Thoughtful Thursday: Hidden Treasure – Our Prized Possession

Proverbs 7:1-2

“My child, keep my words and treasure up my commands in your own keeping.  2 Keep my commands so that you may live, and obey my instruction as your most prized possession.”

Proverbs 2:4-5

“If you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.”

Luke 12:34

“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Colossians 2:2-3

“My goal is that their hearts, having been knit together in love, may be encouraged, and that they may have all the riches that assurance brings in their understanding of the knowledge of the mystery of God, namely, Christ,  3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

We can go our entire lives searching for treasure – what our hearts long for.  Yet all the while it is right in front of us, sitting on a shelf, gathering dust.

Imagine finding a treasure and looking at it and taking just one piece of the treasure out, then leaving it there.  The treasure would not benefit us and would not be shared with anyone else, either.  In this fast-paced world, we can step over the greatest treasure and miss it, if we are not careful.

What are the various gems in this treasure chest?  Understanding.  Why is it that our eyes were opened to be able to comprehend what God has done?  Knowledge.  Adding to our understanding, more and more knowledge of Him and the ability to see our sins and His grace.  Wisdom. Knowledge applied and used for God’s glory.  Peace. Souls at rest no matter what is transpiring around us.  Salvation.  The penalty for our sins removed – our guilt stains washed away! Communion with God. being able to fellowship with Jesus and go to Him anytime.  Forgiveness.  All of our guilt washed away.  Grace.  Strength to live for Jesus.  Healing.  Changed hearts and minds yielded to Him, delivered from the burdens of this world.  Assurance.  The sweetest jewel – assurance that we will be with Him for all eternity lasts longer than any temporary treasure on this earth.

On and on the precious gems to be found.  To some the Bible is a book of rules, void of life.  To those who have recognized it’s worth, it is the greatest gift God has given to us.  Boundaries set to free us, counsel to comfort us, His word a lamp to guide us.

To be able to know the God of this universe and fellowship with Him is the greatest treasure given to mankind, but often we accept what is more tangible as a substitute and miss out on the gold He has for us.  No where else will we be able to find such a treasure, that supplies all our needs to each individual.

Lord, we delight in You!  Thank You for the treasure of Your most precious Son!  Help us to seek You without ceasing and to daily,moment by moment bask in your Word.

Weapons of Warfare

Photo Credits: covenantpromises.org

Photo Credits:
covenantpromises.org

2 Corinthians 10:3-5

“For though we live as human beingswe do not wage war according to human standards4 for the weapons of our warfare are not human weaponsbut are made powerful by God for tearing down strongholds.  We tear down arguments  5 and every arrogant obstacle that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to make it obey Christ.”

2 Timothy 2:23-25

But reject foolish and ignorant controversies, because you know they breed infighting.  24 And the Lord’s slave must not engage in heated disputes but be kind toward all, an apt teacher, patient,  25 correcting opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance and then knowledge of the truth.

2 Corinthians 10:4

“The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.”

Isaiah 54:17

“No weapon forged to be used against you will succeed; you will refute everyone who tries to accuse you. This is what the LORD will do for his servants–I will vindicate them,” says the LORD.”

It is difficult to live in this body of flesh and live for the LORD.  Fatigue and worldliness creep in easily if we are not watchful. Sometimes I can be lulled into a false perspective that being Christian is to be “nice” and flexible, tolerant of everyone and everything.  I can become disillusioned when I think salvation is equated to being loved by all and living a trouble-free life.

While we are called to love everyone, that does not mean we should expect reciprocation.  It also does not mean that we ought to condone sinful lifestyles or give in to the philosophies of this world.  Paul, who had previously zealously persecuted Christians, was a fighter.  He knew that to be faithful to God meant to be vigilant with our thoughts, faithful to seek God and spread His word.  He recognized that this Christian walk is a battle and he armed himself for the task at hand.

But we all do not have personalities like Paul.  I confess that I am naturally a shy person and a peacemaker.  I would rather avoid conflict, but sometimes it is necessary.  On one hand, I will not seek it out and waste energy on controversial arguments, but on the other hand, I want to be ready at all times to give an answer when someone is truly seeking.

Timothy strikes me as a more gentle soul, wanting to shepherd those around him, but equally as faithful to disseminate the word of God.  I love his heart to keep what really matters in perspective – winning one precious soul with gentle correction. It wasn’t about being right, but about caring for the other person enough to be unpopular with them while the truth was lovingly shared.

We have all perhaps seen hostile arguments over faith and even tearing down of fellow believers because their style or personality was different.  We might have even done so ourselves.  These are not the weapons we are to use as believers. Pride and vanity can cloud our view and cause us to see things from a merely human point-of-view, but love can clear the fog.  Not the world’s definition of love, but God’s Agape, unconditional love, which speaks the truth completely in love.

Boldness from God consumes me and causes me to see my need of God and to fulfill the calling He has on my life.  I just want to be faithful.  Sometimes we can be about the work of God and suddenly find ourselves under attack.  (Which, by the way, should not surprise us, but being that my short term memory is lessened a great deal, I am surprised every time).

Even fellow believers can nip at our heels and judge the work we are doing in the LORD.  What weapons should be use in our arsenal?  Prayer.  Forgiveness.  Love.  When persecution or judgments arise, they are opportunities to walk after the Spirit and not the flesh; to cry out to God, not man; to read His Word and apply it in our lives.

The stumbling blocks of fear and self-preservation can inhibit us from using the weapons God prescribes for use in spiritual battle and from trusting in God to fight for us.  He is our Deliverer and able to accomplish far more than we ever could with our human tools.  His weapons are not of this world and the battles we face are not, either.

Lord, thank you for being our Defender.  Help us to recognize that every we battle we face in this life is a spiritual encounter, not a physical, fleshly one.  You have overcome all!  Help us to use the weapons You have given us, that many will be saved and healed.

Which Jesus Do You Choose?

Photo Credits spreadingthefame.com

Photo Credits
spreadingthefame.com

Matthew 27:15-18

During the feast the governor was accustomed to release one prisoner to the crowd, whomever they wanted. 16 At that time they had in custody a notorious prisoner named Jesus Barabbas. 17 So after they had assembled, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Christ?” 18 (For he knew that they had handed him over because of envy.) 19 As he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent a message to him: “Have nothing to do with that innocent man; I have suffered greatly as a result of a dream about him today.”20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed.21 The governor asked them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas!” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Christ?” They all said, “Crucify him!” 23 He asked, “Why? What wrong has he done?” But they shouted more insistently, “Crucify him!”

Every year I read this story, but this is the first time that I recognized Barabbas was named Jesus Barabbas.  Upon researching his name, “Barabbas”, it literally means, “Son of the father”.  Two men with identical names but completely different natures.  One Jesus was the Holy son of God while the other Jesus was a criminal – a thief and a murderer.

The people were given a choice – which Jesus would they choose?  They chose the counterfeit Jesus.  The one who was a sinner just like them.  The one who did not make them uncomfortable in their sins.  They did not choose the unpopular Jesus – the only Jesus that could truly set THEM free.  By setting the sinner free, they were enslaving themselves, and blind to the consequences of their choice.

I wonder if the irony was seen by any of them at the time.  When they said, “let His blood be upon us and our children”, indeed it is only Jesus’ blood which could cover them.  They thought they could handle the judgment and responsibility for crucifying God. They did not know that they were the very tool used by God to shed His innocent blood, which would indeed set all people free Who could see Who this Jesus really was.

Pilate was given a choice.  He claimed innocence, but did he choose Jesus?  Knowledge of Him is not enough.  People in the time of Christ were given a choice, too.  So are we.  False Christs abound today.  They might not be clothed in garb that is easily recognizable, but comforts and idols abound, which are often chosen over the One true Savior, Jesus Christ.

Christ suffered as a criminal for us all.  What will be our choice?  To be identified with Him, to know of Him, or to deny Him? We do not have to have lived at that time of Jesus to make that choice.  He is alive and drawing us near to Himself.  He fulfilled the righteous demands of God’s law and suffered cruelly in our place.  He died for you and I, friend.  That is the Savior I choose.  Happy Easter!

Lord, open our eyes to see that You are the only Savior of all mankind.  May we choose You over and over again in the daily mundanity of life and never cease to wonder at how magnificent Your salvation is!

.

Worshipful Wednesday: Provision of Promises

Photo Credits wau.org

Photo Credits
wau.org

Psalm 37:30-40

“30 The godly speak wise words and promote justice. 31 The law of their God controls their thinking; their feet do not slip. 32 Evil men set an ambush for the godly and try to kill them. 33 But the Lord does not surrender the godlyor allow them to be condemned in a court of law. 34 Rely on the Lord! Obey his commands!  Then he will permit you to possess the landyou will see the demise of evil men35 I have seen ruthless evil men growing in influence, like a green tree grows in its native soil. 36 But then one passes by, and suddenly they have disappeared!  I looked for them, but they could not be found.  37 Take note of the one who has integrity! Observe the godly!  For the one who promotes peace has a future. 38 Sinful rebels are totally destroyed; evil men have no future. 39 But the Lord delivers the godly; he protects them in times of trouble. 40 The Lord helps them and rescues them; he rescues them from evil men and delivers them, for they seek his protection.”

We cannot fully appreciate the grace of God until we understand salvation and what we were saved from.  Nor can we really apprehend God’s promises until they are all we are holding onto.  Until we have walked in the steps of suffering, we do not need to hang onto the precious promises contained in this chapter of Psalms and they will be a concept we learn and trust in by faith.

When we consider this reality of suffering, gratitude for the challenges of this life consumes us.  We recognize that we would not have the relationship with God if it were not for struggles that cause us to turn our face upward.  Sure, it would be great if we did not have to walk through dark valleys to appreciate God, but our nature is to crave comfort, not trials.  Our relationship with God would be shallow and we would not know the joy of intimacy with God.

These promises are completely free – for those who qualify.  I know, there is always a kicker to gaining promises.  But the thrill of this Good God is that living in the manner prescribed by God is the most blessed life, anyway.  When we are immersed in His word, His Spirit quickens our hearts to do what is right.  What kind of God would save us, provide promises to encourage us to keep pressing on, then remind us through His Holy Spirit and then enable us?  God Almighty.

Those who study His Word are apt to want to keep it.  Some think of it as brainwashing, but meditating on God’s word is life to our soul, not mere religion nor an attempt to just reform our external behavior.  The Word of God has power to change us from the inside out.  What an awesome God who set a standard, instructs us how to walk in that standard, gives us an incentive to follow His precepts, then grants us grace and forgiveness when we fall short.

Especially precious to me is when I read specific examples of God’s action in the lives of His children, like in this scripture passage above, and see times when God honored those very same promises in my life.  I praise God today for the fact that He makes promises to us at all.  We certainly do not deserve it, but He is the Covenant Maker and Keeper who faithfully continues to show us signs of His never-ending kindness and mercy.

Lord, thank You for providing for the righteous demands of Your law and graciously giving us promises to hold onto when life sends us on different roads we never thought we would travel.

Christmas Countdown Day 2: The Nature of the Gift

Photo Credits onecentatatime.com

Photo Credits
onecentatatime.com

Hebrews 5:2-5, 8-10

2 He is able to deal compassionately with those who are ignorant and erring, since he also is subject to weakness. 3 And for this reason he is obligated to make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people.  4 And no one assumes this honor on his own initiative, but only when called to it by God, as in fact Aaron was.  5 So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming high priest, but the One who glorified him was God, who said to him, “You are my son!  Today I have fathered you.”  8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through the things he suffered.  9 And being perfected in this way, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.  10 And he was designated by God as high priest in the order of Melchizedek.”

Babies have a way of softening the toughest heart.  We are captivated by their helpless needfulness and beauty.  Okay, some babies might be more attractive than others, but we still marvel at how amazingly they were made.  How much more to be a witness of God incarnate, swaddled in rags, held by humans.

Babies are born in a fallen world but have not yet had the opportunity to choose sin.  Christ was born in the flesh but was fully God and never chose to sin.  Perfect in every way, yet treated as a criminal.  King above all kings, yet He chose to be a servant.  Honored, yet He chose dishonor.  Glorified, yet He did not choose glory, but chose humility instead.  He is One who can identify with our weaknesses, yet chose not to indulge the flesh.  He is the only One Who is blameless, Who is able to pay for all of the sins of humanity.  This gift is extraordinary and unlike any other – yet it is completely free.

I am a bargain hunter by nature.  With five kids at home, I need to be.  It is a joyous moment when I am able to get a prized item for a deal, but if an expensive item were begin given away, I would wonder what was wrong with it.  The value of human life, however, is not able to be determined – it is higher than money could afford.  How much more, then, is God in the flesh as a baby worth?  How astounding a gift, how immeasurable and lavish for God to give Himself – so humble and vulnerable – offering Himself to His own creation.  A divine gift from Heaven to earth.

I imagine the peoples from the Old Testament all looking to the promised Christ, much like we look forward to Christmas today – only they had a deeper longing.  Their eternal fate rested on this gift of God’s Son.  We eagerly anticipate something special we have desired, but they desired their very soul’s salvation.  Year after year they wondered when the prophecies would be fulfilled, and today we must guard against merely struggling for deals and just squeezing in moments to commemorate the meaning of Christmas.  While complaints can be heard about not enough time for shopping, souls are starving to understand what this baby in a manger really means.

The motivation for His gift is unparalleled in all of time.  He is the One who set the rules we violated.  Enemies clothed in guilt and shame, He looked at us with compassion and love and chose to give instead of condemn.  May that be our motivation, too.  As we look toward Christmas, may we rejoice in this amazing gift and share gifts with others, but may we also not neglect to bow down before the King of kings.  May we also awaken from our cookie-induced sugar comas and see the symbolism and intent behind many of the traditions we celebrate – His glory.

Thank You, LORD, for coming to earth to save us all!   Thank you for Your wisdom and the greatest gift we could ever receive – Your Son.  Help us to worship You each and every day, at Christmas and all year through!

Slaves to Righteousness

The Thankful Slave

Philippians 1:1

“From Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, to all saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.”

Philippians 2:5-8

“You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, 6 Who though He existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature.  8 He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross!”

I had the privilege of attending a revival last week in which the guest pastor spoke about our position in Christ being that of a slave.  As I have been contemplating his message, today I read the verses above – confirmation to go deeper on this subject to try and understand what it means to be a slave of Christ.

Slavery is viewed in modern society as a cultural sin, unfair and evil.  For the purposes of this world, it has indeed been an evil that has existed in many cultures for the benefit of the rich and the economy, where man is devalued because he is esteemed by sinful man as less.  In God’s sight, each soul is so precious, whether slave or free – and while He created us to be free, we are indeed simultaneously all slaves.  It is, in fact, in our slavery to God that we find our greatest freedom.  For the slavery in this world is founded on wickedness and a lust for power, where the slavery in Christ is founded upon righteousness, humility and selflessness.

We are all slaves to what we give permission to rule over us, slaves to habits, slaves to cravings, and ultimately all slaves of God.  I can feel the cringing when I type that word.  Slaves.  Slaves.  Slaves.  That is what you are.  It is uncomfortable and smacks in the face of political correctness.  Our Savior, holding a lamb, calls us friend – not slaves, right?  Yes, but He has also made us joint heirs – us – the lowest of the earth – recipients of an eternal bliss we did not deserve.  Not typically how a slave-master would treat his slaves.  But every knee will bow – in heaven and on earth and in hell below.  We bow because He is the only Worthy One, the owner of us all and of all we see.  He is indeed our Master, whether or not that reality is recognized by the creation.

Paul over and over again reiterates in the epistles his slavitude in Christ.  He does so in a rather boastful manner.  He is not ashamed of being a slave for the Gospel, but fully submits himself to that role.  A slave understands that he has a Master.  He comprehends that He is not the one in charge, but the one who must give an account.  This is at once humbling and the highest privilege one could conceive of.  Imagine being a servant in the White House – how much more a servant in the Kingdom of God.  A servant in God’s Kingdom is entrusted with the most precious gift of all – the Gospel.  Are we serving our Master well in this regard?

A godly servant does not question the Master or become angry and throw a fit when he does not get his way – he understands his position and his greatest pleasure is serving the King. He does not question whether or not he should tithe – he understands it all belongs to God and he is obedient.  This servant recognizes he was bought and does not deserve any kindness due to his transgression.  He is under authority – ooh – another difficult, not politically correct word.  In an age where children are rebellious to the authority of their parents and disregard the structure that God has set in place, being a servant under authority is indeed not popular today.  Nonetheless, we are slaves under authority.

Most humbling of all to me, is that my King, my LORD, chose to become a slave.  Think about that.  When has a King chosen such a role?  When He is righteous and knows that none of His slaves could ever pay what they owe their Master, He chose to serve.  What an amazing God!  May we joyously walk in our slavitude and the wonder that He grafts us in and calls us His children, too.  In that glorious day, all slavery will be abolished – slavery to sin, slavery to man, slavery to the flesh – no more sin, no more brokenness – nothing to keep us from Him any longer.  Glorious day, when our souls are finally set free.

Lord, forgive our pride and motivations that desire to be served rather than to serve.  Thank you for demonstrating real servanthood, even though You are above all.  Help us to glorify You by modeling to the world a holy, reverent walk with You.  Amen.

Breaking the Chains

1362979340_breaking-the-chains

Psalm 78:5b-8
“He commanded our ancestors to make his deeds known to their descendants, so that the next generation, children yet to be born, might know about them. They will grow up and tell their descendants about them. Then they will place their confidence in God. They will not forget the works of God, and they will obey His commands. Then they will not be like their ancestors, who were a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation that was not committed and faithful to God.”

Day by day, year by year, link by link, mankind passes down one of two inheritances: blessing or curse, obedience or rebellion, faithful or unfaithful. Each link is added when one person in your line chooses, willingly or unknowingly, to be trapped by that familiar sin that former generations all bowed their knee to . . . or not.

Yielding to that generational sin or family pattern seems so natural – it is all around you – you scarcely recognize it, save the grace of God. We can feel compelled to stay stuck in the box around us, or ask God to help us recognize what it is that is impeding us. Chances are, most of us do not even see that we are still in chains of some sort!

But breaking free from those chains is difficult. It seems impossible – at least the deceiver tries to convince our souls of that. It is, in fact, hard. But not impossible. God chose Abraham because He was desiring godly offspring. (Genesis 18:19). Abraham was raised in a polytheistic home, worshiping many gods, but Abraham was the first to worship the one true God. Abraham had his faults, too, but God knew he would pass down a heritage of life and faithfulness to those who followed him.

So, who bears the responsibility for our chains? Parents can be diligent to remove former chains and impress God’s word into their children’s lives, but the children also must carry the torch and choose to walk in the freedom that God provides. We break the chains when we ask God to help us see our chains and then resist following the pattern. When we apply the word of God to our lives and purposefully raise our children to love and know God.

Chains form easily – we must be on the watch, for worldliness creeps in subtly. We each bear different chains – some were placed upon us by others and some we made all on our own – shame, guilt, sin, rejection, hurt, depression, inferiority, insecurity, pride, the list goes on. What is binding you today? Jesus not only paid for every link in those chains, He severed them and set us free! Walk in the liberty of Christ – lay down the chains at His feet and He will grant you the strength to rise victorious! He who the Son sets free is free indeed!

Lord, You came and paid the highest price to set us free, and yet we often remain chained and enslaved. Deliver us, God, and enable us to help deliver others, also! Thank you for loving us and setting us free!