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.

Empty bowls and full spirits

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.” Matthew 5:7

My dogs have two water bowls – one outside, and one in my bathroom. Since they always run straight for the indoor bowl when they come inside, my husband jokes that they must not ever drink anything when they’re outside. (However, the water out there disappears at a pretty alarming rate, so SOMETHING is drinking it!)

One day, one of my dogs went to the bowl while I was folding clothes on my bed. It was empty, so he did what any rational, thirsty creature would. He picked the bowl up in his mouth, and put it down at my side. He was desperate for a drink! He wanted to be sure I noticed his need. He knew he didn’t have the power to fill that bowl, but I did.

Why did Jesus say we were blessed when we got hungry and thirsty for God? Because that’s when we get desperate. When we’re satisfied and satiated, we don’t go looking in the pantry. (Well, I do, but that’s a therapy session for another time.) When we realize our deficit of the Divine, we search. We open doors to Him found in His word and in worship. We don’t rest until we get what we know we so desperately need.

Dry seasons aren’t a curse. They’re a blessing – IF we use them to seek after our heavenly Father. They are a sign that we need more of Him (and we all need more of Him) and we know it. They are a catalyst to a deeper walk with our Creator.

So if you find yourself with an empty water bowl today, don’t just look at it and mope. Bring it to the feet of Jesus, and let Him fill it to overflowing. He wants to! It’s His good pleasure to draw us closer to Himself and satisfy our hunger and thirst. Don’t bemoan your longing – fill it!

Drink up!

Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.” Colossians 3:10

On my front porch, I have several hanging baskets full of ferns. I’ve never been a “fern person,” but they were the huge size and they were on clearance (yay!) so I brought them home and gave them a little TLC. They’ve provided my home with a burst of green color which I’ve enjoyed all summer.

Except – one of the ferns mysteriously started to dry out. I don’t know if it started getting too much direct sun as the summer waned on – I’m no expert on plant life. But I do know that I kept saying to myself, “Self, you really need to tend to that fern. It would be a shame if you lost that plant that you bought for 75% off and left a gaping hole in your fern display.”

Except – I didn’t. I just told myself I would. and every morning, I’d see that fern and really, really want to help it. And every morning I’d feed my dogs, go back inside my house, and forget about that plant until the next morning – when it would happen all over again.

And then – I went on a spiritual renewal weekend. And I realized that I could “say” I wanted to get closer to God all I wanted, but I had to put some feet to my faith. I could get up every morning and go to bed every night with the best intentions, but those intentions weren’t going to water my weary soul. Only drinking from the Living Water would fill me up and help me grow.

It is only as I learn more about my Creator, spending time in worship and the word, that I will be renewed. It’s only in putting off my old nature and putting on the mind of Christ that I will find myself drawing closer to Him.

So when I returned home, I saw that plant in a whole new light. I took off the “old nature” – stripping off the dead, dry leaves. It looked more sparse, but it also looked healthier. And then I gave it a great big drink of water. And by that afternoon, it had more vigor, vitality, and verdant green color than it had in weeks. It was working! There was hope for my fern after all.

Are you wilting today? Is your soul weary and dried out, tired from the constant heat of life’s problems? Don’t just have good intentions. Act on those thoughts. Take away the “old things” that are bringing you down. Drink deeply from the Living Water. Watch as your spirit is renewed,  refreshed, and re-invigorated. Begin to grow, and go, and give life to others. There is hope for you! Drink up!

Waiting on that call

“For I am waiting for you, O Lord. You must answer for me, O Lord my God.” Psalm 38:15

As I write this, I’m waiting on a call. This one happens to be from my daughter’s doctor about some lab results. I’ve been taking my cell phone with me everywhere for the past couple of days (including the restroom!) so that I don’t miss hearing my phone ring.

Some of you are waiting on calls, too. Maybe it’s an actual, physical call, like from a doctor, or an adoptive placement, or a family member. Or maybe it’s a call from God, in response to a cry from your heart. Either way, I’m betting you are on tenterhooks and your sense of hearing is extra perked-up in anticipation!

As much as we hate to admit it, sometimes our “listener” (as I used to say about my daughter) is broken. Sometimes, we take for granted that we have communication with the Most High God, and we relegate prayer to an afterthought. But sometimes, He allows us to go through situations where we are forced to wait, and listen, and rely on Him for an answer. Sometimes He allows us to be forced to “fine tune” our ears, listening for even the smallest pin-drop of a response.

As desperate as I am for my phone to ring with the call from that doctor, I am even more desperate to hear from my God. I am desperate to listen to His instructions, to His voice, to His call. I am desperate to hear His words of love, peace, and joy, as they wash over my soul and take away my fears and frustrations.

Call Him. Listen for His response. Wait. I promise it will be worth it, and your soul will be richer for the waiting.

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