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

New

“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

It’s a new year. We have celebrated its coming and have lived a few of its days. How’s it going so far? For me, it feels an awful lot like the old year!

God’s idea of new is different from ours. Read Revelation 21 and you’ll see what I mean. He says, “Behold I am am making all things new.” Not just a new page on the calendar. All things new. And the chapter tells us what he means: a new heaven, a new earth, an entirely new way of living. Amazing, right?

As wonderful as that will be, we don’t have to wait until the end of time to experience God’s idea of new. Those who choose to accept Jesus’ invitation to forgiveness of sins and relationship with him experience a newness that begins right then. Immediate goodbye to the frustration of trying to handle everything alone – including not only life’s challenges but also our guilt, regrets, and fears. Instead we greet a new life where we are guided, accepted, forgiven, and secure forever.

Once we begin to follow Jesus, we live a new and renewed life every day – one filled with anticipation, adventure, God’s presence, and, sometimes, his surprises.

Let’s not settle for a new year when we can have a new life!

“We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” – Romans 6:4

For the joy . . .

“You need not cry very loud; he is nearer to us than we think.” – Brother Lawrence

My mind was racing going through all I had to do and all I was worried about. The task in front of me felt heavy, and I was anxious.

“Fix your eyes on Jesus” came into my mind. I mentally saw him carrying his cross, bent in exhaustion and pain. Then I remembered another phrase of the verse he was reminding me of: “For the joy set before him he endured the cross“. It was as if he was saying: “Do what I did. See the joy at the other end. It’s hard and tiring, but keep your eyes on me and on the joy.” The same verse describes Jesus as “the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” He was telling me that he would complete what he had started (from Hebrews 12:2).

But the very next verse (which I looked up later that morning) was the capstone as I thought about my discouragement: “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart”(Hebrews 12:3). The reason to look at Jesus in his suffering? So I will not get tired and discouraged. He is our perfect example.

Don’t you love how the Holy Spirit works? He gave me one small phrase from his word and, when I followed that to the whole text, I had a complete message: Keep your eyes on Jesus. He will show you how it’s done. He will finish his work in you. And you will not be anxious.

Maybe you need to hear that, too, so I am sharing it today.

” . . . learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls”. – Matthew 11:29b

What do you admire?

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.” – 1 Peter 3:15a

Recently the devotional I’m reading asked me to think about what I admired most about Jesus. I had never thought of that before, but it didn’t take me long to have an answer to that question.

We could admire Jesus for a lot of things, couldn’t we?

For his compassion toward people of all walks in life.

For his miracles that restored sight, strength, health, and even life.

For his teaching that amazed even the most educated among his listeners.

For his willingness to leave behind everything comfortable and perfect in heaven to come to a dusty, dirty earth to rescue us from sin.

But what I admire most is his relationship to his Father in heaven. He prayed a lot, talking to the other members of the trinitarian God. He listened for God’s direction. He went to his Father when he was tired, or lonely, or unsure of what to do next. He seemed to gain strength and clarity from that relationship and, above all else, he wanted to please the Father, to do his will – no matter what it cost him.

This kind of exercise is not about getting the “right” answer, but it simply challenges us to think about Jesus – to meditate on who he is, what he did, what he taught, and the spiritual life he offers to all mankind. So, if you want to try it, enjoy the journey. We’re always blessed when we’re thinking about Jesus.

Our Father in heaven, reveal who you are. Set the world right. Do what’s best – as above, so below. Keep us alive with three square meals. Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. Keep us safe from ourselves and the devil. You’re in charge! – Eugene Peterson

Need help?

 “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. . . For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Matthew 9:12a and 13b

Author Dane Ortland describes a hypothetical scenario whereby a doctor moves to an area of the world among impoverished villages. He sets up a medical clinic, inviting people to come. Do you know what pleases him most? When sick people show up! Especially the very ill, desperate for his care. If only the healthy came to visit, his efforts would be wasted. He’s doing what he came to do only when the sick come.

Ortland goes on to compare this to Jesus’ ministry. He didn’t come for those who felt spiritually healthy. He came for those who were spiritually sick and knew it. He was accused of hanging out with sinners. Of course that’s what he did! They were why he came. Sometimes he didn’t wait for them to come to him. He went out to find them.

Jesus is back in heaven, but his purpose remains: To seek out those of us who know we’re sinful and to welcome us with open arms. When we come, he cleans us up, sets us on our feet, and loves us into the kingdom of God.

We’ve got it wrong if we think we have to get our act together to be able to approach Jesus. Or if we think what we have done is so bad he could never forgive us. He came for people like us – people who know how much they need a new life, a spiritual bath. Only real sinners can experience his real forgiveness.

. . . for the penitent, his heart of gentle embrace is never outmatched by our sins and foibles and insecurities and doubts and anxieties and failures.” – Dane Ortland

The book cited is Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers by Dane Ortland

Jesus: Who is he?

But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” – Matthew 16:15a

What would you think if some some simple person with no social standing, home, or education, stood in front of a crowd and said, “I am the light of the world?” That was Jesus in first-century Jerusalem. Who did he think he was? Light of the world? Really?

To Nicodemus he said, “If I am lifted up, I will draw all men unto me,” and to his disciples, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” Why would anyone make these claims?

He said them because he believed he was God incarnate and that his statements were true. If he was not God, then he must have been a delusional narcissist.

There was no narcissism his behavior, though. He interacted with the religious elite and with the lowest sinners. He chose hard-working fishermen and social outcasts to be his closest friends. He healed, he gave his time lovingly even when he was tired. He was patient with his disciples when they didn’t understand or, worse yet, failed him. And he boldly confronted those who abused others.

“Above all, he was unselfish. Nothing is more striking than this. Although believing himself to be divine, . . . he was never pompous. There was no touch of self-importance about Jesus. He was humble.”*

Who do you say he is? An outrageous egotist or God himself? He can’t be both. Your answer to that question matters more than you know.

“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.” – C. S. Lewis

*Stott, John R. W. Basic Christianity, pp. 43-44

Scars

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” – Romans 5:3-4

If you walk among the aspens, you’ll notice their scarred trunks. Many of the roundish blemishes are from branches that have fallen off, a natural part of the tree’s growth. Others, though, are more rugged. These irregularly shaped scars are usually the result of elk having chewed on the bark. Over time the wounds heal, but the scars remain as a testament of survival.

We all have scars. They are evidence of our past, and they make us unique. Our scars usually result from trauma – physical or emotional. For some it was abuse or neglect in childhood. Others of us carry scars from broken relationships, losses, accidents, illnesses, or threats. Many older people, looking back on their lives, acknowledge the pains they have endured, and still end up saying, “I wouldn’t change anything.” Why? Because they know they wouldn’t be the people they became over time without the events that sometimes wounded them.

We don’t have to be ashamed of our scars. They record our histories, they give evidence of our ability to survive, to heal. And they allow us to connect with those who recognize those scars as theirs, too.

Jesus was raised from the dead after a brutal crucifixion. He could have had any resurrection body he wanted, but he chose to keep his scars. They verified his identity to doubting disciples, and they still give evidence of his triumphant sacrifice for humankind.

Every scar we have represents pain that, by God’s grace, made us stronger, better, more like Christ. He didn’t hide his scars. We shouldn’t either.

Suffering is arguably God’s choicest tool in shaping the character of Christ in us. – Joni Eareckson Tada

Paradise Lost?

 “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” – Luke 23:43

I walked along a familiar road when I came upon this new sign telling me Paradise Drive was off limits. I had taken that shortcut many times before, but was no longer welcome.

Then I read the small print: HOA Residents, Guests, and Deliveries Only. Apparently there is a way in. Because I have nothing to deliver, my only hope is to be invited by a resident. I guess I’ll have to make some new friends!

You probably know where I’m going with this. We all want to get to Paradise someday, don’t we? Or Heaven as we more often call it. We shouldn’t be surprised to find that Heaven has restrictions for entry, too. But there’s hope! We already have Someone in residence there who wants us to come in. In fact, here’s what Jesus said to his disciples on the night he was arrested: “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:2b-3).

Then, just a few hours later, from the cross, Jesus tells the repentant thief that they would be together in Paradise that very day. It seems that the way in is to accept an invitation from Jesus to join him there. So, this sign notwithstanding, I know my way to Paradise. I am the guest of the one who is preparing a place for me.

He issues that invitation to you, too. Say “yes” to Jesus and follow him home!

God is going to be as pleased to have you with Him in heaven as you will be to be there with Him.”
– A. W. Tozer

The Family Name

“I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters”, says the Lord Almighty. – 2 Corinthians 6:18

Parents who adopt look for a child they think will fit into their family – someone they can love, nurture, and provide for. Once they find the child, they can’t wait to welcome him into their home.

God is building a family, too! His first adoption was the Jewish people. Here’s what he said to them, “. . . the Lord has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth (Deuteronomy 14:2). Scripture often refers to Israel as God’s son.

God wasn’t done yet. Now, he we hear about other peoples of the world – those who are not Jews: “In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:4b-5).

We are not born into God’s family with our physical birth. We have to be adopted in. The good news, though, is that anyone who wants to be in God’s family can be. He’s still in the adoption business.

Being adopted means our name changes. As we read above, we are brought into God’s family through Jesus Christ and, thus, we take the name Christian. It’s up to us now to carry that name with dignity, to bring honor to the family of God, to look to God as Father, and to follow Jesus as an older brother.

In all that, we never, never forget that God saw us, loved us, and chose to adopt us as his own. With that, we should wake up every morning smiling!

By God’s mercy, wretched paupers are made royal heirs together with Christ. By God’s mercy, wayward sinners are embraced as righteous sons.” – Jan Verbruggen

Following and Trusting

“But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” – Job 23:10

I was hiking with friends in the Rocky Mountains recently when we came to a narrow part of the trail. I looked to my left and realized there wasn’t much room between me and a long drop to the creek below. My heart raced and I slowed my pace. Beth, walking behind me, asked if I was afraid, and I admitted I was. She understood and asked Bonnie, another friend, to walk in front of me. Bonnie got around me and then walked a slow and steady pace, knowing I needed to be able to follow. It was much easier getting through the tough part of the trail when I was watching her feet instead of the drop-off beside me.

I learned two things that day. First, I have some great friends. They saw I was in trouble and, one behind and one in front, helped me through. When we struggle with a hard part of life’s path, we need friends like these two!

Second, I needed someone to trust. I knew my friends had hiked this trail before, so I had confidence in them. When I took my mind off the scary edge next to me, focusing on Bonnie instead, I calmed down and made it to the wider part of the path.

Do you know the person I trust the most? Even more than my friends? Jesus. I’m trying to learn to follow his sandaled feet whenever I’m afraid. He always leads me to a safer place. He’ll do that for you, too!

“Self-denial . . . means no longer seeing oneself, only him who is going ahead, no longer seeing the way which is too difficult for us. Self-denial says only: he is going ahead; hold fast to him.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer