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Friday, December 30, 2016

Learning To Embrace My New Identity

In review of Genesis 32:28a it says, “Your name will no longer be Jacob . . . From now on you will be called Israel”

Bottom Line:
You don’t need to be the same, you’ve been given a new identity.

What this means to me:
I no longer need to be the same or see myself in the same old way. God has given me a new identity because I have embraced his way for myself.

In genesis 32, Jacob had been manipulative, especially to his older brother. He now feared that his brother might retaliate. During the night he has an encounter where he wrestles all night with a man. In the end, neither win, but the man gives Jacob a new name, Israel, and ends up blessing Jacob as Jacob had requested.

Jacob in essence confessed his manipulative behavior and as a result God gave him a new identity. Like Jacob I do not need to stay the same. When I accepted Christ as my Lord and Leader, I too was given a new identity.

In Jacob’s example, three things happen:

First, God gives Jacob a brand-new identity (Genesis 32:28). Essentially, God says, “I know you’ve blown it; I know you’re conniving, but I see in you a prince, beneath all your emotional hang-ups, all your insecurities, all the stuff you don’t want anybody else to know.” God is saying to me: “Beneath all of your sins and hang-ups, I see a prince. You can be something great. You can be what I made you to be.”

Secondly, God blesses Jacob/Israel (Genesis 32:29). Deep down, I desperately want God’s blessing. And if I want God’s blessing, I have to take the steps God has already laid out for and requires of me.

Lastly, God gave Jacob/Israel a limp (Genesis 32:31). Remember, when they wrestled, God dislocated Jacob’s hip. Jacob’s limp served as a daily reminder to depend upon God.

God does his deepest work as he deals with my identity, the person I truly am and the way I see myself. I will always tend to act according to the way I think about myself. So God does his changes in my life by helping me change the way I see myself.

God tells me, “Let me show you how I see you.” When I can see myself the way God does, it has the power to change my life.

Today’s verse and exploration into this part of Jacob’s life has helps me continue to see that my life isn’t about some position, prestige or work environment, but rather helping me become more of the person God wants me to be. It has reminded me that I will act according to the way I see myself. So I need to take the steps God requires of me. Any obstacles and limitations in my life are God’s way of reminding me that I cannot do it all on my own. I need to depend on him.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A Third Component to Finding Real Peace

In review of Matthew 11:28 it says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest”

Bottom Line:
Jesus is the one who can provide rest from the heavy burdens we carry.

What this means to me:
Jesus tells me that If I tire from carrying heavy burdens that I can come to him and he will give me true rest.

Today’s verse comes from the end of Matthew chapter 11. It is part of Jesus’ prayer of thanksgiving. Jesus prays, “O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike.” He then explains that “My Father has entrusted everything to me. No one truly knows the Son except the Father, and no one truly knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” At this point, Jesus offers us something we cannot get from anywhere else, he says, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Today’s passage tells me that I can experience a peace that passes all understanding.  Over the past few days, I’ve been looking at steps to finding real peace.

I learned that first, I need to experience a moment of clarity. Secondly, I must express an attitude of humility. And today I explore the need to expect Jesus to help me.  God will do what I expect him to do in my life. This is a faith factor.

Jesus is the Prince of Peace. He came to Earth to bring peace. He summarizes how he brings peace in a single sentence: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 NIV). This is the type of statement that If I truly embrace it, can cause my stress level to drop.

In this statement, Jesus promises rest that’s beyond anything I’ve ever experienced. It’s much deeper than physical rest. It’s soul rest. My problem isn’t overworked muscles. It’s an overworked mind and an overworked spirit. I need rest from anxiety, tension, guilt, and fear.

The path to this kind of peace isn’t to disappear somewhere on vacation. Even though I might forget about my troubles for a while, there are still there with me and won’t be gone when I return (they may even be worse)

Jesus tells me that I will find peace and rest for my weary soul, when I come to Him. It’s an act of faith on my part that shows Jesus that I expect his help. This is God’s way to the peace that will never end.

Seems like a simple thing, but I believe my own selfish pride, arrogance, guilt and feeling of self punishment get in the way of letting God give me the “peace that passes all understanding.”  Lately I have been wrestling with my career and work life/environment. Today I will explore more of why I just don’t give it to Jesus and yoke up with him on these concerns.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

More on Finding Real Peace

In review of James 4:6 it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble”

Bottom Line:
God will oppose those who are proud, but generously give grace to the humble.

What this means to me:
God will oppose and resist me if I become too proud, but will provide his grace and kindness when I am humble.

Today's verse comes from the first part of James chapter 4, where James speaks of how to draw close to God. He says that becoming a friend of the world and it's desires will put you at odds with God. God will give grace generously. As the scriptures state, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." So we are to humble ourselves before him and he will come close. We are to not let our loyalty become divided between God and the world. Humble yourself before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.

As I learned the other day, to find a real and lasting peace with God, myself and others, I need to first reach a moment of clarity.  Today I learn that I must also express an attitude of humility in my life.

God will bless humility. The Bible says in James 4:6b, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (ESV). Grace is the power I need to have peace in my life. God opposes the prideful, but he gives grace to the humble. So I must exchange my vanity for his serenity.

In all my time walking with God, I believe that God is not impressed with my whining about things. Humility, on the other hand, touches His heart. If I humbly ask God for help, he ultimately will open the floodgates of Heaven and pour out his mercy. Humbly admitting that he is God and I am not becomes a great antidote for stress.

Isaiah 26:12 says, “Lord, you will grant us peace; all we have accomplished is really from you” (NLT).

Today I also consider that the reason I’m alive right now is because God made me to love me. If God hadn’t wanted to love me, I wouldn’t exist. Therefor I was made by God and for God. And God wants me to learn to love him back.

So if I want real peace, I need to come to him and admit that “all I have is held together by him and not myself.” God created me and I humbly need to admit that I need him.

In reality, I’m broken. Other than Jesus, every person who has ever lived has been broken. This is why I don’t have peace. It’s why I walk around with stress. It’s why I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. It’s why I can’t solve all of my own problems.

To have peace, I need to humbly admit to God that I’m broken.

The Bible provides me a practical way to express humility, as expressed in Philippians 4:6: “Don’t worry about anything.”

This is a very difficult verses in the Bible to obey. I break it every day. But worry on my part is assuming responsibility that God never meant for me to have. Today I will consider that If God tells me not to worry about anything, that means he will help me to stop worrying so I can have peace.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Finding Real Peace This Christmas

In review of Ephesians 1:18 it says, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people”

Bottom Line:
May your minds be open to see God’s light so that you can understand the confident hope and blessings he promises to his called ones.

What this means to me:
Paul prays that my eyes and my mind be opened to see God’s light, so that I can really understand the wonderful confident hope and blessings he promised to give to those he calls.

Today's verse comes from the last part of Ephesians chapter 1, where Paul prays for spiritual Wisdom. He starts by saying that ever since he had heard of the Ephesian churches faith in Jesus and their love for people, he has not stopped thanking God for them. In fact he prays for them constantly, asking God to give them spiritual wisdom and insight so that they may grow in their knowledge of Christ and of God. He prays that their hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called, his holy ones, who are his rich and glorious inheritance.

Today I will consider how I can find real peace this Christmas. Peace is a common word used especially at this time.  The good news of Christmas is that “Jesus came to earth to give us peace. Peace with God, peace within, and peace with others.”

To obtain this peace it starts with Jesus. I see God as he really is, not as I was brought up to believe he was. I also get a true perspective of myself as I really am, not as I think I am. You see other people as they really are instead of how I’ve been told they were. I see my problems clearly. You see my past, present, and future clearly.

It seems that Christmas is a great time for me to get that capture that moment of clarity.

From what I’m learning, every person in the first Christmas story had such a moment of clarity.

. Joseph had a dream, and suddenly everything made sense.
. The wise men had a moment of clarity while staring at the stars.
. Mary had a moment of clarity when she understood God’s Word spoken to her.
. The shepherds had a moment of clarity when they experienced a miracle and decided to visit baby Jesus.
. Elizabeth had a moment of clarity through her friend, Mary.

Paul writes about a moment of clarity in Ephesians 1:18: “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people” (NIV).

God knows everything about me; however, I know almost nothing about God. I need a moment of clarity to see what he sees.

The Christmas story shows us that God is actively working to give me a moment of clarity. I will watch for God this weekend as I celebrate Christmas! I will strive to be open to see God’s light and try to comprehend spiritual insight for my growth. God has called me to be one of holy ones, rich in his glorious inheritance.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Not Letting the Familiar Steal My Christmas

In review of Ephesians 4:18 it says, “Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him”

Bottom Line:
Do not allow yourself to be kept in the darkness, far from what God wants for you, because you become ignorant or stubborn and allow your heart to be hardened.

What this means to me:
I should avoid falling back into prior ways before realizing the life that Christ offers. Wandering far enough to miss out on a life that God wants me to have and experience, all because I allow my mind to be closed or my attitude to be stubborn or ignorant.  All of which would harden my heart.

Today's passage comes from the book of Ephesians chapter 4 in a section where Paul tells us how to live as children of light. He tells us to no longer live as the Gentiles do for they are hopeless confused. Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity. But this is not what we learned about Christ. Since we have learned the truth that comes from him, we should throw off our old sinful natures and former ways of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on our new nature, created to be like God; truly righteous and holy.

Today I am reminded of how our manmade traditions can overshadow what Christmas is all about. I should not let the familiar steal my celebration of Christmas this year.

I’ve celebrated Christmas for my whole life. In it I’ve heard about the Christmas story; Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus. I’ve heard about the shepherds and the wise men. I’ve sung songs about them. I’ve watched them in Christmas plays. It’s all familiar. And It may not really inspire or amaze me anymore.

Seems I’m not alone in this. I’m reminded that even during the very first Christmas, there was a group of people who missed the birth of Jesus because of familiarity, the religious leaders in Jerusalem. Within the whole Christmas narrative, that when the Son of God was born, not a single religious person was invited. Those who should have known the most about the birth of Jesus, the spiritual and religious leaders of Israel, didn’t have a clue.

Wise men who had studied the Hebrew Scriptures came from the East (not Israel) because they had seen the star. They knew the Savior of the world had been born. They just didn’t know where he would be born.

When they asked King Herod of Israel, he didn’t have any idea. He asked his religious scholars. They knew exactly what he was talking about. They’d been waiting for this for hundreds of years. They had discussed it, debated it, detailed it, and dissected it.

The Bible says King Herod “called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, ‘Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?’ ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they said, ‘for this is what the prophet wrote’” (Matthew 2:4-5 NLT).

The three wise men, foreign dignitaries, came a long distance, to witness the birth of Jesus. The king was so concerned that he called a special meeting. Yet his religious advisers, who were already in Israel, didn’t want to even check out the claim. Israel’s religious leaders had waited for centuries for Jesus to come. Over time, they started paying more attention to traditions than waiting for the Messiah.

This sounds familiar. We have so many Christian traditions. They just keep adding up: Santa Claus, Rudolph, Frosty, and Elf on the Shelf. We have new tradition after new tradition, but no one is talking about the real reason for the season.  None of those traditions will make a real, lasting difference in your life. But a relationship with God will.

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day knew every religious tradition by heart, but they wouldn’t walk five miles from Jerusalem to Bethlehem to witness the birth of God’s Son. So I think about how people will put up lights, have parties, give gifts, and send out cards. They’ll participate in every single Christmas tradition they can squeeze into December.

So, I shouldn’t be like the religious leaders who were more concerned with tradition. Rather I should follow the example of the wise men, and seek God this Christmas. It is the reason we celebrate Christmas, God wants to connect with me!

I should consider how I can experience the Christmas story in a fresh new way this year?

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Is There Room in My Inn This Christmas Season?

In review of Luke 2:7 it says, “She gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them”

Bottom Line:
Jesus arrived while his parents were traveling. He was placed in a bed of hay, because no lodging was available for them.

What this means to me:
My savior and leader was born while his parents traveled. And because there was no lodging available for him, he was laid in a bed of hay.

No holiday in our calendars gets as much advertising time as Christmas. As early as Halloween, it is apparent on television, in websites, or in my e-mail. I experience beautifully decorated trees and scenery everywhere I turn. There’s even lots of chubby older guys with white beards in red and white suits. No doubt, Christmas is a cultural phenomenon.

However, with all of this, it’s easy to miss the anniversary of the birth of Jesus.  Which is the very point of Christmas.

That dilemma isn’t just a product of our time. Even people who were alive during that very first Christmas, just right around the corner from Jesus himself, missed the point of Christmas. And they missed it for the very same reasons I can today.

Take the innkeeper or manager of the lodging.

Within the narrative during the last week of her pregnancy, Mary and Joseph go to their hometown of Bethlehem. They live in a city called Nazareth and Luke tells us of their need to be involved in a census with the Roman government.

As they get to Bethlehem, Mary goes into labor. She’s ready to deliver. And Joseph tries to check her into some form of local lodging (today’s equivalent of a Holiday Inn). The manager of the lodging comes out and says, “Sorry, no vacancies. There’s no room.”

Luke 2:7 tells it like this: “[Mary] gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them” (NIV).

If I look at this from innkeeper or lodging managers perspective, business is booming. If he has no more room in his accommodations, that’s good. If you own a motel, you’d want it to be sold out. A lot of out-of-town guests have come back to town for the census. They’re looking for a place to stay. And he’s all booked up. The innkeeper/lodging manager has no use for this little baby or this pregnant woman. Little does he know who he is snubbing.

The Son of God could have been born in his place. Imagine the public relations power of that! You could put up a sign: “Son of God born here!” You’d be sold out in your inn for the rest of your life.

God was coming to Earth in human form. The innkeeper/lodging manager could have been a part of it. But instead he missed the greatest opportunity imaginable because he was busy. He missed it because business was booming.

So this begs the question of me and my own life. Am I too busy with my work to make room for Jesus this Christmas? Is my schedule, my plans, or my budget too tight to let Jesus in this Christmas?

Just like that innkeeper/lodging manager, I could be missing out on the biggest opportunity of my life this Christmas. God is right here. He wants to be a part of my life. God coming into the lives of ordinary people like me and is the real point of Christmas.

Getting to know God is the opportunity of a lifetime. I should not miss it!

Today, I will consider what things I can take out of my schedule this Christmas season so that I  can more fully experience what God wants for me?

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Why Keep Praying When There Seems To Be No Answer?

In review of Ephesians 6:18 it says, “Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers”

Bottom Line:
Stay alert and be persistent with your prayers, pray with the help of the Spirit always.

What this means to me:
I am to ask God for his help by praying on every occasion, especially as led to by the Spirit. For this reason, I am to keep alert and never give up; pray always for all of God’s people.

Today's passage comes from Ephesians 6, where Paul tells us about using the whole armor of God and prayer. He tells us to to be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God's armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh and blood, but against the evil rules and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God's armor so that you can resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. So stand your ground by putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God's righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Then pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.

In our culture, I am so accustomed to getting what I want sooner, rather than later.  I know I will often take it upon myself to obtain what it is I want.  Being persistent in prayer and not seeing immediate results is tough.

So today I’m considering why I should be persistent in my prayers, when it doesn’t seem an answer is going to come? In this I’m reminded that there are four reasons:

First, persistent prayer will help focus my attention. When I pray a prayer request over and over, it’s not to remind God. He doesn’t need to be reminded! Rather it’s to remind myself who the source of my answer and all my needs is. If every prayer I ever prayed were instantly answered, two things would be true. First, prayer would become a weapon of destruction in my life. And, secondly, I’d never think about God, because he would become my personal vending machine. If every time I prayed I received instant results, all I’d think about is the blessing. God wants me to think about the Blesser (and what he has provided already)!

Second, persistent prayer helps clarify my request. A delayed answer will give me time to clarify exactly what it is I want and to refine my prayers. When I pray persistently to God and say something over and over again, it separates deep longings from the mere whims. It says, “God, I really care about this.” It’s not that God doesn’t want to answer my prayers. He does. It’s just that he wants me to be certain that that’s what I really want.

Third, persistent prayer will test my faith. James 1:3-4 says, “When your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing” (NLT). The only way I can grow to spiritual maturity is to have my faith tested. One of the ways God’s going to test my faith is by delaying some answers to my prayers.

Lastly, persistent prayer prepares my heart for the answer. When I make a request of God, God almost always wants to answer in a bigger and better way than I’ve prayed. Sometimes God may deny my prayer request because I’m thinking and asking too small. He wants to give me something bigger and better. But first, he has to prepare me for it. So God uses delays in answering prayer to help me grow, to help me get ready, to help prepare me for a bigger and better answer. Remember, “God can do much, much more than anything we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20b NCV).

Recently, I have been thinking about a job change. I have had some initial discussions with a few folks, however nothing has really materialized yet. I had started to get down on myself and thinking that I might not have what it takes (be lacking) or be over-qualified / over-paid.  I’m thinking that a delay in granting my request is probably related to all four reasons.  Focused attention (the source of my answers), clarify request (become super clear and not vague), test my faith, and preparing my heart.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Why Won’t I Let God Take Control?

In review of Romans 6:12-13 it says, “Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires …. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God”

Bottom Line:
Don’t let sin or its desires control you. Instead give yourself completely to God and use your life as an instrument to bring glory to God.

What this means to me:
I should not let sin control the way I live; nor should I give in to sinful desires. Rather, I should give myself completely to God, for at one time I was dead, but now I have a new life. So use my whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God

Today's passages come from the middle of Romans chapter 6 in which Paul tells us how sin's power in our life is broken. So should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more grace? No!. Ok, since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live it it?  Consider that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives.  Within this we are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him. Death no longer has any power over him. When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. So we should also consider ourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus. Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. Do not let any part of your body become an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God's grace.

Every day it seems I am controlled by something. It may be by my own ego or by the expectations of others. I may be controlled by fear or guilt or resentment or bitterness. I may even be controlled by a habit. But I am controlled by something every day.

Freedom comes when I choose what’s going to control me. When I choose Jesus Christ to be in control, when I am mastered by the Master, I can master everything else. If God is not number one in my life, something else is, and it will control me to a negative degree. When Christ is in control of your life, he will always moves me in the right direction.

Romans 6:12-13 says, “Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires …. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God” (NLT).

Here are the steps in choosing to let Christ have control:

Admit that I’ve been trying to play God.
Admit that I can’t change on my own.
Humbly ask God to help me change.
Be honest with someone else about the things that need to change in my life.
Give Jesus Christ total ownership of my life.

Do I really want to change? Am I willing to do these things? Instead of saying, “I’m so tired of trying and failing.” Stop trying and start trusting. God gives me the option to either depend on him or depend on myself. The result is either freedom or frustration.

Friday, December 16, 2016

God Is Working While I’m Waiting

In review of Psalm 130:5 it says, “I wait expectantly, trusting God to help, for he has promised”

Bottom Line:
I expectantly wait, trusting God, for he has promised

What this means to me:
With all my heart, I should expectantly wait for the Lord. I should always trust in his promises.

What I’m learning is that God wants me to wait patiently for him to answer my prayer, but he also wants me to wait expectantly. Have faith. Trust God to hear and to answer. And when I wait expectantly, I show God that I believe his promises. Believe he’s going to keep his word.

I had heard that Daniel Boone, the famous frontiersman, was once asked, “Have you ever gotten lost in the wilderness?” He said, “No, I’ve never been lost. I’ve been bewildered for weeks at a time, but I’ve never been lost.”

There are times when I feel bewildered, hopeless to change my situation on my own. When this happens, I should not be discouraged! I should never give up! Instead I should look up. Turn to prayer. There will likely be times when it seems my requests may never been answered. I should consider this: Whether or not God ever answers that prayer, I am going to die believing his promises. Because God is a good God, and he knows what’s best, even when I don’t understand it.

When God doesn’t answer my prayers, I need to remember a couple very important truths.

First, God is in control, and I’m not. He knows better what I need than I do. There is no mountain too tall that he can’t move it. There is no problem so big that he can’t solve it. There is no sorrow so deep he cannot soothe it. God is in control, and he has a plan.

The second thing is that, whether or not I ever receive my answer, God will honor my patience, if not in this world then in eternity.

Thus, “I wait expectantly, trusting God to help, for he has promised” (Psalm 130:5 TLB), and know that God is a good God. He ultimately knows what’s best, even when I don’t understand it