Advent 2022: Sweet Little Baby Boy

“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son” (Luke 2:6).

They say that having a baby will change your life completely, and every parent knows that’s true. Everything changes when a baby comes. Your time is no longer your own – your days are filled with feedings and diaper changes, and more of the same through the night. Your money is not yours anymore – whoever imagined someone so tiny would need so much stuff? 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 to 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 beyond this life.

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 yourself back. This Baby – the Lord Jesus Christ – changes everything.

I pray you know this Baby, not just know about Him. I pray that His birth is more than a familiar story to you – that it is truth that is firmly rooted in your heart. I pray that His name is sweet on your lips and even sweeter to your soul. I pray that this Baby is your Savior, Beloved, and the Lord of your life.

Consider it Pure Joy (part 1)

Check this out – James says that as believers we are to greet every trial as a cause for Joy.  “Consider it pure Joy, my brothers [and sisters], when you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2). Excuse me? Joy is not my default reaction when life gets hard. I don’t like trials and I’ll bet you don’t either.  But the Bible says that we can have Joy because our trials are not without purpose.  God has a reason for every trial we face.

James follows up our key verse by saying, “Because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:3-4).  We know that we become physically stronger when we work our muscles, and any trainer will tell you that resistance training is the best strengthening exercise.  Our faith becomes stronger when we have opportunities to exercise it as we strain against some resistant force – like a trial.  How will you know that you can trust God if you never have to?  Trials strengthen our faith and lead us into spiritual maturity.

Trials also accomplish God’s wider purposes.  Joseph was hated by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused of rape, and unjustly imprisoned.  But all of those very hard things positioned him to be in the right place at the right time – God’s place and God’s time.  Joseph was used in Egypt to save thousands of lives during the famine, most importantly the life of his own people – the Jews, through whom our Savior, Jesus, would come. Through some pretty hard trials in our life, God moved us back home positioning us for many good blessings including placing me in a great job with the opportunity to further my education – for free.  Trials often become the catalyst for a God-ordained redirection into His good plan.

Our trials prepare us to minister to others.  Paul said, “The Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). I have benefited greatly from the wise counsel and comfort of others who have “been there, done that” and survived.  Their testimony brought me hope and confidence in God and they gave good advice drawn from their own experience.  Perhaps your trial today will give you the wisdom to come alongside someone in a similar situation one day and offer them hope.

This is part one. Part two will post tomorrow.

God is For You

“It’ll all be made right in heaven.”

I remember so well the sweet lady who spoke those words to me at my mom’s funeral. She followed a theme that many others had said to comfort me and my family in our grief. And they are right. God will set all wrong things right one day. All the hard things. All the sad things. All the things that were unfair and unkind. Even all the things that were caused by evil. Paul assures us: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom 8:18). All our tears will be replaced with shouts of Joy.

But in your present moment of pain, heaven seems pretty far away, doesn’t it? Is there any hope for you now? I believe there is. Listen to what David said when he was in a difficult place: “How great is Your goodness, which You have stored up for those who fear You, which You bestow in the sight of men on those who take refuge in You” (Ps 31:19). In the sight of men. Men here on earth. God’s goodness, David said, is not just for the hereafter; it’s for the here and now. It’s for today.

How can I be so sure? Because, in Paul’s words, “God is for us” (Rom 8:31). No, I don’t think you get the whole gest of that phrase. “For us” means on our side, but not just on our side; He is, in the Greek, exceedingly, abundantly on our side. Now take that personally and say with me, “The God of heaven and earth is exceedingly, abundantly on my side.” I can also be sure because I have seen Him at work many times in the hard places in my life. He has taken what others have done against me and brought something good out of it.  He has taken the unexpected trials in my life and blessed me in awesome ways.  He has even taken my sin and foolishness and brought wisdom and ministry out of them. That’s how I can be so sure.

Another verse is marked in my Bible with dates and memories of a time that was so hard I honestly thought it was going to kill me. “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Ps 27:13). I clung to those words like a man in an ocean clings to a life preserver. And I did see the goodness of the Lord. And many years later I can testify that I still see His goodness every day. So will you, Beloved. God is for you. Right here in the land of the living.

JOY!

We made a quick trip to see our granddaughter this weekend. My heart needed this so much. I’m not sure who squealed the loudest when they pulled up – me or her. I may have already mentioned her name – Joy – and how she lives up to it every day. No, she is not my source of Joy. But she is a constant reminder of Who is.

She reminds me that Joy comes from the Lord. David said, “My heart leaps for Joy, and with my song I praise Him.” Just knowing He is mine and I am His is cause for great Joy.

She reminds me that “the Joy of the Lord is [my] strength” (Neh 8:10). When I get weary, and I do, I draw the strength by tapping into the Joy that God provides.

Some of my favorite pictures of her are with a Bible. She reminds me that the Word of God is filled with Joy. “The precepts of the Lord are right, giving Joy to the heart” (Ps 19:8). When I read His words my heart rejoices.

When she dances around – she loves to tap dance – I remember Psalm 30:11: “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with Joy.”

We love to sit and rock together. Those moments remind me that simply being with God is the sweetest Joy. David said, “you will fill me with joy in your presence” (Psalm 16:11) – How can I not have Joy when I am with the One who loves me the most?

Remember how we both squealed with delight when we saw one another? That reminds me of Psalm 47:5 “God has ascended amid shouts of Joy, the Lord amid the sounding of trumpets.” Oh the shouts and squeals that will fill the skies when we see Jesus one day!

The day that was least Joyful for me was the day they drove away in a moving van after being with us for three years. But later the Spirit brought Jesus’ words to mind: “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your Joy” (John 16:22). That promise reminds me that one day we will all be together with the Lord forever. And it reminds me to pray constantly for my Joy’s salvation.

There are more than 200 verses declaring Joy in the Bible. She didn’t write any of them, but she reminds me of them every day. Beloved, you may never meet my granddaughter but I pray that you know the wonderful Joy of the Lord.

A Brand New Day”

It is a brand new day. Maybe, like me, you’re up before the sun, or you may have slept in and it’s mid-morning – or even afternoon. But it’s a day that the Lord has made, so be glad and rejoice in it (Ps 118:24). God has given you a gift today.

It is a day filled with new opportunities and new mercies (Lam. 3:23). Yesterday’s failures are buried. Today is a new slate, bright and clean.

You do not face this day alone; Jesus is present with you (Matt. 28:20).

He is Your Shepherd (Ps. 23:1).

His Father is your Father (Matt. 20:17).

He is your Comfort (2 Cor. 1:3)

Your Rock (Ps 18:2).

Your Strength (Ps 19:14).

Your Shield (Deut. 33:29).

Today keep your heart and mind focused on Him and the worries of your life will seem small because He is so great. Your heavenly Father knows what you need, even before you ask Him (Matt 6:8) and your life is more valuable to Him than anything else in creation (Matt 6:25). He is sufficient for all your needs (Phil 4:19).

He is your Peace (Judg 6:24).

He is your Helper (Ps 54:4)

Your Light (Ps 27:1)

Your Exceeding Joy (Ps 43:4).

He is the God of your Life (Ps 42:8)

Consider how extraordinary it is that the gracious, mighty, sovereign God sang you to sleep last night (Zep. 3:17) and He sent you word this morning of His unfailing love (Ps. 143:8). His is an everlasting (Jer 31:3), unfailing (Psalm 52:8), never-ending (Psalm 107:1) love.

The angels declare that the whole earth is full of the glory of the Lord. (Isaiah 6:3). Keep your eyes fixed on Him (Heb. 12:2),  Beloved, all through this day and you will see His glory all around you.

God, I Don’t Understand!

One of my favorite ways to study the Bible is digging into one book and examining it passage-by-passage, verse-by-verse, and even word-by-word. There is so much wealth in every word of Scripture – and you know how much I love word etymology. But I also want to consider the context so I pull back from the close-up of one word and see the bigger picture of the passage. Pull back a little more and I can see how the passage fits into the theme of the section and even the entire book I’m studying. If I  take this macro-vision even further I can see the bigger-bigger picture of the Old or New Testament and finally the whole Bible.

That’s also how we need to look at our lives. Right now, you may be dealing with something very difficult and all your attention is centered on this one thing in your life. It’s all you can see. You are hyper-focused on this single issue, person, or struggle. May I encourage you to pull back just a little and look for the bigger picture? This issue, person, or need is one word in one sentence of one paragraph on one page of your entire life story. But it isn’t your whole story. God has a much bigger picture in mind. The Bible tells stories of people who had a challenge—infertility, oppression, imprisonment, slavery, rejection, even lack of basic life necessities—and God moved in such a way that the resolution to their challenge became a much larger and more God-glorifying part of their story.

I keep going back to Jesus’ words in the upper room: “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand” (John 13:7). When I want to say, “God I don’t get this; I can’t figure out what happening.” I hear my Lord say, “You can’t grasp it now child, but you will understand when you see the bigger picture.” Beloved, there is a bigger picture. There is a higher purpose. There is so much more to your story than you can see in the moment. Give God your troubles, your struggles, your difficulties, and watch Him unfold something you never imagined. Your life is so much more than this moment. Trust the Author of your life story. He has an eternal ending in store for you.

“Lord, I’m Tired”

I looked in the mirror this morning and said, “Who is that tired woman?” And in the same breath, I replied, “It’s me.” I’m not going to lie, we’ve been through some really difficult things in the past several years. I’m worn out. And I know you are too. We’ve all been struggling lately. Between COVID and inflation and our own hard stuff, it’s been a rough time for most of us. This morning a verse from Isaiah came to mind: “ ‘Comfort, comfort my people,’ says your God. ‘Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed . . .’” (Isaiah 40:1-2). “Lord,” I asked, “when will my hard service be completed?”

Isaiah was a prophet and in the context of the verse, the people’s “hard service” was the coming Babylonian captivity that would be “payment” for their sin and idolatry (v. 2). But our sin debt has been paid by Jesus on the cross. God will not charge us again for what Jesus has satisfied. Why are we – New Covenant believers – enduring hard things?

James said we “face trials of many kinds” because they develop perseverance which makes us “mature [or perfect] and complete, not lacking anything” (1:3-4). Paul agreed with James adding, “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us” (Romans 5:4-5).

Most importantly, suffering makes us more like Jesus. The writer of Hebrews said that Jesus was perfected through suffering (5:8-9). (That is the completion of His divine work of salvation.) And Paul continues the idea when he said, “In all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” which is “to be conformed to the likeness of His Son” (Romans 8:28-29). All things include suffering.

So back to my question, “When will our hard service be completed?” When the work of suffering is completed and we look more like Jesus than ourselves. Beloved, I know you’re weary, but your trials are not in vain. Let suffering do its perfecting work. You may not see the difference in the mirror, but God will see it in your heart.

Broken Glasses

Joy is learning how to swing on her own and honestly, I’m a little sad about that. But there is one piece of her swingset for which she still needs my help – the trapeze. Her favorite trick is to hang upside-down from her knees, so I set her up on it and we count 1 – 2 – 3 and I ease her back and down while she squeals with delight. Of course, I’m holding onto her legs the whole time. Then I raise her back up and repeat. And repeat. And repeat.

A couple of weeks ago she didn’t wait for the count and launched herself backward unexpectedly – and slammed her very hard head into the side of mine. The pain was stunning. My glasses went flying as I instinctively grabbed her legs to keep her from falling. I sat her down on the grass and heard her say, “Uh-oh Nana.” She held up my glasses with one leg spayed out at 20° instead of 90. I tried to straighten the leg but was afraid I would break it completely. The warped leg caused the left lens to sit so close to my eye that I couldn’t blink. It threw my vision off completely. I couldn’t afford to replace them so I wore them warped leg and all and I was constantly trying to adjust them so I could see clearly. My vision was badly skewed and everything was out of alignment. Reading was a challenge and driving was especially difficult.  We did finally get them a little straighter, but this certainly “opened my eyes” to something about spiritual life.

Some of us have a skewed image of God because life has dealt us some very painful blows. It’s as if we have been smacked upside the head and our vision is all wonky. Maybe you’re looking at God through the pain of broken relationships, broken promises, or a broken heart. No wonder you can’t see Him as He really is. Let me straighten your glasses, Beloved – God loves you. His heart is to bless you and heal you, not hurt you. David said, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). That verse gives me an image of a loving father, bending over His child, tending to her wounds, and speaking words of comfort and assurance. Like He is doing for you now.

Morning Prayer

Sharing my prayer this morning. I invite you to pray with me:

Holy Father,

This is the day that You have made, and I will be glad and rejoice in it (Ps 118:24).

Your name is exalted high above the earth and the heavens. You are great and worthy of praise. You are mighty, glorious, wonderful, awesome, good, righteous, gracious, compassionate, eternal, and faithful (Psalm 145). You are my fortress, my stronghold, and my deliverer (Psalm 144:2).

I have awakened to new opportunities and new mercies (Lam. 3:23). Yesterday’s failures are buried. Today is a new slate, bright and clean.

I do not face this day alone; You are present with me (Matt. 28:20).

You are my Shepherd (Ps. 23:1).

You are my Father (Matt. 20:17).

You are my Peace (Heb. 13:20).

My Comfort (2 Cor. 1:3)

My Rock (Ps 18:2).

My Strength (Ps 19:14).

My Shield (Deut. 33:29).

Lord, when my heart and mind are focused on You, the worries of my life seem small because You are so great. Oh, help me keep my eyes fixed on You all through the day.

Gracious, mighty, sovereign God what an extraordinary thing that You sang me to sleep last night (Zep. 3:17) and You sent me word this morning of Your unfailing love (Ps. 143:8).

I make one plea in this early hour – the angels declare that the whole earth is full of Your glory. (Isaiah 6:3). Give me eyes to see Your glory all around me today.

I give You thanks O Lord because Your love endures forever (Psalm 136).  My hope is in You and in Your Word (Psalm 130:5, 7). One day I will see Your face (Revelation 22:4). Until then I will wait and trust. I will watch the skies and listen for the sound of trumpets (1 Thessalonians 4:16).

In the mighty and holy and perfect name of Jesus Christ, my Savior and Lord. Amen

I Promise

You stood together at the front of the church and promised to “love, honor and cherish till death do us part.” Yet, here you are alone and hurting. My child promised to come home on time, and two hours later I’m fuming as I hear his key finally turn in the door. They promised advances and promotions when you were hired, but you’re still stuck at entry-level. What happened? Promises were made and then broken. You’ve been on the receiving end, I’m sure. If you’re honest, you may have been on the giving end as well.

Part of our human sinful condition is that we are selfish and self-centered and that often means we will fail to keep our word. We make promises to get our way. We make promises we know we won’t keep. Of course, sometimes we make a promise and something unexpected causes us to break our promise. Whatever the reason someone usually gets hurt. Someone is placed at a disadvantage. Is it any wonder that we find it hard to trust others? Even God.

One thing of which I am certain is that God is faithful to His promises. His Word is as sure as His character, and His character is flawless. He doesn’t make promises based on feelings, so we never have to worry that His feelings will change and His promises will fail. He does not need to make promises to gain an advantage. He always has the advantage. He doesn’t make promises He cannot keep. He is almighty, all-powerful, and able to do everything He says He will do. He never makes a promise He doesn’t intend to keep. God wouldn’t be God if He did not or could not keep His promises.

What has God promised you? If you are in Christ He has promised you salvation and eternal life. He has promised you hope and peace and joy. He has promised His presence, His power, and His protection. He has promised to provide, comfort and care for you. He has promised you victory over sin and death and this world. Elizabeth said of Mary, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished” (Luke 1:45). Blessed are you, Beloved, when you take God at His Word.