One long night…

Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger. ” Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go right now to Bethlehem and see what’s happened. Let’s confirm what the Lord has revealed to us. ” They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they saw this, they reported what they had been told about this child. Everyone who heard it was amazed at what the shepherds told them. Mary committed these things to memory and considered them carefully. The shepherds returned home, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. Everything happened just as they had been told. ~Luke 2:8-20 (CEB)

Christmas is supposed to be a time of joy. Isn’t it? TV shows and commercials illustrate Christmas time as the … “most wonderful time of the year…” So if Christmas makes you blue… (now I have Evis singing in my head) or even flat out depressed it can be isolating in the sea of celebrations. It can leave some people gloomy finding the holidays anything but jolly, while still others will have experiences that make it difficult to be merry and bright.

When I think of the Advent story it seems to me to start out in the dark and cold, even in the midst of hopelessness. But it is also part of a bigger story of God’s grace waiting our discovery. It is a story of hope.

Sometimes the hype and clichés of the season distract us. The clever marketing ploys succeed in making us desire tangible things we can hold in our hands. Marketing gives us false illusions of how we can find happiness. However all the marketing efforts, hype and catchy logos cannot answer the deep questions of the heart, or address the pain that might reside there, explain the mystery of God’s presence, or even comprehend the meaning of our existence. It also does not help us to understand why bad things happen.

Advent can give us hope though in the midst of our isolation and false illusions because it tells us a story of how God humbled himself, intimately and personally through the birth of Jesus. Sometimes we blow off Advent as just another blip on the church calendar but it is meant to be something more. It is meant to lay a new path of faith for the new year ahead.

In the remembering and retelling of the magical story we are reminded that God loved us so much he allowed Jesus to come down here in the form of a fragile infant to be born in the lowliest of places. The retelling of the story is to remind me why Jesus came into the world in the first place, so that I might have life and live in the light.  I am reminded with the Advent story that God is a hands-on God willing to become vulnerable just so that I might catch a glimpse of how much He loves me. This story tells me that Jesus loved me so much that he came down to earth to be in the darkness with me and to walk with me as I search for the light.

Advent is meant to confront me once again with God’s unparalleled effort to communicate the message that I am embraced and held by a God of love. The Advent season is the time that I can shake off the failures, the victories and the sorrows of the past. I am given a new clean page. Again and again we see in the Bible that God is a God of second chances and the healer of broken hearts. Jesus Christ has come, is present with us, and will come again in final victory when all darkness, pain and evil will be no more.

Heavenly Father, it gives me great comfort to know that You are big enough to handle all my sorrow, all my questions and all my fear. I am thankful that You are a God who is willing to come down to earth and be with me where I am, even if the place You find me is darkness. Even in the darkness I am not hidden from You. I may be worried that I will put others off during this “happy season” with the questions and fears that are hidden in my heart, but I know that You will never turn from my sorrow. You will never brush off my questions. You will never be upset with me if I have the “wrong feelings” for the season. You simply tell me that feelings just are.  Dear Lord, I thank You for sitting with me here right now, waiting with me through this long night, reminding me that there is always a dawn. Amen.

Praying for boldness

Jesus left that place and came to his hometown. His disciples followed him. On the Sabbath, he began to teach in the synagogue. Many who heard him were surprised. “Where did this man get all this? What’s this wisdom he’s been given? What about the powerful acts accomplished through him? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t he Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” They were repulsed by him and fell into sin. Jesus said to them, “Prophets are honored everywhere except in their own hometowns, among their relatives, and in their own households.” He was unable to do any miracles there, except that he placed his hands on a few sick people and healed them. He was appalled by their disbelief. Sending out the disciples Then Jesus traveled through the surrounding villages teaching. He called for the Twelve and sent them out in pairs. He gave them authority over unclean spirits. He instructed them to take nothing for the journey except a walking stick—no bread, no bags, and no money in their belts. He told them to wear sandals but not to put on two shirts. He said, “Whatever house you enter, remain there until you leave that place. If a place doesn’t welcome you or listen to you, as you leave, shake the dust off your feet as a witness against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that people should change their hearts and lives. They cast out many demons, and they anointed many sick people with olive oil and healed them. ~Mark 6:1-13 (CEB)

How can I in my own life speak with boldness? In 1 Jon 5:14-15 (NIV) it says, “And this is the boldness we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him.”

Two situations that I feel most uncomfortable is with a group who have known me most of my life and the other is with a group of people who do not know me at all. But when I feel my weakest God says, “My grace is enough for you, because power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9)

In Mark chapter 6, even after Jesus didn’t receive a good reception from his home town, he still tells his disciples to go out and to be confident in their work, to go out in boldness. And they did. Verse 16 says “So they went out and proclaimed that people should change their hearts and lives. They cast out many demons, and they anointed many sick people with olive oil and healed them.” Their boldness was shown by their works.

After Jesus’ resurrection the disciples were threatened by the government, but instead of backing down when they were told to be silent they prayed, “Now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (Acts 4:29-30) So when the disciples felt threatened by the work they were doing their response was to pray. “When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31)

Christ came into a multicultural world. In a world of many beliefs it might be understandable that the disciples may have been fearful to even mention their faith in Jesus Christ. In a time when loyalty to the official religion often was required, it would have been simpler to go along with the crowd. In such a dangerous time where the promotion of any new religion was perilous, they would have been safer to hide any evidence of faith in Jesus Christ.

Instead of running, conforming or playing it safe the disciples prayed for boldness to speak up about the gospel. They didn’t ask for security, relief from persecution or the demise of the opposition. They asked for boldness to continue in the work that Jesus called them to do.

How often do I even remember to ask for boldness to do God’s will? What difference would it make in my life if I did remember to pray for boldness? When the disciples prayed for boldness they found it gave them the wisdom, the faith and the power to live faithful and effective lives. When I continually pray I find my life transformed from one of “knowing” to one of believing. With believing I find boldness to go about the work of Jesus Christ.

Father in Heaven, whether in groups I am well known or in unfamiliar places I ask for boldness to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world. May I not back down when I feel uncomfortable but remember that despite my weakness your glory can shine through. Amen.

The vast unknown

I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the LORD; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. When you call me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me. I will be present for you, declares the LORD, and I will end your captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have scattered you, and I will bring you home after your long exile, declares the LORD. ~Jer. 29:11-14 (CEB)

I have a need to know. I need to have a plan. If you were to list my strengths, organizing and planning would be attributes that would make the list. As often happens, sometimes our strengths are also our weaknesses.

I like to plan and organize because it gives me a secure feeling of where I am going. Sometimes it even comforts me as I look back and can see where I have been. But when people ask me “what is next” when it comes to God’s call on my life I have to say…. “I have no idea”. I have no plan. I do not know what is coming next.

There is no information for me to neatly analyze and organize.

There.   Is.   Just.  The.   Vast…     UNKNOWN.

Here I realize that God does not want me relying on my self. If I knew what God’s big picture was for my life I soon would be busy, head down with calendar in hand, planning out all the steps that would get me there. I would stop looking up. There would be no trust.

Instead of giving me a big picture, God whispers in my ear, “Trust Me“. To trust God I must take my eyes off of the things I keep myself busy analyzing and organizing so that I can look up to see what is going to be the next step. In the unknown, I HAVE to trust God. With a plan, the trust lies on me. If the plan is with me I am limited to my abilities and knowledge. With me I am bound to fail. If the plan is with God, there is a vast wealth of ability and knowledge. With God…. all things are possible. Even if the possibilities are yet, a vast unknown.

Thank You Heavenly Father for walking with me hand in hand through the vast unknowns of life. Help me keep my eyes on Your and my ears open to hear You whisper… “This is the way you should go.” Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Body, soul and spirit

Therefore we were buried together with him through baptism into his death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too can walk in newness of life. If we were united together in a death like his, we will also be united together in a resurrection like his. This is what we know: the person that we used to be was crucified with him in order to get rid of the corpse that had been controlled by sin. That way we wouldn’t be slaves to sin anymore, because a person who has died has been freed from sin’s power. But if we died with Christ, we have faith that we will also live with him. We know that Christ has been raised from the dead and he will never die again. Death no longer has power over him. He died to sin once and for all with his death, but he lives for God with his life. In the same way, you also should consider yourselves dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus. ~Rom. 6:4-11 (CEB)

As a believer I have all I need for a  life in Christ. If I don’t know it I can’t experience the reality of it.

One of the Biblical truths I grew up with is how when we are baptized we died with Christ, are buried with Christ and have risen with Christ. But I am sitting right here, alive. What died?

1 Thessalonians 5:23 says, “Now, may the God of peace himself cause you to be completely dedicated to him; and may your spirit, soul, and body be kept intact and blameless at our Lord Jesus Christ’s coming.” According to this verse we are a three part whole. Thinking of myself in this way makes it a little clearer.

The invisible is easy to overlook until it’s not there anymore. When we look at the shell of a loved one that has passed on we are quite aware that we are more than just a body.

My body is the visible shell that the world sees. My soul, my mind, is the invisible part of me that thinks and feels. It interprets information that is received and it can only whether it is a lie or truth. We readily acknowledge these two parts of our being. But the third, my spirit is what links me to God.

If I take a moment and think back to the Garden of Eden I remember that Adam and Eve were told that if they ate from the Tree of Knowledge they would die. I distinctly remember them walking away from their encounter with God after their sin. (Gen 3) Weren’t they supposed to die? Their body and soul left the garden, but the damage was to their spirit, that invisible place that connected them to God is what died. Therefore every human was born into death, with a “dead spirit”.

The only way I can bring life to my spirit is to admit that it is dead and receive the One who is Life. God’s Holy Spirit makes life available leaving me with a choice. The choice I am faced with is that I can either receive truth from my circumstances by responding to what my soul, my mind tells me or I can listen to the truth that through Christ’s sacrifice I have now been united with God’s Spirit.  The Spirit feeds me Truth and leads me in the way I need to go.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; don’t rely on your own intelligence. Know him in all your paths, and he will keep your ways straight. ~Proverbs 3:5-6 (CEB)

Heavenly Father, I thank you for your guiding Spirit that speaks truth to my heart. Help me to listen to the Truth and not respond to my current circumstances as if that is truth. Help me to keep all my ways straight. Amen

Self-relience

The real believers are the ones the Spirit of God leads to work away at this ministry, filling the air with Christ’s praise as we do it. We couldn’t carry this off by our own efforts, and we know it– even though we can list what many might think are impressive credentials. You know my pedigree: a legitimate birth, circumcised on the eighth day; an Israelite from the elite tribe of Benjamin; a strict and devout adherent to God’s law; a fiery defender of the purity of my religion, even to the point of persecuting Christians; a meticulous observer of everything set down in God’s law Book. The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash– along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant– dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ– God’s righteousness. I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it. ~Phil 3:3-11 (Message)

Self-reliance is living in selfishness, flesh. What does the Bible say to us about living in the flesh?

“People whose lives are based on selfishness think about selfish things, but people whose lives are based on the Spirit think about things that are related to the Spirit.” ~Rom 8:5 (CEB)
“The Spirit is the one who gives life and the flesh doesn’t help at all. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” ~John 6:63 (CEB)
“A person’s selfish desires are set against the Spirit, and the Spirit is set against one’s selfish desires. They are opposed to each other, so you shouldn’t do whatever you want to do.” ~Gal 5:17 (CEB)

The spirit and the flesh are in opposition. This struggle robs us from our true identity found only in Christ. Jesus doesn’t care about our good reputation; he cares about building our good character. Anything we do to get life and identity outside of Christ is idol worship, even service to Christ. Self-righteousness, self-sufficiency, self-effort and self-reliance rob us of a life of freedom and victory.

Our definition of sin, the bad stuff people do, the heart breaks people cause, the poor decisions people make… somehow our desire to be our own little god is left off the list. Instead of looking to God to provide what is needed, do we roll up our sleeves and take on responsibilities that were never meant for us?

How many times do I see a problem, put my limitations on it and decide what I think the solution should be? Do I miss out on a miracle because I am depending on myself? I want to live like I have a God that knows what He is doing.

It isn’t about my doing God’s work; it’s about my trusting God to do the work in me. God doesn’t want my service, he doesn’t want my independence. He wants me.

I need to live more than just believing in God, I need to live from God. I need to step out from behind my mask of self-reliance and walk in faith.

Lord, Help me in my struggle to be self-reliant. I know that when I walk in faith and live like You are in control I can see you working in my life. May I live in freedom and victory. Amen.

Masks of our choosing

Then they both saw clearly and knew that they were naked. So they sewed fig leaves together and made garments for themselves. ~Genesis 3:7 (CEB)

When we make the choice to believe Satan’s lie, we believe that we must perform for our acceptance. We realize that we do not measure up. We are aware of our nakedness, our vulnerability, our imperfection.

What do we do when we realize that we do not measure up? We scramble for something to hide our shame. We put on masks of our own making, sewn together with fear. What are some masks that we might wear in our realization that we are imperfect? Here is a small list:

My service in church will make me acceptable.
I gain respect by acting responsible.
Following the rules makes me good enough.
Acting righteous makes me righteous.
Getting up early to pray every morning will make me a good Christian.
Cooking healthy meals makes me a good mom.
Keeping my house clean makes me a good wife.
Working hard makes me a good employee.
Insert here your own insecurities…

Does God leave us in our insecurities? While we are hiding God comes looking for us. He beckons to us, calling us to come out to him. “Where are you”, he calls. He already knows our hiding spot (Gen 3:8-9). He calls to us because we have to come out of hiding in order to be found. We have to come out from behind our masks in order to be healed, in order to be made whole.

Heavenly Father, I thank you for calling to me and not leaving me behind my masks of insecurities. I want to be made whole. Help me to be healed. Amen.

The tree of knowledge

The snake was the most intelligent of all the wild animals that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say that you shouldn’t eat from any tree in the garden?” The woman said to the snake, “We may eat the fruit of the garden’s trees but not the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden. God said, ‘Don’t eat from it, and don’t touch it, or you will die.’” The snake said to the woman, “You won’t die! God knows that on the day you eat from it, you will see clearly and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” The woman saw that the tree was beautiful with delicious food and that the tree would provide wisdom, so she took some of its fruit and ate it, and also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. ~Genesis 3:1-6(CEB)

There are two trees in the garden. The Tree of Life represents a life dependent on God. The Tree of Knowledge represents a life dependent on self. Eve’s initial mistake is entering into conversation with the liar. The following mistake was reasoning with the truth.

Two lies snuck in the garden that day. One is the lie that we have to do something to be something. Remember the act of eating the fruit? The second lie that slips by us is that this performance will make us more like God. In Genesis 3:5 Satan tells the woman that by eating the fruit she will become more like God, more righteous. In her conversation with the lie she forgot the truth. In Genesis 1:27, God had already made her “in His image.”

So what does this mean? Somewhere along the way we forget that love is a gift, we begin to believe that it must be earned. God gave us the Tree of Life so that we might truly walk with him. Walking this road in life with him brings freedom. But if we choose the Tree of Knowledge aka the “tree of independence”, we are bound to ever try to earn love and acceptance. We are trapped in the lie of performance.

The fact is God already loves us. He loved us first before we ever did anything to earn that love, it already existed. Adam and Eve forgot the love they were given, in fact they wanted more. They wanted to be independent and ever since humans have been born separated from God (Rom 5:17). God has been calling to us since the garden trying to remind us that His love is here free for the taking. We don’t have to earn that love. God doesn’t want us to remain in darkness, our self-reliance. He is calling us back to Truth. He is calling us back to the Tree of Life.

Heavenly Father, I thank you for sending Jesus into the world to bring us back to the Tree of Life. Help me to fight this streak of independence that lives in me. Help me to live in the intimacy you gave us in the garden. Amen.

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