The Sweet Agony of Anticipation

December 27, 2010 by  
Filed under Daily Devotions, Life Topics

By James H. Pence –

When I was growing up, Christmas Eve was the longest day—and night—of my year. Even when I was old enough to know that Santa Claus was really Mom and Dad, I still became so overcome with excitement that I felt the day would never end. At bedtime, I’d lay for what seemed like an eternity, looking at the ceiling and wondering when I’d ever fall asleep.

My feelings on that day could only be described as “sweet agony.”  Agony, because it seemed all the clocks in the house were running in snail mode; sweet, because I was anticipating something that was going to be utterly delightful: Christmas morning. But although the joy of Christmas morning was great, it paled in comparison to the sweet agony of Christmas Eve.

It is that same sweet agony that I see in the apostle Paul when he sat under house arrest, facing trial and possible execution: “I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Philippians 1:23 NIV).

Most people facing execution will try their best to avoid it. Paul practically says, “Bring it on! I want to go and be with the Lord.” How can we explain this attitude? Paul lays it out for us a few verses earlier: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21 NIV). The apostle explains that remaining in the body means “fruitful labor,” but dying means to be “with Christ.” He caps it off by saying that being with Christ is “better by far.” Paul’s mind is so focused on the joys of being with Jesus in heaven that death not only fails to frighten him, he welcomes the idea.

Paul lived with the sweet agony of anticipation: The anticipation of an eternity with Christ.

As we celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ, may our hearts be overcome with childlike anticipation. Not the anticipation of material things, goodies, or food. Rather, let us experience the sweet agony of longing for heaven, of desiring to be with Christ, of understanding that for us, living is Christ and dying is gain.

That God’s Christmas gift to us: The hope of heaven in Him.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, thank You for loving us so much that You sent Your only begotten Son into the world for us. Please help us this Christmas season to embrace the attitude that says, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

“Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life” (Jude 21).

Today’s devotion is by James H. Pence. James is an author, speaker, singer, and gospel chalk artist, but prefers to be known as a storyteller. To learn more about James and how he draws the stories of your heart, visit his Web site at: www.jameshpence.com.

Forgotten by God?

November 30, 2010 by  
Filed under Daily Devotions, Personal Growth

By James H. Pence –

There are times when I wonder if God has forgotten about me. Ironically, I rarely feel this way in times of great difficulty or trial. When bad things happen, I am hard-wired to cry out to God. And generally in those times I sense His presence, comforting and sustaining me.

Nor do I wonder about God’s presence in my life when He is tangibly pouring out His blessings.

Most often, I wonder where God is during life’s dry times, when I feel like I’m wandering in a desert. Or when I’m feeling my way through a spiritual fog bank, not knowing which way to go or what to do. Or when life itself seems like an exercise in frustration.

That is when I want to stand cry out into the gray cloud banks surrounding me, “God? Are you still there?”

As I cry, I am often greeted by stony silence. I look. I listen. I cry out again, but He is nowhere to be seen or felt. It is on those occasions that I feel like the psalmist who wrote, “O Lord, why do you reject me, and pay no attention to me?” (Psalm 88:14 NET).

Yet in the midst of that fog, God has not left me without comfort. When the clouds obscure His face, I look to the Scriptures and am reminded of His watchful care. Jesus said “Aren’t five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God. In fact, even the hairs on your head are all numbered. Do not be afraid; you are more valuable than many sparrows,” (Luke 12:6-7 NET).

Even when I cannot feel Him, cannot sense His presence, God reminds me that He is there. For if He does not forget a single sparrow, and he numbers the hairs on my head, He has not forgotten about me.

And so I must put away fear and despair, and trust in the One who knows the location and behavior of every molecule in the universe–even when I cannot sense his presence.

AUTHOR QUOTE: Even when I cannot sense God’s presence, He is still there with me.

“Aren’t five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God. In fact, even the hairs on your head are all numbered. Do not be afraid; you are more valuable than many sparrows” (Luke 12:6-7 NET).

Today’s devotion is by James H. Pence. James is an author, speaker, singer, and gospel chalk artist, but prefers to be known as follower of Jesus Christ and a storyteller. To learn more about James and how he draws the stories of your heart, visit his Web site at: www.jamespence.com.

The Power of Thanksgiving

October 27, 2010 by  
Filed under Daily Devotions, Worship

By James H. Pence –

Have you ever been in a flood? Thankfully, I have not. But I have witnessed the destruction they can cause. Hurricane Katrina caused great devastation several years ago, but what nearly destroyed the city of New Orleans was not merely wind. It was a flood. When the levees broke, flood waters swept through the city. Five years later, New Orleans is still recovering from the damage.

A few weeks ago, the city of Dallas experienced a brief, torrential rain. Some parts of the city received nearly a foot of precipitation in only a few minutes. Entire neighborhoods were flooded by the late summer storm. That evening, the local TV news broadcast footage of the flooding. One of the most amazing images was of a Volkswagen Beetle floating away.

Think of it. A small car floated down the street as if it were no heavier than a child’s toy.

That’s power.

And it’s the power of a flood that I think of when I remember Paul’s exhortation to the Colossians. He tells them that they should “overflow” with thankfulness.

Over the years of my Christian life, I have discovered that when I give thanks, there is a power that I don’t fully understand. I can be facing a difficult problem, trial, even a tragedy that threatens to overwhelm me. But when I stop allowing my problems to crush me and begin to praise and thank God—when I “overflow with thankfulness”—God pushes those problems out of the way just as the Dallas flood moved that Volkswagen Beetle.

Don’t get me wrong. The problems don’t automatically go away just because I give thanks; however, my attitude changes. It’s as if God empowers that thankfulness to flood away all the things that are distracting me and pulling me away from Him. There is power in a flood.

Perhaps that’s why Paul also reminds us to “be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God that transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7 NIV).

PRAYER: Lord, when trials, difficulties, and tragedies weigh me down, help me to overflow with thankfulness, and by that thanksgiving to flood away all that would take me away from You.

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (Colossians 2:6-7 NIV).

Today’s devotion is by James H. Pence. James is an author, speaker, singer, and gospel chalk artist, but prefers to be known as a storyteller. To learn more about James and how he draws the stories of your heart, visit his Web site at: www.jamespence.com.

The Most Quoted (and Least Believed) Bible Verse

September 28, 2010 by  
Filed under Daily Devotions, Personal Growth

By James Pence –

If I were to ask you to recite the most frequently quoted Bible verse, you probably would answer,  “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16, KJV).

But what if I asked you to name the most frequently quoted and least believed Bible verse?

There might be some debate on this one, but I think that the following verse is the prime candidate: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, KJV).

We love to quote that verse to other people when they are faced with trials or tragedies. However, when we’re the ones who are hurting, that’s usually the last verse we want to hear.

Some of that is understandable. When we are in the midst of deep grief, often our emotions are so jumbled up that we can’t think rationally. All we know is that we are hurting and we can’t see any good that can come from our pain.

But often, even when we have moved out of the initial shock of grief, we still ask the question: “God, why?”

When we look at a trial or tragedy and say, “How could God let this happen?” we are acting in unbelief. Worse than that, we are accusing God of wrongdoing. Such a question assumes that somehow God has promised that nothing bad will happen to us.

But God never made such a promise.

What He did promise was that if we love Him and are called according to His purpose, He would work everything together for our good.

If we believe that, the question, “Why, God?” becomes moot. The proper response is, “Yes, Lord. I don’t understand what’s happening right now, but I know that You do. And I will trust You and rest in Your wisdom, goodness, and sovereign love.”

What are you trusting God for today?

PRAYER: Father, please help me to trust You in life’s hard times and—even though I don’t understand what You are doing—to remember that You are working everything together for my good.

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, KJV).

Today’s devotion is by James H. Pence. James is an author, speaker, singer, and gospel chalk artist, but prefers to be known as a follower of Jesus Christ and storyteller. To learn more about James and how he draws the stories of your heart, visit his Web site at: www.jamespence.com.

Winning the Lottery

September 22, 2010 by  
Filed under Daily Devotions, Worship

By James Pence –

Have you ever wondered what you would feel like if you won a million dollars in the lottery? Or came into a huge inheritance? Or discovered oil on your land?

I don’t play the lottery. I have no millionaire relatives. And I don’t own the mineral rights to my land. Thus, none of these windfalls are likely to be coming my way. However, I do have an imagination. And from time to time I have allowed myself to fantasize about how I would react if I suddenly came into a huge amount of money.

I can see myself now, outside, dancing in my front yard, shouting “Woohoo!” until the 100+ degree Texas heat causes me to keel over from heat exhaustion. In other words, I suspect I would act like a crazy person.

With that in mind, I cannot help but feel guilty when I read in the Psalms: “I rejoice in the lifestyle prescribed by your rules as if they were riches of all kinds” (Psalm 119:14, NET).

Hmmmmmm. When was the last time I was outside, dancing in my front yard and shouting “Woohoo!” about the Christian life? When was the last time I was so overwhelmed with joy in God’s commands that I looked and acted like a crazy person?

Yet repeatedly, the Scriptures declare themselves to be a treasure far surpassing the most opulent worldly wealth.

At one point, the psalmist declares God’s words to be, “of greater value than gold, than even a great amount of pure gold” (Psalm 19:10a, NET). In another place, the psalmist writes, “The law you have revealed is more important to me than thousands of pieces of gold and silver” (Psalm 119:72, NET).

At this writing, gold is selling for just under $1,200.00 an ounce; silver is a bit cheaper at about $18.00 per ounce. But which of us would turn up our noses if someone offered us thousands of pieces of silver and gold? Yet often my Bible gathers dust while I watch TV or devote my attention to matters that have no eternal significance. Often I place a greater priority on the things of this world rather than on things above.

Do I really believe that God’s Word and my relationship to Him are more valuable than great riches?

If so, how should my life reflect that?

Just wondering.

PRAYER: Lord, help me to value You as the ultimate treasure, of supreme worth. And grant that my life, priorities, and choices may reflect that value.

“The law you have revealed is more important to me than thousands of pieces of gold and silver” (Psalm 119:72, NET).

Today’s devotion is by James H. Pence. James is an author, speaker, singer, and gospel chalk artist, but prefers to be known as a follower of Jesus and a storyteller. To learn more about James and how he draws the stories of your heart, visit his website at: www.jamespence.com.

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