Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts,the Spirit who calls out, “Abba,Father.” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.Galatians 4:6-7
For a long time, I just didn’t feel like I “belonged.” As a child, I didn’t have a group of friends to hang out with. My one friend, a neighbor around the corner, frequently left me out of activities with her other friends. And when I got into high school I felt more like I was on the edge of my friend group. Fast forward to adulthood and I never quite fit in with the boozy softball coach crowd, the gossipy PTA crowd, or even the Girl Scout leader gang.
And when I married I was an outsider to a large, wonderful family. Yes, they welcomed me but I couldn’t share in all the stories from long past because I never lived in the town they were all from. My own family consists of myself and my parents – who I see and speak with infrequently.
I spent a lot of time in prayer over the years asking God to work His changes in me so that I could feel like I belonged, somewhere, anywhere. As my faith has progressed I’ve come to realize that I first need to accept being a part of the most important family of all – God’s. I praise Him today that He sees us as His sons and daughters. We are His beautiful children whom He loves unconditionally. We belong to Him.
That’s been a hard message for me to soak in and accept. When I stand in the mirror I’ve asked God to help me see what He sees. To love myself as He loves me – no matter where else I may have felt rejected.
And it’s funny how God’s ways work. When I focus on God’s love, gifts and promises the more I feel that sense of belonging. He places me with new people and new situations that He has prepared for me. I slough off the old negative feelings and instead give all glory to Him who loves me and who draws me closer to Him.
I recently heard a lesson about belonging. As Christians we are admonished to “remember our last name.” Like children of our earthly parents we are to go about our lives remembering who we belong to and who we represent. That really hit home. When I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior I became a part of a special family. One where I’m expected to remember my last name and act like I belong to the Lord Most High.
It’s amazing how God gives us the next steps when He sees we are ready — when we start acting like He expects us to. He brings in new people to our lives when He knows we can openly accept His new ways. I find myself so incredibly blessed by, not only the women that have been populated in my sphere, but the men. Strong Christians who love people. Faithful Christians who serve others. Young, old, every race and quirkiness. And I feel like I belong.
Then you will shine among them like
stars in the sky as you hold firmly
to the Word of life.Philippians 2:15-16
I have to admit in the carrot and stick scenario of motivation I tend to be more of a “stick” motivated person. My fear of punishment or failure outweighs any reward I might be offered. It’s probably why my favorite book in the Bible is James. He’s upfront, to the point, and sounds a bit chastising at times. So, when I read about the glorious promises of faithfulness to God, I can sometimes gloss over them.
But when I read this section in Philippians – where Paul is urging the church to obey God’s word – I was struck with the visual he presents as our reward. “To shine like stars.” He reminds us to pray, be obedient and faithful without grumbling or arguing (a bit of chastising). He also reminds us that as Christians, we are to be constantly viewing ourselves as being “set apart.”
Do everything without grumbling or
arguing, so that you may become blameless
and pure, children of God without fault
in a warped and crooked generation.Philippians 2:14-15
And the reward for being set apart through this constant reminder that we are firmly attached to Jesus’ main vine? To be like those beautiful, twinkling stars in the night sky.
My husband and I walk our dog each night after dinner. We are just far away enough from the city to have a decent darkened sky. Each night we stop in one place briefly and look at the stars. From our location we can easily find the Big Dipper and Orion’s Belt. I’ve always had a fascination with the stars – wondering what is beyond our tiny blue planet. When we are in a season to see other planets, we bring out our phone’s star apps and marvel at the world beyond.
Although in reality there are billions upon billions of stars in the sky, we can only see a few of the brightest ones. They wink at us saying “hello old friend!” And when I look up and see the ones familiar to me, it brings me comfort that they are the same today as they were when I was a child. They steadily burn bright.
That’s what the apostle Paul wants for us. To be those shining, steady beacons. Comforting many who see us as ones set apart for the glory of the heavens. This is surely the carrot in our motivation story. But it is the chastising spirit of the stick – obeying God, immersing ourselves in His Word, praying regularly – that will help us burn brightly.
The desert and the parched land
will be glad;the wilderness will
rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord,
the splendor of our God.Isaiah 35:1-2
It was only just recently that I heard the concept of a “return to the Garden.” I mean I’m quite familiar with the promise of eternity but I just never made the full circle of an opening of the guarded Eden gates.
These past few weeks as myself, Todd and Madison have been reminded of the many promises of God, I keep hearing the word I have heard for more than a year – “obey.” With each promise there is a covenant agreement. God is sure and trustworthy about His side of the covenant. But we “mule-like” humans struggle to hold on to God tightly and sign at the bottom line. I wonder if it really just boils down to that little bit inside of us that doesn’t fully believe.
On March 26, 1997, San Diego Sheriff’s deputies discovered the bodies of 39 members of the group, Heaven’s Gate. The home where the bodies were found is just a stone’s throw from my own home. If you don’t recall their beliefs, I’ll give you a brief summary. The leaders, using the Bible and science fiction works by Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke convinced their followers that extraterrestrial beings were clearly mentioned in the Book of Revelation. And the comet Hale-Bopp, was the sign for them to give up their early bodies and hitch a ride to the heavens. They twisted a lot of theology to meet their beliefs.
Sometimes when I’m talking about the concept of Jesus, salvation and eternity I think about those Heaven’s Gate souls and wonder if I sound just as crazy to non-believers. I shy away from talking about God and loosen my grip on Him. Of course, one of the large differences is that God never asks us to speed up the date and time of the end of our days here on Earth. And we have been constantly assured that we cannot know the hour of Jesus’ return.
But that return is definitely promised. And if we believe that God is the creator, the sovereign LORD overall, then we must also believe in our return to the Garden.
The prophecy from Isaiah in 35:1-2 was written as a message of hope for the people of Jerusalem. It’s likely the Assyrians had ravaged all the nearby cities and had made the roads too dangerous on which to travel. The people, as Warren Wiersbe says in his commentary, “Were cooped up in Jerusalem, wondering what would happen next.” Sound familiar?
He goes on to write that the faithful were praying continuously to God for hope and relief. And God answered their prayers. As He had done so many times before and since.
“The time has come,” he said.
“The kingdom of God has come near.
Repent and believe the good news!”Mark 1:15
How many jokes have we seen and heard related to this verse? And yet it is surely true. Jesus himself makes this statement. I heard an evangelist pastor say once, “I don’t know when Jesus is returning and we will see the Garden again, but the time is certainly nearer than it was yesterday!”
It’s said that the new Garden will be even more magnificent than the first. And although that sounds wonderful, I’ll be joy-filled just to be able to have my name written on the list to enter any type of garden God has for me.
Each day I am here on this Earth is another day to hold on tightly to God’s promises and obey and believe. Each day we are here is another gift God gives us to step out of our comfort zones, out of our cooped up lives and work on putting just one more name on that list.
I hope you have enjoyed these 25 Promises of God through the Book of Isaiah. Please join me for our next series titled, “Pray It Till You Make It!” It’s a focus on praying to be the people we know God wants us to be and watching the transformation work He does in us!
Therefore the Lord himself
will give you a sign:
The virgin will conceive
and give birth to a son,
and will call him Immanuel.Isaiah 7:14
At the time that Isaiah spoke this prophecy the nation of Judah was under a large threat from Assyria. Alliances were being pressured and formed. King Ahaz of Judah refused to align himself with the northern tribes because he had secretly made a pact with the Assyrians. He didn’t grab hold of God’s past deliverances and trust God to save him and his people.
Isaiah made his prophesy about the coming savior to the entire House of David as a warning to trust God and no one else. God is with us (“Immanuel”) in so far as we are willing to trust and believe Him.
God is with me. I hold on tightly to the knowledge that His Holy Spirit dwells in my heart, mind and soul. It’s a promise completely fulfilled with Jesus. And yet, I still occasionally fall into the trap of looking for a savior outside that promise. A chance to make more money, a politician who scatters promises like birdseed, a new diet to get me “back on track” or a vaccine that will make the world “normal” again.
My BSGs just finished a section in our study of Everyday Theology. It focused on scripture – its validity, relevance, purpose and origins. We discussed how our modern times reflect Biblical times in so many ways. Warring political factions, the lack of faith, and how the promises of God still stand true for today.
Our world needs to grab on to the truths of scripture. The Bible isn’t just some book some random guys put together. It is what the study author calls, “God-breathed.” There is no other book on the planet that has as much historical evidence to support what it says. I asked the group why did the author choose to start a book about theology with the topic of scripture rather than say, God?
One member responded quite rightly, “Because the Bible gives us the character of God so we can better understand who He is.”
I gave the visual of using an encyclopedia book – yes, the actual book. In the ole timey days we would hear about something and turn to the encyclopedia to learn more about it. We knew what was written in that book was true. No doubts. After reading all about say, Marie Curie, we could be assured we knew just about everything we needed to know.
That’s how we should view the Bible – the true and relevant encyclopedia about God. And know that it’s all true. So, when Isaiah prophesizes the birth of Jesus hundreds of years prior to his birth, we can see it as confirmation of the whole story being true.
All Scripture is God-breathed
and is useful for teaching,
rebuking, correcting and training
in righteousness, so that the
servant of God may be thoroughly
equipped for every good work.2 Timothy 3:16-17
And knowing it is true – that Jesus came to be our savior and the Holy Spirit would dwell in us for all time – should cause us to look toward Him and hold on to Him as our only savior.
This is what the Lord says to his anointed,to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut:I will go before you and will level the mountains;I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron.I will give you hidden treasures,riches stored in secret places,so that you may know that I am the Lord,the God of Israel, who summons you by name.Isaiah 45:1-3
When I was 17, I moved across the country, away from my family to the Midwest for college. I was unsure what God had planned for me there, but I knew that I needed a new adventure and was excited to strike out on my own. It is difficult to describe with words that first feeling I had when my parents dropped me off at school and drove away into the distance to go back to California. I watched their car drive out of my university and eventually out of sight. For the first time, I was truly on my own. I felt my stomach drop and tears welled up in my eyes. Reality hit and I began to immediately doubt my decision.
Those first months away from home were difficult. I spent many nights deep with sadness, missing my old life at home. Other nights I would be filled with joy at the exciting new venture I had bravely took head-on. Amidst the rollercoaster of emotions, I always had one underlying questions – What did God have planned for me here?
I wasn’t really a believer at the time, but I had gone to church my whole life and *generally* knew that God had a plan for our lives. Being from San Diego, I knew it was no coincidence that I ended up in Saint Charles, Missouri. It was random and I had zero connections to the area other than being recruited to play field hockey there. Despite not proclaiming Christ as my Savior yet, something inside of me knew there was a reason God brought me to this place.
Rewind back to the initial verse I kicked off with. Isaiah 45: 1-3 discusses a prophesy of Cyrus, who is a pagan leader God chooses to deliver the Israelites from their captivity. These verses were written 200 years before Cyrus was born. Meaning, Cyrus’ life was already planned out way before he was ever a thought in his parent’s minds. God had a plan for Cyrus’ life – He has a plan for yours too.
God planned to use Cyrus in mighty ways, even though he was no mighty person. God chose him, predestined him to be the deliverer of God’s people. God wasn’t particularly favoring Cyrus, rather he was caring for His people as a whole by providing them a way out of their suffering through Cyrus.
I know that God loves me, cares for me and sees me as beautifully and wonderfully made. But just as much as he sees me as His child, He also sees me as an instrument to His Kingdom, a vessel for which he can work through me. Just as he did Cyrus.
I quickly found out that God’s plan for me in Saint Charles was to find salvation in His son Jesus Christ and to dedicate my life to serving Him – no matter where I was living, working, etc. God saved me so that He could use me on my field hockey team, amongst my roommates and in my workplace. Just as Cyrus’s plan for his life was written 200 years before he was born – so was mine, and yours.
When I look back to my years in college, I am reminded of the good and perfect plan God had for me during my time there. Every day was certainly not good and perfect, but the things He brought me through and the lessons He taught me showed me that He truly is a good and perfect God.
Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path.Psalm 119:105
God has already prepared a way for us. This truth alleviates me from worry and stress about tomorrow – something to which I still occasionally fall victim. God wrote the story of our lives generations ago, and has every intention of carrying out His good and perfect plan for us. All we must do is surrender control and open our hands to His authority.
Say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, and do not fear for your God is coming to destroy your enemies. He is coming to save you.”Isaiah 35:4
Peace Through Strength
A simple three-word statement can mean so many different things to so many different people. I was in high school and then college when President Ronald Reagan served his two terms as President of the United States. During this same period of time my political ideals began to mature and form. I was squarely aligned with conservative political principles and beliefs. I was what was known as a “Reagan Youth.”
Peace through strength was a common plank in the foundation of conservative beliefs. The political and strategic approach in those days was to build up superior defenses, troop numbers and weapons capabilities that created a deterrent for any foreign enemy considering a challenge. This led to the arms race and the escalation of tensions between the two most powerful and wealthy super-powers of the day. Our strength was determined by holding a tight grip on the sure demise of the enemy.
Those were the days of the Cold War. The U.S., under Reagan’s strong conservative stance was clearly and ideologically opposed to the Red Communist Russia– the “evil empire”. Mikhail Gorbachev was the leader of the Soviet party and the target of Reagan’s famous words while standing at the Berlin Wall – “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” President Reagan, understanding the opportunity at hand, called into focus his years of theatrical training and vocation, captured the world’s attention and started what would begin the eventual decline and crumbling of the Russian empire and it’s stranglehold on the Eastern bloc.
But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.2 Thessalonians 3:3
While many of my political beliefs, alignments and passions are similar today as they were 35 years ago, my perspectives have changed. Peace through strength has a different meaning to me now.
Peace doesn’t hold the same overarching meaning of “World Peace” and lack of foreign wars. Peace has become more personal and internal. The Hebrew word for peace is shalom and includes the notions of completeness, wholeness, fulfillment, harmony and well-being.
That type of peace is not of my making but is delivered from the strength of God’s powerful promises and proven acts of salvation.
My peace through strength today comes from the foundational strength I know from promises that have already been delivered in my life from Jesus. My peace occurs because I know that regardless of what happened yesterday, what occurred today and what unknowns will occur tomorrow I am forgiven, protected and preserved for all time. My grip is not focused on keeping others who oppose me away. My hands are both firmly attached to the vine who guides, leads and sustains me.
Listen diligently to me, and eat
what is good, and delight yourselves
in rich food. Incline your ear,
and come to me;hear, that your soul
may live;and I will make with
you an everlasting covenant,
Jesus said to them, “I am the
bread of life; whoever comes to
me shall not hunger, and whoever
believes in me shall never thirst.
As so many of us prepare to enjoy delicious Christmas meals and beautifully wrapped gifts it’s easy to overlook that most of what we call “Christmas” isn’t necessary. Stripped down, Christmas is about one thing – God’s promise to deliver us the greatest gift, His son Jesus.
This year our “Christmas” seems a bit different. We are missing family and friends. But the promise I wanted to share with you is this, he always provides for us. Even in times that seem bare, He provides. In fact, the opportunity to truly appreciate what we do have is when situations seem the most difficult. It’s lessons like that which Jesus passed along to us through His bloodline.
He will provide in the most God-like ways – a stranger lends a hand, a paycheck bonus comes at the right time, an offer of food from a neighbor when you need it most. And the covenant agreement we need to uphold and hold on to is to trust in that promise.
I pray every day that what I write in this blog is what someone, even just one person, needs to hear from God. And the other day I was thinking about which Isaiah verse to use for Christmas. That day, my friend Betsy shared a story written by her sister for her local church. As she read it, all I kept hearing was “He provides.” I asked if I could share her beautiful family story here. Betsy’s family bloodline has passed down some amazing lessons. I hope you enjoy it!
A Privileged Life Growing Up By Rachel Mueller
I’m the oldest daughter of an Episcopal priest. I found growing up totally immersed in the culture of the Episcopal Church something very special.
This photo was taken July 2, 1953 for the Glendale California News Press announcing that my father was to be the new rector of St. Luke’s of the Mountains, La Crescenta, California and it introduced our family to the community. One of five and the oldest, you will see me pictured to the right of my father and holding my favorite Madam Alexander doll. My younger two brothers and two sisters completed our family – yes, five children in six years, something my mother said raised eyebrows at our new church! We lived in the large rectory, which was next door to the church and suited our big family perfectly. Apparently while constructing this new house, there was some opposition on the vestry to its size. And supposedly the previous Rector said, “Well, who knows? The next Rector might have five children.” Perhaps the Search Committee went looking for a priest with five children to justify their new building.
Living next door to the church, we were very much aware of all the church activities on a daily basis. There was always something, be it the regular church services, a wedding, funeral or special events. My father believed his family was an extension of him, so we were taught to answer the telephone properly; in my case “St. Luke’s Rectory, Rachel speaking” and to take messages in detail and often answer questions such as the times of the church services, or dates of meetings. In a way our parents used us as extra employees — we gave out keys, opened doors, passed the cookies at vestry meetings, set up the tables and chairs for parish events, washed the coffee cups after church on Sunday, went with our father to visit people in the hospital, took food to orphanages, helped relocate refugees (first the Dutch Indonesians, then Cubans, and later Vietnamese), and helped load real sheep into our station wagon for the live Nativity outside the front of the church at Christmas. Anything going on at the church was dinner table conversation, including who was sick and in the hospital, or just died, or had a baby. The doorbell rang morning, noon and night with someone wanting something, or wondering “Where’s Fr. Sadler?” It was a constant in our life. The parish got to know us, and we quickly learned the names of all the parishioners.
In contrast to many clergy today, our father always wore a black shirt (not grey, or blue or some other color) and his clerical collar. I don’t remember ever seeing him not wearing this “uniform” until years after he retired. Even on his day off he was dressed in “the collar”. He was very active in our community which made him well known, which in turn brought great benefits to our family. He was usually the clergyman on stage at our school graduations, there to give the invocation or benediction, which made me very proud. Everywhere we went folks would stop him to say hello and show us special kindness. We were often invited to parishioners’ home to swim on hot afternoons. We were treated to Disneyland when it first opened. There were always special gifts of food and goodies at holidays – items that weren’t part of our regular family fare.
The most important lesson I learned from my father was “God will provide.” So many wonderful things happened to us, I thought we were very wealthy. It wasn’t until I went away to college that I learned what salary my father actually made. I couldn’t believe it. On paper we were poor. But our lives were rich and much more interesting than those of my friends. For example, we might suddenly have some homeless folks at the dinner table. My mother would just say “Rachel, please set the table for three more.” We often would never see those people again but the memory and lesson of hospitality remain.
I could fill a book with stories of wonderful things that happened to us as a result of living in a family grounded in love, trusting that “God will provide” and accepting life as it comes; but enough for now.
And he said to his disciples,
“Therefore I tell you, do not
be anxious about your life, what
you will eat, nor about your body,
what you will put on. For life is
more than food, and the body more
than clothing. Consider the ravens:
they neither sow nor reap, they
have neither storehouse nor barn,
and yet God feeds them. Of how much
more value are you than the birds!
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.
As I write this, we are only a few weeks away from Christmas. Around this time, we frequently see the phrase, “Peace on Earth!” But like so many popularized snippets in the Bible the meaning can be confused when interpreted from a worldly point of view. “Peace” so often means a lack of something – strife, war, noise, chaos. But in God’s universe, it is an addition of something.
Having grown up in San Diego I had the fortunate experience of learning to sail. As a Girl Scout, I started out in small, one-man sabots. Eventually, I became skilled at sailing catamarans and larger sloops. I’ve even been a crew member on an old sailing ship which sailed the 31 miles from Long Beach Harbor across the ocean to Santa Catalina Island. What an amazing trip! On many of those sailboats you’ll find what’s called a set of lifelines. They run from stem to stern along the edge of the boat. Its purpose? To be used as a last chance handhold before plunging into the water.
That’s how I see God’s peace brought into our world and more specifically my life. Peace, as brought about by the coming of Jesus, is not the lack of something, it’s the addition of our new lifeline. God promises throughout the Old Testament that He will send His messenger to wipe way our tears and to bring us salvation. And when Jesus arrived, so many people misunderstood His purpose. It was not to become an earthly king and conquer all our physical adversaries. He came to teach us that His ways are higher and His love for us so great. You see God doesn’t always want to change our circumstances, but He always seeks to change us. When we study how Jesus handled strife and chaos and follow in His ways we live in peace.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.John 14:27
This bringing of His Peace – the incarnation of Jesus – was more clearly defined for me this year. About 11 months ago, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with uterine cancer. I love my mother-in-law as my own mom. She has taught me so much about Jesus and His ways. She has shown me grace when I didn’t deserve it. She has provided a warm and loving place for me to land when life has been too much. I had been praying fervently for a more positive diagnosis.
So that day, I went for a long walk through our nearby, secluded canyons and yelled out loud at God. Yes, I yelled at the Almighty. I pleaded with Him to not take her from me yet. My heart, mind and soul were the opposite of peace. And like the boat lifeline, He suddenly placed Himself between me and going off the deep end. His Holy Spirit stood square in front of me and reminded me that death is not the end. He showed me that when the day comes for my beloved mother-in-law to leave this world it would be a joyous one for her. You see, she would be reunited with her own mother. He showed me a picture of the two of them playing their favorite card games, teasing each other, and laughing their heads off. And it made me smile. It filled me with joy.
I had accepted God’s peace. There’s the covenant agreement. He sent His Peace On Earth in the form of His Son. And I accepted it. I frequently try giving it back, but less and less as I place my trust more firmly in Him.
This year of 2020 had been very difficult for many. As a Christian I have grasped a hold of God’s lifeline so often to stay in His peace. It’s important for us to remember that God wants us to live in today, not yesterday or tomorrow. So, when we dream blissfully about how much better 2021 “just has to be,” we make the mistake of missing out on how good God can be for us right now. We miss out on the opportunity to live in His peace.
There has never been a year in the history of the world, after Eden, where there was not disease, strife, war, death and pain. And 2021 will be no different. But God’s promised peace is our lifeline. It will guard our hearts and minds. No matter the dark seas on either side, we can rest in the knowledge of His love and our eternal salvation.