Jesus, The Gift of Heaven

jesus-with-children

Jesus, The Gift of Heaven

Pastor Loren L. Fenton, D.Min.
©2014

Memories of Christmas Past

In my childhood Christmas Eve was without doubt the most exciting moment of each year.  Early in December the countdown started, published every day in the local newspaper:  “15 . . . 10 . . . 9 . . . 8 . . . more shopping days ‘til Christmas.”  My excitement grew with every passing day.  Some years the stack of presents under the tree in the living room grew large and colorful with brightly wrapped packages.  Other years the realities of dirt farming kept the tree and number of gifts more modest.  There were actually a few years when no tree appeared at all until the very last.  But always, without fail, after supper on Christmas Eve our family gathered around the tree to give and receive the hidden treasures.

The Rules of the Christmas Tree

There were rules, though.  The routine was always the same.  I guess it must have been written somewhere in stone, but being the youngest of four children I didn’t ask questions.

  1. First, the outdoor chores had to be done.  The animals were always cared for before we washed up for our own supper.
  2. When the meal was finished the table was cleared, dishes were washed, dried, and put away. 
  3. The floor was swept and everything had to be in order.
  4. Then we changed into our nice clothes before gathering around the tree.  This was an important ceremony!

The gifts were usually of a practical nature.  A new shirt, warm socks, that type of thing.  I don’t really remember very many of the gifts themselves.  The most important thing was being together – a family tradition that bonded us with love and loyalty.

The Greatest Gift of All

As the years have unfolded from those long-ago Christmas memories, I have come to realize with ever-growing conviction that the heart of God was revealed in His gift of Jesus to us.  For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder.  And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6,7 NKJV).  “For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NLT).

The greatest story ever told is the story of Jesus coming to our world as a tiny, helpless baby born in a rough stable, cradled in a manger bed, and worshipped by shepherds and wise men.  But it wasn’t just about the Baby Jesus, or Mary, or Joseph.  The heart of God longed for connection with the people He loved.  Jesus was the way.  Sin and rebellion caused a great gulf separating man from God.  Jesus was given to all humanity so that through Him we might once again be united with the Father.  The Word of God became Immanuel, “God with us,” for all time and eternity, reuniting the family of Earth with the family of heaven.  What an unspeakable gift!  What indescribable love!

Thank You, Father, for Jesus

It is only a few more days ‘til Christmas.  When you give and receive your gifts this year, don’t forget to give thanks to our Father in heaven for Jesus, the greatest gift of all!

“The Fenton Flyer – 2014” – Signup Here!

Hey Friends!

We are preparing our annual year-end personal newsletter

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We love hearing from all of you each year, and we have a lot of fun getting our stories and pictures ready to share.

We’re looking forward to hearing from YOU!

Blessings abound. 🙂
Loren and Ruth Fenton

My 7 Daily Prayer Requests – Edited Edition

praying sillouette

My 7 Daily Prayer Requests

By Loren L. Fenton, D.Min.
© 2014

(Note: It came to my attention the previous posting of this blog entry did not show the entire article with the link I provided. Hence, I am reposting it here in its entirety for those who may wish to read the full article. Thanks for your understanding. LLF)

Introduction

Many years ago I learned that prayer is a conversation with God. We can talk to him just as we talk with a close friend. We can share our heart’s deepest needs. But that’s not all! God is also always there to hear our prayers and respond with mercy and  grace.

The seven daily prayer requests I list in this article are basic to my personal spiritual survival. I share them not because I think I’ve “got it all together” spiritually, but because I need God to give victory, hope, and healing in all these areas of my life. I hope (and pray) that you also will be blessed and encouraged as you read.

1. Purity in My Mind

Living in a Moral Swampland

It doesn’t take much to realize we live in a moral swampland. The social environment of our society is pretty much a garbage dump of sleaze, hyper-sexed movies and TV shows. No matter where you turn you can’t find an escape from it. Of course, this isn’t anything new. It has been around ever since sin started in the Garden of Eden. However, even in a fallen world, the Bible’s call to Christians is to live “unspotted from the world” (James 1:7). How  in the name of the Lord (I ask this reverently) are we supposed to accomplish that?

The Truth is that We’ve all Drunk the Swamp Water!

The first thing we have to do is admit that so long as we inhabit these earthly mortal bodies we simply can’t escape the swamp on our own. Even as hard as we might try, it is impossible to bring purity out of pollution . . . and we’re all polluted with the sludge of sin. The Apostle Paul said, “There is none righteous, no not one,” and “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:10, 23). A thousand years earlier the Old Testament prophet Isaiah said, “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Yep, that’s us. On our own, we’re dead meat if we want purity.

How to Survive in the Sleaze

Survival is possible! Paul speaks again, this time to the believers in Philippi. “Let this mind be in you,” he says, “which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). Jesus was “tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). By asking, we can receive Christ’s purity in our mind. Just like salvation, the Holy Spirit gives us this gift freely to all who ask and choose to follow. Once again, Paul tells the Philippian believers, Brothers and sisters, think about the things that are good and worthy of praise. Think about the things that are true and honorable and right and pure and beautiful and respected (Philippians 4;8 NCV).

Our lives are literally the product of what we choose to think about, so out of my own deep sense of need I begin my daily prayer time asking God to give me purity in my mind. Without this gift I am totally at the mercy of the evil in the world around me, and there is no mercy.

2. Righteousness in My Heart

An Awesome Promise for Hungry Hearts

As I noted above, the Apostle Paul is pretty specific when he says, “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). And Isaiah chimes in again with, “We all have wandered away like sheep; each of us has gone his own way” (Isaiah 53:6 NCV). Still, there remains a “God-shaped hole” in the spiritual heart of every person that can only be filled by Him, and here’s the good news: in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6 NIV; Emphasis mine).

How the Hunger Works

According to Jesus, then, if we hunger and thirst for righteousness in our heart we can have it! But how? How do we get righteous when we are altogether unrighteous according to Paul and Isaiah? The key is choosing to recognize and embrace the hunger.

What is that unsettled feeling I have when I choose to do something or go somewhere I know isn’t what God would approve? I believe it is a spiritual anxiety produced by my willful separation from God’s will. I chose to disobey the convicting voice of the Holy Spirit, insisting instead to do what I wanted to do just because that’s what I wanted to do! But what happens almost immediately following my act of rebellion? Guilt! Big time guilt. But it is good guilt – righteous guilt. Why is this guilt good? Because it makes me aware of my wrongness and creates in me remorse, repentance, and the hunger for wholeness, i.e. “righteousness.” Embracing (owning) the guilt is the first step toward experiencing the wholeness of restoration that God alone can provide.

This Promise is for You (and Me)

What a thrill it is to realize the truth of Jesus’ words, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled!” That promise is for us! I want it, I need it, and I can’t live without it! I don’t want the damning distortion of unrighteousness dominating my life. That is nothing but slavery to the evil designs of the devil. NO! The promise of Jesus is for freedom! Freedom to choose the wholeness and restoration He offers for daily living.

Yes, I hunger and thirst for the righteousness of Christ to be a reality in my life. I can’t survive a day without it. Jesus also says, “Ask, and it will be given to you” (Matthew 7:7 NIV). So today, and every day, I take Him at His word and ask for His righteousness in my heart.

3. Integrity in My Life

What is Your Life’s Purpose?

Wouldn’t it be cool to have your own motto, something like those ancient Latin maxims on European family crests? I’ve always thought so, so a few years ago I did a little research about heraldry on the Internet. A quick Google search revealed some great examples of the family mottoes:

  • A Deo et rege “For God and king”
  • Dant vires gloriam “Strength gives glory”
  • Facta non verba “Deed not words.”

There are literally hundreds of these family mottoes. Every coat of arms has one. Except, in all my looking I could never find one for my ancestral family that I liked! I’m a “melting pot” American, so my ancestry is a mishmash of many streams, some of which are quite unknown or indefinable. Scots-Irish, English, and Welch, and maybe some Dutch and Norse thrown into the mix for good measure! None of the mottoes that I saw ever really clicked that said, “Yes! That’s me!” After a while I decided to just write one for myself . . . my own personal motto for life.

Not a bad idea, right? Right. So . . . What should this motto say?

Searching for Just the Right Words

I have to admit, that question really forced me to do some deep dredging in the riverbed recesses of my soul. Who am I? What am I about? How do I want to live? What guiding principle, expressed in only three or four words, would capsulate the defining purpose of my life?

I thought about that for a long time. Eventually, I settled on this:

To live with integrity

And, just for fun, I looked up how to write my motto in Latin. Here it is:

Vivere Cum Integritas

Cool, huh? Well, I think so anyway.

Getting Serious about Transparency

But, honestly, I’m not so interested in “cool” as I am in the serious truth of my chosen motto. I do genuinely want to live with integrity. I want to be a “what-you-see-is-what-you-get” person in all my relationships. No hidden agendas. No secrets or cover-ups. No trying to manipulate others into compliance with my ideas about decisions they should make. Just be real!

And then, once again, I realize my own weakness and inability. In my own carnal life I simply cannot reach my heart’s desire to live with true integrity. Thus, once again, I must pray for strength, wisdom, consistency, and focus that comes from outside myself. That’s the only way. I claim the promise of Philippians 4:13, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (NIV).

4. Joy in My Spirit

Grumpy’s Got to Go!

Have you ever known someone who is always grumpy? Those negative people have a way of raining on everybody else’s parade. I don’t like being around people like that, and I doubt that anyone else does either. Furthermore, I don’t want to BE one of those people! Instead, I want to touch the lives of people with cheer! I can’t really do that if I trundle through life with a sour spirit.

One of life’s great discoveries is that we get to choose our attitude every day. I once knew an elderly lady who looked in the mirror and said, “I don’t look happy! Christians should be the happiest people alive. I’m going to choose to be happy!” After that, I never saw her without a smile on her face. She had a lot of aches, pains, and other physical problems of old age, but that didn’t stop her one bit. Her broad smile was a bright ray of sunshine for everyone. You couldn’t be around her for one minute without feeling a little more positive.

That’s the Kind of Person I Want to Be, Too!

The Old Testament prophet Nehemiah nailed it when he told the people, The joy of the Lord is your strength (Nehemiah 8:10)! The Lord’s joy is a deep, abiding positive force that flows as constantly as a massive river draining a continent, and continues even when bad things happen. I believe that’s what Jesus meant when he told the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, “The water I give [you] will become in [you] a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14 NIV).

Yes, Lord! Please give me this joy, this water of life, today . . . and always!!

5. Strength for My Body

Ah, For the Days of Youth!

When I was a young teenager I was in pretty good shape physically.

  1. My abs were rock hard. Once I challenged several of my classmates in P.E. class to punch me in the belly as hard as they could. They did. One time. No one tried again.
  2. I could toss an 80-100 lb. hay bale to the top of a stack several feet above my head. Piece of cake.
  3. Walking was just normal everyday life for farm kids. I thought nothing of walking 3 or 4 miles just to visit friends. To get there faster I would sometimes run the distance of two telephone poles and walk one, run two, walk one, run two, walk one. That way we’d have more time to play our favorite game of “kick the football” (our version of “kick the can”). Of course, I’d have to walk the same distance later when I had to get home to do my evening chores. No problem. It’s just how we lived.

My, oh My, How Things Have Changed in the Last 5 Decades!

Yes, I’m knocking on the door of “old age” now. I’ve had a good life. But aches and pains associated with advancing years now get my attention much more often! Old injuries from 9th-grade football and wrecks with bucking horses let me know they’re still lurking in my body. A knee replacement and lower back fusion (to relieve that horrible sciatic pain) solved some issues but left others. I can walk a mile if I have to, but not quickly. The dog likes to go, and I like to take him. We’re growing old together!

Praying for Physical Strength

So, more and more these days I pray for physical strength. I’m thankful I can still drive my truck, mow the lawn, lift and propel a wheelbarrow filled with bags of wood pellets, work in my shop, and walk the dog. But I’m not going to get on the roof to clear rain gutters, or try running for exercise. Some things just aren’t wise.

God’s Great Promises

I am truly blessed to serve a personal God who knows and understands the strengths and weaknesses we each live with every day. The Bible tells us that He knows our frame, that we are created from dust ( see Psalm 103:13, 14). But here is another verse that also contains an awesome promise:

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who lives in you (Romans 8:11 NIV).

Wow! I love it! I believe the gospel story in the Bible that says Jesus was raised from the dead after his crucifixion. And I believe the promise he made to the disciples, that he would send the Holy Spirit to be their comfort and guide. So, I believe I can also pray in faith, “Lord, please give life and strength to this (aging) mortal body!”

And he does just that.

Every day.

6. Wisdom for My Counsel

Wise King Solomon Says . . .

  • Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom(Proverbs 4:7).
  • The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline (Proverbs 1:7).
  • Wisdom will enter your heart and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you (Proverbs 2:10, 11).

20-20 Hindsight

It seems to me that down deep inside we all wish we could be truly wise all the time, but way too often we just go ahead and choose stupid instead. How many times have you done something you know you shouldn’t, but you did it anyway, simply because you wanted to? I confess, I’ve “been there, done that!” – and usually paid a dear price later.

Wisdom is Needed Every Day

But, what do you do when you are faced with a fork in the road? Sometimes difficult choices have to be made when there simply is no good answer. When you’re forced into a situation where you absolutely must decide a question one way or the other, what do you do?

Choices inevitably produce results – for good or bad – a  reality Robert Frost expressed so eloquently in his 1920 poem “The Road Not Taken:”

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

So, how do you know which road to take? That’s when you need divine guidance.

God Has the Answer!

God has an abundance of wisdom just waiting for you to ask for it. Check out this awesome Bible promise: If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him (James 1:5 NIV).

I Need It!

I’ve lived long enough on this planet to know that I need divine wisdom every day, all day, without fail! I love that promise from James quoted above. It gives me hope and encouragement. Furthermore, I have claimed that promise countless times and found that God is faithful. I don’t claim to be a Solomon, or anything like that, but I do know that I have been blessed when I actually listened to God’s still small voice prompting me in the right direction. Ask. Believe. Claim.

7. To be a Godly Influence in the World

What’s Left When We’re Gone?

I heard this poem read at a memorial service I attended recently, and was struck with its profound message:

Afterglow
By Helen Lowrie Marshall

I’d like to leave an afterglow of smiles when day is done.
I’d like to leave an echo whispering softly down the ways,
of happy times and laughing times and bright and sunny days.
I’d like the tears of those who grieve to dry before the sun
of happy memories I leave behind when day is done.

Our Influence is Our Only Real Legacy

I asked myself a question a while back . . . and came to a rather startling awareness: The only thing we leave behind us when we’re gone is our influence – either for good or evil. Nothing else remains, at least for very long. A generation or two passes into eternity and those who follow know little or nothing about them. Maybe some names, vital records, or places of origin, but not much more. Real people who lived and loved and laughed and cried are reduced to a few lines in some dusty archive of a genealogical record. If we’re lucky we might be able to find a few documents from their lives, such as a grandfather’s last will and testament, immigration records, or affidavits of property ownership. But especially after several generations have disappeared into the dust bins of history they are gone and long forgotten. Except for one thing . . . their influence remains . . . and that influence ripples through the lives of their offspring generation after generation after generation – even when subsequent generations have no idea where many of their ideas, emotions, or values originated.

You Can’t Unspeak a Word

So it comes down to this: once a word is spoken it can’t be unspoken. Once an act is performed it can’t be undone. Sure, apologies can be made afterwards, damages often can be repaired, relationships may be healed. But every word and action will carry some influence, large or small, good or bad, out into the wide, wide world, and there is absolutely nothing you can do to control when, where, or how far it goes. The only control we have lies in choosing what we say and what we do BEFORE we say it or do it. 

Placing Our Influence in God’s Hands

The trouble is, many times it is impossible to know the effect of our words or actions on the lives of people around us. We might say something with all good intentions, and have what we said taken in totally different ways by different individuals. One has a positive impression, another finds it negative. There is no way we have any control over that. All we can do is give our influence to God, and ask Him to use it for His purposes, as He sees fit, in the lives of everyone it eventually reaches.

So, my list of daily prayer requests ends with, “Father, whatever my influence might be today, I pray that it will only count for Your Kingdom.”

Truly, this is the deepest desire of my heart of hearts.

To God be the glory. Amen.