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.

Peace, Love, and, Baseball

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Several years ago my husband was a Little League umpire. He stood behind the plate looking over every pitch and called them “balls” or “strikes.” He also called players out or safe as they came to home plate. His call was the rule on the field. Paul wrote, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.” (Colossians 3:15). He uses a word that brings to mind the modern-day umpire. He said that peace should always govern everything we do. The context for this passage is speaking of community life (vs. 12-14) and he is saying that we should determine what will bring peace to the Body of Christ and in situations with others and respond accordingly. Let peace be the rule.

Now, this was originally going to just be a post about having peaceful relationships, but two things literally just jumped out at me. First, Paul said, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” While his context is the community, this is also a personal word. You let peace rule in your heart. It’s our responsibility. Then the word, “Love.” When he spoke of community life in verses 12-14, Paul said, “over all these [compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness,] put on love which binds them all together” (Col. 3:14). And suddenly it all makes sense. Love is the driving force of peace. I can be compassionate and kind and humble and gentle and patient and even forgive, but if I fail at love – “sincere love” as Paul commanded in Romans 12:9 – I will not have peace. Oh, the exterior may look good, but without love, these actions are forced at best and resented at worst – and there is no peace in my heart. And eventually, that exterior peace erodes. And isn’t that the point of 1 Corinthians 13, the “Love Chapter?” If I have gifts and faith and can preach and teach and even perform miracles, but don’t have love – “I am nothing” (v. 2). 

Look at the world around us. What are people crying out for? Peace. But what do they need to have peace? Love. Sincere Love. God’s love. When we “know and rely on the love God has for us” (1 Jn 4:16), there will be peace – in our hearts, in our homes, in our churches and communities, and in the world. Beloved, you and I are called to be the catalysts of peace by being the conduits of God’s love in a broken, angry, dark world. Maybe even in your own home. Let love be the rule and peace make the call.

The Highest Fashion

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The saying, “Clothes make the man,” is attributed to Mark Twain. The Bible agrees.  How we dress as representatives of Christ is so important.  No, I’m not talking about suits and ties for men or dresses vs. pants for women, and I’m certainly not saying we should only wear our “Jesus” T-shirts.  And hear me loud and clear – I’m not saying that we should judge others by the clothes they wear.  Paul talks about a different kind of “clothing” that all Christians should wear –“Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14).  If the mission is to make Jesus known to the world, then dressing “in Jesus” is the best way to do it.  He expounded on the idea in his letter to the church in Colosse.

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothes yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12).  This is the kind of “fashion” that never goes out of style.  Every piece is an expression of the character and nature of Jesus Christ.

Compassion is simply a feeling of concern for someone else.  Compassion sees others’ needs.

Kindness does something about that need. Kindness responds to what compassion feels.

Humility sees self as the least important person in the picture.  Hear this carefully, humility is not self-abasement or self-condemnation.  It is simply saying, “I am second – I will put you first.”

Gentleness doesn’t get its feathers ruffled.  Gentleness is meek – but it’s not wimpy.

Patience doesn’t give up on others. It is in it for the long haul. (This is my personal word from God today.)    

In the fashion world, one piece – a belt or scarf – can “pull the whole outfit together.”  Likewise, there is one more item we must not forget, one that Paul says “binds them all together in perfect unity”:  love.  He said, “Over all these, put on love” (v. 14).  The truth is, many people are doing all these good things.  The difference is love.  But it’s more than “love” in the Western understanding of the word.  It is a love that flows from God into our own hearts and spills out on those around us in the form of all these other “garments.”  It is the kind of love that seeks the very best for another, to the point of self-sacrifice.  And like every good fashion show, it throws the spotlight back onto the Designer.

So what will you wear today Beloved?  A striped shirt?  A pair of jeans?  Your favorite sweater?  Don’t forget to put on Christ – the world needs to see Jesus in you.

I Did It My Way

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Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, and Michael Bublé sang it and is one of the most often requested songs for funerals. Paul Anka wrote lyrics in English to a French tune and pitched “My Way” to Old Blue Eyes. We applaud people who do it their way. But should we? While the rugged individualist charts his own course, he seldom does it God’s way. 

God, through Samuel, directed King Saul to attack the Amalekites, the enemy of God’s people. God specifically said, “totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them . . .” Not the people and not even their livestock (1 Samuel 15:3). Saul and his men were somewhat obedient. “Saul and the army spared Agag [the king] and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs, everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy” (v. 9). They were unwilling to be obedient. God’s heart was grieved by Saul’s disobedience (v. 11). He sent Samuel to chastise the king.

When the prophet arrived at the camp, Saul greeted him saying, “The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions” (v. 13). And Samuel said, in today’s language, “Oh, really? Then why do I hear sheep bleating and cattle lowing?” (v. 14). And Saul answered that they saved the best of the animals “to sacrifice to the Lord” (v. 15).  He essentially sang Sinatra’s song – “I obeyed the Lord – my way.” Samuel replied, “To obey is better than sacrifice” (v. 22). And from that point on, God rejected Saul as Israel’s king.

No, this is not one of those warm and fuzzy devotionals. I feel an urgent need in my spirit to tell you to stop trying to do life your way. Do it God’s way. Be fully obedient to the Lord. Partial obedience is disobedience. James gave us two keys to doing life God’s way: “Submit yourself to God” (4:7) and “Humble yourself before the Lord” (4:10).

I’m not pointing fingers at you without pointing them at myself first. This morning I prayed, “Lord please give me a word for your people – and for me.” I know I need to learn the discipline of obedience, submission, and humility before God. This honors and pleases the Lord who – despite what Sinatra and all the rest believe – created man. Self-made men and women are on the road to self-destruction. Beloved, will you do it God’s way?

Signs of Christmas

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On the day of Pentecost (I know, this is an Advent devotional – bear with me) Peter stood up and said, “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs . . .” (Acts 2:22). Signs were important to the Jews, and they are important to the church today. Signs are markers, signals, symbols, or events that communicate the authenticity of God’s message and messenger. Many miracles and wonders were performed by the prophets of the Old Testament to prove the truthfulness of their message. Likewise, Peter said, Jesus’ miracles and the wonderful things He did were to confirm that He was whom He said He was.

The first confirming sign was not even about Jesus directly. Isaiah said, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and will call Him Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14). The first sign was caused a scandal for Mary, a peasant girl from the nothing town of Nazareth. Her highest goal was to marry Joseph and have a family. Suddenly she finds herself an unmarried young woman with a child in her belly that is not her fiancé’s.  Mary’s quiet, well-planned life was suddenly interrupted by God. How does a supposed virgin explain her condition? To say God’s call on her life was an inconvenience would be an understatement. She was put in a most shameful situation, one that could have cost her her beloved Joseph, and possibly even her life. Yet she humbly surrendered herself to the will of God and embraced an unknown future with awe and wonder and faith. Her reply to the angel who brought the incredible news was a simple, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:37). The first sign was a young woman with a God-sized problem and the faith to entrust her life to His plan.

Beloved, has God interrupted your life with something unexpected – something inconvenient, something hard, or perhaps even shocking? It may be a person, a diagnosis, a major change, or great sorrow. How will you respond? With fear and anxiety? Or with faith and humble surrender? Are you willing to be the Lord’s servant?

Awe

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“Let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28).

A few years ago there was a three-year research project done on awe at U Cal Berkley, their report included such awesome findings as “Awe binds us together,” “Awe helps us see things in new ways,” and “Awe makes us nicer – and happier.” It also touted “the healing potential of awe.”  Suggestions for finding awe included observing nature, listening to music, and one I heartily agree with – putting down the ever-present cell-phone and simply looking up. [1]

I don’t dispute any of their findings or suggestions, but the article failed to ask and answer some very important questions, such as “Why do we feel awe?” and “What makes something awe-inspiring?” 

We feel awe because we were created for worship – and worship is at its purest and truest when it is accompanied by awe.  The article says “Awe is the feeling of being in the presence of something vast or beyond human scale, that transcends our current understanding of things.” (Dacher Keltner)[2]  Is there anything more vast or farther beyond our human understanding than the God of the Universe?  David declared “You are awesome, O God, in your sanctuary” (Psalm 68:35)!

What makes something awe-inspiring is when we, in our smallness, stand in the presence of greatness.  I’ve seen the Grand Canyon, and it is awesome because it is huge and beautiful. Deuteronomy 7:21 says “The Lord your God, who is among you, is a great and awesome God.”  When we sense the presence of God we have no other response but to stand in awe.  Actually, when we truly sense the awesome presence of God we cannot stand at all.

But I think the most important question is, “What happened to our sense of awe?”  Sin happened. Pride happened.  The sin of Adam and Eve, at its root, is the sin of pride.  Where pride reigns, we lose the necessary humility to be awed.  Beloved, if you ponder the fact that the holy, sovereign God of heaven and earth has singled you out for salvation and relationship and eternal life you should be humbled and awed.  Nothing is more incredible, more grand and glorious, and more awe-inspiring than that.

[1] Paula Spencer Scott, “Feeling Awe May Be the Secret to Health and Happiness,” Parade, Sunday, October 9, 2016, 6-8.

[2] Dacher Keltner is a psychologist who heads the University of California, Berkeley’s Social Interaction Lab, and helped create the new Facebook response button emojis.

Joseph’s Christmas Story

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Of all the people in the Christmas story, I think Joseph is the one whom I most admire. He was just a simple carpenter from Nazareth, diligently preparing the home that he and Mary – and hopefully sons and daughters – would share. All was coming together as they had planned – until the day he saw her strained face. Something was troubling her, something that would turn his life upside-down.

“With child? Mary, how can this be? Who Mary? Why Mary?”

She began to spin this fanciful tale about an angel named Gabriel and the Holy Spirit and Jesus. It was all too much to understand. He was heartbroken, dumbfounded, shocked, and shaken. She cried as he walked away from her, but what else could he do?

Then in the night – a dream and an angel and a message just for him. “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus because He will save His people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:20-21).

I admire Joseph not because he stepped in to raise a child that was not his own – millions of men have done the same. I don’t even admire him for making himself part of the scandalous situation Mary was in – a situation not of his making. I admire him because of his faith. He believed – not Mary; Joseph believed God and he acted in obedience and “took Mary home as his wife” (v. 24) and become a father to her son. It takes a very humble man to forgive a seemingly unfaithful woman and love her child as his own. And it takes great faith to believe that God is in the middle of such a big mess. Joseph had great faith and a humble heart.

This Christmas season may find you in the middle of a mess – perhaps not of your own making. I’ve been there. So was Joseph. Beloved, humility and faith will carry you through. Humility lets you enter into another’s troubled world. Faith believes that God is in the midst of it all. Is He calling you to be Joseph to someone you love?

A Fashionable Christian

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“So what do you think?  How do I look?”  I did a little twirl in the kitchen and waited for my mom to answer.

“It depends on what you’re trying to say” she replied.  “If you want to say that you are only interested in fun and attracting attention, then you look fine.”  “But if you want to say that you are serious about this job and ready to get to work, then you need to go change.”  And of course, she was right.  The off-the-shoulder peasant blouse and gypsy skirt I had on was my favorite outfit, but it didn’t send the right message for a job interview.  But the tailored blue blouse and navy pleated skirt said I was the right candidate for the job.  The saying, “Clothes make the man,” is attributed to Mark Twain, but it’s believed that it originated with Shakespeare and could even go back as far as the days of the Greek empire.  However we got it, the saying is true – we send a message about ourselves with our attire.  That is why how we dress as believers and followers of Christ is so important.  How we clothe ourselves speaks volumes about who Jesus is.

Mind you, I’m not talking about suits and ties for men or dresses vs. pants for women, and I’m certainly not saying we should only wear our “Jesus” T-shirts.  And hear me loud and clear – I’m not saying that we should judge others by the clothes they wear.  Paul talks about a different kind of “clothing” that all Christians should wear – clothing that draws attention away from us and onto our Savior. In fact, he says, “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14).  If the mission is to make Jesus known to the world, then dressing “in Jesus” is the best way to do it.  Now I know what you’re thinking, “That sounds profound, but how do I actually pull that off?”  Thankfully Paul doesn’t leave us with a command that we can’t realistically obey.  He digs into the idea in his letter to the church in Colosse.

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothes yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12).  This is the kind of “fashion” that never goes out of style.  Every piece is an expression of the character and nature of Jesus Christ. But they do us no good if we own them and don’t wear them.  Every day when I get ready for work, I stand in front of my closet and try to decide what to wear.  I have an array of garments hanging there, but I’ve got to pull something off the hanger and put it on my body.  Each of these Christ-like attributes are available to us through the Holy Spirit, but it is up to us to choose to put them on.

Compassion is simply a feeling of concern for someone else.  It is that voice in your head that says, “That lady is too short to reach the top shelf.”  “That little child has fallen down and is crying.”  “That man is hungry and has no money.”  Compassion sees another’s need.

Kindness does something about it.  Kindness reaches for the pickles on the top shelf.  Kindness bandages the scraped knee and hugs away the tears.  Kindness runs into the sandwich shop and buys a turkey-and-swiss-on wheat and a bottle of water.  Kindness does what compassion feels.

Humility sees self as the least important person in the picture.  Hear this carefully, humility is not self-abasement or self-condemnation.  It is simply saying, “I am second – I will put you first.”

Gentleness doesn’t get its feathers ruffled.  Gentleness is meek – but it’s not wimpy. It takes a tremendous amount of strength to look past an offense and recognize the wounded heart behind the words and actions.

Patience is in it for the long-haul. Patience doesn’t give up and it doesn’t give in.    Whether enduring stormy seas or days with no breeze in sight, patience stays the course until the harbor is in sight.

This is the day-to-day living out of clothing ourselves in Christ.  It is letting the Spirit of Christ move our hearts and hands to respond as Jesus would.

In the fashion world, one piece – a belt or scarf – can “pull the whole outfit together.”  Likewise, there is one more item we must not forget, one that Paul says “binds them all together in perfect unity”:  love.  He said, “Over all these, put on love” (v. 14).  The truth is, there are many people doing all these good things.  The difference is love.  But it’s more than “love” in the Western understanding of the word.  It is a love that flows from God into our own hearts and spills out on those around us in the form of all these other “garments.”  It is the kind of love that seeks the very best for another, to the point of self-sacrifice.  And like every good fashion show, it throws the spotlight back onto the Designer.

So what will you wear today Beloved?  A striped shirt?  A pair of jeans?  Your favorite sweater?  Don’t forget to put on Christ – the world needs to see Jesus in you.

A Word of Wisdom

“Give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.”  1 Kings 3:9

Solomon was known as the wisest ruler in history.   He was the second son of King David and Bathsheba, and though we do not know his chronological age when he took the throne, he described himself to God as “only a little child. (1 Kings 3:7)” Surely after following in the huge footsteps of his father David, Solomon must have been overwhelmed by the responsibility before him.  So when the Lord came to him and said “Ask for whatever you want me to give you,” Solomon made a plea for wisdom.  God granted Solomon’s request in a huge way, “God gave Solomon very great insight and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. (1 Kings 4:29)” Solomon knew that without great wisdom, he could not be the leader that Israel needed.  He also knew there is only one source for true wisdom – the Lord God Almighty.

Humans have desired wisdom since the beginning of creation.  In the account of the first sin, Eve was tempted with the lure of wisdom (Genesis 3:5-6), but it was not the wisdom that God offered to Solomon.  Eve succumbed to the “wisdom” that the Apostle James warned about:  “If you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.  Such ‘wisdom’ does not come from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. (James 3:14-15)” You see, when God told Adam that they were not to eat from the tree of “the knowledge of good and evil, (Genesis 2:17)” it was not to keep them from having any intelligent thought; it was to protect them – and us – from the influence of evil.  For God knew that once man was exposed to the concept of evil, we would be consumed by its continual drawing.  The wisdom that the devil and the world offers to us is a selfish, self-seeking, prideful and deceptive wisdom that will always lead us away from God and into the darkness of worldliness and sin.

The wisdom that King Solomon received is also described by James: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. (James 3:13, 17)” The wisdom from God is a life-giving wisdom.  It fills us with the character of Christ and is the opposite of the false wisdom of the world.  Look at all that this godly wisdom offers to us.  James says we will have understanding – the kind of understanding that will enable us to stand firm in what is right.  Wisdom will be proven by the good life we lead, which means turning ourselves away from sin and wickedness and turning towards what is right, beautiful and excellent.  Humility is always the hallmark of godly wisdom – this humility is shown through the gentleness, kindness and consideration we show to others in Jesus name.  Our hearts and our hands will be pure; and Psalms 119:9 tells us that purity comes from living according to God’s Word (which is one way that He imparts His wisdom to us).

When we read that godly wisdom is peace-loving, we generally think that this is a person who goes to great lengths to establish peace in their relationships, but the original Greek is expressing a personal sense of harmony, tranquility, safety and a lack of strife; it is having freedom from emotional worry and frustration. When godly wisdom is the rule in our lives, we are more apt to make decisions that ensure freedom form worry and frustration.  In essence, we could say this is a person who loves the peaceful life they live.

A gentle, considerate nature and a submissive and compliant attitude will also mark us as people who have been blessed with the wisdom of heaven.  Can you image how your work, home and other relationships will be transformed by these traits?  As we consider the characteristics of mercy and impartiality, we can look again at James words: “Mercy triumphs over judgment! (James 2:13)  Mercy, love and compassion will always have the upper hand over judgment and partiality in the thoughts, words and actions of the godly wise.  James also says that a truly wise person will be sincere.  There is no place for hypocrisy in the life of a Christian; for our Savior Jesus Christ is the Truth of God.  A wise and sincere person does nothing for a prideful show, but rather always turns any honor and glory to Christ.

Do you, like me, desire to be a person filled with godly wisdom?  Then we must go to the same source as King Solomon – we must go to God.  James encourages us to seek wisdom with these words: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.  James 1:5) Our wise King Solomon proclaimed the same truth in Proverbs 9:10: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Surely this was the wisdom that Eve could have enjoyed, if she had trusted and obeyed God rather than seeking wisdom on her own.  This wisdom is available to you and me if we will ask God, trust Him to give us what He has promised and obediently walk in the wisdom and ways of the Lord.  Let’s commit to be wise men and women of God.

Holy Father, I come to you with my hands and heart open wide to receive the wisdom that only You can give. Fill me Lord, that the world my see Your perfect wisdom in me.  Amen.