Gift Exchange

Every time I sit down to read or listen to Scripture lately, the word Beloved jumps out. Not some general greeting, not some non-descript hello, but “Beloved.”

I know there are a million other ways to address the reader, but right now, beloved is the way I am being addressed.

It’s made me wonder. What does it mean to be beloved? Is it more than being loved? Is it different? Why is this so important right now?

The verses that I have read are generally pieces of advice given to someone who is trying their best to follow God’s will.

            “Beloved, do not trust every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they are of God”

1 John 4: 1

            “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God.”

1 John 4:7

            “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another.”

1 John 4:11

These aren’t authoritative commands, but gentle guidance from a deep sense of devotion and love. They draw us in because they are safe. We are loved and loved dearly.

I love this tender, gracious approach. I don’t like being yelled at – I don’t think any of us do. Being reminded of how much I am loved allows me to listen more intently to the words that follow.

And still, I wondered what this was for. What was I supposed to do with this “Beloved” theme?

And then I heard the Gospel of Luke.

And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Luke 3:22

The love I felt in the verses I had read before helped this one verse jump off the page. “My beloved Son.” This is the one who was given for our sins. This is the one who would be brutally tortured and killed because we are so loved. Not a simple offering, but the best there was to give. God could have given us anything, but He gave His beloved Son.

What do we give to God in return?

In the Old Testament, people were called to sacrifice the “first fruits of their labor.” Their best grain, choicest animal, an unblemished lamb. Even now, we are asked to give best to God, not just our leftovers. 

Why? Why should we give our best to God? Why should we place Him first?

Today, it is simple. We place Him first because He placed us first. He gave His only beloved Son. If we accept and understand the gift, how could we not want to give our best in return?

Tell me, what do you give in return for the gift you have been given in Jesus? Have you ever thought about it that way?

Advertisements
Posted in Faith, Love | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Walking through fire

I stand in awe of the power of God, Karen May, Amayzing Graces
Photo – M. May

Have you ever wanted to be a superhero? When I was little, I had my answer at the ready in case I was ever asked what superpowers I wanted to have bestowed upon me. Because someone was going to ask.

I wanted to fly and have the ability to become invisible.

Not because I wanted to save the world, but because I wanted to fly to school rather than wait for the bus. I wanted to go into rooms and conversations that I wasn’t allowed to be in so I could get the inside scoop on whatever was going on. Looking back, it’s a good sign that I didn’t want to use them for evil and become a super-villain. I just wanted to be a super-regular-person, I guess.

I was reminded of my super-person longings when I heard these verses a couple weeks ago:

There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves … the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.

Luke 21: 25-28

Most of the time when I hear that passage, I only see the fearful roaring of the sea and the shaking of heaven, but this time I heard what we’re supposed to do when all of this chaos is happening.

Stand erect and raise your heads.

And just like that, I saw the superheroes. You know the ones – explosions everywhere, shrapnel falling like rain, people running from the mayhem, and in the middle of the chaos, they come striding through the fire ready to take it all on.

They don’t run away in fear, they walk into the fray knowing that they have the power to overcome all of it.

That’s us! Can you see it? I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it in the story of Father Walter Cizsek in He Leadeth Me. He survived WWII concentration camps followed by another imprisonment in Russian gulags with the grace and strength that could only come from faith. I’ve seen it in the lives of friends confronted with a serious illness or injury, walking through the fires and explosions that seem to erupt on every side with a peace that surpasses all understanding.

This is who we are called to be – Stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand. We have this superpower. We just have to remember it.

Posted in Be Not Afraid, Faith | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Saying Yes

If He asked, we could walk on water, Karen May, Amayzing Graces
Photo: @thoughtful_camera

I want to say YES to God. Really I do. If He asks something of me, I want to do it without hesitation, without reservation, and without arguing.

But that’s not what I do. Probably half the time, I want to say YES but I get stuck on some part of it that I don’t like, can’t do well, or don’t believe I have the ability to do.

It’s frustrating because I know deeply that doing what God asks always works out and works out well. So how do I quit arguing?

I think part of it is listening just a little longer. Maybe even asking a question or two. Even Mary asked the angel Gabriel how this whole pregnancy thing was going to work out. She already knew the mechanics, and this new plan didn’t seem to fit the description, right?

So she asked. I’m sure she had many scenarios in her mind, and I’m even more sure that what actually happened wasn’t one of them.

So often when I am struggling with a YES after discerning that what I am hearing is actually what God is asking of me, I am looking too closely at what I can’t do. Mary asked, “How can this be?” not out of disbelief, but out of curiosity and willingness to follow whatever the plan might be.

I ask, “How can this be?” with an incredulous laugh on my lips, wondering if I got someone else’s plan because this one sure doesn’t seem to fit. I look at my weakness or my inability, rather than looking at the strengths and gifts I have that will fulfill that calling in a unique and special way.

I think that might be the key to breaking through this resistance. Listen for the call. When you hear the whisper or see the bolt of lightning, ask, “How can this be?” Then listen for the perfect way God has for you to fulfill His will as only you can.

It’s much easier to say YES to that, don’t you think?

Posted in Be Not Afraid, Faith, prayer | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

What is Your True Identity?

Have you ever wondered what it means that we are made in the image of God?

An image is a reflection or a representation of something else. If we are made in the image of God, then we have to wonder – what do we reflect? What do we represent? What is God’s image? Once we know the answers to these questions, we can try to reflect this image more clearly, don’t you think?

I have found a few clues that may help us out:

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God lives in him.

1 John 4:16

Love one another as I have loved you.

John 13:34

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Matthew 22:37-39

At the core, God is love. Pure, unmitigated, life-giving love. It is reflected in the existence of the Trinity – The Father and the Son whose love for each other is so strong it brings the Holy Spirit into existence.

Our very being is designed in this image. We are to love, and only then are we fully human. And this love is meant to give life and blessing to everyone around us.

But how do we love? What if we are called to love someone we feel is pretty unlovable?

I think the answer to that is in the verse from 1 John 4:19 – “We love because He first loved us.” Once we have truly experienced God’s love for us or each time we rediscover it, we are able to reflect that love much more freely. In fact, it’s almost impossible not to. When you see how beloved you truly are, not only in spite of your shortcomings but because of them, it’s so much easier to give that love to others.

When I look at others and ask why I should love them, it’s a much different question than when I ask what that person needs in order to feel loved. When it’s about me, love is really going in the wrong direction anyway. When it’s about them, it ends up filling us both.

God’s funny that way, isn’t He?

Posted in Faith, Love | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Searching for treasure

trust-that-the-treasure-we-look-for-is-hidden-in-the-ground-on-which-we-stand-henri-nouwen-karen-may-amayzing-graces-hidden-treasure
Photo: B Pedretti

We were driving across a featureless landscape for a long time, looking for anything interesting to see on the hike we were planning. There was nothing in sight and our destination was near.

Suddenly, the ground fell away and exploded into hues of gold, red, purple, pink, and yellow. The breathtaking beauty of the canyon was hidden from view on the surface, even though the brilliance within seemed to fill the world once we were there.

As we come to the end of the Christmas season, putting away the decorations, finishing the Christmas desserts and candies, and returning to our regular playlists, we celebrate the visit of the Magi to the child, Jesus, and I am reminded of hidden treasures like the canyon we found.

It seems wise enough to follow a star to witness the birth of a new king, especially the king of heaven. But, at the time of Jesus’ birth, this treasure was not so easily seen.

The three Magi were clearly coming to find the King of the Jews – they stopped in Herod’s court to inquire about the whereabouts of the birth. But when you think about it, this has little to no chance of being a significant event.

The Jews were a conquered people – one of many cultures living under the shadow of Rome. They were a non-entity and an overpowered people, yet the wise men came to honor the newborn King and offer their treasure.

I wonder how often we miss treasured opportunities because they don’t look like what we expect. How often do we turn back because we don’t see how close we are to our destination? How often is a stunning moment of encounter with Jesus is missed because it is surrounded by failure or difficulty?

Have you ever found a treasure in an unexpected way? What did you find?

Posted in Faith | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

What’s in a word?

We love because He first loved us, 1 John 4:19, Karen May, Amayzing Graces

Have you chosen your word for the year?

I haven’t really gotten into this before, but this year I have a word that has been coming up for the last month or so. I don’t know if this will be my word for the year or my word for right now, but it’s clearly a significant word.

It’s been leaping off pages as I read and listen to Scripture.

Beloved: See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. And so we are … Beloved, we are God’s children now… Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence in God and receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.

1 John 3:1-2, 21

Beloved.

Not just loved, but beloved. Not just my being beloved, but those in my life I hold close in my heart as my beloveds. Knowing how much I am loved and being able to return that love in ways that make doing God’s will easy and filled with a deep and resonant joy.

I’m not sure how else this will play out, but I’m sure I will let you know.

Tell me. Do you have a word for the year, or even for right now? Is God whispering it in your ear or announcing from the rooftops?

Posted in Love | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Resolutions and Reflections

Happy New Year, Karen May, Amayzing Graces

What a year it has been. I was talking with my family last night at dinner and we couldn’t believe that some of the things we were reminiscing about had happened in the last year. So many things to be proud of, to be happy for, and to learn from.

I’d like to hear what you think about the last year and the one that has just begun.

What is something you are proud of or that made you happy in the last year?

What is God inviting you to for this coming year? (This could turn into a resolution, but I think it’s much easier to accept an invitation than a demand and isn’t that basically what God does with us anyway?)

Have a happy and blessed new year!

Posted in Faith | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Merry Christmas!

Christmas, Christ the Savior is born, Advent, Karen May, Amayzing Graces

The wait is over. May your heart be filled with the arrival of Jesus in a new and beautiful way.

Have a very merry and blessed Christmas. I’ll be back after the New Year!

Posted in Advent, Christmas | Tagged | Leave a comment

Born

Born, Advent, Karen May, Amayzing Graces

When we had our first child, my husband and I wondered how we would know what to do as our daughter grew older. We had no idea what to do with a ten-year-old, much less a teenager. Fortunately, she didn’t come to us as a teenager, she came as a baby, needing only to be fed, held, comforted, and frequently changed. We could grow along with her, and we did.

Jesus will come to us tomorrow in much the same way. A tiny baby, needing little more from us than our attention and our time.

The wait is almost over. We have journeyed throughout this Advent with the Holy Family from the announcement of the angel Gabriel, to the elation of John and Elizabeth, to the frustration of the census, to this quiet, beautiful moment on the eve of Jesus’ birth.

We don’t need to know what to do when our faith grows in maturity or depth. We only need to be where we are and grow day by day.

Let’s start there. I’m sure Jesus is happy to grow with us.

Posted in Advent, Be Not Afraid, Christmas, Faith | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sheltered

Sheltered, Advent, Karen May, Amayzing Graces

Finally, a place to rest.

Mary and Joseph, having found no room for them in Bethlehem, settle into a stable for the night. It’s not a great option. It’s not even a good option, but it was shelter and would do.

I have to wonder if they complained at first. I’m pretty sure I would, but then again, I might be grateful to have found anything at all. Nothing is very comfortable when you are nine months pregnant, so I think everyone could give Mary a little space to complain. She probably didn’t.

Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.

Luke 2:19

Even as lowly as their lodgings were, don’t you wonder what Mary was thinking? So often, I have found that most of figuring out God’s plan is following along, reflecting on things as they happen, and looking back when it’s all accomplished. There is a lot of peace in that approach because even when things seem to be going wrong, we know that it isn’t necessarily so.

This shelter was clearly not typical, so I think Mary may have had a clue that there was something else happening here.

This was all a part of the plan. The King of the World didn’t arrive in a castle or a mansion. He arrived in a stable. No guards, no court, no royalty surrounding Him. Nothing blocking anyone from access to Him. No one was too lowly to approach. No one was so insignificant that they aren’t worth Jesus’ company and love.

We can go to the stable, it doesn’t matter who we are, how much we earn, what we do, or what we have done. It just matters that we go.

Go.

Posted in Advent, Christmas, Love | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment