Wrestling With and For Truth! The Truth About Wrangling!

Many people today are wrestling with truth! Some are sure there is no absolute truth. Meanwhile, others are giving their lives for truth! Lengthy wrangling, articulate debating, and bull-headed dogmatism abound.

Truth is more than a concept; it is a Person!

Throughout the ages, many people have spent their lives searching for truth, others have fought fiercely in its defense.

At the trial of Jesus, 

“What is truth?” Pilate retorted…”
John 18:38

Wrangler

A wrangler is more than someone who debates eloquently or a favorite pair of jeans. A wrangler is someone who takes care of livestock.

Our family were cattle producers. One spring, the season of serious wrangling, a “town boy”, who happened to be a pastor’s son, was anxious to enter the corral and experience true wrangling.

Into the pen of spring born calves he confidently pranced. In short order the poor lad was dragged, dangled, trampled, kicked and bunted. There wasn’t an inch of his apparel not caked, covered and layered in a mixture of mud, sweat and manure.

Wrangling cattle

Though we felt sorry for the young green-horn, the real life drama playing out before our eyes was worth far more than any trip to the movies. Although lacking the skill of catching, flipping and holding a calf, he deserved top marks for the effort he brought to the ring.

Surprisingly, he had as much fun trying as we had watching. Years later, the image of his arms and legs flailing the air continues to bring smiles and chuckles.

Persistence

If there was one lesson I learned that day it was that persistence pays! Quitting was no where to be found in this boys genes!

Those who wrestled and wrangled in the bible carried the same attitude.

Cowboy persistence

Remember Jacob?

“So Jacob was left alone
and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 
When the man saw that 
he could not overpower him, 
he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip
 so that his hip was wrenched 
as he wrestled with the man. 
Then the man said, 
“Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied 
I will not let you go 
unless you bless me.” 
Genesis 32:24-26

Jacob’s painful wrangling gave him more than a permanent limp; he gained a new identity and a generational promise.

Until this point, condemnation shadowed Jacob’s life, “You are a thief, a trickster, a liar.” That day, Jacob wrestled for the truth of his belonging. He received a new name, Israel, meaning Prince of God.

Working hard!

Others

What about Elijah? The Mount Carmel show down between 400 prophets of Baal and Elijah wasn’t about strength or power. It ultimately was a contest of what is true? Who is God? Is it Baal or is it the LORD?

“At the time of sacrifice, 
the prophet Elijah 
stepped forward and prayed:
“LORD, the God of Abraham, 
Isaac and Israel, 
let it be known today 
that you are God in Israel…”
1 Kings 18:36

When God responded with fire, the people declared in unison,

The LORD — he is God!
 The LORD — he is God!”
1 Kings 18:39

Truth ultimately wins, though usually not without a struggle of faith.

The struggle

It was true for Jonah, Esther, David, and Moses. It was true for Abraham and Sarah, Gideon, and Jeremiah. 

Faith and Truth

Most of the deepest wrangling comes when God bends our experiential truth into alignment with the way of The Truth, Jesus Christ.

A man brought his demon possessed son to Jesus. The tormenting spirit had attempted to kill his son many times by throwing him either into fire or water. He doubted if even Jesus could or would help.

“…But if you can do anything,
 take pity on us and help us.” 
‘If you can’?” said Jesus…”
Mark 9:23-24

As truth spoke, faith grabbed hold! The wrangling began,

“…I do believe
help me overcome my unbelief!”
Mark 9:24

In prison, John the Baptist wrestled in faith to believe Jesus was The Truth, The Messiah sent from God (Matthew 11). Thomas wrangled to believe Jesus was raised from the dead (John 20). Peter grappled with the truth that salvation was for Greeks as well as Jews (Acts 10).

Laying hold of truth

Faith and truth collided on the Damascus road, as Paul brutally faced the reality of his spiritual blindness.

Truth Check

Perhaps tangling with truth is necessary for us all! 

My thoughts are nothing
like your thoughts,”
says the LORD.
“And my ways are far beyond
anything you could imagine.”
Isaiah 55:8

Thankfully, God consistently bends our minds, wrangles our attitudes, and wrestles our intentions into alignment with His. He never quits – never leaves us as He find us.

Sometimes I stubbornly resist! It doesn’t make sense! My futile thought processes cannot instantaneously connect faith and truth.

Wrangling together

I ultimately end up a lot like our young helper many years ago! My wrestling for and with truth sometimes feels dangerous, downright messy, and thoroughly exhausting.

Three times in Acts 10 God pushed Peter beyond former paradigms,

“…Do no call anything impure 
that God has made clean.”
Acts 10:15

God’s truth united with Peter’s faith opening wide the door to preach the Gospel of salvation to non-Jews. The implications of this single instance of receiving truth cannot be measured.

The Truth

My little contending undoubtedly isn’t as dramatic, but I cannot allow myself the luxury of refusing the invitation to come into agreement with God. 

The bible is the unmoving standard of all truth.

“All your words are true,
all your righteous laws are eternal.”
Psalm 119:160

God’s word is true! That word is eternal! Never ending, never changing, never varying!

How can I be so sure? Jesus made the astounding declaration, 

“…I am the way, the truth, and the life…”
John 14:6

Truth isn’t a relative concept that changes with times or seasons. Truth is a Person. Jesus is Truth. Truth never changes because God never changes!

Taking the lead

In fact, whenever I find myself wrestling with the definitive truth of the bible, I am attempting to wrangle with God. Resist His truth and I can expect to come away limping like Jacob! Yield to it by faith and God alone knows the grandness of the repercussions. 

Never!

Divine truth must be received by faith. That doesn’t mean we throw out sound judgment, critical thinking, and careful consideration.  Actually, acknowledging truth is giving full mental assent to its reality. In so doing, God gives us a new lens with which to view Him and the world around us. 

My source of wrestling for truth is often like Peter’s, 

Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied.
“I have never eaten anything
impure or unclean.”
Acts 10:14

How many times have I responded similarly to God, “Surely not! I have never…”?

Wrangling clenches tight-fisted to “never“! Placing experiential truth ahead of God’s eternal truth will reveal terminal fault lines in our thinking.

God proves patient, however. He is relentless in drawing us into ever increasing ways of truth. We may wrangle like Peter, wrestling with ourSurely not, Lord!” attitudes. Peter got the message and responded with new understanding.

Will our “never” yield to God’s truth? Because God’s ways really are so much higher than ours, we will continue to wrestle both with and for truth. But it is a wrangling that pays benefits!

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Making the Impossible Possible – Clarity, Courage, and Committment

The rugged path between impossible and possible is navigated through clarity, courage and commitment. Each quality is essential!

Our hot water heater sprung a serious leak. Four days without hot water is a minor inconvenience. However, when outside temperature dips to -40°, a steaming hot bath before bedtime is a luxury I appreciated.

Representatives from two companies estimated the cost of replacing our near prehistoric heater. The first young man came, looked at the situation, and in less than one minute announced, “It can’t be done!” The second young men came, checked inside, outside, upside, downside, around the side, and over another side, before confirming, “Yea! No problem!” 

What made the difference? Both men were presented the same problem; both were experts in their trade. “Impossible” to one perhaps meant, “too much trouble!” “Possible” from the other displayed a willingness to overcome any obstacles.

Overcome

Challenge

A Chinese Proverb says, 

The person who says it cannot be done,
should not interrupt the person doing.”

Many vivid accounts of men and women who overcame impossible obstacles are written within the bible.

I think of Caleb one of 12 leaders Moses sent to spy out the promised land. “It can’t be done!” ten declared! Forty-five years later while the ten nay-sayers were cold in their desert graves, Caleb continued to believe, “With God’s help, I can“.

“So here I am today, eighty-five years old!
I am still as strong today
as the day Moses sent me out;
I’m just as vigorous to go out
to battle now as I was then.
Now give me this hill country
that the LORD promised me that day.”
Joshua 14:10-11

Caleb remained willing to face the challenge head-on! Ominous giants could not prevent him from possessing God’s promise.

Mountain

We all have “hill country”, an impossibility larger than personal ability. The nature of the obstacle is unimportant!

The way up!

A job promotion or demotion,
a dream delayed or one in the making,
managing financial abundance or
facing bankruptcy.

Problems can be polar opposites! Glass ceilings waiting to be broken, fragile mirages before omnipotent God! 

Sheri Fink reminded me recently clarity, courage and commitment are three essential ingredients necessary to accomplish victory. My past failures consistently resulted from a deficiency in at least one of these areas.

Nay-sayers and critics abound in every generation. “It can’t be done,” the noisy entourage gloats! Jeering relentlessly as the brave press against an impossible situation! Caleb’s resistance came from his own “tribe”. Our greatest detractors may be those who are the nearest to our hearts.  

For it is not an enemy who taunts me—
    then I could bear it;
it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me—
    then I could hide from him.
But it is you, a man, my equal,
    my companion, my familiar friend.
Psalm 55:12-13

Mockers, with potential to stop us, ascend from the ranks of both friend and foe. 

Clarity

Clarity is “being certain or definite“. To an artist clarity means “sharpness to the image or sound”. Clarity for the Christian comes from knowing God’s intention, hearing His voice, and perceiving His direction. 

Impossible to possible

The wise ask, “What is God saying?”

It would be foolish for Caleb to face the military prowess of mighty mountain defenders without God’s direction.  

“I brought him back a report
according to my convictions
I followed the LORD my God
wholeheartedly.”
Joshua 14:7

There is a palpable difference between truth and conviction — between fact and faith! That veritable mountain we face is insurmountable without God!

Every person who stumbled in the bible, from Eve forward, doubted God. Each questioned and reasoned until faith dissolved into fragile unbelief before the very thing God meant them to overcome.

Clarity, genuine unshakeable clarity, is to know the presence, power and word of God for our specific situation.  Without clarity one will effortlessly fall into rhythm behind the fear mongers. Without clarity conquerors become quitters

The enemy’s devious voice still echoes, “Did God really say?” (Genesis 3:1) 

Caleb set his face like flint!  His resolute conviction slapped the Deceiver up the side of the head! He knew,

“…Humanly speaking, it is impossible.
But with God everything is possible.”
Matthew 19:26

Everything is possible

Courage

Courage separated Caleb and the masses!

“But my fellow Israelites
who went up with me made the hearts
of the people melt in fear.” 
Joshua 14:8

A few fear-filled words turned believers into doubters, the brave into cowards! “Be careful little tongue what you say,” is more than a children’s chorus. Words carry the potential to destroy like wrecking balls or form building blocks!

“We can’t … they are too strongpowerful … cities are fortified and very large … Anakites, Amalekites, Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, Canaanites”. Panic raced through the entire camp causing hearts to faint and knees to tremble.

Two brave men courageously stood in the gap,

“We should go up
and take possession of the land,
for we can certainly do it.”
Numbers 13:30

It takes courage to “go up!” Only the brave will “take possession!” Courage affirms, “we can!”

Such courage germinates in the knowledge of God’s abiding presence. It flourishes in the shadow of the One who promises to never leave nor forsake us.

Every overcomer rises above fear to “go up” in faith!

Commitment

I heard a story of a runner who intently prepared, conditioning body and mind, to run a marathon. He trained on a 26 mile course. After passing the 25 mile marker during his first marathon, he increased his pace pushing toward the finish line. The official length of a marathon is actually 26.2 miles. Miscalculating the distance, he started the sprint too soon and collapsed unconscious at the finish line. He was unprepared for the last .2 miles! 

Distance matters! It takes the tenacity of a marathon runner to face the impossible! It requires commitment to finish well!

“So on that day Moses swore to me,
‘the land on which your feet have walked
will be your inheritance
and that of your children forever,
because you have followed the LORD
my God wholeheartedly.'”
Joshua 14:9

Even though Caleb heard the clear word from God through Moses, it still took commitment to claim his promise. His entire generation died in the wilderness. Were there times of doubt in the desert?

Commitment

Caleb endured seemingly endless wandering in the wasteland, survived plagues, judgements and wars.  Yet, the promise echoed in his heart as clearly as the day it was spoken. 

Caleb refused to quit before he conquered! 

“Now then, just as the LORD promised,
he has kept me alive for forty-five years…”
Joshua 14:10

Forty five years of trusting, waiting, training, and persevering. Forty five years of commitment to God who is faithful. Caleb looked to the finish line; he ran the distance.

Take Your Mountain!

With Caleb as our example, let’s remember God is bigger, stronger, and greater than any mountain standing in our way! 

May we choose to fix our eyes on Jesus! Acknowledge that “great crowd of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) cheering us on! Seeking the clarity needed from the Word of God, may we each take courage in His Presence, with commitment to conquer.

“‘If you can’?” said Jesus.
Everything is possible
for one who believes.”
Mark 9:23

Whether the mountain is a difficult obstruction or a dream unfulfilled, let’s go for it! How many new songs will be song, books published, and missions accomplished if we do? God is ready to partner with you in your impossible, creating a place for Him to receive glory?

Don’t quit! Conquer! Turn the impossible into possible!

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Further Reading:

Second is Better Than First! When Second is Best!

Tamar, Contending for Her Inheritance! A Woman Who Would Not be Denied!

Meet a contender wrestling with cultural inequality to secure her inheritance. Tamar would not be denied life, dignity and destiny.

Tamar is the first woman listed in the genealogical record of Jesus the Messiah. What merited Matthew’s inclusion of this incredible woman?

God intends for man to take his place as defender, protector and provider of his household, walking faithfully before Him. What happens when men stumble and lose their way? When deliberate choices to abandon personal identity, home and family invade, then what?

Choices

Judah

Genesis 38 begins with the words, “at that time

What time is “that time”?

“At that time” when Judah was involved in a jealous conspiracy to kill his own brother, eventually selling him into slavery. It was “that time” when lies couldn’t conceal sin or soothe a father’s grief. “At that time” when guilt haunted and self condemnation screamed.

“At that time,
Judah left his brothers
and went down to stay…”
Genesis 38:1

Little words containing enormous ramifications! Judah “left”Running away from his family, he hoped to escape himself. He “went down” the well-travelled road ultimately leading to dead ends.

Boundary crossed

Judah withdrew from more than his family, however. He crossed God’s boundary line of protection by marrying a Canaanite woman.

Together their marriage produced three sons: Er, Onan, and Selah.

Tamar

Tamar enters the picture as the wife chosen for Er.  Er was wicked in the LORD’s sight“, so wicked God put him to death. (38:7). Are there any willing volunteers  to take Tamar’s place? Instead of the fulfillment of a little girl’s dream of happy marriage, Tamar found herself in a painful nightmare.

Judah instructs his second son to fulfill the Levirate marriage requirement to ensure the continuation of his brother’s family line and protection of his widow. Onan also was “wicked” (38:10). He was all too happy to use Tamar for his own sexual pleasure while refusing to fulfill any obligation to her, his family or God.

Stubbornly refusing to face his own sinful heart or the blatant wickedness of his sons, Judah casts all blame toward Tamar.

Sin is never “private”! It’s twisted deception infects and affects everyone! 

Live as a widow
in your father’s household
until my son Shelah grows up.”
Genesis 38:11

Unknown path

An hollow empty promise, to be sure! With a word, Judah cut Tamar from her inheritance pushing her out of his sight — a widow, childless and vulnerable.

Her story unfolds like a soap opera! Tamar waits! Years pass! Still she waits.

Tamar means date palm, the ultimate symbol of life and productivity. Her confinement concealed the true destiny and calling within her name! Would she settle as castaway? Would she bare the burden of another’s sins in powerless obscurity?

Life

How long the wait was, we are uncertain. The bible simply says,

After a long time,
Judah’s wife … died.
When Judah had recovered from his grief,
he went to Timnah…” 
Genesis 38:12

Judah too had experienced great loss; no one dare minimize his anguish and grief. However, he gave himself permission to “recover from his grief.” 

His daughter-in-law was granted no such grace!

Because of Judah’s unwillingness to give his youngest son Shelah to Tamar, he alone could fulfill the Levirate Law.  With courage and boldness, Tamar veils herself and waits by the road, risking all to defend her family rights.

“When Judah saw her,
he thought she was a prostitute,
for she had covered her face.
Not realizing that she was his daughter-in-law,
he went over to her by the roadside and said,
come now, let me sleep with you.”
Genesis 38: 15-16

One black sheep

Judah’s journey took him further than he ever thought possible! The cost was incalculable! 

“Sin will take you farther than you want to go,
keep you longer than you want to stay,
and cost you more than you want to pay.”
R. Zaccharias

This account of Judah is nestled within Joseph’s larger story.  A young goat’s blood was given to convince his father of Joseph’s staged death. Now Judah reaches into the flock a second time to mask another dark deception.

The Pledge

Judah promises a goat as payment for her services — a payment woefully lacking! Not searching to satisfy lust or fleshly desire, nor seeking revenge for gross injustice and mistreatment, she asks only for what is due her.

Boldly she claims her inheritance!

“What pledge should I give you?”
“Your seal and its cord,
and the staff in your hand,” she answered.
So he gave them to her…”
Genesis 38:18

The seal was a symbol of a man’s identity marking his personal worth, while the attached cord symbolized the binding of two things together. The staff in Judah’s hand was far more than a walking stick! It was an emblem of his authority, like a royal sceptre. It was probably hand carved; the length carefully etched with the names of his ancestry.

Staff of authority

Yet Judah willingly placed everything into the hands of an “unknown” woman! For one moment of sexual pleasure, he yielded his identity, authority and generational inheritance. Astonishing! 

Judah later sent his friend with the goat to pay the woman and retrieve his pledge. Unable to find her, his friend returns empty-handed.

Let her keep what she has,
or we will become a laughingstock.”
Genesis 38:23

“Let her keep what she has?” Judah flippantly disregards the value of what has been lost. Nonetheless, words prophetically spoken.

Tamar’s Honour

Tamar became pregnant in the encounter. The life growing within her forming the connecting link between Abraham and Jesus. The promise protected in her womb outweighed any treasure in her hand!

“The “widow” is pregnant!”

Years of suppressed resentment and anger burst forth from Judah with hot volcanic force,

Bring her out
and have her burned to death.”
Genesis 38:24

What could satiate a man’s tormented mind and heart? Public disgrace? Cruel aggression? Murder?

The flames of anger

Tamar’s godliness shines through in polar opposite,

“As she was being brought out,
she sent a message to her father-in-law,
“I am pregnant by the man who owns these,” she said … 
“See if you recognize whose
seal and cord and staff these are.”
Genesis 38:25

Tamar’s strength of character and honour toward a man unworthy of such kindness overcomes. No public accusation of his failure! No shaming the guilty or demanding justice! Tamar privately presents the evidence and leaves the result to God.

Destiny Secured

Judah is humbled by Tamar’s integrity, wisdom, and bravery.

“…She is more righteous than I…”
Genesis 38:26

Within her, Tamar carried a double portion — two sons! One of them, Perez, would carry the DNA of his courageous mother who refused to forfeit her destiny. The DNA of a woman worthy of inclusion in the bloodline of the Messiah!

Tamar spurned the victim’s stool! She disdained the wicked example of those around her. By living above reproach she saw fulfillment of her destiny. Without compromise, she humbly followed the God others openly rejected.

Her reward? Her name forever written in God’s record of great women

Tamar's inheritance

Tamar modelled godliness in ungodly circumstances. Will her example of contending for inheritance be duplicated in our day? Who among us will choose integrity and honour in the face of injustice? Who will lay claim to the spiritual blessing available for this and future generations?  

Is there anyone who will stand against the cultural currents bringing Christ to the world today?  

Tamar presents a challenge worth considering!

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Move Out the Old! Make Room for the New!

This year God is challenging me to move out the old and make room for the new. That means change! Even though I tend to be flexible and open to change, I like to know what change is coming.

My husband is a fully certified “keeper” of all things that may at some point be useful for any unforeseen circumstances. He is a “fixer” — and an excellent one at that! I, on the other hand, am a “thrower”. I resist clutter with a fervency. If something isn’t serving a useful purpose, I am quick to give it away to someone who will make good use of it. We have learned the benefit of “keepers” and “throwers”.

“You will still be eating last year’s harvest
when you will have to move it out
to make room for the new.”
Leviticus 26:10

 

Did you ever try to take food from a toddler? Be prepared! What a child lacks in size they certainly make up for in resistance.

Honestly, I feel the same way when I have to part with something I am enjoying!

Still Eating

It is the “you will still be eating” part that has me a little nervous. The “new” at the end of the verse sounds perfect, but what will I have to give up before actually seeing and holding the new?

“You will still be eating” implies the blessing of God in the preceding harvest was substantial. A harvest that was valued and appreciated!  However, “still eating” also means I’m not yet satisfied, full or content with that proceeding blessing.

Inwardly I groan, “Not yet! Wait until I’m full! Don’t bring change now! All is good!”

But it also bids me to ask,

“What blessings am I hanging on to?
What am I afraid to let go of?
Where is my grip too tight?”

Before every new harvest, storage bins receive a thoroughly cleaning. Any remnant of last years harvest is removed, eliminating any opportunity for the old to contaminate the new.

Jesus gave a similar illustration:

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth
on an old garment,
for the patch will pull away
from the garment,
making the tear worse.

Neither do people pour
new wine into old wineskins.
If they do, the skins will burst;
the wine will run out and
the wineskins will be ruined.
No, they pour new wine into new wineskins,
and both are preserved.”
Matthew 9:16-17

You Have To

“You have to” doesn’t exactly sound favorable either. Give me choice!, Show me the options allowing time to weigh and assess benefits. I can adjust with that! Add the words “you have to” and the dynamic changes!

What makes change so difficult?  Here are my top five reasons for resisting change:

  • Change is awkward! More of my life than I care to admit is lived by learned behaviour! Adjusting to something new takes time and patience.
  • Change costs! Want an example? My old computer stopped working; the new replacement has added features but was expensive. Change often carries an unseen price tag — sometimes financially, maybe relationally, or even emotionally.
  • Change is a process! It is the undetermined span between the now and then, the here and there, that requires effort and time. This unknown discourages movement.

  • Change awakens fear! What if it doesn’t work? Will it be worth it? What will people think?
  • Change requires confidence and trust! When the change isn’t my choice, I need to have a deep trust of the one asking me to change. I need to know my best interest is considered or there is a higher goal or purpose for change.

Some things I will gladly let go of, however. The sooner poor habits, destructive thought patterns, or nagging fear exit my life the more content I’ll be.

Thankfully God attached a promise with the “have to”; it includes “make room for the new.

Make Room

I am an expert at making room! We had five boys in just over eight years in a relatively small three bedroom home. Making room for one more created a welcome challenge.

Now with family grown, we have downsized into a much smaller home. Over the years, I have become proficient at making the best use of even the smallest spaces.

The changes necessary to make room for others includes far more that external space

to broader dimensions of love,
devotion, care, provision,
to sharing and giving,
preferring and protecting.

Just like I am unsure of what I may have to let go of, I am equally unsure of what God is asking me to make room for. These unanswered questions create tension, an uneasiness, that only faith in God can resolve.

The New

Not every harvest is prime quality or quantity on the Canadian prairies. There can be infestations of disease or pests, adverse weather like drought or hail, and any number of other issues that significantly affect the new crop. As a matter of fact, there is no guarantee the new crop will even be realized!

Yet, God promises us new!

“Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.”
Isaiah 43:18-19

It is virtually impossible to forget the “former things” when the flavour is fresh in your mouth. However, there will be no appreciation for the new unless we willingly release the old.

Being a seasoned veteran at “letting go”, Corrie Ten Boom offers us solid advice,

” Hold everything in your hands lightly,
otherwise it hurts when God pries your fingers open.”

Perhaps the reason change becomes increasingly difficult is previous experiences with both positive and questionable changes. Such resistance to letting go of something firmly possessed for something not yet visible is understandable.

Faithful

With confidence I step into God’s promise purposefully laying aside fear and comfort. Why? The One who promised is faithful!

If God is asking me to let go of the old,
if He is saying in no uncertain terms,
“you have to”,
I know He has a greater plan
than I can presently see.

I trust Him and His word! Not blindly, but fully!

Faith is never blind! Though I cannot see what the future holds, I see clearly the God who holds my future. He never fails in His promise.

“For all the promises of God
find their Yes in him.
That is why it is through him
that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.”
2 Corinthians 1:20

Laying aside yesterday’s blessings, yesterday’s provision and yesterday’s anointing is for the sole purpose of taking hold of today’s increased blessing. I will never fully realize God’s best while stubbornly holding on to yesterday’s good.

So I am prepared “to move out” all that is necessary “to make room” for what is ahead!

It sounds like work! But I’ll let you know how God works it out!

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The First and Greatest! Keeping First Things First!


It is easy to lose focus of what deserves first and greatest recognition. The incessant pressures of life demand much of our time and our full attention. Keeping first things first takes effort! No matter what our circumstance, juggling these pressures will remain a constant struggle.

My father often admonished, “Don’t put the cart before the horse!” He was encouraging me to keep first things first. With wisdom, he gently reminded me that priorities matter. Due to the frequency of his comment, I obviously needed a consistent reminder.

 

 

Don't put the cart before the horse!

 

Unfortunately I have often forgotten! Whatever I put first gives movement and power to what follows. In keeping with my father’s analogy, a cart is virtually useless without something pulling it.

The First and Greatest

Ask a dozen people what the first or greatest priority should be and one may very well receive a dozen different opinions. An “expert in the law” approached Jesus with the question,

“Teacher, which is
the greatest commandment in the Law?” 
Matthew 22:36

Every Hebrew listener, including this legal authority, prepared to hear Jesus recite the first commandment in the law, “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3) Unfortunately, his driving motivation was to test Jesus rather than to seek wisdom! Jesus used the Pharisee’s twisted intentions to teach.

Jesus replied:
“‘Love the Lord your God
with all your heart and
with all your soul and with all your mind.’
This is the first and greatest commandment.”
Matthew 22:37-38

Jesus reminded His listeners “loving God is the greatest!” It is beyond all else, the greatest in size and extent, in weight and importance, and in price or cost. But don’t miss it! It is not only the greatest, it also must first!

Only when the greatest occupies first place will the second commandment of loving others hold any value. Without loving God, loving others becomes impossible.

First

The bible is a love story. It begins in Genesis with a wedding in an immaculate garden, purposely positioned on planet earth, divinely placed in an harmoniously ordered universal. Why? To live, not only in love with each other, but to receive from and reciprocate love with God. God made it all for love! He did it all out of love! All of creation was because of love

 

When mankind sinned allowing separation between themselves and their greatest Lover, God already had a plan. In love He would offer His only Son, Jesus, as a perfect sacrifice for sin to regain relationship with humanity.

The bible also ends with a glorious wedding — the wedding of the bride, the church, and her Bridegroom, Jesus. Relationship eternally restored!

Marriage paints earth’s greatest image of loving intimacy. However, it is only a reflection of the love the Father has for us, his children. The love the Son has for His bride, the church, is insurmountably great! Nothing else supersedes the love of God! Nothing!

The only fitting response is to love Him in return. Not out of obedience to a required law, but because our hearts are etched permanently by His love and we can nothing else.

The Second

Recently, I was feeling emotionally and physically drained. Out of love for others, I was giving myself to family, ministry, and work. However, the once satisfying rhythm of my life seemed no longer fulfilling.

Off course!

I asked God to show me if and where my focus had veered off course. My daily routine of praying and spending time in the bible remained stable and consistent. Even here though the passion grew cold. I could feel it! I could sense it!

In reading this passage of scripture I realized my error.  I was putting “the second” first!

“And the second is like it:
‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”
Matthew 22:39

One version calls loving others “equally important”. I’m not sure!

Jesus clearly says loving God isthe first and greatest! As important as loving others is, it is incomparable to loving God. There is only one first! Only one greatest!

While “first” implies preeminence in place, order and time, “greatest” recognizes no equal!

Loving God is putting the horse rightfully before the cart. It is giving love a place of movement and strength. You could give me a new Lamborghini, but if that shining piece of metal doesn’t have an engine it is powerless. Loving God is like the engine that makes all other relationships function! 

Focusing on building loving community will never create unity in the body of Christ, unless our attention is drawn first to the greatest love. Misplaced priority will leave us impotent and divided! 

In Order

The only way to fulfill the second and vitally important command of loving others is by loving God first. He must come before and take precedent over every other relationship. Our love for others will be artificial and forced unless we are heart to heart in intimate and loving relationship with God. Then, like a river flowing downstream, our love for others will automatically maintain consistent motion.

“This is how we know
that we love the children of God:
by loving God and
carrying out his commands.
In fact, this is love for God:
to keep his commands.
And his commands are not burdensome.”
1 John 5:2-3

We can easily become Pharisaic in our response to others when separated from the Father’s love. Whenever doing becomes more important than being, we will fall into that trap! I am a recent example!

In all my doing, I wasn’t resting and responding from the heart of the Father. What was amiss? My first love! The order is vitally important! To experience the life of Christ tangibly within earthly relationships, God alone must occupy first place!

Like a Bride

My husband and I have been married for over 46 years. Our relationship is exclusive to all others. The love we have for our children and grandchildren is beyond explanation. We love our siblings and extended family. Nothing can adequately quantify the deep and loving relationships we experience with many others.

However, our love for each has a protective boundary defined, “You and you alone!” Within this boundary, love thrives; without it, love pays a heavy price!

Jesus rebuked the church of Ephesus,

“Yet I hold this against you:
You have forsaken
the love you had at first.”
Revelation 2:4

That word “forsaken” in the Greek doesn’t necessarily mean to totally turn your back on, abandon or desert. Rather it carries the thought of “to send forth, yield up or depart” in any measure.

I must continually ask myself, “Do I love God like I did at first? Has another love attracted my attention?”

This call to our first and greatest love is nothing new. God’s word to His people through Jeremiah reads,

“… this is what the LORD says:
I remember the devotion of your youth,
your love as a bride,
how you followed Me in the wilderness…”
Jeremiah 2:2

The Bridegroom continues to call His bride back to her first and greatest love. Will she listen? Will I? Only then will we reach new heights, individually and corporately, having the momentum to become a bride worthy of the Bridegroom.

May we focus on keeping first things first!

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Jesus – It is Finished! Bringing Justice Through to Victory

The joyous declaration at Christ’s birth proclaimed love, peace and joy. It was the magnificent prelude to a mighty shout, “Justice has been brought through to victory. It is finished!” Or is it?

Lately instead of echoing It is finished!“, I have been asking “Is it finished?”

“Where is the victory?
Where can justice be found?”

Both triumph and struggle mark my daily reality. The battle within and around me is often intense. I see defeat in lives around me. I hear pain in weighted voices while mock smiles camouflage hurting hearts.

Matthew echoes Isaiah’s prophecy of Jesus,

“I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.”
Matthew 12:18

Through His life and death, Jesus completed this and over 300 other prophecies.”…the odds of anyone fulfilling this amount of prophecy are staggering. Mathematicians put it this way: 1 person fulfilling 8 prophecies = 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000; 1 person fulfilling 48 prophecies = 1 chance in 10 to the 157th power; 1 person fulfilling 300+ prophecies = Only Jesus!”

In His own words, Jesus says,

“Don’t misunderstand why I have come.
I did not come to abolish the law of Moses
or the writings of the prophets.
No, I came to accomplish their purpose.”
Matthew 5:17

Justice

The World

The original quote in Isaiah puts it this way,

“A bruised reed he will not break
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice,
he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.”
Isaiah 42:3,4

Without question, Jesus has the power and ability to use force to break the bruised or snuff out those whose passion has grown cold. Yet, “he will not”! Three times Isaiah declares this truth, “he will not!” 

If Jesus came as a baby over two thousand years ago to “establish justice on the earth”, I’m sorry, but it is hard to see! The rich become richer and the poor poorer. Horrific levels of injustice and discrimination flourish unchecked in nation after nation. In cultures void of God consciousness or respect for life, justice appears absent.

Mercy

Regardless of what I witness around me, Jesus completely fulfilled the mandate of establishing justice on earth.

Finished

Connie Inglis, an Inscribe writer, reminded me of another three point emphasis. The Greek root word telos is used, not just once, but three times in reference to Jesus’ death on the cross.

“Later, knowing that
all was now completed (teleō),
and so that the Scripture
would be fulfilled (teleioō),
Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty’ …
When he had received the drink,
Jesus said, ‘It is finished (teleō).’
With that, he bowed his head
and gave up his spirit.”
John 19:28, 30
Powerful words! Completed! Fulfilled! Finished! When the writers of scripture stated something three times they were giving it the strongest possible emphasis. Like a holy shout, they were ensuring we wouldn’t miss the point.
It is finished!
“When you were dead in your sins
and in the uncircumcision of your flesh,
God made you alive with Christ.”
Colossians 2:13-15
Alive
Since the fall of Adam, sin holds all mankind in the legal grip of death. Through Christ alone, the dead receive life! It is finished!
“He forgave us all our sins,
having cancelled the charge
of our legal indebtedness,
which stood against us and condemned us’
he has taken it away,
nailing it to the cross.”
Colossians 2:14
All righteousness has been fulfilled! Jesus paid the price for our freedom, not just from sin, but from the resulting guilt and shame. The cross is more than enough. Salvation is complete in Him!
“And having disarmed
the powers and authorities,
he made a public spectacle of them,
triumphing over them by the cross.”
Colossians 2:15
What was the final act of justice? While Satan powerfully bruised Jesus’ heal, Jesus crushed his head inflicting a fatal blow. Through the cross, Jesus executed judgment on our enemy creating a path for complete restoration for each of us.

Follow Through

“It is finished!” Everything Jesus came to do, he accomplished!

Now it is our turn! God desires justice, fully and freely blended with mercy, to influence every person and invade every area of our planet. Today! Here! Now!

“This is what the LORD Almighty said:
Administer true justice, show mercy
and compassion to one another.”
Zechariah 7:9

Poverty

Mercy, (Hebrew – hesed) refers to active care. It is loving kindness and compassion demonstrated. Justice (Hebrew – tsadaq) refers more to fair treatment and equity. Mercy and justice partner together, like the left and right hand working in unison.

Brad Jersak explains it like this:

“Mercy is like the ambulance at the bottom of a cliff,
ready to help those who fall off.
Justice builds a fence at the top of the cliff
to protect them from falling in the first place.
Mercy wipes the tears from the eyes.
Justice asks, “Why are you crying?”
Mercy welcomes the hungry
to gather around God’s banqueting table.
Justice addresses why
some are under the table aching of hunger…
Mercy seeks and saves those lost in darkness.
Justice asks, “Why is it dark? Who is keeping it dark?”

Continuous Completion

In the Greek, the verb choice for “finished” is in perfect tense. It is a past action but the effect of it continues into the present. Whenever the broken are made whole, the lost welcomed home, the sick healed, relationships restored, tormented minds find peace, “it is finished” again, and again, and yet again… The past action of Christ’s finished work continues unending!

For unto us a child is born!

This past year alone I witnessed the continuing triumph through Christ at work as

people discovered personal relationship with Jesus,
many set free from destructive
or addictive behaviours,
traumas erased, lies exposed and minds set at peace,
medically confirmed miracles occurred:
brain lesions from Multiple Sclerosis disappeared;
“frozen shoulder” instantly healed;
unborn baby without a heartbeat born healthy;
those unable to conceive conceiving;
cancer disappearing;
and so much more!

When we welcome Jesus into a situation, He comes in triumph! The answers don’t always look like we hope or expect, but Christ is the answer for every hopeless situation.

Victory Triumphs

Jesus carried “justice through to victory.”  His work is complete, fulfilled and finished! Our work, through the Holy Spirit, as we follow in His footsteps, continues! Finished but ongoing!

“…And this is the secret:
Christ lives in you.
This gives you assurance of sharing his glory.”
Colossians 1:27

In His footsteps!

A call resounds for the church to rise. As she awakens from her slumber embracing the mandate of mercy and justice, we will witness on earth the impact of what legally has been completely in the heavenly realm. Oh that Christ would receive the glory for everything He accomplished at the cross.

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.”
Micah 6:8

Celebration of advent, the arrival of the long awaited Messiah, closed the year! Yet, Jesus’ coming announced the dawn of a new era, bringing justice and hope for all. His life and death shakes the earth, even now, with divine authority setting this upside down world right side up.

Is it finished? Yes! It is finished!

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A Time to be Silent and a Time to Speak

Thankfully God gave me two ears and only one mouth! Given that ratio I should be listening twice as much as speaking. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, God positioned my mouth visibly in front!

Charles Wesley wrote a great hymn called, “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing.” Honestly, at times I have trouble managing one tongue, let alone a thousand! Only what goes in through the ears comes out through the mouth!

Democracy attempts to give equal voice to poor and rich, unknown or famous, young as well as old. Though I reside in a democratic nation I actually attempt to live from Kingdom of God principles. A kingdom is not democratic!

Tongue talk!

Lately my King Jesus has been pinpointing some of my speaking problems. Sometimes the issue is a shortage of words; other times it is the type of words resonating from my lips that create the difficulty.

Advice to a King

This morning I read a mother’s advice to her kingly son. Listening to your mother is always important! When such advice is in the bible, it deserves even greater attention!

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

Many segments of our society are “voiceless”, and easily ignored, even in a democracy.

Silenced by fear and intimidation,
bullied into the shadows,
multitudes know
the censorship of accusation,
manipulation and control.

The cost of speaking up can be extremely high! Who will speak for the unborn, the elderly, the intellectually disabled, the ones without home or identity? The challenge reaches beyond a king’s son to each of us.

The Problem

The bible speaks on numerous occasions admonishing the importance of listening. In many instances silence is the wiser, more excellent, way! Here is a sampling:

  • Set a guard over my mouth, Lord;
    keep watch over the door of my lips.” Psalms 141:3

  • “Those who guard their lips preserve their lives,
    but those who speak rashly will come to ruin.” Proverbs 13:3

  • “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this:
    Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak…” James 1:19

  • “The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint,
    and whoever has understanding is even-tempered.” Proverbs 17:27

Silence!

There is just reason for such encouragement! I will spare you the details of my personal tongue wagging when silence would have been appropriate. Understanding combined with grace contribute of listening well.

Silence arises either from the womb of wisdom or the tomb of shame? The first releases life; the second is a dark prison.

“There is a time for everything
…a time to be silent
and a time to speak,”
Ecclesiastes 3:1,7

A Time to Speak

When is the right time to speak? And how? Solomon offers sound advice:

“…the wise heart will know
the proper time and procedure.
For there is a proper time
and procedure for every matter.”
Ecclesiastes 8:5-6

Jesus said,

“A good man brings good things
out of the good stored up in his heart,
and an evil man brings evil things
out of the evil stored up in his heart.
For the mouth speaks
what the heart is full of.”
Luke 6:45

Speak up!

My tongue may be situated close to my brain, but it is inseparably connected to my heart! If I’m having trouble with my tongue, the heart, not diction, is the real issue.

  • “When she speaks, her words are wise,
    and she gives instructions with kindness.” Proverbs 31:26

  • “Like apples of gold in settings of silver
    is a ruling rightly given.” Proverbs 25:11

  • “Let your conversation be always full of grace,
    seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Colossians 4:6

  • “A person finds joy in giving an apt reply 
    and how good is a timely word!
    Proverbs 15:23

The Power of Words

Words hold incredible power

to forgive and restore,
build and encourage,
impart wisdom and share knowledge,
inspire and motivate,
teach and train.

At times, wordless voids create deafening silence. A silence leaving others feeling unloved, unwanted, insignificant, used, or shunned. The right words validate, show respect, affirm and cherish. They sooth wounds and minister healing. Well spoken words bring understanding, lift burdens, and ease pain. They release permission to dream, aspire, and hope. Words powerfully protect the weak and ensure justice prevails.

“If anyone sins
because they do not speak up
when they hear a public charge
to testify regarding something
they have seen or learned about,
they will be held responsible.”
Leviticus 5:1

Responsibility!

Silence is not always an option! Failure to use our voice has eternal consequences!

Responsibility

The most important message we have is the Gospel of Jesus Christ; “it is the power of God unto salvation to every one who believes”. Many have misquoted Francis of Assisi as saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.”

Actually, he was advocating for words and actions to accurately reflect each other. Look what Francis of Assisi modelled:

(He) clearly spent a great deal of time using his words when he preached,
“sometimes preaching in up to five villages a day, often outdoors.
In the country, Francis often spoke from a bale of straw
or a granary doorway. In town, he would climb on a box
or up steps in a public building. He preached to . . .
any who gathered to hear the strange
but fiery little preacher from Assisi.”

Paul asks his Roman readers a relevant question,

But how can they call on him
to save them unless they believe in him?
And how can they believe in him
if they have never heard about him?
And how can they hear about him
unless someone tells them?

Romans 10:14

Ears to hear!

We have both voice and influence. Daily there is opportunity to share our personal stories of faith with others. These simple heartfelt words may be the channel God uses to bring someone into faith in Jesus Christ.

No Greater Joy

A young woman excitedly shared how she through faltering prayer, lead a friend into personal relationship with Jesus. Her own conversion to faith is fresh; her bible knowledge limited. One thing she knows — Jesus is worth it all!

Tears of joy and gratitude streamed down her face as she spoke. This experience of witnessing someone come to Christ has trumped her Christian experience. Well it should!

Yet mixed with tears of joy were also tears of sadness as she exclaimed, “Why didn’t someone tell me? Why did I have to wait until I was over thirty years old to hear about Jesus? How different my life would have been if someone would have shared Jesus with me sooner!”

There is no greater joy!  With equal enthusiasm heaven and earth should celebrate when a sinner comes home!

“In the same way, I tell you,
there is rejoicing in the presence
of the angels of God
over one sinner who repents.”
Luke 15:7

Ducks in a row!

We don’t need all our spiritual “ducks in a row” with impeccable theology or living in holy perfection to be effective voices for the Kingdom of God. God looks for the willing!

Voices willing to speak
when hearts are tender;
voices willing to challenge
when injustice rises.

Today I’m praying for the right words combined with boldness to speak them! The results are up to God! I can hardly wait to see what He will do!

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Advent – Mary, Mother of Jesus

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is a perfect example of God’s way of choosing those the world would call ordinary to reveal His extraordinary. Man places emphasis on outer appearance; God focuses on heart.

“But God hath chosen the foolish things
of the world to confound the wise;
and God hath chosen the weak things
of the world to confound
the things which are mighty;”
1 Corinthians 1:27

What did God see in Mary? What set her apart from all others?

Favoured Mother

An angel appeared to Mary saying,

“Greetings, you who are highly favoured!
The Lord is with you.”
Luke 1:28

Favoured here means to bestow grace upon or endue with special honour. It is the same verb used in Ephesians 1:6 where it is translated, freely given, poured upon, blessed with, bestowed, or made accepted. It is a reminder that all merit or grace comes from The Lord — for Mary and for us.

Pregnant

The angel continued,

“…Do not be afraid, Mary;
you have found favour with God.

You will conceive and give birth to a son,
and you are to call him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called
the Son of the Most High.
The Lord God will give him
the throne of his father David,

and he will reign over
Jacob’s descendants forever;
his kingdom will never end.”
Luke 1:30-33

Questions rose like unstoppable waves in Mary’s mind. A virgin conceive? The angel gently calms her fear; this conception, unlike any other, will be through the Holy Spirit.

Mary received by faith what many professing Christians continue to doubt — the virgin birth of the Messiah. How could this be possible?

“For no word from God will ever fail.
Luke 1:37

Servant Mother

This verse literally translated says, “With the word God gives, He gives the power to fulfill it”. Mary believed! Her faith rested in the Almighty God who gave His Word.

“I am the Lord’s servant,”
Mary answered.
“May your word to me be fulfilled...”
Luke 1:38 

Don’t be deceived! Mary’s declaration wasn’t new! Long before this day, Mary had already chosen The One she would serve. Choices predetermined in the calm will not waiver in the storm. Decisions made in the day will go unquestioned during the night. In human weakness, God proves strong!

Newborn baby

Mary quickly hurried off to see Elizabeth & Zechariah. Elizabeth carried in her once barren womb the child destined to prepare the way for the coming Messiah.

“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting,
the baby leaped in her womb,
and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
Luke 1:41

Elizabeth prophesied blessing upon Mary and The Holy Child hidden within. What extravagant worship flowed from the hearts of these two amazing mothers — one whose days appeared almost over, another whose life was barely beginning!

Humble Worship

Mary`s first words acknowledge her need of a personal Saviour,

“…My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.”
Luke 1:47,48

Power, position, and privilege reveal true character. We find in this young woman, probably still a teenager, a steadfast, humble heart of worship.

Woman in worship

Embedded in her prayer is a dozen quotations from Old Testament Scriptures. Although she undoubtedly had no formal education and was illiterate, Mary had listened closely to the reading of God’s Word hiding it in her heart.

This treasuring of God’s Word continued. Whether coming from the mouths of worshipping shepherds or from the aged prophets, Simeon & Anna,

“…Mary treasured up all these things
and pondered them in her heart.
Luke 2:19

God’s words at times were piercing; at other times, like honey to the soul. Mary received them all with equal grace, humility, and surrender — treasuring, valuing, cherishing each as precious. Every utterance pregnant with promise!

A Mother’s Surrender

It is one thing to surrender ourselves; it is another to surrender our children. Mary, together with her husband Joseph, dedicated Jesus to the Lord. Women weren’t required to attend the yearly Passover; yet together Joseph and Mary went.

It was Mary who spoke up after Jesus had gone missing,

“After three days they found him
in the temple courts,
sitting among the teachers
listening to them and
asking them questions.”
Luke 2:46

Jesus felt “at home” in God’s house. Even though she didn’t understand, Mary again “treasured all these things in her heart.” Content, perhaps, to know her Son possessed a listening heart!

A mother, surrendered and listening to God, willingly yields her children to His design.

Years pass quickly! Like his father Joseph, Jesus became a carpenter. But for three days the carpenter’s shop was quiet; the apron unmoved upon the bench. A recent baptism! A cluster of followers forming!

Carpenter shop

Something was shifting; her mother heart knew it.

“They have no wine,” were her only words to Jesus.

“Woman why do you involve me?
Jesus replied.
My hour has not yet come.”
John 2:4

Refusing offence, her words to others echo her knowing heart, “Do whatever he tells you.” Surrender precedes miracle!

No time for demanding or needing,
manipulation or co-dependency,
self-pity or control.

“Do whatever he tells you.”

Steadfast Mother

Without understanding all God was doing, Mary gave her Son again, and again, and yet again to His Sovereign will

as an infant and then a child,
at the wedding in Cana,
and when people called Him
crazy or demon-possessed,
even at the cross,
and the tomb.

Jesus, death and resurrection

From conception on, Mary believed.  She followed Jesus both with a mother’s love and a disciple’s commitment. In steadfast devotion, she accompanied His last fatal journey to Golgotha.

To the tomb she plodded with heart numbed by grief. Here, on resurrection morning, sorrow turned to joy! Mary and a handful of women were among the first to voice this powerful message,

“He is not here:
for he is risen, as he said.”
Matthew 28:6

Was she one of the unnamed with “The Eleven and those … assembled together” when Jesus entered revealing nail-scarred hands and feet?  Later after Jesus’ ascension, we see her among those continually praying in the upper room. Waiting and seeking the promised Holy Spirit.

Years of prayerful abiding, sustained and prepared her.

And I will ask the Father,
and he will give you another advocate
to help you and be with you forever
 the Spirit of truth.
The world cannot accept him,
because it neither sees
him nor knows him. But you know him,
for he lives with you
and will be in you.”

John 14:16-17

Mother of Promise

Mary was one woman, a “humble servant”, who treasured God’s promise — not for a moment but for a life time.

What about us? Whether man or woman! We too can become people of promise as we

surrender in humble submission,
cherish God’s word as precious,
believe beyond understanding,
position ourselves in prayer,
and steadfastly follow
The Master.

In weakness, we find strength. God is adequate in our insufficiency. Upon common circumstance, He breathes His extraordinary, crowning our little with favour.

The Bible

Until, in Him we too become children of promise!

 “So in Christ Jesus you are
all children of God through faith,

for all of you who were baptized into Christ
have clothed yourselves with Christ.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile,
neither slave nor free,
nor is there male and female,
for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

If you belong to Christ,
then you are Abraham’s seed,
and heirs according to the promise.”
Galatians 3:26-29

Mary became an unexpected heir of promise, not once but twice. First in her womb, as a virgin; then in her heart, as a disciple. What generations had long hoped for, Mary received — Christ, the Saviour!

Now by faith in Jesus Christ, there is equal access. The promise of eternal salvation is offered freely to each of us. Who today will believe? Will you? Will I?

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Advent – Joseph a Man of Dreams

We all have dreamed dreams. Some have been realized; others await fulfillment. Do you have a dream? Is there something you are anticipating?

I love children’s dreams about virtually unlimited possibilities of doing and becoming. As youth, dreams form around making the team, being chosen for a lead role, getting a driver’s license or reaching autonomy. Years pass and new dreams encompassing marriage, owning a home and starting a family take greater shape. Later in life, minds fill with dreams of retirement and less toil.

Man was created with an innate ability to dream!

Dream

It is evidence of being formed in the image of God — the One who envisioned and spoke all things into being. Dreams enable us to reach beyond today’s reality, pushing present boundaries toward what could or might be.

Shattered Dreams

I remember well the excitement and anticipation with which each of our sons approached marriage. Filled with far-reaching plans and joyful hope, the future held promise.

I’m sure Joseph was much the same. How long his betrothal to Mary lasted, we aren’t sure. In the custom of the time, he would begin to prepare a house for his future wife and family as soon as he was engaged.

“This is how the birth of Jesus
the Messiah came about:
His mother Mary was pledged
to be married to Joseph,
but before they came together,
she was found to be pregnant
through the Holy Spirit.”
Matthew 1:18

I cannot imagine the upheaval of emotions that filled Joseph when he discovered Mary’s pregnancy: anger, betrayal, disbelief, fear, anxiety, confusion, disquiet. He watched helplessly as his greatest dream shattered irreparably before him.

Honour

Where did he go so wrong? Wasn’t he faithful to God? Hadn’t he tried to follow the Lord? How could this happen? Why?

The weight of disappointment and hurt must have been unbearable! Despite his personal pain, Joseph chose to act with the same integrity and honour that previously marked his life.

“Because Joseph her husband
was faithful to the law,
and yet did not want to expose her
to public disgrace,
he had in mind to divorce her quietly.”
Matthew 1:19

Joseph prepared himself to protect Mary regardless of any backlash! Undoubtedly, others questioned his sanity in making such a choice. Nonetheless, Joseph’s faithfulness and integrity blazed forth in spite of his own doubt and confusion.

His dream died a brutal death! Time to cut the loses! Walk away!

A Dream

What do you do when dreams shatter like broken glass on a concrete floor? Walking away may seem easy, even logical. The dark disintegration of man’s expectation is the perfect atmosphere for God’s revelation, igniting hope from hopelessness.

Expect

“But after he had considered this,
an angel of the Lord appeared
to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary
home as your wife,
because what is conceived in her
is from the Holy Spirit.
She will give birth to a son,
and you are to give him the name Jesus,
because he will save
his people from their sins.”
Matthew 1: 20,21

Things are not always as they appear. Mary is pregnant but not because of unfaithfulness.

If Joseph was confused before, this dream may have intensified rather than answered the questions dominating his thoughts. Could this be possible? Was God really going to entrust him, a carpenter, and Mary, an unknown maiden, with the raising of the Messiah?

Every parent feels the overwhelming sense of responsibility that surrounds the birth of a child. How much more these parents and this birth?

A Man of Action

Joseph’s preset pattern of obedience to God set him in motion. Secure in his identity, he didn’t break his stride when faced with circumstances that would topple most men. On the basis of only a dream, he took immediate action.

“When Joseph woke up,
he did what the angel of the Lord
had commanded him and
took Mary home as his wife.”
Matthew 1:24

Trust

Walking humbly in obedience to God mattered more that anything else including human reasoning or influential voices of others. God’s word carried far more weight than the words of even his most loyal support community. At what point did Joseph exchange his

doubt for courage,
fear for faith,
anxiety for peace,
anger for hope,
or betrayal for trust?

In the midst of shattered dreams, obedience demands strength and resolve. He drew deep from the well named “Trust in God”. The steadiness of a man’s steps prove the soundness of his faith! Joseph was far more than a carpenter. God spoke to his identity: “son of David“, a man with a heart after God!

The steadiness of a man's steps prove the soundness of his faith! Click To Tweet

Faith Journey

There was nothing normal about this marriage. Perhaps there never would be! At some point Joseph had to make peace with his reality. There was no jubilant wedding night or honeymoon — two becoming one flesh.

A trip to Bethlehem, an untimely birth, strangers coming with well wishes and surprising announcements, prophetic utterances in the temple, more strangers with gifts and homage …. each confirming the identity of the Holy Child.

Peace

The dream of having a “normal” life died a thousand deaths! The desire for a secure home for Mary and Jesus probably remained foremost in Joseph’s heart — to provide for and protect his household.

Just when things seemed to begin to take shape, another dream!

“…an angel of the Lord
appeared to Joseph in a dream.
Get up,” he said, “take the child
and his mother and escape to Egypt.
Stay there until I tell you,
for Herod is going to search
for the child to kill him.”
Matthew 2:13

Get up! Escape! Sounds more like a nightmare than a dream! Would Joseph ever experience the luxury of “normal”? Maybe! But not today!

The same outright obedience that had marked Joseph’s life to this point continued. His steadfast faithfulness to both God and his family were enough to stir him from deep sleep. Packing their few belongings, they moved on. Before the awakening of dawn, there came a fresh realization that perhaps the worst was not yet behind them. They became refugees on the run!

Unshakable!

I am amazed as I consider Joseph, this incredible man of God. What an example of unshakable faith in God’s sovereign will.

“So he got up, took the child
and his mother during the night
and left for Egypt,
where he stayed until the death of Herod.”
Matthew 2:14

Faith

Wherever God led, however long the exile, regardless of questions, Joseph led his family with faith.

What kind of man walks with consistency at such great personal sacrifice? God knew Joseph could be trusted along every rocky road of this journey. God’s only Son was safe in the hands of this loving, passionate servant.

Is faith blind, or does it see without light? Is the breaking of a dream the end, or the beginning of something beyond understanding?

Dream Fulfilled!

Twice more Joseph would be directed through dreams:

“After Herod died, an angel of the Lord
appeared in a dream
to Joseph in Egypt and said,
“Get up, take the child and his mother
and go to the land of Israel,
for those who were trying to take
the child’s life are dead.”
Matthew 2:20

and

“…Having been warned in a dream,
he withdrew to the district of Galilee,
and he went and
lived in a town called Nazareth.”
Matthew 2:22

Can you imagine the relief? At home with the threat over! Safe at last!

When one says “yes” to God, there is no way of knowing where “yes” will lead. “Yes” is unconditional agreement to God’s choice, God’s ways, His thoughts, His desires. The path of “yes” is often paved with sacrifice.

Hope

I have learned much from looking at the life of this not-so-secondary character in the Advent story. Each of us, at some point, will face the reality of broken dreams, failed promises, and unrealized hope. Then, what?

Joseph presents a powerful example of

faithfulness,
honour and integrity
selfless commitment
sacrificial obedience
passionate service
and unshakable faith.

May God see in us, what He saw in Joseph, a true son of David — one “who will do everything” He desires.

“… God testified concerning him:
‘I have found David son of Jesse,
a man after my own heart;
he will do everything I want him to do.’ ”
Acts 13:22

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Choices: Contentment or Craving, Need or Desire

What do you crave? Chocolate perhaps tops my craving chart; ice cream might head my husband’s crave list. Cravings are attached to desire rather than need. Learning the secret of contentment requires wisdom to know the difference.

God often gets my attention through simple everyday activities. Recently, I was reminded of just such an incident that occurred several years ago.

In the Barn

A mature cow delivered a healthy black calf on a fine spring day. In inexplicable rage she immediately attempted to kill it! I’m not exaggerating! Her whole intention was the destruction of her newborn baby. After rescuing the little one, we put them into the calving barn to give opportunity to “mother up”. However, every brain cell she possessed seemed to collide with that notion!

Several times a day for the next three days, the only way her baby was able to nurse was to confine this stubborn cow in a squeeze chute to prevent her from either kicking or bunting her beautiful baby to death.

During one such feeding episode, fatigued and frustrated I yelled in exasperation, “What is wrong with you? You have a perfectly good baby and you don’t want it? Wise up!”

Instantly I sensed the Lord’s reprimand upon my heart, “MaryAnn, how many times have I given you my perfect gift?  You have rejected and refused it, craving something else.”

Ouch! God’s word hit the target! I knelt in the fresh straw, acknowledging my own foolish stubbornness, as I sought God’s forgiveness through repentance.

Almost simultaneously, the cow in front of me seemed to have an equally profound change of heart. She began to nuzzle her baby, mooing softly and gently to her little one.

Tears ran unrestrained down my cheeks as I realized God was willing to use this not-so-spiritual barn and animals to speak truth regarding my misaligned heart attitude.

Craving Other Food

It had been a couple of years since the Israelites had escaped Egypt. Any positive inclination they may have had was fading fast.

“Now the people complained
about their hardships
in the hearing of the LORD…”
Numbers 11:1

I have an extremely low tolerance for grumbling — unless, of course, if it is me doing the complaining. Don’t get me wrong! I’m quite “Christian” about it! It starts as mild discontent, a touch of cynicism, a pinch of fussing, a bit of criticism here and a little grievance there. If left unchecked, however, the petty picking multiplies rapidly and exponentially.

It is almost humorous to listen to these grumblers,

If only we had meat to eat!
We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost —
also the cucumbers, melons,
leeks, onions and garlic.”
Numbers 11:4,5

No cost? The true cost of slavery was completely evaporating from their foolish minds; the depth of suffering they endured in Egypt was becoming nothing more than fading memory. How quickly they were forgetting how they “groaned in their slavery and cried out“.  (Exodus 2:23, 3:7,8)

Craving Multiplied

The craving of a few spread like deadly gangrene infecting the entire camp.

“Moses heard the people of every family
wailing at the entrance to their tents.
The LORD became exceedingly angry
and Moses was troubled.”
Numbers 11:10

Unchecked internal grumbling will soon push its way to the surface, rising like a volcanic explosion spewing toxic debris everywhere and on everyone!

Notice the difference between the Lord’s and Moses’ perspective — The One angry, the other troubled. God was the One who heard their groaning, responded to their cries, and provided supernatural rescue.  Today, these complainers lacked nothing!

He was, and still is, the LORD who Provides! Daily God covered them with a cloud of protection, shielding them from the desert heat. He, Himself, was their night light, a pillar of fire, warding off imposing darkness. That’s not all!

They all ate the same spiritual food
and drank the same spiritual drink;
for they drank from the spiritual rock
that accompanied them,
and that rock was Christ.”
1 Corinthians 10:3,4

What more could they need? Nothing!

What more did they want? Everything!

Craving Satisfied

Moses heard their words; God saw their heart. They weren’t just asking for food; they were demanding better!

I am compelled to ask some seriously searching questions: Where do I want better? When has God so generously given me everything I truly need, yet I demand more! Do I ever come into agreement with the Israelites, “If only (I) had ________!”

For them it was fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. What do I crave?

A better job,
or better house,
better ministry,
or better spouse,
better family, bank account,
or opportunity?

Craving is attractive to the eyes, creating a desire for or greed after. Sometimes God reluctantly allows us to taste the fruit of our cravings. The Lord gave them what they craved.

“But while the meat was still between their teeth
and before it could be consumed,
the anger of the LORD burned
against the people,
and he struck them with a severe plague.
Therefore the place was named
Kibroth Hattaavah,
because there they buried the people
who had craved other food.”
Numbers 11:33,34

The Cost of Craving

God promises to give us the desires of our heart. Unfortunately, this includes both good and evil! It would be wise to examine carefully our desires so that out of the good desires of our heart we will reap only blessing.

“Take delight in the LORD,
and he will give you your heart’s desires.”
Psalm 37:4

Kibroth Hattaavah means “graves of craving”.

Just in case you are thinking, God’s love, generosity, and grace are greater this side of the cross, let us consider carefully the present day price tag on humanities insatiable appetite for more and better.

Heart disease, the number one killer world wide, is often the result of improper eating habits — a quest for more than what is needed. Many deaths are indirectly attributed to stress; stress we willing assume in pursuit of “bigger and better”. The killer of HIV/AIDS would be non-existent to a people content within the marriage union. Millions more die through wars, conflict and terrorism — the craving for power, wealth or land. This year alone, 40,000,000 lives have been terminated via abortion, the choice available to a culture craving something other than life!

Graves of craving abound!

I know what it is to be in need,
and I know what it is to have plenty.
I have learned the secret of being content
in any and every situation,
whether well fed or hungry,
whether living in plenty or in want.”
Philippians 4:12

Paul “learned the secret of being content.” Contentment combines satisfaction, gratitude and happiness  in one life-giving package. It is the quality of sufficiency and adequacy even in the slenderest of times. It is the feeling of being strong enough or possessing enough to need no further aid or support. (Thayers)

Substituting cravings for contentment brings health and wholeness into our lives spiritually, physically, emotionally and relationally. Ceasing grumbling isn’t enough! Walking step-by-step in contentment is necessary and so much better! Perhaps even the best of all!

Contentment is one indeed of God’s great gifts available to us now.

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Further Reading:

Second is Better Than First! When Second is Best!