Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Romans 12:1
The weeks after Christmas are the busiest time of year in the US for merchandise returns as people trade unwanted gifts for what they really want. Yet you probably know a few people who always seem to give the perfect gift. How do they know just what another person values and what is right for the occasion? The key to successful gift-giving is not money; it’s listening to others and taking a personal interest in what they enjoy and appreciate.
This is true for family and friends. But what about God? Is there anything meaningful or valuable that we can give to God? Is there anything He doesn’t already have?
Romans 11:33–36, a song of praise to God for His great wisdom, knowledge, and glory, is followed by a call to give ourselves to Him. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (12:1). Instead of being shaped by the world around us, we are to be “transformed by the renewing of [our] mind” (v. 2).
What’s the best gift we can give to God today? In gratitude, humility, and love we can give ourselves completely to Him—heart, mind, and will. It’s just what the Lord is longing to receive from each of us.
The day before my husband was to return home from a business trip my son said, “Mom! I want Daddy to come home.” I asked him why, expecting him to say something about the presents his daddy usually brings back or that he missed playing ball with him. But with solemn seriousness he answered, “I want him to come back because I love him!”
His answer made me think about our Lord and His promise to come back. “I am coming soon,” Jesus says (Rev. 22:20). I long for His return, but why do I want Him to come back? Is it because I will be in His presence, away from sickness and death? Is it because I am tired of living in a difficult world? Or is it just because when you’ve loved Him so much of your life, when He has shared your tears and your laughter, when He has been more real than anybody else, you want to be with Him forever?
I’m glad my son misses his daddy when he’s away. It would be terrible if he didn’t care at all about his return or if he thought it would interfere with his plans. How do we feel about our Lord’s return? Let us long for that day earnestly and passionately. Let us long for that day passionately, and earnestly say, “Lord, come back! We love You.”
Love does more than make “the world go round,” as an old song says. It also makes us immensely vulnerable. From time to time, we may say to ourselves: “Why love when others do not show appreciation?” or “Why love and open myself up to hurt?” But the apostle Paul gives a clear and simple reason to pursue love: “These three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. Follow the way of love” (1 Cor. 13:13–14:1).
“Love is an activity, the essential activity of God himself,” writes Bible commentator C. K. Barrett, “and when men love either Him or their fellow-men, they are doing (however imperfectly) what God does.” And God is pleased when we act like Him.
To begin following the way of love, think about how you might live out the characteristics listed in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. For example, how can I show my child the same patience God shows me? How can I show kindness and respect for my parents? What does it mean to look out for the interests of others when I am at work? When something good happens to my friend, do I rejoice with her or am I envious?
As we “follow the way of love,” we’ll find ourselves often turning to God, the source of love, and to Jesus, the greatest example of love. Only then will we gain a deeper knowledge of what true love is and find the strength to love others like God loves us.
Each year on June 18 the great Battle of Waterloo is recalled in what is now Belgium. On that day in 1815, Napoleon’s French army was defeated by a multinational force commanded by the Duke of Wellington. Since then, the phrase “to meet your Waterloo” has come to mean “to be defeated by someone who is too strong for you or by a problem that is too difficult for you.”
When it comes to our spiritual lives, some people feel that ultimate failure is inevitable and it’s only a matter of time until each of us will “meet our Waterloo.” But John refuted that pessimistic view when he wrote to followers of Jesus: “Everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4).
John weaves this theme of spiritual victory throughout his first letter as he urges us not to love the things this world offers, which will soon fade away (2:15-17). Instead, we are to love and please God, “And this is what he promised us—eternal life” (2:25).
While we may have ups and downs in life, and even some battles that feel like defeats, the ultimate victory is ours in Christ as we trust in His power.
Like others in the blogging community, I’d never met the man known to us as BruceC. Yet when his wife posted a note to the group to let us know that her husband had died, a string of responses from distant places showed we all knew we had lost a friend.
BruceC had often opened his heart to us. He talked freely about his concern for others and what was important to him. Many of us felt like we knew him. We would miss the gentle wisdom that came from his years in law enforcement and his faith in Christ.
In recalling our online conversations with BruceC, I gained a renewed appreciation for words written by a first-century witness of Jesus. In the first New Testament letter the apostle Peter wrote to readers scattered throughout the Roman Empire, “Though you have not seen [Christ], you love him” (1 Pet. 1:8).
Peter, as a personal friend of Jesus, was writing to people who had only heard about the One who had given them reason for so much hope in the middle of their troubles. Yet, as a part of the larger community of believers, they loved Him. They knew that at the price of His own life, He had brought them into the everlasting family of God.
When my husband was 18 years old, he started a car-cleaning business. He rented a garage, hired helpers, and created advertising brochures. The business prospered. His intention was to sell it and use the proceeds to pay for college, so he was thrilled when a buyer expressed interest. After some negotiations, it seemed that the transaction would happen. But at the last minute, the deal collapsed. It wouldn’t be until several months later that his plan to sell the business would succeed.
It’s normal to be disappointed when God’s timing and design for our lives do not match our expectations. When David wanted to build the Lord’s temple, he had the right motives, the leadership ability, and the resources. Yet God said he could not undertake the project because he had killed too many people in battle (1 Chron. 22:8).
David could have shaken his fist at the sky in anger. He could have pouted or plowed ahead with his own plans. But he humbly said, “Who am I, Lord God . . . that you have brought me this far?” (17:16). David went on to praise God and affirm his devotion to Him. He valued his relationship with God more than his ambition.
What is more important—achieving our hopes and dreams, or our love for God?
A journalist had a quirky habit of not using blue pens. So when his colleague asked him if he needed anything from the store, he asked for some pens. “But not blue pens,” he said. “I don’t want blue pens. I don’t like blue. Blue is too heavy. So please purchase 12 ballpoint pens for me—anything but blue!” The next day his colleague passed him the pens—and they were all blue. When asked to explain, he said, “You kept saying ‘blue, blue.’ That’s the word that left the deepest impression!” The journalist’s use of repetition had an effect, but not the one he desired.
Moses, the lawgiver of Israel, also used repetition in his requests to his people. More than 30 times he urged his people to remain true to the law of their God. Yet the result was the opposite of what he asked for. He told them that obedience would lead them to life and prosperity, but disobedience would lead to destruction (Deut. 30:15-18).
When we love God, we want to walk in His ways not because we fear the consequences but because it is our joy to please the One we love. That’s a good word to remember.
After my husband underwent heart surgery, I spent an anxious night by his hospital bed. Mid-morning, I remembered a scheduled haircut. “I’ll have to cancel,” I said, raking my fingers distractedly through my straggly hair.
“Mom, just wash your face and go to your appointment,” my daughter said.
“No, no,” I insisted. “It doesn’t matter. I need to be here.”
“I’ll stay,” Rosie said. “Self-care, Mom. . . . Self-care. You’re of more use to Dad if you take care of yourself.”
Moses was wearing himself out serving alone as judge over the Israelites. Jethro cautioned his son-in-law Moses: “You will only wear [yourself] out. The work is too heavy . . . you cannot handle it alone” (Ex. 18:18). He then explained ways that Moses could delegate his work and share his heavy load with others.
Though it may seem paradoxical for the Christian, self-care is essential for a healthy life (Matt. 22:37-39; Eph. 5:29-30). Yes, we must love God first and love others as well, but we also need to get adequate rest to renew our body and spirit. Sometimes self-care means stepping away and graciously allowing others to help us with our burdens.
Jesus often slipped away to rest and pray (Mark 6:30-32). When we follow His example, we will be more effective in our relationships and better able to give care to others.
When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and then to shepherds with good news for the world (Luke 1:26-27; 2:10), was it good news to this teenage girl? Perhaps Mary was thinking: How do I explain my pregnancy to my family? Will my fiancé Joseph call off the betrothal? What will the townspeople say? Even if my life is spared, how will I survive as a mother all alone?
When Joseph learned about Mary’s pregnancy, he was troubled. He had three options. Go ahead with the marriage, divorce her publicly and allow her to be publicly scorned, or break off the engagement quietly. Joseph chose option three, but God intervened. He told Joseph in a dream, “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:20).
For Mary and Joseph, Christmas began with submitting themselves to God in spite of the unthinkable emotional challenges before them. They entrusted themselves to God and in doing so demonstrated for us the promise of 1 John 2:5: “If anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them.”
May God’s love fill our hearts this Christmas season—and every day—as we walk with Him.