Christian, Topical blogs

TEAMWORK

“After they arrived at Capernaum and settled in a house, Jesus asked his disciples, ‘What were you discussing out on the road?’ But they didn’t answer, because they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest.” (Mark 9:33,34 NLT) Even the disciples had a problem with significance. Significance is that desire that says, “I am important, I am valuable, I have worth.” It wasn’t enough for the disciples to be part of a hand-picked intimate group of the Messiah’s. They reverted to comparing themselves to prove who was the best to satisfy their desire to be valuable.

It is part of our sinful nature to search for significance apart from God. The disciples forgot they were very important to their master who cared deeply for them. What the teacher thought of them was more important than what they thought of each other. Pride got in the way. If each of them had focused on what Jesus had called them to do and that they were part of his inner circle, I believe they would not have argued over who was greatest.

What makes a believer worthy is being part of the body of Christ. We have been given a very important task of furthering his Kingdom. Just like the disciples, I think I forget the importance of my task. I have been ingrained by society what jobs/roles are significant. Even our Christian culture gets off track at times placing importance on the wrong things. I felt pressure as a young mom to raise perfect Christian children who always obeyed. I worried about what other Christians thought of my child raising skills. Part of my significance came from being a good mom.

Unfortunately, my children didn’t obey very well starting in high school . My children, my husband and myself were subject of gossip frequently in our Christian circle. I was mortified. I didn’t think very highly of myself as a result. I look back and I know that part of my issue was worrying too much about their outward behavior because that was how they were judged. I forgot that my children were part of the great commission. I forgot to see them as my mission field, not a way to find my worth.

I must remember the task God has given me as a believer is crucial to him. Believers have been granted the greatest job on earth by their creator. No matter what roles I may hold in my life, his commission is monumental. Do I value the task that God has given me? Do I look at those around me as part of his harvest field? Honestly, I struggle to grasp this truth to the depths of my soul. But God is working on me! I’m so thankful to him.

I know when I focus on that truth, I begin to see others through his eyes. I try to see my grandsons as my ministry. It is easier because my parenting abilities won’t be judge by their behavior, but I also know that shaping their heart for God is more important than what others think. At least I hope I have learned that!

I also look at fellow believers as part of God’s team, my teammates. It doesn’t matter to me what they look like, what color their skin is, what denomination they belong to, or how much stuff they have. We are working toward the same goal. I am excited to be part of Christ’s team. I have an important job to do. Therefore, I am significant, I have been given the great commission by the master of the universe! So, have you. You are valuable. Don’t forget it. Let’s work together toward furthering His Kingdom.

 

 

Topical blogs

Desires

I was tired of struggling with the same sinful thoughts and behavior. One particular struggle kept rearing up its ugly head. Once God helped me see I was a glory-stealer, I realized how much I was committing that sin. I know we can’t have perfect motives, but I wanted to know what was at the root of this particular sin. Pride of course is at the root of all sin, but are there different desires that motivate certain sins?

When I asked God to help me understand, he prompted me to study the fall. I looked at the first three chapters of Genesis. I studied what God had provided Adam and Eve, Satan’s temptation and the result of the fall. When I evaluated it all, it seemed to me that God created us with four main desires. God meant for his creation to fulfill all of them.

What are they? A desire for significance, security, pleasure and worship. God created man in his image. He gave us dominion over the earth. Man was significant, set apart from the rest of creation. God created the beautiful Garden of Eden for Adam and Eve to live in security. The Garden of Eden had everything they needed for living; food, freedom from harm, harmony with the animals. The Garden of Eden was full of things that delighted them physically; beauty to behold, tasty food to tickle their taste buds, cool clean water to quench their thirst and pleasant weather to delight in. Adam and Eve were privileged to enjoy God’s physical company and experience his love, kindness, grace and mercy, etc. All of these benefits from God should have brought forth praise and thanksgiving to him.

God’s design was perfect for gratifying these desires of man. However, the fall corrupted how we satisfy these desires. Satan deceived Adam and Eve into questioning God’s character and their significance. Was it enough to be created in his image or did they need to be like him, knowing good and evil? Eve noticed that the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil looked very juicy and quite tasty. She forgot about all the other fruit, just as good, at her disposal. She felt for the first time unsatisfied with what God provided for her and Adam. So, both she and Adam disobeyed God and ate of the fruit.

Indulging my longings apart from God and his creation always leads me to sin. That is what my sinful nature does, it looks for ways to relieve these desires through my own means which is motivated by my pride. I will do it my way. Predictably, I am unsuccessful at quenching these yearnings.

The gospel is God’s remedy for my and yours predicament. The gospel not only mends my relationship with God, but it grants me power over my sinful nature. I am a new person who can seek to fulfill these desires once again in the way God intended. I am significant in who I am in Christ. I have eternal security in Christ. I can find pleasure in my personal relationship with Christ and his creation. I don’t have to indulge my fleshly desires. Out of gratitude for all of God’s gifts to me, I desire to worship him with a pure heart.

Now, when I catch myself sinning, I can look to identify which desire I was trying to fulfill through my own means. Was I searching for significance? Was my security threatened? Did I let my body of sin take over? Who or what was I worshipping instead of God? Once I figure it out, then I can combat it by focusing on how the gospel fulfills that desire.

Are you struggling with a certain sinful pattern? Identify what desire you are trying to fulfill apart from God, then rehearse to yourself how the gospel can satisfy it for good.

 

 

Uncategorized

A New Person

“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life has gone; a new life has begun.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT)

I memorized this verse in college. I thought I understood its meaning well. The old life was my propensity toward sin. I had no power over sin, but when I became a believer, I had the power to not sin. That concept is true; without Christ, I have no power over sin. Yet, that truth alone limits the meaning of the verse.

What does my old life consist of? My beliefs, my identity, my values, my thoughts, my behavior are all part of that old life that scripture talks about. It is too narrow to think of the old life as just my lack of power over sin. My old life had me on the throne. I was in charge and in control. I was a Queen desperately protecting her kingdom which involved portraying an image that others would accept. Deep down I was afraid I wasn’t valuable. I had to convince myself and others I was. Most importantly, I had to prove it to God.

I still didn’t understand that the gospel was proof I was valuable to God. Intellectually, I got it. But practically, I didn’t live like it. I viewed myself the same as before, like the world values people. I came up either superior or inferior in comparison to others. Pride would raise its ugly head when I felt superior to others who struggled with sins I didn’t. It never dawned on me that I was sinning by being so prideful. I felt inferior when others saw my failures and mistakes. My worth vacillated like a clock pendulum.

Before I came to Christ, Satan fooled me into thinking I was on the throne, when I was really in prison. After I came to Christ, I put him on the throne, but I went in and out of prison like a recurring convict. My unbiblical view of myself kept me in chains. I was prisoner to my sinful patterns to protect my old identity. I was changing and growing, because God never lets us stay where we are, but I was stuck in the lies about who I was for so long.

Jesus came to set the prisoners free. “I will say to the prisoners, ‘Come out in freedom, and to those in darkness, ‘Come into the light.’ They will be my sheep, grazing in green pastures and on hills that were previously bare.” (Isaiah 49:9 NLT) When I trusted in Christ, I became a new person. I became who I was truly created to be, a child of the King of Kings. I became a sheep in the fold of the Good Shepherd.

I no longer had to exist in the darkness of the lies that Satan told me about who I was. I could come into the light of the truth and be set free from my sinful patterns committed to keeping my old self alive. I was free to be who God was making me to be.

It just took God awhile to help me understand it, believe it and embrace it. Now I can rejoice in all my failures and shortcomings because they keep me humble. God uses them to change me more into the image of his son. It is so wonderful to live in the light and be set free!

 

Scripture blogs

Rest

Ah rest, that sounds so sweet to me. After all the bustle and busyness of the Christmas season, rest is just what I need. There are decorations to take down, wrapping paper paraphernalia to clean up, one more family gathering and then life will go back to normal. Today however, I am resting as much as I can, so I have the energy to complete the remainder of the season’s demands.

Jesus promises us rest, not physical rest but spiritual. “Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear and the burden I give you is light.’” (Matthew 11:28-30 NLT)

When I became a disciple of Jesus, I didn’t understand I was given rest. His yoke didn’t feel light, it represented the heavy burden of guilt. I constantly worried if I was doing enough for God. I felt guilty if I said no to serving opportunities. I longed to be a devout woman of God. I believed that meant serving here and there and everywhere. I was very busy for God as a young woman.

Then I developed fibromyalgia in 1999. Fibromyalgia limits my ability to do things. I have diminished energy reserves and constant pain. I require a lot of physical rest. My lack of ability to do things only increased my feelings of guilt. I felt guilty that my husband had to pick up my slack around the house. My serving God here, there and everywhere came to a complete stop. Eventually I was able to start serving again, but in moderation. Therefore, I fought to keep my guilty thoughts at bay.

I didn’t comprehend how much guilt I was really feeling. I was good at stuffing feelings, it was my defense mechanism. But God in his mercy began to peel away the layers of lies I was operating under. First, he surfaced my feelings of guilt, so I could see the extent of them. I felt so condemned because of my inability “to do”. I equated that with sin. I blamed myself for developing fibromyalgia. It was my fault. I even felt guilty about that.

Then, he showed me I wasn’t believing what the gospel had done for me. He used verses like Romans 8:1 “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” (NLT) Romans 8 told me I was no longer condemned by God -period. He wasn’t chastising me for not being able to serve him or my family in the way I thought I should, which mostly consisted of physical activities.

He also used the above passage in Matthew. The Pharisees put heavy burdens on the people. It was all about what they had to do – or not do. In contrast, Jesus says his yoke is easy and light. It is not about what I do, it is about what I believe. He has no desire to put heavy burdens on me.

As I grow deeper and deeper in my comprehension of the gospel and all its implications, I see how the yoke of Jesus is easy and light. I don’t have to serve God in a certain way to please him; he is already pleased. I still desire to serve God, but I understand that serving him is more about being than doing. When I tell a grocery store clerk that Jesus loves them, I have served God that day. When I text a word of encouragement to someone, I have served God. When I reflect Jesus in any way, I have served God.

Join me in the New Year in being Jesus to the world. Let’s not worry about what to do, but how to be. Let’s sit at the feet of Jesus to learn from his humble and gentle heart. And we will find rest for our souls.

Topical blogs

Away in a Manger

“And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.” (Luke 2:6,7 NLT) This familiar scene captured by nativity sets is one of my favorite parts of Christmas decorations. Every Christmas, I place a cherished nativity scene by my front door. I unwrap each piece with a smile remembering when my children eagerly helped me put it on display. There are camels, sheep, cows, Magi, shepherds, Mary and Joseph, and of course, baby Jesus. He was always the favorite figurine and the last one to be placed in the stable. After baby Jesus was in his spot, we talked about the true meaning of Christmas.

I never really stopped to think about the significance of Jesus being born as a human baby. Why did God send his son to be born as a baby? Why not send him as he will come the second time. “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout…” (I Thessalonians 4:16 NLT) Wouldn’t that have been more convincing?

The people of Nazareth certainly had a hard time believing in him. “They asked, ‘Where did he get all this wisdom and the power to perform such miracles? Then they scoffed, ‘He’s just a carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon. And his sisters live right here among us.’ They were deeply offended and refused to believe in him.” (Mark 6: 2b-3 NLT) Jesus was too ordinary for them. They knew he was the firstborn son of their neighbor.

If Jesus had come from heaven with a commanding shout, all the earth would have known of his arrival, instead of just some lowly shepherds. He would have come with power and majesty. When he performed his miracles, people would have had an easier time believing he came from his Father in heaven. Even the religious leaders might have taken him more seriously.

And that is one reason, God sent him as a little helpless baby. If the religious leaders had believed in him, they would not have sent him to the cross. Jesus had to go to the cross. Even though God’s plan might have seemed backward, he knew exactly what he was doing. Jesus could only come in victory after he defeated sin and death for us.

The other less obvious reason which proved to be a stumbling block to some, Jesus was just like them. Jesus is just like me. And that is the point. How could he empathize with my every weakness, if he had not been born as a babe? “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15 NLT) Jesus gets me. Jesus went through every phase of life that I go through (with the exception of old age). Jesus experienced all the same temptations that I encounter. He understands how cruel life can be, how disappointing relationships can be, how my body of sin is tempted, and how I long to be loved and valued.

This Christmas seeing baby Jesus lying in a manger brings me new encouragement and hope. The nativity will remind me of my High Priest who understands all my frailties. He knowingly intercedes for me with the Father because he gets me.

I pray that you will have a truly blessed Christmas dwelling on the best gift the Father could ever give us. A baby boy born of a virgin away in a manger so long ago.

Topical blogs

Christmas Carols

Christmas Carols also got their origin from copying pagans singing about their holidays. But it is one tradition for which I am very thankful. The carols we sing today were mostly written during the Victorian era when celebrating Christmas was popularized by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

Christmas Carols proclaim the birth of Christ and what that means for us. I have a new appreciation this year for those traditional songs we sing every year. They ring out the truth about Christmas. In the past, I have sung them, but I didn’t really soak in their lyrics. Songs like, “Oh come, All Ye Faithful”, “Away in a Manger”, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”.

I love the lyrics to “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”. Charles Wesley a great evangelist wrote the lyrics to this song. It was first published in 1739. Wesley understood the gospel and all of its implications. Here is some of the truth he placed in this carol. God and sinners are reconciled. Christ is the everlasting Lord. Christ is veiled in flesh, but yet a part of the Godhead. He was pleased to dwell with men. He was born to give us second birth. He will bruise Satan’s head and erase what Adam did to the human race. This song doesn’t just recount the birth of Christ, but adds in what Christ did in coming.

Fortunately, over the years, Christian artists have come up with new Christmas carols that I have come to love. Amy Grant’s “Emmanuel”, Mark Lowry’s “Mary Did You Know”, Casting Crowns “While You Were Sleeping”. I am so thankful for the truth these songs recount also.

Of course, there are other Christmas songs that have become very nostalgic for me because they recall memories of decorating the tree with my children, baking cookies, opening presents on Christmas morning and more. Most of these songs have nothing to do with Christ’s birth. And to be honest, I preferred them over the carols because of their catchy tunes and the warm feelings they produced. I still enjoy them, I still listen to them and sing along.

But this Christmas, I’m trying to focus more on the songs that relay the truth. They help me to keep my focus on the true meaning of Christmas. When so much about this Holiday can be distracting and stressful. They have become a beacon of light for me. Carols are a way to rescue the Christmas that has been hijacked by the world.

I hope they will have new meaning for you too this Christmas as you prepare for the Holidays. May the truth of Christ’s birth bring peace to your heart this year.

Topical blogs

Christmas Hijacked

In my humble opinion, Christmas has been hijacked by the world. Christmas has become more about gift giving and decorations and Santa Claus and baking cookies and Christmas trees and Christmas movies, than about Christ’s birth. All the traditions that the world has added to Christmas appear so harmless. But are they?

I have been asking myself that question since I began my research on Christmas. I have complained for years that Christmas has been commercialized too much. It seems like “Christmas” has taken on a life of its own. I love watching the Christmas Hallmark movies, but I notice that they focus on the magic of Christmas. While, it’s fun to watch, it also makes me sad that Christmas magic has become such a competitor to the real miracle of Christ’s birth.

Christmas has become a secular holiday. What started out as a religious holiday has been taken over by the world. As Christians it makes our job much harder to remember the manger and its message. Gift giving has become bigger and bigger over the years. In an article from The Week magazine called, “A Brief History of the Christmas Present,” it says, “But when Christmas celebrations became legal in the 1680s, gift giving boomed. Rural Americans carved wooden toys and made pieces of needlework in the agricultural offseason to give to family members and neighbors. The Industrial Revolution saw those handmade items replaced with mass-manufactured trinkets and toys. By 1867, the holiday present industry was healthy enough for Macy’s in New York City to keep its doors open until midnight on Christmas Eve for the first time.” Now we have Black Friday which starts on Thursday!

Jesus has to compete with gift giving and Santa Claus. It is so easy for those things to capture our hearts, especially our children’s hearts at this time of the year. Children love getting presents! I love watching their faces light up as they open each one. I admit looking back that I over-bought at Christmas. I love giving gifts and I wanted my children to know how much I loved them. I equated gifts with love.

What child doesn’t love tales of magic? It seems so harmless. And for the most part I agree that fairytales aren’t bad. It sparks the imagination and gives joy. Fairytales are stories, not real people. I made that clear to my children. However, I encouraged my kids to believe in Santa Claus at Christmas. I knew plenty of Christians who did not. Did Santa Claus become more important to them than Jesus? I wonder?

I believe God is doing a work in my heart. I think he wants me to be more careful in how I approach Christmas. I need wisdom in knowing how to help my grandsons understand that Jesus is better than Santa. That all the presents they receive does not compare to the gift God gave us in his son. I need to help them remember that Jesus is the best reason to celebrate at any time of the year.