Lights So Lovely

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We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it. – Madeleine L’Engle

Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life. John 8:12

You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Matthew 5:14

We live in a confusing and tragic time. Natural disasters, political chaos, and horrific tragedies surround us. As Christians, we hold the treasure of the gospel, the good news that brings hope and light into our dark world.

However, the best way to share that treasure effectively is to shine as lights, reflecting the light of Christ, in our communities and in the lives of the people we know . Jesus told us that we were the light of the world. The apostle Paul said that we hold the treasure of the gospel in earthen vessels. The Bible tells us over and over again about the patience, the kindness, the gentleness that God has for His children. How can we, as His representatives and with His Spirit within us, be any less patient, kind, and gentle with those around us?

If we are shining as lights, if we are loving and kind, if we are sacrificial in our care for one another, the people in our lives will come to us to find out the secret of why and how we can live that way? While there may be those who choose darkness, there are also many whom God is calling, those drawn to His light and love and joy.

It is important that we live our lives with love and gladness and joy and service because the world is watching us. Why do we choose to give up our own rights for others? Why do we love the unlovely? Why do we sacrifice our own time/money/power to help others? Why do we give up our own wills to serve others?

The Christians in ancient Rome drew the attention of even the emperor because they rescued and raised the children, who had been left to die in the streets and on the hillsides. Christians fed the hungry, they cared for the sick, they clothed the naked. They weren’t powerful politically. Most of them were rather poor, especially once the persecutions started. But, in the end, Christianity overcame all the pagan gods because of love, just as God’s love overcomes all of our own defenses and rushes in and sweeps away our preconceptions, our false ideals, our barriers.

For who can defend against pure love? Who can hide forever from the light? One of the things that confused the Jews most was that Jesus did not come as a conquering king, riding a white horse, and expelling the Romans from the Promised Land. Instead, He came to serve and to die so that He might save His people from their sins. His love conquered their hearts. His love conquers our hearts. And His love will conquer the hearts of all those whom God has called.

John Donne said it well in his poem:

BATTER my heart, three person’d God; for, you
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow mee,’and bend
Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new.
I, like an usurpt towne, to’another due,
Labour to’admit you, but Oh, to no end,
Reason your viceroy in mee, mee should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weake or untrue.
Yet dearely’I love you,’and would be loved faine,
But am betroth’d unto your enemie:
Divorce mee,’untie, or breake that knot againe;
Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I
Except you’enthrall mee, never shall be free,
Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee.

It is the love of God which batters his heart, enthralls and ravishes him. The love of God will do the same to and for us. Christ said a servant is not greater than his master. Thus, we should not expect to share the gospel except by the means He used.

Jesus never allowed for sin or idols in people’s lives, but He always spoke to them in the context of loving them. He loved the rich young ruler when He said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” He had compassion on the Samaritan women at the well when He shared with her that He could give her living water and He spared the woman caught in adultery with the admonition to repent.

I think if people around us are offended, it ought to be because of their rejection of the gospel message itself, not the delivery. In the song Could You Believe, Twila Paris wrote:

Could you believe if I really was like Him
If I lived all the words that I said
If for a change I would kneel down before you
And serve you instead
Could you believe?

Let us be the sweet aroma of Christ to our neighbors and friends. Let us serve them with gladness and joy. Let us shine so brightly and beautifully that “that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it” as Madeleine L’Engle said.

Do you live this kind of life? I am aware of my continual failures, of my sinful selfishness and self-absorption. But the desire of my heart is to live for Christ and so I am compelled, I am persuaded that this way of life is the means by which we can spread the good news abroad of Jesus and His love. Won’t you join me in living in such a way that the watching world says, “I want what they have.”

Focus Word of 2018

20170510_140503903_iOSAt the beginning of 2017, a friend encouraged me to choose a word to focus on for the year rather than make a slew of resolutions that I would probably end up ignoring. After much thought, I chose the word Transition for 2017. I knew that it would be a year of many endings and beginnings which can be stressful even when those things are good and normal.

Every time I felt grieved at the loss of my work of 18 years or frantic at learning to cope with a new schedule and responsibilities, I would remember that it was a transition year and would give myself some grace. It helped a lot as I adjusted to new schedules, new routines, and new duties.

A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with one of my sons, in which he commented that many people these days complain too much about their work, busyness, and life in general. I realized that I, too, had fallen into a habit of complaining more often than being thankful. Last night while watching the movie, Dunkirk, my husband commented that he was thankful he didn’t live in such a difficult time, which reminded me of how blessed we are to live in a comparatively safe country.

With those comments in mind, I decided to focus on the word Contentment in 2018. I have much for which I am thankful to the Lord. My life is full of blessings, small and large, not the least of which is my Savior, Jesus Christ, who leads, comforts, strengthens, and encourages me daily. Add to that, I have family and friends, a beautiful job, an enjoyable and challenging job, and more books than I can ever read. How can I ever feel sorry for myself!

Rather than focus on the difficulties and discouragements of daily life as is so easy to do, I want to look at the blessings instead and be content with where I am in my life and circumstances.

There are many ways to do this. One good way is to read books on thankfulness and contentment. Two I have read in the past and found helpful are The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs and One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.

Another way to cultivate contentment is to count my blessings each morning. After my alarm goes off, I hit snooze, but I don’t use the nine minutes to sleep. Instead I pray and think of the things I am thankful for. This morning I was thankful for a warm bed and a warm house on such a bitterly cold morning. I thank the Lord for a job, for my family and friends, for books and learning, for music and flowers and laughter. Whatever I can think of that is a blessing in my life, I thank Him. It sets my heart and mind in the right direction for the day when I start with a grateful heart.

Sometimes I focus on gratitude and contentment by singing. When my boys were small and complaining, I taught them the old chorus that my grandmother used to sing,

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God has done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your many blessings, see what God has done.

Singing praise to the Lord is a good way to combat a peevish spirit. I often sing during my prayer and Bible time, sometimes aloud and sometimes under my breath if the house is asleep. Many times I sing along with the radio in the car as I am driving or sit down at the piano and play and sing hymns and praise choruses. There are many ways and times to sing, and the Scripture encourages us to do so as in Ephesians 5:19-20: speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ….

Writing down my blessings in my journal is another way I cultivate thankfulness. When I see the results of a bitter, complaining spirit, I want to guard my tongue and stop grumbling. Complaint and ingratitude start in my heart and mind. If I focus merely on not uttering complaints, I’ve fought only half the battle. I must start with what I believe, and my words will flow out of the abundance of my heart. Seeing my thoughts and beliefs in black and white on a page helps me to refocus on what is right and true rather than on my transitory feelings.

Will you join me in cultivating a spirit of contentment in 2018? And if you hear me complaining, please remind me of my word of the year. I want to succeed in replacing a spirit of complaint with one of thanksgiving this year.

Reformation Day

Reformation Wall, Geneva

500 years ago today, Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses to the church door in Wittenburg, Germany, which sparked the Protestant Reformation.  I wrote more about the event here, but I want to focus more on why the Reformation matters to us today.

Why does it matter that the Protestant Reformation happened? Will it make a difference in your life or mine?

Aside from the amazing learning and science and art and political frameworks that resulted from the Reformation, the theology that came out of the Reformation makes a difference in my daily Christian walk and can in yours, too. On my way to work last week, I was listening to this lecture by R.C. Sproul and it suddenly struck me, like it struck Luther centuries ago, that if my salvation rests on my own works, then I am lost. I cannot possibly be good enough to merit God’s acceptance on my own. But if my righteousness is not mine, but Christ’s, then I can rest in His good works, I can trust in His righteousness, and I can be saved because of His sacrifice. (Read more here.)

The Apostle Paul wrote:

I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (vv. 8b–9).

– Philippians 3:7–9

The five solas of the Reformation (Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, and Soli Deo Gloria), that God has saved us by faith alone, that our authority is Scripture alone, that we are saved by God’s grace alone, that only Christ is our Savior, and that we live for the glory of God alone are our glorious inheritance. Let us thank God for the reminder of His great love for us in Christ, especially on this anniversary of the Reformation.

What is your focus today?

Never has it been so easy to live in half a dozen good harmless worlds at once – art, music, social science, games, motoring, the following of some profession, and so on.  And between them we run the risk of drifting about, the “good” hiding the “best” even more effectually than it could be hidden by downright frivolity with its smothered heart-ache at its own emptiness.

It is easy to find out whether our lives are focused, and if so, where the focus lies.  Where do our thoughts settle when consciousness comes back in the morning?  Where do they swing back when the pressure is off during the day?  Does this test not give the clue?  Then dare to have it out with God – and after all, that is the shortest way.  Dare to lay bare your whole life and being before Him, and ask Him to show you whether or not all is focussed on Christ and His glory. Dare to face the fact that unfocussed good and useful as it may seem, it will prove to have failed of its purpose.*–excerpts from “Focussed” by I. Lilias Trotter

Distractions abound these days, even more so than in Lilias Trotter’s time–home, school, family, friends, work, church functions and ministries, books, magazines, and newspapers, music, movies, and television, phones, tablets, and computers, and so forth.

How hard it is in this busy world with all of its noise and news and amusements to stop and sit at the feet of Jesus, to be still and know that He is God, to quiet your heart and mind so that you might hear His voice.

A favorite hymn from my childhood, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, was written when the author, Helen H. Lemmel, read this pamphlet by Lilias Trotter.  The chorus of this hymn is a reminder of how we can learn to focus on the eternal things:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of Earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace

I pray that you would turn your eyes upon Jesus today and that, as you gaze upon Him and His grace and glory, you would choose the best things, not merely the good.

*To read the entire pamphlet, Focussed, go here.

Affirming my choice in thousands of ways

Daffodils April 3 2014

To be “saved” requires a severance from the former life as clean and sharp as though made by a knife. There must be a wall of separation between the old life and the new, a radical break. That means death—death to the old life, in order for the new to begin. “We know that the man we once were has been crucified with Christ, for the destruction of the sinful self, so that we may no longer be the slaves of sin, since a dead man is no longer answerable for his sin” (Romans 6:6-7 NEB).

This wall of separation, this barrier, is the cross.

From earliest memory I understood that everybody ought to love Jesus. Then I began to hear that everybody ought to “receive the Lord Jesus Christ as his own personal Savior.” To the best of my understanding that is what I wanted to do, so I did it—I asked Him to come into my heart, as I was instructed to do. It was a once-for-all decision, and I believe He accepted the invitation and came in. So far so good. I was told that I was now “saved,” saved by grace. That was a gift, a free gift, from God. Amazing. Simply amazing that the Lord of the Universe, the One who is “the ruler over all authorities and the supreme head over all powers” (Colossians 2:10, JBP), “the blessed controller of all things, the king over all kings and the master of all masters, the only source of immortality, the One who lives in unapproachable light, the One whom no mortal eye has ever seen or ever can see” (1 Timothy 6:15-16, JBP)—amazing that the same One bends His ear to the prayer of a child or of a sinner of any age and, if asked, comes in and makes His home with us. For His name is Immanuel, God with us.

How shall He be at home with us unless our lives are in harmony with His holy life? Unless He lives His very life in us and we live our lives “in company with Him’? Salvation means rescue from the pit of destruction, from the miry clay of ourselves.

So my decision to receive Him, although made only once, I must affirm in thousands of ways, through thousands of choices, for the rest of my life—my will or His, my life (the old one) or His (the new one). It is no to myself and yes to Him. This continual affirmation is usually made in small things, inconveniences, unselfish giving up of preferences, yielding gracefully to the wishes of others without playing the martyr, learning to close doors quietly and turn the volume down on the music we’d love to play loudly—sufferings they may be, but only small-sized ones. We may think of them as little “deaths.” –pp. 26-27 A Path through Suffering by Elisabeth Elliot

I am re-reading A Path through Suffering for the fourth or fifth time and was struck by this passage in light of our sermon yesterday about Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial.  Our pastor pointed out that the reality of many of us is that we often follow Jesus at a distance just as Peter followed Jesus and His accusers at a distance in Matthew 26:35 before denying that he knew Him.

It seems to me that the only way to be close to Jesus, to walk beside Him rather than follow at a distance is found in this passage from Elisabeth Elliot’s book.  The turning away from my own selfishness and fear and preferences and the turning towards Christ in humility and trust and desire for righteousness.

Advent 2015 – December 1

“Comfort, yes, comfort My people!”
Says your God.
“Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her,
That her warfare is ended,
That her iniquity is pardoned;
For she has received from the Lord’s hand
Double for all her sins.”
The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make straight in the desert
A highway for our God. – Isaiah 40:1-3

Advent is a time for preparation, a time to reflect on the meaning of the child in the manger, a time to stop and think about how the God of the Universe gave up His glory for a time and came down to Earth. I hope to spend a few moments each day this December, meditating on Christ’s love for us at Christmas and preparing my heart and my spirit to receive all of the gifts He has to share with those of us who are His children.

Instead of merely joining the frenzy of shopping and baking and wrapping and parties, why don’t you take a minute to think about the glorious truth that Jesus, the Son of God, came down from Heaven to Earth to be our Emmanuel, God with us, to be the best possible gift God had to give us—Himself.

Blogs I follow

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I have a variety of interests and therefore tend to read books of many genres and follow several blogs that touch on different topics. Some of the blogs I have been following for years and some I have just recently discovered.

I thought that I would share some of these precious little islands of blessing in the vast sea that is the internet. I’m going to start with one that I just recently found and subscribed to because the author is writing a new post for each day of October. Every single one has spoken to my heart and soul and I wanted to share her wise words with you all:

The posts that have most resonated with me this past week are here and here.

The first one on solitude was especially timely as I have been listening to A Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in which she talks about the importance of finding an hour a day of solitude and silence in order to maintain the wholeness that is so difficult to find in the midst of the many, many requests for our time and energy each day.

“Women need solitude in order to find again the true essence of themselves.”

“I find there is a quality to being alone that is incredibly precious. Life rushes back into the void, richer, more vivid, fuller than before.”

“With a new awareness, both painful and humorous, I begin to understand why the saints were rarely married women. I am convinced it has nothing inherently to do, as I once supposed, with chastity or children. It has to do primarily with distractions. The bearing, rearing, feeding and educating of children; the running of a house with its thousand details; human relationships with their myriad pulls–woman’s normal occupations in general run counter to creative life, or contemplative life, or saintly life. The problem is not merely one of Woman and Career, Woman and the Home, Woman and Independence. It is more basically: how to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life; how to remain balanced, no matter what centrifugal forces tend to pull one off center; how to remain strong, no matter what shocks come in at the periphery and tend to crack the hub of the wheel.”

I have personally found that without at least a few minutes of contemplative time for prayer, reading, and thinking, my mind and heart can easily crumble in the onslaught of the mass of “to do’s” and “oughts” each day. However, when I take that hour or even fifteen minutes to stop, to think, to pray for strength and wisdom, then am I able to meet the onslaught with grace, knowing that my Good Shepherd is leading and will supply my every need in the midst of life’s demands.

Let me encourage you to carve out a few moments of solitude today to think, to pray, to read Scripture, to life your heart in thanksgiving for all of the blessings in your life. Even if the only solitude you can get is the three minutes in the bathroom while the baby and toddler are in the playpen (I remember those days!) it will be worth it, I promise you.

Linda also had posts on Scripture reading plans and journaling, which were thought-provoking and wise. I hope she speaks to your heart as she has to mine.