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.

Help!

One of my most embarrassing stories is humorous only because it ended well. When we lived in Hawaii, Mike deployed for long periods of time, so I sought out new ways to entertain the children. Once day, we headed to the beach and decided to rent a floating bicycle. As I pedaled along buoyed by the huge tires, the view was breathtaking. The trouble arose as our 30 minute rental period concluded, and I turned to pedal back to shore. The trade winds had begun for the afternoon, and no matter how hard I pedaled, I could not get any closer to land. My difficulty was compounded by the fact that neither of the boys with me could reach the pedals. I tried and tried but realized it was futile.

Deciding to swallow my pride, I waved my arms in distress to catch the attention of the lifeguard who quickly swam out and towed us to shore. The reason this was funny and not perilous was that we were only about 50 yards from the beach, and the water was probably less than five feet deep. In fact, I could have walked back on the sand bar. Since the second boy was my neighbor’s son,  it seemed wiser to call for help instead of us all jumping overboard. As she watched this unfold, the boy’s mom had considered swimming in herself to pull us out, but the lifeguard beat her to it.

As we were being towed in, it was reassuring to hear that this happens quite frequently. Not wanting to repeat my folly, I used the experience to gain a couple of spiritual insights.

*Don’t try to pedal through life alone.

*When you realize you cannot make it own your own strength, don’t delay, call the Lifeguard!

In case you were wondering what an aqua cycle looks like, here is one from google images…..

aquaboad

Fix’er Up

Before and after

We are inundated with the improvement mentality…. clean up and fix up. Our fascination is evidenced by the numerous TV shows addressing this issue. Whether a house or a wardrobe, at the end of the show’s hour, a dramatic transformation occurs. Although the changes are impressive, I believe these shows can foster a lack of contentment in our own lives. When we focus on what needs repaired, we may subtly become dissatisfied with ourselves, our lives and the people nearest to us.  How easy it is to point out areas for renovation in others using our words to chisel away at another’s rough spots. Not intending to, we can even plaster over our own hearts. Since there is always one more thing to improve, it is a never ending process. Perhaps, we may even start thinking that God cannot be pleased with us or love us until we are completely repaired.

Another problem may arise if we focus too much on external improvements and neglect matters of the heart.  Like the Pharisees, who Jesus rebuked, we can appear like a whitewashed tomb, clean on the outside but lifeless inside. If we decide to begin an improvement project, Peter describes the correct emphasis, “Your beauty should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gently and quiet sprit which is of great worth in God’s sight.” (1 Peter 3:4)

Although our sanctification will not be complete at the end of an hour, God who promised to do this is faithful, He will do it. Hebrews 10:14 assures us that Jesus has made perfect forever all those who are being made holy. We can rest from our labors knowing Jesus has already done everything necessary for our transformation.  

Doldrums

flat oceanIn the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, between the Southern and Northern Hemispheres, exists an area called the doldrums. In the days of sailing, it was a dangerous location because of the absence of trade winds which could cause a ship to be stuck for weeks without any movement or progress.

On occasion, we may feel stuck in the spiritual doldrums. In the middle of our journey, everything stops and we are left waiting until the Lord brings a wind of change into our lives. The life of Abraham (in Genesis Chapters 15-17, 21) portrays the drastic consequences of one who acted in his own wisdom and strength instead of waiting for God’s fulfillment His promises. We don’t want to follow that route.

So what can we do as we wait for the Lord’s wind of change? Seek His face, give thanks and worship Him. One way to focus on Jesus is by writing our own songs of praise. Here is one of my own psalms using Psalm 143 as a starting point.

Open the heavens to my desperate cries for help
Your silence is my undoing
Don’t keep your face hidden or delay any longer
For I am lost without your presence
The enemy stalks me
Crushing my hope
Making me sink into darkness
My spirit is weary
My heart has lost its wings to fly
I think back on yesterdays
Your many gifts of loving care
I open my clenched fists
To feel the rain fall upon a parched heart
I will hide myself in you
For you can never be shaken.

Finally, in the Lord’s time, “He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters…He rescued me because he delighted in me (Psalm 18:16, 19). We are no longer stuck in the doldrums but moving forward in His Spirit.

Sweaty Creative

claypot         Everyone wants to look good doing the hard things. Like the Renaissance artist who paints seemingly effortlessly, I wish living out my faith looked like that. But it doesn’t. I am more of a sweaty creative. I think I understand what the end product of glorifying God should look like so I zealously begin. I earnestly believe I am listening to God and following Him, but life seems so messy.  I cry out for more of His wisdom and keep following Him as best as this dark path allows, but still this is not easy and by no means effortless.  I have lots of questions for God – most of them starting with why or when. I beg Him to show me what to do and how to do it to make my life a beautiful mural with all the colors and proportions just right so it will best showcase His glory. Still my life does not look like what I think a faithful follower of Jesus “should” be. How can there be any beauty in all this struggle? At times I get angry at God but like Jacob I am not letting go of Him until he blesses me, like Peter I have nowhere else to go.  Eventually, I cease striving and relinquish my limited vision to His perfect design. After all, since God is the master Artist and I am His workmanship, He alone decides how to best manifest His glory. Who am I, as the clay, to resist the Potter’s hand?

Jesus’ Math

51181025420__B465FD95-298D-4EBD-BE52-727B30FC0EDF.JPGIn reading the accounts of the loaves and the fish in Matthew 14 and 15, I realized that I make the same mistakes as the disciples did. I add up what I see and what is available in my own strength and come up with the wrong solution. Instead, I need to recognize Jesus arrives at the answer in ways beyond my comprehension. In Jesus’ math, all variables are determined, and He perfectly solves my most complex problems. He can multiply 5 loaves and 2 fish to feed 5000. He can increase 7 loaves and a few fish to satisfy 4000. He can take nothing and make it into anything He desires. What this means is that the economy, percentages, or expert opinions (whether from TV, books, the medical profession, or even church) do not weigh in so heavily. The most significant truths in any equation are that I am a child of God, and My Father commands all the power and resources in heaven and on earth to accomplish everything  He wants to do. For the world is mine and all that is in it. Psalm 50:12b

Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you. Jeremiah 32:17