This Christmas Celebrate the Ordinary

This Christmas Celebrate the Ordinary

Even as Christians we can easily become caught up in the busy swirl of the season. But this year may we slow down to celebrate the ordinary.

Many lesser things allure us: $700,000,000 signing contracts, massive stadiums and empires, luxury this, and luxury that. As the spotlight shifts from one elaborate story to another, we might extend our applause here or there. Whether intentional or not, we are tempted to ignore, or even scoff at, the ordinary.

How often do we applaud the mother sacrificially caring for her children? Do we acknowledge the father who consistently wakes up each morning and works to provide for his family/ What about the quiet caregiver who lovingly supports and provides for the infirm or vulnerable? These and many others may not rank high in the list of those worthy of celebrating. However, in God’s record book I think they do.

As we take a brief look at the Christmas story, we quickly discover those whom God celebrates. May it inspire us to also celebrate the ordinary.

An Ordinary Woman

Mary, by all appearances, led an unassuming life of quiet obedience to God. She was just one among many young virgin women, awaiting their wedding day. Engaged to a handsome and righteous young man, she anticipated the time when they would soon consummate their marriage, set up their own home, and begin a family together.

Her life portrayed a vibrant example of how to celebrate the ordinary, like generations of women before her. Until the day when everything changed!

The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you!”
Luke 1:28

The angel explained how God had chosen her to become the mother of the awaited Messiah — the King who would rule and reign forever. Questions flooded her mind.

“‘How will this be; Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?'”
Luke 1:34

The angel reminded Mary that “no word from God will ever fail” (Luke 1:37).

Until now, Mary appeared completely ordinary. But, we see the extraordinary character and godly integrity of this young woman as she gives God her complete, “Yes!” And with that she laid her reputation, and quite possibly her future marriage, on the line. She risked losing everything, choosing to celebrate the ordinary so we could one day receive Jesus as Savior.

No Ordinary Baby

Mary, through the Holy Spirit, conceived no ordinary Baby. This Baby — fully God and yet fully man — would save people from their sins.

“So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.
Luke 1:35

Jesus gave up the splendor of Heaven to be wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger. He set aside all His power and authority to become robed in frail humanity.

“Rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!”
Philippians 2:7-8

Jesus willingly chose the suffering of human life for our good, not His. He came as no ordinary baby to cancel a debt which we owed but could never pay.

Too often, we end our remembrance of the first Christmas here. And when we do, we miss the opportunity to celebrate the ordinary in another key figure involved.

An Ordinary Man

Joseph, like any ordinary man, busied himself in preparation for his future bride and family. The day was fast approaching when he and Mary would finally become man and wife. As a typical young couple, they held great hope and anticipation for their future together.

The news of Mary’s pregnancy shattered all that! How could Mary betray him? And in the worst possible way? He considered every option. But because he was righteous, he decided to quietly divorce her. Until an angel spoke to him through a dream.

“…’Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.'”
Matthew 1:20

Without hesitation, he took Mary into his home as his wife.

Joseph’s ready response should cause us to celebrate the ordinary who became extraordinary. This one ordinary Joe obeyed God completely and sacrificed himself fully for the sake, not only of his family, but ultimately for you and me.

Celebrate the Ordinary

Yes, Jesus, this no ordinary Baby, should be the central focus of the Christmas season. Yes, Mary deserves full recognition for the humble part she played in the birth of the Messiah. But this Christmas may we also celebrate the radical willingness of ordinary Joseph.

Ordinary Joe said “Yes!” to the commitment of marriage when divorce would have been the easier option. He said “Yes!” to adopting, loving, and raising a son not his own. Ordinary Joe said “Yes!” to sacrificial living for the sake of Jesus. He also said “No!’ to social status and the acceptance of his peers. Ordinary Joe said “No!” to defining his life by the expectations of others.

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.”
Matthew 1:24-25

This Christmas may we consider ordinary Joe who allowed God to change his mind, to shift his focus, to soften his heart, and to bring Jesus home. Joseph gave God room for whatever He desired even when it cost, even when it hurt, even when he didn’t understand, and it went against the grain of all human desire.

Value the Ordinary

God has a perfect plan for each one of us. We may feel our lives are far too ordinary to be used by Him. But let’s allow this beautiful and incredible reminder of two ordinary people, Joseph and Mary, to give us fresh vision and assurance that God is able to use our ordinary lives for His extraordinary purposes.

May we be inspired to put God first, to walk in radical obedience to God’s Word, to love sacrificially, to give up our reputation for the sake of Kingdom worth, to live by our convictions not circumstances, and to place the good of others over ourselves. But most of all, may we welcome the living Christ into our hearts and homes.

God calls each of us to lay aside personal agendas and expectations. He calls us to enter a life of divine purpose. He asks us to trust him — not blindly but faithfully. God promises us that no sacrifice will ever be wasted. And He welcomes us to live our extraordinary calling through ordinary lives in unity with Him.

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God Still Speaks

God Still Speaks

Prayer is powerful! God still speaks and He reminded me again today that prayer is a two-way conversation.

While shopping, I encountered a woman incessantly talking on her phone. She was having a non-stop, one-way conversation with someone who could not possibly have gotten a word in edgewise! I’m not even sure when or how she found time to breathe. Her voice could be heard throughout the entire store.

I’m afraid our prayer conversations with God might all too closely resemble this scenario. Do we do all the talking, or do we take time to listen, expecting to hear from God? God designed prayer to be a mutual exchange of dialogue.

Do you ever feel like your prayers hit the ceiling and go no further? From time to time, I think we have all experienced the feeling. Let’s be encouraged. God hears and He answers! In many places throughout the Bible, He encourages, “Anyone with ears, let them hear” (Matthew 11:15). But how does God speak to us? And how do we know that it is God speaking and not just our own thoughts or imagination?

We don’t need any unique gift to hear from God. The only qualification is to have ears. That includes most of us. Contrary to what some people might believe, God still speaks. Let’s explore what the Bible says about the topic.

He spoke to an incredibly wicked king, King Nebuchadnezzar both through dreams and through the prophet Daniel (Daniel 4). He spoke to Moses face to face, like we would speak to our friends (Exodus 33:11).

“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”
Jeremiah 33:3

God Speaks Through the Bible

The most common way God speaks to us is through His infallible Word — the Bible. Scriptures form the plumbline for every other way God speaks. He will never say anything that contradicts the Bible. So whatever way He might speak, we measure against the accuracy of His Word.

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.”
Hebrews 4:12

Your word is a lamp to guide my feet
    and a light for my path.”

Psalm 119:105

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.”
2 Timothy 3:16

God consistently speaks through the living words recorded in the Bible. His Word remains relevant and undiminished in power.

God Speaks Through the Holy Spirit

God has given us the Holy Spirit to teach, comfort, and direct us. Holy Spirit waters God’s Word within us causing it to grow and become fruitful.

But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.”
John 14:26

The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.”
1 Corinthians 2:14

The Holy Spirit brings the truths we read in Scripture or receive from biblical teachers and leaders, making God’s Word relevant and alive. He affirms God’s words written or spoken to our hearts to our spirit, in a Spirit-to-spirit communication.

God Speaks Through Nature

Like many people, I feel the closest to God while walking in nature. In His creation, my heart seems the most sensitive to hear His sacred echoes. Jesus used many illustrations from nature to reveal God’s character, purposes, and truth. Whether birds, sheep, storms, plants, or so much more, Jesus strung His parables around everyday life and the land people were familiar with.

“The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD thunders over the mighty waters. The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is majestic.
Psalm 29:3-4

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”
Psalm 19:1-2

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.
Romans 1:20

How God speaks through creation remains one of His many mysteries. Yet we find ourselves filled with awe as we gaze into a starry sky or hold a newborn baby. We can’t help but worship Him as we watch ocean waves crash against the rocky shore or feel the power of a summer storm. God is in it all. He speaks through a gentle breeze as clearly as through the intricacy of a flower. God speaks the language of a listening heart.

God Still Speaks

The limitations we have to hear from God rests within ourselves. God speaks in limitless ways. I love the way Job phrased it:

“For God does speak — now one way, now another — though no one perceives it.”
Job 33:14

Why is perceiving His voice so difficult? Has the overture of busyness dulled our hearing? Oh, may we give God opportunity to speak, and tune our ears to hear what He is saying. May we have a willing heart to receive His words. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, compared us to sheep — His sheep. He said,

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me.”
John 10:27

God speaks through gifted authors, teachers, and speakers. He speaks through circumstances and the difficulties we face. He speaks through dreams and visions, just as He always has. Because of His unending love for us, He invites us to draw close and to listen.

If you would like to learn more about prayer, how to talk to God and hear from Him, I invite you to check out these two books: Unmasking Myths and Unlocking Legacy. To celebrate my upcoming milestone birthday, take advantage of this half-price special! I would be happy to share these resources with you.

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Perfect Knowledge — Divine Omniscience

Perfect Knowledge — Divine Omniscience

As much as we may boast in our vast learning, perfect knowledge can be found only in God. He, alone, possesses divine omniscience.

Omniscience simply means to be all knowing. Job said that true wisdom has two sides (Job 11:5-6). But God not only sees and knows two sides, He sees and knows everything completely. To acknowledge the fullness of God’s knowing, we must first come to terms with our own limitations.

“When I was a child, I spoke and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely; just as God now knows me completely.
1 Corinthians 13:11-12

To some, the thought of God’s complete knowledge incites fear. To others, it brings incredible comfort.

Faithful

No one needs to live under the confines of such fear. We all fall short and do things we shouldn’t do, or fail to do those things we know we should do. God is merciful!

“But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”
1 John 1:9

As a parent, I remember the angst I felt knowing my children had done something inconsiderate or hurtful. I often gave them time, patiently waiting for them to confess what they had done. The longer they waited one of two things happened — either their conscience became harder, or the conviction grew stronger.

How much more does our loving God — in His divine omniscience — see, know, and long for us to come to Him so that He can clear the slate of offense and set us back on our feet.

Fear

That God knows each of us so perfectly can cause fear to run through anyone who has something to hide. My husband often says, “He who hides nothing has nothing to hide.” It’s so true!

King David tried his best to hide his sin of adultery. The more he covered it up the deeper the pile of offenses grew until God, Himself, confronted David. The resulting penalty for his unwarranted actions stretched through the generations causing far too much heartache.

“You spread out our sins before you — our secret sins — and you see them all.”
Psalm 90:8

For those with unrepentant sin against God or another person, such knowledge causes fear. The flimsiness of excuses holds no ground against truth. Many of us today are like Adam long ago, hiding behind self made canopies in gardens of unconfessed wrongs. Whether the infractions are minor or something much more heinous, we fear that someone, anyone, should know.

“”I can never escape from your Spirit: I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave you are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me and your strength will support me … even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you.
Psalm 139:7-12

Divine Omniscience

But to all those who will run to Him, they will find full forgiveness, laying hold of hope in Christ. To them, the knowledge that their Heavenly Father knows completely becomes magnificent.

No accuser can inform on them and no accusation against them can stick to those who stand forgiven. No skeletons hide in closets, waiting for someone to expose them. There is no weakness of character that God doesn’t already see and know. In divine omniscience, He knew us completely long before we knew Him.

Not only does He know us, but He remembers something we often forget.

“The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassion to those who fear him. For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust.”
Psalm 103:14

His divine omniscience of us becomes personal, warm, and compassionate through Christ Jesus. Whatever we have done, God knows and loves us like no one else can or will.

Come

Whether we stand forgiven before Him with a clear conscience or have undealt with issues, God waits with arms open wide. Today, let’s make David’s prayer our own.

Search me, O God, and know my heart: test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you. and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”
Psalm 139:23-24

We all find it easy to point out the faults and failures of others. But we often need the Holy Spirit’s help to pinpoint the things within ourselves that grieve the Father’s heart.

When He does, let’s be quick to come to Him. Confession and repentance mean more than verbally acknowledging what His divine omniscience has shown us. To be fully free, we step away from our deviant ways, coming into alignment with His heart.

Then His “hand will guide (us) and (His) strength will support (us).” The divine omniscience of our loving and gentle Savior waits to liberate us from all fear.

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The Lord is Peace — Jehovah Shalom

The Lord is Peace — Jehovah Shalom

Our King still reigns over all the kingdoms of the Earth. He is the Lord Almighty, the Ancient of Day, Jehovah Shalom, the Lord is Peace. Despite the uncertainty of our time, He welcomes us to seek refuge in His everlasting peace. Throughout the ages, His affirming words have kept the sails of many faltering ships steady as oceans rage.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
John 14:27

Jesus left His followers in the same wicked world we now inhabit. They faced oppression and persecution at levels most of us cannot comprehend. Ripped from their peacefully homes, they were cast into prisons and exposed to atrocities. Yet, they held to the words of Jesus. His promise gave them peace despite anything demonic elements threw at them.

May we find equal courage and strength in the sure Word of our Lord.

Go in Strength

Our God gives us peace out of the essence of His character and name – The Lord is Peace. Israel had walked away from God, facing their self-made destruction at the hands of enemy forces. Deprived of safety, they hid in mountain caves and strongholds while their enemies invaded like swarms of locusts. Impoverished, they finally cried out to the Lord for help (Judges 6).

God raised up the most unlikely candidate as His instrument of deliverance — Gideon. Filled with fear and intimidated by life circumstances, Gideon hid in a winepress threshing out a few grains wheat.

I’ve had plenty of my own hide-out moments — reluctant to take a stand or speak up against injustice. Like Gideon, I have argued with God about assignments He has given to me.

“Who me? I’m the littlest, the least competent, too old, too insignificant, ill equipped, untrained …” My excuses trail endlessly along. Arguing with God never turns out well. Not for Gideon, and certainly not for me.

“The LORD turned to him and said, ‘Go in the strength you have … am I not sending you?”
Judges 6:14

When God is with us, nothing else matters. Despite any personal limitations, God always proves Himself more than enough.

The Lord is Peace

Enough faith in God rises in Gideon to give God his shaky “Yes!” Before he confronts the enemy, Gideon first builds an altar of sacrifice to God. What an example! Every victory begins at the place of worship and thankfulness.

“So Gideon built an altar to the LORD there and called it The Lord is Peace.”
Judges 6:24

Though Israel’s condition remained the same, Gideon’s heart had changed. Instead of focusing on the enemy’s strategies, he knelt before the King of all kings and the Lord of all lords. He declared the Lord is Peace. Peace exists only through Jehovah Shalom, the Lord our Peace.

Jehovah Shalom

Shalom means to be complete, sound, or absent of strife. It represents a peace of mind, heart, and life. We can only experience the peace of God by first experiencing peace with God. Such peace comes as we relinquish control and yield by faith to God’s grace.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Romans 5:1

God’s peace implies much more than freedom from conflict. It includes prosperity, health, well-being, and faith in the face of conflict. Gideon began to believe more in the invisible God than in the visible danger surrounding him.

The pictographic symbols for shalom would read “to destroy the authority that binds to chaos.” What a powerful image! Let me say that again.

Peace means to destroy the authority that binds us to chaos.

Restoration

Our great redeemer, the Lord is Peace, comes to not only save our souls from eternal destruction but to give us His supernatural peace.

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:7

What is at work to bind us to chaos? What is causing complete disorder and confusion to your life? Are there thought patterns, body habits, or toxic environments?

God didn’t suddenly snatch Gideon out of his situation. Rather, He gave Gideon strategies to overcome in the midst of chaotic circumstances. The Lord is Peace, coming beside us in a similar way. As He spoke to Gideon, He speaks to us, “Peace! Do not be afraid” (Judges 6:23).

Do you feel anxious over present circumstances? Or fear?

God again speaks, “I AM with you. I AM Jehovah Shalom, the Lord is Peace.”

“(I) will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in (Me).”
Isaiah 26:3

Prayer for Peace

Thank You, Lord! We come before You, laying down our chaotic patterns of thinking and functioning. We receive Your supernatural, divine peace. Fill our hearts and minds with the comfort and knowledge of knowing You alone sit on the throne. All dominions, powers, and authorities must bow before You.
Come, Lord. Give us the faith and confidence to trust in the assurance of Your character and Word. You are Jehovah Shalom, the Lord is Peace. Bind and destroy any and every authority that holds us and those around us to chaos. Surround Your children with Your “perfect peace.” May our minds be steadfast, trusting in You.
There is none like You, O God! We worship You before our situation changes. We set our hearts to thank You, giving glory and honor to Your Name. Be exalted in our day, O God.
Amen.

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The Power of Praise Verses

The Power of Praise Verses

We don’t need to look at recent statistics to recognize the power of praise. Instinctively, we know that words deeply matter. Words of acknowledgement and praise build a person up; while words of criticism and judgment tear one apart. We have all felt the soothing effects of one, as well as the sting of the other.

While shopping, I encountered a weary mother not-to-gently plunking her just-as-weary toddler into a seat while muttering harsh words. I cringed as my heart went out to both the mother and the child. Even though the words weren’t directed towards me, they had a lingering effect on my soul.

I was reminded again of the power of words and, specifically, the power of praise. It requires deliberate intention to turn those trying moments into something positive and uplifting. Reversing the effect of negativity comes with effort — serious effort.

If that is how negative words make us feel, how does it make God feel when the words of our mouths cut instead of mend, destroy instead of rebuild, or wound instead of heal?

James calls it like it is,

“Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.”
James 3:10

Psalm 103:1

Awareness

Awareness forms the starting point for change. We may easily fall into the trap James speaks about. Rather than becoming discouraged, let’s turn awareness into the motivation to bring personal change.

When we honestly evaluate where we are positioned on the scale between “praise and cursing,” it can actually help us develop better patterns of relating to each other (or even in our self-talk).

The next positive step imagines where, how, or who we eventually want to become. Let’s ask God for a clear vision of who He intends us to be.

Then, let’s ask Him for the first steps to propel us toward that destination.

Even moving through these few steps usually offers enough hope for us to create change in how we think and respond verbally to people or situations. The hardest path, even a path of sacrifice, will reap the greatest and most amazing rewards.

Main Focus

Through focused praise, we can turn discouragement and fatigue around. God doesn’t need our praise. We have a built in need to worship Him, however. Praise focused on Him changes our perspective, because praise turns the direction of focus off of ourselves and our circumstances and on to Him and His consistent character.

No matter how difficult our situation becomes, God remains the same — always worthy of our praise. As we turn our hearts toward Him in praise and adoration, something internally shifts within us despite external circumstances. It welcomes peace and opens the door to hope.

Again and again, I have experienced this power of praise to lift and transform my thinking and heart attitude.

“Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done wonderful things, things planned long ago.”
Isaiah 25:1

Isaiah 25:1

Power of Praise

As we develop a habit of praising God, the power of praise infuses all our interactions and conversations. An internal shift overrides former patterns — not instantaneously, but through practice. And through it, God makes it easier for us to discover increasing reasons for praise within the movements of our day.

The power of praise works faithfully within us, as consistently at it works in those around us. The negative critical voices begin to filter through the lens of praising God in His majesty and glory.

“Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”
Philippians 4:8

Get Started

God gives us ample verses to help us refocus and turn cursing into praise. Our words contain power and exercise authority in both the natural and the spiritual realms. When we speak the following verses (and many others like them) out loud, we reinforce the message of truth they contain.

May we all learn to consistently speak words that build others up, change internal narratives, bless those who might be listening, and give glory to the One worthy of praise.

Psalm 150:6
Revelation 5:13
Psalm 34:1
Psalm 105:1-2
1 Chronicles 29:13
Psalm 71:8
Psalm 91:1-2
Psalm 35:28
Psalm 92:1

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Confident and Fully Convinced of God’s Perfect Love

Confident and Fully Convinced of God’s Perfect Love

What, if anything, are you confident and fully convinced of? How long did it take for such conviction to become established? In our ever-changing world such confidence might appear to be a rarity. Yet, we continually place our confidence in a variety of practices, places, and beliefs.

Many years ago, as the snow melted and small ponds dotted the land, my older brother and I would enthusiastically fashion make-shift rafts from dead tree limbs strung together by remnants of old baler twine. We would confidently push off from shore into the icy waters believing our rickety rafts would support us. More often than not, our expeditions failed. Drenched, but undaunted, we would pull our frail craft back to the water’s edge. After adding more logs and twine, we would try again and again. Spurred on by each other, we convinced ourselves that we would eventually sail open waters.

After a series of failed attempts of his own, Paul tells us of something he became fully confident of — the love of God.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Romans 8:35,37-39

A Pharisee

In Philippians 3, Paul gives us a personal perspective of his former life. I say “former” because the convictions he once held were proved just as frail as the wooden rafts my brother and I made. He says,

” … though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.”
Philippians 3:4-6

As a Pharisee, Paul taught and obeyed every law with faultless precision. Or at least, he attempted to. He believed that obedience earned him the love of God. If one did enough, obeyed enough, tried hard enough, then God would love and accept you. Only then would anyone earn God’s favor. Zealous pursuit and faultless obedience ultimately proved less than reliable, even futile.

Most of us might identify on some level with this belief system. We relate to the repetitive cycle of trying harder and harder to earn or merit love.

The Encounter

At the most unexpected moment, radical love, bold and strong, confronted Paul (or Saul as he was still called then).

Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.”
Acts 9:1

He sounds like an unlikely candidate to experience God’s love. Yet, in this space, God entered Paul’s life, turning his direction and conviction around.

I, too, can relate to his experience. God blasted into my messed up and broken life with persistent grace. When anyone meets Jesus, nothing remains the same.

God saw something in Paul — something more than another zealous Pharisee.

” … This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.”
Acts 9:15

Through His redeeming love, God turned an enemy of the cross into a megaphone for His praise. God’s “chosen instrument” came disguised as a murderous, over-zealous, religious elitist. But God views us through the lens of His perfect love. He recognizes potential no one else sees.

Fully Convinced

The initial encounter with God’s perfect love formed the starting point. What would follow, only God Himself could have orchestrated.

Under God’s instruction a brave Jesus follower by the name of Ananias courageously looked for Paul. He placed his hands on him and healed him. After Paul received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, he sealed his faith with water baptism before heading into the desert.

But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.”
Galatians 1:15-17

At what point did Paul’s faith become conviction? Was it upon His dramatic conversion? Or did it take three years of Holy Spirit teaching to erase the bombardment of religious persuasions. Was it in the quiet desert places, alone with God, that an iron-clad confidence in Jesus took form?

For each of us, our eternity security rests by faith on the perfect, unfailing love of God through Jesus Christ.

Whatever the process, Paul spoke with absolute clarity, announcing to all who will grasp the truth that nothing — absolutely nothing — can separate us from God’s love.

God’s Perfect Love

Just as nothing could cause God to love us more, nothing could ever cause Him to love us less. Yes, we can choose to roam outside of His perfect will and plan, but nothing (and no human effort) can in any way elevate or diminish His love for us.

So now I live with the confidence that there is nothing in the universe with the power to separate us from God’s love. I’m convinced that his love will triumph over death, life’s troubles, fallen angels, or dark rulers in the heavens. There is nothing in our present or future circumstances that can weaken his love. There is no power above us or beneath us—no power that could ever be found in the universe that can distance us from God’s passionate love, which is lavished upon us through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One!
Romans 8:38-39 TPT

The Amplified Bible says, “I am convinced [and continue to be convinced — beyond any doubt].” Now that’s conviction — fully convinced that no one and no power could ever separate or diminish God’s unlimited love toward us.

Though my brother and I enjoyed brief moments of rafting success, we never became fully confident of our raft making skills. But through decades of my own desert times with the Lord, I know, that I know, that I know, His love is enough. His perfect love never fails. May you experience for yourself His unfailing, unending, unfading, perfect love.

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The Best Gift — Reconciliation

The Best Gift — Reconciliation

During the Christmas season, we consider the best gift for those we love. When God sent His Son, Jesus, He sent His best gift for us. What made this gift so perfect?

For a moment, consider the best gift you have received. It probably never came from a store and could never have been purchased with money. Was it the birth of child? Or special occasions with someone you loved? A friendship?

This may seem odd for most of you, but one of my most cherished gifts has been the last ten days of my mother’s life. Our relationship had always been rocky. We never seemed to mesh on anything, although we both tried. There were many misunderstandings, painful words, and harsh judgments. But during the last ten days of her life, when moments mattered most, God showed us great mercy and brought reconciliation. We talked, prayed, laughed, and loved. Those ten days proved richer than all the previous sixty years combined. I will be eternally grateful for that sweet gift.

Reconciliation. How deep the chasms of indifference, apathy, and misunderstanding grow! How humanly impossible to restore relationships so deeply severed!

But God! But God through His only Son, came to reconcile. First, to reconcile us to Himself. Then, to reconcile us to each other. Both necessary. Both impossible apart from Him.

“For God so [greatly] loved and dearly prized the world, that He [even] gave His [One and] only begotten Son, so that whoever believes and trusts in Him [as Savior] shall not perish, but have eternal life.
John 3:16 AMP

Reconciliation

We find it difficult to comprehend just how much “God so greatly loved and dearly prized” you and me. He would not rest until we were reconciled back to Him. The Oxford Dictionary defines reconciliation as the restoration of friendly relations, or the action of making one view or belief compatible with another.

You see, we all begin life alienated from God — enemies in fact. We arrive bent, broken, and turned away from Him. Though He loves us deeply and desires a personal and intimate relationship with us, we carry on preoccupied, self-absorbed, and consumed by temporary things. Though He calls, we choose not to respond to Him.

It took something drastic to get our attention. It required extreme measures to bridge the gap between us. When reconciliation seemed impossible, He alone made the way.

“For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”
Romans 5:10

A Savior

Many outside the Christian faith live contented and unaware of their need for a Savior, believing that doing good is enough. Surprisingly, many within the faith maintain a false sense of security based upon the same reasoning. They go to church, serve faithfully, and even give financially.

If doing good was enough, there would be no need for Jesus, the cross, or the resurrection. But, doing good will never be enough to bridge the gap between holy God and broken humanity.

” . . . He has also set eternity in the human heart . . .”
Ecclesiastes 3:11

We all have an inner knowing that there is something more to life than what we now see. Though we live bound by the temporary and limited by time, God created us for eternity — an eternity with Him.

But why do “good” people need a Savior? Paul explained it this way,

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Romans 3:23

We all sinned in some way. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, we lie, steal, gossip, hurt others, live selfishly, disobey authorities, and a long list of other moral failures. No one meets God’s perfect standard. We all fall short.

“The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Romans 6:23

Separation

Not only does sin separate us from God, it results in more than a physical death, but an eternal separation from God. Therefore, we need a reconciler. We need someone to restore relationship and compatibility with God.

Each Christmas, we celebrate the coming of that One — the One who arrived as an innocent baby, lived a sinless life, died a cruel death as payment for our sins, and rose again to offer hope of an eternity. The innocent paid the price for the guilty.

The Bible tells us how.

” . . . For if you publicly declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will experience salvation. The heart that believes in him receives the gift of the righteousness of God—and then the mouth confesses, resulting in salvation.
Romans 10:9,10 TPT

When we declare Jesus Christ as our Lord, believing that God accepts his death as penalty for us, we receive salvation. How unbelievably amazing is that? Jesus closes the gaps between God and us, reconciling us to the Father. The best gift becomes ours. Through Jesus, we become righteous before God.

The Best Gift

Many gifts will be shared this Christmas season — gifts expressing friendship, love, and family. But my greatest desire is that we would receive the best gift of all, the gift of reconciliation. I pray that we would receive the gift of eternal life which God offers us today.

Jesus already paid the full price! We cannot earn what He has already made available for us.

“So turn away from your sins. Turn to God. Then your sins will be wiped away. The time will come when the Lord will make everything new.”
Acts 3:19 NIRV

I anticipate the reaction of those I prepare gifts for. The giving only becomes complete as the recipient accepts my gift. The gift of salvation, the best gift of all, waits for each of us to receive it. To accept God’s perfect gift, we verbally declare our faith in Jesus from a believing heart. It is a simple but profound action.

The Savior waits for our response.

Jesus, thank You for Your salvation. I confess that I have sinned and could never meet God’s standard of perfection. I need a Savior. Forgive me, Lord, of my sins and failures. I believe that You died to save me and set me free. I believe that You were raised from the dead to give me eternal life. Come Jesus. I invite You to be my Lord and Savior. I thank You that You have become my best gift.

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Give Praise to the Lord

Give Praise to the Lord

Expectation begins to rise when we choose to give praise to the Lord. For every difficulty we face, we have even more reasons to praise God. Many people, including myself, have learned how to spiritually press through humanly insurmountable roadblocks. Some things we continue to contend for in prayer. At other times, we have witnessed doors open before us and bridges form under our feet. Where there previously had been no way through, God made a way.

This isn’t an unusual phenomenon known only by a choice few. Every Christian who consistently prays, seeks God’s direction, and waits for His answers experiences His hand at work in inexplainable ways. Some might mistake it for coincidence. People of faith know their God!

“In that day you will say: ‘Give praise to the LORD, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done.’ “
Isaiah12:4

In this single verse, the writer encourages us toward action. After looking more closely, I notice the four calls to action: say, praise, proclaim, and make known. Each action rests upon “what he (God) has done.”

May we pause our busy lives for just a moment to consider what God has done within our families, communities, and faith centers.

You Will Say

Whatever we look for, we will find. If we look for good in someone or something, we will discover it. Our attitude either negatively or positively colors our world more than we might realize.

Yesterday, my husband and I shared a bit of what God has been doing in our lives. As we spoke of God’s goodness, those listening were encouraged. Soon others shared what they also see God doing recently. A few shared about things they continue to pray for with faith.

“The goodness of God is infinitely more wonderful
than we will ever be able to comprehend.”
– A.W. Tozer

Through Holy Spirit direction, biblical authors encourage us to press beyond silent, heart-felt gratitude to verbalize our praise.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. His love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of gods, His love endures forever. Give thanks to the Lord of lords, His love endures forever.”
Psalm 136:1-3

When hearts overflow, praise naturally comes forward. “You will say,” Isaiah wrote. As we speak, thanksgiving and praise activates both within and around us.

Praise

Often the frequent use of a word causes us to overlook the significance of its meaning. “Praise,” or in Hebrew yadah, means to acknowledge, to praise, to give thanks, to confess, or to cast. It represents the act of acknowledging what is right about God through praise and thanksgiving. Yadah’s heavenward recognition is sometimes structured within corporate worship. Often, yadah flows as personal expression.

Someone once said, “Give praise where praise is due!” Good advice, I think.

We should publicly recognize the people and organizations among us who work hard. However, the grandest accolades belong to the LORD. He is worthy of all adoration, honor, glory, and praise.

Praising God doesn’t always come easily. Life’s pressures often weigh heavy on us. We worry. We fret. God knows, understands, and cares deeply for us in the midst of struggle. Perhaps, it is in these times more than any other, that the transformational power of praise really shines the brightest.

“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”
Psalm 42:11

Amidst severe oppression, the psalmist commanded himself to give God praise. He shows us that praise is a decision of the will. As we begin to praise, we welcome God into our circumstances allowing Him to shift spiritual atmospheres within and around us. The enemy quickly loses his position.

Proclaim

The word proclaim comes from the Hebrew, qara, meaning to proclaim an announcement. When we proclaim we make a verbal declaration about something. Proclaiming resembles a flashing message on a neon sign or a broadcast over a loudspeaker. Proclaiming commands everyone to pay attention.

The more we proclaim and declare His active participation in our lives, the more we see His hand at work.

Many and varied opportunities have opened for ministry over the summer — at a Bible camp, in churches, and during a city-wide gathering. In every occasion, I have witnessed God answer prayer at a level I have not seen for many years, if at all. People have powerfully experienced the presence of Holy Spirit moving through healing, deliverance, words of knowledge, and the prophetic.

Jesus quoted these words from Isaiah,

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.”
Luke 4:18

Jesus still proclaims good news to the poor. He still proclaims freedom for prisoners. He still gives sight to the blind and sets the oppressed free. Through willing human hands and voices, He moves and speaks.

A great hunger for God is rising in our nation and in the nations around the world. God is on the move! Give praise to the Lord! Proclaim His Name!

Make Known

Isaiah combines two words for “make known.” The first word, yada, means to know, learn, perceive, discern, experience, confess, and consider. It means to be skillful at making something or someone known. I, too, easily forget even the good things God does around me.

One of the practical ways, I stir up my memory is through journaling, or keeping a record, about how I’ve seen God move in my life and in the lives of others for whom I have been praying. I want to remember! Somehow, writing things down helps to solidify them in my memory and improves my recall of them in the future.

Isaiah calls us to skillfully “make known among the nations what he has done.” At no other time in the history of mankind has this been so easy to do. Whether in person or through the internet, we have opportunity to converse with people of all nationalities. The fluid movement of people from one nation to another creates a wellspring of opportunity to make Jesus known among the nations.

In the prayer tent during a praise gathering, we had the privilege of making God known to peoples from First Nations communities and many immigrant nations. What an honor! Give praise to the Lord for what He is doing. Today, people groups from virtually every nation are being reached with the Gospel.

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise — the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.”
Hebrews 13:15

Fruit of our Lips

As we give praise to the Lord, it becomes the fruit of our lips. Sweet, nourishing, and enjoyable!

In every season, may we each “through Jesus . . . continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise.”

Let’s take a few moments to acknowledge God’s goodness. Let the answers to prayers already received build anticipation for those yet to come. He hears our every cry and holds every prayer precious. He is not slow to come to our aid. His ways and timing are perfect.

Through prayer or songs may the atmosphere of our homes radiate with worship. May today be a “that day” moment when . . .

“In that day you will say: ‘Give praise to the LORD, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done.’ “
Isaiah 12:4

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The Middle of the Camp — What Centers My Life?

The Middle of the Camp — What Centers My Life?

What centers my life? What anchors me through different seasons? We all center daily tasks and assignments around priorities. What are mine?

As I read Numbers chapter 2, God reminded me how He specifically ordained the order of how the tribes of Israel were to camp. Whether they stayed for a night or for an entire year, a consistent pattern was established for setting up camp.

“The Israelites are to camp around the tent of meeting some distance from it, each of them under their standard and holding the banners of their family.”
Numbers 2:2

I envision their family tents positioned with their doors opening towards the epicenter of the camp. Every morning when they began a new day, the first thing they saw was the Tabernacle where God’s Presence rested among them.

There God stayed at the core of all activities, social functions, and worship. What a beautiful image!

The Center

The word center often refers to a noun — a person, place, or thing. What person, place or thing occupies the core of my activities? I desire it to be God, but is He?

I understand the mutual struggles we face. The pressures of parenting and providing for our families demands immediate attention and time. Probably, the most tangible way to honor God comes through faithfully caring for the practical needs of those close to us.

But even within the Israelite camp, grouped by families, every face turned towards God’s tabernacle.

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.”
Deuteronomy 5:6-7

When God alone is the center, the Person we worship, the place we look to, and the main component in our lives, everything else will move in synchronized harmony.

Is it God who centers our lives?

The Central Point

Our hearts fill the central position of our physical bodies — protected by skeletal structure and muscles. From this central point the whole body is nourished and sustained. When the heart functions well, the entire body benefits. The same holds true for our spiritual well being.

I find it a constant battle to keep God as my central point. External demands constantly pull and pressure me to relinquish this prime location to lesser things.

“The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.”
Psalm 28:7

God helps us form practical ways to bring Him to the center.

  • Daily routine of Bible reading and prayer, seeking God’s wisdom and direction. (For me, the best time is first thing in the morning, before the rush hits!)
  • Accountability! When my time is under a lot of pressure, I ask others to pray for and check in on me. They hold me accountable to keep God first when time is stretched thin or when disappointments and discouragements drain me.
  • Mentorship has been one of the key things to help keep me on track. Whether I am mentoring others or being mentored, mutual benefits produce the desired consistency.
  • The example of other more recent giants in the faith also inspire me to pursue a centered lifestyle.

Keeping God as the central point requires intentional effort — an effort that pays spiritual dividends. But I ask again, “What centers my life?”

Centered

Whether used as a noun, adjective, or verb, God fulfills each application of the word center. Even as the camp moved from one place to another, they centered themselves around God.

“Then the tent of meeting and the camp of the Levites will set out in the middle of the camps. They will set out in the same order as they encamp, each in their own place . . . ”
Numbers 2:17

God never sits stagnantly by! He goes with us. Or more accurately, we go with Him.

From the center He directed the camp with a pillar of fire by night and cloud by day.

Are our homes centered around God? Do we pray together. Do we read, watch, and listen to God-honoring entertainment? Are our homes open and available for God to use for the encouraging of His body, the building of His church, and the advancing of His Kingdom?

Is my business or occupation centered around God? Do I ask God for His strategies and ideas to build and expand my business? How well do I live my faith in the marketplace with honesty and integrity? Am I committed to praying for those I work with and for? Do I consistently tithe from the returns?

Do I welcome God as part of recreation and relaxation, or do I confine Him to church and formal worship?

The Question

When I honestly answer these questions and more, I discover what centers my life? Then I can lift God to His rightful place. Adjustments might be necessary. Realignment may be needed in one or more areas.

God speaks to us today as clearly as He spoke to His displaced people wandering through that harsh wilderness environment. He invites us to include Him in every aspect of our lives, repositioning Him to become central to everything we are and do.

God will never abandon us. He fills us with His Presence, instructs us through His Word, and guides us with His loving hand. When we center Him over our lives, boldness and confidence mark our steps. He comes along side, helping us and giving us the capacity to live well in community and to thrive wherever He plants us.

What about you? What effective ways have you discovered to live a God-centered life?

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Easter — Why the Blood? Part 1— Surrender

Surrender

Easter, the greatest celebration of the Christian Church, correctly emphasises the resurrection. Though once dead, Jesus Christ lives! His resurrection signed the guarantee for each of us to now have the hope of eternal life.

Easter celebrates His life.

As we approach this Easter season, I again consider the significance of the shed blood of Jesus. Many believers today, hesitate to discuss this often-controversial subject. In so doing, we perhaps miss key truths and essential realities of our faith.

So pardon me while I briefly share a few thoughts. Each one only skims the surface, but hopefully it will help us to consider why the blood is so significant, both to us as individuals and also to the larger church “body.”

“For the life of the body is in the blood. I have given you the blood on the altar to purify you, making you right with the LORD. It is the blood, given in exchange for a life, that makes purification possible.”
Leviticus 17:11

Baby Bird

Surrender of Will

Redemption began, not on the cross, but in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus travailed in prayer, calling to His Father and seeking another, even easier, way to accomplish His mission.

“‘Abba, Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.'”
Mark 14:36

Jesus knew every detail within the impending hours. Being fully God, Jesus was also fully man. As a man, He felt, as intensely as you or I, the sting of betrayal, the isolation of abandonment, and the pain of physical suffering. Yet in great angst, He surrendered His will.

Baby bunny

“And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”
Luke 22:44

Our redemption began in the Garden. Because of the blood of Jesus, now our wills, too, may be fully surrendered to the authority of Lord.

Surrender of the Mind

“They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ they said.”
Matthew 27:28-29

The full cruelty of these soldiers is difficult to imagine. They wove a crown of thorns, pressings it into Jesus’ head, piercing his flesh, and releasing a flow of blood. But as they mocked, Jesus won for us the victory over the devil’s influence over our thoughts, shattering the negative strongholds over our minds.

Baby Kitten

“The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
2 Corinthians10:4-5

Why the blood? Easter reminds us that through the blood, Jesus gave us the ability to surrender our minds completely to the authority and truth of God.

Surrender of Pride

The soldier continued to vent their full aggression upon Jesus.

“Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him.”
Mark 15:19

We scarcely want to believe the brutality Jesus experienced. They beat His face and head again and again with fists and rods. The prophet Isaiah spoke about the event hundreds of years prior,

“Just as there were many who were
appalled at him —
his appearance was so disfigured
beyond that of any human being
and his form marred beyond
human likeness —”
Isaian 52:14

Baby Chick

Why the blood? Jesus submitted to the soldiers beating as a symbol of surrendered pride and vanity. Through His blood, we now have the power to endure humiliation, reproach, and the loss of reputation. The blood of Jesus strengthens us to withstand persecution as His divine beauty shines through us.

Surrender of Position

Isaiah adds another detail to the soldier’s treatment of Jesus.

“I offered my back to those
who beat me,
my cheeks to those
who pulled out my beard;
I did not hide my face
from mocking and spitting.”
Isaiah 50:6

The beard represents priesthood, dignity, distinction, maturity, and position.

Baby Duckling

Why the blood? As the soldiers ripped the beard from Jesus’ face, His blood paved the way surrendering earthly position and prestige. Now, He brings us into a higher place of serving the Him as His priests.

” . . . To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father — to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.”
Revelation 1:5-6

Easter

We celebrate Easter, rejoicing in the resurrection of our Lord and Savior. No one and nothing could hinder Him from completing our redemption to the fullest. Through the power of His blood, we gain the victory to surrender our wills, minds, pride, and position to Him completely.

Why the blood? Through Jesus shed blood, we join Him in overcoming, conquering, and triumphing.

“They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.”
Revelation 12:11

As we prepare for family gatherings and celebrate Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, may we appreciate every way Jesus’ blood was shed.

“Thank You again, Jesus, for Your precious blood. Amen.”

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