The Choice Is Ours

Last night I dreamed about a huge snake! He was of such length that I never did see the end of him. Strangely enough, he was also flat–about a foot or more wide, and though menacing, never dared touch me. Instead, he hovered and lurked and watched.

I wonder if that was Eve’s experience, except that, as she stared at the incredible creature, it talked!

The serpent tipped its head, never taking its penetrating gaze from her. It seemed to smile. “S-s-so?” it hissed. “Did God really say that you must not eat any of the fruit in the garden?”

Eve blew an exasperated breath. Of course not! “It’s only the fruit from the tree at the center of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God says we must not eat or even touch it, or we will die.”

“You won’t die!” the serpent declared.

At this point, Eve had stayed too long. Within minutes, the serpent talked her into believing God was withholding something desirable. If she ate that delicious-looking fruit, she would be as wise as God! Eve fell for the serpent’s trick (Genesis 3:1-7). She ate the fruit and gave some to Adam. The penalty of death from which God had tried to protect them became their heritage and ours.

No doubt about it! God’s enemy is crafty. His purpose is to trick us into sin. He tempts us to question God’s goodness, to doubt the wisdom of following God’s commands. “You won’t die!” he hisses.

But Jesus called Satan the “Father of Liars.” That Father of Liars continually tempts us to believe that God is withholding some good from us. But the truth is: God wants to fill our lives with joy, satisfaction, and blessing, not destruction and regret.

The choice is ours, just as it was for Adam’s son, Cain.

“Why are you so angry? So dejected?” God says to us as he once said to Cain. “You will be accepted if you respond in the right way. But if you refuse to respond correctly, watch out! Sin is waiting to attack and destroy you … you must subdue it” (Genesis 4:7, New Living Translation).

The greatest love we will ever know is in our relationship with God. The best life we will ever experience is the one we choose to live in obedience to the Lord God Almighty because we love him.

We can believe the devil’s lies, or we can trust and obey God. The choice–and its consequences–are ours.

Focus: “The thief’s [Satan’s] purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My [Jesus’] purpose is to give life in all its fullness” ~ John 10:10, New Living Translation.

How about you? What’s been your experience as you’ve made one or the other choice? Which works best for you and why?

What Are We Living for?

You’ve heard it. You may have even said it yourself. “He lives for sports!” “I live to eat!” “They live for their children!”

Oh, yes. Whenever we pour our life energies into someone or something, we are definitely living for that pursuit.

And it isn’t only men who live for sports. Here in Wisconsin, women also spend every spare moment reading, thinking, and talking about the Packers. We deck ourselves out in green-and-gold and wouldn’t miss a game at Lambeau Field or on TV. We even show up at church on football Sundays in our Packer finery. Okay, I’ll admit it. I wear Packer earrings, jerseys, and socks on game days! I suspect it’s not much different for fans of other football franchises.

Oh, and how about those of us who love to eat? Love to collect and exchange recipes, try new foods, go on and on talking about our favorites foods and spreading the news about our favorite restaurants. We enjoy heaping our plates at the barbecues, banquets, and buffets. Wouldn’t miss a church potluck or family celebration. Oh, how we love our food!

And, let’s face it. We all know parents who pour the lives, time, and money into their children.

Is this bad? Not really.

Actually, it’s good to have a pursuit that captures our hearts and makes life worth living. Even Jesus cherished a pursuit that captured his heart and made his life on earth worth living. He poured himself into teaching, healing, and giving so that we each might know how much he loves us. He was so focused on gaining an intimate love relationship with us that he was willing to die to make it possible.

He knew that we could not have a love relationship with our holy God until someone paid the price for our sins. He volunteered, and it cost his death on the cross. The ultimate act of his love.

Since his resurrection three days later, Jesus has remained focused on his pursuit. He waits eagerly for us to respond–to be so captivated by his unconditional love that we joyfully pour our lives into learning to know and love him more each day.

Focus: “He indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who died for their sake and was raised” ~ 2 Corinthians 5:15, New American Bible.

How about you? Who or what do you live for? Have you already responded to the Lord’s love?

 

The Christmas Crisis

The young couple was poor, and their little backwoods town scorned. Yet they have been remembered and their story told for centuries. Through such as they, God can work his mighty plans.

So, the angel Gabriel went to Nazareth to tell a virgin that God had chosen her to bear the long-awaited Messiah into the world. He would be called Emmanual–which means “God with us”! For the child to be born was truly God, the second Person of the Trinity. He would pay the price to free us from sin and restore us to a right relationship with God.

When Mary told the angel, “I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to do whatever he wants” (Luke 1:38, TLB), the courageous thirteen-year-old faced great danger. Her fiance would know the child was not his, and unless Joseph provided his protection, the townspeople would stone her to death as required by the law.

Yet Mary said “yes” to God.

It was no surprise when Joseph considered breaking their engagement. But God intervened. In a dream, an angel told Joseph not to hesitate, but to take Mary as his wife, “for the child within her has been conceived by the Holy Spirit … you shall name him Jesus (meaning ‘Savior’), for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20, TLB). Joseph knew the price he would pay. He would lose his good name. The townspeople would believe that he slept with Mary before their marriage, something strictly forbidden. His livelihood as a carpenter would fail if people took their business elsewhere.

Yet Joseph said “yes” to God.

Sometimes, God asks us to bear great burdens. Why must our loved one die? Why will no one hire us? What purpose does deformity and lengthy illness serve? How can our difficult situations can lead to anything but more trouble? Like carrying a baby to term, instead of ending the unwanted pregnancy. Won’t that complicate–maybe even endanger–the mother’s life? Or forgiving those who repeatedly hurt us. Won’t that just encourage them to continue?

Life is full of challenges. Some we bring on ourselves through our own choices. Some come to us through choices others make, or the unrelenting forces of nature. At times like those, we can sink into fear or choose to reap the joyful rewards of trusting God and the wisdom of his ways.

Focus:“Stop being afraid of what you are about to suffer … remain faithful even when facing death and I will give you the crown of life–an unending, glorious future” ~ Revelation 2:10 (TLB).

What about you? When, most recently, have you trusted in God while facing great difficulty and been glad you did?

The Story of Thanksgiving Day

Crossing the Atlantic, most of the 102 passengers aboard the tiny Mayflower suffered severely from sea sickness. As they finally sighted Cape Cod on November 9, 1620 with only one death among them, they fell to their knees and thanked God who brought them “over the fast and furious ocean … and a sea of troubles.”

The storm-tossed waters prevented them from sailing south to the Virginian colony, their intended destination. Yet they believed God in his wisdom had directed them to the place  they must now prepare from scratch to make it, for winter was already upon them. Having arrived with little food, they sent out scouting parties who found baskets of grain and a good place farther north where hey could build a permanent community.

They struggled through that first winter with inadequate clothing and blankets, hardly seven of them well at one time. By the end of March, half had died of pneumonia. Yet not one among the living boarded the Mayflower for the return trip to England that Spring.

Squanto arrived and made his home with them. An Indian who spoke English, he taught those city folk how to plant corn, fish the river, and hunt turkey and deer in he forest. He also helped them forge a lasting peace with Indians living in the area.

By Fall, the grateful band of devout Christians recovered their health and had enough food to see them through the coming winter. Inviting their Indian friends to join them, they held a three-day feast to thank God for his goodness–a practice they continued year after year. Eventually, some of their descendants settled elsewhere, taking with them their annual thanksgiving-to-God feast.

Then in 1863, President Lincoln declared the occasion a national holiday. But it all began with a small group of Christians who made it a habit to thank God no matter what.

Did they face danger, illness, lack, or loss? They thanked God. Were they blessed with safety, unexpected help, a new home, enough food? They thanked God. These people chose to obey God’s Word about giving thanks.

Focus: “In every thing give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” ~1 Thessalonians 5:18, The Living Bible.

How about you? For what are you especially thankful to God this year?

Thanksgiving Living

On Thanksgiving Day in 1942, Dorothy was a beautiful, twenty-four-year-old bride. Over the years that followed, she and her husband raised seven children. They’s didn’t have much money, but they provided a home filled with faith in God.

Every Sunday they took their children to church. Every school year, they made room in their budget to send those children to Christian school. Every evening her children could find her on her knees at her bedside, bringing their needs to God in prayer.

During the early years, Dorothy cleaned, cooked, canned, and sewed to stretch each dollar to provide her family with the best her talents could offer. As the older children entered school, she added a part-time job as a waitress in family restaurants. None of her children lacked for love or care. Neither did her church family. Both she and her husband supported their church with their tithes and their talents.

Fifty years passed quickly. Surrounded by family and friends, Dorothy and her bridegroom of long ago celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary, including the renewing their vows before God in church. Eighteen months later–again in the company of family and friends–she laid her husband to rest.

This year Dorothy celebrated her ninety-seventh birthday. In a world consumed with the threat of an unstable economy, how does a ninety-seven-year-old widow on social security and a small pension manage? Who cares for her?

God cares for her! He not only provides for her needs but delights her heart through her children’s loving care. He surprises her with unexpected gifts, gives her the health to enjoy living in her small apartment in a lovely retirement community, and answers the prayers of her grateful heart. Surrounded by her loved ones, Dorothy lives quite well as she always has–by her faith in the Lord God whom she serves daily with thanksgiving.

Focus: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” ~ Philippians 4:6-7, New International Version.

How about you? How have you seen God provide for your needs in surprising ways as you walk in thanksgiving living?

Are Good Manners a Small Matter?

Wearing a big grin on his little boy face, Tyler ran to his mother in the church foyer. “Mom, can I–?”

She held up her hand in a kindly way, and then turned back to the woman who was talking to her.

Tyler knew the signal.  It had something to do with not interrupting a conversation until invited to speak. Something his mother called good manners–courtesy. He guessed it was like saying “please” when he asked for anything and “thank you” when he got it.

He immediately fell silent and waited–if impatiently–for his turn to speak.

Was Tyler’s mother wrong to teach him the ways of courtesy? In today’s TV sitcoms and other media, good manners are a small matter.  We laugh at crude remarks and rude behavior. They are so common that they’ve become “the new normal.” So what’s all the fuss?

Just this: God doesn’t agree. His Word clearly tells us that love is not rude (1 Corinthians 13:5). It does not behave unseemly.

Imagine that! Good manners are a way we show love! Not only in our relationships with one another, but in our relationship with God. Yes, we should freely ask God for what we need, but with a humble word of please. And we should remember to thank him. But courtesy toward God is more than that.

Yet how many times, like exuberant Tyler,  do we rush into God’s Presence, blurting out our requests? While like a loving Father, God desires, and even invites us, to present our needs to him, his Word tells us the right way to do it. We are to approach him in love … with courtesy.

Focus: “Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise” ~ Psalm 100:4 (New Living Translation).

How about You? Do you agree that showing our love through good manners is still important? If so, what change would you suggest we as believers in Christ adopt to lead the way in today’s world?

As Exciting as a Packer Game!

Along with hundreds of others, My husband and I drove to Green Bay. When we arrived and had to park more than a mile from Lambeau Field, we didn’t complain. Surging forward with the crowd, we hurried on in eager anticipation.

Inside the fast-filling stadium, we found our seats and settled in to enjoy the next few hours. We cheered as the team took the field. We chatted with the fans around us about the plays and speculated on the season’s possibilities. Did it matter that we were mostly strangers to one another? Not at all. We were united by the one thing we had in common–our love for football and the Green Bay Packers.

Interesting how I find a similar joyous unity among my brothers and sisters in Christ. All week long I eagerly look forward to Sunday morning when we gather at church with those of “like precious faith” (1 Peter 1:1, King James Version). Oh, it may not sound like much, but it’s as exciting as going to a Packer game!

I may not know everyone who comes, but we are united by the one thing we have in common–our love for God and his family of believers. Together we sing his praises and eagerly listen to what he will say  to us through that morning’s sermon. We share what the Lord has done in our lives during the past week and cheer one another on. We pray for each other’s needs and help one another.

Yes, I am constantly  thankful for the loving help and faithful encouragement I receive from my friends in Christ–not only those in the church where I serve but also those serving God and one another in other Christian denominations. And I’ve heard other believers in Jesus share the same sentiment. Yes, we are thankful.

Focus: “We always thank God for all of you …” ~ 1 Thessalonians 1:2, (New Living Translation).

How about you? For what are you especially thankful when you gather with other believers to worship God?