The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. Galatians 5:6
A picture of God’s love from Mike Mason’s The Gospel According to Job:
“Love is not bait for the gospel; love is the gospel. Love is not a means towards some end; love is means and end together. . . In the Kingdom of God nothing moves, nothing happens, without love. In churches many things happen because of human goals, programs, bureaucratic necessity, idealism, private fantasy, or neurosis. But it is not so with God. God has no plan, no program, no agenda except love. That is why He had no other recourse but to send us His only Son Jesus Christ, who on the one hand loved God His Father with a perfect love, and who on the other hand loved mankind no less. These were the two hands that were stretched wide on Calvary. . .This is the dreadful, fearsome love of God, the love that will never let us go.” Mike Mason
Experience God’s love this Christmas.
In a town of David, not so near to spring, At the heart of love, there came a lovely thing. Straw Against the Chill, Bob Franke
In love a throne will be established – Isaiah 16:5
Join us for three readings to remind us of God’s love for us as we move toward Christmas . First, the amazing Madeleine L’Engle captures an image of love:
In my mind’s ear I can hear God saying to God, “Can I do it? Do I love them that much? Can I leave my galaxies, my solar systems, can I leave the hydrogen clouds and the birthing stars and the journeyings of comets, can I leave all that I have made, give it all up, and become a tiny, unknowing seed in the belly of a young girl? Do I love them that much? Do I have to do that in order to show them what it is to be human?” Yes! The answer on our part is a grateful Alleluia! Amen! God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son…” -Penguins and Golden Calves, Madeleine L’Engle
Can you look at Christmas this year as a gift of love?
What does the Bible say about gratitude? Here are some of our favorite verses.
Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name. 1 Chronicles 29:14
That my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever! Psalm 30:12
I will thank you in the great congregation; in the mighty throng I will praise you. Psalm 35:18
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! Psalm 100:4
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Psalm 107:1
And you will say in that day: “Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted.” Isaiah 12:4-5
The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it 1 Corinthians 11:23
But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:57
Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! 2 Corinthians 9:15
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, Philippians 1:3
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. Colossians 2:6-7
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17
Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. Colossians 4:2
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:18
I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers Philemon 1:4
Let us be silent that we may hear the whispers of God. Ralph Waldo Emerson
But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. Luke 5:16
In contemporary society our Adversary majors in these things: noise, hurry, and crowds. If he can keep us engaged in “muchness” and “manyness” he will rest satisfied. . .
In the midst of an exceedingly busy ministry Jesus made a habit of withdrawing to “a lonely place apart.” He did this not just to be away from people, but so he could be with God. What did Jesus do time after time in those deserted hills? He sought out his heavenly Father; he listened to him. And he beckons us to do the same.Richard Foster, The Celebration of Discipline
Can we take time to get away to a lonely place? Why is it so difficult?
Let us be silent that we may hear the whispers of God. Ralph Waldo Emerson
How do you hear from God? Fenelon writes that God speaks in whispers. Can we be silent long enough to hear from Him?
Don’t listen to your self-nature. Self-love whispers in one ear and God whispers in the other. The first is restless, bold, eager, and reckless; the other is simple, peaceful, and speaks but a few words in a mild, gentle voice. As soon as you listen to the loud voice of self you will not hear the soft tones of holy love. Each speaks only of one thing. Self-love speaks only of self—it never gets enough attention . . .
God’s love, on the other hand, whispers that self should be forgotten—counted as nothing so that God might be all. God wants to completely fill you and unite himself to you. Let the vain, complaining babble of self-love be silenced so that in the stillness of the heart you may listen to the love of God. Fenelon, The Seeking Heart
What do you think? Does God speak to us?
Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. Hosea 2:14
According to Merriam-Webster surrender means: to agree to stop fighting, hiding, resisting, etc., because you know that you will not win or succeed. to give the control or use of (something) to someone else.
One morning in a coffee shop in Madison Georgia we met to discuss our next writing project and faced a moment of surrender. Not a waving the white flag kind of moment but a sinking into the acceptance of God’s will. Were we going to be all in for God with our writing? In our faith journey we must reach that point of no return with God, “to stop fighting, hiding, resisting, etc.”
After writing children’s books for twenty years – writing hard, striving pushing, promoting – the success was good and sweet. Just the letters from children alone were worth the effort. When we started The Shepherd’s Song we had never written a book for adults – all our manuscripts had been less than 100 pages long. All of our contacts in publishing were in the children’s world. Writing a book for adults seemed a little ill-advised and crazy.
We had written down the title. We had discussed the idea. We fought it at first. But the idea sat before us on a piece of paper on the table of the coffee shop. Beside the paper an open Bible turned to Psalm 23.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. Ps 23:1
The very words that prompted our idea challenged us as writers. Could we believe God’s promises in the psalm? Sometimes our first reaction to a calling from God is fear and resistance. “We can’t” “We have never” “There’s no way” We said all those things but as we let go of our resistance and surrendered to the idea, the fear was replaced by excitement.
Try to give your agenda to God. Keep saying, ‘Your will be done, not mine.’ Give every part of your heart and your time to God and let God tell you what to do, where to go, when and how to respond. God does not want you to destroy yourself. Exhaustion, burnout, and depression are not signs that you are doing God’s will. God is gentle and loving. God desires to give you a deep sense of safety in God’s love. Once you have allowed yourself to experience that love fully, you will be better able to discern who you are being sent to in God’s name. Henri Nouwen
By the next day we had each completed drafts of one of the first stories of the book. When we surrender we can let go of fear and accept any outcome.
In the surrender of any work there is a moment of fear, a moment of resistance, then a moment of relinquishing and finally the excitement and joy and peace. We have that peace as we move forward in our work trusting God and surrendering to His will. Surrender removes the fear of failure.
Can you relate to this issue of surrender? Where do you struggle with it?
Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.
I Corinthians 13:12
There’s something magical about seeing your work published – and you never know when that moment of joy will come. You stroll out to your mailbox one day, not expecting anything special; and voilà, there it is. You rip it open and beam with joy. After all that work, lots of ups and downs, struggles and triumphs, your initial idea has been transformed, and you are face to face with your words in print.
When we first begin a new writing project we are filled with excitement and hope and promise. We have no idea what the finished product will look like, but we eagerly rewrite, get critiques, rewrite again and again – all the while watching a transformation take place. We eventually pass it on to an editor and illustrator, where more transformation occurs. Then eventually, it is finished.
The Shepherd’s Song was like this. When the idea came, we did not know what the final book would look like. We had to have faith that our work would be shaped and used by God. We got glimpses of the final book along the way. First the printed pages. Then the cover art. The bound galley. A jacket proof. Finally face to face we held the book.
The Christian life too, is filled with ups and downs, struggles and triumphs, joys and sorrows. Like a book, our lives are being written, edited and transformed. We start with great excitement and hope and promise; then transformation begins. It’s hard work, but slowly we are transformed more and more to the image of Christ.
Best of all, there is a moment coming when all the work will be done, and we will see our Savior face to face. It is hard to imagine what such a moment will be like – the magnification of joy and awe and wonder.
Our experiences in this world teach us about God, and transform us more and more into His image.
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
Not to us, LORD, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.
There’s a question we should ask ourselves at the beginning of each creative endeavor: a painting, a musical piece, a book, a meal for our families, a fingerpainting project with the kids.
The question is: “Why?” Why are we making it, singing it, sewing it, cooking it, writing it?
The Shepherd’s Song dedication page has only three letters: SDG. But those three letters represent so much to us. The letters stand for the Latin term, Soli Deo Gloria, which means Glory to God Alone. Artists like Bach and Handel wrote these letters on their work to show that the work was created for the purpose of praising God.
In the creation of their compositions they found meaning and purpose by dedicating their work to God for His glory. It changed their work from earthly work to holy work.
To God alone belongs the glory.
We can ask the same question about all of our creative efforts. Are they for God’s glory or for our own glory? What is the intent of our hearts as we paint and write and cook and care for others?
If we can add those three letters, any work becomes holy work.
What difference does is make if our goal in all our endeavors is God’s glory? What do you think?