-Christ and my friend, Paul Montenieri for joining me on this blog, offering up his thoughts and comments every single day. Thanks, Paul! I loved your daily comments and your prayers. They built me up (by the way, so did the ticket to watch the Cardinals whip up on the Vikings, and the great tailgate party beforehand — now that’s how to have a great time!).

For those of you who joined us mid-year, or who would simply like to go back and read through the Bible again, I’ve added a new feature that will allow you to go back and keep on using the blog. You’ll discover that you now have the ability to search posts via a monthly archive.

For example, tomorrow is January 1, so you would go to the archive drop down menu in the left column, click on the arrows and select January. The most recent January post (January 31) will be at the top, so simply scroll back until you reach January 1, and read that post along with the corresponding Bible verse. Boom! You’re all set to continue reading through the Bible in a year.

If you’re looking for a new plan to read through your Bible in a year, the CrossWalk staff will be following the “ownit365” whole Bible plan, which you can locate on Bible.com, or on your youversion app. It’s also available at ownit365.com, which has an accompanying app, too.

For exciting developments at pastorjeffgunn.com, check back in the next few days. I'll be sharing my 2016 vision for this blog.

Have a fun (and safe) New Year’s Eve celebration tonight! Julie and I will be catching dinner and the new Star Wars movie. A friend told me it made him feel like an 11 year old again. I think that might actually be a step upward in my development as a person.

I’m ready!

Header image based on "Sunrise" by Francisco Antunes, CC By 2.0

 

 

 

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

He Heals.

God is a healer. And his specialty is broken hearts.

That’s especially good to remember at this time of year. When we’re children, Christmas is filled with visions of presents being opened, of family gathered around, of food and wonderful surprises. Most of us have at least a few memories of magical Christmas experiences.

But as adults, the memories of heartbreak and loss have piled up. And especially if the wounds are still fresh, Christmas can be a very difficult time, made worse by the contrasting memories of great expectations for Christmas that were built in our childhood.

If this is the first Christmas following a great loss — lost love, lost job, lost wealth, lost health, lost hope — then it’s hard to imagine a more difficult time than this.

We need someone to sooth and comfort us in our deep pain. We have to have compassion and empathy — someone with a heart of love who will bind up and bandage the open wounds.

And isn’t this why Jesus came on the first Christmas?

He sees the pain that sin and brokenness have caused the people he created. And his own heart breaks. He cannot stand it. He won’t live with it.

He must do everything he can to heal our brokenness, and relieve the pain.

So he, true God, becomes a man like us. He comes to experience our pain himself. He comes willing to have his own heart (and body) broken because of our sins. He comes to bleed and die on a cross — to be mortally wounded — so that our wounds can be healed.

Christmas. It’s meaning is amazing. The compassion behind it is astounding.

May Jesus heal your heart this Christmas. And bind up all your wounds.

Because that’s what he does.

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3, NIV).

Lord, my heart is broken over my sins. I am hurting over many things in my life. If I’m “real” with you, the past year has brought hurts and pain from people, events, and experiences I’ve endured. Thank you for being my Savior, and my Healer, Jesus. Bind up my wounds and heal my broken heart. Restore to me the joy and the peace that your salvation brings at Christmas time.

Our Bible reading for Thursday, December 24, is Nehemiah 1:1 – 2:20, Revelation 16:1-21 and Psalm 147:1-11.

P.S. If you’re in Phoenix, AZ this Christmas, join us at CrossWalk Church for our Christmas Rockin’ Eve worship service and concert. Services are being held today (December 24) at 3, 5, and 7 pm. CrossWalk Church worships at Cesar Chavez High School, 3921 W. Baseline Road, 85339.

Header image based on "Time heals all wounds..." by Neal Fowler, CC By 2.0

Faithful Forever

Sometimes we place expectations on those around us that are far too high. We give them a place in our hearts that’s so big they cannot possibly fill it. We ask them to carry a burden for us that they cannot possibly lift.

People, after all, are sinful. And they are just plain human. They have human weaknesses, human foibles, and human shortcomings. Being sinners, every human being will transgress and fail to love God, or love us, as faithfully as they should.

Out of our own neediness, we place expectations on people that they’re unable to bear, and we create idols. We take good things and make them ultimate things. And in the end, we inevitably wind up disappointed, angry, frustrated and hurt.

The antidote? Stop trusting the “power people” in your life for things that they cannot possibly provide.

Much as you might wish they could, no person can bring you eternal love. Or eternal hope. They cannot provide you with eternal faithfulness or forgiveness. They will not be able to deliver eternal joy. And especially, they will never be able to give you eternal life.

Don’t fall into the trap of placing much too high of an expectation on people — even those you might feel sure that you can really trust. You will simply be setting yourself up for huge disappointment. Because there is only One who can meet our needs and fulfill our desires. And there is only One who is fully and forever trustworthy.

God alone.

He is your Maker, your Helper, your Redeemer. Your Savior. He remains faithful forever. His love never dissolves or disappoints.

“Do not put your trust in princes,
    in human beings, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
    on that very day their plans come to nothing.
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God.

He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
    the sea, and everything in them—
    he remains faithful forever” (Psalm 146:3-6, NIV).

Lord Jesus, thank you for your faithful love. I can only truly find it in you. I need that love — the only love that never, ever dissolves or disappoints.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, December 23, is Ezra 10:1-44, Revelation 14:14 – 15:8 and Psalm 146:1-10.

Header image based on "Do not put your trust in princes..." by db Photography, CC By 2.0

Speak Up!

Jay Leno once asked random people on the street to name one of the Ten Commandments. And the most popular response was, “God helps those who help themselves.”

Not only is this not one of the Ten Commandments, it’s not to be found in the Bible at all.

Instead, it is in actuality a proverbial “truism” that has likely been around for thousands of years. Versions of it have been found in ancient Greek dramas as far back as 400 BC. The Roman poet Ovid, who lived in the time of Caesar Augustus, also had a version of this saying in his poetry.

In fact, the Bible’s message is the exact opposite. The very concept of grace is founded on the fact that God helps those who cannot help themselves. God loves the helpless, the poor, the lost and the needy.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3, NIV).

The grace of God excludes our helping ourselves. Jesus is not our business partner or our teammate, carrying the baton only after we have first run our leg of the race. He is our Savior. He is the Advocate who speaks up for us, because there is nothing we can say for ourselves.

Jesus displaces our guilt with his grace, our sin with his righteousness. Our work is nothing. His is everything. The apostle Paul writes, “So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace” (Romans 11:5, NIV).

Now, as we were helped when we were helpless, as we have an advocate when we are powerless to speak for ourselves, so we too can be advocates for those around us who cannot speak for themselves. We can stand up for the poor and needy.

Jesus speaks up for us before the throne of the Father. And now, we speak up for others who cannot help themselves.

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
    for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
    defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8-9, NIV).

Lord Jesus, thank you for helping me when I was poor and needy because of my sins. You spoke up for me when I could not speak for myself. Empower me by your Spirit and your gospel promises to speak up for those who are poor and needy, for those who are powerless to speak up for themselves.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, December 22, is Ezra 8:15 – 9:15, Revelation 14:1-13 and Proverbs 31:1-9.

Header image based on "Fraternidad_Cuba 292" by James Emery, 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

The End of Accusation

The Greek word for devil is “diabolos.” And this word refers to someone who is a slanderer or a false accuser.

Satan is our adversary, and one of the ways he loves to fight against us is through lies and accusations. Have you ever wondered why your heart still makes you feel guilty and filled with shame, even when you know in your mind that Jesus has forgiven you for your sin?

This is the way it is when Satan is at work. Even many years — sometimes decades — after we have committed a particular sin, and after being told again and again that Jesus has forgiven us, the devil will still call our past sins to our attention. Guilt floods in. Shame overtakes us.

But the message of Christmas, and the beauty of the book of Revelation, is that the accuser is defeated. We can stop listening to him.

Because Christ, our King, is born. His salvation, his power, his kingdom and his authority are ascendant. And our accuser has been hurled down.

We triumph over Satan today, and over his accusations, when our eyes move from the manger to the cross. There our Savior bled and died to win our forgiveness. We triumph over the power of the devil when we go back to God’s words and promises, and hear once again of the righteousness Jesus won for us through his perfect life and his innocent death.

Christmas (and Good Friday, and Easter) makes us conquerers. It is the end of accusation, because the accuser himself has been banished.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:

“Now have come the salvation and the power
    and the kingdom of our God,
    and the authority of his Messiah.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
    who accuses them before our God day and night,
    has been hurled down.
They triumphed over him
    by the blood of the Lamb
    and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
    as to shrink from death” (Revelation 12:10-11, NIV).

Lord, Jesus, thank you for becoming a man like us and triumphing over the devil, our accuser. Help me by your gospel promises to remain confident in that forgiveness every day, and to refuse to listen to Satan’s lying accusations. I no longer have to subject myself to his constant accusations because you have overthrown him. I am forgiven, truly forgiven!

Our Bible reading for Sunday, December 20, is Ezra 6:1 – 7:10, Revelation 12:1 – 13:1 and Psalm 145:8-13.

Header image based on "El belen azulgrana" by jacinta lluch valero, CC By-SA 2.0