8 Myths That Eclipse God’s Love & Purpose

While studying the origins of the church at Philippi, I was startled to discover how the story contradicts many of our common misconceptions about the nature of the Christian life. The narrative in Acts 16 debunks at least 8 myths—and I bet you’ve believed some of these misconceptions yourself.

Myth #1: As long as you’re well-intentioned in pursuing spiritual activities, any direction is okay.

The apostle Paul never intended to plant a church in Philippi. In fact, he had other plans. Plan A was to minister in Asia, but he was “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia” (v. 6). Plan B was to preach in Bithynia, but God closed that door too. Finally, the Lord spoke to Paul through a dream that he should go to Macedonia, where Philippi is located.

This story shows that God has a specific plan for our lives, even when it comes to “good” activities like evangelizing and planting churches. Yet it’s bewildering in Acts 16 to see God actually forbidding Paul to preach the gospel if that means going in the wrong direction. While the Great Commission tells us to go into “ALL the world” and “to the ends of the earth” (Mark 16:15, Acts 1:8), God wants to direct us on how to proceed.

Myth #2: If you’re a very spiritual person, you’ll always get it right the first time.   

It would be hard to be any more spiritual than Paul, yet it wasn’t until the third try that he found God’s optimal direction for his life (vs. 6-8). That’s good news for you and me! We shouldn’t despair if we don’t hit the bulls-eye at our first attempt to find the Lord’s perfect will.

Myth #3: The most important ingredient in church planting is good preaching.

Hey, I’m a preacher, and I certainly put a high value on good preaching. But if you read Acts 16, you’ll see that the secret to Paul’s success clearly was PRAYER, not preaching. He met Lydia (his first convert) at a place of prayer  (vs. 13-15), and he was on his way to pray  when he cast a demon out of the fortune-telling slave girl (his second convert, vs. 16-18). Then the Philippian jailer (his third convert) was saved after Paul and Silas caused an earthquake through their prayers and worship (vs. 25-34).

I surely hope your church or evangelistic ministry has great preaching, but these illustrations demonstrate that prayer must be the foundation of everything else we do in God’s kingdom. Without that, our impact on people will be superficial at best.

Myth #4: If people are saying the right things, that automatically means they have the right spirit.

Oh, how I wish I would have understood this misconception earlier in my ministry! Many preachers, politicians, or church members say all the right things, but they are being motivated by something other than the Holy Spirit.

Look at what this demon-possessed girl was saying while following Paul and Silas day after day: “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation”  (v. 17). What’s wrong with that? Most pastors would have put her on the front row so everyone could hear her words of affirmation! But Paul discerned that her right-sounding message had originated with the devil rather than the Holy Spirit. Can you tell the difference?

Myth #5: If you’re in God’s perfect will, everything will always go great for you.

Believing this myth will bring tragic consequences, because it means you’ll also believe the corollary: If things AREN’T going well for you, you must not be in God’s will.  What a horrible, yet incredibly common, misconception. Even though Paul and Silas were following the direct leading of the Holy Spirit to minister in Philippi, the result seemed catastrophic. Their clothes were torn off, they were brutally beaten with rods, and they were thrown into prison, with their feet in shackles (vs. 22-24). All this happened because they were following God’s will!

Myth #6: Nothing good ever happens after dark.

Verse 25 says Paul and Silas received their breakthrough “at midnight.”  I love that. Some of God’s greatest miracles seem to happen at our midnight hour—when things look the bleakest and all hope is gone. We may not be shackled in a jail cell, but perhaps we’re imprisoned to an addiction, a health problem, a mound of debt, or a toxic relationship. No matter what the situation may be, the Lord can break off our chains “suddenly”  (v. 26).

Myth #7: God’s salvation is a fragile thing, easily lost.   

Paul later described his complete confidence that the One who had BEGUN a good work in the Philippians would also COMPLETE it (Philippians 1:6). Exactly how confident was Paul in God’s ability to care for these new converts in Philippi? In one of the most stunning plot twists in all of Scripture, verse 40 says that after meeting with “the brethren”  gathered in Lydia’s house, Paul “encouraged them and departed.”

The “brethren”  numbered just a handful of folks at this point, all of them new converts. But instead of staying to care for these baby Christians, Paul and Silas left town!  He entrusted them to their Heavenly Father’s care, believing that nothing would be able to separated them from His love (Romans 8:31-39).

Myth #8: Everything in God’s kingdom rises and falls on leadership.

I’ll admit, there’s a lot of truth contained in this statement, and I’m sure I’ve quoted it myself at times. However, there’s also a misconception here, because we’re often wrong about who is supposed to provide that leadership.

For example…

  • The Israelites could have panicked after Moses died and his unproven understudy Joshua was suddenly in charge (Joshua 1).
  • David’s family never considered him a worthy candidate to be the next king (1 Samuel 16).
  • All of Jesus’ disciples except John denied and deserted Him, and they certainly seemed to be a bad bet to lead the church and reach the world.

But the church in Philippi is one of the most remarkable examples of God raising up unlikely leaders. In Paul’s opening greeting to the Philippians (1:1), he refers to the “overseers and deacons.”  Isn’t that amazing? When Paul left Philippi, the church consisted of Lydia’s household, the slave girl, and the jailer’s family.

So where did the overseers and deacons come from? Did they get imported from some Bible college or seminary? Were they transplanted from the thriving churches in Jerusalem or Antioch? Certainly not. These were homegrown leaders.

My friend, what are you trusting in for your personal fruitfulness or the success of your church? Are you relying on the grace and power of God, or in your own spirituality and the charisma of the human leaders around you?

Thankfully, Jesus is both the Author and the Finisher of every success story in His kingdom (Hebrews 12:2). Let’s fix our eyes on Him, allowing nothing to eclipse His love and purpose for our lives.

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Shocking Dating Lessons from My Very Good Friend Ron

I’ve written before about my friend Ron’s dating escapades. He’s now in his 60s, and it’s been quite eye-opening to reenter the world of dating after a marriage of over 30 years.

At the advice of his kids, Ron signed up for Match.com after his divorce was final a few years ago. There he quickly found a Christian woman named Sherry, whose favorite books were Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life and Living Courageously by Joyce Meyer.

“This is my kind of woman!” Ron confidently told me before his coffee date with her at Panera Bread.

But things didn’t exactly go as he had hoped. The first thing he noticed was that Sherry looked at least 10 years older than the pictures she had posted. Hmmm…pretty disappointing, he immediately thought.

However, Ron is a nice guy, and he decided to at least engage Sherry in some friendly conversation. After some small talk, he asked, “So, how long ago was your divorce?”

Ron thought this was a pretty easy, straightforward question. But her answer stunned him.

“Well, I’ve been married four times,” Sherry informed him, “and for a while I also lived with a guy I wasn’t married to.”

Ron’s jaw probably dropped at this point. But she went on to say she had eight children and fifteen grandkids, attributable to her various marriages and boyfriends.

Yikes, Ron was getting queasy. How did things go so amiss in his attempt to find a wholesome Christian woman? While the conversation was running its course, he couldn’t help envisioning Thanksgiving dinner if he married Sherry. How would he be able to figure out “who’s who” among the kids and grandkids—not to mention remembering who everyone’s daddy is?

This was a rough start to his online dating experiences, no doubt. Yet Ron wasn’t about to give up. He continued spending time on Match.com every day, trying to find suitable prospects for dating and eventual marriage.

Uncomfortable Encounters

Things didn’t get any easier in the following months, though. One day he was having a nice phone conversation with a woman named Sarah, and they seemed to have some things in common. But he started getting uncomfortable when she mentioned her distress that her son was gay and had married his lover. Once again, Ron started envisioning Thanksgiving dinner, and he wasn’t sure how he would respond to the family dynamics of Sarah’s son and the guy he was married to.

Then he had another coffee date, this time with an attractive woman named Sheila. But her husband had died of HIV, her father had been shot to death and, once again, Ron felt there was just too much baggage for him handle.

Ron says one of his favorite dates was with a woman named Linda. She attended a good church and clearly had a strong relationship with the Lord. But the conversation took a difficult turn when she described her daughter’s bipolar personality disorder and the incredible anguish it had caused her. Some days her daughter loved her, and other days her daughter hated her, making Linda’s life miserable.

Another disappointing date occurred when Ron went out to dinner with a woman named Sarah. She had been a single mom for many years and was now agonizing that her 16-year-old son had become a neo-Nazi skinhead, hating Jews and believing all sorts of conspiracy theories. She had no idea how to convince the young man of his erroneous views—and neither did Ron.

5 Lessons

Eventually Ron had some relationships that were more than a one-time phone call, coffee date, or dinner. He says some of these were with very nice women, but he just couldn’t see himself spending the rest of his life with them.

Recently Ron and I took time to review his dating experiences, hoping to glean lessons for others entering the dating scene in their 50s and 60s. Here are five lessons we came up with, but perhaps you can add some insights from your own experiences:

  1. Dishonesty is rampant. While it’s understandable to “put your best foot forward,” it’s sad there are so many outdated pictures and misleading online profiles. Also watch out for the out-and-out scams that target online daters. Despite your hopes for “love at first sight,” be careful to verify that the person you’re dating is who they say they are!
  2. Baggage is rampant. Ron chuckled that many woman on Match.com describe themselves as “baggage free” and “drama free.” What a joke. He concluded that it’s virtually impossible to be a divorced person in your 50s or 60s without accumulating some baggage along the way.
  3. Our OWN baggage is rampant. Like many men, Ron initially thought all the baggage was on the female  side of things. Yet after some painful breakups, he had to admit that his own baggage was often a large part of the problem. Just like landmines under the surface of the ground, he discovered emotional scars that were triggered in pressure situations and close relationships.
  4. Sexual temptation is rampant. Ron was a virgin when he got married, but he admits that sexual abstinence is a lot harder these days. Perhaps this can be attributed to several factors: (1) Loneliness in being single after many years of marriage; (2) feeling like “time is running out” to have a close, intimate relationship; (3) the amazing willingness today of many women (even longtime Christian women) to engage in sexual activities with men they aren’t married to.
  5. Not everyone really wants to be married again. At the beginning of his online dating journey, Ron assumed anyone on Match.com or eHarmony was there in search of a marriage partner. Surprisingly, it turned out that many people were more interested in dating than marrying. Why so? Some are fearful. No one wants to enter into another unhappy marriage. And some prefer the freedom of not having to answer to anyone. Instead of being tied down, they would prefer to “keep their options open.” And, once again, Ron had to come to grips with his own commitment phobia. “I have a pretty good life as a single guy,” he told me. “Why run the risk of another bad marriage?”

What About You?

If you’re in the dating world today, my heart goes out to you. I sincerely hope you’ve had an easier time than my good friend Ron.

Although I could attempt to provide all sorts of spiritual platitudes and additional advice, let me close with just a simple reminder from Scripture:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths
(Proverbs 3:5-6).

I wish you well on this perilous journey!

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Love-Starved but Love-Resistant

Love hard heart

I recently discovered a strange phenomenon: People who are the most starved for love usually are resistant to receiving love when it’s offered to them.

This is like California or Texas after a long-term drought. When rain finally comes, the ground is so hard that it can’t properly soak up the water. Instead of being a blessing, the rain sometimes causes a flood!

Have you ever tried to show love to someone who was extremely love-starved? If so, the person probably either rejected your love or latched onto it in a completely unhealthy way. If you doubt me on this, talk to some of your friends who’ve ventured into the world of online dating…

The love-resistant principle is illustrated in the life of one of the Bible’s most fascinating characters, Mephibosheth. This son of Jonathan was crippled at age five and after his father’s death on the same day, he was exiled to a desolate wasteland called Lo Debar.

One day King David started wondering if any of Saul and Jonathan’s heirs remained, and he was told about this woeful, exiled prince (2 Samuel 9). David was intent on finding this forgotten young man and showing him kindness.

But although kindness was something Mephibosheth desperately needed, there was just one problem: this crippled son of David’s friend Jonathan was love-resistant. Like a Type 2 diabetic who’s insulin-resistant despite needing more insulin, he was emotionally unable to absorb the very thing he so clearly needed.

We really shouldn’t be too surprised. For several years this man had grown up in squalor and hopelessness. Lame in both legs, he was completely dependent on others. Day after day, his condition reminded him of his great loss, which occurred at no fault of his own.

So what happened when Mephibosheth was brought before the king?

Shuffling and stammering, not looking him in the eye, Mephibosheth said, “Who am I that you pay attention to a stray dog like me?” (v. 8 MSG).

How sad. After years of deprivation, this dispirited, love-starved man judged himself to be a loser, unworthy of kindness from the king or anyone else. Instead of being heir to the throne, now he felt of no more value than a stray dog!

Can you blame him? After all, he couldn’t hold a job…couldn’t produce anything…couldn’t even walk! In the eyes of most people in that period of time, he was WORTHLESS, plain and simple—and that’s how he saw himself as well.

As the story makes clear, Mephibosheth was crippled in both of his feet. But if we read between the lines, we realize that he was even more crippled emotionally. Instead of seeing himself as a prince, he was a pauper, completely unlovable.

Oh, but David’s love—like God’s love for us—was not to be denied. Despite the deplorable condition of this man, both physically and psychologically, the king persisted in his plan to RESTORE him to what he had lost.

That’s good news, because we’ve ALL suffered losses of various kinds. Thankfully, King Jesus offers to bring us from Lo Debar, bringing us restoration rather than judgment.

This story has a beautiful conclusion: “So Mephibosheth dwelt in Jerusalem, for he ate continually at the king’s table” (v. 13). No longer dwelling in the spiritual wasteland of Lo Debar, the crippled prince once again ate at the king’s table, just like one of David’s sons.

Are you starving for love today? Remember the story of this dejected young man whose hard emotional shell finally gave way to the relentless kindness of God. When you let the King shower you with His love, it will open the corridors of your heart to experience love from other people as well.

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Driving Under the Influence (of Love)

Love influence

Last year I wrote some blog posts about the intoxicating power of love, describing some of my friends who’ve recently entered the hazardous world of dating.

In the right setting, romantic love is a very good thing—something designed by God Himself. If you doubt me on this, just spend some time reading the Song of Solomon…

However, like all intoxicants, romantic love is also quite dangerous. It can impair our judgment and slow our reaction time. Those under the influence of romantic love may feel invincible, when actually they’ve never been more vulnerable.

So what can a person do to minimize the dangers of this powerful intoxicant? Picture a guy named Joe who drove to an uptown bar and had far too much to drink. Finally, it’s 1 a.m., and he’s in no condition to drive home. Here are Joe’s main options:

  1. STOP. Don’t go anywhere until the intoxication has worn off. When it comes to a relationship, you need to assess whether it’s fundamentally healthy and life-giving or toxic and detrimental. If it’s toxic, the only sane option is to immediately end it. If you’re not sure, you may need to back away until some of the intoxication has worn off.
  2. CALL UBER. If you’re wise enough to recognize your impaired condition, you’ll call Uber, a taxi, or a “designated driver” to get you home safely. If you’re experiencing an intoxicating relationship, you may need to call in some trusted friends who are still sober. Recognizing that your own judgment is questionable, you must surround yourself with sound-minded advisers who can offer you objective feedback.
  3. GO EXTREMELY SLOW. Here the analogy breaks down a little, because you shouldn’t be driving at all if you’ve been drinking. But although you shouldn’t throw away a promising relationship because of fear, you should proceed with caution…i.e., slowly. If your judgment is clouded by the exhilaration of romantic love, you are putting yourself in real danger if you trying driving down the freeway at 70 miles per hour. Your chances of a collision are much less if you travel at a mere 25 mph.

If you are single and seeking a mate, my prayers are with you. May God direct your paths, as He’s promised to do when you trust Him (Proverbs 3:5-6). The Bible teaches that “It is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18) and “He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22). God is the ultimate Matchmaker, after all.

If you are married, maybe you can’t relate to this blog post at all. Perhaps it’s been many years since you’ve experienced the joys and perils of intoxicating love. How sad! Yet it’s not too late for God to restore some of the “first love” intoxication you experienced in your earlier days. Will you open your heart today—both to Him and to your spouse—allowing His amazing love to rekindle your original passion?

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Can You Pass the LOVE TEST?

LoveTest 3

The Beatles weren’t far from mark when they declared, “All You Need Is Love.” The apostle Paul said practically the same thing in Romans 13:10, saying that love is the fulfillment of the law.”

So, are YOU in love? That’s an important question, and not just in the days surrounding Valentine’s Day. If you’re married, I certainly hope you can say yes to this question, but I’m referring to a love that goes even beyond that—an “in love” state of mind that every follower of Jesus is supposed to experience, whether married or single.

My curiosity about being “in love” was sparked recently when I found myself humming an old song originally introduced in the musical Brigadoon:

What a day this has been

What a rare mood I’m in

Why, it’s almost like being in love.

There’s a smile on my face

For the whole human race

Why, it’s almost like being in love.

As this song suggests, love will cause you to see “the whole human race” differently, not just the person you’re in love with. This should be a real challenge to us who claim we’re in love with Jesus. If our love for Him is genuine, there should be a smile on our face for people too.

But how can we go deeper than the world’s superficial concept of being “in love”—typically a phrase used just in the context of romantic or emotional love?

I decided to do a search on BibleGateway.com and found some fantastic “in love” passages. Here’s a small sample, including my observations about how the principles apply to our lives today:

“Walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (Ephesians 5:2).

  • Love is not just a feeling or even just a matter of words—it’s something we’re called to walk in and live out. When we do this, our lives will emit the sweet fragrance of Christ instead of less-appealing odors.

“God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:16).

  • Since God is love, there’s no way to maintain an intimate relationship with Him without abiding in love. And the word “abide” means that love is not meant to be a sporadic series of emotional, spiritual, or physical encounters, but rather a continual, unending connection.

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love (1 John 4:18).

  • Fear and love are mortal enemies. Fear tries to undercut love, but God’s love can destroy our fears. Let’s not allow fear to hold us back from reaching out in love to others.

“May the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another” (1 Thessalonians 3:12).

  • Our love is not supposed to diminish over time—it’s supposed to “increase and abound.” Is that happening with your love?

Of course, there are many other Bible passages about love. I even noticed this verse saying that “older men” (like me!) are supposed to be in love: “…that the older men be sober, reverent, temperate, sound in faith, in love, in patience” (Titus 2:2).

So let me ask you again…

Are you in love? If you still aren’t sure how to answer, I encourage you to take the LOVE TEST in 1 Corinthians 13 (MSG paraphrase). From what we read in the book of Acts, walking “in love” doesn’t seem to have been easy for the apostle Paul. But he realized its importance nevertheless: “No matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love” (v. 3).

What an incredible statement: Without love, our lives are surely “bankrupt.”

Paul goes on to give us a very detailed description of love’s characteristics:

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Love never dies (vs. 4-8).

How did you do on this LOVE TEST? If you’re like me, you still fall short in many ways. But that’s another thing I like about the song from Brigadoon. Instead of saying we’ve fully mastered this thing called love, it only describes our experience as “almost” like being in love.

The LOVE TEST ends with Paul’s conclusion at the beginning of the next chapter: Go after a life of love as if your life depended on it—because it does.” So true, Paul. So true.

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Love & Other Mysteries

V Heart

It seems a person of my age should have figured out everything by now. But in some ways the opposite is true—I’m more aware than ever of life’s mysteries.

The writer of Proverbs 30 seemed to have a similar experience, marveling about the things he couldn’t really understand:

There are three things that amaze me—
no, four things that I don’t understand:

how an eagle glides through the sky,
how a snake slithers on a rock,
how a ship navigates the ocean,
how a man loves a woman
(vs. 18-19 NLT).

This man was humble enough to recognize he didn’t “know it all.” He was still in awe of God’s wonder-filled creation.

First, he watched an eagle soaring high in the sky, without even flapping its wings. That’s impossible! the writer thought to himself. The eagle is flying higher and higher, without exerting any effort at all.

Of course, eagles are a picture of our lives as believers. The Bible says we can gain new strength and rise up as eagles when we wait on the Lord, relying on His power rather than our own (Isaiah 40:28-31). Just like the mystery of an eagle’s flight, the Christian life is meant to be supernatural and amazing, rather than a matter of strain and struggle (Colossians 1:27).

Next, the writer of Proverbs 30 sees a snake rapidly slithering across a rock. How does it do that?! he wondered. Snakes have no legs, after all. Like the effortless flight of eagles, the movement of a snake seems almost magical.

The ability of ships to navigate the oceans was also bewildering for the writer. If ships could only go in the direction of the winds, that would be understandable. However, he observed that ships frequently travel against the headwinds and the ocean currents. They are able to make progress toward their intended destination even when circumstances make matters difficult.

This is another great picture of the Christian life. We don’t have to drift helplessly in the water, nor must we be blown about by the shifting winds of our culture. Against all odds, we can set our sails to catch the breeze of God’s Spirit, and we can set our rudder to achieve our life’s purpose.

Finally, the writer comes to the most humbling, most baffling, most incredible mystery of all: love between a man and a woman. Even if you can figure out the wondrous mysteries of eagles, snakes, and ships, only a person of extreme hubris claims to fully understand the dynamics of male-female relationships.

Well, actually, I used to understand women pretty well—when I was in my twenties and still single! I even recorded a Bible study message explaining it all. Yes, I had women figured out back then, and I was happy to tell anyone who would listen.

Oh well…

Hopefully I’m not the only one who is still struggling with life’s mysteries. Are there still some things “too wonderful” for YOU to understand? If so, that’s fantastic! May you never lose your sense of wonder and amazement. And may you always recognize your need to rely on the Lord rather than on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Remember: In this life we’re destined to merely know “in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9). Someday in heaven, though, we’ll be able to ask God about all the mysteries we were never able to figure out.

 

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4 Indispensable Ingredients for Holiday Happiness

Seems like everyone is wishing each other a Happy Thanksgiving, but few people stop their hustle and bustle long enough to consider what a happy holiday entails. We pull out our recipes for pumpkin pie, sweet potato casserole, holiday Jell-O, and eggnog, sure enough. But seldom do we take a similar look at the indispensable ingredients for positive time with our loved ones.

You may want to add some additional items to this recipe, but here are 4 ingredients I believe are vital to holiday happiness:

  1. LOVE. People have many different definitions of love, of course. One of the most accurate definitions is “seeking the highest good of other people, even at your own expense.” This sets the standard pretty high, doesn’t it? Love isn’t just a warm feeling, but rather a choice to give away part of your life to others.

The holidays usually provide a real test of whether your love is unconditional or merely reciprocal. Reciprocal love means loving someone back who has already shown love to you. That should be pretty easy! Someone send you a greeting card, so you send them one back.

However, the test of unconditional loves comes when some of the people you’re celebrating the holidays with have hurt you during the year. Can you forgive and keep loving them? Or will your attitude be icy and callous when you get together?

  1. JOY. I am well aware of all the WORK involved in putting together a Thanksgiving meal—both in the preparation and in the cleanup. But hopefully the work can be joy-filled work, complete with some frivolity and outbursts and laughter. The Bible says a “merry heart” is like medicine for the soul (Proverbs 17:22). A person who cultivates that kind of joyful heart will have a continual feast”—never needing to wait for a special holiday to celebrate (Proverbs 15:15).

But let’s be honest: Sometimes the holidays give us special reasons to be sad rather than joyful: the death of a loved one, a marriage breakup, medical concerns, or family members who now live far away. However, that is even MORE reason why it’s so important to tap into God’s supernatural joy, enabling us to dispel any grief or sorrow with a spirit of gratitude and praise.

  1. PEACE. Who wouldn’t like drama-free holidays this year? Yet, since people are involved, you can pretty much bet there will be some measure of drama. The question, then, isn’t whether you’ll be surrounded by some drama at times (you surely WILL be!). The question is whether you will be able to maintain your own peaceful heart, even while many things are swirling frantically around you. If you’re struggling with this, I recommend the prescription found in Isaiah 26:3: You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.” Keep your heart set on Jesus!
  1. PATIENCE. Lots of things can conspire to test your patience during the holidays. Kids misbehave. People show up late. Turkeys take longer than expected to bake. Husbands seem more intent on watching the football games than helping with the preparations and cleanup.

Since there’s a high probably that your patience will be tested, you might as well take a deep breath and realize there’s no big hurry, after all. And it’s not worth losing your cool just to put someone else in their place (see Luke 10:38:42 if you don’t believe me).

Perhaps you’ve noticed that these 4 vital ingredients are also the first 4 components of “the fruit of the Spirit” described by Paul in Galatians 5:22-23. I point this out as a word of encouragement. For even if you aren’t feeling much love, joy, peace, and patience so far, God offers you an infinite source for finding more. The Christian life is meant to be a supernatural life, and God’s Spirit can fill you will all the missing ingredients you need for a happy holiday season.

Let me leave you with this paraphrase of Galatians 5:22-23 in The Message:

What happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

Friend, I pray you have a Spirit-filled Thanksgiving this year. When that happens, your day will be full of love, joy, peace, and patience. What a great new holiday tradition!

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Reflections on a Kiwi Wedding

Abbie and Hamish kiss 2015

One week ago, my daughter Abbie married a wonderful New Zealander (Kiwi) named Hamish McKoy. It was such a joy to be a part of their lovely wedding at a venue an hour and a half from Wellington, New Zealand.

Each of the Americans in attendance fell in love with the people of New Zealand and especially with Hamish’s parents, John and Judy McKoy. It’s a magical place over there, one I hope you can experience firsthand someday.

At the wedding reception I shared a few thoughts I’ve had about Hamish and Abbie’s unfolding love story, which began 10 years ago when Abbie first visited New Zealand. Although there were many twists and turns in their relationship in the years after she returned to the U.S., God never allowed them to forget the brief time they spent together.

I don’t know if you’ve looked at a globe of the earth recently, but New Zealand is a LONG way from America. I took about 25 hours of flying for me to get there from Charlotte, North Carolina, if that gives you some idea of what I’m talking about.

In thinking about how Hamish and Abbie overcame the huge distance between them, I remember five powerful words in Scripture: “Many waters cannot quench love” (Song of Solomon 8:7). Isn’t that beautiful?

Solomon’s words got me curious about how MUCH water there is between the U.S. and New Zealand. According to reliable sources (Google!) there are 187 quadrillion gallons of water in the Pacific Ocean—and yet all that water could not quench the love of Hamish and Abbie.

More stunning than that, the Bible says Jesus left the grandeur of heaven to bridge an even greater chasm, the one between God and humanity. His love could not be quenched. Nothing could stand in His way. Love did indeed win when He came and died for us on the cross.

I hope you have experienced that amazing love…

Lately I’ve also been reflecting on another love story—the Disney tale about Cinderella. I’m especially moved by how the Prince searched throughout the land to find the person who fit the glass slipper he’d found at the ball.

Why does this story resonate so deeply with us? I believe the glass slipper illustrates three things we’re each craving in life:

  1. A person (a prince or princess to share our lives with)
  2. A place (somewhere to call home, like Abbie and Hamish have found in their community of friends and family in New Zealand)
  3. A purpose (a sense of calling, confident that we’re fulfilling God’s plan for our lives)

As I reflect on last week’s Kiwi wedding, this is my prayer for YOU: May you find the Lord’s special person, place, and purpose. This doesn’t mean your life will always be easy or pain-free. But it can be AWESOME nevertheless.

Don’t settle for a boring, purposeless life, my friend. Your glass slipper awaits. Your Prince wants to give you a life that is magical and filled with wonder. Something like a fairy tale.  

glass slipper

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Getting Beyond a Daisy-Petal Faith

In college I had a friend named Keith who came from a very legalistic church background. He believed you could become so “sanctified” that you’d never sin again—but if you did  sin, God would revoke your salvation in a mere moment.

I’ll never forget the letters Keith would write to me during our summer break. “Dear brother Jim,” he would begin each letter, “I’m happy to report that I am still saved.”

Wow. Although I’m not exactly sure what I wrote back to Keith, I probably wanted to say, “I’m still saved too…but I never doubted that I would be!”

Even though I’ve never met anyone whose views were as extreme as Keith’s, lately I’ve realized that many of us have a similar defect in our theology. We’re probably not worried about entirely losing our salvation, but we’ve adopted the subtle misconception that our Heavenly Father’s love and favor are as fleeting as a butterfly and as fragile as fine China.

Sorry for all the mixed metaphors, but perhaps the best word picture is the way insecure lovers sometimes peel off the petals of a daisy to ascertain where they stand in their relationship:

“He loves me…he loves me not…he loves me…he loves me not…”

Do you see how dismal this approach is in your relationship with the Lord? Yet that’s exactly what happens when you base your confidence in God’s love on the current circumstances in your life:

You got a raise at work? He loves me!

Your car broke down? He loves me not!

You received an unexpected financial windfall? He loves me!

You received bad news from your doctors? He loves me not!

Fortunately, you can stop this daisy-petal spirituality once and for all. Instead of continually wondering if God loves you or loves you not, you can simply believe what He tells you in His Word: God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

There are two primary reasons why this is fantastic news: First, God has already demonstrated His love for you through a past event—the death of His Son. This means there’s no longer any need to focus on your circumstances or peel off daisy petals to determine whether He truly cares about you.

Second, it’s important to notice that God didn’t decide to love you AFTER you cleaned up your act and got perfectly sanctified. Instead, He showed His love when you were still His enemy, living a life of sin and rebellion. Paul concludes, If when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Romans 5:10).

This shows that God’s love for you isn’t based on your worthiness but on the incredible worth of what Jesus did for you on the cross. Quite a difference!

Does God love you? YES! Does He want to show you His favor and bless you? YES! Is His love dependent on some kind of perfection on your part? THANKFULLY NOT!

When you get rid of your daisy-petal view of God, you can finally REST in His love and mercy. Why? Because your relationship with Him is based on His grace “from start to finish” :

Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! (Ephesians 2:7-10 MSG)

So are you ready to be showered with God’s grace and kindness? Then it’s time to throw away your daisy and believe His love letter to you in the Scriptures.

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Almost Like Being ‘in Love’

Are you in love?  That’s an important question, and I don’t want you to dismiss it as being frivolous. If you’re married, I sure hope you can say yes to this question, but I’m referring to a love that goes even beyond that—an “in love” state of mind that every follower of Jesus is supposed to experience, whether married or single.

My curiosity about being “in love” was sparked recently when I found myself humming an old song originally introduced in the musical Brigadoon:

What a day this has been
What a rare mood I’m in
Why, it’s almost like being in love.

There’s a smile on my face
For the whole human race
Why, it’s almost like being in love.

As this song suggests, love will cause you to see “the whole human race” differently, not just the person you’re in love with. This should be a real challenge to us who claim we’re in love with Jesus. If our love for Him is genuine, there should be a smile on our face for people too.

But how can we go deeper than the world’s superficial concept of being “in love”—typically a phrase used just in the context of romantic or emotional love?

I decided to do a search on BibleGateway.com and found some fantastic “in love” passages. Here’s a small sample, including my observations about how the principles apply to our lives today:

“Walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (Ephesians 5:2).

  • Love is not just a feeling or even just a matter of words—it’s something we’re called to walk in and live out. When we do this, our lives will emit the sweet fragrance of Christ instead of less-appealing odors.

“God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:16).

  • Since God is love, there’s no way to maintain an intimate relationship with Him without abiding in love. And the word “abide” means that love is not meant to be a sporadic series of emotional, spiritual, or physical encounters, but rather a continual, unending connection.

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love (1 John 4:18).

  • Fear and love are mortal enemies. Fear tries to undercut love, but God’s love can destroy our fears. Let’s not allow fear to hold us back from reaching out in love to others.

“May the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another” (1 Thessalonians 3:12).

  • Our love is not supposed to diminish over time—it’s supposed to “increase and abound.” Is that happening with your love?

Of course, there are many other Bible passages about love. I even noticed this verse saying that “older men” (like me!) are supposed to be in love: “…that the older men be sober, reverent, temperate, sound in faith, in love, in patience” (Titus 2:2).

So let me ask you again…

Are you in love?  If you still aren’t sure how to answer, I encourage you to take the LOVE TEST in 1 Corinthians 13 (MSG paraphrase). From what we read in the book of Acts, walking “in love” doesn’t seem to have been easy for the apostle Paul. But he realized its importance nevertheless: “No matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love” (v. 3).

What an incredible statement: Without love, our lives are surely “bankrupt.”

Paul goes on to give us a very detailed description of love’s characteristics:

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Love never dies (vs. 4-8).

How did you do on this LOVE TEST? If you’re like me, you still fall short in many ways. But that’s another thing I like about the song from Brigadoon. Instead of saying we’ve fully mastered this thing called love, it only describes our experience as “almost” like being in love.

The LOVE TEST ends with Paul’s conclusion at the beginning of the next chapter: Go after a life of love as if your life depended on it—because it does.”  So true, Paul. So true.

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I would love to preach at your church or conference, be a consultant to your leadership team, or help your organization navigate the waters of transition. You can reach me at info@JimBuchan.com.

 

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