The Hope of Christ’s Advent

48703A84-D246-48AD-B20F-7E7102936CA6Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.  For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” 1 Thess. 4:13-14  NIV

The church nursery was scary for my toddler.  The first dozen times I left him, he screamed his head off and acted like he would never see me again.  It grew on him and he now feels safe parting with me for a few hours.  His knowledge of me coming back for him, coupled with his experience of the goodness of those who watch over him, make all the difference.  Now, when I come to get him he sometimes doesn’t want to go–he’s too busy enjoying a book or playing with friends.  When parting with a loved one, our first response may look much the same.  The loss of the one we love may feel like it’s goodbye forever.  Yet, as believers we are comforted in that we will see them again and behold the presence and care of the Lord in this place now, and more fully forevermore in heaven.  We have hope because of the resurrection and the revelation of Christ.

Those who die in the Lord only leave the physical body ‘asleep,’ but take their spirit to the very presence of Christ!  While, it may be a temporary goodbye, it’s not forever.  No one likes to say goodbye to those we cherish.  We want to hold on to them as if they belong to us.  If we surrender them to God, we receive the freedom to enjoy them as momentary gifts and look to the more exhilarating gift of Christ that they are meant to point to.  We await a heavenly union to Christ for all eternity!

A Christian’s life is lived in light of eternity because that is our forever home.  The moment we take our last breath, we go home to dwell with the God himself.  Our faith stands on the promise and hope of the resurrection.  We can be comforted that although our bodies temporarily die, our souls immediately are ushered into the presence of the Lord.  All believers will be happily reunited again.  “Christians do not experience the hopeless grief of non-believers, for whom death marks the permanent severing of relationships.  Unlike them, Christians never say a final farewell to each other; there will be a ‘gathering together’ to Him.  Partings in this life are only temporary.” (MacArthur Commentary p.126.)  Like David, we can wash our face from tears when we realize that although our loved ones can’t come back to us, we will join them in heavenly bliss one day.

Not only will we be reunited, we will be remade one day.  Our sleeping physically bodies will be raised again and made perfect in ways we have never even dreamed of!   Just imagine what that day will be like when Jesus comes back and establishes his kingdom on the new earth!  The closest picture I can imagine in my finite mind is like that of the scenic images from “Lord of the Rings.”  Can you picture Jesus heroically coming back on a white horse with a sharp sword in all His glory?  He will give this earth an amazing remodel and rid it of every harmful and ugly evil thing, and make beauty from its ashes.

Prayer: Our Lord, Emmanuel! Thou are the gracious giver of eternal life and our awesome redeemer!  Forgive us for breaking your perfect law.  Thank you for Christ who came to this painful world to live a perfect life and yet be punished with the death we deserve, that we may believe onto him and live forever.  Thank you that you gift us with the grace of your presence.  May we look to the day you come back to establish your majestic kingdom from the ashes of this earth.  We ask for anticipation of seeing you face to face, and being remade from these dry bones to glorious bodies fit for a heavenly home together upon the redeemed new earth!   In Jesus’ name.

“O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer, Our spirits by Thine advent here.  Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, And death’s dark shadows put to flight.  Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel, Shall come to thee, O Israel.  O come, Thou Key of David, come, And open wide our heavenly home.” 

Aspiring to a Heavenly Thanksgiving in Light of Eternity

2731F47D-08EA-410D-A6EB-B458651EE22AHappy Thanksgiving!! I pray you each have a blessed day with family & friends, and the love of Christ fill you with joy and thanksgiving to God!

“All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, Thanksgiving and honor and power and might, Be to our God forever and ever.  Amen.’” Revelation 7:11-12

As the boys and I were out running errands, we arrived at Trader Joe’s and parked in the middle section of the isle of the lot.  We were getting out of the car, when Nathan suddenly exclaimed, “Thank you God!”  Intrigued and puzzled as to why my three-year old son spontaneously felt a call to worship, I asked him what he was thanking God for.  To this, he replied in a matter-of-fact way, “For this parking spot mom.” We hadn’t parked in the nearest spot and there was plenty of open spaces…  Then, I remembered that a few days earlier we had been praying for a parking spot after having been already running late and in a busy area in Los Angeles where parking was scarce.  I had asked the boys to pray we would find a place to park and our prayer was answered so we thanked God.

We truly can find so much to be thankful for everyday if we take time to pause and count our blessings.  God not only provides us with food and clothing, which is all the Bible says we need to be content.  On top of all the little things, he has given us the best gift in salvation through Jesus!  When this world looks dim, Christians have a sure Hope that this world is not the end.  We, believers, can give thanks regardless of our circumstances because we await a heavenly dwelling and a sweet eternal union with our Father and our forever family.  In Rev 7:11-12 we get a glimpse at what Thanksgiving is like in heaven! Firstly, He is the object of our praise and thanks.  Secondly, our thanksgiving will never cease.  This means that we can thank God in the wonderful things He provides, in our mundane and ordinary moments, and in the catastrophic events of our lives.

God alone is the object of our thanksgiving in heaven!  Picture the majestic scene as myriads and myriads of thousands of angels along with the church—redeemed men and woman of every ride and tongue and nation join in an exhilarating chorus of praise.  They are so blown away by God that they simply fall on their faces and worship!  What is their sole concern during this climatic moment? It is not themselves or who will be there.  It is not what they are wearing at this royal celebration or what delicacies would be served.  Their focus is not even on their surroundings as glorious as heaven must be; it is on God alone!  They long to see Him glorified honored, praised and given thanks as he rightly deserves for his splendor in holiness, gracious redemptive plan, kindness to reach sinners and the magnificent beauty of his love.  Gloria Furman reminds us where to direct our hearts, “We need the compass of eternity to direct our perspective. ” (Treasuring Christ When You Hands Are Full, P.52)  There is ample cause to give thanks when we look heavenward to behold who God is, what He has done in our lives, the wonders He is still doing and the glories to come.

Best of all, Thanksgiving in heaven will not be merely for one day out of the year! It will go on forever and ever.  We don’t have to wait till we reach the shining gates of heaven to give thanks like this, nor do we have to stop giving thanks the day after Thanksgiving.  God reigns as King overall in our past, our present circumstances and our future forevermore; thus, we can be filled with thanks through every detail of our momentary lives as it all works out for our good and His glory!

“And the twenty-four elders who sat before God on their thrones fell on their faces and worshipped God saying: ‘We give You thanks, O Lord God Almighty, The One who is and who was and who is to come, Because You have taken Your great power and reigned.” Revelation 11:16-17

Cooking Up the Perfect Recipe: Sweet Suffering Soufflé

3AE01280-CEF1-4873-B52C-C0BC29A879D8“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4

We love the holiday season because everyone is ‘supposed to be’ thankful, happy and jolly.   The world may try to cover up wounds by trying to eat or shop them all away.  For Ralphie from “The Christmas Story,” his joy was based on obtaining his coveted Red Rider.  What is the source of joy for you and me?

The world views joy as synonymous with happiness and thus it is reduced it to a feeling that’s based on our circumstances.  Merriam-Webster defines it joy as “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires” John Piper gives us a more Christ-centered definition, “Christian joy is a good feeling in the soul, produced by the Holy Spirit, as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the word and in the world.”  Adam Holland, paints a simple and clear picture of Christian joy in contrast with the world’s happiness, “Joy is a deep and abiding peace and comfort in the work of the Lord, while happiness is tied to our experiences—the ups and downs of our lives.” (Anchored in the Storm)

We can find this kind of real deep-seeded joy in the mist of our trials because of the truth God’s Word promises us that trials have a blessed purpose.  In Pastor John MacArthur’s commentary, he identifies eight purposes of trials; to test and strengthen our faith, humble us, wean us from our dependence on worldly things, call us to eternal and heavenly hope, reveal what we really love, teach us to value God’s blessings, develop in His saints enduring strength for greater usefulness, and enable us to better help others.  The common thread in these is they are all tools in the hands of our Redeemer for His use, glory and work.  He uses them to refine us like a goldsmith does. It comforts my heart to know my trials are not in vain.  There are many wonderful purposes God can accomplish through our dark nights if we find our adobe in Him instead of shunning Him away.  Our trials are being directed by our God who loves us and out of that love for our being made complete and perfected in faith.

True joy and thankfulness during adversity may be strange, even radical.  Yet, this is what we as Christians’ poses in Christ.  We captivate the attention of the watching world when we display true and abiding joy.  May we be reminded why we can have joy and give thanks to God no matter what we are going through this holiday season.  Can tears running down our face be wiped away up by joy? For the Christian the answer is yes!

Heavenly Father, author and perfecter of our faith, you are our souls deepest longing.  Forgive us for seeking joy in worldly and temporally things that can never fully satisfy our soul like only you can.  Lord thank you that Jesus was willing to endure the most severe trial in bearing our sins on the cross to accomplish the amazing work of redemption.  Thank you for the way you use own hardships in our lives to produce patience, endurance and ultimately to perfect and grow us to be more like your Son.  May be avail ourselves to be refined by the fire and be steadfast in our assurance of things hoped for and unwavering in the convictions of things unseen that you are producing through our tears and tiresome sails along our journey through this life.

Joy in Abiding in the Father’s Tender Green Thumb Care

 

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.  You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.  Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” John 15:1-4 NIV

My dad is one of my heroes!  He is a hard-working man who manages his own landscape business.  A good gardener knows that in order for a plant to grow healthy, it must consistently have its branches pruned from the old, diseased and dead elements.  Our heavenly Father is much like a gardener.  He prunes the things in our lives that belong to our old diseased nature, in order that we would grow and bear more spiritual fruit.

The process can be painful as the old seems the so much more comfortable, yet the end result is gloriously breath-taking.  In MacArthur’s commentary in this verse, he points out why we must not fret our beloved’s pruning, “The knowledge that the Father uses the pain that Christians endure for their ultimate good should eliminate all fear, self-pity, and complaining.”  He goes on to say, “And suffering is merely the handle of the Father’s knife; the blade is the Word of God.”   The motivating vision is one of our majestic Father, like in a garden, working on adorning us with the blade that will bring about fruit as we are nourished by Christ and His Word.   It’s so encouraging to stop in the mists of the trials and busyness of life, and think about God’s uttered words to us from Scripture.  We all know Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work out for good to those who love God…” but do we remind ourselves of these words when all around nothing appears to be working out for any apparent ‘good.’  Moreover, do we read on to verse 29 which reveals what the ultimate good is—to radiate more of the splendor of Christ!

Any real beauty and fruit we may exhibit finds its source in our Vine—Christ Jesus, the Lord.  When we try in our own efforts to muster up strength or good fruits, we fail miserably.  See apart from Christ, our faith is self-centered, meaningless and burned up like waste when it comes down to it.  At the end of our lives the only thing that will make a remarkable difference is who we are placing our trust in—Christ or our own hopeless efforts.  Even in our best merger attempts, our deeply entrenched sin alienates from the life-giver and repulses him to the point that he cuts off anyone who would refuse to abide in Christs’ finished work on the cross.  In stark contrast, we are abundantly blessed when we abandon our selves, love and truly abide in Christ whole-heartily.  Thankfully, we need simply look to Jesus and remain steady after him.  Then, we will be found abiding in the Vine, and pruned to bear the joyful and fruitful witness of possessing eternal life.

Our Majestic Father, God of all creation, our Rock, You alone are our well-spring and source of life.  Please forgive us when we are tempted to disconnect from Christ and go astray from your Word.   Thank you that you have given us every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ and that He is our high priest who sympathize with our weakness and intercedes for us.  Thank you that through Jesus death, burial and resurrection we may be forgiven of our sins and grafted into your family tree!  We ask for our children to be part of your eternal family too.  We lift up to you Merlin Church as they continue to seek a pastor that would be faithful to teach them your Word and how to abide in your truth.  May we continually come to you, and be steadfast, unmovable and unshakable in our faith–that Christ may get all the glory and we be productive and joyfully fulfilling the kingdom work you’ve appointed to each of us.  In Jesus name.

Adoption: A Story of Love & Redemption

“In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” Ephesians 1:4c-6 NASB

November marks national adoption awareness month.  Around this time last year, we learned about embryo adoption after dealing with a sobering ministry situation that opened our eyes to the hidden culture of death found in most IVF (in vitro fertilization) cases.  As Christians we believe what the Bible says in Psalm 139 holds true and life begins at conception, and thus an embryo or fetus is an unborn child made in the image of God.  The dreadful curse of IVF is that typically a dozen embryos are created at a time and 93% of them are never given their rights to life—many are frozen till they die, discarded or used for research like lab rats.  It’s daunting to think about how many unwanted children around the world, and now embryos are in a holding tank.  If abortion reeks of the culture of death; in contrast, adoption gives off the fragrant aroma of life and love embraced.

God uses the illustration of adoption for how he embraces us into His family while being in dire need for salvation from the destruction of our souls as children of wrath.  We all are born into the curse of sin and death.  We are condemned by the law of God and His holy standards that we cannot keep.   We are held in bondage as slaves of sin because of the law.  Yet, not only does God’s promise frees us; it adopts us into a glorious intimate son-ship with God through the Son Jesus.  “So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world.  But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that he might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” Gal 4:3-5.  Pastor John used a bold illustration Sunday morning.  He said when parents conceive a child they do not get to choose him or her specifically, but in adoption they pick, and God also chooses whom he wills.

God’s choosing of us is not based on our good deeds or merits, but solely on His grace.  No matter how heinous the crimes against God we’ve committed, He accomplished redemption by reaching out his hand to us while we were dead in our trespasses & sins; bringing us into the position of being sons and even hires of his majestic kingdom.  As children of God, we can cry out to him “Daddy, Abba, Papa!” and he hears us! It’s such a relief to be able to run to our Father’s arms in a world filled with the tragic effects of sin.  Sometimes even just the sorrow of being in the flesh.  As we humble ourselves and mourn over our sin, God grants us grace.  We are also comforted by the promise that because of what Jesus did, God can look at us and see His perfect righteousness.  Our adoption was realized because of God’s abounding love and choosing of us.  “Biblical agape love is not an emotion but a disposition of the heart to seek the welfare and meet the needs of others.  (John 15:13) And that is exactly what Jesus Himself did on behalf of those God has chosen to be saved.” MacArthur goes on to say, “God lovingly draws redeemed sinners into the intimacy of His own family.” Praise God that He takes pleasure in adopting us as His children while so underserving!

Father most high, you are what our hearts long for and desperately need, in a time where sin runs wild and tempts us to compromise with the enemy’s cunning lies.  Oh, God, please forgive us and hold us near as our dear daddy.   Help us to be in awe of the wonder of your redemptive plan of salvation and your great love for us.  May we give You praise in all that we are called to bear in this life, knowing that Jesus willingly gave up His life in perfect obedience to you and won our right to be called your children…  That all you would see how blessed it is to be a part of your forever family and by your grace be drawn in as well.  In Jesus’ name.

Citizen Magazine from Focus on the Family wrote a feature article on embryo adoption November, 2016 called Frozen in Limbo: https://www.focusonthefamily.com/socialissues/citizen-magazine/frozen-in-limbo