Meditating on the Commands of Christ (62): Condemn Not

I was part of a panel lately on the subject of how to deal with in-laws, particularly during the holidays. Do you cringe at the thought of going home for the holidays because you’ll feel condemned as “not good enough” in some area? If you’re sponsoring holiday festivities, do you worry about “not measuring up?” Alan’s parents died forty years ago, and they were very kind to me, so I was startled by just how real and how difficult it is for most young wives to negotiate the holidays, particularly vis-à-vis their mother-in-laws. Yikes!

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to be a better mother-in-law since then, particularly in light of this week’s reminder from Jesus: “Condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned” (Luke 6:37). It occurs to me that for many (most?) people there is some ambivalence around Christmas that has to do with unmet expectations and feeling unloved, and most of the conflicts revolve around the questions of with whom and how to spend our precious vacation time.

Ouch! If you’re feeling tense, overwhelmed, and frustrated by just how frantic and unfulfilling the holiday season has become for you, may I recommend this: Continue on as planned this year, but start praying about how to improve the holidays for next time. Observe how you and your loved ones react to this year’s game plan and afterward talk through what happened with your spouse (loved ones, or yourself if you’re single). Strategize about how to make the holidays more of a win/win for you and your loved ones, and start now to lay the groundwork for a happier, healthier, more Christ-like Christmas celebration for next year.

Here’s a little imaginary look into the hearts of those of us who are working hard to make Christmas wonderful—those of us who are functional and happy! (BTW, this is based on gleanings from the panel discussion, not the inner workings of my own family, but you get the drift . . .)

From the mother-in-law’s perspective: “I just want to hold my daughter-in-law close, the way Jesus holds us as his sheep. I want to tuck her under my wing and make her a part of our family! I want to celebrate the same cherished traditions that have always made our family so happy together! If we have to share, it should at least be 50/50.” This can also devolve into: “I deserve to be loved and honored this Christmas. I’m doing all the work, so I want to do it my way. Besides, if my son really loved me, he’d be trying to take care of me. I spent the past (XX) years of my life giving everything I had to bring him up the best I could, so I deserve his attention too. His wife just isn’t fair!”

From the daughter-in-law’s perspective: “I don’t want to be absorbed into my husband’s family as if I’m just another child. Husbands are supposed to ‘leave’ their parents and ‘cleave’ to their wife. I am an adult with a new, independent family, and I want to protect that space so we can develop our own traditions.” This can also devolve into: “Besides, I like the way my family celebrates better, so if we’re going to visit, I’d rather visit my parents. If my husband really loved me, he’d defer to what I want! After all, ‘happy wife is happy life,’ so he should be trying to make me happy! My mother-in-law is so critical that I don’t feel comfortable being around her. His mom just isn’t fair!

From the son’s perspective: “I’m not sure what to do! I love my parents and want to honor them, but I also love my wife, and I want to make her happy. I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, but all the work and tension makes me super tired and isn’t pleasant at all! I go back to work every year more tired than when we left for our ‘vacation.’ It seems like there’s no way to win!”

Jesus: “I came to earth to bring peace and goodwill to all people. Christmas isn’t meant to be about conflict, competition, and condemnation! If you celebrate my coming to earth, please do it in my spirit: “Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:2-7).

Can you imagine how the spirit of Christmas would change if we all took Philippians 2 to heart and practiced Jesus’ command to “Condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned” (Luke 6:37)? Instead of judging and condemning one another as unfair or unloving, let’s focus on Jesus and try to follow in his footsteps, finding ways to put others first and meet their needs! Besides that, there are a world of lonely people who have no one to love OR even fight with this Christmas! 🙂 Can we reach out to some of them? Let’s make Christmas about loving God and loving others. That’s what Jesus did!

(Photo of Yongsung Kim’s picture of Jesus with the snowy lamb used by permission of Havenlight.com. As we celebrate Christmas, may we snuggle into the everlasting arms of Jesus, who will keep us warm in his love!)

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (54): Do You Know Where Your Heart Is?

“The Light of His Love.”

Do you know the first thing that popped into my head when I asked you if you know where your heart is? I probably shouldn’t even admit it, but it was a line from a song written years before I was born. I can’t remember the last time I heard it (probably as a little girl somewhere while shopping in a store with my mother), and I never knew who sang it or the context, but one line has stuck with me all these years. I just looked it up and promptly stopped, because the context was an old movie with a skanky theme. BUT, what I remember about the song is good, because it says, “Yes, my heart belongs to Daddy,” and the song goes on to say, “so I simply couldn’t be bad . . .cause my Daddy treats me so well.”

For the past fifty plus years, I’ve thought of that line and attributed it to God, my heavenly Father, who has been so unbelievably kind to me that I’ve never been tempted to run away from him. His love keeps me reigned in when temptation threatens to undo me. My heart really does belong to Daddy . . . my Abba Father!

How about you? Does your heart belong to Daddy? This week’s “command of Christ” is found in Matthew 9:20, “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” If our hearts belong to our heavenly Father, then we will want to lay up our treasures in heaven, not on earth. But, what are heavenly treasures? From last Sunday’s study, we learned that spiritual treasures are eternal and spiritual in nature rather than transient and material.

While studying to see what the scriptures teach about treasure, I found a few lovely ideas. First, Israel is God’s treasure (Psalm 135:4), and if we have become “children of Abraham” by faith in Christ, we are part of God’s treasure too! In Proverbs 2:4, we are told to seek wisdom the way some search for hidden treasure, so “wisdom” is certainly something of eternal value that we can “lay up” in heaven! Isaiah 33:6 adds this bit of insight: “And wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times, and strength of salvation: the fear of the Lord is his treasure.

What is “the fear of the Lord”? I’ve heard it defined as “reverential trust with a fear of doing evil.” When we trust the Lord’s Word as pure and right, we avoid evil out of respect and love for God. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). Want treasure in heaven? I do! Looks like it starts with reverentially trusting the Lord as the omniscient law giver who teaches us the way of wisdom. Even when the Bible looks “wrong” according to current trends—or even our own ability to judge good from evil—God wants us to trust Him and obey Him more than we trust our own hearts and obey the strictures of government (only when they disagree with the clear mandates of the Bible).

So, heavenly treasures start with belonging to God as our Father and becoming wise through learning to obey Him. As we follow him, then we’ll start producing the heavenly “treasure” of good works: “A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things” (Matthew 12:35). These “good works” aren’t produced in order to earn our way into heaven, they are the natural by-product of loving our heavenly Father and are like gifts we can offer him.

Continuing along the path of treasure hunting, Matthew 13:44 teaches us that “the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field” and in verse 46, the kingdom of heaven is likened to “the pearl of great price” worthy of giving up everything else in life in order to obtain it! How do we “obtain” the kingdom of heaven? By being born again: “Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). In Matthew 18:3, Jesus said it this way, “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” If you’re not sure what that means, please click where it says “Coming to Christ” at the top of this page. This explains how to be born again and enter the kingdom of heaven.

In the Gospels, Jesus shares with us several times that when we give to the poor, we’ll have treasure in heaven! Do you believe that? I do!! It’s one of those “by faith not sight” things that doesn’t make sense in the world’s economy, but Jesus has a better way in mind for us than heaping up material treasures for ourselves! In 2 Corinthians 4:7, we’re told “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” What is this treasure? It is “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” This may make no sense at all to those who do not believe, but for those of us who have experienced the radiance and comfort of the glory of God, it makes perfect sense!

Think of it this way: What do you love more than anything else in life? Isn’t it being in the presence of the one whom you love more than anything else in the world? Think about it for a minute. What DO you love more than anything else in the world? Is it a person, or a possession? There is no person or possession that will bring you the pleasure and peace of residing in the presence of God and experiencing the light of His countenance smiling down on you! If you’re not sure, try meditating on this prayer over this coming week, and see what happens.

God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause his face to shine upon us; Selah. That thy way may be known upon earth, thy saving health among all nations. Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee. O let the nations be glad and sing for joy: for thou shalt judge the people righteously, and govern the nations upon earth. Selah. Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee. Then shall the earth yield her increase; and God, even our own God, shall bless us. God shall bless us; and all the ends of the earth shall fear him.” (Psalm 67).

Another song I just love listening to is by Michael W. Smith singing “Shine on Us.” (You can start about a 1:05 into it without missing the song): https://video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?fr=yhs-SGMedia-sgmedia_maps&hsimp=yhs-sgmedia_maps&hspart=SGMedia&p=michael+w+smith+singing+shine+on+us#id=2&vid=e0ae2b512544e28688f8f2aee6716d0f&action=view

“Lord
Let your light, Light of your face
Shine on Us

That we, may be saved
That we, may have life
To find our way
In the darkest night
Let your light, Shine on us

Lord
Let your grace, Grace from your hand
Fall on us . . .”

Text for today’s meditation: Matthew 9:20 “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

(Photo of the painting “The Light of His Love” by Yongsung Kim, used by permission of Havenlight.com)

Until Forever

“Live Until You Die!”

That’s the message of this incredibly inspiring true love story called Until Forever (2016 version), which is based on the lives of Michael and Michelle Boyum and their enduring love as teenagers and young adults dealing with Michael’s diagnosis of leukemia.

If I didn’t know someone with a similarly buoyant spirit, it would be hard to imagine anybody as sweet, faith-filled, and steady as this young man, but in reality, I know Tom F., who has also been through the wringer with leukemia and is every bit as kind and outreaching, so I know a few of these treasures exist!

Like my friend Tom, Michael always had the needs of others at the forefront of his thinking, and even during his hospital stays, he was busy reaching out to others with encouragement and the love of Jesus!

Jamie Anderson as Matt Boyum

Until Forever doesn’t shy away from the painful realities of how a cancer diagnosis effects everyone who loves the patient. In Michael’s case, his younger brother was severely effected,

Joel Jacobsen as Ben

as were many friends from his church family. (I loved the inclusion of this sweet young man!)

Madison Lawlor as Michelle Larson

Equally miraculous to Michael’s radiant spirit was the response of Michael’s girlfriend, Michelle, who refused to give up and stood by his side despite all the pain, insecurities, and sufferings that Michael endured. (Tom’s wife, Lynnie, is actually just as beautiful and wonderful as Michelle is, as depicted in the movie, so I have no trouble believing such devotion and faith exist!)

Here is a photo of the “real” Michael and Michelle (shown in the final credits of the movie). I truly believe only God can produce a love like theirs!

Well, I don’t want to ruin the story by telling you everything, but it’s one of the most moving movies I’ve seen in a long time, full of faith in the midst of fear

and triumph in the midst of tragedy.

If you are struggling with fear and tragedy, please take the time to watch this movie! It is possible to experience hope and peace in the midst of any illness.

For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4).

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:1-5, ESV).

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (34): The Sweet Relief of Reconciliation

Matthew 5:23-24 “If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” This is the first less-than-imperative “command” of Christ that I’m going to tackle. While meditating through the gospels last year, I found 33 such teachings and wondered if these “If-then” declarations should be included as commands, since technically they are “conditional” rather than “imperative” statements. So, do we “have” to obey them? Only if the first part of the statement is true: If we want to give something to the Lord, then God wants us to be reconciled to anyone who has something against us first.

Do you want to give something to the Lord? I do. My life. My heart. My thoughts. My actions. I want my life to be a gift to God that makes him happy. Do you feel that way? If so, then God says the first gift we can give him is this: We should seek forgiveness for how we’ve hurt our loved ones and reconcile with them. God loves each of us so much that he identifies with each person’s pain. He doesn’t want any of his children left out or left behind! “Trinity” comes from two words meaning “tri-unity.” God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are often defined by their being three in one. “Three-way UNITY!”

In Jesus’ high priestly prayer, recorded in John 17:21-23, he prays: “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us . . that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one.” God wants us to live in love and unity with one another even more than he wants us to give him any other type of gift!

Wow! This says something profound about how highly God values unity and how deeply he desires it. Jesus prayed to his father for unity in the Church. Reconciliation is a precious gift that we can give him. No where does Jesus command us to give God anything! Did you know that? Although the word “give” is mentioned 1392 times in the Bible (KJV), in the New Testament it isn’t until Judgment Day that we are told, “Fear God, and give glory to him” (Revelation 14:7).

The vast majority of times giving is mentioned, it is in the context of God giving to us, and our giving to other people. It’s like the runoff of rain on our roof. God showers us—our home—with blessings, and the runoff waters the gardens of loved ones—friends and neighbors—all around us. We live in a vast spiritual ecosystem of clouds, rain, runoff, streams, lakes, oceans, transpiration and evaporation, only it’s not literal water that our spirits crave, but receiving and giving love and forgiveness.

How do we seek forgiveness and reconciliation? I think we can start by asking God to show us how we’ve hurt the other person (which we may never fully comprehend) and to help us understand how they feel. We need to repent—to be genuinely sorry—so sorry that we will go way out of our way to make sure we don’t do the same thing again—and then to seek their forgiveness.

What if they won’t forgive us? “A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like the bars of a castle” (Proverbs 18:19). I have seen this dynamic over and over again! Even if the offender repents, the offended person is often unwilling to forgive, because to forgive means the offended person has to absorb the pain and suffering caused by the offender, while the offender “gets off scott free.” Many people choose to hold a grudge and refuse to forgive, but this is not the way of Christ, who prayed for those who crucified him, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). I think it is only through a deep experience of God’s forgiveness and love for us that we are able to truly forgive those who have hurt us. This is the way of Christ . . . and the way of the cross.

If you have sincerely repented and tried to reconcile, but without success, don’t despair. Just as we persevere in prayers for our loved ones to trust Christ as their savior, so we need to persevere in prayer for those we’ve offended to find the grace to forgive us. There is sweet relief in reconciliation, and that is our calling, so don’t give up, but don’t let disunity discourage you from faith. Keep your faith in God. Keep looking up and find your joy in him! Remember that someday He will bring unity and peace to earth. In the meantime, we can “seek peace and pursue it” (1 Peter 3:11, ESV), and we can practice: “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18).

All things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).

The Birthday Club Goes Ludington

When we planned our trip to Ludington State Park for Susan’s birthday outing (months ago), I had visions of bright blue skies and balmy weather, but the weather—like all of life—is totally unpredictable, isn’t it?!

Instead of sunshine, there was a misty rain. Instead of being 80° (which it had been one day last week), it was 52° with a stiff wind.

We debated whether or not we should even try the four-mile hike to the lighthouse because, despite bundling, we knew we’d be uncomfortably cold by the time we climbed to the top of the Big Sable Lighthouse.

However, it seemed like the right thing to do, so we persevered.

It was indeed windy and bone-chillingly cold at the top!

But then, as if by magic, when we descended and started our trek back to the car, a streak of blue appeared along the horizon!

In less than an hour, the dark storm clouds blew away, and soon we were immersed in a world of bright blue skies and—well, maybe not balmy, but certainly lovely—springtime weather!

We recovered with a very late and very yummy lunch at the House of Flavors, where we celebrated Susan’s birthday with gifts and happy conversation. Our Birthday Club isn’t just dedicated to honoring the birthday girl, it’s a time to celebrate the blessings of God and the encouragement of friendship, so there is often a theme and some thoughtful sharing of comforting verses as well as communal prayer on the way home.

This year, Cindi had found a 100+year-old book of poetry from an antique shop (Souvenir Rhymes by James Hamilton) and read some to us. My favorite concerned the preciousness of faithful friends who administer mercy and grace to one another, which I’ll include at the end.

There is something very nurturing about true friends who inspire one another to persevere, not only through gloomy weather but also through gloomy circumstances. I thank God for every treasured friend of mine, and for every person who is willing to be a friend to someone else.

Are you feeling discouraged and sad? We all need companions to journey with us, not only through the bright and balmy times of life, but when the wind is in our faces and we’re not prepared for the unexpected and sometimes very miserable changes in our situations. We need one another to help us push on until the rain passes by and the sun starts shining again!

Have you got a friend? Be a friend! Reach out. We need each other! “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” (Hebrew 10:23-25, ESV).

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17, ESV).

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (9): Follow Me . . . Ignorant Enthusiasm

If you think we’ve already discussed Jesus’ command, “Follow Me,” you’re right. The first two times I read through the New Testament looking for all the places where Jesus gave people unequivocal imperatives, I counted over 400, so it was tempting to discuss the command to follow him only once. However, each instance has unique circumstances, and Jesus calls men to follow him more times than he urges people to do almost anything else, so I think each account deserves attention. The eighth time we read of Jesus commanding someone to do something, it is when he interacts with Philip, and the story is found only in John’s Gospel  (which I’ve listed at the bottom of this post if you’d like to read it now). In this instance, Philip immediately responds by sharing what he thinks he knows with Nathanael. He identifies (correctly) that Jesus is the prophet about whom Moses wrote (see Deuteronomy 18:15: “The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken”).

Further, Philip (incorrectly) states that Jesus is from “Nazareth” and “the son of Joseph.” The first descriptor is partially true; the second is false! Jesus was originally from Bethlehem (although he was living in Nazareth when Nathanael met him), but he was not the son of Joseph. Jesus was conceived by the Virgin Mary overshadowed by God’s Holy Spirit in a once-in-the-universe miracle to produce a sinless offspring who was fully human and fully divine (Matthew 1:20). The Gospel of Luke explains that he was born into the family of Joseph but was not truly his son: “And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli” (Luke 3:23). Because of my own experiences as a new believer, I am charmed by this account, because Philip was so enthusiastic but clearly not well taught as yet! However, that didn’t stop him from instinctively becoming a “fisher of men!”Nathanael, who was a devout and clearly well educated Israelite, questioned Philip’s accuracy based on his knowledge that the ruler of the Jews was to come from Bethlehem, not Nazareth: “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2). Philip didn’t know all the answers, but he had discovered the One who is the answer, so he urged Nathanael to come and see for himself!

Nathanael came, and in two simple sentences Jesus proved his omniscience. Jesus acknowledged Nathanael as without guile (deceit), which is an introductory volley no mortal could honestly lob over the net on first meeting (but was obviously true, because Nathanael knew in his heart that Jesus was correct), and then Jesus divulged that he had actually been able to see Nathanael  when he was out of eye sight, under a fig tree, before Philip had ever gone to get him! So, Jesus knew Nathanael “inside” and “outside.” If he wasn’t The Prophet, he was definitely a prophet of God, and he had Nathanael’s attention!The unique beauty of this story is that what Philip did was blessed by God, even though he didn’t yet have all his facts straight! Philip became one of the twelve Apostles and was with Jesus throughout his ministry, even sharing The Last Supper with him. He was able to lead Nathanael to Jesus—not because Philip knew all the answers, but because he urged Nathanael to come and see for himself, and Nathanael also became a follower. (We know this because  he was with the disciples at the end of John’s Gospel.) Furthermore, Nathanael was the first to acknowledge Jesus for who he really was: “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel” (John 1:49).

Dearly beloved, if Jesus is your Savior and Lord, you don’t have to wait a minute to share him with others! Tell them as much as you know, but realize that what you say may be true, only half true, or even (unintentionally) false, like what  Philip told Nathanael! The important thing is to get your friends to come and see for themselves! Bring them to Jesus; put a Bible in their hands; invite them to church. Urge them to pray to Jesus. Jesus can draw them to himself. All we have to do is testify to what little we know (or think we know)! As Jesus taught: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32).

Come and See
(—Lenny LeBlanc)
“Come and see the glory of the Lord
Come behold the Lamb
Come and know the mercy of the King
Bowing down before him.
“Come and give thanks unto the Lord
Come behold the Lamb.
Come and sing the praises of the King
Bowing down before him
“For He is Lord above the heavens,
Lord of all the earth
Lord of all the angels,
Worthy to be served.
Allelujah!”
(For an inspiring rendition by the composer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIn4WG_v9m8)

The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me.44 Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.45 Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.46 And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! 48 Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.49 Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.50 Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these.51 And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man” (John 1:43-51).