Friday, December 20, 2013

Finding Jesus

I’m sure you’ve heard people use they expression, “I found Jesus.” What does that statement mean, exactly?  Has Jesus been missing or lost?  Is the act of finding Jesus akin to finding Waldo, or a hidden Easter egg?  I can only speak from my own personal experience, but perhaps it will shed some light on the subject, and some of you can relate.

I grew up in a Christian home, not overly religious, but one where we learned who the person of Jesus was. Jesus was known to me, mentally,  but not personally.  Like Waldo, I knew he was in the picture, but I wasn’t interested enough to seek him out an further.  It was my assumption that the knowledge I had of him was all that was necessary.  After all, God loves everyone, I wasn’t an atheist or agnostic so that was all the relationship I needed for attaining eternal life…right?  

Years passed and I was content adhering to that philosophy, that is until my parents “found Jesus.“  From my 22 year old perspective, they had lost their minds.  They went to church at least twice a week, carried Bibles and prayed…out loud.  Their level of personal intimacy with Jesus was abhorrent to me.  When, and why, did the impersonal, hidden Jesus all of a sudden jump off the pages of scripture for them?  For a long time I shook my head as they headed for church or Bible study, little did I know what supernatural events were already at play.  Now, as I look back at that time in my life, I realize that through the fervent prayers of my parents a curiosity began brewing in me.  This curiosity took hold of me in an almost involuntary fashion.  Jesus began to draw me  to himself.  I couldn’t get enough of scripture.  A “relationship” that had been born and raised in apathy, changed to a love and desire for my savior that I never would have believed was available, let alone possible.

If this sounds insane to you, fear not, it sounded that way to me at one time too.  Let me encourage you today, if you’ve never done it before, start seeking Jesus.  Even if you are skeptical, don’t worry, Jesus can’t wait to reveal himself to you as you continue to look. Fear not, he isn’t, nor has he ever been lost, but he’s waiting for you to find him. “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.“ Jeremiah 29:13.

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Stable Lamp is Lighted

I’m not a Will Ferrell fan, but in one of his movies, that I caught a small portion of, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, his wife asks him to say a prayer before their meal.  What ensues is Ricky imploring Baby Jesus to bless the food, help him win his NASCAR race, and a whole laundry lists of other requests. Apparently this isn’t the first time he’s “prayed” this prayer, and his wife calls him on it.  “Why do you always pray to Baby Jesus?” she shouts in frustration.  Ricky responds, in all sincerity, when he says he likes the infant version because adult Jesus is more demanding, and has more rules and higher expectations for us.

 Laughable as that thinking might be, I believe that there are lots of people out there who share the same sentiment.  What many folks like to forget, during this jolly season, is that the helpless, undemanding baby is the same one who would, 33 years later, offer up his life for us on the cross. The sad truth, for most of us is like Ricky Bobby, to take the path of least resistance.  We have no problem celebrating the birth of Jesus, it’s fun, there are presents, food, pretty decorations and  there’s no spiritual pressure on us.  Heck, even Santa requires good behavior from to receive his gifts, who wouldn’t choose Baby Jesus? When we finally figure out the truth of who Jesus is, we should be humbled and thankful for his birth as well as his death and resurrection.  Years ago a choir I sang in performed this beautiful song at Christmas.  Read the words and be blessed by the birth of the Baby, and the sacrifice of the Grownup Jesus.  

1. A stable lamp is lighted
whose glow shall wake the sky;
the stars shall bend their voices,
and every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry,
and straw like gold shall shine;
a barn shall harbour heaven,
a stall become a shrine.

2. This child through David's city
shall ride in triumph by;
the palm shall strew its branches,
and every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry,
though heavy, dull and dumb,
and lie within the roadway
to pave his kingdom come.

3. Yet he shall be forsaken,
and yielded up to die;
the sky shall groan and darken,
and every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry
for gifts of love abused;
God's blood upon the spearhead,
God's blood again refused.

4. But now, as at the ending,
the low is lifted high;
the stars shall bend their voices,
and every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry
in praises of the child
by whose descent among us
the worlds are reconciled.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Like Father, Like Daughter

Please don’t call me religious. I know that may sound bizarre to some of you, since I write “religious” stuff, but hear me out.  A while back I passed along to you a description of “religion” that a friend of mine had written.  To summarize, religion is the institutionalizing of  our relationship with God. It is when men make up extra-biblical traditions that regulate the behavior of believers. Yes, I fully believe in the Bible and its authenticity, but my love for Christ, and his church, is not based on strict adherence to doctrine, dogmas or rules.  As a child of the Father, His love is imprinted on my DNA.  It defines who I am, and how I act.  I’m not out to impress people by appearing religious in public, i.e.: wearing Christian symbols or clothing with logos; showing up at every service; making religious gestures, or volunteering for every soup supper.  While those are all wonderful, and I do participate in them, it’s not what makes me a Christian.  Only my personal belief in the saving power of Jesus’ shed blood can do that. One definition of the word that you can apply to me is: conscientiously faithful.  I love God because I choose to, not because I  have to. So feel free to say I resemble my Father, or that the apple doesn‘t fall far from the tree. My goal is to live his love through my life. “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” Colossians 2:8.  Like father, like daughter.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Gaining Brownie Points with God

After a particularly busy day of “good-deed-doing”, my husband plopped into his La-A-Boy and said, “I must have scored plenty of ‘brownie points’ with God today!” Joe loves to volunteer, it really isn’t a chore for him, but as it has been said that many a truth is told in a mere joke.  I think that deep within us all, there’s that same sentiment.  We know that going the extra mile for the boss usually pays off in the form of a promotion, pay raise or at very least an atta boy.  Even as children our parents where positively influenced by good behavior and ambition, so why not God?

First off, God is impressed with our good works, especially when they are done without regard for garnering brownie points.  Secondly, there is no need for points.  Once we, in faith, accept Christ , the admission fee to Heaven has been paid in full, there are no hidden costs.  Unfortunately many Christians still feel that they must constantly be doing things to keep in God‘s good graces. Or, perhaps they have a habit that they know does not meet God’s approval, so they do extra work hoping that God will turn a blind eye….after all they have all those accumulated brownie points to fall back on!  I hate to burst your bubble, but that’s not how it works. Yes, he expects us to perform acts of charity, because his Holy Spirit motivates us to do so.  When we do it for selfish reasons, to justify a hidden sin, or to make ourselves look good to men, that misses the mark entirely.

 Christ was, and is, our example in this area, and when we do the things that he did, prompted by our desire to be like him, that’s what pleases God.  “For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10.  But, even if we never did anything work wise, which would be hard to imagine, our salvation would  not be effected,  consider the thief on the cross. But, I’m guessing that he would have done plenty, if he had had the time.  Verse 9 of this same chapter sums it up, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” So go ahead and get to work, but with a Christ-imitating  spirit, and forget about squirreling away those unessential brownie points.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Filling Empty Vessels

I almost skipped out on church yesterday, since I had family at home, but boy am I glad I didn’t.  We had a guest pastor from a church in Chicago and he used the following old testament reading as his text.

“The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.”
Elisha replied to her, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?” “Your servant has nothing there at all,” she said, “except a small jar of olive oil.” Elisha said, “Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few. Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.” She left him and shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring. When all the jars were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another one.” But he replied, “There is not a jar left.” Then the oil stopped flowing.
She went and told the man of God, and he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left.” 2 Kings 4:1-7.

 Let’s break this down into sections.  In the first sentence, a desperate widow steps out of her discomfort zone to approach the prophet Elisha.  Her husband must have attended prophecy school with Elisha, and since his death she had fallen upon very hard times.  Who better to seek help from than a trusted old chum.  As she pours out her heart he stands, arms crossed in front of him, and listens, and then replies, what do you want me to do about it?, (my paraphrase).  I’m sure she wanted the  magic wand treatment, which would have eliminated all her woes, but that was not to be.  She must have been hurt with his reply, after all there were creditors at the door wanting payment for those old college bills, ready to take her kids as slaves.  Things couldn’t have been worse.

 The next thing we read is him asking her what she has in the house.  Frustrated, she reiterates that she has nothing but a little jar of oil. This amazing tale continues with the woman being given the task of collecting as many jars, jugs, bottles and containers as she can find.  She complies, and following the prophet’s instructions,  goes inside her home and starts pouring out of the puny jug of oil into the accumulated vessels.  Miraculously the precious oil keeps flowing until there are no more jars to fill.

The happy conclusion was that the oil was sold to pay off the wolves at the door, and she and the children could live on the remainder.  What does all this mean for us?  First of all we see desperation in this woman.  With no where else to turn, she calls upon God.  But God doesn’t just fix the problem, instead he asks her what she has.  In this case it was the oil, but it was also the effort she put forth as she did what she was told to do.  All of us will come to a point of desperation some time in our lives.  Death, sickness, loss of income will all hasten its arrival.  What will we do?  Curse God?  Try to get by on our own?  Let the creditors take the kids?  Or will we call out to God, the only wise thing to do.  God isn’t mean, but sometimes he allows things to “fall apart“, because he can use the desperation to bring us closer to him. Sure, God could just wave his wand, but like the needy widow, he asks us to put forth our own effort, and then he will supply the  outcome. We supply the possible, and He will do the impossible.  How marvelous is that!!  What desperate issue are you facing today?   Bring your empty vessels to God, trusting that he will fill them as long as there is need.