Scripture blogs

Rest

Ah rest, that sounds so sweet to me. After all the bustle and busyness of the Christmas season, rest is just what I need. There are decorations to take down, wrapping paper paraphernalia to clean up, one more family gathering and then life will go back to normal. Today however, I am resting as much as I can, so I have the energy to complete the remainder of the season’s demands.

Jesus promises us rest, not physical rest but spiritual. “Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear and the burden I give you is light.’” (Matthew 11:28-30 NLT)

When I became a disciple of Jesus, I didn’t understand I was given rest. His yoke didn’t feel light, it represented the heavy burden of guilt. I constantly worried if I was doing enough for God. I felt guilty if I said no to serving opportunities. I longed to be a devout woman of God. I believed that meant serving here and there and everywhere. I was very busy for God as a young woman.

Then I developed fibromyalgia in 1999. Fibromyalgia limits my ability to do things. I have diminished energy reserves and constant pain. I require a lot of physical rest. My lack of ability to do things only increased my feelings of guilt. I felt guilty that my husband had to pick up my slack around the house. My serving God here, there and everywhere came to a complete stop. Eventually I was able to start serving again, but in moderation. Therefore, I fought to keep my guilty thoughts at bay.

I didn’t comprehend how much guilt I was really feeling. I was good at stuffing feelings, it was my defense mechanism. But God in his mercy began to peel away the layers of lies I was operating under. First, he surfaced my feelings of guilt, so I could see the extent of them. I felt so condemned because of my inability “to do”. I equated that with sin. I blamed myself for developing fibromyalgia. It was my fault. I even felt guilty about that.

Then, he showed me I wasn’t believing what the gospel had done for me. He used verses like Romans 8:1 “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” (NLT) Romans 8 told me I was no longer condemned by God -period. He wasn’t chastising me for not being able to serve him or my family in the way I thought I should, which mostly consisted of physical activities.

He also used the above passage in Matthew. The Pharisees put heavy burdens on the people. It was all about what they had to do – or not do. In contrast, Jesus says his yoke is easy and light. It is not about what I do, it is about what I believe. He has no desire to put heavy burdens on me.

As I grow deeper and deeper in my comprehension of the gospel and all its implications, I see how the yoke of Jesus is easy and light. I don’t have to serve God in a certain way to please him; he is already pleased. I still desire to serve God, but I understand that serving him is more about being than doing. When I tell a grocery store clerk that Jesus loves them, I have served God that day. When I text a word of encouragement to someone, I have served God. When I reflect Jesus in any way, I have served God.

Join me in the New Year in being Jesus to the world. Let’s not worry about what to do, but how to be. Let’s sit at the feet of Jesus to learn from his humble and gentle heart. And we will find rest for our souls.

Scripture blogs, Topical blogs

Is Christmas Biblical?

Christmas biblical? For the first time this year I asked myself that question. I did a google search and I was shocked by what I found. Christmas traditions are rooted in pagan practices. Rulers and missionaries took people’s pagan festivals and changed them to Christian ones.

First, early Christians did not celebrate Christ’s birth. The Encyclopedia Americana, 1956 edition, adds, “Christmas…was not observed in the first centuries of the Christian church, since the Christian usage in general was to celebrate the death of remarkable persons rather than their birth…a feast was established in memory of this event [Christ’s birth] in the fourth century. The first recorded celebration of Christ’s birth was in 336 A.D. during the reign of Roman Emperor Constantine. Rather, the celebration of December 25th as a feast day can be traced back to the paganism of Babylon (Jeremiah 52:31), to elements of Egyptian worship, and to the idolatrous worship of Saturn in Roman times. “Far and wide in the realms of paganism was this birth day observed”, Rev. A. Hislop, “The Two Babylons”.

Scholars know that Jesus wasn’t born in December from the text telling of his birth. Shepherds would not be out in the fields in December near Bethlehem, it is too cold. Also calculating Elizabeth’s conception from when Zechariah would have been ministering in the temple and Mary’s conception 6 months later, would make Christ’s birth in the spring.

What else is rooted in paganism? Christmas trees for one. Many cultures considered the evergreen tree as a symbol of life. Northern Europeans put evergreen trees in their homes and the Romans put evergreen branches inside in the winter as reminder that spring was coming. According to an article in Christianity Today, “many early Christians were hostile to such practices. The second-century theologian Tertullian condemned those Christians who celebrated the winter festivals, or decorated their houses with laurel boughs in honor of the emperor.” However, during the middle ages the use of the evergreen trees as part of Christmas was accepted. Christian missionaries were taking what was part of idol worship and claiming they could convert it to Christianity because of Christ’s supremacy over all.

What I am supposed to do with these new revelations? In my search, I certainly found those who believe we are sinning and displeasing God by participating in the Christmas celebration. They even quoted scripture to back up their claims.

Is there anything biblical about Christmas that can justify my participation in the season? For one, at Christmas we tend to be more generous to those in need. Proverbs 22:9 (NASB), “He who is generous will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor.” We know that God commends us for giving to the poor. If I look at Christmas as a time for giving, not just to my family, but to those around the world who are in desperate need, then I believe God would be pleased.

Is there anything wrong with celebrating the birth of Christ? Even though it was unbelievers who commemorated the day of their birth, remembering the miraculous birth of our Savior is beneficial. God did not command that we make Christ’s birth a feast. But to worship Jesus by remembering the details around his birth is encouraging to our faith. Having a special service at church to remember God’s fulfillment of his prophecies concerning Jesus’ birth is appropriate.

Is it wrong to get involved in all the other things of Christmas, like decorations, presents, cookie baking, Christmas work parties, Santa Claus, etc.? Only the individual Christian can make that call. For me, I will trust that God is more interested in my heart attitude toward Christmas than what I do. I think I can enjoy time with family and friends making memories around Christmas traditions. I will know that Christmas is not something that God has ordained. But, I don’t think God necessarily hates Christmas either, if celebrated with the right attitude and understanding.

I will use this time as a reminder of all that God has done by sending his son as a baby. I will worship him by giving to those less fortunate than myself. I will be grateful and extend his grace and kindness to others during this crazy busy time of the year when patience is at an all-time low. And I will try not to get caught up in the frenzy. What will you do about Christmas?

Scripture blogs

Psalm 42:5,8 Dealing with Discouragement

“Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again- my Savior and my God! Now I am deeply discouraged, but I will remember you… But each day the LORD pours his unfailing love upon me, and through each night I sing his songs, praying to God who gives me life.” (Psalm 42:5,8)

The Psalmist had every reason to be discouraged. His faith was being attacked by his enemies, he was suffering physically, and he was not in Jerusalem where he longed to worship God.

There are many reasons for discouragement today. Hatred is surfacing everywhere. Politically, our nation seems split between party lines and each party is unwilling to work with the other to accomplish anything. There are health issues, money issues, relationship conflicts, work stress and unfulfilled desires and dreams. The list goes on and on. We each have our own circumstances that drain our positive outlook on life.

In my last blog, I related that focusing on God’s promises for my future really helps me. But there are other ways to fight discouragement. The Psalmist tells us how he takes courage. The Psalmist described his miseries and why he was discouraged, but he also remembered what he needed to do in response. He focused on God and his unfailing love. He chose to put his hope in God. He remembered God and his character. He sang his songs in the night, songs of praise.

My biggest take away from this Psalm? I have a choice. I can focus on the depressing stuff or I can focus on God and his character. I can focus on God’s promises. I can focus on my new Identity in Christ.

Shifting my mind to God and the truth is not easy. It is a battle! My mind habitually zeros in on all that is wrong. I begin to feel sorry for myself. I am robbed of joy. As my thoughts continue down that road, I experience depressing feelings that tempt me to quit……to quit believing God’s character because he doesn’t change my circumstances. I stop trying to do anything except make myself feel better. I become self-focused.

What we think about is so important, not because it make us feel better, but because in doing so we are fighting the powers of darkness. Discouragement is one of Satan’s biggest tools to weaken our faith. If he can discourage us enough, we might give up the good fight. This renders us harmless in the battle, and Satan scores a victory.

I don’t know about you, but I do not want Satan to win in my life. I want to fight him with everything I have. And fortunately, I have the Holy Spirit living in me to equip me for battle. When I am blue, I have to remember. When I am blue, I must choose to pray for help to change my focus. I need to pray for a passage or verse to give me hope.

When I have hope despite my unpleasant circumstances, I win against Satan. I am a witness for Christ. I am a light in the darkness. I bring God to glory. Let’s fight the battle together and choose to remember God, his character, and his promises when life presents us with discouraging situations. Let’s remember what the gospel has done for us

Scripture blogs

Masterpiece

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10 NLT) This verse has become one of my favorites. God considers me his masterpiece. Not just a work of art you would see at an art fair, but a precious work that is worthy to be shone in the greatest museum. I think of the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci which is enclosed in a glass case at the Louvre Museum in Paris. This painting is protected from anyone touching it or sunlight or temperature variations. It is highly valuable, said to be priceless.

That is how God looks at me. I am priceless to him. I am valuable to the creator of the Universe because he made me. “You made all the delicate inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous- how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.” (Psalm 139:13-15 NLT) David understood God was forming him in his mother’s womb. It wasn’t genes making the decisions about who he would be, but God’s handiwork through genes.

God not only created me physically, but he recreated me spiritually when I placed my faith in Christ. I am a new creation according to II Corinthian 5:17. He made me alive spiritually so I could do good things. Before Christ, I couldn’t do any good things. I could only live by my flesh to satisfy its desires.

I’m not saying before Christ I could never be kind or generous or forgiving, but I was doing it for the wrong reason. I wanted to feel good about myself, not to bring glory to God. Before Christ, I sought my significance in other things, not from how God looked at me. So, is that truly good in God’s eyes? If my motivation was to seek my significance in what I did, leaving God out of the picture then in God’s economy it isn’t all that good. But when I seek to do good things because I understand who I am – I am complete and I am righteous. Then I am motivated for the right reasons and I bring glory to God.

God has created specific good things for me to do personally. He designed me for a particular purpose. He gave me my personality, my talents, my spiritual gifts, my looks, etc. to fulfill his master plan he designed for me long ago. What an adventure to follow God and discover the good things he has planned for me to do!

I don’t have to do great things for God to impress him. He is already enthralled with me. I am to discover those good things he has for me to do. As I follow him, he will guide me and show me. Maybe his plan is for me to write a book (only time will tell) or just drive a friend to a job interview. One is not more important than another in his eyes. God is delighted with both because he is watching me fulfill his plan. All good things are equal in his sight.

So, I try to remember who I am in Christ daily so I do not seek my significance from other things. I take great delight knowing that God views me as his masterpiece. I try to listen to his voice to guide me throughout my day to fulfill the good things his has for me to do. Remember you also are his masterpiece, not a mediocre work of art or even a piece of junk. You are priceless!

 

Scripture blogs

Right Thinking

Our thoughts are so important. I am convinced that what we think about determines what we say and do. One of our responsibilities as a follower of Christ is to think rightly. This is not a natural phenomenon for us. Before we come to Christ, we think worldly, wicked, selfish, trivial thoughts. It doesn’t mean we never think about anything good or righteous, but the majority of our thoughts are not what God would have us dwell on.

If we have the Holy Spirit living in us, we can be more successful in redirecting our thoughts. As I was reading through Psalm 16 the other day, I realized it contains a lot of right thinking. It was written by David during a time of great trouble. Yet, it is a Psalm of great hope and encouragement.

Here are some of the truths I see in Psalm 16:

1. We must place our security in God. So often we turn to other people or things to keep us safe. We misplace our security. In times of trouble, only he can save us. Ultimately, we are saved from death and made alive in Christ. Here are the statements David made to show he was secure in God.

“Keep me safe, O God, for I have come to you for refuge.” (Psalm 16:1 NLT)
“I know the Lord is always with me. I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.” (Psalm 16:8 NLT)
“No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice. My body rests in safety. For you will not leave my soul among the dead or allow your holy one to rot in the grave.” (Psalm 16:9,10 NLT)

2. God is the only source of real satisfaction. We let people, circumstances and things compete with God in satisfying us. However, all of them leave us empty. They may quench our thirst briefly, but it doesn’t last. People aren’t perfect and they disappoint us. Circumstances don’t cooperate with our desires all the times. And things grow old and lose their appeal. David understood that only God satiated his soul’s longings.

“LORD, you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing.” (Psalm 16:5 NLT)
“You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.” (Psalm 16:11 NLT)

3. Grateful hearts praise God. Take an inventory of your life. Has God given you any good things? He is the provider of all that is good because he is good. Did you have a good time last weekend? God gave you that. Do you have people in your life that you love and love you? God gave them to you. Do you have a roof over your head? God provided that too. Be grateful and praise the source of all that is good in your life. David was enduring great trials at the time, yet he chose to focus on the good.

“I said to the LORD, “You are my Master! Every good thing I have comes from you.” (Psalm 16:2 NLT)
“The land you have given me is a pleasant land. What a wonderful inheritance!” (Psalm 16:6 NLT)
“I will bless the LORD who guides me; even at night my heart instructs me.” (Psalm 16:7 NLT)

Let’s fill our thoughts with right thinking. Remember that God is your true protector; place your security in Him. God is the only one who can truly satisfy us. He should be everything to us. Dwell on the sweetness of your relationship with Him. Lastly, praising God for all the good things in our lives is what he deserves. Besides it’s hard to be sad or grumpy or angry when we are praising God. Right thinking leads to right living!

Scripture blogs

Wiser Than

Psalm 119:97-100 NLT
“Oh, how I love your instructions! I think about them all day long. Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are my constant guide. Yes, I have more insight than my teachers, for I am always thinking of your laws. I am ever wiser than my elders, for I have kept your commandments.”

Wiser than my enemies. Don’t we all want to be wiser than our enemies? The Psalmist claims that following God’s word has made him wiser than his enemies, teachers and elders. This is just one of the benefits of scripture we learn from Psalm 119. But how does the Psalmist accomplish that? Answer: He thinks about scripture all day long. And because he is always thinking about God’s word, it is his constant guide. He knows the commandments so well, he keeps them without fail.

Satan popped into my head as being our biggest enemy. We know he prowls around looking for someone to devour. In I Peter 5:8, we are told to stay alert because of Satan’s desire to destroy our faith. We need to know his schemes so we can combat his attacks.

He uses deception to throw us off the right path. He twists God’s word or takes it out of context. He did that with Jesus in the desert and with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Jesus showed us how to fight the attacks. He used more scripture. We need to know God’s word so well that Satan’s misuse of it won’t tempt us to doubt the truth.

When I inventory my own thoughts, I don’t find that I am dwelling on scripture all day. I have thoughts of yesterday, what I need to do today, what will happen tomorrow, food, relaxation, etc. I send up prayers for others and at times I do think about the word. But some days are better than others. I am challenged by the Psalmist’s commitment to think about God’s instructions always. I know the Holy Spirit can help me focus on the word. I need to be alert and focused.

What does your mind tend to dwell on? Let’s commit to meditating on God’s word more, so we will be wise to Satan’s tactics.

Scripture blogs

In The Valley

“If your instructions hadn’t sustained me with joy, I would have died in my misery. I will never forget your commandments, for by them you give me life.” Psalm 119:92,93 NLT

I love Psalm 119. I remember a time when reading my Bible was boring. I did it to check it off my list. Occasionally, I was enlightened, but most of the time I was fighting sleep. I knew in my head I should love and enjoy God’s word, but I didn’t. Then I discovered Psalm 119. It was all about God’s law, commandments, precepts, etc. The guy who wrote it obviously loved God’s word. I asked God to help me love the Bible like the psalmist. I began to memorize Psalm 119 with a dear friend. As I memorized that Psalm, I began to see all the benefits the psalmist claimed about God’s law. That was the beginning of my romance with God’s word.

Psalm 119:92,93 contains one benefit of loving and knowing God’s word. In the midst of the valley of our lives, God’s word can keep us from giving up completely. The psalmist had experienced some very trying times, yet it was God’s law that kept him going. He said he was saved by God’s word. He would never forget the word that saved him from despair.

I know there are countless times when I have been confused or discouraged about a situation and the Holy Spirit brings a verse to mind. He either brings up a verse I have memorized or he highlights a verse or two as I’m reading a passage. Then I repeat that verse or verses to myself over and over. I have learned that renewing my mind on his word can produce joy and hope in the midst of the valley.

I’m so thankful God answered my prayer. I love his word! It had been a life raft for my soul in those dark days when life doesn’t make sense. Do you need a life raft? Get into his word and hold on for dear life. Even if you aren’t in the valley right now, get into his word to store it up for the future.