Advent 2015 – Do You Believe?

Advent candle 1But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.  Micah 7:7

Little children become lookouts on Christmas Eve. Their ears strain for the slightest whisper of sleigh bells and they stand attentive at the window, watching and waiting for Santa Clause.  They have written their letters and made their pleas for toys and dolls and bikes. Now they watch with confident hope and expectation that Santa will come.  Sure they heard the big kids laughing and saying that there is no Santa, but for them, the magic is real and they still believe.  But we are grown-ups and we know that Santa is just a myth.  We know who actually bought the dolls and the Legos and who will have to put the bike together tonight.

We live in a world that tries to tell us that God is not real, that he is a myth, a fool’s wishful thinking, an imaginary friend.  They have lost their ability to believe in the Almighty God who created the heavens and the earth and you and me.  They tell us we are praying to the winds, there is no one there to hear us.  But as for me . . . I will continue to believe.  I will watch in hope for the Lord to fulfill His promises.  I will wait for my Savior because I know with all my heart that He is coming again.  And I will continue to bow my head in prayer because my God hears me.

Friend, won’t you come and stand watch with me at the window—I believe I hear the sounds of angels in the distance.

Advent 2015 — Hoping for Light

Advent candle 1The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.  Isaiah 9:2

Today begins the traditional season of Advent, a time of preparation for the celebration of the Christ Child.  Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day and lasts through December 24th.  Each week is marked with Scripture readings and the lighting of candles in the Advent Wreath and each week has a focus or theme to guide believers into the blessed season.  I will be sharing a brief devotional thought through Deeper Roots each day through Advent; I invite you to join me as I prepare my own heart for the season.

For this first week, we will focus on “Hope.”  Hope is desperately needed in our world today, and it was desperately needed for the Jewish people.  The prophet Isaiah writes our key verse to the people of Judah, whom God chose to be a holy people devoted to Him, but they had rebelled and Isaiah issued warnings of God’s impending judgement.  Yet interspersed in the dire warnings are words of hope.  This is the message of Isaiah 9:1-7—hope—and the promise of a Messiah who will bring God’s kingdom rule to earth and with it restoration for the entire nation.

The people walked in darkness, not physical darkness as if the sun refused to shine, but spiritual darkness because of their sin and rebellion, just as our world does today.  What do we hope for in the darkness?  Light!  And God promised the light of restoration to His people, just as He promises the light of truth for those who are trapped in the darkness of sin today.

We can hope in the light of God in this dark world because He has sent His light—the Light of the World—Jesus.  This Light “shines in darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it” (John 1:5).  He is “the True Light that gives light to every man” (John 1:9).  On this first day of Advent, put your hope in the One who brings the Light of truth to shine forever in  your heart.

Will I Go to Hell Because I Yelled at God?

crying-babyMy heart grew hot within me, and as I meditated, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue.” Psalm 39:3

I yelled at God.  I was aggravated because He wasn’t doing things like I thought He should.  The truth is, He wasn’t doing anything at all.  A difficult situation was just festering, and so was my frustration level.   I had prayed so much about this issue.  I had begged God to intervene; I had pleaded for His help with my face down in the carpet.   I told Him all the reasons why He needed to act on my behalf.  I pointed out how devastating this situation would become if He didn’t.    The longer the situation drug on the shorter my patience became until I just exploded—at God.  I told Him that I couldn’t take this situation any longer.  I asked Him what He was waiting for.  I asked Him if He was paying attention.  I even asked if He was trying to push me over the edge of sanity.

Lest you think I’m being disrespectful and irreverent, God and I have worked out the situation and we are still on very good terms.  But I’m telling you this because in our human nature we all tend to get impatient and frustrated with God.  Really—it’s okay to admit it.  Do you think He doesn’t know?

That day I sat in the floor of my study, my face red and streaked with tears, yelling at the God of heaven and earth—and He never yelled back at me.  In fact He didn’t say anything for a long time, He just let me rant on and on until my anger gradually gave way to quiet exhaustion.  I leaned my head against the wall, closed my eyes and took a deep breath.  And that’s when I “heard” a quiet voice in my spirit say, “Feel better now?”  I’m not sure I felt better about the situation, but my anger was spent and I quietly answered, “Yes.”  Then the Lord reminded me of the lesson I had taught just a few days before; that God is sovereign over our lives and He is able to take the most impossible situations and bring amazing things from them.

I had talked about Joseph who was sold into slavery by his own brothers, forced into servitude and thrown into prison on trumped up charges, yet God used every step in his journey like rungs on a ladder to elevate him to the second highest position in the province of Egypt and to save the lives of his entire family.  Had his brothers not sold him into slavery, he would have never been in Egypt.  Had he not worked as a servant and been thrown in prison he would have never encountered Pharaoh’s cupbearer who recommended him to Pharaoh to interpret his dream.  Had he not interpreted Pharaoh’s dream he would have never been placed over the entire kingdom’s food resources.  Had he not been in that position, his family would have starved to death in the famine and the nation of Israel—along with our Savior—would die with them.  Though all his challenges, the Bible never shows that Joseph became impatient or frustrated with God.  He quietly trusted God and waited for the Lord to act on his behalf.  He believed that God was able to take rejection by his family, slavery and prison and work them all together for a good purpose.  I’ll bet Joseph never yelled at God.

So what do we do with our pent up emotions?  Deny them?  We’ve already established that He knows our feelings.  Stuff them?  That’s a sure recipe for a pressure cooker explosion like the one I had.  Nor do I think God wants us to pretend that we are so spiritual we are not affected by these difficult times.

Remember that we are made in the image of God, and Scripture frequently tells us that God experiences emotions.  God feels delight – “The Lord your God  . . .will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).  God feels sorrow – John 11: 35 tells us that Jesus wept at the tomb of His friend Lazarus.  God feels joy – when His disciples returned rejoicing over the wonders they performed in His name, Luke says that He was “full of joy through the Holy Spirit.”  And yes, God also gets angry – though His anger is righteous and just.  The Israelites angered God on more than one occasion with their faithlessness and idolatry.  Job 42: 7 says that God declared His anger at Job’s “friends” because they spoke untruthfully about Him.

God knows that we have emotions – including anger – and He knows that in our finite human minds we get frustrated over things we do not understand.  Surely if God would have sat down with me and told me His plan for this situation I would have been able to control my emotions as He worked it all out.  But then, that doesn’t require much faith does it?

So that day I had it out with God, and you know, He never berated me for losing control.  He didn’t turn and leave in a cloud of offense.  He didn’t respond with His own blast of anger at me.  He let me purge my heart of all that I was feeling, then like a good Father He wrapped His tender love around me, calming my anxious spirit and assuring me that, indeed He was watching, He cared and He had a plan.  And as time moved along, I saw Him faithfully resolve the issue.

Beloved, God is big enough to take your honest emotions, in fact He insists that we come to him in truthfulness—and that includes your feelings of disappointment, discouragement, frustration and, yes, even anger.  We do so with honesty and reverence knowing that He will not reject us, but rather draw us close as His child and soothe our hearts with His love.   So take all your raw emotions to God and tell Him how you feel, even if you have to yell a little.

Holy Father, I am thankful that You know me so well; You know that I am fraught with human emotions that I sometimes can’t control.  Lord thank You for hearing my heart’s cry and for touching the deepest part of me with Your peace and tender love.  Amen

The Banner of Love

battle standard“His banner over me is love” (Song of Songs 2:4)

When I was in my teens, I went with a group of young people to a major theme park for a fun day of rides and shows and eating things that were bad for me.  I was excited because I was finally old enough to go through the park with just my friends and no chaperone. (What were they thinking?!)  We set a time to gather together for supper and the group leader pointed to a tall structure that stood out well above all the others.  He said “This is our gathering spot.  You can see it from anywhere in the park so you can easily make your way back.”    Off we went, and it was reassuring to see the top of that building from wherever I was and know that I couldn’t get so lost that I couldn’t find my way back.  Several hours later, at the appointed time, we all made our way back to our gathering place.

That was only a group of about 30 scatter-brained teenagers, but imagine trying to keep an entire nation together. That was Moses’ task in leading the nation of Israel out of Egypt.

Consider what it must have been like with 2-million plus people marching together through the desert.   It was a major challenge to stay together over the many long and dusty miles.  It could easily have been chaos, but God set out a plan.  The Israelites were the descendants of the twelve sons of Jacob and were identified by their ancestor’s name.  To minimize confusion, everyone was required to travel and camp in a certain order with their clan.    So how did they find where they belonged in an ocean of people?  Each tribe created a banner or standard that was unique to their own family.  It was at the top of a long pole so it was visible to every family member.  This is the same type of banner you’ve probably seen in battle scenes in movies. It was usually adorned with bright colors and often had bits of shiny metal so that it would sparkle and glitter in the sun.  This is how every family member found their way back to their family.  Imagine if you were a child in this vast company of people and you got separated from your clan, all you had to do was look up and spot your tribe’s standard and you knew where to go.

In this world, it is hard to know which way is right, there are too many distractions and detour signs along the way.  If you don’t have a fixed point of reference you can easily find yourself wandering into dangerous places.  Do you ever find yourself wishing there was something that could guide you to a safe haven?  I know I have often prayed, “Lord just give me a landmark so I will know which way to go.” I need something that stands high above the chaos and confusion of this world.  Something that will help me find the place I belong.

God has created a banner that flies high above this world.  Its colors are the crimson red of Jesus’ blood and it is adorned with the glory and majesty of His Son.   This standard is the cross of Christ.  It is your banner to lead you to where you belong.   The cross rises high above the world, standing tall and sure in the instability of our culture.  You can see it from wherever you are, even in the deepest, darkest places.  The cross is more than your family’s standard.  It is the declaration of God’s overwhelming love for you.  It is His eternal promise of salvation and everlasting life.  In the cross is hope and freedom.  In the cross we have light and truth.  If we keep our focus on the cross, we will never be lost to the whims of the world.

Beloved, if you have wandered away and cannot find your way home, lift up your head and look for the cross—God’s banner of love.  Because love is where you belong.

Holy Father, thank you for the cross which stands high and firm above the world.  No matter where I go, I know that the cross will lead me back to where I belong.  Help me, Lord, to keep my heart and mind focused on the cross of Christ and the love that placed it there.  Amen.

Dance Like the Whole World is Watching

Dancer“David danced before the Lord with all his might.” 2 Samuel 6:14

Deep within the soul of a little girl beats the heart of a dancer.  When she was very small she would twirl around the room making her skirt billow out wide.  She would dance standing on her father’s shoe-tops and spin and sway as her mother sang along with the radio.  When she wasn’t dancing she skipped—down the halls of the church, across the playground at school, curls bouncing as her feet leapt with the joy in her heart.  She got older and the times for dancing were set aside for studies, still she danced in her bedroom to her favorite songs.  Life grew busier and dancing was reserved for formal halls in ball-gowns and high-heels.  Then came her wedding day and she floated down the aisle of the church and danced with her two favorite men—her Daddy and her new husband.  As they settled in to their new lives, he promised to hold her close in the dance of marriage.

But things do not always turn out like our little girl dreams.  Cinderella was a fairy tale, but this was real life.  Somehow the music faded and the dance was abandoned for work and kids and bills.  Her prince charming turned out to be just a flesh-and-blood man who had no energy for spinning across the room anymore.  Every once in a while the sound of music stirred something in her heart, but dancing seemed a far distant dream.  One morning she woke up and realized she had forgotten all the steps.  Maybe it was better that way, because her dance partner had walked away leaving her a broken woman with no heart for the dance anymore.

Sometimes this life can just knock the breath—and the joy—right out of us.  We start out well, full of dreams and enthusiasm, but real-life struggles and heartaches come along and we find those dreams fading and our excitement waning.  Perhaps you are not a dancer at heart, maybe deep inside you are a teacher or a singer, an artist, or like me—a writer and speaker.   Maybe your dream is not so big, but you have a God-given desire to step into something that would bring God great glory; yet you also have a past that has weighted you down with shame and regret.  You have been places you shouldn’t have, entered into relationships you wish you hadn’t, faced hard things you can’t seem to overcome, or had someone else’s choices leave you broken and hurting.   You think, “I can’t dance (or whatever that desire is in your heart), people know my past and they will not approve.”  My friend that is the very reason you need to tie on your ballet slippers again.

In the story that surrounds our key verse, David is making a second attempt to return the Ark of God to Jerusalem after it had been captured in battle.  His first attempt was a humiliating failure that ended in the death of one of his trusted men, all because David failed to follow the rules about transporting the Ark.  He made a mistake, a very costly one, and for a season, left the Ark at a random home and walked away from it, angry and defeated.  But God burdened his heart that the Ark needed to be in its rightful place, so he learned the right way to get the task done and set out once again to bring the Ark home.  And on this attempt, David actually did something that was quite undignified for a king, “dancing and leaping before the Lord,” and he got called out for it, by his wife no less. She said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would” (v. 20).   David’s answer: “It was before the Lord [that I danced]” (v. 21).  He didn’t care what she thought because God was glorified in David’s dance and his people loved him all the more for it.

Here’s a little secret you may not know: everyone has a past, no one gets through life without stumbles and failures and regrets.  Those people that are watching you are just as wounded and broken and hurting as you are.  They may hide it well, but if you get close enough you will see that no one is as perfect as they seem.  And the truth is, we find it very hard to relate to someone who glides through life unscathed.  I don’t want to know that you did everything right in life—I want to know that you’ve stumbled too, but you got up and got back in the dance.

Why do we think we can’t live for the glory of God when we have made mistakes, that we have to sit down when we’ve stumbled in life?  Everyone out there has made mistakes.  If we all sat out the dance because of the mistakes we’ve made, no one would ever dance again.  And that is all the more reason why we should dance or sing or create – to show the world that Jesus forgives and restores and makes life worth living again.  The walking wounded in your world need to see God take the mess of your life and speak a message of hope.

Beloved, someone else has stumbled over the same rock that brought you down; let them know they can get back up again. Dance before the Lord with all your might. The world doesn’t need to see you dancing out of perfection, they need to see you dancing out of redemption.

Holy Father, with all the failures of my past, You still call me to dance before Your throne.  Please use me to show the world that when we fall, Christ gives us hope and restoration and life.  Start the music God, and let me dance.  Amen.