Saturday, December 24, 2016

So Loved

For God so loved the world
that he gave his one and only Son…

Do you have a favorite Christmas carol? Do you know it by heart? If so, take a moment to sing it to yourself. Why is it your favorite? Is it the tune, the words, the meaning?

Whether it's a silly song or a serious one, it's probably easy to sing without thinking too much about what you're singing. You may not even know what it means or the history behind it, but that doesn't stop you from singing along.

Familiar Christmas songs, Christmas traditions kept year after year, and the gifts given and received often become so familiar, it's easy to overlook how special they are. Sometimes it takes a change, where certain elements are missing, to realize how much a part of our celebration they have become.

Perhaps you have experienced this: the year your family had to go without a tree, gifts, or some-one. If you haven't suffered such a loss, take a moment to think about what you would miss at Christmas—a little, and a lot. 

I don't bring this up to put a damper on your holiday. Quite the opposite, actually. Like a festive carol that puts you in the Christmas spirit, I want to share words from the Bible that remind us what Christmas is all about. John 3:16 says, For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  If this is your first time hearing this verse, keep reading, and if it's so familiar you could say it in your sleep, you might want to listen in too, because I'm willing to bet you need to let the words go a little deeper.

God so loved… Because God loved everyone so much, He sent His Son, Jesus, to display His mercy...

Just think about that! I mean, what else could God have given to show how much He loves us? It's not like He didn't have other grand things to choose from. He could have given us each our own galaxy. He could have given us magical powers to fly. He could have given us rivers of chocolate and mountains of ice cream. But instead of going for whimsical gifts, He chose the most precious thing to Him. Not something He could wave His hand and create in an instant, but something irreplaceable. His most precious possession. Something that said, This is how much I love you. You are so loved.

You might be asking, 'But what is Jesus to me? Why is that such a great gift? No offense, God, but a new galaxy sounds pretty cool—or the house I've always wanted, an unending closet, a pool in the backyard…'

Yes, those things would be nice, and if you take time to think about it, He's probably given you a lot of good things—more blessings than you could think of before finishing this blog. But what makes Jesus so special? Why is He the best gift of all?

When Jesus came, His purpose was to proclaim God's love: His compassion; His nearness. God wasn't far away. He wasn't out of reach. He wasn't like a busy parent who is never home. He isn't like Santa who brings gifts at midnight but is gone in the morning. He is real and never more than a prayer away.

Like Christmas that wouldn't be the same without your favorite song, gifts, or your family, life would be very different without God's love. If Jesus never came, I'm pretty sure we wouldn't be here; but if we were, there would be no hope for the future, no comfort in sorrow, no happiness to be found anywhere, no love in our hearts. This world would be a very dark, horrible place. There would be no reason to sing, "Joy to the World".

The prophet Isaiah said, The people walking in darkness have seen a great light…For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:2,6)

You see, when God sent Jesus, He was giving us Himself; His presence; His unconditional, unending love.

This Christmas I pray you will take that into your heart like never before. God could not have given you a greater gift, so believe it. You are so loved.

The LORD delights in youHe will rejoice over you as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride. (Isaiah 62:4,5 NLT)

Photos by Rick Jernberg, Dany Sabadini;

Sunday, December 11, 2016


My righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.
Isaiah 53:11 (NLT)

I've been reading in the book of Isaiah lately, and the ancient prophet makes many references to the promised Messiah of Israel. Today we know he was talking about Jesus, the baby who was born to Mary and Joseph. On the night of His birth, an angel was sent to shepherds watching over their flocks at night and made this announcement: "I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people."

In my previous blog, I talked about Jesus bringing the Good News that "The Kingdom of God is near."  In essence, the angel was saying the same in announcing the birth of the Christ-child. "A Savior has been born to you…peace to those on whom his favor rests."  God had come near to bring salvation, peace, and joy, as the prophet Isaiah had proclaimed hundreds of years before.

In Isaiah 53, we read about Who was promised, what He would be like, and His purpose. In verse 11 it says, My righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.  This is the cornerstone of God's Kingdom. His mercy and forgiveness counts us as righteous.

We are loved. We are forgiven. We are free.

Later in the Gospels, we can read a wonderful story that shows what this means for one woman. She responds to this free gift of salvation by attending a dinner-party held in Jesus' honor and washing His feet with perfume and her tears. The host of the party is disgusted by her actions because she is a "sinful woman", but Jesus is moved by her gratitude and love.

"I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love."

In contrast, the man sees himself as righteous with no need for forgiveness—or at least not as much as this woman. Other than inviting Jesus to dinner, he doesn't do anything to honor Him. Why? He doesn't understand how much Jesus has given him. He hasn't been made righteous through forgiveness, but rather is self-righteous, thinking he hasn't done much that needs forgiving, and he can easily make up for his shortcomings by having the Messiah over for dinner. (Surely that will cover it.)

But it doesn't work that way. Hundreds of years before, God had said, My righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for HE will bear all their sins. The "sinful" woman understood this, the "righteous" man did not. He didn't understand that he and the woman were the same: sinful but forgiven. That's the only scale of righteousness God has.

We all make mistakes. No one is perfect. We're all sinners. Perhaps you see yourself like the man who wasn't "too bad"; or maybe you see yourself as the man saw the woman. In his eyes, she was beyond forgiveness. Her sins were "too great". But in God's Kingdom, neither reality exists.

All of us like sheep have strayed away. We have left God's paths to follow our own. Yet the LORD laid on HIM the sins of us all.

The sins of us all…I pray you believe that. You are forgiven. No matter what mistakes you have made, no matter what you need forgiveness for. You are. You are counted as righteous.

As the woman in the story who washed Jesus' feet with her tears, may your motive for loving God and showing Him that love be the same. Not from a heart of guilt and shame, nor from a heart of self-righteousness. But rather as one who owed a debt that couldn't be paid, so He paid it for you. Go in peace, dear one. You have been forgiven.

Scripture taken from Mark 1:15; Luke 2:10-11, 14; Luke 7:47 (NLT); Isaiah 53:6 (NLT)
Woman photo by Benjamin Earwicker,

Thursday, December 1, 2016

"The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news." Mark 1:15

Christmas is just around the corner. Are you ready? Did you shop till you dropped on Black Friday, or do you need to get started? Have you gotten a tree and untangled the lights, or do you still have those tasks before you?

I love Christmas. I love how December is different than any other month of the year. I love the decorations, the Christmas plays, the giving, and above all, the reason we celebrate. Christmas is a time we remember God sent His Son into the world to save us from our sins. It's a time of hope and joy.

It's easy to get caught up in the shopping, decorating, and activity of the Christmas season and completely forget about Jesus. But it's also possible to remember the story of Jesus being born and having a feeding trough as a crib, but completely forget He didn't stay in the manger. Jesus grew up, became a man, and spent three years traveling around Israel to teach the message God had sent Him to share. The verse above, from Mark 1:15, was His primary message. "The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news."  Do you know what it means? What is the Kingdom of God? What is the Good News?

The Kingdom of God has existed from the beginning of time. We are here because God created His Kingdom and created us to enjoy it. You can think of it like a country that is ruled by a king; but it's not limited by space, a certain time period, or for certain people. The Kingdom of God is a present reality for anyone who wants to engage with Him, and it lasts forever.

Some believe we are simply here on earth by chance, an accident of nature that serves no purpose. Others believe we are created beings and we're here for a reason, but those reasons may be vague or misunderstood. But the Kingdom of God is not complicated, it's clear and simple: God is the King and we are His children—His beloved children who are loved unconditionally and valued immensely.

The message of Christmas never changes no matter how old you are. Do you treat the holiday as if it's only for children and forget about all the ways God wants to bless YOU? His gifts to us are eternal—ongoing year after year, no matter the season. But Christmas is a good time to be reminded of the love, peace, joy, guidance, hope, healing, and truth He gives.

When Jesus said, "The Kingdom of God is near", He was obviously speaking to those who didn't see it that way. God didn't send His Son to preach something everyone already understood and believed. He came to change their thinking (this is the definition of the word repent).

"Repent and believe the good news," He said. So, what's the Good News? By default, good news is not bad. He didn't say, 'Repent or you're going to Hell; Repent or God will stop loving you. Repent or you're getting kicked out of the Kingdom.' That would be bad news. The good news was (and still is), "The Kingdom of God is near."

What would have made them believe it was far away? When Jesus appeared on the scene, it was a chaotic time of political change and unrest in Israel. The Roman Empire had taken over, benefitting some but oppressing others. Poverty was widespread. Disease was rampant. Demon-possession was plaguing individual lives and communities. People had feelings of hopelessness, dread, and insignificance. They were "poor in spirit". They had little hope for their present and the future.

But Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven."  He wanted them to go from seeing themselves as doomed and destitute, to believing they were valued, forgiven, and loved.

"Don't worry; Trust God," He said. "Seek His Kingdom and all your needs will be met. Love others. Pray for your enemies. Forgive. Don't be angry. Do not fear."

He even recruited a band of disciples to help Him spread the word. "Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." It was a message everyone needed to hear, and He only had three years to preach before He would be silenced by those who couldn't take any more of His absurd teaching that God loved everyone.

How did Jesus demonstrate this free love? He drove out demons, healed the sick, gave the blind sight and the lame new legs. He went everywhere, spreading the Good News to all. "Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come."  We often say Jesus came to die for our sins, and He did, but His death only proved His message: You are loved. God does not hold your sin against you. He loves you. He values you. You belong to Him.

In Mark 2:5, we see this love and forgiveness demonstrated when Jesus says to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven."  This man didn't make a decision that he wanted to be forgiven and come to Jesus to ask for that. He didn't pray the "sinner's prayer." He was just there, in need of God's touchOthers would have viewed him as sinful and unworthy because of his crippled condition, but he wasn't unworthy. He wasn't overlooked. And Jesus didn't just say so, He demonstrated it: "I tell you, get up, take your mat, and go home."  The One who had the power to heal the body also had the power to heal the soul.

Do you need to believe the Kingdom of God is near? Does it feel far away? Are you living in fear, hate, defeat, despair, or hopelessness? Do you feel unloved or less than perfectly loved?

If so, you need to change your thinking. Repent and believe the good news: The Kingdom of heaven is near. The Kingdom of God is for you. Dwell in His love and live in His grace. He is the King; You are His child; and you can trust Him.

Photo Credit 1:
Photo Credit 2:
Scripture taken from Mark 1:15; Matt. 5:2; Matt. 5-6 (various); Mark 1:17; Mark 1:38; Mark 2:5, 11

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Finding Rest

This is what the Lord says: "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls." Jeremiah 6:16

Rest. It's something we all long for. For our body, mind, and heart. In our circumstances and relationships. For the past, present, and future. God created rest, and He Himself rested. I'd say that makes it an important thing, wouldn't you? It's not just something we want, it's something we need. It's okay to rest. In fact, God commanded it! "Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy."  He said this to the Hebrew people, and the purpose of the whole day was to rest. No gathering food. No cooking. No going out. No work. Just rest.

But is one day of physical rest really enough? Is that all we need? If you have lived for any amount of time, I'm sure you would agree that you need more than a day off once a week. Our bodies demand physical rest. We need rest every day. We sleep. We take breaks at work and school. We relax daily by watching television, reading, or taking a nap. Most people have hobbies they find relaxing. Some find relaxation with exercise. My dad thrives on keeping busy on his farm. It's work, but for him it's also what he loves. I feel the same way about writing. It should exhaust me, but it doesn't. It's fun. I like it. I find it restful. That's why I do it so much!

In Jeremiah 6:16, God gives a formula for rest in another sense. "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls." And in Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus speaks these words: "Come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

Christians often refer to Jesus as the Savior, and He is, but to some that's all He is. We often forget that Jesus was also a teacher. Before He died for the sins of mankind and rose from the grave, He spent much of His time teaching. Teaching His disciples. Teaching the crowds. Teaching the teachers. Teaching His friends. Remember Mary who sat at His feet and hung on His every word? Jesus said she had chosen what was even better than serving: To just listen. To be teachable. To recognize a need for guidance.

What did Jesus teach? To receive God's love. To love others. To trust in God, have faith, and believe in His goodness. To forgive and not judge. To share His truth with others, but even more importantly, to live it themselves.

We have an important day coming up in America. Election Day. A day we all vote about measures and who we want to represent us. Democracy is a great thing, and we are privileged to have the freedoms and rights we have. But we need to be careful about how much trust we place in our rights as American Citizens, in our leaders, and even in people in general. How much are we looking to others to meet our needs rather than looking to God? We all have problems, and we often want to blame someone: the government, corrupt leaders, and those who have mistreated us much more personally: a trusted friend, a family member, a neighbor, a Christian brother or sister. 

I don't know if you've realized this, but blaming others for the circumstances we find ourselves in doesn't bring rest. It brings anger. It brings grief. It brings despair. Peace and hope don't come from having our eyes on the problem-makers. It comes from having our eyes on the One who can give us rest. And His prescription is simple: 'Look, ask, and listen. Trust and believe.' His grace is bigger than anything, and it's always enough.

The words of God in Jeremiah 6:16 contain a great promise. A promise of rest for following simple principles of listening to God and following His ways. But the words that follow are sobering: "...But you said, 'We will not walk in it...we will not listen.'" God's promise then: Disaster.

It's important to not look at God's warning of disaster as a punishment, but rather as a natural result of not walking in God's ways. His ways are the right ways because they bring rest. He knows that because He made us and knows what we need. And when we deviate from what we really need, we suffer. Like when we don't get enough physical rest and we pay for it later with fatigue and burn out. Like when we don't eat healthy food and it results in health problems later. A healthy soul requires basic maintenance too, but Jesus says His yoke is easy. It's not complicated. It's not beyond us. It can be difficult to go against our human nature, but not nearly as difficult as the alternative.

If Jesus was campaigning for your vote, some of His slogans would be: Hope instead of despair. Trust instead of worry. Give instead of greed. Believe in Me instead of believing you know better. 

Are you listening? Are you at rest? These two things go together. There's no way around that. Believe in His love. Believe in His mercy. Believe in His promise: "Come to me...and you will find rest for your souls."

"Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love endures forever." Psalm 118:1

Top photo by Cindy Rae Riggs. © Copyrighted. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

This is one of the first blog-entries I wrote back in 2009, shortly after moving to Washington State. Just thought I'd re-post. I hope it speaks to you today:

Yesterday my family and I took a trip to Mt. Rainier. We recently moved to Washington, and I was expecting the mountain to be beautiful close up, and it was. Just take a look at the pictures! But it was more than beautiful and magnificent. Reaching the 6000 ft. elevation point and seeing the glacier-capped mountain come into view was an out-of-this-world experience. Almost unreal. Like another dimension of reality.

I'm sure for those who live or work there, it's become commonplace. It's not new like it was for me. It has become their daily reality. They are constantly surrounded by the beauty and take-your-breath-away views. They hike the trails, drive the roads, see people come and go; It's their life. And hopefully, it doesn't become so familiar that they forget how truly wonderful it all is.

Spiritually-speaking, this happened to me once upon a time. I grew up believing that I was loved by God, and it was a wonderful reality. I'm not sure when that began to change exactly, but it did. Instead of believing I was loved unconditionally, it became conditional. It was as if I was living on a beautiful mountain for many years, never knowing any different, and then someone came along and told me, 'You can't just stay here for free. You have to earn the right to live up here.' I desperately wanted to hang on to His love, so I did whatever I thought I had to do to be worthy of it: Being good; Making the right choices; Doing things to earn God's favor. It was a slow digression, but by the time I began to realize how far I had slipped from a belief in His unconditional love, I was fully immersed in duty, guilt, pride, fear, self-righteousness, and misery.

I felt worthless to God. I was constantly swimming upstream. I was never good enough. I was always falling short of what I thought I should be. But I didn't want to turn my back on Him and run away, so I kept trudging forward, trying to reach the top of the mountain again, but I never got any closer. I remained in the valley of 'He loves me if...'

To make a long story short, God woke me up to the fact I was living that way, and I knew I needed to stop. His love for me was not conditional. He didn't love me more because of all the things I was doing right, and He didn't love me less because of all the ways I was falling short. I didn't have anything to do with how He felt about me. That was all on Him, and God is love. 

He loves me. Period. Not if... not when... not because... He just does, and there's nothing I can do either way to change it. I am loved. That is my reality. And it's magnificent, like living on that beautiful mountain and getting to be there every day. Not once in awhile. Not when I reach the summit after a long climb. No. I wake up there, and I don't leave. 

It's amazing how much doesn't matter when I truly believe that. It's like living in another dimension. It moves me from the valley of fear, uncertainty, and trying to measure-up, to the high places of grace, hope, and peace where living-loved is the only rule. That's my reality, and there's plenty of room in God's Heart for you too. We are His children. We are His treasure. We are His delight.

Are you living loved today?

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Be Rich in Love

Now behold, one came and said to (Jesus), “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?”

He said to him "...if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

"All these I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?" 

“If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven."  (Matthew 19:16-17, 20-23 NKJV)

Have you ever felt like you have it all but something is missing? You have a home, family, worldly possessions, education, work, leisure, freedom… But you feel lost, frustrated, disappointed, and discontent?

The conversation above involved Jesus and a young man who had it all in terms of wealth and possessions. It also seems that he came from a good family who had taught him right from wrong. He wasn't among the poor that were so prevalent at this time in Israel. He wasn't needy, wayward, or corrupt. He was a good man who had many blessings and had likely worked hard for them.

One day this young man came to Jesus. He was rich. He was good. He had no physical or material needs, unlike so many others who were drawn to Jesus. So he asks Him, “What good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?”  That was something he knew money couldn't buy, but he supposed he could earn it somehow.

This is where things get interesting because Jesus doesn't answer the question the man asked. He didn't say, 'If you want to have eternal life, keep the commands.' Instead He says, "If you want to enter into life..." This wording suggests something different than life after death. It's more like, 'If you want to start really living.'

He tells him to follow the Commandments—Do not kill, cheat, steal, or lie; Honor your parents; and love your neighbor. The young man says he has followed these rules. “What do I still lack?” he asks. Obviously the young man realizes Jesus is answering a different question than the one he asked. He knows Jesus is talking about what is missing in his life today. 

Jesus tells him if he wants to be "perfect" (complete), to go sell his possessions, give the money to the poor, and to follow Him. Again Jesus is offering him something he didn't verbally ask for, but Jesus knew what was missing: what money couldn't buy but the man lacked in his heart. The "treasures" of life: love, goodness, faith, kindness, compassion, knowing God... The man rejects these things, however, and walks away, feeling sorrowful. He couldn't give up the tangible for the intangible.

Ironically, it's the intangible things that bring true joy and the tangible things that leave us empty. The things of this world are worthless. The treasures of heaven are priceless.

After the man walks away, Jesus says to His disciples, "It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven." A few chapters earlier, Jesus tells many parables in an attempt to explain “the kingdom”. It seems that no one comparison can adequately explain it, so He gives many, but one of them would have resonated with this young man better than the others.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field." (Matt. 13:44)

Jesus wasn’t asking this man to give up everything to be left with nothing. He was asking him to exchange what he had for what was so much better. For the things he lacked and needed for true life. Not just to be a good, successful person who followed the rules, but to live with passion. Passion for others. Passion to make a difference. Passion for God and what He was all about.

Jesus was all about love, mercy, faith, and joy. He talked about these things extensively. He lived them relentlessly. He taught the HOW and WHY and POSSIBILITIES of radical faith. The fruit. The harvest. The abundant life. Real Treasures of The Kingdom.

Many see Jesus as the way to life after death. But He invited others to follow Him and find life before death. To live a life of faith, not fear. To trust and obey. To love radically. To experience true joy. To discover the hidden treasures of really living.

You may not have a lot of money to give to others, or maybe you do, but the key to this story is to give whatever Jesus leads you to give. To be rich in love and faith. To let go of fear, selfishness, or whatever holds you captive and keeps you from experiencing all that God has for you.

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom." (Luke 12:32)

You have been called to live in freedom…Use your freedom to serve one another in love. (Galatians 5:13 NLT)

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Faith To Wait

"Be still, and know that I am God…" Psalm 46:10

As a child, I remember waiting for certain moments—like Christmas, birthdays, and summer. I often felt like I couldn't wait to receive gifts, be another year older, or for school to be out. Back then, having to wait a week or a month seemed like forever! I'm sure you can relate to that feeling, but little did we know our adult lives would also require a lot of waiting:

Graduation, getting that first job, falling in love, getting married, having children, getting a full night's sleep again, getting a better job, that dream job, that dream vacation, waiting to be healed from an illness or injury, for so-and-so to change, for retirement, for the kids to come home for a visit…on and on the waiting goes. Benjamin Franklin said, "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." I'd like to add, except death, taxes, and waiting!

There are times when waiting is a mere inconvenience, and other times when it's nearly unbearable. You think, Will I ever get there? Will my dream ever come true? Will things ever get better? Will this hardship ever end? Maybe it's hopeless, Maybe I should give up.

Waiting can be annoying, waiting can be extremely frustrating; but waiting can also be purposeful. Waiting can make us appreciate things more when they finally come. Waiting can remind us of all the blessings we already have. Waiting can be a time of deep reflection: It can help us focus on what we truly need or what is really important. Sometimes a time of waiting ends in getting what we want, and other times we gain new perspective and head in a new direction that leads to paths we never considered.

You have probably experienced some or all of these benefits of waiting at different times, and when it comes to waiting, perspective is invaluable. It can keep you going. It can keep you from giving up. The right perspective can ultimately make dreams come true when each stepping stone carries you all the way to your destination, and it can definitely make the journey much sweeter, no matter where you end up.

When it comes to faith, waiting is often involved; but sadly, waiting is often seen as evidence of a lack of faith: 'If you had more faith, this wouldn't be happening to you; If you had more faith, your child would be well by now; If you had more faith, your dreams would have come true a long time ago; If you had more faith, God wouldn't be testing you like this.'

Have you ever heard these kinds of judgements from others, or have you ever thought them yourself? While a lack of faith can certainly result in less than ideal circumstances, it should NEVER be attributed to anyone simply because their prayers and desires are not being immediately granted. It's actually the opposite: Having the faith to wait is faith's strongest form.

Jesus said to the woman who had waited twelve years for healing: “Take heart, daughter, your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed at that moment. (Matt. 9:22)  She was healed at the moment Jesus said she was healed, but I highly doubt that was the first time she had hoped and prayed for healing. She had been waiting for twelve years, and that day finally came! Why? Because she had lacked faith before? Or, because she still had faith after so much suffering?

The writer of Hebrews talks about this enduring kind of faith: Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (11:1)  The desired result, the healing, the fruit, the change is not yet a reality; but it's coming, you can feel it. How long it will take, you have no idea—probably longer than you want it to. But in the waiting, sweet treasures can be found, if you take the opportunity to see what's already available:

More time with the people already in your life while you wait for who or what is "missing". Enjoying the qualities of others while you wait for their imperfections to be refined. Feeling good about how far you've come while you wait to reach the next step in your journey. Enjoying each day for whatever it holds.

More time with God, more enjoyment of HIM. More listening. More trust. More dependence. Anything you need to feel better, safe, fulfilled, satisfied, purposeful…you can find those things in His presence and His love.

Don't believe me? Try it. When you get done reading this, take a moment, a minute, five minutes, twenty… Just be with Him and listen. Just be with Him and be loved. Just be with Him and say, 'I trust You. I'll wait.'

Saturday, March 26, 2016

In the Darkness, Believe in the Light

At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour.  And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Mark 15:33-34

Jesus spoke these words while He was on the Cross. Perhaps your darkest times have left you with the same feelings of despair, abandonment, and doubt. Doubt in God's presence and doubt in His love. Jesus was God, but He was also fully human. He had a human body, a human mind, human limitations, and human emotions. The Gospels tell the story of Jesus’ life and ministry, and they reveal many of these emotions. Emotions that we too have, like joy, love, and compassion, along with anger, frustration, sorrow, and loneliness.

In the middle of a crisis, have you ever thought, ‘God, where are you? Why have you let this happen to me? Why have you left me all alone in this?’ Jesus did. And He didn’t just think it; He shouted it for all to hear! 

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 

He said this, but had God really abandoned Him? I don’t think so. Jesus felt alone, but He wasn’t. And He knew that. He knew the truth. Jesus was quoting words from Psalm 22, but if you read further, you know what He would have said eventually, if He would have had the strength. He obviously didn't, but He would have remembered...

All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment. But you, LORD, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me...I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you...For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help. (Psalm 22:17-19,22,24)

And in another prophetic Psalm we read these words Jesus would have known well: I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be body will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. (Psalm 16:8-10)

In the middle of great trials, confusing circumstances, and everyday life, my thoughts can become overcome with feelings of abandonment and aloneness. I feel like no one can possibly understand what I'm going through, and God is nowhere to be found. His promises seem false. He has failed me.

But just because I think that, doesn’t make it true. God does not forsake us. He does not forget. He does not leave! How did Jesus overcome such a time of feeling abandoned? He believed the truth. He trusted God. In the middle of the darkness, He believed in the light; He believed He would still be heard. Mark 15:37 tells us: With a loud cry he breathed his last. Whom do you think He was crying out to?

God will sometimes take us to that point where He is all we have left and crying out to Him is our only hope. But the key is: He is our hope. He is there. He is over it. And we are never alone.

Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe. I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.  Psalm 61:1-4

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Beauty of His Kingdom

Does life always turn out like you planned? Are you facing things today you never imagined or tried your best to avoid? Are there things you would do anything to have or change but you simply can't? If this is your reality, read the words of Jesus below, as interpreted by Eugene Peterson in The Message. The words may sound familiar but a little different than you've heard before.

In more traditional Bible translations, the words go something like this: "Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow…" These are some of my favorite words of Jesus, and I like this particular version because it defines His Kingdom in some specific ways that I can measure and monitor in myself. Let's take a look at each one.

1. Steep your life in God-reality… When I think of that word "steep", a cup of tea comes to mind. Placing a teabag in hot water draws the flavor and aroma of the tea leaves into the surrounding liquid. How long the tea leaves are left in the water determines how strong the cup of tea becomes. Whether you prefer your tea strong, weak, or somewhere in between is a matter of preference, as is what you add to it. Personally I prefer honey, but you might like sugar or milk or to leave it alone. But when it comes to steeping your life in God-reality, the more you do this, the better. You can never get too much of the reality of God: His love for you, His ways, His strength, and the hope He brings.

God is real and He is relevant to our lives, but too often we don't live like it. We think and act as if He doesn't exist, or if He does, that He doesn't really care about us. I only have to read one verse into the Bible to know that's not true. Genesis 1:1 tells us, In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  Whom did He make it for? People. He gave us air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat, friends, family, work, rest…everything we need. Hmm, that sounds a lot like Jesus' words here…You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.  But I'm getting ahead of myself. How else is God real and relevant? What has He done for you? What does He still want for you? What do you need from Him, besides your next breath and your next meal? Help with your relationships? Guidance in your decisions? Strength in your challenges? Believing He is real and relevant will go a long way to receiving all He has for you.

2. Steep your life in God-initiative… Have you ever thought about that? Going back to Genesis 1:1, the first words of the Bible say, In the beginning God… How can you fill in the rest of the sentence? What has God started in you or for you? What new things might be on the horizon? He knows the plans He has for you. Do you? How has He led you in the past, and how is He leading you now? If you don't know, that's okay, but steeping your life in God-initiative instead of your own plans, thinking, and ideas will take you places you've never dreamed (or maybe you have, but what you want seems impossible). But if He wants it for you, it's not. Trust Him. Follow Him. Ask Him to show you the way.

3. Steep your life in God-provisions… This is related to the first two. The truth is that God will always provide for you. He never leaves you on your own. Have you heard the saying, 'God helps those who help themselves'? It's NOT in the Bible! God never said that, so forget about it. God helps those who ask. God helps those who trust Him. God helps those He loves.

4. Don't worry about missing out… In addition to this referring to your basic needs being provided, it can also be applied to what you want out of life. Proverbs 19:21 says, Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails.  I have wanted and aspired to many things. Many of my wishes have come true, others have not (at least not yet), but I live a very happy and satisfied life because I believe God always gives me what I need; what is best; what He has planned for me. And really, what's better than that?

So don't worry about tomorrow, or today for that matter. God's got it covered. He knows. He cares. He will lead you if you choose to follow. That's the beauty of His Kingdom. He will give you exactly what you need today, tomorrow, and always.

Monday, January 25, 2016

God's Love…More Than You Think

Overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loves us. I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God's love. Not death or life, angels or demons, nothing today or nothing to come…nothing at all can separate us from His love—I mean, just look at what Jesus did for us! What more proof do we need?
Romans 8:37-39

When you think of God's love, what comes to mind? He loves me…He forgives me…He loves me in spite of my sin, weakness, and shortcomings?  I certainly hope you believe that, because it's true. His love is for everyone, it's unconditional, and it's free. There is nothing you can do to earn God's love or make Him love you more. 

Your only barrier to experiencing His love is receiving it—but even if you don't think you deserve His love or try to push it away, His love will still reach you in the form of blessings, protection, care, rescue, and that pull you feel toward choosing what is right: What is truly best for you and others. He loves you too much to leave you completely on your own, and nothing in heaven or on earth can separate you from His love.

Repeat this truth to yourself:

Nothing can separate me from God's love.

If you believe that and are trying to receive as much of His love as you can, I'm sure you have experienced the benefits of believing more deeply. It makes a difference in the way you see God, the way you see yourself, and the way you see others. It brings peace and joy. It leads to greater faith. And it makes you more loving. How else have you seen it make a difference? Each of us has a unique story to tell about how God's love has rescued, transformed, healed, or changed us.

But can we still go deeper? Is there more of His love to receive? Always! As Paul said, May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully…(Eph. 3:19 NLT) We can never reach the end of His love, there's always more for Him to give. But there are also new ways we can think about His love. What do I mean by that? Here are a few examples for you to ponder.

You know God loves you in spite of your mistakes, sins, and failures; He loves you for what you aren't. But do you know He also loves you for who you are? In other words, He doesn't just love you, He likes you. He loves the unique person you are—who He created you to be. He loves your personality: whether you are outgoing or an introvert, perky or melancholy, spontaneous or a planner, funny or serious, analytical or creative, emotional or even-tempered, organized or a scatterbrain, talented or not…You are His unique creation, and He loves you just the way you are.

Repeat this truth to yourself:

He loves me for who I am.

He also believes in you. Whatever your passion is, He loves that about you and wants to see you reach your full potential. He knows you can succeed, and He wants to help you. There is no need to go it alone or prove anything to Him. He knows who you are and who you can be. So believe what He tells you about yourself. Believe it when He says, "You can do this!" And when you feel weary or overwhelmed and He says, "Let me carry you," don't be too prideful to let Him.

Repeat this truth to yourself:

He believes in me, and I'm not on my own.

He invests in you. As much as He likes you for who you are, He knows you can be so much more. He knows you have more love to give, more courage to show, more talent to exercise, more traits to refine, and more hope to endure through whatever challenges you face. Your life is not a random series of events, problems, good times, bad times, struggles, and victories. It's all part of a plan: God's divine purpose for you. From the moment He first thought of you, He designed every detail of your life.

He knew when you would obey and when you would rebel. He knew when others would be there for you and when they would let you down. He knew what your needs would be and how they would shape you and draw you to Him. And even if it hasn't always seemed like it, He's been with you every step of the way. And He's not done yet. He is willing to invest whatever it takes to help you rise above your doubts and fears, your weaknesses, your past hurts, your current obstacles, and any unbelief you are still having about His love for you and your value in His eyes.

Repeat this truth to yourself:

I matter to God;
He has a plan and purpose for me.

He is your biggest fan, your loudest cheerleader, your most encouraging and supportive teacher, your greatest mentor, your defender, your source of strength, and your best friend. In other words, He's got your back! You are His. You are His workmanship. You are His beloved treasure.

Repeat these truths to yourself:

I am His;
I am His workmanship;
I am His beloved treasure.

Maybe you don't believe all that yet, but you want to. You want to feel special, protected, valuable, and loved. You want to be the best version of yourself. You want to make a difference in this world. You want to be or do what seems impossible to you now, but it's not. 

Jesus said so...“If you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20 NKJV)

How does a tiny mustard seed become the largest plant in the garden? It simply becomes who it was designed by God to be, despite its small beginnings…and you can do the same, if you simply believe.

Praise Him with music and dancing,
for the LORD delights in you.
(Psalm 149:3-4)

Rom. 8:37-39 and Ps. 149:3-4, paraphrase mine.
Love Ring Photo Credit: CC
Mustard Seed Photo Credit: David Turner, February 23, 2005. CC