Advent: Give Big

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Day Six: God Gave

For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.“ (John 3:16, NLT)

You see today’s verse on signs at sporting events. Children earn stars and badges for memorizing it in Sunday School and VBS. Many a funeral message has been drawn from its truth.

Why is it so popular?

Because in one sentence we find out who God is, how much he values us, and the message he wants us to share. 

According to one of the early church fathers, each of us was created with a god-shaped hole, an empty spot only God can fill. The good news is everything we need now and for eternity has been provided by the One who can fill that hole. His love for us is that great. He proves it in the manger…and on the cross…and in the empty tomb.

God so loved the world. All inclusive. There is no person you will ever meet—no matter badly you want to judge their actions—for whom this gift was not given. 

And to receive this gift, all they—we—have to do is believe it is really for us. That God is really for us…all. 

Now that’s good news!

 

TO PONDER: ls there someone in your sphere of influence, where you live, or work, or do business who needs to hear this good news? What keeps you from sharing God’s love with others? Have you asked God to help you overcome whatever is holding you back?

TO DISCUSS: Not everyone is open to hearing this good news. What are the barriers holding people back from believing and receiving? How will you speak this truth, in love, into their lives?

PRAYER: God, imagining the cost of this gift…the immensity—that you love the world! I confess I’m not always that good. Forgive me when I judge others unworthy: because of what they’ve done, or how they live. Help me remember I stood on the outside wishing for this great gift. Show me how to live and love with your great big kind of love. Amen.

Advent 2: Seek and Find

Yesterday we made reference to the childhood game of Hide and Seek as we considered the phrase: Ready or Not.

Is finding God like the childhood game?

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I don’t think so, and here’s why.

When I began my faith journey, two Bible references were laid into my foundation.

Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near (Isaiah 55:6, NIV).

God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us (Acts 17:27, NIV).

Our being able to find God is of primary importance to him. We were created for relationship with him–and with each other.

It’s so important, we’re so important, that the often quoted verse from John’s gospel tells us he gave his son for us to not only know who he is and how he is, but so that we could have that relationship–now and forever.

Jesus wanted us to understand this principle and made it clear in his teaching we refer to as the Sermon on the Mount: Seek and you will find (Matthew 7:7).

So in these season of focus, what are you seeking? Who are you seeking? If you are seeking God, you will find him.

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Procrastinating With Questions

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We’re getting close to Easter. Can you feel it? Do you feel more “ready” for it than you have before? Are you moving beyond the familiar to SEE Jesus in new ways, different places?

Take John 3:16, for example. It’s quoted, tattooed, worn on t-shirts, and seen at every major sporting event…but can you put it in context? Do you know any of the verses surrounding it?

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I turned to chapter three of John’s gospel and read it in the message and a new phrase leaped off the page at me. As the conversation unfolds, Jesus tells Nicodemus what he must do, but Nicodemus is full of questions–very pharisee-like. Finally, Jesus tells him: Yet instead of facing the evidence and accepting it, you procrastinate with questions. (John 3:11, The Message)

Ouch. This habit of questioning may have been used by the Pharisees a lot…but they don’t have a corner on the market. The longer I can keep someone engaged in dialog or conversation, the more I act like I “don’t get it”–the longer I have before I have to DO it. If you can’t recognize this in yourself, maybe you recall how your children could come up with a hundred questions to avoid doing their homework or cleaning their room.

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Here’s a quote that might help us put this in perspective: “If you ask too many questions, you will find no answers, only more questions.” (Monica Fairview)

I know the danger here. Someone is going to think I’m saying, “Don’t ask questions.” I’m not. God is able  to handle our questions and curiosity. But we know when we cross the line and venture into “Procrastination Land.”  That’s what God’s message is for us: Don’t go there.

And we’re not procrastinating to avoid making our bed or finishing our math. No, the stakes are higher. We’re avoiding change. We’re clinging desperately to the familiar to keep from having to release control. Just like with Nicodemus, God is calling us to action or deeper surrender, growth or faith.

So today, let’s determine to leave the security of our questions and trust God to really love us. That is what it says in John 3:16, after all.

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PRAYER: God, thank you for loving us…so much, that you gave. Help us to move beyond our questions and procrastination so that we too can give…give our lives to you more fully, deeply, completely. Amen.

Advent 18: Aromas of Christmas


When you think of the aromas of Christmas, what comes to mind?

Pine. Peppermint. Fresh baked bread. Snickerdoodles. Honey baked ham. Mulled cider. A warm and cozy fire.

All pleasant. Cozy. Enveloping.

What about poop? What about cow, donkey, and the ever odoriferous pig?

Once upon a lifetime ago, I worked at a Shell Gas Station, ringing up customers in the convenience store. We were a farm community. The local large animal vet would work with students from a nearby college. Everyday they would come through the store for snacks and sodas–and their odor always proceeded them.

And lingered long after they left…way too long.

As I listened to a customer complaining about the pungent smell one day I found myself thinking about the stable where Jesus was born. I don’t imagine it smelled of pine and cinnamon. No it smelled like a barn, with animals…and manure.

About the closest most folks get to that is once a year when they traipse off to the county or state fair.

Why would God choose to be born in that manner, in that kind of place?

He’s not afraid of or put off by any mess in our lives.

Psalm 139 paints the clear picture that there is no height or depth that God will not go in pursuing us. He loves us that much.

He is not repulsed by the stink of our lives, the rottenness of our sins. His love is relentless as it it lavish.

There’s a funny thing about poop. We try and mask the smell with pretty smells. But all we end up with is cinnamon poop.

Perhaps God sent his son into the world, to a stable, to lay in a manger so that we would realize his amazing love for us and so that we would find him and quit trying to cover our messes.

For God so loved…