What Do You Imagine?

You receive a message from your doctor asking you to return his/her call.
The boss calls you into his office.
A friend asks to meet for coffee and conversation.

What is your first reaction to these scenarios?
What kind of news do you expect to hear?
Do positive or negative images form in your mind?

What we imagine (an idea or notion we form in our minds) causes us to create an image (an idea or perception). We need to be careful about what we imagine and the images we allow to be created in our minds because our imaginations can run wild.

Our imagination forms mental images. These images may be positive or negative. They are not always true because they are often based upon previous experiences and preconceived ideas. Images are not realities.

It is a battle of the mind whether we allow our imagination to create positive or negative images. Paul talks about spiritual battles in Ephesians 6:12 saying, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

II Corinthians 10:4-5 NKJV says, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” The Old King James Version uses the word “imaginations” rather than “arguments” when describing what comes against the knowledge of God. The enemy likes to create negative images in our minds. We should disregard the false and embrace the truth. Jesus is the truth according to John 14:6.

We must capture our thoughts for Christ. Philippians 4:7-8 states, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” Let’s be positive. If we saturate our minds with Christ, we will think like Christ. II Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

As God’s creations, we exemplify Christ. In Genesis 1:26 God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness” Romans 8:29 says, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.”

Hebrews 12:2 says, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus imagined joy while facing crucifixion! In His mind, He imagined the throng of people who would be with Him throughout eternity because of His dying for their sins. He did not think about the verbal abuse or the pain of the nails. The pain would not last forever but the joy would be everlasting.

Christ gave us the perfect example of how to use our imagination. He focused upon the will of His Father and experienced joy. Our joy is to fix our eyes upon Jesus and the plans and purposes the Lord has for us. These plans will give us hope and a future according to Jeremiah 29:11.

In a sermon, Pastor Robert Reeves of Calvary Assembly of God said that our actions are determined by our imaginations. So, may we let our imaginations run wild! Ephesians 3:20 says “God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” – that includes what we can imagine.

Isaiah 26:3 NIV says, “You (God) will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” I also like the New Living Translation that says, “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!”

I conclude with the refrain of the hymn Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus by Helen H. Lemmel.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

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Who Is Mom on Mother’s Day?

Honor her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.
Proverbs 31:29-31

It’s hard work becoming a mom! Any woman in labor knows this. However, it is worth the effort to gain the title mother. I am not talking about just becoming a biological mother through the birth of a child. Anytime God impregnates an idea or a plan inside a woman, there is conception for a spiritual mother.

I say to all women, God created you with the ability to conceive and receive His plans whether or not that includes your being a biological mom. All women are moms birthing miracles of God. Conception takes place. Growth occurs. Labor is involved. New life begins. Every birth is a miracle.

First, a seed is planted. After physical conception occurs, it takes nine months for the embryo to grow into a baby ready to be born. When spiritual conception occurs, the time for development varies.

Within a physically pregnant woman, the baby begins to move in approximately 8 weeks. However, the mother most likely will not feel the movement until 16-25 weeks. A spiritually pregnant woman feels a quickening in her spirit at the time of conception. The length of time required for the reality of what has been implanted to occur depends upon God’s timing. The fetal motion within a woman’s body has been described as the fluttering of an angel or  butterfly’s wings. This is a beautiful picture of new life development whether it be physical or spiritual.

During pregnancy, a woman’s emotions are super sensitive. She rides an emotional roller coaster. One day high and the next day low. This is true for both physically and spiritually expectant women. Although there is excitement when physical movement is first felt, mom becomes tired of all the kicking by the ninth month. Spiritually, the development of God’s plans may move quickly for a time. Then there may be a time when nothing seems to be happening.  More highs and lows.

Gestation may feel like it will never end. The physical mom will be uncomfortable and count the days until delivery. The spiritual mom may be frustrated and think the fruition of her efforts will never come.

Finally, the mother’s body goes into labor allowing her to give birth to her biological child. The spiritual mother is not exempt from this experience. Laboring is also involved when giving birth to God’s plans and purposes.

When birth occurs, joy overtakes all the frustration, discomfort and effort involved. It is worth it – physically and spiritually. God created women to be mothers and to bring forth His miracles. For this reason, we celebrate all moms this weekend.

Happy Mother’s Day!

(Images provided by Pixabay.)

 

The Two Sides of a Coin

I am holding a coin of American money in my hand. There are different images on each side. On onside there are imprints stating the coin’s value, our country’s name, and the phrase “In God We Trust.” On the other side, there is either an image of a previous president or a historical building. There are always two sides to a coin.

Now imagine a spiritual coin. Like a monetary coin, the spiritual coin has two sides. One side is mercy and the other side is grace. We do not have images for mercy and grace but we do have definitions. The simplest definitions are: Mercy is not getting what one deserves from God. Grace is getting what one does not deserve from God.

A coin of money is used to pay the price for something purchased. The same is true for a spiritual coin.

Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Death was the wage, or cost, of our sin. Jesus paid the extravagant price of His life by dying upon the cross. He purchased salvation and eternal life for us.

Romans 3:23-24, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” Why was Jesus willing to pay such a high price? The answer is Ephesians 2:4, “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy.” Mercy and grace are gifts purchased by the richness of God’s love. Nothing is free, monetarily or spiritually.

An American money coin is round. The cross is the shape of a spiritual coin.

Jesus paid for our sins on the cross. Consequently, we do not receive what we deserve. This is mercy. Titus 3:5-6, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.” Now He offers us a gift we do not deserve – grace. Ephesians 2:8 and 10, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”

In Exodus 25, the Lord gave Moses instructions on how to build the ark of the covenant. The lid was called the mercy seat. Annually, a priest would go into the Holy of Holies and sprinkle blood on the mercy seat for atonement. This was where God resided. The writer of Hebrews refers to this when he says in Hebrews 4:16, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

God has given us the coin of mercy and grace. Now, let us extend mercy and grace to others. The coin is in our hands.

Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Luke 6:36 tells us to, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

Grace is promised to us in Ephesians 4:7, “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.” John 1:16 ESV, “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” God has more than enough grace to meet our every need. I Peter 4:10, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”

In conclusion, let’s refer back to our image of the monetary coin. As previously stated, “In God We Trust” is imprinted on our American coins. The same can be said of our spiritual coin. It is only as we trust God that the valuable coin of mercy and grace is available.

 

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Inhabit or Inhibit?

Inhabit” and “Inhibit.” Two words. Only one different letter in spelling – a tremendous difference in definition. Inhabit means to live in or occupy a space. Inhibit means to hinder, restrain, or prevent an action or process. We have the choice of whether to allow the Lord’s presence to inhabit us or to inhibit His work in our lives. This is a very sobering thought.

INHABIT

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own.” – I Corinthians 6:19
If each of us is a temple of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit inhabits or lives within us. When the Holy Spirit inhabits us, He helps us live a holy lifestyle.

Ezekiel 37:27 NLT promises, “And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.” How can we be confident that the Holy Spirit inhabits us, when we cannot see Him? Psalm 22:3 KJV says, “The Lord inhabits the praises of His people.” While praising the Lord, we gain a deeper understanding of His character and nature.

The way to not inhibit, or hinder, the plans and purposes of God is to allow Him to inhabit and live in us.

INHIBIT

When the Holy Spirit inhabits us, we grow spiritually. We choose whether or not to accept the Holy Spirit’s help. Pastor Bob Reeves of Calvary Assembly of God has said, “Only God can create growth, but we can inhibit growth.”

In God Is Good, Bill Johnson says “God is a sovereign God. He reigns over all and everything belongs to Him. Nothing is outside of His reach or concern. He is all-knowing and all-powerful. But is He in control? This is not a question of His ability or His power and authority.” Johnson believes it is more accurate to say God is in charge than that He is in control. For example, although we are in charge of our homes, not everything that happens under our roof is necessarily our idea or is approved by us.

But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.” – Isaiah 59:2 NAS
God gave us a free will and our choices affect His work in our lives. We can inhibit the Lord. He has given us abilities and it is our choice as to how we use these abilities and gifts.

INHABIT NOT INHIBIT

Do not quench the Spirit.” – I Thessalonians 5:19
It is possible to inhibit, or stifle, the Holy Spirit who inhabits us. So, I search the scriptures to find out how to avoid inhibiting the Spirit.
Proverbs 3:5-7 instructs, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.”
James 1:6 says, “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”
We must not rely upon our limited understanding nor doubt God’s ability.
The Lord spoke to Zerubbabel in Zechariah 4:6, “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit.”

Inhabit or inhibit – one little letter makes a big difference. Think about the letter “A” in inhabit as focusing upon the Almighty God. In contrast, think about how the “I” of inhibit as indicating what I can do.

It is our choice. We can lift up our hands in praise and yield to God’s plans. Or, we can take things into our own hands and leave God out of the equation. Jesus says in Matthew 19:26, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

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Closed Doors

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together,
with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders,
Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”
John 20:19

We celebrated the resurrection of Jesus a little over a week ago. Does that affect what you are doing or how you are feeling today? Let’s see what the disciples did after Jesus’ resurrection. Then, let’s find a promise for ourselves. What Jesus did for the disciples, He will do for us.

According to the gospel of John, the disciples hid behind closed doors after Jesus’ resurrection. They were afraid. Can’t say I blame them. However, this was not what Jesus intended them to do. So, Jesus walked through the closed door and extended peace. A peace that would help them overcome fear.

Have you allowed fear to close doors in your life? Jesus is willing and waiting to walk through your barricades. Colossians 3:15 says, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.”

Has God put something upon your heart that He wants you to do? But, you are afraid. God will help you break down your barrier according to Philippians 4:13, “I can do all this through him (Jesus) who gives me strength.”

Maybe you are afraid you will make a wrong decision. Remember the Lord’s words of assurance in Isaiah 41:10, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” The Lord will walk into your life and help unlock your fears.

I guess the disciples did not learn their lesson the first time because Jesus found them behind closed doors a second time. A week later, or seven verses later, they are still hiding behind locked doors. In John 20:26, we discover that Peter is with them while previously he had not been present. This visit may have been primarily for Peter’s benefit. However, Jesus extends the same blessing – peace. The disciples evidently did not remember the words of Jesus in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Locked doors still felt safer to them than the threats of the Jewish leaders.

Jesus walked through locked doors to speak with Peter and the other disciples. Today, He is able to enter through our closed doors.

Our granddaughter shared the following testimony with me. She was invited to attend a national scholastic leadership conference for college athletes. However, as she weighed her options, she decided it was best not to miss classes. She turned down the offer. A few days later, a staff member of the athletic department met with her explaining the significance of her attending this conference. She thought she had shut the door but the Lord walked through her closed door to keep the option open. She attended the conference.

Yes, all of us will be tempted to close doors because of fear. But, remember that Jesus can walk through the doors He does not want us to shut.

We just celebrated Jesus’ resurrection on Easter. Now this same power that raised Jesus from the grave is available to us. Does His resurrection make a difference in your life today? Paul says in Philippians 3:10 NLT, “I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead.” We will not be able to know this amazing power, if we fearfully hide behind closed doors.

I challenge you to envision Jesus walking through your closed doors and extending peace to you. Philippians 4:7 says, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Jesus is risen and He still walks through closed doors!

(Images provided by Pixabay.)

 

 

Mary – JESUS – Mary

Imagine a group of books being held upright by a bookend at each end.

Now make some changes to this image and create a spiritual picture.

Replace the books with the life of Jesus. (Maybe a collection of 33 books – one for each year of His life.)
Instead of bookends, imagine a woman named Mary at the beginning and another Mary
at the end of Jesus’ life. Two ladies supporting Jesus at His birth and death.

Let’s make some comparisons between the two Marys. I will refer to one as Mary Mom (the mother of Jesus) and the other as Mary Magdalene (a woman uniquely positioned in Jesus’ inner circle of followers).

  • The young Mary, chosen by God to be the mother of His Son, was from Nazareth, a small town in Galilee. (see Luke 1:26)
    Mary, known as Mary Magdalene,
    was from Magdala, a fishing town on the western shore of Lake Galilee. (denoted by her name)

  • Mary Mom was a pure virgin whose baby was conceived by the Holy Spirit. (see Luke 1:31)
    Jesus cast seven demons out of Mary Magdalene – at one time she was not so pure. (see Luke 8:2)

  • Mary Mom encountered an angel (Gabriel) when told she would bear a son named Jesus. (see Luke 1:30-31)
    Mary Magdalene saw an angel (a young man wearing a white robe) at Jesus’ empty tomb. (see Mark 16:5-8.)

  • Mary Mom was fearful but was told not to be afraid. She was perplexed by Gabriel’s visitation and message. However, he told her not to be afraid because she had favor with God. (see Luke 1:26-38 esp. v30)
    Mary Magdalene was fearful but was told not to be afraid. When she saw the empty tomb, she was bewildered. Then the angel told her not to be alarmed because Jesus had risen. (see Mark 16:5-8 esp. v8)

  • Mary Mom would have been the first person to hold Jesus as a human baby. (Isn’t this the privilege of a mother?)
    Mary Magdalene had intended to be the last person to hold Jesus’ human body. (Had she fulfilled her plan of preparing His body for burial at the tomb, this would have been her privilege.)

  • Mary Mom anointed Jesus for life. I think Mary Mom may have anointed Jesus (with baby oil?) before she wrapped Him in warm blankets. (an assumption by author)
    Mary Magdalene desired to anoint Jesus after His death. Because she had spices with her, I believe Mary Magdalene went to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body for burial. (see Mark 16:1)

  • Mary Mom wrapped baby Jesus in swaddling cloths before she laid Him in a manger. (see Luke 2:7)
    Although Joseph of Arimathea had already wrapped Jesus’ body in a linen cloth, I believe Mary Magdalene had intended to provide a proper burial for the crucified Christ by wrapping His body in a linen shroud. (see Mark 16:46; John 19:25)

  • Both Mary Mom and Mary Magdalene were near the cross when Jesus was crucified.  (see John 19:25)

Looking closely at the spiritual image, I see one Mary holding baby Jesus at the beginning of His life and another Mary with the intent of holding His body at the end of His life. Jesus was surrounded and held by Mary Mom and Mary Magdalene. The words of Jesus in Revelation 1:17-18 seem an accurate description of Jesus’ life,Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last. I am the Living One;  I was dead, and behold, I am alive for ever and ever!

This Sunday, we will celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ – the Living One. We no longer hold Jesus as a baby in our arms (as Mary Mom) and there is no need to hold His body in the grave (as Mary Magdalene).

He is risen! He is risen, indeed!

(Images provided by Pixabay.)

Ownership of the Cross

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take up your cross, and follow Me”

My Reader, join me in meditating on the conversation between Jesus and His disciples when He spoke these words.

This directive is recorded in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. We are going to focus on four specific words Jesus articulated.

Jesus spoke these words to His disciples over 2000 years ago. Today, hear Him speak them to you.

Take up your cross, and follow Me.

Jesus was explaining to His twelve followers that He would soon suffer, die upon the cross, be buried and then raised to new life three days later. They didn’t want to hear it! They didn’t understand it!

To the disciples, the cross meant the most painful death in the most humiliating way. Having spent the last 3 ½ years with Jesus, the disciples loved Him. They did not want to think about crucifixion.

They pictured how the Romans forced the criminals to carry their own crosses to the place of crucifixion. In their minds, they heard the ridiculing comments shouted by the crowd as the convicted men shuffled to their execution. The Jesus the disciples knew did not deserve this!

Then, Jesus dropped another bombshell upon His disciples.

Jesus not only said that He would be crucified upon a cross – He told each of them to take up his own cross. This became more personal.

Was Jesus asking them to be crucified with Him? No.

However, in a sense, He was prophesying what was in store for His closest followers. Although not recorded in scripture, it is historically documented that 10 of the 12 disciples died as martyrs. Peter asked to be crucified upside down on the cross because he did not feel worthy to die in the same manner as his Lord. Following Jesus cost these men their lives. Each man took up his cross and followed Jesus.

Take up your cross daily and follow Me.

Luke included the word “daily.”  A person only dies once. This eliminates the thought that Jesus was asking His disciples to follow Him to Golgotha when He would be nailed to the cross.

Jesus said in Luke 9:23, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.

For me, taking up my cross may mean dying to my desires rather than dying a physical death on the beam of a cross. The New Living Translation uses the words “turn from your selfish ways.”  Every day we are to live a selfless lifestyle of surrender and sacrifice. Colossians 3:5 NLT says, “So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.” Then Galatians 5:24 NLT says, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there.

Take up your cross and follow Me.

Jesus addressed the command “take up your cross” to anyone who wanted to be His disciple.

No longer was Jesus only talking with His twelve disciples. This becomes more personal! He is speaking to us, One on one.

When Jesus died on “the cross,” it became “my cross.” He took my sins when He was nailed to the wooden cross. His cross had my name upon it. Now it is my responsibility to accept Him as my personal savior. Ephesians 1:7 states, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” Jesus extends the cross to you and me. We must personally embrace the cross. That is why Jesus calls it “your cross” that He invites us to take up.

Take up your cross and follow Me.”

After each of us accepts our cross, we are called to daily follow Jesus for the remainder of our lives. Galatians 2:20 NLT says, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

We follow Jesus by stepping into His plans and purposes. Philippians 4:13 assures us of being able to follow His footsteps, “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” Neither you nor I know what will be required when we become His follower.

There are still martyrs today who are required to physically die for Christ. If you want a reminder of this, go to Voice of the Martyrs.  Please pray for these followers of Christ.

take up your cross, and follow Me”

My Reader, are you willing to take up your cross and follow Jesus whatever the cost?

Take up your cross and follow Me” involves embracing the totality of the cross. It means accepting  that Jesus died upon the cross paying the price for your sins. It means understanding the sacrifices it may require. It means following the path wherever Jesus leads. It may even cost your physical life.

Whatever “take up your cross, and follow Me” may entail, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2