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Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Beautiful Easter Narrative (Take the Challenge!)

I know it’s a little early for an Easter post, but the Lord laid it upon my heart to consider the Easter narrative right now, so here it goes!

I don’t know about you, but I am always so excited for the holidays, especially Christmas and Easter. I love the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season the music, the smells, the lights, the gifts, the food, the time with family. The problem with Christmas is that it can be overshadowed with and tainted by materialism and commercialism, and the true “reason for the season” can be easily overlooked and unfortunately diminished. The issue with Easter is simply that, because it’s not “hyped up” as much as Christmas, we oftentimes tend to let it creep up on us until all of a sudden it’s here, and we haven’t really taken the time to consider it’s significance much.

So, here’s the challenge. Consider Easter. Study Easter. And no, I’m not talking about how the tradition of the Easter bunny or Easter eggs beganbut the true meaning of Easter. The reason we have anything to celebrate. Don’t let the season come and go without basking in the beauty of the story. As I begin my study of Easter, I am going to be memorizing a passage of Scripture. I’ll list it below for you because it is simply beautiful! It’s kind of long, so I’m not sure if it will be finished by Easter, but my goal is to at least read it through at least once every day. This passage is found in Isaiah, and it lists several beautiful and painful truths of Jesus’ life and sacrifice. Read it carefully and thoughtfully with me, and then we’ll discuss. 

Isaiah 52
13  Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted.  14  As many were astonished at you his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind15 so shall he sprinkle3 many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they see, and that which they have not heard they understand.

Isaiah 53
1  Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turnedevery oneto his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.

10  Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. 11  Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12  Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.


This passage is simply beautiful! For Christ-followers, this passage is a celebration song! We have been redeemed. Jesus has paved the way for us to be accounted righteous. What a reason to celebrate and fall down in awe!

This passage explains how Jesus was made low as He was on the earth. There was nothing in Him that caused people to be attracted to Him. In fact, we rejected and despised him. We did not esteem Him to His rightful place. We even went so far as to cause oppression, shame, and pain for Him. But even deeper than how mankind treated Him, it was our sin in the first place that made his sacrifice necessary. Yes, it was our sin that led Him to the cross. Verse 12 shows us that he was numbered with the transgressors, but that doesn’t really seem fair because He wasn’t a sinner!

As verse 10 painfully points out, it was the will of the Lord to keep Him there. It was God’s will for Jesus to live on earth, to be tempted and yet not sin, to experience the punishment for our sin, and to obey the Lord’s plan completely. Wow! The Lord willed for His own son to be mutilated, mocked, and humiliated. But why? First, the Lord needed to appease His wrath for the evil of sin. (Whose sin?.... Ours.) God is holy and just and has to uphold justice, so He has to punish sin. Second, the Lord loves us, pursues us, and desires for a right relationship with us. However, that right relationship was impossible unless the punishment for sin had been satisfied. So, what did the Lord do? He created a way for the punishment to be satisfiedand that WAY was for His own son Jesus Christ to bear that punishmentOUR punishment. This was God’s will His perfect plan. Because this event took place in history 2,000 years ago, we can know God intimately. We can be saved from the penalty of sin. We can be adopted into God’s family and treated as an heir to His kingdom with Jesus. We can know true, intimate, and lasting love. We can overcome temptation every day. Wow!

So, this Easter season, don’t forget about this event that occurred 2,000 years ago. If you’ve heard the story since childhood, don’t let the depth of it fly over your head because of its familiarity. Relish in the fact that Jesus loves you and did this to obey God and to provide a way for YOUR salvation.

FURTHER STUDY
1.      1.  Evaluate yourself: Do you know Him at all? If you don’t, what’s holding you back from embracing the truth of God’s love and salvation? If you do, do you know Him intimately? Are you actively seeking to know Him more intimately every single day?
2.    2.  Evaluate the Easter story: Reread Isaiah 52-53 again. Choose some verses to memorize (or memorize all of it). Read it and study each verse individually. Find some passages in the New Testament that correlate with this Old Testament prophecy. Find a friend to memorize alongside of you.
3.    3.  Evaluate your family traditions: How can you shift the focus to be solely on Christ? How can you personally focus on Him? How can you lead your family in seeing the depth of this beautiful story?
4.    4.  Evaluate your witness: Who do you know that desperately needs this good news? Don’t let this Easter season pass by without opening your mouth to share what you have heard and experienced and received! Pray that the Lord will give you a passion and joy that is uncontainable and contagious! He will!
5.    5.  PRAISE THE LORD FOR HIS GOODNESS! Enough said. J

I love you, and I pray that the Lord grips your heart with the truth of His love found in the beautiful and painful Easter story. God became man in Jesus Christ because He loves YOU!

Are you up for the challenge???  If so....  Get to memorizing, studying, and sharing!

Always, Jacquelyn


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

You're Invited to Our Hotel #2: Live Simply and Look Upward


Staying in a hotel has a way of forcing you to simplify your life really quickly. It would have taken too much time to take everything we wanted from the apartment and transplant it to our hotel for a few days, so we packed the bare minimum. Normally, staying in a hotel is not complicated. However, we hadn’t stayed in a hotel since Riley Grace has been born I think Riley Grace had the most stuff out of the three of us! We were all crammed into one room, with Riley Grace’s pack-n-play at the foot of our bed. Our kitchen stuff was lined along the bathroom counter, and our clothes were draped across the spare bed in the corner. Patrick packed his school bag, but didn’t actually get to accomplish any schoolwork because we had to turn the lamps off at night in order for Riley Grace to lie down. After Riley Grace finally fell asleep on Sunday night, I couldn’t fall asleep. I had packed my Bible and journal, and I felt the Lord prompting me to turn on my lamp and start reading. Generally after Riley Grace falls asleep at home, I find a number of things to do. Wash the dishes. Pick up her toys. Take a bath. Put the clothes on to wash. Spend/waste time on Facebook, Pintrest, or Teachers Pay Teachers. Fall asleep on the couch. Read (which usually ends up as napping with my book). Watch a movie or show on Amazon. Lots of those tasks are necessary and good. Some of them are time-wasters. But they are all things that usually come before opening the Word. By the time those things are finished, I don’t have the energy to focus intently on the Word, so then it may not happen. My time in the Word on Sunday night was wonderfully refreshing and convicting. The Lord gently showed me that I am really good at wasting time, and that the things I choose to waste my time with are really foolish in comparison to the opportunity that I have (and often reject) to spend time with the King of Kings every single day!

The Lord showed me that one of His plans for our hotel stay was to show me how many things I can use to waste my time. At the hotel, I didn’t have any of those things. I didn’t have movies and Internet and dishes and clothes (well, I had dishes and clothes, but they were just piling up instead of getting cleaned!). At the hotel, our lives were simple. Eat, bath, and play until bedtime. Put Riley Grace to bed, and then we could either read or go to sleep. Pretty simple! And surprisingly, very nice! Without the distractions that I find at home, I had plenty of time and energy to dive into the Word! I needed to simply my time in order to focus UPWARD!

EVALUATE YOURSELF

How can you live simply? How can spend more time focusing upward? What are some things that you busy yourself with that aren’t necessary and may actually be time wasters? What do you do in your free time? Do time-wasters come before spending time with the King of Kings? (I am not trying to make the point that Facebook or Pintrest or movies are necessarily sinful. However, if they come before the Lord in how you spend your time, then, yes, that is sinful. I was right in the middle of that.) At the end of the day when all is said and done, I want to relax with a movie, not sit and think and read and journal. Those things involve using my mind, and at the end of the day, I don’t want to use my mind! The Lord showed me that it is selfish and foolish to neglect time with Him. The King of Kings, Creator of everything, and Savior of my soul, and of YOUR soul, wants to spend time with us. He showed me that it really is the most foolish idea to think that resting in front of the tv will actually give me more rest than resting in His presence. He is worth using my mind for thirty more minutes, even if I’m tired or exhausted.

Don’t just simplify and de-clutter your free time. Look UPWARD. By clearing out your time-wasting habits, you now have real FREE time to spend time with the One who is seeking you and pursuing you. How can we really say that a show or an Internet site is more relaxing or interesting than seeking and pursuing our relationship with the Lord? Sometimes, I think that we don’t spend time in the Word and in prayer because we don’t find fulfillment in it. We cannot expect to find fulfillment in our relationship with Him if we don’t invest time into it. One of my problems is that I’m a doer. I like to feel productive, and I like to see the fruits of my labor. That’s why I’m a list-lover. If I can check something off of the list, I feel wonderful and accomplished! If I decide to do something that wasn’t on the list, I add it to the list just so I can check it offthat seems pretty silly, but I know some of you do it, too! Anyways, sitting and reading or praying doesn’t always feel productive. (But then, note to self, how is 30 minutes on Facebook productive.ok, I’m preaching to myself!) Sometimes Patrick will ask me, “Is that productive?” to which I respond, “But I’ve been productive all day! I want to do something mindless!” 

But if we’re thinking from an eternal perspective (and we should be!), the most productive and vital thing that we do ALL day is spend time with our Maker! 

So, how can you spend more time with Him? Get creative! Carry around a verse for the week and read it every time you get in your car, or tape it to your mirror or fridge, and memorize it. Commit to listening to only Christian music for a period of time (or forever) so that you can focus on Him through music. Ask your husband or a close friend to keep you accountable. Let them know what your quiet time plan is, and let them help you stick to it. Spend your bath or shower time praying for your family and thanking God for how He provided for you that day. Before you begin studying for your schoolwork, make a commitment to study the Word. One of my friends mentioned that as she gets dressed each morning, she recites and prays for the armor of God and the fruit of the Spirit to be evident in her life that day. Find a verse that deals with what you’re currently struggling with, and memorize it! Thank Him every time you walk outside and notice the beautiful creation with which He’s blessed us. Set a specific time for your quiet time, set an alarm for it, and treat it as an appointment that you won’t miss drop everything when the alarm goes off, and spend time with God!

I pray that God will gently convict you of things in your life that may be mindless time-wasters. I pray that He gives you the discipline and desire to spend the much-needed and fulfilling time with Him. I pray that He helps you to find fulfillment and satisfaction in His presence through prayer and the Word. I pray that He gives you an accountability partner. Above all, I pray that you know Him more deeply as you make small sacrifices of eliminating your time-wasters.

FURTHER STUDY

Read the following passages, and answer these questions.

Matthew 6:33 / Philippians 3:1-11 / Colossians 3:1-17

1.      How does this passage speak to my priorities?
2.    How does this passage compare godly and worldly things?
3.    What changes can I make and what can I pray about concerning these scriptures?


Challenge: If time-wasting is something that you struggle with, commit to memorizing some verses within these passages so that God’s Word can be rooted deep in your heart whenever you are tempted with your time-waster.

Friday, February 20, 2015

You're Invited to our Hotel: #1 Making Sense of God's Plans

 So, it was last Thursday afternoon at 3:15pm, and Patrick was late for our afternoon coffee break. We both work on the seminary campus, and one of the perks is that we can take morning and afternoon breaks together. And even more conveniently, there’s a tiny café on campus with inexpensive coffee! These breaks together are a treasure. Nevertheless, he was late last Thursday. I’m only allowed fifteen minutes, so of course I texted him 10 times to say, “Where are you?”, “I’m going back to work so my break isn’t wasted!”, “Is everything ok??” Well, he finally texted me at 3:30 saying that he was “here”. I jokingly stormed up and asked why he was late. Then, he said, “The housing office called me” My first thought was that we hadn’t paid our rent, but I knew we had. He then proceeded to inform me that the apartment above ours had a kitchen fire a few minutes ago, which was why he was late. Our apartment had water in it from the sprinkler system that wouldn’t turn off. We didn’t have any fire damage, but we probably would have water damage, although the extent of the damage was unknown at this point. (Of course, our first thought wasman, why didn’t we get renter’s insurance?...) The most important thing was that everyone in our neighbor’s apartment was ok, although a little shaken up with a few small injuries (and several possessions destroyed).

First thoughts: Thank the Lord everyone is ok!
Second thoughts: Today is Thursday. Thursday is our cleaning day (well, if cleaning happens, it happens on Thursday). The sink is full of dirty dishes. Both dirty clothes hampers have reached capacity. My laptop was on the couch, so if the sprinklers came on in the living room, then there goes the laptop. How far did the water reach because the clothes that actually were clean are on the floor in Riley Grace’s room, instead of already folded and put up? Are the living room rugs salvageable? I wonder if Riley Grace’s pack-n-play is wet because that’s where she’ll sleep while we’re at the hotel. And how are the sleeping arrangements going to work out at the hotel? Riley Grace is never going to fall asleep if we’re all sleeping in the same room. Are we going to bring our microwave over there (Ok, so I had lots of second thoughts)
Our immediate reality was that we would have to move to the campus hotel for an indefinite time period until our apartment damages could be assessed and repaired. No, it wasn’t convenient. No, Riley Grace might not adjust quickly. No, we wouldn’t have access to our normal amenities such as a kitchen and washer/dryer, BUT everyone was safe! So, we were thankful!
As the day progressed, we were able to receive more info from the facilities and housing offices. Our apartment really had minimal damage. Two bookshelves were destroyed, our rugs were soaked, and our walls/ceiling need to be dried out. In my words, they have put a humidity sucker in our apartment that looks like fan in the shape of a huge whistle. In Patrick’s words, we have a large dehumidifier in our living room. Either way, they are working diligently to remove the water from our apartment. So Thursday evening, after work, we went to our apartment to scrounge around for anything we needed to take to the hotel before it was too dark to see since the electricity was off. It reminded me of being without power during hurricanes, although it wasn’t that bad at all. We grabbed a bite to eat for supper, unpacked at the hotel, and had an interesting time trying to get Riley Grace to fall asleep with everyone in the same room. Needless to say, she wasn’t tired because she thought it was a party! So we played and played to tire her out. Patrick needed to do schoolwork, but couldn’t because, in order for Riley Grace to fall asleep, we had to turn the lights off. What a day!
The Lord placed it upon my heart to post a few entries about what I’ve learned during our short stint at the hotel. It is now Monday as I write, and in a matter of thirty minutes during our lunch break, we were told to move back to our apartment (that’s another story for another day). So, we are back in our apartment, although I’m not sure if it’s ready for us!
So, you’re invited to “stay” in our hotel and glean from the lessons that we’ve learned during our short stay! I pray that the Lord reminds you of the truths of which He’s reminded us!
Lesson #1 from Our Hotel Stay: GOD IS SOVEREIGN
This seems like an obvious claim, and of course it is. I just shared with Patrick about my recent study in the Word. The Lord led me to dive into 1 Samuel. Usually when I start studying a new book, I gravitate toward the New Testament. I think the New Testament books initially seem to have more application, but the Old Testament is so rich and full of lessons, too! Anyways, I have read chapters one through four so far, and the main truth that keeps standing out is, “God is Sovereign!” It’s easy for us to believe and confess that He is sovereign when the blessings are obvious. It’s not as easy to accept His sovereignty when the trials, rather than blessings, are our reality. This small trial of being temporarily displaced from our apartment was not a terribly difficult trial. The worst part of it was inconvenience and minor stresses due to lack of communication. But it still was a small trial.

But back to 1 Samuel. As I was reading, I noticed that there were several instances where God willed for difficult things to happen. The Word doesn’t simply say that the allowed them to happen, but that He willed it. I’m not at all comparing our hotel stay to these trials recorded in 1 Samuel. The Lord has simply put a spotlight on the lessons from 1 Samuel while we’ve been living in the hotel! Let’s look at a few examples:

1 Samuel 1 Hannah and Peninnah were both married to Elkanah. Peninnah bore Elkanah many children, while Hannah remained barren. Hannah longed for a son, but 1 Samuel 1:6 makes it clear that “the Lord had closed her womb.” Why would the Lord intentionally close her womb? So, Hannah prayed fervently and earnestly for a son, to the point that the priest thought she was drunk when in fact she was desperately praying. She committed to the Lord that she would give her son back to Him if He chose to bless her with one. The Scriptures record that the Lord remembered Hannah and blessed her with a son. So, Hannah had a son! But now, as she promised, she had to give him up to the Lord’s service. Once the child was weaned, she brought him to live with the priest. And afterwards, Chapter 2 records how Hannah worshipped the Lord! What faith and trust she had! I think that if I were in Hannah’s shoes, I may become bitter at how the Lord could have willed for me to be barren, knowing the pain it would cause me? And then I’d be bitter that once I finally had a son, I had to give him up. But Hannah wasn’t bitter. She was faithful. She was patient. She was obedient. And she praised the Lord! AndGod was sovereign over all of Hannah’s trials and triumphs.

1 Samuel 2 Eli was the priest that Samuel (Hannah’s firstborn son) went to live with. Eli’s sons were wicked. They were supposed to be serving as priests, holy and set apart unto the Lord. Instead, they had profaned the name of the Lord by acting dishonorably toward the sacrifices. Eli tried to warn them to turn back to the Lord and turn away from their wicked practices. Knowing what we know about the Lord, it seems as though it would please Him to have had Eli’s sons turn back to Him. We know that the Lord is full of mercy and desires repentance. However, 1 Samuel 2 records the following regarding Eli’s sons: “But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for it was the will of the Lord to put them to death.” Instead of leading their hearts to repentance, the Lord willed for their hearts to remain hardened because it was his will to put them to death. That doesn’t seem merciful at all! But still, God was completely sovereign in this situation as well.

So back to our apartment. No, it’s not a big trial at all. Our stuff is wet, but not destroyed. We’re a little inconvenienced, but our family and friends are safe. But even in this small and inconvenient trial, God is sovereign. He might have allowed this to happen, or He might have willed it to happen. Either way, it did happen, and here we are in a hotel as our apartment dries out. Maybe you are in the midst of a small and inconvenient trial, or maybe you’re battling a huge trial that you can’t wrap your mind and heart around. I encourage you to pray through and rest in the sovereignty of God.

Encouragement for YOU within the Trials, Big and Small:
1.      God is sovereign in all things. He is LORD over everything that happens. Remember Hannah. She encountered a trial of barrenness, and then a trial of giving her son to the Lord instead of being able to raise him as her own. Even through all of that, God was sovereign. Hannah found comfort in that, and so can we. 
2.    God has a plan, even if we can’t understand it at the moment. Most of the time, we cannot see the reason for the trial while we’re in the midst of it. Many times, we still don’t know the reason once the trial is over. Making sense of God's plans...God may not allow us to make sense and understand everything about trials. The Lord doesn’t promise to provide the specific reasoning for each trial. Although we can’t know the “whys” of everything, we can know WHO is sovereign, OUR Lord. If we search it out, we can know all of the truths and promises about the Lord that let us know we can trust Him, even if we don't understand the trials. We can also know that the overarching purpose of anything that happens in our life is so that we can be brought into sweeter and closer fellowship with the Lord. Why? Because He loves us and desires this for us.
3.    God’s presence never leaves us. God promises that He will never leave us or forsake us, and He is always true to His Word. Even if you cannot feel His presence as you walk through trials, He is always there. He is our constant comfort and peace. Lean on Him, and rely on His strength when yours has failed.

Further Study:

1.      Take some time to meditate on the following verses, and thank God for His unfailing presence, His faithful love, and His flawless sovereignty.

Psalm 73:26 “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

Lamentations 3:24 ““The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

2.    Read Acts 2:14-41. Notice what God planned in verse 23. How can you rejoice in His sovereignty today? What trials are you facing? How can you praise Him in the midst of these trials? What is He trying to teach you? How can you encourage someone else who is also facing trials?

3.    Read James 1:2-4. We are supposed to consider trials as “pure joy”. Yikes. That’s usually not my first reaction. What all are we commanded to do in these verses? What does God promise to us? What are some things (based on these verses) that you can pray specifically for God to do in your life regarding your response during trials?

I pray that the Lord gives you strength and reminds you of his faithful promises as you walk through trials and as you seek to encourage others as they walk through trials.


Always, Jacquelyn