A Strong Foundation of Love and Peace

I began praying for my granddaughter before she was born and have prayed every day since. I pray for her health, protection, provision, and growth and I pray Ephesians 3:17-19 over her. “That Joy, 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 she may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” That part, “to know this love that surpasses knowledge” always puzzled me.  It brings to mind Philippians 4:7 that says that “the peace of God, which surpasses understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” How can you know something that surpasses knowledge and understanding? This is a beautiful expression in both verses and it means to take firm possession of something that has complete authority over you and gives you an assurance that cannot be overridden. Specifically, in the terminology for Philippians 4:7, it means to have a superior hold of the mind in reference to “alarm and agitating emotions.” So I am praying that the love of Christ would rule and reign over her. Yes, she is only 2 years old, but I’m praying a foundation for the rest of her life. And I’m partnering with God in “rooting and establishing” her in love so that one day when she is a little older, she will be able to grasp the immense love God has for her. Is there a more important job for a grandmother?

Beloved, the love and peace of Christ are available to you too – today – right in the midst of anxious, frustrating, heartbreaking circumstances. The key is in the verses that surround these two verses – about living in God’s grace, rejoicing in the Lord always, trusting in His presence, praying about everything with thanksgiving, and keeping your thoughts focused on the good stuff.

I encourage you with all my heart to sit with your Bible and a fresh cup of coffee and meditate on Philippians 4:4-9. Then “the God of peace will be with you” in ways you cannot understand, but you can certainly know and rest in.

Thankful People

The Philistines had captured the Ark of the Covenant, the one element of the Tabernacle that was God’s special dwelling place. David set out to bring the Ark home, and the people and their king were ecstatic with joy and gratitude. They celebrated with sacrifices and offerings to the LORD and joyful thanks. 1 Chronicles 16:41 says, “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.’” Did you catch that these priests were “chosen…to give thanks to the LORD”? Their sole responsibility was to lead the Israelites in songs and expressions of gratitude to the LORD who was again dwelling among His people.

You and I are chosen by God to be His royal priests. We are chosen to give thanks. We have been given the special calling of leading our families, churches, communities, and nation in gratitude to the God who created us, sustains us, provides for us, and, most importantly of all, saved and redeemed us and made us His dwelling place through His Holy Spirit. You and I are God’s priests , chosen to led the way in thanksgiving. Yes, even in 2020. Especially in 2020. As long as there’s breath in your body Beloved, you have a reason to give thanks.

All Tangled Up

tangled Christmas lights - a photo on Flickriver

It’s almost that time! Thanksgiving is only two days away and many people are already decorating for Christmas.  In this year from . . . well you know – lots of folks are making ready for the holidays early to lift their spirits and bring some much-needed Joy to their homes. You know what that means, don’t you? The annual untangling of the Christmas lights. How many hours have we spent trying to turn that snarl of wires and bulbs into a smooth strand? “Pull that end through this loop. No! THIS loop! Wait, the bulb is stuck. Why didn’t you put them away right last year?” How many times did we chunk them and go out and buy new lights?  More than I want to confess.

Tangled lights are frustrating.  Tangled lives are heartbreaking. You didn’t mean to get so deep into that sin, that relationship, that dark situation, that addiction, but here you are and you can’t figure out how to get free.  I know of a few people in the Bible that would understand. Like the man in Mark 5 who lived in the tombs in the Gerasenes. He was possed by multiple demons – so many that they called themselves “Legion.” The townspeople tried to chain him, but he broke free of them every time. Yet he could not free himself from the demons. Or a woman named Mary (probably) from Magdala who was also possessed by seven demons (Luke 8:2). Or an unnamed woman from Samaria who had been entangled in sin with multiple men (John 4). Or a little man named Zacchaeus who was tangled up in greed with the Roman rulers (Luke 19). Or a very religious man named Saul who was so caught up in self-righteousness that he set out to persecute Jesus’ followers (Acts 9). Jesus set each one of them free from the things that bound them.

Or if you need a more recent example, look at the one who is writing these words right now.  Oh, the chains that Christ has broken in my life! He has set me free from a life tangled up in sin, selfishness, depression, fear, self-hatred, unforgiveness, abuse, anxiety, foolishness, and so much more. Beloved, whatever you’ve gotten yourself tangled up in – God can unravel your mess. It’s why Jesus came. So that you might know the truth – that God loves you – and be set free (John 3:16, 8:32).

I’m Supposed to be Thankful for This?

See the source image

One of the most challenging verses in the Bible is 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” In some seasons of my life that is an easy verse to obey – things are good, everyone is healthy, bills are being paid, the pantry is full of food, and the tires on the car have plenty of tread. Then there are those days when that verse is a hard pill to swallow. The medical bills are stacked three inches high, the rent is late, the cupboards are bare, the kid is expelled from school, and the car needs a new oil pump. And I’m supposed to give thanks? The key to gratitude in those hard seasons is being thankful IN all things, not necessarily FOR all things. And the focus of our thankfulness is always God and His faithfulness and sovereignty.

I’m reminded of the story of Corrie and Betsy Ten Boom, the Dutch sisters who endured the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp for the crime of hiding Jews from the German Polizei. The building in which they were crammed was infested with fleas, which cause Corrie to complain. Her sister reminded her that they must “give thanks in everything,” which Corrie could not understand. But because of the fleas, the guards refused to go into their building and they were free from sexual assaults and also free to hold daily prayer and Bible study sessions with their fellow prisoners. The Bible is full of similar stories of God using the hard things to bring about good.

Despite our circumstances, we can be thankful for God’s presence, His faithfulness, and His sovereignty. I have lived through a lot of hard stuff – some really gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, soul-crushing things – but God was always there. He comforted, encouraged, provided, healed, protected, strengthened – and always brought me through. He never let me down. Never. Not one single time. Beloved, if you’re finding it hard to give thanks this year, may I gently remind you to turn your gaze from your circumstances to the God who is able to make even fleas a blessing. He is up to good in your life. In all things.

Painting: “The Thankful Poor” by Henry Ossawa Tanner

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/

 

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.