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Worship through Mourning

She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21

© DepositPhotos/efired

© DepositPhotos/efired

The past few days I’ve been feeling a little heavy-hearted. We have all the regular holiday festivities going on: shopping, Christmas shows, gatherings, food, and exchanging of gifts. We’ve been sharing memories and making new ones laughing through most of it.

So why the heavy heart?

As I think about Jesus being born in the stable, I can’t help but remember that He was born to die. He had one purpose: To make God known and provide a way for us to have eternal life with Him. That required His death.

There are a couple of questions that come to mind as I work through this feeling knowing that there is ultimate and complete joy because of all Jesus endured.

  1. If Christmas is all about the birth of a baby, why think about death?
  2. If life in Christ is all about joy, how can we worship when we mourn?

It’s easy to gloss over His death, especially at Christmas. “Yeah, He died, but He rose again and we have life. Right now, He’s just a baby. Let’s celebrate!” But…

Jesus was not born so He, God, could visit us human beings. The reality is that Jesus was born because we were in desperate need of a Savior. Jesus was born to die so we could live.

Death is the consequence of sin even for Jesus. The difference is that it wasn’t His sin that brought about His death, it was ours. The corruption and wicked desires of man’s heart nailed Him to the tree.

We mourn, experience godly sorrow, when we recognize our sin and need for Jesus. My sin put him on that cross as much as the sin of those living at the time, as much as those who were yelling, “Crucify him!”

Understand this as well: mourning is not the same as sadness. I equate the feeling of sadness to the feeling of happiness. It can change based on our circumstances. Where mourning is a response to godly sorrow, a true understanding of the sin that separates us from God.

What do we learn about God through the death of Jesus? Sin is serious and it’s real. Sin as no place in God’s kingdom. At the same time, there is no length He won’t go to bring you home. There is nothing He won’t sacrifice so you can live in peace and freedom with Him. He is good because not even death can separate us from His love when we trust Him, choosing to turn from our sin.

Our worship of God is complete not just because we are happy that God is good. Our worship is complete because our joy is increased when we recognize the goodness of God toward us even in our sinfulness. We can more fully experience His joy when we allow ourselves to more deeply mourn.

Something to Consider…

How does knowing Jesus was born to die affect how you view the Christmas season: activities, events, and your own worship during this time?

Do you find it natural or difficult to allow yourself to recognize your own sinfulness? Are you able to process the truth of your sin or do you tend to ignore or deny the seriousness of it? If this is hard for you, find a trusted Christian friend you can talk with. You don’t necessarily need to share all of the details of your sin, but share your struggle and let God’s love and grace be experienced along with His truth.

How does knowing Jesus was born for not just your sins, but for the sins of the whole world affect how, during the Christmas season, you interact with others who may not know Jesus?

 

Prepare Your Heart for Christ: The Christmas Reason available now!

What new thing is  God calling you to do out of worship for Him? How is God growing you in your relationship with Him? Is God asking you to sacrifice to serve Him and others in a greater way? Do you celebrate the fullness of all God has done when you come to Him in worship? Christmas is the beginning of God’s plan coming to fruition. It may not be realized until Jesus dies on the cross and is raised to new life, but today we have the gift of a baby. God has come to dwell with and save His people.

PCH Front Cover

 

 

 

Visit www.marikeisling.com to check out other studies available.

The Feet of Jesus

“Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!” Psalm 95:6 (ESV)

© DepositPhotos/ Anetlanda

© DepositPhotos/ Anetlanda

As I think of kneeling before the LORD, I can’t help but think of Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus. There are days when I could sit and read, pray and listen all day. And I believe there are times of rest when this is just what needs to take place. Our spirits need to be renewed and refreshed, reminded and strengthened in the truth that God is still with us, God is still at work in our world, our workplace, and our homes.

But the feet of Jesus don’t sit still for long. Sometimes our worship and our bowing down takes place in our movement, not our stillness.

There were people who came to Jesus. There were those who sought Him out to hear His teaching such as Nicodemus and others who had real needs they hoped He could meet like the official with the son who was ill. There were also those who listened to trap Him such as the Pharisees and the teachers of the law.

And then there were those He met as He moved. There was the Samaritan woman at the well and the lame man at the pool. He came upon the man born blind and ten men with leprosy. He showed up on the road to Emmaus and the road to Damascus.

Jesus life was not just one of teaching with words and lessons, it was one of action. His life was an example for us to follow.

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” John 13:3-5, 12-17

We like to find loopholes in these types of situations and lessons. “In our culture, we wear shoes so we don’t need to wash feet anymore.” Or maybe this one, “I’ll pay for them to have a pedicure.” Our feet don’t move and our hands don’t get dirty, wet or touched.

You don’t have to travel out of your city to come across people with needs in their lives. You don’t need to get on your hands and knees to comfort, console or care about the people you meet. You just need to show up. You need to be willing to love and encourage. Compassion from a distance is easy, but get up close and personal and it can become very uncomfortable.

When we seek God we will become uncomfortable. We will be stretched beyond our natural desires and our human understanding. Our character will be changed, transformed and made new.

I’ve realized lately that I bow down and worship my time. I covet every minute and in the process waste too much of it. I sit at the feet of a false idol. After all, what is time when eternity is waiting?

I want my worship to be active and passionate. I want to kneel at the feet of Jesus by getting up and going out. I want to see people as I’m “on my way” to wherever I think it is I need to be. It’s easy to get caught up in my own plans, so this will take intention. This will require an awareness of my surroundings. As I keep my eyes focused on Jesus, I trust Him to show me what He sees and help me respond with His heart.

I want my life to be a reflection of His example. That’s my hope for this time.

Something to Consider…

What do you worship? What stops you and causes you to “bow down”? We don’t have to let these things guilt us or control us. When we understand that we are giving ourselves to something less than God, we can make different decisions and move forward grateful and encouraged.

How is God calling you to sit at or move with His feet? Is there a next step that you are struggling to take? How can knowing Jesus has been there and done that help you trust Him as you move out of your comfort zone?

 

Prepare Your Heart for Christ: The Christmas Reason available now!

What new thing is  God calling you to do out of worship for Him? How is God growing you in your relationship with Him? Is God asking you to sacrifice to serve Him and others in a greater way? Do you celebrate the fullness of all God has done when you come to Him in worship? Christmas is the beginning of God’s plan coming to fruition. It may not be realized until Jesus dies on the cross and is raised to new life, but today we have the gift of a baby. God has come to dwell with and save His people.

PCH Front Cover

 

 

 

Visit www.marikeisling.com to check out other studies available.

Reconciling Relationships

“But when the set time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.” Galatians 4:4-5

“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” John 3:17

2016-treeIt’s December 1st!

My husband and I love the 1st of each month. We like Mondays as well. Really, we do! And the best is when the 1st falls on a Monday. The 1st is a new beginning. Mondays are a new beginning.

And I need reminding that new beginnings are possible because I almost always feel like I’m in need of one. There are so many things that are good and right in my life. People, activities, places and work, so many things going well. And then there are relationships that are just difficult. I don’t know what to say, what to do, and the pressure of getting it right is a heavy weight. Of course, I worry a bit about how well I perform or achieve in my work, how well a meal or project comes together, but most of the concern is over how it will be received by others. Thus, I’m back in the relationship camp.

Relationships can be joyful, but they can also be really difficult.

And what I’m learning is that my attitude in relationships is more about what’s going on in my own heart than it’s about what’s good, bad, right or wrong with the other person.

God’s attitude in every relationship is Love. He is love. He does what love requires Him to do. He can do nothing else.

And with the help of the Holy Spirit, I can choose to love with the same love with which He loves me. Even the difficult people. Even those I’m not sure I like. Even those I’d rather avoid. Those that are rude, self-centered, needy and inconvenient.

Because at some point, I’ve been all these people in my relationship with God … and He loves me still.

He loves me and He loves you. He loves the whole world so much that He sent His Son to enter into relationship with the most difficult people who ever existed. This includes all of us. God had this plan from the very beginning, to demonstrate His love by doing what we can’t: reconciling ourselves to Him.

“Christmas is the beginning of God’s plan being made manifest and coming to fruition. God, the King of kings and Lord of lords, had made a declaration in the garden. He could have let His judgment stand and we could have been left to live our lives according to the law. But instead, He stepped in and fulfilled the law, the obligation He declared, and took upon Himself our judgment and punishment. He brought about a completion of the original declaration in such a way that it still stands and yet there is a way for it to be fulfilled.” ~ Excerpt from Prepare Your Heart for Christ, The Christ Reason

As December begins and Christmas approaches, let us remember the new beginning God provided through Jesus. A new covenant was proclaimed, not one born of law, but born of love. When we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we celebrate a reconciled relationship with God AND with each other.

Something to Consider…

Which relationships do you find most challenging? Which relationships do you avoid? What specifically makes this so?

In what ways have you experienced these same issue in your relationship with God? What was His response to you?

How can God’s love for you move you to love these same people differently? How does loving them display your love for God or God’s love for them?

 

Prepare Your Heart for Christ: The Christmas Reason available now!

What new thing is  God calling you to do out of worship for Him? How is God growing you in your relationship with Him? Is God asking you to sacrifice to serve Him and others in a greater way? Do you celebrate the fullness of all God has done when you come to Him in worship? Christmas is the beginning of God’s plan coming to fruition. It may not be realized until Jesus dies on the cross and is raised to new life, but today we have the gift of a baby. God has come to dwell with and save His people.

PCH Front Cover

 

 

 

Visit www.marikeisling.com to check out other studies available.

Jesus: The Real Deal

704630_443730492347160_1248831165_oI just saw an article titled Santa Claus: The Great Imposter. And while I didn’t read it, the title brought me to Scripture within seconds. As my husband knows, one thought leads to another, and to another and so on. So here goes…

  1. Who is he a substitute for? Jesus
  1. Why would he be a substitute for Him? Because people believe they know the story of a real man who did kind and thoughtful things for children (people) and they want to be like him. We can put him on a pedestal as a great example. And while we can say that in a way Jesus did the same thing, He (Jesus) requires something of us that Santa Claus (St Nicholas) doesn’t: Submission. We can do things that are like Santa Claus such as give gifts and be jolly, but he doesn’t set a standard of how we are to live our lives otherwise. Fun is as far as Christmas needs to go.
  1. Very quickly, my mind was brought to Scripture.

“What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” 1 Corinthians 1:12-13

“For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere human beings?  What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task.” 1 Corinthians 3:4-5

When we choose to imitate Santa Claus, whether we believe he was a real human being or an ideal picture of a generous grandfather figure, we imitate a man who was a mere human being or even less, a thought or idea. We may be imitating someone who was possibly a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, but still just a person like you and me. In truth, we should be worshiping, celebrating and imitating the true Lord and Savior. This means our service does not stop at a Christmas gift or meal for the sake of being nice and thoughtful, but continues through to the purpose and message of the Gospel.

God gave us the greatest gift ever given: His Son Jesus Christ who came to die for our sins and be raised to new life, so that we could be made right with God and enjoy eternal life with Him. At Christmas, we celebrate the beginning of God’s plan of reconciliation becoming a reality. We worship Him and Him alone. We submit our lives to Him out of reverence for who He is, not just the nice things He’s done.

God has been growing me through the season and celebration of Christmas. Every year I remove more of the Santa figures and ornaments I’ve had in our house. Some are fancy, some are sweet. Some have fond memories tied to them as gifts from various people in my life. It can be hard to remove things that seem harmless on the surface, maybe even good. But when I make someone else the center of a celebration that belongs to God, I set up a false idol – an imposter. Jesus Christ is the real deal and is worthy of my sole attention.

Who will you celebrate this Christmas? Where will your attention be focused? Will you settle for and spread the lies of an imposter or will you rejoice in and share the truth of the Savior? Christmas focused on Santa falls short of the glory of God shown through His Son, Jesus Christ.

 

Prepare Your Heart for Christ: The Christmas Reason available now!

PCH Front Cover

Something New

© DepositPhotos/ Anetlanda

© DepositPhotos/ Anetlanda

Lately, I’ve been struggling in the area of discipline. Well, truth be told, I’ve been struggling for a long, long time. Most people who know me would never know or probably believe this to be true. I get things done on time, I appear to be organized and I carry a lot of information around in my head.

Honestly though, I procrastinate. And when I procrastinate, I lose control of my schedule.

I recently took a personality test and one of the statements made about me in my results was that if I say I will do something, I will. People know that and they count on it. I had to laugh a little when I read it because in the sixth grade, when we went around the room and had to say something about ourselves that made us unique, this was the very thing I said about myself. “If I say I will do something, I will.”

The problem I find is that I’m the one I cheat when I procrastinate. Because I feel such a deep commitment to others, an accountability to follow through, I will easily let go of the things I know I should do and have even said to myself that I would do. I don’t feel the same accountability to myself that I do others.

And so I lack discipline. Complete discipline. True discipline.

And worse, I cheat God because sometimes those things I need to do for myself are things He wants me to do for myself. They are things that He wants me to do for Him simply because He says so. They are things that may make a difference somewhere else along the line. As I take time to invest in myself, I’m investing in my future with Him, becoming who He created me to be.

I tend to make decisions based on what’s easy in the moment, convenient for my “rushed” schedule, or seems to be too much work and could interfere with commitments to others. I hold myself more accountable to people than to God.

But what God has been showing me lately, offering me, is a new way of doing things.

A new way to see things.

A new way to make decisions.

A new way to live.

With Him.

In Him.

When God sent Jesus as a babe in the manger born of a virgin, He was doing something new. He was making a new way to Himself.

“’The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt,’ declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 31:31-32a

And,

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” Ezekiel 36:26-27

As well as,

(In Christ) “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore…” Ephesians 4:22-25a

Therefore.

We don’t simply add Jesus to our way of doing things. We stop doing what we did before we knew Him and we start doing what He shows us to do. We repent, change our thinking, and do what He moves us to do.

I think of life with Christ as more of “T” intersection than a fork in the road. There is a path you can clearly stay on, the one going straight ahead, or you can choose to go a whole new direction. You don’t veer one way or another; you intentionally choose a different path.

And you can’t take a little of this path and a little of that path and fudge your way. That doesn’t work. I’m pretty sure I’ve tried it and I don’t recommend it. It will drive you crazy, maybe literally.

But instead, there is a choice to make: Do I stay on the road I’m on or do I choose a new way?

Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, the paths of the world will intersect with your new path many, many times and each time, you will have to choose. Will you do what’s easy, convenient and expected or will you choose to be set apart in Christ, doing what’s hard, requiring effort and may even go against the grain of everyone around you? Will you give up what you’ve always done and who you’ve always said you were (who others say you are) and let Jesus renew, restore and redefine who you are in Him.

What new thing is God doing in your life? What new thing is God asking you to do in your relationship with Him? How might this new thing display a heart set on and committed to Him, to world that needs to know Him?

God remembered His people and did something new. Now, it’s your turn.

 

Prepare Your Heart for Christ: The Christmas Reason available now!

PCH Front Cover

Summer Days, Winter Nights

conceptI’m sitting here on this beautiful summer day thinking about Christmas. Why? Because that’s just how fast time seems to pass.

Life is busy. In Minnesota, summers are busier. We have three, maybe four months to enjoy the warm temps, warm water, and not have to layer up just to get the mail. We cram weekends “up north” into our schedules, do everything we can to get to “the lake.” In some ways normal life seems to stop and our outdoor summer life kicks in. Now, don’t get me wrong. We like our winters, too. Just not that many of us like them as much as summer.

I lived in southern California for 18 short months and it wasn’t like that there. Summer or school year, so much of it seemed the same. There seemed to be a natural flow from one time of the year to the next with no dramatic shifts. I love the seasons of Minnesota, but there was something quite peaceful about our So Cal life.

So as summer begins to draw to an end (August begins this weekend, school the end of the month) and our summer thinking turns to fall activities, winter will be here before we know it. The changing of the seasons works that way. Different times in our lives distinctly marked out by the weather.

And if we’re not careful, we let our lives be directed and guided by what’s going on around us rather than by Who is in us. We let our actions be determined by the season we are in, rather than by the One we belong to.

Christmas is one such time when the ways of the world can quickly overshadow what we say is truly important to us. We make decisions because of what’s expected rather than because we believe it’s the right thing to do. We act as if this holiday is all about us when others don’t respond to or hold the holiday in the same regard as we do whether they are friends, family or complete strangers.

We forget that it’s all about Christ. We act in a way that doesn’t accurately represent who He is to a lost world. We expect others to conform to our way of thinking when we ourselves, those who claim to know Christ, have not conformed to His way of thinking. We have higher expectations of those who don’t know Christ than we have for ourselves.

Jesus had something to say about this:

“Jesus replied, ‘And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.'” Luke 11:46

And He says something about Himself:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

We can’t expect a world to come to us to find Jesus if we are doing all the same things they are. We can’t expect a world to come to know Jesus if we make it hard for them see and know His gentle and humble heart.

So what’s the answer?

We keep Christ at the center of our hearts, lives and activities. We find our joy, peace and strength in Him. And we remember that He came as a gentle and humble baby, not for His own benefit, but for ours and for others.

Our hearts need to be open to His leading at all times, but it seems like we need to be more aware of what’s truly in our hearts when the spotlight shines on us more brightly…like at Christmas. What will your heart tell others about Jesus? What will others learn about Jesus because of your words and actions? Choose to make this Christmas different. Choose to prepare your heart for the coming Christ so that the world may know and believe.

Something to Consider…

Prepare Your Heart for Christ: The Christmas Reason

Prepare Your Heart for Christ: The Christmas Reason

Being intentional in our relationship with Jesus is necessary at all times. It’s easy to think that just because we are involved in ministry, work for or go to school in a Christian environment, or we are in a season that is focused on Jesus, we will have a heart set on Him in all we do. The world creeps in and we can be easily distracted .

What steps will you take this Christmas to be intentional in your relationship with Jesus? He is gentle and His burden is light. Help others know Him this way.

Prepare Your Heart for Christ: The Christmas Reason available now!

Overjoyed!

“When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” Matthew 2:10

“Are we there yet? When will we be there? I have to go potty! I’m tired! Are we almost there?”

We have taken many road trips as a family. Some short, little two-hour jaunts to our cabin every other weekend or so. Some 15 hour hauls across the country! Sometimes, we play games like the alphabet game or look for license plates from all 50 states. One time when the girls were little, two and five I believe, we had to duck every time we went under a bridge. This kept them occupied for at least 20 minutes laughing the entire time. I don’t remember what was so funny, but it didn’t matter; we were all together and enjoying our time.

I am reading through the Gospel of Matthew during my quiet time each morning and this tiny verse caught my attention. The wise men had traveled quite awhile. For how long they had been waiting and watching for the sign that the Messiah had been born, I don’t know, but it had finally come and they were on their way. Not many road signs or licenses plates to keep them occupied. And I’m guessing not many Country Inn’s or Country Kitchen’s to pull over at and rest.

Whenever we would be on a road trip, we would start out all excited, “We’re on our way!” Somewhere down the road, an hour in or so in to the trip, the attitudes and atmosphere would change. It would be the same old scenery, not much variety, just driving and driving and driving until we were just outside our destination city. Then, once again, the excitement would begin to build. “We’re almost there! How much longer do you think it will take? It will be so nice to finally be there.”

The wise men had made it to Jerusalem, met up with King Herod and were beginning the final leg of their journey to find the new-born King. This was not a short jaunt or even a full day’s trip. This journey took months to complete. I can imagine their excitement building; all this time, all this distance and they were almost there!

When they saw the star over the house where Jesus was lying, they were overjoyed! Jesus was just a baby. He had done nothing but be born and yet these men who held some position of authority, prestige and power came to worship Him as an infant, a toddler, and they were overjoyed to do so.

We are just over two months away from the anniversary of the birth of Jesus and I wonder, what will be my state of mind when Christmas finally arrives? Will I have been preoccupied with all the to-do’s, events, get-together’s and conflicting  schedules or will I have been celebrating and preparing for His arrival? Will I be stressed out, strung out and worn out, or will I be settled and at peace in the rest only He can provide? Will my mind, focus and energy be drawn toward the busyness of the season or will I remain focused on my purpose in Him, keeping Him at the center of all I do?

Will I be overjoyed each and every day to simply be in His presence?

Something to Consider…

As Christmas draws close, remember Jesus came so that we could be reconciled to God and live in relationship with Him forever. Take time throughout this season and coming year to grow and invest in your relationship with Him. On this day, He has given us the greatest gift of all!

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV)

What activities or concerns weigh you down during the holidays? Bring these concerns to Jesus and allow Him to carry the weight, remove the burdens and give you His perspective of the situation. Allow yourself to experience the joy of His presence!