Happy Valentine’s Day to you and yours! I confess that one of the great pleasures I find in life is reading old, and often quite romantic, novels by George MacDonald. He was a contemporary of Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and other literary giants of the nineteenth century, and did not shy away from sharing his deep faith with his readers. Rather, his novels are always intentionally packed with godly characters and themes, which is so refreshing and encouraging.
Right now, I am reading Thomas Wingfold, Curate (aka The Curate’s Awakening*), which tells the story of a young preacher who, upon confrontation, finds his faith terribly lacking, and throughout the course of the narrative is truly born again. In the meantime, he helps a local sister and brother walk through a dark and devastating time in their lives. As he is coming awake spiritually, Thomas thinks deeply about the reality and importance of the hope found in Jesus Christ…
“And what multitudes must there not be in the world…, whose hearts, lacerated by no remorse, overwhelmed by no crushing sense of guilt, yet knew their own bitterness, and had no friend radiant enough to make a sunshine in their shady places! He fell into mournful mood over the troubles of his race. Always a kind-hearted fellow, he had not been used to think about such things; he had had troubles of his own, and had got through at least some of them; people must have troubles, else would they grow unendurable for pride and insolence. But now that he had begun to hope he saw a glimmer somewhere afar at the end of the darksome cave in which he had all at once discovered that he was buried alive, he began also to feel how wretched those must be who were groping on without even a hope in their dark eyes.”
This set me thinking about how often it is too easy to be flippant about others’ pain. We are alive in a generation that is absolutely deadened to deep feeling. We watch movies and TV shows all the time that depict violent, terrible things happening and we don’t even blink an eye, let alone lose any sleep over it. We hear news stories about atrocities, and we go right on to the next thing - just keep scrolling. We move from one “outrage” (which is an effective strategy known as, I believe, “clickbait”) to another, and our blood pressure barely even rises, if at all. Our senses have been overloaded and dulled to the point that just about nothing phases us. We have seen and heard at all.
This all sounds fine, and good, until we take stock of how well we are doing at caring for our neighbors. The sensory-dulling of our world does not serve us well in helping people. It is too easy to be and remain a spectator. I just can’t be bothered to care about pain and brokenness in the people around me when I have the mindset that it’s just another day, after all. Just keep scrolling through life.
Worse, we actually feel a strange sort of giddy relief when bad things happen to other people. Thank God they’re not happening to us! Sickness, legal trouble, drug addictions, marriage implosions, broken relationships, on and on the list goes and I can’t seem to muster up very much care or concern. It feels like the movies that I watch – not my problem. Until of course, it is my problem, and then everything is different.
Once you have experienced something difficult or tragic or unjust, and have had opportunity to see and understand how good, faithful, kind, and gracious God is in the middle of the darkness, it becomes much easier to have compassion, and to want to ease the load of grief for someone else who is going through the same thing. This is one amazing example of how our good Father in heaven makes beauty for ashes every day. People who have walked through difficult, hellacious things, and had their faith strengthened through it can offer God’s comfort and hope like nobody else can. Just a kind voice and sympathetic face uttering the words, “I understand” can be so meaningful to anyone going through a crisis. The weight and authority that is given to someone’s words after walking through their own bitter experiences can give vital hope and courage to others.
Once you have had the terrible experience, you are changed forever. The world tells us all to stay in our pain and never move past it. But God’s Kingdom is so different from this world. We might find ourselves deeply wounded in life, but subsequently uniquely fitted to help others in a powerful way. No one can have compassion for couples who lose a child to miscarriage or stillbirth, or any other way, like another couple who has experienced the same loss and grief. No one can understand what it feels like to get the frightening medical diagnosis like a person who has experienced that same thing. No one can understand what it feels like to hear a knock on the door and to be handed a legal paper that changes your life forever like someone who has heard that same knock. A pink slip at work, blue lights in the driveway, betrayal by a friend, divorce papers… the list of life’s devastations can be long. Until you go through something yourself, it is difficult to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Once you go through something difficult yourself, and experience firsthand the nearness and comfort of Jesus, it is important to share that comfort and hope with others.
Think about what you have walked through in your own life. What difficult circumstances, what unimaginable realities? We live in a broken world, and everywhere we go are surrounded by people who have endured terrible physical, sexual, and emotional pain or abuse. Or they have lost someone they loved very much in a tragic circumstance. Or they have made terrible choices that yielded bitter fruit. Last time I mentioned the verse in Lamentations that says, “because of God’s great love we are not consumed.” It is amazing that people all around us have lived through some of the difficult circumstances that life has brought their way, and it truly is an incredible miracle when someone makes it through singing the praises of God, with their faith intact and even strengthened.
It is this way that the hands and feet of Jesus are multiplied by the millions. Those of us who have gone through difficult things yet can testify to God‘s grace and nearness even in the darkest, deepest pits can help others who are currently going through a similar situation. Those of us who have experienced slander and betrayal of every kind, but who found comfort from Christ who was betrayed with a kiss from a friend, can encourage others who are currently facing the same abuse and disappointment. Those of us who have endured abuse to our bodies and minds, and were comforted by Jesus who was brutalized and crucified, can be there for people who are freshly suffering through similar things.
This world is cruel and is filled with broken people and broken systems. This is where people of the light can shine brightly. We too have endured difficult, unimaginable things, but in Christ have a peace that passes all understanding and a love that is higher, wider, and stronger than anything that would try to overcome it.
As we celebrate this special season of love and kindness, be mindful of those who need your encouragement most. Pick up your phone and give them a call or send them a text. Don’t assume that you would be bothering them; too many of us assume that, and too few of us reach out. Your words and encouragement will be a song in their souls, and will give them strength. Send that email, or flowers, or a card, or a gift – any token of care is so meaningful to someone who is going through the darkest time of their life. The last thing our family, friends, and neighbors need is one more person either adding fuel to the fire that is burning in their life, or totally ignoring them. Instead, may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
*that title has all of the broad Scottish dialogue edited into standard English
Happy New Year! It always feels so good to turn the page to a brand-new year, some years even more than others. I know there are quite a few of you reading this who are very glad to see 2023 begin to recede in the rear view mirror. It might have been tough, but we made it, and we have a new road ahead. Rather than spending all of our time dwelling on last years’ troubles, or bracing ourselves for those that will come this year, what if we spent more time focusing on the new things God is doing in our hearts and lives?
One of my favorite hymns is “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” which is heavily inspired by the book of Lamentations, itself one of the most strangely encouraging books in the Bible. It is an honest account of the difficulties and frustrations of life, and the questions and complaints that arise in all of our hearts at one time or another as we muddle through life in this fallen world. It is written in a literary form that is shaped like a mountain peak, rising and then falling with the crescendo in the very middle of the book, which says...
Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is Your faithfulness.
Other versions translate the word love to be mercies, and the thought is one worth pondering…God’s mercies and love are new every morning. In other words, they never run out or are exhausted - every day is New Year’s Day! This book was written as a lament over the destruction of an entire city; so many families and homes and livelihoods changed forever. But the prophet recognized that because of God's great love, the essence of who we are as real souls that will live forever, just can't be consumed.
Circumstances may be difficult, and we might even have to bear the repercussions of past decisions and complications (our own and others'), but the Lord’s powerful help and concern is ready and waiting with each sunrise. Even though we live in a frustrating, confusing, often tragic world, we are cared for by a patient and loving God of the New. Isn’t that amazing?
Honestly, recognizing God in this way can be confusing, and can even feel dishonoring. Our world has become so wrapped up in politics that we almost cannot help but equate the word “progressive” with a certain radical political agenda. But I am not talking about politics, and actually don’t believe that most of the world’s problems can be solved by governmental fiat. Rather, most of our troubles can be solved only by addressing the problem of the human heart. God is always operating on hearts out of His love and goodness; He is always moving towards both truth and redemption, never away from them.
God is quite progressive in the sense that He is always doing something new and unexpected - even unconventional. He isn’t like us, only able to act within certain bounds of power and agency. If you think you have Him and His ways figured out, think again. And if you think that you are out of answers and out of options for your life, look again to the God of the New.
Here are just a few things our loving and merciful God has in store for you…
A New Song
I waited patiently for the LORD;
He turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
He set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the LORD
and put their trust in Him. - Psalm 40:1-3
A New Outpouring
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
I will show wonders in the heavens
and on the earth,
blood and fire and billows of smoke. - Joel 2:28-30
A New Heart
I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God. - Ezekiel 11:19-20
No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” - Matthew 9:16-17
A New Kingdom
“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” - Mark 1:15
A New Command
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” - John 13:34
A New Covenant
The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” -1 Corinthians 11:23-25
A New Point of View
So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! - 2 Corinthians 5:16-17
A New Way of Thinking
That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
- Ephesians 4:20-24
A New Self
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. - Colossians 3:3-10
A New Birth
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. - 1 Peter 1:3-4
A New Name
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.
- Revelation 2:17
This first month of a brand new year is almost past - it has already been long enough for the relief and bright hope of a new year to feel worn thin. What area of your life needs a touch from our God of the New? Lay your fears and concerns at His feet, and let Him carry them for you. Let Him take your heart of stone and breath warmth and life into it again. Let the Holy Spirit renew your mind and attitude, reset your perspective, and give you a lasting hope for the future.
Further, what new things do you sense God doing in and through your life and circumstances? We cannot fall for the untruth that following God means life will be all sunshine and roses: Jesus followed in perfect obedience, all the way to death on the cross, and all but one of His closest disciples died martyrs’ deaths. Jesus Himself said that “in this world you will have trouble.” The cares, concerns, and trials of this fallen world are without number. HOWEVER, Jesus continued by saying, ‘but take heart! For I have overcome the world.”
God’s mercies and love are new every morning. In His hands, even the most severe testing and trials can bring beautiful fruit into our lives. Look carefully - what lovely things is God bringing into your life through your circumstances? Perhaps more love, compassion, patience, perseverance, grace, humility - all wonderful, desirable qualities that can’t be purchased or faked or forced. Let God develop these Christlike characteristics in your own heart and life.
Lean into the daily-fresh love and mercies of our Father, and may this new year be one of tremendous spiritual growth and health!
Merry Christmas to you and yours! This is certainly the most wonderful time of the year and I am loving every sign of the season: the colorful light displays in yards and windows, the cars packed in front of homes for family gatherings, walking through Walmart to the strains of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” - the list goes on and on. No matter how dark the world is or seems, Christmastime is a welcome reminder of the great and unchanging fact that Jesus Christ left the glory and majesty of Heaven to come here to save us.
I was talking with an acquaintance just the other day who was worried about the news and for how dark things appear for our kids and grandkids. She confessed to me that, though her belief in God has not wavered, her hope in Him and His goodness has lately come into question and even doubt. She wondered why God, Who can do anything, doesn’t do anything to stop the terrible violence and confusion happening all around the world. If He truly is good, why doesn’t He step in? I appreciated her honesty and transparency, and our too-brief exchange prompted me to think deeply. Christmas is a great time to ponder and remember.
Christmastime reminds us, as followers of Jesus, of some of the most foundational truths of our faith. We set up nativity scenes to commemorate the wondrous fact that our great God condescended to be born of a young, obscure virgin in a stable of all places, and was laid by HIs mother into a stable's feeding trough since there was no room anywhere else for the young family. We sing joyful anthems to mingle our voices with the great host of angels who proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests!” We gather around beautiful, lighted trees to remember the great star that God placed in the sky to guide the wise men from far-off lands towards the flesh-and-blood newborn King. We give and receive special gifts to emulate our gracious Creator Who gave His beloved Son, and our Savior Who gave His life.
But the backdrop of all of these lovely things was, and still is, a tough, unforgiving world. My acquaintance was not wrong to notice that the struggle is long and arduous. This world is filled with daily reminders that sin has tainted everything - our hearts, our relationships, even the very earth itself. But she had forgotten that God most certainly has done something about it...
After each long year, Christmas serves as a mile-marker in life: the world is fallen, but as Jesus said, “Take heart, for I have overcome the world!”
This Christmas, I hope you have many special and meaningful gifts underneath your tree, both to give and receive. But I’d also love to encourage and remind you of some of the greatest gifts God generously gives to us. Think of all the fantastic things He has given! Life, breath, love, sunsets, beautiful music, dark roast coffee and key lime pie…the list is long and wonderful. Then consider the tremendous spiritual gifts He has bestowed: salvation, renewal, Spirit empowerment, eternal life - this list is even longer and more stunning in its generosity and kindness. And some gifts of God are given first to be experienced personally, and then to share with others: grace, forgiveness, mercy, all the fruit of the Spirit, and much more. Today, let’s look at one of these great gifts God has given to share...
The Gift of Reconciliation
Try to distill all of the struggles of the world into one sentence; what is the problem? I think the angels referenced it in their declaration to the shepherds - namely, there is so little peace. At best, we catch occasional glimpses of it, but the peaceful stretches never last long. Ever since the very first family of Adam and Eve, where one son murdered his brother, the defining characteristic of life after the fall has been strife. Husband vs. wife, parent vs. child, sibling vs. sibling, boss vs. worker, poor vs. rich, race vs. race, religion vs. religion, man vs. wild, even man vs. God. Truthfully, it goes al the way back to the moment Satan rebelled against God, and the angels have been fighting back demonic fallen angels ever since. There is little peace on earth or beyond. Oswald Chambers stated wisely that the world story is tragic, and only extreme optimists or people who simply haven’t thought much believe otherwise.
We are all in a mess. Most of us know this from personal, and probably even recent, experience: the world is broken and painful - truly tragic and so often void of peace.
Not just our own generation, but every single generation that has come before us. Evil has infiltrated creation, and everyone alive must learn to fight against it, or risk being consumed. This is part of our life’s work as followers of Christ: to learn to let God make good come out of the evil we experience (and sometimes cause) in our lives.
Remember what the angels announced in their song, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace on whom His favor rests.” Heaven was rejoicing that night in full view of the shepherds - something marvelous and new and revolutionary had happened…the Prince of Peace was born! Jesus left the glory of Heaven to come for us so that we might have peace with God, and through that, peace with one another.
This Christmas, there is not much that any of us can do to solve all of the world’s great problems, though we all wish we could. Wars and geopolitical conflict are not anything most of us can control or influence at all, beyond fervent and faithful prayer. But there is something important that each of us can right now, today, to help spread the peace of Christ throughout the earth - we can pass God’s incredible gift of reconciliation along to someone close. We can bring His peace into our own relationships.
Of the people you actually know and have relationship with, who makes your blood boil? With whom in your home, family, office, class, neighborhood, or church community are you currently at odds? Certainly, if you have caused the grief, then I encourage you to ask for forgiveness. But perhaps someone has done something awful to you. It could be all kinds of things - someone betrayed you, or rejected you, or humiliated you, or ignored you, or hurt you, or just hurt your feelings. Perhaps this person has spread nasty rumors or said vile things about you online, or even to your face. Maybe they have done or said that awful thing to you one too many times, and you’ve let a high wall be built in your heart between you and them.
But Jesus has demonstrated again and again that He will forgive even the vilest sinner, restoring peace; not just extending forgiveness, but also restoring relationship. And He has given us the power to do the same. The best gift we can give this Christmas is to offer His beautiful gift of reconciliation to someone else.
Is it easy? No.
Will everyone joyfully receive our gift? No.
Can it be healing and helpful to our own hearts and homes? Yes!
Will following Christ’s example of reconciliation help us grow spiritually? Yes!
Last year, we visited a beautiful land in the Middle East, and made a stop in a modest village, at an even more modest building, which housed the local congregation of Christ-followers. These people had so little themselves, but gave all they had to help a large population of Syrian refugees who had been relocated into their neighborhood. They frequently collected food, clothing, home goods, and just about everything else you could imagine to share with these men, women, and children who had been totally displaced by civil war. Their ministry outreach to the children of this group was particularly robust, and fruitful. I was loving hearing story after story of boys and girls who had heard the stories of Jesus for the first time in their lives from these faithful Christians, with quite a few experiencing dreams and visions of Christ Himself. Many had not yet responded in accepting the Prince of Peace, but the beautiful and startling thing is that some had, and their precious young hearts were transformed. And their parents could not help noticing that the Christians in town were the only group who tried to help meet their great need. My own heart was deeply stirred by the remarkable selflessness and generosity of this band of believers.
But later that afternoon, it struck me that I had somehow missed an enormous piece of the story. One of the ladies was telling about a beautiful and uncommon snowfall that had occurred earlier in the year. Some of the refugee children had run out into the streets and alleys, and had made snowmen, as children often do. But, instead of putting a hat and scarf or a carrot nose on their creations, a few of the children took turns lopping the heads off the snowmen with their stick-swords, mimicking what they knew their fathers often had done back home. For, you see, these refugees were all Isis soldiers and their families who had been run out of their homeland because of their violence and chaos.
These local Christians were putting their own lives and families and physical well-being at great risk in sharing the Gospel with people so detested by the bulk of society. Yet not one of them seemed hindered by the severity of the evil committed by those former soldiers, as though there were some sort of scale that could be tipped to “too severe” or as though there were some sins for which the blood of Jesus is insufficient. They were little concerned for their own reputations, or “platforms”, or boundaries, as so many of us would be in this age. The very air we all breath in this modern world is infused with wrath and vengeance, especially in their local context, but these Christians refused to inhale those noxious fumes, and instead gave off the very fragrance of Christ as they extended His offer of forgiveness and reconciliation. In the world’s eyes, none of them had much money, or power, or prestige. They simply had Jesus and His promises, which actually made them stronger, more powerful, and more impactful than anyone else I’ve ever met. My heart bowed in the presence of these spiritual giants.
This Christmas, let Jesus bring such peace into your own strife. When you gather with your family and friends, or get back to class or the office after the holidays, let the love and forgiveness that Jesus freely shares flow from your heart to the person who has been your enemy. None of us can control another’s actions or reactions, but with God's help we can all control our own. Jesus has loved and forgiven us, no matter what rebellion and pride has lurked in our own hearts, so we can extend this same grace to others. We have been reconciled to God, now let’s pass along this lovely gift!
If possible, pick up your phone and call the person with whom you’ve had such strife, or even offer to treat them to lunch. Let love and peace take the place of bitterness and unforgiveness. If you cannot meet or speak with them, certainly pray for them, bless them, think of how deeply God loves them, then let the Prince of Peace lovingly remove that chip off your shoulder, and melt the ice in your heart. Allow the love and healing of God to flow into your life, and into your relationships, and let Him bring His lasting peace in place of strife. This truly is what Christmas is all about.
I pray that the deep love and peace of our Savior fill your heart and home this season - Merry Christmas and God bless you!
The Word of God has so much to say about relationship and reconciliation. I'd love for you to join me in reading and thinking more about healthy community - click this link to order your copy!
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours! I pray that we are all able to slow down and breathe today, and that we’re able to take some time to truly focus on how many reasons we all have to be thankful. This is easier to do some years than others, as many of you might know at this time. Sometimes being thankful is a battle of the mind and will, but always one worth engaging.
One bright and encouraging spot in my life these last few years has been a wonderful sweet gum tree, just off to the left from our porch. Squirrels have made it their haven, and last year a particularly feisty mother squirrel had triplets within its canopy. An entire colony of northern bluebirds have used it as a transfer station, not to mention the mockingbirds and crows. Most notably, at the tallest point of the tree, a sturdy branch has provided the perfect perch for a majestic bald eagle and his wife, and the two birds often used this vantage point as a hunting spot. Most mornings, I could look out and see those mighty birds there, and grew to think, “today is going to be a great day. It’s an eagle day.”
Let me show you a recent picture of my favorite tree…
I came home last week and heard a chain saw fire up outside. My husband was in the study, and I called in to him, “I’m sure its not the eagle tree, right?” The study window looks right out to the neighborhood green space where the tree stood, so I knew he could see what was happening. No response.
I looked out the window, and a whole crew of people was working to take down that beautiful tree. It happened so much faster than I could have imagined, and watching it stirred so many emotions. Granted, I am naturally emotional and sensitive anyways, plus this has been a particularly difficult season - but I was surprised by the depth of emotion that the felling of this tree provoked.
I was so angry and sad, and my thoughts swirled. Who are these people cutting down this wonderful tree? Don’t they know that’s where the eagles sit? There is no tree like it anywhere near, and now they won’t have a place to perch and hunt on this end of the neighborhood. What about the squirrels and the other birds? Who made this decision and why didn’t they say anything to us? What could possibly be so important that this thriving tree had to be taken down? Is this for that electrical project they’ve been gearing up towards - couldn’t they have gone around this tree? There’s plenty of room on every side. You know, it might have been an accident or an oversight - they might have even meant to take a different tree. And this decision was probably made by people in a far-off committee room, who know and care nothing about this tree. They probably just wanted to sign off on this and get to their tee time. Why do we have to put up with such ridiculous, insensitive actions? People just don’t even care…
And I’m just getting started. I was busy doing all kinds of things that needed to be done that day, but my thoughts were a chaotic, angry mess. I was attempting to take hold of my thoughts and make them go in a different direction, half-heartedly at first, and then more seriously the longer this went on. It might feel pretty good to indulge raw emotions for awhile, but there comes a point when you can master them or be doomed for them to master you. I am old enough to know that one unchecked afternoon of angry thoughts can lead to a much longer and messier tangle than anyone wants. Even just reading through the above paragraph of gut response, can you hear where this line of questioning is actually headed? WIth God’s grace, I was finally able to be honest with myself. All of these thoughts and questions really swirl around one question…
What about me?
I have some options -
The world we live in tells me I should dwell in my anger, and even increase its energy and power by pushing it back towards others. I could lash out at the tree crew and neighborhood improvements committee and energy company, making ugly phone calls and writing angry emails and social media posts with all of my jumbled accusations. I could call the local news outlets and make an issue of the removal of the eagles’ perch, stirring up anger and animosity in others in my community.
My heart tells me I should indulge in my hurt feelings and trampled rights. No one should be able to do something like that to me, that impacts my life in such a strong way. No one should get away with making what I see as such poor decisions that affect others, without having to pay or answer for it. My heart seeks to convince me that my question, “What about me?”, is a supremely legitimate and important concern.
Neither of these avenues of action are uncommon. What both the world and my heart are telling me are widely accepted, even expected, responses to a terribly frustrating and disappointing circumstance.
But on this Thanksgiving, I am compelled to remember our wonderful Lord and Savior Jesus, who taught a very different way to handle disappointment and wrong.
In Luke 13, there is such an interesting passage…
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish."
Wait, Jesus said this?
Yes. Here is Jesus, the very Word of God, Who was with God in the beginning, and through Whom all things were made. Here is Jesus, fully God and yet also fully man, fully knowing the hearts of people and the absolute brokenness of the world.
How interesting and thought-provoking is His statement! The two circumstances He refers to, obviously dramatic and real-life episodes from that day, had upset people and caused the familiar blame game we still play today. Whose fault was this? Who deserves reproach and recrimination? Someone must pay…
Jesus is not blind to the fact that terrible, unthinkable, devastating and disappointing things happen. Nor is He under the delusion that any of the rest of us can do anything to fix the world’s brokenness completely. If that were true, He would never have had to leave Heaven and come here to save us. Yes, Someone ultimately must pay, and He was on His way towards the cross even as He uttered these words.
Jesus has a very different perspective on how we ought to respond to bitter disappointment than the world or than my own heart, and any of us would be foolish to listen to either of those things rather than to Him. His advice and remedy is simply for each of us to get our own heart right with God.
So, the question really is “what about me?”, but from Jesus’ perspective. I have used the example of this tree (which I never should have allowed to hold such power over my well-being anyways). but so many of us are facing really heavy things - terrible loss, bitter betrayal, death, illness, injury, insult, broken trust, slander, and on and on. The difficult circumstances that this broken world and its broken people can find themselves embroiled in are endlessly messy and surprising. What will any of us do with our disappointment?
The best option we have is to take Jesus’ advice and focus on our own hearts.
This week provides the perfect starting place - GRATITUDE is a wonderful and life-giving posture for any heart to assume. I have nothing that God has not given to me. One person asked an important question - if I were to begin losing things in my life for which I have neglected to give thanks to God, what would I have left? There is so much to be thankful for, even in the most difficult seasons of life! Life, breath, arms, legs, sight, the people that we love, the sound and feeling of laughter, the taste of chocolate, the touch of a cool breeze on an invigorating morning - the list can go on and on.
Thankfulness has real power to adjust our own perspective, to help us remember where we stand in the biggest picture, which is fully dependent on God. Gratitude had the power to absorb all of of our anger and frustration, replacing it with love and trust in God. Even with my silly example of a tree, instead of bemoaning its loss, I can give God real and heartfelt thanks for the many wonderful moments it provided for me and for so many others. I can be glad for whomever lives near the new tree that the eagles choose. I can look forward with hope instead of endlessly, fruitlessly looking back with bitterness.
As you gather together with the people you love, stop and give thanks to God for all of the wonderful gifts He has given. Let Him lift your heavy burdens of anger and disappointment, and instead fill your heart with love, trust, and gratitude in a fresh and new measure. May the Lord bless and keep you, and may your home be filled with His presence!
It’s time to break out the holiday decorations! In our family, we have some drastic variances in house rules regarding when the Christmas decorations can be put up. Both sets of our parents have a healthy method of modest decorating a few weeks out. One of our daughters is inching the line back in her own home, and has most recently declared November 1 as the day. Our other daughter decorates her family’s home when the creative mood strikes, sometimes earlier and sometimes later in the season. My own home has always maintained the line that anything and everything Christmas can go up the moment the Thanksgiving dishes are all put away. To be fair, this rule was agreed upon years ago when my husband realized that, so great is my enthusiasm for the celebration of Christ’s birth, I might never take the Christmas decorations down or put the Nat King Cole Christmas album away without some boundaries in place.
In the early 2000s, I remember a friend on the worship team joking with me that one day, the new worship songs we were introducing to the fellowship would be the old songs that the young people would wish the old people didn’t love quite so much. Ha! It happened faster than I realized it would.
One of those songs in particular has made its way back into my heart lately, and I’d love to share it with you. Some of you might remember it, if not, I encourage you to look it up and give it a listen - "Here I am to Worship" by Tim Hughes...
Light of the world, You stepped down into darkness
Opened my eyes, let me see
Beauty that makes this heart adore You
Hope of a life spent with You.
Here I am to worship, here I am to bow down, here I am to say that You’re my God.
You’re altogether lovely, altogether worthy, altogether wonderful to me.
We serve a wonderful, powerful God of grace and mercy! Not only is He the infinite creator of all things, He is also Emmanuel - God here-and-now, intimately present with us. He is tuned into our daily lives, and lavishes us with beautiful gifts to strengthen and sustain our spirits.
Every one us us knows that life can be quite difficult. Though we are continually surprised by them, troubles and trials are the norm, not the exception. It sometimes takes some real effort to look up and away from the negative stories and distractions that threaten to overwhelm us and fill us with despair, but we must make the effort. Once we do, we can become focused on the reality that there is another world of beauty and light all around us: the Kingdom of God is not just coming one day, it is already here, breaking in day by day. And this beauty shining in the darkness is just a foretaste of a glorious eternity with our great God.
In just the last few weeks, here are some examples I’ve seen with my own eyes:
-a husband, married 62 years, helping the love of his life recover from a surgery. This requires days of round-the-clock care and attentiveness, and then many weeks of rehabilitation and recovery, but he gladly serves his wife and helps her to regain her strength.
-a one year old learning to walk and talk. He joyfully shouts his brother and sister’s names, and learns to be part of the daily fun that they are having.
-a lost dog wandering into a home, finding love, nourishment, and care. He walked in skin and bones, with all of his hair fallen out, but has regained both his strength and hair, and given much joy in return.
-a man, whose beloved wife of almost 50 years is in the early stages of dementia, attending patiently to her, and sweetly encouraging and helping her to be a welcomed part of the dinner conversation and time of prayer afterwards.
-a godly couple offering their retirement years to help serve several young families who live some distance from their own parents and need an extra set of grandparents on hand.
-a woman, knowing that some friends are going through a difficult time, offering daily words of encouragement and hope via text message for several months running.
-a couple giving a generous gift to encourage a young family, following God’s prompting, but having no idea of the perfect timing of the blessing they extended.
All of these situations are beautiful and life-giving to witness, and have deeply impressed my heart. Each one is powerful because it speaks of strength in weakness, of bright hope in darkness. We all know that the lost dog could have been run over or taken to the pound for elimination. The young couples could have struggled alone and without help, their marriages strained to the breaking point, as happens so often. The enduring marriages and faithful friendships are beautiful and encouraging precisely because they are so rare and precious. The baby learning and thriving is a reminder of the hope and potential so carefully woven into each person by our loving, present God.
This beautiful world that God made is marked with darkness that sin has made. Aging, sickness, abandonment, lack, pain, suffering, death - the list of difficult things we all have to deal with throughout life could go on and on. But God does not leave us on our own. His love, hope, and beauty give us strength and courage to face each day.
King of all days, oh so highly exalted
Glorious in Heaven above
Humbly You came to the earth You created
All for love’s sake became poor
And I’ll never know how much it cost, to see my sin upon that cross.
Try to imagine to glory and beauty of Heaven. Perfect, pure, untouched by sin and pride, brilliantly lighted by the majesty and radiance of our Father. For you mountain lovers, imagine the most pristine alpine scene, without the danger and risk of salivating grizzly bears or getting lost or deadly avalanches. Beach lovers, imagine the turquoise waters and white sands without jellyfish or great whites or riptides lurking. City people, imagine a busy, thriving metropolis without poverty or injustice or avarice. Country lovers, imagine your beautiful view without mosquitoes or droughts or poisonous snakes. Just imagine!
Both the enemy of your soul and the very world around you try day and night to convince you that a Good Father and an eternity with Him in a perfect place is just too good to be true. Our faith has been called the opiate of the masses. It has been called pie in the sky. It has been called foolishness - in fact, a very famous song from fifty years ago still tries to convince everyone to imagine that there is no Heaven at all. But try as anyone might to imagine it away, every heart still yearns for Heaven; the place where all wrongs are made right and where life is as is was meant to be.
The reality is that our good Father saw our plight - the mess that our own sin and pride has caused both individually and collectively - and did not leave us on our own. Jesus willingly left all the glory and majesty and perfection of Heaven, and came here to save us. We will never fully understand how much it cost for Him to do so. Thankfully, all we must do is receive His help.
Here I am to worship, here I am to bow down, here I am to say that You’re my God.
You’re altogether lovely, altogether worthy, altogether wonderful to me.
Ask God to open your eyes this week, to see the glimpses of His beauty and truth all around you, even in the midst of disappointing and unsettling circumstances. You are not alone or forgotten - God sees you and loves you with an everlasting love. May His goodness and mercy fill your heart and life today, and may His presence strengthen you in your innermost being.
Thank you so much to those of you who have purchased the new book!
It is such a great time for every Christian to engage in the discussion of healthy community, so that we can shine brightly to our family and neighbors.
Click below to order your copy today...
Happy end-of-summer to you! I am writing to you from the epicenter of what everyone has decided to call a heat dome this year. It has been hot in Texas this summer - really hot - but we made it through! It is actually quite funny to witness the aftermath. Most of our area got a glorious rain shower earlier this week, breaking that oppressive heat pattern, and now everyone is smiling, everywhere you go. The positive and optimistic people are relieved and whistling, and even the perennially grumpy people are just a little less grumpy because it is only a normal 97 degrees instead of 107.
There is something so powerful about HOPE.
When we keep it close, we are filled with God's peace and power.
When we lose sight of it, we are severely weakened.
A fun part of aging is watching the different generations react to one another. Of course, every generation thinks it is infinitely superior to everyone who has come before. In this thinking, the actions and reactions to everything the last generation did are spectacular to watch. You guys think dressing in suits and ties and dresses and listening to orchestra music at your cocktail parties is great? Well, watch us - we're going to burn it all down and wear bell bottoms and have Woodstock. Then a few years later the next generation thinks all of that seems so ridiculous, so they're going to wear button downs and polo shirts and listen to new wave. Until the next generation thinks all of that is terrible and invents grunge. And that just brings us to the ‘90s!
The underlying theme to all of this action and reaction is the nagging suspicion that we're not doing this right. Every generation intuitively understands that there must be more to life than any of us are seeing and experiencing.
The word that is often used to describe the people who go against the grain and start new trends is counterculture. The Oxford Dictionary defines this as a way of life and set of attitudes opposed to or at variance with the prevailing social norm. The present time is an amazing opportunity for a strong countercultural wave to sweep through, and to wash away the oppressive hopelessness that has saturated society.
We don’t just need a change in music and fashion: the very heart of our culture needs an infusion of hope to counter the crippling epidemic of anger and anxiety. These maladies are influenced by a lucrative business model wherein sensational news stories lead to more clicks and more revenue. I heard someone say the other day that if everyone on earth would simply obey the Ten Commandments, just about every news site in the world would run out of things to say overnight. This is true! As it is, we hear all day, every day about murder, theft, corruption, idolatry and adultery, coupled with a strong dose of envy and jealousy and discontentment. We hear about every terrible thing that every person, institution, and government agency has done, or even that someone just accuses them of doing, and that’s just in the last 24 hours. When you hear that day after day and year after year, you begin to internalize this distrust and disgust, and quite naturally, you begin to be very cynical, even jaded. It translates into the idea that no one is trustworthy, not even one.
Our anger and anxiety are also spiritual in nature, as we are influenced by the lack of faith all around us. No one can long stand with one foot on the dock and one foot on the untethered boat; this amounts to having a form of godliness, but denying its power. But too many Christians are letting the skepticism and cynicism of the world around them inform their decisions and actions. I have noticed so many people say things that begin with, “I know what the Bible says, but…”, and then fill in the blank with a reason they cannot possibly really believe or act on what the Bible says.
I know what the Bible says, but…
-I will not forgive him for what he did.
-I cannot believe that God is my provider.
-If God was really good, ______ would not be happening.
and so on. Too many Christians have mistakenly gone with the flow of our culture, trying to put hope and faith in things that could never bear it - people, places, and things - and then fall off the dock when the inevitable let down comes. Too many Christians have believed the lie that because those people and things can't be trusted, nothing at all can be trusted. The whole point of our faith is that there is ONLY ONE Who can be trusted to never leave, forsake, or fail.
Jesus Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the firstborn of all creation, the foundation of all through Whom all things were made. He is the way, and the truth, and the life. He is the healer of the broken, the lifter of our heads, and the fairest of ten thousand. He is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, and of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He is the Lion and the Lamb, He is the light in the darkness, He is the Good Shepherd who leads us to green pastures and still waters. He is the very gate we can enter through to peace and rest. He is righteous and good, and His mercies endure forever.
Jesus is the One to Whom the great cloud of witnesses from every era and land shouts praises. He is the One Who has inspired countless songs, poems, books, and lives - He is the faithful and true friend of sinners! He is true and lasting love, He is the strong bedrock of our faith. He is the great God of Hope, Who will fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit!
If we could face each day with all of these truths about Jesus impacting our actions and reactions, the world would quickly become a different place. In this age of unbelief and hopelessness, a refreshing countercultural wave of hope could quickly change the atmosphere. Case in point - in the couple of days I have been writing this, a wildfire has started in our town, which is not to be unexpected in a piney woods after a long, dry summer. Last night, it went from 100 acres to a few thousand in a matter of hours. Strangely, weather related stories are a hot topic right now, so our little town’s plight was on the front page of a London paper by morning. The comment section was just what you would expect - full of people saying ridiculously depressing, uninformed, and unhelpful things. In the meantime, some incredibly brave and hopeful men and women have spent over 24 hours now risking their own lives to do all they can to put that fire out, and will keep going until the job is done.
This is a beautiful picture of people refusing to go with the flow, and letting their hope impact a dire situation. There is something so powerful and revolutionary about hope! When we lose sight of it, we are severely weakened, but when we keep it close, we are filled with God's peace and power. I pray that the hope of Christ fills your heart and life today, and spills over onto everyone you meet.
If you’d like to spend some more time reading and thinking about the power of hope in our Christian communities, please check out my new book, available now -
Five years ago, when this blog was launched, seems like a lifetime ago in so many ways. Our family has grown since then, with a new son-in-law added to our fold and several precious grandchildren born. Our life, which had been roughly the same for so many years, has changed quite a lot, with a different home and ministry assignments, with the emptying of our nest, and with the relocation of people we love dearly. My hair is quite a lot more gray, my wrinkles are more deep set, and my body frequently lets me know I’m not getting any younger. I am sure that the same is true in your life - five years goes by in a blink but contains so much living.
Collectively, we endured the strange Covid era, which was certainly a marker for this whole generation. Regardless of political perspective, we are just now beginning to see the ramifications of pushing pause on society for a year or more, all the while upping the volume on fear and uncertainty in every way. It doesn’t seem that we have emerged from that time in a better place as a whole.
I am aware now that my over-50 status gives me a particular vantage point with my own cohort and those ahead of us - we can really remember what things were like before. Working with university students all of our adult lives has accentuated this to me. I feel like a covered wagon, Oregon trail participant because I know what the convenience store name 7-11 stands for, I remember when we had to wait patiently for radio stations and movie theaters to release new things, and I remember when there were only 3 tv channels. I can remember when all 3 of those stations used to play the national anthem and then cut to static every night at midnight, meaning there was nothing at all to watch mindlessly until morning, especially before VCRs came along. I remember when nothing was open on Sundays, when there was no such thing as an ATM or a debit card, and when answering machines were invented. More than that, I know my parents’ stories and experiences from their lives, and can remember what my grandmother’s stories told me about her generation and her own life that began in 1900. It isn’t just a myth that life used to be a little slower and less frantic, more relational and less virtual. The world is always changing!
I also vividly remember life BP - before phone. I was 29 years old when I got my first cell phone, and it could only text and make calls. I was in my late 30s when I got my first smart phone. I lived a lot of life, even adult life, before that little device entered my life. I do love it because now the best camera I’ve ever had, plus my phone, address book, flashlight, travel atlas, years of photos, and an entire encyclopedia set can fit into my purse. But it isn’t as innocuous as it looks. Five years ago, no one was sure how much the constant, instant access to the glories and horrors of the World Wide Web was impacting everyone, but now all of us who can remember life BP can see clearly what those things are doing to young people, and it isn’t great. Worst of all is the fact that when being glued to a screen has been normal to a person since they were very small, they might never know that what they’ve ingested for tens of thousands of hours isn't true after all, or that life can be any different or better than just virtual reality.
I am even more convinced of the need for us to share from one generation to another - not just of social things, but especially of our faith.
The 80s were such a great time to be a young person - I mean, as long as you take away the real and constant threat of the Cold War and the fact that we actually had regular drills at school in case a nuclear bomb was coming our way. Not one kid ever thought our plywood desk was going to keep us safe from an atomic bomb, as long as we ducked and covered in time! Thank goodness there was no social media then - we would have all been terrified, all the time. But aside from that, the 80s were amazing. The energy and optimism of Whitney Houston and Rocky Balboa and Back to the Future marked our generation.
So how sad it was to see one of our greatest action heroes of that era recently announce to the world that he doesn’t believe in eternal life at all, let alone in God. Like so many others alive today, he believes this is it; that all we have is today, and no promise at all of tomorrow or forever. When a person believes that, it marks and changes everything they do. When an entire society believes that, it will radically alter a culture that was originally built upon the foundation of Biblical Truth. If this is it, why not do everything only for my own pleasure, safety, and benefit? And why not be terribly afraid of or angry at everything that threatens life, pleasure, and safety? And if people really believe this is all there is, no wonder so many people are so frustrated, anxious, and confused about life and its meaning.
As followers of Jesus, we believe that this present reality is not all there is to life. Life here and now is very real and very important, but mostly because it determines what the rest of forever will be like. We were all created by God and in His image, with souls that will live forever. We are all carefully and purposefully created by God to be a beautiful and thriving part of His great, eternal story. This means that we don’t have to live like today is all we’ve got - instead, we can live knowing that the best is still yet to come. We don’t have to live in fear of losing our lives, because God holds our lives in His hands. We don’t have to make sure we just look out for #1, because God is looking out for us. We can actually love and care for others, even at our own expense, because He has shown us how to do it. We can thrive no matter what good, bad, or ugly things life on this broken planet throws our way, knowing that God works all things for the good of those who love and trust Him.
We must take care to let capital-T Truth inform our lives, and not whatever fickle social consensus has decided is true for today. We must take care to combat the relentless barrage of information being fed to us each day from sources that are sometimes just uninformed, but sometimes actually malicious. We must purpose in our hearts and minds not to engage in toxic things, or to just mindlessly scroll, but rather to think of whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, and whatever is admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy. We must take care to put our minds on God and His Word, to live our lives in view of eternity, and to care for others rather than only for ourselves.
More than ever, the people in our lives need us to live like we believe the claims of Jesus to be true, and to demonstrate the power of hearts and lives revolutionized by the love and grace of Christ. Everyone gets more than enough of this world that is full of endless negative comments, lies and rumors and innuendo, tearing down of one another, and outright hopelessness - no wonder so many people are lonely, anxious, and depressed! Our family, friends, and neighbors need to see the transformation that Jesus can make in our hearts and lives - real love, forgiveness, freedom, kindness, peace, and hope. I pray God's peace and presence over your life today, as you realize more and more how your life fits into His amazing story of forgiveness and redemption!
Some new features have been added to the blog -
Keep your eyes on this space, as more is to come! For now, there is a new section called Grow, in which I will occasionally add a resource that has been meaningful to me, and that I'd love to recommend. Paying attention to our spiritual health and growth is vital, and there are some wonderful helps out there. Please take a minute to visit this new section.
Also new is the Books section, just in time for the release of my second book, available now! You can find ordering information there, or by following the link below.
This past weekend, something fun and unique happened in our culture. Much of the country was focused on two movies which happened to debut on the same weekend. In this day of have-it-your-way right away, and an overload of personalized choices wherever you go, it is actually unusual for so many of us to be aware of the same thing at the same time. So even just in this sense, the two-movie weekend was a good thing for our often divided country.
These two movies could not have been more different, at least on the surface. Barbie wins the day for promotional prowess, with bright pink, sunny cheerfulness everywhere in the year leading up to the debut. Oppenheimer, in contrast, is gloomy and dark and somber, both in media and in storyline. One deals with fantasyland, and the other with something more real-life-and-death than any of us ever wanted. But upon closer inspection and introspection, it turns out that they are about exactly the same thing - the fact that the world is broken and needs fixing.
Most of us spend much of our lives dealing with the harsh reality that life is just not easy. There are moments, even seasons of relative peace and plenty in most of our lives, but no matter where you live or what your family history entails, life is most often filled with a maze of difficult relationships and situations to navigate. None of us can escape conflict, whether it be world-war scale ideology versus ideology, nation against nation, tribe against tribe, us against them, all the way down to a very personal me versus you…”this is my dream house, not yours.”
Making matters worse is the deeply embedded idea that life should be easy, and could be easy, if only everyone else would cooperate. But it is so interesting to consider how differently we all think! We do not have the same opinions or tastes. We do not have the same experiences or perspectives. Even people who were born to the same parents and grew up in the exact same home can be as different as night and day. Some people think we should all hop out of bed, and not waste a single second of the day until we get back in bed at the end of day, while others are dizzied by such behavior and think things should be significantly slower paced. Some want everyone to be dressed formally, while others rejoice at the comfort of athleisure wear. Some love classical music, while others love rap. NASCAR versus a polo match, chocolate or vanilla, Coke or Pepsi - this could go on for days. Some of us love pineapple on pizza, mayonnaise on sandwiches, and nothing spicy on anything, while others think all of those things are fighting words.
Our tastes and perspectives are so different! We all know this, we see this every day in almost every conversation we have. Yet, every one of us are continually shocked that not everyone around thinks exactly the same way as me. Still we somehow forge ahead, believing that peace will be achieved when everyone finally thinks and acts exactly like we do. Everyone is limited by this same self-centered perspective. We can only see what we can see, and from where we’re standing, our way looks better than everyone else’s. Each of us is afflicted with a common malady - selfishness.
So, everyone can agree that the world is broken and needs fixing, but what is the solution? Here come the disagreements again. Some would say more money can fix things, but then we argue endlessly whether the capitalists or communists have got the right idea. Some would say that better education might help, but then we can’t agree on what the curricula or faculties should be like. Many hope that politics and good governance might help, but the divisions in thinking here are so vast as to be nearly laughable. Then there is religion - but that especially gets so complicated and messy so fast, and there are as many opinions around the world to which way is the right way as there are flavors of ice cream. No matter what solution is offered, someone will always think it was a poor choice, or that everyone is doing it incorrectly.
As different as both of the aforementioned movies seem, they actually agree that the world is broken. But who can fix it? Again, a question that leads to so much disagreement. One of the movies last week decided that the people who had a turn had really messed things up, so let the other group have a shot, no matter the cost or resultant dissonance. In the second movie, the solution was scientists developing ethically complex and terrifying weaponry to attempt to keep everyone in the world from going any further down the road to destruction, and everyone is still arguing whether it should have been done or not. It seems we will never agree on who ought to make an attempt to make things better. Should it be the Boomers or the Millennials, the left or the right, the poor or the rich, the east or the west, and on and on? No matter who tries to help, someone will always think the attempt was severely lacking and missed the mark.
Eight billion people alive today, all saddled with a self-centered perspective and point of view. A broken planet full of strife and suffering, with no agreement on the horizon of what should be done to make things better or by whom. We keep on looking to the same things to fix our problems - money, education, governance, strict adherence to the rules of religion, science and technology, military might, yet our problems remain. Now we have added 24/7 access to the internet and algorithms working overtime to keep us feeling that everyone else is doing everything wrong.
Are we doomed? Should we all just give up trying to fix our broken world?
If only there was someone who could help us - someone who could bring a solution that could eradicate our universal problem of selfishness and self-interest…
Of course, there is Someone who can do that.
Jesus Christ has come to take away the sin and selfishness of the world. Emmanuel, God with us, imparts His own righteousness to us, replacing our hard hearts of stone with new, soft hearts. By the Holy Spirit, our selfish perspective is changed to an others-focused perspective. By God’s grace, when I come to Him and surrender my selfish will, He fills my heart and life with beautiful, fruitful things - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Jesus gives us the very thing we need, but can never give ourselves - a spiritual change of heart. He helps us to be able to truly love our neighbors as we love ourselves, even if they think or look or act really differently than we do.
Now, imagine how wonderful it might be if there was a whole group of people in every land and village who were set free from the tyranny of selfishness, and could see that every one of their neighbors, near and far, were just as valuable as themselves. Think what it could be like if a group of people like this stopped expecting everyone, everywhere to think exactly like themselves, and just introduced others to Jesus. He could give so many others new hearts, too, and by His Spirit could bring out the very best in each person. Soon, it would be a world made better by people with hearts filled with love and forgiveness, hope and joy, care and concern; with people who can and will help one another, and who can appreciate and respect the image of God stamped on every life.
This is God’s great plan to fix the broken world. God loves every one of the wildly different people on the planet - He is the One who made us with such different preferences and ways of thinking! He sent His Son who willingly gave His life so that anyone who will accept Him can be set free. Now He fills us with His Holy Spirit and sends us out to share the great news with everyone in our lives. We are a big part of His plan.
So please don’t give up! No matter how dark things get, no matter how rampant sin and selfishness run, keep letting the love and light of Jesus shine through your life. Everyone around you needs to know of God’s great love…
How amazing that the Lord of All gives us the dignity to be a part of His plan! I’m so pleased to offer a new book to you over this very subject. Of course, I hope you will read it and be blessed as an individual, but even better would be to read it with a group of friends. There has never been a better time for followers of Jesus to have a healthy understanding of God’s purpose and plan, and how each of our lives fits into His story. This is the perfect time for people who want to help this broken world to enter into discussion about what that could look like in our own homes and communities.
Click this link to preorder your copy of Living Stones today!
Some of the best times in life take place with our feet underneath a table. Just last week, celebrating the 4th of July and the independence of our nation, we gathered with much of our family and shared a wonderful meal. The food was delicious, but the company was even better. We told old stories, and shared new ones. We laughed together, and sympathized with one another. We are all especially enjoying the addition of a whole new generation to the family - the littlest ones among us bring a new delight and wonder to everything we might consider commonplace. Seeing their eyes light up as they enjoy strawberry ice cream for the first time, or as they watch simple glowing sparklers, provides something nourishing to our souls.
Another time last fall, we were able to have dinner with a good friend of mine from high school and her husband. At a reunion like that, the years roll back and fellowship is so joyful and encouraging. And just a month ago, we gathered on the other side of the country with longtime friends for an annual visit. We feasted, but it was more than celebrating the wonderful food: it was a celebration of life and friendship and hope for the future. Nobody wants to get up and leave a table like that. The very presence of God is with us as we dine together.
Think of all of the best meals you have ever had - I can think of so many lovely gatherings, can’t you? And they don’t always happen around holidays and special celebrations. I am thinking of one dinner in particular, with some good friends who had been going through a frightening rough patch in their marriage. They braved the storm to come sit at our table with us, and the Lord helped us all have such a delightful evening together. Rather than focus on the difficult time we were all well aware of, as we ate we remembered good things from the past, and dreamed of hopeful things for the future. It felt so good to laugh and to share happiness and hope together that night, and I am so grateful to God to say that their marriage has weathered that hard time. I can think of other meals shared when tragedy had struck someone’s life. Life is certainly not always easy, but even the most difficult burdens can be eased when we share them with one another. Even when there is no “happy ending”, or at least not the one we might have wished for at the time, something about being together and vocalizing the truths and realities of Jesus and His Kingdom fills our hearts with courage and fortitude.
This is not just a coincidence. I am convinced that God wants us to share meals together, and often. In our fast paced, fast food, and single serving meal kind of world, it is a good idea to slow down and consider this. God created us with the need to refuel every few hours. He also made us to have taste buds, while He made possible all the delicious things out there to eat and drink - bread, cheese, smoked salmon, berries, chocolate, lattes, lemonade… the list goes on and on! Built in to humanity are both the need to eat and the ability to enjoy the fulfillment of that need. Also built in is the wonder, mystery, and delight of interdependence. We need God and we need one another. How lovely when those needs can all converge on such a regular basis as we break bread together!
Notice how frequently the Word of God mentions tables and meals…
-In Egypt, Joseph’s table is laden high with food and drink for his brothers, and five times as much given to his mother’s youngest son, Benjamin. The graciousness and generosity of God is displayed through this meal; recall the brothers didn’t yet know it was Joseph, or that God had turned what they meant for evil in his life to everyone’s good.
-The Tabernacle in the wilderness had a special table, covered in gold and laden with golden dishes and implements, that was to have the bread of the Presence on it at all times. God's table is always open and available, and is always beautiful and nourishing.
-The cycle of the year as prescribed in the law was to revolve around seven special multi-day feasts, ordained by God. In striking contrast, the law called for far fewer times of national fasting. God has made the world and us for His pleasure, and invites us frequently to join Him in His pleasure and celebration.
-David’s royal table always had a seat for Mephibosheth, the crippled grandson of Saul, the complicated king who tried to kill David many times. According to the world’s code, every one of your enemy’s relations should be wiped out to ensure your own security, but according to God, forgiveness and friendship make a reserved seat at the royal table. David, the man after God’s own heart, wrote more about the Lord’s table in one of the most familiar and beloved psalms, Psalm 23. It is thought that he wrote that song as an old man looking back on a life lived with the fellowship and presence of God - the Lord who is both the Good Shepherd and Gracious King, Who prepares a place at His table, even in the presence of enemies.
-The beautiful bride in the Song of Solomon, a book understood to be both an individual love story as well as a picture of God’s love for His people, sings of the banqueting table her beloved has prepared for her. It is laden with choice delicacies, and the banner hanging over it spells out LOVE. Think of every wedding feast you have ever been to, and of the special table reserved for the wedding party - God is preparing a setting like that for us!
Then came Jesus, Emmanuel and God the Son, who shows us just what the Father is like. He spent a lot of time eating and drinking with others, so much so that His enemies and detractors thought it was suspicious. They didn’t think anyone holy should be spending so much time in fellowshipping with others around a table. Evidently Jesus didn’t agree. He ate with His friends, He ate with sinners and tax collectors, and He ate with self-righteous religious people. He had an impromptu picnic with thousands of people, barbecued on the beach, and even invited Himself and His disciples to a man’s house for lunch one day. It seems there was rarely an opportunity missed to spend time with others around a meal.
Even on the night that He was betrayed, Jesus took the bread and the cup from the table they were gathered around, and blessed them. The God who wants us to be careful to purposely and regularly remember the vital and important things in life, blessed the bread and said, “‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after supper He took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” Now, certainly when we gather for worship and to celebrate communion, but also every time we break bread together, we can remember what the Lord has done and what He has promised to do.
His table is open to all who will come; there is a seat reserved just for you. God’s table is laden with good, beautiful, nourishing things - with fresh daily bread and new mercies each morning. You are wanted, eagerly expected, and there is no hurried rush at God's table. Enjoy His presence, enjoy His company and delight, enjoy His goodness. Our own tables can reflect this wondrous truth. We can put courage and hope into one another’s hearts as we eat and talk and fellowship, with the Lord Himself always at the head of every table we put our feet under.
Our faith can be strengthened as we remember how His body was broken so that our bodies could be made whole, and as we remember that His blood was shed as a sacrifice once and for all of our sins. The table is the place we can encourage and uplift one another; where we can laugh and cry and hope and dream with one another until the Lord returns. Then, on that beautiful day, we will gather at the last table the Bible mentions for the marriage supper of the Lamb, where His shining banner of love will be over and around us forever.
Until then, when we set the table for a meal, let’s recognize the presence of Jesus with us as we gather, and let’s set a couple of extra places to invite some friends and neighbors! May the Lord bless and keep you this week and always -
I am so grateful and pleased to announce that my new book, Living Stones, is now available for pre-order! What a wonderful time for followers of Jesus to engage together in a Biblically-based conversation about healthy Christian community. This book is designed for personal and group study, and is available for purchase here:
Hi! I'm Mary - mother to two wonderful grown daughters, wife to an incredible husband, and loving our life in the piney woods of Texas... (read more!)
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