August 31st, 2019 - 6:15 pm
The media has been buzzing loudly the past few years on the topic of white privilege. If you don’t believe white privilege is a thing, consider how many indigenous non-white peoples and nations have been overrun by the “white man” throughout the past 5 centuries. Next, consider how a relatively short a time ago slavery was abolished in our nation. Now, be honest and admit that attitudes have been slow to change over the past 150+ years since the 13th amendment was passed. Yes, white privilege is alive and well in today’s world.
I’m thinking that many who read my words will say, “I am white, but I don’t feel very privileged.” I get that… I have had the same reaction myself. After all, I come from a long line of Anglo Saxons who were not born into affluence, but have worked hard to gain whatever station in life we’ve come to enjoy. But I then came to understand that white privilege was more about discriminatory attitudes and “systems” than it was about societal classes.
Having been born into and growing up as a member of the majority “all white” ruling class, I admit to having little understanding of what it is like to experience the world as a person of color. But that does not negate my responsibility to educate myself so as to be fair and balanced with my words, thoughts and actions. If anything, it means I need to work harder to understand that which has not been a part of my “privileged” white experience.
I am a Christian, a child of the one true God, and as such I am obligated to view all human beings as equal, for that is what they are in the eyes of our Triune God. Sadly, Christians of all stripes through the years have overplayed the privilege card, ignoring the words of the apostle Paul who leveled the playing field when he wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28 NIV)”. (Also see Colossians 3:11 & Romans 10:12.) So, when the topic of white privilege comes up, rather than try and deny it, I need to admit that it’s a fact. Next I should ask myself what I can do personally to balance the scales.
There is an old saying that seems to have its origins in the Cherokee nation that goes something like this: “Do not judge a man until you have walked a mile in their moccasins.” It’s not talking about being judgmental, but of being able to empathize with an individual, to understand the world from their perspective. Therefore, I have set myself a goal to read books specifically written by people of color so that I may better understand their perspectives. My hope is that, in doing so, I will have greater empathy for their plight and a broader understanding of the world in which I live.
Perhaps the greatest action I can take is to emulate the attitude of our heavenly Father who sent his Son, not to condemn the world, but to save it from itself (John 3:17). Earlier this week Marlene read me a quote she saw on Facebook: “You will never look into the eyes of someone God does not love.” I don’t know the origins of this quote, but it sums up for me the mind-set I need in my approach to all people, regardless of nationality, gender, or social class.
I know that I do not have the power to change the world, but with the help of God’s Holy Spirit, I have the ability to change myself, and that’s a start. I hope that those who read my words may be encouraged to do the same.
August 3rd, 2019 - 5:17 pm
Our nation just celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing – “One small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind” (quoted by Neil Armstrong). It was, indeed, quite an accomplishment. But even 50 years after the fact, there are those who claim to believe that the whole event was staged in a movie lot somewhere on earth. No matter what evidence you might bring forward, they are still convinced it was a hoax. One thing is for sure—as often as not, we see what we want to see and hear what we want to hear. Once our minds are made up, humans are hard to convince otherwise.
There are still those who choose to believe that the Holocaust never happened and that the earth is flat. It doesn’t matter how much photographic evidence exists to the contrary, they stand on their shaky convictions. Likewise, there are those who believe that there is no God…
Granted, most of us who do believe in God have never seen him with our eyes or heard him with our ears. We have certainly never seen an actual photo of him and cannot provide scientific evidence of his existence. And yet, the Pew Research Center performed a “survey of scientists who are members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science” and found that roughly 51% of scientists polled “believe in some form of deity or higher power.” (https://www.pewforum.org/2009/11/05/scientists-and-belief/)
So, in spite of the lack of “irrefutable” scientific evidence, there are those who continue to believe, even among the scientific community. “We live by faith and not by sight,” as Paul wrote to the church in Corinth (2CO 5:7). I realize that this all seems like foolishness to much of the world. All we have is a book that was written down by multiple authors over roughly a 1,500 year period. But the authors were men who—according to their own personal testimony—did see God and did hear his voice. Many of these died for the cause to which they pledged themselves. Would they have stood by what they stated to be true in the face of torture and death without personal proof? Unlikely!
We do not, of course, still possess the “original” writings; what we do have are copies that were made by hand over the many years since the originals were penned. Many have pointed to the probability that these “copies” could not possibly be an accurate rendition of the originals. Once again, believers were left with only faith—faith that the God we believe in would have overseen the process and provided us with copies that remained true to the original.
Then, in 1946, the first of the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the Qumran Caves in the Judean Desert on the north shore of the Dead Sea. These range from small fragments to a complete scroll of the prophet Isaiah, and every book of the Hebrew Bible except Esther and Nehemiah. They provided manuscripts approximately 1,000 years older than our previous oldest manuscript, demonstrating that the Old Testament was accurately transmitted during this interval.
This may be of little consequence to those who do not believe in God. But for the believer, the evidence presented by these scrolls supports the faith we have placed in our “unseen” God to control the accuracy of his written word. Perhaps you know someone who is looking for a reason to believe. If so, feel free to share this with them…
July 3rd, 2019 - 7:10 am
What is the gospel message? It may not be what you think… On the other hand, perhaps you have a good grasp of what it’s all about. In a nut shell, it’s about relationship, not religion. The gospel is a uniting force, while religion divides. (With all the different denominations out there, that shouldn’t be too hard to grasp.) The gospel is about substitution, redemption, grace, mercy, sanctification, healing. Religion is about rules and regulations and missing the mark.
While religion focuses upon the works of man, the gospel holds before us the works performed on our behalf by the one and only God/man, Jesus the Christ. Where religions continue to fail miserably, the enduring gospel of Jesus continues to succeed triumphantly! That’s because it is not dependent upon our efforts, but on the finished work of Jesus. He is the only one who has ever fulfilled the law by living a perfect, unblemished life, totally free from sin—a feat never to be equaled.
Christians are called to live and share the gospel. That means being a friend of sinners following the example set by Jesus himself. If we, as Christians, struggle to understand what purpose God has for our lives, know this—our primary purpose is to share God’s love with others. Our individual lives can become outposts of the Kingdom of God, where people come to experience the love of Christ.
The good news of the gospel is this: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him (John 3:16-17).”
As Christians, we should be known for our love, which should be a reflection of God’s love. Instead we are often known for our criticism, condemnation, and rebuke. Instead of choosing to extend the grace, mercy and love that have been extended to us, too many have chosen to point accusatory fingers at those around them. If this is us, we have fallen into the trap that many in the early church were guilty of (just read the letter to the Hebrews if you want some examples).
If instead of condemning others, we took an honest look at ourselves and our lives, we would clearly see how our Heavenly Father’s abundant love has made all the difference. He is not stingy, as we so often tend to be, but is lavishly generous with his grace and mercy. As the apostle Paul said in his letter to Titus:
“At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:3-7).”
Now that’s what I call good news! In closing, remember that God never gives up on us and we should never give up on those he loves. And, by the way, he loves everyone…
Is it arrogant to believe that Jesus is the only way to God? Many in our pluralistic society would like you to accept that there are multiple paths that one can take, but is this true? I suppose the answer depends upon which “God” you have in mind. If by God you are referring to the supreme being who created all that there is, then the path to him is only found in Jesus, unless of course Jesus was not who he claimed to be.
Those who purport to believe in alternative paths to God, dismiss Jesus’ claims to be one with God and the only path to the one he referred to as “my Father.” Here are a few of these claims which can be found in the gospel of John:
“Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’ Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he sent.’” – John 6:28-29 (NIV throughout)
“For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” – John 6:40
“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” – John 8:12
“‘Very truly I tell you,’ Jesus answered, ‘Before Abraham was born, I am!’” – John 8:58
“I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” – John 10:9-11
“I and the Father are one.” – John 10:30
“Jesus answered her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.’” – John 11:25-26
“I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6
Christian author, CS Lewis, once pointed out that many are willing to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but not his unique claims to be God. Here is his response:
“That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God (Mere Christianity, p. 41).”
Obviously, I have chosen the latter. I call Jesus my Lord and Savior because I believe the witness of Scripture, but not only this. I believe because I have experienced his life working in and through me, making me what I could by no other means become… a child of my heavenly Father. There is no doubt in my mind and heart that Jesus is the only way to the Father. The good news is that he holds out his invitation to all. Believe and experience this truth for yourself!
Life’s not fair! I hope that doesn’t shock you… Those who are deceitful in their dealings with others seem to (sometimes way too literally) get away with murder. Others try their best to play by the rules and yet never seem to be able to get ahead and improve their circumstances. No, life is not fair.
If God exists, why doesn’t he do something about this?
Well, in fact he already has. He sent his Son to provide mankind with a way back to himself, back to a life of communion with the Creator. But he will not force that life upon us because he loves us and desires our love in return. And true love cannot be forced. So, in order for us to have the ability to choose a life of loving communion with our triune God, we must have free will, freedom to make that choice.
The problem with free will is that people don’t always make good choices. When we make poor choices, we often cause pain to ourselves and others. But, which of us would rather have all the choices made for us? Which of us would rather be told what to do, what to wear, what to eat, where to go, who to spend time with every moment of every day?
No, we cherish our freedoms, and for good reason. The greatest joys are in discovery, and discovery requires a certain amount of freedom. As small children, we are hungry to learn about the world around us, but are given a limited sphere of influence for our own safety. As we grow and are rewarded with greater freedoms, we have more opportunities to expand our knowledge and understanding and make decisions for ourselves.
Sadly, if everyone has free will, then everyone is free to choose wrongly. The proper intent and use of government is to keep things in balance so that my free will does not trample over yours. Sadly, the institution that exists to provide a level playing field is staffed by human beings with impure thoughts and selfish motives (just like the rest of us). So, where does that leave us?
I believe that leaves us with the ability to choose to be the difference we desire to see in the world around us, to use our freedoms to help and not to harm, to encourage and strengthen, not to belittle and abuse. Be the one that speaks a kind word, the one who is quick to lend a hand, the one who is quick to forgive and slow to anger.
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9).”
To put it another way, be the best you that you can be, the you that God sees when he views you through the perfect life of his Son. Let God’s will for you become your will for you, for he knows you better than you know yourself. Embrace the way of selfless love, for the greatest freedom exists therein.
The Christian Bible is filled with instructions about how to live in a way that blesses others. Over and over again we are encouraged to treat others in the way we want to be treated ourselves. Sadly, people often take the words of God out of context and use them as a club to try and beat others into some kind of externally imposed submission. Interestingly, God chooses not to force his ways upon us, but encourages and urges us to live righteous and holy lives. He approaches us in love, not in anger, admonishing us to do that which will be of the greatest benefit to us. Unlike many of us, he is patient in his dealings with stubborn and rebellious people.
In 2 Peter 3:9—in response to those who scoff at the promised return of Jesus, saying in effect, “What’s taking him so long? If he’s coming back, where is he then?”—Peter writes: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
That is the God that I have come to know and love, for he has been extremely patient with me, loving me through my stubbornness and gently leading me through my many failings to greater and greater successes. While accepting and loving me as I am, he encourages me by revealing to me that I can do better, I can be better. Like the loving Father that he is, he leads and guides me through life, helping me make right decisions. Through it all, he continues to love me unconditionally.
Regardless of the life you’ve lived, God is never disappointed in you. He doesn’t see you as a failure in any sense of the word, because he continually sees in you your greatest potential. Do you think your weaknesses and insecurities and stupid decisions take him by surprise? Not at all! He knows who you truly are, your every failing and your darkest secrets, and he loves you anyway.
And the best way we can repay his love is to treat others as he treats us. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews provided instruction to help us do just that when he wrote:
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24).”
Imagine how beautiful the world could be if that were our daily goal! Just think how well we might get along if we could just learn to be patient with one another and, rather than pointing out all the things we don’t like about each other, we instead chose to encourage each other in our efforts to do good to our fellow human beings…
It’s likely that those you consider to be your very best friends treat you in just this way. That’s what draws you to them and keeps you coming back for more. So, I guess what I’m encouraging you to do is to treat those you encounter as if they are deserving of your friendship. Be the one who lifts others up rather than tearing them down. If you don’t see eye to eye on everything, find that which you can agree upon and rejoice in it.
Draw on the strength God provides to live in a way that reflects his generous nature and enduring love to others. Your life will be better for it and you will show yourself to be a true child of your loving heavenly Father.
Earnestly seeking your best,
Marlene and I just enjoyed a fun afternoon with friends, something that we don’t do nearly as often as we should. It’s a shame, really, how we fill our days with so many chores and leave so little time for relationships. After all, God designed us to be relational beings. And it is in relationship that he comes to us in the person of his Son, Jesus.
A lot of people spend hours a day on social media, but that’s a poor substitute for a relationship. People gather together in various venues, but then spend their time with their eyes on the screens of their smart phones. It’s almost like folks have forgotten how to enjoy a one-on-one conversation, and it’s sad. We’ve taken a life already too full of distractions and added even more—indeed, we’ve added an abundance of distractions to an already over-busy existence.
Sometimes we need to just stop! We need to put away the electronic devices; we need to put aside the chores; we need to unplug from all that keeps us from relating to those around us, and we need to turn our complete attention on the people we care for and the God who loves us unconditionally.
Unconditionally? Yes, unconditionally! There is absolutely nothing you can do that will cause God to love you less than completely. John 3:16 does say that God loves the world (which includes all of humankind) enough to send his Son to heal the rift caused by sin. Romans 8:38-39 make it plain that, through the sacrificial death of Jesus all debts have been paid and therefore there is nothing left that could ever separate us from his love.
God is relational—existing as Father, Son and Spirit before the creation of the world. Existing in such an amazingly close and fulfilling relationship that God chose to create a being he could share this relationship with. He created us for relationship and He desires a relationship with each and every one of us.
God is who he is, with or without us. He doesn’t need us, but he chose to create us to join him in relationship. While we do not influence who he is at all, many of his attributes can only be experienced in relationship. In other words, we come to know him through our relational experiences with him.
God is fully perfect and complete in himself. He needs nothing form us, and yet he seeks us out in order to share with us his completeness, his perfection. For we are far from perfect; we are far from complete. We are definitely a work in process. And as such, I believe that we need what he offers… Speaking for myself, I am a better man because of his influence upon my life. My relationship with Marlene is stronger because God is at the center of that relationship.
So when Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (MT 11:28)”, I am compelled to comply with his invitation. My experience has been that, when I lean on my Savior, he causes me to flourish. When I put my trust in his guidance, he brings me to a better place. When I listen to his instruction to me, all I hear is his love coming through, penetrating my darkness with his unquenchable light.
There is so much more I could tell you about my compassionate, merciful, and gracious God. But perhaps you already know of his personal love for you. I sincerely hope that you do, and that you take full advantage of every opportunity to be in relationship with him.
Time seems to rush by far too quickly this time of year. Most likely it is due to the shortness of the daylight hours, but I cannot swear to that. Maybe it’s the ending of the calendar year that does it, just one more indication of the passage of time and our inability to keep pace. Or maybe it is a combination of all these things. All I know is that this time of year always feels rushed, like everything is moving along at a faster pace.
Thankfully, our gracious God is never in a rush. He patiently waits for the perfect time and faithfully fulfills his promises, one by one. Although Isaiah wrote of the coming Messiah 700 years before his incarnation (and this likely made many in the nation of Israel impatient for his appearing), Jesus came at just the right time in just the right place, right on schedule.
As the Savior of the nation, many expected that his arrival would be trumpeted with more pomp and glory, but that did not fit into God’s plan…
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2)
Jesus came with the humblest of beginnings so that he could serve all, from the least to the greatest. His plan was to lift the human race from its lowly condition and present us to his Father as a pearl of great price. So, he came… into modest conditions he was born—King of the Jews. He came to bring light to a world trapped in the grip of darkness.
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2)
Many would have chosen for Jesus to come at a different point in history. But the conditions were right at that time for news to spread quickly throughout the Roman Empire. Thus, after his death, Christianity reached, as intended, across the continents to touch the lives of all mankind. Once again, God’s timing is perfect. Jesus came at the appointed time to the appointed place to fulfill the appointed promise!
“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. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)
So, if life seems to be rushing by all too fast these days, just remember that God’s timing is still perfect and his plan is still in motion. Things may not happen at the pace we would like, but we need to learn to lean upon the Master as he fulfills his wonderful promises to us and to all mankind.
I hope that your Advent season is blessed with family time and the joy of knowing that the One who made heaven and earth and all that is in them has also made a way for us to share in his unquenchable joy and love. May your joy be so great as to spill over onto others as you celebrate the coming of the One who saves us from sin and death through his glorious life!
Abounding in his love,
As I sit at my computer, watching the weather change moment by moment, I cannot help but think about how transient this life is. In the greater scheme of things, we are here for a brief moment in time, and yet our lives touch, and are touched by, so many others. I find myself considering how the way we live is of great importance, for it impacts those we meet along life’s road.
This time of year, as the days get shorter and the periods of darkness lengthen, it seems that life can often take on a frantic pace. Instead of allowing the natural flow of the seasons to help regulate our lives, we work against it and end up creating greater stress at a time of year in which we have a harder time dealing with stress.
For instance, society has thrown a bomb into what was meant to be a relaxing time of family, tradition, and thankfulness of heart (Thanksgiving 4-day weekend) by giving us black Friday—a time of rampant greed and consumerism. Is it any wonder that we have such a mental health epidemic in our society?
In light of this, I encourage everyone who reads these words to be the difference in the lives of those around you. Don’t get caught up in the hecticness of life; instead determine to be the calming influence that talks others down off the ledge of anger, insecurity, fear, grief, or loneliness. Determine to be the one who, when faced with difficulties, chooses to remain positive in spite of challenging circumstances. Not only will this help those around you, it will be healing to your own soul as well.
In this season of Thanksgiving, choose to have a thankful heart; for even in the most difficult situations, if we look upon our lives with honest eyes, we will find that we have much for which we can be thankful. As a child of God, make a conscious choice not to allow the negative voices to deter you from living out of the truth of who you are in Christ. Instead I encourage you to look into his word and see your true identity revealed in the words of his Apostle Paul.
“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (EPH 2:4-10).”
“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (EPH 3:16-19).”
Strengthened by his love,
This past Sunday after arriving home from church, I was getting ready to dive into an afternoon project, when I learned that a lifelong friend had been taken to the ICU. Apparently Rhonda had collapsed while on the phone with the 911 operator. When the EMTs arrived, they were able to reestablish a pulse, so she was placed on a ventilator and taken to the nearest hospital. Upon learning of this, I drove to Parkland Medical Center in Derry. As I entered her hospital room, I found her surrounded by family members. Later that afternoon, after the closest family members had all assembled (and due to the lack of brain activity), the decision was made to remove the ventilator and let nature take its course. She was pronounced dead moments later.
The thing about this life is that we all know it’s a temporary gig. None of us can escape the inevitability of death. Each day brings us one step closer to our final breath. I believe that this realization is what makes life so very precious to us and helps us treasure the moments we are given, for all too often we are forced to say our goodbyes way too soon. Far too frequently we can be left with the regret of not having said or done more to let those we’ve lost know how much they are truly loved.
Although Rhonda and I had known each other for nearly half a century, we hadn’t spent much time together since leaving high school. But the time that we did get to spend together was more special due to our shared history. From a distance we watched each other’s children become adults and establish lives of their own. From a distance my family grieved with her family over the loss of her husband Dale.
Through it all, the Lord of creation has continued to lavish his love upon our lives. He has lessened our sorrows and increased our joys with his promises of a life beyond this present existence.
Many of those who grieved Rhonda’s passing made mention of what a blessing it was that she and Dale were now reunited. I had to agree. Some who read this will scoff at my naivety and consider me a fool, but my faith is not hampered by their skepticism.
My Lord and Savior has proven himself to me beyond a shadow of doubt. When I have challenged him to reveal himself through answered prayer, he has continually gone above and beyond my expectations. My faith has grown as has my understanding of the depth of his love, not only for me, but for all mankind.
The trials of life will either make you stronger, or make you give up. Each difficulty we face has the power to build us up or tear us down. I can say from experience that leaning on Jesus has made all the difference for me. He is my rock, the foundation that has made it possible for me to stand regardless of my circumstances. I do not fear the future, for I know it is in his hands. I do not lament about the past, because when I have shown myself to be weak, he has been my strength.
Like King David, I have wondered why God would love us so much. And, like King David, I will praise him to my dying breath for revealing his great love to me and to all who will believe in him. He won’t force his love on any of us, but offers it up for the taking…
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me (Revelation 3:20).”
Living in his love,
It’s Labor Day weekend and you know what that means… It means I’m not going to get all those projects done this summer after all! Summers are so busy here in the northeast since we have a short window to accomplish so many outdoor projects. I spoke with someone back in May about laying a concrete pad for me this summer, and I’ve just finished up preparing the spot last weekend. Time flies when you’ve got too much to do!
Thinking about all I have left to do before the cold weather sets in reminds me of a story from the Gospel of Luke.
“Now as [Jesus and his disciples] went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.’ (Luke 10:38-42 ESV)”
Picture Jesus and his band of disciples showing up, probably unexpectedly, at the house of Martha and Mary. There would be much to do to accommodate such a crew! And yet Jesus commends Mary for taking a break from all the toil to listen to his teaching. I think most of us tend to be the “Martha” in this story. If there are things that need to get done so our guests can relax and enjoy themselves, we want to get that out of the way first. Then we can comfortably sit and relax with them and not be concerned about all that still needs doing.
Jesus isn’t saying that there is no value in doing a job and doing it right. Instead he is pointing out that everything has its time and place, including sitting at the Lord’s feet. While in our day, sitting at the Lord’s feet might be akin to prayer and Bible study, I believe it would also be appropriate to include spending time with close friends and family that, perhaps, you don’t get to see very often.
The problem with putting off important opportunities for a “better” time is that we never spend the time we should and often never get around to them at all. Mary knew what needed to get done. But she also knew that, if she allowed herself to be distracted by it all, she would miss out on this one opportunity to spend time with the Lord that may never come again. I’m sure that, once Jesus continued on his way, she then made the time for all the “chores” that needed her attention, but she wasn’t about to miss out on this “special” opportunity by filling her life with “regular” activities.
Labor Day is often seen as the last big fling before the school year kicks into high gear. There’s a bunch of camping and travel going on. But don’t forget to make the time for friends and family as well… Life is fleeting. While there is always work that needs doing, be sure not to neglect the “good portion”. Put the phone down and spend quality time with someone you love. If you know of someone who doesn’t get many visitors, make time to get together with them and let them know you care. You won’t be sorry for the work that gets delayed when you see the smile you bring to their face.
And be sure not to neglect your time with Jesus… It is always time well spent and will make all other times more productive and meaningful.
Laboring in his love,
The daily flood of advertising promises that a particular product will provide just what we need to make our lives “complete” and “whole”. The only thing is that these items never accomplish their stated goal. And do you know why? It is because the focus is always on the self—self-gratification, self-fulfillment, etc. If our efforts are always inward, then we are not fulfilling our purpose on this planet. I’m not saying we should completely ignore our personal needs. No, we cannot extend proper care to others if we have neglected to care for ourselves. What I am saying is that the ultimate goal of self-care should be to equip ourselves to be a blessing to others.
As a youth I discovered in myself a joy for writing poetry. When I learned that my poetry could bring joy to others, I found myself writing more and more. It brought me joy to bring them joy. I found myself lifted up by the act of lifting others up. Later I came to realize that this was a gift given by a loving Father with the intent that I would share it with others. That’s really why he gives gifts in the first place. I cannot think of a single gift from God that was strictly for the benefit of the one gifted.
Have you ever taken the opportunity to visit someone who was in a bad way, maybe stuck in the hospital awaiting answers concerning a serious medical condition, or someone who had recently lost a loved one unexpectedly? Have you ever done something that caused you discomfort in order to bring comfort to someone else? If you have, then you have experienced the other-centeredness that God had in mind for us all.
We are told in Romans 12:15 to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Why? It is because joy is increased and sorrow is decreased in the sharing. This is the mathematics of a loving God, who wired us for relational living. While some, for one reason or another, choose a solitary life, the majority of us surround ourselves with friends and family upon whom we can pour out our love and by whose out-flowing love we are refreshed. We learn life’s greatest lessons through relationships.
In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul wrote of the diversity of gifts given by the Holy Spirit of God. He followed that up by comparing Christians (the collective group of individuals who accept Christ as their Lord and Savior) to a human body, and of the importance of caring for that body. He explained that the gifts, although given to individuals, were poured into our lives for the benefit of the whole body (1 Corinthians 12).
Then, in the very next chapter he went on to explain about the greatest gift of all—love. You’ve probably heard this quoted at a wedding (I’ve certainly used it for that purpose), but it is relevant to all relationships. As I quote some of it here, make note of the other-centeredness of these words:
1Co 13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.  Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails…
Unlike an advertiser, I’ve got nothing to sell you. I merely desire to share from what I have learned through the great giving hand of our Lord, because I have come to understand that joy is increased and sorrow is decreased in the sharing.
Dwelling daily in his love,
“Life is like photography. You need the negatives to develop.”
The above quote by Ziad K. Abdelnour makes an important point. Without trials in life, we do not learn what our strengths are, nor how well we can handle adversity. James, the brother of Jesus, understood this, which is why he wrote the following:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance (James 1:2-3).”
You see, it is in the tests and trials of life that our character is formed, our resolve is strengthened and (for a Christian) our faith in God’s unconditional love is put to the test. It takes no strength of character to enjoy the good times in life, the easy times, the times of plenty. How much resolve is required to accomplish that which comes naturally to us? And why would we question the goodness of God if everything was always going well for us?
No, it is in the trials of life that we find out what we are made of, or more accurately, what we are being made into. A newborn possesses little in the way of coping mechanisms. These are established through real-life experiences, times of testing.
In Jesus’ parable about the seed and the sower, he speaks of those whose soil is shallow (who lack depth of character and perseverance). He says in Luke 8:6 that “Some [seed] fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture.” Then in verse 13 he gives the explanation: “Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away.”
Perseverance is about learning to deal with what life throws at us, not letting the difficulties sway us from continuing on the path which God has set before us, but growing through our experiences and becoming better versions of ourselves. The end result is worth the pain we go through. “Let perseverance finish its work in you so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:4).”
If I were to wish away all the trials I have dealt with in my life, I would also be wishing away all the accomplishments as well. If I were to ask God never to test me through difficult times, I wouldn’t now know what it means to be strong, to stand firm in my convictions, and to truly trust that God has the best intentions for my life. If I hadn’t ever been through the low times, I would have had no reason to look up to see if he really cared. And if I had never looked up, I would have missed seeing God’s loving hand reaching down to me in my misery.
I’m not saying I have always enjoyed the trials I have had to face in life, but I can honestly say that I have come to consider that the trials I face are worth going through because they have solidified my trust in the one whose Spirit now lives in me.
Perseverance still has its work cut out, because I’ve got a ways to go before I am truly mature and complete. There is much that I still lack, yet I am confident in the fact that “he who began a good work in [me] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).” Through it all, I trust in his unconditional love and mercy, and thank God for his abundant provision of grace by which I am freely justified in his presence.
Dwelling daily in the freedom of Christ,
As I sit to write this, I am exhausted from spending a day working in the hot sun. There are times when I long for a bit more sunshine, but today I got more than I needed. Not that I am complaining… It’s great to be active and to have the weather to accomplish what needs to be done. One thing is for sure, I enjoy this time of year with the long sunny days far more than I enjoy the short, cold days of winter. I can’t live without the recharge I get from the sun’s warming rays this time of year.
I hope that’s how each of you feels concerning the “Son”. I hope that prolonged exposure to the Son does not cause you too much distress or discomfort. Of course, I realize that his glory can, at times, reveal parts of our nature that we would rather not see (and certainly do not want others to see). But his revealing is done out of love for us, not to point the finger of blame and shame.
You see, Jesus knew our hearts before he called us to himself. Yet, he still chose to call us. Consider the story of the prodigal son from Luke 15. We can be relatively certain that—although this young man realized the errors of his ways and found his way back to his father’s house—he probably still felt some of the same yearnings deep down that had pulled him away from his father in the beginning. He had gained perspective during his time away, but he was likely still struggling with some of the same inner turmoil that had driven him away in the first place.
I believe we can be equally certain that his father knew this. And yet, he welcomed his son back with open arms, even running out to greet him when he was a good distance away; not to scold him, not to tell him how disappointed he was in his son’s earlier mistakes and bad attitude, but to show that his love and mercy toward his son was just as real now as the day he left.
Notice what happens when the son begins to pour out his heart, calling attention to what a miserable wretch he had become and how he had disgraced his father (LK 15:21). Immediately, the father turns the attention away from his son’s failures and toward how happy he is to have his son back home once again (vv. 22-24). This is how our heavenly Father treats us.
God is not interested in tearing us down, but in lifting us up. He wants us to be useful, not useless. He wants to fill us with His Holy Spirit, not leave us desolate. But just as the potter has to pound the clay in order to soften it, God softens our hearts by revealing our sinful nature while, at the same time, revealing to us His grace-filled nature.
It’s because he loves us so much that he reveals to us our shortcomings, not to beat us up about them, but to encourage us to make positive steps toward healing our brokenness. He wants us to rid ourselves of that which gets in the way of experiencing a fruitful life in his presence. He does it for our good. In fact, the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians that we can be confident “…that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns (PHP 1:6 NLT).”
So, if you tend to spend much of your time thrashing yourself for being such an imperfect human being, consider this—what other kind is there? And yet God loves us all—more than that, He desires for us to bask in His glory. If you find yourself spending most of your time fretting about the dark places in your life, then turn to the Son and let His warming rays soak deep into your soul. You’ll be glad you did!
Love to you all,
“My child, don’t reject the LORD’s discipline, and don’t be upset when he corrects you. For the LORD corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights (Proverbs 3:11-12 NLT).”
I remember being disciplined and corrected by my dad when I was a child. It was never pleasant, and although he never raised a hand to me, his words often stung deeply and left some lasting scars. But through it all, I never remember doubting his love for me. Perhaps this was due to my mother’s calming influence and constant reminder that my dad’s love was not only real, but would outlast whatever pain his words had caused me. Interestingly enough, her words of encouragement were another form of discipline, teaching me to see past the present trials and hope in better times to come.
If there had been no discipline, if I had not been regularly admonished to try harder, do better, and learn from my mistakes, I hate to think what kind of person I may have become. Would I have learned the life lessons necessary to build strong character and a good work ethic? Doubtful… While I didn’t appreciate the life lessons back then, I now realize the value of a firm, disciplined hand in shaping a young life.
God, of course, has been aware of this all along. That’s why he “disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness (Hebrews 12:10 NIV).” God would rather have us experience pain now than miss out on the abundant life to come because he knows that the pain of discipline “produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it (v11b)”.
Having said all this, I want to acknowledge that too many fathers take discipline to a level never intended by our loving God, fathers whose own brokenness carries over into their parental lives and produces abuse in place of discipline. In fact, too many people believe that abuse and discipline are in fact the same thing, which couldn’t be further from the truth.
Abuse comes from a place of pain and (often) anger, whereas discipline comes from a place of love. I do not condone or excuse abusive behavior, but acknowledge it here as a reality of the human condition. I also know that some who read this will be able to relate to this from their personal experiences.
God ordained discipline never crosses the line into abuse, for it is grounded in love. In the same way, true love does not withhold discipline, for it is by this discipline that we are brought to a place of strength and maturity. A parent who neglects the responsibility of disciplining their child demonstrates a lack of understanding in the benefit of proper discipline.
As a believer, I am thankful for the Lord’s discipline, for it provides the necessary direction to guide me through this life. Earlier I quoted the second half of Hebrews 12:11. In closing, I want to leave you with the beginning of that verse:
“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful (HEB 12:11a).” While not all pain is gain, the pain that comes via the Lord’s loving hand is intended only for our good. Don’t reject it, for it comes to you wrapped in his abundant love.
Love to you all,
In the perfect timing of the Lord of creation, Jesus came into the world, lived a perfect life and in his sinless death, destroyed the power that death held over us. It had nothing to do with us and everything to do with him and his awesome love.
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6)
That would be us—apart from Christ. Powerless, ungodly, sinful… We may endeavor to avoid the darkness that surrounds us, but the rocks of self-assurance and independence that we walk upon are slippery and sooner or later we lose our footing and slide back into the darkness we have tried our best to avoid.
Knowing that our self-determination would never heal the great chasm between God and man, Jesus came to live and die to eternally redeem our lives and reconcile us fully to the Father. He is our atonement.
“Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (RO 5:7-8)
Jesus did not come to condemn, but to save. (John 3:17) His whole purpose was healing and restoration. He didn’t show up with a wrecking ball, he showed up with a servant’s heart. He came to heal mankind, not to destroy it. He came as the great physician, bringing the only cure for a terminal disease—sin.
When we will repent of our waywardness and believe in his love and his power to save, we receive justification. Not because of what we’ve done, but in spite of all we’ve done. We are justified by his perfect life, poured out at the cross, not by our puny attempts at being “good” or “righteous”.
“Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (RO 5:9-11)
Haters may hate, scoffers may scoff, doubters may doubt; but the power expressed by the love of God rocks this world, thundering above society’s discord through the words of Jesus spoken from the cross…
“It is finished!” (John 19:30)
Demands of the law… paid in full!
Prophesies concerning Messiah… accomplished!
The power of sin and death… destroyed!
Through his death Jesus opened a way to the Father that had never before existed. Through his resurrection life he calls to us…
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30)
He is Risen!
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that, when it comes to the news of the day, you’ve got an opinion—one way or another. Some of these are “educated” opinions, others are just opinions. Some are taught by our parents and some are forged in our rebellion from our parents (or authority, or society, etc.). Some opinions are a knee-jerk reaction to things that make us angry; while others are driven by a desire for it to be so.
There are a lot of reasons for how we came to have the opinions we have, but there is only one good reason to hold to any specific opinion. Truth! Truth is what matters most of all. Some will say that there is no such thing as absolute truth, but that’s a contradictory statement and is, in the end, quite meaningless. Opinions may disagree; beliefs may cancel each other out. Truth is absolute.
So, who has the truth? Well, that’s the question that is so hard for our secular world to answer. More wars have been fought, more relationships have been destroyed, more people have been misjudged because of a lack of clarity regarding what is true. Too many politicians seem to believe that, if you tell a lie over and over for long enough, it will become true.
Truth has forever been under attack by those who don’t find it convenient or expedient. So much is done in secret due to a fear of what would happen if the truth of the matter were exposed to the light of day. Yes, truth can be quite inconvenient for those who choose to shield their actions behind a lie. The problem is that a lie comes with an expiration date, while the truth remains truth.
Rather than argue or debate with anyone about “universal” truths (yes, I believe there are universal truths), let me tell you what is true for me… It is true that my life had no real direction until I found my direction in Jesus. It is true that on my own I lack ambition and drive, but by the power of Jesus, I have loved and provided for my family, I have pursued an exciting career, and I have been pastor of a small fellowship group for the past 14 years. If it weren’t for the faith Christ has given me, I cannot say where I would be now, but I am thankful for where I am.
I am not afraid to admit that my early years as a Christian were littered with falsehoods and misconceptions, I have trusted in teachers who have led me astray by their misguided teaching. But as I have grown in my faith and understanding through the tutelage of the Holy Spirit, I have experienced what Jesus spoke about as recorded in the gospel of John 8:31-32:
To the Jews who had believed in him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Jesus died for the truth—a very inconvenient truth to those in authority at that time. Many Christians since have died for the truth through these last 2,000 or so years. Although I do not wish it for myself, I pray that, should it come to that, I would be willing as well to die for this truth that has truly set me free.
In the meantime, I cling to the promises of Jesus, these words that give wings to my very soul and strength to every part of my being. Promises such as these in John 16:12-14:
“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.”
Standing on the truth of his promises,
Each life has its own unique experiences. There are times of plenty and times of drought. Most of us will, at some time in our lives, hit a low spot that makes day-to-day living a painful experience indeed. I had such a time a number of years back. It was the anomaly in an otherwise joyful existence and thankfully it lasted for only a season. I cannot tell you what brought it on, but I can tell you how I made it through… prayer!
I was in a state of deep depression, and although I didn’t know why, I knew who did, and through the pain I trusted him to lift me to a better, higher place. It was during this time more than any other that I realized that it was not by my strength that I made it through, but by the strength of the one who called me out of the darkness and into his glorious light (2 Corinthians 4:6; 1 Peter 2:9).
In thinking about the struggles we face, I am reminded of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Paul knew some difficult times. In fact, compared to his life, mine has been completely trouble free. So, I am not surprised that he can teach me a thing or two about dealing with hardship. On the subject of perseverance he wrote:
“…I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12b-14).”
So let’s face it, life is a struggle. The good news is, of course, that we do not struggle alone. We have an advocate who walks the miles with us, always ready to pick us up when we stumble. That’s a big part of what this life is about, getting up again when we stumble.
We also have Christian brothers and sisters who have “been there and done that” and are able to lend support in our time of need. Allow them to lend a hand and help you bear your burden. It will bless both of you!
As we continue to “press on toward the goal,” I want to leave you with a favorite poem by John Greenleaf Whittier:
When things go wrong as they sometimes will,
When the road you're trudging seems all up hill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must, but don't you quit.
Life is strange with its twists and turns
As every one of us sometimes learns
And many a failure comes about
When he might have won had he stuck it out;
Don't give up though the pace seems slow—
You may succeed with another blow.
Success is failure turned inside out—
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell just how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far;
So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit—
It's when things seem worst that you must not quit.
Life is not always easy, but it’s always worth the effort.
By the grace of God,
Another year has begun, and it sure started off on the cold side! (I’m not sensing any global warming where I live!) My diesel tractor decided that it was too cold to run properly, so this past Thursday’s storm didn’t get cleaned up to the extent I had intended. Also, the wood stove has been burning steadily for a couple weeks, so I need to get some more wood into the cellar! Thankfully, it looks like in the coming week the temperature may rise into the 40s. Funny how that seems warm this time of year, but is considered unreasonably cold at other times…
Perspective is like that. Depending upon where you stand at any given time, the same circumstances can strike you quite differently. That’s why it’s important to have a solid foundation in life, something you can count on when the earth is shaking under your feet. For me, the two things I count upon are God and family, in that order. Why? Because I believe that it was God who blessed me with the family I treasure, and it is in my relationship with God that I have learned how to give of myself in order to receive back into my life the blessings that come from close family ties.
Thirty five years ago I was unemployed, having quit a job that literally drove me to my knees in prayer. Within a couple weeks I was employed in the job that would lead me to the career I now enjoy. Through the years my trust in and love for God grew as he continually proved himself over and over again. Life wasn’t always easy, but I knew and trusted the One who had it all under control.
Twenty years ago, a job that I had loved was suddenly unbearable due to personality conflicts that arose through changes in management. Once again I was driven to my knees in prayer and anguish and once again God answered by providing me a way forward.
Ten years ago I was between jobs once again. The company I had given nearly 10 years of my life to had laid me off (along with about 75% of my coworkers), and my next job opportunity had not yet presented itself. I had received notice of the layoff 6 months in advance and, while many around me were expecting me to be bothered by my impending lack of employment, I was experiencing a profound peace…
This peace came down to the fact that God remained steadfast through all of my changing life and I had finally come to the point where, rather than let life shake me, I was now fully trusting God to bring me through. In the end, I was out of work for about 6 weeks and have been steadily employed ever since.
I have been living as a believer, as a Christian, for these 35+ years and I can tell you that the troubles in life are overwhelmingly eclipsed by the love I have experienced from a God who takes such an intimate interest in my life and the life of those I love. I have learned so much over these years, about trust, about faith, about peace that defies explanation. It’s been an incredible ride and I wouldn’t have missed it for all the world.
What I have found through my growing and changing relationship with my God is that our amazing God, the creator of all that exists, is the most loving and generous being I know. Our heavenly Father sets the standard for what fatherhood looks like, and if we can reflect in our own lives just a little of who he is as Father, what a difference it makes. And in his amazing life, the eternal Son, Jesus, truly shows us what it means to be a brother and a son. Lastly, the Holy Spirit, our comforter and keeper who pours into us the love from above and makes sense of our meager prayers amazes me as he guides and shapes me into the man I am meant to be.
To God be the glory!
I cannot speak for anyone but myself, but it seems that the days travel by much faster as the end of the year approaches. Maybe it has something to do with the shortness of the daylight hours, or maybe it’s because we’re trying to get things done before the winter makes such work impossible, but I always feel in a rush this time of year, which is interesting since nature is winding down and preparing for a nap. Even at work the pace has been greater than usual, so time has just been flying by for me. How about you?
Our great God, however, is never in a rush. He patiently waits for the perfect time and faithfully fulfills his promises, one by one, at just the right time (Romans 5:6). Although the prophet Isaiah wrote of the coming Messiah 700 years before he came (and this likely made many in the nation of Israel impatient for his appearing), Christ’s appearing came at the right time in the right place, right on schedule.
Many would have chosen to have him come with more pomp and glory, but that did not fit into God’s plan…
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2)
Jesus arrived with humble beginnings so that he could serve all, from the least to the greatest. His plan was to lift the human race from its lowly condition and present us to his Father as a pearl of great price. So, he came… into modest conditions he was born – King of the Jews. He came to bring light to a world of darkness.
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2)
Many would have chosen for Jesus to come at a different point in history. But the conditions were right at that time for news to spread quickly throughout the Roman Empire. Thus, after his death, Christianity spread across the continents to touch the lives of all mankind. Once again, God’s timing is perfect. Jesus came at the appointed time to the appointed place to fulfill the appointed promise!
“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. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)
So, if life seems to be rushing by all too fast these days, just remember that God’s timing is still perfect and that his plan is still in motion. Things may not happen at the pace we would like, but we need to learn to wait upon the Master as he fulfills his wonderful promises to us and to all mankind (Isaiah 40:31).
I hope that your Advent season is blessed with family time and the joy of knowing that the One who made heaven and earth and all that is in them has also made a way for each of us to share in his unquenchable joy and love. May the joy of Christ fill your hearts to the point that it spills over into the lives of others as you celebrate the coming of the One who saves us from sin and death through his glorious life!
“Happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.” -Frederick Koenig
In this season of Thanksgiving, I want to write to you about contentment. For many, contentment is an elusive dream, not because they lack what is needed for a happy life, but because they focus on that which they do not have. Living in the most prosperous nation on earth, I am often amazed by what seemingly well-off people clamor for. Interestingly, the most sought-after items seem to be related to the “entertainment” industry. If that is the focus, it’s no wonder that so many are discontent.
I want to suggest to you that there is a better way… This better way is found in a personal relationship with Jesus. As a pastor in a local congregation of Grace Communion International, I was blessed with the opportunity to attend a GCI conference in Orlando, Florida this past August. While there, I sat in on a session presented by Bible teacher, author and public lecturer, Cathy Deddo, entitled “Whole-Heartedness—Finding the Joy of Participation with Jesus”.
Towards the end of her presentation she made the observation that to be continually growing in thankfulness puts us in a place of receiving. She was not speaking about receiving “things”. Rather her discussion was about receiving joy and contentment by fully participating in the life and relationship God has called us into. It’s all about finding our contentment in the will of God our Father through his Son Jesus by the indwelling Holy Spirit.
For me, personally, living a Spirit-filled life is what has enabled me to find peace in a troubled world. Whenever I have found myself becoming discouraged, or depressed, or confused, it was always because I was missing the big picture—I was failing to recognize the work of God in my life. Once I came to see what he was doing, to recognize where he was leading, peace returned and, with it, contentment.
Through this process I came to trust in God more fully. I came to realize personally what the apostle Paul was referring to when he wrote about “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).” The wording here points out that this is an ongoing process.
Jesus began his work and will see it through. But he’s not done yet. For me personally, that means there will still be times of discouragement, depression, confusion, etc. But because I recognize God is still at work, these feelings will not define me. Instead I choose to be defined by a spirit of thankfulness, of contentment, whatever my circumstances. It is a choice I must make daily, for this world provides plenty of distractions, red herrings as it were, to unbalance and discourage me.
How can I possess such a positive attitude? It is because I have experienced God through my relationship with him and I have never found him lacking. Since the point where I began paying attention, I can honestly say that God has never let me down. His far-reaching love has trumped my short-sightedness on many occasions, keeping me from making mistakes I was only too willing to make… And his generosity has shown up in powerful, life-changing ways.
I hope, as the day of Thanksgiving approaches, you will choose to be thankful and to experience—with eyes wide open—the many blessings that God has poured into your life. Rather than focus on what you perceive is lacking in your life, recognize and appreciate what is yours in him and be thankful!
Forgiveness is an interesting commodity in God’s economy. You need to be willing to give it to others to actually experience its effects. If your heart is full of bitterness, or pain, or rage, it is likely due to the fact that someone has wronged you and you have not found it in your heart to forgive them. Because you have not forgiven them, you have not experienced the healing power of forgiveness.
It isn’t until you’re willing to let go of the hurt and allow forgiveness to flow from you that you will know and be healed by forgiveness. I believe this is what Jesus was getting at when he stated the following: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins (Matthew 6:14-15).”
You see, your forgiveness is guaranteed in Jesus, but you cannot experience the effects of his forgiveness until you believe that the salvation he offers is for you. He has done all that was required, now it is our turn. But without belief, there is no means to receive his forgiveness. After all, unless you believe you need to be forgiven, you are not going to seek forgiveness.
To take it a step further, if you are unwilling to extend forgiveness to others, then chances are you have not truly accepted the forgiveness of Jesus for yourself; for if you had accept his forgiveness, you would also have come to an understanding that we are all, every one of us, sinners in need of a Savior. And if Jesus is willing to forgive those who have wronged us, who are we to withhold forgiveness from them?
But if we have been cleansed by the forgiveness of Jesus, his love flows into us and out to others, making forgiveness a natural part of our daily lives. If we abide in Jesus’ love, the effects will soon spread to those around us, even those who have treated us badly.
Perhaps you are familiar with the difficult words of Jesus:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love you neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:43-45).”
While I am saying we must be willing to forgive, I am not saying that we should put ourselves in harm’s way. If you are dealing with an abusive relationship, you should do whatever is necessary to discontinue that relationship. Forgiving someone for their past actions against you doesn’t mean you either approve of or condone those actions. It simply means that, regardless of the ill will they bear against you, you bear none against them.
To carry a grudge is like being stung to death by a single bee. Past hurts can destroy us if we let them, but through the act of forgiveness, we can find peace and move on with our lives. It’s not always easy, but the rewards are priceless. Turn it over to Jesus and experience the healing that forgiveness can bring.
Author and theologian, Dr. C. Baxter Kruger, was a guest speaker at a conference Marlene and I attended many years ago in Palm Springs. During one of his talks, he stated that we need to make sure we do not confuse our identity with our experience. For a Christian, our identity is found in Jesus Christ and in him we are made new—a new creation. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here (2 Corinthians 5:17)!" But sometimes our experiences cloud our view of this reality.
Maybe we find ourselves repenting over and over for the same sin and feel that there’s no way God can continue to forgive us, forgetting that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1)”. We may feel that our inability to live a life of pure holiness places a dividing wall between us and our Savior because we fail to remember that “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).”
Often we go through life, seeing what is right in front of us, but with eyes blurred by a confused frame of reference. How often do we allow ourselves to be blinded by what we “fear” will happen, somehow missing the clear and steadfast promises of scripture? After all, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).”
I wonder how many people dare not call upon God because they are sure that He will reject them just like so many others have. If they only knew him as he truly is and not as some have portrayed him to be. This is the God who came to earth and speaks words of love and grace to us, wherever our circumstances find us: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28)”, and also “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).”
Regardless of what our experiences or our senses tell us is true, the reality is that the Father has loved us from the foundation of the world and that Jesus is the embodiment of this love. So why do so many have a view of a God that is looking for any excuse to crush us? Even at the fall of Adam & Eve, God showed his love for them by providing clothing; not because he had a problem with their nakedness (after all, he made them that way), but because of their distorted view of things that caused them to see their nakedness as shameful.
Mankind was brought into being because God is a relational God who desires to share His life with others. Jesus doesn’t just tell us how to have a relationship with the Father, but invites us into HIS glorious, everlasting relationship with the Father. The King of Glory refers to us as his us brothers and sisters because his Father has adopted us and we are now his sons and daughters, members of the family. “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory (Romans 8:17).”
So, the next time you find yourself being blinded from the reality of the Father’s love due to your “present & very real” experiences, remember the words God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah (31:3) “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.” Learn to rest in his love. It will greatly improve your ability to see the truth and to truly see!
Living in his love,