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Breath of Heaven — Breath of Life

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At this time of year, I pause to reflect on the impact of what God did when He sent a part of Himself to dwell on earth as a man.  The Bible tells us that when God created the first man, He formed him “of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7).  God breathed His very life and breath into the being He had made in His own image and likeness (see Genesis 1:26).  Of course, as we know, Adam sinned, and, with his transgression, the image of God in man was damaged.   Our spiritual DNA was flawed due to sin.   

A few milllennia later, God sent His Son to live as a man, face every temptation known to man, and resist each one on our behalf.   Jesus lived a sinless life and died on the cross for our redemption.  Jesus, the express image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15), gave His perfect, sinless blood for me and faced death and hell to buy me back from the power of sin.  All I have to do to by way of response is believe that fact and acknowledge His sacrifice for me, the sacrifice of One who was resurrected from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit and now spends time praying for me! (Hebrews 7:25).   

What’s more, God completes that redemptive process by breathing His life into me again!  Jesus set this precedent for imparting new life to fallen man in John 20:22 when He breathed on His disciples and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  That breath, the Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 8:11), God’s very breath of life, dwells in me!  In fact, we are encouraged in Ephesians 3:19 to be “filled with all the fullness of God” and in Ephesians 5:18 to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  The God of Heaven and Earth delights in filling and re-filling me with His very own life and breath — again and again.  He is the only source of what we call in Texas “unlimited free refills!”  

This Christmas season, ask Him to fill you, to breathe on you — then ask Him to re-fill you, again and again, until you sense HIs life-giving presence flooding you with joy and peace.  God promises that, if we believe in Him, out of our heart will flow rivers of living water (John 7:38).  Take a deep breath and drink Him in until He spills out onto everyone around you!

Need a little more inspiration?  Listen to this song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6RVTZDgcpqM

Lord of the Clean Slate

In the world of magic slates, Magna-Doodles, and Etch-a-Sketches, our children learn that mistakes are readily erasable.   If our drawing or writing does not measure up to what we envisioned, we can simply wipe it out with a single motion of the hand.   Life, however, is not like that slate or screen.   More often than not, what I write on the tablet of my life is not so easily expunged.  There are consequences to my actions that I may be powerless to undo.   Although I may be able, in some cases and to some degree, to correct my mistakes or compensate for a less-than-stellar performance, some faults and sins are irrevocably engraved on my slate.  For years, I dragged that slate of guilt around with me; every time I made yet another error, I felt compelled to recount to myself all the other major sins and faults I could recall.  Without exception, the result was a leaden sense of failure and hopelessness.

However, the good news is that God not only forgives us our sins based on the atoning power of the Blood of His Son Jesus, but also WIPES our slate completely clean!  “And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us.  And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross”  (Colossians 2:13-14).  In addition, the omniscient, almighty Father actually throws our sins into the depths of the sea and FORGETS them! “Who is a God like you,  who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:18-10). “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25).  When my slate is covered with marks and the dust of my sin is rubbing off on every area of my life, I can trust Jesus to remove every trace of my failures.   He loves me unconditionally and delights to redeem me!  “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:11-12).

As the HOLYday season approaches, let us remember that we serve the Lord of the Clean Slate — He erases every sin and removes every stain!  Hallelujah!

The Power of the Seed

While I understand that not everyone is equally thrilled at the thought of a pregnancy, in my own case, being pregnant was a profound sign of God’s kindness.  Since I had feared I would be unable to have children, a positive pregnancy test was cause for great rejoicing.  While I must confess that nothing compared to the thrill of seeing my newborn baby face to face for the first time, the sense of joyous expectation in the months prior to the birth was unlike any other sense of anticipation I had ever experienced.  Suddenly, I began to view everything in my life through a different, albeit unfamiliar, lens — the lens of motherhood.  I became a mother before I ever saw my child;  that simple positive pregnancy test transformed my point of view in an instant.  My heart began to rejoice before any outward signs of my new role were evident.   My excitement was so great, that,  the first time I was pregnant, I was convinced that my condition was immediately evident to the entire world.

Years later, I am keenly aware that many women do not feel this sense of rejoicing over a pregnancy.   Of those who do, many have suffered miscarriage or disappointments or sorrows in conjunction with the circumstances of their pregnancies or deliveries.   For many, the season of expectation that should be joyous turns into a season of painful trials and challenges.

However, I believe God wants to teach us a lesson about Himself.   He sent Jesus Christ to us as the holy Seed of Himself.  Paul writes in Colossians 1:15 that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.”  Although God created man in His own image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-27), the image of God in man was marred by sin.   God sent His Son to restore and redeem what was lost — us!  As we believe in the atoning work Jesus completed on the cross, we receive the gift of eternal life (which, by the way, starts NOW — not just after we physically die).  That life is evident in us by the indwelling Holy Spirit of God.  The life-giving Seed, the Presence of the living God, dwells in us by His Spirit!

Every seed contains the blueprint of the plant it is designed to become.  In the sense that God Himself lives in us by His Spirit, we literally carry the DNA of God in our spirits.   In that DNA is every quality of our heavenly Father:  all the fruit of the Spirit, His very nature.   Just as an acorn carries the DNA of the oak tree, believers carry the DNA of God.   In 2 Corinthians 3:18, we read that we are progressively being transformed into the image of Jesus Christ by the power of His Holy Spirit.  THAT is the power of the Seed, a Seed which NEVER fails to produce fruit.   (“He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”  Phil. 1:6)

So, what is the point, you might ask?  The point is that we need to remember that what God has planted in us is truly HIMSELF, a Seed far more powerful than the seeds we plant in our backyard garden plots, a Seed that never fails, that never returns void (Isaiah 55:10-13).  What great confidence we can have in Him, the lover of our souls!   What great rejoicing we can and should have over His harvest in and through our lives, even before we see physical evidence of that harvest!  Just as I rejoiced with tremendous expectation over the baby I had not yet seen, God wants me to rejoice over His life in me before all His promises are evident to my human eyes.   He wants me to rejoice over the Seed in the same way I rejoice over the Harvest, to retain my sense of expectation of His amazing love and life-giving purpose to be made evident (Jeremiah 29:11), to remember that the Creator of the universe loves me personally and passionately and will keep His Word.   He WILL transform me and redeem the broken places in my life.

God promises that “those who sow in tears shall reap in joy.  He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.”  (Psalm 126:5-6)  God sees our trials, our sorrows, our labors, our challenges, and He wants us to remember Who HE is and power of His Presence in us.   Father, I ask you to download in me the joy of the harvest and allow me to see my fields from Your perspective!

Afraid of the Dark?

Most of us can relate to being afraid of the dark.  When I was young, I remember the comfort I felt when my parents turned on the night light.  In fact, for the better part of a year, I also insisted that they put a certain favorite record on their record player; I maintained that I could not go to sleep without that particular music.  I also remember labeling the side of my bed nearest the wall as “the devil’s side.”  I thought somehow the devil lived under the bed by the wall and would attack me if I got too close to the edge of the bed on that side.  Although my childish fears were unreasonable, given the fact that my parents assured me of their love and care for me, I still felt a distinct dread of dark places.  Somehow, children instinctively understand that evil lurks in darkness.

The good news is that God is NOT afraid of the dark!  He promised to deliver us from darkness — from sin, fear, torment, and blindness.  Isaiah explains God’s entrance into our dark world as follows:  “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined.”  (Isaiah 9:6)  In verse 9 of that same chapter is the famous description of the promised Messiah, our deliverer:  “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder, and His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”     John assures us that “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.” (I John 1:5b)  James also assures us that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.”  (James 1:17)  God Himself IS the light that dispels all darkness.  John explains that Jesus is “the light of men.”  “And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” [overcome it, understand it, or extinguish it].  (John 1:4b-5)

It is truly amazing that God, the Creator of the universe, sent a part of His very own Self to the earth in human form to be light to us and to deliver us forever from our sin and our fears.  Jesus said in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”   Just THINK about that:   Jesus gives us His Presence, which illuminates our hearts and minds and gives us light! Paul reminds us that Jesus “has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love.”  (Colossians 1:13)

I pray that God will help me understand the power of what He has done for me by sending Jesus to pay for my sin and bring light and life to me.  We still live in a world that seems riddled with darkness, and I often feel discouraged and overwhelmed.   However, I am trying to remember that the Light of the world literally dwells in me by His Spirit, and that the darkness has no long-term power over me.   I am asking God to help me refuse to focus on the apparent power of the dark places and to bask instead in His Presence, His light.   He has already delivered me, and He will continue to deliver me from the dark places of my circumstances, and even from the dark places in my own soul.   He truly IS light and life, for all eternity.   He is teaching me to sing in the darkness and not be afraid.   Ask Him this Christmas season to say to your heart once again, “Let there be light.”  (Genesis 1:3)  He is faithful.

Barren? Useless? A Waste of Time? That’s What YOU Think!

How quick we are to scrutinize, label, and condemn our own effectiveness!  In a culture that thrives on branding and labeling anything and everything, we hasten to assess and label ourselves before the rest of the world can do so.  We announce that we are fat, ugly, inept, uncoordinated, ignorant, incapable, or unintelligent — often before anyone has even considered viewing us as such.  That way, we reason, we beat everyone else to the punch!  We proclaim as truth the things we are certain that other people will think about us — regardless of whether or not our proclamations are valid.

Perhaps we even believe that God has called us to be involved in certain relationships for the purpose of showing them His love, kindness, support, or generosity.   Perhaps we are trying hard to simply be gracious to a difficult family member or to be helpful to a less-than-receptive neighbor.  After a few attempts to muster our courage and do what we feel called to do, we sense our efforts are fruitless, ineffective, and even ridiculous.  We lose heart and decide that we are useless to God and everybody else.  All our efforts are futile, and we see no change in our situation or anyone else’s attitudes.  There you have it:  we brand ourselves as barren and useless and our efforts as fruitless.

Think about it, though . . . moments after planting a seed in the ground, do we run back outside and yell at that seed?  Do we scream that it is a stupid, worthless, good-for-nothing seed because it has not sprouted ten minutes after being planted?  When there is no seedling visible the next day, do we continue reviling it as barren and hopelessly unproductive the next day?  I, for one, have not done that (yet!), and I do not know anyone who has.  Calling a seed barren before it has a chance to even sprout would be ridiculous!  It is a fact that some of the most significant creative growth happens to that seed before it ever shows signs of sprouting up through the soil.  Similarly, a baby experiences the most miraculous and mysterious phase of development before his or her presence is even visible on an ultrasound screen.  Much of God’s creative work is accomplished in secret — in the places we cannot see with our human eyes or comprehend with our limited understanding.  In fact, God knows that we lack skill in perceiving His work.  He declares: “See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19a)

Moreover, even if we COULD accurately and consistently perceive the work and fruit of God’s hand in our lives, God never assigned us the job of Holy Fruit Inspector!  We need to repent of our haste in pronouncing ourselves barren and useless and instead embrace His life.   He is faithful to finish what He has begun in us (Philippians 1:6), and His life in us WILL produce fruit that remains (John 15:16).


The Person in the Mirror

When most of us look at ourselves in the mirror, we are quick to spot our flaws and take pains to conceal them.  In fact, in our makeover-obsessed society, I often feel that my outward appearance is hopelessly flawed, despite my best efforts to make myself presentable!  My recognition of my physical flaws is analogous to God’s view of my spiritual condition prior to redemption:  “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,..” (Romans 3:23).

The analogy, however, ends there, for what I lack in physical beauty can never be fully redeemed here on earth, not even by the most highly skilled plastic surgeons (so I have not even bothered with that!).  However, my flawed human nature, full of sin and inadequacies, CAN be redeemed and HAS been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ.  That very fact CHANGES me and thereby changes the person I see in the mirror!  God PROMISES to transform me!

Paul tells us in I Corinthians 15:49:  “And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.”  That means that we will look like Jesus, that we will reflect the likeness, character, and nature of God Himself, in Whose image we were made (Genesis 1:27). As we cultivate our relationship with the Lover of our souls, He transforms us into the image of Himself and reveals His personality and character in and through us.  II Corinthians 3:18 describes this process beautifully: “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”

What amazing news!  What a promise!  Lord Jesus, transform me so completely that I will reflect Your glory to all around me.  Help me to fix my eyes on YOU rather than on my physical reflection in the mirror.  Help me to see YOU rather than myself.   Help me to bear the image of You, the heavenly Man.  Amen!

Rivers of Living Water

Ezekiel 47 describes a prophetic picture of God’s river of life:  it begins with a trickle of water flowing out from under the east side of the temple.  As the water flows, it expands in volume and strength, until it becomes a deep river that cannot be crossed (verse 5).  These waters are unusual, in that they convey healing wherever they flow; moreover, trees grow along the banks of the river — trees that bear fruit every month, trees whose leaves also bring healing.  What a picture of abundance, provision, and wholeness!  For Ezekiel, this picture forecasts God’s presence and provision for His people.  For us, as New Testament believers in Jesus, this scene represents the Kingdom work God longs to accomplish in and through us on a daily basis.

Paul makes it very clear that our physical bodies now serve as the temple of the Holy Spirit, the residence of God’s Spirit. In I Corinthians 3:16, he asks:  “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”  In I Corinthians 6:19, he repeats the same question with slightly different words: “…do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?”  Later, in II Corinthians 6:16, Paul declares, “You are the temple of the living God.”  Since the Presence of the Living God dwells in us by His Spirit, His Presence should flow out from us, just as the river of life flowed from under the side of the temple in Ezekiel’s vision.  In fact, Jesus Himself declared this fact to be true when He stood up on the final day of the Feast of Tabernacles, the day when the celebration ceremony involved the pouring out of water.  He cried out: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.  He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”  (John 7:37-38)

Sometimes I forget the power of His Presence within me.  I forget that the King of all Creation literally dwells in me by His Spirit.  I fail to call upon His healing water to flow in and through me, and I try to solve my problems and meet my challenges in my own strength.  Instead, I need to remember the One Who longs to pour Himself increasingly into me and out through me and allow Him free rein in my heart and mind.  He is more than able to provide “fruit for food and leaves for healing” on a daily basis.  His waters are too deep to run dry.  He is the God of more than enough!  He is after a river, not just a trickle! Father, may the living waters of your Holy Spirit fill me to overflowing!  Be honored and glorified, Lord Jesus!