Everything or Nothing

One of the most well-known and popular verses quoted by Christians is Philippians 4:13, “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (NLT). This verse is encouraging for us, especially in the midst of trials and problems. I keep a little card with this verse near my bathroom sink, to remind me who helps me through each day.

Another verse is just as important to remember and one that should probably get equal time: “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5, NLT) (emphasis mine).

We can do all things through Christ while we are in him, with his lifeblood flowing through us as we stay attached to the vine. And while Jesus never meant his warning to drive us into legalism, he does want us to be cognizant of and mindful about staying attached. It is possible to wither and dry up and then it won’t be possible to do anything. Staying close to Jesus does require some effort, specifically practicing his presence and the spiritual disciplines. Nothing can separate us from his love, which means as long as we stick to the vine, we won’t have to worry about being “apart from” him.

Apart from Christ we can do nothing, but in him and in his strength, we can do all things.

In Spite of Ourselves

When the Bible says God is love, many of us believe it’s true, but. Is that because his love seems too good to be true? Or is it because we are convinced we aren’t worthy or deserving of his love? Some like to say he loves us in spite of ourselves, in spite of the sin and darkness in our hearts. Is that the way God looks at us?

One of the myths surrounding God and his perspective on humanity is that because of the egregiousness of our sin, God can’t even look at us. His standards of holiness and righteousness won’t allow him to have anything to do with us, unless and until we repent and accept Jesus as our savior. This is difficult to reconcile with 1 John and other verses that talk about how much God loves us.

The truth is God loves us so much he sent his son to become one of us, sharing our humanity in all respects. He not only looked at us in our sin, he loved us while we were sinners and enemies, taking our sin upon himself, in all its ugliness. He loves us, not in spite of, but because of ourselves – because he made us out of his love, in his love and to be loved. This is the right perspective and the right response is to love him back, with gratitude and joy.

God’s Not Sitting on His Hands

I grew up thinking God isn’t very busy. After all, he finished creating everything a long time ago and the world seems to keep going on its own, so what’s left for him to do? What does he do all day? Maybe he sits at a desk waiting for prayers to be submitted and then decides which ones he’ll answer. Or maybe he manages the angels, telling them where to go and who to protect. Some think his anger meter just keeps going up and one day he’ll blow his top because of the sin and evil in the world.

I’m being silly of course. God doesn’t do any of those things. But he is busy, and he is not bored. God is active in the life of every believer. He’s active in the lives of those who don’t yet believe, even though they pay little to no attention to him.

As the meditation of St. Patrick indicates, “Christ behind me. Christ before me. Christ beside me. Christ between us. Christ beneath me. Christ above me. Christ within me.” He is always with us and as we learn to walk in his rhythms of grace, moving in tandem with the Holy Spirit, we will see all the ways he is involved in everything we do. In him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).

As my husband, my mom and I have prepared to move to another state, I’ve prayed for him to move in our lives in all the ways listed in St. Patrick’s prayer. And I’ve experienced God doing just that, as I have my whole life. I’m so thankful he isn’t sitting on his hands. God is busy creating, transforming, arranging, rearranging, blessing and working in our lives.

What Does God Require?

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!

God’s Gift of Light

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.

Good news, not fake news

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.

God’s purpose

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!