Posted in Christian Living, Love

Happy “God Is With Us” Day

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Like many of you, my personality is challenged by several contradictory natures. One of them is that I like to write and read a good, clean romance, but when it comes to real life, my practical nature doesn’t allow me to fully enjoy the art and beauty of things “romantic.”

Because of this contradictory nature, I have a hard time fully appreciating Valentine’s Day, which at its best is a celebration of the romantic kind of love that occurs between a man and woman who have committed before God to “become one flesh” in a covenant that lasts a lifetime. Most of the time, I take the cynic’s view of this holiday, meaning I see it more as a creation by the flower and card industry to drum up business after the let-down of the Christmas buying season.

But, romantic love aside, there is a kind of love that supersedes anything we mere humans can achieve on our own, and it is available to any one of us, as long as we are willing to ask for it. I am referring, of course, to the love of God, manifested in the life and sacrifice of Jesus, that is made available to us through grace. Once we accept that love, nothing we can do or say or think can ever truly separate us from the connection to God His love provides.

Paul describes God’s love for us and the kind of love we should work to provide to each other in 1 Corinthians 13. This love is patient, kind, humble, slow to anger, seeks truth, and keeps no record of wrongs. Paul concludes, this love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (v. 7).

As humans, how can we achieve this kind of love for each other? We can’t. We can only hope to achieve a pale reflection of this kind of love through the power of the Holy Spirit in us. In fact, the more we are truly able to lean on God, the more He will be able to work through us to show this kind of love to others through us, and the more WE will truly feel God’s love in us.

The first Beatitude tells us that those who will have the kingdom of heaven must first be poor in spirit, which most understand to mean we must first feel how truly empty spiritually we are without God in our lives in order to actually let Him in. Once we do, the love that helped Moses lead his people to a promised land, helped David slay a giant, and saw Jesus through a suffering He didn’t deserve but was willing to take on for the sins of everyone else, will be available to we who seek Him.

Paul promised us the lasting power of that love in Romans 8:38-40: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

So, as you celebrate the romantic love of your life this Valentine’s week, don’t forget about the love that never fades. God is truly the only ONE who knows everything about us–and loves us anyway!

Posted in Faith, Love

Do You Get As Good As You Give?

   The old saying, “give as good as you get,” isn’t exactly a Christian one.  It implies taking retribution into our own hands, not allowing God to be the one who metes out justice.  Secondly, it is the complete opposite of the Golden Rule, totally denying the thing that matters most, which is love.  “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love,” Paul tells us.  “But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).

But I was reminded today not only of the importance of giving love to others, but of being a good receiver of love as well.  For some of us, it is harder to be a receiver than a giver.  Whether we are like Martha, so caught up in the details of the thing that we forget the main reason we gathered in the first place, or are just so addicted to control that we don’t think anything can be done right unless we are on top of it, we fail to open our arms and release that control long enough to receive the help or encouragement or compliments that other people are trying to give us.

My reminder today came in the form of taking  the time to actually stick around after my exercise class to talk to the other people who had come to class.  Before class, I had had an up and down day.  By the time class came around, I was mostly on the down side of things.  When class was over, I was my usual tired, sweaty self.  But, then the magic began to happen.

First, I saw a person who used to be on the same workout schedule as me but that I had not seen for some time.  When she asked how I had been, I decided to share a little more than just the usual, “OK.”  Then, another classmate took up the conversation with me and asked me to sit down.  I started to listen more than talk as this person filled me in on some of the challenges she had faced throughout her life, recurring dental problems that were really crazy.  As I continued to listen more than I talked, I was impressed by her upbeat attitude despite her extraordinary challenges.  By the time I left the workout center, I was feeling more upbeat just because I had had the chance to listen to what this woman had had to say and how positive she was about the challenges she was facing.

The only thing I wish I had done was take a moment to thank my workout “friend” for sharing.  I hope that she received as much from giving as I did from receiving.

God has so much He is willing to give to us.  How often do we fail to receive, even from Him?  David is a perfect example of one who understood the importance of being a good receiver.  Over and over in his psalms, he implores God to bless him with forgiveness, escape from his enemies, or just peace.  He thanks God in advance for the gifts David is sure God will give, even to those who don’t deserve it, especially since none of us deserve it.  And David is bountiful in his praise of God, exhalting God’s goodness and power and love for us.

If we could only see ourselves through God’s eyes, the bare truth of all our sin and all the love He has for us anyway, how much better would we be at extending love to everyone else around us?  None of us are free of mistakes.  We all deserve the same chance to repent, to build our faith, to give and receive love that we give ourselves all the time.  Why can’t we just extend it to everyone else?

Maybe it begins with being more open to receiving the love that is offered to us, especially the love that God offers.  The better we are at receiving, the better we’re going to get at giving love, not just to God, but especially to those around us.  What a wonderful way to shine His light!

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity, Faith

Do You Live Like You Believe It?

A Pool of Water Used for BaptismsThis little pool of water may not seem like much, but at different points in time, it has actually served as the site where some were baptized into the family of Jesus.  We all remember the moment when we ourselves were baptized and those fledgling years of our Christianity when everything was just a little brighter, when our zest for God fairly glowed.

But life has a way of catching up to us.  If the race we are running were an easy one, it would really not be worth the effort of putting one foot in front of another.  The glow of our early years of Christian faith can begin to tarnish with the cares of this world.  We start to hold on to what is right in front of us instead of offering up the cares of this world to the Ruler of the next one.  We let worry creep in, no matter what Christ told us about worrying, no matter that the Creator of everything knows the number of hairs on our very heads.  We cling to treasures on this earth under the auspices of security, like the rich young man unable to sell all and follow the Son of Man.

Many years ago, my father-in-law asked a series of questions to a younger person he was counseling.  This person was facing several family crises, depression, and budget woes.  Knowing that she believed in Christ, my father-in-law began by asking her about her belief.  When she strongly proclaimed her faith in God, my father-in-law asked her to consider if she were living like she believed Christ died for her and rose again.

How about you?  How about me?  What does it mean to live like I believe it?  In the past several years, it has come to mean my spending more time doing and less time wringing my hands wondering if where I am and what I am up to is what God wants from me.  I don’t mean that I have quit praying to God about His purpose for my life, or that I have quit aligning my actions to the principles of the Bible as best as I can.  What I have started to do is to give my actions over into God’s hands, where they have really been all along.   Now, however, my mind is recognizing God’s authority.  If He wants me somewhere else or doing something else, I have to live like I believe and step forward in the faith that He will get me where He wants me to be.

This process is not easy, like all growing pains, but through the gift of the Spirit that God has granted us believers, we can make it through life’s challenges aided by the One and Only, proof positive that “His burden is light.”   Living like we believe involves prayer time, worship time, helping others, and doing instead of worrying.  The more I can live like I believe, the more God’s light will shine through me.  And what more could any of us want than that?

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity, Faith, Living

Is Your Truth THE Truth?

   Like a winding set of stairs (especially like the stairs in the “Harry Potter” films that change on a whim), when you define truth according to your own rules, by what you think is right or, even more deadly, what feels right,  you start upon the journey of a very slippery slope that can only land you in the world of self-delusion.

Self-delusion is a favored land for popular culture.  “I’m OK, you’re OK” is the slogan here.  In popular culture, there are segments of society against which nothing bad should be said and other segments against which any barb is OK.  This reality is nothing new.  The Romans did an awesome job of persecuting Christians while allowing a variety of cultures to continue in religions which were in opposition to popular Roman thought.

But reality doesn’t equal truth.  Think about this.  Just because something IS does not make that something TRUE.  When truth is actually TRUTH, it is also RIGHT.  And who claims sovereignty over right?  For us Christians, the answer to that question is easy–God.  And the reference for TRUTH is not what we think or feel, but what is written in the Bible.  But not just the parts of the Bible you’d like to pay attention to.  The TRUTH comes from understanding the Bible in its totality.

I had a Sunday school teacher when I was young who explained that the Bible is so wonderful in part because it is at the same time simple enough for the most challenged of minds to understand and yet so complex that even a genius has difficulty deciphering all of it.  Without a strong knowledge of the Bible, think how easy it would be for someone to pick and choose the parts they needed to convince you of something that is actually the opposite of what God really says.  That is exactly how we have wound up in a world where more than half of marriages end in divorce and a shocking percentage of teenagers have already lost their virginity outside of wedlock.

Francine Rivers wrote a wonderful novel on just this premise: The Last Sin Eater.  In this novel, a prominent individual convinces an entire community that a sacrifice for the dead other than the sacrifice Christ made for us all is needed for each departed soul.  In the novel, the people have lost connection to the Bible and its TRUTH.  It takes hearing the Word and the bravery of just a few characters to believe that Word to begin to heal that community and teach them who the last sin eater truly is.

Is your truth the TRUTH?  Can you hold it up to the guidelines of unconditional love of God and your fellow humans that is laid out in the Holy Word?  And how many things do you hold as true that aren’t actually in line with what the Bible says?  Do you think you are too far gone to be redeemed, for example?  God never says that in the Bible.  In fact, Christ even accepted the confession of the robber who died on the cross with Him!  Talk about getting in by the skin of one’s teeth.

Because TRUTH is more often than not more ugly than truth, it becomes so easy to fall into the popular culture sense of what is right.  I’m ashamed to admit that, despite the time I spend studying the Bible and theology books and Christian fiction, I still spend more time watching television.  How many lies have I let slip into my definition of truth from this bad habit?  How many more so for those who only interact with popular culture without understanding the TRUTH that is God?

I’ve constructed a visual STOP sign in my mind for this week, and I plan to use it whenever I think, feel, or say anything that is truth as opposed to TRUTH.  I challenge you to do the same.

God bless.

Posted in Christian Living, Living, Self-Help

Reality vs. Real

Did you ever consider that a lot of people would face life with fewer difficulties if they didn’t live as if their lives were some kind of reality TV show? In reality TV, life never has a dull moment. If someone isn’t throwing a party, somebody else is planning a trip for all her friends to an exotic location where interesting activities and fancy dinner parties abound. And then, if people are not laughing together, they are picking one person in the group to dislike and pick on, until everyone is talking on top of everyone else. Drama abounds. And all the boring parts, like the daily activities required to actually live, get edited out.
If we watch these reality glimpses of life that are actually produced and scripted almost as much as a television drama without understanding that what they show isn’t actually real, then we are left with an impression of life that is dangerously distorted. In a truly real world, people may often get together, but not on private planes or for thousand dollar dinners. The drama in reality TV does not reflect a life lived solving problems with more than just gut reactions and emotional responses. Drama is so readily available in that quasi-life because people are not grounded in God, but in material possessions, a desire to be noticed, and lots of alcohol.
But Hollywood, with all its special lighting and sound effects, has a way of making anything look desirable. Somehow, we slip into the illusion along with the players on the television screen that what they are portraying is a magical, fun-filled and fulfilling life. But real life, not reality life, doesn’t need the drama fed by alcohol or back-stabbing or putting money before everything else.
Real life is most fulfilling when it is centered on God’s principles, seeks to love others instead of finding fault with them and enjoys each day to its fullest potential, which means actually smelling the roses and remembering from Whom they come.
Too much of anything is not usually good. Watch HGTV all day, and you suddenly need to redecorate your house. Watch the Housewives, and you live a dull life with nothing interesting to do. But if you take the time to watch yourself instead, you may just discover there are many gifts from God each day, loving friends, and small actions you can take that might just make a big difference in somebody else’s life.
Reality may sometimes seem enticing, but give me real any day. The ever-changing nature of life itself is all the drama anyone needs. Forget the created drama that is the current television rage and embrace real life for the better. What a change!

Posted in Christianity, Faith, Love

Two of God’s Most Important Concepts

Faith and Love.  Without the first, we cannot begin our journey with God, and if we do not live according to the latter, then we are failing in our walk with Christ.  Have you ever thought about how many steps there are between these two principles?   In 2nd Peter, the apostle contemplates the diligence it takes to become “partakers of the divine nature,” in other words, closer to God.  If you study 2nd Peter 1:5-7, you’ll discover just how many steps we must go through in order to grow from faith to Godly love.

These are the steps from faith to love:

  • Faith
  • Moral excellence
  • Knowledge
  • Self-control
  • Perseverance
  • Godliness
  • Brotherly Kindness
  • Love

Even a quick glance at this list shows us how one step builds on another, and also how much more difficult each next step would be if we had not first worked on mastering the one before it.  “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing,” Peter concludes, “they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v.8).

We should contemplate these steps if we truly want to grow in Christ.  By faith, we believe and are motivated to do what is pleasing and right to God.  When we approach His word for knowledge with the goal of knowing God’s morals better, not as a way to justify what we want to do, we increase our moral excellence.  Only when we have a growing knowledge of God’s word and His will, can we begin to practice the self-control that keeps us from judging other people or giving in to our own worldly desires.  Having to be of the world but not in it requires perseverance, and only when we are strong in our ability to hold out against the pull of this world and its desires do we reach any level of Godliness.  When we can learn not to give in to the desires of the flesh, we are better able to practice the brotherly kindness which is the beginning of Godly love.

Obviously, this isn’t a simple or quick process, but a life-long journey.  It helps me not to beat up on myself quite so much when I stumble considering the complexity of a life lived like Christ.  I am also reminded anew how grateful I am that it is the grace of God that saves us and not our works, even though my faith in God leads me to want to do good, fruitful works.