Shalom, shalom

“You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” Is. 26:3

My daughter is a full-fledged teenager now, but her mouth somehow hasn’t gotten that memo. Her jaws are stubbornly holding on to four “baby” teeth, and the orthodontist said they had to go. This morning was Round 1.

Now, my daughter is no girly-girl. She’s not afraid of very much. She’s my partner at our weekly Krav Maga class, and she will straight up leave me black and blue. She’s half my size, but she’s thrown me to the ground on more than one occasion. But somehow, when it comes to medical procedures, she gets a little…antsy. Every time I’ve mentioned her dental work, she’s gotten sullen. Last night, she was trying to figure out if the dog had any germs to give her so she’d get sick and miss her appointment, and this morning she drug her feet, hoping to make us late.

But we’ve talked before about ways to keep her mind calm. She loves to listen to worship music, especially the songs they do each week at our youth service. So she’s downloaded some on her phone, and this morning she decided she’d listen to them on the way to the appointment.

We prayed this morning before we went in, and I specifically asked God to help her have those songs playing in her head during the procedure. When she came out a little later, she was the picture of calm. She said she had indeed had a private concert in her head, and that it had made a big difference in how she felt.

I told her that she’d unlocked a great tool: She’d done her part (by keeping her mind focused on God, and not her problems). And He’d done His part, by keeping her heart and mind grounded and peaceful.

In the Orthodox Jewish version of the scripture in Isaiah, the phrase “perfect peace” is “shalom shalom.” Any time the Word of God repeats a word, it means an extra measure. So “shalom shalom” means EXTRA peace. PERFECT in scripture doesn’t mean “without fault.” It means “lacking nothing.” So, meditating upon God and His word brings us peace that lacks NOTHING. An EXTRA MEASURE of peace. Peace that helps us navigate the world around us, and the storm within us.

So, our part is to learn about Him, to focus on Him, to keep His word in our hearts. And His part is to put our minds to rest, to calm our fears, to give us peace.

God’s peace, like every other aspect of His nature, is perfect – lacking nothing. Rest secure in that knowledge as you focus on Him today.

Seeing right through you

 “All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

I bet you look around you and see folks who “have it all together.” I bet that if you met me in real life, you might even think I have it all together! (Ok, maybe not, but humor me here.) You look at the people in the pulpit, on the stage, and even the greeters in the hallway with the big smiles on their faces and think, “Man, I bet they didn’t have to pull hen’s teeth to get their kids out the door this morning!”

Newsflash: They probably did. Or, they had a “discussion” with their spouse on the way in. Or, they had to mitigate a fight between their parents. Again. Or, they had to figure out which bill was getting paid this week, and which one would just have to wait until later. Don’t these bill collectors know you can’t get blood from a turnip?

But if the people you see around you aren’t transparent, how will YOU ever know they had to go through something just to make it to their pew today? If the people on stage don’t let you know that they’ve gone through the valley, how will you know that God can get you through too?

I’m not suggesting we tell all our business to everyone we meet. I am suggesting that the Bible clearly says that God brings us through trials so that we can reach back and help others. But if we pretend like we have it together all the time and never HAD any trials, how is that glorifying God and redeeming our struggles? How are those around us supposed to come to us for prayer, or point to us in faith, if they don’t know what we’ve been brought out of?

I know you’ve been through some mess. Because I have, too. And so have your pastor, and the praise team member, and the pianist, and the smiling face in the parking lot. And God has brought us all through it (or is still bringing us through). So ask Him who you need to share with today. And if you’re in the middle of it, ask Him to show you who will be that understanding shoulder or that monument of faith. Let the God of all comfort bring some comfort in or through you.

Can people see right through you?

Shut. Up.

“Jericho was shut up tight as a drum because of the People of Israel: no one going in, no one coming out.  God spoke to Joshua, “Look sharp now. I’ve already given Jericho to you, along with its king and its crack troops.” Joshua 6:1-2

Joshua and the rest of his crew had just been told that their long national nightmare of wandering in the desert was over. Hooray! No more manna, man – milk, honey, and (I’m sure) beans and cornbread were now on the menu! Their lives were going from day after day of same old, same old, to finally getting started with what their forefathers had been promised.

But then – they hit a wall. Literally. They were getting the band back together to take over Canaan, and Jericho was the first stop on the tour. Their mojo was working, but it hit a snag made out of stone.

And we love to look at this story, and imagine the Israelites marching around that city for a week and then shouting the walls down on the last day. We sing songs about it and watch children’s videos with French peas taunting hapless vegetable Hebrews. But don’t skip over those first two verses. They’re the key to this whole thing.

“Jericho was shut up tight as a drum because of the People of Israel: no one going in, no one coming out.”

You know what I think? I think the Jericho-ians (or however they were known) were afraid. I think there were probably more Israelites outside that wall than there were of them inside, and I think word had reached their ears of all the great things God had done for His people. Remember Pharaoh losing a chunk of his soldiers and their gear? Remember supernatural provision? Remember divine judgement and so much quail they literally got sick?

They were afraid. They were under a self-imposed siege. They placed all their faith in the wall, and in the hopes that the Israelites would keep on truckin’.

But I think God put that fear into their hearts, so that their defeat would be certain and complete.

 God spoke to Joshua, “Look sharp now. I’ve already given Jericho to you, along with its king and its crack troops.”

Their king couldn’t hide out in an undisclosed location. Their army couldn’t sneak out and come from behind in a surprise attack. Joshua was facing his first big test as Commander-in-Chief, and God had gift wrapped the city for them.

All they had to do was obey his (admittedly odd) instructions. All the people had to do was keep their mouths shut, and keep walking. And then, on the last day, they had to shout to the Lord for the victory.

That’s it. Obey God, watch the walls crumble, and take the first steps into fulfilling God’s call on their lives.

So here’s my question to you: What walls are you up against? Maybe they aren’t obstacles, so much as a gift box. Maybe instead of seeing them as your enemy, you need to see them as God’s way of making sure your victory is complete. Maybe God is going to give you some instructions, and when you follow them, you will have a whole new perspective.

I’m facing some walls. I’ll bet you are too. Let’s look beyond and see them as wrapping paper, instead of a stop sign.

Real help

I look up to the mountains— does my help come from there? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth!” Psalms 121:1-2
We can’t count on our mountaintop experiences when we’re going through the valley.
We want those high times, oh how we want them! We believe that if we just have something good happen to us, we can make it through the bad.
So where does that leave us placing our trust? Not in the God who promises to deliver us, but in the memories of better days – or wishful thinking for a brighter future. It isn’t a bad thing to remember God’s goodness in former days. Far from it! Even the Israelites built their worship around being reminded.
Nor is it terrible to hope for better days. We are supposed to have faith for our deliverance – but not faith in the faith, or faith in the power of hope. We’re to have faith in the One who makes the brighter future possible!
The Psalmist knew where his real help came from. Do we? Don’t place your faith in the high times – place it in the One who made the mountain in the first place.

Never wasted

 “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.” Luke 15:22-24

Our worship leader was encouraging the congregation between songs.

“God can restore what has been lost!”

Amen

“God can restore what has been stolen!”

Preach!

“God can restore what has been squandered!”

Woah.

Do you know how much I have squandered in my life? How much time, how many relationships, how many resources, how many opportunities?

But my God can restore and redeem even what I was foolish with.

I was reminded of the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15, and how a wise friend of mine once pointed out to me that the word “prodigal” doesn’t mean “lost.”

It means “wasteful.”

And it isn’t the inheritance that was wasted that makes this young man’s story so sad. It’s his potential. It’s his father’s love. It’s his rights as a son.

Whatever you’ve lost, had stolen, or squandered in your life. rest in the knowledge that God is in the restoration business. He can even redeem what we were wasteful with and restore us to our place in His family, just like the father in this parable did with the son.

The son just had to come humbly to the father and ask forgiveness. He didn’t even ask to be restored, just to be forgiven. But his father went above and beyond because of his love for the son, and our Father will do the same.

It’s a new year, folks. We have new opportunities and struggles ahead of us, and we serve a God who can and will restore what we left behind in the old one. Seek Him, and He will do more than you can even ask for.

Changed by Christmas

The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.
Luke 2:20 NLT

Christmas, my friends, is over. At my house, the stockings are empty. The tree skirt, devoid of presents, is once again visible. Instead of counting down the days to the celebration, we now wonder how long is customary to leave the decorations up.

But I’m left to wonder, how have I been changed by Christmas?

The shepherds faced a similar dilemma. The sheep didn’t start tending themselves after the birth of our Savior. Life went on with them, just as it does for us. They left the stable, but the stable didn’t leave them! They went on their way rejoicing, and you can bet some brand new evangelists were minted that night.

So Christmas changed the shepherds, even as they went back to their daily lives. Work didn’t magically get easier. They still lived in a country under Roman rule, and they still had to pay the tax which brought Mary and Joseph home to begin with! But they now had a different outlook on life than they did before. They now had a fresh, Heavenly perspective, and they would never be the same.

As you clean up the leftovers and pack away the ornaments, chances are your life hasn’t changed any. The issues you faced on December 23 will still be there on December 26. But this time, you can be different! You have heard the Good News of a newborn king, and you can have a new perspective on the daily grind of your earthly existence.

Carry that joy and wonder back to work with you, back into the hospital room of a loved one, back into your prayer closet where you wait for a prodigal’s return. Remember the good news of great joy that came for all people – me, you, and that crotchety neighbor next door. Dwell on promises kept and prayers answered so long ago in Bethlehem, and know that God will meet you right where you are today.

Let Christmas change you.

Where are YOU going?

“Only I can tell you the future before it even happens. Everything I plan will come to pass, for I do whatever I wish.” Isaiah 46:10

A word from the Lord during a late-night comedy show?

Yes, indeed.

I was watching a comedy routine where a blind celebrity was joking about driving down the freeway. And the Spirit posed a question to me: Why is it not generally considered a good idea for blind people to drive cars?

And I answered back, “Well, duh.” (Yes, yes I did say that.) “Because they can’t see where they’re going.”

“So why do you think you can steer your life, when I’m the only one who can see where you’re headed?”

Touché.

I certainly can’t see where my life is headed next, and neither can you. When we try to manage our own lives, we’re literally blind folks taking the wheel. Talk about scary! There is little doubt as to where we’ll end up if we live that way!”

So, MY question to YOU today is this: Who is sitting in the driver’s seat of your life? Are you blindly going forward, hoping you won’t damage anything too expensive for your insurance to cover? Or are you letting the Lord be in control, leading you where He knows you need to be?

Oh, how silly of us to think we know what’s best! How wise of God to help us to know better!

Move over, Slick. The driver’s side is no place for a blind person.

While you have the chance

“Seek the Lord while you can find him. Call on him now while he is near.” Isaiah 55:6

Do you ever feel the Holy Spirit drawing you to pray, to read the Word, to worship?

It is so, so important not to push those promptings aside, friends.

Even if you don’t think you need to hear from God right then, He is calling you to spend time with Him. Nothing is more important. Not the laundry. Not the dishes. Not social media.

Nothing.

How awesome it is that the Creator of the universe desires to spend time with us! That is not a privilege we should take lightly. When you feel drawn to pull out your Bible (or your smartphone, whatever, I don’t judge), or a praise comes to your lips, or you are compelled to pray – just do it!”

Don’t let the moment pass you by. Listen to Him. Lean in and be with your Father in Heaven. Seek His face as He pulls you close. Call on Him and see what He will show you!

Holy hogwash

“But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.” Romans 7:17-25

I was on my way up to my church for early Saturday morning nursery duty. My car has no radio antenna to speak of, so I usually have some fun seeing just which stations it will pick up and for how long.

What I came across that morning made me sad. Very, very sad.

It was a program put on by a small country church which is part of the same denomination as the church where I attend. The pastor had apparently come back from a vacation, and was speaking on the subject of what salvation should mean to us.

He told his congregation that he’d had many opportunities to sin while on his trip, and because he was so far from home that no one would have known about it. I expected him to say that the Holy Spirit would have called him out on his behavior, but he took a decidedly different turn.

“I have no desire to do the worldly things now, because when I got saved, I really got saved,” he said. “When you get saved, and I mean, REALLY saved, you have no desire to do sinful things any more.”

Wow. I guess I must not be really saved then, because I do find myself tempted to do wrong!

I hate to think that people were tuning in that morning hoping for some encouragement in their journey, and were left with a load of holy hogwash. Because, let’s face it, folks. There is no one, and I mean NO ONE of us who is above sin. Not the unsaved, and not the saved. Just because we asked Jesus to be Lord of our lives does not take all desire for things of this world away! Not by a long shot!

I’m so glad that Paul felt this same way, and was inspired by the Holy Spirit to put this dilemma into words. I’m also glad that just because I’m tempted, and I fall, that doesn’t mean that I’m washed up as a Christian. It means I’m human, and that God’s grace still applies to me.

So, don’t let someone feed you a load of holy hogwash. Don’t believe the hype that only if you’re no longer desiring to do wrong are you really, truly saved. Don’t buy into that lie, my friends! God wants us to do right, but He loves us even when we do wrong – and that’s some good news for sure!

Don’t forget!

“O my soul, bless God. From head to toe, I’ll bless his holy name! O my soul, bless God, don’t forget a single blessing!” Psalm 103:2

Do you ever receive a gift, and, well, it’s not that you aren’t appreciative of it…

You just…forget about it.

It’s easy to do, especially at Christmas, when there is wrapping paper everywhere and a pile of gifts to be unwrapped. We (especially most Americans) have so much that some things just get…forgotten.

Shoved in a cabinet. Placed in a drawer. Hidden under the bed.

God’s blessings can be forgotten too, unfortunately.

Even when things are going badly – especially when things are going badly – God’s blessings are still there. We still have breath in our lungs, and a future before us. We still have something we can thank Him for, even if we have to search around for it.

Don’t worry – I have to tell myself to look under the bed and in the closet for those blessings some days, too. I hide them away from myself, and forget about them. I have to remind myself to remember.

God’s blessings are numerous and varied. He never changes, and He never forsakes us. Just because we can’t see Him and His goodness, doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Don’t forget to remember. Don’t forget to search for them. Don’t forget to praise Him.

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