Sunday, December 03, 2017

Images of Christmas

What images come to mind when you think of Christmas? Is it holiday decorations in store windows? Brightly wrapped gifts under the tree? Holiday parties with good friends and special foods? Santa surprising children with favorite toys? A babe in a manger, surrounded by sheep and cows, peacefully sleeping?

Although God planned Christmas to bring peace on earth and to demonstrate His good will towards men, as with most efforts towards peace, first there had to be war.

Christmas was God’s rescue mission. He sent His only Son deep into hostile enemy territory. Jesus entered this dangerous world not well armed, but instead totally defenseless, as a newborn baby. At the time of Jesus’ birth Israel was occupied by the Roman army. God could have chosen any era to send His Son, but He chose Galilee 2000+ year ago where there were no conveniences: no internet, no cell phones, no electricity, no cars, no running water even.

Jesus was sent to Mary, a poor unwed teenager, through a miraculous conception at a time when unwed pregnant women had no good choices. Indeed, the Law of Moses states they were to be stoned for their sin. When Mary said yes to Gabriel, she was risking her life and the life of her Son. Although Gabriel appeared to Mary and explained how she would become pregnant, he did not appear to anyone else except Joseph. Who would believe her?

Joseph too risked public shame to take Mary as his wife. People would have thought that either he was the dishonorable man who was the father, or worse, a fool who would accept a woman bearing another man’s child. Either way, in a small village, he faced contempt of his neighbors.

Both traveled a long treacherous journey, on foot, from Galilee to Bethlehem with Mary in her last month of pregnancy. Once there, they had no place to go in the crowded city but a barn to provide shelter as she gave birth for the first time, miles away from her home and family. There were no sanitary birthing rooms, no doctors and nurses, no epidurals, no deposable diapers or cute new-baby outfits.

When none of these things deterred the birth of the Christ Child, the enemy ramped up his game. The magi tipped off the birth of the true King of Kings to Jerusalem’s reigning King Herod. Evil Herod, livid in his inability to find the One Child, sent his men of war to kill all the infants and toddlers of Bethlehem. Yet God demonstrated His power to move forward His mission and sent His angel to warn Joseph in time to escape with Mary and Jesus.

Yes Jesus came to bring peace but to do that He entered an evil world. He faced shame, discomfort, and danger. He came defenseless, entrusted to teenage girl and a poor carpenter to protect Him. It is not a nice tale for children. It is an epic drama of rescue mission that ultimately changed the world!

Christmas is the image of a God of such fierce love and overwhelming power that nothing could stop His rescue of His people.

And that’s you and me.

May God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. Jesus gave His life for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live. All glory to God forever and ever! Amen. (Galatians 1:3-5)

Read the original Christmas story, click here

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Conflict Resolution

Disclaimer: This is not my recommended five easy steps to resolve conflict! Not at all. It is a confession followed by what I’ve learned during the Liquid Church LoveComesToTown series…

I am bad at conflict resolution. I begin as a TURTLE. Before an argument gets heated up, I change the subject or I offer excuses (often very lame ones). I toss out the forgive-and-forget cards before their appropriate time, and so the conflict does not resolve, it only gets kicked down the road. If the conflict continues, I lapse into the MOCKING BIRD. I do not directly attack, but I make snide, sarcastic remarks. I complain to my friends. I‘m passive aggressive by attempting to manipulate others and trying to get my way through a workaround. I try to enlist other people with influence to assist me because after all I only want to “help” make the situation right. Finally, as the conflict escalates I become the SKUNK and stink up the place with my harsh words, demands, and idle threats. Yes, I am very bad at conflict resolution!

Jesus, in contrast, was excellent in conflict resolution, as Mark 3:1-6 (GNT) illustrates:

Then Jesus went back to the synagogue, where there was a man who had a paralyzed hand. Some people were there who wanted to accuse Jesus of doing wrong; so they watched him closely to see whether he would cure the man on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man, “Come up here to the front.” Then he asked the people, “What does our Law allow us to do on the Sabbath? To help or to harm? To save someone's life or to destroy it?”

But they did not say a thing. Jesus was angry as he looked around at them, but at the same time he felt sorry for them, because they were so stubborn and wrong. Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and it became well again. So the Pharisees left the synagogue and met at once with some members of Herod's party, and they made plans to kill Jesus.

Jesus was not a TURTLE. He did not avoid this conflict. He initiated it. He knew there was an elephant in the room and refused to step around it. He was not merely concerned with healing the man with the paralyzed hand. He was concerned about the condition of the hearts of the Pharisees, those who wished to accuse Him. Jesus could have avoided the confrontation by healing the man the next day or in private. But He didn’t. He did not try to appease the Pharisees and others who were trying to accuse and destroy Him. He did not fear their reaction or retaliation, even though they were the ones with the political power. He brought them the truth and left the results and their reaction up to them.

Jesus was not a MOCKING BIRD. He did not sink to ridicule or sarcasm.

Jesus was not a SKUNK either. He did not rant or accuse them of wrong-doing. He did not command them to do anything. Although clearly angry, He demonstrated self-control. His remarks were simple and to the point. He asked a succinct question that demonstrated what was in their hearts. In the end, Jesus was the one who did good by healing the man’s hand. The Pharisees did evil by making plans to kill Jesus.

Jesus was angry here, but He did not sin. His motive was pure. He was grieved because of the hard hearts of the Pharisees because they were His people who represented God to the nation of Israel. They were more interested in following their rules than compassion. Jesus demonstrated His love for them because He used the opportunity to show them the truth even though it cost Him.

Jesus was more interested in truth than in the reactions of others. And yet, He was not about proving He was right as much as trying to get them to see the condition of their own hearts.

Paul tells the Ephesians (5:21) Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. We think that means we need to be nice to everyone at all times, no matter how they are acting. I think we misread it. I think we need to be led by the Spirit to first to determine what is the loving thing to do or say dependent on the situation and people involved. Paul also told the Thessalonians (5:14) And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Some people need to be warned, others encouraged and helped. Sometimes I need to humble myself and ask for forgiveness! How can I tell the difference? Certainly not by a list of rules.

In order to resolve conflict first I need to gently ask questions and patiently listen to others. Unlike Jesus, I cannot assume what is on anyone's mind unless they tell me.  I must examine my own motives. I need to rely on prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit to discern what God is leading me to do and the courage to do it. Although sometimes, as it did for Jesus, it does not turn out well, I need to follow the Spirit and trust the outcome to God.

Dear Jesus, please help me listen first and turn to You for the discernment and courage I need to resolve conflict in a way that honors You!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

it's not Me

Do you have an old sin, the one that was so dog-gone awful you have hid it from everyone? It was long ago and you keep telling God you were wrong and you're sorry but you just can't get any peace. And when the topic comes up or that song comes on you think about it. It haunts you. You get peace for a while but then it's back.

The Lord has sworn by Himself,  
“I will never forget anything they have done...
In that day...they will fall, never to rise again...
I will kill with the sword. Not one will get away, none will escape. 
Though they dig down to the depths below, 
from there My hand will take them. 
Though they climb up to the heavens above, 
from there I will bring them down. 
Though they hide themselves on the top of Carmel, 
there I will hunt them down and seize them.
Though they hide from My eyes at the bottom of the sea, 
there I will command the serpent to bite them. 
Though they are driven into exile by their enemies, 
there I will command the sword to slay them. 
I will keep My eye on them for harm and not for good.” 
(Amos 8:7, 9, 9:1-4)

This was my devotional for today. I had never read this before and it is horrifying. I wondered, does this apply to our nation? Worse, does it apply to my life, my sin, my future? Is there something I need to do, something I must repay to heal my soul and make me free?

Often this is how I feel. I think about my day and mourn over the harsh words, the missed opportunities to do good, the wasted time on frivolous things. Or I think about the past and blame myself for things I had no control over. Surely I should consider my day and repent of sin, but I forget to rest in my Savior and His peace.

Today, Jesus made me stop and hear His heart:

The voices that are reminding you of your sin, it's not Me. It may be Satan the accuser. It may be your unbelief.  But you can be sure it's not Me. 

Those of us who have accepted Jesus and as our Savior and Lord have been forgiven all sin. Past, present and future. He has thrown them away as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Jesus had already completed everything needed for my complete forgiveness. There is nothing left undone, nothing I need to do, it is finished! Reading the rest of the chapter shed light on the true purposes and heart of God.

But all the sinners will die by the sword—
all those who say, ‘Nothing bad will happen to us.’ (Amos 9:10)

God will judge. He will punish those who reject Him, who assume He is powerless or that He does not exist. God loves us but we have the power to choose to trust in Him or not. Those who choose God have a much different future as the last part of the chapter shows. 

“In that day I will restore the fallen house of David.
I will repair its damaged walls.
From the ruins I will rebuild it and restore its former glory.
And Israel will possess what is left of Edom and all the nations I have called to be Mine.”
The Lord has spoken, and He will do these things.

Hoping the house Jesus is building for me has a back yard
looking like this...
“The time will come,” says the Lord,
“when the grain and grapes will grow
faster than they can be harvested.
Then the terraced vineyards on the hills 
of Israel will drip with sweet wine!
I will bring My exiled people of Israel 
back from distant lands,
and they will rebuild their ruined cities 
and live in them again.
They will plant vineyards and gardens; 
they will eat their crops 
and drink their wine.
I will firmly plant them there 
in their own land.
They will never again be uprooted 
from the land I have given them,”
says the Lord your God. 
(Amos 9:10-15)


Thank you Father for reminding me of your faithful forgiveness. All I ever needed to do was to say YES, I am Yours and You are my God. Amen!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Dealing with Your Very Draining People (VDP)

How do you deal with a very draining person? Maybe they are demanding or destructive; or maybe they are merely disappointing or difficult. What is your usual reaction?

Do you bark back in anger? Or do you silently fume? Do you change the subject or cut the phone call short? Or do you try to please and accommodate so they will stop the rampage? Do you try to talk it out and explain your position? Or do you deem the conversation as hopeless and complain to your sister instead?

Maybe your tactic changes depending on the person in front of you. Do you accommodate your boss but later take your pent up emotions out on your kids? Do you vent on your mom but are sweet as pie to your boy friend? Do you have a new friend who you talk things out with but that old friend from high school, well, you know how that discussion will turn out so why bother?

This was our discussion this week at church and also in our small groups. We talked about the people we experienced as draining and our reactions to them. What was the right reaction? For the answers, we searched the gospels and read some of the interactions Jesus had with draining people in John 3:1-21, Matthew 12:1-15 and Luke 14:1-14.

We saw Jesus' reaction to people wasn't a reaction at all. Jesus knew what He was about and He was not deterred by other's questions or actions towards Him.  He spoke to people from the heart about the real issues (John 3:3, Luke 14:7). He used illustrations to help others understand His position (Luke 14:6, Matthew 12:11). There were times when He walked away (Matthew 12:14-15) but that was due to His being obedient to the timing of His Father. It was not intended to avoid conflict. Actually, He invited conflict at times, and used the conflict to point to truth (Luke 12:3).

Jesus listened to the people who came to Him with questions, no matter what their motives were. Jesus knew when their real plan was not to obtain answers but to trap Him. Nevertheless, He did not back away, but answered them directly with truth and used the opportunity to reveal important information regarding the kingdom of heaven (Mark 10:2-9, Matthew 22:16-22, Luke 12:13-21, Luke 15:1-10, Luke 18:18-30).

When the time came for Jesus to face the most destructive people, He prepared Himself with prayer (Luke 22:41-43). He did not do what would come naturally as a human man, but what His Father wanted. He prayed and received not only direction but also supernatural strength.

Why do you react as you do to the draining people in your life? Do you act as your parents modeled or are you doing the exact opposite because of how it worked out for them? Were you hurt or rejected at a prior time of life and swore to yourself never to be hurt like that again? Do you act to avoid conflict and anger because "Christians don't get angry" or do you confront others harshly because "Christians must stand for truth”?

I confess I usually assess the situation and try to use the approach that would work out for the best (read: "for my benefit").

Like the ocean can be raging or calm
depending on the wind,
so we must allow the wind of the Spirit
to control our reactions to others.
Jesus did what He saw the Father doing. Jesus was controlled by the Spirit. Nothing anyone else did controlled or deterred Him. And the really good news is the very same Spirit lives inside of us when we commit our lives to Christ.

I came to the conclusion there is no specific right or wrong way to deal with difficult people. Each person, each situation, each time is different. Sometimes it is best to confront with love. Sometimes it is good to try to understand and be understood. Sometimes it is best to walk away and cool off. Sometime it is good to submit to another's ways. Sometimes it is better to say "this time, I want to decide." Sometimes it is even best to be harsh (Matthew 23:1-36, John 3:13-17). God knows which is best and He desires to tell us, moment by moment as we walk with Him, pray to Him, listen to Him. And we can count on His angels to strengthen us as well so we can do His will.

Sometimes as we obey God we find things don't work out exactly as we would like. That is where faith comes in, when we learn to trust God will work all things together for good (Romans 8:28). We obey God and trust the results to Him.

And of course, we need to ask ourselves (and God) the important question: in this situation, is the draining person ME?

Just saying.

And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. (1 Thessalonians 5:14)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Fire and Floods

Fire and floods
Earthquakes and hurricanes
Mass murderers and maniacs with nuclear missiles

And our reactions is to point fingers at each other
We criticize, we rally, we march, we carry cleverly worded signs
We tear down statues, we tweet and troll
As if anyone is at fault, as if anyone of us could fix this.

We need to fall on our knees
We need to mourn and repent
We need to cry out to the only One who can heal our world in the ancient prayer:

Lord have mercy
Christ have mercy
Lord have mercy
Christ have mercy and grant us peace.



Thursday, August 31, 2017

Perfect

At worship last night, my thoughts were scattered and rambling as I sang out the words to the songs. Even as the music blasted in my ears and the floor shook, I was distracted. Then we sang...

You're a good good Father, it's who You are
And I am loved by You, it's who I am
Because You are perfect in all of Your ways....

And God, as He is always faithful broke through my chaotic mind and He said....

Perfect, only I am perfect. I am the good, good Father, standing at the open doorway, My eye always on you as you romp and play outside. I smile as you dirty your hands, thinking with delight how I will wash you later.

But your deeper sins, as I watch them unfold in your life, My stomach turns, not in revulsion or even disapproval but in sorrow as I truly understand the pain you are causing yourself and others. I understand your weakness, I created you! I have already supplied the solution.

O come to the altar, the Father's arms are open wide
Forgiveness was bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ  

My eyes never leave you and I long for the time you come home to Me in prayer. I will hold your precious face in My hands and say, My daughter, how much I love you! 

You are My princess but never forget it is I alone who am perfect. In My time, in My power, My Spirit is perfecting you until finally you will be with Me forever in perfect glory. I do not need your works or your service to prove your love for Me. I want your attention. I want to give you My power. Come to Me, I long to give you all you need and also Myself. 

Come, My child. Come. 


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Three Easy Steps to a Perfect Marriage

Disclaimer: Ok, the steps are not easy and there are no perfect marriages but these will help a lot!

1.      Pray.  God is invested in your marriage and not only wants it to last forever but designed it to be joy-filled and life-giving. Talk to Him about everything in your marriage through prayer. Pray together, pray alone, pray when you have troubles, when you argue, when you are confused, when you feel lost, when you wake up, before you sleep. Pray without ceasing.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.(Phil 4:6)  The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:6)
        

2.      Submit.  To freely give the other spouse the opportunity to have their heart’s desire is an act of love and a sign of strength on your part. It is the true path to life and peace. Submit is what Jesus did constantly when on earth all the way to the cross. He asks us to do it because He did it first. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Eph 5:21)

3.      Believe the Best.  Be generous with your assumptions and your attitude toward your spouse. Believe that they love you, want the best for you, desire the marriage to last, have your best interests at heart, aspire to become more Christ-like even as they fail again and again. It is not so much about trusting them, but trusting Christ in them, the hope of glory. Your attitude towards them will greatly affect your relationship so never assume the worst, but always believe the best. Love…is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs… It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Cor 13:5,7)