STEP BY STEP

We often refer to our life with God as our walk with God.  The writer of Hebrews (12:1) more enthusiastically refers to it as a race.  Here in my later years, I prefer the term walk.  Sunday morning we sang the worship song Step by Step written by Rich Mullins.  It occurred to me as we sang that this simple concept of step by step carries a significant lesson.  Our walk with God happens one step at a time.

When I decided to return to college to finish my degree and acquire my teaching credential, I attended the first meeting with the university staff to explore the possibilities.   I returned home downtrodden.  The cost was way beyond anything we could afford.  My wife, ever in prayer, had this word for me, “God said to take it one step at a time.”

I took the first step and filled out the paperwork.  At each juncture, when we needed it, the money was always there.  It came from unforeseeable places, but it came.  People from across the country who hardly knew me sent money for college.  When I was done, I had a small student loan to pay off.  That was probable due to faltering faith.

Sunday morning I was reminded that our walk, or for the more energetic our race, is done step by step.  We don’t have to have it all figured out today.  We just have to take the next step.  Fear would hinder us from taking that step. But don’t lose heart; God has got the next step already worked out.

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THE HUMBLE MANGER

Christmas time is over, and it’s time to face the new year.  Emotions are stirred as we store the last of our Christmas decorations.  We remember past Christmas celebrations; and amidst the activities of packing our decorations, we reflect on the true meaning of this annual celebration. 

At our house, we have a large globe that contains a manger scene.  It’s still on the coffee table because it has a music box that our three year old granddaughter loves to hear.  Sunday morning, as I sat drinking my coffee and staring into the globe, I had this thought.  If you were looking at this scene, and you didn’t know the story behind it, but someone told you that it was about God coming to earth, which of the persons in the scene would you think represented the presence of God come to earth?

In the scene are three kings, a father and mother, shepherds, and a baby.  I list them in order of social significance, but as we know the last is the correct choice.  The dependent new born baby is God come to earth.   The most humble person in the scene is the one through whom all things were made (See John 1:1-14). 

It struck me that in the manger God demonstrated for us true humility.  He came in the most vulnerable way.  A new born is helpless and dependent on others for everything.  Jesus, God, the new born baby, is total dependent.  Ultimately, the dependence is on God his Father. 

In reality, we also are totally dependent on God our Father.  Our lives would be so much more peaceful if we’d recognized this humble truth.

REDEMPTION NOT REVENGE

“I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”  Jonah 4:2

This is what Jonah said when The Ninevites repented, and God decided to withhold bringing destruction on them.  Jonah knew God’s character.  I never quite caught that before.  I’ve always focused on the fact that Jonah was mad about God not destroying them.  He knew what God would do, and he wanted no part in saving the hated Ninevites.  I believe Jonah provides us with a clear distinction between the heart of God and the heart of man.

I hear people ask how can a loving God let this or that happen?  Yet, Jonah wanted his loving God to bring disaster.  These are obvious contrasting perspectives on God.  Both fail to understand the heart of God. Peter tells us, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)  God loves us all.  Judgement will come, but he gives us time because he loves us.

God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.  This is the heart of God; not the heart of man.  Man in his heart wants revenge.  God’s heart wants us to receive the salvation he provided through his son.  In my quest to understand God, understanding his heart brings completion.  Knowing his heart is knowing him.  Now I just have to become like him.

Father, help me to lay down my heart and take up your heart.  Build in me, O Lord, a heart of forgiveness that desires redemption not revenge. Amen!

 

This is a repost from October of 2015.  I hope you enjoy it.

BE MERCIFUL

“Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear – hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.”

 Jude 22-23

 

The Church, the Body of Christ, has throughout the ages frequently missed the basic tenet of being merciful.    On the other hand the Church has been an instrument of mercy in society since its beginning.  It’s been a mixed bag.  In Luke 6:35-36 Jesus says,

“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.  Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

God has shown us mercy, and he desires us to be merciful.  I believe our ability to be merciful depends on our ability to receive mercy.  Humility is the key.

 

To receive mercy, I must first recognize my need for mercy.  When I know that I have sinned against God, there is then the recognition of the debt I owe to God.  Secondly, I need to humble myself and become aware that there is nothing I can do to repay this debt.  God is willing and has made the way to grant me mercy by forgiving my debt.  I don’t have to work for it.  It’s free.  That is hard for me because in my pride I want to do something to earn forgiveness.  However, by holding on to this idea of earning forgiveness, I will never even understand mercy.

 

Now you can see why it’s a mixed bag for the Church.  Our pride often gets in the way.  In Matthew 9:13 Jesus says to the Pharisees, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’”  And again in 12:7, “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.”  The Pharisees were caught up in a ritual of sacrifice that fed their pride allowing them to condemn others rather than show them mercy.  They were trying to pay their debt to God on their own merit.  They were blinded by pride and did not understand mercy.   Therefore, they could not extend mercy.

 

Mercy proceeds from a humble, forgiving heart.  This is God’s nature and his heart toward us.  By surrendering my will to God and allowing myself to be forgiven, I take the first step in understanding mercy.  I feel the burden of gilt lifted and the exhilaration of being free.  But, I must remember that I’m free and not fall prey to the lie that I must do something for this freedom.  That lie feeds my pride.  I must remain humble. Then in humble gratitude, I live under God’s mercy.  A life that is continually bathed in mercy emanates mercy.

GRATITUDE

During this time of giving and receiving gifts, we should remember the importance of gratitude.  Gratitude is a feeling of appreciation.  “I feel gratitude in my heart”.  It is a learned way of handling what we receive.  We teach our little ones to say thank you, but gratitude is not our natural bent.  We have to develop and exercise gratitude.

Being grateful is very important.  We read in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Giving thanks is a part of God’s will for us.  Recent studies by psychologists can tell you why this is God’s will.  Here are some of the results they’ve found:

It helps build relationships

Improves physical health

Improves mental health

Enhances empathy and reduces aggression

Improves sleep

Improves self-esteem

Increases mental strength

(Consult the below reference for more details.)

7 Scientifically Proven Benefits Of Gratitude That Will Motivate You To Give Thanks Year-Round,  http://www.Forbes.com, Amy Morin, 11-23-2014

Living our lives as people of gratitude not only fulfills God’s will for us, but as he intended, it affords us a happier, healthier way of living.  So let us be encouraged.  Develop and exercise this all important trait.

Merry Christmas!

THE TRAP OF INWARD FOCUS

We all have troubles that come our way; they are a part of life in this fallen world.  I tend to draw into myself when troubles arise.  I focus on solving the problem; I worry over the problem, and I lose sleep thinking about the problem.  If the problem is long term, I eventually fall into despair. Then I enter into that dark cavern of self-pity.  Once again, I have succumbed to the trap of inward focus.

You’d think I’d know better, but alas I find myself caught again.  In this state, I don’t pray for others, I’m not very kind, and I don’t have time for others. Inward focus makes me useless to those I love and not very pleasant to be around.  When I finally come to the end of myself, I cry out to the Lord, “Save me!”

The lord, in his patient and kind way, reminds me that I need to trust my troubles to him.  He redirects my focus to the needs of others, and I begin to look outward.  To my amazement, life becomes brighter, and my troubles become less important.  By putting my troubles in the hands of the only one who can do anything about them, the burden is lifted.  I can actually become a nice guy.

Will I fall into this trap again?  I hope not.  The “pit of despair” is not a nice place.

Psalm 42:5

Why are you down cast O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

Note:

I found out that Praising God is the first step out of the trap.

THE ADVENT OF CHRIST

Over the next four Sundays we will prepare for the celebration of the advent of Christ.  The word advent means, the arrival of something important.  What could be more important than God’s son coming to us?  During the preparation our hearts become more open, and we enter a season of greater generosity and deeper expressions of love.  We sing, “Joy to the world, the Lord has come.” This is a season of great joy. 

Part of our advent preparation is the preparing of gifts.  The gifts we give are in remembrance of God’s great gift.  Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  God’s gift reflects the love he has for us.

As we prepare, Let us lay our hearts before him and allow his Spirit to minister to us so that we are ready to receive him with open arms. We need to guard against the current and temporary circumstances of this life that can cause us to miss out on the celebration of our eternal life in Christ Jesus.  Advent is a time of preparing.  We are preparing to celebrate the greatest of all events, the advent of Christ.