12.17.2013

Following the Star

I’ve never seen a nativity set without three wise men huddled around the manger.  Usually at least one camel is present, representing the wise men’s long journey.  Every figure is robed immaculately and holding out beautiful gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  They came prepared, expecting to find royalty at the end of their trek.  They didn’t expect a child because they had spent years studying the galaxies.  They didn’t reach their goal because their money bought them the finest tracking gadgets.  They found the Messiah because they stayed connected to God’s method of leading. They followed the star. (Matthew 2:1-12)

Matthew 2:9 says the star “went before them.”  It wasn’t hovering over them, following them, or pushing them on from behind.  It always stayed where the wise men could see it, directing their next steps forward.  I cringe to think what would have happened if the wise men had given up following and tried to route their own way to Jesus.  What a tragedy if they had turned back because the trip was taking too long, they couldn’t stand each other’s company anymore, or they were pining for the comforts of home.  The Christmas story wouldn’t have been the same.  Jesus wouldn’t have received the gifts that God used to provide for His Son’s earthly needs.  The wise men wouldn’t have received the reward for their efforts, gained an inspiring story to share with their children, or been included in the manger scene two thousand years later!

Unfortunately, every one of us has stopped following the star at one point or another.  We’ve gotten discouraged when we weren’t reaching the end how and when we wanted.  We’ve gone back to our past, thinking we’ve missed something.  In times like these, Philippians 3:12-15 exhorts us to keep moving ahead: “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.  Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you.” 

Like the wise men, God has set a prize in front of us.  We won’t see it, however, if we’re getting distracted by our past mistakes, hurts, disappointments, or even our past joys.  Jesus is asking us to focus on Him, our star.  Our past may draw us back, but when our eyes are on our star, we’ve got to remember that He is leading ahead, not pushing from behind.  He’s in our present and future, not hanging out in our past.  He’s trying to take us to an exciting place where He alone can take us.  He’s asking us to forget what’s behind and reach forward to where He is. 

I believe we all want to be “wise men,” mature like Philippians 3:15 says.  In God’s eyes, wise and mature people “forget those things which are behind.”  They press forward because people who follow their star always get the prize!



11.16.2013

Straw and Jewels


When we imagine a successful person, we immediately visualize someone who is famous for their talent or looks, who owns half the city of New York, or who has a bank account the size of Texas.  Culture has ingrained in our heads that this is what it means to be a success – have lots, do lots, and be lots.  However, only a small percentage of the world came claim all these “lots.”  So where does that leave the rest of us average little people who can’t claim all this stuff?

Thankfully, God hasn’t left us “average” people on the side-lines, forgotten and unappreciated.  His view of success is quite a bit different than ours, and applies to everyone, not just an elite group of people.  One day we all will stand before God and give an account of our lives.  Gone are the diplomas, trophies, bank accounts, and fans.  Stripped of all the world claims as important and successful, we will stand naked before the God of the universe (2 Corinthians 5:10).  The question is, will God appreciate our efforts toward being successful?  Will all that cash, popularity, and property mean much to God the day we stand before Him?

When we read through I Corinthians 3:11-17, we find that there are some things that will stand the testing of God’s fire, and some things that will burn in its heat.  Comparing our lives against a quick checklist can decide whether we’ll have anything left after God’s test.  Did becoming the world’s richest person bring God glory or simply satisfy ourselves?  Was all the power we had for our gain or God’s?  When we flashed our smile in front of flashing cameras, was it for us or for the Kingdom of God?  If the answer is that it was for our glory then we know there won’t be anything left on that “foundation.”  All that stuff was just “wood, hay, and straw,” no match for a blaze.

On the other hand, if everything we pursued pointed to Jesus and gave Him the glory, what’s left on the foundation will be quite a bit different.  Gold, silver, and precious stones have the strength to go untouched by fire.  When the blaze is doused, they will still be there, sparkling and precious to God because it was done for Him.

The temptation is to look at our lives and question our worth.  When everyone claims that true success comes from a Bill Gates bank account or a Jennifer Aniston filmography, we need to stop and consider whose standard matters most.  In the end, we won’t be answering to a panel of judges or a financial institute.  We will be answering to God, our Creator and the “author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).  He alone decides our eternity.  More than anything, our cry should be not for worldly success, but to hear our Father God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things.  enter into the joy of the Lord.” (Matthew 25:21).

10.07.2013

Preservatives


Most people know me as being “health-conscious” (I prefer that term over “health nut.” It somehow sounds more sophisticated.).  I’m one of those people who read the labels before I purchase a can of vegetables or a bag of chicken.  I look for special words that every nutritionist frowns upon.  You know the ones.  Those mile-long words that indicate that the product will last for a million years if left on the shelf.  Those words I choose to avoid.  Their syllable length is scary enough.

However, there is one type of preservative I do appreciate and can’t do without.  That is God’s protection, His means of keeping me out of harm’s way. 

We live in a world full of evil, surrounded by contaminates that would seek to harm us.  Accidents, sickness, violence, and poverty try their best to destroy our lives.   We can try out best to protect ourselves – install burglar alarms, take lots of vitamins, and drive the speed limit.  Even then we don’t have the power to protect ourselves from every unseen attack of the devil against our lives.  We need Someone Who can see it all . . . and Who has the power to do something about it.

Psalm 121 says:

I will lift up my eyes to the hills – from whence comes my help?  My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber.  Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber or sleep.  The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand.  The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.  The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul.  The Lord shall preserve your going out and our coming in from this time forth and even forevermore.

A can of food injected with chemicals has a way of warding off spoilage.  It can sit, day after day, and go untouched.  Even a couple of dents in the aluminum don’t seem to faze its stamina.  Why?  It’s been preserved. 

In the same way, God injects our lives with His protection.  His “bodyguard” policy was applied to us when we received Jesus as our Lord and Savior.  It’s constant and unfailing as long as we stay close to the Bodyguard Who “neither slumbers nor sleeps.”  We may get a few “dents” as the delivery truck transfers us from the warehouse to the store.  We may get a few “rips” in our label when handled carelessly.  Regardless of the number of “afflictions,” God has promised to deliver us out of them all (Psalm 34:19)!






9.11.2013

The Master Coordinator

I gained a new appreciation for John 2:1-12 when reading my Bible the other day.  Having coordinated my own wedding ceremony almost six months ago, I could sympathize with the situation.  In short, if I had been the bride at Cana, I would have been a frazzled mess!

Our first hint that Jesus cares about weddings is that He attended one.  I’m sure the bride and groom had no idea what an asset they were gaining when inviting Him to their ceremony.  Up until that point, Jesus hadn’t done any miracles or accumulated any fame through His teachings.  But who would think of any of that being necessary at a wedding?  A wedding coordinator had been planning for weeks, maybe months, to ensure the party’s success.  No miracles were necessary.  They had it all under control . . . or so they thought.

Everything seemed to be going fine until he unthinkable happened.  The wine ran out.  I could just imagine the wedding coordinator panicking.  How could this happen?  They had planned everything out to the smallest detail!  Made a list, checked it twice, and followed up with a confirmation email!  This was not supposed to happen, especially since the wine was such a huge part of the party.

Gratefully, one person in the crowd knew who to consult.  Mary, mother of Jesus, went straight to her Son.  She knew Him too well to let this need pass Him by.

“And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus, said to Him, ‘They have no wine.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me?  My hour has not yet come.’” (v. 3, 4)

If we didn’t know Jesus' love for people, it would sound like He was being callous and uncaring toward the situation.  His season for doing miracles hadn’t started yet, and that was that.  But Mary wasn’t about to give up so easy.

“His mother said to the servants, ‘Whatever He says to you, do it.’” (v. 5)

Mom’s don’t take “no” for an answer.  This was a wedding and the situation was fire.  It appeared Jesus was the only one who could fix the problem in a decent amount of time.  Mary’s faith drew on Jesus’ miracle-working power, sending Jesus into action.

“Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the water pots with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim.  And He said unto them, ‘Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feat.’ And they took it.  When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom.  And he said to him, ‘Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior.  You have kept the good wine until now.’” (v. 7-10)

Jesus’ saving the day by providing wine would have been good enough.  But true to His nature, He did “exceedingly, abundantly” above the call of duty.  (Ephesians 3:20, 21)  He did His best . . . and all because He was asked.

I had no major glitches at my wedding.  All went smoothly, and I loved every minute.  Each detail I desired was in place, and the presence of God was there. I wonder, though, what could have taken place if I had not prayed and included my Savior in the planning?  What if I had leaned on my own abilities to make it happen?  I had wonderful help, but even they did it out of a heart of love that the Author of Marriage put in them.

I hate to think of all the other events or special occasions in my life where I have excluded Jesus in my planning.  How much better they could have been if I had included Him in every part!  He is the Master Coordinator, whether it is a wedding or a birthday party for two.  He is privy to details and needs that may little brain couldn’t possible foresee.

I believe Jesus performed this miracle because he cared, and because His mother believed in Him.  She was confident that a miracle would happen the moment Jesus’ commands were obeyed.  What more could happen for we who are born-again Christians, should we choose to make Jesus our Master Coordinator.

8.05.2013

Humble Faith, Part Two

 
I’m an organized person.  “A place for everything and everything in its place” is my motto.  Even as a little girl I don’t remember my mom constantly nagging me to tidy my room.  Tidy and uncluttered came naturally.  Of course, when I got older, a busier schedule and other priorities kept me from color-coding by category all my files in my three-drawer filing cabinet.  Ah, the bliss of being a teenager without a job and a husband.

This I’ve found to be true as well.  Everyone – whether organized or unorganized by nature – tends to categorize, organize, and overall classify their problems into two groups – big and small.  A small problem might be a water leak under the sink, while a larger problem might be a loss of a job.  Then an even larger problem might by a sudden diagnosis from the doctor.  Whatever the issue, we send them off to the “big problem” file or the “small problem” file.  Or, if we’re really organized, we toss them into the “medium problem” file.  There they stay until we finally figure out how to solve them.

Here is where we differ from God.  To God, all these problems are the same.  He doesn’t see one issue as more important or more difficult than the other.  They are all “cares” that effect our lives, and He has asked us to cast them all on Him:  “Casting all your care upon him; for he cares for you.”  I Peter 5:7

Unfortunately for us, we like to ignore the simplicity of the word “all,” and insist on dividing up our issues into categories.  It doesn’t take much convincing to cast our big issues on God – because, after all, we can’t quite figure out how to solve them.  However, we’ll take the small ones and dutifully and heroically conquer them with our meager power, all the while ignoring the word “all.”  This attitude brings us all back to the matter of humility found in I Peter 5:6: “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time . . .”

Whether the problem is big or small, true humility acknowledges that God is the Lord of all of them.  It takes faith in God’s integrity that He will not let us down – even when the issue seems too minute to catch His attention.  That’s when God is truly able to work on our behalf, regardless of what is going on around us.  This is when God has the most fun because He can exercise His power for us, blessing us every step of the way. 

Once we allow God to handle every situation, we have yet another challenge.  That is to refuse to take the problem back.  If God doesn’t come through for us in the time we think He should, the human thing to do is to panic and snatch back the issue.  Of course, that never accomplishes anything but to slow God’s plan down.  It’s reversing our faith from believing to doubt.  There’s nothing humble about doubt as it stops believing that God cares and is able to fix our situation.  That’s when we need to get back on track and fix our trusting. 

The wonderful thing about God is that He is gracious and patient.  He always keeps His Word.  When we get passed our doubts and pride, He is faithful to fulfill His promises to reward our faith by exalting us in “due time.”  Regardless of the problem, we can be at peace knowing that He is “a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6b) That’s the beauty of opening our file drawers and dumping out their contents on God.  They were never meant to be so organized, anyway.

 

 

6.23.2013

Humble Faith, Part One

 
Some days I feel sorry for God.  Aside from His owning cattle on a thousand hills, walking on streets of gold, and having an angelic choir to sing to Him every day, He’s got a lot to think about.  I think if He were human, He’d have a major melt-down.  He presents His children with Matthew 6:25-34 with love and compassion, yet we disregard it and act like we’re God, trying to fix our problems with our own power.  What frustration!

Thankfully, God is not human and doesn’t respond to stress like we do.  Our stress level goes into the red zone when we haven’t had enough sleep, yet God “will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4).  Our calm demeanors go south when someone crosses us wrong, yet God is “slow to anger and abounding in mercy” (Psalm 103:8).  Things just don’t get on God’s nerves!  He’s always in perfect control, “anxious for nothing” (Philippians 4:6).  To help lessen our stress and become more like Him, He instructs us with this:

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:  casting your care upon him; for he cares for you. (I Peter 5:6, 7)

Oh, now there’s something to stress about!  Now we humans are instructed to humble ourselves and relinquish our cares and concerns to Someone else!  For the natural man, that’s tough stuff.  We don’t like to submit ourselves to anything, especially to Something we can’t see.  But as Christians who want to please God, there’s no other option. 

But without faith it is impossible to please him; for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

Faith simply believes God and His Word.  But to believe God, we must first believe He exists and declare that He is God and we’re not.  That’s saying that He’s Lord of our lives and our problems.  Sadly, we often make our cares and stresses our “babies,” not realizing that they were never meant to be ours.  We adopt them, feed them, change them, clothe them, nurse them, and sometimes make them look like us.  And all the while, God is looking on with pity saying, “That was never meant to be your problem in the first place!” 

It takes humility to live by faith.  It takes humility to hand over our cares to the One who cares for us the most.  Humble faith bows its knee to the God of every situation, every problem, and every care.  It declares that God is bigger and stronger than even the greatest issue.  As we choose to hand over lordship to Him, we’re introduced to a whole new world of peace.  It’s not a peace that’s temporary or weak, imaginary or synthetic.  It’s a peace “that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) and comes from a God who loves us enough to give it.