Got Jesus?

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it, 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:1-5; 10-14 (ESV)
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I memorized this passage as a child. And one part of this passage stands out to me today, because the wording of the verse has not changed, but our cultural reading of it has changed a bit. I remember churches, and evangelists, using the phrases like, “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior (or Lord, or Lord and Savior)?” “Are you ‘born again?'” “Have you asked Jesus into your heart?”

I know in certain circles these phrases are considered “old fashioned”, “evangelical”, and even offensive. Some of us don’t identify as Christians anymore– many of us prefer the term, “Christ-followers.” “Born-again” Christians are seen as hypocritical, overbearing, judgmental, and intolerant– even violent! And there are individuals and groups who give evangelical Christianity a “bad name” by their behavior.

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Evangelicals have a reputation for putting people’s backs up, and putting people “on the spot.” They want to know, “have you GOT Jesus?” As though Jesus is a product and you either own Him or you’re missing Him. Can you get Jesus at the corner store? Do you “get” Him the same way someone “gets” a virus? Is He infectious? Can you sell Him? Lose Him? Trade Him away?

The Apostle and Gospel writer, John, was an evangelical. He was keenly concerned that His readers, friends, listeners– basically everyone he met, GOT Jesus. He wasn’t trying to sell a product, force a certain doctrine down others’ throats at the end of a sword, or offend those he met. But he DID want to make sure that people didn’t miss out on the GLORY, the incredible WONDER, the eternal GIFT of LIFE that had lived and walked and dwelt among us.

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Today, there are many who claim to “follow” Christ– they have great respect for His teachings; they want to live a “good” and even “righteous” life just as Jesus did; they believe He was a great role model. But they haven’t “received” Him. They believe what they have heard about Him; they believe “in” Him, but they don’t believe “in His Name.” Truly becoming a “follower” of Christ is to become a “Christian”– willing to be called by His name and identified with Him. Not just as a wise teacher or a gentle soul, but as a sacrifice–despised and rejected, misunderstood– and obedient even unto death. Not just the physical death of a martyr, but the social death of an outcast, the death of selfish dreams and worldly success through compromise, the loss of relationships, property, status, freedom… John knew all of this first-hand. He was standing by during the trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. He watched as his brother and friends were beheaded, tortured, crucified upside-down, and driven into hiding. He spent the end of his life in exile for the privilege of being a “Christian.”

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Calling oneself a Christian, or a Christ-follower, or “born again,” doesn’t mean anything in and of itself. I can call myself a doctor, or an artist, or a prophet. I may have studied medicine, or created a painting, or made a prediction and be completely hypocritical. I may end up giving a bad name to myself, and causing people to be cautious about other doctors, artists, or prophets. That doesn’t make THEM hypocritical, and it shouldn’t cause them to stop doing what they do well. What matters is not what I say I am, or even what others say about me, but what and who I demonstrate that I am. I want to let my words and actions declare my relationship to Christ. At times, I would like to avoid the ridicule and misunderstandings. I’d like to be able to distance myself from the “bad examples,” but, like John, I long to testify to the GLORY of the one I follow and trust, more than I want to justify my own self at the expense of others. Yes, there are some “fake” Christians, and some who are sincerely wrong in how they attempt to live– and if someone were to catch me in a bad moment on a bad day, and show only that moment to the world, I would be counted among them– but my goal is not to ask if others have a perfect track record, or if they know all the right Bible verses or even if they have the “right” answers. My goal is to ask, ” Have you GOT Jesus?” “Do you KNOW Him– not just about Him?” When you pray, are you praying to an aloof idea or to a personal Savior? If He called you, would you answer, or let it go to voice mail? Would you scroll through and “like” His social media posts, or would you actually DO what He said?

Jesus came. He walked among ordinary people. Crowds “followed” Him, hanging on His parables, excited about His healings, and impressed by His miracles. But very few of them actually became His disciples and “received” Him. But to those who did, like John, He gave them the privilege to be called Children of God– not because they were smarter or wiser or more righteous in their own knowledge or efforts, but because they were made new, “born” again, and transformed by their relationship with Him. May that be so for all of us!

Peace on Earth?

I’ve been exploring some of the themes related to the Advent. But what happened afterwards? There is a curious and violent story related to the visit of the Wise Men– before they found Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus, they visited the palace of the ruling King of the Jews, Herod. Herod was intensely curious about the baby– when and where the prophets said Messiah should be born. But unlike the worshipful wise men, Herod wanted to destroy this heaven-sent King; one who could pose a threat to his own power and rule.

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Jesus escaped Herod’s plot. Joseph had been warned in a dream, and had taken Mary and Jesus to Egypt for safety. The Wise Men, also warned in a dream, had failed to report back to Herod the information he wanted. In his anger and fear, Herod ordered the slaughter of all the baby boys in the region, up to two years old. This “Slaughter of the Innocents,” as the event is known, seems to come in direct repudiation of the message of the angels at Christ’s birth. There was no peace in Bethlehem as soldiers dragged innocent babies from their mothers’ arms and killed them. There was wailing and anguish, instead.

How could a loving and wise God allow this to happen? It was no unforeseen accident, either. This event had been predicted by the prophets hundreds of years before it happened, just the same as the prophecies about Jesus’ birth. God could have sent angels to protect Jesus from this slaughter; He could have confounded Herod’s plans and stopped the soldiers from reaching Bethlehem; He could have struck Herod dead before the plot could be carried out…so why did He let it all happen?

I don’t have any definitive answers. But I can share some opinions, based on what I’ve learned of God’s character. I don’t think God was in any way indifferent to the suffering and injustice of this tragedy. But I think there are a few lessons we can take from this strange and disturbing incident:

  • First, Jesus came to share a very human fate. Jesus was not spared the indignity of being born in a cattle shed and laid in a manger. His life was not supernaturally easy or safe or comfortable. It was God’s perfect will that Jesus was vulnerable to attack, and in need of protection– even when it meant fleeing His home.
  • At the same time, He WAS fully God, and as such, posed a danger to men like Herod. Jesus, even from birth, had an authority greater than any king or emperor who ever lived. But He did not come to earth to exercise that power over other people. Instead, He came to serve and to pour out His life for others. It was not His mission to overthrow the existing government, or to challenge rulers like Herod. It was His mission to fulfill the Law, set an example of obedience, preach the Gospel, and offer Himself as atonement for Sin.
  • Herod had the earthly power to do good or evil as a ruler. He had the unique opportunity to join the Wise Men in worshiping the arrival of God’s chosen one– an event that had been anticipated for hundreds of years. Yes, God could have forced Herod to bow before the Newborn King, but Herod could also have chosen wisdom over fear. We have the same opportunity to welcome Jesus as our Savior– or to wage war against Him. Jesus invites us to follow Him, but He doesn’t stop us from making the same destructive choices that Herod made.
  • Jesus did not come to bring a worldly peace, but an eternal “Peace that passes understanding.” Even now, after His death and resurrection, there is still war and slaughter, crime and injustice in our world. But, because of all Jesus did, and is doing in and through those who follow Him, we see that tragedies can be redeemed; hope can survive where there seems to be no hope; and death is not the final victor. I don’t understand why these particular families had to face the tragic consequences of Herod’s rage and fear and ambition. But I understand that God is bigger than Herod; and more powerful than all the chaos and pain that he caused.
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The world is not at peace today. Innocent people– even babies–are hurt and killed in our world. God knows. He aches for our grief and pain. But He also knows His plans. He knows how the story ends– He knows all that has happened, and all that is happening, and all that will happen. Even in the glory of Christmas, He wants us to know that reality. Someday, Jesus will return in all of His authority and power. He won’t just end the reign of evil rulers like Herod– He will render their legacies useless. He will redeem injustices– even genocide and slaughter–and wipe out even the memory of their grief and terror.

Go! Tell! Witness! Believe!

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.

Luke 2:15-17 (ESV)

Go! Tell It on the Mountain! The ancient prophets foretold it. The Angels brought the news to the shepherds, who told it to their neighbors: Jesus, the Christ, is born! He is here among us! God in the flesh! What amazing and glorious news! This same Jesus told parables, shared prophecies, and spoke the Truth– and taught His disciples to do the same! Through the centuries, witnesses have spoken words of hope, healing, and salvation to the next generation, taking the Word as they spread throughout the world.

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In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

 
John 1:1; 14
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“Good Christian, fear, for sinners here the silent Word is pleading..”

What Child is This?

Jesus, who spoke the universe into existence, came into His own creation in silence as a newborn baby. The angels announced His coming; the shepherds spoke of Him; the Wise Men came to honor Him. But His arrival was just the beginning. In His ministry, He would speak words that echo through the centuries– words of hope; words of warning; words of life and salvation. And He challenges us to speak as well– to share the Gospel; to be His witnesses to the uttermost parts of the earth (see Acts 1:8).

Our words matter. Our words have power– power to build up, and power to destroy. We have opportunities each day to speak Truth, Hope, Joy, Peace, Compassion, Love…or to stay silent. And we must be careful to speak the truth– even when it is inconvenient, unpopular, or risky. We must not compromise by speaking pleasant platitudes or ignoring danger. Truth is not always pleasant–Jesus’s words were not always welcomed; not always comforting. But they brought healing where it was most needed, and hope where there was darkness.

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And more than words must go out into the world– Jesus didn’t sit in a comfortable corner of a bistro waiting for the hurting and hopeless to come to Him and hear His words. He climbed mountains and crossed lakes; He traveled from town to town; He shared meals and participated in the Synagogue services; He touched lepers and spoke to outcasts. Today, we have amazing opportunities to spread the Good News–technology and media; the ability to meet others in person (COVID permitting!) or via Zoom or Skype or even cell phone; and, in many places, the freedom to speak without fear.

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 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 (NIV)
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The Word came down at Christmas. Let’s make sure the Word goes out this Christmas– the Savior has arrived! He is Christ, the Lord! Joy! Peace! Hope! Celebration! Go! Tell it on the mountaintops and in the valleys and across the seas!

In the Bleak Midwinter

It’s not actually midwinter just now. In fact, “winter” won’t officially begin for another few days. But it has been bleak around here.

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I suffer from seasonal depression. In spite of the joy I know I should feel during this season; in spite of all the reasons I have to BE joyful, I have been in a funk. I’ve been physically ill, but even more, I’ve been mentally drained and emotionally overwhelmed for over a week. I’ve missed posting a couple of days recently, because I feel hypocritical writing about Christmas.

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But I choose to write tonight about the enduring power of prayer. There are people praying for me, not because I’ve said anything about my condition, but because they are faithful in praying for people, and I happen to be one of them. The clouds are beginning to lift and I’m finding it easier to feel what I already know– that God is in control; that He cares; that He has a purpose beyond the sadness. It’s why I’m so passionate about praying and keeping a prayer log or prayer journal. I am one of those who pray for others, and I am one of those who are being prayed for–we lift each other up, even when–especially when–we don’t fully understand why.

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Some may ask, “How can you say that prayer works if you are depressed? Doesn’t that just prove that prayer isn’t working?” Some people mock the power of prayer in the face of “bad” circumstances. The recent school shooting in my home state of Michigan, or the recent spate of tornadoes in Kentucky and other states are prime examples. Sincere people of faith are being mocked for saying that their “thoughts and prayers” are with the people who are suffering. Mockers say that thoughts and prayers are meaningless–otherwise, prayers should have prevented the events in question from ever happening. In the aftermath, only actions are of value.

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In the face of disaster, distress, or depression, prayers may seem small and even meaningless. Most prayers don’t pack the power of a tornado, nor elicit such an immediate and dramatic response. My depression didn’t suddenly disappear the moment someone began praying for me; those whose homes and lives have been turned upside-down in the past days and weeks didn’t wake up this morning to find that it was just a bad dream. And prayer should be accompanied by thoughtful and compassionate action. But prayer heals– and healing takes time. God chooses to use the prayers of others to seep into our lives; to fortify us and draw us together. Actions may change the circumstances, but prayer changes the person. Prayer reaches beyond the circumstances and the limitations of our human nature.

So today, I will pray. Through the “funk,” through the pain, through the confusion and chaos of a troubled world, I will choose to pray. For those individuals listed in my journal; for those whose needs are posted online or made known to me some other way; for those whose names and faces come to mind throughout the day. Because it is God’s way. Because others are faithfully doing the same. Because, in the end, it brings joy and peace. Even when–especially when– things seem so bleak.

Keep Silence

We have entered the season of Advent, and as we prepare our hearts for the coming of the Christ Child, one of the first steps should involve quieting our hearts.

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This can be difficult in the daily noise and bustle around us– particularly in this season! We have filled Christmas with sparkle and glitter; the ringing of bells and endless songs about reindeer and jolly fat men and decorated trees. But this is NOT Christmas– not yet. The bright lights of Christmas, the joyful songs of the angel hosts, all need a proper context. And that means a cold, dark night more than 2000 years ago. It means an emptiness. A heavenly silence that stretched over 400 years. Silence from heaven; silence in the earth; silence in the soul.

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In silence, we ponder. We wait. We anticipate–perhaps even dread– what may come. What will God say when He finally speaks again? Will it be judgment–severe, holy, deserved, undeniable? Will it be condemnation? Will it be that final pronouncement of God’s Holy Sovereignty, and our utter failure to measure up?

The joy of Christmas comes, not because of seeing light shows and snow glistening on trees, or listening to jingle bells and laughter. It comes from knowing that God’s Word is Peace! It is reconciliation and restoration. It is Freedom and Victory over Sin and silence and eternal Death! It is not first felt in the blaring of anthems and resounding of carols. It is in the soft cooing of new Life coming into a dark and silent world. Of everlasting love being wrapped in rags and gently laid in straw.

God delights in turning earthly things upside-down. And so He comes to us, not with fanfares and regal procession, but in stillness and gentleness, in the middle of a dark and silent night.

Alleluia! Alleluia!

Holiday Poison

Yesterday was Thanksgiving across the U.S. Many families enjoyed a large dinner, surrounded by family or friends. Traditionally, this dinner might include turkey (or ham or both!), vegetables and fruits (potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, baked beans, corn, squash or some kind of greens, cranberries or cranberry sauce, apples or fruit salad), dressing, stuffing, rolls, and/or bread, and some dessert, such as pumpkin pie, pumpkin roll, apple pie, or cake. It’s a holiday which focuses heavily on food and eating.

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Because of this, it is also a holiday that carries the risk of food poisoning. Turkey and other meats, if not cooked properly or long enough, can make people sick. So can leftovers that are left out too long or not stored properly after the big meal.

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But there is another kind of poison that can ruin Thanksgiving. It may not make us immediately physically ill, but it is not less dangerous. It is the poison of ingratitude. Like salmonella or other types of bacteria, ingratitude can be invisible. It can hide, waiting to attack without warning, causing everything to have a bitter aftertaste. It may cause violent reactions, such as rage, or lie dormant, causing depression, apathy, or a general dissatisfaction. And just like food poisoning ruining a holiday built around food, ingratitude is a natural problem to have during a time set aside for thankfulness.

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One of the most insidious forms of this holiday poison comes through comparisons–we gather to be near family we love, only to compare ourselves with them. Which one is happier? Wealthier? More popular? More intelligent? Better looking? Is the host’s house nicer than mine (or is my house “good enough”)? Did I work harder? Did my contribution to the meal taste “better”(or was it passed by– again)? Why am I still sitting at “the kids’ table?” The list is endless of the petty grievances that we allow to overwhelm our intentions to be thankful and live in peace. Someone says something to “push our buttons,” or they seem to ignore us completely.

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Another form of holiday poison spreads from person to person–complaining, venting, sounding off, moralizing, criticizing, blaming…what began as a thankful, joyful gathering becomes a snake pit of biting, poisonous talk. And we react. We take the bait, become defensive, get sucked into that political discussion we vowed to avoid, or we revisit old wounds we thought we had put behind us.

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But unlike food poisoning, bitterness and ingratitude are choices. We can’t always choose our circumstances, nor can we choose what others say or do. But we DO choose our reactions and our attitudes. I can blame someone else’s anger or selfishness for my bitterness, but they didn’t MAKE me succumb to their poison. I can compare myself to others and feel arrogant or inept, but no one forces me to live someone else’s life or measure up to their circumstances.

God has given each of us life and breath, and a purpose. Some of His gifts to us are universal and exactly the same for each person. He has given us each 24 hours in each day; He gives sunshine and rain, day and night, and air to breathe. But some of his gifts are unique to each individual. Our response should be to open our unique gifts, so we can enjoy them and use them, NOT waste time coveting someone else’s gift when we have neglected even to open our own.

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I wish I could say that “holiday poison” was easy to avoid– it’s not. It is human nature to grumble and whine and wish for what we do not have. But it IS possible to get healing. It starts with humble confession. We DO wish for what we do not have–and the more we deny and try to bury our failings, the more susceptible we are to the poison they can bring. If we confess our feelings of inadequacy, our desire to have “more” or “better” in life, we can turn to God freely and let Him give us a better perspective. Suddenly, we “see” blessings where we used to see burdens, we can see hope where once there was only grief, and we see opportunities where we only saw obstacles before.

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And God’s power to transform our attitude is just one more wonderful thing to be thankful for!

What Costs Me Nothing…

We’re coming up to Thanksgiving in the U.S. next week. Many families will sit down to sumptuous meals–turkey with dressing/stuffing (depending on what region you live in), pumpkin pies, sweet potatoes, corn, beans, rolls or muffins, salads, mac and cheese, casseroles, cranberry sauce, and more. Some will settle in front of big screen televisions to watch American football, and parades crowded with giant balloons and marching bands. Some will have modest gatherings with family and friends.

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And the following day– Black Friday– they will rush to malls and giant box stores to take advantage of the spectacular sales. People will buy hundreds of dollars worth of Christmas gifts, all with the satisfaction that they might have spent a lot more if they had not braved the crowds and the 4 a.m. opening times (some will begin shopping on Thanksgiving Day for the “head start.” Others will stay comfortably and safely indoors and spend their money shopping on-line).

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All of this costs money, of course. But for many Americans, it is not a real pinch to celebrate Thanksgiving. And we will say “Thanks,” and count our many blessings. We will also give. Charities and organizations are already taking donations. We can give $10 at the store to help buy meals for the hungry. We can buy small gifts to be sent overseas or to be given to the children of those in prison, or those who are homeless. We can buy coats (or hats or mittens, etc.) for those who have none. These efforts cost some money, too.

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But how much of these efforts comes from true “thankfulness” and how much from other sources– pride or guilt or a sense of duty? For what am I truly grateful at Thanksgiving? Thankful that I have so much? Thankful that I have the power to help others? Thankful that I have the day off to go shopping?

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It is easy for some of us to be thankful and generous–in our own eyes. I can give with the click of a button, and money I barely know I have is taken from my bank account and deposited in the account of a charity I may know very little about. I never have to see the people who are helped, and I never have to see what they have suffered or how my gift makes a difference. In fact, I don’t really have to see whether my gift even arrives where I imagine or does what the charity has promised. Some organizations are more transparent than others, and more reputable or honest than others, but I can feel good just by giving. In some cases, I can “make a difference” without any cost at all– just “like” a certain site, or fill out a survey. I can “give” without even giving!

In recent years, however, I have been surprised by those who have tried to make me feel bad about giving. They are not angry because I have not given, or have given very little, or given to dishonest charities. No. One lady was outraged that I should give to an organization that sends toys, hygiene items, and school supplies to needy children in countries around the world. What caused her outrage? Three things–the toys were “too American”–the instructions were printed in English, or they were “frivolous” toys like jump ropes and “matchbox” sized cars and trucks. Also, some of the boxes and wrapping were printed with cartoon-like children, which she felt were “racist” in their depiction. Finally, the spokesperson for the organization had been portrayed by the media as narrow-minded and “hateful” toward the issue of gay marriage. Her solution: she was never going to give to such an organization. She was urging people to give to groups that were providing livestock, instead. Here, she felt, was a useful gift. Chickens, goats, cows–these were gifts that would truly make a difference. And such gifts can and do make a difference– in rural areas, where there is space and enough grass or other food to sustain such animals. Her gift will have little impact on a child living in Nairobi, or Tegucigalpa, or Kosovo. I am glad she has the means and the desire to give and to help. And the organizations who provide such gifts are worthy–I mean no disrespect to any of them. But giving should be a joyous outpouring of love and thankfulness, of compassion and humility. If that means helping a rural community get milk and meat, that’s wonderful. If it means sending a stuffed animal, some silly socks, and some soap and washcloths to Lebanon, that’s great, too. Even if I don’t like the wrapping paper…

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My point is that a lot of our “giving” has become more about virtue signaling than joyously sharing with others to meet their needs. It costs a lot more in money to send a goat to Peru. But it may cost a lot more in time and energy to spend a day serving meals at a homeless shelter, or volunteer to rebuild in a community hit by a tornado or hurricane. And even though there may be a monetary cost to some of our gifts, in some ways, our “giving” costs us nothing. Not just little or nothing in dollars and cents, but little in emotion or thought or effort. There is nothing personal, or heartfelt, or sacrificial about some of our giving.

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And if that is true of our giving to strangers, what does that say about what we “give” to our families, our neighbors, and to God?

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During the reign of King David, there are many instances of celebration and thanksgiving. But there are also stories of heartbreak, loss, and repentance. In one of these incidents, King David angered God by taking a census. His conscience caused him to ask God’s forgiveness and ask what could be done to take away the guilt. God sent the prophet Gad to give David three choices, but David left it in God’s hands. God sent a vicious plague that swept toward Jerusalem. When the angel of death reached the threshing floor of a man named Araunah the Jebusite, God told him to stop. David could actually see where God had stopped the plague, and immediately went to buy the threshing floor, so he could build an alter and sacrifice to the Lord in repentance and in thanksgiving for God’s mercy.

Read more about the story of David in 2 Samuel 24
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King David had plenty of money. He also had authority, and the respect of his people. Araunah offered to give David not only the field, but the oxen to make the sacrifice. As the king, David could have taken the land and oxen– he could even have demanded them of Araunah. But David paid for it all, saying that he would not give to God that which had cost him nothing.

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In this season of giving, it can be tempting to measure the value of our gift by the monetary cost, or by the value WE receive from giving. But true giving should involve a willing and joyful sacrifice of our pride and our time. Sometimes, this may mean NOT giving a toy or a goat–it may mean giving an apology, or a second chance, or being willing to give up a turkey dinner or a shopping trip, in order to visit a shut-in, or spend some much needed time on our knees.

Having said that, there are plenty of things we can give that cost us “nothing”–smiles, a warm welcome, a listening ear, reaching out for reconciliation, and most of all, a heart-felt “Thank You.” Sometimes, these gestures cost us nothing– sometimes, they are a sacrifice. But they are gifts that really make a difference.

Casting All Your Cares..

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

1 Peter 5:6-7 (ESV)

I grew up hearing the verses above, especially verse 7– it was a memory verse in Sunday School and Bible School. It was the subject of many a sermon. I have known these verses most of my life. But I started thinking about them differently in the last week or so. The verses haven’t changed. Even in different translations, the familiar words are almost the same..”cast your cares:” “give your worries;” “cast your anxieties…” “ON HIM.” Over the years, those words created an image of me handing over a bundle, or passing off a heavy coat into the waiting arms of Jesus. There is nothing wrong with this image, but I think there is more to this verse.

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Peter–the author of this Epistle, was a fisherman. And one of the things I’ve learned being married to a man who loves to fish is that the “cast” is very important. No fisherman simply drops a line or a net into the water at random. Instead, he or she takes aim and hurls the net or line away from themselves and the boat (or dock or fishing platform). A good cast is intentional, directional, and takes commitment. And then, the fisherman, having made the cast, waits. Sometimes, it may take several “casts” before the fisherman gets a good “catch.” But a bad cast– or an impatient caster who can’t wait, but reels in and casts without intention– rarely gets good results.

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I’m afraid I’ve learned more about fishing in the past few years than I have about trusting God in a lifetime. All too often, I try to bring my cares and worries to God in pieces and parts, in short bursts and limp tosses. I do not “cast” my cares on Him– I try to hand over those bits I know I can’t handle, and explain away the rest. Or I try to drop my net close to the boat. And if I don’t get an answer on the first “cast,” I give up, and reel all my cares back in, or wear myself out with fruitless prayers about the same worries, as if God didn’t hear or couldn’t understand them the first eight or nine times!

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Casting our cares is more than just “handing” them over to God. We can hurl them, fling them, throw them, and toss them into the sea of His compassion and wisdom. As often as necessary, as desperately as necessary, as committed to getting rid of them as a fisherman is committed to getting a big “catch.” And we can trust that, at the right time, and in the right way, God will send us the “catch”– maybe not what we expected or imagined, but what He knows is best.

Fishing trip (with our daughter and some of our “catch.”)

Peter was a fisherman. After he walked with Jesus, he became a “fisher of men.” He learned how to “cast” all his cares on the one who performed miraculous deeds– walking on water, feeding the five thousand, raising the dead–even helping Peter and his friends catch fish! I’ve learned a lot about fishing. It’s time I learn more about “casting” my cares on my bountiful Father!

Receiving Back the Dead

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me, even if he dies, will live. 26 Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

John 11:25-26 (CSB)
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Jesus knew Lazarus was already dead when He set out for Bethany. He knew of the illness in time to save His friend. Yet He delayed. By the time He arrived, Lazarus had been dead four days, and was already buried. What comfort could He offer the grieving sisters? What could He say to explain His delay and seeming unconcern?

This year, we lost a lot of friends, neighbors and family members. Many others were suffering. We prayed for them all– we prayed for healing; we prayed for miracles. And God performed some miracles– people who were on life support and people with “incurable” cancer were released from the hospital and pronounced “healed.” But others died, even with all our prayers. And even more died suddenly before we could even seek God’s favor and healing.

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We mourn the loss of these loved ones. We miss their presence at gatherings; we miss their laughter, their wisdom, their “life” in our midst. But we do not mourn like those without hope. (1 Thessalonians 4:13) Death cannot separate us from God, nor can it separate us from any of His family.

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This is more than just “keeping” someone alive in our memory. There is a sure hope that we will be reunited– that we will “receive back” those who have passed on (and others will receive us after our own deaths). What does this mean? I don’t expect those who have died this past year to be resurrected in their old physical bodies or walk out of the grave as Lazarus did. But I have the assurance that they are “alive” in spirit, and that we are all part of God’s eternal plan to be together with Him forever.

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That’s an amazing promise for the future, but it also impacts the present as I face my current grief. I don’t just remember loved ones “as they were.” I can look forward to knowing them “as they will be.” The many wonderful memories I have of our time here will be eclipsed by the wonderful moments to come! And it gets even better–those who died when I was young; those who died before I was even born–we will be “reunited” as well.

This brings up another question– what about those who are not “saved?” We grieve now for them, but won’t we be missing them for eternity? I can’t give a definitive answer to that question, but I can say that there is a comfort that transcends all that we know in this life. God can redeem our memories and our emotions, including grief. Jesus came to defeat Death and Sin. His work of redemption continues, but the Victory is already won. If you are struggling with grief in this season, I pray that God will help you “receive back” your dead– that your heart would be at peace as you remember and give thanks for the moments you shared. Let God’s promises and His comfort flood your heart. And remember that God’s compassion is to share your grief as well as your joy. Jesus wept when He came to Bethany– even though He knew that Lazarus would live again! He comforted Martha and Mary in their grief BEFORE He raised Lazarus. He can do the same for each of us.

He Who Began a Good Work…

 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Philippians 1:6 (ESV)
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I have a lot of unfinished projects–scrapbook pages, crafts, stories I began writing, closets I started cleaning out..some projects were abandoned due to waning interest; others due to distractions or other more urgent tasks. A few of the projects I can pick up and continue (if I choose). Others must be discarded or started over again. I began each task with good intentions, but some proved to be more complicated than I anticipated. Their very presence reminds me that I bit off more than I could chew.

Sometimes, it feels like I am an unfinished project– because I am! While I still live, I continue learning and (hopefully) growing more like Christ. But every day I am reminded (as with my unfinished projects around the house) that I have a long way to go. And I occasionally wonder if God will get tired of me and set me aside– lose interest or just decide His efforts will be more rewarding somewhere else. And yet, Paul assures me that I will never be abandoned or left “undone”–God always– ALWAYS– finishes what He starts. And His finished project are always perfect.

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And what is true in my life is true in the lives of others, and in the wider world. We may not see the way forward. It may seem as though things or people around us are falling apart. But God sees the end from the beginning. And He works — sometimes in mysterious ways–to bring all things to their appointed end.

There are two “caveats” to the above statements:

“He who began a good work in you…” God created all of us in His glorious image, but He has not begun a good work in those who have not trusted Him to do so. It is God’s desire that all of us should reach perfection, and that none should perish. However, the Bible is very clear that not all of us will seek to be reborn, reshaped, redeemed, and reconciled to God.

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“…at the day of Jesus Christ.” We will not be perfected in “our” time, but in God’s. We will be tested, refined, purified, stretched and shaped, but what we will be “has not yet been revealed” (1 John 3:2) We should pray for continued growth; we should humbly submit to the renewing of our minds and hearts through the work of the Holy Spirit, but we should not consider that we have reached perfection or that we have learned all there is to know.

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I am so glad that I serve a God who will never tire of me, or find me “too much” to handle. And I am so glad I can fall on His grace and mercy when I fail in my tasks (or fail to complete them). God isn’t finished with me yet– but by His Grace, He will not leave me incomplete or lacking in any good thing!

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