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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

His Plans


I was thinking about the Scripture verse on a sign I received recently as a gift:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” - Jeremiah 29:11
Sometimes I wonder what God's plan is. Sometimes it seems like maybe his plan is not as good from my perspective as it is from His. Like maybe something that is a good thing in the grand scheme of His plan might just feel exactly like a disaster to me. Sometimes I think that maybe His plans are working out a bit more slowly than I want them to, you know? Ever feel that way?

So I looked up the chapter in my Logos software to remind myself of the circumstances surrounding this prophecy. I've read through Jeremiah before, but it's been a while, so I wanted to get a refresher. What I found surprised me a lot!

I had forgotten that Jeremiah was a prophet during the time that God's people were in exile from their homeland - they had been invaded, captured, and been deported to a foreign land. It was the ultimate disaster for them! Yet Jeremiah had a message of hope for them: God's plans for you are for good, not disaster.

Of course, Jeremiah had an additional message for them: settle in, boys, because you're going to be here for a while.

WHAT?

Jeremiah's message of hope was that God was going to redeem his people... later?

It certainly was. Let's read more of that chapter:

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare....For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. - Jeremiah 29:4–7, 10-11 (ESV)
God's plan was for them to be in a seventy-year time out, and then He would miraculously rescue them. And we find out in the book of Daniel that that's exactly what happened! God rescued them exactly when He promised!

Do you think the people wanted to live in exile for seventy years? Of course they didn't. But God's wisdom, His plan, was that things would happen at a certain time, and that was the right time.

Years ago I asked a man I knew had a lot of wisdom about the Word about a Scripture from Galatians:
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.- Galatians 6:9 (ESV)
There was something I was waiting on, and I wanted to know what "in due season" meant. He told me it was like the "due date" for a baby. You can know roughly what the right date is, and you can hope for a certain date, but in the end, the baby is going to be born at a time over which you have limited control. The baby is "due" at the right time. You may want him or her to be born three months after conception, so you can see his or her sweet little face, but that's not the right time. The right time is the "due" time.

Sometimes your and my idea of the right time for God to answer our prayers doesn't match up with His idea of the right time. In general, you shouldn't try to modify the due time for a baby, and in general, it's probably not a good idea to try to influence God's "due season" for your answer to prayer. It might take longer than you want it to, but when the right time comes, God's going to make sure it happens!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Never Fall

This past weekend my pastor delivered a message about living a life where you never "stumble". I wanted to compile a list of Scriptures he used all in one place, and thought I would share! Here they are (emphasis is mine):

Joel 2:26-27:
“You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
and praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.
You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else.
     And my people shall never again be put to shame.

Romans 9:33:
...as it is written, 
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; 
      and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.

Romans 10:11:

For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.

2 Peter 1:10:

Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 

1 John 2:1:

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 

John 17:23:

I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

Philippians 1:20:

...as it is my eager expectation and hope that I [Paul] will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.

Psalm 33:22:
Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, 

     even as we hope in you.



This is by no means the complete list of Scripture references from the message - just ones on the specific part of the message I wanted to think about a little more. Here's the full message (it's worth listening to). The part containing the Scriptures above starts at about 18:55 (I've quoted the ESV above, but I think he's using the NLT in the video):



If you enjoyed this message, you can check out the full series here.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Epiphany 2016


You know, year after year God has used Epiphany to effect our family in any number of ways. This year, as you will see, the Holy Spirit is clearly trying to tell my wife and me something! Read on for the details.

First off: if you have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about, you might want to review some of my past Epiphany posts. The short version of the story is that for the past five years, every year in my family we have a special tradition on January 6th where my wife and I, as the leadership in our home, give one gift to each family member which we hope will lead each of us to a closer walk with the Lord in the coming year.

In addition to that, every year I try to come up with something interesting to share with my family about the Wise Men, or the history of the church holiday, or whatever. Something relevant and edifying. Well, this year I realized that in my Logos Bible software installation I have access to lectionaries from several denominations, and those lectionaries contain Bible readings specifically chosen for use on any day of the year, especially holidays like Epiphany. I went through all of them to see what they have, and as it turns out, most of them had selected more or less the same Scriptures. And they were awesome.

For those from church traditions (like the one I come from) that don't use this kind of prescribed Scripture readings, generally there will be an "Old Testament" reading, a "Psalms" reading, a "Gospels" reading, and an "Epistles" reading for each date. The ones almost unanimously chosen for this date are:

Old Testament: Isaiah 60:1-6  which is a remarkably vivid prophetic description of a bright light rising and appearing over Israel and people (including kings) bringing caravans of camels laden with gold and frankincense.

Psalms: Psalm 72 in which David (who calls himself "the king" in his psalms) prophetically describes visitors from distant lands bringing gifts to one of his descendants (remember, Jesus was known as the "son of David").

Gospels: Matthew 2:1-12 which is of course the Gospel account of the coming of the Wise Men to see Jesus.

Epistles: Ephesians 3:1-12 The significance of the arrival of the Wise Men is that they were the first who recognized that Jesus was given not just to the Jews, but to the Gentiles also (they were not Jewish). In this passage Paul explains that God has called him to share the message of Christ's salvation with the Gentiles as well.

I actually copied all of these passages into a Word document to print out and read to the family - if you'd like to see it or use it, I've shared it here. As in the links above, I used the New Living Translation, specifically because my daughter is still young and I didn't want to confuse or bore her with long Bible passages she couldn't understand.

So after we read through those passages and talked briefly about their significance, we moved on to the presents!

At my daughter's school, they make a point to have all the kids bring water bottles, on the theory that well-hydrated kids make better learners. This year my wife and I spotted a cute sports bottle covered with flowers that has printed on it "I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me. Philippians 4:13". I explained to my daughter that sometimes there are hard things that people ask you to do - like a tough assignment in math class. God can strengthen you to complete that task. Then sometimes there are things that the Holy Spirit speaks into your heart - like showing love to someone who hasn't been nice to you. God can strengthen you to do those hard things too. She took it to school with her the next day - she really loved the multicolored pinwheel of a flower right in the middle!

My son was up next. This past year he expressed some interest in Sherlock Holmes, so when I saw a book called A Sherlock Holmes Devotional I was immediately interested! Basically, the book contains a synopsis of a Sherlock Holmes story, and then a kind of "personal application" kind of thing that goes along with it. When I handed it to him I explained that we chose it for two reasons: first, we thought he would enjoy using it. But second, we wanted him to remember that sometimes you have to search out the things of God, look for clues to find them. When he opened it he immediately started leafing through it with a smile on his face - I hope it makes a big difference for him!

My wife was next in line. We just moved into a new house this past year, and frankly we haven't had the chance yet to decorate it like she would like for it to be. I took a little bit of a chance (sometimes a woman's sense of taste is really specific) and got her a small piece of framed art with a quotation from C. S. Lewis, "You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream," and a partial quote from Jeremiah 29:11, "For I know the plans I have for you to give you a future and a hope." She has often told me about certain choices she made as a girl that she has since regretted, and I felt it in my heart to let her know that it's never too late to pursue the dreams God has placed on your heart. She loved it! She found a perfect place for it as soon as we were done, and we hung it then and there. You can see a picture of it proudly displayed on our wall below:

The "Dream" framed art, proudly displayed in our new house!
Last of all it was my turn. This year my wife collaborated with my son, and they found a triangular office desk decoration that they liked for me. And it also has Jeremiah 29:11 quoted on it! Seems like maybe the Lord is saying to my family that He's got a plan for us this year, and it's going to be a good thing!

It's really cool to see that God has laid similar things on my heart and on my wife's heart for the upcoming year. If you read my blog post last year, my gift to my wife displayed a verse that says that God would back up her plans (conceived of course from a Godly heart), and this year her gift reassures her that God has His own plans for her. The gift I received last year said that I would be blessed if I put my trust in the Lord, and this year's gift lets me know that God's plans are for good things and not for disaster. How great is that?

Epiphany was on Wednesday this year, and my daughter wanted to bring the Wise Men with her to church. I let her bring the ones from our Little People Nativity set, along with the baby Jesus, but she also brought something else: a chest from her My Little Pony toy castle, containing gold, frankincense, and myrrh. You can see it in the picture at the top of this post!

I write about our Epiphany every year, not to make us seem so cool and spiritual, but because it is a special time for us. I hope you make your own "plans" next year to follow our example with your own family. It's one of my favorite traditions from the holiday season!

"His Plans" on my desk at work

By the way... if you are interested in purchasing a base package of the Logos software I mentioned above - which is REALLY incredible, by the way - get in touch with me so I can give you my email address. If you call them and tell them I referred you, with my email address so they can locate my account, not only will you get 15% off your purchase and some other valuable books for free, but I'll get a credit on my Logos account so I can add some stuff to my library too. Win-win!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

One More Gift!

It's the most wonderful time of the year again! No, I don't mean Christmas, although that's the other most wonderful time of the year. I'm talking about a church holiday called Epiphany, which falls on this Wednesday. Epiphany (or "Three Kings Day", or "Dreik√∂nigsfest" if you want to go all crazy about it) is the traditional holiday when Christians celebrate the arrival of the Wise Men in Bethlehem. It is a celebration of the revelation of Jesus to the Gentiles, which is what the "epiphany" (lower-case) is - when we understood that Jesus was a gift for all of us, not just the Jews. For some more about the Wise Men and their significance, check out the first part of my post about Epiphany from last year.

Several years ago I started a tradition in our home that I hope others will adopt. You can read about the basic idea in the post I wrote the first year we did it, but essentially we (the parents, the leadership of our home) choose one single gift for each member of our family that is chosen specifically to inspire them to draw closer to Jesus in the coming year. We give a gift because the Wise Men brought gifts! The holiday is close enough to Christmas that it still feels like a gift-giving time, but far enough removed that it's easier to remember that this is all about Jesus, not reindeer or fat men in red suits or elves on shelves any of that other fun stuff.

I encourage you to think about what you can give someone on Wednesday that might help them think about Jesus during the next twelve months. We always keep our gifts ver modest - $20 is more or less the limit on cost per gift for us. If you need some ideas, feel free to read back through my posts form past years about what we gave on Epiphanies past. Or just choose one person and give them something small, even handmade - as long as they know that this is about seeking more of Jesus this year. The Wise Men traveled hundreds of dangerous miles through desert wilderness to find Jesus and bring gifts. Maybe our gifts can inspire us to take a journey deeper into our relationship with Him!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Christmas in Heaven

Well, Christmas Day 2015 is now behind us, but I was thinking the other day about my dad. He passed away a year and a half ago. I suppose it's pretty common to think about people you've lost at Christmastime, which since Christmas is a joyful, celebratory time, seems a bit paradoxical. But, it happens, and it was happening to me. I was wondering something that I'll bet a lot of people missing their loved ones at Christmas wonder: I wondered if they celebrate Christmas in Heaven?

I mean, obviously Jesus is as central a figure to people in Heaven as He is to us still on Earth. Maybe even more so in significant ways, since He is bodily present in Heaven! So, wouldn't they want to celebrate His incarnation as the Savior who got them to Heaven in the first place?

But to most accounts, time is not the same kind of thing there that it is here. I don't know if, to an occupant of Heaven, it even makes any difference at all whether or not it is December 25th on Earth. Certainly God created the cycle of seasons that make up the year, but Heaven isn't on Earth anyway. There are no seasons there, and certainly no specific dates. There's not even a nighttime! What use is a calendar when there are no day/night cycles, no seasons, and nobody even gets old anyway?

Then I thought about what constitutes "celebrating Christmas" - stripping away things like shopping (but keeping a giving heart in the mix), traditional Christmas stories like Rudolph and Frosty (but of course retaining the one with the manger and the baby), putting up decorations and lights. If you remove the cultural trappings, Christmas means celebrating the amazing miracle of the incarnation of Christ Jesus, and that brings with it the impulse to celebrate! To sing, to give, to love. To appreciate and enjoy those around you. To me, those are the things that really make up Christmas. If I miss seeing a Rankin-Bass special one year, Christmas does not truly lose anything - but if I miss the chance to love others by giving, I miss out on something important.

If those things are the central point of Christmas, then I would say in Heaven, they do celebrate Christmas. They celebrate it every single day! Every day, the risen Christ is a physical reminder to them that He came to Earth to save every human being He could. How joyful of a celebration is that?

And that's why I'm still blogging about Christmas this year, the week after December 25th. Because just because we're not in Heaven yet doesn't mean we can't celebrate Jesus' coming to save us any time we want! I know "Christmas all through the year" has become a bit of a clich√©, but for Christians, it is absolutely true. We can celebrate the freedom brought to Earth by Jesus every single day. It's what makes us look to the world like something is different about us! Something is different. Jesus paid us a visit, and we can never be the same after that.

So take a moment today to celebrate Christmas with my dad. With your departed loved ones, too. And with me, and with everyone else that Jesus' coming to Earth has changed forever! Let today be Christmas to you, because Jesus has arrived in your heart!

Friday, December 25, 2015

Letter

When Santa Claus gets your letter, You know what he will say:
"Have you been good the way you should On ev'ry single day?"

When Santa gets your letter To ask for Christmas toys,
He'll take a look in his good book He keeps for girls and boys.

He'll stroke his beard, his eyes will glow, And at your name he'll peer;
It takes a little time, you know, To check back one whole year!

When Santa Claus gets your letter, I really do believe,
You'll head his list, you won't be missed, By Santa on Christmas Eve.

-"When Santa Claus Gets Your Letter" by Johnny Marks (recorded by Gene Autry)
I think it's interesting that every story we tell kids about Santa Claus says that Santa gives "bad kids" lumps of coal (or will bring them nothing at all!)... but no kid thinks that they've been bad enough for that. Every kid thinks that Santa loves them enough to overlook the bad things they have done. Nobody is bad enough to tick off Santa! Write him a letter! Tell him what you want - he'll get it right to you!
For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. -Romans 3:23 NLT
In contrast, the letter God wrote to us (the Bible) tells us that nobody is good enough to meet God's standard. We're all "bad kids". We all deserve lumps of coal from God. Even worse, we all deserve to spend eternity in Hell!
Yet God freely and graciously declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. -Romans 3:24 NLT
The good news is that God sent Jesus into the world to satisfy God's justice - to pay the penalty for what we had done. To bail us out of Hell - better yet, to serve our sentence for us! That's the story of Christmas. It's the first part of God's plan to buy our pardon. To eliminate the eternal consequences of all our sins! What a great Christmas story!
Jesus loves me, this I know
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong.
They are weak, but He is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so!
So why do we find it so easy to believe that Santa loves us enough to do something amazing for us, even though every one of us did something bad this past year... but no matter what we do, God can't possibly love us enough to forgive us for our sins? Why is Santa's love so easy to swallow, but God's is too hard to grasp?

I hope Santa left something cool for you this morning - I'm sure he did. And I also know that God gave us the most amazing, incredible, life-altering gift of all. Santa says: "You've done something bad, but you're still pretty good. I'll just ignore those bad things you did. Here's a gift!" God says: "There is no way you can be good enough to be able to receive what I have, but I love you so much that I'm going to wipe that slate clean and make it possible for you to receive from Me what you need!" Sure, Santa will overlook your flaws. God doesn't overlook your flaws. God has eradicated your sins through Jesus! Think about that today!

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Money Talks

As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. Matthew 13:22 (ESV) 
This morning when I read this scripture, I was struck by the word "deceitfulness". The verse mentions worrying, for sure, but it's not specifically worrying about money. The money is actually deceiving this person. What is the deception? The scripture passage doesn't really say in Matthew or Mark. The parallel passage in Luke gives a slightly different perspective:
And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. Luke 8:14 (ESV)
This version of the story makes it even clearer that there are "cares" or worries or stresses that can be a problem, but there is another category of "thorns" - riches and pleasures. It's not just bad things that can choke the Word; things that we normally see as "good" things can do so as well.

So how are we "deceived" by our own money? I think the biggest deception may be that we think more money can make us happy. We've all seen the now-famous Jim Carrey quote “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it's not the answer.” And I think everyone who is not as wealthy as Jim Carrey is (most of us!) will tend to have a "sopur grapes" reaction, something like "That's right, Jim! You found out that just because you're a zillionaire famous actor, you're miserable just like us regular folks!" But then we fall into the same trap: "Man, it's four days to payday. If I just had twenty bucks I could get that thing I just saw at the store..." or "...I could order pizza tonight and I wouldn't have to cook..." or "...I could go see a movie and relax..." and we think that whatever thing it is will make use feel happier. And it's true in one way: it might make us feel happier in the moment.

That's why it's so easy for our riches to lie to us.

Because after you eat the pizza, you're going to get heartburn. That thing from the store was actually not that well made, and it fell apart a week later. The movie turned out to be a stinker. Or maybe none of those things happened, but in this world, the luster eventually wears off on everything. There is only one thing that goes against that trend, and that is because it doesn't originate in this world. The Westminster Shorter Catechism says that "Man's chief End is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever." I've found in my life that there are always high points and low points, but when my focus is centered on the Lord, the high points are higher, and the low points are actually higher too. When you are wrapped up in Jesus, things are better than when you are wrapped up in anything else.

Your money is a liar. Also, the money you don't have is a liar. They both tell you they can make you happy, but they cannot. When you don't let those "thorns" choke out what the Word of God wants to speak into your heart, this is what happens:

As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience. Luke 8:15 (ESV)