Why A Baby?

baby damian

(FreeImages.com/Marco Ojeda)

My thoughts this season have frequently gathered at the sight of the baby, lying innocently and quietly in a manger.

I have contemplated the meaning behind why the Son of God came as a baby and not as a ruling prince in the prime of his life.

Why a baby?

What was God trying to teach us in coming as a baby?

I allude to some of what I was thinking on this subject in a previous blog post (https://graceinthemoment.wordpress.com/2017/12/11/just-a-baby/).

As I pondered the meaning of a baby, something so simple but so profound struck me.

God taught us first to worship before He taught us to serve or to work in His Kingdom.

The angels, announcing the Savior’s birth, appeared to simple shepherds who were quietly watching over their flocks.  The shepherds immediately ran to find the baby and fell at His feet to worship Him.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, immediately sings a song of worship when she hears of His coming!

Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, immediately sings a song of worship when Mary visits, pregnant with the Son of God.

Simeon and Anna were two elderly people who daily visited the temple, waiting the birth and appearance of the Messiah.  When they see Him in Mary’s arms, they immediately recognize Jesus for Who He is and begin to praise God.

Wise-men from the East travel far to present precious and valuable gifts to the baby Jesus and to worship Him.

The Son of God’s arrival was announced by a Heavenly Host, praising God!  His birth resulted in worship.

The work part of His ministry would come later.

God knew that man would always be tempted to first seek a ministry or work before seeking to worship.  Why?

Because, it’s tempting to look to a ministry or work to find our meaning or to make us feel important, but authentic worship requires vulnerability and humility.

Instead, God is looking for worshipers and seems to indicate that worship is always the prerequisite to true kingdom-work.  In fact, worship and service are like threads woven together, and the third strand is always love in the center.

In fact, worship and service are like threads woven together, and the third strand is always love in the center.

In the hustle and bustle of the holidays, let’s not overlook the most important part:

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace and good will to men!”

People or a Cause

urban

(FreeImages.com/MatheusAlves)

We read the newspaper articles, and feelings of anger immediately flare.  We see the pictures, and outrage occurs.  You don’t have to go further than a Facebook browser to see that there is immense suffering and needs on this earth.

We may decide to join a cause that goes along with our feelings and beliefs.

Sometimes though, we focus so much on a cause, a ministry, a platform, a political stance that we forget that our motivation is supposed to be about people.

There are worthy causes.  There are worthy ministries.  There is a time to stand on a platform and to speak to the heart of a cause.

We just want to be careful that in our pursuit of ministry and a cause that we don’t forget the individuals for whom we fight.

If we are not driven because of authentic compassion and respect for the people, then perhaps we should get off the platform and get down among the people.

People are not a cause or a means to find your platform.

People are people who need to be loved, heard, and seen for themselves.

Running On Empty?

glass

(FreeImages.com/MargaritRalev)

I started this year with a theme/verse that God had given to me: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)  The theme was freedom from self.

Let me tell you, when you know you are called to a place of dying more to self so that you might live more in Christ, the battle is not going to be easy!  This entire year so far has been full of many wonderful God-moments, but it has also held some huge attacks against my identity.

I have written numerous blog posts about identity because this topic is so incredibly important and is very dear to my heart.

You might be asking, “What does identity have to do with feeling like I am not just running on empty but I am dried up, cracked, and brittle?”

Talk about busy!!!  We are down to 5-6 weeks left in the school year.  The end is in sight, but there is so much to accomplish at the end.  Summer sounds like a “breather,” but for those of you who have some or all of your kids in school, it’s a different kind of busy.

In the 21st century, “busy” is such a common description that if you ask someone how they are doing, 95-percent of the time, they will answer, “Busy!”

I understand that we can’t ignore busyness all together and live.   I have five kids.  I home-school two of them, two are in private school, and I have a 3-year-old who desperately needs to be potty-trained.  I have a side business.  I try to stay connected with people.  I am a soccer-mom, basketball-mom, and swim-mom, during the typical seasons.  I run to allergy shot appointments every 3 weeks, orthodontist appointments for three people regularly,  and at least 22 other medical appointments in a year that are just for regular maintenance (optometrist, dentist, gynecologist, dermatologist, and ophthalmologist).  I run to fix retainers and glasses that seem to constantly be getting bent or stretched.

So, if busyness comes with the territory of living, how can I avoid the never-ending feelings of emptiness that result so often?

Is the issue the busyness, or is it something else?  Is busyness the root cause of my emptiness or merely a symptom of the root cause?

To start to answer these questions, let me share a little of my recent experiences with you.

I knew I needed a spiritual “re-alignment” recently.  When I started to feel those old feelings of insecurity rearing their ugly heads, I knew I was it was time to come in for a “tune-up.” 

Feeling hyper-sensitivity, feeling really “low,” feeling jealous, feeling insecure, feeling a desperate need for validation and affirmation?  Those are dead-giveaways that there is a core problem that can’t be fixed with more pats on the heads, a platform, a position, a vacation, a new outfit, a horizon, a new vocation, or a new decoration.  In fact, those very things will continue to feed the feelings of emptiness and discontent.  They will satisfy fleetingly, but there is a never-ending need for more…

The other day, I took the kids to a nature center/park.  My 5-year-old daughter was immediately drawn to the shiny appearance of Pyrite (Fool’s Gold) that they had for sale.  I decided to purchase the large rock because I knew it would make a great object lesson and also would be a good reminder to me.

Pyrite has the appearance of something of value, but the reality is that it doesn’t hold the core qualities that distinguish it from the similar appearance of real gold.  See the following article on differences: https://www.thermofisher.com/blog/mining/pyrite-the-real-story-behind-fools-gold/ and http://www.minerals.net/mineral/gold.aspx.

It is interesting that Pyrite is brittle and can’t bend like real gold.  The mineral structure of Pyrite is mostly sulfuric.  The appearances of gold and Pyrite is similar, and they can be found in similar rock-beds, but the structure is different and thus is their use.

Pyrite reminded me of how we often search for the value of something, based on its appearance.  Does it look like success?  Does it look like prosperity?  Does it look like affirmation?  Does it look like security?  Does it look like beauty?  Does it look like fame?  Does it look like comfort?

What if the value of something isn’t in its appearance but in its core?  What if it’s the structure of the thing itself that determines whether it will hold up or whether it will crumble under pressure?

During part of my “re-alignment” time, God was showing me that I had been following after fulfillment based on the appearance of things: their appeal.  What He reminded me is that the most important things — the real blessings are not out there.  Rather, they are always right in front of us. 

God doesn’t dangle His blessings on a string and then keep pulling them back further the closer we get to them.  Rather, His blessings are often the gems hidden in the foundation of our every day lives.  God places His most priceless treasures in the framework of our daily lives — within the gritty, dull, hard surfaces of our lives.  It’s mixed in the hard grind of our daily and in the muddy, messy of authentic ministry.

Why do we rush after the appeal of appearances? 

What drives the empty to pursue the empty?

A friend recently gave me the book Uninvited by Lysa TerKeurst.  I want to share a few powerful quotes from her book:

Indeed, the world entices your flesh but never embraces your soul.

We run at breakneck pace to try and achieve what God simply wants us to slow down enough to receive.

Imagine a little girl running with a cup in her hand, sloshing out all it contains.  She thinks what will refill her is just ahead.  Just a little farther.  She presses on with sheer determination and clenched teeth and an empty cup clutched tight.

She keeps running toward an agenda He never set and one that will never satisfy.  She sees Him and holds out her cup.  But she catches only a few drops as she runs by Him, because she didn’t stop long enough to be filled up.  Empty can’t be tempered with mere drops.

There’s no kind of empty quite like this empty: where your hands are full, but inside you’re nothing but an exhausted shell.

He’s into the slower rhythms of life, like abiding, delighting, and dwelling — all words that require us to trust Him with our place and our pace.

Why do we run to agendas, people, things, and appearances?  What is the draw?

The answer is you look for fulfillment out there when you are empty inside.

Remember, the verse I mentioned at the beginning?  …the one about Him increasing and me decreasing?

You know what truth came to me as I was getting my “tune-up”?  It was that I had been trying to find my worth again in myself. 

You see, it’s not about the agendas, people, things, fortune, fame, and appearances out there.  What we are really seeking is to find something out there to satisfy me, to validate me, to fill me, to secure me, and to give me a sense of worth.

That’s why it is so dangerous to pursue those things from a place of emptiness.  You are not after those things necessarily because of the thing or people themselves.  You are after what you hope to get from those things or relationships.

Look at relationships.  Know what happens when we try to pull from people our sense of worth?  This is what happens: rejection, shame, pride, insecurity, judgement, selfishness, comparisons, jealousy, labels…

As Christians, the deception is even more subtle sometimes.  We look to ministries and service for our fulfillment.  It is so hard to see through to the truth of our motives because we can cover them in so many “right-sounding” words.

I believe this: I believe that God’s invitation isn’t to serve Him.  I believe the invitation is to be loved by Him and for Him to love through us.  The focus really isn’t on serving; it’s on being loved by God and letting His love flow through us to others in tangible ways.  Otherwise, we’ll attach “strings” to people so that we can attempt to pull from them what we lack and which only God can fill.  This kind of “love” isn’t really love but selfish manipulation of people to ultimately feed my sense of worth.

This profound truth recently “struck” me: Authentic love produces authentic righteousness.  If we try to live righteous lives to find worth, to attempt to prove our worth before God, we will only produce self-righteousness, which isn’t righteous at all.  When we are still trying to figure out our own worth, we will bury ourselves under layers of ministry, “righteous” labels, and appearances, but the core motivation is once again an attempt to persuade ourselves, others, and God (we think) that we are worthy of His love.

The truth is this:

“God’s love isn’t based on me.  It’s simply placed on me.”  — Lysa TerKeurst in Uninvited

And this…  Authentic love that comes from a place of being filled by Him will always flow out.  It’s like a stream.  There’s a continual reservoir of being filled and pouring out but never running dry because the source of the water is from deeper and higher up.  By pouring from a place of abundance, there’s not a need to be concerned with running dry.

The place of abundance — the abundant life — is God Himself!!!

Living loved isn’t deciding to be loved…  it’s settling in my soul, “I was created by God because He loved me.”  — Lysa TerKeurst in Uninvited

You don’t have to win God’s love.  It was poured out on a cross for you.  It ran down in rivers of blood from a crown of thorns and spikes driven into His hands and feet.  It gushed out from His side, where a spear was thrust to determine His death was real.  It revealed itself in a myriad of colors, shapes, sounds, and fragrances at Creation.  It reveals itself in an eternity that is planned just for you to experience the fullness of life, love, joy, and peace like you have never known before.  Even now, it shows itself in the daily grind where He offers His Presence to be the “Gem” that is found in the midst of the hard and muddy of life.

Your Ministry Is Where Your Heart Is…

beach love

(FreeImages.com/sunshizzle)

This past Sunday was one of those “light-bulb” moments.

I was sitting in a gathering with many people, listening to a powerful testimony and under the truth-piercing Word of God.  My heart was being convicted — not in a shameful way but in a way that caused me to repent in order to receive from God.  I was being convicted of selfishness, pride, and self-seeking within my heart.

God had placed within my heart a calling to reach out to people and to share with them how God changes hearts and what it means to have an authentic and personal relationship with God.  The problem is that my calling had turned into self-seeking.  I was looking for a ministry out there, when the ministry was in front of my face.

On Sunday, it was a powerful moment when I recognized my pride, selfishness, and lack of faith.  Because of these soul issues, I was often unwilling to do the “scary” thing, to step out of my comfort zone, and reach out to others.

As soon as I repented of this, the “light-bulb”moment appeared.  I, all of a sudden, realized that God had placed His love in my heart for several strangers surrounding me, and those were my ministry.  I suddenly realized, that when I follow the love, my ministry will be found.  I know this may sound “cheesy,” but it’s the profound truth.

So often, we follow after a ministry, but instead, God wants us to follow after Him and to be so filled with His love for others that “ministry” is the natural by-product.

Ministry is where the love is.

Loving God through others is the ministry

God doesn’t call us to be in full-time ministry.  God calls us to love Him and to love Him by loving His people.

When you follow the heart of God, you will find the “ministry” He has in store for you.

This past Sunday that happened in a huge way for me, I began to reach out to strangers with whom I had fallen in love.  God led me to pray over a couple, their sick child, a young woman in a wheelchair, and other hurting people.  Why did I do this?  Because He gave me His heart for them.

So often, we get it so wrong!  We want the glory or this sense of purpose by doing things when God just calls us to give His heart to others.  Suddenly, the self-glory and the fear that holds us captive are no longer snares, and we are able to step out in joyful abandon, following Him.

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.

Luke 4:18

18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Being Or Doing?

Tulips

As Christians, we often define a person’s “godliness” by their actions, words, acts of service.

Many books, blogs, Bible studies, and radio programs are centered around the character of the Proverbs 31 woman (from the Bible).  Her actions are described in great detail.  Perhaps, the assumption is made that if we do more of what the Proverbs 31 woman did, we will also be a “mini-Proverbs-31-woman.”

As if one can be by doing… 

The concept of good works is so ingrained within our culture and certainly within our religious institutions.

There’s plenty of Biblical basis for this teaching.  The book of James in the Bible says that “Faith without works is dead.”

There are stories like the “Good Samaritan” in the Bible, which show that God finds physical acts of service the definitive way that we demonstrate love.

It is in the ordinary acts of daily service that we wear the skin of love.

Why then does it seem like as Christians we are often so busy doing good works to the exclusion of quality and quantity time in God’s Word?

Why then does it seem that the family gets the “leftovers” of our time, while the bulk of our time and energy goes to the “ministry”?

Why do ministries seem to be experiencing high levels of friction and tension and in some cases the permanent erosion of friendships and relationships?

Have we become people that are more captivated by religious activities, actions, and duties then we are by Jesus Himself and the simple love of His people?

Are we so busy running ourselves ragged over so many needs that we haven’t stopped to inquire whether or not they are specifically something to which God has called us?

Do we stop to question why we do the things we do?

As someone once said, “What we say ‘no’ to is just as important as what we say ‘yes’ to.”

The Bible also records a short story about Jesus’ visit to the home of two sisters and the brother:

Luke 10:38-42

38 Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’[a] feet and heard His word. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”

41 And Jesus[b] answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. 42 But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

“Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Martha was busy trying to prepare a meal to meet the physical needs of her guests.  Her goal was a good desire: she wanted to take care of her guests — that’s what a good hostess does, right?

On the surface, it could have appeared that Mary was selfish and lazy.  She sat at Jesus’ feet while Martha appeared to be doing all of the work.  If we judge the two of these woman based on their actions, it would seem like Martha was the most “godly” in action, until she opened her mouth.  Then we begin to see perhaps a complaining spirit.  Yet, we could say she was being a leader.  She was giving directions to those under her to keep things running smoothly.

Jesus’ response though was so unexpected in many ways.  With His ability to discern the hearts and intentions of people, rather than their outwards actions, Jesus “cuts” to the heart of the matter.  He addresses the reasoning behind Martha’s actions and complaints: fear and anxiety.

Jesus then praises Mary because she chose the better thing.  What did Mary choose?  She chose to sit at Jesus’ feet.

Mary chose worship (that is when we truly “sit at Jesus’ feet”) over works of religious duty. 

Mary chose humility over a haughty spirit that desires to gain status within religious “spheres” by outward displays of service.

In the book, Think Differently, Live Differently, by Bob Hamp, he describes in allegorical fashion the story of a young man who was born to trapeze artists but was lost as an infant and was raised instead by farmers.  As a young man, he is found by his birth-parents, returns to live with them, and begins to train for that which he had been “born”: being a trapeze artist.  In this book, the author is comparing humanity to this young man.  (We were created for something so much greater than what we live in our natural, fallen state.  We were created to walk in perfect harmony and freedom as God’s sons and daughters.  Yet through sin, we are separated from God and begin to live as if we are someone else’ child…  God’s desire is to bring every man, woman, and child back to Himself — into a life-giving, life-transforming, and freeing life as His sons and daughters.  Through Jesus’ gift of salvation, we can begin that process, but then we must learn how to live as His sons and daughters.)

In his book, Bob Hamp, says the following:

“When he slowly told his father that he knew he could never develop the skills that the others seemed to have, he waited … for the reply of disapproval that he had grown accustomed to on the farm.. This time the sharp words never came.  Instead, his father’s eyes welled with tears, ‘Son,’ he said, ‘ we thought you were dead.’

‘Of course, I want you to learn these things,’ his dad responded, ‘but it is not for me that I want this, it is for you!’

‘Son, the trapeze is in you, the high wire is in you,’ the father said.  ‘If you learn these things you will be learning who you are.  I want you to learn so you can become who you are , not so you can make me happy.’

…Tears filled his [the son’s] eyes and his throat felt thick.  They really did not need him to perform in order to be pleased with him … He remembered again why he had decided to leave behind the life he knew.  He did not leave because he wanted to work hard and be a disciplined acrobat … He did not leave to impress anyone … He left because of something in him not because of something in someone else.”

In I Corinthians 13, we read that love is the foundational principle.  Love is what God calls us to.

13 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, it profits me nothing.

1 John 4:19

19 We love Him[a] because He first loved us.

Image result for love of God

What was the greater thing that Mary chose?  She chose Jesus.  She chose sitting at His feet because she loved him.  Because He loved her.  She was “abiding” in the presence of the One Who loved her.

In John 15, there is a beautiful passage about abiding in Jesus.  This is what Mary chose.  This is how we begin to live as we were created: to become more like Jesus.  This is how we are able to love others; we love because He first loved us.  We learn and live love when we learn at the “feet of Jesus”.

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will[b] ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.

Abiding in His presence speaks of a complete and utter trust in our Heavenly Father and surrender to Him. 

It speaks of an attitude of receptivity and of obedience.

It speaks of being full of His presence and of being led by Him — not by our own selfish, fearful, and proud ambitions.

In order to truly do what He wants us to do, it starts with “being” who He wants us to be.  That begins with being in His presence.