How do you feel about where you live? Are you anxious to move, or do you plan to stay put for a long time?
I enjoy looking at real estate. We talk about moving "some day." I browse the listings often for houses, or land where we might build a home. Our house is great, but it feels a little crowded for a family of six sometimes, especially as the kids get older and want their own space. I daydream about a house with a covered front porch and a little creek running through a wooded backyard, and with plenty of land to take nature walks and have a garden. The dream house has a big, open kitchen and a basement, suitable for having company over. It would have a screened back porch where I could sit and enjoy writing.
But for as much as I think about moving, there’s the idea that I may be too attached to our home of the last twelve years to ever leave it. This is where I’ve raised my children. We’ve made so many precious memories here. We have a nice neighborhood, convenient to schools, shops, and restaurants. It’s familiar. It’s the only home I’ve ever owned. Another thing is that my nine-year-old tells me we can never buy another house, unless we’re able to keep this one, too. She’s adamant that she doesn’t want to move, no matter what kind of place we find.
I understand how she feels. I feel a similar pull between my earthly and heavenly homes. The Lord has given me such joy here that I sometimes conflate my earthly blessings with their Source. But the Bible says, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21) It’s good to think about the moths and rust. If everything were perfect here, I might never want to leave, but earth is not my permanent home. 1 Corinthians 2:9 says, “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” We can’t fathom it all, but Jesus has prepared a place for us where there are no viruses, politics, or social media squabbles. There is no fear or sorrow. There is no worry about the future. Best of all, it’s where He is. That makes my relocation something I look forward to..."some day."
I walked through the kitchen singing a worship chorus I wrote some time back. The song began sincerely. Sometimes, the Spirit takes over and pours out what I’ve kept bottled up for too long—the praises that are owed to the Lord. But somewhere in the middle of my song, a sneaky spirit of pride crept in, and a fleeting thought hit my mind. I wish more people could hear this song. It’s pretty good.
On one hand, the thought wasn’t terrible. We’re called to use our gifts for Him, and that, in part, means sharing them with others. During the time of coronavirus and stay-at-home orders, I didn’t have the opportunity to sing in church. And my well of words dried up, too. I didn’t write for months. I went through a season of unfruitfulness, creativity-wise, and I felt incomplete not using those particular gifts. The longing for an audience wasn’t necessarily bad. It was normal for someone who feels called to share about God through writing and music. But in another sense, the thought was wrong, strictly prideful, and I was convicted as the Lord spoke to my spirit. “Am I not enough?” I heard Him say. “Do you need a bigger audience than me?”
Tears pooled in my eyes. I searched my heart and found an important lesson: When I use my talents, they are not wasted, even if they’re directed to God alone. Every note I sing to Him is of value if it’s done with a sincere heart. If every word I ever wrote served no other purpose but to prove that I would be obedient to Him, they would all be worth writing. Our Audience of One is our most important audience. (There’s a great song called “Audience of One” written by Michael Weaver of the band Big Daddy Weave.)
It’s certainly good to have goals, but I don’t have to stress over book sales and social media followers. I don't count compliments about my singing. I have one number to keep up with—one holy God who is my most important audience. The Bible says, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33) The “all these things” in this verse specifically refers to what we eat, drink, and wear, but I think it can be applied to everything He has planned for us, including our audience. The Bible also says, “Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” (Psalm 37:4) That's a conditional statement; we have to focus on Him first.
In a class at a writers conference last year, author/instructor Michelle Cox made this powerful statement: “God didn’t call you to be successful. He called you to be faithful.” That has stuck with me all this time. No matter the size of the audience, I'll continue to write and sing for Him for as long as He puts it in my heart to do so. And though I work to hone my creative crafts, and I pray to be used for the Kingdom, I'll leave the results up to Him--my Audience of One.
The longer I live, the more awestruck I become at this truth: I have a personal relationship with God. It boggles the mind. The all-powerful Creator of the Universe not only knows my name, He cares specifically for me. Not just mankind. Me. And you, too. The Bible says, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7, NKJV) It’s baffling that human creatures, with all our sin, are able to have anything to do with God, but to think that He cares about us—our hopes, dreams, struggles, fears—is remarkable. Like the psalmist, we have to ask ourselves, “What is man that You are mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:4)
I read an article recently that compared Western and Eastern Christians. The premise of the article was that Christians in the West have a diminished view of God’s holiness because we approach Him casually, as a friend, while Eastern believers express more reverence in worshipping Him as their King. Obviously, God should be revered and respected. He is worthy of our highest praise, and we should honor Him as the King that He is. But I don’t think that precludes Him from being seen as our friend as well. Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” Who can come boldly before the King’s throne except those closest to Him?
Jesus told his disciples, ‘No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.’ John 15:1
I’m thankful that He’s my King, and my friend. Is He yours?
A couple months ago, my son took the seeds from an apple he’d just finished, and, without my knowing, he stuck them in the dirt in a flowerpot in our kitchen. Soon, to my surprise, three little trees sprouted up amongst the flowers, and after a few weeks, I transferred them to a large container outside. The internet tell me that the seedlings have the potential to mature into fruit-bearing trees in about eight years, but interestingly, their product may not be the same variety as the apple from which the seeds were taken, because apple trees do not produce “true-to-seed.” That information led me to research grafting.
In order to grow a specific variety of apple, horticulturists graft a branch (called the scion) from a tree of that variety, onto a cut branch of another planted apple tree (called the rootstock.) The previously separate trees merge together, and growth continues. How amazing! And it’s a beautiful picture of how God made us part of His family, allowing us, as Gentiles, to be joined to the rootstock of Abraham. (Read in Romans, chapter 11 about how we have been “grafted.”) But as I studied the grafting process, another spiritual application struck me. You see, before grafting can be accomplished, a tree must be violently injured. The sharp teeth of the saw grind back and forth through the wood until the branch is cut in two and the dismembered portion of the host tree falls to the ground. The woody flesh at the cut point is suddenly exposed. The tree appears irreparably damaged. Then the tree is further damaged as the gardener takes the grafting knife and cuts deep into the broken part. Maybe you feel like that tree. You’ve been hurt, cut off. A painful, dramatic change has occurred in your life, and you are a fraction of your former self. Things seem hopeless. But please remember that, like for the tree, growth is still possible. It’s not the end. Those places that are wounded can be restored with a new calling, a new relationship, a new perspective; and you will be fruitful, maybe even in a way that is superior to what the original “branch” could have produced.
Just as many individuals are going through a kind of painful grafting process, I believe the church, and even our nation, are going through it as well. And while we may have to wait to see the results, we can trust God to bring healing to the broken parts. He will create something beautiful in time.
“Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.”
I get into my car on a ninety-degree day. The air is stifling. Beads of perspiration form on my forehead in seconds. The steering wheel scorches my hands. As I back down the driveway, it feels as if I’m being roasted alive. There’s no way I can survive those conditions for long. The heat is unbearable. Yet, I don't stop the car and jump out. I don't even roll down the window. Why? Because the first thing I did after I started the car, was turn on the air conditioner. I know it will cool me down soon enough. It only takes a moment to kick in. The discomfort is temporary, fleeting. It can't hurt me. Relief is coming.
We’re living in troubled times. Many people are distressed and scared, and my heart breaks for those who are struggling to find peace right now. But if we stop to think about it, there’s nothing truly exceptional about this moment in history. There has always been trouble, since man’s fall. War, plagues, famine—it’s all part of the human experience. Yet God, in his mercy, grants healing and restoration over and over, in a beautiful cycle of compassionate sovereignty. We hurt, then there’s a reprieve. The fighting ends. The plagues leave. The food returns. History proves that our present trials, however big or small, are temporary. And even more so, our faith proves it. Faith tells me that God IS working things out for GOOD, even now. Whether I see the result or not, God’s plans for His children are good, and He has not abandoned us. And faith tells me, too, that we’ll have perfect peace in heaven with Him one day. Pain doesn't last forever. Whether in this life or the next, relief is coming. That’s how we endure trials--with faith that they are temporary. The Bible says, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5b)
Hang on. Relief is coming.
A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
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There are two versions of Christmas; you probably know. There’s the holy celebration of the birth of the Christ child—the One who came to rescue mankind from eternal separation from God and thereby demonstrated God’s deep love for humanity—where we sing His praises and extol His goodness. Then there’s the Christmas where a decorated evergreen tree becomes the centerpiece of our homes, and we sing songs about reindeer, bake cookies shaped like little men, and stress about finding suitable gifts for everyone on our list. It’s the same date on the calendar, the same holiday in name, but two very different celebrations.
Throughout the years, I’ve struggled to reconcile the two Christmases, to keep them balanced. I tend to focus primarily on the birth of Jesus up until the Sunday before December 25th, depending on when Christmas falls. Our church play and the imagery of the nativity are always the spiritual highlight of the season. Then my mind and heart give way to the excitement of family gatherings, classic holiday movies on television, and seeing joy on my childrens’ faces on Christmas morning. But should there be a balance? Should we even entertain the things that would distract us from the manger?
As I got ready for church yesterday morning, I contemplated the tug of war between the Christmases and was struck by an unusual comparison: Christmas time is like a wedding and a wedding reception. The vows and exchanging of rings at a wedding is holy, the sacred part which is often followed by a let-loose party. The reception, big or small, is the celebration of what has taken place, though it rarely resembles the ceremony. At a wedding reception, the guests focus on the emotion of the day, if not specifically the reason for the emotion. In that way, Christmas is like a wedding and reception—a blending of the sacred and the secular, where the latter depends on the former. All the warm and fuzzy feelings, the less-than-holy feelings of Christmas, find their roots in a singular emotion, created by and embodied in God Himself: Love. We have love because He came. And the joy of the season, even feelings that don’t directly relate to the Christ child—magic, wonder, coziness, generosity, anticipation—are because of Him. Every good gift comes from God. So maybe there is room for the fun of Frosty and Rudolph after all.
Sticking to our analogy, let’s talk about the wedding crashers—unbelievers who celebrate the day set aside to honor Christ’s birth. Our Lord’s name is in the day, yet many who don’t claim Him still celebrate. It’s like not knowing the bride and groom but showing up for the party anyway. They’ll sing carols and bake cookies, string lights and give gifts, yet want nothing to do with the Christ of Christmas. But He came for them, too, whether they believe it or not. And while true joy can’t be found outside of a relationship with Him, a semblance of it exists in their singular version of Christmas, though they haven’t met the Source. Who knows? Maybe they’ll meet Him at the party. When Jingle Bells fades into O Holy Night on the radio, maybe they’ll be drawn to Bethlehem and closer to the truth.
As I think on it more, a collision of the sacred and the secular at Christmas seems fitting, really, because that’s what happened when He was born. The Holy One took on human flesh. A perfect God broke the plane between Heaven and Earth. The Most High took up residence in a fallen world. That’s the reality of Christmas. So as you sing Jingle Bells, think of Him. As you think on the manger, thank Him for the presents under the tree. Our celebrations don’t have to be at odds when we are secure in His lordship in our lives
The interviewer examines the candidate. Stained shirt and wrinkled pants. His hair is mussed and he hasn’t shaved.
“Thank you for coming in today,” the interviewer says, smiling.
The interviewee nods.
“I’ve reviewed your resume, and I’m impressed with what I see.”
The interviewer’s assistant chokes on his sip of coffee.
“I think we’ll be able to offer you a very competitive salary,” the hiring manager continues. “The job comes with a corner office and benefits start on day one. Are you interested?”
“Sir, what are you doing?” the assistant says. “He has no experience in our field. He has no experience of any kind! I’m not sure why you even brought him in.”
“I’ve already said, I like his resume.”
“But, sir, his resume is written in crayon. We haven’t done a background check. We know nothing about this person. And you want to give him a corner office?”
The hiring manager slides the crumpled resume toward the assistant. “See here? He has an excellent reference. That’s why I’m hiring him. This person’s word is all I need to know that he belongs here.”
“But our last candidate went to a top school and has twenty years of experience.”
“That’s true," says the manager. "But he doesn’t have the same reference.”
As Christians, we became children of God through no merit of our own. We were unworthy of being accepted, not qualified in any way to receive His grace. I’m still not worthy, but my advocate remains. Jesus’ name on my resume of faith makes all the difference. He vouched for me, called me worthy with his very life. It’s not a corner office, but I have something even better. I'm an unlikely candidate, but I have eternal life and fellowship with God, by the righteousness of my Lord.
Rom 3:20-25 (ESV):
For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it--the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.
The television had been off for two days. Behavior issues called for drastic measures. But when the two youngest woke me up before daylight on a Saturday, I gave in. I was too tired to engage and keep them quiet enough to not wake the rest of the house. Not without the help of a little electronic intervention. Still, I set a standard. I would choose the program, and it had to at least be educational. The kids, just happy to have television back, didn't complain.
I started the show then shuffled to the kitchen to drop frozen waffles in the toaster. While they cooked, I stumbled around like a zombie, picking up random things that had been strewn about the night before. The boys were happily watching the PBS cartoon. I heard the teacher character tell the students how a microscope works. "Magnify means to makes things bigger," she said. Instantly, God cleared the sleepy fog from my brain and began to grow an idea in my spirit. "Magnify means to make things bigger."
Magnify in Scripture means to praise. Psalm 35:3 says, "O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together." But how might the common definition also apply? How can we magnify the Lord to make Him bigger? (The Greek word for magnify comes from the root megas, where we get the word mega.)
God is already all-powerful, so there is nothing bigger than Him in that sense. But we need to continually make Him bigger in our lives, of greater importance. We need to give him a bigger space to operate through us, by eliminating worldly distractions. We need to use spiritual eyes to see Him as bigger. It doesn't take a microscope. It takes removing the blinders of the flesh to see Him for what He is.
Let's look at three uses of the word magnify in Scripture that describe different ways in which God is magnified.
Psalm 69:30 says, "I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving." Being thankful makes God bigger in our lives. When we stop to recognize every good thing as a gift from him, we see him as greater--not some distant force, but an up-close-and-personal sovereign who is worthy of worship. He is literally all-encompassing, acting on our behalf in every facet of our lives.
Another well-known usage of the word comes from Mary, the mother of Jesus. Luke 1:46 (KJV) says, "And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord." Mary said this in response to Elisabeth's proclamation in verse 45 (NKJV): "Blessed is she who believed, for there will be fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.” We can magnify God by trusting Him and believing in His promises. Take Him at His word. Even when you can't see the end from the beginning, and even when the road set before you is difficult--as surely it was for Mary--believe He will fulfill His promise to be faithful.
In another New Testament reference, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on a group of Gentiles, the Bible says, "For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God..." (Acts 10:46 KJV.) Yes, they were praising God, but they made God bigger in their lives by exercising spiritual gifts. They put His greatness on display by operating in the power of the Holy Spirit.
It's interesting how all this study started with a line in a children's show, on a Saturday morning when I didn't want to be awake yet. It makes me wonder if the break we had from television for a couple of days helped prepare me to hear God better. Maybe my mind and spirit had a bigger space for Him to work. However it happened, I'm grateful for the message. I need God to be bigger in my life. I want to magnify Him through thankfulness, faith, and spiritual gifts.
Maybe a microscope isn't the best metaphor. Sometimes what I need is to view God like a word on a screen, with the web browser zoomed to 1,000%, and everything else pushed out of view except Him. (That's as high as the zoom will go; I tried.) That's what we all need sometimes. May God be made bigger in our lives today.
"O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together." (Psalm 35:3 KJV)
The bright late-May sunshine fell on my face, luxuriously warm. I closed my eyes and let my skin soak up it's energy as the corners of my mouth automatically drew upward in delight. It's rays reinvigorated my weary soul. But it was only for a second. The sun kissed me for a literal second, then it was gone. Back again. Gone again. Back again. Gone again. Over and over.
The swing on the back deck of my house was in just the right spot for me to experience the sunshine on the way up, but the backswing put me in the shadow of the house. I wanted to enjoy the sun, but I was tired, and the obvious solution didn't seem worth the energy- MOVE THE SWING! It's light-weight and slides easily, but I didn't do it.
How often does this happen in my spiritual life? I go back and forth between experiencing THE LIGHT and slipping into the shadows. I love the benefits of spending time with God but I don't always make the effort.
To be clear, as a child of God, He's always with me. But, because of MY actions, I'm not always basking in the fullness of relationship with him. And the solution for that is as simple as moving the swing. I need to move myself to do the things that I KNOW promote fellowship with God- spending more time in prayer and reading the Word.
We should aim not to only experience His presence at church or when we need something from Him. It should be where we live! Psalm 140:13 says: "Surely the righteous shall give thanks unto thy name: the upright shall dwell in thy presence."
What are you waiting for? Take a step out of the shadows today. Let's move to where the Light is.
All day long, I talk to people. I share posts on social media, and I comment on other’s people’s posts. As a society, we’re accustomed to constant human interaction, and I enjoy the convenience and connection that technology allows. But sometimes I imagine what it would be like if it all went away—if social media ceased to exist, if phones were unavailable. I’d dearly miss my online companions, and it would take a long time to adjust, but I would still have my church, my family, and Jesus.
But, God forbid, what if my church family dissolved? What if that fellowship was no longer available to me? I would certainly grieve. But I’d still have my family and Jesus.
Though I can barely stand to consider it, what if family weren’t with me? What if I was taken to a far off place, away from everything and everyone I know and love. How horrible! But my soul rests in the fact that I’d still have Jesus.
But what if Jesus….? There are no more what ifs. Jesus is the only thing in my existence that can’t be removed from me, the only thing that is inextricable from my being. While the other situations are, thank God, improbable, losing Jesus is simply impossible. What an awesome thought—I have something that can never be taken away. As a believer, I have the Spirit of the Living God with me at all times, and He will always be a constant and abiding presence, regardless of any other circumstance in my life.
Psalm 139:7-10 says, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.”
Imagine your surroundings as a silent void, an abyss of nothingness. Even in that place, God is there. And in nothingness, you have abundance as a child of God. There is no fission process that can separate Him from you. No matter where you are, He is there. He will always be there. And He is sufficient.
The woman’s pretentious words set my blood to boilin’, as the saying goes. In a closed Facebook group, related to Christian writing and publishing, this person’s responses on a particular thread were haughty and, by my interpretation, hateful. I stopped to examine my emotions. I’d been under a lot of stress. Maybe I was just overly sensitive. Everyone else dealt with her patiently, and with grace. They answered each arrogant retort with gentle, loving dialogue, while I wanted to (politely) call her out.
I stepped away from the thread and went on scrolling through Facebook, still fuming. Then I came across a meme posted by author Robin Lee Hatcher. It said, “Sometimes the best thing to say or do is nothing.” Well, there was my sign. I needed to stay quiet about the matter.
Still, it ate away at me. I went back and read the thread again. It had only gotten worse. This person tried to shut people down like her opinion was the only one in the world that mattered, and I wanted so badly to jump in and (with love) tell her she was being a jerk. Sometimes, it’s okay to do that. But in this case, I just didn’t feel that liberty. So I continued to fight the urge, and I jumped over to Twitter instead. I scrolled through GIFs and quotes, still seeing red. Then I saw a post from my writer friend, Rachel Schmoyer. She’s studying and teaching the book of Proverbs and had shared this: “Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent.” (Proverbs 11:12, ESV) Remains silent. There it was again. I had no other choice but to let it go. I wouldn’t even revisit the thread, so I wouldn’t be tempted to speak out.
The next day, I had another irritating encounter online. I had my feelings hurt through a message with a friend. I’m still not sure if it's because I’ve been overly sensitive lately. Proverbs 15:18 says, “A wrathful man stirreth up strife: but he that is slow to anger appeaseth strife.” I think I'm normally slow to anger, but in some seasons and situations, it’s harder to be that way.
I managed to keep calm with my friend, but my first instinct was to call someone else to vent. Before I dialed, I thought of Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Even if what I was going to say was true and honest, it surely wasn’t of “good report” or “virtue”. It wasn’t praiseworthy. So, I knew I needed to be quiet. Still, I wanted someone to validate my feelings of anger. I needed to tell someone that I had been wronged. But back to Facebook I went for a mindless distraction, and as I scrolled, I came across a post that was simply one word and two numbers. It read, “Philippians 4:8.” Wow. Needless to say, I didn't make that phone call.
Three times in two days, something on social media gave me pause. Three times, I received spiritual guidance from Facebook or Twitter. So does God really speak through social media? Does he really care that much for me, to guide me so lovingly in the right direction when I’m tempted? I believe so, but not just because I happened to find these posts. I spend way too much time on social media, so it’s probable, out of all the posts I read, that I’ll find ones that relate to my present situation. But I know God speaks to me on social media by the way those posts convicted me, the way they spoke to my spirit. John 10:27 says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” I'm thankful to be one of His. I'm thankful that I have friends who share the truth of Scripture online. And I'm thankful that God speaks in many ways. What unexpected way has God spoken to you lately?
So many spiritual connections can be made while observing nature. This morning's thought came just from watching birds eat.
Over the past few years, I've developed a love and appreciation for birds. I think it's part of getting older- we start slowing down to really see things that have been right in front of us all along but were too busy to appreciate. I have a couple of feeders up, and I get a lot of joy just from watching the little birds come to eat. Today, I noticed how the different species feed differently from each other, and it made me think of the different ways believers consume spiritual food.
The sparrow hung out there, taking its time. It pecked and ate leisurely, perched in the same spot for a long while. Some people spend time with God this way, setting aside time to soak up His presence and be fed in no hurry.
The chickadees and nuthatches dart in and grab a bite, then quickly fly away. But they come back soon. Back and forth, they feed throughout the day. Spiritually, I find myself most like these birds. I spend time with God in short, frequent periods- a verse here and a prayer there, a song lifted up as I go about my day.
Some of the birds seem to prefer to eat alone, while others come with a friend. The cardinals and the house finches usually come as a pair. And while Christians are instructed to assemble together regularly, some believers get the best spiritual food in their quiet time alone with God. Others thrive on corporate worship.
No matter how you like to be fed, the most important thing is to eat. We may do it differently, but spending time with Jesus through worship, prayer, and reading the Bible is the spiritual food we all need.
"For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world." John 6:33
Is the remix ever as good as the original? What about new words set to the same music?
One of my favorite things about Christmas is the music reserved for Yuletide—the familiar melodies we play and sing for a few weeks each year before we pack them away with the lights and porcelain nativity to be brought out and enjoyed again the next. Some are sacred and some are just for fun, while others aren’t really about Christmas at all. (Jingle Bells? Sleigh Ride? Walking in a Winter Wonderland?) The ever-popular Carol of the Bells falls somewhere in between. The majesty of its symphonic arrangement points to the Divine and the joyful lyrics hint at the Real Reason for the season, but it stays clear of the category of church music. Such a beautiful song...but do you know about the “other” version?
Originally a Ukranian carol about the New Year, Carol of the Bells (the English Version) was copywritten in 1936. A variant called Ring, Christmas Bells, written by Minna Louise Hohman, was copywritten in 1947, and its main message isn’t about bells, but about Jesus. (Here’s a popular rendition, recorded in 1962 by the Ray Conniff Singers.)
I never realized there was another version until this year. Imagine my excitement when I was listening to what I thought was Carol of the Bells and heard the line “Jesus is King!” on a secular radio station!
Comparing the versions, we find that both are beautiful and jubilant. The wonderful music is the same. They both speak of bells. But only one gives credit where credit is due. Only one proclaims the truth of the Christmas season. And we see the same concept in the lives of people and in the culture around us. Many will celebrate Christmas as a happy holiday, a joyful time of year to be with loved ones. But only some will acknowledge Him. Only some will actually celebrate the life-altering truth of "Unto you is born this day a Saviour!"
It goes beyond Christmas. It’s the difference between someone asking you to send “good vibes” and asking you to petition Heaven on their behalf. It's the difference between being a "positive person" and having the joy of Lord. So, I ask- what version does the world see when they look at you? Do you proclaim that Jesus is the source of Joy in your life, or do you assume it’s somehow implied?
Let's make Him known this Christmas. We can still enjoy Carol of the Bells. It certainly has its place. But take time to sing the other version, too. Sing out "Jesus is King!" with your life and celebrate the gift of His coming, at Christmas and all year long.
You open the mailbox and there's a card addressed to you. Someone's throwing the party of the century, and you're invited to attend! Whether you can make it or not, an invitation has been extended, and the sender deserves a response.
Jesus has extended many different kinds of invitations. Some of them even believers ignore. What will you do with your invitations? Respond affirmatively; say no thank you; or, ignore them?
Let's look at just a few of the things He invites us to "come" and do, from the examples of Scripture:
Jesus invites us to come and be saved, rest and be satisfied in Him, fellowship with Him, and inherit eternal life. What is your response? Please be polite. Don't ignore the invitations.
This devotion was adapted from notes for "Come Unto Me", a sermon by my father, Bobby W. Norman. He preached this great sermon at Central Full Gospel Church in State Road, NC on 9/16/18. I have consolidated and condensed several points from the message.
What is the essence of a person?
The dictionary defines "essence" as "the properties or attributes by means of which something can be placed in its proper class or identified as being what it is" and "the most significant element, quality, or aspect of a thing or person".
In the book of Matthew, we find a familiar story that describes the essence of Jesus:
And, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment: For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole. But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour. Matthew 9:20-22
A significant part of Jesus' essence is His power. His miracles help us identify Him as God. Certainly, the healing virtue didn't come from the garment. Jesus didn't wear a magical cloak, neither do I believe that his power was actually transferred to the fabric. I believe if the woman had reached out and come up ten feet short of touching the hem of his garment, she still would have been made whole. Because what she grabbed wasn't just the hem of His garment, it was the "Him" of his garment. Her faith wasn’t in the clothes. It was in who Jesus’ was, His identity as God in flesh. And her faith resulted in a miracle.
This story displays not only Jesus' power, but two other traits that describe his essence: He is omniscient and compassionate. People pressed in from all sides, yet He knew who had reached out in faith. He picked her out of the mob. And He had compassion on her, encouraging her to "be of good comfort". He reassured her that her faith had worked.
We may be reaching for His garment, for something that we need from Him, but we first need to grab hold of who Jesus really is. Meditate on his essence. Trust in his power, rely on his omniscience, and rest in his compassion.
It's easy to understand, breathing is necessary for life. God's design for all creatures includes standard functions, including respiration.
As a child, I had mild asthma which first presented at age seven when I had my tonsils removed and required oxygen after the sedative gas triggered breathing difficulty. Throughout my youth, asthma episodes were minor nuisances, usually brought on by physical activity. I used an inhaler only during P.E., and was never really sure if my shortness of breath was from being out of shape or truly because of asthma.
Fast-forward to age twenty-six. I hadn't carried an inhaler in years. Never needed one. Asthma was something "I used to have as a kid". Until pregnancy. Hormonal changes during my first pregnancy brought the condition back into my life with a vengeance. With each baby, my asthma either worsened or got a little better, but never left. Now after three pregnancies, it's a pretty regular part of my daily life. I never go anywhere without an inhaler, and it is a necessity often. Colds can trigger a bad asthma flare that requires steroid injections and pills, as happened recently, just to return my breathing to normal.
There is nothing like the relief of taking a complete lung-filling, complication-free breath after an episode of breathing difficulty. It feels miraculous. It makes me feel so grateful, so in awe of life!
Just as we couldn't understand love if there were no evil, or appreciate the beauty of life without pain, I never appreciated and understood the awesomeness of one clear, deep breath until the first time as an adult when I struggled to breathe.
One of the scariest moments of my life was during Sarah's delivery. The spinal block went high, and I couldn't feel my chest for a few minutes. The anesthesiologist told me I was breathing, but my brain told me otherwise, and it was a terrifying feeling for a few minutes.
In a way, it's like the difference between being spiritually lost and being saved.
Genesis 2:7 says, "And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul."
Every living soul is born of the breath of God, but every soul does not automatically have the breath of eternal life.
John 20, verse 2 says that after Jesus' resurrection, when he visited the disciples, "he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost". This was a new kind of life-giving breath from God.
Before Christ, we may have been inhaling and exhaling, but after Christ, we breathe deeply and experience the fullness and completeness of life in Him.
I'm not a very patient person. I think I get it from my father. Or, at least, since he has the same character flaw, I can claim it's a learned behavior or some undiscovered genetic predisposition and give myself an out. But I guess it really doesn't work that way.
The older I get, the worse my impatience grows. I generally show grace, but often fail when it comes to customer service hold times and waiting for a table at restaurants.
Lately, I find myself waiting for a lot of things.
The writing-related things on my list are normal. Just part of the process. So, I'm not complaining. No one has dropped the ball or has been too lax about anything. They are working on multiple projects for different authors, not just me. I'm just impatient.
The last item on the list, simply by nature of the process, takes a long time, too, although it's frustrating.
But I had a revelation today: I need to be waiting on something even more important than the things on my list. The words of Jesus in John 14:30 reveal the thing I should anticipate most anxiously.
"And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also."
It's so easy to forget, or take for granted, or push to the back of our minds, the promise of Christ's return. But the expectation of His second-coming is fundamental to our faith. We are waiting. Not just waiting, but in a constant state of waiting, watching, and working, as we continue to live and enjoy the life He has given us.
I'm in a season of waiting now. But that's where I should live! Expectant!
When I stop and put things into perspective, the nearer-every-day reality of my blessed hope as a believer should make me more patient when it comes to all the other, lesser expectations in this life season. I'm thankful that, as with Jesus' return, God controls the times and the seasons. Everything works out for good, no matter my perceptions of "on time", "quickly", "slowly", or "delay". I need to trust God's timing every second of my life, even when I have to wait longer than I'd like for a book layout, a life-changing situation, or a pizza buffet. And may we all wait together anxiously for His coming.
We recently compounded the crazy in our house by adding a fourth furry friend to the family. The current dynamic is two parents, three kids, two cats, and two dogs, and the newest member has been an interesting life change.
My husband and I hadn’t dealt with the joys and trials of a puppy in a long time, since our good girl Maggie is far past that stage. Enter a sweet yellow lab mix we both couldn’t resist. His name is Rico, and since we brought him home, this now five-month-old, fifty-two pound puppy has taught me some things about who I am and who I want to be.
Rico is not 100% house-trained. He's learning quickly, but he's still a puppy, and he sometimes has "accidents" in the house. The most frustrating thing about potty training a dog is going a couple of days without any puddles or unpleasant surprises, getting excited about the break-through, then walking into the kitchen to find another mess. Three steps forward and two steps back in the process is discouraging.
While it might be the MOST UNUSUAL COMPARISON I've ever made, Rico's shortcomings remind me of myself. I've been a Christ-follower for a long time. I ought to know how this whole thing works, right? I know what sin is, and I should know how to avoid it. But do I always do the right thing? No, I make mistakes just like Rico. Maybe (definitely) not just like his mistakes, but I can easily find myself in a stinky situation when I'm not Christ-like in my words, thoughts, or actions, and this reality makes me want to be show Rico a little grace.
But there's at least one way in which I aspire to be like my lab. This dog is always by my side. If I'm on the couch, he's on the couch. If I'm working in the kitchen, he's in the kitchen. If I let him outside to potty in the fenced backyard, he won't go unless we come out and stand with him. He'll stay on the deck and bark to be let back in. He doesn't want to be left alone, or maybe he doesn't want me to be alone. Either way, he is loyal; a steadfast companion. He likes to be near me.
James 4:8 says, "Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you..." When we just nudge in close to the Father, he tucks in close to us right back. May I strive to stay near Him, never leave His side. Drawing close to God through reading the Word, praying, and meditating on Him is how I learn to be more like Him and avoid those "messes" that my sin makes. May I be even more loyal to the Lord than my dog is to me.
Thanks, Rico, for the lesson.
1.) Your mother loves you with all her heart.
2.) You are wonderful.
3.) Jesus Loves you.
I made this list for my children because it's important. These are the things I want them to remember when life gets tough. These are the truths I want them to carry into adulthood. To one day teach their children. To hold in their hearts even after I'm gone.
We practice the list sometimes. I quiz them on it: "What are the three things I want you to always remember?" They often respond with some paraphrased version of what I've taught them. But I'll take it.
It makes me think, if Jesus had a similar list, what would it look like? What does He want us to carry always? To never forget, no matter where we are in life? Based on Scripture, here's what I think He wants us to remember:
1.) I love you.
2.) Don't worry.
3.) You are valuable.
He said "I love you" by leaving the beauty of heaven, taking on human flesh, and being born into this world. To be near us. To walk among us. To know us.
He says "don't worry" over and over in the Bible. Don't worry about food, clothes, tomorrow (Matthew 6). Will we listen? He says "my peace I give to you" (John 14:27). Will we take it?
He said "you are valuable" on the cross, by redeeming us with his blood- a payment more precious than silver or gold (1 Peter 1).
When life gets complicated, go back to the list. It's proven in the Word. Hold it close to your heart. Meditate on the simple truths He wants you to remember.
My youngest child is mischievous, and hyper, and often unruly, but he is one of the wisest people I know. He has a profound understanding of God, and an amazing commitment to follow Him. Only four when he made a profession of faith in Jesus, he was baptized before he was five and a half.
Daniel wanted to be the first one in the river, and there wasn’t a hint of nervousness on his face until he got into position to be dunked. He panicked a bit but rallied quickly, and he came out of the water smiling. Later that day, this is what he told me:
“I just kept telling my brain, I’ve made up my mind.”
Wow. What resolve! He made up his mind and was determined to follow through.
It reminds me of a song I've loved since childhood which says, “I’ve got my foot on the rock and my mind’s made up.” My aunt sings it often in our church, and she delivers the song's message so powerfully. (I don’t have a video of her singing it, but here’s another good version for you to enjoy: Bowling Family YouTube Video)
When we’ve decided to do anything that we know to be the will of God, we have to follow through. Jesus said, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62 NKJV) In a world full of wishy-washy, flip-floppers, it's important for us to have made-up minds.
I’ve started and stopped many projects. Sometimes I get excited about an idea and the next day it’s a distant memory. But I hope I will stay committed to the things that really matter. I want to be steadfast and immovable, like the scripture encourages: "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord." (1 Corinthians 15:58 NKJV)
Certainly, I wouldn't have been upset if my son had decided not to be baptized that day. It was his choice to make. But his courage to follow through is an inspiration to me, and I hope it is to you. When you feel like turning back on the task to which you've been called, just remind yourself you've made up your mind!
An actor looks at his script and begins to read a scene from the second act. Because he jumped into the middle of the plot, he doesn't have enough knowledge of the character's backstory and mindset to perform the role believably. He can only infer the correct emotions based on the dialogue.
"What's my motivation?" the actor asks the director. "How did my character get to this point in his journey? What's his story?"
As Christians, we are instructed to do some pretty big things. The Bible says, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself." (Luke 10:27) Of course, we do this with the help of the Holy Spirit, but as we strive to live out this verse, it helps to look at our motivation. Why do we love, serve, and obey Him? What pushes us to keep going?
The Word makes our motivation clear: "We love him, because he first loved us." (1 John 4:19) He loves us! That's what should motivate us more than anything to follow Him. Especially since we didn't have to earn His love, and we certainly didn't deserve it. Romans 5:8 says, "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."
Whenever the journey seems hard and you find yourself asking "Why should I?" do this or "Why should I?" do that, remember your motivation: He loves you. The God of the universe loves you unconditionally, and that's enough to keep you going.
There are some big promises in the Word of God, and sometimes I think we miss them. Maybe we just get so caught up trying to fill our scripture quota that we miss the truth of what God is saying to us. But I found a really big promise this week, wrapped up in two itty-bitty words: All things. Through His word, I want to look at how God has promised us EVERYTHING (all things) we will ever need.
One of my favorite verses has always been Romans 8:28, which assures us that “all things” work together for good to those who love God. But my study on our sufficiency in God came from 2 Peter 1:3. Here we find that God has “given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness” through the knowledge of Jesus. He has given us all things! That’s a big thought! When we know Jesus, we are fully equipped with everything we need, not only to live, but to live godly lives.
The promise of total sufficiency through God began in the Garden of Eden. Genesis 9:3 says, “Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.” This is an example of God not holding any good thing back. He provided completely.
This idea of abundance in Christ has nothing to do with a “prosperity gospel”. That’s a very narrow way to look at the blessings of God. The Bible says, “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy;"(1 Timothy 6:17) What does “all things” mean? What exactly do we have? I believe it means literally everything. We have access to everything we could possibly need or want, according to His will. The sky is the limit...if God wills it. And if He doesn’t will it, I don’t want it!
Another of my favorite passages is this beautiful sermon from the Apostle Paul found in Acts 17: "God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring." (Acts 17:24 – 28)
He made everything, he owns everything, and he gives everything to us as his children. Bottom line—when you have Jesus, you have everything.
Check out these other applicable “all things” verses: Psalm 8:6; Philippians 4:13; Matthew 19:26; Matthew 6:33; 1 Corinthians 3:21
What do they mean to you? I'd love for you to share in the comments!
My husband packed snacks in kids’ backpacks, fed impatient fur babies, and did other morning chores while I clung desperately to eight more minutes of snooze time. Before the alarm sounded again to urge me out of bed, he came into the bedroom to get his phone.
“I’ve got to go help a little lost girl in our yard,” he said.
“Huh?” I thought, but I was too sleepy and confused to say it out loud. "There's a lost kid in our yard??"
The storm door clanged, and I got up to see just what was going on. Peeking through the blinds on the kitchen window, I saw Alex standing at the bottom of our driveway with a child I didn’t recognize, both of them with bare feet.
As curious as I was, I had to wake our children and pick out their clothes for the day. Whatever the situation, it appeared Alex was handling it. I peeked out the window again a couple minutes later to see Alex and the child sitting on the ground together, looking out toward the street. The next time I checked, as our kids got ready for school and preschool, an SUV was parked at the end of our driveway and Alex stood talking to the driver.
When he came back in, my curiosity was satisfied as I listened to the story.
He had taken some trash outside, and on the way back in, couldn’t get the storm door to latch. As he tried, he heard a child call, “I’m lost! I’m lost!”
The child turned out not to be a girl, but an eleven-year-old boy with braids, who lives two streets over. He had opened the door to check for his school bus, when his two dogs pushed past him and ran outside. He chased after them but never caught up. When he stopped running, he didn’t know where he was.
I was happy that the child wound up in our yard instead of someone else’s. I was glad the door hadn’t latched, so Alex was there when the child was searching for someone to help him. It was no surprise to us that the door closed with no problem the next time Alex tried it. Sometimes there are just divine appointments to be kept.
I am grateful for a kind-hearted husband who will wait outside in his sleep clothes on a chilly morning, for a stranger to come pick up her lost son. And I am grateful for a beautiful reminder—one day, when I was lost, Jesus was there with the door open, ready to help me find my way to the Father.
We are bombarded by information, all the time, from every direction. Much of it is useful and valuable, but much of it can be harmful to us mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Let’s take some time to talk about how we can sort out all the information and guide our thoughts toward the positive.
Philippians 4:8 is a verse that I need constantly. If I were going to tattoo scripture on my arm, I think this would be a helpful one to have. (Since I’m not going to do that, I need to tattoo it on my heart, with the help of the Holy Spirit.) “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
I love that we have a checklist of sorts, for the kinds of things we should be thinking about! Here’s another way to break it down.
We should spend our mental energy on things that are:
I have to admit, many things that I spend my focus on during the day don’t fit into one of these categories. So often, I find myself reading “news” stories that do nothing but leave me sad or angry. There are few things in the news that are “of good report”, and certainly not much on television or in movies is "virtuous". I'm guilty of spending half an hour reading arguments on Facebook, which are certainly not "praiseworthy", between people I don't even know. It's a disgusting waste of my time!
And it's often difficult to discern if much of the information we are getting from all the various sources is even "true" and "honest".
When we fill our brains with things that are the opposite of what this verse says we should think about (dishonest, sinful, condemnable things), it has an effect on the way we act and think. So, here’s what I want you (and me) to remember: It’s OKAY to just shut out the negative influences. Take a break from Facebook, turn off the news, and politely tell trash-talking people that you have other things to do. Then seek out something "pure", or "lovely", or "praiseworthy" to think on. GUARD YOUR MIND!
Another takeaway from Philippians 4:8 is a lesson on how we should think about people. Instead of focusing on people's faults (and yes, I'm talking to myself as a spouse) let's practice "thinking on" the things that are lovely in people. We need to make a conscious effort to NOT think on the gossipy things we hear, and focus on all the good things that we know to be true about them.
Use this verse as a checklist for what you should allow into your mind. Ask yourself, "Is it true?", "Is it pure?", "Is it praiseworthy?", etc.. It's not an easy thing, but I'm trying to put this into practice. And I hope you will, too.
I'm tired of listening to people's problems.
It may seem harsh, but I'm tired of just listening to the constant noise about the number of things wrong in our communities, and you should be tired of it, too. The time has come for the body of Christ to do more than listen. We need to stand up and actually be the solution for our broken world, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In the book of Nehemiah, one hundred and sixty years after the start of Israel's captivity by the Babylonians, God stoked the heart of Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, the capital city of his ancestors. Nehemiah heard the news that "the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire (Nehemiah 1:3)", then he wept and mourned over the situation. He also prayed and sought direction from the Lord, and God paved the way for Nehemiah to carry out a plan of action to fix the problem.
We've been weeping over the brokenness of society for a long time. Now it's time to get our hands dirty and rebuild.
When Nehemiah organized the rebuilding of the wall and its gates, there were different groups that stepped up to take a section. Over forty individuals, families, and groups are specifically named in Nehemiah 3. The Word tells us in what order they worked along the wall, and in many cases, the specific job they had. Here's what stands out to me about the process:
1.) They worked alongside each other.
The rebuilding didn't start in random sections all around the city. The groups came together and worked side-by-side.
2.) Everyone had a specific assignment.
Each group was assigned a task to get the whole thing completed, so that the city could be fortified again as soon as possible.
I see the different groups in Nehemiah 3, not as different members of a church, but as individual churches in a community. And I see each section of the wall as a ministry opportunity that can help rebuild those communities.
One church, no matter how motivated the members are, or how many resources the church has, cannot be the answer to all the problems in a community. But with planning and communication, imagine what can be accomplished when churches in a community work together! I've never tried to organize a coalition of churches, and it sounds like a grandiose, and slightly crazy task. But it all starts with a vision! Here are some ideas a group of churches might consider to start being problem-solvers in their communities.
Now, I believe the most important mission within every church is to preach the "power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16). The solution to all the problems isn't really "Christians", it's Christ. But we can show the love of Christ by meeting the lost where they are, and by encouraging other believers beyond the walls of the church.
So, what are some ministry opportunities on which a church might focus? Here are a few:
Collectively, we need to be organized. If every church in a community visits the nursing home once a month, that's wonderful! But if no churches in a community are working to help the homeless, then there's a gap in the wall. If we coordinate our efforts, we can close the gap. At the same time, if a church has ten different outreaches, their resources may be stretched too thin to be effective. That's a gap that could be filled by another congregation.
We can't fix it all. Until the return of Christ, there will be sin in the world, which leads to all the problems we see around us. But we've been acting defeated for too long. It's time to work hard and let the world know we have the answer- his name is Jesus.
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Thank you for visiting my blog. I share devotional articles and musings about life, parenting, and the writing journey, as well as important news about my books. I hope you find something of interest here!