Category Archives: Advent/Christmas

To the Praise of God’s Glorious Grace

Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved.  Ephesians 1:4-6 (NKJ)

Last week we explored the meaning of “in Christ”.   In Christ is the believer’s identity with Christ and his position before God the Father.  The believer’s identity incorporates the personality of Christ by the   present experience of the Holy Spirit indwelling the believer’s heart.  Being in Christ makes available to the believer everything that Christ has—His righteousness, privilege, resources, position and power.    This week we’ll continue our discussion of spiritual blessings by focusing on its primary source—God.

The source of spiritual blessings is God—The Faithful Creator and Sustainer of Life.  These blessings are available through God’s plan of salvation for those who by faith are in Christ.  God’s plan of salvation was not “Plan B” or an afterthought as a result of man’s fall in The Garden (Genesis 3:15) but was created in eternity before the foundations of the world.  “But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.  He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you” (1 Pet. 1:19-20).

The Old Testament prophets declared the plan of God to redeem and restore His people—for their sake and for His glory (Isaiah 43:21).  The Lord proclaimed through Jeremiah:  “I will cleanse them from all their iniquity by which they have sinned against Me, and I will pardon all their iniquities by which they have sinned and by which they have transgressed against Me. Then it shall be to Me a name of joy, a praise, and an honor before all nations of the earth, who shall hear all the good that I do to them; they shall fear and tremble for all the goodness and all the prosperity that I provide for it.” (Jeremiah 33:8, 9)

God chose man from Creation to be the recipient of His great love, desiring to be in continual relationship with His most beloved creature.  However, the nature of God, His holiness, specifically, demanded that believers be “holy and without blame” before Him (1 Pet. 1:15-16).  God declared, therefore, the means by which man would be able to meet His requirement for holiness—His Son, Jesus Christ.

Through God’s predetermined plan, He adopted those in Christ to become His sons (and daughters) (Rom. 8:15-16).  By God’s act of grace (being chosen and adopted) and mercy (Christ’s substitutional death for sins), believers are now clothed in Christ’s righteousness (imputed), making the pursuit of holiness (blamelessness) possible.   With the addition of the Holy Spirit’s presence, believers are able “to both will and do God’s good will” (Phil. 2:13).

God’s affection for man speaks to the true heart and nature of God.  It expresses God’s goodness.  While God’s goodness includes, His love and His mercy, Paul speaks of the “glory of God’s grace” (charis) expressed in the free gift of His Son.  God’s grace, resulting in the believer’s salvation and justification (rendered righteous) before God (Rom. 5:1), deserves our highest praise.   Hallelujah, we are now acceptable to God through Jesus Christ!

A closing note:  Throughout Paul’s writing and especially in Ephesians, we are reminded that God as Sovereign of both heaven and earth does all things “according to the good pleasure of His will” (Eph. 1:5) and “according to the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11).    God sovereignly rules over all things—present and future.  He rules with all wisdom, justice, and mercy, therefore, we can trust our present and our future in His hands (Rom. 8:28) regardless of what is happening in our external circumstances (2 Cor. 4: 18).

Chosen by God.  Holy and blameless in Him.  Adopted as sons.  Accepted by God.  These are the beginnings of the spiritual blessings God has lavishly given to those who are in Christ.  Taken individually, we can begin to understand and appreciate the privilege, power, and promise that flow from each (2 Pet. 1:3-4).  With each action of God, believers are invited to respond by participating in the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth and in witnessing to others about the Good News of Jesus Christ.   Let everything that has breathe praise the Lord for all He has done and continues to do for those who are in Christ!

SELAH:   God has richly given to us “priceless” spiritual blessings.  Although, we can never repay God for all His blessings, how will you respond to His love and glorious grace?

In Christ

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” Ephesians 1:3 (NKJ)

What does the believer need to “live victoriously”?  Some people think it begins with identifying their “spiritual gifts” so they can serve in the church (Eph. 4:12).  Others search out the “benefits of Christian living” claiming the promises of God as their own (2 Cor. 1:20).   But I contend that the most important understanding that leads to victorious living (for new and sage believers) is in understanding our spiritual blessings in Christ.  Spiritual blessings in Christ are the means by which believers gain access to, acceptance from, and authority of God.  As we celebrate Advent 2017, let’s explore what it means to be in Christ and the spiritual blessings associated with it.  These are the things that Christ came to give us in His first Advent and will be fully realized at His return.

When I began my Christian walk, the meaning of “in Christ” was a mystery to me.  I tried to understand it based on those things I was familiar with.  For example, I established membership in the local church, and I was in fellowship with its members to serve and glorify God in my life.  But “in Christ”, what did it mean?

“In Christ” is the present experience of the risen Christ indwelling the believer’s heart by the Spirit thereby incorporating the personality of Christ.  It is more than an imitation of the life and teaching of Jesus.  It describes the believer’s union with Christ as a result of the divine action of grace by God.  The result of that action is the believer is transformed into a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17).

“In Christ” isn’t the result of keeping the Law or by good works—it is a gift of God (Eph. 2:10).  How is this accomplished?  By taking part of weak flesh and blood, Christ was able to satisfy the righteous requirement of God, to destroy the devil, and to deliver us from the penalty of sin (Heb. 2:14-15).   In exchange, we have moved from being “dead in our trespasses” (Eph. 2:1) to our new position of being “in Christ.”   It is here that believers are put in a vital union and communion with Him so that we are identified with Him.

“In Christ” describes the believer’s identity with Christ and his position before God the Father.  The believer (in position) can now begin the process of being conformed (in practice) to the image of Christ—righteous and holy (Rom. 12:2).  In Christ God makes His superabundant blessing available to His children by faith in Christ so that what Christ has is theirs—including His righteousness, privilege, resources, position and power.  Believers are able to draw upon the wealth of Christ to accomplish God’s purpose and His will.

DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is a self-replicating material present in nearly all living organisms.  It is the unique string of characteristics that make us who we are—physically and mentally.  In Christ, we have been given a new spiritual DNA that equips us for the purpose and plan God has created for our lives.  In Christ we have been given everything we need to live godly and productive lives (2 Pet. 1:3-4).  Join with us next week as we continue to explore, “Spiritual Blessings for Victoriously Living.”

 SELAH:  “Christ became like us so that we can become like Him”.  How does being in Christ affect your daily life and routine?

A Psalm for Advent

“The LORD reigns; Let the earth rejoice; Let the multitude of isles be glad!” Psalm 97:1 (NKJ)

Advent has begun.  It is a time for personal reflection and spiritual awakening as we prepare to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child.  Choirs and orchestras are tailoring special worship music to commemorate the glorious day when God the Son condescended and entered into historical existence.  It is a time for high praise and worship.  We offer the 97th Psalm to usher in this special season.

The 97th Psalm belongs to a group of psalms (93-100) that affirm Yahweh’s kingship and His rule over the earth.  He both delivers and He judges.  It is in His great power and His “ineffable” love that He sent His Son to be the Savior of the world (1 John 4:14).  The opening verse begins with what every believer should understand as a foregone conclusion—“the LORD reigns!”

The awareness of God’s sovereignty results in an appropriate response—“Be glad!”

The believer’s gladness if not tied to a specific outcome, but to realization of the fact that God works all things for His glory and our good (Rom. 8:28).  During acts of personal rebellion and disobedience, He makes all things good (Is. 44:24).  When we are faithless, He still proves faithful (2 Tim 2:13).  When our strength fails, He renews our strength (Is. 40:31). His sovereignty extended from eternity through time, in that when we were dead in our trespasses, He made us alive in Christ (Ep. 2:5).  God is able to “keep us” until Christ’s returns (Jude 1:24).  And nothing can separate us from His love (Rom 8:39).

As important as the fact of God’s sovereign reign, are the effects His returning reign has on believers today.  Psalm 97 closes with this exhortation.

“You who love the LORD, hate evil! He preserves the souls of His saints; He delivers them out of the hand of the wicked.  Light is sown for the righteous, And gladness for the upright in heart.  Rejoice in the LORD, you righteous, And give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name.”   (vv. 10-12)

Believers are to love the Lord and look forward to His “glorious appearing.” They are to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts; they are to live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age (Titus 2:11-13).  They need not fear the day of the Lord’s appearance, because He has protected them from the wicked (Is. 54:17). The godly will enjoy the benefits of the rule of God: “light and gladness”. Light signifies the blessed state of redemption and victory (Isa. 60:1-3). This is cause for thankful praise.  The invitation to rejoice anticipates the Lord’s coming with His blessings.  Believers already experience many evidences of His kingship here on earth but eagerly await the fullness of his kingdom.

Also read:   Do You Wanna Be Happy?  Reality Living in God’s Kingdom

As you begin your Advent preparation, remember to include joyful praise for the fact that God fully reigns over all things—places, people, and circumstances. We need not wait to begin our jubilant celebration. We can begin today!

 SELAH:  Create a psalm of praise and glory in celebration of Advent 2017 and in anticipation of  Jesus’  glorious appearance in the future.

Perfecting Love

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” 1 John 4:7 (NIV)

Entering into this holiday season, WordBytes has shared two mindsets that will help us understand what really makes this time of the year special—relationships and gratitude.  This shift in thinking requires that we look beyond ourselves to more intentional expressions of kindness to others.  We close this series on preparing the heart for the holidays with our last mindset, which Paul describes as the “bond of perfection” (Col. 3:14)—the thing that holds everything together—love.

The first Bible verse a child usually learns is “God is love.”  As that child grows, his understanding of God’s love is expanded by personally observing acts of kindness in the world.  How does God disseminate His perfecting love into the world?

God loves us first.   “We love him, because he first loved us(1 John 4:19).   God is the source of love and therefore, He is the starting point of love’s entrance into the world.   God’s love for us began in eternity when He gave thought to man.  He created man His own image.  That endowment was given to no other creature of God’s making.  God gave of Himself—His own breathe (Gen. 2:7).  He gave man His essence including freewill.  He then blessed them and gave them dominion over the whole of creation (Gen. 3:27, 28).

We love God back.   “And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:16). Once we receive the revelation of God’s love for us (Ep. 1:17), it becomes possible for us to return God’s love to Him.  When we love God, He comes to live in us through the Holy Spirit (further evidence of His love).  We return God’s love through our obedience to His commandments (1 John 5:3) and our willingness to serve others (2 Cor. 5:14-15).

We love others like God.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another(1 John 4:11).  Jesus was asked by a devious lawyer, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” (Matt.22:35-40).  His response reflected His Father’s heart—love God first, others second.   God’s love is perfected in us as we love others more than ourselves (1 John 4:12, 17).   “Perfected” (teleioō) means to reach a goal or to be complete.  As believers love others like God, they begin to reach their goal of spiritual maturity and become effective ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20).

 We love God together.  “Herein is our love made perfect…because as he is, so are we in this world.” (1 John 4:17).  After Jesus washed His disciples feet (John 13:1-20), He gave them a new commandment that they love one another.  “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).  The greatest witness to God’s love is how believers care for one another “in community”.  It is not the geographic area that I’m speaking of, nor denomination, nor the universal church.  God’s love in community is authentic fellowship with other believers, experiencing true joy from being in each other’s presence.  As we love God together in community, we show how the love of God looks in the “real” world.

God’s love released into the world bears resemblance to a large stone dropped into a quiet lake.    Upon entering the motionless water, the stone creates a series of circular ripples that flow in all directions, outward from its initial source.  That’s how God’s love enters the world.  God is the Rock (He first loved us) and we are the resulting ripples created by the impact of His love—returning His love to Him, to others, and in community.

Powerful relationships and gratitude in action spring forth from God’s perfecting love.  As we prepare our hearts for the holidays, let’s exchange the worldview of “holiday cheer” with “God’s gift” of love and good will toward men.  God’s gifts will continue to return great joy and peace throughout the year and for years to come.

SELAH:  Read 1 John 4:7-16, “The Source of Love”.  In your first reading, make a note of the “words or phrases” that catch your attention. Read it a second time.  Feel free to use a different translation or paraphrase; list “the emotions” you feel in your reading.  (Awareness of Feelings).  Then read the text a final time and ask Jesus to share what is your “invitation for the day” from Him.  An invitation is a “personal” message, instruction, or encouragement JUST FOR YOU (versus a general application of Scripture).

 

 

 

Gratitude in Action

“Ho, Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters, And you who have no money, Come, buy, and eat.

Yes come, buy wine, and milk, without money and without price.”  lsaiah 55:1 (NKJV)

As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving 2017, it is an appropriate time to consider not only what we are thankful for but also, how we show our thankfulness? ln other words, how will we express our gratitude? American writer, Gertrude Stein, offers this view of gratitude: “Silent gratitude isn’t very much to anyone.” I agree! Therefore, I challenge you to move beyond quiet thankfulness to Christ-activated gratitude.

Gratitude is a noun that expresses the quality of being thankful and showing readiness to return kindness. This Thanksgiving, we will reflect on many kindnesses shown to our families and to us individually.  As Christ-followers, we are morally obligated to return those acts of kindnesses to others. These opportunities may come to us through individual requests or through needs we personally have identified. “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10).

Gratitude has also been described as a kindness awakened by a favor received. God has given us great favor. ln Isaiah 55, God is inviting sinners to come and receive the abundant gift of eternal life that is only possible through acceptance of Him.  The sinner is encouraged to seek the Lord while He may be found-to call upon Him while He is near (verse 6).  This invitation is a reflection of God’s love and kindness toward sinner man.

Even today, God invites us to “come, buy, and eat without money and without price.” What God offers is not physical provision for the body (water, wine, and milk) but eternal nourishment for the soul. God’s favor of salvation should awaken kindness within us (2 Peter 1.5, 7) that will result in compassion for others.

Hunger and homelessness are destroying our communities; hopelessness and despair are stealing the dreams of our nation. This holiday, search for opportunities to “give the gift that keeps on giving”—human kindness. This year instead of giving clothing, gift cards, or electronics, give the gift of gratitude in action.

SELAH:  What is standing in the way of you showing “gratitude in action”?  Read and meditate on Luke 17: 11-19 to help you express gratitude in action. 

The Power of Relationship

“A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Proverbs 17:17 (KJV)

Many of you have asked “the source” of inspiration for the weekly WordBytes.  Interestingly, many come as a result of simply observing life and the things that God calls to my attention.  This week I received an unexpected thank you card from a young lady whom I have the privilege of mentoring.  The thank you note was “unexpected” in that I consider my time with her more beneficial to me as I observe her daunting resiliency to life’s interruptions.  She signed her name to the card with the addition of this week’s scripture, Proverbs 17:17.  Voile!  This week’s WordBytes—“The Power of Relationship.”

God has built us for relationship.  During Creation, the LORD God observed, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” (Gen. 2:18, RSV) Therein enters Eve; man in relationship with woman.

The Garden of Eden was the meeting place for God and His creation, Adam and Eve. There they walked and talked with one another.  Imagine the conversations they must have had; man in relationship with the Creator of the Universe. Then sin entered the scene.  Their relationship was broken. Adam and his wife were expelled from the Garden. Their relationship became strained.

In relationship we experience true joy that enables us to manage both painful and difficult situations.  In relationship, we find not only a “friendly ear” but also the resources we need to pull us out of our “personal ditches.”  We find the confidence we need to “trust our heart.”  In relationship, we experience the courage to “overcome our fears.”   Solomon captures the power of relationship in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12:

Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

As we prepare for the holidays, let us reflect on the power of relationship.  Many of us minimize the importance of relationship in our lives.  It is in meaningful relationship that we can experience true joy.  Seek out those who need support and encouragement to live in these difficult times.  Extend your love and kindness to those who may be laboring under extreme emotional strain.  Lend financial support to those who may just need “a break”.  Relationships, whether they are family or friends, are the best investment of your time, talent, and resources.  If your relationship with a friend or family is broken or strained, let the holidays be your excuse to reconcile.  Get back into relationship!

SELAH:  Ask Jesus to show you those relationships He wants you to establish (or re-establish) this holiday season.

The Great Access: Practicing the Presence of God

“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?” Psalm 139:7 (NKJ)

“For through Him (Jesus) we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.” Ephesians 2:18

With the explosion of social media, one of the greatest assistances has been the development of technology that facilitates networking and contact with people who, under normal circumstances, would be inaccessible.   Facebook and LinkedIn, for example, have made it possible for individuals to make connections with people anywhere in the world who might assist individuals with their personal and business aspirations.  These are the benefits of the technology age.  However, one of the most phenomenal opportunities is not the result of the technology age we live in but the “grace age” Jesus provided believers via “supernatural entrée” to the Creator of the Universe.  This access can be realized through practicing the presence of God.

God is “everywhere present” (Ps. 139ff) and we live our life daily “in His presence.”  Although sin once separated us from God, our position in Christ (Rom. 5:1-2) re-established our direct access to Him. This access does not require that we travel to the temple in Jerusalem as was once the tradition of the Jews prior to Christ’s first advent (Deut. 16:16) nor can entrée to God only be found in the modern church sanctuary.  We live continually in the presence of God with potential for ongoing fellowship with Him anywhere and anytime.

Fellowshipping reminds us that God is “relational” (versus religion) and desires time with His children—those whom He loves and sent His Son to die for (John 3:16).   These are the blessings of those in Christ, which even the angels in heaven covet (1 Pet. 1:11-12).  Believers have the extraordinary opportunity to spend time with God not “doing”—presenting petitions or offering prayers of intersession but simply “being” with Him.   Practicing the presence of God is the intentional discipline whereby we pause during the busyness of our life and abide with God.

What exactly is meant by the phrase, “practicing the presence of God”?  In pursuit of an answer to that question, I found the best definitions from two renowned practitioners of this spiritual habit.  Following are their responses for your consideration.

“…to acknowledge the Presence of God who is really there is actually a form of prayer, a way of praying always as the Scriptures exhort us to do.  When we do this, the eyes and ears of our hearts are open to receive the word He is always speaking.  We enter into a path of obedience perhaps unknown to us before where we joyfully acknowledge, ‘Jesus is Lord.’

Leanne Payne, The Healing Presence

“…continual conversation with Him, with freedom and in simplicity.  That we need only to recognize God intimately present with us, to address ourselves to Him every moment, that we may beg His assistance for knowing His will in things doubtful, and for rightly performing those which we plainly see He requires of us, offering them to Him before we do them, and giving Him thanks when we have done.”

Brother Lawrence, Practicing the Presence of God

Practicing the presence of God is built on several foundational truths about God and His relationship with believers.

  • God lives within us. “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” 1 Cor. 3:16.  Before returning to His Father, Jesus promised to send “another Comforter” that would abide with them forever (John 14:16).  That Comforter was the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity.  He guides believers in all truth—truth that He hears from the Father (John 16:13).
  • God desires to communicate with us.  “Then God went up from him in the place where He talked with him.” Genesis 35:13.  God is not some distant deity disinterested in His children’s daily affairs.  We cry “Abba Father” (Gal. 4:6) knowing He hears our every word; in response we are to listen intently as He directs us:  “this is the way walk in it” (Isa. 30:21).  Communication between the Father and His children result in unity of thought and agreement in purpose.
  • God wishes to be in relationship with us. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” James 4:8a.  It has always been God’s desire to be in unbroken fellowship with man.  By instituting His plan of salvation, He created the means by which that which was lost in the Garden of Eden could be restored.  Now reconciled to God (Col. 1:20-21), man is once again free to fellowship with his Creator.

Jesus Christ was the greatest practitioner of living in the presence of God.  Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus synchronized His every move based on what He heard from His Father (John 5:30).  Living in continual communion with God, Jesus modeled the power of practicing the presence.

With these definitions and truths in hand, the spiritual reality of practicing the presence of God releases His fullness into the believer’s life.  There is peace, joy and love in abundance.   In unhindered communion with God, believers are able to live life more victoriously.

As Advent 2016 closes and 2017 begins be intentional in practicing the presence of God.  Live moment to moment in awareness and acknowledgement of God’s presence.  Awareness of God’s presence means that in our heart, we proclaim Christ is Lord.  In Him “we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28).   Acknowledgement of God’s presence means that we live our life attentively listening to His voice.  We live in unbroken communication with Him—“He in us and we in Him” (John 17:23).

Good to the Last Byte…

Want to learn more about practicing the presence of God?  Kevin Martinez of Christian Living and More offers six (6) ways to practice the presence of God throughout your day.  Click here to begin.

Make Straight the Path

The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight.’    Mark 1:3 (KJV)

My husband and I often argue over the accuracy and value of GPS systems.  It seems as though sometimes it takes you the longest and most convoluted way.  Such was the case this weekend as I attempted to attend a Christmas pagan at a church I was not familiar with. “Turn right, go left, make a U-turn at the corner” were the only instructions I received.  Upon arriving, I found that there was a straight path that I could have taken—and it was printed on the back of my ticket.   John the Baptist made paths straight in preparation for Jesus Christ’s first advent.  Believers can do the same, as we acknowledge Jesus’ presence today while anticipating His imminent return in the future.

The Apostle Mark, through the leading of the Holy Spirit, cites two quotations from the Old Testament prophets, Isaiah and Malachi, to describe the preparation for the arrival of Messiah:

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  (Is. 40:3)

Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts.  (Mal. 3:1)

The words messenger and voice refer to John the Baptist, the prophet God sent to prepare the way for His Son (Matt. 3; Luke 311-18; John 1:19-34). In ancient times, before a king visited any part of his realm, a messenger was sent before him to prepare the way. Making His paths straight was a familiar term that often included both repairing the roads and preparing the people.   By calling the nation to repentance, John the Baptist prepared the way for the Lord Jesus Christ and His ministry.

God has since the creation of the world been in the process of establishing a pathway to Himself—a path which includes provision for redemption and restoration for His fallen creation—both mankind and the physical earth (Gen. 3:15; Rom. 8:21-23).  All who acknowledge their sins and trust in Him will be saved.  The basis of that hope is the sovereignty and majesty of God (Is. 40:10; Ps. 93:1-2).

Advent 2016 can be an enormous opportunity to make “paths straight” by heralding the “supernatural” nature of Christ’s entry into the history of mankind.

Jesus has come.  During His first Advent, Jesus brought peace to all “who were once far off” (Ep. 2: 13) and estranged from God.  God manifested Himself in Christ Jesus to save us from the sentence of death, created by our sinful state.  We are now are reunited and reconciled to God—no longer destined to suffer God’s wrath (Rom. 1:18).

Jesus is still coming.  Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Jesus continues to reveal Himself (John 16:13).  The Holy Spirit is the present manifestation of Christ in our lives.  He teaches and directs us in all that we do.  He empowers us (Eph. 2:19) to do the work of Christ in the church today.

Jesus will come.  Much is written in the gospel accounts about Christ Second Advent (Matt. 24:44; Mark 13:26; Luke 21:28).   Jesus’ return will be a time of judgment:  to punish those who failed to accept the good news of the Gospel and to reward believers for their works of righteousness (Rev. 20:12).  We don’t know when Christ will return but we can be assured, He will come.

Finally, believers can make “paths straight” for the way of our Lord by having the courage to walk in the light of the salvation in which Christ has set us free (Col. 2:6-7).  No longer living for ourselves nor bound by sin, we can live out the purpose that God has established for our lives (1 Pet. 2:24).  It is our identity with Christ—in His death, burial, and resurrection—that conforms us to His image and transform our lives so that we are effective witnesses and “path makers”.      

Prayer:  Let us rise and meet our Creator. Let us raise our hands and voices in acknowledgment that God’s Holy Spirit moves among us, calling us to new life in Christ. Let us raise our eyes, knowing that this new life of stewardship for all God’s creation is seen in the life of Jesus the Christ, our Lord and Savior.  Amen.

Preparing the Way

How will you celebrate Advent 2016?  What will you intentionally do differently to usher in the most phenomenal event to enter into the history of mankind—the incarnation of God?   Advent should be more than participating in special Bible studies or in the lighting of Advent candles.  I’m afraid to say that I was guilty of both.  While thinking I was really doing something “spiritual” to usher in the true meaning of Christmas, I had allowed this sacred season to become “ritualistic routine”.  Advent, celebration of Christ’s explosion into human history, should be a time of excitement and spiritual awakening.  Just as Simeon and Anna faithfully awaited the long prophesized Messiah (Luke 2:34-38), we too should be faithful and watchful as we hopefully prepare the way for the arrival of our Lord and Savior during this season of advent.

In our text, the first word for “prepare” (kataskeuazo) is a Greek word that means to construct or create as well as to furnish or equip. It often has the sense of making a building, vessel, or object ready for use in the preparation of household goods, containers, and other kinds of commonplace items.  Mark uses the second Greek word for “prepare” (hetoimazo) which means to make the necessary preparations for an event that will happen later.   Throughout the Gospels, it describes the imminence of a great wedding or banquet feast, or even what will happen at the second coming of Jesus (Matthew 22:4,25;34,41).  Matthew, Mark, and Luke commonly used that word to describe Jesus’ and the Disciples’ preparations for the Passover and the Last Supper (Matthew 26:17-19; Mark 14:12-16 Luke 22:7-13).  So Mark by using the two difference aspects of the word “prepare”, calls his audience to:   1) make themselves ready vessels or homes to receive Jesus and 2) participate in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.[1]

Living between Jesus’ First and Second Advent is a place of tension for believers.  Although we know that Jesus’ first advent has occurred, how can we “prepare the way” to celebrate Advent with renewed focus and excitement? For this year and beyond, even until Christ’s second return?

Joyful Anticipation.  Anticipation is the act of looking forward or visualization of a future state.  We need to rekindle this emotion that generates joy and pleasure as we remember what Christ’s presence has meant to us in the past as well as allow our imagination to create new scenarios of possibilities as we think about “what is to come”.  Sadly, we have diminished those moments of richness and fullness that only come with anticipation.  What will Christ’s presence in your life mean in the upcoming year?

Attentive Waiting.  This is not mankind’s strongest attribute as attested by our impatience with people, places and things.  Frustration and tempers must be guarded as people wait in grocery lines.  We feel we are exempt from waiting too long for anything.  We even complain that time moves too slowly.  Our busyness and overscheduled calendars have pushed us into believing that waiting is an indication of either a problem with “the system” or flaw in others.  Our obsession with self and the need for instant gratification has stolen from people the virtue of being “long-suffering and forbearing” with one another (Col. 3:12-13).  We have become blinded to the fact that some things are worth waiting for—Jesus is worth waiting for.

Faithful Preparation.  How do we faithfully prepare for Christ’s return?  First, we must make ourselves “ready vessels” to receive the presence of God in the person of the Holy Spirit.  This requires period of solitude in which we can be alone with God, meditating on His Word, and praying with “listening ears”.  These periods of preparation may result in confession of sins or exposure of behaviors and thought patterns that are hindering our spiritual growth.  Secondly, we must make ourselves “living sacrifices” to God—in humble submission to what is His “good, acceptable, and perfect” will for our life, including service to others.  Finally, we must faithfully prepare by aligning our thinking with “things above” (Col. 3:2).  It is our future hope of glory that will motivate us to be conformed to the image of Christ.  We should remember to focus on things of eternal value versus those things that are “temporary and fading” away (2 Cor. 4:17-18).

Advent, the coming of Jesus Christ, brings something the world alone can never provide—unconditional love to those who trust in Jesus as their Savior, unwavering faith that trusts in the sufficiency of God to meet every human need, and unquenchable hope that guarantees an inheritance in eternity future.  Love, faith, and hope—these are key benefits that come with the advent of Christ.  Joy and peace then follow as we abide faithfully in His presence.  All this and more is ours as we prepare the way for Christ.

Prayer of Advent

Eternal God, we are seeking signs of your presence in our lives. Open our eyes, open our ears, open our hearts to receive some word of hope as we anticipate the coming of the One whom you are sending.

[1]  Awaiting the Already, Magrey R. deVega

The Joy of Fellowship

“That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.   And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.”    1 John 1:3-4   (NKJ)
What does “fellowship with God” look like in the life of the believer? Fellowship has been described as the “sharing of experiences with like-minded people”. However, fellowship with God is much more, for “who has known the mind of God?” (Romans 11:34) The believer’s fellowship with the Father is dependent upon accepting His Son as Lord and Savior. It is through Jesus Christ that believers begin to “know by experience” God’s heart and mind. Such was the case with the apostle John. True fellowship with the Son and the Father.  This fellowship results in joy in the life of the believer.
John and the disciples were uniquely privileged to witness, first hand, the person and works of Christ. “That which was heard” were truths that Christ declared concerning the kingdom of God and His offer of eternal life (Luke 4:43; 9:11). “That which was seen” included the many miracles of Christ; miracles that would attest to the coming of the promised Messiah (Matt. 11:2-5). “That which was looked upon and our hands handed” recounted the disciple’s examination of Christ’s glorified body after the resurrection (John 20:27). All of the disciple’s senses were engaged as Christ manifested (revealed) Himself and the Father.The disciple’s experience with Christ was not viewed from a distance but up close and personal. Since Father and Son were one (John 17:11, 22), the disciples concurrently experienced fellowship with the Father (v. 3). Fellowship is translated as “communion” and “participation in a common life.” John’s personal witness was an invitation to the early church to participate in a life style that centered on relationship–unending communion with God the Father and the Son. Therein is the basis for John’s statement that their “joy may be full” (v.4).

Though John’s letter was written thousands of years ago, its message is still relevant for today. To both the believer and unbeliever, it is an invitation to participate with the only true Source of joy. Jesus invites us to draw near with faith (Heb. 10:22) and learn of Him (Matt. 11:29). Joy begins and ends with fellowship with the Father and the Son.

 

Prayer: Father God, You have given us the Word of life through Your Son our Lord Jesus Christ and we enjoy fullness of joy in Your presence. We thank You for the invitation to fellowship with You. May we, in return, be faithful witnesses to Your person, power and glory. Amen.