A Christmas devotional I read ended with a prayer for humility to remember God doesn’t owe us an explanation when he requires our obedience. An alarm went off in my head. Does he really require our obedience? And what happens when we fail?
For most of my life, I thought the most important thing to God was his law and the one thing he most wanted from me was obedience. I put a lot of energy into obeying God’s law and doing it to the best of my ability. The problem was that I knew I wasn’t obeying perfectly, and I often felt guilty. I even wondered if my eternal life might be in danger.
God does want our obedience, but he knows we aren’t capable of it. Jesus was the only perfectly obedient human being and his obedience had its source in the mutual love of the Trinity. Through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, we come to recognize and accept God’s self-sacrificing, self-emptying love. As we grow in Christ, his great love turns our hearts to him, and they become synced to his. He shares his obedience with us, and it becomes ours.
God doesn’t place requirements on our lives. What he wants is relationship, a relationship he has invited us into, in his Son, through the Spirit. He provides all we need to be, stay and thrive in that relationship.
Happy New Year!
My family and I aren’t buying gifts for each other this year, partly because we are in the process of moving out of state and don’t need anything else to pack. The other reason is because though the love and care behind gifts is wonderful, I’m starting to prefer giving the gift of my time to those I love, rather than something they don’t need and probably don’t want. We all have too much stuff!
There does seem to be a biblical precedent for this. Jesus didn’t come with physical gifts, nor did he didn’t promise power, wealth or fame. His gift was the gift of himself, the light of the world.
I love James 1:16-18 in The Message: “So, my very dear friends, don’t get thrown off course. Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light. There is nothing deceitful in God, nothing two-faced, nothing fickle. He brought us to life using the true Word, showing us off as the crown of all his creatures.”
Whether or not you are giving Christmas gifts, take time to receive the rivers of light cascading down from God. It’s light that will brighten your life all year long and keep you safe in his love. No returning or dusting required.
Fake news has been around since folks started telling people what’s going on in the next town. They either got it mixed up (remember playing the telephone game where the message became garbled as it went around?) or they did it on purpose for their own gain. Today, with the proliferation of blogs and websites, and everyone’s need to give an opinion, you have to take much of what you read on the Internet with a grain of salt.
The same is true about the misinformation surrounding Jesus. Ever since he started his ministry, and continuing to this day, the stories about who he is have been garbled, ranging to slightly in error to egregiously wrong. The good news of his birth and the reason he became a human has been distorted to the point most people have no clue about him.
The fake news is that God took his anger out on Jesus, because, after all, someone had to pay. Many believe God is still angry and just a hair’s breadth away from squashing us like bugs. But the truth looks much different. God’s plan of redemption had nothing to do with his anger. It was and is all about his love. Jesus not only brought good news, he is the good news: through his life, death and resurrection, he revealed the Father to us and just how much he loves us. Because he is Emmanuel, God with us in every sense, the story of his redeeming love is the best news humanity will ever hear.
I often hear Christian authors mention how God is working out his purpose on earth. They seem never to specifically spell out just what his purpose is. Some will advise you, through prayer and study, to determine his purpose for yourself. They might say to examine what brings you joy, where your passions lie or to even take a test to find your strengths. I’ve taken one of those tests and it didn’t help much.
What exactly is God’s purpose for us? Is it different for each of us? It’s true we have unique personalities, talents and strengths, and God expects us to use them for good. In my life, I’ve felt God has led me, rather than leave me to figure it out through taking a strengths test or through any other effort or searching on my own.
What I have noticed is God’s purposes for us have nothing to do with what we do in life. It’s much bigger than that. “Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension are proof of the total and unwavering devotion of the Father to his loving purpose of including humanity in the joy and fellowship of the life of the Trinity” (The God Revealed in Jesus Christ: An Introduction to Trinitarian Theology, Grace Communion International).
He is, and will continue, including us in his life. As we cooperate with the Holy Spirit and let him fill us with himself, he does his transforming work in our hearts, making us more like his son (Ezekiel 36:26, NIV). His purpose is us!
I was never one for memorizing scripture. I didn’t see the need for it, but over the past several years, I’ve changed my mind. I started after I heard a speaker talk about shelter verses. She told us she memorizes a few verses for difficult times, ones she could always rely on for encouragement. Now I look for verses that help me understand who God is, such as Philippians 2:5-11 and Colossians 1:15-20.
Memorizing, according to Dallas Willard, is more important than quiet time. It’s the most important way we participate in the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). “Our life takes a godly and good direction when our mind is consciously occupied with God’s written words. Those words then increasingly eliminate the conscious mental contents that would surely lead us away from God” (www.renovare.org).
Our minds are powerful, but easily distracted and even led astray. We need to be careful what we allow in our thoughts and be intentional with what occupies us. By keeping scriptures deep in our minds, “God’s words reside in our body, in our social environment, in the constant orientation of our will, and in the depths of our soul.” Memorization helps us abide in Jesus and his words abide in us (John 15:7-8). Hiding God’s word in our hearts causes his word to become a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:11 and 105). It’s never too late to start and it wasn’t as difficult as I thought. It’s good exercise for the brain too!