Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas Grace

This year has been a year of grace; a year of learning to give grace and to receive it. The theme for the new edition of SHINE is grace, so I spent a great amount of time editing articles from some very gifted writers on God’s grace. God’s grace is abundant in every area of life. If I may—I need some Christmas Grace from you.

I wrote back at the beginning of Advent, that I was on a journey to thankfulness, and I promised to post everyday a list of ten things that I am grateful for. I am still on that journey, I just didn’t post it on the blog. I had my last week of the term in school, which meant final papers and projects; my son broke his hand; and the same night I was in the ER with him, a very close family member was also in the ER, and after a trying week—was diagnosed with cancer. I regret not posting as events were unfolding, but I just couldn’t. I have so much to be grateful for, my son will not need surgery for his hand; the cancer is treatable. God is so good—even in the midst of some very trying circumstance. I love that through these hard times, the spirit of Christmas surrounds me. The Savior is before me wherever I turn and His grace sustains me. I still plan to keep writing on grace and thankfulness; keeping to my journey to thankfulness. Thank you for your grace.

I pray that you have a very Merry Christmas. May the Christ child be before you constantly, and the His peace abide with you. Remember, that wise men (and women) still seek Him. Seek for Him in every need you face, every trial to walk through. He is there. He was there for the Wise Kings who ardently sought for Him. The same Christmas gift available to them was also available to the shepherds—it is available for all who will receive.
The more we are proud that the Bethlehem story is plain enough to be understood by the shepherds, and almost by the sheep, the more do we let ourselves go, in dark and gorgeous imaginative frescoes or pageants about the mystery and majesty of the Three Magian Kings. ~ G.K. Chesterton, Christendom in Dublin

Seek Him. Prepare for Him. Make room for Him.

The great majority of people will go on observing forms that cannot be explained; they will keep Christmas Day with Christmas gifts and Christmas benedictions; they will continue to do it; and some day suddenly wake up and discover why. ~G.K. Chesterton, Generally Speaking

May the spirit of Christmas surround you and give you peace. 

Friday, December 8, 2017

Journey to Gratefulness Day 5: Draw Near

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you {James 4:8 NASB}.

Some days are hard. Today may have been for you. It was for me. It’s okay to have a hard day every now and then. Somedays it seems as though the world is passing us by; like everyone else has a plan, a dream, goals. Sometimes it seems like we just are stuck waiting. In the waiting, seek God. He uses these seasons so that we will turn to Him. He will not have us wait forever. Advent is certain. Not only on the calendar leading to Christmas; but when we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us {James 4:8}.
Ten things I am thankful for today:
1. Though it is hard, I am thankful for the times of waiting.
2. Thank You Lord for Your faithfulness in the waiting.
3. Thank You for drawing near to me.
4. Thank You for Your forgiveness.
5. Thank You for encouraging words from unlikely sources when I need to hear from You.
6. Thank You for helping me when I call.
7. Thank You for not giving up on me.
8. Thank You for Your unfailing love.
9. Thank You for Your unfailing mercy.
10. Thank You For Your grace; which empowers me when I can’t do it on my own.

“You keep us waiting. You, the God of all time, Want us to wait. For the right time in which to discover Who we are, where we are to go, Who will be with us, and what we must do. So thank you … for the waiting time.” John Bell, quoted in The Westminster Collection of Christian Prayers, compiled by Dorothy M. Stewart

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Thursday, December 7, 2017

Journey to Gratefulness Day 4: Salvation Is Come

Thus says the Lord, “Preserve justice and do righteousness, For My salvation is about to come
And My righteousness to be revealed” {Is. 56: 1 NASB}.

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace {Isaiah 9:6 NASB}.
Grace. His grace is unfathomable. It is hard to grasp is it not? Imagine how Mary and Joseph felt. As the world slept; the Son of God became man; in all places a stable. They held Heaven’s perfect Lamb—the Great I AM. “Baby Jesus, Eternal Word of the One True and Living God.”[1] John, consciously building on Old Testament revelation in His wonderful Gospel, gave a glorious homily on Jesus—The Word—God Incarnate— who existed before time. He was not only with God, but was God. Yet He came as man to reconcile man to The Father. He came to offer salvation to a lost, dying world {John 1}. Christ. His Salvation. The greatest gift.

Ten things I am grateful for today:

1. How can I repay what the Lord has done for me? I will take the cup of Salvation and worship the Lord {Ps. 116:12-13 HCSB}.

2. The Lord is my strength and my song. He has become my salvation {Ps. 118:14 HCSB}.

3. I will give thanks to you because you have answered me and have become my salvation {Ps.  118: 21 HCSB}

4. This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it {Ps. 118: 24 HCSB}.

5. Thankful that my help comes from the Lord. The maker of heaven and earth {Ps 121: 2 HCSB}.

6. That Gods love is eternal {Ps. 136 :3 HCSB}.

7. He alone does great wonders {Ps. 136 :4 HCSB}.
8. He made the heavens skillfully
{Ps. 136 :5 HCSB}.

9. For Your constant love and faithfulness {Ps. 138: 2 HCSB}.

10. Your abundant greatness {Ps. 150: 2 HCSB}.

Advent, like its cousin Lent, is a season for prayer and reformation of our hearts. Since it comes at winter time, fire is a fitting sign to help us celebrate Advent…If Christ is to come more fully into our lives this Christmas, if God is to become really incarnate for us, then fire will have to be present in our prayer. Our worship and devotion will have to stoke the kind of fire in our souls that can truly change our hearts. Ours is a great responsibility not to waste this Advent time. Edward Hays, A Pilgrim’s Almanac

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[1] Bodie and Brock Thoene, Why A Manger? (Vista, CA: Parable, 2006), 3.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Journey to Gratefulness Day 3: Prince of Peace

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace {Isaiah 9:6 NASB}.

Peace is one of the most sought-after conditions in this, our chaotic world. But are we seeking the right peace? There is peace that the world gives; which is futile. It is a peace that keeps you hungry and thirsty.

Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful {Jn. 14:27 NASB}.

The peace the world gives is concerned with only the body and time.[1]The peace that Christ gives are to enrich the soul; it is more valuable than anything the world has to offer. Christ is the Prince of Peace. He is the only one who can give lasting peace. It is one of the promises of His Messiahship; it was a sign that the babe born in Bethlehem was the promised Christ.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men {Luke 2:12-14 NASB}.

Ten things I am grateful for today:

1. The Peace the only Christ can give.

2. The Peace that is promised us for eternity when Christ—the Prince of Peace returns.

3. God Almighty, who is Faithful and True. He promised the Messiah and fulfilled that promise.

4. Thankful that God loved us so much, that He sent His Son to redeem us and reconcile us to the Father.

5. Thankful for the Christmas Story, to bring us Peace and joy each year.

6. Thankful for the Word that portrays the events of the birth of Christ.

7. Mary and Joseph who obeyed God, even when they faced horrific circumstances, to be an example for me when I face tough situations.

8. Thankful for the Incarnation; God became man and walked among us.

9. Thankful for the spiritual blessings that I don’t deserve, but am graced with regardless.

10. Thankful that I serve the Holy, beautiful, Wonderful, Great I AM. 

Christmas means that, through the Grace of God and the incarnation, peace with God is available; and if you make peace with God, then you can go out and make peace with everybody else. Tim Keller

To read all the posts in this series click here

[1] Leslie Church, ed., Matthew Henry’s Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1960), 1593.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Journey to Gratefulness Day 2: Thrive

Have you every had one of those seasons when things—life—doesn’t seem to be working? You are striving and working hard for things to work out a certain way, and it’s not working at all. Christmas is a season in which all the busyness, chores, and shopping seem to interrupt the things that are truly important. Preparing our hearts for advent, cultivating our prayer life, developing a life in the Word. These are the important things that we should be focusing on. That is why I am so thankful for His grace; which gives me the strength to do what I cannot do in my own power. He wants us to stop striving and to begin thriving. We thrive when we spend time with Him and in His Word, and communicating with Him in prayer. Stop striving and start thriving.

Ten things I am grateful for today:
1. His grace that empowers and strengthens me.

2. His provision—He always takes care of me and my family; a roof over my head, a car to drive; food on the table.

3. His sovereignty—no matter how much I strive, He helps to thrive instead when I abide in Him and focus on the things that I need to.

4. His calling and His gifting on my life, though I feel inadequate, His gifts and calling are irrevocable (Rom. 11:29).

5. I am thankful for the Christmas season, that brings joy and anticipation in my heart for the things of God. This is a hard one for me.  

6. I am thankful for His Spirit who reveals to me habits and mindsets that I need to change.

7. I am thankful for a particular friend that the Lord graced me with years ago who faithfully prays for me.

8. I am thankful for an encouraging word at the right moment from someone I least expected to hear from.

9. I am thankful for another gift; someone who is praying and fasting for me until I see a breakthrough in my life, in obedience to His Spirit.

10. I am thankful for this cute little Christmas farmhouse that you see in the pictures. My sister brought it back from Texas for me, and when I see it, it makes me smile. 

God travels wonderful ways with human beings, but he does not comply with the views and opinions of people. God does not go the way that people want to prescribe for him; rather, his way is beyond all comprehension, free and self-determined beyond all proof. Where reason is indignant, where our nature rebels, where our piety anxiously keeps us away: that is precisely where God loves to be. There he confounds the reason of the reasonable; there he aggravates our nature, our piety—that is where he wants to be, and no one can keep him from it. Only the humble believe him and rejoice that God is so free and so marvelous that he does wonders where people despair, that he takes what is little and lowly and makes it marvelous. And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly…. God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas

To read all the posts in this series click here

Monday, December 4, 2017

Journey to Gratefulness Day 1: But For Grace

I want to begin the journey to gratefulness today; to show the Lord that I am so thankful for all His gifts. I would not be who I am today if not for grace. I would have nothing if not for grace.
If He does nothing else for me but come to a lost, lonely, dying world to a manager—out of His love for me; that will be enough. He died for me. He rose again. If not for grace.

 Ten things I am grateful for today:
1. Thank You Lord that You love me; You loved me so much that You came to rescue and redeem me from the power of sin.    
2. Thank You Lord for my family.
3. Thank You for Your House (church) that You planted me in, and the opportunity and privilege of serving in that body.
4. Thank You for my Pastor and his wife, who You have placed as shepherds over my life.
5. Thank You for Your Word that feeds me and guides me to live.
6. Thank You for Your Salvation.
7. Thank You for Your Grace.
8. Thank You for Your Holy Spirit.
9. Thank You for Your faithfulness.
10. Thank You for blessing me and taking care of me and those I love.

For outlandish creatures like us, on our way to a heart, a brain, and courage, Bethlehem is not the end of our journey but only the beginning—not home but the place through which we must pass if ever we are to reach home at last. Frederick Buechner, The Magnificent Defeat

Will you prepare Him room? Join me on this journey to gratefulness.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Goodbye November

One would not know it from the unseasonably warm weather, that we waved goodbye to November today, and welcomed in December.

I know last week marked the beginning of Advent, but I am behind. If you followed my Advent Journal last year, you know I created a Theology of Thanksgiving that I desired to apply to my life all year—not just at Thanksgiving and Advent. Gratefulness is something we have to cultivate all year, and it is not always easy, to remember the sacred and forget the chaos. 

This Advent season, I really want to show the Lord how grateful I am for all that He has done in my life, and all that He is going to do in the future. He is so faithful…so beginning here on Monday, I am challenging myself to write down ten things I am grateful for every day. Will you come on the Journey to Gratefulness with me? I would love for you to come. Please share in the comments what you are grateful for. I would love to hear from you. 

O Wisdom, O holy word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care: Come and show your people the way to salvation.

O Sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: Come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.

O Flower of Jesse's stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; rulers stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.

O Key of David, O royal power of Israel, controlling at your will the gate of heaven: Come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and lead your captive people into freedom.

O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: Come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

O Ruler of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart, O keystone of the mighty arch of humankind: Come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.

O Emmanuel, ruler and lawgiver, desire of the nations, savior of all people: Come and set us free, Lord our God. ~Advent in Church and Cultural Tradition, by Bobby Gross

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Names of God: Father

I have heard it often said, that how one pictures their earthly father, is how one views the heavenly Father. There is some truth in that statement, however, that is not sufficient for me. I want to know the Father better and deeper. In my quest to know the Father, I have found books and references on Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit in abundance, but there seems to be a deficiency in resources on the Father—outside of Bible dictionaries and commentaries. So I am going to share as much with you as I can about the Father. I don’t know if it is possible to do that in one blog post, I will see how far I get.

There are three names for Father in the Bible; Ab, Abba, and Pater. Smith’s Bible Dictionary defines Ab as: (father), an element in the composition of many proper names, of which Abba is a Chaldaic form, having the sense of “endowed with,” “possessed of.” 

Easton Bible Dictionary describes the word Abba: This Syriac or Chaldee word is found three times in the New Testament ( Mark 14:36 ; Romans 8:15 ; Galatians 4:6 ), and in each case is followed by its Greek equivalent, which is translated “father.” It is a term expressing warm affection and filial confidence. It has no perfect equivalent in our language. It has passed into European languages as an ecclesiastical term, “abbot.” 

Finally, the third word for Father, Pater, in the KJV New Testament Greek Lexicon, defines the word in several forms; 1) generator or male ancestor; 2) metaph: the originator and transmitter of anything; one who has infused his own spirit into others, who actuates and governs their minds; one who stands in a father's place and looks after another in a paternal way; a title of honour as in teachers, as those to whom pupils trace back the knowledge and training they have received; the members of the Sanhedrin, whose prerogative it was by virtue of the wisdom and experience in which they excelled, to take charge of the interests of others; 3) a) God is called the Father: of the stars, the heavenly luminaries, because he is their creator, upholder, ruler; b) of all rational and intelligent beings, whether angels or men, because he is their creator, preserver, guardian and protector; c) of spiritual beings and of all men; d) of Christians, as those who through Christ have been exalted to a specially close and intimate relationship with God, and who no longer dread him as a stern judge of sinners, but revere him as their reconciled and loving Father; the Father of Jesus Christ, as one whom God has united to himself in the closest bond of love and intimacy, made acquainted with his purposes, appointed to explain and carry out among men the plan of salvation, and made to share also in his own divine nature by Jesus Christ himself and by the apostles.

Throughout the Bible, God is depicted as a father; the picture though, is rare in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, God is called the Father of the nation of Israel {Deut. 32:6; Isa. 63:16; 64:8; Jer. 3:4, 19; 31:9; Mal. 1:6; 2:10}. He is also called the Father of specific individuals {2 Sam. 7:14; 1 Chron. 17:13; 22:10; 28:6; Ps. 68:5; 89:26}. In other places the imagery of a father is used rather than the term Father, {Exod. 4:22-23; Deut. 1:31; 8:5; 14:1; Ps. 103:13; Jer. 3:22; 31:20; Hos. 11: 1-4; Mal. 3:17}.

The usage for Father in the New Testament was use by Jesus; Father was His favorite term for addressing God. It flowed from the lips of Jesus some sixty-five times in the Synoptic Gospels {Matthew, Mark, Luke} and over one-hundred times in John. The exact term Jesus used is found three times in the New Testament {Abba-Pater Mark 14:36; Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6}. Jesus usage of Father in addressing God was unique in several ways. One, the rarity of this designation for God is striking. There is no evidence in pre-Christian Jewish literature that Jews addressed God 
as Abba.[1] 

Another reason this term is so unique is the intimacy of the term. Abba was reserved for children addressing their father. Earlier scholars and interpreters found the nearest English equivalent to be “daddy,” however, recently, it has been found to have been used by children and adults, as a result it is best to understand Abba as father rather than daddy.[2] This usage of the Abba Father was also unique because of the frequency of the metaphor in the Old Testament and other Jewish literature. It is found over 165 times in the New Testament and fifteen in the entire Old Testament. This was not only a way in which Jesus taught His disciples to address God, it was the only way. When teaching the disciples to pray, He instructed them, “Father, hollowed be your name” {Lk. 11:2}. The Greek-speaking Gentile churches in Galatia and Rome continued to address God as Abba.

I wrote earlier that one views their earthly father, is how they view their heavenly Father. If this is true, and you don’t have a good relationship with your earthly father, there is a deficiency in your relationship with God. How then can we get a healthy Biblical perception of the Father? We must remember, our earthly fathers are only a snapshot of who our true Father is. We cannot judge God by the example of our earthly fathers—whether they were good fathers or not.

When we address God as our Father, we come by relationship; no one can approach God as Father but by Jesus Christ His Son, and His sacrifice at Calvary {Jn. 14:6}. The love the Father has for all that He created is matchless. He loves us so much that He sent Christ to redeem and restore us.

Divine Fatherhood begins not with man, but with the Godhead, in whose eternal depths is found the spring of that Fatherly love that reveals itself in time. It is first of all in relation to the eternal Son—before all time—that the meaning of Fatherhood in God is made clear (John 1:18). In ‘God the Father’ we have a name pointing to that relation which the first Person in the adorable Trinity sustains to ‘Son’ and ‘Holy Spirit’—also Divine (Matthew 28:19). From this eternal fountain-head flow the relations of God as Father (1) to the world by creation;(2) to believers by grace.[3]  

Man was created so that his true nature resembles the Father, and revealed in sonship. Sin unfortunately, frustrated mans relationship with God, and now can only be restored by Christ’s redemption. That is why the place of sonship in the gospel is a privilege not to be taken for granted, and we should bow in humble worship at His love, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him” {1 Jn. 3:1 NASB}. Our sonship was obtained by grace {Jn. 1: 12-13 NASB}, and through adoption by the Father {Rom. 8: 14, 19 NASB}. We are Sons of God which is true of no others. It is a relation, not of nature, but of grace. For this reason I bow my knees before the Father {Eph. 3:14}.

God our Father is the source of all life—all creation. Take time and admire all that God has created—the vast, beautiful, world—it would not exist without Him. God is the Father of Lights—the light of the natural world, the sun, the moon, the stars, shining in the heavens. “He is the light of reason and conscience; the light of His Law; the Light of Prophecy, shining in a dark place.”[4]

He lovingly corrects us, true discipline is always done out of love for His children {Heb. 12:3-11}, if He did not, we would not be true children. As our Father, He provides for our needs, and He desires for us to enjoy everything He has provided through His marvelous creation:

For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” {Matt. 7:8-11 NASB}.

His provision is not only for our material needs, but for our spiritual needs as well. Jesus said that if we ask for the Holy Spirit, God will give Him abundantly. Luke’s Gospel gives a similar account:

For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened. Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” {Luke 11: 10-14}.

The Father loves you so much; Sometimes it is hard to fathom. Whatever you have done and however far you have run from the Father, He will take you back. He is the ultimate model of forgiveness. He will stand out on the porch and stare down the road—waiting for you to come back to Him. Upon first glance of your return He will run to meet you. He will put a clean robe on your back and a ring on your finger {Luke 15:11-32}. He will protect you and shelter you. He will feed you and take care of you. He will wash you clean and restore you as His son or daughter.

The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt

God revealed through Christ that it is possible to have a personal relationship with Him that goes far beyond just acknowledging Him as the One who created us. We are children in God’s eyes and enjoy a special relationship and love that only a father and his children can share. We are no longer servants having a master, but sons and daughters having a Father.

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God” {Gal. 4: 4-7 NASB}.

[1] Walter A. Elwell ed., Baker Theological Dictionary Of The Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996), 247.
[2] Ibid.
[3] James Orr, ed., “Father, God” in International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1915.
[4] Herbert Lockyer, All The Divine Names And Titles In The Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979), 67.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Sabbath Sanctuary: He Holds Our Breath

God is wise and all-powerful. Who has opposed Him and come out unharmed?  He removes mountains without their knowledge, overturning them in His anger. He shakes the earth from its place so that its pillars tremble {Job 9: 4-6 HCB}.

He commands the sun not to shine and seals off the stars. He alone stretches out the heavens and 
treads on the waves of the sea. He makes the stars: the Bear, Orion, the Pleiades, and the constellations of the southern sky. He does great and unsearchable things, wonders without number {Job 9: 4-10 HCB}.

The life of every living thing is in His hand, as well as the breath of all mankind {Job 12:10}.
Don’t you know that ever since antiquity, from the time man was placed on earth, the joy of the wicked has been brief and the happiness of the godless has lasted only a moment? {Job 20: 4-5}

Take it from a man {Job} who was enduring terrible grief and suffering, that though the wicked seem to be wreaking havoc, and the universe appears to be a spinning ball of chaos⸺a place where mercy and justice are fleeting⸺The Almighty is in control. 

Rest in God this Sabbath weekend. Sit in His presence; admire His creation and offer Him worship for the mighty works of His hand. He has done great things for you.