Category: Christian faith

Unopened Gifts

The Christmas gift exchange at my parent’s house on Christmas Day was super crazy when our kids were growing up. Between me and my brother, there are six grandkids. After we had all eaten our fill of my mother’s amazing cooking, the kids would begin begging to open presents.

In a matter of minutes, my parent’s living room floor would be covered in boxes, bows, and wrapping paper. It was a free for all. It was hard to tell who had more joy showing on their faces, the grandkids or the grandparents. It was both wonderful and completely ridiculous.

Invariably, after all the hoopla would die down, one of the kids would notice a present or two left under the tree. They would ask their grandma who it was for… hoping against hope it was a forgotten gift… maybe for them, as if they had not already received more than enough gifts. My mom would always tell them who it was for- either a friend or another relative they had not yet had a chance to see for the holiday.

“Oh.” The child would say.

After a few minutes, another child would see the gift and ask the same question. My mother would answer again that it was for someone else.

“Oh.” That child would say.

After another kid or two would spy the gift and ask again and again, my mom would gather the gift and go put it away, out of sight… out of mind. The absence of the unopened gift settled the kids and they could then focus on all the wonderful things they had gotten.

The unopened gift under the tree posed such a problem because who likes an unopened gift? It sits there beckoning to everyone. “Open me. Come on. I was meant to be opened! Don’t just leave me sitting here.”

When Jesus was born, his parents took him to the temple as was their Jewish custom. There, they met a man named Simeon. Simeon had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would live to see the promised Messiah, the Savior.

Simeon was at the temple the day Mary and Joseph brought Jesus there. He took the child into his arms and looking into the face of God, he knew instantly he had lain eyes on the Messiah.

And he said,
Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”

Simeon saw the gift and new it was an important moment. He knew that child in his arms was the long awaited one… God’s gift to humanity.

At Christmastime, Christians often say that Jesus is our real gift. It’s trite, but it’s true. Through him we are made whole, connected once again to the Father, justified and made holy.

This Christmas season he beckons to everyone, Receive me. Come on. I was meant for you! Don’t just leave me here discarded or forgotten in the cloud of your distraction.

Let’s make sure we’ve opened all the gifts this year. The ones carefully picked out and chosen just for us by friends and family, and the one sent to us by our heavenly Father.

Many of us will acknowledge the gift that Jesus is, but many fewer of us will actually open it and experience him to the fullest. Like Simeon, we hold the gift in our arms, what are we going to do with Him now?

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Resurrection Sunday

There are many reasons to love Easter. Easter comes at a most beautiful time of the year. It follows a desolate time of year where many suffer from seasonal depression and hopelessness. In a matter of a few days, winter is no more and spring has come. It’s truly magnificent. For the Christian, the celebration of Easter involves a time of reflection and a time to recognize the journey Jesus took to become our sacrificial Lamb. If it were not for this special time of year, we might continue in our platitudes and never slow down enough and force ourselves to think of the reality of His great sacrifice on our behalf.

Many will pause for Easter, and use it as a time to celebrate with egg hunts and one mutantly large bunny. It will be nothing more than a time for a family gathering. My oldest son can’t seem to tolerate the name, “Easter” any longer. For him, the word represents nothing that has to do with Jesus and his suffering and death conquering on our behalf. There is some debate as to the origin of the word, Easter. Some claim it has pagan origins, while others claim its basis in Christendom. I told my son he could quite correctly begin calling the day, Resurrection Sunday, if he wanted to.

That whole discussion piqued the interest of my daughter who, recently listening to a series by Andy Stanley on her daily commutes to school, popped up with, “And did you know that Jesus never referred to people as Christians? That’s what Andy Stanley says. He says Jesus called us disciples. That Christianity can mean many different things, none of which have much to do with following Jesus. “

All true, Andy. Thank you for sharing.

So here’s the deal. If we want to be very clear about this day we all celebrate, it can come down to semantics. As disciples of Jesus, we emulate Him. We die daily to the things we want, to the way we want our lives to go, in favor of His way. We take up our crosses. We bear the burden of what being a follower of Jesus entails. We are disciples, Christ followers. The Bible may not be clear on what a Christian is, but its pretty darn clear about what a disciple of Jesus is to look like. As disciples of Jesus, we celebrate Resurrection Sunday tomorrow and we clap, shout, jump up and down if necessary to let Him know how thrilled we are that He saved us. We can have Easter without the eggs, the mutant bunny, and without family lunches after church, but we cannot, would not, have Resurrection Sunday without Jesus.

Had He not left the safety and pleasure of heaven, to be born into a world of moral decay, lived a sinless life worthy of a perfect sacrificial lamb, taught us how to be disciples, suffered horrendous and unspeakable pain, watching as His Father turned his back upon Him, died and then with the power of the Holy Spirit, be raised from the dead, there would be no celebration of anything related to this day. No Jesus? No eggs or bunnies.

I love the talks I have with my kids about these things. It tells me they are thinking these things through for themselves and coming up with good conclusions, all on their own. So as followers of Christ, disciples of Jesus, we will celebrate Resurrection Sunday tomorrow. It is our hope; it is our rescue. And here’s some truth from my pastor. Jesus doesn’t want you to celebrate Easter; He wants you to experience it. It is freedom, the only real freedom you can ever have.

Image Bearers

When I was a little girl, my grandmother owned and operated a beauty shop in Oneonta, Alabama. It was called, “Glamour Beauty Shop”. I loved to go to her shop and spin around in the chairs and play with her rollers and brushes. Ladies would come in and out of the shop, and if they knew my grandmother, almost without fail, would ask of me, “Is that Jean’s daughter?” They would be referring to my aunt. My grandmother would say, “Oh no, that’s Tommy’s girl.” And they would say, “Well, she looks like her aunt!”

I didn’t get it. I knew my aunt. I didn’t look anything like her. She was old. At the time, she was younger than I am now. Shame on my little self!

In time, I took the remarks in stride, and went on about my business of chair spinning. When your grandmother owns the store you can do what you want to do.

One day, after a long day at the shop, I went home with my grandmother to her house and she called me into her bedroom. She was holding a little school picture. She handed it to me, and asked me who I thought was in the picture. I took the picture and looked at it. I was looking at a picture of me. Only it wasn’t me, exactly. The hairstyle was different than mine, and I didn’t own a pink shirt with a Peter Pan collar. It was a picture of my aunt at my age.

Finally, I fully understood why all those ladies at the shop had thought I was my aunt’s daughter. I did look just like her! In all honesty, it was more than a little disturbing.

All those women could clearly see my aunt in my face because I bore her image. I looked like her. So much so, that they assumed I had to belong to her.

We are image bearers of God. In Genesis, when God creates man, he does so in His own image. In Colossians, Paul refers to Christ followers in Colossians 3:9-10 as image bearers of Christ.

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.”

As I have grown older, I don’t look as much like my aunt as I once did. Her image has faded from my face. As followers of Christ, we bear his image, and we are to be constantly striving for that image to grow stronger, and for that image to become clearer to those around us. As human beings, everyone is an image bearer of God. As believers in Christ, we are to bear testimony to what he has done for us and in us. We are to reflect the savior.

We may not be the only Bible someone ever reads, but we might very well be the first one they read. Let us show his love, demonstrate his grace, and extend his mercy. May it never come as a surprise that they see Jesus when they look at us. May we act in such a way that it comes as no surprise that we belong to him.

A Soft Place to Fall

We all need a soft place to fall. As a wife and mother I want to be a soft place for those I love most in this world to land when life gets hard. As Christians, we have a hard time admitting that we need a place where we can just be fallible sometimes. Aren’t we supposed to have it all together? Aren’t we the ones who know best how to trust in the promises of God?

We aren’t supposed to worry, we aren’t supposed to get discouraged, or feel overwhelmed with all that life throws at us. But the truth is, even Christians need to be able to pull off the mask and just be weak some days. Sometimes we need to be able to show someone our wretchedness without fear of being criticized for it.

I don’t know what I would do without people in my life that let me be less than perfect. As a ministry wife, there are few people who can handle me when I am at my worst. To that end, there are a precious few who have ever seen me on those days. I can actually count them on one hand, and I don’t need all five of those fingers, either. These precious few people mean the world to me.

Who do you have in your life that is your soft place to fall? Have you ever misjudged that place only to be allowed to fall hard? You thought they would catch you, but they just couldn’t do it? Have you felt the disappointment when that person just couldn’t handle knowing your brokenness?

We have to choose wisely those places to let it all hang out… but we must have them. We have to risk finding that place where we can be completely honest, for it’s in that honest place where healing can come. Where growth can happen. Only when we come to the place where we confront our weakness can we begin to grow out of it.

This is especially hard for people who work in ministry. I understand it. People need to believe that those who work in ministry have their stuff together. They have perfect marriages, model children, and uncomplicated lives. All things work out for them because they have a special relationship to the heavenlies, or whatever.

The truth is, ministry people face the same struggles, stressors, disappointments and frustrations that everyone else does. Only ministry people deal daily in eternity… other people’s eternity. Oh, we all know that it is the wooing of the Holy Spirit, and not by our doing that someone comes to salvation in Jesus. But the local church is the means by which God is choosing to accomplish the task of gathering in the lost sheep, and when the local church is your calling, the stress gets ramped up a bit sometimes.

No one likes to think that their ministers need a soft place to fall. They don’t like the thought of them falling at all. But without that soft place, ministers cannot make it over the long haul. They will burn out, have a moral failing, or grow ineffective in their calling.

As Christians, we all need to make room for everyone to be able to face their worst days and come out the other side looking more like Jesus and less like their old sinful self. That is the process of sanctification, and we need each other for that process to be successful.

Who is your soft place to fall?

Are you someone’s soft place?

Are you that place for your spouse? Your children? Your siblings or closest friends?

Being that place doesn’t mean you take on their brokenness yourself. Rather, we are called to bear one another’s burdens. A weight carried on the backs of two is much easier to carry. And when you are that soft place to fall, when you relieve that person of their burden, you keep it only long enough to then pass it off to the Father who is able to carry it.

Being a part of someone else’s process of sanctification is a noble thing. As believers, we are part of the same body. Lifting up another believer only serves to make the entire body healthier. We are the Bride of Christ. We want her to be spotless and ready for the day of the coming of the King. Every time we are willing to lift up another Christian, help them grow, help them refocus, and stand on what they already know to be true, we take one more step toward that day.

Kick the Worry Habit

“I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them have never happened.” ~Mark Twain

One of my favorite sayings is, “Let’s not jump off that bridge until we have to.” Statistics say that eighty-five percent of the things we worry about happening never happen. They never happen. So I wonder how much time we spend worrying about things that never come to pass?

Too

Much

Time

The Lord knew we would worry. It’s one of the reasons he told us never to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We were never supposed to be able to decide for ourselves that which is good for us, and that which is bad. When you take away that ability, you take away worry. If you doubt me, then take a look at the story in Genesis.

What was the first result of their eating from that tree? Worry! Even before the buck passing started, there was worry. Adam hid from God because he worried about what God would think of his nakedness. Worry has been our enemy from the beginning, and has become a tool of the Adversary from that time forward.

Worry steals time from us, it robs our joy, and worry can even paralyze us. It keeps us up late, making for many sleepless nights, causes our physical health to decline, leads us to making bad decisions, brings conflict to friends and family, and keeps us from moving forward in our lives.

We really must get a hold of this thing called worry. What would our lives look like if we just never worried about things that will likely never happen? How much time would be freed up for us to accomplish that which we have been placed here to do?

One of the big problems with worry is it seems we cannot help sharing it with those around us. When we are worried about something, then we must tell those around us so that they can worry with us. The more people who are worried, the better, right? If someone else is worried, too, then somehow it validates our own worrying. But in essence, what we have done is drag another person into the trap of worry with us. How unkind. Why do we do that, especially to people we love?

The Bible tells us that we cannot add one day to our lives by worrying. (Matthew 6:25-34) Look at the flowers of the field. They don’t worry about anything and yet they are more beautiful than any royal robes ever worn. And what about the birds of the air? They don’t worry about where their next meal is going to come from, and yet they eat.

So what is the remedy of worry?

Peace

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” ~ John 14:27

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” ~ Col. 3:15

“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.” ~ 2 Thess. 3:16

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” ~ Phil.4:6-7 

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” ~ Prov. 3:5-6

Need I go on? Worry has been around since the fall of man back in the garden. But God’s peace is also available to all who learn to seek it. I’ll not kid you, this retraining of the heart and mind takes time and much effort. I used to be a bridge jumper, but I have worked hard to stop all that. That’s not to say that I don’t jump from time to time, but it is rare these days. And can I tell you something? Peace beats the socks of off worry every time.

Most Christians like to claim Romans 8:28, but most Christians don’t really embrace it. Not really. Why? Because we want to decide what is good for us, and sometimes we are way off. We can count on the fact that God is working all things out for our good, we just have to learn to trust in him for what that good is. Let go of worry today. Kick the worry habit. Embrace peace.

At Just the Right Time

I think my favorite flower is the daffodil. I love the different shades of yellow and how, here in the south, they appear in such random places. What I love the most about daffodils, though, is for me, they signal the coming of spring. I am no fan of winter. By the time the end of February is upon us, I am one more cold snap from snapping myself. So the appearance of the daffodils settles my soul and reassures me that God is just about to move the dial once again to a warmer, more beautiful, season.

But here is the truth about the daffodil. Long before I notice their yellow blooms, long before they began pushing their way through the cold ground to hail the turning of the season, long before that, there was activity below the surface. While it was still winter up here, God was stirring something underneath at just the right time. And that, my friends, makes me love the daffodil all the more.

The Bible has something to say about how God chooses to move in our lives. 

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” Romans 5:1-11

Just like the daffodil, at just the right time, Jesus died for us. For every stinking ungodly, undeserving one of us. None of us were worth dying for. Think of the most godly person you have ever known… Wretched. Even they were wretched. But God, while we were still in that undeserving state, sent Jesus to pay the price for our salvation. At just the right time. The Bible called us enemies of God! And he still reconciled us to himself. He made our debt to him disappear.

I have planted daffodil bulbs in my yard. There is nothing pretty about a daffodil bulb. But inside that bulb, God has placed everything needed to make a beautiful daffodil. Before we meet Jesus, there is nothing in us that is beautiful. We are dead. Ephesians chapter two says it. We were dead, and we could not save ourselves. It is only through the working of God to save us are we rescued from death. Verses 8 and 9 of Ephesians 2 say… “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.”

Those good works we do? Those things we do that make us look like we are good people? Those are only possible because of the work he did in us first. We can’t do those things apart from him. So any attempt on our part to prove ourselves worthy is then, worthless. It is only because he moved in us, at just the right time, rescued our sorry undeserving selves, that we can stand before him now justified, holy, and worthy.

Seven Reasons You’ll Never Be Truly Happy

I got you, didn’t I? With the title, I mean. That sort of tantalizing title is getting a lot people these days. It’s epidemic, really. And they are getting on my nerves. I see them by the dozens on Facebook and Twitter every day. We are sharing them to our timelines because we want to share our quick fixes with our friends. That’s nice.

“Ten Ways to Make Your Marriage Sizzle”

“Nine Foods You Should Stop Eating Now”

“Eight Exercises to Flatten Your Belly in Three Days…Guaranteed”

Why are we drawn to click on those stories? We just can’t help it. We have to know. Most authors of such articles rarely have any real data or expertise to make the claims they are making. It’s all a gimmick to draw us in.

We look for quick fixes and simple solutions. But we are grown ups. We should know by now that there are no quick fixes or simple solutions to life’s problems. Most of us don’t want to do the real work involved in making our marriages better, or improving our diets, or our bodies, or whatever. We want something fast, easy, and we want it now.

Any real life change takes time, and effort. Sometimes lots of time and most of the time, lots of effort. Whatever we want to change about ourselves likely didn’t get run off into the ditch overnight, so it likely won’t get repaired overnight either.

John 15:7 says,

“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”

Just maybe not today.

There are several passages of scripture that talk about perseverance, faithfulness, and pressing on. Looking for quick fixes in the Bible? Not so much. The only real quick fix is salvation in Jesus through the working of the Holy Spirit. Now when he chooses to move to redeem a soul? It can be in the blink of an eye.

But the work of sanctification is usually slow and arduous. We are stubborn sheep. The chipping away of everything that does not look like Jesus in our lives is laborious and continual. It is often painful and difficult. But what is our reward if we persevere? If we stop looking for those quick fixes and submit to real lasting life change?

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4

Steadfastness, staying focused on the goal, leads to lacking in nothing. How many times has jumping to a quick fix landed you empty handed? More often than not, right?

We learned as children from the tale of the Tortoise and the Hare that “Slow and steady wins the race.”

Let’s not be lured by the quick fixes of this world. We know, deep down, they are bunk. Merely distractions from the hard work ahead of us.

Here’s one for you,

“One Promise You Can Count On No Matter What”

“He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6