Irreversible

by Julie Zine Coleman

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.  Ezekiel 36:26 NIV

Some changes cannot be undone.

One of the science concepts I taught my fifth graders every year was the difference between a physical change and a chemical change. One is reversable and one is permanent. A physical change is a change in the state of matter. Applying heat to ice will melt it to liquid and eventually turn it into gas. But no matter in what state we find it, water remains H2O.

A chemical change is quite different. Heat actually causes a chemical break down of the bonds that hold atoms in a molecule together. They then rearrange to form new molecules that are completely different substances. For instance, the eggs you mix into cake batter, when baked, become something different. You can’t unbake a cake and retrieve those eggs again. What they were no longer exists. An irreversible molecular change has occurred.

There is another kind of irrevocable change: the transformation that God works in us at the moment we believe in Jesus Christ. Paul tells us that “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV).

Just as a new substance has new properties, what once was true about us is true no longer. Where there was only death, now there is life (Ephesians 2:1). The Holy Spirit has come to permanently dwell in us as a guarantee of our salvation (Ephesians 1:13). Our status has gone from condemned to free, from people who once walked in the flesh now walking in the Spirit (Romans 8:1-2). Once alienated from God, we have now been permanently adopted into His family (Ephesians 1:5). Our spiritual blindness has been irrevocably altered to an ability to see and understand spiritual truth (Romans 8:5-6). We have been rescued from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of light (Colossians 1:13, Philippians 3:20).   

And again, just as in chemistry, where a substance cannot change itself (heat is responsible for any transformation), the transformation that happened at our salvation was nothing we could do ourselves. It was something only God could do for us.  

The best news of all: God’s changes are permanent. We didn’t make it happen, and we cannot undo what He has done. We can rest in His work with confidence. Like most children that grew up in Christian homes, I prayed every night for Jesus to come into my heart, just in case the last prayer didn’t take. It wasn’t until I was older that I understood it was God’s doing: He was already there.

Every other religion bases a relationship with God on what they DO. But followers of Christ trust in what God has DONE. Jesus told His followers: “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 NIV).

Do you worry that you can out-sin the grace of God? That somehow you can undo His work in you and change yourself back into what you were before He healed you? Lean into what you know He has already accomplished in you. Trust that His work is sufficient to save. We didn’t do it, and we cannot undo it. He has made us new.

The change is unalterable.

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

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About the authorJulie Zine Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or crafting. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.

Does the Bible depict women as second-class citizens of the Kingdom? Jesus didn’t think so. Unexpected Love takes a revealing look at the encounters that Jesus had with women in the gospels. You will fall in love with the dynamic, beautiful, and unexpectedly personal Jesus.

Join the conversation: What of God’s changes mean the most to you?

He’s Got Your Back

by Julie Zine Coleman

One evening, a few of us sat around swapping labor stories. I had to laugh—we are all well past childbearing age—but each labor experience was as fresh in our minds as if it were yesterday. There are some things you just don’t forget.

I sheepishly informed my friends: I wasn’t much on natural childbirth. In fact, I considered myself the president of the Epidural Club. I walked into labor and delivery each time and announced to all within earshot: My name is Julie Coleman. I want an epidural. Please have the anesthesiologist standing by. (This worked two out of four times for me. I had my twins naturally, but not by choice.)

Some of you childbearing-supermoms out there are probably offended. Please forgive me, for I’m no supermom. I hate pain. If you’ve never had an epidural, let me tell you, they are amazing. Once it is administered, you lay in your hospital bed, totally relaxed. Once in a while you notice the needle indicator on the monitor climbing. Wow, you calmly think. This is a strong contraction. Then you close your eyes and take a little nap.

Yes, I am a fan of epidurals. They render you totally numb below the waist. You see the contractions with your eyes, but that’s as far as the affect goes. Beautiful.

The writer of Psalm 91 had a similar kind of experience. “You will not be afraid of the terror by night, or of the arrow that flies by day; of the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or of the destruction that lays waste at noon…you will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked.” The psalmist was no idiot. He was well-aware of the danger that lurked around every corner. But he was also aware of God’s protection.

Some danger we can see with our eyes. But there is a second kind of danger. Paul warns us of this unseen threat: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” The bigger threat to our well-being exists in the spiritual realm.

We may not be able to see it, but it exists, alright. We get a rare glimpse into the world of the unseen from 2 Kings 6. The prophet Elisha had offended the King of Aram, who angrily sent horses and chariots to surround the city where Elisha and his servant were staying. When the servant rose in the morning, he saw the city was surrounded. “Alas, my master!” the servant gasped. “What shall we do?”

Elisha could see the threat as well as his servant, but he didn’t blink an eye. “Do not fear,” he encouraged the trembling man. “For those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Elisha then prayed that the Lord would open the servant’s eyes so that he might see the reality of God’s protection. The writer of 2 Kings tells us: “The Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”

Like the writer of Psalm 91 or a woman in labor after an epidural, Elisha looked with his eyes and acknowledged the danger, but the sight did not bring fear to his heart. Why? He knew there was more to the story than what his physical eyes could see. And this knowledge made all the difference.

We have an enemy bent on our destruction. Peter tells us that Satan is like a roaring lion, seeking whom he can devour. He goes after our weaknesses, finding any place he can use to gain a foothold in our lives. He purposes to extend our anger into bitterness, temptation into disobedience, and pride into narcissism. We give him an inch; he turns it into a mile. He is a formidable foe. He is aided in no small part by our own sinful nature, that part of us that relentlessly drives us to act in ways that oppose the God we love.

We exist side-by-side with things bent on our destruction. So how can we live without fear? The psalmist answers that in the last stanza of his song, giving voice to God Himself: “Because he has loved Me, I will deliver him… He will call upon me and I will answer him. I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. With a long life I will satisfy him and let him see my salvation.”   

We can look dire circumstances in the eye with confidence. What we see with our eyes should not bring fear to our hearts. Why? God has our back.

“You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” 1 John 4:4

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

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About the authorJulie Zine Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or crafting. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.

Does the Bible depict women as second-class citizens of the Kingdom? Jesus didn’t think so. Unexpected Love takes a revealing look at the encounters that Jesus had with women in the gospels. You will fall in love with the dynamic, beautiful, and unexpectedly personal Jesus.

Join the conversation: Of what are you afraid?

Persuaded

by Julie Zine Coleman

I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day. 2 Timothy 1:12 NASB

The supply of wine had been depleted. Not one drop left. And the party was still going strong.

Mary shuddered at the embarrassment the oversight would bring on the hosts. She instinctively turned to her son to relate the news. He would know what to do. But Jesus seemed impervious to the problem. “Woman, what does this have to do with me?” He queried. “My hour has not yet come” (John 2:4 NASB).

Unfazed, Mary turned to the servants. “Do whatever He says,” she simply told them. And Jesus turned the water into wine.

This story has its puzzling moments. But one big question towers over the rest: why would Jesus refuse to help, even going so far as to state His reason for not helping, then turn around and do the miracle anyway?

There were other times Jesus refused to perform miracles. We are told in Mark 6 that in His hometown of Nazareth, Jesus “could do no miracle there except that He lay His hands on a few sick people and healed them.” Why? “He wondered at their unbelief” (Mark 6:6 NASB). Several times, religious leaders and then Pilate asked Him to perform. Jesus flatly refused, for they were merely “seeking a sign from heaven to test Him” (Mark 8:12 NASB). They had not asked in faith. The miracles were not meant to create faith; they served merely to confirm it.

Faith is a necessary component to any request we make of God. Jesus would not perform a miracle without it.

When two blind men asked for healing, Jesus asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” When they affirmed their trust, Jesus gave them their sight (Matthew 9:29). He asked a father to confirm his belief before ousting a demon that controlled his son. Why? “All things are possible to him who believes” (Mark 9:23 NASB). In these and many other cases, belief in Jesus’ mercy and power was required before Jesus would help them. 

When faith is expressed, God responds.

Mary’s instructions to the servants at the wedding of Cana were brim-full of faith. Whatever he says, do it. She trusted Jesus would do the right thing. Jesus responded by turning water into the finest of wines.

The Greek verb pisteuo, translated as believetrust, or to have faith often carries the qualifying connotation of being persuaded or convinced. The Greek lexicon defines it as “to cause to come to a particular point of view or course of action.” Trust results from what one has found to be true. Mary knew Jesus as only a mother can know her child. He lived in unfailing obedience to His heavenly Father. What she had observed of Him in the past persuaded her to trust Him now.

When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, He demonstrated His power and faithfulness to them over and over, first with the plagues, then the crossing of the Red Sea, with provision of water and manna, and the dramatic giving of the Law. In short, He was teaching them to trust Him. But the months they spent in the desert experiencing His faithfulness apparently weren’t enough for the message to sink into this “stiff-necked” people. They balked at entering the Promised Land, refusing to trust God for His provision.

God ironically gave them what they wanted. They would never go in. But their children would. So God spent the next 40 years proving to the new generation just how trust-worthy He was, teaching them the truth of His goodness and power. And when it came time to go into the land, they were ready to follow Him anywhere. Truth is foundational to trust.

Trust doesn’t come naturally to us. So God brings along hardship, times when we struggle to perceive His presence or guidance, times when everything seems hopeless or overwhelming. We hate those times and dread their appearance into our lives. But He will use them to give us a deeper understanding of just how faithful He is. We will emerge from the darkness with a better capacity to trust Him. And the conduit of trust opens the way for His blessing and mercy.

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

Julie-Coleman-headshot-295x300

About the authorJulie Zine Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or crafting. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.

Does the Bible depict women as second-class citizens of the Kingdom? Jesus didn’t think so. Unexpected Love takes a revealing look at the encounters that Jesus had with women in the gospels. You will fall in love with the dynamic, beautiful, and unexpectedly personal Jesus.

Join the conversation: How has God taught you to understand His faithfulness?

Embrace the Plunge

by Julie Zine Coleman

For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.” 2 Corinthians 4:11 NASB

The water was COLD. Driven into the ocean after becoming overheated in the hot sun, I stood in it up to my knees, wincing as the periodic waves drenched me a little higher with each step forward. I knew a quick dip would put an end to the painful, slow progression. But I just couldn’t do it. Avoiding the shock, I continued to inch my way in. I couldn’t bring myself to make the plunge.

We all hate pain. We’ll do anything to avoid it.

Paul told the Philippians that God had granted them suffering. Granted? Providing an opportunity to suffer was some kind of benevolent gesture, a giving of something desirable? What is this?

No one likes to suffer. Neither did Paul! Yet he regarded his suffering as a favor from God. How could he? Paul looked past the temporary to the eternal. He saw suffering as a means to invaluable and eternal benefits.

1. Suffering is a path to knowing Jesus better.

 We follow a suffering Savior. It only makes sense that walking in his footsteps will involve suffering in our journey as well. Sharing that common experience will develop an intimacy in our relationship with Him that would not have possible without it.

 “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death…” (Philippians 3:8 NASB). Paul saw sharing the sufferings of Christ as a means to knowing Him.

2. Suffering produces glory.

“For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison…” (2 Corinthians 4:17 NASB).

God has purposed to conform all believers to the image of Jesus Christ. Transformation requires change, but change does not come easily. Suffering forces us to abandon old habits or ways of thinking and moves us forward into the new.

The good news is that the end result of sharing Jesus’ suffering will be sharing his glory as well! Romans 8:17 NASB tells us “…if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”  

3. Suffering teaches us how to access the power of Christ.

“He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NASB).

God makes His amazing power available to us. Sometimes accessing that power can only come after finding our own resources insufficient. Paul saw his “thorn in his flesh” as a means to that end and so embraced his weakness. Suffering reveals the reality of our insufficiency and drives us deeper in our sense of dependency on God. “For when I am weak,” Paul mused, “then I am strong.”

4. Suffering makes us more effective for God’s Kingdom.

“[God] comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted…” (2 Corinthians 1:4 NASB).

My daughter was blind-sided many years ago with a debilitating illness. For three years, her life was completely interrupted. As our family crawled through that torturous time, we clung to two facts: one, that the pain would enable us to know Jesus far better, and two, our experience would give us insight (and a resulting empathy) into other people’s pain. She is now able to minister to people I can’t touch, because she has been in their shoes.

When suffering comes along, and it does more often than we wish, it can be overwhelming. But instead of thinking “Why me?”, we can choose to keep our eyes focused on the Savior, who, through suffering, made a relationship with God possible for us. Now God is using pain once again, this time to bring us further along in that relationship. We must look past the temporary to the eternal. We must choose to trust in His good intentions. Taking that plunge will give relief and peace through the process.

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

Julie-Coleman-headshot-295x300

About the authorJulie Zine Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or crafting. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.

Does the Bible depict women as second-class citizens of the Kingdom? Jesus didn’t think so. Unexpected Love takes a revealing look at the encounters that Jesus had with women in the gospels. You will fall in love with the dynamic, beautiful, and unexpectedly personal Jesus.

Join the conversation: Have you seen positive effects from suffering in your life? Please share!

Resurrection Victory

by Julie Zine Coleman

O Death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?… Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  1 Corinthians 15:55, 57 NASB
 
Once only inhabited by a small Japanese civilian community of sulfur miners and sugar farmers, the island of Iwo Jima became a stronghold of pivotal importance in World War II. As the war progressed, Japan evacuated its citizens from the island and prepared for the inevitable Allied forces invasion. A huge number of bunkers, hidden artillery, and an amazing eleven miles of tunnels were in place by 1944. Twenty-one thousand soldiers were at the ready when Allied forces began firing on Iwo Jima.
 
On the fourth day of the battle, the first objective was captured: Mount Suribachi. Five marines and a Navy corpsman were photographed raising the American flag at its summit. That moment is now immortalized in the Iwo Jima memorial in Arlington, VA.
 
Once the high ground was secure, the invasion slowly moved northward. Very heavy fighting continued as Allied forces eventually took the airfields and remainder of the island. The Japanese fighters considered surrender dishonorable and most tenaciously fought to the death. A month into the invasion, 300 Japanese soldiers launched a last-ditch effort counterattack. The casualties were heavy on both sides, but the next day, the island was officially declared secured by the Allies.

Even so, over 3,000 Japanese troops remained in the island’s maze of caves and tunnels. More American lives were lost as they worked their way through the tunnel system routing those Japanese that refused to surrender. The battle may have been won, but the enemy continued to fight, determined to take as many with them in their demise as possible.

Yesterday on Easter Sunday we celebrated the greatest victory the world has ever witnessed. The Son of God, after three days in the grave, rose from the dead. No longer are we under condemnation for our sin. It was dealt with, paid for, and cast from us as far as the east is from the west. The victory is already ours because Christ has already won. “When you were dead in your transgressions,” Paul wrote, “He made you alive together with Him . . . having canceled out the certificate of debt . . . having nailed it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-15 NASB). Sin no longer holds us slave in its power.
 
The enemy has also been soundly defeated. Satan’s future final demise is already recorded in the Bible, when he is cast into the lake of fire to suffer torment for eternity (Revelation 20:10). The war is over.
 
Yet while victory has been recorded with indelible ink, the skirmishes still go on. While we were given new life at our salvation, we still struggle against our old sinful nature which relentlessly demands satisfaction, and we fight the enemy ever-tempting us to sin. As Paul wrote the Galatians, “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (Galatians 5:17 NASB) The war may be over, but the fighting continues on.
 
These skirmishes are a part of the life God expects us to live. In fact, He carefully equips His soldiers to fight the good fight. Satan may have lost the war, but he is deadly serious about taking as many down with him as possible before the last nail is driven into his coffin. So we have been issued a belt of truth (a great thing when you are up against the Father of Lies!), a breastplate of righteousness, and shoes bearing the gospel message in which to stand firm. Our shield is one of faith, which can deflect every fiery dart of doubt and accusation the enemy can launch at us. Our head is protected by the helmet of our salvation. And last but not least, the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, contains all the knowledge we need to win each skirmish, which mostly, after all, takes place in the mind.
 
We may even lose some of these skirmishes, especially when we attempt to fight in our own strength. But it is important to remember in those moments of depressing defeat: the war’s victor has already been determined. The Good Guy won. Our hope is not in the circumstances of this world. It is in the future God has prepared for us, “an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4 NASB). Nothing that happens to us on earth will impact the surety of our salvation. The battle belongs to the Lord.

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

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About the authorJulie Zine Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or crafting. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.

Does the Bible depict women as second-class citizens of the Kingdom? Jesus didn’t think so. Unexpected Love takes a revealing look at the encounters that Jesus had with women in the gospels. You will fall in love with the dynamic, beautiful, and unexpectedly personal Jesus.

Join the conversation: What has been the most meaningful to you this Easter Sunday?

His Terms, Not Ours

by Julie Zine Coleman

“It is a fundamental principle in the life and walk of faith that we must always be prepared for the unexpected when we are dealing with God.”      D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

The stream of pilgrims entering the city had been steady for several days. It was time for Passover, and every male living within fifteen miles of the city was required to come to celebrate in Jerusalem. One particular group of travelers stood apart from the rest.

As they ascended into town from the Mount of Olives, some of the men began to spread their coats or freshly cut palm branches on the road before them. The object of their tribute came into view, astride a donkey. As He neared the city gate, the surrounding crowd began to shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” This was obviously no ordinary pilgrim.

The scene was reminiscent of another historical triumphal entry. Antiochus, King of Syria, had desecrated the Temple by offering swine flesh to Zeus at the altar of God. After the battle in which Antiochus was soundly defeated, the victorious Simon Maccabaeus was welcomed into Jerusalem with shouts of joy and branches of palm trees. Now, 150 years later, history seemed to replay itself as Jesus rode into the city. Waving palm branches and shouts of acclamation announced the arrival of another conquering hero.

The crowd believed that Jesus had come to oust their enemies and lead them to political independence. Their expectations were reflected in the very words they shouted. “Hosanna” literally means “save now!” It was a conqueror’s welcome they gave Jesus, but they did not comprehend the kind of conqueror He came to be.  He would score victory over an oppressor, but the oppressor was not Rome. It was the death-grip of sin. He came on His terms, not theirs.

Days later, the crowd was shouting at Jesus again. But this time the words were vastly different: “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” He had failed to meet their expectations. And so they rejected Him as their Messiah.

Has God ever failed to meet your expectations? In the two years my mother was dying, I had expectations of God. I would not suffer grief like most people. I had the Lord in my life. I assumed He would be there for me and hold me close and shield me through the process. So I cried out to Him in anticipation, waiting for Him to reveal Himself to me and fill me with peace.

It was like shouting into the wind. I got nothing.

His silence shook my faith to its very foundation. Where was God? This was the hardest trial I had ever encountered. Why was He silent when I so desperately needed Him?

I was hurting so badly I could hardly see straight. I wanted out from the pain. But God had plans for my pain. He would use it to mold me more closely into the image of Christ. I would learn to identify with Him by going through the process of grief and suffering. Most importantly, I would experience a deeper intimacy with Him as I learned to lean on and trust Him on a whole new level. He proved Himself faithful through the crisis. But He came to me on His terms, not mine.

When God seems to let you down, it’s time to look at why you are disappointed. Maybe it’s time to adjust your expectations.

The crowd on Palm Sunday those many centuries ago was looking for a temporary fix. They wanted peace and an easier life. God had something bigger and far better in mind for them. What He would accomplish over the next few days had eternal implications. They would be given a chance of peace with Him, a cure for their sin, and a hope for an eternity in heaven. His goals were far superior to any the crowd could have imagined.

We are limited in our understanding of God’s plan for us. We go for the temporary fix quite often, begging for relief from our temporary discomfort or pain. But He has higher goals for us than that. He will use the pain to accomplish what will afford eternal benefit. His terms are superior to ours. And we can trust Him to deliver far greater things than we can even know to ask.

“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”       2 Corinthians 4:17-18 NASB  

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

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About the author: Julie Zine Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or crafting. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.

Did you know Arise Daily has a book that just released? Arise to Peace is a compilation of devotionals from 72 well-loved authors in the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association. Julie Coleman served as General Editor for the project. Order your copy today!

Join the conversation: How has God surprised you with better than you could have imagined?

The Humblest Man Alive

by Julie Zine Coleman

“Now Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth…” Numbers 12:3

There it was, in black and white, posted on the high school music director’s door: my name at the top of Sound of Music‘s cast list. Maria: Julie Zine. I could hardly wait to get home and share the awesome news. Mom was thrilled. But when I told my dad, his response was less than enthusiastic. “How are you ever going to pull that off?” he moaned. 

I was crushed. It wasn’t like I hadn’t already held big parts in school plays. The choir director thought my voice good enough to handle several solo parts. Why didn’t Dad think I could do this? Later, I again approached him and demanded: Why didn’t he believe in me?

Dad smiled sheepishly. “I just want to keep you from getting a big head,” he confessed. “I want you to be humble.”

My dad was a good father, and I appreciated his concern for my character. Humility is important and most desirable. But I think my dad had the wrong idea of what humility truly is, at least from a biblical point of view. It’s not about thinking less of who we are.

We can get a better idea of humility from the leadership example of Moses. It wasn’t a position he sought after or even ever wanted. But God called Moses to lead his people out of slavery and into the Promised Land.

As he stood before the burning bush, Moses resisted God’s call. Who am I, asked he, to be the deliverer for the Hebrews? They won’t have anything to do with me! I have never been eloquent. I’m obviously not the man for the job. Pick someone else, God, please!

Didn’t any of that self-abasement and degradation qualify as humility? Apparently not. Humility is a good thing; God loves the humble. But Moses’ qualms about his qualifications did not please God one bit.

The job was as difficult as Moses had imagined and then some. When Pharaoh finally released the Hebrew slaves, the desert in which they traveled was a harsh, inhospitable environment. The people themselves were hard-hearted and stiff-necked, frequently complaining, ever-distrusting of God and His appointed leader. Eventually even his own family members spoke against him, demanding a bigger part of the leadership action. “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses?” they questioned. “Has He not spoken through us as well?” (Numbers 12:2 NASB).

God immediately responded to their rebellion and pride with an angry rebuke. As the cloud of his glory dissipated, Moses’ sister Miriam found herself covered in leprosy. Most leaders at that point would likely have felt validated and somewhat satisfied to see a threat to their leadership and power being squelched by God in such dramatic fashion.

But Moses cried out to the Lord, “Oh God, heal her, I pray!”(Numbers 12:13 NASB).

Even when threatened by his family’s desire to take him down a peg, Moses’ concern was not for himself. It was for those he loved. Putting aside any self-interest or indignant response, Moses prayed for his sister’s restoration. And God called him the humblest man on the earth.

C.S. Lewis once wrote: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It is thinking of yourself less.”

Jesus Christ was our ultimate example in godly humility. He did not regard His equality with God something to tightly clutch, but instead forfeited power and privilege for servanthood. His service ultimately led to a terrible death on the cross. Christ’s humility was not about self-abasement. It was in a willing sacrifice, generously given in the interest of those he loved. (Philippians 2:5-8)

Somewhere along the way, we in the 21st century have gotten the idea that humility involves self-depreciation, a devaluing of ourselves, deciding that others are better than us. But you won’t find it defined that way in the Bible. Biblical humility is a choice to treat the needs and interests of those around us as more important than our own. It is a decision to go with God’s agenda and not ours. It’s really part of what it means to die to self.

And in the end, in looking past our own noses, we will find ourselves closer to God and ironically more fulfilled than ever before.  We will have gotten ourselves out of the way and become more and more yielded to the Spirit. And in return, God honors the humble.

Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time. 1 Peter 5:6
This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

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About the authorJulie Zine Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or crafting. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.

Does the Bible depict women as second-class citizens of the Kingdom? Jesus didn’t think so. Unexpected Love takes a revealing look at the encounters that Jesus had with women in the gospels. You will fall in love with the dynamic, beautiful, and unexpectedly personal Jesus.

Join the conversation: What examples have you seen in people you know practicing biblical humility?

Time to Lay Down Your Burdens

by Julie Zine Coleman

He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul. Psalm 23:2b-3a NASB

The longest river in the world, the Nile, flows 4,130 miles from its headwaters in Africa’s mountainous lakes region to the Mediterranean. Sediments from as far away as Rwanda are carried northward by the force of the water as it plummets over falls and sweeps through channels in relentless movement toward the sea. Near the mouth, the river meets the sea. Suddenly the water slows down, and at the loss of energy drops its sediment to the river bottom. Thousands of years’ worth of these deposits have resulted in the famous Nile Delta, an enormous landform easily seen from space.

Sometimes it takes slowing down before a burden can be deposited. David knew this fact well. He wrote about his Good Shepherd: “He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul.” Before David could be restored, he had to be brought to a place of rest.

I didn’t used to be much on slowing down. As I raced through each day, tyranny of the urgent ran my agenda. We were raising four children, and I was working full time, throwing my energy into my fifth graders. Even my service in the church held the same frantic urgency. The busyness eventually took its toll on me, and I began to experience physical problems related to stress. But even then, slowing down didn’t seem like a viable option.

Then I went to seminary. One of the classes I was required to take was on spiritual disciplines. I was a bit skeptical from the first time I walked in the door. I wanted to do biblical exegesis; I wasn’t big on topical study. I took it because I had to. But I wasn’t going to like it.

As the class dragged on, I began to count the sessions until it would be over. Then one morning, as the class neared its end, we were told to go find a quiet place in nature and sit there for one hour, just listening to what God had to say to us. An hour? Of listening? Seemed a bit ridiculous to me. I reluctantly collected a notebook and a pen to record all of those messages I would supposedly receive and headed out to find a tree.

“OK, here I am,” I begrudgingly informed God. “Fire away.” My mind was full of the papers I had to write, the books I had to read, the Greek I had to translate. I could use this hour so much more effectively. I could hardly sit still. My frame of mind was anything but conducive to listening.

But as the hour dragged on, I tried to relax and at least appreciate the peace and quiet. I began to perceive the Lord’s presence. Not that he hadn’t been there all along, mind you. I was just too preoccupied to notice.

I started to bask in the love and grace he has lavished on me. My thoughts went to his greatness and power and faithfulness, his mercies that were new every morning. I began to thank him for loving me and for the blessings he has put into my undeserving life. Suddenly, my former agenda seemed very shallow. I prayed again, this time with an open heart and mind. “Lord, show me what you desire,” I pleaded.

God began to invade my thoughts. He wanted my heart more than my efforts. I was carrying too many burdens. It was time to put them down. So I did. I gave him my worries about finishing my studies successfully. I gratefully handed over concerns about my fledgling adult children awkwardly spreading their wings. My fears and anxieties fell off my shoulders as he impressed on me his power and ability to handle it all. And when the hour was up, I walked away feeling freer than I had been for a very long time.

We Americans are busy people. In our drive for productivity, we pick up burdens we don’t have time to lay back down. The Covid crisis has temporarily knocked a lot of that out of us. If you haven’t already, embrace the reduction in activity.

Find a quiet corner in your house. Sit down unencumbered by routine distractions and open your heart to him. As we embark on a new year, make it a priority to give God the time he deserves. Don’t go to him with an agenda. Let him set the pace. And as he leads you beside quiet waters, you will be restored.

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

Julie-Coleman-headshot-295x300

About the authorJulie Zine Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or crafting. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.

Does the Bible depict women as second-class citizens of the Kingdom? Jesus didn’t think so. Unexpected Love takes a revealing look at the encounters that Jesus had with women in the gospels. You will fall in love with the dynamic, beautiful, and unexpectedly personal Jesus.

Join the conversation: How do you create quiet time to spend with the Lord?

Looking Past Our Imagination

by Julie Zine Coleman

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think…” Ephesians 3:20 NASB

Every Christmas Eve, our kids carefully chose the best Christmas cookies and arranged them on a plate alongside a glass of milk. One year we even left hay for the reindeer. I can only hope Santa brought that hay up on the rooftop to them, rather than invite them into our family room. But in any case, it made the holiday that much more fun while my children were young.

Like it or not, Santa is a big part of the American traditional Christmas. He is pictured as a benevolent old man, working all year up at the North Pole with his elves to prepare for his delivery of Christmas gifts to the children of the world. Unless, of course, you have been naughty. Then it is coal for you.

I personally love Santa. I don’t mean to offend any of you Santa-haters out there. I just had such wonderful memories of rushing down the stairs as a child to discover if HE had come. I wanted my kids to experience the same magic for a least a few of their early years. So we always left a snack and a note of encouragement for the old guy before snuggling under the covers on Christmas Eve. And we were never disappointed when morning arrived.

Where our many ideas of Santa come from? How did the original St. Nicholas, very real and very human, morph into a sort-of omnipresent being who sees you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake? Since when did the benevolent man, known for his generosity toward the oppressed, start making a list on who is naughty or nice? How did he get the magical ability to slip unhindered down the flu into the fireplace below, only to rise back up to the rooftop with a twitch of his nose? I suspect many of our current traditions on Santa have come from the poems, stories, and songs written about old Kris Kringle in the last few centuries. In short, he is a product of our collective imaginations and bears little resemblance toward the original third century character.  

I wonder if we have reduced the meaning of Christmas story details in much the same way. Our remembrance and understanding of a quaint manger scene and angels’ pronouncements can bear little resemblance to what God was revealing about Himself through them.

In reality, the events surrounding the birth of Christ speak volumes about the power of God.

Let’s start with the angels. While we might tend to think of angels as harmless characters, fluttering their wings to hover over the roof of a stable or fields of a shepherd, they are really quite the opposite. For example, in 2 Kings 19, God sends an angel to destroy the army of Sennacherib, king of Assyria, killing 185,000 men. An angel killed the first-born in every Egyptian household the night of Passover in Exodus. Jesus referred to angels as a formidable army when he asked Peter, “Do you think I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53 NASB). These are no cherubic, impotent beings. Yet God uses these frighteningly powerful creatures to announce the good news. His very messengers displayed the power of God.

Another power-revealing aspect of the Christmas story is in how God orchestrated circumstances to fulfill prophecy given hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. He prompted the great Caesar Augustus, the most powerful man alive, to require every family to go to the city of their family origin to register for a census. Thus Joseph and Mary were forced to go to Bethlehem from Nazareth, just as she was preparing to give birth, in obedience to this decree.

How did the Wise Men know where the Savior had been born? God placed a sign for them in the night sky prompting their trip to Israel in recognition of the birth of a king. We don’t know if the “star” was a super-nova, planets in alignment, a comet, or even some supernatural event. We do know God performed the supernatural in the heavenlies at other times, such as the day the sun stood still in Joshua 10 or actually moved backward in 2 Kings 20. Whatever it was, God placed “the star” in the sky as an unmistakable sign guiding the wise men to come and worship.

Circumstances of the first Christmas were perfectly arranged by one very powerful God.

St. Nicholas had a real history, but that reality has been replaced by the whims of our imaginations. Let’s not miss the intended impact of the details in the Christmas story. While the quiet manger scene pictured in nativity sets around the world is dear to our hearts, it should remind us of more than the generosity and goodness of God. The coming of Christ was more than a sweet baby asleep in the hay at the edge of town. It was an unmistakable display of the power of God.

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

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About the authorJulie Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or walking her neurotic dog. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.

Does the Bible depict women as second-class citizens of the Kingdom? Jesus didn’t think so. Unexpected Love takes a revealing look at the encounters that Jesus had with women in the gospels. You will fall in love with the dynamic, beautiful, and unexpectedly personal Jesus.

Join the conversation: What fun traditions does your family practice around Christmas?

Wear the Uniform

by Julie Zine Coleman

Our family arrived at the Roosevelt Hotel the day of my cousin’s wedding late and flustered. We had experienced great difficulty navigating our car caravan through the busy Manhattan streets. Our cars pulled up in tandem under the marquis, hoping for assistance and directions to get us to the front desk quickly.

Two uniformed doormen stood watching us, but did not come to help with the large pile of luggage we pulled from the cars. They didn’t even hold the doors open for us as we struggled to bring our belongings up the stairs and inside. So much for New York hospitality. Miffed at their lack of assistance, I sent a meaningfully dirty look their way.

“I hope they are not thinking we are going to tip them,” I indignantly told my daughters-in-law.
 
Bethany looked over at the men. “Mom, I think they are airline pilots,” she said.
 
Uniforms identify the wearer with his place of business. For those observant enough to see the difference between a doorman and an airline pilot’s uniform (!!!), there is no question as to where they serve and what one can expect.
 
Jesus wanted His disciples to be easily identifiable in the world. He gave us a uniform of sorts to wear as well. “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me,” He said (Luke 9:23 NASB).  What did that mean? How would that identification look when fleshed out in His followers to the rest of the world?
 
The concept of being marked as God’s was not a new one. God directed Abraham in Genesis 17:10 to do this very thing. Every male was to be circumcised, beginning with Abraham and continuing down through the generations of descendants that would follow. It was a physical sign that revealed the people’s covenantal relationship with God. Yet it was not just an outward sign that God desired. “Circumcise your heart,” Moses told Israel, “And stiffen your neck no longer… You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name.” (Deuteronomy 10:16, 20) Israel’s “uniform” of trust in and obedience to God would identify them as different from the surrounding nations.
 
To anyone living in the Roman Empire, Jesus’ instruction to “take up his cross and follow me” would have brought to mind a familiar, horrific image. Crucifixion was a brutal form of execution. Once condemned, the criminal would be made to put a crossbeam on his shoulders at the site of sentencing and carry it to the place where he would be crucified. Carrying the cross would be the final act of one’s life. Therefore, Jesus was clearly using this as a metaphor, since He instructed His disciples to carry their cross  on a daily basis.
 
Christ’s first century followers knew crucifixion was a death sentence. Any possessions or wealth, along with rank or entitlement, were also forfeited at the time of sentencing. A crossbeam on one’s shoulders symbolized to the world that the carrier was under the authority of Rome.
 
When Jesus instructed his disciples to “take up [their] cross daily and follow me,” he was describing how his followers would identify with Him and thus be identified by others. Rather than an outward, physical sign, taking up the cross was an inward attitude that considered oneself dead to sin and alive in Christ. No longer would the disciples live for purely self-serving reasons. Theirs would be a life of surrender, yielding entitlement and self-interests to God, willingly placing themselves under His authority.

When surrounded by a world seeking to exalt itself, anyone with a uniform like that would be very easy to pick out of a crowd.
 
Christ calls us to take up our cross daily. It is not a once-in-a-lifetime commitment. Rather, it is a daily determination to put God’s priorities as first in our lives. It happens one small decision, one singular action at a time. We will not always succeed; in fact, we may well fail more than succeed. Yet our goal remains to make the fact we have been crucified with Christ a reality in our lives. Why? Because it is what identifies us as His.
 
“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.'” 1 Peter 1:14-16

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

Julie-Coleman-headshot-295x300

About the authorJulie Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or walking her neurotic dog. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.

Does the Bible depict women as second-class citizens of the Kingdom? Jesus didn’t think so. Unexpected Love takes a look at the encounters that Jesus had with women in the gospels. You will fall in love with the dynamic, beautiful, and unexpectedly personal Jesus.

Join the conversation: What does taking up your cross on a daily basis look like in your life?