Posted in Christianity, Love

More than a Fish Story: An Old Testament Lesson in Grace

not just another fish story

On Memorial Day, we remember with a measure of sadness and a whole lot of pride those brave men and women who have given their very greatest gift for the sake of defending our freedom and way of life.

It seems like an appropriate time to remember the person who paved the way for such magnificent sacrifice, our Lord Jesus, who, having lived a human life and managed what none of us will ever do, that is to be without sin, sacrificed Himself so that we might have eternal life through His grace.

Most people want to place grace solidly in the New Testament. Some like to see God as a sort of split personality—the wrathful, war-like Judge of the Old Testament versus the loving, saving Lamb of the New. But God is the same yesterday, today and forever, so it isn’t really any surprise to find examples of His grace throughout the story of our relationship with the Eternal.

Take the narrative of the reluctant prophet Jonah. If you haven’t read his story since you were a child and more prone to concentrate on the concept of a man inside a fish, take a bit of time today with me to look at this Biblical episode, which is so about grace.

As I read Jonah’s story during my Bible study this week, I was impressed anew by its parallels to some of the events in Jesus’ life, and I was struck by its overpowering message of God’s grace. In fact, I found that some of Jonah’s goofiest reactions to God’s calling for him only go to underscore the truth of God’s mercy.

Jonah arrives on the Biblical scene at a time when the Jews could be doing better. They are a divided kingdom, running through a succession of kings who take turns being for God, ambivalent, or outright disobedient. Sometimes they worship as they ought. Other times, they cling to pagan idols.

But Jonah isn’t sent to prophesy to the Jews! Instead, God wants Jonah to warn the Assyrians in the metropolitan city of Nineveh to repent before He executes a mighty punishment on them. There may be more immediate reasons that God places Jonah on this path, but there is also an inkling here of God’s future message of grace. He wants all to be saved: Jews, God-fearers, Gentiles, even enemies of His chosen people like the Assyrians. And, as we shall see, this story also shows how often the Gentiles turn more quickly to God’s message of grace than His chosen people.

When called, like so many of us, Jonah doesn’t want to go. So, forgetting that God is everywhere, Jonah hops a ship and tries the impossible feat of outrunning Him. Jonah doesn’t get far. A storm begins to rage on the open waters. The sailors of the vessel, terrified, are surprised to find Jonah fast asleep as the storm rages.

Even though Jesus was not running from God, you might recall He, too, was found fast asleep during a stormy voyage on the open water. When His disciples wake Him, He calmly abates the storm. Jonah’s path to bringing about calm waters is clumsy by comparison.

The sailors cast lots to figure out who is responsible and then start questioning Jonah. He admits it is his fault that the storm has come and offers to sacrifice himself for their safety by being thrown overboard into the sea. (Jonah doesn’t know that God will save him, so he really is offering to die to save the men in the boat.) The sailors, reluctant to kill a man, even though he has brought this calamity on them in the first place, attempt to ride out the storm. Eventually, even they have to admit defeat and throw Jonah overboard.

Jonah stays inside the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights (another parallel to Christ, who was three days and three nights in the tomb before rising again). While sitting in the gooey, smelly darkness, Jonah prays, and what he prays about is grace and the salvation that comes because of it:

Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the LORD.

God uses the vine to teach Jonah grace

If Jonah’s story isn’t already weird enough, it takes another strange twist once he has successfully fulfilled his mission. For, having prophesied doom so that the Assyrians actually repent of their evil ways, Jonah gets angry that God chooses to show compassion instead of reigning destruction on the great city:

That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish, Jonah complains. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.

Showing how challenging the concept of grace can be for humans to grasp, Jonah accepts God’s compassion on an intellectual level but is so irritated that his prophesying was unnecessary since God did not condemn Nineveh that Jonah proclaims he is angry enough to die.

Jonah finds a place east of the city (won’t Christ come from the east upon His return?) and plops down to do just that. But, God isn’t finished teaching him lessons, or us, just yet. God makes a vine grow over Jonah that protects him from the elements. The next day, God allows the vine to be gnawed away by a worm, exposing Jonah to a scorching wind and blazing sun.

Now Jonah is really angry, but God gives Jonah a more merciful perspective to consider, one that takes into account the true meaning of the vine that Jesus later proclaims:

But the LORD said, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”

Our God loves us. Even when we are most despicable, He longs for us to turn towards Him. He forgives yesterday, today and forever. He saves yesterday, today and forever.

During this Memorial Day holiday, as we pay honor to those who have given their lives in fighting for our country, we should begin by honoring the One whose sacrifice gave tangible proof of God’s saving grace. Because of Jesus, we creations of the mighty God know every moment of every day through all circumstances that God’s grace never fails.

Only God could tell us so much from the story of a reluctant prophet in the belly of a whale.

Posted in Christianity, Faith, Love

The Greatest Love Story Almost Never Told

love-story

In a burial scene during the latest X-Men movies, one of the characters picks up the cross at the head of a newly dug grave and turns it before placing the two sticks back into the ground so that an X now stands at the head of the grave.

It’s supposed to be a simple statement about the person buried in the ground,  but I couldn’t help myself from seeing something deeper behind the symbolic gesture. It seemed to me that by taking down the cross in this way, the movie had literally “X-ed” out God.

But, should I really give in to the righteous outrage this degradation of my God stirred in my chest? If I look really hard at the way we Christians try, and mostly fail, to reflect why Christ’s message is good news, how can I really blame the secular world for its obsession in breaking down the things they perceive that I stand for?

I recently listened to one of N.T. Wright’s speeches at a Pepperdine Bible Lecture series. In it, he claimed that the story the world at large has learned from us when it comes to Christ is one in which God’s hatred of us led to the need for the sacrifice of His Son to save mankind instead of the truth of the absolute love story the gospel really is.

For God so loved the world. Growing up listening to too many sermons where I was reminded, like Jonathon Edwards’ congregation of the 18th century, that I might be likened to a spider dangling above the open flame of God’s wrath, I easily supplanted His overwhelming love in my fear of His inevitable judgment.

In a world where you are reminded of your failings, the love you feel from God too easily becomes understood as conditional. You have to earn His love for you, just as you earn the respect of your peers. Considering how often we stumble, I can only imagine how much He rightfully hates me. Looking at life through these conditional lenses, I can’t help but hate myself.

It’s easy enough to fall into this trap of doing to earn God’s love and salvation. We live in a world where we delineate winners and losers. We judge others according to their accomplishments. We study a Bible in which we struggle to match the Old Testament God of Wrath with the New Testament God on a Cross.

We Christians are not immune from failing to fully accept that our belief alone in Christ and His teaching is what saves us, even though nothing else we do adds anything to our actual salvation. Too often, we make these unconscious checklists of the things we should be doing to ensure what is already ours through faith, things like never missing church on Sunday or never passing a person wanting a handout without giving him something. These to-do lists are commendable goals for a grateful heart that wants to live for God, but making them a requirement for salvation proves we have fallen victim to rendering conditional a relationship that is actually unlimited.

If Christians are unclear on the absolutely unconditional love of God for humanity, how much more so will those who do not believe fall victim to our seemingly confused theology? We make it so much easier for a secular world to X out the one good thing it has going for it because the light we shine is shrouded in this confusion over the height and depth and breadth of God’s love.

The good news is that the story of Christ is not a story of sinners in the hands of an angry God, but a true love story, the truest love story, about a God who made us in love, in His own image, and has never stopped loving us unconditionally, even when we turn our backs on Him.

If you need examples of man’s inability to break the bonds of God’s love for us, the Bible is replete with them. How many times did the Jews turn from the ways of a God Who only wanted them to love Him first and foremost? And, every time, He waited patiently for the stiff necks to turn in true worship to Him once more.

The parable of the Prodigal Son is another example of God’s capacity to feel love, only love, even when we deserve His disgust.  When the prodigal wastes his inheritance, returning to his home only after he has led the most ignoble of lifestyles, the father doesn’t tell him that he got exactly what he deserved. The father greets him in love, with mighty hugs, tears of joy, and a grand feast. When one lost lamb returns to the herd, the Shepherd who loves beyond human understanding rejoices.

Perhaps the most powerful example of the love story that is Christ’s sacrifice for our salvation is the assurance that we who believe are no longer condemned. There is now no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, Paul assures us in his letter to the Romans (8:1), one of the New Testament’s most powerful treatises on the gift of Grace.

We’re human. We’re still going to stumble and fall. But, no matter how hard we hit the pavement, God refuses to condemn a saved soul. That doesn’t mean He won’t want better from us next time. It doesn’t mean we should go through life without thinking about our actions or trying to be a better person. It just means we can free ourselves from the burden of judgment that has been lifted. The yoke of our Mighty God is truly light. It is a yoke held up by the truest love there is.

You want to argue politics or stand on your moral high ground about hot-topic issues? Maybe there is a time and place for all of those things. But today, in this divided country we live in, I think it is much more important to make the Christian job description conducive to spreading the love story of our Awesome God.

If you want to change the world, start by making sure the world knows just how much God loves it. He put a piece of Himself on that rough wood and gave up all the power of the universe so that His children, which includes all of us, could be in relationship with Him again in a heavenly home where love conquers all.

That’s a love story of the ages, for the ages. And it always has a happily ever after.

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Christian Living, Love

For Those Whom We Remember

PhotoFunia-especially love

The people who make a difference are not the ones with the credentials, but the ones with the concern.  –Max Lucado, And The Angels Were Silent

In a world where a YouTube video can make a dancing toddler or wacky kitten “famous,” it doesn’t hurt to step back every once in a while to gain some much-needed perspective.  Max Lucado gives this perspective with just a few questions:

  • Can you name the last five Nobel Peace Prize Winners?
  • How about the Pulitzer Prize Winner from last year?
  • Name five people who had a profound impact on your life.
  • How about ten people you have a great memory about?

Like me, I’m sure you had a difficult, or impossible, time with the first two questions, but a much quicker response to the final two questions.  Lucado explains that the difference in your ability to answer these questions comes from the value of the second set of people in your life.

Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners may be the best in their area of expertise, but knowing how to write a profound play, ultimately, doesn’t mean as much to me as experiencing the helping hand I really need from a person who knows me and cares enough to do something for me.

Isn’t the difference between credentials and concern summed up in Hosea, in the verse that Christ repeats during one of his encounters with the Pharisees?:

If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent (Matthew 12:7).

The truth of Christ’s sacrifice for us is that God’s main desire is not the continued spilling of blood (Christ gave the ultimate sacrifice for us once and for all on the cross), but our earnest striving to be kind, to love, to show concern.

How do you measure your success?  Do you spend too much time, like I often fall into the trap of doing, measuring yourself against the kinds of jobs other people have, or what’s in your bank account, or what kind of clothes you wear?  Even when you think you are trying to measure yourself according to God’s standards, do you fall into the trap of thinking bigger is better?  In other words, if you aren’t building a church or working on a mission trip, do you consider yourself a failure?

Luckily for us, God has a different measuring stick.  If we can be that concerned person for even one other, then we have made strides in His kingdom we may never totally fathom.  Do you want to think according to God’s measurement of success or man’s?

I always answer God’s to that question, and I always find myself slipping back into a laundry list of credentials instead of concern!  So, I propose thinking about success from a concern perspective.  How will that look?  Where do I begin?

It seems one of the best places to begin is by thinking hard about the people, outside of my family, who have shown the most concern for me in my life.  What impact did they have, exactly?  What did they do to make me feel appreciated, worthy, loved?

I might begin with Miss Patty, who taught me the Bible every Sunday during a particularly trying time in my life.  She was the one who walked me through the path to salvation as it is explained in the book of Romans.  She pointed out the verse in Ephesians that assured me I had been “sealed in that holy spirit of promise” when I had my first doubts.  She checked up on me long after I was in her Sunday school class.

Then there were the “mighty four,” a group of women a generation older than I who befriended me as I entered full adulthood.  We worked together at a community college, shared meals and miseries, my first real gang of friends.  When they teamed up to surprise me for one of my birthdays, I felt like one of the most important people in the world.  They probably won’t even know that until they read this paragraph. These are the women whose love will be in me for the rest of my life.

Some of those who show concern are in my life for but a moment.  Every time a gentleman opens a door for me, I feel respected and thankful.  When I walk into a place I haven’t been in a while and yet someone remembers me, I feel “important.”  Even when more than one person seems genuinely interested in seeing me on a Sunday morning, I think, wow, maybe I’m not such a pain. Like Sally Field, my inner self thinks, “They like me; they really like me.”

And no, I am not always a pathetic dweeb whose self talk is negative.  I often have to humble myself or be humbled.  But, my point is that because others have focused on concern and not credentials, I have been drug out of many a down moment.  And don’t we all have down moments that could use a little concern now and again?

I think that’s the kind of love God uses to measure us by, the treasures in heaven that Jesus admonishes us to strive for.  So, the next time I try to berate myself for not doing enough, I think I’ll make sure my measuring stick is marked with concern and not credentials, with kindness and love instead of silver and gold.

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity, Love

Even as He Loved Me

love one another photofunia

Do you ever read a verse you may have seen a hundred times before and suddenly see it in a different, clearer light?

Besides underscoring the importance of continual Bible study, these moments always take me one step closer to understanding the Spirit in me.  As I become more knowledgeable about my relationship with that Spirit, I find myself more comfortable in my own skin.  The “peace that surpasses understanding” is always there, these ah-ha moments remind me, we just have to push away the cares of this world that keep us from seeing and feeling our connectedness to the One and Only.

I grew up in the ’70s in the Bible belt.  My first Bibles were hard core King James Versions.  When I read the Bible through for the first time, it was with a King James version book.  It took me until well into my twenties to “trust” any other version of the Lord’s Word.  Besides, the poet in me loved the lyricism, the alliteration, the rhythm and the language of the King James Word, even when the phrasing that I loved sometimes made the meaning in a modern world more difficult to comprehend.

For example, even though, “When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Mark 2:17) has a rhythm and parallelism that any writer can truly appreciate, when I read the New Living Translation version of these words, I see an even fuller picture:

When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor–sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

When Jesus came to sacrifice Himself for us, ALL of the people around Him needed it.  Always before, when I would read the KJV of this verse, I would think to myself that the verses meant Jesus came to call those who had not already been following the Word of God, those who weren’t going to believe what Jesus was saying at that time.  But the NLT version of these words makes it clear that this verse speaks to all of us.  Jesus came to heal those of us who are willing to admit that we are sinners and thus are in need of Him.

Knowing I am a sinner as opposed to thinking I am righteous is also a daily reminder of my need to be on my knees in humility before the God who made me.  In that position, I cannot judge others or think I am better than a task I have been called upon to do.  On my knees, I know my sin and have a chance to repent of it, be healed daily if necessary by the cleansing power of Jesus, and keep moving forward in my relationship with the Holy Spirit that became a part of me the moment I accepted Christ as my Savior.

Because of the power of the salvation of Christ, I am not only delivered from a damned eternity, I am delivered from the vise grip of a life filled with sin.  This is the freedom that Paul writes so frequently about.  This is the element of the salvation story that we tend to spend the least time on, but that we need the most on a day-to-day basis.  We need Jesus every day to help us not step into the darkness but rather to shine His light.

But, I still haven’t shared my verse in a new light for this week, and it is a doozy!  Turn to John 13:34 and read a verse I am sure you may already know by heart.  Jesus is speaking to His disciples as His coming crucifixion approaches.  One of the things He tells them is this:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (NASB).

In the past, I have read this verse and assumed it to be another way to say the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  But the footnotes in my Ryrie Study Bible helped me to see that this commandment takes the Golden Rule to a completely different level.

Think about the implications of the phrase, “even as I have loved you.”  How did Jesus love His disciples and all of us, for that matter?  He, being God, was willing to be abused, mocked, and even slain for sins He didn’t commit.  He loved us so much, He died for us!

How many times do we turn the other cheek, not in the way that Christ turned His cheek, but to keep ourselves from seeing another person in need?  I live in a big city where people make a living by holding a cardboard sign asking for money at every other corner.  I have gotten good at turning another cheek, justifying my action by deciding that a con artist doesn’t deserve a quarter.

Jesus, on the other hand, took the servants’ role and washed the feet of Judas Iscariot, the disciple Jesus knew was going to betray Him, even as the Lord knelt at Judas’ feet at the Last Supper.

From us humans, blanket statements are dangerous, so don’t think I am trying to interpret this one verse to mean that women who are in abusive relationships are just supposed to keep getting hit or anything like that.  We always have to take the Bible in its totality, not just in the one or two verses that seem to serve our purpose.  It is the veracity and consistency of the Word that is part of the reason that we KNOW that we worship the one, true God.

Besides reminding me just how much God loves me, my ah-ha moment in the Word this week also has me thinking about ways I can up my game in the loving others department.  I am a far cry from achieving Christ’s level of love, but He promised that the great Helper, the Holy Spirit, is in me to guide me on this narrow path that leads to the Light.  I may stumble; I may fall; but Christ will always pick me up.

Through true repentance, I can continue to grow in God.  Because of how He loved me, I may fall, but I will rise again.

Posted in Christian Living, Love

Looking Through God’s Glasses

large stone jars

Each heart knows its own bitterness,
and no one else can fully share its joy.  (Proverbs 14:10)

One of my areas of study for my first degree was in cultural anthropology, where you quickly learn that worldviews across cultures can be vastly different and challenging to understand until you learn a sort of detached, non-judgmental stance with which to look at others’ ways of experiencing reality.

Even then, it can be difficult to realize that others may still see sincere value in ancient stories like one of the Pueblo creation myths that tells how Spider Grandmother wove the world into existence in stories that spindled out of her like a giant, interconnecting web.

If seeing the world through the lense of another culture’s experiences is challenging, learning to see reality through the perspective of someone who shares your same culture and background can be downright difficult.  How do you explain the sibling whose recollections from childhood make you think you must have grown up in two different households?  How do you manage to have a civilized, non-heated discussion with someone who sits on the opposite side of your particular political fence?

Part of the wonder of Christ on earth was His ability to see, not flesh and blood, but through our material selves to the very core of the person with whom He was interacting.  Seeing through God’s eyes, Christ knows the heart.  That means He sees and understands how each of us perceive the world around us.  He knows why some of us are afraid of spiders or don’t like romantic comedies.  More importantly, He knows why we make the choices we do in this life, even when those choices go against Him.

But, since it is God’s place to judge and our place to be gentle instructors, how do we approach other’s through God’s glasses and not our own human tendencies to jump to conclusions, see things from only our own experiences, and be quick to want revenge or “justice?”

Like all skills worth learning, this too takes practice.  We can start by asking questions, first of ourselves.  Why am I so angry?  What exactly do I think is wrong with this situation?  Is it really my place to step into this situation at all?  What might be another reason for what I have concluded besides the reasons I have already assumed?  Have I taken time to talk to the person in a non-judgmental way–asking questions that are not threatening but are designed to help me understand where the other person is coming from, what the other person is thinking?

CeCe Winans has a song about this topic called, “Alabaster Box,” that sheds some light on the grave mistakes we make when we jump to conclusions about others and pass judgment on them.  The song is about the episode in Luke 7 where the woman who had lived a sinful life found out Jesus was in town and approached Him with an alabaster box full of expensive perfume that she used to bathe Him.

The townspeople chastised the woman for wasting such a valuable resource.  They felt the expensive perfume could have been sold and the monies used to help the poor.  But Jesus, who sees through to the heart, didn’t feel the same way:

Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. “You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. “For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Then He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.” Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?” And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:44-50)

CeCe’s chorus puts this another way:

Until the day, when Jesus came to me and healed my soul with the wonder of His touch.  You don’t know the cost, of the oil in my Alabaster box.

The first time I heard this song, it had a profound effect on me.  Despite the fact that I had had training in seeing other cultural worldviews without being judgmental, I was a long way from being able to look at people from my own culture with the same magnanimity.  This song reminded me how much more work I needed to do in order to be able to look at people around me with love instead of trying to analyze what is right and wrong about the things that they do.

But this idea of perception goes deeper than just not judging other people.  If we are really serious about it, we will take pains to try to see things as if we were the other person.  This means we have to let go of more than just a little bit of ourselves and our need to be right.  Could the perception of the other actually have merits we haven’t taken the time to consider before?

Don’t get me wrong.  Trying to see through God’s glasses means we are still bound by the laws of right and wrong by which God is God.  But because we are not God, it is not our place to write somebody off.  It is our place to be concerned with our own right and wrong, which, if we are honest, is a full-time position.

Perhaps Will Rogers, one of my favorite cowboys, concludes it best:

Never miss a good chance to shut up.

The next time I feel myself propelled toward jumping to conclusions and saying something I will later regret, I will do my best to remember this sound advice.

Posted in Christian Living, Faith, Love

God Doesn’t Need To Be Politically Correct

I AM

When Abraham asked God, Who are you?, the Maker of the Universe answered, Is. 

In the prophecy of the final days, He describes Himself: “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev 1:8).

How would you describe yourself?  Would you do it by your occupation?  Your age?  Your physical description?  Your personality traits?  By the company you keep?  By the things you have or have not accomplished during your time on this planet?

God knows how to describe you.  As the Creator of everything, He is the only One who can see straight to our true hearts.  The Psalmist says it this way: “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?  and why art thou disquieted within me?  hope in God: for I shall yet praise Him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God” (Ps. 43:5).

In one of the famous lines from the TV classic, The Cosby Show, Bill Cosby tells his television son, Theo, “I brought you into this world, and I’ll take you out.”  God could do that.  In fact, there are countless examples in the Old Testament where God’s patience wore thin and His vengeance was wrought against a people who had been given every chance to believe and still persisted in worshiping other gods, in sinning, in denying God’s omnipotence.  Think Sodom and Gomorrah.

Paul assures us, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  Jesus warns us to remove the moat from our own eyes before worrying about the speck in others’ (Matthew 7:3).  We are all guilty of something.

So, what do you plan to do about it?

Jesus held the world to a standard of perfection because He Himself was perfect.  He threw the money changers out of the temple, but He also allowed Himself to be flogged and crucified by the authorities as a sacrifice for my sake as well as yours.  Jesus said things that were true and cut to the heart, but He said them with love, and He promised peace.  All He required was our surrender to Him.

So, what do you plan to do about it?

In today’s world, what if we tried speaking God’s truth in love with an end goal of peace in mind?  What if we didn’t worry about what other people thought about us as long as we knew that God was at the core of our actions?  What if we could be sure that our pride had nothing to do with what we had to say, in other words, that our eyes were clear of moats?

Paul describes Jesus,

By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience: And patience, experience: and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us (Romans 5:2-5).

In a world that grows increasingly hostile to truths based on God’s word and not modern, “enlightened”  ideas, where what feels good seems more popular than what is good, I am convinced that Christians need to strive to wear the armor of God.  Barbara Mandrell had a song when I was a kid–I Was Country, When Country Wasn’t Cool.  In America today, we are facing an environment where being Christian is no longer cool.  Our children are encouraged to do more than dress in certain clothes, and expressing an opinion on the wrong side of the political landscape could literally lead to dire consequences.

So, what do you plan to do about it?

The peace of God, a peace that transcends understanding, is the kind of peace that can whisper in a whirlwind and be heard.  To follow the example of Christ is not to condemn with hatred in our hearts, but to love others enough to gently lead them in the narrow way to God.  But first, we have to be sure that our own walk is being made as Christ holds our hands.  And that means prayer, introspection, fellowship, and study in His word.

In the coming days, your faith may be tested.  You may no longer have the luxury of practicing your faith in a bubble.  You may have to step out and say things that don’t make you popular with people but keep you on the narrow path that is the walk with God to eternal life.  It is God’s place to judge, but it is our place to spread the good Word of the grace that can mean salvation for anyone who is willing to believe.

So, what do you plan to do about it?

God doesn’t need to be politically correct.  He IS.  In God, there are no politics, only a kind of truth that sees the heart and does not waver.  The Bible speaks of peace as the blessing of God.  This peace is our ultimate gift on this earth, not happiness or shiny cars or pretty jewelry or the right clothes.  This peace does not waver in the face of opposition or hardship.  It is constant because it relies solely on God, and He never wavers.

So, what do you plan to do about it?

Go in peace and love that only God provides, and know what you plan to do about a world full of darkness for which you have been chosen to shine His light.

Posted in Christian Living, Love

The Challenges of Abundance

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When I was still in junior high school, my sister and I asked our grandmother about what it was like when she finally had things like vacuum cleaners and washing machines to use in her household chores. Had the new gadgets made life easier?

Without batting an eye, my grandmother, who had grown up the daughter of a sharecropper in East Texas during the Depression, lived in one-room houses with packed-dirt floors, and raided pack-rat nests for pecans to sell to the grocer for thread, gave us a quick and emphatic, “NO.”

Instead of reducing her workload, the advent of these electric aids to housework only gave my grandmother more to do!

Today, smartphones are supposed to make our lives easier as well. But, if you are like me, you know that a device that allows you to easily take a phone, email, internet connection, banking interface, social network, endless library, and gaming center wherever you go doesn’t simplify anything at all.

I have finally “smartened up” and put a hiatus on my electric devices after a certain point in the evening (unless I am writing my blog or a novel, of course) in an attempt to reduce the constant strain on my neck. With increased access to everywhere, I am also experiencing increased and unceasing stress!

Our consumer-driven society has given us an addiction to abundance that makes us less likely to slow down, be still, and feel the power of God around us. The challenge of balancing work, family-life, friendships, responsibilities and relaxation may just be the major crisis of our century.

But there is another kind of abundance that brings with it a different set of challenges. I’ll tell you right up front that I like these challenges much better.

The abundance I am talking about is the love of God for us, a love so great that Jesus died for us, accepting the punishment for all our sins when He Himself had done nothing to deserve punishment, so that we might have a chance to accept Him as our Savior and thus achieve salvation.

Christ’s love for us is an abundance that we must be willing to accept with the faith of a small child, and that we should desire to share with others. Christ’s love is a way of being when we interact with it on a daily basis.

How do you meet the challenge of the abundance that comes with a God who loves you so much, He comes to earth in the form of man to be humiliated in the end and crucified for you?

If you really accept this abundance, you will exhibit the fruit of the Spirit, as Paul describes it to the Galatians:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23).

This abundance of love is something that we humans can so easily take for granted, which means we aren’t as patient with others as we ought to be, we gossip just a little, we watch more television than we spend time in the Word, prayer, fellowship.

In other words, we are very good at proving over and over just how fortunate we are that Jesus was willing to die for us. None of us are perfect. But God’s love for us should make us want to be.

How do we take advantage of the abundance of God’s love? All we have to do is ask:

“Ask and it will be given to you;” Christ tells us, “seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8).

But we can also practice the disciplines of love: studying God’s word, praying, being still to listen for God’s direction, being in fellowship with other believers who can help us be accountable to God’s truth, paying attention to our actions and repenting of our sins to God.

Abundance can be as bad as it is good, but in the case of God’s love for us, the abundance of the gift of salvation is certainly uphill all the way.