Anything but Cowards

“God didn’t give us a cowardly spirit

but a spirit of

power,

love,

and good judgment.”

2 Timothy 1:7

Cowardly:   Fearful, unwilling to stand  against opposition, ‘runs from’ rather than ‘stands for.’

God does not want this to describe nor define the spirit He has given each of His children.

The Spirit He has given us, designed to live within us, is very different:

      Power,   (controlled strength, focused on a clear objective needing change)

   Love,    (patient, kind, not self-focused, …1 Corinthians 13 list.)

and  Good Judgement  (clear thinking, accurate perceptions and decisions).

What does that look like?   What is the interplay between those three words?  They’re each uniquely different, yet allgiven within the very spirit of each person who is one of His Children.

All three are powerful words, yet under control, and employed to the benefit of “the other person.”   It’s not about personality….isn’t tied to being a quiet or a loud person.  Introvert or extrovert.  It’s deeper within than that, and impossible to contrive or fake (at least not for very long!)

Those who think that a God-follower is weak, or a person who needs “a crutch,” don’t have any accurate understanding of the very Spirit He has placed within those who are His.  These are leadership qualities.  They describe people who make a difference in their circles of relationship.  ..people of influence.  These are those who have impact and are catalysts of change in their personal world and beyond.   And notice there is no distinction of male or female here.

When God’s Spirit is invited into someone’s life, impact and influence will be a direct outcome  if we cooperate with the Spirit He has given us…put inside of us.

Every tiny or grand corner of our world needs this.

So pull up those bootstraps and…. BE!

Let His Spirit BE within you!

God is Faithful and Reliable

“God is faithful and reliable

 

“God is faithful and reliable.

If we confess our sins, he forgives them

and cleanses us from everything we’ve done wrong.”  

1 John 1:9

 

I was in a quandary this morning regarding a decision I had to make.  I had gone back and forth on whether to do something or not.  I knew that either choice would be “OK”…but I wanted to be more sure of making the best decision.

Then, this verse popped out to me, and the reminder that He is faithful and reliable.   It is stated as such a strong fact.  As I struggle with circumstances that seem to be changing by the hour, I needed to return to that grounding fact that God is faithful and reliable.  What follows seems to be an example . . . one of the most basic facts of our faith.  We hold to that fact as a foundational example  of our faith:

Confession, Forgiveness, and Cleansing “from everything we’ve done wrong.”

I can easily trust God to forgive and cleanse me.    Confession, forgiveness and cleansing are the foundation of why I can even havea relationship with Him.   It is easy for me to accept, practice and believe.

It gets a little harder to keep in the forefront of my mind this verse’s two named facts of His very Character in the day to day circumstances that call for decisions and actions.  When I’m not sure of what I must do or not do, I need the reminder of His faithfulness and reliability.  No matter which decision I make (when it’s not a matter of sinful actions), I need to remember that He is faithful…..He will continue to be with me, hold me in His Hand, and walk with me through whatever is ahead.   And He is reliable.  He doesn’t come and go.  I can be confident that He might let a rug be pulled out from under me, but will BE there with me, no matter what is going on around me.

If I can trust Him to forgive me and that He has removed that barrier of sin that had barred me from spending eternity with Him, then I can also trust Him to  be faithful and reliable….both qualities I need to keep in mind in the daily, moment-by-moment decisions and actions that I take.  It would be easier if He’d just shoot a memo to me with clear directions of what to do or decide in my daily life.  But that’s not been my experience.

So, knowing Who He Is in my life, I can walk through my day and make the choices and decisions that seem to be right.  And His Character, especially faithfulness and reliabilityare with me each step of the way.  Even in the “mis-steps”, His unchanging faithfulness and reliability will be there to guide, correct, and calm my heart and mind.  He will is there, present, to guide me through whatever may come.   What a sweet reassurance!

 

Nothing Can Separate

Nothing Can Separate image

 

“We know that all things work together for the good

 of those who love God

—those whom he has called

according to his plan.”

Romans 8:28

 

In the context of talking about the impossibility of ever being separated from God’s Love  for those who love Him, we see this beautiful encouragement.  It helps to put everything that happens in our lives into God’s Perspective.

He called your name.  He called my name.  And since we experienced  His Call …. perhaps a whisper…. He has been working out the Plan into which He has written our names.  We can be sure that it’s allgood.   No mistakes on His part.  Nothing missed or forgotten.  Nothing random.  Nothing too messed up for Him to weave into His Plan, and create something even more amazing by using the flaws He lovingly works into His Artistry.

He has Called your name, because of His Love for you.  He has chosen to weave you into His

Plan . . . for Eternity.

Whatever our pain . . . loss . . . failures . . . tragedies . . . His Plan has not changed. Set in motion before this world existed, His Plan moves forward.  And, oh so patiently, He has chosen to weave us, flaws and all, into His Masterpiece.

And someday, we will see the unveiling, including our own beautifully flawed piece, of what He has been creating.  It will be finished.  And all we who love Him will see . . . and at last understand.

Shepherds First?

“Shepherds were in the fields near Bethlehem.

They were taking turns watching their flock during the night.

An angel from the Lord suddenly appeared to them.

The glory of the Lord filled the area with light, and they were terrified.

The angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid! I have good news for you,

a message that will fill everyone with joy.

Today your Savior, Christ the Lord, was born in David’s city.”Luke 2:8-11

In the West, we don’t really “get” the shepherd concept.  Shepherds are not in our frame of reference or experience.  But in the Middle East and North Africa, “shepherding” is

the ancient foundational occupation, and woven within the fiber of much of the Bible.

So, what is it about shepherdsthat God would bring them into the Story of Christmas as the first ones to be told by the angels that Jesus, the Messiah, the Promised One, had been born?  In human logic, it is confounding.  But it wasn’t the first time, nor the last, that God chose shepherds to be part of His Plan.  (Abraham, Moses, David,…)

Shepherding is a 24-hour, thankless job, dealing with truly “dumb” sheep that need a lot of care and attention.  Shepherds know the sky…using the stars to keep their sense of direction when far from home in open fields with their flocks for months at a time.  Sleeping with “one eye open” for any preying animal or thief.  It’s a lonely life.  They were some of “the least of these” in society.  They were not people of influence.

But they knew what it meant to “lay down one’s life for the sheep.”

So that night, as the world slept in their houses under sheltering roofs, something was going on in the Heavens that had never happened before nor since.  A Plan that had been in the making since (and before) Creation was dramatically unfolding, as the world slept.

The stars were pinpointing it.  The angels were announcing it.  God had put Himself into the smallest, most vulnerable human form to come to the earth so that mankind could have a glimpse of Him in a way we could begin to understand and know Him.

Perhaps the shepherds were the only ones attuned enough to hear.  Paying attention enough to see.  Humble enough to listen.  The Shepherd of all shepherds had come to a stable used to shelter sheep and other animals.  Perhaps shepherds were the only ones courageous enough to walk through the night and step into a dirty, smelly stable.  Whatever the reason, on that night of all nights, the shepherds were first to come and see….to come and worship the Good Shepherd when He arrived on this dark earth.

And I wonder . . . what would I have done?

Stranger in the House

Part 2

30 “The angel told her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. You have found favor with God.

31 You will become pregnant, give birth to a son, and name him Jesus.

32 He will be a great man and will be called the Son of the Most High.

The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.

33 Your son will be king of Jacob’s people forever,  and his kingdom will never end.”

34 Mary asked the angel, “How can this be? I’m a virgin.”

35 The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come to you, and the power of

the Most High will overshadow you.

Therefore, the holy child developing inside you will be called the Son of God.”

 

Following the Angel’s reassurance and encouragement to this frightened young teenager whose world is about to turn completely upside-down (vs.28-30), he goes on to give her some of the practical details.  She has no idea at this point what this Stranger in her house will say.

In one sentence,three points, (v.31) he presents the mission she has been asked to join:

  • Become pregnant;
  • Give birth to a son;
  • Name Him Jesus.

I don’t know about you, but I’d probably have tuned out after the first bullet-point.  It seems to have been true for Mary, as well. . . “How can this be?  I’m a virgin.” (:34)

The Stranger had moved right on to His most important subject….all the unfathomable descriptions concerning this Baby who was about to turn her world  upside down.(:32-:33)  But, Mary apparently was still stuck on the very first step of her future. . .

And to add to the complications, she was engaged.  But she probably wasn’t even thinking of what to do about that!

(:31)  “You will become pregnant….”

She asks, “How can this be?  I’m a virgin.” (:34)

God has the full plan….sees the past, future and present all at the same time.  Time and human limitations are not any problem for Him.  And His unending patience  is just part of how He continues to interact with  us.   His patience with Mary is so gentle!  The Stranger steps quickly into her questions and her shock.  There is no condemnation like, “Where is your faith?   Do you doubt me?  Do you doubt God???”….none of that.  So patiently and gently the Stranger takes a step backward to meet Mary where she’s become stuck.  He walks her through the process, from the start…

The Holy Spirit will come to you…the Power of the Most High will overshadow you.”

It would not be a physical interaction for this young virgin. It would be Spirit…the Holy Spirit….coming to her.  Then God’s Power would cover her….”overshadow”…. A shadow is not a being…there is no human tangible substance in a shadow.  You can see a shadow, you can be “in” a shadow.  But there is nothing to do with a shadow that is physical.  There would be the Power of God present, but that thought, hopefully, is one of wonder and awe…not fear.

The work would be all on God’s part.   Mary would only have to be willing to let Him do His work in her life.

Something so far beyond human understanding, yet brought to her with respect, gentleness, patience, and allowing her to ask questions and be answered in human terms that she could try to absorb.  No guilt.  No condemnation.  The pure nature of the Holy Spirit was so beautifully displayed through the Stranger in His interaction with young Mary.

Asking “How?” of God isn’t wrong.  We may not be able to absorb or fathom His “How’s”, but it isn’t wrong to ask.  And then hold on tightly each step of the way ahead.

 

Stranger in the House 

Part 1

“The angel went to a virgin promised in marriage to a descendant of David named Joseph.

The virgin’s name was Mary.

 When the angel entered her home, he greeted her and said,

“You are favored by the Lord! The Lord is with you.”

 She was startled by what the angel said and tried to figure out what this greeting meant.

 The angel told her,

“Don’t be afraid, Mary. You have found favor with God.’”  Luke 1:27-30 GW

 First, a little Middle-East context:

  • It is the most common place for women and girls to be: In the house.  For a woman or young girl to be outside doing anythingalone is questionable…even dangerous.  It gives a sense of being unprotected, vulnerable, or even morally questionable.
  • Visitors and guests to a home are honored, and show honor. When a guest comes to the home, they make their presence known by announcing “Peace”….(Shalom!  Salaam!)  It puts the person inside the house at ease.  (no doorbells or intercoms!)
  • The greeting from the angel was different from any other throughout the history of the world. Within middle-eastern greetings, there are traditionally polite inquiries as to how family members are before getting down to the point of the visit.  That point may be further delayed by greetings from other family members or friends in the home.
  • This greeting appears to come quite quickly in the conversation. He did not ask first to speak with her father or mother.  This Messenger had information to share that needed to be said directly, without delay. “You are favored by the Lord!” “The Lord is with you.”   How kind the angel was to assure this young, unsuspecting girl that God was the One who was sending the message, and that it was ALL GOOD.
  • This Stranger called her by name.  He knew her name. Knowing a person’s name, and calling them by name breaks through many unspoken barriers. Knowing someone’s name is a big step toward singling out someone from the crowd.  My name identifies me as a unique individual.  It is the “title” of my identity.
  • “Mary” . . . was the Messenger’s way of making her realize that this conversation was very specific, unique, and within the context of a very personal one-on-one connection. She wasn’t just a random young girl.  He wasn’t just talking to the first available female in the house.  She had been pinpointed.  He, speaking for God, knew her by name.

God’s Messenger, carrying out to the detail what God had given him to communicate, includes such gentleness and sensitivity toward Mary:

  • He came to her….within her context…within her daily life; her most comfortable setting;
  • He respected her culture. I’m sure this isn’t the “normal” culture of Heaven;
  • He was sensitive to her mental and emotional reactions…especially fear;
  • He calms and reassures her first, so that she could even hearthe words He was sent to tell her.

This is how God, through His Holy Spirit, approaches us.  He “knocks at the door of our heart.”     He waits for us to open the door and invite Him in.   He does not barge in uninvited.  He calls us by name.  His Spirit – the Comforter – comes to us and oh so patiently begins to show us the Plans He has for my life, and unfolds more of the picture as we slip our hand into His and begin to walk the Path upon which He leads us.  One step at a time.   (to be continued)

“To” is Harder

“Mary said, ‘My soul praises the Lord’’s greatness!

My spirit finds its joy in God, my Savior,

 because the Almighty has done great things tome.

His name is holy.’ ”

Luke 1:46-47

I never get tired of the Christmas Story, nor of spending time contemplating its innumerable facets.  I’ve heard the story read at Christmas time since my earliest memories.

Today, as I read this familiar passage, I was struck by a tiny word that wasn’t the familiar version I had memorized as a child.  The little word “to” caught my attention.  I had always known it to be “for” me.  Today, it was different  –  “…the Almighty has done great things to me.” A tiny word can make a lot of difference.

Mary’s entire world and life turned upside down when she accepted the role of being the mother of the Messiah.  Throughout the ages since then, Mary has been honored, praised, and beloved.  Her change in status throughout history has been uniquely honored.  This would be the aspect that comes to mind when I read “…the Almighty has done great things forme.” Which is absolutely true.

But, while the miracle was taking place inher, and all the days of her life following the birth of Jesus, God was doing great things to her.   He was literally changing her body, her heart, her family, her community, and her future.  Much of those changes were painful, unpopular, and challenging.

It is far easier to embrace what God does forus.  But it is much deeper, more intimate, scary and life-changing when we allow God to do what He wants to us.  It is much more risky to invite Him into my life.   It will change not only my present, but my future.  And those life-alterations are not in our control.

It all comes down to a matter of choice. . . the choice to trust Him with my life, no matter what.  Or will I hold onto my life as tightly as I can?  Will I desperately hold onto His Hand, do what is hard, painful, seemingly impossible….simply because He’s asked me to?   Or not?

Unlikely Threat

“He [King Herod] called together all the chief priests and the experts in the Scriptures

 and tried to find out from them where the Messiah was supposed to be born.

They told him, ‘In Bethlehem in Judea.

The prophet wrote about this:

 ‘Bethlehem in the land of Judah,

you are by no means least among the leaders of Judah.

A leader will come from you.

He will shepherd my people Israel.’” 

Mtt.2:4-6  GW

desert spring blog by Janet Lenz Unlikely Thread

Herod, an egocentric, scheming King calls on top religious leadership – ‘experts in the Scriptures’ – under the guise of wanting to worship the Messiah.  But his heart was focused on removing the Messiah’s perceived threat to the King’s position.

The religious leaders knew their Scriptures, and readily shared the ancient prophecy of where

the Messiah would be born.  Religious top leaders, and now political top leadership knew where

the Messiah would first touch the earth.  Bethlehem.  Considered to be least among the leaders of the land.”

In the midst of those top leaders, the ancient prophet’s words rang out.  “A LEADER will come from you (Bethlehem.)”   But not a political leader.  Not a wealthy leader.  Not a flashy or self-absorbed leader whose goals in life would be fame, wealth, or popularity.  This “leader” would be a shepherd.  The Shepherd of all shepherds, a drastically sharp contrast to the leaders hearing the words of that ancient prophecy.

A shepherd’s life included…

     …no house to shelter him

      …no pillow for his head each night

      …no money to accumulate towards a better life

      …long absences from a wife to care for him, love him,

      …long separations from his children to snuggle every morning and night

      …away for months at a time to provide good pasture for his flock

      …no prospect of wealth, influence nor popularity

The ancient words spoke of a simple shepherd.  A Shepherd of God’s people, His “Sheep,” with all of the struggles and dangers of that humble shepherding life. A Protector, Leader, Provider, always “on call”, always watchful.  Always ready to use his simple tools – a staff, a rod – with the expertise of keeping at bay all of the dangers lurking in the shadows, watching for the opportunity to steal and devour a helpless lamb.  A Shepherd who could read the stars in the night sky to navigate the sense of direction he must have.  A Shepherd who understood the sweetness of a song in the silent night. 

May this Christmas season find us sheltered under the loving care of our Good Shepherd.

What’s in a Name?

gareth-harper-175342-unsplash

“So the Lord himself will give you this sign:

A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son,

and she will name him Immanuel [God Is With Us].”

Isaiah 7:14

Try to imagine young Mary, a teenager, unmarried, having grown up under the powerful, evil rule of an occupying government, where every move you make is watched, controlled, and dictated by cruel men who have no tolerance for nor acknowledgement of the God of Israel.  Underneath that dangerous dynamic was the power of the Jewish religious leadership, whose authority dictated all daily life…especially the inner world of faith, attitudes, behaviors and connections with God.

Mary would have been taught the ancient Scripture prophecies about the Messiah Who was to come….the One who would save her people from thousands of years of suffering.

In a moment of her everyday life, she was transported into the ancient Story…the ancient Promise that they had all been longing for.

She would carry and give birth to that baby boy, “Immanuel.”  God is With Us.   God had set it up…every detail, and brought Mary into that world-changing story. God entrusted Himself in the most vulnerable form, into the arms of a young girl…  She would have to hold Him close to her heart from the moment He entered this world.

The angel instructed both Joseph and Mary, separately, to name her baby, “Jesus.” (Meaning: He Saves.”)  A far more common, unassuming, and simple name.  I wonder if that wasn’t a ‘mercy’ for that new family.  Can you imagine how complicated it would have been if the “official”  ‘Immanuel’ was the public name!   “God-with-us”, it’s time to eat!  God-with-us, where are you?  God-with-us, come help your father!”

Oh! How she would need to know that God was with her from that day on.  Every day.  Every time she spoke her tiny baby’s name…every time she called to him as he played or approached an everyday danger, or heard the cruel whispers of shame from her neighbors.

“God is with us.”

“God is with me.”

As we walk through these days remembering that moment in Time when God came to us in baby-form, may our hearts embrace God where He always intended to be….With Us.

With me.