Tag Archives: Jesus

my first fast

Growing up, my family, not to mention the church I was raised in, paid little attention to giving things up during the season of Lent or fasting, for that matter. This year, I’ll be fasting from an over-abundance of social media and enternmainment. Now. I don’t being going cold turkey. Let me explain.

I’m on the phone and the computer all day at the office. What excuse do I have to continue to be on it, surfing the net, filling time with mindless videos on YouTube or Netflix, when I could be spending that time with God instead? None. That’s just it.

With that being said, I’m taking a sporadic hiatus.

  • Between 4 PM and 8 AM on any given day (basically overnight), my goal is to not be finding myself in the mist of said mindless internet usage. That means no Facebook. No Twitter. No surfing the web unless it’s an absolute need — paying bills, finding a yellow bridesmaid’s dress for a summer wedding, a face-time date I already had scheduled with a friend, blogging (necessary blogging), renewing books online, etc.
  • One night a week, I’m allowing myself to catch up on shows that I enjoy watching (not to be mindlessly lost, but to watch them before they expire…unless I’ve caught up by now). This one also depends on my internet accessibility. It’s pretty sketchy where I live and if I can’t connect, I won’t be watching anything.
  • One afternoon each week — a Saturday or Sunday when I don’t have plans — I will allow myself to watch ONE faith-message based movie: i.e. October Baby, Ultimate Gift, Ultimate Life, Courageous, etc.
  • One night a week, I will allow myself to go out, alone – date night with Jesus. Doesn’t matter what it is — visiting a coffee shop with my Bible and journal in two, going out for dinner somewhere with the same items, dressing up (who says I can’t), going for a long walk or a hike even. I’ve done this before and I highly recommend it…to anyone, not just us awesome single ladies.
  • All that time I used to or would normally spend in front of the computer or TV, I’ll be spending focused on Jesus. Whether it be getting out into nature and going for a walk weather finally warms up (it is March after all), reading his Word (my Bible), journaling, prayer, reading books about Christian living, grace and faith in God, writing — maybe I’ll work on that novel, reading inspirational fiction (something with God at its center) or volunteering.
  • I will still be blogging, but only between the hours of 8 AM and 5 PM and only once or twice during those given days. I may share an article or post a tweet or status update during that time. I will not be “checking in” anywhere outside of those hours. I do have limited access to social media and email at the office and will sporadically be checking in during those hours…note: sporadically.

I’m both excited, filled with anticipation, and terrified to see what God will do with my heart and life during those 40 days. Maybe it’ll be a lifelong choice I’ll make going forward. I need more quiet in my life, more days unplugged and not connected to the internet for a few hours (thus the basic phone).

And I’m reaching out to my social realm of friends to aid in keeping me accountable. If you’re reading this and seeking the same, leave me a comment. I’ll get back to you. If you’re a friend and have my number, text me. *Hugs to all…and here’s to the next 40 days. May God bless them!

the way to victory: intentional sacrifice

“…victory isn’t a place we arrive at and then relax. Victory is when we [make the better choice] over something not beneficial to us. And we maintain our victories with each choice…the very next choice is a crucial one….One wise choice can lead to two, can lead to three, can lead to a thousand, can lead to the sweet place of utter dependence on God and lasting discipline.”

– Lysa Terkeurst, Made to Crave, Chapter 17

Finding victory through intentional living…How does one get there?

This is not my first round with the word “intentional”. Although I’ve heard it numerous times throughout my life, the three years since I’ve moved to Minneapolis to help plant a church have been full of circling back to that phrase and what it means to live that way.

Be intentional with your relationship with God.

Be intentional in reaching out to your neighbors and serving in your communities.

Be intentional with the relationships you have with your co-workers.

Be intentional about really asking people how their souls are…don’t be afraid to get deep.

Be intentional about giving.

Be intentional with your relationships. Period.

And now…

Be intentional with your health.

Be intentional with godly self-care.

Prior to going through this study (see here), I knew that with my being a four-part being (physical, mental, emotional and spiritual) that all parts are interconnected and that if one suffered, they all suffered. But, I did not know or realize the implications my food and exercise choices (or lack thereof) had on the spiritual portion of myself.

Oh does it ever!

2013 wasn’t the greatest year for me. Yes, it was full of trials and growth, but the latter portion of it: Not. Fun. In reading through Made to Crave these last six weeks, I’ve come to realize and embrace the truth about how and what I crave and what I should be seeking instead.

Crave

To crave means to long for, want greatly, and/or desire eagerly.

By that definition, I came to realize several truths about myself:

I crave love. After all, wasn’t I created to love and be loved? In the past, I’ve sought that out in my relationships with others – with my friends, my pastor, men I’ve dated…or wished I had dated (projecting is not healthy). My worth and feelings of being loved does not stem from those relationships nor should I be placing that expectation on them. We’re human and we’re all incomplete. Only God can validate me and it’s when I embrace that truth, letting it get really deep, that I feel satisfied and deeply loved.

I crave affection. There were so many days where I felt that if I gave another ounce of all I have within me, I’d be wiped from existence (wouldn’t really happen, but that’s how I felt). I used to give, give, and give until I was empty, but I’m learning that I can’t rely on people to keep my love-tank full. When I turn my focus to God, on who He says I am, only then can I continue to give, give, give without nearing the empty side of the tank. It’s a beautiful thing.

I crave feeling as though I matter…to someone…to anyone. I crave being asked how my day was, what my dreams are, what I need to do to achieve them, where I succeeded and where I didn’t. Being single, I rarely get that. Just this last week, a fellow sister in Christ posted a very encouraging blog article regarding the matter and it truly hit home for me. I also realized that God, in His goodness, provided me with a few good friends who do just that. When I’m with them, I’m not left feeling as though something’s missing or that there is something wrong with me. They love me as I am and continue to point me back to Jesus. That, my friends, is what Christian community, accountability and living should be. It’s amazing when the body of Christ works as it should.

I crave companionship. I do not fear being alone as I do enjoy my own company quite a bit, but going home to an empty apartment after a long day at the office and meeting appointments only holds so much appeal at times. Maybe I should get a pet…kidding, slightly. If there’s one thing I’ve come to realize this last year, it’s that I do fear ending up alone. There is a big difference between the two, but I’m learning that whether I have three really close friends or five hundred Facebook friends and Twitter followers at the end of the day, it won’t matter as I am never truly 100% alone. I have Jesus and He is all that matters.

I crave comfort. I’ve chased after so many things in this life, seeking the temporary satisfaction that they would give…that whole tray of Oreos…that pack of soft-shell flour tortillas…those Doritos…that bottle of sparkling cider…that next potential relationship…that movie or book I could get lost in for a couple of hours. I could go on. Ever since that little girl sought comfort that only a father-figure can give and was turned away, due to his own incompleteness, I have sought that comfort in food, entertainment and other things, all in the form of gluttony. I realize that now. That truth dawned on me last week as I was going through the car wash and it’s finally reaching the depths of my heart. Thank you, God!

I crave soul-deep satisfaction. Relationships, food and worldly pleasures can’t give that. I’m done living through if-only’s. I don’t need a man or that donut to be complete or satisfied. When I remain in Christ, I am enough. I am content with where He has me, but not so “content” that I let life just happen to me…that’s playing the victim. I’m done with that.

This study is nearing its end and I’m sure this won’t be the last of God’s work on me in this area. After all, we’re moving forward with the Action Plan portion of this book, taking a look at how to live this out and learning to put that into practice (I’m so excited!). Lysa begins closing this portion of our study with a challenge to live with intentionality.

Intentionality: Actions performed with awareness; done deliberately, consciously, on purpose Intentional11-819x1024(pp_w295_h368)

Intentional living requires sacrifice. It requires making choices that will benefit in the long run. It requires making choices that will not be comfortable. It requires choices that will “unsettle me,” getting my out of my blasted comfort zone and continually stretching and strengthening my spiritual muscles with God’s truth. Intentional living is a process and it’s not going to be an easy one. Anything worth having rarely is. This process and these choices will take a lot of discipline, focus, determination and hard work. It will also take courage.

What does that look like for me? And is it possible?

For me, it means

  • Choosing to sacrifice “sleeping in” to get my workout in before work in the morning. I discovered that I prefer to be up early. It’s quiet. No one else is at the gym. It’s just me and God, having a heart to heart in the secret places of my heart and mind, a place my imagination created as a child (it’s fun being able to return to that beautiful place on a daily basis). I listen to podcasts (usually past sermons or Christian talk shows) or Christian music (Jamie Grace, Kerri Roberts and Mandisa – music that really gets a girl moving). Sometimes, I’ll do my workout in silence and let God touch my heart any way He wants to as I listen to the hum of the treadmill and feel my heart beat to the rhythm of my shoes hitting the pavement/belt. If I crave sleep as much as I do, I can go to bed earlier. It requires choices, compromises and sacrifice.
  • Choosing a healthier diet. My current diet consists of lean protein, vegetables and fruits and eating three meals with a snack in between if I am hungry each day. Minimal on the grains as I’m staying away from those floured tortillas I mentioned earlier and most breads. I’ve also given up sugar where I’m aware of its presence (candy, cookies, pies, cakes, etc…frosting is a huge weakness!). The only exception to that rule: the two small pieces of dark chocolate I allow myself when I’m craving it.
  • Choosing to actually read the nutrition labels on products I pick up. If it doesn’t fit my diet, I put it back.
  • Choosing a workout regimen that works for me. I’ve always tried to cram it all in on one day…cardio three days a week, full body the other two. No results. I’m going to be taking a different approach with the help of a trainer (free perks courtesy of my gym) and will now be focusing on upper body, lower body and core on different days mixed in with adequate cardio every day. Here goes!
  • Choosing to have an accountability partner/partners who will get in my face. I know there will be moments of being uncomfortable because I’m being convicted by the truth she has/they have set before me. This also comes down to choosing to not allow that type of honesty to ruin those relationships, but rather deepen them. Guys and girls, you know who you are and I am so thankful for each of you (Philippians 1.3-6).
  • Choosing to have a plan. I like Lysa’s idea of planning out meals after breakfast, once you have a full stomach, being intentional about what you’re going to have the rest of the day. I also want to pre-plan before I go to the grocery store. That way, I’ll have on hand what I need for each day.
  • Choosing to get outside and move rather than go straight home to sit on the couch for another four hours, filling up that time with mindless TV watching or surfing the internet, after I get off work. I picked up a couple of books from my local library that cover different hiking trails or city walks in my area. The plan is to do each of them. Date-night walks with Jesus anyone? The more I think about that concept, the more excited I am about doing these. If only the deep freeze would end…soon.
  • Choosing to take any dating profile(s) I currently have up down and live my life pursing only one Man, Jesus. Would I like to date again? Sure. But I won’t do it at the cost of my relationship with God. After all, He is the only one worth pursuing. I could go on with this one, but that’s a topic for another day. Ladies, any man you have to chase isn’t worth your time. Pursue God and if you’re meant to be with someone, He will bring the two of you together in His time. You are not less of a person or less capable of doing good work for His Kingdom if you’re single. That is a truth I’m learning to embrace, no matter what our culture says about the matter.
  • Choosing to pray when I’m tempted; to allow the Word of God, scripture He has etched upon my heart, to roll through my mind and spirit when I’m facing a particularly tough situation (like the donuts a co-worker brought in to work on Monday or feeling tempted to browse Match.com just one last time).
  • Choosing to be intentional with my thoughts. Not allowing them to wallow in my own incompleteness, but choosing to focus on the things of God; choosing to “park my mind” on whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, excellent or praiseworthy (Philippians 4.8).
  • Choosing to look beyond hurtful words rather than respond out of my own incompleteness.
  • Choosing to really ask “how goes it with your soul?,” being prepared to patiently listen to that response, no matter what it is, without inserting my own agenda, and seeking out ways to serve that person.
  • In all, choosing to live my life in such a way that honors and pleases God and ultimately brings Him the glory He deserves.

    Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the patter of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12.1
    -2

Is this possible? Yes. Not on my own strength or willpower, but on God’s. I know I won’t get there overnight. This process is one God wants me to venture on through with Him at my side. Intentionally pursuing holiness means God is the only One we should long for, want greatly, and desire eagerly.  He is the only one I should crave. I want that. Boy-o-boy, do I want that.

I am still confident I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord…be strong and take heart and wait on the Lord. Psalm 27.13-14

I’m intentionally choosing to wait on Him and there I will find victory.

How about you? What is it that you crave most? What does it mean to you to live with intention? What sacrifice would it require? Is it possible for you to live that out?

 

© Anita J. Brands. 2014. Website: https://authentictruthseeker.wordpress.com/

December 21: ancient of days

The Pilate said to him, “So are you a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” John 18.37

This is a great Christmas text even though it comes from the end of Jesus’ life on earth, not the beginning.

The uniqueness of his birth is that he did not originate at his birth. He existed before he was born in a manger. The personhood, the character, the personality of Jesus of Nazareth existed before the man Jesus of Nazareth was born.

The theological word to describe this mystery is not creation, but incarnation. The person – not the body, but the essential personhood of Jesus – existed before he was born as man. His birth was not a coming into being of a new person, but a coming into the world of an infinitely old person.

Micah 5.2 puts it like this, 700 years before Jesus was born:

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from old, from ancient days.

The mystery of the birth of Jesus is not merely that he was born of a virgin. That miracle was intended by God to witness an even greater one – namely, that the child born at Christmas was a person who existed “from of old, from ancient days.”

© Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org

December 19: Christmas is for freedom

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. Hebrews 1.14-15

Jesus became man because what was needed was the death of a man who was more than man. The incarnation was God’s locking himself into death now.

Christ did not risk death. He embraced it. That is precisely why he came: not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many (Mark 10.45).

No wonder Satan tried to turn Jesus from the cross! The cross was Satan’s destruction. How did Jesus destroy him?

The “power of death” is the ability to make death fearful. The “power of death” is the power that holds men in bondage through fear of death. It is the power to keep men in sin, so that death comes from a horrid thing.

But Jesus stripped Satan of this power. He disarmed him. He molded a breastplate of righteousness for us that makes us immune to the devil’s condemnation.

By his death, Jesus wiped away all our sings. And a person without sin puts Satan out of business. His treason is aborted. His cosmic treachery is foiled. “His rage we can endure, for, lo, his doom is sure.” The cross has run him through. And he will gasp his last before long.

Christmas is for freedom. Freedom from the fear of death.

Jesus took our nature in Bethlehem, to die our death in Jerusalem, that we might be fearless in our city. Yes, fearless. Because if the biggest threat to my joy is gone, then why should I fret over the little ones? How can you say, “Well, I’m not afraid to die but I’m afraid to lose my job?” No. No. Think!

If death (I said, death – no pulse, cold, gone!) – if death is no longer a fear, we’re free, really free. Free to take any risk under the sun for Christ and for love. No more bondage to anxiety.

If the Son has set you free, you shall be free, indeed!

© Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org

traditions: goodie bags and the gingerbread gospel

2749c40ef0109887d41f0ee9930f7839Did you know that today is National Gingerbread House Day? It’s true. Look it up.

Decorated gingerbread houses started in Germany in the early 1800s. According to my research, the first gingerbread houses were the result of the well-known Grimm’s fairytale Hansel and Gretel, in which two children, abandoned in the forest, find an edible witch’s house made of bread and sugar decorations…you know how it goes. After the book was published in 1812, German bakers began creating these ornamental fairytale houses of “lebkuchen,” which is German for “gingerbread.”

Before long, these little houses became popular during the Christmas season and a new tradition had begun.

All things gingerbread sure haven’t changed much in the years since its deluctible beginnings in Germany. Immigrants brought the cookie delights to American when they came here and markets all around the world still sell decorated gingerbreads houses and villages.

Few have even taken it further:

  • In Bergen, Norway, people and children get to create a gingerbread city each year. The tradition began in 1991 and is today, the largest gingerbread city in the world…small scale, of course.

    gingerbread city

  • Just this year, a group in Bryan, TX broke the Guinness World Record for the largest gingerbread house by creating an edible – you read that right: edible! – 2,520-square-foot gingerbread house to aid a local hospital. Believe it or not, this record was previously owned by the Mall of America.
  • There are Gingerbread House Competitions held all over the world each year.
  • The list goes on.

In years past, my church group has held our own miniature version of a gingerbread house competition – see photos:

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Granted, we used graham crackers instead, but fun, right?

I personally am not a huge fan of gingerbread, but I do enjoy baking and creating treats each year. Over Thanksgiving weekend (Black Friday), I opt to kick-off my annual holiday bake-off, which I started three years ago. During that time, I make anywhere from 12-32 dozen cookies and 4-5 lbs. of fudge. All of them are made with butter and sugar substitutes, making them less in fat and lighter in sugar content (not to mention calories).

I rarely keep any of those treats for myself. I used to, three years ago, before I decided to start leading a healthier life. I may not eat as many sweets as used to, but I do allow myself the smaller-portioned amount at each holiday festivity I attend. Note small.

Instead, I share what I make with the people in my life – my friends, neighbors, coworkers, and family. In a way, sharing these treats connects to sharing the love of Christ with those around me. I don’t expect anything in return – I share and give because I want to. And with that, I’ll leave you with this fun read: The Gingerbread Gospel.

*I’ve tweaked it some as the original was written in a way that children could understand it. Please let your mindset be that of a child while reading through this.

Can you imagine what it would be like to live in a life-sized gingerbread house? What would your favorite candy house be made out of? What would you use for beds, chairs, pillows, toys? (Best shared with children…hear them out…or better yet, let your own imagination flow).

That would almost seem like the perfect place to live, wouldn’t it? Well, the Bible tells us about a real  live ‘perfect place to live.’ It’s called Heaven. Long ago, that’s where Jesus lived. But God decided to send Jesus from His perfect house in Heaven to Earth (John 6.39).

What was the first house Jesus liked in on Earth – a stable.

What is a stable? A barn.

What would it have looked liked? What would have been in that stable? What would it have smelled like? And Jesus’ first bed was a manger. What is a manger? (Luke 2.1-7)

Was it anything like the perfect place Jesus came from?

[I’m actually remembering the barn I grew up working in…back home….dairy air…or derriere, depending on how you look at it, and I can’t help but wonder, why there?]

Now, why do you think that God would send His own Son from a perfect house in heaven, to a dirty, smelly, cold place like a stable?

Because He loves us very much!

[God wants us] to know Him so He sent [Jesus] to tell you and show you all about God. Jesus did just that. He taught us about God, and the things that He taught are all written down for us in the Bible (John 3.16).

On day, when Jesus was still a young man, He left his home on Earth. He died for all [our sins]. And now He has a new home.

Do you know where that is?

[Within us.]

[He has forgiven us our sins and we’ve been made free! (John 14.15-17)]

Why?

He [has done so] that we can all live with Him forever in that perfect , wonderful place (heaven) (Luke 1.31-33; John 6.38-40; John 14.1-3).

Review the types of houses we’ve talked about: heaven, stable/earth, our hearts, heaven.

[Now, look to the gingerbread house] and remember how much Jesus loves you every time you look at it…remember that Jesus wants to be a part of your life and that He has invited you to live with Him in heaven one day.

© Kelly Hancock, http://faithfulprovisions.com/2009/12/07/the-gingerbread-gospel-2/

© Anita J. Brands. 2013. Website: https://authentictruthseeker.wordpress.com/

traditions: gift giving

untitledI have many fond memories of Christmas, in case you haven’t noticed, and this is one of them. When I was a child and didn’t yet earn a paycheck, my parents would take us kids shopping and we’d split up. The guys would go one way and the girls the other and then we’d swap – girls with Dad and boys with Mom. We all got to pick out the special (at the time) gifts we each individually would give each of our immediate family members; and I’ll admit that I enjoyed receiving gifts. Still do, even though the joy of giving outweighs receiving.

That holiday tradition went on until all of us were over the age of five and the gifts were starting to get more expensive (not that baby clothing, toys and Christmas dresses for little girls aren’t expensive). Times were changing. In 1996, we decided to start drawing names with a few other relatives instead and when the farm had a good year, Dad sometimes saw to it that he and Mom got gifts for all four of us kids.

Now that I’m an adult and it’s been nearly 20 years since that change, my holiday shopping consists of gift-exchanging with a few friends, brewing up some holiday goodies to give away – I can’t eat them all!, name drawing, Secret Santa gift exchanges and white elephant holiday parties (the latter can be quite a hoot).

But what does this have to do with Jesus?

Everything

Jesus was the ultimate gift that God could have given us.

He gave Himself

Wrapped in human flesh

Confined to our limitedness

Our finiteness

Death was the only way he could save us.

He could not die as God, but he could as man.

So he gave up his infiniteness and became a baby; a baby who grew in the womb, was fed, clothed, held and cared for…just like you and me.

That baby grew into a man; a man who experienced the same things you and I face each day – temptation, trials, decisions, death, sadness, laughter, scraped knees – and more.  And yet, he was perfect. His life wasn’t ruled by emotion, but based on His Father – on joy, on peace – on a state of being rather than that which is fleeting.

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son…John 3.16

He gave

Everything

John 3.16 tells us that God loved us – loved you and me – so much that he gave us Jesus. Through Jesus, we can have so much – the gifts are endless. Just look around you!

These are just a few of the gifts God lavishes upon his children and I’m sure, that much like the Christmas mornings of my childhood, He can’t wait for you to open and respond to His gifts:

  • The gift of Love

God loved us so much that he gave of himself to fix what we broke in our relationship with him. The Fall had left a hole so deep and wide that there didn’t seem to be any hope for saving – then Jesus came. The prophecy of the coming Messiah brought hope and anticipation with it until one night, in a sleepy, little town called Bethlehem, Christ came. That love led him to growing up, to his ministry, to the cross and to the resurrection. That love lives today – in you and in me. That Love gives us the ability to love others the way he did and still does…talk about the gift that keeps on giving!

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. Romans 8.9

  • The gift of Grace

Through Jesus we have access to a wonderful gift called grace – getting what we don’t deserve. Jesus paid the cost of our sin so we could have it.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Romans 5.1-2

But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow of the many! Romans 5.15 

…in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2.7

Amazing grace
how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me
I once was lost
but now I’m found
was blind but now I see!

  • The gift of Resurrection

This is one gift worth getting excited about. Just as Jesus was resurrected in his new human form, we too will be resurrected in similar fashion when he returns to take us all home. Without the resurrection of Christ, we have nothing.

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 1 Corinthians 15.17

I eagerly wait in anticipation for that day and what a glorious day that will be!

The sing of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15.56-57

Praise be to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. 1 Peter 1.3

  • The gift of Inheritance

Because of his sacrifice, we too can be heirs in the Kingdom of God. 

…and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil of fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you… 1 Peter 1.4

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. Romans 8.16-17

 The gift of the Gospel

There are no words for this gift, on my part at least, so I’d like to let Timothy Keller do the talking:

The gospel of justifying faith means that while Christians are, in themselves still sinful and sinning, yet in Christ, in God’s sight, they are accepted and righteous. So we can say that we are more wicked than we ever dared believe, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope – at the very same time. This creates a radical new dynamic for personal growth. It means that the more you see your own flaws and sins, the more precious, electrifying, and amazing God’s grace appears to you. But on the other hand, the more aware you are of God’s grace and acceptance in Christ, the more able you are to drop your denials and self-defenses and admit the true dimensions and character of your sin.

…the gospel, however, is that Jesus takes the law of God so seriously that He paid the penalty of disobedience, so we can be saved by sheer grace.

The gospel changes our status… How has your status been changed by the gospel?

Where we once were slaves, we are now free.

Where we once were lost, we are now found.

We have become children of God.

The list goes on…

  • The gift of His Word

The Word, the Bible, never runs out. It’s a book that lives, literally. You can’t go through life reading the same chapter over and over again and expect to get the same results. Passages I read when I was a child impact my life differently now that I’m an adult, even passages I read last year impact me differently today – whether that be due to life circumstances (which always change), my ever-deepening relationship with Jesus or the fact that I’ve grown up and can now understand on a deeper level what the Bible teaches.

Every day, we can find new things in his Word that give us strength and sharpen us, build us up, and even rebuke us. God knew we needed it, so he gave it.

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your heart. Colossians 3.16

There’s so much that we have been given through Jesus, the best gift ever! In Christ, we are free – free from the bondage of sin, free from tying ourselves to what does not define us (anything but Him), free to choose life – to choose Him.

How about you? Would you leave gifts unwrapped and laying under the tree? No. Would you leave this gift unwrapped and untouched? Will you choose to accept the gift God offers? What better time to be intentional about your walk with God than now?

The choice is yours:

Freedom

Redemption

Life

Love

© Anita J. Brands. 2013. Website: https://authentictruthseeker.wordpress.com/

December 11: why Jesus came

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. Hebrews 2.14-15

[This passage] is worth more than two minutes in an Advent devotional. These verses connect the beginning and the end of Jesus’ earthly life. They make clear why he came. They would be great to use with an unbelieving friend or family member to take them step by step through your Christian view of Christmas. It might go something like this…

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood…

The term “children” is taken from the previous verse and refers to the spiritual offspring of Christ, the Messiah (see Isaiah 8.8; 53.10). These are also the “children of God.” In other words, in sending Christ, God has the salvation of his “children” specially in view. It is true that “God so love the world, that he send [Jesus] (John 3.16).” But it is also true that God was especially “gathering the children of God who are scattered abroad”  (John 1.52). God’s design was to offer Chris to the world, and to effect the salvation of his “children” (see 1 Timothy 4.10). You may experience adoption by receiving Christ (John 1.12).

…he himself likewise partook of the same things [flesh and blood[…

Christ existed before the incarnation. He was spirit. He was the eternal Word. He was with God and was God (John 1.1; Colossians 2.9). But he took on flesh and blood and clothed his deity in humanity. He became fully man and remained fully God. It is a great mystery in many ways. But it is at the heart of our faith and is what the Bible teaches.

…that through death…

The reason Jesus became man was to die. As God, he could not die for sinners. But as man he could. His aim was to die. Therefore he had to be born human. He was born to die. Good Friday is the reason for Christmas. That is what needs to be said today about the meaning of Christmas.

..he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil…

In dying, Christ de-fanged the devil. How? By covering all our sin. This means that Satan has no legitimate grounds to accuse us before God. “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies” (Romans 8.33). On what grounds does he justify? Through the blood of Jesus (Romans 5.9).

Satan’s ultimate weapon against us is our own sin. If the death of Jesus takes it away, the chief weapon of the devil is taken out of his hand. He cannot make a case for our death penalty, because the Judge has acquitted us by the death of his Son!

..and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.

So we are free from the fear of death. God has justified us. Satan cannot overturn that decree. And God means for our ultimate safety to have an immediate effect on our lives. He means for the happy ending to take away the slavery and fear of the now.

If we do not need to fear our last and greatest enemy, death, then we do not need to fear anything. We can be free: free for joy, free for others.

What a great Christmas present from God to us! And from us to the world!

© Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org

Advent: the hope of Christ

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15.13

Does Christmas thrill you? Does knowing Jesus thrill you? Does living life thrill you?

It thrills me. I have always been that way, for as long as I can remember. I haven’t allowed myself to be jaded by the world when it comes to my relationship with Jesus nor do I give it (the world and those around me) the power to rule my life. I do have “off” days just like everyone else, but I don’t stay there, maintaining a victim’s mentality. It’s dark there and I do not like the dark, not when I’ve experienced the Light.

Children get excited at the coming of the season and I remember my excitement as a child fondly. I got to wear my new Christmas dress – never in red, forever in green (ah, the perks of being a redhead). Christmas meant some quality family time, not that we lacked in that the rest of the year, but it was extra-special at Christmas. Everyone was a little bit nicer. People gave more, of themselves and of their material wealth. Why couldn’t (or can’t) it be like that all year round?

Now, I know that Christmas, or the holidays in general, are not easy for everyone.

These may be some of the darkest days of the year for you. Perhaps you’ve lost a loved one recenlty and this is your first holiday without them, or your second, or third. Perhaps you’re lonely. Maybe being single this time of year is the worst thing for you. Or maybe it’s just busyness. Adults get so wrapped up in the busyness of planning parties, trimming the tree, maxing out their credit cards, paying bills, wrapping, shipping and taking/planning trips. Maybe you’re one of them and you’re exhausted just thinking about all that you have to do this holiday season.

Know that you’re not alone.

There is hope.

90f2e26207b2fa8064b89f7c2eecdf8cJust as the chords of “O Holy Night” strike up “a thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn,” Christ came to offer hope.

How do we find it?

Just as total darkness can’t hold back the light of a tiny flame, the smallest increment of Hope provide joy, peace and purpose.

There is hope.

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11.1

Just as Israel had hope for the Messiah, we too have hope for our future: an eternity with Jesus.

This world isn’t any easy place to live. Yes, it’s true that Christ said that his yoke would be easy and his burden would be light (   ), but he didn’t say that the life lived following him would be easy.

Sure, it’s easier in some ways – when trials strike, we can stand tall and face them with a reckless fearlessness unparalleled to any other. We have a hope.

But it’s hard to make that stand. It’s hard to go against the grain and follow God’s current which flows against the ways of this world. You often feel alone when taking a stand for what’s right and holy. Satan will try to discourage you by getting to focus on half-truths and the ways this world is falling apart at the seams.

Is there hope in this dark, cruel world? Yes!

Hope invaded our world 2000 years ago in Bethlehem. If we want hope (not to mention the peace and joy that comes from knowing Jesus personally) to invade our lives, we must do what those shepherds and wise men did in Jesus’ day.

We must come and bow before the King.

Hope, peace and joy is available to those who will humble themselves and bow in faith before the Lord Jesus Christ.

Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God? Do you confess that you are a sinner? Do you admit your need for a Savior? Do you believe that Jesus gave it all for your sins? Will you choose him? Do you trust him?

Sadly some people only think about Jesus once a year – at Christmastime. Deeply touched, they resolve to know him personally. The moment passes and the pressures of the new year lead them away from the manager.

There is a great danger in coming near to Christ and never making a commitment.

You can’t cram for heaven the way some college students cram for their chemistry exams.

You can’t take a crash course to get into heaven.

Sooner or later, you’ve got to make the choice to follow him and make that choice daily.

Is there room in your heart, in your life, for Jesus? Are you ready to follow him? Are you willing to meet the cost it takes to follow him?

I pray for God’s grace in your life as you make that decision.

December 5: no detour from calvary

And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in in the inn. Luke 2.6-7

Now you would that if God so rules the world as to use an empire-wide census to bring Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, he surely could have seen to it that a room was available in the inn.

Yes, he could have. And Jesus could have been born into a wealthy family. He could have turned stone into bread in the wilderness. He could have called 10,000 angels to his aid in Gethsemane. He could have come down from the cross and saved himself. The question is not what God could do, but what he willed to do.

God’s will was that though Christ was rich, yet for you r sake he became poor. The “No Vacancy” signs over all the motels in Bethlehem were for your sake. “For your sake he became poor” (2 Corinthians 8.9).

God rules all things – even motel capacities – for the sake of his children. The Calvary road begins with a “No Vacancy” sign in Bethlehem and ends with the spitting and scoffing of the cross in Jerusalem.

And we must not forget that he said, “He would come after me must deny himself and take up his cross” (Matthew 16.24).

We join him on the Calvary road and hear him say, “Remember the world that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you” (John 15.20).

To the one who calls out enthusiastically, “I will follow you wherever you go!” (Matthew 8.19), Jesus responds, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8.20).

Yes, God could have seen to it that Jesus have a room at his birth. But that would have been a detour off the Calvary road.

© Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org

traditions: Christmas stockings

My parents made a point of keeping this tradition with each passing year, no matter their economic5b2b268df75b2308cdd26822e5aeb7de and financial state. The only difference in gifts found in our Christmas stockings on Christmas morning was the amount and type.

Tougher years consisted of the little LifeSavers booklet, consisting of ten different flavored rolls of LifeSavers, and a hand-made card. Other years consisted of the same plus an assortment of candy and some sort of brain teaser/puzzle gift.

Our stockings were the first gifts opened before going to Christmas services at our church.

I looked forward to enjoying the LifeSavers and assortment of candy during that morning service – back before they did Christmas Eve services. My memory can still taste the pineapple flavored LifeSavers even though I haven’t had them in quite some time – no need for excess sugar. Come to think of it, I probably couldn’t stomach it now, but that’s beside the point.

There’s a popular legend as to how the stocking tradition got started:

Long ago there was a poor man who lived with his three daughters. It was tradition that the father would offer a monetary diary to a future son-in-law when his daughter married. Since he was poor, he had no money to offer. A man named Saint Nicholas was passing through the village when he heard about this. He wanted to help, but knew the man would never accept charity. He decided to help in secret. He waited until it was night and crept through the chimney. He had three bags of gold coins which was placed in the stockings of the three girls, which had been hung on the mantel to dry. When they woke and found the money, they were so happy. The girls were able to got married and this led to the tradition of hanging stockings on the mantle.

Unfortunately, I currently don’t have a mantle nor do I have a chimney. It’s a good thing I’ve never believed in Santa… I currently use my entertainment center and/or the DVD case. They work just as well.

My Christmas stocking hasn’t ever had anything in it.

Instead, I use it as a reminder of all of the non-material things I could fill it with: acts of kindness, developing virtue and character….the spirituality of keeping Christ in Christmas (not to mention, all year round – you’ll often hear/read that line from me).

“I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” – Jesus, Matthew 25.40

The month of December is filled with more than just the normal holiday hustle and bustle. People give in December more than any other time of the year (not including yearly community service campaigns at work – this is different). Honestly, I find that rather sad. Shouldn’t we give to those less fortunate all year round?

I encourage you to look for ways to help, no matter the time of year. Start now and continue into next year. Give and serve in both big and small ways , in all ways – financially, spiritually, talent-wise, time, etc. I’ve discovered that the most valuable gift you can give is your time – you can’t get that back – but the blessings, when time is used wisely, are worth it. And thank God for the gift of Jesus – how can you serve him today?