Come closer.

“A rule I have had for years is: to treat the Lord Jesus Christ as a personal friend. His is not a creed, a mere doctrine, but it is he himself we have.” – D. L. Moody

When God wanted to give Moses the law, he told him to climb a mountain, maybe so he could separate himself from the activity around him and get as close to God as possible while still having his feet planted on earth (Exodus 19:20). On that mountain, he learned God’s ways, received his commandments, and saw his glory.

When Jesus saw a woman who was bent over because of an evil spirit’s influence for eighteen years, he called her to come over to him. He could have healed her from a distance. He could have gone to her himself. But, he stopped walking and invited her to come closer. She did, and she was healed (Luke 13:10-13).

When Jesus went throughout Galilee in his early ministry, he invited people to come to him so they could have rest for their souls (Matthew 11:28).

We see the pattern, don’t we? God does not want to be distant from us. He sent Jesus to bridge that gap and now both the Father and the Son say, in essence, “Come closer. Don’t hide from me. Don’t stand at a distance and call out to me. Just come. Sit at my feet. Listen to my voice. Tell me what you need. Let me love you. I’m waiting for you to move from your place of stress and anxiety and get close enough to me to know me, to trust me, and to receive peace and joy from my hand.”

What are we waiting for?

 “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” – James 4:8a

Countercultural

“Often a work of God comes with two edges, great joy and great pain, and in that matter-of-fact response Mary embraced both. She was the first person to accept Jesus on His own terms, regardless of the personal cost.”– Philip Yancey

During this Advent season, we think about Jesus coming to this earth to walk among humans in a world that was unsettled at best. What do we learn by observing his sojourn on our planet?

In a world whose leaders were angry at him for doing good, he was angry at sin.

In a world filled with selfishness, he served with kindness.

In a world of competing voices, he spoke confidently and quietly – often to just a few.

In a world of bullies, he was gentle.

In a world of crowds and chaos, he invited his disciples to come away with him to rest.

In a world that demanded retribution, he was forgiving.

In a world that valued silver and gold, he took pleasure in the sparrows.

In a world of hurry, noise, and threats, he said not to be anxious about anything.

In a world of disparity, he advised a man to sell his possessions and give to the poor.

In a world of homes and families, he had no place to lay his head.

Jesus came to show us how to live in an upside-down world. A world that doesn’t know him or his ways. In a world of despair and depression, he challenges us to live with expectancy and hope and, by doing so, our countercultural lives will point others to him. What better time to do that than when we celebrate his birth?

We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14b

When Discouragement Hits

“Faith sees the invisible, believes the unbelievable, and receives the impossible.” — Corrie ten Boom

I know a lot of people who are discouraged, some even depressed, stressing over financial setbacks, health issues, or relationships. Others have a more general anxiety about the world – political unrest, environmental issues, global conflicts.

Paul’s writings helped me to think more clearly about these things recently.

He begins by warning his spiritual son Timothy that things are going to get difficult, and people are going to continue to behave in sinful, ugly ways (2 Timothy 3:1-5). He then gives Timothy some instruction.

First, he says not to get caught up in the horrible condition of the world around him. Be aware, but not obsessed. Instead, he says Timothy should follow Paul’s example:  You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness . . .” (2 Timothy 3:10). Maybe we all need to look for those who are living God-centered lives in difficult times and follow their examples. They may be people we know personally or authors we read or teachers we listen to. Let’s find people with one foot planted in this world and the other in Scripture and listen to them.

Second, Paul tells Timothy to keep following what he knows to be truth: “. . . continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15).

Essentially, Paul says, turn your eyes to good role models and your heart to God’s truth. That advice will preserve us from discouragement when times are tough. I’m working on that. You, too?

May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you.” – Psalm 25:21

Truth in Context

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” – 1 John 3:18

When a witness is on the stand and is told to answer only “yes” or “no,” you know you’re not getting the full story, and a yes or no answer could actually be misleading. Truth, to be understood as truth, has to have context. The witness has to be able to tell his story.

There are those who object to Jesus saying “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” But he made that claim after several years of public ministry in which he showed in other ways who he was. For Jesus the concept of “way, truth, and life” included his compassion for those in need, healing those who were lame or sick, teaching about his Father, and moving lovingly toward those who were sinful. For him, saying he was the “way, truth, and life” was a summary of what he had exampled among the people already. The statement was set in the context of his life.

There is a lot of skepticism these days about truth in just about every arena of life. If Christians want to be seen as people of truth in a world gone sideways on the subject, we need to remember Jesus’ model: live it first, then tell it. Intellectual truth is important, but it doesn’t have the impact of truth contextualized in a well-lived life. Live truth.

The people of God are not merely to mark time, waiting for God to step in and set right all that is wrong. Rather, they are to model the new heaven and new earth, and by so doing awaken longings for what God will someday bring to pass.” – Philip Yancey

Practice on Humans

“. . . anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. (I John 4:20b)

We can’t see God. Or sit across the table with him. Yet we are told that the greatest commandment is to love him and the second is to love our neighbors. I wonder if it has to be in that order.

Praying about loving God one morning, a thought came that I believe was from him: “Practice on humans.”

Maybe it is easier to love someone we can look in the eye, or touch, or hear. And maybe loving humans better will help us love God better, too.

We can start with those who are easy to love – babies and small children. Right? Then other family members, people at work or in the neighborhood. The next step is when God asks us to love someone who is dirty, angry, clingy, selfish, or arrogant. We start with those we can love easily, and then God moves us on to bigger love challenges. When we accept those challenges, allowing God’s love to flow through us, we become better lovers and, as we do, we find our love for God and love for human beings are closely intertwined.

Mother Teresa was ministering to lepers one day when a visiting American businessman saw her put her arms around a sick and very dirty man. Cringing, the American visitor commented to the person with him, “I wouldn’t do that for all the money in the world.”

Overhearing him, Mother Teresa responded, “Neither would I. But I would do it to show him the love of Jesus.” She had mastered the love lessons. Let’s find someone to love today!

“Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” – Mother Teresa

The Every Day God

My mouth is filled with your praise and with your glory all the day”. – Psalm 71:8

As I’m writing this, it’s Sunday morning. God’s day. Going to church on Sunday is good! But, it’s even better to make every day, all day God’s day. I don’t mean we should sit, pray, and read our Bibles all day. God wants us to live our actual lives – family, work, play – all of it.

But, what if, while we were living our daily lives, we invited God to be with us? What if we acknowledged his presence by talking to him – as we drive to work, shop for groceries, or relate to others?

“Spiritual people are . . . those who draw their life from a conversational relationship with God” (Dallas Willard). When we have an ongoing conversation with God, he enlivens us, energizes us, gives us true life. We become aware of what pleases him, are a little bolder in sharing our thoughts about him, and find our hearts softening toward those around us. Then, little by little joy creeps in. When I talk to God more, I smile more, too!

What can you talk to him about? Here are a few ideas from Psalm 71:

Tell him when you don’t feel safe: “Be to me a rock of refuge to which I can continually come.” (v. 3a)

Praise him for who he is: “My praise is continually of you.” (v. 6b)

Talk to him about your dreams: “I will hope continually.” (v. 14a)

Thank him for something he did for you: “My tongue will talk of your righteous help all day long.” (v. 24a)

The more we talk to him, the more natural it feels. Life gets a new dimension – God’s perspective, direction, companionship. Amazing, really!

“Prayer is talking with God about what we are doing together.” – Dallas Willard

Just love him.

“Direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only.” – 1 Samuel 7:3

If you have made a commitment to follow God, you know you don’t do it perfectly, right? He doesn’t talk out loud to us. His Book can be hard to understand. We pray and believe, but sometimes we don’t know if he hears. We want to love others as ourselves, but know we don’t do that as well as we should.

When I was getting discouraged about these things recently, God placed this question in my mind: “Where is your heart?” That was easy to answer. My heart is with God. I love him. I want to serve him. You know what I then “heard” in my head? “That’s all I need.” Really? All I have to do is direct my heart toward him and he’s happy with that? Yes. Because if he has my heart, he can work with me, steer me, grow me, use me.

Where is your heart?” has become an encouraging question for me. Answering that a few times a day might be helpful for you, too. If our hearts are directed with sincerity toward God, we will find ourselves making decisions (time use, possessions, spending, sharing) based on our knowledge that we really do love God. That reassurance helps to guide our choices. We have to focus on only one thing – where is my heart? Our actions will follow as naturally as water flows toward the sea.

“Let a man set his heart only on doing the will of God and he is instantly free. If we understand our first and sole duty to consist of loving God supremely and loving everyone, even our enemies, for God’s dear sake, then we can enjoy spiritual tranquility under every circumstance.” – A. W. Tozer

Breaking Promises

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. ” – Hebrews 10:22

Did you ever make a promise and later regret it? We probably all have. We are people of our word and, no matter what, we’re determined to keep a promise we’ve made. But, should we?

Most of the time we should. But, the Bible teaches that, if keeping a promise leads to sin, it’s better to break the promise than to do something harmful or wrong. David’s an example of this when he vows to his 600 fighting men that they will wipe out the household of Nabal because Nabal refused to provide food for David’s men. David is on his way to do that when Nabal’s wife, Abigail, meets him, brings food, and talks him out of his foolish promise. David relents and then acknowledges that her intervention kept him from sinning (1 Samuel 25).

Herod should have been willing to go back on his promise when he told Herodias’ daughter she could have whatever she wanted, and she asked for John the Baptist’s head. Herod was too proud to go back on his word, and John was unjustly and immediately beheaded.

If keeping our word will have consequences that are harmful, sinful, or just plain unwise, it’s better to break that promise than to keep it (Leviticus 5:4-6). We will have to give explanations, apologies, and even restitution if we have hurt someone by backing away, but that’s better than doing the wrong thing.

We should not make promises lightly, but we should never keep a promise that leads to sin or harm. Speak carefully, correct thoughtfully, live wisely, and God will be glorified.

“Never do what’s wrong! Do nothing until it’s right. Then do it with all your might.” – Chuck Swindoll

Forgetful?

“But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. . .” -1 Corinthians 2:7

Poor Jeremiah! He is trying hard to get the attention of the people of Israel to tell them their worship of idols is going to bring God’s judgment. They won’t listen. They seem to have forgotten even the most basic of God’s commands. Here’s how Jeremiah sums it up, “. . . they have rejected the Word of the Lord, so what wisdom is in them?” (Jeremiah 8:9b). It’s a blunt way of saying that, without God’s Word, humans are not as smart at they think they are.

Fast forward a few centuries to Jesus’ conversation with the Sadducees. They ask him a question about the afterlife and Jesus, after hearing their theory, says, “You are wrong because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” (Matthew 22:29b). He, like Jeremiah, is saying that since they didn’t really know the Scriptures, even though they made a show of their presumed knowledge, they were getting things wrong.

Sometimes we forget our limitations in understanding and knowledge. We make plans assuming we have it all figured out. Then we hit a roadblock we hadn’t anticipated. That’s when the Holy Spirit reminds us (maybe as bluntly as Jeremiah and Jesus did) that we need him and his revealed Word to know the path we should take. Without an ever-growing understanding of the Bible, we’ll keep making mistakes, coming up against the impossible, and working in the dark.

We need to constantly go back to the Book. As one author says, “I need to keep opening my Bible and reading stories about how he operates. I’m a forgetful person.”*

Me, too.

“Nobody ever outgrows Scripture; the book widens and deepens with our years.” – Charles Spurgeon

*Brant Hanson

Don’t give up!

 “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you . . .” Psalm 63:1a

We are all working toward something. We have goals and dreams. Is God on your wish list? I heard a teacher say recently that we need to take God off any list. He stands alone as the one and only priority in our lives. When we make him that, he will become a part of and will invade every other aspiration we have. He’s not something to do. He’s someone to pursue.

We need to be patient in that pursuit because It takes time to get to know God. Don’t give up, though. He gives this promise, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13). It’s not that he’s hiding. It’s that he’s so great and beyond our understanding that he has to reveal who he is a little at a time. But his promise stands. If our hearts are right, we will find him. We will get to know him. We will find ourselves in his presence – a place of security, love, joy, and purpose. It’s a promise!

When we get discouraged with the process, we should remember that the Magi watched and studied the sky for years looking for the cosmological sign that would announce the coming of the Messiah. Then, one day, a star appeared. And, when it did, they followed it until they found Jesus, God in human form. So we keep looking, searching, desiring to find him, to know him, no matter how long it takes. We will never stop wanting more of him.

“Let all our employment be to know God: The more one knows him, the more one desires to know him.” ~ Brother Lawrence