Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash

Give Yourself the Gift of Not about You

The Christmas rush. Do I have all the presents? All the food? Are all the decorations done? I hate the crowds, the lines, the traffic, because when I’m scampering to get my last-minute presents, they’re in the way of accomplishing my goal. I do commando shopping: get in, get the target, get out. My focus is on my objective. And that’s my problem. It’s all about me.

My best shopping trips are when I go into the store intentionally focused on making someone else’s day better. Determined to be Jesus to someone, I look for that grumpy face that’s forgotten it needs to smile. I have to be uber-intentional about it or it won’t happen. As an introvert, I can easily and happily slip in and slip out without talking to anyone and be quite happy about it. But I sense the Holy Spirit has a different agenda.

I’ve seen grumpy store clerks completely change their demeanor when I just said something nice to them that built them up, instead of tearing them down (2 Corinthians 10:8). I try to say something both empathic and complimentary. Like how hard it must be to be nice to inconsiderate shoppers all day, and what a good job they do at it. Like how they’re the unsung heroes of Christmas, and we really do appreciate them. Sometimes I apologize for taking them for granted.

It always gets me a smile. That’s become my new objective – to get a smile out of someone who looks stressed, to make someone else’s day. And that’s the best gift I buy for myself at the store – the gift of making it not about me. Best of all, it doesn’t cost me anything but a little intentionality.

I don’t think Jesus is frustrated by the crowds, the lines, or the traffic. But I don’t think about what Jesus thinks about often enough. I look at the crowds and see obstacles. He sees opportunities. He yearns to be with them, while I just want to avoid them. He has compassion on them because they are harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36).

Yes, Christmas is about the Father giving us his son. Jesus came to give us his life for our salvation, so we could have abundant life (John 10:10). But that’s only the beginning. He also came to give us his heart so that life would be worth living, by serving others (that’s the “abundant” part).

So, when you run out in a panic to get that last-minute thing, celebrate Christmas’ abundance by going out of your way to make someone else’s day.

Does this resonate? Can you relate? Tell us your story in the comments. And please share on social media if you think this would make someone else’s day. Merry Christmas!

Mountaintops and Valleys

I’m trying a new blog format today. Let me know how you like it (or not) in the comments. I may do this every 6 weeks or so if it blesses the community. This post is longer than normal, but it’s a story I wrote that I think will bless you and make you think.

 

Mountaintops and valleys. The terrain of life, he mused.

Sometimes you were on a mountaintop, where the air was clear and cold, and just breathing was exhilarating. Everything was crisp; everything seemed fresh and new and exciting. And you could see for miles.  For miles. You could see your whole life mapped out before you. God’s Divine Plan, and it all seemed so obvious and so simple. From the mountaintop.

But most of life was spent in the valleys. In the humid, dense, sweltering air, where just breathing seemed like so much work. You couldn’t see very far at all from down there, barely to the next mountain, and sometimes the daily haze blotted that out. The confusion and the noise drowned out the Divine Plan, and you had to follow it from memory and by faith because you sure couldn’t see it.

These were his musings, as he sat in a prison cell in Rome waiting to die. Today he was going to be crucified upside down. He didn’t feel worthy to die the way his Savior died, so he asked them to put the cross in the ground upside down. This definitely counted as a valley. But Peter smiled wide and laughed to himself as he remembered a mountaintop experience with Jesus decades before that only two others shared…

 

It was almost the end of Jesus’ ministry, but the disciples didn’t know that. He had just begun to teach them about his upcoming death and resurrection, but as usual they didn’t get it at the time. He was talking to them through a time-warp; he knew they wouldn’t understand at the time, but the Holy Spirit would bring his words back to them in the future when they needed them. Much the same way parents talk to children.

So, knowing he would die in Jerusalem at Passover, Jesus began an informal farewell tour, visiting everywhere he’d been one last time, although the disciples didn’t know it. Caesarea Philippi. Capernaum. Galilee. Samaria. Judea. Bethany. And finally Jerusalem. It was early in this Final Farewell Tour, in a remote place between Caesarea Philippi and Caperaum.

About a week earlier, Peter had just been highly praised and then severely rebuked by Jesus. Highly praised when he confessed Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God, when Jesus had asked his disciples who they thought he was. Jesus said the Father had revealed this to Peter, and changed his name on the spot from Simon to Peter, The Rock, and said that on this rock he would built his church. Peter was flying high.

For about 10 minutes. Then Peter was severely rebuked when he tried to convince Jesus he really didn’t have to do this whole suffer and die thing. Didn’t fit with the Savior persona. Jesus actually yelled at him, “Get behind me, Satan! You’re a stumbling block to me! You don’t have in mind the things of God, but the things of men!”

So Peter’s his head was still reeling trying to reconcile these two seemingly contradictory experiences, when Jesus called him, and James and John, to take a walk with him up a mountain. Just the four of them.

When they reached the top, Jesus got all white and shiny. He and his clothes and face and all became white as light. And suddenly, Moses and Elijah, just as shiny, were standing there talking with Jesus about the salvation he was about to accomplish when he got back to Jerusalem.

Score! They had arrived! Experiencing Jesus in all his glory. Oh. My. Word. This was it. No need to go any further. Just stay right here. In this experience. Forever.

So Peter, recovering quicker than the others and his own brain, walked right up and said to Jesus, “Lord, it’s great to be here! Let’s put up three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah, and we’ll all just stay right here. Yes!”

But while he was still speaking, a cloud suddenly covered them all, and the voice of Father God said, “This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” Needless to say, Peter, James, and John hit the deck in terror. Nobody got in a cloud with God that close and lived to tell about it.

But Jesus tapped them on the shoulder. “It’s alright, don’t be afraid. Get up, let’s head back down.” When they looked up, they saw only Jesus, looking normal again. No Moses, no Elijah, no cloud, no voice. And then, on the way down, Jesus told them not to tell anybody.

“Ah, man,” thought Peter. “We can’t tell anybody! I was so looking forward to rubbing this is in Andrew’s face. What is the deal, anyway? Why couldn’t we stay on the mountaintop? We had it made up there – Jesus in his glory! What’s better than that? Everything else will seem rather dull now in comparison.”

When they got back down to the valley, they discovered the other 9 disciples had got themselves into a bit of a pickle. They were trying to cast a particularly stubborn demon out of a little boy, and they just couldn’t get it. Jesus, of course, did it easily.

That night, Peter couldn’t sleep. He was chewing on all this. He still wished they hadn’t come down the mountain. I mean, my gosh, after what we just saw, how could Jesus possibly expect us to return to the ordinary? But on the other hand, if they hadn’t, that precious little boy would still be tortured by that nasty demon.

Then a thought occurred to him that he’d never thought before. What if it wasn’t about him? I mean, what about Jesus? If that’s the glory he had with his Father before he came here, how could he ever lay that all down to come to live with us—the poorest of the poor, in an oppressed, occupied little country? But Jesus did leave it all, all the glory, the ultimate mountaintop, and here he is with us. So what if the purpose of the mountaintop experience wasn’t to stay on the mountaintop? What if the purpose of the mountaintop experience was to enable mountaintop living in the valley, and to pass it on to other valley-dwellers? After all, isn’t that what Jesus spent the last two and half years doing?

 

That day so many years ago had rocked his world. Hanging out with Jesus had a way of doing that, but That Day more than usual.

Peter remembered everything he’d seen and been part of since that day. The pouring out of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Starting the church in Jerusalem. Seeing it spread like wildfire, through persecution of all things, across the whole Roman world. Led out of prison by an angel. Turning the leadership of the Jerusalem church over to James. Miracles beyond count. Decades of leading precious little ones, young and old, out of the darkness and into the light.

Peter wasn’t sad or afraid about dying today. He was actually kind of excited. And awed at his Lord all over again, that Jesus had considered him, this little fisherman from Galilee, worthy of the privilege of participating in his sufferings.

He’d never understood why Jesus loved him so much, but each day he was floored more and more by how much He did. And even now, on the last day of his life, he knew he still didn’t understand the breadth of how much and how intensely Jesus loved him. That knowledge floored him all over again.

He’d finished the race, like Paul used to say. He knew the darkest valleys led to the highest mountaintops. Like King David sang, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me…” He hummed the melody; it was one of Jesus’ favorites. Today, the deepest valley would lead to the highest mountaintop, the one that you never had to leave. He would see Jesus again like He looked on that one special day so long ago. And Peter would be shiny, too.

– Based on Matthew 16:15 – 17:18.

 

So what about us? Do we get stuck on the mountaintop? Or try to? Do we hoard it? Are we stuck in the valley? Has the valley swamp made us forget our citizenship on the mountaintop? Let’s pledge today, in the middle of the sweltering valley humidity, as mountaintop citizens, to point other valley-dwellers the way up the hill, where our precious Savior awaits them.

Did this story bless you? Tell us what you think in the comments.

Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash

Kingdom Gifts

HeadShot Dave 100x100Everything in the Kingdom of God is upside down and backwards compared to how we as humans (or at least as I) would do it. The best Kingdom gifts, the ones that give us the most pleasure and the most joy, are the ones we give away.

In Matthew 7:2, Jesus says, “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” That means we need to give away what we want to get. For example:

To save your life, you lose it. (Luke 9:24) To get the place of honor, give it away. (Luke 14:7-11)

Do you want to be rich? Then give money away. (Malachi 3:10) Do you want mercy from God? Then show others mercy. (Matthew 18:23-25)

See the principle here?

Do you want people to overlooking and ignoring your mistakes? Then overlook and ignore their mistakes. Do you want people to listen to you? Then listen to them. Do you want people to think you’re important? Be humble and treat them like they are important.

Even Jesus did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied himself and became nothing, taking on the form of a servant (Philippians 2:6-7), for the sake of the joy set before him (Hebrews 12:2).

So in the Kingdom, we write our own Christmas list. We receive what we give away.

Today’s Action Step: I will be careful in my interactions with people. Especially when they are being mean and cranky, I will try to make their day. Then Jesus will make mine.

I’ve seen the demeanor of cranky grocery store clerks change when I just said something nice to them that built them up, instead of tearing them down (2 Corinthians 10:8). How about you? What are you giving away this holiday season that you want to receive back? Have you seen this principle work? Tell us in the comments or shoot us an email. And please share on Facebook (or your fav social media channel) if you think this would bless someone else.

The Blessing of Suffering

HeadShot Dave 100x100

Brother Yun, a severely persecuted house church pastor in China, was talking prayer requests with Western Christians. (His story is told in the phenomenal book, The Heavenly Man. Totally recommended reading!) They said they’d earnestly pray that the Lord would end their government’s persecution of Chinese Christians.

“On no, don’t pray that!” Brother Yun responded.

The Western Christians were shocked! “Why don’t you want us to pray for an end to your suffering?”

Brother Yun answered, “Because then we’d become complacent like the Western church. Pray instead that we can bear up under it in a way that honors our Lord Jesus.”

Wow, blows my mind. We in the West have no grid for that. But the Bible says to rejoice in our suffering:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James, brother of Jesus, in James 1:2-4.

“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and charter produces hope.” Paul, in Romans 5:3-4.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Jesus, in Matthew 5:11-12.

What if, when we get to heaven, we see Jesus on his throne (see Revelation 4), the most beautiful being in all of existence. Then we get it! “Oh Jesus, you are so beautiful, now I get it! Now I’ll sacrifice for others! Now I’ll be happy to give up my creature comforts to help someone else in need! Now I understand!” But it’s too late. This is heaven. No one needs anything now. There’s nothing we can do to sacrifice for anyone else no matter how much we want to.

In the whole eternity of our existence, God has blessed us with a brief, very brief compared to eternity, 70-80 year window where we have the privilege of sacrificing for someone else, of meeting someone else’s needs at the expense of our own.

Angels never have the opportunity to do that. That’s a blessing God has only given to us. That’s hardly fair.

And it’s even more unfair than that. Our temporary sacrifices here bring us eternal rewards in heaven (see the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46). God has stacked the deck in our favor.

It’s all about perspective, and where we have our eyes set.

When Brother Yun was being tortured in a Chinese prison with an electric cattle prod in his mouth, he had his eyes set on the prize, on Jesus himself. He endured horrific but temporary pain because he had his eyes set on eternity.

Even here in the First World, God blesses us with opportunities to suffer and sacrifice, to meet other people’s needs at the expense of our own. We discover who we really are when we’re willing to go outside ourselves and help others. That’s why it feels so fulfilling.

Have you had this experience? Have you ever begrudgingly helped someone, but afterwards you felt so good, feeling God’s smile, you wondered why it was such a hard decision? Tell us your experiences in finding yourself by helping others in the comments. And please, if you think this post would bless someone else, please share it on Facebook or your favorite social media channel.