Welcome our Prince of Peace

And He shall be their peace. Micah 5:5

….and His name shall be called, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

It’s (almost) Christmas and the Christmas rush is (almost) over. Since our family had already celebrated and exchanged gifts with each other, I’m anticipating a quiet and restful Christmas day. I am filled with thanksgiving that this has been a very meaningful Advent, rich in prayer, reflection and guided study of God’s word. It has been another season of pruning by the Vine-dresser; trimming and paring me down to the core, which always takes my heart to a place of peace: a place of knowing that I have nothing of my own and that Jesus is everything.

Peace. I’ve never met anyone who does not desire peace. But it is also true that peace is often misunderstood. Many would define peace as the absence of relational conflict. Some equate peace with a blissful feeling or a state of being problem-free. Others require silence and solitude in order to experience peace. However, the peace that is found in Christ is much more than these.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. John 14:27

To have peace is to have security in Christ, in a way that the heart remains unshaken even in the midst of ongoing turmoil. His peace overflows when trusting my All-Powerful God wins over my attempts to take control of life with my own abilities. His peace overcomes my anxious mind when I am reminded that He has full knowledge of what I do not understand. His peace soothes the aching of my soul when by His grace, I am able to surrender to His will, even if it is not what I would have chosen.

I have said these things to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world. John 16:33

I am aware that whether in our own communities or in faraway countries, there are countless people who are weighed down with sorrow and strife this Christmas. Losses and longings, hardship and failure could be even more palpable during this festive season. I pray that we may humbly and lovingly serve as compassionate channels of His peace, which transcends all earthly tragedies. No wonder the apostle Paul described it as peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil 4:7).

The Prince of Peace entered our restless world that first Christmas. Peace flowed through the gates of heaven that have been opened for us by the Child in the manger who became our Savior on the Cross. In Christ, our peace no longer depends on favorable circumstances, answered prayers, restored relationships, thriving ministries, the healing of our ailments, or anything else.

For He Himself is our peace, not just our ticket to peace. Christ alone. There simply is no one else. The more we adore Him and place our faith in the truth of who He is, the more we are stripped of everything that is not Him. It is in this state of emptiness that God fills us the most with inexpressible joy, and we find ourselves delighting in Him and all that He does. Joy to the world! Our Lord, our Prince of peace, has come.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” Luke 2:14

Bring Your peace into our violence
Bid our hungry souls be filled
Word now breaking Heaven’s silence
Welcome to our world

Fragile finger sent to heal us
Tender brow prepared for thorn
Tiny heart whose blood will save us
Unto us is born

(From Welcome to Our World by Chris Rice)

Priceless Gift for a weary world …

The true light which gives light to everyone was coming into the world. John 1: 9

Christmas tree inside South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa California

I’m spending a long weekend in southern California, steps away from South Coast Plaza – home of the largest concentration of high end designer brand fashion retail on the west coast with more than $1.5 billion sales annually. That’s an enormous amount of dollars! But then if a Dior scarf is priced at $2,000 (yes, there are three zeros) and a Hermes bag is $12,000, and shoppers have no restraint, then I guess gross sales can add up to more than a billion. In contrast, the annual sales of a brand-name ibuprofen (i.e. “designer pain reliever”) such as Advil, pales in comparison totaling $449 million for all 50 states. (I’m being silly).

Seriously, I am here to neither indulge nor judge. But just like anywhere I’ve been, the sights around me somehow speak to my heart such that past the glitter and glamour, I’m reminded of truths that I’m constantly learning.

What determines value? What defines worth? Is it inherent or earned? Or is it bestowed upon another and by whom? Value is desired by every human being. Each person wants to be affirmed that he or she has worth. Though some deny it, every individual longs to mean much to another.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

God determined our price tag and declared our value when He sent His only Son to save us. When we consider that the Greatest Gift-Giver, gave the Greatest Gift, to the least worthy, Christmas definitely becomes a story that is much bigger than we can celebrate – a radical act of an extraordinary God!

Even in our own limited ways, the value that we ascribe to people and relationships could be reflected in the process of gift-giving. Think of the gifts we give to our own children. Aren’t they more valuable than what we give to other people’s children? Of course! Those who belong to us, naturally mean more to us. We fill them with gifts. We don’t give them away as gifts. To give away what’s most precious, like one’s own son is unthinkable. But that’s exactly what God did. And to whom was this priceless Gift given? What kind of world was waiting for Him? An incredibly broken one…

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:6

At the time that Christ was born, the world was definitely not what it is today. The practical needs and external demands were different; the pace was for sure slower. But just like today, the world in which Jesus was born was weary because of sin. The lament of souls in bondage and darkness has been heard since the fall of man. Distant from God, the human heart’s yearning for love and meaning has remained unmet in all generations. The world was weary because hope was nowhere to be found. The only Hope who can illumine this darkness, is Jesus Christ.

“Long lay the world in sin and error pining till He appeared and the soul felt its worth; A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”

Outdoor Christmas tree in Costa Mesa California

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life. John 8:12

He who invites the weary to come to Him that He may give us rest (Matt 11:28), He is our Priceless Gift who is unmatched by anything we consider good and beautiful. For the believer, there is no other way to live except in awe of Him. It is impossible to truly know Him and not be changed because His grace is not without power. In the light of Christ, we see the futility of focusing on ourselves. We stop measuring our worth for who needs a lofty price tag when the King of the universe already declares us precious in His eyes. Let us not hold back. Let us give our all to Him who did not hold back but gave His all to us. As we do, His grace transforms us into His image bearers so that those around us will see that there is hope for a weary world and His name is Jesus. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5

Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! for the LORD has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted. Isaiah 49:13


	

The King worth waiting for…

Micah 5:2-3 “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” Therefore, He will give them up until the time when she who is in labor has borne a child.

It is Advent season once again! A blessed time of waiting, reflection, repentance and worship. While I’m dwelling on Old Testament passages that clearly foretold the coming of the Messiah, one of the greatest treasures I find is the simple yet profound truth that God acted in love from the very beginning. In Genesis 3:15 when God told the serpent that the woman’s offspring shall crush his head, we see that way back in Eden, God already announced His victorious plan that will be fulfilled in the birth of Christ and His death on the cross. This is why I tend to think of the Old Testament as one long advent season, as God established the lineage of the Messiah, generation after generation, until Christ was born. No matter how complicated HIStory unfolded on the pages before the gospel of Matthew, God always exercised His sovereignty in love and wisdom. He is the God who does not change (Malachi 3:6).

Isaiah 7:14 “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.

Each Advent season we celebrate now reminds me that this steadfast heart of God is such that He desires fellowship with His people, no matter how unworthy we are. He chose to come and dwell among us. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth – John 1:14

Isn’t He the King of kings? Was the universe not created through Him? And yet He chose to dwell among men, eventually to be crucified by men. The Creator willingly suffered under the hands of His creation in order to bring creation back to Himself. No other King would do what Christ has done. The depth and breadth of love that compelled Him to take the form of man is something we will never be able to comprehend. I am just thankful that we can worship Him not only for what we know about Him, but even for what we do not understand.

Today, through His Spirit, He remains Immanuel, the God who is with us. Immanuel doesn’t love us from a distance. Immanuel doesn’t accomplish His purposes remotely. Immanuel works in us, through us, in spite of us. And there’s even better news for us who believe in Him. Our advent goes on. Our season of waiting continues. In a sense, our life, our journey here on earth, is one long advent as we wait to be reunited with Him. Christ, Immanuel, is coming again! We, His church are His bride, and we live with the hope and confidence that one day, our Bridegroom will return for us. Hallelujah! Immanuel will come again! And there is none like Him. He is the only King worth waiting for.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. John 14:1-3

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

 

Thanking him with eyes lifted high…

“To whom then will you compare me that I should be like him? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name; by the greatness of his might and because he is strong in power, not one is missing.” Isaiah 40:25-26

Moses had Mt. Sinai. I have the Holden Arboretum – the place where I can go on prayer walks and be surrounded by natural beauty in all four seasons. I was there recently on a day when there was just enough sun and “warmth” for the snow to start melting, and I noticed right away that the clouds were simply gorgeous. Except for a few short segments where I had to keep my eyes on the ground (mainly to avoid slipping on ice), I was practically admiring the sky for an entire forty-five minutes. With my gaze directed toward heaven, I had the privilege of delighting in the work of His hands, overwhelmed by His greatness, while giving Him praise.

It is easy to be overwhelmed with other things – lesser things, in fact. I can be overwhelmed simply by looking at my schedule or my to-do lists. I can also feel discouraged as I deal with illness and dementia in the family. Some of my concerns are truly trivial, while others are obviously not. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter, for God will always be GREATER than anything that confronts me. He is the only one who has the right to say “To whom will you compare me?” because the truth is there is none like Him. There is no one as loving, as wise, as gracious, as just, as merciful, as powerful, as steadfast, as faithful, as beautiful, as holy, as PERFECT. Sometimes all we need is to lift up our eyes and look beyond ourselves and our cares, to catch a much-needed glimpse of who He is.

As sinners saved by grace, it is but fitting to be awed by His greatness and to praise Him in response. This is how we are to live, always in reverence of Him. It’s never a waste of time to rave about our Savior. As families all over America prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday, let us who call Him Lord give thanks for all that Christ is. We are ordinary people, but there is nothing ordinary, routine, or predictable about how He has loved us and how He has drawn us deeper and deeper into Himself. He whose power is such that not one of the heavenly hosts is missing – He is also the One who satisfies our greatest need. Isn’t He wonderful?

Today is much too windy and cold for a walk in the arboretum. But while inside my kitchen, I can still lift the eyes of my heart to the One, through whom and for whom all things were created (Col 1:16). To the One who filled the void of the universe and the void of our lives with no less than Himself, may He be exalted as we give thanks.

Awake my glory! Awake O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn! I will give thanks to you O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations. For your steadfast love is great to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. Be exalted O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth! Psalm 57:8-11

He will restore my soul….

“I am the good shepherd.I know my own and my own know me.” John 10:14

Light bulb moment! I am still a sinner. To understand the depravity of one’s soul is good because it is the truth. And I do live in the knowledge that I am a sinner saved by grace. But sometimes God shines a spotlight on this truth for my sake, so that I may not grow stale in my dependence on his sanctifying grace.

My struggles over the last few weeks have brought my flaws and weaknesses front and center. I should not blame the circumstances that surrounded me because no matter how frustrating they were, they did not cause me to sin. I was the one who chose to respond in ways that did not glorify God. I was the one who allowed my love of self to win over love of others. With pursuit of excellence as my alibi, I threw patience and forbearance out the window. In favor of efficiency, I placed kindness in the back burner.

Green pastures and still waters in Glendalough, Ireland

“God, would you restore my soul?” I found myself pleading one early morning while battling a headache. You see, when we allow our arrogance to take over, we also rob ourselves of peace and joy. In the end, our reward is nothing but pain and weariness of the soul because rest always eludes the prideful.

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lay down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. ” Psalm 23:1-3

Thanks be to God for Jesus our Good Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep (John 10:11). Those who belong to him can never be snatched away from his hand (John 10:28-29). We may get lost along the way, but our Shepherd will always, always carry us and lead us back to the path of righteousness. But we need to be humble before him, who knows his sheep so well and calls each one by name (John 10:3).

I know that I will always need my Shepherd. As we grow in our faith and knowledge of him, we also grow in the realization of our absolute dependence on him. True spiritual maturity allows us to see that we can never shepherd ourselves. Hence we stand in awe of God’s goodness as we come to grasp, in an even deeper sense, how his grace truly sustains us moment by moment.

We have a Good Shepherd and I believe that he will restore my soul. The circumstances may not completely change for the better. Our struggles may not totally disappear, but we will not be crushed (2 Cor 4:8). Nothing shall keep our hearts from delighting in green pastures or resting by still waters because in Christ, we have everything we need to live according to God’s plan. The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.

In times of waiting, times of need
When I know loss, when I am weak
I know His grace will renew these days
The Lord is my salvation

(from The Lord is My Salvation, by Keith and Kristyn Getty)

The God who remembers…..

“It is he who remembered us in our low estate, for his steadfast love endures forever.” Psalm 136:23

Archive. It’s that function in my email that allows me to remove something – a message, an event, a reminder – from my Inbox yet keep it in my account, just in case I need to retrieve it later. Archiving protects the information from being deleted. Prior to digital storage, libraries were (and still are) the physical archives of historic materials and documents or practically anything that is deemed valuable enough to be preserved and not forgotten.

The Long Room, Trinity College Dublin, home of the Ancient Book of Kells

As a child, I imagined God to have a mind bigger than a library. How does he know everything, and how does he not forget? And those are two different skills, at least in the human brain where knowledge might be stored but retrieval of it may be a problem. Not so with God whose covenant of love lasts forever. He always remembers his people. He will never forget his children. Genesis 8 says he remembered Noah in the ark, and the waters subsided. He remembered Jacob’s wife Rachel who could not conceive, and her womb was opened (Genesis 30). The bible is full of stories about God remembering, loving, rescuing, not because people were worthy, but because he is God.

“But I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the LORD.” Leviticus 26:45

Unlike God, people forget. One of the most frustrating parts in the story of Joseph was when Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer, whose dream he graciously interpreted while they were in prison, forgot his promise that he will mention Joseph to Pharaoh once he was set free. Joseph’s request was simple. “Only remember me, when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house.” (Gen 40:14) “Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.” (Gen 40:23) How ungrateful! Yet, that is how I am, too. When it is well with me, I tend to forget that I owe everything to God, and that my entire existence was, is, and will always be absolutely dependent on him and his goodness.

On the contrary, my Father, who is a Perfect God, who does not need me at all, says he will never forget me. Isn’t HE amazing? “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:29-31

There are 200,000 books stored in the Old Library of Trinity College

His word says in Isaiah 49 that though a mom should forget the child that she nursed, God will never forget his people. He has engraved them (us) on the palms of his hands – the hands that created the universe; the hands that were nailed to the cross. The blood of Jesus sealed the new covenant. By his grace it will never be erased. By faith, I am his child, and I will never be forgotten. So when I come before him in prayer, I know that his Inbox is never too full to hear me, nor does he need to retrieve my file from an archived folder or a dusty shelf.

“The LORD has remembered us; he will bless us; he will bless the house of Israel; he will bless the house of Aaron; he will bless those who fear the Lord, both the small and the great.” Psalm 115:12-13

All, not some…

His divine power  has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.” 2 Peter 1:3

I do not know how to sew a garment. I can’t crochet or weave. Let’s just say that unless it’s a surgical needle, it doesn’t belong in my hands. But I’ve seen friends of mine create fabulous things from humble spools of thread. Moreover, I’ve been fascinated in my visits to historic mills that have made a mark in the weaving industry over centuries – places where fiber is transformed into lovely scarves, clothes, and tapestry.

Maison de Canuts, Lyon France

I came across this thread wheel at Maison de Canuts in Lyon, France and thought about how it contains ALL the materials necessary for what needs to be woven. Each thread simply has to go through the loom, to produce silk scarves. Nothing is missing from this wheel. It has EVERYTHING and ready to go (or weave).

The bible says God has given us ALL THINGS in Christ, to live a life that glorifies Him. When He says “Come follow me”, He gives us the strength to follow. When He says “Be holy,” He gives the grace to pursue holiness. 2 Peter 1:3 is a great big message of hope. I keep my eyes on this passage when the enemy tries to tell me that disobedience is inevitable because I do not have what it takes to live a godly life. It is true that on my own, there is no righteousness to speak of. But in Christ, my loving Father has given me ALL THINGS to live for Him. Not just some.. but ALL. There is no element lacking. My God did not forget anything. Everything simply needs to go through the loom of transformation.

In His loom, I am not the weaver. I am the one being woven. I don’t have the right or the knowledge to say I need more blue or I need less brown. Nor should I question why He put so much gray. My Designer, my Lord, knows what He is doing. I don’t. My role is to believe and trust.

Avoca Mill, Ireland’s oldest weaving mill, founded 1723

We’re talking about the God who made the universe and the Savior who loved (and continues to love) us enough to redeem us. Have we trusted in Him for salvation? Then we can trust Him for our sanctification. He has not left us without help. He sent forth His Spirit. In His loom, we behold His greatness and power as we yield to His wisdom in weaving our lives for His glory.

Silk scarves at Maison de Canuts

“And we all with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” 2 Cor 3:18

Isn’t this exciting? Sinful men and women shall walk in righteousness more and more each day. Rebellious children will embrace obedience because of God’s power at work. And when it is God who is at work, we know that He will never drop the ball (or the spool of thread). He never leaves a task unfinished.

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Phil 1:6

Finished products – wool scarves at Avoca Mill, Ireland

It all rests on the Vine…

Grapevine, Laurentia Vineyards

It’s grape season and I made some juice and jam from grapes that we picked recently. Grape-picking is fun (and easy). It’s an opportunity to not only admire the vineyards from afar but to actually walk in between rows of grapevines, armed with a pair of shears to snip bundles of sweet-smelling concord grapes. It is one of the few occasions that I would come that close to the vine. Close enough to pay attention and marvel at its strength, stability and sufficiency, as networks of branches with huge clusters of fruit emanate from it.

John 15:1 Jesus said I am the true vine and my Father is the vinedresser.

I am the true vine. Could it mean that there are false vines? Certainly we must have relied on some of them at some point, whether they be our own self, others or anything that is not Christ. I don’t mean we should never trust other people ever, but I believe that this passage, which is one of the most significant I AM declarations from our Savior, spoken shortly before his suffering and death, tells us clearly that we are absolutely dependent on Christ and the identity that we have been given is that of a branch attached to the vine. That is who we are. We can cling to our delusions that we can manage our lives as independent self-supporting vines; but this only leads us to a path of destruction. We cannot bear fruit apart from the vine.

“I am the vine you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”John 15:5

Grape clusters awaiting harvest

“Apart from me you can do nothing.” In an all about me society, I don’t think this quote from John 15:5 will sell very well as a bumper sticker or as a cover page of a yearly planner. I found myself in the stationery section of Home Goods not too long ago and I came across some planners for 2020 with “You Got This, Girl”, “Make Magic Happen Everyday”, “You are Awesome”, “She Believed She Could So She Did”, etc on the cover. I get the motive. People want to be positive, encouraging, uplifting. But as long as the focus is on the self, it is destined for failure. Good intentions must be based on truth. And the truth is, we are not the vine. Jesus is. We are not and will never be the source of life or strength. He is. We do not bear fruit by thinking positively or working efficiently because our fruitfulness depends entirely on who our vine is. Jesus didn’t say apart from him we can do little. He said apart from me you can do nothing. That moment of grace when our eyes are unblinded to this truth and the deceptive scales of self-sufficiency are shed off – that is perhaps one of the most pivotal moments in our Christian walk.

That Christ is our True Vine ought to give us comfort and courage. If we are unsettled by it or are doubtful of its power to change our lives, then we need to come to the vineyard of prayer. Maybe we have been admiring The Vine from a distance. Let’s come closer for a long hard gaze at Jesus Christ. Let’s study his word and listen as he speaks. Even common sense tells us it’s harder to hear from afar. We need to abide, to be attached, in order to receive the life that the True Vine alone can give. Like sap that flows from the vine to the branch (and never the other way around), his grace and truth will sustain us as we rest in him and we discover that there is indeed no better place. There is not a better Savior. The Vine that holds me loves me, and he is enough for me.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth,  visible and invisible whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:15-17 

Grabelsek Vineyards, Geneva, Ohio

The rain that keeps our hillsides green…

“Rain rain go away come again another day, little children want to play.”

A nursery rhyme taught me that rain is often unwanted. It robs us of the opportunity to enjoy the great big world of outdoor fun and pleasure. When one is on vacation, the prayer for good weather becomes even more a priority. And by good weather we usually mean only sunshine; no rain please.

Well, I just got back from Ireland where it rained at least fifty percent of the time while we were sightseeing. The locals say rainfall is normal not just at this time of the year, but pretty much all throughout the year. They tell us that rain is the reason for the lush green hillsides where sheep and cattle graze, that Ireland is known for. They don’t mind the rain that keeps their land fertile and productive.

Upper lake of Glendalough, Wicklow County, Ireland

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. ” Isaiah 55:10-11

God’s word is like rain – a powerful rain that accomplishes his purposes. Everything God says comes to pass. And in my life and my walk with him, growth and fruitfulness are ultimately impossible without the heart-changing power of his word. When he speaks, I must listen and drink from the well of scriptural truth that he so generously provides.

Many of us have gone through dry spells during which God seemed distant. I believe God has a purpose for taking our journeys through the desert (for even there, he is with us). But it is striking how in my spiritual desert, God almost consistently uses a downpour of his word to break the famine of my soul, and soak the parched soil of my heart with his grace and truth, that I may be fruitful again.

Wicklow Mountains, Ireland

Such is the love of Jesus, the Word Incarnate. He knows exactly what we need, and precisely when we need it. And in the wisdom of his love, he graciously pours unto us his life-giving word, which is always a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path (Psalm 119:105). In the security of his presence and with ears attuned to his word, we keep walking no matter how long and hard the trail may seem. Like the delightful folks of the Emerald Isle who know very well what it is that keeps their grass and foliage green, I, too, know and rejoice in the living water that sustains my soul.

Remember your word to your servant in which you have made me hope. This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.” Psalm 119:49-50

A much-needed dying…

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. Luke 9:23 ESV

Summer is winding down. I know this because I’ve used up the last of the blueberries that we picked this year to make lemon blueberry cake for friends who were coming over for dinner. Like previous summers, I’ve made good use of freshly-picked berries this year. I will miss them (and will have to resort to store-bought berries for a while) but I know they will be here again in abundance next year. That is what I hope for, although I do realize that only God knows how much fruit the next summer will bring.

Layered berry cake

Productivity is something that we all desire. A farmer doesn’t plant a seed and hopes that nothing grows from it. A fisherman doesn’t go out to sea with the intention of catching nothing. A retailer doesn’t open a store expecting to not sell anything. Using agriculture as a metaphor, God’s design for our lives reveals a paradox wherein death becomes a prerequisite for productivity. Contrary to what today’s motivational TED talks would say, a greater self-realization, or constant self-promotion, or a more strategic self-preservation are not the building blocks for productivity. Not according to God’s word.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:24 ESV

If it dies, it bears much fruit. This is radical. It shouldn’t surprise us though. We only have to look at the cross of Christ in order to see how radically different His ways are. As Christians we are quick to pray for much-needed strength, or much-needed healing, much-needed restoration, and much-needed transformation. But it all begins with a much-needed dying. Until I am convinced that I am absolutely nothing and that He is absolutely everything, self-righteousness will always weaken my walk with Him. Until I stop listening to the lie that there is something in me or in my life that is inherently my own and is worth preserving, I will never taste the security and satisfaction of having Christ alone. We need an ongoing daily death to the self-centered ways of the human heart that is prone to wander and worship lesser things. But lest we fall into the pit of legalism (again), to die to self is not an item to write in the believer’s to do list. We can not do it. (Shred that list now!) It was DONE by our Savior.

and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. 2 Cor 5:15

I am almost certain that there are those reading this who would prefer that I stuck with delicious topics such as berries and baking in my blogs. (Or they probably quit reading at paragraph #2). Outside of God’s grace the idea of dying in order to be fruitful is simply absurd. Sadly, even within the church body, many of us prefer to remain in a safe bubble that is moral and wholesome, but leaves no room for self-denial and self-sacrifice. The beauty of Christian community cannot be experienced when we are preoccupied with shielding ourselves from taking risks. When fear is our driving force, our longings are reduced to prayers for health and peace, while our witness remains powerless and our pursuit of holiness becomes nothing but a burden, because the radical love of Christ is not in it.

From a grain of wheat that dies in the ground, to the flour for the batter, to the cake on my plate – even an ordinary task prompts me to marvel at God’s MUCH GREATER idea – that fruitfulness happens only when we die and lose ourselves in Him. Until I see Him face to face, His work in my heart goes on. As John the Baptist said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:30 ESV I am not there yet but my hope is in Him who promised that“Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.”John 12:25 NLT

“God Hold us to that which drew us first, when the Cross was the attraction, and we wanted nothing else.” 
― Amy Carmichael, God’s Missionary