Tag Archive | Bible Study

Prepare the Way for His Coming

People get greedy, grabby, and grumpy at Christmastime. We’re greedy when we obsess over excess while others go without basic needs. We’re grabby when we insist on drawing attention to ourselves when the glory belongs to God alone. And we’re grumpy when we forget that our worst day is often a thousand times better than most people’s good days. If we’re not careful, we’ll find ourselves over-indulging, over-spending, and over-committing, none of which are healthy, helpful, or healing in any way for us or others.

This quote from a YouVersion Bible devotional based on Susie Larson’s new book Prepare Him Room: A Daily Advent Devotional, stood out to me this morning. Christmas is a time when we need to guard our attitudes, especially when our circumstances are less than ideal. The weeks of Advent are a time to prepare our hearts for Christmas, the celebration of His first coming.

This Christmas is an unusual one for our family. It’s a season I’ve looked forward to, fully expecting we would be settled in our new home and decorating for the holidays as part of the process of setting things up.

But that’s not how things turned out. Hours before we were to close on the sale of our new home, the buyers backed out. Because of this, the family we had planned to buy from had to put the property back on sale. This Christmas, another family is living in the house we had fully expected to be ours.

God pushed the “pause button” on our plans, and as a result our Christmas plans were changed. Even decorating our house for Christmas underwent change, since every open space is filled with boxes we had packed before our plans changed. Decoration had to be minimal, with a tabletop tree to bring some color and our manger scene to help us remember the reason for the season.

Christmas is a time to celebrate the first coming of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. This season is a reminder that we are never alone, that Jesus came to be Emmanuel, God with us. Jesus came to bring light to our darkness. He came to die as the Lamb of God, paying the price for our sins. And now He lives in us through the Holy Spirit. His love is constant. And we are never alone, no matter what circumstances we may be facing.

Advent is a time for heart preparation. Many of my readers deal with the daily challenges of chronic illness, and when you add other undesired circumstances having a right attitude doesn’t come naturally. I think that’s why this devotional really touched my heart. I needed to make a choice to face this holiday season with an attitude of gratitude instead of grumbling, a time of giving thanks for the good things we are partaking of in the midst of less than desired circumstances.

Even as John the Baptist came to prepare the way for Jesus’ first coming, let’s prepare our hearts for the celebration of Christmas. Christmas is a time of remembering the first coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We prepare our hearts by choosing an attitude that reflects the One whose birth we are celebrating. Let’s make room for Him to work in our lives, humbling ourselves and allowing Him to continue the good work He has begun in us.

A song to remind us to prepare the way for His coming:

https://youtu.be/HQpLH9BGC8I

Occupy Till He Comes!

My scheduled Bible reading this morning was Luke 19. Though I usually use ESV for reading and listening to my daily Scriptures, using the YouVersion Bible app, today my app was set to KJV. And as I was listening to the reading of the Parable of the Ten Minas, one phrase jumped out at me. “OCCUPY TILL I COME.”

Though this is a familiar phrase, I had never before realized where it was located, partly because modern versions don’t use this wording. Jesus and His disciples were on their way to the Mount of Olives, walking along the road and using this parable to talk to the twelve who had followed Him during His years of ministry. By now, the disciples knew that Jesus’ parables had a purpose. Jesus spoke to the crowds “in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” (Matthew‬ ‭13:13‬ ‭ESV)‬‬ Likely there were unbelieving Jews along the road, and this was a message for the disciples (then and future) alone.

Jesus was about to send two of His disciples into the village to get the colt He would ride on the day we now know as Palm Sunday. Jesus was facing His crucifixion, about a week away, and He was doing more than telling a story. He was preparing His disciples for the time when He would no longer be physically with them. They would see Jesus suffer and die on the cross, be raised from the dead, and just before the ascension be commissioned for the work of being His witnesses, starting in Jerusalem and moving out from there to the nations around the world.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” ‭‭Acts‬ ‭1:8‬ ‭ESV‬‬

The Greek word translated “occupy” means to “take care of business.” The business of being Christ’s witnesses is now our responsibility. Matthew 24:14 tells us, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”‭

According to Joshua Project, there are approximately 17,446 unique people groups in the world. Over 7,400 of them considered unreached (over 41% of the world’s population!). Less than 10% of missionary work is done among these people. Jesus’ call to His disciples to occupy until the end comes and He returns, to occupy and take care of the business of the kingdom is still His call to His followers.

Are you obeying this call? You may not be able to go as a missionary to one of these unreached people groups. I know I’m physically unable to do this. But are you doing the “kingdom business” that God has called you to do? This was the message I heard from the Lord this morning. This is also my desire, to complete the work God has given me personally to do. Are you willing to “occupy till He comes?”

SWITCHING TRACKS!

I’m currently reading “You’re Going to Be Okay: Encouraging Truth Your Heart Needs to Hear, Especially on the Hard Days,” by Holley Gerth. She had the clearest understanding of renewing the mind that I’ve ever read.

“The other day I pulled up to a railroad crossing just as a train came barreling through it. At the last minute, it screeched to a halt and an engineer jumped out of the first car. He ran to the track, made some adjustments, and hopped back in to continue the journey. As I looked closer, I could see exactly what he’d done – switched the track.

“Our thoughts are a lot like that train. They go speeding through life, and we don’t give much intentional focus to them. They run on automatic based on past experiences and how we’ve taught ourselves to respond to different situations. Every time you react a certain way, your brain makes a note of it. That means the thoughts you think most have the strongest tracks, and your mind automatically goes there.

“When you decide to ‘renew your mind,’ it means stepping off the train and switching the tracks. We have to do this again and again. Then at some point, your brain realizes that this is the new normal response, and it goes there automatically.”

The mind is renewed one area at a time, as we apply this process. Our thinking changes as we apply “the mind of Christ” to our circumstances or sin pattern. Then we do it again and again, until our thinking in this area conforms to the Word of God automatically. Our new normal response is no longer conformed to the ways of this world. Our thoughts in this area now line up with the “good and acceptable and perfect” will of God.

The Fruit of Faithfulness

Tapestry of Beauty, an online women’s study group I’m a part of, is currently doing a Bible study on the Fruit of the Spirit. The last fruit we studied was faithfulness, so as I read Luke 16:10 in a devotion this morning, a new truth about faithfulness stood out to me. This verse uses dishonesty as an antonym for faithfulness. Other versions use “unjust” but by using the Blue Letter Bible to study the Greek word I learned that “dishonest” is more accurate. The meaning in this verse is “one who deals fraudulently with others.”

I used the S.O.A.P. method of Bible study to learn more about this verse. Stands for Scripture writing, O for Observation (such as doing word studies of key words and looking at the verse in context), A for Application in my personal life, and P for Prayer.

My study included looking at the verse in various Bible translations. I especially like this verse in The Passion Translation. It is even more enlightening when read in context.

“The one who faithfully manages the little he has been given will be promoted and trusted with greater responsibilities. But those who cheat with the little they have been given will not be considered trustworthy to receive more. If you have not handled the riches of this world with integrity, why should you be trusted with the eternal treasures of the spiritual world? And if you’ve not proven yourself faithful with what belongs to another, why should you be given wealth of your own? It is impossible for a person to serve two masters at the same time. You will be forced to love one and reject the other. One master will be despised and the other will have your loyal devotion. Your choice between God and the wealth of this world is no different. You must enthusiastically love one and definitively reject the other.”
‭‭Luke‬ ‭16:10-13‬ ‭TPT‬‬

Father, the current responsibilities in my life seem insignificant. But to You, they are very important. My faithfulness as I fulfill these responsibilities is the key to You entrusting me with greater responsibilities in the upcoming season of my life. Enable me by Your Spirit to faithfully manage the little that You have entrusted to me, so that You will be able to entrust me with greater responsibilities in the next season of my life. I ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.

Called to Be Salt and Light in a Dark World

I’m doing a Chronological Bible Reading Plan this year with one of the Facebook groups I’m a part of, and this morning we started reading the book of Isaiah. As I began today’s reading of Isaiah 1-4, I only made it to the 7th verse.

Your country lies desolate; your cities are burned with fire; in your very presence foreigners devour your land; it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners.” Isaiah‬ ‭1:7‬ ‭ESV‬‬

While I know in context this refers to the judgment Israel would face, Israel wasn’t the nation that came to mind when I read this verse. I received it as a message to the church in the United States of America and to me personally as a member of that church.

2020 saw our country facing a pandemic caused by a virus from China that shut down our economy and did unbelievable damage to our nation and other nations around the word. We also saw riots that resulted in many of our cities being burned with fire. Then the year ended with an election that evidence shows was corrupted by foreigners.

If these were signs that Israel’s sin of idolatry and unfaithfulness to God would be judged, should God’s people in this nation see these happenings as a judgment of our own sin. Could God be warning us as a nation that it’s time to return to the founding principles that have made America great?

Many of our founding fathers came from Christian backgrounds which influenced their beliefs and principles. These same principles and beliefs were foundational in the documents and events that founded this great country. We can conclude from the founder’s words that our country was established as one nation under God.

John Adams, signer of the Declaration of Independence, one of two signers of the Bill of Rights, and the second President of the United States wrote the following in a letter to Thomas Jefferson on June 28, 1813.

“The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity. I will avow that I then believed, and now believe, that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God.”

The apostle Peter warned us that when judgment comes on a nation, it begins with God’s people, “the household of God.”

For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” 1 Peter‬ ‭4:17‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Much of the church in the United States no longer holds fast to the Word of God. Compromise with the culture in which we live has become acceptable. In many churches, the truth of the Gospel has been exchanged for sermons that make us feel good. It’s time for the church of Jesus Christ to repent and return to foundations upon which it was founded.

As I was praying for our nation this morning, Matthew 5:13-16 came to mind. These verses which are familiar to most Christians describe our calling to be salt and light in the world. Salt preserves and adds flavor to life. Light reminds us that Jesus is the Light of the world, and as His body we are called to represent Him.

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew‬ ‭5:13-16‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Realizing the Brevity of Life

During the month of July, I have been reading through the books of Psalms and Proverbs, and this morning’s reading included Psalm 90. I’ve been using the New Living Translation to get a fresh view of these Scriptures that I’ve read hundreds of times in the around fifty years that I’ve been a Christian.

Psalm 90 is the oldest of the Psalms. It was written by Moses, in the form of a prayer, and entitled From Everlasting to Everlasting. The first verses focus on the eternal nature of our God.

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” Psalm‬ ‭90:1-2‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Moses starts with a reminder that no matter what circumstances we face, we have a safe dwelling place in the Lord. The New Living Translation calls it a home. In Him we have shelter and protection from danger or distress. The Creator of the earth and heavens calls us to come to Him and be secure.

The next verses are Moses prayer of lament over the brevity of life and the judgment of sins. This section ends with a reminder that our “secret sins” are not a secret to God.

“You spread out our sins before you— our secret sins—and you see them all. We live our lives beneath your wrath, ending our years with a groan.” Psalm 90:8-9 NLT

‭‭Then we come to the two verses that jumped out at me as I was reading them this morning.

“Seventy years are given to us! Some even live to eighty. But even the best years are filled with pain and trouble; soon they disappear, and we fly away… Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.” Psalm‬ ‭90:10, 12‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Seventy years are given to us!” These are the words that seemed to jump off the page as I was reading this morning. And before I looked forward, the words “teach us to number our days” came to mind. I was surprised to see that this truth was only two verses ahead. Because of the brevity of life, and the fact that I turned seventy-two in February, the thought came that I am “living on borrowed time.” The time when I will “fly away” to be in the presence of the Lord could be any time.

Remembering how fragile our life on earth is a good reminder to appreciate the years and months and even the days I still have to complete the purposes of God for my life. I need to value every moment and live wisely and with purpose. Time is short, so I need to live with a sense of urgency, seeking God’s wisdom for each day’s tasks.

At age seventy-two, I’m well aware of the brevity of life. As I read these verses, 2 Corinthians 4:16 came to mind. It begins with a reminder not to lose heart when our outer self, our physical bodies, begin wasting away. In my own life, over the last year I’ve seen the cartilage in my knees waste away so that my knees are now basically bone on bone. How do we not lose heart in this situation? The key is remembering this life is not all there is.

Living with chronic illnesses such as arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia, and an endless list of other infirmities, as many of you who read my blog do, is living with watching your bodies slowly waste away. But the good news is that’s not where the Apostle Paul ended this verse. He added the encouragement that our inner self is being renewed day by day.

If you are a Christian, one who has been forgiven and who has accepted Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, your inner self is renewed as you spend time in God’s life-giving presence. Colossians 3:10 (ESV) says we “have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” Through prayer and reading the Bible, God’s written Word, your inner self, the part of you that was made for eternity, is being renewed daily by the Holy Spirit.

No matter how many years you have left on this earth, they are a brief moment compared to eternity. Don’t despair when you see your outer self wasting away. Instead, turn your focus on renewing your inner self and on doing the things that will count for eternity.

Jesus Is With Us in the Storm

“On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?’ And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’” Mark‬ ‭4:35-41‬ ‭ESV‬‬

On Tuesday, a Facebook group I’m in began a new study entitled “Jesus Calms the Storm,” based on the above Scripture. It’s a familiar story to those of us who have been Christians for very long, and when passages from the Bible are well-known it’s easy to just skim over the verses. But this morning, I saw these verses in a different way – from the viewpoint of the ones who were there with Jesus, His disciples.

After a busy day of ministry, it was around sundown and they were physically weary. So when Jesus said, “Let us go across to the other side,” they were ready to follow. They weren’t anxious about the trip, it was just one of many they had taken across the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was still with them and they were at peace.

A pleasant trip on the Sea of Galilee

This was a routine trip, a short eight miles across to the other side. Mark 5:1 tells us they were headed to the country of the Gerasenes, and there were other boats in sight. Among the disciples were several men who had fished these waters for many years, before they left their nets and responded to Jesus’ call to follow Him. They were skilled at handling the boat, so when Jesus said He wanted to lie down and rest awhile, they weren’t concerned.

Unfortunately, this didn’t turn out to be the routine trip the disciples were expecting. Storms were not unusual on this area. The Sea of Galilee is 680 feet below sea level, and is surrounded by hills. When the winds from the Mediterranean come across the hills, the air is cool and dry. When this air comes in contact with the warm, moist air around the sea, it causes large temperature changes and strong winds dropping to the sea. The disciples were familiar with this, but what they saw this evening was frightening even to these experienced fishermen.

Suddenly, they found themselves in a very dangerous situation, when the high winds and huge waves began breaking over the boat one after another. The boat was quickly filling with water, and the experienced fishermen aboard knew they were in a life-threatening situation.

A storm at sea

So where was Jesus in the midst of this? He was in the stern of the boat, asleep on a cushion. But His nap didn’t last very long. The frightened disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Jesus awoke from his sleep and rebuked the wind, speaking to it “Peace, be still.” And just that quick the storm was over and the water was calm.

Didn’t Jesus care about these men who were handpicked by Him and closest to Him? Weren’t they obeying Jesus who told them to “go over to the other side”? Why, then, were they going through such a turbulent time?

How sad the disciples must have felt when Jesus looked at them and said, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” After this experience, they were amazed and said, “Who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

No one is exempt from the storms of life. Remember, the boat Jesus and the disciples were on wasn’t the only one around. Mark told us that other boats were around them, so the men on these boats who may have been unbeliever’s also faced the storm. The Gospel does not tell us anymore about them, but they faced the frightening situation without Jesus. When we go through storms, we have an advantage over those who do not know the Lord. We are never alone in the storm; the One Who has power over the wind and the sea is with us.

Peter, one of the disciples who went through this storm with Jesus, later wrote of us experiencing storms in life that cause us great grief. When they come, he encouraged us to rejoice, because trials test the genuineness of our faith, which is more precious than gold. As we go through the storms, we can know we are being guarded by God’s power as we place our faith in Him.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter‬ ‭1:3-7‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Another thing we know is that the disciples had a promise that they were going across the Sea of Galilee to the other side. When we face a storm in our lives, one thing that I’ve found helpful is spending time in God’s Word, asking Him to give me a promise to hold onto.

In a recent article, Pastor Greg Laurie compared the Coronavirus pandemic we have been going through this year to one of the powerful storms on the Sea of Galilee.

“This terrible COVID-19 pandemic is like a massive storm. We are afraid and worried about our futures.

“Although we might feel forsaken, we are not. I am comforted by this beautiful story, as it reminds me that I can trust God in the storms of my life. Jesus watches us in our storms.”

The Mark account of Jesus calming the sea ends with the disciples asking each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him.” As we trust Jesus during the storms we face, the storm may not stop immediately. God is sovereign, and His will will prevail. But we can be assured that we will come out of our storms with more understanding of the greatness of our God.

Coping With Emotions During the Coronavirus Pandemic

“Our feelings do not affect God’s facts.
They may blow up, like clouds, and cover the
eternal things that we do most truly believe.
We may not see the shining of the promises—
but they still shine! His strength is not for one
moment less because of our human weakness.”
– Amy Carmichael

As I sat down to have my quiet time this morning, my feelings were definitely not where I wanted them to be. These stressful circumstances all of us have been walking through for the last three months and the uncertainty concerning what lies ahead have me feeling numb on the inside. Weariness, along with the physical pain of a flare of sciatica, made staying in bed today much more appealing than getting dressed and spending time reading God’s Word and praying. But I knew from personal experience that would not have been a wise choice.

I’ve learned that how I start my day sets the direction for the whole day. I have a morning routine that usually begins with half-an-hour of gentle exercise. It only took me a couple minutes to realize this wasn’t going to be a part of today’s routine. So I got dressed, prepared and ate a quick breakfast, and drank a cup of coffee. Then I took some unhurried time in God’s Word and prayer.

God created us with emotions, they are a gift from God, one aspect of our being created in His image. Jesus, who lived a perfect, sinless life, experienced a wide range of emotions. He was angry at the Pharisees because of the hardness of their hearts (Mark 3:1-6), yet had compassion on the crowds who came to hear Him speak (Matthew 9:36; 14:14; 15:23). He wept with Mary and Martha over the death of Lazurus (John 11:35). He experienced deep agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, even while choosing the will of the Father above His own (Mark 14:32-34). Colossians 1:15 says, “He is the image of the invisible God and the firstborn of every creature.” In Jesus, we see what our Heavenly Father is like, including the emotions that are a part of His nature.
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Emotions are a part of our regenerated nature and a vital part of connecting us to other people and to God Himself. But unfortunately, emotions are also wired into our fallen nature. Sin and Satan have access to them and will try to use them to manipulate us to act in ways that are not pleasing to God. That’s why we can’t allow our emotions to determine our choices, to rule our lives.

In her book Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions, Lysa TerKeurst wrote:

“Feelings are indicators, not dictators. They can indicate where your heart is in the moment, but that doesn’t mean they have the right to dictate your behavior and boss you around. You are more than the sum total of your feelings and perfectly capable of that little gift . . . called self-control.”

By their nature, human emotions are highly variable. They were never meant to determine how we walk. God has provided His Word and the Holy Spirit as reliable guides. The only way to overcome the ups and downs of our emotions is to fill our minds with God’s Word, our source of truth. And remember, God has also provided the Holy Spirit to guide us into His will for our lives. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” (John 16:13)

We can’t control the things that happen to us each day, but we can control how we think about them. Emotions are rooted in our thoughts, so the only way to bring them under control is to change how we’re thinking. Sometimes, we just need a change of perspective, a decision to look at our circumstances through the lens of God’s Word instead of through our disappointments and anxieties. Romans 12:2 calls this renewing our minds. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” ‬

I’d like to close with a prayer I received in my email, a prayer from New Life Ministries that helped me get on track this morning when I felt like I was on an emotional roller coaster ride. This simple prayer helped me to change my perspective and not allow my emotions to be in charge. If you’re struggling emotionally, I encourage you to make this your prayer.

“Heavenly Father, You are my strength and my refuge. As I journey through this day, I will encounter events that cause me emotional distress. Lord, when I am troubled, let me turn to You. Keep me steady, Lord, and in those difficult moments, renew a right spirit inside my heart. Amen”

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Rejoicing in Hope During Difficult Times

Earlier this year, officials at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned that it wasn’t a question of if but of when the novel coronavirus would spread in the United States. They warned that the spread of this disease would drastically change our daily lives. In this past two weeks, we have seen what was expected and more.

The spread of this virus has been not just in the US, but around the world. No matter where you live, you have probably experienced major changes in your daily life. Unfamiliar terms have become commonplace: pandemic, self-quarantine, social distancing, lockdown, shelter in place or stay at home orders. Non essential medical procedures have been put on hold. Churches are now restricted to internet broadcasts of services. Grocery stores are lacking the things we routinely buy, from milk and eggs to toilet paper and sanitizer products. And the list goes on and on.

We are living in a drastically different world, with no idea if or when we will return to the world we once knew. The Coronavirus Pandemic has produced a “new normal” for all of us!

The question on my heart as I’ve walked through these last two weeks has been how does God want us to live during times like these? In an atmosphere of fear and panic, how can we walk in a way that both enables us to have joy and peace and also draws others to the God we serve? This was on my heart when I sat down on Monday for my daily quiet time.

I had my quiet time all mapped out, but as I sat down to spend time in God’s Word the Holy Spirit led me in a different direction than I had planned. In essence, the Lord led me to a verse providing the instruction I was needing to walk in peace and victory during this unique season none of us have ever experienced before. As I was reading Romans 12, a familiar passage, verse 12 jumped out at me like I had never seen it before.

“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” Romans 12:12

REJOICE IN HOPE
To rejoice is to be in a state of happiness and inner sense of well being that is not affected by outward circumstances. It is to be “cheer” full, calmly happy. Rejoicing includes both inner joy and outward rejoicing.

The Greek word translated “rejoice” is in the present tense. It paints a picture of living with a habitual attitude of inner joy that results in outer rejoicing. Joy is the deep-down sense of well-being that abides in the heart of the person who knows all is well between them and the Lord and is independent of whether circumstances are favorable or unfavorable.

God is not asking us to rejoice in our circumstances. He is calling us to rejoice in Him in the midst of the circumstances. We do that as we walk in anticipation of what He is able to do in them, through them, and in spite of them.

According to Psalm 118:24, rejoicing is an act of our will, a choice we make. “This is the day the LORD has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.”
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Our rejoicing is to be in hope. Worldly or cultural hope is an optimistic desire that something we desire will happen. Biblical or Christian hope is different. It is the assurance that God will do what He has promised. This is the only kind of hope that has the power to anchor our souls, holding us steady during times of uncertainty. It is the kind of hope described in Hebrews 6:19, “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul…”
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BE PATIENT IN TRIBULATION
The Greek word translated “patient” literally means “to stay under”. And what are we to stay under? Pressure or pressing circumstances. Sounds a lot like our daily lives since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. This is basically a call to stand firm in our faith when circumstances feel overwhelming.

Persevering when you are experiencing crushing circumstances is not a call for you to just “man up” or to “grit your teeth” and “bear it.” That is the “world’s way” of dealing with difficult situations.

As followers of Christ, the answer is not found in self-reliance and self-effort. If you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, the Holy Spirit now indwells your body (see 1 Corinthians 6:19). He came to be your Helper in situations like the one we are currently walking through. He provides what is needed for us to walk through difficult circumstances, as we yield to His supernatural enabling power.

Rejoicing in hope enables us to persevere or remain under the circumstances that are pressing down on us. As we lean on the Helper, we are empowered to wait calmly as the Lord works everything in conformity with the purpose of His will.
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BE CONSTANT IN PRAYER
Someone has said that prayer is the breath of the Christian life. There is nothing more more vital to living a victorious Christian life than prayer. Unfortunately, few aspects of the lives of Christians are more vulnerable to neglect.

Prominent nineteenth century American evangelist Dwight L Moody said, “I’d rather be able to pray than to be a great preacher; Jesus Christ never taught his disciples how to preach, but only how to pray.”

Charles Spurgeon, England’s best known preacher during the second half of the nineteenth century and known as “the prince of preachers,” said prayer and an open Bible together were the key to bringing the will of God to bear upon the distresses of this life.

“Whenever your hope seems to fail you and your joy begins to sink, the shortest method is to take to your knees. By remembering the promise in prayer, hope will be sustained and then joy is sure to spring from it. An open Bible and a bowed head create a powerful atmosphere in which God’s will is brought to bear upon the distresses of life. Jesus even recommended we “nag” God with our requests, like a persistent neighbor at a friend’s door or a relentless widow harassing a presiding judge.”

GOD IS THE GOD OF HOPE                                                                                                              In Romans 15, the apostle Paul shares a Messianic prophecy from the prophet Isaiah. He says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.” The following verse gives a name of God that is only seen in this passage. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans‬ ‭15:12-13‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

Biblical hope is found in a person, the root of Jesse, the One we know as Jesus Christ. He is the foundation upon which our hope is built, and He has promised to return for His body, the church. We are “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus‬ ‭2:13-14‬ ‭ESV‬‬) That truth keeps us firmly anchored as  we go through hard times.

One powerful way to pray is to use God’s own words to seek His help in situations that we are powerless to change. We are enabled to rejoice in hope when we remember that our God is the God of hope. He is the foundation upon which our hope is build. And his desire is to fill us “to the brim” with peace and joy.

Are you feeling discouraged, fearful, anxious about what lies ahead? Let’s take our petitions to “the God of hope” and leave the burden on His shoulders. Let’s with confidence draw near to God’s throne of grace, that each of us may receive the mercy and grace to help us walk through this time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

My prayer for you today comes from Romans 15:13 (NLT):
“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.”
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The Vine and the Vinedresser

My “One Word” for 2020 is ABIDE, and one of my planned Bible readings this week was John 15:1-11. As I sat down to read this well known passage, my thought was, “this shouldn’t take long.” I already knew that the passage says Jesus is the true vine, we are the fruit-bearing branches that need to stay attached to the true vine in order to bear fruit, and the process includes pruning. Since this is such a familiar passage, I expected to spend five or ten minutes in this chapter and then get on to something else.

But that’s not at all how it turned out. I read John 15:1, where Jesus says (in ESV) “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.” The word “vinedresser” jumped out at me, and I realized I had no idea what a vinedresser did – other than prune the vine, which is mentioned later in this passage. I felt a strong impression that the Lord wanted to use this single verse to teach me some new understandings from this passage I’ve read hundreds of times.

As I did some research, I learned of several of the tasks that a vinedresser does, the first found in the first half of verse 2: “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away…”

As I read this, I decided to look up the meaning of the Greek word using one of my favorite online reference sources, The Blue Letter Bible. The Greek word translated “takes away” is “airo.” While this word can mean “to take away,” this isn’t it’s primary meaning. Instead, the usual meaning is “to lift up, to take upon oneself and carry what has been raised.”

Unlike fruit trees, a grapevine cannot stand upright on its own. As a grapevine grows, the natural growth is downward. Before long, the lower part of the vine is laying on the ground where it gets wet on the bottom. One of the responsibilities of the vinedresser is to take hold of the vine and entwine it on a trellis or wires, to keep air flowing underneath it so it can bear healthy fruit.

Remember, these verses in John 15 are using the illustration of a vine to teach us how to live attached to the vine so we can bear spiritual fruit. Have you ever been in a place where you had become comfortable, only to have God in His wisdom determine it was time for an adjustment, a change in position in order for you to continue bearing spiritual fruit?

Like the wise vinedresser, our heavenly Father has the right to adjust our position in life to help us bear more fruit. Whether it’s an actual move to another location, or simply a change of circumstances, we may find ourselves facing change, moving from a place of comfort and self-assurance to one of uncertainty and even fear. Could it be that God is at work in your circumstances, preparing you for greater productivity for His Kingdom?

Now, let’s look at the rest of verse 2, “…and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

In addition to repositioning us for greater productivity, our heavenly Father like the good vinedresser prunes us so we can bear more fruit. Grapevines, when left untended, will sprawl out and produce leafy canopies. While their green leaves look healthy, they yield very little fruit. Since the purpose of a grapevine is to produce grapes, pruning is needed.

This reminds me of some rose bushes that were in front of a house our family lived in several years ago. When in full bloom, the bushes were beautiful. But I learned quickly that without pruning the beauty didn’t last. As winter began drawing to a close, around the end of February, they needed to be pruned.

When I finished pruning the bushes the first year, they looked almost like they were dead. I was afraid I had ruined our beautiful rose bushes. But by late spring, the bushes were filled with gorgeous blossoms.

Like roses, grapevines should be pruned during their dormancy, usually in late winter. When it comes to pruning grapes, the most common mistake people make is not pruning hard enough. Light pruning doesn’t promote adequate fruiting whereas heavy pruning provides the greatest quality of grapes.

God has the right to prune our lives, removing us from people and situations that are hindering our spiritual growth. When God prunes our lives, it isn’t because He is angry at us. It is because pruning is necessary for maximum productivity.

These aren’t all the works of a vinedresser. He also needs to remove any detached and dried up branches (verse 6: “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”), because disconnected branches don’t bear fruit. He delights in the abundance of fruit, much as God rejoices and receives glory from the spiritual fruit bearing He sees in our lives (verse 8: “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”).

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Does your life feel like God has been doing some repositioning for greater productivity through your life? Or has God been doing some painful pruning in your life? Remember you are in the loving hands of your heavenly Father. Let’s not lose sight of the ending verses of this passage. It’s all rooted in the love of our heavenly Vinedresser!

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” ‭‭John‬ ‭15:9-11‬ ‭ESV‬‬

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