Friday, December 25, 2009

Love and Pepper Spray

When our youngest moved in with her older brother to attend college in St. Cloud, he gave her a can of pepper spray for self-protection, but only after first trying it out on himself – twice, because he missed his eyes with the first shot – to confirm that it would actually work. Our son found that pepper spray does indeed work very well.

Now that’s love. I mean, who gives his sister pepper spray without being sure of its effectiveness?

Our son is hilarious, and you never know what he’s going to do, but love surely will find a way to express itself in action, and God has demonstrated His love for us by wanting to take care of us in this life and assure us of our place with Him in eternity.

Christmas – the real reason that we celebrate – is a beautiful example of God’s love in action. It’s a time I find myself meditating on what was probably one of the first Bible verses I learned as a child: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

We all know that verse, right? Perhaps because it is so well-known and often used, we tend to gloss over the profoundness of its simple message: God loves us. Because He loves us, He gave. God gave that which was most precious to Him – His son. And in giving His son, He gave us the blessing of spending eternity with Him after walking victoriously through this life in His strength.
Wow. Like the purity and wonder of a newborn baby, the message of John 3:16 is so simple but so awesome.

God’s not asking us to take a shot of pepper spray in the eyes for Him, but maybe we could spend some quiet time reflecting on His wonderful gift and let Him know that we’re thankful.

God bless you, and merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A touch of the divine

“To err is human, to forgive divine” (Alexander Pope).

When we’ve been deeply wounded, forgiveness is not easy – especially when the wounds have come at the hands of those whom we have loved and trusted.

Alexander Pope said that to forgive is “divine.” Surely, this is key to understanding where forgiveness begins.

From a purely human perspective, we can usually justify bitterness, anger, and even hatred depending on the situation and how badly we’ve been treated. There are those who certainly do not “deserve” our forgiveness. Furthermore, some apparently don’t even want our forgiveness, judging by their refusal to acknowledge any wrongdoing. Why bother forgiving in such situations?

God has placed a high calling on our lives, and His commands are always for our good. His Word says, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col. 3:13).

Even if others do not acknowledge their need of forgiveness, we need to forgive them for righteousness’ sake and for the sake of our own well-being.

Bitterness is a burden. It’s heavy. It’s oppressive. It blocks our joy and our ability to walk in God’s blessings.

God knew that forgiveness would not always be easy, and He does not expect us to do this in our own strength.

He sent our Savior Jesus so that we might experience forgiveness and in that experience learn to humbly acknowledge our own faults, our own unworthiness, and prepare us to extend His grace to others.

If “to err is human,” then all of us will fall short and find ourselves in need of forgiveness. And if forgiveness is divine, then we must trust in our Savior’s grace to teach us how to forgive one another.

If you find yourself facing this Christmas with an unforgiving heart, reach out for a touch of the divine and ask God to help you give the gift of forgiveness to someone who needs it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

God of all comfort

How do you find comfort? Like a small child with its security blanket, most of us have some activity or some thing that brings us comfort. We’re all familiar with the term “comfort food,” meaning the type of food we eat to make ourselves feel better. Some people find comfort in hot baths, good books, naps, or the company of good friends.

Sooner or later we all need comfort to get through this life.

Experts say the holidays, supposedly a time of celebrating and rejoicing, actually cause many people to experience higher levels of stress and depression. It’s a time we might need to step up our comfort-seeking levels.

This is meant to be a joyful season, but if joy seems to elude you as you go about singing your Christmas carols, consider the line from “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen” – “O tidings of comfort and joy.”

Comfort and joy are intertwined. If you are in need of comfort, you aren’t experiencing joy.

Sometimes all the hot baths, long novels, soft blankets and crunchy nachos in the world won’t make you feel any better.

Second Corinthians 1:3 tells us that our Lord Jesus Christ is “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.” This is such good news to those in need of His comfort. I think sometimes we forget that He knows, He understands, and He cares about our pain. He is ever ready to minister His peace to us, but we must be ready to receive from Him.

If you’re feeling far from joyful this Christmas season, talk to your Heavenly Father about that. Ask Him to bring you His comfort, to fill you with His peace, and to restore your joy. In faith, receive from Him that which He has promised. Stay close to Him, and all the mayhem around you or any sorrow you may be carrying cannot supersede His comfort.

God rest ye, merry gentlemen – and women!

While we were still sinners

When you have lived your entire Christian life with a performance-based mindset, changing your way of thinking can be difficult.

First, let me explain what I mean by performance based. This is the idea that God loves us more when we’re “good” and less when we’re “bad.”

Romans 5:8 explains, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Think about this: Before you even knew God, before you ever loved Him or did one thing to please Him, His love for you was great enough to send Jesus to the cross on your account.
What makes us think we can do anything to make Him love us more?

Perhaps because our experience with human relationships has taught us that there are limits, there are conditions to the love people give us, we expect God to treat us the same way. It’s too difficult to fathom a love so strong that someone would die for us, while at the same time grasping that we could never deserve or earn that love.

Maybe in our attempts to earn God’s love we’re really just building up our own self-esteem. If I can point to all my good works and lack of naughtiness, will you have more admiration and respect for me?

Corrie Ten Boom said that at the end of her life, she didn’t want people to comment about how good she was to God but about how good God was to her. She spent her life in service and sacrifice to her Lord, but her motivation obviously stemmed from a deep sense of gratitude for His love toward her, not a sense of obligation or an attempt to make herself look good.

Striving to be good enough will not bring you closer to God.

A life spent contemplating God’s great love leads to thankfulness, which leads to obedience, which leads to a deep abiding faith, which leads to godliness, not of our own efforts but born out of our relationship with Him.

Thanks in all things

This Thanksgiving, how many of you will participate in the tradition of going around the table taking turns sharing what you’re thankful for?

Our family has done this a few times in the past, and typically you’ll hear such things as, “I’m thankful for my family”; “I’m thankful for my home”; “I’m thankful for my country”; “I’m thankful for all this good food!”

Oh yes, of course we are (and should be!) thankful for these things. We are blessed in myriad ways. I can never thank God enough for my family, my home, and all the rest.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Years ago when I first read this, I thought it meant I was supposed to be thankful for everything, and quite frankly, I found that a little hard to swallow. Thankful for everything?

“I’m thankful I have cancer,” “I’m thankful my marriage is falling apart,”’ and “I’m thankful my child is on drugs,” seem like ridiculous statements. And they are ridiculous!

1 Thessalonians 5:18 doesn’t tell us to be thankful for everything. Not everything that happens is God’s will or God’s best for us. (Are you going to thank God for something the enemy doled out while we weren’t paying attention?)

No, the passage instructs us to give thanks in all circumstances.

Paul wrote this exhortation to a young church facing persecution. He knew that when faced with hardships and trials, expressing gratitude to the God who saves us and blesses us would be a powerful tool to build us up in our faith and to help us stand strong in the face of the enemy.

There have been plenty of times I have been in situations for which I was not thankful. But placed against the backdrop of God’s all-surpassing faithfulness, goodness and greatness, the situation dimmed in comparison.

For this, I can always be thankful.