Beyond Happy Meals

A plate of fresh shrimp fettuccine pasta.

As a little bitty kid, I learned to sign the MacDonald’s arches so that every time we passed a MacDonald’s I would entreat whoever was with me to stop.

The little baggie of fries, the small cheeseburger or squiggly shaped chicken nuggets, the Sprite, and–you know what’s coming–the *SURPRISE TOY*–all in a yellow cardboard box of colorful activities and punch-outs and complete with an arched M handle.

A Happy Meal.

I could never have believed there was a meal more wonderful than a Happy Meal as a kid.

If you’d told me about shrimp fettuccine served with an engagement ring, I just wouldn’t have understood.  To me, the plastic toy was worth far more than jewelry or a wedding.

You know what, though?  If I go to MacDonald’s today and get a Happy Meal, it’s just not the same.  For one thing, I don’t have any use for the toys anymore.  For another, the little servings of food just don’t fit me.  If I want to have the same feeling about Happy Meals as I had as a kid I discover I just can’t.  I’ve outgrown them.

Sometimes we outgrow things in our spiritual walk, too.  What was thrilling to us as new Christians might be, well, childish to us as more mature Christians.  The Bible teaches that we should be growing up, and the kind of sustenance we need should be changing as we grow.  (See 1 Corinthians 3:2)

One of the biggest mistakes we can make as we mature is to expect the ways God blesses us and grows us to stay constant.  A Happy Meal wouldn’t have suited me the night my husband proposed to me.  In the same way, we have to learn to let go of how we expect God to work in our lives so that He can work to mature us however He wants to work.

Maybe you have a longing for the Happy Meals of the past, and you don’t understand why God hasn’t been working in that way in your life for a long time.  Maybe you question whether God really loves you, or maybe you simply wonder what He is doing. Could it be that God is working with you in a different way than in the past, for the purpose of maturing you?

One thing is for sure–as we mature, we should be surrendering more and more of our lives to God.  Rarely (if ever) does anyone in the first moments of salvation have full understanding of what surrender looks like throughout the life of a Christian. As we grow, God may expect us to trust Him with less vision (and more faith) for what He’s doing.  Look in the lives of Noah, Abraham, Job, Moses, Joseph, Esther, and many others and you see the lives of real strugglers who learned to trust God even when they could not see the full picture.

The hope we have as believers is that we know God isn’t leading us to something worse than what we had before, but something far better.  We don’t have to clutch the Happy Meal with fear that God will never give us anything so good again.  We can let go, knowing an exquisite shrimp fettuccine meal is in our future–and even better still to come.

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9b, NLT)

 

 

 

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Published in: on May 31, 2014 at 8:48 am  Leave a Comment  
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A Meal Not Fit for the King

He was a king who had just come back from a land further than any king had ever traveled.  He had just conquered more than any king before him had ever conquered.  He deserved a feast bigger than any ever prepared from the foundations of the earth.

Yet his friends were caught totally off guard.  They should have been expecting him, but they weren’t.  They had nothing for him except what they’d been eating, ordinary as ordinary could be.  Nothing at all fit for a king; nothing at all fit to reward a king who had broken walls that no king before him could even dent.

The extraordinary thing was that he didn’t demand a banquet or expect a full table.  The more extraordinary thing was that he wasn’t even eating because he was hungry.  Rather, he ate for them.  This humble king wanted them to know that he related to them and that he was really alive, and so he accepted table scraps to prove it.

Do you recognize this story?

 . . . Jesus himself was suddenly standing there among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. But the whole group was startled and frightened, thinking they were seeing a ghost!

“Why are you frightened?” he asked. “Why are your hearts filled with doubt? Look at my hands. Look at my feet. You can see that it’s really me. Touch me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do.” As he spoke, he showed them his hands and his feet.

Still they stood there in disbelief, filled with joy and wonder. Then he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he ate it as they watched. (Luke 24:36b-43, NLT)

 

Published in: on May 29, 2014 at 2:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Swimming with Manatees

Manatee sea cow cristal river florida

There is only one place in the world where you can legally swim with manatees: Citrus County, Florida.

In the early hours of the morning, we watched an instructional video of how we were to treat the manatees and what would happen if we broke the rules, and then donned wetsuits to go out on a little boat in the middle of ice cold water.  Florida has many lovely pools of hot water.  But this isn’t where the manatees go.  They got to the ice cold water to cool off.  So if you want to see them, you have to go in the ice cold water, too.

We had to get out of the boat and travel upstream to get to the secret manatee lair (that everyone knew about).  Crossing upstream, we were told not to kick our feet much, something that seemed just about impossible to do.  Ben and I kept sliding back as the current pulled us, and we found the only way we could go was to kick our feet as we had been forbidden from doing.  It was much tougher than I’d thought to follow the regulations to get to see the manatees.

Once we got to the manatee pool–a lake of winter to greet us on the cool spring day–the manatees had more rules for us.  We couldn’t hold onto them or hug them, but gently pet them with one hand.  Any manatees marked with a special bobbing device were absolutely not supposed to be touched or interacted with.  All these rules came under penalty of major fines that I could certainly not pay.  When a manatee with a bobbing device decided to introduce himself to me, I swam away in a frenzy!

But I have to tell you, even with all the rules and specifications and requirements and details, it was worth seeing the manatees.

.                         .                         .                         .

In the Old Testament, God showed us what it would be like to attempt a relationship with Him on our own.  He set up rules and specifications and requirements and details that all pointed to the gap between us as sinners and Him as our holy God.  He set up pictures to show us what had to happen for us to be in communion with Him: sacrifices, priests to offer them, and a high priest to come on our behalf to God each year.

In the New Testament, God has shown us what it is like for us to have a relationship with Him through Him.  Jesus fulfills all the rules and specifications and requirements and details that we were to follow (see Galatians).  He points to a relationship with God by God’s grace through our faith (see Ephesians 2:8).  He is the real bridge between God and man, so the pictures that foreshadowed Him are no longer needed (see Hebrews).

One of the events that illustrates this change in our communion with God is when the woman at the well is asking Jesus where people are supposed to really worship.

She’s thinking of the rules, specifications, requirements, and details that her people had versus God’s people.  She’s thinking of the: arrive at 6 a.m., get in icy cold water, walk upstream without kicking, do not pet restricted manatees kind of rules[1].

But listen to how Jesus responds to her, ushering in a new way of relating to God from outward to inward.

“Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet. So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?”

Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews. But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:19-24, NLT)

And how is it made possible to worship God in spirit and in truth?

Jesus goes on to explain.

The woman said, “I know the Messiah is coming—the one who is called Christ. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

Then Jesus told her, “I Am the Messiah!” (John 4:25-26, NLT)

The rules, specifications, requirements, and details are met in the Messiah.  What we have now is a relationship with Jesus Christ.

I couldn’t leap into the water and throw my arms around the manatees.  But I can come before the throne of God and talk to Him as my King and Friend.  Jesus has personally pushed away every barrier in the path to God.  There is no more need for timidity or fear of regulations, but only the relief of a wide-open relationship with Him, if we believe.

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16, NIV)

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[1] The rules the woman was following were wrong, because they weren’t part of God’s rules in the Old Testament.  Jesus points out her error in verse 22.  The real rules weren’t wrong, but they were about to be fulfilled through Jesus Christ.  Their purpose was to point to Him (see Hebrews).

Published in: on May 25, 2014 at 9:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
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His

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, NIV)

His.

God doesn’t have to borrow love from someone else.  The love He has for us . . comes purely from Him.  Not from warm fuzzy feelings about us, but from His very nature.  He loves us because of who He is, not because of what we can offer Him.

Sometimes I think we get the impression that God needs us or that He somehow benefits from helping us.  The reality?  God could have destroyed us all, created a billion obedient beings to worship Him, and moved on.  Our glorifying Him is to our benefit–not to His.  He is already fulfilled and complete.  We desperately need Him, but He has no need for us.  Yet He treats us with the most exquisite love, which we often misinterpret as meaning He must get some use out of us!

Within God is an incomprehensible well of love.  The well is dug deeper than we can ever reach, even if we live with Him for all eternity.  It’s a well driven into the very heart of God, and from His heart we drink the promise of a love too perfect for us to understand, and too wonderful for us to ever delight enough in.  It’s His love.  His own.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, NIV)

 

 

 

Published in: on May 21, 2014 at 7:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Demonstrates

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, NIV)

Demonstrates.

It’s such a movement word.

You can demonstrate something terrible or something delightful, but you can’t demonstrate standing still.

Right away, we know we have an active God.  There is no passive God in the Christian faith, but one of passion.

What does God demonstrate?

But God demonstrates his own love for us . .

God demonstrates love.

1 John 4:16b teaches us,

“God is love.”

What God demonstrates is naturally what He is.  He doesn’t have to pretend to love.  He doesn’t have to manufacture love.  He certainly doesn’t have to force Himself to love.  Since He is love, He simply demonstrates love.

As water seeps out of an overflowing river, God’s love seeps out of His overflowing nature.

I don’t know if you’ve ever gotten the chance to see street performers or not (usually in big cities), but they give a whole new class to performances.  It’s one thing to see someone up on a stage with makeup and lights and surround sound doing something amazing; it’s something else altogether to see someone at eye-level in street clothes on a sidewalk performing a talent.

When God first demonstrated His love in Christ, do you know how He did it?  Not with the awesome splendor and trembling wonder that the Second Coming will have . . but with the birth of a little baby in a crowded city.  He demonstrated His love in a manger.

And what did Jesus do in His time on earth?  He walked with sandaled feet around a countryside and through towns, teaching ordinary and even despised people to turn their hearts to God.  He healed the isolated and the disgusting.  He chose for His close friends a group of men doing regular jobs.  There wasn’t one CEO in the mix.

And then there was His death–murdered on a cross.  He could have chosen a way to die that no one had ever died, but instead He chose a way that many criminals in that time commonly died.  Why?

God demonstrates.

At eye level.  Where we can all see Him.  In fact, Jesus said in John 8:28 about His death,

“When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.”

The cross identified Jesus as God.  Only God, only God would be willing to come and demonstrate His love for us dressed in street clothes, without props and fanfare.  He didn’t come to show off.  He came to demonstrate.  To demonstrate the love that overflows from Him.

That we might be saved by the demonstration.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, NIV)

Published in: on May 20, 2014 at 7:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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God

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, NIV)

I don’t know if you remember diagramming sentences in school, but, if you had to diagram this sentence, who is the one doing the action?

God.

But God demonstrates . .

What does God do?  Demonstrate.

Who demonstrates?  God.

Take it to the bank: this verse is about God.  Yahweh.  The Great I-Am.  Lion of Judah.  Mighty Creator.  Jehovah Jireh.  The One Before All.  The Alpha and Omega.  The Author and Finisher of our faith.

We are not the ones doing the action in this verse.

Oh, we’re in this verse, but we don’t get into the sentence diagramming for a while.  Diagramming 101 gives you two actions with one actor:

God demonstrates

Christ died

God.  And then One of the Three in the Trinity: the Son Christ.

This verse is all about what God does.

It does NOT read like this,

But we demonstrate our love for God when we do ______, ______, and ______ & earn our salvation.

It reads like this,

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Who is the one demonstrating love?

God.

Who are the ones totally incapable of helping, still sinners?

Us.

Romans 5:8 is a promise from God to us, not from us to God.  We can’t earn our salvation.  We can’t earn God’s love.  And thank God!!!!!!!!!! we don’t have to try.

God is the one acting.

And God is ready to act in your life, no matter who you are.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, NIV)

 

Published in: on May 18, 2014 at 1:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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But

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, NIV)

It’s only a 3-letter conjunction, yet it can change the entire meaning of a passage.

But.

In context:

Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:7-8)

The word but turns the former verse from despair to bliss.

If Satan whispers in your ear, “No one would die for you.  You’re not worth it.  A good person, maybe, but you?”–remember this word:

But.

It’s true that, in the way of the world, there’s no hope for sinners.  People don’t step up to take the electric chair for murderers, or the firing squad for betrayers, or even time in prison for embezzlers.  People don’t read the newspaper and watch the news so they can find a criminal to trade places with, as in: I’ll take your punishment and you take my freedom. 

We just don’t do that kind of thing.  We might stand up for people we love, or the innocent (we might), but for someone who is totally evil, through-and-through?  Never.

Yet to God (who sees things as they really are), we are all evil, through-and-through.  And here is where that essential, life-changing conjunction comes into fruition:

But.

God is not like us.

We wouldn’t die for the wretches . . but God would.

We wouldn’t give the most heinous criminals our freedom . . but God did.

We wouldn’t sacrifice our joy to take a villain’s sorrow . . but God has.

But.

It’s the start of a very beautiful promise.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, NIV)

Published in: on May 18, 2014 at 12:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
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24/25 kids win the raffle?

Raffle Tickets

One year, the counselor at our school decided to call a school-wide assembly and give away prizes to the children with 100% attendance.  He had prizes of all kinds lined out along the stage and a bucket with the students’ names inside.  One by one, he called students to come up and pick from the plethora of prizes.

Over times, the prizes slimmed, and so did the kids who hadn’t won anything yet.  One by one, each child won something from the raffle until there were two children left and one prize.  Quite not on purpose, the counselor had 24 prizes donated and 25 students had gotten perfect attendance that quarter!!

Before the last name was drawn, the counselor promised to have a prize for the other student!

Can you imagine 24 out of 25 elementary students winning a prize–and a little kid being the one to miss out?  (He was only a kindergartener or first-grader!)  I still remember him sitting patiently, criss-cross, as every other student’s name was called for a prize.  (Happily, immediately after the raffle, he got to go down with the counselor, who found another prize in his office to give away!)

You know, sometimes I think we view God with the fear that we’re sitting in an assembly waiting on a raffle.  We wait on pins and needles to hear our name.  We’re afraid that we may be that 25th kid–the unlucky one, the one who misses out on Heaven.

God doesn’t leave our eternal destiny up to chance.  Rather, He gives each of us the opportunity to be fully confident in our salvation through Jesus Christ.  We don’t have a ‘ticket to eternity’ stuffed in a hat somewhere with a million other names, hoping God pulls ours out before He runs out of patience.  Rather, we have a God who paid for every single person who chooses to receive Him.  Salvation is a free gift up to Christ to give: and He’s chosen to give it to us all.  All that waits is whether or not we will choose to receive it.

There’s no 24 out of 25 here.  It’s all about choice.  Our choice.  God loved us so much that He gave us the choice: eternity with Him, or not.

Even the worst, most down-and-out, biggest loser of a sinner can have the same assurance as the ‘best saint’ when (s)he receives Christ.  Jesus has paid for all of our sin, no matter the amount.  Debt-free is debt free, whether you owed $60 dollars or $6 billion.

With Christ there is no arduous wait and nerve-wracking time hoping for salvation to be announced.  Salvation is here, and salvation is now.  With no raffle to be found.

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.” (Hebrews 3:15, NIV)