Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Gift of Words

12 Days of Christmas: Day Twelve

"The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life."  John 6:63

When God created the world, He spoke everything into existence. God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. He spoke us into being. The words of God hold power. There are various places in the Old Testament where God speaks directly to people, and His words are recorded for us to read. In the New Testament, we have the words of Jesus. One of the names given to Jesus is Emmanuel, meaning "God with us", and He still is. Through His Spirit and His words.

I've been reading the words of Jesus on a daily basis for a long time, and they still speak to me in new and fresh ways. Some of the thoughts I've shared during these 12 Days of Christmas are ones revealed to me years ago, and others came fresh as I was writing. How often do you read the words of Jesus? Have you ever made a point of doing so, or do you only "listen" occasionally when they happen to come up?

Perhaps while following my blog this month, you have been encouraged and challenged by my insights into the words of Christ. Perhaps Jesus came out of the manger a bit. Jesus said, "The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life."  On the printed page, His words speak the truth to our souls. Truth that brings life. It changes us. But only when we read and "hear" them, as if Jesus is speaking them directly to our hearts to teach and inspire us to a better way of life.

I pray as the New Year comes, you will make reading the words of Jesus a daily habit in 2014. "Keep Christ in Christmas" is a popular holiday slogan. I hope you have done that, and I hope you keep Christ in your year. Start with the words Jesus speaks in John 1:38. What is your answer to His question? Make it personal. Make it real. Make it life-changing. That's what His words are meant to do.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Intangible Gifts

12 Days of Christmas: Day Eleven

"If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples."  John 15:7-8

They say one of the best gifts you can give someone is the gift of prayer, and I believe that's true. Prayer is an intangible gift with tangible results. Prayer can change people's lives. I've seen prayer bring healing and restoration and amazing blessings. God listens to His people, and He responds. He is a personal God who is interested in the details of our lives.

But sometimes the solutions to our problems are not simple ones. Sometimes the change we want to see happen takes time. More is going on than we can see, and we may not know what to pray for. We don't have to know all the details to pray for someone, so don't let that stop you. Just pray and see how God answers. He always does what is best--even if we ask for a different outcome. We can trust Him on that, if we are willing to wait and don't lose hope.

Jesus speaks some interesting words about prayer in John 15. He is talking about the intimate nature of our relationship with God that calls us to a steadfast faith. A day-in and day-out faith where we 'remain'. Other words related to 'remain' are stay, abide, dwell, and live.  I like to write some of the phrases this way: "Live in Me, and I will live in you...this way you will bear much fruit. If you abide in Me and My words live in you, you will ask whatever you wish and it will be given you. This is to My Father's glory...Stay in My love. If you obey My commands you dwell in My love...I have told you this so My joy may be in you and your joy will be complete." (John 15:4-5, 7-11)

An intimate relationship with Jesus based on who He is, the words He speaks, and who He has made me to be changes my prayer-life. It makes me ask for different things: for others and myself. My prayers are more in-line with what God wants, and it causes me to truly see His Heart. I often ask God to change others, but then I remember I need to change first: my perspective, my behavior, my faith.

I cannot be a gift to the world otherwise; and that's how God works. Not just separately, but with all of our mess thrown together in the Refiner's Fire to rid us of impurities and produce lives of love, joy, peace; ongoing hope, generosity, virtue, faith, loyalty, humility, gentleness--controlled emotions, desires, and actions.

Those are the qualities I wish for myself, and I know My Father is happy to give them. They are intangible gifts with tangible results. And Jesus reminds me to ask, with the promise I will receive.

"'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.'" (Matt. 6:9-10)

Friday, December 27, 2013

A Gift For The World

12 Days of Christmas: Day Ten

"Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you."  John 20:21

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, God gave a gift to the world. We sing songs like Joy To The World, Silent Night, and O Come All Ye Faithful to celebrate and remember the Christ-child and the mercy He brought to humankind. He provided a way for peace; for reconciliation with God. He offered forgiveness and proclaimed God's love.

Jesus came to offer Himself as a sacrifice for our sins. He died and was raised to life, proving He had authority over sin and death; that is not our doom. There is hope. Through Him we overcome a destructive fate.

But that's not all Jesus did. He didn't just come to die. He came to teach. He came to live a different way that wasn't entrenched in religious piety, pride, and self-righteousness. If anyone had a right to live that way, Jesus did. But He didn't. He gave up His right to judge and condemn. Instead, He chose to love and forgive and give humankind the ability to do the same for one another.

After Jesus rose from the dead, He appeared to His disciples and said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you...Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven." (John 20:21-23)

Just as He came to demonstrate the Father's love, Jesus sent His followers to do the same: to forgive sins and live a different way--this way of grace and humility and being a gift to humankind; He did not send them to do what He did not do. He sent them to love, forgive, and offer peace.

He does the same with His followers today. We have His words of life to live by, and He gives us the power to live differently and be a gift to the world. Are you living as God's gift to the world? To your family? To your friends? To your community? To those with different values and beliefs? To those who worship or serve differently than you? Are you gracious, compassionate, humble, gentle? Are you at peace? Are you living like Jesus did? Do you talk like Him and act like Him? Do you know Him well enough to know what that looks like?

We like to keep Jesus in the manger, but He didn't stay in the manger. He came to be human, and He led an extraordinary life. You can do the same. You too can be a gift for the world.

"You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit--fruit that will last...The Father will give you whatever you ask for in my name. This is my command: Love each other."  John 15:16-17

Monday, December 23, 2013

Unique Gifts

12 Days of Christmas: Day Nine

"She has done a beautiful thing to me."  Mark 14:6

Are you a unique-gift giver? Do you know someone who always gives unique, one-of-a-kind gifts? Have you ever received a gift you never imagined receiving? You may be smiling as you think of specific people and their gifts, or you may be rolling your eyes. Sometimes unique gifts are appreciated, and sometimes they're not, and sometimes they're just silly. Once at a white-elephant gift exchange, I ended up with a book titled, "How To Look For A New Pastor". Quite funny since I'm married to one. On a better note, two unique gifts I have received are this quilt my mother made out of leftover fabric from my wedding and this sweater my husband crocheted for me. (How many wives can say that?)

A few days ago I talked about a woman who gave Jesus a unique gift at a dinner-party. She anointed His feet with perfume and her tears. The host was disgusted with her act of worship, but Jesus appreciated it. He understood what she was doing and why she was doing it.

A similar story is told in the other three gospel accounts. This may have been the same woman at the same dinner, but told from a different point of view where we get more details; or it may have been a different woman, or the same woman, at a different time. We don't know for sure, but I'd like to focus on what Jesus has to say once again, and His reaction is similar in terms of accepting the woman's gift.

This time His words are directed toward His disciples. They criticize her for being wasteful of expensive perfume that could have better uses, but Jesus is focused on her thoughtfulness. We pick up the story as it is told in Mark 14:4-8:

Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, "Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year's wages and the money given to the poor." And they rebuked her harshly.

"Leave her alone," said Jesus. "Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me...She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare me for my burial."

Unique gifts are beautiful gifts. They may not be practical or useful or requested. They may be expensive or cost very little. They are not so much about the gift itself as the thought behind it. The heart of the giver and the heart of the receiver. They're personal.

I believe this can be especially true for the gifts we give to God and He gives to us. There are common gifts we give, such as money, time, and faith. And there are common gifts we all can receive--everyday needs, love, peace, and hope.

But when we give a unique gift to God, something others may not understand (if they even know), it's about the personal connection we can have with Jesus. Something we know He wants and will use in a special way. And when we receive unique gifts from Jesus, He is making a personal connection with us.

It may be a "spiritual gift" where God gives me the ability and desire to reveal Him to others in a way only I can do, or a specific opportunity He brings my way, and I give to Him and to others as I use my gifts; or it may be Jesus meeting a particular need for me no one else knows about, or could ever give, or comes at just the right time.

My prayer is for you to give and receive unique gifts this Christmas and in the coming year: to others and from others; to Jesus and from Jesus. You might want to make a habit of recording the unique gifts you give and receive. If you were to request a unique gift, what would it be? What unique gifts can you give?

Some things may come to mind immediately, or maybe you don't have a clue today. But when they come, you will know. Give freely and receive freely. It's a beautiful thing.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Give Me Faith

12 Days of Christmas: Day Eight

"No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life--whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn't life more than food, and your body more than clothing?...Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?...Why do you have so little faith?"  Matthew 6:24-25, 27, 30

Nestled between His teaching on loving, giving, prayer, and receiving, Jesus talks about faith. Faith is basically the transition point between knowing what is good and doing what is good; Or knowing what God has promised and believing what He has promised. The writer of Hebrews said, It is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Heb. 11:6)

God gives perfect gifts to help us when we encounter the imperfect. One of these gifts is faith. The word 'faithfulness' is used in many translations of Galatians 5:22 where Paul talks about the Fruit of the Spirit. In the English language, 'faithfulness' generally refers to loyalty. But the Greek word for 'faithfulness' and 'faith' is the same.  As the King James Version says, 'The Fruit of the Spirit is...faith.'  I like that because it means God helps me to have faith at any given moment in any situation, not just an ongoing commitment to Him, what I believe, or to others I am in relationship with.  Faith is not something I manufacture on my own any more than love or patience or goodness; All of these qualities are born in me through the Spirit. He alone can make me 'full of faith'. (A less thought-of definition of the word 'faithfulness'.)

How often are the choices we make regarding loving others and giving to others related to money? How often are our desperate prayers related to our finances? How often do we judge the quality of our life by the amount of things we have accumulated or how much "cushion" we have in our bank accounts? How often do we allow worry over money to control us instead of living in the Spirit and exercising faith? And how often do we wish we had more faith but we simply don't?

When we have faith, this is pleasing to God because He wants what is best for us. He knows we will be blessed by our faith--less worry, less stress, less striving. Faith is a gift from our loving Father, but we must receive it. We must trust Him, and He gives us opportunities to do that: when our bank accounts are low, when our spirits are poor, and when we are aware of the needs of others. What we see as problems, God sees as an opportunity to give us more faith.

"Why do you have so little faith?"  I wonder what answer Jesus was looking for? Why did they have so little faith? They were God's chosen people. Didn't they know the ancient stories of God rescuing their ancestors from slavery in Egypt and leading them to the Promised Land? Didn't they know the stories of those who had great faith, like Daniel who emerged from the lion's den unharmed? Didn't they know God had promised to send them a Messiah, and here He was speaking to them?

They knew, but did they believe? Why not? Had they experienced God's faithfulness for themselves? Ah, maybe that was it: they hadn't, or they had but didn't see it as God's provision because they were so busy trying to care for themselves.

When we have the mentality we must provide for ourselves materially, we will also have the mentality we must provide for ourselves spiritually. And if I try to have faith on my own, I miss the point of faith. Faith is about depending on God. So I need to depend on Him for it.

Perhaps this Christmas you need to make a spiritual wish-list. What do you need Jesus to give you? More belief in His love? More love for others? More faith? This one is going on my list: Give me faith, Jesus. And help me to receive it.

"If you know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him." (Matt. 7:11)

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188.  All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Perfect Gifts

12 Days of Christmas: Day Seven

"But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you...In that way you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that?...If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else?...But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect."  (Luke 6:27-28; Matthew 5:45-48 NLT)

Have you ever been out shopping, for Christmas gifts or otherwise, and come across something you weren't looking for but knew of someone it fit so perfectly you couldn't let the opportunity pass by to get it for them? You said, "That would be perfect for ______. I have to get it!" Maybe you saved it for Christmas or their birthday, or maybe you gave it to them right away because you simply couldn't wait.

Someone once gave me a red coffee mug with the word Love on one side and a Bible verse about love on the back, along with a small wood plaque with the words: Jesus Loves Me. I think it had something to do with me teaching that vital truth to children and the adult leaders who were listening too. I do talk and write about God's love a lot, because believing that simple truth affects every other area of my faith-journey. If I leave it out, nothing makes sense.

God is love and He wants us to be people of love. He empowers us to love others even when it's hard--and sometimes it's REALLY hard! But still, if we are willing to accept it, He wants us to love them, and not only for the sake of those who obviously need a lot of love, but also for us. He doesn't expect perfection from us. We are not capable of that. But He does want perfection for us.

He knows what hate, anger, and bitterness do to my heart, and He doesn't want me to be stuck in that emotional bondage because others have hurt me. He wants me to find healing, so He empowers me to love and forgive and move on. There is a reward for those who love instead of hate. There is a reward for patience. There is peace and joy for those who don't allow negative emotions to control them.

God gives perfect gifts to help us in our imperfect lives and relationships. When I fall short of perfection and hurt others, He offers me grace. And when others fall short and cause me pain, inconvenience, fear, or frustration--He offers me grace to bear with them in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Gal. 5:22-23)

When Jesus spoke these words about loving those who are difficult to love, He wasn't saying, 'You should live this way.' He was saying, 'You can live this way because this is how your Father is and you are His child.' He graciously gifts us with the ability to be more, love more, and therefore--find peace.

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."  (Luke 2:13-14)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Receive More: Give More

12 Days of Christmas: Day Six

"I tell you her sins--and they are many--have been forgiven, so she has shown much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love." (Luke 7:47 NLT)

On day two, I talked about giving as our Father gives. Having His Heart involves receiving from His Heart. This is not something we can do simply in our humanness. We need His Spirit to transform us from the inside out. What we believe about God and receive from God determines how much like Him we can become.

Once when Jesus was at a dinner-party held in His honor, He told a story to the host who had invited Him. It involved two people who owed a man a lot of money, but one owed much more than the other. When neither of them could repay, the lender decided to cancel both debts. Jesus asked the host this question: "Now which of them will love him more?"

He told this story because a woman heard He was there and came to anoint His feet with perfume and her tears. The host was disgusted with her behavior because she was a sinful woman, and he didn't understand why Jesus allowed it. After telling the story, Jesus pointed out to the host the ways the woman was honoring Him, and the ways he was not. I don't imagine he invited Jesus to stay for dessert.

The man who invited Jesus to dinner was a member of a sect of Jews called the Pharisees. In general, the Pharisees didn't accept Jesus as the Messiah. He was too humble, ordinary, and didn't associate with the right people. Jesus got after them a lot regarding their self-righteous behavior and how they were oppressing the poor, sinful, and anyone not like them. They needed forgiveness as much as anyone, perhaps even more so, but they didn't recognize their sinful ways: their pride, religious piety, hypocrisy, anger, and greediness. They wanted to please God, but they weren't looking to love Him or receive His love. That wasn't a part of their thought process, at least not that I can see.

I'd like to say I've never fallen into this same trap, but I can't. And in a way, I'm glad. I know what it feels like to take love out of the equation in my relationship with God. And I never want to go back there. It's a dark, lonely place of confusion and pain. I am thankful God rescued me from that. He has taught me to rest in His grace every day. No matter how I fall short--through blatant disobedience, misguided choices, disappointing others, or not being all I think I should be: His grace is enough. He loves me.

Believing that makes me more loving, more forgiving, more giving, less fearful, less stressed, and less burdened. I am living loved, and I hope you are too.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Secret Gifts

12 Days of Christmas: Day Five

My siblings and I have a tradition of exchanging Secret Santa gifts every year. Between the five of us and the three "outlaws" we allow to participate, it's nearly impossible to figure out who-has-whom until Christmas Day when the secret is revealed and the gifts are opened. I say nearly impossible because my sister Cindy has been known to figure it out--and probably more times than she admits!

It's a fun tradition, and we take our gift-giving seriously. These aren't gag-gifts we try to outwit each other with every year. We give nice things that have been requested, or our best guess of what that person needs or would like. It's one of the highlights of Christmas for me, and no, I'm not telling whose name I have this year!

What is it about good secrets that are so fun and joyful? Secrets can be a bad thing that cause a lot of devastation and pain--but good secrets are the complete opposite. The subject of secrets can be found in the Bible more often than you may think. There are bad secrets like when David had an affair with Bathsheba and then sent her husband to the front lines of battle to be killed. He didn't get away with it and later penned these words of repentance: You desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place. (Psalm 51:6) The word for 'inmost place' can also be translated as 'secret'.

Jesus talked about good secrets. Secrets of The Kingdom. His Parables contain secret messages about God's character and ways, among other things, and take serious thought to figure out. And He talked about having a secret-life with God in the areas of prayer, giving, and worship. Prayer is meant to be personal--confession, sharing your deepest needs, listening to what God has to say specifically to your heart.

Giving is also meant to be a secret activity. Not something to do for show or to impress others or gain praise. It's an act of trust between you and God. Giving to others with the belief He will provide for your needs. And acts of personal worship such as fasting will be much more valuable when you keep it to yourself. Personal moments between you and God: There is no public reward that could be more valuable.

Personally I have found these secret moments are more about what God gives to me than I give to Him. At Christmas we talk about giving to Jesus--it's His birthday after all. But what Jesus wants is for us to receive what He has for us because we are needy people. We are in need of His grace. That's why He came: To save us. In Luke 9:23 He says, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me." These words are often interpreted as, 'Put aside your own needs. Stop thinking about yourself. Carry the cross you are meant to bear and live your life for Me.' But that is not the heart of Jesus.

When He says, 'Deny yourself,' He means, 'Stop trying to be self-sufficient. You can't do life on your own, so stop trying. You can't save yourself so 'lift up' that heavy cross you bear and let Me carry it for you. Just follow Me--you don't have to figure out your own way. I'll show you.'

This Christmas, share secrets with Jesus. Confess to Him what you need to confess and receive His forgiveness. Share your burdens, needs, and desires with Him, and then listen to the secrets He has for you. Engage with Him on secret missions to impact others for good. Worship Him in ways others may not see, recognize, or understand but He gets perfectly.  Hear Him say, 'I know where your heart is. I know what you need more than you do. I know the secrets to a life of blessing, purpose, and joy. Just come to Me and I'll get you there.'

"Come to me, all you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest...learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." (Matthew 11:28-29)

Friday, December 13, 2013

A Gift For You

12 Days of Christmas: Day Four

"If you only knew the gift God has for you, and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water...those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again."  (John 4:10, 14)

Satisfaction. It's something we all long for. And we seek it in many ways. We strive for success. We want to accomplish things. We set goals, and we dream big dreams. We also long for rest, and we think it's coming--once we get that degree, job, or promotion. Once we have the money to buy_____. Once we have a chance to take a vacation.

We long for relationships that will satisfy our hearts. We socialize and look to others to meet our emotional needs for acceptance, belonging, and companionship.

We seek God's approval. We try to be good people. We sacrifice and serve and do more and do better. We want to help and nurture others. We give our time and our money and our talents.

But what happens when we don't find what we're seeking, or we do, but we don't experience the desired results? When unforeseen pitfalls arise. When we make mistakes that set us back. When we get hurt. When others push us away. When we rise to new heights only to discover it doesn't bring the happiness we were hoping for. Disappointment? Discouragement? Despair? (Am I speaking to anybody here?)

Jesus spoke these words about satisfaction to a woman who was longing for it. We know this by her response when she received that living water and had to go into town to tell everyone about it. I'm impressed with her courage and that people actually listened to her--but that's for another blog.

Why was she at this well at an unbusy time of day? Perhaps it was the best time for her to avoid the watchful stares and whispers of others, or maybe she needed a temporary escape from her unsatisfying, disappointing life.

"Please, sir, give me this water! Then I'll never be thirsty again." (She is still thinking in terms of natural thirst here, but Jesus is about to change that.)

"Go and get your husband," Jesus told her.

"I don't have a husband."

Jesus replied. "You're right! You don't have a husband--for you have had five husbands, and you aren't married to the man you're living with now."  (John 4:15-18)

In offering her "living water", Jesus addresses her emptiness. Her lack of fulfillment. Her desire to please that had been rejected. Her broken dreams. Your circumstances may be totally different than hers, but can you relate anyway? How would you fill in the blank, "I don't have______."?

"If you only knew the gift God has for you, and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water..."

I don't know what your empty places are, but you do, and so does Jesus. And empty places aren't empty. They are filled with sadness, pain, anger, guilt, fear, frustration, or loneliness.  Jesus wants to meet you at your well of brokenness and fill it with something else: His love, His forgiveness, His presence, and His peace. That's His gift to you today.

"Everyone who asks, receives."  (Matthew 7:8)

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188.  All rights reserved.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Extraordinary Gifts

12 Days of Christmas; Day Three

Have you ever received a gift for Christmas you will never forget? Something so extraordinary that no other gift could ever compare? I have received a lot of wonderful gifts over the years, and many I still have or enjoyed so much I could never forget receiving them. But one does stand out above the rest. And it was a surprise, even better!

Kevin and I dated for six weeks before he told me he wanted to marry me. After talking to my parents two weeks later, he officially proposed, and I was happy to say, 'Yes!' He couldn't afford a ring because we were working a volunteer job that summer, but he said he would get one for me eventually, and I believed him. I was content to wait. He surprised me with it on Christmas Eve, and I have that moment forever painted in my memory. Ah, romance. I think I've written a few books on that :)

But even more than the engagement ring my love gave to me, I see him as an extraordinary gift from my heavenly Father. A precious, priceless gift. I feel the same about my children and the life of ministry He has given us as a family. I am so grateful. I am beside myself with gratitude. I have been extraordinarily blessed.

I read a story this morning about a woman who was blessed by Jesus in an extraordinary way. Her only son had died, and she was a widow. Jesus "just happens" to be passing through her village on the day of his funeral, and He sees the procession taking her son to his grave. She is weeping. When the Lord saw her, his heart overflowed with compassion. "Don't cry!' he said. (Luke 7:13) Jesus proceeds to walk over to the coffin, touches it, and her son is restored to life.

This is certainly an extraordinary story, like many others Jesus was involved in.  We don't know much beyond the short and simple narrative given in these few verses in Luke. We don't know who this woman was or how her life was changed by this event. We do know the people who saw it were amazed and knew God had 'visited' them. The news about Jesus spread throughout the region.

Personally, however, I believe Jesus did it mostly for this woman. The love He had for her surfaced, and He was merciful. He gave her what she needed. He didn't want her to be sad. He wanted her to be happy, and He wanted her to know God saw her. He knew about her pain and despair, and He brought hope to a hopeless situation.

In reading this story I was reminded of another woman I read about last week. It was a story I had heard before. Elijah, an Old Testament prophet, went to stay with a widow who fed him on her last bread rations, and then her supply of flour and oil never ran out. Later her son also died, Elijah pleaded for his life, and God raised him from the dead. But I noticed something I hadn't before. After Elijah shows the woman her son is alive, she says, "Now I know for sure that you are a man of God, and that the LORD truly speaks through you." (1 Kings 17:24)

Okay, back up. She didn't already believe that? God told her He was sending one of His prophets her way, Elijah shows up, and she suddenly has an unlimited supply of food? That wasn't enough for her to be convinced? She needed more?

I'm afraid we're often the same way. God shows us His presence, compassion, and abundant love daily, but still we doubt. What extraordinary gifts are under your Christmas life-tree? They are already unwrapped, opened, and plainly seen. They're a daily reminder of God's faithfulness and love. Extraordinary gifts you did nothing to earn or can explain. But there they are. Are you convinced yet?

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188.  All rights reserved

Monday, December 9, 2013

Giving As Our Father Gives

12 Days of Christmas: Day Two

"Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven. Give and you will receive. Your gift will return to you--pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine what you get back."  (Luke 6:37-38)

God gives good gifts. He gives because He loves us. When we ask God for things, we believe He is merciful. We believe He will give because of who He is--our generous, loving Father who wants to shower us with blessings.

God wants us to be like Him. He wants us to give as He gives. That's one of the reasons Jesus came. He came to establish God's Kingdom among us--within us through the indwelling of His Spirit. He gives us the Spirit to empower us to be more than we can be on our own. He gives us many things, but ultimately He gives us Himself. He gives us His Heart.

The question is, are we living like it? Are we living as those who have been empowered to live beyond ourselves? Are we living as these verses in Luke describe? Are we judging and condemning others? Are we forgiving? Are we giving generously? These commands may seem impossible to keep, but they're not. Jesus told us to live this way, not as a suggestion or an impossible demand, but as a way of life vital to our being. We will never live fully in His abundance if we don't.

One reason we don't live this way is because we see others as a threat to our survival. We feel the need to protect ourselves and provide for ourselves. We forget every blessing we have comes from God. We forget He will always give us what we need. We don't trust Him to care for us, so we attempt to care for ourselves. We protect our hearts and our beliefs and our time and our bank accounts. But God can do all of that so much better. When we listen and believe and trust: He takes care of the rest. "Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need." (Matt. 6:33)

"Give and you will receive. Your gift will return to you."  His promise: We can give without fear. Our love, our time, a kind word, an act of acceptance or forgiveness, our talents, our worldly goods--none of it will be given in vain. God will always take care of us and give us what we need. We can trust Him on that.

From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another.  (John 1:16)

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188.  All rights reserved

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Good Gifts

12 Days of Christmas: Day One

"Keep on asking, and you will receive...Keep on seeking and you will find. Keep on knocking and the door will be opened to you...If your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him."  (Matthew 7:7, 9-11)

Good gifts. We all like giving them and receiving them. Are you an early shopper who has everyone on your list checked off by Thanksgiving? Or are you a Black Friday Weekend kind of person? Or are you like me, someone who waits until December rolls around, perhaps even putting it off until Christmas Eve when it takes an hour just to get out of the parking lot at closing time? (Obviously I'm not the only one!)

Did you know God also enjoys giving good gifts? In Matthew 7 Jesus says, "Keep on asking, and you will receive...Keep on seeking and you will find. Keep on knocking and the door will be opened to you..." I wonder what He wants us to ask for? What have you asked for lately?  Is it something good? Do you believe He gives good gifts to those who ask?

In Psalm 147 someone penned these words, 'The LORD's delight is in those who fear him, those who put their hope in his unfailing love.' The word used for hope here means to wait with patience; to trust. It's not about hoping God's love is unfailing without any guarantee. It's about believing it and expecting it. Why does God give good gifts to those who ask? Because He loves us. Counting on His love is synonymous with fearing Him. In everything He does, He wants to leave us in awesome wonder of His love.

The question is, are we looking for that? Are we expecting it? Are we asking for the good things we truly need? Are we asking, seeking, and knocking? And most importantly, are we receiving?

I hear a lot of complaining, worrying, discontentment, and disgruntled comments these days from those who call themselves followers of Christ. It grieves my heart. Either God is not living up to His promises of provision, protection, and utmost care of His children, or His children are not truly looking to Him for that.

Consider the words coming out of your mouth today, your social media posts, your thoughts and attitudes toward the world and the people around you. What's behind your complaining, worry, discontentment, and disgruntled attitude? Is God letting you down? Have you asked Him for things you're not receiving? Or are you looking to others to meet your needs?

Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father.  (James 1:17)

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188.  All rights reserved

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Knowing Your God

Don't act thoughtlessly, but try to understand what the Lord wants you to do.  Ephesians 5:17 (NLT)

Have you ever asked yourself the question, "What is God's will for my life?" Have you figured it out yet, or are you still wondering? Perhaps you have thought in terms of specific things you are meant to do, such as having a particular career, a calling in ministry, or impacting those around you. Or perhaps you think in more philosophical terms: 'God's will for me is to glorify Him, serve Him, and love Him; God's will for me is to live a good, productive life and make the most of the blessings He gives.'

When I read the above words in Ephesians 5:17, I initially interpreted Paul's words to say, 'Don't live thoughtlessly, but know God's will for your life. Anything else is a waste of time, so figure it out!' I felt burdened by the words because most of the time I feel clueless. I often do what I feel God leads me to do, but I often don't see the results I'm hoping for, and it makes me wonder, 'Am I hearing Him right, or am I off in left field somewhere?' I often pray, "God, show me what you want me to do, tell me, lead me, and I'll do it. Teach me your will, and I'll live by it." But just when I think He has me on a certain path, a roadblock or detour comes along and I think, 'Where did I go wrong? Now I'm really lost!'

But I read Paul's words again, and Jesus made me think of them in another way. And after doing a little research on the word understand, I knew I was hearing it correctly this time. It's not only about knowing what God wants me to do, but knowing why He wants me to do it. What is His motive? Why does He command me to do certain things and not do others? Why does He lead me on certain paths and gift me in specific ways? What is He trying to teach me or show me? How is He trying to guide me or protect me? What is His heart behind the instructions, commands, and tasks He gives?

I believe God's will for my life is to know Him. But knowing Him is a process. It takes time and experience. In difficult times I can see how mighty He is and who He can empower me to be. In joyful times I can see His goodness. In obeying His commands I see His protection and truth. In taking the path He lays before me I see His faithfulness and who He has made me to be. In trusting Him I find Him trustworthy. In seeking Him I find Him accessible. In following Him I find Him worth following. In knowing Him I find His love. It's often not about what He wants me to do, but what He wants to do for me.

Whatever you currently feel God leading you to do, that is His will for you today. Whether it's to obey a particular command, do a specific task, make a certain decision, or to simply listen and wait for His instructions. But ask yourself this question before you obey: 'Why does He want me to do that?' Don't act thoughtlessly, but understand what he wants you to do.

If you don't know why, ask Him. Listen, study His Word for the answer, or ask someone who has been through something similar what they learned through the process of obedience, trust, or waiting. Or perhaps you just need to do it and see what happens. How are you blessed? How are others impacted? What does God teach you about Himself? God doesn't want us to be in the dark about where He is leading us and why. He is light. He is truth. "Everything hidden will be brought into the light," Jesus said.  Allow Him to enlighten you today.

I pray for you constantly, asking God to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so you can understand the wonderful future he has promised to those he called. Ephesians 1:16-18 (NLT)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Solid Ground of Faith

Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith. (Hebrews 10:22)

Somewhere between worry and the land of promised peace lies a great chasm of fear and unbelief. We want to cross to the other side, but the distance between where we are and where God calls us to be seems too great. It's impossible to lay aside our thoughts of doom for ourselves or others, so we spend our days trying to control our circumstances and our nights worrying about what we will face tomorrow. It's an endless cycle of stress, busyness, and frustration when things don't go according to our carefully laid plans.

The gap between worry and peace need not be a leap of faith, however, nor like walking a tightrope where we close our eyes and hope for the best, trembling with fear in every step.  We don't even need wings to fly, where a strong headwind might blow us back or circling air currents carry us into a tailspin of despair and hopelessness.

What we simply need is the truth of God's words to enter our mind and settle our hearts. We need to be reminded of His promise to be with us and bring mercy. "I will be with you...I will not fail you or abandon you...Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you." (Joshua 1) "Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest...Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." (Mark 6) "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God...those who oppose you will be as nothing...for I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand...for I myself will help you." (Isaiah 41)

These are merely a few examples of promises He spoke to those who had chosen to follow Him. Search His Word for yourself and you will find more; God will speak words of promise to you, and the great chasm of fear and unbelief will disappear. You won't have to take a scary leap of faith or walk a tightrope of terror to the other side. It will simply become solid ground to walk firmly upon into His presence, into His peace, and fully immersed in His love.

"I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go...I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised." (Genesis 28:15)

What has He promised you? (Leave a comment if you wish to remind yourself of the truth and to encourage others :)

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Living In The Light

"Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body will be filled with light." 
Matthew 6:22

Matthew Six is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible.  Jesus is speaking the whole time, and He has so many great things to say.  He talks about prayer.  He talks about how to receive God's blessings.  He reminds us we don't need to worry because God will always take care of us.  He takes a complicated religious system the people were burdened by and simplifies it to one rule: 'Trust God; He is your loving Father who will never overlook your needs or your deeds.'

The majority of the chapter is straightforward.  He gives practical, take-home advice.  Anyone listening to Him speak would not have to question what He meant, but He does get in one metaphor that takes some thought to consider.  "Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body."  He makes a connection between our perspective and our actions.  The "why" behind the choices we make.  It involves more than following instructions.  It involves understanding why He gives those instructions.

He says not to do things to please people or be noticed by them.  Why?  People are difficult to impress, they don't pay much attention, and their praise is short-lived.  If that's what you're living for, you will be horribly disappointed.

He says to trust God.  Why?  Because God is trustworthy.  He always provides, always rewards, and always sees.  He sees you in your desperate hour.  He sees you in your effort to love, give, and forgive.  If you are trusting Him, He doesn't miss that, and He can't let you down.  If you are living to walk in His ways, the reward is guaranteed, not as a payment for dutiful service but as an inherent blessing.  He only asks us to do what is best for us anyway!

"Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body."  How do you view God?  How do you view His ways?  How do you view yourself?  If your perspective is correct, you will be filled with light.  If your perspective is false, you will live in darkness.  Your actions reflect what you believe.

I don't need to tell you what you struggle with.  You know.  But do you know why you struggle?  What is it that keeps you from doing what you know is best?  What are you not believing about God?  What are you not believing about yourself and who He has made you to be?  Step out of the darkness and into the light.  Out of the lies and into the truth: God is love; His ways are best; And you are His treasured possession...valuable, worth dying for, and worth raising to new life.

You are holy and blameless as you stand before him. 
Colossians 1:22

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188.  All rights reserved.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Mighty In Battle

"Come to me...and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28

As a writer I am familiar with, and use often, various forms of poetic language.  Hyperbole, metaphors, similes; these are like colors to me on a painter's palette.  The writers of the Bible use them shamelessly.  And so does God.  Not only in the spoken word, but in the way He has designed us to know Him and live life to the full.

Of the ways God expresses Himself and functions, I think my favorite is His use of oxymorons. (Too bad it doesn't have a better name :)  An oxymoron is when words or actions are used in conjunction but do not seem to go together. It comes from the words oxus, meaning ‘sharp’ and mōros, meaning  ‘foolish.’  And that's what it literally means: Sharp foolishness.  Something so stunningly opposite it makes you say, 'Wait a minute; How can that be?'

God brought some things together for me this week that fall into this category.  I've been reading about God's people after their time of exile in Babylon.  They returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple, and God made some grand statements about His plans for them.  He promised restoration and strength.  He told the prophets, "They will be like mighty warriors in battle, trampling their enemies in the mud under their feet.  Since the LORD is with them as they fight, they will overthrow even the horsemen of the enemy." (Zech. 10:5 NLT)

God is referring to the Messiah coming "to look after his flock" and "make them mighty in battle".  And when Jesus came, many were looking for Him to overthrow the Roman government.  However, He didn't do that.  He came preaching a message of love and peace, not one of political revolution.  This begs the question, "What was God talking about?"

When Jesus went around Israel teaching and preaching, He didn't talk about winning battles against the "powers that be" or evil nations.  He didn't talk about winning battles against enemies or troublesome neighbors or people with different views; He talked about winning battles of the heart.  To choose love instead of hate, peace instead of strife, true worship instead religious piety, generosity instead of greed, trust in God instead of worry, rest instead of weariness.

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."  He was ready to extend mercy, compassion, healing, forgiveness, and redemption.  He was looking for fellowship..."Love the Lord your God...Remain in My love."  He wasn't looking to lead anyone into battle against the government or religious leaders or whoever had wronged them.  He was leading them into a new way of life; abundant love and joy, perpetual peace and blessings.  He was leading them to overcome their greatest enemies: their inner demons of fear, hopelessness, pride, and unbelief.

Rest comes through surrender and trust.  It comes through a belief in His love; It comes through obedience; It comes with humility; It comes by hanging back.  Hanging out with Jesus.  Resting in His Presence. Abiding in His love.

Mighty warriors at rest?  Love trampling enemies?  Surrender overthrowing kingdoms?  

Sharp foolishness; But it's true.

Are you at rest?  It's possible to be busy and still at rest.  It's possible to be lazy and not at rest.  Jesus isn't talking about our activity-level, our schedule, or our calendar; He's talking about the heart.  Are you at peace?  Are you weary and burdened, or alive and free?  Is your heart filled with love and forgiveness, or anger and pride?  Is your life cluttered with a lot of meaningless, unsatisfying struggle, or rich with restful fullness?  Are you living the kind of life Jesus taught His disciples to live and enjoying it? 

The invitation is simple.  The promise of rest is real.  The choice is yours.  You can win the battles that plague you: "...not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the LORD Almighty." (Zechariah 4:6 NLT)

Let go...and let God.