Rest Assured

September! If you follow the timeline of the big retail stores, you might’ve noticed that the back-to-school supplies have long since been picked through, and that (by the corporate watch) you’re already late to decorate for Thanksgiving. While we’re at it, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, too!

But seriously… This is the point where, for many, the year always seems to speed up. Whether you’ve got young kids and your life’s once again revolving around the school calendar, or you’re getting back into your own weekly activities – work routines, Bible studies, gym sessions – everything can collide in a cacophony of chaos and stress. The “dog days of summer”, when your life wasn’t run as firmly by the clock, are a distant memory, and as those sinister Facebook posts oh-so-cheerfully remind you that you’ve only got 3 months of shopping days left till Christmas, it’s hard not to long for a return to tranquility…to stillness…to rest.

However, this isn’t just a seasonal issue. We live in a culture that actively discourages the idea of “time off”, where piling more and more on our plates has become routine, respected, and almost revered. I’ve literally heard people compete for bragging rights over whose schedule is the craziest – as though that’s something to be proud of! Why do we do it? Some might say that it’s just the hustle and bustle of everyday life. But I’d argue that deep down, we’re often guilty of using activities and accomplishments as a way of “proving” ourselves worthy – of praise, of reward, of approval, of love, of whatever it is we’re seeking. We feel validated by our busyness. And perhaps more than that, we’re protected by it. See, if we fill our lives with enough busyness, then maybe it’ll drown out our fear and anxiety and stress, and even the voice of the Lord of the universe speaking to our souls. Because let’s face it: sometimes we’re afraid to hear what God’s really trying to say to us. We’re afraid that we won’t measure up… that we’re not enough… that we have to prove ourselves in order to win His approval.

Do you think maybe that’s why Jesus’ words to His followers on this issue 2000 years ago are still so powerful for us today? In Matthew 11:28-29, Jesus tells the gathered crowd, “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 (NIV).” Jesus lived in an age when religious leaders like the Pharisees were constantly policing the practices of the Jewish people, piously applying Torah law to every action under the sun, not in an effort to bring people closer to God, but so they could point fingers at others’ shortcomings. They took pleasure in extreme religious legalism, and all the activities, and rituals, and sacrifices, and offerings in the world, weren’t enough to satisfy the “holier-than-thou” attitude of the spiritual leaders of the day. In the midst of this mentality, Jesus comes onto the scene, challenges the dominant religious perspective of the day by turning it upside down on its head, and offers people FREEDOM from the burden of constantly having to prove themselves worthy of an unreachable God’s approval. Jesus invites them to exchange empty ritualism for the fullness of relationship with the Father Himself by way of the Son, who came to earth as a Bridge between an imperfect world and a perfect God. He tells His followers that they don’t have to wear themselves out any longer trying to “prove” themselves worthy, because none of us can ever be made worthy through our own doing; all they have to do is accept His invitation freely.

Now, I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with having an active, busy lifestyle, or wanting to make the most of every day God’s blessed you with by filling those days with rich and vibrant experiences. But if you’ve gotten into one of those ruts where you’re busy just for the sake of being busy, whatever your reasons might be, can I just encourage you to stop? Take a deep breath. You don’t have to prove yourself to anybody. You can’t prove yourself to God no matter how hard you try – and He doesn’t ask you to. Jesus isn’t telling you to do – He’s telling you to just be. Take His words to heart: “Come to Me.” Then take a deep breath. And rest assured.

In Dependence

The 4th of July. Freedom. Red, white, and blue. Parades, picnics, and parties. Dusk arrives and we gather at the ball field, as children’s eyes fill with wonder as they gaze, open-mouthed, at the dazzling arrays of fireworks lighting up the night sky. We finally return to the neighborhood cul-de-sac with our bags of sparklers, whistlin’ petes, and pop-its.       

Our time-honored traditions pay tribute to the ideals of freedom and liberty that characterize our nation. So as we prepare to celebrate Independence Day, let’s consider that word, “independence”, from a little different point of view.

We in the USA take great pride in our country’s autonomy and self-sufficiency. Given our history, that’s not surprising. Over a MILLION soldiers have paid the ultimate price to protect America’s shores and defend its sovereignty. In his famous Gettysburg Address, President Lincoln declared, “…that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

So with resolute independence as a foundation of this nation’s existence, is it any wonder that we carry that mentality across to other areas of our lives? Think about it for a minute. Banks urge us to take advantage of low interest rates so that we can buy a home to call our own, instead of living under a landlord. Extreme weight-loss programs tout their products as quick and easy ways to get dramatic results, claiming we can do it all without the expert guidance of a personal trainer or a fitness coach. Kids (come on, we were all one of them once!) want to grow up as fast as they can, so they can make their own decisions and not have to live by someone else’s “rules”.

However, this human concept of “independence” doesn’t feature prominently in Scripture, but the concept of “in dependence” sure does! We don’t even make it past the second chapter in the Bible before we see that God’s plan for creation was the exact opposite of independence. His exact words were, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him” (Genesis 2:18). I don’t know about you, but in a world where “social” media is increasingly taking the place of genuine social interaction, and suicides in the USA are at a 30-year high, those words ring truer than ever – “It is not good that we should be alone.”

But more than just creating us to inter-depend on one another, God created us to fully depend on Him.  In Isaiah 41:13, He says, “For I, the Lord your God, will hold your right hand, saying to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you.’” Jesus declares in John 15:5, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” Psalm 121:3 tells us, “He who keeps you will not slumber.” WOW! While I’m busy trying to do life on my own, independently, the God of all creation — Who never sleeps, Who’s watching over us 24/7, Who went to the cross to sacrifice Himself for me — is telling me time and time again that I can count on Him. He’s never going to let me down. He’s never going to not show up. I can live in dependence on the Lord.

So as we celebrate Independence Day, I’d like to challenge you (if you’re not already doing so) to truly start living in dependence on God. I can’t think of a more appropriate “declaration of in dependence” for this 4th of July than this: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom”! (2 Corinthians 3:17)

Thirst Quencher

 

When you think back to summertime as a kid, what comes to mind?

Other than NO SCHOOL OR HOMEWORK, perhaps it was afternoons at the park or in the pool, or the smell of the briquettes getting ready for delicious “tube steaks”. But best of all… summertime meant the return of the neighborhood ICE CREAM TRUCK! 

Do you remember that feeling when you’d be outside, playing games with friends under the blazing afternoon sun, drenched in sweat, worn out from the heat, and so thirsty that you were even willing to drink from the garden hose?

Then, all of a sudden, that familiar jingle made its way up the street. With a squeal of excitement, you’d halt whatever game you were in the middle of playing, you’d dig in your pockets (or race inside the house to beg for some cash). Then, as the ice cream truck finally came into view, you’d madly dash to beat the mob that was forming, as all the neighborhood kids descended simultaneously on this vehicle of sweet, thirst-quenching goodness! When it was (finally) your turn, you’d step up to the window and hem and haw over the options — Fudgesicle or Choco Taco? Firecracker or Cyclone? Grape or Orange?

When you’d made your decision at last (Hey, these are important choices when you’re 8!), you’d hand over your coins and take your treat in exchange. You’d collapse on the grass, rip off the paper, and with a contented sigh, you’d take that first bite and feel yourself almost instantaneously being revived.

I know this might sound kinda silly, but these days, whenever I hear the ice cream truck, I think about how it reminds me of Jesus (stay with me). In John 4, Jesus is traveling with His disciples from Judea to Galilee, and along the way they stop to rest at a well in Samaria. Jesus sends His disciples into the nearby town to get food while He stays behind at the well, and as He’s sitting and resting, a Samaritan woman comes to draw water. Jesus asks her for a drink, and the woman responds with surprise, “How is it that You, being a Jew, asks a drink from me, a Samaritan woman? (v. 9)” Jesus replies, “If you knew the gift of God, and Who it is Who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water. (v. 10)” He then goes on to tell her, “Whoever drinks of this (well) water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life. (v. 13-14)”

As kids, we viewed the ice cream truck as this amazing source of life-giving goodness, and we got excited about it! Why? Because we knew the reward that awaited us at the conclusion of the “transaction” would quench our thirst (even if it was only for all of five minutes). How much more amazingly and awesomely exciting is it that God, in His infinite goodness, promises us LIVING WATER in the form of everlasting life? Not only that, He offers it at no cost to us, because He already paid the price through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

So this summer, when you’re sweating it out in the hot sun, and you hear the jingle of the ice cream truck coming your way, consider buying yourself a frozen treat — and as you eat it, thank God for His gift of living water, that’ll quench your spiritual thirst for all eternity!

National Day Of Prayer

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about prayer.

As Christians, prayer is typically (hopefully!) part of our lives in some way, whether it’s saying grace around the dinner table, or running through a list of our family and friends each night when we say our bedtime prayers. We might pray for the health of our loved ones, for that job promotion, for our child’s college scholarship. We pray for violence to cease, for poverty to be eradicated, for people to love more and hate less.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I think it’s important to pray for all of these things. I don’t believe there’s anything too small or too big, too trivial or too consequential for us to bring before our God.

My suggestion here isn’t that we pray for different things, but that maybe we should pray differently. Too often, we have a tendency to see prayer as a last resort rather than as our first priority! When someone we love is sick or in an accident, we start a GoFundMe page, organize meal trains to fill their freezer with food, send sympathy or get well cards in the mail. No, none of these are bad things. But often, only when we’ve exhausted all these other efforts do we say – sometimes even apologetically – “I wish I could do more. All I can do is pray for you.” 

God never intended for us to use prayer as a last-ditch, final line of defense — He intended for it to be our first and greatest solution in all situations and circumstances. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus made it possible for us to have an open channel of communication with the God of all creation. According to Hebrews 4:15-16, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the Throne of Grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Scripture tells us clearly that prayer isn’t meant to be a wish list uttered timidly, or a request lined with doubt, but a way in which we can boldly approach God to receive His grace and His mercy. In Isaiah 65:24, God says that “before they call, I will answer; And while they are still speaking, I will hear.” This illuminates that God doesn’t need us to speak our prayers in order for Him to hear them; He already knows what they are! So we don’t pray to make our God aware of our needs. We pray to make our needs aware of our God. 

On May 3, the nation will once again observe the National Day of Prayer. The theme for this year’s day is unity, based on Ephesians 4:3: “…endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” In 1952, when President Truman signed into law an act of Congress setting aside a day for Americans to join together in prayer from coast to coast, the proclamation declared, “in times of national crisis when we’re striving to strengthen the foundations of peace and security, we stand in special need of divine support.” This statement rings true in our country today as much as, if not more than, it did 66 years ago.

On this National Day of Prayer, would you join me as we challenge ourselves to more boldly, more passionately, and more faithfully approach the Throne of Grace? Let’s believe that God would heal brokenness in our homes, bridge divides in our communities, and unite our hearts in the Spirit of His love, as we humbly ask Him to do above and beyond all we could hope or imagine across our nation.

The Lion And The Lamb

(((This is an Easter blog I wrote a couple years ago, but since Resurrection Sunday falls on the same day that we flip the calendar page, I thought it’d be good to revisit again.)))

You’ve probably heard the saying, “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.” As we’re in Easter week, I wanna take a minute and share two spiritual perspectives for you to pull out of this saying (spoiler alert: weather forecasting is not one of them).

“March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.”  When we learned this phrase growing up, we were being told that storms early in the month were predicting better weather later. We shouldn’t be downcast just because the weather was overcast. If anything, we should be encouraged – we see the clouds and rain, and know that the sunshine was coming. Current storms are the proof! In Matthew 26, Jesus tells his disciples that He’s about to be betrayed and handed over to the Romans. Right before He walks to Gethsemane, He says, “But after I am raised up, I, your Shepherd, will go ahead of you, leading the way to Galilee.” Imagine! Jesus is saying that, as surely as His betrayal and death will take place, He’ll meet up with them again right here on planet Earth. I hope that the disciples, in the midst of the unimaginable three days they were about to go through, were able to – at least in the back of their minds – see what Jesus had said was coming to pass and interpret it as proof that the REST of what He said will also come to pass (namely, the hopeful part!). Maybe that’s true for you right now too. Just like it was for the disciples, trials come in like a lion and hit you head-on; but like storms early in March, they can be viewed as proof that God’s working on the other side. The peace of God and restoration in Jesus is coming like a lamb, one way or another!

Easter’s typically a few days deeper into April, but this year it’s right as we turn the calendar page. So, what if we swap that lamb/lion phrase around? “In like a Lamb and out like a Lion…” There’s another great reminder here! Think about Good Friday; Jesus died and was buried. That’s “coming in like a Lamb” to me. Not only as a sacrificial Lamb, but in a position of weakness – God choosing to become weak like us. Of course, weakness and sacrifice are only the first part of the story. Jesus sure came out of the tomb like a Lion – bold, strong, a conqueror! 

This Easter, let’s remember that, just like it was for the disciples, trials come in like a lion (overwhelming and sudden) and can go out like a lamb (the peace of God wins out). Let’s also celebrate that, although Jesus may have gone into the tomb like a Lamb (sacrificial and weak), He sure turned eternity on its head when He burst out like a Lion (a strong champion)! Jesus himself and the community of faith around you are right by your side either way. 

A Lifestyle Of Love

I love “love”… Real love. Authentic and selfless love. God’s version of love. It gives you and me a perfect and clear example of what real love is. God provided a way back to Him through Jesus’ work on the cross because He first loved us. And it lays the foundation for our existence as a Christ follower.

In Mark 12:28-31, Jesus was asked what the two greatest commandments were. His reply was to ‘love the Lord your God with all of your heart’ and to ‘love your neighbor as yourself’. As Jesus was preparing His disciples before He was taken to die on the cross, He gave us a new commandment on love: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

The old commandment was to love others as ourselves, and the new commandment is to love others like Jesus loves us. This puts an entirely new standard on the way that we’re called to love one another! We’re not only to love others with our whole selves, but to love self-sacrificially. When I think of the way that Jesus loved others, the words unconditional, sacrificial, passionate, and selfless come to mind.

Jesus loved by healing the paralyzed man who interrupted His teaching (Mark 2). Jesus loved by supplying loaves of bread and fishes to thousands of hungry listeners (Matthew 15). Jesus loved by forgiving the adulteress who was seconds away from being stoned to death (John 8). Jesus loved by taking the death consequence that was sentenced to us because of our sin, and died on the cross in our place (Luke 23).

These moments show the depth of love that Jesus has for us, and the depth of love that’s expected to be given to others. We’re able to love like Jesus, because Jesus sets the example for us by the way we experience His love daily. “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:1-2

Loving others is not only merely a one time act, but a way of life! The lifestyle of love is a mark showing people that we’re God’s disciples. We’ve experienced His love, and therefore able to love others to His degree.

Answer these questions to yourself: Do you find it difficult or easy to love in this way? How have you been impacted by God’s love? In what ways can you share that love with others today?

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree

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Here it comes, whether we’re ready or not! We’re immersed right in the middle of the Christmas season. We head out to find the prettiest Christmas tree on the lot (or we pull the “realistic” one out of the box), head home where lights are hung on each branch, old ornaments are dusted off (my favorite being the childhood pictures full of toothless smiles and bad haircuts!), and the star or angel is placed on the very top limb.

I realize that some Christmas trees can also be viewed as a distraction to the true meaning of Christmas. But before you start singing “Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree,” or run around tearing down trees like the Grinch, I wanted to write down a thought about the Christmas tree that can be a reminder for the real reason for the season.

There’s something beautiful about the symbol of the tree that’s expressed throughout the Bible. In Genesis, Adam and Eve were told not to eat from a certain tree in the garden. If you know how the story goes, they both end up eating from the forbidden tree, which was when sin entered the world and the fall happened. What’s so beautiful, is that the very symbol that was tied with the fall of man was used in the story of redemption. Jesus came to earth to be the Savior of the world. To bring forgiveness, redemption, and relationship to you and me. And how did He do this? By dying on the cross, by hanging on that tree, then by being buried, and raised again for you and me!

So this Christmas, whenever you see a tree all decked out in lights and ornaments, I challenge you to view it as a reminder. A reminder of the tree that Jesus hung on, dying for you and me. To step back to see the triangular tree point to Heaven, where our minds and hearts should be during this Christmas season.

Advent

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Did you have one of those chocolate Advent calendars each year growing up? (As a kid, my dog always got into my Advent calendar and ate all of the chocolate!) I guess the real question is, do you still get the chocolate calendar? It’s fun to count down the days until Christmas, although sometimes it feels like there aren’t enough shopping days left before having to check everyone’s presents off the list. Even though we’re already into Advent, there’s still time to reflect on this season.

The definition of Advent is “the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.”  Back in the B.C era, the people were waiting and waiting for the Savior who was promised throughout Scripture to arrive. After all of those generations of waiting, how exciting it must’ve been for Jesus to finally arrive! And now we’re in the middle of counting down the days until Christmas. This time is set apart in celebrating the truth about God and what He did on Earth, as well as looking forward to when Christ faithfully comes again. The season of Advent looks different for each one of us. So take this time to prepare your heart for what God has to say to you this Christmas season by spending December in extended prayer and quiet time with God. Maybe it’s spending more time in the morning with Him, or picking up a Christmas devotional, or unplugging on social media or TV. Will you join me in praying this week and asking Jesus what He wants us to do to prepare for this special season of celebrating Him?

 

 

 

 

Flu Season

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 11.53.45 AMIt’s that time again. That time when sick days get used, the cold medicine goes flying off the shelves, everyone is walking around with the unavoidable raspy voice and stuffed nose. It’s cold and flu season! You may have escaped the bug so far, or you might be reading this from your sick bed, or you’re running around with a gas mask on taking huge measures to hide from it, but the bug is all around!

As much as it just stinks to get the cold or flu, I wanna give you a new perspective on this annoying bug. Sometimes we go-go-go, when God is asking us to rest. But it’s so hard to rest when your body is on drive 24/7 due to your solidly busy schedule. And when our body gets sick, the only way it can heal is if we pause and rest.

Our spiritual health is not much different than our physical health. We can go a while without paying any attention to our spiritual health. But because of our spiritual neglect, our soul becomes sick. We see our hearts become hard, bitterness becomes rooted, negativity sneaks into our daily thoughts, and it becomes hard to communicate with God. Have you ever felt your heart go sour like this? Don’t fear! There’s a cure! Just like our physical bodies need space form our daily busy lives, so does our hearts need time to rest in God’s Word, rest in talking things out with God, and rest in worship. It’s time that we care about our spiritual health just as much (or even more!) as our physical health. Do you feel like your soul needs a little extra TLC this week? Join me in spending some extra time with God today, and ask for healing in your heart and soul. God’s eager to bring His healing touch to your heart, and grow in relationship with you.

 

 

 

 

 

Jack-o’-Lantern

Kids love carving pumpkins.

It’s such a thrill to cut the top open and see all the seeds inside. Even better, is sticking their hand in the pumpkin and pulling out piles of slimy seeds! It’s like for one night, all the normal rules of not getting messy, or not being able to use a knife, get thrown out the window. (Now brace yourself, I might be over spiritualizing this!)

Another reason I like the process of carving pumpkins is that it reminds me of something similar that Jesus does for people who love Him. When we open up and accept Jesus to be our Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit comes into us. All of the seeds and pumpkin guts are like all of the sin and darkness that are in our hearts. So God cleans and gets rid of all of the sin and darkness in our lives, and He’s able to do this because Jesus died on the cross, paying the ultimate price for our sins.

The next step after cleaning out the pumpkin is to carve it. God puts a “new smile” on us as He gives us joy, and “new eyes” on us to see a different way of living than we had before. Then, when we’re done carving our pumpkin, we put a candle in it so it lights up. Once God comes into our heart, He puts the Holy Spirit inside of us, and our life lights up for all to see!

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

Okay, this seasonal metaphor may seem a little cheesy, but it’s a timely way to be reminded of the transformation that God’s done in our lives. Plus it’s a great way to explain the Gospel to kids! During this Halloween week, whenever you see carved pumpkins lit up on the porches, think of what God’s done in your life and the light that you’re meant to be in this dark world.

“You, O LORD, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.” (Psalm 18:28)