Monday, December 31, 2012

Kisses from Heaven

At this time of year, I find myself much more reflective and contemplative than I normally am.  Most of the time I rush around, mind and energy focused on the here and now. 

But as this year draws to a close, I've had time to breathe . . .  

I'm aware that I want my life to make a difference and I hope I’ve done a few things well in the year that has just vanished.  But more than that, I find myself with a longing deep in my soul to bring to light all the ways that God has met me this year, how he’s provided, loved and showered me with, what I call, “kisses from heaven”.


Kisses, heaven’s grace, the simple gifts God uses to whisper to us, “You are loved, you are special and you are Mine!”  These blessings often cloak themselves in the simple, the mundane but they are love gifts just the same.  We see them in a spectacular sunset, the warm touch of a friend, a loved one’s whisper, “God put you on my mind and I prayed for you today.”  Sometimes these kisses come in disguise and it’s difficult to recognize the blessings that they truly are.


I readily admit that some of the “kisses” I’ve experienced this year, haven’t always seemed like His whispers of love in my life; when my beloved son seemingly derailed his life with one poor decision, when a close friend had serious medical issues, when my precious sister was broken and hurting and I couldn’t be there to comfort her.  But I have seen God bring beauty from the ashes in ways I never dreamed possible and poured out blessing upon blessing.  I have been overwhelmed by His goodness as I pause to look back  . . .


Ann Voskamp in her devotional, O Thousand Gifts, says this, “Why don’t I keep more of an eye on the number of His graces?  Why don’t I want to know that even though it doesn’t seem like there’s been enough rain, He reigns and He is enough and the bounty is greater than it appears? 


The thin places might be the places closest to God and the skinny places might be fuller than they seem, and who isn’t full when they have Christ?”


Lord, I want to LIVE with a heart of thanksgiving.  I want to have eyes wide open to glimpse the kisses you send my way and to live in the light of your love all through this year and in the years to come.


Praise the LORD!  I will thank the LORD with all my heart as I meet with His godly people.  How amazing are the deeds of the LORD!  All who delight in Him should ponder them.  Everything he does reveals his glory and majesty.  His righteousness never fails.  He causes us to remember his wonderful works.  How gracious a merciful is our LORD!      Psalm 111:1-4


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Emmanuel has Come to Us

“The Lord himself will give you the sign.  Look!  The virgin will conceive a child!  She will give birth to a son and will call him Emmanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).”  Isaiah 7:14


In the midst of all the Christmas songs we sang this season, there were a few words that grabbed my attention and wouldn’t let go and I’ve been pondering on them ever since.


“Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel has come to us!”


The God of the Universe, the one who hung the stars in space and called them each by name, who made the seas and all that is in them, the one who formed the dry land and the animals that roam it, who sets kings on thrones and holds the whole world in His hand HAS COME TO US!


How flippantly we sing words like this, how carelessly we live our lives with no thought that this Grand Conductor, this King of Kings knows us intimately, cares for us deeply and loves us so incredibly, has come to us! 


He was born in a lowly stable amidst dirty, smelly animals and the only ones who celebrated his birth were the lowest of the low.    “. . . There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him.”  (Isaiah 53:7 NLT)  


His life was anything but trouble-free. “. . . ‘Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.’”  (Luke 9:57 NLT)


His death was our salvation.  “. . . For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.”  (Hebrews 9:22 NLT)


Through his sacrifice we have been delivered . . . set free . . . rescued . . . redeemed!


Wherever life finds you right now, hurting and broken or joyful and expectant, may you KNOW that the God of the Universe had you on His mind when He came.  He desires to redeem you, set you free, and give you HOPE.  You have only to ask . . .

Heavenly Father, 
Thank you for the gift of your Son.  May we live in the light of this gift all year long.  May we cherish and hold close to our hearts this precious truth . . . that You have come to US!


Monday, December 17, 2012

Closet Holy Spirit

On the Day of Pentecost, just fifty short days after the death and resurrection of Jesus, his followers received an astounding gift.  Know what it was?  Yes, you guessed it, the Holy Spirit!


 “ . . .  And you will receive the GIFT of the Holy Spirit.  Acts 2:38 (NIV)

One of my favorite things about the Christmas Season is that I get to show the ones I love how much they mean to me and how much I appreciate that they are in my life.  My favorite part of gift giving is watching them open their gift.  I love to see their eyes light up when they rip off the wrapping.  And there’s no greater joy than to get a glimpse of them using the gift I bought for them.


But have you ever given a gift that you poured your heart and soul into, only to discover they never really used it or even appreciated it?


The Holy Spirit wasn’t just given to the followers who were there on the day of Pentecost.   You and I have received Him as well (if you believe Jesus died for you). 


This was a present like none other, a gift that God the Father poured his heart and soul into for us!  The Spirit was given to be our helper (Romans 8:26), our power (Acts 1:8) and our comforter (John 15:26),and our guide (Galatians 5:16).


But I wonder . . .  have we set this precious gift on a shelf in our closet to collect dust with all the other well meaning gifts we’ve received over the years and never really used it? 


Maybe it’s, because we’re afraid that He will ask us to do something we don’t really think we can do.  Or maybe, it’s because we are comfortable right where we are and we don’t want to be moved out of our comfort zone.  Or maybe, it’s just plain laziness or indifference.


Look what Ephesians 4:30 says, “Don't grieve God. Don't break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don't take such a gift for granted.”  (The Message, emphasis added)


It is not enough to just have the Holy Spirit in our lives.  He longs to give us comfort, to be our guide and empower us to live the life he has called us to.  Are you choosing to settle for so much less than this?


I also wonder . . . did the followers of Jesus who were at Pentecost, struggle with taking the Holy Spirit for granted like I do today?  Was it easier for them than it is for me to be controlled by the Spirit?  Did they struggle with being fully surrendered?   


Surrender is never easy, no matter who you are!


 But the unexpected surprise with surrender is that it sets us free and opens the door to the Holy Spirit’s incredible work in our lives.   


Mark Batterson in his book Wild Goose Chase equates following the Holy Spirit to just that, a wild goose chase.  It isn’t pointless like the wild goose chases we’re familiar with but it can be wild and crazy, unpredictable and probably will take us places we never dreamed we would go!


If we never surrender, we will never experience the adventures God has waiting for us.


The Holy Spirit is God’s precious, astonishing, astounding gift to you!   Will you set this amazing gift on a shelf to collect dust or will you step out in faith, fully surrender and enjoy the adventure of a lifetime?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Making Room . . .

In this Christmas Season, how quickly we lose sight of what’s truly important.   It’s so easy to rush pell-mell here, there and everywhere, never taking time to reflect and simply enjoy life.  I want to encourage you to stop, pour yourself a cup of coffee or tea, prop your feet up and take a few minutes to read this simple story and reflect on the true meaning of Christmas.

Wally's Christmas Pageant

by Donohue, Dina

For years now whenever Christmas pageants are talked about in a certain little town in the Midwest, someone is sure to mention the name of Wallace Purling. Wally's performance in one annual production of the Nativity Play has slipped into the realm of legend. But the old timers who were in the audience that night never tire of recalling exactly what happened.
Wally was nine that year and in the second grade, though he should have been in the fourth grade. Most people in the town knew that he had difficulty in keeping up. He was big and clumsy, slow in movement and mind. Still, Wally was liked by the other children in his class, all of whom were smaller than he, though the boys had trouble hiding their irritation when Wally would ask to play ball with them or any game, for that matter, in which winning was important.

Most often they'd find a way to keep him out, but Wally would hang around anyway - not sulking, just hoping. He was always a helpful boy, a willing and smiling one, and the natural protector, paradoxically, of the underdog. Sometimes if the older boys chased the younger ones away, it would always be Wally who'd say, "Can't they stay? They're no bother."

Wally fancied the idea of being a shepherd with a flute in the Christmas pageant that year, but the play's director, Miss Lambard, assigned him to a more important role. After all, she reasoned, the Innkeeper did not have too many lines, and Wally's size would make his refusal of lodging to Joseph more forceful.

And so it happened that the usual large, partisan audience gathered for the town's yearly extravaganza of crooks and creches, of beards, crowns, halos and a whole stageful of squeaky voices. No one on stage or off was more caught up in the magic of the night than Wallace Purling. They said later that he stood in the wings and watched the performace with such fascination that from time to time Miss Lambard had to make sure he did not wander onstage before his cue.

Then came the time when Joseph appeared, slowly, tenderly guiding Mary to the door of the inn. Joseph knocked hard on the wooden door set into the painted backdrop. Wally the Innkeeper was there, waiting.

"What do you want?" Wally said, swinging the door open with a brusque gesture.

"We seek lodging."

"Seek it elsewhere." Wally looked straight ahead, but spoke vigorously. "The inn is filled."

"Sir we have asked everywhere in vain. We have traveled far and we are very weary."

"There is no room in this inn for you." Wally looked properly stern.

"Please good innkeeper, this is my wife Mary. She is heavy with child and needs a place to rest. Surely you must have some small corner for her. She is so tired."

Now for the first time, the Innkeeper relaxed his stiff stance and looked down at Mary. With that, there was a long pause, long enough to make the audience a bit tense with embarrassment.

"No! Be gone!" the prompter whispered from the wings.

"No!" Wally repeated automatically. "Be gone!"

Joseph sadly placed his arm around Mary, and Mary laid her head upon her husband's shoulder and the two of them started to move away. The Innkeeper did not return inside the inn, however. Wally stood there in the doorway watching the forlorn couple. His mouth was open, his brow creased with concern, and his eyes filling unmistakably with tears.

And suddenly this Christmas pageant became different from all others.

"Don't go Joseph," Wally called out. "Bring Mary back." And Wallace Purling's face grew into a bright smile. "You can have my room."

Will you, like Wally, make room for Jesus in your life this year? 
I’m not talking about just fitting him into the creases and crevices of your life but opening wide the door and welcoming him into your heart.  See what he promises . . . Here I am! I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person and they with me.    Revelation 3:20 (NIV)

Monday, December 3, 2012

Be Still and Know . . .

Be STILL and Know I am God . . .   Psalm 46:10


I don’t know about you but this time of year is CRAZY!  Parties, Christmas programs, Children’s choir events, presents to wrap, cookies to bake, shopping to get done . . . and the list goes on and on.


I often feel like a chicken with its head cut-off running around and around in circles accomplishing nothing.

I fell into bed the other night completely exhausted and looking forward to a good night’s sleep only to find that my brain wouldn’t stop running.  I lay there thinking about all the things I’d forgotten to do and all the things that needed to be done, making list after list in my head too tired to get up to grab a pen and paper and write them down.  And I chalked up another night of very little sleep.


With just a little time in my busy schedule, I squeezed in a quick moment with God and wouldn’t  you know it, this verse in Psalms is what God brought to my attention . . . God does have a way of getting at the heart of things!


Be STILL and know that I am God . . .  (Psalm 46:10 NLT)


Okay, okay, I confess I’ve been anything but still! 


As I thought about this verse I had a flashback to long ago when my kids were little . . .  


One of my favorite things to do with my children was to read to them.  They would crawl up in my lap in our rocking chair and we would read.  But as busy toddlers they didn’t like to sit there for too long.  Before I knew it they were squirming and wiggling to get down so they could run off to play.


I feel like that’s the way I’ve been with God lately.  He beckons me to come and sit with Him to be still  and I will for a few sacred moments but it’s not long before I’m thinking about all the things I need to do and I’m off and running without a second’s hesitation.


I know that being still before my Savior is the best way, so why do I allow other things to get in the way?


“Being still” is more than just sitting still for a few short minutes.   It’s STOPPING everything to be with the One who calls us by name.  It’s setting aside the things that need to get done.  It’s allowing our mind to go quiet, to focus on just Him.  It’s becoming single focused.  It’s refusing to multi-task when we’re with Him.  It’s creating a time and space to be fully present with our Savior.  


It’s a deliberate purposeful choice to step out of the chaos and into the stillness.


The reward of BEING STILL is great!  We will come to KNOW Him not for who we want Him to be but for whom He truly is.  Knowing Him that way will build a strong foundation so that when the waters rise and our faith is tested we will TRUST.  


Lord, teach me to be still, to BE in Your presence without being distracted with all that is going on in my life.  Teach me to value my time with You more than I value my list of things that need to get done.  I want to Know You.  I want to Love You with my whole heart.  Amen.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Life Well-Lived

This past Sunday, I was reminded, how easy it is to mindlessly sing songs, like I Surrender All.

I surrender all, I surrender all,

All to Thee, my blessed Savior.

I surrender all.

I wholeheartedly sing this on the weekend in corporate worship, yet never give any thought to what it means to actually live that way during the week.

How willing I am on Sunday morning to give everything to God and how quickly I take it all back on Monday morning. And if the song were written mirroring my life during the week it would read more like this:

I surrender a SOME, I surrender SOME

Half-heartedly to Thee, my blessed Savior

I surrender SOME.

How simple it seems to surrender when all is going well in my life but how hard it becomes when it’s falling apart . . .

I had a friend, Traci, who died of cancer about two years ago and I think of her often. She was in her mid-thirties, had two wonderful little girls and a loving husband. I watched as she struggled with her battle against cancer and witnessed her walk of faith grow stronger and stronger with each passing day.

Just months before she stepped into the presence of her Savior, she penned these words, I am looking each day for God; around every corner, in the sunlight and in the shadows I see him. I feel his arms around me very close. If I were given the chance to choose this course my life has taken, do you know that I would actually CHOOSE this life? I never would have had the chance to see him like this otherwise.

When Traci sang I Surrender All, she just didn’t sing it, she lived it! She understood what it meant to follow God without reservation, with eyes wide open, ready to receive whatever God had for her. Deep down at the core of who she was, she believed that God was GOOD no matter how things might seem. She tasted of His goodness and knew Him in a ways I only dreamed about.

A few years ago I came across some verses tucked back in the obscure book of Habakkuk that took my breath away when I read them. I’m reminded of them as I think about Traci and the life she led.

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and cattle barns are empty, yet will I REJOICE in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign LORD is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights. Habakkuk 3:17-19 (NLT)

This was Traci’s way of life.

No matter what might be taken from her, no matter how difficult the journey; she chose to rejoice in the God of her salvation. He was her strength and might; her strong tower.

I watched as she journeyed, as a surefooted deer, from this life into the next with God at her side!

So today, I thank God for allowing my path to cross Traci’s and for Sundays like this that remind me that it’s not just what I say (or sing) but how I live!

All to Jesus I surrender;

All to him I freely give;

I will ever love and trust Him,

In His presence daily live.

I surrender all, I surrender all,

All to Thee, my blessed Savior.

I surrender all.

                                                   by J.W. Van Deventer


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Speechless Gratitude

I was one of those “good” girls growing up – I never really did anything “bad”.  I didn’t smoke, didn’t do drugs and didn’t sleep around.  I didn’t party, didn’t rebel against my parents and basically looked really good, on the outside, that is.

But on the inside it was a different story.  I had gobs and gobs of secret sins, hidden ones that only those who looked close enough could detect.  I struggled with pride, self-centeredness, jealousy, bitterness, doubt, worry, greed and the list goes on . . .  


Looking good on the outside kept me from seeing the depths to which I had fallen.  It was easy to justify my secret sins and to point my finger at others.  I didn’t see that my hidden sins were just as destructive, caustic and vicious as anyone else’s.  I didn’t understand that my sin was separating me from God.  I didn’t know that my heart was just as dark and evil as a serial killer’s.


In my eyes, the debt I owed was insignificant, just a little hurdle to overcome, really nothing much to be concerned about.


In the book of Luke we see a woman who understood the depths of her sin.


When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume.  Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping.  Her tears fell on his feet and she wiped them off with her hair.  Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.  (Luke 7:37-38 NLT)


Look at Jesus’ response to the Pharisee’s critical assessment of her extravagant demonstration of gratitude.


That is why I tell you, that her sins, many as they are, are forgiven; for she has shown me so much love.  But the man who has little to be forgiven has only a little love to give. (Luke 7:47 Phillips)

He paid the ultimate price for my sin - He willing gave His life for mine!   But the casual view I had of my sin, greatly diminished the price He paid for me.

A few years ago God began exposing my secret sins to His LIGHT and I slowly began to comprehend how ugly my sin was and how immense God's love is.
It’s  now become very apparent to me that I am no longer the “good” girl I thought I was.   I now see how destructive my sin was and is and how much it separates me from the God I love.  But I’ve also discovered how incredible God’s grace is!  


For the rest of my life, I want to live with a heart of gratitude overwhelmed at all God has done for me. 


He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and 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 40:2-3 NLT)


Donald Miller in his book, Blue Like Jazz, tells a story about a friend of his who went around the country interviewing ministry leaders.  One of those leaders was a man named Bill Bright, (who passed away few years ago) he founded Campus Crusade for Christ. 


“Alan said he was a big man, full of life, who listened without shifting his eyes.  Alan asked a few questions, I don’t know what they were, but as a final question he asked Dr. Bright what Jesus meant to him.  Alan said Dr. Bright could not answer the question.  He said Dr. Bright just started to cry.  He sat there in his big chair behind his big desk and wept.”                               


I want to love Jesus like that! 


What language shall I borrow
To thank Thee dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever;
And should I fainting be,
Lord, let me NEVER, NEVER
Outlive my love for Thee.
                              (O, Sacred Head Now Wounded, Anonymous)


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Radical Obedience

“Why should I obey you?  Who died and made you god?”

Having raised four teenagers, these words and I have become very acquainted with each other.  But the funny thing is that I have found them echoing in my heart as well.  I’m just not as verbal about it as they are.


I don’t know about you but obedience has never been easy for me.  I would much rather lead than follow.  I have tendency to question and feel like there’s got to be a good reason to obey or forget it! 

Maybe the reason I find obedience so difficult is because at the core of obedience is submission - surrender to someone else’s guidelines and commands.


In my reading of the Book of Matthew, I discovered a shocking display of unquestioning obedience.  Look at Matthew 1:24 (The Message) Then Joseph woke up.  He did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream:  He married Mary.


No questions, no doubt, no hesitation just simple obedience.


Think about it, the Jews had not heard from God in over four hundred years!  He’s been silent . . . not even a whisper and then one night a man named Joseph, goes to sleep, has a dream and obeys.  No wondering if it was something bad he’d eaten the night before, no questioning whether it was all just a figment of his imagination, just radical obedience.


And his obedience didn’t stop with his marriage to Mary.  In the next chapter we get another glimpse of his proclivity to obey. 


After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, “Get up.  Take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt.  Stay until further notice.  Herod is on the hunt for this child and wants to kill him.” 

Joseph obeyed.  He got up, took the child and his mother under cover of darkness.  They were out of town and well on their way by daylight.  Matthew 2:13-15 (The Message)


I couldn’t help but wonder, as I read this, what if Joseph hadn’t obeyed?  What if he had lain awake debating whether he should wake up Mary and the baby, after all, it was the middle of the night?  What if he had decided to just wait and go in the morning?


Obedience is hard, inconvenient and difficult.  It’s not the politically correct thing to do in this world of “do your own thing”.  And yet, God calls his followers to a life of radical obedience, a life of surrender and submission to His will and His ways. 


But the unexpected blessing of obedience is that it sets us free!  Free to live life to its fullest.   It sets us free from the things that have held us captive for far too long.  Obedience God’s way is life-giving and full. 


I learned firsthand the importance of obedience from a friend of mine.  My friend and her husband were on a road trip.  They were enjoying the beautiful day together, when all of a sudden her husband, who was driving, yelled, “GET DOWN!”  She immediately ducked down and put her head in her lap (even though she had no idea why) and the car slammed into a jack-knifed semi in the middle of the road.  If she had hesitated for even a moment, her life would’ve been over. 


As I listened to this story I couldn’t help but wonder if I would’ve obeyed.  I’d like to think I would but the truth is I probably would’ve been in the middle of asking my husband why should . . .


Obedience is at the core of a true follower of Jesus. 


But does my life reflect that I’m a follower of Him or just an admirer?  I don’t want to be just a fan, I want more!  But I know that anything valuable comes with a price – there’s always a cost. 


Jesus said, “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison – your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even your own life.  Otherwise you cannot be my disciple.  And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.
But don’t begin until you count the cost . . .”  (Luke 14:26-28 NLT)


Are you ready to count the cost and live a life of radical obedience to the One who willingly laid down his life for you?