RESTORATIONS

Bryce - UtahSince you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. [Ephesians 4:21-24 (NLT)]

Having worked in a garage as a teen, my husband enjoys those shows in which cars or motorcycles are renovated, restored or customized. Either the mechanics seek a wreck in the hope of restoring it to turn a tidy profit or a car’s owner brings in a vehicle for a rebuild. Derelict vintage cars and cycles are restored to their original glory in some of the shows while, in other programs, vehicles are upgraded and modified in truly remarkable ways

Turning rust-buckets into pristine collector cars of beauty or ordinary cars into extraordinary muscle machines is a little like what God does with us. Rather than just a little body work like buffing out a scratch, pin-striping, or filling a ding with Bondo, God does complete restorations like the ones done on shows like Fast N’ Loud or Counting Cars (only without the tattoos). Whether we know it or not, we’re as damaged as the rare E-type 1964 Jaguar left to rust in a barn for over forty years. Purchased for fifty thousand pounds, once restored, it was sold for four times that price. God, however, doesn’t have to buy us because Jesus already paid the price for us. Moreover, God isn’t concerned with turning a profit. Out of love for us, He does a complete overhaul, not to make us appear new, but to actually make us new!

As the original manufacturer, you can be sure God uses only OEM parts rather than aftermarket or recycled ones. No soul is too damaged, no job too hard and God won’t stop at something like a simple honesty fix when He sees a tough patience issue. He’ll get out His heavenly tool kit to work on a selfishness adjustment, replace the foolishness with godly wisdom, file down that vanity, and then get to work on that persistent case of pigheadedness. Even a pesky obedience problem can’t deter Him from His holy work. He’s not going to stop until we’re completely rebuilt.

When we accept Christ, we’re reborn or regenerated and taken from spiritual death to life. A momentary act, regeneration is the exclusive work of God. It’s like towing a broken-down car out of the junk heap and into the shop. The restoration part is called sanctification. TV’s restoration specialists usually have a deadline in which to complete their work but God’s sanctification work is never done; it’s a process that lasts a lifetime.

There is, however, another major difference between the car restorer and God. The mechanic doesn’t need the cooperation of the car to do his work. Sanctification, however, is a joint effort between God and us. We must do our part to mature and become more like Christ. As God continues His work in us through the Holy Spirit, we are strengthened in our continual struggle against sin. Because this process of putting away sin and putting on godliness never ends, we won’t be leaving God’s garage any time soon. It is only when we return to our rightful owner at Christ’s resurrection that we will be completely restored.

The Christian life requires hard work. Our sanctification is a process wherein we are coworkers with God. We have the promise of God’s assistance in our labor, but His divine help does not annul our responsibility to work. [R.C. Sproul]

Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. [Philippians 2:12-13 (NLT)]

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THE BACK BURNER

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. … Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. [Ecclesiastes 3:1,11 (NLT)]

red-bellied turtleWhen we spent winters in the mountains, our early morning walk took us by a gourmet restaurant. Occasionally, we’d get a whiff of a delectable mouth-watering aroma as we passed. What we smelled was a large pot of roasted beef and veal bones that had simmered on the back burner overnight. In this day and age of microwaves, Instant Pots, mixes and prepared foods, it’s difficult to understand a chef simmering stock for over 12 hours to concentrate it into a rich demi-glace. That, however, is how the restaurant’s chef gets the flavorful base she uses in her delicious sauces.

Sometimes prayer is like making stir-fry: put the ingredients in a hot wok, stir, and get quick results. Other times, prayer is more like making a demi-glace. We put it all together and then let it do a slow simmer on the back burner with just an occasional check to skim off the fat or impurities. Back-burner prayers are those far-reaching ones that take a long time coming, like the restoration of a ruptured relationship, the salvation of a child, a loved one’s sobriety, or a prodigal’s return.

When we put our prayers at a low simmer on the back burner, we trust God to do the work. As tempted as we are to fret, panic, meddle or intervene, God really doesn’t need us to keeping lifting the lid, stirring the pot, or adding ingredients. In fact, if we were making a demi-glace, our stirring would just slow things down by making the stock cloudy and greasy. The same thing usually happens when we try to do God’s job for Him!

I think of Sarah. Rather than leaving God’s promise of a child to simmer on the back burner until the time was right, she decided to stir the pot by giving Hagar to Abraham. Her interference didn’t turn out well for anyone! On the other hand, David, who’d been a teen when anointed king by Samuel, spent at least fifteen years waiting for the crown. Twice during that time he passed up the opportunity to speed things along by killing King Saul. Instead, he chose to trust in God’s timing saying, ”Surely the Lord will strike Saul down someday, or he will die of old age or in battle.” [2 Samuel 26:10]

God answers our prayers the moment we speak them; it’s just that we don’t immediately know His answer. It could be “Yes!” or, if what we asked isn’t in His will, “No!” After all, God might have something better in store for us! Sometimes, however, God’s answer is, “Not right now!” Those prayers go on the back burner to simmer until God’s time is right (or He tells us, “No!”)

Putting prayers on the back burner doesn’t mean we stop praying them any more than putting that stock pot on the back burner means the chef turned off the stove or forgot about it. It simply means that we have given our prayer over to the fullness of God’s time.

Persistent praying never faints or grows weary. It is never discouraged. It never yields to cowardice. It is motivated and sustained by a hope that knows no despair, and a faith that will not let go. Persistent praying has patience to wait and strength to continue. It never prepares itself to quit praying, and it refuses to get up from its knees until an answer is received. [E. M. Bounds]

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. [Ephesians 3:20 (NLT)]

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LAMB OF GOD

He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. [Isaiah 53:7 (NLT)]

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” [John 1:29 (NLT)]

lamb of godAs I put away our various nativity sets until next December, I noticed they all include at least one lamb. Since shepherds came to see Jesus, it’s logical there would be a lamb or two in most depictions of Christmas. Nevertheless, as I packed up the figures, I thought about the shepherds and sheep visiting the child who was both the Good Shepherd and the Lamb of God. That Jesus took on both roles is a bit of a paradox. The shepherd may have watched over the sheep but, in the end, his lambs were destined to be slaughtered for food or ritual sacrifice.

Nowadays, the whole concept of animal sacrifice seems alien and primitive to us but lambs were sacrificed to God as far back as Abel. Israel’s history as a nation began that first Passover in Egypt when they smeared lamb’s blood on the doorframes of each house. The sacrifice of a lamb as atonement for sin appears frequently in the Hebrew Bible and, of the 151 Old Testament references to lambs in my NLT, 125 are about their sacrifice to God. By Jesus’ time, the priests in the temple sacrificed a lamb every morning and night, on every Sabbath, and at the feasts of the New Moon, Trumpets, Tabernacles, Pentecost, Passover, along with other occasions. The purpose of these animal sacrifices was sanctification (to purify the people from sin), righteousness (to obtain right standing with God), and forgiveness. Being a perfect lamb without blemish did not bode well for a lamb and being the sinless Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world did not foreshadow a good ending for Jesus. Yet, “Lamb of God” is what John the Baptist called Him.

John’s words pointed to Jesus as being the perfect sacrifice for mankind’s sins but I don’t think he grasped the full implication of those words. Until the very end, even Jesus’ own disciples didn’t understand that being the Lamb of God meant that Jesus would willingly submit and go “like a lamb to the slaughter” to suffer and die on the cross. There was however, only one way the Lamb could take away the sin of the world. For the one perfect and final sacrifice to remove man’s guilt and open the way to God, the Lamb’s blood had to be shed and His life relinquished.

Earlier I mentioned that being both the Good Shepherd and Lamb of God seems a bit of a paradox—that the one who cares for the flock couldn’t also be the sacrificial lamb. Jesus, however, turns our expectations upside down. In His world, the week are strong, the first must be last, we reign by serving, the greatest is the least, and we find our lives by losing them. Jesus is both the Good Shepherd and the Lamb of God because, “The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. …I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep.” [John 10:11,14-15]

Next December, when we set out our nativity sets and place the shepherd and lamb around the crèche, let us remember that, as the Good Shepherd, Jesus tends, protects and guides us and, as the Lamb of God, He defeated Satan by dying on the cross and taking away the sins of the world. The Lamb, however, is more than a sacrificial victim. In Revelation, John describes the victorious and very much alive Lamb, enthroned with God, serving as judge of God’s opponents, and praised by all creation!

For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. [1 Peter 1:18-19 (NLT)]

And they sang in a mighty chorus: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slaughtered—to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing.” And then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea. They sang: “Blessing and honor and glory and power belong to the one sitting on the throne and to the Lamb forever and ever.”  [Revelation 6:12-13 (NLT)]

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GOD SHOTS

Give thanks to the Lord of lords. His faithful love endures forever. Give thanks to him who alone does mighty miracles. His faithful love endures forever. [Psalm 136:3-4 (NLT)]

sunflowerAfter hearing people say, “It’s a miracle!” regarding the speedy development of the COVID-19 vaccines, I began to wonder what constitutes a miracle. In his book Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem defines a miracle as “a less common kind of God’s activity in which he arouses people’s awe and wonder and bears witness to himself.” I’m not a theologian but his definition seems to qualify a miraculous event by its infrequency and awesomeness rather than its nature. By his definition, last month’s “great” conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn might qualify. It certainly was awesome and, since that hasn’t happened at night for nearly 800 years, it certainly qualifies as uncommon. It was, however, predictable and the two planets will be even closer together the night of December 25, 2874. I prefer Pastor Taylor Krug’s definition:  “A miracle is a particular event that occurs within the natural world that cannot be sufficiently explained with a perfect science and an exhaustive understanding of the cosmos.”

Yet, even with Krug’s definition, I can’t clearly draw the line between an amazing inexplicable incident and a sure-fire miracle. Sometimes people, places, and things intersect in extraordinary and mystifying ways. I have a friend who calls these profound happenings that defy explanation “God shots.” While writing about the SK8 church yesterday, I thought of the bizarre coincidences that brought us together.

Our association with the ministry began with a haircut. When my hairdresser closed shop, I picked a new salon from the phone book and took the first available appointment. Because of a last minute conflict, I had to reschedule and got a different stylist. We talked while she worked and our exchange took an unusual turn toward Jesus and our mutual faith. Then, for some odd reason, the conversation turned to our family business. Learning we make a product for skateboards, she told me about her involvement in a skateboarder ministry. The next morning, the coffee shop barista recognized our company logo on my husband’s cap and told us her dad had started a SK8 church. Almost immediately, her father came in to post a SK8 church notice on the bulletin board. We introduced ourselves and our association began—all because of a haircut at a randomly selected salon and a baseball cap. While not miraculous, I think that qualifies as a God shot.

During the years, we continued to see these God shots at SK8 church. Someone totally unrelated to the ministry or skateboarding was given a PlayStation he didn’t want. Rather than selling it, he brought it to the SK8 church. Why them and not EBay? Only God knows. The following afternoon, a woman with no connection to the church gave them her old car. What seemed like an odd donation actually was the timely answer to a prayer. You see, living at the church was a homeless young man who’d just gotten a job but had no way to get to it. A coincidence or the hand of God?

When the SK8 church wanted to build a skateboard bowl, they had the materials and workers one weekend but not the expertise. When the pastor called a professional boarder for technical advice, instead of giving advice, the pro drove from Missouri to Colorado the next day. He preached to the kids that night and directed the building project throughout the weekend. The God shot? He originally had a professional obligation for that weekend but it had been cancelled only minutes before the pastor’s call.

From our viewpoint, much of life seems incredibly random but we must remember that our sovereign God always is in control. He both causes things to happen as he did when a supposedly random arrow killed wicked King Ahab but He also allows things to happen, as He did when Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery and Satan plagued Job. Whether the incredible speed with which these COVID vaccines were developed qualifies as miraculous, I don’t know but, without a doubt, God’s hand was in it. Thank you, Lord!

Praise the Lord! Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. Who can list the glorious miracles of the Lord? Who can ever praise him enough? [Psalm 106:1-2 (NLT)]

O Lord my God, you have performed many wonders for us. Your plans for us are too numerous to list. You have no equal. If I tried to recite all your wonderful deeds, I would never come to the end of them. [Psalm 40:5 (NLT)]

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THE MIRACLE OF MIRACLES

And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. [Luke 1:41-42 (KJV)]

Yesterday, I mentioned Dr. Frank Crane’s comments about the wonders of everyday life. After saying, “The miracle of miracles is life,” Crane adds, “The most amazing, baffling, mysterious thing in all the universe is a seed.” While cutting into an orange this morning, I looked at the seeds hidden in the juicy fruit and recalled his words. Think how a single orange seed can grow into an orange tree that produces countless flowers that almost miraculously transform into oranges that will then produce even more seeds. The amazing power and potential held in the core of one small seed is there because it was designed by God.

It was my granddaughter’s 17th birthday recently and, since I couldn’t be with her, I looked through old photos of her instead. I recalled the day I first saw her. Only a day old and small enough to fit in a Christmas stocking, Bree was in her mother’s arms. The sight of the two of them took my breath away. For some odd reason, I recalled Elizabeth’s greeting to the Virgin Mary, “Blessed is the fruit of thy womb.” I’d read and heard that phrase countless times yet I’d never really considered it. But there, right in front of me, was my daughter, the child who’d been the fruit of my womb, and she was holding her own child, the fruit of her womb. By extension, that infant also was the fruit of my womb along with my mother’s and grandmothers’ and the wombs of their mothers before them. That little girl’s DNA held fragments of people she’d never know. Both past and future were locked within her being. Remembering that sense of wonder I felt upon seeing her, I thought of Crane’s words about the miracle of miracles: the life within a seed. How does God pack soul, blood, hair, skin, teeth, eyes, bones, nerves, talent, heart, personality, imagination, sense of humor, fingernails, and the ability to love, laugh, and cry into the two microscopic cells that join to become a human being?

We just celebrated the miracle of Jesus’ incarnation when God took on human flesh. He became a fetus in a woman’s body—the fruit of her womb—and was born. In some miraculous way, the hand of God touched a virgin and impregnated her. How He did this is a matter beyond our comprehension and yet He did. As Christians, we attest to the virgin birth in both the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds. There are, however, some people who accept all of Scripture’s miracles except for this one. Yet it really is no more amazing than God’s many other miracles. Parting the Red Sea, manna from heaven, Jericho’s destruction, turning water into wine, stilling a storm, the sun standing still, feeding a multitude, giving sight to the blind, walking on water, resurrecting the dead, and ascending into heaven all defy the laws of nature.

We don’t have to look to Scripture to be witnesses to God’s ability to do the unbelievable; just look at the miracle of miracles—life itself! The birth of a child, even when conceived the usual way, is miracle enough to convince me that the author of nature’s laws can rewrite them any time and any way He wants. The Human Genome Project spent thirteen years mapping all 3.1 billion base pairs in human DNA—the entire genetic blueprint of a human being—and yet they never found the innate sense of right and wrong that exists within each one of us from the moment we’re born or the very essence of humanity. What is the DNA of an immortal soul? My 23andMe report doesn’t say and the Human Genome Project still doesn’t know!

For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. [Nicene Creed]

Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. [Matthew 1:23 (KJV)]

Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. [Luke 1:34-34 (KJV)]

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THAT CHILD WAS GOD!

In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. … So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. [John 1:1-2,14 (NLT)]

For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. [Colossians 2:9 (NLT)]

nativityHe came as a baby! God Himself humbly came into the world as a helpless infant. Our nativity scenes and Christmas cards portray a serene Mary holding her peacefully sleeping child but babies are anything but calm and peaceful. They are messy and incredibly noisy little creatures who, when not sleeping, are crying, eating, drooling, peeing, or pooping (often all at the same time). That was God sleeping in the feed trough and nursing at Mary’s breast but He didn’t have a gold halo around his head. Looking the same as every other newborn, he was doing and feeling the same things every human baby feels. On the eighth day of His life, He was circumcised just like every other little Jewish boy and I’m sure He cried in pain! That crying baby was God!

Jesus came into the world without benefit of a sterile hospital birthing room and Mary didn’t rock Him to sleep in a soothing-motion bassinet or rocking cradle. She didn’t sit in a cushioned glider chair or have a nursing pillow when she fed him. He didn’t have super-absorbent, ultra soft, hypoallergenic disposable diapers covering his bottom nor did Mary use warmed sensitive-skin baby wipes to clean that bottom. In all likelihood God had diaper rash and, with no special baby shampoo, He cried when the soap got in His eyes. Mary carried Him in a simple sling rather than an ergonomically designed carrier. It was God incarnate who had the runny noses, sore throats, tummy aches, stubbed toes, and bruises that came with childhood.

Jesus had to be fed and then learn to feed himself; he probably spilled more than once. He had to learn how to crawl, walk, and run and must have bumped his chin and skinned his knees frequently. He had to be potty trained and, in all likelihood, had more than one accident. The One who was the Word had to learn the Hebrew alphabet and how to read. Picture God singing the Hebrew equivalent of the ABC song: “Aleph, Bet, Vet, Gimel, Dalet, Hey…” At Joseph’s side, Jesus must have gotten a few splinters and sore thumbs as He learned the carpenter’s trade. Fully God and fully human, Jesus got tired, dirty, and hungry just like every other child!

God, being God, could easily have come into the world full grown. Jesus could have skipped the indignities of babyhood and challenges of childhood but He didn’t. When God came into our world, He experienced every human emotion and physical sensation. He knew cold, pain, sorrow, loss, toil, discomfort, fatigue, and temptation as well as love, joy, comfort, and encouragement. Jesus was there when time began and yet the One who created mankind humbled Himself and experienced humanity. That baby—that little baby boy was God Himself!

How can God stoop lower than to come and dwell with a poor humble soul? Which is more than if he had said such a one should dwell with him; for a beggar to live at court is not so much as the king to dwell with him in his cottage. [William Gurnall]

Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. [Philippians 2:6-8 (NLT)]

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