Monday, November 30, 2009

The Real Gift of Christmas

The season of Christmas is upon us along with the burden of performance, which is at its peak. At no other time do we sense such a need to show those we love or care about the epitome of our feelings towards them. As with each passing year, the knowledge of past failures mount to the point that the season is looked upon with dread. This is not what the season is supposed to bring, its purpose is to bring joy.

Long ago in the divine love of God, he made a promise. It was a promise not based on performance, loyalty, or desire, but out of pure love. We all know that Mary accepted the angel’s proposal without consideration of the eventual cost to herself or to the one she would give birth. However, have we ever stopped to consider why God choose this particular way? The answer is simple, God establishes the rules and because they are perfect in every way, he will not violate his own Holy Law. Never once, did he stop to count the cost or back away from the ultimate sacrifice that would consummate that promise.

When the Lord gave Moses his Holy Law, he made certain provisions within the Law for redemption. Whenever an Israelite found themselves in such dire straits that they would have to sell their ancestral home, they were to submit themselves to their family elder who is their “kinsman redeemer.” The responsibility of the kinsman redeemer was to buy back or pay off the debt of their family member so that the ancestral property would not fall into foreign hands.

The earth was a gift to man, but the title deed of the earth was lost to Satan, when sin entered the world. Jesus was born to become our Kinsman Redeemer. In order for Jesus to accomplish his responsibility, he had to become a human. It was decided long ago the way Jesus would enter the world, not as a full-grown man, but as a helpless babe that would grow and experience all that we experience, but without rebellion against God.

To show that God’s salvation was for everyone, the king of glory was not born in a palace, where he would be pampered and isolated, but to an uneducated couple from a small town that no one respected. He further demonstrated his love with the first invitees to his royal birth, they were shepherds, the lowest class of all. The Lord found no shame in becoming a slave in order to save all those who would come seeking him. He lived the ultimate standard of love, a love that knows no bounds, no reservation, and no status.

Take a moment this season and look to the example this season represents. Look beyond the gifts, decoration, songs and gatherings. Listen for these words in the night sky, “I bring you good news of great joy, born this night in the city of David is the savior, he is Christ the Lord” Let your heart hear the angels praise, “Glory to God in the Highest, peace on earth, goodwill to men.” The only Son of God took on flesh and came into the world to deliver in person God’s message that we are his most beloved creations.

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving Thanks

Today in America is a celebration “Thanksgiving.” A time of year, when our thoughts are turned toward those things we should give thanks to God for. It is a day when our forefathers celebrated not only surviving in a new land but in the new friends that they had made. It is a tradition that has gone on for over 300 years, but giving thanks is not an American tradition it is a God tradition, established many millennia ago.

We are designed to give praise and thanks to our Father for who he is, for all of his goodness and favor toward us.( Exodus 34: 6-7) He is merciful and forgiving and we can never give him so much that he would feel obligated to repay us. We, however, can never give to him the full honor and praise that he so rightfully deserves. (Romans 11:35-36)

We say we are thankful with our mouths, but are we truly thankful in our hearts? It is the heart of a person that God sees. He knows the intention and motivations of everyone. (Proverbs 24:12) We cannot fool God by our words.

We have seen his goodness and received his salvation through Jesus Christ. If for only that one act of love; we should be giving continual praise and thanksgiving, regardless of our current temporary circumstances. God knows our needs and if we fill our hearts with praise, he will meet those needs.

Our heart of praise should not be based on our circumstances but on who he is. Start giving thanks for everything good thing you have in your life, and give to him those things that trouble you. You will see that the more you trust him with your life, the more reasons he will give you to praise.

“I will praise the Lord at all times; I will constantly speak his praises. I will boast only in the Lord. Let all who are discouraged take heart. Come let us tell of the Lord’s greatness, let us exalt his name together. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys those trust in him!” (Psalms 34:1-3, 8 NLT)

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Mercy Pick

One of the difficult and defining moments growing up was when it came time to pick teams. Usually those who were the leaders took charge and began to choose from the pool of participants. First called were those whose abilities had the best chance for building a winning team. One by one as the names were called a certain amount of anxiety would begin to rise in those who were waiting, they knew they were not the best, but hoping they were the worst. Those final few were known as the "Mercy Pick". Nobody really wanted them on their teams, but everybody was picked.

It should be comforting to know that God chose you first, before the foundations of the earth. It was not based on anything but his love for you (John 15:16). Every single hair is counted (Matthew 10:30). Every day is numbered and he knew everything you would do before a single day had passed (Psalms 139:16). When we think of all those who have gone before us, the names of those great heroes of faith, we may wonder where in that list could we place? Feeling we are not as good as they were or hoping were not the worst. The truth is all of us are in the same rank and file as all those who have gone before. God has no favorites.

The Lord called each of us to be on" his team", not based on our abilities but on our faith in him. “For when we are weak”, meaning surrounded by flesh, “then we are strong”, meaning built in faith (2 Corinthians 12: 8-10). The Lord takes a great amount of pleasure in blessing us. So if you are stuck in that “What can I do?” Feeling you cannot add much to the team, remember whose team you are on, and you were first picked!

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Truth Behind Guilt and Conviction

The basic difference between Guilt and Conviction is; Guilt separates and Conviction restores. For the child of God, those who have been reborn of the Spirit of God, they should never feel guilt or shame. “For all have sinned, all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet now God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He has done this through Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins”(Romans 3:23-24 NLT).

We are new creations, the old has gone, and the new has come(2 Corinthians 5:17). Guilt is a lie whispered to unsuspecting, immature Christian from the evil one. It is used in an attempt to seperate you from Jesus and prevent you from living in freedom. Those who fall prey to this lie are still seeking to “earn salvation” (Ephesians 2:8-9) and have unfulfilling Christian lives.

Conviction on the other hand, is a very good thing, it identifies you as a child of God. Is the Holy Spirit speaking to your spirit and correcting you, identifying areas that you have not obeyed the Lord or harboring sin. The gentle stirring of the Holy Spirit guides us to confess our sin and receive forgiveness.“If we say we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and refusing to accept the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us of every wrong” (1 John 1:8-9 NLT). It's his way of saying, "let's get rid of this, I want nothing between us." There are other times when the Holy Spirit is guiding you in the way you need to go, to grow your faith.

Those who have not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, suffer from Guilt. They are those who are still under God’s judgment. The heavy burden hangs around their necks and it is something that they can never escape. When the gospel is spoken, the Holy Spirit moves on that person and encourages them to accept Jesus. That is why many people feel so uncomfortable in church or around Christians, because the Holy Spirit is telling them they need Jesus and they struggle to get away from that conviction.

How about you, do you feel that heaviness of separation? Only God can remove that burden. Do you feel uncomfortable when you hear things about Jesus? It should be good news, because you have been chosen by God to be set free. Come to the saving blood and grace of Jesus. Apostle Paul wrote, “But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so very much, that even while we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead” (Ephesians 2: 4-5 NLT)

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Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Sin of Complaining

In this cynical world we live in, it’s easy to get caught up in complaining. We complain about the weather, our government, our jobs, our friends, our living conditions and even our spouses. What we do not realize with all this complaining, we are vocalizing charges against the One who cares for us. The Lord is the one who provides sunshine and rain, our government. He has given us the ability to make a living to support our families. He has supplied us with friends, shelter, clothing, food, including our mates, those who are to be our biggest supporters.

When the Lord changed Jacob’s name to Israel, (Genesis 32:22-28), I believe it was it was a prophecy knowing the struggles and the challenges he would face with this tribe. Israel means, “One who struggles with God” or another definition, “God Struggles.”

As we read the story of the covenant people, otherwise known as descendants from Abraham, we learn that it was no walk in the park for the Lord. They were stubborn and stiff-necked group that were constantly at odds with everyone, including themselves. Very few obeyed the commandments of the Lord or heeded the warnings of the Prophets. They easily turned away from the Lord to follow false gods.

In one of the most powerful stories in scripture tells how the Lord delivered the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt. Most people are familiar with the ten plagues of Egypt and the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea, but you may not know that the Lord was about to reach his limit with these complaining, defiant and unruly people.

After all the powerful and miraculous signs the Lord performed, they whined and complained all the way to Mount Sinai. When Moses went to meet with God at Mount Sinai, the people quickly reverted to their old sinful ways and they crafted a golden calf. (Exodus 32:1-6).

Because of their continued complaining and disobedience, the Lord rendered this decision, “Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron. How long will this wicked nation complain about me? I have heard everything the Israelites have been saying. Now tell them this: “As surely as I live, I will do to you the very things I have heard you say. I the Lord have spoken! You will die here in the wilderness, none of you twenty years or older and were counted in the census will enter the land I swore to give you” (Number 14: 26-30 NLT).

The Lord keeps his promises, but how we respond to him may make the difference of when we receive it. How about you, do you find yourself constantly bickering and complaining? Does your Christian life feel like a wilderness? If so, then you have not entered into the promised land of rest. Jesus came to give us hope and rest. Our lives should be a continual offering of praise and thanksgiving, knowing that the Lord is in complete control. When complaining begins to overwhelm you, give it to the Lord and ask him to change your heart about that particular situation. The Lord will give you the strength to praise him when your heart is set free.

“How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart? Cleanse me from these hidden faults. Keep me from deliberate sins! Don’t let them control me. Then I will be free of guilt and innocent of great sin.” (Psalms 19:12-13 NLT).

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

When Everything Goes Wrong

One of the most difficult challenges that we Christians face in this walk of faith is believing that we have heard from the Lord and obey the direction, then our world seems to fall apart. This is one of the defining moments of faith and a process known as refining. Sometimes when things begin to go wrong, often we will question ourselves if we truly heard from the Lord. Thinking we have misunderstood, we might dismiss the direction and go back to the way we used to do things, short circuiting God’s purpose.This is a lie of the evil one who wants you to lose faith. There are other times when we might begin thinking we have become tangled up in sin and begin confessing any sin that might come to mind. Finally, when there seems to be no relief in sight, we might even question the Lord or remind him we are on the same side.

I believe that this response stems from living in a world of conditional love. We are raised in a performance-based system. If we do the right things, we will receive rewards, if we do the wrong things, then we will receive punishment. We carry this conditioning into our relationship with Jesus. Anytime things go wrong, we believe we are being punished, and anytime things are good, we believe that we are being rewarded. It takes time with the Lord to begin to understand his love and his methods.

God’s love for us is unconditional, which means he loves us without condition. This concept is very difficult for us grasp, but the Bible explains this in detail. One of the first passages of scripture we were taught as a child is, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Some may even identify a condition within this verse, but the fact is God always initiates love. He loved, He gave and it was not based on performance.

Being in the center of God’s Will, can be a place of difficulty and pain. When Jesus died on the cross, he was in the center of God’s will. When the children of Israel triumphed over their enemies, they were in the center of God’s will and when they sent to Babylon, they were also in the center of God’s will. It is difficult to understand the perfect will of God from our prospective. Our limited vision of the things of God will cause us to misunderstand God’s ways.

So what does it mean when we are obeying God, but everything seems to be going wrong? James put it this way, “Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy” (James 1:2 NLT).

Joy? What is he nuts? No, James continues, “For when you faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow, for when your endurance if fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything” (James 1:3-4 NLT). God has initiated a spiritual growth-training program that will not only grow our character or “image of Christ”, and will deepen our understanding of him.

Peter wrote, “These trials are only to test your faith, to show that it is strong and pure. It’s being tested as fire tests and purifies gold, and you faith is more precious to God than mere gold. So if your faith remains strong after being tried by fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” (1 Peter 1:7 NLT).

When God is molding you and shaping you into the image of Jesus, it will be painful, but the end result is the ability to love the Lord with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind. The proverbs say, “My child, don’t ignore it when the Lord disciplines you, and don’t be discouraged when he corrects you. For the Lord corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:11-12 NLT).

Discipline is the evidence of love, if God did not discipline you, then we could never grow. If God didn’t love you, he would not correct you, but leave you to your own ways. In these trials, the Lord is preparing you for service, which is more than you can imagine. Think of all the great men and women of the Bible, they all suffered through difficult circumstances, but in the end, their sights and hope was set directly on God Almighty, who carried them through and completed their purpose and they arrived safely to their destination.

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Monday, November 2, 2009

Choosing Wisely

We make literally thousands of decisions a day never fully comprehending how those choices affect future events. Sometimes we feel we are just going through the motions of everyday life; going to school, work, or shopping. In one moment, our paths cross with another and we are changed. We like to believe that we are the masters of our own destiny, when in fact we are on a predetermined course orchestrated in love by Almighty God.

The Lord designed us for a special purpose yet, there are times when we have made a wrong decision. The path we are on is way out of sequence with our purpose. Something strange or fantastic will occur and a course correction is made. These special encounters are known as “divine appointments” or “divine interventions.” The specific timing of these events are perfect. Many people have a different idea of these happenings; some called them coincidences or chance. All those seemly random events that appear to mean nothing but in hindsight, they expose a purpose and relevance to a current situation.

There are many descriptions of these types of course corrections in the Word of God, which give details how these events affected people, nations and lives that were forever altered. Some changes were for the good and other events, were not so good. One story is in the Old Testament book of Ruth. A small family from Bethlehem left their home because of a famine and moved to Moab. During their stay, the father died and the sons married two Moabite women, which was forbidden by the Law of Moses, and they died a decade later.

Naomi, the mother was now deeply distressed, she had lost everything, there was no way that she could provide for these women and herself. She had heard the famine had passed in Bethlehem, so she decided to go home. On the way, Naomi realized that her daughters–in-law would not be accepted in her homeland. So she made a decision to send them back to their families, but Ruth refused to leave Naomi.

“But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. I will go wherever you go and live wherever you live. Your people will be my people and your God will be my God. I will die where you die and will be buried there. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” (Ruth 1:16-17 NLT). Ruth had made a choice to honor Naomi and her husband’s memory by fully submitting her life to serve Naomi who had nothing to offer her and to trust the God of Israel.

The Lord had given Ruth the desire to stay with Naomi, which kept her on the right path. Once back home, Naomi carefully instructed Ruth on the customs of the land and waited for the right time to aide in the marriage arrangement.

What were the odds she would begin working in a field owned by unknown relative? Was this a chance encounter in which she caught the eye of the man who would be her future husband? No, this was her destiny, a planned purpose that she could not have chosen. The Lord blessed Ruth for her obedience that led her straight into his purpose. Ruth married Boaz and their son was Obed. Obed became the father of Jesse who in turn was the father of David. Through obedience to her call and the courage to continue, Ruth was included in the lineage of Jesus Christ.

How about you, do you think there is a master plan for your life? Do you think that things just happen? Do you step out in faith, not sure of the end result? We on an adventure, moving through life on a predetermined route, that we cannot see. Will you trust the Lord to lead you to your destiny, fulfilling your purpose?
“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 NLT).

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