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Anno Domini

Good riddance A.D. 2018. It’s been a tough year; well, at least since September. I was reminded last night, September was the beginning of the Hebrew year 5779. The teacher described this year as one of weariness. My Dad died soon after the Hebrew year started and it just seems to be more weariness heaped on than I can ever remember.

The teacher referenced Jeremy 12:5 “If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?” As I contemplated this passage, it reminded me of Jesus’ words of comfort from Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” And also Paul’s encouraging word found in Galatians 6:9 “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

If this is the year where the enemy will try to wear us out, we have to find strength in our Lord Jesus Christ so that we do not give up in the fight. This is about a spiritual battle being fought over us. It plays out in the flesh, but we are truly in a battle for the spiritual health of our families, our communities, our nation and our world. We will be bombarded with everything the enemy can muster against us because time is growing short. If 2019 is just a continuing deluge of weariness, then we have to muster our strength and our courage from our leader – Jesus. We can’t handle it on our own. We need greater resources from our Lord in order to hold this ground.

My pastor’s Christmas message was to choose joy. Even if the world continues to spin out of control, choose joy. Even if the enemy hits us where it hurts most, choose joy. How can this be? Because of our Lord Jesus Christ. He has given us everything we need. Paul encouraged us in Ephesians 6 to put on the full armor of God. My Pastor also reminded us that anything that comes to us has to go through our Father’s hands first. He has designed it or allowed it to happen for our good and His glory.

But how can the bad things in life become good? It’s one of His promises found in Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” I don’t know how bad things are worked to the good; however, I will believe His word is true. I have seen some bad things in my life turn to good, so I know His word is still relevant for this day.

I heard a message a couple of weeks ago from Passion City about loving enemies. I first thought I didn’t have any enemies, but Pastor Ben Stewart mentioned a few personal grievances that could be seen as our enemies. There was a name that came to mind as he listed the grievances against us. He also mentioned how we are to love those who are against us. First and foremost – pray for them. Pray for their welfare and ask God to help them in whatever area that is problematic for them.

Second, for our part, we are to mend any barrier that is our own fault in the matter. We are to live at peace with one another. If someone has offended us, we need to bring it before the Lord. If we are at fault, then the Lord will correct us and help us mend the situation. If it’s the other person’s fault, we take the first step to open the lines of communication. If they do not respond, that’s not our responsibility. We do what we’re called to do and let God do the rest.

We are told to remember His word and to encourage those on this path. This is the time to do it with greater fervor. Some of us have been on the path longer and we need to encourage those behind us. We are to stay true to His Word during this next year. We are to be His church – His people and to love well.

Choose joy. Choose to do good. Choose to love even if the situation is difficult. I know it’s going to be hard, but it’s who we are. We are still in the year of the Lord’s favor (until His return). Let God bless it according to His will and direct our steps to the most fruitful year yet. Happy New Year 2019 Anno Domini (Latin for in the year of the Lord)!

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19

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Feeling Overwhelmed?

For the last few months, I have been struggling with writing. You may have noticed my lack of posting consistently over the last couple of months. I’m not sure what is stopping the words from flowing. God has been good to give me words to write for the last ten years – the newsletters and the blog postings. But for some reason, the words are not there or maybe my lack of desire to sit down and write is not there. Maybe it’s the season I’m in; things are a bit overwhelming – political chaos, disasters, and grief – are a bad combination for creativity.

Typically, I read quite a bit each day. From my quiet time to dinner time, I read – news articles, health articles, and of course God’s Word. It’s all important to stay connected with what’s going on around me. But sometimes (or most of the time), the news can be bad. It’s hard not to get sucked into the negativity. God’s word grounds me for the things I read going on in this world. Every disaster – flooding, fires, and earthquakes – just seems to get worse. But God’s word is constant. God’s word is life-giving. It’s thought provoking. It’s challenging. It’s informative about the world we currently live in.

There are times when I get overwhelmed with the chaos; however, the chaos never diminishes the peace that reigns in my heart. Peace is there no matter what is happening on the outside. Peace is just there filling every fiber of my being. Do you have that peace too – no matter what?

The Bible tells us we don’t fight flesh and blood – there is a spiritual enemy that is working against us. In every regard, he is throwing this world into chaos. It’s what he does – it’s who he is. Deceptive. Manipulative. Destructive. He challenges God’s plan by throwing in chaos. Scripture tells us we shouldn’t be surprised by the events that take place in our world today. God’s word foretold it all.

God’s plan will be successful, but the enemy always tries to stop it. His time is drawing to a close. We know this by God’s word – the birth pains of the end are growing closer together. Disasters are more frequent and intensity is ramping up. Historical flooding, historical fires and crazy times tell us things are coming to a crescendo.

One day, Jesus will return. We’ve heard this since Jesus left the first time. Sometimes it’s hard to comprehend this will all end one day. But it will. Maybe we’ll see it, or maybe we will all die before that Day. But we will all have to stand before Jesus one day. We are told to be ready – regardless. We are never promised another day. Accidents happen. Heart attacks are too common these days.

We never know how long we are given for this life. Scripture tells us to number our days – we need to make the most of what we’re given. We are told though, we have an eternal life. What we have here is very short. We should be striving for the eternal. God’s word tells us to store up the treasures in heaven. We are to make a difference in people’s lives – these things will be stored in heaven for us for our eternal home.

There has been a thought circulating in my mind for the last few months. (Not scriptural – just strange thoughts I have at times.) What if the things we do here for eternity purpose is our resource to live on there? If we do nothing here for eternity purpose, we will be just getting by in heaven (for eternity) – we will be in the poverty section of heaven (for eternity). Our street will be paved in silver instead of gold. I know, at least we’re in heaven, right? But we might miss out on some of the best adventures with God. It could be life-changing for us and for those we could impact. But if we miss it, what are we losing for eternity?

What we do matters. It’s not how we’re saved – we aren’t saved by works. We are saved by the grace of God through Jesus Christ, His Son. But because we’re saved, we should want to do more (faith and works are woven together). You might have heard the term – hurt people hurt people. This concept should be true of us: saved people save people. This is what we’re called to do.

These times shouldn’t surprise us and it shouldn’t thwart the work that needs to be done. We might get overwhelmed for a minute, but it shouldn’t throw us into despair. It’s part of the plan. We need to understand: God is still on the throne and He is still our good, good Father. Let’s not get sucked into the chaos, but remember we are His hands and feet for such a time as this. He arranged it just for us. Time to be about the Father’s business – eternity is just around the corner.

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 1 Peter 3:12-16

The Seed

Do you know anything about seeds? I don’t know much, but what I do know I find amazing. There are interesting little specimens of life. The seed has a protection against enemies so that it can live. Seeds have a coating that contains some type of poison so that it will not be attractive to a predator. It has an innate ability to survive. Seeds have within them many seeds to come. One little seed has the potential to become a forest. Amazing, right?

This week, I finished the book Adamant by Lisa Bevere. The last chapter was an inspirational charge. I’m not a feminist nor do I claim to be. However, I want to empower women to live up to their potential. Through the ages, women have always worked alongside the men to do Kingdom work. They might not get the recognition, but they work long and hard to do God’s work. Women have not always had the opportunities that we now can claim. We have an equal footing in our society, not like some others that still consider women as second-class citizens. Jesus recognized women in His ministry. We have Jesus to thank to bring women out of obscurity into new roles for Kingdom purpose.

I believe God has jobs in His Kingdom that only women can do. I feel empowered every time I read things like Lisa wrote to encourage women to go out there and do the job they’re called to do. Sometimes I will get discouraged on this walk of faith. When discouragement happens, I will pick up a book like Adamant which encourages me to keep the faith and keep doing what I am called to do.

As I read the last chapter this week, Lisa gave reference to seeds lying dormant in us. Lisa wrote about digging in the catacombs in Rome. Researchers found “frescoes illustrating scenes from the early church days. Some of the frescoes portrayed women ministering alongside the men.” The man who told the story to Lisa spoke a word to her about these frescoes that awoke something in her. As she wrote these things, she asked this question: “What is it the enemy wanted buried in your life?” These seeds are lying there waiting to come to life. These seeds one day could have the potential to build a forest.

We all have that seed within us. It may be forgotten by us but it has not been forgotten by God who put it in us from the beginning. There may be some type of forest fire that is going on in our lives to clear the area for the seed to have room to grow. Fires are a cleansing and purifying tool. Satan may think he has the upper hand when fires are consuming us, but in reality the fires are purifying us and making us ready. It may be a barren place right now, but soon the forest will emerge. God told us that all things hidden will be revealed. What God has placed in us cannot lie dormant. It has to come out. It’s the seed that longs to be birthed and give life to something new.

Many times I’ve written about my struggle to find my purpose. That hasn’t changed. I still struggle with it. But maybe it’s in the struggle that purpose is birthed. In the struggle, character emerges. In the character, conviction is conceived. In the conviction, a new mindset is brought to life. With a new mindset, we build a life that is filled with purpose. Every day we are given more choices and more opportunities to be stretched in a way we’ve never had before. Those exercises strengthen our faith.

Maybe we don’t see it. Maybe we’re blind and need eyes to see. Maybe we need to ask Jesus to touch our eyes again like the blind man who couldn’t see on the first touch. The man saw people like trees walking around (Mark 8:24). After the second touch, trees were no longer walking. Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly (Mark 8:25).

Maybe we still see people as trees – obstacles in our way of progress. We are not called to fight causes for justice – although it’s a good thing to fight. We are called to the people to give hope and help them to also see that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. When we change the people, we change society. The people around us are opportunities to fertilize and cultivate something deeper in us. They are the purpose we have to a deeper life with Jesus. We grow when we minister to others. The seed within grows.

We sow the seed of hope everyday in our interactions that will one day bring the forest to fruition. What we cannot see, God does and He is faithful to complete the tasks. Our job is to scatter the seed and let the Creator birth something new through our actions. Maybe that’s really our purpose. It pleases God for us to be His seed spreaders. We may not get the recognition here, but we live for the reward we will receive in heaven. We are called to love God and love people. When we do that, a forest is built upon the seed.

“The seed that fell into good, fertile soil represents those lovers of truth who hear it deep within their hearts. They respond by clinging to the word, keeping it dear as they endure all things in faith. This is the seed that will one day bear much fruit in their lives. No one lights a lamp and then hides it, covering it over or putting it where its light won’t be seen. No, the lamp is placed on a lampstand so others are able to benefit from its brightness.” Luke 8:15-16 (TPT)

The Bridge

I had a strange dream last night. I was on a rocky shore looking inland. I needed to get inland; I couldn’t stay where I was. I started to make my way around a jetty, but it was too hard to cross. Someone came along in a boat and helped me get around it. As I looked inland, I noticed a bridge in the distance. I knew I needed to make my way to the bridge, but I didn’t know how I was going to do it. From the shore, I found a path up the rocks to a door. I crossed through the door and found myself on a high ledge overlooking a rapidly flowing river. Someone behind me wanted me to go up this ledge but the way was scary. There were rock footholds along the ledge that allowed movement upward. The rocks were not stable; one fell as I grabbed hold of it. The person behind me kept telling me to go faster but I couldn’t. I was making my way to the bridge when I woke up.

Don’t you hate it when you wake up before the dream is finished? As I was in that in between state of full wakefulness, I contemplated why I needed to cross the bridge. I think it represented safety. The river was too rapid and would be my sure demise. The place where I started wasn’t any safer either. I had to keep moving toward my goal.

The dream reminded me of a way to present the Gospel message. I was told to draw a picture of two cliffs. One side is where we stand. The other side is where God stands. There is a wide crevice between us with no way to cross to God on our own. God gave us Jesus to be the bridge between us and Him. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). It’s only through Him that we can cross to God. There are many along our path that will point us to Jesus – the bridge. But we all have to choose to follow the narrow path to His door. He is the door we go through to eternal life. The way is always narrow, and the way is always fought with obstacles to make us want to turn back. The bridge though is what we truly want – peace is just on the other side.

I have known about Jesus all my life. I grew up in church. I had a Bible on my nightstand since I was old enough to read – even though I didn’t really read it unless prompted to do so. My Mom and Dad pointed the way to Jesus, but it was my own choice to follow Him. I haven’t always followed the path perfectly. I have strayed far and wide from it at certain times of my life. Jesus, though, always came looking for me. He never let me stay off the path for long.

I know many would say that there are more ways to heaven than going through Jesus. Many think that their good works will get them there. However, good works will be burned upon entry. If the good we do stands it will be like silver or gold; the dross will rise out of the fire and what remains will be purified. The good that stands are eternal good works – done for the “least of these.” The good we attempt on our own is like straw or hay which will be burned up upon entry. It will amount to nothing. Jesus taught that if we do good works with impure motives or acknowledge our works to others, it will not stand. The ones who do the will of God are the ones whose work will be purified through the fire.

God sent His Son to us as a babe in swaddling clothes. He grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men (Luke 2:32). At the time of His anointing, He began to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, recover sight to the blind and to release the oppressed. He showed us the way to eternal life. Jesus calls us to follow Him. We are told to fix our eyes upon Him. When the way is rocky and the storms of life come, it’s only by His presence we will have peace to endure and finish well. Let’s not forget the reason for this season. Let’s keep our eyes focused on Jesus, our bridge to eternal life.

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. John 3:16-18 (NLT)

Abounding Grace

Grace. God’s grace. I know the concept, but sometimes I think there is more to it. It can’t be that easy, can it? I am learning it is that easy. God gave us a gift we could never pay for. He sent His son, the only one worthy to come before the Lord on our behalf. There is nothing I could ever do to pay Him back. There is really no sense in even trying to “even the score.” I just have to receive the gift with gratitude and humility.

My salvation story started so long ago that sometimes I forget that it was not by my efforts that I am saved. I know the past sins are paid for. I know everything that was done on my behalf. But then I think about my attitude now. I believe I am good now so it’s all about me working out my salvation (so to speak). The big sins that were committed so long ago have been forgiven and forgotten. The little sins are also forgiven, but have I repented from those as well? Am I trying to pay for those by my good deeds? I have forgotten that even my good works are nothing but filthy rags to God (Isaiah 64:6).

I was reminded not long ago, God has never been disappointed in me. God knew me before I was ever born. Nothing I have ever done, said or even thought was a surprise to Him. Yet, He was not disappointed. He might have been displeased, more than once, I’m sure. It’s a real wonder that I am still alive. But God’s grace abounds. I try to live righteously, but I can’t do it in my own power. God’s power is sufficient. Beth Moore stated in her Living Proof simulcast in September: “Grace is not permission to stay but the power to go.” We walk in grace. We are dead to the sins of our past. We are to write an obit for the old self. The old self no longer controls us. It is dead. The old self is not Lazarus. It has not been raised back to life. The stone has not been rolled away. These thoughts came from Beth, but have been speaking volumes in my soul.

Andy Stanley said that the epicenter of the Christian faith is grace. We are all getting something for nothing. Grace is undeserved favor. The Bible speaks of grace in the New Testament, but in the Old Testament the same concept is called favor. We are highly favored to receive such grace! But it wasn’t because of any good in us. It is because of the goodness of God. His great love for us saved us. He sent His Son. His Son got up on the cross for us. With Jesus’ last breath, He said “it is finished.” It’s done. Praise God for this undeserved favor! His grace abounds where sin fails us. Thank you Jesus!

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:8-10

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