It’s infectious.

“He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life he has—by what I call ‘good infection’.” – C. S. Lewis

I recently read the story of a woman now known as “Typhoid Mary”. She lived in the early 1900’s and was blamed for several typhoid outbreaks in New York City over a few years’ time. Medical professionals determined she was a carrier of typhoid though she never showed symptoms and never came down with the disease herself.

In some way we are all infecting people with something. Some people enter a room and, suddenly the atmosphere becomes brighter, lighter, more interesting. That’s a good kind of contagious. Others come like Eeyore, and they spread an infection of gloom. Which would you rather be?

The writer of Psalm 139 asks God to “. . . see if there be any grievous way in me . . .” I’m told that a “grievous way” is any aspect of character that can lead to grief. This psalmist knew there could be something deep in his heart that would cause pain, and he might not even be aware of it. We don’t always know what is hiding inside us. “Typhoid Mary” certainly didn’t!

While we live, we’re going to be infecting people around us. Maybe we, too, should invite God to search us and make us aware of anything we’re carrying that could cause grief to ourselves or someone we love. By God’s grace, we pray that, since we’re contagious, it will be with what C. S. Lewis calls a “good infection.”

“Be it ours today . . . to be ruled and governed by Thy divine authority, so that nothing false or sinful may reign in our hearts, lest it extend its malignant influence to our daily walk among men.” – Charles Spurgeon

Old Friends

“Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow ripening fruit.” -Aristotle

I had a best friend in the 5th grade. She and I both liked to write – we wrote stories and poems (hers were better than mine!). We rode bikes, and we were involved together in kids clubs and, later, the youth group at our church. We had spiritual and philosophical conversations that grew in quality through the years.

We remained friends through high school, then our paths diverged (including moving from our hometown), as they often do, though we kept in touch somewhat through social media.

Recently we’ve had the opportunity to reconnect. We scheduled a time to meet and talked for two hours. That wasn’t enough, so we met a few days later and talked for 2 1/2 hours. So many parallel stories and a multitude of memories and revelations; so much common ground in our families – parents, children, grandchildren; our education and career experiences; and, best of all, our commitment to a step-by-step, year-by-year walk with God.

At some point we realized the value of what we had in each other. Growing a friendship takes time. Not just activity time, or conversation time, but years of time. We both have newer friends we value very much, but neither of us has the time to develop a half-century long friendship with another person.

Do you have a friend like that? Maybe it’s time to reconnect and to recognize the value in such a relationship.

Do you need a friend like that? Maybe you don’t have decades to build it, but use the time you have. Be a friend, find a friend. Spiritual friendship is one of the greatest gifts we can give or receive.

“As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” – Proverbs 27:17, (NLT)

Tuning in to Heaven

“When I am tempted to complain about God’s lack of presence, I remind myself that God has much more reason to complain about my lack of presence.” Philip Yancey

Every morning, I walk into my quiet place and shut the door. Then I whisper, “For this time, Lord, I’m unavailable to the earth because I’m tuning in to Heaven.” Shutting the door is a tangible signal to myself that the world is shut out so I can turn to the eternal.

Why does that little ritual matter? It seems that for a time every day we should turn to the most important thing – knowing, loving, and following after God. If he is who we think he is, don’t you think it’s possible we hurt his heart when he’s ready to relate to us, and we turn to him with only minimal attention?

If we can shut a door or turn off the cell phone, we’re letting God know we are available to him for whatever he wants. And, if he has something to say, we’ll be listening.

Do you remember Jacob when he was running for his life from his brother? He wasn’t really paying attention to the spiritual world but, as he slept under the stars that night, God gave him a dream about a ladder that reached heaven. Here’s his reaction: “When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it” (Genesis 28:15). God was there, and Jacob almost missed him!

Let’s take a daily opportunity to be in God’s presence – completely, earnestly, with full attention. He wants to commune with us. That’s just too amazing to miss!

The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” – 1 Samuel 3:10

Secret Believers

 “Oh, how great peace and quietness would he possess who should cut off all vain anxiety and place all his confidence in God.” – Thomas a’ Kempis

In some countries, Christians must be careful about sharing their faith with people they don’t know, and they often bond with other Christians and meet together secretly. Their lives may depend on staying under cover.

For most of us, though, we’re not in danger if we talk about God or claim to be a follower of Jesus. But still, many of us tend to keep our faith under wraps.

The Gospel of John tells us many Jews believed in Jesus after witnessing the raising of Lazarus. But they believed secretly because they were afraid they would be ostracized by the religious establishment. John saw through their motivation for secrecy. He said, “They loved human praise more than praise from God.” (John 12:43)

John’s implication is we can either please other humans or we can please God, and very often we can’t do both. Sometimes we have to be willing to be criticized or ridiculed if we’re going to be bold in living out our Christian faith.

Maybe we need to be more honest about who we are, more comfortable with letting our faith in Christ show, and more willing to speak the truth. Sometimes that may bring a negative response, but, if we share of ourselves with quiet confidence and grace, God will be pleased. Who do we want to please the most?

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” – 1 Peter 3:15b-16

Now’s a good time to pray.

“A man may study because his brain is hungry for knowledge, even Bible knowledge. But he prays because his soul is hungry for God.” – Leonard Ravenhill

Do you have any soul hunger going on? Wanting to know God better. Wanting to feel his presence. It’s likely he is the one putting that desire in your heart. When it comes, respond. How? By praying. When we pray, we reach out to connect, knowing he’s already reaching out to us.

Why the urgency to pray now? If you’re busy, it seems OK to wait until later to pray, right? Or if you are distressed about something, it’s hard to focus on prayer. God must surely understand that!

Here’s what David says to God in Psalm 32 “ . . . let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found” (verse 6). Personally, I don’t think God will go into hiding if I don’t pray right away. That would not be consistent with everything else we read about him in the Bible. Instead, I think the danger of not “finding” him when we pray may lie with us as the pray-ers.

Maybe we need to pray before we get distracted with the the things around us and forget to get back to him. Or before we make decisions without his guidance and find ourselves not wanting to reach out for help. Or before we get accustomed to moving through life without him. God doesn’t want that to happen to us and neither do we. So, the antidote to “losing” God through distraction, stress, mistakes, or just hard heartedness is to pray now. Now, while our hearts are drawn toward him.

Got a minute? How about using it to talk to God?

“Pray all the time.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (The Message)

Getting to Know Him

“There is no peace like the peace of those whose minds are possessed with full assurance that they have known God, and God has known them, and that this relationship guarantees God’s favor to them in life, through death and on for ever.” – J. I. Packer

What does God feel when he looks at you? Approval? Frustration? Does thinking about that help you grow spiritually? Probably not. I propose that our personal and spiritual growth is not so much about what God sees when he looks at us as it is about what we see when we look at him.

If we focus on earning God’s approval, we try self-improvement schemes: looking good, behaving well, getting over bad habits, and trying to love everyone! That’s a lot of work and we’ll never be better people just by trying harder.

The first step, of course, is accepting Jesus’ invitation to follow him. After that, it’s about learning to know God – as he reveals himself in the Bible, in times of prayer, and through wise and mature Christian teachers and writers. When we see his heart, we realize he’s pleased with us already. He knows we will fail and, when we turn to him, he forgives every time. And when he does, he begins to change us. It’s his work, not ours.

So instead of anxiously trying to earn God’s approval, let’s just get to know him. Most of us have some incorrect perceptions of him that need to be fixed. So let’s put our energy into learning who he is and responding to his heart. When we know him, we will love him, and our efforts to please him will be out of love, not fear.

 “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness . . .” – Exodus 34:4

How does God really feel about us?

God loves us not because we’re lovable, because He is love. Not because He needs to receive, because He delights to give.” C. S. Lewis

Most of us have been taught that God loves us. We hear it in children’s songs and in the earliest verses we memorize. But, do you know that he also likes us? On some days, I find it much easier to believe he loves me than that he likes me; but, look at this verse (and there are others like it in the Bible): “The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love” (Psalm 147:11).

It’s hard to understand how the God of the Universe could take pleasure in a mere human. And what exactly pleases him? According to this verse, that this human is in an appropriate and loving relationship with him. Apparently God likes that. I think of him as a doting parent who smiles at every advance we make, cringes at our mistakes, aches over our sins, and protects us from going too far outside his loving boundaries. He loves us because he created us, and he likes us because we are all unique beings with our own personalities, quirks, and ways of relating to him.

He is our teacher, our guide, our heavenly parent. He delights when we respond to his instruction. He smiles when we return his perfect love with our human, less-than-perfect, version. He rejoices when we do the right things and is saddened when we take a wrong turn. He loves us completely and, on most days at least, he likes us, too!

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. – Psalm 16:11

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