Sunday, December 25, 2011


Nicholas Flatoff photo

C.S. Lewis calls Joy “a kind of love.”

He writes, “I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and from Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again.”

Lewis spent much of his pre-Christian life desiring to find Joy. And what he eventually found is that it wasn’t Joy itself he needed to find, but its Source. When Lewis wasn’t looking, even though he was looking—but in the wrong direction—he was surprised by Joy.

As he tells it,

“There was no strain of music from within, no smell of eternal orchids at the threshold, when I was dragged through the doorway…” by, and to, the Source of Joy, God Himself. “I found it (Joy) to be a person,” writes Lewis, who adds that Joy “might be one of the demands, might be the very first demand, He would make upon me.”

“Then will I go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight.” Psalm 43:4

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Joyous Christmas Eve

Barb Harwood, photo

The following is a Christmas editorial from the Wall Street Journal.

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Luke 4:18-19

All of us are the poor, all of us are the prisoners, all of us are blind, all of us are oppressed...lest we think these words do not apply to us. Jesus came for all of us, making us rich in Him, though we are poor materially, spiritually or emotionally; freeing us from a bondage to darkness; giving us sight to see His truth; releasing us from the self-centeredness of ourselves and others; and giving us the gift of Himself.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Gift of Jesus: A Matter of Style?

I heard someone make the comment recently that a gift they received “wasn’t really their style.”

It struck me that many people view the gift of Jesus the same way. He simply isn’t “their style.” As Christians, we also reject the gift of Himself when we like His “style” in some ways but not in others. Many of us are great with the serving side of Jesus, but we don’t follow Jesus in heart matters. Instead, we allow spiritual pride, self-promotion, envy and the like to take hold.

I often fail to allow Jesus to love me and love Him back and love others simply because it “isn’t my style” at the moment to do so. I ignore His gift of the inner counselor—the Holy Spirit—to guide me into all truth, righteousness and love because I am more bent on getting even emotionally with someone or boasting about myself out of a need for societal acceptance and affirmation. Many of us don’t take every thought captive, as the Bible teaches, and we don’t focus on loving others with our attitudes and words as much as we focus on finding fault and seeing the world with a critical spirit. If there is any message that needs to be pounded into me at Christmas, it’s this: to live out the joy I have because my Savior, Jesus Christ, was willing to freely love me—and all others--to the point of death on a cross.

What does that mean? It means He came to save us from our thought lives. Our repentance and trust in Him does bring eternal life in heaven. But before heaven, there’s a whole lot of cleaning up to do in our hearts here on earth. The best gift we can give ourselves, and ultimately others, is to give our hearts to Jesus for regeneration and rebirth.

Jesus came as a baby into lowly circumstances. He came in humbleness and sweetness; all the attributes of a baby. Jesus obviously thought them important, if not key to the Christian life, to make them the conditions of His entrance into the world.

Many of us excel at service, giving material things, planting churches and providing financial and even prayer support. But do we practice (and not just listen to it at weddings) a 1 Corinthians love that begins in our hearts and forms our attitudes and outlook, transforming our service so that it is God’s pure service through us? Do we apply a right attitude and selflessness to our families and to those we encounter who are a bit abrasive?

Jesus Christ has not made it an enigma on how our hearts should be. Since love is the greatest command, our heart’s foundation must be love. Jesus tells us how to love. He doesn’t make us figure it out for ourselves: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails…” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.

Love never fails….but I do. I fail at this kind of love on a daily basis. That’s because I squash the Holy Spirit who is desperately trying to grow this kind of love in me. We tend our gardens and maintain our homes. And Christians give wonderfully to charity, serve on the mission field and allow God to work through us in uncountable ways. Christians are such an incredible blessing. But I know that, for me, and for perhaps many Christians, a struggle with core heart issues exists, sometimes affecting the glory that is supposed to go to God in my serving and family life.

The gift of new life in Jesus Christ is not something we can put on the level of the style of curtains we decorate our house with, the jeans we wear, or the kind of restaurants we choose. Jesus is not a matter of taste or style. I need to stop living my thought life as if He were.

“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’ ‘The most important,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” ‘The second is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these.’” Mark 12:28-31

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

“And now these three remain; faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13

Monday, December 5, 2011

Where and What is Our Treasure?

A recent news article on the value of antiques gave me pause. It reported how Jim Beam Collector’s Edition decanters, which were made from 1966 to 1986, “have not gained in value through the years.” In fact, any Collector’s Edition decanter sells today for $5 or less.

I know someone who has a living room filled with these porcelain decanters. The person is convinced that this collection "will be valuable someday.” I don't have the heart to tell them the truth.

This little news item hit me because the Lord has been pushing me these last few months to de-materialize. As I have been obedient in His request, I have spent much time commiserating with my husband regarding the stuff we’ve managed to accumulate over the years. That led to a discussion on why humans collect things in the first place. I know my reasons for obtaining possessions was that, before I was a Christian, I attached sentimentality to material things. So my kids received Beanie Babies to mark birthdays and holidays. They received “keepsake” items like music boxes and snow globes. My son, as a toddler, loved a bar of soap in the shape of an animal, so I fed that enjoyment by giving him more soaps in animal shapes until he had a collection: Not a collection of his own volition, but one fed to him by me, his mother. On and on it goes.

We feel the need to mark life with stuff. We also fill voids in life with stuff. We “kill time” by shopping for stuff. We decorate for the holidays by buying “seasonal” shower curtains, hand towels, front-porch mats, cooking mitts and candles. We have red, white and blue plates for the 4th of July and pumpkin-decorated dinnerware for Thanksgiving. We have candy cane pajamas for Christmas. We have snowflake comforters for winter and poppy printed blankets for summer. We have TVs, computers, hand-helds and cells. We have and we have and we have. And then one day, we realize that all that we have is a burden that only steals time away from family, friends and ministry.

I have come to deplore the mindset that once drove me eagerly to Kohls, Shopko and Target. The times I've had to reluctantly go into those places recently (had to find a requested red tie for my husband for a wedding) I could hardly breathe for the overwhelming memory of how, only a short time ago, I came to these places to spend time, assuage boredom, and put my trust in new clothes or towels to “lift my spirits.”

God alone has begun a new work in me. Since June 1st, my husband and I have tossed out or donated a good portion of our built-up possessions. I can’t even really remember all that I have gotten rid of. I just know that, the more I get rid of, the less burdened I become, and the closer to God’s will for my life I get. And God isn’t settling. He is pushing me harder to keep going--to get into the high places and remove some more; to get into the recesses and remove, remove, remove.

Stuff in itself is not a bad thing. Too much of it is, along with too much attachment. Once God commanded me to start letting go, I got over my initial reluctance when I saw how much easier it is to clean my house, how pleasant it is to live with empty spaces and how much time has been freed up.

God has given me an amazing gift these last six months: the gift of freedom from accumulated stuff and from wanting more stuff. I am patiently awaiting what He has in store for me with this new unburdened life. He is tearing down the storehouse of stuff, freeing my heart from its attachment to things and putting a new treasure there.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21

“Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Luke 12:33-34

“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” 1 Timothy 6:6-8