Prince of Peace- Preview of “The Other Three Sixteens”

Want a peek at my newest book? Here’s an excerpt of The Other Three Sixteens! You can find the whole book here. final cover

 

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.” –   2 Thessalonians 3:16

 

The “Lord of peace” is a beautiful description of Christ and an accurate portrayal of this wonderful attribute of our Savior. One of Jesus’ many names is the “Prince of Peace,” and for good reason. He gives us this incredible gift of love that we can’t find anywhere else, nor can we manufacture it on our own. A popular sticker on the bumpers of cars across the nation declares, “No Jesus, No Peace; Know Jesus, Know Peace!” This is more than a catchy slogan; it’s a proclamation of truth across bustling highways and in chaotic parking lots. Our world desperately needs the peace of Christ.

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This peace is characterized by calm, a soothing confidence and inner quiet that comes from the Holy Spirit. We can experience it internally or collectively as a church or even a nation. Sometimes, God handles the circumstances that cause stress or worry. In Mark 4:35-41, Jesus and the disciples sailed on the Sea of Galilee. A tremendous storm developed, threatening their safety and terrifying the disciples. Jesus stood up and told the storm to be quiet- which it did. Christ calmed the storm and he calmed the hearts of his disciples. Peace came externally and internally. Later, he told the disciples (and these words are also meant for us today), “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

Additionally, the incredible thing about the Holy Spirit is that peace can be given even when the storm rages around us. Paul writes in Philippians 4:6 that instead of giving into anxiety, we need to talk to God and focus on gratitude for our blessings. Then, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

This peace is not something we create through logic or reasoning. This goes beyond our brain to comfort our hearts. This is a miracle that is often overlooked. The ability to have peace despite stressful situations is an act of God, a gift of love as he cares for us. Christ knew we would face all sorts of challenges and tragedies. He knew we would be stressed, exasperated, fearful, and anxious. So he said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29).

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The world can fall apart around us, but God will still cover us with supernatural peace. “‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you” (Isaiah 54:10). Isaiah also speaks of God’s love to us when he says, “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you” (Isaiah 26:3). Because God keeps his promises and has given us peace in the past, we can trust him to continue to quiet our anxious souls no matter what circumstances torment us.

No crisis is too extreme and no situation is out of control of the God who holds the whole world in His capable hands. He loves us so intensely that he refuses to stand by and do nothing while we cry in anguish. The God of love envelopes us with overwhelming peace, comforting our anxious souls with great compassion.

 

Want to read more? Curious about what the Bible’s other 3:16’s say about God’s love? Get your copy of The Other Three Sixteens today! Want a signed copy? Once you’ve ordered your copy, request a personalized bookplate here.

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Content Always

Athletes declare it. Children memorize it. The inspirational message is emblazoned on half the items in the Christian bookstore. “I can do all things through Christ.”

Often adopted as an anthem for living our dreams with God, Paul’s original message in his letter to the church in Philippi rang a little differently. Paul wasn’t competing in the Olympics or dreaming of career success. Paul was surviving. His gospel message resulted in beatings and imprisonment, shipwrecks and exposure to the elements.  He hungered and thirsted as he worked at spreading the good news of Jesus Christ. But, despite all that, it was well with his soul.

He said in Philippians 4:10-13:

“I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

Bad times come to us all, and we’re in a pretty dark season right now, to be honest. Yet, Paul says that with strength from Christ, we can be content through it all. “Content” sounds a lot like having peace.

Jesus had a lot to say about peace. He said that in this world we would have trouble, but he has overcome the world and brings us peace. He invites the weary and burdened to come to Him for rest. He promises peace unlike the world gives, so we don’t have to have troubled hearts or fear.  So how do we experience this peace in all circumstances, particularly the tough stuff?

  1. Stick close to Christ.

The presence of the Lord is powerful, but we will miss it if we are not connected to Him. Yes, God is always with us, but we often allow His presence to go unnoticed when we’re distracted by all of life’s craziness. Peace comes when we make an effort to spend time with God through prayer, Bible study, worship, and even simple times of quiet where we pay attention to Him.

  1. Seek God’s perspective.

Paul looked at his situation and saw that everything he did- even in suffering- gave glory to God and spread the gospel. The story of Joseph- including family abuse, slavery, false accusations, and imprisonment- concludes with his declaration that what was intended for harm was used by God to save people from famine. Our limited vision often isolates struggle and pain, but with the Lord’s help, we can step back and view God’s big picture and see how He fulfills the promise of Romans 8:28, working out all things for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose. Waiting on the Lord’s timing so we can look back and see His hand is often difficult. But when we call to him in the midst of trouble and ask for His perspective, He often gifts us with a glimpse of His glory. What do your circumstances look like from a heavenly point of view?

  1. Rely on God for strength.

We are human. We have limits. But we have a mighty God. Ask Him to fill the gaps where you fall short. Allow space for Him to work and keep an eye out for what He is doing. Remember that, though we like instant fixes, God has deliberate perfect timing. No matter what is happening, the burden is not all on your shoulders. God is the heavy lifter, working on your behalf. He provides strength and guidance all along the way.

During this COVID-19 threat, we’re limited to our homes and our work schedules have been disrupted. People are getting sick and hospitals are overloaded. The economy is worrisome and the world seems to be changing by the hour. Yet, God is still sovereign and He remains good. Like Paul, we can be content even in these extreme circumstances. Christ gives us strength no matter what is happening around us. We will do more than survive; we will have peace and life abundant in Him.

Good

The goodness of God is woven into the pages of Scripture from creation to Revelation, often in surprising places. Jesus spent His life revealing the glory of God and shattering some of the most common perceptions in the hearts of His people. He redefined goodness in unexpected ways and in the least likely people.

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The story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:29-37 is a familiar tale of the victim of robbery and assault, illustrating the definition of who is our neighbor. Upon seeing an injured man on the side of the road, both a priest and a Levite (a temple assistant) ignored the suffering. But a man from Samaria took action to care for the man in need. The lesson here is clearly to help when someone is hurt, but there’s another cultural detail that our modern minds might overlook. Samaritans were not respected in ancient Jewish culture. They were different because they had both Jewish and Gentile heritage. Some sources describe them as being despised. Yet, Jesus uses a Samaritan man as an example and calls him good.

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Tax collectors were also unpopular, thanks to their practice of taking people’s money and cheating them out of more than they were due. Their shady business practices severely lacked character and integrity while leaving people short-changed. Yet, Jesus tells a story in Luke 18:9-14 that flips the script on popular opinion. A Pharisee (devoutly Jewish) and a tax collector both went to the temple to pray. The Pharisee’s prayer gave God a report of his own good deeds, just short of giving himself a righteous gold star. The tax collector, on the other hand, mourned his sinfulness and asked for mercy. Jesus said that it was the tax collector who was justified before God, making a positive example out of someone considered lowly.

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Then Jesus got personal. In John 10:11-18, He describes Himself as the good shepherd. We can easily get on board with His description of a nurturer, thankful that God protects us- His sheep- and that we know His voice. These verses conjure images of Christ with long wavy hair, a staff in one hand and lamb in the other, clothed in flowing white robes. But in reality, shepherds were not a glowing vision. Their robes were full of dirt and sweat. They lived on the outskirts of society with their flocks- and smelled like them, too. Manners and propriety likely faded away the longer they abided in the fields. It’s no wonder that civilized people looked down upon shepherds. Yet, here Jesus was saying that He was one of them, and that He was good.

There are “others” in our lives today. We have a tendency to categorize people and sort out who is like us and who is different. Then we assign value based on economics, race, political opinions, and our judgment of their decisions. What would modern parables tell us? Who else would Jesus call good today that would make us pause or gasp in surprise- or outrage?

However, as centuries have passed, we haven’t learned from our biblical brothers and sisters. We haven’t yet seen people with God’s perspective. First, He created humanity in His own image. Though there are many ideas of what this means, we know for sure that there’s a reflection of our Creator in every single human being ever born. Psalm 139:14 says we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Luke 19:10 tells us that Christ came to seek and save the lost. And, of course, John 3:16 declares that God loved the entire world so much that He sent and sacrificed His Son to redeem all of His children.

How, then, can we look upon God’s beloved and decide that they aren’t good? How can we measure our neighbor by their identity or choices? The Samaritan was good. The tax collector was justified. God loves each person and commands us to do the same. Who knows? We could be “the other” to our neighbor, also in need of freedom from judgment and an outpouring of love instead.

God works all things together for good for those He loves and calls according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). Those we’ve called “bad” become good in His hands. He humbled Himself and identified with those society deemed less-than. Let’s work on defining goodness by the Lord’s standards. I bet we’ll find transformation in our own hearts in the process.

 

 

The Christmas Story Sounds Familiar

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(There’s a gift for you at the end of this post!)

It’s that most wonderful time of the year again- decking the halls, earth receiving her King, and singing we now of Christmas. For those of us in ministry, it is another year of attempting to tell the familiar good news with fresh enthusiasm- easy because it’s such a treasured story, but- let’s be honest- it’s the same story we tell year after year, making it easy to fall into a stale pattern. This is not to say that God’s word is the obstacle- Scripture is alive and active always!- but in our humanity, we must take care not to let familiar words lose their everlasting impact.

The balance of tradition and newness is felt strongly in children’s ministry. Kids thrive on routine but also become bored easily , creating a tightrope we walk year-round. So when it comes to the annual Christmas program, each year heralds the challenge of “how do we do it THIS time? What haven’t we already done??”

At the beginning of December, I decided to take the matter to the masses and go direct to the source. I asked the kids what THEY thought we should do. And, wouldn’t you know, they were indecisive and hesitant to do anything, as my particular group is not fond of performances. But, we do know that everyone in our church family gets a turn to help lead and serve in some way, and that includes them, so onward we went. They didn’t want to sing until someone suggested “Frosty the Snowman!” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer!” After a gentle reminder that worship centers on Christ, one of my wise-cracking fifth graders said, “Then just change the words!” Everybody laughed.

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“We can’t do ‘Jesus the Snowman.’ It doesn’t work like that,” was my very mature, adult reply. And we moved on.

Later,  I found myself humming Frosty and thought, “What IF we could change the words?” Immediately, my brain jumped to:

Jesus our Savior
Came to earth to save our souls
Mary’s baby boy
Filled the earth with joy
‘Cause He came to make us whole

Ok….. this might be something. What else might be playing on the holiday station of ye olde Bethlehem? Instead of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, the prophets could sing:

You better watch out
You better not sin
Remember our God in all you’re doin’
Messiah is coming to town

And then “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer had a very shiny nose” became “Jesus the Newborn baby tightly wrapped in swaddling clothes” and instead of ‘Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells” the angels sang “Do not fear, Do not fear” while “Oh Bethlehem” replaced “Oh Christmas Tree.” Suddenly, my wise-cracking fifth-grader had become an inspiring muse.

Fast-forward to our Christmas worship service, and we had a group of kids willing to sing and read this version of the familiar Nativity story. Glory to God! Joy to the world- or at least our congregation- indeed.

As my Christmas gift to you, I’d like to share our simple script! If a short, easy Christmas presentation would bless your church or school group, you are welcome to use it. We had guitar accompaniment, but acapella also works well with these familiar tunes. And don’t be afraid to let adults have fun, too. This material doesn’t have to be limited to children; it could make a great impromptu readers theater with adults as well during a holiday service or Bible study!

Click here for the script and enjoy: The Christmas Story Sounds Familiar script

Merry Christmas!

 

On the Other Side of the Stone

This post was originally written for my publisher’s newsletter. To get the latest from Ambassador International (and learn more about my publisher), click here.

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Step by careful step, I made my way down the rocky shoreline. The cloudy drizzle made for quiet solitude as waves rolled across heaps of stones and patches of empty sand. The shushing of rushing water was only interrupted occasionally by the gentle clicking of rocks tumbling around each other in a surge of seawater. While peaceful, the beach lacked another human soul or even the companionship of the occasional gull. Worn rocks and dried pieces of driftwood held back the gray ocean; whatever life there was to be found seemed far away. I glanced down to watch my footing and caught a glimpse of green and pale purple. Among the debris, a flower managed to find root and grow. Here was life where it seemed none could flourish. Right in the middle of stone blossomed a testament to God’s handcrafted beauty.

Another, much larger stone once held back beloved life. Across the world many centuries ago, a dead man was tightly wrapped in linen and tucked away inside a tomb of rock. Outside his peaceful safe-keeping, a village full of mourners lamented the illness that took his life as they attempted to comfort his grieving sisters. Four days after his death, his dear friend, Jesus, finally made it to the graveside. Jesus wept along with the sisters while promising that their brother, Lazarus, would rise again. Yet, when He requested that the stone be removed from the tomb’s entrance, the idea of exposing a four-days-dead body caused alarm from his sister, Martha. Jesus reassured her, prayed to His Father, then called His friend Lazarus back into the light of life. What previously appeared to be the end of the story was actually a turning point in God’s greater narrative. God’s children were beginning to see that death was not the final closing chapter. Lazarus would continue living despite death, and later, so would Jesus.

We’ve all seen the passing of dreams, the fading of hope, the end of relationships, and the limits of crushing circumstances. In the bleak times, we have “Martha Vision,” unable to comprehend what God is about to do before our very eyes. Thankfully, Jesus offers the promise of His perspective- one that sees past human doubts and restrictions, turning the pages of a continuing story when we are ready to close the book. Just as He told the disciples, Martha, and her sister Mary (in Luke 11) that Lazarus would live, Christ reassures us that He is the source of hope and a future. The Lord foreshadows the work of His hand in our lives and then works things out for our good (Romans 8:28). We must pay attention to His words and trust that He’ll follow through with what He says He will do.

Flowers don’t emerge from rocks overnight and Lazarus’ death was allowed to linger for days. Yet, while we wait for our story to unfold, we are not left alone with our tears. Jesus wept with His friends, and He is here alongside us in our brokenness. He allows us to grieve, but whispers His promises, urging us not to remain in despair. Don’t stay there in the darkness, child of God. Come out as He calls you into the light of His love.

Friend, there is beauty among the rocks. The contrast of dry stone- literal and figurative- is a backdrop for the brilliant glory and wonder of God’s love. Your personal rocks are the perfect display for the miracles He is blooming in your life. As you carefully navigate your own shoreline stones, remember to hold on to hope. Don’t give up when it seems all debris and driftwood. New growth can thrive in the crevices. And once you discover those precious flowers, celebrate the wonders of His faithful love.

Dangerous Comfort

My daily wardrobe frequently utilizes layers. This particular spring has featured cool, wet weather mixed with sunshine, so it’s smart to be versatile. When I climb into my car, I adjust the thermostat to make sure the temperature is just right, frequently adjusting as I drive toward my destination. But first, a quick stop at Starbucks. Will my coffee by hot or iced? This, of course, depends on how warm or cool I feel in the car! We certainly can’t upset the balance.

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This was a rare “hot coffee on a hot day” day. Because holiday drinks. #starbucksaddict

At work, I turn on the heater. There’s one overhead and a vent at my feet. Later, when I return home, I might open the windows if it’s stuffy or wrap up in a blanket in case of chill (confession, it’s usually both simultaneously). In a month or two, when summer settles on Southern California, my layers will be replaced with tank tops and the office heater will be swapped for air conditioning. My coffee will almost always be iced and a fan will be enlisted into service next to my open window. It’s all about maintaining comfort!

We take such great lengths to control our temperature- and even the temperature of the air around us. If it’s the slightest bit too hot or cold, we quickly adjust. It would be unfathomable to sweat or shiver. But we never stop to think about how slightly ridiculous this is. We are so adverse to discomfort that we practically flee from it, taking great care to control precise degrees Fahrenheit.

Our comfort is considered in our clothing choice, home arrangement, bedding, vehicle interior, and an ergonomically-designed office space. We can now recline at the movie theater and turn a camping trip into a glamping experience. We avoid social awkwardness, conflict, and emotional difficulty. Our comfort is king, and every effort to be in control is necessary.

But what if…. What if for a second we allowed ourselves to bravely venture into the little-known territory of discomfort? What would we find there? Misery? Panic at the lack of control? Chaos careening willy-nilly into despair? Would our world crumble into pieces around us?

Why is discomfort scary?

Perhaps it’s because we aren’t aware of its value. We feverishly avoid being uncomfortable because we are blind to the ways God can shape it into beauty. Discomfort naturally prompts us to growth while developing something greater in us. Exercise at the gym is not comfortable. It’s hot and sweaty; muscles ache and thirst persists. But strength increases and the health rewards are great. This isn’t something that can be achieved from soft couch cushions- fitness requires discomfort.

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Photo by mali maeder on Pexels.com (This is clearly not me, but one day I shall have good beach yoga form!)

Sin should make us uncomfortable, yet we’ve found ways to make it cozily fit into our lifestyle. Excuses and comparisons justify the ways we aren’t *quite* in line with God’s Word. We just adjust the spiritual thermostat to our liking and go about our day. However, when the Holy Spirit gently prods us, the discomfort of conviction begins to pervade our souls and it’s not pleasant. Guilt and shame can quickly overtake us if we’re not anchored in faith. We thrash around in the waves of despair, nearly drowning until we reach out and take the hand of our Heavenly Lifeguard. It’s tempting to retreat to the safety of the comfortable set-up we have on the shore of complacency, but eventually that also becomes a place of discomfort when we feel stagnant and stuck.

abraham-starsThere is little choice but to relinquish control and allow the Lord to lead us through discomfort. In the face of intimidating unknown territory, will we close our eyes and protest or allow God to lead us into new adventure? In Genesis 12, God told Abram to leave home and travel to a land that He would later reveal. Abram was asked to abandon physical comforts as well as the stability of his family and community. Travel would be literally uncomfortable in addition to difficulties being a foreigner in strange lands. But God didn’t call Abram into these circumstances without reason. This was the route to blessings beyond generations and a spiritual legacy that continues even now with you and me. There’s no way Abram could have truly imagined that his descendants would actually outnumber stars and sand, yet his discomfort was part of the journey to exactly what God promised.

Now comes the part where we look inward. How has our obsession with comfort blinded us to God’s reality? What are we avoiding as we cling to what we decided somewhere along the way was absolutely necessary for happiness? What do we risk in discomfort…. and what do we have to gain?

Here’s our challenge: step out of the comfort zone. Genuinely ask God to reveal something uncomfortable in order to become more like Christ. Then, take a step. Read a book by an author with a different point of view. Visit a new church. Serve a group of people that you don’t know very well who might not be like you at all. Have a conversation with someone you love about a topic you’ve been avoiding. Change your routine and ask the Lord to lead you to something new and fresh. Pursue a new skill that brings you in contact with new people- and go with the heart to learn from them, not to teach them anything. Take a chance with vulnerability before running quickly from it.

Or perhaps embrace small efforts and refrain from touching the thermostat today. You never know what beautiful thing God will craft from the smallest discomfort. Stepping out with Him into the unknown waves is the beginning of a great adventure.

Make Space

On one special Sunday each year, the kids and youth of our church lead the worship service. The youngest members of our congregation sing with the praise team, read prayers, and pass the offering baskets. The youth group even handles the sermon! On this special Sunday each year, there is usually a surprise blessing or two.

I’d show you our adorable church kids, but, you know, privacy reasons.

I sat on the floor of the front row- near enough to direct which kid was up next, but out of sight so parents could take pictures. Praise was in full swing with three second-graders enthusiastically belting out “I Am Free” accompanied by the adults on our worship team. Suddenly, I felt a little someone sit down on the floor next to me. A four-year-old from the other church who shares our building had wandered in. Perhaps it was because I was a familiar face, or maybe she was drawn to the other kids, but there she sat and began to clap along with the beat.

After a minute, she whispered something in my ear. I had no clue what she said, so clearly the logical response was to answer, “ok.” Apparently, she asked permission to join the second-grade singers, because she hopped up and began to creep step-by-step toward the girls belting into the microphone.

None of the three singers had ever met the four-year-old. However, the minute the girl on the end spied this aspiring praise leader making her way up to the front, she didn’t pause or look confused. She did not glance at me for permission or clarification. Instead, she immediately smiled at the four-year-old, motioned her forward, and moved over to make space for what was now a quartet. The new kid was welcome, no questions asked.

Are we making space?

Perhaps we have accepted that there is room for us in the kingdom of God; we have a purpose and place securely in His love. But are we looking so closely at our own situation that our eyes are not on our approaching neighbor? Of the three second-grade singers, only one saw the four-year-old while the other two held razor-sharp focus on the song lyrics in front of them. This was not wrong; they were worshiping the Lord with everything they had. There is no condemnation for these young disciples. However, can we see any parallels in our own spiritual walk?

While we dig deep into Bible study and unearth layer upon layer of godly knowledge, do we pause to look up at our neighbor? When we feel surrounded by His comforting presence, do we open our arms to embrace a brother or sister who is wandering around, feeling a little lost? As we rejoice in the splendid delight of what God created, do we keep it to ourselves or point out the wonder to whoever is nearby? During the healing of our broken heart, do we see another broken person and reach out?

Are we making space?

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God’s kingdom is not only for ourselves. The personal nature of a relationship with the Lord can unwittingly push out our neighbors. But to do so is a violation of the community God intended. Paul’s letters are full of calls to unity as the early Christians began to form a church. “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts” (Colossians 3:15-16). We are called to live in harmony with one another, bear each other’s burdens, and spur on one another to good deeds. Our life in Christ was never meant to stop at ourselves.

 

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Since we were instructed to love both our neighbors and our enemies, that means there is not a single person exempt from God’s love. That’s pretty easy to accept when we define love by simply being nice to someone or even to go as far as to (gasp) like them. However, it’s foolish to leave it at that and pat ourselves on the back. Love happens in our actions. It takes sacrifice and intense effort. It means making space.

It’s not initially comfortable, but there is space for every need in God’s kingdom. There is a place for the migrant fleeing violence. For the LGBTQ community. For the woman considering abortion. For the inmate on death row. For the diabetic who can’t afford insulin. For the lawmakers voting for polarizing legislation. For the trolls on social media typing in anger. For all of those people that we’ve transformed into an “issue” and lost sight of their humanity. But, instead, we were called to the heart-breaking work of love.

Making space could mean putting our open Bibles to the side, scooting over, and welcoming our neighbor into God’s love. It’s a listening ear and an open heart. We must look through the eyes of the Holy Spirit and see a beautiful soul– not a problem or a project, but the son or daughter that God holds precious. It would be excruciatingly cruel to require conditions before entering His welcoming space, a conformity to our own ideas of acceptability. To make space is to allow God to sort things out, and then with His guidance to pursue truth in love at the right pace.

He made space for us, and when we make space for others, it ultimately makes space for Him. (Don’t believe me? Check out Matthew 25). What can we learn from our singing second-graders? Will we allow the example of His children to lead us? Take a moment to look around you. Who is creeping up the aisle toward the loving relationship you have with Christ? Who is hesitantly approaching grace but needs the assurance of your welcome to take that final step?

Are you brave enough to love?

 

How Does Your Garden Grow?

In the middle of her graveled backyard, my friend cultivates gardening miracles. During the summer, raised beds are filled with flowers, herbs, and vegetables, while potted fruit trees line the perimeter. Her hard work transforms an ordinary yard into vibrant green space.

The heart of spring is a season of preparation. Today, fresh soil was added to the beds, and next a new irrigation system will be installed. It will soon be ready for brightly-colored blossoms and an abundant crop of produce. Yet, the miracles have already begun.

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The blueberry bush survived heavy winter rainstorms and urban critters that nightly dig through the dirt at its base. Most of the leaves have fallen, leaving bare branches with low expectations for harvest any time soon. Yet, closer examination reveals berry upon berry. Despite hardship, it’s still bearing beautiful ripe fruit.

20190507_084259A patch of daisies rests under the shadow of the blueberries. They, too, have survived the temperamental weather and outlasted their neighbors. Though many blooms droop and sag, dozens and dozens of buds are poised to burst open into the sunshine at any minute. Resiliently they’ve stood for nearly three years as a testament of hopeful endurance.

Across the yard, green onions proudly sprout tall from their own bed, but they refuse to be contained. Somehow, they’ve managed to escape the confines of the soil and begun to grow in the gravel below. The harsh conditions of shallow rock are not enough to deter their reach for the sun as they develop savory onions for a future of salsa and soups.

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How are we growing? We like to wait for ideal conditions- the perfect balance of rain and sun in our lives. Just enough hardship develops character so we can live happily in easygoing days free of excessive challenges. We prefer to surround ourselves with other people in full bloom so that no one brings us down. When our environment nourishes us as it should, we will thrive and bear great fruit, right?

Except our reality is more like my friend’s garden. Trials can come in torrents followed by extended spiritual drought. The ups and downs of life blow us one way and then another quickly enough to cause emotional whiplash. We are so focused on survival that we don’t even consider the idea that anything good could be produced from the chaos.

Consider words from Jeremiah’s prophecy:

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17:7-8).

It’s easy to forget the very One who makes onions grow in gravel and daisies bloom without ceasing. We can sow literal seeds and water them, but the Lord is the one who brings life from the ground. This same God fills us with His Holy Spirit and yields fruit like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). This fruit is visible in kindness to a friend, compassion to someone in need, and our relationship with Him taking deeper root. The miracle is the way His fruit bursts forth from the rocky, dry soil of life’s difficulties, and how His goodness survives the violent storms of tragedy and hardship.

Here’s the crucial thing: we MUST remember this when the bad stuff threatens to choke us out like weeds. The knowledge that a Master Gardener is tending carefully to our souls keeps us reaching for the Son when only dark clouds are in sight. Giving up is not an option, and it’s not even necessary. We are more than survivors, we are producing a crop of spiritual fruit ripe for the harvest. So we can give from our gifts, like the blueberry bush. We can stand tall like onions in any conditions. And let us burst forth like daises, sharing the joy of enduring hope.

 

You Got Q’s, I got A’s

This week has been a whirlwind of prep for two big events at the church where I work. It seems like a good time for some Q and A, so here we go!

(For fun, I also present some photos straight from my phone for your viewing enjoyment.)

20190421_162006How did you start writing?

As cliché as it sounds, I was writing poems and stories as soon as I could put words together into sentences. Also, my mother saved a handmade sign upon which I had scribbled the words “Anser Office” and set up shop like Lucy’s psychiatrist booth, so I’ve apparently also always been happy to tell people how to do things.

Why do you write?

Oh goodness, so many reasons. Sometimes it’s to work out an idea or to express thoughts and feelings. A lot of it is to connect with others, like you. Of course, everything we do is ultimately to give glory to God, so I pray my writing does that. 20190417_221915

How do you research?

It’s been said that a good writer is a good reader, and I stand by that sentiment. So reading as much as I can from as many different points of view as possible is a good start. Observation is always research, as bits and pieces of what we see and experience end up in our writing. Of course, research methods are driven by the nature of a specific project. For “The Other Three Sixteens,” I not only read the scriptures involved, but used commentaries and other related sources. When dealing with biblical subject matter, we also have the opportunity to go to the primary Source in prayer.

What helps you to write?

Well, lately, I’ll take any help I can get as I battle writers’ block! Quiet is also helpful, as is a good cup of coffee. A creative environment, like a local coffee shop, always seems to help things along. Mainly, it’s the inspiration of whatever I’m writing. Being passionate about the subject matter is a huge motivator.

What inspires you to write?

Our Creator motivates me to be creative. There’s so much wonder in this life He’s made, so much beauty in people, so much wrapped up in love. Writing is kind of like taking a snapshot and preserving a thought in a moment from a specific point of view. We could take endless looks at our world and never run out of things to see. 

What lessons have you learned in the publishing process?

For starters, publishing is so slow! After the book itself is written, the editorial process requires careful attention to detail. Right now, “The Other Three Sixteens” is being formatted and a cover designed, and I’m waiting to hear an official release date. When I self-published “Bible Time for Active Kids,” everything ran at the speed of… well, me. However, there are advantages to traditional publishing that make it worth the wait- like more distribution and marketing opportunities. When “The Other Three Sixteens” is widely available, it will be a day to celebrate! So the lesson here is, I suppose, patience. Sigh.

 What are your passions outside of writing?

Ooh, so many things! I work with kids at a church and I enthusiastically love my job. When I have free time, the ocean calls my name and I head to the beach. My two dogs are basically love wrapped in fur. It’s been awhile since I worked in the theatre, but there’s a special place in my heart for stage and film production. Meanwhile, I’m active with Team World Vision, fundraising to bring clean water to kids around the world (you can help do that here).

 

This is a little peek at me as an author, but I’m happy to answer any additional questions in the comments below.  I would also like to hear a little bit about you! Please choose one of the above questions and give your own answer in the comments!

Working Through the Nothing

photo of person walking on deserted island
Photo by Tom Swinnen on Pexels.com

My brain loves extremes.

Some months are extremely slow and dark, while others are bright and rushing forward at lightning speed. Each season comes with benefits and challenges, and life has adapted to the ebb and flow of bipolar disorder.

Occasionally, a mysterious hush settles and I find myself in…. stability.

Whether it’s a natural shift in the cycle or a product of medication, I’ll never know. Perhaps it’s a combination of both. Untangling what parts of me are my true self, mental disorder, or the effects of meds is an unsolvable puzzle. So I must learn to be content with uncertainty, something only accomplished with the strength of the Lord’s help.

So it is now that I have settled into the peaceful lull of such stability. The calm is reflected in my work at church, allowing me to steadily handle the stress of a busy holiday season. But my creativity? This is where I feel something is lost.

I know we’re supposed to be defined by who we are the Lord, and that’s a subject to be explored deeply. However, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that “creative” is one of the first words that begin my description (though this is how He created me, so it’s for a good reason!). Without the ability to dream and write and paint and make colorful solutions to problems, I feel adrift in a sea of nothing.

My writing has slowed to a lazy halt. I feel like I have nothing to say, not even empty, valueless words. How can I call myself a writer when I’m not producing any work?

What do we do in these seasons where we feel empty-handed and unlike ourselves?

When the guilt of not fulfilling our God-created purpose hangs heavy like a dark cloud of our heads, whispering about what we should be doing and how we are neglecting something very important? How do we stop slipping farther away from our calling and return to the light of the Lord’s design for who we are and what we do?

First, we MUST stop defining who we are by what we do.

He who created us is ultimately who gets to call us by name. He has appointed us “beloved” and “child,” precious identities that remind us how dear we are to our Heavenly Father. Meanwhile, I believe He has more personal names for us, just as He renamed His disciple Simon as Peter (“The Rock”) and Jacob became Israel (because he struggled with God and man and overcame). The more time we spend with the Lord, the more we understand how He calls us. Then, what we do is defined by who we are.

Therefore, it’s imperative that we are in His presence as often as possible! How many times have we lamented feeling far from Him, all the while neglecting our prayer time and allowing our Bibles to become dusty on the coffee table? How can we live in the midst of our purpose if we are disconnected from our Source? The first step is to desperately seek Him. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. That’s a promise.

The push forward requires great effort, but do it anyway.

Writing this post has taken a great deal of time and thought. I doubt every word even as I currently type, delete, rephrase, and hesitantly move on to the next sentence. My mind seems vacant, experiencing a parched drought void of inspiration. Yet, I present my meager offering and pray that God will find it as useful as the widow’s mite. What seems small to us can have greater divine impact than we imagine. Every baby step finds us that much closer to living in His purpose.

Despair traps us in the lie that we are stuck. We may have paused or become restless in a season of restoration intended to prepare us for what is ahead. However, our story has not reached the end. Do not give up, perfectly-designed child of the Most High. There is no reason to panic when all seems lost- because you are still securely found. You have never been outside His reach, even when you were looking the other direction and missed seeing Him. We will not always abide in our stagnant seasons, but we must keep our eyes open for the treasures that are hidden here while we wait. God will not waste a minute, even when it appears we are standing still. Rest confidently, assured that your purpose is not lost or revoked.

As I fondly think of fruitful melancholy or productive hypomania, I will try to unearth the creativity tucked away in the corners of my mind and on the edges of my soul. Deliberately trusting that God is using the quiet season is difficult, yet it’s also breathing life into my spirit. He is the one who defines us and gives us purpose, and He is the one that works through us to fulfill His plans. The willingness to be available to Him is something we can definitely do at any time, and that is a beautiful offering that delights our Lord.