I’m not saying I have any right to judge you. I’m telling you there is a Judge.
- Handmade cards and gifts mean a lot, but can cost only a little. Do you have a talent? Play a song on the piano or juggle or make your famous spaghetti casserole for the one you love. If you aren’t crafty and you don’t feel like you have any talents, you still write or draw something on paper. Tell someone how much they mean to you or draw them a little picture of something special about them. Chances are, they will not remember whether or not you were a wordsmith or an artist, but instead that you took the time to write or draw something for them. Even the simplest words of encouragement or most primitive drawings can play a melody of love.
- Most of us know relatives and/or friends who are going through a really tough time this Christmas. The need can be overwhelming. Choose one person each day to pray for, and maybe send them a quick card in the mail or a simple email to let them know you’re thinking of them. The gift of caring can mean more to them than gifts under their tree.
- The most precious gifts are not gifts that can be bought in a department store. Gift someone you love the gift of special attention or the gift of words. Choose to email, write, text, or tell someone you love something special about them every day throughout December–and why not throughout the rest of the year? That’s a far better gift than mere merchandise.
- Most of us already know it, but the gift of time is precious. A family meal, baseball in the backyard, a walk through the neighborhood, or making tents in the living room are all ways to give the gift of time. You can meet a friend at your home, a park, or for a walk through a nature center, and you can have a great time together without noticing you didn’t have to spend a lot of money!
- Give the gift of asking Jesus to help you strengthen a quality your friends and family don’t often see in you. For example, if you’re always losing your temper, pray for Jesus to strengthen your patience. Do expect to have opportunities to practice the quality you are praying for! Giving family and friends the gift of witnessing your walk with Christ is the best gift you can give them. So many spouses would choose to be dirt poor if only their husband or wife would be more tender towards them . . so many children would choose to never open a Christmas present if they could have peace in their home.
This Christmas season (and all year long!), may we be able to say as Paul did:
“You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” (Acts 20:35, NIV)
God is sometimes seen as someone like Santa Claus, no more interest in changing you than a man in a costume making minimum wage.
It seems to me that there are two major lies perpetuated about the I-AM in our culture, both on opposite ends of the spectrum and both equally wrong.
- God doesn’t want you.
- God doesn’t want to change you.
In an effort to disprove the first lie, we have often tried to find shelter in the second lie. As a result, we have countless untold thousands in the church, or who irregularly attend the church, or who don’t attend church but have sentimental feelings about God, who believe that they are all right with God.
In one conversation I had with a young woman who had at least a bit of an evangelical backdrop through her family, she said something like this,
“I just can’t believe that God gets angry with us. No. God doesn’t get angry. I think that’s wrong. I don’t think of God like that.”
She’s not alone in her belief. Many who have some inkling about Christianity have taken truths they feel comfortable with (i.e., God is love) and carved out truths they aren’t comfortable with (i.e., God’s wrath is poured out over sin).
Did you catch the important words in this young woman’s statement (paraphrased by me)? The new culture in Christianity of God-as-Santa-Claus usually drop catch phrases like this:
I think . . I don’t think . . I see . . I don’t see how . . I can’t imagine . . I believe . . I don’t believe . . My opinion . . The way I see it . .
What is so insidious about their misunderstandings is it’s hard to get them to see God as a pre-defined Being, not as a Being that they can illustrate or story-tell about with their word choices. And it’s not just a them issue. I see this very same problem in myself.
Here’s a simple look at why this is so ludicrous. If I wanted, I could go around saying my fiance, Ben, is a basketball player. I could do that. I could paint word pictures of Ben as the way I want to see him. But . . does that change the reality that he is NOT a NBA player? Does my “viewpoint” of him make him a NBA player?
If I actually did this, and seriously did it, people would think I had a mental illness. Yet, when people subjectively make stuff up about God, most don’t bat an eye.
What is the big problem with defining God any way you wish? The answer to that is obvious: You don’t know who God is.
I don’t think Ben would want to be around me if I kept talking about how great he is at basketball. After a while, he’d get a hint that I don’t really want to know him at all, I just want to imagine him the way I want him to be.
Don’t you think God feels this same way about us? He knows our hearts. He created them! He knows what we keep inside of them. If we want to serve a god who does not fit His description, if we refuse to fall in line with who He says He is in Scripture, we are in defiance of our Creator, and we are not genuinely pursuing a relationship with Him.
If I said to you, “I just love Ben. I love what a great basketball player he is. He’s right up there with Michael Jordan.” Do you think I really love Ben, or I love who I want Ben to be?
So many times, think we have tried to bring people to salvation by allowing them to think what they want to think or keep their misconceptions about God.
Do you not want to believe God would send you to Hell? That’s ok. Ask Jesus into your heart.
Do you not want to believe God would require of you to abstain from sexual activity before marriage? Well, God loves you. Believe in Him anyway and I’m sure it’ll work itself out.
Do you not want to believe God would require that you forgive the people in your life who have most hurt you? No problem. Say this prayer and we’ll worry about that later.
As a result, we have many people in the churches who have fallen in love with a god who does not exist. As such, we have many in congregations and in the unchurched who firmly believe they are going to Heaven to meet the god they have made up. They can’t wait to see family members who have died and are “looking down on them”. They have vague, self-thought-up identifications for who God is: He’s never disappointed with me . . He loves me just the way I am . . He wants me to be happy.
But just like the man in the Santa Claus costume takes it off and goes home at the end of the day, no more planning on buying presents from your wishlist than a man in the moon . . so, at the end of life, these thousands will find the god they costumed up was nothing more than the fanciful thinking of their mind, and all illusion will dissolve like snow in the summertime. Then they will find themselves face-to-face with an Almighty and Fearful Judge who is not their Father or Savior or Friend, who does not know them, and who will not allow them, stained with filthy sins that have never been forgiven, into Heaven.
This is a serious and frightening reality, friends. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, will you commit with me to gently but truthfully help the unsaved realize that they are not going to Heaven and that the god of their dreams is nothing more than a costumed hoax?
And if you are not a follower of Jesus Christ, will you rethink your position that God is whoever you invent Him to be? Maybe you never realized you were doing it before, but now you see that you have been believing in a fantasy. Will you release your idea of who God is to Him and allow Him to teach you He is through His Word? Will you commit your life to Him, give your soul to Him, and get serious about learning who He is? Will you take the journey of really knowing Him through Scripture, a Bible-focused church, Christian small groups, and fellowship with other followers?
Or will you wait until Judgment Day to find out that the god you wanted . . is not real . . and cannot save you from your sins?
“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12, NIV)
Could I survive without Easter? Could I love without Easter?
I need Easter every day.
Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Look, this is where they laid his body. (Mark 16:6b, NLT)
Help me to be a jolt for the heart or a pronouncer of the dead or to share my own hospital journey . . Whatever will bring people to long for a new heart from You, Most High Exalted GOD.
“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:14b)
Photograph “Reaching” by Joel Montes, profile on http://www.flickr.com/photos/joelmontes/with/4229957797/
I’m so thankful for my dearheart Ben.
He’s so handsome and sweet and kind.
Thank You, Lord Jesus, for my Ben.
Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. (James 1:17, NLT)
He demands our worship, our obedience, our prostration. Do we suppose that they can do Him any good, or fear, like the chorus in Milton, that human irreverence can bring about “His glory’s diminution”? A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word “darkness” on the walls of his cell. But God wills our good, and our good is to love Him (with that responsive love proper to creatures) and to love Him we must know Him: and if we know Him, we shall in fact fall on our faces. If we do not, that only shows that what we are trying to love is not yet God—though it may be the nearest approximation to God which our thought and fantasy can attain.
From The Problem of Pain
“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24, NIV)
But how could it be true, sir?” said Peter.
“Why do you say that?” asked the Professor.
“Well, for one thing,” said Peter, “if it was real why doesn’t everyone find this country every time they go to the wardrobe? I mean, there was nothing there when we looked; even Lucy didn’t pretend there was.”
“What has that to do with it?” said the Professor.
–From the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Chronicles of Narnia
Yesterday on my way home from work, what I thought I saw warranted a call to 911.
A man was lying in a the ditch on the side of the road, motionless. Even though it was freezing cold outside, he didn’t have on a coat, and one leg of his pants was pulled up to the knee. Clearly he’d been laying there for some time. Another man was standing over him, and there was a large truck. I wasn’t looking at the truck, but filled in the details: there was a garbage bin beside the man who lay motionless . . as the garbage disposal worker had stopped to pick up the can, he had seen the man lying motionless on the side of the road.
I pulled into a near gas station. I was in a bit of a quandary–should I call 911? There was already a man helping the man in the ditch. But I had seen a TV special where droves of people walked by a man pretending to be homeless and unconscious on the sidewalk. Few cared enough even to dial 911.
I have always wanted to be a hero, and I called 911. The dispatcher asked me for the exact location. When I realized that I’d need to pinpoint exactly where he was, I pulled back around–which took considerable time in the traffic. On my way back, I recognized the man who had been lying down, but now he was standing up and talking to the other man. And the truck wasn’t a garbage truck at all–it was a City Utilities truck.
I reported that he was up to the 911 operator. I was trying to make sense of the new information. Probably he was homeless, and had passed out, but he was all right now. But, as I turned around once more, this time on the right side of the street to pull over and talk to them, I was thinking something else. They were talking more like friends.
As soon as I got up close, I realized (with a sinking feeling) how wrong I had really been. The two men were doing something around a flooded ditch–I don’t know what, but one had a cup and seemed to be trying to drain it. The other, I realized, had been on the ground doing something–maybe reaching into the drainpipe–and not hurt at all.
I’d called 911 for no reason. I got out of the car to ask if they were okay to confirm it with the operator, and the dispatch was cancelled. The 911 operator told me she would rather to be safe than sorry.
I was embarrassed–I had jumped to such wrong conclusions. How had that happened?
I was reminded of something very real: sometimes we think we know what is going on, but what we really need is to take another look. Whether I made the wrong move over not by calling, I cost emergency operators some of their time. I took a few facts I had, and imagined a story around them in my mind–so quickly that the story became nearly fact itself . . until I took another look.
The operator didn’t seem to blame me for messing up. But what if, after I’d known the truth, I’d lied to try to fit reality into my fiction? What if I’d hung up the phone and made matters worse by not correcting my mistake? Or what if I’d made the report and driven on, as I’d originally planned to do, without taking another look?
Immediately after I hung up with 911, I realized the metaphor God was giving me through this story: take another look.
If you’ve glanced in the direction of what you assume Christianity is and think you’ve got this faith all figured out, now is the time to take a second look.
You might have looked at people you thought were Christians, talked to people who you thought were representing Christianity accurately, or just drawn conclusions from jokes on your favorite sitcom. But what you need to realize is, until you read Christianity for yourself, you will never know if the first impression you got, or the long-held belief you’ve had are really true.
Christianity is found in the pages of the Old and New Testament. And only when you ‘pull back around’ and look with a willing heart at this Book can you possibly expect to know what is true Christianity.
You can’t call Christians hypocrites, make judgment statements about Jesus, or dismiss faith as ridiculous if you don’t even know what Christianity truly looks like. All you can do is make your best guess based on what you thought you saw. And that’s a shaky ground to stand on when it comes to eternal destination.
If you drew false conclusions, whether you had the best of intentions or the most nefarious of motives, the great news is Christ loves you and wants to start all over with you today, right now. Pick up His Word and read it for yourself. See how much He loves you. And most of all, delight in the extraordinary mercy, unwarranted privilege, and unspeakable joy of God giving you the opportunity to take another look.
We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:13-18, NIV)
On devotional blogs, books, and why if this is what you’ve based Christianity on, you MUST take another look:
No matter how many devotional books or blogs you’ve read, you still haven’t seen Christianity clearly until you go to the Source.
Christian authors of course try to get the picture right, but we are all struggling with personal sin, mistakes in our thinking we don’t even know we have, and erroneous conclusions.
Christian authors go to God’s Word to be clarified and to get closer and closer to the Truth, but we never fully arrive until we are out of these bodies. (See Paul’s testimony in Philippians 3:12.)
So if you’re basing what you know about Christianity on how many Sunday school workbooks you’ve gone through or how many devotional texts you get on your phone–it’s time to take another look.
This is an IMPORTANT point to me, because for years I fell into this category. As wonderful as the wisdom was, not even the finest of Christian literature brought me to Jesus Christ in the way that His Word alone did.)
True love doesn’t throw in the towel because things don’t seem to be working. Scripture says love “always perseveres” (from 1 Cor 13:7).
Please sign this new petition for Pastor Saeed. It might seem signing petitions isn’t working, but it’s a gift we can give him. We can’t bring meals to his cell or doctors to tend to his wounds. But we can sign our name on a letter that says we care. And most of all, we can pray.