Monday, December 26, 2016

A Place to Return

We pulled out family videos over the holidays. There was a lot of "helping" by older children--especially when it came to opening gifts. And we sat through the infamous "Family Olympics" in the backyard. "You mean all we did was run in circles?" one of the girls asked as she watched her dad give instructions and they raced to win. "I was so cute!" another observed.

Years ago an orphanage missionary gave this advice, "Parents, make memories your children can return to." He pointed out that we have a responsibility as stewards to create pleasant memories. When our children grow up and have a hard day at work, a difficult marriage or financial burdens, we them to have the gift of childhood memories. He asked, "Have you created a place of comfort and joy they can find? A place that reminds them of the beauty and rest of God?"

How often we forget God made a place of love and acceptance for us. It's recorded in the Bible, and we're meant to revisit it daily. The memory is this: God sent Jesus.

I have a hard time imagining the limitations, struggles and trials of life for Jesus--God in a body. He was placed in a real body living under fallen, human authority (i.e. real parents) in poverty and under governmental tyranny. After living a perfect life and declaring Himself to the world, He suffered and died, offering His life for ours. He took God's punishment for our sin to fully pay the price of our treason against the Lord of the Universe. Then He rose again, demonstrating God's complete acceptance of our debt.

What an amazing memory! What an incredible place to return and revisit! And it is ours. When we struggle to love our enemies, we can think on God's love for us in Jesus. When we endure a difficult marriage, financial burdens, the weight of poor choices--we have a safe place, a place of forgiveness, hope, peace, and wisdom. We are not alone.

We may or may not have fond family memories. We may or may not be living out and creating wonderful memories--but we can return to the safest, most comforting, wonderful memory of all and find everything that is lacking in this fallen, human world. And, as we gaze on Jesus, we will change.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18 ESV)

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. (Philippians 2:1-17 ESV)

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Heart of Giving

It's beginning to look, feel and smell a lot like Christmas! Our children were home over the weekend, so we put up the Christmas tree. We have a good scald on our annual family letter and a few cookies on the counter.

The biggest focus for many--especially children and parents--are gifts. As Christians, we are quick to point out God's greatest gift to us, Jesus. Because of His love, we give to one another.

The wise men brought costly, precious gifts to Jesus. So as I read about Mary's gift of anointing oil this morning in the book of John, I was already in gift-thinking mode. A good gift fits the receiver. A good gift reflects the heart of the giver. A good gift is precious and costly. A good gift is timely and well-planned.

One of the reasons I've been lax in writing a blog entry is that I've been working on a special gift for my in-laws. More than two years ago I kidnapped shoe boxes of snapshots from my mother-in-law's house and scanned them, one by one. I renamed and filed them in my computer. Then, this winter, I edited and compiled them into a photo book for her and her boys. Since my father-in-law passed away while they were in their teens, it was a bitter-sweet, but good, gift. It fits my mother-in-law's love of her home and family. It reflects my love for her. It cost a great deal of time and sacrifice (i.e. sleep, blog entries, housework (!)). It  was planned for a specific time and celebration.

Our gifts are small in comparison to God. His gift in Jesus is a magnification of what we're capable of. We give, we love, because He first loved us (1 John 4:19) and gave us both a pattern and the ability to give. In providing Jesus, He gave what we needed most and couldn't live without. He gave us His very self--greater grace, greater mercy, a greater Gift--than we deserve. His gift was costly and precious; more than we can imagine. His gift was timely and well-planned (Galatians 4:4-5).

In reading about Mary's gift of anointing oil in John 12 this morning, I thought through my own response to God's gift. The oil she used didn't just appear on her shelf. She planned. She labored. She saved. Perhaps she scrubbed floors on her hands and knees. Maybe she took in laundry, ran errands, or drew water. Chances are she did real, earnest, hard labor for a long time. Maybe she'd received a generous dowry--and was willing to give her future, her dream, for Jesus. I wonder if she lay awake at night thinking about how to increase her savings? If she worried she would run out of time? Did she watch Jesus come and go, anticipating the day she would bless and honor Him with her livelihood?

What a fitting time to think about worship--giving Jesus the worth He deserves, to worth-ship Him. Loving Jesus is not just a song sung at vespers, a passage read under the tree, or withdrawing from worldly festivities altogether. Loving Jesus is living, serving, thinking of and worth-shipping Him as I complete daily tasks, express compassion, extend kindness, lift the burden of others. It's saving eternal blessings for His glory, from one day to the next, in anticipation of the day I meet Him face to face and say, "Here, Jesus, I was thinking of You. It's all I have to give, by You grace and for Your glory." It's a gift that only I can give. It's enabled and empower by Jesus through the Holy Spirit, Himself. It requires time and sacrifice. It will be revealed at just the right time. And, craziest of all--it is all a result of His gift. It is not mine to give, but how blessed I am to represent and image Him, to spread His glory and be His gift to others.

"For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen." (Romans 11:36)

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’” For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. (John 1:14-18)

Out from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God; and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal; and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. The first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say,

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.”

And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying,

“Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.” (Revelation 4:5-11)