Faithful Friends

friends“Some men came, bringing a paralytic, carried by four of them” (Mark 2:3).

I just couldn’t pray.  I couldn’t pray because the pain ran deep and wild like muddy water rushing through a broken dam.  I couldn’t pray because I was an intercessor; I’d never prayed for myself.  I couldn’t pray because I couldn’t find the words to say.  My mind was numb, my heart was shattered.  I was a broken woman, paralyzed by the crushing burden I was bearing.  And I had to keep it all to myself.  I was the one others looked up to, the one with wise answers and a verse for every situation.  If they saw me now, I would lose their friendship and respect.  I became very good at wearing the mask and hiding my feelings.  I fooled everyone.

Well, not quite everyone.  Two friends looked past my disguise and saw the raw, open wounds of my heart.  They could not be duped into believing I was okay.  And because they loved me – the real me – they prayed the prayers I could not.  They prayed over me on the phone.  They prayed over me at my office.  They prayed over me at the altar and after Bible study (which I was still teaching).  They prayed over me at McDonald’s and Wal-Mart and wherever we were.  They carried me to the Father when I couldn’t carry myself.

In Mark’s Gospel, a group of friends are bringing a paralyzed man to Jesus for healing.  Four of them bore his weight as they held the corners of his mat.  They climbed onto the top of the house and tore away the roof to get their friend to the only one who could help him.  Interestingly, Mark says “When Jesus saw their faith. . .” he forgave the man and healed him.  Their faith.  No the paralytic’s faith.  The faith of his friends.  I wonder if, like me in my time of distress, the man had any faith himself at all.

Someone you know needs your prayers.  Someone needs you to pick them up and carry them to Jesus.  They have no strength of their own.  They are paralyzed by life’s struggles and unable to come to Jesus by themselves.  The Lord honored the faith of the man’s friends, just as He heard and honored the prayers of my friends.  Healing came for the paralyzed man and for me; borne on the wings of others’ faithful intercession.  Beloved, let’s look beneath the surface of our friendships.  Let’s seek out the ones who bear the heavy burdens, and let’s bring them to Jesus.  When my faith was almost gone, the faith of my friends carried me.  Who needs your prayers – and your faith – today?

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A Gift Worth Keeping

gift-box“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” 2 Corinthians 9:15

I remember a Christmas when my brothers and I were younger and how one gift almost got thrown away.  My Mom was notorious for her “creative” gift giving skills.  We went on scavenger hunts for our presents a few times with notes scattered around the house and yard sending us hither and yon.  A simple watch was wrapped up in a box with a cinderblock to fool the recipient.  It was all fun stuff and we loved it.  One year my oldest brother opened a gift that contained a single bar of soap.  He looked at it, shrugged his shoulders and tossed it into the pile of wrapping paper in the middle of the room.  My other brother opened a box that also held a bar of soap.  But he, being the more curious of the two, decided to dig a little deeper, reasoning that Mom had something up her sleeve.  He peeled back the wrapper on the bar and found a $100 bill wrapped around the soap.  My older brother took one look at it and made a dive into the pile of wrapping paper to retrieve his.  Mom had struck again.

God has presented us with a gift far more valuable than a $100 bill.  He has given us the gift of salvation and eternal life.  But for so many, the gift seems valueless and it is tossed away as we search for something “better.”   The world today offers so much that glitters and sparkles and promises to fill our every desire, but it always leaves us empty and wanting more.  That is because at the very core of every human being is a longing for God – for our Creator – and it can never be satisfied with anything less.  The more we chase after other things, the less satisfied we become. 

God knows that longing within us because He put it there.  He placed His own image in every human and that image yearns to be joined with God in His fullness.  But the first humans choose sin to fill that deep desire and humanity has followed suit ever since.  The desire remains, but our sense of what will fill that desire has been crudely twisted away from God.  And the hunt is on.

Jesus came to reveal the Father to us, to show us what we truly desire is Him.  And He came to be the bridge between sinful men and women and a perfect, holy God.  The gift of salvation is available to anyone who will accept it.  My friend, don’t toss away the most valuable present you’ve ever been offered.  Jesus Christ holds out His nail-scarred hand to you and bids you to receive this indescribable gift and be truly satisfied.

Where is all this “Peace on Earth?”

Photo from fanpop.com

Photo from fanpop.com

 

The news shows and magazines are all doing their year-end reviews, looking over the storylines and headlines of the past 12 months.  While there are a few bright spots, there is mostly tragedy, war, poverty, abuse, addiction, hate, hunger, greed, protests, sorrow and hopelessness.  It’s as if the world has forgotten the greeting of the angel: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:14).  Where is this “peace on earth?”  Where is this “goodwill?” 

I believe the answer to these questions, in fact to answer to all our questions about the state of the world can be answered in the first words of this verse:  “Glory to God in the highest.”  When we fail to give God the glory He deserves, we are plunged into darkness and our own human depravity takes over.  But if we glorify God, we can see and receive the Light of Life and our hearts are made right.  We do not declare His glory to feed His ego, we do so to redirect and refocus our own minds and hearts on the reason for our existence – to love God and receive His love.  There will never be real peace on earth until there is peace between God and man.  That is why we just celebrated Christmas, because God made peace possible when He sent His Son to earth. 
My friends, always pray for peace on earth, but remember that the true hope of peace is not through a political process or humanitarian effort or positive thinking.  It is only found in  a relationship with God through Jesus Christ – one person at a time, one life at a time, one heart at a time.

Christmas in the Eyes of Heaven

mary-baby-jesus-angles“Even angels long to look into these things” (1 Peter 1:12).

I’ve always wondered about heaven’s reaction when Jesus was born on earth.  What was the Father thinking?  Did He look over at Jesus’ empty throne?  Were the angels rejoicing?  Or were they silent with wonder?  The Bible doesn’t tell us specifically, but we do have a small clue.

Our key verse is short, but it offers a powerful image.  The word Peter used for “look” means “to bend over to look intently.”  Can you picture it with me – tens of thousands of angels bending over the edge of heaven to gaze upon the Son of God in human flesh? The One who, with the Father and the Spirit, created the first human being had now become one of them.  The omnipotent was now a helpless infant, subject to cold and hunger and pain.  The One who provided all men with all things now needed a young woman to provide for Him.  He who called the light forth now squinted His eyes at the brightness of Joseph’s lantern.   He had spoken the animals into being; now they were His only companions at His birth. 

No doubt they marveled at the sight before them, but they were in awe for the purpose of it all.  The Sovereign Lord God Almighty sent His One and Only Son to pay the penalty for humanity’s sin.  They had always known that God is complete love, they had experienced that love for themselves.  But grace. Grace was something foreign to them.  These creatures had rejected and abandoned their Creator; they deserved destruction.  But God offered forgiveness and was willing to accept these rebellious humans.  To the angels it was extraordinary – they recognized the greatness of God’s offer.  Peter said they “eagerly desired” this know grace.  It is a gift only human beings can receive.

This Christmas Day, as you unwrap presents and embrace loved ones, consider with fresh eyes the gift of God’s grace.  It is, in fact, the true heart of Christmas.

What Do You Want for Christmas?

165043-849x565-christmas-giftsWhat Do You Want for Christmas? Jewelry? Clothes? A good book? Something for your house?  Or you just might prefer the one-size-fits-all cash gift.  Sometimes our wishes are pretty big – my son wanted a LEGO® Star Wars Death Star (retail 499.99) – needless to say, he did not get it.  Some of us are satisfied with a bit less.  When I was a little girl, I just wanted paper and pencils – guess I’ve always been a writer at heart.

Or maybe your Christmas list is less tangible – something that can’t be wrapped up and put under the tree.  If you wrote it out it might say “peace” or “joy” or “hope” or “love.” Maybe your list includes “acceptance” or “freedom” or “rest.”  You and I know that we can’t buy those at the mall or order them online.  There’s only one place for these Christmas wishes.

To the one who asks for peace, Jesus said “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you” (John 14:27).  Peace in our hearts only comes through Jesus Christ.  For the joyless David wrote, “You will fill me with joy in Your presence” (Psalm 16:11).  Joy is found in the presence of God.  If you long for hope hear God’s words in Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  In the Lord’s hands we have hope – for this life and for all eternity.  Do you wish for love? “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God” (1 John 3:1).  Not just a little, not even a “bushel and a peck” (anybody remember that?), but poured out on you lavishly, without measure and overflowing.  In fact this same verse fills your request for acceptance – God calls Himself your Father and He accepts you as His child.  If freedom tops your list you can find release – the Psalmist says “O Lord, truly I am your servant . . . You have freed me from my chains” (Psalm 116:16).  The blood of Jesus breaks the chains of this world.  Maybe you, like me just want a little rest this Christmas.  Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).  Just sink back into His arms and let Him carry your burdens and you.

Whatever you long for this Christmas, you can find it in Jesus.  There is nothing on your list that He cannot provide. He who is the greatest Gift of all is ready to give you the gift you most desire.

This Baby

baby-jesus-in-mangerThey say that having a baby will change your life completely, and every parent knows that is true.  You give your whole self away to your child and you never get yourself back.  Your time is no longer your own – your days are filled with feedings and soccer games, and waiting up for them to come home.  Your money is not yours anymore – who ever imagined someone so tiny would need so much stuff?  And then they go to college!  Your priorities are different, your goals are reshaped, and your entire identity is redefined.  And you wouldn’t have it any other way.

There is a baby who will change your life in far greater ways.  This baby will give your life direction and purpose.  This baby will bring you peace in the midst of a storm.  He will comfort you when you are weary and broken.  He will lift you up when you fall.  This baby will bring you immeasurable joy.  He can wash away the stain of guilt and shame and make you new.  This baby brings hope where all hope is faded.  He brings light into the darkest night.  This baby brings healing of body and mind and heart. This baby will change the way you think and the way you live.  He will transform your heart and cause you to love in ways you never expected.  And if all that wasn’t enough, this baby will change your life forever and ever.

This baby left the glory of heaven to save the entire human race.  He brought peace between God and man.  He broke the chains of sin.  He erased the curse of death.  This baby took on your sin and mine; He bore the punishment that you and I rightly deserved.  He surrendered His body to the cross and the grave.  He did it all so that you and I could have life – full and abundant and eternal.  He gave Himself away so that you could get your self back.  This baby – the Lord Jesus Christ – changes everything. 

When was Jesus Really Born?

A friend recently asked me about the validity of celebrating Jesus’ birth on December 25th.  The Bible doesn’t put a date on a calendar, and while we can get a good idea from tracing the astronomical records of a unique star, no one wrote the exact date into the annuals of human history.  Many people have commented that shepherds would never have their flocks out in a field or on a hillside where they would be exposed to frigid temperatures.  But several scholars have noted that generally, the temperature does not drop to those levels until after our traditional Christmas season, so there is reason to assume we’re pretty close.

I did say that the Bible doesn’t give us a precise date, but it does actually tell us when Jesus was born.  Galatians 4:4 says, “When the time had fully came, God sent His Son, born of a woman.”  I find so much comfort in that.    The Bible is chock-full of references to time, from the record of Creation to “the day [when] His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives.”   God actually does have a calendar of sorts – a divine calendar – and all of human history flows according to the plans He made before the creation of the world.  Everything will happen “when the time has fully come.” 

I hope you take that personally.  Because the same God who established the universe’s timeline has your name on His calendar too.  He is moving in your life according to His purpose and design.  He is making things and people and events come together just as He planned.  Beloved, your life is not some crazy quilt with pieces of all shapes, sizes and colors haphazardly sewn together.  It is a work of beauty, precision and exactness, stitched firmly together with blood-red cords.  Every moment of your life has been leading up to the magnificent finished project that will be revealed “when the time has fully come.”

So feel free to celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th with joy and thanksgiving for God’s perfect, divine plan.  And remember that He’s an “on-time” God.  It won’t be a second late.  Nor will it be a second early.  It will be “when the time has fully come.” 

Is This Any Way to Bring a King into the World?

baby-jesus-sleeping“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15)

Why would the God of Glory send His Son to be born of impoverished parents, in a mean stable among filthy animals?  He is the Son of God, should He not be born in a palace befitting His supreme identity?  Should His birth not be hailed by princes and royal guests and feasts and celebrations in the grandest style?  Should His mother not be cared for by the best physicians in the land?  Perhaps that is the way we would have written the Christmas story, but that’s not how the original Author presented it. 

He was born in a stable, on loan for the night.  His mother had only her frightened husband, Joseph to aid her in delivery.  He was greeted by cattle and sheep and all the filth that comes with them.  And rather than a soft bed of luxurious silk, he was laid in the animal’s feeding trough, on a bed of scratchy, rough hay.  His parents were very poor.  We know this because, when the time came to present their first-born son to the Lord according to the Law, they gave the most meager offering allowed – a pair of young pigeons (Luke 2:24; see also Leviticus 12:8).   Is this any way to bring a King into the world?

One of the reasons that recovery groups like A.A. work so well is that they are built on the idea of shared personal experience.  That speaks volumes.  Maybe God sent His Son in this way so the child born in a tiny tin hut in Haiti or on the filthy floor of a crack house in New York would identify in the most basic way with Jesus.  Maybe it was so those who have nothing can find a connection with the God who wants to give them everything.  Jesus’ birth is God coming to the forgotten, the lonely, the poor and the lost on common ground.  He wanted to reach the “poor in spirit, the meek, the hungry and thirsty” (Matthew 5:3-10) and the forgotten.

I don’t know if you are rich or poor, living a life of advantage or hardship, sleeping in a palace or a homeless shelter.  I do know that Jesus was born for you.  And He died for you.  The Christmas story is for you, yes, even – especially – you.

The Glory of Christmas

christmas_lights-489427“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His bring,” (Hebrews 1:3).

For several years we didn’t put up a Christmas tree in our house.  Christmas trees seem like an unspoken promise of Christmas gifts and funds were very tight. It seemed almost cruel to put up a tree knowing I couldn’t put anything under it.  The little bit I tried to save each year for Christmas got eaten up by medical bills and car repairs.  Thankfully our son had outgrown Santa and I tried to lessen the blow by telling him the honest truth, Mom and Dad simply couldn’t afford to buy Christmas presents.  One year things looked a little more promising.  There might be something left for presents after all.  I started digging our four-foot tree and the tub of decorations out of storage.  The little tree was mashed and mangled but I figured, like Charlie Brown’s tree it would come to life with a few ornaments and lights.  Except the mice had chewed through the wires on the Christmas lights and most of the ornaments were broken.  But saddest of all to me was my favorite gold star ornament, the one that was so shiny that it caught the glow of the nearest light and bounced it back into the room.  My gold star was badly tarnished.  It couldn’t reflect anything anymore.  I put it in the box with the other broken things and carried them all out to the trash.  I put the few remaining ornaments on the tree.  It wouldn’t make the cover of a magazine, but it was the best I could do.

All the bright and shiny things in this world will grow faint, but the true glory of Christmas will never fade or tarnish, because Jesus is the Glory of Christmas.  He is “the radiance of God’s glory,” therefore His light will never go dim.  The root meaning of the Greek word for “radiance” means daylight, specifically, the dawn, when the sun breaks through the darkness of night and shines so that all men can see.  The biblical writer John said, “In Him was life and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5).  The Glory of God came into this dark world as a tiny baby with an inextinguishable Light.  Even death could not put out the Light of the World.  Beloved, look past the lights and glitter of your tree and behold the Glory of Christmas.

A Christmas Love Story

manger-and-cross-plain“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46)

Joy. Peace. Hope. Love.  These are the words we most associate with Christmas and for good reason, the birth of Christ ushers in all of these good things.  Joy abounds in this season, especially on the faces of little children.  The angel brought “good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10).  And he declared “peace on earth” (v. 14) to the stunned shepherds.  Many a war has called for a “Christmas cease-fire” so that there might be peace, at least for a moment.  The birth of Christ is the promise of the hope of God for all men everywhere.  And Jesus is the embodiment of perfect, holy love.  Those who believe and receive Him are filled with holy love for God, Christ and the world.  These are perfect words for the Christmas season.  But one word gets forgotten during this holy time of the year. 

Mary’s song – called The Magnificat – is a beautiful and moving oration inspired by the Holy Spirit in the heart of a humble girl.  Mary’s song doesn’t focus on joy or peace or hope or love.  Mary sings of the mercy of God.  She says “His mercy extends to those who fear Him” (Luke 1:50).   Mercy is as much a part of the Christmas story as the “big four.” 

God’s mercy and His love are intertwined in Scripture.  Mercy is the active evidence of His love.  God doesn’t just love you and I from afar, His love prompted Him to act in mercy.  Love touched the heart of God, mercy built the bridge.  Love saw the suffering of humanity, mercy came down to help.  Love couldn’t bear to be without us, so mercy went to the cross.  And that is where the Christmas story truly becomes a love story.  Because Christmas, with all its joy and celebration, is meaningless without the cross.