Advent 2022: Seek and You Will Find

We so often hear the complaint that Christianity is just “blind faith,” and many simply refuse to believe without “proof.” But that is not the kind of faith the Bible expresses. God invites us to step into faith with our eyes wide open. He said “If . . . you seek the Lord your God, you will find Him if you look for Him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut 4:29).  God does not require mindless devotion to an unseen, unproven entity. Nor is He playing a divine game of hide-and-seek. He has gone to great lengths to make Himself known.

On the night of Jesus’ birth, He announced the way to this blessed Child. A chorus of heavenly hosts appeared to the shepherds in the fields and told them exactly where to find this Baby – “in the town of David” (Luke 2:11) and how they would recognize Him – “wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (v. 12). They responded to God’s revelation – “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see . . .” (v. 15). They determined to follow the evidence that God has given them “If you seek Him – you will find Him.”

Matthew records another visible and powerful proof of Jesus’ birth as the Magi from the East declared “We have seen His star in the east and have come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:2), “the star . . . went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was” (v. 9). God not only gave directions, He led the way with a star in the sky. They were overjoyed – they sought the King, and their search was rewarded. “If you seek Him – you will find Him.”

There is another path that God has provided for man to find his Creator. That path leads up a hill in Jerusalem, to Calvary, and to the Cross. God made this way clear and unmistakable when He covered that path with the blood of His one and only Son, Jesus. He has declared that this is the way to find Him – the only way. To all who will accept it, God has promised not only to reveal Himself but to claim the seeking soul as His own.

God wants you to know Him. He wants you to find Him – so much so that He puts Himself right in your path where you can’t miss Him. He said “I will be found by you” (Jer 29:14). Beloved, He would have never said, “Seek Me” if He didn’t intend for you to find Him.

Advent 2022: What Should I Give to Baby Jesus?

“They opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh,” (Matthew 2:11)

What kind of gift do you bring to a newborn King? When royals or celebrities have babies, gifts pour in from all around the world. Lavish, expensive presents like giant stuffed animals, beautiful baby clothes, and the very latest in baby paraphernalia. Only the best will do for these little ones of such high standing. When the wise men came to visit Jesus, they brought gifts worthy of a first-century king – gold, incense, and myrrh. Many scholars believe there is significance in each of these gifts. “Gold might represent His deity and purity, incense the fragrance of His life, and myrrh His sacrifice and death (myrrh was used as an embalming spice)” (Louis A. Barbieri, Jr. “Matthew” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 1984. 22). These gifts would have provided for the family as they escaped Herod by fleeing to Egypt. I love the story of the little boy who, during the offering at church, set the plate on the floor and stood in it. His embarrassed mother pulled him back to his seat and  whispered “What are you doing?” He replied in a very loud voice, “But Mommy, I don’t gots no money, so I wanted to give Jesus myself!” Image the sermon that might have followed that! But our little friend is right on target.

So back to our original question? What kind of gift do you give to a newborn King? Just as the magi presented Jesus with gifts, the Bible tells us that we are to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—which is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds” (Romans 12:1-2). Paul said our gifts to God are our bodies (v. 1) and our minds (v. 2) – what we do and how we think. Then add Jesus’ words about the great commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). This covers our affections, our emotions, our convictions, and our life-focus.  In other words, we are to give every bit of ourselves to the Lord in total surrender. We give Him ourselves, inside and out. Just as He did for you and me. Beloved, let all of you be your gift to Jesus this Christmas.

In God’s Hands

Have you noticed that the Scriptures call us “sheep?” I’ve heard people say that sheep are dumb, and I don’t think that is entirely fair. Sheep just get focused on one thing – filling their bellies – and don’t pay attention to what they are doing or where they are going. A sheep will put his head down to graze and keep it down as he moves from one succulent tuft of grass to another. He doesn’t look up to see where he’s headed or how far he has gone from the shepherd or how close he is to the edge of a river bank. One more step and he is tumbling down, down, down, and into serious trouble. If the shepherd doesn’t find him soon he’ll fall prey to a predator and sheep are helpless in a fight.

If all this sounds familiar, it’s because you’ve wandered. Or maybe you know and love a wanderer. I’ve shared before that I have a prodigal – a wanderer. He grew up in the church and a godly home. But he’s grazing out in the world with his head down. I’ve prayed for him for many, many years: “God, please don’t let him fall away from You.” One morning the Spirit impressed on me to sing “He’s Got The Whole World in His Hands.” “Mama,” He said to my heart, “If I have room for the whole world in my hands then you can be sure my hands a big enough for him to roam far and wide without falling off.”

David said, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast” (Ps 139:7-10). Re-read that last sentence. Your right hand will hold me fast. God loves you too much to let you go. He loves your wanderer more than you do.

If you have wandered from the shepherd, just call out His name from wherever you are. He will leave the ninety-nine and come rescue you and bring you back to the flock. If you are praying for a wanderer, don’t give up. God’s got them, even while they roam. Jesus said the Father is not willing that any of his sheep should be lost (Matt 18:10-14). Beloved, He’s a big God with big hands.

Look How Much You’ve Grown!

Joy has grown so much this last year. It’s obvious when you look at her. She’s taller and stronger. Her legs and arms are longer. Even her hair is longer. Her vocabulary is incredible, she doesn’t use baby talk and she annunciates her words very well. She can do more things for herself like spreading peanut butter on a piece of bread. And she’s learning how to calm herself when she gets upset. (I hope she will teach me.) Potty training is still a work in progress, but I know she will get that too. One thing hasn’t changed – that mega-watt smile can still melt Nana’s heart. She’s a growing, beautiful, amazing little girl.

Which makes me wonder, how do we know that we’re growing spiritually? We don’t get taller, but we should see signs that mark spiritual maturity. Like Joy, our speech is a clear indication of growth. Jesus said it’s in our words. “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him” (Matt 12:35). We talk about God and the things of God. We reject profanity and gossip and complaining (Eph 4:29; Phil 2:14).

It’s also seen in what we desire. Growing in God means we want the things that He wants and we are repulsed by the things that offend Him (Ps 40:8; Col 3:5). We look and act more like Jesus, which is God’s goal all along – “to be conformed to the likeness of His Son” (Rom 8:29). We are compassionate (2 Cor 1:3-4), kind and gentle (2 Tim 2:24-25), loving (1 Cor 13), self-controlled (1 Pet 1:13), and “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (Jas 1:19).

Perhaps the most visible sign of spiritual maturity is how we deal with sin in our lives. As spiritual babes, we sin and the Spirit convicts us of our sin. We confess, repent, and receive forgiveness. But we go back to it again. And we repeat the cycle, sometimes multiple times. The true evidence of spiritual growth is when we stop going back to our sin. When the Spirit helps us recognize the pattern and break the cycle, we’ve made a major step in spiritual maturity.

I look at myself and see some signs of growth as well as places where I’m still a toddler in Christ. You too? Growth comes when we take in the things that nurture our spirit, like God’s Word, fellowship with other believers, prayer, and resting in the Lord. And trust. Paul said, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion” (Phil 1:6). God’s not going to give up on you, Beloved. Don’t give up on yourself.

Fill My Cup, Lord

“He satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things” (Psalm 107:9)

I used to spend my days wandering around with my empty cup of needs, imploring everyone I met to pour a little something in. No, I didn’t have an actual tin cup and I didn’t beg for alms. What I needed money could not fix. “Might you have some peace you could give me? “Can you spare a little hope?” “I could really use some Joy.” “You sure seem happy – could you share some of that with me?  And the gaping hole in my soul kept me constantly asking, “Please, do you have some love for me?” I cringe now when I realize how needy and desperate – and probably annoying – I was.

I’d like to claim that those were “pre-Jesus days” when I didn’t know Christ, but it wasn’t. I was in church every Sunday, sang in the choir, attended every women’s ministry event, and wore a cross on a chain every day. But I still felt like I had to run to people and beg for what I needed. If a kind soul put something in, I came back to them again and again and again. One, because I had found a source, and two because whatever they put in didn’t last very long. And that was by design. It wasn’t supposed to last because their offerings were human. I needed something more. One day I heard a song and the lightbulb went off.

Fill my cup Lord, I lift it up, Lord!

Come and quench this thirsting of my soul;

Bread of heaven, Feed me till I want no more–

Fill my cup, fill it up and make me whole!

Richard Blanchard – “Fill My Cup, Lord”

I realized that only He could fill my empty cup – and keep it full. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matt 5:6). How? By His Spirit. Acts 13:52 says, “the disciples were filled with Joy and with the Holy Spirit.”  He alone can fill the holes in my heart and soul because He is what I need. He is my source of peace and hope and Joy and love. 

I pray you have found Him to be yours too. And I pray that His Spirit fills you and spills out on those around you. “May the God of all hope fill you, Beloved, with all Joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom 15:13).

I Can Love

Joy and her friends at church. Photo by Wanda Williams

My granddaughter preached a sermon the other night. As I was taking her to her mommy to settle in for the night we were rehearsing all the people that she loves. She loves Mommy and Daddy. She loves Nana and Poppy. She loves Mimi and Papa. She loves Aunt Linda and Uncle Wayne and Aunt Rhonda and Uncle Mike and Aunt Alta. She loves Granny. And she turned to me and said, “And I can love Uncle R (name redacted). Her mommy and I looked at each other with a “Wow!” Uncle R is not a nice person. He has been mean to the rest of his family. He has a history of violence and cruelty. And the last time he was around Joy, he took delight in sneaking up behind her and scaring her. He is not allowed around her anymore. But she said, “I can love him.” Out of the mouths of babes . . .”

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matthew 5:43-44).  I want to ask Him, “Love him? Why? I mean, who gets their kicks from scaring a little girl?” And Jesus’ words continue: “that you may be sons [and daughters] of your Father in Heaven (v. 45). And there it is. God said that His children are called to live in a radically different way. They love – even their enemy.

“Love your enemy” sounds good on paper, but it’s not always easy to do. That’s by divine design. Love –genuine love – has to come from God. John said, “Let us love one another, for love comes from God” (1 John 4:7), and “We know and rely on the love God has for us” (v.16). We can only love those who mistreat us because God loved us first, and His love fills us up and spills out onto the one we cannot love on our own. I know that Joy’s parents have the good sense to keep a distance between her and Uncle for her safety. But what if – someday –she’s the one who will love him to Jesus? Isaiah prophesied, “a little child will lead them” (Is 11:6). I don’t think Uncle R stands a chance against a little girl who is determined to love him.

Hebrews: The Joy of the Cross

I always thought my mom was super-human. She could power through any sickness and keep going and going and going. Even when she was undergoing cancer treatments. I hardly slowed her down – until the end. Either she had an uncommon strength – or she was a mom.

I always imagined Jesus facing the cross with His divine strength in full force. Surely the Son of God just shut out the pain and powered through. But the writer of Hebrews refutes that thought. He said that Jesus, “for the Joy set before Him,  endured the cross, scorning its shame . . .” (Heb 12:2) Endurance implies difficulty. Jesus endured the difficulty of the cross. It was all very real to Him. He felt the nails rip through His flesh, crush His bones, and tear His veins open. He felt the sharp points of the thorns dig deeply into His head. He felt the whip shred the skin on His back. His shoulders screamed with firey pain every time He took a breath. Jesus felt it all. He suffered.

He also suffered shame. The cross was a disgraceful way to die in the first century. But the shame that Jesus endured wasn’t personal embarrassment; the writer said that He “scored the shame” of the cross. He didn’t consider it as humiliation, though it was. He endured the cross with Joy because His suffering meant our freedom. The shame He experienced was bearing all the sins of all mankind throughout all the ages. Adam’s sin. Eve’s sin. Cain’s sin. David’s sin. Hitler’s sin. My sin. Your sin. It was the shame of the Father’s face turning away from the Son because He can not look on sin.

But I found something mind-blowing when I dug into the words used in this verse. Jesus endured it all. But He didn’t have to. The secondary meaning of the word “endure” means “to remain, to not flee.” Jesus could have ditched the cross and escaped the physical, emotional, and spiritual agony. Then I understood His words when He was arrested: “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and He will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt 26:53). Jesus could have escaped it all but He stayed. He suffered. He died. Why? To save you, Beloved.  The Joy set before Him was seeing your face in heaven. That’s how much He loves you.

Hebrews: Keep Your Eyes on Jesus

Two young men were sitting in a football stadium looking at the field covered with snow. They decided to see who could walk the straightest line from midfield toward the goalpost in the end zone.  They both stood on the fifty-yard line and started walking.  When they reached their prospective goals they met back in the stands.  They laughed to see one boy’s trail veer off center and end up several feet from the goal post.  “I don’t know what happened,” he said, “I watched my steps, and put one foot carefully in front of the other.”  The other boy’s trail was dead on, stopping right at the center post.  “I didn’t look at my feet as I walked,” he said “I never took my eye off the goalpost.” 

Hebrews 12:2 says,  “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith . . .”  I see two things here that are worth noting. First, the center of our focus is Jesus. Just Jesus. Why? Because He “wrote the book” on faith. And He is the “one who has in his own person raised faith to its perfection and so set before us the highest example of faith” (from blueletterbible.com). If faith is our goal and Jesus is our highest example of faith it doesn’t make sense to look at anything or anyone else.

The second thing I noticed is that the writer said to fix our eyes – plural. Don’t just keep “an eye” on Him. Keep both eyes on Jesus. When I was a kid I was fascinated by looking at things with dimensions. When I looked at things close up they were clear while distant images were fuzzy. Then when I shifted my focus to the things in the distance, the things close up became blurred. You and I cannot stay fixed on two different things at the same time. One will always be out of focus and more likely than not, that will be Jesus. If Jesus is out of focus our lives will be as well.

Faith that pleases God (Heb 11:6) has a single-minded, single-hearted focus. But what about my family? What about my job? What about my church ministry? You fix your eyes on Jesus, and He will enable you to accomplish all the rest (see Matt 6:33). Beloved, keep your focus on the goal.  Never take your eyes off of Jesus.

What is Your Heart Saying?

Some time ago, God called me to speak and write for Him and share His Word.  He warned me that this was not to be taken lightly, it was a huge responsibility. He told me, “If you utter worthy, not worthless words, you will be my spokesman” (Jeremiah 15:19). He wasn’t just talking about what I said in teaching or speaking. He meant every word, all the time. I thought, “Okay, I can do this – I’ll just keep a check on what I say.” Then something made me angry. And someone said something I didn’t appreciate. And my boss asked me to do something I didn’t want to do. And you’ll be proud of me – I didn’t say a “worthless word.” But I sure thought them. In my mind and heart, I was spouting off left and right. That’s because my mouth wasn’t the real problem – my heart was. The Holy Spirit confronted me with Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:34: “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” I didn’t need to watch my mouth, I needed a complete reconstruction of my heart.

Of course, only God can change a human heart (see Ezekiel 36:26), but I also had a responsibility. Matthew 12:34-35 says “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.” What comes out of my mouth is what I store up in my heart, it’s what I soak up like a sponge in a bucket of water. If I’m soaking in the world my heart is filling up with harsh words, sexual innuendo, profanity, unkindness, and sarcasm, and this is what will come out of my mouth. But if I am soaking in God’s Word, my heart is full of truth, wisdom, gentleness, kindness, and love, and this is what will come out of my mouth. It’s a very simple but profound principle: what goes in is what comes out. It’s most evident in “unguarded moments” when emotions open the floodgate of our hearts. That’s why so many celebrities and politicians are doing “apology tours” over something they said – or tweeted.

What we speak (in any medium) come from what fills our hearts. Beloved, what do your words say about your heart?

Faithful

Do you remember when grown-ups would ask you as a kid, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It often changed for me from year to year. I wanted to be a dancer, a teacher, a garbage collector (what?), a singer, a mommy, and a writer. I often look at Joy and wonder what the future holds for her. We have already determined that she will be a preacher (I know, she’s a girl and we’re Baptists), a dancer, a singer, a chef, and the President of the United States. And she’ll be awesome (and cute) at all of them.

I didn’t follow all those dreams and went in some very different directions at times. I’ve had stints working in retail and the medical field and enjoyed a year as a floral clerk. I hung onto writing and teaching as my calling and I’m exploring the idea of counseling. but I’ve worked in religious administration for most of my career. It’s been sweet and a perfect fit for my skills.

But I’ve discovered something else I want to be. Faithful. Just faithful. Not only in a career or ministry but faithful in my life. I want to love God with all my heart and mind and soul and strength (Mark 12:30). I want to find hope and Joy and peace in Christ (Rom 15:13) and walk in step with the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:16-18). I want an undivided, unrelenting, unquenchable zeal for my Creator (Rom 12:11). I want to pursue Him with reckless abandon (Phil 3:12-14). Then I want to rest in Him (Mark 6:31). I want Christ to be my life (Col 3:4). I want my life to be all about Christ (Col 1:10-12).

One day I will stand before the Lord. I don’t want Him to compliment me on the pretty bouquets I created or the nice bulletins I produced or how well I managed the faculty files and textbooks at the college.  I don’t Him to tell me how much He enjoyed my writing and that I was a solid teacher of His Word. As much as I love her, I don’t even want Him to tell me I was a good grandmother to Joy. I only want to hear one thing: “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matt 25:21). That will be enough. That will be everything.