He Knows Your Name

Stryper_autographs
Autographs from my favorite band, Stryper

December 29 (Revelation 3:5)

All who are victorious will be clothed in white. I will never erase their names from the Book of Life, but I will announce before my Father and his angels that they are mine.  (NLT)

I’m not exactly an autograph hound, but I do have several autographs from famous people.  It’s not that I geek out around celebrity, but I am a bit like the rusty truck in the Pixar movie Cars who is so excited that Lightning McQueen knows his name.  I know, I know.  Famous people put their pants on one leg at a time, just as we all do, but there is just something cool about meeting someone whose work you have enjoyed, whether that be their music on the radio or their acting on the big screen.

Despite how much some of us might enjoy getting autographs, we have to be honest.  The person giving the autograph does not really know us, and while we may be excited that he or she calls us by our name, we are most excited to have that celebrity’s name on some object.  Of far greater significance is the fact that our names are written in God’s Book of Life.

Pause on that for a moment.  God knows you.  He knows your name, and it is not because you told Him two seconds before He addressed you.  He knew you before you were born, and for those who have confessed their faith in Jesus, He has written their names in the Book of Life.  One day Jesus will look you in the face, smile, and announce to His Father, “This is one of mine.”

Father, when I feel far from You, remind me that my name is in the Book of Life.  Help me to stake my life and identity not on the things that I do or acquire, but on the unshakable truth of my relationship with You.  In the name of Jesus, Who made it all possible, amen.

 

Is Jesus Your King?

good-thief

December 22 (Matthew 2:2)

“Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

Christmas is just a few days away, but go for a moment to one of the thieves crucified with Jesus.  Toward the end of the year 419, exactly 1600 years ago, St. Augustine wrote a work titled On the Soul, and in it he made a keen observation.  Regarding the reactions of the disciples and the thief to the death of Jesus, he observed that the disciples “mourned as if the death of a human being, but he believed that Jesus would reign after His death” (On the Soul, I.11).

Now go back to the birth of Jesus.  He was born a king, and people came to worship him even then, yet people have remained confused about this for two thousand years.  We do not celebrate the birth of a man at Christmas.  This is no secular holiday to honor a great human leader.  It is a cosmic event that changed the way we understand reality itself.  He is God in the flesh.  He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, the second person of the Trinity, co-equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

As you make final preparations for Christmas celebrations, ask yourself this.  Is your relationship to and understanding of Jesus similar to, albeit much greater than that of any other person?  Or do you grasp along with the wise men and the thief that Jesus is   your King?

Jesus, I owe You everything, from the breath that fills my lungs to the life I will enjoy forever with You.  May my celebration of Your birth bring You true glory as I honor the One Who is my sovereign Lord.  Amen

 

‘Tis The Season

Luke_1

December 15 (Luke 1:3-4)

Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write an accurate account for you, most honorable Theophilus,  so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught.  (NLT)

Advent and Christmas are seasons of investigation and robust analysis.  They are times when we set aside our emotions and do the hard work of study.  We explore, dig deep, question, and then dig even deeper.  “Uh, hold on a minute,” you say.  “You’ve got that wrong.  This is the time of year for warm feelings, the joy of family and friends, and the wonder-filled story of a baby in a manger.”  You, of course, are not wrong, but if that is all this season is to you, then you will be left with nothing but warm feelings that quickly cool, joy that fades with the memories of celebrations, and a story that is just that, a story and nothing more.

God created us with hearts to feel, and therefore our feelings are important.  He gave us a spirit with which to understand spiritual things and to hear from Him.  But He also gave us minds, and Luke acknowledges that when he begins his gospel for his friend Theophilus.  He acknowledges that the Christian faith is something that is taught in addition to being felt and he knows that what is taught must be true or it is at best a waste of time and at worst outright deception and fraud.  So, what does he do?  He investigates the sources and carefully presents an accurate account of the life of Jesus.

This is actually the best time of year for you to do the same.  You may have some time off from work or some vacation time in which to get away and relax.  Use that time to dig deeply into the Bible.  You don’t have to be a scholar exploring manuscripts in the original languages.  In the case of Luke, he has already done that kind of work for you.  Instead, read the Bible itself.  Read it slowly and carefully.  Ask questions of it.  Share them with God and let Him lead you into all truth.

Father, thank You for giving us the Bible and continuing to speak to us through it.  So many of its stories have become so familiar to me that I almost take them for granted.  Help me to see them anew and for what they are, the accurate account of Your creation and Your relationship with it.  May the Holy Spirit guide me into what is true, and may that always lead me to greater praise and service to You in the name of Jesus, my Lord and Savior.  Amen.

Belief Without Sight

Aquinas
St. Thomas Aquinas, 1225-1274

December 8 (John 20:29)

Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.  (NLT)

It would be impossible to state fully the influence of Thomas Aquinas, the 13th century Dominican friar.  He remains one of the greatest philosophers and theologians of all time, and his Summa Theologiae, a gigantic tome, stands as one of the masterworks of Western literature.  Yet on December 6, 1273, something happened that caused him to lay down his pen.  He experienced a vision so profound that he felt he had nothing more to write, despite that the Summa was unfinished.  When begged by a friend to continue, he replied that all he had written seemed like nothing but straw in comparison with what he had seen.

Truly, this is what I desire.  More than anything I want to experience God so directly that I can see nothing else, feel nothing else, know nothing else.  And I have no doubt that such an experience would indeed blind me to everything that is not God and would convince me that all my projects and accomplishments amounted to nothing but straw.

Yet this has not been the case for me, at least not yet, as it is not the case for most of those who follow Jesus.  We long to be in His presence, but each morning we awake with the things of the world still crowding for our attention.  In His grace, Jesus has spoken a word to all of us in His reply to another Thomas, the disciple who put his hand into the Lord’s wounds after His resurrection.  “Blessed are those who believe without seeing me,” He said.  Those of us who believe without having seen Him directly are blessed, and with that gift of blessing we should take great satisfaction and joy until the day when we all will see Him face to face.

Lord Jesus, my true and only desire is for You.  I long to be in Your presence forever.  Until that day comes, may I draw my pleasure and joy from the blessings You have given in this life, including the greatest of all, the promise of life to come.  Amen.

Raindrop Humble

Water_Droplets

December 1 (1 Peter 5:6)

So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor.  (NLT)

While hiking recently with my son, I stopped to capture a picture of crystal droplets poised on the ends of tree branches.  So many aspects of their beauty beckoned.  There was the smoothness of their liquid surface and the tension as they clung to branches, ready to fall at any moment.  There was the tremendous forest caught in their reflection, and there was the impossible complexity they called to mind.  Two atoms of hydrogen combined with one of oxygen had produced what we so casually call water, but there was so much more.  The mere thought of all that was going in just one rain drop led me to consider the chemistry of the trees and soil and my son and me as we stood contemplating it all, and that was to say nothing of the vastness of the forest, the immensity of our planet, or the endless reaches of space.  We were properly humbled by that water droplet.

The more a person truly knows, the humbler he becomes.  Arrogance is the byproduct of ignorance.  When we consider the wonders of the physical world, it is impossible not to be humbled, and when we ponder the power that created it all, we rightly feel very small indeed.  And when we realize that the creative power behind raindrops and quasars is not a faceless force but a fully realized personal entity who speaks across eternity in a voice as close as next door to call us by name, then humble is the only possible state of mind and heart.

Like most people, I resent it when I have to be under someone I do not respect.  Humility in that moment can be tough to bear.  Yet humility under the mighty power of God is a joy.  It truly is.  It is a comfort and deep pleasure to relax and submit myself willingly to the One Who could take my life with a thought, but has instead invited me to savor eternity with Him.

Lord Jesus, I love You more than I can say.  What peace and joy I derive from humbling myself before You, safe and secure in Your love.  Keep me close to You today, tomorrow, and until You call me to Your side.  Amen.

Jesus Wants You…All Of You

Surrender

November 24 (Matthew 10:39)

If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.  (NLT)

I have always read this verse as if it were speaking about the things of life such as material possessions and personal goals that may not be in accordance with God’s will.  The way I was reading it, I should focus less on my career, daily problems, and getting the latest album by my favorite artist and more on what God has called me to do, the result of which would be that I would find real life.  This is not necessarily a wrong reading, but it is nowhere close to what Jesus is actually saying.

There are multiple words for “life” in ancient Greek, and the one used in this verse is the same one in Matthew 10:28, just eleven verses earlier.  “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul.  Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  “Wait a minute,” you say.  “I don’t see the word ‘life’ in that verse.”  That is because English translators usually use a different word in verse 28.  They use “soul.”

The same Greek word, psyche, is used in both verses, and that puts an entirely different spin on verse 39.  Read that verse again with “soul” in place of “life.”  It carries a stronger punch, doesn’t it?  Jesus is not asking us to give up just a few pieces of our lives to Him.  He is asking us to surrender our whole lives, our souls, our very essence to Him.  Do you think the one who made you, who knows you better than you know yourself, and loves you better than anyone ever could would be satisfied with anything less?

Jesus, I offer you the words of a hymn from the bottom of my heart.  “I surrender all.  I surrender all.  All to thee, my blessed Savior, I surrender all.”  I give you all that I am, Lord, not merely my time, my possessions, or my thoughts, but the very essence of my soul.  Amen.

How Will You Face Death?

Flatline

November 17 (2 Timothy 1:12)

For I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.  (KJV)

As you stand on the edge of the diving board, the distance to the water looks much greater than it did standing on the edge of the pool looking up.  As long as you remain standing on that board, you are in control, but the moment your feet leave the platform, that’s it.  Whatever will happen, will happen.  There is not one thing you can do about it.  Do you have that image in mind, the feeling of that moment in your throat, in your gut?  Good.  Welcome to the end of your life.

Unlike with diving, that moment will come for each of us, and we will not have the opportunity to climb back down the ladder.  You will speak your last word, see your last sight, and that will be it.  What then?  The moment before that, the very instant before you die, will be the test of what you believe.  It will not matter what you have told others you believe.  All that will matter in that instant is what you believe, or rather not what, but whom.

Paul does not write to Timothy that he has a solid philosophy on which to base his life.  His complete, utter, and absolute faith is in a person, Jesus Christ.  Is yours?  Go back to that diving board moment at the end of your life.  Your heart will beat just five more times.  Are you afraid?  Four more times.  Are you rehearsing what you think you know about the afterlife?  Three more times.  Do you think there is something more you could have or should have done to guarantee life in heaven?  Two more times.  It really is too late to do anything now.  One more time.  In that instant your peace or fear will be the evidence of what you truly believe.

Jesus, I do believe in You.  I believe that You love me and that Your sacrifice was the only way I can live forever in joy with God.  I want to walk each day closer and closer with You, listening to You, learning from You, leaning on You in all things good and bad.  I want to live so closely with You as I draw breath in my flesh that I cannot tell anything has changed when I no longer breathe at all.  Amen.

Prepared To Fight

 

October 20 (1 Timothy 6:12)

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. (ESV)

The Greek in Paul’s letter to Timothy begins, “agonizou ton kalon agona.” The first and last words of that clause give us the English word “agony.” Living the Christian life will involve a fight. It will involve pain, discomfort, and even agony. Make no mistake. It is not God Who causes that agony, but everything from the fallen nature of the world to direct intervention of demonic forces will work against you because you are one of God’s children, washed in the blood of the Lamb. Are you ready for such agona?

Probably not. When I go to my car at the end of the day in the hot months, I immediately roll down the windows and turn on the air conditioner as I put my coat and tie in the trunk. You can’t expect me to drive home in a hot car, can you? And if I am somewhere the Wi-Fi is slow, I will just switch over to data. No one can seriously expect me not to watch the YouTube video a friend has sent me at the moment I want to watch it! To say that we live in a world of creature comforts is an understatement, and while I am not inclined to give up those comforts, I have to acknowledge that they have made me soft. When hard times come, I am quick to expect God to make everything right, and when He doesn’t do so on the spot, well, my thoughts aren’t what they should be.

Paul knew what it meant to suffer hardship on behalf of his calling in Christ and he knew how to prepare for it. As he says in 1 Corinthians 9:27, he beats his own body and brings it under control. What will it take for you to prepare yourself for the fights you must face as a Christian? Is there something you need to give up? Has something that was once a tool to help you become a master to enslave you? You have a calling as a child of God. Ask Him to help you be ready to face the trials that come with it.

Lord, it is easy to believe that heaven should be right now on earth. I have come to expect now the perfection that will only exist when You return to renew all things. Help me to live in a way that does not focus so much on creature comforts but focuses more on faithfulness. Help me to fight well the good fights when they come my way. Amen.

Is God Good Enough To Trust?

Foggy_Road

October 13 (1 Thessalonians 5:9, 2 Corinthians 5:7)

For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.

For we walk by faith, not by sight.  (ESV)

Have you ever participated in a trust fall?  You stand up, close your eyes, fold your arms across your chest, and fall backward into the arms of another person.  It may seem rather hokey, but it does prove a point.  You simply will not give up your attempt to control your own life unless you completely trust the person you claim to trust.

What does it mean to walk by faith and not by sight?  Let’s start with the end of that statement.  It means not attempting to figure things out.  It means not trying to see what we cannot see about next week or tomorrow or later today.  It means not using all our experiences and education to control the future in an effort to protect ourselves from harm.  Are you scared yet?  A little bit nervous, perhaps?  We spend most of our lives trying to control life, either so it doesn’t hurt us or to get whatever it is we want.  Walking by sight is the natural way to go.

Why, then, would we give that up?  Let’s be honest for a moment.  How has that control thing been going for you?  Don’t you find that you expend more time and energy trying to arrange how things should happen than actually doing them?  Okay, you say, but why should I trust God?  Because of 1 Thessalonians 5:9.  God loves you!  The Bible says right here that God’s plan for you is not for you to suffer His anger.  Do you get that?  God does not want you to suffer punishment or be separated from Him.  He wants you to be united with Him forever, and He has made that possible through Jesus.

Now does that sound like someone you can trust?

God, I’m here again, giving back to You the control I have tried to take over my life.  It is just such an easy habit to fall back into, Lord.  Help me today, just today, to walk by faith in You and not by what my own senses perceive.  I will come to You with the same prayer tomorrow.  In the name of Jesus, amen.

God Raises You From Darkness

Reading_dark

October 6 (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.  (ESV)

You have either experienced what Paul experienced or you will.  If you have felt the emptiness of despair, then you know exactly what Paul is talking about.  Don’t feel bad about feeling bad.  No less than the apostle Paul went through a period of depression so dark that, as it says in the original Greek, he was at a loss how to live.  If you haven’t felt it yet, stay with me here so you will be prepared when you do.

We live in a fallen world, friends.  That is not just a metaphor.  We all know about the big things…wars, poverty, hatred, crime…but our smaller worlds are broken, too.  We suffer from uncertainty, doubt, and fear.  We face illness, both major and minor.  We have job difficulties and relational stress, and do I even need to mention finances?  And when two or three or all of those things hit at once, we would be lying if we said everything was okay.

Yet notice what Paul took from the experience of despair.  He learned to rely on God as never before and to stop relying on himself.  Friends, I know the dark times are painful, but what a blessed place to arrive!  I wish we could get to that place of complete trust in God without going through such pain, but that just isn’t how it works for most of us.

So how do we come through to the other side?  How do we arrive through the darkness to the place of reliance on God?  It helps to have walked with Him before the darkness strikes.  Even if you have not experienced despair or true hardship, read and meditate now on the verses that talk about faith and the goodness and provision of God.  Even if you think they do not pertain to you at the moment, let those verses deeply into your heart.  No one knew the Scriptures better than Paul.  He relied on the words of God during the worst of times to see him through, and they will do the same for you.

Father, I want to build up my protection against the assaults of the world by knowing You more.  Open to me Your words and reveal to me their truth.  Plant Your words deeply into my mind and my heart, that I may call upon them and find my way to You when I can see nothing in front of me.  In the name of Jesus, Who trusted You through the darkness of death and brought life to all, amen.