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hold your tongue

Photo by Kristina Flour for Unsplash

Photo by Kristina Flour for Unsplash

I was in third grade. It was a Sunday morning, and I was sitting in our children’s church room at church when our children’s leaders were suddenly called away from the classroom. They left a boy and a girl in charge – no more than two years older than myself – who were instructed to ensure that no one talked or made noise while the leaders were gone. If someone spoke the interim leaders were to write those names down. Being a person who always wanted to please and had this inborn trait of following the rules, I sat in my chair determined to keep my mouth shut, until the person next to me whispered something to me. Some of my memories are a bit fuzzy in regards to the interaction that followed, but I seemingly remember responding with, “Shhhh…no talking.” One of the child leaders snapped at me, “Amy, stop talking!” Followed by marking my name on a list. I couldn’t believe it. I was angered. I wasn’t talking and disrupting. I was trying to do the right thing. I was stopping a conversation from proceeding. How could I possibly be in trouble for saying, “Shhhh”? I was beside myself with indignation, and I spoke up. I refused to be falsely accused, and I said with conviction, “I wasn’t talking.” To which the incapable leaders responded, “You’re talking now.” And they added a mark next to my name. I couldn’t believe myself. I pushed back, “I wasn’t talking. And just now I was trying to explain to you what was happening. This isn’t right!” Followed, again, by a mark placed next to my name and a, “You are talking right now. You need to stop talking.” I can not even begin to articulate the absolute frustration that filled my entire body. This was unjust. I was being treated unjustly, and there was no one there to stand up for me and stop the injustice; just a room full of elementary aged children held hostage by incapable and immature leaders.

Eventually church ended and parents began picking kids up. Noise from the hallway filtered into our meeting room, and the order of the classroom disintegrated into the post-church banter between friends and family. Although shaken to the core, once dismissed, the issue of me “talking” was over. I quickly realized this was a lot of emotional energy for absolutely no reason at all. I also remember learning a very powerful lesson, even at that young age, that there are times when it is best to hold my tongue; that fighting to save my reputation in certain situations, and under incapable leaders, is not the best way to handle the situation.

Sometimes the best response is no response at all.

Hold your tongue.

Let God fight your battles.

While this story may seem kind of silly, I have to say that this experience has been one of the best teachers in my life. The memory of the injustice, and how I handled the injustice, is often the first thing that pops in my mind when I am confronted with false accusation and inaccurate judgement of my motives. Even at the tender age of eight I learned the powerful lesson of holding my tongue and using self-restraint when all I want to do is fight for myself.

Truthfully, I can’t say I’ve followed this conviction in every single situation throughout my life. The times when I’ve let my flesh rise up when I knew I just needed to be quiet have never, never, worked out well for me in the end. And it has been the memory of sitting in that children’s church room with my name on a board with multiple marks next to it that has been like a cold glass of water in the face.

To my credit, however, there have been more times than I can recount where I’ve obeyed that still small voice in my heart that has pulled back the reins on my emotions and has helped me to discern when to speak and when to hold my tongue. And I am so grateful for that.

What I didn’t realize as a child, was that God was already teaching me a valuable life lesson as it pertains to authority and God’s sovereignty. I had very little to no respect for the two children who were put in charge of our children’s church group. However, I did have respect for the adults that put them in charge. It was out of the respect for the adults that I was trying so hard to follow their directives. What I struggled to understand was that the adults I respected had given authority to these two inexperienced and immature individuals, and so basically they held an “equal” amount of authority as the adults. Because of this, they were acting on  behalf of the true leaders, which made me equally obligated to follow their instruction.

Hear me out on this. I am not saying that there is never a time or a place to speak out against injustice and wrong-doing. The answer to every inappropriate action is not to withdraw, hold our tongues and hide. Absolutely not. In situations where physical safety and well-being are in jeopardy then we must certainly speak up and take action. What I am saying is that when we try to right all the wrongs in our own way, with our own methods and in our own time, we often make things worse, and more people get hurt. When we pause and wait for God to lead, for God to work on our behalf and understand that timing plays a critical role in bringing truth to light, then we will find that God fights for us far more successfully than when we try to fight on our own.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.” Colossians 1:15, 16

Colossians reminds us that God is supreme over all things, and that includes thrones, powers, rulers and authorities. There is no leader, whether good or bad, that has the last word. Whatever authority they have has only been given to them by God and for a season of time. Nothing, aside from God’s true supremacy, is eternal. No kingdom, aside from God’s kingdom, will last forever. All things and all beings on earth are fleeting. God’s sovereignty is forever.

Let God fight your battles.

Pray for discernment from God to know when to speak and when to hold your tongue.

When we wait upon God’s leading we can trust that God will make something beautiful out of the mess.

When we try to fix it out of our own anger and indignation the mess only gets bigger, uglier and hurtful.

There will be a time to speak. God is as angered by injustice as we are. And he will confront it in his time and in his way. And that may mean opening our mouths and speaking at some point. When we are led by the Spirit, then we can trust that our words will be words that will bring light and healing and not more anger and pain.

“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

I love this promise. God is before us. God holds us. God is not surprised by the hurt or injustice we face. He is hurt by it too. At the same time, he is holding us together when our hearts start to fall apart, and he is fighting each battle, even when it looks like wrong is winning. God is supreme, and in him all things will work together to accomplish his greatest purposes within us and within each circumstance.

When we believe this. When we can hold on tight to the one who is holding us, then we can hold our tongues.

We can truly let God fight our battles.

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coloring inside the lines

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We bought Jasper a coloring book and a set of jumbo crayons to keep him entertained on our long road trips. He’s three, so for him the thrill of the activity is simply the fact that he can make marks on the paper and scribble to his heart’s delight and nobody is going to stop him. He loves the pictures, even though he is coloring anywhere but inside the lines. This is absolute entertainment to Jasper, and as long as it gives us a two minute break from his incessant, “What’s that?”, it was well worth every penny.

When I was a little girl I loved coloring. Opening up a brand new coloring book, sliding the palm of my hand down the inside crease and admiring the fresh page in front of me was wildly exciting. I chose my colors very carefully. And it was also very important to me to color inside the lines. I wanted my pictures to look just right. It gave me a sense of peace and harmony to see everything in order. The page was organized. And the colors were more vivid when they weren’t overlapping and competing with one another.

Coloring inside the lines.

There is something wildly freeing about coloring within the God-ordained margins of our lives. We are all too familiar with the frantic pace and gut gnawing feeling that comes when we start pushing ourselves past the boundary lines of peace. And we wonder what might life look like if we didn’t run on ragged every single moment of the day. We know that staying inside the God-ordained margins of our lives keeps us balanced and give us sustainability. But we struggle with the tug of war between expectations and reality. While we can’t control the chaos around us, we can control how we will manage it, and how much of it we will invite into our lives.

This past summer Joel and I took some time to evaluate our lives. We came to a sobering realization that we have been trying to color outside of the God-ordained margins of our lives for a very long time. It wasn’t intentional, and our motives were pure; we wanted to serve God and please him. We actually thought we were doing good things. And we probably were, but we were not always doing the best things. We were doing things that seemed right, but as we began to take a microscope to the lifestyle patterns we had created we realized very quickly we were coloring way beyond the lines of our coloring book pictures.

We were burned out. Weary. The coloring pages were full, but there was no pretty picture to show for it.

The more Joel and I began to walk this road of introspection, the more we realized that while life, work, family, relationships, ministry – all the things – will never slow down and never invite us into a well-balanced life, the more important it is for us to internally set the margins according to God’s design, and not waiver…not one little bit.

We also discovered that when we color outside the God-ordained margins of our lives we do two things: 1. We rob other people of the opportunity to color their own picture and create the image that God has designed for them, and 2. We rob ourselves of peace, and we end up over-performing, which was never how God intended for us to live.

So where do we begin? How do we pull ourselves back inside the lines?

1. It begins with a pause. Self-reflection is the first step in seeing the picture more clearly. Time set apart to allow God to speak to our hearts, help us to reprioritize, and to give us a fresh beginning.

2. Learn to say no. There are so many good things out there, but not every good thing is the right thing. Be unapologetic about protecting our priorities. If the opportunity before us holds the potential of pushing us outside of our coloring lines, then be okay with letting it pass us by. This one also takes a great deal of trust. I don’t know about you, but I often say yes to things out of fear that I may never get another opportunity again. What I have ended up discovering is that saying yes to a very good thing, but at the wrong time, makes that good thing a bad thing for me. As we face all the choices out there recognize that if this “good” thing is not a good fit during this season of our lives, then it is not the right thing for right now. Trust that God will bring the best thing in his time.

3. Incorporate time for fun and time for rest. One of the biggest challenges Joel and I faced as we began to realign our lives was building in time for fun and rest. And this was not because there was no time for it, but mainly because of the guilt we felt. Time for fun and rest? That seems so selfish! But it is not. In fact, we are far more productive when we have built in time for recreation and time to decompress. Those two things fill us up so that we have much more to give to each other, to our children and to the ministry.

4. Empower others to share the load. Depending on other people is hard. I struggle to delegate certain household tasks to my children because I am certain they will not complete the task according to my standards. Because of the control issue I have I tend to either do it all myself, or I become overly critical of the person performing the task, which makes them less inclined to want to help me out in the future. Part of coloring inside the lines is learning to empower others. Giving them a task and even allowing them to fail, but ready to lovingly instruct and then hand the task back to them again. Giving my kids a responsibility but then pulling it out of their hands after one mistake is not empowering, it is demoralizing. However, giving them opportunity to try, to fail, and to try again, empowers them and keeps me safe within the God-ordained margins of my life.

5. Embrace the picture God is drawing of us. Each person has a different picture to color. It can be so easy to measure our value based on someone else’s coloring page, but that only feeds the frantic lifestyle patterns. Learning to find contentment within the margins God has set will produce joy and peace, something I think many of us are longing for. For each person there is a meaningful purpose, unique and precious, but we often miss it because we have our eyes locked on the picture someone else is coloring. Learning to embrace the picture that God has ordained for us gives us the freedom to fulfill the plans and purposes that God began knitting together from the moment of conception. Every life was created to reflect the beauty of our Creator, and what that final picture will look like really depends on whether or not we are willing to cooperate with God’s design. Embrace God’s masterpiece.

embrace

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Embrace the past

Embrace tomorrow

Embrace the joy

Embrace the sorrow

Embrace the simple

Embrace the uncertain

Embrace the weathered

Embrace the new again

All the days ahead

Are made what they will be

By all the days behind.

The gift of what seems too hard

Appreciated for what growth

Awaits on the other side.

The goodness of it all

The excitement, challenge, stretching, breathing in grace and peace

Found in the embrace.

“Behold, I make all things new.” Revelation 21:5

ponder the promise

Photo by Lionello Delpiccolo with Unsplash

“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Luke 2:19

As December draws to a close, and as we wrap up another year into a nice, neat bow – kind of like a present on Christmas morning – I think it would be advantageous to pause. Before we start making resolutions and thinking about the new year and writing up lists of all the things we want to accomplish in 2019, it might be beneficial to stop and reflect on all that God has done over this past year. Before the new beginning, let’s remember the past.

Before we plan let us ponder the promise.

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14

It was approximately 700 years from Isaiah’s prophecy of a coming Messiah to the fulfillment of the promise.

Seven. Hundred. Years.

That is a long time. Many lives had come and gone, hoped and yearned, waited and dreamed of seeing this one precious promise kept. I can only imagine that, by the time the angel appeared to Mary, many had given up on the hope that Immanuel would come during their lifetime. Accustomed to the pages turning on each year and each generation, the mundane practice of keeping God’s commands, following the laws and the patience of waiting had become the lifestyle of the faithful ones.

Did God forget his promise? Did Isaiah get it wrong? Was the true message lost in translation?

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” Isaiah 9:6,7

The promise of the Messiah was confirmed in one statement: “The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”

Seven hundred years later, the angel appeared to Mary.

“Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” Luke 1:31-33

After all those years, what had been foretold by the prophet Isaiah, longed for in the hearts of men and women through hundreds of years of waiting had been conceived by the Holy Spirit in a virgin. The story was unfolding.

Sometimes the waiting feels like a lifetime. Perhaps no two people understood the agony of waiting, and the hopelessness of the swiftly moving hands of time, than Zechariah and Elizabeth. They, too, were waiting for the coming Messiah, but even more personally and deeply was the desire for a child of their own. Longing through barren years had given way to the resignation that this was one prayer that would never be answered.

And then an angel appeared to Zechariah.

“Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.” Luke 1:13

Your prayer has been heard.

Can you imagine the emotion, the confusion, the utter shock and bewilderment in realizing that your prayers, spoken and unspoken, had been heard by God?

Here’s the thing…every prayer we whisper, shout, or simply hold in our hearts, are all heard by God. And he will answer every one. Sometimes the answer comes in a way that we don’t understand, and sometimes it comes in the most unimaginable way, but regardless of timing or delivery, God is faithful, and God hears.

“The Lord has done this for me.” Luke 1:25

This gift of a child, so meaningful and treasured, was a reminder to Elizabeth that God keeps his promises. She had waited a lifetime for a baby and a lifetime for a Messiah, and in a matter of months God had moved quickly in fulfilling the hearts desire of a woman and an entire nation. But before she shared her news, Elizabeth went into seclusion. Rather than step into the spotlight of the miracle, she took time to ponder the promise and remember, “The Lord has done this for me.”

“Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” Luke 1:45

Mary went to visit Elizabeth. I sometimes wonder what those secret conversations between Mary and Elizabeth must have sounded like as they were both participants in the fulfillment of God’s great plan. When Mary came to visit her cousin, both were carrying a part of the promise in their wombs. Without a doubt, there was sure to be moments of awe and wonder, silence and endless talking. Even so, we simply don’t know all the details of the time they spent with each other. What we do know, however, is that this time they shared was sacred and sweet. They encouraged one another, and they, together, cherished every part of this incredible move of God.

God’s plan for Mary was unique; her journey one that would challenge her and define her. And all along the way, from the moment the angel appeared to her to the moment of Christ’s humble arrival, Mary took time to ponder.

We are explicitly told that after the shepherds visited and declared the amazing miracle:

“Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Luke 2:19

Do we take time to ponder? How often do we stop to take stock of the wonders and miracles that God has performed in our lives?

What do we treasure?

I know most of us have jumped head-first into the new year. It’s kind of the way we operate. Once Christmas is over, we are on to the next best thing. But the Christmas story serves as a reminder that, even though the event has passed, there is meaning in cherishing the moment, in pondering the promise.

Perhaps you are still waiting, still hoping, still praying. If so, then let the Christmas story encourage you to keep waiting, keep hoping, and keep praying. Pause before you plan, and entrust your greatest dreams and heart’s desire to the hands that fulfilled the greatest promise of mankind.

Maybe this year has been a culmination of every prayer you’ve ever prayed and every dream you’ve ever dreamed. Don’t let December pass by without taking time to reflect. Quietness does not undervalue the significance of the gift. Sometimes our quiet reflection reveals the substantiative impact the gift has had on our lives. Treasuring it first in our hearts makes the treasure shine more brightly to the world.

Before our New Year’s resolutions, before we tear down the tree and the lights, take time to ponder the wonder of the promises of God- the ones that have been fulfilled and the ones we are waiting for. When we ponder we find our hope renewed and our joy complete.

“The best coffers to lay up anything in is the heart. Happy are those who, like Mary, store up the things of Christ, not in their brain though that would make them orthodox; but in their heart, for that will bring them salvation.” – Charles Spurgeon

sleep in heavenly peace

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“In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Psalm 4:8

God’s perfect keeping keeps us in perfect peace.

Even though the night may not be so silent, the Prince of Peace still reigns, so that we can sleep in heavenly peace.

Throughout the month of December, I have a personal tradition of reading the Advent story over and over again. The repetitious reading of the account of the coming Messiah cultivates an attitude of worship in my heart as the anticipation of Christmas Day approaches. And, subsequently, each year I find a different theme that stands out and resonates with me. Three years ago, as we awaited Jasper’s birth, anticipation was the word/idea that popped out to me throughout the Christmas season. This year it has been peace.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Might God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

A child was born.

As the story unfolds in the second chapter of Luke, we find Mary and Joseph far from home, a baby soon to arrive, and no room in the inn.

There were shepherds living out in the fields of Bethlehem, and in all likelihood, keeping and caring for the flocks that provided the perfect lambs from which the Temple offerings were chosen. Looked down upon by the “good” people of the day, the thought that the very shepherds who looked after the Temple lambs would be the first to see the Lamb of God is something quite profound.

The night, perhaps not silent but filled with echoes of a baby’s cry, the baying of sheep and the rustling of feet moving in and out of the child’s first dwelling, was the scene in which we find the Prince of Peace joined with humanity.

He didn’t know it yet. He was just a tiny, innocent, wrinkly newborn. He had no idea that his first breath here with us was the beginning of redemption for mankind.

I can only imagine his fragile, ever-so-dependent little body curling up on Mary’s chest and drifting off into a peaceful, contented sleep while the chaos of the stable swirled about.

All was well.

This is the picture in my head of what I imagine to be God’s intention for each one of us. We, too, can sleep in heavenly peace in spite of the noise and the disarray that fills our daily lives.

The peace that radiated from Jesus’ presence must have left both Mary and Joseph, and their shepherd visitors, speechless. Just a baby, but fully God.

The Prince of Peace.

Sleeping in heavenly peace.

Christmas Day is only a few short days away. I am sure that, by now, most of us have attended a number of parties, baked a copious amount of cookies, visited family, watched our children perform in Christmas plays and pageants, driven through neighborhoods looking at lights while singing along to our favorite Christmas carols, and wrapped countless gifts, or at least have a closet full of countless gifts to wrap.

It is easy to lose sight of the most important part of the season when the urgent tugs for our attention everywhere we turn.

This story, that most of us know all too well, gets lost in the celebration of the season. We get so caught up in the reindeer and mistletoe, shepherds’ costumes and O Holy Nights, that we somehow forfeit the wonder of God’s most precious gift for “getting Christmas right”.

I think Jesus wants us to cherish this story a little more deeply in our hearts. I think he longs to be our Prince of Peace. I think that we are given the opportunity each year to pause and reflect, to invite peace into our lives, and to weigh more intentionally the profound glory of Christ’s birth.

This year, let us focus more intently upon the Prince of Peace. Let us invite the holiness of God’s gift of peace into our celebrations and our traditions. And let us release the urgent drive for more of “this” and more of “that” for a little more “all is calm” and “all is bright”. Let us let go of the perfect Christmas and embrace a more peaceful one.

And, like that tiny babe, wrapped in cloths and surrounded by love in the form of a simple teenage girl, an impoverished manger, and a bunch of dusty herdsmen, let us close our eyes, submit our lives into God’s perfect keeping, and sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night, Holy night

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All is calm, all is bright

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Round yon Virgin, mother and child

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Holy infant so tender and mild

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Sleep in heavenly peace

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Sleep in heavenly peace

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Silent Night, by Joseph Mohr

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light of the world

Photo by Davidson Luna from Unsplash

Photo by Davidson Luna from Unsplash

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”    Isaiah 9:2

I heard a story this past weekend about a man named Bob who had been blind for 51 years. After five decades of walking around in total darkness, dependent upon his other senses to define the world to him, Bob underwent a complicated operation that allowed him to see for the very first time. As you can imagine, he was greatly overwhelmed and had this to say about the gift of sight:

“I never would have dreamed that yellow is so…yellow! I don’t have the words. I am amazed by yellow. But red is my favorite color. I just can’t believe red. I can see the shape of the moon – and I like nothing better than seeing a jet plane fly across the sky leaving a vapor trail. And, of course, sunrises and sunsets. And at night I look at the stars in the sky and the flashing light.”

“You could never know how wonderful everything is.”

We are adaptable people. It is quite miraculous even the way our eyes can adapt to the darkness. Coming into a darkened room from the brightly lit outdoors, it takes only seconds for the iris to expand the pupil as wide as possible in order to let as much light as possible into the eye, allowing us to see in the dark.

However, no eye can see in total darkness. Total darkness means absence of light, the very agent that stimulates sight and allows us to see.

Imagine a life in total darkness.

Truth be told, a life void of Jesus is a life void of light.

Imagine that.

Before Jesus came to dwell on earth, there was great turmoil. There was great spiritual darkness. Life was lived as a person who lives without sight. At the end of chapter 8 in the book of Isaiah, preceding the prophecy of the coming Messiah, we see the after-effects of choices that lead to further darkness.

“Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.” Isaiah 8:22

Honestly, sometimes I look around this world fraught with turmoil, hostility, hatred, and sorrow, and it seems to me that, perhaps, we are falling further and further into utter darkness ourselves.

And yet, even though it seems that the light has been snuffed out, Jesus is still the Light of the world.

A light dawned when Jesus was born.

To those living in darkness a great light has come.

The Gospel of John introduces Jesus as “the true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.”

Jesus, himself, declared, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

When Jesus came, when he entered our broken world, light broke through the blackness and barrenness, and suddenly those who had been blind were able to see: first shapes and shadows, then more clearly, the hope they had been waiting for.

No matter how ugly this world may get, we do not live in total and complete darkness. Those of us who know the Light, who have experienced the Light and felt His warmth illuminate our lives, must shine brightly and boldly to let this Light shine in the dark corners of the world.

There is still hope.

Because Jesus came.

And he is the Light of the world.

Immanuel.

God is with us.

One of my favorite things about the Christmas season are the lights. It just seems to me that everything looks more beautiful under the soft glow of Christmas lights. A darkened street city sidewalk feels a little less daunting with trees glowing with tiny white bulbs. Jesus’ birth brought us the light that we so desperately longed for. The darkness was heavy, and then came the promise; this great light that would dispel the darkness. And yet, so many of us choose to remain in the dark. It’s like being given the enormous gift of sight, but choosing to walk around with our eyes closed. How crazy is that!

It takes a little initiative on our parts to choose to open our eyes and allow the light in. To recognize that Jesus is near and God is with us.

The illuminating light may reveal some things we are not too thrilled to accept, but at the same time, much like Bob’s revelation when he received his sight after 51 years of walking in darkness, we may also discover that we never knew how wonderful everything really is.

“What a marvelous light from the midst of dreadful darkness! It is an astounding change such as only God with us could work.” – Charles Spurgeon

peace has come

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Photo by Rose Elena from Unsplash

“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.” Romans 15:13

Everyone’s looking for a little more joy and a little more peace.

There is a running joke in our family. The kids will ask me what I want for my birthday or Christmas or any holiday for that matter, and my response is a quick, “Peace on earth.” And then, observing the disappointed look on their faces, I follow up with, “or peace in our home.” If peace on earth seems an unreasonable wish, then perhaps starting with peace in our home doesn’t sound too far out of reach.

Peace is something each one of us longs for. It tugs at our hearts. It weighs on our minds.

We look for it everywhere, and especially during the Christmas season where peace and joy are promised in every television ad, Christmas tree lot, twinkling lights, and renditions of the classic  Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. We wonder, just a little bit, if the purchase of “this” or the singing of “that” will somehow fill us with all the joy and all the peace.

And it often does, for a moment- one brief, Kodak-picture-perfect moment. And then it’s gone. The moment -so fleeting- slips away and there we are again with an all too familiar longing.

Peace.

Joy.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth PEACE to men on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:14

Jesus’ entrance into the world was proclaimed in the heavens. Peace had come to earth.

But not in the way that anyone would have ever expected. When I ask my kids for peace on earth, or at least peace in our home, I am imagining a world – a home – void of conflict, tranquil, quiet, and sweet. When we think of peace, images of a tender silent night or the gentle calm of new fallen snow are what quickly come to mind. But when Peace came down, when love entered the chaos of our world, it didn’t bring freedom from disturbance but rather it came to disrupt.

The word peace in the New Testament was most often the Greek translation of the word eirene, which has the sense of “joining what had previously been separated or disturbed.”

William Barclay says it “means not just freedom from trouble but everything that makes for a man’s highest good.”

Peace came down to join humanity to God: to take what had been separated by sin and bridge the gap so that peace which passes understanding would abide within us and not just around us.

And yet we are still so determined to fill our hearts and our lives with false hopes that bring temporary peace and joy.

“As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes.’” Luke 19:41,42

When Jesus entered Jerusalem for the final time, as he looked out over the landscape of the city, he wept. What stirred his heart to tears? What deep sadness came over him? It was not the betrayal that awaited him or his impending death on the cross. Rather, as Jesus looked out upon the magnificent view, he saw further into the future, and what he saw for Jerusalem broke his heart. The Jews were looking for peace and joy, and they were looking for it in much the same way we typically look for ours. However, Christ knew that only pain and destruction would follow the pursuit of this dream outside of himself.

The longing for peace on earth has been in the heart of humanity since the moment that sin entered. At the center of every action is this desperate desire to feel the nearness of God, regardless of how this need is articulated. At the heart of us all is a deep knowing that God will bring us the peace we crave, the peace that brings joy, and the peace that sits at the top of our Christmas lists year after year.

Peace came down. And there is true Peace on earth.

It is a peace that will not be felt or experienced in one more gift or one swift political move or one more Christmas carol.

The peace and joy that we are looking for comes from the God of all hope. And it comes supernaturally. It comes when Jesus, our precious Savior, rests upon the throne of our hearts. It doesn’t remove the struggle, and it is not an automatic fix for every problem we face, but Jesus does give us peace of mind and joy of heart.

Peace on earth has come.

Let that Peace abide within.

And there our joy is made complete.

I heard the bells on Christmas day

Their old familiar carols play,

And wild and sweet their words repeat

Of peace on earth, good will to men.

.

I thought how, as the day had come,

The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along the unbroken song

Of peace on earth, good will to men.

.

And in despair I bowed my head:

“There is no peace on earth,” I said,

“For hate is strong and mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;

The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,

With peace on earth, good will to men.”

.

‘Till ringing, singing, on its way,

The world revolved from night to day,

A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,

Of peace on earth, good will to men.

.

I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

when our faith falters

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Peter walked on water.

I see this story as a vivid depiction of the realities of walking by faith.

Think about it.

Peter wanted to be where Jesus was, and so he climbed out of the security of the boat and took his first step onto the water. And then, when the wind began to pick up speed, Peter lost sight of his Savior and began to sink. The distractions of the storm surrounding him pulled his focus off of the One who invited him out of the boat.

We either commend Peter for his leap of faith, or we chastise him for his lack of faith. But the truth is, we all have a little bit of Peter inside of us. We may be enthusiastic when Jesus invites us into a deeper relationship with him or when we take a step of obedience and surrender, but our faith also falters when the storms threaten to knock us off our feet. We, too, turn our eyes downward and into the mess of stress and loss and fear and “what if’s”. We are human, and our flesh gets the best of us at times.

When our faith falters- and it will- how are we going to respond?

We can either do what Peter did and cry out to Jesus, “Lord, save me!” Or we can sink to the bottom of a worrisome sea.

Those pressure-point-moments are moments where the true depth of our trust in God, in His goodness, and in the assurance of his sovereignty in our lives, manifests itself. There will be days when our gaze remains easily fixed on Jesus, and there will be days when the troubles of this life will pull our eyes away. The point of the story, I think, is not so much the faltering of faith, but rather Jesus’ response to Peter’s moment of weakness.

“After he cried out for help Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught Peter.”

When our faith falters, Jesus is there to catch us.

I had a faith-faltering moment this past week. I’m not going to lie; I have days when I question this water-walking call on my life. Sometimes the wind seems stronger than the hands that are holding me, and I worry about everything. And, yet, it is in those moments, those private hours before the sun rises on a new day, that the same Jesus, who immediately reached out his hand to catch Peter, reaches out his hand to catch me. And he reminds me to keep looking up.

Keep looking up to the One who invited me out of the boat.

Keep looking up to the One who then calms with wind and waves.

Keep looking up to the One who is still holding me even when my faith is faltering.

Keep looking up.

There is no guarantee that the journey before us will be an easy one. In fact, we are most assuredly promised challenge and difficulty. The threat of the waves will always be near. But Jesus is also very near. And Jesus, in those split second moments when our faith falters, will always be there with his hand extended, ready to pull us back to himself. In fact, he never stops holding us. His grip never loosens for one second. His presence is always with us.

And he will lead us to higher ground.

“From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” Psalm 61:2

give thanks

Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” I Thessalonians 5:16-18

In our home we a have a dinnertime tradition in which we go around the table and each person shares one thing they are thankful for that day. We do this all year long, not just on Thanksgiving day. I know I’ve shared our tradition on this blog before, and those who know us well know about this little practice of ours.

The dinner table activity of sharing something we are grateful for did not find its way into our home during a time when circumstances in our lives were going well and life was good. On the contrary, this tradition was conceived during a very challenging and stressful season; a time of pain and grief. We understood that the joy and peace that would carry us through to the other side of the situation was not going to be found in wallowing and bitterness. We knew wallowing would only keep us imprisoned in our circumstances. So we took our cue from Paul and Silas – who, while tossed in a jail cell and chained to a wall, began to pray and sing hymns which triggered an earthquake that shook the prison doors open and their chains loose – and we began to praise.

The most effective way to find freedom form whatever prison we are experiencing in our lives is to praise and give thanks. Don’t wait for the feeling to be there or for the setting of your life to give you something to be thankful for. In brokenness we give thanks because it is God’s will for our lives. And not because God is unloving and not empathetic to the real tragedies we experience, but because he knows that true joy comes from true praise. It’s not masking the pain or pretending life is better than it really is. It is being honest with ourselves, and with God, that this is not an easy time, and then declaring that God is above even our darkest days. It is a reminder to our hearts that God is good and faithful.

Give thanks when the day is bright and there is a song in your heart.

Give thanks when your heart is worn and weary.

Give thanks when your cup is full.

Give thanks in your emptiness.

Give thanks in the morning light.

Give thanks in the dark.

“Bring joy to your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.” Psalm 86:4

The Thanksgiving season reminds us to count our blessings, but the attitude of gratefulness and the heart of thankfulness should guide and carry us through all year long.

I am so grateful for the broken roads we’ve walked in years past, and I am so overwhelmingly thankful for the seasons of rest and restoration. Each one has taught me something of value and depth, and overall I have learned that God is always good.

“It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High, to proclaim your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night.” Psalm 92:1-2

Give thanks.

“It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.” Brother David Steindl-Rast

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“We praise you, God, we praise you, for your Name is near; people tell of your wonderful deeds.” Psalm 75:1

The nearness of His presence is as close as the mention of His name.

When we declare the goodness of God, when we tell others of his wonderful deeds – all that he has done – God is very near.

As we reflect on thankfulness throughout the month of November, there is something sweet that catches my heart as I listen to friends and family declaring God’s faithfulness throughout this past year. I sense the nearness of God in every praise and every proclamation of God’s good name.

“But you are holy, enthroned in the praises of Israel.” Psalm 22:3

God’s holiness is a given, and when we praise him, lifting gratitude and thanksgiving, we place him in his rightful place: upon the throne of of our hearts and our lives.

We are nine days into November, and my cup is already overflowing with joy and thankfulness for all that God has done, and who he has been, consistently, in my life this past year.

Today I am praising God for…

1. My family

2. The tears shed in pain that have brought healing and restoration

3. The unfathomable favor we have experienced as we have followed God into missions

4. The fun and laughter our family has shared during the most challenging times of transition

5. The beauty of Oregon

6. The impact that the local church, in both big and small cities, is making in their communities

7. The moments of quiet that God has given me in the middle of a busy parenting season

8. The extra time I get to spend with Joel

9. New friends

As November rolls along there will be more declarations of praise. And each time those blessings are proclaimed, God’s place as king of my heart is reestablished, and he is so very near.

God’s presence is most tangibly felt in the praise of his great Name.

My challenge to you is to remember the goodness of God…even the hard and painful gifts that God brings your way…and declare his greatness. Declare your thanksgiving.

And there you will experience the nearness of his presence.

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