Unfinished Projects

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“Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” Philippians 1:6.

I enjoy many craft projects of various kinds – cross-stitch, sewing, crochet, beadwork . . .  The one thing they all have in common is that I have many that are in various stages of incompletion.  I’m good at starting things, but not so good at finishing them.  I even have a book I’ve started writing that begs to be finished.  The biggest reason I fail to finish things is 1) I am easily distracted and 2) I’m afraid the finished product will be a failure.

That is why I love Philippians 1:6. God doesn’t have any unfinished projects.

From our first introduction, we see that God is one who finishes what He starts, and He finishes it well.  The creation account in Genesis 1 shows God commanding an action, and that action being brought to completion with the pronouncement: “God saw that it was good.”  Then He got personally and intimately involved in creating man – He literally got His hands dirty with this one.  But humanity – that’s you and me – is not a one-and-done project like plants and stars.  Sure, the creation of our physical bodies was done at once, but the purpose of our existence is a long-term work and God is in it with us for the long haul.

Paul says that God “began a good work.”  What was that good work?  Salvation.  The restoration of our relationship with Him.  And with it the transformation of our lives, that is sanctification – working to make us more like Jesus, “to be conformed to the likeness of His Son” (Romans 8:29).  God’s purpose is to make sinful creatures into holy sons and daughters.  It is a life-long work that will only be completed when we are united with Christ.  But here’s the important point to remember:  it will be completed.  It will be accomplished.  God’s good work in you and me will be finished.

Paul also says that He “will carry it on to completion.”  That’s very good news to me because it reminds me that salvation and sanctification are His to accomplish as Paul further says, “It is God who works in you” that good work of salvation (Philippians 2:13).  Yes, we have a responsibility to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (v. 12).   We must do our part in studying His Word, in praying, in fellowship with the Body and in obedience to His commands and His promptings.  But the onus for the finished product is on God as He works in us through His Holy Spirit.

I hope that is as encouraging to you as it is to me.  Salvation and the transformation of my life is not up to me and my ability to get the job done.  I have a box full of unfinished projects to prove that I can’t pull this off by myself. And neither can you.  But God has a cross and an empty tomb to prove that He can.  He has the power and the vision to accomplish this good work.  And He will prove Himself faithful.  Paul said that it is God Himself that will sanctify us “through and through.”  It is He who will keep us, “spirit, soul and body blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Beloved, You and I are not “unfinished projects.”  We are divinely designed and destined by God to accomplish His “good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2) – to be like His Son. “The one who calls you is faithful and He will do it” (2 Thessalonians 1:23-24).

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At the Close of the Year

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“One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on” (Philippians 3:13-14).

Tomorrow is the first day of a new year.  Resolutions will be made (and broken within two weeks).  We’ll stock up on salads and blow the dust off the treadmill.  Maybe we’ll crack open Genesis 1 in our determination to read the Bible every day (until we get to Leviticus).  But all that is for tomorrow.

Today is the last day of the old year and while all our efforts for change will launch in the next 24 hours, there is significance to this day too.  I always like to sweep and mop my floors thoroughly on December 31st.  My mom used to say, “We don’t want to walk into the new year on last year’s dirt.”  I think that’s good advice for more than just my house.  That’s good advice for life.

As the year comes to a close, I think it’s good to sweep out the dirt of the past 365 days.  Did you make any mistakes this year?  Me too.  We should keep the wisdom we gained from those mistakes, but let’s sweep out the guilt and shame.  Did you sin at all?  You and I both know we did.  Let’s confess it, receive God’s grace and walk into the new year in freedom. Did someone hurt you this year?  Forgive them and leave it here in the old year. It’s a gift to them and to yourself.  Maybe things just didn’t turn out like you expected.  Let’s toss those unmet expectations and look toward the new year with hope in God.

Our family made a big move this year and a lot of old stuff didn’t come with us.  Today is a good day to unpack some stuff before you move into a fresh new year.  Like resentment and bad attitudes and anger and jealously – you really don’t want to bring those with you, do you?  Let’s put them in the box with old prejudices, bitterness, laziness (ouch, my toes), and selfishness and toss them all in the burn pile.

The new year awaits us with an open calendar and a fresh perspective and all our hopes for God’s good blessings.  But we don’t want to walk in the new year with all the sins and mistakes and hurts of the old year.  Oswald Chambers wisely advises, “Let the past rest, but let it rest in the sweet embrace of Christ.”  Tonight, when the clock strikes midnight, let’s leave the past in the past and start the new year with hope and peace and joy.  May the Lord bless you richly in the coming year.

The Nativity

“They hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger” (Luke 2:16).

When we set up our nativity scenes, we place the star and the angel above the stable and we add the animals and the shepherds. We set Mary and Joseph beside the manger where the little baby sleeps. We even add the wise men, though they didn’t actually come on the scene until some 2 years later. Now everyone is present and accounted for.
The truth is, Satan is part of the Christmas story, for the Holy Child in the manger was born to break the curse of evil. He was born to set men free from their sins (Romans 6:18). He was born to bring light and life where death and darkness reigned (John 1:4-5). He was born to set right what had been made horribly wrong (Romans 8:22-24). This little baby was the fulfillment of God’s promise, the seed that would crush the head of the enemy (Genesis 3:15). When this newborn baby’s cry pierced the silent night, all of hell trembled.
As you celebrate Jesus, the reason for the season, remember the reason Jesus came and praise God for the greatest gift ever given. The Savior of the world is born.

Immanuel – God with Us

 

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“They will call Him Immanuel, which means, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:23).

One of the most beautiful hymns of Christmas is Emmanuel, Emmanuel:

Emmanuel, Emmanuel,
His name is called Emmanuel.
God with us, revealed in us,
His name is called Emmanuel.[1]

In our modern, New Testament mind the idea of “Immanuel – God with us” is a great comfort as we endure the struggles of life in this fallen world.  To know that God is with us means we are assured of His presence and help.  I am so grateful that God was with us through this difficult year that we experienced.  His presence gave me strength day-by-day and bolstered my faith.

But to truly understand the name and its significance, we have to go back to the Bible.  But don’t stop in Matthew, go back even farther to the book of Exodus, to the most incredible statement by God: “Have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them” (Exodus 25:9).  In the ancient near east, the pagan gods of the time did not dwell with human beings.  No, the “gods” were far too important to be bothered with mortals and their petty lives.  But the God who created and sustained and ruled over all things wanted to dwell with His people.  So He gave them instructions to build Him a sanctuary where He could be present with them.  When the structure was built, the Lord came and took up residence in the place.  The same was true of the temple Solomon built for the Lord in Jerusalem to replace the tabernacle.  When the temple was completed, and the ark of the covenant was put in place in the Holy of Holies, “the cloud [of the Lord’s presence] filled the temple of the Lord” (1 Kings 8:11).  And the Lord dwelled among His people there.

Until.  Until their idolatry and sin became unbearable.  Until God said, “Enough.”  Approximately four hundred years after He filled the temple, the Lord withdrew His presence.  The prophet Ezekiel records the terrible sight of the cloud drawing up and away from the Holy of Holies and from the temple and from Jerusalem and the nation of Judah.  God was no longer with His people.  Shortly afterward the people were taken into exile and the temple was destroyed.  And though it was rebuilt when the exiles returned to Jerusalem, the Lord’s presence did not return to the second temple.

Until. Until the angel visited a carpenter, betrothed to a young woman and proclaimed the return of Immanuel.  Joseph would instinctively know what this name meant – God with us.     God came to once again dwell among men – this time in the humblest way – as a human baby born to peasant parents and laid in a feeding trough for animals.  The name “Immanuel” recalls the glorious presence of God in the midst of His people.  But not only in the temple.  No, this time Immanuel would walk among them, eat with them, touch them with human hands – and die for them.  God had been absent and silent for hundreds of years, but now He had returned to His people.

Immanuel was the promise of God’s presence.  And He is still present with His people today.  He is present in the Holy Spirit that dwells in every believer.  He is present in our worship.  He is present when we pray.  He is present when we rustle the pages of the Bible.  He is present when we reach out to touch a suffering soul with His love.  He is present in holy, divine moments and in the everyday events of our lives.  Because He is Immanuel, He is always present. Because He is God with us, we are never alone.

[1] Emmanuel, Emmanuel was written by Bob McGee in 1976 and published by C.A. Music.

A Snowflake in an Avalanche

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“O LORD, we and our kings, our princes and our fathers are covered with shame because we have sinned against you” (Daniel 9:8).

I quote a lot of people, but I never thought I would quote Voltaire, the French Enlightenment philosopher who was an outspoken critic of Christianity, but I ran across one of his quotes and thought it was very powerful. “No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.” Stop and think about that for a moment. An avalanche can be traced back to millions of harmless, individual snowflakes that come together to create a massive wall of white with destructive power. But who would lay the blame on a single, lacy snowflake?
That thought brings two things to mind. As Christians we look around in shock at the world that has turned from acceptance to hatred for the church. We shake our heads at the lack of morals of this country and the laws that declare wrong as right and right as wrong. And we look in disbelief at “churches” who have embraced and celebrate sin, putting a religious stamp of approval on what God has declared unnatural and ungodly. I’ve witnessed an incredible amount of moral deterioration in just my lifetime. And we sit, like frogs in a steaming stewpot wondering, “What happened? How did we get to this point?” We got here by ignoring the snowflakes. The church turned a blind eye to the first signs of compromise. We didn’t want to raise a fuss. It’s such a little thing, we shouldn’t make a big deal over it. We need to pick our battles. We have to be culturally relevant. We don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. One wink at sin, one shrug of our religious shoulders – then another and another and another. And here we are in a sin-saturated nation with no voice to say otherwise.
The truth is, we are each individually responsible for the state of the nation. We overlooked the snowflakes of compromise in our own lives long before they started swirling in the culture. We turned the disciplines of holy living – Bible study, prayer, service, faithfulness to the church– into suggestions for living your best life. We made the church one option among many in our busy, over-scheduled lives. We decided purity wasn’t as important as entertainment and freedom in Christ meant no restrictions. The snowflakes eventually caused an avalanche that pushed us over the edge and away from God.
But the same principle can turn it all around. What if you and I decided, as individuals to turn our hearts back to God, to return to the disciplines of holy living and the priority of righteousness? What if we spent time in Bible study and prayer every day? What if we determined to make purity and faithfulness the rule rather than the exception? What if we followed the Spirit without compromise? What if we purged the sin from our homes and our lives? What if the church turned back to God in repentance and godly sorrow? What if we taught the Scriptures rather than cultural, feel-good-about-myself messages? What if we decided that our kids needed the church more than they needed sports? What if we recognized that we’re supposed to be different than the culture around us? What if we accepted the responsibility for the state of our nation? What if we cried out to God for revival? What if every person who claims the name of Christ told just one lost person about Jesus? What if – one believer at a time, one church at a time – we created an avalanche of godliness and holiness that could push us back to God?
If one snowflake can be part of a wall of destruction, then one believer can be part of a wall of restoration. I believe it’s possible. I also I believe it is necessary. I believe our nation is in a precarious position, so near the edge of a very steep cliff. We are in danger of falling into a dark abyss from which we might never recover. The time for personal godliness is now. The time for the church to repent is now. We must walk back the compromises we’ve made – in our lives and in the church – while there is still time. A single snowflake is not the problem, but it is part of the problem. A single committed believer is not the whole solution, but you and I can be part of the solution. On our own we have little influence or power, but together with God, we can change this nation. We must – before it’s too late.

The Burden-Bearer

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When my son was little and we went somewhere that required a lot of walking, his little legs would tire very quickly.  He would slow down and stumble and cry.  That’s when his Daddy would pick him up and set him on top of his shoulders and carry him home.  The burden of his weight rested on his Dad’s shoulders.  Thankfully he didn’t weigh much then, but the idea of carrying another’s burden has its roots in Israel’s ancient worship traditions.

When God gave Moses instructions for the priests, He said, “Take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel . . . Aaron is to bear the names on his shoulders before the Lord” (Exodus 28:9,12).  Aaron, the high priest, would enter the holy of holies at the appointed time to make atonement for the sins of the children of Israel.  He would come before God with the names of each of the twelve sons of Jacob, the family tribes of the nation, engraved on the stones that made up part of his ritual garb.  He would literally bear the weight of the names of the sons of Israel while symbolically bearing the weight of their sin on his shoulders.

At Calvary Jesus bore the weight of every sin you and I have ever committed.  But it wasn’t a symbolic act like the priest bearing the names of the sons of Israel, and it wasn’t a gentle weight like my son perched on his Daddy’s shoulders.  The weight of all the sins of humanity – including your sin and mine – was a real, crushing burden heaped on the Son of God.

My husband bore the weight of our son because he loved him.  Jesus bore the weight of your sin because he loves you.  There came a point, though, when our little boy became too big of a burden for his Daddy to carry.  Here’s the good news: you will never be too big of a burden for Jesus.  Your sins will never out-weigh His love for you.  You can rest on this promise Beloved, Jesus will carry you – all the way home.

I am Guilty – and I am Innocent

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“It is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:8).

I caught the state trooper out of the corner of my eye and my heart sank.  I was busted.  I kept looking into my rear-view mirror, waiting for him to pull out after me with lights flashing.  But he never did.  I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I realized I had gotten away with breaking the law.

The news is filled with reports of innocent people who were imprisoned for crimes they did not commit.  They were denied the freedom they were due, cut off from their loved ones, and their reputations were ruined.  Innocent people should not be punished. It is a travesty of justice.

Yet there was one innocent man who bore an even greater punishment – Jesus.  He not only endured false imprisonment, but He was put to death for crimes He did not commit. The sin of all humanity was heaped upon Him.  My sin among them.  I am guilty.  God has every right to call me to justice for my sins.  But He doesn’t.  And it has nothing to do with me.  It has everything to do with grace.  It is not like the state trooper who let me get away with speeding.  The criminal has to be brought to justice; the penalty has to be paid.  Death.  But Jesus stood before God and said, “I will take her sin, I will pay for her crime.”  And miracle of miracles – I am not guilty anymore.  I didn’t just get away with my sin.  Jesus took my sin and my punishment.  I am declared innocent because of Christ.

Beloved, if you have trusted in Jesus, you are declared not guilty before God.  Your sins have been paid in full with the blood of the innocent Son of God.  You’re not just getting away with something, you are truly free of guilt.

If you have not trusted in Jesus, you are guilty before God.  But you don’t have to be.  Jesus died for your sins too.  He took your guilt and your punishment.  Grace is there for you.  More than getting away with sin, you can be declared innocent.  Friend, won’t you receive God’s gift today and be free?

God in the Darkness

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It was thirteen years ago, but I remember it like I am still there. My season of great darkness. To this day I don’t understand why, but the enemy came down on me with both feet. It was an emotional breakdown and it was spiritual oppression. It manifested physically in sleepless nights and body aches with no medical explanation. I could not stop the tears and the constant thoughts of self-destruction. I truly believed I was losing my mind. I had been writing for several years, and I threw all my notebooks in the fireplace because I didn’t think I would ever have normal, sane thoughts again. And I thought God had abandoned me. The enemy kept telling me so. One day my then 12 year old son came through the kitchen singing, “Jesus loves me,” but he stopped short of the chorus. I said, “please keep singing” but he said, “you finish it Mom, I’m going out to play.” But I couldn’t sing “Yes, Jesus loves me,” because I didn’t believe He did.
One morning in the very wee hours, I sat on my back porch, wrapped in a blanket with my Bible in my lap. The only thing I knew for sure was it I had any hope of survival, I had to stay connected to God, even if I wasn’t sure He wanted to stay connected to me. I was reading Exodus 3 and the story of Moses and the burning bush. When Moses asked God’s name, I “heard” in my heart, “Child, who am I?” “You are God,” I answered, “who else could you be?” “Oh, there is so much more to me than you ever imagined. Know me.” I remembered a little book I had picked up for five bucks at a women’s retreat a few years before, that had a list of the names of God with Scripture references. I started at the first name and day-by-day worked my way through that list. God met me and revealed Himself to me every morning, name by name. I researched more names and for three years I studied until the fog dissipated and I could breath again. He saved my sanity and my life.
Now I know that He is El Emunah – the Faithful God and He is Yahweh Sali – the Lord my Rock and He is Yahweh Gibbor Milchamah – the Lord Mighty in Battle. But most of all I know that He is El Hayyay – God of my life. And He’s proven it over and over and over again.

Guest Blogging Today

I am guest blogging today on the website “All Mom Does.”  Check out my Thanksgiving devotional, “Giving Thanks in the Desert.”

https://www.allmomdoes.com/2018/11/21/giving-thanks-in-the-desert/

 

Guard Your Heart

OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23).

I grew up a military kid, and I remember well the guards posted at the base entrance.  Their sole job was to keep the base secure from people and things entering that posed a threat.  We had a sticker on our car that allowed us to pass right on through – we though it was so cool that the guard would salute my mom and a car full of kids when he saw that sticker.  But if a car approached without that authorization the guard stopped them to determine who they were and why they wanted to enter the base.  If the guard had any inclination that the person was up to no good, access was denied, and on occasion an arrest was made.  That is the same idea we see in this verse.  We have to post a guard and deny access to anything that poses a threat to our heart – to our spiritual and emotional wellspring.  But here’s what sticks out in my mind: the bases we lived on had multiple entrances, and every entrance had a guard.  Every possible route onto the base was secured.  Now let’s go back to our Proverbs passage.  Read a little further (vs. 24-27) and you will see that Solomon gives us four posts we need to secure: Guard your mouth, guard your eyes, guard your steps, and guard your direction.

Guard your mouth:Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips” – Jesus warned, “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’ (Matthew 15:11).  Our words – and our actions – spring from our heart. When our words are perverse and corrupt, it means our hearts are perverse and corrupt.  But our words also feed our heart.  It’s a cyclical effect – what comes out of my mouth comes from my heart and goes back into my heart again.   David said it this way, “He wore cursing as his garment; it entered his body like water, into his bones like oil” (Psalm 109:18).

Guard your eyes: “Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you” – watch what you’re looking at, listening to and absorbing into your heart.   And I don’t just mean avoid looking at inappropriate stuff like pornography – which should go without saying.  I’m also talking about looking at things that just dull our spirits.  Here’s my confession:  some days I come home physically and mentally wiped out.  All I want to do is veg out in front of the TV or scroll the internet on my phone for funny memes.  Now I’m not looking at anything bad, but I’m also not looking at anything godly.  I’m not feeding my heart – I’m dulling it. Computer programmers call it GIGO: Garbage In – Garbage Out.  I call it The Sponge Principle.

Guard your steps: “Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm” – watch your step.  One of the worst ankle injuries I ever incurred happened when I wasn’t watching where I was planting my foot and I stepped awkwardly off a curb and nearly broke my ankle.  The world is full of curbs and potholes and ditches that can easily trip us up and Satan is always planting landmines in our path.  We need to pay careful attention to where we set our feet – make sure the way is firm and free of danger.

Guard your direction: “Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil” – keep going in the right direction.  How do we know for sure what is the right way?  God has given us a road map – the Bible and a personal Guide – the Holy Spirit.   By storing up God’s Word in our hearts (Psalm 119:11), meditating on the Scriptures (Psalm 19:14), continually, intentionally seeking God with all our heart (Jeremiah 29:13), keeping in step with the Spirit (Romans 8:5), and staying in community with fellow believers (Hebrews 10:25), we can stay on the good way.

Base security is a vital part of our military operations and the well-being of our nation.  Heart security is no less important to our lives; our faith, witness and ministry are at stake.  You and I need to post our guards and secure every access to our hearts and protect the “wellspring of our lives.”  Guard your heart well Beloved.