Saturday, December 9, 2017

Advent 2017 #9: God's Love Language


I've struggled to write this morning. Interesting things have happened this week, but none relate particularly well to the topics of love or advent. I don't have a story to share, and I wish I did. 

Although not a very spiritual method for finding a topic, I finally Googled "verse and this is love." When I saw the results, I laughed. It must've been the Apostle John's favorite phrase.

1 John 3:16 - "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters." niv

1 John 4:10 - "This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." niv

1 John 5:3 - "In fact, this is love for God: to keep His commands. And His commands are not burdensome," niv

The best demonstration of love ever given was when Jesus laid down His life to pay our sin debt. We're to recognize and measure all other love by the standard of self-sacrifice. 

If we love someone, we're willing to deny our desires for theirs, our needs for theirs. We're willing to lay down our lives for them.

If we love God, John wrote, we'll obey Him. We're not talking Mosaiac law or Pharisaical nit-picking. The Royal Law of Our King (according to James) is fairly simple to understand. 

Love God. 
Love others. 
Give it all you've got.

The Virgin Mary loved God with a give-it-all-you've-got love. When the angel appeared and said, "You're going to have God's son," she knew she was in for a tough time. She was a virgin, engaged to man with whom she'd never been intimate. Mary knew what people would think and how they'd whisper. She knew those whispers would follow her all her life. 

Despite all she faced, she rejoiced at the chance to serve her God and Savior and took delight in the promise of blessing to come. Mary counted herself blessed, even before her pregnancy began.

 It wasn't an easy life, but she surely felt the pleasure and smile of God. Imagine having Jesus for a son. Growing up years must have been wonderful. The crucifixion and tomb-time were terrible, but oh, the joy of Resurrection! 

I want to love God the way Mary loved. Wide-open. Completely abandoned to Him. Don't you?

This Christmas, let's take a closer look at the love of God. Have we allowed it to change our lives? Does it direct and inform the way we love? Do we demonstrate our love for God by simple obedience? If not, what does it say about our relationship to Him?

We don't love God by having the biggest tree, the most glittery decorations,  or the most expensive pile of gifts. We don't love God with the largest donation to a worthy cause. Those may be what we do, and they may speak volumes about our relationship with Him, but trees and stuff and money are not God's love language. 

His love language is sacrifice, faithfulness, justice, mercy.

If we love God, we sacrifice, just as He did. We obey, as Jesus did on the cross. This Christmas season, let's demonstrate the real love of Christmas to a lost and perishing world. Love as Christ loved. Keep our eye on the cross, even when all we see right now is the manger. 

2 John 1:6 - "And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love." niv 
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When you like and share this post, it expands our digital reach and more people have the opportunity to read this series. It makes a bigger difference than you can imagine! Thanks for helping!

In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: #8: The Love that Saves Us from the Maggot Bed

Here are the links to the other posts in this series: #7: Finding the Safe Place in a Crazy World#6: The Preparation of God's Love, #5: When Joy Flowed Forth and Splashed Into My Heart , #4 The King Who Will Not Let Us Down., #3 Preparing for Transformation#2 Preparing for the King with an Humble Heart, and #1 Getting Ready for Jesus.

#advent 

Friday, December 8, 2017

Advent 2017 #8: The Love that Saves Us From the Maggot Bed


Isaiah shocked me this morning with a very unexpected bit of information (Isaiah 14:9-11). Those in hell are excited to have more people join them and, when new residents arrive, the "spirits of the dead, all the leaders of the earth" are aroused to greet them. 

This is not likely to be a warm and happy greeting, if for no other reason than the facilities for rest. In hell, maggots are spread out for beds and worms are the covers. Visualize that in your mind for a moment, if you can stand it.

Yeah. I'm having a hard time with it, too.

Since this week's Advent candle symbolized LOVE, I intended to write about the love of God today. I was completely stymied by the worms and maggots, though. 

"Lord," I prayed, "Where's the love in this writhing bed of grossness?" 

Immediately, Romans 3:23 came to mind. "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." Those words reminded me of Romans 6:23, "The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord." 

I memorized those verses together when I was in Girls' Auxiliary a lot of decades ago. Today, I gained a deeper understanding of them. 

We've all done wrong things, we all sin, and we all deserve hell. It's a place of eternal torment and the only rest you get is lying on a bed of maggots with a bunch of worms covering you. The fire would be torment enough for me, but the worms and maggots take it to another level of horrible.

We'd all end up there, too, if not for the love and grace of God. Romans 5:8 tells us that God showed His love to us by allowing Christ to come to earth as a little baby, live a sinless life, and die on the cross in our place. 

At Christmas, it's easy to focus on decorations and gifts, but they aren't the point. The point is Jesus. The Holy Baby was born to show us God's love in the flesh, a love so fierce that, even though we deserved the worst He could give, God gave us His best, His Son. 

Our course, sin is so entrenched in us that we couldn't see His good example and follow it to a sinless life. We're hopeless on our own. It's only through Christ's goodness, sacrifice, and resurrected redemption that we're able to escape the consequences of our choices.

Only Jesus sets us free from ourselves and our sinfulness. Only He can give us peace with God and an eternity with Him.

It's more love than I can fully comprehend, but, this Christmas, I intend to embrace it. Today, let's pause long enough to ponder our great sinfulness and the massive, hell-shattering love that sets us free. Let's not stop at pondering. Instead, abandon ourselves to the only One who loves us enough to save us. 

If that isn't love, I don't know what is. 

"But God demonstrates His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us." Romans 5:8 esv
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When you like and share this post, it expands our digital reach and more people have the opportunity to read this series. It makes a bigger difference than you can imagine! Thanks for helping!

In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: #7: Finding the Safe Place in a Crazy World

Here are the links to the other posts in this series:#6: The Preparation of God's Love, #5: When Joy Flowed Forth and Splashed Into My Heart , #4 The King Who Will Not Let Us Down., #3 Preparing for Transformation#2 Preparing for the King with an Humble Heart, and #1 Getting Ready for Jesus

#advent2017

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Advent 2017 #7: Finding the Safe Place in a Crazy World


I knew I had a stalker long before I said something in public. I knew it was a creepy situation, and going in a bad direction, because I'd had a stalker before. The first stalker was a psychopath. I learned to stay out of his way as much as possible. Eventually, he went to prison for another crime.

The first time I said something about the cyber-stalker was during a class with a group of women I didn't know well, but trusted. We were talking about social media. I confessed I was afraid to become a "public figure" because of the "crazies" I might attract. "I don't want the stalkers to be able to find me," I said. 

"Stalkers?" someone asked.

"Yeah. Those guys who get fixated on you and kinda stalk you."

People were shocked. They didn't have stalkers. If I had stalkers, it was my fault, they told me. Something was wrong in me. I should be delivered of it. Someone gave me the contact information for a person who could help me pray through this "wrongness" in me that caused me to attract unwanted attention.

I considered contacting them. These women said it was my fault, so it must be true. I didn't want to believe them, but I'd experienced considerable harassment when I was younger, as well as the first stalker. I believed much of it was my own fault. Maybe there was something bad in me that caused these people to do wrong things.

I can't believe I considered this nonsense. These criminals may be attracted to the vulnerability I share in my blog posts, but that's their flaw, not mine. I might need to recognize the problem earlier and set a tighter limit, but I didn't cause their sin.

It was not my fault. 

The first stalker wasn't my fault and the cyberstalker wasn't either. The men who thought they could say anything and do anything were not my fault either. The people who thought it was funny to see me blush when they said and did outrageous and offensive things were not my fault.

The silence was my fault.  

Instead of speaking up, I accepted the behavior and went along. Eventually, this outrageous behavior seemed normal to me, but it wasn't. In my younger years, I made lifestyle choices that still shock me, still shame me. I wasn't much better than the people who did and said all those wrong things. 

The acceptance of the unacceptable was my fault.

I still vividly remember a day, decades ago, when, for that moment in time, I'd had enough. The tiger-woman in me emerged. "Say that one more time. I want to get it right for my attorney. He'd love to hear what you just said."  I was still in training, and I put everything on the line when I said those words to a man who held considerable power over me at the time. I no longer cared. 

I can still hear the ugly things he called me in response. I can still see the shock in his face. He was furious, but he backed down. 

That kind of treatment leaves scars that run deep.

I put the future of my medical career on the line that day, and, in that moment, I understood something shocking. I didn't care if I ended my career or not. At least for that moment, enough was enough. It took years for me to repent of my own sin and sort out who was guilty of what, but that day was a start.

Today, I read the Time article about the person of the year, The Silence Breakers. The women who spoke up about the sexual harassment and abuse they'd experienced have been honored for their actions. I wept all the way through the article and for a good while afterward.

"Finally, Lord," I said over and over again as I read. 

I've thanked God today for the women who had the courage to come forward and call a halt to what should have never been tolerated. I've thanked God for the men and women who responded to the complaints with decisive action. I wished I'd said something nearly forty years ago. My life, and my choices, might've been different.

What does this have to do with Advent? 

What I wanted was a safe place, where neither harassment nor abuse existed. I found that safe place in Jesus Christ. He may have so-called followers who aren't safe, but He is. 

I read these beautiful words this morning about the Messiah and wept for the sweetness of our Savior, who honored women in a time when they were nothing but possessions. I gave thanks for the Christ who treats women as equal with men, for the Father who loves us all with tenderness and righteousness.

"And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down the with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little boy will lead them." Isaiah 11:6 nasb

Jesus is a safe place for the vulnerable, the weak, and the fragile. One day, the lamb will be safe with the wolf; the baby goat (kid) will be safe with the leopard. The devourers will no longer devour their pray. 

Safe. 

The tenderest among us are safe with Jesus. We all are. In Christ alone, we find our strength and our hope no matter how weak, vulnerable, scarred, or flawed we are.

In a world full of craziness and sin, Jesus is our safe place. As we prepare for Christmas, may we surrender our scars and fears to the One who heals every wound and defends us from every fear and every enemy.

"You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance." Psalm 32:7 niv
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When you like and share this post, it expands our digital reach and more people have the opportunity to read this series. It makes a bigger difference than you can imagine! Thanks for helping!

In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: #6: The Preparation of God's Love

Here are the links to the other posts in this series: #5: When Joy Flowed Forth and Splashed Into My Heart , #4 The King Who Will Not Let Us Down., #3 Preparing for Transformation#2 Preparing for the King with an Humble Heart, and #1 Getting Ready for Jesus

#advent2017

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Advent #6: The Preparation of God's Love


Her words broke my heart. "I can't believe God loves me." This sweet, and much loved, woman wasn't kidding. She didn't believe God loved her. Despite years of serving Him, she didn't trust the most basic truth on which the entire gospel rests. As a result, she'd missed the sweetness of the love relationship God had planned.

God loved us and sent His Son.

The love of God is a hard concept to comprehend, but it's no less truth. God loves me. He loves you, and His love is unchangeable. It's not dependent upon our goodness or our worthiness. He loves, despite us.

The prophet Jeremiah had an experience that was seared into his heart forever. "The Lord appeared to me from afar, saying, 'I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.'" (Jer 31:3) When Jeremiah understood that love, the only response he could make was to love in return. 

In that same way, we need a heart-searing experience, too, in which God speaks directly to our hearts. "I love you." We need to hear it for ourselves. When we begin to understand the everlasting love of God for us, it changes everything. We're compelled to love, both God and others, by the deep love shown to us. 

The point of Christmas is summed up in one verse. "God loved us and sent His Son..." (John 3:16) He knew our sin. He knew we deserved death and hell. He could have allowed us to remain in our sin and head straight to destruction, but He didn't. God chose to provide a way out, and that Way is love incarnate. Jesus.

The love of God appeared, wrapped in flesh and swaddling cloths, and nestled in a bed of hay. The love of God dwelt with us, walked among us, healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, raised the dead, and carried the cross. The love of God shattered the power of death and the grave, flung off the stone from in front of the tomb, and rent the division between us. 

The love of God, in the form of the Spirit, dwells within us today. His monumental love is available to all who will believe. 

"for God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." John 3:16 nasb

"In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." 1 John 4:10

During the Advent season, we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Lord. Embracing His love is one of our most important acts of preparation. May we each hear the truth of the Lord today and plant it deep in our hearts: 

He loved us. 
He still loves us. 
He will never stop loving us.

Let's read those words aloud and insert our names. "He loved me. He still loves me. He will never stop loving me." 

The love of God is the bedrock of truth. There is no Christmas without it. This day, may we be still long enough to know not only that He is God, but also that God is love and He loves us. 
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When you like and share this post, it expands our digital reach and more people have the opportunity to read this series. It makes a bigger difference than you can imagine! Thanks for helping!

In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link:#5: When Joy Flowed Forth and Splashed Into My Heart

Here are the links to the other posts in this series: #4 The King Who Will Not Let Us Down., #3 Preparing for Transformation#2 Preparing for the King with an Humble Heart, and #1 Getting Ready for Jesus

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Advent 2017 #5: When Joy Flowed Forth and Splashed Into My Heart



For the first time in more years than I can remember, I have the freedom to participate in activities on the spur of the moment. Sunday, a friend asked, "Hey, what are you doing this afternoon?" 

My first thought was, "Visiting with Sam, of course," but, before I spoke, I remembered. Sam's with Jesus now. It was a shock to realize there was no one to ask or inform if I did something unexpected.

"We're going to the Fortnightly Musicale Christmas Concert this afternoon. Do you want to go, too?"

I hesitated. Spur of the moment is no longer familiar and, for an instant, I didn't know what to say. Finally, I nodded. "Yes, I'd love it," I told her, and I did.

Different musicians performed either vocal, piano, or organ selections of Christmas carols. They saved the best for last. Dr. Darwin Brooks played a piano rendition of "Ding Dong Merrily On High." It wasn't my favorite Christmas song before, but it is now. 

The expression on Dr. Brooks' face as he played was one of pure joy. I have never seen anyone perform with such enthusiasm. He looked like a boy having the grandest time ever as his hands danced across the keys. 

It was the most magnificent musical performance I've ever heard because joy radiated with every note.

I wanted to stand up and shout, to cheer, to say Amen. Dr. Brooks showed us what God intended music to be - an outpouring of sound that reflects the emotion inside us. Joy bubbled over onto the ebony and ivory and spread throughout the room, splashing straight into our hearts.

I've thought about Dr. Brooks' performance ever since. Shouldn't the work to which God has called us give us that same deep joy? Shouldn't it flow forth from us to all we meet? Yes and Yes. 

As disciples of Christ, we have something worth celebrating, especially during the Advent season. More than 600 years before His arrival, the prophet Isaiah wrote of the joy Christ would bring. 

"The people who walk in darkness
will see a great light;
Those who live in a dark lang,
The light will shine on them.
Thou shalt multiply the nation,
Thou shalt increase their gladness;
They will be glad in Thy presence
As with the gladness of harvest;
As men rejoice when they divide the spoil."
Isaiah 9:2-3 nasb

The light of Christ would give the kind of joy men feel when they have a great harvest. Jesus, Isaiah wrote, would bring the joy of more than enough. 

The Messiah would break our chains and set us free. He would defeat our enemy and our battle would end. God would give us the One on whose shoulders the government would rest. He would be our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There would be no end to the increase...better and better for ever.

Six centuries later, the chain-breaking, enemy-beating Savior finally arrived. He didn't meet the expectations, He exceeded them, because Jesus didn't defeat an earthly enemy. He defeated sin and death. 

The Messiah is all Isaiah said He would be. He truly is more than enough. He's more than enough to handle our sin, our confusion, our pain, our sadness, our doubt. 

As we prepare to celebrate the arrival of God-in-flesh, let's remember the victory, the joy He brought and allow it to fill us to overflowing. 

We celebrate a returning King who is more than enough and His increase will have no end. 

The Savior has come. Eternity has begun. Let the celebration begin; let our joy overflow.
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When you like and share this post, it expands our digital reach and more people have the opportunity to read this series. Thanks for helping!

In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: #4 The King Who Will Not Let Us Down. Here are the links to the other posts in this series: #3 Preparing for Transformation, #2 Preparing for the King with an Humble Heart, and #1 Getting Ready for Jesus

Monday, December 4, 2017

Advent 2017 #4: The King Who Will Not Let Us Down


In the last few weeks, our news has been filled with the failures of prominent men. Officials at every level have let us down, as have the news reporters charged with disseminating truth. There are so many rumors and reports of wrongdoing that it's hard to tell if any men of integrity are left in our country, and equally hard to tell what's true and what's fake. 

It's a sad and discouraging time in America. 

For those who've put their trust in public figures, it's a heartbreaking and frightening time, as well. It's one with which the prophet Isaiah was intimately acquainted.

Isaiah Chapter 6 begins with these sad words: "In the year of King Uzziah's death..." Like almost everyone in Judah, Isaiah probably loved the king who'd reigned all his life. The king's illness and death must have been a devastating blow.

Uzziah became king of Judah when he was 16 years old, and reigned for 52 years. 2 Chronicles 26 tells us he "did right in the sight of the Lord" for most of his years as king. He had a great army, did many magnificent building projects, was a farmer, rancher, and visionary. 

He was a great man and was "marvelously helped (by God) until he was strong." (2 Chronicles 26:15) Somewhere over the years, Uzziah grew proud and began to believe he was not only king, he was the boss of everything in Judah. 

Of course, he was not. 

Uzziah decided to burn incense in the temple. This was the priest's job, and it was forbidden for anyone else to do it, but Uzziah didn't care. He marched in, grabbed up a censer, and prepared to burn incense. Azariah the priest, and 80 more priests with him, tried to stop the king, but Uzziah was enraged and crazed by pride and determination. 

The censer still in his hand, Uzziah broke out with leprosy on his forehead. Because leprosy was contagious and there was no treatment, lepers were isolated. The king was no exception. Uzziah was forced to live alone in a separate house for the rest of his life. Uzziah's pride and willful disobedience exacted a heavy price from everyone, himself included.

When Uzziah finally died, it was a sad time for everyone in Judah. He'd been king for 52 years and had done many wonderful things. Those last years spent in isolation must have made their grief even worse. 

In the midst of his grief, Isaiah turned to the one place he was sure to find comfort, the house of God. Everything changed for the prophet when he encountered the King of Kings, who will never fail, never be unfaithful, never let us down. 

Jesus, both God and Man, came to earth wrapped in flesh. He felt as we felt, but He did not fail as we fail. He endured to the cross and reigns victorious in heaven today. 

We enter the Christmas season with the grief, sorrow, and loss of the past. It can be the saddest time of the year, unless we do with our grief what Isaiah did with his. Take it to our Lord. It's in His presence that grief ebbs, sorrow fades, loss takes a back seat to the glory of the Holy One. We have a Savior who knows how we feel, and never fails to provide what we need. 

He's our Comforter and the Price of Peace. This Advent season, let's reach out to the One who never lets us down. 

"In the year of King Uzziah's death, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the rain of his robe filling the temple." Isaiah 6:1 nasb
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In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: Advent 2017 #3: Preparing for Transformation

If you feel led to partner with this ministry or help by year-end giving (US, Middle East, the digital world), here's the link to give your tax-deductible donations: Global Outreach Acct 4841  

Or you can mail your check or money order to: Global Outreach/ PO Box 1, Tupelo MS 38802. Be sure to put Account 4841 in the "for" line.
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Sunday, December 3, 2017

Advent 2017 #3: Preparing for Transformation



My reading today began in Isaiah 4 and wham. I've read this chapter dozens of times, but I saw something in a new way.

The Isaiah 53 prophecy described Jesus as "like a root out of parched ground." He had no stately majesty. He looked nothing like a king. His appearance didn't attract people to Himself. He was despised, rejected, and forsaken. Before His work was done, He was pierced, crushed, scourged, oppressed, and afflicted. 

When Jesus walked our dusty streets, most people rejected Him. He didn't look like the king they'd expected, so even the Jewish leaders wanted nothing to do with Him. 

Jesus, Isaiah wrote, endured it all for us. 

He took our transgressions, our iniquities, and our chastening. The stripes from the beatings He endured brought healing to us. He paid the penalty for our sin, and nothing about the process was beautiful.  

When He was wrapped in flesh, Jesus looked nothing like Himself. One day, though, we'll see Him in a new way, because we'll see Him as He is. (1 John 3:2)

When the apostle John saw his magnificent, resurrected appearance, he fainted. Jesus was that beautiful. Snowy white hair, flaming eyes, glowing feet, voice like a waterfall. (Rev. 1:13-15)

In the last days, all the ugliness Jesus accepted on earth will be gone. When He comes back, He won't be despised, rejected, forsaken, or beaten. He'll be beautiful and glorious (Is. 4:2) Every knee will bow to Him. (Phil. 2:10) 

It's amazing enough to see Jesus as He truly is, but what's even more amazing is we'll become like Him. We'll have the beauty of purity that comes only from repentance and surrender to our King, who washes us white as snow. 

The preparation of Advent isn't accomplished by stringing lights on a tree or putting greenery on a door. It's not completed by brightly wrapped packages under the tree. There's nothing inherently wrong about decorations, but they don't accomplish what's most important. 

The season's work is done with repentant and humble hearts. As we begin the first Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Hope, may we embrace the season in a way that honors Christ and makes us more like Him. 

May our expectation be more Christ and less self as we celebrate His arrival and prepare for the Second Coming of our King. 

"In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious..." Isaiah 4:2 nasb
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Please like and share to help extend our digital reach.

In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: Preparing for the King with an Humble Heart 

If you feel led to partner with this ministry or help by year-end giving (US, Middle East, the digital world), here's the link to give your tax-deductible donations: Global Outreach Acct 4841  

Or you can mail your check or money order to: Global Outreach/ PO Box 1, Tupelo MS 38802. Be sure to put Account 4841 in the "for" line.