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ALREADY BUT NOT YET

According to Merriam-Webster, a semicolon is used to separate two independent but related clauses.[1] It is used when an author could have ended the sentence but chose not to. It can symbolize when the story isn’t finished. I read online that some people who struggle with depression, addiction, suicide, or other mental issues, get a semicolon tattoo as a message of affirmation and solidarity to not give up. It is a reminder of how far they have come.[2] Just as the mark is a sign for readers to pause before continuing a sentence, participants have embraced the symbol as a reminder that their story isn’t over yet.

            This ‘already but not yet’ concept is also in the Bible. We are living in the not yet, between the cross and the crown, as a pastor recently affirmed. Just as I was writing down the phrase in my notebook moments before he said it. I had already prepped for this message and was familiar with the term from my studies, so when he started his sermon on a similar topic, it was a reminder, and I knew it was time to finish it.

            God’s story isn’t over yet; neither is ours. Christ fulfilled the promises of the OT, but we are still awaiting the completion of Jesus Christ’s return. The kingdom of God, in the OT, encompasses the past, present, and future. It is “already” present but “not yet” fully completed, both a present and future reality. Jesus’ incarnation, life, ministry, death, and resurrection inaugurated the kingdom. In some capacity, we possess kingdom blessings now. We still endure hardships on this earth, but when the final kingdom is complete, we will no longer endure those sufferings.  God’s light will dispel all darkness.[3]

            Jesus Christ has already defeated death through the resurrection. Although we are all sinners, in a broken world, we can enter Christ’s kingdom through regeneration offered to us through the grace of God (Rom. 5:15, ESV). It is a beautiful redemption story that we can all take part in by accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior. God gives each of us a unique story and the ability to use it for His glory. Regardless of where you are on your journey, your story isn’t over yet. Don’t give up. God’s promises are yes and amen (2 Cor. 1:20).

“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1).

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).


[1] Merriam-Webster https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/semicolon

[2] The Trend Spotter https://www.thetrendspotter.net/semicolon-tattoo/

[3] Brand, C., Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary

MANTLE OF LEADERSHIP

Vienna, Austria

In the Bible, the mantle in the literal sense was a cloak. But symbolically it was so much more; it stood for the passing of the prophetic torch or leadership position. The mantle was a big responsibility and was not to be taken lightly. In a book entitled, Mantle of Leadership, Fred White describes the mantle as a special endowment of the Holy Spirit. One that gives kingdom leaders an advantage over other leaders, because it involved a radical change in their thinking which only came through a close relationship with the Holy Spirit. Those who carry the mantle continually renew their minds to spiritual truths.

In Elisha’s case, God’s power accompanied it. Elisha asked for and received a double share of Elijah’s spirit (2 Kings 2:9, ESV). God granted it because his motives were pure. He did not selfishly ask for his gain, or to be greedy, but to do more for God. We too can ask for remarkable things but should examine our motives to make sure they are pure. If they are, we do not need to be afraid to ask. Perhaps, Elisha also knew his weaknesses and recognized that his need for the Spirit’s power and courage was greater than Elijah’s.  This was not something Elijah could grant, only God could and did (2 Kings 2:10-15).

            Can you imagine the responsibility of taking over for Elijah? A devout prophet who prayed fervently (James 5:17) and believed in the power of God to deliver. He left big shoes to fill. But with God’s help, Elisha took on the responsibility and believed in the power of God, and God performed great miracles through him. One of the most memorable happened after Elisha was already dead. You may remember the story of a man who was revived after being thrown into Elisha’s grave and touched his bones (2 Kings 13:21). This proves that the power was of God. Elisha nor anyone else can take credit for it. These divine designations are not only found in the OT, but another example that is relevant in the NT is when Paul summons Timothy to accept the mantle of leadership, following his example, and his life of ministry, that he patterned after Christ. (2 Timothy 4:1-5, NLT). As Jesus explained to His disciples, the mantle of Christian leadership is the garb of a servant; as He came not to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45, NLT).

            We too can accept the mantle of leadership God is calling us into today. God supplies all the tools we need; we must be willing to go where He leads us and not be afraid to get our hands dirty, as God tills the ground for us to plant the seeds. When we listen and are obedient to the Word of God, we can pray fervently with passion, asking for great things in bold confidence and faith, trusting God to provide, while allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us. He holds the power, but through a relationship with the Holy Spirit, we can tap into that power to do the work set before us in the mighty name of Christ Jesus. Allow God to work in and through you in the coming year. Believe in the power of prayer and trust God with your dreams.

“So, neither he who plants, nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (I Cor. 3:7).

SHIPWRECKED

As January 5th marked the anniversary of my dad’s passing, I want to celebrate him with a story that has been on my mind.

            While studying the book of Acts, I noticed something that made me think of one of my dad’s stories about his calling to be a minister. Paul is on a ship, as a prisoner, headed to Rome, because he has appealed to Caesar after pleading his defense to Festus, and King Agrippa, in Jerusalem, where he was falsely accused. Rome is exactly where God planned for him to go, so he could be His witness to the “ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). But while at sea, a severe storm came up that blew them off course and threatened their lives. Paul received a message from an angel of God who told him not to be afraid and that he still had to stand before Caesar, therefore he nor the others would be harmed (Acts 27:22-25). In other words, God’s purpose will stand, not even a storm can stop it. Paul took comfort in that fact and told the other passengers there would be no loss of life, only the ship. Paul’s presence on the ship assured everyone’s deliverance.

            My dad told us that when he was a teenager, he was drafted into the army, and had to travel by ship. A bad storm came up, that tossed the ship around, and everyone was scared. He fastened himself in his bunk and felt at peace because he received a message from God that told him he had not preached yet. Like Paul, I think the fate of my dad and God’s purpose for him to preach preserved the lives of the other passengers that day. One of my dad’s biggest regrets was that he did not think to comfort the other passengers.

            I have also been reflecting on the fact that on the day my dad passed, I became an orphan, in the earthly sense of the word, because my mom had just passed 6 days earlier. But as I look back at what unfolded that year and have a better perspective of how God orchestrated the events, I realize that before I even knew I would lose both parents, that I had accepted Christ and followed through with the profession of faith in baptism only 3 months prior and had essentially been adopted by my heavenly Father. Even though my dad, at the time, could not understand why I wanted to be baptized again since I had been baptized as a child, I can’t help but believe, he gets it now.

SCARS

When I began my journey to healing, it started with forgiveness. Not only of those who hurt me but for myself as well and the part I played in allowing others to use and abuse me, even if I didn’t know another way at the time. I needed to forgive myself for the way I allowed others to treat my body. I know now that my body is a temple, and how I treat it matters (I Cor. 6:19). I know when we forgive others it gives us freedom. Harboring unforgiveness in our hearts only hurts us. I also believe we can forgive ourselves. Even though, as someone pointed out to me, it is not in the Bible. I do read in the Bible that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 22:39). To me, this implies that we need to love ourselves to love others well. Doesn’t that include forgiveness? How can we forgive unless we love? Likewise, how can we love unless we forgive? Both ourselves and others. It was a big part of my healing; learning how to love, forgive, and trust myself. And because we are made in the image of God and we are to follow Jesus’ example on how to live, I think since He loves us, forgives us, and shows us grace, that we can do the same; not only for others but for ourselves.

Like I have said before, forgiveness does not mean we forget. Remembering is an important part of moving forward while not repeating the same mistakes. Our scars are a part of how we once were, but they also serve as a beautiful reminder of who we are now, through Christ. A friend recently gave me a broken heart, mended with gold. She said it is representative of our brokenness and how the honest parts of our past should be celebrated, not hidden. It is a Japanese art form called Kintsugi and is used to mend broken pottery with gold to stand for all the beautiful things that have unique imperfections. Just like our scars, wounds, and imperfections are our beauty. The little card with it says, “You’re more beautiful for having been broken.”

This reminded me of a message I received from the Holy Spirit a few years ago after my accident.

Scars are another symbol of remembrance. My hands tell a love story. Your scars mark the day I saved you and brought you back to Myself and the Father. We won the battle together. You are a victor in Christ. Let your scars tell your story. Our stories collide. The scars of your past mistakes and sins run deep but My scars cover all of yours in love for complete healing.”

God has restored even the most broken parts of my past and redeemed them in ways I could have never imagined. If my pain and brokenness can be used to help others – it is worth it. That is what makes it even more beautiful. I believe God chose me for such a time as this (Esther 4:14). I had a professor that said all our past painful experiences are keys on a keychain. God uses them to unlock the hearts of others. I love that.

YHWH

There are many names for God. So many I will only give a few examples, but you can do a little research on your own to discover them. They all point to God’s character and people in the OT used them to describe the God they encountered. God’s name is His promise to dwell within His people (John 17:6). His divine name reveals God’s power, authority, and holiness. El, which is commonly prefaced by other names of God is simply a generic term for God or deity, used as a synonym for Yahweh. El-Shaddai: “God of the Mountains” or “The Almighty God”; El-Roi: the “God who sees me”; El-Olam: “God of Eternity”; Yahweh-Jireh: “The Lord will provide”; Yahweh-Me kaddish: “The Lord sanctifies” (reveals His holiness, set apart); I would be remiss not to list others such as King, Judge, Shepherd, God the Father, Abba, and so many more from the NT.

At one time His name was so revered people did not dare to even speak it, YHWH – Yahweh. When writing the Hebrew language, they did not include vowels. Readers supplied them as they read. Reverence for the divine name led to the practice of avoiding its use. This was mostly out of respect and fear. It was too holy to pronounce at all, so they began to use other words such as Adonai, which means “Lord” or the Latin form: Jehovah, but it was not a real word at the time, or the El alternative used above.[1]

After I started writing this message, I watched “Christmas with the Chosen” and they too were explaining the use of the name Yahweh. The speaker said the people were afraid if they spoke it their tongue would rot and fall out. This comes from a couple of passages in the OT and is one of the Ten Commandments given to us by God Himself. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain” (Exod. 20:7, ESV). Also, “Whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death” (Lev. 24:16). (Emphasis added) The NLT version uses the word ‘misuse’ instead of the word ‘blaspheme’- which means to do anything that makes God appear insignificant or worthless.

People in the OT did not take it lightly, and neither should we today. It has become widespread practice to use His name flippantly in everyday occurrences. Which, I believe, is taking His name and making it appear to be worthless. The name of God is Holy – sacred- hallowed. When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, He began by showing them God’s name is to be kept Holy and exalted (Matt. 6:9). The notes in my study Bible also explain Exod. 20:7, saying it refers to someone taking a deceptive oath in God’s name, involving God’s name to sanction an act in which the person is being dishonest, and it bans the use of God’s name when associated with sinful acts, religious rituals, magic, irreverently, or disrespectfully. In this instance, Yahweh is warning Israel against the use of His name as if it were disconnected from His person, presence, and power.

Some people want to dismiss the OT Scripture and instructions saying they do not apply to us, but I disagree. There are many OT references in the NT that we can take instruction from today. The Ten Commandments are still relevant in shaping our moral character. As we understand the OT better, it foreshadows the coming of the Messiah, who is Jesus Christ. It is a beautiful love story of God’s redemption plan for His people, who He wants to be in a relationship with…which is us.

My dad, who was a minister, taught me that Reverend is a title reserved for God alone -not man. We tend to exalt ourselves in ways that are only for God, the great I AM, as well as disregard the deity of His holy name in everyday language. If this is a habit you have picked up over the years and not thought much about it, I would challenge you to pray about it. Ask God to help you change any bad habits and reveal to you any areas in your heart that you can clean up to make more room for His holy presence. It is worth the effort, because God is worth it, and He says you are worth it. He values you and wants to be in a closer relationship with you.

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Is. 6:3)!

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10).


[1] Chad Brand. ed., Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, (Nashville: B & H Publishing, 2015).

WORDS

Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged, together with its 1993 Addenda Section, includes some 470,000 entries. (Not including the 455 new words Webster added this year).

Words roll off the tongue with great ease never pausing to realize their ramifications until it is too late. Regret sets in for some of us, others not so much. Words can pierce the heart like an arrow that cuts deep into our soul or create a smile on a sad face. They can sting like a bee or soothe like honey.

Words can bring comfort and hope. They come to life on the page and paint a vivid picture in our minds. They take us to the forest to climb a tree or to the stream to catch a fish on a summer day.

The right words, spoken with the right intention, are like a powerful weapon. Words can shape who we think we are. We should handle our words with great care as they can caress or distress. Words are a gift, if used properly they can create a new perspective and change a life.

Words take us on a journey without moving from our comfy chair. They can bring color to our lives. They shoot off the fingertips onto the page like darts trying to hit the mark. They can be eloquent, blunt, kind, or harsh. They can wash over us, drown us in sorrow or lift us up.

I want my words to paint a picture of what Christ did for me on the cross and how beautiful the journey to freedom has been. A victory shared with others is a glorious gift. My words are meant to shine a light on the truth of God’s love and the knowledge that can help others act against a dark world. To live for Christ is freedom and a victory won that leads others to the kingdom of His glory.

Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth. Avoid worthless, foolish talk that only leads to more godless behavior. This kind of talk spreads like cancer. 2 Timothy 2:15-17, NLT

This is a great message from a past Southland Devo – the first scripture referenced was James 1:26, which is another great reminder about keeping a rein on our tongue. “The Bible is painfully clear that if God doesn’t have our heart, it’s going to show up in our words.”

There are so many references to words in the Bible it was hard for me to choose which scriptures to include, so here are a few of my favorites.

“So, encourage each other with these words.” I Thessalonians 4:18, NLT

“Wise words satisfy like a good meal; the right words bring satisfaction.” Proverbs 18:20, NLT

“The words of the godly are a life-giving fountain; the words of the wicked conceal violent intentions.” Proverbs 10:11, NLT

“…the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire.” James 3:5, NLT

Merriam Webster https://www.merriam-webster.com/help/faq-how-many-english-words

THE MARCH OF THE MATRIARCH

Elephants have always been very prominent in my life. I loved them even as a child. Not that I had one for a pet or anything. I just thought they were fascinating. I even remember riding one at the circus one year. I let them go for a little while and now they have marched back into my life with exponential meaning.

I sought out some interesting facts about them. Did you know the male and female herds do not stay together, for the most part? The matriarch leads the female herd until she dies. Then her oldest daughter or a sister takes her place at the front of the line.

The older females are known to be full of wisdom and great at leading herds away from potential dangers. In other words, they are mature female leaders of the pack with abundant knowledge on helping the younger elephants survive in the wild.

Their large ears aid them in hearing the call of another elephant from their herd. They can hear the distress call from over five miles away, as well as any predators that could threaten their young ones.

This got me thinking. Aren’t we supposed to do the same thing as mature adult women of Christ? We can lead other women to the truths of God’s word, share our wisdom, and experiences with our friends, family, and young girls to steer them away from the potential dangers of this world.

If we could use our keen sense of hearing God’s voice and be obedient to His call, we can show up when others need our help and support them through Christian love. The best leaders are those who are servants, to Christ first, and then to others by putting their knowledge into action and setting good examples as role models.

If you have not watched the new Disney Nature series on Elephants, I highly recommend it. God’s design and intricate details are fascinating.

“Wherever you go, I will go; where you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” Ruth 1:16

GOLD VS PLATINUM

I recently watched 7 hours of DEI video training sessions as a requirement for work. Now while this is a necessary endeavor in our world today, I found them lacking in riveting content. There were nuggets of truth along the way that gave me better insight, but a common theme that I noticed was the dismissal of the Golden Rule which at once sent up a red flag in the ‘man’s way of thinking versus God’s ultimate authority’ section of my brain.

You are probably familiar with it but in case you need a reminder, Jesus stated, “whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” or “do to others as you would like them to do to you” (emphasis mine), (Matt. 7:12; Luke 6:31, ESV). This has become known as the golden rule. I have heard that interpreted as thinking of something you wish someone would do for you and taking the initiative and doing it for them.

The platinum rule, which I had never heard before, states that we should treat others the way ‘they want to be treated.’ This stood out to me like a sore thumb. I began to research where it originated. I first found credit given to Dave Kerpen, who wrote it in his book, The Art of People in 2016. But then I found another source who credited Tony Alessandra and Michael O’Conner in a 1996 publication of their book by the very title, The Platinum Rule.

I began to pray for discernment and search Scriptures for God’s truth on the matter because frankly, anything that tries to dismiss the Word of God does not sit well with me. When reading the verses in the Bible, we must also look at the verses before and after, not just pull one verse out as a stand-alone. When you read the pre-cursor and what follows, we find that love is the most crucial factor to the equation. Treating people, the way we want to be treated comes from a place of love, which should come naturally to those believers who love God with all their hearts, minds, and souls and who love their neighbor as themselves (Luke 10:27). We must go beyond this one verse to realize the lesson is love; a fundamental ethic that governs all behavior (Rom. 12:14-21). Jesus is our model through His self-sacrificial love for others.

If people’s priorities are out of order, then they may need a different guide, such as the man-made platinum rule, to know how to treat others. But if we are in alignment with God, it will come naturally to treat others with love. I read a list Mr. Kerpen wrote that included 101 things for which he was grateful. I am not putting him down and am happy that he is grateful for so many things including God, but it did reveal where his priorities lie as God made the list at number 55. According to his list, even the sun and planet made the # 2 slot. My question is, who created the sun and planet? Even the Mets made it on the list above God at # 26.

If we are not loving God more than anything else, and loving people as ourselves, then maybe we can accept the platinum rule. But not all of us are in that category. Instead of dismissing one over the other, it could be an ‘AND’ instead of a ‘either/or” concept. Although the platinum rule is not biblical, and Jesus’ own words are conclusive and attribute to the Golden Rule; there could be one rule for believers who follow Christ and one for the secular population who haven’t experienced the love of Christ or understand how to love others as Christ’s example tells us to even love our enemies as ourselves.

But in my book, there is only one set of rules, One God, One authority, and One Word, but man will always attempt to make his own rules to suit himself when he doesn’t understand or accept God’s rule and authority.

I believe we can use this filter to decide the best way to treat others: Ask ourselves if it is God-honoring to both parties? Are we seeking the approval of man or God (Gal. 1:19)? Love is the key factor, and the Golden Rule demonstrates this best since we have Christ to model it after and can share the love that God bestows on us to everyone we meet.

In all fairness, I do not know these authors, nor have I read their books. I am only using the tiny bit of information I netted in my search as a basis for my comments. You could say I literally judged a book by its cover. However, the point I want to make is that we should not be so quick to dismiss God’s Word, especially those spoken directly by Jesus, for something fabricated by man. I read that book daily.

NEW REALITY

On an early morning run this week, I met an ominous sky lurking over the horizon and a wind that was brewing something that would surely send the leaves flurrying to the ground. I realized my last chance this season to capture the rich array of fall colors that lined my streets, was in that very moment. So, I ran back to the house and grabbed my phone so I could finish my run as well without lugging the larger camera around my neck. The bright yellows and oranges stood out even more prominent behind a brilliant fuchsia skirt that adorned their trunks.

Having snapped several photos at different angles, I headed back in a sprint towards the house, thinking about how these trees may very well be barren the next time I see them. The sharp contrast of winter is right around the corner and with it will come death to many plants, trees, and flowers. But Spring always follows and brings with it new life. God is always faithful and even in nature we see how things must die to receive restoration; made new in a different season of their life.

We see it in other parts of God’s creation as well such as the caterpillar whose transformation is remarkable. An entirely new creature that lives a vastly different life than the caterpillar. It is the same with us. We must die to self to receive the new life Christ offers that creates a new season of life now and an eternal Springtime season to come (Eph. 4:20-24, ESV). We can experience transformation that makes us feel like the butterfly living quite a different life than the one we lived. As the Bible Project put it in a video I watched recently, “the gospel is an announcement about Jesus that opens up a new reality.” In our new reality, we receive a new perspective, and a new life that changes everything, for the better. I am grateful every day for my new reality.

THE SON IS IN MY EYES

Recently, on a mid-morning run, after the sun was beaming brightly through the crisp fall air, I was headed directly into its rays. All I could do was focus on the road directly in front of me as it was too bright to see very far ahead. I was reminded that when we keep the ‘Son’ as the focus of our gaze, it is easier to stay in His presence in the present moment without looking too far into the future and worrying about what is next.

Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow, it will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough to today (Matt. 6:34, NLT). Some days this is easier than others, but when I can accomplish it, my day goes so much smoother. I can leave everything in God’s hands and be present in the moment, watching for my next cue from God, while I stay in step with the Spirit (Gal. 5:25) doing God’s will.

We can even find ourselves worrying too much about being in God’s will and making the right choices. But we are not to worry about that either. When we are doing our best to follow Jesus and being obedient, we don’t need to worry about doing God’s will, because He will reveal it to us. On days when I am in alignment with God, the sun is a little brighter, my morning tea a little sweeter, and my oatmeal a little more savory.  

Anything in our lives that does not align and is disobedient to God blocks the Holy Spirit’s work and we can feel disconnected. It is not God who has left us, but rather us who has strayed away from God. These times are sometimes necessary for us to realize that when we choose God each day as the One we will serve and not attempt to control things on our own, that is when we are more productive. When we recognize the patterns and that taking time to spend with God helps us through our day; we can choose to do it each morning as we arise to face the Son. One of my professor’s says his day is too busy not to spend time with God. It is all a matter of perspective, being intentional and slowing down long enough to listen and allow God’s love light to shine on our face.