Never Forget True North

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former
ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:13-16

A story is told about a sailor hundreds of years ago who was given charge of a ship overnight while the captain slept. It was his first time to have full command of the ship, and the only directive he was given was to sail due north, toward the North Star. “Okay, Captain,” the young sailor said. “So should I just come wake you when we sail past that star?” The captain looked at him and said, “Son, we will never sail past the North Star. It will always be our guide to true north. It never changes!”

In much the same way, the statutes and ways of God are our true north. They’re our guide in life as we pursue holy living. And while we’ll never pass them, we can look to them and know the direction to go that will lead us down the path of godly living.

Never forget your true north… it’s the very character of Christ Himself. Pursue godly living by following your North Star: the Word of God and the Spirit of God. As long as you are heading in the right direction, you can be sure you’ll stay on the path toward Christlike living!

STAY ON THE PATH TO LIVING A LIFE LIKE JESUS BY KEEPING YOUR
FOCUS ON THE HOLY CHARACTER OF GOD.

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The Danger of Drifting

“Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard,
lest we drift away from it.” –
Hebrews 2:1

Life is like an ocean…a trackless ocean with winds, currents and waves. We’ll meet ships we never knew were on that ocean and we’ll have all kinds of opportunities, heartaches, tears and fears as we sail into a new year on an uncharted sea.

Scholars tell us Hebrews 2:1 refers to the sea–the writer is using a nautical term. He must have spent time at sea, because the phrase “pay much closer attention” and the word “drift” refer to bringing a ship into the harbor, a difficult and sometimes dangerous task.

A ship never just drifts into the harbor. The most skillful part of being a sea pilot is bringing the ship into the harbor. “Lest we drift away“ literally means to slip away. You have to be careful when you enter the harbor that you don’t end up on the rocks or drift past the harbor.

The worst thing that could happen to us this year is that we just drift through it–live an aimless life–letting this year “happen” to us rather than charting a course and getting into God’s appointed harbor. The winds of worldliness, the tides of circumstance, and the currents of the old nature are determined to cause you to drift.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1–2

You will drift unless you decide not to drift. You must have an anchor. You need a fixed direction. It’s important, because drifting is one of the easiest things in the world to do.

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OUR ONLY HOPE

Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord. —Psalm 31:24

I’m not much of a Star Wars fan, and no I haven’t seen the new release yet, but I have have seen most of the movies, thanks to my grandchildren. Do you remember these epic words spoken by Princess Leia via a hologram message in Star Wars?

“Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.”

In the midst of a hopeless situation, the princess of the Rebellion sends a desperate message. As she is about to be captured by the ruler of darkness, Darth Vader, she places a plea inside R2-D2, not knowing whether it will ever be seen or heard.

Do you ever feel like you’ve sent out your last desperate plea and now you wait and wonder if help will ever come? The good news of Christmas is that help has arrived. Jesus is our only hope. There is nothing or no one else in this world that can win against the powers of evil and darkness—but Jesus has come and is coming again.

To a world bound by sin and suffering, God sent His Son as a Savior. By God’s perfect design, He showed up in Bethlehem as the fulfillment of the hope for a Messiah, and He will come again to complete the work He began, redeeming the world to Himself, setting everything right, and turning hope into reality once and for all.

Let your steadfast love, O LORD,
be upon us, even as we HOPE in you.
Psalm 33:22

For now, in this Christmas season, we can take heart and draw strength from the knowledge that our only hope has heard our plea and has come to rescue and redeem us.

Have you reached the point in life where you realize God is your only hope? As you embrace this new year, think about what it looks like to cry out to Him and then to be strong and take heart.

Happy New Year!

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HOPE SHINES IN THE DARKNESS

“The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” —Matthew 4:16

We typically think that light helps us see better, but sometimes we need the darkness in order to better see the light. When it comes to seeing the night sky, light is actually pollution. National Geographic reports that while about 2,500 individual stars are usually visible to the naked eye in the night sky, we can only see about 200 to 300 in a typical city today. Our city lights get in the way of us seeing the light of the stars. We have to go where it is dark to get a clearer vision of the light.

Hope works the same way. Only when we face the true darkness of our world, and of our own hearts, can we see the light of hope clearly. Jesus was born into a dark world full of hatred and fear. That same hatred and fear are present in countries, cities, churches, and families today.

But our hope lies in the fact that God showed up unexpectedly in the midst of the darkest night. He shone His light into the world through a baby, and He invites us into that light.

Do you feel like you are living in darkness? Do the news headlines make you feel like you are living in the land of the shadow of death? Holiday glitz can artificially light our lives, but stepping into and facing the darkness allow us to see the true light of Christmas.

Darkness can feel all consuming, but the darker it is, the brighter the smallest light seems to shine. Even in your deepest darkness, the light of hope shines, revealing the love of God, who is the source of all light.

What causes you to feel overwhelmed with darkness? What in your life might be causing spiritual light pollution and keeping you from seeing the light of Jesus? Won’t you step
toward the light? Turn from your sin to the Savior.

Merry Christmas!

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WHAT CHILD IS THIS?

Nothing can capture for me the mystery and the beauty of Christmas better than the carols we sing. They have the power to recreate in my imagination the scenes of the first Christmas. They seem to be able to set the atmosphere — the crowded inn, the smelly stable, the sleeping city, the great star spilling its beauty down over the waiting earth, the lonely shepherds in the field, the blazing, sudden glory of the heavenly hosts breaking through the darkness, then the contrast of the stable in a cave with the sleeping babe and the wondering hearts that come to worship and kneel before this amazing wonder, Jesus Christ born on earth.

One carol we sing at Christmas asks the question,
“What child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?”

And the chorus answers,
“This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the son of Mary.”

I am sure the shepherds asked the same question when they went into the stable on that first Christmas Day: “What Child is this?” But no one had an adequate answer. Mary, you remember, “kept all these things and pondered them in her heart,” Luke 2:19. She did not know what the answer was. You never can answer that question until you have the full record unfolded in the Gospel accounts of the silent years in Nazareth and the coming of age of Jesus, His baptism by John, the trudging up and down the hills of Galilee and Judea with His disciples, the teaching, the miracles, and finally, the last crowded dramatic week in Jerusalem that culminated in the cross and the blazing glory of resurrection.

And then it still was not over. There was the moment in Jerusalem when the Spirit was poured out upon the waiting disciples. The whole city was gathered to hear the great sound of a rushing wind in the wonder of Pentecost.

It is only then you begin to get a full answer to this question, “What Child is this?”
How do you answer this question?

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HOPE’S LONG JOURNEY

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I hope. —Psalm 130:5

In an age when drone delivery is a reality and information is constantly at our fingertips, we’ve become accustomed to immediate gratification. We get impatient with slow Internet connections and microwave ovens. So the idea of a long wait or a lengthy journey doesn’t hold much appeal on the surface.

As I was waiting in a line which wasn’t moving at the airport recently the Lord reminded me of the importance of waiting and having patience in just circumstances. But perhaps it is the journey, the process of the long wait, that is exactly what we need. We need time to recognize the depth of our need and to allow hope to build in our hearts. We need space to block out the many distractions of our lives. We need to quiet ourselves in the darkness so that we won’t miss the arrival of the light of the world.

We need to wait and watch for the miracle of the birth of Jesus—when the God of the universe entered our world in order to transform us through His love.

Advent is just that—a long period of waiting, expecting, and looking forward to the coming of Jesus. In a rushed world, Advent is a deep breath that allows us to pause and then take each purposeful step on the journey as we follow the star toward Bethlehem. So we begin this season of waiting with hope in our hearts. Maybe your sense of hope is only the faintest glimmer right now or a mere spark. It’s okay. Allow the long wait to be a place where hope grows—where it can build with each passing day and create space in your heart to receive the light of the world.

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LEGALISM OR GRACE? Part 2

“And by that will we have been sanctified
through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
Hebrews 10:10

Last week we looked at “Legalism or Grace”?
We want to continue along that theme with our thoughts today.

Rigid adherence to a list of do’s and don’ts appeals to our pride and self-sufficiency by fostering the myth that if we work hard enough we can earn God’s favor. That’s fear­ based thinking, but we need to remember what God has called us to as His children.

“for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”
2 Timothy 1:7

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” 1 John 4:18

Legalism is fear that God isn’t big enough to forgive your sins, that unless you do the right thing in the right way at the right time-and do it perfectly-you’re in trouble. Jon Walker writes: “That’s a lie with the smell of hell all over it! When we fear making mistakes we become timid, and limit ourselves from living abundantly. We let…analysis permeate our decisions as we lead quiet, desperate, anti-faith lives, afraid to move with the bold confidence that grace gives us to walk in uncertainty… unafraid of rejection.”

Speaking against works-based religion, Martin Luther said, “Be a sinner and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger…rejoice in Christ…the victor over sin.”

No, Luther wasn’t excusing sin! He was restoring grace to its rightful place, affirming that nothing can separate us from God’s love (See Ro 8:38-39). He wasn’t downgrading the law, He was upgrading grace. Grace means communicating with God and allowing Him to communicate to us through His word.

The truth is, “For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” Hebrews 9:24

He freed us to have a relationship with Him without fear of sin separating us.
That’s something we can put our faith in and count on.

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LEGALISM OR GRACE? Part 1

“I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law,
then Christ died for no purpose.”
Galatians 2:21

Imagine going to the emergency room and being asked to leave because you’re bleeding all over the floor!  Jesus encountered that legalistic mindset when He healed a crippled woman on the Sabbath.
“But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” (Lk 13:14)
Observing the law was more important to him than the people he was supposed to care for.

Max Lucado says:

“All religion falls into…two camps: legalism or grace. A legalist believes if you look right, speak right and belong to the right group, you’ll be saved…The outside sparkles…but something’s missing…Joy. What’s there instead? Fear-that you won’t do enough. Arrogance that you’ve done enough. Failure-that you’ve made a mistake. Legalism is…slow suffocation of the spirit, amputation of one’s dreams…enough religion to keep but not nourish you…Your diet is rules and standards. Legalism…doesn’t need God…It’s the search for innocence-not forgiveness…a systematic process of defending…explaining…exalting…justifying…It turns my opinion into your burden. There’s only room for one opinion…and guess who’s wrong? It turns my opinion into your boundary. Your opposing opinion makes me question not only your right to fellowship with me, but your salvation. It turns my opinion into your obligation. Christians must toe the company line. Your job isn’t to think, it’s to march…Salvation is God’s business. Grace is His idea, His work, and His expense. He offers it to whomever He desires, when He desires. Our job is to inform people, not screen them.” 

Paul writes, “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:5)

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Give Thanks In All Circumstances

Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:18

The Heidelberg Catechism says that belief in the providence of God makes it possible for us to be “thankful when things go well” and “patient when things go against us”.
So sometimes we are thankful, and sometimes we are patient.

Paul sums things up this way. He says it is God’s will for us to be thankful “in all circumstances.” Really? Well, it may help to note that Paul is not saying we should be thankful for all circumstances but in them. When things seem to go against us, I think God expects us to be grateful that his hand holds us and helps us to endure under the strain. That’s a big challenge–to look for reasons to be thankful when the going is tough.

Sometimes it can be equally difficult for us to be thankful when things are going well. We might not think it would be that way. After all, when things go well, we have so much to be grateful for. But the very nature of human beings, even if we are Christian, is to overlook the crowd of God’s good gifts to us every day. Let me suggest that today you sit still where you are and exercise the gift of noticing. Notice what you see, what you have, and who is with you. Notice the color, beauty, and variety around you. Keep noticing, and make a list of the gifts you notice. Then give thanks to God, the great giver!

Happy Thanksgiving!

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What It Means To Live Your New Life

“But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:20–24

One of my very favorite stories from the Scriptures is the story of Jesus’ good friend Lazarus. Lazarus was sick. Jesus found out, but waited until four days after he died to come. Upon arriving, Jesus ordered that the stone be removed from the tomb and raised Lazarus from the dead.

Something interesting happened next. Lazarus was still bound with the linen strips that were wrapped around a person when he died. And Jesus said, “Unbind him, and let him go” (John 11:44).

What I love about that statement is that Jesus isn’t allowing Lazarus to wear the clothes of a dead man. Instead, He intends for Lazarus to shed the garments of death and move forward in life.

Much the same way, when we come to Christ and are raised from the death of our sins, Jesus calls us to shed the garments of death that bind us and put on the clothes of grace and glory.

Many Christians have stepped out of the tomb, but are still bound by their death clothes of sin. But in Christ, you have the ability to shed the clothes of death and put on new clothes of life. Walk in that new life today by God’s power!

“Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Romans 13:13-14

BE RENEWED DAILY IN GOD’S POWER BY TAKING OFF YOUR
OLD SELF AND PUTTING ON THE NEW!

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