Friday, December 31, 2010

Out of the Shadows and Into the Light

“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)

Now is the time everyone likes to make resolutions. I’ve never been a big resolution-maker myself, although I do like the thought of starting a brand, new year. We plan and have lofty ideas and goals and ways to make our lives better.

We think losing weight will make our lives perfect. Or climbing the corporate ladder and making more money, surely that will make our lives perfect. Or finding a spouse--a first one or a new one--or putting all our efforts into this relationship, that’s bound to make our lives fulfilling. Or we could just determine to pour all our efforts into serving at church. 

We make all these plans, thinking that in them alone will be the magic bullet that makes our lives all we want it to be. Somehow, though, those resolutions don’t seem to last that long, do they? And even if they do, they never seem to be quite enough and we go searching for something else to fulfill our lives.

The thing is, we can resolute until the cows come home, but unless Jesus Christ comes first in our lives and He fills that void that only He was meant to fill, we will keep trying to fill it with something else.

As I look back on this past year, I realize the one thing the Lord has shown me over and over again is that all things are but a shadow of His grand and perfect love for us. Only He is meant to fill the emptiness in our hearts and fulfill our deepest longings.

When we don’t seek God first and allow Him to be everything to us, we will automatically begin to focus on lesser gods--relationships, careers, entertainment, drugs and alcohol--to fill the void. None of that will ever completely satisfy and so we hungrily continue searching and trying to fill that emptiness with everything but Him. Even service to the Lord will not meet our spiritual needs without first seeking relationship with our Heavenly Father.

As I look ahead to the stark-white pages of the coming year, I wonder what will be written on them. Will they be filled with stories of running ahead of God and trying to fill the void of my heart that His absence has left with all those other things?

The Christian life is not about seeking the things, it’s about seeking after God. It’s about an active, loving relationship with the Lord. It's about the act of daily worshipping the King of kings in all we do. And if we are making plans without Him, we could be taking ourselves far away from the awesome plans He has for our lives. We could be settling for good, when He desires to give us His best. But when Christ is first in my heart, then my spiritual eyes are focused and the Lord can show me what His plans are and He will give me the power and strength to carry them out.

When we make the decision to make the Lord our number one priority, when we focus on knowing and loving Him, when we allow relationship with our Heavenly Father to fill that deep, dark longing in our souls the way He desires, then everything else will fall into place. He will make sure of it. Not that our lives will be perfect, but we will have the peace of knowing that no matter what happens, we are right in the center of His will.

Seek the Lord wholeheartedly and then wait in faith. He’ll show you where to go and what to do and how to do it, and you’ll have His power to accomplish it. And who doesn’t need God’s power to drop a few pounds, right?

All God's best to you,

Monday, December 27, 2010

I'm All Ears

Larry King recently aired his last show after 25 years. I’ve wondered what made him such a long-standing success. Even he has said that all he’s done is ask questions, but I think that's only part of it.

I think what’s made Larry King and the show so well-received is that he listens. He doesn’t gab, he doesn’t try to steal the limelight; he simply asks a question and then he listens. And that allows the guest to pour out their heart, and we, then, have a chance to hear it.

Jesus is a good listener, too. I think about the time He passed by the pool at the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem where many of the sick went, believing that if they were the first to step into the waters when they were stirred by an angel, they would be healed.

Scripture says that a great multitude of people who were sick, blind, lame and withered lay near the pool, and yet Jesus apparently spoke to only one--a man who had been ill for 38 years. Why did Jesus choose him out of the rest? I believe it’s because Jesus listened to his heart. Jesus knew without a word that this man had laid there for a very long time. He knew that he truly desired to be healed and that he had no one else to help him.

And so He asked him, “Do you desire to be made whole?”

And the man answered, “Sir, when the water is troubled, I have no one to put me into the pool. But while I am coming, another steps down before me.”

Jesus heard his heart--that is, He comprehended the pain and longing in this man’s heart--and He had compassion on him and said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” And he did. (John 5:2-9)

Because Jesus slowed down and listened, a man was healed.

We live in a very noisy and busy world with many hurting people. A lot of people talk, but not many listen. I can’t tell you how many times someone has walked past me, asked me how I was doing, and barely slowed down long enough to hear the answer. Many of those times I was hurting and needed a friend. It’s not their fault; I don’t blame them. We all get caught up in our noisy, busy worlds and we forget to listen.

What’s more, we forget to really hear. We forget to listen with real compassion and empathy.

How many hurting people do we pass by every day? How many of those people are members our very own family, whether by blood or by Spirit? Do we hear the struggle in their words or the pain in their voice?

How much strength could another person find to get through their trial, how much joy, how much love could we bless another with who is in pain just by listening?

I know when I’ve been hurting I don’t necessarily need someone to fix the problem for me, I just need someone to listen and to care and maybe even take just a moment to pray with me.  What a tremendous blessing it is when someone does.

We need to be real with one another about the difficulties we’re going through, and we need to allow others to be real with us. We need to live out Galatians 6:2 which says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so you will fulfill the Law of Christ.”

Jesus always hears our hearts whether another person does or not. And He always listens with a compassionate ear. We become more like Him when we slow down and show the same love and compassion toward others whose hearts need a friend. 

How has someone blessed you by listening?


Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Light In The Darkness

In the dead of night, as the world around them slept and all was dark and quiet and still, under a twinkling mobile of stars, a King was born. No fanfare greeted Him, no parade announced Him, no room was made for Him save for an ordinary barn.

And in the light of day, as the world beyond them busied and all blindingly labored under the weight of their own sin, a Messiah was born.

Though creation groaned for a Savior, the world was wholly unaware of the miracle that had occurred in their midst.

The Christ had stepped down from His regal throne at the right hand of the Father and was born a helpless babe.

And his mother laid Him in a manger. The trough that was constructed to contain food for beasts now contained the spiritual food for all mankind.

Though we sought Him not, He poured Himself as the Living Water and gave Himself as the Bread of Life.

Quietly, humbly, the Light of the ages shone into the world and, joyfully, into the hearts of man. There is no high enough exaltation to give our King Jesus Who lovingly gave Himself for the salvation of all people.

May all glory and honor and praise lift up the precious Name of Jesus forever and ever.

“And the angel said to them, ‘Do not fear. For behold, I give to you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For to you is born today, in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this is a sign to you. You will find the babe wrapped, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’” (Luke 2:10-14)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Let God Be Magnified

This is not the post I was going to write for today.  But I'm too angry to write that one.  I'm too upset and saddened by news I just got about someone in my extended family.  I won't say what it is, but suffice it to say satan is having a heyday right now. 

I hate the enemy. 

With a passion I hate him.  He takes anything that God wants to give us for our good and enjoyment and pleasure and he twists it and makes it ugly and painful.  He takes rainbows--given to us by God as a sign of hope and His enduring, holy love--and distorts it into something that is used to symbolize an unholy, irreverent sexual act. 

he takes marriage--ordained by God as a union between one man and one woman--and deteriorates it into meaning little else than hooking up for a while and then leaving when it gets boring. 

he takes relationship that God has given to each of us through His Son, Jesus Christ, and turns it into nothing more than a religion of self-pride.  And then he takes those religions down deeper, darker avenues of God-distorting, Christ-lowering, self-elevating, heart-crushing, lying, mindless, evil organizations. 

And people swallow the lies hook, line and sinker. 

And the aftermath is never-ending.  The pain goes on, the disappointment continues, and true love goes unfulfilled.  And it's not just the story of my loved one I'm talking about.  I keep hearing about others who are faced with their own enemy-warping joy-stealing stories.  And all in the week of Christmas.  What a coincidence.  Not. 

This is Christmas week and I will lift my God high.  I will magnify the Name of Jesus above all names.  I will ascribe to Him the glory and honor that is due His Name and more, if there ever could be more. 

He is my Abba, my Father, my Counselor, my Comforter, my Truth.  He is my Hope, my Future, my Love, my Teacher, my All in All. 

He is the blessed King of kings, Lord of lords and God of gods.  He is Elohim, Jehovah-Jireh and Jehovah-Rophe.  He is Jehovah-Nissi and Jehovah-Shalom.  He is the great Shepherd, the eternal Judge and He will have the last word. 

He is El Shaddai. 

He is the Alpha and the Omega and His Word will stand forever.  He is the Rock of solid ground. 

He is beautiful and His love is perfection.  He does no wrong and tells no lies.  He keeps every promise.  Every soul who asks He will receive.

His Name is Emmanual--God with us.  He stepped down from His high and lofty throne where He was worshipped and controlled the universe to show us just how much He loves us. 

I think no one has said it better than S. M. Lockridge.  I hope you join me in worshipping the one and only true God as you listen to Pastor Lockridge extol the great and mighty Name of our God.

You can read the Names of God here

With all love and sincerety and hope for all God's blessings,

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Trials Don't Take a Holiday, Do They?

Last week I talked about my favorite Christmas, one when Jesus rode up on the white horse and saved the day. But not all of my Christmases have been filled with miracles. And I know that every year during the holidays there are many who are struggling.

We imagine that Christmas should be an exciting time full of parties and shopping and eggnog, but when we or a loved one is going through a trial or depression or loneliness, the expectations that we put on this time of year can really magnify our pain. Maybe you’re having a less than picture-perfect Christmas this year.

I want you to know that you’re not alone.

My dad suffered with depression and alcoholism since he was very young. There were many times he would be gone from home for days at a time on a drinking binge. The holidays were always an especially difficult time for him, and there was one year when I was about 14 that it became very apparent.

It was Christmas Eve and my dad had been gone for a couple of days. At some point during the day he stumbled into the house, went to his bed and passed out. The joy had been sucked out of our home. My mother, my sister and I sat on the couch together that evening to open our gifts, which was our tradition. There were no giggles or excitement as we opened our presents, only an overwhelming sadness. I can only imagine what my mother was going through.

My parents didn’t know Christ as their Lord and Savior, and my sister and I hadn’t yet given our lives to Him, so there was no hope of change, no joy of salvation, no understanding and celebrating the true meaning of Christmas. That was a difficult Christmas, one of the worst. There would be others.

I want you to know that in Christ there is hope.

To have the hope of Christ you must first have Christ. Do you know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father but by Me. (John 14:6) There are not a thousand roads to God; there is only One, and that is through God’s Son. Two thousand years ago, Jesus died on a cross and wrapped up the gift of salvation just for you. That gift can be opened right now by believing in Him, confessing your sins and giving your life to Him. I pray you don’t let another Christmas pass by without opening this most precious of gifts. And if you do pray to give your life to Christ, please email me and let me know!

Next, know that there is no such thing as a picture-perfect Christmas. Perfect is in the eye of the beholder. So tuck away those expectations of perfection in a box and mark it “Heaven.” Only there will everything be made perfect and we will lack for nothing.

Until then, if you are going through a difficult time, know that God is with you. I don’t want that to sound trite and I know that when you’re in the middle of a dark and painful trial those words can sound that way. But sometimes in the darkness, when you can’t see or understand, all you can do is hold the Lord’s hand and let Him lead you. He has promised to be your Shepherd and He always fulfills His promises.

Put your hope in Christ, the Creator of the earth, the Almighty God Who has redeemed you from hell and the Holy Spirit Who is your constant Companion of comfort. He is with you right now and He has a plan for your life. Keep focused on Him and continue to pray, pray, pray.

I didn’t realize it when I was 14, but Jesus was with me and my whole family that Christmas Eve. There would come a day when first my sister, then myself, and then my dad would each receive Christ as our Lord and Savior.

Remember, we are only sojourners in this very temporary life. And we are here for a high and lofty purpose. Just as Christ came, not to live in comfort, but to bring unparalleled hope and joy to the world, so we have been given the awesome gift of carrying His Light in our hearts so that we can continue to bring that hope and joy of Jesus Christ to the world.

“For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.

We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed—always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.” (2 Cor. 4:6-10)

What an amazing thing! We may not be surrounded by everything the world says is needed for a successful life, (and I don’t even think they can agree on exactly what that is) but we carry in us something of far more intrinsic, eternal beauty than anything this world has to offer—the life of Christ!

So rise up and have hope my brothers and sisters in Christ. Hold onto the Lord Who has redeemed you. Remember that Christmas is not what the world has made it. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of our King, Jesus Christ, the joy and light of the world.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:3-9)

If you need someone to stand with you in prayer this Christmas, or at any time, please don’t let fear keep you from reaching out to someone. I would be honored to pray for you.

May your Christmas be filled with Christ!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Christmas Pop-In

Just a quick pop-in to say hi and see how everyone's doing this Christmas season. 

Are you having a blast? Are you snowed in? Are you hanging in there?  Are you struggling?  Are you done shopping???  We're just about done with that, thanks to the interwebs.  Shopping goes a lot faster when you don't have to get in the car, drive somewhere and brave the crowds. 

I'd really love to hear how you're doing. 


Monday, December 6, 2010

He Hears You When You're Praying

I thought I had shared this story here before but I couldn’t find it when I searched.  Whether you've heard it or not, I pray the Holy Spirit will speak to your heart in a fresh and personal way.

*       *       *

My husband and I were facing our second Christmas after we became Christians. Just a few months before I had quit my job to stay home and raise our son, who was a little more than a year and a half.

On paper we didn’t have the money to support ourselves, but I felt strongly that God wanted me home and I wanted to be there. We had faith that He would honor our obedience and that He would take care of us.

That faith was tested as Christmas day neared and we had no money to buy gifts for our precious son. He was still so young that he really didn’t understand that he would be missing out on Christmas morning, but we knew. And so I turned to the Lord.

I sat down in the living room one day while my husband was at work and just talked to the Lord. I was open and honest and poured out my heart to Him. I told Him we had no money (of course He already knew that) and that I knew the only way Eric would have any presents on Christmas morning would be if He gave them Himself, and so I asked Him if He would do that very thing. As far as I know, no one else knew about our situation.

Christmas morning came and we still hadn’t found a way to buy presents. My husband and I and our smiley, little Eric got up and started our day like it was any day, making breakfast and going about our usual routine, but joyful to celebrate the birth of our Lord.

And then there was a knock on the door.

All three of us went to the door and opened it. It was our next door neighbor. She explained that they had looked out their front window and noticed that in their driveway there was a Christmas tree and some boxes. When they went outside to have a look, they saw that there were some lights and ornaments for the tree. And there were gifts.

But she said they knew the gifts weren’t for them. They had two daughters who were older. The gifts were for a little boy, our little boy. She said they knew we went to church and thought maybe someone from the congregation had left them for us and just missed our driveway by one. (Personally, I think it was a divine “mistake,” so that God could reveal His grace in the eyes of our neighbors, too.) They handed us the tree and the gifts and I stood there stunned with tears in my eyes.

My Father had heard my prayer. I had reached out to Him in faith and He had blessed me by blessing our son…His son. He hadn’t seen it as a silly or frivolous prayer. What He saw was a heart that believed in Him and was reaching out to Him in faith in a time of need.

We set up the tree, gave our son his gifts and sat in awe as we comprehended the heart of our Lord. It was His birthday and yet He was blessing us. That was 20 years ago and it’s still the most precious Christmas I've ever had. In the world’s eyes we were poor, but in Christ we couldn’t have been richer.

I hope you know God loves you and He hears you when you call out to Him.  And I hope you know the riches of Christ this Christmas and always.

“Blessed be the LORD, because He has heard the voice of my supplications! The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in Him, and I am helped; therefore my heart greatly rejoices, and with my song I will praise Him. The LORD is their strength, and He is the saving refuge of His anointed. Save Your people, and bless Your inheritance; shepherd them also, and bear them up forever.” (Psalm 28:6-9)


Friday, December 3, 2010

Friday Foodie {Chocolate Pudding}

I had some lonely whipped cream just lying in the fridge since the last bit of pie from Thanksgiving was eaten. It was crying out for some chocolate pudding to hang out with, so I made some.

It’s creamy and delicious, infinitely better than a box of powdered, chocolate-flavored preservatives. And it really only took me about 25 minutes from start to fridge.

Chocolate Pudding

¾ cup sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons cornstarch or ¼ cup flour
2 2/3 cups milk
4 egg yolks
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla

1. Have egg yolks ready in a bowl. In a heavy medium saucepan, stir together sugar, cocoa powder and cornstarch or flour. Stir in milk. Cook and stir over medium heat until bubbly; cook 2 more minutes. Remove from heat.

2. Very gradually whisk in 1 cup of the milk mixture into egg yolks. (This is so the eggs don’t cook.) Add egg yolk mixture back into the pan with the remaining milk mixture.

3. Bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat. Cook and stir for 2 more minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in butter or margarine and vanilla.

4. Strain the pudding through a fine strainer (just to make sure you remove any cooked egg bits) into a bowl and put plastic wrap directly on the pudding while it cools to prevent a skin from forming…unless you’re a fan of pudding skins. Refrigerate until cool.

Or, if your pudding craving just can’t wait (like me), or you just like warm pudding (also like me), put some pudding a separate bowl just for you, put the plastic wrap directly on the pudding and put it in the fridge for about 20-30 minutes. Take it out, peel off the wrap, slather it with whipped cream and enjoy. You can even top with a little cinnamon, crushed peppermint candy, crushed Oreo cookies or whatever your little ol’ heart desires.

Have a great weekend!

Word for the weekend:

“Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the LORD, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:3-4