Many of us have ornaments, or handmade decorations from our children, or gifts from beloved friends and family that only make an appearance once a year at Christmastime. We treasure those special things and find joy in holding each one as we remove them from their protective wrappers. Seeing them in the sparkling light, a flash of memory brings back the picture of when we first received them. They are treasures that bring joy to our hearts.
Actually, Christmastime is filled with treasures as we sing our favorite carols once again, make grandma’s recipe for sugar cookies, and send love and good wishes to our friends. Silent Night and Away in a Manger bring gentle memories of days gone by, echoing their joy and filling us with peace and with the spirit of the season.
It has always been this way. When a young virgin named Mary first heard the words of the Angel, announcing God’s plan to deliver the world from sin, she pondered those words, treasuring them in her heart, most likely for her entire life. When the shepherds in the field heard angels singing in the night, they were caught in the glory of the moment and determined that they would go to Bethlehem and search for this treasure, the baby in a manger. Of course, the wise scientists of the day had been studying the stars for some time, prepared to follow His star and bring treasures of gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.
Christmas is filled with treasures of the season, but some are only fleeting and disappear like visions of sugarplums. Other treasures, like the gift of God’s Son, will last forever. May you be blessed this Christmas with the treasures that remain in your heart from here to heaven.
Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Matthew 6:21
Yesterday I had the opportunity to do a radio chat with Carmen LaBerge at Connecting Faith. It was only the second such interview I’ve ever done in my life, and I have to say, I wasn’t particularly good at it. I definitely need more experience in this arena. Fortunately, Carmen was brilliant and kept things smoothly on track.
It’s funny that you can know something so well, but stumble over yourself in an effort to share your understanding with others. As we discussed my new book, What a Great Word, I realized that I had pulled a rather difficult concept to share on the air, over many that I could have explained more easily. Since the book focuses on one word in Scripture and seeks to offer a more intentional or perhaps new perspective on that word, I offered the word “dust” as an example. The Scripture says, “Where the Lord goes, there are whirlwinds and storms, and the clouds are the dust beneath his feet.” (Nahum 1:3)
Nahum’s words caused me to think that I should remember that the Presence of God is everywhere. Much like the dust on my dresser, I may not notice it. I may simply let it build there. I may totally miss it if the sun does not clearly bring it back to my attention. As I reflected on that idea and God’s presence, it occurred to me that though the dust of God’s Presence can swirl around me like a whirlwind, I can choose to not see it. I can simply ignore Him, though He never goes away. I can miss His Presence until He shines a light on it in a way that makes it clear that He is still there, still waiting for me to notice. The idea that I could either realize God is everywhere around me and honor Him for being there, or that I could simply shake off the dust and ignore it, gave me pause. Today, I choose to look for Him everywhere, knowing that He is always around me, blessing me, and waiting for me to acknowledge His precious Presence. May His light open your eyes to realize that His love surrounds you, whether you notice or not, like dust in the air!
I drove my husband to the airport at 4AM. He’s an early riser, so I imagine that was not quite as difficult for him as it was for me. 7AM is more my style! Later that day, as I began to rise and shine, I started finding little love notes…everywhere! There was one on the coffee pot, one in the silverware drawer, another in the refrigerator, still another on my computer and I suspect there are more yet to be discovered. Sure, it’s a little over the top, but then that’s the gift of love…it always strives to be more than you imagined it could be.
I’m sharing this with you because I feel fairly certain that in His own way, and with His own hand, God does this all the time. He leaves little love notes everywhere, reminders that He is thinking of us and that He loves us more than we can imagine. He shows up when we least expect it, answers a prayer we whispered in haste, and goes a little over the top, trying to get His message to resonate with our hearts. He knows we’re busy. He knows we think that our independence and our intelligence, and our perseverance are the things that get us through the day. Yes, He gave us those things, but He goes beyond our abilities and capabilities. He inspires a friend to call just when we needed a warm voice. He reminds us of a Scripture, or blesses us with a song that brings us peace. He’s there…still sending you love notes!
Since my new book, What a Great Word, is releasing soon, I thought it might be a good idea to share a few excerpts from it. The past few weeks have been relatively short of what feels like Good News, so here’s a thought that might bring a little warm light to your day. The word for the day is NEWS! The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.” Luke 1:19.These days it’s difficult to put the two words, “good” and “news” side by side. Good news doesn’t seem to stream through the numerous devices we have at our disposal. But in biblical times, and still today, God tries to get us to hear the good news. He wants us to never forget that despite the mess the world gets itself into, He is still watching everything. He is still in control. Perhaps simply trusting that statement helps us to know that we can indeed receive good news into our hearts. We can spread the word. We can choose to play the angel and be people who are sent out to speak with others about the good news of God. We can be an ambassador of God’s goodwill, His steadfast love, and His enduring kindness to human beings. We can go before God in our prayer time and in our study of His word and stand close to Him, seeking His guidance on how to create balance in the world; how to give people the good news. You have a lot of things to do today, and each one is important, but see if you can find a moment to offer good news to someone. Extend a helping hand, offer a prayer, or simply make a connection so they know they are not alone. The world all around you is desperately waiting for something better; they are waiting for good news. Since you cannot do good to all, you are to pay special regard to those who, by the accidents of time, or place, or circumstances, are brought into closer connection with you. Saint Augustine
My new devotional, What a Great Word will come out this fall and as I was looking at writing a blog today, I decided to share one of the entries. The book focuses on one word each day from Scripture that you might want to study, or contemplate or consider again to get a new perspective. I chose the word STRUGGLE for today, because that’s what my own life has felt like for the past few weeks. I’ve spent endless hours praying, worrying, wondering, trying to fix things, and yet, nothing has changed. I’ve put up the white flag of surrender though, believing that the answers will come soon. Now I will simply keep my chin up and trust that God has my back. Maybe you’ve been there too. So, here’s the piece on STRUGGLE from the new book: Struggle is an equal opportunity player. It doesn’t care what you do for a living or where you build a home. It doesn’t care how educated you are or how many children you have. It doesn’t even care if you go to church Sunday after Sunday or simply visit on key holidays. It’s there for you, or perhaps it’s there because of you. Struggle comes to each of us as a contender, as a boxer in the ring. It’s ready to brag about its winning abilities, to taunt you into fighting, to get you into the arena where it competes. We know this because struggle is not coming first and foremost from the job you have, the family dynamic you live in, or the people in your neighborhood. It’s coming straight from the wily One who prowls the Earth. It comes to you to test you and taunt you and make you question the authority of the absolute power of God. It’s spiritual warfare that attempts to whittle away at your heart and mind and soul until you simply feel lost. You may struggle to pay your bills, or to lose weight, or to find a great job, or about any number of other life situations, but remember that no matter what it looks like on the surface, it’s really a challenge to distract you from God’s love and grace. It is an attempt to get you out of God’s hand. This is not your day to struggle, though. It’s your day to win! Give God thanks and praise that you are tightly held in His powerful hands. Scripture: For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:12, NIV
I’ve been musing this week about these two words, “undeserved” and “underserved.” Inserting that one letter “r” changes everything about them and yet they cause me to think about who we are as human beings. No matter where we live or what we do vocationally, we all live in undeserved grace. We have done nothing to earn our position in life, our family heritage, or our gifts and talents. These things were given to each of us by the grace of God. Sure, we’ve worked hard and we’ve tried to make our way in the world, but it seems to me that we’ve been free to do that because every morning God brings a new sunrise and every evening He gives us a chance to rest. He blesses us, not because we earned our way to His favor, but simply because He wants our good, He wants us to live well. It’s all undeserved and totally unearned.
So, putting that “r” back into the midst of the word, we get “underserved.” Even though we’ve been given this umbrella of unearned and undeserved grace, we still do not do all that we can to be of service to the One who watches over our very being. We do not serve Him with our whole hearts and minds. We do not minister to each other without counting the costs to ourselves or judging the worth of another. We, who are part of the undeserving crowd, are caught underserving the One who reigns over the universe. Perhaps the “r” that is missing for some of us stands for Redeemer, the One who gives us undeserved grace and loves us even though we stubbornly underserve Him.
I wonder what the world would be like if we imagined every person as being deserving of love and grace and kindness, and we served each other with gratitude for all God has done for us. I suspect, the news would have very different reports indeed.
I have a new book coming out soon called What a Great Word! I’m excited about the book because it takes rather common words we find in Scripture and offers us a new perspective, or another way we might look at those words. After the recent experience that Bruce and I had with the incredibly careless and deceitful moving company that packed us up haphazardly, broke many of our things, lost some of our favorite items and yet took no ownership of their own craziness, I had to pull a word out of my own book because I was so appalled by this experience. From the company president, to the dispatchers, to the moving guys, we have seldom witnessed such horrid behavior. The word I needed then is “forgiveness.” This past few days, I’ve been reviewing my book to make some minor changes for the publisher and when I got to the word “forgiveness,” I found that I had written this: “Lord, when my fellow believer sins against me, how many times must I forgive him? Should I forgive him as many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, you must forgive him more than seven times. You must forgive him even if he wrongs you seventy times seven.” Matthew 18:21–22, NCV Wait a minute! Does this mean if someone does something that feels like a slight, like an intentional act that hurts you, you need to forgive them, not just once, but 490 times? Exactly! You probably don’t have a chart that tells you how many times you’ve forgiven someone who hurt you. In fact, you may feel that what happened was so wrong that you stopped counting at number one. You stopped counting and you stopped forgiving in the same moment. Certainly, human beings are accountable for many horrendous acts, sometimes repeating them numerous times. Someone in your life may have hurt you more times than you can count. What does it mean then to move past the hurt, to move past the event that caused you sorrow and get to the place where your heart is willing to forgive? Perhaps the best example is to look at your relationship with God. Would you say that you have offended God by your actions at least once? Twice? Maybe even 490 times? The fact is that God’s love is so enormous that He does not count your offences. He does not keep a chart of the wrongs you have done because once you have asked Him to forgive you, He forgives, once and for all. He does not hold a grudge and He remembers your sin no more. Imagine that. He doesn’t ever think about what you did to slight Him ever again. When you let go of your past hurts, the offences that have weighed you down for years, you don’t have to replay them in your mind any more. You can give yourself permission to move beyond what was and discover more of what God has for you. The offence will not go away, the offender will not be absolved, but you will be free to start again. Perhaps it’s time to simply forgive others as God has forgiven you, not for the other person, but for yourself. I read this piece several times and as I did so, I thought about each person from this moving company. Each one lied. Each one denied any sense of responsibility for the incredible amount of damage they had done to our household goods. Sure, the human side of me is angry. I believe that they should admit their sins. But that is as far as I can take it. I leave them in God’s hands because it’s time to move on to forgiveness. I forgive them, not for their sake, but for my own, so that I can love my new home and start again in God’s grace. After all, I know how many times He has forgiven me. I look forward to sharing more about life in Savannah with all of you in the days ahead. Blessings to you today. “
Hospital waiting rooms are full of stories. Most of those are love stories because some beloved person is having difficulty, and some supportive person is doing their best to trust all that is going on. Recently, a dear friend of ours found himself in one of those hospital waiting rooms. His grandson, only 18 months old, is battling a blood disease. It’s been difficult to determine exactly what is going on with this baby, and so on the day that this story took place, this tiny boy was in the hospital waiting to have a bone marrow procedure. Our friend Bob was doing what we all do when we’re called to the hospital; he was waiting and praying for his grandson.
As he sat in the waiting room though, he noticed another grandfather who was also waiting and praying. This grandfather was a Muslim. Bob couldn’t help but notice how this grandfather prayed over his grandson just as Bob had done earlier. Bob realized he couldn’t understand the language of the prayers going up to Allah, but he related to the moment with compassion. He witnessed the tears in the man’s eyes as he walked away from his grandson after the prayer, continuing to pray even under his breath. Fighting to keep his dignity and composure, the man retreated to a nearby window.
Bob said that the man’s words were unknown to him, but he fully understood the anguished and pleading prayer of a man who loves his grandson and the god of his heart. As the day progressed, it happened that the two grandfathers had a chance to sit and talk to each other. It wasn’t easy since one of them spoke little English, and the other spoke even less Kurdish. It didn’t matter. They were simply two grandfathers bonding over the circumstances that brought them together. They were two men of prayer and faith, and two men who loved their grandsons. They didn’t need a greater bond than that.
When the two men finally shook hands and parted, Bob realized that the Muslim man loved Allah every bit as much as he loves Jesus. In his heart of hearts, he couldn’t help asking, “Why can’t we just get along?”
Personally, I believe that love always binds us together and when we start with love, we get along. May you have a blessed and genuinely heart-shaped life today and may love be a witness to all you do.
Yesterday morning, I woke up with a song running through my head. You know what that’s like. A song goes through your mind and you can’t seem to get it out. For me, it was a song I hadn’t actually thought of for some time. It was a song called, “Just As I Am” and it was the cornerstone hymn of nearly every Billy Graham crusade. I didn’t know until later in the morning that the incredible man who had dedicated his life to telling God’s stories was now sitting at the table with his Lord and King. I suspect we can’t imagine the standing ovation he must have received as he showed up at heaven’s gate, but I’m sure the sound of celebration and applause was deafening. Probably 90% of those cheering him home were people who had come to know God at one of his crusades. I imagine that even hours later after reaching the gate, he’s still shaking hands with all those grateful people, ones who might have missed being there if it hadn’t been for Billy Graham.
It’s a little sadder for us on this side. A significant light went out and we will all feel the loss. Perhaps in Billy Graham’s honor though, we could each make an effort to shine a little brighter, turn the light up where we are and remember to tell God’s stories. He was a soul man, out to catch as many souls and guide them to heaven as he could muster. He reminded us that we too can spread the light. In fact, he said that “you might be the only Bible some people ever read.” I don’t know about you, but that makes me want to be sure that the word someone hears from me helps create more space in their heart for God. Today, let’s lift our banners higher than we have before. Let’s make it our personal crusade to help others come to know Christ and to remind them that God knows them already. If God knows you already, that means He’s just waiting for you to stop long enough to get acquainted. He’s waiting to share one on one time with you so you each have more stories to tell. He’s waiting to remind you how special you are to Him.
Billy Graham has more stories to tell than most of us, but our job here on earth is to keep talking, keep walking, and keep shining the light so others can see. We might not be the amazing soul man that Dr. Graham was for his entire life, but we can be the “Good Word” of grace and love and forgiveness that helps our neighbor become a friend of God. We can each share the love.
Thank you, Billy Graham! You made the world a better place for all of us.
I love the story in John 5 about the man who waited for 38 years to get into the pool where miraculous healings happened when the waters were stirred up. It’s one of those short biblical stories that can be read in a few seconds and if you don’t really stop and digest it, it simply disappears in the text, as Jesus did when He slipped into the crowd after the healing. It fascinates me that somehow the man managed to get to the healing pool every day, that his friends perhaps carried him in to be sure he was there at the right time, but he never managed to get into the water. He never responded at just the right time. He told Jesus he couldn’t get in the water, well, because others got there first. I don’t know about you, but this story resonates with me. It reminds me of all the times I’ve waited for God to change me or do some miraculous thing in my life, only to sit and wait, sit and wait. Oh, sure, nearly every time that nothing happened I had an excuse. I could say that someone else got my promotion at work, or someone else wrote the book that sold millions, or someone else jumped ahead of me in line, but not one of those things would change my circumstances. Not one excuse could save the day! Jesus asked the man, “Would you like to get well?” and it seems like an odd question. Of course he wants to get well. He’s been waiting 38 years to do so. Or, has be become so used to his own excuse about not taking any action to get into the pool that he simply lets the world pass him by? I’m quite aware that I have often just been paralyzed by my own fears to move, or even to ask God to help me take another step. I’ve been afraid of falling down in front of the world and discovering that I simply wasn’t worthy of the goal I had set. Here’s the thing! I believe that you and I are meant to get well. I believe that we are meant to get stronger and stronger and the only thing that prevents that from happening is our fear of moving closer to the water, to the stirring of the Holy Spirit, to the plan God has for our lives. Let’s not wait 38 years! Let’s not wait another day to let Jesus know that we truly do want to get well. In fact, we want it so much, that we will trust in His word that we must simply get up, roll up the mat that we’ve filled with excuses, and start to dance. Whew! There’s no one ahead of you in line today. Get up and shout for joy! This year, we’re not making any excuses!