Devotional: A Resolution that Works

New-Years-Resolutions

“And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.”—1 Thessalonians 2:13

We’re over half way through the first month of the year, and I know many of you started off eagerly and with great intentions to do a lot of things. Exercise. Eat right. Follow a “read the Bible in a year” program, or something similar to help you grow spiritually. Every year, I know I say to myself, this is the year to get it right.

Remember, whatever plans and resolution you’ve made, God is at work in you. You can hinder His work, or receive it and let Him shape your present and future. There is a key to letting God work, and to receiving the blessings that go with the process.

If you do anything, if you stick with any resolution, make God’s Word the priority—and with the right motives.

When I was young, I studied the word zealously, approaching the Bible with a list of questions, determined to find answers. Nothing wrong with that, except that often my motives were skewed by my desire to dazzle others with my vast Bible knowledge. But as I matured, the Word worked into my life. I began to realize the depth, the riches, the power God’s Word has in my life. I see something new every time I read even familiar passages and long told stories. Now, I can honestly say, that I don’t know as much now as I thought I did 20 years ago.

God’s Word is more than facts and doctrine. It is living, piercing and has the ability to work in our lives in ways we cannot even fathom.

One philosophy of life depicts time as linear. A straight line from the past to the future. Since the past is gone, the future unknowable, the emphasis becomes the present. All that matters is now.

But for the Hebrew culture, in which God’s Word was inspired, life is a circle. The Scripture are multi-layered. The Bible and their recorded histories take meticulous care to recount events, records, and genealogies. The past and its lessons are a window to our future. When you first learn a truth, it is only on one level. Each time we return to that lesson, in life or in history, we gain a new level of understanding and enlightenment. We never fully arrive—we just keep going deeper and higher and gaining new understanding.

Allow God’s Word into your life this year on a consistent basis. It will change you, inspire you, and lead you into greater understanding of your God, of yourself, and of your world. And then, you will find that God has a plan for your life that supersedes all of our best-intentioned resolutions!

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” —Hebrews 4:12

 

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The Boldness of the Lion and the Lamb

peace-lion-and-lamb-joyce-gibson

A Lion. A Lamb.

Strong, fierce, bold. Meek, gentle, sacrificial.

The Lion and the Lamb have long been paired in literature and history. The juxtaposition of the powerful majesty of the King of Beasts and the gentle helplessness of the lamb create a longing, an almost mythical dream and hope for the two to live in harmony, and in so doing, bring peace to the world.

But who or what do they really represent?

I became fascinated with the idea of the Lion and the Lamb when the Lord spoke to me about 2015. Every year He gives me a word that will help guide and shape my life and ministry. You might know that last year’s word was TRUST. This year, He gave me BOLD and the image of a lion filled my mind. I was seeing Aslan, the MGM Lion, the constellation Leo the Lion and other magnificent lions in literature. But most of all, I envisioned the great Lion of God, the Lion of Judah, the Savior of the world, Jesus the Messiah. I pictured the Lion who graces the flag of Jerusalem.

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I was excited. Bold! Like a lion. God’s lion! What better way to start the year?

But before I could embark on the great, bold adventure of 2015, I needed to remember: Before we know Jesus as a Lion, we need to know Him as the Lamb.

The Lamb of God Revealed

The Lamb was born a gentle, helpless baby in Bethlehem, greeted by shepherds and angels. Thirty years later He was publicly acknowledged by John the Baptist who declared, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

The mystery of the Lamb turned Lion was foretold and rehearsed centuries before that day when God ordained seven feasts to be celebrated by the Jewish people. The book of Leviticus doesn’t seem like a likely place to find a deep mystery, but there it is: And the Lord spoke to Moses: ‘The feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts’” (Leviticus 23:1-2).

Then the Lord gave Moses a list of seven feasts: Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits, Pentecost, Trumpets, Atonement, and Tabernacles. All the feasts hold the mystery of the Lion and the Lamb, the mystery of our future, and the story of the world’s redemption.

The first four Spring Feasts celebrate the Lamb and are about forgiveness, deliverance, and healing.

Jesus came the first time as the Lamb of God. His entire mission culminated with His final journey to Jerusalem on Passover, where the sacrifice would take place.

His triumphant entry on Palm Sunday coincided with Nisan 10 on the Hebrew calendar, the day the Passover lamb was chosen. Whose job was it to “seize” a lamb for Passover? The priests. Who came to seize Jesus from the Garden of Gethsemane? The local priests.

The chosen lamb was inspected; Jesus was also tested, put on trial. They found no deceit. He was pure and spotless, without blemish. He qualified.

He was falsely accused and “treated harshly and afflicted, but He did not even open his mouth. Like a lamb led to the slaughtering block, like a sheep silent before her shearers, He did not even open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). He was led to the altar (the Cross), pierced and slain, His blood poured out for the sins of the world.

Jesus was crucified on Passover; He was buried on the Feast of Unleavened Bread; He resurrected on the Feast of First Fruits, and fifty days later, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the first believers on the Feast of Pentecost. Now the story of healing, redemption, and reconciliation with God is revealed to the world.

The Lamb of God fulfilled His mission. While we, His followers, take the message to the world, we wait for the final act of the mystery, foretold in the Fall Feasts: The Lord’s return.

The Revelation of the Lion

Jesus came as a Lamb, but He will return as a Lion! The entire theme of the Fall Feasts is the revelation of the Lion.

The Feast of Trumpets, Yom Kippur (Atonement), and Tabernacles, known as “Days of Awe,” unveil the majesty of God and the coming of His Kingdom.

The Feast of Trumpets proclaims the crowning of the King, heralded by trumpets. The Feast of Atonement brings us before the Lord with confession and repentance. Tabernacles rejoices that God will dwell with His beloved Creation in the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Bible tells us that in the last days men will be “lovers of themselves…lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold” (2 Timothy 3; Matthew 24:12). The Lamb came to make peace and sacrifice for those sins. But the Lion brings divine judgment (see Revelation 9:8). The Lion is bold and powerful, and ready to right the wrongs of the world.

Two things struck me as I began to appreciate the wonder of God giving me BOLD for my word of the year.

First, in the Scriptures and in the story of the Feasts, the Lord gives us a specific location for the return of the Messiah. Jerusalem!

Writing of that day, Zechariah prophesied, “In that day the Lord will defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem…I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced” (Zechariah 12: 8-10).

God never said He was finished with Israel. When the disciples asked Him, “Will you at this time restore your kingdom to Israel?” He didn’t say there would be no Israel. He said, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons” (Acts 1:6-7).

There needs to be a Jerusalem to fulfill the prophecy. Which is why He brought about the restoration of Israel in 1948 and of Jerusalem in 1967 in the miraculous Six-Day War (both Sabbath or “Shemitah” years, which you can read about HERE).

Second, we are to live as the children of the Lion. Bold, not self–centered, arrogant, or self-righteous. Think of the deep sorrow in the heart of the apostle John. During His revelation of Heaven He “wept and wept” because no one was worthy to open the scrolls that would bring judgment and the Kingdom. No one—until he was told, “Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals.”

The Lion of Judah had come. But the next line completes the picture: “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain” (Revelation 5: 1-6). The Lion and the Lamb, fulfilled in the Messiah Jesus to bring hope and redemption to the world.

I contemplated what this means to us personally. How do we live this truth? I thought of the apostles. They were new to all of this. They were untrained and under constant threat from authorities. But look at what happened after they spoke to a gathering of people, priests, rulers, elders, and scribes: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus.”

As they faced opposition, they learned that their strength would always come from “being with Jesus” through His Spirit: “’Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word’…After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly” (see Acts chapter 4).

We will be discouraged. We will sometimes face threats and fear. The enemy wants to silence us, intimidate us, tell us not to make waves.

But Jesus showed us the way. A sacrificial Lamb and a triumphant Lion.

God has orchestrated a wonderful plan for His beloved Creation. He has told a story of sacrifice and forgiveness, of right overcoming wrong, of love triumphing. He has shown us we can lay down our lives like the Lamb. And we can walk in the victory and power of the Lion. A story we can step into—with boldness!

 

 

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Can We Slow Down During this Season?

 

praying hands with candle

“Prepare the way for the Lord.” Isaiah 40: 3, Mark 1:3

Christmas stirs emotions and memories in people—I wish they were all good, but I know that for many their memories and their feelings are hard. For most of us it is a busy season, both happy and difficult

A missionary friend of mine celebrates advent in a different way than most of us. She was connected to an Anglican convent in England for several years, and writes that their advent season begins “in sharp contrast to the Christmas carols blaring in lavishly decorated malls and swarming shoppers who buzz about in an altered state. Advent began today with a deliberate slowing down and silence…Advent is about stripping down to the essentials in preparation for Christ’s coming, taking away everything that distracts.”

Their decorations and celebrations don’t begin until Christmas Eve.  “Advent is a time for marveling at inner mysteries, a time for watching in awed silence, and a time for getting in touch with our deepest longings for the Lord. Silencing the externals and going deeper into the stillness allows you to taste the riches of the incarnation.  And what appears to be deprivation creates an expectation and space in one’s soul to contain more Christmas joy when the 24th of December arrives.”1

I like that. While we can’t all physically find a place apart from our busy lives, I pray that we find time in our hearts and minds to anticipate with excitement and expectation what God will do in our lives in during this season. And to strip down mentally to the essentials. To find comfort and peace in the knowledge that God loves us.

If you are worried about not having enough money or time or energy to “do Christmas right,” then I pray you will realize that His riches are abundant in love, joy, and peace, and His grace is always sufficient. And His love, flowing out of you, will provide so many blessings to others, that no matter what your means, you will “do Christmas right.”

May your deepest longings for the Lord be met this advent season.

 

  1. Kathy Rogers, former Maranatha missionary to England.
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The One Thing Needed This Season

 

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“Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed…”—Luke 10:41-42

It’s a busy time. We hustle from store to store, event to event, juggling holiday expectations and hopes of joy. A familiar Bible story (not the traditional Christmas one) holds a deep lesson for this season:

Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem to die. As He traveled about the country, He stopped in Bethany to visit two sisters, Mary and Martha. Before the journey’s end, He would stop many more times to teach and minister, but here, with these good friends, He stopped for rest and refreshment. The inner battle that threatened to consume Him intensified daily as He prepared to go to the cross.

Martha, eager and excited, celebrated His visit by offering the best her household could afford. She fussed about the kitchen, banging pots and pans, stoking the fires, dishing up food, pouring wine, determined to prepare Jesus the best meal He would ever eat. Wouldn’t most of us do that?

While Martha scurried about, her sister Mary simply sat down at Jesus’ feet and listened to Him talk. Eventually, Martha stopped long enough to cry, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

We usually look at this story from the point of view of Mary and Martha’s needs. But Jesus had a need as well: peace and quiet. With the cross before Him and turmoil brewing inside Him, He needed to draw strength from loving friends. He had turned to Bethany to find an oasis. Outside, hundreds, even thousands of people could gather into a crowd with just one miracle from His hands. Martha’s home could be the calm before the coming storm — which is what Mary gave Him, and Martha, despite her good intentions, did not.

“One thing is needed,” Jesus said. Mary tuned into the one thing Jesus needed, and ultimately, what she needed as well.

With all our efforts and all the best of intentions, we can end up doing the right things but doing them our way. We like to do good our way, to be kind our way, to be Christian our way. But if our way doesn’t turn out to be the best way, we get offended and think we’re not appreciated by God and by others.

True communion and fellowship requires that first we listen to others, attempting to hear what is really being communicated—and forget ourselves, as we become lost in another’s needs. Everybody has something to say. Everyone wants to be heard. The problem is, nobody is listening.

Mary listened and perceived that all that Jesus wanted was for her— and her sister— to draw as near to Him as possible. Jesus tried to stop Martha, to slow her down, to interrupt her busyness as He called out to her, “Martha, Martha…only one thing is needed.”

How many of us are missing that “one thing,” that most important thing, this season?

 

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A Day to Remember

praythankrememberveteransday01Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.—John 15:13

Today we stop to thank God for the men and women who have served our country, many giving their own lives for our freedom and safety. In our fast paced world, we need moments to stop and think, and remember what’s important. Milestones in our lives, times when God answered prayers, people who impacted us, people who gave themselves for us. If we don’t take the time to remember, we can easily fall into despair when things are hard, and forget who God is and how much He loves us. We can forget the people He has given us to bless our lives – people we know, as well as strangers who lay down their lives for the good of us all.

Psalm 42 is a classic example of depression, disappointment, and heartache being helped by remembering. First the psalmist says, “O my God, my soul is downcast within me.” Read the whole psalm and you’ll see that this was not just a mild case of the blues, but the story of a man drowning in sorrow, weeping in the night, despairing of life. “O my God, my soul is downcast within me; THEREFORE I WILL REMEMBER YOU…” he says. He stops to remember God’s goodness and mercy. He begins to see light in the darkness. He remembers.

Veteran’s Day is a day to remember those who serve us, those whom God provided to give us freedom. A day to help us thank God for our blessings, and to never forget. A day for us to tell our children about the sacrifices of others, and the goodness of the Lord.

Thank the Lord for the men and women willing to endure war and hardship to keep us free.

 

 

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