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His Abundance

“To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”  Colossians 1:27

Father God, your riches are boundless, your love endless, and your provisions unending!  While I go throughout my day today help me to take my thoughts off the world’s insufficiencies and turn my eyes to your plentiful ways.  Amen

It was only a short time ago that most of us worried about the scarcity of one product – toilet paper.  It was a man-made problem borne out fear and selfishness.  In fact, one day while at a home improvement store I witnessed a man and woman gleefully overloading their pickup truck with hundreds of rolls of toilet paper.  I’m sure their plan was to sell most of it and their excitement was over the thousands of dollars they would make.  A small part of me hopes they still have a garage full of toilet paper.  My husband’s solution to this dire 21stcentury problem was to install bidets in our bathrooms, therefore eliminating the need for toilet paper. Two points-of-view to the same problem. Scarcity vs. abundance.

We humans have a tendency to always worry about not having enough, whether it be food, water, fuel, trees, love, friends, money, work, or even toilet paper.  But God’s plan for us is so completely different.  He is always wanting us to model our lives, actions and thoughts to His kingdom—which He shows to be the opposite of scarcity thinking.

"Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens,
    your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
    your justice like the great deep.
    You, Lord, preserve both people and animals.
How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
    People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house;
    you give them drink from your river of delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light we see light."  Psalm 36:5-9

You might be thinking, “that all sounds good but what about droughts and food shortages and waning oil reserves?”  To that I say, trust God first for He is always about abundance.  Throughout scripture, especially in the letters to the churches, we are reminded about the basic lesson of childhood – sharing.  (Something the folks in the pickup truck forgot)  You see, God provides.  He may provide more to you than you need so that you can give to another.  He also provides others with knowledge and skills to discover new ways for God to meet our needs.  Abundant thinking is always solution-based rather than fear-based.

I learned a valuable “point of view” lesson once from Dr. Laura Schlessinger about marriage.  If you always have the perspective that divorce is not an option then you will always find new solutions to marital problems (barring issues with violence and other abuses).  It’s the same with God.  If we always have the perspective that God is a god of abundance – overflowing with unending love and grace and mercy for us – then we will seek ways to see Him at work.  We will see our own abundance as His tools to serve others. 

Friend, God’s kingdom is overflowing with milk and honey.  When we see the world in a panic over the latest scarcity-based fear we need to turn our eyes to God.  His kingdom of abundance is open to all who call Him Savior and for that we should give Him all glory and honor!

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I Will

So her husband, Joseph, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, decided to divorce her secretly. Matthew 1:19

We left off our study of new beginnings with a cliff hanger of sorts.  There sat Jonah on a hill wishing he were dead.  And God reminding Jonah that He cares for all people of the earth, especially the ones “who cannot tell their right hand from their left.”  Thank goodness for that because there are many days I feel and act like one of those foolish people!  If left to being helped out of my fiery pit by unloving, sleepy Christians, I would surely find myself in the depths of hell.  But for God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  And those that submit themselves not only to their will but do so out of love.

So, we leave the Old Testament with many more stories of new beginnings than I have shared.  And with hope that Jonah finally grasped God’s message of works without love is empty and useless.  But here’s the thing about our guidebook for life, the Bible, God’s holy Word, there’s 1000s of connections back and forth between the ancient stories in the Old Testament and the newer history of the New Testament.  Which leads us to the first new beginning we encounter in the book of Matthew.  Another Noah.  Another servant of God who is the way maker for the world’s new beginning.  The connector from the old ways to the new.  A man who, like Noah, was considered “righteous” and faithful to God.  But first, let me share with you a modern story of another righteous man who helped shepherd in a new beginning for one small child.

Epworth’s Children’s Home received this first-hand account from a foster parent in 2017 about his experience in becoming a foster father:

“Our family has been fostering a boy since October 2017. Yesterday our foster child had a court hearing to determine what step to take as far as his custody goes. I haven’t shared a lot about the whole foster experience because I have been afraid, to be completely honest. Afraid because fostering has been a lot harder for me than I thought it would be. Not because the child is difficult – it has been hard because of my heart. Ever since he came into our home, I have been terrified of becoming too attached and having my heart broken when he would eventually leave our home. I have been terrified of giving him all of my love, my energy, my grace and my compassion. I was sitting in the courtroom listening to the different parties discussing and debating the best course of action for the child’s future, when I started shaking. I began to realize this is the moment! The moment I decide to completely expose my heart to the potential of pain, or keep my walls up. It was absolutely terrifying! I started hearing a small voice inside that I could no longer ignore, and it was telling me to fight for this child. I realized I was willing to do anything for him.

“My walls started to crumble around me. Then I heard the judge call my name. He wanted to know if I wanted to adopt this child. I wanted to scream “Yes! He is my son!”, but I think I said something a little less dramatic like, “Yes sir, we are working on becoming licensed for adoption for this child.” I then heard the judge say that he is ordering termination of parental rights and opening this case for adoption. The weight of this decision is not lost on me, but it was one of the most powerful experiences that I have ever had.”

But after he had considered these things, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. Matthew 1:20

Joseph was our Lord’s foster father.  As a devout follower of the Mosaic Law, he had every right to not only publicly shame Mary for her “adultery” but also to have her stoned to death!  Before the angel even spoke to him, however, love, kindness, compassion took over and he decided to quietly divorce her.  Think of how Jonah would’ve responded.  Surely God would’ve had to intervene to save Mary’s life from Jonah’s anger.

After Joseph obeyed God’s urging to complete his marriage vows to Mary, his troubles surely were not over. Like Noah, he would’ve faced public humiliation.  The knowledge of Mary’s pregnancy in the small village of Nazareth would have spread like a wildfire.  And yet he stayed the course.  He stayed faithful not only to Mary but to God.  He didn’t, by all accounts do it begrudgingly like Jonah.  He took up the mantle of “foster father” and protected his family, raised his son as his own.  His new beginning was as father to someone else’s son.  An earthly role model.  A shepherd, like Noah, for what was to be all of humanity’s new beginning.

Joseph and the unnamed servant girl who helped Naaman (2 Kings 5:3) also have a lot in common.  They were faithful.  They had a heart for God.  They stepped up to help when they could’ve taken a different path.  Their small steps were a gift to many.  And they both are but a few lines in our history.  Joseph’s last mention of him doesn’t even use his name.  Jesus is 12 years old, immersed in the teachings at the temple and his parents are frantically looking for him.  His mother chastises him and says, “Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you!” (Luke 2:48)  After that, Joseph fades away.  Most likely, he passes before Jesus begins his adult ministry.

And yet we remember him each Christmas for his shepherding, protecting, and faith.  We should all add a bit of thanks to Joseph each day we pray in Jesus’ name.  Because like so many faithful servants of Christ, He obeyed out of love.  He didn’t ask or require that “thanks.”  He didn’t harbor ill will for having to endure hardship.  He put his head down, his hands out and his heart lifted and said to God, “I will.”

I want to share with you the rest of the letter written to Epworth Children’s Home by the foster father:

“I will end with this. This is especially for you guys and fathers. If you feel God tugging at your heart to become a foster parent, listen! There will always be a reason to not become a foster parent, but if your main reason is that you are scared your heart will be broken, then you especially need to do it. Foster children need someone who will be heartbroken over them. They need someone who is going to stick by them when things get hard. They haven’t experienced that. They need someone to love them and be gentle with them when they come over and hit you in the face with a maraca and break your glasses (not that I have ever had that happen, that is completely hypothetical, of course!). They need someone who is going to be faithful to them and strong for them in their weakest moments. I am by no means perfect in any of those, but I am strong in my faith, and it provides me the love, strength and grace that I need. Fostering has made me more dependent on God, in everything, and that is good. Ultimately, I am a foster child who was adopted into His family, and I am fully loved.”

Amen.

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Our New Identity

Do your best to present yourself to 
God as one approved, a worker who 
does not need to be ashamed and who 
correctly handles the word of truth. 
2 Timothy 2:15

When I quit working full time about 25 years ago, it was hard for me to accept that I no longer contributed financially to our little family.  My identity was wrapped up in working.  I had earned money since I was a kid collecting cans and newspapers and turning them into the recycler.  In college at one point, I had a job, a paid internship, a full load of classes, and was the president of a professional-based club.  Work was what I knew and work was what defined me.

Not long after I decided to stay home with our 2-year old daughter I found myself face-to-face with my identity problem.  My daughter and I were walking home from a neighborhood park.  We had to cross a very busy street.  When we got the “walk” sign we made our way across in the crosswalk.  In one of the cars waiting for the light to change was an obviously very angry and impatient man.  He yelled out the window to me, “Hey loser, why don’t you get a job?”

Instead of being angry I was mortified.  You see, I agreed with him.  I wasn’t seeing myself as first a mother and wife then someone who could, if I wanted to, get a job.  I saw myself first as a jobless loser.

What do you see yourself as first these days?

As my faith journey has progressed my answer to that question has evolved.  Once my second daughter came along, I threw myself into motherhood.  I even placed being a wife much farther down the list for a bit.  Being a Christian was way down on the list.  In between I was a “coach,” a “PTA president,” a “school volunteer,” a “Girl Scout leader.”  And now, looking back, had I placed “Christian” as my primary identity I would’ve made a number of different choices along the way.

Just because you go to church doesn’t mean you’re a Christian. I can go sit in the garage all day and it doesn’t make me a car.

Joyce Meyer

I love this quote by Joyce Meyer because it speaks to the heart of this issue of identity.  We may say what our identity is but how do we act?  What do we base our decisions on day in and day out?  Do we decide what’s best for our kids based on their happiness or based on God’s direction?  Do we treat our spouses based on where we place our marriage on our identity list or on God’s expectation of us?  Do we hold dear the income from that job more than we do our relationship with our Lord?

It’s taken me awhile to truly accept the identity hierarchy God wants for me – 1) Jesus Follower 2) Wife 3) Mother 4) Whatever else He directs me to.  And in our verse today the priority for us is to be a “God Approved Worker for Him.”  Not ashamed of following His Word as best we can in every decision we make.

I used to listen to the famed Dr. Laura quite a lot.  One day she was talking about divorce.  She said that if you go into a marriage with the option of getting divorced you will always find reasons to not work on your marriage.  But if you go into it (having made a healthy choice of spouse) with the priority of staying together no matter what, you will always find new and creative ways to work out problems.  Our faith is a lot like that.

When we place our faith as our primary identity it changes who we marry, who we spend time with, what type of job we want, how we use our money, how we treat our families and friends, and more. We are God’s co-workers.   And we are tasked with being proud of that identity.  

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, 
stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always 
give yourselves fully to the work of the 
Lord, because you know that your labor in 
the Lord is not in vain.  
1 Corinthians 15:58

So again, I ask, what identity have you placed at the top of your list?

If it’s not “Christian” why not?  What’s holding you back?  God is waiting for you to put Him first.  Because when you do then, I believe, He claps His hands and says, “Great, now let’s get down to business!”

This is a great except from C.S. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity that might help spur you on to your new identity. 

“Give me all of you!!! I don’t want so much of your time, so much of your talents and money, and so much of your work. I want YOU!!! ALL OF YOU!! I have not come to torment or frustrate the natural man or woman, but to KILL IT! No half measures will do. I don’t want to only prune a branch here and a branch there; rather I want the whole tree out! Hand it over to me, the whole outfit, all of your desires, all of your wants and wishes and dreams. Turn them ALL over to me, give yourself to me and I will make of you a new self—in my image. Give me yourself and in exchange I will give you Myself. My will, shall become your will. My heart, shall become your heart.”