reconcile

I grew up in a Christian home with every opportunity to learn about God. I was in church regularly, usually more than once a week, and I genuinely enjoyed it.  I loved God and understood that he loved me. Somewhere along the line, however, I became distracted.  During my last couple years of high school and my first year of college God and I became “estranged.”

God has a lot of different reputations.  Without taking the time or space to try to list the many different takes people have on God, I would like to address one of them.  There are some who believe God to be angry and cruel.  I even know believers who perceive God to be waiting and watching for an excuse to bring condemnation down and to exclude as many people from his family as possible.  That has not been my experience at all.  In fact, quite the opposite is true.  While having plenty of good reason to condemn us, God has gone out of his way to reconcile us to himself.

I was reading in 2 Samuel this morning.  In the events that unfold in chapters 13 and 14 David’s son, Absalom, ends up banished from the king’s presence.  As Joab attempts to reconcile Absalom and King David there is a line uttered that I think is a beautiful depiction of God’s character.

“But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him.” 2 Samuel 14:14

I was, at one point, “estranged” from the King.  I was no longer close to him.  I was not affectionate toward him.  I had become alienated from him. That is no longer the case. Because even while I was pursuing sin and distancing myself from him, he was devising ways to reconcile me to himself.

“But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead.” (Eph 2:4–5)

moving to maturity

A couple of weeks ago I was eating lunch under a pavilion behind our church with a friend.  While eating we saw a fawn in the field nearby.  We decided to go in for a closer look and were shocked at how close the little deer let us get.  We stood just a few yards from the deer and even took several pictures of it.  When we were done admiring it, we headed back to finish our lunches.  But as we walked back to the picnic tables the baby deer followed right at our heels.  Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 2.09.58 PM
We didn’t know what to do.  We couldn’t get it to stop following us.  It would let out a cry, look up at us, rub against our legs and even lick us. It must have thought we were it’s parents.  We were finally able to get away from it and watched it from a distance until it’s mother returned.

At the end of chapter 5 and the begining of chapter 6, the writer of Hebrews talks about the importance of moving on to maturity. Hebrews 5:12-14 says, “12 You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. 13 For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. 14 Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.”

This little deer reminded me of the person being described here.  It was so vulnerable and ready to follow just about anything simply because of how immature it was.  Verse 13 says, “For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right.” There is a real danger for the believer who does not follow these instructions to move forward to maturity. Without the maturity, that comes “through training,” they are simply unable to discern between right and wrong.  I have seen so many people make terrible decisions or even fall away from the Lord because of this.  They will follow ideas, doctrines, desires and numerous other things that they have no business following after.  Too many are content to stay on “milk” and end up acting just like that fawn and are led away.

Not only do we set ourselves up for spiritual blindness, but we also miss out on the deeper things God has for us.  Heb 5:11 says, “There is much more…”  There is much more! I want to learn about the “much more.”  But the only way to get there is to put into practice what I already have, to train myself and move forward.

“And so, God willing, we will move forward…” Heb 6:3

 

berry ripe

I love berries. I think they might be my favorite food.  I have have  blueberries,red raspberries and black raspberries all growing in my yard. Blueberries are far and away my favorite, but I love them all.  I would like to say that it is because I am so health conscious and constantly aware of the vitamins and antioxidants and whatnot that I consume, but, I just really like the way they taste.

Right now we have loads of ripe berries in our yard.  I was outside picking some this morning.  In fact, I just finished a bowl of cereal topped with berries from our yard.

While I was picking today I started to think about the time Jesus said that the fields were “white unto harvest.” Jesus was referring to people who were in need of ministry. I had never thought of it before, but apparently there is some sort of “ripening” process.  Some people must be more “ripe” than others, or, more ready to be ministered to.  It kinda makes sense.  As I was picking berries I also noticed how easily a ripe berry is harvested.  When you pick a ripe berry you have to do little more than touch it and it falls off of the bush.  But when you jump the gun and try to harvest a berry that isn’t quite ripe, there is resistance.  Often some tugging, and fighting are necessary to get it off.

Some people certainly are more receptive of Jesus’ love and the Good News, while others want little to do with it.  So, as I gathered my harvested, I  started thinking about the ripening process.  What changes one of these hard, little, unripe berries, that refuses to be separated from their stem, into a tender, ripe berry that is easily gathered? Exposure to the sun.

I think this awareness of a “ripening” will help me to have the right mindset when spending time with non-believers.  I don’t need to spend my time tugging and twisting and struggling.  If they are not “ripe” they simply need more exposure to the Son.  Simply by allowing God to use me as an expression of His love, and allowing His Spirit to be active in my life, the “ripening” is in progress.

The tooth of the matter

Last night my daughter lost her first tooth.  It was an exciting moment.  The tooth had been loose for quite some time.  It wobbled while she talked.  She moved it back and forth with her tongue.  It had become so loose in the last week or so that I couldn’t figure out how it was staying in her mouth at all.  But as I put her to bed last night, the weeks of anticipation finally climaxed and the tooth came out.  She was so excited.  She jumped out of bed and ran to the bathroom mirror so she could look at the new gap in her smile.  She ran down stairs to show her mom.

I know it is silly, but I was a bit emotional.  I was emotional because she was so excited about it, and that was touching to me in some way.  I was emotional because it seems like just yesterday my wife and I were excited that her teeth were starting to come in and it reminded me how quickly time passes.  I was emotional because it reminded me of how temporary all of this is.

Jesus warned us about how temporary things are. In Luke 21:33 he says, “Heaven and earth shall pass away.”   Jesus was not trying to simply remind us that things won’t last forever, he was trying to direct our focus to what will.  If he had left things right there it would be a bit depressing, but he went on to say, “my words shall not pass away.”

I can get pretty sentimental about the passing of time.  So much so that a child’s tooth falling out causes me to tear up.  I think it is good to be aware of how quickly time passes. But instead of allowing it to stir up sadness in my heart, I am going to allow it to be a reminder of what is permanent and of my need for His Word.

lovely

Yesterday I heard my 3 year old daughter sing “Jesus loves me.”  I love listening to her belt out a tune.  I just stood and listened to her sing the familiar song, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so…”  She was doing awesome, she had the right melody and all the right words.  The only time she had any trouble was when she got to the part that ordinarily affirms Jesus’ love and the line “yes, Jesus loves me, yes, Jesus loves me…” is repeated.  At that point she began to sing a less confident version, “I guess Jesus loves me, I guess Jesus loves me…”  I laughed to myself over how similar the two sound and how easily the mistake could be made.

After thinking about it for a bit, though, the mistake became less cute and more sad.  My little girl’s rendition of the song is probably a more accurate portrayal of most people’s faith in God’s love for them. As Christians we talk about God’s love a great deal.  “Smile, God loves you!”  We see it on Sunday School material, t-shirts, pencils, and bumper stickers. And it’s true, God does love you! It is easy to proclaim God’s love for someone else.  But when it comes to God loving us, we aren’t so quick on the draw.

1 John 4:19 says, “We love, because He first loved us.”  I have a theory. If the enemy can place doubts in our mind about God’s love for us, then he can keep us from genuinely loving others and God.  “We love because He first loved us.”  My love for God and others flows out of the fact that God loves me.  Once I begin to doubt God’s love for me the flow is stopped.  I am left to offer God and others my own love; a shallow love that I have to muster up and is based on my will power.  The only thing needed to short cicuit this whole flow of love is a little doubt in our own “lovability.”  Comparing yourself to others, dwelling on past mistakes or even a little false humility can be enough to raise questions in one’s mind about just how lovable they are to God.  No matter how it gets in, once it is in, doubt will rob you of  enjoying the fact that God loves YOU. It will also keep you from being able to respond to His love by loving Him in return and loving others. However, we have authentic, genuine, overflowing love to share when, in faith, we confidently accept that, “yes, Jesus loves me.

Why do I love? Because He first loved ME!

lift with your knees

My family moved a good bit growing up.  Two or three years in the same home was a long stay.  As a result, I have done my fair share of hauling boxes, dressers, sofas and otherpieces of furniture in and out of moving vans.  I have carried heavy things and light things and I am well aware of the differences between the two.

When lifting up something light, well, lift however you want. But when lifting something heavy, make sure to lift with your knees!

Once, when helping a friend move a small sofa, I made the assumption that what I was going to be lifting would be light.  I took the “lift however you want” approach.  What I did not know at the time was that this smallish sofa was a sleeper sofa.  Hidden under the cushions and upholstery was a heavy steel frame.  What I thought would be an easy lift and quick move turned into quite a chore. Thanks to my  “however you want” lifting technique, it also turned into a sore back. I should have lifted with my knees.

This morning I read the first couple chapters of 1 Samuel.  In 1 Samuel 2:30 God says to Eli the priest, “I will honor those who honor me, and I will despise those who think lightly of me.” It is pretty incredible to think of God honoring me!  It is also pretty intimidating to think of him despising me.  So what is the difference between these two possible outcomes?

The Hebrew word for “honor” in this passage also carries a connotation of “being weighty.”  This same Hebrew word is actually translated as “heavy” several other places in the Bible. So God will honor (treat as “weighty” or significant) those who understand His “weight,” but those who think “lightly” of Him will be despised (considered worthless or having no value).   The key then is to have an accurate understanding of who God is and to respond accordingly.  God IS “weighty.”  Thinking something is light, when in reality it is heavy, can cause serious problems, and not just when attempting to move a sofa.

We need to properly judge who He is and who we are in relation.  James 4:10 says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”  Again, to be honored or lifted by God is dependant on an accurate assessment who we are and who He is.  When we recognize who He is we will “lift Him up” in our priorities, and in the “weight” we give His word in our lives, and we will lower the significance of our own desires, and our own “wisdom.” When we humble ourselves God does the lifting.  Want God to “lift you up?” Then honor Him and humble yourself. Once again, lift with your knees.

“A man’s pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honor.”

Proverbs 29:23

defrag

Have you ever felt fragmented?   I have.  It feels like you are divided into a hundred different roles? (parent, spouse, sibling, friend, employee, student, neighbor, co-worker, home owner…..)

Each role carrying it’s own set of obligations and responsibilities; pay the mortgage, register the car, call the insurance company, when is our anniversary again? mow the yard, get groceries, file taxes, what’s going on at my kid’s school?

This was one of those mornings for me.  I felt so overwhelmed with all that I need to get done  that I didn’t even know which direction my first step should be in.

I like simple.  Life, however, seems to trend towards the complex.  I am thankful that when life works itself up into a frenzy, my ultimate purposes are spelled out clearly and simply.  Micah 6:8 says, “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”  When I start to feel fragmented, verses like this one offer the clarity that I need.  Whether I am taking care of things at work, spending time with my kids or mowing my lawn my purposes are the same; be just, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God.

But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, 
 what God is looking for in men and women.
 It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, 
and don’t take yourself too seriously—take God seriously.” Micah 6:8 – The Message