Chosen for Thanksgiving

“With them were Heman and Jeduthun and the rest of those chosen and designated by name to give thanks to the Lord, ‘for His love endures forever.’” 1 Chronicles 16:41

Today is Thanksgiving – and, prompted by the Spirit of God, I began to research the word “thank” in Scripture.  There are more than 130 verses in the Bible that speak of thanks, thanksgiving, thankfulness, etc.  Jesus often spoke to His Father saying “I give thanks…” Paul’s letters are filled with thanks, and I am convinced that his grateful heart was one of the biggest contributors to his joyfulness in spite of his circumstances.  And Paul had some mighty unpleasant, difficult, life-threatening circumstances.  But I believe Paul could be grateful because he knew who he was, and more importantly, he knew whose he was.

At least twice in his letters, Paul identified himself as “called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God” (Romans 1:1), and “called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” (1 Corinthians 1:1).  The word “called,” in its root meaning is “chosen.”  Paul knew that he had been chosen, and the One who chose him was Christ Jesus.  Did you know that you are also “chosen”?  I discovered at least seven verses in the New Testament that express exactly that.  My favorite is 1 Peter 2:9 which says: “Buy you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness and into His wonderful light” (emphasis added).  You and I are also chosen and called by the same Savior who called Paul.  We have been chosen to be God’s unique and special people – not by anything was are or have or do – but only by the mercy and grace of Him who chose us.

I am especially drawn today to our key verse – 1 Chronicles 16:14.  Let me set the scene for you.  The Ark of the Covenant, the one element of the Tabernacle that was God’s special dwelling place, had been captured by Israel’s enemy, the Philistines.  David set out to bring the Ark home, and the people and their king were ecstatic with joy and gratitude. David, the Psalmist and musician, crafted a beautiful Psalm of Thanks, which I encourage you to read in 1 Chronicles 16.  They celebrated with sacrifices and offering and much joyful thanks.  Now look again at our key verse.  Do you see that there were specific priests who were “chosen…to give thanks to the Lord”?  Their sole responsibility was to express gratitude to the Lord who was again dwelling among His people.  They led the Israelites in songs and exclamations of thanks.

You and I are chosen by God to be His royal priests.  We are chosen by the Lord to give thanks.  We have been given the special calling of leading our families, churches, communities and nation in gratitude to the Lord, the God who created us, sustains us, provides for us, and, most importantly of all, the One who saved and redeemed us.  We are God’s priests in this age, chosen to be thankful people.   Oh, hear the words of John in Revelation 17:14: “But the Lamb will overcome them because He is LORD of lords and KING of kings – and with Him will be His called, chosen and faithful followers.” Now that’s something to be thankful for!

 Holy Father, You have called me out of darkness and chosen me to be your royal priest.  Thank you for your wonderful mercy and grace.  You are the giver of “every good and perfect gift” (James 1:17), and I am forever grateful.  Amen.

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I Press On…

“One thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on…”  Philippians 3:13b-14a

One day, when my son was younger, we got in the car to run a few errands together.  My husband had driven the car the day before, and, as usual, had adjusted the mirrors.  So I reached up to give the rear-view mirror a tweak before putting the car in reverse.  My son asked me “What’s that for Mommy?”  I replied that it was to allow me to see what was behind me as we drove.  In his sweet, simple thinking he said, “You don’t need to know what’s behind you, just what’s in front.”   Isn’t it amazing when God gives little children such profound wisdom?  My son was echoing Paul’s words in our key verse.

Granted, on the road, we need to know what may be approaching from behind us, but on the journey of life, we often spend more time looking in the rear-view mirror that we do looking out ahead.  I have been guilty of that myself, but I am determined to apply Paul’s words to my life and look ahead rather than behind.

Paul’s emphasis in Philippians 3 is the futility of relying on past successes.  Paul had quite an impressive ancestral history, and had much room to boast about his personal success as a zealous and devout Jew.  In our culture the “self-made man” is highly regarded and even from childhood we are driven to succeed in education, sports, and relationships. As adults we are pulled into the relentless pursuit of success in our careers so we can have the biggest, the newest, the shiniest and the best.  For Paul, as for so many today, the mirror is filled with trophies, accolades, honors and wealth.

But you may be more like me, and the rear-view mirror is filled with dark clouds of pain, heartache, betrayal, grief, mistakes, and sin.  Life is full of struggles – I don’t believe anyone escapes difficulties these days.  Sometimes the pain is self-inflicted, sometimes the heartache comes at the hands of others.    A job loss, financial pressures, health problems, strained relationships, disappointments – just to name a few – can make life hard.  Perhaps your mirror is filled with a hard good-bye: the loss of a loved one, or the end of a marriage.  Maybe you’ve made some choices you regret and you are living with the consequences.  You may find yourself broken by a season of sinfulness.  Maybe not your own.

What do we do with all this?  We take the advice of my son and Paul.  We look ahead, not behind.  We look ahead and “fix our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2).  We set our focus on our Great High Priest and move forward.  We move ahead trusting that God will turn our sufferings into perseverance and character and finally hope (Romans 5:3-5). We leave the past in the hands of “Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will” (Ephesians 1:11) – “His good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2). We trust Him with it all, believing that what was intended to harm us, God intended for good, to accomplish His purposes (Genesis 50:20).

The Living Bible paraphrases the first part of our verse by saying “I am bringing all by energies to bear on this one thing.”  That is an excellent perspective, because living with past regrets weighs us down and drains our energy.   Here is one of the most important pieces of advice I’ve ever received.  “It’s done. You can’t change what has been, but you can affect what will be.”   You need to preserve your energy for the next phrase in our key verse: “straining toward what is ahead…” Paul is using a racing image here, picturing a runner stretching forward, pushing and accelerating through the finish line.   God intends for you to finish the race, and not only to finish but to win!   1 Corinthians 9:24 is Paul’s exhortation to “run in such a way as to get the prize.”   And what is the prize? “a crown that will last forever” (v. 25). A crown that we will cast before the throne of God, declaring him “worthy to receive glory and honor and power” (Revelation 4:10-11).

Do not allow your past – either success or failures or heartaches – to bog you down.  God has your life in His mighty and able hands.  He will not let one hard moment go to waste in the fulfillment of His plan for you – if you will entrust Him with it.   I keep coming back to one of my favorite verses, Psalm 13:8 which says “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me.”  The New King James reads “The Lord will perfect that which concerns me.”   God was not caught off-guard when you were hit with the hard things of this life.  He was not wringing His hands wondering how to bring about His purpose in light of my mistakes and sin.  God is still working in your life and mine, still moving toward His intended plan for you, still loving you with an unfailing and lavish love.  He is not finished with you.  He has such wonderful things in store for those who love and trust Him.   Listen to the Psalmist who sings: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.  He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with Him: (Psalm 126:6)

Put the past in your rear-view mirror and look straight ahead at the harvest that God will bring from your life.

Holy Father, I surrender my past to You, all my sin, all my heartache, all my sorrows and regrets – and all my successes too. I claim by faith Your promise that “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). Amen.

Why Are You Here?

“If I just touch His clothes, I will be healed.”  Mark 5:28

This beautiful story of the woman healed by touching Jesus’ garment has been one of my favorites.  Each time I read it I see something I had not seen before.  The Word of God is like that, because it is a Living Word.  The Word of God does not change, but my understanding matures, and God reveals new and deeper insights that perfectly address my changing life’s circumstance or need. May I share with you the things that God has shown me in this familiar, yet fresh Bible story? Please take a few minutes to read the account in Mark 5:25-34.  I’ll wait for you.

Now, look back at verse 24 – “A large crowd followed and pressed around him.” So many people were there that day, Jesus was a very popular figure at the time.  Why was this woman different from all the rest? The crowd was jostling, bumping and touching Jesus.  What was different about her touch?

Both questions can be answered by one word in verse 34: “faith.”  She came to Jesus with faith.

This woman had suffered for 12 years from a bleeding disorder that has left her not only impoverished, but also ostracized from everyone.  The Levitical law stated that a woman experiencing a discharge of blood was unclean, and anything she touched was unclean.  Any one she touched would also be unclean. (Lev. 15:19-30) Including her husband and children, her neighbors and friends, people in the marketplace, at the well; and heaven forbid if she thought she could join in the festivals and celebrations of her Jewish faith. Leviticus 15:31 gives us some understanding of her helpless and hopeless situation: “You must keep the Israelites separate from things that make them unclean, so they will not die in their uncleanness.”  For 12 long years she was shut out of every place where people might gather, so she would not contaminate anyone else.  She had spent all she had on doctors who could not cure her.  Look back at the Leviticus verse – even her death would be tainted, she would “die in [her] uncleanness.”

She came with a gaping need and the faith to believe that Jesus could meet that need. Look at Mark 5:28, “she thought ‘If I just touch His clothes, I will be healed.’” She did not say, “I might be healed,” she said “I will be healed.”  And her faith proved true.  She touched his clothing, and “immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering” (Mark 5:29).   Her faith had led her to Jesus and to healing.  This is faith that pleases Him. Faith that reaches out knowing that He is the answer to every need.

Of all the people touching and bumping and jostling Jesus, He knew somebody’s touch was different.  Somebody’s touch had activated His divine power.  He asked who that somebody was.  Mind you, Jesus knew who had touched Him, and He knew why.  But He wanted this woman to know that her touch had touched His heart.  And I believe he wanted the crowd to know that this woman’s humble faith had ignited His healing power.   I love Bill Bright’s comment: “God does not require you to have great faith.  You simply are to have faith in a great God.”

Now here is the something new I’ve been pondering – who am I in this scene?  Am I one of the many who have come to rub up against this “magic man” and hope that something rubs off on me?  Am I one of the crowd who came to “see the show?”  I wonder, am I following Jesus because He is the popular one of the day?  Why do you come to Jesus?  Because He has some wise words or teaching?  Because you admire His compassion and humanitarian work?  Maybe you follow Jesus because you want to be part of the crowd, after all it’s a good place to make connections.  Are you here to preserve your image as a “good Christian”? Am I in the crowd because I think someone will see my empty cup and put something in it?

In John’s Gospel, after Jesus had feed five thousand people, the crowds again gathered around Him.  Jesus made a bold statement: “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate the loaves and had your fill: (John 6:26).

Why, with so many people around Him, did only one woman experience Jesus in a powerful, life-changing, transforming way? I believe it is because she came with a humble heart, believing that Jesus was truly God and He alone had the power to change her life.  She had no other agenda but to experience His power.

Perhaps it’s time to ask the question: Why do we come to Jesus?   Because He is a good teacher and is kind to the downtrodden? Or because it’s what we’ve always done?  Do we come to Him for what we think we can gain from Him?

Oh that we would come just because He is.  Love. Mercy. Hope. Grace. Peace. Joy. Redemption. Eternity. God.

Lord Jesus, I confess that often I have come to You with my own selfish motives in mind, wanting to have my fill.  Please give me a pure and humble heart that seeks You because of who You are, not just for what you can do for me.  Amen.

Little by Little

“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 am leaving this morning with a group of ladies to a Christian Women’s Conference, with a powerful and godly speaker and a wonderful worship music.  Two days of Christian fellowship, singing, hearing the Word, and no kid or hubby.  I am looking forward to this like a thirsty man in a desert looks forward to a refreshing spring.  I have been blessed to attend many of these conferences over the years, but I confess I have not always gotten what I had hoped out of them.

For many years I approached every conference with the same thought, “This one will change me for good!”  I would go with my journal ready to write down some life-altering truth that would finally “fix” everything in me that was broken.  I knew I would come home so filled with the Spirit that my family, friends, co-workers, even my cat would notice the new me.  And I did hear powerful truths and receive wonderful messages from the Lord.  The praise and worship music would wash over me and cleanse so much of the bitterness and anxiety from my heart.

But I eventually had to come home and before too long, the “old me” would show her snarling face again.  What happened to my life-changing experience?  Can I go back and pick up that new spirit again?  It was the same with the many books I read – surely this book will have the answer to all my struggles and I will be changed when I close the cover.

I bet you can relate on some level.  Sunday after Sunday we go to church with the hope that the Pastor will say something today that will put all our broken pieces back in place.  There are those rare and blessed times that a word spoken or read does produce a life-changing effect, but for most of us, that is not the case.  And I think I am beginning to understand why.

Look back at our key verse and you will see that the transformation we seek is an ongoing work, it is a process, one that won’t be fully completed until we are face to face with the One who began the work.  Look at verse 9 where Paul prays “that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” Do you see the progression and growth in his words?  Again Paul says, “…that you may become blameless and pure,” (Phil. 2:15, emphasis added), and in Colossians 1:10 – “growing in the knowledge of God.”   Paul also said that “we are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory” (2 Cor. 3:18).  Being-an action word that denotes an ongoing process.

In our society that glorifies the instant, we struggle with those things that come at a slower pace.   God does not rush us through to spiritual maturity.  A tree that grows rapidly often has a weak root system that cannot anchor it during a storm.

In the time of Israel’s exodus from Egypt, God lead them into a land of promise and blessing, a land that was inhabited by strong, wicked people who were not keen on giving up their homes.  Exodus 23: 28-30 is the Lord’s promise to drive them out – but not in one fell swoop.  Listen to verse 30-“Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land.”  You see God knew that they would be overwhelmed by the task of settling the land, so He promised to open it up to them “little by little” as they became a stronger nation and could successfully take possession of it.

God has a wonderful possession for you, His child.  He has a legacy of spiritual maturity that He is building in your life and witness, but He will not rush you.  He has a plan, and a timeline for accomplishing that plan.  He desires to build you into a believer with “deeper roots” -roots that will enable you to stand against the storms of life.  He wants to make your life a beautiful offering to His glory.

Do not get discouraged because you are not “there yet,” or because you struggle in your walk.  God sees your heart. He knows you desire to live a victorious Christian life; and the truth is, in His eyes “you are more than a conqueror through Him who loves you” (Rom. 8:37, adapted).

 Holy Father, help me, day by day, to “be transformed by the renewing of my mind” (Rom. 12:2) and to allow you to work in me to bring me to maturity; a strong tree with deep roots in You.  Amen