Saturday, December 19, 2015

Prepare the Way

Today's passages are Isaiah 40:1-5 and Mark 1:1-8



I know it's ridiculous, but I read this passage describing John the Baptist and I thought that he has to be like the cousin Eddie of the family. He's that weird cousin you hope doesn't show up for the family Christmas party. I mean, he had terribly tacky taste is clothing, he lived in the middle of nowhere, and the man ate bugs for goodness sakes!



You might say he was "different", or I guess could say he was the pioneer for "organic" cuisine. But we're not just talking about someone who was Mr Crunchy Granola… The man was cray! For real! 



BUT--He didn't do these things for shock value or to bring attention to himself. He was just a man who was completely sold out for Jesus. He didn't have to hold out for a management position like Eddie, because he already had a wonderful job. His job description was given at birth: "And you, child, will be call the prophet of the Most High. For you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins" {Luke 1:76-77}. His only job was to point people to his cousin: Jesus. John just didn't give himself time to go buy hipster wear or shop at some trendy biblical version of Whole Foods. Every minute of his life was dedicated to showing people the way.



If I were John, I might get tired of being the weird one. I'd want to pass my plate of bugs to someone else and let them be the cray cray cousin for a bit. I'd go looking to find something a little more fashionable to wear, and something a little less nauseating to eat. 



I do wish to be so dedicated to Jesus that I don't care what's on my back or what's on my plate, as John was. I'm not saying I want to find recipes for locusts, but I am saying I want to prepare the way for Jesus for people around me. I want people to see joy in my heart and love in my soul and get them asking questions about where that weird optimism comes from. I deeply know the one who gave me hope and joy, and I pray I always have the wisdom and courage to show it.





Friday, December 18, 2015

And, You Child

Today's passage is Luke 1:57-80 and Isaiah 43:1.



Not everyone is excited to go home for Christmas. Not every family party is filled with laughter and Christmas cheer. For some of us, the idea of family is associated with dread, not joy. A lot of families are a source of major pain. Most of my family relationships you would consider strained, at best. Holidays just magnify the effects of that strain.



Once upon a time, I thought my family was normal. However, I've learned my family of origin was held together with guilt and obligation. The "love" I received became a debt to be paid. I owed big for whatever "love" I got. There were expressions of "I love yous", but actions proved otherwise. It felt suffocating, overwhelming, and laborious. That "love" was extremely fragile, and I was always waiting for it to shatter. It often did. 



As I grew up, I learned that it wasn't love at all. It took me over two years of therapy to sit on my counselor's couch and say "I feel sad". I had no idea how to formulate an emotion, much less name one. Whenever people ask me "how are you?", I usually respond with how my husband or son are doing. I have no idea how to answer that question. I was really never asked that question as a child. If ever I had feelings of sadness or frustration, they were relabeled as "dramatic", "selfish", "ridiculous", and sometimes even "crazy." I was punished for having emotions. All the happy photographs were just a mirage, a perfectly polished lie to trick people into thinking we had a happy home. We had happy moments, but we didn't have a happy home. There was no trust, and there was a lot of sorrow.



I recently had a visit with a high school friend very near and dear to my heart. We caught up, and we talked about our lowest places. Mine was my family. She said "Sara, I worried about you a lot. It's like you had a death wish." You know what? She's right. I spent most of my life wishing I were dead.



I'm super perceptive about other people's emotions. It's very easy for me to pick up on what other people are feeling and help them through their tough times. But to this day, processing my own emotion, ANY emotion, is the most excruciating thing imaginable for me. I often feel empty, and that's the safest place for me to stay. Just today, I had a very tearful sad day. My husband knew this because I had texted him about it while he was at work, and he walked in the door and said "what are you feeling?" I LAUNCHED on him saying "Don't ask me what I'm feeling! That's the worst thing you can ever do!" Poor guy. He was just trying to help, and my heart breaks for him with how I reacted. I don't know how to receive help. I still don't always know how to receive love.



BUT--the love I have with my husband feels different than the love I grew up knowing. It feels free. It feels safe. It feels kind. It feels stable. It feel soft. Even in the middle of a storm, our love may sway in a violent breeze, but it endures. Even during the deep dark bad times, I feel confident it will never break.



If I can be really real for a sec, I feel a twinge of envy when I hear my friends talking about their happy holiday homecomings. I hear about the hugs, the excitement, and the joy… and what I feel is loss, or even grief. I have always felt sort of homeless this time of year… like I don't belong anywhere. It's never easy, and I'm not sure it will ever be resolved.



I was reading the story of John the Baptist's birth, and the joy and pride his parents felt is palpable in the story. I imagine their faces stained with tears from happiness, not sadness for a change. They waited SO LONG to become parents. I can only imagine the overwhelming elation they felt as they looked at their precious baby boy. I absolutely LOVE what Zechariah has to say about his son! He is proud, hopeful, and confident his son will change the world. 



Imagine if your family had that kind of joy and pride for you. I sincerely hope and pray they do. But if they don't, think about what it would be like for you. Maybe it's hard to even think about or imagine because your family is so dysfunctional. Maybe you don't even see or talk to your family anymore. Maybe you've never even met your family. Maybe you feel hopeless and alone this time of year. 



But our great God is that joyful family you're looking for. You don't have to place our hope on anyone in this world. He is that joyful loving family you've always wanted. You may not be able to trust people, but you can always trust Him. He made you in His image, gifted you with talents and abilities, and redeemed you through Christ. There is no shortage of love with Him.  His love is explosive, bold, an beyond all comprehension. He is yours, and you are His.





Thursday, December 17, 2015

Blessed Are You

Today's passage is Luke 1:39-56.



There are a lot of moments in my life that I've loved being a woman {save middle school--yowza!} I love being around other women. There is something about womanhood that is so communal and bonding. Your girlfriends are the ones you couldn't wait to gab with after your first kiss, first love, and especially after finding out you're having your first child. #BFFs make the sweet moments that much sweeter. 



In this journey called motherhood, your besties are SO. MUCH. MORE. IMPORTANT than when you were a kid. And they're also harder to come by. But when you find one, she's worth her weight in gold! Momming is hard, y'all. It's also so very sweet. We have long days of boo-boos, emotions, dirty dishes, cheerios, crying children… and even crying mommas hiding in closets eating all the leftover Halloween candy. But we also have joys like laughter, tickling, lovin' on stray neighborhood kids, cuddles under the covers, and goodnight kisses. Having a great bestie in your corner to share all the facets of motherhood with makes all moments something to be treasured. 



How fun is it that Mary and Elizabeth were able to bond over their two precious miracles together? Mary was young and a virgin, but Elizabeth was elderly and barren for decades. But I still picture the two of them giggling and celebrating together, all giddy and gleeful. Besties for the resties, those two. I really would love to just pull up a chair with the two of them, because this was no ordinary bestie moment…. this was THE BESTIE MOMENT. This was a miraculous moment of victory, rejoicing, the highest of highs. These two were carrying the fulfillment of prophecies within them.



I used to read this story and think about how big their roles were in God's story, and think about how small mine is. But here's the thing: He has a unique, special, glorious plan for all of us as well. Whether you're a mom, wife, nurse, schoolteacher, blogger, reporter, waitress, actor, hairdresser, business professional, doctor, friend, or whatever… God chose you to place in that role. Your gifts and talents? He chose you to put those inside. You're the one He chose to carry them. Rejoice and sing, dear ones. Blessed are you!





Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Do Not Fear

Today's passage is Matthew 1:18-25.



Yesterday I talked about Mary and how much I love her. Today, I want to talk about her love, Joseph. I love him so much too! In his time and culture, if his virgin fiancé turned up pregnant, it would've been completely justifiable to break off their engagement and run for the hills. In fact, it would've been encouraged. Sex outside of marriage was absolutely unthinkable for religious and respectable people like them. And the fact that he wasn't the father? Anyone would've told Joseph to drop that harlot like a bad habit.



Imagine the fury and betrayal Joseph must've felt. He hadn't even had a chance to be with her, but some other dude did. Imagine how his world came crashing down around him. Imagine the two of them standing there silently facing each other with this heartbreaking news. Imagine the hot tears that were shed both out of anger and sorrow. Imagine what it was like when she wasn't begging for forgiveness. Imagine the feeling that came over him when she begged for the chance to explain. How can you "explain" pain like this away? And then she tried to turn her unfaithfulness into a faith issue? He had to be thinking "Is she crazy? Has she lost her mind?"



Joseph could've humiliated her. A lot of people would've. They would want to make themselves feel better by making her suffer. He could've pulled a male version of a Miranda Lambert song, but he chose to quietly leave her in order to spare her any additional pain. Good guy, that Joseph.



And then the angel appeared to him in a dream and said "Do not fear" {Matthew 1:20}. The angel said the same thing to Mary {Luke 1:30}. And the angel said the same thing to Zechariah {Luke 1:13}.



Do you ever look around at your life and wonder how you got here? Lordamercy I have. This has the toughest year of my life. It has been the lowest of valleys, the depths of which are beyond description. If breathing were a voluntary action, I would be in serious trouble because I'm drowning. It has taken everything in me to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I could really use an angel to appear to me and say "Sara, do not fear". It would be just the cherry on top of the cake if the angel could throw in some sage advice for where my life is going to go. All week I've been wondering where I can place an order for one of those…



And then it dawned on me. This bold message of courage wasn't just for them. God wouldn't choose fear for us. Fear is rooted in the belief that God is far away from us: distant, busy, unreachable, unavailable. He isn't! 



"And they shall call Him Immanuel (which means God is with us)" {Matthew 1:23b}.



He is right here with us. He is with us on the highest peaks and in the deepest depths. Do not fear. Do not be afraid.




Tuesday, December 15, 2015

There's Something About Mary

There's something about Mary… No, not the movie. Mary of the Bible. I just adore her. She's the woman I want to be. I love that she's the one who was chosen. She just does whatever is asked of her, and she trusts God implicitly. She overcomes her first knee-jerk reaction of fear and shows up ready to serve.



I'm not sure about y'all, but if I were a virgin, I wouldn't be super excited to get signed up for the job. Unwed moms back then were social pariahs. It wasn't just something that was gossiped about, it was so shameful that she was probably cast out by friends and family. Imagine how tough that would be to keep faith in God.



And telling people she was a virgin? We can all imagine how that conversation went: "….ummm Mary? You're talking about dreams and angels and a virgin conception? Uh huh. Sure." I can imagine people walking away shaking their heads thinking "Do you think we're stupid? We all know you and Joseph were getting busy before the wedding." Imagine how insulting it would feel to all her religiously devout friends and family to describe what they assumed was promiscuity/scandal and slap the label of holiness on it. It must have been offensive and caused a lot of conflict.



And a virgin birth? I don't want to know how excruciatingly painful that was.



Nothing about what Mary agreed to appeals to me. Not one bit. Even while Jesus was in her womb kicking, I wonder how many times she silently stared out a window feeling lonely and frightened. I can picture her putting her hand over her growing belly, hoping and praying it was all worth it. 



The bible doesn't tell us a lot about what was going through Mary's mind. It tells us that she never questions if what Gabriel is saying is true, it just tells us that she asks how. She is a willing servant, but she still had to have some human reactions of curiosity and apprehension. As her belly grew, I imagine her loneliness did as well. As word got around that "God put that baby in her belly" {I imagine people putting airquotes up as they talked about it}, I'm sure less and less people associated with her. 



I've been unmarried and pregnant, and I can vouch for the fact that a lot of people you love don't return your calls anymore. And I was pregnant 2,000 years AFTER Mary. I imagine that what I faced was NOTHING compared to what she did.



BUT, what this story teaches me is that God does His best work in the dark valleys of life. The tough twists and turns make the high points so much more glorious. I'm so glad God picked Mary. She was absolutely the right one for the job. She so perfectly embodies who I want to be in Christ. In the low places, I want to rest in the knowledge that God is with me, and show up ready to serve.




Monday, December 14, 2015

They Obeyed

Today's passage is Luke 1:5-25.



Yesterday I wrote about Elizabeth and how much I relate to her. Today I'd like to talk a little more about her main squeeze. Zechariah sounds like he was the man. The word "blameless" was used to describe him. He was clearly a righteous and respectable man, a man Elizabeth was presumably proud to be married to. 



So righteous, in fact, that God knew to send the Angel to the temple to meet him. Netflix, luxury golf courses, ESPN, and video games weren't around in this man's day, so I'm not exactly sure what dudes did for recreation…. But God knew our man Z frequented his temple because he had a heart for God. 



Zechariah's life was not really a cake walk either. They were elderly and had probably accepted the fact that they would never be parents. But he still followed God, and he still fulfilled his religious responsibilities.



And in the holiest of places, Zechariah received the news that his wife would finally bare him a son. It was the holiest most miraculous moment of Zechariah's life, and his response was one of doubt. Because of this, the angel Gabriel told him he would unable to speak until his son's birth.



Why would God do this? Remember the words used to describe Zechariah? Blameless. Righteous. One little moment of rational weakness and he's punished? What's up with that, God?



I think God wanted Zechariah {and us} to know this: obedience of laws and rituals ARE NOT the same thing as faith.



It's one thing to read a daily bible app, it's another thing to believe God's promises to you on the page. 
It's one thing to attend church, it's another to trust God with your life.



God wanted Zechariah to come closer to Him in a more intimate experience, not to the alter to scratch the week's sacrifice off of his to-do list.



God isn't law, dear ones. He is love. His laws were created with love in mind. He wanted to draw us into Him, but if we're stopping at just meeting religious obligations, we're missing it! We're missing out on the life and power that comes with the experience of closeness with our great God. You'll never, ever, ever, ever get there out of obligation. 



So if you stumbled upon this page because you felt like you should probably read something about God today, it is the sincerest prayer of my heart that you leave feeling alive, hopeful, and free from the obligations that come with being religious. Don't shoot for honorable, or righteous, or even blameless. It good to have a clear conscience, but it's far better to have a light and joyful heart. Lift your eyes up. Experience the entirety of the encounter God wanted for you.




Sunday, December 13, 2015

Sadness and Gladness

Today's passage is Luke 1:5-17



I really wish I could hang with Elizabeth for a bit. I relate to her a lot. I'm not sure how she'd relate to me, armed with my smartphone, washing machine, dishwasher, central heat and air, and my programmable coffee pot…. She'd probably look at me and think "Dang girl, you've got it made."



But boy would I have so many questions for her. I so relate to doing everything "right" and still not getting the desired outcome: a child. She was elderly when she and Zechariah finally conceived John the Baptist, so I'd want to hear what each passing year was like for her. I can't imagine that it was good. Today, a lot of people choose to live child free. You won't ever hear any judgement from my corner about that choice, mind you. Children should only come to people who desperately want them. If people don't want them, they won't get any less love from me. In fact, they may get a hug for being honest enough with themselves to not conform with the social norm with how a family "should" look. 



In Elizabeth's day, though… Children were not only something to be desired for the sake of having the pleasure of raising them, or even a just a social norm, they were the that era's version of a 401K or an IRA. They took care of you after you were too old or sick to care for yourself. Fancy retirement villages with golf and tai chi didn't exist back then. To be childless in those days was to be without a safety net for your future. 



I can't imagine the combination of sorrow and fear. I have so many questions I'd love to sit down and ask Elizabeth over coffee. I'm sure my husband would have a ton of questions for Zechariah on how he stayed strong to dry his wife's tears while he found time to shed his own.



Scripture tells us that their prayers were answered in a big, big way. God didn't give them just any child, He gave them John the Baptist. This child came forth to prepare the way for redemption, hope, grace, and joy. He prepared the way for Jesus! Whoa God. What an answer to a prayer!



God heard their prayer. It just took time.



As it relates to me, my prayers gradually changed over time. I used to wail, weep, cry, beg, and plead with God to please, please, please, give me another child. I bargained with Him: I'll do anything you want, if You please, please grant this desire of my heart. 



It was an extremely low place, I won't lie. It's been 6 years of waiting. It felt like God was telling me I was a bad mom through not giving me another. I even hate the word "infertile". It makes me feel like a defective model. I've gone through so many medical procedures and been given hope just to have it crushed. Then, we were told the worst news, it's extremely unlikely we will ever have more kids without in vitro, which we chose not to pursue. We also were not candidates for adoption, because my husband wasn't an American citizen. It was another door closed to us. Now that he is a citizen, enough time has gone by that we are unsure if we even want to press the issue further. It's not a closed option for us, but it's not something we've actively explored either.



Secondary infertility is defined as the inability to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term following the birth of one or more biological children. I'm not going to get into trying to decide if secondary infertility being better or worse than primary infertility, I'll just say that secondary infertility has its own challenges. It's the joy of loving your child{ren}, but frustration or anger for not having more. It's worry or guilt for how those feelings affect your existing child{ren}. For me, it's been sorrow and guilt for not being able to give my son a sibling. In my experience, people aren't supportive to couples experiencing secondary infertility. I briefly joined a support group encouraged by my doctor, and the people struggling with primary infertility have said things to me like "at least you have one" {not judging this position, I would probably feel the exact same way!} People who aren't struggling with any form of infertility have been rude or even hostile to us by stating that our sadness must be ungratefulness for the child we do have. I don't even know how to respond to that, except to say that we know firsthand that it is possible to feel extraordinary gratitude and profound sadness simultaneously.



The depth of those conflicting emotions cannot be overstated. I desperately wanted a second child to do it "right" this time. The first time I was pregnant, I was 18, unmarried, I was whispered about and laughed at. There weren't a whole lot of people excited about my pregnancy. I married the father of my baby, and we have built a beautiful life together. Through my pregnancy, we both experienced God in a new way. I desperately wanted a "do over". To have people get excited, to not be whispered about, and to have the chance not to be monumentally broke and stressed. I spent most of my son's first year sending out job applications and resumés for my husband who was in a dead-end thankless job. I feel such regret for not spending more time playing in the floor with my son, and I would've if I had known it was the only baby I would ever have the chance to play with.



….And I may never get my "do over". I had to work very hard to make my peace with that.



As I said before, my prayers changed over time. I stopped praying for a child and started praying for my broken heart to be healed. You know what? God answered! My story now looks like both Mary's AND Elizabeth's! I can relate to so many women. I've dried tears of teen moms and women who desperately want to be moms. It's something I would've missed out on if I had things go my way. God didn't fill my arms with a baby, but He filled my heart with so many opportunities to help heal other hearts. He used me to prepare other hearts to receive Him. And for that, I'm so grateful and honored. 




Saturday, December 12, 2015

Glory in Weakness

"Hardships have a way 
of preparing ordinary people 
for an extraordinary destiny."
~C.S. Lewis.



Today's scriptures are Zechariah 13:9Psalm 34:15-20, and 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.



I've been going through a historic low in my life in the last few years. I've been struggling with the debilitating symptoms of PTSD, and I've faced a lot of rejection and loss. I've had a very long season of just feeling like I am nowhere near good enough.



I've had difficult clients that make me feel like I have no business being in the food industry.
I've been wrestling with a lot of PTSD flashbacks and symptoms… and that makes me feel like a prime candidate for worst wife and mom of the year.
I've been going through a delayed grief process where the tears come rushing out during the most inconvenient moments.
I've had unspeakably awful family drama that is emotionally crippling.
I've struggled through secondary infertility. It has felt as if God was rejecting the type of mother I am by not giving me another baby.



…just to name a few. The list is actually a lot longer.



I've also walked through lower lows with some very dear friends, and I feel guilty for struggling so hard with my lows that aren't nearly as low as theirs. The prayer on my heart over and over has been "God, please forgive me for not being better and stronger than I am. No matter how hard I kick to swim up to the surface, I keep falling further and further downward. I'm drowning Lord, and I'm so sorry."



It's not something we Christians tend to talk about publicly, the struggle. Even when we do, we talk about the grind we're going through, and then we follow it with some cliché to make us sound more "officially Christian". Yes, it's hard that my loved one died, but they're in a better place. Yes, I lost my job, but God has a plan. Yes, I'm stressed to the max, but God won't dish out more than I can handle. I'm not saying that looking for peace and claiming faith is wrong, but it is wrong to suffer alone.



We tend to think that depression or struggles undermines our Christian identity. We think that we can't be followers of God if we're broken or damaged. That is the farthest thing from the truth! Paul talked about his the glory of God was made perfect in weakness. Suffering is the greatest method for giving God's people compassion.



The best biblical earthly examples of God's love were people who suffered greatly. Someone who has never suffered is usually crippled in terms of having empathy. In scripture, the "crazy/broken/lost/sad" people were the ones God chose to do great things:



Job cursed the day he was born. 

Elijah begged God to take his life.

Hannah was almost crushed by years of infertility. 

Paul declared himself the worst of sinners.

David, a man after God's own heart, was always questioning why he was so downcast. 



So many biblical characters and modern Christian leaders have triumphed over affliction, and have used it to literally change the world. A couple of modern examples include C.S. Lewis and Louie Giglio. People who have the biggest hearts to heal are those who have been broken. It's how God works, y'all. There's no shame in the struggle. In fact, those struggles can be the seed for the next wave of great world change, if we let them.



There truly is such glory in weakness.




Friday, December 11, 2015

See A Great Light

Today's passages are Isaiah 9:2-5Isaiah 60:1-5, and John 8:12.



"Going to bed", as a mom {at least for me}, means I might actually get go to bed an hour or two later. ESPECIALLY during the Advent season. I have presents to wrap, the dog needs to be fed, I have to unload the dishwasher, I need to figure out what I'm making for the following day's dinner, my son needs a packed lunch for the following day, and I have to move the dang elf of the shelf. Can you tell I get a little grumpy when I want to go to bed? Because I totally do.



Inevitably, I'll get through my nighttime to-do list, and I'll forget to unplug the Christmas lights. So when I'm feeling grumpy, and I really need to get a grip, I see the light twinkling over what would be a pitch black room. 



Let us never forget this: darkness can never overcome the light. So as we're stressed about our Holiday to-do lists, and we're frightened as we hear about so many terrorist attacks, let's stop to get some perspective. Christmas lights illuminating a dark room and a star over Bethlehem are the same truth. Darkness can't survive in light. 



So when I follow Jesus, it's like flicking on a light in my heart. He lights up our lives. Our darkness may be deep, but the brightness of that star over Bethlehem is our hope. So on the busiest and darkest days of the year, I invite you to slow down and celebrate the light. 




Thursday, December 10, 2015

He Became Small

Today's passages are Isaiah 53:2-5 and 2 Corinthians 8:9.



The story of Jesus is a weird one. I previously wrote about Jesus coming as a baby here. It is not at all what God's people were expecting. They were awaiting someone with a lot of political power who would give them freedom on Earth. But that's not what they got. They got a different kind of King: a baby in a manger that would give them a different kind of freedom. He came small, weak, poor, oppressed, mocked, and eventually He was crushed. 



He defied all human logic. He flipped every preconceived idea about Him on its head. Human logic was irrelevant. Human solutions wouldn't work to fix human problems, and God knew this. 



The entire reason I wrote this series for the Advent is to dial back on my standard Christmas crazy, and dial in to Jesus. Christmas is overwhelming, y'all! It's untangling Christmas lights, it's dealing with runny noses, it's Christmas parties, it's making food, it's wrapping gifts, and it really ends up with Jesus on the back burner. This year, I wanted to stop all that madness so my heart could overflow with sparkling jingle-jangle Jesus joy. But what has happened was a diva of a Christmas tree that took a week to put up, more holiday parties than normal, and a messy house I'm ashamed to talk about.



Isn't life like that? We get so distracted by our physical lives that our spiritual lives suffer. You know why? The physical is so completely OPPOSITE of the spiritual. The physical is loud, stressful, and just plain selfish whereas the spiritual is quiet, peaceful, and selfless. It's a struggle to stay spiritual in a world that is nothing like what God is. We start to sound like a bunch of whiny kids in God's backseat wailing "are we there yet?" 



We're a bunch of whiners stuck in the ways of the physical life who complain that we're not experiencing God the way we want. Of course we aren't! Why would we?



Humans are small, weak, and broken. We're always getting ourselves in trouble. That's just human nature. So naturally we'd look for a Savior to come in like a wrecking ball to crush our enemies. Except…. If our solution was like we'd imagined, things would stay the same and nothing would get fixed.  Our solution had to become small to become one of us to save us from ourselves. 



God knew this about us. Christ had to become low to save us. He didn't come with wealth or power, and He suffered in every way a person can suffer. He gave up all the physical, so that we could gain all the spiritual. He became low so that we could rise higher. He was hurt so we could heal. He gave up His life so that we could conquer death. 




Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Verdict Is In

Today's passages are: Romans 3:21-28Romans 5:20John 1:1-5, and John 1:14-18.



You know what's really weird to think about? God's always been there. In the beginning… before man, before day, before night… He was. And after man, He will be. Crazy, huh?



I just can't get my head around it. God is past, present, and future tense. So is His Word. So is Christ. He always will be, and He always was. Wild!



And then, somewhere out of silence and darkness, His plan ignited like a match lighting a fuse. God created man and and laid out His standards for us. Standards so high that He considers lust to be adultery and anger to be murder. Therefore, getting God's approval stamp with our ambition and perfectionism is an absolute waste of time. None of us will ever get it right enough to earn that approval, unless your name is Jesus and you are a carpenter from Nazareth over 2,000 years ago. Just a guess: that's not the case for you.



We're all guilty. We're all in this together, mi amigos. Guilty. Broken. Hopeless.



……….sigh. Scary thought!



Imagine being in a courtroom being guilty in a hopeless case. Your case is defenseless. You were caught red handed! All the evidence is against you, and even your attorney jumped ship. There's no plea deals to be made, and you're facing the death penalty. Imagine being all alone, full of regret and empty of hope.



Now imagine that someone steps in to take your sentence for you. Imagine the willingness of someone who did nothing wrong to be your proxy. The bailiff unhooks your shackles and you are free to go. That's how it is! So simple, but so profound. Jesus sat on the hot seat to take our sentence. God's plan was fulfilled for us, but not through us. 



When God sits up in the Judge's chair looking at your life, He doesn't condemn you because your debt has already been paid. You are free. Praise be to God!



Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Behold Your God!

Today's passage is Isaiah 40.



Behold your God! What a beautiful passage. When was the last time you BEHELD your God? Not a fleeting thought… Not a nighttime prayer… Not a quick moment of praise… But actually stopped to BEHOLD Him? When was the last time you blocked off a long period of time to marvel at His greatness? His glory? His magnitude?



What would that be like for you? Would you be frightened? Would you be overcome? Would you be speechless? Would it bring you to your knees?



I practiced beholding my God this week, and for me, it stirred up worship and praise deep in my heart. I am just a tiny speck in this world, and my God is so immense, so vast, that the entire concept is beyond my comprehension. He is literally a concept beyond all compare. He is the greatest creator. He is all knowing. He is all loving. He is present in all things. He is bigger than anything we can ever begin to understand.



And yet… He chose to redeem mankind in the smallest and most humble of ways. The solution was not a great war or in world domination, it was a tiny baby. The creator of the most high chose to make himself small. He is big, He is strong, and yet He redeemed us through smallness and weakness: a baby born in a barn in a small town… that suffered an unspeakably awful and excruciating death.



Think about this for a sec: He could've redeemed us any way He wanted. He could've appeared and demanded we follow Him, He could've given us a great empire or great wealth. The sky was literally the limit because He spoke it into being. But His plan was perfect in its humble power. 



He chose to come as a baby. But why? Babies are something to be held, cherished, adored, and embraced. We draw close to them. We lock eyes with them. We breathe them in. They bring about feelings of instant adoration and addiction. In His infinite wisdom, God chose to send Jesus as a precious little baby so that we would be drawn into him with feelings of affection and warmth. God wants us to experience His approachability, gentleness, and kindness. Whoa. Full stop. Dang, He's good.



Behold your God.



Monday, December 7, 2015

A Change of Heart

Today's passages are Joel 2:12-13Mark 1:14-15Luke 15:11-32, and 1 John 1:5-10



"The time is fulfilled. The kingdom of God is at hand;
repent and believe in the gospel."



Repent and believe? Say what, Jesus? Ouch. Can't I just believe? Isn't that enough? I searched Target high and low for sparkly ornaments that say "repent" and came up empty. They just ain't there. I found a lot of "believe" ones, though. The "believe" part is a lot more fun and marketable… and the word "repent" just isn't as sparkly and fun, is it? We just want to fast forward through "repent" like we do to commercials on our DVR. 



Here's the thing though… If we have nothing to repent for, then what do we believe Jesus is doing? Why would He come? You can't have one without the other.



I've always thought the story of the Prodigal Son should definitely be on Jesus' Greatest Hits album, if He ever had one. I always grew up thinking of the story as being about forgiveness… Forgiveness for a hopeless hot mess. I mean, who would want to forgive that guy? …the one who would rather have his father's fortune that his father's company. AND the only reason he came home is because he had no other option. Obvious lesson: we should forgive everyone no matter how dumb they're acting. But there are other subtle lessons in all the characters. The brother is bitter and resentful for doing the right thing the whole time. {Who hasn't related to this during a group school project? It's always the guy who never showed up to help who scoops up all the glory!} 



BUT the most overlooked point is this: it's a story of restoration and forgiveness, but it's a story of brokenness and repentance too. I picture the son's tear stained face as he came to clearly see and accept the pain and destruction he had caused. I picture him struggling to speak as he so humbly yet profoundly uttered "Father, I have sinned against you. I am no longer worthy of being called your son."



He was so full of remorse that he assumed his father wouldn't take him back. He accepted the fact that he would never again be seated at his family's table, he would instead be picking up their dirty dishes. This wasn't just a man who was sorry, this was a man changed. He was prideful before he left, but he returned humble. He cared about money before he left, but he returned caring about people. He left lost, and returned found. Repentance isn't just about professing sorrow, it's a proverbial heart transplant. And there is where the power lies. It's the change in the son that makes this reconciliation so sweet. 



The same goes for you and me. Our reconciliation with God will always be so much deeper… so much more vivid… so much more alive… so much more joyful if we repent and believe. So let's set aside the time to repent, and then actually do it. We can be confident that our Father will warmly and jubilantly receive us. He will run to us before we can even get to Him to embrace us, and then He'll throw us an abundant celebration we don't deserve. I've never experienced deeper joy and intimacy with the gospel than when I'm repenting. My belief was not able to be contained in seasons of repentance. No one else is capable of bringing such a powerful story of hope and reconciliation… only Jesus.




Sunday, December 6, 2015

Remember The Lord Your God

Today's passage is Deuteronomy 8.



I started my personal chef business fifteen months ago, and I promised myself to follow His commands in how to run it. I worked as if I were working for Him. I tithed a portion of my earnings. I very quickly earned great success. I was busy all the time, I was getting client referrals. I worked with a joyful heart every day. 



He created me to be gifted with a creative mind that gets great flavor combinations. He created me to be obsessive about food. He created me to be skilled with it. But as the numbers started to climb, and jobs turned into other jobs, it became all too easy to fill my own snap cup than it was to praise God for all that He had done for me. I allowed myself to forget that my talents were never mine to begin with. They were His! I very easily got swayed into pridefulness and forgetfulness and ungratefulness. Somewhere along the way, I still wrote tithe checks… but I gave less and less praise to God for my accomplishments, and more and more to myself.



EPIC. FAIL.



Very quickly all the air deflated out of me. I wasn't so excited to go to work anymore. I was a lot more nervous about my performance. Challenging clients became a lot more irritating. I just flatlined. BEEP. BEEP. BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP. 



It's easy to count on God in the beginning when the outcome is so uncertain. We trust Him to carry us through because we're scared to go through it alone. But as the project continues and things are going well, it's even easier to forget Him. He knows this about us, which is why He advised us so many times not to forget about Him. 



But let me just tell you this: life's highs are higher when we're praising God for them. They just are. The jubilance of knowing God's great love for you is an unparalleled triumph. It's life affirming. It's overwhelming. It's emotional. It's not something you want to miss out on. So don't! Don't forget Him! Praise Him all the live long day.



Getting caught up in the ways of this world will always take your eyes off the prize. The Christmas season is a time that is SO VERY EASY to forget about God. All the parties and the presents are enough to distract from the real reason we celebrate the season. To do that would also be an epic fail.



Not only did He create you with specific gifts and talents, but He gave you the most incredible gift: Salvation. Grace. Mercy. No other gift will ever compare… Only Jesus.

















Saturday, December 5, 2015

Focus On the Future

Today's passages are Isaiah 53:4-122 Peter 1:19, and Revelation 5:1-14.


In previous days, I've talked about my love for the book of Isaiah. Why? It is SO. DANG. SPECIFIC! Reading it gives me full body chills. For me, he book of Isaiah serves as italics and underlines for the confirmation that what I believe is truth. Remember that at the time of this writing, Jesus hadn't been crucified yet. Jesus hadn't even been born yet. There was no date given for when He was coming. And then it all happened. BOOM! Ultimate mic drop.


Now, we have readily available bibles and smart phone apps to read about what has already happened. We have beautiful houses of worship to gather and sing songs about what has already happened.


….Isaiah didn't. But he still knew what was to come.


Fortunately, so do we! We know what has happened, and thanks to Revelation, we know what is to happen. We know Jesus will come again someday. So here we sit, in between a promise fulfilled and a promise to come, 2 Peter says that we must prepare our hearts. Just as God's people prepared for a the coming of a Savior in the Old Testament, we too should prepare for His return. It will be as miraculous as his birth and resurrection that we now know to be true, and it gives us the promise of a glorious and wondrous future.


Let us fixate on a hopeful future, not a dreadful present.
Let us focus on victory in Jesus, not the warfare of this world.
Let us think about what has God already sacrificed for us, instead of what we wish He would do now.
Let us not groan in despair, but rest in His peace.
Let us not dwell on the exhaustion of this life, but instead the glory of the next one.


While we're waiting and enduring the suffering of this life, it is just so easy to get sucked into a downward spiral of despair… and lock the hope God has given us in a dusty corner of a forgotten storage unit in our hearts. But He promised good to us all throughout the Old Testament, and He delivered on every promise. He is the keeper of promises, and He has promised us a beautiful ending. So let us not have hearts that are focused on the pain of this world, but instead the hope of the coming King. No one else can provide us this incomprehensible peace… Only Jesus.








Friday, December 4, 2015

Justice and Mercy

Today's passages are Malachi 4:1-2Hebrews 4:14-5:9 and Revelation 22:16.


Sometimes I read stuff in the Bible and cringe. I love most parts of being a Christian, but some parts I really don't. Like. REALLY JUST DON'T. I can usually get behind the idea of a God who is just, until the thought crosses my mind that He brings justice upon me or someone I love. What I really want is comfortable justice. Raw, real justice can sometimes scare the bejeezies out of me.


The verses in Malachi read a lot like a Clint Eastwood western: asking people to "make God's day", so to speak. Words like "burning like an oven" and "set them ablaze" aren't exactly comforting. Sometimes the Old Testament reads like a storyline out of "Saw". Actually, sometimes "Saw" seems like a cake walk compared to some of the stuff you read in the Bible.


The human race is a fearful bunch. It's hard not to be. The negativity of this world can be overwhelming. People are poor. People are hungry. People declare war on one another. People get sick. People die. People commit atrocious crimes. People lie. People cheat. People let us down. People lose jobs. People fight. People are insensitive. No wonder it's hard to maintain a rose colored outlook, and no wonder it's so dang difficult to not be overcome by fear.


However, most fear is rooted in the belief that God's love has boundaries. It doesn't!


As I reread Malachi, however, I realize that it's all a matter of perspective. As a matter of fact, if you read Malachi again, you'll see that he paints a scene of healing and joy. That's what He gave us, a beautiful gift. A beautiful gift for people so undeserving: GRACE!



God's grace didn't stop at warm fuzzy feelings for you. He took action for you. He deeply felt our pain, and sent His son to bandage our wounds. We look at God's judgement for sin like He's waiting to punish us for it, when in reality, sin is it's own punishment. Sin is the root of our misery. Sin causes enough pain and turmoil all on its own. No one understands this better than God! It's not His intent to punish it as much as it is His mission to heal it.



We deserved pain, but what we got was joy.
We deserved justice, but we got mercy.
We deserved to be condemned and set ablaze, but we are instead leaping for freedom.


No one else came to take the brunt of the justice we deserved… Only Jesus.




Questions to consider:
  1. Can you think of a time that you were given completely undeserved grace from someone else? How did it feel?
  2. How about God? What does His grace feel like to you?



Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Bread of Life

"If the devil cannot make us bad, 
he will make us busy."
 ~Corrie ten Boom




Today's passages are Exodus 16:3-8Micah 5:2-5aJohn 6:41, and John 6:48-58


Oh, little town of Bethlehem. From such humble beginnings our Savior was born. A normally quiet, sleepy little town was overcome with the hustle and bustle that came with a huge influx of people for the census. We've all heard the story. We've seen it in the Christmas pageants. "There's no room at the Inn", the Innkeeper always says. Everyone talks about the innkeeper turning away a pregnant woman like he was some sort of monster. But here's what I think: he wasn't angry, he wasn't hateful, he was just overwhelmed. He had more on his plate than he could handle, and he was just trying to keep up with the demands of the day. I think, for him, he was just didn't have the capacity to look up and notice (much less accommodate) this expectant family.


Don't we do that, dear friends? Aren't we doing that right now? We're so busy with the parties and the decorations and the baking and the hors d'oeurves and the wrapping and the shopping… 


WE'RE MISSING IT.


There's no room to accommodate Christ in our hearts because they're already too full. Like the innkeeper, we're not exactly hostile to Christ, and we're not choosing to turn Him away, we're just preoccupied.


Did you know that Bethlehem means "house of bread?" How cool is that? All throughout scripture, God uses bread to symbolize sustenance. He brought down bread {manna} from heaven to feed the physical hunger of the Israelites, and He brought down the bread of life {Jesus} from heaven to feed the spiritual hunger of the world.


When I read about these Israelites complaining to Moses… I can't even finish that sentence. They actually thought they were better off in the bondage of Egypt or better off dead than they would be to be free. Let that sink in for a second. They actually thought they were better off enslaved. These were the same people that watched all the seven plagues and walked through the Red Sea. The first sign of hunger made them forget about the power of their great God that worked many miracles to set them free.


Don't we do that? I do. I get so caught up in the little stuff that bugs me-- hectic schedules, lunch packing, wifi problems, rising grocery prices, my DVR failing to consistently record my favorite shows, laundry piles, and other trivial things get in my way of seeing the big picture. I can easily become enslaved to the ways of this world rather than the freedom I have in Jesus.


I don't have to wonder around in the wilderness starving, and I. CAN. STILL. MISS. IT.


BUT! I have the spiritual nourishment of a Savior readily available to me at all times. He's always available to me, and He's always ready for you too! His Word is perfectly portioned manna for your soul.


I pray, dear ones, that we have hearts that hunger for only Him… Only Jesus.



Ideas to think about:
  1. What are you getting caught up in that is preventing you from seeing God's work in your life?
  2. Do you think it's better to take things off your plate, or add God to it?
  3. Think of 3 ways God has moved in big ways in your life, and thank Him for them.





Wednesday, December 2, 2015

We Will See a Great Light

Today's passages are: Isaiah 7:14Isaiah 9:2-7, and Psalm 85:13.


As discussed yesterday, Old Testament and New Testament scriptures work together wonderfully and perfectly. All throughout the Old Testament, God's plan is prophesied. In my opinion, no other book is more clear about what will take place than Isaiah. Isaiah is so specific--SO CLEAR--that he says a baby is to be born unto a virgin that will forever reign supreme over all humanity.


I love what is says in Isaiah 9:2: "the people who are now living in darkness will see a great light". It is abundantly clear from reading the Old Testament that no matter how hard the Israelites tried to be good and uphold the law, sin still found its way in.


How many times have you yelled at your family on the way to Sunday services? How many times have you had a negative attitude about serving? See what I mean? Even we desire to do what is right, and even on our way to do what is right… Things get away from us. And then… BAM! Sin.


And so it was for the Israelites. But they still hoped. They hoped for the newness and change from the promised King. God sent so many prophets to tell of the coming of this King, but hundreds of years passed. Can you imagine waiting all that time to see what happened? …knowing full well it may be something your grandchildren may not experience?


I can't. I don't know how I would still believe. I have a hard time dealing with waiting for my favorite TV shows that are airing in one more week. There's no way I could endure ANOTHER prophet coming along to say: "Yeah--but there's a King coming to save us all! Just wait and see!" without me rolling my eyes and thinking "Uh huh. Yeah right. We've been hearing this for hundreds of years."


The great news is that we don't have to! Jesus isn't some futuristic idea. He already came. He is the one that was prophesied for so long. He is in our tattered Bibles, He is with us when we weep, He rejoices with us, He is in us, and He is working through us.


Hope. We see hope in scripture from the very beginning, even in the darkest of days, there is still at least one who hopes. We cannot put our hope in the broken world; it will fail us. Our hope came in the most unexpected of ways: a tiny baby born unto a virgin. No one else bring God's plan to fruition… only Jesus.


Idea to think about:
  1. Immanuel means "God is with us." What message do you think God was sending through Isaiah with that name?
  2. Name 3 examples of times you have felt God with you through Jesus.





Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Promises

Today's passages are Genesis 12:1-9Genesis 21:1-7Genesis 22:15-18John 8:56-58, and 2 Corinthians 1:20.


Throughout my time as a Christian, I've spent probably more than 80% of my time dwelling in the New Testament. I mean, c'mon. It's just that I usually make it to the begats in Genesis and I just give up. It's very slow moving in places. It's tedious. Sometimes it's a snooze, and sometimes it's downright weird and scary.


However, I've recently been trying to spend more time diving into the Old Testament because without the Old Testament, there would be no prophecies for the New Testament to fulfill. The Old Testament is the bedrock for which all of creation stands.


I've found the paradox between the Old Testament and New Testament to be wondrous, and yet… not. We see so many staggering parallels and similarities between Old and New, but should we be surprised? Or look at it like "Well duh! God promised it!"


In the story of Abraham, we find a story of promises and parallels. Abram's wife Sarai was barren… and LONG past years of being physically able to get pregnant {and Mary was a virgin, a socially unacceptable time to get pregnant}. But God made them a beautiful promise--the promise of a son that would provide a lineage that would be countless and blessed {Mary got the promise of a son who would redeem the world}. 


But through it, Abram had some serious struggles. He had to leave the comforts of the only home he'd ever known, he had to be willing to sacrifice His only son {not unlike God, right?}… But, in the end, God provided a proxy to save Isaac. Is anything ringing a bell yet? God also provided a proxy for you, dear friend! 


I think about the promises I make {and break} in my life. Promises are usually about righting a wrong. We promise to be nicer in the future, but we lose our patience the very next day {or hour, even!} We promise the officer we'll slow down our driving speed, but we still can't get it together to leave on time. We promise to do more things together as a family, only to fail miserably at it. We promise we'll keep the car cleaner, when what we really drive is a trash can on wheels.


Against my best intentions, I manage to break promises all the time. No, I didn't read the terms and conditions on the new iOS update. No, I didn't stay out of my son's Halloween candy. No, I didn't end up going to that event. No, I didn't catch up on laundry mountain. No, I didn't read my bible as much as I promised myself {and God} that I would. 


We're human, y'all. And therefore, our promises aren't always kept. Promises get broken here on Earth. People break promises to us all the time which can leave us brokenhearted. 


BUT--God never breaks his promises. God makes us promises that are CRAZY and beyond human comprehension, and then he KEEPS them! God changed Abraham and Sarah's names. He literally gave them new identities in Him, and bestowed upon them their precious baby Isaac, even though getting pregnant at that age in today's culture would land you on the cover of The National Enquirer. Isaac means "laughter". I have to wonder if that name was given to him because this promise of a son was laughable? 


God keeps every promise. No matter how crazy, difficult or painful. He gave Abraham and Sarah their son, and He sacrificed His. God giving Abraham that ram was a foreshadowing of what was to come: mercy, sacrifice, and relief… Only Jesus.





Ideas to consider:
  1. Name 3 promises God made to you. 
  2. Do you find it easy or hard to trust in those promises?
  3. Has He kept His promises to you in the past?




    

Monday, November 30, 2015

A Second Adam

Today's passage is 1 Corinthians 15:45-57.


Yesterday, we discussed the brokenness of the world. From the beginning, humanity has been separated from Him. Humans are perishable. We can be overcome by illness, violence, sorrow, and even ourselves. The brokenness is not something we can fix alone. God knows this, and He grieves with us. He hates the divide as much as we do.


Adam was created by by a perfect God from the materials of this imperfect world. As broken as we are, dear friends, we're also made in His image.


God knew that we needed a second Adam. The first Adam failed, the second reigns victorious. The first Adam was responsible for the fall of man, the second for the salvation of man. The first Adam ushered in sin, the second forgave it. The first Adam lost paradise, the second has restored it. The first Adam was born into a perfect world, and he was doomed to the grave. The second was born to a broken world, and He conquered the grave.


God's solution to the divide was never us. His promise to us wasn't to "fix" us. It wasn't to make us "better" people. He took us out of it, entirely. What God gave us in Jesus is so much better than a second chance, because WE DON'T HAVE TO DO ANYTHING to be reunited with God.


You hear that? We are so broken, and we don't even have to fix it. 


We can't. It's not possible. We try and try to "put on immorality" to walk with God, and if that's all we're doing, we will fail. We have no way to get the peace and freedom that Adam once had back on our own strength. Even if I make all the right moral choices, I can't even be reunited with God on my own efforts; I exhausted myself trying. I can't ever "do good" enough to restore what's been broken. In God's infinite wisdom, He showed us the way: only Jesus.





Questions to think about:

  1. How do you equip yourself to walk with God?
  2. Is it working?




 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Did God Really Say?

Today's passage is Genesis 3:1-15.


A lot of people describe their salvation stories like they just accepted Jesus way back in Kindergarten and that was it. No questions. No doubts. No struggle. They just happily rode off into the sunset with Jesus after VBS on some magical unicorn of Holiness. This has, at times, left me feeling insecure and really weird for my story not being this way.


Mine is not an instantaneous story of salvation. I had many moments of things "clicking" with me, only to be pulled back into darkness. It was a near constant battle between dark and light. Tumultuous. Dramatic. Exhausting. A lot of push and pull.


Here's the thing, though. I always knew I was lost. I always knew there was something missing. And I almost always went to church. But it was a long time before I really started to connect the dots. Most of my life, I have struggled with God even though I wanted to love Him with all my heart and strength. I think my head told me the process on how to be a Christian long before my heart ever caught up with how to live as one.


I hid from Him a long time, not unlike Adam and Eve in in Genesis. Scared. Ashamed. Chock full of guilt. Alone.


Like so many others, the lie of the serpent kept me hiding. The serpent is a skilled deceiver. He is a master of his craft.


Notice in Genesis 3:1 that the serpent never just flat commanded Eve to eat the fruit. He doesn't say "C'mon. Just eat the fruit." He actually says: "Did God really say…" which got Eve thinking about the benefits of eating the fruit, which made her act all on her own.


Can I just tell you how many moments of "Did God really say?" I have had in my time here on Earth? Actually, I can't… because there have been too many to count. However, I can share the most repetitive one with you: "Did God really say that He loves you?" That serpent, he plays a good game, y'all. He worked well with the circumstances of my life to pull me back into his darkness. I had been surrounded by chaos and turmoil most of my life, so that was an easy one for me to believe.


That wedge put between me and God remained for a long time. It overpowered me, after I accepted Jesus, even. Sometimes it still can. Adam and Eve literally walked through the garden in the presence of God and the serpent was STILL able to put a wedge in that relationship.


On our own, we are powerless to overcome that deception. I tried. My word did I try. I signed up to bring food, I went to church, I volunteered all the time, I read the books, I read the blogs, but still…. That nagging voice in my head would say "Did God really say He loves you?" And because I left God out of it, it was just me in a battle for light and dark, I would always lose. I will always lose on my own strength because this issue isn't fixable without divine intervention.


We can't look through a newspaper or even a Twitter feed without experiencing the brokenness of this world. There is pain. There is deceit. There is abuse. There is sorrow. There is violence. The towers fell in New York. Boston was bombed. A piece of a Charleston congregation was slaughtered. Paris was attacked. The Middle East is in a constant state of war. Sometimes, it feels like the sky is falling and everything is coming apart at the seams. This world is on fire. Our world is so broken. It's been this broken since the beginning--it has only had but few moments of absolute peace. This divide is a war that is more powerful than we could ever be. We cannot do this alone. Only Jesus.



Questions to think about:


  1. What are your "Did God really say…" thoughts?
  2. How have you tried to overcome them?
  3. Did it work for you?