Monday, February 13, 2017

Choices

We live in a society of choices, freedoms, and independence. We can choose what we want to do when we grow up, what hobbies and activities to try, what friends to have, whom to marry, whom to worship, what to do with our bodies, what music to listen to, what movies to see...

But just because we can make our own choices, doesn't mean one choice is just as good as another. The choices we make matter. We can make bad choices and good choices. We can make good choices or better choices. We can make thoughtless choices and well-informed ones.

In the Old Testament, we can read about a choice God's People made that wasn't good. God told them they didn't need a human king, that He would be their King; but the people insisted on having a leader they could see. So, God gave them a king named Saul, but it didn't turn out well for Israel. Saul and others after him were often corrupt. They didn't listen to God and lead the people well, resulting in the destruction of their nation rather than its prosperity. The people had a choice to make, God told them what the best choice was—to depend on Him to lead them; but they made a different choice. The wrong choice.

The Bible is full of stories like this. God created people and gave them free will to make their own choices. He also instructed them in which choices to make—what was best for them; The same is true for us today, and my question for you is this: With the choices you have to make today, tomorrow, and in the future, how are you going to make those choices?

Will you follow the advice of society, family, friends? Will you make choices based on how you feel? Will you go by what you can see and understand? Or will you listen to God and choose His best for your life?

Sometimes listening to God involves following the advice of others, how you feel, and what you can see and understand; but not always. How can you know? It's all about knowing the One who is leading you.

In Jeremiah 29:11, God tells His People, who were feeling lost at the time, "I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you."  And later He says this: "I will put my law deep within them...I will write my instructions on their hearts." (Jer. 31:33)

There are right choices, and there are wrong choices. There are good choices and there are better choices. There are thoughtless choices and informed ones. And there is a God who will lead you. He promises that. He loves you. And you can trust Him.




Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths.

Psalm 25:4




Photos by Fran Priestley and bj mcmichael. Freeimages.com
Jeremiah 31:33; paraphrase mine

Saturday, December 24, 2016

So Loved



For God so loved the world
that he gave his one and only Son…




Do you have a favorite Christmas song? Do you know it by heart? If so, take a moment to sing it to yourself. Why is it your favorite? Is it the tune, the words, the meaning?

Whether it's a silly song or a serious one, it's probably easy to sing without thinking too much about what you're singing. You may not even know what it means or the history behind it, but that doesn't stop you from singing along.

Familiar Christmas carols, Christmas traditions kept year after year, and the gifts given and received often become so familiar, it's easy to overlook how special they are. Sometimes it takes a change, where certain elements are missing, to realize how much a part of our celebration they have become.

Perhaps you have experienced this: the year your family had to go without a tree, gifts, or some-one. If you haven't suffered such a loss, take a moment to think about what you would miss at Christmas—a little, and a lot. 

I don't bring this up to put a damper on your holiday. Quite the opposite, actually. Like a festive song that puts you in the Christmas spirit, I want to share words from the Bible that remind us what Christmas is all about. John 3:16 says, For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  If this is your first time hearing this verse, keep reading, and if it's so familiar you could say it in your sleep, you might want to listen in too, because I'm willing to bet you need to let the words go a little deeper.

God so loved… Because God loved everyone so much, He sent His Son, Jesus, to display His mercy...

Just think about that! I mean, what else could God have given to show how much He loves us? It's not like He didn't have other grand things to choose from. He could have given us each our own galaxy. He could have given us magical powers to fly. He could have given us rivers of chocolate and mountains of ice cream. But instead of going for whimsical gifts, He chose the most precious thing to Him. Not something He could wave His hand and create in an instant, but something irreplaceable. His most precious possession. Something that said, This is how much I love you. You are so loved.

You might be asking, 'But what is Jesus to me? Why is that such a great gift? No offense, God, but a new galaxy sounds pretty cool—or the pet I've always wanted, an unending closet, a pool in the backyard…'

Yes, those things would be nice, and if you take time to think about it, He's probably given you a lot of good things—more blessings than you could think of before finishing this blog. But what makes Jesus so special? Why is He the best gift of all?

When Jesus came, His purpose was to proclaim God's love: His compassion; His nearness. God wasn't far away. He wasn't out of reach. He wasn't like a busy parent who is never home. He isn't like Santa who brings gifts at midnight but is gone in the morning. He is real and never more than a prayer away.

Like Christmas that wouldn't be the same without your favorite song, gifts, or your family, life would be very different without God's love. If Jesus never came, I'm pretty sure we wouldn't be here; but if we were, there would be no hope for the future, no comfort in sorrow, no happiness to be found anywhere, no love in our hearts. This world would be a very dark, horrible place. There would be no reason to sing, "Joy to the World".

The prophet Isaiah said, The people walking in darkness have seen a great light…For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:2,6)

You see, when God sent Jesus, He was giving us Himself; His presence; His unconditional, unending love.


This Christmas I pray you will take that into your heart like never before. God could not have given you a greater gift, so believe it. You are so loved.


The LORD delights in youHe will rejoice over you as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride. (Isaiah 62:4,5 NLT)



Photos by Rick Jernberg, Dany Sabadini; FreeImages.com

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Forgiven

My righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.
Isaiah 53:11 (NLT)



I've been reading in the book of Isaiah lately, and the ancient prophet makes many references to the promised Messiah of Israel. Today we know he was talking about Jesus, the baby who was born to Mary and Joseph. On the night of His birth, an angel was sent to shepherds watching over their flocks at night and made this announcement: "I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people."

In my previous blog, I talked about Jesus bringing the Good News that "The Kingdom of God is near."  In essence, the angel was saying the same in announcing the birth of the Christ-child. "A Savior has been born to you…peace to those on whom his favor rests."  God had come near to bring salvation, peace, and joy, as the prophet Isaiah had proclaimed hundreds of years before.

In Isaiah 53, we read about Who was promised, what He would be like, and His purpose. In verse 11 it says, My righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.  This is the cornerstone of God's Kingdom. His mercy and forgiveness counts us as righteous.

We are loved. We are forgiven. We are free.

Later in the Gospels, we can read a wonderful story that shows what this means for one woman. She responds to this free gift of salvation by attending a dinner-party held in Jesus' honor and washing His feet with perfume and her tears. The host of the party is disgusted by her actions because she is a "sinful woman", but Jesus is moved by her gratitude and love.

"I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love."

In contrast, the man sees himself as righteous with no need for forgiveness—or at least not as much as this woman. Other than inviting Jesus to dinner, he doesn't do anything to honor Him. Why? He doesn't understand how much Jesus has given him. He hasn't been made righteous through forgiveness, but rather is self-righteous, thinking he hasn't done much that needs forgiving, and he can easily make up for his shortcomings by having the Messiah over for dinner. (Surely that will cover it.)

But it doesn't work that way. Hundreds of years before, God had said, My righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for HE will bear all their sins. The "sinful" woman understood this, the "righteous" man did not. He didn't understand that he and the woman were the same: sinful but forgiven. That's the only scale of righteousness God has.

We all make mistakes. No one is perfect. We're all sinners. Perhaps you see yourself like the man who wasn't "too bad"; or maybe you see yourself as the man saw the woman. In his eyes, she was beyond forgiveness. Her sins were "too great". But in God's Kingdom, neither reality exists.

All of us like sheep have strayed away. We have left God's paths to follow our own. Yet the LORD laid on HIM the sins of us all.

The sins of us all…I pray you believe that. You are forgiven. No matter what mistakes you have made, no matter what you need forgiveness for. You are. You are counted as righteous.

As the woman in the story who washed Jesus' feet with her tears, may your motive for loving God and showing Him that love be the same. Not from a heart of guilt and shame, nor from a heart of self-righteousness. But rather as one who owed a debt that you could not pay. Go in peace, dear one. You have been forgiven.




Scripture taken from Mark 1:15; Luke 2:10-11,14; Luke 7:47 (NLT); Isaiah 53:6 (NLT)
Photos by Daniela Baack, Stacy Brumley, FreeImages.com