Tag Archive | Gratitude

Jesus: The Lamb of God

The whole idea behind the complex sacrificial system of the Old Testament is foreign to our modern western society, but at least a general understanding of its significance is essential if we want to understand what Scripture means when Jesus is identified by John the Baptist as the Lamb of God.

In Genesis 4, we learn of the first offerings mentioned in Scripture, those of Cain and Abel. By the time of Abraham, the people God had set aside as His own were very familiar with the idea of sacrifice. When God delivered the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt, the Passover celebration included the sacrifice of a lamb.

Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats…” Exodus‬ ‭12:3-5‬ ‭ESV‬

Once the tabernacle was made according to God’s detailed instructions and the priests were consecrated, a daily system of sacrifices began.

“”Now this is what you shall offer on the altar: two lambs a year old day by day regularly. One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight.” Exodus‬ ‭29:38-39‬ ‭ESV‬

Hebrews 10:11 tells us that these daily sacrifices lacked the power to take away sins. So why did God give such detailed instructions concerning the sacrificial system? I believe there were two reasons: First, God wanted His people to understand that sin separates us from God and that the penalty of sin needed to be paid. And second, the symbolic offering of lambs was a picture of the single sacrifice for all sins that would be offered by Christ.

“And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” Hebrews‬ ‭10:11-14‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Christ Jesus as the Lamb of God is the fulfillment of the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. He also is our Passover Lamb, sacrificed during the time of the Passover memorial. By shedding His blood on the Cross, Jesus once of all time made atonement for our sin and restored us to relationship with God. 1 Peter 1 tells us this was God’s plan all along. And the following verses remind us of the difference these truths are to make in how we live our lives.

“And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” 1 Peter 1:17-21 ESV

Lord Jesus, I am eternally grateful that You are the Lamb of God, an acceptable sacrifice because You are without blemish or spot. Thank You for paying the penalty for my sins and making a way for my relationship with God to be restored.

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I Am the Light of the World

Lights are one of my favorite Christmas decorations, from the lights on the Christmas tree to the lighted star on the top of the tree to the festive candles sitting around our living room. One tradition our family has as part of our Christmas Eve celebration is to attend the Candlelight service at our church, then come home, light the tree and candles, and sit around and eat snacks and open gifts while we listen to Christmas carols. A very appropriate way to remember the birthday of the Light of the world!

When Jesus said He is the Light of the world, He was identifying Himself as the fulfillment of the promise in Isaiah 9:2,  “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” As with the last two “I am” statements, Jesus was claiming to be the promised Messiah of the Old Testament Scriptures.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭2:9‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

Thank You, Jesus for calling me out of darkness and into Your marvelous light when I was a young adult. Until then, I knew about You but I didn’t know You personally. Now my desire is to proclaim Your excellencies to all who will listen.

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I Am The Way, The Truth, and The Life

Famous last words! Important last words! Jesus was gathered with His disciples during what He knew would be their last gathering before He fulfilled the purpose of His Father and faced the Cross. These very familiar words are part of what is known as the Farewell Discourse, when Jesus gathered in the Upper Room to celebrate His last Passover with His disciples and prepare them for what He knew was ahead of them. Jesus was facing the Cross, and He needed to prepare these men who had walked with Him for over three years for the dark days that lay ahead.

Let’s break down what He said.

  • I AM – This is one of the seven I AM statements of Jesus, probably the best known of the seven. In the Greek language, “I AM” is a very intense way of referring to oneself. In Exodus 3:14, God used the same intensive form (in Hebrew), “God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’ ” When the Jews heard these words, they understood Jesus was claiming to be God.
  • THE – By the use of the definite article “the,” Jesus was saying HE AND NO OTHER.
  • THE WAY – The ONLY WAY! Not one way of many. The only path leading to the Father and His eternal heavenly kingdom.
  • THE TRUTH – Again, the ONLY SOURCE OF TRUTH. ETERNAL, UNCHANGING AND LIFE-CHANGING TRUTH.
  • THE LIFE – The true SOURCE OF LIFE. Both A MEANINGFUL LIFE ON EARTH AND ETERNAL LIFE.

In a pluralistic society like ancient Rome, and in our own society today, these were not easily accepted words. Other religions are not the way. Good works are not the way. Jesus was saying He and He alone is the way, the truth, and the life.

Father, today I’m grateful that Your Word so clearly teaches there is only one way to a relationship with You, and it is through faith in Your Son Jesus Christ and the work He accomplished on the Cross. Thank You for showing me this truth many years ago and bringing me into Your Kingdom. Thank You also for the truth in Your Word, both in written form and in the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. And thank You for the confidence that when this life is over I will go to be in Your presence forever.

 

Learning About Prayer

I am the leader of prayer ministries for a large and growing ministry for ladies with chronic illness. I am currently leading a prayer study for the Sunday school class my husband and I attend. So prayer is important to me. But I do not consider myself an expert in prayer. As my responsibilities in the area of ministering to others in the area of prayer have increased, the knowledge that I still have a lot to learn has become foremost in my mind.  I am a learner in the area of prayer.

I shared in a recent article that my husband and I have been walking through some difficult circumstances in our lives. I don’t want to go into the details again, so I’ll share the link for anyone who is interested in this story.        https://readywriterbr.wordpress.com/2017/07/15/living-outside-my-comfort-zone/

God has been at work through these circumstances in both my husband’s life and my life, but in different ways. In my life, He has had me in what I would describe as the Holy Spirit School of Prayer

During the same period of time, I have been preparing to lead the prayer study in our Sunday school class using The Battle Plan for Prayer Bible Study materials from Stephen and Alex Kendrick, producers of the movie War Room.. What I share today is a combination of what God has personally been teaching me and what I’m learning through the study of these excellent materials.

Now I have a more balanced understanding of what prayer includes. Up until recently, when I thought of prayer, what primarily came to mind was confession of sin, lifting our needs up to the Lord (supplication), and intercession for the needs of others. I always felt like I was falling short in these areas, especially in supplication and intercession, because the needs were so overwhelming that it would literally take “prayer without ceasing” to cover all of them daily.

These are important parts of prayer, but prayer is so much more. I knew in theory that worship, praise and thanksgiving were all elements of prayer, but in my mind they were separate things. I had even tried using the A.C.T.S. acronym – Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication – during my prayer time, but I saw this more as a formula for prayer, with worship, praise and thanksgiving more as preparation for prayer than as actual types of prayer.

I had also read of the importance of using God’s Word in prayer, but in my mind and on my daily schedule Bible reading and prayer were two separate things. As we have walked through this difficult season, I’ve begun to understand each of these things as a part of true prayer.

At it’s root, prayer is communion and communication with God. When Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 we are to pray without ceasing, he was not talking about what I used to think of as prayer. He was saying throughout the day we are to stay in open communication with God. The main way God speaks to us is through His Word, so we are to read His Word expecting Him to speak to us. And we are to respond to what He shows us in prayer. Bible reading and study are meant to be a part of our prayer life, not separate from it.

This season of my life has caused a major change in my daily quiet time. Instead of seeing it as composed of a series of things I do, I have begun to see the whole quiet time as a part of prayer. Praise and worship are no longer preparing my heart for prayer – they are prayer. Overcoming discouragement by looking for God’s blessings in the midst of our trials and expressing my gratitude to Him is also a part of prayer. And when I pick up my Bible or open a Bible app on my iPad to begin reading and studying, I do so with an attitude of prayer and expectancy.

One thing that has really helped me gain this new understanding is prayer journaling. I’m not new to journaling. I remember many years ago as a new Christian getting up and reading my Bible and writing in my journal every morning before leaving for my job as a kindergarten teacher. And through the years, I’ve filled hundreds of notebooks and journals from this habit. But again, I saw this as separate from my prayer life.

When we began walking through this season where the cry of my heart daily became “God, we do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chronicles‬ ‭20:12‬b‭ NIV)‬‬, I began prayer journaling. I now begin my quiet time with a prayer for God to speak to me through His Word, and as He began to do so regularly I grew into an expectancy that this would happen.

Now, as I read God’s word, I do so with a pen in my hand and my current journal open so I can put in writing the things God in showing me. This isn’t really much different than the journaling I’ve always done, but I no longer stop there. Those insights now become prayers of worship, praise and gratitude to God, of confession of sin, of honestly telling God where I am and asking His help, or of commitment to obey something He has shown me I need to do. Often as I’m reading a Scripture, someone with a need comes to mind and I intercede for them. Or I read a verse that gives a burden for Christians facing persecution for their faith and I turn this into a prayer. Or I read a passage that reminds me of how messed up things are in our nation , and I pray using that passage for our nation. Whatever God speaks to my heart during this quiet time in His presence is turned into a prayer of response.

As a result of this growing understanding of all prayer includes, and of learning to make prayer an important part of my day and not just an add-on to my Bible study time, I have been walking through one of the most difficult trials of my recent life, one where my normal response would be fear and anxiety, in almost constant peace. There have been days when staying close to God was a battle – life as a Christian in this fallen world is like that. But by staying in communication with God by talking with Him throughout my day, walking in meekness and submission to His will and purposes in our lives, and resisting the devil and his lies, I’ve experienced God’s peace and strength as seldom before.

As I was praying this morning about this article, a picture came to my mind of someone throwing a large stone into a lake. When the stone breaks the surface of the water, it creates a ripple effect, with concentric waves of water moving out from the spot where the stone landed. This is a picture of the effect of true prayer in our lives. True prayer isn’t just something we do as a part of our daily schedule, or even throughout the day as we become aware of needs. True prayer is like breaking the surface to enter into the presence of God, and the result has a ripple effect. It changes every part of our lives and even spreads out to touch the lives of others.

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Contentment and Joy

I’ve always thought of contentment as simply being satisfied with the THINGS I have and not always wanting more. And until last year, I believed joy and happiness were basically the same thing. But this year, I’ve been studying joy and contentment, in the sense in which they’re used in the Bible, and I’m learning the meanings are much deeper than I  previously understood. 

The Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible defines CONTENTMENT as “the acceptance of ‘things as they are’ as the wise and loving providence of a God who knows what is good for us, who so loves us as always to seek our good. Being content when troubles are flooding our souls, but if we truly do believe our Heavenly a father is always loving, faithful. And wise, and that He does the very best for us in every situation, contentment is possible.

Finding a clear definition of joy was more difficult, but I found an excellent one in a book I’m currently reading, Choose Joy: Finding Hope and Purpose When Life Hurts, by Sara Frank and Mary Carver. Sara was a blogger who suffered almost twenty years with a degenerative disease called ankyling spondylitis, which causes inflammation of the spinal joints, leading to severe pain and discomfort.  As time progressed, she faced the loss of one ability after another, until she was no longer able to leave her house. Of all people, Sara had the “right” to complain and become angry at God.  But this wasn’t the choice Sara made.

The introduction of her book says, “But rather than dwell on her pain and her loss, Sara chose to trust in a God Who is good all the time and to be filled with gratitude, hope, and joy…When asked how she defined joy, Sara said:’Joy is the unwavering trust that God knows what He’s doing and has blessed me with the opportunity to be a part of it – not despite what’s happening in my life, but because of it.'”

 This book couldn’t have come at a better time for me. Since last July, increased neck, upper and lower back problems have made me unable to stand or walk (with a walker) for more than five minutes without extreme pain. This all started immediately after an epidural steroid injection in my cervical spine. Then, about a month ago, severe dizziness, nausea, occasional vomiting, and frequent headaches were added to my symptoms. I was ready for some answers – and still am.

I’ve seen six doctors, had two MRIs and a CT scan since this started. At my most recent doctor’s visit (with an ENT), a problem with my ears was ruled out as a cause. He suggested I see a neuro-surgeon, saying it sounds like I may have a damaged or pinched nerve in my neck or upper back that is causing the headaches, dizziness and related symptoms.  Fortunately, I already had an appointment scheduled with a neuro-surgeon, since the neurologist had also confirmed two ruptured discs in the lumbar spine. 

 

As Sara said she realized that the primary purpose of this life is to glorify God, I also believe this. As she  wanted to be available to Him to live out her purpose even in the midst of chronic illness and intense pain, I feel the same. But one thing Sara didn’t hide was that she sometimes wished she could “run far away. But that’s the thing about illness…there’s nowhere to run.”  

I never would have chosen this situation I’m personally facing, but my heart is resting in the Lord. That doesn’t mean my emotions are always at rest. When they make me feel like I want to run away, I have to acknowledge that isn’t an answer. God is showing me ways to walk “in the deep,” and making those choices gets a little easier every time I obey. Thanks to a terrific God-Living Girls with Chronic Illness support group, led by Laurie Shoquist Miller, I have a safe place to go when I need prayer or encouragement. And the two Bible studies I’ve done with this group have given me the tools I need to overcome the desire to run away, or give into fear, anger, or discouragement.  When I start feeling overwhelmed, I’m learning to reach out for help, either to the Lord or to a friend. And then I’m making the choice to trust the Lord, be content where He has me, to give thanks for all the good things in the midst of this situation,and before long my spirit is joyful and at rest again.