Taking Inventory

When I was in high school, I worked in the toy department of a large department store. Twice a year, we prepared for an outside firm to take inventory. We worked with these teams to count every item on the shelves, and I do mean every item. We even included incomplete or damaged toys and games to ensure everything was counted.

Today I use the concept of taking inventory in other areas of life. For example, before I head out to the supermarket, I examine the pantry and the refrigerator to determine what we need. On those occasions when I forget this important step, the result is too many of some groceries and not enough of others.

What was good for the toy department and for my pantry is also good for my spiritual life. I need to take inventory on a regular basis to evaluate my spiritual condition. The end of one year and the beginning of another seems to be the right time to ask myself some pointed questions. This week I am…

Taking stock:

Proverbs 27:23 tells us to “Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds.” In biblical times, wealth was often measured by the size of one’s flocks and herds.

Today we usually measure wealth by the size of our bank accounts. But true wealth has nothing to do with counting dollars. So I will be asking myself:

  • How have I grown in my relationship with the Lord this past year?
  • Which fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) have I cultivated?
  • How have my earthly relationships grown and developed?

Checking up:

Psalm 139:23 gives us a glimpse into King David’s heart as he pleaded with God: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.”

It’s natural to want to avoid dealing with unpleasant things. But some things must be dealt with or the consequences will be worse than the confrontation! I may not want to face the areas of my life that require changing, but I do want to be all God desires for me to be. This means asking:

  • What habits from the old year am I dragging into the new year?
  • What bitterness or resentment do I need to let go?
  • Who do I need to forgive before the new year begins?

Planning for the new year:

Proverbs 16:3 admonishes us, “Commit your works to the Lord and your plans will be established.”

Like many people, I live a busy life. Without plans and lists, my schedule would soon fall apart. But I also want to be sensitive to God’s plans for me, because I know He has them! Jeremiah 29:11 reminds me, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” In order to be available for what God desires for me, I am asking myself:

  • Am I serving where I want to serve or where God has called me to serve?
  • How tightly am I holding on to my own agenda and ambitions?
  • How much flexibility is there is my calendar? Am I open to God’s interruptions?

One year from now, I hope to be doing this exercise again. It’s my prayer that I will not have wasted the time God extended to me.

What questions are you asking yourself as this year ends and the new year begins?

All You Need is Love…Not!

In 1967, the Beatles had a hit with their song, “All You Need is Love.” That song became a theme for the 60s and 70s. Love is all the world needed to solve its problems, or so the song claimed.

About that time another refrain became popular: “God is love.” It’s one of the few Bible verses quoted with regularity by those who aren’t even sure God exists…but if He exists at all, He must be love. From there it’s a small step to claiming that since God is love, nobody will go to hell because a loving God would never let that happen.

Even parts of the Bible seems to support these statements. We read in I John 4, “God is love” (v. 8, 16), and “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment” (v. 18).

So is it true that our loving God will not punish us for our sin? Not so fast…

We sometimes forget that God is not just love, He is holy, too. His attributes can never be separated. Love and holiness. Someone once said that the love of God cannot accept what the holiness of God cannot tolerate. All the love in the universe will never make up for the stench of our sin that rises to a holy God.

There is a coming judgment. It’s not politically correct to say so, but John wrote in that same passage, “This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus” (v. 17). It’s not love that spares us from judgment, it’s what love did that spares us from judgment.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17).

Love gave. Love gave.

Love reached down in the person of Jesus Christ, stepped into the darkness of a creation marred by sin, and paid the price for our sin.

God is love…and we don’t have to face the judgment that awaits all sin. Because God became a baby in a manger who grew up to be a man on a cross, we need never fear again. The perfect love of God – the perfect love that is God – has cast out fear forever.

This is why I can say with a full heart,

Merry Christmas!

Are you celebrating this Christmas with the assurance that you have responded to God’s love?

Tidings of Joy

How joyful are you feeling right now? Yes, joyful. Are you rejoicing this Christmas season?

No? Not so happy about the long lines in the stores, the extra traffic on the road, the additional expenses resulting in more month left at the end of the money? But it’s Christmas! Joy to the world. God rest ye merry, gentlemen. Tidings of comfort and joy. Or not.

Some say the rational, intelligent thing to do is to face reality, put aside the manufactured holiday happiness sold in the big box stores, and realize that our messy world is reason enough to wipe the grins off our faces.

They’re right.

The world is a mess. We can’t purchase happiness in the gift aisle of Walmart. And walking around with permanent grins plastered on our faces will label us naïve and oblivious to reality.

But joy is not the same as happiness. Joy is not dependent on the calendar or the number of gifts under the tree or the state of current events. Joy is the fruit of a life that confidently trusts God’s sovereignty and understands that He is in control, despite appearances.

Joy is not found in circumstances, it is found in God Himself. He is our joy and our delight (Psalm 43:3-4). Joy springs from the knowledge that God has provided for our greatest need – the need to be restored to Him.

When the angel proclaimed Jesus’ birth to the shepherds, he introduced his news by saying, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10). This good news was the announcement of the birth of the Savior – the Messiah – who would save us from our sins.

I love everything about the Christmas season. Even the long lines, the traffic, and the organized chaos that typifies the month of December cannot diminish my joy in knowing that Christmas is not a holiday. It’s a birthday – the birthday of my Savior. Happiness is found in happenings, but joy is found in Jesus. No one can take Him – or my joy – away from me.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!

How can you reflect the joy of your salvation this Christmas season?

A Piece of Peace?

There have been times in my life when I wished I had more peace. Ever felt that way…like you know God gives you peace, but sometimes you just don’t have enough?

The problem with wishing for more peace is that it implies peace is a commodity – something we receive in measured amounts. But peace is not a product to be purchased or an item packaged in a bag or box.

Peace is also not merely the absence of violence. It’s not just a lack of noise. And it’s not only freedom from disagreement.

Peace is a Person. More than 2,700 years ago, Isaiah wrote of the coming of One who is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). The Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, entered this world of sin and discord for one purpose. He came to reconcile us to God – to restore a relationship broken by sin. The Prince of Peace came so we might have peace with God, with ourselves, and with others.

It’s not a matter of having more peace. Either we have itHim – or we don’t. There’s no continuum moving from little to more to much. So when we find ourselves wishing for more peace, perhaps we should ask ourselves a few questions:

Am I at peace with God?
Have you ever known the peace of being reconciled to God? If not, then celebrate this Christmas by giving yourself the best gift possible – the assurance that you belong to your heavenly Father through the gift of the Prince of Peace.

Am I at peace with myself?
If peace with ourselves is something that’s dependent on our circumstances, then even though we’ve been reconciled to God, we may not be fully benefiting from His peace. Anxiousness, fear, and discouragement are indications that we are viewing God from the perspective of our circumstances instead of viewing our circumstances from God’s perspective.

Am I at peace with others?
Even while we were enemies of God, He gave His Son for us. We probably won’t ever be asked to sacrifice our children for our enemies (aren’t you glad of that?). However, God does ask us to extend mercy to others, to look beyond our own hurts to be His hands and feet and heart to a world that needs to know Him.

Peace – it’s a gift that can only come from the One who is peace. Anything else is a poor imitation. Don’t settle for a piece of peace. This Christmas – and every day of the year – enjoy God’s precious gift of the Prince of Peace.

How did you answer these three questions?
Are you content with your answers?

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