Replenish My Lists

Galatians 5:22-23

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Christmas is all about lists. For the last many weekends I’ve announced lists of events our church is doing throughout Advent, ending with a killer list of eight big Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services in four different locations in three cities. Bam! Lists at Christmas can be a life saver. I don’t know how we’d do Christmas without lists. I suspect, however, that these same lists might be the bane of Christmas. The lists we make up and check off to save our holiday (holy day) might be ruining it instead.

We wake up every morning during this season wondering what we have to do today. What’s next on my list? My kids each made long, specific, pricey lists of every item, in order of earth-shattering importance, they want for Christmas. Shannon has a shopping list she is working from today: Cyber Monday. She’s prepared to go to battle. Forget the new “Star Wars: Battlefront” or other violent online gaming platforms; today it’s “Store Wars: Battlefront.” The virtual body count will be higher than ever. Her screen-lit squinting eyes and stoney (but still very pretty) face will tell the tale. The blurry, machine gun tapping of her fingers on the keyboard will be driven by the power of… The List.

Paul listed qualities associated with the Holy Spirit in Galatians. Christians often hear these as items on yet another list, but they are not meant to be received this way. They are not fruits (plural) of the Spirit; they are words describing one thing: the Fruit (singular) of the Holy Spirit. One Spirit. One Fruit. Lots of amazing features to this one fruit, and Paul’s point is that none of them are unlawful. The bigger point is that we ought to live in and by the power of God, the Holy Spirit, and not by any religious list of laws we try to keep to earn favor with God.

The Lord can replenish Advent and Christmas for me, if I see it as one thing. It is not about the anxiety-producing amount of items and events on my many lists. It is about one thing: the birth of Jesus Christ into this world and into my heart. Lists are fine, but I can misplace or ignore them and still have Christmas. Really, I can. The one thing I need to make sure I don’t misplace or ignore is not a thing after all, but Jesus Christ Himself. Amen.

 

Replenish

Jeremiah 31:25

For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.”

Welcome to Advent 2015! Replenish is my title for this year’s Advent blog-devotional. It’s also the dream for my life… and I might guess that it is at least approaching this for you. Replenish used to mean “fill,” but now most see it as meaning “refill.” Either way is fine with me. How about you?

I love this verse from Jeremiah. This is God saying that He will be the satisfier of the weary soul as well as the replenisher of the languishing soul. Amen. The message of Christmas, the meaning of the birth of the Son of God, is that all that sin took from us, Jesus will restore, by God’s design, through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.

Human beings need the equivalent of gas gauges installed on the back of their hands. When you see that your car needs gas, your priority is to get it refilled. Our hearts become empty, but sometimes we are not aware of it. The gauge might help. If you had one, what would it say? Are you full, half-full, or running on fumes? In this verse from Jeremiah we see that God has His part (to satisfy and replenish), but we also have ours. Our part is to know our own souls; we are to know when we are weary or languishing. Do you? Are you?

May God satisfy your weary soul; may He replenish your languishing soul.

 

Gratitude and Identity

600+ grateful people. That’s my guess at attendance last night. And, for all 600+ of us, our hearts were even fuller. We had a packed-in-every-way, one-hour service with John Waller and Josh Stewart leading worship. Most years I’ve been a pastor we’ve had about 100 people come out, or maybe 125, or maybe 75. So, it was a surprise. It reminded me that…

  • Gratitude is a great source of energy.
  • Gratitude is like the sun; it warms up everything it touches.
  • Gratitude makes things come alive.
  • Gratitude cleans up the mess left by resentment.
  • Today the country rests, gets together, eats, remembers the past, and watches TV coverage of football and people standing outside watching balloons and marching bands go by… all because of gratitude.
  • Gratitude is a sign that something’s gone right.
  • Gratitude is the soul’s way of taking a deep breath.
  • Gratitude is a choice. 100% of us have 100% access to gratitude 100% of the time.
  • Gratitude is not something I get from someone else, but it has its own way of being contagious.
  • Gratitude changes the way I look at people.
  • Gratitude changes my identity. That’s how it works. I can’t be superficially grateful. I can’t be grateful merely on the level of my behavior; it has to go to the heart of my beliefs. It either goes all the way into how I see myself, or it doesn’t take. Look closely at these famous words from Philippians 4:4-7 (ESV)…

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

I have to be grateful rather than anxious. Gratitude is not something I can do until grateful is something I am. The Lord is the only one who can change us this way on the inside. May you and yours overflow with the blessings of gratitude from and for Him today!

Songs of Thanksgiving

Sometimes thanksgiving is a discipline. When resentment comes easy, gratitude can seem out of reach. That’s when we need to try to see some purpose in our trials. Tonight, the text for our Thanksgiving Eve service (at 7:30pm in Montgomery with John Waller leading worship) is Jeremiah 30:18-22. It was written in 587 BC to encourage God’s people the next year, 586 BC, as they experienced the prophesied destruction of Jerusalem. So… this leads me to a question. Why couldn’t God just not have the whole thing happen? If He knew it would be so hard as to merit a special “book of consolation” – which is what Jeremiah 30-33 is called – then why didn’t He just skip it? Why not skip all death and destruction while we’re at it? Why not skip the cross especially? Just wave Your God-wand, Lord, and set things right.

But He won’t…ever…do this. We won’t always know why, but sometimes we can point to the fact that pain has divine purpose. It teaches and refines us. We leave its grip shaped into something of greater value to God. Shannon and I are “sandwiched,” as they say: now bound to the full-time care of my mom in our home with our kids. Many people go through much worse, but things like this feel unending, whatever the scale. This is a big part of the challenge. So, it’s never a waste of time to ask, “Why are we doing this?” Suddenly, the question leads us to think about my mom’s quality of life, as we work to help her regain what her strokes have taken from her. The grind becomes ennobled. The hours of extra time with her every day do not feel lost, but rather redeemed. Perspective, in God’s eyes, is more important than and influences experience. Thanksgiving is a holiday of perspective. May ours be changed, I pray. May we all see the divine purpose behind whatever is painful for us. Amen.