I’m dreaming of a [realistic] Christmas

I’m dreaming of a [realistic] Christmas

Why does television still boast the gold standard of the perfect Christmas?  Family (who by the way, actually want to be together) gathered around a beautiful tree, everyone laughing and sharing hot cocoa, and giving each other either a new car or expensive jewelry. Every time I see it I can’t help but go, Psh, Yeah right!

Reality check: Only God knows how many people will feel the sting of a lonesome Christmas devoid of peace. It’s just a painful reminder of what is lacking.

And each year, medication is taken in the form of Christmas movies, sweets, shopping, and tons of eggnog help to distract from and numb the pain of reality. All we need, we tell ourselves, is “to get through the holidays”.

But we were formed by God for perfection. Our hearts were meant to live in a perfect world. That’s why we will never be able to find peace anywhere else but in God himself. Christmas as we see it in commercials doesn’t have it. Rather:

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.

Romans 5:8

God sent Jesus to be born here, to live a sinless life, and then to die on behalf of us. That we might repent and turn toward God, praising and glorifying Him. But how can we do that when we have so many confusing messages turning our heads this way and that?

I don’t have all the answers, but I know the One who does.

If you are struggling with the idea of another [insert adjective here] Christmas you’re not alone. There is a God who is Good and True. Your very existence and design was His idea and he is enormously proud of His work. His right hand is extended even now, to gift you with a kind of peace that will never allow you to hunger or thirst for the things that rot and rust (like a Toyota Christmas commercial). He will offer Living Water and Bread of Life that will keep you full and satisfied forever.

Receive that gift and watch it transform your heart. The gratitude of salvation causes hope, which is an ever-leaning upon God’s promises. The more we take His promises as unshakable truth in our life, the more we will witness His work in our lives. And that’s an expectation you can rely upon.

Faith as Fuel

Faith as Fuel

Let’s say you are working in a job that you can’t stand, or have duties/responsibilities that feel more like drudgery than blessing. Some of us have sick elderly parents to tend, or needy friends who constantly take and never give. You don’t feel that the paycheck of your 9-5 job is worth the stress you take home at the end of every shift. What do you do? To which thing or person do you go? What do you tell yourself? For me, it’s Netflix.

First, we should call it what it is. Ok so it’s not turning to the bottle or the needle. I’m not a traditional addict, but instead have chosen a much more “acceptable” way of dealing. I binge watch TV shows. It just wastes time and takes me into another world where problems are solved in 30 minutes. It’s not that bad right? Except that it is just another way of numbing the pain of an underwhelmed soul. There’s no public shame associated with distracting yourself from something you wish would change. Therefore it remains an untouched subject in my heart.

Second, remember that God blesses us in unexpected ways, places, and opportunities. Like I mentioned in my last post, I was enormously depressed because my first job out of college was “beneath my dignity” as a new graduate. Even so, I received many comforts and assurances from God that summer, through my coworkers and managers. (Not to mention a paycheck that got the job done) Then a few months later my favorite aunt invited me to live with her in Maui and work for her company. A job. In Hawaii. With a boss who is invested in my wellbeing. And all the people said AMEN.

What if I had gone straight into a brand new job after college and missed this opportunity? To be sure there are plenty of what-ifs, but this is a big one for me. God’s will for me in this season was the protection and love of family at this time. What might be just around the bend for you?

Third, consult the Lord. He has a plan and a future for you. Can I say it again? He’s on your side. If there’s a chance to make a change, jump for it. Some seasons are inescapable though, no matter how much you pray and try to change it. When we are hurting in this way the last thing we want to hear is an ignorant but well meant “It’s a blessing in disguise”. Let’s skip over those clichés and go straight to the truth.

  1. Pray for strengthened faith

“So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. Now someone may argue, ‘Some people have faith; others have good deeds.’ But I say, ‘How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.’” (James 2:17-18 NLT)

We believe in God’s sovereignty and that his purposes get worked out in his time and specific ways. So consider this trial an opportunity to tending our garden in a special way. (James 1:2-4) When we keep working in the face of trials, our faith is proven and strengthened. Faith is the trust that God will do what he promised. Use your faith as fuel to keep on going and god will direct your path.

  1. Pray for patience

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

Read this verse over a few times. Do you notice anything interesting? It says that the Lord is patient toward you, not the other way around. He’s not up on his heavenly throne chatting with the Seraphim going, “Yeah, Molly is really getting impatient with this new plan I’m working on for her. I better finish up quickly so she can get on with it!” Ha! On the contrary, who am I to believe my plans and timing as better than the Lord’s? Let’s not forget either – our ultimate purpose is to love God and love each other. THAT is the calling with multiple expressions. So in this season, if I am stuck with no way out, I can still fulfill my purpose while I wait for something better.

Now all that truth sounds really good and all, but let’s be honest. It’s easier said than done. Just because I believe in God’s sovereignty doesn’t mean I like it all the time. The hard part for me is sucking it up and accepting the fact that I am not the master of my own life. Galatians 2:20 says “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me”. This is something that each person who follows Jesus must work on accepting but thankfully we don’t have to do it alone.

What do you think? Journal your thoughts as the spirit leads on the verses mentioned above:

  • James 1:2-4
  • James 2:17-18
  • 2 Peter 3:9
  • Galatians 2:20

Thanks for reading this month’s series on Work and Purpose, I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Please feel free to share how the Spirit moved you on the Tea & Testimony facebook page . As a thank you I have created free printables. Print and hang these words of truth where you will see them the most.

Seeking God: Tickled Ears

Seeking God: Tickled Ears

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and wil.jpgRead: Psalm 81:1-13, Mark 11:17

Christ: You have turned my Father’s house into a den of thieves. There remain many thieves and liars in my Father’s house today. I came so that you would be able to tell the difference between a word from them and a word from Me.

Think: If I spend time with Jesus, reading about Him in the gospels, I will get to know his voice. I will learn how he would react to the things going on around me. Like those games of “Who said it?” I will immediately be able to spot out Jesus’s answer.

Pray: Dear Lord, thank you that you do not let us live on a broken earth without you truth and wisdom. Help us to tell apart the sheep from the wolves. Save us from being eager to believe that which sounds good but has no grounds in your Word. Amen.

What to do when a sermon tests your faith

What to do when a sermon tests your faith

 

On my way home last night I decided to listen to a Christian radio channel. They usually air sermons which I like to listen to while driving. Some of my most profound thinking time happens in the driver’s seat.

However, last night I was surprised to encounter a message focusing on Nazis, Syrians, the wrath of God, and hellfire. Where was the story of brokenness, forgiveness and redemptive love? I still am wondering about the context of that message.

Now, please don’t misunderstand: I’m not advocating that we should never focus on the reality of God’s justice and wrath which will come swiftly (Deuteronomy 32:35). A gospel of feel-goodery is just as incorrect.

However it saddens me to think that someone somewhere might have flipped on that channel, and presumed misunderstand the meaning of that message, further spreading ignorance and incorrect beliefs.

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

Acts 17:11 NIV

 

That’s why I draw such encouragement from the Bereans. They are a perfect example of how we as Christians are to receive something we don’t understand. Paul would later exhort the Thessalonians to take the same attitude:

Don’t suppress the Spirit, and don’t stifle those who have a word from the Master. On the other hand, don’t be gullible. Check out everything, and keep only what’s good. Throw out anything tainted with evil.

1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 MSG

So, how do we respond when a message leaves us with more questions than answers?

  1. We must be humbleDon’t suppress the Spirit. Don’t assume you have all the answers.
  2. We must be open-mindedDo not despise prophecies. You don’t know if this is a message from the Lord or not.
  3. We must be cautious: Check out everything and hold to what is good. If the message you hear doesn’t immediately agree with the basic truths of Christianity, suspend judgement and seek help.

This is where being plugged into a local church community helps. Make an appointment with a trusted elder or pastor. Ask them to pray with you and help your understanding. There’s an old Russian saying that goes “There is no shame in not knowing; the shame lies in not finding out.”

Attitude Adjustments

Job 41 (NIV)41 [a]“Can you pull in Leviathan with a fishhook
or tie down its tongue with a rope?
Can you put a cord through its nose
or pierce its jaw with a hook?
Will it keep begging you for mercy?
Will it speak to you with gentle words?
Will it make an agreement with you
for you to take it as your slave for life?
Can you make a pet of it like a bird
or put it on a leash for the young women in your house?
Will traders barter for it?
Will they divide it up among the merchants?
Can you fill its hide with harpoons
or its head with fishing spears?
If you lay a hand on it,
you will remember the struggle and never do it again!
Any hope of subduing it is false;
the mere sight of it is overpowering.
10 No one is fierce enough to rouse it.
Who then is able to stand against me?
11 Who has a claim against me that I must pay?
Everything under heaven belongs to me.

How does this passage hit you? Did you find yourself cheering the Lord on, or were you secretly indignant at such sarcasm? I confess that a year ago, I had a very, very wrong attitude in my heart.

Upon reading this, I experienced an unfamiliar feeling: God’s Word made me angry. It’s very hard to explain, and hopefully someone can try to understand, how completely wounded I was that God would ever speak like this. Not that any human could indeed harness Leviathan, but I was indignant at the apparent lack of love and respect shown in His words. As I perceived it, it was rude and possibly even out of line with His loving nature.

Now, it sounds silly to share on a Christian blog, but that was truly where my heart was. All of a sudden, everything made sense to me. Everything in the past year has been divinely commissioned to work on softening my heart to truly know Him. How could I ever have a real faith and hope and love when my heart of hearts was so bitterly closed to Him?

I recently read the same thing again, and praise God, my attitude has made a full 180. I actually had an opposite response to the first time. I found myself praising Him for what He did, is doing and will do in the future, and acknowledging my complete dependence upon Him.

I’ve just been pondering the enormity of the change in my heart. It certainly has been a dramatic change. Not that I’m going to stop growing since I’ve gotten this far, but God, if you can accomplish such a turnaround in a year, I can’t imagine what you might do if it please you to give me another year of life. God, I lay my life down before you and humbly turn every day over to you. THANK YOU so much for all you have been working in me so that I can have a correct understanding of You and who You are. Thank you for giving me another day on your earth so that I might become closer to you. Thank you for pulling me out of false “truths” and lifting me up into THE truth, Jesus.

Is there anything weighing on your heart about God or his Word that you are having trouble accepting? “Vent vertically” and share these questions and difficulties with the One who made you. He won’t ever punish someone who asks for wisdom (James 1).  Remember that He delights in you and wants to change you. Pray that He can work on your heart, and in His time, he will make you beautiful (Ecc 3:11).

True worship

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. ~John 4:23

This quote is from the passage from John where Jesus stops and talks to the Samaritan woman. When she asks him where the correct place is for worship, Jesus responds in an unexpected way: he says that true worshipers will worship God in spirit and truth.

At that time, Jews were to worship before God in the temple, where the tabernacle was. They were to travel to Jerusalem to make offerings for thanksgiving and sin, as prescribed by the law. When Jesus came to take care of our guilt for good, worship to God was no longer restricted to the temple law.

Some people take this as an argument against the need to go somewhere to worship with others, like church on Sundays or a fellowship group, but that’s not what he’s referring to. Corporate worship should still be very much a part of a believer’s life. Here, Jesus is talking about our attitudes when we worship.

When we worship in spirit, we bow down to our creator with reverence and humility, acknowledging who He is, and who we are because in Him, through Jesus. When we worship in truth, it simply means that there is only one valid way to the Father, and that is through Jesus Christ. “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” ~John 14:6. Only true believers can worship God correctly, in spirit AND truth; all other worship, however sincere, is ultimately futile.

That’s a big pill to swallow!

I used to think that God was content to accept my worship offering, as long as I showed up on time to church and stayed awake. Sometimes I’ll be at church, and they’ll play some of my favorite worship songs. I’m in a good mood and feeling the love from my friends. The announcements were short, and today they had a delicious pie with coffee after the service. “Church” in all its outward appearance and experiences, all feels good and right — but how much of that time was I actually focusing on Jesus? And how much of that time was I filling my satisfaction with earthly comforts?

Looking back, I realized that most of my life, my worship (even my most heart-felt, sincere worship) has been in vain. And that’s not just before now, it’s absolutely possible for me to keep on going to worship in vain.

When you worship, friends, how aware are you of what you are doing? My mind tends to wander a lot, so I have resolved to start with a prayer to keep focused. I encourage you to do the same! If you pray to him and ask for help (James 1:5), he will be pleased because he can see your heart’s desire to worship him correctly.  Ask and trust that He will teach you to keep the right spirit, and the truth in mind.

You might even take a second to evaluate yourself. How did you do the last time you were praising God? Was your heart in it? How might you fight the temptations to focus on other things.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. ~1 Corinthians 15:58

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