Ready for change?

 

“. . . wash me and I will be whiter than snow.” – Psalm 51:7b

I remember beginning my prayer time that day with praise. Then I began confessing sins, naming ways in which I felt I was failing God: areas of self-control, worry, lack of compassion, not sharing his message with others. I was about to go on when he stopped me with something like this:

“You have one underlying problem: Not loving me with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. Forget the list. Focus instead on knowing and loving me. All else will flow from that. Over time, the list of sins won’t be as important to you, but I will become most important. That’s what I want and what you need – for me to be your everything.”

We all have sins that need to be forgiven. The Bible does tell us to confess our sins. But on that day, God wanted me to take my eyes off my own failings and look at him instead. The ultimate goal, after all, is to become like Jesus. If we keep looking at ourselves, we’ll miss what he wants us to become. Over time, as I continue gazing at him, I begin to realize I am becoming calmer. I feel more concern for others. I am more self-controlled, and more likely to tell someone else about him and what he means to me.

It’s not that we don’t have to change – but God’s way of changing us is more effective than ours. And he does it by loving us, dirt and all, and inviting us into relationship with him. It seems our first step toward change is doing our best to love him with everything we’ve got!

“Communion with God is the one need of the soul beyond all other needs.” – George MacDonald

 

Do you really know why Jesus came?

“. . . to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” – John 1:12

If I had lived when Jesus was here and if I knew he was God, I think I would have been afraid. If God is holy and all-knowing, he must surely be angry at humans. But no! The good news is he came to do away with sin, not us! His disciple John explains it this way: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8b).

John also tells us Jesus came, not to condemn the world, but to save it (John 3:17).  He knew the world was a mess and we humans are a mess, but he put the blame exactly where it belongs: on Satan! He came to free his children from Satan’s grasp, to invite us into relationship with himself, and to make us better people. He came to reveal the irrational love of the Father for all his children trapped in a world of evil. He came to love us, not to hurt us.

Every human since has had to decide how to respond.  At some point, we’ll be accountable for the choice we made: Did we choose to allow him to free us from sin’s stranglehold, or did we choose to continue on a hopeless path without him? We’re not responsible to untangle ourselves from all the trouble sin brings, but we are responsible for the choice we make about Jesus and his invitation to be his.

I hope you choose Jesus this Christmas. And if you already know him, choose to know him better!

“The loving mission of our Lord Jesus Christ was not to condemn but to forgive and reclaim.”A. W. Tozer

 

#Jesus

#Christmas

The Best Gift Giver

    “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” – Matthew 7:11

Don’t you love to get gifts? And to give them?

Both giving and receiving gifts seems to be pretty important to God. When the Tabernacle was being built, He asked people to bring gifts that could be used to make the structure and the furnishings. He referred to many of the animal and grain sacrifices as gifts to Him. The Magi brought gifts to honor Jesus’ coming to earth. Paul gathered gifts from churches to help the suffering Christians in Jerusalem. Cornelius was commended for his gifts to the poor.

We see that humans can give generously, but, by far, the greatest giver is God Himself. Let’s think about God’s some of amazing gifts to us:

Creation: We look at it, learn about it, enjoy it.

His Word: It’s our privilege to read and meditate on it.

Jesus: And, through Him, eternal life.

Forgiveness: Guilt, sins – gone, paid for, erased.

Life: We breathe, behave, and relate because of this great gift.

Second chances: This is a gift some of us open over and over again!

Prayer: Communion with our Creator, Savior, Friend. Don’t let this one get dusty!

Family, friends: The joy of community, a gift from the Trinity.

Holy Spirit: Joyfully responding in amazement to God living within us.

That’s quite a list, but God’s not done giving gifts yet – some of them are especially selected for you or me. Let’s look for them and, then, respond in thanksgiving always!

 “When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” –G.K. Chesterton

#thanksgiving #giftsfromgod

God Carriers

“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” – Galatians 6:10

The way we treat people, especially other Christ- followers, matters to God!

There’s a reason for that. The Spirit of God actually resides in the the hearts of humans who are part of His family. When we mistreat another child of God, we mistreat God, who lives within them.

In ancient times, the Ark of the Covenant was given by God as the place where He would meet with designated representatives of the people. Dishonoring the Ark in any way (moving it incorrectly, entering the Holy of Holies without being qualified to do so, etc.) was to dishonor the God who presided there and such actions brought His judgment. The clear message was that the place where God chose to show Himself was sacred and was to be treated with great care.

I can’t help believing the same holds true today. God lives within His people, much as He dwelt above the Ark millennia ago. He defended His honor by defending the Ark. Would He do less than that today?

  • No wonder God says to love our neighbor. (Is there someone I need to show love to today?)
  • No wonder Jesus said to be reconciled to our brother. (Is there someone I need to forgive today?)
  • No wonder Paul says to prefer others above ourselves. (Is there someone I need to honor today?)

In doing these things, we honor God who honors us with His indwelling presence. God is good, gracious, merciful, and loving. But He protects His own. Let’s be careful how we treat them!

“Next to the holy sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” – C. S. Lewis

One at a Time

“If we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us” – 1 John 4:12b

Everybody wants to be accepted for who they really are, not just for what shows on the surface. So, I really don’t want to judge people by appearance, wealth, religion, nationality, or color. And I don’t want people to judge me that way either.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, we realize Samaritans were not acceptable to Jews. They were seen as people of mixed-pedigree, theologically wrong, and to be avoided.

I have to ask myself who today’s  “Samaritans” are to me? The addicted? The uneducated? The poor? Those of a particular nationality, religion, sexual orientation, or political persuasion?

Then I realize I am a “Samaritan” to some – one who is labelled as “Christian” and understood only by what they think that label means. I don’t want anyone to assume that, because I am a Christian, they know my views on social issues, politics, or science. I am an individual and want to seen as such. I imagine you do, too!

The shock of Jesus’ story was, of all the people passing by, it was the despised Samaritan who stopped to help the wounded Jew. This Samaritan didn’t fit His audience’s preconceived ideas of Samaritans as a group. Some of our present-day “Samaritans” don’t either!

Jesus dealt with people one at a time: The Syro-Phoenician woman, the Jewish leader’s daughter, the rich young ruler, Zaccheus the tax collector, and many others. He listened, touched, and forgave one person at a time, no matter their background. Maybe He expects us to do the same.

“There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread, but there are many more dying for a little love.” – Mother Theresa

Regrets?

“. . . in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself and not counting their trespasses against them.” – 2 Corinthians 5:19a

Do you think about times you rebelled against God’s direction because you thought what He was asking was too hard or unfair? Or times when you knew something you were choosing to do was a violation of God’s standards and you did it anyway? We all have regrets, don’t we? Sometimes the decisions we made then still affect our lives today. Because of our trust in Jesus, when we confess these sins, no matter how old or new they are, He forgives. He gives us a clean slate and invites us to move forward.

But sometimes we have trouble receiving that forgiveness. We still condemn ourselves for wrong turns we made long ago. I was talking to God about that one day and it was as if He was saying this to me (and, I think, to some of you, too):

I want to heal your heart from past pains and perceived obligations so you can be more focused on Me and My world. I deliver you from pain, caused by your sins or those of others. You are free to follow Me without carrying the weight of your past. I have forgiven you, released you, healed you. Freely you have received, freely give. Now it’s all about you and Me. No more regrets. Just the present moment and our never-ending future together.

Once we receive God’s forgiveness, we find it easier to give grace to those who wrong us. So for their sake and ours, let’s face forward –  forgiven and forgiving.

“This might well be the essence of the spiritual journey for all of us- to accept that we’re accepted and to go and live likewise.” – Richard Rohr

Life-Changing Prayers

silverthorne-3

“God listens to those who are godly and who do His will.” – John 9:31

Prayer is a mystery to many of us. Why pray if God already knows what we need? Or, if we do pray, why don’t our prayers get answered? There’s no formula for effective praying, but today I will share some insights others have given me that may be helpful to you, too.

Sitting: Prayer is our response to God’s invitation to be with Him. He wants us to come confidently, joyfully, consistently, knowing we will always be welcomed. So let’s not barge into His presence brashly asking for things. First, we just sit for awhile, enjoying the pleasure of His company.

Confessing: We often will find thoughts coming into our minds during this time about things we do that hurt Him. We have to be willing to give up anything that blocks friendship with God. He knows we will never be perfect, but He requires that we acknowledge our sin and commit to being better. When we confess, He always forgives, makes us clean, and gives us strength.

Asking: Now we are ready to tell Him our troubles, pray for others who concern us, and ask Him to answer as He wishes.

Listening: Then we quietly wait for any message He may give. Sometimes it is a direction or an idea. At other times, a sense of peace, contentment, or joy. Listening, though, is the best part of prayer. Let’s not hurry away without hearing what He may have to say.

Now we are ready to face our day:  refreshed, clean, calm, energized, and prepared to serve Him and others. Let the adventure begin!

“God’s presence calms your spirit, gives you restful sleep, and quiets your mind. But you must give yourself completely to Him.” – Francois Fenelon