The Highest

Four days before the world pauses and celebrates. There aren’t many silent nights in our world – so much heartache and anxiety. Choruses of Joy to the World or We Wish You A Merry Christmas aren’t ringing out in many public venues these days.

This Christmas lyric reminds us how to celebrate: Repeat the sounding joy! Oh, that those who see us would know the why and the Who of the celebration – the Good News, the Great Joy that is for all the people.

A Savior was born, He grew to be a man, and in God’s perfect timing, served this broken world and made a bigger impact than all the celebrities, politicians, rulers ever. Why is that? His purpose was pure, His motivation was selfless, and His sacrifice was real. “But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! For behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. (Luke 2:10 BSB)

Maybe this Christmas you feel too stressed or stretched – too tired or troubled – too worried or wanting to share Jesus. We all do at times. But the Savior reminds us to lay down our busyness, rest our weariness, and surrender our fears. He’s told us in this world we will have trouble – but He’s also promised us He has overcome it all.

In God’s perfect timing all will be made right. And in the wait, whether pleasant or terrifying, He will never leave us. And He will work out all things for the good of those who love Him. Do we know this, believe this? “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in Me.” (John 14:1 NLT)

Glory to God in the highest isn’t just a call of angelic beings. The more glory we give God the more He lifts us up out of what is holding us down. Praising His Name. Praying in His Name. Thanking our Messiah for the good and the bad.

So, this Christmas (and going forward) let’s live like we believe Jesus is God’s one and only Son, who came as a babe born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, gave that life away on a torturous cross, and is now in heaven telling God how much He loves us – no matter what.

In that there is great joy, and it can’t be stolen from us by circumstances. Merry Christmas! The Lord has come, receive your King, prepare room in your heart, and sing Glory, Glory, Glory to God in the Highest! And someday, peace on earth, good will to men will be our everyday. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests!” (Luke 2:14 BSB)

Shiny & New

Who doesn’t love new car smell, new vacation discovery, newborn baby softness? Once, so long ago, all the world teemed with new. The newness was never meant to fade. The wonder was never meant to become ho-hum.

But it did. The beauty of sunrise – splashing fish – flowers blooming, quickly turned into overcast skies – polluted waters – and pests destroying. So much for thinking the created could take the reins from the Creator.

Joy, joy, joy – for all will be made new and this time there will be no more sin to mar the beauty and wonder. “And the One seated on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelation 21:5a BSB)

Do you know the “all things” mentioned includes you? Are you hurting from years of rejection? Are you wheelchair bound? Are you imprisoned? Is pain your constant companion? Or are you just tired of all the hard of life?

Oh, there is good, good news. Just one thing needed: let Jesus take your hand and walk your days here with you and then lead you straight into forever. It is yours just for the surrendering of your will to God’s. “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.” (Romans 3:23-24 NLT)

A dear friend of ours struggled the last year or so with ALS – a terrible wasting disease that left his brilliant mind and tender heart trapped in a body that completely withered before his loved one’s eyes. But he did not waiver in his hope in Christ nor did he despair that life was over. Because he knew it wasn’t – he knew that it was just beginning.

This is the amazing of Christmas, the wonder of it all. Teach little children that it’s not the shiny new toy, the paid phony with a white beard, the north pole or any of the other things we’ve made Christmas about. Shiny new are the hearts that once were lost made new here and now, the souls wandering aimlessly found and restored, and the knowledge that someday all will be shiny and new – never to spoil or be destroyed again.

Merry Christmas is a newborn baby, who grew to be a sacrificed lamb, and now stands with open arms to a perfect forever for all who simply say – ‘Save me, Jesus, a sinful wanderer in need of a forever home’. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come!” (2Corinthians 5:17 BSB)

All I Want

So, what do you want for Christmas? The annual question. I hear lots of different answers – most of the grown-up responses begin with ‘All I want (fill in the blank)’. Then wrapped in shiny paper or draped with a big bow, voila. No sooner do we get what we asked for and we’re once again unsatisfied.

“If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you.” (John 15:7 CSB)

Hmm, anything?! Here’s the deal – did you read the whole verse and what comes before and after? God isn’t a genie and Jesus isn’t a fairy god mother.

No verse has been taken out of context more than this one. Before and after this verse here is what we are being taught: (my synopsis) as followers of Jesus Christ, in order to show outwardly who we are and Who we follow, we must stay very close to Him. Learn more and more to become like Him. Realize that we are powerless on our own. Bring glory to the Father.

And as we grow and mature in Him, we will know the things we should ask for. The things we ask will bring Him glory. The Holy Spirit will speak to God on our behalf – and yes, all our true desires, that are according to His will, will be granted. “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” (1John 5:14 NIV)

This is the Good News! Because of Jesus, we have direct access to God, 24/7. Before Messiah: sacrifices and priests and laws. Now Emmanuel, God with us: He hears us. No religion – no traditions – no rituals.

This is the merry in our Christmas. We are not alone, this hard world will not always be, and we who call on the only Name that can save will forever have what our souls long for. People must know and we must tell. God is not silent, and He doesn’t want us to be.

So, what do you want for Christmas? Let’s fill in the blank with: more Jesus – in us and in the world.

“I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that

all who put their trust in Me will no longer remain in the dark.”

(John 12:46 NLT)

Every Day

I love that, here in America, we set aside a day to be thankful for all we have and be grateful for our nation.

Parents love to hear ‘thank you’ from their children. Cultivating a heart of gratefulness has to begin young – teaching that everything we’re given is worthy of thanks. Otherwise we’re like spoiled children who never utter thank you and carry that attitude throughout life.

I think, perhaps, there are a lot of ‘spoiled children’ in adult bodies these days. They ignore how blessed they are and only criticize. Never knowing, or at least not acknowledging, that everything they have or can have is not a product of their efforts, but from the hand of God who gives and gives. “And this is what Christ himself promised to give us–eternal life.” (1John 2:25 GNT)

Maybe that’s the reset we need. Time out for us all. To evaluate where we are – from the most impoverished to the super wealthy. Reset our brains to be thankful for what is and not continually lust for more.

Well that may be grandiose and not likely achievable. But what if we examine ourselves: how often do I find myself delighting in the online order, the cart of groceries, the freedom here in America – yet not daily taking time to delight more in the Giver than in the gift?

“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.” (Psalm 107:1 NLT)

As we celebrate Thanksgiving in just a couple of days here’s our challenge – will we daily lift up thanks for even the things we take most for granted? What if we just start with thanks for a new day? thanks for fresh air? thanks for this moment?

I’m thinking that if we concentrated on heartfelt gratefulness – we might just change our little part of the world. Maybe an army of us living grateful might begin to have a broader impact.

It all starts with three small words: Thank You Jesus. Every day is Thanksgiving.

“Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor

and power and strength be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

(Revelation 7:12 BSB)

I See You

Hide and seek with three- and four-year-olds takes a little patience – they want to play endlessly. Half the time they tell me where to hide or where they are going to hide. I walk around pretending to look, then out they pop saying “You found me!”

The first ‘hiders’ were Adam and Eve. Suddenly fear had entered into life – not knowing God’s reaction to what had taken place made them scamper behind a tree. As usual for that time of day, God came to be with them. He called to them as if He didn’t know where they were.

So began a generational instinct to hide when we know we’ve done wrong. Whether we hide literally or behind excuses.

Yet, God did not abandon them in their time of need. Yes, consequences were realized – still are today. When we hide from the Finder of our soul, He still calls out. Plays our game. So that we can call out to Him. For when we are most lost, He is most present – we just have to come out.

“My heart says of you, ‘Seek his face!’ Your face, LORD, I will seek.” (Psalm 27:8 NIV) The most popular Christian hymn ever has the line “I was once lost, but now am found”. A slave trader turned God seeker saw sin for what it was and spent the rest of his life walking in plain sight, to be seen and restored by his Finder. “Was blind, but now I see.”

I wish I could convince all those still hiding, that it’s okay to come out. “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1 NLT) Jesus has made a way. There will still be earth consequences for our selfish ways. But now, through a Savior who loved us enough to die, there’s a way to stand perfectly clean before the God of the universe.

Hiding is wearisome and fruitless. I want to stand in the open where God can call out ‘I see you’ – and I in return can exclaim ‘I see YOU’. Freedom is not in having our way – freedom is in finding God’s way and trusting that He knows best. “For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” (Luke 19:10 NLT) No more hiding, just seeking.

Time is near

Recently I went to a 90th birthday celebration. Like all of us, he wonders…where have the years gone? We are created with an eternal instinct. We know that this chasing after life isn’t quite right. Yet the world we live in sets our deadlines, whirls away our days, and demands we go all out while we still can.

The Bible is not silent on time. Throughout the pages references are made as to how we spend our days, what was happening in a particular time, what will happen in future days. During the brief period before Adam and Eve succumbed to desiring to be their own God, time wasn’t a concern. But ever since: birthdays and last breaths, work schedules and vacations, youthful bodies and old ones.

To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven(Ecclesiastes 3:1 BSB)

A relentless ticking away of minutes and hours we can’t slow or speed up. We make “bucket lists” knowing our time is ticking away. But wait – all this is living like this is all there is. The thing is, there is eternity for every man and woman. The question is – where will it be spent? “He has also set eternity in the hearts of men, yet they cannot fathom the work that God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11b BSB)

I wish I had special insight into how to “make the most of time” – how to “make it count” – how to actually have enough hours to “do it all”. Alas, I think that’s part of the journey: realizing that this isn’t how it’s supposed to be; which makes us long for a place where time never runs out.

Seems only a few, throughout history, truly used the time allotted them wisely: Noah followed God’s instructions (and the rest of his days were spent on the other side of destruction). David spent a great deal of his time writing, singing, even dancing for the Lord (and though his days held sorrow at times, his heart was one God told us was very special). Their life lessons transcend time.

Think of the Billy Grahams, the martyrs throughout history, the missionaries. All chose to use their days in service to the Lord. We aren’t all called to make big imprints on history like these. But we are all called to use our time for Jesus. No matter our calling – businessman, politician, mother, hairdresser, teacher, inventor – all are called to use where we are in time to bring glory to God.

“Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.” (Revelation 1:3 NIV)

Falling

During my life I have fallen down stairs, slipped and fell with my first baby in my arms, and took a dive when marching after my disobedient toddlers on the freshly mopped floor. But my recent fall has left me sore, yet grateful.

Didn’t see it coming. It hurt. Nothing quite compares though to the type of falling the Bible instructs us about. Like the first one of Adam and Eve – falling out of perfection. Some falls are memorable.

“At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame” (Genesis 3:7a NLT) Can’t imagine how that first bleak day and deserted night were for God’s breath of life creations.

Then there’s us. We may stumble and fall physically along the way, but eventually we recover and forget. Not so much when we fall into – temptation. That one can take a lifetime to recover from. Guilt, shame, fear – and yet it’s us who take the lifetime, for God stands at the ready to forgive and remove from memory all our shortcomings.

“How far has the LORD taken our sins from us? Farther than the distance from east to west!” (Psalm 103:12 CEV)

Actually, it may be harder to watch our children navigate the falls of life. When they were young, we picked them up and dusted them off. We kissed the ‘boo-boos’. But then released into the world as adults we watch the stumbles and it’s literally like watching someone swoosh over a waterfall – out of our grasp.

But never out of God’s. His hold on us and on all those who know His Son, Jesus, as Savior – that’s a firm grip. We can never fall out of His reach, and He will never fall out of love with us.Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the LORD holds them by the hand.” (Psalm 37:24 NLT)

As I recover from this latest fall, I can feel the Lord reminding me of so many things. His grace and mercy, His provision and healing, His forgiveness and love. I have a leaf covered picture I hung on the wall for this season of autumn. It says:

Fall for Jesus, He never leaves you.” Never a truer play on words.

No You Can’t

Learning these days that all the “I can’ts” I’ve often sighed or screamed out are holy ground. The place where God reminds me, again, that I cannot but He can – and, in His time, He will.

We’ve grown up in a world of self-affirmation, of everyone gets a trophy, of failure being a hidden word. Truth is life isn’t about us, the goodies, or the losses.

Time to teach our children, grandchildren – from first breath – that life is about…the Creator. “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as reminders on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, speaking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 11:18-19 BSB)

I’m towards the end of the clock here on earth, but that doesn’t mean I don’t remember what it’s like to be near the beginning or the middle.

I’ve seen lives lived from early on for Jesus. I’ve seen lives surrendered midway. And I’ve seen in the last bits of time true life found in the Savior. Sweetest are those who get the most time living here for Him. “I have come in order that you might have life–life in all its fullness.” (John 10:10 GNT)

Perhaps earth’s clock is ticking down, perhaps it has millennia ahead. But with my time I must now encourage, speak truth, live like I’m His. No more shyness about offending with His Name. No more sugar-coating to not rock a relationship.

For time runs out for us all. And on this side of the hour hands, I want to be a light that shows this truly is where joy is found, peace surrounds, and love abounds.

How about you? Will you choose now to let Him give the gift of life? Or if you have, will you use what’s left of your time living in the “He can”. Because no you can’t – fix the losses, the hurts, the pains. Only One can: “And the One seated on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelation 21:5a BSB)

Revolution

Today I am watching an everchanging landscape – mountains disappear and reappear as Smoky Mountain mist twirls up from the ground and descends from the clouds. It’s peaceful. A beautiful mystery of creation that at once enshrouds and then lays bare a beautiful landscape.

It reminds me: life is all about change. Personal or political or global – this world is spinning into a chaos of change that tends to leave us unnerved.

God knows we need reassurance: ” ‘For the mountains may move and the hills disappear, but even then My faithful love for you will remain. My covenant of blessing will never be broken,’ says the LORD, who has mercy on you.” (Isaiah 54:10 NLT)

The question being asked a lot these days: how are we, as God’s people, to live? In other words, when we see the deeds of wickedness being touted as normal, blatant lies being called truth, evil called good and good called evil – what is our role?

I will not pretend to have that answer, I am pondering it along with you. However, God’s Word never changes and all this turmoil is part of our devolving due to sin. “Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low…And the glory of the Lord will be revealed…All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field…The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:4a, 5a, 6b, 8 NIV)

As we look for answers in these uncertain times, we need look no further than our Bibles. The Holy Spirit will show us our way and our role. It will require diligence on our part – to search His Word, to listen for His direction, and to not be afraid of what evil can do.

Just shy of two hundred-fifty years ago, a new nation was dawning; men and women God had called to a land we now call home, faced the same dilemmas. God called them to revolution, perhaps He will call us to that as well. But it may not be in the form of battles of men against men, rather in battles of prayer – standing firm for His righteousness – and being willing to sacrifice as so many Jesus followers have before us, and still are, around the world today.

“Lift up your eyes to the heavens, look at the earth beneath; the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies. But My salvation will last forever, My righteousness will never fail. Hear Me, you who know what is right, you people who have My law in your hearts: Do not fear the reproach of men or be terrified by their insults.” (Isaiah 51:6-7 NIV)

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