“Is God doing something new in your life?” was the question the leader asked in a group I was in recently. My friend Mindy, who is dealing with some difficult situations, responded. She told of needing patience with aging parents, stamina for her husband’s health issues, and understanding of her children and grandchildren who have not yet chosen to follow Jesus. Then she made an insightful comment that runs contrary to what we might normally think: “I believe the new thing God is doing is He’s expanding my capacity and opportunities to love.”
That fits nicely with the apostle Paul’s prayer for new believers in Thessalonica: “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else” (1 Thess. 3:12). He had taught them about Jesus but had to leave abruptly because of rioting (Acts 17:1–9). Now in his letter he encouraged them to continue to stand firm in their faith (1 Thess. 3:7–8). And he prayed that the Lord would increase their love for all.
During difficulties we often choose to complain and ask, Why? Or wonder, Why me? Another way to handle those times could be to ask the Lord to expand His love in our hearts and to help us take the new opportunities that come to love others.
The US Masters Golf Tournament began in 1934, and since then only three players have won it two years in a row. On April 10, 2016, it appeared that 22-year-old Jordan Spieth would become the fourth. But he faltered, on the last nine holes and finished in a tie for second. Despite his disappointing loss, Spieth was gracious toward tournament champion Danny Willett, congratulating him on his victory and on the birth of his first child, something “more important than golf.”
Writing in the New York Times, Karen Krouse said, “It takes grace to see the big picture so soon after having to sit through a trophy ceremony and watch someone else have his photograph taken.” Krouse continued, “Spieth’s ball-striking was off all week, but his character emerged unscathed.”
Paul urged the followers of Jesus in Colossae to “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Col. 4:5–6).
As those who have freely received God’s grace, it is our privilege and calling to demonstrate it in every situation of life—win or lose.
In her book Wearing God, author Lauren Winner says our clothes can silently communicate to others who we are. What we wear may indicate career, community or identity, moods, or social status. Think of a T-shirt with a slogan, a business suit, a uniform, or greasy jeans and what they might reveal. She writes, “. . . The idea that, as with a garment, Christians might wordlessly speak something of Jesus—is appealing.”
According to Paul, we can similarly wordlessly represent Christ. Romans 13:14 tells us to “clothe [ourselves] with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” What does this mean? When we become Christians, we take on Christ’s identity. We’re “children of God through faith” (Gal. 3:26–27). That’s our status. Yet each day we need to clothe ourselves in His character. We do this by striving to live for and to be more like Jesus, growing in godliness, love, and obedience and turning our back on the sins that once enslaved us
This growth in Christ is a result of the Holy Spirit working in us and our desire to be closer to Him through study of the Word, prayer, and time spent in fellowship with other Christians (John 14:26). When others look at our words and attitudes, what statement are we making about Christ?
Isn’t it endearing to see a child mimicking his parents? How often we’ve seen the young boy in a car seat, gripping his imaginary steering wheel intently while keeping a close eye on the driver to see what Daddy does next.
I remember doing the same thing when I was young. Nothing gave me greater pleasure than doing exactly what my dad did—and I’m sure he got an even bigger kick watching me copy his actions.
I would like to think God felt the same way when He saw His dearest Son doing exactly what the Father did—reaching out to the lost, helping the needy, and healing the sick. Jesus did “nothing by himself . . . only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (John 5:19).
We too are called to do the same—to “follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love” (Eph 5:1-2). As we continue growing to be more like Jesus, may we seek to love like the Father loves, forgive like He forgives, care like He cares, and live in ways that please Him. It is a delight to copy His actions, in the power of the Spirit, knowing that our reward is the affectionate, tender smile of a loving Father.
Recently, I switched rooms in the home I rent. This took longer than expected, because I didn’t want to simply transfer my (extensive) mess to a new room; I wanted a completely fresh and uncluttered start. After hours and hours of cleaning and sorting, bags of stuff sat by the front door to be thrown away, donated, or recycled. But at the end of this exhausting process was a beautiful room I was excited to spend time in.
My housecleaning project gave me a fresh perspective when reading 1 Peter 2:1, as paraphrased in The Message: “So, clean house! Make a clean sweep of malice and pretense, envy, and hurtful talk.” Interestingly, it’s after a joyful confession of their new life in Christ (1:1–12) that Peter urges them to throw away destructive habits (1:13–2:3). When our walk with the Lord feels cluttered and our love for others feels strained, this shouldn’t cause to question our salvation. We don’t change our lives to be saved, but because we are (1:23).
As real as our new life in Christ is, habits learned do not disappear overnight. So, on a daily basis, we need to “clean house,” throwing away all that prevents us from fully loving others (1:22) and growing (2:2). Then, in that new, clean space, we can experience the wonder of being freshly built (v. 4) by Christ’s power and life.
When I complained that a friend’s choices were leading her deeper into sin and how her actions affected me, the woman I prayed with weekly placed her hand over mine. “Let’s pray for all of us.”
I frowned. “All of us?”
“Yes,” she said. “Aren’t you the one who always says Jesus sets our standard of holiness, so we shouldn’t compare our sins to the sins of others?”
“That truth hurts a little,” I said, “but you’re right. My judgmental attitude and spiritual pride are no better or worse than her sins.”
“And by talking about your friend, we’re gossiping. So ----”
“We’re sinning.” I lowered my head. “Please, pray for us.”
In Luke 18, Jesus shared a parable about two men approaching the temple to pray in very different ways (vv. 9–14). Like the Pharisee, we can become trapped in a circle of comparing ourselves to other people. We can boast about ourselves (vv. 11–12) and live as though we have the right to judge and the responsibility or the power to change others.
But when we look to Jesus as our example of holy living and encounter His goodness firsthand, like the tax collector, our desperate need for God’s grace is magnified (v. 13). As we experience the Lord’s loving compassion and forgiveness personally, we’ll be forever changed and empowered to expect and extend mercy, not condemnation, to others.
They say we all have one: Doppelgangers some call them. Lookalikes. People unrelated to us who look very much like us.
Mine happens to be a star in the music field. When I attended one of his concerts, I got a lot of double takes from fellow fans during intermission. But alas, I am no James Taylor when it comes to singing and strumming a guitar. We just happen to look alike.
Who do you look like? As you ponder that question, reflect on 2 Corinthians 3:18, where Paul tells us that we “are being transformed into [the Lord’s] image.” As we seek to honor Jesus with our lives, one of our goals is to take on His image. Of course, this doesn’t mean we have to grow a beard and wear sandals—it means that the Holy Spirit helps us demonstrate Christlike characteristics in how we live. For example, in attitude (humility), in character (loving), and in compassion (coming alongside the down and out), we are to look like Jesus and imitate Him.
As we “contemplate the Lord’s glory,” by fixing our eyes on Jesus, we can grow more and more like Him. What an amazing thing it would be if people could observe us and say, “I see Jesus in you”!
The anti-God bumper stickers covering the car seized the attention of a university professor. As a former atheist himself, the professor thought perhaps the owner wanted to make believers angry. “The anger helps the atheist to justify his atheism,” he explained. Then he warned, “All too often, the atheist gets exactly what he is looking for.”
In recalling his own journey to faith, this professor noted the concern of a Christian friend who invited him to consider the truth of Christ. His friend’s “sense of urgency was conveyed without a trace of anger.” He never forgot the genuine respect and grace he received that day.
We who are believers in Jesus often take offense when others reject Him. But how does He feel about that rejection? Jesus constantly faced threats and hatred, yet He never took doubt about His deity personally. Once, when a village refused Him hospitality, James and John wanted instant retaliation. “Lord,” they asked, “do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” (Luke 9:54). Jesus didn’t see that as ministry, and He “turned and rebuked them” (v. 55). After all, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17).
It may surprise us to consider that God doesn’t need us to defend Him. He wants us to represent Him! That takes time, work, restraint, and love.
Author Rita Snowden tells a delightful story about visiting a small village in Dover, England. Sitting outside a café one afternoon enjoying a cup of tea, she became aware of a beautiful scent. Rita asked a waiter where it was coming from, and was told it was the people she could see passing by. Most of the villagers were employed at a nearby perfume factory. As they walked home, they carried the fragrance that permeated their clothes out into the street.
What a beautiful image of the Christian life! As the apostle Paul says, we are the aroma of Christ, spreading His fragrance everywhere (2 Cor. 2:15). Paul uses the image of a king returning from battle, his soldiers and captives in tow, wafting the smell of celebratory incense in the air, declaring the king’s greatness (v. 14).
According to Paul, we spread the aroma of Christ in two ways. First, we spread it through our words: telling others about the One who is beautiful. Second, through our lives: doing deeds of Christlike sacrifice (Eph. 5:1–2). While not everyone will appreciate the divine fragrance we share, it will bring life to many.
Rita Snowden caught a scent and was driven to seek its source. As we follow Jesus we too become permeated with His fragrance, and we carry His aroma into the streets through our words and deeds.