Are You Completely Surrendered to God?

Today I’m sharing from The NIV Bible blog.

Are You Completely Surrendered to God?

You, God, are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
where there is no water.
I have seen you in the sanctuary
and beheld your power and your glory.
Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands.
I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods;
with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
 —
 Psalm 63:1-5

Are you seeking great things for yourself, instead of seeking to be a great person? God wants you to be in a much closer relationship with Himself than simply receiving His gifts—He wants you to get to know Him. Even some large thing we want is only incidental; it comes and it goes. But God never gives us anything incidental. There is nothing easier than getting into the right relationship with God, unless it is not God you seek, but only what He can give you.

If you have only come as far as asking God for things, you have never come to the point of understanding the least bit of what surrender really means.

Read the rest here.

Is It Possible to Be Happy in Christ Despite Suffering?

Sharing today from Randy Alcorn’s Eternal Perspectives Ministries (EPM) blog.

Is It Possible to Be Happy in Christ Despite Suffering?

By Randy Alcorn

God never guarantees that the Christian life will be smooth or easy. In fact, he promises the opposite: “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12, NKJV). We’re not to be surprised when we face great difficulties (see 1 Peter 4:12).

All the psalms of lament, the book of Lamentations, and many other Scripture passages reveal the importance of realism and sorrow in the Christian life. No treatment of joy and happiness should deny or minimize such texts.

Indeed, a truly biblical worldview and an authentic doctrine of joy and happiness fully recognize and embrace the realities of suffering in this present age.

The happiness described in Scripture is all the richer because it doesn’t involve denial or pretense and can be experienced amid severe difficulty. Christ-followers don’t preach the flimsy kind of happiness that’s built on wishful thinking. Instead, our basis for happiness remains true—and sometimes becomes clearer—in suffering.

Rejoicing Is Rooted in Our God, Not Our Circumstances

Rejoicing always in the Lord (see Philippians 4:4) may seem unrealistic at times. But we must remember that this rejoicing is centered not in a passing circumstance but in a constant reality—God Himself, and His Son, Jesus, who died for us and rose again.

On the one hand, we might suppose that Scripture doesn’t command us to rejoice in our nation’s condition, our culture’s trajectory, our spouse’s attitude, our child’s struggle, our church’s conflicts, our job loss, or our poor health. On the other hand, we’re told to “always [give] thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20, NIV). Likewise, Scripture tells us to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NIV).

I don’t think this means that we are to rejoice in evil, per se, since God hates evil (Zechariah 8:17Proverbs 6:16-19) and commands us to hate it (Psalm 97:10Proverbs 8:13Romans 12:9). I do think it means that we should believe Romans 8:28, which tells us God will work all things together for our good, including evil things that happen to us.

Believing this frees us to thank God in the middle of difficult and even evil circumstances, knowing that in His sovereign grace, He is accomplishing great, eternal purposes in us through these things.

We’re told to rejoice in the Lord and to “consider it all joy” when we face hardship (James 1:2, NASB). Choosing to rejoice, by rehearsing reasons to be happy and grateful while suffering, affirms trust in God. We walk by faith, believing in what God has done, is doing, and will do to bring a good end to all that troubles us.

This response requires faith that God lovingly superintends our challenges. Viewing our sufferings as random or obsessing over someone else’s bad choices that caused our sufferings robs us of happiness. A weak, small, or faulty view of God always poisons the well of our contentment.

The more we grow in our understanding of God’s attributes, the happier we become.

We Have a Sovereign and Loving God

The deeper our knowledge of God’s character, the deeper our reservoir of strength, perspective, and happiness in hard times. Who is this God we are to trust? What is He really like?

As we have dealt with her cancer over the past two years, Nanci and I have spent time meditating on the attributes of God, rereading and listening to audiobooks such as The Knowledge of the Holy by A. W. Tozer and Knowing God by J. I. Packer and Trusting God by Jerry Bridges. Our hearts are lifted in praise as we contemplate His holiness, grace, justice, mercy, and every facet of His being revealed to us in Scripture.

Scripture teaches that we have a God who loves us and is sovereign over the universe, including all evil. We can’t be happy, and remain happy, without believing in the sovereignty of a loving God. The beauty of the Christian worldview is that while we’re encouraged to take initiative and control what’s within our power, we also know that the enormous part of life we can’t control is under God’s governance.

Scripture tells us, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). It assures us, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). And since God is eternally wise and good and happy, and we’re not, we’re far better off with Him, not us, in control.

Read the rest here.

Peace Like a River

All the earth will worship You, and will sing praises to You;
they will sing praises to Your name.
—Psalm 66:4

Does it seem possible that we are already into a new year? How did 2019 go for you and what does 2020 hold for each of us? I am not fond of making new year’s resolutions except for this one:

I want to seek the Lord more each day so I can know Him better.

We live in a world full of changes that threaten to rob us of our joy and peace in Jesus. Are you, like most of us, struggling to keep up with all the changes in our world that seek to destroy our faith? Are there stressful situations in your life that feel like they will never end? Do you long for the day when you can live with Jesus in heaven? Me too, Beloved, me too.

In the busy-ness of our lives, it is easy to get so involved with our work, our families, household tasks — even with what is necessary when serious illness or financial problems fill our lives — that praying and digging into the Bible gets pushed aside. I want to encourage all of us to start each day with Jesus before life intrudes with all its details, frustrations and disappointments. Talk to Him when you wake up, thanking Him for a new day and asking Him for everything you will need that day.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

—Psalm 121:1-8

One of the songs that gives me great peace during difficult times is “It Is Well With My Soul,” written by Ho­ra­tio G. Spaf­ford in 1872. This video is the Jeremy Riddle version of the Horatio Spafford hymn. Click here to read the amazing background story of how and why he wrote this song. The verses that impact me the most are:

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

If for whatever reason you cannot view this video, you can read the complete lyrics here.

Merry Christmas 2019!

Welcome to my annual Christmas post. From my house to yours, I wish you a very merry and blessed Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

Today we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, our Savior!
He alone is the Reason for the Christmas season and our ultimate JOY!

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields,
keeping watch over their flock by night.

And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them,
and the glory of the Lord shone around them,
and they were greatly afraid.

Then the angel said to them,
“Do not be afraid, for behold,
I bring you good tidings of great joy
which will be to all people.

For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior,
who is Christ the Lord.

And this will be the sign to you:
You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths,
lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel
a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

—Luke 2:8-14

The song “A Christmas Alleluia” is by Chris Tomlin featuring Lauren Daigle and Leslie Jordan. Close your eyes as you listen to this wonderful song of praise and worship to our Savior.

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible,
to God who alone is wise,
be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. 

—1 Timothy 1:17 (NKJV)

After these things I heard a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying,
“Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honor and power
belong to the Lord our God!

For true and righteous are His judgments,
because He has judged the great harlot
who corrupted the earth with her fornication;
and He has avenged on her the blood of His servants shed by her.”

Again they said, “Alleluia! Her smoke rises up forever and ever!”

—Revelation 19:1-3 (NKJV)

If for whatever reason you cannot view this video, you can read the complete lyrics here.

What Was the Christmas Star?

Today I’m sharing from Answers In Genesis.

What Was the Christmas Star?

by Dr. Jason Lisle

What was the star? And how did it lead the magi to the Lord? There have been many speculations.

The apostle Matthew records that the birth of Jesus was accompanied by an extraordinary celestial event: a star that led the magi1 (the “wise men”) to Jesus. This star “went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was” (Matthew 2:9). What was this star? And how did it lead the magi to the Lord? There have been many speculations.

Common Explanations

The star mentioned in Matthew is not necessarily what we normally think of as a star. That is, it was not necessarily an enormous mass of hydrogen and helium gas powered by nuclear fusion. The Greek word translated star is aster (αστηρ), which is where we get the word astronomy. In the biblical conception of the word, a star is any luminous point of light in our night sky. This would certainly include our modern definition of a star, but it would also include the planets, supernovae, comets, or anything else that resembles a point of light. But which of these explanations best describes the Christmas star?

A supernova (an exploding star) fits the popular Christmas card conception of the star. When a star in our galaxy explodes, it shines very brightly for several months. These beautiful events are quite rare and outshine all the other stars in the galaxy. It seems fitting that such a spectacular event would announce the birth of the King of kings—the God-man who would outshine all others. However, a supernova does not fit the biblical text. The Christmas star must not have been so obvious, for it went unnoticed by Israel’s King Herod (Matthew 2:7). He had to ask the magi when the star had appeared, but everyone would have seen a bright supernova.

Nor could the Christmas star have been a bright comet. Like a supernova, everyone would have noticed a comet. Comets were often considered to be omens of change in the ancient world. Herod would not have needed to ask the magi when a comet had appeared. Moreover, neither a comet nor a supernova moves in such a way as to come and stand over a location on earth as the Christmas star did (Matthew 2:9). Perhaps the Christmas star was something more subtle: a sign that would amaze the magi but would not be noticed by Herod.

A Conjunction?

This leads us to the theory that the Christmas star was a conjunction of planets. A conjunction is when a planet passes closely by a star or by another planet. Such an event would have been very meaningful to the magi, who were knowledgeable of ancient astronomy, but would likely have gone unnoticed by others. There were several interesting conjunctions around the time of Christ’s birth. Two of these were triple conjunctions; this is when a planet passes a star (or another planet), then backs up, passes it again, then reverses direction and passes the star/planet a third time. Such events are quite rare.

Nonetheless, there was a triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn beginning in the year 7 B.C. Also, there was a triple conjunction of Jupiter and the bright star Regulus beginning in the year 3 B.C. Of course, we do not know the exact year of Christ’s birth, but both of these events are close to the estimated time. Advocates of such conjunction theories point out that the planets and stars involved had important religious significance in the ancient world. Jupiter was often considered the king of the gods, and Regulus was considered the “king star.” Did such a conjunction announce the birth of the King of kings? However, the Bible describes the Christmas star as a single star—not aconjunction of two or more stars. Neither of the above conjunctions was close enough to appear as a single star.

But there was one (and only one) extraordinary conjunction around the time of Christ’s birth that could be called a “star.” In the year 2 B.C., Jupiter and Venus moved so close to each other that they briefly appeared to merge into a single bright star. Such an event is extremely rare and may have been perceived as highly significant to the magi. Although this event would have been really spectacular, it does not fully match the description of the Christmas star. A careful reading of the biblical text indicates that the magi saw the star on at least two occasions: when they arrived at Jerusalem (Matthew 2:2) and after meeting with Herod (Matthew 2:9). But the merging of Jupiter and Venus happened only once—on the evening of June 17.

Although each of the above events is truly spectacular and may have been fitting to announce the birth of the King of kings, none of them seems to fully satisfy the details of the straightforward reading of Matthew 2. None of the above speculations fully explain how the star “went ahead of ” the magi nor how it “stood over where the child was.” Indeed, no known natural phenomenon would be able to stand over Bethlehem since all natural stars continually move due to the rotation of the earth.2 They appear to rise in the east and set in the west, or circle around the celestial poles. However, the Bible does not say that this star was a natural phenomenon.

Read the rest here.

Jesus, Savior of the World

Sharing today from Decision Magazine

Jesus, Savior of the World

By Charles H. Spurgeon

Our thoughts turn to the first use of the name, when the Child who was yet to be born was named Jesus. The person to whom that name was first revealed was Joseph: a carpenter, a humble man, a working man, unknown and undistinguished except by the justice of his character.

It is not, therefore, a title to be monopolized by princes, sages, priests, warriors or men of wealth. It is a name to be made a household word among common people! He is the people’s Christ.

The name of Jesus was sweet from the start because of the words that accompanied it, for they were meant to remove perplexity from Joseph’s mind: “Fear not.” Truly, no name can banish fear like the name of Jesus! It is the beginning of hope and the end of despair! Let the sinner hear of the Savior, and he forgets to die! He hopes to live! He rises out of the deadly lethargy of his hopelessness and, looking upward, he sees a reconciled God and no longer fears.

At the time when the name was given, His full person had not been seen by mortal eyes, for He lay as yet concealed. But soon He came forth, having been born of Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. A matchless man, He bears our nature but not our corruption! He was made in the likeness of sinful flesh, but in His flesh there is no sin! This Holy One is the Son of God, and yet He is the Son of man!

The name of Jesus is a name divinely ordered and expounded. According to the text, the angel brought a message from the Lord and said, “You shall call His name Jesus.” It is a name that—like He who bears it—has come down from Heaven. Our Lord has other names of office and relationship, but this is His own personal name.

And it is the Father who has thus named Him.

The name is the highest, brightest and noblest of names. It is the glory of our Lord to be a Savior. To the best that was ever born of woman, God has given the best name that any son of man could bear. Jesus is the most appropriate name that our Lord could receive.

The Father knew Him perfectly, and He named Him Jesus. We may be sure, then, that our Lord is, most of all, a Savior, and He is best described by that term. God, the Father, who knows Him best, sees this to be His grand characteristic: that He is a Savior and is therefore best represented by the name Jesus.

Nix Xmas

Nix Xmas

By Pat Knight

It is nearly time to celebrate the holy day of Christmas. Or is it written Xmas? The cross, symbolic of Christ and His resurrection and the first letter of the word Christos or Christ, were expressed with an X in the Greek alphabet. Though some Greek symbols are retained in formal worship services today, the letter X no longer represents Christ Jesus exclusively.

According to tradition, the word Xmas has been in use for several centuries to signify Christmas. It is understandable that the letter representing Christ (X) and the shortened version of celebration (mas) were combined to form Xmas. While those familiar with Greek may fully recognize the reverence attached to Xmas, for most of the populace Xmas is merely a shortened version of Christmas. In our contemporary culture X is used to represent an unknown quantity, a flexible and functional symbol of the English alphabet that is used to emphasize or to cross out writings.

Christmas is a holy day proclaiming the incarnation of the Son of God on earth, the same Deity present with the heavenly Father at the creation of the world and throughout history. Apart from the Greek origin, if we remove Christ from Christmas, Xmas is the result, a generic, unadorned word. In our zeal to shorten every word possible, we have dishonored Christ’s birthday.

The original Christmas was a splendid event. On a still night outside the hills of Bethlehem, shepherds were huddled in the sheepfold, cloaks wrapped tightly against the cold, when suddenly thousands of tiny lights pierced the ebony sky. At that moment an angel emerged with the glory of the Lord shining in his presence. What a spectacular, paralyzing event!

The angel announced, “‘Do not be afraid, I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you; You will find a baby wrapped in cloth and lying in a manger’” (Luke 2:10-11). Before the shepherds could focus, “suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests’” (vv. 13- 14). What a stunning, stupefying event for the shepherds, whose occasional excitement involved confronting a wild animal predator. The shepherds had been singled out of all creation to receive the announcement of the Savior’s birth. When the angels left, the shepherds conferred, “‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about’” (v. 15).

What pure excitement filled the hearts of the shepherds; thrilling, unprecedented heavenly exhilaration, an adrenaline rush felt by those in the presence of the angels! Although prophecy of the advent of the Messiah had been verbally communicated for centuries, no one was apprised of the time or location of his appearance. A baby King born in an animal shelter seemed incomprehensible. Yet, the angels were very convincing, typically appearing on earth only at extremely important times.

The shepherds expectantly walked to Bethlehem. They were not disappointed. “So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen Him they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. The shepherds returned glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told (vv.16-18, 20).

Because they believed the angels’ message and acted on their information, the shepherds were granted exclusive rights to participate in the hallowed excitement at Jesus’ birth. The day was eventually named Christmas to represent Jesus’ incarnation, commencing His thirty-three year journey on earth, with the cross His ultimate goal.

Has our world advanced intellectually in two thousand years? The momentous date of Christ’s birth is now dubbed Xmas and the majority of people celebrate by honoring an impersonal, rotund Santa Claus clad in a fuzzy red suit. Twinkle lights and ornaments adorn a fir tree with wrapped presents beneath. For many, the story of Christ’s birth remains just another fairy tale spelled Xmas; an excuse for exchanging gifts.

Devoted, loving children of God celebrate the fullness of Christ’s birth: love come to earth, promises of a Messiah kept, and the beginning of the road to Calvary, where Jesus was cruelly sacrificed for the accumulation of our sins.

I have often wondered if there is economy of motion in writing Xmas as opposed to Christmas. Otherwise, if time value weren’t involved, why would we insist upon shortening the word Christmas? As I experimented writing the two words, I expended no less motion writing an X. By substituting an X for Christ’s name, we have depersonalized Christmas, like so many secular ornaments replacing the true characters of the nativity.

The word Christmas is not found in the Bible, but it is the name that has been passed down through the ages to commemorate the birth of Christ. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Though traditions change, though we may substitute Christ’s name with an X, Christ our Lord has remained immutable throughout the ages.

“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority” (Colossians 2:8-10). At Christmastime and always, let us worship Jesus with the glory and majesty due His name. 

There is no greater love or grace available than for those who belong to Christ Jesus our Lord. As heirs with Him in God’s kingdom, let us assess our actions to magnify or to discredit His name. Join me this Christmas in eliminating the “X factor.” Our Messiah will be pleased. Join with the angels in proclaiming Christ as Lord. “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15).