I’m Fine, It’s Fine

Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think to yourself that in the king's palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. Esther 4:13

In a way, I hope you’ve never heard of Annie Lobert.  But, if you or someone dear to you has ever found themselves trapped in the world of sex-trafficking and drug abuse I pray that God would lead you to Annie.  She started out as an ordinary girl from Minneapolis, Minnesota.  She became a prostitute, exotic dancer and drug addict.  To make more money she moved to Las Vegas, Nevada with her then boyfriend who soon took her ID, her cell phone and every penny she earned, in effect turning her into a sex slave.  After five years of physical abuse she escaped her pimp.  In 2003, Ms. Lobert found herself in a hospital, the result of a cocaine overdose.  As she tells her story this was the moment she finally took a true stock of her life and turned to God.

With the support of a former customer who had fallen in love with her, and her new found faith, Ms. Lobert left prostitution behind and started a new life.  The former customer trained her in estimates and service reviews in order to work with him at his auto body and design firm.

A wonderful, true story of God’s intervention into the lives of a non-believer, a sinner for certain.  To some, a “throw-away,” a person so entrenched with the devil that a changed life seemed impossible.  And by all accounts her story, if it ended there, would sound admirable and a great testimony to God’s love for all people.  But that wasn’t His plan.  In fact, if you read all the stories in the Bible, God’s gift of pulling us from the fiery furnace is never the end of the story.  It’s never the end of His expectations of us.  It’s always a new beginning.

“the king loved Esther more than all the women, and she won grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.” Esther 2:17

The story of Queen Esther has some disturbing parallels to Annie Lobert’s.  After becoming an orphan, Esther (a Jewess originally named Hadassah) was raised, by all accounts, by a good and decent Jewish cousin named Mordecai.  However, when King Xerxes decided he needed a new queen he called for all the most beautiful young women to be brought (kidnapped) into his harem.  Night after night these very young virgins were raped by the King.  They were then placed amongst his concubines.  Stripped of their names, their families, their everything, they became sex slaves.  

And Esther, who was eventually selected as the new queen, could end her story at reaching such a high status.  She had received wisdom and help from the right people – pagans and Jews.  She had attendants, great food, a comfortable life.  In fact, when palace intrigued resulted in a decree to kill the 15 million Jews scattered throughout King Xerxes’ dominion she was insulated from the information.  When word came via a messenger that her cousin, a palace official, was at the gates in torn sackcloth crying in despair her response was simply to send him new clothes.  She didn’t want to know what caused him so much grief.  Her life was good.  I’m fine.  Everything’s fine.

“Mordecai also gave him a copy of the written decree issued in Susa for their destruction, that he might show it to Esther and explain it to her and command her to go to the king to beg his favor and plead with him on behalf of her people.” Esther 4:8

It was not known by the king and his people that Esther or even Mordecai were Jews.  But Mordecai’s very public reaction to the decree made their background known.  And therefore, he implored Queen Esther to act on the Jew’s behalf.  She was uniquely positioned to petition the king for relief.  But she initially refused out of fear.  She refused because the king still didn’t know she was a Jew so why not just leave it that way?  Why rock the boat?  I’m fine.  It’s fine.  

She had decided when her God-given new beginning would stop.  For some of us that’s where we stop.  God has rescued us over and over and over.  He has placed us just where He wants us and we stop.  We thank Him for the past with our words and don’t plan on thanking Him with our works.   I’m fine.  It’s fine.  

But you can see by today’s first Bible verse Mordecai reminds Esther that she too will be swept away eventually.  That the decree will come to all of them.  She finds herself at a crossroads of sorts.  To speak to the king without being called by him might mean death.  To not speak up for the Jews will probably also mean death. For some of us we get stuck here.  Fretting about what to do.  And Esther finally decides to show the Lord her commitment to Him — to continue on her new beginning.

Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai,“Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” Esther 4:15-16

She, in effect, prays.  And she trusts.  God had placed her with Mordecai, who himself had good standing in the government.  He placed her with Hegai, the eunuch in charge of the harem with whom she found favor.  Hegai imparted wisdom on how to act and speak around the king.  God placed her as Queen.  God put all the players in place for Queen Esther to bring about the removal of an evil man from the court and overturn the death sentence for the Jews.  And the new edict which she helped the king craft elevated the Jews to such a place that “many people of other nationalities became Jews.” (Esther 8:17) And to this day, the Jews celebrate Purim in her honor.

God is preparing His heroes and when the opportunity comes He can fit them in to their places in a moment and the world will wonder where they came from.  

AB Simpson

You and I are being prepared to be ordinary heroes.  You and I have been rescued by God already so many times and placed here, right now for these times.  But too many of us say I’m fine, it’s fine.  We say it by telling ourselves, our Christian friends, our pastors, that we aren’t needed by God or we don’t have enough time.  We’ve retired and now want to coast. We say we are happy where we are and don’t need to send God a “thank you note” by obeying His Great Commission.  We say we feel uncomfortable feeding His sheep.  We say we don’t need a new beginning.

Warren Wiersbe issues this warning in his commentary on Esther: God will accomplish His purposes even if his servants refuse to obey.  Esther could’ve been the loser in this story.  We either miss out in participating in His full glory like Moses did when he told God not to ask so much of him or we get disciplined like Balaam when he refused to do God’s bidding.

If we love God, love the fact that He loved us before we were even out of the womb, we must be compelled to be His servants instituting His plans.  I heard a pastor today say we need to “Get in, Get out, or Get Run Over!”  Complacency in faith, complacency with the gifts God has given us is no faith at all, truly.  And it certainly isn’t God’s plan for our new beginning.

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” John 21:16

As for Annie Lobert?  She came to a crossroads too.  She could’ve been like so many Christians and said, “Thanks for saving me Lord” and gone about her life.  Instead in 2005, she established Hookers for Jesus, a safe house program in Las Vegas with the mission to Hook (outreach), Hope (Jesus), Help (housing) and Heal (restoration). 

Annie Lobert is an ordinary person committed to God’s plan to rescue others from evil.  We may not all be in the position to save as many people as she will but if we can at least commit to not being “fine where we are” and to ask God every morning to place us in positions to share His Word and do His good works we are well on the way to being an ordinary hero. We would be well on our way to our new beginning.

There are such calls in the Bible as “Universal Calls,”  ones which every follower of Jesus is called to.  One of these is 2 Corinthians 5:17-20:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.  All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

Not Me, Lord

Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.” Exodus 1:22

Whenever I picture Moses, Charlton Heston comes to mind.  For those of you too young to know that reference, Mr. Heston personified Moses in the blockbuster 1956 movie The 10 Commandments.  He was sweaty and swarthy and muscular.  He was bold and without fear.  Some of his final scenes show him standing fiercely on top of a mountain, wind blowing his impressive white beard and long gorgeous hair as he calls on the name of God.  A hero.  A rescuer.  A man not to be trifled with because God was with him.  As usual, the big screen skips over a few of the finer points of history for the sake of the storyline.  Like the fact that Moses, even though God Himself had been his rescuer many times, really didn’t want the job of Israel’s savior.  Of being the leader of the new beginning for an entire people.

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” Exodus 3:11

That interaction alone might lead the reader to think Moses well, he’s just being humble.  But by my count Moses tries to turn God to someone much more suited, much more capable than him eight times!  I can’t! What if!  I’m not!  Why should I?  Sound familiar to anyone out there?

Moses answered, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?”  Exodus 4:1

My BSGs (Bible Study Girls) and I have embarked on a new study by Shirley Giles Davis called, God. Gifts. You.  In our first week we were asked: “Where are you hearing God, but your excuse for delaying sounds a lot like “Lord, I’m afraid.”?”  Moses afraid?  Not that guy.  God saved him from death as a baby.  God placed him in the care of royalty.  God gave him incredible opportunities for gaining knowledge and physical strength.  He saved him from capture.  There’s no way Moses was afraid of yet another challenging new beginning, right?

Eight times.  Standing in front of bush that was talking to him even!  I don’t know about you but if I told my husband when he walked in the door from work that one of my bushes in the yard was on fire and speaking to me about going to the governor’s office demanding, “let my people go!” he’d be very, very concerned.  In fact, this was a point of discussion with my BSGs.  Not burning bushes mind you but whether or not God still speaks audibly to us.  And if he does, do people think we are crazy?  It’s an unfortunate state we are in that some pastors and biblical teachers try to assure us that God doesn’t speak out loud to us anymore.  We must discern His word in other ways.  And while I agree we need to use God’s character, gleaned from His written Word to verify the voice we hear I completely disagree that we no longer hear His audible voice.  I know.  I’ve heard Him.  Some of my BSGs have heard Him.  To me the real question is now that you’ve heard Him, what are you going to do about it?  Are you going to accept the challenge of this new beginning or find another excuse?

Moses, although a pretty amazing and instrumental piece of God’s plan, stumbled even with God’s past provisions clearly given to him and the promise of God’s presence and help spoken to him.   Moses, sometimes called the “Lesser Jesus,” is so often seen in parallel with the Messiah.  Their birth stories are almost identical with a king demanding their death.  Moses was to rescue people from slavery.  Jesus from the slavery of sin.  Moses led the Israelites through the parted waters toward the promised land.  Jesus is our living water giving us the promised land.  Moses was tested.  Jesus was tested.  So, where’s the problem with his hesitation?

But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.” Exodus 4:13

If you remember from Noah or even Abraham when called they went.  And in Isaiah 6:8 Isaiah raises his hand proudly and says, “me Lord, send me!”  It’s hard for a lot of people, I believe to relate to those guys.  We regular folks sometimes are more like Moses.  We list our reasons God’s plan won’t work.  We aren’t smart enough, strong enough, likeable enough, talented enough.  But like with Adam, if God wants us in His service He won’t let go.  He wants us to be part of a new beginning.  And so, he nudges us to the right people and places.  He puts other saints in front of us to help open doors.  For Moses?  He said, “Fine, I’ll give you Aaron to use as your spokesperson.”

But here’s the thing.  Even though Moses is the one remembered and exalted, it was Aaron that got to wear the priestly, holy robes.  It was Aaron that was allowed into the most holy place.  Think if Moses had responded like Isaiah – “Me! Me! I can do it Lord because you have rescued me so many times!”  Moses would’ve been allowed into the whole glory of God, the first priest of Israel.  True, his relationship with God was pretty amazing.  But God clearly wanted even more for him.  

His new beginning, as Moses led the Israelites toward the promised land, would require him to call on the Lord for strength and rescue many times.  I find it interesting that Moses had to listen to all the people constantly complaining to him about why he took them down this path.  Do you think he occasionally thought, “That sounds a lot like I was with God.”? 

Friend, whether it’s a nudging or a clear directive from God I want to urge you to step up in faith and raise your hand.  To use all your resources (prayer, scripture, pastors, teachers) plus God’s past intervention in your life to discern what He is asking of you.  In your new beginning when you step out in faith you can then say “I overcame my fears and allowed God to take my weakness and turn it into strength.”  This blog and podcast was my big step. Let Him work a New Beginning in you and He will let His glory shine brightly through you!

Father of Steadfastness

Then the Lord said, “My spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.” Genesis 6:3

Most people today are familiar with the Wright Brothers – credited with inventing and building the world’s first successful motor-operated airplane.  But unless you are an aero-enthusiast you may not know of Karl Wilhelm Otto Lilienthal (died August 1896).  He was known far and wide as the “flying man” for his attempts to make successful glider flights.  Because of his repeated and public attempts, newspapers and magazines influenced the public and scientific communities into believing flying machines were truly possible.

But imagine walking by his artificially made hill he built near Berlin and seeing this man running and leaping forward into nothingness with a wing on his back.  You’d think he was crazy.  You’d probably say he was going to break his neck one of these days – which he did.  But until that fateful day when his glider took a nose dive, he influenced and educated many who would go on to create our modern “flying machines.”  

History is replete with inventors and entrepreneurs who have been mocked, dismissed, and even jailed.  Many failed in their endeavors while others succeeded – sometimes only after their deaths.  But what they all had in common was their steadfastness.  That commitment to the dream which was placed on their mind by some unseen force.  In my series, “30 Days of Thankfulness,” I thanked God for placing that desire to create, to invent, to improve our world, on our hearts and minds.  And when we look back through the history of the world one man can be described as the Father of Steadfastness to an idea, to a goal of a new beginning placed firmly on his mind – Noah.

So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. 14 So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. Genesis 6:13-14

What makes this steadfast commitment to following God’s command even more amazing is that scholars believe the world had never seen rain.  And here, a man is building a giant boat because something called “rain” or a “flood” was going to inundate the earth.  Oh, how the mocking must have been endless!  With each day spent placing yet another board on this 350 cubit (510 feet) long ship, Noah was like Mr. Lilienthal on his hill making another attempt at flight while the onlookers snickered.  

But Noah wasn’t the only steadfast player in this scene of the world’s eminent demise.  His not-named wife, sons and their wives must surely have been the subject of constant ridicule.  Each day at the well or in the fields the slurs and evil behavior towards them must have been almost overwhelming.  How many of us could say we would’ve remained true to God’s command?

The Lord then said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation. Genesis 7:1

As Christians we so often have been asked what we would do or say when we approach the gates of heaven.  Imagine, however, being told before we leave this earth that God has found us among the few righteous!  Would God say that to you right now?

During the last few years our world has been put to a test.  We, as Christians, have been put to a test.  A flood of sort began to overtake the earth.  Some have fallen away out of the fear of that mocking.  Out of fear of being set apart.  Many have drawn closer, like Noah, in obedience and steadfastness.  And their reward?  A new beginning – a renewal of faith.  A rainbow placed in front of them reminding us that God always delivers on his promises.

Like Noah, each day we commit to be steadfast in our faith we are renewed with His love and His presence.  Noah toiled away for 120 years building that ark, not knowing what the fruit of his labor would produce.  He had no idea what his new beginning would be. He just had a dream of a boat.  And a promise from God of a new beginning.  He put his head down and started building it, as God commanded.  He let the mockers and scoffers slide off his back day after day after day.  His family toiled alongside him, set apart from the world.  And his new beginning was our new beginning.  A chance to make the world a better place.

In our modern world we so often overlook the everyday obedience God asks of us as banal.  Yet the steadfastness of say, Christian parenting, produces so much good fruit and beautiful new beginnings.  When our children become successful, healthy adults we get told it is “luck.”  But Noah didn’t go about his work with a rabbit’s foot in his pocket.  He was diligent, sticking with God’s plan.

Each day it seems the work of Christian steadfastness gets harder and harder.  I’d bet as Noah’s massive ship grew closer to completion and stood out taller than the trees more and more people threw insults at his family.  God’s path to our new beginning is rarely easy.  In fact, during the Christmas season I kept hearing the same Bible passage over and over:

Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. Luke 12:51-52

This message from Jesus makes many uncomfortable.  During the last 50 years or so the prevalent message painted of Jesus is as a kindly, gentle god.  One who just wanted everyone to get along.  But that rejects so much of Jesus’ teachings and life here on earth.  It rejects the idea that there will be mockers and scoffers while we seek to be steadfast in obedience to God.  The apostles, whom many were surely educated about the steadfastness of Noah, themselves were faced with the same challenge. And while we are called to be peacemakers where possible, when we “go along to get along” we join the audience watching Noah build his ark.  But the flood will come – not as water but in the ways as described in Revelation.  

Friend, it’s time for your new beginning.  It’s time for you to make a commitment to steadfastness.  The world, in general, may never know how your heart has changed but God will.  Your family will know, your friends will know.  Be ready for the mocking, but also be ready to help others board your boat. 

What is God asking you to do today that might set you apart?  Your steadfast commitment to it may just be your new beginning!

After Eden

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27

During December of 2020 many people kept announcing that “next year will definitely be better.”  I could understand the longing, the hope and desire.  Let’s face it, 2020 was rife with fear, loss, despair, and worry.  I told people around me to be careful romanticizing the turn of a calendar.  Who knew what 2021 would bring – floods, fires, more plagues, death, political uprisings? And it certainly didn’t disappoint.   A short walk through say, the book of James or Jude, reminds us that trials of many kind befall us each and every year.  It’s our response to those trials that set us apart from the world.

So often when we think of “new beginnings” we can think of them as an adventure, something exciting to embark upon.  Probably something God will guide you through to success.  But what if your new beginning is a result of a terrible trial?  A loss?  Will you still seek God and see Him at work in the midst of it all?

If there’s one man whose new beginning exemplified having to start all over, having lost it all, it was Adam.  He had everything you and I could ever want.  A beautiful home, plenty to eat and drink.  No worries except what to name the next animal.  His yoke was light.  He was to be the way maker for all of us.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.  Genesis 2:15

And when Adam failed to honor his end of the covenant he did what so many of us do when we fail God – he tried to hide.   Instead of running to God asking for forgiveness He compounded his sins by acting shamefully. But God.

But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” Genesis 3:9

Millions of Christians and non-believers know the story that took place in the Garden of Eden.  But when we look at God’s actions we see His loving care for humans, His unique creation.  He knew Adam had failed yet notice He didn’t let him go.  He sought Him out with a gentle question.  He could have immediately wiped the slate free of humanity after the betrayal.  Instead, God clothed Adam in new garments and gave him new skills then sent him off on a new beginning.  A chance to be the first step in the long path toward the new Adam – Jesus.

And Adam, by all accounts accepted the results of his sin and moved forward into his new beginning.  A life outside the walls of Eden but one in which God was fully present.  Adam and Eve didn’t step outside the gates, plunk down and give up.  They didn’t choose to live in shame and despair.  No, they knew God.  They knew God still loved them and cared for them. So they took the new direction God gave them and made a new life.  I love the last few lines in Genesis 4 in which Adam and Eve are mentioned:

At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord.  Genesis 4:26

Adam and his family never stopped worshipping God and talking with Him even though they had suffered a great loss.  They brought their first fruits to Him and stayed close to God.  And their work, their new beginning, brought others to God as well.  If not for their commitment to God’s new beginning laid out for them there wouldn’t have been their son Seth.  And Seth led to Noah. Without Noah there wouldn’t have been a righteous man left to continue humanity.  God’s plan at work.  God’s plan working even when it comes out of sin or loss.  It’s our job to keep trusting Him and accepting Him at His word.

I’ll be honest, for most of my life I’ve been an avowed pessimist.  It’s taken a lot of work by our triune God to help me see Him in my trials.  To see how He is working a good, new thing in our lives.  When circumstances go wrong around me my new attitude is that God is in my midst.  He does want all things to work for good.  I may never know how my commitment to Him will affect the Grand Plan.  But I do know He never left Adam and He will never leave you.

Have you been tempted to give up on God after a trial or loss? God is still working in your life. He’s asking you to trust Him. Call on Him today for strength to live in your new beginning.

New Beginnings

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. Genesis 1:2

Before Christmas I was listening to an episode of White Horse Inn, a podcast by reformed theologians and pastors.  The episode, titled O’ Holy Night, focused on the beauty and glory of what happened that first Christmas night.  They started by explaining how Mary was, in effect, barren, empty.  God used her barrenness like He did the universe to create something new, something out of nothing.  It was the reason a virgin was selected to show how God is the great Creator.  

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”  The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.  Luke 1:34-35

Each time I hear or read of a connection that weaves through the Bible from the beginning to the middle and to the end I find myself having an “ah, ha moment.”  Barring heading off to theology school and learning about all these connections in a short time span,  I hope to keep hearing about the Grand Story and all its connectedness throughout my days.  It’s like coming upon a complete sand dollar at the beach or a beautiful, out of place flower in an otherwise barren landscape.  You, at first can’t believe your eyes; then you stoop down to look closer.  And then you pop up looking around to tell someone – because it might not be true unless you can verify it.   You want to share the moment, the beauty, the awesomeness of it all.  Meanwhile others pass by seemingly uninterested or unseeing.

About a month ago I had the opportunity to attend a weekend workshop by Nancy Guthrie on biblical theology.  For those unfamiliar with the term, it’s taking a theme found in the Bible and tracing its path from Creation to Consummation (typically Revelation).  It helps us to see the Grand Story of God and all the tiny threads that create one massive character profile of our Creator.  And how all stories lead us to Jesus.

I decided for this next series to take up the challenge Mrs. Guthrie gave us that weekend.  To start looking at chapters in this thousands-year old story as one through various themes.  And who could resist starting the new year with the theme of New Beginnings?  

We live out our own lives through a long series of new beginnings.  From the creation of our very being to our entry into society and from there taking on new challenges whether school or jobs, a marriage or even a marriage to the church we look toward tomorrow for that new step.  

If we are blessed to live a long life, we will find ourselves with new beginnings in our families and as we reach retirement.  And for some, new beginnings may be what it takes to remove ourselves from addiction, abusive relationships, broken marriages, and even criminal behavior.

In the next few months, we will walk through a number of new beginnings found in the Bible.  Beginnings, like Noah that needed just one small family to see the entire Earth be reborn.  Beginnings like Rahab’s that started out of selfish need and God turned to good.  And beginnings like Jonah who ran as fast as he could from starting new but God, when He selects you for change won’t let go.  And quiet new beginnings like that of Onesimus who sits in the background of the letter by Paul to Philemon.

We will see how the character of God shows up each time – from beginning to middle and end.  How He keeps His promise to never leave us, to never forsake us even when we feel so alone.  And we will see how His will is always done and it is good.

"You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds;" Ephesians 4:22-23

My friend, you might be right on the cusp of a new beginning.  It might look terrifying.  It might look exciting.  You might not even realize it at all until you are in the thick of it.  Some of you are longing for a new beginning.  I can promise you this, God’s plan is at work.   He’s right there watching and guiding.  So as this new year begins let’s say a prayer to the Creator.  To help us hear and see what new things He wants of us.  And what old things He wants cast off.  He has a story to tell with you.  Let’s help Him publish it for all the world to see.

Jesus

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. Luke 1:35

Dear God,

I wanted to write to you today and thank you for the amazing gift you gave me and all of humanity.  It was so thoughtful of you to think of us!  I really wasn’t expecting something so wonderful and life giving!  

I am of course, writing to thank you for Jesus.  For that little baby you breathed into Mary thousands of years ago.  For that little child who grew to be a powerful yet quiet man.  God clothed in skin who experienced all the hardships, joys, temptations, love, frustrations and miracles you have blessed this world with.  

I’m so sorry, however, that your Son had to also experience the pain of our sin.  When I think of His last days it brings me so much sadness.  Your gift to us was so beautiful and we destroyed it with a vengeance.  And yet you still love us.  So much so you raised up that gift of Jesus for awhile to teach us a few more lessons before He went home to you.

Heavenly Father, we are entering into a season that should be all about the gift of your Son, Jesus.   Help us, through your Holy Spirit, to remember that little baby, that man, who gave so much in order to cleanse us of our sins.  

Today, oh God, I’m so thankful for the salvation your Son brought to those of us who pronounce Him King of our lives.  Your gracious and mercy-filled gift to us is all we ever need.  I know this small note of thankfulness can never repay you for your kindness.  I look forward to seeing you one day so that I can thank you in person.

Your loving servant,

Kris 

I hope you have enjoyed these 30 Days of Thankfulness! I’m taking some time off from the blog to enjoy this most wonderful time of the year! God bless and Merry Christmas!

Holy Spirit

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. John 14:26

About 10 years ago the church I attended began a series about the Holy Spirit.  I was fairly new in my walk with God and didn’t realize what a big deal this series was for this church.  As the pastor began his first sermon, he kept taking care to deal with the congregation’s feeling of discomfort.  And I kept wondering what the issue was. So, I finally asked someone.  I learned the Holy Spirit just wasn’t something this denomination talked about, ever.  I’ve also since learned other denominations avoid teaching about Holy Spirit out of a fear of being too “charismatic.”  

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 1 Corinthians 6:19

Oh, we crazy Christians.  How often is our religious life marred by fears of how we will be seen or downright lack of knowledge of biblical truths?  Christians who consider themselves “proper and dignified” because they don’t acknowledge the gifts of the spirit are denying Jesus’ own words.  But to deny the Holy Spirit as an equal part of the majestic trinity is very unbiblical!  Jesus, Himself, told us He would send another in His place to guide us.  If we deny this great gift from God what else are we prepared to deny from Him?  On the flip side I know of a young woman whose church taught that everyone has the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues.  That also is denying biblical truths and the work of the Holy Spirit in each of our individual lives.

In the past I’ve described hearing from the Holy Spirit like a tap on the shoulder.  A whisper in my ear which spurs me to either act for God or to stop in my tracks for Him.  To keep my mouth shut when needed and to speak when the spirit puts the right words in my mouth.  I’m so thankful I know the Holy Spirit and love when the spirit weaves throughout my day.  I can’t do this thing called “life” alone; and I don’t want to. 

The Holy Spirit helped breathe life into us during creation.  It was the Holy Spirit that brought so many to Jesus at Pentecost. It speaks to us and guides us in Jesus’ stead. If you don’t know about the Holy Spirit, call on Him in your prayers.  Read what Jesus and the disciples said about Him. I, for one, am so thankful we have this Helper to bring us through our days until Jesus’ return.

Rest

Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Mark 6:31

After a busy Thanksgiving, taking relatives to the airport, and doing some holiday shopping, my husband, older daughter and I took a day off from all the busyness and played golf.  I suppose you could call what I played “golf” even though it didn’t go so well!  But it was nice to get out with them and enjoy a relaxing, beautiful day.  

For a long time, I struggled with resting.  With just doing something fun that had no goal.  Before kids, my husband and I would spend Saturday running around doing errands.  Come Sunday I would start stressing out about Monday’s workload!  When my kids were younger, we always had sports on the weekends with tournaments lasting from Thursday until Sunday afternoon.  These last couple of years I’ve finally taken to heart the idea of resting.  Resting and enjoying all the blessings that God has gifted us.

It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. Psalm 127:2

Toiling and striving and anxiously lying awake thinking about how we can toil some more the next day!  It’s not good for our health and it’s not the life God intended for us.  It’s so sad that two major companies in the United States who made the choice to stay closed on Sundays have received so much grief for that decision.  But the leaders of those companies are Christians who take the message and gift of the Sabbath to heart.

I still catch myself feeling guilty for resting.  I have to remind myself that it’s not a luxury.  It’s a requirement by God.  Whether we are rich or poor, with children or not, retired or still working, God wants us to be rested, ready to do His good works when needed.  

I’m so thankful for this gift of rest.  It shows how much God loves us and wants the best for us.  He wants us to be recharged and energized followers of Jesus.  Not burned out, overworked, stressed and therefore unable to see how beautiful this world is He created.  Unable to stop and help someone in need.  So today on this Sabbath day take this gift of rest freely.  Take time for yourself and enjoy.

Tears

But while he was still a long way off his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.  Luke 15:20

I know the text doesn’t say it but I can only imagine the tears flowing from the father and mother in the story of the prodigal son.  In fact, the King James version says “he fell on his son’s neck” in a dramatic display of joy and love.  Awhile ago, my family brought me to tears of joy with a surprise visit from my daughter, whom I hadn’t seen in months.  I heard the front door open and thinking it was my older daughter I made my way toward the front of the house to tell her hello.  When I realized it was my younger daughter I was overcome with tears and unable to speak.  I stood there sobbing in her arms.

It may seem strange to be thankful to God for tears but without them our world would be so vanilla.  I’ve laughed until I have cried with friends and family.  I’ve cried out to God, thankful for His grace and salvation.  I’ve wept at the birth of my daughters.  And yes, I’ve cried those tears of sorrow, of loss, of anger, of desperation.

Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Psalm 126:5

So often we must weep, live in hard times before we can experience the full glory and blessing of God.  It’s why James tells us we should consider it joy to experience trials.  Because those trials produce good fruit in us.  And that fruit becomes something for us to share.

I have a friend whose 90 year old mother confesses to not remembering the last time, if ever, that she has cried.  What that means is she hasn’t participated fully in the gifts of life.  With each winter season in our lives we are so often rewarded with the spring, a time to bring  us great joys.  I want to go from this life knowing I have cried many tears from laughter, thankfulness, joyous surprise, beautiful surroundings and more.  I heard a Christian teacher say, “If you want the joy of Sunday’s resurrection you must first have the tears of Friday’s crucifixion.”

I’m so very grateful to God for giving us the outward ability to show our emotions.  To show those we love how much we love them, even after they are gone.  I’m looking forward to the day I can cry tears of joy when I see Jesus’ face watching for me from a long way off.  I know that when I get close enough, I will fall into His arms weeping, filled with joy.

Abundance

When the dew settled on the camp at night, the manna also came down.  Numbers 11:9

There’s a lot of chaos in the world these days creating havoc in so many lives.  But if we were to breakdown the situation into two basic schools of thought we’d probably arrive at the concepts of scarcity and abundance.  On one side you have people who believe everything in the world is limited.  Limited natural resources, limited finances, limited opportunities, limited food, limited education, and on and on.  On the other you have the concept of abundance.  That we are limited only by our will to seek, create, build, gather, harvest, and more.

God created a world teeming with abundance.  He has always provided and will always provide.  That’s not to say we don’t need to share in that abundance but rather we should live in the mindset of what we are given is 1) from God and 2) enough.

“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life  does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” Luke 1:14

When we think of the gift of abundance from God, we can be swayed by the world into attributing it to “stuff.”  How much stuff, money, food, etc we have.  We will see that unfold today with Black Friday stories of fighting and grasping for more of that “stuff.” But in God’s world abundance is to be shared.  Whether we are blessed by money, talents, love, possessions, and more God is always asking us to give freely and abundantly just like Him.  

The concept of scarcity entered the biblical story when Pharaoh was worried about the drought and famine.  He greedily began gathering up all the grains and animals for himself.  He worried he wouldn’t have enough.  And throughout the Bible we read stories of people, like the prince who approached Jesus to become one of his disciples, who cannot open their treasure stores because of their fears of scarcity.

These conflicting world views are sometimes used to say Jesus is a socialist.  But that twists the message of the Bible.  A government which forcibly takes from one people (who they deem having too much abundance) and gives it to others (who they deem are not able to live abundantly) is acting out of that scarcity mindset.  Jesus always wants our heart.  He is powerful enough to demand it but wants it freely. 

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” Matthew 6:25

When I see young people on the streets screaming for the rich to “pay their fair share” it really saddens me. What is a “fair share?”  Who has determined what someone is “owed?”  Who has determined what is “enough?”  All that comes from a belief there isn’t enough.  But God has created a world of amazing abundance.  There will always be those that have more and those who have less.  The only person we owe anything to is Jesus.  And when we thank Him for His abundant love for us we should be spurred to share in all that He has given us.