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

Battles

Let’s face it. It’s war out there. And the battlefields multiply. They are everywhere you turn.

There are battles in our schools, battles in our workplaces, battles on our roadways, and battles in our own homes.

There are battles with our parents, battles with our spouse, battles with our children, and battles with our boss.

There are battles with our health, battles with our finances, battles with our careers, and battles with our relationships.

And most deadly of all, we have battles with the devil, battles with the world, and battles with our own sinful flesh.

But we also have a God — a Savior, Jesus — who gives us a solid place to plant our feet for all these battles. He trains us for life’s battles through the teaching of his word. He provides us a safe fortress to run to, a stronghold in which to hide. He is our shield, our refuge and our deliverer.

He is our confidence, our courage, our hope and our ultimate victory.

No matter what the current battle might be.

“Praise be to the Lord my Rock,
    who trains my hands for war,
    my fingers for battle.
He is my loving God and my fortress,
    my stronghold and my deliverer,
my shield, in whom I take refuge,
    who subdues peoples under me” (Psalm 144:1-2, NIV).

Lord Jesus, I have many battles going on in my life. But with you at my side, I am confident of victory. You train my hands. You provide me a place of refuge. You are my shield and my deliverer. Thank you for all your love, mercy and forgiveness. Grant me especially to obtain victory over the devil, the world and my own sinful flesh.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, December 16, is Malachi 2:17 – 4:6, Revelation 7:1-17 and Psalm 144:1-8.

Header image based on "Think He Got The Point" by Paul Kitchener, CC By 2.0

God’s Answers to Big Questions

Our identity determines much about how we speak and act. Recognizing who we are is a critical piece of knowing how to respond to the various humbling challenges, mind-bending obstacles, heartaches and heart-breaks that arise in our lives.

This is true about other critical answers to big questions in life, not just the question, “Who am I?”

There’s destiny. Where am I going in life?

There’s purpose. Why am I here?

There’s possibility. What am I capable of?

And there’s community. Who will join me and support me on this journey?

All the answers to these questions can give us greater confidence and hope in our lives. Or the answers we have can demolish us and break our will.

If I’m “nobody” that will inform all my actions. If I believe my life is “going nowhere” that will affect my energy and my drive. If I’m sure that there is no end goal, no real purpose to my life, it can be pretty hard to even get going in the morning. Life becomes just one endless series of meaningless tasks.

If I think I have no gifts or talents, and no promise from a loving God to powerfully be with me, I will easily give up when obstacles arise. If I believe I’m alone is life, with no allies and no friends or family to support me, I will isolate myself and be subject to loneliness, frustration and spiritual attack.

That’s why I’m so grateful that God is clear about his answers to all these big questions. In the love that he has lavished on us, he has responded on our behalf to all five questions. He’s supplied those answers in Jesus Christ, and in the good news of his gospel promises.

Identity? By faith in Christ, we are called children of God, and that is what we are.

Destiny? Jesus is coming, and we know that when he appears, we shall be like him.

Purpose? The world does not know him, but God definitely wants us to let the world know about him! We have a Great Commission given us by Jesus!

Possibility? All who have this hope purify themselves, just as he is pure. Our sins have been forgiven and  it is now possible for us to live a Christ-centered life to the glory of God.

Community? We have a Father, we are his children, and that means we have — through faith in Jesus Christ — many brothers, sisters and friends!

Don’t let anyone commit “identity theft” on you! Or destiny theft. Or purpose, possibility or community theft either. Make no mistake, that’s what the devil and all his “criminal forces” want to accomplish.

Secure your ID by leaning on gospel promises like this. And hold on tightly to what Jesus has given you!

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:1-3, NIV).

Lord, thank you for your Son, Jesus. Through your gospel promises, help me to hold on tightly to my God-given identity, destiny, purpose, possibility and community. Keep the devil far away, and prevent him from stealing any of these from me. Help me to glorify you in all I do by meeting challenges in my life on the basis of my gospel-given answers to the big questions in life.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, December 2, is Daniel 8:15 – 9:19, 1 John 2:28 – 3:10 and Proverbs 29:10-18.

Header image based on "Identity Theft" by GotCredit, CC By 2.0

Divine Safety Net

Marcus Aurelius was the original “philosopher-king.” Emperor of Rome for 19 years, from 161-180 AD, he was also considered one of the greatest Stoic philosophers. He was a big advocate of self-sufficiency and personal self-empowerment. He once wrote, “Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.”

What Marcus Aurelius said almost 2000 years ago has become a rallying cry for modern American culture. “It is all within yourself,” we are told. We can make our own way, create our own life, carve our own path. Be fiercely independent. Or, as Frank Sinatra famously put it in his iconic song: “I did it my way.”

But it’s all an elaborate deception. That message is a lie.

There is a much better way, and it involves not going it alone. It means doing life together with God. It entails leaning on him for strength and wisdom, for courage, forgiveness and peace. It means believing that God is right when he tells us, “Two are better than one.” And that’s especially true when one of the two is God.

Consider this. When God is at our side, we have the Creator of heaven and earth beside us. When God is at our side, we have one who never needs to rest or sleep beside us. When God is at our side, we have One who desires to shade us from harm and who wants to to keep our foot from slipping. He knows the entirety of our life, and he knows the little bits and pieces of our life too — right down to every time we leave to go somewhere, and every time we return.

Sometimes life can be as risky as a trapeze act. But God is our divine safety net. He is where our help comes from.

Which means — as the Psalmist writes — he would be a pretty good person to keep close at hand at all times.

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore” (Psalm 121:1-8, NIV).

Lord, thank you for being my protection. I am grateful that you watch over me, and over my coming and going. Help me to always recognize my need for you and your protection. Walk with me and guard my life.

Our Bible reading for Monday, November 9, is Ezekiel 17:1 – 18:32, Hebrews 9:16-28 and Psalm 121:1-8.

Header image based on "Lily on the Net" by Eden, Janine and Jim, CC By 2.0

Anchor for the Soul

Merriam-Webster defines the word “anchor” this way:

  1. a device usually of metal attached to a ship or boat by a cable and cast overboard to hold it in a particular place by means of a fluke that digs into the bottom 
  2. a reliable or principal support :  mainstay
  3. something that serves to hold an object firmly

The author of the book of Hebrews recalls the hope we have in Jesus — our hope of forgiveness despite the ugliness of our sins, our hope to have the power and the help of the Holy Spirit to change our way of life, our hope that heaven is real and that Jesus is preparing a place for us there.

And in his letter to the Hebrews, the author calls this hope an “anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”

The words strongly imply that our souls are never steady all by themselves. But you already recognize that, don’t you? Experience alone would tell you that. Worry, anxiety, guilt, shame, anger, frustration, greed, lust, envy, jealousy — these are all winds that blow our soul around and create waves, waves that cause our soul to bob unsteadily and erratically through life.

Nothing within us will keep us steady. We need something outside of ourselves to hold our souls steady. We need something reliable to be our support and mainstay. We need something that can resist the force of the winds and the waves and hold us firmly in place in the grace, mercy and peace of Jesus Christ.

And that “something” is the hope that Jesus gives us. Hope secures us to the bedrock of God’s promises and holds our soul steadily in place.

So the bottom line is this: Don’t set sail in life without an anchor on board. Don’t allow anyone to tell you that you don’t need an anchor for your soul. Take Jesus, and the hope he gives you, with you everyday wherever you go.

Then you will have a soul that is firm and secure.

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19, NIV).

Lord, I thank you for the hope that I have in Jesus Christ, your Son, my Lord and Savior. Help me to carry this hope with me every day in life and use it as an anchor for my soul. I want to live a life and have a soul that is firm and secure.

Our Bible reading for Thursday, November 5, is Ezekiel 7:1 – 9:11, Hebrews 6:13 – 7:10 and Psalm 119:161-168.

Header image based on "Ancora, ancla, anchor." by Miguel Campo, CC By-SA 2.0

Keep Your Head

Keep your head. That’s so much easier said than done.

When emotional situations arise, the easiest thing in the world is instead to abandon self-control. Throw a tantrum. Pitch a fit. Have a cow. Lose it.

And anytime you are involved in ministry — or life — hard situations are going to be thrown at you. When life is going smoothly, it’s easy to keep your cool. It’s when things go south that our self-control really gets tested.

Can we keep our head when others are pushing our buttons? That’s the real question.

Paul, the apostle, is writing from prison. From these dire circumstances, he can see pretty clearly what’s coming. But he remains calm and steady. Whatever might come — discouragement, persecution, or death — Paul knows what Jesus has accomplished on his behalf. He is convinced that Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross, and his resurrection from the dead, has him fully covered.

The finish line is coming, and Paul has never been more confident in Christ. He has kept the faith. While he anticipates his heavenly reward, he has words of advice for young Timothy, the pastor who will succeed him and keep advancing the gospel.

Hard situations are going to come, Paul tells him. I’ve been through them. In fact, I’m going through them right now. And you’ll go through them too.

But whatever comes, remain calm. Keep your head. Endure and persevere.

Most of all, don’t ever forget this. Jesus has always had my back. And Jesus will always have your back, too. So no matter what, let’s keep the faith and a crown of righteousness awaits us both at the end of this life. In fact, a crown of righteousness awaits everyone who confidently waits for Jesus.

“But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:4-8, NIV).

Lord, I can so easily lose my head in tough situations. Fear rules. Anger springs up. I ask for your forgiveness for the times in the past I’ve lost my head. Help me to have the peace and strength you gave Paul. Give me your Spirit and grant me endurance and faith in Jesus that does not end until I receive my crown of righteousness from him.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, October 25, is Jeremiah 51:15-64, 2 Timothy 4:1-22 and Psalm 119:97-104.

Header image based on "Jesse Jackson: Hold Your Head High" by BK, CC By 2.0

3 Things God Plans for You

Have you ever felt “banished”? Or “in captivity”? Or perhaps, “exiled”? The Israelites were far more than feeling this. They were experiencing it.

God’s chosen had been banished to Babylon as discipline for their sins of idolatry, lovelessness and injustice. They were in captivity and the Babylonians told them what they could do and not do. They were exiled and could not go home to the place they loved.

It would have been a major temptation to think, “God no longer loves us. He plans to punish us here forever, and we have no hope of ever escaping this. All we can expect is more pain, more trouble, more defeat, more loneliness.”

In times of trouble and hardship, it becomes really easy to believe that God only wants to bring us hurt and harm. We lose our optimism about the future. We feel like we’re just going to be held down and beaten up. We throw planning out the window. “Why plan?” we think to ourselves. Some disaster is just going to happen and demolish our plans anyway.

That’s why Jeremiah 29 is so important. In this chapter, Jeremiah sends a letter to the exiles in Babylon from Jerusalem. And he reassures them that God’s plans for them are loving plans, plans to help them prosper, plans to give them a wonderful future.

Hope is so necessary, and so powerful. And we all need a message of hope from time to time.

That’s why Jeremiah 29:11 is a great passage to take with you wherever you go in life. It’s a great passage for the dark times. We can use it to remind ourselves that — no matter what current events seem to be telling us — we have a God who gives us hope.

So, never forget. God plans three things for you. You have a God who plans 1) to prosper you, and 2) to give you hope, and 3) to give you a future.

And never lose sight of this, either. God loves to have you seek him out through his word. He promises that when you do that, you will find him — and find your hope again!

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile” (Jeremiah 29:11-14, NIV).

Jesus, thank you for your sacrifice for sins, and for your resurrection. This tells me you always intend to reconcile with me, and that there is always hope and a future. Help me to trust that you always want me to prosper in the end. And especially help me to trust this when I am undergoing tough times in life.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, October 13, is Jeremiah 27:1 – 29:23, 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12 and Psalm 119:25-32.

Header image based on "hope" by pol sifter, CC By 2.0