One Story

Passover

In God’s story from Genesis through Revelation, there is strong emphasis on remembering how God shows His faithfulness to His chosen people, the Israelites, and by adoption to the Gentiles.

Jewish tradition celebrates Passover this April 19th through the 27th to commemorate the events leading up to and including Israel’s exodus from slavery in Egypt (see Exodus 12). Because the Hebrew families each killed a lamb and spread its blood over the door frames of their homes, the Angel of Death spared the firstborn of the Israelites, but took the first born children and livestock in all of Egypt. The Hebrews were spared because of the blood of the lamb! God commanded them to roast the lambs and eat all of the meat. This meal would give them physical strength for their journey.  They left Egypt in haste and thus they carried their bread wrapped in cloths on their backs before yeast had been added. Hence the tradition of eating unleavened bread during Passover.

During the Passover meal—the Seder—each part of the meal is eaten to remember the bitterness of Egyptian slavery, how God spared the Israelites from death, and their passage out of Egypt.  One part of the meal looks forward.  It’s called the “afikomen.”  One of the pieces of unleavened bread is broken, wrapped in a cloth, and placed out of view.  After the Seder, children are sent to look for the afikomen and often receive a prize for finding it.

While the Passover celebration is largely a remembrance of how God delivered His chosen people, the afikomen points forward to Christ.  In the Bible, leaven or yeast often symbolizes sin.  Jesus is known as the “bread of life.”  Because He led a perfectly sinless life, representing Him as “unleavened” is a beautiful reminder of His holiness.  Jesus’ body was broken, wrapped in grave clothes, and hidden out of sight.  When He was seen after the resurrection, there was great joy among His disciples.  The afikomen is such a beautiful reminder of the resurrected Jesus!

In Christian tradition, we celebrate Holy Week, beginning with Palm Sunday and culminating in Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  During Holy Week we recall the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion and miraculous resurrection.  Jesus ate the Passover meal with His disciples as the “last supper.” As He served them the bread and wine—components of the Passover meal—He declared the bread to be His body and the wine His blood of the covenant, poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28).  At that moment, Jesus added meaning to the historical understanding of the Passover meal.  1 Corinthians 11:36 tells us that “Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” By taking communion, we remember what Jesus did to redeem us from our sins, and we look forward to His return.

This year, Holy Week, April 14-21, overlaps with Passover.  What a beautiful reminder that the stories Jews and Christians celebrate are not separate stories, but rather, components of the same story of our God who SO loves the world!  It’s HIS-story!  By remembering Passover, we see a preview of how the blood of the lamb saves God’s people from physical death. And the afikomen gives us a glimpse ahead to our Savior.  When Jesus shed His blood on the cross, His blood made a way for those who believe in Him to be saved from eternal death. And we look eagerly forward to His return and the redemption of all things.  By remembering what has been accomplished thus far, we can be certain that the best is yet to come!

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Checking Your Temperature

dont_waste_your_life

In his book, Don’t Waste Your Life, John Piper writes, “Remember, you have one life.  That’s all. You were made for God. Don’t waste it.”  Piper encourages his readers to find their deepest joy and life’s primary purpose to make others glad to see and know the glory of God in the person of Jesus Christ.

However, for many, being “Christian” has been reduced to attending church on Sundays, trying to be a good person, and trusting that they have earned their eternal “fire insurance.”  These are certainly valuable aspects of our journey. But these characteristics alone fall short of the Lord’s command to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37).” Worldly efforts to carve out life through career, family, recreation, and other endeavors easily overwhelm our waking hours.  Achieving life’s goals can easily become idols before we realize that they have surpassed our love for Christ in importance.

The key problem with a lifestyle focused on worldly success is what Jesus says in Revelation 3:16, “So because you are lukewarm, neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of my mouth!”  Those are difficult words to read, but they should encourage us to seek God’s heart for what it means to live with white-hot faith and passion for Him alone as our first and best love!  And that begins with reconsidering the full ramifications of what it means to be a wholehearted follower of Christ.

The Barna Group, a leading research organization focused on the intersection of faith and culture, defines an Evangelical Christian by biblical definition as someone who has made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today, and believe that when they die, they will go to heaven because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. And they believe they have a personal responsibility to share their beliefs about Christ with non-Christians.

Inherent in that biblical definition and as encouraged by Piper, is that we who call ourselves Christ-followers were given a directive by the Lord Himself to share the joy of being His disciples (Matthew 28:19).” However, 2018 data from a Barna Group study indicate that of the 35% of Americans who regularly attend church, 51% are actually unfamiliar with the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).

So, as the first step to ensuring that we not waste the daily Kingdom-building opportunities before us, let’s commit today to rekindling our first love with Jesus Himself. It’s the surest way to increase the temperature of our faith!  He deserves so much more than our lukewarm gestures of allegiance! Then out of the flow from our greatest love, may we boldly demonstrate to the watching world the “greater things” (John 14:12) that are possible in Christ because of His great love.  

Holy & Perfect

Holy & Perfect 

In 1 Peter 1:16, God’s Word encourages us to be holy in all that we do, quoting Leviticus 19:2 saying, “Be holy, because I am holy.”  The call to holiness is on par with Jesus’ call to “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) Inherent in the command to be holy is the standard of holiness – to be holy as HE is. The standard for holy and perfect has Almighty God Himself as its measure. Mankind was created in His image, and His heart is determined to see us once again as He is.  He understands the fullness of joy and the infinite blessings available to us when we share His glory and His holiness.

Because we know ourselves all too well, we easily recognize the sheer impossibility of our attaining His perfect holiness. Much like a professional athlete trains for competition, as believers we often try to engage in more Christian work and service in order to attain God’s standard of holiness. We might erroneously believe that we have to train harder, muster up more faith, and act more “religious.”  The truth could not be more contrary.

Rather than using self as our starting point to attain holiness, God himself must be our focus and foundation. All of His holiness, perfection, and glory are implicit in His identity. We have zero ability to become holy and perfect. Inherent in God’s call that we be holy and perfect is the power to attain His standard.  But how? Scripture gives us our answer—”The one who calls us is faithful, and he will do it!” (1 Thessalonians 5:24) Romans 4:17 reaffirms that holiness is God’s work, saying, “God gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.

So let’s kneel today and receive God’s command to be holy and perfect as His imparted blessing.  Hear Him impart to you, “Be holy because I am holy.  Be perfect, therefore as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Perfect here is intended to mean perfected in the sense of full, complete, finished or accomplished. On the cross, Jesus declared that the work to return us to His standard of righteousness was finished! Only as we receive Christ’s powerful, indwelling presence as His gift to us through salvation can we hope to become holy and perfect.

Our Prayer: Heavenly Father, You have called us to be holy as You are holy. We ask that You reveal Your holiness to us and cause us to make Your holiness our standard. Thank you that Jesus died on the cross so that we could be one with You in Him. Thank you for the gift of Your Holy Spirit in us to establish and maintain our union with Jesus. Impart Your holiness in Christ to us, and may we never be satisfied with anything less as the fruit of our salvation.  Thank you, Jesus, for laying your life down on the cross so that we can be one with Our Father in You.  We yield to Your Spirit to reveal Your holiness to, in, and through us.

May God use what is written to increase in His children the conviction that we must be holy, the knowledge of how we are to be holy, the joy that we may be holy, and the faith that we can be holy.  And may He stir us all to cry day and night to Him for a visitation of the Spirit of Power of Holiness upon all His people….” –A.W. Tozer

May we never settle for any version of salvation that falls short of the fullness of Christ and His perfect holiness in us as our rightful inheritance.

Holy

Living From An Eternal Perspective

Child Boxer

Whether on the school playground or sitting across the boardroom table, the old saying, “choose your battles” resonates often. Implied in that phrase is that some battles are important to win and others aren’t worth the fight.
Remember that God caused His Son, Jesus, to be born into the humblest of circumstances and to die the most humiliating, painful death, because there was indeed a battle worth fighting—a battle for the eternal destination of every person that has ever or will ever be born on earth. God’s motivation for battle was His great love for the likes of you and me (John 3:16)!
The angel declared that Jesus’ birth was “good tidings of great joy! (Luke 2:10)” Why? God’s team was cheering because God had enacted His plan to win the eternal battle! Unfortunately, we have recalibrated our joy barometers to our tally of earthly “wins.” For example–
Jesus prayed that we would all be one (John 17:11), and yet contemporary political wins result in unprecedented division, hatred, blaming, and discontent. Billions of dollars and equal emotional energy are expended yearly to accomplish wins in sporting arenas. Many corporations disregard the downstream effects on their employees in their chief goal of increasing the bottom line.
God’s word calls every earthly desire pride, greed, and lust, reminding us that they will all pass away, but God’s will for eternity will last forever (1 John 2:15-17). The entire Book of Ecclesiastes is a sorrowful reminder of how all of man’s striving for pleasure, power, and wealth will all pass away, and concludes that fearing God and obeying His commands is the whole purpose for man (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
Eternity is forever! Let’s expend our time, effort, zeal, and resources to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44), to pray for those who come against us (Luke 6:28) and to use our words to bless others created in God’s image so that they might know the deep, vast, genuine love of God! May we teach our children that getting that perfect Christmas gift (to experience temporary joy) pales in comparison to the great joy of knowing God’s love and spending eternity in His presence!
What if the measuring rod for choosing our battles was the question, “Will the outcome of this fight matter for eternity?’ What if the goal of every battle we choose to engage in is motivated by our genuine, Christ-like love for others? Perhaps with God’s help, our 2019 resolution might be to put the lens of eternity over our earthly eyes and allow that lens to be the driving force behind how we expend the days God has given us.
May thankfulness rule in our hearts—thankful that God chose to fight for eternity with you and me, with an unfailing battle plan that cost Jesus his very life. That is indeed good news and the unending source of our deepest, most perfect joy!

2019-365 Days of Opportunity

Happy New Year

As God’s children, it should give us great joy to live with the eager expectation that He is weaving together all of the days He gives us for our good (Romans 8:28) and His glory (Psalm 8:1)! He provides His “divine set-up” replete with blessings, trials, and opportunities for each of us to seek first His kingdom (Matthew 6:33). This will be a year of explosive, unprecedented personal and corporate Christian growth. God will do His part! Our part is to get our eyes off ourselves and onto Jesus, and to make the advancement of His eternal, heavenly kingdom on earth our singular ambition!

Below are 19 habits to infuse into each day throughout 2019. As you practice these with the Lord’s help, may they become a permanent part of who you are in Christ! And may you delight to see ALL that God will accomplish through you as you surrender your all to Him.

1) Pursue an ever-deepening intimacy with the Lord as you pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Talk to Him throughout each day and not just during times set aside for prayer. Make every effort to grow in your ability to know and hear His voice (John 10:27) as clearly as you recognize the voice of your best friend and your constant companion (Hebrews 13:5).
2) Read the Bible daily (2 Timothy 3:16). Verse by verse, chapter by chapter, knowing God’s Word is the first and best step to knowing God. (John 1:14). Ask God to illuminate key attributes of His character as you read, with the goal of knowing HIM (Ephesians 1:17).
3) Live empowered by the Holy Spirit. Ask for divine wisdom to solve confronting problems at home, work, or church (James 1:5). Ask for dreams and visions so that you can know God’s game plan (Joel 2:28). Ask God to instruct you by night as you sleep (Psalm 16:7).
4) Live repentant (Matthew 4:17). As the LORD reveals places in your heart, mind, and life that need to come into agreement with His ways, be quick to agree with Him through repentance (Matthew 5:6), receive His forgiveness, and thank Him that the power of Jesus’ blood has permanently erased the repented sin (1 John 1:7) and given you the strength you need to put away that sin for good (Hebrews 2:14).
5) Eagerly Anticipate God’s goodness. While it’s important to remember lessons learned, it’s time to leave your past in the past. Guilt, shame, and the enemy will work hard to remind you of your sinful past and cause you to hang your head (Job 10:15). Remind yourself that you are free indeed (John 8:36). Thank God that the old has gone and the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:13). Ask Him to keep your eyes fixed on Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18) and on His promise that the best is yet to come, living with eager anticipation of what lies ahead (Psalm 3:3; Ephesians 3:20)!
6) Change your focus. In a culture where self is the #1 idol, be others-focused. Get to know a stranger (Hebrews 13:2). Serve others with your hands, feet, and gifts (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Peter 4:10; Matthew 5:16). As you co-labor with the LORD to reach, teach, lead and minister to others in Christ, you will see more fruit than you could have imagined!
7) Change your vantage point. As you get caught up in all the mire, evil, and despair in the earthly realm, ask the Lord to take you to His higher place, seated in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6) where He rules and reigns from Zion (Psalm 110:2; Psalm 113:5-6). Set your heart on things above (Colossians 3:2). Go to the higher place in the heavenlies with the LORD and ask Him to show you what He is accomplishing as He presses forward into the fullness of His victory over sin and Satan (Romans 16:20; Revelation 1:8). From the higher vantage point, ask the Lord how you are to pray, think, speak, and act.

8) Change your perspective. Consider all things in light of eternity (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Today will be yesterday and tomorrow will be today sooner than we can imagine (Psalm 90:12). Live each day with an eternal perspective and not just for today or for the next earthly goal. Eternity is forever. Let’s build eternity with the Lord!
9) Change your mind. As a man thinks, so he is and does (Proverbs 23:7; Luke 5:22). Scripture tells us that we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16) and that we are to occupy our thoughts with things that are noble, right, and pure (Philippians 4:8). If you find yourself angry, offended, jealous, or downcast, it’s time to have a different thought! Think about praising the Lord with beauty and joy (Isaiah 61:3)! As you develop the habit of agreeing with God about all things, your heart and mind will be fertile ground into which He can confidently steward His power and authority.
10) Make peace in your heart with someone who has hurt, wronged, offended, neglected or otherwise treated you badly (2 Thessalonians 3:16). Ask Christ the forgiver in you to help you be willing to forgive as you have been forgiven (Matthew 6:15).
11) Make peace in person with that someone you have closed the door on (Romans 12:18; Matthew 7:8). Take Jesus with you and extend His love regardless of your personal ability to love the unlovable (Matthew 5:44).
12) Be God’s agent of unity. Where there has been disagreement and separation due to real or perceived differences, stand in the gap with the power of God’s love and be His Ambassador of Reconciliation, helping to reconcile people to one another and to Him (John 17:22; 2 Corinthians 5:20). Rise above political strife. Be set apart unto the LORD and separated from sin as you infuse His chesed love into the great divides in the world.
13) Use your ears more than your mouth (Matthew 11:15). Listen for God’s voice more than you ask Him to do things for YOU. Then do as He says (Matthew 7:21). Listen to others to understand where their hearts are with life and with the LORD.
14) Set a guard over your mouth (Psalm 141:3). Avoid gossip and idle chatter (Proverbs 20:19; Romans 1:29). Let no negative speech leave your lips (2 Corinthians 12:20; James 3:5-10), thereby giving the power of agreement to the enemy (Matthew 18:19). Use your words only as God directs to build up others’ identity in Christ and to build God’s kingdom (John 12:49)!
15) Show honor to everyone, even to those you don’t believe deserve it. Wives respect your husbands; husbands love your wives (Ephesians 5:33). Honor your parents (Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 6:1-3). Honor the authorities set over you (Romans 13:1-2). And remember to honor yourself because Christ lives in you (Colossians 1:27)! Honor God always (Romans 1:21)!
16) Live genuinely thankful. Thank God for Jesus, for His love, for air, food, shelter, and every single blessing (Psalm 7:17; Psalm 106:1)! Thank others for who they are and for every way they honor the LORD and the people He puts in their path, including you (Psalm 103:2)!
17) Take good care of your temple. The Holy Spirit lives inside of you. Give Him a blameless place–body, soul, and spirit to live (1 Thessalonians 5:23). You can only co-labor with the LORD to help bring about His Kingdom on earth while your boots are on the ground. Feed your body good nutrition. Don’t be a slave to your tastebuds (Romans 6:6 &17). Ask for God’s power to stay free from excess food and other substances that don’t honor your temple (John 8:36). Use your bodies to serve Him and others (Romans 12:1). Get sufficient physical rest (Mark 4:27).
18) Exercise BOLD faith motivated by LOVE. Pray BIG PRAYERS with kingdom motives (John 15:7). Trust God, period (Proverbs 3:5)! Ask for all of your inheritance – the nations (Psalm 2:8)! Release kingdom-building decrees as the Lord directs (Job 22:28). Release the power of God’s peace wherever there is conflict (James 3:18; Philippians 4:7). Share the Good News BOLDLY and with urgency so that none will spend eternity separated from the God who loves them (Galatians 3:8). Trust God to glorify Himself through signs, wonders, and healing as you minister to the lost and the hurting (Acts 4:30). He wants to be intimately known as the God of power!
19) Live to expand God’s Kingdom. As you prioritize how you spend your time, talents, and treasures, make kingdom-building your first priority and not what you squeeze into or out of an insanely over-extended lifestyle (Matthew 6:33). This will be your easiest assignment if you incorporate all the other principles and seek to only do as the Father directs (Matthew 7:21).

Consider building these 19 habits throughout 2019. Keep a short list of them nearby and ask God to empower you to hold Him and them in your heart. As you look back at the close of this new year, may you hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant (Luke 19:17)! As My disciple, you have born much fruit (John 15:8)! You have been faithful with what I have given you. I will entrust you with even more (Luke 16:10)!” May God’s kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven in and through each of us in 2019 (Matthew 6:10)!

Toxic or Thankful?

Air Pollution

The E.P.A. sets high standards for air quality to protect us from breathing toxic chemicals in the environment.  There is another form of air pollution that, while still legal by government standards, is just as toxic to our health and to the health of those around us.  It’s called complaining. Opportunities to complain are everywhere, inspired by annoying neighbors, heavy traffic, careless drivers, illnesses, politics, the news, a harsh boss, the weather, our kids, our spouses, and so on.

And yet in Philippians 2:14, the Bible commands us to do everything without complaining or arguing. Everything! James 3:10 goes further to say that blessing and cursing should not come out of the same mouth. So why do we invest so much time and effort into speaking negatively about those things that rub us the wrong way?

Our culture tells us that it’s all about me, and when me is negatively impacted by the surrounding world, something must be wrong.  While an individual’s rights are certainly important, God, not self, has and always will be the center of the universe.  What if we began to see the inconveniences of life as divine “set-ups” through which God will develop our character, perseverance, and trust in Him? Are we willing to make the effort to bless that person that drives us crazy or do we stay stuck in how we are personally, negatively impacted? How do we effectively learn to consider it pure joy when we face trials of many kinds (James 1:2)?

The antidote for toxic complaining is to intentionally develop a thankful heart.

Consider the story about a young boy adopted from an island in the Philippines where hot water is not available.  The adoptive father taught his son about hot running water by holding his hand under the faucet and gradually increasing the water temperature.  Now part of his new family in the U.S,. the young son comes downstairs from his morning shower expressing thanks and delight over the availability of hot water!  What a rich example of appreciation for what appears to us to be such a simple, staple of life!

Humans have approximately 30,000 thoughts per day.  Every thought releases a neuro-chemical response into our bodies.  Knowing that 75-95% of all illness finds its roots in toxic thoughts should compel us to cultivate joy in ourselves and others by starting with the foundational premise of thankfulness for every blessing as well as genuine appreciation for the uphill challenges that can serve to make us stronger.

An attitude of thanksgiving should be our default disposition, regardless of the swirl around us, as our declaration to the watching world that every good and perfect thing comes from God (James 1:17).  We must talk to God about those things that threaten to wear us down (Philippians 4:6) while maintaining a genuinely thankful heart because we have been blessed with so much!

If you woke up tomorrow with everything and everyone you thanked God for today, what would you have?

Resting in the Lord

What exactly does it mean to “rest” in the Lord?  Are we all supposed to take long naps and do nothing? At the root of the word “rest” is the meaning to stay or remain in one place, free from what disquiets us.  John 15:4 explains it so well, “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” Resting in the Lord means to stay completely one with Him, never leaving that space or place where you and He are one and the same. He knows your thoughts and quiets you with His.

A terrific personal barometer of how well you are “resting” in the Lord comes from 2 Thessalonians 3:16 that says, “The Lord of peace himself will give you peace at all times an in every way.” So whether you are splashing in ankle-deep water in a cool brook or swimming alone in the deepest place of the ocean against a formidable current, God’s peace can always rule and reign in your heart.  The power of His peace is what allows you to live obedient to His command to not be anxious for anything (Philippians 4:6)!

Are you living upset, frustrated, or worried?  God’s peace is your promised inheritance!  Peace is a place that is only found in Jesus.  Stop agreeing with the enemy about your fears and frustrations and ask the Lord to teach you how to remain in the power of His peace at all times. Run like a small child to the Father’s lap and stay there until He allows you to see your circumstances through His all-powerful, all-knowing eyes.  Allow Him to show you the infinite extent of His unfailing love and faithfulness towards you. Upgrade your fearful thoughts by trading them in for His eternal perspective. Insist on your inheritance of deep, lasting peace by living determined to remain in Christ no matter what!

Swimmer