A Long, Dry Spell

OasisI felt like dry bleached bones in the desert when I found myself in God’s powerful presence yesterday. In that encounter, I learned pain is preferable to numbness, and nothing is worse than separation from God.

The images in Ezekiel 37:1-14 have always intrigued me, but those bones came to life in a powerful way this week. Verse 14 says,  

“‘I will put My Spirit within you and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken and done it,’ declares the Lord.” (NASB)

Romans 8:11 was also a vivid reminder of God’s power.

“But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” (NASB)

These scriptures and the story of Lazarus in John 11 surrounded my heart with a refining fire unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. So very thankful for the promise of His redemption in Psalm 130:7.

O Israel, hope in the Lord;
For with the Lord there is lovingkindness,
And with Him is abundant redemption.” (NASB)

My heart has been bruised, battered, broken, and abandoned; but it has never been burned the way it was consumed last night. Dry bones and the death of Lazarus have a new meaning most clearly expressed in Romans 8:5.

“For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace,” (NASB)

Life can only come from God. I’m easily animated; those who know me know it takes very little to excite me. I love that about me and pray it never changes. God didn’t break my spirit with His lessons this week, but He brought me to an important crossroad and made me decide whether I wanted the life He had for me or the one I had in mind.

I’ve never believed I deserved love, and that has gotten in God’s way. When I made it clear that I wanted His way, He burned away all that was in His way. The emptiness was numbing, and I was taken aback by the stillness. I look forward to a beautiful fleshing out that will replace the dry numbness of these sun-drenched bones as the Son drenches my heart with the sweet living water of God’s Word.

There is life after death. In fact, there is no life without death. I didn’t like the refining fire, the dryness, the separation, or the terrible numbness of God’s lessons this week; but I love knowing that He is clearing my heart for a reason. God’s lovingkindness is an oasis in the desert. My spellcheck says lovingkindness isn’t a word. I have to agree; it’s much more.

 

Immanuel!!

Matthew 1:18-25 describes the conception and birth of Jesus Christ. The beautiful story unfolds in our hearts today just as it did when these scriptures were written. May it be real in all our hearts today.

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet:  “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.”  And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.” NASB

I want to share a powerful message with you that was shared with me last week. Here is “Immanuel And Company” by John Alden Tagliarini. I pray it blesses you as much as it blesses me. Merry Christmas!!

Immanuel And Company

Joyful Unison

Isaiah 52:7-10 is a song of joy that is appropriate for Christmas Eve. Isaiah looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. We shout in joyful unison as we look forward to His coming again.

How beautiful on the mountains
    are the feet of the messenger bringing good news,
Breaking the news that all’s well,
    proclaiming good times, announcing salvation,
    telling Zion, “Your God reigns!”
Voices! Listen! Your scouts are shouting, thunderclap shouts,
    shouting in joyful unison.
They see with their own eyes
    God coming back to Zion.
Break into song! Boom it out, ruins of Jerusalem:
    “God has comforted his people!
    He’s redeemed Jerusalem!”
God has rolled up his sleeves.
    All the nations can see his holy, muscled arm.
Everyone, from one end of the earth to the other,
    sees him at work, doing his salvation work. (The Message)

Joyful unison comes when we proclaim the good news of Christmas. Christ is at work in our hearts, and He’s coming back. That makes me sing and shout joyfully with those in my path and helps me give and find sweet comfort in times of need.

Joy isn’t happiness, and that is a problem this time of year. Lust is powerful; we grab, get, and go at a rate that leaves us spent, disappointed, and tired after lust settles. Like dust on the floor after a big party, lust leaves a mess that is swept away or under something. It causes a downward spiral. Joy follows loving obedience and fills me with peace. Joy is free, and I don’t have to stand in line or go in debt to get it. It lifts my heart and brings me nearer to God and others. Greed surrounds this beautiful season designed to offer something better than what I want or expect.

Joy, love, hope, and peace are what Advent is all about. As I look forward to Christ’s return, I am able to wait patiently because I understand that love is all that matters. The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s lust. Wanting what I want may get me a little temporary happiness, but it keeps me from finding true joy and peace and leaves me wanting more. Trusting that God’s love is more than enough and obeying His call leads to love which leads to joy, peace, and hope. The world may not understand the difference between joy and happiness, but Christmas celebrates the birth of someone Who lived out the difference beautifully.

God’s gift of Immanuel brought, brings, and will always bring love, joy, peace, and hope to the world. It’s what creates the joyful unison Isaiah foretold. May it be fulfilled in our hearts this year.

Love Joy Peace Hope

The Better Gift

In Romans 1:1-7, Paul calls himself “a devoted slave.” While Roman society looked down upon slaves, it was an honor to be called a slave of God in the Old Testament. It was, is, and always will be a gift to serve Him.

I, Paul, am a devoted slave of Jesus Christ on assignment, authorized as an apostle to proclaim God’s words and acts. I write this letter to all the believers in Rome, God’s friends. The sacred writings contain preliminary reports by the prophets on God’s Son. His descent from David roots him in history; his unique identity as Son of God was shown by the Spirit when Jesus was raised from the dead, setting him apart as the Messiah, our Master. Through him we received both the generous gift of his life and the urgent task of passing it on to others who receive it by entering into obedient trust in Jesus. You are who you are through this gift and call of Jesus Christ! And I greet you now with all the generosity of God our Father and our Master Jesus, the Messiah.” (The Message)

Verses three and four are a chorus familiar to Paul’s audience. He has a lot to sing about, and so do I. Paul puts his focus upon God’s glory shown in Jesus Christ. When I do the same, I find the joy he has. The chorus reminds me of the sweet gift of Immanuel. It is “the generous gift of his life and the urgent task of passing it on to others who receive it by entering into obedient trust in Jesus.” The key words are “obedient trust.” I must have it or I cannot pass His gift along. Entering into obedience is what receiving His gift is all about. His life is a very generous gift that I take for granted far too often.

I am who I am through His generous gift and His call. Paul knew we are all called by Christ. Our talents are different, but we can receive and pass along His gift to others. In a season that celebrates His birth, let’s put our attention and energy toward His gift and not worry so much about all the other gifts we get and give in the coming week. It’s easy to get lost in all those brightly colored packages and forget that God has a better gift in mind.

Last week, I had my heart set on something I really wanted and was disappointed when I didn’t get it. I found that God had something much better in mind. Even little Lillyann knows to ask Santa Claus for what he thinks is best. The lessons this week reminded me to do the same with God. I had a little trinket and a special moment in mind, but He gave me a beautiful tapestry that was more than I could have imagined on my own. Spoiled children get just what they want, and I’m sure they always will. I learned this week to thank God for not giving me what I want and to let Him give me what He knows is best for me. There is a reason spoiled children are never happy. They don’t know what they want. I am the same way when I don’t let go of my selfish wants and trust God to give the better gift He has for me.

Christmas Gifts

A Brighter Light

I’ve struggled with Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 this week and have been putting off looking deeply at what God has for me in this psalm of lament. It’s Christmas, and I’m not in the mood for lament or tears. When I returned to the psalm today, I saw it in a new light. It really is all about light, and the plea for God to shine upon and restore us is what Christmas is all about.

Oh, give ear, Shepherd of Israel,
You who lead Joseph like a flock;
You who are enthroned above the cherubim, shine forth!
Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh, stir up Your power
And come to save us!
O God, restore us
And cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved.

O Lord God of hosts,
How long will You be angry with the prayer of Your people?
You have fed them with the bread of tears,
And You have made them to drink tears in large measure. 

You make us an object of contention to our neighbors,
And our enemies laugh among themselves.
O God of hosts, restore us
And cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved. (NASB)

God laid aside His anger when He decided to come down and be with us. Christ is God’s Light, and He restores, saves, and causes God’s face to shine upon us all. Everything changes in the light of Christ’s precious love, and we celebrate that Light each time we remember the birth that did more than cause God’s face to shine upon us; it brought God’s heart to earth. A brighter Light than expected came upon us, one we will not fully understand until we are in God’s presence. Immanuel did, does, and always will save and restore those broken and feeding upon the bread of tears. Thanks be to God!!

Brighter Light

God’s Tapestry

Matthew 1:18-25 weaves a beautiful tapestry.

The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced.

While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. God’s angel spoke in the dream: “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus—‘God saves’—because he will save his people from their sins.” This would bring the prophet’s embryonic sermon to full term:

Watch for this—a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son;
They will name him Immanuel (Hebrew for ‘God is with us’).

Then Joseph woke up. He did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream: He married Mary. But he did not consummate the marriage until she had the baby. He named the baby Jesus. (The Message)

The lessons this week were powerful ones that left me feeling more connected than ever. I’ve been home alone for a week because my son and his family are on vacation in Florida. I lived alone for over a decade before moving in with the kids, and I was reminded of the pros and cons of solitude while home this week on my own. I told Tyler yesterday that I would be happy to hear those little squealing girls when they got home.

I’ve had the privilege of working with and helping others every day this week. That’s been a blessing that left me feeling part of something bigger than myself. My heart has been touched deeply by the power of joining with others to make a difference. I have the tendency to shy away from getting involved, but this week reminded me of how amazing it is when hearts connect.

God’s loom is love, and our lives are the threads He uses to weave His tapestry. Christ’s precious love is the shuttle that carries and connects my life to the lives of those in my path. When I go where God leads and obey without hesitating or questioning, I find sweet joy that comes with obedience. Occasionally, God gives me a glimpse of His tapestry. It takes my breath away as I forget about what I want and trust His agenda.

When I insist on my plans, I break away from the shuttle. That causes unraveling, and loose ends result. Mary let God weave her into the tapestry He created long before she was born. Joseph did the same, and the result was Immanuel right in the center of God’s beautiful weaving. Each of us must decide whether we will let Christ weave us into His body or follow our own agendas. The choice has always been mine, and it always will be. I look forward to Christ’s precious love weaving me into His story as I share my story with others and hear their hearts.

Individual threads are lost as they form God's tapestry.
Individual threads are lost as they form God’s tapestry.

Wearying God

As I’ve read Isaiah 7:10-17 this week, I’ve wondered how it applies to me.

“Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test. Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? 

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.” NASB

Like Ahaz, I weary God much the same way I weary myself and others when I worry. God tells Ahaz to ask for anything, but he refuses to test God. I can relate. I want God to back me up and give me what I want, but I don’t want to test Him. That tests Him and others in a worse way than asking for the moon would. God can give me the moon and just might if I asked Him for it, but like Ahaz, I could never do that.

Isaiah’s description of Christ hits upon holiness, a state of maturity that trusts without having to have proof. I want a sign and so does Ahaz, but that isn’t the way God works. He must grow weary just as parents do during this time of year when children test their patience. God is perfect, and I know suggesting He can be wearied is unrealistic. He isn’t like us, thank God! He is a patient Father who bears all things because that’s what love does.

Isaiah tells Ahaz that God will give him a sign and goes on to foretell the coming of Christ. God has given me the same sign as I await Christ’s Second Coming. Until then, I pray I will look to Immanuel for the reassurance I need when I worry. If I wait for His return with a heart focused upon the good, I won’t have to worry about getting weary, making other people weary, or wearying God.

Children grow weary waiting out this interminable week before Christmas. Parents grow weary wondering how they will ever finish all they have to do in such a short time. Wouldn’t it be great if we stopped worrying and let our hearts be filled with the sweet knowledge that God has a plan, and it’s working out wonderfully without our worrying.

The Messenger and The Messiah

The last scriptures this week are in Matthew 11:2-11. John the Baptist sends a message to Jesus asking if He is the Messiah or if they should keep waiting.

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciple sand said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

John the Baptist was a powerful prophet with a message of truth told with a love that began before he was born. He leapt in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary came near with Jesus in her womb. John is the epitome of what it looks like to eagerly await the Messiah. He spent his entire life preparing for Christ’s coming, a messenger pointing the way to The Messiah.

Messengers still point to Christ, and I am fortunate to have many friends who deliver God’s messages of truth with a love much like that of John the Baptist. I thank God for all those who are faithful to His Word because they help prepare our hearts for His return.

John Tagliarini is a powerful messenger and dear friend who has patiently taught me to love and understand God’s Word for almost a decade. Ted Duncan’s quiet example encourages me keep listening and following God’s lead even when I don’t understand it. Jeff and Jodi Helpman are helping me open my heart and love God and those in my path in beautiful ways. Each messenger is unique, but each shares a love of God very like that of John the Baptist. I thank God for placing them in my path and pray I will pass along the learning and love I get from each.

You can hear John Tagliarini and Ted Duncan at FBCBC Podcasts and you can hear Jeff and Jodi Helpman at The Grove Church Messages. The messengers may be different, but the message is the same. All point to One Who is coming again, and each speaks the truth with love.

More Than Waiting

James 5:7-10 extols the virtue of patience and bids me to look to farmers and prophets who exemplify it. There is nothing more frustrating than waiting, so James exhorts those who grow impatient to strengthen their hearts. Patience is more than simply waiting. It requires strength and endurance to run the race and not be discouraged. Listen to the what James has to say.

Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.  Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door. As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. (NASB)

The more we have to wait, the more we complain. It’s easy to strike up a conversation in an airport terminal when flights are delayed or when waiting in a slow moving line. Complaints bring us together in one discord. As the wait becomes longer, complaints become divisive. Fingers start pointing, and judging begins in earnest. James tells us the Judge is standing right at the door; that should cause us to stop bickering and start working together in a way that focuses upon the moment when the door will open, and we will be in God’s presence.

We may die before Christ returns, and that was something that caused the early Christians much grief. It still causes grief as we all want to be here for the Second Coming. One way or the other, we will be in the presence of the Judge. The good news is that we can prepare for that meeting by living in a way that glorifies God. That includes repenting when we slip off the path. God doesn’t expect perfection. Christ is our righteousness. His perfect love and gracious forgiveness pave the way for patience when we strengthen our hearts and work together.

Mary’s Sweet Hymn

Mary’s sweet hymn of praise in Luke 1:46-55 is a beautiful expression of her love for God. Before the canonical Christian texts, hymns were the source of learning about and remembering the life of Christ. Mary’s Magnificat is one of the most beloved early hymns and was sung in worship and during travels as a means of spiritual formation and connection among believers. I have always had a special love for Mary, and these verses show her character and faith as no others do for me.

And Mary said:

“My soul exalts the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
“For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave;
For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.

“For the Mighty One has done great things for me;
And holy is His name.
“And His mercy is upon generation after generation
Toward those who fear Him.
“He has done mighty deeds with His arm;
He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.
“He has brought down rulers from their thrones,
And has exalted those who were humble.
“He has filled the hungry with good things;
And sent away the rich empty-handed.
“He has given help to Israel His servant,
In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and his descendants forever.” (NASB)

I think of Mary at Christmas and wonder each time I see a Nativity Scene what she must have been thinking and feeling as God made His way into this world through her womb. As a mother, I cannot imagine the joy she felt in knowing she was chosen to be the mother of God or the pain she endured as she watched Christ die upon the cross. Mary gave herself completely to God, and her strength came from her faith in knowing Who He was. She had a most intimate knowledge of His love, and her hymn reflects a love and trust I want to share.

Songs are a great way to learn, and I imagine this song stayed in the hearts of the pilgrims who sang it as they traveled together and shared the beautiful hope we continue to share as we walk in God’s Kingdom and remember the mercy that is promised to each of us forever. It’s fitting this is my 400th post because I can think of nothing better than Mary’s hymn to help me remember that I am on a journey designed to rejoice in God. Mary knew she was blessed, and I pray we will share her joy as we go through this season of expectation of Christ’s return.

Mary's Magnificat
Mary’s Magnificat