Epiphany of Joy

epiphany of joy

Growing up in a Christian home I benefited from learning about Jesus early on in my life. Though I didn’t fully grasp what it meant to be a Christian at my young age, one thing I knew was that I did not want to go to hell. So when I was just five years old, I asked Jesus to come into my heart. My parents were deliberate about having family devotions and praying with us before bed, but I never felt a freedom to ask questions when I had doubts. As a result, many of my questions went unanswered and my relationship with Christ remained superficial.

Years later after graduating from college I met a co-worker (now my husband) who expressed interest in the Christian faith and was struggling to make sense of his own life. Our conversations would often turn to spiritual things and the doubts that were dogging him. I shared the Gospel with him and in time, he placed his trust in Christ. The change in his life was both profound and immediate. Seeing this transformation and the excitement he had regarding his new-found faith raised some questions of my own; why wasn’t I experiencing this same joy? Was his passion simply the result of his exuberant personality, or was it because he had been saved from greater sin than me? I tended to think it was the latter.

These questions lingered in my mind for years, until I was exposed to a good diet of solid biblical teaching. Through this teaching I came to realize that the difference in our response to the Gospel was not due to our personality differences; nor was it due to the fact that his sin was greater than mine resulting in his deeper gratitude. No, my problem was me. Like the Pharisee in Luke 18:13 who beat his chest and thanked God that he was not like “other people – greedy, unrighteous, adulterers…” I had foolishly assumed that because I had come to Christ early in life and hadn’t committed any of the “really bad sins”, I was not in need of as much forgiveness as he was. This lie led to another; my conversion wasn’t as glorious as his. This had a crippling effect on my spiritual life, not to mention my joy.

When I began to understand God’s holiness and how even my “small” sins were an incredible offense to Him, the blinders were removed and I realized just how much I’d been forgiven. This epiphany naturally produced the joy that had been missing for so long. Now the fact of my salvation was more than mere “fire insurance”; it was something to celebrate.

Why do I share this? Because joy and gratitude seem to be missing from so many professing Christians. Appreciating grace and experiencing real joy begin with a proper understanding of God’s nature and an honest appraisal of our own; He is holy, we are not. Our sins, (yes, even the so-called “little sins”) are repugnant to Him. Paul expressed this truth well when he declared himself the “chief of sinners”. Consider his words,

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst.” I Timothy 1:15

This should be the confession of every Christian. We are no better than Paul, the murderer of Christians. Our sin is an affront to Divine authority and caused the Father to send His only Son to die an agonizing and scandalous death on a cross. Indeed, He was crushed for our iniquities too, not just for Paul’s.

Grasping this undeniable truth is the beginning of joy and will allow the sweet words Jesus spoke of the woman who poured expensive perfume on His feet to be spoken of us as well: “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

Blessings as you reflect on His lavish grace,

Barb

Photo Credit: http://pixabay.com/p-110303/?no_redirect

Don’t Boast When You Post (Choosing Humility Over Self-Promotion)

white daisiesSeveral years ago a fictional man by the name of “Larry Boast” came as a surprise guest to a father/son mentoring club my husband led. Mr. Boast bragged on add nauseam about everything under the sun. Through his exaggerated, obnoxious and overbearing personality, Mr. Boast delivered an invaluable lesson to the boys gathered that night; bragging is unbecoming for anyone, but especially for the follower of Christ.

Chances are we’ve all encountered “Larry’s wife”: the woman who has perfected the art of “subtle bragging” on her children, her husband, her home, her job, her latest purchase, and her latest vacation. Her list of things to brag about seems endless. Like the ostrich with her head in the sand, she is oblivious to the fact that her boasting is seen by all, exposing either her insecurities or her arrogance. She provides a great example for us and our children of how not to act.

Although none of us are strangers to pride, social media has normalized this “mother of all sins” and has even made it socially acceptable. Facebook, Twitter, and blogging (though morally neutral mediums) have opened the “Pandora’s Box” of self-promotion. If honest, we all have a desire to be important, successful and admired, but we do well to examine ourselves and our actions in light of His Word. What does the Scripture tell us about bragging?  

“This is what the Lord says: The wise must not boast in his wisdom; the mighty must not boast in his might; the rich must not boast in his riches. But the one who boasts should boast in this, that he understands and knows me—that I am the Lord, showing faithful love, justice and righteousness on the earth, for I delight in these things. This is the Lord’s declaration.”          ~Jeremiah 9:23,24

When we look to Christ we see perfect humility displayed. Jesus never touted His accomplishments, nor did He announce Himself when He entered a community; people gathered because His works preceded Him. His very entrance into time and space through Mary’s womb was an act of unparalleled humility. Philippians 2:8 tells us that this King “humbled Himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross.” Jesus never flaunted who He was. He didn’t have to; His life spoke volumes.

One has to wonder:  if Jesus had a Facebook page, what would it look like? Would He update it daily with His latest “selfie” or sporting His latest garment purchase? Would He flaunt His disciples’ many accomplishments? Don’t misunderstand, I’m not suggesting it is wrong to post photos or share good things in our lives. But before we post perhaps we should ask ourselves, “Why am I doing this?” “Does this draw attention to Christ, or to myself?”

Though Jesus had every right to boast (He is the King of all kings, after all), He didn’t. He never sang His own praises. We should live as Jesus did, content to go unnoticed. When Christ is truly the center of our lives and we find our worth and identity in Him, no self-promotion is needed.

“But as for me (Paul) I will never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.” ~Galatians 6:14

Blessings,

Barb

Photo Credit:  http://www.mi9.com/wallpaper/26-white-daisy-under-sky-wild-daisy-flower-photos_69095/

The Pain of Being Alone {and how you can help the lonely}

crying_and_alone-13002

To keep myself from going stir crazy while my husband and son were away on a trip a few weeks ago, I planned some day trips. One of these included a day with my 88-year old widowed mom who lives an hour away. We spent a day shopping, going to lunch and visiting. When our time together came to a close, she walked me out to my van, hugged me and said, “Do you know how you’re feeling alone with Michael and Ian gone? Well, that’s how I’ve felt every day since your dad passed away.”

She wasn’t whining; that’s not her style. She was simply sharing her honest feelings. While I make it a point to call and talk with her often, my mom’s words stung that day. I often forget how much she misses my dad. She’s done a great job of staying active and reaching out to others, but none of her activities make up for the gaping hole my dad’s passing left in her life. I still miss my dad, but my pain doesn’t come anywhere close to the pain she lives with every day. Her comment made me think how easy it is to overlook those in our lives who are lonely.

Most of us enjoy time alone, especially when we have children in the house, but when loneliness is forced upon us, it’s an unwelcome intruder. We weren’t meant to live life detached from others. God created us for community and modeled it for us in the relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The apostle James understood the stinging pain of loneliness and saw us, the church, as the remedy to it:

 “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” ~ James 1:27

Though James mentions only two specific groups here, orphans and widows, the list of people who could be added is endless. Our list might include folks who are new to our church, school, homeschool group, etc. They may be widows or widowers, single moms, or a college student away from home.

Develop an eye for those who appear alone. When you find them, introduce yourself and take an interest by asking them questions about themselves. Get them talking. Invite them for dinner or coffee. It doesn’t take much more food to feed an extra person. Don’t worry about the cleanliness of your house or the fact that you’re not a gourmet cook. Believe me, they won’t care if your furniture is from Crate and Barrel, if your house passes the white glove test, or if your cooking is on par with that of Julia Child, but they will remember that you cared enough to share your life with them. Don’t worry if you’re a bit awkward or a little shy; they’re most likely feeling that way, too.

You may wonder how you can possibly fit one more thing on your plate. For most of us, it’s all we can do to take care of our family’s needs. While our own family should be our first priority, devotion to Christ demands that we step out of our comfort zone and invest in others. Every time we live out the Scriptures, we model the Gospel for our children in a more powerful way than our words alone ever could. Reaching out in this way shows our love and obedience to Christ and is its own reward. And finally, don’t be surprised when your hospitality results in some delightful new friendships.

 “Don’t neglect to show hospitality, for by doing this some have welcomed angels as guests without knowing.” ~Hebrews 13:2

Blessings,

Barb Spencer

Photo Credit:  http://images.paraorkut.com/img/pics/images/c/crying_and_alone-13002.bmp

Where’s He Going, Anyway?

following JesusAs my husband tucked our then three-year old son, Ian, into bed over 14 years ago, he held his chubby little face in his hands and told him, “Ian, you’re going to be a big man someday. And you’re going to follow Jesus, aren’t you?” Ian responded with a quick, “Yep”, and then paused momentarily adding, “Where’s He going anyway?”

I couldn’t help but smile when my husband told me of this exchange with Ian, but I have to say as I recall this that Ian gave both an awesome response and offered a thoughtful question.

Ian’s response (“Yep”) showed that he trusted the character of the God he’d heard us read and talk about. He trusted us. He knew we didn’t lie to him. He exhibited the childlike faith Jesus speaks of in the Gospels. He wasn’t cynical in his view of God because of he hadn’t experienced life’s disappointments. He simply trusted us. If we said God could be trusted, that was all his little mind needed to know. Period.

I love the question Ian asked that night. It was a reasonable one. When someone asks us to go somewhere, our first response is usually, “Where are we going?” As the years passed, we did tell Ian and his sisters that following Jesus meant going places that were uncomfortable and involved sacrifice. It meant dying to self. Paul describes the life of a Christian in this way, “…all those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (II Tim.3:12) Jesus also said these words: “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) 

As moms, we know it’s our responsibility to be deliberate in teaching our children to follow Christ no matter what the cost. This teaching comes with a challenge for us as well. Are we willing to follow no matter what the cost? Our children are watching to see if we practice what we preach. It’s pretty hard to be a hypocrite at home. But it can be difficult to trust God when all we see are circumstances that seem dire. We can become cynical when we know how disappointing life can be.

How do we maintain a rock solid trust in God instead of being given over to worry? I’ve been reading from the book of Mark and it is packed with miracle upon miracle that Jesus performed. Mark 6 records that as Jesus entered His hometown those He grew up around discounted Him and “He was amazed at their unbelief.”(Mk. 6:6) It is so convicting that He finds our unbelief incredulous. If the God of the universe has made all of creation and redeemed us by His Son’s sacrifice, then of course He is offended when we don’t believe.

As we teach our children truths about God’s character, let’s remember ourselves that He is unchanging. Though our emotions may be all over the map, He never changes. Then we can answer confidently as Ian did when asked if he’d follow Jesus–even though we don’t know where He will take us because we know He can be trusted.

Blessings,

Barb

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