Paralleling Poop

As the mother of young boys, poop is the topic of far more conversations than I care to disclose, but this morning the idea was all mine.  I took advantage of my husband’s later than usual departure for work and walked the dog.  Quiet walks alone aren’t a staple around here these days since those two boisterous boys of mine are out of school for the summer.  While we were walking, my sweet old girl did what dogs do and as I was cleaning up behind her, I couldn’t help but think about three points where sin parallels poop:

  1. Be {over} prepared
  2. Pick it up NO MATTER WHAT
  3. Get rid of it ASAP

This morning Hannah hadn’t been out yet, so I knew she would be producing at least one pile of poop for me to clean up.  I took four bags, just in case.  I only needed two, but I was prepared, just in case.  You never know, a bag might have an unnoticed hole or one might break, or she could have been more prolific than ever before.  Satan will try to trick, tempt, tease and take us down the wrong path and his attempts are often at times or in places we least expect it.  The way to be prepared when dealing with his treacherous ways that lead us to sin is to be in the word, to read it, study it, know it word for word when possible.  Know what God says about you, how He expects you to live and the assurances He give us through His Son.  Just like those walmart bags I carried with me today, the word of God is free to each one of us.  Download it on your phone or pick up a copy at a local church.  You can even still find them in the nightstand drawer at some hotels.  You can never have too much bible knowledge.  You never know when you will need even the most obscure verse to protect you from the schemes of the devil.  “The word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12 So when we read it we are able to discern if our thoughts and actions are in accord with how we will be judged by Jesus and in so doing we can be protected from the wiles of the devil.  It is also the only offensive weapon mentioned in Ephesians when Paul encourages us to put on the whole armor of God.  By studying the Word, we are more likely to be prepared with the right word when we are in danger of falling prey to the devil’s dastardly deeds.

The second pile my precious companion deposited this morning was at the edge of the woods in some bushes around the bend in the road where nobody could see.  Believe me, for a split second, it crossed my mind to just leave it.  Nobody saw it.  Who would ever know?  But I knew it would haunt me.  I thought, “What if a child chased after a ball that got loose in just that exact spot and stepped in it?”  Just like a steaming pile of poop our sin lingers around stinking up our lives until we confess it.  It will eat at us us until we let it drive us to our knees.  And no matter how well we think it is hidden, God knows it before we even bring it to Him.  “For the eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good,” Proverbs 15:3 and He “will bring every work into judgement, including every secret thing.” Ecclesiastes 12:14.  So, no matter how big or small the sin and even if you think nobody else knows about it, confess it, no matter what.  You’ll be glad you did!

Whatever the written equivalent of “biting my tongue” is, that’s exactly what I’m doing in a valiant attempt to not perpetuate the overuse of that latest phrase made popular by a Disney movie.  So instead, I will say, “Get rid of it!”  Every dog owner who has carried a bag of fresh poop around for any length of time while searching for an appropriate receptacle knows it is not a pleasant task.  That is one bag you want to get rid of as quickly as possible.  It’s the same with our guilt and shame we carry around over our sins.  Once they are confessed, we need to ___ __ __, too.  The bible tells us that “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”  Psalm 103:12.  But we humans are prone to  toting them around with us even after they’ve been confessed, and that stinks even more than that bag of poop I carried for a quarter mile looking for a trash can this morning.  Keeping that guilt and shame doesn’t make us more holy or more forgiven, so get rid of it ASAP!  If you think otherwise, perhaps you need to re-read parallel number one, because it just may be Satan who is encouraging you to carry around that wretched guilt and shame in at attempt to draw you away from the peace found in the love and forgiveness of our Creator.

Clearly all this extra time I get to spend with my boys over the summer is influencing my mind, but these parallels were too perfect to pass up. Do you need to work more on being over prepared to thwart the attacks of the devil?  Is there some sin you need to pick up and pass off to our most merciful God?  Are you carrying around a bag of stinky guilt and shame you need to get rid of ASAP? How can you be more like a responsible dog owner today?

Pleading Guilty

Back in February I got a speeding ticket.  True story.  I know you are shocked!!  I was so appalled and embarrassed that I could hardly tell my husband and my kids still don’t know.  I had absolutely no idea I was even speeding but I got clocked doing 62 in a 45.  My excuse that I thought it was a 55 wasn’t even remotely valid, as I would still have been 7 over.  Apparently, I failed to see the posted speed limit sign traveling in that direction.

I carried the ticket around in the fold out portion of my wallet so that I wouldn’t lose it and would be reminded to call about paying it.  Each time I would pull out my wallet to pay for a purchase, I was shamed again, thinking that anybody who saw it right there in my hand would know I was guilty of speeding.  The thing is I was guilty no matter if anybody else knew it or not.

I finally brought myself to call the parish office and find out how much and how I could pay.  As I went through all the questions with the clerk on the other end of the line, I realized why I had been dragging my feet…  Paying the ticket meant I was entering a guilty plea with the court.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t really like to admit I’m guilty of anything.  Paying a speeding ticket was one thing, but admitting, out loud to another person that I was guilty of a violation was another thing altogether!

Here is the amazing part of this, once I agreed to that condition and processed the payment, I was free.  I didn’t have that silly thing hanging over my head.   I didn’t have to carry the ticket around with me anymore, like a “Scarlet A” blazoned on my shirt proclaiming my guilt to everybody. I didn’t even have to give the incident another thought.

That’s how it is with God’s grace.  Once you plead guilty to your sin, you are freed up to be forgiven.  No more guilt, no more shame, and we don’t even have to pay the fine.  But just like I had to swallow my pride and pick up the phone to admit that I was guilty of breaking the law, we must humble ourselves before the Most Holy God and admit that we are sinners.

His grace is there for us just as sure as the freedom I felt from fulfilling my obligation to Vernon Parish.  But we don’t have to pay the fine and those sins don’t stay on our record for 1-3 years.  Jesus paid the fine for us on the cross once and for all.  Psalm 103 assures us that God removes our sin far from us when we acknowledge it before Him.

“He has not dealt with us according to our sins,

nor punished us according to our iniquities.

For as the heavens are high above the earth,

so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;

as far as the East is from the west,

so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”

                                                                        Psalm 103:10-12

The prophet Micah wrote that “He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy.  He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities,” and that “[He] will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.”  Micah 7:18-19.

God has required payment for sins since He instituted the law with Moses, “And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission,” Hebrews 9:22.  This is why it was necessary for Christ to suffer and die for our sins.  Jesus Himself used these words in celebrating Passover with His disciples saying, “Drink from it, all of you.  For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”

Paul teaches Timothy that “the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.”  Titus 2:11-14

God’s forgiveness through the shedding of Jesus’ blood is for all people and for all sins, but we must admit that we are daily, desperately in need of it.  It doesn’t matter if we don’t think we are sinning that badly, if we failed to see the signs or even if we actually got caught in our sins by anybody else.  The only way to overcome the guilt and shame that plague us is the call upon Jesus and His Salvation.  When we accept His sacrifice for us and believe in His Salvation, not only do we experience His freedom and forgiveness, but we are also made Children of God, heirs with Jesus of an inheritance in His heavenly kingdom.  So make the call and plead guilty.  You will be glad you did!

Cultivating Compassion

Ordinarily, I am not a very compassionate mother when it comes to missing school.  My boys know the rules are the same ones my Mom used to judge whether or not my sister and I would get on the bus….  At the risk of TMI, if they aren’t vomiting, don’t have a fever or diarrhea, off to school they go regardless of any unseen ailment they claim is plaguing them.

Last Monday and Tuesday I was struck down with probably the worst headache of my life.  You know the kind where it hurts just to blink….  I couldn’t stand for more than 10 minutes without fearing collapse.  I wanted all the lights off and curtains closed.  Thankfully that was before my husband left on his latest “business trip” and he was able to take care of me and the boys that evening.  The next day was marginally better, but of course in this crazy winter weather we are having this year, school was cancelled once again here in Louisiana, so I was home alone, feeling sick and still having to care for my two young children.  I’m sure just about all of you reading this have been there, and thankfully I am not ending my story on this pitiful note.

Friday morning when my otherwise perfectly healthy 8 year old complained of a headache, I relented my usually harsh rules on attendance.  Had I not suffered earlier in the week, I probably would have drug him out of bed, forced him to dress and eat and sent him on his way.  There would likely have been a lot of drama and perhaps even some screaming on both out parts.  Because of the pain I had endured, I was able to instead show him compassion.  I could have turned bitter and told him to suffer through it like I had, but instead, by the grace of God, I chose compassion.  Instead of damaging our relationship with harsh words and anger, I was able to strengthen our bond with love.

Our pain and suffering here on earth can lead is in two directions, compassion or bitterness.  By enduring our own hardships, we can either become more sympathetic toward the suffering of others and inclined to give them aid and support as we show them mercy, or we can harden our hearts and be inclined toward animosity with others because of it.  One is an act of love and the other a display of hostility.

In one of the most famous stories in the bible, we receive a lesson in compassion.  Samaritans of Jesus’s day were the people who lived in what had once been Israel’s Northern Kingdom.  They were essentially cousins of the Jews, but since they failed to keep Jewish law in its entirety, there was much hatred between the two.  Yet, it is the Samaritan Jesus chooses to highlight in the well-known story Luke relates in his gospel account.  In Luke 10:25-37, Jesus is bantering with a lawyer who attempts to justify what I assume are his own failings at keeping the requirement to love your neighbor as yourself, when he asks Jesus for clarification on the point of just who qualifies as his neighbor.  Jesus’ parable tells of a Jewish man who is attacked on the road by robbers and left for dead.  Two men most Jews would expect to stop and give this poor man aid, a priest and a Levite, passed right by, as if they hadn’t even seen him. Perhaps these two men hadn’t suffered in their lives, or maybe they had never known what it was like to need help.  Either way their inaction was far less than loving and if another man hadn’t come along, would have led to the injured man’s demise.  Then, came a Samaritan man, whose people were so despised by the Jews that they wouldn’t even pass through their land.  A man who had likely been rejected and persecuted all of his life by the Jews, a man who had most certainly known need and rejection in his life.  This man is the one most Jews would have expected to spit on the bleeding victim and keep on walking.  Yet this is the man who bent down and cleaned the Jewish man’s wounds, placed him on his own donkey, took to an inn and then paid for his stay while he recuperated.  The Samaritan man had cultivated a heart of compassion.

I believe that whatever we endure in this life is used by God to enable you to be compassionate and loving toward others.  Perhaps not as directly or as instantaneously as in my experience this week, but you will likely find a connection.  This life certainly provides us with plenty of experiences that can make us more sympathetic toward others: unexpected death, illness, injury, pain, loss of a job, depression, divorce…   Being an Army wife inherently adds a whole host of additional opportunities to develop compassion:  deployments, frequent moves, separation from loved ones, injuries, PTSD… I could go on and I’m sure you could add your own to the list as well.  We don’t get to choose what our experiences are, but we definitely make the choice about how we use them to relate to others who face similar situations.

When is the last time you had compassion on your neighbor?    If we do not allow our harshest experiences to give way to compassion, the tears, suffering and pain will have been for nothing.  Not only do we steal glory from God when we refuse to let our sad circumstances lead us to love others, we also deny ourselves the blessing we are called to inherit in the Kingdom of God.  “Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous, not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this that you may inherit a blessing.” 1 Peter 3:8-9

Take Flight

One carry-on bag packed for me alone.  Boarding pass displayed on my smart phone.  Moving at my own pace, not that of a 5 year old.  Choosing the healthy restaurant because my kids aren’t screaming for a burger and fries with a toy.  Reading a book or a magazine that doesn’t have pictures of toys or trucks or dinosaurs.  Resting my eyes with no worry of my children wandering off.  Thanks to the support of my husband, the generosity of my amazing neighbors and a couple of great babysitters, I was fortunate to  travel solo last weekend to celebrate the promotion of one of my closest friends and visit with family and friends who live in the DC area.

All those people from different backgrounds with one thing in common – everybody is going somewhere.  Some are in a hurry racing off to their connection before the doors close and others have nothing but time on their hands as they endure a delay or an insanely long lay-over.  Some are grumpy and others find ways to pleasantly pass the time.  Some are dressed impeccably well leaving you with the impression that they will step right into a board meeting when they deplane and others have undoubtedly opted for maximum comfort during their travel.  Some are headed to the same destination and others to more exotic places, but you don’t know who is traveling with you until the boarding announcements begin.  Some are friendly, yet others can’t be bothered to expend the energy required to curl the corners of their lips upward when they pass.  Businesswomen, Soldiers, junior pageant queens, grandparents, vacationers, geographical bachelors, honeymooners, those celebrating their golden anniversaries, families, college students, foreigners, and citizens, athletes, authors, politicians, writers….

And there are choices at every terminal.  Walk or take the train.  McDonald’s or Fresh.  Sit down meal or take it to go.  Pampering and a nap room rented by the hour or a crowded seat at the terminal to watch the news or a playoff game.  Shoe shine or smoke break.  A seat near the charging stations or one by the windows to watch planes come and go.

As I walked down the length of the terminal I heard boarding calls for all sorts of destinations, some places I’ve already been and others I would love to visit someday…. Brussels, Colorado Springs, Los Angeles, Moline, Mumbai, Rome, Zurich.  From Atlanta, you could get just about anywhere in the world.  You just have to buy the right ticket.  No matter what choices you made on your walk through the terminal, you must simply pass though the correct gate to have a successful trip.

All the travelers in the airport have one thing in common, like the chorus of one of my son’s favorite songs, “All I know is I’m not home yet.  This is not where I belong” (Where I Belong by Building 429).  Not one of us is where we will spend eternity, we are all going someplace.    The songwriter wasn’t referring to any earthly place when he sang about “home.”  He was talking about leaving this world and reaching the kingdom of God.  In order to get there, all we must do is believe in Jesus.  In John 10:9, Jesus said, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.”

Once you step on that plane, you put your very life in the hands of the pilot and most of us breathe a huge sigh of relief when we finally get to our seat.  It is quite pleasant to sit back and be able to relax for a little while.  There are things you can do when travelling by plane that you cannot do while driving a car to your destination.  In my row alone, there was a man playing video games, a woman doing word searches and another a crossword, someone reading a book and I was typing this piece.  Two of the three people in the row in front of us were sleeping and another was eating.

We should all feel a similar sense of overwhelming peace when we accept Christ as our Savior, knowing that He is in charge of our final destination.  We are certainly told to make our requests known to God, but not to worry about them, so that “the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard [our] hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7  We put our lives in the hands of the pilots who fly us around the world, but often struggle to let Jesus navigate our day to day living.  Allowing Him to have that control is the only way to live in freedom from sin, from the need to please man, from worry about the future, and from futile attempts to earn our own righteousness.

To be in the pilot’s seat means to be in control of your destination.  Our society likes control.  It is hard for us to relinquish the tiller because we are so sure we know what’s best for us.  Unfortunately, we can’t see around corners or into the future, so we are really not best suited to pilot our own lives.  Only God knows the plans He has for us, “plans to prosper [us] and not to harm [us], plans to give [us] hope and a future.”  Jeremiah 29:11.  We must train ourselves to let go and step on the plane with God in control.  When we do, he takes over all the worry of getting to our destination and frees us up to live, to love boldly, to rest in his saving grace, to worship Him.

I am always interested in the look of the people who fly first class.  As I trudge toward the back I try to figure out what sets them apart.  We are all going to end up at the same destination in the same amount of time.  They might get off the plane a little faster than I do, but we are all still landing in DC.  Still something about these people entitles them to better service, more leg room and complementary food and beverages. Because of what they have done or who they know or the job they do, they can afford to pay the higher fare for a better seat.  God doesn’t discriminate based on what you can pay.  In fact He knows that we cannot possibly pay our own fare.

Too often we long to pay for an upgrade in life, as well.  We make ourselves crazy trying to earn favor with God or man, attempting to control our own destiny, or make ourselves look like we deserve better treatment.  Jesus calls us to come to Him when we are weary and heavy burdened by the requirements falsely placed on us in the name of religion and find our rest in Him (Matthew 11:28-29).  The only way to ensure you arrive in the Kingdom of Heaven is to book a ticket for which the price was paid in Jesus’ blood and the only identity that matters is your title as a child of God.

There is no baggage to claim and our trip to our eternal home is done solo.  Are you prepared to enjoy the freedom of taking flight with Jesus?  Are you willing to say, “Take this world and give me Jesus”?  How are you passing the time with your fellow travelers?  What can you hand over control of to God today?  Are you working hard for an upgrade but failing to realize that once you are on the flight your destination is assured, that it’s the destination that ultimately matters, not where you ride in the plane?

 

 

Rotten to the Core

While I was visiting my husband’s family, my mother in law received a bag of tasty looking fruit.  One day at lunch time she was getting ready to cut some up for the kids, and we were discussing our favorite varieties of apples.  She is fond of the Gala and Jonathan, while my family is usually happiest with the Granny Smiths.   Neither of us particularly care for the red delicious as they are generally not very crisp, but we were certainly not prepared for what we found when she cut into that first apple….

It was completely rotten at the core.

Rotten Apple

Usually when fruit is beaten or bruised or broken on the outside, we steer clear of it.  But this apple looked nice and shiny and red with no soft spots or discoloration.   There were no outward signs of what lurked beneath.

People can be a lot like that, too.  We clean up pretty well, don’t we?  Put on some make up to accentuate our best facial features, dress in our most flattering outfit, style our hair just so and exhibit good behavior to make a good impression on others and appear desirable.  But what about our insides?  All too often we neglect what can’t be seen with the human eye.   Paul gave Peter some advice to pass on to the women of his church in 1 Peter 3:3-4 when he wrote, “Do not let your adornment be merely outward – arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel – rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.”  This is not to say that there is anything inherently wrong about dressing nicely or being well groomed, but that what is most valuable to God is found beneath the surface.

Making assumptions about people based on their appearance is not a new situation.  Saul was the first king chosen by the Israelites because of his pleasing outward appearance. He was a strong, tall, handsome war hero and they thought he would make the perfect ruler.  Until that point, God had served as the King of the Jews, but the Israelites saw that the other nations around them had earthly rulers and they wanted one for themselves.  Unfortunately, Saul turned out to be disobedient to God, jealous, feeble and eventually went crazy.

Even before Saul’s demise, God sent the prophet Samuel on a mission to anoint his successor.  The search took Him to the town of Bethlehem, to a man named Jesse and his sons.   Samuel looked at the oldest son and thought he was the one, however God told Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him.”   1 Samuel 16:7.  In fact, God did not prompt Samuel to select any of the seven oldest sons.  Instead, he asked to see the youngest, David, who was called in from where he was tending the sheep.   “For the Lord does not see as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  1 Samuel 16:7.  God had chosen David as the one who would rule after Saul because He knew what was in his heart.  Luke relates God’s own endorsement of David in Acts 13:22, “He raised up for them David as a king, to whom also He gave testimony and said, “I have found David, the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all my will.’”  David was a wise ruler and faithfully sought the will of God in his life.

To say David was a man after God’s own heart does not mean that he was free from sin.  On the contrary, his failures are well documented.  David did, however, understand that God was the author of everything good in his life and that his sin must be dealt with.

He “said unto the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.’” Psalm 16:2 (NLT).  To acknowledge that anything virtuous, respectable, righteous, honorable, truthful or worthy in us comes from God is an act of humility.  Proverbs 3:34 says that “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”  I would rather acknowledge by own unworthiness and receive the grace and forgiveness of God than continue on in my sin under the impression that I know more than God or can be good apart from Him.  God is good and I am not.  He is holy and I am not.  But when I confess my transgressions and accept His grace, He sees the righteousness of His Son when He looks at me.

David also realized that trying to cover up his rottenness to make himself look good to others only led to more sin. David had an affair with the wife of one of his Soldiers who was away at war.  When Bathsheba became pregnant, David was desperate to cover up his transgression and devised a plot to have the Soldier stranded and left for dead during battle.  David’s first sin of lust and coveting another man’s wife led to adultery, lies and ultimately to murder.  That seems like a headline ripped from our news today!  Maybe times haven’t changed as much as we might like to think.  Chances are your sins haven’t led you quite so far down this slippery slope of depravity, but this should fill you with a sense of hope that no matter what the sin, every sinner can still be considered to be a person after God’s own heart. No matter what kind of rottenness lurks beneath your skin, God has the power to make you fresh and new.

Some of the most beautiful and passionate psalms contain the confessions of David and the joy he felt when his relationship with God was restored.

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,

And cleanse me from my sin.

For I acknowledge my transgression,

And my sin is always before me.

Against You, only You, have I sinned,

And done this evil in Your sight –

 

Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts,

And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.

 

Hide Your face from my sins,

And blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,

And renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Do not cast me away from Your presence,

And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,

And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.

Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,

And sinners shall be converted to You.
Psalm 51-2-3, 6, 9-13

 

Perhaps this is a lesson David passed on to his son Solomon who included it in his own wise sayings, “He who covers his sin will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.”  Proverbs 28:13

There are plenty of ways we try to make ourselves look appealing from the outside, like a nice shiny apple but only one way to be desirable to God on the inside.  Jesus recognized this dilemma among the religious leaders when he told them, “So you outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”  Matthew 23:28.  They tried very hard to appear righteous before men by adhering to their own interpretations of the law and condemning all those who failed, but it was the beaten, the bruised and the broken that the Son of God chose to spend His time with.  He called the Pharisees and scribes hypocrites, and called the dishonest tax collectors, the doubtful, the unloved, the outcasts, the sinners and even the one who would betray Him to be part of His inner circle, to be His disciples.  He chose to spend time in the company of people who knew they were rotten apples, because He knew that by having a relationship with Him, they could be saved, forgiven, made clean from the inside out.

Righteous Apple

The condition of our hearts is known to us and God alone.  It is fairly easy to convince others of our goodness.  Sometimes, we are even capable of deceiving ourselves, but never Him.  Eventually, the rottenness on the inside of that apple would have eaten away at all of the flesh and shown through the skin.  Left untended and unconfessed, the results of our sin will eventually manifest themselves outwardly, too.

My mother in law was forced to toss that rotten apple, because it wasn’t fit to eat.  Once our rottenness is exposed, we prove that we aren’t good for anything either.  There is nothing we can do about our core on our own though.  We are no more capable of purifying our own hearts than the apple is of changing its rot to crisp, healthy fruit.  The apple is a lost cause, but you and I are not.  Jesus alone can cure the decay and rottenness inherent in each of us, and we’ve all got some.  “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  1 John 1:9

Would you rather be surprised that an ugly-skinned apple has sweet, delicious, healthy fruit inside or be disappointed by a pretty looking fruit that is decayed inside?

Let’s not worry so much with our outward appearance, but rather place the focus on the inside.  Let’s give God the chance to restore and cleanse us so that we might be pleasing to Him.  Let’s learn to select friends, leaders, co-workers, or recipients of our goodwill based not on their outward appearance, but more for the condition and potential of their hearts.  Let’s share with others the love and grace of our heavenly Father who has the power to make us new from the inside out!

JOY

I have
these three letters J – O – Y that I have used to decorate my home at Christmas
time for the last few years.  They are
about 2 ½ feet high and more than a foot wide. 
I painted them a shiny burgundy color to match my decor.  The first year I had them we lived in
Colorado and I stood them up on my mantel above the fire place.  Last year when we started to decorate for
Christmas at our home in Louisiana, I realized I didn’t have a good place to
display them inside.  I was determined to
get them up, because they are an amazing reminder to me of the real meaning of
Christmas.  My sweet husband and father
rigged a billboard out of the side of a bookcase that was broken during our
move and hung it with twine on the side of the house near the front door.  Then, I gave the letters a fresh coat of
outdoor paint and velcroed them to the board. 
 Why Velcro you ask? Well, who
knows where we will be living this time next year or how I will be forced to
display them!  

 

I have
shared my JOY with friends, and even loaned it to one of them for her Christmas
display while her husband was home for R&R that year.  It is proudly positioned for people who drive
by to see and those who visit generally have questions about how it is hung,
what it’s made of and what kind of paint I used.  It is currently my cover photo on Facebook
and once I actually pinned a picture of it to Pinterest as a decorating
idea.  I was in a mild state of panic one
year when I couldn’t find my JOY.  It is
so apparent how much these letters mean to me that last year one of my
wonderful neighbors covered my JOY in plastic to protect it from a rainstorm. 

 

Keeping
with the theme, our Christmas card this year says, “Joy to the world the Lord
is come!”  I’m sure you’ve heard the song
before. First published in 1719, it is one of the most popular Christmas hymns
of all time.  But did you know that the
English hymn writer, Isaac Watts, originally intended the lyrics to glorify the
second coming of Christ, not His virgin birth we usually associate it with this
time of year?

Even
before Jesus came to earth, the bible spoke of the Joy of the Lord.  It is no surprise that this kind of joy
brought the people of the old testament strength or that the people of Judah
were reminded that they should celebrate His love and forgiveness.

After
having been in exile in Babylon for 70 years, in 538 BC the Jews began
returning to Judea to rebuild the temple. 
One of the great leaders of the bible, Nehemiah brought two groups of
Israelites from Babylon to return to Jerusalem with the mission of rebuilding
the wall of protection around the city. 
However, he was more concerned with the restoration of the people’s
spiritual protection than the symbolic physical protection the wall provided
them.  To this end, he collaborated with
Ezra to teach them the Law as it was originally written.  In 443 B.C., the month after construction on
the wall was completed, Ezra read the Law to the people and upon hearing it,
they wept because of the conviction they felt over their own sin.  But Nehemiah wanted them to take away another
message; one of God’s continual restoration, that God loved them no matter what
their sin and desired to have a meaningful relationship with them.  Ezra, Nehemiah and the priests whose
teachings caused the people to lament over their inability to keep the law
encouraged them saying, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send
portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our
Lord.  Do not sorrow, for the joy of the
Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10.  Despite
the sin that caused God to exact punishment upon them in the form of a
Babylonian conquering, God had allowed them to return to Jerusalem and blessed
them by making a way for the rebuilding of their great city.

 

We
have reason to celebrate because of God’s unfailing love for us, too.  No matter how we disobey His commands, we
always have the opportunity to repent, to turn away from that sin, and rebuild
our relationship with Him.  It is that
relationship that provides the eternal protection that no wall of stones can.

 

About 450 years after Nehemiah encouraged the people of
Jerusalem to embrace the Joy of the Lord, others found this joy in different
way.  Matthew 2:10 says, “When they saw
the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.”   This star was the star that pointed the wise
men to the place of our Savior’s birth that very first Christmas.  They first looked for Jesus, the King of the
Jews, in Jerusalem, but were disheartened when they were unable to find Him
there.  They turned to Herod who gathered
all the priests and scribes to determine from the scriptures where the Christ
was to be born.  Herod, desiring to kill
this “King of the Jews” because he was threatened by the presence of a new
ruler in his domain, asked the wise men to search for Jesus in Bethlehem and
report back his location.  When the wise
men left Herod, they once again saw the star and followed it to the Christ
Child. 

These verses from Matthew 2:1-12 provide an interesting
parallel for us today.  Religious leaders
who had fallen away from God’s plan, were leading others astray and would
ultimately crucify the Savior, still found truth in the scriptures.  Political leaders who had no interest in
actually following Jesus claimed to be seeking to worship Him.  Wise men found joy and encouragement in a
star that led them into the presence of our Savior.  Are you being led astray by people who claim
to know God, but aren’t preaching His Truth? 
Are you prepared to accept Jesus as your King even if it means a loss of
self or position?  Are you seeking to
enter into His presence through true worship? 
No matter what others say or do, truth is The Word of God, worship is
the way to seek Him and true JOY is found in the presence of the Lord.

According
to Jewish Law, only the high priest was able to come into the presence of the
Lord in the Most Holy Place and then only once a year was he allowed behind the
curtain where the tabernacle of the Lord was kept.  This was the day of atonement and he
sprinkled the blood of a bull and a goat in order to symbolically cleanse the
people of their sins.  But they weren’t
truly clean as evidenced by the fact that only the High Priest could ever enter
into the Most Holy.  But now for us,
Jesus has cleansed us from our sin, every sin, those committed in the past,
those we commit daily, and even those we will commit in the future.  On the day of His death, “Jesus cried out
again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.  Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn
in two from top to bottom.” Matthew 27:50-51. 
By His death, each of us have gained access to the Most Holy place and been
granted permission to come into the presence of God.  David’s words point to the path of eternal
life and confirm where we will find true JOY, when he wrote, “You will show me
the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are
pleasures forevermore.”  Psalm 16:11.

With
the death and resurrection of Jesus we can enter into the presence of God at
any time we choose.  This is where we
find fullness of JOY, this is where He will show us the paths of life, the ways
we should walk, how we should act and what we should and shouldn’t do.  For our salvation, we must accept and believe
in Jesus as our Savior, but to enter into His presence we must repent of our
sins in our hearts and show a willingness to be molded by Him in order to
receive His fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore.

I recently read an article entitled Private
Worship: The Key to Joy
by Nancy Missler which concludes with the following
thought:

“Please bear in
mind, since we are not under the Law, we can, in fact, worship the Lord as
little or as much as we like.  It doesn’t
change our salvation.

What is affected
by our lack of daily encounters with the living God, is our personal
relationship with Him – the intimacy we might enjoy, the joy we might
experience as a result of His touch, the insights and revelations He might
extend, the godly strength we might receive enabling us to get through our
trials quicker and finally, the ability we might have in order to reflect His
image, His Love and not our own for the rest of the day.  Truly, worship is the most important thing a
Christian can learn to do!”

The author also says earlier in the article that “True
worship, then is contingent upon our offering ourselves as a living sacrifice
and God cleansing our flesh and spirit. 
In other words, our heart condition matters more in worship than our
voice, our good intentions or our actions. 
Without a cleansed heart, we simply cannot enter His presence or
worship.”  Psalm 24:3-5 says, “Who may
ascend into the hill of the Lord?  Or who
may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has
not lifted up his soul to an idol, nor sworn deceitfully.  He shall receive blessing from the Lord and
righteousness from the God of his salvation.” 
How is the condition of your heart? Are you prepared to enter into the
presence of the Lord and worship Him? Or are you harboring sin where He wishes
to place JOY?

Before he was betrayed, Jesus gives his disciples some
encouraging words in John 16:20 “Most assuredly, I say to you that you will
weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but
your sorrow will be turned into joy.”  He
goes on in John 16:22 to tell them, “Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will
see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from
you.”  So, while much of the world
rejoiced at the death of Jesus, His followers were sorrowful, but at His
resurrection, their weeping was turned to JOY. 
This is the Joy we will celebrate in a few short months at Easter.  The world, in an attempt to hold on to the
idea that they were right in killing Jesus, attempts to explain away His
resurrection, to diminish His deity and to denounce His teachings.  Much of the world seeks to find their joy in
the things of this world, but followers of Jesus can be certain of their
eternal JOY because of His death and resurrection.  We can claim that fullness of JOY in the
presence of the Lord when we approach Him with clean hands and a pure heart,
not deceiving ourselves but believing the truth of His Word. 

We may
find happiness in the world, but real JOY comes from a right relationship with
the Lord.  We can lose our happiness in
this world and still have the JOY of the Lord. 
JOY is independent of the harried hustle and bustle of the season.  JOY cannot be found in giving or receiving the
perfect gift.  JOY does not come from
running out for that one last thing you just can’t live without.  JOY is not encountered in a Pinterest-worthy
meal, the perfect outfit for pictures or a desert your family will rave about
for years to come.  JOY does not come by
hosting or attending Holiday parties every night of the week.  The JOY I seek is not only that which came to
us when Mary and Joseph welcomed the Son of God to this world, but also the JOY
that will come to those who believe in Him at His return.  The JOY of the Lord can exist within us
despite our circumstances here on earth. 
We may have sorrow here, but no one and nothing can take away our JOY.
 In order to experience this kind
of JOY we must be willing to separate ourselves from our sin, even if it is
pleasurable, or makes us feel secure or loved or important, even if others tell
us it’s alright.  Sin separates us from
God and it is only in His presence that we can find His JOY!

I have found this kind of JOY in private and corporate
worship, but only after careful evaluation of my life.  Unconfessed sin is a stumbling block that
keeps us from entering in true worship in the presence of our God.  We cannot experience His JOY without first
accepting His forgiveness, which requires us to admit we need it.  Assuming that we don’t need forgiveness
because we have blinded ourselves to our own sin or to the truth in His Word,
yet still thinking we will be allowed into His presence will only lead to
disappointment.  Proverbs 10:28 says,
“The hope of the righteous brings JOY, but the expectation of the wicked
will perish.”  
This
Christmas, I challenge you to prepare your whole heart for the coming of Christ
not just as a baby in a manger, but for His triumphant second coming as the
King of Kings by cleansing your hands, purifying your heart and living a life
worthy of the forgiveness won for us on the cross.

My JOY letters remind me of all this.  That true JOY is found in the presence of the
Lord.  That JOY is not changed by any
circumstance I am facing on this earth. 
That in order to experience this JOY, I must approach God with clean
hands and a pure heart, washed in the blood of the Lamb, living a life worthy
of that repentance (Matthew 3:8).  That
if my thoughts and actions are in line with God’s desires, I can have JOY no
matter what the world says.

This week, we celebrate our JOY in the coming of our Lord
to earth to show us His way.  At Easter
we celebrate our JOY in the death and resurrection of our Lord to make a way for
us to enter into the presence of God, clothed in His righteousness.  At Jesus’ triumphant return, we who have
lived for Him will see the eternal fullness of our JOY as he gathers us to
Him.  Each day in between we can
experience His JOY by not allowing sin and sorrow to take hold in our lives,
but instead receiving His blessings and living in His truth and grace,
preparing room in our hearts for Him. 

The Gift Part III: Conclusion

If you havent read the first two posts in this three part series, I do suggest you start at the beginning with The Gift and then read The Response before reading today’s post.

Part III: Conclusion

Whenever somebody asks me about my testimony, I get a little bit intimidated because I assume they are looking for that glorious singular instant that changed my life.  Sort of like that moment when a man produces a tiny little box and gets down on one knee in front of you, or if you found a small box of a certain blue color hidden under the other presents at the tree.  My story isn’t quite so dramatic.  Have you ever been sneaky and wrapped up a small prized gift inside many other boxes of increasing size to hide the real present within?  Even though I have believed that Jesus is my savior for just about as long as I can remember, I spent a good deal of my life wrapped in layers of entitlement, pride, disobedience, impatience and selfishness.   Gradually, I have found that the best way to unwrap myself is to respond to what God has given me in the ways I have just talked about -

by being thankful for all of His gifts and praising Him for who He is,

by doing my best to obey His every command out of love for Jesus and His sacrifice for me,

by using my spiritual gifts to accomplish His purposes, and by striving daily to love others as He has loved me.

That tiny gift under all those layers I will spend a life time unwrapping, is the prize I will receive in Heaven for accomplishing any of the good works He has prepared for me to do here on earth. I’m giddy with excitement each time a new layer is unwrapped because I know I am one step closer to being the woman He wants me to be.

It is our response to His gifts that determines the nature of our relationship with Him. Do we give thanks daily for all He has blessed us with, beginning with our Salvation purchased for us on the cross, and including all things… those as simple as waking up to another day on earth, or as miraculous as the birth of a child, the word, the law, our spiritual gifts and everything in between.  Do we show our gratitude by cheerfully sharing His gifts with others?  Do we make our faith known by teaching others, discussing His gift when we walk, lie down and rise up?  Do we study the story of His infinite love for us?  Do we repent and turn away from our sin?  Do we daily, or more frequently, ask for and accept His grace?  Do we allow Him and His love to rule every area of our lives?  Or are we guilty of shoving His gifts into THE closet… you know the one that you would never dare let anyone else open.  The process by which we are being made Holy and more perfect is accomplished through our response to the gifts we have received.  It is what builds or tears down our relationship with the Giver and with others.  This response is the process of sanctification and it determines our reward in heaven.  Not our entrance, but our reward.

A story about faithful and evil servants between Peter and Jesus was recorded by Luke in his Gospel.  Christ’s message is summed up with the following verse, “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.”  Luke 12:48.   Though the passage is about discipline being more severe for those who knowingly disobey God, I think we can apply the same principles to the idea that to whom much love is given, much love will be required.  Or the grace we who’ve been given to so extensively are to extend to others.  Or wisdom. Or our spiritual gifts.  Or any of our other blessings.  The more we are given, the more we will be expected to give in return.

A few years ago My mother moved into a much smaller retirement condo … imagine my surprise and pleasure when I walked into the guest bathroom and there on the wall was the gift, all done up with some lovely artificial greenery fitting in perfectly with her cottage themed décor.   When my mother hid my gift to her, I was hurt and saddened.  A little piece of our relationship was fractured.  But when she put it up on the wall for all to see and enjoy, that broken piece was restored.   When I shared my excitement with her she said she had finally found a place to put it.  Don’t passively wait for time or space to fit God’s gifts in to your life.  Make it happen.  Be deliberate in your response by giving thanks for all He has given us, praising Him for who He is, obeying His commands, serving all His children and loving Him and others.

I would like to say that after that one heart to heart, I became a perfect parent, but I doubt any one of you would believe me.  The truth is I got lazy and worn out, aggravated and short tempered after a couple of weeks.  I found that by going back to my kids and recommitting to our new system of clear standards and consequences I could be re-invigorated by their love.  God’s love is like that, too.  He doesn’t just pass it out as a one time gift.  It is the gift that keeps on giving, more prolific than a subscription to the fruit of the month club.  When we grow weary, tire of doing good, or stray from the path He has us walking, God stands ready and waiting for us to come to Him to acknowledge our complete dependence on Him, accept His love and forgiveness, and once again restore our relationship with Him.  There is no expiration date or maximum number of uses.

When I realize that I am not giving God all He deserves, that He isn’t getting the best I have to offer, or that I am not acting like someone worthy of being His ambassador, I have the opportunity to make it right with Him.  Just like I did with my children, I can beg Him to forgive me for all the ways I fail Him and then ask for His help in doing a better job.  And He is faithful to meet me right where I am, to dry my tears and point me back toward the cross where His love for me was poured out.

Each time we return to Him and respond to His gifts, we strengthen our relationship with Him.  When we pray, repent, meditate on or study His love letters to us, we will find ourselves recharged to respond to His gifts as we “reach forward to what lies ahead” so we can “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 3:13-14.

My children showed me a symbol of their love with this token that I get to keep and it stirred my soul and motivated me to action on their behalf.  If my children can give me a gift that compelled me to respond, how much more should I respond to the perfect gifts from the Father of Lights.  Jesus is the gift that changed the world.  Will you allow Him to change you?

The Gift that Changed the World

 

The Gift Part II: The Response

If you didn’t read Part I of The Gift, I do suggest starting there before you read today’s post!

Part II:  Response

Now that we know a little bit more about the gifts God gives to us all, I want to talk about how we should respond to these gifts.

Several Christmases ago, I found this unique decorative plant holder in an antique shop that I thought my mother would really appreciate.   It had pretty metal scroll work and could be hung on a wall so that three circular pieces folded out to hold small potted plants.  It was done in a patina color that would go well in her home.  I was very excited to give her this gift, because well, let’s face it – she is tough to shop for.  I remember my sadness when we traveled back to Virginia perhaps a year or so later and while washing some clothes, I found what I had thought was such a special gift buried under a whole bunch of miscellaneous stuff (junk) up on a high shelf in her laundry room.  I was crushed.  But I didn’t say anything and vowed to stick to safe gifts from then on, like framed pictures of the grandkids.

When you give somebody a gift, how do you expect them to respond?  For me, especially if I have mailed something, I would like to know they received it.  Generally, I appreciate some form of thankfulness particularly from those who know how hard gift giving is for me.  Then, it is my most sincere wish that they will use what I gave them.  How would you feel if you gave somebody a book they never read? Or rules to your children they rarely followed – well, maybe that isn’t so difficult to imagine.  What if you gave a friend a GPS, but she continued to get lost?  What thoughts would run through your head if you taught someone a skill they never once used?  Have you ever been hurt by someone you love deeply whose behavior was less than loving or even downright hateful?

This isn’t just HUMAN nature, God desires a response to the gifts He has given us, too.   So, what are we expected to do with what He has given us?  It shouldn’t really come as a surprise that the answer to this question is found within one of His gifts to us – The Word.  I would like to talk about four key ways we are to respond – with Thanksgiving and Praise, Obedience, by helping others, and in Love.

********

The first response is thanksgiving and praise.

The art of thank you notes seems to have fallen by the wayside, but I still enjoy getting them.  Don’t you?  I once read that if someone gave you a gift that required at least fifteen minutes of their time or was worth $15 or more, you should send a formal thank you note.  How much more than that has God given to us?  How do you show your appreciation for the gift of eternity that cost Jesus His life?  That kind of gift deserves praise unending.  We can show our gratitude in many ways – simply by thanking Him daily in our prayers, by singing hymns of worship, by telling others about what He has done for us, and even by making good use of what He has blessed us with which we will discuss a little more later.

Thanksgiving is expressing appreciation for what God has given and done for us.  We praise Him for who He is, for His holiness and His unfailing love.  If my husband gives me an amazing gift, I will certainly thank him for it and show my appreciation, but I am probably also going to tell all my girlfriends how kind and thoughtful and generous and loving he is.  That is also how we should respond to God’s precious gifts to us.  We should shout for joy to anyone who will listen how awesome is our God.  Psalm 95:2-3  say “Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.  For the Lord is a great God, and the great King above all gods.”  We should thank Him for all He has given us and praise Him for what His gifts reveal about who He is.  You could even write Him a good old fashioned thank you note…I think that would be a great way to start off the new year.

One of my favorite origins of the word praise is “Halal”.  It means to be clamorously foolish.  Think of the way David acted when he danced for joy at the return of the ark of the Covenant to Israel. Chronicles 15:29 says, He was “whirling and playing music.” His attitude was so outlandish that everyone noticed.   Not only did he personally respond with thanksgiving and praise, He also “appointed some of the Levites to minister before the ark of the Lord, to commemorate, to thank, and to praise the Lord God.”  1 Chronicles 16:4.   He implored the Israelites to “give thanks to the Lord! Call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples, Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him; Talk of His wondrous works: Glory in His holy name.” 1 Chronicles 16:8-10.

Let’s make it our mission to create such a commotion of thanksgiving and praise for God’s gifts that every one notices!

***********

Being obedient is the second response I’d like to discuss.

Rules may not seem like much of a gift, but receiving God’s love and salvation should make us long to obey His every command.  This is part of the sanctification process, as we learn more about His love for us, our desire to obey His every Command should increase, making us more holy. In John 14:15,  Jesus tells His disciples that,  “If you love Me, keep My commandments.”

I recently received a new techie device for my birthday and it came with a start up tutorial and an owner’s manual.  I admit I would like to skip over some of the more tedious instructions, but all of them are critical for optimizing performance, maximizing the capabilities of the machine and its proper function.  In life I have sometimes been guilty of selectively choosing the commandments I will and won’t obey or the situations to which they may or may not apply, and I have even tried to dismiss some of His rules as being out of date or no longer applicable to me.  Just like my new tablet, though, unless I follow ALL of the rules ALL of the time, I am not capable of performing at the peak of my abilities for God.  Sin will always come back with an error message and until I re-boot, or repent of it, I am not demonstrating my love for Jesus.

God gave the Israelites the 10 Commandments because “through the law there is knowledge of sin.” Romans 3:20.  He wanted to show them their sin, to teach them right from wrong, and in so doing, teach them how to be holy.  The Israelites were required to keep the law in order to receive their inheritance.  Moses pleads with them to respond with obedience and he says, “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of you house and on your gates.”  Deuteronomy 6:6-9   Moses implored them to respond to God’s love with obedience.  But time and time again they failed, just like you and I do, to keep the commandments and tragedy came up on them and their land.

Unfortunately, the law was one of those gifts that literally got buried during the destruction of the temple and years of corruption in Jerusalem by kings who “did evil in the sight of the Lord.”  When we hear the word of God we should respond like King Josiah did in 2 Chronicles when the high priest found the Book of the Law of the Lord given by Moses during the temple restoration.  A great revival began in Israel after its reading. The King tore his clothes when it was read to him and “went up to the house of the Lord, with all the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem – the priests and Levites, and all the people, great and small.  And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant which had been found in the house of the Lord.  Then the king stood in his place and made a covenant before the Lord, to follow the Lord, and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant that were written in this book.” 2 Chronicles 34:30-31.

The law is still a gift for us today, but He has now given us a more excellent gift – that of righteousness APART from the law IN Christ. Romans 3:21.  This doesn’t mean we don’t still need the law, but that through Jesus we may become righteous despite our inability to keep His commandments.  We obey His commandments as a response to His love.  I challenge you to begin your own personal revival by reading the word and allowing it to penetrate your heart and recommit to obeying the law as an act of love for Jesus.

***************

The third way we can respond to God’s amazing gifts is by using them to help others.

Please don’t take what I’m about to say the wrong way…I am not claiming any glory for myself when I say my son has a gift for math.  Believe me, It has nothing to do with me.  If an equation adds up to anything more than 20 I need a calculator and if it mixes letters with numbers you can forget about it as far as I’m concerned.  But my boy is great at math.  It certainly impresses me when he solves problems in his head or asks me to make him a math worksheet with the BIG numbers.  But what is most amazing to me as a mom is when I see him using his gift to help others.  When he teaches his brother something or I hear that he has helped another child at school it is absolutely thrilling.  Sure, math is a skill or a talent, not a spiritual gift, but the theory is the same.  When our Father gives us gifts it stands to reason that He would be most proud when we use them help His other children.

Paul told the church in Corinth that “since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel.” 1 Corinthians 14:12 for “spiritual gifts are given for the profit of all believers.” 1 Corinthians 12:7.

I think it can be confusing for us to balance the call to be humble with the command to serve others with our gifts.  Nobody wants to sound boastful by shouting out how wise or hospitable or what a great leader they are.  Yet we are told with certainty that we have all been given gifts and we should put them to use for the kingdom of God. Romans 12:6-8 says, “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives with liberality; he who leads, with diligence, he who shows mercy with cheerfulness.”  The key to maintaining your humility while putting your talents to use is acknowledging their origin and giving God the glory for all you achieve.

Before I even knew it to be one of my spiritual gifts, I was using leadership in my role in the Army.  But I wasn’t using it for His glory or for His Kingdom.  I was using them for me, my success, my pride.  Though I was quite good at what I was doing, I often felt unfulfilled at that time in my life.  After much prayer, discussion with my husband, and spreadsheet analyzing, we decided I would leave the military for a variety of reasons.  The desire to be in the Army and serve my country had been such an integral part of my identity for 20 years made it one of the hardest decisions of my life.  Hindsight being what it is, however, I can see that among other good reasons it allowed me the opportunity to reevaluate my gifts and my purpose.  Now, 7 years later, I have found a way to use them for kingdom work here at PWOC and that has been undeniably fulfilling.

Once you have taken the first step and identified your spiritual gifts you should know that He intends for us to use them to serve His people and glorify His Holy Name.  In Paul’s first letter to Peter, he reminds his protégé that “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”   To stifle these gifts behind a veil of humility cheapens them and indicates to God that you don’t want what He has offered you.  What if our praise and worship leader tried to hide her gifts of worship by saying she didn’t think she was good enough or didn’t feel ready to sing and play in front of us – we would all be denied the amazing time on Tuesday morning where she helps us draw near to God and prepares us for the day’s study.  Now that you have an idea of what your gifts are, I urge you to think of a way to put them to good use in your home, your neighborhood, the church you attend, even to serve your sisters in Christ at PWOC or any other bible study group you belong to.  Find a way to use what God has blessed you with to point others toward Him and His love for them.  Acknowledge Him as the giver of your gifts at every opportunity and maintain a humble heart by glorifying His name.

**************

The final response is one that trumps all.  Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:2 “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”  Love is the response that He desires above all others.  It is the greatest gift we can receive or give.  Anything we do for others should be done in a spirit of love.  No matter what your spiritual gifts are, or how you use them to minister to others, if we don’t offer all we have in love it lacks eternal value.

If God’s love expressed through Christ’s death on the cross for our salvation is His greatest gift to us, leading others to accept it is the most awesome way we can express our love toward them.  We love because He first loved us. And “if God so loved us we also ought to love one another” 1  John 4:11 .   When we receive His gift of love, we are called to share it, to pass it on, to regift it to ALL.  This response is how we will be known as His disciples, by our love for one another.

Love is also the fulfillment of the law because if we do all things in love we will avoid sin. If we love others with a pure heart, we cannot help but keep the law.  If you “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your strength” Deuteronomy 6:5 and you also “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37) you will keep the Law completely.

Why do I bother with the stress of gift-giving for holidays or birthdays or special occasions?  To show people that I love them.  God’s motive for giving to us is the same, but His love is perfect, not motivated by any reward or His own gain, but ours alone.  It is a selfless love and it goes against all human nature and cultural norms to a place where we put the needs of others before our own.  Loving this way is HARD.  It is the kind of love Christ showed for us when he freely took the punishment for our sins upon himself.  The kind of love that offers an only son up to be the savior of the world.  And Jesus tells his apostles that “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”  John 15:13 And He goes on to say that we will be His friends if we love one another as He commands us.

When you are motivated by His love to act, you will find that giving of yourself, your time, you talents doesn’t really feel like a sacrifice.  If we allow ourselves to be so led by God’s gift to us of the Holy Spirit that we can’t possibly think of doing things any other way than in, by and through His love, our sacrificing and loving and giving to others won’t seem burdensome.  Don’t let “Walk Forward in Love” simply be a catchy slogan for our theme this year.  Instead, strive each day to move closer to the cross by loving others as God would in response to His gift of love to us. Be patient, kind, generous, humble, polite, seek good for others, rejoice in the truth, hope and endure all things knowing God’s power is sovereign.

The Gift

Who has finished their Christmas shopping?? I’m not even close!!  I don’t know about you, but this time of year is stressful for me.  My Love Language is definitely not gift giving.  Both times my husband I have done the quiz in the book, it has come in dead last.  Thankfully, it isn’t his language either.  Regardless of what our love language is, we have all received gifts at one point or another.  I’d like for you to think about the best gift anybody ever gave you for a moment.  What did it mean to you?  How did it make you feel?  Was it something useful the giver knew would be helpful to you?  Or an item they thought you would really enjoy having or eating or reading.   Did receiving it bring you feelings of joy or thankfulness?  Did the gift cause you to act in a certain way toward the giver or toward others??

Now, I’d like to take to tell you about one of the best gifts I have ever received.  It is a golden plastic medal on a red, white and blue ribbon.   It wasn’t expensive or particularly beautiful, at least not to anybody but me.  I can’t eat it and its purpose is not tangible. But what it symbolizes to me makes it priceless.

Medal

Back last May I was feeling scared about having my boys home all day every day for the entire summer.  I had become a little crazy and was screaming around the house more than I was comfortable with.  Truth be told I was somewhat frightened my neighbors could hear me through the walls.  I knew enough to ask for prayers and even snatched up a book called “She’s Gonna Blow,” which seemed to pinpoint how I was feeling.  A particularly wise friend took the time to really listen and talk to me and made a suggestion about how to start mending the situation.  Let me first tell you that her recommendation was tough to swallow.  She wanted me to apologize to them…  What mom wants to ask for forgiveness from her children???

What happened on my couch that afternoon not only changed my relationship with my kids, but it has also helped me understand God’s gift of love and salvation in ways I had not fully comprehended before.

I sat my boys down when they got home after school and told them I didn’t like how I had been acting. That I was sorry I had become such a screamer.  That they deserved better from me.  I asked them to forgive me and then I asked them for their help in establishing a new way of doing things around the house.  There were a lot of tears and hugs and “I love you’s” shared, but then my babies gave me this medal.  They said it was for me “to keep” which if you have small children, you know how huge that is.  They told me I was the best mommy in the world.  In that moment I felt love and forgiveness in a way that I had forgotten could be so powerful.  I was motivated by their gift to me to be the kind of mother my boys truly deserve.

In the months since, I have spent a considerable amount of time contemplating how what happened with my children that day is similar to the experience we have when we humble ourselves before our God, sincerely repent of our sin and accept with open arms all the gifts He has prepared for us.

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

Love

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”   Ephesians 2:8-9

Jesus Word

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Romans 6:23

Cross

God gave us Jesus – for keeps – By accepting and believing in Him as our Lord and Savior, we also have eternal life with Him in Heaven and all the joy and hope and freedom that comes with that.  When we acknowledge our sinfulness, ask for His forgiveness and declare our need for a savior, He gives it even more freely than my children did.  This is the gift that changed the world.

Do you remember how you felt when you first received this most precious gift?  Did you make a spectacle of yourself gushing over it like a toddler’s handmade gift that is soon buried in a pile on your desk.  Did you mumble a polite “thank you” and then too quickly hide it in the bottom of your closet like a holiday sweater from Grandma you were too ashamed to wear?  Did it get misplaced in the junk drawer like so many unused gift cards?  Maybe you sent a sincere thank you, but you have stowed it safely away in a cabinet like wedding china, only to be taken out on special occasions.  Perhaps you wear it proudly every single day as you would a precious necklace from your husband.

Possibly you are still waiting to take hold of the gift.  Maybe you don’t feel like you deserve it yet.  Or you think you need to be able to recite all the books of the bible in order or the names each of the prophets, or be giving a certain percentage of your money to the church to receive His love.  God’s gift of salvation doesn’t work like lay away.  He isn’t going to check your credit or hold on to the gift until you have made all the necessary payments.  The price was paid in full by Christ on the cross, we don’t even owe any interest.  He simply requires that we humble ourselves before Him, acknowledging our own sin and unworthiness and receive His love and sacrifice with open arms.

God is not an “Indian Giver” either.  He will never take back what He has given in love for our salvation.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God.  Paul wrote to the early Christians in Rome that “neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of our God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Romans 8:37-39  It is because of His great unfailing love for us that He gave us the matchless gift of salvation through His Son and nothing that has happened, is going on right now in your life or will ever take place would cause Him to take it back.

Once we believe and accept this first Gift, He is anxious to shower all of us with even more….

The Word

2 Timothy 3:16  “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God  and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly prepared for every good work.”

Blessings Bible Wisdom Jesus Spirirtual Gifts

He gives us the Bible and all that is contained within it as a guide for our lives.  This is His love story to us.

Wisdom

James 1:5  “If any of you lacks wisdom, let Him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”

If we ask Him for His wisdom He never fails to deliver.

The Law

Deuteronomy 5:22  “…And He wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave [The 10 Commandments]  to me.”

The Law

A set of rules may not be at the top of your wish list this year, but it gives us direction and helps us avoid sin.  The more we learn about it the more it should shape our thoughts and actions.

The Holy Spirit

Acts 2:38  “Then Peter said to them, “Repent and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Dove

Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives serves as a guide for us.  If we fully tap into this resource, we can walk confidently along the course God intends for us.

Blessings

Psalm 85:12 “Yes, the Lord will give what is good and our land will yield its increase.”

Blessings

Every good thing we enjoy in this life has been provided for us at His good pleasure.

Spiritual Gifts

1 Corinthians 12:4-11  “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.  There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord.  And there are diversities of the activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.   But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.  But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually, as He wills.”

Spiritual Gifts

Do you know what your spiritual gifts are? If you have never taken a spiritual gifts test, I urge you to take one like the one from the Fuller Institute found at this link.  We all have them, so why not find out what God has specifically gifted you with.  Quickly answer each of the  questions with your first instinct.  Please don’t over-think your responses. Be honest with yourself, too.  Don’t answer the questions the way you think you should or according to what you think you ought to be doing.  Answer for what you actually do right now, or have done in the past.

Once you finish, tally up your results according to the directions there.  Just a little bit of math required.  Don’t be discouraged if your scores aren’t high.  Use the results as a guide to pray for ways to use and gain experience with the gifts for which you showed some propensity.

Tomorrow I will post part two of this three part series!

What’s in a Name?

It should come as no surprise that I like words.  I like to look them up in the dictionary, thesaurus and my bible concordance.  I like to know what they mean and where they originated and how the original language differs from subsequent translations.  Words excite me.

Names are really just words, too.  Only names are even more fascinating because they can identify family heritage and describe a person’s character.  Think of all the different titles you might use to describe yourself….mother, sister, daughter, friend, teacher, artist, chef, Christian, Army Wife.  What do they say about you?  Proverbs tells us that “A good name is rather to be chosen that great riches. “ Proverbs 22:1  Our character sometimes determines the names we might be called.  Our names categorize us with other like people and we either intentionally or unintentionally become representatives of that group.  So not only should we want to choose a good name for ourselves, we should also strive to be worthy ambassadors for any group or family by whose name we are called.

In the bible, Jesus is referred to by over 200 different names.  Those names reflect His nature, His position as part of the trinity, and the work He has done and will do.  He is the Servant, the Son of God and the Sacrifice.  He is the Light of the World, The Son of Man and the Redeemer.  He is Lord, Immanuel, and our Indescribable Gift.  According to Revelation, there is still a name for Jesus we won’t learn until He comes again.  John describes his vision of Christ on a white horse and tells us that, “He also has a name written that no one knew except Himself.”  Revelation 19:12  No matter how we strive to know all we can about His character, the depths of His wisdom and love for us will remain a mystery until we see Him face to face.

It is by His name alone we are saved and it is His name we are to exalt and place our trust in above all others.

 

Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.  Acts 4:12

Oh magnify the Lord with me and let us exalt His name together.  Psalm 34:3

And those who know your name will put their trust in You.  Psalm 9:10

I have been searching for an advent calendar that really spoke to me for several years.  Something more meaningful than the little windows with chocolates, but I’ve been unsuccessful until a couple of weeks ago.  Searching on line, I had seen several formats for the names of Jesus advent projects – ornaments, strips of paper and chains or bags with small gifts in them representing the different names from the very talented ladies at My Growing Home and I Am Momma Hear Me Roar.  Then I was struck by some inspiration to make an open backed frame to hang on the wall with numbered cards for each day on one side and different names for Jesus and their bible reference on the opposite side.  So, each day in advent you would reveal another name and learn a little more about the Alpha and Omega.Advent Calendar

Combining my crafting skills and my power point skills, I turned it into a workshop at My Messy Desk last Wednesday I had 15 ladies here making their own advent calendars.  And a handful who wanted a take away kit so they could make theirs at home.  20 or more ladies interested in learning more about the King of Kings with their families this advent.  What an amazing blessing!

Since this was such a popular craft, I decided to offer the tutorial and the power point presentation that make this project easy to duplicate for any of my friends around the globe as an instant download file on  ETSY.  I hope you will visit my shop and consider taking time to create this heirloom keepsake for your family.

For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.  Romans 10:13