Treasuring Me

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“Then, as the sun was setting, all those who had friends suffering from every kind of disease brought them to Jesus and he laid his hands on each one of them separately and healed them.”

 – Luke 4:40, Phillips –

Healing was more than a job for Jesus.

He healed very few people en masse, although He did heal the ten lepers with only a word (Luke 17:11-19). But ten isn’t a very large crowd for a God who spoke a galaxy into motion.

“Our God is at home with the rolling spheres, And at home with broken hearts.”

– M. P. Ferguson –

He could have very easily said the word and healed everyone at once.

But He didn’t.

When He called a rag-tag group of disciples to follow Him across the countryside, He could have used supernatural revelation to reveal His vast knowledge to them in an instant. Instead, He spent three years walking and talking with them. He didn’t infuse their minds automatically with Himself–He let them slowly soak in and learn of Him.

He lived in moments and worked in the context of time. More importantly, centering His will on His Father’s plan, He concentrated on whoever was in front of Him.

Not to say that Jesus had a people-centric view of life. He was always God-centric.

But that divine fellowship daily overflowed into moments focused on loving others. Complete in His triune nature, God, in His great grace, overflows to those who could never repay it. We are poor companions, yet He delights to know us. We are unfaithful partners, yet He is pleased to wash us and bring us back home.

I was listening to the Daily Audio Bible this week and heard a passage from Luke 4. Eager crowds flooded Jesus with friends in need of healing, and the passage takes great care to record His response: “Then, as the sun was setting, all those who had friends suffering from every kind of disease brought them to Jesus and he laid his hands on each one of them separately and healed them” (Luke 4:40, Phillips).

He put his hands on them.

Separately.

Each and everyone one of them.

And they were healed.

This is how my God does business. He works in subtle moments and cultivated relationships. He moves in compassion, not just addressing a problem with a general, one-size-fits-all solution, but with a wise plan tailored just for me, just for you.

He stopped and poured Himself into each precious moment with whoever stood before Him.

He paused in a crowd to search out the woman who had grasped His robe in faith. He stopped His sermon for the lame man being let down from the ceiling. On the roads, He paused for cripples, the blind, and lepers who called out for His mercy.

And when we are stumbling along in our own confusion, He is there, also. The God of galaxies smiles upon us and puts His hand on us.

Separately. Individually. Specially.

The Church is the Bride of Christ, all the members together making one body. But individually, we still matter to our Father. We are not faceless appendages in the body. We are treasured children.

“See what an incredible quality of love the Father has shown to us, that we would [be permitted to] be named and called and counted the children of God! And so we are!

 – 1 John 3:1, AMP –

The gospel is not people-centered. God’s love doesn’t revolve around me. I am not the center of the universe or the focal point of heaven. And I was never meant to be.

But oh, what grace is mine! What have I done that He would stop and look upon me?

We should not be surprised to hear that heaven and earth does not wait for our beck and call.

But we should be surprised, eternally surprised, that God would ever stoop to look at the specks upon this planet–specks that, somehow, He has seen, and loved, and filled with the image of Himself.

Take courage.

We serve the same Jesus that lovingly attended to each person He met. He has not changed.

Sometimes God is silent. Sometimes He does not move when we think it is time for something to happen. Sometimes He says no.

But He comes when we call. He places His hand upon our heads when we cry out in need. He cares about our cries.

Always.

 

“Be strong and courageous; don’t be terrified or afraid of them. For it is the Lord your God who goes with you; He will not leave you or forsake you.”

 – Deuteronomy 31:6, HCSB –

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The God Who is Near

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“I bless the holy name of God with all my heart. Yes, I will bless the Lord and not forget the glorious things he does for me.”

 – Psalm 103:1-2 TLB –

This week, a friend gave me a pink remembrance journal. She explained, “It is so you can remember all the things that God does for us.”

Ever since, I’ve been on a treasure hunt for God’s fingerprints all around me. I finally sat down this morning and wrote down some of the moments that I’ve been saving up all week.

It is a little bit like a thankfulness journal, but not quite. Instead of writing down the things themselves (“I’m thankful for…daffodils sprouting up, family movie nights, pumpkin seed dark chocolate…”–all of which I adore), I am homing in on the roots of the blessings. “God, you came when I prayed that sleepy-brained prayer for help in the middle of the night. You answered me right away! Thank you!”

Don’t get me wrong…I dearly love thankfulness journals. It is so nice to make lists of wonders that God gives, and to recognize all the blessings around us as His beautiful gifts.

But it is extra nice, at least this week, to meditate on His nearness.

It is extra nice to pick up my spiritual magnifying glass and search for the ways He is faithful.

There’s something special about that wonder that rushes over you, and you whisper, “That wasn’t me…that was You.”

“God created us for this: to live our lives in a way that makes him look more like the greatness and the beauty and the infinite worth that he really is.”
– John Piper –

When I take the time to search out God’s amazing behind-the-scenes work, something happens in my heart. It wakes up. Writing down His goodness takes the focus off me.

I can no longer say, “Wow, look what I did! Aren’t I amazing?” Instead, my eyes turn to Jesus and how incredible He is. Even though His future plans are not mine to know, thinking about how He has been faithful today or this past week strengthens me and gives me the boldness to trust Him with my tomorrows too.

As I go through this next week, I will approach it with an even greater sense of expectation because I have “tasted and seen” what my God is capable of. There is no reason for me to miss seeing Him…no good reason, anyway.

I already knew my God is good.

But practicing the presence of that knowledge is something a little different.

It is a little like stepping out into the sunlight and being blinded by the light, until gradually your eyes adjust to the splendor of a bright world.

His brightness thrills me, excites me, and inspires me. But more than anything, it comforts me.

How can I fear, when I have a Father like this?

“An infinite God can give all of Himself to each of His children. He does not distribute Himself that each may have a part, but to each one He gives all of Himself as full as if there were no others.”

– A. W. Tozer –

The Grand Experiment

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“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

– Matthew 6:21, NKJV –


Last week, I announced that today’s post just might be revolutionary.

My head feels full of a Living God of Love that I can worship, but cannot grasp.

Yet, I still must DO something. Somehow, I have to make the leap from theory to practice. From describing Love to actually living it.

As we have learned in the past weeks in the Practical Love Series, Love can be compared to many things.. We have discovered that even our selves must die in order for Love to be formed in us. All must be given over to Christ. All these lessons are still in place–and vital–as I approach today’s post.


Jesus’ famous words about our treasure were not merely a tool to urge disciples to be more generous in their tithing. Giving away money is only one facet of Love. His statement is much bigger than that.

Have you ever had to work on a project that you really hated? A prospect that dismayed, appalled, and exhausted you? Did you feel the same way about it when you finished? If you managed to do it well, did you find that the despised task gave you just a shred of pleasure when you stood back and saw the results? I have.

Just to let you know, I’m not a fan of concrete.

But a few years ago, when my family decided to expand our garden, we researched and found out that concrete block raised beds were the perfect kind of addition for us. This decision catapulted our family into a three-year building project full of cement crusted gloves, sunburns, aching backs, and a LOT of work.

As I slathered mortar in between block seams, I didn’t particularly care for concrete. When my fingers were trapped under the falling edge of a 30 pound cement block, I certainly did not enjoy the process.

But now….now, it is all different.

I look back and see the labor and the sweat and even the pain, but twelve raised beds stand inside  the garden fence now. They overflow with tomatoes and cabbages and strawberries. Green beans arch over the pathways.

I look out over the fruitful project and say, “It was worth it.”

Mind you, I still don’t enjoy smashing my appendages with oversized bricks. But my persistent labor–and that of my family–turned the difficult task into an abundant harvest.

The process: HARD. The result: WORTH IT.

The practical part of Love is not easy either. Once we understand that our only hope of Loving is if God Himself fills us with His strength, we still have to roll out of bed every day and get to work. How do we do it? From the perspective of giving, Randy Alcorn explains Practical Love in this way:

“God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). This doesn’t mean we should give only when we’re feeling cheerful. The cheerfulness often comes during and after the act of obedience, not before it. So don’t wait until you feel like giving—it could be a long wait! Just give and watch the joy follow.” ―Randy Alcorn, The Treasure Principle

In the same way, you and I can’t wait until we feel Loving in order to start Loving. This kind of Love–the choice–is not hypocrisy. I have heard well-meaning girls say, “I can’t pretend to like that person. That would be hypocritical.”

Dear ones, this is not the case. Yes, you would be a faker if inside you had no desire to show Jesus’ Love to that person. However, if you truly desire to Love and merely do not feel the emotion at the moment (or ever!), do the Loving thing.

That is not hypocrisy. That is the imitation of Christ.

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis discussed this idea. He pointed out that, as we imitate a person’s actions, we eventually learn to do better and better at the task. A baby is not very agile, after all. He is not born with a vocabulary already downloaded into his little head. Instead, he must learn by echoing his parents’ words or copying his parents’ movements. This is how we learn to Love like Christ Loves. This is how the new life is strengthened in us.

So…are you ready for the Grand Experiment? This week, I am picking a family member whom I especially want to learn to Love better. Every day this week,  I plan to do three things:

1. Pray for this person every morning before I get out of bed. I want to ask God, “How do you want me to show Your Love to this family member today.” Also, I have to remember to pray for God’s strength–the only way to pull of this Grand Experiment.

2. Choose a “Will Not” to focus on for the day. For example, “I will not sigh when Mom asks me to unload the dishwasher” or “I will not object when my sister picks out the movie she wants to watch instead of the one I prefer.”

3. Prepare a “Will” to accomplish for the day: “Today, I will write my dad a note thanking him for all he does” or “Today I will take my brother out for a Sonic drink.”

The idea of this “Grand Experiment” is not to be nice to someone for a week and then stop again.

Rather, consider this our first baby steps toward Practical Love, our first three push ups in a new fitness program–or maybe learning the ABCs of this new language.

Are you ready to be God’s Love to that one person today?

Let’s do it!

“The worldly man treats certain people kindly because he ‘likes’ them: the Christian, trying to treat every one kindly, finds him liking more and more people as he goes on – including people he could not even have imagined himself liking at the beginning…When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less.”

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity –


 Ideas? Questions?

Let us know how you plan to show the Love of Jesus for your Grand Experiment this week!


 

In These Hands, Part 2

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       2013 is almost over. New Years is approaching. 2014 is days away. And you’re back! I’m so glad we can share Part 2, after In These Hands, Part 1, was published two weeks ago!  Let’s dive in!

“God dispenses gifts, not wages. None of us gets paid according to merit, for none of us comes close to satisfying God’s requirements for a perfect life. If paid on the basis of fairness, we would all end up in hell… In the bottom line realm of ungrace, some workers deserve more than others; in the realm of grace the word ‘deserve’ does not even apply.”

– Philip Yancey, emphasis mine –

– Perfect Gifts –

God is really good at filling open hands.

If faith is ” two empty hands held open to receive all of the Lord,” as Alan Redpath says, then what is it that we receive?

Most important, if we belong to Christ, the most glorious gift is Him. God with me, God with you, always.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”

 – Romans 8:31-32, NKJV, emphasis mine –

So, “all of the Lord” encompasses not only His sparing us from wrath but also His freely giving us all things.

I’m coming to realize, like a bright dawn that slowly lifts out of the darkness, that open hands are not necessarily empty hands.

Augustine had something to say about this: “

God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them.”

This goes beyond a cotton-candy gospel and reveals that our sins are still clinging to us–or that we are clinging to them. Our self-will, our determination to hold on to our own ways, the control we crave–all of these show our fingernails-dug-in grasp on our idols.

That age-old quest, the prelude to the angelic fall–“I will be like God.”

Like God, able to hold on tight to things. Like God, controlling every detail. Like God–that power would feel so good, fill the empty places. We think so, anyway.

And so, even in our nice Christian wrapping, in our church-face facade, we bow before idols, wrapping our power-hungry hands around their feet.

Our hands are too full of trash to hold the good things.

In order to hold Him, to cradle the Best there is, we have to believe that He rewards the seeker. We have to trust that He is Who He says He is. We have to be awakened to the fact that our idols are coals burning us up even as we hold them tightly. We have to turn away in disgust at the filth we’ve been clasping fondly. Repent and believe. That He is. That He will reward you when you seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).

When we open our hands and release what we’re holding so tightly, our Father doesn’t strip anything away without giving us much more. This isn’t a health-and-wealth prosperity gospel or a follow-this-formula princess theology, as worldview teacher John Stonestreet calls it. This is God’s promise.

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”

– Matthew 16:25, NIV. emphasis mine –

When He awakens us and we see that He is a far greater treasure than anything else…

When our eyes open and we stare up into the face of a God  who comes down to our level….

When we throw off all we call life for a Better Prize

He strips off the sin, washes the guilt, pries our fingers off our idols, and then pours abundance into our open palms. He’s a God that blesses the cursing, gives gifts to the thieves, and ransoms the mockers. He’s a God that washes clean our pig-sty hearts and makes us hate the sin-wallows. He’s a God that tells you to let go.

Not because He doesn’t want you to have good things.

The truth is…you will never have good things if you always hold on to your things. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words can penetrate our “God wants to make me miserable” fears:

“The right way to pray is to stretch out our hands and ask of One who we know has the heart of a Father.”

It’s faith again, girls. When we open hands, we have to keep stretching, keep unfolding, keep those fingers pried back. But the good new is that faith isn’t mustered up. You see, even faith is His gift to us.

And one step of faith gives birth to another. Stormie Omartian, a writer of women’s books on prayer, says,

“When we step out in that faith, God increases our faith. In other words, acting in faith begets more faith.…We have no idea what great things God wants to do through us if we would just stop out in faith when he asks us to” (The Power of a Praying Woman, page 232, emphasis mine).

Open hands are the only way, you see, to hold His gifts.

“God’s gifts put man’s best dreams to shame.”

– Elizabeth Barrett Browning –

Open Hands are Brave Hands

When I was a little girl, I loved a book series about a girl stolen away by Vikings. I adored her fortitude and how her faith flourished in exile, as she became so much more than she ever could have by staying safe in the Irish hills.

When I read those books, one of her prayers thrilled me. It still is almost like a heartbeat to me:

“Give me a heart of courage.”

But now I see it’s not just my heart that needs a bravery boost. It’s my hands.

Only brave hands are strong enough to open.

Only brave hands can open and then receive God and all His gifts that He delights to shower.

And only brave hands can use those open fingers to reach out and grab another hand.

We can’t reach if our hands are balled into fists. We can’t receive anything. And we certainly can’t give. Closed hands reveal a closed heart. Whatever the reason for withdrawing, closed hands close off relationships.

Join me, will you? Join me in opening my hands from now on.

And those of you who are already working up New Year’s resolutions? Forget 2014 for this one.  A year’s too small. Let’s make this the Life of Open Hands.

Open, Gift-filled, Brave, Blessed Hands.

The prying-back might hurt. But can’t you see how much it’s worth?

And it all starts with saying yes to Him, in this moment.

“Yes Lord.”

Always yes.

“Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee;
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise….

Take my hands, and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love….
Take myself, and I will be,
Ever, only, all for Thee.”

–  Frances Havergal, emphasis mine –

 

Thank you, Atalie, with Atalie Bale Photography, for today’s photo!

Happiness Is…

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What is happiness, exactly?

Have you ever noticed how much the culture talks about it?

It comes in subtle and not-so-subtle waves.

Self-esteem. “Me” time. Get the credit you deserve.

101 Ways to Be Happy. Top 7 Tips for Becoming the Best You.

Ever seen something like that?

One article reported that some big companies have even hired Chief Happiness Officers to help their employees find some joy in life.

Happiness is an obsession with us all. We all look to be satisfied, filled, purposeful, enriched. We look inside ourselves to find an answer–and when that inevitably fails, we search for something else to anchor us, something to bring meaning. Something, anything, to make us happy.

Superior knowledge, intellectual prowess, cutting wit. Entertainment, work, sports, hobbies. Music, art, books, media. Cosmetics, physical fitness, romance.

It all rings hollow.

Why else would Solomon say this:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.”

– Ecclesiastes 1:2, NIV –

And trust me, Solomon would know. He tried it all–women, money, power, wisdom, fame. He’d tasted what the world had–and it went stale in his mouth. Soggy and tasteless and worthless.

Some of us go back to being stuck on ourselves and thinking we’re the best thing since buttered popcorn. But how does the self-obsession pan out? Solomon says it all–meaningless, meaningless, meaningless.

So if I asked you where to find true happiness, what would you say?

Would you parrot “Jesus” like the five-year-old Sunday School kid who has that same answer to every question?

Or would you really mean it when you said that only God can satisfy?

More than meaning it, have you experienced it?

The theoretical fact that God fills doesn’t do you or me any good unless He fills us–personally, deeply, individually.

And this joy–here it is:

That we are worthless, yet valued as rubies.

That we are unlovable, yet loved beyond measure.

That our deeds would kill, yet the One who died did it for His murderers.

That these dry bones would live again.

That this love is contrary to all we deserve. That we can’t ever delight in our bigness.

That the heavens and earth tell a story….

And that story is NOT about us.

John Piper said this well:

“It is about the greatness of God, not the significance of man. God made man small and the universe big to say something about himself.”
— John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life —

And that’s the good news.

It was never supposed to be about us anyway.

Which is why navel-gazing is so woefully unfulfilling.

So the solution? How to find joy in this life, right here?

Giving. Thanking, Dying to self, on this day. And tomorrow, And the next.

John Piper says that the joy is in the giving.

Ann Voskamp says the wild happiness is in the thanking–for the little, the big, the everything.

Laura Story says the blessing is in the storm.

Most importantly, my Jesus says the life is in the dying.

Isn’t this the hardest kind of dying, the kind that must be done every day, every breathing minute?

The kind that stretches out the hand even when its the last two pennies to your name?

The kind that keeps thanking God when you can’t for the life of you see the sun?

The dying that crucifies flesh and self, again and again.

“There is a warning. The path of God-exalting joy will cost you your life. Jesus said, “Whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” In other words, it is better to lose your life than to waste it. If you live gladly to make others glad in God, your life will be hard, your risks will be high, and your joy will be full. This is not a book about how to avoid a wounded life, but how to avoid a wasted life. Some of you will die in the service of Christ. That will not be a tragedy. Treasuring life above Christ is a tragedy.”
— John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life, emphasis mine —

So, here’s your ultimatum.

Are you willing to die?

Willing to risk, to give all, in order to find the true riches?

To “sell all” to gain the treasure?

To give today, every day, knowing that all the way it’s all Christ and none of you?

Because somehow, in His gracious way, even our faith-filled inability is promised reward.

That He can pour into a life and bring a child home, and then heap praise on victories won in His strength.

Can we ever give enough back to a God like this?

No, but we can try.

Happiness often sneaks in through a door you didn’t know you left open.
– John Barrymore –

Or, maybe through a door Someone Else opened?

How about being His hands, being His feet and being a helper of someone’s joy today?

(2 Corinthians 1:24)