FULLY ALIVE!

Your life will be as bright as the noonday sun. Job 11:17


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Inside Out

We like buying stuff, at least we think we do, and merchants are counting on us to think that. Almost from the crib it’s bred into us. Television commercials, billboards, pop-ups on our cell phones… Our 21st century lives are fast-paced, consumer-oriented experiences inundated with the constant message of BUY, BUY, BUY your way to happiness. The bigger house, the faster car, the trendier clothing, the coolest toys…these are the keys to happiness!

Were this true, then the thrill would not fade. But it always does, and we soon find ourselves back in the same place seeking the next “buy,” one necessary to keep us on a “happiness high.”

Many, thinking they’ve managed to turn a deaf ear to stuff, turn to experiences. Indeed, research backs up this thinking. Researchers from San Francisco State University report that people who spend money on experiences rather than stuff are happier and experience greater feelings of satisfaction thinking their money is better spent. These researchers suggest that the thrill of purchasing things fades but the joy and memories of experiences last a lifetime.

Well, you needn’t look far to find research that rebuffs San Francisco State. You guessed it – eventually the thrill of an experience fades, too, which is why people are constantly seeking the next experience – a higher mountain, a louder party, a better view…

Whether “stuff” or “experience,” the problem is that both find their roots in the external. Not only are merchants counting on us to look externally for a happiness fix, so is Satan.

Satan works from the outside in.

A common scheme of his is to get us caught up in external trappings, feeling that we need that car, have to have that dress, can’t live without that house, are nobodies if we don’t take that trip… He knows that we can only continue on this route so long. Eventually something runs out – our money, our health, our flexibility, our time – whatever will keep us from being able to secure that next happiness fix. We quickly cycle from simple disappointment to devastating ad debilitating depression, no longer able to keep up with the Joneses, no longer “on top,” no longer the pacesetter – the one that everyone else wants to be like. And much like the substance abuser who will do virtually anything to get that next high, we search frantically for our next happiness high, and such begins a downward spiral.

The real problem – seeking happiness instead of joy.

Happiness tends to be externally triggered and is based on other people, things, places, thoughts and events. While happiness and joy are both wonderful feelings, joy is more consistent and is cultivated internally. Happiness tends to be more of what I call a “head thing;” the seat of joy is your heart because unlike Satan who works from the outside in, God begins His work inside and works outward. When you accept Jesus as Savior and Lord of your life, there is a change in your heart – there is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11)!

As happiness tends to be tied to the external and wanes when the external changes, your joy is only as stable as the source. Fortunately, the source of true joy is Jesus (John 15:11) and, His joy is stable and lasting; it is our glory (1 Thessalonians 2:20), it is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10) and it is continual (Proverbs 15:15).

Happy New Year; I wish for you unspeakable joy (1 Peter 1:8)!


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Come Let Us Adore Him

Adore.

Now there’s a word we don’t use every day.

Well, unless it’s late November or one of the first 25 days of December. During that narrow window out of our year, we use that word quite a bit. You know, “O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant…O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.”

Just today I heard the song three times while readying for church, and I joined in – loud, joyous and off key. I’m sure I’ll hear the song a few more times as we end the season and bring 2016 to a close.

Then what?

Wait for the next season of adoration?

No!

Advent was not just about waiting and watching for Jesus; we know from Genesis that God promised a Savior (Genesis 3:14-15), and we know from all of Scripture that God is faithful. Specifically, from 2 Corinthians 1:20 (NIV) we know that “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.” With certainty then we knew the Savior would come. With certainty we know He will return. Advent, then, and all the days before and after are not about waiting. Rather, Advent and Christmas are about adoring our Savior.

At Christmas time and always, the faithful adore Him – joyfully and triumphantly!

Who’s faithful?

Wise men! (And wise women!) The lesson of the wise men we read about in the Scriptures – the star-gazing, pagan, camel-riding astrologers – is that if they can approach the Christ and fall down in worship, so may all. So must all.

David Mathis (Desiring God.org) wrote that as we “know more, we adore Him all the more and come to Christmas with no less joy than” the magi. Mathis notes that “because He is marvelously merciful,…because His advent is Grace (Titus 2:11),…because He came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10),…to heal the sick and call the sinners (Matthew 2:17), to serve the spiritually broken (Mark 10:45) and destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8) we come joyful and triumphant.”

We have much to be thankful for and much to celebrate all year long!

“O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant…O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.


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Fourth Sunday of Advent

Keeping promises is important; many consider one’s word a measure of one’s worth – one should be “as good as his word.”

As controversial as the recent US presidential campaign and election were, that President-Elect Trump may be reneging on some of his campaign promises is even more controversial and upsetting for many. CNN reports that Trump is open to keeping parts of Obamacare intact despite repeatedly vowing on the campaign trail to “repeal and replace” the program. He also appears to be walking away from his promise to “shutdown” Muslim immigration to the US. We all remember his promise to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate and convict Hillary Clinton – a promise that spurred his supporters to chant, “Lock her up” during the campaign rallies. Post-election, Trump says, regarding investigating Hillary, “It’s not something I’ve given a lot of thought.”

Repealing Obamacare, shutting down immigration or investigating Clinton might all be viewed less significant at present than the keeping or breaking of promises.

Dr. Melissa Ritter, a psychologist-psychoanalyst with the William Alanson Institute, wrote, “There are a number of commonly understood reasons promises are broken, including that our feelings, capacity, or circumstances have changed over time. The fading of romantic love for one’s partner is emblematic of this—what once was is no more. The death of a loved one, the loss of a job, the birth of a child, falling in love, and developing illness, to list but a few, are all events that can shift our feelings and consequent behavior—often monumentally. We may no longer have the capability or willingness to keep a specific promise, or it may no longer benefit those concerned to do so.” In short, people change and circumstances change, so promises are broken.

Christmas is a season when many people experience disappointment and heartbreak because of broken promises. Someone will not give the promised gift. Another will not receive a promised gift. Someone will not keep the promise to visit. Another will break a promise to join someone for dinner. Someone will break a promise to go shopping, lend money, wrap the presents, put the bicycle together, babysit the kids… A lot of promises will be broken – some for “good” reason, others “just because.”

Thankfully, Christmas is also a time when one of the greatest promises was kept – God’s promise of a Messiah. In fact, with the birth of Jesus, many promises were kept.

  • God promised that the Messiah would be the seed of a woman and would crush the head of Satan (Genesis 3:15). Scripture tells us that He would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14). Jesus was born to the virgin, Mary, and on the cross He crushed the head of Satan.
  • Scripture records that He would be born in Bethlehem of Judah (Micah 5:2).
  • He would come from the seed/offspring of Abraham and would bless all the nations on earth (Genesis 12:3), and He would have a throne, a kingdom and a dynasty, or house, starting with King David, that will last forever (2 Samuel 7:16). Matthew begins his Gospel: “A record of the origin of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham begot Isaac…” and continues on until “…and Jacob begot Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.”

These are but five examples of promises kept. That alone is amazing as many of us struggle to keep just one promise. Remember Dr. Ritter’s research?

Here’s what I want you to take away from this week’s message. Our God is faithful (Deuteronomy 7:9, 2 Thessalonians 3:3, 1 Corinthians 1:9, Psalm 33:4). In fact, 2 Corinthians 1:20 tells us that all His promises are “Yes.” The Berean Study Bible writes it this way: “For all the promises of God are “Yes” in Christ.” The Holman Christian Standard Bible writes, “For every one of God’s promises is “Yes” in Him” and the Weymouth New Testament writes, “For all the promises of God, whatever their number, have their confirmation in Him.”

Matthew Henry notes in his commentary of 2 Corinthians 1:20 that a good man will not change his promise “unless for weighty reasons,” but “nothing can render God’s promises more certain;” He gives them to us “through Christ” and “assures us they are His promises.” You will note that even a good man may have reason enough to step away from his promises, but God is faithful, and always answers His promises with “Yes!” This, writes Henry, “makes Christians firm in the faith.” We can be confident that our God is Who He said He is, that He will do what He said He would do and that we are who He said we are in Him!

Rejoice this fourth Sunday of Advent. Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise! Give thanks to Him; bless His name! For the Lord is good; His steadfast love endures forever, and His faithfulness to all generations (Psalm 100:4-5); hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23).


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Third Sunday of Advent

Confession. I’m not good at waiting.

I’m working on it. Have been. For at least…well, let’s just say, a lot of years!

This is one (just one) reason I am always both amazed and encouraged when I read of the promises of a Messiah to the people of Israel.

First, the promise. Through his trickery and scheming, Satan had brought a curse upon Adam, Eve and their offspring. Adam and Eve’s sin separated them and their offspring from God. More than a millennium before the birth of Jesus, God, knowing man’s proclivity to sin, promised One would come, seed of the woman, and He would bring Satan’s destruction and man’s deliverance (Genesis 3).

Then, the anticipation. Surely it began with Adam and Eve when the Scriptures tell us that “Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived” (Genesis 4:1a). Was this the seed? Was this the Savior?  Through the years the Jews anticipated the promised Messiah – a savior who would restore the former glory of Kingdom of Israel. From the Mosaic Covenant (The Old Testament), we know that God kept His promises, thus the Jews rightly and wisely expected and anticipated the fulfillment of the messianic prophecy. Surely with each struggle, each war, each captivity, the Jews anticipated their coming Savior. Their rabbis, scribes and Jewish priests had taught them that the Messiah would not just come but would overcome their enemies. Surely many women wondered if their seed would be the Savior.

Finally, the wait. Daniel, the prophet of the Biblical book of Daniel, prophesied the year of the Messiah’s arrival saying that the Messiah would come 483 years after the orders would be given to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. Keep in mind that by the time we get to Daniel’s day, hundreds of years have already passed since God’s promise to Adam and Eve.  Still, they waited.

They waited, yes!  But they waited in anticipation, expecting, attentive and in hope. They did not wait passively with crossed fingers; they did not just endure their hardships. They had set their sights on a promise from their faithful God. Theirs was a posture of waiting.

Ours, too, is to be a posture of waiting.

In one of his sermons, John Henry Newman wrote, “We are not simply to believe, but to watch; not simply to love, but to watch; not simply to obey, but to watch; to watch for what?  For the great event – Christ’s coming!”

So what exactly is our posture of waiting? It is those actions Newman noted between the “watching.” We are to believe, to love, to obey.

Advent is a yearly reminder, a yearly opportunity and a yearly invitation to check our posture.


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Second Sunday of Advent

Gallup, a world-renowned social research lab and polling institute, conducted telephone interviews early November 2015 to gauge spending “intentions” for Christmas. Participants were aged 18 and older, and were sourced from each of the 50 states within the US and the District of Columbia.

The results of the study indicate that Americans planned to spend $830 on average in 2015 for various Christmas-related purposes. Those numbers reflected a considerable increase, about 15% more, from the 2014 spending average. That statistic was the highest since 2007, when the average Christmas spending of Americans was found to be $866. Since then, the said spending had constantly declined over subsequent years. Similar research predicts that spending will be even more this year.

Gallup found in 2015 that 30% all US adults planned to spend $1,000 or more on gifts. One in five Americans planned to spend between $500 and $999, whereas 14% planned to spend between $250 and $499 just for Christmas gifts. Of all those interviewed, 8% of adults claimed not to celebrate Christmas or otherwise did not plan to spend anything on gifts. Another 7% were unsure as to how much they might spend; in other words, they were operating without a plan and might spend more or less. Excluding the numbers of people who planned to not spend anything on Christmas in 2015, the average spending of American adults on Christmas would register an all-time high of around $908.

The United States Census Bureau echoes Gallup’s findings reporting that over the past few years:

  • Americans spent 30.5 billion dollars at retail stores during the Christmas season.
  • Americans spent 40+ billion dollars for Christmas gifts over the Internet.
  • Nearly 500 million dollars were spent on Christmas trees.
  • The United States imported approximately 594 million dollars worth of Christmas tree ornaments (from China alone).
  • A total of 3.4 billion dollars were spent on dolls, toys, and games that were shipped from manufacturers to retailers.
  • Twenty billion pieces of mail passed through the US Postal Service between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Again, similar research predicts that spending will be even more this year.

So?

So, one of the persistent and most effective maneuvers of the world system is to create a false sense of Christmas. There’s a false sense of excitement, a false idea of what is real, a false belief of what is important and a very false sense of purpose. How does this happen? We easily get caught up in the trappings of secular Christmas celebrations – the lights, the food, the shopping, the gifts. And what is wrong with lights, food, shopping and gifts? Nothing…if we keep them in proper perspective and understand that these are not the purpose of Christmas.

What is the purpose of Christmas? It is as simple as Hebrews 12:3a (NKJV) – “Consider Him.”

As you count down the days to Christmas, consider Him, the One who came that you and I might be forgiven our sins and enjoy eternal life (Luke 19:10, Galatians 4:4-5, 2 Corinthians 5:21).


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First Sunday of Advent

According to Bible Gateway, there are 5467 divine promises in the Scriptures. Other sources say there are fewer, and one says there are more than 7000. Regardless the number, be assured, we are a people of promise.

For centuries, God promised and prepared people for the coming of his Son, our only true hope for eternal life. Christmas is the time that we celebrate the fulfillment of the promises God made—that He would send a Savior.

Today marks the beginning of Advent – the season leading up to Christmas. Advent begins four Sundays before December 25. This year Advent spans November 27 through December 24. This is a wonderful time to look back, look inward and look ahead.

What are we looking back to? 1 Peter 1:10-12 helps us understand:

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.

We look back to remember the thousands of years that God’s people, our ancestors, were anticipating the coming of the Messiah, the Christ, God’s Salvation. Though many foretold the coming, none knew the day nor the hour nor the person nor the true magnitude of the grace to come.

Why are we looking inward?

In addition to being the start of the new church year, Advent is a reminder to prepare our hearts and minds for Jesus’ coming -not His first, but His return. We look inward introspectively, deep into our own hearts and minds, to prepare ourselves to stand before Him. We search for that which separates us from Him and seek His forgiveness and His help that our hearts and minds might be filled with Him and our hands might be about His business.

To what do we look ahead?

We look to His coming again! In the New Testament anticipation of Christ’s return is a constant theme. As followers of Christ we, too, should look forward to His return. We should long for His return – our blessed hope (Titus 2:13), long to see our Savior from heaven – the place of our citizenship (Philippians 3:20) and long to receive our crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award… to all who have longed for his appearing (2 Timothy 4:8).

I once read that “real” Christians “really” look for His return because He is real, and He really is returning.  Are you looking?


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Meow

If you have followed my blog for any time or read any of the archived entries, you know that I have had a past love/hate (ok, mostly hate) relationship with the squirrels. Well, I made my peace with the squirrels and, as you might have read, extended them grace. Great grace, I would say, since I purchased and had erected a squirrel feeder. Yes, a feeder just for them. One of my friends commented, “You are actually, intentionally feeding the squirrels?!” And I said, “Yes!” They have a feeder and I fill it with corn, seeds and nuts!

Oh, but now it is the cats!

Specifically, it is my neighbor’s cats.

All nine of them.

Yes, nine!

They are ever in my yard and ever after my birds! (For those who don’t know, I also intentionally feed the birds.)

I enjoy watching the birds and hearing them sing. They remind me of the Scriptures and remind me to be calm, to slow down, to enjoy life, to trust my Lord (Matthew 6:25-34).

But those cats! I know that they have only recently killed at least six birds. I saw them torture, tease and torment one. By the time I’d rushed from my kitchen to chase them away, it was too late. I have found piles of feathers and down beneath the feeders, behind the barn and under my car.

I see the birds pecking and searching the grasses beneath the feeders, and I think, “What are you, dumb? Why do you insist on eating on the ground when the feeders are perched high – safe – on posts or hanging from the limbs of the trees? How dumb can you be?”

At the very least, they are slow learners. You would think that they would know by now that the cats are coming; that the cats are not their friends; that the cats are the enemy, prowling, looking to devour (1 Peter 5:8).

And with that thought, it hit me! Sometimes (hmm, too many times), I’m not very smart either; I’m a slow learner. Like the birds I have flirted with the enemy, knowingly placed myself in his path, blindly turned my attention to other matters thinking them more important while ignoring his threats. I’ve assumed myself smarter, faster even, than the enemy.

We need to understand that Satan is real. Satan is powerful. The battle is real. The battle is continuous. There is never a time when he is not on the prowl, watching, waiting, ready to pounce. Though Satan was created as the chief of all angels, God limited his boundaries and his powers (Job 1:9-12). Still, he is wise, cunning, deceiving and always at work – like those cats, stalking, watching for whom He may devour (2 Corinthians 11:4, 1 Peter 5:8). Might this be why Jesus said we must pray daily for deliverance from the evil one (Matthew 6:13)? Hmmm.

Satan is the enemy who disrupts our lives. But guess what; He doesn’t have a chance against Jesus.

POSSIBLE RESOURCES

  1.  How to Have a Meaningful Quiet Time                                                 http://www.crosswalk.com/devotionals/how-to-have-a-meaningful-quiet-time-1338122.html
  2. How to Have a Quiet Time                                               http://www.lifeway.com/Article/how-to-have-a-quiet-time
  3. How to Have a Quiet Time – According to Martin Luther                             http://www.christianitytoday.com/iyf/advice/faithqa/whats-quiet-time.html

 

ps Those cats don’t have a chance against me!