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Archive for September, 2010

Getting Ready for the Wedding

Family History Jeff & Mary Wedding Day 1989My memory is not very good.  My wife will often ask me if I remember some event from our past, and very often I simply can’t recall it.

One thing I remember vividly, however, is the first time I saw my bride in her wedding dress.  She was perfect!  She was so beautiful, it took my breath away (she still is, and does).

Now my bride Mary had taken great pains to get ready for our wedding day.  She didn’t just pop out of bed that day and, “poof” was all ready.  Imagine if she had simply shown up in her flannel pajamas, with bedhead, makeup leftover from the night before, ……  What would the people present have thought?  What would I (the groom) have thought?  Namely, that she wasn’t particularly concerned about us or me or what our wedding would mean.

Pretty nonsensical, huh?  What bride would fail to be ready for her wedding?  What bride would be ignorant of the fact that preparation would be necessary?

Scripture tells us we, as the church, are the bride of Christ.  And yet, I wonder if we as individual Christians and as the church are going to “show up in our flannel pajamas” at the marriage of the Lamb (Rev 19:7)?

Ray Vander Laan, in his excellent book Echoes of His Presence, relates that in the Jewish custom of Jesus’ day, the groom (or groom’s father) would pay a bride price for the woman the groom desired.  The groom would then offer the betrothed a cup of wine.   The bride would choose to take the cup and drink, or she could refuse.  If she accepted, she was accepting his offer and committing her life to him.  She was betrothed — engaged!  She would then spend the time between the betrothal and the marriage ceremony preparing to be the bride and wife that would honor her husband. While she was doing that, the groom had left to prepare a place for his bride. When all the preparations had been made, he would return for his bride.

I hope you’re seeing the connection — Jesus has paid a bride price for us — His very life.  We accepted the cup when we repented and placed our faith in His death and resurrection.  Our responsibility is now the same as that of the Jewish bride.  We should be preparing ourselves for His return!

How do we prepare ourselves?  Take a look at Hebrews 12:14; Romans 12:1-2; 2 Corinthians 7:1; 1 Peter 1:13-16.

What is the common theme?  Be holy.

More on this in subsequent blogs.  For now, I ask you — have you forgotten about the wedding?

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This is Living!

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I recall a vacation Mary and I took many years ago.  We “splurged” and stayed at a fine hotel/spa. It had the best of everything — the best food, the best golf, the best massages, the best pool, the best hot tub.  I recall at one point saying to her as we entered the spa — “This is living!”

And while the vacation was wonderful, if that was living, then we’d really missed out on life.  If we really want to live, we can’t look to the world (and thus it’s values) as the source and purpose of life.

Henri Nouwen in his book, Life of the Beloved points out that one of the great struggles facing believers in Jesus is not to isolate ourselves from the world — not to reject our ambitions and aspirations, or to despise money, prestige, or success — but to live in the world as someone who doesn’t belong to it.

And how do we do that?  May I suggest John 20:20-21 provides insight to the answer?

We have been sent!  Sent by God into the world!  Why?  Read John 3:17.  As God sent Jesus, so He sends us!  Not that the world will be saved through us — but that we will reveal Jesus, through whom salvation comes, to those around us.  Read 2 Corinthians 5: 17-20.  This is why we are sent!

Everything will begin to change radically for you when you know yourself as being sent into this world.  YOU have a purpose!

“When we realize that our few years on this earth are part of a much larger eternity that stretches out far beyond our birth and death, life will cease to be a “losing battle”, a hopeless struggle, a journey of despair.”  (Nouwen, Life of the Beloved)

When we live our lives as beloved ones of God sent into this world, then we live life with a mission, a purpose.   And we live a life that cannot be conquered by this world or by death.

To paraphrase from Nouwen:  The world may consider our lives little and insignificant.  BUT when we realize that God has chosen us from all eternity and sent us into the world with His blessings and that we are His beloved ones, we can then begin to imagine and trust that our “little lives” will multiply and fulfill the needs of many people — will have real impact for and in God’s Kingdom.

Imagine, imagine, imagine — imagine that in dying to self, in giving of yourself, you will have impact that far exceeds your life — there will be ever-widening ripples like that of a stone thrown in a still pond.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant …” Philippians 2:3-7

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Have (or do) any of the following ever applied (apply) to you:

  • I am strongly tempted to sin
  • I give in to temptation and choose to sin
  • I feel overpowered by the pull of a particular sin in my life
  • I know what God wants me to do, but just don’t have the desire to do it.

I came across this question in my continued study in Nancy Leigh Demoss’ and Tim Grissom’s Seeking Him — Experiencing the Joy of Personal Revival. — And I was initially depressed by the fact that all of these statements have applied to me at one time or another (and still do sometimes).

But, thankfully, God has something to say on this.  I went on to read through Hebrews 4:14-16; Titus 2:11-12; 1 Corinthians 15:10; and 2 Corinthians 9:8.

As believers in Christ, as beloved ones of God, we have one who has been tempted as we have — who pleads our case before God.  AND we have God’s grace!  I urge you to read those above versus carefully — it is God’s grace which provides the power and the training.  God’s grace can be a dynamic force in our lives and result in our sanctification (becoming more and more like Christ — living triumphantly in accordance with our new nature).

Imagine — in all things at all times abounding in every good work — as a result of God’s grace (2 Cor 9:8).

Some of you may be struggling with temptation and sin or wondering, “if it’s all God — all His grace, then why don’t I have the desire to obey God — to walk with Him in relationship?”  You may be struggling with discouragement, despair, and wanting to give up.

In my own struggles, I’ve come to learn that we play a role!  It is God’s grace, but we must be plugged into that dynamic force.  Otherwise it’s like wielding a jackhammer with no power.  You get nowhere and eventually give up.

Read 2 Tim 2:1; James 4:6; 2 Peter 3:18.  All of these verses talk about standing in God’s grace, being strong in God’s grace and growing in God’s grace.  If we’re not plugged in — not active in our relationship with Him, not taking the steps necessary to be plugged in and maintain a relationship with God and His church, we will be disconnected from that source of power.

Remember, the Lord has promised He will be found by those who seek Him; He will never forsake those who seek Him; and He will be faithful to complete the work He has started in you!

So be plugged in, ready for use, wired — stand and growing in the grace of God — and God’s grace will not be without effect (1 Cor 15:10); He will work in you to both desire and do His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).

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Bruised Reeds

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Isaiah 42:1-4 speaks of the type of servant God will uphold.  In particular, these verses refer to the Messiah (see Matthew 12:15-21).  I’m drawn particularly to verse 3 — “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.”

In his book The God of the Towel, Jim McGuiggan notes the reed referred to in this passage (a kaneh in Hebrew) was one that grew tall and was used in a variety of ways.  However, it was very fragile and if they were damaged (bruised), they were considered useless.  A smoldering wick was one in which the oil in it was nearly exhausted, and thus it began to dry out and give off smoke as the flame began to die.  The natural thing to do would be to snuff it out.

And isn’t that how we often think God will treat us — we who are struggling with addiction or going through separation or coming to terms with having betrayed someone’s trust?  Or who are dealing with sickness or the loss of a loved one  or the wayward child or job loss.  We are broken and spiritually dried out.  Who could blame God for getting rid of a bother, a useless aggravation, an exasperating failure?

But God doesn’t do that!  He doesn’t despise a “bruised reed.”  He knows how fragile you are and He will not give you so much that you will splinter and break. As McGuiggan notes, He will carefully, without overwhelming the feeble wick, gently blow and expertly remove debris, prod and fan and pour in new oil so the sputtering, almost extinguished flame can burn bright and give light.

For some of us, in order to begin this renewal, He is just waiting for us to return to our first love.   Not only waiting, but reaching out to us.  When we finally give up trying to make it on our own, refusing to come to God with that unconfessed, unacknowledged sin; when we give up our pride, and come to Him with godly sorrow and repentance,  we will experience the joy and blessedness that David spoke of in Psalm 32.

For others of us, we are “broken” not because of sin we haven’t dealt with, but simply because of what life has thrown at us.  Broken relationships between parents and children, husbands and wives, friends and colleagues; Dreams unfulfilled; Rejected for job; Living on the financial edge; Abused; Sick.  All of these things result in loneliness, frustration, fear, insecurity, feelings of worthlessness.

But read Isaiah 42:1-4 again.  How heartening!  What joy!  God will not toss out the weak, or trample “the bruised” and “the smoldering”, those who might otherwise feel useless or too broken to matter.  Remember — as a child of God, YOU are Beloved and chosen by Him.  He will never leave you nor forsake you.  Walk with Him, rest in His love, and know that you have a place and a usefulness in His plan.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”  — Matthew 11:28-29

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