Part Two: The Joy of the Lord

Note: This is the second part of a two-part blog. Be sure to read Part One: The Least of These.

One of the reasons Manning’s discussion about love and “the least of these” pierced me so deeply and precisely is because I work for an organization focused on ministering to prisoners and their families. And in a few short days, I would leave for Honduras to encourage prisoners and our local partners in prison ministry as well as evaluate an evangelism program designed to introduce inmates to Jesus.

In the prison ministry context, we are notorious for citing Matthew 25:35-40, specifically verses 36 and 40. These verses are scriptural bedrocks to us.

‘I was in prison, and you came to Me. Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

You can imagine how ripe these verses were in my mind as I was reading through Manning’s Ragamuffin Gospel. Surely he isn’t speaking about me, though? After all, the “least of these” refers to those in prison, right? Or to those who are hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, and/or sick.

When I entered Tamara prison to meet with a group of inmates, I was oblivious to the blessing that was in store for me: the tangible expression of the joy of the Lord. What is the joy of the Lord, anyway? I recently heard it described as “Jesus Over You.” For now, let’s use this definition.

In a small room crowded with more than a dozen inmates, all of whom were elected spiritual leaders for their respective prison wings, I beheld Jesus over several of them. I slowly breathed in the rich and deep smiles, the enthusiasm for Jesus, and the pleasure for these inmates to share their knowledge of and experience with Christ. . .in prison. I listened to them attentively as my heart stirred to silence. Perhaps the most moving encounter was with a particular inmate sitting not far from me. When the opportunity presented itself, he shot up and said (in Spanish),

“I must tell you this story. I am a leader in the Segregation wing [one of several prison wings that house inmates]. Before this program, we were allowed only one hour of sunlight and were not permitted to mingle outside of our cells. Now, the authorities trust us. We have one half day of sunlight and we are allowed to mix with one another outside of our cells.”

He couldn’t wait to share with me, with all of us, what Jesus had done. How Jesus had impacted his life. The joy on his face was indescribable. You might think his joy was for the increased sunlight or additional human contact, but it wasn’t. It was Jesus and Jesus over him. In that moment, I realized that he is not the least of these. I am. And the joy he carried, I wanted.

It’s one thing to see the expression of joy outside the prison wall where liberty abounds. It’s another thing entirely to see it behind the wall, in one of the most dangerous prisons in Honduras, where fear and corruption rule. The joy of the Lord is evidenced on the faces of those who have not only learned to be content in their circumstances, but walk in those circumstances with Jesus all over them (Philippians 4:11). Did you expect to find Jesus so evident here? I didn’t, but I should have. He forsakes no one and redeems all who are willing to receive Him. Yes, this is outrageous and undignified love!

I thought God sent me to bless and encourage others. The truth is, I was blessed by the work of Jesus in and through a small group of men their society had locked away. There is no end to the love of Christ! God sent me from the land of liberty to a prison in Honduras and challenged me: what have you to fear? I am learning that I have nothing to fear in God’s perfect love. I have only to rest in Jesus over me.

Part One: The Least of These

Note: This is a two-part blog. Join me on a journey that passes through one of the largest (and most dangerous) prisons in Honduras.

I had a most unique and multifaceted experience in one of the largest prisons in Honduras. It was unique because I was in a prison. It was multi-faceted because the things of God are always filled with immeasurable depths and levels of understanding.

First, let me describe a spiritual encounter I experienced the week prior to my visit to Tamara prison. It was a Sunday, just like any other Sunday with one small exception. In the midst of prayer and worship, God revealed a deep rooted and hidden issue: fear. At the time it felt like terror! It sprung from depths I was unaware existed and daringly stared me in the face. What are you going to do with this fear? My initial response was denial and then as acceptance poured in, my tears poured out. I didn’t know it then, but God was in the process of replacing my fear with His love. We are still in process.

A few hours later, I confronted a deeper revelation of my struggle with fear. Such revelations are the Holy Spirit’s specialty and the danger of interior contemplation. But what a sweet reward it is when the spirit finds healing, peace, and growth. As my old friend G.I. Joe used to say, knowing is half the battle. The other half is what you do with the knowledge.

Obviously, my spirit was in prime reception mode (and high alert!) after acknowledging and (eventually) welcoming the work of the Holy Spirit. Emotionally weak and mentally overwhelmed, I picked up where I left off in Brennan Manning’s Ragamuffin Gospel, where for the third time—in two days!—the gentle and loving Presence of God softened my hard exterior and penetrated the depths of my heart.

Manning’s discussion was on the love of God and the necessity of the disciple to love others and to be loved. “The nature of God’s love for us is outrageous,” he says (p.172). It’s undignified and our love for others should be the same. Where does one start to love outrageously? Why, ourselves, of course! Quoting Carl Jung, Manning continues:

“[W]e are all familiar with the words of Jesus, ‘Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, that you do unto me.” Then Jung asks a probing question: ‘What if you discover the least of the brethren of Jesus, the one who needs your love the most, the one you can help the most by loving, the one to whom your love will be the most meaningful—what if you discovered that this least of the brethren of Jesus. . .is you?” (pp. 173-174).

Slow down. Just meditate on that for moment. What if the least of these—a reference we often assume refers to someone worse off than we are—is actually you? As I read those soul-searing words, I realized with great humility how in need I am of God’s love. Perfect love casts out fear. Again, just meditate on that in your life and circumstances.

So what does this have to do with a prison visit in Honduras? Find out in Part Two: The Joy of the Lord.

God Desires

In my pursuit of Christ, it has not ever been a stretch to acknowledge what God is capable of. In short, anything! I have a track record and stories to confirm the magnificence of God and His ability. Nothing is impossible for Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). What could be more exciting or revelatory? What could be more assuring than knowing God can do it? Whatever it is, God can do it. But will He?

Over the last fews years, I have started a new meditation focusing less on what God can do and more on what God desires to do. I recall a key moment in my exploration of divine healing where my eyes were opened to this deeper Truth. Truth — the capital “T” kind — is remarkable. What makes it remarkable is the progressive revealing of its depths. I never doubted that God could heal, that he was able to heal. In fact, I almost took it for granted that God heals the sick, the lame, the deaf, the blind. Of course He does! He’s God. Yet, in all those years of nearsighted acceptance of this Truth, it never occurred to me that He wants to heal.

incense-smokeWhat a difference it makes to distinguish between the ability of God and the desire of God. This seemingly minor exchange of words—ability for desire—is radically transforming my meditations, my prayer-life, my understanding of healing, my relationship with Father God, as well as my outward mindset.

The deeper I dive into this new notion of God’s desire the more certain I am of God’s love for me and the stronger my trust in Him becomes. It is as if in this meditative dance, our embrace strengthens and the space between us lessens. And as our spirits mingle in the delight of God’s desire, I find myself craving not only more of Him for me, but more of Him for others. How my heart breaks for those who feel excluded from God’s blessing! Who confess God’s ability but fall short of recognizing His unrestricted desire. It applies to all. Just as a parent desires the best for their child, when well-behaving or misbehaving, so God desires.

His desire to heal, to create, to bless, to prosper, to speak, to dance, to inhabit praises, to be present must not remain a secret or unrevealed Truth. The difference between seeking God for what He can do and seeking God for what He desires to do, is knowing who He is: Love. He doesn’t heal because He can. He heals because He loves. He doesn’t create because He can. He creates because He loves. And so on and so on.

Now, when I pray, I pray with the growing confidence of God’s love for me and for others.  Instead of pleading with God, “God, I know you can do it so please just do it,” I thank Him. “Thank you, Father God, for your love and your blessing. Thank you that you desire my health, my healing, my provision, my (insert need).”

Lastly, as I meditate on God’s desire, I also meditate on an equally profound promise. He chose me, and appointed me that I would go and bear fruit, and that my fruit would remain, so that whatever I ask of the Father in Jesus name He may give to me (John 15:16). Because He loves.

Who I am

67639I’d like to say that I don’t know how it happens. How I wake up one morning heavy under the weight of my past which slows my body and mind. But I do know how it happens. One day at a time. One negative thought at a time. Before I realize it I can barely move through the mud and muck of former actions and decisions. Sin. With sin, comes shame. With shame, comes a cycle of self defeating thoughts and eventual paralysis of the spirit.

Over the last few days I’ve been meditating on this cycle that impacts me so deeply mentally, physically, and spiritually. My beautiful, amazing, and inspiring partner reminded me that I have an arsenal of truth and power to battle negative thoughts and memories. I’m amazed how often I forget the power I wield. But I have a Helper, the Holy Spirit, sent by the Father, who reminds me of my peace, my position, and my power. I know who I am and I’m learning—remembering—who God says I am.

In a pit of negativity and subconscious thought, I spoke the need to atone for the sins of a past long gone. As this lie slipped from lips, I had an immediate encounter with Jesus. I have already atoned for your sin. Embrace what I have already done.

Truth brings freedom and freedom inspires worship and unhindered movement mentally, physically, and spiritually. Today, I remember how loved I am. I remember who I am and to Whom I belong. My sin, my past is forgotten. I am safe, whole, pure, and full of life magnificent! I am a daughter of God. The daughter of a Lion. The daughter of Love.

Hands

Living in PursuitAs I press deeper into the depths of Jesus, I am recognizing how much I compartmentalize God. As I study His human life, I am realizing how I deny God access to the mundane and ordinary aspects of my life (e.g. finances, employment, food, sleep, etc). I have a tendency to reserve Him for “spiritual moments.” Tsk, tsk. As if there is a moment in time that is not spiritual!

Oh the ways in which God speaks to His beloved! Yet, the sorrow that rises for the ways we discount His voice and attribute it to the natural or our own minds. Brother Lawrence, for those of you who know him, might instruct us that if we pursue unending communion with the Spirit, His voice will ring beautifully within and through us! I believe this whole-heartedly. In fact, my awareness of God’s desire to partner with me in life is growing by divine measure. However, there are also times the pursuit seems futile and spiritual senses are dulled. So it has been for me over the last week. How does one account for this? But God has been speaking ever so softly or I daresay despite my distracted and deaf ears.

In three Kingdom-moments–moments when the sacred and the natural visibly merge–the Living God has offered me three illustrations that I in turn offer to my readers.

  1. His Hands. I woke with a song. Perhaps you’ve heard that old country ballad, Daddy’s Hands. I haven’t heard it in years. As a young lass it always moved me with love for my earthly father. It still does and I promptly shared it with him! On this special morning as I woke with a song on my lips, I could hear my Heavenly Father singing to me. Remember My Hands when you have cried. Remember My Hands when My Spirit brought conviction. My Hands may not always seem gentle, but remember the Love of My Hands. After a week of praying for a Word, I broke for the expression of His Love. Joy immeasurable.
  2. My hands. The next day, He made a request of me. “Clinch your fists,” He said. I formed a small fist with each of my hands, fingernails digging in, knuckles white. Arms, shoulders, and back tightening. My whole body stiffening. “This represents your desire to cling to your circumstances. Your desire to solve your circumstances. Now, open your hands and release it to Me.” My mind and body relaxed. This is rest.
  3. His Hands. On the third day, He revealed His vast, strong hands atop my small, fragile hands. The Hands of God in tandem with mine. We must pause to breathe in the beauty of this image: A Father’s hands. Like a parent teaching a child to write or draw or a master craftsman teaching his apprentice, what love emerges from the hands on experience. What creativity is brought to life in the surrender of student to teacher. More than that, I am left with a new understanding of His nearness as He leads my open hands and whispers His encouragement and pleasure with me. Freedom.

I throw up my hands in surrender to the Living God and turn my whole being toward Him with a prayer of “let Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. The gates are open. The veil is torn. The Kingdom of God is here. Have your way in me.”

When I forget and my hands begin to clinch and my body tightens, may the Spirit bring these three Kingdom-moments to my memory. For with a closed grip, I can neither receive the friendship of God nor the friendship of another. I cannot offer my hands to help a neighbor in need. I cannot create. Worse, my hands are inaccessible to the will of God.

In a season of spiritual dryness, the words of God are Living Water. I feel revived. This is a gift of revelation and insight for myself and my circumstances. Still, I offer them to whomever else might need an encounter with the Hands of God. Remain in pursuit. Continue to seek the Lord or even wrestle for His blessing. His faithfulness is beyond our comprehension and for this I am thankful!

In Pursuit: Journey to Abandon

Note to Readers: As someone recently pointed out, it’s been several months since my last blog. Why, you ask? I’ve been writing my first book entitled, In Pursuit: Journey to Abandon. Look for it to hit the market in last spring/early summer 2014!! Now that my first draft of the manuscript is finished, I hope to share some “teasers” with you in the near future. Get ready!

As I am writing this book, I have been struck by the interest and reaction from those with whom I have shared the endeavor. They predictably pose two questions: 1. What is it about? 2. What is it called? Both are easy questions to answer as I have been meditating on this book and its contents for nearly 7 years. A better question might be, what took you so long?! In truth, though the story has been in development over these many years, the circumstances of my time, spiritual maturation, and conviction to write it have only just aligned.

Due to the consistency of these two questions and the subsequent reaction to my answers, I thought it prudent to offer explanation to my readers. To the first question of content, I generally reply, “it’s my story with Christ.” I confess I enjoy the humorous facial expressions that follow. They seem to imply, “what’s so special about you?” I often wonder if there is a further, unspoken question of my arrogance. After all, why write a book about yourself unless you want people to notice you. In truth, there is nothing special or remarkable about me. The story I tell is less about me and more about God. This is God’s story; His activity in and through me.

I grew up in Christ with the lovely description of God as the Author of our lives. He holds the pen and beautifully writes each page. These stories of God working in and through us are proof of hope, peace and life everlasting. According to the book of Revelation, they are also a great weapon against our spiritual enemy (reference Revelation 11-12). Lastly, I suggest that our stories with God are evidence of His existence and His love for every human being. Don’t believe me? I invite you to join me through the pages of this upcoming book to see His beauty and majesty alive and active in one woman’s life. My life.

To the second question, I chose the current title long before I started writing. However, noting the confusion regarding its meaning from those who inquired after it, I spent many hours in meditation determining whether or not it should change or remain. Ultimately, I chose to keep the original title for its depth and richness. I offer a detailed explanation of its meaning here.

Journey to AbandonIn Pursuit is a reference to my soul-ministry, the ministry of my heart and soul. The development of this personal and vocational ministry is explained in the last part of my book. In short, it is a lifestyle of living in pursuit of and for Christ while embracing His unending pursuit of us. Imagine Michelangelo’s detail of “God Touching Man” in the Sistine Chapel (a remarkable and profound work to see firsthand!!). I draw the image of this pursuit from Philippians 3:12 where the Apostle Paul declares that since he has not yet achieved the end, he “press[es] on so that [he] may lay hold of that for which also [he] was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.” What is the end or the proverbial it that is so desired by Paul? What is the “that” he desires to lay hold of? Simply, life with God, both in the now and the hereafter. Paul pursues the Presence of God as Christ Jesus first pursued him with the offer of access to the Living God.

The tagline of the book title, Journey to Abandon, evokes within me the depth of my pursuit as well as the means. Journey, of course, references the spiritual journey. It holds additional personal significance as I have traveled and trekked/backpacked all over the world. Many of you are no doubt familiar with the phrase, “it’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey.” There is more truth to this statement than I can adequately relay here!

My inquirers seem to understand the title with little explanation until we reach the word “abandon.” Here lies the point of greatest explanation as we are most accustom to using abandon as a verb that engenders a negative connotation. In this case, however, I use the word as a noun that beautifully describes both the purpose and delight of the creature (humankind) as well as the heart of the Creator.

According to my beloved MacBook Pro’s dictionary:

Noun

  1. give up completely (a course of action, a practice, or a way of thinking)
  2. cease to support or look after (someone); desert. . .leave (a place or vehicle) empty or uninhabited, without intending to return
  3. complete lack of inhibition or restraint

ORIGIN late Middle English: from Old French abandoner, from a-(from Latin ad ‘to, at’) + bandon ‘control,’ based on late Latin bannus, bannum (see ban1). The original sense was ‘bring under control,’ later ‘given to the control of, surrender to’. . . 

The second of these three definitions is perhaps the most common use of the word. Let’s consider definitions one and three and how they apply to us spiritually.

Living in abandon for God means giving up human perspective and drive (e.g. will, desires, hurts, offenses, pain, etc) and exchanging them for His. It is living without inhibition, living in freedom without restraint or obstacles that might keep us from pursuing God. Even better are the references to the origin of the word. Abandon for God is giving Him control, surrendering to Him, allowing Him to fulfill His plan of glory and greatness through our lives. It’s giving Him the pen along with the invitation to write. Another application worthy of consideration is God’s abandon for each of us. He comes after us without inhibition or restraint freely lavishing us with love and blessing, if we would but receive. The Scriptures are filled with stories of His love for us and His desire to fill us with abundant life. Truly, we were made for abandonment in the most positive sense of the word. Abandonment of our ourselves for God as well as His abandon for us.

There is hidden meaning in this title with significance only to me. Along my journey, my pursuit of Christ and His pursuit of me, I endured a season of abandonment, isolation, and loneliness. I was abandoned in the sense of the second definition above. It was through the seeming desertion of people I dearly loved, admired, and respected that I entered the city of Abandon, a new place, built and inhabited by the Presence of God. In this city, I reached new heights and depths of intimacy in Him. I let go of a false sense of identity to embrace a new, chosen identity in Christ. In the city of God, I thrive. I live a renewed, redeemed life rich in the grace of God. Here I am known and accepted as daughter. Abandon is my home. From here, I travel the world with a story to tell; a story of love and mercy; a story of God and my journey to abandon.

Though this book describes my journey to date, it is not my end. However, if it were to end today, I rest in the peaceful acknowledgment of a life well-lived and pleasing to God. His pleasure is not in what I have done or haven’t, in what I have accomplished or haven’t, but in His work and His accomplishment through the Cross. It is my honor to write of the love of God in my life. It is my hope and prayer that readers of this exciting journey will be inflamed with their own stories of God.

Write them down. Share them. Let your story be a mirror of God and an exclamation of His glory. Amen.

Thoughts on the Trail

There is a journey before us. A journey to Christ. A journey in Christ. Over the last few years, I’ve come to realize that life is more than the journey. Life and faith are about who accompanies us on the journey. Jesus. Even more, the knowledge that the path we follow is not futile engenders a new drive and motivation to persevere and pursue Life all the more. For where is life except in the presence of God? He is Life. Source and Sustainer. He is the journey.

A ministry, a lifestyle is birthing within me. Get ready! As Paul encourages the Philippians,

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-4).

I want my life to echo Paul: I live in pursuit of the One who pursues me. I press on no matter the trial or tribulation for there is a greater hope and a greater blessing.

I encourage all to join me. Let’s not focus on the trial, but focus on the trail God has set for us to walk upon. He has promised to plant our feet. We will not slip. We will not be swept away in the storm or burned in the fire. He will make the way level for us. Along the way, let’s stop to rest and admire the beauty of God’s Creation from mountain to mountain beholding the lushness of the valleys.

Live with me in pursuit of the One who pursues us!

I Am Jerusalem

As I often do when reading scripture, I immerse myself. I mentally and sometimes emotionally see myself in the scriptures. In other words, I dive into the words (no pun intended!). How does the verse or passage relate to me and/or my journey? What is God speaking? What would He have me see? Know?

Reading Psalm 79 the other day, I fell into the first verse! Want to come with me? The water is nice and warm!

O God, the nations have invaded Your inheritance;
They have defiled Your holy temple;
They have laid Jerusalem in ruins.

Under the Old Covenant, Jerusalem was the city that housed the Holy Temple (God’s dwelling place) and was often used synonymously with the Temple. In the New Covenant, the Apostle Paul tells us we are the temple of God (1 Corinthians 6:19).

You are Jerusalem. I am Jerusalem. I am a holy temple. God dwells within me. I am Jesus’s inheritance; the reason He surrendered His flesh on the cross. With this in mind, as I read the first verse, I was struck by its truth. The nations, that is, the world (or flesh or kingdom of darkness or the rulers, the powers, the world forces of this darkness, the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. . . Ephesians 6:12) has invaded God’s people, defiled us, and left us in ruins. That is, IF we continue to choose the world over our Savior.

We were/are all prisoners at some point. Jesus came to set us free!! To give liberty. So, I say yes to Him because He said yes to me. I cry for others as Asaph cried, “Let the groaning of the prisoner come before You; According to the greatness of Your power preserve those who are doomed to die” (Psalm 79:11). Give Life eternal!

Since reading this Psalm, a new song has been on my lips and in my heart: I am Jerusalem. God dwells in me. Below is my attempt to capture this song through a bit of prose.

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem
Holy City of God
Where the Divine dwells.

Dust blows through your ruins.
Dry bones and voices whisper of death.
The old has passed away.

Where is the new?
I look to men. I look to the earth. I look to the heavens.
Where, O where is Jerusalem?

“Shake yourself from the dust, rise up,
O captive Jerusalem;
Loose yourself from the chains around your neck. . .”

You are defended and saved for the sake of the Living God.
Man cannot rebuild. Only He.
You are chosen, ransomed, set free.

In Passion, the veil was torn.
Now You are with us, among us.
We are Your people.

Behold, You are making all things new.
Your glory fills the new Jerusalem.
I am alive with Your Presence.

Here, Your temple stands.
Dwell in me,
For I am Jerusalem.

No longer does sacrifice appease You.
Only a broken and contrite heart,
Humbly I offer.

Rebuild the ruins, O God.
Breathe into me.
I am Your Jerusalem.

Until I Enter the Sanctuary of God

 

There are times, as Asaph describes in Psalm 73, that I am a beast before God. Times when my heart is embittered with the world; when I am senseless and ignorant. Lost in my circumstance, I allow my emotions and thoughts to rule. Deeper and deeper I dig into the mud. Sometimes, my humanity is comfortable in the muck and despair. But it is not my home and I do not belong there. Sometimes it seems like a long journey home, but then I remember that home is not far. On the contrary, it is nearer than I can describe. Below is an image of my journey home from the storm.

I am in the storm. Overwhelmed by what is around me. In the chaos, my eye focuses on what I can see. On the temporary as opposed to the eternal. All strength leaves me as my heart becomes entrenched in despair. Shouting voices entice me toward the darkness. Accusing and pulling me in every direction. Pulling me downward. I am drowning in the wind and the rain, barely able to see the path before me. Does anyone see me?

Tired, weak, on my knees, crawling, covered in the grime of a kingdom that is not my own, I keep going knowing there is more. There is something or someone I have forgotten. There must be a way out. A way to shelter. Fighting the storm, I find myself at a door of decision. I know this door. I know to Whom it belongs.

Will He let me in? Do I knock? Will He recognize me as His own? Has He forgotten me? My King?

And then, I remember. I remember His promises. I remember His caress.  I long to be His and rest in His arms again. The choice is mine. Already on my knees, I bow my broken heart. I lift my arm to push open the door, but before I can, it swings open wide. The wind of Life blows over me pushing back the storm. I am in calm. His gentle eyes look upon me as He stoops to where I am. In His warm embrace, He carries me across the threshold into the sanctuary of God.

And then…Peace. I am lifted and strengthened. My vision restored. My heart softened. Faith fills me. The Divine consumes me. Cleans me. I am in safety. My perspective of all things changes. Hope and peace return; though truthfully, they never left me.

When I enter the sanctuary, I come home to the Presence of God and remember who I am. Beloved, eternally. I remember that “I am continually with You; You have taken hold of my right hand. With Your counsel You will guide me, And afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:23-26).

Until I enter the sanctuary of God, I am lost. Afraid. Confused. Blind. The cruelty and wickedness of the world frustrate me. The suffering of the innocent confounds me. The rejection unbearable. The isolation too much. But the sanctuary is not far; nor does it ever leave me. In truth, the sanctuary is always with me. It is within me. I need only close my eyes and say His name for He is never more than a whisper away. “The nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, That I may tell of all Your works” (Psalms 73:28).

As He Receives

We are accustom to associating “Christ-likeness” with sacrifice. Christ is the Great Giver. The One who put the needs of many above His own. The One who laid down His life, so that we all might live.

We have a tendency to elevate people who demonstrate such sacrificial lives and so we bestow upon them the title “Christ-like”. I wonder, are we so generous in our elevation of  the self-sacrificing because we regard asking for a service as a lack of humility? Or receiving a gift as selfish? I confess, I find it quite difficult to relate to or even maintain authentic relationship with one who gives and refuses to receive.

As we strive to follow Christ, we must look at all of Christ. Consider this: God asks. God receives.

God, who offered the greatest sacrifice, or Jesus, who was the greatest sacrifice — however you want to look at it — does more than give and bless. He also asks. He asks for and wonderfully receives our love, our gifts, and our service. Our gifts are not a means of earning, but being. Love, gifts, and service are the sweet fruit generated from being in His presence. It is relationship! He desires for us to engage in a beautiful relationship of giving and receiving. This is relationship’s heart, after all. It is reciprocity; albeit, not equality. Our love, gifts, and service will never match that which God so generously pours upon us. However, He still requires the gift of our hearts. Christ-likeness is giving and receiving.

Christ surely welcomes our meager sacrifices/gifts as if they were great works of art. He does not turn them away. He received from humanity when He walked the earth (money, food, service, assistance to carry the cross, etc) and He receives from us in heaven. In fact, I would suggest that He is eager to receive from us! I’m hesitant to say that God demands our love as that sounds too autocratic. Yet, we were made to love Him. Perhaps it is better to say that He patiently waits for us to love Him/serve Him as freely as He loves us. Can you imagine how He must rejoice when we give to Him from a heart of love?? How He must look upon us and say, “My child, thank you.”

Embrace this perspective! When you worship, whether it be through the Word or in music or in any other discipline, God looks upon you and says, “Thank you for loving me. It is your greatest gift to Me. I receive it – no strings attached.” Sometimes, He may even ask, “will you receive My Love for you?

As we strive to emulate Christ, let us not deny others from loving us, especially the Living God. Let us, instead, follow in His example of giving and receiving. Your greatest gift to someone may not be what you do, but what you receive. When you look upon those gifts from the heart, rather than turn them away at pride’s request, simply say, “thank you. I receive it.” Give as He gives; receive as He receives.