Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Heart of Christmas: The Present On a Tree

December is for Isaiah. 

I'm not sure how the tradition started, but, years ago, I read the book of Isaiah during December. The Messianic prophecies are so beautiful that I've read it every Advent season since.

Today, I realized that the first chapter is a summary of the visions given to Isaiah over decades of ministry. The bits of information God had given to the prophet may not have made sense one piece at a time, but, put together, they're a tough, yet beautiful, whole.

Isaiah saw a nation that was deep in sin. Good king or bad, their hearts were bent on pleasing themselves. They were so much like our own nation that I shudder reading about them. Even the best king was powerless to turn hearts back to their God. 

Only the Lord Himself could bring His people back. 

Isaiah 1:24-26 tells us that a restoration of relationship with God was possible, but discipline for sin, suffering the consequences of bad choices, must come first. That discipline would be followed by cleansing and purification. Only then could a right relationship with God be possible.

Because of our sin nature, the process would have to be repeated over and over again to transform our sin-wrecked lives. 

Until Jesus.

The Son of God slipped all of His God-ness into a tiny bit of flesh and came as a baby to show us how to live, then died and rose again to make that living possible. 

The sin price was paid. 

The freedom from sin was bought. 

All that remained was cleansing and purification, and that became possible through the cleansing of the blood of Jesus. We have only to accept His sacrifice for our own and surrender our will to His.

It's the best deal possible.

There will come a time, the prophet wrote, when everyone will want to know our God. The nations will stream into Jerusalem to learn of Him so that they can obey Him. 

"And all the nations will stream to it (house of the Lord). And many peoples will come and say, 'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, ... that He may teach us concerning His ways, and that we may walk in His paths.'" Isaiah 2:2-3

The swords and spears that have been used for battle will be re-formed for peaceful purposes. All the accouterments of war will be abandoned for tools of peace and unity. It will be a beautiful new world, but none of it will be possible without learning of His ways and walking in His paths.

We can make a start, if we will. We can be the ones who seek the Lord's ways and choose obedience. It all begins by embracing the gift the babe-wrapped God has given. 

The giver was God Himself. The gift was the Babe who came to die and rise again. We, the unworthy recipients. 

Christmas, dear ones, is not about presents under a tree. It's about the God-man who was nailed to a tree, for all of us. 

Today, let's reaffirm our commitment to living as if we cherish what that tiny One did for us.  Let's show the world around us what a difference He can make in a life that's been wrecked by sin. 

Let's honor the Gift by demonstrating its power of transformation at work in us. 
The Road to Bethlehem advent e-book is free on Amazon for five days starting today. Here's the link: Road to Bethlehem
If you've been blessed by and are grateful for this digital ministry, prayerfully consider supporting  this outreach. Here's the link for online donations: Global Outreach Acct 4841 
In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: The Black Friday Special That Changed History 
#advent #Christmas

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Finding Thanksgiving: Making it Real


 I'm thankful for the empty tomb and the freedom and forgiveness that emptiness purchased for me.

I'm thankful for family. For my son, Ryan, my sister, Cookie, and all the other wonderful family members who have loved me at my worst, rejoiced with me at my best, and cheered me along all my life.

I'm thankful for my Grandmother's faith. She loved missions and she lived her life on mission for Christ every day of her life. I'm thankful for the gift of prayer she imparted to me and how her frank, truth-in-love words still speak to me decades after she moved to heaven.

I'm thankful for the Word of God that is sharper than any two-edged sword. The truth in those pages continues to transform my life.

I'm thankful that, in 1989, God placed me on the farm, for the twenty-five years I raised cows, for the sheer joy of new calves in the spring, and for all the lessons I learned along the way.

I'm thankful for these spunky, funny, sweet Wonder Dogs that are so much more than companions and storyline material. 

I'm thankful for Sam Wiley and the many lessons he's taught me over the last 27 years. I'm thankful for the peace he's gained recently and the way he continues to persevere, even when life's hard.

 I'm grateful for my faithful friends, who love me through thick and thin, and for the perennials they've shared with me over the years. 

I'm grateful for the reminder that God always keeps His promises for the body of Christ, that's so much more than I can yet understand, and for the sweetness of my church home.  

I'm thankful for the call to missions that has changed my life and that God brought me to Global Outreach for this amazing season.

I'm thankful for this nation that has been blessed beyond measure and for the hope that God might, one day, make us strong in Him again.  

I'm thankful for veterans like my daddy who fought and suffered in so many ways for the freedom we hold far too lightly. I'm grateful for the ones who gave blood, limb, and life for those freedoms. 

I'm grateful for our forefathers, who established this nation on Christian principles and grateful for the promise of 1 Chronicles 7:14.

I'm overwhelmed with gratitude for the gifts of God. This is not an exhaustive list. It's a jumping-off spot for thanksgiving. Let's choose gratitude today. Tell the people you love and appreciate how grateful you are. Demonstrate thanksgiving in word and deed. Let's live as thankful people, not just today, but all year long.

It's become my tradition to read Lincoln's Thanksgiving Day Proclamation every year. Here's the link: Lincoln's Thanksgiving Day Proclamation.
If you've been blessed by and are grateful for this digital ministry, prayerfully consider supporting  this outreach. Here's the link for online donations: Global Outreach Acct 4841 
In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: Finding Thanksgiving: The Faith-Shield
#Thanksgiving Day

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Finding Thanksgiving: The Faith-Shield Fiery-Arrow Extinguisher

We're continuing this too-short (four days)  thanksgiving blog series that started with gratitude for FORGIVENESS. Yesterday, the blog topic was gratitude for our FUTURE in Christ. 

Today, we're talking about gratitude for FAITH. On Sunday, JJ Jasper was our guest preacher, speaking on the topic of Faith. It was exactly what I needed to hear. (I recommend you follow the link and listen to the sermon when you have time, but finishing reading today's blog first. Smile.)

If you don't believe spiritual warfare is real, try coordinating a new kind of prayer ministry. You'll find out quickly that the enemy is alive, well, and rampaging through the world at a rapid pace. There are days when it takes every bit of faith I have to get through what I believe God has called me to do. I love this work, but it's hard.

Lately, I've been praying, "Lord, increase my faith," and reviewing passages on both faith and spiritual warfare. Naturally, Ephesians 6 comes to mind. I love the part about the shield of faith.

"In addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil one." Ephesians 6:16 nasb

Ponder this a minute and let the word picture fill your mind. It's a battle. We're dressed in our "armor" and the enemy is giving us his best shot. He shoots us with "flaming missiles" or "fiery darts". He's not shooting cannon balls. He's not shooting nuclear bombs. His attacks are nothing more than arrows that have been set on fire. 

Admittedly, flaming arrows hurt if they hit us, and they can cause damage. A bad burn is painful, and may take a while to heal.

If all our life-works are nothing more than wood, hay, and stubble, we'll be in trouble when those fiery darts come our way. If we're building a life of substance, with works of gold and silver, however, it will take more than a fiery dart to destroy us.

Ephesians tells us we have a shield of faith that's like a fire extinguisher for flaming devil-arrows. We hold up the shield. The arrows hit faith and fall to the ground. When a flaming arrow hits the ground, it burns out completely. If it hits the faith shield, it's extinguished. Done. It doesn't even get the chance to burn out.

The bigger the faith, the larger the shield. and the easier it is to quickly extinguish the enemy's attack. 

How, then, do we gain bigger faith? We exercise the little faith we have. It's like the mustard seed that's tiny but, when planted, grows a tree that's huge.

My faith-growing experience started by praying specific prayers. As those specific prayers were answered, I dared to pray bigger ones. Gradually, one answered prayer at a time, God taught me that He is faithful. That He hears and answers prayers. That He has no limits, either of time, or space, or ability. He can do anything. And He often will. 

As I dared to pray bigger, I also dared to dream bigger God-dreams. When God began to make those dreams a reality, I dreamed even bigger ones.

I've seen miracles many times. I have a little idea of just how much our God can do, just how much He is willing to do. Yet, when fiery arrows come my way, trailing smoke behind them, I'm still concerned by their approach.

It's faith that allowed me to leave a comfortable income to become a missionary. 

It's faith that allows me to write every day with the confidence that someone, somewhere will read what I've written. 

It's faith that allows me to ask God for miracles every day on behalf of the missionaries and myself. 

It's faith that says, "Your will is best, so that's what I want, Lord." 

It's faith that allows me to wait for His answer instead of trying to orchestrate my own.

The fact we often forget is that all believers begin their life in Christ with a shield of faith. Faith is how we believed on Jesus in the first place. Even that fledgling faith-shield is sufficient to extinguish the enemy's fiery arrows, if we are willing to hold it up

What, we may ask, is "holding up our shield"? 

When we know what we've believed and we cling to it, we're holding up our shield. 

When we repeat the Scripture we've memorized and cling to it when we're afraid, anxious, or unsure, we're holding up our shield. 

When we claim the promises of God in regard to our needs, we're holding up our shield.

In the garden, the enemy twisted the words of God and tricked Eve. If we don't want a similar deception, we must know what God has said with certainty. If we're not sure, we need to study. That's another way of holding up the shield. 

Today, I'm grateful for the faith that brought me to Jesus. The tiny faith that said, "save me, Lord, has grown over the years, but it's that same saving-faith that will, one day, carry me home to meet my Jesus face-to-face. 

In the meantime, faith is the shield that works as an extinguisher of all the flaming arrows the enemy throws my way.

Today, join me in praying that God will help us to exercise our faith and increase our shield so that the enemy's arrows fall, harmless, to the ground. 
If you've been blessed by this digital ministry, prayerfully consider supporting  this outreach. Here's the link for online donations: Global Outreach Acct 4841
In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: Finding Thanksgiving: The Future Hope 
p.s. - the picture is of the empty tomb. It's the basis of all my faith.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Finding Thanksgiving: The Future Hope

I know heaven will have streets paved with gold and pearly gates. There'll be a big crystal sea and the trees with healing-leaves. 

It all sounds beautiful, but I'm not accustomed to that kind of splendor. I just hope heaven has flowers.

Regardless, I'll be glad I'm there. 

I haven't always lived my days with the thought of heaven on my mind, but I've been to too many visitations and funerals in the last few years. These days, I hold the hope of heaven pretty close.

After the last few months of political turmoil, I'm not just hoping for heaven. I'm hoping Jesus will return and take us all home. (Well, a part of me is hoping for that. The other part of me, the part that knows we haven't gathered the harvest we were commanded to collect, hopes He'll delay.)

 This morning, I read the lovely passage in 1 Thessalonians, that describes Jesus' return. It's going to be very exciting, and just the hope of it causes a swell of gratitude in my heart. 

In case you've forgotten, here's what we anticipate with certainty:

"The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first. 

Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord.

Therefore comfort one another with these words." 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 nasb

No matter what we face now, no matter how hard, there will be a day when we meet Jesus in the sky. We won't need wings, and we won't suddenly become angels. Jesus will summon us, and we'll soar right into the clouds to join Him. 

It will be glorious.

Today, I'm grateful for the hope of eternity and the hope of sky-soaring with Jesus. 

Let's be sure to thank Him for His promises of the future as we make our way through the difficult days we face. Better days are coming. Take courage, my brothers and sisters. No matter what trials we face, one day, it will all be worth it. 

In fact, the troubles of today won't matter at all, for we will see Jesus face to face and we will be changed in an instant, all troubles, all trials left far behind.

"Therefore, comfort one another with these words." 1 Thess. 4:18
If you've been blessed by this digital ministry, prayerfully consider supporting  this outreach. Here's the link for online donations: Global Outreach Acct 4841
In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: Finding My Heart of Thanksgiving Again: Forgiven
#thanksgiving2016, thankful, hope

Monday, November 21, 2016

Finding My Heart of Thanksgiving Again: Forgiven

November is usually a lovely time on social media. People post daily about the things for which they're grateful. We see photos of children, extended family, co-workers, home, and treasured activities. It's one of my favorite months. 


This month, however, has not been so cordial. I've failed at posting thanks-filled words, too, so I'm not casting stones. Instead, I'm starting fresh and posting something about gratitude every day until Thanksgiving. Yes, it's only four days, but at least I've found my thankful heart again. 

My favorite Bible character, other than Jesus, is Enoch. I'm grateful for his simple witness. His story is pretty compact. After his son, Methuselah, was born, Enoch turned to God. For three hundred years, he walked with God. 

After my son was born, I turned to God in a brand-new way, too, so I like to think I'm just a little like Enoch.

What we know is that Enoch was there and then he was gone. God took him to heaven. No long, lingering death. No sickness. He stepped from this world into heaven with no warning or fanfare. Bam. He was gone to his heavenly home. That's how I'd like to live, and definitely how I'd like to go.

I had forgotten that Enoch is also mentioned in Jude. He prophesied about God's judgment against those who have done ungodly deeds in an ungodly way, and have spoken harsh things against Him. 

Jude makes it clear. These ungodly speakers are "grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly..." (Jude 16)

I don't know about you, but that struck a little close to home. Today, I'm repenting of my grumbling, fault-finding, and all the rest. I'd rather be like Enoch than like the ones he prophesied against.

That brings me to my point of gratitude today:

I'm grateful for forgiveness.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

No matter what we've done or said, we can repent (admit we're wrong, apologize to God, and determine to stop doing it). God will not only forgive us, but He will also cleanse our heart as if we'd never sinned at all. If that miracle is not enough to rock our world, I don't know what is.

Today, let's stop, admit our grumbling, ask for forgiveness, and start fresh. Let's find our hearts of gratitude again. 

We live in a beautiful world. We have a good nation, despite its problems. We are blessed more than most of the world's population. We have lots for which we can, and should, give thanks. 

Make a start today. For what are you grateful? Comment below. I'd love to hear words of gratitude the rest of this month. Go...
In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: When What We Need is a Divine Pruning to Restore Order to Our Lives
If God leads you to help support this ministry outreach, here's the link to give: Global Outreach Acct 4841

Sunday, November 20, 2016

When What We Need is Divine Pruning to Restore Order to Our Lives

The shrubs and landscaping in front of my house were overgrown and threatening to completely block the sidewalk. Even though it looked messy and was rapidly becoming an azalea jungle, I couldn't figure out how to fix it. 

I didn't realize it, but I needed an expert.

My friend, Linda Buchanan, mentioned her new yard man one day. Mr. Bailey was a wonder and a great help, she said, so I called him. 

That first day, I instructed him to clean up the front and trim the shrubs a little.  A few hours later, I walked outside to see an enormous pile of brush. Mr. Bailey had been busy. 

My heart sank as I thought, "My azaleas! He has cut down my azaleas!" 

I hurried around front to find, not destruction, but order. He had trimmed up the mess and brought it under control. Instead of a jungle, I had lovely landscaping again.

Scripture tells us that John the Baptizer's listeners were in a similar situation. They knew they had a mess in their lives and that something needed to be done. That's why they had come out to the banks of the Jordan to hear him. Their heritage wasn't enough to save them, nor their sacrifices. They were in a quandary. What then? What could they do?

And the crowds were questioning him, saying, "Then what shall we do?" (Luke 3:10 NASB)

He began by giving practical examples of sacrificial behavior. It wouldn't be long before Jesus would come for baptism, and John would recognize exactly what they all needed. 

The Lamb of God would take away their sin. 

The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29 NASB)

They couldn't do anything to rectify their guilt but Jesus would do it for them and He would soon set them free.

Maybe you, too, are wondering what to do about problems in your life or in the lives of loved ones. You may not realize it, but, like me, you need an expert. 

The answer is incredibly simply. Look to Jesus. He can clean up the mess of your life as well as that of your loved ones. He can clean up the guilt and shame and set you free.

Today, let's pray for a heart willing to accept the help that is so desperately needed. Pray, too, for the divine pruning that only Christ can do. 
In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link:How to Tell Your Faith is Alive? Take a Look at Your Works

If God leads you to help support this ministry outreach, here's the link to give: Global Outreach Acct 4841 
#Jesus #Christian