Category Archives: Advent/Christmas

The Divine Gift Exchange

Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. Romans 5:18 (KJV)

The tradition of exchanging gifts did not originate with man.  It was God who first gave the very best of Himself in exchange for man’s sinful soul.  Upon acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior, the new believer is gifted with a new heart and a new mind to follow God (Ezek. 36:26); he becomes part of the Body of Christ (The Church) with spiritual gifts for evangelizing, equipping, and edifying others.  The Apostle James states that every good and perfect gift comes from the Father above who never changes (James 1:17).   God’s divine gift exchange exceeds anything that man can ever imagine.

In our study text, the Apostle Paul reminds the church in Rome of the perfect and free gift they have received in Christ Jesus (Rom. 5:15-18).  As a result of the first Adam’s sin, man was condemned and separated from God.  In contrast, with the arrival of the second Adam (Jesus Christ), God offered to mankind the free gift of grace—the gift that would last throughout eternity.   What is the unique nature of that gift exchange?

The “incarnate life”—deity for humanity.  The arrival of Christ into history represented a holy God putting on flesh and dwelling with us (Matt. 1:23).  It was necessary that a lamb be provided for the atonement of sin (Lev. 4:32-35).  So God prepared for Himself a human body that would later become the “perfect lamb” for the sins of man (Heb. 9:13-14).  Jesus’ incarnation would mean that “whomsoever would call upon the name of the Lord would be saved” (Acts 2:21).

The “exchanged life”—righteousness for sin.  The Christ child was more than a sweet babe in swaddling clothing.  He was the long awaited “Consolation of Israel” and “redemption in Jerusalem” (Luke 2:25, 38).  Just as the prophets had foretold, Jesus provided the bridge whereby man could be reconciled to God (Mat. 1:21; Titus 3:4-7).  Being justified by faith in God, redeemed man would receive Christ’s imputed righteousness as if it were his own and thereby become acceptable to God (Rom. 5:1).

The “empowered life”—strength for weakness.  The arrival of the Holy Spirit after the ascension of Christ  would provide the power needed to accomplish the work that Christ had commissioned for not only His Disciples in the 1st century but also for the disciples in the 21st century (Matt. 28:19-20).  Prayer is the connection by which faith is energized.  There is an old Christian axiom that says, “Little prayer, little power; Much prayer, much power.”  Prayer and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit provide the strength needed to meet the challenges of living and ministering in this fallen world.

The “resurrected life”—life for death.  Eternal life with God.  This is the greatest of God’s gifts.  Death’s sting has been removed; the fear of death is no more.  Through spiritual regeneration (2 Cor. 5:17) and continuous renewal by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 12:2), Jesus pours out His life abundantly on us.  We now stand as heirs of God patiently wait for the redemption of our human souls for eternal life (Ep. 1:14).  “As we have born the image of the earthly, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly; putting on the incorruption for corruption and immortality for this mortal” (1 Cor. 15: 49, 53).

We often misdirect our attention on Christmas shopping, holiday events and special parties.  While there is nothing wrong with these activities, we may often fail to acknowledge the Divine Gift and the Divine Gift Giver.  God has given us The Perfect Gift (Jesus Christ) through the ultimate gift exchange.  God has given us The Gift that will keep giving for all times and through eternity. “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, For He has visited and redeemed His people,  And has raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of His servant David.” Luke 1:68-69

Participate in the greatest gift exchange in your life by giving Jesus Christ YOUR LIFE.  St. Augustine said it this way, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.”  If you have not given your life to Him, do it today.

I Hate to Wait: The Process of Waiting

And now, Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in thee.  Ps. 39:7 (RSV)

What goes on in our mind while we are waiting?  Why are we so anxious?  Why is waiting so difficult?   What is waiting really about?

Waiting is the action of staying where one is or delaying action until a particular time or until something happens.  It is the act of staying in one place or remaining inactive in expectation for something.

There are many views with regard to our “waiting tolerance.”  Some are unique to specific generational differences while others are common to all people regardless of age, socio-economic factors, or gender.

While much of our anxiety can be allayed based on the quality of the item one is waiting for, there is still a level of frustration that cannot be eliminated.

In a paper written by David Maister, The Psychology of Waiting Lines, he provides some insight into the psychology of waiting.  The main point is that the actual time spent waiting may have little to do with how long the wait feels.  What appears common is the whole issue of what to do with the time a person spends while waiting—the “unoccupied time”.

Unoccupied time is the window where the anxiety of waiting is the greatest.  It is the time spent in the present until the delayed outcome occurs. Give people something to occupy their time, and the wait will feel shorter.  How do you spend the unoccupied time while waiting?  (More on this aspect of waiting next week)

On a spiritual level, when one is waiting for healing, a word from the Lord, or emotional/financial release, the psychology of waiting takes on a distinctive difference.   Our normal perspective on waiting changes in lights of who we’re waiting for (God) and our level of confidence in the final outcome (also God’s).

In today’s text, David is crying out to God in a time of trouble.  His initial frustration in waiting is later transformed into “hope” by declaring his trust in God, who has always shown Himself faithful to his people and His Covenant.   David knows God will continue to do so, even when God’s specific plan for the future might not be fully understood.  Comfort in waiting is based on an overwhelming confidence or hope in God personally.

Interestingly, in my research of the word, “wait”, I was “re-directed” to the word “hope”.   Hope is one of the four principles we explore during Advent season in which we commemorate mankind’s waiting for Emmanuel, the promised Messiah.  Hope focuses attention on both “what awaits us” (Lam. 3:26; Ps. 37:34) and “the object of our wait” (Ps. 130:5-6).

In both the Old and New Testament the connection to hope and waiting is built on a personal relationship with and reliance on God.  While waiting in the secular world, causes frustration and anxiety, when anchored to God, waiting is filled with patience, encouragement, and enthusiasm (Acts 1:4).  Those who wait on God have the assurance that their waiting is for a specific purpose, which God is orchestrating.

There are many reasons we may have a problem with waiting.  Do any of these characteristics impact your waiting on God?

  • Impatience. We want what we want now.  Impatience is the inability to control one’s desire for action (Numbers 20:10-12).
  • Pride. We operate with an inflated opinion of what’s the best answer or solution to our problem or situation.  Pride is the conceited sense of one’s superiority (Hosea 7:8-10)
  • Independence.  “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”  Independence is the need to control one’s affairs apart from outside influences (Luke 15:12-16), even God.
  • Stubbornness. Who can talk a fool out of his folly? Stubbornness entails the trait of being difficult to handle or overcome (Proverbs 26:3-5)

As believers, we are not exempt from suffering and experiencing tragedy, yet we can face the future expectantly, waiting for the movement of God in our life.  We may have to wait a while for the full experience of the good that God intends for is, but be assured, God is fully committed to everyone who makes a faith commitment to him.

“Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you;

therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.

For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him”.  Isaiah 30:18 

God, Time, and Waiting

For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.  Psalm 90:4 (RSV)

What is the socially acceptable time to wait?  In college, in the event the professor was delayed, we were instructed to wait for fifteen minutes before leaving.  If you go to a restaurant, you most likely can expect to wait before being seated.  The time wait is generally dependent on time of day, the popularity of the restaurant and the quality of the food. Regardless of “acceptability”, we still, at one time or another, are required to wait.

One of the biggest frustrations for individuals living in the 21st century is waiting.  Americans spend roughly 37 billion hours each year waiting in line. The dominant cost of waiting is an emotional one: stress, boredom, that nagging sensation that one’s life is slipping away.

There are varying leveling of “waiting tolerance” based on generational differences, expectations, and the attraction of the desired outcome.

Baby Boomers, who tend to be more intentional in planning, are fairly comfortable with waiting based on the value of the outcome—waiting is tied to worth.  This is seen in their loyalty to career/employers and investment in relationship building.

For Generation X and Y, waiting is generally acceptable when it is connected to the availability of the desired item, vis-à-vis waiting for the latest IPhone or designer tennis shoe.

For Generation Z, born into a world that screams “instant gratification”, waiting is viewed as a negative—denoting that something is “broken” or “wrong” therefore interfering with receipt of their desired outcome.

All generations hate to wait—the difference lies in “what” or “who” is causing the delay—that even includes God.

What is the “spiritually” acceptable time to wait?

Are the rules different?

If we are waiting for God—His intervention or direction—let me answer the second question first.  Yes, the “rules” are different because God is spirit—everlasting, eternal and immortal (John 4:24).

God exists not in the confines of human time but in eternity where there is no time (Is. 57:15).  Time simply put is duration.  Our earthly time pieces mark change in duration that indicate the passage of time.  Eternity, in contrast, expresses the concept of something that has no end and/or no beginning.  God has no beginning or end. He is outside the realm of time (2 Pet. 3:8).

In Psalm 90:4, Moses used a simple yet profound analogy in describing the timelessness of God: “For a thousand years in Your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.” A second is no different from an eon; a billion years pass like seconds to the eternal God.

In answer to the second question,“What is the “spiritually” acceptable time to wait?”

My answer is simple—as long as God tells you to wait.  The thing about waiting for God is that there is no set or agreed upon time when an answer might be forthcoming.  You can move ahead of God, but you risk missing or delaying the desired purpose God has for your life (Eph. 2:10).

Waiting for God is where our faith comes into play.  We must believe and trust that God loves us and will always do what is best for us.  What we see as a delay is really God’s “best timing” for our life.  What makes the waiting for God “acceptable” (I struggle for a better word) is that God is always worth the wait (Lam. 3:26).  Next week we’ll spend time exploring why we “hate to wait.”

Waiting

Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until it receives the early and the late rain.  James 5:7 (NRS)

Advent has begun.  For the secular world, this season is spent in anticipation of Christmas.  And how will the world prepare for its arrival?  By catching all the sales, looking for the best deals, and insuring their credit limit will survive the endless gift lists for friends and family.

How different are these times we live in now from those in which Jesus  first made entrance into the world.  In the 21st century, we are thought to be more informed and equipped due to technological enhancements and scientific improvements.  But are we?

Global warming is crashing in—changing the ecological systems of our time.  Social and economic disparities cry out for justice and fairness throughout this nation and the world.  Senseless killings and rising suicides, especially among our young people, confound communities who continuously ask, “why” and “when will it end?”

For believers Advent marks something definitively different—it is a time of waiting.  Advent is a time when we not only wait to celebrate and commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ but we should also be joyfully anticipating  Christ’s “imminent” return for His Church (2 Tim. 4:8).

Imminent comes from the Latin word meaning “to overhang”.  To say that something is imminent is to say that it is hanging over you and about to fall, in a metaphorical way.  Christ will return but we don’t know when.  So we wait for his return.

Remember what the angels told the disciples at the ascension of Christ:

“You Galileans!—why do you just stand here looking up at an empty sky?  This very Jesus who was taken up from among you to heaven will come as certainly—and mysteriously—as he left.”  (Acts 1:11, The Message)

In the Gospels, Jesus spoke with certainty about His Second Coming or the Second Advent (Matt. 16:27; 24:44; John 14:1-3; Luke 21:34-36).  How then are we to wait?

In our scripture text, James, the brother of Jesus speaks of patience while waiting for a desired outcome.  He uses the illustration of the farmer and his need to wait on that which he has no control and yet is  critical for his future provision—rain.  It is the same with believers as we await Christ’s return.  We don’t know when it will happen, but we know we desperately need Him both now and through eternity.

And so we wait—we wait for the hope of One whose return is imminent yet unknown specifically when.  We hope in the midst of what appears hopeless, because God alone can resolve what ails the world.  So we wait for his return (Prov. 20:22). 

I contend that waiting—godly waiting –is a spiritual discipline that every believer should cultivate and embrace versus accept with great resignation.   So for this Advent season, we will explore “Learning to Wait on the Lord”—the purpose , the process, and the privilege of waiting.  See you next week.

After Christmas

“He is Our Peace.” Ephesians 2:14 (KJV)

For many, Christmas is the most favorite time of the year.  With Christmas comes the hope of “peace on earth, good will toward men.”  We exchange cards that reflect our feelings about this special time of the year. Some send cards that speak of the love, joy, and peace of Christmas; others choose cards that extend season’s greetings and happy holidays.  With the winding down of Christmas season 2017, I’d like to ask this question?  After Christmas, when the tree and trimmings come down, when the gift giving ceases, and the caroling ends, what will you do with Christmas?

What happens to the …

  • Unmerited forgiveness and grace extended to irritable neighbors and estranged relationships?
  • Abundant care and concern seen in special collections, gifts and other acts of human philanthropy?
  • Indiscriminate displays of kindness and brotherly love for others?

Why can’t we keep the spirit of Christmas throughout the year?

First, we must examine “what spirit” we are talking about.  Sadly, the spirit of Christmas, we experience, is tied to commercialism, materialism, and greed.  It is the result of the “lusts of the eye” (1 John 2:16).  However, we who are “in Christ” have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts (Gal 5:24).  We are Christ’s ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20) extending love and grace throughout the year.

Second, we need to understand the “source” of the spirit of Christmas.  For the spirit of Christmas to be lasting, it must be connected to the reason for Christmas—Jesus Christ. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but shall have everlasting life (John 3:16).  Christ came that our joy might be full (John 15:11).  It is Jesus Christ who is our peace (Eph. 2:14).

Finally, we need to examine the “true gifts” of Christmas.  As a result of Christ’s birth, we have eternal life.  Eternal life is not only a “time indication” it defines the “quality of

life” for the Christian believer.  Eternal life includes His “love”, from which we can never be separated (Rom. 8: 35-39), His unspeakable “joy” (1 Peter 1:8), and His “peace,” that passes all understanding (Phil 4:7).  And if that isn’t enough, He has given us His presence through the Holy Spirit (John 16:5-15) while He advocates for us before God the Father (1 John 2:1).

The spirit of Christmas is not found in cards, or trees or gifts but in The Gift, Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ, The Gift that keeps on giving after Christmas—even throughout eternity.

SELAH:   Now that Christmas 2017 is past, how will you extend the spirit of Christ into 2018?

To the Praise of God’s Glorious Grace

Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved.  Ephesians 1:4-6 (NKJ)

Last week we explored the meaning of “in Christ”.   In Christ is the believer’s identity with Christ and his position before God the Father.  The believer’s identity incorporates the personality of Christ by the   present experience of the Holy Spirit indwelling the believer’s heart.  Being in Christ makes available to the believer everything that Christ has—His righteousness, privilege, resources, position and power.    This week we’ll continue our discussion of spiritual blessings by focusing on its primary source—God.

The source of spiritual blessings is God—The Faithful Creator and Sustainer of Life.  These blessings are available through God’s plan of salvation for those who by faith are in Christ.  God’s plan of salvation was not “Plan B” or an afterthought as a result of man’s fall in The Garden (Genesis 3:15) but was created in eternity before the foundations of the world.  “But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.  He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you” (1 Pet. 1:19-20).

The Old Testament prophets declared the plan of God to redeem and restore His people—for their sake and for His glory (Isaiah 43:21).  The Lord proclaimed through Jeremiah:  “I will cleanse them from all their iniquity by which they have sinned against Me, and I will pardon all their iniquities by which they have sinned and by which they have transgressed against Me. Then it shall be to Me a name of joy, a praise, and an honor before all nations of the earth, who shall hear all the good that I do to them; they shall fear and tremble for all the goodness and all the prosperity that I provide for it.” (Jeremiah 33:8, 9)

God chose man from Creation to be the recipient of His great love, desiring to be in continual relationship with His most beloved creature.  However, the nature of God, His holiness, specifically, demanded that believers be “holy and without blame” before Him (1 Pet. 1:15-16).  God declared, therefore, the means by which man would be able to meet His requirement for holiness—His Son, Jesus Christ.

Through God’s predetermined plan, He adopted those in Christ to become His sons (and daughters) (Rom. 8:15-16).  By God’s act of grace (being chosen and adopted) and mercy (Christ’s substitutional death for sins), believers are now clothed in Christ’s righteousness (imputed), making the pursuit of holiness (blamelessness) possible.   With the addition of the Holy Spirit’s presence, believers are able “to both will and do God’s good will” (Phil. 2:13).

God’s affection for man speaks to the true heart and nature of God.  It expresses God’s goodness.  While God’s goodness includes, His love and His mercy, Paul speaks of the “glory of God’s grace” (charis) expressed in the free gift of His Son.  God’s grace, resulting in the believer’s salvation and justification (rendered righteous) before God (Rom. 5:1), deserves our highest praise.   Hallelujah, we are now acceptable to God through Jesus Christ!

A closing note:  Throughout Paul’s writing and especially in Ephesians, we are reminded that God as Sovereign of both heaven and earth does all things “according to the good pleasure of His will” (Eph. 1:5) and “according to the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11).    God sovereignly rules over all things—present and future.  He rules with all wisdom, justice, and mercy, therefore, we can trust our present and our future in His hands (Rom. 8:28) regardless of what is happening in our external circumstances (2 Cor. 4: 18).

Chosen by God.  Holy and blameless in Him.  Adopted as sons.  Accepted by God.  These are the beginnings of the spiritual blessings God has lavishly given to those who are in Christ.  Taken individually, we can begin to understand and appreciate the privilege, power, and promise that flow from each (2 Pet. 1:3-4).  With each action of God, believers are invited to respond by participating in the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth and in witnessing to others about the Good News of Jesus Christ.   Let everything that has breathe praise the Lord for all He has done and continues to do for those who are in Christ!

SELAH:   God has richly given to us “priceless” spiritual blessings.  Although, we can never repay God for all His blessings, how will you respond to His love and glorious grace?

In Christ

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” Ephesians 1:3 (NKJ)

What does the believer need to “live victoriously”?  Some people think it begins with identifying their “spiritual gifts” so they can serve in the church (Eph. 4:12).  Others search out the “benefits of Christian living” claiming the promises of God as their own (2 Cor. 1:20).   But I contend that the most important understanding that leads to victorious living (for new and sage believers) is in understanding our spiritual blessings in Christ.  Spiritual blessings in Christ are the means by which believers gain access to, acceptance from, and authority of God.  As we celebrate Advent 2017, let’s explore what it means to be in Christ and the spiritual blessings associated with it.  These are the things that Christ came to give us in His first Advent and will be fully realized at His return.

When I began my Christian walk, the meaning of “in Christ” was a mystery to me.  I tried to understand it based on those things I was familiar with.  For example, I established membership in the local church, and I was in fellowship with its members to serve and glorify God in my life.  But “in Christ”, what did it mean?

“In Christ” is the present experience of the risen Christ indwelling the believer’s heart by the Spirit thereby incorporating the personality of Christ.  It is more than an imitation of the life and teaching of Jesus.  It describes the believer’s union with Christ as a result of the divine action of grace by God.  The result of that action is the believer is transformed into a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17).

“In Christ” isn’t the result of keeping the Law or by good works—it is a gift of God (Eph. 2:10).  How is this accomplished?  By taking part of weak flesh and blood, Christ was able to satisfy the righteous requirement of God, to destroy the devil, and to deliver us from the penalty of sin (Heb. 2:14-15).   In exchange, we have moved from being “dead in our trespasses” (Eph. 2:1) to our new position of being “in Christ.”   It is here that believers are put in a vital union and communion with Him so that we are identified with Him.

“In Christ” describes the believer’s identity with Christ and his position before God the Father.  The believer (in position) can now begin the process of being conformed (in practice) to the image of Christ—righteous and holy (Rom. 12:2).  In Christ God makes His superabundant blessing available to His children by faith in Christ so that what Christ has is theirs—including His righteousness, privilege, resources, position and power.  Believers are able to draw upon the wealth of Christ to accomplish God’s purpose and His will.

DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is a self-replicating material present in nearly all living organisms.  It is the unique string of characteristics that make us who we are—physically and mentally.  In Christ, we have been given a new spiritual DNA that equips us for the purpose and plan God has created for our lives.  In Christ we have been given everything we need to live godly and productive lives (2 Pet. 1:3-4).  Join with us next week as we continue to explore, “Spiritual Blessings for Victoriously Living.”

 SELAH:  “Christ became like us so that we can become like Him”.  How does being in Christ affect your daily life and routine?

A Psalm for Advent

“The LORD reigns; Let the earth rejoice; Let the multitude of isles be glad!” Psalm 97:1 (NKJ)

Advent has begun.  It is a time for personal reflection and spiritual awakening as we prepare to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child.  Choirs and orchestras are tailoring special worship music to commemorate the glorious day when God the Son condescended and entered into historical existence.  It is a time for high praise and worship.  We offer the 97th Psalm to usher in this special season.

The 97th Psalm belongs to a group of psalms (93-100) that affirm Yahweh’s kingship and His rule over the earth.  He both delivers and He judges.  It is in His great power and His “ineffable” love that He sent His Son to be the Savior of the world (1 John 4:14).  The opening verse begins with what every believer should understand as a foregone conclusion—“the LORD reigns!”

The awareness of God’s sovereignty results in an appropriate response—“Be glad!”

The believer’s gladness if not tied to a specific outcome, but to realization of the fact that God works all things for His glory and our good (Rom. 8:28).  During acts of personal rebellion and disobedience, He makes all things good (Is. 44:24).  When we are faithless, He still proves faithful (2 Tim 2:13).  When our strength fails, He renews our strength (Is. 40:31). His sovereignty extended from eternity through time, in that when we were dead in our trespasses, He made us alive in Christ (Ep. 2:5).  God is able to “keep us” until Christ’s returns (Jude 1:24).  And nothing can separate us from His love (Rom 8:39).

As important as the fact of God’s sovereign reign, are the effects His returning reign has on believers today.  Psalm 97 closes with this exhortation.

“You who love the LORD, hate evil! He preserves the souls of His saints; He delivers them out of the hand of the wicked.  Light is sown for the righteous, And gladness for the upright in heart.  Rejoice in the LORD, you righteous, And give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name.”   (vv. 10-12)

Believers are to love the Lord and look forward to His “glorious appearing.” They are to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts; they are to live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age (Titus 2:11-13).  They need not fear the day of the Lord’s appearance, because He has protected them from the wicked (Is. 54:17). The godly will enjoy the benefits of the rule of God: “light and gladness”. Light signifies the blessed state of redemption and victory (Isa. 60:1-3). This is cause for thankful praise.  The invitation to rejoice anticipates the Lord’s coming with His blessings.  Believers already experience many evidences of His kingship here on earth but eagerly await the fullness of his kingdom.

Also read:   Do You Wanna Be Happy?  Reality Living in God’s Kingdom

As you begin your Advent preparation, remember to include joyful praise for the fact that God fully reigns over all things—places, people, and circumstances. We need not wait to begin our jubilant celebration. We can begin today!

 SELAH:  Create a psalm of praise and glory in celebration of Advent 2017 and in anticipation of  Jesus’  glorious appearance in the future.

Perfecting Love

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” 1 John 4:7 (NIV)

Entering into this holiday season, WordBytes has shared two mindsets that will help us understand what really makes this time of the year special—relationships and gratitude.  This shift in thinking requires that we look beyond ourselves to more intentional expressions of kindness to others.  We close this series on preparing the heart for the holidays with our last mindset, which Paul describes as the “bond of perfection” (Col. 3:14)—the thing that holds everything together—love.

The first Bible verse a child usually learns is “God is love.”  As that child grows, his understanding of God’s love is expanded by personally observing acts of kindness in the world.  How does God disseminate His perfecting love into the world?

God loves us first.   “We love him, because he first loved us(1 John 4:19).   God is the source of love and therefore, He is the starting point of love’s entrance into the world.   God’s love for us began in eternity when He gave thought to man.  He created man His own image.  That endowment was given to no other creature of God’s making.  God gave of Himself—His own breathe (Gen. 2:7).  He gave man His essence including freewill.  He then blessed them and gave them dominion over the whole of creation (Gen. 3:27, 28).

We love God back.   “And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:16). Once we receive the revelation of God’s love for us (Ep. 1:17), it becomes possible for us to return God’s love to Him.  When we love God, He comes to live in us through the Holy Spirit (further evidence of His love).  We return God’s love through our obedience to His commandments (1 John 5:3) and our willingness to serve others (2 Cor. 5:14-15).

We love others like God.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another(1 John 4:11).  Jesus was asked by a devious lawyer, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” (Matt.22:35-40).  His response reflected His Father’s heart—love God first, others second.   God’s love is perfected in us as we love others more than ourselves (1 John 4:12, 17).   “Perfected” (teleioō) means to reach a goal or to be complete.  As believers love others like God, they begin to reach their goal of spiritual maturity and become effective ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20).

 We love God together.  “Herein is our love made perfect…because as he is, so are we in this world.” (1 John 4:17).  After Jesus washed His disciples feet (John 13:1-20), He gave them a new commandment that they love one another.  “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).  The greatest witness to God’s love is how believers care for one another “in community”.  It is not the geographic area that I’m speaking of, nor denomination, nor the universal church.  God’s love in community is authentic fellowship with other believers, experiencing true joy from being in each other’s presence.  As we love God together in community, we show how the love of God looks in the “real” world.

God’s love released into the world bears resemblance to a large stone dropped into a quiet lake.    Upon entering the motionless water, the stone creates a series of circular ripples that flow in all directions, outward from its initial source.  That’s how God’s love enters the world.  God is the Rock (He first loved us) and we are the resulting ripples created by the impact of His love—returning His love to Him, to others, and in community.

Powerful relationships and gratitude in action spring forth from God’s perfecting love.  As we prepare our hearts for the holidays, let’s exchange the worldview of “holiday cheer” with “God’s gift” of love and good will toward men.  God’s gifts will continue to return great joy and peace throughout the year and for years to come.

SELAH:  Read 1 John 4:7-16, “The Source of Love”.  In your first reading, make a note of the “words or phrases” that catch your attention. Read it a second time.  Feel free to use a different translation or paraphrase; list “the emotions” you feel in your reading.  (Awareness of Feelings).  Then read the text a final time and ask Jesus to share what is your “invitation for the day” from Him.  An invitation is a “personal” message, instruction, or encouragement JUST FOR YOU (versus a general application of Scripture).

 

 

 

Gratitude in Action

“Ho, Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters, And you who have no money, Come, buy, and eat.

Yes come, buy wine, and milk, without money and without price.”  lsaiah 55:1 (NKJV)

As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving 2017, it is an appropriate time to consider not only what we are thankful for but also, how we show our thankfulness? ln other words, how will we express our gratitude? American writer, Gertrude Stein, offers this view of gratitude: “Silent gratitude isn’t very much to anyone.” I agree! Therefore, I challenge you to move beyond quiet thankfulness to Christ-activated gratitude.

Gratitude is a noun that expresses the quality of being thankful and showing readiness to return kindness. This Thanksgiving, we will reflect on many kindnesses shown to our families and to us individually.  As Christ-followers, we are morally obligated to return those acts of kindnesses to others. These opportunities may come to us through individual requests or through needs we personally have identified. “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10).

Gratitude has also been described as a kindness awakened by a favor received. God has given us great favor. ln Isaiah 55, God is inviting sinners to come and receive the abundant gift of eternal life that is only possible through acceptance of Him.  The sinner is encouraged to seek the Lord while He may be found-to call upon Him while He is near (verse 6).  This invitation is a reflection of God’s love and kindness toward sinner man.

Even today, God invites us to “come, buy, and eat without money and without price.” What God offers is not physical provision for the body (water, wine, and milk) but eternal nourishment for the soul. God’s favor of salvation should awaken kindness within us (2 Peter 1.5, 7) that will result in compassion for others.

Hunger and homelessness are destroying our communities; hopelessness and despair are stealing the dreams of our nation. This holiday, search for opportunities to “give the gift that keeps on giving”—human kindness. This year instead of giving clothing, gift cards, or electronics, give the gift of gratitude in action.

SELAH:  What is standing in the way of you showing “gratitude in action”?  Read and meditate on Luke 17: 11-19 to help you express gratitude in action.