Looking for Something New

Most of us girls love a good shopping trip, right? We put on our “going out for the day” clothes, do our hair and make-up, and head out looking for something new. It might be a new sweater in the latest fall color or new jeans with the “in” look and fit. After all, last years’ jeans are so — you know — last year! This time of year the guys may be out there hunting deer, but we’d rather be hunting the perfect new Christmas party look.

Don’t new things make us feel great? I confess. I have two olive green tops in my closet that look almost identical. One is several years old and the other I got two weeks ago. I walked into the shop, tried the top on, and even said to myself, “I already have a top this color.” Never mind that. I liked how it made me feel and I bought it. With something new for fall, I was excited to log into my Zoom meeting last week wearing – you guessed it – my new olive green top.

Why do we have such a desire for new things? Maybe God wired us that way. NEW is where we’re headed, after all. In the book of Revelation — the last book in the Bible and the one that reveals the end of the story for humanity – chapter 21 tells us that Christians are headed to a place where NEW is the new normal. This is not an isolated New Testament idea. You’ll find the same concept if you look in the Old Testament – Isaiah 65:17-19.

Revelation 21:1-5 reads:

“Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’  He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’

Every Christian is headed to a place where everything will be new. Our hearts do long for newness – but NEW is not just where we’re headed. The ongoing process of being made new is going on right now in every person who follows Jesus as Lord and Savior. To be clear, a Christian is not just someone who shows up in church on Christmas. Checking a box on a survey doesn’t make you a Christian, either. Christians are people who have realized their way of thinking, acting, speaking and overall living is not perfect – not holy – not pleasing to a perfect God. So they asked Jesus (God) to forgive them for all that has been wrong in their lives. And Jesus COULD forgive them because He came to earth as both man and God, lived a perfect life, paid the death penalty on the cross for everything every person who ever lived ever did or will do, and then came back to life – proving He was infinite God and had overcome infinite sin.

If you are a Christian, then you are in the process of being made new. The second part of Romans 6:4 tells us, “just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” And in case you’re wondering how complete this “becoming new” process is, check out the second part of Isaiah 62:2 – “…you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow.”

The Lord bestowing a new name is so much more than getting a nickname. In the Bible, a person’s name represents the entire character of that person. So the newness God is bringing is not only on the surface. God is working out in every Christian an extreme makeover – new thoughts, new plans, new purposes, new desires, new priorities, new personality, new emotions, new responses to life events, all new character. All the things in our past and present that are not perfect, not holy, not pleasing to God are being removed or transformed into beautiful, holy perfection. Now that is SOME kind of new.

Girls – when we go shopping, we’re looking for a new OUTfit, but the longing of our hearts is for a beautiful, totally new IN-fit. Our deepest longing is for this magnificent transformation — that God is doing in every Christian — to be complete.

If you’re not a Christian and you want God to start that beautiful extreme make-over in your mind, heart and habits – just tell Him. Ask Him to forgive your past based on Jesus’ death on the cross. Invite Him into your life. And be sure to tell another Christian who can walk with you on this exciting journey. Consider it a life-long spiritual shopping trip where you’re always getting something new.

Each time you get the urge to go shopping now, will you first take a minute to thank God for the exquisite new forever home He is preparing for you in Heaven — and for the extreme makeover He is working in you right now? Ask Him to show you how you can cooperate with Him as He gets rid of the old and brings in the best version of the new you!

Lessons from a Hummingbird Bully

During the first few days after I put out the sugar water for our local hummingbirds, they responded with obvious delight. Half a dozen tiny birds visited the feeder frequently, darting back and forth in every direction, doing what I affectionately call their “sugar-buzz ballet.” How I enjoyed seeing them zip in, hover at the feeder, sip briefly, and then zoom away. They are amazing creatures!

A few weeks later, after making sure the feeder was full, I took a trip for a few days. I returned after a long weekend to see radically different behavior at the feeder. Instead of a delightful dance of several birds, there was primarily one standing guard. He seemed to have declared that all the sugar water in the feeder was his and dove aggressively at any other bird that came close.

I was outraged at this bite-sized bully. The nerve! He had not done anything to produce the food. I had provided it freely as a gift for all the hummingbirds to enjoy. It wasn’t like he was low on food; he’d eat a couple of ounces every day, but the feeder held 8 times that. That bullying bird had gone from civilized sharing to being downright cruel to all hummingbird-kind around him.

And then it clicked. What I was feeling is how God feels when He sees us people hoarding and bullying each other over our sugar water — money (or any material thing). The hummingbird bully had not created that sugar water. He had only found it! It was a gift! Every material blessing we have is a gift from God. God says in James 1:17, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” We don’t create money anymore than that hummingbird mixed up that sugar water. Where do our material blessings come from? God says in Deuteronomy 8:18. “…it is the He (the Lord) who gives you the ability to produce wealth.”

Maybe the hummingbird’s problem (and ours) is that he wanted to be in charge. He thought he was a pretty big deal, all 3 inches of him. He was so important that nobody else could come into his territory or drink from his feeder (even though none of that was true.) OK – maybe I am crediting the hummingbird with a little too much mental capacity, but that IS often how we humans think. In our hearts we think, “I am the boss of me (and everybody else.) This is mine, all mine, and you can’t have it.” (It doesn’t matter if we really need all of it or not.) We only have to look a verse earlier in Deuteronomy 8, connecting verse 17 and 18, to correct out thinking. “You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth…’ ”

At some point, all the hummingbirds will have gone south for the winter. Then all the sugar water the bully hummingbird had fought so viciously to keep for himself will sit there…wasted. None of the other birds will have enjoyed it as I intended. None of the other birds will have been nourished by it as I had hoped. How many of us hoard and fight viciously for material things while we’re here on earth? After we’re gone, then what? Will others speak of us as “bully birds”? Will they talk about who could have been blessed by our sharing? I wonder if there is anyone in your life or mine today whom we could nourish or even fill with obvious delight – by sharing our sugar water.

How Would Jesus Weigh In?

At this moment in history and American culture, the topic of Roe v. Wade impacts any conversation in which it is dropped like water hitting hot oil. So instead of arguing for one side or the other, perhaps a better use of “blog ink” is to address some of the hard questions that have been bubbling to the surface in the last few days. For instance…

WHO HAS VALUE: MOM OR UNBORN BABY?
Jesus’ answer is BOTH,
or rather, ALL. Mom, the unborn baby, the father, and every other human being is made “in God’s image.” (Genesis 1:27) Some measure of the essence of God is encapsulated in every person, no matter their age, ability, potential or perspective relative to the birth canal. As human beings, we are God’s crowning creation. God declared all other parts of creation, “Good.” However, when He created the first humans, He declared them, “Very Good.” (Genesis 1:31)

The Bible makes it clear that babies have value – born or unborn — and that Jesus loves them. “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them…” (Psalm 127:3-5a) Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14) Finally, scripture speaks to the very Hand of God being involved in a baby’s creation. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:13-16)

Jesus, Himself, highly values women. What is often overlooked is that Jesus did a lot to elevate women during His life on earth as recorded in scripture, despite living in a completely male-dominated time and culture. Jesus stood between the woman caught in adultery and men who wanted to stone her, eventually rescuing her from that fate. (John 8:1-11) Jesus broke cultural norms to actually speak with the outcast Samaritan woman at the well, and even revealed to her His true divine identity. (John 4:7-27) The woman, Mary, is not only given the honor of being named in the Bible, but she is notably praised by Jesus who reprimands his male disciples for condemning her gift of perfume. (Matthew 26:6-13) The privilege of first discovering Jesus’ empty tomb was given — not to his male disciples — but to women with whom Jesus then personally and compassionately interacted. (John 20:11-16) If the Bible had been written by men apart from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God, they certainly would have overlooked women (whom they considered mere property). They definitely would not have recorded their own chastisement by Jesus. The Holy Spirit of God inspired men to write the Bible in a way that elevated and honored women.

TO IMITATE JESUS, WE VALUE AND CARE ABOUT BOTH WOMEN AND BABIES. BUT HOW?

HOW NOT TO RESPOND: Attack Mode
How not to respond is clear. Arson attacks on places offering abortions are wrong, not to mention illegal. This is not how Jesus would respond; He respected human law unless it conflicted with His divine law. Similarly, verbal attacks with an “I told you so” tone are insensitive, inflammatory and also just plain wrong. Jesus was the most “right” or righteous person ever to walk the planet. He encountered people with radically opposite views and ways of thinking daily. His response? He initially met each one with compassion and the offer of gentle, hope-giving truth. He truly cared for the wholistic wellbeing of each person He met, especially their spiritual wellbeing. Jesus hated evil, which He also called sin, but He did not hate sinners. These things need to be true of Christians today as we respond in this moment. We are all sinners; some are just saved by grace.

RESPECT: CRITICAL TO ANY RESPONSE
Christians are quick to point to “Imago Dei,” every person being made in God’s image, when speaking about unborn babies. We need to be equally quick to stand on this truth when interacting with people who already have birthdates, regardless of their stance on issues. People who disagree with us are still made in God’s image. Women who have had abortions and others who pressed them to do so are still made in God’s image. Perhaps, like me, you’ve been disturbed by TV images of young girls — themselves only 10-12 years out from being babies — holding signs about abortion being a “right.” Consider that these girls have grown up in a world that idolizes sex and pressures them to be “sexy” at younger and younger ages just to fit in. The only “norm” they have known in their lifetime is that many women see babies as inconvenient and that it is no big deal to end a pregnancy. These girls are also made in God’s image. All of these people all need compassion and gentle truth offered in love, not emotional rants of criticism. It is difficult to respond in healthy ways if we do not first choose to respect every individual made in God’s image…which means…every individual.

ESSENTIALS: ACKNOWLEDGE AND EMPATHIZE
It is also arrogant, if not ignorant, to assume we are personally aware of every kind of situation that leads a woman to consider abortion. As caring Christians, we need to open our minds and hearts to women who do not have the resources to prevent pregnancy, but are trapped in relationships with men who want intimacy when they want it and take no responsibility for the ramifications. This may not be the norm in your community, but your community isn’t the only kind of community. We need to empathize with families who are fearful about bringing another child into the world when they are already struggling to support and care for those they have. Yes. Research shows that the majority of abortions are the result of babies simply being considered “inconvenient” and that abortions performed in the case of rape, incest or to save the mother’s life are less than 2% of all abortions. (www.gotquestions.org/abortion-Bible.html; What Does the Bible Say About Abortion, accessed July 1, 2022) In no way do I want to give the impression that I condone abortion. It is murder. However, neither can I condone turning a cold, uncaring shoulder to women who now feel an added burden of fear because of a life situation over which they do not have control, or perceive they do not have control.

ACTIONS: Tangible Responses
What can Christians and or churches do? Keep fostering and adopting children. Statistics show Christians are more active than the general population in both areas. (www.goodfaithmedia.org/christians-more-than-twice-as-likely-to-adopt-a-child-cms-21267; Nov. 8, 2013; accessed July 1, 2022). Gather information about resources (foster care and adoption agencies, homes to support pregnant women and young moms, etc.) in the community so we’re ready to help those in need. Churches across metropolitan areas can link arms to offer education and counseling on both prevention and support options. And perhaps it is time for pastors and Christian fathers, brothers, neighbors and mentors to speak boldly into the lives of young men. Women need to know their options; men need to know their responsibilities.

This is not a time to point fingers and say, “I told you so.” This is not a time to say, “We won,” and walk away from women whose life situations right now make them fearful or feel trapped. For years, we Christians have accused abortion advocates of discounting the wellbeing of the unborn baby. Going forward, we must act on the truth that it’s no less wrong to discount the wellbeing of women. Jesus cherishes them all. Let’s be an extension of His love and compassion.

Got Fruit?

The apostle Paul was knocked off his feet by the voice of Jesus, was taken blind into the nearby city to be healed at Jesus’ direction, surrendered his life to Jesus, and then got clear marching orders to tell gentiles (people who were not Jewish, because the Jews already knew) how Jesus loved them and saved them. Without a doubt — Paul knew his life purpose. However, Paul knew something else about meaningful work that applies to all of us, whether we get a supernatural job description or not. Look with me at Philippians 1:20-26.

20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.

Paul says quite matter-of-factly, if I’m alive, I’m to be doing “fruitful labor.” (Phil. 1:22) He doesn’t say, “If I’m alive, I’ll be sleeping in everyday, lounging on the couch, and eating bon bons.” Nor does he say, “I’ll be fishing, golfing, and drinking beer all day.” Instead, Paul assumes that if he’s alive, he’ll be working at “fruitful labor,” at things that matter, at things that make a difference.

Our modern mentality tends to focus on getting out of work, finding reasons to leave early or coming up with excuses not to go in at all. We are prone to tread water through work days and work years, looking forward to the mystical utopia called “retirement,” where we’ll have no commitments and can finally enjoy unlimited free time. The thing is, so often, empty schedules leave us feeling, well… empty. That takes us full circle to Paul’s assumption — we were made for fruitful labor as long as we live.

What is fruitful labor? As if Paul knew we’d be scratching our heads as to what that is, he kindly defines it for us. First, fruitful labor is “other focused.” Peek back up at verse 1:24. “but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” That’s Paul’s way of saying that while he’d love to be in Heaven with Jesus, he feels compelled to stay and keep encouraging his churches. (Staying or going is not actually his choice, by the way. Life belongs in the hands of God and, as Paul writes this, he is under guard at the mercy of a fickle Roman justice system.) Regardless, Paul has his mind set on continuing to be there for the people in his churches. He is determined to guide, teach and encourage them to understand Jesus’ teaching and live like Jesus says. By the way, living like Jesus says is (to borrow a contemporary phrase) your best life because Jesus created you and knows exactly what you need to thrive. Verse 25 tells us that Paul has discerned from Jesus that he will remain in this world a while longer and that he will “continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith.” There it is! Fruitful labor is coming alongside people — wherever God has planted you — and supporting their progress and joy in faith in Jesus Christ. And what follows seems like the crown jewel of Paul’s ministry. He says in verse 26, “so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.

The big, fat, juicy fruit for Paul is seeing people he cares about, people he has poured teaching, training, truth and encouragement into, be overjoyed because they are living in relationship with Jesus. I felt what Paul describes when I led a Bible study for about 300 women and heard different women year after year see for the first time how much Jesus loves them. I could not help but smile when a woman would share how Jesus’ Words in the Bible revealed an exciting realization of His personal care or provision for her. Now I’m working with children and the joy I experience as they get excited about Jesus is no less. The highlight of our recent study for me was hearing that one of our little boys had declared His belief in Jesus to his parents and asked to be baptized. Oh, the thrill of being part of THAT!

Of course, not everyone is called to the labor of teaching or preaching, but every believer in Jesus is created and gifted for some kind of fruitful work that has value reaching into eternity. Perhaps you are a believing caregiver, lawyer, builder or (you fill in the blank). How can you use your gifts and training for fruitful labor? If you diligently seek out that understanding from God, He will show you. And if you are not a believer, you were still created and gifted for meaningful work, but you will have a difficult time finding your way into it without the freeing, empowering, soul-saving relationship with Jesus. THAT is the main point of life and the starting point for fruitful work.

So what steps do you need to take to enter into the fruitful labor God has planned in advance for you? To what questions do you need answers? What obstacle or barrier between you and God do you need to lay down or break down? If you’re reading this, you’re alive. And if you’re alive, you are to be engaged in fruitful labor…helping others experience an overflow of joy in Jesus. Want the joy that comes from living a life that matters? Point others to the Only One who matters — eternally. Jesus.

One Way to Pray

Dear Lord, Jesus –

We turn to you as the God of compassion & the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from You.

We lift up the Uvalde families & the brokenhearted across our land.
In our pain we ask for Your healing.
In our sorrow, we ask for Your strength.
In our crisis we ask for Your comfort.

And in this nation, we ask You to help us each
overcome hurt and hate by sharing your infinite love and kindness.

Amen.