Holy Sandpaper

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“. . . to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:17).

One summer my mom asked me to repaint the porch swing so I grabbed some paint and brushes from the shed and headed toward the porch. She stopped me and said, “You have to prep it before you can paint.” We went back into the shed and she pulled out the electric sander and said, “You have to sand off the old paint and get the wood smooth.” And so I set to work, day after day sanding every inch of that swing. The wood had to be as smooth as glass before she pronounced it ready for primer and paint. That was more work than I bargained for, but in the end, that swing looked awesome!

When God wants to make a person ready for Himself, He also uses divine sandpaper to take off the layers of sin and worldliness and to smooth off our jagged edges. Sometimes He uses circumstances and situations that are rough – an illness, a job loss, a financial setback, sudden losses, unexpected responsibilities. But most of the time He uses people – at least it’s been true for me.

God has used “sandpaper people” to scrape off judgment and arrogance, to rub off selfishness, and strip away my “victim mentality.”  He used some of them to sand out my attitude of self-righteousness, to teach me humility, kindness, generosity, compassion, patience, and forgiveness.  But most of all, He exploded my understanding about His unconditional love when He called me to be a conduit of love into others’ lives.  Every person left an indelible mark on my life – some imprints of grace and forgiveness, some scars of wisdom, and some cracks in the wall I had built around my heart.

Beloved, who has God brought into your life that rubs you the wrong way? Maybe they are the very ones He is using to prepare you.  Maybe they are there to teach you some valuable lessons about grace, compassion, forgiveness, or discernment.  Ask God what He’s up to in your life and theirs.  Not every relationship is going to be sunshine and roses – some people will bring on the rain.  But rain makes the roses grow and their fragrance is a sweet aroma.  Above all remember – every person is a soul God loves and Jesus died to save.  That’s reason enough to love them.

Devoted

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I’m writing a paper for my grad class on Romans 12:9-21. Paul wrote the book of Romans to address the tension between the Jewish and Gentile believers.  He explained that they were all sinners in need of God’s grace through Jesus Christ and that God didn’t favor one group over the other. Then he told them how that grace should be lived out every day as a community – a unified body.  He talked about choosing good and overcoming evil.  He talked about being zealous in serving the Lord, about being Joyful, hopeful, patient, generous, and hospitable.  He talked about how to endure persecution with grace. All good stuff and all very important.  But the verse that keeps drawing my attention is “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love” (v. 10). I have to ask myself, “Am I?” and I don’t like the answer.

The word “devoted” implies affection that parents feel for their children (and grandchildren). It is tenderness and compassion. It is concern and earnestness to do what is best for the beloved. If you know me at all you know I am “devoted” to my granddaughter and I will do whatever is necessary to care for and about her.  I know you feel the same toward your own children and grands. But how am I toward those outside of my own home? Not as devoted if I’m honest. Ah, but in my defense, I’m busy. I work. I’m a grad student. I am very involved in caring for Joy. I teach Sunday School. I write every day. I’m trying to keep my household running. (I don’t cook much – props to my husband.)  And your life is very full as well. We probably all feel that we’re doing the best we can.

I think busyness is one of the devil’s favorite tools for shutting down real relationships – and real evangelism. With work, school, family, church, and community responsibilities, we just don’t have a lot of time to get involved in other people’s lives.` But then again, it comes down to love, doesn’t it? I don’t know . . . maybe this word is just for me today.  Maybe not.  The truth is we will always make time for what we love: making money, sports, entertainment, leisure, T.V., scrapbooking, gaming, Facebook . . .  and hopefully squeeze in some time for Jesus, Bible study, prayer, and people. Beloved, who or what are you devoted to?

The God Who Loves to Give

“Please sir, I want some more.” Oliver Twist

In Dickins’ classic tale, Oliver warily approaches the master and makes his plea, and we see the cruel irony of a hungry orphan being rebuffed by the well-fed headmaster. Yet how often do we approach God with the same trepidation as Oliver Twist?  As if He is a harsh master who will refuse us even the humblest request?  Nothing could be farther from the truth. The Bible reveals God as a generous Father who loves to give good things to His children.

2 Peter 1:3 says He “has given us everything we need for life and godliness.”  Like our daily bread (Matthew 5:11), clothes on our back (Matthew 6:30), and “all these things” that are necessary for life (Matthew 6:33).  I’ve been the recipient of His practical generosity and kindness many, many times. 

Even more than our physical needs, Peter said our Father will give us everything we need for a godly life: chiefly His Word (John 17:8) and His Spirit (John 14:16).   God provides with a generous heart and an open hand.

I love John’s affirmation in 1 John 5:14-15: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: That if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.”  The writer of Hebrews echoes the same thought: “Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).  That is an invitation we should jump at!

You do not have to come to your Heavenly Father with a sense of apprehension as if you are asking for more than God is willing to bestow.  He has so much he desires to give you—till your cup overflows (Psalm 23:5).  Don’t come crawling to Him with a little teacup in your hand. Come running to your Father with the biggest bucket you can find, and He will fill it till it spills over and you can’t contain it all.  He is a God who loves to give!

The Good Giver

giftgiving“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights . . .” (James 1:17).

“Please sir, I want some more.”

You probably recognize those words spoken by Oliver Twist in Charles Dickens’ classic tale of the same name.  Oliver is a young boy, orphaned at birth in Dickens’ story set in 1830’s England.  He is one of many orphans who are kept in cruel near-slave conditions and given meager rations to survive on.  He warily approaches the master and makes his plea, but his  request only causes the boy even more trouble.  How dare this no-account waif ask for more!  Who does he think he is to presume upon the charity of the master?  We see the cruel irony of a hungry orphan approaching the well-fed head-master, and we understand that he at least deserves a decent meal to sustain him.  He is not acting out of greed, but out of need.  It is a reasonable request, we think.

Yet how often do we approach God with the same trepidation as Oliver Twist?  How often do we approach Him as if we think He is a harsh master who will refuse us even the humblest request?   We assume He rations out His blessings only to the most deserving, or worse, that He is holding back His blessings from us.  That is what Satan implied to Eve in the Garden when He told her, “God knows that when you eat [of the fruit] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God . . .” (Genesis 3:3).  You can almost hear him hissing: “God is holding out on you missy, don’t be a naïve fool!”  But we know that Satan is a liar, and the Bible reveals God as a generous Father who loves to give good things to His children.

Jesus compared our Heavenly Father with earthly fathers who provide for their children’s needs.  And even though it is really no comparison at all, the Lord said if we, as human parents give our children what they need and desire, “how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him?” (Matthew 7:11).  How much more will the God who gave us life (Romans 4:17) give us what is necessary to sustain life?  Why then, do we hesitate?

James 4:2 says “You do not have because you do not ask.” And Ephesians 3:20 tells us that God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” Jesus Himself said “Ask and it will be given to you…” (Luke 11:9). I think we can all agree that this isn’t so much about stuff—houses and cars and a pair of Jimmy Choo’s, although God has generously provided a home and a vehicle for me when I needed them. (Still waiting on the shoes 🙂 But God promises to bless us when we ask for those things that are in His will, such as wisdom (James 1:5), healing (James 5:14-15), forgiveness (1 John 1:9), faith (Luke 17:5), joy (John 16:24), strength (Philippians 4:13), love (1 John 4:7), grace—actually “more grace” according to James 4:6. Best of all He gives us what we don’t even think to ask for: peace (John 14:27), hope (Romans 5:5), light (John 1:9), a future (Jeremiah 29:11), glory (John 17:22), revelation (John 17:26), direct access to the Father (John 16:23), and eternal life (John 17:2).  He gave His only Son for you (John 3:16).  Does that sound like He is holding out on you?

2 Peter 1:3 says He “has given us everything we need for life and godliness;” those things we need for life, like our daily bread (Matthew 5:11), clothes on our back (Matthew 6:30) and “all these things” that are necessary for life (Matthew 6:33).  I’ve been the recipient of His practical generosity and kindness many, many times.  He also promises to give us everything we need for a godly life: chiefly His Word (John 17:8) and His Spirit (John 14:16).   God provides with a generous heart and an open hand.

I love John’s affirmation in 1 John 5:14-15: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: That if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.”  The writer of Hebrews echoes the same thought: “Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).  That is an invitation we should jump at!

You do not have to come to your Heavenly Father with a sense of apprehension, as if you are asking for more than God is willing to bestow.  He has so much he desires to give you—till your cup overflows (Psalm 23:5).  Don’t come crawling to Him with a little teacup in your hand. Come running to your Father with the biggest bucket you can find, and He will fill it till is spills over and you can’t contain it all.  He is a God who loves to give!

Holy Father, I cannot count the number of times You’ve blessed me—You have given and given and given even more.  Not only do you give from an endless supply, but You give from extraordinary generosity.  Please help me to always come to you with the confidence of a child coming to her loving Father.  Amen