Thursday, December 17, 2015

My Christmas Wish For You

Do you know anyone who has a difficult time coping during the holidays? Is December a stressful or difficult time for you? Have you ever heard others say, "I can't wait until Christmas is over"? Have you ever had the thought yourself?

Perhaps you love this time of year and try to make the best of it, but the attitudes of others often bring you down; or maybe you strive for joy, but no matter how positive and festive you try to be, you end up stressed, disappointed, and have moments of hopelessness that bring shadows of fear, anger, fatigue, frustration, or despair.

I know I've had those moments, and it always feels out-of-place. Decorating the tree, shopping for gifts, enjoying a family dinner, attending a Christmas event, carrying out a tradition…all of these things should bring joy; but inevitably one or more of them brings something else, and the moment that's been planned so carefully or looked forward to is suddenly spoiled.

Holidays can be a difficult time for some because things much bigger than petty wishes haven't been fulfilled or gone exactly as planned. Tragedy, loss, illness, or loneliness can bring on much greater feelings of despair or even severe depression. But whether we're talking about small disappointments, stressful days, family issues, or life going horribly wrong—the story of Jesus coming to earth is all about hope, and rather than focusing on the difficulties, the pain, or the stress that Christmas may bring, our eyes must turn to the One who can help us rise above anything that is clouding our joy.

If you take a good look at the birth of Jesus as recorded in the Bible, and the events leading up to it, you see it was not all warm and fuzzy with holiday lights and traditions. A young Jewish girl had a lot of explaining to do. The man she was engaged to nearly left her. We don't know how her family and friends reacted to the news of her pregnancy, but I'm sure it was a stressful, life-altering time for Mary.

Then there was the long ride to Bethlehem when she was due any day, going into labor and delivering her baby in a stable, and the only crib available was a feeding trough softened by prickly hay? It wasn't exactly a "silent night", I imagine.

And yet we read in Luke 2:19, after the shepherds had come to see the baby, that Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. Her first-born child may not have come the way she had expected or hoped, but she knew this baby was somehow the hope of Israel, her homeland, and He would bring her much hope as well…"My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior." (Luke 1:46-47)

Some people like to make a big fuss about removing the word "Christmas" from holiday greetings, business slogans, and town festivities. But a far greater loss is when those who claim to celebrate Christmas as a Christian holiday don't actually live by the love, hope, joy, and peace Jesus has for us. 

Jesus doesn't want me to simply acknowledge His birth; He wants His birth to transform me. He doesn't want me to say the word "Christmas" and force others to do the same; He wants me to live in the reality of His presence. Christmas is love. Christmas is joy. Christmas is hope. This is what Jesus came to bring. Are we receiving these wonderful gifts ourselves and sharing them with others? Are we looking to Jesus to help us with any difficulties we are facing? Are we stressed-out, angry, weary, and frazzled, or are we living in the peace Jesus offers us when we simply come to Him?

One of my favorite sayings of Christmas is to not keep Jesus in the manger. A nativity scene or a children's play about the birth of Jesus is a good reminder that He came, but we must also remember why He came: A Savior has been born to you…(Luke 2:11) To us a child is born, to us a son is given…and he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

Do you need His guidance today, His strength, His rescue, His protection, His love, His tender care, His peace, His presence? This is why He came. I pray you will remember that this season and throughout the coming year. I wish you more of Jesus.

Photo Credit:"ChristmasMarketJena" by ReneS at flickr - Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons -

Photo Credit: "Gerard van Honthorst 001" by Gerard van Honthorst - The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons -

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Hope Is Here!

"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6)

Advertising is big business. Wikipedia defines advertising as "a form of communication used to promote or sell something." Most commonly this means that advertisers are trying to get us to buy stuff that we may or may not need. We see this all year round in our consumer-based society, but Christmas is a time when they go full-throttle. Special deals on products, one-day sales, limited-time offers, "the newest best thing your Christmas won't be complete without!"

It can be overwhelming. With so much demanding our attention, time, and money, it's easy to get distracted from what Christmas is all about. But I think we can also learn something from those who are demanding our attention during this Christmas season. Letting people know what is available to them and convincing them they need it is the key to good advertising. And advertising is not always bad if you have something that's worth sharing.

Advertising at Christmas is not just a modern-day practice of retailers. God is in the business of advertising too, and that's really what the first Christmas was all about. He had something that people needed, and He sent messengers to proclaim the Good News. But He started way before Christmas Day or even Thanksgiving. Black Friday retailers don't have anything on God's advance planning. Many of the Prophets of the Old Testament proclaimed a Savior was coming hundreds of years before Jesus arrived, and God sent an angel months ahead of time to tell Mary and Joseph all about the role they would play in bringing this Savior to the world.

On the night of Jesus' birth, more angels came to announce His arrival and proclaim, "Peace on earth and good will toward men."  But that wasn't the end of God's marketing scheme. He sent John the Baptist to "prepare the way for the Lord", and when Jesus began His public ministry, He was a walking advertisement of what God wanted the people to know: "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe this good news!"

Salvation has come. God's mercy is alive and well. Hope is here!

I was doing some research on the word "hope" in the Bible, looking for encouraging verses to share with those who need hope because of difficult circumstances they are facing this holiday season. In the Old Testament I found it 86 times, used in both positive and "I have no hope" ways; and from Acts to Revelation, it is used 80 times. But in the gospels, it occurs once—as a quote from Isaiah in the Old Testament, not from the mouth of Jesus.

Doesn't that seem odd? When the Old Testament Prophets and Poets talked about hope, they were talking about God bringing salvation to His people. Oftentimes they were talking about Jesus, the Savior who would come and deliver them. And the New Testament writers were speaking about Him too. And yet Jesus Himself never used the word.

I think the reason for this is that Jesus said it a different way. He was much more specific in how He described Himself and His role. He didn't say, 'Your hope has come. I have arrived,' and leave it at that. He said, "I am the bread of life; I am the light of the world; I am the good shepherd..."  I bring healing, forgiveness, satisfaction, eternal life, peace, joy, and everything you truly need. He told them about something they'd had all along. Jesus didn't come to proclaim anything new. He came to say: You are loved. You always have been, and you always will be.

The Prophet Isaiah proclaimed: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6)

Isaiah was one of God's advertisers, and I see myself the same way. I "communicate to promote something".  But it's not just hype. It's not about greed or running a successful company or inventing the newest best thing. It's about sharing a basic truth: You are loved.

In John 17:26, Jesus says these words to His Father during prayer: "I have made you known to them, and I will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them, and that I myself may be in them."  What did Jesus come to do? He came to advertise God's love. He came to show us what we really need. And He never stops!

I encourage you to look for ways God has displayed His love to you. As you celebrate the Savior's birth this season, think about what God's love really means for you. What difference has God's mercy and love meant to you in the past, and how can it make a difference today?

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Are your prayers truthful?

The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them. 
Psalm 145:18-19

Psalm 145 is a great psalm to read when discouragement, disappointment, anxiety, and other such feelings are overtaking my heart. Just reading the words can bring a lot of hope and comfort to my weary or anxious soul. I am in the habit of reading a psalm every day, and many of them are like that. But as I came to Psalm 145 this week, I decided to take more than a day before moving on to the next, and I'm not sure what day this is, but I know I've been hanging out for a while.

The above verses reflect the heart and soul of this psalm. It's all about crying out to God, and yet the majority of David's words cry out to God in praise, not despair. He calls God KING, GREAT, MIGHTY, GLORIOUS, MAJESTIC, WONDERFUL, POWERFUL, AWESOME, ABUNDANTLY GOOD, RIGHTEOUS, GRACIOUS, COMPASSIONATE, LOVING, and EVERLASTING. And then he goes on to say, He is NEAR to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth.

I wondered about that word truth and how we call on God in truth. What does that mean? The word itself means "firmness, faithfulness, truth". It expresses the idea of something that is sure, stable, and ongoing. Something that doesn't change—like God, and the truths about Him that remain the same: His love, goodness, mercy, and might. These are the things we can count on as unwavering. Our circumstances change at the drop of a hat, and our emotions often go with them. But God is unchanging, and this is what David is focused on. This is where his praise stems from: God's faithfulness.

I know from personal experience that God feels much closer when I am trusting Him. I think David knew this also, and in times of confusion, despair, and fear, he knew the best thing to do was cry out to God. God would be faithful. He would save him. He would keep His promises. He would keep him from falling and lift him out of whatever had brought him down.

When we call on God in truth, we are trusting Him to provide what we need. And when we trust, God feels much closer to our hearts because we believe He's actually with us. And when we share our honest desires with God, we will never be disappointed. These desires should not be mere whims or thoughts of fancy but the deepest cry of our hearts.

I encourage you to call on God today in truth. To be truthful with Him about what you need and what you may need to confess, including any thoughts of doubt you may have about God's love for you and His ability to meet your need (and the needs of others you are praying for). Sharing your deepest desires with God, along with the belief He will be faithful to give you what you need—whether it be your desires or something He knows you need even more: This is crucial to being close to Him. These desires should not be superficial, watered-down, or limited to what you think you deserve, but the deepest cry of your heart. What do you need to cry out for today? What do you need to ask for, in truth?

Monday, October 5, 2015

Kindness Matters

Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  Colossians 3:12

A few days ago, I was not having the best day. In fact, I was miserable. I'm not a person who gets depressed easily—mostly because God has blessed me so abundantly, not because I am not prone to depression. I always try to look for the positive in difficult circumstances, trust God with the hard things, and be thankful for everything I have and the things that are going right. Whenever I do this, I'm always reminded my blessings far outweigh my trials. I find it pretty difficult to remain depressed for long. It's usually easier to smile and think good thoughts than remain chained by the lies of the enemy that all is lost and things are never going to get better. I know my God is faithful, He loves me, and He works all things together for good.

But on that miserable day, the positive thoughts were not there. I couldn't smile. My heart was breaking too much over the hurts of others. I felt so helpless. It all seemed hopeless. And I was tired of the battle. I just wanted God to fix everything, and that didn't seem to be happening. After feeling discouraged for most of the day, I needed to go grocery shopping. Not my favorite chore, although sometimes it can be relaxing, so off I went with my heavy heart. At least it would give me something else to think about and remind me that while others were hurting, I could give my family nutritious and yummy food; Reminder Number One that kindness matters.

While I was pushing my shopping cart up and down the aisles, something unique happened to also remind me of this. One of the store managers, a woman with pretty red hair and a sweet disposition, was also going up and down the aisles with a scanner. She would point it at various price stickers, it would beep, and she would move on to the next. Several times when I was going up the aisle, she would be coming down the other way, and this continued until I was about halfway through my shopping trip.

My thoughts were still heavy, and I was only mildly aware of her presence. She was busy doing her work and never looked at me that I noticed, until she was scanning an item right near where I needed to grab something from the shelf. I waited for her to step away, and she had to cross my path to do so. But as she did, she turned to me and smiled, seeming to also realize we kept passing each other. I'm not sure if she had seen the downcast look on my face, but I'm thinking she must have because she said, "How are you today? Can I help you with anything?"

I'm used to the employees of the store being polite and friendly. It's one of the reasons I shop there, even if the prices are a bit high, but her tone held a unique quality, as if she knew I wasn't having the best day and wanted to help however she could. Her kindness touched me. Something deep inside that made me smile and believe everything was going to be okay. She had no idea what I was feeling and probably barely thought about me after that moment. But I will remember her kindness.

And that's when it hit me: kindness matters. Those I was grieving over had not been treated kindly, and yet kindness is such an easy thing to give if we just take time to be deliberate about it: a smile, a friendly word of encouragement, a compliment, a gentle answer, a simple act of mercy instead of pointing fingers and bringing shame. Grace instead of rudeness, patience instead of making others feel stupid or in the way, help instead of hurt.

You know what I'm talking about. You've been there. The moment when the kindness of someone else made all the difference. Perhaps your encounters are few and far between, and I'm sure the same is true for others. Just think of the difference your kindness can mean to someone: a family member, a friend, a coworker, a stranger. You may not always see the difference your kindness makes for someone, but they will feel it.  Like the store manager who has no idea she completely changed my perspective, you can do the same. Kindness is powerful. Kindness matters. Love matters.

The fruit of the Spirit is…kindness. (Gal. 5:22)

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Whatever You Need

I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.  Psalm 61:2

Do you ever feel overwhelmed? Google defines the word overwhelm as, "to bury or drown beneath a huge mass."  We can be overwhelmed by many different things, but I want you to think about what comes to mind today. What is burying or drowning you with its enormity, or what has the potential to do so?

When David wrote the words, I call as my heart grows faint, he was feeling overwhelmed by his enemies, and he prayed: Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.  He was buried and drowning and knew he needed to get to higher ground: To not be overwhelmed and to rise above his circumstances.

When Jesus told His disciples He was going to Jerusalem and would be killed there, some said they were ready to die with Him, but when the time came, they fled. On the night before His crucifixion, Peter said, "I will lay down my life for you."  But Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!" (John 13:37-38)  Jesus knew it would be too much for Peter, and it was. No matter how much Peter loved Jesus and desired to remain faithful and strong, he couldn't.  It was beyond him. It was overwhelming.

Perhaps your troubles are not as great as David or Peter's, but they probably feel like it. If your peace and strength is gone, it's gone—no matter what has taken it away. But David had the right idea with asking God for help. For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe. (v.3)  He knew whom he was calling on and asked God to lead him to a place of strength.

In John 14, Jesus tells His disciples that the Father will send the Holy Spirit after He is gone. "[The Spirit] will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you…Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."

The word troubled means "to agitate (by the movement of its parts to and fro)".  Sounds a lot like drowning in water, in need of a solid rock to climb onto, doesn't it? It also means "to disquiet, make restless, to strike one's spirit with fear and dread, to render anxious or distressed."  Sound familiar? Many things can trouble us in this world, in our churches, in our homes, and even within ourselves. We can get upset with others, but we also get upset when we fail, feel weak, or do things that bring trouble to others or our own lives.

Jesus calls His peace a gift. It's not something for us to conjure up in our own strength. It's something we must receive from Him. In Galatians 5:22, Paul calls peace a fruit of the Spirit, and Jesus says, "Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself, it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me…If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you." (John 15:4,7)

These words can apply to all the fruit Jesus wants to bear in us…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control.  And we need Him to give us these gifts of grace. They are not of ourselves. But, like David, we need to desire what we need. We need to admit we are weak and void of these things without Jesus, without His Spirit indwelling our hearts. And we need to remember His words of love, mercy, and promise. But He says, "I will remind you! My peace I give you!"

If your faith is weak today, your understanding limited, your hope absent, your heart filled with fear, dread, or anxiety: Ask for what you need to rise above, and follow Him to the rock that is higher. To a place where you will not be tossed to and fro and overwhelmed by whatever has you drowning in despair, guilt, fear, anger, or faithlessness. He will give you whatever you ask for; He will give you whatever you need.

Word definition for "troubled" taken from

Sunday, June 21, 2015

My Father Leads Me

Your laws are my treasure; they are my heart's delight. 
Psalm 119:111

Do you ever have trouble obeying God? Do you ever have those moments when you know what's right, what God has said, and what you know you should do; but you have a difficult time doing it? You rationalize, analyze the pros and cons of obedience, and weigh your chances of getting caught: caught by others in your dishonesty, misdeed, or bad habit—or caught by God.  You think, 'Will God really mind? Will He punish me? He'll forgive me, won't He? He forgave me for ______, so this isn't so bad, right?'

In Psalm 119, the psalmist writes 176 verses that are primarily about following God's instructions. He or she says, Your laws are my treasure; they are my heart's delight...joyful are people of integrity, who follow the instructions of the LORD...they do not compromise with evil, and they walk only in his paths.  Practical advice to following God's commands are also given.  I have hidden your word in my heart; that I might not sin against you...I will study your commands and reflect on your ways...Open my eyes to see the wonderful truths in your instructions...I think about them all day long.

Just about anything we do well in this life takes time, effort, determination, strength, and failure. Following God's commands are no exception. Mistakes are a great teacher: I used to wander off until you disciplined me...My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees.  In John 12:48, Jesus says those who reject Him and His message will be judged by the truth He speaks. In other words, our sin and unbelief catches up with us because the truth never changes. We can try to change it. We can say, 'That's not true. I don't have to listen and live that way.' And I don't. God gives me free will to do as I please, but it doesn't mean my ways will prove to be right, because they're not! Only His ways are true and endure to the end.

But it's important to keep in mind that God is not our enemy. Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path...the wicked have set traps for me; but I will not turn from your commandments...You are my refuge and my shield; your word is my source of hope...don't leave me at the mercy of my enemies, for I have done what is just and right...My eyes strain to see your rescue, to see the truth of your promise fulfilled. (Psalm 119:105, 110,114,121, 123)

Our enemy is anything that leads us away from God and His instructions. They are like poison to our soul and the blessings God has in store for us. His plans are perfect. His ways are good. His instructions are life-giving. Jesus said, "I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark...I know [My Father's] commands lead to eternal life, so I say whatever the Father tells me to say."  (John 12:46,50)

I think it's noteworthy that Jesus says the Father's commands lead to eternal life, not that obeying them does. Yes, obedience to God's Word, belief, and trust leads us to the abundant life God has promised; but it's not my obedience that "saves" me. It's the commands for right living that lead to life. His ways are best for me. I'm not trusting in my own goodness and righteousness to obey, but in His goodness and righteousness to tell me the truth and keep His promises.

But when I fail to follow and end up in trouble, misery, the pit, off-track—His mercy remains. He will still lead me: first to His forgiveness, comfort, healing: and then to the next step of grace: however He leads me to make things right, do things better, or trust more fully. His laws are true, and so is His love.

I will never forget your commandments, for by them you give me life.  (Psalm 119:93)

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, May 25, 2015

A Reason For Joy

Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.
Worship the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.

Know that the LORD is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the LORD is good
and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Psalm 100

Do you ever feel down, depressed, or discouraged? What makes you feel this way? Pain, conflict, disappointment, failure? Negative thoughts and emotions are generally the result of bad circumstances and life not going the way we want. People do things to upset, hurt, or pressure us. Things happen beyond our control that make us unhappy, or we let ourselves down with wrong choices that leave us feeling bad or alone. Worry, fear, and stress can also take a toll on our emotions. Sometimes nothing is terribly wrong, but anxiety and the everyday stress of life clouds the joy we long for.

Most of the time there is little or nothing we can do about the behavior of others or unfortunate circumstances. It is what it is, and other than getting upset, angry, or frustrated, it's easy to just turn inward and allow the sadness, despair, or hurt to overtake our day, our week, or our year. And as for failure (real or perceived) we blame ourselves and might vow to try harder, reach our goals, or be a better person, but eventually the renewed strength, determination, and hope will wear off and we find ourselves right back where we started with the same challenges to face and shortcomings to overcome.

The good news? Psalm 100 describes a much different way of thinking and living. It's all about joy and praising God. I first heard this psalm when I was a young girl, and I memorized it at one time to earn points for going to camp. I always liked it, but I primarily thought of it as something to do when I went to church: To worship Him with songs of praise, as it says; but in reading the words this week, I saw them in a much broader sense. Not only as the elements of worship (joy, gladness, singing, praise, and thankfulness), but also as a means of attaining joy each day. Joy that overcomes any feelings of unhappiness, discouragement, or despair I am experiencing.

Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.
Worship the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.

The psalm begins with telling us to express our joy to God and worship Him with gladness, but it's pretty hard to do this if joy and gladness aren't already a part of my heart. God doesn't want me to fake it. He doesn't want me to pretend to be joyful while I'm singing songs of praise and then go home to my real life clouded with depression and failure. He doesn't want me to be joyful for His sake, just to hear me sing a nice song. He wants me to be filled with joy because I know who He is and who I am in His eyes:

Know that the LORD is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

You are not on this earth by accident. You were created for a purpose. Your life matters to others. You belong to God, and you matter to Him. Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me."  Others often make us feel insignificant. They can make us feel stupid, weak, and worthless. We can do a pretty good job of seeing ourselves this way also. Failure (or perceived failure) can be crippling. Difficult circumstances can make us feel alone. We get worried, scared, and don't know what to do. But when I remember my God is near and He cares about me, I don't feel alone anymore. I listen for His voice, and He tells me I am loved. He reminds me I am precious to Him. He points out the road for me to follow and gives me the means to walk it; or He tells me to wait for Him to work things out for my good.

For the LORD is good
and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.

God is good. He loves me. He is faithful. Focusing on these simple truths restores my joy. Life will throw all kinds of trials at me. Others will hurt me. People will let me down, and I will often let myself down or just not have the ability to be everything I wish I could be. But God is so much bigger than my everyday worries, problems, and shortcomings. He is bigger than even the bleakest of circumstances. He brings beauty from ashes, hope from despair, and love to my desperate, lonely, or weary soul.

How could believing God is good, He loves you, and trusting in His faithfulness help you cope with whatever is clouding your joy? How could these truths help you have a better outlook on your circumstances? How could His love make you feel better about yourself? Take a moment to write down your thoughts before reading the next paragraph where we will look at another source of joy and gladness.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.

Another key to finding joy is thankfulness. When we're facing difficulty or are bothered by difficult people, it's easy to focus on our troubles. But we need to keep our eyes on the good things and the blessings we have. What are you thankful for? What good things happened today or this week? Who has God placed in your life to care for you or bring you joy? What opportunities do you have to pursue your interests, seek God, be a blessing to others, and enjoy good relationships? How can the difficult things you are facing be an opportunity for you to trust God more and experience His love and faithfulness? How can God help you to make better choices or reach your goals?

Trying to handle things on your own will often lead to frustration, failure, and more problems. But asking God for His help brings hope and thankfulness when you see Him meeting your needs and filling your heart with peace and joy you thought was out of your reach.

Make a list of everything you're thankful for and see how that makes you feel. How do your blessings remind you of the truth?

Write down everything you need God's help with and ask Him to provide whatever is necessary.

When you are finished writing out your requests, express your thankfulness to God also and remember He is always near. You belong to Him, and you have a reason for joy.

"Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength."
(Nehemiah 8:10)

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Goal Is Love

I got a little poke from Jesus last week to take a look at the book of First Timothy. I've read it before certainly, and many of my favorite verses come from the letters Paul wrote to his young friend whom he had personally mentored and knew even as a young boy. Timothy grew up to be a pastor, and 1 & 2 Timothy contain a lot of practical advice for those who are involved in ministry. Some favorite words I've followed since I was in my teen years are recorded in 1 Timothy 4:12 where Paul says, Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity.  And I often pass these words along to my younger readers, encouraging them to truly heed Paul's words and not allow their age to be a barrier to being all they can be in Christ.

Last week I was reading some other instructions Paul wrote to Timothy. I had included his words in one of my latest books and was reminded of the vital truth as I was proofreading the final draft. This is when Jesus gave me that little "poke" and said, You should read this book from the beginning. I have something to show you. So the following day I began reading First Timothy, but I didn't have to read far to see what Jesus wanted to show me. Verse five stood out like a lion at a cat show. It is written above in the English Standard Version, but I was reading the New Living (NLT)which says it like this:

The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith.

And in doing a little research I came across another wording I really like: But the goal of our instruction is love... (NASB)

Purpose, aim, goal...all of these really spoke to me. It made me wonder if the primary goal of the Church is to produce people who love; and, are we ourselves primarily bearing the fruit of love? Not just as a Christian duty, or a command (which several versions use), or as a part of our faith; but rather the outcome of our faith.

In doing a little word study, I concluded this way of thinking was Paul's intent. The end result of believing the Good News should be love. This is what Jesus points us toward. This is why He calls us to follow Him. This is His message: Love God, and love others as yourself; But He knows it's not something we can possess within ourselves. It's not something for us to muster up, try harder, or strive for. It doesn't say: make it your goal to love more. Paul is saying, however, that the end result of a purified heart, a clean conscience, and sincere faith should be God-like love oozing out of our renewed souls.

Why would that be, do you suppose? I asked myself this question and thought about how each of these elements effects my testimony and the way I share it. When I share Jesus and spiritual truths with others, am I showing them love or just sharing information? Paul doesn't say the goal is to make others understand our theology. His purpose wasn't to argue, discuss, or waste time with meaningless speculations, which don't help people live a life of faith in God. (1:4 NLT)

Paul knew the most effective testimony came instead from a purified heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith. A purified heart is one that has pure motives. Motives of love, goodness, and giving others hope. Motives that come from what I have experienced in following Jesus myself, including a clear conscience and experiencing His faithfulness.

Have I allowed Him to purify my heart? Is it filled with love for God, others, and myself; or is it dominated by anger, bitterness, judgement, and self-scrutiny? Even one of these can cripple a heart from showing genuine love. Anger toward God or others is a train-wreck waiting to happen. Bitterness is a fuse for a time-bomb. Judging others does no good whatsoever and often causes destruction and road-blocks. And even if you give grace freely to others, that doesn't mean you do the same with yourself.

We are often told to show more love, to be more like Christ, to put aside self-interest. But these things are impossible without a complete understanding of how and why we are able to love. It doesn't come from us. It comes from Him. It's a result of how He purifies me with His mercy and forgiveness and wraps me in His perfect love and security.  This is my faith. This is what He gives to me. This is what He died and rose again for me to have. And when I truly believe that and receive His love for me completely, unconditionally, and know it's forever and everything I could possibly need; It's then I can love others with the same sacrificial, giving, and love-filled heart.

If you feel you're falling short of loving others with Christ-like love: family, friends, strangers, enemies; something besides His love is consuming your heart. What is it?

...Unbelief of your value to Him?

...Shortsightedness in His perfect plan for you?

...The need to be self-sufficient, strong, and in control?

...Constantly feeling defeated, discouraged, and powerless?

It might seem unrelated, but the only way to turn the corner on any of the above is to believe more fully in...

...His love (including His protection, care, and provision)

...His forgiveness (mercy and healing)

...His grace (unmerited blessings--you don't have to "earn" them)

...And especially, your need for it all

If your belief in these is lacking, don't feel guilty. Feel desperate for more! Feel broken, but also feel...





...and His

The goal of my instruction is for you to believe more fully in His love for you, and therefore to be a representative of that love to everyone around you. And I hope I'm succeeding.

Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from [Him]...Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they too can believe in him and receive eternal life.  (1 Timothy 1:14-16 NLT)

Photo scripture quotation from The ESV Bible, copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

An Easter Meditation

Believing in the sacrificial death and miraculous resurrection of Jesus is the essence of Easter. When I think of the death of Jesus, I think of His great love. He came to tell us about God's love, and He also proved it. Jesus Himself said there is no greater love than one who lays down his life for his friends, and that's exactly what He did. Nothing displays the love of God like His willingness to be crucified.

When I think of Jesus' resurrection, I think of His great power. Nothing can contain Him, not even death, and His power over death gives me hope. The hope of eternal life and the hope that nothing is impossible with God.

While reading in Luke this week, though not specifically the Easter Story, I was struck by these aspects of Jesus' character and others I have lined out below. I encourage you to read the verses and allow the truth of all Jesus is to sink deep into your soul. May you be quieted, comforted, inspired, and awed by His truthful words and amazing deeds. Have a blessed Easter.

 Believe in His Strength
--Luke 4:1-13

Believe in His Authenticity
--Luke 4:14-22

Believe in His Love and Mission
--Luke 4:18-19

Believe in His Teaching
--Luke 4:31-32

Believe in His Power
--Luke 4:33-41

Believe in His Determination
--Luke 4:28-30; 42-44

Believe in His Commands
--Luke 5:4-7

Believe in His Mercy, Authority, and Leadership
--Luke 5:8-11

Believe in His Compassion
--Luke 5:12-13

Believe in His Healing and Forgiveness
--Luke 5:17-32

Believe in His Awesomeness
--Luke 5:26

Believe in His Invitation
--Luke 5:27-28

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Lessons From Mom

My mother is a very special person. Anyone who knows her will tell you that. Sweet, loving, kind, funny, joyful, supportive, encouraging, and wise are a few words I would use to describe her. I am incredibly thankful for her and her love. In many ways I am who I am because of who she is. It's true that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, and in my case that's a good thing!

My mother taught me how to be frugal without being cheap. She doesn't especially enjoy cooking, but her cooking is very enjoyable to eat (except for the Spanish rice and liver and onions--sorry Mom, I never could get used to those two dishes; but you can laugh at me now for having picky eaters too). My mom would be the first to tell you she's not perfect, and she never expected me to be either. She loves God more than anyone else I know, and she loves others unconditionally just like Jesus does. When I was bullied in school, she didn't tell me to fight back or flee; she told me to love my enemies and trust God with the hard things in life. 

I think what makes my mother extraordinary is that she lives what she believes. She believes in love. She believes in family. She believes in God's forgiveness, and she is so thankful for all He has done to bless her life. She believes in the good in others. She believes in the silver lining. She always has hope. She never gives up on anyone. She believes in the truth of God's Word. She believes in prayer. She treats others the way she would want to be treated. These are lessons she didn't teach me so much by what she said; she just lives that way, and I got the message.

My mother is an amazing seamstress. She made almost all of my clothes when I was growing up, even the fashionable things I would see in the store that all my friends were wearing. She would say, 'I can make it for much cheaper,' and she could; and she did. She made my wedding dress just the way I wanted it, including the layers and layers of lace that cascaded down the back and into the long train that everyone 'ooohed and ahhhed' over as I walked down the aisle. I didn't inherit her love for sewing, although she did her best to teach me; but through her talent she taught me to do what I loved, not for money or praise, but for the joy of it and the blessing to others it would be. She was the first and only person to read my first novel, and although I knew it needed serious work and never published it, her praise and encouragement inspired me to keep writing. The first novel I did publish was based on her testimony, and it was so satisfying for me to write because it reflected the values she taught me and the message of God's unconditional love: the cornerstone of her unwavering faith, and mine. 

Thanks, Mom. Thank you for being who you are and never pretending that you're more than who God has made you to be. For never pretending to be perfect. For never letting me forget about God's constant care, His promises, and His forgiveness. Thank you for all the prayers and life-lessons you lived. I am blessed because of them, and I know many others are too. 

Happy 80th Birthday! I love you. Thank you for always loving me. May God continue to bless you. I know He will, and I know you know it too, because you taught me that. You taught me to live-loved. Because we are.

Friday, March 6, 2015

What Are You Worth?

They worshiped worthless idols, so they became worthless themselves. 2 Kings 17:15 (NLT)

Imagine for a moment that you are in the market for a new car. What do you want? Something reliable? Something fancy? One with good gas mileage. or better yet, electric? A classic style, or a new look? Your favorite color, or the safest? A zippy sports car, or the practical minivan? We each have our own tastes and needs, but whatever we get, it will likely be what meets our wish-list the best--or as close as we can get on a limited budget.

Let's say you get exactly what you were looking for. It's nice.  It's something you want to show off. It's worth protecting, and you get full coverage on your auto insurance policy. It's valuable to you. It's worth the money you paid for it, and you feel it will hold its value over time. It won't' be a piece of junk in five years. You might trade it in for an upgrade, but you won't get laughed out of the dealership. You will use it to get something of equal or greater value, and you'll be happy with that purchase too.

Some of you may be nodding your head and saying, 'Yeah, I've been there. I know what you mean.' The rest of you may be thinking, 'That's a nice dream but not my reality.' But we can all agree on the value of having what we need and getting what we want. In many ways our lives revolve around what we have, how valuable those things are to us, and what we're willing to do to gain them. We don't work for nothing. Our toil has a purpose. We reach for greatness. We're not content with life being meaningless and without purpose.

But why? Why are we so driven? What makes life so valuable? What is worth fighting for? What does it matter if I have a fancy car or an old beater? (Besides being able to actually get places)  Why do we want the nice house in a nice neighborhood? Why do we want pretty clothes and shiny jewelry? Why do we furnish our homes with the best we can afford and plant pretty flowers in the window-boxes? Why do we want better things for the poor, the best for our kids, and to help others however we can?

When we were created by God, He gave us the intrinsic value of worth. He made us in His image, and in the very act of making us by His spoken word, the God of the Universe says, 'Here is My very best work. More valuable to Me than anything else in all Creation.' He calls us to worship and value Him, but only because He did it for us first.

In Old Testament Israel, God's chosen people had the Law to guide them, and the first items on the list told them to have no other gods and to worship Him alone. He wanted them to know where their value and worth came from and to know they didn't need anyone else because He would never fail them. He valued them. He loved them. They belonged to Him as His prized possession. But they didn't get that. They worshiped other gods and made idols for themselves because they didn't think He would care for them. They sinned and feared His wrath and ran further away. He still loved them as much as ever and promised them mercy and forgiveness, but they didn't believe it. Why? Because they did not see their value. So, they worshiped worthless idols and became worthless themselves.

But not in God's eyes. He still valued them and no one could take that inherent value out of their hearts, so they tried to fill it with other things: gold and silver idols replaced wooden figures, small idols were replaced with grander ones; their hearts became filled with greed, and anger burned for what was taken from them; their wives were replaced by jewel-laden prostitutes; small victories of plunder led to mass murder for more...and on and on it goes.

Most of our value-seeking in small-town America is more civilized: comfortable cars, pretty homes, honor-student children, well-selected wardrobes, stained-glass church windows; but the principle is the same. We're looking for value. We want things that say we have worth. We want our best qualities to shine and to sweep the messiness under the rug. But in the end, these "valuable" things are only emptiness. Like an elusive treasure we know should be ours, and we're right! But we look in the wrong places.

We must realize that we ourselves are the treasure. God's greatest masterpiece. His workmanship. We don't need to look any further than who He has made us to be, and attaining this greatness takes little more than worshiping Him for who He is. Our value lies in who He says we are, and when we embrace this value He has given us as His dearly loved children, we don't look for value in nice things, our achievements, or what fulfills us, but rather celebrate them because of His goodness to us. We're thankful and content with what we have because He Himself has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5)

Jesus told a parable to illustrate the kingdom of God. He said, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (Luke 13:45-46)  I believe we can take this two ways, and they are both necessary to living victoriously in His kingdom. We must believe God is our greatest treasure and seek Him all of our days. We may have to leave things behind to do that, but He is not elusive and will be found. Our pursuit of Him will never be in vain and the rewards are plentiful.

But to do this, we must also believe we are like that fine pearl of great value to Him. You are His treasure, and He wants you to see yourself through His eyes: loved, priceless, beautiful, the very best on His wish-list; and He's never letting go.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Things of God

"You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”  Mark 8:33

The words of Jesus often hit me right between the eyes. Calling them profound is an understatement, but that’s exactly what they are: truthful, weighty, thought-provoking. Like a knife to the heart, yet delivered with grace.

When Jesus speaks these words to Peter: "You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men,” they are meant to be a rebuke, but the curious thing is that Peter was trying to do a very noble thing. Jesus is telling the disciples the time of His death is near, and Peter steps in to say, ‘Don’t say that!’  He doesn’t want to hear any talk about Jesus being defeated. That isn’t the plan. That can’t happen, and Peter isn’t afraid to set Jesus straight.

But as is often the case, Jesus isn’t swayed by human emotions. He understands where Peter is coming from, but He can’t accept his way of thinking. It’s short-sighted and counter-productive. Jesus came to teach and demonstrate the love of God. That was His purpose, His destiny, His way of telling the world that God's mercy extends to all. To put it mildly, taking that away made no sense to Jesus.  He uses stronger words: “Get behind me, Satan!”

When I read these words a few days ago, I knew Jesus was speaking them to me too, in a variety of ways. And while there is that element of rebuke in bringing my thinking into alignment with God’s, there is also a great deal of freedom in knowing the burdens of my heart are of little significance in light of God’s perfect ways. What I see as hardship, confusion, failure, pain, loss, and negativity, He sees as opportunities for grace, redemption, glory, love, and hope.

The mind of man is unreliable and short-sighted, lacking in understanding and proper perspective. But the mind of God is always perfect. The things of God are good, intentional, and higher than our own ways could ever be.

In what ways are you allowing your mind to dwell on the things of man? Do you need a heavenly perspective? Is your heart bound by human emotion and despair, or are you living in the freedom of His grace? Are you trying to be in charge, or are you letting Him be?

It can be tough to let go of what we think is best, but it’s the best thing we can ever do. For ourselves and for those around us. You were worth His life, so you can trust Him with yours.

"My purpose is to give life in all its fullness." John 10:10 (NLT)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

What Love Is This?

I was listening to this song today and moved by the profound truth of it. I won't say a lot as an introduction, but I encourage you to listen and believe Jesus is enough. For whatever you are facing, whatever you struggle with, whatever hopes and dreams you have...His love is all you need because it is everything. You are everything to Him, and He can be everything to you.

What Love Is This? ~ Kari Jobe