Monthly Archives: January 2016

“Where there’s hope, there’s life.”–Anne Frank

130124_tubishvat3I received a note this month from a dear donor who has been witnessing to a Jewish friend of hers, and was very thankful of the sayings and things in our newsletter that she has used over the years to connect with her friend.  She has walked with her friend through some tough things in their lives, and recently, she received a note from her friend sharing that she had planted a tree in Israel in her honor.

January brings the Jewish festival of Tu B’Shevat. It is the new year for trees, and is often the catalyst for Jewish people planting trees in Israel. Following the end of World War II and the liberation of the concentration camps, many Jews migrated to the then British mandate of Palestine. They found a land much bleaker than they expected. The “land of milk and honey” had become the land of sand and strife. So these settlers formed kibbutzim, small cooperative farms, to reclaim the land, and they began to plant trees. And following the U.N. vote to establish the State of Israel and the subsequent war, the new nation began reforestation projects that Jews around the world participated in as we planted trees in Israel to commemorate almost anything. Trees usually cost $18.00, the numerical equivalent of the word “Chai,” which means life, and the maxim, “Where there’s life, there’s hope” became associated with this reclamation project.

Of course, when we think of trees, it is hard not to remember the anecdotal saying of Luther, “If I knew that tomorrow was the end of the world, I would plant an apple tree today!”  Whether Luther said this or not, he certainly reflected this attitude of life and hope. So this is a great time to share your faith with your Jewish friends. You can still, believe it or not, plant a tree in Israel for $18.00! If you go to the website, you can plant a tree in someone’s name and send them a certificate. Include a note to your friend sharing the fact that you have planted a tree in their name for Tu B’Shevat (or any other occasion you can think of!), and end the note with “Where there’s hope, there’s life.” Then, if you’re led to, say “Y’shua is the way, the truth and the life!” (Yes, I did get it backwards for where our hope is is where life is.  Maybe your friend will notice the difference and call to ask why and then you can share this truth.)

By the way, Anne Frank got it backwards too.  She too said, “Where there’s hope, there’s life.”   Yes, while there is life, there is hope. But our greatest hope is that many would truly find life, and life eternal through faith in our Messiah, Y’shua. And I would love to hear your stories of hope!  “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13).


Epiphany–Wise Men Still Worship

MagiIllustration:  “Journey of the Magi” by James Tissot, c. 1894.  Oil on canvas.

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him’” (Matthew 2:1-2).

Today we celebrate the Epiphany of Our Lord, the day that Magi from the east followed a star and came in search of Messiah. Not only were they students of astronomy, but also of God’s promises. Perhaps they had prepared for this time with those Hebrew Scriptures that were translated into Greek before Christ’s birth. No matter how they knew, God’s promises of a Messiah were clearly communicated to those outside of Israel. The Magi traveled to Jerusalem in search of the King, bringing Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  It was their way of answering the Psalmist’s cry, “May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands render him tribute; may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts!  May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him!” (Psalm 72:10-11).   It was their way of worshipping this infant incarnation of God.

Like the Magi, you and I have been blessed with the opportunity to learn about God’s promises to send a Savior. God has given us faith to recognize that Jesus is the Promised One. Also like the Magi, God’s love in Jesus inspires us to worship Him. As you gather with other Christians today to worship Jesus, offer your most precious gift—yourself, committed anew to His mission.

Prayer: Bless us today, Lord, forgiving us all our sins, renewing us by the power of the Holy Spirit, and strengthening us for the world to come. In Jesus name. Amen.

As We Wait: Thank you so much for taking this Advent, Christmas and Epiphany journey with me.  I hope you have enjoyed the artwork of faithful people from many generations.  And I hope you have been blessed by these daily devotions.  In celebration of Christ’s revelation to all the world, both Jew and Gentile, set aside a gift today to support those in the mission field.

A Remnant Remains

Olive treeIllustration:  “Menorah of Zechariah’s Vision (Folio 316v)” from the Cervera Bible illuminated by Joseph the Frenchman, Spain, 1299-1300.  Tempera, gold, and ink on parchment.

“For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree” (Romans 11:24).

Peter said God made us living stones to build a temple. In this passage from Romans, Paul describes God’s work in us by pointing to the tree of Abraham, the root from which all of God’s promises have been fulfilled. Gentile Christians—people who believe in Jesus but are not descended from Abraham—are “wild olive branches,” which God prunes and grafts into the tree of Abraham. By faith in Messiah, these Gentiles are the adopted children of Abraham and are saved by the same promise God gave Abraham and his descendants.

God has not forgotten the natural sons of Abraham, the Jewish people. The wild branches do not replace the natural branches, but increase the fullness of the tree. Although Israel’s hard hearted disbelief caused many of them to be cut off, God will use your joyful life in Christ to make Israel envious for what they have forsaken. When they do believe, God will graft these natural branches back into the tree of Abraham.

Prayer: Thank You, Lord, for giving me faith. Show me how to live so that others will see Jesus. Amen.

As We Wait: God keeps His promises, to the children of Abraham and to you. Always live as His child, expecting the best from your Father!

Waiting and Telling

12 Good WorksIllustration:  “St. George: From the series ’12 Good Works‘” by Yevgenia Kokoreva, 2010.  Sketch.

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4-5).

What does it mean to be ready every day, every moment of the day? It means responding to Christ’s command to share your faith, and living as a person who is already redeemed. Peter says that you and I, because we believe in Jesus, are the living stones with which God is building His temple.

I met an Israeli believer in Jesus while I was in Israel.  He told me that in Israel they call stones that have been cut or carved “living stones.” Dead stones are those which no hand has touched. To be a living stone means allowing God to shape you and form you according to His will. It means doing the good works God has prepared for you to do. Certainly your good works will never save you, but since you have been justified by Messiah, your good deeds glorify God. As you wait for Christ’s return, everything you do testifies to the glory of God and points others to Him.

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, by the power of Your Holy Spirit, use me to testify to Your glory. Thank You for shedding Your blood, redeeming me, and raising me up as a living stone. Amen.

As We Wait: How does your life testify to Christ living in you? Good works flow from the love of Christ and respond to the love He has already shown you.

When Is He Coming Back?

ParousiaIllustration:  “Parousia” by Justin Morris (Concordia University Irvine), c. 2007 .  Oil on canvas.

“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36).

For thousands of years, people have tried to predict the day of the Lord, the day of judgment. Prophets have spoken of it and visions about it have been interpreted. Today, Jesus’ promise that the end would come at a time only God knows, a promise given to reassure us of God’s power and redemptive grace, has instead divided the Church. Some Christians believe Jesus will be here soon; some believe there will be a long period of terror and tribulation before He comes; some believe tribulation will happen after Jesus takes all Christians to heaven.

It seems clear to me that Christ’s kingdom on earth has come and we are living in it. What else could explain the growth of the Church? Yet, it is also clear that the peace God has promised is not yet here. The Garden has yet to be restored. When will that happen? I think God’s answer would be, “When the time has fully come.”

Prayer: Dear God, help me to be ready for Your return every day. Preserve my faith in You and show me how to live for You. Amen.

As We Wait: No matter when Jesus returns and the world ends, remember that every day is judgment day for someone. Pray for an opportunity to share Jesus with someone who does not know Him yet.

Still, We Wait

JudgmentIllustration:  “The Last Judgment” by Michelangelo, finished in 1541.  Fresco, Sistine Chapel, Vatican City.

See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray” (Matthew 24:4-5).

What now? Jesus has been ascended to sit at His Father’s right hand in heaven. He has gone before us to prepare a place for us, but now it has been almost 2,000 years since His resurrection. It seems like some of the things He said must happen are being done: the Gospel of Christ has been preached to many, if not all, the nations. In the last hundred years more Jewish people have come to faith in Jesus than in the history of the church! There have been wars, rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes, and persecution of the Church (Matthew 24:6-14). What should I be doing while I wait for His return?

As popular movies and books about the end times have heightened our awareness of the signs of God’s plan, our call is to focus on and point others to Jesus. Many people who never considered spiritual things before are asking questions. The most important answer we can ever give to questions about the end times is that Jesus is the Way of salvation. He is the only Christ.

Prayer: Lord, use me to show Yourself to people who have questions about the end times. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

As We Wait: Ask a non-Christian friend what he or she believes the end of the world will be like. Be prepared to share your hope in Jesus, who is preparing a place in heaven for you.

New Year’s Day–When the Fullness of Time Had Come

I Stand at the DoorIllustration:  “The Light of the World” by William Holman Hunt, 1853.  Oil on canvas over panel.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).

When I see bad things happening, knowing God can do good things, I often wonder, “What is God waiting for?” You see it, too: Christians persecuted for their faith, children dying of malnutrition, congregations suffering for lack of pastors. What is God waiting for? Surely Israel asked that question often during the 4,000 years of waiting for God to fulfill His promise. Paul answers this question with one simple sentence: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son.”

By the time Jesus was born, Greece had influenced the entire known world and Greek had become a common language. In the last few centuries before Jesus’ birth, the Hebrew Scriptures had been translated into Greek and its promises made known throughout the world. The vast Roman empire had created a well-developed system of roads that provided for easy passage throughout their territory. The world was primed for God’s promise to unfold. What better time for the Savior to come?

Prayer: Lord, preserve me in my faith and show me how You want to use me to bless others in Jesus’ name. Amen.

As We Wait: As you wait for the Lord’s return, keep in mind that God knows when the time is right. Watch for the ways He wants to use you to bless others now.  May God bless you today and in 2016 as He uses you to further His kingdom and bless others with faith.