Monday, December 16, 2013

The Costly Gift

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.  1John 3.16


 Can you imagine what it must have been like for God the Father to see His ONLY Son as a tiny helpless baby in a feeding trough!  To be separated from Him in a way He had never been before.  The communion of the God head was altered for a moment in time.


What love there must be in the heart of the Father to choose this separation!


But this was only the beginning, in just a few short years the Father would experience complete and utter separation as He turned His face away from His dying Son.


See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  (1John 3.1)


This great elaborate love plan was all for us!  So that we might be His. 


Children of the King!  Heirs of the Kingdom!  Hidden with Christ in God!  (Colossians 3.3-4)


So why as God’s children do we struggle to love each other?  Why are we so unwilling to lay down our desires, our plans, and our wants for our fellow Christians.  Why are we so often self-focused, petty and unforgiving?


Jesus set the example.  He refused to hold onto His equality with God the Father.  He was humble, servant-minded and willingly gave up His divine privileges. 


When we hold onto wrongs done to us, refuse to forgive and live as though it’s all about us, we cheapen the gift.  We denigrate the sacrifice.  We belittle the price that was paid for us.
As we welcome family and friends into our home this Christmas Season, let us love like Jesus loves.  Do you have a mother-in-law who is difficult to love, a daughter's boyfriend that get's on your nerves or a spouse that is running roughshod over you? 
Let us cast off our pride and pick up the mantle of love and grace, especially for those around us who are hard to love.  That's what Jesus did for us!  How can we do anything less?


Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  John 4.11


Lord, I confess that it is easy to say I love You and then turn around and mistreat my brother or sister in Christ. It’s not what I say but what I do that proves my love for You.  Forgive my self-centeredness, my penchant to hold onto wrongs done to me.  Give me a heart of forgiveness and love.  May what I say and the way I live be a true reflection of You.  Amen.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Will this Be the Year?

Silent night, Holy night
All is calm, all is bright . . .

The night of Jesus’ birth was anything but silent.  People flooded the streets of Bethlehem as they returned to their ancestral home to obey the decree by Caesar Augustus.  Mary and Joseph weren’t the only ones who couldn’t find lodging in Bethlehem.  The inns were bursting at the seams.  Many found themselves sleeping on the street, in alleyways or anywhere that might offer a little shelter from the elements.  Did business owners wanting to cash in on this influx of visitors, keep their establishments open late into the night? Was the darkness filled with raucous laughter, wild bar fights and general mayhem?


Did anyone hear a teenage girl screaming in the early hours of the morning as she gave birth?  Did anyone notice a mangy lot of shepherds tramping through the town on their way to see this baby miracle?


The Son of God slipped into our world unnoticed and unsung (except to a few insignificant, unimportant men).  There were no trumpets to herald the king's birth, no luxurious linens to wrap His new born body in and no doting relatives to rejoice in His coming.


But heaven knew! 


Was there a silent, holy hush as the angels watched this incredible phenomenon? Did heaven hold its breath as this God-baby was born, only to burst out in song, laughter and joy to a lowly group of men on a hillside?


How similar are worlds are. . .  the preoccupation, distractedness, busyness, noise and mayhem of life.


We celebrate the birth of the Christ-child every year but it’s often so filled with other things that we barely stop to recognize who we’re really throwing the party for.


There’s the cookies to bake, the presents to buy and the relatives to visit.  The school programs to attend, church events to serve at, and work parties to show up for.  There are family traditions to maintain, decorations inside and out to put up and the list goes on and on.


And God is left on the doorstep as we welcome family and friends with arms wide open, as we unwrap gifts, eat platefuls of goodies and bow down to the materialism all around us.


Is there a holy hush as heaven hold's it’s breath to see if this is the year that we remember. . . if this is the year that we will welcome Jesus in, sit in the silence of His presence and celebrate the extravagant, enormous, unconditional gift of LOVE? 


 Will this be the year we halt the chaos and embrace the SILENCE, the PEACE, and the JOY?


. . . Because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home.  He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee.  He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.


And while they were there the time came for her baby to be born.  She gave birth to her first child, a son.  She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.


That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep.  Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them.  They were terrified, but the angel reassured them.  “Don’t be afraid!” he said.  “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.  The Savior – yes, the Messiah, the Lord – has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!  And you will recognize him by this sign; You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”   Luke 2.4-12 (NLT)


Sunday, December 1, 2013


The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.  Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.  For no word from God will ever fail.”   Luke 1.35-37 (NIV)

Have you ever speculated what it must have been like for Mary to have an angel tell her that she was going to have a baby? 

I wonder if Mary felt like she’d stepped into the twilight zone.  One day she is going about her normal teenage duties and the next she’s had an encounter with an angel that will change the course of her life forever!

In the blink of an eye, an angel’s appearance, a few shocking words and her world was turned upside down. 

Did Mary replay the angel’s conversation in her head over and over?  Did she press her hand against her stomach and wonder if there was a life already inside of her?  Did she rehearse what she would say to her parents when they discovered that she was pregnant?  Did she wonder if she had really had a conversation with an angel or if she was just going crazy?

 In the midst of her questions, did it dawn on her that someone else was in a similar unexpected situation?  Could it be that was the reason why the angel had told her about Elizabeth?

God knew that Mary needed a friend, someone who knew and understood, with no explanations needed.  He knew she needed validation, someone to affirm what God had said to her, so he sent her to Elizabeth.  He gave her a lifeline in her world of upheaval and change.

God throws us lifelines as well . . .  in the form of other believers.  But do we grab onto them or set them aside because it feels too risky.  We're too afraid. 

He created us to need each other, to find support and encouragement, validation and care.  It’s God’s design.  Friendships can be messy, difficult and challenging but they’re worth the risk.

Remember, God never intended for you to walk alone!

Heavenly Father,

Relationships can be hard, disappointing and difficult.  I find it easier to withdraw and go it alone but that’s not Your desire for me.  Help me to see beyond myself, to reach out and take the risk because it’s Your plan for me and I trust You. Amen.  

Sunday, November 24, 2013

How Bright is Your Light?


This past week I was having a discussion with a friend of mine and she told me about a satellite image taken at night of the earth that she had seen.  She explained that countries in Europe and America were lit up like a Christmas tree but places in China and North Korea were completely dark.  It was no surprise at all that those countries would be light and dark. 

As my friend explained the picture she saw, I couldn’t help but wonder . . . 
If we were to take a spiritual satellite image of our world, where would it be light and dark?  Would the light and darkness be switched?  Would North Korea be ablaze and America and Europe be dark as night? 


What if we were to take a spiritual image of my church?  Would people be blinded by the light of many believers gathering together or would our light even be apparent?


If anyone claims, “I am living in the light,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is still living in darkness. Anyone who loves another brother or sister is living in the light and does not cause others to stumble. But anyone who hates another brother or sister is still living and walking in darkness. Such a person does not know the way to go, having been blinded by the darkness. 1 John 2.9-11


And I took it a little further when I read this passage . . . I wondered how bright my light would be.  Would it be glowing brightly enough for others to see or  for a satellite to pick up on? Or would it be a dull radiance that was barely perceived? 


In the verses just before these John talks about knowing God.


“If I say, “I know God,” but don’t obey Him, I’m not living in the truth.” (I’m living in darkness - my addition) 1 John 2.4 


I believe many of us know ABOUT God.  We know about God like we know about our favorite actor, singer or band member.  We’ve prided ourselves on all the facts and statistics we know about God, we’ve loaded up on knowledge about Him through Bible studies, sermons and books about the Bible but have neglected to develop an intimate, personal, knowing relationship with Him.  We can spout verses, quote challenging messages but neglect to live in obedience; living self-centered, self-serving lives.  And our light?  It isn’t light at all – it’s really darkness.


Jason Crabb wrote a song ("Living Life Upside Down") that has some really haunting lyrics.   

What if we’ve fallen into the bottom of the well
Thinking we’ve risen to the top of a mountain
What if we’re knocking at the gates of hell
Thinking we’re heaven bound
And What if we spend our lives thinking of ourselves
When we should have been thinking of each other
What if we reach up and touch the ground
To find we’re living life, upside down

What if we think we’re shining brightly but we’re really living in darkness? 


How can we really know?  John tells us . . . by evaluating the way we live.  Is our life just meaningless words or are we living what we say we believe? 


When we live in obedience our light will shine so brightly that the darkness won’t be able to contain it! 
How bright is your light?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Take Your Cue from Fear and Trust God

I spent the first eight and a half years of my life in the beautiful state of Alaska.  My family lived fifty miles from the nearest town and a mile down a dirt road, off the Alaska Highway.  We had those old crank phones.  We never locked our doors.  About the only thing I feared was coming up on a bear while playing in the woods.  It truly was a wonderful place to grow up!

However, that all changed when we packed up our belongings and moved to California.  We settled into a tiny home on a busy street with cars roaring up and down at all hours of the day and night.  I would awaken in the night, gripped with fear thinking someone had invaded our house only to realize it was just the furnace coming on.  
My world was turned upside down.  


Fear stalked me like a lion seeking prey, ready to pounce at any moment. It was a paralyzing terror that threatened to overwhelm me, especially in the dark hours of the night. 


One day my mom shared a verse with me to encourage me in my struggle and it became my mantra. 


. . .  When I am afraid, I will put my trust in you.  Psalm 56.3


I would lay in my bed, saying this verse over and over and over.  Hoping that it would magically remove the fear in my heart and let me sleep.  Even though I quoted this verse endlessly, it never quite seemed to work.  My fear was just as palpable as before. 

I thought those words were magic.  That if I said them in just the right way, with just the right inflection than my fear would be gone.   I believed that these were the code words to release me from my fear.   

 God’s words aren’t “magic” but they are TRUTH. 

I was missing something and that “something” was my action.  It’s not enough just to say the words over and over.  I needed to replace my fear with Trust.  I needed to believe it, act on it, and live it.


Trust takes practice.  It's hard work and it never comes easy.


It’s easy to fear.  It’s easy to take control.  It’s easy to be self-focused.


A few years ago, I once again, found myself living in world of fear with my children.  I was consumed with anxiety over what they were doing and what they would become.  The more control I took the more out of control I felt.  I was overwhelmed.  In that place of fear, God asked me to surrender them to Him; to let go of the control and trust Him.  As I pried my fingers off the lives of my children and learned to release them to Him, God filled me with His perfect peace.


Over the years, I have had to surrender them over and over to the God who loves them even more than I do.  It hasn’t been easy.  Truthfully, it’s been a lot of hard work because I have a tendency to take them back again and again.  But as I’ve worked on this area of trust, it has gotten easier, and I respond quicker. 

Once again, I’m faced with dread as my son heads off to Afghanistan with the military.  I can let fear invade my life and stalk me like a lion or I can choose to Trust. 

I know that in the upcoming months it will be easy to let fear raise its ugly head in life.  But fear is God’s reminder to me to trust Him.


I no longer need to quote words from the Bible with my fingers crossed hoping that they work.  I choose to take God at His word and trust Him with my children, my life and my salvation. 


How about you?  Are you living in a world of fear?  Are you LIVING by trust or by anxiety and worry?


Let fear be your cue to TRUST!


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Streams in the Wasteland

I have been on a journey of prayer and fasting for the past forty days.  It has been a powerful experience in my life.  My expectations of what God would do and what He actually has done are in stark contrast with one another.   I haven’t had huge momentous mind blowing moments but as I look back on these days, I see God reforming me.  Remaking me.

Isaiah 43.18-19 (NIV) says, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a NEW thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” 

God is doing a NEW thing, in my life, as I learn to sit in His presence and wait on Him.  If you had asked me before all this happened if I had a prayer life I would’ve unequivocally said, “YES!”   

But as I’ve traveled this road of waiting and stillness, I have sensed that my prayer life has been a wasteland of distraction, confusion, and disillusionment.  It’s been too easy to let other things take precedence (even good things).  It’s been too easy to let doubt creep in and keep me from falling on my knees before God.  It’s been too easy to allow busyness to overthrow my life and never carve out moments to sit in His presence. 

These forty days have compelled me to forge new habits, instill new practices and change old behaviors.   

I find myself falling to my knees on a regular basis, turning off the radio in the car and spending time with Him in the stillness and quietness of my drive.  I carve out time when I’m the busiest to meet with Him, knowing that I need Him most in those moments.  I wake up and invite God into my day and on it goes.  What was I doing before?  So much wasted time!  So much squandered energy!  

BUT, God is doing a NEW thing in my life.  It is springing up out of the wasteland of my feeble prayer life.   
Isn’t that what God does best?   The impossible!  Life from death.  Hope from despair.  Joy from sorrow.   Beauty from ashes. 
Have you made bad decisions that have left your life a wasteland?  Are you sitting in the ruins of a wasted life wondering if there is any hope?  Take heart!   
God is the God of the impossible!  Nothing is too big for Him.  
“Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history.  Be alert, be present.  I’m about to do something brand-new.  It’s bursting out!  Don’t you see it?  There it is!  I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands.”                        (Isaiah 43.18-19 MSG)
He is doing a NEW thing!  Do you perceive it?   

Lord, give us eyes to see!  Ears to hear!  Feet that will follow!  And hearts open to the work of Your surgeon hands.  May we never forget what You have done.  May we continue to follow in Your ways. Keep us faithful to the end.  Amen.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Difficult Path

Have you ever made a decision that you prayed about and felt strongly that it was where God was leading you only to experience difficulty after difficulty once you made the decision?  Maybe you felt strongly that you should switch jobs but when you did you got let go just months later?  Maybe you purchased a car and had the transmission blow just weeks after you got it?


It's so easy to wonder . . . Did I hear God right?  I must’ve made a mistake and stepped out of the “will of God”.


Nehemiah could so easily have questioned if he had made the right choice to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls.  It seemed smooth sailing at first.  He had asked the king if he could go and the king heartily agreed and sent him with supplies and a cavalry for protection.  But once he arrived in Jerusalem he faced difficulty after difficulty.  First it was the enemy from outside the walls of Jerusalem and then it was from those who were within the walls.  How exhausted and weary he must have become and how easy it would’ve been for him to wonder if he’d made the right decision.  But he didn’t!  He stayed focused on the task that he believed God had called him to and he let nothing deviate him from it.


Why do we allow hardship and struggle to eat away at our faith?  Why do we question God’s will when we face heartache and difficulty?


Could it be that we believe that if we’re in the “will of God” that are path will be smooth?  Do we secretly believe that God is our great Santa-in-the-Sky and if we somehow are able to discern what He wants than all will be well?  Are we trying to make God into our image?


Who can know the will of God?  We can!  The Bible clearly states what God’s will is for us.


So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. 
Romans 12.1-2 (MSG)


We get so focused on our own comfort and ease that we neglect what God is really calling us to – a life devoted to Him.


Nehemiah kept his heart and mind focused on God.  He was in relationship with him.  He sought God every step of the way and so for Nehemiah, the path was clear, even though it was littered with difficulty.  He knew where to step.  He saw God’s hand and He trusted.


Are you disillusioned because you thought you were doing what God wanted you to do and facing opposition at every turn?  Have you taken your eyes off what you should be focusing on – your God, not your circumstances. 

Seek Him.  Trust Him.  Don’t turn away.  God is in the mess.  He is using the heartache, struggles and difficulties to deepen your faith and make you stronger. 


If you were to look back at your life and measure the times of spiritual growth, you will most likely find that the times of greatest growth were the times of greatest difficulties.   Why?  Because struggle strengthens us and ease weakens us.


So . . . Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  (Ephesians 6.10)  Rejoice always.  Pray continually.  Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  (1 Thessalonians 5.16-18)


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Are You Ready to Give Up?

I am in a season of fasting and praying, seeking God, waiting on Him.  I’ve committed to forty days and am currently at the half-way point.  And I confess, it would be easy to quit.


I had expectations of what my prayer and fasting would be like.  That God would somehow be more real, I would see Him more clearly and I would have a heightened sense of His presence as He directed my every waking step.


But to be honest, God has remained quiet.  I haven’t heard an audible voice, haven’t experienced any great miracles (except that I’ve remained faithful in my fasting), and have received no clear direction as to what He wants me to do or where He wants me to go.  In fact, this road has been littered with tragedy.  The problems have seemed bigger and my God seems quieter.


It would be so easy to give up, to call it quits and throw in the towel.


But Noah kept building the ark when there wasn’t any rain.  The Israelites continued to circle Jericho even though nothing had happened.  Paul kept preaching The Way even though it meant imprisonment. Daniel kept praying even though he was destined for the lion’s den.  Nehemiah pressed on building the wall even in the face of much opposition.


So why should I give up? 


I waited patiently for the LORD to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire.  He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.  He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God.  Psalm 40.1-3 (NLT)


What if Noah had given up building the ark?  What if the Israelites had only circled Jericho six times?  What if Paul had let fear keep him from preaching the truth?  What if Daniel had given in to peer pressure?  What if Nehemiah had turned tail and run back home?


They would’ve missed out!  And their faith?  Would’ve been small.


Instead they were able to witness the mighty power of God.  And their faith?  It was supersized!


What about you?  Are you tempted to give up or give in?  Are you wondering if God is really there?  Is He listening to your heart cry?  Does He really care about little insignificant you? 

Have you prayed so long for the burden of your heart that you feel hopeless?  "Will God ever answer my prayer?"  You wonder in the emptiness of your soul.


Don’t give up.  Don’t Give in.  Keep pressing on.  Keep praying through.  Let God grow your faith.


If you throw in the towel now, you might just miss an opportunity to witness His great power!


But may all who search for you be filled with joy and gladness in you. May those who love your salvation repeatedly shout, “The Lord is great!”       As for me, since I am poor and needy, let the Lord keep me in his thoughts. You are my helper and my savior. O my God, do not delay.   Psalm 40. 16-17 (NLT)


Lord, I am weak, feeble minded, poor in spirit.  I want to Quit.  Give up.  Walk away.  But You call me to trust You even when I can’t see.  So I refuse to give up.  Strengthen my resolve.  Give me hope.  Grow my faith.  I look to You.  Amen.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Out of the Box!

For all the animals of the forest are mine, and I own the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird on the mountains and all the animals of the field are mine.  Psalm 50.10-11

When I pray, do I pray as if my God owns a cattle on a thousand hills?   Or more like He has a few coins in his pocket He can give me?  Do I really believe my God is resource rich or hopelessly poor?


If you were to hear my prayers you might think the latter.


I find myself praying hesitantly, crossing my fingers and hoping that God will answer.  I don't ask for too much and I rarely step out in faith believing He will answer.  It isn’t really that I don’t believe God can do what I’m asking but more will He do it?  But, is this just an excuse so that I don’t look like a fool when God doesn’t come through for me?  I wonder . . .


How does God wish I would pray?  What is His heart’s desire?


I confess my tendency to put God in a box.  I want Him Small.  Convenient.  Controllable.  I want Him to wipe away my tears, love me unconditionally and soften the jagged edges of my life.  I don’t want Him to ask me to do something that makes me uncomfortable, or to go someplace I have no desire to go or put me out on a limb that might very well break! 


But is that really what I want?  A God who is safe, mediocre and blasé?   


I wonder . . . Would that God have even bothered to send His only Son to die for me so that I could have eternal life, true life?


It’s time to let God out of the box! 


God is bigger than I will ever understand.  Greater than I can ever imagine and more powerful than a locomotive!  He’s my true Superhero!  So what is keeping me from praying Superhero prayers?


When I believe little, my prayers are little and God answers little.  When I believe BIG, my prayers are BIG and my God answers BIG.


My God owns a cattle on a thousand hills.  He knows every hair on my head.  He hung the stars in space and calls them each by name.  He formed the dry land with a word.  He tells the wind where to blow.  He never slumbers or sleeps.  He dresses the flowers and knows every bird.  He is intimately acquainted with all my ways. 

God is out of my box!

Lord, I’m sorry for making you small.  You are so much more! . . .  I want to spend the rest of my life discovering Your greatness.   Today, I’m letting You out of the box that I placed You in.  I want to believe Big because You are Big.  Teach me.  I’m Yours.  Amen.