When Relationships Chafe

We love because he first loved us.
(1 John 4:19)

Ready or not, the holiday season is upon us.

In my country, the official kick-off was Thanksgiving Day – a day of feasting and gratitude ironically followed by the slightly sickening commercial festivity known as “Black Friday” which actually begins Thursday evening until “Cyber Monday” takes over and filches more dollars from the American pocket. But I digress…

This year, my family had a phenomenal Thanksgiving week. We were blessed to spend some time in Florida with my dad and stepmom. One of my sisters and her family came, too, and what with the great company, fantastic weather, and delectable food, I doubt we could have concocted a better way to spend the week.

But I realize not everyone is so fortunate.

For many people, the family time aspect of the holidays spells nothing but frustration. We all have those family members who tend to be more querulous, and some among us spend the holidays biting our tongues – or wishing we had.

Every family bears a bandaged wound or two. Every family carries scars from past hurts. It’s a part of being human in a fallen world. The brutal truth is that our real-life family gatherings are more apt to resemble a Griswold family Christmas than a Hallmark movie.

The enforced familial closeness of the holidays can and often does cause simmering tensions to boil over.  But you know what? Even then, family time is good.  In fact, I would venture to say this season is wonderful because of the relational difficulties.

You see, one sunny Florida afternoon, I walked back to my earthly dad’s house and talked with my heavenly Dad along the way. In particular, I was praying over the absence of one other sister at our feast. One of our family’s bandaged wounds.

As I prayed about the situation and about others who are more difficult to love, the Spirit of God whispered the words of 1 John 4:19 into my heart. We love because He first loved us.

Naturally, I went back and read the rest of the chapter and I see what He means. When we are faced with prickly relatives or with co-workers, members of our church family, or even strangers at the grocery store who are a little more challenging to endure, it is at precisely this point that we have a choice to make:

Will we love only those who are easy to love? Or will we love them because our Lord first loved us?

I feel now is a good time to mention that this “when He first loved us” moment was hardly one we can boast about. Romans 5:10 reminds us that we were enemies of God when He loved us enough to offer the dearest part of Himself as ransom for our crimes. He didn’t love us when we were lovable but when we were in full-tilt rebellion against Him.

Our Lord Jesus, Himself, tells us more than once to love our enemies (see Matt. 5:44, Luke 6:27, 35, et al). And back in 1 John 4, the beloved disciple has a great deal more to say about love, not the least of which is a sobering reminder that love isn’t lived out in Hallmark moments but in the gritty and often painful moments of forgiving the unforgivable and answering sharp words with graciousness.

Not because those who hurt us deserve it, but because neither did we. And yet, He loved us anyway.

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
(1 John 4:10-11)

While we’re busily putting Christ back in Christmas and squeezing in Advent devotionals between shopping sprees and holiday parties, let’s be certain that our daily choices match our lofty sentiments. Let’s try to keep in mind that forgiving can only be done when there is something to forgive. Grace and mercy can only be shown when they aren’t deserved.

In love, let’s hold one another accountable to living and loving in humility and with the grace God extends to us. Not necessarily because our families and associates are worth it, but because HE is. And we trust Him enough to obey.

 

 

Tuesday Prayer: Our God

Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.
(Psalms 63:3-4)

Last week, Lord, we expressed our thanks for the gifts You’ve given. Today we thank You for being our God. For creating us, for coming to us for rescuing us from the depravity of our sinful tendencies. You are wondrous, our King, and  we stand in awe of You. Your mercies are never ceasing, and yet we do not love You only for Your mercy, but for who You are. It is not the gifts we worship but You, the Giver.

You are the God who is Love, the Light of the world, the never-ending Fount of Living Water. Our Creator. Our Redeemer. Our Messiah and King. You are the God who saves us and who provides for us. As Lord of Hosts, the full might of angelic warriors is subject to Your commend. God Almighty who works wonders and makes the impossible, possible. From death, You bring life as You did in Sarah’s womb. As You did in the flesh of Your own Son.

Lord, the list of Your names and attributes goes on and on, for You are the Eternal One; the beginning and the end. When we concentrate on even a few of Your qualities, our minds still stagger with the enormity of Your majesty. Your Name is holy and Your benefits are without end. Great and merciful are You, our God!

Thank You that we are privileged to glimpse Your glory, clay pots that we are. You made the first man from the soil of the earth and stamped the Divine Image on him. And if that wasn’t enough, You breathed life into that still, clay form.

then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.
(Genesis 2:7)

Thank You for being a Merciful God, the Lord whose steadfast love never ends. As Messiah, You took on a body of flesh, pouring the exact representation of the Divine Image into an animated earthenware jar. Far from being a distant and impersonal God, You are a God – the only God – who has suffered alongside His creation, giving Himself to redeem it. What a privilege to bear Your image, to have been saved by the blood of the Son, and to be quickened to new life in Him by Your own Holy Spirit!

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
(Romans 8:11)

O God, never let our familiarity with You as a Man drive out our reverence for You as the Most High. You are Holy, Just, and True. In You is no shadow of change nor even the faintest taint of impurity. Your word is Truth. King of kings and Lord of lords, Father to the fatherless, Your honor and virtue are without spot or failing. We give thanks to You today, for You are good and we bow before Your holy Name in gratitude. May Your name be forever praised, amen!

Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Who can utter the mighty deeds of the LORD, or declare all his praise?
(Psalms 106:1-2)

Tuesday Prayer: Gratitude

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
(James 1:17)

Father of Lights, today we give thanks to You for the amazing gifts You have given us. Often as we approach the holiday season, we are so caught up by our own frenzy of purchasing, cooking, celebrating, and giving that we forget about the gifts You have already bestowed on us. It’s no small irony that when we celebrate the feast of Thanksgiving as we will next week, we tend to become so enmeshed in the details of the day that we fail to truly offer You more than a cursory murmur of thanks.

Yet You are the Giver of every good and perfect gift. Lord, forgive us when we forget that.

Today we intentionally set aside some time for mindfulness of the astonishing gifts You have given us. Let Your praise be on our lips today and let us give thanks to You, for all You give us is truly good. Thank You, Lord, that we can celebrate with a feast next week. Thank You for food, shelter, family, and friends to celebrate with. Or if we celebrate alone, thank You that You are our portion and we can still be satisfied in You.

“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
(Lamentations 3:24)

Not only that, but we thank You for the often-overlooked things. Thank You for family even when being with them hurts because in working through strained relations and miscommunications, we grow.

In learning how to love others who are hard to handle, we are forced to confront the places where we are prickly as well. Thank You that in conflict, we learn to humble ourselves and to forgive. In extending grace to others who may not deserve it, we see how little we deserved Your grace. For this, too, we are thankful.

And thank You for the little things, Lord! Thank You that You made food to have flavor when You could have made it merely nourishing. Thank You for our senses, and when one or more fails us, thank You that we are thus made more dependent on You. Thank You for good health and poor health alike, for we know Your word teaches us to give thanks in all circumstances and we trust You enough to do it.

Thank You for the seasons. For color, birdsong, laughter, and music. Thank You for making us in Your image and for being patient with us when we do not represent the Divine image well. Thank You, Lord, that You truly do work all things for the good of those who love You – even our mistakes and our pain.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
(Romans 8:28)

Thank You that it is Your glory we are made for and not our own because in You, we find a glory worth dying for, a perfection worth imitating, and a goodness worth every ounce of our being and so much more.  And thank You, Lord, for Your Son and for our salvation through Him. Thank You for the gift of Your Holy Spirit, our comforter and guide. It is in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit we offer up our gratitude today, amen.

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
(Luke 11:13)

Raffle Winner Announcement and Other Things

First order of business: Congratulations are in order to the winner of the drawing for the book, Talking to Jesus by Jeannie Blackmer – M. Moltz!  I have already contacted you by email and will get your prize in the mail this week. Congrats!!

And now, on to some thoughts I had hoped to share before the US holiday of Thanksgiving last Thursday before a killer migraine disrupted my week…

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise!
(Psalms 100:4)

Here in the United States, it is officially that time of the year known collectively as “The Holidays.”

Although some shops begin small displays of Christmastime merchandise right alongside the pumpkin-spiced products and Halloween masks in early autumn (or even late summer), the biggest retail assault on the American wallet kicks into high gear almost as soon as the Thanksgiving turkeys are carved and before the gravy congeals.

Despite the commercialism, I still love this time of year.

I adore Thanksgiving – a day set aside to focus specifically on gratitude to the Lord,  and for me, a day to play in the kitchen with no deadlines. I even enjoy the irony that a nationally celebrated day dedicated to giving thanks for the bounty of the year is immediately followed by one of the most frenzied shopping days of the entire year…

Perhaps because of the national holiday or perhaps just because, Psalm 100 has been on my mind lately.  With those words as the backdrop, my heart has been convicted that for me, Thanksgiving should not be observed only once a year. Instead, Thanksgiving is the obedient posture of the Redeemed in Christ every single day.

For the Christian, every day is Thanksgiving. Every day is Christmas. Every day is Easter.

 

During the course of last week, I was deeply convicted about my prayer life. For years now, I have faithfully lifted up all my requests to the Lord – prayers for the salvation of loved ones who do not follow Him, prayers for daily needs, intercessory prayer on behalf of others.

Yet too often, I have entirely failed to enter His gates with thanksgiving; choosing instead to rush in and fling my “to-do” list at the foot of the Throne of Grace without taking a moment to simply adore the One who sits on the Throne.

No more.

Starting today, I am making a conscious effort to not only to make my requests known to God, but to do so with thanksgiving. I want to praise Him more. I want to love Him more.

Whether this is an official holiday season for you or not, will you join me? Together, let’s humble our hearts and focus on gratitude. Let’s enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise.

Let’s give thanks in all circumstances – even the unpleasant ones – because we know that He is good and has already given us far more than we deserve. The opportunity to “taste and see that the Lord is good,” to establish saving faith in Jesus Christ, to even approach the Throne of Grace at all… even just the opportunity is more than I deserve.

And yet, He has given me eternal life in Christ Jesus my Lord. Why would I not praise Him?

Today, even with an oncoming migraine scattering my thoughts and some persistent hip pain, I give thanks to You, Lord, for You are good! Your steadfast love endures forever, and Your faithfulness to all generations. Thank You for taking this rebel under Your care, for cleansing me of my horrible choices and adopting me as Your child!

…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
(1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
(Philippians 4:6)