Labels

A while ago, during the course of the week, I was called both a Zionist and a Yankee. I wasn’t sure what a Zionist is, so I came home to look it up. I joked with my husband that there are a lot worse things to be called, but still I felt misunderstood. Someone was putting me in a category simply because God has given me a love for the Jewish people, and I encourage others to pray for Israel. Another person thought my rapid speaking was an indicator I came from somewhere “up North.”

I decided to blog about this topic to challenge myself and others to be cautious in when using labels. Labels have power. For their own convenience, someone placed me in a category without really knowing or understanding me. It is all too common to label someone based on a cursory conversation or specific criteria. Our education system is filled with labels. Even in our churches, we tend to label and categorize. Whether charismatic or Calvinist, senior or millennial, these labels imply something the user may think useful, but likely the one labeled will feel unvalued or “put in a box.”

Jesus was familiar with labels. In John 10:20 Jesus was accused of being “demon-possessed and raving mad.” In Mark 3:21, Jesus was labeled, “out of his mind.” In Matthew 11:19, Some said, “Here is a glutton and drunkard.” Obviously, all those labels are clearly incorrect!

Labels limit. Someone mentioned to me that she could not find a small group to attend because none of the labels fit – She felt excluded rather than connected.

Jesus came to tear down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, man and woman. He made us one in Christ. He removes our labels but gives us a new name. What ultimately matters is not how we are labeled by men but that our identity is in Christ as forgiven, redeemed children of God. Even so, take care not to employ careless labels which could lead to hurt or misunderstandings we never intend.

Job’s Friends

As I was reading through the book of Job, I noticed a prayer I had written in the margin, “Please, Lord, keep me from being like one of Job’s friends.”  As Chapter 2 explains, his friends started out well. When they saw Job’s great suffering, they sat silently with him for 7 days.

Unfortunately, they decided remaining silent with Job was not enough. They began offering advice and spiritual “wisdom.” They blamed Job for his condition and made suggestions what he should do to get right with God. Even when they spoke truth, their timing and motives were skewed.

I have several wonderful friends. One quality they all share is their compassionate ability to listen.  Yes, they challenge me and remind me of truth, but they are more interested in being there for me than providing me with good advice.

Over the years and moves, I have known people who mean well, yet with them, I felt guarded with or even misunderstood. When Mike was gone for a year in Korea, I can’t tell you the number of people who said, “The time is going so quickly!” For me the year did not pass quickly! Every day seemed long, so I felt even more alone when people said that.

Another time I don’t feel heard is when someone offers a spiritual platitude or verse in response to deep grief or disappointment. For example, when someone says, “God’s timing is always right” or “God works everything together for good.” Without a doubt these are true, yet I think when someone has been waiting a long time for God to answer a prayer, and sees God more quickly answering the prayers of those around them, these truths may not bring comfort, but doubt or confusion. A friend will remind them how precious they are to God even if He seems silent. Until the suffering one can see God’s light shine forth, a friend “bears all things” remaining with them as a reminder God will never leave them or forsake them. 

People who have not experienced depression, grief or chronic illness may not realize the tentacles that strangle out joy and energy from everything. To recommend a simple answer like a book or sermon, exercise or change in diet trivializes the suffering someone faces. To suggest that the person move on or not dwell their condition is as impossible advice as suggesting they grow 6 inches taller.

Sadly, texts and e-mails may enable us to be more like Job’s friends. It is too easy to write off a quick response and without really hearing what our friend is saying.

It is easy to let too many weeks or months or years go by without reminding someone we care.

It is too easy to assume the God would instruct our friend in the same way and on the same path He has led us.

Friendship is very rewarding, but maintaining true friendships take time and effort. Sitting with someone in their pain and waiting for answers from God is not comfortable. When I think about it, being a true friend is impossible. However, thankfully nothing is impossible with God. He can transform me from being a friend like Job’s to a friend like Jesus.

The Other Wiseman



I collect nativities and keep many on display all year long. I enjoy the reminder of the wonder and mystery of God becoming incarnate, of Jesus, the Creator, the King, born in an obscure village to poor parents.  When I consider the birth of Jesus, I wonder which person I would respond most like – hopefully not the innkeeper who failed to recognize the opportunity right in front of him. Instead. I would hope to respond like the shepherds who quickly hastened to follow the sign from heaven, seeking and finding the Christ.

I never really connected to the Magi, the elite of their society with resources to make an incredible journey seeking truth. Then I came across a story by Henry Van Dyke originally published in 1895. Since it is available free through public domain, I hope you will take time to read it. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/10679/10679-h/10679-h.htm

Mr. Van Dyke chronicles the journey of another wiseman. He is delayed joining the others because stops to help someone in need. Even so, he doesn’t give up, but continues the pilgrimage to arrive in Bethlehem only to find he has missed the One to whom the star was pointing. Along the way this seeker is interrupted by many, yet he takes time to assist those who cross his path as he searches for the promised King. This wise man enters Jerusalem just in time to purchase the freedom of a young girl being sold into slavery, but not in time to see the Messiah before He was crucified.

I feel like that character. Every day, I get interrupted and detoured by little things.  I say, “no” to seemingly “exciting” or “fulfilling” things so I can say, “yes” to the people closest to me. Like the pilgrim, I arrive at what I perceived was the goal too late or never at all.

This wise man dies saddened that he was never a part of the big events, never reaching his quest, yet as he enters heaven, the one He was searching for joyously welcomes him. Jesus astounds him by saying, “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

  Many keep the path, but will not reach the goal;

Who seeks for heaven alone to save his soul,

  While he who walks in love may wander far,

  Yet God will bring him where the blessed are. Henry Van Dyke

The Greatest of these is Love.

Wait Training

Although we are in the midst of the Advent season, a time of waiting and anticipation, it seems that in today’s society, waiting has become a lost art. We don’t know how to wait in expectancy because we have Instagram and same day delivery. As much as I hate to admit it, I, too, have become terrible at waiting.

My friend Linda is a fitness instructor. As part of her classes, the participants use weights. Weight training builds muscle strength and enables us to stand taller and endure more strain.

I think our Heavenly Father also has us in a training program – wait training. His training builds inner strength, enables us to stand firmer in our faith and endure more stress.

Those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength.They will mount up with wings like eagles,They will run and not get tired,They will walk and not become weary. Isaiah 40:31

We often to quote Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans for welfare and not calamity, to give you a future and a hope,” but this promise would take a long time to fufill. Verse 10 reads, “When 70 years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fufill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place.” The people of long ago were able to wait patiently because they knew God had a plan.

How can I learn to trust God is He gives me everything I want as soon as I ask for it?

Perhaps one secret learned in wait training is knowing and believing the truth of His word. God has a plan and His plans cannot be thwarted. God never fails to keep any of His promises. Before the world was spoken into existence, the Trinity’s devised a master strategy for Jesus to live among mankind, to be brutally crucified, to pay for our sin, and  to purchase our redemption. Knowing the Lord’s design ultimately results in our good, we can wait for Him to answer prayers and reveal details to us. We understand with certainty His second advent approaches. When Jesus returns to reign, we will reign with Him and receive an eternal inheritance that can never perish or fade away. The Lord will fufill His good word to us and bring us to be with him forever.

The Unnoticed Commission

Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and take word to my brethren…” Matthew 28:10

I love Jesus with all my heart and soul and want others to know of His love, but I do not have the gift of evangelism. However, after reading these first words recorded after Jesus rose from death, I realize I have the same purpose which He gave to these women. Jesus was commissioning these women to go back to the people they knew and share words of hope. The tomb is empty! Jesus is alive! His promises are true! Furthermore, Jesus wants to meet with them.

We are more familiar with the “great commission” found later in the chapter where Jesus tells his followers, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…and teaching them to obey all I have commanded you.” I don’t think I will ever baptize anyone, but when I read Jesus words to the two Marys, I felt my heart leap. I can identify with the task He gave them. I go to my sisters and my brothers and share His words with them. It is one of my greatest joys to discuss a passage of the Bible and find God’s promises and hope. I know that because the tomb is empty, we have hope for the darkest situations. I can remind my brothers and sisters that the Lord wants to meet with each one of them. It comforts me to know that witnessing is not limited to church planting and explaining theology but simply testifying of God’s goodness and grace in my life.

Was Jesus Christmas Shopping?

Seeing the people, Jesus felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew 9:36

snow

When I heard this verse, isolated from its context, I wondered, “Had Jesus been out among the masses on Black Friday?” Or perhaps He was grocery shopping the day before Thanksgiving? Or at the post office in line behind 7 other people waiting to mail a package?

In context, I know this verse is not referring to the crowds making holiday preparations, but I did notice people have not changed much in two thousand years. If I were to describe the people I encounter, I could use those exact words, “distressed” and “dispirited” and include a few of my own such as “anxious,” “unsettled,” and “without peace.”

Even as believers, it is all too easy for our lives to become characterized by hectic busyness so that we too are distressed and dispirited, without peace. This transpires when we forget we have a Great Shepherd who longs to restore our fragmented souls to wholeness and peace.

Preparing for the holiday of Christmas is so much different than anticipating the Christ. Those who were alive for that first Christmas did not realize the birth of the promised One was upon them, yet to the extent they longed to see the fulfillment of the promise, they were willing to alter their lives to worship as soon as they received the good news.

I pondered, “What is the good news that we are celebrating at Christmas?” He is called Jesus because He will save his people from their sins. He will be called Immanuel because God is with us. Through His death on the cross and resurrection, He presents the gift of eternal life for those who believe.

Striving after any other goal than Jesus, whether at Christmas, or during any other time of the year, leaves me frazzled and fragmented. Therefore, what measures can I take to return my soul to the care of my Great Shepherd? First, I ask myself if the items on my list are things the Lord is asking me to do or  are these tasks something I have put on my own plate that is not from God? God strengthens me to do any good work He has given, yet he doesn’t promise me the same strength for all those chores I choose to engage in for some other reason (such as pleasing others or looking good).  I remind myself I don’t have to fulfill every expectation because if I am putting too much pressure on myself to show love or prevent disappointment, I am really not pointing others to the right source of true hope and love – Jesus.

I try to listen to songs about the savior’s birth, not the Christmas songs bombarding the airways that have nothing to do with Christ. I stop to stare at the Christmas lights on the tree or sit still to watch God’s handiwork as the snow falls. Actually, I don’t have much of a plan because detailed plans and over-scheduling  steal my peace because I have dismissed the One Sovereign Ruler and appointed myself as CEO of my own little world. However, I have a daily choice, especially this month, to continue in my hurried distractions or to relinquish this position into his fully capable hands and allow the King of Kings to rule the universe and the Prince of Peace to rule my heart. 

A Devotional Life

A common phrase used in my earlier years as believer in Jesus was to “have devotions.” People kept one another “accountable” by asking, “Are you having devotions?” The idea of accountability could be the subject of another whole blog, but for this one, I was reflecting on the idea of having devotions contrasted with living a devotional life.

Is there a difference between devoting a certain amount of time each day to reading the Bible and praying and to living a life devoted to God?

Yes! There is a drastic difference between setting aside a portion of my day to devote to God and practicing the presence of God all day as Brother Lawrence advocated. The letters contained in the book, Practicing the Presence of God, were written in 1666, yet the insights are still relevant today. Throughout our days, our spirit can always be attentive to His presence with us and our ears attune to His voice. Therefore, we are continually having inner conversations with the Lord (prayer) throughout our day. We are hearing God’s guidance, correction or encouragement and responding to Him.

In the first case, our devotional time is a similar to a piece of a pie. We compartmentalize our lives so God governs one area, but we tend to let the world, our desires or the voices or others permeate everything else. When we are living a devotional life, every minute of my day becomes an act of worship.

When we “have devotions,” we get our “marching orders,” and depart to accomplish what we think the Lord wants. However, our tendency is to fall back on our own wisdom and strength.

Apart from Him we can do nothing. The more closely we abide in Him (live a devotional life), the more closely we can be conformed to the image of Christ. The more we become like Jesus, the more He (not me) will flow over into the lives of others. While my goal 25 years ago may have been to have daily devotions, today I seek to live every moment aware of His presence, depending on His Spirit for my strength, asking that every word I utter will be His word, and for every interaction I have with others to reflect him. To do this, I can’t stop my time with God at 8 am to move on with the rest of my day. I entrust myself to His tender care all day and I invite Him to speak into my life even when I am sleeping.

God’s Word

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever. Isaiah 40:8

Forever. The word of God stands forever! I drove by the tree stump pictured below which stood near my house for a very long time, possibly a mere sapling as the battles of Civil War thundered nearby. In a mere few hours, this tree was felled by a chain saw.

stump

Not so with the Word of God. In Jeremiah 1:12, the Lord tells the prophet, “I am watching over My word to perform it.” In Joshua we read, “Not one of the good promises which the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass.” In 2 Corinthians 1:20 we learn, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him.”

Even the prophet-for-hire, Balaam, could not come against God’s word to bring a curse upon Israel. What confidence we have in God’s word! In a world filled with chain-saws and other methods of destruction, when we stand on the certainty of God’s word, we are like trees firmly planted by streams of water, yielding fruit in season, our leaves do not wither and in whatever we do, we thrive.

Grace Shoes

I had been studying Romans and took a break for a walk. Since my usual shoes were not visible, I grabbed another pair I had not worn for a while. They felt heavy and restricting. It made me think about the difference of trying to live under the law contrasted by living in the grace of Jesus. The law’s purpose was to show us our sin and lead us to Christ, but it was burdensome. The next day I wore a much lighter and more flexible pair of shoes which reminded me of grace. Somehow the same walk that was tiresome while I was wearing the “law” shoes was easy in the “grace” shoes.

Romans 7:6 But now we have been released from the Law having died to that by which we were bound so that we serve in the newness of the Spirit and not the oldness of the letter

Disappointment

Wishingwell

During a marriage conference my husband and I attended, the speaker, Jimmy Evans, stated that the number one cause for divorce was not conflict about money or in-laws but disappointment.  In other words, this marriage did not turn out how we had hoped and expected. 

Disappointment leads to distance, not only in marriage but in our relationship with God. Because God promises never, ever to leave or forsake us, the feeling of separation results from how we perceive God, not that He has distanced himself from us.  

One source of our disappointment with God may be an unanswered prayer. When we ask the omnipotent, sovereign king of the universe for something we desperately think we need (either for ourselves or for someone we love), and He does not grant our request, we experience disappointment.  

How did others in the Bible handle God not granting their requests?  In Luke 22:41-44, God did not remove the cup of suffering from Jesus but sent an angel to strengthen Him for accomplishing God’s purpose on the cross. When He knew that he would have to experience the angst of the cross, Jesus told his Father, “Not as I will, but as you will.”  

Paul urgently prayed that the thorn would be removed from his flesh, but God denied him, telling Paul that the thorn would develop the quality of humility and cause Paul to lean upon God instead of himself.  Paul concluded, “His grace is sufficient.”  

Finally, consider John the Baptist. He was the voice crying in the wilderness with the good news Messiah had come.  A few years later, John was in prison awaiting execution on the whim of a crazy king.  He had heard about miracles that Jesus was doing for others – the blind received sight, the lame walked, yet John was beheaded. Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:6 to John were, “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” John could look around and see the Lord was at work even if His power was not manifested by releasing John from prison. Earlier in his ministry, John stated, “He (Jesus) must become greater; and I must become less.” 

If your prayer is answered, who will get more glory, you or Jesus? Hebrews 5:8 tells us, “Jesus learned obedience from what He suffered.” His response to the Father was always reverent submission, and I pray for mine to be as well. 

Lord, forgive me for my prideful expectation that you will do this my way and for taking offence when your answer is not want I wanted.