Becoming Like Jesus

See the source imageI asked God to teach me how to love people as Jesus did. He brought people into my life who were hard to love. I asked Him to help me trust Him and He took away everything else I trusted in. I asked Him for peace and He set me in a storm – then sat with me as it raged. I asked for greater faith and He put mountains in my path. I asked Him for wisdom and He set challenges before me. I asked Him to give me a kind and gentle heart, and he allowed me to face heartbreak and disappointment. I asked Him for joy and – well – He sent Joy!

I thought He would just make my heart grow three sizes, and make trust and faith shoot up like a well-watered plant. I thought He would just infuse me with peace, and give me a shot of wisdom. I thought he would just change my nature from grumpy to kind and gentle. I thought it would be easy.

Maybe it’s been different for you, but God and I have always had to do things the hard way. I don’t think I’ve learned a single life-lesson without some blood, sweat, and tears along the way. Even the Joy in my life came with a struggle.

We love to quote Romans 8:28 in times of trial and trouble: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” But what is His purpose? Read on. “For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son” (v. 29). Everything in your life is designed to make you more like Jesus. The writer of Hebrews said that God made Jesus “perfect through suffering” (Heb. 2:10). Why, Beloved, do you think becoming like Him would be any different?

Valuable in God’s Eyes

See the source image
I have never thought of myself as important or of value. Probably because I’ve had so many people tell me by their words and their actions that I wasn’t. But something happened one day on a beach trip that changed my heart. We were in one of those kitschy gift shops and I saw a figurine made of seashells I liked. I picked it up and almost dropped it when I saw the price. My husband said, “They must really like their stuff – they’ve priced it so no one will buy it.” I realized that the true value of an item is not the price tag the merchant puts on it, but the price the buyer is willing to pay for it. The figurine was pretty, but it wasn’t worth what they were asking for it. I put it down and walked away. Then God spoke to my heart, “I was willing to pay a high price for you Child. You were worth the life of my Son.” I’ll never be “important” and that’s okay. But God has placed great value and worth on me.
 
The world and Satan continually work to focus our thoughts on what is wrong with us. The world says that we are flawed if we are not the right weight or body shape, don’t have the right hairstyle or an exceptional career. Satan continually reminds us of every failure, every wrong thought, and every harsh word; he drags us even deep into the pit by insisting that in God’s eyes we are worthless. I see you nodding your head in understanding.
Beloved, God wants you to know that Satan and this world are liars. The ultimate evidence of your worth is the price God was willing to pay for you – “it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed…but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18, 19). The truth is that Jesus thought so highly of you He gave the most valuable thing He had to redeem you – He gave Himself. You are so precious in His eyes.

Joy and Delight

Photo by Ashley Andrews

From the day they moved in with us, we have made it a point to sing to our granddaughter. Poppy makes up songs with her name. I sing hymns and songs from my childhood, like “This little light of mine,” “Jesus loves me,” and “Oh, little playmate, come out and play with me.” I sing them fast and silly when we’re playing and soft and slow when I’m trying to soothe her or rock her to sleep. We’re pretty sure she sings to us too when she oohs and aahs back. I guess you could say singing is our love-language with her.

Last night she was playing beside me, standing at my footstool when I looked at her, overwhelmed with love and started singing her favorite song – “I love you a bushel and a peck.” She lit up in the biggest grin, threw her head back laughing, and started jumping up and down. It blessed my heart so much to see her Joyful reaction. I sang it again and again, holding her sweet little hands while she jumped and laughed. Let me tell you – nothing this world can offer will ever compare.

It gave me a glimpse into one of my favorite verses, Zephaniah 3:17: “The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Imagine this with me. You are doing life, going about your normal day – or maybe it’s not a “normal” day. Maybe it’s a hard, painful day, or a dull, colorless day. God looks at you and His heart swells with delight and He breaks out in a song – a song just for you. Maybe it’s a soft melody to “quiet you with His love,” or it may be a happy song of rejoicing. But it is inspired by the pleasure He finds in you. Yes, YOU! You are a delight to God, just as my granddaughter is a delight to me.

How should you respond? Just like Joy-Joy did – with a big grin and a holy laugh and yes, even a happy jump or two. Your delight in God delights Him. It’s a never-ending circle of mutual gladness. Maybe that’s the secret behind Psalm 37:4 – “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. When God is the desire of your heart Beloved, He will be your delight.

It’s Time to Put Christmas Away

 

See the source image

I’ll be taking down our Christmas tree today. Packing away the ornaments, wrapping them carefully so they won’t get broken and schlepping them back to the storage shed in the backyard. I’ll throw the tree on the burn pile and sweep up the pine needles and try to restore my home to its normal disorder. We also have to get the house ready for a mobile baby so she can roam safely to her little heart’s content. Christmas has to give way to everyday life.

But I’m not going to pack away the essentials of the holiday. I’m keeping out the hope and peace and faith and Joy and love. I liked focusing my mind each day on the good stuff, and I think you did too. I think we have to keep those things front and center every day in every season least we lose them – and lose our way. Do we need a refresher?

Hope – the confident expectation we have as we look for God, always considers His faithfulness, goodness, graciousness, and lovingkindness. Peace – the quiet assurance we have in God – is the fruit of hope– and it grows in the soil of faith – which is stepping out on His promises and knowing our feet will meet His hand. It blossoms into Joy – an unshakable sense of cheer even when there’s little to be jolly about, all of which find their strength in the love of God – the wide, long, high, deep and perfect love of God.

The calendar may say that Christmas is over, but your heart doesn’t have to surrender the experience of the holiday. Hold tightly to everything you received this Christmas Beloved – no, not the stuff that was under your tree – but the true expressions of the season. Hope. Peace. Faith. Joy. Love. You’re going to need them all year long.

What Christmas Is All About

See the source image

It is a scene from one of the most beloved Christmas programs ever made.  A bewildered Charlie Brown cries out, “Isn’t there someone who knows what Christmas is all about?”  I always get goosebumps when Linus walks to center stage, says “Lights please,” and recites the account of Jesus’ birth from Luke 2.

And there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them! And they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not! For, behold, I bring you tidings o great joy, which shall be to all my people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ, the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the Heavenly Host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth peace, and good will toward men” (vs. 8-14).

It seems to be a holy moment in the middle of a simple animated television show.   For fifty years the world has heard the Christmas story through a blanket-carrying theologian.

As much as I love “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and Linus’ message, I’ve always thought there is an even better verse that he could have chosen to explain what Christmas is all about.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Christmas is all about the love of God that send His Son to earth as a baby who would grow up to die on a Roman Cross for the sins of the world.  Linus recounted the events around the Christmas story, but the heart of Christmas is a loving Heavenly Father who gave the very best He had to redeem a lost world.

The blessed Christmas story is about a manger and a star and shepherds and angels.  It is about a young mother and father with their newborn son in a stable.  But the story isn’t complete until the baby in the manger is the Savior on the cross.  Because the story of Christmas is a story of love.

For The One Who Thinks God Could Never Love You

See the source image

“God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

I asked her to tell me about her son. “He’s a smart boy, really smart. He can add stuff in his head faster than I can write it out on paper.  And oh, he can sing – he has such a good voice.  I think he could be a singer if he tried. But he gets bored easy.  That’s why he gets into trouble at school.”

We met for coffee so she could talk through some difficult things she was facing, largely brought about by this boy.  But before I asked about her son, she told me about herself. She told me that she didn’t believe God could ever love her. She had done things that she was ashamed of.  She was pretty wild in her youth, disrespectful to her parents, and teachers.  She got drunk the night of the prom, slept with her boyfriend, and became pregnant.  She and the baby’s father tried to make it right by getting married, but now – 17 years later – she was three failed marriages down and living with a man she met at a bar.  She had started coming to our church a few months ago in a last-ditch effort to straighten her son out.  That is until the deacons told her the boy was not welcome after he played too rough with some of the younger students and somebody got hurt.  The very next day the police were at her house with a report about her boy and the neighbor’s little girl and the latest nightmare unfolded. Yet, as much as her son’s actions weighed on her, I could tell something else was even heavier on her heart.

“How could God love me?  I’ve made a mess of my life and I’ve even screwed up my kid.”

“So you probably don’t love your son anymore after all the trouble he’s caused you.”

“What? Of course I still love my son! That’s crazy!  Why would I stop loving him just because he’s made some mistakes?”

“I just thought – since you believe God quit loving you because you messed up, you must have quit loving your son too.”

She looked at me as if an entire block of lights had gone off in her head. The weight of so much guilt and fear disappeared from her eyes while tears dripped off her chin and onto her sweater.

Beloved, I don’t know what you’re carrying around today. I don’t know your past. I don’t even know your present. But there is one thing I know beyond a shadow of a doubt.  If Christmas is about anything at all, it is about God pouring out His unfailing love on messed up people.

Why O. Henry Got Christmas Wrong

See the source image

“The Gift of the Magi” was published in 1905 and is a sweet tale of love and sacrifice at Christmas focused on a young couple who wanted to give their beloved a gift. But money was scarce and so, unbeknownst to the other, the gift-givers sold their prized possessions to buy something special for their spouse. Della sold her long, beautiful hair to buy Jim a chain for his pocket watch. Jim sold his heirloom pocket watch to buy Della a set of bejeweled hair combs. O. Henry finished his story with a nod to the Magi – the Eastern wise men who traveled long to bring gifts to the Christ Child. He wrote: “The magi, as you know, were wise men–wonderfully wise men–who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.”[1]

While I appreciate this lovely story, I think O Henry got one thing wrong – Christmas presents didn’t originate with the Magi – the first Christmas present was given by God. The story of the Young’s Christmas is a shadow of the real story of Christmas. The young lovers sacrificed their most treasured possessions to give to their beloved, God’s sacrifice was far greater. He gave His One and Only Son to redeem men from their sin. The gifts they gave one another were costly – the watch chain Della bought for Jim costs $21; the gift God has given is priceless. “It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed … but with the precious blood of Christ (1 Pet. 1:18, 19). Their gifts – and the sacrifice that enabled them – were given from love, but their love pales in comparison to the great love of God. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son . . .” (John 3:16). In fact, in O. Henry’s story, the sacrifice is part of the gift; in the Gospel story, the sacrifice God made is the gift.

Have you received this gift? Watch chains and hair combs can never express love like the cross can. Have you received Jesus Christ as your Savior Beloved? He is the greatest gift of all.

[1] http://www.online-literature.com/o_henry/1014/

God’s Christmas Gift to You

 

See the source image

“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” 2 Corinthians 9:15

My oldest brother opened a Christmas gift that contained a single bar of soap.  He looked at it, shrugged his shoulders and tossed it into the pile of wrapping paper in the middle of the room.  My other brother opened a box that also held a bar of soap.  But he decided to dig a little deeper, thinking that Mom had something up her sleeve.  He peeled back the wrapper on the bar and found a $100 bill wrapped around the soap.  My older brother took one look at it and made a dive into the pile of wrapping paper to retrieve his.  Mom had struck again.

God has presented us with a gift far more valuable than a $100 bill.  He has given us the gift His never-failing love.  But for so many, the gift seems valueless and it is tossed away as we search for something “better.”   The world offers a different kind of “love,” but it always leaves us empty and wanting something more – something real and lasting.  That is because at the very core of every human being is a longing for the love only God can give – and it can never be satisfied with anything less.  The more we chase after other loves, the less satisfied we become.

The first humans choose sin to fill that deep yearning and humanity has followed suit ever since.  The desire for love remains, but our sense of what will fill that desire has been crudely twisted away from God.  And the hunt is on.

Jesus came to reveal the Father to us, to show us that the love we crave is only found in Him.  He came to be the bridge between sinful men and women and our holy, loving Creator.  The gift of holy love is available to anyone who will accept it.  Beloved, don’t toss away the most valuable present you’ve ever been offered.

Joy to the World!

See the source image

The Lord will be King over the whole earth.  On that day there will be one Lord, and His name the only name” (Zechariah 14:9).

 

Joy to the world!

The Lord is come; Let earth receive her King;

Let every heart prepare Him room

And heav’n and nature sing, and heav’n and nature sing,

And heav’n and heav’n and nature sing.[1]

Joy to the World is one of our most beloved Christmas songs, but it isn’t about Christmas at all.  Isaac Watts originally penned these words in anticipation of the return of Jesus.  Notice that verse 1 above calls Him the King, if you read the full hymn, you will see that verse 2 celebrates His reign, verse 3 tells of the end of the curse and verse 4 proclaims Him as the righteous Ruler of the world.

We love the Baby in the manger; He is the embodiment of God’s holy love for mankind and the fulfillment of His promise to free us from bondage to sin.  But we must let Jesus grow out of the swaddling clothes and into the crown of thorns to understand the full impact of Christmas on the world.  We must see Him as the risen Lord standing in the Garden and look to the skies as He ascends back to heaven to grasp the fullness of His promised resurrection.

But that is not the last the world will see of Jesus.  Zechariah 14:4-9 describes His glorious return.  “On that day, His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west” (v. 4).   The world missed His first advent, but there will be no missing His second.  “Every eye will see Him” (Revelation 1:7)!  Christmas brings us joy as we remember Jesus’ birth, but the greatest rejoicing will come when the King of kings returns to earth.

Jesus promises “Behold, I am coming soon!” (Revelation 22:7).  And so we say with the Bride and the Spirit: “Amen. Come Lord Jesus” (v.20).

This is the JOY of Christmas!

[1] Words: Isaac Watts, 1674-1748; Music: George Frederick Handel, 1658-1759; Arr.: Lowell Mason, 1792-1872

A Fashionable Christian

See the source image

“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.