Resolved: One and Done

New Years Resolution

‘Tis the season for New Year’s Resolutions.

I have a lot of things I would like to see happen this year:

And a lot of things that I DON’T want to happen this year:

But here’s the thing about most resolutions:
They are about control.
Controlling my finances.
Controlling what I eat.
Controlling how much I exercise.
Controlling my habits.
Controlling my emotions.

But here’s the other thing:
Self-control is a great thing.
But it is not a product of my will.
I have proven over and over again that I can have it for a little while and then I will lose it, drop it, blow it big.
Because on my own, I am incapable of maintaining self-control.
So it cannot be a product I manufacture.
Rather, it is a fruit of the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22)
A product of the work of God in my life.

Fruit doesn’t grit its teeth to make itself appear.
It doesn’t lay out elaborate plans.
It doesn’t work harder, smarter or faster.

It just emerges in a healthy plant.
A natural product of growth.

I need self-control – we all do.
But I don’t get it by willing myself to have it.

I get it simply by abiding in The Vine. (John 15)
Sticking close to Jesus.
Listening to the Holy Spirit.
And obeying His still, small voice.
Choosing to keep short accounts with God and people.
When the Holy Spirit nudges me to say, “That was wrong”, I immediately say, “I am so sorry – I will turn and walk a different way. Please give me the grace and strength to do that.”
And when He says, “Get up and do this thing”, I do it. Immediately. Without question.
That might be exercising.
Or putting down the thing I want to buy.
That might be doing something kind.
Or doing a task I don’t want to do.
Whatever it is, He will lead. And I will choose to follow.

I will know His voice by saturating my life in the Word of God.
Making room to be still before Him.
Filling my life with people who point me to Him.
Choosing to make His ways a priority.
Abiding in The Vine.

When I do that, self-control is a natural byproduct.
As is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and faithfulness.

So for the “cost” of one “resolution” – drawing closer to God – I gain all of those benefits.
Or, more accurately, the people in my life gain all those benefits!

And here is what I love about the Spirit of the God.
He doesn’t use intimidation or bullying to get me to change.
Instead, He peels back layers one at a time and shows me the thing that needs to be dealt with next.
And He does it in loving terms.
Never by sarcasm, insults or shame.
But simply by wooing me closer to Himself.
Showing where I am not like Jesus.
And then giving me the power to become more like Him.

Why wouldn’t I resolve to draw closer?
It is a one-and-done proposition.
Draw near to Him in love and obedience (which Jesus said are one and the same).
Let Him do the necessary work to make my life pleasing to Him.
It will show up in the practical ways that are always on the list of resolutions.
Directly impacting everything I do.
From what I eat to what I do with my time and how I spend my money – and everything in between.
Much easier than trying to gut it out myself.
And productive for all of eternity.

Resolved: Abide in The Vine. Saturate my life in His life. Breathe deeply of Who He is. Marinate in His character, His Word, His heart. Obey Him as He leads. And let Him take care of the rest.

One and done.

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On Stickers…

stickersWhen I lived in Japan, I heard it almost daily: “You are very large, aren’t you?” I was much heavier then. But I am sure I would hear it there even today since I am built like my northern European ancestors and always will be.

In the States, I most often hear, “You’re so loud!” Sometimes it is a compliment. Other times it is a dig. But the reality is that God has given me a voice that carries and a personality that loves to laugh – and laugh loud.

Here in Guatemala, it seems to be about my age. To a kid in elementary school, 49 is on the edge of dead. To my millennial friends it is about the same. And on the other side of things, my friends going through menopause seem anxious to share all that lies in my near future.

Gray dot stickers.
That’s what Max Lucado would call those labels.
Fat. Loud. Old.
Gray dot stickers.

In his children’s book, “You are Special”, he writes about a wooden person named Punchinello who lives in Wemmicksville. All wooden Wemmicks like to give each other gray dot stickers if they think something is wrong and yellow star stickers if they like what they see. Punchinello is covered with gray dots until one day he meets Lucia, a Wemmick with no stars or dots. He cannot figure out why they don’t stick to her. People try to give her compliments or cast aspersions, but either way, they don’t stick. She tells Punch it is because she spends time with Eli, their Maker. And after visiting Eli, Punchinello finds out that the only opinion that really matters is that of his Maker. And he discovers that because he was made by Eli, he is special.

Such a simple, simple truth.

And yet every day I see people of all ages who are wrecked by the stickers.
They constantly wonder what other people think of them.
They crave compliments and recognition.
And they hate that they crave it.
They wither under a negative comment.
And they hate that they wither.

I have been there.
Still am some days.

But here is what I have discovered: freedom.
The Truth is that what you think of me does not matter.
There is only One opinion that matters. Only One who is allowed to say, “That needs to change”. And only One who constantly tells me wonderful Truths about me.
Because the bottom is that real life and what really matters is NOT. ABOUT. ME.

In the original languages of the Bible, the word “glory of God” is actually better translated the “evidence of God.”
I was not created so that you would be impressed with the evidence of me.
How skinny I am.
How soft-spoken.
How young (which, in our culture, means how beautiful).

I was created so that you would see the glory of GOD. The EVIDENCE OF GOD.
Since He designed me, it is about Him.
Since He created me, it is for His sake that I exist.
Since He is the Lord of All that exists, HIS is the ONLY opinion that matters.

And when I really believe that, really soak that in, really live that, then Lucia is right: the stickers don’t stick.
Does a compliment feel good? Sure.
Do harsh words wound? Yes.
Do I appreciate being appreciated? Of course.
Do I want people to enjoy being around me? Yes.

But do I find my identity there? No.
I find out who I am in Christ.
And I let who HE says I am be the answer to every compliment – and every dig.

So here’s a refresher on who He says we are.
But a caveat here – much of this list applies only to the person who has accepted the gift of salvation that Jesus offers. Any one can accept the gift – and if you have, this is the Truth about you:

You are loved. Not because of anything you have done or not done. Not because you are good at something or you did something good. You are loved as a mother loves her tiny, helpless newborn who has done nothing but cause her 9-months of discomfort and hours of agony in birth. You are loved simply because you are His kid.

You are forgiven. There is no condemnation for you. There is no shame. He is not keeping score of how many times He has forgiven that offense. Yes, He longs for you to be free from sinful choices – but not for His sake. For yours! He is not holding out on you because of your past. He doesn’t ever look at you and think, “Hopeless”. He looks at you with longing and offers you all the power He has for you to live for Him. And WHEN you blow it, He forgives again.

You are liked. I think A LOT of Christians nod their heads with the first two but struggle with this one. God delights in you. He “gets” you. He understands your jokes. He knows just how you feel even when you don’t. He rejoices over the tiniest steps you take. And He is cheering you on in this race that is the Christian life. You are never “too much” for Him. And you are never “not enough” for Him. He thinks you are an amazing creation of His own hand – and He designed you with intent and purpose.

You are gifted. You may not be good at everything – no one is! Personally, I will never, ever be coordinated. Part of who I am is my klutziness. I will never be good at walking, let alone sports. But I have been given other gifts. Many, many other gifts! And He has given me these treasures for two reasons – to show the evidence of Who He is and for my benefit. It is really, truly fun to operate in the gifts God has given you! So, if you are serving in some capacity and not having a blast while you do it, you may be in the wrong place. Or you may be trying to use a gift you have not been given. Find out who He has made you to be – and try not to be afraid of it.

There is so much more I could say.
But here’s the bottom line:
You were designed to walk in freedom.
Free to be who you are.
Free to have the stickers not stick.
Free to play to an Audience of One.

Because if He is pleased with your choices, you will be in right standing with others.
If you walk according to His design, in His ways, the stickers won’t stick.
He designed you.
He adores you.
He likes you.
Will you let Him?

This Is Christmas

Nothing in my world feels like Christmas.
There is no tree in my living room.
And I don’t think there will be.
The roommates are scattering to the four winds when school gets out in less than two weeks.

I have almost no money so there is very little shopping to do.

The ambience is missing. Warm weather, volcanoes, earthquakes, flowers in bloom, squashes ripening on the vine – these things do not say “Christmas” to my heart.

No Hallmark channel so no cheesy movies.
And no Christmas commercials since I don’t watch TV.
Christmas music only if I choose to play it.

Frankly, it doesn’t even feel like December.
And it certainly doesn’t feel like Christmas.

And I am glad.

Because Christmas, contrary to popular opinion, is not a feeling.

Don’t get me wrong.
I love the ambience, the trappings and the trimmings.
And I am glad that I will be home with family for it again this year.
Glad that there will be a tree and yummy foods, gifts and carols, cold weather and decorations.

But I am also glad that this year is very, very different for me.

Because Christmas was never meant to be a feeling.
Or trimmings, trappings and things.

Christmas is scandal.

A young woman, barely an adult, claiming to be impregnated by the Most High God.

Her fiancé, a businessman in the community, having to decide who and what to believe. Did she cheat? Is she pure? Or is she insane? A liar, a lunatic or the love of his life?

The Son of God born in a stable and placed in a manger. No softness except his mother’s body and a bed of straw. No cozy bedroom, no clean house. A feed trough for a bed.

Some crazy shepherds making claims about angelic visions in the night. Who were they to be told first? Who were they to have the privilege of the first visit?

Then the escalation of the heavenly war, God versus Satan, already in progress, now manifest by the murder of baby boys by a wicked king, bent on protecting his throne.

And a young family fleeing into the night, becoming strangers in a strange land, refugees and immigrants in Egypt to escape that same evil king.

This is Christmas.
Scandalous events.
And scandalous grace.

The One who spoke the world into being becoming a speechless infant.
The Almighty unable to hold up his own head.
The Omnipotent devoid of all power.

And then that same sinless God-made-man choosing powerlessness again at the end of his life.
Submitting to torture.
Slaps. Spit. Slashes with a Roman whip.
Thorns thrust into his scalp.
A purple robe thrown over mangled flesh.
All while knowing every detail of every person who mocked him.
And loving them still.
Willing to take their punishment, even for the sin of punishing an innocent man.

This is Christmas.

Four limbs.
Three nails.
One cross.

Six hours of agony.
Separation from God the Father.
And the crushing weight of sin.

Unable to breathe without pushing up on the nail in his feet.
Yet able to forgive the ones who “know not what they do”.

This is Christmas.

A cold, dark journey just before dawn, carrying spices and fretting about who will roll away the stone.
Shock and confusion that the tomb was empty.
Elation at the words of the angel: “He is not here. He is risen, just as He said.”

This is Christmas.

Light piercing the darkness.
The veil of the Temple torn in two.
The ability to “boldly come before the throne of grace to receive help in time of need.”

This is Christmas.

So it is OK that I am not feeling “it” this year.
Because Christmas is not a feeling.

It is friendship with the Most High God.
It is the guarantee of eternal life and the glories of heaven that awaits.
It is the knowledge that I am never, ever alone.
And that He has ALL my life under control.

It is knowing that resurrection power is available every moment of my life.
And that I have all I need for life and godliness because I have Him.
It is the sure knowledge that He will go to any length to pursue me.
And that He found me to be worth dying for long before I found Him to be everything I need.
It is the promise that He will complete the good work He began in me.
That He will one day return as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
And that I do not have to fear the future in this life or the next.

This is Christmas.
Scandalous events.
Scandalous grace.
Scandalous love.

Joy to the world, indeed!