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Focal Passage- James 4:13-17

James 4:14b-15 “What is your life?  For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’”

George Bernard Shaw observed, “The statistics on death are quite impressive.  One out of one people die.”  Life on this earth is temporary, and we aren’t promised even the next breath of air.  An attitude that does not acquiesce to God’s complete sovereignty over all things, including our breathing, is one born of ignorance and pride.  It’s important that we keep in mind in all that we do that it is God who orchestrates and allows it.  It is He who is in charge, not us, and we demonstrate our knowledge of this fact in our hearts and in our attitudes about yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  Keeping our minds set on “if the Lord wills” is displaying an attitude that submits to His authority over all things in our lives.

Study/Meditation:  How are you comforted by these verses in James’ letter?  How might you better display this submissive attitude to God?

*Father, I acknowledge Your sovereignty and authority over my life and over all things.  Forgive me when I attempt to go about my life as if this wasn’t true and help me to keep it ever-present in my heart.  Amen.

(To hear this message in its entirety, go to http://www.buzzsprout.com/17391/138166-windows-of-the-heart-the-year-i-boycotted-christmas)

Christmas has always been my favorite time of year. I have some absolutely wonderful memories of growing up and spending Christmas with my parents and my siblings. Mom and Dad always went all out, putting up so many Christmas decorations that it took days to complete. She would cook and bake and shop, and then all of us would make cookies together.

We had a lot of traditions, but the best one we had was on Christmas morning. Daddy always got up first, going downstairs to get his coffee and turning on the tree lights. Mom would follow close behind, cautioning us all the while to stay upstairs until everything was ready. We had one of those huge 8mm cameras with the light that singed the hair off your eyebrows when it was filming, so we’d always be temporarily blinded upon first entering the living room. It was so grand!

And then there it would be! A huge Christmas tree, Bing Crosby singing “Blue Christmas” in the background, and so many beautifully wrapped presents. We’d start with the stockings, then we’d exchange gifts from each other, then we’d unwrap all of the “Santa” gifts.

All of these memories are warm and wonderful. Then once I had children of my own, I tried to foster the same sorts of traditions. My boys and I would bake cookies, and then we’d decorate and decorate and decorate! Everyone looked forward to Christmas morning, and then we’d stay in our pajamas all day, enjoying our gifts, eating, and watching “A Christmas Story” over and over again.

Yes, Christmas has always been my favorite time of the year, but I must admit it had always been my favorite time for all the wrong reasons, even though I thought they were the right ones. As a Christian, I knew that “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.” I know the real meaning of Christmas, but even in that I had lost track of why I celebrated. I lost sight of where the meaning was, not so much in whom the meaning existed.

Jeff and I moved away from both of our families once we were married almost 29 years ago. So, having Christmas at our childhood home had become difficult. Then, a few years ago while my boys were serving in the Army and the Marines, both of them were in Afghanistan at the same time during Christmas, so neither of them were going to be home.

All of a sudden, Christmas lost all joy for me. I was empty, and I didn’t want to celebrate at all. My boys were gone, I was 2000 miles from my parents and my brother and sister and their families. What was the point?

Right there and then I decided that I wouldn’t put up any decorations, and as a matter of fact, I wanted Jeff to take me somewhere so I didn’t have to be home at all. Maybe somewhere tropical…I didn’t care, as long as it wasn’t there in my house without my boys and my traditions. However, we have two dogs, one of which is a Great Dane and the size of a small horse, so traveling with them would be too difficult. Reluctantly, I acquiesced that staying home was best.
A few days after Thanksgiving that year, a time when I was usually elbow deep in Christmas decorations and shopping, I simply couldn’t get a certain passage of Scripture out of my mind. You see, I didn’t think I was being belligerent or unreasonable. Actually, I felt I was being very reasonable. God was about to remind me that I was certainly not.

The passage that kept coming to mind was from 1 Peter 1:3-5,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Finally I sat down one day and really began to look at these verses, trying to understand why God kept bringing me back to them. Eventually, I saw Christmas in them, and I was so ashamed of where I had relegated this blessed time of year.

These verses in 1 Peter really do have the real meaning of Christmas contained within them, and even though we might think we have our eyes on the prize, so to speak, any of us can very quickly lose sight of the gift we celebrate even as we understand the Savior who gave us this gift.

I mean, think about the disciples. Even they lost sight of the prize, and the Prize was standing right in front of them!

In Luke 10 the apostle describes when Jesus sent out the 72 disciples to go out and preach the Good News. However, once they returned, they exclaimed in verse 17,

Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!

Jesus quickly re-focused them by saying in verses 18-20,

I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.

The birth of Jesus Christ facilitated for us the most amazing gift we will ever be given, and that is eternity! That was the first point of my “re-focusing”: It’s not about the gifts we give and receive to commemorate His birth; it’s about the truly supernatural gift we’ve been given which was facilitated byHis birth. Our focus, my focus, should be on the gift of being born again.
In Ephesians 1:11,

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.

Not only have I been given the gift of being born again, but in that gift I have received an inheritance that is imperishable and glorious. I have been promised the inheritance of fellow heirs with Christ. Romans 8:16-17 promises,

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.

That’s an inheritance worth focusing on!

Then finally, those verses in 1 Peter reminded me of what “home” really is and how I had made it about something completely temporal instead of the eternal one promised to me in Christ Jesus.

There is a beautiful song called “Temporary Home,” by Carrie Underwood. The chorus of that songs says,

This is my temporary home, it’s not where I belong
Windows and rooms that I’m passing through
This is just a stop on the way to where I’m going
I’m not afraid because I know
This is my temporary home.

“Home” is so important to us; it’s always been so important to me. Why do you think that is? Why do we put so much emphasis on going home or being home or having a home?

It’s because home is our identity. It’s our comfort. It’s who we are and where we know we always belong.

When I became distressed and somewhat depressed at the thought of having no one home for Christmas or in the thought of not going home for Christmas, I lost sight of where my home really is. If I centered my thoughts on my real home, if I lived every day in light of where I really belong, then Christmas and any other time of year for that matter would only bring me another opportunity to celebrate that.

As believers, this world really is just our temporary home. It’s not perfect, though God has graciously given us some beautiful things while here. However, it’s not the end. It’s not even the beginning. This home is temporary.

Jesus said in John 14:2,

In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?

This earth is not my home. This is the place where I am on the way to where I am going. Why would any of us place our hopes and our dreams and our happiness on something that will pass away? This is temporary!

How could I not celebrate that Christmas, regardless of who was there or not there, knowing that Jesus Christ came in the flesh, was born of a virgin, died a horrible death and then was raised on the third day so that I would have an eternal home?! How can we focus on anything above that?

I admonish each of you, then, just as God has admonished me:

· Center your hearts on the greatest gift of all time, the gift of being born again,
· Look to the inheritance that is yours in eternity because of this gift, and
· Live each day, most especially these days, looking toward and living in the knowledge of our eternal home—heaven.

And put up your decorations, for heaven’s sake!

(Excerpt of Episode 2 of the Windows of the Heart radio program)

I still remember my wedding day. I was so excited and nervous about being the new Mrs. Jeff Waterbury. My husband is a fighter pilot, and I have always been so proud of him. But more than that, he is my protector and my love and my knight in shining armor. I remember that day thinking of how wonderful he was, how handsome he was standing at the end of the isle waiting for me! I could hardly believe it!

If you are fortunate to be marrying someone wonderful, when that long awaited day comes when you finally say “I do,” you can’t help but think of all the reasons for marrying him. You see how awesome and loving he is and you feel so lucky that he is marrying you!

I can’t imagine that if I hadn’t known Jeff and spent any time with him that I would have been nearly as excited to be his wife. It was because I knew him, because I understood how wonderful that man was who was waiting for me at the end of that isle that I anticipated being married to him.

You see, I found out that Jeff was worth the effort it took to seehim. Over the past 28 or so years, I’ve continued to work at it, looking past the layers of both mine and his imperfections and sin to see him more and more clearly.

If I can be so excited about an earthly marriage to a wonderful, but imperfect man, how much more excited should I be at my engagement to the King of kings! I am the luckiest human being who ever was and I should be appropriately excited about being His betrothed.

There are so many reasons why we don’t live in this due excitement, but the chief reason is because, as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:12,

For now we see in a mirror dimly.

We’re squinting and laboring to see our magnificent and glorious Bridegroom, but our fleshly windows are smudged and dirty from the sins and imperfections of this world. What unfortunately happens all too often is that we simply give up trying to see through it. We just give in to the foggy perceptions of this life and stop working at seeing through this mirror into the unfathomable happiness that is ours.
It’s just so hard to see!

As I’ve counseled and taught so many times over the years, seeing Jesus Christ as our Eternal Bridegroom and living in the absolute joy that knowledge brings is a learning process. Basically we have to unlearn everything we’ve ever learned about what it means to be loved, and re-learn both what true love is as well as who this King is who has chosen us as His bride.

The process is long and it is arduous here on this earth. I think Jeff won’t mind me saying that it wasn’t long after that wonderful wedding day that it wasn’t so wonderful anymore. That seemingly perfect man wasn’t so perfect after all, and neither was I. Our marriage has lasted 28+ years because we determined ourselves to keep looking at one another. We didn’t give up on knowing who the other was.

Why do we put so much effort into earthly marriages, or not, but give up so easily on the one that is eternal and perfect? So we see as in a mirror dimly now. Just because that is true doesn’t mean that we stop at the first part of that verse in 1 Corinthians. The entirety of 13:12 says,

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

It is a process and it is one we have to be committed to if we want the “part” that we know now to be increased, resulting in more joy and contentment as we wait for the “face to face” when we will “know fully.”

Okay, so it’s a process. Where should we start? Well, the most logical place is to start with who we are looking at and why He is so worthy of our effort. It is logical to ask ourselves, “Who is this King of kings? Who is Jesus Christ, the Most Excellent King?” After all, getting excited over being the bride has to come as a result of excitement over that Person who wants us! We must see how amazing and excellent is this King who has chosen us among all others to be His bride.

Jonathon Edwards once wrote about the reason why the children of God will want to grasp the excellency of Christ. He wrote:

“There is a divine and superlative glory in the excellency of Jesus Christ, an excellency that is of a vastly higher kind and more sublime nature than in other things, and a glory greatly distinguishing them from all that is earthly and temporal. He that is spiritually enlightened truly apprehends and sees it, or has a sense of it. He does not merely rationally believe that Christ is glorious, but he has a sense of the gloriousness of Him in his heart.” (“A Divine and Supernatural Light,” Jonathon Edwards, 1734)

This is our goal. We want to gain a sense of the gloriousness of our Bridegroom, our King Jesus, because a sense is really all we can attain while looking through these sin-stained windows. However, if we don’t look, we will turn away from His unimaginable love in frustration, sadly living outside of that which is already ours.

That is sad indeed.

So, who is this Jesus? What kind of a king is He who has chosen us to be His?

He is the King that Paul describes in Philippians 2:5-7. He is the King who
…though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

He is God. He was God. He will always be God.

Not only that, but this God humbled Himself in ways we simply cannot comprehend, all for the sake of His love for us and His obedience to the Father. That means that He refused to accept the riches and privileges and heavenly glories that come with His being God, all so that He could redeem us, His church. He did all of this so that our deserved debts would be paid and we could live forever with Him.

He humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on the cross, so that He might present you and me faultless and pure before the Throne of Grace. Then He may say to us, just as the Bridegroom says to His bride in the Song of Songs 4:7,

You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you.

Think of it like this: the king of the richest land in all of the earth has chosen his bride among the poorest and most unlikely of peasants in the land. He has to ransom her from slavery and the only way he can do this is to give up all that he has as king—all of the honor that goes with his station—and become one of the lowest of the low, and because he loves her so much, he is willing to do that and more.

Now please understand here that Jesus did not empty Himself of His deity in this sacrifice. He couldn’t do that or He would cease to exist. If He emptied Himself of being God, which is by His very nature who He is, then He couldn’t be. He didn’t empty Himself of His deity; He emptied Himself of His rights as that deity.

In John 17 He says He set aside His heavenly glory to come to this sin-stained planet.

In John 5 He says He set aside His independent authority and acted only as His Father commanded.

He emptied Himself. He made Himself nothing. He gave up everything, for a time, so that we could be wed to Him.

C.S. Lewis said,
“No seed ever fell so far from a tree into so dark and cold a soil as the Son of God did.” (Miracles, C.S. Lewis, 1947)

He did that for us. What kind of amazing king is that?

Is He worth our effort? Is this King worth the process and the time and the frustration we often feel to learn about Him and work at seeing Him?
At that I answer, “Yes and Amen!”

To listen to the complete radio broadcast, click the radio icon on the right or download the podcast at loveeverlastingministries.com or on iTunes.

Excerpt from Episode 1 of “Windows of the Heart” radio program from Dr. Deb Waterbury)

Have you ever really wondered at what Paul meant in 1 Corinthians 13:12 when he wrote,

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

I think what he was getting at is that we look at the world through a lens of ourselves. I see everything through the lens of myself. I interpret the world around me, the people around me, and my experiences through my own perspective, and unfortunately, that perspective is terribly flawed.

We’re all flawed, which makes this lens we see through quite dim, and it’s dim for any number of reasons. It’s dim because of our expectations, it’s dim because of our emotions, but mostly it’s dim because of our sin and our subsequent perceptions in light of that sin.

For the believer, the struggle is seeing through this cloudy, smudged up window into something so beyond our comprehension that we can find ourselves squinting and frustrated at what we think we see there. We read the Bible, we study it, and we know the words. We know that it promises that we are loved beyond compare, that we were set apart and chosen despite our imperfections, and it refers to us as the bride of Christ, the betrothed of the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

The problem is not that we don’t read those words or even believe them. The problem is that we can’t perceive them. We can’t really see what they are because we’re doomed to looking through this window dimly. While on this earth, the window of our heart struggles to see the magnitude of these promises. Yet God does not want His children to go through life miserably uninformed. He has given us His Word to direct our knowledge toward the seemingly impossible love that is ours in Christ Jesus.

So, how can we perceive this truth in a world which translates into such a smudge-up, dim window?

It occurs to me that the only way we can even begin to do so, though our mirrors will remain dim while living in these fallen bodies, is by looking intently at what the Bible tells us of the amazing love that all believers have in Christ Jesus. We may have to squint and work at making out fuzzy shapes and ideas, but we can get glimpses of the truth if we look into the only place where there is truth–God’s Word.

Jesus Christ is the Bridegroom referred to in Isaiah 54:56,

For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. For the Lord has called you like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit, like a wife of youth when she is cast off, says your God.

He is our Redeemer and our intimate Savior, and He loves us more fully and completely than we can comprehend. How sad it is when we live as if that love isn’t already ours!

It doesn’t have to be that way, at least not so much. We study and we read and we meditate on great bible writings like the Song of Solomon and Ephesians 5 because in them we get glimpses into this unfathomable love that is ours in Jesus. May we work daily at wiping away the smudges of sin and imperceptions and misconceptions on our windows to eternity and instead see a little more clearly into the love of all loves and the King of all kings: our Jesus.

To listen to the complete recording of Episode 1 of the “Windows of the Heart” radio program, click the radio icon in the upper right corner, or download the podcast on iTunes.