As Christians, we are a part of the family of God, but I can’t help but notice just how dysfunctional of a family we are. When our focus strays from Christ to ourselves, we fight all the wrong battles, and the end result is chaos that hinders God’s work. We shun people just because we don’t agree with them, but bickering and fighting with one another is not what we were put here for. We are called to unity through humility, and that is only accomplished when we shove our agenda aside and pick up Christ’s. Our fighting should not accomplish pulling one another down; it should end with the evil strongholds in this world being destroyed.
Our biggest source of conflict seems to be simply due to the fact that we are all so different, but diversity is a really beautiful thing and we are so much stronger and effective when we embrace this God given reality. He made us all differently so we can 1) be drawn to Him through His creation and 2) learn from each other. I’m not denying that there is no time or place for challenging one another in the Lord, but why are we so divided by minor differences? Why can’t we focus on the areas we agree on more instead of being so offended because we disagree in areas that really aren’t all that important? We’re just shooting ourselves when we behave like this! God gave us each other for support, but we won’t have that backup support if we push each other away. We have been called to fight together, not against each other. Satan’s strategy of ‘divide and conquer’ is all too effective in keeping us from the real battles. It breaks my heart to see the church so divided by this issue, but the only thing I can do is pray about it, and pray for strength and discernment so I can fight the battles of real importance. Because I know that when I get caught up in fighting my own battles, I am too busy to fight the spiritual battles that are of far more importance.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12
Christmas is over: the gifts have been unwrapped, our bellies have been stuffed with those special treats we only enjoy once a year, and another year of memories are in the books. Christmas decorations will soon be taken down and be put in storage until next November, special family recipes will be put away, sentiments of joy, peace and kindness will be packed up to put on a dusty and soon-to-be-forgotten shelf in our hearts, and some of us will also pack away the wonder of the season and live as though Jesus’ birth is little more then a date on a calendar instead of an even that changed the course of history.
If Jesus is the greatest gift, why do I give in to the temptation to only celebrate Him for a few days of the year? If my life is supposed to be lived for His glory, why is it so easy to live selfishly for all but a few days of the year?
I think my problem is that I take His sacrifice too lightly. I don’t study the big picture long enough to be impressed properly by it, and all too often I stop short of the real miracle. I go back to the manger without thinking about the journey from Heaven’s glory to the barn He was born in. What is so awesome about this gift is that that our eternal God took off His eternity for a brief period of time and entered His creation as if He was a part of it. He didn’t consider His glory something important enough to hold on to because He loves us more than He loves Himself and every privilege that He rightly deserves! That is the real miracle of Christmas – and of Christianity in general – that it is all too often overlooked because I am shortsighted. God became man, but God is also eternal. He entered time and space for us, and all I tend to focus on is the time He spent with us and not the rest of the story. I am so quick to forget what He gave up to save us. I am old enough that certain things have become routine, but there is nothing routine about my Savior and what He did for me and I cannot put Him in the same category as the things of this world.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
It’s that time of year again when we see nativity scenes everywhere, and while we know a lot – or at least can speculate – about most of the figures in these sets, there are are three characters who are clouded in mystery. These men, known to us as the ‘Magi’, simply appear in the story following a star, find and worship Jesus, then disappear back where they came from. There is no background story, no record of what drew them in the first place, and no record of how their journey affected them. Nobody knows much about them, and I think the reason for that is to help us see a bigger picture. From the records we do have, it seems plausible to say that they were the intellectuals of the day and it is very likely that they had extensive knowledge in the field of astrology.
However, the thing about human wisdom is that it is obsolete soon after it is declared to be true because God and His wisdom are the only things that are eternal; they alone have stood the test of time when all other wisdom has gone out of date. This isn’t to say that human wisdom has no purpose – it has its limits, but it points to God and His eternal wisdom. God leaves His fingerprints everywhere, but we make the mistake of stopping short of God to admire His creation instead of allowing our gaze to follow through to the Creator.
God gave the Magi the capacity to understand many things and the desire to search matters out, and while that didn’t save them, it paved a road to the ultimate source of wisdom; they followed a star and found their Savior. They were faithful to follow their road to its destination, and it is up to each of us to decide if we will follow ours.
“Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness” and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” ” 1 Corinthians 3:18-20
Sometimes, loving people is easy; then the tests will come along and reveal how true our love for one another is. There are many different tests, but I have been working through one particular test lately; I have been learning what it means to love people who are hurting in ways I cannot comprehend.
When somebody I love is hurting, I can respond in one of two ways; I can pull closer to them in an effort to share their pain and lessen their burden, or I can pull away from them because I am afraid to feel any pain. When somebody I love loses something, it will be natural for me to feel their loss with them, or to at least try to understand their pain. But I can just as easily give in to fear and pull away from them because I don’t want to experience any discomfort that I have the ability to block out. It’s my choice, and it’s a real test of what is in my heart.
As I’ve been feeling loss with a group of friends lately, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on how and why we have the ability and responsibility to love one another and it is simply for this one reason: because Christ loves us. He demonstrated in His life and death on this earth what love is – just the fact that He came here to be our Savior could stand alone as an example of love! He does not ask us to carry more pain and heartache then He Himself carried when He went to hell on our behalf, so how can it be too much to help somebody carry their burden? How can I see some awful situation and pray for God to intervene and fix it, yet be unwilling to be a part of the solution when He asks me to? How can I say ‘no’ when He asks me to help somebody after He has done so much for me? He never gives us more to carry than His grace can handle.
Love is never more genuine then after it is has been tried, and Jesus’ ultimate example should be what I follow. The Gospels tell us over and over that He had compassion for the hurting, but compassion is only the prelude to love; His compassion moved Him to do what He could to help us. His love for us motivated His sacrifice for us, it motivates His relationship with us, and it should be the goal I strive towards in every relationship I have.
God created me, but since I have free will, He can only build me to the extent that I allow Him to. He physically formed me in my mother’s body and holds me together every minute of every day; but as I slowly grew old enough to start shaping myself, I became responsible for making the decision about what I would allow to shape me. Would I allow my Creator or the world to mold me? That is still a question I face on a daily basis. In a world that says that it’s best to live in the present, allowing God to shape me may not be the ‘fun’ option, but it is definitely the option with the better long term effects. Looking realistically at the direction the world is headed, why would I want to be shaped by it? But looking at God’s character and knowing for myself that He is the same yesterday, today and forever, Who better could I ask to be molded after?
I have found that as I choose follow Him, He gives me good desires in my heart and He will fulfill them in amazing ways as I chase them. I just get into trouble when I mistake the desires He places in my heart for the desires the world puts in my heart. How can I tell the difference? First, if I look in the direction the desire goes and I can see that I am likely to end up in a place where I will be closer to and more dependent on God, it is likely a desire He has given me. However, if it is going to take me to a place of separation from my Savior and closeness with the world, then it is probably not a desire given to me by God. The thing that I have to be constantly checking is my motives. Why am I doing what I am doing? Am I doing it because some super Christian in the spotlight says it is a good thing? Am I doing it because my Christian friends say it’s a good thing to do? Or am I doing it because I know in my heart that God gave me the desire and that He will work it out no matter how crazy it may seem?
Life is full of choices, and I for one do not always make the right ones – in fact, I make more wrong choices than right. But God’s grace is so much bigger then my mistakes, and He uses even my biggest failures in ways that are so far beyond what I am capable of. I could not have been given a bigger privilege in the is life then to serve this God!
As a Christian trying to live for the glory of God, life is just complicated. The instant I appealed to Heaven for Salvation and accepted Jesus as my Savior, I became a citizen of Heaven; and as its citizen, I am responsible to learn the language and customs.
So how am I, a citizen of a realm beyond this earth, supposed to live during my time on this earth?
I think James 1:26-27 sums it up pretty well: it says, “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” -James 1:26-27
First, I need to keep a tight reign on my tongue. If I truly want to live in a way that brings God glory, I need to practice self discipline and keep myself in check. Second, I am commanded to look for people who need help and assist them in whatever capacity God has enabled me to. Wherever I go and whatever I do, I am called to step out of myself and help those who can’t help themselves. And finally, even though in am in this world, I should not be participating in the things that are contrary in principal to the things of God. Certain things may look appealing and innocent, but I always need to question my motives for going anywhere and doing anything, and I need to be conscious of where anything will take me.
As I wrote this, what stuck me was the realization that each of these three things are in complete opposition with how this world says I should live; and while it’s all too easy to give a worldly response to worldly situations, we’ve been called to something higher than this world. In the New Testament, Jesus – Heaven’s ultimate citizen – exemplified for us how we are to act. He never once compromised the truth He preached, and He was always the perfect example of love because He is love. If I really want to live my life for Him, I need to be filled up by Him; because I can’t give something out when I haven’t been filled up with it.
One step at a time. That’s all He asks of us.
Truth be told, I feel like I take three steps forward and two steps back; but His grace catches me every time I fall. I can look back and see how He’s brought me along to where I am, and all He did was ask me to take one step at a time. It looked scary when He asked me to do it. The step looked so high and the territory was so unfamiliar and uncomfortable; but as look back, all I can say is, “What was my problem? Why was I so reluctant to follow His leading?”
Then there are times when I look ahead and can see what’s coming and begin to understand why God has brought me to where I am – and that is usually to prepare me for whatever he has in store for me next. God never gives me something to do without, in some way, first preparing me for it. Yes, He gives me more than I can handle; but He does it to make me turn to Him for strength and grace. If I could do life on my own, why would I need Him?
As much as I feel I should have learned these lessons 100 times over, I can’t say that I have; most days, I feel like the Israelites who constantly forgot the things God did for them. God does amazing things in my life and in the lives of the people around me, but I am so quick to forget. I get stuck in things of this world and take my attention off my Creator, then consequently forget that nothing is outside of His perfect plan. When I get stressed because I’ve forgotten that He can take care of me, I am acting like I’m in control; that is pride, and it is not the life He intended me to live. Faith in Him is believing that He sees and cares for the world as He sees fit, and that His grace is greater than all our sin.
“Follow your heart”
“Go with the flow”
“If it feels good, do it”
Could there be any worse advice, particularly when it comes to relationships?
And if I can’t trust the world to teach me what love is, where can I find a trustworthy and unchanging source of wisdom?
I can only learn about real love from God – because, God is love. He demonstrates through His relationship with us what our relationships with others are to look like. His selfless and sacrificial love towards us displays no fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants attitude. It was no plan with thoughts only of the present – it has our future completely taken care of because we are incapable of deserving a good one. His relationship with all of mankind was orchestrated down to the most minute detail; but more than that, it was a plan that was followed through with.
The general attitude that the world’s ideas promote is detrimental in any sort of relationship, because a solid relationship does not happen by accident or without effort. A healthy, long lasting relationship does not come about by just floating along with whatever current comes by. A house is only built when a person or group of people work to make it happen and are intentional about following through to completion. After it has been built, the beauty can be enjoyed – but even then, it requires constant maintenance to keep the house from decay. I cannot go into autopilot in my relationships and assume that they will be okay. My relationships with my friends and family all require work, and I need to be willing to put the necessary effort forth.
When I am selfish and only think about what I can get out of a relationship without putting anything into it, the relationship will not last. When I am focused on myself and what I want from other people, a genuine love for the other person will not be the end result. But instead, when I really love somebody, I must be willing to embrace them no matter the baggage they carry. If I’m being honest, that is what I want from other people. That is real love.
Please don’t swallow the lies the world dishes out – in particular, the lies about self love and performance based acceptance. The idea that we need to love ourselves and embrace our flaws is ridiculous, but at the same time hiding our weaknesses behind a false persona is wrong too.
So how are we to view ourselves?
Mankind was created in God’s perfect image, but that image was marred when Adam sinned and it will not be recovered until we get to Heaven. Psalm 51:5 says, “Surely, I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” There are two opposing realities that are manifest in us as Christians, and they both need to be acknowledged properly. We were saved for Heaven from Hell by the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf, but we constantly need his grace because of the sin nature in us that won’t die until we get to Heaven. In 2 Corinthians 12:9 Paul says, “But He [God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” We can boast about our weaknesses because of what Christ does in them; but He can’t do anything with them if we hold them up as part of our identity, or if we just try to hide them. He can’t use what we don’t give to Him. Embracing our weaknesses and making them a part of our identity will not work, because we can’t overcome them in our own strength – then what use is it to claim my weaknesses as our own? Trying to hide our weaknesses will not work either, because someday everything will come to light. Learning to be real and honest about our flaws isn’t easy; but we should only be boasting about them when God’s grace works above and beyond our limitations.
The picture I have in my head is one of myself gathering my broken pieces and handing them to God, Who then hands them back and tells me to use them. When I do, He shines through them like light through a crack in a wall, creating a something beautiful that is visible for all to see in this dark world. He does something better than fix my weaknesses: He makes His perfect strength manifest in the places I’ve fallen apart.
It really isn’t about us at all, and that takes the pressure off us to perform and it should place our eyes on Christ.
After two months of nonstop whirlwind activity, I am so happy to be back in a routine that includes a little less crazy and a little more writing!
The last post I wrote was about some things God taught me as I struggled to step outside my comfort zone to follow His leading. At the time I wrote that, I was preparing for a trip full of firsts and unknowns; but when I could have been experiencing anxiety and fear about these things, I had the ability to choose to focus on God’s past faithfulness and goodness in my life and believe that He is the same yesterday, today and forever. Now that I’m on the other side of my latest big challenge, I can honestly say that God did it. He did everything He says He can, and then some. Difficulties came along that I didn’t expect, but they weren’t a surprise to God. Exhaustion kicked in after long hours of travel; so He sent circumstances to help me through the stage when my brain asked me stupid questions and I took them seriously. Bad dreams redirected my focus and left me anxious; but He brought to my remembrance previous events that comforted and reassured me that He was still there. Then after the trip was over and I had to hit the ground running for two weeks afterward, He put just the right people in my path to help me laugh about my exhaustion, which somehow made it easier to deal with.
It’s still not easy for me to go unfamiliar places – in fact, I don’t ever expect it to never be a struggle – but now that I’m on the other side of a huge challenge, I have one more example of God’s goodness to look back on. While I don’t know where God will take me next, I do know I want to go there. He has not been anything but good and faithful to me. I don’t feel invincible because of any victory I’ve won, but I know I have a mighty God behind and before me.