Pickle Juice or Partner

Pickle juiceA long-time pastor of mine, Donna Auerbach, used an unforgettable expression. She said some Christians looked as if they had been baptized with pickle juice. Think: Joyless. Lifeless. Rigid. Legalistic. Critical.

Have you known some? Has it kept you from wanting to be a Christian? Has it made you reluctant to put both feet into the kingdom of God?

The good news is that pickle juice “Christianity” doesn’t match up with such bible statements as:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4 NIV).

. . . serve the Lord your God with joy and gladness of heart, for the abundance of everything (Deuteronomy 28:47).

It seems to match up with this scripture:

My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20 NLT).

However–have you ever noticed that the person who said this (the apostle Paul) is the same person who used the word “joy” or “rejoice” twelve times in the short book of Philippians? (Two of them are in the first bible quote above.)

Dead but joyful. Doesn’t seem to compute, does it? I mean, in Galatians 4:4, Paul he says he’s been crucified. That’s not something anyone would want. Then he says he no longer lives. That sounds like he had given up everything worth having–his personality, his passions, his dreams–everything. Where’s the joy in that?

The answer is buried somewhere  in this scripture:

“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. 25 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. ” (Matthew 16:24 NLT).

When Jesus–or Paul–talked about dying or being crucified, they were talking about letting go of selfishness. They were Married coupletalking about giving up the inferior brand of living we are capable of creating on our own in order to step into a more abundant life. They were talking about meeting Someone they wanted to follow the rest of their lives.

They were talking about a covenant relationship with Christ. You’ve heard of two people becoming blood brothers? That concept was clearly understood in Jesus’ day. It involved pledging loyalty and partnership to each under, no matter what. And it wasn’t mandatory. People only did it because they really believed in each other. They wanted to pool their strengths and were willing to supply what each other lacked. Like a good marriage.

A couple Sundays ago, my current pastor gave a sterling example of how our covenant with Christ works. His comments went something like this:

We say that if we belong to the Lord, all we have is his. Well, ten percent of our wealth belongs to him.

The rest is ours. He gives us all things freely to enjoy.

But, because we’re in covenant with him, whenever he asks for something, it’s his.

Also, the better we know him, the more we love what he loves. The more of ourselves and our possessions we throw into his kingdom.  Not because they’re his. Because they’re ours–and that’s what we want to do with our stuff.

CHRISTMAS: Glitter and Feed Troughs and a GIVEAWAY

MangerWhen I visited Israel in June, I was disappointed to find that most of the sites I really wanted to see were covered up by a church. Where was the cave-stable where Jesus supposedly was born? Somewhere under the floor of the Church of the Nativity—only a bit of the rock visible through an ornate peep-hole in the floor. Then there was the Church of the Multiplication, built around a mound of rock where Jesus probably laid the loaves and fishes before multiplying them. There was a Church of the Sepulchre, a Chapel of the Ascension . . . you get the picture.

I got a grip on my irritation by considering that the millions of pilgrims and tourists flocking these holy places would probably have worn them down by now, if they had not been protected by buildings.

Then my fellow tour group members, Agnes and Cienne, gave me a new perspective. These two sisters (both in their 80’s, I understand) were Catholic women, originally from Haiti. Whenever we walked by a church, our two Haitian/American friends went AWOL. They could be found inside, in sincere adoration. Guess the ornate woodwork and stained glass weren’t meant to hide, but to celebrate, the glory Jesus had brought to that ordinary place.

But I still wish I could see the rough cave where Jesus was born and a manger (feed-trough) like the one that became his cradle. Come to think of it, I did once–kind of. It happened when my son was born right before Christmas. The Nativity meant so much to me that year as I marveled that my newborn babe would someday be . . . what? Something amazing, no doubt.

I read and re-read the Christmas story in Luke and Matthew. Each time, I captured some of the awe and hope of that birth that was even more momentous than the one I was experiencing. That December the usual presents and decorations and holiday meals brought me special satisfaction because my heart knew what we were celebrating.

Every year, millions of us look to the glitter and excitement of the season to bring us joy. It’s like trying to be as happy as everyone else at a victory celebration . . . even though we didn’t watched the game.

This Christmas, how about peeling back the layers of holiday traditions and getting a heart-full of the Babe in the manger? Let the radiance of heaven-come-to-earth shine in your heart. That’s what the glitter of the season points to.

G I V E A W A Y

Please share your experiences and thoughts about a meaningful Christmas. If you do that today, you will be entered in a drawing for a chance to receive an autographed copy of Friend of Angels. The winner will be announced TOMORROW (December 20). If you win, you may receive it after Christmas–to extend your celebration by reading about what probably happened after Jesus’ birth. (If you prefer to buy one now to give as a gift, please follow this link.)

 

Why Not Today?

I’m a pretty tough cookie, but, one day, a number of years ago, I didn’t feel so tough. My ailing marriage really had me beaten down. I called my pastor, and—right in the middle of the day—he took the time to listen. As the conversation was winding down, I said I knew that someday God would make me happy again. Rev. Ken said, “Why not today?”

And, you know, he was right. I turned wholeheartedly to the Lord, and his comfort, hope, and even a stab of his joy took over my inner landscape.

The psalmist David knew this secret. When you read his life story—oh, my goodness, what hardships, heartaches, and challenges he faced over and over. But he took about three breaks a day to sing to the Lord. He crooned about the fears, the betrayals, and the dangers then broke into songs of thankfulness, awe, and love toward God.

Here’s how that made him feel:

You prepare a feast for me
in the presence of my enemies (Psalm 23:5).

Wow!

Jacob (see “Does He Even Know I Exist?”) found out that God reaches out to guide, reassure, and transform us at critical times in our lives. David didn’t wait for those exceptional times. He lived in the security and joy of God’s presence every day.

A friend of mine just returned from a women’s retreat. The leaders had challenged the participants to start spending thirty minutes at the beginning of each day to read God’s Word and fellowship with him. My friend has been doing that. She told me that every day she does, things just didn’t bother her like they usually do. I wish you could see the sparkle in her eyes.

. . . you will fill me with joy in your presence . . . (Psalm 16:11 NIV). 

“. . . the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10 NIV). 

 

Making It Personal

  • Do you need some joy and strength in your life today? Do you have to wait until all your problems are solved?
  • Have you fellowshipped with the Lord today? If not, how about now?

 

 

Replaced with a Song

Would you agree the worst part of being in a pit is what it does to your spirit and emotions? A few years ago I saw a classic example of that–with an unforgettable conclusion.

I was visiting friends whose daughter was home for the summer. Traumatic events in her life had taken their toll. It was impossible to predict what topics of conversation would trigger emotional responses from her.

A few months later, in a phone conversation with her mother, I heard this story:

Before the young lady returned to school, her mother asked her to give them a bible verse they could use when they prayed for her. She gave them a verse about being restored to gladness. After her parents had used the words of this scripture for a couple months in their daily prayer for her, her mother asked her how she was doing.

“Oh, you don’t have to pray that for me anymore. I’m fine.”

I saw her during her Christmas break. When I commented on how radiant she looked, she said, “Oh, yes! God has been so good to me.”

Which bible verse did her parents pray over her? I really don’t know, but I suspect it was part of the passage below. It sounds exactly like what happened to her.

1 I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
3 He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in him
(Psalm 40:1-3).

Making It Personal

  • What do the verses above say about rock-like stability and a song of joy? Are they part of God’s plan for you? Something you can ask for?
  • What would happen if you made the above verses a daily prayer for yourself or someone you love?
  • When people ask you about your new confidence and cheerfulness, you can point them to the kindness and power of God.