Thursday, December 26, 2013

Keep Yourself

by Andrew Cromwell

Life is full of ups and downs. No one is immune to challenges and problems. Even the people who we consider to be the most fortunate have to face the reality of a broken and sin-filled world. But how do we deal with this contradiction of the good and the bad in all of our lives? 

Some people become jaded and bitter. Some do their best to ignore and minimize the problems and live in a kind of denial. Some spend their lives and resources trying to organize their world in a way that minimizes the possibility of being hurt. 

But none of these options is the right one. All of them fall short of the way that God intended us to respond to the challenges we face in life. 

There is a tiny book — a letter really — towards the end of the Bible called Jude. It’s no more than a single page, but it is rich with content. Found tucked towards the end of its twenty-five verses are a few lines about enduring in a difficult world.

But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.

There is much to glean from these two short verses, but the centerpiece is the phrase “keep yourselves in God’s love”. 

At first glance, it might seem that this is a contradiction to the main teaching of Scripture. For Jesus made it clear that God’s love for us was full and complete and that there was nothing we could do to change the way He felt about us. Christ came and gave His life for all human beings, even those who have not accepted Him! That’s the kind of love that Father God has for us.

So why would we need to “keep ourselves in His love”? Well, it is certainly not about earning God’s love (for we could never do that). Instead it is about experiencing God’s love. And that is a challenge sometimes!

There is something about this world that is corrosive to our very souls. When we are banged up by life, we often tend to lash out against God or withdraw from Him. Before we know it we have lost our way. Jude knew that. And that is why he encouraged his readers to keep themselves in God’s love. 

Keeping yourself in God’s love is a constant activity. It is something we are engaged in. Far too often, when the bad stuff in life happens, we throw a pity party when we should be throwing our arms out to God. The very moment when we are deciding that God has forgotten us and we start walking in the other direction, is the exact moment when we need to be walking towards Him! 

Imagine yourself like a ship in the ocean. The ocean is God’s love. You are always in it. But there is a section of the ocean where the sun is shining through the clouds and there in that place you actually experience — you feel — God’s love. When you are sailing in the sunshine, you sense His nearness and you feel connected to God. But when the storms of life blow you out of the sunshine, you start to feel disconnected and distant from the Father. He still loves you, He still has you surrounded in love, but you don’t feel it.

And this is where the “keeping” comes in. When you are blown off course, you have to pull out the sails and work the tackle and sometimes even stick the oars in the water and fight to get back into the sunshine. This is work. When the wind is blowing it takes ten times the effort to stay in the sunshine. Where a small course correction would have kept you on course when the weather was fair, now it seems nearly impossible.

How do we keep ourselves in God’s love? Well, Jude says that too. We “build ourselves up in our faith” and we “pray in the Holy Spirit.”  More on that next time!

Thursday, December 19, 2013


by Tim Howard

If you’ve ever opened a present at Christmas and discovered it was broken, you know what disappointment feels like.  As my wife opened a beautifully wrapped box this past Christmas, she loved what she saw until it was removed from the box. The gift I purchased had inadvertently been broken in transit.

In the Christmas season we can get so caught up in the ‘tinsel’ that we forget the ‘tension’ and brokenness that is experienced in many homes throughout the holiday season. For many, Christmas is not a family or fun time. Pain, loneliness and sorrow abound. You and I live in a world of brokenness. Marriages are breaking up at an unprecedented pace. Broken families are everywhere and our society is experiencing long lasting ramifications as a result – much like the aftershocks that continue long after the earthquake.

Brokenness is a fact of life for all of us and the question is simple. Can anything be done? My reaction to the broken gift was quite different than my wife’s.  I immediately decided to throw it away and purchase a new one.  From my point of view the decision seemed rational and logical. I knew where we could buy another gift just like that one broken and we had the financial resources to do so.  We might even have found it on sale the day after Christmas! My wife’s response, however, was not quite so rash.  She carefully surveyed my gift to her from every angle for several moments. She studied it as though she were a scientist in search of a cure for a rare disease.  Finally, she announced to me with great conviction, “I can fix it.”  And she did. 

That’s what Jesus came to do and one major reason we celebrate Christmas. In Matthew 1 the Angel told Joseph that Mary would give birth to a son and His name would be called Immanuel – meaning God with us! He came bearing gifts. Just like the Magi brought Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh to Jesus as a statement of worship – God sent His Son with three gifts for us as a statement of His love. He brought the gifts of 1. Salvation. 2. Consolation and 3. Restoration.

He didn’t want to discard or dispose of us but rescue us. John 3:17 reveals He came to save not condemn. That’s what salvation means – One who rescues another who is in need. He loves us, He is with us and He is for us.

It doesn’t stop there, however. He not only rescues us but He brings the gift of consolation. Is 66:13 tells us that He will comfort those are broken, those who have fractured families and those who have crushed spirits.

But wait… there’s a third gift. He offers the gift of restoration. He is able to repair what is broken.

Do you remember the little nursery rhyme? “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
 All the King's horses, And all the King's men couldn’t put Humpty together again!” Well… the King of all Kings can restore anything and that’s why Christmas is “Merry” Christmas.

As you open gifts this season remember God gave us the greatest gift of all. JESUS! And Jesus brought us the gifts of Salvation, Consolation and Restoration.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

What Gift Do You Bring?

by Andrew Cromwell

During the Christmas season we are always concerned about gifts. We make our lists and check them twice. We try to make sure no one is forgotten and everyone gets something. We study the ads like bloodhounds on a scent and then head out with our little plastic cards to make our purchases.

But the older we get, the less concerned we become about what gifts will be received and focus instead on the gifts that are given. We want to give gifts that are meaningful. It is not just about how much we spend, but rather on the value that we communicate. Meaningful gifts are aimed at the heart, not just at the head or the pocketbook.

Generally, when we think about Christmas and gifts and Scripture, it is the story of the wise men that is retold. These wise guys were smart enough to track Jesus down as a young child and they brought Him gifts of great value.

But there is another story that is, I think, even more poignant. This tale of gift-giving occurred not at the beginning of Jesus’ time here on earth, but at its end. Three of the gospels tell us how just before Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, Jesus was at Simon the Leper’s house.

Jesus was sitting by the table and, as always, there was a crowd of people around Him. The disciples were there as well as others who were sitting at His feet and listening to Him teach. A woman was there who was known to have a questionable background. This was not in any way out of the ordinary because Jesus was always surrounded by people who were down and out. He had a way of making people who had taken the worst of turns in their lives feel loved and accepted. This woman was no different.

But then something happened that was out of the ordinary and because of it, Matthew, Mark and Luke all made a special note about it in their account of Jesus’ life. This woman began to cry. And as she cried her tears fell on Jesus’ feet. So abundant were her tears that she then used her hair to wipe away her tears and thus wash Jesus’ feet. But then she went further and pulled out an expensive bottle of perfume (worth a year’s wages) and poured it over His feet and then over His head.

The disciples were mortified. First of all, this woman who had a sordid past had touched Jesus. Second, the woman had taken the perfume (which she most likely obtained from a sugar daddy as a gift) and had wasted it by dumping it out, when it could have been sold and the proceeds used to feed the poor.

But Jesus saw this gift differently. He could see the woman’s heart. He perceived her sorrow for her sin and her desire for forgiveness. And He honored her for it because by her act she had prepared Him for His own burial in just a few days.

The woman brought that which was of greatest value to her and poured it out on Jesus’ feet. This gift moved the very heart of God. And I believe, the gift of greatest value was not the perfume, but her tears that were an expression of heart seeking the forgiveness of the Master.

What gift are you planning on bringing to Jesus this season? There is no greater gift than to bring your heart -- even if it’s ugly, bruised and broken. Psalms 51:17 says, “The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.”

Jesus never rejects a repentant heart for it is the gift He finds of greatest value. He is not looking for perfect hearts, for perfect hearts have no need of Him. He is not looking for proud hearts, for proud hearts laugh at what He offers. He is looking for broken hearts. Hearts that have been beat up by life, that have chosen the wrong path, that have tried the other way and come up short. These are the hearts He does His best work with.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

'Tis The Season

by Tim Howard

I’ve already started to ask the question so many of us ask our family and friends in the month of December. What would you like for Christmas?

Back in 1946 – Before my birth I might add - Don Gardner wrote a humorous Christmas song titled: “All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth.” It’s about a little girl who wanted to whistle a tune and wish people a Merry Christmas but had great difficulty because she didn’t have her two front teeth.

If you ask a child what they want for Christmas (with or without teeth) you will definitely get a lengthy answer and even adults don’t need long to think up a response. There is no shortage of ‘wants.’

Some of the things we desire are needed while others are not. A child who doesn’t know where his or her next meal is coming from wants something to eat but this is more than a mere desire – it is a need. A little one who wants another toy race car to add to his or her overflowing collection does not really need it – It’s a desire.

The Bible tells us that God gives gifts to all mankind. He not only wants to meet needs but to fulfill desires of people as well. I’m thankful for this truth because all my practical and physical needs have been provided for by God’s grace and goodness.

When a person reaches a place where his or her needs are met, the joy begins to shift from ‘receiving’ to ‘giving’. People begin to learn the truth of what the Apostle Paul said in Acts 20:35. “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”

A new dimension of joy comes when you “GIVE.” Don’t get me wrong, I like to receive as much as anyone but giving opens up a bigger door to fulfillment. Not just for you but others too. You can enrich the lives of people this season if you give them gifts rooted in love not duty. Gifts that are given without expectation and strings attached. Gifts that meet needs as well as desires.

The most memorable and precious gifts this season may not necessarily be material in nature. Think about giving your family, friends and even strangers the gift of compassion. It will be appreciated. Give people the gift of patience and understanding. You will be amazed at the results.

Consider giving people some space? Stop trying to micro manage their lives. They will receive this gift of kindness with open arms. Giving people forgiveness is always a welcomed gift.

Many gifts are within your power to give! If you choose to accept the words of the Apostle Paul and act upon – this season will be better than usual.

The Bible tells us that three wise men brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  They were honoring God who gave to us the greatest gift of all, A Savior!  God’s gift came to us wrapped snugly in strips of cloth and lying in a manger because there was not room for them in the inn.

May every gift you give this season, be in honor of Jesus.  After all, it is HIS BIRTHDAY we are celebrating. ‘Tis the Season!