The Big Reason to be Thankful

It’s Thanksgiving this week and the focus around here is turkey and being thankful. The turkey part is easy. You go to the store and select the bird you want and bring it home and prepare and roast it.

It’s the thankfulness part that is trickier. We’re not very good at it. If you’re like me, I frequently forget to thank God from one day to the next, and one week to the next.

That’s shameful considering the very air I breathe is his. IMG_3973

Not only that, God did the most scandalous thing in the world. He rescued us from his wrath and judgment and hell. This he planned long ago, before the world was made. Then he sent his Son in time and space to bring us salvation, a gift we didn’t deserve, all because God wanted us in his family. We didn’t ask to be rescued. We didn’t even think we needed to be rescued. That’s how deep sin goes. But God knew our deepest need was to know him and have him as our God. He chose us. We are now new creatures in Christ. And in the resurrection of his Son he is re-creating the world. And one day God will usher in the new heavens and the new earth where we will live forever.

That’s what we need to be thankful for. It should take our breath away.

Not only this week, but every day.

Talk to me.

 

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The Dark Side of Shame

Have you noticed how much the word “shame” is used in sermons, counseling and bible teaching these days?

All of a sudden it’s the word of the day, as if we’re walking around with a dark cloud over our heads feeling shame for all sorts of things, especially our past.

That may be true since we’re sinners and we don’t do life very well.

Each one of us can probably remember many situations that make us cringe and wish they had never happened. IMG_E0687

As I was reading Jeremiah, it struck me how many times the word shame came up in the book. And what impacted me even more was the fact that the real definition of shame is not what we call it today. Today the word has come to mean guilt, dishonor, and a bad conscience. All of which is true because we are sinners. But most of time shame is self-focused, it’s all about me and my feelings.

In Jeremiah the word means walking away from the God who loves you and has redeemed you at the cost of himself. See Jeremiah 13:26-27. The nation of Jews were always turning their backs on him in favor of other gods, which were no gods at all. And it’s that behavior that God calls shameful.

We’re no different. We turn away from God throughout the day in favor of our idols, too. And it’s that which should create real shame in us, knowing that the God who redeemed us is standing right here to help us at every moment of the day and night. That everything we need he’s willing to give us if we would just ask him.

Talk to me.

 

 

 

 

You Want Me to Love Who?

I don’t know about you but I’m not very good at the loving your neighbor thing. If I’m honest, I much prefer my own company, my own thoughts and my own projects. Putting others first is like asking a zebra to switch its stripes to polka dots.

But there it is. Jesus said to love one another, and John said it too. In fact, John said something else that’s disturbing. If we don’t love other believers it’s proof we’re not Christians!

Ouch! photo (1)

And not just believers we like, or share the same doctrine with, or understand life in similar ways. We’re called to love our brothers and sisters in Christ who are totally different from us. Those whose politics we hate. Those who barely read the bible. Those who relate to God in emotional ways.

So why such emphasis on this love thing?

Because it’s like God. God is love. After all, he loved us when we were unlovable. He loved us before our sins were forgiven. He served us in our misery and wretchedness. He gave us Jesus before we knew we needed him.

God is always loving, even when we’re not. Jesus suffered the wrath of God for us. He satisfied the justice of God. Jesus is the ultimate proof of how much God loves us.

We do not love well. But Jesus loved his Father and us, his children perfectly. And that perfect record is ours by faith in Christ. Knowing that, we can go out and love others not so well, knowing Jesus covers all our imperfections.

That’s another gift we don’t deserve, but it’s ours because God loves us.

Talk to me.

 

The Solution to Our Need

The bible teaches us everywhere that we are sinners and that we owe God our devotion. The truth is, not one of us has made good on our obligation. The main thing we owe God is to love him with all our hearts, souls and minds. This is our baseline responsibility. How are we doing with this? If you’re like me, not so good. In fact, most days my heart, soul and mind is riveted on me. My feelings. My expectations. My wants. Even at my best, which doesn’t exist, I have never loved the Lord this way. I break the first commandment  every hour of every day. FullSizeRender (42)

What can be done for this kind of life? Never mind the really bad things we’ve done, but even the good things we’ve done, which aren’t really good enough. Our warmest and most heartfelt moment with the Lord falls short of the standard of perfection that God requires.

If we can’t even live up to our new year’s resolutions – in my case I don’t make them anymore because of past failures – what hope do we have to do better in the sight of God? Self-improvement won’t get us nearer to God. Despair isn’t the answer either.

The only solution is to run to Jesus who purchased our acceptance with God through his perfect life of obedience lived for us, and his death on the cross in payment for all our sins. Both have been credited to our account in God’s eyes.

Even if we can’t live up to our best intentions, Jesus has for us. He’s all we need!

Talk to me.

Talking to Strangers

I handed a man a gospel of John this morning. He was my seatmate on the subway. He was reading a book about health and whole foods, so I wrote down Dr. John McDougall’s web address (https://www.drmcdougall.com/) and told him to look him up. I have no idea why I did that. I just felt compelled. He said he had heard about Dr. McDougall recently, and here I am telling him the same thing. I was going to leave it at that, but felt the Holy Spirit nudge me. Didn’t God just open up that conversation? Hadn’t God put this man in the seat next to me? I had traveled with an empty seat almost to my stop, which in morning commute hours is unheard of, so clearly this was a divine appointment. Did I think all these thoughts right on the spot? No, not one of them. I’m reflecting on the encounter as I write this. I got up to get ready for my stop. I felt the Holy Spirit nudge me, so I whipped out the gospel of John (https://www.ptl.org/) and handed it to him. He said he had never read the bible. He didn’t know what to do with it. I told him it was better than anything he was reading. He was stunned and looked at me suspiciously. One minute he was animated about being healthy and the next it was like I handed him a disease, but he took it. I prayed for him as I left the station. seed

Are you ready to witness for the Lord? Have materials in your pocket ready to give away and pray for encounters. He will give them to you. Nobody’s going to hug you for it, but you know God will be pleased. Who knows how many people will end up in heaven as a result of your encounters.

Talk to me.

I Can’t Hear You’re So Loud

I got off the phone with a caller that never stopped talking. He’s someone I’ve never met and yet he felt the need to tell me about his life, never taking a breath to see if I was interested or even listening.

I’m sure you’ve had those experiences with people.

As much as that caller irritated me, I had to admit I had done the same thing over the years.

I’m a fix-it-all kinda person. You come to me with a problem and I have a solution for you and I’m happy to tell you about it.

Don’t we all.  painting24

I’ve realized over the years that maybe that’s not what people really need. Maybe it’s something else.

Maybe Jesus is calling us to a different kind of help. Help as in listening to the person. We’re so prone to listen with a mind that is more attentive to what to say next to the person. We miss the cues, the body language and facial expressions that way.

Even more importantly, we miss what God is showing us about himself in that person’s life.

I often forget that when someone asks for my counsel, she comes to me with Jesus in her life. It’s my job to listen well. I’m quick to fix, he’s not. I want to come across as helpful, when Jesus is already her helper.

What people need most of all is someone who will listen to them with a full heart that is not rushed, and who can help locate God in their lives so they can rest in him. This won’t happen if we’re preoccupied with what to say next, or if we’re in a hurry to get the visit over with.

We all need to enroll in the school of active listening. I know I do.

Talk to me.

How to Spot a Comfortable Religion

Religion is for good people.

It has one central characteristic – to give you a bunch of laws to make your life work and to gain approval from its god. And the burden is on you. You have make it work. It’s your discipline and commitment that makes it or breaks it for you.

For example, meditation just doesn’t float down like a cloud and take you by the hand to your happy place. You have to work it. You have to set aside the time, roll out the mat, sit Buddha-style, inhale and exhale, clear your mind, breathe in, breathe out, and keep your back straight. After twenty minutes you get up, roll up the mat, tuck it under your arm and now you’re ready to check that off your list for the day.

On the other hand, Christianity is for bad people. That’s me. I have the mat, the exercise ball, and the twister thing, all with a heavy layer of dust on them in the corner of the room. I’ve walked away from many schools of discipline. I’m sure they would have worked had I been more consistent. But consistency eludes me, along with daily bible reading, prayer, and keeping my eyes glued to Jesus every day.

I can’t do it. IMG_5938

The slightest distraction draws me away from him. The weather. My spiritual temperature. The latest conflict with my husband. The boring aspects of my job. Those capture my heart faster than everything Jesus has done for me.

I tell others to be aware of looking inward because there’s nothing good there. Just sin and failure. That joy in life is found in keeping a closeness with Jesus. Except I don’t do it.

That’s why I’m a bad people. Even on my best days, my life is shot full of sin. That’s why Christianity is my kind of religion. It tells me I am bad, that I have no hope, and that I am lost and without God in the world. Sounds very orphan-like to me. No Father is heaven looking after me. No church to nurture and raise me. No brothers and sisters to live with. That’s as bad as it gets.

That’s why I need Christianity. That’s where I discover Jesus. He came to rescue me because I was that bad. He merited righteousness through his perfect obedience, and paid the price for my sins through his death on the cross. And both are credited to me through faith in him alone.

That’s it. It’s that simple, and yet it cost Jesus everything. My job? To believe him. If he said he did this, then you can trust him.

Which would you rather do? Believe in Jesus or roll out that dusty exercise ball?

Talk to me.