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

Stretching Our Minds

“We are in a time when thinking rightly is more important than ever. The prospering of God’s cause on earth depends upon his people thinking well.” – Dallas Willard

When is the last time you read or watched something that stretched you? That challenged your thinking? Getting out of our comfort zone can be good for us. If we agree with what we read or see, our faith is confirmed. If we disagree, we grow stronger by thinking through the why’s of the beliefs we have.

For example, I’m not Catholic, but I listen to a Catholic radio station. There is much I can learn from my Catholic brothers and sisters. The programming helps me recognize my points of view and, at times, causes me to modify my long-held perspectives.

A couple of years ago my husband read the Koran from cover to cover. He wasn’t thinking about converting to Islam, but he wanted to have a first-hand knowledge of the teachings Muslims believe and follow. His commitment to learning about others’ beliefs opens doors of conversation he hadn’t had before.

Are you stuck in a rut with your thinking? Venture out a bit! Read a book, watch a YouTube video, or follow a blog that comes from a point of view different from yours. Then talk about it with someone else to explore new ideas and see how they fit with your own. If you’re like me, these experiences will drive you to the Bible, our source of truth, and will probably foster new relationships. Our minds are gifts from our Creator are meant to be used for his purposes in this world. He made them stretchable for a reason!

“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, “ – 2 Corinthians 10:5

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

The Backward Look

“Remember the wondrous works that he has done.” – Psalm 105:5

Many of us try to live in the present moment. After all, the present is the only time we have, right? The only chance we have to make a difference, to experience God’s presence, to interact with those around us.

That is a good mindset, but once in awhile we are wise if we stop to realize that where and who we are in this present moment is the result of many things that have happened along the way.

As I paused today to think back on my own life, I realized how God took me into and out of situations that molded me; how he brought me spiritual friends who encouraged my faith, how he gave me ways to serve him, how he drew me closer to himself. Even in circumstances I didn’t like, he was always faithful, always loving, and always looking out for me.

What about you? Whether you’ve lived a few years or many, take some time and let God show you where he’s been involved even when you didn’t realize it. You may be surprised at what he brings to mind. You have never been alone!

Why look back? So we can thank God for his active participation in our lives. So we can share with others who may be struggling in the day-to-day that there is a long view, a plan that God is working out one day at a time. So our faith can be renewed and our hearts encouraged. It’s worth a backward look.

“If you believe in a God who controls the big things, you have to believe in a God who controls the little things. It is we, of course, to whom things look ‘little’ or ‘big’.” – Elisabeth Elliot

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

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

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

Only What’s Important

Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” – Ephesians 4:29b (NLT)

I have a friend who mentors, teaches, and engages easily in spiritual conversation. After one of those discussions, she followed up with this text which she later shared with me “….I treasure most the conversation we had. I love talking about what’s going on inside of us as we search for meaning for our lives–using the gifts, talents and resources we have been blessed with to help and love on others. I’m at the stage in life where I want to talk only about things that are important.”

I read that and thought of all the lesser conversations I have each day. Then I began to think about what kinds of communication I would describe as important. Here what I came up with:

Relationships: Our conversations should build each other up, encourage, and empathize. This is the kind of talking and listening that shows love and wisdom and draws people together in friendship and community.

Ideas: Let’s skip right over talking about people, things, and events and get to ideas. Great ideas can challenge lazy thinking, steer our futures, and make us better humans.

The eternal: There is perhaps nothing that matters more than talking about knowing God, understanding the Bible, planning our lives for 100 years from now, and walking in harmony with others on our spiritual journey.

Are we stuck talking about the mundane instead of building relationships, entertaining new or old ideas, and connecting with the eternal life of the unseen spiritual world? It may be time to get “unstuck” and start engaging in more of the conversations that matter!

“The true spirit of conversation consists in building on another man’s observation, not overturning it.” – Edward Bulswer-Lytton

Just come.

“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children” – Matthew 11:25

When we approach God as little children, we don’t have to worry about what we look like, how we feel, or whether we’re worthy. We just come – hopeful and open and a little scared. And then. . . we are welcomed enthusiastically into his embrace just as Jesus welcomed children when he lived on earth.

What happens when we are accepted flaws and all? We keep going back to people like that because we feel comfortable with them. That’s definitely true in our relationship with God. It takes only one soul-electrifying connection with his great loving heart and we are addicted. We’ll do anything to get that feeling again and again until it sinks in: He really loves us. Just. As. We. Are.

In the family of God, we don’t remain children. We keep returning to his presence, knowing we will never be turned away. And the more we hang out with him, the more we change. We grow up in God’s family much as we see our children grow up in ours.

But to mature spiritually, we have to maintain the attitude of a little child, remembering each day to be humble, teachable, not trying to take control, accepting what comes, trusting our Father, and treating those who come across our paths with joy, curiosity, and welcome. Little children know how to do that. Most of us grown-ups need to learn it.

“Christ wants a child’s heart, but a grown-up’s head. He wants us to be simple, single-minded, affectionate, and teachable, as good children are; but He also wants every bit of intelligence we have to be alert at its job, and in first-class fighting trim.” – C. S. Lewis