~~i want to be everything you dreamed when you called my name~~

Friday, July 28, 2006

Eternal Victory

I have been incredibly stressed out lately. School is crazier than ever. I am taking on too many things at once. I have let the craziness of school, aka - the world, steal my gaze from Christ. But as of last night, I read the book of Revelation. I've read it before, but tonight it came alive.

I kept thinking of Georg Handel's "Messiah" as I was reading (the big choir nerd that I was...one of my all time favorite musical compositions!). The majority of it comes straight from Scripture...

The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord
and of his Christ...
And He will reign for ever and ever...

As the apostle John continued to receive incredible visions about the last days, it was obvious that some great culmination was approaching. It appeared that the story was all over but the shouting. God had opened up Heaven and provided John with a sneak preview, everyone who has lived since has been offered an opportunity to hear of the celebration of God's incredible victory over evil.

It just doesn't get any better than this! The Lord will claim His omnipotent power and begin an uncontested reign - just as He has always promised and just as His people have anticipated since the beginning of time (Genesis 3:15). In John's vision, all of the saints and angels in Heaven fell on their faces and worshipped Jesus, recognizing Him as the eternal King over all creation. (sweet bliss!) The flawless relationship with God that He has promised His people throughout the ages will be theirs in every way imaginable. Sin and the devil will have be routed, and nothing will ever again stand between the Creator and His creatures! Wow!

When Jesus takes His place as the King of all creation, two things will happen. He will reward with eternal life in Heaven, those who have honored Him. But those who have refused Him will be granted precisely that for which they have asked all along - for God to leave them alone, forever. Revelation 11 began with a description of hell on earth, but in the middle of his vision of judgment, John reminded us that victory is certain. Certain! There will inevitably be conflicts and challenges ahead of us, but one glimpse of Heaven reminds us that God is still on the throne! God is in control - and we are in His arms!!

Rewind back to Romans, and remember what Paul told us (Romans 8)..."What then shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all - how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?...Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us"

That to me says we win. More than conquerors doesn't just mean we catch the hail mary at the last second...nope, more than conquerors to me says we're so far ahead, we could have quit playing at halftime...but we didn't. So don't quit - it could be the beginning of a new battle, you could be sitting in the locker room at halftime, or you could be so close to the finish that you can taste the victory - but don't lose sight of that victory! It's certain!

So if you're feeling down...stressed out from life...overwhelmed by the task at hand...read Revelation...and get your focus on the certain victory of Christ. Suddenly, the other troubles fade away - they don't go away - they just lose their power! I know, it's a confusing book - a tough book to swallow - but take the plunge, and let God reveal pieces of it to you!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Unparalled Joy

There are times when, as followers of Jesus, we celebrate with unparalleled joy. Zephaniah described that kind of celebration. He invited the people to sing, shout aloud, be glad, rejoice with all their heart. That's starts to scrape the surface of what I felt like doing at last night's service!

Zephaniah 3:14 marks a turning point in Zephaniah's prophecy. The beginning of the book concentrates on God's judgment, but then the mood lightens and the prophet focuses on the Lord's future promises for His people: promises of restoration, healing, and blessing. When the Messiah would come to establish His kingdom, Zephaniah predicted, there would be a celebration to exceed all others.

Many of the promises in Zephaniah deal with Jesus' second coming, but there are others for which I believe we can experience on an everyday basis. Check out Zephaniah 3:17 and see what God is doing - all the time!:

The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.
First of all, God is with us, and He always has been. Many years after Zephaniah's ministry, when Jesus was about to return to Heaven, His followers must have been feeling the agony of impending loss. Jesus was leaving them...what?! But Jesus reassured them (and us) with the words, "Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:20. Now when I read that - I see always, that doesn't mean sometimes, that doesn't mean only when I think to call out to Him, that doesn't mean only when I feel like I've screwed up - so He's going to be there judging me...nope, that's always! His presence comes to us in different forms at different times, but He is NEVER far from us (Acts 17:27).

God also saves us. In the New Testament, Peter and John were brought before the Sanhedrin, a Jewish council or court, for questioning. Peter reminded those assembled that the only way to be delivered from sin is through Jesus, God's Son (not the easiest thing for a group of guys believing that strict following of the Law was the way to condemn sin to swallow...). "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under Heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). No other name. No other works. No special requirement of church attendance. Just Jesus - He saves us, period.

Sometimes the reality is difficult to comprehend, but God delights in us you guys!! He is vitally interested in our lives. You never have to wonder whether He is actually paying attention when you talk to Him - He is. You never have to question if He really care - He does. His love for us is so great that He sent His one and only Son to die for our sin so that we might have the opportunity to experience the fire of a relationship with Him.

Next, God quiets us with his love. What does that mean?? Well, we are restless creatures...we worry about everything. Worrying that God might not actually be out there, worrying that He might not really care, worrying about day-to-day things...we worry, we're restless. But His love is soothing and completely fulfilling if we will allow it to be. He quiets our restless spirits with His love. How much more could He love us than to die for us? (John 15:13).

Finally, God rejoices over us. The Bible has a lot to say about singing and rejoicing in God's honor (check out the Psalms...and the book of Revelation), but Zephaniah is made this amazing announcement that God is singing and rejoicing over us!! I just love this! What profound encouragement we can take from this? In the midst of a crappy day...God is singing over you. In the craziness of life...God is rejoicing over you. Always.

We all have something to shout about, no matter how trying and painful our particular circumstances might be. The God of the universe has saved us from our sin. He is right by our side, wherever we go. God loves us, delights in us, rejoices over us. Is it any wonder that all of Heaven honors Jesus by shouting aloud - Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise! To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!! (Revelation 5:12-13). And we are invited to join in the chorus.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The God of Second Chances

Sorry...this one is probably going to be a bit long...I've been thinking on it for a while

I was reading two passages this morning...Psalm 51 and Romans 8...and I am just overcome at the grace and mercy of my Father. I am left speechless, astonished, and amazed at the love He pours out in my life time and again. Reading these passages I started thinking about sin and why it's such a thorn in our sides, why it's such a frustrating thing to overcome, to break free from.

David is one of my favorite Old Testament people...he just rocks. I mean seriously - yes, the dude lived a life of devotion to God, but by no means did he live a perfect life. The greatest tragedy of his life was that he had an affair with a married woman and arranged to have her husband killed when she discovered that she was pregnant with David's baby. Psalm 51 gives us a glimpse into David's broken heart during this time, as he tells God about his sin and promises to turn back to his Creator and Father, the God of the second chance.

Sin is first and foremost a violation against God. We can be sure that in David's story, Bathsheba, Uriah, and David's son were wronged and hurt by David's poor choices. But the relationship that suffered the greatest was the one between David and God..."Against you, you only, have I sinned" (vs. 4). I think maybe it's not so much the actual 'sin' that is so detestable to God...but the fact that it creates brokenness in our relationship with Him. He created us to be in perfect relationship with Him, and our sin prevents that from happening.

Sin has consequences. After David turned away from God, he eventually experienced the full weight of what he had done and he talks about feeling crushed inside (vs. 8). You see, David knew that his relationship with the Father had been affected, and he had seen God remove His presence from Saul after Saul turned his back on God (see 1 Samuel 16:1, 14 and 2 Sanuel 7:15). When we sin, we lose the sense of peace and joy that comes from right living. When we grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), we feel His sorrow...because He lives in us and produces His fruit in us (Galatians 5:22).

Here's the beautiful thing...our relationship with God doesn't have to remain broken! David found the path leading back to God, and the same path is there for us. When we admit to God that we have sinned against Him and betrayed His trust, when we direct our steps back toward Him, He forgives us and no longer holds our sin against us (2 Corinthians 5:17-19; 1 John 1:9). God looks for a broken and contrite heart that seeks a restored relationship (Psalm 51:1-2, 17). He is the God of second chances. Not only did He forgive David, but look at how He used David to lead others back to Himself (vs. 13)...including us!

I don't think God intends for me to be perfect...because He knows in this world I will fail and stumble...but what He does intend for me to do is to run into His lap when I stumble - accepting the robes of righteousness that He places around my shoulders...throwing off the rags of guilt and shame that the enemy casts at me.

Jesus was sent by God to take upon Himself the burden of sin for all who would belive (Isaiah 53:6; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21). While we certainly need to confess our sins daily and strive more and more to live a life modeled after that of our Savior, the reality is that our sins have already been forgiven through the blood of Jesus Christ.
He took our sin upon Himself, if it's on Him - it can't be on us.
Because of Jesus, when God looks at us, he sees our hearts as pure and clean (Isaiah 1:18).

Check out Romans 8...it is full of God's promises to us...to list a few:
...there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus...
...through Christ the law of the Spirit of life has set us free from the law of sin...
...the mind controlled by the Spirit is one of life and peace...
...we are controlled not by the sinful nature, but by the Spirit...
...our spirit is alive because of righteousness...
...we rest in a Spirit of sonship, not a spirit of fear...
...we are God's children, heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ...
...nothing can separate us from the love of God...

As I was driving today, I heard the song, "You are so Beautiful" by Joe Cocker. It's such a simple song...but I just pictured Jesus singing it to me, and I was completely overwhelmed with His love for me in that moment...and always...
~You are so beautiful to me ~ You are so beautiful to me ~
Can't you see ~
~You're everything I hoped for ~ You're everything I need ~
You are so beautiful to me ~

So I've come to the conclusion that I just need to let God be awesome, to let Him be wonderful, to let Him love me without the restraints that I place on His love for me...to let Him be who HE is...the God who loves to love me, the God who sees me as perfect, the God who grants me the willing Spirit to do His will...the God of Second Chances.

Friday, July 14, 2006

When God is Silent

There are stagnant periods in the lives of many believers during which God seems almost strangely silent. Perhaps that hs never been more true than during the four centuries between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament. Malachi was the last of the Old Testament prophets, and after his death God did not send a successor until the birth of John the Baptist.

It isn't too difficult to visualize Old Testment prophets whose primary role was to pronounce doom and gloom on God's unfaithful people. But Malachi closed his prophecy with words that should have infused all future generations with hope:

Surely the day is coming...the day when people would see God's righteousness, and there would be healing for God's people with "Elijah" appeared (see Malachi 4:1-6).

The "Elijah" to whom Malachi pointed would be who we know as John the Baptist, and his purpose was to prepare the people for the ministry of the One who would set us free from slavery to sin.

What must it have been like to be alive during the intertestamental period? I sometimes think when I haven't clearly heard from God in a day that everything is crazy! But these people had no prophets, no message from the Lord - only a seemingly enless void - for 400 years! Some people very likely assumed that God had forgotten them. Others may have concluded that He no longer cared, or that He had given up on them. I think we all live through times during which it seems that we are unable to make contact with our Lord, and we inevitably experience the same fears and doubts. Living during these times of apparent one-way communication requires FAITH.

How do we make it through these silent times? By remembering what God has already said and done! Even though there had been no prophet since Malachi, the people had already received God's promises...and so have we. We already have access to the word of the Lord. The faith of some of the people alive between Malachi and John the Baptist no doubt matured as they continued to turn to God in faith and cling to His promises. And we can do the same!

In the final analysis, God is never really silent (see Hebrews 1:1-3). He might not furnish new revelation with every new day, but we always have His eternal and completely reliable Word to inspire hope in our hearts! After all, we serve the infinite and all-powerful God who pledges that He will ever be "faithful to all His promises and loving toward all He has made" (Psalm 145:13). And nowhere has this incredible promise been more beautifully and perfectly expressed than in the gift of His precious Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

So be strong...keep the faith...and know that God is with you in this desert silence! In my life, I have definitley learned that He takes me to those depths before He hits me with something huge - something I never could have planned or imagined!!

I chuckle remembering my winter this past year - yikes! But when I look where He has brought me, what He has done in my life, who He has placed in my life - how perfect His timing and provision!!! Trust in what you know to be true of Him...recount all that He has done, the depths from which He has already brought you - and walk in FAITH - knowing that He will lead you where He wants you!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Spiritual Battles

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. THe weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.

When I read this passage, I think it's easy to see that walking with God destines us to be engaged in spiritual warfare. My first response to thinking about me having the power of God, is sweet - I win, don't mess with me! But I think rather than feeling arrogant and condescending because of our relationship with God, we can use the "weapons" (His power and strength...) to fight against the spiritual forces that strive to lure us off track.

When I think of spiritual warfare - I think so much more globally...angels and demons...battles in the heavenlies...darkness and light...but God is starting to reveal to me something so much more powerful - it's also about me individually. The battlefield of our minds.

As we make God-honoring choices, God gives us His own power and helps us to overcome enemy strongholds, every human attempt to claim honor for oneself, or any other obstacle that threatens to draw us away from Him and keeps us in bondage to sin. In this passage, Paul urges us to gain control over our own minds, to pray for the power that alone can enable us to capture every thought and use it in the service of Jesus.

We are called to focus consciously on our own thought patterns and to continually ask ourselves whether our thoughts are glorifying Jesus or serving ourselves. (ouch!) But the more we get to know Jesus, the better equipped we will be to do this! Spiritual battle begins with our private thoughts, and it can only be won using the spiritual tools which have been placed at our disposal because of the finished work of our Lord Jesus Christ!

What are those tools? Check out Ephesians 6:10-20...here, Paul gives us a picture of how we can effectively be strong in God's power. Again, he reminds us that our battle isn't in this world - it's in the spiritual realm. I think it's important to note that certainly - the war that wages in the heavenlies can manifest itself in the natural world...war, famine, disasters, sickness...but the root of the battle is still spiritual!

To fight this battle, Paul urges us to put on the full armor of God...
...the belt of TRUTH...
...the breastplate of RIGHTEOUSNESS...
...feet fitted with the gospel of PEACE...
...the shield of FAITH...
...the helmet of SALVATION...
...the sword of the SPIRIT...
God has provided to us an armor to protect us from the flaming arrows of satan..but we have to make the choice to use it! Our enemy is smart and cunning...he knows the weaknesses in our armor - and you can be sure that those weaknesses are going to be the first place he is aiming to throw us off track! But you guys, we don't have to live defeated because we are weak. God's Word says His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). So grab hold of God's truth - the righteousness of Christ that He places on you - and exercise your faith. Choose to use the armor God has given you - and live victoriously!!

Friday, July 07, 2006

Jesus, Remember Me

The sinless Son of God was executed on a cross, hanging helpless between two hardened criminals. The crowd jeered, ("the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him" Matthew 27:44). But one of the thieves experienced a radical change of heart.

This robbers first action was to confront the other criminal, reminding him that they as partners in crime fully deserved execution, but pointing out that Jesus had done nothing wrong (Luke 23:41). But the thief didn't stop there - he goes on to ask Jesus for help. His request was short and to the point..."Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (Luke 23:42). This is amazing!!! Through some flash of revelation this man with a crazy past recognized Jesus as the Messiah and the King - realizing that faith in Jesus would provide his only access into God's eternal kingdom.

Even cooler is Jesus' response to him..."I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43). This guilt-ridden criminal received a great deal more than he had bargained for. He asked only to be remembered - but Jesus gave him more, Jesus promised to BE WITH him. This was far more than the promise of a distant future in some far-off kingdom. Jesus says, TODAY this thief would experience the glory of paradise with the God who was now dying to save him.

Jesus regularly does more than we even dare to ask. (can I get an amen!?) The apostle Paul pointed out that he is able to do immeasureably more than all we ask or imagine because His power is working in us (Ephesians 3:20-21). More than we can even imagine...that's crazy! This man hanging on a cross next to Jesus had lived only to please himself, literally almost until his last breath. And simply by placing his destiny in the hands of Jesus, he experienced "immeasureably more" than he was requesting or could ever have fantasized would happen to him! Immediately following his last rasping breath, he would find himself in the place of blessedness, where he would be at home with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23).

How often are we confused about what God expects from us?? We start to believe that we have to comply with the expectations of our Christian social circles, our families, our churches. But think about this you guys, the thief on the cross had never been baptized. He didn't attend regular church services. He didn't deposit money into the offering plate every week. And he undoubtedly performed more bad deeds than good. But he did do one thing...he chose to admit his sin, to acknowledge who Jesus was, and to ask the Savior for help.

Oh how I pray that we will do the same...don't get caught up in playing church, in doing things because you think you should...get caught up in the person Jesus Christ. Be ruined by His love for you. Think about the truth that He is able to do immeasureably more than all you could ever ask or even imagine! He always exceeds our expectations - amazing!