The Alpha and the Omega

stroke-of-midnight“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Revelation 22:13).

One year comes to a close and another year dawns.  What did the year hold for you?  The media love to give recaps of the previous year, who did this, who said that, who got married (and divorced).  Who gave birth and who died?  What was the top movie of the year?  Who was the best (and worst) dressed? What sports team won it all?  Likewise we often take personal stock of the year – how we faired financially and in our relationships, what big life events occurred in the past twelve months and how it went in our jobs.  When I did my own year-in-review I could sum it all up in one word: surprise!  This year was full of the unexpected as my family made a major move; after nearly 20 years in Florida, we end the year back in our home state of Alabama.  God led us to a great place to live and a wonderful church home.  The blessings of our new home also meant saying goodbye to dear and precious people and ministries that I loved.  Life often offers us a little bitter with the sweet.  We sit on the cusp of the New Year with a sense of excitement as we look ahead to what God will do.

The thought always strikes me at the end of each year: I had no clue on January 1 what the year would hold, but God knew everything thing that would occur in the next 365 days.  And as the next year begins, He is equally aware of how it will unfold.  He knows every joy and sorrow, every good thing and every not-so-good thing.  He knows the people that I will meet, and the places this year will take me.   He knows the words I will write on this blog and every person who will read them.  And He knows the mistakes I will make and how He will work them together in my life to accomplish His good plan and purpose for me.  How can I be so confident?  Because Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega.

If you are not familiar with those words, Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet and Omega is the last, and they are used to express completeness from beginning to end—much as we say “from A to Z.”  Three times in Revelation Jesus declares, “I am the Alpha and the Omega” and each time He adds a little more to His self-proclamation.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega” (1:8).

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End” (21:6).

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (22:13).

Because He is the Alpha and the Omega, Jesus knows what the year will hold; He sees the beginning of the year and the end and everything in between.   He is the Beginning of time (Genesis 1:14) and the End of time; because He is eternal, He is timeless (1 Peter 1:11).

Jesus is the Beginning and the End of the universe.  He is the origin of the heavens and the earth and all life—including human beings (Genesis 1-2).    He called the light to dawn (Genesis 1:3) and He will extinguish it and replace it with Himself (Revelation 21:23). He created the universe and will bring it to a close (Revelation 21:1).  He is the Beginning of all righteousness and the end of all evil (Matthew 25:46).

Jesus is the First and the Last in power and authority over all existence.  He is the Son of God (Matthew 3:17). He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16). He is exalted to the highest place, His name is above every name; the day is soon coming when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:9-10)!

These are high and exalted expressions of Jesus, yet He is also the Alpha and the Omega of your life and mine.  He is Beginning and the End of your day—He is there with you when you sip your coffee in the morning and when you lay your head down at night and at every hour in between; He continues to watch over you through the night.  He is the First and the Last over your life—He was there when you drew your first breath, and He will walk with you into heaven when you draw your last, and He will never leave your side all the days of your life.

We do not know what the coming year will bring, what adventures and challenges, hellos and goodbyes, joys and sorrows.  But we can greet the coming year confident that the Alpha and Omega is already there.  I invite you to begin the New Year with words of this beautiful old hymn:

I don’t worry o’er the future

For I know what Jesus said

And today I’ll walk beside Him

For He knows what is ahead

Many things about tomorrow

I don’t seem to understand;

But I know who holds tomorrow

and I know who holds my hand.[1]

Precious Lord Jesus, another year ends and a new one begins, I can’t imagine what the next year holds, but I will walk into it holding Your hand and trusting you every day.  Amen.

[1] I Know Who Holds Tomorrow – words and music by Ira F. Stanphill, February 14, 1914—December 30, 1993

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Advent 2015 – Day 26 – Wondrous Love

Advent candles 4

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

There is a hymn that I think beautifully captures the purest essence of Christmas:

 

 

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!

What wondrous love is this, O my soul!

What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss

To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul

To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.[1]

This hymn is the gospel message; the Christmas and Easter stories rolled into one glorious proclamation of wonderful love.  God saw mankind, enslaved to the curse of sin, and chose to bear the cost to set His creation free.  What kind of love would die that you and I might live? Jesus told us in John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this that he lay down his life for his friends.”  The amazing truth of His love is that we “were alienated from God and were [His] enemies” (Colossians 1:21).  And yet, Jesus lay down His life for us anyway.  This is greater love.

We were hopelessly lost in our sin, and we desperately needed a Savior.  But no savior could be found on earth, because only divine blood could cover the sins of all humanity.  But God is eternal, and He cannot die.  So the Son of God became a man in order to shed His divine blood from human veins.  Jesus the man was born to die.  This is divine love.

God loved you before you were ever born.  In fact, God loved you from the creation of the world.  How do I know this? Revelation 13:8 says “the Lamb (Jesus) was slain from the creation of the world.” Why was He slain?  To redeem His beloved creation.  To redeem you, because He loves you.  This is eternal love.

God loves you perfectly—but not because you are perfect.  You and I are far from perfect, but God’s love for us is never-failing, never-ending, flawless and more certain than the earth itself.  He says, “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfairly love for you will not be shaken” (Isaiah 54:10). This is perfect love.

This is the message of Christmas: that God’s heart would be so tender toward mankind that He would give His own Son to save us, even though we turn away from Him.  Only love could make such a sacrifice.

What wondrous love is this? It is a greater love. A divine love. An eternal love.  A perfect love.  This love is Jesus.

To all my dear Deeper Roots friends:  I wish you the merriest of Christmases and all God’s favor and blessing in the coming year.

[1] Words: American Folk Hymn; Music: William Walker’s Southern Harmony, 1835; arr. William J. Reynolds, 1920-2009.

Advent 2015 – Day 25 – The Debt of Love

Advent candles 4Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another” (Romans 13:8).

It is such a joy as a parent to watch our children on Christmas morning opening their gifts with great excitement.  They squeal with delight and shout, “It’s just what I wanted!”  When we see their happiness, we decide it was worth whatever it took to get them these special gifts.  Until January, when the credit card bill comes in, then our joy is replaced with groans of “Why did I spend so much money?”  Financial experts estimate Americans will spend on average $600 to $900 this Christmas season, and the majority of shoppers will use credit for their purchases and “pay the piper” for months afterward.

The apostle Paul says that we should only have one debt on our balance sheet: “the continuing debt to love one another.”  Financial planners can help you devise a plan to pay off your credit debt, but Paul says that love for one another is a “continuing debt,” that can never be finished.  It is a life-long obligation.  Yes, you read that right—love, as Paul sees it in the context—is an obligation.  How is that so?  Look at verse 12 – “Love is the fulfillment of the law.”  He is drawing from Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 22:37-40 where the Lord says that “All the law and the prophets hang on [the command to love]. Loving God and loving others encompasses every law and commandment in the Old and New Testaments.

Love is more than a “warm fuzzy feeling,” love is a choice we make every day. 1 Corinthians 13 offers us a practical example of choosing to love. You may be very familiar with it, but I want to challenge you to read this passage a little differently. Instead of the word “love,” put your own name in the verse and read it aloud:

_______________ is patient, _____________ is kind. ____________ does not envy, ______________does not boast, _______________ is not proud. ______________ is not rude, ______________ is not self-seeking, _______________ is not easily angered. ______________ keeps no record of wrongs. ______________ does not delight in evil, but ______________ rejoices with the truth. _____________ always protects, _______________ always trusts, _____________ always hopes, _______________ always perseveres (v. 4-7).

So how did you do? I don’t know about you but I started to squirm at “does not envy.”

Love doesn’t require any money, but it is costly. It will cost you time and attention and patience and ego, but it brings amazing dividends! Every day you and I have the opportunity to share the love of God in this world. When we are patient, kind, humble, considerate, forgiving, honest and compassionate we are making installments on our never-ending obligation to love. What would your home, your workplace, your church and community look like if you followed Paul’s payment plan?

Advent 2015 – Day 24 – Love Makes Room

Advent candles 4“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.  She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:6-7).

I had lunch last week with a new friend from our new church in our new hometown.  She is a busy lady, involved in many different ministries in the church in addition to responsibilities in her husband’s company and raising her children.  But she graciously made room in her life for me.  She carved out a couple of hours to spend with the newbie and make me feel welcomed. It was a delightful visit over a couple of hamburgers.

She and I share many things in common, a love for women’s ministry and the Bible, and one in particular: a love for mentoring young men and women.  She told me about a young woman whom they came to love and even open their home and family to while she was in the area.  I shared with her about my family’s season of serving in college ministry.  We came to love so many of those precious students, their feet were often under my kitchen table.  They were—and are—dear to us and many still call us “Mom and Dad.”  Through that time, I came to understand Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians: “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us” (2:8). Like Paul, we made room for others out of love.

Love opens doors to the lonely.  Love puts one more plate on the table.  Love slides over to share the seat with a weary soul.  Love sleeps on the couch so the visitor can have the bed.  Love opens the circle of friendship to add one more person.  Love doesn’t shut others out; love welcomes people in.

In the town of Bethlehem some two-thousand years ago, a baby was born in a dark, damp, smelly stable—little more than a cave hewn out of a hillside—because there was no room for his little family in the inn.  They were turned away because there was no love there.  Now—think about what Jesus told His disciples just before His death: “In my Father’s house are many rooms . . . I am going there to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2). Why?

Because love makes room.

Advent 2015 – Day 23 – How Much Do You Love Me God?

Advent candles 4“I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17-19.

When I am being a little lazy and I want something to drink, I’ll ask my husband “How much do you love me?”  He will answer “With all my heart.”  Then he’ll ask, “What do you want?”  I’m really not trying to “measure” his affection, besides, there’s no tape measure long enough to gauge love.

That is what Paul is trying to convey in our key verse.  God’s love is truly immeasurable.  Paul is not trying to put parameters around God’s love, but rather to express the immenseness of it.  He is trying to describe the love of God with dimensions that will hopefully help us better understand its vastness.

How high is the love of God?  Psalm 103:11 says, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him.”  Man may have climbed to great heights through space exploration, but we have yet to pierce the highest heavens.  God’s love exceeds heights man can never reach.

How long is the love of God? Jeremiah 31:3 says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” God loved us before time began, and He will continue to love us throughout all eternity.  His love for you and me will never end.

How deep is the love of God? Psalm 86:13 says, “For great is Your love toward me; you have delivered me from the depths of the grave.”  Our greatest enemy is death, an enemy we ourselves have no hope of defeating.  But “Jesus Christ, being in very nature God…made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness…humbled Himself…to death” (Philippians 2:6-8, sel.)  Jesus Christ stepped from the glory of heaven, and humbled Himself all the way to the depths of the grave for you and me.

How wide is the love of God?  John records the death of Jesus: “Carrying His own cross, He went to the place of the Skull.  Here they crucified Him” (John 19:17-18) Jesus willingly stretched His arms out to their full span, allowed His hands to be cruelly nailed to the cross and gave His life to save you and me.

Unlike man’s love, God’s love is not an emotion.  It is His very essence.  You cannot be good enough to make God love you more.  You cannot be so bad that God will love you less.  God loves you because love is who God is.  You will never be able to measure the love of God, but you can trust it and rest in it and share it with others.  There is more than enough to go around.

Advent 2015 – Day 22 – What Christmas is All About

Advent candles 4“God is love” (1 John 4:8).

It is a scene from one of the most beloved Christmas programs ever made.  A bewildered Charlie Brown cries out, “Isn’t there someone who knows what Christmas is all about?”  I always get goosebumps when Linus walks to center stage, says “Lights please,” and recites the account of Jesus’ birth from Luke 2.

And there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them! And they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not! For, behold, I bring you tidings o great joy, which shall be to all my people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ, the Lord. 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, and good will toward men” (vs. 8-14).

It seems to be a holy moment in the middle of a simple animated television show.   For fifty years the world has heard the Christmas story through a blanket-carrying theologian.

As much as I love “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and Linus’ message, I’ve always thought there is an even better verse that he could have chosen to explain what Christmas is all about.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Christmas is all about the love of God that send His Son to earth as a baby who would grow up to die on a Roman Cross for the sins of the world.  Linus recounted the events around the Christmas story, but the heart of Christmas is a loving Heavenly Father who gave the very best He had to redeem a lost world.

The blessed Christmas story is about a manger and a star and shepherds and angels.  It is about a young mother and father with their newborn son in a stable.  But the story isn’t complete until the baby in the manger is the Savior on the cross.  Because the story of Christmas is a story of love.

Advent 2015 – Day 21 – Glorious Joy!

 adventcandlesweek3“Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even thought you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8)

Faith and joy are links in a golden chain that binds us to Jesus.  Because we believe, we have joy.  Because we have joy, we believe.   Peter tells us that our belief is rewarded with “an inexpressible and glorious joy.”  That means we have a joy that cannot be described with mere human words.  But that doesn’t mean that we don’t express it.  It is evident in our words and attitudes, and especially in our interactions with others.  It is joy spoken without words.  But it gets even better . . .

Peter also describes it as a “glorious joy.”  The Greek word for glory is doxa, and it describes the awesome light that radiates from God’s presence.  The word joy comes from the root word chara which speaks of greeting someone with delight.   Now, go with me to one of the Messianic verses from the Old Testament: Isaiah 9:2 “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” Jesus is “the true light that gives light to every man” (John 1:9).  His is a light that darkness cannot overcome (v. 5).  Oh, this is so incredible!  Because of the faith we have in Jesus, we now bring the light—the glorious light—of Christ into this dark world!  We greet the world with joy and shine the light of the glory of the Son of God that cannot be overcome!  You and I are ambassadors of light and joy!

And all we have to do is believe.

Advent 2015 – Day 20 – Joy, Joy Joy!

adventcandlesweek3“I have told you this so that my joy may be in your and that your joy may be complete” John 15:11

There was a little chorus I remember singing when I was a child,

I’ve got the joy, joy, joy,

down in my heart, (where?)

down in my heart, (where?)

down in my heart,

I’ve got the joy, joy, joy,

down in my heart, (where?)

down in my heart to stay.[1]

Did you just sing that in your head? 🙂

Isn’t it amazing how those simple songs can have such powerful truth to them?   This little chorus beautifully expresses our key verse.  The joy that Jesus promised is the joy that lives “down in my heart to stay.”  It is an unshakable, unbreakable, immovable joy.

Joy is different from happiness.  Happiness is often conditional.  I am happy that my football team won the game.  I am happy because I found the perfect shoes for my new dress.  I am happy because my son offered to clean up the kitchen tonight.  But what happens to that happiness when the team loses the next week, a heel breaks on my perfect shoes and I wake up to a messy kitchen after my son’s midnight refrigerator raid?  Happiness depends on all the right things falling into place.

The joy of the Lord, on the other hand, is constant and consistent, because it is based on the character and the faithfulness of God.  It is a steady, unwavering, assurance that trusts in the God of creation who has promised us his constant and consistent love.  Joy that comes from Jesus sits at the beside and holds the hand of your loved one as they slip away.  It rocks your child to sleep night after night in the pediatric cancer ward.  It walks with you into the prison to visit your son every Sunday afternoon.  It faces the hard things of life with hope and peace because it is joy with “staying power”.

Do you have this joy?  Perhaps the better question is: do you have Jesus?  If not, I invite you today to find joy in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  This world may give you happiness in the moment, but only Jesus offers “Joy unspeakable and full of glory”.[2]

[1] George Willis Cooke (23 April 1848 – 30 April 1923).

[2] Barney E Warren (20 February 1867 – 21 April 1951).

Advent 2015 – Day 19 – My Testimony – From Darkness to Joy

adventcandlesweek3“You turned my wailing to dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent” Psalm 30:11-12

Painters often use dark colors to emphasis lighter tones in a scene, allowing the contrast to draw our eye to the most important part of the painting.  A writer uses crisis and conflict to build tension in a story; when the resolution comes the reader experiences joy and relief.  At times our heavenly Father uses dark tones as He paints the portrait of our lives.  This is my story.  This is how God took me from wailing to dancing and from sackcloth to joy.

Like most of us, I’ve had “blue days” when my heart and mind were in a low place, but they usually came and went and I rode them out like waves at the beach.  But when a tsunami of anxiety and depression hit me and knocked me off my feet, there was no riding it out; this was unlike anything I’d ever experienced.  The constant bombardment of hopelessness, anxiety, and despair never left me.  Almost daily, I battled thoughts of ending my life to stop the mental torment.  There was nothing I could do to help myself. There was no shaking it off and no bootstraps to pull myself up by—and even if there were, I didn’t have the strength to grab hold of them.

So how did I go from hopelessness to standing here with the sun shining on my face; to once again pursue my dreams and find joy in my life?  Only God.  “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand” (Psalm 40:2).  I was indeed in a deep and horrible pit, but the Lord rescued me.  He spoke tenderly to my heart from His Word. He listened as I poured out all my emotions to Him. Often I simply sat quietly in His presence, His love and compassion enveloping me.  Slowly but surely, light began to dawn in the darkness and joy took root in my heart like a tiny seed stretching itself toward the sun.

Why am I letting you see this side of my life?  Because someone is struggling today just as I struggled then.  Someone is in a deep, dark pit of despair, on the verge of giving up.  I want you to know beloved, there is hope and joy for you—because God is for you.  He rescued me and He is able and willing to rescue you, because He loves you.    My prayer today is that you will receive God’s healing love and experience His joy this Christmas.  Please cry out to God – right now – and receive His love.  I am living proof that God can turn your darkness in to joy.

Advent 2015 – Day 18 – The Secret to Finding Joy

adventcandlesweek3“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor like yourself.’”  Matthew 22:37-39

What is the secret to finding joy?  The answer is in the word itself.

JJesus

OOthers

YYourself

It is the perfect accompaniment to Matthew 22:37-39 and it is the truest path to real joy.

To love God is the highest joy we can have.  To love Him with all your heart and soul and mind is to love Him with your entire being.  The heart—kardia—is the seat of emotional thinking, it is the place from which our truest self emanates.  When the Bible expresses the character of a person it describes the condition of his heart: “His heart was righteous; His heart was evil.”  The mind—duaboia—is the seat of conscious thinking, where we process information, establish our understanding, and, most telling of all—make choices.  When we say “My heart is set on” a certain thing, what we are really saying is “I’ve made a choice and directed my heart toward this thing.”  The mind and heart are inter-connected.  When we talk about our soul—our psyche—we are speaking of the part of us that is immaterial and eternal – the part that God placed in us when He made us in His image.  Interestingly, the root word for soul is psycho, which means to grow cold.  A healthy psyche is a soul that burns with a passionate love for God.

As we love God in this all-consuming way, we cannot help but love others.  Such love overflows from our heart and touches others around us, our families, coworkers, friends, even people you don’t even know can be touched by the love that springs from a heart in love with God.  You won’t have to force yourself to love them, it is a natural response when God is the greatest love of your life.

The Lord doesn’t want you to neglect love for yourself.  God loves you, that’s reason enough to love and care for yourself.  Be kind to the one that Jesus loves.  Be kind to you.

Joy is not hard to find, it is as simple as loving—Jesus—Others—and Yourself.