Keeping the Streaks

What does a 16 year old girl do when her parents take her to hang out with family friends in a cabin without cell service or wi-fi?  With no other teenage girls?  It probably depends on the girl, but if it is Lisa, she joins right in, playing cards and board games, playing in the snow, and even participating in laser gun wars.  But when she finds out her dad is heading to town on an errand, she gives him her phone to take with him and asks him to “do her streaks.”  Being the mother of teenagers, I am familiar with streaks.  If you aren’t, here’s an old-lady explanation:  as best I can figure, streaks are records for keeping in contact through social media.  You send and receive a message of some kind every day and watch to see how long you can go without missing.  One of my boys had a 200+ long streak. The messages don’t have to be long or even interesting.  Sometimes they might just be a scribbled “S,” (which stands for “streak” if you were wondering).  The important thing is to keep on sending and receiving them.

It is a new year.  Many of us have been thinking about the things we want to do better in 2020.  One of the biggest difficulties with healthy habits is keeping them going, being consistent.  Have you ever tried to do something every day?  It is a challenge.

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I have been thinking about that concept of “daily.”  The prayer Jesus taught to His disciples includes a request that God give us “our daily bread.”

“Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.  Give us each day our daily bread.  Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. …”  Luke 11:2-4

I have heard those words way more times than I can count, but it wasn’t until I was listening to one of Pastor David’s sermons last year that I made the connection between “daily bread” and the manna that God provided for the Israelites.

Remember, when they were traveling around in the desert, a place where finding food could be challenging, God provided this mysterious food substance every day, “daily bread”.  “The manna was like coriander seed and looked like resin.  The people went around gathering it, and then ground it in a hand mill or crushed it in a mortar.  They cooked it in a pot or made it into loaves.  And it tasted like something made with olive oil.  When the dew settled on the camp at night, the manna also came down.”  Numbers 11:7-9  It was miraculous.  It was nourishing.  It was daily.  After a while though, the Israelites got tired of the daily manna.  You might say it became more of a daily grind than a daily miracle.  They wanted something else, and they complained.  Numbers 11 tells us about this.  Let me summarize by saying that they got what they wanted, but it didn’t really turn out to be a good thing.

I see some parallels to our lives.  Jesus said we should ask for “daily bread.”  He also said that “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  (Matthew 4: 4).  He compared himself to the manna that God provided for the Israelites.  “Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.  For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’” (John 6:32-33).

Jesus is the bread of life, the Word of God.  He is what we need to live and be nourished.  Connecting to Jesus is like manna.  It is miraculous.  It is nourishing.  It can be daily.  Jumping back to the Lord’s prayer, it seems like maybe it should be daily.  “Give us this day our daily bread.”

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How often do we forget how truly amazing the opportunity to spend time with Jesus is?  How often does it become more of a daily grind than a daily miracle?  Guess what?  That’s human nature.  I love something C.S. Lewis said about starting with duty and changing to desire. Unfortunately I couldn’t find the actual quote, but his point was that the exercise of a healthy spiritual habit leads to a changed heart, a heart that delights in the habit as an act of love for God.  I have struggled over the years with whether daily devotional time should be on my “to do list.”  I don’t want it to be a motion that I go through, devoid of meaning.  On the other hand, it is important to me to consistently spend time with Jesus, and if it isn’t planned, there is a lot lower likelihood that it will happen.

The streaks idea struck me-I am just keeping my streaks with Jesus!  Part of it is the consistency and the daily, but underneath is the desire for connection.  I am building a foundation for that all-the-time togetherness that I have referenced before, like Brother Lawrence the 3rd century monk whose writings inspired Practicing the Presence of God.

My challenge to you is to get into the habit of daily connection with Jesus, even if it is brief.  Use a short devotional, sit for 5 minutes of prayer, read a Bible passage, dedicate your morning commute-you choose what seems like it will work best.  (The YouVersion Bible app will even count streaks for you!) And don’t give up if you lose your streak.  It’s OK to start over.  Remember the verse from Lamentations?

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”  Lamentations 3:22-23

That’s the awesome thing about God-He never loses His streaks.  He is always connecting.

Happy New Year!

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God, thank You for the amazing opportunity to connect with You.  Thanks that You have promised that when we seek You, we will find You.  When we call, You always hear and answer.  You are what keeps us going; You are our daily bread.  Please give us the desire to meet You every day.  Help us to be intentional about setting aside time for You.  Speak to us and enlighten us.  Change us.  Make us like Jesus.  Thank You for Your consistency, that You never forget or get too busy to be with us.  We pray in the name of Jesus today and every day.  Amen.

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– Leah

Empty Spaces

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It’s easy to believe in and trust in God when everything is sunshine and roses, right? But what about when life is hard and messy? What about when things don’t go the way we think they should? How can the attributes and character of God that are found in His Word be consistent with the adverse circumstances we face? 

This week, I was going to write about the inspiration I felt while watching the movie Overcomer with friends. I had some thoughts that seemed like they may be worth sharing, and I was looking forward to writing about Jesus’ sheep knowing His voice and following Him. However, this morning, as I was reading in an advent devotional, my heart was moved to share something a little more personal.

I have looked forward to being a mom for as far back as I can remember. I love children. I love to be around them, I love the energy they have, I love the silly things they say, and I love watching them learn and grow. I feel all the maternal instincts. As I finished college, settled into a teaching job, and served in my local church, I believed with all my heart that God would bless me with a husband and children if I just kept following Him. After all, one of the verses that has anchored my life says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33) 

Year after year passed. I was still single, and I saw the time slipping away. Pretty soon, I was 30 and then 35. No husband, no children. Where was God, and what was taking Him so long? Where were “all these things” that I hoped would be added to me? Faith and trust became things that I had to fight for. I struggled to believe that God hadn’t forgotten about me. I clearly remember sitting at my dining room table one day. It was a snow day, usually the cause for much celebration for teachers. As I sat there, a thought lodged itself in my head and heart – “I would’ve been a great mom.” The darkness and grief that followed lasted for several years after that. I grieved the loss of children that I had never given birth to. That probably sounds strange, but it is the best way I know to describe what happened in my heart.

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In God’s providence, I met my husband when I was 39, and we married a couple of months before my 41st birthday. He was and is a gift to me that I hope to never take for granted. God knew just who and what I needed, and in His timing, He gave me all that my heart longed for in a husband. This man never ceases to amaze me with His love for me and His love for God. He is a daily, tangible reminder to me of God’s love and faithfulness, and for that I am so thankful. 

Even though according to His Word, God’s timing is perfect, for me, that perfect timing didn’t really include the possibility of having children. We were both well past the normal age for becoming new parents, and after 13 months of marriage, Aaron became a bi-vocational pastor. What that word ‘bi-vocational’ means to us is that between full-time jobs and full-time ministry, we have very full hearts and very full schedules. We love serving our church, and we are so grateful for the opportunity to do so. 

If I’m being completely honest, in my heart, there’s still an empty space. I’ve had so many occasions to work with children and to love them well. I had the privilege of teaching for 18 years and  leading an inner-city children’s ministry for more than 10 years. I poured into the lives of many children, and I hope that many of them were positively impacted because of God’s love for them being channeled through me. Yet there remains an empty space.

So, how do I reconcile that empty space with God’s character? When my circumstances aren’t what I would have chosen, how can I still believe that God’s plans are best? Now that most of my days are spent with no interaction with children, what do I do with the longings of my heart? Is God really good? Does He care?

It’s in these moments that I must answer the most important question – Do I trust Him? Is He trustworthy? 

Thankfully, throughout Scripture, there were many who faced the same questions. Think of Joseph. His dreams told him that he would be so great that even his family would bow to him. But he was sold into slavery and then spent years in prison. Years later, what was his response to the brothers who had wronged him?

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:20)

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What about the Hebrew men, Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego? They were living to please God, and they refused to worship an idol. Their choice to obey God resulted in their being tied up and thrown into a furnace. Their response? 

“…our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18)

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There are so many others, but my favorite just might be Habakkuk. He sees and clearly describes the atrocities that are happening to his people (which will only get worse). His response?

“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18) 

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This is where faith, trust, and worship begin. Those things are possible because I know in my heart that God is good. He is still writing my story, and I don’t know yet how it will end. I can anchor my heart in the truth of His Word and in His unchanging character. He has promised good to me, and I believe that all the empty spaces and heartache are part of His good plan. In the end, it’s not about me, but it is all about how my life will bring Him the most glory. 

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

“We, then, ought to be utterly free from the impatient pressures of worry and ambition, from any doubt in His ability, and from feeling as though the clock is winding down or the window closing on His opportunity to act.” (Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, Consider Jesus, pp.131-132)

“He has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?'” (Hebrews 13:6-7)

Maybe for you it’s not childlessness. Maybe it’s cancer, divorce, singleness, or the loss of a loved one. Will you do something brave with me today? Let’s take our empty spaces, our heartache, our unfulfilled longings, and our hard questions and lay them at the feet of Jesus. “Faith is the next thing after surrender.” (Hannah Whitall Smith, A Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life)

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Dear Father, our hearts cry out with the desperate father in Mark, “I believe, help my unbelief!” We confess that sometimes it’s hard to reconcile the reality of our circumstances with the truth of Your goodness and faithfulness. Would you help us to surrender the things we don’t understand, and would you help us to trust that Your ways are perfect? Please fill up our empty spaces with Your nearness and sufficiency. Thank you for being a wise and loving Father Who does all things well. My prayer this week is for those reading this who are struggling with hard things that they can’t understand. Please wrap Your loving arms around them, and remind them that You have promised never to leave or forsake Your children. Amen.

Read with me

“Mom, would you read this book with me?”  I looked to see what book he had found and was delighted to see that it was The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, one of my favorites.  It was getting close to bedtime, and there was still laundry to fold and lots that should be done, but I sat with him and we took turns reading, one page each.  And he was up at 6:30 the next morning, even though there was no school, holding the book and asking with his eyes if we could read again.  It wasn’t on my morning schedule, but we made time for one chapter…

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Maybe you are familiar with this book and its story about a Christmas pageant hijacked by a very rough-around-the-edges set of six siblings.  Somehow the Herdman kids decided they wanted to be part of the traditional re-enactment of the Christmas story, and their participation shook things up.  The main parts were taken by Herdmans.  Instead of looking holy and clean, Mary and Joseph “looked like the people you see on the six o’clock news – refugees, sent to wait in some strange ugly place, with all their boxes and sacks around them.”  The angel of the Lord, played by the youngest Herdman, shouted her announcement, “Hey!  Unto you a child is born!” with great vigor, “as if it was, for sure, the best news in the world.”  And instead of bringing frankincense and myrrh, the wise men carried in the ham that they had received in their food basket.  In one last unexpected moment, as the choir sang the words “Son of God, love’s pure light,” from “Silent Night,” Imogene Herdman, in her role as Mary, sat with tears streaming down her face.  “Christmas just came over her all at once, like a case of chills and fever.”

That first exposure to the message that God loved and that He came amazed even the Herdmans, and it re-kindled a sense of awe in the church people who had grown so used to the story that it had lost much of its meaning.

Many of us also have grown up hearing the recounting of Jesus’ arrival in our world, and because of the familiarity and repetition we have lost our wonder at its power and beauty.  We aren’t surprised any more that God’s Son was born in a shed, to common people and that it was God’s plan that it happened that way.  Shepherds and wise men are part of our nativity scenes, but we don’t grasp the significance of their responses to the message that God was here, on earth, a human baby.  Too bad we don’t have more Herdmans around celebrating with us!

As I pondered how much joy it brought me to have Jack seek me out to read with him, and to have it be a book that I love, I thought of God.  How delighted is He when you and I seek Him out and participate with Him in something that He values!  It is never our Father who has to decide if He has enough time to sit and spend with us, He is always willing.  We are the ones who have to choose to put aside our busy-ness and our agendas and be present.  What a gift that is!  A gift to us, but also a gift back to the Giver.  Unfathomable as it is, the God of the universe wants to connect with us.

There are plenty of ways to be where He is and participate with Him in things that He values, but may I suggest a starting place for today?  Just like Jack and I sat and read together, what if we make time to sit with our Father and read this Advent story together?  With new eyes, with hearts ready to experience the love that inspired it and that still flows through it.  After all, God called Him Emmanuel. 

“‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’). “  Matthew 1:23

God. with. us.

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The Birth of Jesus

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole empire[a] should be registered. This first registration took place while[b] Quirinius was governing Syria. So everyone went to be registered, each to his own town.

Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem

, because he was of the house and family line of David, to be registered along with Mary, who was engaged to him[c] and was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. Then she gave birth to her firstborn son, and she wrapped him tightly in cloth and laid him in a manger,[d] because there was no guest room available for them.

The Shepherds and the Angels

In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.[e] 10 But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people:[f] 11 Today in the city of David a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped tightly in cloth and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host[g] with the angel, praising God and saying:

14 Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and peace on earth to people he favors![h][i]

15 When the angels had left them and returned to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go straight to Bethlehem and see what has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”

16 They hurried off and found both Mary and Joseph, and the baby who was lying in the manger. 17 After seeing them, they reported the message they were told about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary was treasuring up all these things in her heart and meditating on them. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had seen and heard, which were just as they had been told.

Luke 2 Christian Standard Bible (CSB)

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God, we are filled with awe and wonder and love.  You went to such great lengths to meet our need for connection with You.  The detail and the perfection with which You carried out Your redemption plan amaze us, and the love that inspired it is more than we can comprehend.  Ignite our hearts with Your love this Christmas.  Fill us with Your Spirit, so we can walk through this coming week with hearts that are full of Your peace and Your good will toward men.  Protect us from the frustrations of unmet expectations.  Let us expect nothing more than to see Jesus.  Give us Your comfort as we feel the absence of loved ones we wish were celebrating with us.  May each of us give You the gift of spending time being present in Your presence.  That is an incredible gift to us.  We are thankful.  We pray in the name of our Savior, Jesus.  Amen.

-Leah

 

He Loved, So He Gave

One of the reasons that Christmas is such a special time of the year is because it is a season of time set apart for remembering and celebrating the coming of Jesus. In the hustle and bustle of our busy lives, we need to be reminded to stop and reflect. The coming of Jesus brought hope into despair, light into darkness. Something to celebrate for sure!

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” (Isaiah 9:2, ESV)

Those are the words of one of the many Messianic prophecies in Isaiah. Beautiful words about the coming of Jesus. When we were lost in darkness, the Light of the world came to us. 

“Though He (Jesus) was God, He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.  Instead, He gave up his divine privileges; He took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.” (Philippians 2:6-7, NLT)

Those verses always blow my mind. Christmas reminds me to pause and ponder these truths. Redeeming our fallen world was more important to Jesus than clinging to equality with God. In humility, He gave up His divine privileges. He gave. That makes me think of another verse, one that is probably the most well-known verse in the Bible.

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NLT) 

How did God demonstrate His love for the world (for all of us)? He gave. He gave us Jesus. There’s a reason why that verse is so well-known. It’s really the central truth of the entire Bible. We have a tendency sometimes to over-complicate things, but here we see a very simple yet profound truth. Please don’t let its familiarity overshadow its precious significance. Why did Jesus come? He came because God knew the fallen condition of humanity, and His love compelled Him to act. Love gives. Love gives sacrificially and selflessly.

As gifts are exchanged this Christmas, let’s not overlook the matchless Gift that God, the perfect Giver, has given to us – Jesus. Emmanuel, God with us. He left His majesty in heaven to come humbly as a helpless baby Whose ultimate plan was to give His life so that we could be forgiven and free.

“For to us a child is born; to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6, ESV)

This is how God showed His love for us: He gave. This is how God continues to show His love for us: He keeps on giving. 

Dear Father, thank You for Your love that gives. We are amazed and humbled at the gift of Jesus – Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. May the reality of every one of those descriptive names fill our hearts with hope and gratitude as we ponder what the birth of Jesus means to us. I pray for every person reading this – that You would bless them and their families this Christmas. May You keep on giving them good and perfect gifts as a reminder of Your incredible love for them. Amen.

-Dana

Rescue

On Saturday, June 23, 2018, after soccer practice, twelve Thai boys and their coach went exploring in the Tham Luang cave. This is a big cave, it extends for more than 6 miles beneath a mountain range in Thailand. It is well-known, and often visited. However, during monsoon season (which starts in July), the cave can flood up with up to 16 feet of water and going in becomes dangerous and often impossible.

You may remember this story. The boys encountered flooding and ended up moving deeper into the cave to get away from the water. They eventually stopped on a rocky ledge more than 2 miles from the cave entrance. They were trapped. Water all around. Darkness. Nothing to do but wait for rescue.

A rescue operation was launched. Word spread around Thailand and eventually worldwide. Rescuers from Thailand were joined by US Air Force recue specialists and cave divers from many countries. The Thai government set up pumps to try to move water out of the cave. People around the world prayed that the boys and their coach would survive.

Pouring rain made conditions miserable outside the cave and more and more dangerous inside for the divers who were searching. On June 28, 2018, a social media post read: “divers have stopped searching-water levels have risen to fill most caves. Pumping has stopped-too much rain. Authorities say they will rethink strategy for finding missing boys.”

On Monday, July 2, two divers finally located the boys. The lost had been found! There is actually a video of that moment. “How many of you?” and the answer, “Thirteen!” They were all alive, 9 days later! Now to get them out.

Diving in Tham Luang was dangerous. Extracting the weak and hungry children was a monumental task. While preparations were made, divers took in air tanks and liquid food and fortified drinks to sustain the boys. On Friday, July 6, one of the rescuers, a former Navy Seal diver, died during an air delivery.

Miraculously, there was a break in the rain, and the decision was made to make the move to bring the boys and their coach out.

Each boy had a full face mask for oxygen, had a cylinder strapped to his chest, and a handle of sorts on his back. He was clipped to one diver and accompanied by another diver. From a BBC report, “At the narrowest sections, the divers had to unstrap their air tanks in order to squeeze through, while also pulling along their precious cargo.”

The first of the boys was brought out, alive, on July 7. They were all rescued over the next 3 days, and as the last of the boys and their coach were being shuttled out, the waters began to rise, as quickly as 11 inches per hour by one rescuer’s report. And as the last of the rescuers were leaving the cave, a pump suddenly stopped working and floodwaters filled the cave.

A Facebook post from the Thai Navy Seals: “We are not sure if this is a miracle, a science, or what.”

I remember praying fervently and frequently for those boys. I am pretty sure it was a miracle.

By now you know that I love stories, and I love thinking about them in light of The Story. Right away, as this story unfolded, I began seeing the parallels to Jesus’ rescue of us. Each of us was trapped. In the dark, without any way to get ourselves to light and life. God loved the world, each of us. Just as the boys and their coach mattered enough to garner the resources and the prayers necessary to undertake an incredibly difficult and costly rescue mission, we matter to God. He sent the only Rescuer who could navigate the darkness, willing to die in the process, to bring us out and give us a “new birth.” It is all about Him-like the Thai boys, we couldn’t even help in the swimming to get ourselves out, we just had to let Him carry us.

This rescue plan, put into place thousands of years previous (as evidenced by Bible prophecy) started with the Advent of Jesus. That miraculous event that we are celebrating at Christmas.

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem (rescue) those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Galatians 4:4

At just the right time…

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ-by grace you have been saved- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:4-7

Just sit with those verses for a minute.

I find so often in following Jesus that there is the big, followed by lots of smalls. Let me explain. There is the big rescue-that allowing Jesus to carry you by way of His amazing sacrifice from death and darkness to light and abundant, eternal life. And then, there are all the little rescues that follow-allowing Jesus to carry you from discouragement or frustration or anger or sadness to light and peace and hope. The big rescue plays out on a smaller scale over and over in our lives.

It happened again for me this week.

A student about whom I have come to care very much moved away unexpectedly. I was sad. I was worried about what would happen to him, if he would be OK. Lots of unknowns in my mind, and not one thing I could do to change the situation. Forgive the repetition, but I was sad. In my sadness, one of my friends texted me, “The truth we need to hear in this situation is that God can get a hold of his heart without us.” I had a choice. Would I believe the truth and allow myself to be carried away from sadness to trust and hope? It took some pondering, but I chose to believe. I choose to believe. God is a rescue expert.

Psalm 18:16-19 “He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.”

And Psalm 118:5 “When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord; he brought me into a spacious place.”

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Many times as we live our lives we find ourselves stuck in a tight place emotionally, in deep waters. God wants to take hold of us in those moments and rescue us. He has a spacious place that is much better than the dark, cramped spots we can get into. We have a choice. Will we believe and allow ourselves to be brought out?

Please choose rescue. Choose the ultimate rescue from sin and death. Then, choose the rescue from the thoughts and feelings that trap you. God has been known to go to great lengths, like parting seas and knocking down walls, to set His people free.

Awesome God, I am amazed by Your love. Love that reaches out and rescues. Love that sent Jesus and that continues to send help. Thank You. Please help me to choose not to linger in darkness but to accept Your rescue. I pray for each person who reads this, that they would choose Your rescue. Speak to their hearts and lead them to the new birth You offer. For those who have already been adopted into Your family, remind them of Your offer of light and peace and hope to replace sadness and anger and despair. Especially during this season where we remember the coming of Jesus but where we also encounter much stress and overwhelming emotion, be near us. “Thank You” doesn’t seem like enough. Hear my heart – thank You.

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“For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.” Psalm 116:8

-Leah

At His Feet

Another Thanksgiving has passed, and I hope that you had the opportunity in the last week to pause and consider the people and things for which you are thankful. Truly, we have so much for which to be thankful. I’m thankful for many things, and one of those many things is the opportunity to write this blog with my sister. It has been an adventure, and we find ourselves humbled at the gracious response of those of you who read it. 

If  a picture is worth a thousand words, I could probably stop writing and just let this one speak for itself. However, since this blog is a place for writing, I will attempt to tell you why this picture has been on my heart for the last month or so.

This is a still shot of a scene from The Passion of the Christ. Let’s take a few moments to read about the moment that this picture captures.

Early in the morning he (Jesus) came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”  (John 8:2-11)

This woman was caught in the act of very sinful behavior, and she was hauled by her accusers to the center of a crowd that had gathered around Jesus. She was guilty as charged. We don’t read about her trying to deny the allegations or to justify herself. She was just thrust onto center stage by men who had already passed judgment on her. What they said was true. She was guilty of adultery, and the Mosaic law called for the death penalty.

“If a man is found lying with a married woman, then both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel.” (Deuteronomy 22:22)

Interestingly, we read nothing about the man who would’ve also been caught in the act. He is never mentioned here. The scribes and Pharisees seemed to be more interested in what Jesus would do with this woman. Notice that they were testing Him and looking for a reason to bring charges against Him.

Jesus’ response amazes me and captures my heart every time I read this. He didn’t rush to respond in the heat of the moment. He paused, bent down, and began writing on the ground. Don’t you wish you knew what He was writing? I sure do. For now, we don’t get to know. We just see His calm demeanor and His quiet wisdom. Of course, His silence wasn’t what the accusers were looking for, so they continued to press Him for an answer. So, He stood up and said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” He didn’t overlook the woman’s sin, He didn’t deny the Old Testament penalty, but He sure did challenge those who called for her punishment. Wisdom, mercy, grace, and love on display. Then, He bent down again and just went back to writing. 

Starting with the oldest, one by one the crowd left. Starting with the oldest – those who had sinned the most because they had been alive longer. Everyone left. How rare for Jesus to be left alone with someone! He was always pressed by crowds, but this time, they chose to walk away.

There was only one sinless person present that day. He was the One writing on the ground. He could have thrown stones, but that wasn’t what He chose to do. Instead, He asked her a question. Jesus was an expert at asking questions. He asked her, “Where are they? Has no one condemned you?” When she confirmed that none of her accusers remained, He spoke words of compelling grace and direction. “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

When you ponder this account, with whom do you most identify?

Do you see yourself as one of the scribes or Pharisees who wants to make sure that sinners pay for the things they’ve done? Do you think of yourself as better than this woman – a person who makes better decisions than she did? 

Are you one of the crowd? Are you content to watch the smug faces of the scribes and Pharisees as they expose this woman’s sin and hope for her demise? Would you be unwilling to offer your opinion either way and choose to just remain an anonymous bystander? Are you indifferent to another person’s need for mercy?

Do you see yourself in this woman? Are you a sinner, guilty as charged and unable to offer a reasonable defense before the sinless Son of God? Do you throw yourself at His feet knowing that you need His mercy more than anything else?

I know that there are times in my life that I have been in one of the first two groups of people – self-righteous in my condemnation of others in spite of my own sinfulness or indifferent and choosing to avoid conflict instead of taking a stand. Truth be told, I have to guard my heart against self-righteousness and indifference consistently.

That’s why the picture of this scene means so much to me. When I see the broken woman in that picture, I know with all of my heart that I am just like her.

When in the presence of the perfect, sinless Son of God, I am EXTREMELY aware of the guilt of my sins and my absolute need of His mercy. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that the One Who has never sinned also has never picked up a stone to throw at me. Instead, He took my sins upon Himself and paid for them at the cross.

“You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14)

Remembering God’s mercy in my own life is a key to avoiding the sinful responses of self-righteousness and indifference. I’m just a sinner who has been rescued; therefore, I have no cause to look down on others as if I am better than they are. I need mercy; therefore, I extend mercy.

When I look at the woman in that picture, I see myself at the feet of Jesus – not afraid and begging for mercy, but FULL of gratitude and worship for His amazing grace. It’s where I want to live my life. At the feet of Jesus. Pouring my love, my gratitude, and my worship out to Him because He has forgiven me. Last week, when I was thinking of all the reasons I have to be thankful, I thought, “Every sin that has been forgiven is one more reason to thank Him.” This, this is why I love Him so much. I love His heart that found me in my sin and offered redemption instead of condemnation. He still offers those compelling words of grace and direction to all who recognize their need for His mercy.  “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on, sin no more.”

Jesus, Your love and kindness continue to amaze me. I have many things to be thankful for, but most of all, I want to thank You. I don’t deserve love like Yours, but You love me anyway. You’ve seen every sin, and You’ve paid for them all. Because of Your sacrifice, I am forgiven. Help me to never lose the wonder of what that means. I want to live at Your feet in worship and gratitude. Please help me not to think of myself as better than others, but help me to be quick to extend Your love. Keep me from being indifferent when others are in need of mercy. Don’t let me forget that it was Your kindness that led me to repentance. Thank You for paying the debt that I could never pay. By Your grace, help me to walk in freedom from sin. Amen.

-Dana

Burnout

I’ve been thinking about burnout. It is a hot topic in medicine these days. Estimates from January, 2019, indicate that more than 40% of physicians are experiencing burnout, which the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality defines as a long-term stress reaction marked by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a lack of sense of personal accomplishment. Of course burnout is not unique to doctors, and it seems to escalate for many during the holidays.

Image result for holiday stress images

One suggestion I have heard for preventing or recovering from burnout is to “know your why.” Don’t lose sight of your purpose. Remind yourself that there is a reason for that in which you are investing yourself, and not just any reason, but a reason that really matters. This is having vision. Vision fights burnout.

Let me tell you about my friend. We were sitting together last week, talking, and she mentioned that her job is hard. Trust me, her job is hard! She is a social worker for adults with special needs, and she finds herself a part of some difficult stories, trying to bring stability and resources so individuals can function and flourish. She cares, and that adds to the burden of her work. On top of that, she works in a setting that often reminds her of her own son, who passed away almost two years ago. This is a set up for burnout! But let me tell you what she said as she spoke about her work. She said that it is important to her to maintain her connection to the special needs community and to keep her family connected there also. She wants to give her experience and effort to help others the way she received help when she was caring for a child with special needs. She keeps at it, even in difficult times, because she has vision and purpose.

Here’s another example: another friend of mine has recently moved with her family from one state to another. Like any transition, this has had some trauma attached to it, and has necessitated some re-defining of her vision. This week, because of connections she has made since she has moved and because of her training as a dental assistant, she was able to help out when a kid had a dental injury. On the surface, she felt that it was a small thing, but when she thought about it later, she realized that it was a sign that she is where God wants her to be, doing what God wants her to do, and that a new vision is developing! Go away, burnout, there is a purpose!

One more story. There is a lady who is fostering two boys. She and her husband are providing a home and love and food and safety. As you might imagine, it is rarely easy. Not only do the children have issues from their past experiences, there is the whole uncertainty about how long they will stay. Will they be with them for Christmas? What will happen to them next year? Just the place for burnout. But what keeps this couple being a family for these boys day after day? They have vision. There is a purpose for what they are doing. It matters.

The Bible talks about vision. Proverbs tells us that “where there is no vision, the people perish:” (Proverbs 29:18). I read as I was studying this that the Hebrew word for perish is a word that was also used to describe a woman’s uncovered hair in the wind, blown in all directions. I sometimes feel that way, pulled here and there and not sure I am going anywhere.

Jesus noticed people living that way. In Matthew 9:36, we read, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

Ever feel harassed and helpless, not sure where to go, lacking vision? There is a Good Shepherd that wants to lead you beside still waters, restore your soul, lead you in right paths for His name’s sake. He wants to give you vision and keep you from overwhelm and burnout.

Your life has purpose. You are here for a reason. Don’t get discouraged. Ask Jesus to show you the vision, and keep your eyes on it. There will surely be challenges and hard times. The prophet Isaiah said, “Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” Isaiah 30:20. He wants to lead you and use you. Get a glimpse of the vision! Know your why!

I love the lyrics to the song “Thrive” by Casting Crowns. “…We know we were made for so much more than ordinary lives. It’s time for us to more than just survive. We were made to thrive. Joy unspeakable, faith unsinkable, love unstoppable, anything is possible!”

Especially during this holiday season, let’s not lose our vision and fall prey to burnout. As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, let’s remember why. Our big picture vision is to live “for His name’s sake,” like in Psalm 23 and for His kingdom to come in us and in our families and in our communities and in our world.

Another song…

We Are The Reason

As little children

We would dream of Christmas morn

Of all the gifts and toys

We knew we’d find

But we never realized

A baby born one blessed night

Gave us the greatest gift of our lives

We were the reason

That He gave His life

We were the reason That He suffered and died

To a world that was lost He gave all He could give

To show us the reason to live

As the years went by

We learned more about gifts

The giving of ourselves

And what that means

On a dark and cloudy day

A man hung crying in the rain

Because of love, all because of love

We were the reason

That He gave His life

We were the reason That He suffered and died

To a world that was lost He gave all He could give

To show us the reason to live

I’ve finally found the reason for living

It’s in giving every part of my heart to Him

In all that I do every word that I say

I’ll be giving my all just for Him, for Him…

We were the reason

That He gave His life We are the reason

That He suffered and died

To a world that was lost He gave all He could give

To show us the reason to live…

He is my reason to live

 

God, thanks that You are our reason to live and that You provide us with purpose and vision and power. You help us thrive as we follow You. Would You walk with us, especially during these days that bring stress and busyness? Would You point us in the direction of the vision You have for us? We want to see You and hear You. Protect us from being overwhelmed and burned out, and help us to share hope with those around us who are feeling that way. We can never say enough to thank You for being Emmanuel, God with us.