the Water of Life comes only from Jesus

Posts tagged “Grace

Why the baby?

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I haven’t felt much of the “Christmas Spirit” this year, and I’m not really sure why. This season of my life has been tough in general, but usually Christmastime brings great joy: All the lights and shiny things, giving the gifts, sharing the good food and good times… This year not so much. But today, I spent some time with a friend helping her get things ready for her Christmas, and when I went home and was mulling over all these things, I came to this:

Why do we celebrate Christmas? I know the Charlie Brown answer, but really—why do we care that a baby was born in a manger a couple millennia ago? We could talk about Isaiah 9, John 1, the story of his birth in Luke…

The story of this baby is a wondrous and beautiful one, full of angel praise and mysterious dreams. But this is really only part of the whole story of who Jesus is, and this is what matters. What makes this story worth telling is what happens after Chapter 1.

This baby born became a man who died, who lived again and received his crown as The King.

Jesus is the fulfillment of every promise of God; He is the Word made flesh; He is the embodiment of the Love of God that always was and always is and always will be. He came as a human child to grow up and become who he really is, and to fulfill the promise of reconciliation and to bring new life, so that we too could grow up and become who we really are, and become the fulfillment of God’s promise of Love to those around us.

When people talk about having the “Spirit of Christmas all year round” (thank you Christmas Carol), they’re talking about unconditional, extravagant, beautiful, Capital-L Love—the kind of Love that God lavishes on his kids, the Love that Jesus himself is the absolute greatest proof of—not because he was a little boy born in a barn, but because he is the Son of God, who chose to die and rise again, to fulfill God’s promise to all his kids: The promise that He Is who He says; the promise that you are everything He says you are, and you can live this great story He’s written about you.

PS—If you’re breathing air, God considers you His kid, and all of this applies to You. ❤

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And Now, if you need a little Christmas Pep, enjoy this Happy Christmas song:

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Understand

You don’t understand how much I love you.
You don’t understand how the joy I felt as soon as I had conceived of you in my mind drove me to form you, or the way your first breath and cry made my heart swell and my feet dance. Nor can you fathom how excited I was when I made the earth and everything in it, knowing one day, the perfect day, you would walk in it. I saw you before you were, and I couldn’t wait for you to become—
You don’t understand how much I love you.
You can’t imagine the sorrow in my heart, knowing I’d given you the gift of choosing everything I Am, but that you would reject it—reject Me. I raise the sun even when you aren’t looking and I never get tired of searching for your heart, nor of opening mine to you—
You don’t understand how much I love you.
You don’t know just how far I reached through space and time to pierce the darkness that blocks My light from your view, to shatter the boundary between your heart and my love, to offer you My hand, forever. I will never give up on you, no matter how far you run or how deep you dive, no matter what you say to My face or what you do when you believe My back is turned to you—I never turn my back on you—
You don’t understand how much I love you.
My heart sings when you turn to me, when your heart reaches for mine, when your spirit worships in truth. You reach up to Me, and I am already there with you; you cry out to Me and I have already heard it. You bask in My presence and let My love overflow in your being until you think you should burst, but this is only a glimpse, a taste of my passion for you. I made you for Myself, and all that I make is good. I know who you are, I wrote a wonderful story about you, when I dreamt of you before the foundation of all things. I made you out of faith that you are able to be and to do all I imagined you could—
You don’t understand how much I love you.


Milk With Your Meal

So I never watch Church TV, but this morning I turned on some TV Church programs, just because. I ended up flipping through a couple, all with good, smart, biblically-sound teaching. I ended up on a channel with a Youth Pastor who was preaching something different, and I noticed a trend: the “grown-up” church teachings were all about little nuggets of wisdom and power that can be mined out of the Scriptures and applied to everyday life, but this youth service was all about how God loves. This Youth Pastor was talking about how, of all the weapons in God’s heavenly arsenal, the one He chose to use to save humanity was Love; he went on to to talk about how God saved him from his pit, how God is not angry or disappointed in everyone, how He loves. And it struck me as odd that the message of God’s love should be reserved for the young and the new believers, as if it is something to be moved on from in favor of “higher” teachings.

Now there is certainly a maturity that must be developed as one grows in the Lord. In Hebrews 5, the writer talks about how those he writes to should be graduating from basic teachings, from “milk” to “solid food.” The love of God is foundational to living a life following Him; He doesn’t make sense without it. The basic, foundational things should not be discarded, however, but built upon. God’s love never becomes obsolete, as if one could spirtitually upgrade past the need for it. To the contrary, as one grows in the Lord, the knowledge of His love should increase rather than diminish–as if the God who is Love could ever change.

My Pastor has been talking recently about how we are like dogs in that God has given each of us a passion to pursue that one thing He made us for—like a dog has a passion for chasing a ball. A person in the Lord is like a well-loved dog: we aren’t afraid of not being fed, we’re content to just be in the Master’s presence, and we certainly come running when He picks up our ball. But so many of us forget all the love of the Master and instead live like distrusting cats. We hide, we avoid the Master; we cry out for fear of not being fed, or of being left alone, or of being locked in or out of the house. It’s because we forget just how much affection God has for us, how much He loves us.

Deeper understanding and a more mature mindset are certainly part of growing in the Lord, and we must lay aside immature ways of thinking and put down misconceptions. But God’s love is not something anyone can grow out of; it’s something we’re supposed to keep growing in. So don’t forget the basics you are building on: “For God so loved the world…”


Joyful Anyway

So I’ve written before about all the stressful things that are going on in my life; it is crazy hard and frustrating right now. I had had it with one thing after another cropping up without reprieve, and was wallowing in this despair one day recently when suddenly, as I was preparing eloquent complaints in my mind, I heard very clearly: “What do you want people to know about your life?” That stopped me dead in my thoughts; before I share my answer to that question though, I’d like to share this:

If anyone ever suffered for the sake of the gospel, surely Paul did. He was ridiculed, slandered, imprisoned, beaten, shipwrecked, threatened numerous times with death, and generally lived a fairly miserable life after his journey on the road to Damascus. Yet he writes to the Philippians (most likely from Rome during his imprisonment): “…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13). Paul’s secret was trusting God and relying on His strength, in every circumstance, no matter what it looked like. Some people say faith is blind, but that’s not true at all. Faith does see, yet it does not rely on sight but on revelation from heaven. Paul went to Jerusalem on purpose, even though he knew terrible happenings awaited him; one prophet even bound himself up with Paul’s own belt as a prophetic gesture to the imprisonment Paul would face (Acts 21:10-11). Paul had a heads-up that after Jerusalem, things would not be so fun for him; and yet, in response to the pleading of his friends, he says: “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13). Paul had his eyes on the Lord, and was determined to allow God’s glory to be brought through him no matter what happened.

It’s not easy to hope for what you can’t see; to keep your eyes fixed on the Lord and not on the trials. How hard it must have been for Paul, not knowing if this imprisonment would be to his death. We all hope for things to change for the better, and we know God can do miracles, but what if He allows us to be tested, as He did Job? What if He wants us to bring glory to Him in terrible dark places? To show the enemy that our praise and worship of God isn’t because of what we get from Him, but because of who He is?

Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (better known as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) faced this dilemma. When ratted out by malicious Chaldeans for not worshipping Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image, and threatened by the king with death in the superheated furnace, they responded (honorably) to him thus: “If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18, emphasis added). The three of them were resolved that no situation or outcome would sway them from worshipping the Most High God, even if it meant death for them. What if there is no rescue, no healing, no deliverance? Do we love and trust the Lord so much that we pray, like Jesus did, “Not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39)? Do we really want glory brought to His name more than anything else? This kind of faith, this kind of living, is not easy. It cannot be done without the power of His Holy Spirit, His strength in us; it can’t be done without daily being immersed in His presence, falling more in love with Him, dying more to ourselves.

And so, as the question of what I want people to know when they look at my life echoed in my mind, I realized that I don’t want people to know how poor and miserable and pitiful I am, sucking the life out of every conversation and relationship. My spirit rose up in me then with a desire for people to know instead how God is always faithful, always good; how He is trustworthy, and gracious, and powerful, and worth all of the suffering there may be ahead of me: for the people who would see Him clearly for the first time because of His light shining from me, illuminating His face for them, and for the glory that might be brought to Him through it all.

Hebrews talks about how all those great faithful people of the Bible never actually saw the fulfillment of the promises made to them while they lived on the earth, but they were not dismayed because they knew they were part of something huge, bigger even than their whole lives; something that had eternal significance. This is what they had faith in; this was their hope.

This is why I am striving to be joyful in my life, no matter what it looks like. By no means have I even begun to live this way. But my heart and my eyes are set on Him, as I slowly let my own desires die, because really, my life was never supposed to be about me anyway.


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Grace Like an Avalanche

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Colored pencil & oil pastel on hot press board. *Please don’t copy or save this image*

This is a project I had to do for an art class, actually: a musically-inspired piece.
The song that I chose is “Like and Avalanche” by Hillsong United.
I strongly encourage you to listen to the song as you consider my work:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9eS41sxvPQ
Feel free to turn it up!

All the elements of this picture reflect aspects of the song, or at least how it affected me at the time. I’m certain that if I did another on the same song, it would look very different.

I have always loved this song since the first time I heard it. While it’s called “Like an Avalanche,” it makes me think of tidal waves. God’s presence and love is like the song: it is gentle and beautiful and joyful; but it is also powerful and fierce, and can overwhelm you with little warning. Grace is more than “unmerited favor” or even forgiveness of sins; grace is the power of God in the life of one who believes Him to be who He says they are, and to live as He has called them.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” —Ephesians 2:4-7
“For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. . . For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” —Romans 5:7-10