A Gift of Love

“For God so love the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John: 3: 16

It defies logic. It is a divine insanity. A holy incredibility. Only a God beyond systems and common sense could create a plan as absurd as this. Yet, it is the very impossibility of it all that makes it possible. The wildness of the story is its strongest witness. For only a God could create a plan this mad. Only a creator beyond the fence of logic could offer such a gift of love.

God will do what it takes — whatever it takes — to bring his children home.

There are some who position themselves between you and God. There are some who suggest that the only way to get to God is through them. . . Jesus’ message for complicated religion is to remove these middlemen. . . We are all brothers and sisters and have equal access to the Father.

God is patient with our mistakes. He is longsuffering with our stumbles. He doesn’t get angry at our questions. He doesn’t turn away when we struggle. But when we repeatedly reject his message, when we are insensitive to his pleadings, when he changes history itself to get our attention and we still don’t listen, he honors our request.

The purpose of God’s patience? Our repentance.

( From Max Lucado’s: And The Angels Were Silent )

Ten Things God Will Not Ask

After Your Last Day On Earth:

  1. God won’t ask what kind of car you drove. He’ll ask how many people you drove who didn’t have transportation.
  2. God won’t ask the square footage of your house. He’ll ask how many people you welcomed into your home.
  3. God won’t ask about the clothes you had in your closet. He’ll ask how many you helped to clothe.
  4. God won’t ask what your highest salary was. He’ll ask if you compromised your character to obtain it and who you helped with it.
  5. God won’t ask what your job title was. He’ll ask if you performed your job to the best of your ability.
  6. God won’t ask how many friends you had. He’ll ask how many people to whom you were a friend.
  7. God won’t ask in what neighborhood you lived. He’ll ask how you treated your neighbors.
  8. God won’t ask about the color of your skin. He’ll ask about the content of your character and your prejudices.
  9. God won’t ask how many people talked to you about salvation. He’ll ask how people you talked to about salvation.
  10. God won’t ask why it took you so long to seek salvation. He’ll lovingly take you to your mansion in heaven, and not to the gates of Hell.

God won’t ask what you will do after reading this.  He already knows you.  Question is, do you know God?

 

How Cold Is It?

“It was so cold where we were,” said the Arctic explorer, “that the candle froze and we couldn’t blow it out.” “That’s nothing,” said his rival. “Where we were, the words came out of our mouths in pieces of ice and we had to fry them to hear what we were talking about.”

  That is COLD! Even colder than it’s been in our area for the last couple weeks. But, strangely enough, there is an actual upside to extreme cold. It’s been written: “The South Pole could be called the healthiest place on earth. The air is as fresh and clean as it must have been everywhere before man began pouring industrial wastes into the atmosphere. Furthermore, it’s one of few locations where man is not bombarded by germs. Not only is it too cold for them to be active, but there’s nothing for them to live on. And since winds start at the South Pole and move northward, they tend to keep away any contaminants from that region. Now you’d think people would be eager to live in such a pollution-free, germ-free environment but they’re not. With temperatures that drop to 100 degrees below zero, it’s just too cold!”

   It sounds like, if one was only concerned about keeping away from the microbes and contaminates of our planet, then one might very well want to pack up and head to Antarctica. But the cost of remaining completely isolated from that dirt and disease is a frozen environment. I think, in a sense, that’s the danger we can encounter if we try to remove ourselves from the evil of this world. Certainly, we don’t want to delve into the sinfulness that’s all around us or in any way just accept it. But neither should we detach ourselves from all the sinful people around us. That can lead to some frigid believers.

   Christ Himself, in speaking about the end times, warned us, saying, “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 24:12,13) I think part of what Jesus was saying is that as we look at the wickedness surrounding us, it’s easy to become aloof, uncaring and cold-hearted. That lack of passion can affect the way we relate to others- and to God. To keep our love on fire we need to “stand firm” and keep going deeper in our relationship with the Lord so that, in turn, we are able to love the people He created.

   This world can be a cold, cold place. But, as believers, we need to be fueled with the tenderness and fervor that flows from our Savior so we can pass it on those needing God’s warmth.

   In His Service, Jim

Prayers Make a Difference

We know that God does not listen to sinners.  He listens to the godly man who does his will. John  9: 31

The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. James  5: 16

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. 1 John  5: 14 – 15

Most of our prayer lives could use a tune-up.

Some prayer lives lack consistency.  They’re either a desert or an oasis.  Long, arid, dry spells interrupted by brief plunges into the waters of communion. . . .

Others of us need sincerity.  Our prayers are a bit hollow, memorized, and rigid.  More liturgy than life.  And though they are daily, they are dull.

Still others lack, well, honesty.  We honestly wonder if prayer makes a difference.  Why on earth would God in heaven want to talk to me?  If God knows all, who am I to tell him anything?  If God controls all, who am I to do anything? . . . .

Our prayers may be awkward.  Our attempts may be feeble.  But since the power of prayer is in the one who hears it and not the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference

( From ‘He Still Moves Stones’ by Max Lucado )

 

Set Apart

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God?  Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.  Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? “But he gives us more grace.” James  4: 4 – 6

John the Baptist would never get hired today.  No church would touch him.  He was a public relations disaster.  He “wore clothes made from camel’s hair, had a leather belt around his waist, and ate locusts and wild honey” (Mark 1:6).  Who would want to look at a guy like that every Sunday?

His message was as rough as his dress: a no-nonsense, bare-fisted challenge to repent and be baptized because God was on his way.

John the Baptist set himself apart for one task, to be a voice of Christ.  Everything about John centered on his purpose.  His dress.  His diet.  His actions.  His demands.

You don’t have to be like the world to have an impact on the world.  You don’t have to be like the crowd to change the crowd.  You don’t have to lower yourself down to their level to lift them up to your level.  Holiness doesn’t seek to be odd.  Holiness seeks to be like God.

In a 1987 commencement address at Duke University, Ted Koppel, the news anchor for ABC’s Nightline said, “We have reconstructed the Tower of Babel and it is a television antenna, a thousand voices producing a daily parody of democracy in which everyone’s opinion is afforded equal weight regardless of substance or merit.  Indeed, it can even be argued that opinions of real weight tend to sink with barely a trace in television’s ocean of banalities.”

 

Real Change

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
James 1: 17

Real change is an inside job. You might alter things a day or two with money and systems, but the heart of the matter is, and always will be, the matter of the heart.

Allow me to get specific. Our problem is sin. Not finances. Not budgets. Not overcrowded prisons or drug dealers. Our problem is sin. We are separated from our Father. We are cut off from the source of life. A new president or policy won’t fix that. It can only be solved by God.

That’s why the Bible uses drastic terms like conversion, repentance, and lost and found. Society may renovate, but only God re-creates.

Here is a practical exercise to put this truth into practice. The next time alarms go off in your world, ask yourself three questions.

  1. Is there any unconfessed sin in my life? . . .
  2. Are there any unresolved conflicts in my world? . . .
  3. Are there any unsurrendered worries in my heart? . . .

Alarms serve a purpose. They signal a problem. Sometimes the problem is out there. More often it’s in here. So before you peek outside, take a good look inside.

( From When God Whispers Your Name by Max Lucado )

Loving

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
1 Cor. 13: 4 – 7

As the husband looks in the jewelry case, he rationalizes, “Sure she would want the watch, but it’s too expensive. She’s a practical woman, she’ll understand. I’ll just get the bracelet today. I’ll buy the watch . . . someday.”
Someday. The enemy of risky love is a snake whose tongue has mastered the talk of deception. “Someday,” he hisses.
“Someday, I can take her on the cruise.”
“Someday, I will have time to call and chat.”
“Someday, the children will understand why I was so busy.”

But you know the truth, don’t you? You know even before I write it. You could say it better than I. Somedays never come. And the price of practicality is sometimes higher than extravagance. But the rewards of risky love are always greater than its cost. Go to the effort. Invest the time. Write the letter. Make the apology. Take the trip. Purchase the gift. Do it. The seized opportunity renders joy. The neglected brings regret.

( From And the Angels Were Silent by Max Lucado )

Dying With Your Shoes On

So many times in approaching the start of another year, we look towards new beginnings and fresh starts. But it also may be a good time to commit to having a strong finish. Consider the example of Joy. On November 5, 2013, eighty-six year old Joy Johnson, a veteran of 25 New York City marathons, died with her running shoes on. Johnson, who was the oldest runner in 2013’s marathon, fell at the 20 mile marker in the event. She crossed the finish line at about eight hours. After the race she returned to her hotel room, lay down with her shoes on and never woke up.

Amazingly, Johnson didn’t run her first marathon until she was sixty-one years old. The only hint of the sport was the verse from Isaiah 40:31 which hung on the kitchen wall in her family farm home in rural Minnesota:”But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles. They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
A few years ago she told a reporter about her exercise regimen. She would wake up at 4 A.M., drink her coffee while reading her Bible, and then set out on an eight mile pre-dawn run. “When you wake up it can either be a good day or a bad day,” Ms. Johnson said. “I always say, ‘It’s going to be a good day.'”

The devout Christian ran every day but Sunday so she could attend church. Johnson sang hymns to herself to pass the time while running. According to Johnson’s daughter, “She was always a happy runner—and besides her faith and family, this was something she loved the most.”

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s inspiring! As someone who’s lucky to jog 3 miles, I’m in awe of anyone able to cover 26.2 miles- especially when they’re in their eighties! Beyond the physical ability, I’m impressed by the mental toughness, daily discipline and dogged determination to live life up to the very end like Joy. It puts me in mind of Caleb from the Old Testament.

Caleb is getting well along in years, but he has no intention of sitting down to retirement in a rocking chair. He is ready to take on the new challenge of going in to conquer the land of Hebron. And notice his feisty attitude as he says  “… Just as the Lord promised, he has kept me alive…So here I am today eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then.” (Joshua 14:10,11) He recognizes, as we should, that God is the One Who gives us life and health and strength. As the Lord says to His people, “Even to your old age and gray hairs, I am He, I am He Who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you…” (Isaiah 46:4) But understand, He doesn’t just keep us alive. God blesses us with strength and purpose for our entire lives. In Psalm 92:14, elderly believers are spoken of as flourishing like a tree so that “Even in old age they will still produce fruit and be vital and green.” Will that be true physically? Maybe. Maybe not. But as long as we have breath, God will definitely give us the strength in our inner spirit to accomplish His will. I have no doubt that He has some “Hebron-like” challenge in mind for you.

So, wherever you may be at in your race, I hope and pray that you will enter 2016 with a renewed sense of perseverance to push to a strong- and glorious- finish. Keep those running shoes on. God certainly has more race for you to run.
Happy New Year, Jim

 

Expect a Pony

In this season of gift giving you may very well receive an unwanted gift or two. You can take heart that chances are none of your gifts will be as bad as Susie’s. “Little Susie had been born with a sunny disposition and was the most optimistic kid anybody had ever seen always looking on the bright side. She loved animals and was also an artistic girl so one Christmas her parents got her a big bag of clay for making pottery. They put it on the back porch next to a bag of horse manure for the garden.
On Christmas Eve, dad wrapped the presents. It was a little dark on the porch, and as you may have guessed, he wrapped the manure by mistake, instead of the clay. On Christmas morning, Susie was so excited as she finally got to unwrap her big present as her parents watched with anticipation to see how much she liked her clay.
When Susie opened the package with the bag inside containing several pounds of stinky horse manure, the parents were aghast. But before they could apologize, Susie said, ‘Oh boy! I got a pony!’” Now that’s looking for a silver lining!

We certainly don’t expect any loving parent to purposely give such a “crappy” gift.  In fact, Jesus spoke about how an earthly father- despite being “evil” compared to our heavenly Father- would never give their child a stone or a snake. As Christ said, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11) Compared to even the best of dads, God’s gifts are SO much better. James 1:17 reminds us that ultimately, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights”. But let me propose that while all of the presents we receive from the Father are good, at first glance some may seem “bad”.

A hardship- be it physical, financial, relational, emotional or spiritual- may be a “gift” the Lord has allowed to come into our lives for our own good. Paul says in Romans 5:3 “…We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance…” What appears to be awful just may be something fortunate that God has in store for us. The key is our outlook.

If we can have an optimistic, positive approach to our struggles, just maybe we will be able to lay hold of some benefit God is trying to bring into our lives, be it godly character, an unforeseen opportunity or something the Lord wants to teach us.  Certainly no one likes when life brings them a big bag of Mr. Ed’s fertilizer, but if we look closely, maybe, like little Susie, we can see past the manure to expect a pony.

I hope God gives you your perfect present this holiday.

Merry Christmas,
Jim