Monthly Archives: November 2015

Zechariah 12-14, Psalm 94, 2 John

It was so funny to hear the refrain spoken by my granddaughter this week on the glossing over of Thanksgiving to usher in Christmas at the stores. It seems that every generation is disappointed in the commercialism at this time of year. Even Sally on Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving (1973) says, “I know what you mean. I went down to buy a turkey tree and all they have are things for Christmas.” Black Friday has turned into a month of advertisement and pre-sales to draw money out of your pocket and to turn your mind away from being grateful for what you have today to ‘how I can I get more for less’, tomorrow. Nothing new. Soon we will bemoan the loss of money ‘that we didn’t have to spend’ but that was compulsively handed over for Christmas presents this year.

How do we reign in these runaway holiday routines and reposts? Do we even want to? Isn’t the answer just as traditional as the traditions? That is, we can learn to live the continual theme in Messiah’s kingdom – thanksgiving. Zechariah 14:16 says that the Feast of Tabernacles is the only feast that will continue in the new kingdom. This is a feast that is celebrated at the fall harvest and is a time of worship and thanksgiving to God.

So what have we to be thankful for? Again, little Sally voices my own tired suspicion: “What have I got to be thankful for? All it does is make more work for us at school” [or in my case – in the kitchen, decorating the house, shopping for food, clothes, gifts, gifts, gifts]. Okay, now I sound like the Grinch.

It’s just that I’m looking for reasons in place of the next few weeks of blithering excuses for overextending my already tight budget and overtaxing my already exhausted 50++ year old body to the brink of collapse. How can I please others and at the same time focus on what draws me closer to God and Christ? As I’m turning blue from forgetting to breathe, I hear the answer in gentle words of encouragement: 2 John 3 “Grace, mercy, and peace will be with you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.” Instead of the shock and awe approach of bombarding family with the latest and greatest contraptions and inventions on the media’s top ten list, I can commit myself to resting in God’s truth and communicating His love.

First truth – “The Lord knows the thoughts of man…” (Psalm 94:11)

Second truth – “Blessed is the man whom You instruct, O Lord.” (Psalm 94:12)

Third truth – “Your mercy, O Lord, will hold me up. In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul. (Psalm 94:18b-19).

When I packed away the fading brilliance of autumn, I paused to look at a cute door decoration. The country girl perched on a fence, pumpkins at her feet, had the most cheerful face. Her blushing cheeks, her shiny black button eyes, and her wistful smile beckoned me to take the harvest welcome basket of garden delights from her chubby hand. All I could think was to say, “Thank you for this moment of peace and the years of fond memories you have given.” Perhaps communicating God’s love in this same simple way is the reason to continue the theme of thanksgiving each season and each of the rest of our days.

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Zechariah 9-11; 1 John 5

Headlines news appears to be increasingly bleak. A handful of people with evil intentions stop the world in its tracks. World leaders offer little hope in the way of lasting peace.

Zechariah announces a new world order,

“Rejoice greatly O Daughter of Zion!  Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!  See your king comes to you,  righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey.” Zechariah 9:9.

We are not to be a people riddled by fear of what the future holds. We are prisoners, yes but “prisoners of hope” called back to God,  our fortress (Zechariah 9:12).

The apostle John takes our eyes off the television, beyond the newspaper and computer screen and points us to Jesus. We are not defeated; far from that:

“This is love for God:  to obey his commands, and his commands are not burdensome,  for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. ” 1 John 5:3-5.

Lord Jesus, thank you that you have won the final victory. May I love you today by following you in obedience. Keep me from discouragement and strengthen these shaky knees to walk the path ahead.

Klueh

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Zechariah 6-8, 1 John 4

Love. It’s a beautiful thing but I find it gets more difficult for me to give freely give it away the older I get. I find I have to be intentional about how, when and whom I love, sometimes almost talking myself into it. I hope I’m not alone here. What makes love so difficult as we age is that we typically love with all the hurts and shames of past experiences. We lose our childlike innocence and know a little too much in some cases.
In the world today, love is becoming increasingly more difficult. Difficult to give and to receive. It’s difficult to love people who act differently, think differently and think differently. I have built up defense mechanisms, biases, prejudices and believed lies that lead me to retreat and protect myself and my family. From the struggling neighbor down the street to the homeless in downtown Westminster to the Syrian refugee crises, love gets messy and uncomfortable….and risky.
The love of God is completely unconditional, unending and overflowing. Love is the mark of a true Christian and sets us apart from others. Love is what connects us with our Creator. Abiding love is the Lord inviting us to connect with him and remain in him. It’s an invitation to not only experience his love but also know him.

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

He reminds us the great extent he was willing to go to show us his love. He knew it would be hard for us to get it and it would take something extreme.

“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

It’s a call to love others like he did so that our love can be perfected.

“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.”

And finally, a reassurance that this abiding love brings confidence that this love is eternal and our hope is secure.

“And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.”

Thank you, God for your perfect plan and inviting us to love others. For sending your Son to be the propitiation for our sins and for gifting us with the Holy Spirit. Because of your great love we can have no fear.

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Zech 2-5; Psalm 93; 1 John 3

“It is not by force, nor by strength, but by my Spirit…” Zechariah 4:6

Walking in the spirit… as Christians, we’ve heard this phrase many times, but what does it really mean? This isn’t a minor command as it carries tremendous spiritual significance.

So, while the idea of walking in the Spirit might seem confusing, I believe it is a lifestyle, encouraged by God throughout His Word. As we mature in our faith, we learn to depend on the Lord’s direction through His Spirit’s power in us. In fact, the deeper we go with God, the better we understand how much we need to rely on Him. The wonderful part of our reliance on God is that the more we live our days in the Spirit’s power, the greater clarity He brings to our lives, and the more we seek Him.

Walking in the Spirit, therefore, is a conscious, deliberate focus on the Lord and His principles, not yielding to the flesh, but yielding, rather, to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We achieve this by inviting our Father into our daily lives. It means observing His majesty in all of creation… from talking with Him about any issue… large or small. From praising Him for who He is, and offering appreciation from our hearts to His for the simple reason that we want to communicate our gratitude. Walking in the Spirit also involves handing over our burdens and asking Him to stabilize and strengthen us beyond our capabilities. We can stifle the Spirit’s power in us through sin we haven’t come clean about, but we can also invite the Spirit to increase His work in us by heeding His gentle nudges.

Paul wrote strongly about our need for walking in the Spirit in his letter to the Ephesians. Looking deeper into Ephesus, a city characterized as a ‘city of worthless idols’, it became clearer why Paul was so committed to spending a majority of his ministry to getting the city’s people on the right track. The secular nature of this region was characterized by “lust of the flesh” through selfish thoughts, desires and feelings. However, when a person receives Jesus Christ as Lord and becomes a Christian, the Bible says to learn how to walk in the Spirit, no longer living like unbelievers who do not know the Lord. The letter to the Ephesians says, “that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind.” The letter to the Ephesians teaches to “walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise.” “Circumspectly” means accurately, precisely or exactly. Christians are to learn to walk correctly according to God’s revealed Word.

One of the most empowering spiritual lessons we’re wise to learn requires disciplining ourselves to listen for and to the Spirit. Learning His language takes time, commitment, and practice, but we experience greater joy and peace as we know Him better. As we walk with Him, we realize the inadequacy of our strength in light of His, and our ever-growing appreciation for Him makes us want to remain in His power and worship Him all the more.

When we finally realize He is our lifeblood, we know we can’t walk well through life without Him!

Father, God, help us connect living in the Spirit with walking in the Spirit. Help us to acknowledge in our heart that we are unable to please You without the Spirit’s constant power in our life… we pray for this power! Help us to trust more confidently the Holy Spirit’s power and promises so that we can know what is right. Lord, we ask Your help so that we can say with confidence, “Not I… but the Spirit of Christ within me.” Holy Spirit… You are welcome here!

Amen!

Greg Stefanelli (gstefanelli)

 

 

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Haggai; Zechariah 1; Psalm 138; 1 John 2

Even in this week set aside for giving thanks I have a hard time resonating with the Psalmist. In my season of unanswered prayer the thankfulness is a bit forced, the gratitude almost artificial.

Why is the provision, the transformation slow to come? Doesn’t God care?

My request is certainly far from selfish, but am I asking too much?

Much wrestling, much scripture meditation, much emotional prayer.

Keep reading, continued study.

Prayers change. Pastor James MacDonald reminds, “We ask for smoother paths when we should ask for stronger shoes.”

I know the theology, but do I believe it? In the times of Haggai they faced a fifteen year delay in the completion of the temple, but now it was time to again get to work. We don’t always know the reasons or have the advantage of a broader perspective on “delays” in our own lives, but God’s promises and admonitions can carry over just the same.

Haggai 2:4-5 says, “Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not.

I just need to be faithful, keep working.

I John 2 reminds me where the reward is promised. Not this life, but the one to come. “And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life.” And, a few verses later, “ And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.

Christianity isn’t about the easy days. We like to soak up times of worship and blessing. Godly teaching and time in His Word loudly proclaim that He is with us, but sometimes our life events scream louder the lie that we’re all alone. It can appear to be a losing battle in this lifetime.

Choosing to listen to that still small voice. Choosing to set my gaze on Him. Choosing to work even when the working is hard. Choosing to believe the promises and their fulfillment in the life to come. You only live twice.

Dear Lord, thank for Your Word, so rich with promises. Thank you for wrestling with me through the questions and the struggles. Continue Your work in and around me – give us stronger shoes, steady faith, and continued perseverance. ~Amen

6intow (Erin)

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Ezra 3-4; Psalm 92; 1 John 1

“And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound  of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.” Ezra 3:11-13.

What amazes me about God is that He takes us as we are. He does not wait until we have our act together to receive us. Ezra describes a somewhat confused and disorganized scene of worship. Some people praise God from a place of joy while others praise Him with hearts that throb with sorrow and longing. The people are united by their worship of God, not by their emotion and God hears them, one and the same. That gives me hope for the days when I come to Him battered and broken hearted.

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched —this we proclaim concerning the Word of life… We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.  And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.”  1 John 1:1…3, 4.

Jesus not only takes the punishment we deserve, but after his death and resurrection, he invites the doubter to reach out and touch his wounded side and pierced hands (John 20:27). How is it that He invites the unbelieving into such an intimacy? And why does He do this? To draw us into the friendship and joy of knowing the Father, Son, Holy Spirit and fellow believers, past, present and future.

I have grown to dread those awful Holiday moments…having to share the table with relatives who drink too much, say cruel things, as well as the moments when I am the one who wounds. Last year I had a revelation that turned out to be a grace; the Holidays are not about family drama, they are about Him. If there is anytime that I am supposed to extend grace to others as well as myself, it is over the Holidays. When the arrows start to fly and I am intentional about allowing His grace to rule, it is an act of praise and worship. Dysfunction, broken lives and disappointment can not overpower the love of God. Every act of worship, be it from a heart of joy or sorrow is received by the One who loves me.

Klueh

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Ezra 1-2; John 21

22 Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow me.” John 21:22, NLT.

Heart stirring in Ezra, I know that God is capable of changing situations and moving hearts of men.

Sometimes I find myself caught in opposition of scenarios of how I wish they would be and what they actually are. The dream sequence of holiday or relationships at large, where friends are friends forever, or a holiday table is filled with love, family and food. The sometimes other side of that is a sad reminder that sin thrives in strife– where criticism and unforgiveness can be served alongside the mashed potatoes, or the heavy grudge of another is a grimace in place of the grin of a once-upon-a-time friend.

These are things I think about. When the Lord put thanksgiving in my heart, I became the (very sincerely) happy host of Thanksgiving. But sometimes the stress of relational dynamics has me wanting to back down and wondering, what if we just order pizza and call it off? Or, am I going to cry when this is over?

Replaying highlight reel in my mind of the years, and whoa, the cast’s faces appear in queue for action. I wonder, how come (they) get to keep doing/saying/being like that?

***

A view from the water, and Jesus is at the beach calling out to his friends. As they are reunited, he prepares them breakfast and talks to Peter.

“Do you love me?” he asks Peter.

“Lord, you know I love you,” he replies in John 21.

(My heart softens.)

“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.

***

Sin thrives in strife. If the world (or the guests at my table, or the people in the hallway) is to know we are his, they’ll see it in our love. Regardless of the doings and sayings of another, I am the Lord’s and he tells me, “Follow me.”

Lord, help me to keep my eyes on you as I run the course you marked out for me. Help me to follow you, love you, obey you, honor you, and trust you.

Courtney (66books365)

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