Longing to Belong

FriendsWhere did this come from–this desire for connectedness with other people? There may be several reasons, but the one that trumps all others, to my way of thinking, is this: God is highly social, and he created us in his image.

The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have never been alone. They always have each other’s company, and thrive in it. The strong bond of love and partnership that exists among them stands out to me in examples like these:

  • Twice, when Jesus was on earth, the Father spoke from heaven, “This is my beloved Son.”
  • John 3:16 does not say: “The Son so loved the world that he came, so that whoever believes in him should not perish . . .” If I had written it, that’s what I would have said. After all, Jesus loved us so much he volunteered to die for us. But Jesus highlighted his Father’s love: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son“–showing amazing empathy for how hard it was for his Father to send him.
  • When Jesus described for his disciples what the Holy Spirit would do for them, he said,  “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me” (John 15:26). The Holy Spirit’s whole passion is to help us know Jesus better.

The three Persons of the Trinity are each other’s greatest fans. They know what a rich relationship is all about. It shouldn’t surprise us that such a social God would say:

“It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18).

God sets the lonely in families (Psalm 68:6).

 “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).

Why do we crave connectedness to God and to people? We were created for close, supportive relationships–relationships full of delight and satisfaction. Don’t be afraid to talk to God about your social needs and challenges. He will help bring health into that part of your life.

EASTER: Dare to Look

When I opened up Office.com Images to find an illustration for this post, colored eggs, chickies, and cherry blossoms popped off the screen. Easter! Spring! Love it, love it.

Beautiful to behold. Unlike what came before Easter–the Cross. That is hard to behold, at all. But one day I did, and here’s what I saw.

Three crosses On the Cross

Read Colossians 1:21-22; Luke 23:26-46.

There’s a reason why the Cross is the primary symbol of the Christian faith. On the Cross, Jesus gave his life to redeem mankind from sinfulness and rescue us from the tyranny of the evil one. It was the turning point of history on this planet.

In remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice, I have worn a cross around my neck, taken Communion, and fasted during Lent. But I never had the courage to look squarely at Jesus suffering on the Cross.

That is, until Cheri Brisbin, my “Life and Teachings of Christ” instructor, caused me to look. As she described the scene, I saw a Man big enough to bear the Cross and still support Peter, and the women of Jerusalem, and his executioners, and the thief on the Cross, and his mother…and me.

I kept looking at the Cross, and I wondered how Jesus’ sufferings and demeanor on that day affected his disciples. Peter had marveled when Jesus had said they were to forgive seventy times seven times. But after Calvary, I’m sure none of the disciples ever again wondered if that was possible: they saw Forgiveness incarnate, Love that could not be offended.

And then there was the matter of servanthood. Jesus’ washing of their feet was startling enough that the disciples probably finally got the picture that love and service were the ways they would have to operate to please him. However, that was insignificant compared to the demonstration of servanthood they were going to witness in the next 24 hours.

He gave his very life; and even in the midst of his agony he did not allow the pain to keep him from reaching out to the last few people who needed his encouragement and salvation. Truly, when we perform great labors of love and suffer for Jesus’ sake we are still like children helping their daddy: our work is small compared to his. He did, and still does, most of the work. And our part we can do with grace, because he’s right there to help.

I used to think that it was the strictly the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost that made lions out of the disciples who had scattered like sheep at Jesus’ arrest. But now I can’t help but think that some backbone was put into them at the sight of Jesus taking the worst that hate and evil could dish out, behaving like a prince, and coming out a victor.

Instead of being afraid to look at Jesus’ agony, let’s look—and weep—but catch his love and his courage. In the light of the Cross, let us see the pettiness of sin and carnality and accept the grace to live as he did.                               Celia Willard Milslagle

9781425978358_cover.inddFrom Streams of Living Water: A Daily Guide to Devotional Meditation on God’s Word  by F. Burleigh Willard Sr. and Celia Willard Milslagle.

 

 

The Truth Doesn’t Have to Hurt

The worst thing about falling, as a child, and skinning my knee was what Mom did to heal it. She soaked a bandage in angry red mercurochrome or brownish iodine and slapped it right on to the already-painful cuts.  Boy, did that sting. The Neosporin generation doesn’t know how good they have it! But, to be honest, the medicine didn’t hurt for long, and it did help the knee heal.

The truth is like medicine. Like iodine, the truth can sting. Also like iodine, it can heal people’s lives by steering them onto a better path.

But the truth doesn’t always heal. If the hearer is offended by the truth, he may angrily reject it. If the hearer is deeply wounded, she may focus on how mean the truth-teller was and ignore the message.

The happy fact about the truth is: it doesn’t have to hurt.  It doesn’t have to be spoken coldly and critically, coming across like a battering ram.

The truth can be spoken with love.

. . .speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. . . . (Ephesians 4:15 NIV) 

BridgeLove is the bridge between me and others, which allows the truth I speak to walk across looking like a friend.

How can I build that bridge? I can preface my statements with “I don’t want to offend you,” or “May I say something as a friend?” or “May I make a suggestion?”–spoken with friendly ease.

The apostle Paul was on to this:

. . . that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love (Ephesians 4:14-16 NKJV, emphasis added).

Twice in this passage Paul refers to the growth that results from knowing the truth–and both times he links it with love. So, it’s not just truth that causes people to flourish–it’s a mixture of truth and love.

The truth doesn’t have to hurt! And it works better when it doesn’t.

VALENTINE’S DAY: Valentines Unlimited

Valentine ClusterIt was early 1993–not Valentine’s Day, but close. I awoke to a world blanketed in snow. Like any school teacher, I immediately turned on the TV to view the list of school closings. Divernon . . . Pleasant Plains . . . Springfield . . . Getting closer. Then there it was: WILLIAMSVILLE. Woo Hoo! No school today.

Well, the first thing I did was bundle up, pull on snow boots, and head out into the winter wonderland . . .  with a snow shovel.

After my driveway and sidewalk were clear, an inspiration hit me. Feeling rich in time and good will, I cleared my new neighbor’s driveway as well. She came out with a broom about the time I was finishing, and seemed totally baffled that a stranger would take this chore off her hands.

Her surprise made me remember that I, too, had once minded my own business and expected others to take care of theirs. I had not noticed scriptures such as:

Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. (1Timothy 6:18 NIV).

Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24).

Apparently, being a Christian is not just about living an exemplary life and spreading the message of salvation. It’s scattering acts of kindness far and wide, the way God does.

Your Father  [God]. . . causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? (Matthew 5:45-47 NIV). 

Switching to The Message Bible for the next verse:

Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you” (Matthew 5:48 MSG).

Living graciously and generously is our privilege. It’s part of our God-created new nature. And it is powerful: Giving out an unlimited number of “valentines”–not just today, but from here on out–will have an amazing side effect: Evil will disappear from our part of the world.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. . . .

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. . . .”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:17, 20-21).

 

 

CHRISTMAS: The Heart of Christmas

Heart & traceOne of the traditions of my childhood home was listening to Dad’s reading of a story on Christmas Eve. If the story was long, he would read for several evenings, concluding the story on Christmas Eve. The Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke was one of those long ones. As a child, I was intrigued by the plot of that story. As an adult, reading it to my dad whose voice had grown weak with age, I was caught up by the style—language as rich as the tapestries of Artaban’s native Persia. Now, remembering this story, I am struck by the way it captures the heart of Christmas.

It is often said that the spirit of Christmas is giving. And it is.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son . . . (John 3:16, emphasis added).

And the imaginary fourth wise man also gave. He sold his vast possessions to purchase three costly jewels to give the baby king who he believed was the hope of the world. The he gave . . . he gave one gem after another to save the lives of desperate strangers in his path. When he finally found the King, he had no gift to give him. But he knew that he had done what love dictated.

To his great joy, he learned that the King was as pleased by those acts of love as if Artaban had done them for Him.* Because the King of the universe deeply loves everyone he has created, and rejoices when someone—like Artaban—does them good.

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’ (Matthew 25:40 NIV).

Because:
The LORD is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and rich in love.
The LORD is good to all;
he has compassion on all he has made (Psalm 145:8-9 NIV).

Yes, God gave . . . because he loved. (For God so loved the world that he gave . . . [John 3:16, emphasis added]).

This year I’m trying not to get so caught up in giving all the right things to all the right people that I bury the love in my heart. That I walk right past folks who need a life-saving gift, thinking I “don’t have” time—or money or whatever—to deal with their needs.

YOUR TURN to Share or Discuss:
• What opportunities have you had to show the love of God this Christmas season?
• Did they interfere with your normal Christmas plans?
• Ten years from now what will really matter—Christmas-as-usual or what you did out of love?
• What will make this a real Christmas?

 

*I’ve only given you the sketchiest summary of The Story of the Other Wise Man. I hope you treat yourself to this classic. Right now, you can download a Kindle edition for $0.99!

A Reprimand and a (Virtual) Hug

PANNING FOR GOLD

Digging into Revelation 3:1-18

I would not have wanted to be a member of the church of Laodicea when the Apostle John sent to it this message from Jesus:
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see (Revelation 3:15-18).

How embarrassing! How terrifying! But then I noticed what immediately follows:

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me (Rev. 3:19-20).

At first, I thought Jesus had abruptly switched gears. First, it seems, he was fed up with the Laodiceans. Then, his heart softened a bit. But, no–Jesus states that the whole message was prompted by love.

First, love compelled him to set them free from the deception that was alienating them from him and thus causing them to become increasingly ungodly. Secondly, he quickly assured them that he loved them as much as ever. Then, lest they were still reeling with shame–maybe even ready to run away and quit trying to be a Christian–he stepped close and said, “I’m right here at the door of your heart. Not to chew you out, but to take you back as a beloved follower.”

When I worked in the church nursery, I was given instructions on what to do if a child was hurt. The final instruction was to ask for the parent to come in and hold the child for a bit, to establish the child’s emotions again. This passage shows Jesus’ tender concern that we not become overwhelmed by the revelation of our faults. He gives us a virtual hug, letting us know he is rooting for us all the way as we set out to do better. In the light of such acceptance, support, and affection, who wouldn’t do anything to please him?

Love Does It Right

PANNING FOR GOLD

Digging into 1 Corinthians 13 – the “love” chapter

There’s a passage in the Bible that is amazingly good literature. Until recently—I confess—I was so caught up in the beauty and power of the words that most of the message faded into the background. It was not until my small group used this chapter for meditation that I really thought about what it said. (A good reason to meditate on scripture—not just read it!) Here it is:

1 If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. 2If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. 3If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love [MSG].

What? I thought. Eloquence, miracle-working faith, works of social justice, and heroism are worth nothing . . .  compared to love?

Then rays of understanding came:

An eloquent speech or sermon can excite your emotions, but leave you unchanged. A simple word from someone who really cares about you, lodges in your heart and makes a difference in how you live.

It’s insulting to have to receive help from someone who thinks highly of their own generosity. But kind, gracious assistance makes you feel respected and cared for.

It’s not that eloquence, miracle-working faith, works of social justice, and heroism are unimportant—it’s how you do those things that makes the difference. And love knows how to do them right.

Making It Personal

  • Do you have a relationship with a boss, a neighbor, a parent, a son, or a daughter that needs to be oiled by love?
  • Which of the descriptions of love in the next four verses of 1 Corinthians 13 could you adopt for your problematic relationship?

 

What if . . . ?

What if Abraham Lincoln’s stepmother, Sarah, had not encouraged him to follow his unusual interests in reading and learning?

What if the taxpayers of Wilmington, North Carolina, had not subsidized the high school basketball program that gave Michael Jordan his start?

What if a tailor named J. D. Prevatt had not embraced and counseled sixteen-year-old Billy Graham when he was having second thoughts about giving his life to the Lord?

What if Ruth had not accompanied her mother-in-law to Bethlehem and gleaned grain in Boaz’ field to feed them both?

What if Ananias and Barnabas had not seen former-enemy Saul of Tarsus through God’s eyes and helped him gain a place in the church?

What if my stepmother, Alma Gregory Willard, had not agreed to marry a widower with three preschool-age children and go with him to a foreign land as a missionary?

What if missionary ladies “Aunty” Jane and “Aunty” Alene had not offered hugs and quiet talks as I adjusted to a new mom?

What if [person’s name] had not [done or said _______] for you?

What if you had not [done or said________] for [person’s name]?

10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 4:10-11).

Mother Theresa called it doing “small things with great love.” What if you and I hear Jesus call us to change the world, one person at a time, with great love? What if we do that today?

Making It Personal

  • Are you a leader? An encourager? A problem-solver? Ask God to show you the genius he put into you to make a difference for people around you.
  • Are small deeds really so small?
  • Whom will God bless today by sending you their way?

Magic Washcloths

Do you know what I mean by a magic washcloth? A compressed chunk of fabric you dunk into water so it will swell to become a washcloth?

That’s what I thought of several days ago when I read this statement of King David’s:

You have also given me the shield of Your salvation;
Your right hand has held me up,
Your gentleness has made me great (Psalm 18:35 NKJV).

My paraphrase of the last line: “Your kindness has caused me to expand into a glad and confident person.” 

On Monday, we saw how encouragingly Jesus reacts when we mess up. On Wednesday, we saw him offering to be our personal mentor. Today, David’s remark above shows God’s gracious, personal attention does something to us on the inside.

It sets us free from our weaknesses. It causes us to soar like an eagle. Here’s how Darlene Zschech sings it in “The Power of Your Love.”