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!

 

Looking, Seeing, Keeping Eyes Open

Looking without seeing is a blinding condition in more ways that one! I can drive the same road day after day, week after week without noticing the environment around me. Suddenly, I will see something as if for the first time that actually isn’t new. Though I was looking, I wasn’t truly seeing! My eyes were not open to the obvious.

Does anyone else have the same problem?

“Keep your eyes open for God,
watch for his works;
be alert for signs of his presence.”
Psalm 105:4 MSG

By watching closely, we will see evidence of God all around us.

Ezekiel

God brought Ezekiel to the temple court – the place where the priests minister. When Ezekiel looked, he saw a “hole” in the wall.

"I looked and I saw a hole in the wall"

“Then he brought me to the entrance to the court.
I looked, and I saw a hole in the wall.
He said to me, “Son of man, now dig into the wall.”
So I dug into the wall and saw a doorway there.”
Ezekiel 8: 7-8

When Ezekiel began digging “into the wall”, a doorway became visible. Looking, seeing and digging wasn’t enough! God asked Ezekiel to go through the doorway to look harder, more intentionally, at the condition of his city.

He challenged Ezekiel, “Look! Observe! Pay attention!

What Ezekiel saw was disturbing!

Looking Personally

I assist hurting people every week as they wade through destructive life circumstances, helping them “look” at the truth of God’s word personally and “see” hope in Christ. My work with others often awakens a fresh awareness of areas needed in my own personal development and healing journey.

Opening the way to see!

God desires for each us to be on a continuing trajectory to health and wholeness. I have come a long way, but have a long way to go.

“But by the grace of God I am what I am,
and his grace to me was not without effect.”
I Corinthians 15:10

What you see now is not what I used to be! Thankfulness for all God has done is appropriate. Allowing myself to be blinded to the need for continued personal growth, however, is harmful. Change is not optional, but rather mandatory, for Christians!

As a lay minister, it is often in this place of assisting others that my own “gaps” and “holes” become most evident. It is the perfect place for God to reveal points of His unfinished work.

“Stop! Look closer!” I’ll sense Him say.

When I am willing to look, He allows me to see more broken jagged edges!

Taking a closer look at negative life patterns

Holy Spirit reveals hidden places of self-protection, negative thought patterns and recurring destructive behaviours. Blinded by familiarity, these patterns would otherwise go unnoticed.

It amazes me how much of life can be lived without any serious looking or digging!

Only when I am willing to become honest before God and others will the avenue of healing and liberty be exposed to view. Thankful for victories past, I prepare to work on present trouble spots! In the space between past and future I feel the burden of now — fragile, exposed, and vulnerable.

Progress

Looking isn’t easy! The depravity within and without is wearying, even horrifying! My willingness to see, however, precedes any victory to come.

Seeing the best of every circumstance

God will not do the work for me; He waits for my active participation in the process. I must look with intention! Purposefully digging beneath protective layers requires obedience to open the door of my heart and mind to His examination.

In the looking, Christ is with me.
He is enough in the digging.
In the opening, He is present.
The cross has paid the price.
In my groping,
I find “It is finished!

My eyes turn back to the bible, as I continue to read

“In the morning
the word of the LORD came to me…”
Ezekiel 12:8

There is always a morning! A new day! A fresh opportunity!

His Word transcends…
Truth penetrates…
Light overcomes…

His Word transcends… Truth penetrates… Light overcomes…

There must be present a purposeful intention both inwardly and outwardly; never so outwardly focused I am inwardly complacent nor inwardly minded that I am outwardly negligent.

Never so outwardly focused I am inwardly complacent nor inwardly minded that I am outwardly negligent. Click To Tweet

God was the One who directed Ezekiel’s sight-line. He is willing and able to aim my own.

With a Purpose

It is possible to maintain a quiet trust and confidence embedded within a surrendered heart. He turns my gaze, focusing my vision on what He wants me to see and become.

When He is says, “Dig”, I will have the strength to respond! When He says, “Look”, I will have the grace to see. Then, and only then, will He give me the wisdom to open the doorway to the next place of deliverance and freedom.

In it all, we see Christ and His divine purpose:

“We look at this Son and see the God
who cannot be seen.
We look at this Son and see God’s
original purpose in everything created.”
Colossians 1: 15 MSG

We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen.

It is astonishing to realize that in everything Christ can be seen, when we are willing to look. Regardless of circumstances, God’s wonder is revealed in every direction, including our common ordinary.

We look
to see,
surrendered,
moving beyond,
ever forward
from strength to strength.

The courage of one, raises the tidal mark of bravery for others. As one person strides forward in victory, others are inspired to take similar fragile steps. Is this not the appearance of faith? Looking and seeing! Keeping our eyes constantly open for the movements of God!

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Personal testimonies worth sharing again:

A Daughter’s Redemption! Dawn Enters a New Day!

The Prodigal Returns, Prayer Answered! Running No More!

Thanksgiving – Family, Friendships and Faith

Several nations, on virtually every continent, designate a specific time each year for thanksgiving. Some mark with appreciation harvest, freedom from slavery, life itself or a new homeland. Thanksgiving for me, however, is built around three primary relationships: family, friendships, and faith.

Canadians join in Thanksgiving festivities a month before our American counterparts, but the traditions are strikingly familiar. I am thankful for this national time to reflect and be thankful.

It is surprisingly easy to become content, even apathetic, in our blessings.

While out with my grandchildren recently, they all stopped to say “thank you” when someone offered them a treat. I was glad they remembered their manners without being prompted and surprised by the response they received, “You are the first children to say thank you all day!”

Something to Learn

Appreciation doesn’t come naturally to our selfish nature. It must be taught and learned!

Be thankful in all circumstances,
for this is God’s will for you
who belong to Christ Jesus.”
1 Thessalonians 5:18

Paul commands his readers to “be thankful” not just when we feel like it, but “in all circumstances”. We are not always thankful for our circumstances, but it is possible to be thankful in our circumstances. Yet I have witnessed faith grow so deeply secure in many whose peace and joy were tangibly evident in all circumstances. In their lives. expressions of continual thanks seem to flow freely even for all circumstances.

No matter how heavy, or how overwhelming life becomes, God is bigger! It is helpful to train our focus not on present situations, but rather on the One who

knows far more than we know,
loves beyond measure,
and cares above all others.

I applaud parents who instill in their children the value of gratitude. Our Heavenly Father also smiles upon those whose hearts overflow with appreciation.

Family

With a broad grin, my husband often says in reference to our five sons, “I wouldn’t take a million dollars for any one of them, but wouldn’t give you a plug nickel for one more!” It is his way of declaring the blessing he recognizes within the gift of family.

When we were married, we both considered two children to be the ideal number. God had a better plan! Presently, our family is 23 strong!

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,
declares the Lord.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts
than your thoughts.”
Isaiah 55:8-9

The joy of family is hardly measurable. The loss of a family member through death, or absence through separation, is the most painful experience we will each endure. Holidays are difficult for those feeling the weight of such a burden. Searching for thankfulness takes concentrated effort in the midst of such brokenness and pain.

Yet even then, as we focus on eternal reality, fragments of gratitude radiate through grief bringing strength to sullen days.

Friends

Second only to family, friends fill my thankful list. My husband and I made what seemed like a radical move out of our comfortable home and familiar community about a decade ago. We cannot image what life would be like without the many friendships that have been nurtured since that time.

Rather than leaving friends behind, our circle of friendships has widened, then widened again with overwhelming surplus. God has enriched our lives surrounding us with many loyal and true friends.

“Every good gift and
every perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of lights,
with whom there is no variation
or shadow due to change.”
James 1:17

Genuine friendship is a gift from God! No amount of material wealth can replace the good and perfect gift of friendship.

The ability to simply “do life” together with others is something truly to be grateful for. Laughing and crying! Supporting and encouraging! Sharing and caring! Loving and lasting! Friendships fill our lives with colour and vibrancy.

Faith

Faith may be listed last, but it is actually first!

Give thanks to the Lord,
for he is good;

his love endures forever.”
1 Chronicles 16:34

Thankfulness begins with God! To finish well, we must start here, with an attitude of gratitude towards God. Void of thanksgiving, our faith inevitably slides into the realm of delusion and confusion.

“Yes, they knew God,
but they wouldn’t worship him as God
or even give him thanks.
And they began to think up
foolish ideas of what God was like.
As a result,
their minds became dark and confused.”
Romans 1:21

It is surprisingly easy to know God and yet neglect to appreciate Him — not just for what He does, but for Who He is.

Is the darkness and confusion woven in any culture visible evidence of hearts hardened against the worship and thanksgiving of God? Perhaps!

Remember

Even in writing today, I am reminded of so much more to be thankful for. Is it possible to cultivate a continuous level of thankfulness crowning every day with gratitude?

Here are a few practical ways to create a lifestyle of thanksgiving:

  • Use a journal! One of my daughter-in-laws has a thankfulness journal. Each day begins by writing something she is thankful for.

  • Several of my friends recharge their appreciation by doing a 100 Day Challenge. Each day for 100 days they share with others something they are thankful for.
  • Express it! Tell the people in your lives what you appreciate about them. Weave it into your family and friendship times until it is naturally spoken and expressed. Say “thank you” often and regularly.
  • Pray! Has prayer become a list of “I wants”? Expand you time with God to include more!

“Devote yourselves to prayer,
being watchful and thankful.”
Colossians 4:2

  • Look for “silver linings!” Even the most difficult situations have some kind of positive aspect. Is it the compassion others show in times of pain, the generosity that surfaces at points of need, or humility that flourishes in seasons of struggle? Be thankful!
  • Focus on others! When life’s challenges press hard, focus on helping someone else in need. Changing perspective by improving the life of someone else, will often stir thanksgiving within ourselves.
  • Notice the little things! Looking with child like simplicity often helps us see the beauty and wonder around us with new appreciation. Choosing to look at even the smallest of blessings can generate multiple reasons for thankfulness.

Just Do It!

Enough reading! It is time to do it! Starting a pattern of gratefulness will reap abundant blessing today while creating a pattern of thankfulness that will flow to subsequent generations.  Now is the best time to begin a new chapter of appreciation right where we are.

Start a fresh movement of thankfulness! Be the person others can emulate in their journey toward thanksgiving!

The Lost Meaning of Repentance

Language is in constant fluid motion; words often change meaning over time. Repentance is one example of a word with value and meaning shifting over the years.

Linguists, those who studies language, tell us that youth culture changes language about every 6 months. Dictionary writers update, adding new words and adapting meanings of existing words, continuously. It’s not much wonder confusion arises when certain words are used. Some members of the population may understand one meaning, while another segment may have a totally different concept in mind.

Here are just a few words as examples:

  1. Awful now means something very bad or unpleasant, disgusting, horrible or terrible. At one time, awful meant “worthy of awe”.
  2. Fizzle once referred to the act of producing quiet flatulence. Now it simply means to come to a gradual end.
  3. Clue, or clew, was a ball of yarn. Today it has the meaning of “evidence or information used in the detection of a crime or solving of a mystery”.

Repentance

Biblical repentance goes beyond the dictionary’s definition of “sincere regret or remorse“. Remorse is a deep regret or guilt for wrong committed. A person can be sincerely remorseful without ever repenting.

Remorse, regret and repentance

“Why is definition important?” one might ask?

Jesus responded to accusations of socializing with the wrong crowd by saying,

“I have not come to call the righteous,
but sinners to repentance.”
Luke 5:32

If Jesus purposefully came to draw people to repentance, it is imperative we have a clear understanding of what He was actually meaning.

After hearing Peter’s first sermon, the people were deeply remorseful and knew they needed to do something about their spiritual condition, but they honestly had no idea what to do. Peter’s response was,

“… Repent and be baptized, every one of you,
in the name of Jesus Christ
for the forgiveness of your sins.
And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Acts 2: 38

Repentance to biblical writers reached beyond feelings of guilt or shame. It was necessary for anyone coming into relationship with God. Years later Peter’s message hadn’t changed:

“The Lord … is patient with you,
not wanting anyone to perish,
but everyone to come to repentance.”
2 Peter 3:9

Eternal Significance

Truth is truth! Whether I believe it or reject it, truth remains true forever. Where each of us will spend eternity hangs in the balance of this one word — repentance.

In a world of political correctness and apologetic niceties, I must be honest. Eternal hell is full of those deeply remorseful and in constant regret of sin.

Godly sorrow brings repentance
that leads to salvation and leaves no regret,
but worldly sorrow brings death.”
2 Corinthians 7:10

To repent is simply to change one’s mind toward God and sin. It is a voluntary change of will, feeling and action toward God involving not just a feeling bad about what one has done wrong or the consequences faced. It is a “godly sorrow” leading one to confess and renounce sin turning away from it completely.

Repentance is a changing of one's mind

Where once sin held great pleasure and lure, now it is seen clearly for its true destructive nature,

“For the wages of sin is death;
but the gift of God is eternal life
through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Romans 6:23

Sin is always deadly! Always! But when a person repents, God extends His wonderful gift of life, available because of Jesus’ work through His death and resurrection.

A Good Trade

Sometimes I have made what would be considered a “poor” trade to give someone else an advantage: taking the smaller portion of desert, using the broken pencil, choosing an uncomfortable position… I’m sure you have too.

A few years ago a man traded a single red paperclip. Fourteen trades later, he traded with the Town of Kipling Saskatchewan for a house. A paperclip for a house is a good trade, but not the best trade!

“If my people,
who are called by my name,
will humble themselves and pray
and seek my face
and turn from their wicked ways,
then I will hear from heaven,
and I will forgive their sin
and will heal their land.”
2 Chronicles 7:14

I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land

Now we are talking good trade! Trading pride for humility to draw close to God! Better yet, repenting and turning from “wicked ways” and receiving forgiveness and healing. That is a good trade!

I love the “I will”s of the bible. There are promises of God available if we assume our responsibility. This one verse contains three such amazing promises — all are connected directly to repentance.

No Regrets

Sometimes people genuinely feel so attached to their sinful life style they honestly feel to repent would deprive them of joy. It is a perceived “sacrifice” many are unwilling to make.

True repentance accesses indescribable freedom and pleasure in obeying God. Undoubtedly, there is a loathing of the sin that once held them in bondage. For Christians, life is not a list of “dos and don’ts”, but rather fullness of joy in fellowship with God and others.

“You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”
Psalm 16:11

The fullness of joy!Sin holds pleasure for only a season! Repentance is the path to enjoying life fully now and for eternity.  There are no regrets to such a life choice!

It remains vitally important that we maintain the biblical meaning of repentance as God intended. Individually and corporately it is a principle leading to life and spiritual wholeness.

“Repentance means turning from
as much as you know of your sin
to give as much as you know
of yourself to as much as
you know of your God,
and as our knowledge grows
at these three points so our practice
of repentance has to be enlarged.
J. I. Packer

Choice for Today

To the tender-hearted person of faith, repentance is a continuing process. Holy Spirit both convicts us of sin, bringing us into sharpened awareness of areas of rebellion toward God, while convincing us of the immeasurable grace available to all who believe.

Today is the day of salvation!

The liberating force within repentance is difficult to articulate and wonderful to experience.

“For he says,
“In the time of my favor I heard you,
and in the day of salvation I helped you.”
I tell you,
now is the time of God’s favor,
now is the day of salvation.”
2 Corinthians 6:2

There will be no better day than today! No better time than right now! Test and see just how good God is! I encourage you to take the step beyond remorse and regret to the freedom found in genuine repentance. It is the right time to experience God’s favor!

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Perspective and Choice – From the Bridge of the Cross

Since I’m nearsighted, I’ve worn corrective glasses since grade school. Being nearsighted may present problems, but having clear vision gives new perspective.

Failure to see clearly from an eternal viewpoint creates even more of a dilemma. Will I have a nearsighted perspective or choose a panoramic view? The cross of Christ is the bridge between two significant perspectives.

Paul put it this way:

“For now we see through a glass, darkly;
but then face to face: now I know in part;
but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
1 Corinthians 13:12

Now we see dimly!

Stick with me as I illustrate!

Boxes

In my office with laptop before me, dozens of national flags dot the wall beyond my desk. The telephone and my bible are tucked close. A travel mug of icy water completes the items within my limited view.

To my right, a picture of my husband, a thank you note and a certificate clutter my desk.  A reed basket of discipleship material sits atop a tote of children’s journals. Three prints of personal paintings fill the remaining desktop. They represent an invitation to worship, to intercession and to fullness of relationship with Christ. Above the desk, a hand painted banner from a young worship dancer declares “Church rules! God rules!

When I adjust my position a quarter turn, I view my office mate steadily working at her computer. A song of praise continuously flows both from her heart and the speaker beside her. Her backpack slumps lazily from a comfy corner chair.

From the final perspective, I view through a large window into a hallway. The window pane originated from the “mother” church planted within our city decades ago. Imprinted in the glass are images of the vibrancy of that little mission church with a sign announcing “Jesus Saves”.

Since I spend so much time here, I might be deceived into thinking this “box” I call my office is “my world.” Here the ceiling hangs low, the lighting artificial.

Boxes of familiarity will foster either love or hate!

We grow to love or hate our familiar boxes!

The Bridge

As I exit the church, the air is crisp as the wind wisps my hair in uncontrolled fashion. The noise of the street rises as I make my way unto the bridge spanning a busy bypass beneath. From the bridge, the view is drastically different from my office.

As I look back, my office is hidden within the larger church structure that dominates my view. A senior’s complex snuggles in the church’s shadow. On the opposite side of the roadway rests a cemetery sheltered by mature elm, maple and spruce. A condominium unit fills the remaining gap within focus.

Turning southward, I notice the university,  nestled by Wascana Creek. A teepee village circles the front lawn of one of the nearest buildings. The rush of traffic comes and goes from beneath my bridge.

To my right the view changes completely, as I look toward parks and walkways. Trees, wildflowers, and chirping birds invite me further.

Another quarter turn and I face the traffic full on: coming and going, crossing and merging, entering and exiting. The constant din of motors and wheels, exhaust fumes rising from hot pavement and rapid movement of vehicles bombards my senses.

Then I look up! Wisps of white swirl upon a otherwise barren canvas of cerulean blue. The sun’s warmth intensifying even at this early morning hour.

Spaces

I don’t stop here making my way to the other side. Though I am very close to the bridge the sounds and busyness are immediately hushed as I venture along this “natural” walkway. Trees gently bend their boughs in open arm movement overhead. Children laugh and play undisturbed in a nearby park. Birds swoop and twirl in the gentle breeze.

A space to breathe and then breathe again!

I look back wondering how I can still be so close to the bridge but so far removed from what was just steps away. My soul breathes, then breathes again.

I want to stay, to linger, to rest! Responsibility calls me back over the bridge to my office.

Perspective

My shared office is small with both limitations and opportunities. In this little “box” struggles, trials, and hurdles are overcome daily. I am thankful for the privileges and blessings here as well. “Boxes” bear many labels: marriage, life situation, illness, financial restraint…

My perspective of life can be viewed only from a “box” of duty or commitment. I can jealously look at other boxes and wonder why some are larger, more elaborate, with more benefits than mine! I can even begin to resent my box and its limitations.

Blessings are equally distracting! Opportunities or comfort obscure by vision, causing me to forget it is only a “box” – a part of the something much bigger.

Bridges span two realities. There is before me a solid bridge — the cross of Jesus Christ, connecting present reality to the truth of heaven’s eternal promise. From this bridge, perspective changes. Without ceiling, The Light is pure. It is the transition point between the world in which I walk and the eternal realm in which I truly live.

Under the cross all life flows! I am exposed to cultures beyond my own. It is fast paced, at times draining, but always satisfying. There is nothing boring about living the way of the cross!

From the cross I catch the breath-taking view of heaven’s domain. I touch a different reality, feeling the freedom of life fully lived. There are “cross-over” moments of resting in the Presence of the Almighty. Eternity welcomes me further!

Questions and Answers

The questions we have and the answers we seek will be determined by perspective. Sitting in nearsighted little boxes, questions of God may be self-seeking and self-motivated.

Questions and answers from the position of the cross usually focus outwardly toward others. Here a world view forms in line with scripture and the finished work of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection.

As we taste and see the goodness of God in brief glimpses of what is to come, questions lose their urgency, answers become unnecessary in the Presence of the One who is The Answer!

We often fail to ask the right questions! Jesus, however, presented a question we all must ask. The answer will be a reflection of perspective.

“When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples,
Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist;
others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah,
for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood,
but by my Father in heaven…”
Matthew 16:13-17

The ultimate question is, “Who is Jesus?”

While most people viewed Jesus from the lens of nearsighted religious perspective, Peter saw more. Jesus, the Messiah, Saviour, God with man, stood among them.

“Who do you say I am?”

The Answer

The answer to that question will determine how we face every other answer-less question. Is God who He said He is? Is He incomparably loving, immeasurably compassionate, completely just, righteous, gracious and kind. Do I know Him as all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present? Can I trust Him?

Though the fig tree does not blossom
And there is no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive fails
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock is cut off from the fold
And there are no cattle in the
stalls,
Yet I will [choose to] rejoice in the Lord;
I will [choose to] shout in exultation
in the [victorious] God of my salvation!

The Lord God is my strength
[my source of courage, my invincible army];

He has made my feet [steady and sure] like hinds’ feet
And makes me walk [forward with spiritual confidence]
on my high places [of challenge and responsibility].”
Habakkuk 3:17-19

In Him is courage and strength. Though weak in body, I consistently move forward in spite of challenges. Because of Jesus, I am free to enjoy the safety of my “box”, the connection of the bridge to God and others through the cross, as well as the wonder and abundance of heaven.

We shall be known, face to face!

With new perspective we can all “rejoice in the Lord” and “shout in exultation in the victorious God of (our) salvation.”

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Further Reading:

Something Better! God is Faithful to All He has Promised!

Hebrews 12 Throw Aside Every Weight and Sin