CHRISTmas!

I’ve been doing two Advent devotions this year. One generated two images a day and the other generated many thoughts about Jesus. Today I’ll share my two Christmas Bible verse images, both using decorated Christmas tress as the background.

Choosing the version of the Bible is important to me. Usually I read the ESV, but one verse I chose the Good News Bible, which is normally for children.

I’m also struck this year by the word “exceedingly” and how it is used in the Bible. I see a word study coming in 2018!

For unto us!

rejoiced exceedingly

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When You Can’t See the Path

Sitting at O’Hare waiting for replace to plane to arrive.

I was up at 5am to get to the airport. I’m going to see my parents and some of my siblings! It’s a short visit, but I need to see them. The plane was late departing. I fell into a deep sleep. Half way to the Michigan, the intercom woke me up with: we have to return to Chicago for maintenance. I thought maybe it was a dream. Everyone was so quiet and not talking, so I really didn’t know if the 18 minutes to landing was for Saginaw or Chicago! It wasn’t a dream. We landed back at the same airport we left. United has been good keeping us informed. Will we re-board, re-book or get a new plane? We’re getting a new plane but it has to fly here, so I’m sitting in the airport, thinking.

Coming back to Chicago we were above the clouds. They look much more interesting from above with lots of texture and complex formations. Then we began the descent down into the clouds.

Remember I’m not sure where we would land, so I had no idea of NESW or land/water. We were flying in a cloud, with no visual landmarks.

From the ground we just see gray skies, no sun, no blue. On the plane we trust the laws of gravity, but we don’t know our position in the air. We are putting our trust in the pilot, the navigation system and beacons and aviation control. They know where we are, how high, what the problem is, and then decide the best decision for passenger safety.

Sometimes in life we can’t see where we’re going. The path is foggy and we can barely see landmarks along the way. We wonder if we’ve gotten lost, taken the wrong path or even left the path. We can feel lost, without purpose or direction, wondering if we should just sit down and wait for someone to find us.

You likely know where I’m headed. God is our co-pilot. He knows the path and how to get to our destination. And if we’re lost, He is with us to prompt us or lead us back to the path. He has better radar; He is the ultimate “aviation controller” in our lives.

I’ve been in that place where I haven’t a clue where I’m going (emotionally, spiritually) and I just wanted to sit down, retreat from life, and wait for someone to care. This is a problem that God is excels in solving! He looks for the lost sheep and returns them to the fold. He cares for us and helps us get back on the path.

I am so thankful for this! I can trust Him to get me to the right place. Just like I had to trust the pilots knew where they were going, I have to trust that God is more than able to get me where He has planned for me to be.

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭16:11‬ ‭ESV‬

Peace on Earth

We’ve heard it, sung it, confessed our desire for it, but we have yet to experience “Peace on Earth.”

I saw a huge sign on a bridge yesterday, “Peace on Earth” and my first thought it was a Christmas decoration not yet removed. My tree is still up, so why would a city have all decorations taken down?

Then I thought about its meaning. To have peace on earth, every single person and country would be acting out of love to their neighbor. There would be no crime and no crime expected. There would be no violence, especially domestic violence. There would be no enslavement, especially human trafficking. There would be no fear of nuclear missiles, or bombs, or terrorism, or countries taking over other countries. To truly have peace on earth, there could be no racism, no sexism, no bias or denigration, no other “-isms.”

It would be every, single person on earth at peace, safe, with all needs met. There would be no need for a refugee program or refugee camps. There would be no sanctuary cities, no dirty politics, no meanness, no slander, no uncivil behavior.

Think about it. Every. Single. Person. At. Peace. Every minute. Every day. Forever. Let your mind’s eye search around the globe and absorb what it would mean for true peace on earth, not as a thought or a dream, but in reality.

I grew up at a time of nuclear threat, war and racism. During the fight for Civil Rights, I was an impressionable young teen. I lived in an idealistic world. I thought by saying, “Let there be peace on earth,” it could happen. I expected people to desire peace and to work for it to happen. The song, “Let There Be Peace on Earth” (and let it begin with me) was possible. If we all wanted peace, surely it would happen.

I am no longer that idealistic teen. I have seen bullying, meaness, violence toward others, and anything but peace. I live in a time when Homeland Security is necessary. I’ve experienced the fears of a mother with a son in a war zone.

The image of peace in earth reminds me of heaven. Yes indeed, “no more sorrows, no more pain.” (See Revelation 21:4.) Can there truly be peace on earth before our lives end? I go back to: imagine looking around the world and seeing everyone acting in loving ways. Just one person being hateful would upset the peace. And if even one group or country got mad or envious of another, peace would be lost. Why is this? Why can’t we all live in peace? My neighborhood is peaceful and filled with respectful, kind people, but not everyone can say that. And if a group gathers to voice their free speech rights, violence breaks out around them. There just isn’t peace in this world.

The moral code, the Ten Commandments, lays out the rules God’s people should live by. But even if we try very hard, we will fail. Something will make us angry. A temptation will happen at a moment of weakness, or our own selfish desires will cause us to sin. I feel like Peace on Earth is an impossible goal. And apart from God and the Blood of Jesus, that is true. There is an answer, and most don’t want to hear the message, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Romans‬ ‭3:23‬ ‭ESV‬‬. So I have hope! There is an answer to the problem of sin. It’s found in the Blood of Jesus, in recognizing you have fallen short, sinned and transgressed the Law of God, of repenting for your sins, of believing in the work Jesus did on the cross, and then, living your life for Christ. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians‬ ‭4:7‬ ‭ESV‬‬

So, I can be at peace in my inner being, because my mind and heart is guarded by the peace of God. I can be a peace maker, a peace carrier, but I can not make peace on earth a reality. I can’t force people to live in peace with one another. And God gives us each free choice, so he’s not going to force anyone to live in peace either that refuses to listen. But I have hope! And I know heaven is real. And then there will be everlasting peace. (Sigh!) “I Can Only Imagine!”

“I can only imagine when that day comes, When I find myself standing in the Son, I can only imagine when all I would do is forever, Forever worship You” -MercyMe

Here is a sample of Bible verses that talk about “peace in earth” I found today:

“…and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”  ‭‭Luke‬ ‭2:14‬ ‭ESV‬‬ – This is probably the source of the Christmas season greeting and the “Peace on Earth” sign I saw. Notice the caveat: among those with whom he (God) is pleased. Not everyone. Not the whole world.

“…making peace by the blood of his cross.”  ‭‭Colossians‬ ‭1:19-20‬ ‭ESV‬‬ – Here we see the blood of Jesus as the source of peace.

“Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end” ‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭9:7‬ ‭ESV‬‬ – The peace of the Lord will never end.

“I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety.” ‭‭Hosea‬ ‭2:18‬ ‭ESV‬‬ – This speaks of the mercy for Israel from the Lord.

“He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”   ‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭2:4‬ ‭ESV.‬‬ This is a prophecy of a Day of the Lord, when He rules from on top of the mountain.

There are many more Bible verses that speak of peace. I challenge you to find a few more. Think about what peace in earth looks like to you? Is it possible? What would it take? Beyond platitudes and admonishment, how can we be instruments of peace?

Peace Prayer of St. Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace: where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love.  For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

And so the church grew

Acts 11:18

Acts 11:18

And the church grew…

When we expand our thoughts, and see everyone around us, and know that they are made in God’s image, and we shower them with God’s love, the church grows. Because God’s love is transforming, reaching deep into hearts and blessing to the very core of our being. Let God’s love bless you today to the very core of your being. Let that love pour out of you to those you encounter today. Bless those you meet with God’s love, and let Him transform those you meet!

How do I live and honor my God in these days?

Psalm 73:28

I’m reading through the book of Daniel a chapter at a time, reflecting on Babylon and how Daniel and his friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego not only lived, but were seen as successful in a society that was anything but Godly. Today, Daniel 3:16-18 gave me the directions on how I should live in this world that has become so separated from God’s ways.
“Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.””
Daniel‬ ‭3:16-18‬ ‭NIV‬‬

How should I behave? Today, I’m looking at what these verse say I should do:

  1. I do not need to defend my beliefs.
  2. If that means I will be punished, then so be it.
  3. My God is able to deliver me from the punishment.
  4. But even if God does not deliver me from the punishment, I will still praise Him.
  5. I will not praise the gods of the world, or their images!

Note that the three Hebrew men acknowledged the ruler of the country and were respectful. They used his title in an honorable way. (I think we could learn from this in our politics.)

When I read the Law and the Gospel, it is apparent that many of Gods ways are broken in this world. But yet my call is for me to be accountable to God and to follow His ways in my life. I am not called to judge or condemn, but to follow as an example, so that God may show His Power and Glory through my life. It is not easy to be obedient. The pressures of the day, the list of things to do, the news of even more atrocities, and the flaunting of sin, make it easy for me to think about others and not about me being accountable to God for my sins.

Jesus died on the cross for my sins. When I accepted Him as my Savior, I knew all the sins and mistakes of my past were forgiven and cleansed. But every day I fall short. Every day I need to stay accountable to my Savior. Every day I need to be forgiven and cleansed. When I forget this, it is easy to judge others.

I confess that I fall too easily into condemning sin in others and too reluctant to see my own sin. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did not spend time telling Nebuchadnezzar all the things he was doing wrong. They stood on their beliefs and were not ashamed. They trusted and were obedient to God.

Sometimes, we as Christians, are too quick to point out sin and shortcomings. We judge, we condemn, we do anything but love. How can the lost be saved if we yell in their face and call out their sins? Do they see the love of Jesus in that behavior?

Judgements and division, hatred and anger, are driving emotions to become a god. We sacrifice to the altar of a god that demands a fuel of emotions that are negative.

We should be the voice of calm, of love and acceptance, to the world. We should be willing to be obedient, but not expect others who do not know God to be obedient to His laws.

Psalm 73:28 tells me what I must do:

  1. “But for me it is good to be near God;
  2. I have made the Lord God my refuge,
  3. that I may tell of all your works.”

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What A Difference An Apostrophe Makes!

Pure Light

Love’s Pure Light

How many times in my life have I sung Silent Night? How many times have I read the lyrics as I sang this carol. And yet today, an apostrophe gave me pause. What a difference it makes!

In the third verse, the words start:

Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love’s pure light

Not “loves” the verb, but “love’s” the noun. So, I always thought, Jesus, the Son of God, loves the purity of the light of God. But that’s not what it means with an apostrophe.

“Love’s” is a possessive noun. In grammar, we use the apostrophe a few ways: omission of letter, possession and for some plurals. In this case, you have to ask whose love possesses pure light. So I go to math.

Son of God = Jesus
God = Love

Love’s pure light becomes God’s pure light.

So, Jesus is God’s Pure Light. Or Jesus is Pure Light.

Quite a bit of a difference from Jesus loving pure light.

Not By Works

Not By Works

NOTE: This devotion is a great summary of an important truth: Not by good works, but by repentance and acceptance of the work of the cross are we saved!

From Awakening, a devotion on YouVersion Bible, read on the Fourth of July, 2014

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. (‭Romans‬ ‭3‬:‭23‬ NLT)

God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin. (‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭1‬:‭30‬ NLT)

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (‭John‬ ‭3‬:‭16‬ NLT)

YOU DIDN’T EARN IT
We all have an inner sense that we are undeserving of forgiveness, and the truth is, we really are unworthy of it. The Bible says “”All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”” (ROM. 3:23), but the solution isn’t found in attempting to be a better person. The only way to eternal life in heaven is through repenting of your sins and giving your life to Jesus Christ.

You cannot earn Gods forgiveness. It does not matter how many old ladies you help across the street, that you’ve always been your teacher’s favorite and mommy’s special child, or that your grades are good and you’ve been voted “most likely to succeed.” God is not a cosmic Santa Clause tallying up all your good deeds on an eternal “naughty or nice” list. Salvation is not a “thing” to be earned but a gift God gives freely. The Bible says “Salvation comes from the Lord.” Too many young people try to earn Gods acceptance without realizing they are already accepted! Life is now no longer about what you’ve done, but about what He’s done. Jesus loved you so much that he was pierced for you, that you might live and have eternal life.

COMMENT: Today is a good day to reflect on this passage, to remember a basic truth, and to fill the God-shaped hole inside you with the God of the universe, the God above all gods, the Name above all names! Stop trying to earn the acceptance of others. Stop trying to do enough good to outweigh the bad. Acknowledge you have fallen short, that you need God, that what Jesus did on the cross was for you. Ask for forgiveness for your sins and receive Jesus into your heart. Know that you are loved and accepted by God!